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A Note on Pistachios

Shelled or unshelled, pistachios are a sweet and meaty green nut to add to your diet. One ounce of pistachios contains more fiber than a half-cup of spinach and the same amount as an orange or apple. They are also a good source of vitamin B-6, thiamin, copper, phosphorus, and magnesium. I recommend avoiding dyed pistachios and instead eating only the natural ones (any green hue of the actual nut is natural and comes from chlorophyll.)


Nutrients to Fight Alzheimer's

A new nutrient "cocktail" developed by researchers at MIT may help improve the memory of Alzheimer's patients. The nutrients - uridine, choline and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA plus some B vitamins and antioxidants - boosted verbal memory in patients with mild Alzheimer's in a clinical trial. The investigators suggested that the cocktail works by promoting the growth of new brain connections (synapses). Richard Wurtman, the MIT professor who performed the basic research that lead to the cocktail, found in animal studies that the nutrients increase the number of small outcroppings of neural membranes (called dendritic spines). When these spines come into contact with each other, a new synapse is formed. Patients in the study drank the cocktail or a control beverage daily for 12 weeks. Those who received the nutrients improved significantly compared to the controls: 40 percent of them did better on tests of verbal memory compared to only 24 percent of patients in the control group. In the "cocktail" group those patients with the mildest cases of Alzheimer's did best on the tests. The study was published in the January 2010 issue of Alzheimer's and Dementia.


Pycnogenol for Hemorrhoids

This antioxidant extract from the bark of the French maritime pine tree may help treat and prevent hemorrhoids. A study from Italy found that both topical and oral treatment with Pycnogenol® reduced the intensity and duration of pain and bleeding from hemorrhoids and even reduced the number of procedures and hospital admissions due to severe cases. The Italian investigators divided up 84 patients suffering with pain and bleeding from an acute episode of external hemorrhoids that had lasted 24 to 48 hours. One group was given 300 mg of Pycnogenol tablets daily for four days and then 150 mg daily for the next three days; those in group two received the same treatment plus 0.5% Pycnogenol topical cream; the patients in the third group were given a placebo. After a week, bleeding had stopped in patients in groups one and two but continued during two weeks of follow up among patients in the placebo group. The patients in the Pycnogenol groups also reported less pain and fewer lost working days. The research team concluded that Pycnogenol can help with all major hemorrhoid symptoms. Their findings were published in the December 29, 2009 issue of Phytotherapy Research.

More information on treating hemorrhoids.


Music, Art, Theater and Good Health

If you're a culture vulture - if you paint, dance, play the guitar (or another musical instrument) and appreciate the arts - a Norwegian study suggests that you're better off physically and psychologically. Cultured citizens there are healthier and less inclined to be depressed than those who don't dab paint on canvas, dance, or make music. As a matter of fact, the study found that those who simply attend concerts or the theater are healthier and less depressed than those who don't. The investigators reached their conclusion after assembling health profiles of more than 48,000 men and women and also collecting blood and urine samples from the participants. They reported that they found less depression among men who engaged in cultural activities, but the data didn't show less depression among women. Surprisingly, the results held true regardless of the socio-economic status of the group studied - cultural activities had an overall positive effect on an individual's sense of health and well-being. The lead investigator said that the health link to cultural activities isn't strong enough to say that culture actually makes people healthy, but offers some insight on how to think about risk. The findings have not yet been published but were presented at a Norwegian health conference in November, 2009.

My take? This interesting study isn't the first to see a link between culture and health. We've known for some time that music can have a powerful effect on mind and body. Hospitals use music therapy to ease pain, boost patients' moods and counteract depression, and music therapy stimulates nursing home residents and improves the moods of psychiatric patients. And I believe that viewing art is a wonderful way to raise your spirits. Paintings, sculpture, architecture and other forms of art can please the senses and nourish your nonphysical being. They can also inspire creativity and excitement, and can be savored as a tangible expression of history. And going to the theater is just one of the stimulating habits that can keep your mind active and may help reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.


How Medical Treatments Work

Many medical treatments work indirectly by unblocking and faciliating the body's own intrinsic ability to heal itself.


A Note on Cashews

This uniquely shaped nut is one of my favorites, and is also one of the lower-fat choices when it comes to mixed nuts. The fat that cashews do contain is rich in oleic acid - the heart-healthy monounsaturated fat found in olive oil. Cashews also are a good source of iron and contain copper, essential for the formation of red blood cells, and magnesium, which is vital for healthy bones. One way to get cashews into your diet and boost your energy is with a cashew nut butter sandwich. Start with a slice of fiber-packed wholegrain bread and then top it with cashew butter for a healthy, energy-promoting mix of carbohydrates, protein, and fat.


Licorice Root for Bad Burns

Don't try this at home, but researchers have found that a compound from licorice root (glycyrrhizin from Glycyrrhiza glabra) seems to help fight bad infections that arise from severe burns. So far tested only in mice, glyrrhizen boosted the ability of damaged skin to create the small proteins - antimicrobial peptides - needed to defend against infections. The investigators at the University of Texas Medical Branch and Shriners Hospital for Children compared the skin of burned mice that was treated with glycyrrhizin with the skin of untreated mice and that of mice that hadn't been burned. The untreated mice had an inability to produce the peptides needed to prevent infection - but the unburned mice and the ones treated with glycyrrhizin had normal amounts of the antimicrobial peptides. The researchers said that they hoped their work would lead to lower death rates from infections in burn patients. The study was published in the January 2010 issue of the Journal of Leukocyte Biology.


Mozart and Premature Babies

Listening to the music of the master seems to help the babies grow. Exposing the infants to 30 minutes of Mozart's music daily appears to calm them, report researchers at Tel Aviv University in Israel. This is good news, because the less agitated the preemies are, the less energy they'll expend and the faster they’ll gain weight - that boosts their immunity to infections and other illnesses and enables them to go home from the hospital. The researchers measured the physiological effects of the music on the babies and compared the "after Mozart" results with earlier measurements. Why Mozart? The Israeli researchers suggest that unlike the compositions of Beethoven or Bach, Mozart's music has a melody that is highly repetitive, perhaps similar to the rhythm of the heartbeat they would hear in the womb, which the investigators speculated may affect the organizational centers in the babies' brains. The Israeli study is part of an international effort to determine what environmental effects promote the health and survival of susceptible infants. Next, the Israeli team plans to expose premature infants to other types of music to see what evokes a similar response. One of them suggested "rap" as a type of music that is also highly repetitive. What would Mozart think of that?