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Hot Pepper for High Blood Pressure

Capsaicin, the compound that adds the spicy zing to hot peppers, seems to have some benefit in blood pressure control. Chinese researchers have reported that long term consumption of capsaicin as part of the normal diet of rats bred to have high blood pressure helps relax blood vessels so that pressure falls. The capsaicin sets off a process that increases production of nitric oxide, a molecule known to protect blood vessels against inflammation and dysfunction. Earlier studies showed that short-term exposure to capsaicin produced conflicting results in the hypertensive rats; this is the first one to look at the effects of treatment long term. Although follow up studies will be needed to see whether capsaicin works as well in humans, the author of the study noted that in southwestern China where hot and spicy food is widely consumed, the incidence of high blood pressure is significantly lower than it is elsewhere in China. The study was published in the August issue of Cell Metabolism.

How about celebrating the end of summer with some healthy chili and cornbread? Both spicy recipes contain capsaicin, which, in addition to possibly regulating blood pressure, is a known anti-inflammatory agent. Keep a glass of water nearby!


Your Temperament Could Torpedo Your Health

The more antagonistic, competitive and hostile you are, the higher your risk of arterial thickening, a physical change which raises the danger of a heart attack or stroke. U.S. and Italian researchers have reported on a three-year study in Sardinia that explored personality traits associated with arterial thickening. More than 5,600 men and women whose ages ranged from 14 to 94 took part. They all received a standardized personality test, and the investigators used ultrasound to scan the thickness of the walls of each participant's carotid artery at five points in the neck. All of the participants were also screened for the usual cardiovascular risks: high blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting glucose and diabetes. After controlling for age, sex, smoking and other risk factors, the researchers found that those whose personality tests showed them to be less agreeable, less straightforward and less socially compliant had the greatest increases in the thickness of their arteries over the three year study. Although this study was performed in Sardinia, the researchers said that their findings could apply to anyone, anywhere. The study was published in the August 16, 2010 online edition of Hypertension.

My take? We've known for some time that anger, which would seem to underlie the personality traits that proved threatening in this study, is a risk factor for coronary heart disease. A six-year study published in The Lancet on May 6, 2000, found that subjects with the most personality traits revealing anger were two to seven times more likely to develop coronary heart disease. If see yourself as angry, hostile or antagonistic, then psychotherapy, hypnotherapy and spiritual counseling may help you modify your feelings. I also recommend exercise as an excellent way to cope with strong emotions. In addition, meditation, relaxation techniques and my breathing exercise have healthy, calming effects.

Here are some ways to manage stress if negativity and anger are a problem for you.


Where Does Cinnamon Fit in Your Kitchen? (Poll)

As we enter fall, I suspect cinnamon - and other warming spices like it - will be making more frequent appearances in your kitchen; I know they do in mine. I'd like to know: how do you use cinnamon in your cooking and baking? I'm partial to this squash pie.


Best Diet for Companion Animals?

When choosing food for my Rhodesian Ridgebacks, Ajax and Asha, I stay away from anything containing animal byproducts, including rendered or recycled meats, and instead look for meat protein that is properly prepared before it's packaged for consumption. I suggest you always check pet food labels to verify that the product does not contain added growth hormones, antibiotic-fed protein sources, or rendered meats, fats and poultry.

I recommend pet foods that contain quality protein sources such as real chicken, beef or fish. Animal byproducts or ground-meat "meal" should not be part of a pet's food. When I see "beef or poultry byproducts" on the label, this tells me it may include anything from chicken heads to blood and feet. If "meat meal" or "chicken meal" is listed, these are rendered ingredients. While they provide protein, they can contain a wide variety of "secondary" items including the tissue of low-grade animals that were diseased or died of health conditions before reaching the slaughterhouse. Even many "natural" and "scientific" pet foods contain these rendered ingredients, so it is important to examine food labels closely. Remember that quality protein sources come from quality producers. I recommend using brands that source their meat and poultry exclusively from U.S. natural producers, who humanely raise beef, chicken, and turkey on vegetarian diets, and without added growth hormones and antibiotics.

Check out the Pets & Pet Care section of my site for more information on keeping your pets in a state of optimum health, just like you!


Fitness on a Budget Part 2: Free Weights and Tubing

In Part I of Fitness on a Budget, I talked about the benefits of walking. I'd now like to discuss those of weight-bearing exercise.

Strength training is a vital component of physical activity, and one your body needs for optimal health. For a small investment you can set up a fairly comprehensive home “gym” that includes strength training components such as free weights and tubing. Free weights usually cost between $1-$2 per pound, and can be used to help build muscle and increase the intensity of weight-bearing exercises. Resistance bands - stretchable rubber cords with handles at both ends - are also a cost-effective way to add resistance to stretches and help build muscle.

Learn more about strength training with weights.


Medical Marijuana for Pain

Here's the latest on the medical uses of marijuana: a research team from Canada's McGill University Health Centre has published a study showing that smoking marijuana at home three times a day reduced chronic nerve pain in patients who had failed to achieve relief from other treatments. Some participants had pain following nerve injury due to accidents, and some cases were due to surgical trauma, including cut nerves. During the study, the patients smoked low doses (25 mg) of marijuana three times a day over the course of five days; they all used a pipe, and the marijuana they were given contained approximately 10 percent THC, the primary active ingredient. The researchers described the pain reduction as "modest" but said that the marijuana also improved patients' moods and helped them sleep better. They noted that bigger, longer-lasting clinical trials investigating higher doses of THC would be needed to further evaluate the effectiveness and long-term safety of medical marijuana for pain relief. The study was published online August 30, 2010 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Read my latest Huffington Post piece on medical marijuana and cancer.


Mediterranean Couscous

Couscous is a type of pasta that can be prepared in under 10 minutes. It's done as soon as the "grains" soak up the hot liquid. This version, with its traditional Mediterranean flavors, is a wonderful accompaniment to fish and a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes and feta cheese. Once you make this dish, you'll find yourself wanting to experiment with other flavorful additions to couscous.


1 1/2 cups boiling water
2/3 cup whole-wheat couscous
1 teaspoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 fresh Italian tomato, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh parsley leaves, chopped
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tablespoon capers
2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
Salt and pepper to taste


1. Pour the boiling water over the couscous in a mixing bowl. Stir, cover, and let stand for 10 minutes. 

2. Fluff the couscous with a fork, stir in the olive oil, then add the other ingredients. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

3. Serve at room temperature.

Food as Medicine: Tomatoes, which are featured in this recipe, provide lycopene, a carotenoid which has been shown to help protect against prostate, breast and pancreatic cancers.

Prefer finger food? Try my Stuffed Mushroom Caps with Couscous.


Vitamin D and Your Immune System

An estimated 70 percent of the U.S. population has diets deficient in vitamin D. Recent study of this essential micronutrient has demonstrated its central role in maintaining health. Decreased or insufficient levels of vitamin D have been linked to:

  1. Suppressed immunity - our innate systems of defense may not function efficiently without adequate vitamin D, allowing increased susceptibility to infectious agents.
  2. Increased risk of chronic disease - low levels of vitamin D have been associated with a higher than normal risk of heart disease and several kinds of cancer.
  3. Heightened inflammation - vitamin D is a key cofactor in regulating inflammation throughout the body.

I recommend prudent daily sun exposure to support the natural production of vitamin D in our skin, as well as speaking to your doctor about checking vitamin D levels and supplementing if necessary.

Learn more about vitamin D for: mental sharpness, your heart, asthma, and even cold prevention.