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Is Stress At Work Killing You?

A team of researchers from Harvard and Stanford Universities examined 10 categories of job-related stress – including long hours, fear that you might lose your job, and lack of health insurance – and found they were linked to health problems that contribute to 120,000 deaths a year. Their conclusion suggests that on-the-job stress takes more of an annual toll than diabetes, Alzheimer’s disease or the flu. Underlying the deaths are other contributing conditions such as high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease and mental health problems. The researchers also reported that people who worked long hours reported more high blood pressure, and noted correlations between occupational injuries and long working hours the previous week. They commented that the stress of long hours, shift work, perception of unfairness in the workplace and conflicting priorities between work and home were linked to worse health and unhealthy habits - including smoking, alcoholism and over-eating. The cost of all these health problems added up to $125 to $190 billion dollars a year, between five to eight percent of national spending on health care. The researchers suggested that cost-conscious employers could trim some of those expenditures by giving attention to the sources of employee stress. 


Cutting Calories To Lengthen Life 

In animal studies, caloric restriction appears to increase longevity and slow the progression of age-related diseases but does it offer similar benefits in humans? An investigation sponsored by the National Institutes of Health set out to learn how trimming calories by 25 percent would affect human health. Researchers recruited 218 young and middle-aged healthy adults, some of normal weight, some moderately overweight. They randomized the participants into a group that would cut calories, and a control group that made no dietary changes. After two years, the investigators reported that the calorie-cutters didn’t succeed in reaching their goal of 25 percent reduced intake. The intervention did pare it by 12 percent, however, and participants in the group lost 10 percent of their weight in the first year, 5.5 pounds short of their 15.5 percent target. Even with this shortfall, compared to the control group, the calorie-cutters lowered their average blood pressure by 4 percent and total cholesterol by 6 percent, raised their HDL ("good") cholesterol and reduced their C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation linked to cardiovascular disease by 47 percent.  The researchers concluded that reducing calories by just 12 percent, and maintaining the lower intake, yielded a beneficial effect on health.

My take? Despite the well-publicized effects of caloric restriction in animals, I’ve questioned how many people would be willing to drastically cut calories long-term. This study shows that even a modest reduction in caloric intake can lead to significant health benefits. Even so, we still don’t know how effective long-term caloric restriction is at improving human health. We’ve got a lot more to learn on this subject. In the meantime, a prudent caloric intake of fresh fruits and vegetables and regular exercise is your best bet for maintaining your weight and enjoying optimum health. 


Dr. Weil's Summer Garden 

Take a tour of Dr. Weil's summer garden in British Columbia. Filled with fruits, vegetables and flowers, there is always a bountiful supply of food for body and soul. (Part one of three).


Toxins in Your Clothes

A growing body of research suggests we are subjected to daily exposure from all the chemicals in our environment. In fact, new research from Sweden’s Stockholm University suggests that there are thousands of chemicals just in our clothes. The investigators tested 60 garments from Swedish and international clothing chains. The study team found that they contained thousands of chemicals, and that they were able to identify about 100 of them. The investigators then analyzed 27 textile samples before washing and again after 5 and 10 washings. They detected benzothiazoles in 85 percent of the samples, and reported that washing the fabrics 10 times decreased concentrations of the chemical by only 50 percent. They reported that this chemical was even detected in some clothes made with organic cotton. Other chemicals identified included quinolines, which are also found in cigarette smoke and are classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) as probable human carcinogens. Quinolines were found in polyester; and their levels decreased by only 20 percent after 10 washings. At this point, the investigators were unable to comment on the potential health effects of wearing clothing that contained the chemicals detected in the study. Stay tuned.


Mediterranean Diet for Brain Health

We know that the Mediterranean diet reduces the risk of heart disease, and some research suggests that it lowers the risk of Alzheimer's disease as well. Following this dietary strategy may also help keep your brain younger as you age. A recent study conducted by Columbia University in New York City shows that seniors who had no problems with thinking or memory and adhered to the Mediterranean diet were more likely to have larger total brain volume as well as more gray and white matter than those who didn’t always eat the Mediterranean way. The researchers also found that the more fish and less meat their study participants reported eating the more total gray matter their brain scans displayed. The researchers first looked at survey responses about eating habits from 674 seniors and then viewed MRI scans of their brains. All told, the investigators concluded that the difference in brain volume associated with a Mediterranean diet was equivalent to five years of aging – meaning that on the scans the brains of the seniors in the study who followed the Mediterranean diet looked five years younger than the brains of those who didn’t adhere to the diet. While the study didn’t prove cause and effect, it did show an association between the diet and larger brain volume.

My take: I've long been a proponent of the Mediterranean diet, a composite of the traditional cuisines of Spain, southern France, Italy, Greece, Crete and parts of the Middle East. This new study isn’t the first to associate the Mediterranean diet with better brain health. Earlier this year a study from Spain found that adding olive oil and nuts to a Mediterranean diet slowed declines in cognitive function among 447 healthy seniors who were participating in a larger, ongoing study of the Mediterranean diet. In addition, earlier observational studies have demonstrated better cognitive function and a lower-than-normal risk of dementia among people who follow the Mediterranean diet.



Late Bedtime = Weight Gain

Simply going to bed late on weeknights can set you up for gaining weight, no matter how much you exercise, how many hours of sleep you get or how much time you spend in front of a TV or computer screen. To arrive at this conclusion, researchers at the University of California, Berkeley analyzed data including bedtimes from 3,342 young people participating in a national study of adolescent health that has been ongoing since 1994. The investigators focused on three time periods – the onset of puberty, college-age years and young adulthood. Participants reported both their bedtimes and the number of hours they slept, and the researchers calculated BMIs based on each participant’s height and weight. Losing sleep due to late bedtimes was associated with a 2.1 gain in BMI over a five-year period. The findings suggest that going to bed earlier could set teens’ weight on a healthier track as they reach adulthood, said study leader Lauren Asarnow.


Buying, Using And Storing Herbs: 4 Rules To Follow

Herbs and spices have a prominent position on my Anti-Inflammatory Diet Pyramid because these culinary staples offer not only flavor enhancement to foods, but some are also healthful compounds that can both lower disease risk and alleviate symptoms of existing health concerns.

When it comes to herbs and spices (herbs are typically the leafy, green portions of a plant, while spices are derived from other parts including seeds, berries, fruits, bark and roots), knowing how to buy and store them can help keep them fresher, longer. Use these tips: 

  1. Fresh is best when it comes to flavor. Growing your own herbs is not only cost effective, but offers up freshness to every meal. Even if you have no room for a vegetable garden, a few pots in a sunny window can produce a handful of herbs for you to use. If you simply can't grow them, take advantage of the fresh herbs that are now widely available in the produce section of most supermarkets and natural food stores.
  2. Dried herbs often suffer from muted flavors because the essential oils have volatized away. Two ways to encourage the flavor to return - crush with your fingers or a mortar and pestle just before cooking to release the oils that remain. You can also briefly sauté them with olive oil on low heat.
  3. If you do use dried herbs and spices, store them in tightly covered containers away from light, heat and moisture. Don't sprinkle from a container into a steaming pot - the steam will enter the container and degrade the spice over time. Instead, shake into your palm, away from the steam, before adding to the dish.
  4. Generally speaking, dried, ground herbs and spices are typically good for up to six months.

Vitamin D for Muscle Strength

Vitamin D deficiencies are common in postmenopausal women and can lead to muscle weakness and an increased risk of falling, but new findings from Brazil suggest that women may be able to overcome both those problems by taking a daily supplement of 1000 IUs of vitamin D3. Researchers at Botucatu Medical School at Sao Paulo State University enrolled 160 women, ages 50 to 65, for the 9-month-long double blind, placebo-controlled trial. They estimated the women’s muscle mass via dual energy X-ray absorptiometry. They also tested handgrip strength as well as the ability of the women to rise from a chair. At the study’s end, the researchers reported that the women who received the D3 boosted their muscle strength by 25.3 percent while the women on the placebo actually lost an average of 6.8 percent of their muscle mass during the study period. The investigators also found that the women who took the placebo were nearly twice as likely to fall during the course of the investigation as the ones who were taking the supplement.