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Are You Getting Enough Zinc?

Want to encourage healing, boost your immune system, and help protect against vision loss? Then consider zinc. This mineral plays an important role in cell production, including creating new skin cells, but how much you take is important - moderate doses of zinc can enhance immunity, while high doses can actually depress it and should be avoided. In general, I recommend supplementing with 15 mg of zinc daily for most of us - or up to 30 mg daily if you follow a vegetarian diet or simply don’t eat many foods of animal origin (vegetables and fruits provide very little zinc).

The best plant sources of zinc are legumes (dried beans, garbanzos, black-eyed peas, lentils and peas), soy products and whole grains. Red meat and cooked oysters are good animal sources. Some dairy products and foods high in calcium can decrease zinc absorption, while protein-rich foods can enhance it.

Because copper can be depleted when taking zinc supplements, I recommend a multivitamin supplement that includes both zinc and copper, taken with a meal to avoid stomach upset.

Try one of the legume-based recipes on my site for a zinc boost. Some of my favorites are Herb Hummus, Pink Lentil Curry and Vegetarian Chili.


Fish Oil to Prevent Postpartum Depression

Taking fish oil supplements while pregnant may help reduce the symptoms of postpartum depression, which affects up to 25 percent of new mothers. We know that the babies of women who take fish oil supplements during pregnancy develop faster physically and mentally - possibly because the body shifts omega-3 fats from mother to baby in the last trimester of pregnancy. Without supplementation, this may leave mothers with a shortfall of this key nutrient. A small study from the University of Connecticut School of Nursing reported on April 12, suggests that taking 300 mg of fish oil five times a week from the 24th week of pregnancy to delivery seemed to help ward off symptoms of postpartum depression. A total of only 52 women were enrolled - half received the fish oil and half a placebo. Before the trial and on four occasions afterwards, the women completed questionnaires that rated their depressive symptoms. The moms who took the fish oil supplements scored six points lower (meaning less depression) than those who received the placebo. A larger study will be needed to confirm these results. In the meantime, for the sake of their own health, as well as that of their babies, pregnant women are advised to eat two to three servings a week of fish high in omega-3s or to take 200 mg of fish oil daily.


Eating for the Wrong Reasons?

When stressed out or anxious, some people turn to food as a way to comfort themselves. However, what may be soothing at the time can make you feel worse - and weigh more - in the end. If you tend to turn to food as a way to cope with a stressful situation, consider the following six tips:

  1. Don't drink caffeine or alcohol (and don't smoke) when stressed. These can heighten or prolong your anxiety and worsen its side effects.
  2. Drink plenty of water throughout the day. This can help quell the pangs of an empty stomach and promote a healthy digestive system.
  3. Keep your blood sugar levels stable by eating several small, nutritious meals rather than three large ones.
  4. Make sure your meals or snacks incorporate omega-3 fatty acids. Include walnuts, Alaskan salmon and freshly ground flaxseed in your diet.
  5. Incorporate foods rich in magnesium, which helps relax muscles, into your diet. Whole grains, legumes, vegetables, nuts and seeds are good sources.
  6. Above all, be aware of your eating habits. If you find yourself eating to combat stress, limit yourself to small portions, enough so you can savor the taste or texture. Then go for a walk or practice meditating: both are proven, healthier ways to address stress.

Music Lessons in Childhood

Even if you no longer play a musical instrument, lessons when you were young could help keep your mind tuned up as you get older. This finding comes from a small study of 70 healthy adults between age 60 and 83. Researchers at the University of Kansas Medical Center divided the study participants into groups based on the musical experiences: one group had no musical training; a second included those who had one to nine years of study and the third group included those with 10 years or more of musical training. The investigators found that those who took music lessons as children performed better on several cognitive tests than those who never played an instrument or learned to read music. The lead researcher suggested that musical activity learned early in life and maintained throughout the years may make your brain better able to accommodate the changes of aging. The study was published online April 4, 2011 by journal Neuropsychology.

More: Does Music Make Children Smarter?


Is Pregnant with a Pet Dangerous?

Having a companion animal can be highly beneficial. Pet owners are known to have lower blood pressure, less stress and better overall cardiovascular health than people in similar circumstances without pets.

However, if you are pregnant and have companion animals, you should take some precautions to avoid potentially dangerous exposures:

  1. Wash your hands frequently. This will help limit exposure to fleas, ticks, irritant oils from poison oak and ivy, and infectious fungus like ringworm (all can be carried on your pet's fur). To limit their exposure, consider keeping your dogs and cats out of wooded areas while you are pregnant.
  2. Avoid being scratched by your cat. Cat scratch fever is a disease caused by a bacterium, Bartonella, marked by swollen lymph nodes, joint pain and fever.
  3. Do not clean the litter box. Toxoplasmosis, a protozoan parasite found in soil and animal feces, can be contracted through cleaning a litter pan. Developing fetuses are especially at risk for severe disease; infection may result in miscarriage or stillbirth. If you can’t find someone else to regularly clean your cat’s litter box, consider lending your kitty to a friend or family member for the duration of your pregnancy.
  4. Have your pets checked for parasites such as hookworm and intestinal roundworms -these can be passed from animals to humans through feces.

Visit the Pets & Pet Care section of my site for information on everything from fighting fleas and ticks naturally to tips for adopting a companion animal.


Smoke-Free Air = Less Breast Cancer

The link between smoking and breast disease is still controversial. While the results of cancer studies have been contradictory, chemicals in tobacco smoke do reach breast tissue and are found in breast milk. Now, new research from Roswell Park Cancer Institute in New York has found reduced breast cancer rates in women who have less documented exposure to tobacco smoke. The investigators looked at breast cancer rates in states that have higher percentages of non-smoking rules and thus more women working and living in smoke-free areas, and found that deaths from the disease were significantly lower, particularly for younger, premenopausal women. They attributed about 20 percent of the decrease to changes in policies governing smoking at work and at home (some residences prohibit smoking inside apartments where the smoke can infiltrate the living spaces of non-smokers). The investigators said it was “noteworthy” that declining incidence of and mortality rates from breast cancer were linked to state legislation prohibiting smoking in both the home and workplace. The study was published online on March 12 by the journal Tobacco Control.

My take? It is very interesting to learn that there is a positive pay-off to living and working in smoke-free environments in terms of breast cancer risk. We know that exposure to secondhand smoke leads to an estimated 46,000 heart disease deaths each year in non-smokers who live with smokers as well as some 3,400 lung cancer deaths in non-smoking adults. Pregnant women exposed to secondhand smoke are at increased risk of having low birth weight babies. For the sake of your health, don’t smoke, and avoid secondhand exposure to smoke.


3 Reasons to Eat Peas

Fresh green peas are a naturally sweet and delicious addition to any spring meal. They are a good source of vitamins K and C, manganese and fiber, and may help promote bone, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal health. There are three popular pea types:

  1. Green or garden peas, which have inedible pods
  2. Snow peas, a version with edible pods popular in Asian cooking
  3. Snap peas, an edible-pod cross between the green pea and the snow pea

Snow and garden peas are available in early spring, and look for snap peas later in the season. No matter which variety you choose, buy them as fresh as possible. Although you can store them in the refrigerator for several days, they are best enjoyed the same day.

Try snow or snap peas in Shiitake Mushrooms and Pea Pods, or green peas in Stir-Fried Rice with Tofu.


PFCs and Early Menopause

The perfluorocarbons (PFCs) found in household products ranging from carpeting to plastic containers and clothing may be to blame for early menopause in some women. A study from the University of West Virginia University School of Medicine found that women over the age of 42 with higher than normal blood levels of a type of PFCs called PFOA were more likely to have already gone through menopause and to have lower estrogen levels. The investigators looked at 26,000 West Virginia women whose drinking water supplies had been contaminated with PFCs in 2005 and 2006. In this population, levels of PFOA were 500 percent higher than the average American's. This data doesn't prove that PFCs caused early menopause, but the information suggests a correlation that has to be investigated further. Early menopause puts women at risk of osteoporosis and heart disease sooner than they would be otherwise. PFCs are due to be phased out in the U.S. by 2015. To lower exposure to these chemicals, avoid stain and water resistant fabrics, nonstick cookware and food packaged in grease-resistant containers.