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By John Schieszer
Medical Minutes 

Latest research on health and nutrition

Medical Minutes


Adding more pumpkin to your diet may have beneficial effects

This month a new crop of seasonal nutrient-dense fruit and vegetable “superfoods” will be harvested. Superfoods increase our overall wellness and nutrition, and help support a healthy lifestyle. Nutritionists say November is a good time to try new recipes with pumpkins, cranberries and pomegranates.

“Superfoods are brimming with nutrients and antioxidants,” said Kari Kooi, who is a registered dietician at Houston Methodist Hospital, Houston, Texas. “The benefits of adding them into your everyday meals are numerous. A nutritious diet can really have a positive impact on both your physical and mental health.”

Kooi said that her top four superfoods to incorporate into your daily meals are pumpkins, pumpkin seeds, pomegranates and kiwis. Pumpkins earn superfood status because they are rich in beta-carotene. They are versatile and can be added into just about anything. Kooi said if you like pumpkin pie, stir a little pumpkin puree into your oatmeal. In addition, pureed pumpkin mixed with vanilla Greek yogurt can make a tasty pumpkin pudding.

The seeds of a pumpkin are a superfood powerhouse all on their own, according to Kooi. They have heart healthy fat, protein and fiber. They also have a lot of minerals like magnesium, which aids in bone health. She recommends roasted pumpkin seeds (can be eaten shell and all) for a healthy snack during the day. Pomegranates, kiwis and cranberries pack lots of fiber, vitamin C and are known for their healthful properties.

Women, grab your walking shoes

A new study has found that women between the ages of 50 and 74, who walk several days a week, may have a significantly lower risk for breast cancer. Researchers looked at 73,615 postmenopausal women. All the women were recruited for the study back in 1992-1993 and tracked by researchers in terms of their exercise habits.

The researchers found that women who engaged in at least an hour of vigorous physical activity every day had a 25 percent lower risk for breast cancer. The study also showed that the women who walked for at least seven hours a week had a 14 percent lower risk for breast cancer.

“We examined whether recreational physical activity, specifically walking, was associated with lower breast cancer risk. Given that more than 60 percent of women report some daily walking, promoting walking as a healthy leisure-time activity could be an effective strategy for increasing physical activity,” said Alpa Patel, who is an epidemiologist at the American Cancer Society, Atlanta, Georgia.

“We were pleased to find that without any other recreational activity, just walking an average of one hour per day was associated with lower risk of breast cancer in these women.”

This is the first study to show a lower risk for breast cancer specifically with walking among women ages 50 to 74. The current guidelines recommend that adults should strive for at least two and a half hours a week of moderate-intensity activity. Patel said this study suggests that higher levels of activity may provide greater benefits for breast cancer prevention in women over the age of 50.

Ritalin may help reduce fall risk in older adults

Israeli researchers are now reporting that a single dose of methylphenidate (MPH) may help improve balance control during walking and help reduce the risk of falls among elderly adults. This drug is approved to treat Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and narcolepsy. However, researchers at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (BGU) are reporting that a single dose of MPH improves walking by reducing the number of step errors and the step error rate in both single and dual tasks.

“Our results add to a growing body of evidence showing that MPH may have a role as a therapeutic option for improving gait and reducing fall risk in older adults,” said Itshak Melzer who is with BGU. “This is especially true in real-life situations, where the requirement to walk commonly occurs under more complicated, ‘dual task’ circumstances with cognitive attention focused elsewhere, such as watching traffic and talking, and not on performing a specific motor task.”

The Israeli researchers conducted a study with 30 healthy older adults all over the age of 70. The participants were given a single dose (10 mg) of MPH and were assessed under four task conditions of single and combined motor and cognitive tasks. The findings suggest that Ritalin and Concerta (two currently available drugs) may significantly help lower the risk of falls in older adults.

“The enhanced attention that comes about as a result of MPH may lead to improved balance control during walking, especially in dual task conditions,” said Meltzer. “Our findings that MPH improves gait can be explained not just by its effect of attentional improvements, but also by indications that it has a direct influence on areas of the brain that deal with motor and balance control.”

Age-related deterioration in gait and balance is a major contributor to falls in older adults.

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at

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John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute.

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