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Is Good Cholesterol Overrated? How to Make Your HDL Work Better

For years, we’ve heard that there are two primary types of cholesterol on a standard lipid panel that really matter for heart health.

The first one is the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or “bad cholesterol,” which you want to keep low. The other type is high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good cholesterol,” which you want to have as much of that as possible. Right?

Well, recent research has suggested that the relationship between HDL cholesterol and cardiovascular disease is far more complicated than previously believed. In fact, having high HDL may not necessarily mean that you’re at reduced risk of having a heart attack.

In this blog post, we’ll take a closer look at HDL, and discuss some important nuances.


How Olive Oil Keeps Your Blood Vessels Healthy

We’ve known for a long time that people who consume more olive oil – as opposed to other sources of dietary fat – are protected in certain ways from heart disease. And some recent research has started to uncover the reasons why.

One compelling and unappreciated way that olive oil prevents cardiovascular disease has to do with its impact on blood pressure.

High blood pressure is often characterized as a “silent killer” because it can cause permanent damage throughout the body without any obvious symptoms. Tragically, by the time the problem becomes obvious, it is sometimes too late to reverse the damage.
About 70 million adults in the US have hypertension – that’s 1 in every 3! And only around 52% of people with hypertension have it under control. It is also likely that many are walking around with the condition who don’t even know they have it.

In this post, we will discuss why consuming extra virgin olive oil seems to help keep blood pressure in check – and how you can best take advantage of this in your own diet.


Balancing Standing and Sitting Across the Workday (Podcast with Professor Travis Saunders)

Is sitting really the new smoking? This idea became popular a few years ago and research supports that, indeed, too much sitting really is bad for us. But, as I discussed with Professor Matthew Buman, while no amount of smoking is healthy, sitting is a health behavior, it just becomes problematic when we do it too much of it.

In the most recent episode of humanOS Radio, I speak with Professor Travis Saunders of The University of Prince Edwards Island. Travis is also the founder the Sedentary Behavior Research Network, which is how I learned of his work. Much of his research looks at the influence of sitting behavior on health in both children and adults. In order to move the needle on this subject, he looks at the topic from a variety of research angles ranging from interventions done in the lab to population-level epidemiological studies and systematic reviews. In our discussion, we explore what’s known and not known on the subject, and also practical ways to find the sweet spot for daily standing time.


Research Reveals a Surprising Link Between Melatonin and Type 2 Diabetes

We typically associate the hormone melatonin with sleep. However, melatonin is actually involved in the timing and synchronization of a number of different physiological functions throughout the body. One of these functions is the regulation of blood sugar.

Recent research has found that a relatively large proportion of the human population is genetically predisposed to be more sensitive to the impact of this hormone on blood sugar control. This can lead to higher blood glucose levels, and ultimately greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Here’s how it works, and what you can do about it.


Can Chocolate Help You Get Fit?

When we think of foods that improve athletic performance, chocolate is maybe not one of the first options that comes to mind.

We’ve known for a while that certain molecules found in chocolate, known as flavonols, are associated with health benefits to the heart and the brain. Epicatechin, in particular, has exhibited widespread effects throughout the body.

But some emerging evidence suggests that chocolate may also aid in exercise performance – weird as it may sound.

Here’s what the research says so far, and how it seems to work.


How Much Alcohol Should I Drink to Age Better? (Age Better Today, Part 4)

The research on alcohol and its effects on long-term health in humans can appear confusing and seemingly paradoxical. Conventional health organizations recommend moderate drinking – if you drink at all – due to potential beneficial effects for cardiometabolic health. On the other hand, they do not encourage teetotalers to start drinking, on account of the possible risks associated with alcohol consumption.

One basic principle of toxicology to keep in mind is “the dose makes the poison.” This applies to literally all chemicals – including vitamins and minerals that are essential to our survival. Even water can become toxic when too much is absorbed into the body. So, whether or not a substance can be characterized as a toxin is not a simple question. It depends upon the dose, as well as the duration of exposure. Epidemiology and basic science have suggested that alcohol can actually be beneficial to health and longevity – however only in the right amounts. Ethanol appears to work its magic by improving, among other things, insulin sensitivity and lipid profiles. But these benefits are largely lost in the context of heavy drinking. But new research looks at how various levels of daily alcohol consumption influences biological aging. Read more to find out what they discovered.


A meta-analysis of the Paleolithic nutrition pattern; an interview of authors

Just today, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – the most prestigious nutrition journal in the world – published a systematic review and meta-analysis of the paleolithic nutrition pattern (the Paleo diet).

The audio interview below is with study authors, Hanno Pijl, M.D., Ph.D., and Ester van Zuurin, M.D., both of Leiden Unversity in the Netherlands. They, along with authors Eric Manheimer and Zbys Fedorowicz, first performed a systematic review of six online publication libraries for all possible qualifying research. From there, they winnowed the list to four studies, pooling together 159 subjects for their analysis, looking for mean differences in primary endpoints related to metabolic syndrome: 1) Waist circumference, 2) Blood pressure, 3) Triglycerides, 4) HDL cholesterol, and 5) Blood sugar concentration. Secondary endpoints included change in body weight, even though some of the studies included in the analysis tried to prevent weight change so that the results would be less confounded by it. Weight loss, while healthy for someone who is overweight, can also improve these endpoints independently, making it harder to know if it is the nutritional properties of the diet or the weight loss that influenced results. We discuss this specifically in the interview, which you can listen to it here in its entirety.


How to design health for life (video)

This may seem like a strange question, but have you ever wondered if the makers of your health apps design their products based on a clear idea about how it helps you achieve health? This video of my presentation at the HxRefactored conference in Boston, which was released today, describes the thesis upon which we base the design of our entire health-supporting ecosystem. As a member of our community, I encourage you to give it a look and add comments below.