Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.

Mark's Daily Apple

10 Jan

Some Reps on the Ol’ Thinking Machine


As we have noted, there is a new trend in the world of training. No, it doesn’t involve some new fangled fitness contraption or hip new exercise program. In fact it doesn’t involve much physical activity at all. Use your head and you just might figure out what we mean. Yes, that’s right! This craze is all about training your brain.

Maintaining brain fitness through diet, exercise, and now mind-workouts has become one of the latest health movements. Nintendo’s video game Brain Age released early last year made the idea of boosting brain power through mental calisthenics widely popular. Since then brain gyms and brain health programs have been cropping up across the nation.

The notion of brain training simply takes the philosophy behind physical exercise and applies it to the mental realm. Hitting the gym can help build strength and endurance. Spending time focusing your mind on specific mental tasks should keep your mind sharp and agile. So goes the theory of brain training.

Proponents of brain training say that structured mental activity can be as good for your mind as physical activity is for the rest of your body.

But can you really train your brain to work better?

Although the science is still out on exactly which behaviors can effectively improve brain fitness there is evidence, and popular wisdom, that suggests that an active mind is a healthy mind.


With this in mind (pun intended) two websites aim to please those interested in improving cognition and brain power: Happy Neuron and My Brain Trainer. Both sites offer (for a fee) daily challenging exercises, games and other cerebral activities that are designed to stimulate your mind and improve your memory and ability to focus. These sites also highlight other mental capacities like reaction time, critical thinking skills, and visual and spatial perception. Additionally, they both give you the ability the track your progress over time to see if your mind really is becoming sharper.

Of course there are other ways to keep your mind sharp into old age. As Happy Neuron points out, regular exercise and certain foods and nutrients can also aid cognition.

In the near future expect to see a lot on the topic of brain health; specifically, ways to slow cognitive degeneration and improve mental skills.

10 Jan

Rotten Apple Award

rotten apple 03

I’m not surprised by this expose. Just as the Dairy Industry (Big Moo) has managed to “find” weight loss results when funding clinical studies, food manufacturers in general – and beverage producers in particular – “discover” nutritional benefits of their products and promote those discoveries to the public. Unfortunately, the nutrition science world is even more susceptible to corruption in studies than the pharmaceutical world!

As this article points out, it’s not so much that study results are deliberately misleading. The issue is that food manufacturers have many interesting ways of ultimately getting the results they prefer.

- Food companies pay for studies based on initial hypotheses that are already favorable.

- Food companies may conduct many studies but only use the favorable ones.

- Though conflicts of interest must be disclosed in any study, this is based on an honor system.

The Public Library of Science is one of my favorite resources for uncovering these sorts of shenanigans in the drug, food and beverage industries. In this particular article, PLOS finds that when beverage makers are involved in the study, the results are four to eight times more likely to be favorable. Coincidence?

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10 Jan

Weekly Contest Winner

Congrats to Junior Apple, Tracy L., on winning last week’s contest! Apples were asked to share how they got through the holidays the healthy way. Tracy not only had the regular temptations of the holidays, but was on her honeymoon cruise! She told us how she actually managed to lose weight on her trip. Good work, Tracy! We’re sending you a free supply of our favorite healthy chocolate weight-management shake, Responsibly Slim. Congrats to our four runners-up, too.

Tracy says:

“I was married Thanksgiving weekend. During our honeymoon, we spent time in Rome before boarding a cruise ship for a 17-day Mediterranean/ Transatlantic cruise ending in New Orleans. We indulged in local cuisine all along the way, and actually lost weight during our trip mostly by choosing walking tours as our excursions. We spent nine very active days site-seeing in our ports. While onboard we chose a wide variety of foods including steaks, lobster, shrimp, fish, frog legs, snails, rabbit, pheasant, burgers, pizza, lots of fresh salads and fresh fruit, cheesecake, pastries, and an occasional fruity drink. We tried to sample new and interesting things while making healthful choices most of the time. Our ship had 18 decks, with our cabin on deck 8. Even as our travel planning was just beginning, we planned to use the stairs, and for 17 days we did. We climbed up 5 flights to the breakfast buffet, and down three flights for dinner, as well as for other activities during the day. Stairs were usually faster than elevators and better for our health! We had heard that average weight gain during a cruise is one pound per day. Even with delicious food available 24 hours a day, we were determined to keep it in perspective. We had a wonderful time, enjoyed a five-course dinner every night, and don’t feel like we missed a thing. The only extra pounds we brought home were in our luggage.

Be sure to check your inbox for this week’s contest, coming shortly! If you aren’t a member of Mark’s Daily Apple yet, click “Join” above to register.

10 Jan

The Buckler Brief

NUTRIENT: Beta Glucans

WHAT IT DOES: For immune system support, beta glucans, a polyssacharide (sugar molecule) offer much potential. Similar to other immune-stimulating nutrients like echinacea and goldenseal, beta glucans, which are derived from yeast, barley, and oats, appear to boost white blood cell count and macrophage activation. Macrophages are literally irritated into action by beta glucan sugars! These processes are key components of healthy immune system activity.

STUDIES SHOW: Beta glucans appear to have immune stimulating properties. Several studies have shown that beta glucans may be able to activate macrophages, help to inhibit tumors, and reduce infection. Beta glucans are generally used for immune system support, although it has been theorized that beta glucans may also serve a role in cancer inhibition because of their stimulatory affects. Beta glucans are thought to work by stimulating white blood cell activity. In laboratory studies, beta glucans have also been shown to stimulate monocyte cytokines, compounds that fight cancer cells in tumors.

However, the most established evidence supports beta glucans’ use as an immune-boosting nutrient.

Beta glucans can be found here. We love them because of the promising immune-stimulating properties. Beta glucans may help reduce or fight infections in the body and improve the general strength of the immune system. Overall immune system health is vital to resisting serious health problems, and beta glucans offer tremendous potential for supporting the immune system.

9 Jan

Juicy Picks

Worker Bees’ Daily Bites:

A lot of good stuff is buzzing about in the health world today, Apples. Here’s the best of the batch:

1) But my crumpet won’t be the same!

A new study finds that adding milk or cream to your tea diminishes the nutritional value. (The nutritional value of tea is off the charts: “tea exerts antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and vasodilating effects, ‘thereby rendering protection against cardiovascular diseases’ the researchers said.”)

Guess what? The study examined 16 whole people. And only women. Who were post-menopausal. In other words, hardly conclusive, yet it made a splash all over the media. (Science Daily got pretty darn dramatic: “Research published online in the European Heart Journal has found that the protective effect that tea has on the cardiovascular system is totally wiped out by adding milk.” And then bemoaned the plight of the British, who enjoy a bit of milk in their tea.)

Despite drinking gallons of tea, the Brits do have high rates of heart disease (although, if you recall from our news item last week, they’ve managed to slash their national heart disease rate by almost 40% in just a few years). While this study may turn out to be accurate, it pays to take a look at just how reasonable major new health claims actually are. In this case, a milk protein called casein may blunt the antioxidants in tea (known as catechins). Or maybe not: while it’s a good theory, it needs more testing.

The moral of the story? Being really dramatic about relatively small news is fun for the media (sorry guys and gals), so always consider the source and expect significant results.


2) 17% and Still Sick

We spend about 2 trillion dollars a year on health care. That’s not including food, or diets, or diet books, or exercise machines, or gym memberships. That’s just health care. TWO. TRILLION. DOLLARS.

By comparison, we spend about 9 billion on nutritional supplements.

2 trillion dollars is also more money than the entire national GDP of every single country in the world except the US, Japan, Germany, the UK, and France. That means our health care tab alone is more than the national economic value of 179 whole nations. Whew.

Now, with 17% of our national funds going to health care, what do we have to show for it?

When it comes to obesity, life expectancy, heart disease, cancer, osteoporosis, diabetes, depression, drug reactions, and preventable death, that old adage “We’re #1″ is, unfortunately, all too true.

The news is both sobering and encouraging. Here we are, the richest nation on earth, suffering ill health at rates far beyond most other industrialized nations. The good news (yes, there is good news!) is that nearly every major health problem we face can be prevented in most cases through lifestyle changes. All of the above listed health conditions and diseases are almost entirely preventable with a better diet, a little exercise, and a little TLC. We could spend money on health care until the cows come home, but the fact remains: an ounce of prevention

3) Girls Need Omega 3’s, Too

Yet another excellent piece on the interesting link between migraines, depression, and anxiety in women. Women tend to suffer far more from these health issues than do men. Scientists postulate a few possible reasons: hormonal differences, social and cultural pressures related to gender, and the fact that women tend to attend to the health of their children or mates before addressing their own health problems. There’s no clear-cut answer, and men don’t have an easy time, either: men are prone to heart attacks earlier in life, higher blood pressure, and also tend to ignore serious health issues such as ED, cancer and depression because of the social stigma.

However, whether you’re a pretty pink or a big blue, you can do a lot to ease things like depression, anxiety, and even headaches by getting sufficient Omega-3 fats. Studies overwhelmingly point to the brain and heart benefits of these vital fats.

Get good fats in your body by cutting out trans-fat (found in margarine, processed foods and fried fare), eating more fish, olive oil, nuts and avocados, and taking a fish oil supplement.

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