Cherry juice may help to reduce high blood pressure

Drinking cherry juice reduces high blood pressure at a level comparable to that achieved by taking medication, a new study claims.

Researchers at the U.K.’s Northumbria University, found that men with early signs of hypertension – more commonly known as high blood pressure – saw a seven per cent reduction in blood pressure after drinking Montmorency cherry concentrate when compared to drinking a fruit-flavored cordial.

This reduction is comparable to the level achieved by high blood pressure medication.

For their study, researchers worked with 15 participants who were displaying early hypertension with blood pressure readings of at least 130/90 mmHg, meaning they were at higher risk of experiencing cardiovascular related problems.

They were told that the study was to investigate the effect of a fruit juice on vascular function and were given either 60ml of a Montmorency cherry concentrate or the same amount of cordial.

Blood pressure and blood samples were taken before the cherry concentrate was consumed and blood pressure was measured on an hourly basis thereafter. Blood samples and a series of other cardiovascular screening tests were taken again on a regular basis over the following eight hours.

Accordingly, the researchers found that the participants who were given the cherry concentrate saw a peak reduction in their blood pressure of 7 mmHg in the three hours after consuming the antioxidant-rich drink.

Past studies have shown that a reduction of between 5-6 mmHg over a sustained period has been associated with a 38 per cent reduced risk of stroke and 23 per cent reduced risk of coronary heart disease.

Lead study author Karen Keane said the discovery highlights the potential importance that Montmorency cherries could have in the effective management of high blood pressure.

“The magnitude of the blood pressure lowering effects we observed was comparable to those achieved by a single anti-hypertensive drug,” she explained, adding, “Raised blood pressure is the leading cause of deaths from cardiovascular disease, yet relatively small reductions in blood pressure can have a large impact on mortality rates.”

High blood pressure affects over five million people in England and, if left untreated, increases risk of heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease, stroke or dementia. Normal blood pressure is around 120/80 mmHg, researchers said.

In recent years, Northumbria University has undertaken a number of studies into the health benefits of tart Montmorency cherry concentrate. To date, they have found that the drinking the concentrate improves the quality and quantity of sleep, significantly reduces the symptoms associated with the painful condition of gout and enhances the recovery of muscle function after intense exercise, probably thanks to its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties.

The findings were first published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Drinking water before meals and other diet hacks

It’s a known fact that often when you’re feeling hungry, your body is actually thirsty and crying out for water. Equally it’s common knowledge that glugging a glass of H2O before a meal can mean fewer mouthfuls consumed. And for any water before dinner doubters, a team of Dutch researchers has now proved the diet myth true.

The team published their results in journal Obesity, after studying a group of overweight and obese men and women. The participants were split into two sub groups and given separate eating plans. One group were put on a hypocaloric diet, which saw them eat less calories than they were burning, while the others were also put on a hypocaloric diet but also upped their water intake, consuming 500ml of water half an hour before their three daily meals. Calories were restricted to 1,200 for women and 1,500 for men, and both groups followed the diet for 12 weeks.

All participants dropped weight after finishing the strict plan, but the water drinkers lost an additional 2 kg (4.4lb) compared to the others. Further tests showed that the water group ate less calories at meal times (40 on average), which backs previous research into the theory.

Taking the time to sip water before eating a meal is an easy diet trick to incorporate into your daily routine. We’ve rounded up three more simple hacks and swaps that will see you shed any unwanted pounds.

Smaller plates

There has been loads of research into this area, with findings concluding that a smaller plate means less food piled on, equaling fewer calories consumed. One study led by Brian Wansink of Cornell University and Koert van Ittersum from the Georgia Institute of Technology estimated that on average you can lose 10 pounds in a year using the small plate trick.

Plate color

Wansink and van Ittersum further found that plate color can play a key role in how much food you serve yourself. Crockery that is the same color as the food you’re eating saw people add 30 per cent more to their plate. This is because when the colors are similar, it’s harder to see what a big portion you’re dishing out. While having cupboards full of plates isn’t a great space saver, investing in a light set and dark set could be the answer.

Focus on your food

It’s been shown that people who are distracted when they eat, with Facebook, checking emails or even watching TV, eat 10 per cent more than they would if they were focused on their meals. Phones and laptops are part of everyday life, but switch off before you sit down for a quick way to cut calories.

Too many people taking unnecessary antibiotics

Nearly one-third of all antibiotics prescribed in the United States aren’t appropriate for the conditions being treated, results of a new study show.

Lead researcher Dr. Katherine Fleming-Dutra, a pediatrician and epidemiologist at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and her colleagues analysed more than 184,000 outpatient visits reported in a 2010-2011 national medical care survey. Of those sampled visits, nearly 13 per cent resulted in antibiotic prescriptions.

Findings show that most of these antibiotics are prescribed for respiratory conditions caused by viruses, including common colds, viral sore throats, bronchitis, and sinus and ear infections, which do not necessarily respond to antibiotics. Researchers said these 47 million excess prescriptions each year put patients at needless risk for allergic reactions or the sometimes deadly diarrhea, known as Clostridium difficile.

“About half of antibiotic prescriptions for acute respiratory conditions were unnecessary,” Dr Fleming-Dutra said. “Nobody should be giving antibiotics for the common cold.”

The researchers added that such misuse can fuel the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which infect two million Americans and kill 23,000 every year. They also estimated the rate of inappropriate antibiotic use in adults and children by age and diagnosis, with data helping to inform efforts to help improve antibiotic prescribing in the future.

“Antibiotics are lifesaving drugs, and if we continue down the road of inappropriate use we’ll lose the most powerful tool we have to fight life-threatening infections,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden. “Losing these antibiotics would undermine our ability to treat patients with deadly infections, cancer, provide organ transplants, and save victims of burns and trauma.”

Even though the data is five years old, researchers didn’t think the results would vary much in 2016 as there hasn’t been a lot of work dedicated to improving antibiotic use. They added that they felt many of the misused antibiotics were likely prescribed due to misunderstanding between doctors and patients.

“Doctors think the patient wants antibiotics, and they want the patient to be satisfied with their care, so that often drives clinicians to prescribe when they shouldn’t,” said Dr Fleming-Dutra.

To restrict antibiotic use, the researchers suggested running campaigns in doctors’ waiting rooms to promote awareness about the issue and to create better understanding for patients before they enter the examination room. The findings were first published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Apple juice can help kids get through stomach flu

Apple juice can be just as effective as electrolyte solutions when treating children with stomach bugs, researchers claim.

In small children, the treatment of gastroenteritis usually focuses on replacing fluids lost through diarrhea or vomiting. However, kids often don’t like the taste of electrolyte solutions and they can often be relatively expensive.

Accordingly, University of Calgary researchers have looked in to how the use of diluted apple juice and other fluids may be an alternative to electrolyte solutions given to children suffering from a level of dehydration.

The researchers studied 647 children ages six months to five years old who came to the emergency department with mild dehydration from stomach flu. Half of the group was given half-strength apple juice followed by their favorite drink, while the others received an apple-flavored electrolyte solution.

Twenty five per cent of the children who drank the electrolyte solution still needed intravenous (IV) fluids or other additional treatment, compared to only about 17 per cent of the kids who drank apple juice and their favorite drink.

Results shows that two-year-olds and older children responded best to apple juice, but even the younger group did a little better with apple juice than the electrolyte solution.

“These results challenge the recommendation to routinely administer electrolyte maintenance solution when diarrhea begins,” the researchers said in their analysis.

However, lead author Stephen B. Freedman noted that apple juice isn’t always appropriate and the method to treat dehydration should be evaluated on a case by case basis, taking into consideration those with moderate to severe dehydration or those at risk for electrolyte abnormalities or other significant medical conditions.

The study was first published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Why the sun is good for our bodies

Good news sun worshippers, research from around the world has concluded that a dose of sunny weather really is good for us.

While it’s well known that sun exposure without SPF can result in skin cancer and badly aged skin, researchers from various global institutes have found a whole host of good reasons to get in the summer spirit.

As well as skin creating vitamin D from sunlight, which is essential for healthy bones, scientists have also found sunshine allows the body to produce feel good chemical serotonin and also nitric oxide, which helps protect our cardiovascular system. Previous research published in the Environmental Science & Technology journal found that just five minutes of exercise outdoors can make you feel happier and less stressed.

It’s also been found that 20 to 30 minutes of early morning fitness in sunshine can help lower body fat. If you’ve been putting off joining a gym, then now is definitely the time to take your workouts outside.

As mentioned above, skin cancer and sunshine is a known link for those who lay in the sun, but were you aware that vitamin D can protect against colon, kidney and breast cancer? The US National Cancer Institute found people exposed to high levels of sunshine were less likely to die from breast and colon cancer, as well as bladder, womb, esophagus and stomach cancer. Make sure you’re wearing at least SPF 30 though when lounging around in the great outdoors, and take regular breaks in the shade.

Vitamin D also has positive effects on fertility, boosting levels of progesterone and estrogen and regulating menstrual cycles. As well as impacting the female sex hormones, sunshine also improves levels of testosterone, the male sex hormone.

Plus the wonder vitamin can improve memory, and protect against dementia. So what are you waiting for? The next time the sun breaks between the clouds, grab some SPF and get outside!

How to ease a sore neck

A sore neck can be a symptom of a bad night’s sleep, using a computer for a prolonged period of time or pulling a muscle. Stress and anxiety can also lead to tension in your neck, and if you’re a migraine sufferer, stiffness of the neck can even predict your next one.

There are a number of ways to ease the ailment, ranging from reaching for the painkillers to holding a hot water bottle to the area. Simple exercises and stretches can also alleviate pain, and we talk you through five of the best.

Standing neck stretch

This stretch is easy to do anywhere, and can offer instant relief. Standing with feet shoulder width apart, place hands behind the back, clasping one hand over the other wrist and stretching the arms slightly away from the body. Slowly lower your ear to your shoulder, hold for 30 seconds and then swap sides.

Corner stretch

Stand opposite a corner in a room, approximately two feet back with feet together. Raise your forearms to the wall, with elbows just below shoulder height. Lean in as far as possible, feeling a stretch in the front of the shoulders and chest. Hold for 30 seconds to a minute.

Seated stretch

Sitting cross legged on the floor or on a chair with feet planted firmly on the ground, place palms on the back of your head. Make sure your spine is stretched and your hips ground into the floor. Gently press hands down towards thighs, keeping them behind your head and tucking chin in. Hold for 40 seconds and then slowly bring head back up.

Upper back stretch

Sitting on a chair, stretch arms out in front of your with your palms touching each other. Bend over at the upper back, to form an almost diving position. Flex your chin to your chest and hold for 30 seconds.

Shoulder shrug

Shrug shoulders to your ears and hold tightly for a few seconds. Staying in the position, roll shoulders back before relaxing them down. Repeat 10 times.

Rosemary aroma may improve memory

If your memory isn’t as good as it used to be, you may want to start growing some rosemary plants. Researchers at Northumbria University have found that merely being in a rosemary-scented room could improve memory by 15 per cent among older people.

Rosemary, a woody, perennial herb with fragrant evergreen leaves, is a good source of vitamin A, and has long been valued for its therapeutic scent as well as culinary value.

To test the effects of rosemary on memory retention, researchers randomly allocated 150 people over the age of 65 to rooms with either a rosemary aroma, lavender aroma or no scent at all.

The participants were then given a simple memory challenge. Accordingly, researchers found that those placed in the room with a rosemary aroma performed better on the memory test than others.

“In terms of mood, rosemary significantly increased alertness and lavender significantly increased calmness and contentedness compared to the no aroma control condition,” researchers said in a statement.

Postgraduate student Lauren Bussey said that the findings support previous research indicating that the aroma of rosemary essential oil can enhance cognitive functioning in healthy adults.

Lauren added that this is the first time that similar effects have been demonstrated in the healthy over 65’s. However, she noted that further investigation is required to understand the potential benefits of these aromas throughout the life span.

The same group of researchers also conducted analysis into the impacts of drinking peppermint tea and found the beverage could improve long term memory and alertness.

In a study of 180 people, they found peppermint tea helped to improve long term memory, working memory and alertness. Meanwhile, chamomile tea significantly slowed memory and attention speed, which is why it’s such a good option for relaxing.

Dr Mark Moss noted that it was “interesting” to see the herbal teas’ differing effects on mood and cognition.

The research was presented at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference in Nottingham, U.K.

Do you know your smoothie powders?

If you have a cupboard packed with various powders for your morning smoothie, you may be feeling smug in the knowledge that you’re a powder pro. But do you know why you’re using them, and are you really getting the most out of the various concoctions you’re adding to your blended drink?

We’re here to break down a few of the powders, with help from Women’s Health.

Moringa

This North Indian leaf contains 17 times more calcium than milk and a whopping 25 times more iron than spinach – Popeye, eat your heart out! On top of this there are claims it helps control heart disease thanks to its cholesterol-absorbing plant sterols. The European Food Standards Authority found just 3g of the sterols is enough to lower cholesterol, so little is needed.

However, in the form of moringa, you’re getting around 450mh per teaspoon of plant compounds – that’s quite the difference. While there’s been no harm documented from taking too much, it may perhaps restrict your moringa intake to a couple of times a week rather than every day to allow your body to reap the benefits. It can also be added to a soup, and vegans will get the calcium they miss out from not eating diary with it.

Spirulina

A rich green powder that’s also a single-cell green algae doesn’t have the best taste, but it is super high in protein, making it perfect for your post-gym smoothies or shakes. It boasts around 60 per cent protein and is packed full of amino acids too, to help appetite control. So much so that a previous study documented by the Journal of Food Science Technology found those who took it lost a significant amount of weight.

Just 20g of protein is enough to help your muscles recover after a workout session, meaning a single scoop will provide only half of this. Get your protein from other sources too, like a handful of almonds alongside your drink.

Maca

No, we’re not talking about Paul McCartney here; maca is a powdered root that’s famous for boosting energy levels thanks to its vitamin B and minerals such as iodine and copper.

A further bonus is that it’s been found to boost libido, perfect from those suffering a sexual slump. A mere 3g, like with moringa, of maca is enough for women’s sex drive to be revved as found in previous research. It was also noted that these ‘aphrodisiac’ effects are triggered by a compound similar to testosterone, though more work needs to be done to determine this.

Having this in your smoothie is much better than reaching for a cup of black coffee or can of cola, as you’ll also be getting plenty of vitamin B. However, it doesn’t provide similar amounts to that found in, say oats, so be aware that you need more in your diet to feel the perks, like healthy metabolism and reduced risk of stroke.

Listening to music may help babies learn faster

Playing music to babies may help them learn language skills faster, a new study claims.

Researchers at the University of Washington suggest that listening to music with a waltz-like rhythm and tapping out the beats with their parents, improved babies’ processing of music patterns and speech sounds.

Researchers randomly assigned 39 nine-month-old babies to be exposed to music or serve as a control group. Nineteen babies in the control group played with toys during a dozen 15-minute sessions over a month. The other 20 babies listened to “recordings of children’s music played while an experimenter led the babies and their parents through tapping out the beats in time with the music,” lead study author T. Christina Zhao said, according to HealthDay. All the songs were in triple meter, such as waltzes, which were chosen because they’re relatively difficult for babies to learn.

The following week after the play sessions ended, all babies underwent brain scans.

“While sitting in the brain scanner, the babies listened to a series of music and speech sounds, each played out in a rhythm that was occasionally disrupted,” Zhao said. “The babies’ brains would show a particular response to indicate they could detect the disruption.”

The researchers found that the brains of the babies in the music exposure group were better able to respond to disruptions in speech and music rhythm.

Accordingly, the study results add another twist to the debate over whether music can make babies smarter. The researchers did admit that it is not clear how long the effect of listening to music may last or how much exposure to music is needed to make improvements in music and speech-pattern processing. But Zhao and her colleagues hope to learn whether or not the apparent effects from listening to music are lasting and how much exposure might be needed.

Previous research, known as the ‘Mozart effect’, looked into how music in early childhood might have a positive impact on young children’s brain development. But such theories are controversial and research into the relationship of sound and music for cognitive function and various physiological metrics has had no definitive results to date.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Meditation apps to help find inner peace

With the hectic pace and demands of modern life, many people feel stressed and over-worked, which in turn can impact their health. While we are often so busy that there’s no time to stop and smell the roses, turning to you phone may actually prove beneficial in this case. Meditation apps are proving all the rage, and are a great way to get a little added Zen into your day.

You may be a little skeptical at first, but such apps can make getting that quiet time a little more accessible. A good way to try meditation is to check out the Calm app, which offers relaxing sounds and encourages meditation goals. Or for beginners and more experienced mediators alike, the Headspace app is a good option as it guides users through ten minute long daily meditations to help you get used to the ritual. Once you complete these, you receive an invitation to subscribe to more programmes.

To overcome stress and find some inner peace and balance during your day, get Stop, Breathe and Think. This app will try and help you find the root cause of your problems and involves asking questions about your mental, physical and emotional well being. Based on your answers, you will get guided meditations to solve your problems. Another great app to download is Whil. It provides yoga and “mindfulness training” in both video and audio forms.

With a view to mindfulness, another intriguing app is Checky, which tracks how many times you check your phone each day with a view to making you more watchful about how you use your time. Or if you are simply in need of some quiet time, an app simply titled Meditation helps you relax through its soothing series of chiming bells, flowing water on rocks and some sweet symphonies.

But if you are in need of some serious spiritual guidance, turn to the MindBody application in order to locate your nearest yoga classes or meditation centers.

With all of these great apps available, there’s no better time try meditation, particularly in light of a new study which found that regular meditation sessions can knock seven and a half years off a middle-aged brain.

Along with American and Australian scientists, researchers at Jena University Hospital in Germany fed scans into a computer programme that analysed the images and provided an age for each brain based on its physical condition.

In general, the results showed that a non-meditators’ brain age and actual age were the same.

However, the meditators’ brains were significantly younger than their years, with the average 50-year-old having a brain that belonged in a 42 or 43 year-old’s body.

The benefits were particularly great for the older meditators, for every extra year past 50, a youth spent mediating reduced an extra year off brain age.