Tag Archives: United States

Cancer Fighting Compounds!

Cancer is a leading cause of mortality here in the United States. As our population continues to get unhealthier because of sedentary lifestyles and poor eating habits, the numbers will continue to grow.

Many cancers are preventable, and there are compounds you can get from your diet that will reduce your risk.

See the video below!

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Do Supplements Kill?

Nutritional supplements

Supplement Aisle

A study recently published in the Archives of Internal Medicine has concluded that taking multi vitamins and several other supplements was actually associated with an increased risk of mortality (or death).  We’ve seen these studies before and I have several thoughts on them.

First, I do not believe supplements will increase your risk of death.  Supplements are exceptionally safe.  They are so safe, in fact, that they are all sold over-the-counter.  However, supplements are also very effective in helping people with a wide variety of conditions.  With that power can come potential for unwanted side effects.  We must understand that if something has the power to do good it also has the power to do bad.  Let’s break down the study and see how the authors came to the conclusion that they did.

They assessed the use of vitamin and mineral supplements in relation to total mortality in 38,772 older women in the Iowa Women’s Health Study; mean age was 61.6 years at baseline in 1986.  Supplement use was self-reported in 1986, 1997, and 2004.  Their conclusion to the study was as follows:

“In older women, several commonly used dietary vitamin and mineral supplements may be associated with increased total mortality risk; this association is strongest with supplemental iron. In contrast to the findings of many studies, calcium is associated with decreased risk.”

I have several problems with this study. The first is that use of supplements was self-reported.  And the time frame with which they reported was years apart. This is a problem because you are asking people to remember what they are taking.  I do this every day in my practice and many of my patients can’t remember what they’re taking day-to-day and I see them on a monthly basis.

The study also only shows an association, not cause and effect.  This is dangerous because studies like this get huge headlines and inevitably the headlines shout about how dangerous supplements are when, in fact, they are very safe.

To show you just how flimsy an association link in a study may be here is a good example. Say you wanted to study breast cancer and you wanted to look at what is associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. You might conclude that wearing make-up is associated with a much higher rate of breast cancer than not wearing make-up.  You came to this conclusion because you noticed that people who wear make-up get breast cancer at much higher rates that people who do not.  This sounds legitimate of the surface.  Perhaps there is something in the make-up that is carcinogenic.  Or perhaps people who wear make-up are much more likely to get breast cancer than people who do not for another reason. We know that breast cancer is far more common in women and they also happen to wear the most make-up.  An association can easily be shown between people who wear make-up and breast cancer, but it likely not for the right reasons.

Another shortcoming of the study is that the researchers did not know whether the women were taking the supplements for a specific health condition.  People often begin taking supplements because they do not feel well.  They may be experiencing sleep problems, low energy,  head aches or worse.  These symptoms may be signs of deeper problems. We cannot be sure these women did not die from the very condition they were trying to treat and not the supplements.

Thirdly, the increase in mortality was exceptionally small and likely is not clinically significant. What that means is that the results were so minuscule they have almost no observable effect.  It was also noted that the women who used the supplements were almost twice a likely to use hormone replacement therapy (HRT) while going through menopause.  HRT is known to increase the rates of many cancers.

The researchers did take hormone therapy into account in their analysis, along with several other potentially mitigating factors (including age, educational attainment, body mass index, diet, and physical activity).  What I don’t see on this list is prescription drug use.  This must be known for this study to hold any water! Drugs are obtained via prescription for one reason and one reason only – they are dangerous!  They are a leading cause of death in the United States!  If they did not consider drug use then how can they possibly conclude it was the supplements that increased mortality rates?  They can’t!

While I don’t agree with the conclusion of the study, I agree that men and women should seek the advice of someone trained in nutrition and skilled at building a personalized program for each individual.  I never recommend going to the health food store and picking up one of everything and beginning to take them.  As a matter of fact, I rarely recommend multi vitamins.  Not everyone needs more of everything.  Targeted nutrition should be your goal.

Remember, supplements are extremely safe and just because one study concludes that there is an association between supplements and mortality does not mean you should stop taking them, especially if they’ve benefited you.

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The New “Food Guide Pyramid”

Well, it’s not really a pyramid anymore.  It’s a plate.  And it’s still wrong.  But before I get into that let me focus on the

New design, same old (incorrect) message.

positives about it.

First, the design.  I like it.  It’s simple and much easier to understand than the old pyramid.  It’s also eye-catching.  It looks very modern and should attract more attention.

Secondly, fruits and veggies make up half of the new plate meaning that, essentially, half of your diet should be made up of fruits and vegetables.  I could not agree more.  When I make a meal I always include fruits and vegetables and I strive to have half of my plate at each meal filled with brightly colored fruits and/or vegetables.

That’s it.  That’s all I like about this new “MyPlate” setup from the USDA.

Here is what I don’t like.

First and foremost there is no area for healthy fats on this plate.  None!  That is a major disservice to the American public.  Every single cell in the entire body has fat in it.  Fat is necessary and essential to life.  If we don’t consume fat, we die. Period!

Additionally we know that omega-3 fats from nuts, seeds and fish are exceptionally important for maintaining cardiovascular health.  These are only briefly mentioned when you click on the protein section of the new plate.  There is also an “oils” section on the main website (www.choosemyplate.gov) that explains a little about oils and their properties.

My point is that the new “MyPlate” design is intended to be something that people can look at quickly and get a gross idea of how they should be eating.  When people glance and this plate they will infer that they shouldn’t eat any fat and that’s a major problem.  People should consume fat and they need to consume fat.

My second major problem is that grains are still too dominant in this design.  Yes, they stress whole grains, but they say that you only need to make half  (HALF!) of your grains from whole sources.  I would never encourage my patients to eat any refined grain on a regular basis, let alone half of their grains on a daily basis!

In my opinion, grains should be a very small of the diet, even if they are whole grains.  They don’t need to be eliminated from the diet, but they should never make up a full quarter of what you eat.  A diet high in grain leads to many problems such as inflammation and heart disease.  Human beings should consume a paleolithic type diet.

Unfortunately, despite the new design, this is still the same old information regurgitated based on science that is decades old.  The USDA needs to get with the times and reduce the grain recommendations and increase the healthy fat recommendations.  Until they do that I fear Americans will continue to lead the world in obesity.

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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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How Your Diet Affects Your Mood

Depression and Bipolar

Food is fuel.  The fuel we put into our body determines how efficiently it runs.  It’s a pretty simple concept yet when it comes to brain function there is a disconnect for many physicians.

When people come to me for help with various conditions, dietary changes are almost always part of the program.  They are especially important if someone if suffering from a mood disorder.

If a poor diet can lead to poor function of the heart, gall bladder, immune system, pancreas, intestines, etc., then why couldn’t it lead to poor brain function? It can, but it’s always overlooked by traditional medicine.  Let me explain.

The Basics

Remember, food is fuel.  The neurons in your brain consume up to 40% of your circulating blood sugar at a resting state.  That figure can jump up to 80% when your brain is working hard like studying for a test or doing your taxes. Your blood sugar is the fuel your brain needs to keep going.

Low blood sugar occurs when people do not eat frequently enough or in an amount that satisfies the demands for energy of the entire body, including the brain.  Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, causes mood to change.  Most notably, people experience irritability. This irritability is relieved by simply eating food and allowing your blood sugar to rise back to a normal level.  Next time you’re feeling irritable and you haven’t eaten in a few hours, try eating a healthy snack.  It might just be the fix you’re looking for.

If something as simple as low blood sugar can alter your mood, what else can?

Alcohol

Alcohol is consumed the world over mainly for one reason and one reason only – it has mind altering properties. Let’s face it; alcohol does not taste good in the way that ice cream does.  People are not consuming it solely for the taste. The per capita consumption of ethanol in the United States is 2.31 gallons per year.  That means, on average, every American over the age of 15 consumes 2.31 gallons of pure alcohol per year.  This is equivalent to 702 beers, 410 glasses of wine or 197 shots per year, per person.

Alcohol works on the brain by affecting the neurotransmitter GABA.  GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain.  Initially, consuming alcohol elevates mood and reduces anxiety and stress.  As a matter of fact, most current pharmaceuticals aimed at reducing anxiety work by acting on GABA.

However, continuing to consume alcohol has a downside.  When consumed to excess, moods begin to go down and depression is often the consequence.  It also causes sleepiness which illustrates alcohol’s powerful depressive effects.  Always remember, alcohol is a depressant and it’s this way because it acts on the inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA.

How Foods Affect Our Neurotransmitter Levels

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about neurotransmission and how getting your neurotransmitters measured is a good way to assess your mood status and possibly change it for the better.  I went into the details of some neurotransmitters and it would be good to read before continuing to read this post.  Click here to view it.

The neurotransmitters in our brain allow one nerve to talk to the next.  It is the level of these neurotransmitters, to a large extent, that govern how we feel.  Low levels of some neurotransmitters lead to anxiety while others may lead to depression.  The interplay between all of them is complex and a problem with mood is often due to more than low levels of a single neurotransmitter but there are primary players to blame in each mood disorder.

Carbohydrate Heaven

Many people have noticed that when they eat a meal that is high in refined carbohydrates they notice an elevation in mood.  So much so that people can often become addicted to this type of food just to feel good.  This is for one very real physiological fact – eating refined carbohydrates increases serotonin production in the brain.

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that most of the anti-depressant drugs like Prozac and Paxil work on.  They work by tricking the brain into thinking it has more serotonin than it actually does.  Consuming refined carbohydrates works by actually increasing serotonin levels.  Here’s how.

There is a barrier between our brain and our blood.  It prevents things from getting into the brain that should not.  It is very effective.  However, it also prevents necessary nutrients from getting in as well.  They need a special pass to  get in.  This includes the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is what the body uses to make serotonin.  If one consumes a diet very low in tryptophan, serotonin levels are likely to be low.  Tryptophan is found in foods that contain protein.

In order for tryptophan (an other amino acids) to get into the brain a transporter system exists.  It is called the large neutral amino acid transporter or the LNAA.  Competition for the LNAA is fierce.  Tryptophan is a weak competitor.  It is often left out of brain except when refined carbohydrates are consumed. When refined carbohydrates are consumed high amounts of insulin are secreted.  Insulin sends free amino acids out of our blood into our muscles when it is circulating.  Because tryptophan is a bound to albumin it is left unaffected by this process.  It is now free to circulate up to the brain where competition for the LNAA is now low and it gets into the brain more easily.  It also allows more serotonin to be produced.

Now, I hear what you’re saying.  I am not suggesting you go eat tons of refined carbohydrates to feel good!  As a matter of fact you should avoid them because they just lead to a blood sugar crash later in the day resulting in irritability.  Now you’re irritable and depressed – not a good combination!

What you should do is make sure you eat foods that are high quality proteins.  This includes mostly animal products like meat and eggs.  Also, supplementing your diet with 5-HTP is helpful.  This is the direct precursor of serotonin and is in fact a type of tryptophan. It passes into the brain freely and does not compete for the LNAA.

Not Enough B6

Vitamin B6 is an essential vitamin in many ways.  In terms of brain health, it is essential to allow the conversion of the neurotransmitter glutamate into GABA.

Glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain.  When levels are too high seizures are known to occur.  At lower levels anxiety occurs.

GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter.  At very low levels seizures occur and when levels are slightly decreased anxiety is the result.

Glutamate ——–> GABA – GABA is converted from glutamate and B6 is required to do this.

A diet that is low in B6 will cause glutamate to build up in the brain and GABA levels will be low.  This may result in anxiety.  Foods that are highest in B6 are:

  • Spinach
  • Bell peppers
  • Turnip greens

Consuming these on a regular basis may help if your problem is the conversion of glutamate to GABA.  You may also have to supplement with B6.  This is easy to find over the counter.

No Fish? No Happy

Omega-3 fatty acids have been touted to help everything from heart disease to pain and inflammation.  Research also points to another aspect.  Brain health.  People who have the lowest level of a particular omega-3 called DHA report depression as a problem significantly more than people with the highest levels of DHA.

DHA is important for growing babies, but research is starting to show that it is important for overall brain health for adults as well.

Just how it wards off depression is not clear.  One theory suggests that because DHA is important for the insulation surrounding the nerves, low levels may prevent neurons from communicating effectively.  Whatever the reason, the research is pretty clear that low levels are not good for optimal brain function.

Consuming fish regularly is a good step.  However, more people will not be able to consume enough fish to get enough DHA.  Consider supplementing with a fish oil that is high in DHA.  Most nutrition companies now make fish oil that is high in DHA.  This may help ease your depression and prevent further episodes.

This list could go on and on.  The moral of the story is that what you eat can have a significant impact on how you feel.  If you want to feel good, inside and out, you must eat a healthy diet.  Hopefully some of these tips have helped.

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See Where America Stacks Up In Life Expectancy

graph of female vs. male life expectancy at bi...

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The U.S. is lagging behind other high income countries in life expectancy despite spending more on health care than any other country.

A new report from the National Research Council finds that Americans can expect to live shorter lives than in other industrialized countries.  They council blames two things – smoking and obesity.

The popularity of smoking has gone way down in the last 20 years, but it was very popular from the 50’s and into the 80′.  The effects of smoking are not realized until much later in life and we are seeing now that it is affecting the life expectancy of the baby boomer generation and beyond.

The other factor, obesity, is an obvious one.  The U.S. has the third highest obesity rate in the world. Over two-thirds of Americans are overweight or obese.  The only countries with higher rates of obesity are Kiribati and American Samoa.

See the list below and where the U.S. falls in life expectancy.

Women

Australia 83.78
Canada 82.95
Denmark 80.53
England and Wales 81.73
France 84.39
Italy 84.09
Japan 85.98
Netherlands 81.89
Sweden 82.95
United States 80.78

Men

Australia 79.27
Canada 78.35
Denmark 76.13
England and Wales 77.46
France 77.43
Italy 78.62
Japan 79.20
Netherlands 77.63
Sweden 78.92
United States 75.64

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Reducing Your Risk of Cancer – 3 things you should include in your diet.

Fresh vegetables are important components of a...

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Did you know that an estimated 1,529,560 people were diagnosed with cancer in 2010? That’s 4,190 new cases per day!

Unfortunately, we have become acutely aware that there are many things in our world that are carcinogenic and inevitably will find more things in the future.  Mutagens come from a variety of places including tobacco smoke and environmental pollutants.  Popular herbicides contain glyphosphate, a compound that depresses the function of important enzymes that are essential for detoxification.  The number one cancer causing mutagen, however, is our diet.  For example, the frying, baking, and roasting of carbohydrate rich foods produces acrylamide, which is a known cancer causing agent in animals.

Everyday we are surrounded by these mutagens that have the potential to cause a genetic mutation within our own cells resulting in a mistake in our genetic code.  According to the New England Journal of Medicine, “Cancer results from the accumulation of mutations in the genes that regulate cellular proliferation.”  As these mutations begin to accumulate the cells can no longer regulate their own production and begin to grow out of control.  They no longer demonstrate the innate ability of apoptosis.  Apoptosis is defined as programmed cellular death.  Healthy cells that develop abnormalities are programmed to destroy themselves when mistakes are made.  Cancer cells, because of excessive mutations, lose this ability and continue to reproduce despite the fact they are causing damage.

The human body has a very unique and effective way of dealing with chemicals that it may come into contact with.  This detoxification system has two phases within which it works.  They are aptly named Phase I and Phase II.  This system is able to detoxify even the most potent of chemicals, including pesticides and other foreign compounds found in the environment.  Although these systems are very complex, we will go over them briefly and broadly.

The molecules produced in Phase I may be even more toxic than the initial chemicals because the molecular groups that are added to them by the body’s detoxification system are very reactive.  This allows these molecules to act as free radicals in the liver.  This is not problematic as long as Phase II is working well. The Phase I molecules are usually quickly converted to harmless molecules for excretion in the urine or bile by Phase II.

At this point you may be asking, “Why do I need to worry about it if Phase II acts so quickly?”  For one, the process is slowed with age and some people metabolize slowly while others metabolize much faster.  This shows the need for nutritional supplementation which maximizes the efforts of Phase I and II and reinforces the idea that we should provide the liver with ample amounts of antioxidants.

So the question remains.  What can you do to help protect yourself from dangerous mutations that may lead to cancer in the future?  Many nutrients have been found to be essential cofactors for the detoxification system, but three have recently been found to directly enhance its activity.

Curcumin

The first is curcumin.  It is a nutrient that is derived from turmeric.  Turmeric has been used for centuries throughout India and Asia for a myriad of different maladies ranging from upset stomach to arthritis.  It has also been shown to reduce total cholesterol and inhibit LDL oxidation.

In a study at India’s Panjab University, researchers found that curcumin inhibited mutagenicity by as much as 80% against mutagens in cooked foods.  Curcumin has also been shown not only to be preventative but also helps reduce the progression of cancer.  Curcumin appears to act by boosting the activity of glutathione S-transferase which is an important Phase II enzyme.

Curcumin has also been shown to be a potent antioxidant.  Antioxidants are important because they scavenge free radicals throughout the system.  Free radicals act on the body on a cellular level producing damage in whatever they come in contact with.

Chlorophyllin

Another potent inhibitor of mutagenicity is chlorophyllin.  This is derived from the green pigment in plants called chlorophyll.  Chlorophyllin is beneficial because it is water soluble and is easily transported in the blood.  It has been shown to inhibit mutations in bacteria when placed in a Petri dish with known mutagens.

Although its precise mechanism of action is unknown, it is thought to act as a powerful antioxidant as well.  In one study, chlorophyllin was shown to promote apoptosis in human colon cancer cells.  This is important because it is thought that the alteration of the process of apoptosis is one mechanism by which cancer continues to reproduce.  Chlorophyllin is has also been shown to be heat stable which is important because it will maintain its powerful properties after ingested.

Broccoli Extract

The third powerful nutrient is broccoli extract.  That’s right. Mom knew more than she thought when she was force feeding you broccoli and cod liver oil!  According to an article in Life Extension magazine, “Broccoli is a plentiful source of glucosinolates, which are converted enzymatically into isothiocyanates. In the body, the isothiocyanates in broccoli boost production of several Phase II detoxification enzymes, enhance antioxidant status, and protect animals against chemically induced cancer.”

A study at Johns Hopkins University showed that broccoli extract significantly reduced incidence, multiplicity, and weight of mammary tumors in rats after exposure to known mutagens.  Its activity is thought to work by enhancing enzymatic activity in Phase II of the detoxification system.

Cancer levels continue to be very high in the United States.  With the never ending influx of new chemicals into our world it is important to protect ourselves with nutrients that have been proven to be beneficial in the prevention of cancer.  Curcumin, chlorophyllin and broccoli extract have been shown to be very effective.  Traditional medicine promotes early detection as a crucial weapon in defeating cancer.  Early detection is of course important, but it is not prevention.  We propose that all of our patients take an active role in their health and prevent serious illness through good nutrition.

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