Monthly Archives: April 2016

Could Fast Food Expose People to Harmful Chemicals?

By Dennis Thompson
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, April 13, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Eating fast food may expose a person to potentially harmful chemicals known as phthalates, a new study suggests.

People who consumed lots of fast food tended to have levels of phthalates in their urine that were 24 percent to 40 percent higher than people who rarely ate take-out fare, the researchers found.

“We found statistically significant associations between the amount of fast food consumed in the prior 24 hours and the levels of two particular phthalates found in the body,” said study author Ami Zota. She is an assistant professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, in Washington, D.C.

However, the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between fast food and phthalate exposure.

The two phthalates in question are di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) and diisononyl phthalate (DiNP), Zota said. Industries use these chemicals to make plastics flexible, and they can be found in a wide array of food packaging and food-processing machinery.

The U.S. Congress has permanently banned the use of DEHP in children’s toys, baby bottles, and soothers, and it has temporarily banned DiNP for the same uses, according to the Environmental Working Group. The group is a nonprofit that focuses on environmental health issues.

The bans are based on concerns that phthalates can affect the development of the male reproductive system, Zota said. The chemicals also have been implicated in birth defects, childhood behavioral problems and childhood chronic illnesses, such as asthma.

The two phthalates can get into fast food during the processing of the food, explained Shanna Swan. She is a professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive science with the department of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai’s Icahn School of Medicine, in New York City.

The chemicals also can leach into the food from the packaging in which it is stored, both prior to cooking and when it is served, Zota said.

Fast food even can pick up phthalates from the vinyl gloves that restaurant workers wear to prevent food poisoning, Zota added.

“To reduce exposure to phthalates, my recommendation always is to minimize exposure to processed foods, and the ultimate processed food platform is the fast-food restaurant,” Swan said. “They don’t use anything fresh.”

The U.S. National Restaurant Association did not respond to a request for comment on the new findings.

To see whether people who eat fast food have more phthalates in their systems, Zota and her colleagues reviewed data on nearly 8,900 people participating in a regular survey on health and nutrition conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The participants all had answered detailed questions about their diet in the past 24 hours, including consumption of fast food, and provided a urine sample that could be tested for signs of DEHP and DiNP.

Researchers defined fast food as anything obtained from a restaurant without waiter or waitress service, or any type of pizza place. All carryout and delivery foods were also considered fast food.

People were considered heavy fast-food connoisseurs if they obtained more than 35 percent of their daily calories from such sources, Zota said.

Zota and her team found that the more fast food participants in the study ate, the higher their exposure to phthalates.

People with the highest consumption of fast food had 24 percent higher levels of the breakdown product for DEHP in their urine sample. Those same fast-food lovers had nearly 40 percent higher levels of DiNP byproducts in their urine compared to people who reported no fast food in the 24 hours prior to the testing.

Grains and meats most significantly contributed to phthalate exposure, the study reported. Grains include a wide variety of items, such as bread, cake, pizza, burritos, rice dishes, and noodles, Zota explained.

Besides phthalates, the researchers also looked for exposure to another chemical found in plastic food packaging—bisphenol A (BPA). The investigators found no association between fast-food intake and BPA, but people who ate fast-food meat products had higher levels of BPA than people who reported no fast-food consumption.

The findings were published online April 13 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

Expectant mothers should limit or eliminate fast food in their diet to prevent phthalates from affecting fetal development, Swan and Zota suggested.

“This is of particular concern for pregnant women, or women who might get pregnant,” Swan said. “The risky period seems to be early in pregnancy.”

More information

For more on phthalates, visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.


How Mindful Munching Can Help You Shed Pounds

WEDNESDAY, April 6, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Along with diet and exercise, mindful eating may benefit overweight people trying to shed excess pounds, new research suggests.

“Mindful eating practices promote awareness of experiences related to the desire to eat, actual sensations of hunger, fullness, satisfaction and enjoyment,” study author Jennifer Daubenmier, from the University of California, San Francisco, said in a university news release.

The study included almost 200 obese adults. All of the participants followed the same diet and exercise regimen.

Half of the group was randomly assigned to also receive additional information on nutrition and exercise, as well as information on relaxation and stress management, the study authors explained.

The other half of the study group followed a program focused on “mindful eating.” This group was taught to be “present” while eating and to be aware of the thoughts and emotions related to the experience. This program also included meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, and the practice of being loving and kind to oneself and others, the researchers said.

Both groups had similar weight loss. But six months after the program ended, people in the mindfulness group had greater improvements in triglyceride levels (a type of blood fat) and “good” (HDL) cholesterol levels. The mindfulness group also had lower blood sugar levels one year later, the study found.

The researchers noted that these small improvements would reduce some of the risks of metabolic syndrome, a serious condition that increases the risk of heart disease.

“High stress levels, sedentary lifestyles and availability of inexpensive high-calorie foods mean it is easy to fall into the habit of mindless eating. We often find ourselves overeating not because we’re hungry, but because the food looks or tastes delicious, we’re distracted or we wish to soothe away unpleasant feelings,” Daubenmier said.

“Practicing mindfulness can be effective in allowing us to recognize our patterns without judging ourselves, and to make more thoughtful food choices about when, what and how much to eat in ways that are both satisfying and healthy,” she added.

The mindfulness program didn’t force participants to give up all high-calorie foods. However, it directed them to recognize cravings and allow them to pass. It also encouraged participants to savor their favorite guilty pleasures in smaller portions that wouldn’t exceed their calorie goals, the study authors said.

“Mindfulness training may promote sustained improvements in healthy eating that may contribute to better longer-term improvement in some aspects of metabolic health [when combined with a weight-loss program],” Daubenmier said.

The study was published in the March issue of the journal Obesity.

More information

Read more about mindful eating from Harvard University.


Weight-Loss Surgery Gets People Moving, Study Shows

By Kathleen Doheny
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, April 5, 2016 (HealthDay News) — Weight-loss surgery seems to help ease joint pain and improve mobility in the long run, new research suggests.

“Previous studies have reported improvement in pain and function [after weight-loss surgery],” said study author Wendy King, an associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Pittsburgh.

However, most of those studies only followed people for a year after their procedure, she added.

“We found through three years of follow-up that, depending on the measure, 50 to 75 percent of adults with severe obesity who had bariatric [weight-loss] surgery experienced clinically significant improvements in pain, physical functioning and walking time,” she said. “Our findings reinforce the findings of shorter-term studies.”

King’s team evaluated more than 2,200 men and women who had weight-loss surgery at one of 10 hospitals across the United States. The patients’ median age was 47 and their median body mass index (BMI) was more than 45, which is considered severely obese. Most had the operation known as gastric bypass, which reduces the size of the stomach.

At the start of the study, 44 percent could not walk a quarter mile in seven minutes, a commonly used measure for assessing mobility, King said. After three years, only 26 percent could not, she added.

And about three-fourths of those with severe hip or knee pain or disability had improvement in symptoms of osteoarthritis by the third year, the study found.

More improvement was seen in men, those who were younger, those who had higher incomes and those who had lower BMIs. Patients with fewer depression symptoms, less leg swelling and no diabetes at the study’s start also saw greater gains in mobility.

At the three-year mark, the patients weighed, on average, 28 percent less than they did before their surgery, the researchers found.

The findings were published April 5 in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Why was there such an impact on pain and function?

“Excess weight-bearing leads to joint damage, and that leads to pain, and that leads to restriction in activity,” King explained.

In some cases, joint replacement surgery followed the weight-loss procedure: About 4 percent of patients had joint surgery a year later, while another 5 percent did so in the second year and almost 5 percent more did so in the third year. Knee replacement surgery was much more common, the study found.

Patients are sometimes advised to lose weight before having joint surgery, the researchers explained.

The new finding “again shows that severe obesity affects the entire body, and quality treatment improves function and reduces pain,” said Dr. Mitchell Roslin, chief of obesity surgery at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

The improvement found in the study is similar to what is seen after joint replacement, said Roslin, who wasn’t involved with the study. “Additionally, many who are too high-risk for joint surgery because of their weight become realistic surgical candidates following weight loss,” he noted.

While weight-loss surgery has shown significant health benefits and is considered safe, the procedure is not without risks, and recovery time can be lengthy, experts have pointed out.

Some of the risks include excessive bleeding, infection and stomach perforation.

More information

To learn more about weight-loss surgery, visit the Mayo Clinic.