Livin' on the MDedge

The most important meal of the day, with extra zinc


Busting the myth of skipping breakfast

Your mother told you that breakfast was the most important meal of the day. Cereal marketing teams banked on that, selling breakfast to millions of people based on a common turn of phrase like “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, what if the notion of breakfast’s importance isn’t just marketing BS?

Cereal NorthStar203/iStock/Getty Images Plus

A new study suggests that adults who don’t eat breakfast are setting themselves up for a nutritional gap. Common breakfast foods pack a ton of calcium, fiber, and vitamin C from milk, cereals, and fruit. Christopher Taylor, PhD, senior author of the study and professor of dietetics at the Ohio State University, Columbus, said that if you’re not getting those nutrients from foods at breakfast, there’s a tendency to skip them throughout the rest of your day.

Data from a sample of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey – 30,889 adults aged 19 and older who participated between 2005 and 2016 – showed that 15.2% of participants reported skipping breakfast.

The research team then estimated nutrient consumption using federal dietary studies and guidelines and compared it to Food and Nutrition Board of National Academies nutrient recommendations. The breakfast skippers, they determined, were missing out on pronounced levels of fiber, magnesium, iron, calcium, and vitamins A, B1, B2, B3, C, and D and were more likely to fall prey to lower-quality snacking. Cue those Oreos at 3 pm.

You may get more total calories within the day by eating breakfast, but your lunch, dinner, and snacks are much larger when you skip it. So the case of breakfast being the most important meal of the day checks out. Who knew that Tony the Tiger – and Mom – were actually on to something?

The bitter taste of a healthy liver

Alcohol and liver disease. They go together like, well, alcohol and liver disease. But alcohol isn’t the only reason people get liver disease, and now there’s a potential new treatment for people with hepatic steatosis on the way to becoming nonalcoholic fatty liver disease: beer.

Okay, not literally beer, but a pair of compounds derived from hops, the plant that gives beer its color and bitter flavor. In a study published in eLife, researchers from Oregon State University fed mice either a low-fat diet or a high-fat diet to induce hepatic steatosis, with some on the high-fat diet receiving either xanthohumol, a prenylated flavonoid from the hop plant, or tetrahydroxanthohumol, a hydrogenated derivative of xanthohumol.

Hops vine Courtesy Oregon State University

Mice that received tetrahydroxanthohumol not only gained weight at a far slower rate than that of mice on the normal high-fat diet, their blood sugar remained stable; xanthohumol was similarly effective if the dosage was higher. The researchers noted that the two chemicals were effective because they acted as antagonists for the PPAR-gamma protein, which controls glucose metabolism and fatty cell activation. The chemicals bind to the protein but don’t activate it, meaning fat is unable to build up in the cells. No fat means no hepatic steatosis, which means no liver disease.

The researchers caution that more research is needed to determine the chemicals’ effectiveness in humans, but the classic line from a great animated philosopher still holds true: Alcohol may really be the source of, and solution to, all of life’s problems.

Life’s great mysteries, from A to zinc

Thanks to science, we now have answers to what were once unanswerable questions: Is Jello a solid or a liquid? If someone leads but no one follows, are they just out for a walk? Does zinc inhibit or promote the growth of kidney stones? How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? (Turns out science really did answer this one.)

If you’re anything like us, then you’ve been following the big debate on the two competing theories involving the role of zinc in kidney stone formation for years. One theory says that zinc stops the growth of calcium oxalate crystals that make up stones. The other says that zinc alters the surfaces of crystals, which encourages growth.

We can’t stand the suspense any longer, so here goes: The answer to “does zinc inhibit or promote the growth of kidney stones?” is … yes.

kidneys decade3d/Thinkstock

“What we see with zinc is something we haven’t seen before. It does slow down calcium oxalate crystal growth and at the same time it changes the surface of the crystals, causing defects in the form of intergrowths. These abnormalities create centers for new crystals to nucleate and grow,” said senior author Jeffrey Rimer, PhD, of the University of Houston.

In vitro experimentation, computational modeling, and atomic force microscopy don’t lie: Zinc ions have a unique ability “to alter the termination of crystal surfaces.” They tried alternative ions found in urine, including magnesium, and there was no effect on crystal formation.

With this one great mystery now solved, we contacted Dr. Rimer to ask him about the whole “sound of one hand clapping” business. He hasn’t cracked that one yet, but he did want to speak to our supervisor. So many of life’s unanswered questions, so little time. Oh well.

Babies’ ‘gut instinct’ to cry

At some point or another, you’ve probably been told not to “be such a baby” when you were scared of something. If you’ve been called a crybaby, it may be an indicator that you had a different gut microbiome as an infant.

Investigators from Michigan State University and the University of North Carolina say that babies who react more strongly to scary situations have different gut microbiomes compared with babies who don’t have such a strong reaction. The way babies react to scary situations can say a lot about their future, and there is even some evidence that gut microbiomes may have something to do with mental health.

baby crying in crib ©a-fitz/

Physicians who support neurologic development may one day be able to use this research on gut microbiomes to help monitor people’s neurological health. “This early developmental period is a time of tremendous opportunity for promoting healthy brain development. The microbiome is an exciting new target that can be potentially used for that,” said Rebecca Knickmeyer of MSU, leader of the study, which was published in Nature Communications. And loyal LOTME followers already know about the OpenBiome Microbiome Library, aka the “Amazon of bacteria.”

So the next time someone tells you not to be such a baby when you’re scared of something, tell them it’s not your fault. Blame it on your gut microbiome!

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