Staying Healthy in a Bad Economy

Staying healthy in an unhealthy economy is a challenging yet essential task.  Most of us are trying to cut back on our expenses, but I read some people are putting off doctor’s visits and others even stopping prescription medications!  If you are tempted to take short cuts with your healthcare, be forewarned… it could end up costing you more.  My advice:  talk to your doctor and do whatever you can do to invest in your health in simple cost-effective ways so you will avoid the financial and emotional cost of illness.  Particularly in economic hard times:

Reduce stress.  Try exercise – guaranteed to relieve stress.  You can even exercise at home and save on gym fees and on gasoline; take a walk, jump rope, stretch. Take a deep breath and find an activity that gives you a mental break:  take an early morning walk on the beach and watch the terns scurry up and down the shore; lie down in the grass and watch the clouds like when you were a child; start a new book.  Be charitable, with kindness:  hold the door for someone or let someone go in front of you on the checkout line if they look harried or rushed.  You’ll feel better and it won’t cost you a thing.

Exercise.  This one bears repeating because it does even more than relieve stress to keep you healthy.  Exercise improves heart and lung function, decreases resting blood pressure, decreases body fat, decreases total and LDL “bad” cholesterol, raises HDL “good” cholesterol, increases energy levels, increases tolerance to stress and depression, and controls or prevents the development of diabetes.  Even with the first day of exercise you will feel better. With time, your body will respond by increasing muscle mass and tone and decreasing body fat.  You will be thinner, stronger, more limber and flexible, and your body will function better and be less vulnerable to orthopedic injury. You will be healthier and decrease your risk of cancer, heart disease and chronic illness.

Stop smoking or encourage someone you love to stop smoking.  It will save in exponential ways – money, air quality, health, and heartache.

Drink more water, less soda.  This is an easy way to save big on calories and improve your health. And, try filtered tap water instead of bottled “spring” water.  You will save money and the environment at the same time.

Avoid fast food and eat at home more. Try oatmeal, it is inexpensive and highly recommended to help you lose weight and improve overall health.  Create a small herb garden and add flavor to a recipe at a fraction of the cost of buying fresh at the market each time; it’s easy and it’s gratifying.  Buy meat or chicken in bulk at a wholesale store, freeze and cook later, or cook now and freeze so you can just warm it up when you’re short on time.  Don’t go food shopping when you’re hungry and you will avoid temptation and buying in excess.

Avoid fad diets and diet pills.  They will cost you money and they will cost your health. Adopt a more healthful way of eating for life.

Take appropriate nutritional supplements.  A good daily multivitamin with 100% of essential vitamins and minerals is a great foundation.  Research shows 80 to 90% of the population does not achieve the recommended daily value (RDV) for each vitamin and mineral each day, nor do they even come close.  And, keep in mind that the RDV levels for each nutrient are only intended to guard against severe nutrient deficiency diseases, but are not intended to serve as levels of vitamin and mineral intake that are optimal in regard to supporting biological functions, preventing degenerative diseases and maximizing our well-being and longevity.  Take fish oils and boost your omega-3 intake; beyond the protective effects demonstrated in heart disease and cancers, scientific evidence strongly indicates that the omega-3 fatty acids, DHA + EPA, may have potential benefits in the prevention and/or treatment of myriad health conditions.

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Resveratrol – the key to anti-aging?

In November 1991, a news segment on CBS’s “60 Minutes” popularized the “French paradox” – the counterintuitive notion that a French diet of cheese, chocolate, and wine could be associated with improved cardiovascular health. With the proposal that red wine might decrease the incidence of heart disease, consumption increased 44% and some wineries began lobbying for the right to label their products “health food”. While most doctors might hesitate to go that far, many agree there does seem to be something in red wine that helps your heart.  Now years later that “something” may have found a name… Resveratrol is the ingredient in red wine that made headlines in 2006 after scientists demonstrated that it kept overfed mice from gaining weight, turned them into the equivalent of Olympic marathoners, and seemed to slow down their aging process.

Resveratrol is an antioxidant, found naturally in a number of foods like grapes, berries, and peanuts.  In grapes, resveratrol is found primarily in the skins; grapes grown in cool damp regions produce it when the skin is attacked by fungus.  Resveratrol is detected primarily in red wine, which is made from red or black grapes that undergo fermentation together with the skins in order to retain the color pigments, while white wine is usually made by fermenting juice pressed from white grapes.  Of the red wines, Pinot Noir contains the highest quantities of resveratrol, perhaps partly because of the grape’s characteristic thin skin and tight clusters that make it more vulnerable to fungus.

Resveratrol has ignited the modern day quest for the Fountain of Youth.  At the fore are researchers David Sinclair and Joseph Baur at the Harvard Medical School and Rafael de Cabo at the National Institute on Aging of the NIH.  The earliest studies have shown resveratrol to prolong lifespan in non-vertebrate organisms such as yeast and fruit flies.  By studying a short-lived fish species and now mice, researchers have been able to show that the natural compound could also do so in vertebrate species, supporting the potential utility of resveratrol in human aging research.  In the study published November 2006 in Nature, resveratrol was shown to shift the physiology of middle-aged mice on a high-calorie diet towards that of mice on a standard diet and significantly increase their survival.  Resveratrol mimicked the healthful effects seen with calorie restriction and produced changes associated with longer lifespan, including increased insulin sensitivity.  As you know, insulin resistance often leads to the development of type 2 diabetes, which is a widespread and devastating condition that over time causes irreparable damage to many parts of the body, including the heart, blood vessels, eyes, nerves, and the kidneys.  The discovery that resveratrol could enhance insulin sensitivity in mice and ward off diabetes, “provides a potential new therapeutic approach for preventing or treating this condition,” said researchers.

A more recent study, conducted and supported in part by the National Institute on Aging, was published July 3, 2008, in Cell Metabolism. The findings confirm previous results suggesting that resveratrol may mimic, in mice, some of the effects of calorie restriction, shown to lessen age-related diseases.  A major finding of this study is that resveratrol prevented age-related and obesity-related cardiovascular functional decline in the mice.  In addition, the scientists found resveratrol to have a variety of positive effects on other age-related problems in mice, including, better bone health, reduced cataract formation, and enhanced balance and motor coordination. “We are learning a great deal about how resveratrol affects the health and survival of mammals,” said Sinclair.  “Continued study of calorie restriction mimetics such as resveratrol may eventually point the way to new medicines to treat diseases of aging.”

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Did You Know…?

Jane Brody wrote an interesting article for The New York Times on “Flying Healthy”that highlighted the usual precautions: get plenty of rest and take extra vitamins prior to your flight, stay well-hydrated, and get up to move around to maintain good circulation.  Beyond these, she noted some special considerations. As airline cabins are commonly pressurized to altitudes of about 5,000 to 8,000 feet above sea level, passengers with underlying heart or respiratory diseases who may already have low levels of oxygen in their blood can develop symptoms of altitude sickness including fatigue, headache, lightheadedness, and nausea. Also, with respect to deep venous thrombosis (DVT), the risk of blood clots starts to rise four hours into a flight and peaks on flights of more than eight hours, and the more flights taken within two weeks, the greater the risk.  Those at highest risk of flight-induced blood clots include passengers who are obese, have cancer, recently had surgery, take oral contraceptives, or have conditions that raise their susceptibility to bloods clots including genetic conditions like factor V Leiden.  People at the highest risk may benefit from blood thinners when flying in addition to wearing compression stockings, exercising calf muscles, and staying well hydrated.

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Study: Lifestyle Changes Could Prevent More Deaths from Colorectal Cancer Than Screening

Lifestyle Changes Could Prevent More Deaths from Colorectal Cancer Than Screening, according to a study published online April 4 in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention.  Researchers from the United Kingdom predict that “realistic” lifestyle modifications involving diet and exercise would lead to a 26% reduction in the number of cases of colorectal cancer in the British population. This would be expected to produce at least an equivalent decrease in the number of deaths, they add, and “this is considerably greater than what is likely to be achieved by the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program.” They previously estimated that this project, which involves 2 yearly screenings with fecal occult blood testing, would reduce colorectal cancer mortality in those screened by 13% to 15% over the next 20 years (J Med Screen. 2008:15:163-174).

The lifestyle modifications involved:

  • Reducing consumption of red and processed meat to less than 90 g/day
  • Increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables to at least 5 portions per day
  • Exercising for at least 30 minutes per day on 5 or more days a week, at least at “moderate intensity” (similar to brisk walking)
  • Restricting alcohol consumption to 3 units a day for men and 2 units a day for women (where 1 unit is equivalent to half a pint of beer; a single measure of spirits; 1 glass of wine; or a small glass of sherry, port, or something similar)
An added bonus from the lifestyle-modification approach is that it would also prevent deaths from other causes, including cancers of the breast and upper gastrointestinal tract, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes, the researchers add.

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FATS: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Fats are divided into three categories:  the good (monounsaturated and polyunsaturated), the bad (saturated), and the just plain awful (trans fats).   In the good group are the omega-3s: DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid), and ALA (alpha-linolenic acid).  All three are good for you, but evidence for a health protective role is strongest for the DHA and EPA found in fish and fish oils.  ALA found in flax seeds, which is derived from plants, is less and only indirectly beneficial if you are trying to boost your omega-3s because the body uses most of it for energy and metabolizes only a small amount of ALA into EPA and DHA.

The omega-3 fatty acid DHA is one of the most abundant fatty acids in the brain. In the fetus and young infants, DHA is essential for proper growth and development of the brain, nervous system, and the retina of the eye. The richest dietary sources of DHA are the oils from cold-water fish such as salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, and other marine animals.

Both DHA and EPA have since been studied in myriad trials and if there is any panacea out there it appears that they may just be it.  Scientific evidence indicates that the omega-3 fatty acids, DHA + EPA, have natural anti-inflammatory properties and may have potential benefits in the prevention and/or treatment of the following health conditions:

  • Alzheimer’s and other cognitive diseases
  • Asthma
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Bipolar disorder and Depression
  • Cancer
  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Crohn’s disease and Ulcerative colitis
  • Diabetes
  • Eczema and Psoriasis
  • High blood pressure
  • Lupus
  • Joint disease including Rheumatoid arthritis and Osteoarthritis
  • Macular Degeneration
  • Migraine headaches
  • Multiple sclerosis (MS)
  • Obesity

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Finding Relief From Eczema – Omega-3 DHA

Eczema is an allergen-related medical condition; a “dermatitis” which literally means, “inflamed skin.”  It can be a very frustrating and uncomfortable condition manifested by intense itching, and dry, reddened skin.  Some people may suffer “flare-ups” of the itchy rash in response to allergens, such as foods, pollen, dust or animal dander. For some, coming into contact with rough or coarse materials may cause the skin to become itchy. For others, feeling too hot or too cold or exposure to certain household products like soap or detergent may cause an outbreak. Upper respiratory infections or colds may also be triggers, and lack of sleep and stress may cause the condition to worsen.  Eczema is not contagious and cannot be spread from person to person.

There is no cure for eczema, but most people can effectively manage their disease through a combination of potentially helpful strategies.   The goal of treatment is to relieve and prevent itching, which can lead to infection, so lotions and creams are recommended to combat dryness.  Application when the skin is damp, such as after bathing, helps the skin retain moisture. Cold compresses may also be used to relieve itching.  Over-the-counter or prescription creams and ointments containing hydrocortisone are often prescribed to reduce inflammation.  You can also help repair your skin’s layers by topically applying products that contain gamma-linolenic acid, a fatty acid found in evening primrose oil, borage oil, and black currant oil.

If you’re prone to eczema, steer clear of foods that trigger inflammation, such as red meat, fried foods, refined breads and pastas, margarines, and beverages that contain sugar.  Make sure your diet includes foods that help reduce inflammation, including fish, nuts, seeds, and avocados, which are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and highly beneficial to skin health. Additional daily supplementation with at least 1 gram of combined DHA and EPA may reduce dryness and inflammation.  Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables and increase hydration by drinking plenty of water.

A study recently published in the British Journal of Dermatology investigated whether DHA would be effective in decreasing atopic eczema symptoms. The randomized, double-blind, controlled trial recruited 53 patients with atopic eczema aged 18-40 years and were administered either 5.4 g daily of DHA or a placebo for 8 weeks. The DHA patients experienced an 18 percent reduction in symptoms compared to the placebo group. The German researchers concluded “Our data suggests that dietary DHA could be bioactive and might have a beneficial impact on the outcome of atopic eczema.”

Koch C, Dolle S, Metzger M, et al. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation in atopic eczema: a randomized, double-blind, controlled trial. Br J Dermatol. April 2008.

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