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Tuesday
Nov022010

Cranberry Juice and Staph Infections

Cranberry juice can help ward off urinary tract infections - it interferes with E. coli bacteria, the bug commonly responsible, by preventing it from adhering to bladder walls. Now, new research suggests that the juice can also block Staphylococcus aureus infections. These bacteria can cause everything from minor skin problems to serious bloodstream infections. One strain is responsible for Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus or MRSA, an infection that most antibiotics can’t cure. Researchers at the Worchester Polytechnic Institute recently reported that cranberry juice reduced the ability of S. aureus to cause infections. Their study involved healthy female students who drank either a cranberry juice cocktail or a placebo beverage that tasted like cranberry juice. The participants then provided urine samples that the researchers incubated in the lab with several strains of E. coli and one strain of S. aureus. The investigators found that urine samples from the young women who had consumed cranberry juice significantly reduced the ability of both types of bacteria to adhere to cell walls and then form biofilms, a prelude to infection. This was surprising, researchers said, because staph aureus "is usually very good at forming biofilms - that's what makes it such a health problem." Now researchers have to investigate how this new knowledge can be applied.

Try cranberry juice in a healthy holiday drink this season.

Monday
Nov012010

Fitness on a Budget Part 3: Jump Rope

Jumping rope is an inexpensive way to get a cardiovascular workout with the added benefit of weight-bearing exercise. You can purchase a good jump rope for less than $10 at a sporting goods store, or simply make your own from extra rope you have around the home.

More information on jumping rope as well as five other alternative aerobic activities.

Sunday
Oct312010

Renaming High Fructose Corn Syrup

If the words "high fructose corn syrup" (HFCS) on a product label set off alarm bells for you, prepare yourself: the Corn Refiners Association has asked the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to permit a name change. The group, which represents manufacturers of HFCS, wants to call the stuff  "corn sugar," claiming that the shorter, simpler term might prove less "confusing" to consumers and more accurately convey the calories, sweetness and level of fructose it contains. Don't expect the name change to happen overnight. The FDA has six months to mull it over, and if the agency okays a change, it'll be another 12 to 18 months before you start seeing "corn sugar" rather than HFCS on labels.

My take? Whatever you call it, HFCS is a marker for low-quality food. It's not just in soft drinks but in consumer products ranging from ketchup to crackers, which is why it has become one of the biggest sources of calories in the American diet. So I am opposed to the name change. The name high fructose corn syrup is accurate and the public distrust it has engendered is well deserved. My chief concern with HFCS is that its cheapness, due to corn subsides, has allowed manufacturers to sweeten a huge percentage of the American food supply, contributing significantly to the obesity-diabetes epidemic. I am gratified that the power of the internet has made the name-change effort something of a cause célèbre instead of a quiet attempt to disguise and sanitize HFCS.

Avoid HFCS this Halloween: try out some healthy halloween treats.

Saturday
Oct302010

Placebo for Your Sex Life

The inactive pill in question was one given to women during a clinical trial to investigate if Cialis, a drug used to treat male sexual dysfunction, might also have benefits in women. The drug didn't help, but researchers noted that women in the placebo group did report improvements in their sex lives. The listed benefits included increased desire, as well as positive changes in aspects of arousal including better lubrication, and more frequent or more easily obtainable orgasms. The women in the study ranged in age from 35 to 55; all had been diagnosed with female sexual arousal disorder. Researchers credited the improvement to the focus on sex engendered by participation in the study. Some of the women may have believed that the pill was the real thing. They all kept a diary of how often they had sex and how satisfying it was. Here, all of the credit for the improved sex lives goes to the power of the mind-body connection. The study was published online September 16, 2010, in the Journal of Sexual Medicine.

Friday
Oct292010

Chocolate Flourless Cake

A True Food Kitchen restaurant exclusive! Made with high-quality, unadulterated dark chocolate, and luscious almond butter, this cake is rich, yet more healthful than its flour-filled counterparts. Topped with a fresh berry compote, this flourless cake is a non-guilty pleasure.

Ingredients:

6 ounces dark chocolate, at least 70%
3 ounces butter
3 ounces almond butter
3 eggs, separated
6 tablespoons natural cane sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

FRESH BERRY COMPOTE
1 cup frozen raspberries, defrosted
2 tablespoons pure cane sugar
1/4 cup water
3 cups fresh berries - blueberries, raspberries, blackberries

Instructions:

1.Over a double boiler, melt chocolate, butter and almond butter. Let cool.

2. Separate the egg and place the yolks in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add 3 Tbs sugar and beat until a light, pale yellow color, about 6 minutes. Slowly pour in the melted chocolate and mix until combined.

3. In a clean mixing bowl, add the eggs whites. Whisk until frothy. Slowly pour in 3 Tbs sugar and mix until soft peaks form. Fold the whites into the chocolate/egg mixture. Carefully fold until combined.

4. Spray 4 oz ramekin or muffin cups with pan spray. Pour the batter into the molds, almost to the top. Bake at 325 degrees for 12 minutes. Let cool before unmolding.

5. To serve: reheat at 300 degrees for 4 minutes. Spoon the fruit compote on top.

Food as Medicine: Chocolate, made from seeds of the cacao tree, is a rich source of polyphenols that may help reduce chronic inflammation. It also appears to make blood cells less likely to clump into clots that can block arteries.

Thursday
Oct282010

Staying Active Despite Knee Arthritis

The goal of treatment for knee arthritis was once simply to control pain and maintain mobility, and this is still true in older patients. But the number of patients between the ages of 40 and 60 suffering from arthritis is increasing, and many want to remain active in sports and other recreational activities. Since most of these cases progress slowly, there's no need to rush to surgery, according to a review of treatment options published in the July, 2010, issue of the Journal of the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. Brian Feeley, M.D., lead author of the review and assistant professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of California, San Francisco, outlined the following strategy:

  • Take control of your situation - understand the disease process and learn about treatment options.
  • Work with your physician to come up with short and long term plans to help manage your symptoms.
  • Be flexible with your activities: try not to put the same stresses on the affected knee every day. This may mean more biking and swimming and less running.
  • Find a doctor who will help you tailor treatment to your individual needs.

My take: This is good advice for any health concern. Exercise can be beneficial for arthritis patients as long as it doesn’t overstress the affected joints. Strengthening surrounding muscles will support and protect the joints, and physical activity helps improve and maintain joint mobility. I would also suggest dietary changes that may help. Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids and the spices ginger and turmeric may help reduce inflammation. Foods rich in antioxidants - plentiful in most vegetables and fruit - may help reduce tissue damage from inflammation.

Ask Dr. Weil: more on Arthritis

Wednesday
Oct272010

8 Reasons to Practice Meditation

Meditation is simply directed concentration, and involves learning to focus your awareness and direct it onto an object: your breath, a phrase or word repeated silently, a memorized inspirational passage, or an image in the mind's eye. The benefits of meditation are numerous, and include:

  1. Helping lower blood pressure
  2. Decreasing heart and respiratory rates
  3. Increasing blood flow
  4. Enhancing immune function
  5. Reducing perception of pain
  6. Relieving chronic pain due to arthritis and other disorders
  7. Maintaining level mood
  8. Bringing awareness and mindfulness to everyday aspects of life

A simple form of meditation that can be practiced by anyone is to walk or sit quietly in a natural setting and allow your thoughts and sensations to occur; observing them without judgment.

Sunday
Oct242010

3 Reasons New Yorkers Live Longer

In 2007, the New York City Department of Health released some surprising news: a New Yorker born in 2004 can expect to live 78.6 years, nine months longer than the average American. Add to this that the life expectancy of New Yorkers is lengthening faster than that of other Americans, and it’s worth taking a look at some reasons why:

  • Less Smoking. The city's wide-ranging smoking ban of 2003 is estimated to have decreased deaths attributable to smoking by 10 percent.
  • Healthier food options. New York (like other large cities) attracts a critical mass of people who demand fresh, organic or otherwise superior food choices.
  • Walking. Perhaps most importantly, New Yorkers walk far more than do most suburban Americans, or even residents of other large cities (perhaps due to the fact that New York's high-density urban amenities make walking uniquely viable for shopping, commuting, and other daily tasks). They also tend to walk faster.

The good news is you don’t have to move to New York to avail yourself of these advantages. Anyone, anywhere, can decide to stop smoking, walk more and seek out healthy foods (the number of farmers' markets has doubled in the last decade, making fresh produce more available everywhere).