Tag Archives: stroke

High Fructose Corn Syrup Will Kill You!

A common additive used in a wide range of commercially available processed foods such as soft drinks, salad dressings, cookies and cakes, breads and breakfast cereals has been poisoning people for several decades now. In fact, research studies have shown that it causes metabolic syndrome which in turn contributes a great deal to an increase in body weight and incidence of degenerative diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s and fatty liver. This additive is high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS).

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Sucrose, or regular table sugar, consists of 50 percent fructose and 50 percent glucose, whereas HFCS can contain up to 90 percent fructose, almost twice the fructose of common table sugar. In terms of calories, both HFCS and table sugar provide 4 calories per gram, but the issue is the metabolism of excessive amounts of fructose.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup History

In the ninth century, the Japanese invented a sweetener derived from starches. This syrup is being used even today as “traditional sweetener.” In the 17th century, Andreas Sigismund Marggraf, a German chemist, discovered another starch-based sweetener called glucose.

During the times of Napoleonic wars, blockades on sugarcane imports from the West Indies encouraged laboratories to work on development of alternative sweeteners. Dextose or D-glucose was developed in 1801, and in 1811 a Russian scientist created glucose by overcooking potato starch in sulfuric acid.

No further progress was made till the 1950s when the Japanese invented the HFCS. In America, cane sugar continued to be used as the sweetener of choice until the 1970s prior to the introduction of the less expensive sweeteners such as maltodextrin and HFCS that were derived from corn. HFCS was introduced to the food industry after the developmental process was perfected.

Why is HFCS so popular with the food industry?

First and foremost, its sweetness is comparable to that of table sugar. Secondly, it maintains the quality of condiments and drinks for a longer period. Third, it provides a soft, moist texture to baked food such as snack bars and cookies by retaining moisture and resisting crystallization after baking. It is HFCS that gives baked foods flavor and superior browning quality. The sugars present in HFCS get fermented quickly and easily, making it possible to produce sweeter bread. Fourth, it is much cheaper compared to table sugar. Lastly, it is easily added to just about anything. It is generally produced in a liquid form making its incorporation into food and drink products a very simple task for automated equipment that is so common in food production today.

Health Effects of HFCS

The statistics released by the Department of Agriculture in the U.S. show that the average consumption of HFCS has increased from 0.5 pounds per person per year to 60 pounds per person per year over the past four decades.

During the same period, there has been a threefold increase in obesity rates and a seven fold increase in the incidence of diabetes. HFCS may not be singularly responsible for this, but its effect cannot be ignored.

A number of short-term clinical studies have shown that ingesting sweetened beverages is not good for health. Results of one study showed that people gained weight and experienced an increase in blood pressure and inflammatory markers. In another study, scientists observed an increase in visceral fat and triglyceride levels and stimulation of lipogenesis (producing more fat). In yet another trial wherein the effects of water, milk, diet cola and sugar-sweetened cola were compared, the results showed that sugar-sweetened beverage contributed to an increase in liver and visceral fat and elevated triglyceride levels when consumed for 6 months at the rate of just 16 ounce per day (i.e about one soda).

Fructose also increases gut permeability allowing potent bacterial toxins out of the gut and into surrounding immune tissue. This generates an inflammatory response. If this response continues for long periods of time, systemic levels of inflammation begin to rise increasing the risk of obesity, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease, osteoporosis, arthritis and more. And most studies have shown it only takes the fructose present in one soda to produce these adverse effects.

You may use sugar in any form, but it definitely causes obesity as well as other diseases when consumed in pharmacologic doses. HFCS is often a marker of nutrient-deficient, poor quality and disease-causing industrial food products. It should be severely limited in your diet.

Corn Industry’s Marketing Push

The corn processing industry thrives on doubt and confusion. The Corn Refiners Association skillfully uses the print and television media for massive advertising campaigns in order to dispel the fear among people. The industry also asserts through medical doctors’ as well as nutrition experts’ opinion that HFCS is same as cane sugar and it is a “natural” product if used in moderation. They do this for nothing but commercial benefit though they themselves are aware that this is not true. No independent medical or nutrition experts recommend the consumption of HFCS. My experience lecturing at the 2012 Food and Nutrition Convention and Expo was enlightening. The Corn Refiners Association sponsored lecture after lecture on HFCS and how it was not the villain it was made out to be. In fact, they asserted it could be consumed as part of a healthy diet. They also skillfully shifted the focus from HFCS to the epidemic of inactivity in the US, blaming it instead of processed food for the skyrocketing chronic disease rates in this country.

Do yourself a favor and avoid HFCS. While the corn and sugar industry continues to deceive, they are killing thousands of Americans to make a dollar. It rings eerily similar to Big Tobacco of the 50s and 60s. You don’t want to find out too late that money and corporate interest mislead you into believing it was safe when the research is clear now.

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Health Doesn’t Come In A Pill

PillsWe live in an instant gratification society. It permeates every aspect of our lives. From the way we consume our news with 24 hours news networks or online surfing, to the way we gossip with Facebook, our desire for things to be done now(!) is staggering.

The same applies to our health. We want results, and we want it yesterday. The problem? There is no quick fix for anything in terms of your health. We’ve become accustomed to seeing the ads on TV that promise results with just one simple pill per day. We’re so accustomed to it, we’re starting to believe it. Heck, some people believe it so much, they demand it! Unfortunately, health doesn’t come in a pill.

But my doctor promises me that if I take my high blood pressure medication, my statin, and my baby aspirin just once per day, I’ll live a long, healthy life!

Yes, yes. That is a comforting thought isn’t it? The problem is it isn’t true. Check out this information:

Statins: For those who took statins for at least 5 years with no history of heart disease:*

  • 98% saw no benefit
  • 0% were helped by being saved from death
  • 1.6% were helped by preventing a heart attack
  • 0.4% were helped by preventing a stroke
  • 2% were harmed by developing diabetes
  • 10% were harmed by muscle damage

Aspirin: For those who took it daily for a year with no history of heart disease:*

  • 99.94% saw no benefit
  • 0% were helped by avoiding death
  • 0.05% were helped by preventing a non-fatal heart attack
  • 0.01% were helped by preventing a non-fatal stroke
  • 0.03% were harmed by developing a major bleeding event

Blood Pressure Medications: For those who took them for mild hypertension:*

  • 100% saw no benefit
  • 9% were harmed by medication side effects and stopped the drug

(*Statistics gathered from www.thennt.com)

Isn’t it amazing that you’re more likely to be harmed by these medications than you are to be helped? So, given that these drugs are so popular and prescribed so widely, why don’t they work? Health doesn’t come in a pill. Our medical model is flawed and flawed greatly. There are too many factors to assume one can take a pill and live longer or healthier. And most medical doctors receive very little, if any, training in nutrition.

You must fuel your body properly. This means a healthy diet and exercise. Those things work. Those things take time and effort. Obviously, time and effort don’t fit with our current lifestyle of “I want it now.” We need to change our lifestyle.

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New Guidelines on Cardiovascular Disease Miss Mark

Well, they’re at it again. New guidelines on reducing cardiovascular disease risk have been released. They’ve called these “much anticipated,” however, I call them “inconsistent with research” and “likely to cause more harm than good.” The guidelines, appearing in Circulation, are likely to change clinical practice, unfortunately. They are the result of collaborations among the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, and other organizations.

Essentially, it makes it far easier for physicians to prescribe statins (cholesterol lowering medication). It will likely result in tens of millions more Americans begin put on these medications.

Let’s start with the things that I do agree with in the new recommendations.

Obesity

There’s no single, ideal diet for weight loss. Intensive, supervised lifestyle changes for at least 6 months received strong endorsement. This is important. We offer professionally supervised weight loss programs at our office for the simple reason that it reduces the risk of many diseases and it can be very difficult to manage alone.

That’s it. That’s all I agree with. The rest of the recommendations fail to actually focus on the problem: INFLAMMATION! They focus far too much on treating cholesterol without any actual targets in mind to treat.

Inflammation

“The traditional view of atherosclerosis [hardening of the arteries] as a lipid storage disease [cholesterol accumulation] crumbles in the face of extensive and growing evidence that inflammation participates centrally in all stages of this disease, from the initial lesion to the end-stage thrombotic [clot forming] complications.” This quote is from a great study that reviews the mechanism behind cardiovascular disease. I added the information in the brackets to make it easier to understand.

The pharmaceutically-driven marketing and media would have you believe that high cholesterol alone will cause it simply to accumulate in your vessels eventually narrowing them so much they can no longer deliver enough blood to your brain or heart. Or alternatively, the narrowing causes a clot to form only to be dislodged and sent “downstream” where it gets caught in smaller arteries causing a heart attack or stroke.  This just isn’t true! Want to know what actually happens!!!?

How you actually get atherosclerosis:

Inflammation is central to this process. It begins with inflammatory changes in the cells that line your blood vessels. These cells are collectively called the endothelium. The cells begin to express adhesion molecules. These molecules do what they sound like – they make things stick! However, they don’t make cholesterol stick, they attract monocytes (a type of white cell), which then travel through the walls of our arteries (BAD) under the influence of various proinflammatory molecules designed to attract more white cells. Once within the arterial wall, the monocytes continue to undergo inflammatory changes, transform into another type of white cell called a macrophage, swallow up cholesterol, and they become what is called a foam cell. T lymphocytes (another type of white cell) also migrate into the arterial wall, where they release proinflammatory cytokines (messengers) that amplify the inflammatory activity. Through these inflammatory processes, the initial lesion of atherosclerosis, called the fatty streak, is formed. This continues to evolve to cause the dangerous atherosclerotic plaque, but every step along the way involves inflammation!

There you go – as you can see, it is not caused simply by the accumulation of “too much” cholesterol as it floats through your blood stream. It all starts because of inflammation. Without the inflammatory process the white cells of our body cannot penetrate the walls of our vessels. If they cannot get into the walls of our vessels, they cannot swallow up cholesterol and begin to build plaque. It really is that simple.

So what causes inflammation?

That’s a great question and very easy to answer. Poor diet and low levels of exercise cause inflammation to build leading to atherosclerosis. A diet that is high in refined sugar increases inflammation. A diet that is low in antioxidants (brightly colored fruits and vegetables) increases inflammation. And exercise is inherently anti-inflammatory; therefore, low levels of exercise drive up inflammation. Here are the basic diet and exercise recommendations everyone should follow:

Diet

Every time you eat, have a source of healthy protein (chicken, fish, grass-fed beef, bison, etc.) and a fruit or a vegetable. Make the emphasis on vegetables. Keep grain (yes, even whole grains) to a small portion of your diet (no more than once per day).

Exercise

Combine resistance training with cardiovascular training. Get at least 45 minutes of moderate activity 3 times per week. High intensity interval training is very beneficial.

If you incorporate these things into your life, you’ll avoid inflammation and you’ll live a long, healthy life without statins!!!

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What is Preventative Health Care?

The importance of preventative health care cannot be overstated.  Five of the top six leading causes of death in the United States are preventable diseases through diet an exercise. The only leading cause of death that isn’t preventable is accidents.  If we want to reduce the cost we all pay for insurance premiums and health care, we need to start paying attention to how to reduce chronic disease before it starts.

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Common Pain Killers Increase Stroke Risk

Medicine Drug Pills on Plate

The news on non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs just keeps getting worse and worse.  Just a month ago I posted about how this class of drugs was associated with an increased risk of heart problems.  Now a Danish study has found that these drugs are associated with an increased risk of stroke.

This class of drugs known as NSAIDs are used mainly as pain killers.  They are also used to effectively reduce fevers.  They are available over the counter and are used by millions upon millions of Americans every day.  This new

study finds that even short-term use of these drugs leads to an increased risk of having a stroke in the future.  What’s even scarier is that they studied a healthy population.

In many instances these types of studies are done on people with already existing conditions that make it difficult to assess whether the increased risk is associated with a person’s previously existing condition or the medication.  Not this time.

Over 500,000 healthy Danish people were included in this study.  The authors used a prescription registry to track which of these people were prescribed an NSAID.  About 45% of them took an NSAID from 1997-2005.  They then used stroke data from further hospitalization and death registries and estimated the risk of fatal and nonfatal stroke associated with the use of NSAIDs.

Results showed that NSAID use was associated with an increased risk of stroke. This increased risk ranged from about 30% with ibuprofen (Advil) and naproxen (Aleve) to 86% with diclofenac (Voltaren). The data were controlled for age, gender, and socioeconomic status.

They noted that there was a dose dependent relationship as well.  With doses over 200mg of ibuprofen the risk increased by a staggering 90%!  This is quite problematic as the base dose for over the counter ibuprofen is 200mg.  Millions of Americans take much more than that on a daily basis.

The authors of the study were not terribly surprised by the data considering the recent studies that have surfaced regarding the negative effects these medications seem to have on the cardiovascular system.  They did say it is hard to make absolute conclusions because no randomized controlled studies exist to date.  In light of this most recent evidence I doubt you will ever get an institutional review board to approve such a study because the risk seems to be too high.

The author also stated that in Denmark the availability of NSAIDs over the counter is relatively low compared to the United States. He stressed the need for closer monitoring of these drugs.

He also said, “If half the population takes these drugs, even on an occasional basis, then this could be responsible for a 50% to 100% increase in stroke risk. It is an enormous effect.”

In my opinion, we need to regulate these drugs as closely as possible.  If one were to watch the evening news you would see these drugs being advertised as health food practically.  It is studies like these that make it abundantly clear  they are not without risk.

Options abound for people who take these on a regular basis for mild to moderate pain.  Exercise and diet are a great start.  Reducing the use of NSAIDs would likely have a very positive effect on the cost of health care in the U.S. We need all the help we can get in that department.

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6 Blood Tests Everyone Should Ask Their Doctor For

At the Vreeland Clinic we use nutrition and diet to manipulate health.  Our main goal is to improve overall health and help people feel energetic and youthful.  To know if we’ve achieved our goal we rely, in part, on our patients to inform us on how they are feeling.  This is not, however, the only marker we use to “check up” on our patients.  We use a wide variety of blood work to make sure that along with feeling great, our patients are protected from the dangers of aspects of disease that do not always manifest in overt symptoms until it’s too late.

This blood work is a huge part of our practice and today I am going to share with you the blood work that you should be asking for when you go to your doctor.

1. Particle Size Cholesterol Test

Now, cholesterol is an interesting subject.  Knowing the total number is useless.  Knowing the breakdown of the “good” cholesterol (HDL) versus the “bad” (LDL) is a little more revealing but still is far from telling the whole story.  What you need is to find out the particle break down.

Cholesterol testing has historically been used as the standard indicator for cardiovascular disease classified as HDL (good) or LDL (bad). However, it is actually the lipoprotein particles that carry the cholesterol throughout the body, not necessarily the cholesterol within them, that are responsible for key steps in plaque production and the resulting development of cardiovascular disease.

It is the particle size that is important.  Small, dense and hard lipoproteins are dangerous while light and fluffy particles are not quite as worrisome.  We know that just as many people with low cholesterol have heart attacks as people with high cholesterol.  If total cholesterol was a good indicator of heart disease then why do people with “healthy” levels have heart attacks? It’s because your total cholesterol doesn’t tell the whole story.  You must know the particle breakdown to have any real idea about your cardiovascular risk.

Below is a schematic from SpectraCell Laboratories that illustrates why this type of test is important.  They are a national lab that runs these tests and their panel is called an LPP panel.  There are many other companies that can do these tests.  The other lab I am familiar with is Atherotech Diagnostics Lab.  They call their test the VAP panel.  Either test works.  Your doctor can order these tests easily. (Please click the picture to enlarge it).

2. Fibrinogen

Fibrinogen is an important factor in blood clotting and increases in response to tissue inflammation.  Fibrinogen can help predict the risk of heart disease and stroke.  Fibrinogen will not only be high in people with heart disease, but it’s also high in other inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.  High levels of fibrinogen also increase the risk of venous thrombosis (blood clots).  Blood clots are silent killers that are often discovered too late.  This is a simple test that almost all labs are capable of running.  If you take appropriate steps, lowering fibrinogen can lower your risk of many inflammatory diseases.

3. Hemoglobin A1C

Having your fasting blood sugar tested is very valuable, but it’s just a spot shot.  It only tells you what your blood sugar was at the moment your blood was drawn.  And if you followed the instructions, you fasted before that test so your blood sugar is likely as low as it’s going to get.  (Remember with blood sugar, lower is better than higher).  High blood sugar leads to diabetes.  A hemoglobin A1C (or HbA1c) checks your blood sugar control over the last 2-3 months.  A much better check!  High HbA1c is an independent risk factor for heart disease for people with or without diabetes.  Higher HbA1c leads to an increased risk of heart disease and vice versa.  HbA1c is another test that every lab can perform and is easily ordered by any physician.

4. DHEA

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA) is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands and is a precursor to the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone.   Blood levels peak in one’s twenties and decline significantly as we age.  They reach a level of about 20%-30% of one’s youthful peak between the ages of 70 and 80.  Healthy levels of DHEA supports immune function, bone density, mood, libido and a healthy body composition.  This is another easy test to order and almost all labs can perform it.

5. Homocysteine

Homocysteine is formed in the body from the metabolism of the amino acid methionine.  It is inflammatory in nature.  High levels have been associated with an increased risk of heart attack, bone fracture and poor cognitive function.  Other studies have linked high homocysteine to macular degeneration and gall stones.  Some patients, because of a genetic defect in the way they metabolize folic acid, have very high homocysteine.  Lowering this is critical for long term health.  It is easily lowered with activated B12, activated B6 and activated folate.  Homocysteine is easily performed at any lab.

6. C-Reactive Protein

CRP, as it is abbreviated, is another inflammatory enzyme.  CRP is a powerful predictor of systemic inflammation and is a great indicator of risk for heart disease and stroke.  It may predict heart disease years before it becomes problematic.  It identifies at risk populations while they are still healthy.  This truly is a great tool.  A review of epidemiological data shows that CRP was able to predict heart attack, stroke, peripheral artery disease and sudden cardiac death in healthy individuals with no history of cardiovascular disease.  Again, this is a simple test and can easily be ordered by your doctor.

This list is by no means comprehensive, but it’s a good start.  Each individual person may require more testing depending on their specific condition.  These are, however, a great way to evaluate your overall health and predict disease that might await you years down the road.  Once you have found your specific risk factors appropriate steps can be taken to avoid the consequences in your later years.

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5 Natural Ways to Lower Cholesterol

In my clinic people come to see me for all kinds of reasons.  One of the reasons people often see me is because they have high cholesterol.  High cholesterol has been linked to heart disease and is seen as one of the main causes of preventable death in this country.

This theory that high cholesterol actually causes heart disease by itself has many holes in it.  However, the pharmaceutical companies would like you to believe that if you lower your cholesterol you will significantly reduce your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke.  The evidence does not support this statement.

Cholesterol is not an independent risk factor for heart disease.  So what does that mean?  It means that high cholesterol alone is not enough to cause heart disease.  There are many other factors that must be present in order for heart disease to occur.  The main risk factor is inflammation.  This inflammation can be measured in a simple blood test.  The tests you should request from your doctor are called hs-CRP and homocysteine.  Both of these are inflammatory markers and they give a good indication of your risk factor for a future cardiovascular event or heart attack/stroke.

The theory that high cholesterol alone causes heart disease is flawed.  For example, there are large populations of people that have very high cholesterol and heart disease is almost nonexistent in their culture.  The Eskimo tribes of the Arctic are great examples of this.  Also, research shows that 50% of people that have heart attacks have cholesterol that is considered too high (>200 mg/dl).  That means that the other 50% have cholesterol numbers that are within the normal ranges!

With that said, cholesterol does increase your risk for heart disease in the presence of other risk factors like inflammation.  It does not make sense to lower cholesterol alone and expect to be protected from heart disease.  It does make sense, however, to work on those levels in conjunction with reducing your other risk factors.  Today I will tell you of the best natural ways that you can lower your cholesterol.

For a quick reference here are the current medical guidelines for cholesterol.

  • Total cholesterol: Less than 200 milligrams per deciliter
  • LDL (“bad”) cholesterol: Less than 100 milligrams per deciliter
  • HDL (“good”) cholesterol: 40 milligrams per deciliter or higher (the higher the better!)
  • Triglycerides: Less than 150 milligrams per deciliter

The Best Natural Ways to Lower Cholesterol

1. Low Carbohydrate Diet

In my opinion everything should start with diet.  Study after study has confirmed that eating a low carbohydrate diet is much more effective in the short term and long term in managing cholesterol levels.  It sounds counter intuitive that eating a diet that is higher in fat reduces cholesterol levels but the data is there.  The mantra that eating fat raises cholesterol levels does not hold true.  It is actually the sugar (carbohydrate) that causes cholesterol levels and triglyceride levels to sky rocket.  I routinely put my patients on low carbohydrate diets to reduce cholesterol and have yet to see it fail.  The only problem is that sometimes their cholesterol levels become too low!  Low cholesterol is just as problematic as high cholesterol.

2. Exercise

This one might be a no-brainer, but it must be incorporated.  Exercise has many benefits, but specifically it is known to raise the HDLs and lower the LDLs.  It also improves heart muscle function, mood, cognitive performance, bone strength and many other factors associated with overall wellness.  I can’t stress exercise enough.

3. Plant Sterols

Also known as phytosterols, these naturally occurring substances are found in high amounts in vegetable oils.  They are mostly undigested and act by inhibiting your absorption of cholesterol in the following way – they prevent cholesterol from being emulsified in the gastrointestinal track.  When fats, like cholesterol, are not emulsified the body cannot absorb them.  Because plant sterols are not absorbed, they have very little, if any, side effect.  They work wonders for people with high cholesterol.  My advice would be not to purchase these over the counter.  In speaking with some nutrition companies I have found that these are rather difficult to put into supplement form so buying them over the counter from a discount brand is unlikely to produce the results you are looking for.  Purchase them from a doctor trained in functional medicine and who works with a reputable nutrition company.  They may be slightly more expensive, but you get what you pay for.  Here is a link to my website and the companies that I use.

4. Niacin

Niacin, or vitamin B3, is another great natural way to lower cholesterol numbers.  It is found in red meat, chicken, turkey and beans among other things.  It is extremely safe with the only side effect being a temporary flushing effect in the skin shortly after taking it.  This can be avoided by purchasing a non-flush niacin.  It has been shown to reduce LDL (bad) cholesterol and increase the HDL (good) cholesterol.  Doses are different for everyone and can range from 500 to 5,000 mg per day taken one to two times per day.  It has been shown to reduce heart attacks by 27% and stroke by 26%.

5. Fish Oil

Fish oil is great for a lot of things.  While it does not directly impact total cholesterol levels, it does reduce triglyceride levels in the blood and raise the HDL level.  Triglyceride is a measure fat in the blood.  It usually has implications on total cholesterol levels.  Fish oil is so effective it has been made into a drug by GlaxoSmithKline called Lovaza.  It is ridiculously expensive at $175 for a one month supply.  (Read my blog about it here.)  The dose offered from Lovaza is also much too low at 1 gram per day.  An effective dose is about 4-6 grams per day.  You should also buy this through a reputable nutrition company as many cheap brands contain mercury, PCBs and other toxins.  (Read my blog about that here.) A one month supply of a quality fish oil will probably cost between $25-$35 depending on how much you need to take.  Much better than $175!

Lowering cholesterol by itself is not a full proof plan for protection against heart disease.  It must be part of a total approach because high cholesterol by itself is not dangerous.  However, it is useful if you lower your other risk factors. My advice to my patients is not to rely solely on a pill if you want to reach your goal.  You must change your diet as well.  Low carb, as mentioned above, is the way to go.  If you combine the best of these two approaches you should be able to hit your target cholesterol in no time.

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