The aging process is a natural part of life, and growing old is not something to deny, avoid or fear. However, taking some simple measures now - no matter what your age - can help to make the physical and mental changes that accompany aging easier to handle. Regular exercise is an important step in the right direction, one that can help lessen the risk of disease, promote sleep, increase energy and ward off a host of health issues. Along with a sound diet, activities that stimulate your mind and social connections, exercise completes an optimum approach to aging well. Make sure that whatever type of exercise (or exercises) you decide to engage in, your body receives a workout for the heart, as well as for bones and muscles. Walking, strength training, yoga and tai chi are some good choices; talk with your physician about options that are best for you.
Intriguing new findings from England suggest that the compounds responsible for the health protective properties of green tea become even more effective against triggers of Alzheimer's disease once the tea is digested. What's more, the same research team found that after these substances are digested they also exhibit anti-cancer properties - they slowed the growth of tumor cells in the laboratory. The investigators noted that polyphenols, compounds present in green tea and black tea, have neuroprotective properties - that is, they can protect brain cells from toxins that can trigger Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia. The British team wanted to investigate whether these compounds survive digestion and still provide these benefits. In the study, cells were exposed toxins and then to digested green tea compounds. The results suggest that these polyphenols are possibly even more protective after being digested in the body. The researchers worked with new technology that simulates the human digestive system. Now, they're going to look whether the same beneficial products of digestion are produced in the bodies of healthy human volunteers. The study was published online on Dec. 21, 2010, by the journal Phytomedicine.
Rosacea - a chronic and persistent condition in which a person’s cheeks, nose, chin, eyelids or forehead become inflamed and red – tends to be more common in women, people between the ages of 30 and 50 and those with fair skin who blush easily. While there is no cure, rosacea can be controlled by avoiding triggers and, occasionally, with medication.
Common triggers that worsen rosacea include:
- Spicy foods
- Coffee and caffeinated beverages
- Hot foods and beverages
- Strenuous exercise
- Extreme temperatures
- Chronic stress
- Sunlight or a history of sunburns
- Certain drugs, such as corticosteroids and some blood pressure medications
To minimize flares of rosacea, avoid the above triggers, protect your face from harsh elements, use sunscreen, manage stress levels and use products that are hypo-allergenic. Dr. Weil also recommends following an anti-inflammatory diet; supplementing with gamma-linolenic acid, which may improve the health of the skin (consider evening primrose oil or black currant oil - take 500 mg twice a day of either, and expect to wait at least six to eight weeks to notice results); and using topical preparations that utilize natural anti-inflammatory constituents, such as medicinal mushrooms.
To learn more about rosacea and other health conditions, visit the DrWeil.com Condition Care Guide.
In this recent study, a doubling of exposure to black carbon - a pollutant associated with traffic - was associated with lower than expected scores on a screening test for dementia. The investigation included 680 men, whose average age was 71. The same Boston area men also had lower composite scores on six other cognitive function tests. We know that particles from pollutants generated by traffic can cause oxidative stress and adversely affect the central nervous system. The differences in mental capacities seen in the study were similar to those normally seen in men nearly two years older. While the study doesn't prove that pollution caused the deficits seen, the researchers noted that particles found in diesel exhaust are small enough to pass through the air-blood barriers of the lung, enter circulation and travel to various body tissues, including the brain, where they can cause neuroinflammation and oxidative stress. The researchers said that their findings require confirmation by further research. The study was published online Dec. 20, 2010 in Environmental Health Perspectives.
Ways to minimize pollution exposure.
By now we've all heard the good news about dark chocolate: the antioxidants - phenols and flavonoids - found in dark chocolate may offer protection against heart disease. In addition, cocoa butter - a saturated fat - may have a beneficial effect on cholesterol levels. A number of chemically active compounds in dark chocolate can improve mood and pleasure by boosting serotonin and endorphin levels in the brain. And consuming dark chocolate may slow the oxidation of LDL ("bad") cholesterol.
Milk chocolate, however, is not as heart-healthy as dark chocolate: it contains more fat and sugar and less cocoa and antioxidants. White chocolate, which contains no cocoa solids, is generally no more than a mix of fat, milk and sugar with a minimal amount of cocoa butter added.
By eating an ounce of dark chocolate with at least 70 percent pure cocoa a few times a week, you can enjoy its benefits without guilt. When you're indulging, savor the flavor and texture, and try to note the effects it has on your body. Most importantly, enjoy yourself.
Dark chocolate tops my Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid as a recommended dessert.
Have you met your doctor's dog? An increasing number of physicians are taking their pooches to work on a daily basis, a trend that seems to be finding favor with many patients. As a breed akin to dedicated "therapy dogs," that visit hospitals and nursing homes to calm and cheer up patients, a family companion animal hanging around a doctor's office can help ease some of the tension patients feel during a visit. Stroking a dog is known to lower stress - it increases levels of hormones that promote nurturing and security, such as prolactin and oxytocin, and helps boost mood-enhancing neurotransmitters, including serotonin and norepinephrine. In a recent article on this practice, the Wall Street Journal reported that most of the dogs that "work" at doctors' offices have also been trained in obedience and as therapy dogs. But no training can explain their sensitivity to patients' emotions, which many of these doctors' office dogs appear to have. Some experts have speculated that the canines pick up tell-tale scents that humans can't detect but that let the dogs know what's wrong.
My take? We know that dogs have remarkable powers of detection. At least one study has confirmed that some dogs can sniff out the scent of cancer, although I doubt that man's best friend will ever take the place of MRIs or other cancer-screening tests. In addition, a study published in Psychosomatic Medicine in 2002 found that the presence of pets can help reduce stress more effectively than telling your troubles to your spouse or best friend. In fact, previous research published in the American Journal of Cardiology in 1995 found that men who own dogs have a decreased risk of death within a year of a heart attack compared with men who don't care for these companion animals. If you're afraid of dogs or allergic to them, by all means mention that when making an appointment with a physician who has a canine assistant. If not, you may find that the office dog makes your appointment much less stressful.
More on how companion animals contribute to health.
The leading cause of blindness in those over the age of 60 - affecting more than 13 million Americans - is macular degeneration (MD). The health of the macula (an oval spot in the center of the retina that's essential for central vision) depends on a very rich blood supply, and anything that interferes with circulation can cause damage to the macula and decrease its ability to function. Unhealthy diet and lifestyle choices can reduce the supply of oxygen and vital nutrients to the eye, eventually leading to the death of cells in the retina and macula. To help prevent macular degeneration and other vision problems, consider the following:
- Stop smoking. The nicotine in tobacco smoke can decrease blood supply by causing a narrowing of the blood vessels and a thickening of the blood. You should also avoid secondhand smoke.
- Eat a diet low in saturated fat. These fats can cause plaque build-up along blood vessel walls, including those supplying the macula, which impedes blood flow.
- Get enough antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin E and lutein. These antioxidant compounds may help prevent plaque from sticking to the blood vessel walls, lessening the risk of damage to the tissue.
More on lutein and its importance to eye health.
Placebos - pills that have no active ingredients - are used in scientific studies as controls, and investigations are often designed so that neither patients nor doctors know who is getting the fake and who is getting the real drug. Placebos are effective about one-third of the time anyway because patients expect to feel better when given what they think is medication. Now a study has found that they can work even when patients know they're getting a blank instead of a bullet. Here, 80 individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were divided into two groups. The first received no treatment; the second were given what were described as "sugar pills" to take twice a day for three weeks. At that point, 59 percent of the patients who used the placebos reported "adequate symptom relief" compared to 35 percent of those who had no treatment. The researchers said that the improvement was "roughly equivalent to the effects of the most powerful IBS medications" and suggested that performing the "medical ritual" of taking pills may be of significant benefit and needs more study. The results were published in the journal PLoS ONE on Dec. 22, 2010.
Related: Placebos for kids?