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Rice Bran May Give Oat Bran Run for Money

Dietary fads come and go. And, according to some scientists, oat bran may soon face stiff competition on grocery store shelves.

Researchers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture report that rice bran--found in brown rice, cereal and some breads--lowered blood cholesterol in animals just as effectively as the much-touted oat bran.

Reductions averaged 20% in rice-bran fed animals, about the same decrease found in the oat-bran-fed group, said Robin Saunders, a food chemist with the USDA Western Regional Research Center in Albany, Calif. He and other researchers note that human studies, expected to begin in the United States by summer, are needed to verify the results.

Such human studies are already under way in other countries. In Australia, for example, results of a government-sponsored rice bran study, due in three months, appear “promising,” said a spokesman for the Rice Industry of New South Wales. How rice bran--the outside layer of the rice kernel--works to lower cholesterol isn’t understood. But scientists speculate it may have something to do with the oils contained in it, said John Hunnell, a food chemist with Riviana Foods, a rice marketer in Houston, Tex. Those oils are polyunsaturated and monounsaturated, not the saturated type associated with increases in cholesterol levels, Hunnell explained. (In oat bran, fiber is believed to lower cholesterol.)

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“The more sources we can find to reduce blood cholesterol, the better,” said Peter Hoagland, a research chemist at the USDA’s Eastern Regional Research Center in Philadelphia. "(Rice bran) gives us potential to increase variation in the diet.”

Robert Sayre, a food chemist at the USDA’s western center, noted that rice bran is a good source of protein, is low in sodium and has about the same amount of soluble fiber as oat bran. Rice bran proponents also maintain it tastes sweeter than oat bran and is less likely to trigger allergies.

Even without domestic human studies, Riviana and other food companies are gearing up to provide more rice bran products and recipes. Until then, consumers can choose from a few commercially available products: brown rice (about 10% rice bran), rice bran cereal, (100% rice bran and often available in health food stores) and some multigrain breads.

But if your aim is to lower cholesterol, forget white rice. All bran in it, said Hunnell, is lost during processing.

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The Cancer Connection

Meanwhile, in a 12-year study of more than 15,000 people from southwestern Scotland, low blood cholesterol levels coincided with an increased cancer risk, particularly in men, researchers report in the current British Medical Journal.

As in some previous studies, an association was found between low cholesterol levels and cancer of the colon; in addition, the Scottish study linked low cholesterol with lung cancer. Some researchers speculate that low cholesterol may in fact be the product of undiagnosed bowel cancer, as developing tumors trap cholesterol and remove it from the bloodstream.

That’s not the mechanism, said Dr. Victor M. Hawthorne, professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health in Ann Arbor and the principal investigator in the recent study. While the relationship between low cholesterol levels and cancer isn’t understood, he believes the association could result when low cholesterol levels unfavorably alter the cell environment.

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Study results should not discourage those with high cholesterol levels from reducing them to minimize the risk of heart disease, said Hawthorne. But “those with satisfactory cholesterol levels should not become overly concerned about reducing them further,” he added.

The risk of heart disease begins to increase when cholesterol levels reach 200 milligrams per deciliter, according to the American Heart Assn.

Springtime for Dieters

Southern California’s recent heat wave and health club advertisements are reminders that swimsuit season is fast approaching. If you decide to begin a diet and exercise program today, what results can reasonably be expected in the 10 weeks before summer officially begins? Here are the opinions of two experts.

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--Weight: With careful dieting, expect a loss of 9 to 18 pounds, suggested Daniel Kosich, an exercise physiologist and program director at Jane Fonda Workout in Beverly Hills. But Susan Johnson, director of continuing education for the Institute for Aerobics Research in Dallas disagreed, saying a loss of 5 to 9 pounds is more realistic. “And it may be less if people are changing their body compositions (since lean tissue weighs more than fat tissue).” Both noted the loss depends on initial weight and other factors such as metabolic rate.

--Strength: If training is done two or three times a week, expect “noticeable changes in physique” within four weeks, Kosich said. Gains are dependent on base level. “If you start from being sedentary, a 5% strength gain per week, particularly if you use weights, isn’t unusual,” Johnson noted. Those in better condition initially will see slower progress.

--Appearance: If you are at the button-popping stage, clothes should fit better at the end of 10 weeks, Johnson said. But you may weigh the same, she added, because fat tissue has decreased and lean tissue weighs more.

To ease the shape-up process, realize that weight loss and strength gains often reach a “plateau stage,” said Johnson. “Often, you don’t lose weight for three weeks and wake up the third week and three pounds are gone.” Also keep in mind that as you increase the amount of lean tissue, more calories are burned--even at rest, she added.

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Fitness and Childbirth

Exercise during pregnancy can decrease the perception of labor pain, say Italian researchers reporting in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Scientists from the University of L’Aquila compared two groups of women: 21 who did no exercise during pregnancy and 15 who used a stationary bicycle three times a week for 30 minutes. Then, using blood samples, pain perceptions were evaluated and measured during labor.

In both groups, beta-endorphins--so-called natural painkillers secreted by the brain--increased during labor. But the level was higher among the women who had exercised; these women also reported much less intense pain than their non-exercising counterparts.

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“We believe any exercise program that is prescribed during pregnancy should be closely monitored but believe that most normal pregnant women can benefit by such a program of fitness conditioning,” the researchers conclude.

The Italian findings “go along with what we’ve found out about exercise during labor,” said Dr. Raul Artal, a USC professor of obstetrics and gynecology, who notes that additional research is needed. According to several USC studies, exercise during labor--such as walking--can be valuable, he noted. They indicate that “‘Women who exercise during labor experience less pain than women who don’t.”


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