Archive for September, 2011

Depression Inflammation Link

September 30, 2011 Written by JP

There are a great many diseases and disorders that come mind when pondering the topic of inflammation. Typically, depression isn’t included in that rather lengthy list. A new review compiled by researchers from the Emory University School of Medicine postulates that there’s reasonable cause to do so. The authors of the paper note that “individuals with major depressive disorder (MDD) demonstrate increased levels of a variety of peripheral inflammatory biomarkers”. If this emerging theory is justified, how can patients and physicians use this information to help alleviate poor mood states? One of the most promising, natural candidates is fish oil. The omega-3 fatty acids in fish, namely DHA and EPA, are known to decrease pro-inflammatory cytokines present in a variety of diseases, including arthritis. What’s more, reducing inflammation via fish oil supplementation has recently been shown to blunt stress-induced anxiety. But, supplementing with just any fish oil may not be the optimal approach. A recent meta-analysis in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry recommends looking for omega-3 supplements that contain a minimum of 60% EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). A daily dosage of up to 2,200 mg of EPA daily is also singled out as important. A separate review from August 2011 revealed similar findings with respect to fish oil therapy in those with bipolar disorder or manic depression. This is not to say that DHA or docosahexaenoic acid is not significant or valuable in it’s own right. For instance, a current study appearing in the British Journal of Nutrition cites that while EPA-rich fish oil was more effective at reducing depressive symptoms, DHA-rich fish oil alone improved cognitive performance (verbal fluency) and “self-reported physical health” in a group of seniors. Even with all of this encouraging scientific data, it still may be too soon for many conventional psychiatrists to recommend EPA to depressed patients. However, because of fish oil’s other health benefits and relative safety, I would argue that it’s worth considering prior to any future mainstream consensus.

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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Mental Health, Nutritional Supplements | 3 Comments

Bitter Melon and Cancer

September 28, 2011 Written by JP

According to an alarming report in the September issue of the journal Lancet Oncology, the number of new cases of cancer worldwide is expected to reach 27,000,000/year by the year 2030. The authors of the paper call for a comprehensive effort to better manage cost and human suffering by emphasizing “real value from new technologies”. One of the “new” technologies that’s being examined is the use of bitter melon (Momordica charantia) in prevalent malignancies such as prostate cancer. In June of 2010, a scientific review described this tart, functional food as having “anti-tumor activity” and “no-to-low side effects in animals, as well as in humans”. Later in 2010 and onward into 2011, preliminary evidence emerged showing that bitter melon extract (BME) successfully interfered with prostate cancer progression in animal models and in vitro. But, why get so excited about a handful of trials that weren’t even conducted in humans? The reason for my optimism stems from seemingly unrelated studies that have explored the potential of bitter melon in managing diabetes in animals and humans alike. For instance, a publication appearing in the March 2011 issue of the Journal of Ethnopharmacology found that a daily dosage of 2,000 mg of BME effectively lowered blood sugar and fructosamine levels in a group of type 2 diabetics. Meanwhile, a study from August 2011 involving diabetic rats likewise discovered that BME “powerfully lowered (blood) glucose levels”. In fact, the excitement surrounding bitter melon is so great that nutritional experts are desperately trying to find ways to make it more palatable in order to promote greater consumption in the population at large. Here’s hoping they succeed in their objective and that more research continues to be published supporting the use of bitter melon in the fight against cancer and beyond.

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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Men's Health, Nutritional Supplements | 6 Comments

Yogurt News You Can Use

September 26, 2011 Written by JP

Yogurt is a historically revered food that I recommend to virtually all of my clients, family and friends. The primary reason is that the scientific literature consistently reveals varied health benefits associated with the use of this cultured, probiotic-rich product. In the past several months alone, peer-reviewed studies report that the regular use of yogurt reduces:  a) the levels of harmful bacteria that promote dental decay and periodontal disease in the mouths of children; b) the risk of premature birth in women with bacterial vaginosis and preeclampsia (high blood pressure) in first time mothers; c) the likelihood of diarrhea and other gastrointestinal complaints relating to antibiotic use; d) the incidence of type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome according to intervention trials and large population studies. It’s also important to note that yogurt is now a viable option regardless of which diet you choose to follow. There are fat free, low fat and whole milk options available. Those with cow’s milk allergies or sensitivities can opt for goat’s or sheep’s milk yogurt. Even vegans can enjoy coconut or soy milk based yogurts that are now commonly available in many health food stores. My personal favorite is organic, unsweetened Greek yogurt, which is naturally higher in protein and lower in carbohydrates. To this creamy treat, I add a few dried cranberries or dates or no-sugar added fruit preserves and a handful of raw pecans or walnuts. Not only is does this make for a delicious and satisfying breakfast or snack, but I’m also aware that it’s supporting my good health from my mouth on down.

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Posted in Diabetes, Food and Drink, Nutrition | 5 Comments

Red Beet Juice Power

September 23, 2011 Written by JP

In the field of athletics, the term “performance enhancers” has taken on a negative connotation of late. The very mention of it frequently conjures up images of professional athletes “juicing up” on anabolic steroids or synthetic stimulants. Fortunately, in recent years, scientists have uncovered an all natural and much safer alternative that may just improve physical capacity and support cardiovascular health. According to several, peer-reviewed scientific studies, the solution may lie in the humble red beet (Beta vulgaris). Athletes who consume red beet juice, a rich source of naturally occurring antioxidants and nitrates, consistently find benefits in trial performance in a number of activities ranging from bicycling to knee-extensor exercises. The key to the greater stamina reported likely involves the ability of beet juice to improve circulation and increase peripheral tissue oxygenation. What’s more, beet root juice also supports cardiovascular health by reducing blood pressure, irregular blood clotting and, possibly, high triglycerides as well. If there is a down side to drinking red beet juice, it would be its high sugar content. The best way to derive the benefits of beet juice while limiting sugar intake is to supplement with beet root juice extracts or powders. For instance, one the most popular products on the market yields only 5 grams of sugar per concentrated tablespoon of beet juice powder. Finally, if you decide to try beet root juice and you find a distinct reddening when you use the bathroom, don’t worry. This is a well known reaction known as beeturia which affects approximately 14% of the population.

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Posted in Exercise, Food and Drink, Nutritional Supplements | 7 Comments

Sjogren’s Syndrome Solutions

September 20, 2011 Written by JP

This year’s U.S. Open was marked by an unexpected medical headline. Venus Williams, a top ranked singles and doubles tennis player, announced that she was dropping out of the prestigious tournament because of debilitating symptoms relating to Sjogren’s syndrome. This autoimmune condition can manifest itself in a number of ways including musculoskeletal pain, persistent fatigue and severe dryness in the eyes and mouth. Thankfully, preliminary research points to several natural options that may help manage it. The first alternative to consider is an “elimination diet” that avoids common food allergens such as gluten and milk. Food allergies and sensitivities appear to be relatively common in those with Sjogren’s syndrome and their removal may lead to immunological and symptomatic improvements. Next on my list is a select group of lipids worth noting: borage oil, evening primrose oil and sea buckthorn oil. These nutritional supplements provide rare fatty acids (gamma-linolenic acid and palmitoleic acid) which may reduce some of the primary symptoms of Sjogren’s syndrome, namely, dry eyes and mouth, and fatigue. Last, but not least, an old study dating all the way back to 1986 describes the utility of an amino acid-based antioxidant known as N-acetylcysteine (NAC). A 4 week trial involving 51 patients with Sjogren’s syndrome determined that NAC outperformed a placebo by decreasing several indicators of oral and ocular discomfort. The dosage used in the study was 200 mg of NAC, thrice daily. My hope is that natural and safe alternatives such as these will one day enter the medical mainstream and help all those with Sjogren’s syndrome live active and healthier lives.

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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Nutrition, Nutritional Supplements | 4 Comments

Pilates Research

September 14, 2011 Written by JP

Pilates is a gentle, yet demanding, form of body conditioning that promotes flexibility, stamina and strength. Proponents claim that regular practice also supports a more positive mindset. Although it was originally conceived to assist recovery from injury, it has recently become the exercise of choice of many athletes, celebrities and fitness gurus. More importantly, its current popularity has spawned an important collection of scientific data suitable for medical review and scrutiny. For the most part, the new batch of controlled trials demonstrate a broad array of health benefits including: a) an improvement in “functional capacity” in heart failure patients; b) a greater sense of “life satisfaction”, “perception of appreciation by other people”, “perception of physical appearance” and other measures of self esteem in adult women; c) reductions in pain and various physical and psychological symptoms associated with ankylosing spondylitis (joint inflammation in the pelvis and spine) and fibromyalgia; d) recovery of endurance and mental health in patients previously treated for breast cancer and; e) the promotion of “personal autonomy, static balance and quality of life” in elderly women. However, it must be said that Pilates is not a cure-all. A recent meta-analysis in the journal Clinical Rehabilitation reports that Pilates does not offer added benefits over standard care in those living with chronic low back pain. Still and all, the majority of research published during the past few years tends to support many of long held assertions made by Pilates aficionados. In the future, I hope that more investigations using different patient populations, such as men and younger volunteers who practice Pilates as a form of physical fitness, will emerge.

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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Exercise, Heart Health | 8 Comments

Medical Marijuana

September 12, 2011 Written by JP

The July-August edition of the Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine addresses one of the more contentious medical, political and societal issues of our time: medical marijuana. The review provides a balanced perspective about the pros and cons of cannabis use in modern medicine. It not only describes scientific evidence pertaining to legal and illegal cannabis, but also points out issues that require more clarification and future study including: the addictive potential of the “drug”, optimal delivery methods and quality control issues involving natural and synthetic contaminants. My own investigation into the medicinal use of marijuana uncovered some promising and troubling findings. On the positive side, two trials from 2010 and 2011 demonstrated encouraging results in the management of chronic pain related conditions such as fibromyalgia and postsurgical neuropathic pain. However, other recent cannabis studies point to a lack of success in the treatment of diabetic neuropathy and a decline in cognitive performance in multiple sclerosis patients that use “inhaled or ingested street cannabis”. This new data is unlikely to sway stalwart opinions about medical marijuana one way or the other. But, I hope it will add some scientific weight to the discussion.

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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Memory, Mental Health | 7 Comments

Healthy Potatoes?

September 9, 2011 Written by JP

A presentation given at last week’s national meeting of the American Chemical Society made headlines that you may have heard or read about. The claim made was that eating two daily servings of potatoes can lower blood pressure so that the “undeserved bad reputation” of potatoes ought to be reassessed. To that I say, not so fast. There are several key details that are important to note when considering this research and topic: 1) The variety of potatoes used in the current trial (purple potatoes) contain antioxidant pigments, similar to those found in blueberries and red wine, which may reduce blood pressure in and of themselves.  2) Some research suggests that purple potatoes contain higher potassium content than more popular varieties such as white Idaho potatoes. 3) Diets rich in foods containing potassium are capable of lowering hypertension whether they contain potatoes or not. 4) There are many other ways of managing high blood pressure naturally, such as switching from common table salt to any number of salt alternatives which feature essential minerals including magnesium and potassium. Finally, it’s vital to understand that many wholesome foods contain significant quantities of potassium. While bananas and potatoes are most frequently singled out, you should know that a 5 oz fillet of halibut contains approximately 817 mg of potassium, a cup of spinach offers up 838 mg, and an 8 ounce serving of unsweetened yogurt will provide upwards of 600 mg of this often deficient mineral.

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Posted in Food and Drink, Heart Health, Nutrition | 8 Comments

Brown Rice Matters

September 7, 2011 Written by JP

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard doctors or other health authorities recommend that patients switch from white rice to brown rice. The idea is that brown rice has more nutrients and a lower impact on blood sugar than its paler counterpart. According to recent publications in the scientific literature, making such a blanket recommendation may be incomplete. It’s true that some studies do find unprocessed brown rice superior to polished white rice in terms of respective glycemic index (GI) and load (GL). But, not all brown rice is created equal. In fact, some studies have reported unexpectedly high GI and GL scores in some brown rice samples. This may explain why a recent trial published in The Journal of Nutrition did not find substantial metabolic differences in a group of 202 diabetic patients who were asked to eat either brown or white rice over a 16 week period. And, this isn’t the only surprise with regard to brown rice research. Some natural health experts argue that germinated brown rice (GBR) is the best form to consume due to easier digestibility and higher nutrient content. Here again, the findings of several controlled experiments have been variable. Two of the three human studies determined that GBR is indeed superior to white rice in terms of managing blood glucose in diabetics and healthy adults. However, a third trial found the opposite to be true. Participants in the latter study exhibited higher body fat and hemoglobin A1c, a measure of long term blood sugar, when eating GBR as compared to white rice. Last, but not least, the September 2011 issue of the American Journal of Nutrition reports that increasing the ratio of beans to rice in a traditional Costa Rican diet “was associated with a 35% lower risk of metabolic syndrome”. In practical terms, this only required replacing one serving of rice daily with a serving of beans that are higher in fiber and protein. When analyzing all of this data, it reaffirms my conviction that an over reliance on grains can sometimes lead to unexpected consequences. The best way to avoid this is to continually seek up-to-date information from reliable sources and to test your own reaction to any given diet or food via home blood sugar testing and lab work provided by your health care team.

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Sweet Potato Greens

September 2, 2011 Written by JP

I’m always on the lookout for “new” foods that I can add to my diet to keep things interesting. If these culinary additions happen to be delicious and nutrient dense, all the better. Sweet potato leaves are an excellent candidate that I’m planning to experiment with for two reasons. First and foremost, they bring robust nutrition to the table. A publication appearing in the October 2010 issue of the journal Nutrition Reviews proclaims that eating sweet potato leaves may “play a role in health promotion by improving immune function, reducing oxidative stress and free radical damage, reducing cardiovascular disease risk, and suppressing cancer cell growth”. All of these assertions and more are backed up by scientific studies in prestigious medical journals. There’s even evidence that eating sweet potato greens may protect consumers from age-related conditions such as macular degeneration. Secondly, according to a few of my foodie friends, these dark green leafy vegetables are quite versatile and can be used in place of other, more commonly used contenders including collard greens, kale and spinach. They can also be eaten raw as complementary or primary ingredients in salads. Perhaps best of all, they’re naturally low in calories (about 20 calories per cup) and have a very low glycemic load of only 2. I hope you’ll join me in trying out this traditional food which may be as new for you as it is for me.

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