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Roundup: Artificial Sweetener’s Link to Heart Attack, Stroke Risks; Promising Study Restores Some Mobility in Stroke Patients; and More News


Artificial Sweetener, Erythritol, Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Attack, Stroke in New Study

A sugar substitute known as erythritol – an artificial sweetener which is added to “low-calorie” products -- has been linked to a higher risk of blood clotting, stroke and heart attack in a new study. This substance is a form of sugar alcohol, which is commonly used to add bulk to other sugar substitutes such as stevia, monk-fruit or keto-based products.

As part of the study, published in Nature Medicine, researchers from Cleveland Clinic studied more than 4,000 people in the U.S. and Europe and “found those with higher blood erythritol levels were at elevated risk of experiencing a major adverse cardiac event such as heart attack, stroke or death,” states a news release from the Cleveland Clinic.

The authors caution that follow-up studies are needed to confirm their findings in the general population. The study had several limitations, primary of which is that it found an association with such higher risks – but not a cause-and-effect link.

Physicians and dietitians generally agree that everyone should monitor and reduce the amount of artificial sweeteners in the diet because these sugar substitutes can cause more cravings for unhealthy sweet foods. Moreover, previous and ongoing studies have suggested links between regular consumption of artificial sweeteners to weight gain, metabolic disorders, type-2 diabetes, alteration of gut bacteria and even a higher risk of stroke and dementia.

The researchers behind the new study say erythritol is about 70 percent as sweet as natural sugar and is produced through fermenting corn. After ingestion, erythritol is poorly metabolized by the body and is absorbed into the bloodstream.

Explains Stanley Hazen, M.D., Ph.D., chairman for the Department of Cardiovascular & Metabolic Sciences at Cleveland Clinic, in a statement:  “Our study shows that when participants consumed an artificially sweetened beverage with an amount of erythritol found in many processed foods, markedly elevated levels in the blood are observed for days – levels well above those observed to enhance clotting risks.

“It is important that further safety studies are conducted to examine the long-term effects of artificial sweeteners in general, and erythritol specifically, on risks for heart attack and stroke, particularly in people at higher risk for cardiovascular disease.”


NIH Study: Spinal Cord Stimulation May Restore Arm, Hand Mobility in Stroke Patients

In a small study with promising results, researchers were able to restore some arm and hand mobility to two stroke patients using a device that stimulates the spinal cord. This allowed them to "perform daily life activities, such as using a fork to eat a meal," states the National Institutes of Health in a news release. The study, published in Nature Medicine, was funded by the NIH's Brain Research Through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative.

The NIH cautions that the findings provide "a practical stimulation protocol for adapting an existing clinical technology to treat upper-limb paralysis following stroke." But more research is needed to translate this therapy into actual medical use. "Future studies will examine ways to further optimize stimulation protocols and determine which stroke patients can benefit most from the therapy," the NIH states. .

The technology uses thin metal electrodes implanted on the surface of the spinal cord. Electrical impulses from the device stimulate neural circuits in the spinal cord, enabling them to acknowledged movement signals from the brain. "This engages muscles that have been weakened by stroke, allowing patients to voluntarily lift their arm, open and close their fist, and grasp household objects," the NIH said.

Recent studies have used spinal cord stimulation technology to treat chronic pain and restore leg movement after spinal cord injury. The study followed years of extensive preclinical studies that utilized computer modeling and animals as subjects. In this study, researchers tested the new therapy in two stroke patients with moderate to severe motor impairments.

The study team found that continuous stimulation of the "cervical sensory nerve roots of the spinal cord" immediately improved strength, range of motion, and function of the arm and hand. Stimulation also enabled the stroke patients to perform "complex tasks that require more skill and dexterity, such as using utensils to eat and opening a lock, activities that they had not done in years."

The NIH states that researchers were surprised when some benefits persisted for several weeks after the device was removed. "This suggests that when combined with physical or occupational therapy, this assistive stimulation approach could lead to more robust long-term improvements in motor function," the NIH states..

Globally, one in four people over age 25 will suffer from a stroke, and nearly three-quarters of these individuals will have lasting deficits in the motor control of their arm and hand, causing disability severely affecting daily living. There are no effective treatments for paralysis in the chronic stage of stroke, which begins six months after the initial stroke incident.

Latest Study on Best Time of Day to Exercise Focuses on Mid-Afternoon, or 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

All studies regarding the health benefits of regular exercises agree on one thing: Any exercise at any time of day is better than no exercise. But more recent research has tried to pinpoint the best time of day for optimal benefits from regular physical activity.

The latest study finds that workouts in the mid-afternoon – defined as 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. -- might protect a person from premature death more than morning or evening exercise sessions. The study, published in Nature Communications, evaluated health and demographic data from 92,000 people in a United Kingdom biomedical database.

Participants were provided accelerometers that measured when and how intensely they worked out over a seven-day period. Researchers reviewed mortality records after several years. They found that about 3,000, or 3 percent, of study participants had died, including roughly 1,000 individuals from heart disease and 1,800 from cancer.

Study participants who exercised in the mid-afternoon had a lower risk of dying, both overall and from heart disease, compared to those who worked out in the evening and morning time-tables. Apparently, alternating your exercise times is also beneficial. Researchers found that same benefits for those study participants with "mixed" exercise times – meaning that they regularly changed their workout schedules. In the study, “evening” meant from 5 p.m. to midnight, and “morning” from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m.)

The lowered risk for heart disease death from afternoon workouts were “more pronounced among the elderly, males, less physically active participants, or those with preexisting cardiovascular diseases,” the study states.

Researchers reiterated that any exercise is better that no exercise. Both the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Heart Association recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week. They also recommend moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) on at least two days per week.

“National and international guidelines state that physical activity (PA) is one of the most important measures for individuals of all ages to improve health,” the study states. “Compelling evidence suggests that PA is associated with lower risks of mortality and morbidities, including cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

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