Diet rich in fats and fruits could help you live longer, suggests multinational study

135,355 people in eighteen countries can't be wrong. 


It will likely be some time before common wisdom admits that a proper diet, as it relates to health, is multifactorial. Scores of diet books released every month, which sell thousands of copies until the next crop of diet books is published, usually point to a single factor: sugar, processed food, blood type, ketosis, kale.

Nutrition is complex. Genes matter, but so does environment. What you ate growing up. How much sleep you're getting. Cortisol levels. The amount of sex you're having. Psychological stability. Microbiome. Fitness regimen. Technology addiction. Health is not just what you put into your body. This is why diet books, and diets in general, mostly do not work.

This is not to imply that your diet doesn't matter. It's an important factor, arguably more relevant for body composition, obesity, and mental health than others. While the benefits and detriments of what we eat is often debatable, there are certain facts we can be confident about, such as the damaging and deadly effects of too much sugar.

One major problem is study size. A sample of a hundred people is not going to be that trustworthy. But the recent Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study followed 135,335 adults in 18 countries. It factored in what few other studies do: income level. And it followed each individual for over seven years, linking diet with mortality and cardiovascular disease, as well as strokes and non-cardiovascular disease mortality.

Specifically the team, led by Dr. Mashid Dehghan, an Investigator for the Nutrition Epidemiology program at the Population Health Research Institute, looked at the effects of nutrients:

Participants were categorised into quintiles of nutrient intake (carbohydrate, fats, and protein) based on percentage of energy provided by nutrients. We assessed the associations between consumption of carbohydrate, total fat, and each type of fat with cardiovascular disease and total mortality.

Their conclusion upends decades of dietary guidelines:

High carbohydrate intake was associated with higher risk of total mortality, whereas total fat and individual types of fat were related to lower total mortality. Total fat and types of fat were not associated with cardiovascular disease, myocardial infarction, or cardiovascular disease mortality, whereas saturated fat had an inverse association with stroke. Global dietary guidelines should be reconsidered in light of these findings.

PURE participants who consumed at least 35 percent of calories from fat were 23 percent less likely to die than those who received 10 percent or less from fat. Interestingly, the higher the fat intake, the less their chances of a stroke. More revealingly, those who took in 77 percent of calories from carbohydrates were 28 percent more likely to die than those who consumed under 46 percent.

Being an observational study, researchers stopped shy of speculating on cause and effect. They point to previous advice regarding lower saturated fatty acids being key to health is based on only one ecological study and a handful of observational studies in only a few countries. They also challenge the notion of a linear relationship between cardiovascular disease and LDL cholesterol.

Interestingly, researchers even challenge the wisdom of eating too many vegetables. There was no difference in mortality rates between those who ate three-four servings of veggies and those eating eight or more every day. Instead they placed emphasis on the role of fruit and seeds.

In a nutshell, a healthy diet based on the PURE results would be rich in fruits, beans, seeds, vegetables, and fats, include dollops of whole grains, and be low in refined carbohydrates and sugars.

As stated, health is multifactorial. Income levels matter. Employment conditions matter. Stress matters. But the more researchers tease apart these factors and hone in on an optimal diet, it's clear that a carbohydrate-heavy diet, especially one including processed foods and added sugars, is not leading anyone on the road to optimal health.

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Derek is the author of Whole Motion: Training Your Brain and Body For Optimal Health. Based in Los Angeles he is working on a new book about spiritual consumerism. Stay in touch on Facebook and Twitter.

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
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Yale scientists restore brain function to 32 clinically dead pigs

Researchers hope the technology will further our understanding of the brain, but lawmakers may not be ready for the ethical challenges.

Still from John Stephenson's 1999 rendition of Animal Farm.
Surprising Science
  • Researchers at the Yale School of Medicine successfully restored some functions to pig brains that had been dead for hours.
  • They hope the technology will advance our understanding of the brain, potentially developing new treatments for debilitating diseases and disorders.
  • The research raises many ethical questions and puts to the test our current understanding of death.

The image of an undead brain coming back to live again is the stuff of science fiction. Not just any science fiction, specifically B-grade sci fi. What instantly springs to mind is the black-and-white horrors of films like Fiend Without a Face. Bad acting. Plastic monstrosities. Visible strings. And a spinal cord that, for some reason, is also a tentacle?

But like any good science fiction, it's only a matter of time before some manner of it seeps into our reality. This week's Nature published the findings of researchers who managed to restore function to pigs' brains that were clinically dead. At least, what we once thought of as dead.

What's dead may never die, it seems

The researchers did not hail from House Greyjoy — "What is dead may never die" — but came largely from the Yale School of Medicine. They connected 32 pig brains to a system called BrainEx. BrainEx is an artificial perfusion system — that is, a system that takes over the functions normally regulated by the organ. Think a dialysis machine for the mind. The pigs had been killed four hours earlier at a U.S. Department of Agriculture slaughterhouse; their brains completely removed from the skulls.

BrainEx pumped an experiment solution into the brain that essentially mimic blood flow. It brought oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, giving brain cells the resources to begin many normal functions. The cells began consuming and metabolizing sugars. The brains' immune systems kicked in. Neuron samples could carry an electrical signal. Some brain cells even responded to drugs.

The researchers have managed to keep some brains alive for up to 36 hours, and currently do not know if BrainEx can have sustained the brains longer. "It is conceivable we are just preventing the inevitable, and the brain won't be able to recover," said Nenad Sestan, Yale neuroscientist and the lead researcher.

As a control, other brains received either a fake solution or no solution at all. None revived brain activity and deteriorated as normal.

The researchers hope the technology can enhance our ability to study the brain and its cellular functions. One of the main avenues of such studies would be brain disorders and diseases. This could point the way to developing new of treatments for the likes of brain injuries, Alzheimer's, Huntington's, and neurodegenerative conditions.

"This is an extraordinary and very promising breakthrough for neuroscience. It immediately offers a much better model for studying the human brain, which is extraordinarily important, given the vast amount of human suffering from diseases of the mind [and] brain," Nita Farahany, the bioethicists at the Duke University School of Law who wrote the study's commentary, told National Geographic.

An ethical gray matter

Before anyone gets an Island of Dr. Moreau vibe, it's worth noting that the brains did not approach neural activity anywhere near consciousness.

The BrainEx solution contained chemicals that prevented neurons from firing. To be extra cautious, the researchers also monitored the brains for any such activity and were prepared to administer an anesthetic should they have seen signs of consciousness.

Even so, the research signals a massive debate to come regarding medical ethics and our definition of death.

Most countries define death, clinically speaking, as the irreversible loss of brain or circulatory function. This definition was already at odds with some folk- and value-centric understandings, but where do we go if it becomes possible to reverse clinical death with artificial perfusion?

"This is wild," Jonathan Moreno, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, told the New York Times. "If ever there was an issue that merited big public deliberation on the ethics of science and medicine, this is one."

One possible consequence involves organ donations. Some European countries require emergency responders to use a process that preserves organs when they cannot resuscitate a person. They continue to pump blood throughout the body, but use a "thoracic aortic occlusion balloon" to prevent that blood from reaching the brain.

The system is already controversial because it raises concerns about what caused the patient's death. But what happens when brain death becomes readily reversible? Stuart Younger, a bioethicist at Case Western Reserve University, told Nature that if BrainEx were to become widely available, it could shrink the pool of eligible donors.

"There's a potential conflict here between the interests of potential donors — who might not even be donors — and people who are waiting for organs," he said.

It will be a while before such experiments go anywhere near human subjects. A more immediate ethical question relates to how such experiments harm animal subjects.

Ethical review boards evaluate research protocols and can reject any that causes undue pain, suffering, or distress. Since dead animals feel no pain, suffer no trauma, they are typically approved as subjects. But how do such boards make a judgement regarding the suffering of a "cellularly active" brain? The distress of a partially alive brain?

The dilemma is unprecedented.

Setting new boundaries

Another science fiction story that comes to mind when discussing this story is, of course, Frankenstein. As Farahany told National Geographic: "It is definitely has [sic] a good science-fiction element to it, and it is restoring cellular function where we previously thought impossible. But to have Frankenstein, you need some degree of consciousness, some 'there' there. [The researchers] did not recover any form of consciousness in this study, and it is still unclear if we ever could. But we are one step closer to that possibility."

She's right. The researchers undertook their research for the betterment of humanity, and we may one day reap some unimaginable medical benefits from it. The ethical questions, however, remain as unsettling as the stories they remind us of.

Dubai to build the world’s largest concentrated solar power plant

Can you make solar power work when the sun goes down? You can, and Dubai is about to run a city that way.

Photo credit: MARWAN NAAMANI / AFP / Getty Images
Technology & Innovation
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19th-century medicine: Milk was used as a blood substitute for transfusions

Believe it or not, for a few decades, giving people "milk transfusions" was all the rage.

Photo credit: Robert Bye on Unsplash
Surprising Science
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