Is Sugar the New Fat?

With the attack on obesity in our society and the spotlight on saturated fats, the food industry has introduced an army of low fat foods.  The problem is that these low fat substitutes are often high in sugary carbohydrates. When we eat carbohydrates – whether from a piece of whole-grain bread or a chocolate chip cookie – they are converted in the body to glucose.  The increase in our blood sugar triggers the pancreas to secrete insulin, which helps digest foods and moderate blood sugar levels.  All carbohydrates cause an increase in blood glucose levels and a concomitant increase in circulating insulin, but not all carbohydrates are created equal.  Just like with the fats, there are “good” carbs and “bad” carbs.  The key for carbs is how much and how fast they increase blood sugar.

A few years ago I came across a book entitled Naturally Slim and Powerful – The Natural Way to Boost Serotonin Without Drugs. As a psychiatrist, prescribing medications that influence serotonin levels for my patients who were depressed or anxious, this piqued my curiosity.  I read further and discovered the term “glycemic index” – a quantification of how much blood sugar a particular carbohydrate creates.  This is important because of the cascade of events that follow an elevation in blood sugar: insulin increases, which beyond controlling rising blood sugars, also affects serotonin levels, and deposits fat!  A carbohydrate with a high glycemic index is “bad” because it produces more blood sugar, which in turn requires more insulin for digestion.  Not only does excess insulin deposit fat, but this spike in insulin can drive blood sugar too low, causing you to crave more carbohydrates and start you on an endless cycle of spiking and crashing blood sugars.  In contrast, foods that break down slowly in the body, causing glucose levels to ascend more slowly and to a lesser extent, have a low glycemic value (good carbs).  Slower digestion tends to delay hunger and reduce the secretion of insulin.  Consuming more good carbs than bad carbs throughout the day will keep the rise and fall of insulin levels smoother and less pronounced.  I put it to the test and the results were fairly dramatic:  decreased cravings for carbohydrates, weight loss that had previously been difficult, and enhanced well-being.

Beyond weight control, keeping insulin levels in balance will serve your health in other ways.  It will help prevent type 2 (adult-onset) diabetes, a devastating disease that can cause damage throughout the body, particularly the eyes, kidneys, the heart, and general circulation. The incidence of diabetes in our current society is alarming, occurring more frequently and at a younger age than ever before.  Finally, chronically high insulin levels are associated with adverse effects on the immune system – weakening the body’s natural defense mechanisms against diseases including cancer – and can also increase the likelihood of heart disease, Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis and arthritis.

Using the glycemic index to regulate weight and blood sugar can be very effective, but trying to memorize the glycemic number associated with every food may make your head spin.  Let me help you simply get an intuitive feel for what increases blood sugar and insulin levels.  In general, foods that are ground into fine particles or are high in sugar are generally worse carbohydrate choices, having a greater effect of increasing blood sugar.  Most bread, cakes, cookies and pastries that melt in your mouth like sugar, also resemble sugar in their effect on the body.  Refined carbohydrates, such as flour, white sugar, and white rice, turn into blood sugar faster than unrefined whole grains do because the refining process removes the hard-to-digest fibrous outer shells from the whole grains, leading to accelerated digestion. Coarsely ground or intact grains like brown rice, oats, whole-wheat pasta, sprouted-wheat breads, and beans, have a slow, limited, and steady effect on the blood sugar and insulin levels.  Pasta tends to have a bad reputation, but if consumed “al dente” and in moderation it can be a healthful part of a balanced diet.  Make sure not to over cook it; overly cooking pasta causes the starch to be broken down into sugar more readily. White potatoes are high in sugar; a better choice would be sweet potatoes with half the calories, half the glycemic index, and an abundance of nutrients like beta-carotene.

Avoid instant foods.  Most rice is a good carbohydrate, but instant rice is a bad carbohydrate because the process of making rice (or similar products) into an instant food destroys the fibrous structure found in good carbohydrates.  Look for rice that requires at least twenty minutes to cook. Brown rice, or wild rice, is a better choice than white rice, with respect to glycemic index and overall nutritional value. Choose steel cut oats instead of instant oatmeal.  In general, avoid overly processed foods. Rice cakes are extremely processed, bearing little resemblance to rice, they release about twice the blood sugar as properly cooked rice.

Overly ripe fruit should be avoided because it creates excess blood sugar.  For example, avoid overly ripe bananas that can produce nearly twice the blood sugar, as do firm bananas.  Most vegetables are good carbohydrates, which is not surprising because they closely resemble the diet of our ancestors. A good rule of thumb:  Eat what comes from the earth, not that which is wrapped in cellophane!

Legumes – chickpeas, beans, edamame, and lentils – produce very little blood sugar. In fact, combining legumes with other foods drastically reduces the amount of blood sugar produced by the resulting meal.  They are also low in fat, high in folate, potassium, iron and magnesium, and a good source of protein that can be a healthful substitute for meat.

Combining carbohydrates with proteins and fats is another good practice because it slows down the rate at which sugar enters the bloodstream.  For example, prunes are a nutritious snack, but when eaten by themselves have a slightly higher glycemic value; instead have 4 prunes with about ten almonds and sugar is absorbed into the bloodstream more slowly, you are satisfied longer, and your nutrient intake has tripled.  Instead of having a plain apple, add a tablespoon of peanut butter and get the same result.  It may seem like a bit more to think about at first, but a little effort will yield big benefits.  My advice:  Don’t go on a diet; change the way you eat and forever reap countless rewards.

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Ten million Americans have Osteoporosis and the Surgeon General reports another 34 million are at risk.  Current projections suggest that by 2020, 1 in 2 Americans over 50 will be affected by this debilitating condition.  Osteoporosis develops when bones break down faster than they are rebuilt resulting in more fragile, brittle bones. Although the long-term effects of osteoporosis may be most obvious in the elderly, the disease has roots that often begin in childhood.  The good news is that osteoporosis is not inevitable; we can and should make an effort to improve our bone health.  Eating right and exercising are two great steps to begin with.  Where have I heard this before?

To understand why lifestyle choices are important and what else you can do let’s start with a look at the basic physiology of bone formation.  Cells called osteoblastscontinually build new bone from proteins like collagen and minerals like calcium.  Other cells called osteoclasts continually break down old bone to leave cavities where stronger, new bone can be deposited.  This process of remodeling generally continues in balance until about age 30 when bone density reaches its peak.  Osteoporosis is a condition of weakened bone caused by an imbalance in bone building and bone repair that can occur at almost any age. Several factors can increase your odds of developing osteoporosis including: female gender or age greater than 65, an estrogen deficiency, physical inactivity, low calcium intake, smoking, a small frame or very low body weight, or a family history of osteoporosis.  The drop in estrogen that comes with menopause causes women to lose bone faster than men and puts them at a greater risk.  After 65, though, men and women lose bone mass at about the same rate.  In addition, thyroid problems, long-term use of corticosteroid medication, and some other drugs, like aluminum containing antacids, are also associated with higher risk.

Healthful habits can maximize peak bone mass and prevent or slow the progression of subsequent bone loss.  Number one on the list and an easy step towards keeping bones strong is of course getting plenty of calcium.  Calcium needs vary by age:  Both boys and girls in the peak of bone-building years of adolescence need 1200 to 1500 mg a day.  After age 25, the requirement is for 1000 mg daily and after 65, or for women after menopause, the daily intake should be 1200-1500 mg.  High calcium foods include calcium-fortified orange juice and soy milk, almonds, leafy green vegetables and broccoli, and dairy products including milk, cheese and yogurt.  Calcium supplements are an important addition to a balanced diet since most of us don’t meet these needs through food sources alone.  Studies have also demonstrated benefits that result when calcium is ingested through a combination of dietary sources and nutritional supplements.

Vitamin D helps the body absorb calcium and is another essential component for healthy bones.  Unfortunately, only a few foods such as egg yolks, fatty fish, fortified dairy and soy milk, contain this fat-soluble vitamin so supplementation necessary.  From birth to age 50, the recommended daily intake of Vitamin D is 600 IU, but recent studies are suggesting that more may be better.  The current recommendation for those over 70 is 800 IU daily.  Other nutrients that are important for maintaining strong bones include magnesium, vitamins B6 and B12, folic acid, vitamin K, and Boron.

With regard to exercise, weight-bearing activity like walking done regularly helps maintain bone mass.  More rigorous exercise, like walking with hand weights, and weight training are even better since bones will respond by building more bone.  Resistance training also strengthens muscle groups and when combined with stretching improves balance, coordination, and flexibility reducing your risk of falling.  This is important since osteoporosis is a disease characterized by increased susceptibility to fractures.

Finally, and most emphatically, don’t smoke.  Smoking exerts a toxic effect on osteoblast function, leads to earlier menopause, and results in reduced levels of estrogen.  Therefore, smokers usually have low bone mass.  At the risk of overstating the obvious, smoking is poison.  One way or another it will rob you, it’s just a matter of time.  If you smoke, please quit – the life you save may be your own.

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First Do No Harm…

One of the most difficult elements of being a physician is caring for someone in pain while having nothing to offer.  We are compelled at least to attempt to provide something palliative, when there is no cure.  But, we must all recognize our goals, and as with any intervention, heed the risks.  We all welcomed Vioxx when it hit the market as the next and best pain reliever.  And for those suffering with the daily draining discomfort and disability of osteoarthritis, Vioxx seemed to be a godsend.  Well, now we know different.  Here it seems the unfortunate risks outweigh the benefits.  Vioxx is clearly out, but where does that leave us?

If you are one of the many who suffer from osteoarthritis this question is surely on your mind.  Osteoarthritis is the most common type of the many forms of arthritis, affecting millions of Americans.  It represents a complex response of our joint tissues to aging and environmental and genetic factors.  It used to be that doctors and patients accepted stiff, painful joints as an inevitable consequence of aging.  And, because osteoarthritis was considered unavoidable, medical intervention focused primarily on relieving pain with nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications and steroid injections. That thinking has changed.  It is now understood that the risk and burden of osteoarthritis can be reduced by dietary and other lifestyle changes including all those good things that seem to be generally enhancing for one’s health: exercise, weight control, mind-body techniques that reduce mental and muscular tension, and even a few dietary and nutritional supplements.

Obesity, recently elevated to a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, also causes osteoarthritis.  In fact, though it may appear obvious that weight bearing joints would be damaged by the burden of excess pounds, remarkably not just these joints are more prone to developing arthritis in overweight people.  All joints are affected, implying a systemic effect of obesity as well.  Fortunately this effect is reversible.  And better yet even small amounts of weight loss convey large benefits.  In the Framingham Knee Osteoarthritis Cohort Study, people who lost just 10 pounds or more over ten years cut their risk of osteoarthritis of the knee in half.

Regular exercise, a great weight loss tool, also independently helps stop development or progression of osteoarthritis.  This occurs as a consequence of various physiological changes that follow exercising any joint:  joint fluid production is increased, joint strength is enhanced, pain is lessened and overall joint function has even been shown to be maximized.  Though you might intuitively believe that exercising an already arthritic joint would be bad, the opposite is true.  Exercise improves the damaged joint by stabilizing and strengthening it.  So, if you have not yet been exercising regularly, don’t be intimidated. Just start with whatever you can do easily. Get help if you need it. Just do it!

When it comes to symptom relief there is more good news.  Unbeknownst to many, there is and has been for some time, an alternative to those nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).  NSAIDs which can cause stomach pain, kidney damage, and paradoxically, may also inhibit cartilage repair and accelerate cartilage destruction, need not be the mainstay of your treatment. Studies dating back twenty years have been touting the benefits of glucosamine sulfate – a natural product found in the human body.  Glucosamine sulfate exists in the body to build and maintain cartilage, tendons, and other connective tissues while inhibiting the growth of cartilage-destroying enzymes.  Osteoarthritis is the result, in part, of a short supply of glucosamine in our joints, resulting in severe pain and swelling in the joints, and loss of flexibility in the limbs.  The best news is that the benefits of this natural remedy go well beyond symptom relief.  On January 21, 2001 MSNBC reported the conclusions of what the prestigious and quite conservative Lancet medical journal found with respect to use of glucosamine sulfate in treating osteoarthritis.  In no uncertain terms the Lancet article reported, “Previous studies had indicated glucosamine could dull the pain of arthritis, but experts say the latest study shows for the first time that it can improve structure in the joints.”  Studies have shown that oral supplements of glucosamine sulfate are readily absorbed and can lead to stimulation of healthy new cartilage and other protective molecules.  Studies have also shown that this benefit came without any toxicity, contraindications, or other harmful side effects.

Glucosamine should be taken every day.  It is a slow acting supplement that may take up to three months to show its full benefits. Dosage is 1,500 mg per day.  It is best taken with several other components that have been shown to be important in cartilage synthesis and repair.  Chondroitin sulfate also exists naturally in our cartilage and has a synergistic effect when used in combination with glucosamine to treat osteoarthritis and promote overall joint health and resilience.  Enteric coated chondroitin sulfate has been suggested to be most beneficial as it is better absorbed by our bodies.  Several essential vitamins and minerals are important for their role in synthesis and repair of cartilage: Vitamins E and C, Pantethine (Vit B5), Vitamin A and B6, Zinc, and Copper.  Omega-3 fatty acids from fish oils are yet another helpful component:  an excess consumption of omega-6 as compared to omega-3 fats predisposes to inflammation, while supplementing omega-3 fats has been shown to actually diminish inflammation.

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Why Take VitalRemedyMD’s JointFormula?

Given all that we now know about conventional pharmacological treatments of osteoarthritis in contrast with a natural approach using exercise, stress modification and the nutritional supplements glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate it seems prudent to take the latter approach as a first measure. The natural supplements glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin sulfate have been utilized and studied for over twenty years.  As reported in the finest medical journals they were found to reduce symptoms, improve cartilage and joint health, and reduce joint space narrowing. They are well tolerated and there appear to be no side effects other than mild gastrointestinal upset for some people, which is generally alleviated by taking the supplements with a meal. Vitamins and minerals – B6, E, C, B5, Zinc, and Copper – are included in VitalRemedyMD’s JointFormula as they are known to be essential for maintenance of healthy cartilage and joints.  The addition of the omega-3 fish oils, EPA and DHA, further enhances the potential benefits derived from JointFormula.

Perhaps the best reason to consider JointFormula is that so many of our patients have been pleased with the results, a fact expressed repeatedly in their letters to us:

Dear Doctor, “After my heart surgery you told me to walk, which I did. I was walking three miles in 45 minutes every other day and was feeling good.  However, in the past two years or so, due to my arthritis this became impossible.  The pain in my knees was very severe.  You sent me to my Rheumatologist and he put me on prednisone and methotrexate.  This helped me, but no where near enough.  You advised me to try VitalRemedyMD’s Joint Formula for three months. I did, and in one month it kicked in.  It really works.  I call it “The Miracle Vitamin.”

I have to thank you for prescribing the vitamin JointFormula.  For the first time in three years I have not had fluid drained from my osteoarthritic knees.

Dear Doctor, “I have to thank you for prescribing the vitamin JointFormula.  For the first time in three years I have not had fluid drained from my osteoarthritic knees.  Previously I had my knees drained every two to three months, plus cortisone shots, to relieve severe pain.  Since I have taken JointFormula, I have not had any fluid in my knees and I no longer take Darvocet for pain.  You know that I am a pessimist from the word go, and I reluctantly took the pills, but I am so glad you convinced me to do so.  Again, thank you.”

Dear Doctor, “For years I suffered with lower back pain in the area of my tailbone.  I saw several physicians, had CT-scans and X-rays, but no one could find the cause.  The last physician I saw said it might be some kind of arthritis.  When I told my husband about this, he said that he heard that your JointFormula worked great on arthritic joints.  Being a skeptic, I said that I would try it, but would only take two a day instead of the recommended four.  After about a month with little change I decided to stop taking them.  My husband convinced me to continue them at the recommended four a day regimen.  After two weeks I began to notice a difference and after a month, the pain was almost completely gone.  It has now been six months since I started them and the pain is gone.  As a bonus, the moderate pain that I was experiencing in my elbow is also gone!  Thanks so much for such a great product.”

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Failure To Exercise Is Not An Option

How do I convince thee?

Let me count the ways…  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 from the first day, you will feel better if you exercise.  Because you feel better, you will look better, and the world will look better to you.  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.  Did I mention you will feel better?  The day will seem more sunny, your tasks will seem more manageable, you might even notice suddenly your “glass is half full.”  Tell me, where is the down side?  Before you even start with excuses, I will point out that they are just that, excuses – transparent attempts at procrastination – and I have used them all myself:  “it’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s raining,” or my personal favorite:  “I don’t have time.” Well a wise man once said, “Those who think they have not the time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”

Those who think they have not the time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.

Myriad studies have shown the health benefits of exercise and they all sound something like this:  Scientists at universities around the country as well as at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention followed more than 74,000 women ages 50 through 79 for almost five years.  What they found was that women who walked briskly (or biked, swam easy laps, or danced) for just an hour and a half to 2 1/2 hours a week were 18 percent less likely to develop breast cancer during that 5-year period than women who were sedentary.  That comes to just a half hour three to five times a week.  Not too much to ask in order to reduce your risk of dying from cancer.  A quick glance at some more recent medical studies included the following titles:  Exercise reduces risk of recurrence and death in early stage colon cancer patients; exercise and stress management show physiological benefits for heart patients; a new New Year’s reason to work out:  exercise improves three measures of heart protection; exercise helps reduce symptoms of depression…and on and on it goes.

There are many, many research findings that support the role of exercise in disease prevention. What has occurred to me is that most people know this at least intuitively without quoting studies. They also know that cigarettes cause cancer, and so on.  It may just come down to making a commitment to ourselves – breaking old habits and making new choices.  I used to play a game with myself when I had trouble getting motivated to go to the gym.  I would promise myself that I only had to exercise for 15 minutes, but I had to go.  Invariably once I had begun exercising I felt better and wanted to keep going. (I only acted surprised.)  I worked through my usual routine and then gave myself a pat on the back; the feeling lasted well through the day.  For the person who’s just getting started keep this in mind:  anything that’s more than you did yesterday is good.  No, in fact, it’s great!  Getting started is always the hard part.  Enlist a friend or even a personal trainer or make an appointment with yourself that can’t be broken.  Just do it, and then tell me how you feel.

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The Power of Protein

Protein plays a vital role in building, maintaining and repairing lean body tissues: muscles, tendons, ligaments, circulatory system, brain, immune system, skin and other organs. In fact, every cell in the human body contains protein. Proteins are complex organic compounds that are composed of smaller “building blocks” called amino acids. When you consume foods that contain protein, your body breaks down the protein into its amino acids, and rebuilds them in specific sequences to form the structures it needs. Amino acids are classified into two groups: essential amino acids, which cannot be made by the body and must be supplied by food, and nonessential amino acids, which are made by the body from the essential amino acids or through normal breakdown of proteins.

We require protein in our diet to allow for tissue repair and growth. Inadequate protein consumption can cause impaired development, loss of muscle mass, decreased immunity, weakening of the heart and respiratory system, and death. In many parts of the world, protein malnutrition causes kwashiorkor – you’ve seen the haunting images of a young child afflicted with this condition, naked and emaciated, but for the characteristic swollen belly. For most of us living in developed countries, getting sufficient protein is easy, but just like with the fats and carbohydrates, not all protein is created equal. A protein that contains all the amino acids needed to build new proteins is called a complete protein. Complete proteins are found in animal foods such as meat, fish, poultry, eggs, milk, and milk products such as yogurt and cheese. Soybeans are the only plant source of protein considered to be a complete protein. In contrast, incomplete proteins lack one or more of the essential amino acids. Sources of incomplete protein include beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and grain. A small amount of incomplete protein is also found in vegetables. Plant proteins can be combined, however, to provide all of the essential amino acids and form a complete protein. Examples of combined, complete plant proteins are rice and beans, barley and corn, and lentil soup with potatoes.

We know that protein is critically important for growth and development during childhood, adolescence, and pregnancy, but there are other conditions associated with increased protein requirement including low calorie weight reduction diets and endurance and strength training. With regard to weight loss, recent studies have suggested that for most adults a high-protein, low carb diet may keep you leaner than a traditional high-carb, low-fat diet. This is partly because high protein foods slow the movement of food from the stomach to the intestine, delaying hunger. Also, protein’s moderate, steady effect on blood sugar and insulin levels avoids the quick, steep rise and fall that drives carbohydrate cravings after eating rapidly digested high glycemic foods. Finally, the body uses more energy to digest protein than it does to digest fat or carbohydrate. When a low calorie diet is used to accomplish a daily negative caloric intake, the goal is weight loss, meaning fat not muscle. This is why increasing protein in the diet is critical. If we do not receive adequate calories from food, the body will compensate by drawing on its own reserves, both its fat stores and lean body tissue. Ideal weight loss will occur only when there is a daily deficit of calories, coupled with adequate amounts of high quality protein that will allow for fat loss while preserving lean body mass.

Exercise, particularly weight training, can also lead to a daily protein requirement that exceeds the current recommended daily allowance of 0.8 grams per kg (about 0.4 gm/lb) body weight for a sedentary adult. Daily intake for the adolescent or adult athlete should be in the range of 1.0 – 2.0 gm/kg (0.5 – 1.0 gm/lb) body weight. Protein requirements of athletes and physically active adults are increased above those of sedentary people due in part to changes in amino acid metabolism induced by exercise. A small amount of protein is used as fuel during endurance exercise, and muscle and whole-body protein synthesis is suppressed during exercise. Increases in exercise intensity and duration further depress protein synthesis. Catch-up occurs after exercise when protein synthesis increases. Extra protein is then needed to repair injuries to muscle fibers and to remodel muscle tissue in response to endurance and strength training. Unless a protein-containing meal is consumed during recovery, breakdown will exceed rebuilding of muscle mass. Several studies indicate that protein synthesis during recovery is enhanced when the recovery meal contains both carbohydrate and protein. Whether you’re an elite athlete or simply an individual who’s looking to build body mass, lose body fat, and increase strength, proper protein consumption is essential.

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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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