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Roundup: Benefits of 300 Fewer Calories; Alcohol’s Link to Sunburn Risk; and Blood Pressure’s Bottom Number Studied

Cutting Just 300 Calories A Day Could Bring Heart Health Benefits

New research finds that even a modest reduction of 300 calories a day could lead to improved heart health in young and middle-aged adults, according to a paper published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology [1].

In the new study, funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers looked at 143 healthy men and women, ages 21 to 50. They restricted their caloric intake for two years. They could eat the foods they wanted, but they had to cut back on the total amount of food they ate, with the goal of reducing daily caloric intake by 25 percent.

Many did not meet that goal. On average, the participants managed to cut about 12 percent of their total calories, or roughly 300 calories a day. That’s the equivalent of the calories in a large bagel or a small Starbucks Mocha Frappuccino. Nonetheless, the group of 188 that completed the study saw improvements in heart and metabolic health — even though they were already relatively healthy.

On average, they lost about 16 pounds and saw improved health markers, including lower cholesterol and lower blood pressure. They also saw improved insulin resistance and metabolic rates.

“We expected there to be [some] improvement on cardiometabolic factors because of weight loss,” William Kraus, the study’s lead author and a distinguished professor of cardiovascular genomics at Duke University, told NPR.org. “But … we didn’t expect the degree of improvement we saw.”

The researchers concluded that modest caloric restriction can have “substantial” health benefits beyond those normally associated with weight loss.

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Alcohol Consumption Could Lead to Higher Risk of Sunburns, Skin Cancer

Drinking alcohol can lead to a faster, more severe sunburn and that increases your risk of skin cancer, new research indicates.

The study, published in the British Journal of Dermatology [4], concedes that this is partly the result of people forgetting to apply sunscreen or spending more time in the sun because they drank too much alcohol.

But alcohol seems to have a physiological effect that makes the skin more vulnerable to sunburn. The research found the amount of UV light from the sun that it takes to burn the skin is significantly less after consuming a few drinks. Two other studies have produced similar findings.

Researchers found that alcohol reduced the concentration of carotenoids, a pigment produced by plants that builds up in the body when you eat fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids act as an antioxidant, neutralizing the free radicals created by UV rays. Lower carotenoid levels can lead to more skin damage, the researchers said.

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Both Numbers in Blood Pressure Reading Can Influence Stroke, Heart Attack Risk

For decades, doctors have focused more on the high “systolic” blood pressure reading — or the top number — as the number to more likely result in adverse outcomes, such as a stroke. As a result, medical guidelines focus on the upper number, while some experts argue that the diastolic number — the bottom number — may not be a significant marker.

But a new study finds that both numbers — systolic and diastolic — independently can predict the risk of a heart attack or stroke. Researchers from the large Kaiser Permanente study analyzed more than 36 million blood pressure readings from more than 1 million people.

The study, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine [7], concludes that systolic pressure may have a greater impact, but both systolic and diastolic pressures strongly influenced the risk of heart attack or stroke.

“Every way you slice the data, the systolic and diastolic pressures are both important,” said lead author Alexander C. Flint, M.D., Kaiser Permanente stroke specialist.

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