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Should You Take a Multivitamin?

Eating right, getting regular exercise and managing stress are all vital to achieving optimum health, but sometimes these just aren’t enough. While vitamins and supplements shouldn’t be taken as substitutes for a healthy diet, they can act as insurance against nutritional gaps in the diet and as added defense against increasing toxic pressures from the environment. If you use drugs like alcohol, tobacco or caffeine, if you are under a great deal of stress or if you are sick, your need for some micronutrients and protective phytonutrients may be greater than your diet can supply. Because of all these variables, a daily multivitamin and mineral supplement is the best way to ensure that you are getting what you need.

Read: Multivitamin for kids?


Mindful Meditation for IBS

Dealing with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) isn't easy, but the stress (and the symptoms) involved may be lessened with mindfulness meditation. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have presented a study showing that women with irritable bowel syndrome were able to reduce their symptoms by 38 percent with mindfulness meditation compared to only a 12 percent reduction for women who took part in a support group. The study involved 75 women between the ages of 19 and 71 (average age about 43) who were randomly divided into two groups. For eight weeks, one group took part in mindfulness meditation training sessions while the others attended meetings of a traditional support group. After eight weeks, the severity of symptoms had dropped by 26.4 percent in the mindfulness meditation group and by only 6.2 percent in the women in the support group. At the three month mark, the reduction of symptoms had improved to 38.2 percent in the mindfulness meditation group and to 11.8 percent in women in the support group. The findings were presented on May 7, 2011 during Digestive Disease Week.

My take? Mindfulness is the technique of bringing all of our awareness to the here and now, to the immediate sensations in our bodies and our breathing, for example, rather than letting much of it slip away in contemplation of the past and future or of other subjects that are not present. The assumption is that when we act with full awareness, our actions are more likely to achieve what we intend, and that when we feel with full awareness, we are more likely to feel fulfilled. Many studies have found that meditation has a beneficial effect on health. It can relieve mental and physical stress and, by extension, help with common stress-related illnesses, including IBS.

More on mind/body treatment for IBS.


How Much Sleep Do You Need? (Poll)

Here's a Q&A on short sleepers: individuals who can thrive on only a few hours of sleep each night. Short sleepers are rare, however; most of us need seven to eight hours a night to feel our best.

How much sleep does it take to keep you going?


Celebrating Cilantro

Summer is an ideal time to try fresh, seasonal herbs in your meals, and one of my favorites - and an easy one to grow - is cilantro (Coriandrum sativum). Considered a healing herb, cilantro is traditionally used in India as an anti-inflammatory agent and studied in the U.S. for its cholesterol-lowering properties. It is the fresh leaves of the same plant that provides coriander seeds, and imparts a pungent flavor, that lends itself perfectly to Mexican and Vietnamese dishes (for the best flavor, add freshly chopped cilantro right before serving).

You can easily start cilantro seeds in potting soil in a small pot and place on a bright windowsill or a back porch. Keep in mind that not everyone shares my love of cilantro - it tends to be a “love or hate” herb. It’s been speculated that a genetic variation makes some people despise cilantro - rather than sharp and tangy, these people find cilantro tastes like soap or aluminum foil.

Try Tofu with Cilantro Sauce for dinner this week!


Peppermint for IBS Symptoms

Peppermint can help relieve the abdominal pain of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), but until recently, no one knew exactly how it provided its benefits. Symptoms of IBS, a common digestive tract disorder, can include any combination of constipation, diarrhea, gas, bloating, abdominal pain or discomfort, fatigue, and headaches. In April 2011, Australian researchers published a study showing that peppermint works to soothe gastrointestinal pain due to inflammation by activating an "anti-pain" channel in the colon called TRPM8. The pain-sensing fibers that are eased by peppermint are the same as those activated by mustard and chili in foods. The researchers also said that while some affected individuals complain that IBS symptoms occur after they eat fatty and spicy foods or drink coffee and alcohol, the nerve pain fibers in these patients seem to be in a continuously heightened state, perhaps due to an earlier bout of gastroenteritis. The findings were published online by the journal Pain.

Read: Hypnosis for IBS?


The Fabulous Food of Japan

The devastating earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan on March 11, 2011 is a tragedy that will require many years of diligent recovery efforts. Please continue to do what you can to help by donating at the American Red Cross website.

While traveling in Japan to lecture and teach, I was fortunate to eat some wonderful, fresh meals. Japanese cuisine is among the world’s healthiest, and in my opinion, it is also among the world's tastiest!

Look at photos of my Japanese culinary adventure:


Low "D" Linked to Cancer, Diabetes, Obesity

The latest on vitamin D comes from three new studies. The first suggests that women with low levels of "D" may be at increased risk for an aggressive type of breast cancer. The second reveals that low levels of "D" are associated with a higher risk of type 2 diabetes and the third investigation demonstrates that it isn't easy to normalize levels of "D" in obese teens. Researchers at the University of Rochester Medical Center looked at vitamin D levels in 155 breast cancer patients before and after surgery. They found that low levels of "D" were associated with hard-to-treat tumors that have a worse outlook than other types of breast cancer. They noted that premenopausal women and African-American women were more likely to have low levels of "D" than older, Caucasian women. Meanwhile, after following 5,000 people for five years, Australian researchers reported that those with lower than average vitamin D levels had 57 percent higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes than those whose levels of "D" were in the recommended range. And researchers at Hasbro Children's Hospital in Providence, RI reported that even after being treated, levels of vitamin D remained low among almost three-quarters of a group of 68 obese adolescents. The researchers called for increased surveillance of obese teens and studies to determine whether normalizing their levels of "D" would help protect them against obesity-related health risks.

My take? Earlier studies have suggested that low levels of vitamin D are associated with the spread of breast cancer after treatment, and we do know that breast cancer occurs more frequently in areas of the world that get the least sun (exposure to sunlight initiates the synthesis of vitamin D in our bodies). Overall, an increasing body of evidence suggests that "D" plays an important role in defending against cancer (studies have linked a deficiency of vitamin D to as many as 18 different types of cancer). In recent years, scientists have also found that "D" may help to prevent a number of other diseases, including diabetes. Because of the accumulating evidence associating low levels of vitamin D with disease, I raised my recommendation of 1,000 IU of vitamin D per day to a minimum dose of 2,000 IU per day. No adverse effects have been seen with supplemental vitamin D intakes up to 10,000 IU daily.


Warm Weather Herb: Aloe

Looking for a cost-effective, natural treatment for a variety of outdoor-related ailments? Check out aloe (Aloe vera). The gel extracted from aloe leaves can be used topically for the treatment of sunburn, mosquito bites, and rashes from poisonous plants, as well as first and second degree burns, skin irritations or inflammation. It’s a good idea to keep a potted aloe in your kitchen - just slice open a leaf lengthwise and apply the gel to the affected area. You can also keep aloe lotion (look for those with a high percentage of aloe gel) or a gel product in your first aid kit. Be aware that topical use can trigger rare allergic reactions and may delay surgical wound healing. Always contact trained medical personnel for burns with significant blistering.

Aloe vera is one of many ways to treat sun poisoning.