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Category: Research

How Exercise Changes Fat and Muscle Cells

Gretchen Reynolds on the science of fitness.

 Exercise promotes health, reducing most people’s risks of developing diabetes and growing obese. But just how, at a cellular level, exercise performs this beneficial magic — what physiological steps are involved and in what order — remains mysterious to a surprising degree.

Several striking new studies, however, provide some clarity by showing that exercise seems able to drastically alter how genes operate.

Genes are, of course, not static. They turn on or off, depending on what biochemical signals they receive from elsewhere in the body. When they are turned on, genes express various proteins that, in turn, prompt a range of physiological actions in the body.

One powerful means of affecting gene activity involves a process called methylation, in which methyl groups, a cluster of carbon and hydrogen atoms, attach to the outside of a gene and make it easier or harder for that gene to receive and respond to messages from the body. In this way, the behavior of the gene is changed, but not the fundamental structure of the gene itself. Remarkably, these methylation patterns can be passed on to offspring – a phenomenon known as epigenetics.

What is particularly fascinating about the methylation process is that it seems to be driven largely by how you live your life. Many recent studies have found that diet, for instance, notably affects the methylation of genes, and scientists working in this area suspect that differing genetic methylation patterns resulting from differing diets may partly determine whether someone develops diabetes and other metabolic diseases.

But the role of physical activity in gene methylation has been poorly understood, even though exercise, like diet, greatly changes the body. So several groups of scientists recently set out to determine what working out does to the exterior of our genes.

The answer, their recently published results show, is plenty.

Of the new studies, perhaps the most tantalizing, conducted principally by researchers affiliated with the Lund University Diabetes Centre in Sweden and published last month in PLoS One, began by recruiting several dozen sedentary but generally healthy adult Swedish men and sucking out some of their fat cells. Using recently developed molecular techniques, the researchers mapped the existing methylation patterns on the DNA within those cells. They also measured the men’s body composition, aerobic capacity, waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and similar markers of health and fitness.

Then they asked the men to start working out. Under the guidance of a trainer, the volunteers began attending hourlong spinning or aerobics classes approximately twice a week for six months. By the end of that time, the men had shed fat and inches around their waists, increased their endurance and improved their blood pressure and cholesterol profiles.

Less obviously, but perhaps even more consequentially, they also had altered the methylation pattern of many of the genes in their fat cells. In fact, more than 17,900 individual locations on 7,663 separate genes in the fat cells now displayed changed methylation patterns. In most cases, the genes had become more methylated, but some had fewer methyl groups attached. Both situations affect how those genes express proteins.

The genes showing the greatest change in methylation also tended to be those that had been previously identified as playing some role in fat storage and the risk for developing diabetes or obesity.

“Our data suggest that exercise may affect the risk for Type 2 diabetes and obesity by changing DNA methylation of those genes,” says Charlotte Ling, an associate professor at Lund University and senior author of the study.

Meanwhile, other studies have found that exercise has an equally profound effect on DNA methylation within human muscle cells, even after a single workout.

To reach that conclusion, scientists from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and other institutions took muscle biopsies from a group of sedentary men and women and mapped their muscle cell’s methylation patterns. They then had the volunteers ride stationary bicycles until they had burned about 400 calories. Some rode strenuously, others more easily.

Afterward, a second muscle biopsy showed that DNA methylation patterns in the muscle cells were already changing after that lone workout, with some genes gaining methyl groups and some losing them. Several of the genes most altered, as in the fat cell study, are known to produce proteins that affect the body’s metabolism, including the risk for diabetes and obesity.

Interestingly, the muscle cell methylation changes were far more pronounced among the volunteers who had ridden vigorously than in those who had pedaled more gently, even though their total energy output was the same.

The overarching implication of the study’s findings, says Juleen Zierath, a professor of integrative physiology at the Karolinska Institute and senior author of the study, is that DNA methylation changes are probably “one of the earliest adaptations to exercise” and drive the bodily changes that follow.

Of course, the intricacies of that bogglingly complex process have yet to be fully teased out. Scientists do not know, for instance, whether exercise-induced methylation changes linger if someone becomes sedentary, or if resistance training has similar effects on the behavior of genes. Nor is it known whether these changes might be passed on from one generation to the next. But already it is clear, Dr. Ling says, that these new findings “are additional proof of the robust effect exercise can have on the human body, even at the level of our DNA.”

As originally published in New York Times

Dangers of Psoriasis Are More Than Skin Deep

A recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania indicates that for the 2-4% of the general population affected by psoriasis, an inflammatory skin disease, the health concerns from the condition could be much more than skin deep.

In the report published in JAMA Dermatology, scientists found a link between the severity of psoriasis and the risk for uncontrollable high blood pressure, which they defined as registering above 90/140 mmHg. Among the patients studied, those with more severe cases of this skin disorder were at a higher risk for uncontrollable high blood pressure. In other words, the severity of the skin condition was equally proportional to the risk of high blood pressure.

Severe psoriasis is also suspected of being associated with an increased risk of heart attack, heart disease, obesity and stroke.

The results from the study point to a need for patients with psoriasis to closely monitor their blood pressure, especially if the skin disease affects more than 3% of the body surface. It also raises the question of whether improved blood pressure regulation could alleviate the symptoms of this condition, a topic that researchers plan on investigating in the near future.

Read more about the report here.

Recalled Dietary Supplements Could Still Be Dangerous

Often times, you may hear of dietary supplements being recalled from store shelves due to dangerous substances that are detrimental to your health. But a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that even when these recalled supplements return to the market, they might still be contaminated.

A total of 27 recalled supplements were analyzed for the study, all of which were said to aid weight loss, sports enhancement or sexual enhancement. Each contained either anabolic steroids, strong prescription drugs, or the banned amphetamine-like substance Sibutramine, which is known to increase risk of stroke or heart attack. Once these products returned to the shelves months later, researchers with Harvard Medical School found that the majority (63%) still contained the exact same dangerous ingredients.

By law, supplements are not as closely monitored by the FDA compared to prescription drugs, simply because the dietary supplements are considered safe to consume unless reports begin to surface about injury or health decline. In other words, the supplement companies are held accountable for releasing a safe, risk-free product.

Until the day that lawmakers are able to change the policy regarding the safe distribution and sale of dietary supplements, consumers should be wary of what they are purchasing. But just to be safe, it’s better to avoid supplements altogether and do things the natural way.

Study findings taken from a report on Medical News Today.

Eggs: Back on the Menu

For many years, doctors and researchers warned consumers about the dangers of eating too many eggs, mostly because of the risk of high cholesterol from the egg yolks. And for that reason, egg whites now are a popular choice among the health conscious when serving up breakfast. But a new study now indicates that the cholesterol found in egg yolks actually does not jeopardize one’s cholesterol levels.

The American Heart Association is now confident in its decision to announce that eating one egg a day will not increase blood cholesterol or the risk of cardiovascular disease. The current guideline is to limit daily intake to 300 milligrams of cholesterol. One egg has 200 milligrams.

A study conducted in 1999 further supports this idea of an egg a day, as it found that healthy individuals who ate five to six eggs in a week did not increase the risk of heart disease or stroke.

So go ahead, have your scrambled eggs for breakfast – with the yolk! – and don’t feel guilty about it!

Instant Noodles: Dangerous to Your Health?

They’re known as one of the most convenient and popular foods on grocery store shelves, but new research indicates that instant noodles, including ramen, could be a high risk factor for cardiovascular disease, particularly in women.

Researchers at the Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital (BHVH) conducted the study in South Korea, where consumption of instant noodles is high. They found that eating instant noodles two or more times a week was associated with cardiometabolic syndrome, which increases a person’s risk of developing heart disease and other conditions, such as diabetes and stroke. This could explain the increasing rate of disease and illness among South Koreans in recent years.

It’s important for us to know the effects of the foods we put into our bodies. With instant noodles and ramen being such a popular food, and not just in Asian populations, knowing the kinds of health risks this food poses can help us choose healthier options when it comes to our daily nutrition.

Read more about the study on Science Daily.

The Latest Cure For the Flu: Hugs!

A recent research study has found that one of the most inexpensive combatants against the flu isn’t something you find in an inoculation. In fact, it could be as simple as daily hugs. Sound crazy? Perhaps, but there may be truth to it.

The journal Psychological Science published a finding from a study in which 400 participants were asked to report their levels of social support, if they had been hugged that day, and if they were currently involved in some sort of tension with another person. The participants were then exposed to either the cold or flu virus.

Based on the findings, of the population that exhibited symptoms of illness, those who reported higher levels of social support and hugs had less severe symptoms. Study co-author Sheldon Cohen, professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon, said this may be due to the fact that touch and positive human connection may be an effective tool to protect our bodies from stressors such as illness.

So there you have it, a hug a day can help keep the flu away!

Read more about ways to fight the flu in our previous article.

Information gathered from Time.

Blood Type Is Connected to Diabetes Risk

We all know that genetics, unhealthy lifestyle and bad nutrition can play a role in one’s risk for developing type II diabetes. But one new study has revealed that blood type can also be an indicator for diabetes risk.

Researchers with France’s Center for Research in Epidemiology and Population Health found that of the 82,000 study participants, those with blood type A, B and AB have a 35% higher risk for type II diabetes. Those with the universal type O, however, had a much lower risk compared to others. In fact, those with B+ blood were at a 35% increased risk compared to those who were O-.

According to the study report on Science Daily, “the reasons behind the association are currently unknown, but could be related to a number of factors: it has been suggested that the human ABO locus might influence endothelial or inflammation markers. ABO grouping is also associated with various molecules known to be connected to T2D, and a recent paper concluded that ABO grouping is a factor which determines the overall gut microbe composition, which in turn affects metabolism and thus could be related to T2D.”

Read more on the study from Science Daily.

The Cure For 40% of Cancer Cases

According to new statistics from Cancer Research UK, four out of 10 cancer cases recorded during a five-year period (2007-2011) could have been prevented with a healthy lifestyle. Of all the 300,000 cases studied, 40 percent could have been prevented if the patients had done something as simple as quitting smoking, eating healthier foods like fruits and vegetables on a regular basis, drinking less alcohol and maintaining a healthy weight with moderate exercise.

Many of these cancers are preventable, and implementing such simple acts can help prevent or reduce the risk of contracting the disease. As a statistician working on the study reported, “Leading a healthy lifestyle can’t guarantee someone won’t get cancer but we can stack the odds in our favor by taking positive steps now that will help decrease our cancer risk in [the] future.”

So when you’re making your New Year’s Resolutions this week, think about what lifestyle changes you can make to help guarantee a healthy future for yourself, and encourage your loved ones to do the same!

Read more on Business 2 Community.

An Avocado a Day: Avocado Health Benefits

We’ve all heard that an apple a day can help keep the doctor away, but did you know an avocado a day can also have health benefits as well? Avocado health benefits are substantial, according to new research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association which indicates that eating an avocado daily as part of a heart-healthy, moderate-fat diet can actually help improve cholesterol levels in overweight or obese individuals.

Participants were placed on one of three cholesterol-lowering diets: one moderate-fat diet with an avocado, one moderate-fat diet without avocado, and one low-fat diet without avocado.

Researchers found that compared to the baseline average American diet, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) — the so called ‘bad cholesterol’ — was 13.5 mg/dL lower after consuming the moderate fat diet that included an avocado.

LDL was also lower on a moderate fat diet without the avocado (8.3 mg/dL lower) and the lower fat diet (7.4 mg/dL lower), though the results were not as striking as the avocado diet.

Several additional blood measurements were also more favorable after the avocado diet versus the other two cholesterol-lowering diets as well: total cholesterol, triglycerides, small dense LDL, non-HDL cholesterol, and others.

Information gathered from Science Daily.

Want To Turn Around An Unproductive Day? Take a Hike.

We all have those days when the work day morning seems to be crawling by, we’re unproductive, unfocused and have lost all energy. But one simple lunchtime fix can help get you back on track. And it’s as easy as taking a 30-minute stroll. Take a hike.

Researchers have found that a short, relaxing walk can have immediate benefits that lift one’s mood, reduce stress and increase motivation and a positive attitude for the rest of the day. During the study, participants were asked to walk for 30 minutes during their lunch break three days a week, then answer a series of questions about their mood immediately after. The other two days of the work week, they did not walk, but still answered questions at the same time of day.

Researchers noticed that responses after a walk indicated that the participants felt more enthusiastic, less tense and more relaxed through the rest of the afternoon compared to their mood before the walk. In addition, the volunteers improved their aerobic fitness and health after 10 weeks of walking.

So next time you’re not feeling your best, take a 30-minute break and go for a walk. You might be surprised how much better you feel afterward.