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More Potassium, Please

Reducing salt consumption and increasing the amount of potassium in the diet could help lower blood pressure, which is too high among 70 to 80 percent of adults in Western nations. After investigating potassium consumption in 21 countries including the United States, China, New Zealand, Germany and the Netherlands, researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands concluded that the average intake varies between 1.7 and 3.7 grams per day, much lower than the 4.7 grams per day recommended for positive health effects. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables could help bring potassium consumption up to healthier levels, the investigators suggested. But to reduce blood pressure, the increase in potassium would have to be matched with a decreased intake of salt by three or four grams per day (0.1 ounces). In Western countries, the researchers noted, salt consumption can be as high as nine to 12 grams per day (the World Health Organization recommends five grams). Most of the salt in the Western diet comes from processed foods and snacks. The study was published in the September 13, 2010, issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

My take? If you're eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables - 8 to 10 servings a day - you should be getting adequate potassium. I don't recommend taking potassium supplements except when prescribed by a physician. But I agree that many people can help reduce their blood pressure by cutting back on salt and making sure their diets include the fruits and vegetables that provide potassium. Other recommendations for reducing blood pressure include watching your weight, exercising daily and practicing relaxation techniques.


Treat Upset Stomach Naturally

Whether you're eating too much rich holiday food, or perhaps aren’t getting as much exercise as you did during warmer months, the gastrointestinal tract can have its own seasonal challenges. Try these two traditional remedies that may help keep your stomach healthy and happy:

  1. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) - especially in the form of chamomile tea - is a soothing solution for upset stomachs, heartburn and indigestion.
  1. Triphala, an Ayurvedic herbal mixture, may help relieve constipation and poor bowel tone. Use a capsule form and follow package directions. Triphala is best used regularly to improve bowel function, and should be taken separately from other medications.

6 Reasons to Be Thankful for Friends

When you thank your friends and family this holiday season, the reasons to do so may extend beyond good wishes, and actually benefit you and your health. Study after study has shown that social connections - through family, friends, or even with companion animals - seem to pay off in terms of good health, longevity and even prolonged survival among patients with very serious diseases. Some evidence linking good health with strong ties to family and friends includes:

  1. The immune system's natural killer cell activity is negatively affected by three "distress indicators" - one of which is lack of social support.
  2. One study of 75 medical students found that those who were lonely had more sluggish natural killer cells than students who were social.
  3. Research has shown that people who have companion animals have less illness than people who do not. Companion animals’ owners also recover from serious illness faster.
  4. Susceptibility to heart attacks appears to correlate with how often people use the words "I," "me," and "mine" in casual speech.
  5. And believe it or not, studies show that people who get out and spend more time with others during cold and flu season actually get fewer episodes of colds or flu than those who choose to be alone.
  6. Being grateful for what you have has been associated with physical and emotional health.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Why You Should Eat Cranberries

Cranberries - a traditional holiday side dish in North America - are more than just a tart and tasty meal accompaniment. A rich source of vitamin C and dietary fiber, cranberries are packed with healthy antioxidants and are used traditionally to help prevent urinary tract infections. Recent studies have also linked consumption of cranberries and cranberry juice with healthy cholesterol levels, improved gastrointestinal health, and the prevention of kidney stones - all good reasons to increase your intake no matter what the season.

Fresh cranberries provide the most antioxidants and are in season from October through December. When purchasing fresh cranberries, look for those that are a deep red color and firm to the touch. They can be used in a variety of ways, including in breads and muffins or as a cold or warm relish.

For more information on healthful foods, visit Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid.


Preparing for Lifelong Health, Part 3

Aim for healthy blood pressure. Maintain blood pressure in the normal range - i.e., 120/80 or below. If your blood pressure is consistently elevated, even when you measure it yourself, first try to normalize it by changing habits of diet, exercise, and relaxation. If that fails, talk with your physician about medication, and start with the lowest effective dose of a mild agent.

Preparing for Lifelong Health, Part 1 and Part 2.


More on Arthritis Prevention...And Bone Loss

This news comes from the University of Arizona's College of Medicine where assistant professor Janet Funk, M.D., an endocrinologist, has reported that the spice turmeric, the major ingredient in Indian curries, may help prevent osteoporosis. Earlier studies performed in her lab suggested that turmeric can help prevent arthritis as well as impede the development of cells that foster bone breakdown and destruction. In her latest study, Dr. Funk used two different turmeric extracts. The one with the greatest efficacy contained 94 percent curcuminoids, polyphenol compounds found in turmeric. Examining cultured tissue samples, Dr. Funk and her team noted that turmeric led to improvements in the microarchitecture of bone, suggesting a reduction in fracture risk. So far, Dr. Funk hasn't tested turmeric's effects in humans, but her report indicates it may be useful to investigate its role in the prevention of arthritis and the bone breakdown leading to osteoporosis. She also noted that not all commercially available dietary supplements deliver the amounts of turmeric stated on labels. However, you can get more turmeric into your diet by drinking turmeric tea or by indulging in more curried dishes.

Learn more about turmeric and two other anti-inflammatory herbs.


Walnuts to Ease Stress

A new study from Penn State suggests that eating a few walnuts daily can help counteract unhealthy responses to stress, including rising blood pressure. The 22 healthy adult participants all had previously diagnosed high cholesterol and were provided all their meals and snacks during three diet periods of six weeks each. One diet period reflected "an average American" plan containing no nuts; a second substituted 1.3 ounces of walnuts and a tablespoon of walnut oil for some of the fat and protein in the average American diet; the third diet added 1.5 tablespoons of flaxseed oil to the second version. The calories in all three diets were calibrated to avoid weight loss or gain. After each diet period, the participants took two stress tests: the first was a three-minute videotaped speech given after only two minutes preparation; the second was a standard stress test in which one foot is submerged in ice-cold water. Blood pressure readings taken during the tests showed that the "bottom" (diastolic) number was significantly lower after consuming the diet that incorporated walnuts and walnut oil. Adding flaxseed oil didn’t further reduce blood pressure but did lower C-reactive protein, a marker for inflammation in the blood; it also improved artery dilation, a positive change, seen on vascular ultrasound.

My take? This is further evidence that walnuts are good for you (as long as you don't overdo it -they're relatively high in calories). Earlier studies have shown that adding walnuts to the diet is beneficial to heart health, and the FDA permits this qualified health claim on packages of walnuts: eating 1.5 ounces daily "as part of a low saturated fat and low-cholesterol diet, and not resulting in increased caloric intake, may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease." I usually eat a handful of walnuts a day.

Try Garlic Walnut Dip at your next dinner party, or just for an everyday snack.


Breast Cancer and Air Pollution

Here's another noteworthy study from Canada: this one may show a possible link between breast cancer risk and air pollution. Researchers from McGill University Health Centre mapped air pollution in Montreal by monitoring levels of nitrogen dioxide (NO2), a by-product of vehicular traffic. The investigators then charted the home addresses of women diagnosed with post-menopausal breast cancer in 1996-97. The maps indicated that breast cancer incidence was higher in areas where air pollution was higher. What's more, they saw that the risk of breast cancer increased by about 25 percent with every increase of NO2 by five parts per billion. The conclusion: women living in the areas with the highest levels of pollution were almost twice as likely to develop breast cancer as those living in the least polluted areas. The researchers stressed that NO2 itself doesn't cause breast cancer. It is only a "marker" for all the other pollutants associated with automobile traffic. While the study doesn't prove that air pollution causes breast cancer, it certainly suggests a need for further investigation.