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Heavy Smoking and Alzheimer's

If the risks of heart disease and cancer aren't troubling enough, newly published research showing that heavy smoking in middle age more than doubles the risk of Alzheimer's disease might motivate some smokers to stop. This finding emerged from a study that followed more than 21,000 middle-aged men and women for 23 years. It showed that individuals who smoked two packs or more of cigarettes per day had a 114 percent greater risk of dementia than non-smokers; those who smoked between one to two packs a day had a 44 percent increased risk and those who smoked half to one pack daily had a 37 percent increased risk. Non-smoking middle-aged people in the study who identified themselves as former smokers didn't appear to have an increased risk of later dementia. The study's principal investigator suggested that smoking might increase the risk of dementia by narrowing blood vessels in the brain, and added that oxidative stress and inflammation promoted by cigarette smoke may also damage the brain, eventually leading to dementia. Researchers from Finland, Sweden and the Kaiser Permanente Health Plan reported the overall findings, which were published online October 25, 2010 by the Archives of Internal Medicine.

My take? In addition to the risk of lung cancer and emphysema, tobacco use raises risk of bladder cancer, cancers of the head and neck, and leukemia. Smoking is especially dangerous if you are diabetic, take birth control pills or have any heart or circulatory problems, respiratory disease, urinary or prostate trouble, digestive disorders, a family history of cancer or increased risk of cancer for any reason, high blood pressure, seizure disorder or a family history of coronary heart disease. If none of that worries you, I'm not sure the risk of Alzheimer's will. But according to this study it should.

Smoking is among the worst health habits.


What's the Difference between Vegan and Vegetarian?

Being a vegetarian isn’t as unusual as it may seem: according to a 2008 study from Vegetarian Times, 3.2 percent of Americans are vegetarian, .5 percent is vegan, and 10 percent say they follow a largely vegetarian-inclined diet. Whether you are interested in eating less meat and animal products (or cutting them out altogether) for ethical, health or environmental reasons, here are the basics of vegetarianism:

  • VegetarianThis term describes someone who does not consume poultry, meat, seafood or fish.
  • Semi-Vegetarian: A person who consumes dairy products, poultry (including eggs) and fish, but does not eat any other animal flesh or products.
  • Ovo-Lacto-Vegetarian: Someone who eats eggs and milk, but does not consume any other animal products.
  • Ovo-Vegetarian: A person who consumes eggs but no other animal products or flesh.
  • Lacto-Vegetarian: Someone who consumes milk but no other animal products or flesh.
  • Vegan: Vegans do not consume any animal flesh, products or by-products. Some vegans also do not consume yeast or honey, and often opt not to wear clothing and accessories made from animals.

If you are considering a change in your diet that excludes or sharply limits animal products, be sure to take quality supplements that can supply essential vitamins, minerals and fats that are typically provided by animal-based sources. And don’t miss next Monday’s post, which offers six healthy lunch ideas, most of which are vegetarian.

Nutrients for vegans to consider.


Workout + Friend = Fitness

It's easy enough to start an exercise program, the tough part is sticking with it.  Having an exercise partner will not only help keep you motivated and focused on your fitness goals, it can keep you accountable - you're more likely to go to the gym if someone is waiting there for you. The company of a friend may also help you lose weight according to an investigation from the University of Pennsylvania, published last year. The study included 344 African American adults, 63 of whom enrolled alone and 281 who enrolled with a friend or family member. The participants were split into three groups: those who trained alone, those who worked out with a partner and received little coaching and those who worked out with a friend and had a high level of coaching. After two years, the participants who worked with a partner and received the most coaching lost the most weight. What's more, those whose partners lost at least five percent of their body fat dropped more weight compared to participants with partners who lost less than five percent of their weight.

My take? For many people who are just beginning to exercise, the greatest challenge is to make workouts more fun and less boring.  If they don't, many are likely to let the program slide before it becomes established as a daily, healthy habit. I've made my own workouts more enjoyable by exercising outdoors in interesting surroundings. Working out with a companion is another way to take the boredom out of repetitive physical activity. Time spent exercising with a friend goes much faster than the same time spent alone.

Indoor vs. Outdoor Exercise


Whole Grains and Bad Body Fat

Eating more whole grains (and fewer refined grains) can influence the type of fat the body stores. Those who eat more whole grains seem to have about 10 percent less “visceral adipose tissue” (VAT), the fat associated with development of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. Investigators at the Jean Mayer USDA Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging at Tufts University examined diet questionnaires from 2,834 men and women between the ages of 32 and 83, all of whom received a special CT scan to determine the amount of VAT (compared to subcutaneous fat) in their bodies. VAT surrounds abdominal organs while subcutaneous fat lies under the skin. The link between whole grain consumption and lower VAT levels persisted even after the investigators took into account other lifestyle factors that could contribute to VAT. The study was published online Sept. 29, 2010 by The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

In order to eat more whole grains, you have to understand what they are - what's a true whole grain?


Veggies May Lower Breast Cancer Risk

Carrots specifically, as well as cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, collard greens and broccoli may help ward off an aggressive form of breast cancer. This type of cancer - estrogen receptor (ER) negative breast cancer - is seen more commonly among African American women than among white women. Unlike ER positive breast cancer, its growth doesn't depend on the hormone estrogen, it's harder to treat, and is more often fatal. Looking at data from the ongoing Black Women's Health Study, Boston University researchers found that women who ate three or more servings of carrots per week had a 17 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than women who ate carrots less than once a month. And those who ate at least two servings of vegetables daily had a 43 percent lower risk than women who consumed fewer than four veggie servings per week. The researchers don't yet know if vegetable consumption in these women was responsible for the lower risk, or if these dietary habits simply signaled a healthier lifestyle that could account for the difference. The study was published online Oct. 11, 2010, by the American Journal of Epidemiology.

Another way to fight breast cancer is early detection: six signs of breast cancer.


Natural Fertility Help

If you or a loved one is trying to conceive a child, consider the following - each can help improve the odds of beginning a healthy pregnancy.

  1. Safety first. Avoid exposure to pesticides, paints, solvents, and other products with potentially harmful chemicals that can impair fertility.
  2. Eat a balanced diet and supplement wisely. Vitamins C, E, B-12, folic acid, selenium, zinc, and lycopene - in the right amounts - are all beneficial to men's fertility. Women should take folic acid before trying to conceive and during pregnancy to lower the risk of certain birth defects.
  3. Acupuncture. Women who attempt in-vitro fertilization may also want to try acupuncture. It may improve blood supply to reproductive organs and help decrease stress. Acupuncture in men may positively influence sperm quality and count.
  4. Try TCM. Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) has a good track record in helping fertility. TCM views infertility as a problem of energy flows, and practitioners individualize treatments using herbs and other therapies.

More on pregnancy and fertility.


Are You Eating Enough Soy?

One of the healthiest changes you can make to your diet is to incorporate whole soy foods on a regular basis. Soy is rich in protein, iron and compounds called isoflavones, which seem to protect against hormone-driven cancers such as prostate cancer in men and breast cancer in women. Soy also helps protect your heart, and new research indicates it may help protect against lung cancer as well. I recommend one to two daily servings of soy in relatively whole and unrefined forms such as a cup of soymilk, a half cup of tofu, tempeh or green soybeans (edamame) or roasted soy nuts. You can also easily swap meat for tofu in dishes - baked tofu works well as a meat replacement in fajitas, stir fries and casseroles.

Not sure where to start? Try my recipes for Tofu Provencal or Spicy Stir-Fried Tempeh with Basil.


Suffering from Secondhand Smoke?

Spending time with a smoker - or even sitting by one in a restaurant or other public place - exposes you to secondhand smoke. Secondhand smoke is suspected of killing thousands of nonsmokers every year; it can also cause or worsen respiratory infections, ear infections and asthma. In addition to avoiding smoky places, you can protect yourself from the effects of secondhand smoke by taking a daily multivitamin that includes these antioxidants:

  • Vitamin E. Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps protects cell membranes.
  • Vitamin C. Vitamin C is a water-soluble vitamin that also functions as a powerful antioxidant.
  • Selenium. Selenium activates an antioxidant enzyme called glutathione peroxidase, which helps the body eliminate smoke-associated toxins.
  • Carotenoids. Beta-carotene, in conjunction with other carotenes, acts as an antioxidant and immune system booster.
  • Coenzyme Q10. Coenzyme Q10 is essential in cellular energy production and has antioxidant properties that help protect the body from free radicals.

More ways to protect yourself from secondhand smoke.