2020 was certainly a roller coaster, but on a positive note, we also witnessed some wonders. We saw the development of the fastest vaccine, we functioned in novel situations that demanded resourcefulness, mother nature got a break, and the importance of good nutrition was put under the spotlight.
It was also a significant year for science, with studies deepening our understanding of how certain nutrients affect our health. Here are the top five studies that we found most interesting:
1] Your gut microbes could be an important key to normal sleep
We all know that microbes in our bodies can change the environment and contents of the intestines. A recent animal study (early evidence) revealed the implications of this, and how it can ultimately impact seemingly unrelated lifestyle aspects like our sleep.
The research showed that without important gut microbes, the study’s mice could not make any serotonin (a chemical messenger in our body that influences our sleep, calms us, and is considered a ‘natural mood stabiliser’) and their levels of vitamin B6 (which is required for production of many chemical messengers) were lower.
With lower levels of serotonin and vitamin B6, these mice had altered sleep/wake cycles (with faster switches between each), leading to a poorer quality of sleep when compared to the regular sleep patterns generally seen in mice.
2] Vitamin C could help us retain muscle mass as we age
As per researchers, people over the age of 50 years lose up to one percent of their skeletal muscle mass each year.
A study’s results suggest that ensuring sufficient dietary intake of vitamin C, via a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, may help reduce age-related loss of skeletal muscle, and thus may have wide-reaching public health benefits.
This is believed to be because vitamin C helps in the synthesis of collagen and carnitine. Collagen is a key structural component of our muscles and tendons, and carnitine plays a key role in the metabolism of muscle tissue.
3] The forms of sugar we consume impact our hunger levels
A recent study found that when young adults (18-35 years) consumed drinks containing sucrose (table sugar), they produced lower levels of the hormones that promote satiety (feeling full), than when they consumed drinks containing glucose (the main type of sugar that circulates in the bloodstream).
The majority of sucrose that people consume comes from sugar-sweetened foods and beverages, whereas glucose is found naturally in most carbohydrate-containing foods, including fruits and whole-grain bread. This seems like yet another reason to choose carbohydrates from fruits and grains, rather than those sweetened with table sugar.
4] The average Indian diet has been found to be unhealthy and unsustainable
While traditional Indian diets are very healthy, the average Indian diet today comprises excess cereals, with not enough proteins, fruits, or vegetables, says a new study.
The study states that Indian diets are in fact unhealthy when compared to the EAT-Lancet reference diet (a universal reference diet, considered healthy for both people and the planet), which promotes a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, plant-based protein and fats, whole-grain carbohydrates and unsaturated oils from fish.
In comparison, India sees drastically different patterns of consumption, with unhealthy diets leading to persistently high levels of undernutrition (including vitamin and mineral deficiencies) and obesity.
Unlike western countries, it isn’t the overconsumption of animal protein that’s responsible for unhealthy diets in India. The problem lies wherein government policies— towards both farmers and consumers— promote rice and wheat production and consumption. Since the policies incentivize farmers to grow more rice, wheat, and sugarcane, the production of foods like pulses, fruits, and vegetables is lower than it could have been otherwise.
Food policies need readjustments to ensure the availability of foods such as pulses, fruits, and vegetables at affordable prices, the study recommends. In the meantime, we can do our best to make these changes to our own diet, and ensure balance on an individual level.
5] Vitamin D may help with the recovery of COVID-19 and reduce the inflammation that ensues
It has been previously observed that vitamin D-deficient individuals have an increased risk of contracting COVID-19, the infectious disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Vitamin D’s influence on the immune system and its protective effects against viral infections are not unknown, but the same hasn’t been explored much in the context of COVID-19.
That was before an Indian study showed that consuming vitamin D supplements for seven days helped 62.5% people with asymptomatic cases of COVID-19 (who were previously deficient in the vitamin) test negative for the virus three weeks later, compared to only 20.8% individuals who weren’t given vitamin D.
Along with a greater recovery rate, these individuals also showed a significant decrease in the systemic inflammation that’s generally caused by the virus.
These interesting revelations have got us thinking about the possibilities with the human body, and the impact of nutrition on our holistic health and wellbeing. There’s definitely more to come.
- Ogawa Y, et al. Sci Rep. 2020 Nov 11;10(1):19554.
- Lewis LN, et al. J Nutr. 2020 Oct; 150(10): 2789–2798.
- Yunker AG, et al. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2020 Dec 10:dgaa865.
- Sharma M, et al. BMC Public Health. 2020; 20: 812.
- Rastogi A, et al. Postgrad Med J. 2020 Nov 12:postgradmedj-2020-139065.