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Tuesday
Nov232010

Preparing for Lifelong Health, Part 3

Aim for healthy blood pressure. Maintain blood pressure in the normal range - i.e., 120/80 or below. If your blood pressure is consistently elevated, even when you measure it yourself, first try to normalize it by changing habits of diet, exercise, and relaxation. If that fails, talk with your physician about medication, and start with the lowest effective dose of a mild agent.

Preparing for Lifelong Health, Part 1 and Part 2.

Monday
Nov222010

More on Arthritis Prevention...And Bone Loss

This news comes from the University of Arizona's College of Medicine where assistant professor Janet Funk, M.D., an endocrinologist, has reported that the spice turmeric, the major ingredient in Indian curries, may help prevent osteoporosis. Earlier studies performed in her lab suggested that turmeric can help prevent arthritis as well as impede the development of cells that foster bone breakdown and destruction. In her latest study, Dr. Funk used two different turmeric extracts. The one with the greatest efficacy contained 94 percent curcuminoids, polyphenol compounds found in turmeric. Examining cultured tissue samples, Dr. Funk and her team noted that turmeric led to improvements in the microarchitecture of bone, suggesting a reduction in fracture risk. So far, Dr. Funk hasn't tested turmeric's effects in humans, but her report indicates it may be useful to investigate its role in the prevention of arthritis and the bone breakdown leading to osteoporosis. She also noted that not all commercially available dietary supplements deliver the amounts of turmeric stated on labels. However, you can get more turmeric into your diet by drinking turmeric tea or by indulging in more curried dishes.

Learn more about turmeric and two other anti-inflammatory herbs.

Sunday
Nov212010

Walnuts to Ease Stress

A new study from Penn State suggests that eating a few walnuts daily can help counteract unhealthy responses to stress, including rising blood pressure. The 22 healthy adult participants all had previously diagnosed high cholesterol and were provided all their meals and snacks during three diet periods of six weeks each. One diet period reflected "an average American" plan containing no nuts; a second substituted 1.3 ounces of walnuts and a tablespoon of walnut oil for some of the fat and protein in the average American diet; the third diet added 1.5 tablespoons of flaxseed oil to the second version. The calories in all three diets were calibrated to avoid weight loss or gain. After each diet period, the participants took two stress tests: the first was a three-minute videotaped speech given after only two minutes preparation; the second was a standard stress test in which one foot is submerged in ice-cold water. Blood pressure readings taken during the tests showed that the "bottom" (diastolic) number was significantly lower after consuming the diet that incorporated walnuts and walnut oil. Adding flaxseed oil didn’t further reduce blood pressure but did lower C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the blood; it also improved artery dilation, a positive change, seen on vascular ultrasound.

My take? This is further evidence that walnuts are good for you (as long as you don't overdo it -they're relatively high in calories). Earlier studies have shown that adding walnuts to the diet is beneficial to heart health, and the FDA permits this qualified health claim on packages of walnuts: eating 1.5 ounces daily "as part of a low saturated fat and low-cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease." I usually eat a handful of walnuts a day.

Try Garlic Walnut Dip at your next dinner party, or just for an everyday snack.

Saturday
Nov202010

Breast Cancer and Air Pollution

Here's another noteworthy study from Canada: this one may show a possible link between breast cancer risk and air pollution. Researchers from McGill University Health Centre mapped air pollution in Montreal by monitoring levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a by-product of vehicular traffic. The investigators then charted the home addresses of women diagnosed with post-menopausal breast cancer in 1996-97. The maps indicated that breast cancer incidence was higher in areas where air pollution was higher. What's more, they saw that the risk of breast cancer increased by about 25 percent with every increase of NO2 by five parts per billion. The conclusion: women living in the areas with the highest levels of pollution were almost twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those living in the least polluted areas. The researchers stressed that NO2 itself doesn't cause breast cancer. It is only a "marker" for all the other pollutants associated with automobile traffic. While the study doesn't prove that air pollution causes breast cancer, it certainly suggests a need for further investigation.

Friday
Nov192010

What's for Supper? Vegetarian Chili

In the culture and cuisine of the Southwest, chili is serious business. But contrary to what many believe, good chili doesn't require "carne" (meat). The key to great chili is knowing how to harness the fiery flavor of a wide range of available chile peppers to make the dish exciting yet palatable. ("Chili" commonly refers to the dish made with "chile" peppers.) Red New Mexican chile peppers are traditionally tied in strings called ristras or are available as ground powder, and chipotles are ripe (red) jalapeños that have been dried and smoked. Experiment with different amounts until you find a level of heat intensity that you're comfortable with. Be aware that capsaicin, the active component in chile peppers that gives them their heat, is concentrated in the white tissue attached to the seeds. If you're using whole chiles, you may want to remove that white tissue if you don't want your chili too hot.

Ingredients:

7 1/2 cups cooked beans, like pintos, anasazi, adzuki or kidney (roughly four 15-ounce cans or 1 pound dried beans, cooked) 
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, diced
1 dried or canned chipotle pepper
1 tablespoon mild red New Mexican chile powder, or to taste
1 tablespoon dried whole oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 large can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes, undrained
5 cloves garlic, mashed
Salt and pepper, to taste 

Garnishes:
Chopped raw onion
Chopped tomato
Shredded lettuce
Tortillas

Instructions:

1. Drain beans in a colander.

2. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or saucepan. Add the onions and sauté over medium heat until they are soft and golden.

3. Crush the chipotle pepper if using dried, or mince if using canned.

4. Add the chipotle pepper, red chile powder, oregano, cumin and allspice to the onions. Cook for 2 minutes.

5. Add the tomatoes and beans. Simmer for 45 minutes, adding liquid if the mixture gets too dry.

6. Add salt and pepper to taste, and more chile if you want a hotter dish.

7. Serve in bowls with warm tortillas. Garnish with chopped raw onion, chopped tomato and shredded lettuce.

Food as Medicine: Some studies indicate that capsaicin may enhance fat metabolism.

Thursday
Nov182010

Exercise and Endometrial Cancer

We know that regular exercise helps reduce the risk of breast, colon, esophageal and kidney cancer, and now researchers at the U.S. National Cancer Institute (NCI), a branch of the National Institutes of Health, suggest that daily physical activity cuts the risk of endometrial cancer, as well. The NCI researchers analyzed 14 earlier studies and concluded that exercise reduces the risk of endometrial cancer by 20 to 40 percent. One of the studies included showed that 20 minutes of vigorous exercise five times a week could reduce the risk by 20 percent; another showed that women who spent more than nine hours a day sitting had twice the risk of developing endometrial cancer compared to women who sat fewer than three hours a day. One theory of how exercise helps is related to its effects on body fat. (Fatty tissue contributes to elevated estrogen levels that could, in turn, increase cancer risk). The study was published online on September 29 by the British Journal of Cancer.

More on Women's Health.

Wednesday
Nov172010

Tea Tree Oil for Skin Cancer

Researchers in Australia, where skin cancer is a huge problem, have shown that tea tree oil can prevent dermal tumors from growing and cause them to shrink and disappear, at least in mice. These findings, from the University of Western Australia, emerged from a three-year study, and are relevant to non-melanoma skin cancers and precancerous growths. The only problem the researchers observed was mild skin irritation, a side effect that disappeared within a few days after treatment ended. The team reported that within 24 hours after applying the tea tree oil the tumors started to shrink, and that within three days the growths could no longer be detected. The investigators are now hoping to launch a human clinical trial with about 50 people who have precancerous growths to determine if the tea tree oil can help prevent skin cancer from developing. The study was published online on February 21, 2010 in the journal Cancer Chemotherapy and Pharmacology.

Learn how (and how often) to examine yourself for potential skin cancer.

Tuesday
Nov162010

Ladies: Lower Your Target Heart Rate

If you're huffing and puffing during your aerobic workout, attempting to bring your heart rate to within "65 to 85 percent of the maximum for your age", ease off. The formula used to calculate maximum heart rate doesn’t work as well for women as once thought. Instead, researchers at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago have come up with a more appropriate one for women, but figuring it out may tax your math skills: 206 minus 88 percent of your age. (The one that works for men is 220 minus age.) The researchers arrived at the new formula after collecting maximum heart rate data from more than 5,400 healthy women, age 35 to 93, who exercised on treadmills as long and hard as they could until they had to stop. Researchers have used this information in the past to establish the relationship between heart rate responses and higher risks for heart attack. Using the new numbers may make your workout less taxing, but the researchers said that some women may still find it difficult to achieve. The study was published in the July 13, 2010 issue of Circulation.