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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.


Cleaning Ears and Broken Eardrums

You've probably heard that cleaning your ears with a cotton swab can push wax further down. It can also lead to a perforated ear drum. A study at the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit found that more than half the patients seen in ear, nose and throat clinics admit to using cotton swabs to clean their ears. The research also showed that when the eardrum is perforated as a result of swabbing, 97 percent of all cases heal within two months without treatment. The rest require surgery. Symptoms of a ruptured eardrum include hearing loss, drainage, dizziness or abnormalities in facial movements - see a doctor if any of these occur. One of the study co-authors advises that instead of using cotton swabs, you can play it safe cleaning the ears by irrigating them once or twice a month with a mixture of equal parts of peroxide and warm tap water (be sure the fluid is body temperature). Other options: use a combination of plain vinegar and water - and place four or five drops in the ear once a week. You can also have a doctor remove your earwax or use an over-the-counter earwax treatment.

Ask Dr. Weil: Eyes and Ears


Worried About Iodine Deficiency?

Iodine, a non-metallic mineral, is required by humans in trace amounts for proper development and growth. An iodine deficiency leads to an enlarged thyroid gland (goiter), slowed metabolism and weight gain, as well as other symptoms of hypothyroidism such as fatigue and intolerance of cold. It can also cause neurological, gastrointestinal and skin abnormalities.

Humans need at least 150 mcg of iodine per day. Daily intakes of up to 1,100 mcg daily for adults and children over four are considered safe.

You can get iodine naturally by eating saltwater fish and seafood, kelp and other sea vegetables as well as vegetables grown in soils that contain iodine. Dairy products also provide iodine if the animals graze on plants growing in iodine-rich soils. If you are eating a healthy, balanced, varied diet, you’re probably getting enough iodine. However, if you eat mostly processed foods, don’t rely on them for your iodine requirements: the salt processed foods contain is not iodized. Incorporate more of the whole foods mentioned above to boost your iodine intake. You can also use unrefined (gray) and refined (white) sea salt - they do not have the additives such as aluminum compounds to prevent caking that commercial salts do, and sea salt contains trace amounts of iodine.


Walnuts Are Winners

If you're looking for an all-natural, high-quality source of antioxidants, one of your best bets is walnuts. A new analysis has found that a handful of walnuts has nearly twice the antioxidants as an equivalent amount of any other nuts, and that the antioxidants in walnuts are two to 15 times as potent as vitamin E. The analysis, by Joe Vinson, Ph.D., of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, ranked walnuts above eight other varieties of nuts including almonds, pecans, pistachios, Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, cashews, macadamias and peanuts. In a presentation to the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in March 2011, Vinson noted that nuts in general are packed with high quality protein as well as vitamins, minerals and dietary fiber. Even though nuts are high in calories, Vinson said only about seven walnuts a day are needed for the health benefits documented in earlier studies.

Start enjoying walnuts' health benefits now, and try this savory Garlic Walnut Dip. For a sweet, walnut-studded finish to a meal, try my Carrot Cake recipe.


How Do You Boost Your Mood? (Poll)

Here's a Q&A from my site about the effect of mindfulness meditation versus antidepressants to prevent relapses of depression.

Everyone has their own way of dealing with depression, whether short- or long-term. How do you beat the blues? Share in the comments.

Be sure to watch for my new book on this subject, Spontaneous Happiness, to be published by Little, Brown in the fall of 2011.


Socialize for a Better Brain

We know that exercising the brain by doing puzzles, learning a language, reading or engaging in other mentally stimulating activities can lower the risk of Alzheimer's Disease. Now researchers at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago have learned that socializing can help as well. The investigation team is studying 1,138 older adults (mean age 80) in an effort to understand what kinds of activities improve cognition as we age. All the participants receive yearly evaluations that include a medical history and neuropsychological tests. The study group also responded to a questionnaire about their social activities, including going to restaurants, sporting events, playing bingo, taking trips (day or overnight), doing volunteer work, visiting friends or relatives, attending religious services or participating in group activities (the researchers gave the Knights of Columbus as an example). The study has shown that the participants who were most socially active experienced only one quarter of the cognitive decline over an average of five years as those who were least active socially. In analyzing their results, the researchers took into consideration other factors that could have influenced cognitive decline and tried to rule out the possibility that cognitive decline leads to avoidance of social activity, rather than the other way around.

My take? Throughout life, connections to others are vital to our health and well being. I believe that we are not meant to be all alone, but rather parts of bigger families, bands, and tribes. We are naturally communal beings and derive great satisfaction from the experience of belonging to a group with a common purpose. I'm happy to know that the Rush study confirmed what many of us know intuitively - that it is better (at any age) to maintain our connections with others than to isolate ourselves. As we age, the more stimulation we receive - intellectual and social - the greater our chances of keeping our minds, and memories, as sharp as they are today.

Learn more: Eight Ways to Connect