Research Your Resolution: Take a Slow and Steady Approach to Losing Weight

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Emily_Feig
Emily Feig, PhD

Emily Feig, PhD, is a clinical research fellow in the Department of Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Dr. Feig recently published the results of a study she conducted as a doctoral student at Drexel University showing that individuals who maintained a steady rate of losing weight during the first few months of a behavioral weight loss program had better long term results than individuals who fluctuated in the amount they lost from week to week. Read more about her research study here.


If your goal for the New Year is losing weight, I recommend finding eating and exercise behaviors that lead to a steady weight loss week to week, even if the pace at which you are losing weight is slow.

For example, you might commit to bringing a healthy afternoon snack to work to replace stopping at the vending machine, setting a “kitchen closed” time when evening snacking will end, adding a vegetable to dinner five nights a week, or setting aside an hour each weekend to plan ahead for meals the next week.

By keeping track of how different behaviors affect your weight, you can adjust to find what leads to a slow and steady weight loss pace for you.

This is because we found that, in a sample of 183 participants in a behavioral weight loss program, better long-term weight loss at one and two years was achieved by those who lost weight at a consistent pace during the first few months of the program, compared to those whose weights varied more week to week.

So finding healthy behaviors that lead to a slow and steady rate of weight loss is likely a key factor in keeping the weight off long-term.


Research Your Resolution

Do you have goals for improving your health in the New Year? This month, investigators from the Mass General Research Institute are discussing the science behind some common New Year’s resolutions, and offering tips and advice based on their research into exercise, diet, healthy aging, heart health, and much more.

Massachusetts General Hospital is home to the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, a community of more than 10,000 people working across 30 departments, centers and institutes. The Mass General Research Institute works to support, guide and promote these research initiatives.

Research Your Resolution: Boost Your Brain Health With Social Connections

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Joel Salinas, MD
Joel Salinas, MD

Joel Salinas, MD, is a behavioral neurologist, neuropsychiatrist, and social epidemiologist at the Massachusetts General Hospital Institute for Brain Health. To learn more about his research, please visit his lab website.


When we make social connections with other people, we live better and have healthier brains for longer.

This might mean re-connecting with old friends, making new friends, joining a group or a class, teaching someone something new, volunteering or offering to help others, or using technology to keep in touch, getting a pet, or simply sharing a smile.

Studying over 3,000 members of the Framingham, MA, community since 1948, and across multiple generations, we found that people who are the most socially isolated have lower blood levels of a molecule known as brain-derived neurotrophic factor (or BDNF) which is critical for keeping brain cells healthy and forming new connections between cells.

However, people who have someone available to listen to them or receive emotional support from someone else most or all of the time not only seem to have increased levels of BDNF, but they also have a lower risk of developing stroke and dementia.

There is no cure yet for many age-related brain diseases, but there is a cure for social isolation.

By addressing what we can change in our life to reduce our risk for brain disease, there may be a way to delay and eventually prevent these diseases and prolong the span of our brain health.


Research Your Resolution

Do you have goals for improving your health in the New Year? This month, investigators from the Mass General Research Institute are discussing the science behind some common New Year’s resolutions, and offering tips and advice based on their research into exercise, diet, healthy aging, heart health, and much more. See more posts in the series.

Massachusetts General Hospital is home to the largest hospital-based research program in the United States, a community of more than 10,000 people working across 30 departments, centers and institutes. The Mass General Research Institute works to support, guide and promote these research initiatives.

DASH Diet — Ranked Best Overall Diet, Could Prevent Hypertension and Gout

For the eighth consecutive year, U.S. News and World Report recently ranked the DASH Diet “best overall” diet among nearly 40 it reviewed. The announcement came just as new research suggests that combining DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) with a low-sodium diet has the potential to lower blood pressure as well as or better than many anti-hypertension medications.

The diet tied this year for “best overall” diet and was ranked No. 1 in the “healthy eating” and “heart disease prevention” categories.

Did you know that in addition to lowering blood pressure, the DASH diet may also reduce the risk of developing gout? In this article, originally published last year, researchers from Mass General describe how following the diet could prevent the intense pain and swelling associated with the disease:

Diet Known to Reduce Risk for Hypertension May Also Prevent Gout

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recent study from Massachusetts General Hospital suggests that following the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet may reduce the risk of gout.

What is gout?

When excess uric acid in the bloodstream builds up too quickly or can’t be eliminated fast enough, it is deposited as needle-shaped crystals in the tissues of the body, including joints, causing intense pain. This pain, otherwise known as gout, is the most common type of inflammatory arthritis.

What are the current dietary recommendations for gout?

Doctors recommend a diet low in purines (chemical compounds that can be broken down into uric acid), which are found in certain meats and seafood. “But following such a diet has limited effectiveness and proves challenging for many patients,” says Hyon Choi, MD, DrPH, director of the Gout and Crystal Arthropathy Center in the MGH Division of Rheumatology, Allergy, and Immunology, senior author of the study.

What is the DASH diet?

The DASH diet (originally created to help patients with high blood pressure) emphasizes eating fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy items, whole grains, poultry, fish and nuts while discouraging eating foods high in saturated fats, cholesterol, trans fats and sodium, as well as red meats and sweets. Several studies have confirmed its ability to reduce risks for hypertension and cardiovascular disease.

What did the study investigate?

The study enrolled over 44,000 men with no history of gout. The research team applied two scoring systems to the dietary patterns of participants:

  1. A DASH dietary pattern score (based on the criteria for the DASH diet)
  2. A Western dietary pattern score (based on high intake of red and processed meats, French fries, refined grains, sweets and desserts)
What did they find?

During the 26 years of follow up, 1,731 participants were newly diagnosed with gout. Researchers found that a higher DASH dietary pattern score was associated with a lower risk for gout, while a higher western dietary pattern score was associated with an increased risk for gout. “For individuals at high risk for gout, especially those who also have hypertension, the DASH diet is likely to be an ideal preventive approach,” says Sharan Rai, MSc, of the MGH Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology, and lead author of the paper.

What are the implications of the study?

While these findings need to be confirmed in future interventional trials, the researchers note that many individuals at risk for gout because of elevated uric acid levels might already be candidates for the DASH diets, since more than half of such individuals also have hypertension. The only group that probably should be careful with the DASH diet would be patients with severe kidney disease, since the diet can be high in potassium.

Research Your Resolution: Reduce Your Risk of A Heart Attack

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Do you have goals for improving your health in the New Year? This month, investigators from the Mass General Research Institute are discussing the science behind some common New Year’s resolutions, and offering tips and advice based on their research into exercise, diet, healthy aging, heart health, and much more.


Sekar Kathiresan, MD
Sekar Kathiresan, MD

Sek Kathiresan, MD, is Director of the Center for Genomic Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and an Ofer and Shelly Nimerovsky MGH Research Scholar. He studies human genetics to understand the root causes of heart attacks and develop new strategies for preventative cardiac care. To learn more about his research, please visit his lab website.

A family history of heart attacks does not necessarily mean you are destined to suffer one as well.

By studying genetic data from 55,000 individuals who are enrolled in four long-term research studies, we found that following a healthy lifestyle—defined as not smoking, exercising once a week, eating healthy and maintaining a body mass index of less than 30—can reduce your chances of having a heart attack by close to 50 percent.

The basic message of our study is that DNA is not destiny. Many individuals—both physicians and members of the general public—have looked on genetic risk as unavoidable, but for heart attack that does not appear to be the case.

 

Research Your Resolution: Use Food Placement to Set Yourself Up for Weight Loss Success

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Do you have goals for improving your health in the New Year? This month, investigators from the Mass General Research Institute are discussing the science behind some common New Year’s resolutions, and offering tips and advice based on their research into exercise, diet, healthy aging, heart health, and much more.


Anne Thorndike, MD
Anne Thorndike, MD, MPH

Anne Thorndike, MD, MPH, is an investigator in the Department of Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital. Her research uses the principles of behavioral economics to develop strategies to encourage healthy food choices at home, in the workplace and in community settings. To learn more about her work, please visit her physician profile page.

Sticking to a healthy diet is difficult when you are exposed to unhealthy food choices on every street corner, restaurant, shelf and snack drawer.

It is even more difficult to make healthy food choices when you are busy, hungry, stressed or tired.

Using “point-of-purchase” nutrition information, such as menu calorie labels, and restructuring your home food environment are two strategies that can help you achieve your New Year’s goals.

For example, if that burrito you are thinking about for lunch has 1,000 calories, maybe it isn’t the best choice—it will give you approximately half a day’s worth of calories if you are a man, and more than half if you are a woman.

At home, you can engineer your kitchen to make healthy foods more convenient—and unhealthy foods harder to reach.

Put healthy snacks at eye level on the shelf, and hide the cookies on the top shelf.  Better yet, don’t even bring the cookies into the house!

Our research in the cafeterias at Mass General showed that labeling foods with simple traffic-light labels (red=unhealthy; green=healthy), and placing healthy foods in highly visible and convenient locations prompted cafeteria customers to make more healthy food choices (e.g. bottled water, salads) and fewer unhealthy items (e.g. soda, pizza).

In other research, we showed that placing fresh fruits and vegetables near the front of small urban food stores increased produce purchases by low-income families.

In Case You Missed it: Science Stories from Around the Web

We love good science stories here at the Mass General Research Institute and wanted to share a few of our favorites from other health and science websites. Enjoy!

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The best and worst analogies for CRISPR, ranked

From a knockout punch to an act of God, CRISPR technology has drawn comparisons to a vast array of things. Here is a list of 10 analogies ranked from worst to best. (STAT)


Is ‘Man Flu’ real? Men suffer more when sick, study suggests

A research team in the United Kingdom found evidence that men may have a weaker immune response to the viruses that cause the flu or common cold, and as a result, men may have a greater risk for serious symptoms.


It’s time to stop excluding people with disabilities from science

You can be a great scientist without being able to carry a 50-pound backpack out of cave, writes Gabriela Serrato Marks, a Marine Geologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.


Altmetric’s Top 100 Articles of the Year

In the past year, Altmetric has tracked over 18.5 million mentions of 2.2 million research outputs. Here are the Top 100 ranked in order of their Altmetric Attention Score as of Nov. 15, 2017.


What is really driving the Altmetric’s Top 100 Articles List

“There is a data availability problem plaguing Altmetric’s annual top 100 list,” argues Kent Anderson of Scholarly Kitchen in this detailed critical breakdown of how the rankings are compiled. But Anderson also concludes that “Overall, the Top 100 list remains interesting, and perhaps data availability and other elements will improve over time.”


How loneliness affects our health

Scientists are gaining a more refined—and surprising—understanding of the effects of loneliness and isolation on health. (New York Times)


Jawdropping images reveal science is amazing

Photos are said to be worth “a thousand words.” And that’s what the Royal Society looks for when judging images for their Publishing Photography Competition, which celebrates the power of photography to communicate science.


Study: Opioids overused in migraine treatment, regardless of race

African Americans are more likely to experience debilitating migraine headaches than whites, but a new study probing the issue found no evidence of racial disparities in treatment practices. Instead, researchers from the University of Michigan report a different finding that affects everyone: opioid overuse.


Check out this video of perspiration on a human fingertip

This incredible up close video shows drops of sweat forming on the ridges of human fingertips. It was the second place winner in the video portion of the Nikon Small World Competition this year.


Neuroscience can learn a lot from Buddhism

A scientist and a monk compare notes on mediation, therapy and their effects on the brain. (Atlantic Monthly)

12 Days of Research at Mass General: An On-the-Go Test For Food Allergies

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

November 2017:

Pocket-Sized Device Provides Food Allergy Sufferers with Life-Saving Tableside Lab Results

If you’re among the 50 million Americans with a severe allergy to foods like gluten or nuts, every meal at a restaurant can feel like a potential land mine. Even if the restaurant has made an effort to provide dishes that are allergen-free, worries of cross-contamination and a subsequent severe or potentially life threatening reaction can still put a damper on your dinner plans.

To help ease concerns and keep food allergy sufferers safe, a team of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital has developed a new device small enough to fit on a keyring that costs only $40 and can quickly and accurately test for food allergens.

While advances have been made in the packaged food industry, where new federal regulations require the manufacturer to disclose whether the product contains major food allergens, these disclosures are not always accurate and there are no similar regulations for the restaurant industry.

Rather than force diners to completely avoid foods that have the chance of containing an allergen, or eat something only to regret it later, Mass General researchers created integrated exogenous antigen testing (iEAT), a pocket-sized device that can accurately analyze food for the presences of allergens in less than 10 minutes. Specifically, the device can screen for peanuts, hazelnuts, wheat, milk and eggs.

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The iEAT system

Developed by co-senior team leaders Ralph Weissleder, MD, PhD, Director of the Center for Systems Biology (CSB) at Mass General and Hakho Lee, PhD, Hostetter MGH Research Scholar and Director of the Biomedical Engineering Program at the CSB, the device consists of three components:

  1. A small plastic test tube that the user can put a small sample of food into. The tube contains a solution that dissolves the sample and adds magnetic beads to the solution. The beads are designed to bind to the food allergen of interest.
  2. The user can then drop the solution onto an electrode chip, which is inserted into the keychain sized reader.
  3. The reader analyzes the sample and indicates on a small display whether the allergen is present, and if so, in what concentration.

Testing performed by the research team showed that measurements of the concentration of the allergen is extremely accurate. In fact, the device could detect levels of gluten that were 200 times lower than the federal standard. Accuracy is key because everyone’s sensitivity varies — some individuals could experience a reaction after consuming a miniscule trace of an allergen.

Weissleder and Lee have also developed a smartphone app to complement iEAT. With the app, users can compile and store the data they collect as they test different foods for various allergens at different restaurants and even in packaged foods. The app is set up to share this information online so others with the app will be able to find restaurants with foods that consistently have no or low levels that are below the individual’s triggering concentration.

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Consumers may be able to purchase the $40 iEAT device and corresponding app in the near future — the research team has granted a license to a local start-up company to make the system commercially available. Weissleder and Lee also report that they could apply this technology to detect other substances in food such as MSG or even pesticides.

This research was recently highlighted in an NIH article and published in ACS Nano.

It was also recently featured in a news story on CBS Boston.

You can find the original post here.

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12 Days of Research at Mass General: Modeling Alzheimer’s Disease in 3D

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

October 2017:

How a 3D Model of Alzheimer’s Disease is Providing New Hope in the Search for Treatments

Reigning in Alzheimer’s disease continues to be a challenge — more than 10 million families are affected by this degenerative neurological disease, and the number of patients dying from the disease has increased 68 percent since 2010.

In the past decade, attempts at developing drugs to slow or halt the progression of Alzheimer’s disease have been unsuccessful. The traditional path for early testing of promising therapies – mouse models – has been ineffective, and more than a dozen major clinical trials have failed.

But scientists and clinicians at Massachusetts General Hospital’s Institute for Neurodegenerative Disease (MIND) have developed an innovative new approach that could significantly improve the drug development process.  The laboratory teams of Doo Yeon Kim, PhD, an investigator in the Genetics and Aging Research Unit at MIND, and Rudy Tanzi, PhD, have found a way to grow human neural stem cells in a three-dimensional gel matrix.

This gel system allows the neural cells to grow more naturally and form into 3-D networks just like they do in the brain. It also provides a more accurate model of the signature plaques and tangles that develop around these neurons in Alzheimer’s disease.

The stem cells used in this lab model are genetically engineered to produce two proteins that are the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease – β-amyloid and tau. In the brains of people with Alzheimer’s, excessive accumulation of β-amyloid results in the formation of plaques in the spaces between neural cells, while tau is the main component of destructive neurofibrillary tangles within the cells.

Until Dr. Kim’s success, no single model of Alzheimer’s disease contained both amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles. It usually takes a year to develop plaques in mouse models, it took only six weeks to develop both plaques and tangles in the “dish.”

Dr. Kim is now working with a consortium of labs to test thousands of FDA-approved drugs in this “Alzheimer’s in a dish” model to see if any of the drugs are effective in reducing levels of p-tau, a protein that is increased in Alzheimer’s patients.

Of the 2,400 drugs that have been tested, the team had approximately 40 promising hits that they can now investigate further.

Learn more: https://giving.massgeneral.org/fresh-alzheimers-approach-sparks-hope/

You can find the original post here.

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12 Days of Research at Mass General: Lady Gaga News Highlights Fibromyalgia Research

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

September 2017:

Lady Gaga’s Diagnosis Helps Shed Light on a Perplexing Chronic Pain Disorder

Despite her celebrity status, Lady Gaga has been remarkably honest and open about her struggles with fibromyalgia, a chronic pain disorder. The star announced her diagnosis on social media earlier this month, and just recently canceled tour dates due to disorder-related complications.

Fibromyalgia has traditionally been a challenge to diagnose and treat, because there is no test for it. Doctors make the diagnosis based on patient reported symptoms. Researchers at Mass General are hoping to change that by using imaging techniques to demonstrate brain changes in fibromyalgia patients and investigating potential causes for the disease.

What is fibromyalgia and what are the symptoms?

Fibromyalgia is a common chronic pain disorder that can be extremely debilitating. The disorder is characterized by widespread pain, accompanied with un-refreshing sleep, fatigue, memory and cognitive problems, sensitivity to temperatures, light, and sound, and headaches. It can also co-exist with other conditions including depression, anxiety and irritable bowel syndrome.

These symptoms severely impact the 5-10 million Americans living with this disorder. The pain and fatigue of fibromyalgia can make it difficult to maintain work and social obligations. Symptoms also come in waves at seemingly random intervals, which can blindside individuals.

What causes fibromyalgia?

It’s thought that disturbances in the central nervous system affect the way the brain processes pain signals, which amplifies the painful sensations that fibromyalgia patients experience. But why these disturbances occur remains a mystery.

Experts suggest that the disorder could be driven by several factors, including physical or emotional trauma, prior illness or infection, and genetics. Women are also more likely to develop fibromyalgia than are men, though researchers don’t know why.

In an effort to find answers to these questions, Marco Loggia, PhD, Associate Director of the Center for Integrative Pain NeuroImaging and a researcher in the Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital, studies the brain mechanisms of pain in patients with fibromyalgia. His research suggests that some degree of brain inflammation may be at play, given that brain inflammation is common among chronic back pain sufferers and most fibromyalgia patients suffer from chronic back pain.

How is it treated?

There is no cure for fibromyalgia. As a result, the focus of treatment is on managing pain and improving quality of life for patients. However, patients often struggle to find the right combination of treatments to manage their condition.

Clinicians often recommend medications including pain relievers, anti-depressants, and anti-seizure drugs to reduce pain and improve sleep. Some patients also utilize therapies such as physical therapy or counseling and alternative treatments like massage therapy, yoga or acupuncture.

Is there stigma associated with fibromyalgia?

Because there are no lab tests to diagnose fibromyalgia, patients are frequently met with skepticism, even by their own primary care team. The pain they report is often dismissed as being “all in their head.”

In a recent interview with HealthDay News, Loggia said, “Many studies—and particularly those using brain imaging techniques such as functional magnetic resonance imaging—have now provided substantial support to the notion that the excessive sensitivity to pain that these patients demonstrate is genuine. I think that it is time to stop dismissing these patients.”

With celebrities like Lady Gaga raising awareness of this disease and researchers like Loggia investigating its causes and progression, could individuals suffering from fibromyalgia soon see advances in treatment and care—as well as more public understanding of this debilitating disorder?

To read more on this topic:

You can find the original post here.

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12 Days of Research at Mass General: Predicting Painful Migraine Attacks

Banner 12 days of researchIn the 12 days leading up to our holiday hiatus, we are looking back on the past year and sharing some highlights in Massachusetts General Hospital research news from each month of 2017.

August 2017:

Making Migraines Less of a Headache: Researchers Find New Way to Predict Migraine Attacks

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If you’ve ever felt the pulsating pain, nausea and blinding light sensitivity that comes with a migraine, you’re not alone. In the US, more than 37 million people get these severe headache attacks that can last for several hours at a time.

If you’ve experienced migraines, you also know that their arrival can be sudden and unpredictable. Now a team of researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital has developed a new forecasting model that has the potential to pinpoint when a migraine will strike by tracking an individual’s stress levels over time.

While more work is needed before the model is ready for clinical use, a system that reliably predicts the onset of migraines could provide much needed relief for chronic migraine sufferers.

About Migraines

Migraines are more than just a bad headache – they are an incapacitating collection of neurological symptoms that affect 18% of American women and 6% of men, according to the Migraine Research Foundation. Symptoms range from flashes of light, one-sided throbbing pain, sensitivity to light and sound, nausea and much more. Migraine attacks can be incredibly painful and debilitating, sometimes confining the sufferer to a darkened room until the symptoms subside. More than 90% of sufferers are unable to work or function normally during their migraine.

Doctors know that certain genes can make some individuals more susceptible to getting migraines, and potential migraine triggers can include stress, hormone fluctuations, lack of sleep and certain foods. However, predicting the exact cause and time of an individual migraine attack remains difficult. To make matters worse, preventative drugs that help to nip a migraine in the bud are only effective when taken at the onset of symptoms.

Developing and Testing a Forecast Model

Because perceived stress has received considerable attention for its association with the onset of headaches, a team of researchers led by Tim Houle, PhD, Associate Professor of Anesthesia, Critical Care, and Pain Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, developed a forecasting model for predicting future migraine attacks based on current levels of stress and head pain.

To test out the model, the team recruited 95 participants with a history of migraines. Participants were asked to keep a daily diary recording the frequency and intensity of their stress levels and presence/absence of any head pain. Each variable was measured using a specific scale.

Of the 4,195 days of analyzed diary data, participants experienced a migraine on 1,613 of these days (38.5%).  By analyzing participants’ self reported stress levels, the research team found statistically significant evidence that stress was greater in the days leading up to a reported migraine.

What This Means for Migraine Sufferers

The results provide the first statistically significant evidence that individual headache attacks can be forecasted within an individual sufferer. However, Houle cautions that the predictive model needs to be refined before it can be of widespread clinical use, and for now should be viewed as a first step in a new venture of forecasting migraine attacks.

In the future, a reliable forecasting model could be used to improve treatment options, reduce anxiety about the unpredictability of attacks and increase an individual’s confidence in their ability to self-manage migraine attacks.

Read the full study here

You can find the original post here.

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