Research news from the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University


(1) Metabolic syndrome found in college students (2) Type of dietary fat may influence the growth of prostate cancer

Metabolic Syndrome Found in College Students

A recent study of 163 students in college found that a startling 27% were overweight, 6% were pre-diabetic, and 10% had either high total cholesterol or low HDL ("good") cholesterol. This is among the first studies of college-aged students on weight and a condition known as the metabolic syndrome. The study was conducted by Terry T.K. Huang, PhD, research assistant professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, and a group of colleagues.

"These symptoms reveal that many young adults are at serious risk of developing health problems," said Huang. "Furthermore, these findings are particularly alarming given that our study looked at a predominantly white, seemingly low-risk, group of students, and indicate that early screening, even in the absence of disease, is important."

Huang and a team of researchers investigated the association between being overweight and exhibiting signs of the metabolic syndrome in the study group. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the metabolic syndrome currently plagues more than 20% of adults in the United States. The metabolic syndrome, also called insulin resistance syndrome, puts people at increased risk of type II diabetes and heart disease.

Overweight students were nearly three times more likely to exhibit a component of the metabolic syndrome than students of normal weight. Overweight students had higher hip and waist circumferences, higher blood pressure, higher insulin levels, and higher total and LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels--each of which indicate poor health and is a sign of problems to come.

Experts note that the obesity epidemic has created a pressing need for a better understanding of the problems associated with being overweight in young adults. A second study, also authored by Huang, found that one of the challenges in understanding obesity in children and young adults is the unevenness and sometimes implausibility of reported food intake. Further research is needed to find better ways of understanding obesity in children and young adults. Huang notes that "colleges and universities will be an important setting for the monitoring and intervention of obesity and the metabolic syndrome in the future."

Huang, Terry T.K., et al, Diabetes Care. 2004 Dec;27(12):3000-1. "Overweight and components of the metabolic syndrome in college students."

Huang, Terry T.K., et al, Obesity Research. 2004 Nov;12(11):1875-85. "Energy intake and meal portions: associations with BMI percentile in U.S. children."

Type of Dietary Fat May Influence The Growth Of Prostate Cancer

Researchers investigating the role of fatty acids in the aggressiveness of early stage prostate cancer have found that higher concentrations of polyunsaturated fat were linked to less aggressive tumor growth.

"Research has shown that populations with a low-fat diet have lower rates of prostate cancer, although studies about the types of dietary fat have had mixed results," said Mohsen Meydani, DVM, PhD, director of the Vascular Biology Laboratory at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University, and one of the authors of the new study. "Our study, which relied on tissue samples rather than patient recall of dietary fat intake, found that there is a probable link between polyunsaturated fat intake and a slower growth of cancer."

The study measured the level of fats in prostate tissue from men with localized prostate cancer. Tissue specimens were collected from 196 men and analyzed for their concentration of fats. The study found that those men with less advanced prostate tumors had higher concentrations of overall polyunsaturated fatty acids, and particularly high concentrations of omega-3 fatty acids, than men with more advanced tumors. The study also found that those men with more advanced tumors had a lower ratio of omega-3 fatty acids to omega-6 fatty acids. The study was led by Vincent Freeman, M.D., of the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Both omega-3 and omega-6 fats are essential fatty acids (EFAs), and both are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA). They are not made in the human body and must be obtained through food. The typical American diet is too high in omega-6 and too low in omega-3 fat. Some of the best food sources of omega-3 fatty acids are fish, particularly fatty fish such as sardines and salmon, as well as soybeans, canola, walnut and flaxseed, and their oils.

"More research is needed before we can conclusively state that replacing foods high in trans- and saturated fat with foods high in omega-3 and other polyunsaturated fat--such as nuts, oils, flaxseed and fatty fish--will slow the progression of prostate cancer," said Meydani, professor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts University, "But, our study suggests that this may be the case."

"Freeman, V., Meydani, M., Hur, K., Flanigan, R. Cancer, 2004 Dec 15;101(12):2744-54. "Inverse association between prostatic polyunsaturated fatty acid and risk of locally advanced prostate carcinoma."

Source: Eurekalert & others

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 21 Feb 2009
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