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Shrines and Serenity in Japan (Photos)

Since my first visit to Japan as a teenager in 1959, I have felt a powerful connection to its culture, aesthetics and people. In the years since, I have been back more times than I can recall. It seems I simply cannot stay away too long. Whenever I travel to this great country, I visit some of the amazing shrines!

Dietary Supplement May Help Treat MS 

A dietary supplement similar to glucosamine (commonly used to address arthritis symptoms) may turn out to be a treatment that could put the brakes on multiple sclerosis (MS) and other autoimmune diseases. Research from the University of California, Irvine, found that oral N-acetylglucosamine (GlcNAc) inhibited the growth and function of abnormal T-cells that, in MS, direct the immune system to attack tissue that protects nerves. The studies were done in mice with an MS-like autoimmune disease that causes leg weakness. The supplement, given orally, reversed progression of the weakness, preventing its usual course to paralysis. The research team leader said that GlcNAc works by correcting a genetic defect that induces cells to attack the body. In MS, this correction would suppress hyperactivity of abnormal T-cells (a type of immune system cell) and the autoimmune response by increasing sugar modifications to T-cell proteins. The UC Irvine lead researcher noted that elsewhere a clinical trial found that eight of 12 children with treatment-resistant autoimmune inflammatory bowel disease improved significantly after taking GlcNAc for two years. More human studies are needed to further explore this approach. The study was published online September 29 in The Journal of Biological Chemistry.

My take? It will be interesting to see if this new approach is as promising as this study suggests it may be. MS is one of the most baffling of all diseases - we know very little about what triggers it and what factors influence its progression and outcome. Integrative approaches are ideal for MS patients because of the disease's variability and potential to go into remission, as well as its responsiveness to non-pharmaceutical interventions including stress reduction, mind/body therapies and changes in diet and lifestyle. Read more about multiple sclerosis.


How Do You Manage Stress? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed twitching and stress: Twitching too Much? Check out the article and let us know how you conquer stress!


Alzheimer’s: The Sleep Connection

Getting enough sleep might help lower the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. The link to sleep hasn’t been entirely elucidated yet, but a new study suggests that amyloid beta, a marker for Alzheimer’s disease measured in spinal fluid, rises and falls with the sleep cycle. Researchers at Washington University’s Sleep Medicine Center found that in healthy people, amyloid levels are lowest after six hours of sleep and highest after six hours of being awake. The investigators studied three groups of subjects: seniors age 60 and older who tested positive for the presence of amyloid beta plaques in the brain, seniors in the same age range who had no plaques, and a younger group of healthy individuals ranging in age from 18-60. The research team monitored the participants’ hourly levels of amyloid beta in spinal fluid for 24 to 36 hours via spinal taps. They found that in the participants with existing amyloid beta plaques, levels were always pretty constant. In the other two groups, levels rose and fell with their sleep and wake cycles, but the highs and lows were much more marked in the younger participants. A link between sleep deprivation and an increased risk of Alzheimer’s has been seen in animal studies.


Breaking the Overeating Habit

Do you recognize the situations or stressors that prompt you to overeat? A study from the University of Southern California suggests a way to find out. The researchers theorized that bad eating habits can potentially be broken by focusing not on willpower or goal setting but on avoiding the common cues (such as time of day - for example, reaching for a midnight snack) that underlie the habits. As part of their investigation, they coordinated several experiments to evaluate what cues people to eat popcorn at the movies. In the first, they recruited several hundred people, some who really liked eating popcorn at the movies, some who occasionally did, and some who didn’t care. Half the participants received a bag of freshly popped corn and half received a bag of stale popcorn. The researchers found that habitual popcorn eaters ate the stale stuff while the others didn’t. When they changed the setting to remove the “at the movies” cue, and served a second group of study participants stale popcorn in a meeting room while they watched a film, even habitual popcorn fans didn’t eat it. And when a third group of participants went to the movies and received fresh or stale popcorn and were told to eat only with their non-dominant hand, nobody ate the stale stuff. The possible cue here was the "mindless" reaching. The upshot of all this is that you may be able to break bad eating habits, if you identify and eliminate the cues that prompt overeating. Learn more about compulsive overeating.


Roasted Root Vegetables (Video)

Just in time to grace your holiday table, see how to make my famous Roasted Root Vegetables. This simple dish comes together so quickly, you won’t believe how delicious - and good for you - it is! A text version of the recipe can be found here: Roasted Root Vegetables


Prehypertension Boosts Stroke Risk

We’ve long known that high blood pressure is a primary risk factor for stroke, but new research suggests that blood pressure on the high end of normal can be a threat, too. This condition, called prehypertension, is diagnosed when the top blood pressure number (systolic) is between 120 and 139 mmHg and the low number (diastolic) between 80 and 89 mmHg. The new information follows a review of 12 studies that included data on more than 518,000 participants in the United States, Japan, China and India taken from studies that lasted from 2.7 to 32 years. The researchers, from the University of California, San Diego, found that people with prehypertension were 55 percent more likely to have a stroke compared to individuals whose blood pressure was normal. The review also revealed that people younger than 65 with prehypertension had a stroke risk that was 68 percent higher than normal, and that regardless of age those whose blood pressure was in the range of 130 to 139 had a stroke risk 79 percent higher than normal. In the United States, one-third of adults have prehypertension. The study was published online on September 28 in Neurology.

My take? We’ve known for some time that prehypertension can raise the risk of cardiovascular disease. Although the studies this report was based on encompassed a lot of people, it was only an analysis, not a study, and the authors appropriately noted that their findings must be confirmed before deciding upon the best approach to treatment. In the meantime, if your blood pressure has been edging up, lifestyle changes - losing weight, getting more exercise, giving up smoking, learning to relax and cutting back on salt, alcohol and caffeine - may help bring it down.


Arthritis: The Exercise Factor

An intriguing study in mice suggests that the aches and pains of arthritis might ease with exercise despite excess weight. It has long been believed that being overweight puts a strain on joints leading to the pain of osteoarthritis. A new study from Duke University Medical Center suggests that may not be the whole story. It found that male mice fed a high-fat diet became fat, processed glucose poorly, and had higher levels of the metabolites related to the chronic inflammation underlying arthritis compared to mice fed regular mouse food. But when the fat mice exercised on running wheels, their glucose tolerance improved and their inflammatory responses that otherwise would lead to arthritis were disrupted. If extra weight on the joints caused arthritis pain, the mice would have done worse, not better, the researchers hypothesized. Their findings are now being tested in humans. The study in mice was published September 27 online in Arthritis & Rheumatism.