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Saturday
Jun042011

Does Carrageenan Raise Cancer Risk?

Carrageenan, a common and cheap food additive that comes from red seaweed, is used as a thickener and emulsifier in ice cream, yogurt, cottage cheese, soy milk and other processed food products. Based on results of animal studies, it has been tagged by some as an unsafe product that may cause ulcerations and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. I think the evidence is compelling to avoid carrageenan in any product, and especially if you have irritable bowel disease.

If you are concerned about carrageenan, start by minimizing your consumption of it. Carefully read the labels of the products mentioned above that often contain the additive, and eliminate them from your diet. With a little research you should be able to find healthy products that suit your taste and don't contain carrageenan.

More on the safety of soy milk.

Friday
Jun032011

Alcohol for Alzheimer's Protection?

Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol is bad for the brain, but new research from Germany suggests that a daily drink or two may help protect seniors from Alzheimer's disease and some other types of dementia. A team of physicians, psychologists and gerontologists interviewed 3,327 patients of German general practice doctors, checked on them a year and a half later and then at the three year mark. When they analyzed the drinking habits of the study participants, they found that half were abstinent, about 25 percent drank less than one drink (10 grams of alcohol) daily, about 13 percent consumed 10 to 19 grams of alcohol daily and 12.4 percent drank 20 grams or more daily. Nearly half of those who consumed alcohol drank only wine. At the end of three years, the researchers found 217 cases of dementia, including 111 Alzheimer’s diagnoses. They also found that the subjects who reported light to moderate alcohol consumption were in relatively good mental and physical health and had a significantly lower incidence of overall dementia and Alzheimer's. The study was published in the March 2, 2011, issue of Age and Aging.

My take? This isn't the first study to suggest that drinking moderate amounts of alcohol protects against Alzheimer's disease, and we also know that it also appears to lower the risks of coronary artery disease and heart attack. However, even small amounts of alcohol may increase the risk of breast cancer, and the more women drink, the greater their risk. My feeling is that if you don't drink alcohol, you certainly shouldn’t start for health reasons. You can reduce your risks of heart disease via diet and exercise, and evidence suggests that we may be able to protect against Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia by "exercising" our minds. My own drinking habits are quite modest. I like premium Japanese sake once in a while and, less often, a glass of red wine. Otherwise, I am more likely to drink water or tea.

Thursday
Jun022011

5 Cheese Considerations

From cheese-stuffed sandwiches to the samples on toothpicks in the grocery store, cheese seems to be everywhere. While it is a good source of calcium, its high calorie (and often high sodium) content means it should be enjoyed in moderation. This is not as hard as it may seem when you consider how flavorful cheese can be - try the following when the cheese plate comes your way:

  1. Choose a small piece of a cheese you really enjoy and savor it.
  2. Fill up on low-calorie vegetables and fruits, and add a piece of cheese on the side.
  3. Try not to eat more than one to two ounces every few days.
  4. Opt for high-quality, organic versions.
  5. If you're pregnant, avoid soft cheeses (such as feta, goat, blue and brie) as they may harbor Listeria, a bacterium that can harm a growing baby. Instead, choose hard cheeses like Parmesan, Gruyere and hard Swiss cheese when you're eating for two.

See where cheese fits into my Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid.

Wednesday
Jun012011

Dogs: Live-In Personal Trainers

A new study from Michigan State University showed that most pet owners who take their companion animals for regular walks meet federal criteria for moderate to vigorous exercise. No pet at home? Only 30 percent of you are likely to get that much regular exercise. The investigators looked at the exercise habits of 5,900 people, including 2,170 dog owners and asked the dog owners if walking their pets added to their daily exercise or replaced exercise they might have otherwise done. The dog owners were more likely than those who didn't have canine companions to get additional exercise via sports, gardening or other leisure activities. The researchers found that those most likely to walk their dogs were young (18-24 year olds were twice as likely to walk their dogs as those over 65). They also reported that college graduates were more than twice as likely to walk their dogs as those with less schooling. Some owners just let their dogs run in the yard or hired dog-walkers.

What about dogs at work?

Monday
May302011

Age Is No Barrier to Muscle Building

Here's the bad news: a couch potato lifestyle can mean losing up to 0.4 pounds of muscle per year once you reach age 50 (this loss can begin even earlier if you're sedentary as a younger adult). However, even if you're well over 50, you can increase your strength by 25 to 30 percent and add 2.42 pounds of lean muscle in an average of 18 to 20 weeks. These statistics are from a report by University of Michigan researchers who reviewed the benefits of progressive resistance training for older adults. They suggest beginning with squats, modified push-ups and tai chi, Pilates or yoga. Then they advise working with a professional who can design a strength training program that advances to working with weights and machines to build and strengthen muscles. In five months, you could be much, much stronger. Or not. The review was published in the March 2011 issue of The American Journal of Medicine.

More information on strength training with weights.

Sunday
May292011

Is Comfrey Root Safe?

Comfrey (Symphytum officinale) is a tall, thick-stemmed Eurasian plant with a reputation for healing injured tissues. The healing effects of comfrey are thought to come from allantoin, a substance that makes cells proliferate, and rosmarinic acid, an anti-inflammatory. Unfortunately, in comfrey these compounds occur together along with toxins called pyrrolizidine alkaloids (PAs). For this reason, comfrey should never be taken by mouth; it can cause serious liver and lung damage. Long-term internal use of comfrey can lead to liver cancer as well as damage to other organs.

While I do not recommend taking comfrey internally, I do recommend external use of comfrey as a treatment for wounds that do not heal easily, including:

  • Bedsores
  • Diabetic ulcers
  • Bites of brown recluse spiders
  • Staph infections

To treat these wounds with comfrey, buy the dried root of the plant in bulk, grind it into powder in a blender and mix the amount you need into a paste with water or aloe vera gel. Then gently pack it into the wound and cover with a bandage. Change this poultice daily, washing out the wound with sterile water and, if any infection is present, hydrogen peroxide.

Learn more about this and other potentially dangerous supplements.

Saturday
May282011

Stress, Sleep & Your Weight

Attempting to lose weight may be more complex than eating less and exercising more. A new study from Oregon found that some participants who had the most trouble dropping 10 pounds on a weight loss program were so stressed or depressed that they slept less than six hours or more than eight hours a night. A total of 472 obese adults over age 30 participated in the study; 83 percent of them were women and a quarter of all the subjects were over 65. The program involved attending weekly group counseling sessions, keeping a food diary, exercising for at least three hours per week and cutting 500 calories a day on a low-fat, low-salt diet that included lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean protein. On average, participants in the study lost nearly 14 pounds in six months, but those who were so stressed (and depressed) that it affected their sleep were the least likely to lose 10 pounds. The study was published online on March 29, 2011 by the International Journal of Obesity.

My take? These study results aren't surprising. Earlier research has suggested that appetite-regulating hormones are affected by sleep and that sleep deprivation could lead to weight gain. In two studies, people who slept five hours or less per night had higher levels of ghrelin - a hormone that stimulates hunger - and lower levels of the appetite-suppressing hormone leptin than those who slept eight hours per night. Sleeping problems are widespread and stem from all kinds of stress generated by work, school, social demands and personal problems. As this study suggests, reducing your stress and improving your sleep may be a worthwhile approach to weight control.

Ten natural sleep tips.

Friday
May272011

Dr. Weil and His Dogs

Companion animals enrich our lives. Research shows that pet owners have less illness, recover faster from serious health conditions, and tend to be happier than people who do not own pets. And a special bonus for dog owners: since you’ll need to walk and play with your dog, it encourages you to get more exercise yourself.

My dogs, Asha & Ajax, are the third generation of Rhodesian Ridgebacks that I've owned. I seek out this breed because they thrive in hot, dry climates, making them the perfect companion animals for those who like to be out and about in the Arizona heat. Their affectionate natures always lift my spirits at the end of a long, stressful day.

See pictures of Dr. Weil and his dogs here!