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Wednesday
Nov102010

Lose Weight to Ease Aches and Pains

We all know that excess weight increases the risks of chronic health concerns - cancer, diabetes, hypertension, heart disease and asthma. But that knowledge hasn’t been very effective in motivating individuals to lose weight. Now, in hopes that other benefits would be more motivating than the danger of future disease, researchers at the University of Cincinnati have documented a more immediate perquisite of weight loss: relief of the musculoskeletal aches and pains that often accompany excess pounds. The investigators recruited 32 women between the ages of 22 and 76 who already were enrolled in a local weight-loss clinic. At the start of the 12-week study, they collected data on the women's weight and any associated pain in the neck, shoulders, elbows, hands and wrists, upper back, lower back, hips, knees, lower legs and feet. They tracked each woman's weight loss weekly and asked the participants to rate their pain on a scale of 0 to 10. After losing an average of 10 pounds, 21 percent of the women reported significantly less pain in their lower extremities and back. Overall, the participants reported a 20 to 30 percent reduction in pain after losing weight. 

My take? Earlier studies have shown that weight loss improves quality of life, including increased energy and less physical pain. If you have arthritis, excess weight puts additional stress on the hip and knee joints, and you're likely to feel better if you can lose even a few pounds. Losing weight to relieve pain is a worthwhile and achievable goal - you'll feel better even after relatively small losses. And, incidentally, you'll also lower your risks for the diseases that can endanger your long-term health.

More on diet and weight loss.

Tuesday
Nov092010

To Sleep Better, Get More Exercise

Here's further proof that regular aerobic exercise can help middle aged and older adults overcome insomnia. Researchers at Northwestern University recruited 23 sedentary adults, mostly women of ages 55 and older, who had problems falling or staying asleep, to take part in a 16-week study. The participants were divided into three groups; the first group performed two 20-minute sessions of aerobic activity four times per week; the second group completed a 30 to 40 minute workout four times a week; the third group did not engage in any physical activity, but instead took cooking classes, attended lectures at museums or took part in other recreational or educational programs three to five times a week. Those who exercised reported that their sleep quality improved from "poor" to "good" and that the duration of their sleep lengthened as well. What’s more, the participants reported fewer depressive symptoms, more vitality and less daytime sleepiness than they had in the past. The study was scheduled for publication in the October, 2010, issue of Sleep Medicine.

Hate to exercise? Here's my advice.

Monday
Nov082010

Preparing for Lifelong Health, Part 1

Keep a personal medical journal that includes a record of past illnesses, injuries, treatments, tests and screenings, hospitalizations, current medications and family history. Based on family history, identify the categories of age-related disease you are most at risk for, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, and know the preventive lifestyle strategies to help keep these at bay.

Sunday
Nov072010

Butter vs. Margarine

When it comes to spreads for your bread, I am a longtime proponent of olive oil. Its heart-healthy fats are a much better choice than margarine or butter.

Margarine was originally developed as a cheap substitute for butter, and has evolved from some fairly unappealing animal-based ingredients into a vegetable-oil based spread with added chemicals that make it more flavorful and easier to spread. To achieve that solid, spreadable consistency, margarine manufacturers hydrogenate vegetable oil, creating unhealthy compounds that may contribute to heart disease and stroke. In addition, the heat and chemicals used to harden vegetable oils produce trans-fatty acids (TFAs), which can contribute to heart disease, increase cancer risks, promote inflammation and accelerate tissue degeneration.

Butter is traditionally made from animal milk and contains saturated fat, but is definitely the better choice. In fact, some recent studies suggest that natural saturated fats may not significantly contribute to cardiovascular disease, though I believe further study is warranted. In any case, butter is closer to a whole food than margarine. If you must opt for a spread that is not olive oil, I suggest natural, organic butter in limited quantities.

Saturday
Nov062010

Massage Boosts Immune System

We all know that massage feels good, but new evidence suggests that it can be even better for your health than previously thought. Researchers at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles noted that while some small studies had shown the health benefits of massage, their larger investigation revealed that Swedish massage triggers measurable and beneficial changes to both endocrine and immune system responses. The researchers recruited 53 physically healthy volunteers who had no mental disorders and divided them into two groups: 29 of the volunteers received 45 minutes of Swedish massage while 24 received 45 minutes of light touch massage. Prior to massage, all the participants were fitted with intravenous catheters so that blood samples could be taken at intervals before and after massage. Results showed significant changes in lymphocytes, white blood cells that are key players in immune system responses; a large decrease in a hormone (arginine vassopressin) believed to play a role in aggressive behavior and linked to prompting increases in the stress hormone cortisol; a decrease in cortisol levels, and a decrease in inflammatory cytokines, which are immune system mediators.

Other health benefits of massage.

Friday
Nov052010

Magnesium Intake May Reduce Diabetes Risk

And that's a big "may." So far, all we know for sure is that people who consumed the most magnesium in food and from supplements during an ongoing investigation had half the risk of developing diabetes over the next 20 years as those whose magnesium intake was lowest. The study looked at diabetes risk and magnesium intake among nearly 4,500 people between the ages of 18 and 30, none of whom had diabetes when the investigation began. Over the next 20 years, 330 of the participants developed diabetes. When the researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill looked at their subjects' magnesium consumption, they found that those with the highest intake - an average of about 200 mg for every 1,000 calories consumed - were 47 percent less likely to have developed diabetes than those who consumed about only 100 mg of magnesium per 1,000 calories. More research will be needed to determine whether magnesium or some other factor really was responsible for the difference. Good food sources of magnesium include whole grains, leafy green vegetables, almonds, cashews and other nuts, avocados, beans, soybeans and halibut. The study was published on line by Diabetes Care on August 31, 2010.

More on sources of magnesium.

Thursday
Nov042010

White Beans and Fusilli

This makes a great lunch as well as an entrée for dinner. I make this pasta dish with beans because they provide a bit of protein. Serve with a green salad and a sliced French baguette brushed with olive oil and toasted.

Ingredients:

WHITE BEANS
1 cup Great Northern or cannellini beans, soaked overnight in 3 cups of water to cover and 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 bay leaf
3 cups vegetable stock

PESTO
1/2 cup walnuts
5 cups fresh basil
5 large cloves garlic, peeled or smashed
1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons olive oil

PASTA
1 pound fusilli or pasta shells
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 small onion, chopped (about 1/2 cup)
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 bunch escarole, chopped
1/3 teaspoon dried rosemary
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt to taste

GARNISH
1 lemon, sliced

Instructions:

Drop the bay leaf into the pot of water that the beans have been soaking in overnight. Bring the water to a boil, pour in the vegetable stock, and cook for 45 minutes or longer. The beans should be able to be easily pierced with a fork.

Make the pesto: Put all the pesto ingredients, except the oil, in a food processor and blend. Slowly add the oil and continue to process until it becomes a smooth paste. Set aside.

Bring a large pot of water with the salt to a boil. Add the pasta and cook until it is al dente.

Meanwhile, sauté the onions, garlic, escarole, and rosemary in 1 tablespoon of olive oil until limp. Add salt to taste and mix in with the beans.

Drain the pasta in a colander and pour it into a large bowl. Add about 1/3 cup of the pesto or more to taste and toss well until it is distributed evenly and the strands of pasta are coated.

Serve the pasta in 6 individual pasta bowls and ladle white beans on top. Garnish each with a slice of lemon.

Kitchen Tip:
Store leftover pesto in ice cube trays, then cover and freeze. Pesto is wonderful tossed plain with warm noodles or mixed with béchamel or white sauce and tossed with pasta.

Wednesday
Nov032010

Vitamin E for Liver Disease

The incidence of nonalcoholic fatty liver disease has been growing alongside the obesity epidemic. It's estimated that up to 20 percent of all Americans have fat in their livers, often as a result of being overweight or obese. Over time, the fat buildup can lead to inflammation and scarring and in severe cases, to liver failure. There's no reliable treatment for fatty liver, but research published online by the New England Journal of Medicine on April 28, 2010 suggests that vitamin E may help. In a study sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, 247 adults with advanced fatty liver disease were randomly assigned to take 800 IU daily of vitamin E, the diabetes drug Actos or a placebo for nearly two years. All the patients underwent liver biopsies before and after treatment. At the end of the study period, results showed that liver function improved in 43 percent of the vitamin E group compared with only 19 percent in the placebo group. The patients who took Actos also improved, but not as much as those who took vitamin E. The Actos group also gained an average of 10 pounds. These results are encouraging, but not conclusive. If you've been diagnosed with fatty liver disease, talk with your physician before beginning vitamin E (or any other therapy) to treat it.

More on vitamin E.