Posts tagged health

Salt: nature’s antidepressant?

Several people at last month’s Winter Gardening Fair mentioned they are trying to eat right by adding veggies to their diet and substituting herbs and other spices for salt. This study came today from University of Iowa researchers who try to answer why cutting back on salt might be difficult for some:

Most people consume far too much salt, and a University of Iowa researcher has discovered one potential reason we crave it: it might put us in a better mood.

UI psychologist Kim Johnson and colleagues found in their research that when rats are deficient in sodium chloride, common table salt, they shy away from activities they normally enjoy, like drinking a sugary substance or pressing a bar that stimulates a pleasant sensation in their brains.

“Things that normally would be pleasurable for rats didn’t elicit the same degree of relish, which leads us to believe that a salt deficit and the craving associated with it can induce one of the key symptoms associated with depression,” Johnson said.

The UI researchers can’t say it is full-blown depression because several criteria factor into such a diagnosis, but a loss of pleasure in normally pleasing activities is one of the most important features of psychological depression. And, the idea that salt is a natural mood-elevating substance could help explain why we’re so tempted to over-ingest it, even though it’s known to contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease and other health problems.

Past research has shown that the worldwide average for salt intake per individual is about 10 grams per day, which is greater than the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommended intake by about 4 grams, and may exceed what the body actually needs by more than 8 grams.

Johnson, who holds appointments in psychology and integrative physiology in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and in pharmacology in the Carver College of Medicine, published a review of these findings in the July issue of the journal “Physiology & Behavior” with Michael J. Morris and Elisa S. Na, UI graduate students. In addition to reporting their own findings, the authors reviewed others’ research on the reasons behind salt appetite.

High levels of salt are contained in everything from pancakes to pasta these days, but once upon a time, it was hard to come by. Salt consumption and its price skyrocketed around 2000 B.C. when it was discovered as a food preservative. Roman soldiers were paid in salt; the word salary is derived from the Latin for salt. Even when mechanical refrigeration lessened the need for salt in the 19th century, consumption continued in excess because people liked the taste and it had become fairly inexpensive. Today, 77 percent of our salt intake comes from processed and restaurant foods, like frozen dinners and fast food.

Evolution might have played an important part in the human hankering for salt. Humans evolved from creatures that lived in salty ocean water. Once on land, the body continued to need sodium and chloride because minerals play key roles in allowing fluids to pass in and out of cells, and in helping nerve cells transfer information throughout the brain and body. But as man evolved in the hot climate of Africa, perspiration robbed the body of sodium. Salt was scarce because our early ancestors ate a veggie-rich diet and lived far from the ocean.

“Most of our biological systems require sodium to function properly, but as a species that didn’t have ready access to it, our kidneys evolved to become salt misers,” Johnson said.

Behavior also came to play a key role in making sure we have enough salt on board. Animals like us come equipped with a taste system designed to detect salt and a brain that remembers the location of salt sources — like salt licks in a pasture. A pleasure mechanism in the brain is activated when salt is consumed.

So the body needs salt and knows how to find it and how to conserve it. But today scientists are finding evidence that it’s an abused, addictive substance — almost like a drug.

One sign of addiction is using a substance even when it’s known to be harmful. Many people are told to reduce sodium due to health concerns, but they have trouble doing so because they like the taste and find low-sodium foods bland.

Another strong aspect of addiction is the development of intense cravings when drugs are withheld. Experiments by Johnson and colleagues indicate similar changes in brain activity whether rats are exposed to drugs or salt deficiency.

“This suggests that salt need and cravings may be linked to the same brain pathways as those related to drug addiction and abuse,” Johnson said.

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Hackademy Awards

Not gardening, I know, but because I’m the health reporter at The Gazette,  I get all kinds of story pitches and information from health organizations. This one was sent to me by Will Holbert on behalf of Breath California  of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails:

 

Oscar Targets ‘Hackademy Awards’ in Trademark Action

Academy Seeks Ban on Use of Parody Award Name For Raising Awareness of Movie Tobacco Use Influence on Young People

 

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Feb. 18, 2009 — Threatened legal action by The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences could snuff out the ability of Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails to title an annual event “The Hackademy Awards,” a 12-year tradition that highlights how tobacco use in movies can influence young people to pick up the habit.

    The Academy contends that the Hackademy Awards trademark owned by Breathe California infringes upon the Academy’s own trademarks, possibly leading people to confuse the Hackademy Awards with the Oscars.  Breathe California believes its Hackademy Awards is a clear example of parody, and in this case, parody designed to achieve a social good — helping prevent tobacco use from infecting new generations.

    “Breathe California selected a name with a humorous and ironic twist to help call attention to an extremely important social issue — the pervasive use of smoking in movies and how that influences teens’ attitudes toward cigarettes. It’s impossible to believe anyone confuses the two events, and the Hackademy Awards in no way infringe upon or dilutes the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ trademark,” said attorney Zachary Wadle, with the Sacramento firm of Weintraub Genshlea Chediak, which is representing Breathe California of Sacramento-Emigrant Trails pro bono. “The organization’s mission is to reduce teen smoking through public outreach efforts and The Hackademy Awards has been one of Breathe California’s most effective vehicles in successful outreach.”

    The issue is now headed to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board, an arm of the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

    For more information,  visit www.sacbreathe.org

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Local foods Monday

Preston Maring to discuss benefits of locally grown food Nov. 10

California obstetrician Dr. Preston Maring, will visit the University of Iowa on Monday, Nov. 10, to discuss the economic, health, community and environmental benefits of locally grown, sustainably produced food.

Maring will present “Sustaining Iowa: Making the Connection Between Food, Health and the Land” at noon in Room 140 of Schaeffer Hall on the UI campus.

Maring’s talk is one of three scheduled presentations in Iowa. He will speak at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 10, at the Commons Ball Room at the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls, and at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 11, in Room 2050 of Agronomy Hall at Iowa State University in Ames.

All the events are free and open to the public.

Maring is associate physician-in-chief at the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Oakland, Calif., where he is responsible for tertiary-care services planning and development for Oakland’s 200,000 health plan members as well as members from around the northern California region.

In 2003, Maring helped start a weekly farmers’ market for hospital staff, visitors and the community, resulting in different market models, community outreach and a programwide focus on healthy eating. Today, the concept has spread to 40 other Kaiser Permanente health care facilities.

More recently, he has worked with Kaiser Permanente and the Community Alliance with Family Farmers to create a system that sources food for inpatient meals from small family farmers.

An enthusiastic cook as well as a physician, Maring’s blog, “Dr. Maring’s Farmers’ Market and Recipe Update,” gets about 50,000 page views each month. The blog is at http://recipe.kaiser-permanente.org/kp/maring/about/.

Following each of Maring’s presentations, speakers will share Iowa stories about the benefits of local food. These include Iowa City chef Kurt Michael Friese, author of the 2008 book “A Cook’s Journey: Slow Food in the Heartland” and editor for Edible Iowa River Valley magazine; and Story County Planning and Zoning director Leanne Harter, who will discuss the county’s new Local Foods Systems Initiative report. In Cedar Falls, Maring will be the featured speaker for the annual local food dinner.

Maring’s visit is sponsored by the UI Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination, the UI Sustainability Steering Group, the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at ISU and the Center for Energy and Environmental Education at UNI.

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Keeping it local

   A conference this week in Iowa City will address energy options, the impact of local food production and other health and environmental issues.

   “Keep it Small Keep it All: Cultivating the Bioeconomy at the Local Scale” will be 7:45 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 8, at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Iowa City.

   The conference is free and open to the public. If you would like to eat an Iowa grown lunch and receive conference materials, there is a $30 registration fee.

   The University of Iowa Center for Health Effects of Environmental Contamination (CHEEC) is hosting the conference, which will address health and environmental issues as the Midwest embraces the bioeconomy by highlighting individuals, organizations, and communities that promote health and environment at a small and decentralized scale.

Speakers will:

  • Address local energy options from small fuel production to electrical generation
  • Look at the economic, health, and environmental impact of local food production and distribution systems.
  • Present policies that promote and hinder small scale efficiencies.

More information is at: http://www.cheec.uiowa.edu/bio_conf/brochure.pdf

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