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Getting Enough Potassium?

If you're not getting enough potassium, your sodium intake may put you at risk of premature death. Researchers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spent nearly 15 years tracking more than 12,000 adults who were taking part in a federal nutrition study. In contrast to the risks associated with sodium in the participants' diets, the CDC team found that heart-related deaths were lower among those whose potassium intakes were highest. All told, they reported that those with the highest ratio of sodium to potassium were more than twice as likely to die from a heart attack as those whose ratio of sodium to potassium was lowest. You can even out your sodium to potassium ratio by consuming less sodium (most in the American diet comes from processed or restaurant foods) and ramping up your potassium intake - that means more spinach, bananas, prune juice, plain yogurt and fish. The CDC study was published in the July 11, 2011 Archives of Internal Medicine.

My take? These results don't surprise me. It is well known that the ratio of sodium to potassium in the diet and in our systems seems to affect blood pressure and kidney function more than salt levels alone. In addition to avoiding processed and restaurant foods, you can bring your sodium levels down by keeping the saltshaker off the table, and avoiding foods with visible salt such as pretzels, chips and salted nuts. Raising your potassium intake is easy if you add fruits and vegetables to your diet, but you should consult with your physician before considering salt substitutes that contain potassium chloride, and never take potassium supplements unless they're prescribed by a physician.


Do You Like Baby Carrots? (Poll)

A recent Q&A looked at the safety of baby carrots: Are baby carrots unsafe?
Read the article, and then let us know your favorite way to eat carrots!


Diet and Alzheimer's Disease

A small study published in the June 2011 issue of the Archives of Neurology suggests that a diet low in saturated fat that also emphasizes foods low on the glycemic index may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease. The investigators compared the effects of a diet high in saturated fat and simple carbohydrates with those of a diet low in saturated fats and simple carbohydrates in 20 older adults who were healthy and 29 seniors who had specific memory problems considered precursors to Alzheimer's disease. After four weeks, they found in the healthy group that the diet high in saturated fat and simple carbs elevated substances measured in blood that indicate presymptomatic Alzheimer's, while the diet low in saturated fats decreased cholesterol levels and other biomarkers of Alzheimer's disease. However, the low saturated fat diet had no such beneficial effects on participants who already had memory problems. The researchers said that the different results of the healthier diet among participants with some memory problems may have been due to the diet's short duration.


Tinted Glasses to Fight Migraines

If you have migraines preceded by a visual aura (such as flashes of light or intense patterns) special precision tinted lenses may help stave off headaches. The lenses have to be custom made for every patient, according to a researcher at Michigan State University who just published results of a small study. The research demonstrated that the specially tinted lenses helped normalize brain activity that occurs when migraine patients experience auras of patterns and light. The clinical trial included only 22 participants, 11 of whom suffered from migraines and 11 who did not. During the study, each participant was asked to wear precision lenses. By using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) the researchers were able to monitor the effects of wearing the lenses on abnormal brain activity (known as hyper-activation) that occurs with the visual patterns associated with migraines. The results showed that the migraine patients reported 70 percent less pain when wearing the special lenses. The study was published in the May 26, 2011 issue of Cephalalgia. Larger studies with more migraine patients are now needed to confirm the positive results seen in this small group. More information on treating migraines.


Reducing Macular Degeneration Risk

Macular degeneration is a debilitating eye disorder generally considered to be irreversible, and it remains the leading cause of blindness in individuals over the age of 55. Risks for the disorder commonly run in families, but a new study suggests that the risk can be reduced by not smoking and by a diet high in vitamin D plus the nutrients betaine (found in fish, grains and spinach) and methionine (found in poultry, fish and dairy foods). Researchers from Tufts Medical Center identified cases of elderly, male identical twins, where one brother had late stage macular degeneration and his sibling's disorder was at an early stage. The researchers found that the more severe cases were found among the twin who was the heavier smoker and that disease progression was slowest among those who had higher intakes of vitamin D from dietary sources such as fish or milk and betaine and methionine. (GN) The study was published in the July 1, 2011 issue of Ophthalmology.


Folate May Cut Colon Cancer Risk

A higher dietary intake of folate from produce and folic acid from fortified foods and supplements may lower the risk of colon cancer. This news comes from a study involving more than 99,000 participants in a cancer prevention study who were followed for eight years. Folate, also known as vitamin B9, is found naturally in spinach, green vegetables, beans, asparagus, bananas, melons, lemons, legumes, yeast, and mushrooms. Foods fortified with folic acid (a synthetic form of folate) include orange juice, baked goods, and cereals. This isn’t the first study to show that high folate intake reduces the incidence of colorectal cancer, but it is the first to show that the risk is lower regardless of whether the vitamin comes from natural folates in unprocessed foods or as folic acid in supplements or fortified foods. In addition, the study found no evidence that fortification of foods with folic acid increases the risk of cancer as has been suggested. The researchers reported that no increased risk of colorectal cancer was found even at high levels of folate intake. The study was published in the July, 2011 issue of Gastroenterology.


Massage for Your Aching Back

Medication, physical therapy and back exercises are the usual care for low back pain, but traditional bodywork proved to be more beneficial among 401 patients who participated in a study that evaluated the short-term and long-term effects of massage. A study team at the Group Health Research Institute in Seattle divided the patients into three groups: one group received relaxation massage that focused on muscles, a second group underwent structural massage designed to ease tension in specific tissues and joints and a third group continued with their usual care for back pain. The patients in the two massage groups received a weekly hour-long massage for 10 weeks. The study reported that afterward these patients had less pain and were better able to go about their daily activities than the participants who continued with usual care. Either kind of massage appeared to have the same positive result. What’s more, the effects of massage lasted for six months after the 10-week treatment course, although the benefits seemed to dissipate after a year. The study was published in the July 5, 2011 Annals of Internal Medicine.

My take? This is more good news about the health benefits of massage for back pain. Earlier studies have shown that massage can also lessen the symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome, ease post-operative pain, reduce headache frequency, relieve arthritis pain, reduce blood pressure and improve immune function. Part of the reason massage may work as well as it does is simply that many people expect it to yield a benefit. That's fine with me - the positive effects are objective and measurable, and the intervention has very low risk. Learn more about treating low back pain.


Calcium, Vitamin D May Lower Melanoma Risk

If you've ever been diagnosed with either of the most common types of skin cancer - basal cell carcinoma or squamous cell carcinoma - you're at higher risk for melanoma, which is much more likely to be life-threatening than the other types of skin cancer. But now researchers at Stanford University School of Medicine have hypothesized that taking calcium and vitamin D supplements may cut the risk of melanoma. The study team reported a risk reduction of up to 57 percent among women who previously had one of the other two types of skin cancer, compared to a similar group of women who didn't receive the supplements. The doses were 1,000 mg of calcium plus 400 IU of vitamin D. This combination didn't appear to offer any benefit to women who did not have a history of non-melanoma skin cancer. The conclusions came from an analysis of data from the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), a study that followed 36,000 women ages 50 to 79 for an average of seven years. The Stanford team said that its study results, based on the comparison of the effects on women's health of taking calcium and vitamin D vs. a placebo, were the first to suggest a cancer-reducing benefit.