Ready to “Spring Ahead” this Weekend? Why Sleep Matters

alarm_clockThis week is Sleep Awareness Week, an annual outreach and education event started by the National Sleep Foundation to promote—what else?—the importance of getting a good night’s sleep. It ends on Sunday when we “spring ahead” for Daylight Saving Time, but in the meantime here are two new sleep studies making headlines:

Lack of Sleep Linked to Higher Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
Researchers at the University of Chicago recently found a connection between too little sleep and a greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In a small study involving 19 adult men, those who got too little sleep (around four hours total) for a few nights in a row had higher levels of free fatty acids in the blood. These by-products of fat metabolism prevent the hormone insulin from doing its job of regulating blood sugar levels, and according to study authors the effects were similar to those seen in the early stages of diabetes.

Are Sleep Aids Increasing Your Risk for Dementia?
A new study from scientists at the University of Washington School of Pharmacy found that certain types of over-the-counter drugs—including sleep aids—increase the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in seniors. Even in small amounts the drugs have anticholinergic effects, which means they prevent the neurotransmitter acetylcholine from functioning properly and as a result impact cognitive function. However, the study found that heavier use dramatically increases the risk for cognitive impairment. Anticholinergic drugs also include some antidepressants, antihistamines, and medications for overactive bladder.

Still, blood sugar and brain health are just the beginning. Getting enough sleep is important for your whole body to function properly—not to mention for maintaining a healthy weight, reducing stress, and improving mood. As you change those clocks this weekend, remember that most experts recommend getting between 7 and 9 hours of sleep for optimal health.

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Processed Foods, Inflammation & Weight Gain: What’s the Connection?

icecreamAside from the added sugars and harmful trans fats, scientists from the Institute for Biomedical Services at Georgia State University have found yet another reason to avoid processed foods: common food additives called emulsifiers.

Emulsifiers are used to improve texture and shelf life in a variety of food products from ice cream to salad dressing, but results of a new study involving mice reveal a not-so-appetizing downside. In a nutshell, they may be changing our gut bacteria in a way that promotes inflammation—resulting in an increased risk of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), metabolic syndrome and obesity.

For the study, some of the mice were given a human-equivalent dose of two common emulsifiers used in processed foods (polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulsose), while the others were fed a placebo. Afterward, researchers noted significant changes in the gut bacteria of the mice who received the emulsifiers. The altered bacteria were able to penetrate the intestinal lining and activate certain proteins that trigger an inflammatory response in the body. The results ranged from mild intestinal inflammation to chronic colitis, weight gain and metabolic syndrome.

 

According to study authors, cases of IBD and metabolic syndrome have risen dramatically since around the 1950s—about the time processed foods became extremely popular. They believe dietary changes may be a key factor, pointing out that food interacts “intimately” with our unique gut bacterial colonies, and the addition of chemicals such as emulsifiers may be causing a rise in inflammatory diseases.

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