Mediterranean diet helps offset the health impacts of obesity

By Chrissy Sexton

The Mediterranean diet helps to counter the health impacts of obesity, according to a new study from Uppsala University in Sweden.

In 2015, four million deaths were attributed to excessive weight and more than two-thirds of those deaths were caused by cardiovascular disease (CVD).

“Despite the increasing prevalence of obesity, the rates of CVD-related death continue to decrease in Western societies, a trend not explained by medical treatment alone,” wrote the study authors. “These observations suggest that other factors might modify the higher risk of CVD associated with higher body mass. Potentially, one such factor is diet.”

The Mediterranean diet centers mainly around plant-based foods such as vegetables, fruits, herbs, nuts, beans, and whole grains. The diet also includes moderate amounts of dairy, poultry, eggs, and seafood, while red meat is only eaten occasionally.

A team led by Karl Michaëlsson set out to investigate how a Mediterranean-style diet among individuals with a higher body mass index (BMI) may affect all-cause mortality, with a particular focus on fatal cardiovascular events.

The study was focused on data from more than 79,000 Swedish adults enrolled in the Swedish Mammography Cohort and Cohort of Swedish Men.

Adherence to a Mediterranean-like diet (mMED) was assessed on a scale of 0 to 8, based on intake of fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts, high-fiber grains, fish, red meat, and olive oil.

Over 21 years of follow-up, more than 30,000 participants died. The researchers found that individuals classified as overweight with high mMED had the lowest risk of all-cause mortality. Obese individuals who had high mMED did not have a higher mortality risk compared with those in the healthy weight group with the same diet.

By contrast, individuals with a healthy weight but low mMED had higher mortality rates compared to people in the same weight range who regularly adhered to a Mediterranean-style diet.

The findings were very similar among 12,000 participants who died from cardiovascular disease. The researchers determined that CVD mortality associated with high BMI was reduced by adherence to a Mediterranean diet, although it was not fully countered. Furthermore, lower BMI did not help offset the elevated CVD mortality risk associated with a low mMED.

“These results indicate that adherence to healthy diets such as a Mediterranean-like diet may be a more appropriate focus that avoidance of obesity for the prevention of overall mortality,” wrote the study authors. “Nonetheless, a healthy diet may not completely counter higher CVD mortality related with obesity.”

The research is published in the journal PLOS Medicine .

Mediterranean diet helps offset the health impacts of obesity

Playing video games in childhood improves working memory years later

By Chrissy Sexton

Playing video games as a child leads to long-lasting cognitive benefits, according to new research from the Universitat Oberta de Catalunya (UOC). The study suggests that gaming improves working memory and concentration.

Previous studies have shown that gaming improves attention, enhances visual-spatial skills, and causes structural changes in the brain – even increasing the size of some regions. The current study is the first to show that video games promote positive cognitive changes that can take place years after people stop playing them.

“People who were avid gamers before adolescence, despite no longer playing, performed better with the working memory tasks, which require mentally holding and manipulating information to get a result,” said study lead author Dr. Marc Palaus.

The research was focused on 27 people between the ages of 18 and 40 with and without any kind of video gaming experience.

The experts analyzed cognitive skills, including working memory, at three points during the study period: before training the volunteers to play Nintendo’s Super Mario 64, at the end of the training, and fifteen days later.

The findings revealed that participants who had not played video games in childhood did not benefit from improvements in processing and inhibiting irrelevant stimuli. As expected, these individuals were initially slower than those who had played games as children.

“People who played regularly as children performed better from the outset in processing 3D objects, although these differences were mitigated after the period of training in video gaming, when both groups showed similar levels,” said Dr. Palaus.

The experts also performed 10 sessions of a non-invasive brain stimulation known as transcranial magnetic stimulation on the individuals.

“It uses magnetic waves which, when applied to the surface of the skull, are able to produce electrical currents in underlying neural populations and modify their activity,” explained Palaus.

The researchers theorized that combining video gaming with this type of stimulation could improve cognitive performance, but that was not the case.

“We aimed to achieve lasting changes. Under normal circumstances, the effects of this stimulation can last from milliseconds to tens of minutes. We wanted to achieve improved performance of certain brain functions that lasted longer than this.”

The game used in the study had a 3D platform, but there are many types of video games that can influence cognitive functions. According to Dr. Palaus, what most video games have in common is that they involve elements that make people want to continue playing, and that they gradually get harder and present a constant challenge.

“These two things are enough to make it an attractive and motivating activity, which, in turn, requires constant and intense use of our brain’s resources,” said Dr. Palaus. “Video games are a perfect recipe for strengthening our cognitive skills, almost without our noticing.”

The study is published in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

Playing video games in childhood improves working memory years later