Monthly Archives: October 2010

How to limit your child’s Halloween candy consumption

Jack-o-latern

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It’s that time of year again.  Halloween!  I enjoy Halloween as much as the next person, but from a health standpoint this holiday is a nightmare!

Parents often say to me,”It’s just once a year. It won’t hurt them.”  While this is true, the candy that children accumulate during Halloween can last months.  I know when I was a child I used to come home with pillow cases full of candy.  Everything from Snickers to Smarties and everything in between!  Months of eating candy is not good for a child.

Today, I am going to give you some helpful hints on how you can control your child’s candy intake at Halloween.

First and foremost, remember that your child likes Halloween because they get to dress up and go from door to door in the neighborhood with their friends.  It really isn’t about the candy.  Yes, the candy is a bonus and they will enjoy the candy given the chance, but ask them whether they’d rather get candy or dress up and trick or treat? All of them will choose trick or treating over simply getting candy.

Secondly, be in control of the candy.  When your child returns from trick or treating they will want to dump out their candy and see what they got.  This is totally ok.  When they go to put it away ask them to select a couple of pieces that they’d like to keep in an easily accessible spot like the refrigerator.  All the other candy goes somewhere that is not easily accessible to them like on top of the refrigerator or a cabinet above the sink.  If they have an inordinately large amount of candy, throw small handfuls away from time to time.  It’s a little white lie, but it’s better than letting your children eat too much candy.  If you feel uncomfortable with this, tell your children the Candy Witch gets half of all kid’s candy at Halloween and ask them to donate it.  They usually don’t want to make the “Candy Witch” mad.

If you have children that are older you will have to be a little more upfront.  Try the honest approach and that you simply do not want them eating that much sugary candy.  Some teens are completely ok with this and won’t fight back.  If you suspect that will be a bit of a fight, tell them you need the candy for co-workers at work and ask them if you can have some of it.  If you want, bring it to work for others to share or throw it out.  Whatever floats your boat!

Thirdly, ration the candy.  If they want to have a piece from time to time, don’t be a miser.  The quickest way for them to build up excitement for the candy if for you to not allow them to have it. Let them have a piece after dinner at night.  Don’t let them snack on it mindlessly.  This just leads to belly aches and poor behavior.

Lastly, have fun with it!  A little candy here and there isn’t going to kill anyone.  Just don’t go overboard with it.  If you don’t make a big deal about it they won’t either.  If you already live a healthy lifestyle they are unlikely to be difficult with this process anyway.  Plus, they will likely lose interest in the candy after a few weeks.  Enjoy the trick or treating!

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10 Simple Ways to Live to 100

Fresh vegetables are important components of a...

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Exercise –

Exercising is a key to staying healthy and research shows that people who exercise age more slowly. This is perhaps because exercise has been associated with preventing telomere shortening.  Telomeres are strands of DNA at the ends of each chromosome that shorten as we age.

Don’t Smoke –

Smoking causes the skin to wrinkle and wreaks havoc on our brains, heart and lungs.  The inflammation caused by smoking is thought to speed the aging process.

Eat a Healthy Diet –

You are what you eat.  A healthy diet provides antioxidants that gobble up free radicals that speed the aging process.  It also helps support a healthy weight which is important in preventing a host of diseases.

Stop Snoring –

Sleep apnea, a condition is which people stop breathing during sleep because tissues in your throat collapse blocking the airway, can cause high blood pressure, memory problems, weight gain, and depression.

Take Resveratrol –

Resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant found most prevalently in the skins of grapes. It provides the health benefits associated with red wine. Just like exercise, it slows telomere shortening. It is available in supplement form.

Manage Your Stress –

Excessive stress leads to the production of hormones in the body that are harmful to long term health. High stress levels delays healing, increases fat deposition and suppresses the immune system.

Keep Your Insulin Levels In Check –

Insulin is a hormone in the body that is secreted in response to carbohydrate consumption.  An excessive level, due to excessive carbohydrate and sugar intake, is associated with increased cellular aging.  Keep grains and sugar to a low level in your diet.

Get Out in the Sun –

Being in the sun not only improves mood, but it produces vitamin D.  Vitamin D affects up to 10% of your genes and allows them to work optimally.  Vitamin D has also been shown to reduce the rate of many types of cancer.

Get Your Fats –

Eating a diet high in healthy fats, like omega-3, is essential for heart and brain health.  Good sources include fish and nuts.  To get optimal benefit, however, most people will likely have to supplement with fish oil.

Control Your Blood Pressure –

High blood pressure increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, stroke and a host of other diseases.  Controlling it will allow you to live longer.  It is best to control it by losing weight and exercising.

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Fish Oil and your Baby’s Health

Fish oil caps

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A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association has concluded that “the use of DHA-rich fish oil capsules compared with vegetable oil capsules during pregnancy did not result in lower levels of postpartum depression in mothers or improved cognitive and language development in their offspring during early childhood.”

The ingredient they tested, docosahexaenoic acid, or DHA, has been shown repeatedly in other studies to be helpful for women and their babies.  Unfortunately, this study, because of where it has been published, will get all the headlines and I fear that some people will decide that fish oil during pregnancy is unnecessary.  This couldn’t be further from the truth.

This study followed roughly 2400 women from less than 21 weeks gestation to birth and analyzed data regarding the mother’s mood postpartum and the child’s cognitive development at 18 months.  Half of the participants were given fish oil containing 800mg/day of DHA and half were given a vegetable oil placebo.  What the study found was that depression scores in women taking the DHA were the same as the women taking the placebo and the cognitive development of the children was the same at 18 months regardless of intervention.  While you cannot argue with the findings of the study (they found what they found) I do have a problem with the implications this makes for high DHA fish oil.

Many studies have concluded that fish oil and DHA in particular is important for improving brain function.  Observational studies have shown that consumption of fish oil reduces postpartum depression and raises the I.Q. of children.  This is in direct contrast to what this study has concluded.  A 2003 study showed that children with higher levels of DHA had higher I.Q. scores at age 4 than controls.

Other benefits are known as well.  Fish are a rich source of long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), essential nutrients that have important structural and physiological roles in several body systems, including neurological, immune, and cardiovascular. Because humans cannot synthesize omega-3s, these nutrients must be consumed in the diet. Conversion from the parent omega -3, (linolenic acid), to the more biologically active long-chain omega-3 DHA and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), is inefficient and therefore consumption of some preformed omega-3 is important for optimal health.

Possible Flaws

Perhaps this recent study was unable to properly assess cognitive performance at 18 months.  It is much easier to assess in a 4 year old.  Also, the benefits may not be seen until later in life.  In a society where we want results immediately it is easy to understand why they would try and observe for the benefits of DHA at only 18 months.  However, a very real possibility exists; maybe these benefits are not observable that quickly.  Are the negative effects of a bad diet on heart disease observable in a 20 year old?  Of course not.  We must wait much longer (perhaps until the person is at least 45) to clearly see the cause and effect relationship. This example perfectly illustrates the fact that not all relationships are readily available directly after treatment.  Unfortunately, these studies continue to employ a drug based research approach to nutrition.  They are separate entities and need to be researched accordingly.

Another possible flaw is that they did not assess dietary intake of omega-3s in the study participants.  This is problematic because it is possible patients already had enough DHA to provide the benefits.  It is also possible that the control group ate more fish and therefore had enough serum DHA to skew the results.  This is something that should be addressed when this is studied again.

A third flaw is that this supplement provided 800mg/day of DHA with only 100mg/day of EPA.  Research is mixed on the effect of EPA on depression and brain function.  However, many authors argue that EPA is important in this picture and this study failed to take that into account.  Their goal was to test high dose DHA but we must consider that hardly anything in nutrition works in isolation.  It almost always works in tandem with other nutrients.  This is again an example of a drug based research approach to nutrition.  Drugs are tested in isolation and work in isolation because they are synthetic.  For that reason they cannot work synergistically with the body.  The body has no innate chemical pathway for them to work with because they do not exist in nature.  This allows them to work independent of the body’s systems but also allows them to be tested independently.  Nutrition is not like that.  Not one bit.

One good thing about this study is that DHA was shown to be safe with virtually no side effects.  This is good because women can continue to take fish oil without any fear of negative effects on their babies.

The bottom line is this: fish oil supplementation has been shown repeatedly to be beneficial for many factors in health.  There seems to be little down side to taking fish oil.  This recent study is just one study.  It will unfortunately get a lot of press because it was published in JAMA.  I will continue to encourage my patients to take fish oil during pregnancy because the vast majority of research is positive and I am confident that it is a benefit to my patients.

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Obesity Costs U.S. $168 Billion

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Two-thirds of Americans are overweight.  This means that two out of three people in this country have at least one significant health risk factor.  Not only does that shorten one’s lifespan, but it costs a lot of money too.

New research out of Cornell University and Lehigh University suggests that the total medical costs associated with obesity now tops $168 billion.  This accounts for 17% of total medical costs in the U.S. every year.  The new research also states that being obese adds about $2,800 to a person’s yearly medical expenditures.

Of 33 countries with advanced economies, the U.S. is the fattest.  Roughly 200 million Americans are overweight or obese and the epidemic is getting worse.

So not only is obesity dangerous for your health, it takes money out of your pocket! The question remains – what do we do about it?

Diet

My solutions are simple but they go against some of the traditional thoughts on diet in particular.

First, people must be taught how to eat correctly.  No more low fat, low cholesterol stuff.  I have many patients who are surprised when they begin my diet program to see it includes things like eggs, steak, cheese and whole fat yogurt.  They are used to physicians telling them to avoid fat or you’ll get fat.  Physiologically it doesn’t make sense and it doesn’t play out that way when people eat a diet rich in healthy fats.

I always encourage people to eat a diet low in refined carbohydrates and high in healthy fats and proteins.  Some people are hesitant because they are afraid they’re cholesterol will go up or they will actually gain weight.  After I assure them this won’t happen and they try the diet, they are ecstatic with the results.  No only do people lose weight, but they’re blood work improves too!  They see improvements in cholesterol levels, inflammatory enzyme levels and in blood sugar regulation to name a few.

Learning how to eat correctly is hard for some people at first because of all the misinformation out there.  Here’s a good rule of thumb for you – if it’s packaged don’t eat it.  Now this rule doesn’t always apply.  Somethings that are packaged are ok.  For example, if you buy a package of roasted almonds you’re good to go.  But most things that are packaged are high in refined carbohydrates and unhealthy fats and should be avoided.

Another good rule of thumb is to shop around the edges of the grocery store.  That’s where you’ll find the meats, veggies, fruits and nuts and seeds.  You’ll also likely find the breads…skip that part.

Meals should always have a good source of protein (chicken, fish, beef, etc.) and should always have a fruit or a vegetable.  Here’s what I’ve had for my meals so far today plus a good example for dinner:

Breakfast:
3 eggs, a yogurt and about 20 grapes.
Lunch:
Chicken breast, about 20 olives and a recovery drink (I had just gotten back from the gym and that will take me to my next point!)
Dinner:
I haven’t had dinner yet today but I’ll give you last night’s meal as a good example
Turkey and sausage meatloaf stuffed with cheese and sun dried tomatoes with stir fried Brussels spouts and onions.

Food is critically important.  No amount of exercise or supplements is going to make up for a poor diet.

Exercise

Are you seeing a theme yet?  On my blog you will see the words diet and exercise over and over.  It is because they are the most important things you can do to stay healthy.

You must exercise at least 3 times per week for about an hour.  This is critical.  People often ask me why they must exercise “so much.”  In my opinion, 3 hours a week is not a lot but I do understand that people are busy.  You are not too busy for this.  You can’t afford to be too busy for this.  I have also had people say to me that their parents never exercised and lived to be into their 80’s and 90’s.  This may be true but we must take into account that their activity level was most likely higher than our current activity level.  Fifty or sixty years ago our forms of entertainment were much different.  We didn’t watch as much TV, or play video games, or sit on our mowers to mow the lawn.

Your current fitness level will determine your program.  I suggest that if you are not used to exercising or want to get the best results possible, consider getting a good trainer to coach you through a program.  It is the best way to stay consistent with an exercise program because it makes you accountable to someone else for your exercise.

Your program should be a blend of muscle building exercises and cardiovascular fitness.  Without both you miss out on the unique health benefits that each provides.

This is the only way we are going to solve the obesity epidemic in this country.  There are no quick fixes and there certainly isn’t a pill that’s going to magically make us all healthy.  This is something we must all take responsibility for.  If we do that we can make a difference.

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Fighting Depression Naturally

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Depression is a huge problem in the United States.  The numbers are quite amazing. Approximately 20.9 million American adults, or about 9.5 percent of the U.S. population age 18 and older in a given year, have a mood disorder. Depression is not just a disorder for adults, however. As many as one in 33 children and one in eight adolescents have clinical depression.

Depression is characterized by an all-encompassing low mood accompanied by low self-esteem, and by loss of interest or pleasure in normally enjoyable activities. Unipolar depression, the most common mood disorder in the U.S., was first described by Hippocrates in the 5th century B.C. He believed that depression was caused by an imbalance in the four humors – blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile.  Excess black bile caused depression according to Hippocrates. In fact, the Greek term for depression, melancholia, means black bile.

This view may seem far fetched, but the fact that depression is a physical process is correct. Even Freud wrote of the various presentations of depression which range from mild and cognitive, to severe and somatic.
There are several ’causes’ of depression.  I put ’causes’ in quotes because no one really knows for sure what ’causes’ depression.  There are many theories.  In my opinion, an imbalance in the neurotransmitter system is a scientifically sound explanation as to how a person could develop a mood disorder.  I also like to consider that if a person is not in good general health, depression is more likely to take hold.  This is a view that is also supported by the research.
So if these are two ’causes’ of depression, how can we effectively treat it?  Good question.  See my answers below.

Get Healthy

First and foremost a person that is depressed must make every effort to get healthy.  This includes exercise and dietary changes.  Junk in equals junk out.  Period.  If all one eats is McDonald’s value meals they are very unlikely to be healthy and much more likely to develop depression in my opinion.  Did you ever see the movie SuperSize Me?  A documentarian decides to eat nothing but McDonald’s for 30 days to see what happens.  Not only did he fall apart physically but he developed depression! Now, this is just one case and is a bit anecdotal, but the result confirmed the  hypothesis I made before I even saw the movie.

You must eat a healthy diet in order for your body to work properly and be healthy.  For some reason modern medicine has separated the health of our body from the health of our minds.  It is widely understood that to have a healthy body we need to eat nutritious foods.  It is far less accepted that to have a healthy mind we need to have a healthy diet.  Why is this the case?  The food that we eat provides fuel to our bodies and to our brains. The same food nourishes our entire system, not simply our physical bodies.

Exercise is unbelievably critical.  In fact, research has shown that the #1 cure for depression lasting less than 7 years is exercise.  Exercise does many things for the body. It improves blood flow, is a great stress reliever and changes the chemical balance in the brain to name just a few.  If you feel as if you suffer from depression and you do one thing for yourself this should be the one.  It has long lasting benefits in terms of depression and helps get the rest of your body healthy as well.

Supplements to take

There are several supplements that have been shown to reduce depression.  I would not suggest trying them all at once.  And I would suggest you consult a physician that is trained in functional medicine before you start a program.

5-HTP

If your problem is low serotonin this may help you.  5-HTP is short for 5-hydroxytryptophan.  5-HTP is the direct precursor in the body for serotonin.  Taking it may increase your serotonin levels and improve your mood.

St. John’s Wort

This is an herbal product that is used here in the U.S. to help with depression.  It acts by affecting the serotonin system.  I have found that it helps some, but not all depressed patients.  It’s a popular depression treatment in Europe.

SAMe

Short for the chemical name S-adenosylmethionine, it is pronounced “sammy.”  This has worked well in my practice for many people.  It is available over the counter in the U.S., but it’s used in Europe as a prescription drug to treat depression.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Diets higher in omega-3 fatty acids are known to protect people from depression.  It also appears that consuming more omega-3s reduces the symptoms of depression.  Consuming more in one’s diet is not likely to be enough.  Most people will have to supplement their diet with the oil or capsules to gain the most benefit.

This is just a small sample of the things that one can do to naturally ease depression.  People are most successful when combine exercise, diet and supplements together.  It will give you the best chance of improving your mood and feeling happier and more alive.

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The Great Soy Debate

Soy is a tricky subject.  This short video above does a great job of summarizing some of the major points about why soy is not actually a health food.  It has been marketed that way for years because it is a relatively complete protein and because it is low in fat.  The fact that it is low in fat is not debatable – it is.  However, a food low in fat is not necessarily healthy based on that one quality.  The fact that it’s a relatively complete protein is debatable.  While it may have a full compliment of amino acids in it, they are not in sufficient levels that could sustain human life if that were the only food you consumed.  Like all legumes, soy beans are deficient in sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine. In addition, modern processing denatures fragile lysine.

Soy has been touted as the “healthy alternative” to meat, the “non-allergenic” dairy, the “low-cost” protein that will feed the millions, the infant formula that is “better than breastmilk,”  and the “wonder food” for the New Age.  Unfortunately, none of this is true.

Here are some quick FAQs about soy:

  • High levels of phytic acid in soy reduce assimilation of calcium, magnesium, copper, iron and zinc. Phytic acid in soy is not neutralized by ordinary preparation methods such as soaking, sprouting and long, slow cooking. High phytate diets have caused growth problems in children.
  • Trypsin inhibitors in soy interfere with protein digestion and may cause pancreatic disorders. In test animals soy containing trypsin inhibitors caused stunted growth.
  • Free glutamic acid or MSG, a potent neurotoxin, is formed during soy food processing and additional amounts are added to many soy foods.
  • Processing of soy protein results in the formation of toxic lysinoalanine and highly carcinogenic nitrosamines.
  • Average consumption of soy foods in Japan and China is just 10 grams (about 2 teaspoons) per day. Asians consume soy foods in small amounts as a condiment, and not as a replacement for animal foods. The argument that soy is good because Asian populations consume tons of it and have lower rates of cancer and heart disease doesn’t hold up under scrutiny.
  • Most soy beans grown in the US are genetically engineered to allow farmers to use large amounts of herbicides.
  • Soy foods contain high levels of aluminum which is toxic to the nervous system and the kidneys.

If you’d like more information on soy please visit the Weston A. Price Foundation website or Dr. Mercola’s website.  They have some great information with the research to back it up.

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3 Medical Myths Debunked

Health care can be a confusing field.  There is so much information out there, much of it conflicting, that leaves consumers confused about their health.  Well, today I am here to sort some of them out for you.  Below are some common medical myths that people believe but are not necessarily true.

1. High Cholesterol Means a High Heart Attack Risk

This is perhaps the biggest one I see in practice.  Everyone thinks that having high cholesterol means they are at risk for having a heart attack.  They also think that having low cholesterol is protecting them from heart disease and heart attacks.  Neither is true!  As a matter of fact, 50% of the people who have heart attacks annually have high cholesterol and 50% have low cholesterol. To most people this is an astounding stat, but it’s true.  What has been shown in the research is that your total cholesterol is not actually a predictor of heart disease.  Looking at the break down of the HDL (the good) versus LDL (the bad) cholesterol is helpful but still is not the entire story.  What you should be looking at is the size of your cholesterol.  How do you do that?  It’s simple really.  It’s just a blood test.  It is how the lab analyzes your cholesterol that’s different.  Without getting to technical, small, dense particles of LDL cholesterol are bad because they can make their way into the lining of your blood vessels most easily.  Light, fluffy, large pieces of LDL are not problematic because they cannot readily get into the walls of your vessels and cause the atherosclerotic plaques that are so dangerous.  These are tests that several of the largest laboratories are performing now and give us better information about cardiovascular health.  I have begun measuring cholesterol in this fashion on all my high risk cardiovascular patients and the results have helped us tailor nutritional programs that will be most effective for them.

2. Bed Rest of Back Pain

I recently had someone visit my office on a Monday for an acute case of back pain.  She was in quite a bit of distress and discomfort.  So much so that she had been to the emergency room over the weekend.  There she was given test and test and finally told that her back pain was not life threatening and to go home, take some pain killers and get bed rest for 5 days.  The advice of bed rest is still being given out by many physicians around the country for back pain despite the evidence that overwhelmingly concludes that this only makes back pain worse. In fact, the research shows that if you do go with bed rest you are much more likely to develop a chronic back problem.  If you have an episode of back pain do not stay in bed.  Your best bet is to stay as active as possible.  Your goal should be to continue your normal activities, within reason, but modify these activities to fit your current limitations.  Now, if your normal activities include vigorous exercise you may want to hold off on that until your back is feeling better, but you should try to walk if you can.  Rest if you need to, but keeping the joints and muscles of the back active even when they are hurt is the best way for them to heal appropriately.  You should also see a chiropractor.  Chiropractors are trained extensively on the back and know how to provide nonsurgical relief for back pain.

3. Eating Fat Makes You Fat

This is a biggie.  People come into my office for a lot of reasons.  However, regardless of their initial reason I always ask about their diet.  Inevitably someone will tell me they eat a healthy diet because they eat low fat.  People assume that low fat is the best way to keep fat from accumulating around their midsection (and everywhere else!).  This simply is not true.  It seems intuitive that eating fat would make you fat just like saving money makes you rich.  However, things in the human body are hardly ever that linear.  The way the human body stores fat is by secreting a hormone called insulin.  Insulin is secreted when a person consumes carbohydrates (bread, pasta, sugar) and to some degree protein.  Insulin signals the body’s cells to take in the energy in the blood, in the form of sugar, and store it as fat or use it.  Notice that I did not say that fat causes insulin release?  That’s because it doesn’t!  If fat does not cause the body to secrete the hormone necessary for fat storage then how can fat make you fat?  It can’t!  This myth comes from the fact that fat is higher in calorie than other foods but somewhere along the line people made the leap that eating fat caused fat to accumulate in the body.  When fat is consumed it is actually slowly converted to sugar and burned, not stored.

There are many more to choose from, but these are some of the most common that I see in my office.  If you’d like to know more, let me know in the comments section and I’ll post about your questions.

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