A FEW GOOD MEN

Winnipeg Free Press - - TANK - JOEL SCH­LESINGER

NLY mid­dle-aged men need ap­ply.

In a world where this de­mo­graphic is of­ten over-rep­re­sented — whether that’s in business, politics and fi­nance — a team of some of Canada’s lead­ing re­searchers are look­ing for about 100 men be­tween the ages 30 to 46 for a ground-break­ing, Man­i­toba-based health study. The Man­i­toba Per­son­al­ized Life­style Re­search pro­gram — TMPLR for short — is an ob­ser­va­tional study ex­am­in­ing how our sleep, diet, phys­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and other ac­tiv­i­ties in­ter­act, along with ad­di­tional fac­tors like ge­net­ics and even the bac­te­ria in our gut.

“It’s re­ally about look­ing at the con­nec­tion be­tween life­style and dis­ease risk,” says Dy­lan MacKay, a community health re­searcher fo­cused on Type 2 di­a­betes.

It’s a rare ex­am­i­na­tion of an un­der­stud­ied age group, he adds.

“There is a lot of good ev­i­dence that dis­ease risk fac­tors can start be­fore you are born, but there is al­ready a lot of cov­er­age in re­search.”

Older age groups are also stud­ied

Ofre­quently.

Yet peo­ple be­tween 30 and 46 haven’t had much fo­cus, MacKay says. “And that’s when you re­ally start to see the biomark­ers and risk fac­tors for chronic dis­ease oc­cur.”

Run­ning for about two years, TMPLR has al­ready at­tracted the ma­jor­ity of the 800 or so par­tic­i­pants from across Man­i­toba it re­quires. But find­ing men has been chal­leng­ing.

“We’re still look­ing to get those last 150 par­tic­i­pants — all of them men,” says MacKay, an as­sis­tant pro­fes­sor in community health sciences at the Univer­sity of Man­i­toba.

The lack of male par­tic­i­pa­tion is prob­lem­atic, po­ten­tially hold­ing up re­search.

That would be a shame, he adds, be­cause TMPLR is an un­prece­dented sci­en­tific en­deav­our, bring­ing to­gether so many dif­fer­ent data points re­gard­ing life­style as well as blood sugar, choles­terol, blood pres­sure and bone den­sity — to name a few.

Par­tic­i­pants spend about two hours on two con­sec­u­tive days at the Richard­son Cen­tre for Func­tional Foods and Nu­traceu­ti­cals at the U of M, where they give blood and un­dergo sev­eral tests in­clud­ing some they’re un­likely to ac­cess to through a fam­ily doc­tor. These in­clude a dual en­ergy Xray ab­sorp­tiom­e­try — or DXA scan — which mea­sures bone, mus­cle and fat com­po­si­tion. Par­tic­i­pants also re­ceive a pulse-wave anal­y­sis, mea­sur­ing the health of large and small blood ves­sels.

As well, they find out how their car­dio­vas­cu­lar fit­ness mea­sures up with a sub-max­i­mal car­diores­pi­ra­tory fit­ness test. This in­volves rid­ing a sta­tion­ary bike while wear­ing an oxy­gen mask to mon­i­tor breath­ing. It helps de­ter­mine aer­o­bic ca­pa­bil­ity with­out break­ing (much of) a sweat.

In short, if you’re cu­ri­ous about your health, this study is for you, says Peter Jones, se­nior di­rec­tor for TMPLR.

Of course, at this junc­ture, it’s mid­dle-aged men re­searchers want.

“We want to have as ful­some a data set as pos­si­ble, so the 13 in­ves­ti­ga­tors can do a deep dive and con­duct the sub-analy­ses as they wish, but the data must be ro­bust enough to help them an­swer their ques­tions,” Jones says, ex­plain­ing the need for more male sub­jects.

Most im­por­tantly, the health in­for­ma­tion gath­ered has the po­ten­tial to lead to trail-blazing re­search, he adds. In large part that’s be­cause the re­searchers look­ing for­ward to an­a­lyz­ing the data are a who’s who among Man­i­toba’s top health sci­en­tists. Among them are TMPLR’s ju­nior di­rec­tor Meghan Azad — a world-renowned re­searcher on asthma, obe­sity and al­ler­gies — and Dr. Navdeep Tan­gri, who de­vel­oped the gold stan­dard for cal­cu­lat­ing kid­ney-fail­ure risk.

For all sci­en­tists in­volved, TMPLR is a mother-lode of health in­for­ma­tion.

“It’s pretty dif­fi­cult to have a dataset like this from a large group of peo­ple, where ev­ery­thing is mea­sured un­der con­trolled cir­cum­stances,” says Jones, a Canada Re­search Chair in Func­tional Foods and Nu­tri­tion.

For Jones, whose re­search fo­cuses on how life­style and other fac­tors in­flu­ence choles­terol, the study is a rare chance to ex­am­ine the fat com­po­si­tion of hun­dreds of peo­ple and how it may af­fect choles­terol.

“My inkling is peo­ple who are over­weight — par­tic­u­larly if that weight is above the beltline — will be those who man­u­fac­ture more choles­terol than they need.”

An­other area of his work in­volves a po­ten­tial link be­tween choles­terol and how much for­mula in­di­vid­u­als were fed as ba­bies.

Jones says for­mula has very lit­tle choles­terol; some re­search in­di­cates the body man­u­fac­tures more of it to com­pen­sate. Ad­di­tional stud­ies have sug­gested this could lead to in­di­vid­u­als pro­duc­ing too much as adults. Jones says TMPLR should shed more light on the is­sue, hope­fully, es­tab­lish­ing more clearly if a link ex­ists or not.

Other re­searchers are in­ter­ested in the ac­tiv­ity and fit­ness data, in­clud­ing Todd Duhamel, a pro­fes­sor at the Fac­ulty of Ki­ne­si­ol­ogy and Recre­ation Man­age­ment at the U of M.

“A lot of the work we’re fo­cused on in­volves pat­terns of ac­tiv­ity, seden­tary be­hav­iour and phys­i­cal fit­ness.”

In­creas­ingly, re­search in­di­cates sit­ting too much is a health haz­ard. In fact, it may even can­cel out the ben­e­fits of reg­u­lar ex­er­cise, he says. Of spe­cial in­ter­est is the TMPLR data col­lected from an ac­tiv­ity mon­i­tor each par­tic­i­pant wears for a week.

“We have 15 data points per se­cond we’re col­lect­ing,” Duhamel says.

From that, re­searchers can de­ter­mine how much and how fast par­tic­i­pants move, and even how long and well they sleep.

De­spite the wealth of health in­for­ma­tion al­ready col­lected, with­out ad­e­quate ‘man-data’ the study will be in­com­plete, MacKay says.

“Bi­o­log­i­cally, men and women are quite dif­fer­ent and so we want to make sure we have bal­ance.”

He adds so­cial norms around gen­der also af­fect health, point­ing to men gen­er­ally be­ing di­ag­nosed with Type 2 di­a­betes later than women be­cause males typ­i­cally do not see a fam­ily doc­tor as of­ten.

MacKay says for this rea­son it’s not un­com­mon for men to find out they have di­a­betes only af­ter they suf­fer a heart attack or stroke.

“So they’ve al­ready pro­gressed onto a worse health con­di­tion be­cause they haven’t been screened for chronic dis­ease.”

TMPLR, he adds, would help il­lus­trate what’s go­ing on with blood­glu­cose lev­els and other di­a­betes risk fac­tors in the mod­ern, Man­i­toba male.

More broadly, a lack of gen­der par­ity in the study could skew data, pre­vent­ing re­searchers from un­cov­er­ing mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ences among women’s and men’s health, lead­ing to break­throughs.

“That’s the dream of ev­ery­body on the TMPLR team — that we do health re­search that im­proves peo­ple’s lives and helps pre­vent or treat dis­ease in the fu­ture,” Mackay says.

“That’s cer­tainly why I do what I do.”

PHIL HOSSACK / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

TMPLR has its own re­search bus, where many of the tests take place.

PHIL HOSSACK / WIN­NIPEG FREE PRESS

Dy­lan MacKay with a DXA body scan­ner at the Richard­son Cen­tre for Func­tional Foods and Nu­traceu­ti­cals.

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