The world of nutrition is ever-changing and new studies and research are published every day. This week’s Nutrition News looks at some of the most interesting of these nutritional studies that highlight how what we eat affects our day-to-day health and well-being.

Dried fruit for joint health

Osteoarthritis, a prevalent degenerative disease affecting joint health and impacting millions worldwide, poses significant challenges due to its debilitating symptoms of pain, stiffness, and joint swelling. Recent investigations have spotlighted the potential of dietary interventions, particularly fruit and dry fruit consumption, in mitigating the risk of osteoarthritis and, therefore, supporting joint health.

Drawing on clinical and epidemiological evidence pointing to the health-promoting benefits of polyphenols and other bioactive compounds found abundantly in fruits and dry fruits, researchers embarked on a Mendelian randomisation study, as discussed in the article “Could dried fruits be the key to reducing osteoarthritis risk?” to unveil the causal relationship between dry fruit intake and osteoarthritis risk.

Utilising the MRBase database and genome-wide association studies (GWAS) data, scientists meticulously examined the genetic variations associated with dry fruit intake and its potential impact on osteoarthritis risk. Leveraging single nucleotide polymorphisms as instrumental variables, the study uncovered intriguing insights into the supportive potential of dry fruit consumption and joint health.

The Mendelian randomisation analysis unveiled a promising causal relationship between dry fruit intake and reduced osteoarthritis risk, shedding light on the preventive power of dietary interventions in managing this debilitating condition. The study's findings underscore the importance of incorporating dry fruits, rich in essential nutrients and bioactive compounds, into daily diets to potentially mitigate the risk of osteoarthritis and alleviate its associated symptoms.

However, while the study offers valuable insights, it also underscores the need for further research to elucidate the specific types, quantities, and mechanisms of action of dry fruits in mitigating osteoarthritis risk. Additionally, the study's limitations, including its focus on individuals of European ancestry and the absence of adjustments for potential confounders, mean that further studies are needed to confirm its findings amongst the wider population. Despite these challenges, the study marks a significant step forward in uncovering the intricate interplay between diet and osteoarthritis risk, paving the way for tailored dietary strategies to support joint health and overall well-being.

Best diet for brain health

A balanced diet is usually hailed for maintaining optimum physical health, however, emerging research, published in the article “Researchers Studied Four Diet Types, This Was the Best for Brain Health”, suggests that such dietary habits wield profound effects on mental well-being and cognitive function, shedding new light on the intricate relationship between nutrition and brain health.

The recent study scrutinised the dietary patterns of over 180,000 adults in the United Kingdom, categorising them into four distinct groups: starch-free or reduced starch, vegetarian, high protein and low fibre, and balanced diets. Astonishingly, individuals adhering to balanced dietary regimens exhibited superior mental health outcomes and cognitive function compared to those following other, more restrictive, dietary approaches.

The study uncovered compelling associations between diet types and brain morphology, unveiling distinct grey matter volume variations across different dietary groups. Notably, individuals consuming high-protein/low-fibre diets showcased reduced grey matter volumes in brain regions crucial for spatial coordination, while vegetarians exhibited augmented grey matter volumes in specific brain areas associated with cognitive function.

Despite these findings, the study revealed a noteworthy caveat regarding vegetable and fruit consumption, with increased intake correlating with heightened mental health risks. This paradoxical observation underscores the complexity of dietary influences on mental well-being, necessitating further investigation to elucidate underlying mechanisms.

Furthermore, the study emphasises the pivotal role of lifestyle factors, such as quality sleep, regular exercise, and stress management, in addition to following a balanced diet, in fostering optimal mental health and cognitive function. Experts underscore the importance of steering away from overly restrictive diets, such as paleo or keto, in favour of inclusive dietary patterns that encompass a diverse array of nutrient-rich foods.

While specific diets may serve short-term objectives, cultivating sustainable, balanced eating habits remains paramount for long-term brain health and overall well-being. By prioritising whole foods rich in essential nutrients, individuals can fortify their cognitive health and pave the way for a brighter, more mentally resilient future.

Overweight children at risk of iron deficiency

A groundbreaking study, reported in the article “Obese and overweight children at risk of iron deficiency”, conducted by nutritional scientists at the University of Leeds has unearthed a concerning correlation between childhood obesity and iron deficiency, shedding light on a previously overlooked aspect of paediatric health.

Examining data from thousands of medical studies across 44 countries, the researchers discovered that iron deficiency was not exclusive to underweight children but also prevalent among overweight and obese children as well. Unlike deficiencies in zinc and vitamin A, which were predominantly observed in undernourished individuals, iron deficiency in overweight children was attributed to inflammation disrupting iron absorption mechanisms.

This research marks the first comprehensive investigation into the association between iron deficiency and childhood obesity, underscoring its profound implications for cognitive function and overall health.

Lead author Xiaomian Tan emphasised the significance of this discovery, stating, "Our research highlights the hidden form of malnutrition present in overweight and obese children, challenging conventional perceptions surrounding paediatric nutrition."

Iron deficiency in children poses grave risks to brain function, including impairments in attention, concentration, and memory, and heightened susceptibility to conditions such as autism and ADHD. Despite its well-documented prevalence in adults with obesity, this study illuminates a critical gap in our understanding of nutritional deficiencies in paediatric populations.

The concept of 'hidden hunger' has gained traction in recent years, drawing attention to the prevalence of vitamin and mineral deficiencies in individuals with nutrient-poor yet energy-dense diets. In high-income countries, the consumption of ultra-processed foods rich in fat, sugar, and salt has fuelled this phenomenon, while in lower- and middle-income countries, poverty and limited dietary diversity contribute to the double burden of malnutrition.

Research supervisor Professor Bernadette Moore underscored the urgent need for intervention, stating, "Prolonged inflammation not only exacerbates iron deficiency but also increases the risk of chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, and fatty liver."

As childhood obesity rates continue to soar globally, addressing the underlying nutritional deficiencies becomes imperative. Strategies aimed at increasing physical activity, improving diet quality, and reducing inflammation hold promise in mitigating iron deficiency and its associated health risks.

Moving forward, the researchers advocate for further studies to evaluate the effectiveness of these interventions and emphasise the importance of bridging data gaps to inform targeted interventions in regions grappling with the double burden of malnutrition.

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Alison Astill-Smith author Alison is the 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.