Chocolate can be beneficial during pregnancy

Pregnant women often worry about gaining too much weight when they are expecting, but a new study has shown that eating chocolate could provide essential health benefits. Anyone who has been through pregnancy will have experienced cravings at any time of the day or night – with chocolate being top of many women’s list. Now you no longer need to stress about tucking into your favorite sweet treat, as scientists have found high–flavanol chocolate can boost fetal growth and help the placenta perform more efficiently.

The study conducted by experts at Universite Laval in Quebec City, Canada, also determined the sweet stuff can decrease the risk of pre-eclampsia, a potentially serious condition which can occur in the latter stages of pregnancy.

“This study indicates that chocolate could have a positive impact on placenta and fetal growth and development and that chocolate’s effects are not solely and directly due to flavanol content,” explained study co-author Dr Emmanuel Bujold.

Previous studies have produced conflicting findings when it comes to the impact of eating chocolate during pregnancy, so this latest trial focused on the effect of high-flavanol chocolate, such as dark chocolate, which is high in cocoa solids.

For the study, 129 women were chosen, all between 11 and 14 weeks pregnant with one baby. They were given 30 grams of either high-flavanol or low-flavanol chocolate to eat every day for 12 weeks, and their progress was followed until they gave birth. Each participant’s uterine artery Doppler pulsatility index (PI) was measured, which shows blood velocity in placental, fetal and uterine circulations. The PI showed noticeable improvement for both groups.

Gestational hypertension, placenta weight, pre-eclampsia and birth weight was also noted for each woman – and no differences were found between the two groups.

Fizzy drink consumption = Organs wrapped in fat

We all know that snacking on bags of crisps and bars of chocolate washed down with a litre of something fizzy is no good for our waistline or insides. In fact, very few people need another study to tell them the dangers of a diet high in sugar and fat, but unfortunately it’s an area of growing concern as obesity continues to soar across the world.

This time, latest research highlights the damage fizzy drinks cause to our insides, with those consuming the sugary beverages daily finding their organs wrapped in fat.

Scientists at the US National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute in Massachusetts followed 1,000 middle-aged participants for six years to conclude their results. Everyone in the study was asked how often they drank fizzy drinks and underwent X-rays to determine how much visceral fat they had.

Visceral fat is harmful fat stored within the abdominal cavity, which means it lingers around a number of important internal organs such as the liver, pancreas and intestines. As well as making people pile on the pounds, visceral fat plays an important part in diabetes, cardiovascular disease and breast cancer.

The results have been published in medical journal Circulation, with the team finding those who drank sugary or fizzy drinks every day put on nearly a litre in extra visceral fat over the six years. That’s 30 per cent more than those who never consumed the beverage.

Diet drinks didn’t yield the same results, which suggests it’s sugar that causes the problem. The team suggests that insulin resistance triggered by added sugar could be to blame for fat increase.

“There is evidence linking sugar-sweetened beverages with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes,” Dr Caroline Fox, who led the new study, explained.

“Our message to consumers is to follow the current dietary guidelines and to be mindful of how much sugar-sweetened beverages they drink. To policy makers, this study adds another piece of evidence to the growing body of research suggesting sugar-sweetened beverages may be harmful to our health.”

Talk of a sugar tax is ongoing in Britain, with the latest study poised to add even more weight to the argument to make sugary treats more expensive.

Breakthrough for back pain sufferers

Whether it’s just a twinge or so severe you can’t move, back pain is one of the biggest health issues going. Most of us have suffered with it at one point in our lives and it’s a big cause of sick leave, which is why a new study is being hailed as one of the most important in years.

It’s been found that regular exercise is the best way to help with back pain, whether that’s stretching, working on stamina or completing easy exercises to strength the muscles. In fact, people who followed an exercise regime were 35 per cent less likely to complain of the pain when tested over a year.

When people were also taught how to do things like lift heavy objects safely, the number rose to 45 per cent. That result is so staggering that experts have suggested if there was a drug which produced the same outcome, it would be pushed around the world.

Lower back pain effects four out of five people at some point, with most cases caused by wrenching the area while lifting something without bending the knees properly. Although the discomfort usually clears within a matter of weeks, some find it returns within a year.

A team at the University of Sydney investigated by checking out the findings of 23 surveys involving over 30,000 people. It was discovered that people who’d exercised managed to cut the likelihood of the pain hitting again within 12 months.

“The current evidence suggests that exercise alone or in combination with education is effective for preventing low back pain,” the authors of the study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, stated.

“Other interventions, including education alone, back belts, and shoe insoles, do not appear to prevent low back pain.”

It was found that maintaining a level of exercise was also important, so you can’t just do some stretches when you feel a twinge and leave it at that. A concerted effort to exercise the back is needed – if you’re in doubt about what you should be doing, consult an expert at your gym.