What we eat impacts us in all sorts of ways and, with ongoing research, we’re constantly learning about new mechanisms at play within the body and how certain nutrients play a part. This week’s Nutrition News looks at three recent studies and articles that uncover how what we eat could benefit us, including how avocados could support heart health.

The health benefits of avocados

Avocados are not only delicious but also incredibly nutritious. They are packed with vitamin C, vitamin E, K1, vitamin B6, and folate, along with essential minerals like potassium and copper. Low in sugar and rich in fibre, avocados are a great source of monounsaturated fats, which supports heart health and helps lower bad cholesterol levels, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke. These creamy green fruits are versatile and can be incorporated into various dishes.

However, according to the article “Guac Your World: Why Avocados Are So Good for You” by the Cleveland Clinic, it's essential to consume avocados in moderation as they are calorie-dense and can have negative effects on weight management when not monitored. Portion control is key, as even a medium-sized avocado contains around 75 calories, and a large one can add over 400 calories to your daily intake.

Avocados are a powerhouse of vitamins, including K1, C, E, B6, and folate. These vitamins support blood clotting, support the immune system, tissue health, and energy metabolism. Avocados are also low in sugar, making them a healthy alternative to sugary fruits.

Additionally, avocados are rich in both soluble and insoluble dietary fibre, which aids in digestion, helps control blood sugar, and promotes a feeling of fullness after eating. They are also an excellent source of potassium, even surpassing bananas. Potassium is crucial for blood pressure regulation and overall heart health.

Avocados can support your copper intake. This essential trace mineral is necessary for iron metabolism, a healthy immune system, and a well-functioning nervous system.

Incorporate avocados into your diet creatively, whether in salads, sandwiches, or even desserts like chocolatey avocado brownie bites. They're not just a food trend; they're a nutritious addition to any meal.

How vitamin D impacts early brain development

A recent study has investigated the relationship between 25-hydroxy-vitamin D (25(OH)D) levels and neurodevelopmental outcomes in 3–5-year-old children, taking into account maternal vitamin D (VitD) pregnancy supplementation and vitamin D binding protein (VDBP) genotypes.

Vitamin D, traditionally associated with bone health, has gained attention for its potential role in brain development and cognitive health. Maternal VitD intake during pregnancy is believed to influence offspring's neurological health, but the exact role of VitD in neurodevelopment remains uncertain. Research has linked it to conditions like Alzheimer's and ADHD in adults and autism spectrum disorders in children. However, findings on its impact on children's language skills have been inconsistent.

The study, which was reported in the article “How vitamin D and genetics shape early brain development” by News-Medical.net, conducted a post hoc analysis using data from a previous randomised clinical trial. The original trial involved pregnant women who received varying doses of VitD3 until delivery, with follow-up blood samples. Of the 502 participants, 350 completed the study. Subsequently, their children, aged 3-5, participated in the follow-up study between 2009 and 2013.

The children underwent annual neurodevelopmental assessments using the Brigance Screen II, covering language, motor, and academic domains. Sociodemographic data, including maternal factors and child characteristics, were collected.

The analysis involved 156 children, assessing neurodevelopmental scores, treatment groups, and VDBP genotypes. Results revealed that higher 25(OH)D levels in children aged 3-5 were associated with better Brigance quotient scores. VDBP genotypes showed variations in academic scores.

Language scores were higher in children whose mothers received 2000 IU/day VitD during pregnancy, those born to college-educated mothers, and those tested in the spring. Specific VDBP genotypes were associated with poorer language scores.

Motor assessment indicated slightly lower scores in male children, while breastfed children outperformed non-breastfed peers in motor skills.

In summary, the study highlights the complex interplay of sociodemographic factors, VitD levels, and genetic variables in early childhood neurodevelopmental outcomes, emphasising the need for further research in this area.

Ginger extract could support women’s health

A clinical study aimed to assess the effectiveness and safety of ginger extract on women’s health in supporting women against the effects of primary dysmenorrhea. Primary dysmenorrhea is characterised by severe menstrual pain and associated symptoms.

Ginger is typically known for its anti-inflammatory properties so this recent research makes the uses of this versatile ingredient far more widely applicable.

50 participants were enrolled in the study, which was reported in the article “High potency ginger extract may ease menstrual symptoms: Study” by NutraIngredients USA, and randomly assigned to either the ginger group or the placebo group. The primary endpoint was the maximum dysmenorrheic pain assessed using the Visual Analog Scale (VAS), which measures pain intensity. Secondary endpoints included the Verbal Multidimensional Scoring System (VMS), evaluation of symptoms experienced during menstruation, rescue medication usage, and overall participant satisfaction.

The results showed a significant improvement in the mean VAS pain scores, VMS grade, and menstrual symptoms in the ginger group compared to the placebo group. This suggests that ginger effectively reduced the severity and intensity of menstrual pain and related symptoms in primary dysmenorrhea.

Importantly, the study found that ginger was safe and well-tolerated by the participants, with no reported side effects at the recommended dose of 100 mg twice daily.

While these findings are promising and indicate that ginger could be a valuable botanical option to lessen the effects of primary dysmenorrhea, the study acknowledges the need for larger-scale clinical trials to further validate its therapeutic feasibility and efficacy.

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Alison Astill-Smith author Alison is Director and Founder of Metabolics who writes about Metabolics updates, events and natural healthcare. Her experience and passion for natural supplements and healthcare comes from her years of experience as a practising osteopath, having founded Metabolics in her search for high quality, natural products in her own work. Alison has been a qualified and practising Osteopath since 1981 and regularly gives seminars on a range of healthcare subjects to the wider practitioner community helping share her knowledge and experience.