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Sunday
Apr032011

Want to Try Dry Brushing?

Dry brushing, long popular in Europe, is in vogue at American spas - and now there are plenty of products on the market to help you do it at home. But should you? Basically, dry brushing involves rubbing the skin with a dry, natural bristle brush. The process can be gentle or rough and may help slough off dead skin cells, but the other claims for it are pretty far-fetched:

  • Cellulite reduction or elimination. There is no reason to believe this is true. Fat is arranged in large chambers separated from each other by columns of connective tissue. If fat overflows these chambers as a person becomes overweight, or if the connective tissue slackens with age, the result is the classic pitting and bulging we have come to know as cellulite. But no massage or brushing technique has any significant effect on it.
  • Toxic elimination. The idea that dry brushing can eliminate up to a pound of toxins a day, as some proponents claim, is ridiculous. Under most circumstances, the body does a good job of cleansing and purifying itself. If you feel the need, you can help speed the removal of unwanted materials by drinking more water, using steam baths or saunas to promote sweating, adjusting diet and fiber intake to ensure regular eliminations and getting enough aerobic activity to stimulate faster breathing. In addition, taking the herbal remedy milk thistle supports normal, healthy liver metabolism, aiding its important role in detoxification.

I would take the health claims for dry brushing with a big grain of salt. If you enjoy it and believe it benefits you, there's no reason not to do it. But if you find that it irritates or inflames your skin, opt for a less abrasive spa treatment such as massage.

Saturday
Apr022011

Berries for Blood Pressure

Here's something else you can do to lower your risk of high blood pressure: eat more blueberries. A new study suggests that eating at least one serving per week can reduce the risk of developing high blood pressure by as much as 10 percent. This finding comes from a study involving 134,000 women and 47,000 men and investigations by researchers from Harvard and from Britain's University of East Anglia. The study teams looked at 14 years worth of data from the ongoing Nurses' Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. None of the participants had hypertension at the outset, but during the course of the studies, 35,000 developed high blood pressure. The risk was 10 percent lower in those who reported eating at least one serving of blueberries per week. The lower risk was attributed to the anthocyanins blueberries contain - these are the antioxidant pigments that make the berries blue. Next, the research team will conduct randomized controlled trials with different food sources of anthocyanins to determine the optimal dose and source for hypertension prevention.

Nothing beats fresh blueberries, but read what I have to say about dried blueberries and cooked blueberries - also healthy choices.

Friday
Apr012011

Pasta e Fagioli

This traditional pasta and white bean soup is an Italian classic. Be sure to cook the pasta until just al dente, keeping it a bit chewy or "toothsome." It makes a wonderful supper when served with a large tossed salad of romaine lettuce with red peppers, olives and sliced cucumbers and a dessert of plump dried fruit and roasted almonds.

Ingredients:

1 cup dried small white beans
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 large onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
10 cups water or vegetable stock
1/2 teaspoon dried rosemary, crushed
1 cup small pasta, such as orzo or small shells
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Additional extra-virgin olive oil (optional)

Instructions:

1. Wash the beans. In a large pot, cover them with cold water. Soak for 8 hours. Drain into a colander.

2. In the same pot, heat 1 tablespoon of olive oil over medium heat, add the onion and garlic, and sauté until soft.

3. Add the beans and water or stock. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, add the rosemary, and simmer 2 hours or until the beans are tender.

4. Raise heat to high, add the pasta, and cook until al dente.

5. Season the soup to taste with salt and pepper, garnish with the chopped parsley. Serve accompanied by grated Parmesan cheese and the optional extra-virgin olive oil.

Food as Medicine: Like all legumes, white beans are high in dietary fiber, with almost 50 percent of the Daily Value in just one cup. Soluble fiber binds with cholesterol-containing bile and escorts it out of the body. A global study of 16,000 middle-aged men found those who consumed the most legumes reduced their risk of heart disease by a full 82 percent! This recipe is also beneficial for blood sugar control: a substance in onions known as allyl propyl disulfide has been shown to lower blood glucose levels. It probably does this by competing with insulin - which is also a disulfide - to occupy sites on the liver that inactivate insulin production. This means that more free insulin is available in the bloodstream to take glucose into cells, lowering blood sugar.

Thursday
Mar312011

For Your Heart's Sake, Don't Just Sit There!

Spending the day in an office parked at your desk can raise your risk of heart disease, even if you exercise regularly. But taking periodic activity breaks - the more, the better - to move around a little may combat the increased risk and help trim your waistline, as well. That’s the conclusion of a study reported in the January 12, 2011 online edition of the European Heart Journal. The research team looked at data on about 4,800 American men and women age 20 and older who took part in a national health and nutrition survey between 2003 and 2006. They found that the most sedentary participants spent more than 21 hours a day sitting or lying down, while the least sedentary sat just under two hours per day. Over the course of a week, the number of activity breaks in some participants totaled less than 100, while the most frequent approached 1,300. The researchers advised standing up, walking over to talk to a co-worker rather than emailing or phoning, and using the stairs rather than the elevator when possible. Even these small, incremental changes can help reduce your overall risk of heart disease, the researchers found.

Wednesday
Mar302011

Is Kava Right for You?

If you are experiencing anxiety or panic attacks, the best course of action is to learn how to manage them without the use of pharmaceutical drugs. Cognitive-behavioral therapy, breath work, meditation, regular aerobic exercise, journal writing and eliminating caffeine and other stimulants that can trigger or worsen anxiety can all help; for some people, so can the herb kava.

Kava (Piper methysticum, also called kava kava) can be effective for alleviating the symptoms of anxiety without the overly sedating or habit-forming side effects of potentially addictive benzodiazepine drugs. However, not everyone is a candidate for kava - reports from Europe of cases of liver damage related to kava use have raised concerns about safety. Because of the reported liver dangers, I've recommended following these precautions on kava use from the American Botanical Council:

  • Don't use kava if you have liver problems (such as hepatitis), drink alcohol regularly or take any drug with known adverse effects on the liver, including acetaminophen (Tylenol), statin drugs and niacin.
  • Don't use kava on a daily basis for more than four weeks.
  • Discontinue kava if you develop jaundice (yellowing of the skin or the whites of the eyes) or symptoms of hepatitis (nausea, abdominal pain, loss of appetite, dark urine and clay-colored stools).
  • Check with your doctor if you have a prior history of liver problems or suspected liver problems before using or continuing to use kava.

If you want to try kava, take one or two 460 mg capsules of a high-quality brand as needed, two to three times per day for up to four weeks.

Check out yesterday's post on another potentially dangerous supplement, lobelia.

Tuesday
Mar292011

Is Lobelia Safe?

Lobelia (Lobelia inflata) is also called Indian tobacco or “puke weed” (in the 19th century, American physicians used lobelia to provoke vomiting as a means of removing toxins from the body). It is an herbal remedy that, in appropriate dosages, can be helpful for addressing acute asthma symptoms.

Lobelia is sometimes referred to as a toxic herb, because high doses cause serious effects: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, profuse sweating, tremors, rapid heartbeat, mental confusion, convulsions, hypothermia, coma and possibly even death.

However, as a home remedy for a mild asthma attack, lobelia can be safe and effective when used appropriately - do the following:

  1. Mix three parts tincture of lobelia with one part tincture of capsicum (red pepper, cayenne pepper).
  2. Take 20 drops of the mixture in water at the start of an asthmatic attack.
  3. Repeat every 30 minutes for a total of three or four doses.

Remember that asthma can be a serious health condition and that herbal remedies like lobelia are not substitutes for standard medical treatments. I strongly recommend that people with asthma work closely with an integrative medicine practitioner for optimal care and advice about effective alternative and conventional medical therapies.

Tomorrow's post will feature another potentially dangerous supplement: kava.

Monday
Mar282011

Post-Exercise Drink? (Poll)

Here's a recent Q&A from my site on the recent trend of coconut water. I recommend drinking plenty of pure water after exercising. What's your preference?

Sunday
Mar272011

Why You Should Check Your Blood Pressure at Home

Monitoring blood pressure at home can help keep it from rising and may help reduce the need for medication. A recently published analysis of 37 international clinical trials, compiling data on more than 9,400 men and women with high blood pressure, showed that patients asked by their physicians to track their blood pressure with home monitors were more successful in reducing their pressure than patients who had readings done only in the doctor's office. The researchers who performed the analysis noted that home monitoring appeared to work better as part of a general plan that included adjusting medications in response to the home readings. Interestingly, what worked best was telemonitoring - the use of wired or wireless technology to send blood pressure readings directly to the doctor's office. One possible explanation for the lower readings seen at home is elimination of the "white coat" effect - the increase in pressure triggered by the stress of being in the doctor's office. The study was published online Nov. 29, 2010 in the journal Hypertension.

More on high blood pressure treatment.