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Boosting Broccoli's Anti-Cancer Effect

The disease-fighting effect of broccoli is due in part to the activity of myrosinase, an enzyme needed to form sulforaphane, the component credited with broccoli's anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory effects. You won't get these benefits if you overcook your broccoli, a process that destroys the crucial enzyme. You'll also miss out if you use broccoli powder supplements in cooking – it lacks myrosinase altogether. Now researchers at the University of Illinois have come up with evidence showing that adding broccoli sprouts (they're rich in myrosinase) to broccoli powder gives you plenty of sulforaphane. They tested the combination on four healthy men who ate meals containing broccoli sprouts alone, broccoli powder alone or a combination of the two. Measurements of marker compounds in the men's blood indicated that the combination of powder and sprouts doubled levels of sulforaphane compared to either alone. Other foods that will give broccoli the same kind of anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory sulforaphane boost are mustard, radishes, arugula and wasabi. The research team added that you'll get the most out of broccoli - the enzyme as well as the nutrients it contains - by steaming it for just two to four minutes.

Enjoy lightly steamed broccoli - rich in sulforaphane - in my recipe for Broccoli Salad with Avocado.


What Is Animal Assisted Therapy?

Animal assisted therapy (AAT) uses trained companion animals to promote optimal health for mind, body and spirit for people experiencing a wide range of physical and mental challenges.

I have recommended companion animals in part because research has demonstrated they can have a calming effect on people, help reduce blood pressure and anxiety, and can encourage socialization. AAT supports these effects. Unlike animal-assisted activities (such as seeing-eye dogs for the visually impaired), AAT emphasizes psychological support and physical healing. One of the most fundamental advantages of animal assisted therapy over other therapeutic modalities is that it provides the patient a much-needed opportunity to give affection as well as receive it. It is this reciprocity - rare among medical therapies - that makes AAT a unique and valuable route to healing.

There are many different animals used in AAT, from dogs and cats to horses and even dolphins, and therapy may take place in an institution such as a hospital, nursing home, school or library.

Learn more about animal assisted therapy, including who it can benefit and what to consider before trying it out.


Want Women’s Health Information?

If you are a woman, you know that your health needs are different than men’s. From gender-related health concerns and managing stress to finding balance and eating healthfully, our Women’s Interest Newsletter has simple tips that provide the perfect base for improving your overall health and wellness. Click here to learn more about this free weekly newsletter!

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Sap Zaps Some Skin Cancers

Don't try this at home, but British researchers have reported that sap from a common garden weed may help eliminate some non-melanoma skin cancers. The weed in question is "petty spurge" often found in landscaped urban gardens. The investigators, whose findings were published online on Jan. 27, 2011, by the British Journal of Dermatology, said that they treated 36 patients who had a total of 48 non-melanoma skin cancers once a day for three days. They noted that 41 of the 48 cancers they treated showed a complete response a month later. Patients who had only a partial response received a second round of treatment. After 15 months of follow up, 30 of the 48 treated lesions had not recurred. Because this was a small study, more research is needed to confirm the results. The investigators suggested that the treatment could prove an alternative to surgery for patients with superficial, non-melanoma skin cancers.


Are Laptops Bad for Men's Health?

If you or a loved one has wondered if the heat that radiates from a laptop to your lap could have health consequences, you aren’t alone. Investigators at the State University of New York at Stony Brook carried out and published (in the journal Fertility and Sterility online Nov. 3, 2010) a study of 29 young men and how laptop heat affected their scrotal temperatures. (An increase in scrotal temperature by more than one degree Celsius [1.8 degrees Fahrenheit] can have damaging effects on sperm quality.)

The study showed that scrotal temperature increased within 10 to 15 minutes of holding a laptop computer on the lap; after an hour of this, scrotal temperature rose by 2.5 C - even when the men placed a lap pad under the computer.

Overheated testicles can be caused by:

  1. Sitting with legs spread wide and a laptop computer placed on the lap, with or without a lap pad (with the lap pad, scrotal temperature will remain cooler for a while, but may edge up in less than 30 minutes)
  2. Prolonged bicycling
  3. Frequent use of saunas or hot tubs

However, a laptop is not the greatest threat to male fertility - the major causes are defects in reproductive anatomy or physiology, such as a damaged vas deferens (the tube that carries sperm from the testes), disease (including sexually transmitted diseases), hormonal disorders and chemotherapy. In addition to heat, environmental exposures to toxins and some chemicals can impair sperm production. But if you are trying to conceive, keep the laptop on a table or desk - not in the lap - just to be safe.

Condition Care Guide for female fertility, infertility and pregnancy.


Connecting with Japan

The devastating earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan on March 11 has already killed thousands of people, and the full effects have yet to play out. The long-term damage to human health from radiation leaks at the Fukishima nuclear power plants will take years, perhaps decades, to manifest.

I feel this tragedy deeply. Since my first visit to Japan as a teenager in 1959, I have felt a powerful connection to its culture, aesthetics and people. In the years since, I have been back more times than I can recall. As much as I enjoy the vibrant cacophony of modern, urban Japan, I am particularly drawn to its venues of timeless serenity.

I am encouraged that the hallmarks of the Japanese character - a reverence for hard work, family, tradition and beauty - will ultimately bring that great nation back from the horror that now engulfs it. Please do what you can to help by donating at the American Red Cross website.

In the meantime, here are some photos of trips I have been fortunate enough to make to Japan in recent years: Shrines and Serenity in Japan


Video Game Addiction May Predict Depression

Too much time playing video games may be bad for kids' mental health. In addition to depression, it can lead to anxiety, social phobia and poor school performance, report investigators from the Iowa State University in Ames, Iowa. The researchers analyzed questionnaires from more than 3,000 elementary and middle school kids in Singapore and found that impulsivity is a risk factor for becoming what they term a "pathological gamer" and that the impulsivity worsens as a result of playing video games excessively. Other characteristics that predicted compulsive gaming included lack of social competence, emotional regulation and empathy as well as playing video games for more than 31 hours per week. On the basis of the kids' answers to the questionnaires, the investigators diagnosed pathological gaming in nearly 10 percent of them, predominantly boys. Later surveys showed that the total dropped below 8 percent. More importantly, the researchers found that the more pathological gaming symptoms the kids had at the outset, the more likely they were over time to become depressed, anxious, develop social phobia and have lower grades in school than kids who weren't pathological gamers.

My take? This study seems to square with earlier research, which showed that those kids most likely to develop "internet addiction" are most likely to be those who are depressed, hostile, have attention deficit disorder or social phobia. Here, too, boys are said to be more susceptible than girls; also at risk are those who spend 20 hours a week online. Computer-related activities are not likely to go away, but monitoring the amount of time kids' spend gaming might head off the problems seen in this study. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that kids' total screen time should amount to no more than two hours a day.

Learn more: Get Moving with Video Games


4 Worst Fast-Food Choices

I've already discussed the healthiest choices to make if you find that you have no alternative to eating fast food. Today, we cover four nutritional pitfalls to avoid when eating at a fast-food restaurant.

  1. Opt out of cheese and condiments such as mayonnaise and tartar sauce, which can add unnecessary (and unhealthy) calories and fat. Use mustard or vinegar to add flavor as desired.
  2. Avoid anything deep-fried. From chicken to potatoes to onions, deep-fried foods contain altered fats that are pro-inflammatory and detrimental to the body.
  3. Skip the soda - it has no nutritional value and adds unnecessary calories to an already nutritionally-challenged meal. Order plain water instead.
  4. We said it last week and it bears repeating - do not order the largest version of an item, or opt for the “next largest” of anything added to your meal!

More on soda and deep-fried foods.