How Zinc Fights Infection

Many of you have probably tried a zinc cold lozenge in hopes of fighting off a cold, and now a new bit of research in the journal Cell Reports may explain how this essential, relatively simple mineral might work. The study, led by Daren Knoell who is a professor of pharmacy and internal medicine at Ohio Statue University uncovered just how zinc works to balance the immune systems response to infection, tapping the brakes (so to speak) to prevent out of control inflammation.

On the cellular level zinc stops the activity of a protein that plays a key role in our natural immune response to infection. It acts to keep inflammation in check, inflammation that can be damaging, even deadly.

Surprisingly, a deficiency of zinc affects almost 2 billion people the world over, and this figure includes about 40% of the elderly in the United States. The lack of this mineral can have some unpleasant consequences for vulnerable people, or at the time of an infection could be very serious according to the researchers. If you don’t have enough zinc your immune system is amplified, and not in a good way.

After looking at animal studies and human cell cultures of those with sepsis (a dangerous systemic response to infection), Knoell and his team saw that a specific protein draws zinc into key infection fighting cells, first responders in the fight against infection. Here it balances the immune response. This is the first time this pathway has been studied. In earlier work in animals, Knoell found that mice deficient in zinc developed significant inflammation in response to sepsis than did the mice fed a normal diet.

This might explain why taking zinc supplements at the beginning of a cold seems to ease your symptoms. In the future, there may be therapeutic benefit to giving zinc supplements to some patients with certain conditions. But no one is saying that if very ill patients in hospital ICS’s, where sepsis can be life threatening, would benefit from supplements of zinc. Not all patients might need them, perhaps only a portion.

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How Zinc Fights Infection Continued…

The team also believes that the findings are applicable to other diseases and
will continue to study this pathway, inflammation and zinc deficiency. Without
enough zinc to start with, perhaps people are more likely to pick up an infection.

Most healthy adults should be getting from 8 (for women) to 11 (for men) milligrams of zinc each day. The U.S. National Institutes of Health tells us that natural sources of zinc include red meat and poultry. Other rich sources of zinc include nuts, beans, some shellfish (oysters, crab, lobster), whole grains, dairy products and fortified cereals. It’s also available as an affordable, easy to take dietary supplement.

If you’re looking for ways to help your immune system, living a healthy lifestyle is one of the best. This includes getting regular exercise (20 minutes with your heart rate up, three times a week), eating more natural sources of antioxidants (besides zinc, vitamin C, and E and beta carotene), being sure you’re getting enough sleep as fatigue increases your susceptibility to illness. Rounding out the list, manage your stress levels as cutting stress brings down levels of cortisol and helps you sleep better. Perhaps most fun of all… laugh as this brings down the levels of stress hormones and increases a type of white blood cell that fights infection.

To your good health,

7 Easy Ways To Boost Your Metabolism

Get this… even the little decisions you make about diet and exercise can make a very large difference in your metabolism. The thing to understand is that your metabolism isn’t fixed at one rate according to exercise physiologist Gary Ditsch, and you can make big changes depending on what you eat and how active you are.

Here are 7 smart ways to get your metabolism moving faster…

1. Weight lifting builds muscle, the more muscle you have the more calories you burn. What you might not realize is that the calorie burn keeps going long after the end of the workout. A research project at Southern Illinois University found that exercisers who did a 15-minute resistance routine burned 100 added calories a day for the next three days.

Why? Experts know that strength training causes micro trauma to the muscles, and your body will work to rebuild the tissue. It does this by burning added protein and carbs. To amp up fat burning, try 1 to 3 sets each of 5 resistance exercises (push-ups or squats) on three days a week.

2. Lift first, do cardio next as this combination will melt more fat. Exercisers who lifted weights for 20 minutes before cycling lost more weight than those who didn’t lift weights or those who waited longer between the periods of lifting and cardio. So go right from the weights to the treadmill, bike or stair climber.

3. Spice things up as this can up your metabolism by from 20% to 25%. The way hot mustard that comes with Asian food appears to boost production of hormones that burn fat according to Lori Shemek who is author of Fire Up Your Fat Burn. One suggestion is to try adding a teaspoon of spices to a typical vinaigrette.

4. Include intervals. Some recent Colorado State University found that cyclists who pedaled at an all out effort using a high resistance for five, 30-second sprints burned 200 calories. Recovering between intervals is also important, the participants in the study recovered with four minutes of slow pedaling with low resistance. Changing the intensity levels forces your muscles to work harder.

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7 Easy Ways To Boost Your Metabolism Continued…

5. Drink water, as it will keep your metabolism running when you’re just hanging
around. According to a University of Utah study, participants who drank 8 to
12 glasses of water a day burned more calories at rest than those who drank only
four glasses. You can also peel citrus fruits and freeze them, using them in
place of ice cubes.

6. Snack after your exercise. Those who drank a 250 calorie shake with 24 grams of protein and 36 grams of carbs after a strength training workout lost about 4 pounds more fat, created one and a half pounds more lean muscle in 6 months than those who didn’t consume the shake after workouts. If you don’t care for a shake, try a banana with peanut butter. The key is to snack within 30 minutes after exercise.

7. Do a down dog as Yoga gets your metabolism going. In one bit of research, subjects who om’d their way through a 50 minute session saw a drop in levels of stress hormone cortisol, known to inhibit fat burning. You might consider starting with a 10-minute session and work up to something longer.

Experts know that metabolism involves a complicated network of hormones and enzymes that not only change food into fuel, but also impact how efficiently your body burns that fuel. It has a whole lot to do with how quickly we gain, and lose, weight. And not everyone burns them at the same rate. Metabolism is influenced by age, (slows about 5% a decade after your 40s), if you are male or female (men burn more calories at rest than women) and portion of lean body mass (the more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism), though it seems heredity also plays a part.

To your good health,

Learn Better While Sleeping

Fascinating findings. Researchers from Northwestern University are supporting the idea of taking a nap, as a rest of just 90 minutes may help you learn a new skill. At least if the skill is learning a musical tune. The subjects who took part in this latest study on learning were exposed to two different sequences of music on a computer screen while also watching moving circles that went along with the tune. Think video games like Dance Dance Revolution and Guitar Hero for an idea of what the participants did for researchers.

After 25 minutes of practice the subjects took a nap for 90 minutes. During this time the experts monitored the brain action, noting when the subjects went into slow wave sleep. This is a period of deep sleep that has occasional periods of REM sleep. During this time the team played one of the two music sequences softly as the subjects slept.

Before the nap, the subjects did equally well on both tunes, even though the team made the music hard so practice was a key part of the learning, and participants could improve their skills. When they woke, the participants were tested again and did better on the tune that had been played during the nap. What happened during the slow wave sleep stage did help them in making fewer mistakes on the tune when retested.

There has been other work that’s been done in this area, but the new finding relates to getting better at a skill, rather than recalling learned information. The work emphasizes the ability to perform what was learned. This does support the idea that practice helps improve a skill. We may not know why, but the results of the latest study show that the learning process can be impacted even when you’re in a deep sleep.

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Fact: Poor Sleep Increases The Risk of Death/ Disease

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Learn Better While Sleeping Continued…

Remember the study does not suggest you can learn new things while sleeping. But, the findings do point out that you can do things to help your brain do a better job of recalling things that are very important. The team of researchers hasn’t developed any tools to help memory based on what they found, but there are potential applications. Maybe you could learn a new language faster by playing language tapes during your sleep.

We do know that the deeper stages of sleep are when the body repairs and regenerates itself, builds bone/muscle and strengthens immunity. How much sleep you need is highly individual and is influenced by some different things. Age is one of the most important as is sleep deprivation. Despite what you might think, people do not get used to getting less sleep than they need.

Though the amount, typically from 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night, does not go down with age, the older you are the lighter you might sleep, and you probably spend less time in the deeper stages of sleep. Interesting that the percentage of time spent in deep REM sleep is highest during infancy (up to 50% of sleep time) and the early years of childhood, while the teen years and young adulthood are periods when the amount of time in REM sleep goes down. Healthy adults spend about 20% of their sleep time in the REM stage of deeper sleep.

The work on sleep and learning appears in the journal Nature Neuroscience.

To your good health,

Prevent Flu At Home

With flu season now in full swing, anything that will slow the spread is welcome. A new study in the respected journal PLoS One finds there might be a very simple way to reduce the risk of infection… upping humidity levels. If indoor humidity levels are raised to 43% or higher, the researchers saw that they were able to render 86% of airborne virus particles powerless.

To look at the role humidity plays in flu transmission, John Noti, who is a senior service fellow with the U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health’s Health Effects Laboratory Division and his team relied on mechanical mannequins and tissue cultures instead of live human subjects.

Here’s how the study worked, a coughing mannequin acting as a patient was placed in a tightly sealed and disinfected hospital exam room and allowed to “cough” by being outfitted with aerosolized virus. At the same time, a breathing mannequin who was the caregiver faced the coughing patient at a distance of just under 7 feet. The breathing caregiver was programmed to inhale in time with the coughing, samples of the inhaled air were taken at different points for up to five hours after exposure to the coughing patient.

All during the testing, humidity levels were changed from a low of 7% to a high of 73% relative humidity. When the humidity levels were set at 43% only 14% of the virus particles that were released by the coughing were able to transmit the virus. This compares to a transmission rate of 7% to 77% in a low humidity environment, in the range of 23% relative humidity. The good news is that the protective impact of the higher humidity levels was pretty fast, the inactivation taking place within 15 minutes of when the particles were first coughed into the air.

Of course it remains to be seen if the study findings on humidity can be applied effectively to a real world medical setting. The most practical application of the idea would likely be in hospitals where protecting staff would be most valuable.

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Experts like Dr. Marc Siegel, a clinical associate professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center agree that the reasoning makes sense. Viral droplets fall to the ground in humid air because water travels better on dry air. It’s well known that moisture stops the movement of germs (as it does bioterror weapons and other chemicals) as they combine with the moisture and drop.

When relative humidity reaches the 70s is when we feel uncomfortable.

It’s no accident that in the winter months, when the flu or other viruses are most likely to be spread, it’s hard to keep humidity at 45% because you have to compete with all the dry heat being pumped into rooms that are at 20% relative humidity, if you’re lucky. In a home space, you’d have trouble keeping humidity this high, even if you confined the patient to one room and used humidifiers of the proper size while keeping doors and windows closed.

Each year the flu kills over 36,000 people and sends 200,000 more to the hospital. It’s a serious illness that can hospitalize or kill even the young and healthy. What might inhibit the oxytocin response? Things like high stress, abuse in childhood that was early and severe in nature, some psychiatric disorders and the high testosterone of young men.

To your good health,

What Could Alters Our Sense Of Taste

Science is learning more about obesity every day. New research in mice finds that being obese may bring fundamental changes in perceptions of sweet taste by changing the number of cells that react to sweet stimuli. Other research has found that obesity can lead to changes in the brain, and the nerves that are in control of the peripheral taste system. No one, until now, has looked at the cells on the tongue, the ones that actually make the first contract with food.

Too many of us, experts say, have become accustomed to a diet that’s rich in taste (sugar and fats) but not in valuable nutrients. And taste is a highly subjective sense; something that tastes barely sweet enough to you might be overpoweringly so to another person. Our tongue and taste buds are our own and have given rise to the question of if taste perceptions and preferences influence weight. Since obesity is a preventable, for the most part, health condition, it’s important to look at how we understand taste.

Interesting that fat is not one of the five tastes recognized – these are sweet, sour, salty, umami and bitter. The tongue naturally has taste receptors for two key macronutrients; sweet for carbs, umami for protein.

The latest research on taste differences examined 25 normal mice along with 25 of their littermates who were fed a high fat diet and became obese. To assess the response to different tastes, measures of calcium signaling pathways in the mice were taken. When cells recognize a taste, there are small changes in calcium, and this is what was measured. Obese mice responded more weakly to sweetness and bitterness. Severely overweight mice are unable to respond to sweet tastes because of a lower number of cells that are able to detect sweetness.

When compared to slimmer mice, the obese mice in the study had fewer taste cells for sweetness. The sweet taste receptors they had reacted weakly to sweet stimulation.

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What Could Alters Our Sense Of Taste Continued…

The research team, lead by Kathryn Medler of the University of Buffalo believes
their findings present the idea that obesity can bring fundamental changes in
how the taste cells on the tongue work. This may play a part in both appetite
and control of hunger and may be a key piece involved with diet induced obesity.
What she and the team saw was that even at the first contact in the taste pathway,
the taste receptor cells are impacted by obesity.

It remains unclear how these changes might be tied into obesity. Maybe not being able to sense sweetness as well causes obese people to eat more of it in order to feel satisfied. Earlier work has found that overweight subjects have stronger desires for sweet and savory foods, but might not taste them as well as those who are thinner.

There is still much to learn about the link between taste, appetite and obesity. In future such work could lead to new ways to encourage healthy eating, perhaps new treatments to help get these cells on your tongue back on track, and certainly build an awareness of the link between our bodies an the food we consume.

To your good health,

Lose Weight With The Power Of Images

Here’s another weapon in your weight loss battle. Images that support your diet goals help you cut the number of calories you take in according to a new study that appears in the journal Appetite. So an image of a healthier, slim and fit you may help you keep from slipping back into unhealthy eating, as would any pro-diet (or exercise) visual that makes you feel right, comfortable. This latest research looked at the effect of exposure to subtle images that relate to your diet and food intake in both people on diets and those not watching calories. Turns out, active dieters were influenced by the images, while the non-dieters were not.

The recent study on imagery and weight loss involved both dieters and non-dieters where participants were briefly exposed to diet images, or neutral non-food images before being exposed to a tempting snack. Being shown the diet supporting images had subjects taking in less energy than those who were exposed to control (non food) image. Interesting that the dieters lower energy intake was driven by a cut in the low fat sweet food, but not high fat or savory foods. Maybe the images aren’t potent enough to cut the intake of a very tempting sweet treat.

How this works remains unclear.

Weight loss reminders are powerful, though most of the dieters in the study were not aware that the images had any impact on their food intake. Today so many people struggle with eating, weight and body image, we all spend incredible amounts of time and energy on improving our appearance… some people even putting the rest of their lives on hold until they reach that magic weight. Self-talk is a very powerful thing.

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We also know that too often long term weight loss goals fall apart in the short term because of the many temptations dieters are presented with each day. Tasty treats are more than accessible; stress reduces our resolve… it’s easy to see why so many dieters fall back into old patterns. Using pro-diet visuals of foods that work with your weight loss goals, or those of your new, fitter look, are simple, low cost ways to keep your healthy goals top of mind, while also regulating your food intake over the short term.

This type of visualization is a technique that athletes use in training. You go through the event in your head, and it has been shown such mental pictures are incredibly helpful. So why not try them in your battle against extra weight? Using a real life, pro diet image along with a healthy eating plan and exercise regime are simple steps you can use to put this idea to work in your own life.

Sure it might be hard to envision what you’ll look like when you achieve your goal, but if you can, that is a truly powerful motivator. If not, use other diet supportive images… healthy foods, stylish clothing in small sizes, visuals of workouts or vacation spots you’ll visit as a reward… whatever image resonates with you is likely to help keep you on track.

To your good health,

Cut Heart Disease With Walking

Good news for walkers. An extra walk every day holds off dangerous heart disease. You’ll want to aim for about 10,000 walking steps each day. The number is based on the findings of a large international research project that focused on adults with a high risk of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Those at lower risk of disease might not get the same benefit from all those steps, but would still see some.

The work was conducted by experts from the UK and US, with help from other teams from universities and research facilities all over the world. It was funded by the drug maker of the medication used in the study. None of the news coverage you may have seen made it clear that the study involved adults who were at high risk of diabetes and heart disease, or that the findings were associations, not cause and effect. Walking cannot be credited with causing the reduction seen.

The team recruited 9,306 subjects, of an average age of 63 years old, who had impaired glucose tolerance and either existing cardiovascular disease (if over 50) or one cardiovascular risk factor (if over 65).

The work was a cohort study (best for answering this type of question), looking at seeing if the amount of walking someone d id and the change in the amount of walking over time was linked with the risk of a cardiovascular event in those at high risk who have impaired glucose tolerance. The subjects were participating a randomized controlled trial of two different medications (nateglinide and valsartan) and a lifestyle modification program that had the goal of upping the amount of physical activity to 150 minutes each week.

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Cut Heart Disease With Walking Continued…

The average number of steps that was taken at the start and after 1 year was measured using a pedometer. The subjects were followed for an average of 6 years for any cardiovascular events, that is a death from cardiovascular disease, a non-fatal stroke or a hart attack.

For those at risk, the team saw that every extra 2,000 steps a day at the start of the study was linked to a 10% reduced risk of a heart “event” like a heart attack. A year later, each added 2,000 steps a day you took beyond the original amount was linked to an added 8% difference in the risk of heart events. The team also saw that increasing/decreasing the number of steps taken also changed the cardiovascular event rate for everyone, no matter the number of steps they took at the start of the project, what’s known as a baseline measurement.

The team did adjust for a number of things, but due to the cohort design of the project it is still possible that there were other differences than steps taken. Also, cohort studies like this one cannot show cause and effect, and the population was a high risk one. Others may get a different benefit from the number of steps taken.

The work, that at the very least emphasizes the benefits of walking, appears in the journal The Lancet.

To your good health,

Is Coffee As Bad As We Think?

Coffee is an amazingly popular drink. Estimates suggest that 1.6 billion cups of coffee are consumed worldwide each and every day, despite the often-repeated idea that drinks with caffeine don’t count toward daily fluid needs. Not true says some new research.

Contributing to the caffeine/dehydration myth are studies published over the last 20 years that centered on a single question or large doses. Scientists have taken a step toward disproving the myth that drinking coffee causes dehydration; and in fact found that moderate consumption offers the same hydrating qualities as water. The work, from the UK’s University of Birmingham, looks at the effects of coffee consumption and water ingestion using validated hydration techniques.

The research included 50 male coffee drinkers, all healthy non-smokers between the ages of 18 and 46 years old who drank from 3 to 6 cups of coffee a day. The participants took part in two trials, each lasting three days in a row. Activity, food and fluid intake were all controlled by the researchers, and the participants drank either 4 cups (200ml of Nescafe Original coffee) with 4mg/kg caffeine or water with a gap between each trial. Total body water (TBW) was calculated before and after each trial, as were other key measurements.

There were no big changes in TBW and body measurement from start to finish at either trial, and between the trials of caffeine vs. water. No differences were seen in hematological markers or in urine, osmolality or creatinine. This suggests there are no differences in the hydrating properties of coffee and water, so long as coffee is consumed in moderation.

Caffeine acts as a diuretic when taken in doses over 500mg, but low to moderate intakes in “caffeine na├»ve” people doesn’t cause the same effect. The team believes theirs is the first study to directly compare the effects of coffee ingestion with water, though they note there are limitations of their own project design.

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Is Coffee As Bad As We Think? Continued…

Going forward, caffeinated drinks can be considered to be part of your daily
fluid intake. You might feel the need to urinate a bit more, but this research
and other work finds that you don’t run a risk of dehydration. Enjoy coffee,
tea or soft drinks in moderation (300 milligrams or 3 cups/day) as these drinks
can still cause insomnia and headaches in some, making water a better bet in
terms of fluid choice.

And now to bust some other, often repeated myths on caffeine.

To date there is no research-backed relationship between caffeine intake and cancer. As for heart disease, after drinking a caffeine rich beverage there is a slight, very temporary rise in your heart rate and blood pressure for those who are sensitive to caffeine. Large studies don’t link caffeine to higher cholesterol, irregular heartbeat or higher risk of cardiovascular disease.

As to bone health, at very high doses (744 milligrams per day) caffeine could up calcium and magnesium loss in the urine, but recent work suggests that this does not up your risk of bone loss, especially if you make sure you get enough calcium. There’s also no link found between low levels (1 cup per day) of caffeine and trouble getting pregnant, miscarriage, birth defects, premature birth and low birth rate.

To your good health,

How Probiotics Can Help Obese People

Fascinating findings on probiotics and their impact on the body, particularly in obese people. Daily supplements of some of these organisms, combined with an herbal preparation, improved parameters related to obesity according to new South Korean research. The study supplied subjects with a combination of seven probiotic strains along with Bofutsushosan, an herbal preparation of 18 unique parts, and found significant differences in HDL levels compared to subjects who got the herbal preparation alone. This latest work appears in the journal Clinical Nutrition.

Researchers out of Dongguk University and Cell Biotech Co did a randomized, double blind, placebo controlled trail with 64 obese women. The subjects were randomly assigned to get capsules of Bofutsushosan with or without probiotics for an eight-week study period. The probiotic supplement used is called Duolac 7 and is a fourth generation dual coated probiotic with one capsule providing 5 billion viable organisms of seven different strains.

The team saw that while there was no big difference in body composition and metabolic markers between the groups, the HDL cholesterol of the probiotic takers showed the same positive results as earlier work from a different study. This may bring the promise of an effective treatment for obesity that might include such supplements. The researchers remind us that microbial imbalance in the gut (known as dysbiosis) has been associated with obesity; this unbalanced state may promote inflammation in the intestines causing metabolic disorders such as insulin resistance and diabetes.

There’s a lot of science coming out that supports the effect of the microorganisms in our digestive system on metabolic factors and perhaps obesity as well. In 2006 Jeffrey Gordon and a team at Washington University reported that the microbial population in the digestive tract are different for lean and obese people. What’s more, when the obese patients lost weight, their microflora went back to that observed in the lean patient. This suggested that obesity might have a microbial component to it as well.

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How Probiotics Can Help Obese People Continued…

The same team pushed things even further. The St. Louis based experts found that probiotics in a yogurt did not colonize the gut microflora when studied in identical twins, but added observation in mice found that ingestion of probiotic bacteria brought a change in many metabolic pathways, especially those related to carb metabolism.

Bacteria are a natural part of our digestive tract, a complex community where there are hundreds of species and populations of organisms that affect many aspects of health. What we eat has an impact on them. They have an impact on how well our immune system works, how we detox from harmful compounds, how we digest our food and eliminate waste. Overweight people have a less diverse gut population than lean people do, and interestingly this makeup changes when heavy people lose weight.

The take away? You know that what you eat and how much you move are key factors in how much you weigh, but it could be that unseen intestinal organisms also have a role to play. They may even be a pathway to losing weight or maintaining a weight loss, assuming of course that like the subjects studied, you follow a healthy diet that’s got lots of fiber and is low in saturated fats.

To your good health,

What Trigger Your Food Choices

You realize that social cues have a tremendous influence over the choices you make each day… what you wear, the car you drive… even the foods you eat. New data from a meta analysis that appears in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics finds that social norms have a measurable impact on our own food choices. In other words, eating behavior can be transmitted socially – you eat what (and how much) your friends eat. The review included data from multiple studies, each examining if giving information about other people’s eating habits influenced food intake or choices.

The analysis included 15 projects that appeared in 11 publications. Eight looked at how information about food intake norms influenced the food eaten by subjects. Seven others reported the effects of food choice norms on how the participants decided what foods they would eat. Besides finding that giving information about what other people were eating influences the food intake or choice of others, the team also saw that social norms influence the quantity of the food eaten.

Lead researcher Eric Robinson of the UK’s University of Liverpool suggests that conforming to eating norms might be a way of reinforcing your identity in a social group. In fact, these findings appear to indicate a strong link between the act of eating and your social identity. You want to fit in with the group… eating like them is one way to do that.

When study subjects were given details that indicated the others were making low or high calorie food choices, this significantly raised the likelihood that the subject would make a similar choice. Human behavior can still be guided by a group norm, even if you don’t have any motivation to please the others around you.

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What Trigger Your Food Choices Continued…

What’s more, the suggestion that others eat large portions upped the intake of food by the study subjects. The analysis also showed that the social mechanisms that impact how much we choose to eat are there even if we eat alone, are at work or are even aware of that influence at all. It may be that participants in the studies were not consciously thinking about the norm information they got when making choices of what to eat.

Naturally more work is needed, but we can learn a lot more about the way we make decisions regarding food. More is happening in these situations than we realize. These findings, if they hold up, may also help shape public policy and messaging about healthy choices.

Public health officials may want to start crafting messages and ad campaigns that make healthy eating more normal, cutting into the idea that lots of people are eating junk, as a way to battle obesity and help more people eat better. On a personal level, it might also might help to give a thought to the friends you choose… surround yourself with healthy eaters who have respect for their bodies and you may well end up doing the same for yourself, without even realizing it.

To your good health,