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Heart-Healthy Foods

Maintaining the right mix of lifestyle habits and eating a healthy diet are the best ways to achieve optimal fitness. Help minimize heart disease and promote a strong cardiovascular system by adding these anti-inflammatory foods to your diet:

  1. Nuts. Especially almonds, walnuts and cashews, nuts contain heart-healthy monounsaturated fat. Eat a moderate portion every day.
  2. Whole soy protein. If you substitute whole soy protein, such as edamame or tofu, for animal protein each day, you can lower levels of homocysteine, a toxic amino acid linked to increased risk of heart disease.
  3. Fresh garlic. This medicinal herb has been shown to help lower cholesterol levels. Use one or two raw or lightly cooked cloves a day.
  4. Green tea. It provides EGCG, a polyphenol than may help to moderate inflammation and lower cholesterol. Substitute a cup of heart-healthy green tea for your morning coffee or afternoon soda.
  5. Soluble fiber. It has a powerful cholesterol-lowering effect. Beans, legumes and whole grains are good sources to add to your diet - aim for 1-2 servings per day.

My TEDMed Talk 10/29/2009

This was yesterday, in San Deigo, at the TEDMed 2009 conference. It was very high-energy with lots of great presentations. Hopefully videos will be available soon. This image is from Twitter user @soulellis.


Acne Tips

Acne is a common problem among teenagers as well as adults. Heredity, stress and hormones all influence the appearance of inflamed hair follicles, which result in breakouts. While cleansing the face with a mild glycerin soap and applying topical treatments such as tea tree oil or benzoyl peroxide can address blemishes, making dietary changes can also be helpful.

  1. Increase your consumption of antioxidant-rich foods, including fruits and vegetables.
  2. Include omega-3 fatty acids from foods like wild Alaskan salmon or freshly ground flaxseeds to help reduce and prevent inflammation.
  3. Drink lots of water to keep the skin hydrated and healthy.
  4. Limit processed and refined foods.
  5. Don't be afraid to eat a piece of dark chocolate now and then - there is no link between chocolate and acne, and dark chocolate actually has antioxidant benefits!

Natural Ways to Address Stress 

If you want to reduce unhealthy stress, start by identifying the problems and situations that create stress - then learn to manage them by practicing general techniques of stress protection, such as breathing exercises. As for supplements, consider the following:

  1. Multivitamin. A daily multivitamin can help to fill nutritional gaps and counteract the negative effects of unhealthy stress on the body.
  2. B-complex. B vitamins can help balance mood, calm the nervous system, and increase the efficacy of some prescription anti-depressants.
  3. Omega-3 (fish oil) supplement. Either from molecularly distilled fish oil or from krill. A deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids has been associated with increased anxiety and depression.
  4. Valerian (Valeriana officinalis). An extract from the root of this flowering perennial contains essential oils that have been shown to help some people more effectively deal with stress.
  5. Calcium and magnesium. Both are involved in many key physiologic processes and may help support healthy sleep, as well as muscle relaxation.
  6. St. John's wort (Hypericum perforatum).  Extract of this flowering herb, indigenous to Europe, may help boost mood and maintain a healthy emotional outlook.

A Note on Green Beans

One of only a handful of varieties of bean that can be eaten fresh, green beans are a good source of vitamins K, C, A and manganese, as well as fiber. Adding green beans to your plate can help to promote strong bones, protect against heart disease, and prevent colon cancer. They also have anti-inflammatory effects and promote immune health. When choosing, look for organic beans that are green, plump and crisp. Unwashed beans can be stored in the refrigerator for about one week.  Read more on my anti-inflammatory diet and food pyramid.


Aloe Vera Gel for Teeth

Aloe vera gel can soothe burned skin, take the itch out of bug bites and help treat rashes from poisonous plants. It also appears to be good for your teeth. A study published in the May/June 2009 issue of General Dentistry found that aloe vera gel worked as well as regular toothpaste to clean teeth and eliminate cavity-causing bacteria. What’s more, the study showed that the gel isn't as hard on the teeth as abrasive toothpastes so may be better for folks with sensitive teeth or gums. However, one of the authors of the study warned that not all aloe vera gel will work - you need the kind that contains the stabilized gel located in the center of the aloe vera plant and that hasn’t been treated with excessive heat or filtered during manufacturing. One of the study authors notes that such processing destroys or reduces the effects of some essential enzymes and polysaccharides. To find a good aloe vera tooth gel, the researchers suggested checking with the International Aloe Science Council to review the products that have received its seal of quality.


Curcumin Plus Vitamin D May Help Prevent Alzheimer's

In other Alzheimer's news, curcumin, a component of the spice turmeric, may be the reason why elderly villagers in India who consume lots of curry have one of the world's lowest rates of Alzheimer's disease. Now, a team of researchers in California has discovered that combining curcumin with vitamin D3 may prompt the immune system to mobilize against amyloid beta, the substance that forms the plaques in the brain characteristic of Alzheimer's. So far, the investigators found evidence of this effect in tests with blood samples from nine Alzheimer's patients, a patient with cognitive impairment and three healthy controls. They incubated immune system cells called macrophages which clean up waste products - including amyloid beta - with vitamin D and curcumin. The study showed that curcumin boosted the binding of amyloid beta to the macrophages and that vitamin D strongly stimulated the uptake and absorption of amyloid beta in macrophages. At this point, the researchers aren't recommending any doses of either curcumin or vitamin D for Alzheimer's prevention or treatment, but they are planning bigger studies with more patients. The findings were published in the July 2009 issue of the Journal of Alzheimer's Disease.


Caffeine May Reverse Alzheimer's

Doses of caffeine equivalent to drinking five cups of coffee daily may help reverse memory problems characteristic of Alzheimer's disease, according to University of South Florida report. The research, carried out on mice and published July 5, 2009, in the online Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, suggested caffeine slowed the production of the protein plaques thought to be the hallmark of the disease.

The 55 mice used in the study had been bred to develop symptoms of Alzheimer's disease. First, behavior tests confirmed the mice had impaired memories when they were about 19 months old; equivalent to about 70 in human years. Then, researchers gave half the mice caffeine daily, equivalent to what a human being would receive in five cups of coffee, in their drinking water.

When the mice were tested again after two months, those who received the caffeine performed much better on tests measuring their memory and thinking skills; in fact, they performed as well as mice of the same age without dementia. Those drinking plain water continued to test poorly. In addition, the brains of the mice given caffeine showed nearly a 50% reduction in levels of beta amyloid protein, which forms destructive clumps in the brains of dementia patients.

The researchers suggest that caffeine suppresses inflammatory changes in the brain that lead to an overabundance of the protein, but added that it is too early to say whether drinking coffee or taking caffeine supplements will help people with Alzheimer's.

This is all obviously intriguing news, but it is interesting to me that the in media coverage of this study, reporters have largely played up the coffee angle, when the mice were given caffeine, not coffee. The fact is that green and white teas also contain caffeine, along with other compounds that may be neuro- and cardioprotective - and, in my experience, tea is less likely to cause the insomnia, digestive upset, bladder irritation, and jitters that often come with coffee drinking.