Sources: ProPublica, February 2017
Hundreds of medical tests, drugs, therapies, and surgeries have been shown in scientific studies to be ineffective or even harmful for more patients than they help. Examples include coronary stents, postmenopausal hormone replacement, and arthroscopic partial meniscectomy. And yet, for years after such treatments are debunked, doctors continue to prescribe them widely, motivated by financial incentive, patient demand, and other factors. The American public tends to overestimate the efficacy of medical innovations and underestimate the benefits of public health initiatives and lifestyle changes. In this in-depth feature, ProPublica examines these complex problems and some efforts to solve them.
Meta-review highlights preliminary evidence of advantages of structural integration
A recent study reviewed the efficacy of the practice of structural integration (SI), an approach to therapy and education that approaches "human biomechanical functioning" as a whole rather than a set of particular symptoms.
The study explored SI through a variety of angles, including the author's own experiences with the practice and theory of SI, a database search, consultation with other SI practitioners, and a review of other web archives and bibliographies. Although the author acknowledges the limitations of small sample sizes and a lack of a control group, he does find preliminary evidence for SI's ability to improve neuromotor coordination, sensory processing, self concept and vagal tone, and reduce anxiety.
Additionally, small clinical studies with patients experiencing cerebral palsy, chronic musculoskeletal pain, impaired balance, and chronic fatigue syndrome suggest that an SI approach contributes to improvements in gait, pain, range of motion, balance, functional status and well-being.
Origins of inflammation: microbial exposures in infancy predicts
lower levels of C-reactive protein in adulthood
Source: Proceedings of the Royal Society B, December 2009; Northwestern Now, July 2017
Previous research has suggested that exposure to certain germs and parasites early in life can reduce a person’s risk of developing allergies later on. Biological anthropologists from Northwestern University expanded upon this research with a study, based in the Philippines, showing that higher levels of microbe exposure in infancy were associated with lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) in young adulthood. Low CRP levels mean less cellular inflammation, which is a sign of good health, as inflammation is associated with illnesses such as heart disease, diabetes, dementia, depression, and some cancers.
The scientists theorize that dirt and bacteria in the environment help to “educate” an infant’s developing immune system, teaching it to regulate its inflammation responses. The “poorly educated” immune systems of children who grow up in very clean environments may overreact to common microbes, leading to asthma, allergies, and other inflammatory diseases.
Study: Changes in environment can reverse chronic pain's effects on the brain
Via the process of observing mice who suffered from chronic pain, pain researchers were able to explore how chronic pain alters brain functions on a genetic level. They found that after several months, the mice's pain was altering parts of the their brains that were unrelated to processing pain. They found that the mice's pain "severely curtailed" gene activity in the prefrontal cortex, an area of the brain related to decision making and emotion, something that can reduce the density in this area of the brain and lead to anxiety, depression and cognitive impairment.
As a follow-up, researchers explored whether pain's negative effect on the brain could be reversed. They split a group of mice, all suffering from pain, between an impoverished, lonely environment and an enriched environment, complete with other mice and marbles to play with. Following two months in these different environments, the mice in the enriched environment no longer suffered chronic pain and their prefrontal cortexes returned to "normal mouse activity."
The mice in the impoverished environment experienced reduced brain activity, which resulted in cognitive impairment. The study suggests that chronic pain is an "epigenetic phenomenon," meaning that life experience changes the actual genetic expression of the brain.
The authors find these conclusions to be hopeful, because it suggests that "the actions we take today can actually change how our brains function tomorrow."
The Globalization of Yoga
When I first began practicing yoga in the mid-1970s, it was considered an exotic practice from India, associated with Eastern religions and the ’60s counter-culture. It was just starting to find its way into mainstream Western cultures, with not a lot of places to learn it. There were a few popular yoga books and television shows: Richard Hittleman published Yoga for Healthin 1961, and Lilias Folan’s Yoga and Youwas a hit show in the 1970s.
Now, in 2018, yoga is part of popular culture and big business! What yoga has become has a lot to do with how it was promoted and integrated into Western cultures. More than a one-way transmission from East to West, the export of these ancient practices also revived and changed yoga in India. Yoga has become a transcultural phenomenon.
The current popular view of yoga does not reflect what it was historically. Yoga is one of six branches of philosophy and practice originating from the Vedas, a group of ancient scriptures and traditions, the oldest of which is the Rigveda, dating back to 3000–1900 BC. Vedasmeans “knowledge of wisdom,” and Vedic wisdom was considered a kind of science. These scriptures form the foundations of Indian Hindu culture, more accurately called Sanatana Dharma (“the eternal way”). The essence of the Vedas culminated in the philosophy of Vedanta.
Classical yoga, the basis of modern yoga, originated from what is known as the “eight-fold path (steps)” called Ashtanga. Yogi-scholar Patanjali synthesized and codified various sources into a system set forth in the Yoga Sutras (200 BC–200 AD). Yoga was not only a body practice, but a way of living.
For much of its history, yoga was not a uniform system throughout India. Since yoga was traditionally passed down orally from teacher to student, various styles and teachings developed over time.
The word yogaitself means “union,” “to bind” or “to yoke” and is etymologically similar to religion, which also means “to bind.” The separate self, which experiences bondage and suffering, is out of touch with Reality, until it is liberated from its illusions (maya). Liberation is called moksha and is the ultimate goal of life and yoga. Yoga is a technology of transformation for “Self-Realization.” Yoga includes ethical, physical and mental practices for realizing a unique liberated state of consciousness called Samadhi, which means “putting together,” or binding, the self and Reality. Buddhism calls this “enlightenment”—realizing your original natural state. Yoga was not meant to perfect the body but to control it, and the senses, in order to isolate the real self from what is not self and not real. The benefits popularly associated with yoga today—flexibility, strength, health and stress reduction—were not originally the goal but only a secondary byproduct!
The first, most prominent emissary of yoga, Vedanta and the wisdom of India to the West was Swami Vivekananda, a disciple of the Indian saint Ramakrishna. Vivekananda spoke at the Parliament of World Religions in Chicago in 1893 and received a lot of press and notoriety. One of Vivekananda’s greatest achievements was to bring order to the diverse array of yoga systems and philosophies. He framed yoga in terms of science, which spoke to the Western mentality and ideals. He distilled yoga into five categories: Raja (moral, physical and mental disciplines and meditation), Hatha (physical and energetic practices which are also related to Kundalini yoga), Jnana (the path of knowledge), Karma (the path of service) and Bhakti (the path of devotion and love). Raja, called the “royal path,” encompasses the full spectrum of practices, including those of Hatha, postures (asanas) and breathing (pranayama). Today, Hatha is the most commonly practiced form of yoga and is easily accessible, requiring no belief system or religious orientation. It fits well with the ethos of Western cultures.
Vivekananda was followed by Paramashansa Yogananda, author of the 1920 bestseller Autobiography of a Yogi, and by Swami Sivananda. Sivananda founded the Divine Light Society, which created a worldwide network of yoga schools.
Sri Krishnamacharya (1888–1989) is consider the “father of modern Ashtanga-Hatha yoga.” He was the principal teacher of many well-known figures in yoga history: B.K.S. Iyengar (author of the 1966 book Light on Yoga, master of precision asana and anatomy), K. Pattabhi Jois (developer of Vinyasa-Ashtanga yoga) and his son T.K.V. Desikachar (founder of Viniyoga style). Indra Devi, a well-known woman yogi and student of Krishnamacharya, opened the first yoga studio in Hollywood in 1948 and wrote numerous popular books. Vishnudevananda, a famous student of Sivananda, established the first yoga school in Paris in 1977. Yoga spread via these popular teachers; now Iyengar, Power and Vinyasa yoga have become well-known styles and form the basis of many contemporary variations and Western trends.
After India gained independence from the British in 1947, there was a rise in nationalism and interest in Indian traditions, which led to a revival of yoga. It was the right moment in history for introducing yoga and meditation to the West. How it was spread and gained popularity abroad also significantly changed yoga itself. Although yoga was always considered a science, the spiritual dimension had traditionally been given higher value. Health and spiritual tourism retreats played a big part in transforming yoga from a religious practice to a health practice. Because science dominated the Western worldview, presenters emphasized the science of yoga and its practical benefits. One key player in that realignment was Jagannath Gune, who created a center for yoga in 1924 and invited scientific researchers to study it. They framed yoga in ways that could more easily find acceptance in the West.
Western societies invest a lot time and energy into personal and economic freedom, with the aim of perfecting and extending bodily life. Self-effort appeals to the Western independent spirit. Classes, books, DVDs, and the internet make yoga easily accessible. Yoga provides a practical, inexpensive method to control and mold the body, relax the mind, and prevent disease. It helps people control the undesirable facts of life-entropy.
One central tenant of traditional yoga is that true happiness is found not in the outer world or body, but by turning inward, to discover your natural state, which is normally covered up. In its transmission to the West, however, yoga was gradually reframed from a method of transcending the physical world to a way of perfecting the body. A deeper understanding of yoga got lost in the popular mix. The message became: There’s no need to renounce life, to deny the pleasures of the body and mind. You can keep liberation as a goal, but liberation now means balance, fitness, and personal freedom.
The main Vedic concept that links easily to Western culture is Jivanmukta—the state of being liberated while still living. It’s conceived as a “middle path” between dedicating your life to pursuing the ideal “afterlife” on one hand, and indulgence and consumerism on the other. Jivanmukta connects the Western ideal of individual freedom to yoga’s goal of transcendence and evolution. The focus has shifted from the limitations of the body and realizing “super-consciousness” to improving bodily fitness and overall health. This dovetails nicely with the holistic health movement. Jivanmukta lends support to this way of framing yoga, with the message: You don’t have to renounce desires and worldly pleasures to be free!That’s one reason why Tantra yoga, commonly but erroneously associated only with sex, is gaining popularity. With yoga, pleasures can be channeled and justified spiritually.
Popular literature circulating in the 1900s about yoga increasingly emphasized its health and fitness benefits. This appealed to a Western mindset and was compatible with the idea of “progress” as the guiding tenet of modernity. Advertising images of thin or large-bellied older men, dressed in white or orange dhoti, don’t appeal to most Westerners. These images reflect a life of renunciation, non-materialism, poverty, and lack of ambition. But fit, strong, virile bodies represent progress and wealth! Now, you can buy latex tights and yoga accessories—it’s a whole new business. The original spiritual goal of yoga—freedom from the material world, rather than attachment to it—had to be rebranded, even inverted, to gain acceptance.
Some believe the Western emphases on material life and progress are incompatible with traditional yoga and spiritual ideals. But people have easily adapted yoga to other cultures and worldviews by emphasizing the bodily practices of postural and Hatha yoga and leaving out the ethical and spiritual parts. What could be more attractive than a set of exercises that create a strong, healthy body and relaxed mind? Yoga is inexpensive, can be done anywhere, and manages STRESS! The religious beliefs and language are optional.
Yoga has gone global and is part of the new “cosmopolitanism.” Cosmopolitanism is an ethos of shared humanity and transnational community. It’s based on the concept of interdependence, where geographical distance is no obstacle to community. This “new” ethos fits well with the eco-sustainability movement and is creating a worldwide culture that find roots in the ancient ideals of yoga.
© 2018 Keyvan Golestaneh
Rarely studied chemical holds answers for relationship between red meat consumption and heart disease
A series of recent studies illuminate the importance of a rarely studied chemical on heart disease risk, reinforcing the relationship between red meat consumption and heart disease risk but challenging the long-held belief that this is primarily the result of saturated fat and cholesterol. This chemical is "burped" out by intestinal bacteria after people eat red meat. The liver quickly converts it to another rarely studied chemical TMAO, which enters the blood and increases heart disease risks.
An earlier study identified the substance carnitine, often found in red meat, as an unsuspected culprit in heart attacks. The carnitine was not dangerous itself; instead, the danger presented itself when intestinal bacteria metabolized it, transforming it into TMAO released into the blood.
A second study, which asked participants to eat a steak, found that a meat-eater's TMAO levels soared a few hours after eating a steak. When a vegan ate a steak, however, almost no TMAO appeared in the blood. When the meat eaters were given a dose of antibiotics to wipe out their gut bacteria, researchers found that they no longer had TMAO in their blood before or after consuming the meat, suggesting that the issue was truly a result of gut bacteria.
Later blood analyses found that TMAO levels were correlated with higher heart disease risk, independently of smoking, high cholesterol and blood pressure. Researchers theorize that TMAO allows cholesterol to enter artery walls and prevents the body from excreting excess cholesterol. These studies also call into question the safety of consuming carnitne in other forms, including energy drinks and body building supplements.
Yoga Myths and Facts
As Yoga’s popularity rapidly expands, it’s more important than ever to separate the facts from myths, so it’s real benefits are not obscured by misinformation. The myriad styles of yoga that have become popular are based on classical and hatha yoga. Although meditation and lifestyle are also part of yoga, mainstream yoga emphasizes physical and breathing practices. It is promoted as a safe effective path to health and fitness and evidence shows it is. Science defines physical fitness in terms of cardiorespiratory performance, metabolic rate (energy expenditure), and muscular performance. These can be measured and there are reliable scientific studies that reveal how yoga measures up and other health claims (see www.ConsciousHealthInstitute.org, Yoga Research Report). I’ll also share some important and little-known benefits.
Hatha Yoga literally means “violent union,” using force to bring together what is separated: the body, mind, and spirit or Self. No matter what style of yoga you practice, there is some degree of force involved, whether gentle or hard, and it can cause injury. Thanks to its popularity we are discovering more benefits as well as injuries not often discussed. The Consumer Product Safety Commission reported 29,590 injuries between 2001-2014. A survey in Finland of 110 practitioners, found 62% had injuries. The plow, shoulder and headstand, and hyper-neck extensions are the most likely to cause injury.
There is more than enough evidence, based on personal reports and scientific studies, to justify making yoga a key part of standard health care. But there are still a lot of misleading beliefs about yoga. Many in the yoga community aren’t aware of the science and basic facts and pass on accepted folklore. Yoga should align what is taught with verifiable facts. The more we know about how yoga works scientifically and the empirical evidence demonstrates its benefits, the more likely yoga will be accepted by the general public and recommended by medical professionals. The benefits of yoga—as a physical and mental therapy, and preventative practice—are far too great to ignore!
The two most commonly promoted benefits of yoga are relaxation and increased physical fitness, which include stamina, strength, and weight management. The scientific evidence supports some claims, but not all.
- Yoga not only promotes relaxation by retarding mental activity and slowing down heart rate, it paradoxically, it also excitesthe body through autonomic stimulation (Activitas Nervosa Superior, Vol. 27, 1985), and it works in a way similar to sexual stimulation!
- Yoga is sometimes promoted as a way to manage weight. To do that, it would have to speed up your metabolism. But yoga slows down the body and metabolism and can cause weight gain, not weight loss.
- It’s common to hear that yogic breathing exercises, like pranayama, increase blood oxygenation and circulation to the brain, but in fact it increases carbon dioxide, which positively alters mood, so you feel better overall.
- Yoga is promoted as a safe exercise, and when done right, it is. But yoga can also cause injuries ranging from mild to dangerous, musculoskeletal injuries to strokes. Many cases of injuries are unreported and sometimes the causes are unrecognized by physicians (International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 18, 2008; 19, 2009).
- You cannot achieve the same benefits doing yoga as aerobic exercises. Only the Sun Salutation, (a set series of linked flowing movements), comes close to producing aerobic results—it increases cardiovascular and aerobic fitness (Journal of Bodywork and Movement Therapies, Vol.15, July 2011).
- There is no official accreditation or credentialing for yoga teachers. To register with a yoga association (RYT) requires training equal to 4-6 weeks. It is not the same as an accreditation by a professional or government agency and very different from what health-care professionals must do for certification.
- Yoga is a cost-effective, low-impact exercise that promotes overall health, and can effectively treat specific health conditions ranging from physical to mental, back pain, hypertension, asthma, carpal tunnel, and depression.
- Yoga enhances right brain (creative) activity and proprioception, which helps increase awareness of what is going on inside the body.
- Yoga can help all aspects of your sex life and even more so for women! Studies show specific yoga postures increase sexual performance and pleasure. In one study, the stress hormone cortisol, dropped an average of 11% and testosterone increased 16% in men, and in women went up an amazing 55% (Human Physiology, vol. 30, no. 4, 2004)!
- One of the greatest, but underreported benefits of Yoga, is its ability to improve mood and outlook, and even more over time (Scientific Evaluation, 1937, K. Behanan). Yoga slows down mental functions, puts you in a better mood, and induces a pleasant experience of quietude. It stimulates the neurotransmitter Gaba, which behaves like an antidepressant.
- Yoga can reset chemical balance in the body and the central nervous system as it relaxes cognitive activity.
- Yoga facilitates muscle relaxation (muscle tone vs. tonus), which improves sleep (Dr. E. Jacobson Progressive Relaxation, 1938).
The best advice for new and experienced yoga practitioners is, if you have an unknown or preexisting health condition, consult a qualified health practitioner. If you have a structural body imbalance, muscle tension, or physical pain, let your instructor know about it. Do not overdo it. Always check the qualifications and experience of a teacher. Try out different yoga systems and see what fits your body and goals.
© 2018 Keyvan Golestaneh
Economic inequality and health
The documentary Unnatural Causes: Is Inequality Making Us Sick, produced in 2008 by California Newsreel and aired on PBS, challenges traditional beliefs about causes of health maladies and seeks to illuminate how socio-economic factors, primarily a lack of power and resources, can work to deteriorate humans’ health.
The documentary’s first section, titled “In Sickness and in Wealth” looks specifically at how inequality may be making us sick, beginning with the contextual fact that Americans often live shorter and sicker lives than citizens in other industrialized nations.
Though the film acknowledges that some 47 million Americans are without healthcare coverage, they also seek to reinforce the fact that our social conditions are written into our bodies, and that basic changes to humans’ economic status manifest within our bodies and our health status. This confirms the notion that personal responsibility for health is only one factor in shaping a person's wellness, and that health status has to be considered within the broader context of social determinism and a system where the richest 1 percent of people make more than the other 99 percent of people combined.
Using the town of Louisville, Kentucky, to illustrate how this relationship between class and health plays out, the documentary reveals that people living within less affluent areas of the district die three, five, and even 10 years sooner than residents living in richer districts. These observations within the United States mirror a recent British study that found that only 25 percent of the social gradient in mortality could be explained by unhealthy lifestyle choices (smoking, high blood pressure and cholesterol, being overweight, etc.)
The documentary attributes these inequalities to the policies (and lack of policies) that create inequalities in basic resources resulting in health issues (touching on civic issues such as business business zoning limitations, access to transportation and mixed-income housing.) In the United States, scholars have found that it’s fairly easy to predict someone’s age of death based merely on their zip code and their income level.
One of the reasons for this, the film explains, is the way we carry our social class in our bodies. When people feel a lack of control over life circumstances, their stress response gets activated. The brain perceives this as a threat and, in turn, releases stress hormones which increase heart rate and raise blood pressure. Over time, the body produces too much cortisol, which negatively affects the immune system and memory and their ability to handle insulin and glucose (putting people at an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes.) Thus, the higher a person’s income and education level, the less cortisol they release during the day.
Studies have also concluded that poverty during childhood can have lifelong consequences. If stress hormones rise for days or weeks at a time, this can negatively affect brain development and increase a person’s chance of current and future health problems. Additional, even when certain economic factors are more equal, non-white populations experience additional life stresses, which scholars hypothesize relates to their likelihood of being in perpetually “on guard” within discriminatory environments, and this changes biological markers and increases illness and disease within non-white populations.
The film states that social reforms can produce positive health outcomes, and that non-medical initiatives (including universal education, eight-hour workdays, better housing opportunities) can improve economic circumstances, reduce the economic gap between certain populations, and improve health. Countries like France, where the minimum wage is double the American rate, have found that when wealth is more equitably distributed, health is improved.
What's Meditation About?
If you had an amazingly useful tool or natural ability that you took for granted, wouldn’t you want to know more about it? Wouldn’t you want to intentionally use it and cultivate you ability? Most people would say “yes”! Well you do, and you can, and it’s called “awareness” or consciousness. You would neither exist nor know anything without it. We all use it everyday, but its usually goes unnoticed by people because it’s transparent and works behind the scene. It has no content. It is like an empty screen or space, where anything can appear, like a film. We live our lives preoccupied, fascinated, frustrated, happy, sad, and curious, etc. with what appears in our awareness and mind.
What if you temporarily stopped looking at what appears on the screen? What if you stopped thinking about all your interests, joys, troubles and responsibilities and quietly paid attention to only the feeling of being present and the space in which thoughts, images and objects appear? What if you just stop doing everything for 10 to 15 minutes and paid attention to awareness itself? Or what it you just focused intently on one thing? Well something both amazing and, for some frustrating, would happen. You would start to relax, but you would also start noticing how much your mind was full of thoughts and images and how it runs on automatic. It’s like a machine that keeps on going and going without you really controlling it. Many would realize how stressed they were but never knew it. All those thoughts and mental activities have a real tangible physiological impact on the body and mind. Nothing happens for free in this universe. They use energy and stimulate the nervous system. It may get frustrating to see all that activity. You may get impatient and start thinking about all the stuff you have to do or prefer to be doing besides this exercise. Either way, if you decide to stay with the exercise, over time you will discover more and more the peaceful space in which you exist as the feeling of “I am”- the Presence of awareness or consciousness itself. You’ll discover how refreshing it is to be in that space and how it actually regenerates you. Amazingly you mind will get more clarity not less. It’s like waking up in a pristine environment from a good night sleep, but even better, because it didn’t take up 7-8 hours of your time.
The exercise or practice I described is traditionally call meditation or contemplation. Meditation is an act of focusing one’s attention, or awareness, but unlike thinking, one does not actively engage the mind. There are different forms of meditation, but they all have the essential form that I have described. People can meditate using various techniques, such as focusing on or counting one’s breath, or focusing on an object or silently repeating a mantra, (a word or series of words). The process produces an alternate state of consciousness and change in physiology in a way that is deeply relaxing and centering. All humans have a natural tendency toward contemplations. Some enjoy it with little effort, like watching a beautiful sunset, scenery or the ocean waves. Others don’t take the time for it because they are too distracted with their thoughts, and daily concerns.
Meditation is by no means new—it has been used for religious and spiritual purposes for thousands of years, especially in Asian countries such as India and China, but also in the West as a form of prayer. Over the past few decades, millions more have adopted the practice of meditation. People are not using to help with stress, for emotional and mental health, and as a way of coping with physical pain and disease.
Meditation has penetrated into the popular culture, and people have started to realize its great benefits outside of its original religious intentions. More and more people are using it as because organizations, educators, medical, and health professionals are now endorsing and recommending them. Many large corporations are not only encouraging it, but are actively organizing it into their culture. Their motivation is perhaps obvious—it’s good for the bottom line. It promotes more effective performance, reduces stress, and maximizes productivity.
When you start to meditate, there is a shift in the relationship between body and mind. You start to feel the body more and become less preoccupied with the content of your mind. This produces in a sense of deep relaxation as bodily functions like breath, mind, and heart rate start to shift into slower rhythm. The result is that you feel better, more energized and relaxed. The “better feeling” is what we associate with an innate sense of happiness. In the next articles we will present some more good reasons to take up the practice of meditation or contemplation. What better way can you spend 20 minutes of your day? It can increase your productivity, energy, and happiness while decreasing your stress and your potential for dis-ease. And it’s free!
© 2017 Keyvan Golestaneh
Studies continue to demonstrate the health benefits of a Mediterranean diet
Health practitioners have been paying increased attention to what’s known as a Mediterranean diet as more studies continue to demonstrate its wide-reaching health benefits, including cardiovascular health and healthy lung function.
The Mediterranean diet, marked by a high intake of healthy fats found in extra-virgin olive oil and fish, fruits, vegetables, and only occasional consumption of dairy products, meat, and sweets, and earns its name from its popularity in countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea.
Previous studies have established the heart health benefits of the diet, which has been ranked as the diet most likely to protect people from coronary heart disease. A new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine explores the results of a trial that compared the cardiovascular benefits of an extra-virgin olive oil heavy Mediterranean diet (meaning participants consumed approximately one liter of the oil a week), a nut-heavy Mediterranean diet (where participants consumed approximately 30 ounces of a combination of walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds each week), and a standard low-fat diet. Participants were issued no caloric restriction or promotion of physical activity.
Both Mediterranean diet groups resulted in “a substantial reduction in the risk of major cardiovascular events among high-risk persons,” with slightly increased risk reduction in the extra-virgin olive oil heavy group. The study also confirms previous research findings that suggest a traditional low-fat Western diet does not produce cardiovascular benefits.
Another study in the journal Thorax found that children who consume a Mediterranean diet tend to exhibit a lower risk for wheezing and asthma. Conversely, the authors did find a correlation between tri-weekly consumption of hamburgers and elevated risk for asthma, which may also suggest that certain diet elements can represent lifestyle elements that may also be at play in health issues.
Most of us have heard of massage, physical therapy and chiropractors, but not other therapeutic methods such as others like Cranial-sacral, Structural therapy. Massage comes in many different styles, from well-known Swedish, Sports and Thai massage to lesser known systems like neuromuscular. Osteopathy and Chiropractic are similar in many ways. Chiropractor generally works on the spine and joints, not much on muscles and soft tissue. They do very specific adjustments of joints using quick forced movements. Osteopaths also do adjustments, but are more global in orientation and work on other parts of the body as well. They tend to use slower gentler more repetitive movements and also work on soft tissue. Sometimes practitioners mix different approaches. I use the term “bodywork” as a generic term that encompasses these different approaches. Different forms of bodywork have developed over the past three decades. It can be confusing for people. I’ll try to bring some order and understanding to this landscape.
All forms of bodywork involve some degree of touch and manual manipulation. Although Pilates and Yoga work with the body, I do include them here. Different forms of bodywork have fundamental similarities, but they have different goals, and they look and work with the body differently as well. As a health consumer, it is good to know the differences and your goals before you select one. Instead of contrasting these methods, I will explain on how use them. You can understand bodywork through these four categories: Relaxation, Fixing, Management and Transformation.
We intuitively know the positive effects of touch. It’s a biological and social need. Touch and hands-on work is the essence of all bodywork. Touch and manual manipulation in the right hands can be a powerful healing tool. It can relax muscular tension, relieve pain and positively impact your whole being. Infants and children need it for social bonding, emotional growth and brain development. Science is gradually discovering the physiological mechanism involved in touch-chemistry and the relaxation-response, and how the body interfaces with the mind and emotions. We can now explain how it affects different systems in the body. Our skin, the largest organ in the body acts as an emotional receptor. There are pressure-receptors under the skin (Pacinian corpuscles) that send signals to the brain and Vagus nerve which has branches through the body including to key organs like the heart. Touch decreases the stress-released hormone Cortisol, and increases the hormone-neuropeptide, Oxytocin. Oxytocin creates a felt-sense of trust and connectedness, which facilitates communication and bonding. It is the biological foundation of connecting. [Foot note: Oxytocin directly effects the Orbital Frontal Cortex in the same area of the brain that responds positively to pleasing smells and sweet tastes like chocolate!] The heart rate slows down, you feel calm and relaxed, as the central nervous system balances. Touch can also help strengthen the immune system. Once the nervous system relaxes, the whole body responds and sets the stage for physical and emotional healing.
Hands-on-work is more than just for relaxing tight muscle but can heal trauma, pain and functional disorders. Many people are recommended medically imaging (MRI and Ultrasound) to discover what their physical disorders are, but that does not always correlate to cause. You can be given a medical diagnosis of tendinitis or bursitis, but the specialist may not know where the symptoms originate, only where the pain is. A medical image doesn’t explain the problem. Even when you have a picture of the locations you don’t know how to treat it. A physician who finds a problem in the image, and a positive clinical test may refer you for surgery even though it’s not necessary, and in many cases, will not help! A torn ligament or tear isn’t necessarily the cause, and in many cases it can be treated with the right kind of bodywork and exercise. That’s very good news. Due to the integrated complexity of the body, physical special testing may not be able to determine the cause. The bottom line is, tissue damage doesn’t correlate imaging and symptoms origins, and conventional medicine doesn’t usually know that bodywork can help or which to recommend.
People seek out bodywork for various reasons, like a pulled muscles, chronic pain, or for relaxation. Some approaches work only locally and others view the problem from a global body perspective. A global perspective is always preferable. The first two categories, relaxation and fixing are the most commonly used approaches. “Fixing” is what conventional medicine and some forms of bodywork do. They identify a problem and a diagnosis may or may not be given, followed by actions to deal with the symptoms. This can involve different degrees of touch and/or manipulation of the body. The “relaxation” approach can be used to feel “better” without addressing any particular symptoms or as an adjunct to other therapies. But relaxation itself can facilitate healing because it balances the nervous system which consequently allows the body to self-correct itself. In conventional Medicine medication or surgery is used; bodywork takes a hands-on approach. Despite popular opinion, clinical evidence shows that bodywork can be more effective and safer than conventional medicine. Even a stomachache can be alleviated using pressure points, no need for antacids. Physicians usually prescribe painkillers for pain, muscle tension and pulled muscles. That only hides the symptoms and does nothing for the pulled muscles. It ignores the underlying cause. People end up seeking some form of bodywork or physical therapy. That’s a much better idea because you’re no longer only hiding the symptoms using drugs, which have toxic side effects. Working directly on the body can alleviate the pain by directly fixing it. But participation is still usually passive, and you rely on the skill and proficiency of the practitioner.
Most people don’t want to go through invasive procedures typical of conventional biomedicine. What role do you play in the process of getting help using bodywork? How do you participate? Some people are passive participants, but you can also be an active agent in your healing process. For this learning and self-education come into play. The practitioner should help empowering you. This manner of working goes beyond temporary relief, by facilitating transformative change. You don’t only need to rely on the practitioner because you can learn how to work with the underlying causes that created the problem. To go beyond the “fixing” approach you not only look at where the pain is, but where it is coming from-the root causes. Where is the pain and muscular tension coming from? Why do I still have poor posture? These are some of the question you might ask. For transformation to happen some form of self-education is required. That might involve exercises, lifestyle changes, changes in posture, dietary changes, and even psychological work. The problem isn’t just temporarily relieved (“I feel better now”), nor do you only find a way to avoid it (“don’t play tennis”) but you discover a structural imbalance (hip rotation) and/or what psychological patterns are involved (difficulty handling stress and/of confrontation). These are only some examples.
In “managing”, the practitioner becomes a guide as well a hands-on technician. You find out what the problem is, how to learn live with it, and manage it. This is the next step in learning self-reliance, which can minimize your reliance on therapy and expanses. The process can involve behavioral changes and exercise, like strengthening and yoga. This approach is especially effective for chronic and recurring conditions. This requires a lot of information and experience in a wider range of disciplines about how the body works and interacts with the mind. This is a step in the direction of holistic approach. You can deal both directly with the problem and help prevent it from recurring in the future. This leads into the next category of “transformation”, which offers a great deal more possibilities. The transformative approach requires a lot more commitment on your part and more knowledge on the part of the practitioner. Here we discover a lot about ourselves, our abilities and limitations, and how our life-style affect’s our health issues. I’ve found that people who have long-term chronic health problems often have to turn to this approach. They haven’t found solutions for change. This demonstrates some of the ideals of holistic medicine. The body, mind, emotions and life are not considered separately but looked at as an integrated dynamic whole. You can discover the functional problem, the structural imbalances and possibly unhealed physical and psychological traumas that have remained hidden before. This kind of work requires extensive training and knowledge. Be cautious of practitioners going beyond their training and qualifications. The practitioner acts as a facilitator not only as a “fixer”. Transformation happens on a deeper level and major life changes sometime follow. Health and physical problem can resolve because change happens in the whole person. I always recommend that you identify what your problem is, the possible underlying causes, and the options for solving it. Then you need to determine what your goals are. Afterwards you can find the right type of bodywork you need. In the long run this is the most empowering approach to your health.
© 2017 Keyvan Golestaneh
Study links aspirin use with age-related macular degeneration
A recent study has shown a link between regular aspirin use and an increased risk of age-related macular degeneration.
The study followed nearly 2,400 Australians ages 49 and older and found that those routinely using aspirin were more likely to develop one form of macular degeneration, which causes vision loss.
In the study, retinal examinations were conducted every five years. Researchers found that the risk of neovascular, or “wet,” macular degeneration increased with reported aspirin use. Incidence of the disease was 2.2 percent in nonusers versus 2.9 percent in occasional users and 5.8 percent in routine users. (No link was found between aspirin and the more common, or “dry,” form of macular degeneration.)
Data also showed that the risk was four times greater in people with cardiovascular disease, a condition for which an aspirin regimen is a common -- and effective -- treatment. The study’s authors looked at the influence of other some health conditions, as well as other medications often taken by aspirin users, and found no link.
The study’s authors warn, however, that the evidence is not sufficient to prove that taking aspirin causes macular degeneration. Authors pointed out that the risk was relatively small (under 4 percent over 15 years) and stressed that the benefits of aspirin use are likely to outweigh the risks, except for people at very high risk for macular degeneration.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in Europe and the United States and according to the European Heart Journal (August 2014) is estimated to account for 29-30% of deaths worldwide. One study (J. Family Practice, July 2011) reported that more than 70 percent of U.S. women and men between the ages of 60 and 79 have cardiovascular disease. Cardiovascular disease is defined as a disorder of the heart and circulatory system, but is not a single disease. Coronary heart disease is the most common and preventable heart condition. It is caused by atherosclerosis, defined as a narrowing of the blood vessels that supply oxygen and blood to the heart. Other types of common heart disease include hypertension (high blood pressure), and atrial fibrillation (arrhythmias or abnormal heart rhythm).
The heart isn’t just a physical organ that pumps blood; it is the master organ of the human body and the center of emotional and spiritual life. Using a “holistic” or “integral” health and medical model, we can provide a more comprehensive and practical understanding of the heart that goes beyond a biomedical model. In this series of articles I will explore the powerful role that diet, emotions, exercise, and lifestyle choices play in keeping you and you heart healthy.1
Basic Facts: why you should pay attention
According to the Center for Disease Control, each year 785,000 Americans have their first heart attack and at least 470,000 people who have had at least one attack will have another. When considering medical services, medications and lost productivity, heart attacks were estimated to cost more than $316 billion in 2010. Heart disease does not discriminate. It is a leading killer for men, women and all major ethnic groups. Signs and symptoms of heart disease differ between men and woman, and it is sometimes unrecognized in women.
Though men and women are equally at risk for heart disease, a recent survey found that 36% of women did not consider themselves at risk, even though heart disease killed one in four women in 2006. Men are at greater risk for sudden cardiac events, comprising 70 – 80% of those attacks. A 2009 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, found that women are often more frequently diagnosed with the disease, but men experience it more extensively and have worse long-term survival rates. The National Health Institute reports that half of the men who die of coronary heart disease had no previous symptoms. “Sudden cardiac death” (SCD) may be the first time you have any symptoms of heart disease! That’s why it’s important to have regular check-ups and eat a heart-healthy diet. The good news is that the most common types of heart disease are preventable and reversible 100%, naturally.
Though the disease has slightly different consequences across genders, preventable heart disease risk factors for men and women are the same, and the CDC reports that nine out of 10 heart disease patients have at least one risk factor. These include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarette smoking, being overweight or obese (especially in the midsection or abdominal area where waist-to-hip ratio is key), poor diet, physical inactivity and heavy alcohol use. Heart disease can even be correlated to erectile dysfunction in men.
The import role of Cholesterol
Most of us have heard about cholesterol. Cholesterol is medically recognized as one of the principle risk factors in heart disease, but it is not the only one. C-Reactive protein (CRP) levels which indicates the level of inflammation in the body, is the other key factor, but is less well known. Cholesterol is a fatty-like natural substance produced in the body that is essential to cell function and certain hormone production. Cholesterol is produced in the body. Unfortunately too much LDL (low-density) cholesterol, commonly found in saturated animals fats, can create health problems. By learning the breakdown of the different types of cholesterol and triglycerides (stored fats-lipid) in your body you can have a clearer awareness of your risk factors. Generally speaking the lower the cholesterol the better. To know your current heart health state you need to know the breakdown of the different types of cholesterol and triglycerides (stored fats-lipid) in your body.
Cholesterol, which does not dissolve in blood, travels through the blood attached to a protein known as a lipoprotein. There are two types of lipoproteins: low-density (LDL) and high-density (HDL). LDL is often called “bad” cholesterol because it contributes to plaque build up on the arterial walls. HDL, sometimes called “good” cholesterol helps get rid of the LDL in your blood (for more details see www.conscioushealthinstitute.org). LDL cholesterol particles are generally small and dense. They are frequently associated with low HDL cholesterol levels, elevated triglyceride levels, and the tendency to develop high blood sugar levels and type II diabetes.
As cholesterol plaques grow they block blood flow in the arteries. A cholesterol plaque may at some point suddenly rupture. This results in a blood clot that forms over the broken tissue, which can eventually cause a heart attack or stroke.
Statins are the most commonly prescribed treatment for lowering cholesterol. Despite commonly accepted opinion among biomedical physicians and public, they are not necessary for lowering cholesterol levels and cause serious side effects in the body. Diet is a key factor in heart disease since cholesterol is found in animal and dairy products. Its kinds and levels can be directly linked to diet, making diet a key factor in heart health. In our next article we will explore further the role of diet in the prevention and treatment of heart disease.
In Part 1 of Heart Health, I discussed the critical role that cholesterol and inflammation (CRP) play in your heart’s health. Their levels are related to what we eat. There are enough reliable nutritional studies to confidently say which diets prevent or even reverse heart disease and which promote it. Coronary heart disease (CHD) or arteriosclerosis, diabetes, hypertension, obesity, dementia and even erectile dysfunction are all related to each other. They all share a common underlying condition, which is preventable and treatable through diet. Refined sugars and refined carbohydrates, which convert easily to sugar, and cholesterol imbalance are the principle sources of the most common health problems in Western countries. Cultures and societies with low rates of heart disease have a heart healthy diet and more active lifestyles.
Data point to the fact that the lower the quantity of animal products in your diet the lower your chances of heart disease. A plant-centered diet has low levels of bad LDL cholesterol and is the most effective primary prevention for heart disease (J. Am. Acad. Nurse Practitioners, 2010). According to the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2011), there is a 34% lower risk of CHD for those with diets higher in fruits and vegetables.
What is popularly known as the Mediterranean diet can cut the rate of CHD by as much as 70%. The key ingredients that make this diet effective are an increase in veggies, nuts, and olives and the elimination of processed foods and sugars and low animal fat consumption. Research and statistics clearly show that a plant-based or plant-centered diet high in fiber, low in saturated and trans fats (solid at room temperature) and sugar is optimal for keeping the heart healthy. A diet that emphasizes vegetables, legumes, fruits, unrefined whole grains and nuts is optimal. Nuts in particular show an amazing ability to reverse plaque progression in arteries and cut the risk of strokes (PREDIMED, 2014) For people who do not want to eat a plant-based diet, reduce the amount of red and white meat and eggs and instead eat fish with larger portions of vegetables, legumes, nuts and fruits.
Omega fatty acids play a key role in cell and hormonal function. One in particular, omega-3 fatty acid, helps reduce the presence of cardiovascular disease and inflammation and increases good HDL cholesterol while reducing LDL cholesterol. It is only available from certain food sources. Omega-3 is found in higher concentration in fish, like sardines, salmon, trout, cod and krill. For vegetarians and vegans, there are non-animal sources of omega-3, like flax and chia seeds, almonds, walnuts, aglae, mache, and olives. A 2010 study (Pmed) found that increasing polyunsaturated fat (found in vegetables like soybeans and olives) in place of saturated and trans fats from animals, results in a significant decrease in instances of heart disease.
Being overweight (particularly a large waist size) or obese is a significant risk factor for CHD as well as diabetes. Eating a low calorie diet and getting enough exercise is critical. In addition to helping maintain a healthy weight, apples, almonds, walnuts, chickpeas, grapes, and blueberries stand out as particularly beneficial for the heart. Refined flour and sugar can cause weight gain, glucose and insulin imbalances and inflammation, which creates the perfect conditions for heart disease and diabetes. Uncontrolled blood sugar levels found in diabetics, increases the risk of heart disease. The American Heart Association estimates that at least 65% of diabetics die of some sort of heart or blood vessel disease.
People who ate soy, nuts and certain fibers were able to lower their cholesterol levels more than those who ate a diet low in saturated fat, thus further lowering the risk of heart disease and stroke (JAMA, 2011). Flavonoids (phytonutrients and antioxidants), found in fruits and vegetables are especially high in onions, citrus, green tea, berries, red grapes and wine, dark greens and chocolate, have a particularly beneficial effect on the heart. This is good news for chocolate lovers, if you eat chocolate with high coco levels and low sugar. Flavonoids can enhance the function of the lining of blood vessels and inhibit cellular inflammation in ways that exceed other compounds.
For maximum heart health, avoid foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, palm oil, cholesterol, and high-sodium. These are often found in large quantities in processed or packaged and junk foods. Most people consume nearly double the sodium they need, and many packaged foods and restaurants use higher than healthy quantities. High sodium also contributes to hypertension. The average person could easily cut their sodium intake by half and would benefit greatly and not miss it.
A healthy diet doesn’t need to be boring or difficult to achieve. You don’t need statin medication to lower bad cholesterol. Start with small changes, and your body will adapt. There are many more dietary options available now than in the past. Businesses and restaurants are changing to fit the needs of healthy-wise consumers.
© Keyvan Golestaneh 2017
1 All suggestions made are general and provisional. Health decisions should be based your unique needs and condition in consultation with a trained medical professional.
Faulty research, biased studies may have helped fuel lax painkiller policy -- and resulting addiction epidemic
Source: The Washington Post
Nearly 2 million Americans are addicted to prescription painkillers, federal statistics show. And a Washington Post investigation alleges that drug companies have helped fuel the nation’s epidemic of addiction.
Dependence on drugs such as OxyContin, Vicodin and Percocet is more widespread than addiction to cocaine and heroin. A recent examination of medical research, court documents and proceedings of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration found that over the past few decades the risk of addiction to these types of medications was often underreported. Meanwhile, retail prescriptions for the drugs, used to treat chronic pain, have tripled in the last 20 years.
The article reports that, in some cases, the incidence of withdrawal symptoms in pain patients was not fully disclosed by drug manufacturers. Reporters also found widespread use of studies that were funded by the drug companies themselves. And the FDA may not have looked closely enough for reliable data on addiction, consulting physicians and experts who were paid by drug companies. As a result of this information, which downplayed the concerns over painkiller abuse, opioid policy in the United States was relaxed -- and some experts blame this misinformation for the current prescription-drug crisis.
Effects of the brown rice diet on cardio-visceral system
Two studies suggest that brown rice may be a good choice for those with type 2 diabetes and related risk factors.
2013’s two-part “BRAVO study” focused mainly on men with metabolic syndrome (multiple high risk factors for cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes). In part 1, compared to those who ate white rice, those who ate brown rice experienced less of an increase in blood glucose and insulin. In part 2, brown rice helped men lower their cholesterol, become less insulin-resistant, and lose weight over an 8-week period—but they gained the weight back after switching to white rice.
In a 2016 study, type 2 diabetes patients who ate a brown-rice-based vegan diet for 12 weeks experienced better blood-sugar control than those who ate a conventional diet recommended by the Korean Diabetes Association.
Americans dying younger when compared to other nations
Although our country spends more on health care than other industrialized nations, Americans are experiencing more illnesses and a slowing life expectancy compared to international peers.
The finding is based on 2011 research by the National Research Council comparing health outcomes in the United States and 16 other wealthy democracies.
America has the highest per-capita spending on health care, and performs well on cancer survival rates as well as blood-pressure and cholesterol levels. But since the 1980s, researchers found, life expectancy in America is slowing at a faster rate than in other countries. The United States has poorer outcomes related to infant mortality, AIDS, heart disease, homicides, teen pregnancy, drug-related deaths, obesity and disabilities.
Although the fragmented American health system can account for some of the poor performance, it can’t take all of the blame: even insured people are sicker than their peers around the globe.
Other factors contribute to the disparity, such as our prevalence of smoking, drinking and poor eating habits -- despite widespread awareness that these behaviors are unhealthy. The United States also has a weaker social “safety net” and a high-stress society that discourages physical activity with a reliance on cars, researchers say.
To Supplement, or not to Supplement?
Yes, in some cases, but in many cases, no. There is no definitive answer, because each person is different with different needs. In general, clinical evidence shows that it’s best to get your nutritional needs from the food you eat. Health and nutritional supplements have skyrocketed in popularity. The variety of available products and contradictory information about them can be very confusing to health consumers.
As life expectancy increases, and older adults look for ways to remain active at they age, supplements have become more popular. Since traditional biomedicine isn’t keeping up with the research, people typically look to the market place and popular media for answers. The health supplement industry is growing rapidly due to higher demand and the marketing of more diverse natural and synthetic remedies. There is also an expanding wealth of knowledge about how the body functions and ages. The nutraceutical industry uses this information to create new products, whether they work or not. In addition to lifestyle changes, people are turning to natural supplements to treat illness and disease. Everything from mineral and vitamins, to lesser known compounds like enzymes, phytochemicals and hundreds of exotic herbal supplements have entered the market place.
It’s important to also consider the scientific and clinical evidence about the health claims of these products. It’s also important to look at the proper use of supplements. Pharmacies and health food stores usually don’t have trained expects who can provide you with accurate information and recommendations. With the internet, you can find more information than you could possible read. But how do you even know which information is accurate? The National Institute of Health concluded that there isn’t enough evidence for many of the claims of preventive or curative powers of supplements. That’s why it’s important to do research before using a supplement. Ideally, it’s best to consult a trained health care professional in the use of nutritional dietary and herbal supplements.
Let’s look at the evidence for a few well-known popular supplements. Vitamin D supplements are helpful when deficiency is present, especially if you don’t get a lot of sunlight. Vitamin D is helpful in preventing fractures and in strengthening the immune system. Another commonly recommended supplement, especially for woman, is calcium. But there is considerable evidence against taking calcium supplements. The body must be able to absorb the calcium, which requires other minerals, like magnesium. You can get more bio-available calcium form broccoli and dark leafy greens like spinach, than you can from a supplement or dairy products. An analysis of 15 studies showed that calcium supplementation resulted in a 30% increase in heart attack risk (JCEM, 3/2015). That’s one example of the down side of taking a supplement, which most people assume is safe.
B12, a bacterium, not a vitamin, is an essential nutrient, which some people may be beneficial to take. It is especially critical for vegetarians and vegans, but also for some meat-eaters. Deficiencies in people, especially over 50, can negatively affect muscle function, brain, and nervous system health. A blood test can determine if you need B12 supplementation. Essential fatty acids (omega oils) have become quite popular. Fish oil is marketed as good source of omega oils, but there are also non-animal alternatives like flax and chia seeds that are just as good, without any negative side effects. A 2013 study of over 12,000 people determined that there is no preventative effect from fish oil supplementation for heart attacks (PT., 9/2013). Animal studies on turmeric show promise for turmeric as an antioxidant, anti-inflammatory supplement. No studies have shown any benefit from glucosamine-chondroitin supplementation for joint and arthritis pain. Previously considered safe, vitamin E supplementation has recently been found to increase prostate cancer risk in men and that selenium supplementation was found to increase the risk of developing diabetes (J. Natl. Cancer Inst, 2/2014; Nutrition J., 2/2015). The history of supplements shows that it is prudent to be cautious about what you take.
For some, it may not be possible to meet all your nutritional needs through diet. Fertilized farming has cause soil depletion resulting in lower mineral and vitamin content in fruits and vegetables. Minerals are under-emphasized in nutrition. For some taking a mineral supplement might be advisable; ionic minerals solutions are the most absorbable.
The general rule of thumb is if you feel healthy and vital and have no known health problems or deficiencies, you don’t need to take vitamins and health supplements. But how do you know if you have a deficiency? The best way to find out if you have any deficiencies is to get a blood test. Many people see information about dietary and health supplements and take them based on advertisement, self-diagnosis or wishful thinking. It’s better to find out for sure. If you have a specific medical condition, supplementing your diet with specific supplements may be the way to go.
It is best to consult a trained professional about what supplements you need, rather than following market trends and advertisement. If you choose to take vitamins, look for “food-based” supplements. Whole food supplements are more bio-available. Just because it says “natural” doesn’t mean it is food-based. The more a supplement is in its natural food matrix, the more bio-available it will be. If the body can’t absorb a substance, it won’t be much help. Don’t throw your money away by taking non food-based vitamins supplements.
Take what you really need, and get reliable information. This way you’ll not only save money, but you won’t run the risk of taking something that may do more harm then good. Be skeptical of potentially misleading advertisements, popular media, internet memes and health fads. The so-called “green” health industry is not immune to marketing trends and misinformation.
© 2017 Keyvan Golestaneh
A second study identified some bias in infants, however. First, infants were asked to pick one of two snacks. Then, two puppets were shown enjoying one of the two snacks. Those same puppets were then used in a skit that once again featured "nice" and "mean" behavior. When the puppet perceived as "different" from the babies due to snack preference was treated in a mean fashion, the infants showed support for his attacker following the show, suggesting that the infants preferred those puppets who harmed "the other."
The scholars trace this internal bias to our species' evolution via natural selection. The researchers say that human infants are predisposed to divide the world into "us" and "them" categories.
Studies of older children suggest that society and parental nurturing can reduce this bias in children and that by the age of eight, generosity blooms and children in lab studies are likely to consider the needs of unknown others as equal, if not greater, than their own.
How You Cook Makes a Difference
Source: J Am Diet Assoc. 2010 Jun
In the past, studies of diet focused on nutrition (what we eat), but recent research strongly suggests that food preparation (how we eat), including preservative methods, has health effects as significant as the food itself. Glycation is a normal metabolic process that binds sugars to proteins or fats, but when the pool of Advanced Glycation End-products (AGEs) becomes excessive in blood and tissues, serious problems can result. Dietary AGEs (dAGEs) are also known as glycotoxins and have been implicated in the inception and progress of chronic diseases such as diabetes, atherosclerosis, and kidney disease. Many foods, particularly animal-based foods (meat and dairy), are already rich in dAGEs, but the way we prepare them is key—dAGEs increase with broiling, grilling, roasting, searing, and frying, but decrease with stewing, boiling, and steaming. Dry heat makes the difference. Because many modern food preservation techniques involve dry heat, large numbers of dAGEs may be present even before the food is actually cooked, giving some consumers a double dose of these glycotoxins.
Experiments explore children's sense of fairness
Source: CBS news
A Yale psychologist recently conducted a series of studies to better understand children's sense of fairness. In her experiments, Dr. Kristina Olson asks children how to divide up an uneven amount of chocolate bars between two children (themselves and a hypothetical other.) When the option is to give the extra bar to one of the two children or throw it away, the children tend to throw the bar away.
Olson began to wonder if part of this was linked to the child's social desire to be perceived as nice or fair. So she devised a second set-up during which a second researcher snuck an extra candy bar to the children when the experiment conductor was out of the room. In this case, when they didn't think they'd get caught, the children were much more likely to accept the extra piece of candy.
Transplant Rejection Drug Benefits
Much of biology is about communication between body systems. Key among these is the autoimmune system, the body’s way of recognizing and disposing of potentially dangerous “alien” cells. But the autoimmune system also attempts to “protect” the body against intentional medical interventions, such as organ transplants, which may be attacked as if they were invading cells. The medication Rapamycin was developed to suppress autoimmune response to organ transplantation, but since its discovery, its molecular target, “mTOR” (mechanistic Target Of Rapamycin), has been identified as a key regulator of metabolic communication, promoting or inhibiting the reproduction of genes that control carbohydrate metabolism and production of fats. These mTORs also aid in the production of proteins that inhibit the autoimmune process known as autophagy (when autoimmune cells “eat” cells they recognize as “alien invaders”). Thus, Rapamycin and similar inhibitors may not only prevent transplant rejection, but they have the potential to treat obesity and various forms of cancer, extending human lifespans.
Study analyzes effectiveness of acupuncture treatment for chronic pain treatment
Acupuncture as a treatment for pain was developed by the Chinese and has been practiced for thousands of years. But does it work? A new study suggests pain relief provided by the ancient treatment is both real and a result of the placebo effect. Researchers studied 29 clinical trials involving about 18,000 people who suffered from chronic pain. All of the trials compared real acupuncture treatments with either traditional pain management methods or with “sham” acupuncture, where needles were inserted randomly.
The study found genuine acupuncture had a 50% effectiveness rate in terms of managing pain compared with a 43% rating for sham acupuncture and a 30% rating for treatment as usual. The fact that genuine acupuncture performed so much better than treatment as usual suggests acupuncture helps relieve pain. However, since the sham acupuncture was only slight less effective than the real thing, some of the benefit may mean patients are influenced by the placebo effect: they feel less pain because they expect the treatment to work.
Although the jury is still out on the extent of the placebo influence, experts say they will continue to recommend acupuncture because it works.
Source: JAMA August 01, 2016
This study analyzed data from more than 130,000 participants over 32 years to identify associations of different animal and plant protein sources with risks for mortality. After they adjusted for dietary and lifestyle factors, researchers found that higher animal protein intake was associated with higher risk for mortality, particularly from cardiovascular disease, while higher consumption of plant protein was associated with lower mortality from all causes. These associations were true only for participants with at least one of the following risk factors: smoking, heavy alcohol intake, obesity, and physical inactivity.
When participants substituted plant protein for animal protein, their mortality risk decreased, especially when the participant had been a heavy consumer of processed red meat. Overall, the reduction of processed red meat consumption showed a much stronger association with reduced mortality than reduction of fish and poultry consumption. When protein was substituted for other nutrients (for example, carbohydrates), the source of that protein appeared to be even more important. It is clear that the choice of protein sources may be a key determinant in health outcomes and that public health recommendations should emphasize improvement of protein sources.
Is oversensitivity towards microbes actually hurting us?
Source: artstechnica.com, October 2012
Physical health is dependent on the immune system because it prevents pathogens (bacteria, viruses, and parasites) from taking over, protecting the body against disease and organic disintegration. The sophisticated human immune system adapts and strengthens through exposure to new and different pathogens. This is called acquired immunity.
The world humans evolved in is very different from developed "western-style" societies. Today, there is a rise in new autoimmune diseases and allergies partly because excessive sanitation and hygiene is preventing our immune system from being exposed to a variety of pathogens.
A new book, An Epidemic of Absence: A New Way of Understanding Allergies and Autoimmune Diseases (Moises Velasquez-Manoff), has raised many questions about the recent trend of avoiding microbes and how detrimental it may be to the immune system.
In the book, the author decides to ingest hookworms in order to alleviate some disorders that have been following him since his youth. Parasitic worms seem to be regulators of the immune system and have been known to help control many things including multiple sclerosis, and asthma.
The author’s symptoms were relieved, adding support to the theory that the growing trend of sanitation and cleanliness can play a large factor in the efficiency of the immune system for the rest of the population. The “hygiene hypothesis,” the theory of immune cells getting confused in the absence of dangerous bacteria and begin attacking harmless stimuli, can be shown in the populations of less developed countries.
Since this obsessive sanitation is not an option in these countries, their immune systems are constantly fighting the bad bacteria and leave the beneficial bacteria alone. The author stresses that it is important to closely monitor how microbes are treated in an effort to not damage the immune system, leaving one’s health at a higher risk than it was before.
Source: J Intern Med. 2016 Mar 16
Should we seek out sunlight or avoid it? A Swedish study shows that sun exposure confers both risks and benefits. The effects of sunshine vary with skin pigmentation, season, and physical distance from the equator. In Sweden, a region that receives little sunlight for more than half the year, women who spent more time in the sun were at lower risk for cardiovascular disease but showed an increased risk for skin cancer (investigators assessed the increased risk as approximately the same as that from smoking).
The study’s authors also discussed how regional and seasonal variations in sun exposure, melanin production, and vitamin D may contribute to risk factors for diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and cardiovascular disease. They concluded that ultraviolet exposure may have different effects on different health issues. Because of this, they question the uncritical use of sunscreen, noting that over-reliance on sunblockers may paradoxically lead to overexposure to the sun and an increased risk for skin cancer.
Fat-storing protein predicts development of metabolic syndrome independent of obesity
Source: PubMed.gov, August 2012
A new study has found that leptin, a protein that regulates fat storage in the body, can be used to identify the development of metabolic syndrome (MS) independent of baseline body mass index (BMI). MS is a term used to describe an array of several cardiovascular risk factors including dyslipidemia, glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, and hypertension. Though obesity increases the risk of developing the syndrome, it is not necessary or sufficient to cause it. The study aimed to prove the hypothesis that leptin may predict the development of the syndrome.
The study used a pool of volunteers whose measurements of leptin as well as the other causes of MS were available at five and 10 years. Leaders of the study combined the five factors of MS with the measurements of leptin to create a MS summary score. The results proved that baseline levels of leptin can identify the development of MS independently of baseline BMI.
Source: Br J Nutr. 2014 Nov; 112(10)
Motivations guide real-world dietary choices and lead to different health consequences. We all know that not all vegetarians are alike: there are vegans, lacto-ovo-vegetarians, pesco-vegetarians, and so-called flexitarians. They may have different primary motivations for being vegetarian, including ethical, health, ecological, or religious concerns. But only some vegetarian patterns are associated with reduced consumption of added fats, sweets, snack foods, and refined grains; cultural motivations are still influential in dietary choice. An example would be a vegetarian whose primary motivation is to decrease animal suffering. This hypothetical person will consume more plant foods and less meat than a non-vegetarian but may not avoid soft drinks and snacks that contain added fats, sweets, and refined grains. When evaluating scientific information about the health effects of vegetarian diets, we should keep the motivations of the study population in mind. While all vegetarians will avoid the consumption of meat, their motivation for doing so influences their choice of foods, which in turn influences the nutritional consequences of their diet.
Studies show exercise may not be enough for weight loss
Two recent studies have attempted to rectify the winded debate surrounding why many can't lose weight with a regular workout regimen.
Anthropologists leading one of the studies recruited members of the Hadza tribe in Tanzania who survive primarily by hunting and gathering. Equipping them with GPS units and water containing tracers, the scientists were able to record the tribe people’s metabolic rate and energy expenditure. They then compared these numbers to those of the average Western person. They found that, though the members of the Hadza tribe were far more active, their metabolic rate was about the same as an average Westerner. The study concluded that a lower calorie diet will yield better weight-loss results than exercising regularly. Active lifestyles may not protect against obesity if diets change to promote increased caloric consumption.
A second study delved deeper into the subject, claiming that exercise does not speed up one's metabolism and may even slow it down. The study claimed that even the most in-depth studies that monitored exercise, food intake and metabolic rates found that many volunteers’ basal metabolic rates dropped as they lost weight, even with regular exercise. The new study produced a new weight-loss formula that takes into account a dropping metabolic rate. Working with a group of volunteers, researchers are now able to provide a more accurate prediction of how much weight a volunteer can expect to lose.
This study systematically reviewed original breast cancer research published in English over the last decade in order to assess the role specific foods and nutrients may play in breast cancer risk. High alcohol intake was widely and clearly recognized as one of the factors most consistently associated with breast cancer risk. Some studies suggested that soy food intake decreased risk, while there was no clear association between breast cancer risk and dietary carbohydrates and fiber. There was limited evidence for a causal relationship between the consumption of fruits and vegetables and breast cancer risk, so no specific conclusions could be reached from the literature on that subject. Similarly, there were contradictory findings about the relationship between breast cancer and different types of dietary fat, so further studies on that relationship are necessary. The authors concluded that even though diet seems to be modestly associated with breast cancer risk, more studies are required to determine specifics.
Study suggests childhood neglect can be damaging to brain development
Research is mounting that childhood neglect is even more damaging than previously believed. A study of 21-day-old mice that were isolated for two weeks suggests the mice grew up to be anti-social and have memory deficits. Researchers found changes in the physical changes brains of the mice after they reached adolescence, especially in the area of the brain that affects personality and cognition.
The study backs up a growing body of research that suggests neglect at an early age can have damaging and long-term consequences for children, because social stimulation is important for brain development. Children raised in orphanages or who were neglected by parents have possessed similar patterns of changes in brain regions.
In addition to developing drug therapies to help reverse the effects of neglect, researchers say society must find ways to help children at risk by addressing policies such as maternity and paternity leave, providing more resources for single parents as well as monitoring the conditions of orphanages more closely.
In a study related to obesity and chronic diseases, investigators compared nutrient intake in people with several different dietary patterns: non-vegetarian, semi-vegetarian, pesco-vegetarian, lacto-ovo-vegetarian, and strict vegetarian. People’s intake was roughly similar among the dietary patterns (about 2,000 calories per day), with the exception of semi-vegetarians, who had a slightly lower consumption of calories. Non-vegetarians had the lowest intake of plant proteins, fiber, and beta carotene, and they also consumed the most saturated (and other) fatty acids, which are associated with higher rates of vascular disease. Vegetarians had a higher intake of fiber in the form of fiber-rich foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts, which have been associated with lower rates of several chronic diseases; however, a portion of the strict vegetarians seemed to be consuming inadequate amounts of some nutrients. Non-vegetarians also displayed higher average body mass indices (BMIs), while strict vegetarians had lower BMIs overall.
Source: J Acad Nutr Diet. 2013 Dec
Fecal matter transplant cures bacterial infection
Source: CNN, September 2012
A fecal transplant from mother to daughter helped save the life of a young woman who couldn’t fight off the effects of a life-threatening bacterial infection. Using a stool sample from Hunter’s mother, doctors pumped a diluted form of fecal matter into Hunter’s colon.
The battle began when Kaitlin Hunter was hospitalized following a car accident. In addition to treating her injuries, doctors prescribed antibiotics to prevent infection, a common course of treatment. But it’s believed the antibiotics also killed off beneficial bacteria in Hunter’s colon, allowing a dangerous type of bacteria called C. diff to thrive. This bacteria kills about 14,000 people in the United States every year.
Soon after she was sent home from the hospital following her car accident, Hunter started suffering from severe stomach pain. Over the course of the next year, Hunter dropped 40 pounds while undergoing nine rounds of antibiotic treatment in an effort to control the persistent infection.
Finally, her doctor was given approval for a “fecal matter transplant.” The procedure worked, allowing healthy bacteria to recolonize the colon and ending Hunter’s nearly year-long battle with infection. The procedure is 91% effective and is predicted to become more popular in treating C. diff infections.
Source: J Neurol Sci. 2010 Jan, 15
Parkinson’s disease is a degenerative neuromotor disorder resulting from the loss of dopamine-producing brain cells. Most people know about Parkinson’s through the celebrities who have had it, such as Muhammad Ali and Michael J. Fox, but as yet little is known about how Parkinson’s develops. A 2010 Japanese study that investigated the relationship between fatty acids and the risk of Parkinson’s disease found that one fatty acid, which usually comes from animal dietary sources, is “significantly related” to an increased risk of Parkinson’s.
This study used dietary history questionnaires to compare the intake of fatty acids in populations with and without neurodegenerative disease. It found no association between Parkinson’s and most dietary fatty acids (including total fat and saturated fatty acids), but it did suggest that higher consumption of one source of animal-based cholesterol, arachidonic acid, may be related to this serious degenerative neurological disorder.
Study finds surge in knee replacement surgeries for those older than 65
A recent study of more than 3 million Medicare patients over the age of 65 observed a recent surge in knee replacement surgeries. During the time period studied, the number of initial knee-replacement surgeries on older patients more than doubled, rising to nearly 244,000 in 2010.
The study also found that length of hospital says decreased while readmission rates increased; ten percent of operations between 1991and 2010 were secondary procedures.
These increases are attributed to an aging population and rising numbers of Medicare enrollees. Increased obesity rates may play a role as well because obesity can negatively affect joints and contribute to arthritis. The pace of growth has slowed in the past few years, possibly due to the fact that younger adults are now getting artificial knees earlier in life.
As the only rock that we eat, salt is an important part of world history, the economy, and, not surprisingly, health. In the right amounts, salt enables life; sodium, a key element of salt, is an essential electrolyte, one-half of a “pump” that regulates the body’s fluids and helps muscle and nerve function. But a surplus of sodium can overwork the kidneys and damage the entire cardiovascular system. These three articles provide an excellent survey of salt and its effects.
When people realized about 5,000 years ago that salt preserved food, it became a key element in the history and economy of civilization. Preservation enabled people to carry food great distances and to eat meat when it was otherwise unavailable through the winter, and salt-trading routes soon became the economic highways of the ancient world. In more modern times, salt (and the taxes on it) helped spark the French Revolution and Indian civil disobedience against the British Raj.
Some amount of salt is present in most foods, with meats containing more salt than plant foods. Because early human hunters ate meat within hours of the kill, they did not need extra salt, but early agriculturalists welcomed dietary salt supplements. In the last 6,000 years, however, we have gradually increased our salt intake to dangerous levels. Now processed foods use huge amounts of salt; more than 75 percent of our daily dietary sodium comes from processed foods.
The medical response to salt also has a long history. About 4,500 years ago, a Chinese doctor commented on the relationship between large amounts of salt and “stiffening” of the pulse. In the early 20th century, Western doctors noted that high blood pressure (BP) could be experimentally lowered by reducing dietary salt. A large number of epidemiologic and clinical studies have confirmed that salt intake elevates BP in humans. Studies among isolated ethnic groups have also demonstrated the role of salt in BP regulation. For example, BP among the Yi people of China, who lived in a salt-poor area, remained low, while the BP of Yi who migrated to urban areas (with salt-intensive diets) rose to the levels of their non-Yi Chinese neighbors. Similar results have been noted among other groups, such as the Yanomamo Indians of Brazil. Experiments with chimpanzees also strongly suggest that primate high blood pressure is due to increased salt intake, and there is clear evidence that lowering salt intake leads to lower BP, which in turn reduces the prevalence of cardiovascular disease.
The World Health Organization regards dietary salt reduction as a top priority. It is estimated that 62 percent of cerebrovascular disease and 49 percent of ischemic heart disease are due to salt-induced elevated BP. But don’t stop eating salt completely! Scientists have also noted increased risk of cardiovascular disease at the extremes of low salt intake. Estimates of the optimal amount of sodium intake range from two to six grams per day.
And now, the good news: Not only can we change how much salt we eat, but many of the effects of too much salt are reversible. One study suggests that reduction of dietary salt to below two grams per day would lead to the end of high BP as a major public health problem.
Source:PLoS Med. 2009 Apr 28
The challenge of accurate calorie counting
Source: Scientific American
Counting calories is not as simple as scanning a food label. Multiple factors affect the ways in which our bodies receive calories from food, including the structure of the food itself (such as a vegetable's cell walls), variances in digestive process (some complex foods such as almonds require our bodies to do more "work" than other, less complex foods such as honey) and the fact that certain foods engage the body's immune system in order to combat pathogens, a process that involves calories.
How a food is processed via cooking or grinding also affects calories available from the food. For instance, studies found that cooked sweet potatoes have more calories available for digestion than raw potatoes. This suggests that the more processed a food product, the more accurate the estimated calories per serving on the label will be.
In addition to these considerations, bodies process foods differently due to numerous factors, including the of length of one's intestine, enzyme production, and the presence of bodily microbes.
Modern diets have maximized the number of calories available at each meal. From an evolutionary stand point this is a good thing, but in a contemporary setting this contributes to a high amount of readily available, low-quality calories, leading to individual weight gain and rising obesity rates. Weight loss strategies that focus primarily on calorie counting are not likely to adequately factor in these many calorie-related considerations.
Acupuncture for Stroke Rehabilitation
This investigation reviewed 31 studies to address the question of whether acupuncture is an effective way to improve the daily activities, movement, and quality of life of stroke victims. Participants recovering from stroke were placed in three groups: some received acupuncture, some received no acupuncture, and some received simulated acupuncture. The outcomes were evaluated using the measures of activities of daily living, neurological function, movement, cognition, depression, swallowing, pain, and quality of life. While there was some evidence that acupuncture improved activities of daily living and aspects of neurological function, these conclusions came from studies with poor evidence. The reviewers concluded that acupuncture may have beneficial effects on several neurological impairments for people with stroke in the convalescent stage, with no obvious side effects, but that the evidence remains inadequate to draw any conclusions about its routine use. The researchers recommend further large, randomized studies to clarify the situation.
Increased warnings about heartburn and reflux medication go unheeded
Source: The New York Times
It's estimated that four in 10 Americans have heartburn, acid reflux, and other symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD, a condition that millions of people treat with proton pump inhibitors drugs (PPIs) such as Prilosec or Prevacid. PPIs are also often used with non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to help prevent or treat ulcers and their side effects.
In recent years the Food and Drug Administration has issued warnings about PPIs, the third highest-selling class of drugs in the United States, linking their long-term use and high doses to increased risk of bone fractures, infections, pneumonia, and weight gain, and decreased absorption of nutrients, vitamins, and minerals.
Additionally, studies suggest that the drug may have an addictive quality, and that once patients start on a PPI, acid-making processes within the body increase, making it difficult to ever get off of the drugs.
PPIs don't cure reflux problems, they merely control the symptoms, yet studies suggest that they are often prescribed for no good medical reason, or "just in case." Many doctors believe GERD stems from America's obesity epidemic and that basic diet and lifestyle changes could eliminate heartburn for most patients.
Unfortunately, the use of the PPIs prevents often has the opposite effect; because the drugs mask heartburn and reflux symptoms, many patients continue to eat the unhealthy foods causing the problem in the first place.
Source: New York Times Oct. 2015
Although many studies have investigated associations between healthy living and tea, no single conclusion has emerged. This much, however, is clear: Tea is neither a cure-all nor a placebo. Studies have shown that tea drinkers are less likely to have liver cancer and other diseases of the liver and that the risk of depression drops 37 percent per three cups of tea consumed per day. The risk of stroke was also 21 percent lower among those who drank at least three cups of tea per day, compared with those who drank only one. Other risks that decreased with drinking three or more cups a day included coronary heart disease, cardiac death, stroke, brain bleeding or blockage, and type 2 diabetes.
Studies, however, do not link tea consumption with a reduced risk of fracture or glioma (a nervous system tumor). Black tea does not appear to reduce the risk of endometrial cancer—but green tea does, and green tea is also associated with lower rates of prostate cancer. Keep in mind, though, that these investigations studied association and not cause, that there are many kinds of tea, and that many of the studies were based in Asia, which has a different tea culture than most Western countries.
Cost comparison between healthy and unhealthy foods
It is a common cultural perception that healthy foods are more expensive than unhealthy foods. In order to investigate this claim, the USDA Economic Research Service conducted a study on the costs of different types of food. In order for foods to be classified as healthy they had to contain a minimum amount of at least one of the major food groups (vegetables, fruits, grains, dairy, and protein foods), and could only contain moderate amounts of saturated fats, added sugars, and sodium.
Researchers measured “cost” three ways: the price per calorie, the price per edible gram, and the price per average portion. Regarding price per calorie, they found that low calorie foods cost more than less healthy foods high in saturated fat and added sugar. When considering the cost of food based on edible weight or average portion size, the researchers found that grains, vegetables, fruit, and dairy foods are less expensive than most protein foods and foods high in saturated fat, sugar, and sodium.
Generally, it is less expensive to meet grain, dairy, and fruit serving recommendations than those for vegetable or protein food recommendations.
Dark Chocolate and Cardiovascular Disease
Source: Nutr J. 2015 Aug 22
A Finnish study documented the relationship between the ingestion of dark chocolate and the circulatory system, blood pressure, and arterial stiffness. Earlier studies had discovered that chocolate consumption had significant effects on those systems, but only with large amounts of chocolate over a short time; this study looked at “more reasonable” doses (49 grams per day, about the size of a standard candy bar) over longer periods.
Cocoa is rich in polyphenol flavonoids, plant-derived compounds that have been shown to significantly decrease cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors. Chocolate contains even more flavonoids per serving than tea or red wine. Studies have shown that cocoa products can lower CVD risk factors and mortality, promote healthier blood pressure, increase insulin sensitivity, and help keep the walls of blood vessels supple, reducing arterial stiffness.
In this study, a group of otherwise healthy adults with mild hypertension substituted dark chocolate for their usual snack foods. Their diet, physical activities, and medications were monitored. After analysis, the study found that the participants’ overall blood pressure decreased significantly. Fifty-five percent of the participants saw their blood pressure return from high to normal.
Sufi music as a method of relaxation
Source: PRI’s The World
Those seeking a non-conventional method of relaxation should turn to music—Sufi music, that is. Sufi, a traditional type of music from the Sufism strain of Islam, is popular among the Turks, as well as in Istanbul’s memorial hospital. Physicians at the hospital play Sufi music to patients as a method of relaxation, a practice that in Turkey dates back to the Ottoman Empire times.
While not to be considered a replacement for conventional medicine, the approach is scientifically proven to work. A 22-patient study, in which stress levels were elaborately recorded, showed that a 20-minute Sufi performance has the power to relax. According to the hospital’s physicians, this is due to the medicinal properties of different melodic systems, or makams, in Turkish music.
Makams are believed to have the power to treat specific conditions as they can promote relaxation or agitation in patients—this can help patients relax, cheer up, and even gain an appetite or lose weight.
Acupuncture: A Connective Tale
How will Western medicine make sense of acupuncture? Initially dismissed and now more or less accepted as an alternative or complementary treatment, acupuncture is still marginalized in medical education, mainly because it is based on theories and philosophies so different from the scientific methodologies that emerged in Europe and America over the last few centuries.
But that period of marginalization may be ending soon. A 25-minute video from the Vermont PBS series Emerging Science focuses on the work of Helene Langevin, MD, a University of Vermont researcher who is exploring relationships between acupuncture and the largely unknown world of connective tissue. Usually, when we think of connective tissue, we think of muscles, ligaments, and tendons, specialized connectors for large structural elements like bones and organs. But non-specialized connective tissues are everywhere in the body. They are beneath the skin, part of every organ; they enclose the tiniest vessels and pathways, quite literally connecting everything to everything else.
Dr. Langevin is applying Western methodological tools to the practice of acupuncture. She is looking in connective tissue for a “mechanistic path” between the physical actions of the acupuncturists’ needles and patients’ experiences of pain reduction. She seeks to document the means by which connective tissues exchange information across their extensive network. In a society that has become dangerously pill-dependent, many clinicians are ready to open a conversation between different cultural and medical traditions. It’s possible that Dr. Langevin’s work heralds a new chapter in that conversation.
Cognitive function can begin to decline as early as age 45
A recent study analyzing cognitive function among middle-aged people found that the brain’s functionality can begin to deteriorate as early as age 45. The study, conducted by University College London researchers, examined the memory, vocabulary and comprehension skills of nearly 7,400 British civil servants (28 percent women) between the ages of 45 and 70.
Data collection began in 1997 and was conducted in three phases over a decade—researchers were able to obtain complete data (all three phases) for 4,675 (63 percent) of participants, most of whom were younger. Data were analyzed by age (five-year increments) as well as by education level and gender. Over the decade, older participants experienced faster cognitive decline than younger participants, though vocabulary declined similarly in all age groups.
Overall, there was a 10 percent decline in mental reasoning among participants aged 65-70 and a four percent decline among those aged 45-49. The study also found that cross sectional data cannot provide reliable estimates of age-related cognitive decline because life experiences (e.g., quality of education, nutrition, and socioeconomic circumstances) vary too greatly among each cohort. While the cognitive decline percentage for younger participants is small, the findings suggest that such decline can begin early in life. This does not, however, indicate a link to early onset of mental illnesses such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.
The authors conclude that to prevent rapid and/or early-onset cognitive decline, people should adopt a healthy lifestyle of good nutrition (including many fruits and vegetables) and daily exercise.
What sense does it make to compare the health and diets of hunter-gatherers with those of modern urban populations, and more importantly, what difference might it make? A medical researcher takes on both questions and presents provocative answers. On the question of comparability, the author cites research that shows that all hunter-gatherer societies had a lower prevalence of coronary heart disease (CHD), obesity, diabetes, and the “cancers of prosperity,” whether their diets contained a high or low proportion of animal fat. He suggests that, rather than attempting to derive health lessons directly from “primitive communities,” we would learn more by examining contemporary Western groups who have different prevalences of CHD. Why is it, for example, that the incidence of CHD in New Mexico is “less than half” that of New York?
But would it make a difference? He notes that, even though it is widely understood that obesity, hypertension, and other risk factors are directly related to CHD, “no matter what efficacious lifestyle changes are recommended…they will be very largely ignored.”
The effectiveness of Chinese herbal medicine on cancer
An 1,800-year-old Chinese herbal recipe has shown promise in recent studies for improving the effectiveness of chemotherapy in colon cancer patients. The four-herb mixture, known as huang qin tang, was uncovered and tested by a team led by a Yale University researcher.
The team found that, at least in animals, huang qin tang restores intestinal cells faster than when chemotherapy was used alone—it is speculated that the herbal combination has an anti-inflammatory effect on the gastrointestinal tract. According to the study, published in the journal Science and Translational Medicine in 2010, the restoration of cells is a result of 62 active chemicals, which work together to be effective. When used alone, the herb mixture had no impact on the cancer, and if any herb was eliminated or was grown under different environmental conditions, the mixture’s impact on treatment was diminished.
The researchers will next test the mixture’s effectiveness in humans with colon cancer. They note that a more effective technique could improve quality of life and allow patients to tolerate larger doses of chemotherapy, possibly speeding up their course of treatment.
Evolutionary Discordance and Diet
Source: Nutr Clin Pract. 2010 Dec;25(6)
For nearly a quarter century, an idea has been popular: that modern humans’ abandonment of the lifestyles of our pre-agricultural ancestors has shaped the prevalence of chronic diseases of modern civilization, namely heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. This idea is known as the “evolutionary discordance hypothesis.” Even though the anthropological evidence is neither universal nor fully documented, it is clear that, generally speaking, ancestral human diets were much lower in refined carbohydrates and sodium, much higher in fiber and protein, and contained comparable levels of fat (primarily unsaturated fat) and cholesterol. Even though additional research based on conventional epidemiological, clinical, and laboratory studies is clearly called for, the evolutionary discordance hypothesis has focused scientific attention on the relationships between diet, activity, and heredity, and has reshaped both the questions we ask and the methods we use to seek answers.
Critique of Contemporary Biomedical Health Care by Ivan Illich—Key Points
- Modern improvements to medical care have not had an overall positive affect on society's health and very few diseases have been cured by contemporary practices.
- Contemporary medicine does not have all the answers. In fact, it leads to unnecessary surgeries and an increased reliance on drugs that produce various side effects.
- Modern medicine has transferred the power of diagnosis and treatment from patients to doctors, suggesting that doctors alone can cure illness and that health is a commodity.
- The larger medical bureaucracy disempowers patients and demands medical supervision, leading to "a medicalization of life."
- Patients are led to believe that they are always at risk and constantly in need of medical supervision, leading to interventions that can actually aggravate a patient's condition.
- The medical bureaucracy prevents people from the experience of dealing with their pain, causing them to miss out on the insights that can be associated with pain.
- The medical establishment has also redefined what we even understand to be pain, despite the fact that it is a socially constructed concept that varies between cultures.
- Historically, people have used images to deal with pain and have considered pain to be an integral part of the human condition, regarded pain as cosmic and mythic and not individual and technical, and considered pain to be an experience of the soul
- The introduction of painkillers in the 1850s eliminated the idea that there could be any good reason for people to "face the pain." We sacrifice some of our humanness when we don't face pain and suffering,
- The invention of modern disease can be traced to the late 18th century when disease was approached with scientific rigor within the laboratory setting of hospitals. This worked to establish the authority of a doctor's role in society.
- "The medicalization of death" is when the individual no longer has control over the experience of dying. Medicine turned death into something to be warded off.
- Political factors affect health care. Our current healthcare infrastructure cannot keep up with the demand it has created and has rendered people unable to live with any kind of pain or discomfort.
- Healthcare reform is flawed because it focuses on improving the health care system instead of decreasing reliance upon it. The current system, strongly shaped by class, does not allow people to gain confidence in their abilities to care for and heal themselves.
- Governments can contribute to citizens' health by protecting environmental conditions that damage health, but ultimately individuals must acknowledge a personal responsibility for their own health care.
Just how real is the Paleolithic Diet?
Natural selection takes time. Even though relatively little human evolution has taken place in the last 15,000 years, profound changes in dietary and disease patterns have occurred. The proportion of infectious diseases has decreased relative to “chronic degenerative conditions due to excessive and unbalanced intake of energy and nutrients.” In this literature review, paleontological and archaeological evidence is presented about non-human primate diets, early human diets, and the nutritional spectrum of contemporary hunter-gatherer societies. At this point, there is no single Paleo diet, and researchers suggest a skeptical view of such diets because too little is known about the relative proportions of animal and plant foods in the diets of early humans. The evidence, according to the authors, is still “circumstantial, incomplete, and debatable.” Even though the data are as yet insufficient to specify the composition of a particular adaptively optimal diet, however, it is well documented that diets based on plant foods do promote health and long life.
Ivan Illich (1926–2002) Austrian Philosopher, Roman Catholic Priest and Social Critic
Medication, Diet and the Modern Quest to Reduce Cholesterol
In the 21st century, high cholesterol is a pervasive and persistent problem most often treated with pharmaceutical substances that are thought to reduce the risk of heart disease. But an experimental treatment that relied on high consumption of fibers, vegetable proteins, and plant sterols (the “Myocene” diet, based on leafy vegetables, fruits, and nuts) lowered cholesterol among healthy volunteers by more than 30 percent, which was just as much as the standard cholesterol-reducing medications. Among volunteers with high cholesterol, a similar diet produced similar reductions and lowered most subjects’ concentrations of fats in the blood into the normal range. Thus, those plant foods that were the basis of diets throughout most of human evolution have the potential to correct cholesterol abnormalities associated with modern eating patterns.
Red meat associated with increased mortality rates
A recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine evaluates the effects of red meat consumption on mortality rates. The authors used data from two longitudinal studies that tracked the diets of more than 121,000 men and women for up to 28 years.
Approximately 20 percent of those studies’ participants died during the data collection period. In analyzing the dietary information for those participants who died, the authors of the new study estimate that each serving of red meat per day increased a participants’ likelihood of dying during the study by 13%.
Based on their observations, the authors found that substituting one serving of red meat each day with other foods (including fish, poultry, nuts, legumes, low-fat dairy, and whole grains) was associated with a 7-19% lower risk of death. They estimate that 9.3% of the deaths of male subjects and 7.6% of the deaths of female subjects could have been prevented had they consumed less than half a serving (or 42 grams) of red meat each day.
What's the evidence for evidence-based medicine
Source: THEBMJ 2004
In a far-reaching essay, Trisha Greenhalgh reviews the accomplishments and remaining failings of Evidence-Based Medicine (EBM), a twenty-year-old movement that sought to reorient medical education and reinvigorate clinical practice. EBM arose to replace a perceived clinical overreliance on tradition and anecdotal evidence. It called for better evidence from randomized controlled trials and observational studies in order to make medicine a more empirical science. At first, EBM was successful, collecting information from well-controlled clinical trials, developing clinical guidelines from those data, and building probabilistic techniques into clinical practice. EBM, however, was gradually undermined. Vested interests (e.g., Big Pharma) found ways to manipulate and bias the evidence-gathering process itself; bureaucratic interests led to clinical guidelines that were management- rather than patient-driven; and EBM guidelines that were developed in response to single isolated medical issues often mapped poorly to complex real-world illnesses. Greenhalgh calls for a “renaissance” of EBM, mending its weaknesses and making the most of its strengths.
Antibiotics no more effective than placebo in treating sinus infections, study finds
A recent study from the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis recently found that placebos can be just as effective as antibiotics in treating symptoms of basic sinus infections. Researchers studied the effects of the antibiotic amoxicillin and of inactive placebos on 166 adult patients with acute sinus infection (defined by moderate, severe or very severe symptoms, such as pain or tenderness in face and sinuses and nasal discharge lasting 7-28 days). Participants for this randomized controlled trial were recruited from 10 community health practices in Missouri. The findings show that after 10 days of taking amoxicillin or placeboes three times per day—as well as a 5- to 7-day supply of treatments for symptoms to use as needed—participants from both groups reported improvements in health. Neither group reported symptom improvement by day 3, and the amoxicillin group reported improvements by day 7 (earlier than the placebo group). But by day 10, both groups had reported improved symptoms. To decrease the number of unnecessary antibiotic prescriptions written for sinus infections, the authors suggest that doctors first treat symptoms (e.g., pain, cough and congestion) and later determine if further treatment or antibiotics is needed.
Getting Back to Basics in Diet
Source: Nutrition; Vol 16, #7/8, 2000
If modern human physiology developed prior to the expansion of agriculture 12,000 years ago, then our contemporary diets may be maladaptive, leading to the so-called “diseases of civilization.” This insight has inspired many “Paleolithic” diets. Although this makes sense in theory, this influential essay indicates that we should be studying human nutritional patterns and physiological adaptations with respect to our deeper anthropoid primate heritage, one that stretches back 25 million years. Wild fruits contain different proportions of sugars than farmed ones; wild vegetation has different structures than cultivated vegetation; wild meats contain a different fat profile than raised meats.
Today, non-human primates must eat higher volumes of food in order to get the same number of calories. Technological innovations in food preparation have increased the caloric density of what we eat; we pre-digest our food by transforming it (through cultivation, grinding, and cooking). Our methods of cultivation and procurement have reduced the energy required to obtain calories. Getting back to basics therefore means turning to foods and lifestyles similar to those of primates in the wild: being genetically diverse, consuming unprocessed foods and naturally lean meats, and living a more physically demanding lifestyle.
The Healing Power of Music
Though it’s been around for more than 100 years, music therapy as a distinct discipline has recently been cast in the spotlight for the role it played last year in Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’ brain injury recovery (which was highlighted in a 2012 PBS segment entitled “The Healing Power of Music” that featured music therapists from the University of California San Francisco treating patients at the university’s Benioff Children's Hospital.) This topic was also brought to life in Oliver Sacks’ recent national bestseller Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain, which explores the power of music in the lives of patients, musicians and everyday people who are struggling to adapt to various neurological conditions.
As the American Music Therapy Association (AMTA) explains, music as a healing influence is as old as the writings of Plato and Aristotle, but the profession formally began when musicians worked with Veterans suffering emotional and physical trauma after their service in the world wars. We all know how soothing, stimulating, enlivening, and “therapeutic” music can be. It is pervasive in our world and all cultures have it at the center of ritual and celebration. Music therapy, however, is not simply about listening to music to feel better; the AMTA defines it as the clinical and evidence-based use of music interventions to accomplish individualized goals within a therapeutic relationship by a credentialed professional who has completed a music therapy program, which points to the importance of context and relationship as key to the therapeutic process in which music is used.
Despite its ancient origins, research on the neurological effects of music therapy is a relatively new area because, until recently, researchers have not had adequate tools to study it from a neuro-scientific perspective. General brain science suggests that learning something new creates new connections in the brain and music therapy is one way to create these connections. Brain trauma, however, is just one condition music therapy is used to treat, with treatment ranging from physical to emotional to social. It is also used in hospices, in transitional dying processes, and in the context of what is called “Expressive Arts Therapy” (which goes beyond the use of only one modality like music) and integrates other arts (or expressive forms and activities) like movement, drawing, painting, and drama.
As University of the Pacific in Stockton (California) professor of music therapy Eric Waldon explains in the PBS segment, music, which he likens to a cerebral bypass around damaged areas of the brain, provides a pathway that allows patients to regain mobility and speech. Some of the most recent studies suggest that music therapy intervention improves social competence in children and adolescents with social deficits (Gooding, 2011), enhances intergenerational interactions (Belgrave, 2011), aids the treatment of bereaved youth (McFarren, 2011), increases coping ability of patients with personality disorders (Odell-Miller, 2011), reduces the perception of pain (Finnerty, 2011), improves physical rehabilitation (Weller & Baker, 2011), reduces agitation in Alzheimer’s patients (Zare, Ebrahimi & Birashk, 2010), affects the treatment of autism in children (Reschke-Hernández, 2011), increases relaxation and steadies physiological responses among intensive care patients (Chan, Chunt, Chung & Lee, 2009), and relieves depression (Erkkila, Gold, Fachner, Ala-Rouna, Punkanen & Vanhala, 2008), among others benefits.
Despite the emerging field of research on music therapy, however, it’s not easy to quantify the results of music therapy, partially due to the difficulty of finding a homogenous enough group through which researchers can measure the effects of music therapy intervention. The discoveries researchers and therapists have made, however, motivate scientists to further explore how music affects the brain and its therapeutic potential.
Breakthrough Brain Research on Memory
Source: Science Daily
An entirely new model of brain activity has emerged from recent breakthrough research at the Salk Institute. Described as a “real bombshell in the field of neuroscience”, these data reveal that neurological cells may be able to encode 10 times more information than was previously thought. Equally exciting, the new model suggests that memory encodes and stores information far more efficiently than has ever been imagined. Scientists used microscopy to create 3D nano-molecular models of the shapes and surfaces of brain tissue. Most importantly, they modeled the size and connectivity of synapses, the junctions for electrochemical activity within the brain. They discovered that synapses come in not two or three sizes, but 26. Imagine that you had an alphabet of only 3 letters- you might be able to communicate but you wouldn’t be able to make many words. But with 26 letters, you can encode and store much more. The implications for neuroscience are staggering, and may lead to far more efficient and powerful computers.
Researchers explore role of “second brain” on mental states, diseases
Recent research is exploring how the body’s “second brain,” also known as the enteric nervous system consisting of neurons embedded within the gut, has a much larger job than just handling digestion. This lower brain, in conjunction with the brain in our skulls, determines our mental states and effects diseases throughout the body.
Though much of its work has to do with daily digestion processes, the second brain also controls gut behavior independently of the brain. Additionally, the second brain also signals stress responses for our brain (in the form of nervousness or butterflies in the stomach.)
Conversely, other depression treatments that target the mind can affect the gut, and many antidepressants create gastrointestinal side effects. Serotonin produced by the enteric nervous system has also been shown to counteract bone deterioration during osteoporosis and has been linked to autism.
Other researchers are considering how bacteria in the gut “communicate” with enteric nervous system cells and the implications of this communication for psychiatric treatments.
Dietary Acid Load and High Blood Pressure
When your blood and other bodily fluids contain too much acid, the effects can be quite serious. Normally, your kidneys and lungs keep your body’s acidity in balance, but if the acids you take in (from food) are too much for your organs to process, then acidosis can result, a condition that may lead to shallow breathing, confusion, fatigue, headache, sleepiness, lack of appetite, jaundice, and other symptoms. A 2014 study of Japanese workers examined the relationship between dietary acid load and high blood pressure (hypertension). Dietary acid load was “significantly and positively associated” with hypertension among normal-weight workers. Moreover, high dietary acid load was “suggestively associated” with an increased prevalence of hypertension.
Antidepressants and placebos show minimally different effects
Source: Take Apart
Obesity rates are up all around the world, doubling since 1980. As of 2014, more than 600 million people met the obesity threshold and another two billion qualified as overweight, including 42 million children under the age of five.
Studies have called attention to geographic, social, economic, and gender-based factors in the distribution of obesity. For example, in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Eastern Mediterranean, women are twice as likely as men to be obese.
Despite this discouraging news, World Health Organization Director General Margaret Chan has some encouraging words: “The world now has a truly global agenda for prevention and control of [non-communicable diseases], with shared responsibilities for all countries based on concrete targets. This is an historic opportunity…no country can afford to miss.”
Experiment explores effect of dietary protein on weight gain, energy expenditure, and body composition
Source: The Journal of the American Medical Association, January 2012
Source: The Lancet
American psychiatrist/anthropologist Arthur Kleinman writes that, despite improvements, worldwide mental health treatment remains dreadful. Patterns of dehumanization and abuse still abound around the world: isolation, neglect, abuse, and worse. Despite repeated affirmations of the rights of the disabled, the stigma of mental illness continues to mark sufferers as “virtually non-human,...he or she becomes a target for abuse, discrimination, and ultimately rejection.” People with compromised mental health often become trapped in descending spirals of stigma and suffering.
But there is a glimmer of hope: Kleinman sees the ongoing crisis in mental health treatment as a moral problem, and he proposes a moral solution wherein governments and institutions change their emphasis from protection from the mentally ill to protection of the mentally ill, as patients and as citizens. While acknowledging that such a moral shift will challenge us, Kleinman recalls that similar changes have been made with respect to the AIDs crisis and smoking, and that a similar change is brewing regarding dementia as much of the global population ages.
Researchers explore unique aptitudes of those with dyslexia
A Guide to Understanding Acupuncture? ~ Keyvan Golestaneh M.A., L.Ac
Increased cellular cleaning from exercise produces health benefits
University of Texas Southwestern scientists recently conducted a study regarding the accumulation of flotsam, the “trash heap” that naturally occurs inside cells. This flotsam, composed of misshapen or broken proteins and shreds of cellular membranes (among other material), is the result of everyday wear and tear in the body.
Cells in the body usually sweep away this debris and in a process called autophagy (“self-eating”), cells recycle this flotsam for energy. If they don’t, the cells become cluttered with the trash and malfunction or die, something doctors have recently suspected is linked to many diseases, including diabetes, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s and cancer. The slowing of this process is also thought to be linked to aging.
The U.T. researchers used mice to study the role of exercise on autophagy. They found that after 30 minutes of running, the mice experienced “accelerated autophagy.” In order to determine how this affected the mice’s overall well-being, researchers developed a new strain of mouse that experienced stable autophagy levels regardless of diet and exercise changes.
They found that when compared to normal mice, these mice, incapable of experiencing accelerated autophagy, quickly grew more fatigued during exercise than the normal mice, had muscles incapable of drawing sugar from the blood, and were unable to reverse a rodent version of diabetes because their cells could not absorb blood sugar normally. They also had higher levels of cholesterol. In sum, exercise did not make them healthier.
The researchers conclude that an increase of autophagy prompted by exercise is a crucial part of achieving the health benefits of exercise, underscoring the importance of staying active.
Michel Foucault (1926–1984) French philosopher, historian, social theorist, literary critic
Sugar: The Bitter Truth
A YouTube video from 2009 and a journal article from 2012, both spearheaded by Dr. Robert H. Lustig, discuss the toxic truth about sugar.
In the video lecture Lustig discusses the role of sugar in America’s current obesity epidemic. He notes that the average American weighs 25 pounds more today than he or she did 25 years ago and that obesity is a problem even among infants.
A large focus of his presentation is on the increased fructose consumption over the past forty years, particularly in the form of sweetened drinks such as soda and juice. He refers to what he calls “The Coca Cola Conspiracy,” or the high levels of sodium in regular soda that increase thirst but are masked (and made palatable) by high sugar levels. Research shows a correlation between sugar-sweetened beverages (including juices) and both body weight and type 2 diabetes.
Many of these drinks are sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, something that is relatively new in our diets. The average American now consumes 63 pounds of high fructose corn syrup per person per year. A higher percentage of our caloric intake is attributed to sugar every year. Twenty-five percent of today’s adolescents consume at least 15% of their calories from fructose alone.
Lustig explains that this is the result of three political winds. First was Nixon’s declaration in 1973 that food should be taken off the political table in presidential elections. He did this by decreasing the price of food. Second was the advent of high fructose corn syrup in 1966 in Japan, and its introduction to the American market in 1975 at a far cheaper cost than sugar. The third is the collective effect of calls from the USDA, American Medical Association and the American Heart Association in the 1970s and 1980s for dietary fat reduction (based on faulty logic, that includes a misinterpretation of the two types of low-density lipoproteins and their varying effects on health.) What they didn’t realize at the time, says Lustig, was that a low-fat diet isn’t really a low-fat diet, because the fructose/sucrose doubles as fat. During this same time, fiber was reduced in many foods in order to increase the shelf life and freezability of processed foods.
Within a biochemistry framework, he gives a variety of examples to show how the risks of chronic ethanol exposure are similar to the risks of chronic fructose exposure, including hypertension, myocardial infraction, dyslipidemia, pancreatic, obesity, hepatic dysfunction, fetal insulin resistance, and habituation/addiction. He concludes that chronic fructose exposure promotes the metabolic syndrome, a collection of symptoms that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Like alcohol, fructose is a chronic hepatotoxin (“alcohol without the buzz”) and although the government prohibits children from consuming alcohol, it makes no such provisions for the dangers of fructose in their diet.
In his own pediatric clinic where he works with obese children, Lustig and associates instruct children and parents to eliminate all sugary liquids in the house (leaving only water and milk); to always eat carbohydrates with fiber (as they originally occur in nature); to wait 20 minutes for second portions, and to have children buy their screen time minute-for-minute with physical activity. They find that this has a dramatic effect on young patients’ Body Mass Indexes, but if the first step (removing sugary drinks) isn’t followed, the subsequent steps are not as effective (put another way, fructose ingestion interferes with other obesity intervention efforts.)
He also briefly addresses the importance of exercise and fiber in fighting obesity. Exercise is important in obesity not because it burns calories, but because it improves skeletal muscle insulin sensitivity, reduces stress, and because it makes the tricarboxylic acid cycle (TCA) cycle run faster. Fiber is important in fighting obesity because it reduces the rate of intestinal carbohydrate absorption, increases the speed of transit of intestinal contents to ileum (inducing satiety), and inhibits absorption of some free fatty acids to the colon, which are metabolized to short-chain fatty acids which suppress insulin.
In terms of solutions, he encourages more Food and Drug Administration (FDA) consideration of the risks of fructose, something he argues has been overlooked because fructose is considered “natural,” and because the FDA only regulates acute toxins, not chronic toxins. Also, he says that if the FDA or the USDA were to acknowledge dangerous repercussions of popular American foods, it could reduce our food exports (one of only a few lucrative American exports left) to great economic detriment. He concludes that these economic repercussions prevent these agencies from acting in the best interest of Americans’ health.
Group support at the workplace improves diet change outcomes
Researching diet behaviors within the workplace environment: a study of GEICO insurance employees on a 18-week low-fat plant-based diet combined with a nutrition education group program at the place of employment showed reduced intake of energy, saturated fat and cholesterol along with an increase in protective micronutrients such as fiber or β-carotene.
Clinical research studies indicate that a poor diet can contribute to diet-related health problems such as overweight, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Plant-based diets have been shown to improve body weight, cholesterol and fat levels as well as balance micronutrient intake. This research study applied the clinical results into a practical setting at insurance companies across the United States with overweight and type 2 diabetes diagnosed individuals. It was hypothesized that diet recommendations could be implemented through group support leading to improved body weight and specific diet-related health indicators. Intervention participants followed a low-fat vegan diet and attended weekly group meetings. Additionally, intervention participants were encouraged to eat low glycemic index foods and take a daily supplement of vitamin B12. Control group participants did not alter their diets. Both sample groups were asked to avoid changing exercise patterns, to continue taking all medicines during the study period and no portion size restrictions were placed on either group.
Despite some intervention participants continuing to include some animal products, intervention participants showed desired changes as measured through health indicators favoring weight loss and lowered risk of cardiovascular disease.
The fraction of cancer attributable to lifestyle and environmental factors in the UK in 2010
Source:Study published in British Journal of Cancer
Discovery of a “missing link” will change approach to neurological diseases
Source: Science Daily
The vast web of connections that come together in the human body have never quite been completely mapped out; in fact, researchers at the University of Virginia recently uncovered a direct connection between the central nervous system and the immune system, a connection that was once thought not to exist. This discovery will cause profound changes in the way diseases such as autism, Alzheimer's, multiple sclerosis and other disease that relate both body systems are approached.
The connection between the brain and the peripheral immune system was imaged in the lab of Jonathan Kipnis, PhD, professor in the UVA Department of Neuroscience and director of UVA's Center for Brain Immunology and Glia (BIG). After imaging the meninges (the membrane covering of the brain) of mice, researchers then tested for lymphatic vessels to bridge connection with the immune system.
The success of this research lies in its ability to image the connection. Not only will this change all biomedical textbooks on the topic, this discovery opens doors for greater research in understanding the effects of the immune system on the nervous system.
B12 deficiency and health
Source: The New York Times, December 2011
B12 is an essential vitamin that supports the nervous system, the production of DNA and red blood cell formation. A B12 deficiency is linked with anemia, muscle weakness, fatigue, shakiness, unsteady gait, incontinence, low blood pressure and depression. It’s also related to memory loss. Natural sources of B12 include red meats, turkey, fish and shellfish.
It can also be found in supplements and fortified foods. Absorption of B12 can be an issue and is affected by intrinsic factors. People at high risk for B12 deficiency include heavy drinkers, stomach surgery patients and people who take certain drugs, including aminosalicylic acid and Glucophage. A recent study of women with a poor dietary take of B12 found that B12 supplements slowed the rate of cognitive decline.
A doctor’s personal reflections on the “diet-heart” hypothesis
In a short reflection piece Dr. AG Shaper shares a history of his involvement in research on cardiovascular disease and diet in south and east Africa. This reflection describes an early interest in the links between one’s diet and one’s heart health despite continued debate on this very relationship today, over 50 years later.
His research on the topic began when he noticed that coronary heart disease disproportionately affected the White population in South Africa. Working with other doctors and researchers Dr. Shaper’s interest in the comparative burden of heart disease across populations was fostered by this work environment. Here he could better develop research studies to verify hypothesized links between diet and heart disease in different south and east African hospitals.
At that time it had been shown that coronary heart disease was close to non-existent in the African population of Uganda whereas the Asian population of the country was considerably affected by this disease burden. Dr. Shaper further developed this research with a comparative study of cholesterol levels between a sample of the two populations in Kampala from 1956 to 1958. The diet of African subjects consisted of mostly staple foods such as green plantains, sweet potatoes and green leafy vegetables with a low daily fat intake (10-20% of total calories) while the Asian subjects ate a diet with a fat intake of 30-45% total calories consumed. The study results indicated that Asian subjects had significantly higher total cholesterol levels across age groups.
These results were in line with the diet-heart hypothesis and led Dr. Shaper and his research team to conclude that blood cholesterol levels in Western societies was abnormal and would cause coronary heart disease to become endemic.
An evaluation of acupuncture’s health and economic effectiveness
Source: The American Acupuncturist, Fall 2009
Western diet pattern associated with higher mortality in prostate cancer patients
Source: Cancer Prevention Research
Prostate cancer is the most diagnosed and second most lethal cancer for men in the United States.
Research on dietary patterns demonstrates a need to account for the role of nutrition in prostate cancer progression. A recent study compared the eating patterns of nonmetastatic (cancer that has not spread) prostate cancer patients, grouping participants into a “Prudent” diet group and “Western” diet group. The Prudent diet was characterized by higher intake of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, oil and vinegar while the Western diet was characterized by higher intake of processed meats, high-fat dairy products and refined grains among other products.
After adjusting for many confounding factors, the study found that the Prudent diet pattern was associated with lower prostate cancer-specific mortality whereas the Western diet pattern was associated with a higher risk of overall mortality and prostate cancer-specific mortality. These associations appear to be linked to the higher intake of oil and vinegar in the Prudent diet and the intake of processed meats in the Western pattern of eating.
These findings provide important clinical and public health applications and are in line with the growing research on the implications of dietary choices in prostate cancer disease progression.
An introduction to Cranio-sacral Therapy
By Rajesh Alway
The 10 factors associated with 90% of stroke risk
A cross-cultural study recently sought to identify various stroke risk factors in 22 countries worldwide. The authors calculated “odds ratios” and “population-attributable risks” for the association of all stroke. Their findings suggest that 10 risk factors are associated with 90% percent of all risk of stroke: history of hypertension, current smoking, waist-to-hip ratio, diet risk score, regular physical activity, diabetes mellitus, alcohol intake, psychosocial stress and depression, cardiac causes, and rate of apolipoproteins B to A1.
They conclude that interventions that work to reduce blood pressure and smoking and promote exercise and a healthy diet could “substantially reduce the burden of stroke.”
Exercise reduces overall inflammation in the body
Several papers presented at the 2011 American Institute for Cancer Research conference emphasize the relationship between sedentary lifestyles, exercise, inflammation and cancer.
One study found that sedentary lifestyles increase the amount of inflammation in the body, in turn increasing one's risk for cancer. Researchers found that even people who exercise regularly but otherwise experience a sedentary lifestyle may be at an increased risk of inflammation and cancer.
Another paper at the conference concluded that nearly 100,000 cases of breast and colon cancer each year could be linked to a lack of physical activity. Researchers recommend that people get regular exercise in addition to breaking every hour of sitting with several minutes of activity.
Understanding the extracellular signalling system associated with acupuncture
Traditional Chinese medicine theory explains that acupuncture works along meridian points that allow vital energy, or qi, to flow.
A more recent hypothesis suggests that the effectiveness of acupuncture is related to an extracellular signalling system. The theory suggests that Adenosine 5’-triphosphate (ATP) acts as an “extracellular signalling molecule between the cells.” The messages that the ATP carries are received by receptors that the theory’s author calls purinoceptors.
Research has suggested that inserting and twisting a needle could release ATP from the skin, leading to the physiological roots of the effects of acupuncture, and that ATP can be released from many cell types. ATP is also released in association with electrical currents and heat, two components that are often use dinc conjunction with acupuncture to magnify its effect.
Regarding pain, it’s believed that the binding of ATP may activate “a signalling pathway” that eventually modulates how pain is perceived by the brain’s cortex. These ATP-activated nerves can also modulate brain stems that control a variety of nervous system functions (including in the gut, the lungs, and in the cardiovascular system) which have long been the focus of traditional acupuncture treatments.
The author concludes by suggesting an array of experiments that could test this extracellular signalling hypothesis.
Technological advances affect Medicare treatments
Source: The New York Times, October 2011
Acupuncture treatment linked to reduced stress levels
For those experiencing stress, acupuncture treatment may provide relief.
A study out of Georgetown University developed from a professor and acupuncturist’s observation that her patients undergoing acupuncture treatments seemed to experience low levels of stress and possessed a “better overall sense of well-being.”
She designed a study with rats to explore how acupuncture affects the blood levels of neuropeptides involved in the body’s “fight or flight” response to stress. When the stressed rats received an electro-acupuncture treatment, their stress-related protein levels lowered almost to the level of the control group.
The rats that were not treated with acupuncture maintained high levels of the stress protein.
A second study found that the treatment also had a protective effect. The rats that received the acupuncture treatment continued to experience lower levels of the protein four days after their treatment, even when they continued to experience stress.
Obesity, politics, STDs flow in social networks
Source: CNN, October 2009
Thickness of artery wall may help predict cardiovascular events
Certain characteristics of the brachial artery, a major blood vessel located in the upper arm, have been linked to coronary risk factors and coronary artery disease.
A recent study examined whether flow-mediated vasodilation (the process of a vessel dilating when blood flow increases through it) and intima-media thickness (the thickness of the arterial wall’s innermost layers) in the brachial artery could predict the likelihood of patient’s being evaluated for chest pain.
The study examined nearly 400 patients who were undergoing coronary angiography and conducted the necessary measurements with a high-resolution ultrasound.
The researchers found that intima-media thickness was significantly associated with cardiovascular events, predicting “late cardiovascular events” in the population at hand. The authors conclude that flow-mediated vasodilation did not hold long-term prognostic value as a single baseline measure.
Happiness is contagious in social networks
A longitudinal study that analyzed the effects of social networks from 1983 to 2003 found that happiness is contagious among friends up to three degrees removed. That is, a person is 15 percent more likely to be happy if a direct friend is happy, 10 percent if the friend of a friend is happy, and six percent if a friend of a friend of a friend is happy.
Sadness, however, does not spread quickly among friends. The study also found that geographic proximity also can impact happiness. Friends who live within a mile from each other increase one’s probability for happiness by 25 percent. Similar effects were found between spouses, siblings and neighbors (but not among co-workers).
The authors used self-reported happiness ratings from the Framingham Heart Study and recreated a network of 4,739 friends, spouses and siblings. They concluded that social relationships are a top predictor for human happiness and that a large network of friends increases one’s likelihood of being happy.
Insulin improves memory performance among people with varying levels of dementia
When delivered through the nose, insulin may hold promise as a treatment for Alzheimer’s, at least according to a recent study.
Study participants who were treated with the intranasal insulin (which allowed the insulin to reach the brain more directly without getting too much in the blood) experienced a memory performance improvement of 20% when compared to participants who did not receive the treatment.
An improvement in daily function and an “enhancement in brain glucose metabolism was also observed among the insulin-receiving population.
Though the study of 104 people was small, it does set the stage for future research. Mild side effects in the study included mild headaches and runny noses.
This study adds to a set of recent studies that have linked insulin to a variety of brain functions, including cell genesis, cell repair, and protection against beta-amyloid, a brain protein linked to certain dementia-related plaques.
The specific ways exercise helps a body fight cancer cells
Understanding the complex mental experience of pain
Source: The Conversation
Not all people experience pain the same way. Some recover, but others have trouble recovering. Studies suggest that this isn’t because this latter group had worse injuries, or because of personality differences. Studies do suggest, however, that traditional treatments for chronic pain aren’t often successful.
This has lead researchers to question what, exactly, pain is. Is it merely a tissue issue? Or is it something more complex? What they do know is that pain is not just a matter of tissue damage, but an experience of mental processing as well.
The International Association for the Study of Pain defines pain as an experience. Danger receptors typically send messages from the tissues to the brain signaling pain. However, this process is “neither sufficient nor necessary for pain,” even if it is often associated with pain.
When the brain receives the message of pain, it must decide how serious the pain is, and this is based on a complex host of factors, including previous exposure and cultural influences. Pieces of knowledge stored in the brain called “neurotags” affect how people experience pain. They can actually lead to the negative thought of a condition (such as a slipped disc) to cause more pain than just the slipped disc itself would.
This process helps explain why pain is often a vicious cycle. The pain information presented by the neurotag “is actually being reinforced by itself.” Thus, treatment for chronic pain needs to consider how those negative thought cycles affect the experience and prolonging of pain.
This should also impact clinical approaches to teaching pain management, so that methods of care can be as nuanced and effective as possible.
Elite schools prioritizing strong character alongside good grades see improvement in students' self control
Source: The New York Times Magazine, September 2011
Exercise offers advantages over drugs and surgery for managing back pain
Though 25 percent of the American adult population experiences back pain and spend more than $80 billion a year seeking treatments, many common treatment plans, including painkillers, surgery and spinal injections, do not provide the solutions people hope.
In fact, a study out of a Boston hospital found that doctors have been getting statistically worse at prescribing treatments for back pain that reflect the latest scientific research, and were prescribing prescription opioids in 10 percent more cases of back pain in 2010 when compared to 1999.
This, despite the fact that these opioids only help with slightly acute back pain and offer no long-term benefit for chronic back pain, not to mention the fact that opioid abuse has surged in the last decade, particularly among women.
Invasive treatments for back pain have also grown more popular in recent years. The more regular availability of MRI scans are often to blame for this increase, because the the scans often “look alarming,” though some doctors say that this is not related to the patient’s actual pain. Many people who have disturbing-looking MRIs are actual pain free.
Age-related back pain is especially not responsive to surgery (as opposed to certain specific conditions like a herniated disc.)
Researchers like Dr. James Rainville explains that pain is often treated as an alarm that warns people to stop people from doing what they’re doing, but it can actually be a result of hypersensitive nerves. Many patients can actually learn to ignore the pain, and learning not to fear it, particularly through the strategic use of exercise.
Patients who go through Rainville's back pain boot camp, which focuses on strength and flexibility exercises, report that they experience relieved pain, and sometimes the disappearance of pain altogether.
Study explores relationship between children's cartoon consumption and attention, cognition
A recent study from the University of Virginia in Charlottesville found that four year olds who spend nine minutes drawing pictures did better on tests of attention and cognition than children of the same age who spent the time watching fast-paced cartoons.
Sixty four year olds were randomly assigned to draw for nine minutes or to watch a fast-paced cartoon (Sponge Bob Square Pants) or an educational cartoon (a realistic Public Broadcasting Service cartoon about a typical U.S. preschool-aged boy). The parents also completed surveys regarding their children’s TV viewing and attention habits.
Children who watched SpongeBob SquarePants performed significantly worse on executive function tasks than children in the other two groups, even after controlling for child attention, age, and TV exposure. Researchers believe there could be a link between fast-paced cartoons and lower levels of concentration due to brain exhaustion.
While previous studies have found a connection between TV watching and lower attention span in preschoolers, this new research suggests that only a few minutes of exposure might cause an acute problem in levels of concentration.
How skin communicates with the liver
In a surprising discovery, researchers in Denmark have found that the skin can communicate with the liver, a finding that has interesting implications for how skin diseases affect the rest of the body.
The study’s authors were studying something completely different when they made the discovery while observing laboratory mice that had a specific fat binding protein removed. Some of the mice in the study had a strange greasy fur, and they accumulated fat in the liver when they weaned.
The researchers then created some mice that lacked the fat binding protein only in the skin. These mice had similar difficulties with weaning and greasy fur, which suggests that the lack of the fat-binding protein in the skin alone resulted in accumulation of fat in the mice livers.
The researchers were able to make the fat accumulation disappear by applying liquid latex to the mice’s skin, suggesting that addressing the skin condition alleviated the liver condition.
Review explores effects of Qigong, Tai Chi on participants' health
Source: American Journal of Health Promotion, July-August 2010
In this comprehensive review of 77 articles, American researchers tried to uncover the differences and similarities between Qigong and Tai Chi (TC) as it relates to their effects on a person’s health. Both Qigong and TC sessions incorporate a range of physical movements, including slow, meditative, dance-like motions, and they incorporate the regulation of breath and mind coordinated with the body’s movements.
The main difference is that while TC is a lengthy practice that includes a complex series of movements, Qigong is a simpler, easier-to-learn, and more repetitive practice. The articles analyzed in this study used a randomized control trial study design and were published between 1993 and 2007. The review identified 163 different physiological and psychological health outcomes, which were grouped into nine health benefits categories: cardiopulmonary effects; physical function; falls, balance and related risk factors; quality of life; patient reported outcomes; psychological symptoms; bone density; self-efficacy; and immune- and inflammation-related responses. The latter three categories have the fewest number of studies.
The majority of studies showed significant, positive results on the tested health outcomes, particularly when studies included minimally active or inactive control groups. Most of the studies also show similar health outcomes between Qigong/TC controls and exercise controls.
The researchers concluded that it is difficult to note the health differences and similarities between Qigong and TC since most studies use research designs that incorporate aspects of both. However, there is no doubt that these practices yield a wide range of health benefits to those who practice them for eight or more weeks at a time.
Doctor encourages a “heart-attack proof diet” instead of pills and procedures
A doctor has created what he believes is a “heart attack proof” diet, regardless of a person’s family history with cardiovascular health.
Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn Jr. shifted the focus of his own career from performing surgeries to promoting nutrition in an attempt to shift American diets to something that reflects cultures around the world where heart disease is not such a common killer, including rural China and central Africa.
His proposed diet excludes meat, eggs, dairy and added oils. Others, including the American Heart Association, argue that diet is just one key factor in heart health, along with weight, blood pressure, exercise, and other variables.
Statistically, 83 million Americans have some form of cardiovascular disease and many risk factors of the disease, such as obesity, are at all-time highs. One challenge of the diet is getting Americans, who have historically eaten meat and dairy products at most meals, to buy into such a radical life transformation.
Esselstyn, who is featured in the documentary “Forks Over Knives,” holds regular seminars at the Cleveland Clinic where he explains the science of plant-based nutrition and where his wife offers practical cooking and food preparation advice.
He encourages people to start the diet before they develop heart disease symptoms since most heart attacks strike without warning. “The first symptom of your heart disease may be your sudden death,” he explains.
Esselstyn hopes that his work on this diet and other heart research is just the beginning of a transformation of how we approach health, not with pills and procedures, but with lifestyle alterations.
Study finds yoga to be effective for healing back pain in adults
A milestone study conducted by researchers at Group Health Cooperative's Center for Health Studies found that yoga poses can be effective for healing back pain in adults. The study randomly assigned 101 participants (20-64 years old) to one of three groups: a) 12 weekly, 75-minute yoga classes and yoga practice at home, b) 12 weekly, 75-minute sessions for aerobic, strengthening and stretching exercises, with practice at home, or c) no-classes and an educational component (a self-care book on back pain).
After 12 weeks, participants in the yoga group engaged in daily activities involving the back more easily than participants in the exercise and education groups. After 26 weeks, yoga participants used fewer pain relievers, had better back-related function and felt less pain than other participants. The yoga classes taught participants 17 poses from viniyoga, an easy-to-learn style with easily-adaptable poses.
This study is the largest randomized controlled trial of its kind and demonstrates that yoga can be an effective, healthy alternative for treating chronic back pain rather than pain killers, anti-inflammatory drugs and muscle relaxants.
Are multivitamins a waste of money?
The multivitamin and supplement business makes an annual $12 billion dollars, and more than half of the adult population takes a multivitamin. A recent editorial, however, suggests that these purchases are a waste of money.
Though there may be an anecdotal belief that the multivitamins improve health or wellbeing, research on the subject is often inconclusive.
The editorial highlights three recent research studies, one of which suggests that multivitamins do not prevent cardiovascular disease or cancer, or prevent mortality in any way.
A second study came up with inconclusive results about the benefits of multivitamins after heart attack. The final study suggests that there was no change in cognitive functioning tests between groups who had taken either a multivitamin or a placebo for 12 years.
One critique of this research on multivitamins is that it is often conducted on relatively well and health-aware populations. Other researchers suggest that for low-income and undernourished populations, multivitamins can be “a backstop” against poor diets.
Most researchers and physicians agree, however, that despite the mixed opinions on multivitamins, exercise and a diet full of fruits and vegetables are key to overall health.
Unprocessed and processed red meat intake positively associated with Type 2 diabetes risk
A recent study found that after adjusting for age, BMI, and other factors, the consumption of unprocessed and processed red meat was positively associated with Type 2 diabetes risk. Processed meat included hot dogs, deli meat and bacon. The authors estimate that participants could lower their risk of Type 2 diabetes by 16-35% if they substituted one serving of red meat per day with nuts, low-fat dairy, or whole grains.
Aerobic exercise reverses age-related memory loss among subjects in trial
A randomized controlled trial shows that aerobic exercise training can improve spatial memory. The hippocampus generally shrinks in late adulthood, which causes impaired memory and higher risks of dementia.
When subjects in the trail exercised, the size of the anterior hippocampus increased its volume by 2 percent, leading to the spatial memory improvements and the reversal of age-related memory loss by one to two years.
In the control group, the volume of the hippocampus decreased, but the researchers found that the subjects’ pre-trial fitness levels attenuated the volume, suggesting that exercise can have a protective effect when it comes to volume loss and memory.
Study identifies specific foods, behaviors most likely to contribute to weight gain
Healthy farm soil as key to healthy bodies
Sources: Yes Magazine
Perhaps it’s not food that’s medicine, as Hippocrates suggested, but the soil the food is grown in that’s medicine.
At least that’s the idea behind soil scientists’ investigation into healthy farm soil as a key to healthy bodies. In this essay Dr. Daphne Miller summarizes some of the research investigating the health benefits of certain types of soil.
Studies suggest that ecological farming produces “a greater microbial biomass” than conventional farming, and it also involves more systems that share “holistic tenets” (including protecting topsoil, conserving water, limiting the use of chemicals, and recycling animal and vegetable race back to the land) that benefit both the land and the people who live on it.
In other areas of research, European immunologists and allergists are exploring why children raised on ecological farms experience fewer allergies than other children raised on industrial farms.
Part of these health benefits come from a process known as “genetic swaps” between the human microbiome and the outside world, such as where we grow our food.
In her own practice, Miller now informs patients that produce grown in “well-treated soil” may offer a distinct advantage in terms of nutrients and immune support when compared to more conventional produce. Certification processes make it difficult to identify exactly how foods have been raised, however, with some organic farms not qualifying as ‘ecological” and other farms, while not technically labeled “organic” are producing food in an ecological manner.
One easy test is to ask about the places our food comes from is: “does the farmer live on the farm?” If so, it’s likely that the farmer cares for his or her soil “as if it were another family member.” CSAs and farmers markets may be other ways to find this nutrient-rich produce, and to be able to ask questions of the farmers who produce it. Home growing produce is another option.
In conclusion, Miller encourages people to think of “a healthy body as an extension of a healthy farm.”
Exercise builds brain health: key roles of growth factor cascades and inflammation
Source: TRENDS in Neuroscience, September 2007
In this research article, the authors review scientific studies that analyze the benefits of exercise on the brain. They propose that exercise can improve the brain’s central mechanisms and reduce peripheral factors for cognitive decline. In addition to improving memory, learning, and the effects of depression, exercise can reduce peripheral risk factors (e.g., diabetes, cardiovascular disease) for neurodegeneration caused by inflammation.
Exercise counteracts inflammation’s negative effects by reducing the spread of pro-inflammatory signals (IGF-1 cytokines) and by increasing growth factor levels and signals (BDNF) in the brain. However, further research is needed on the functional consequences of Hippocampal neurogenesis—specifically, whether and/or how enhancing Hippocampal neurogenesis (through exercise) affects plasticity, learning, memory, and stress.
How changing habits can end destructive cycles in our lives
In this essay, author and therapist Stephen Stosy reflects on his prior belief in “the big transformation” that therapy makes possible. After several case studies (with disappointing follow-ups) he realized that “the big bang of therapeutically induced emotional catharsis” to create learning experiences and changed lives was not working like he wanted it to.
Upon this realization, he focused his concentration on what he was missing in his work. Part of his research was focused on state-dependent learning and recall, as he realized that the epiphanies that his patients experienced in his warm, cozy office were not as useful in the stressful, high-pressure and sometimes hostile day-to-day contexts that brought out their destructive or harmful tendencies.
He began to consider the role of habits, or the continual repetition of behaviors and thoughts in “highly reinforced neural connections.” These habits result in people acting without conscious thought, especially in familiar environments, which explains why the home is often the site for more social errors (insensitive or thoughtless words and actions, especially.)
Changing habits is difficult work because it requires focused attention, something that is particularly challenging when we are tired, distracted, and generally low on will power. Many people end up devouring a piece of cake when they intended to drink healthy juice. Eating the piece of cake will happen automatically, he says in an example, whereas drinking the vegetable juice will not be an automatic response, only considered (or remembered) after the cake has already been consumed.
The author began to change his therapy work guided by three learning principles. First, mental focus amplifies and magnifies whatever we’re thinking about, making it more important to us. Second, neural connections forged by repeated focus grow physically larger and stronger, making them prone to automatic activation. And third, the brain can’t not do something—thinking about what you don’t want to do usually reinforces the impulse to do it. He also explains the ways that “prosocial learning” gets subverted based on brain function, particularly by the prefrontal cortex.
He now encourages patients to recognize that “the alarm is not the fire.” When a dysfunctional emotional response occurs (the alarm), it’s crucial to let the next step be assessment, wherein patients ask: Why am I feeling this reaction? This step allows a person to regain perspective via focused attention, and then the third step, instead of an enhanced alarm (fear, anger, violence), can be an “improvement” that will address the real, underlying issue.
Once tailored to an individual’s situation, this script of alarm, assessment, and improvement should be rehearsed regularly, both outside of triggers and in controlled stress simulations. He calls this “blue collar therapy” because its repetition resembles an assembly line. Its mantra is “to get big change, think small,” and like physical therapy with an athlete, it is designed to create muscle memory.
The author outlines the questionnaires and processes that were used with one particular patient to develop the “blue collar therapy” tailored to his own tendencies toward domestic violence, and which can be applied to various dysfunctional emotional responses. He’s found that on average, this training requires practicing the script 12 times a day, for about six weeks, to form the new habits.
Scientists probe the benefits of exercise—and the dangers of sloth
Source: Harvard Magazine, March/April 2004
Years of research are clearly showing that exercise is one the best prescriptions for protecting and healing the body from ailments and physical problems that emerge with age. However, it is among the least-practiced activities in the United States.
Three-fourths of the nation’s population does not engage in the recommended 30-minutes per day of exercise, and two-thirds of Americans are either overweight or obese. Such sedentary lifestyles, and a lack of good nutrition, can lead to life-threatening diseases, particularly among today’s youth.
Overall, exercise (aerobic activities and/or strength training) has been shown to help slow the body’s natural aging process by: improving blood flow to the brain and heart, decreasing muscle decay, producing stronger bones and joints, improving brain activity, and a increasing immune system response. Exercise also can delay the onset, and/or reduce one’s risk of developing diabetes and some cancers; exercise affects the body’s insulin sensitivity and glucose transport by triggering glucose uptake by the muscles, regulating insulin production.
Though more research is needed on the effects of exercise on aging and on disease development, it has become clear that the body’s best bet for remaining or becoming healthy is exercise.
Experiencing power without status increases individuals’ odds of demeaning others
Both power and status are important influences on how individuals behave, but how do these two qualities interact? A recent study explored various combinations of these distinct variables, testing the simplistic age-old adage that “power corrupts,” and suggesting that reality is more complicated.
The authors define power as outcome control and status as respect and admiration, with both serving as “fundamental dimensions of social hierarchy." Research suggests that a lack of status makes people feel unappreciated and disrespected, which often triggers aggressive behavior as compensation. Power is also linked to “demeaning and aggressive tendencies,” and the more power one has, the more likely he or she is to display these behaviors.
The authors hypothesized that having power without status leads to people demeaning others. To test this, they designed an experiment that put people in high- and low-power roles that afforded high- or low-status, and then they observed how these traits interacted to produce demeaning behaviors among subjects.
Their hypothesis was supported: subjects who experienced high-power roles with low status were more demeaning to others than participants with any other combination of status and power. These findings reinforce the notion that the variables of status and power cannot be fully understood when studied in isolation; rather, their interaction is a key component.
Despite these conclusions, the authors acknowledge that there are examples of low-status power holders who treat others positively; thus, there is at least possibility for the effect observed in this study to be moderated, and individual personality traits surely play a part in these behaviors.
Sitting poses greater risk than pesticides, radiation and plastic chemicals combined
Source: ABC News
Sitting 4-6 hours a day puts you at an 80% higher risk of dying, more than pesticides on produce, cell phone radiation, and Styrofoam cup chemicals combined. Sitting results in obesity, which increases a person’s likelihood of cancer and heart disease; additionally, sitting compresses the spine, leading to circulatory problems and slower metabolism.
Where psychiatry fails to improve well-being, an integrated approach offers promise
Sources: World Psychiatry
In recent decades, the amount of money spent on psychotropic drugs and psychotherapy has failed to make people happier or to improve their well being. A recent essay explores this “practical failure of psychiatry,” equating it with the stigmatization of mental disorders and to ignoring approaches focused on enhancing “positive emotions, character development, life satisfaction, and spirituality.”
What the author suggests is a simple, practical approach to well-being via the integration of “biological, psychological, social, and spiritual methods for enhancing mental health.” He presents evidence about how practical clinical methods can help develop character and happiness among people, and that people can flourish and become self directed when they can become more calm, accept limitations, and let go of fears and conflicts.
Additionally, by increasing mindfulness and working in the service of others, people can learn to be more cooperative. By growing in self awareness of other people’s perspectives (many of which create negative emotions and limit the effects of positive emotions) people can learn to be more “self-transcendent.”
Modern psychiatry also finds itself at a crossroads, the author explains, because the fostering of spirituality and well-being is “crucial” for psychiatry, and yet, these factors have tended to be ignored because of a bias toward “materialistic reductionism.” Self-awareness requires an understanding of all aspects of being a human being, including the meaning that comes from spirituality.
The author also explains the states of self-awareness on the path to well being. People can go from “unaware,” where they are immature and seeking immediate gratification, to the “contemplation” stage, in which people experience effortless calm, impartial awareness, and an ability to access “what was previously unconscious” without effort or distress.
The author has developed a multi-step psychoeducational program for well being, called “The happy life: voyages to well-being.” The 15 intervention modules are about 50 minutes long, and are designed as “a universal intervention” to be used by individuals or within a professional therapy context.
All of the techniques have been tested in clinical work. The first set emphasizes behavioral methods focusing on positive emotions, the second set stimulates deeper meta-cognitive awareness, and the third set involves contemplative access to “preverbal symbols.”
Life expectancy declining in 85% of US counties
A recent study found that between 2000 and 2007, more than 85% of counties in the United States fell behind the life expectancy progress in other nations despite the fact that the country spent more per capita on health care during the same period. Race appears to be a significant factor.
While some U.S. communities showed progress, black men and women in the United States fall behind in international comparisons, living seven and eight to fifty years below international averages. Though race and class correlate with life expectancy, figures for most American communities are decreasing.
The authors recommend that addressing preventable and potentially fatal health issues such tobacco smoking, hypertension, diabetes, physical inactivity, obesity, and others would help reverse this trend.
Understanding the benefits of acupuncture, counseling in the treatment of depression
It’s estimated that depression affects more than 350 million people worldwide. Studies suggest that for more than half of patients, however, antidepressants don’t work to treat the condition, and many say they would prefer a drug-free treatment option.
A recent randomized controlled trial including patients who had sought out advice about or treatment for depression investigates how acupuncture treatment complements more standard care and counseling for the treatment of depression, including the use of pharmaceutical drugs.
Approximately 755 patients participated in the trial and were broken into three groups: one that received weekly 12 weekly sessions of acupuncture and usual care (including antidepressants), a second group that received counseling and usual care, and a group that only received usual care.
The findings suggest that when compared to usual care treatments alone, both acupuncture and counseling coupled with usual care provide significant benefits after three months for patients with recurring depression.
Though the authors acknowledge the limitations of the trial, they are optimistic that further research into the use of acupuncture and counseling is merited.
Meditation prescribed more often as alternative to conventional medicine, study finds
Findings from a survey study suggest that a greater number of people are using meditation and other mind-body therapies (i.e., yoga and acupuncture) for emotional and physical relief from illnesses/diseases. Nearly 40 percent of Americans use some form of complementary and/or alternative medicine, and more than 6 million of them are advised by health care providers to do so (particularly since studies show meditation can improve immune function and lower blood pressure).
Excitement about meditation’s healthcare potential is increasing, especially recently as the practice has been used to treat alcoholism, eating disorders, psoriasis, and impotence. However, experts remind us that meditation’s effects can be limited, and it must be used with conventional therapies to successfully treat medical conditions.
Tracing the rise of “the nightmare bacteria” in a post-antibiotic era
The PBS Frontline Documentary “Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria” investigates the global emergence of drug-resistant superbugs, which infect at least 2 million people a year and kill as many as 23,000 of those infected.
The documentary investigates several case studies related to the issue, including the story of 11-year-old Addie Rerecich. Doctors hypothesize that she contracted a staph infection after scratching and opening a very minor wound. She then developed pneumonia, had to be put on a lung bypass machine, and then developed Stenotrophomonas. This bacteria represents a “frightening new face of antibiotic resistance, a group of bacterial called Gram-negatives” that are very difficult to kill.
A double lung transplant seemed like her only hope for survival, but for a while, she was to sick to even consider the procedure; doctors estimated her survival rate as close to zero. Eventually she did, however, get the transplant, and the scratching of that scab ultimately resulted in two new lungs due to the superbug.
The documentary also shares the story of 19-year-old David Ricci, who was on the front lines of the NDM-1 superbug crisis while serving as a missionary in New Delhi, India. He went to a hospital for emergency treatment for a serious accident-related injury, which resulted in multiple surgeries and an amputation.
Along the way, Ricci developed NDM-1, which is not a bacteria itself, but a resistance gene that turns bacteria into superbugs, and can jump from bacteria to bacteria, “making treatable infections suddenly untreatable.” Ricci brought NDM-1 into the United States.
The documentary also chronicles a major KPC outbreak at the Clinical Center at the National Institutes of Health, providing a disturbing case study in how these superbugs spread throughout a hospital, including through the use of silent carriers. For instance, the bacteria has the capacity to live in the stomach of patients without causing infection, a stage in the transmission process that’s difficult to trace.
In a more detailed interview, Dr. Brad Spellberg, an infectious disease specialist interviewed for the documentary, explained how antibiotics revolutionized medicine, allowing doctors for the first time to actually treat and change the course of patients’ illnesses via new, complicated surgeries, cancer chemotherapy, premature neonates, and other procedures.
He also explains that antibiotic resistance has been with us for millions, if not billions of years. Thus, we are not creating the resistance, but we aid it by the creation of man-made antibiotics being introduced into the environment. Describing it as “simple Darwinian natural selection,” he explains that the more antibiotics we use, the faster resistance spreads.
He explains his own shock at the fact that in the 21st century we could run out of drugs, explaining that this resistant bacteria “sets medicine back 80 years.”
As Dr. Arjun Srinivasan, associate director for the Centers for Disease Control, says, it is no longer a question, but a fact: we have entered “a post-antibiotic era,” an era that people have speculated about and feared for a long time. “We’re here,” he explains. “There are patients for whom we have no therapy, and we are literally in a position of having a patient in a bed who has an infection, something that five years ago even we could have treated, but now we can't.”
A randomized controlled trial on effects of the Transcendental Meditation program on blood pressure, psychological distress, and coping in young adults
Source: American Journal of Hypertension, December 2009
A study on the effects of Transcendental Meditation (TM) on the body found that the practice can positively impact the physical and psychological wellbeing of young adults. College students were randomly assigned to a TM group or a control group, and those in the TM group (a three-month program) experienced positive health outcomes.
The students who meditated saw decreases in their blood pressure associated with decreased psychological distress, and those at risk for hypertension developed better coping skills. Students in the control group saw no changes in physical and/or psychological health. The study suggests mind-body programs can reduce risk for future development of hypertension in young adults.
Feeding livestock antibiotics and the rise of drug-resistant bacteria: understanding the connection
Source: Eating Well
A recent article in Eating Well magazine considered the relationship between antibiotic-resistant bacteria and the use of antibiotics in food production.
Infections like Staphylococcus aureus (referred to as MRSA) have more than doubled between 1999 and 2005, and the number of deaths from the infection rose from 11,200 to 17,200 during this time. Though the amount of antibiotics given to humans did not changed over this period, the amount of antibiotics fed to livestock “soared” from 18 million pounds in 1999 to 30 million pounds by 2011, accounting for 80 percent of all antibiotics used in the United States.
Livestock are fed regular, low “subtherapeutic” doses of these antibiotics not because the animals are sick, but to help them grow faster and better thrive in non-ideal living conditions. Drug companies began marketing this practice in the early 1950s, but by the 1970s, studies were beginning to question the practice, raising concerns that the animals and their handlers were growing resistant to antibiotics and that the low doses were not proven safe.
By the 2000s, studies found that substantial portions of livestock in given farm operations and, in turn, in supermarket meats, tested positive for MRSA. Antibiotic-resistant salmonella, yersinia enterocolitica, and listeria have all become more commonly found in meat samples. Though cooking this meat properly will kill the bacteria, thousands of people are sickened by them each year, and they can be fatal for vulnerable populations such as young children and the elderly.
Industry representatives deny the relationship between the use of antibiotics on livestock and resistant bacteria in humans and animals, but microbiologists are confident that the multi-drug-resistant strains are related to drug use in food animal production. Cross-cultural studies found that a ban on subtherapeutic antibiotic use in countries like Denmark (a ban that was quickly followed by the rest of the European Union) led to a dramatic decrease in instances of resistant bacteria in people and animals, yet pork production rose.
Other evidence suggests that there is a demand for drug-free animal products, reflected by companies like Whole Foods and Chipotle Mexican Grill that refuse to sell meat raised with antibiotics. Antibiotic-free meat sales figures are rising, as opposed to general meat and poultry sales numbers, which are flat.
Conscientious consumers and their purchasing power are key to changing these practices, especially since legislative changes in the United States related to the issue have been unsuccessful to date.
The new age: So big and healthy grandpa wouldn’t even know you
Source: The New York Times Health Section, July 2006
International research is increasingly showing that people today are living longer and healthier lives than people nearly a century ago. The human body and mind have undergone a unique evolution and the reasons why remain unclear to researchers and scientists. Humans today are more intelligent than their ancestors, and they are struck by chronic ailments (i.e., heart disease and arthritis) 10-25 years later in life.
It is hypothesized that the turn for the healthier is due to improvements in medical care, especially during the first two years of life. Health events that take place before the age of 2 can have a permanent, lasting effect on one’s health—thus, the healthier one is the first 24 months alive, the healthier one will be the remainder of his/her life. Improvements in childhood vaccines, food availability, antibiotic treatments, and working conditions, as well as larger body sizes (height and weight), likely contribute to improvements in health and today’s longer life span.
After tonsillectomy, acupuncture provides pain relief for children without side effects
With the commonly prescribed codeine now banned for use in children after tonsil removal surgery, more consideration is being given to alternative ways to help children manage this pain. A study in the Journal of Pediatric Otorhinolaryngology found that acupuncture is an effective and safe option.
More than 30 patients in the study received acupuncture treatment after a tonsillectomy. Prior to the treatment their pain was rated a 5.52/10. Fifteen minutes after the acupuncture treatment, that score reduced to a 1.92/10, a difference that is statistically significant. The benefits of the treatment lasted about two and a half days, and no adverse side effects were reported.
The study’s author explains that with the FDA ban on codeine, many parents are relying on over-the-counter pain relievers such as ibuprofen and acetaminophen for pain relief after the procedure, which may also have risks and side effects for young children. WIth most children experiencing some pain 10 days after a tonsillectomy, acupuncture provides a safe and effective option for pain relief.
CRP shown to predict heart disease among patients with metabolic syndrome
A study found that women diagnosed with metabolic syndrome who have higher levels of C-reactive protein (CRP) are two times more likely to experience heart problems than women with metabolic syndrome with lower levels of CRP. These findings are in line with previous studies, which link high CRP levels to increased risk of heart attack, stroke, and Type II diabetes.
With an estimated 50 million Americans at risk of being diagnosed with metabolic syndrome, this study suggests that CRP testing can help determine if a person is at low, moderate, or high risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event.
Fruit and vegetable prescription program nudges participants toward better diet choices
A non-profit, a chef, and some New York City physicians have partnered to make healthful food more available and affordable for low-income populations via the Rx Fruit and Vegetable Program.
Chef Michel Nischan partnered with area physicians to encourage patients to eat more fruits and vegetables, believing that patients would trust this diet advice if it medical professionals issued it. Children participating in the program take part in weekly nutrition sessions and health measurements (including insulin levels and blood pressure) and at the end of the session, they leave with a prescription for fruits and vegetables.
Importantly, the program funds the fruit and vegetable purchases, allowing participants to exchange their “prescription” for Health Bucks accepted at 140 city farm markets. The amount of Health Bucks covers not only the children who participate, but each person in their immediate family, providing nutritional benefits to their parents and siblings as well.
Initial results of the program, which seeks to serve as a “nudge” in the right dietary direction, are positive, with roughly 40 percent of participants dropping their body mass indexes after participation in the program. Organizers hope to expand the program in the future, saying that they have been receiving interest from “all over the country.”
>Benefits of fish consumption
Source: Harvard Gazette, Harvard Science
Meditation, gene expression, and the relaxation response
Regular meditation practice can alter a person’s gene expression in the exact opposite way that happens during a “flight or flight” stress response, according to a new study.
According to the study's findings, the specific genes turned on during meditation include those related to energy metabolism, insulin secretion, mitochondrial function and telomere maintenance; the genes related to inflammation are turned off during meditation. The results were more pronounced and consistent among long-term practitioners, supporting the notion that the effects of the “relaxation response” become stronger with practice (typically two times a day for 10-20 minutes.)
The study’s authors say that this suggests that meditation isn’t just about relaxation; rather, meditators experience a “specific genomic response” that can counteract the damage that stress can inflict on genes.
These findings add to a body of work that suggests that yoga, prayer, mantra recitation, and other meditative practices are related to decreased anxiety and depression as well as provide protection against hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and stress-exacerbated forms of cancer.
Meditation found to increase brain size: Mental calisthenics bulk up some layers
Source: Harvard Gazette, February 2006
A group of researchers found that mediation can alter the physical structure of the brain, with more experienced meditators showing increased thickness in parts of the brain linked to attention and processing sensory input. The study compared brain scans of experienced meditators and nonmediators.
The meditators engaged in “insight meditation,” or sensory-focused meditation, and the nonmeditators relaxed their minds. Participants who were most deeply involved in the mediation and had practiced meditation for years had the greatest thickness of gray matter. The increased thickness—a difference of only 4 to 8 thousandths of an inch—was proportional to the length of time a person had been meditating during his/her life.
Devout meditators could have healthier brains when fighting the effects of aging.
Tai Chi improves muscle strength in elderly
Regular Tai Chi practice resulted in significant improvements to arterial compliance and eccentric knee extensor strength in elderly women participating in a recent clinical trial.
The elderly women who participated in the trial were assigned either Tai Chi training or an education program over the course of 16 weeks. The group of women who received the Tai Chi experienced the improvement in the arterial compliance and knee extensor strength; participants in the control group showed no significant improvement.
The authors conclude that Tai Chi holds potential for improving muscle strength and cardiovascular health in the elderly.
Eight weeks to a better brain: Meditation study shows changes associated with awareness, stress
Researchers studying the effects of mindfulness meditation on the brain found that an eight-week meditation program created changes in regions of the brain associated with memory, sense of self, empathy, and stress. The study compared the magnetic resonance (MR) images of participants’ brain structure before and after the program.
The images suggested increased gray-matter density in the hippocampus (an area important for memory and learning, and associated with self-awareness and compassion) and decreased density in the amygdala (which plays an important role in anxiety and stress). Such findings could stimulate further research on meditation’s potential to protect against stress-related disorders.
How the Mediterranean diet may reduce children’s risk for asthma
New research explores the relationship between children’s diet and their risk for asthma and wheezing.
The analysis suggests that children who consume a Mediterranean diet rich in fish, fruit and vegetables experience less wheezing and have lower risk for asthma. Conversely, children who ate more than three hamburgers each week may develop a higher risk for these conditions. (The authors note, however, that the link between the hamburger consumption and asthma was likely related to some larger lifestyle factor related to social context and environmental factors and merits further research.)
The study, which included 20,000 children from 20 countries, found that these results held in both poor and wealthy nations.
The authors conclude that just as previous research suggests that a Mediterranean diet is recommended for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer, it may also be beneficial in reducing wheezing and asthma in children living in a variety of contexts around the globe.
Perfect landing: Study finds barefoot runners have less foot stress than shod ones
For long-term weight loss and improved health, avoid fad diets
Source: Public Health Reviews
With obesity rates rising in both adults and children in the United States, many fad weight-loss diets have emerged and been heavily promoted.
This analysis of “nutritional nonsense” out of the Yale Prevention Research Center explains that one of the most popular examples in recent years is the low-carb Atkins diet, though claims that weight loss is aided by anything other than reduced calories is lacking. Author David Katz highlights the lack of evidence that these fad diets produce “sustainable weight loss.”
Additionally, he argues that the fad diets overlook or go against well-established truths about dietary pattern and human health. Many diseases result in rapid weight loss, including cancer and cholera, but one would certainly not affiliate these weight-loss experiences with “health.” Studies suggest that people are most likely to achieve long-term weight loss when they partake in a fat-restricted diet composed of grains, vegetables, and fruit, and when they exercise regularly.
This strategy, says Katz, is “notably conducive to the promotion of overall health.” He argues that fad diets should be labeled “incompatible” with human health unless they are proved otherwise, and he believes that the proponents of these fad diets should be responsible for this burden of proof.
In the mean time, he calls for clinical and public health communities to educate individuals about the relationship between weight loss and overall health promotion, to support policies that reduce environmental factors related to obesity, and to stand together in resistance to “dietary propaganda.”
Low-carb diets linked with Type 2 diabetes
Source: The Huffington Post, Huffpost Health, April 2011
The writer claims that low-carbohydrate diets are not good weight loss methods since they are not sustainable and can lead to weight gain and health risks in the long run (i.e., heart disease and Type 2 diabetes). Studies show that people with low-carb diets are more likely to develop Type 2 diabetes than people with higher-carb diets.
Also, people who eat greater amounts of animal proteins and fats (those on low-carbohydrate diets) are more likely to develop diabetes than those with a diet high in vegetable proteins and fats. Although further research on the topic is needed, there is enough evidence to show that carbohydrates should be part of a person’s daily diet and should not be avoided for weight loss purposes.
The anatomical relationship between acupuncture points and connective tissue
Source: The Anatomical Record
A recent study sought to find out more about the relationship between connective tissue planes and acupuncture points and meridians, a relationship that has been suggested by ultrasound images that reveal connective tissue cleavage planes at acupuncture points.
The study mapped out acupuncture points in “serial gross anatomical sections” in a human arm via postmortem tissue sections and found an 80% correspondence between the acupuncture point sites and the location of the connective tissue planes.
The authors suggest that this anatomical relationship is relevant to acupuncturists and could play an important role for “interstitial connective tissue.”
Beyond BPA: Could 'BPA-free' products be just as unsafe?
Source: The Atlantic, April 2011
As findings on the negative health effects of Bisphenol A (BPA) in plastics continues to grow, production of new plastics for BPA-free bottles, can liners, and similar materials is on the rise. But the quick spread of new plastics has sparked consumer curiosity of the new materials and whether they are any safer than BPA.
One concern is that there is not enough information on the new plastics. The only information available comes from the manufacturers, who at times exclude toxicity data and test results for the material’s environmental effects. Federal agencies should conduct safety testing of the new materials before they are released on the market in consumer products.
How doctors choose to die: a peaceful, unmedicated death
Source: The Guardian
Though it’s not a common topic of discussion, the truth is that doctors die just like the rest of us. A recent essay by American doctor Ken Murray explained the manner in which medical experts themselves choose to die. One noteworthy trend is how little end-of-life medical treatment these doctors request.
Murray explains that because these doctors know so much about medicine, that they understand its limits. Because they have experienced first hand “futile care” at the end of their patients’ lives (in the form of surgeries and being filled with tubes, hooked to machines, and inundated with drugs), they are well aware of the financial costs of these measures as well as the “misery” they can inflict on the dying. Grieving families so often encourage the doctors serving their loved ones to “do everything” to extend a patient’s life, often unaware of the suffering that these measures can create.
Murray recommends a more clear discussion between patients’ families and doctors about what life-saving measures are “reasonable,” and being clear about the downsides of various procedures, including CPR.
From his own anecdotal observations, Murray explains that doctors choose to not over-treat themselves, preferring instead to die in peace at home with the necessary pain management treatment, or in the capable comfort provided by hospice care. For Murray, “death with dignity” should be an utmost priority for all patients facing the end of their days.
Combat drug resistance: no action today means no cure tomorrow
Source: World Health Organization, April 2011
In a statement for World Health Day, the World Health Organization’s Director-General, Margaret Chan, expressed her concerns about antibiotics losing their ability to cure diseases. There has been a quick rise and spread of drug-resistant pathogens, primarily due to overuse of antibiotics—medicines are given out liberally or to “be on the safe side.”
The underuse and misuse of medicines also are to blame since people stop treatment(s) sooner than they should, and/or they are misdiagnosed and given drugs for the wrong disease. The speed at which medicines are losing their effect is faster than the time it would take to create replacement drugs, increasing the risk of a global disease crisis. Taking action today to slow drug resistance is necessary for preventing the loss of cures in the future.
Qigong practice linked to decreased blood pressure
Source: Journal of Hypertension
A recent randomized controlled trial tested the use of qigong in the treatment of pre- and mild hypertension. Forty participants with either pre- or mild hypertension were assigned to one of two groups: one group that conducted qigong exercises five times a week for eight weeks, and another group that maintained their current lifestyle.
The results showed that participants who received the qigong treatment experienced a “significant” decrease in systolic and diastolic blood pressure after four weeks.
The authors concluded that qigong is safe and has a “positive effect on blood pressure and health status” in patients with pre- and mild hypertension.
What food choices are a matter of life and death?
Source: Townsend Letter; Book: The China Study, by T. Colin Campbell and Thomas M. Campbell, May 2011
Studies are increasingly finding that plant-based diets that exclude animal-derived foods such as fish, beef, and chicken are better for the body than diets that include such meats. Due to the excess proteins and fats, animal foods can cause serious health risks and trigger health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, cancers, and autoimmune diseases.
Animal-derived foods also can decrease the body’s metabolism and increase Body Mass Index (BMI). Plant food diets, on the other hand, have been found to prevent deaths caused by certain diseases and to increase metabolism and decrease BMI. Plant-based diets are overall much healthier for the body than animal-based diets.
Understanding how meat consumption relates to cancer risk
According to the World Health Organization, 30 percent of all cancers in Western countries (and up to 20 percent of cancers in developing countries) are now related to dietary factors. Meat eating tends to be a common factor, with various international studies suggesting that vegetarians are less likely than meat eaters to develop cancer.
Various hypotheses have been offered to explain this relationship between meat eating and increased cancer risk, such as meat’s lack of fiber and other nutrients, and the presence of animal protein, saturated fat and, depending on cooking processes, the presence of carcinogenic compounds in meat.
This analysis by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) summarizes recent research about meat consumption and a variety of cancer-related topics, such as carcinogenic compounds and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in cooked meat, as well as international study results about meat consumption and breast, colorectal, prostate, and other cancers.
PCRM concludes that two themes emerge from these studies: vegetables and fruits reduce cancer risk, while meat, animal products and fatty foods are “frequently found to increase risk.” Increased dietary fat leads to the production of hormones, which promote the growth of cancer in the breast, prostate, and other “hormone-sensitive organs.”
Without the protective effects of phytochemicals, fiber, and antioxidants (so often found in whole grains, fruits and vegetables), and with high levels of saturated fat and compounds that are potential carcinogenic, meat is often associated with an increased risk of many types of cancer.
What type of sugar addict are you?
Source: Townsend Letter, November 2010
How the bacteria we ingest in food affect brain function
Source: UCLA Health
Researchers at UCLA have provided evidence that brain function in humans is related to the bacteria ingested in food.
Their study of healthy women who regularly consumed probiotics via yogurt “showed altered brain function” for the women in both a resting state and in response to a task. MRI scans revealed that the women who consumed the probiotic yogurt (when compared to women who didn’t) showed a decrease in activity both in the insula (which processes internal body sensations) and the somatosensory cortex during an emotional reactivity task.
Additionally, the part of the brain related to emotion, cognition and sensory-related areas also showed a decrease in activity for the yogurt eating women. When resting, the women who ate the probiotic yogurt also showed greater connectivity between the “periaqueductal grey and cognition-associated areas of the prefrontal cortex.”
Previous research has demonstrated that the brain sends messages to the gut, but the UCLA study suggests that the communication happens in the opposite way as well, and that this alteration of the microbiota, the bacterial environment in the gut, affects the brain.
Researchers say that this early “proof-of-concept” study points the way for future research in the areas of dietary and drug interventions related to brain function and raises questions about the effects that repeated antibiotic use may have on the brain.
Exercise is medicine: Yoga's influence on cortisol and the cancer patient
Source: Townsend Letter, August/September 2010
Research has increasingly pointed to yoga as a restorative exercise that provides survival benefits to cancer patients. The low-intensity exercise has been shown to lower stress and to help the body develop stress-fighting mechanisms in the long run. Genes and hormones play a part in the equation, with hormones such as cortisol being affected—cortisol influences gene expression and can reduce the risk of cancers and gene damage.
Yoga reduces cortisol levels and improves the quality of the body’s circadian rhythm by restoring cortisol curves to a normal pattern. Though more research is needed on the subject, yoga’s cortisol-regulating mechanisms are a major contributor to its benefits to cancer treatment in patients.
Cancer experts recommend sweeping changes to detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer
Expert advisers have recommended sweeping changes regarding the nation’s definition, detection and treatment of certain types of cancer.
A working group of the National Cancer Institute, consisting of some of the country’s leading cancer researchers, have advocated for a reduction in the reference to certain types of premalignant conditions and lesions as “cancer,” saying that the word “carcinoma” can scare patients prematurely, resulting in their seeking out what might be unneeded or needlessly harmful treatment procedures, many of which come with increased exposure to radiation.
The impetus for these recommended changes includes growing concern among doctors regarding the increase of extreme and disfiguring procedures used to treat these premalignant conditions. Recent changes in technology have resulted in doctors’ ability to identify these “incidentalomas” much more often, and once they are identified, many physicians feel compelled to biopsy, treat and remove them. This leads to a cycle of what some doctors call “overdiagnosis” and“overtreatment.”
Criticism of these changes comes from doctors who are concerned with doctors’ inability to tell which types of tissue and tumors are likely to grow into fatal cancers, and which will fail to progress. Thus, to be safe, many doctors are likely to treat everything as if it will grow aggressive. However, even with this overdiagnosis and overtreatment, there has not been a “commensurate reduction in invasive cancer.”
Toddlers' junk food diet may lead to lower IQ
Source: Time Magazine's Healthland
A study comparing children’s IQs with their eating habits found that kids who ate more fast-food meals starting at age 3 had a slightly lower IQ by age 8.5 than kids who ate healthier foods. For each unit increase in processed food diets, kids lost 1.67 IQ points. On the other hand, kids gained 1.2 IQ points for each unit increase in healthy diets.
The IQ affected relates to kids’ verbal skills rather than their performance abilities—performance IQ relates to one’s innate intellectual ability, while verbal IQ relates to one’s education and environment, among other factors. Kids’ food consumption was measured and recorded by the parents, who completed reports on their children’s diets at ages 3, 4, 7, and 8.5. The quality of foods kids ate after age 3 did not greatly affect IQ level by age 8, meaning that the types of food a child eats matters most during their earliest years.
Crowdsourced health studies lead to positive health outcomes, shift focus from treatment to prevention
Several trends are shaping the nature of contemporary health research studies. First, citizen science is more often being conducted by non-professionally trained individuals. Second, web-based tools are recruiting participants via crowdsourcing. Finally, individuals are using online and digital technologies to actively participate in their own health care.
A recent analysis sought to review these crowdsourced health research studies regarding their status, impact and prospects. The authors found that “participatory health” is a growing area, and that participants use social networks, previous studies, apps, and personal health records to “achieve positive health outcomes.” They also observe that these crowdsourced studies vary in terms of intended outcomes and scientific rigor.
The researchers conclude that these participatory health initiatives, supported by online and social networking opportunities, are a growing part of the “public health ecosystem” and hold potential for expanding the scope of contemporary medicine from one focused on disease cure to one focused on prevention.
Pesticide influence on IQ
A study found that two organophosphate pesticides used on foods can be transferred from mother to baby during pregnancy and can have a negative effect on the child’s IQ. The mothers’ exposure to the pesticides, a result from their job as agriculture workers, was measured and compared to the children’s IQ until they were 7 years old.
The difference in IQ between children of mothers with the highest and lowest exposure to the pesticides was 7 points. While the 7-point difference is not alarming on the individual level, the effect can be serious for the general population—children will need more special services and future generations will grow with continually lower IQs.
Organophosphates have been removed from home use in the early 2000s, but they have since been widely used in agriculture. Eating organic fruits and vegetables, or washing them prior to eating them, can help eliminate consumption of the pesticides.
Long-term practice of a ketogenic diet for obese populations shows health benefits, yields no harmful side effects
A ketogenic diet is high in polyunsaturated fatty acids, consists of adequate protein, and is low in carbohydrates. Previous studies have shown the short-term effects of this diet in weight loss among obese populations; a recent study, however, was interested in determining the long-term effects of the diet on physical and biochemical factors.
More than 80 obese patients participated in the study, which put them on a 24-week ketogenic diet (consisting of 30 grams of carbohydrates, 1 g/kg body weight protein, 20% saturated fat, and 80% polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fat.)
After 24 weeks participants experienced a significant decrease in weight, body mass index, triglyceride levels, and blood glucose levels and a significant increase in HDL cholesterol levels.
The researchers conclude that a long-term ketogenic diet has significant health benefits and did not produce any significant side effects in the patients.
Broad racial disparities seen in Americans’ ills
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its first report detailing racial disparities in a broad array of health problems. It concludes that the poor, uninsured, and less educated live sicker, shorter lives. The report was assembled per request of the CDC director, who wanted to shed light on health problems and potential solutions. The report’s main focus is on racial differences, but it also breaks down illnesses by income level, region, age, and sex.
To walk or to run? Understanding the differing, but significant, health benefits of different workouts
Source: The New York Times
A variety of studies have explored whether walking or running offers more health benefits, and the conclusion is that it depends on what the exerciser hopes to accomplish.
Running seems to be the clear and away winner for controlling weight, particularly among participants over the age of 55, despite the fact that these older populations were not running a lot and were not expending many more calories per week during exercise than older walkers.
Even when energy expenditures were matched between walkers and runners, runners were still able to better control weight in the long term. One small study also suggests that walking increases exercisers’ post-workout appetite, but it decreases runners’ post-workout appetite.
For other health factors, walking is considered at least (if not more) as beneficial as running. Studies have linked both physical activities to lower risks of age-related cataracts, and lower blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels, diabetes and heart disease than sedentary populations. Interestingly, the reduction in the risk of heart disease was even greater for walkers than runners, when energy expenditure per day was equal (though authors acknowledge that it’s unlikely that most walkers expend the same amount of energy as runners in a given day.)
Finally, one point that the article raised was that people beginning a walking routine are often less healthy than those starting a running routine, so the potential for health improvement is greater, and authors conclude that walking or running is preferable to doing nothing.
When self-knowledge is only the beginning
Source: The New York Times
In this column, the writer contradicts the popular claim that insight, or self-understanding, can lead to well-being and/or happiness. He claims, though examples of personal observation, that people can possess clear insights of their lives yet still be depressed or feel no better than before. In fact, having too much insight can make one even more depressed or sad. Thus, rather than promoting insight, people should focus on their self-esteem and on their happiness to improve their well-being.
Exercise linked to reduced stress, decreased anxiety-related brain interference
A study on exercise and stress in mice suggests that physical activity reduces stress and reduces anxiety’s interference with regular brain function.
The researchers based at Princeton University found that when mice that exercised regularly were exposed to the stressor of exposure to cold water, their brains demonstrated an increase in neural activity that reduces “excitement in the ventral hippocampus,” a part of the brain related to anxiety regulation.
It had been established that exercise reduces anxiety while also “promoting the growth of new neurons in the ventral hippocampus.” Because these new neurons are young, however, they should be more excitable, suggesting that exercise should result in more anxiety instead of less.
The findings from the Princeton-led team, however, contribute to our understanding of stress and the brain by demonstrating how exercise also strengthens the “mechanisms that prevent these brain cells from firing,” establishing a more clear connection between physical activity and the ventral hippocampus.
Is sugar toxic?
Research is conclusively showing that the consumption of fructose in high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) and sucrose (i.e., refined sugar) are harmful to the body and are contributing causes for obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and some cancers.
The harmful effects of fructose are not due to the quantities consumed, but to how the body metabolizes it—fructose from sugar and HFCS are metabolized mainly by the liver instead of by cells in the body. If consumed in sufficient quantities—roughly 200 calories per day—fructose can affect one’s insulin resistance and liver fat production.
Although sugar is a carbohydrate, the fructose in sugar sets it apart from carbohydrates in foods such as bread, rice, and potatoes, which break down upon digestion to glucose alone and have less harmful effects on insulin resistance.
Further research on the topic and long-term studies are needed to yield more definitive answers regarding the quantity of fructose-filled foods the human body can consume prior to seeing negative effects.
Following ‘disturbing’ findings, journalists increase transparency of physicians’ drug prescription practices
For the typical patient, understanding doctors’ prescription practices can be difficult. After medical school, physicians are less likely to keep up to date on the latest studies and drugs, and their prescription practices are rarely monitored.
For drug makers, however, this information is easier to come by, as they spend millions acuqiring prescription records from the companies that buy them from pharmacies (a purchasing opportunity denied the investigative journalists working on this op-ed.)
The ProPublica journalists were eventually able to access prescribing data from Medicare following a long and complex Freedom of Information Act request. The results, which they describe as "disturbing," suggest that hundreds of physicians around the county were prescribing large quantities of unnecessary or dangerous drugs, and Medicare has done little-to-nothing about it.
The journalists have taken this data and created an online database that allows users to compare prescribing patterns between physicians, and have issued a call to action to physicians to view this database, to become more transparent about their prescribing practices and to hold one another accountable for their handling of prescriptions.
The searchable database is available at http://projects.propublica.org/checkup/.
Can exercise keep you young?
A study has found that exercise reduced or eliminated the effects of aging in mice genetically programmed to age more quickly (their mitochondria repair mechanism was compromised). While half of the mice remained sedentary for a year, the other half were allowed to briskly run on a wheel for 45 minutes, three times per week for five months.The exercise is equivalent to a person running 6.2 miles in 50-55 minutes.
While the sedentary mice were bald, weak, and dying at 8 months, the active mice remained energetic and had dark fur, full muscle mass and brain volume. At one year, all of the sedentary mice had died while all the active mice were still alive and had overall more healthy mitochondria than the sedentary ones.
While it remains a mystery exactly how exercise alters the aging process, this study shows that exercise can affect mitochondria function, and thus the course of aging.
Doctors criticize flu vaccine, citing less effectiveness and more side effects than CDC claims
A British Medical Journal recently published a critique of influenza vaccines penned by Johns Hopkins scientist Peter Doshi, Ph.D.
Despite the public health policy that has pushed the vaccines in aggressive ways (more than quadrupling the number of available doses over the last 20 years), Doshi argues that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been inaccurate about both the effectiveness of the vaccines and the number of side effects they produce.
One of the CDCs main arguments for the flu vaccine is that influenza can create serious complications, especially for the elderly population and people with chronic illnesses, but Doshi denies this claim, citing a lack of clinical trials that demonstrate “a reduction in serious outcomes” for these populations following a flu vaccine.
He argues that even when a vaccine is closely matched to a flu that’s prevalent that year, which is not always the case, controlled trials have found that vaccinating 33 to 100 people only resulted in one less case of influenza.
Regarding side effects, he cites an Australian study that states that one in every 110 children under the age of five had “convulsions” following 2009 H1N1 influenza vaccinations. That particular vaccine has also been linked to a spike in narcolepsy among adolescents.
Another physician, Dr. Russell Blaylock, has also taken issue with the vaccines publicly, arguing that the mercury in the vaccines suppresses people’s immunity and makes them more likely to get sick.
Additionally, he argues that mercury overstimulates the brain, an activation linked to Alzheimer’s and other degenerative diseases.
Blaylock says that the push for vaccines is financially motivated, describing them as “a pharmaceutical company’s dream.”
What’s the single best exercise?
Source: The New York Times Magazine
Physiologists cannot give a concrete answer for which type of exercise is the best for the human body and overall health. While rigorous exercises such as squats and butterflies can yield the best short-term results, they are typically unsustainable in the long-run.
Sustainability has been shown to be a key ingredient to exercise since studies suggest that most of the mortality-related benefits are seen after the first 30 minutes of exercise, five times a week. For years physiologists and researchers have considered brisk walking the best exercise due to its sustainability.
More recently, high-intensity interval training (H.I.T.), an all-interval exercise, has proved to be more strenuous and muscle-toning than walking, as well as something people can do several times per week.
Restricted calorie diet linked to decrease in disease risk, lower body fat and slower aging
A longitudinal study of rhesus monkeys recently investigated the effect of caloric restriction (CR) without malnutrition. Though research on CR occurred as early as 1935, it wasn’t until the 1990s that the practice was linked to a slowing of the aging process. Studies identified the metabolic reprogramming that happened during CR as “a key event” in lifespan extension.
Though primates on CR appeared younger than controls, scientists sought to find out whether they were also biologically younger than controls. They tested for age-associated conditions most prevalent in humans, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and brain atrophy.
At the end of the 20-year study, researchers found “robust" effects of CR on body composition and metabolic function. Body weight was reduced compared to control animals, primarily due to a decrease in total body fat.
CR also resulted in improvements to metabolic function, particularly insulin sensitivity and the prevention of diabetes. Both the incidence of cancer-related neoplasia and cardiovascular disease were reduced by 50% for the monkeys on CR.
Overall, the monkeys not on CR showed three times the rate of age-related diseases than the animals on CR, suggesting that controlled, long-term CR can delay age-associated pathologies, a finding that has significant implications for human populations, given the parallels between rhesus monkeys and humans.
Fat, fiber and estrogen
Source: Journal of Complementary Medicine
Recent studies conducted by researchers from University of Helsinki and Tufts University School of Medicine have affirmed the correlation between high-fat/low-fiber diets and increased estrogen levels. Women with higher estrogen levels have a greater chance of developing breast cancer.
The results of the study suggest that the standard Western diet, often consisting of high fat/low fiber foods, is the opposite of what women should be consuming to reduce their chances of developing breast cancer.
Kale juice linked to reduced risks of coronary artery disease for men
According to a recent study, regular consumption of kale juice offers health benefits to men who have hyperlipidemia, a condition in which levels of lipids and lipoproteins are elevated in the blood, which increases risk of cardiovascular disease.
When men diagnosed with hypercholesterolemia were given 150 milliliters of kale juice a day for 12 weeks, researchers observed favorable improvements to their lipid profiles and antioxidant systems, both of which can reduce the risks of coronary artery disease for men with hyperlipidemia.
The researchers suggest that men living with this condition can achieve similar improvements with regular consumption of kale juice.
For cancer survivors, yoga may boost energy and aid sleep
Source: CNN Health; May 2010
A recent study funded by the National Cancer Institute shows that yoga can help offset the sleeping problems that many cancer survivors experience. The study is particularly encouraging for cancer survivors who have been hesitant about taking sleep medications (for a wide variety of reasons) and who are, consequently, suffering from chronic fatigue.
Participants in the study engaged in low-intensity yoga routines and reported significant increase in their energy levels compared to those who were not doing yoga. Although further studies are necessary in order to understand more fully the ways in which yoga affects the body and minds of cancer survivors, researchers did note that the breathing techniques used in yoga seemed to alleviate the anxiety, nausea, and pain that are commonly experiences for those who have battled cancer.
Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine linked to improved pregnancy rates among women managing infertility
Traditional Chinese Herbal Medicine (CHM) may hold answers for the management of infertility and pregnancy rates.
A recent meta analysis of studies investigating the link between Traditional Chinese Medicine and infertility found that women utilizing CHM therapy over a four-month period had a 3.5 greater likelihood of achieving pregnancy than did women using traditional Western medical treatment alone.
The authors conclude that assessing the quality of the menstrual cycle, a key component of TCM diagnosis, plays an essential role in female infertility treatment.
The perils of plastic
Source: Time Magazine
With the massive increase in the use of industrial chemicals throughout the second half of the 20th century, scientists have grown increasingly concerned about the effects these synthetics might be having on our bodies. The CDC (Center for Disease Control and Prevention) recently conducted a bio-monitoring survey and found traces of 212 environmental chemicals in Americans.
Of particular concern to scientists were the abundance of toxic metals, pesticides, flame-retardants, and percholorate, which is an ingredient in rocket fuel. Although the effects of these chemicals are still being understood by scientists, they have been linked to obesity, autism, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. The rampant use of these chemicals, which are extremely prevalent in the plastics industry, has prompted the Obama administration to start investigating the possible effects of chemicals such as BPA and its effects on the human body.
The government investigation appears long overdue given the findings of the CDC and it may, in fact, lead to the EPA actually putting some regulatory force behind the Toxic Substance Control Act of 1976.
Artificial sweeteners linked to weight gain, increased BMI, and increased sugar cravings
The rise of obesity rates in the United States corresponds with the population’s increased use of calorie-free artificial sweeteners like sucralose and aspartame, often used in diet food products and diet sodas.
A review of literature studying the relationship between artificial sweeteners and weight gain indicates that today’s consumers are more likely than ever to encounter food products with artificial sweeteners (in fact, more than 6,000 new products containing them debuted in the U.S. between 1999 and 2004.)
These products are often popular with groups seeking to lose or maintain weight, because traditional sugar is considered to be high calorie and therefore would contribute to weight gain. Studies suggest, however, that people who consume these artificial sweeteners have higher body mass indexes and are more like to gain weight than people who don’t consume them.
Similar results have been found among child populations consuming artificially sweetened drinks.
Other studies suggest that merely replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with diet beverages does not, on its own, lead to weight loss. Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners have also been linked to increased motivation to eat and compensatory overeating. Research has found that artificial sweeteners do not activate the “food reward pathways” in the brain in the same way that natural sweeteners do, suggesting that they may fail to provide “complete satisfaction,” which could contribute to a subject’s desire to seek more food after consuming them.
At the same time, these artificially sweetened products simultaneously encourage sugar cravings and sugar dependence.
White bread, rice, and other carbs boost heart disease risk in women
A recent study has demonstrated that women who consume foods with a high glycemic index increase their risk of heart disease. Women who ate high glycemic foods such as white bread, white rice, pizza, and other carbohydrate-rich foods were 2.25 times more likely to develop heart disease.
The study did not find the same correlation in men, whose bodies process carbohydrates differently. The conclusion of this study reinforced the belief that women should choose low-glycemic carbohydrates such as whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and legumes whenever possible. The study was conducted by Sabina Sieri at the national institute for cancer research in Milan, Italy.
Acupuncture treatment reduces seasonal allergy symptoms
Source: Annals of Internal Medicine
Researchers recently investigated the effectiveness of acupuncture for the treatment of seasonal allergy symptoms. More than 400 people who qualified as having allergic nasal symptoms or pollen allergies were divided into three groups: one that received 12 acupuncture treatments and took antihistamines, one that received 12 fake acupuncture treatments and took antihistamines, and a third that only took antihistamines, but did not receive acupuncture treatment.
The findings suggest that those participants who received acupuncture reported an improvement in allergy symptoms and a decrease in their use of medication in comparison to volunteers who did not receive acupuncture treatments. The study suggests that acupuncture treatment can help improve symptoms for people suffering from seasonal allergic rhinitis.
Maternal health: A new study challenges benefits of Vitamin A for women and babies
Source: The New York Times
A new study conducted by the Global Health Institute of University College London appears to contradict an earlier study in Nepal that suggested that child-bearing women who took Vitamin A supplements lowered their risk of childbirth complications and possible death. The doctors used a relatively large sample size (208,000) in Ghana to complete their study and found that those who received Vitamin A supplements were no less likely to die or be hospitalized for childbirth complications than those taking the placebo.
The conclusion of the study was that the consumption of Vitamin A supplements did not make a statistically significant difference in women's health and that more effort should be made into finding ways to get women actual food.
Acupuncture shown to improve symptoms, overall wellbeing in Crohn's patients
A study recently investigated the traditional practice of using acupuncture to treat inflammatory bowel disease, a practice with origins in China that is now becoming more common in Western countries.
In order to test the effectiveness of acupuncture on active Crohn's disease, a trial provided patients with mild to moderately active Crohn's disease with 10 traditional acupuncture treatments over a period of 4 weeks, following up for 12 weeks. A control group received treatment at non-acupuncture points.
The study found that the traditional acupuncture treatment decreased patients’ Crohn's disease activity index (CDAI). There was also a “marked placebo effect” in that both groups experienced a decreased CDAI and “improvements in general well-being and quality of life.”
The authors conclude that traditional acupuncture offers “an additional therapeutic benefit” for patients with mild to moderate Crohn's disease.
Is it safe to eat lettuce amid E.coli outbreak?
Source: CNN Health
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention recently expanded its list of states that might be affected by the latest E. coli outbreak linked to lettuce. Although only 23 people have become sick in this latest outbreak, the prevalence of this potentially deadly food-born illness over the last 15 years has many consumers concerned about what lettuce and other leafy greens are really safe to eat anymore.
The conclusion of most microbiologists and food safety experts, however, is not to stop eating leafy greens altogether, but rather, to make better choices about the type of leafy greens that you buy. Whenever possible, consumers should by whole lettuce and cut it themselves. To take extra precautions, the outer leaves can be thrown out since that is often the location where bacteria resides.
Millions using prescription sleep aids each month despite lack of research on long-term risks
Estimates suggest that 50-70 million Americans experience some sort of sleep disorder, failing to get the 7-9 hours of sleep per night that is generally recommended for adults to maintain good health.
The Centers for Disease Control recently released data from a national survey on prescription sleep aids. The study, which included interviews with 17,000 adults between 2005 and 2010, found that about 4% of U.S. adults ages 20 and over (approximately 9 million people) had used prescription sleep aids in the past month.
The study also refers to market research suggesting a tripling in the number of sleep aid prescriptions between 1998 and 2006 for people ages 18-24. Use of prescription sleep aids varied based on gender, education and ethnicity.The study found that older and more educated populations were more likely to use prescription sleep aids, and women (5%) were more likely to use them than men (3.1%). Whites respondents were also the most likely to use prescription sleep aids (4.7%, compared to 2.5% of non-Hispanic black respondents and 2% of Mexican-American respondents.)
The use of the aids was highest among those adults sleeping fewer than 5 hours a night or 9 or more hours a night. Research suggests that sleep aids do work, but experts warn that drug-induced sleep may not be of the same quality as natural sleep, and only a limited number of studies have looked into the long-term effects of chronic prescription sleep aid use.
Source: The New York Times
The federal government recently commissioned a report to investigate food allergies and the tests being used to diagnose them. The investigation was headed by the National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases department. The results of the study found that most people who believe they have food allergies (approximately 30 percent of the population) have actually been misdiagnosed by their doctors.
Only approximately 5% of adults have food allergies. Patients misdiagnose certain types of food sensitivity or intolerance as an allergy. Doctors often confirm these misdiagnoses because the more reliable tests such as "food challenges" are seen as too time consuming. Instead, they look at things like IgE antibodies which often give false positives since some people produces antibodies to foods without there having any impact on their bodies.
The report affirmed the growing consensus that a great deal more research is needed to understand the cause of food allergies and its interaction with our immune system.
All highly processed carbs, not just sugar, contribute to obesity and other diseasesThough refined sugar has increasingly been the target of public health advocates and researchers seeking to prevent obesity and its related diseases, it is not the only culprit in these health phenomena.
Why our salt addiction is hard to kick
The FDA is considering limiting the amount of sodium that can be used in packaged foods. Excessive salt consumption can cause high blood pressure and make individuals more susceptible to heart attacks, strokes, and other health problems. The problem, however, is that the American palate has grown so accustomed to the high levels of sodium in food that any significant change in the sodium level will likely result in consumers rejecting the particular food item.
Yet, the problem remains. The average America consumes approximately 50 percent more sodium than doctors recommend. The only solution appears to be a gradual decrease in the amount of sodium in processed food that is subtle enough to go largely undetected by American consumers. We literally have to wean ourselves off of salt.
While experts are still trying to understand all the factors that go into the people's desire for salt, they have determined that there are biological, environmental, and perhaps even psychological factors that directly contribute to people desire for the saltiness taste.
Harmless bacteria on the skin linked to heightened immune response
Source: National Institutes of Health
The non-threatening bacteria, or microbiota, found on the skin, may actually help the immune system kill disease-causing microbes, according to recent research.
A new study looking at the relationship between these microbiota and immune cell function found that germ-free mice raised without microbes in their stomach or on their skin had weaker skin immune function than normal mice. When the germ-free mice were exposed to Staphylococcus epidermidis, the mice experienced an immune response related to combating harmful microbes.
Relatedly, when exposed to a skin parasite, the germ-free mice did not mount an immune response to the parasite, but the regular mice did. Separate experiments suggest that the absence of microbes in the gut had no effect on the immune reaction of the skin, suggesting that the microbes may function differently at different sites on the body.
Researchers stop diabetes damage with high Vitamin C
Researchers at the Harold Hamm Oklahoma Diabetes Center have discovered that they are able to offset some of the damage caused by type 1 diabetes by adding a concentrated dose of Vitamin C to the regular insulin doses that patients receive. Diabetes can cause serious damage to blood vessels, which can lead to cardiac diseases such as hypertension, chronic heart failure, chronic renal failure, and coronary artery disease.
Scientists have concluded that insulin alone is not enough to inhibit some of the damage caused by diabetes. When Vitamin C is added, however, cell function and oxidization remain stable. Despite their results, the researchers qualified their findings to note that the Vitamin C that the patients received was administered directly into the bloodstream, and it is unlikely that patients would have experienced the same benefits with over-the-counter supplements.
Still, the research continues on the positive effects of antioxidants on diabetes with the hope that a more effective and inexpensive treatment might one day be available.
Waist-to-height ratio trumps BMI as measure of cardiometabolic risk
Source: Obesity Reviews
Though body mass index (BMI) and waist circumference have both been standards used in determining obesity and health issues in contemporary medical practice, a recent study suggests that waist-to-height ratio (WHtR) may actually be a "significantly superior" tool for determining cardiometabolic risk (including diabetes, dyslipidemia and cardiovascular disease.)
Even beyond its assessment benefits, researchers believe that, as a practical tool, WHtR holds many advantages because individuals' self-reporting of waist circumference is likely to be more accurate than their self-reporting of weight (a requirement of BMI measurement) and the apparatus required (a measuring tape vs. a scale) is both a cheaper and more low-tech option.
Study: ADHD linked to pesticide exposure
Source: CNN Health
Researchers affiliated with the University of Montreal recently completed their study on the correlation between pesticide exposure and ADHD in children. By testing the urine of 1,139 children from various regions throughout the United States, researchers were able to determine that those who had been exposed to above-average levels of pesticide byproducts were approximately twice as likely to have been diagnosed with ADHD.
Although pesticide exposure has long been linked to behavioral and cognitive problems in children, no study has looked at the effects of exposure across the entire population and instead has primarily focused on rural and high-risk areas. Pesticides literally have toxic effects on the nervous system of living creatures, which, while useful for killing off pests, has a direct and harmful impact on our brain's chemicals. Since the EPA has largely banned residential uses of pesticides, the primary source of exposure appears to be commercially grown produce.
The conclusion of this study definitely points to the importance of children consuming organic and locally grown produce whenever possible as they are particularly susceptible to the risks of pesticide exposure.
Documentary highlights problems within for-profit "disease care system," suggests alternatives
The 2012 documentary Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Healthcare exposes how the for-profit nature of the U.S. healthcare system results in an over reliance upon pharmaceuticals and high-tech medical interventions while overlooking many simpler preventative lifestyle changes and health modalities that have been proven both effective and without harmful side effects.
The documentary is a critique of the failed healthcare system (more aptly referred to as a “disease management system”) that costs roughly $2.7 trillion a year, with the United States spending almost 3 times as much per citizen as other developed nations, but with far worse health outcomes.
Frustrated medical doctors and researchers share their own experiences about how the era of for-profit health care treatment has shrunk the time they can spend with their patients, and their frustration about how a focus on disease intervention, rather than prevention, not only overlooks the cause of patients’ suffering, but can also extend the life of many diseases.
The documentary highlights the failure of the U.S. healthcare system through a critique of pharmaceutical advertising and prescription reliance (estimated to be a $300 billion yearly industry in the United States, almost as much as the rest of the world combined.) The documentary showcases the U.S. military as a microcosm of pharmaceutical abuse happening on a larger cultural scale, explaining that soldiers’ use of prescription drugs has tripled in the last five years, something believed to be related to increases in the number of soldier and veteran suicides.
Prescription drug addiction had become such a massive issue within the U.S. military that a special taskforce was created to explore the issue, particularly alternative methods for treating chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.
The task force’s research, particularly their identification of the effectiveness of acupuncture, meditation and yoga for the treatment of soldiers’ physical and emotional pain, represents the larger moral of the documentary: that relatively simple and risk-free behaviors and habits can make substantial improvements to health and decrease people’s reliance on risky drugs and procedures.
Dr. Dean Ornish is also featured in the documentary, which highlights his struggle to convince Medicare to adopt the effective procedures of his healthy lifestyle plan (including 30 minutes of exercise a day, a low-fat vegetarian diet and daily mindfulness practice) as a strategy against heart disease and cancer prevention (the procedures for putting in heart stents and catheterizations are reimbursable at a far higher rate than an office visit to discuss nutrition or lifestyle changes.)
Additionally, the grocery store Safeway is lifted up as an example of how businesses can both improve the health of their employees and decrease their health care costs, demonstrating that the health and well being of employees is not contradictory to productivity and profits.
The documentary highlights other political issues that hinder effective and lasting health care reform, including powerful political lobbying by pharmaceutical and healthcare companies, the F.D.A.’s lack of oversight for prescription drugs such as Avandia (a diabetes drug that increased users’ risk of heart attack by 30 percent, a fact that wasn’t reported until long after the drug was approved and aggressively marketed) and the lack of funding available for more in-depth primary health care, which results in primary care providers rushing through appointments in order to keep their practices in the black and their doors open.
Understanding how meditation changes the brain
Source: Psychology Today
Meditation has been linked to many life improvements (including clarity, calmness, and reduced anxiety), and these improvements are linked to specific changes in the brain. First, people who meditate regularly experience a breakdown between the sections of their brain that create bodily sensations of fear, anxiety, or the presence of a problem.
As that connection breaks down, practitioners are able to ignore those feelings of anxiety, and to let go of the notion that something is wrong with them or that they are the problem. This helps explain why meditation reduces anxiety.
Additionally, meditation produces a stronger connection in the brain between the lateral prefrontal cortex and the bodily fear centers, so that when a practitioner experiences something potentially dangerous or upsetting, he or she can approach it more rationally, instead of having an automatic and self-centered reaction.
Finally, meditation strengthens connections between the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and the bodily sensation center, which enhances the practitioners' ability to empathize, to infer other people's state of mind, and to put themselves in other people's shoes.
To maintain these benefits, daily practice is important because due to the brain's neuroplasticity, the brain can revert back to old behaviors fairly quickly.
Nuts and healthy body weight maintenance mechanisms
The health benefits of nuts have been well established by the medical community. Nuts are rich in fiber, protein, and phytochemicals and contribute to overall cardiovascular health. The hesitancy of many individuals, however, to incorporate them more readily into their diet is largely due to their fat content.
Researchers at Purdue University, however, have recently concluded that nut consumption is not associated with higher body weight. On the contrary, nuts are an incredibly energy dense food and when eaten in moderation actually make it easier to maintain a consistent weight management program. The fat content of nuts therefore should not be a prohibitive factor in the decision to incorporate them more readily into one's diet, particularly when they provide such obvious health benefits.
Low carbohydrate diet linked to adverse vascular effects
In order to shed light on the long-term effects of low carbohydrate and high protein (LCHP) diets, researchers fed one sample of mice an LCHP diet and compared its health with a sample fed standard chow and another fed a standard Western diet (which has fat and cholesterol levels similar to LCHP.)
The results indicated that the mice on the LCHP diet developed more aortic atherosclerosis (a thickening of artery walls due to fatty cholesterol and triglycerides, linked to cardiovascular mortality) and were less likely to generate new cells when tissues experienced restricted blood supplies (ischemia) than mice in the other groups. The mice on the LCHP diet also experienced a reduction in cells related to vascular regenerative capacity, and their EPCs registered lower levels of AKt, a substance important to survival that plays key roles in various cellular processes.
The researchers conclude that within this animal population, an LCHP diet had "adverse vascular effects" that may not be adequately reflect in serum risk markers. Additionally, the study reinforces the important effects of non-lipid macronutrients unrelated to weight gain.
Nuts, inflammation and insulin resistance
Having conclusively demonstrated how the consumption of nuts reduces cardiovascular disease, scientists have also become interested in the ways nuts influence inflammation and insulin resistance. Evidently, several components of nuts including, magnesium, fiber, linolenic acid, and L-arginine may reduce inflammation and protect against insulin resistance.
A diet rich in nuts results in an overall decrease in the body's glycemic index and produces an insulin sensitivity that helps to reduce the risk of diabetes.
Additionally, the antioxidants in nuts help to alleviate inflammation, which is another contributing factor to insulin resistance. The health of benefits of nuts, therefore, should include their role in reducing inflammation and protecting against insulin resistance.
A 'winding' response: The relationship between connective tissue, acupuncture, and reduced tissue tension
Source: The Scientist
Connective tissue is an integral part of the human body, and its role in diseases and chronic pain is earning increased attention. Within the larger and growing field of mechanotransduction, scientists have been studying fibroblasts, the cells that synthesize all the proteins that compose the extracellular matrix. They live inside that matrix, and help to regulate the amount of collagen and other proteins as well as "secreting matrix-degrading enzymes in response to chronic changes in tissue forces."
When transformed to myofibroblasts, these cells can respond to acute injury by pulling the edges of the wound closed. Though these myofibroblasts die when a scar appears, chronic inflammation can create an excess of collagen, increasing tension and decreasing a full range of motion. This can also aid in the development of cancer and tissue fibroses.
Within this context, research is exploring how connective tissue's "winding response to acupuncture needles" may activate fibroblast reorganization that ultimately helps the tissue "fully relax" and reduce tissue tension. Further elaborating this relationship, researchers note that acupuncture meridians, the lines that connect acupuncture points, are located along connective-tissue planes.
Researchers conclude that acupuncture needle manipulation "constitutes a useful tool that can be used to study this biomechanical function" and encourage more attention to this area of treatment potential.
Nutrients and the brain
Source: Center for Integrative Clinical and Molecular medicine at the University of Queensland
A recent study conducted at the University of Queensland has demonstrated that children who receive poor nutrition at early age face significant consequences in regarding to their learning and behavior. The brain relies on micronutrients such as choline, iron, zinc, protein, fatty acids, copper, iodine, selenium, vitamin A and folate for its growth and development.
Pregnant women who are malnourished (imbalance of nutrients) or undernourished (overall lack of caloric intake) have a high risk of giving birth to children whose neural development has significantly affected. Indeed, some of the damage may be irreversible event with later nutritional supplementation regime. The study also noted the important role that exercise plays in brain development due to the chemical it releases in the body.
A vegetarian diet could add years to your life
A recent study followed more than 70,000 members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, a group known for promoting vegetarianism, in order to analyze the relationship between diet type and death rate.
The study found that the vegetarians in the sample experienced 12% fewer deaths than meat eaters during the nearly six-year period. The vegetarians were also 19% less likely than meat eaters to die from heart disease and were less likely to experience deaths related to diabetes and kidney failure.
These results, which had a stronger appearance in men than women, appeared to be independent of caloric intake. Cancer struck both groups in "roughly equal measure." Researchers hypothesize that the longevity related to vegetarian diets may be related to the consumption of high fiber nutrients that are also low in saturated fat.
Eat alkaline for longevity
Source: Journal of Complementary Medicine
Study finds extensive evidence of fecal contamination in ground turkey samples
Source: Consumer Reports
A recent Consumer Reports study found that 90 percent of ground turkey samples from American retailers contained one or more of the five bacteria they were testing for. Nearly 70 percent of the samples, purchased in retail stores around the United States, contained enterococcus and 60 percent contained E. coli, both of which are associated with fecal contamination.
Fifteen percent of the samples contained Staphylococcusaureus, and 5 percent contained salmonella. Though they tested for Campylobacter, they found no positive samples within the turkey meat.
Additionally, ground turkey produces that were marked as "organic" or "raised without antibiotics" were just as likely to harbor these bacteria as the conventional products. The bacteria found on those products, however, were more much less likely to be antibiotic-resistant than the bacteria found on the conventional products.
Source: The Lancet; PubMed
Low back pain (LBP) is a worldwide public health problem. The proportion of the population who report LBP at some point in their lives is as high as 84 percent, and the prevalence of chronic LBP is about 23 percent. Research has thus far focused on the genetic factors underlying back pain, but several studies are exploring the relationship between LBP and nutrition and blood flow.
A literature review that assessed associations between blood flow and LBP suggested that diminished blood flow from atherosclerosis or stenosis of the feeding arteries of the lumbar spine may be associated with disc degeneration and consequent LBP. Additional evidence of this association comes from a clinical study that examined cholesterol levels and arterial constriction in patients with long-term nonspecific LBP. Sixty-two percent of the men and 50 percent of the women had significant disc degeneration associated with constricted arteries, and interestingly, patients with high cholesterol complained more often about severe pain. The study indicated that certain arteries are often constricted in patients with long-term nonspecific LBP, which may also be associated with disc degeneration.
Another study looked deeper into the relationship between sciatica, cholesterol levels, and hyperlipidemia. It found that, in men without hyperlipidemia treatment, sciatica was associated with high levels of total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides, but not with HDL cholesterol. It also found that pharmaceutically treated hyperlipidemia was associated with sciatica in women but not in men.
Findings from these studies generally support the hypothesis that decreased blood flow can, over time, contribute to stenosis, disc degeneration, and other conditions that lead to increased LBP.
Acupuncture linked to improved memory and test taking, reduced anxiety
A new study in The Journal of Acupuncture and Meridian Studies demonstrates acupuncture's benefits for memory, text performance and reduced anxiety. In an experiment with 90 undergraduate students, half of the population received acupuncture and the other had points swabbed and touched, but did not experience an acupuncture treatment.
Next, all students took a memory test. Those who had received acupuncture scored 9.5% higher on the measure of "keeping items in memory" and made 36% fewer processing errors.
The students also took a State-Trait Anxiety Inventory, and those students who had received the real acupuncture treatment reported significantly less anxiety than those who received merely swabs. Though other studies have linked acupuncture with improved memory for people already experiencing memory impairment, this study is innovative in that it suggests that these benefits can begin in as little as one treatment and can improve performance in otherwise healthy subjects.