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Lower Carbs ... and Blood Pressure

A low-carbohydrate diet may be more effective to lower blood pressure than the weight-loss drug orlistat combined with a low-fat diet. In a year-long study, investigators at Duke University Medical Center and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Durham, N.C. compared the effects of the two weight loss strategies in 146 overweight men and women who had obesity-related health problems such as diabetes, high cholesterol and arthritis as well as high blood pressure. One group of participants followed a low-carb diet and the other combined orlistat with a low-fat diet. Over the course of the study, participants in both groups lost an average of 10 percent of their body weight, but 47 percent of those on the low-carb diet were able to reduce or discontinue medication they took for high blood pressure; only 21 percent of those in the other group were able to do the same. Exactly how the low-carb diet achieved those results isn't known yet. The study was published in the Jan. 25, 2010 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

My take? These findings are very interesting. If confirmed, we need to learn what it is about a low-carb diet that helps lower blood pressure so much more effectively than losing the same amount of weight with another strategy, or consider why a high-carb diet might raise blood pressure. In addition to weight loss, you may be able to lower high blood pressure by quitting smoking if that's an issue, limiting caffeine and alcohol intake, cutting back on salt (processed foods are the biggest sources of sodium in today's western diet) and practicing relaxation methods.


For Your Aching Back

Rethinking your aching back could go a long way toward relieving the pain. A study from England found that patients with chronic lower back pain who underwent up to six group sessions of cognitive behavior therapy (CBT) in addition to standard treatment reported greater improvements than a similar group of patients who received standard treatment alone. The CBT was aimed at helping patients change patterns of negative thinking about their back pain, especially thoughts that lead them to avoid being active and, as a consequence, further weaken their backs. Of the 701 patients who participated in the study, those who had CBT showed a 2.4 percent improvement on one disability test and a 13.8 percent improvement on another, compared to improvements of only 1.1 percent on one test and 5.4 percent on the other among those who experienced standard treatment alone. The study was published online in the Feb. 26, 2010 edition of The Lancet. In some respects these findings concur with the work of Dr. John Sarno, a physician and professor of rehabilitation medicine at New York University and author of Healing Back Pain: the Mind Body Connection (Warner Books, 1991) and Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain (Warner Books, 1998). Dr. Sarno believes that treatment for chronic low back pain should be aimed at changing patterns of thinking, feeling and handling stress, all of which contribute to the pain.

In-depth information on low back pain.


More Potassium = Fewer Strokes, Less Heart Disease

Here, the findings come from an analysis of 10 studies that included nearly 280,000 adults. The potassium in question was from foods that provide plenty of this essential nutrient: leafy greens, potatoes, bananas, soybeans, apricots, avocados, prune juice, dried beans and peas and plain non­fat yogurt. Researchers found that participants in the studies who had the highest intake of raw fruits and vegetables, more than 262 grams per day, were 36 percent less likely to suffer a stroke than those who ate less than 92 grams per day of raw fruits and vegetables. However, no reduction of stroke risk was seen with consumption of processed fruits and vegetables, regardless of the amounts eaten. In this review, the highest intake of potassium-rich raw fruits and vegetables was also associated with an eight percent lower risk of coronary heart disease. The study’s findings, from the University of Naples, in Italy, were presented on March 3, 2010 at the American Heart Association's Nutrition, Physical Activity and Metabolism Conference.


The Healthiest Places to Live

If you live in the U.S., you're most likely to be happiest - and healthiest - if you make your home in the west. Boulder, Colo., came out on top in a study based on interviews with more than 353,000 Americans about such issues as satisfaction with their present life, emotional health, healthy behaviors, work environment, physical health and access to food, medicine and health insurance. At the bottom:

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Creating a New Generation of Doctors


Raising a Healthy Companion Animal

Companion animals deserve our attention and affection just like other family members. As a caretaker, you can help reduce the risk of health concerns such as obesity, diabetes and heart disease in your pets with a few simple steps:

  • Daily walk or exercise. Our companions need to move and explore. Fresh air, new experiences and regular exercise all contribute to pet health.
  • Regular vet visits. Create a relationship with your vet, and stick to scheduled annual exams. 
  • Pay attention to your animal(s). By taking in an animal, you make an unspoken agreement that you will provide for its emotional needs, as well as physical.
  • Spay or neuter, if you don't have plans to breed your animals.
  • Feed a vital diet. If you want a healthy, vital companion, you must feed your pet canned or dry pet foods made from natural, whole foods. Dogs can also receive modest amounts of fresh fruit, vegetables, grains and proteins.
  • Maintain optimum weight. A healthy weight is indicated by being able to easily find your dog or cat's backbone underneath its coat, but its ribs should not be visible. If you cannot feel ribs under its coat, you likely have an overweight animal that needs more exercise. Adjust their feeding routine to cut calories and move their weight in a healthy direction.

Learn more about Pets & Pet Care.


Is Umami the Fifth Taste?

Umami (pronounced oo-MAH-mee) is a Japanese word for a taste that can't be categorized as one of the four tastes we traditionally recognize: sweet, salty, sour, or bitter. It is often referred to as the "fifth taste," and is usually described as meaty or savory - like the flavor of grilled fish or rich chicken soup.

What distinguishes umami foods from others is glutamate, an amino acid. Studies have shown that we have receptors on the tongue for glutamate and related compounds. In the traditional cuisines of East Asia, glutamate-rich foods such as seaweeds and mushrooms have long been used to add a deep savory flavor to soups and sauces.

If you seek more of this rich, satisfying flavor in your meals, remember that umami can be found in foods such as Parmesan cheese, anchovies, tomatoes, tomato paste, asparagus, mushrooms, and seaweeds. Adding it can be as simple as including some tomatoes or shiitake mushrooms into soups, stocks and sauces, or sprinkling some good Parmesan on your salads or vegetables.

Try this umami-loaded recipe: Shiitake Mushrooms and Pea Pods.


Smelly Feet

Smelly feet aren't the end of the world, but they can certainly make people self-conscious. Considering that there are more than a quarter of a million sweat glands in two feet - more than in any other part of the body, including the underarms - and that these glands release about a gallon of moisture per week, it's not surprising that over-the-counter treatments for foot odor are numerous and profitable.

If your feet are particularly odoriferous, it may due to bromhidrosis, an inherited condition responsible for excessive and smelly perspiration from feet. Or, common bacteria living in your shoes may be to blame. Regardless of the source, there are ways you can address pungent smelling feet - try the following:

  1. Minimize consumption of animal foods, coffee or other forms of caffeine, all of which can affect your metabolism and how your feet produce sweat.
  2. Let your shoes air out between wearings - avoid wearing the same shoes two days in a row to help dehydrate and kill bacteria and cut down on the odor they can cause.
  3. Try shoe inserts or deodorant crystals.
  4. Periodically wipe the interior of shoes clean with a wet cloth, then let them dry thoroughly.