How a single bout of exercise instantly protects the heart

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How a single bout of exercise instantly protects the heart

A new review of existing studies examines the evidence behind the idea that an acute bout of exercise is able to offer immediate protection for the heart against cardiovascular disease through a mechanism called “cardiovascular preconditioning.”
illustration of man running and heart
An acute episode of exercise can ‘train’ the heart and protect it against future damage.

The results of the new research — led by Dick Thijssen, who is a professor of cardiovascular physiology and exercise at the Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom — have been published in the journal JAMA Cardiology.

As Prof. Thijssen and colleagues explain, it is a widely accepted fact that exercise protects the heart over time. However, it is less known that it can also do so within hours, and that a single workout episode is enough to yield clinically significant benefits.

This under-appreciated advantage of exercise may be due to a phenomenon called ischemic, or cardiovascular, preconditioning.

The team explains the reasoning behind the theory of cardiovascular preconditioning: repeatedly exposing the heart to short, non-life-threatening episodes of ischemia — an inadequate supply of blood to the heart — makes the heart more resistant to a more serious, future ischemia episode.

The “paradox” of ischemic preconditioning is a concept first introduced in the mid-1980s, and it has been suggested that one of the ways to induce this cardioprotective effect is through exercise.

So, the review by Prof. Thijssen and colleagues aimed to examine the evidence for this theory in existing preclinical studies.

Protection through exercise preconditioning

The review found that between one and three workout sessions per week can provide “strong” protection for the heart.

Moreover, one single workout episode can provide cardioprotection for 2–3 hours, and even stronger and longer-lasting benefits emerge 24 hours after the exercise session has finished.

“Importantly,” the authors write, “these associations are present on the first episode of exercise, with subsequent exercise sessions reactivating protective pathways and leading to ongoing beneficial effects.”

This cardioprotective effect could be explained by ischemic preconditioning, write the researchers, given that an intense episode of exercise can have systematic effects such as inducing myocardial ischemia.

Although factors such as obesity and age may interfere with some of these immediate protective effects of exercise, regular training can restore these benefits. The authors explain:

Taken together, cardioprotection through exercise preconditioning is a facile, inexpensive, and potent therapy that deserves greater recognition and further resources to establish the optimal dose.”

“Nonetheless,” they continue, “as is so often the case with the benefits of exercise, its prescription follows the cardinal rule: use it or lose it.”

Prof. Thijssen comments on the results of the study, saying, “This is a key review summarizing how a single bout of exercise can have a clear impact in keeping the heart adequately supplied with blood.”

“Firstly,” he explains, “this means that one bout of exercise can cause clinically relevant protection against cardiovascular disease.”

“Secondly,” Prof. Thijssen continues, “this means that benefits of exercise are present, even in the absence of changes in risk factors. These are both important and powerful messages for all who want to take up exercise.”

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Kids’ movies promote poor diet and stigmatize obesity

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Kids’ movies promote poor diet and stigmatize obesity

As innocent as children’s movies may seem to be, new research investigated whether or not they promote positive attitudes toward healthful food and the issues surrounding obesity. However, the opposite seems to be the case.
Cartoon child watching a movie
A new study assesses attitudes to food and obesity in children’s movies.

Childhood obesity is a growing problem. Recent studies have discovered that 32 percent of 2–19-year-olds are overweight, and 17 percent are obese.

Some estimate that by 2025, around 268 million children aged 5–17 will be overweight, globally. This is a huge public health concern.

There are many factors involved in the weight gain we see in children in the United States, and these include parenting style, peer influence, advertising, and the fact that we are more sedentary now than we have ever been.

Another factor that has consistently been linked with obesity is screen time. The length of time that a child spends looking at a screen is associated with a greater body mass index (BMI).

Screen time, BMI, and movie content

The link between screen time and BMI may be due to several factors: advertising; “mindless” eating while watching shows; and because it replaces physical activities. A new study — published in the journal Pediatrics — looks at another possible factor: the way that movies influence perceptions of body image and diet.

The study asks how frequently obesity-promoting content and weight-stigmatizing messages appeared in children’s movies.

It is not yet clear if or how these types of depictions affect children who view them. But earlier work has shown that exposure to sexual themes and depictions of alcohol consumption in the media impacts adolescent behavior, so it is fair to consider that some kind of influence is plausible.

In a previous study, the current research group found that:

[S]tigmatizing and obesity-related content was not only present but also prevalent in the majority of the top children’s movies from 2006 to 2010.”

Specifically, they found that children’s movies regularly presented sedentary activities and unhealthful foods as the norm, as well as stigmatized obesity.

With a steadily increasing public focus on obesity and a reported rise in discrimination, the new study aims to update the previous findings and see whether anything has changed — be it for better or worse.

Watching and rating children’s movies

The group identified the top-grossing G- and PG-rated movies from 2012 through to August 2015 and asked more than 100 children (aged 9–11) which movies they had watched.

The team analyzed 31 movies. Each film was broken down into 10-minute segments and marked by raters. They logged any incidence of “items, behaviors, or activities shown to be associated with adiposity and weight status in children, such as oversized portions, drinking sugar-sweetened beverages, and eating while watching screens.”

They also looked out for negative portrayals of physical activities and nutritious foods, as well as weight-based stigma.

The observers identified many examples of negative imagery. Some were relatively blatant — for instance, in the movie Inside Out, a father struggles to get a child to eat broccoli, threatening her with no dessert. The child knocks the bowl of broccoli to the floor in a rage, which is clearly a negative stigmatization of healthful eating.

In others, the negativity is a little more subtle. The authors explain a scene from The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out of Water: “[V]iewers are shown a panoramic view of the inside of the burger restaurant […] two fish are portrayed anthropomorphically as conventionally attractive patrons staring lovingly into each other’s eyes while splitting a burger.”

“In the background, an unattractive fish with a large belly is sitting alone. As he goes to take a bite of his burger, the chair underneath him breaks, stigmatizing his weight even in the low-gravity environment of the underwater world.”

Are things getting worse?

In all movies they assessed, there was at least one segment that promoted obesity or unhealthful food or beverage choices. And, in the majority of them, these themes recurred throughout. In fact, compared with their previous study looking at films released from 2006–2010, the prevalence appears to have increased.

Although healthful foods did appear in these movies, they were most often attached to negative or neutral emotions. In contrast, nutrient-poor foods were much more likely to be shown in a positive light — for instance, given as a reward or eaten as a celebration.

They also showed that overweight and obese characters were consistently depicted negatively and were often portrayed as having lower intelligence. For instance, according to the raters, Patrick from SpongeBob was “frequently depicted as being stupid and lazy.”

The new study does not attempt to measure how these depictions might be influencing children’s behavior; its aim was to bring to light the range of negative impressions children are shown in movies.

As mentioned earlier, whether they alter children’s behavior will need further investigation, but, seeing as depictions of alcohol and sex have been shown to influence behavior, it certainly warrants examination.

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How to reduce Christmas stress

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How to reduce Christmas stress

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” but also a time when stress levels soar. We have put together some top tips to stop stress in its tracks and make the season of goodwill more enjoyable.
stressed woman wearing christmas hat
The holidays can be a time of high stress levels, but managing stress can help you to have a happy and healthy Christmas.

While Christmas is known as “the season to be jolly,” it can be a significant source of stress, pressure, and conflict for many of us. Some people can feel overwhelmed by the excess, expectations, and exchange and become depressed during the holidays.

A lack of time and money, credit card debt, and the pressure of gift giving can often contribute to stress during the holiday season.

Most of us are aware of the adverse effects that stress can have on our body. It can impact our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and it can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and obesity if left unchecked.

In fact, research has shown that there is an increase in the occurrence of heart attacks and heart-related deaths during the festive season, which may be due to stress, heavy alcohol consumption, a fatty diet, or all three. Therefore, it is of utmost importance that holiday stress is dealt with — pronto.

With all the cooking, decorating, visiting, and gift giving, the holidays can seem more like trying to meet a high-pressure deadline than a vacation. So, try these Christmas stress-busting strategies to ease the strain and help stress melt away.

1. Limit spending

Money issues are one of the leading causes of stress during the holiday season, according to a poll conducted by the American Psychological Association (APA) in 2004. Recent data collected in the APA’s annual Stress in America survey reflect this finding and report that 62 percent of us feel stressed about money.

woman wearing Christmas hat and shopping
Avoid overspending by setting a budget.

Holiday retail sales in November and December 2017 are expected to increase between 3.6 and 4 percent and total between $678.75 billion to $682 billion, according to the National Retail Federation. These figures are up from $655.8 billion last year.

Gift buying, entertainment, and travel can all fuel financial burden, even for the savviest shoppers. However, here are some steps that you can take to limit financial stress.

Set a budget. First of all, make sure that all your usual expenses are accounted for so that you do not fall short on bills such as rent. Plan for any other spending over the holidays, including any parties you may be hosting or traveling to visit friends or family.

Once these items have been subtracted from your budget, you can then work out how much you can spend on gifts. Being organized and realistic about your budget will help you to ensure that you do not overspend.

Make one financial decision at a time. Make sure that you space spending-related decisions out. Trying to make too many decisions at once can be overwhelming, which can lead to depletion of your willpower and an increased risk of overspending.

Avoid temptation. It is often impossible to steer clear of stores and shopping malls altogether over the festive season, but limiting the time that you spend in these places can also help you to curb your spending.

Manage impulsive spending by taking only the cash you can afford to spend on shopping trips and leaving all credit and debit cards at home.

Recognize how you deal with stress-related money problems. Sometimes, during tough economic moments, individuals turn to smoking, alcohol, gambling, or excessive eating to try to relieve stress. These behaviors can lead to arguments and conflicts between partners and families.

Be mindful and seek help from a healthcare professional if you find that these behaviors are causing you problems.

Keep in mind what is important. Overspending can overshadow the true sentiment of Christmas. If your expense list exceeds your monthly budget, keep in mind that your relationships with friends and family are more important than material objects.

2. Manage expectations

Everyone has an idea in their heads of the perfect holiday, but when reality falls short of the vision, stress can ensue. Try to manage expectations with these simple tips.

Be realistic

family sitting at the table with Christmas dinner
Having a late dinner will not ruin your day.

Despite your grand plans, no event ever runs seamlessly, and this also rings true for holiday celebrations. Rather than accumulating stress along the way from any mishaps that might occur, view these miniature calamities as an opportunity to exercise flexibility and resilience.

Dinner being 30 minutes late, spilling food on your festive outfit, or having a lop-sided tree is not going to ruin your day. Instead, they’ll create fond memories that you can reflect on in years to come.

Help children to be realistic

When children get older and start to become more aware of what they want and what their friends have, parents can feel pressurized to deliver, meet their expectations, and provide them with the perfect presents.

Help your child to create a wishlist that outlines any gifts they desire. Make sure they know that they will not receive everything on the list and highlight anything that is not acceptable or obtainable.

Remind your child that Christmas is about being together, not a list of presents to tick off a list. Planning fun activities that encourage everyone to come together and have fun can create excitement.

Take some time out

Carrying the world on your shoulders and trying to achieve everything alone during the holidays can take its toll on your mind and body.

Enlist some help in accomplishing some of the tasks on your list and take some time out. Destressing can benefit you and the rest of your family. Focus on doing something that you find relaxing to recharge your batteries, such as reading a book, watching a Christmas movie, listening to music, or going for a massage.

3. Avoid overindulging

‘Tis the season for indulgence, and whether it be a festive holiday party or a family dinner, we are surrounded by extravagant foods and alcoholic drinks.

person standing on the scales after eating Christmas food
Allow yourself some holiday treats, but quickly go back to eating healthful foods and doing exercise to avoid weight gain.

Although many of us only gain an extra pound during the holiday period, that extra pound may build up over the coming years and contribute to obesity later in life, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

Excessive stress raises appetite and cravings for sugary and fatty foods, and chronic drinking can further exacerbate stress by raising levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

Dietitians from the University of Missouri in Columbia recommend that families should aim to maintain healthful dietary habits during the holidays in order to avoid weight gain and stress.

  • Eat a healthful diet during the day. Eat some high-protein snacks, such as yogurt or an apple with peanut butter, so that you are not too hungry by the time that dinner arrives.
  • Make simple food swaps. Eat whole-wheat bread instead of white, and brown rice instead of white, to help keep you feeling fuller for longer.
  • Be treat-wise. Enjoy seasonal treats, but try to control portion sizes.

If you do find yourself overindulging, maintain perspective. One day of indulgence will not lead to significant weight gain, as long as you plan to get back on track with healthful food choices and exercise the next day.

4. Go for a walk

The antidote for holiday stress could be just as simple as taking a walk around the block. Research demonstrates that physical activity reorganizes the brain in such a way that it reduces its response to stress.

Family walking in the woods
Go out for a walk with the family to decrease stress.

Regular exercise can help to decrease tension and boost and stabilize mood. Furthermore, exercising produces endorphins — natural painkilling chemicals that are released in the brain — that improve your ability to sleep and reduce stress.

Research also shows that if you convince the rest of the family to leave the couch and come along on the walk with you, your stress levels will be reduced even further.

Researchers found that working out in a group reduced stress levels by 26 percent and improved physical, mental, and emotional quality of life.

5. Have some fun

As you decorate the tree or bake festive cookies, forget all the items left on your to-do list and give yourself permission to have fun.

family playing Christmas games
Organize fun activities to boost laughter and reduce stress.

Laughter goes a long way in the fight against stress and could be just what the doctor ordered.

Laughter lightens your mood, stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and also releases endorphins. Laughter also boosts circulation, helps muscles relax, and lessens the physical symptoms that are associated with stress.

Whether your laughter is powered by sidesplitting moments in your favorite movie, jokes at the dinner table, a holiday prank, or an afternoon of fun activities, be sure to include some holiday humor, giggles, and guffaws. Even looking forward to a funny event raises relaxation-inducing hormones and decreases stress hormones.

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A high-fat diet without the weight gain? Study says it’s possible

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A high-fat diet without the weight gain? Study says it’s possible

When it comes to gaining weight, a high-fat diet is a key culprit. New research, however, suggests that there may one day be a way to avoid piling on the pounds as a result of eating fatty foods.
burger on a set of scales
Researchers were able to prevent weight gain in mice fed a high-fat diet.

In a newly published study, researchers reveal how activating a specific protein pathway can prevent the growth of fat cells in mice in response to a high-fat diet.

Senior study investigator Fanxin Long, Ph.D. — who works in the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, MO — and colleagues say that their findings could bring us closer to a new treatment strategy for obesity, which is, at present, thought to affect more than a third of adults in the United States.

The researchers recently reported their results in the journal eLife.

Weight gain is most commonly caused by an energy imbalance, wherein the intake of calories is higher than the number of calories burned.

Over time, an energy imbalance causes the body to store fat. This can lead to weight gain and obesity — which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, and some types of cancer.

Foods high in fat, particularly saturated fats, are thought to be a main driver of obesity, especially when consumed in large amounts. But Long and colleagues suggest that there could be a way to prevent weight gain induced by a high-fat diet.

Hedgehog signaling and fat cells

For their study, the team focused on the Hedgehog signaling pathway, which is a complex network of proteins that play a role in various developmental processes.

Previous research in mouse models has shown that the Hedgehog signaling pathway can also inhibit adipogenesis, or the formation of fat cells.

According to Long and his team, the majority of studies have looked at the effects of Hedgehog signaling on adipogenesis during embryonic development, so it has been unclear as to whether activating this pathway in adulthood influences fat cell formation.

To find out, the researchers engineered adult mice to possess genes that activated the Hedgehog signaling in response to a high-fat diet. These rodents were fed a high-fat diet for a total of 8 weeks.

While a control group of mice — whose Hedgehog signaling pathways were not activated when they ate fatty foods — became obese after 8 weeks of a high-fat diet, the genetically engineered mice gained no more weight than control mice that consumed standard chow.

“More importantly,” notes Long, “when we did metabolic studies, we found that the animals with the active Hedgehog pathway not only were leaner, they also had lower blood glucose levels and were more sensitive to insulin.”

A new way to fight obesity?

The researchers explain that by activating the Hedgehog signaling pathway in the rodents upon consumption of a high-fat diet, they were able to reduce the size of fat cells.

“Fat gain is due mainly to increased fat cell size,” explains Long. “Each fat cell grows bigger so that it can hold larger fat droplets. We gain weight mainly because fat cells get bigger, as opposed to having more fat cells.”

But the researchers note that applying their results to humans will be challenging; heightened Hedgehog signaling has been linked to increased cancer risk, so any strategy that targets this pathway would need to be approached with caution.

That said, the team believes that its results show promise for a new approach to preventing weight gain.

If we can come up with strategies to carefully target fat cells, then I think activating this pathway could be effective in the fight against obesity.”

Fanxin Long, Ph.D.

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Is this the formula for reversing type 2 diabetes?

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Is this the formula for reversing type 2 diabetes?

The first-year results of a clinical trial have shown that almost half of people partaking in an intensive weight management program delivered through primary care achieved remission of their type 2 diabetes without medication.
boy weighing on scales
A trial has shown that type 2 diabetes is reversible if weight is lost and kept off.

The trial, which is called the Diabetes Remission Clinical Trial (DiRECT), builds on earlier work by co-lead investigator Prof. Roy Taylor, director of the Magnetic Resonance Centre at Newcastle University in the United Kingdom.

The earlier work showed that a radical change in diet can reverse type 2 diabetes.

The results of the trial, recently reported in The Lancet, suggest that remission of type 2 diabetes may be achievable through intensive weight management programs supported by routine primary care.

The team’s findings revealed that after 12 months of radical weight management, participants lost an average of 10 kilograms (22 pounds), and that 45.6 percent of them went back to being non-diabetic without medication.

‘Long-term maintenance of weight loss’ focus

Prof. Taylor says that significant weight loss reduces the amount of fat in the liver and pancreas so that they can start working normally again.

“What we’re seeing from DiRECT,” he remarks, “is that losing weight isn’t just linked to better management of type 2 diabetes: significant weight loss could actually result in lasting remission.”

“Our findings suggest that even if you have had type 2 diabetes for 6 years,” adds trial co-leader Prof. Michael Lean, chair of Human Nutrition at the University of Glasgow in the U.K., “putting the disease into remission is feasible.”

He says that their approach differs from the conventional way of managing type 2 diabetes in that it focuses “on the need for long-term maintenance of weight loss through diet and exercise and encourage[s] flexibility to optimize individual results.”

Diabetes is a global health problem

Diabetes is a disease in which the body either does not make enough or cannot effectively use insulin, which is a hormone that helps cells to absorb and turn blood sugar into energy.

In type 2 diabetes, the body’s cells do not react to insulin as they should, which is known as insulin resistance. The pancreas — an organ that produces insulin — tries to compensate by producing more insulin, but eventually it cannot make enough, and blood sugar levels go up.

High blood sugar, or hyperglycemia, damages many parts of the body and can lead to severe health problems, including heart disease, vision impairment, and kidney disease.

Of the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who have diabetes, the vast majority have type 2, which results largely from carrying too much weight and not being physically active.

In the United States, around 90–95 percent of the 30 million people with diabetes have type 2. And while it normally strikes people aged 45 and older, an increasing number of children and young adults are also developing type 2 diabetes.

Intensive weight management vs. usual care

The first-year results of DiRECT concern 298 people aged 20–65 years old who were recruited to the trial between July 2014 and August 2016, and who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes during the previous 6 years. They were attending 49 primary care or general practice (GP) clinics across Scotland and a region in North East England.

The trial randomly assigned the GP clinics to deliver one of two treatment types: either a radical weight management program called Counterweight Plus, or adherence to current best practice guidelines.

This resulted in 149 people following the intensive weight management program and a further 149 people following current practice (the controls).

During the first 3–5 months, the participants on weight management consumed a total diet replacement formula that gave them no more than 855 calories per day. After that, they gradually introduced normal food over 2–8 weeks.

Throughout the program, they received support for maintaining weight loss that included sessions of cognitive behavioral therapy together with advice on how to be more physically active. From the start of the program, they stopped taking drugs to control high blood pressure and diabetes.

Diabetes reversed in nearly half of subjects

By the end of the first year, nearly a quarter (36 of the 149) people on the weight management program had lost 15 kilograms (33.1 pounds). The average weight loss in this group was 10 kilograms (22.1 pounds) compared with only 1 kilogram (2.2 pounds) in the control group.

In addition, almost half (68 of 149) of the people on weight management had reversed their diabetes after 12 months, compared with only 4 percent (6 people) of the controls.

A significant result of the trial was the strong link between amount of weight loss and success in reversing diabetes.

Nearly all (9 out of 10) of those who lost 15 kilograms (33.1 pounds) or more managed to reverse their type 2 diabetes, compared with only three quarters (47 out of 64) of those who shed 10 kilograms (22.1 pounds) or more.

The weight management group also improved in other measures of health, including improvements in average levels of triglyceride, or blood lipid, and blood pressure. Nearly half of the group was able to stay off blood pressure drugs without their blood pressure going up.

DiRECT is following the participants for 4 years to establish the extent to which the weight loss and remission achievements persist.

As most of the participants were British and white, the researchers cannot say whether the findings apply to other groups, especially those who in whom type 2 diabetes can develop as a result of lower weight gain, such as people from South Asia.

Targets ‘achievable for many people’

Prof. Taylor explains that the trial results suggest that it is not necessary to try to achieve the huge weight losses such as those “targeted by bariatric surgery” to reverse the mechanisms that cause type 2 diabetes.

The weight loss targets of the program followed in the study are “achievable for many people,” he says, noting, “The big challenge is long-term avoidance of weight regain.”

These results, together with those of other studies, “indicate that weight loss should be the primary goal in the treatment of type 2 diabetes,” notes Professor Emeritus Matti Uusitupa, of the University of Eastern Finland, in an accompanying editorial.

Prof. Uusitupa also remarks that the evidence suggests that the best time to begin making lifestyle changes and working to reduce weight is when diabetes is diagnosed, “because motivation of a patient is usually high and can be enhanced by the professional healthcare providers.”

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What are the possible benefits of MCT oil?

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What are the possible benefits of MCT oil?

Medium-chain triglycerides are a type of fat that is found in certain oils and dairy products. MCT oil is a supplement made of these fats. But what are the potential health benefits of MCT oil?

Many articles in circulation recommend the use of MCT oil. They claim that it can help people lose weight and that it has several other benefits.

This article explores the health benefits of MCT oil, as supported by scientific evidence. It also considers the risks around the use of MCT oil, as well as where to source it and how it can be used.

Overview

MCT oil from coconuts in glass jar, with halved coconut and leaves.
MCT oil can be derived from coconuts, and is often used to aid weight loss or improve stamina.

MCT oil is a dietary supplement that is made up of MCT fats, which are fats that can be found in coconut oil, palm kernel oil, and dairy products.

MCT oil is mainly used by people looking to lose weight, or boost their endurance during a workout.

Some supporters of MCT oil also claim it can improve the ability to think, as well as help with various forms of dementia.

What are MCTs and why are they different from other fats?

Fats are made up of chains of carbon atoms, and most of the fats in a person’s diet are made up of 13 to 21 of these atoms. These are called long-chain fatty acids.

In contrast, short-chain fatty acids are made up of 6 or fewer carbon atoms.

MCTs refers to medium-chain triglycerides that sit in the middle of the other two types. They are of medium length and made up of 6 to 12 carbon atoms.

MCTs are found in coconut oil and are processed by the body in a different way to long-chain fatty acids. Unlike other fats, they go straight from the gut to the liver. From here, they are used as a source of energy or turned into ketones.

Ketones are substances produced when the liver breaks down a lot of fat, and they can be used by the brain for energy instead of glucose or sugar.

As the calories in MCTs are used straightaway, they are less likely to be stored as fat. This principle is the basis of the ketogenic diet, which many people believe is an effective way to lose weight.


Potential health benefits of MCT oil

There are several potential health benefits of MCT oil. Some of these are supported by scientific evidence, while others are yet to be proven. Each potential benefit and its available evidence is explored below:

1. Better brain and memory function

The Alzheimer’s Drug Discovery Foundation have reported the pros and cons of MCTs in respect of brain and memory function, as well as their potential benefits for those with Alzheimer’s disease.

But to what extent are the claims surrounding MCTs backed up by scientific evidence?

A 2016 review notes that in three studies, the brain’s take-up of ketones in people with Alzheimer’s was the same as in healthy people. In contrast, the brain’s take-up of glucose was poorer in those with Alzheimer’s than healthy people.

The reviewers also note that ketosis has a slight beneficial effect on thinking ability for those with Alzheimer’s. Ketosis is when the brain uses ketones for energy instead of glucose.

More research is needed to say with certainty that MCTs or MCT oil can improve brain and memory function. That said, initial research is promising, and there is growing interest in the use of MCTs in this area.

2. Energy boost and increased endurance

Muscular female swimmer competing in a triathlon, running out of sea.
MCT oil may help to improve endurance, and provide energy for intense exercise.

Supporters of MCT oil claim that it can help boost a person’s energy and improve their endurance when they are working out.

A 2009 study found that consuming food rich in MCTs, rather than longer-chain fats, improved the time that recreational athletes could endure high-intensity exercise.

This evidence is encouraging but too limited to conclude for certain that MCTs or MCT oil can improve exercise endurance, as one 2010 study notes.

3. Weight loss and improved weight management

A popular claim that supporters of MCT oil make is that it helps with weight loss. This area has been studied the most by scientists.

A 2003 study found that MCTs increased the calories and fat that overweight men burned. It concluded that MCTs might be helpful in the prevention of obesity and to stimulate weight loss.

A 2014 study found that MCTs led to a greater increase in the hormones that reduce appetite and make a person feel full. This was in comparison with longer-chain fats.

The evidence suggests that MCTs may play an important role in weight loss and management.

However, it is important to note that studies have looked at MCTs as a type of dietary fat rather than MCT oil supplements specifically.

4. Lowered cholesterol

MCTs may also have a part to play in helping to protect heart health by lowering cholesterol.

A 2009 study that looked at 40 women found that consuming coconut oil reduced bad types of cholesterol and improved good ones. The comparison was to soybean oil and taken alongside a calorie-controlled diet.

As MCT oil is high in the MCTs found in coconut oil, it is also likely to improve cholesterol levels. However, as the study did not look at MCT oil specifically, this cannot be said with certainty.

5. Lowered blood sugar levels

MCTs may also help to improve blood sugar levels and play a potential role in diabetes management.

A 2007 study found MCT improved diabetes risk factors, including insulin resistance, in a small group of participants with type 2 diabetes.

Risks and considerations

Coconut oil used for cooking in frying pan.
MCT oil should not be used for cooking. Solid coconut oil should be used instead.

MCTs from dietary sources and MCT oil may have some health benefits. However, it is important to remember that when a person consumes these, they are consuming fats.

Taking MCT oil adds extra fats and calories to a person’s diet. As such, excessive use of MCT oil may not be beneficial and could lead a person to gain weight.

MCT oil supplements are created from versions of food oils, and so are not considered a natural product.

It is important to remember that MCT oil has a low smoke point, so it is not suitable for cooking.

However, solid coconut oil, which is high in MCTs, can be used in cooking and may be used to replace olive oil or other cooking oils.


Sources of MCTs

MCT oil supplements are available in many health food stores online.

Some people prefer to consume MCTs in their diet, which may be more natural than taking supplements. MCTs are found in:

  • coconut oil
  • palm kernel oil
  • milk
  • butter

Takeaway

MCTs have many potential health benefits, and taking MCT oil supplements may also be beneficial.

While MCTs may not lead to dramatic weight loss, they may be able to play a role in overall weight management. They may also help boost energy and endurance, although more research is needed to prove this benefit.

A growing body of research also suggests that MCTs may improve a person’s ability to think and fight the effects of conditions such as Alzheimer’s. Again, this is an area that needs further study.

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Exercise alone alters our gut microbiota

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Exercise alone alters our gut microbiota

It is well established — and perhaps unsurprising — that what we eat affects the microbes that live in our intestine, collectively known as the gut microbiota. According to two new studies, however, exercise has the same effect.
a woman looking after her gut health
Two new studies suggest that exercise — independent of diet — can alter the composition of gut microbiota.

In mouse and human experiments, researchers found that physical activity — independent of diet — alters the composition of gut microbiota in a way that increases the production of short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) that are beneficial for health.

According to Jeffrey Woods — a professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the co-lead investigator of both studies — their research is the first to show that the diversity of gut bacteria can be modified through exercise alone.

The first study, which investigated the effects of exercise on the gut microbiota of mice, was published in the journal Gut Microbes.

This study included three groups of mice: one group of mice was sedentary, the other group had access to a running wheel (the exercise group), while the remaining group was sedentary and germ-free, meaning that they did not possess any gut microbiota due to being bred in a sterile environment.

The researchers took fecal material from both the exercise and sedentary groups and transplanted it into the colons of the germ-free mice.

Exercise increased beneficial gut microbes

As a result of fecal transplantation, the previously germ-free mice developed gut microbiota that had comparable composition to their donor groups.

Interestingly, the germ-free mice that received fecal material from the exercise group had higher levels of gut microbes that produce an SCFA called butyrate, which is known to reduce inflammation and promote gut health.

Additionally, when these mice were given a chemical that triggers colitis, or inflammation of the colon, the researchers witnessed a surprising response. “There was a reduction in inflammation and an increase in the regenerative molecules that promote a faster recovery,” says study co-leader Jacob Allen, who was at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign at the time of the research.

Based on their findings, the researchers concluded that “exercise-induced modifications in the gut microbiota can mediate host-microbial interactions with potentially beneficial outcomes for the host.”

But do these findings ring true for humans? This is what the team sought to find out with their second study.

Differences between lean, obese subjects

The second study — published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise — included 32 sedentary adults, of whom 18 were lean and 14 were obese.

The participants took part in a supervised exercise program, which involved 30–60 minutes of endurance exercise, 3 days per week, for a total of 6 weeks. Once the 6-week exercise program ceased, subjects were asked to revert to sedentary behavior for 6 weeks.

Fecal samples were obtained from each participant before and after the exercise training program, and before and after the 6-week sedentary period.

Throughout the study period, subjects continued with their usual diets.

The researchers found that all participants experienced an increase in SCFA levels — especially butyrate — following the 6-week exercise program, but these levels declined when subjects reverted to sedentary behavior.

With the help of genetic testing, the researchers found that the increase in SCFA levels correlated with alterations in the levels of gut microbes that produce SCFAs, including butyrate.

Lean subjects saw the greatest increases in SCFA-producing gut microbes after exercise, the team reports, noting that their levels were much lower at baseline. Subjects who were obese experienced “modest” increases in gut microbes that produce SCFAs.

The bottom line is that there are clear differences in how the microbiome of somebody who is obese versus somebody who is lean responds to exercise […] We have more work to do to determine why that is.”

Jeffrey Woods, lead researcher

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