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Brush and Floss for a Healthy Heart

Improving gum health can actually help slow the development of atherosclerosisHere’s more evidence that taking good care of your teeth and gums benefits your heart. Investigators from Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health found that improving gum health can actually help slow the development of atherosclerosis – the build-up of cholesterol rich plaque along artery walls that can lead to heart attacks and stroke. The research team followed 420 men and women to determine how changes in gum health affects atherosclerosis. Over three years of follow-up, the investigators found that improvements in gum health were paralleled by a slowdown of the process that leads to thickening of artery walls. However, among the study participants whose gum disease worsened, the researchers saw an additional 0.1 millimeters of thickening. "When it comes to atherosclerosis, a tenth of a millimeter in the thickness of the carotid artery is a big deal,” said study co-author Tatjana Rundek M.D., Ph.D., in a press release. When dealing with coronary arteries, that small amount is enough to make a significant difference in heart disease risk. The study was published online on November 1, 2013 by the Journal of the American Heart Association.

My take? We’ve known for some time that the bacteria that cause gum disease can trigger an inflammatory response that promotes a gradual thickening of artery walls throughout the body. Maintaining good dental health is key to preventing atherosclerosis, and as this study shows caring for your teeth and gums can actually reverse this condition and the risk it poses for heart attack and stroke. It is vital to brush your teeth at least twice a day and floss daily to avoid the buildup of small amounts of food that attract and nourish bacteria. In addition, be sure to have regular dental checkups so that any gum disease can be identified and treated promptly.

Moïse Desvarieux, MD, PhD et al, “Changes in Clinical and Microbiological Periodontal Profiles Relate to Progression of Carotid Intima‐Media Thickness: The Oral Infections and Vascular Disease Epidemiology Study,”  Journal of the American Heart Association, doi: 10.1161/​JAHA.113.000254


What’s Your Take on the Hygiene Hypothesis? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed the hygiene hypothesis and if constantly washing your hands is really healthy: What is the Hygiene Hypothesis? Check out the article and let us know what you think about the hygiene hypothesis.


What Protects Women Against Age-Related Disability?

lack of exercise alone was deemed responsible for nine percent of the risk for walking problems, five percent of heart disease risk and four percent of arthritis riskThe answer is healthy habits - including not smoking and getting regular exercise, according to British researchers. Those two factors, plus not drinking too much alcohol could help eliminate up to 17 percent of the heart disease, arthritis and walking problems seen in women in their 60s and 70s, according to a study published online on September 29, 2013 by the journal Age and Aging. Investigators from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine asked more than 2,500 women participating in the British Women’s Heart and Health Study to fill out questionnaires on their smoking, exercise, alcohol consumption and eating habits. Seven years later those women reported whether or not they had developed any disabling health problems. Results showed that women who did not exercise were about twice as likely to develop arthritis compared to women who did exercise; the inactive women were also twice as likely to have problems walking and were more likely to develop heart disease. Those who smoked or had a history of smoking developed heart disease at more than twice the rate of the women who never smoked. The researchers reported that lack of exercise alone was deemed responsible for nine percent of the risk for walking problems, five percent of heart disease risk and four percent of arthritis risk.

Lois G. Kim, Joy Adamson and Shah Ebrahim, “Influence of life-style choices on locomotor disability, arthritis and cardiovascular disease in older women: prospective cohort study,” Age and Aging doi: 10.1093/ageing/aft127


Tai Chi - How to Enter the Meditative State (Video)

Tai chi is a Chinese martial art practiced for both its defense training and health benefits. Tai chi expert Barry Brownstein demonstrates how to prepare for this practice by entering the meditative state. Follow along and see how the practice of tai chi is based around this vital preparatory step.

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Better Sleep and Alzheimer’s Risk

Amyloid plaques in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, are associated with the number of hours an older adult sleepsHalf of older adults have symptoms of insomnia, which may put them at added risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have found that amyloid plaques in the brain, a hallmark of Alzheimer’s, are associated with the number of hours an older adult sleeps and the quality of that sleep. The investigators used PET (positron emission tomography) scans of seniors’ brains to measure amyloid plaques. They also reviewed the sleeping problems described by participants in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. The study participants, whose average age was 76, reported sleep times ranging from more than seven hours to five hours or less. The researchers found that shorter sleep duration and poorer sleep quality were associated with a greater amount of amyloid plaque. Study leader Adam Spira, Ph.D. suggested that treating seniors for sleeping problems or helping them maintain healthy sleeping patterns may help prevent or slow the progression of Alzheimer’s. He noted that the results of this study don’t prove that poor sleep causes Alzheimer’s and said that more research is needed to examine whether sleeping problems alone contributes to or accelerates the disease.

Adam P. Spira et al, “Self-reported Sleep and β-Amyloid Deposition in Community-Dwelling Older Adults,” JAMA Neurology  doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2013


Lower Your Risk of Low Back Pain

Obesity causes mechanical changes that affect the spine causes metabolic changes that influence levels of hormones and inflammationDo you know your risk of developing low back pain? Researchers at Stanford University analyzed data on 6,796 people and found that among those of normal weight the risk is very low, only 2.9 percent. In the overweight, the risk was 5.2 percent, in the obese, 7.7 percent, and in the morbidly obese, 11.6 percent. More surprising is what the researchers learned about the amount of exercise needed to banish low back pain. They used accelerometers to track an individual’s daily exercise levels and found that overweight individuals who increased daily activity such as brisk walking, riding a bike or gardening by less than 20 minutes a day were able to reduce their incidence of back pain by 32 percent. They also saw that the morbidly obese whose typical physical activity amounted to only 1.3 minutes per day could cut their chances of suffering back pain by 38 percent simply by increasing daily exercise time by only one minute. The investigators cited two theories that may explain why obesity leads to low back pain: one holds that obesity causes mechanical changes that affect the spine. The second is that obesity causes metabolic changes that influence levels of hormones and inflammation. The study was presented at the annual meeting of the North American Spine Society in New Orleans on October 10, 2013.

My take? I recommend that everyone with back pain read one or both books on the subject by Dr. John Sarno, a physician and professor of rehabilitation medicine at New York University. Dr. Sarno believes that most back pain stems from a condition he calls tension myositis syndrome (TMS - myositis means muscle inflammation), a combination of muscle spasm and inflammation stemming from an unbalanced pattern of nerve signals to nearby muscles and interference with their blood supply. Dr. Sarno explains his theory in his books Healing Back Pain: the Mind Body Connection (Warner Books, 1991) and Mindbody Prescription: Healing the Body, Healing the Pain (Warner Books, 1998). I'm convinced that Dr. Sarno is correct in his overview and that treatment should be aimed at changing patterns of thinking, feeling and handling stress, all of which have associations with back pain.


How Often Do You Skip Breakfast? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed breakfast and the effects of eating in the morning: Doing Without Breakfast? Check out the article and let us know how often you eat breakfast.


Empowering Your HDL

High density lipoprotein or HDL is commonly known as “good” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol away from blood vessels so it can’t contribute to the formation of blockages leading to heart attack. HDL also acts as an antioxidant and reduces inflammation, but just having high blood levels of HDL may not be enough. Researchers at UCLA noted that even at desirable levels, HDL may not work well in men who don’t exercise, whether or not they’re overweight, increasing the risk of heart disease. To test this, the team recruited 90 men ages 18 to 30 who exercised regularly and divided them into three groups: lean men who weight-trained at least four times per week, overweight men who did the same, and overweight men who had no structured exercise routine. The investigators checked the men’s muscle strength and carotid artery thickness (a sign of heart disease) and analyzed blood samples for various heart disease markers including triglycerides, C-reactive protein, and sex hormones. These indexes helped them measure how well HDL was functioning as an antioxidant, a tipoff to how well HDL is working overall. The conclusion: regular weight training seems to improve HDL function and offers protection against heart disease, even in overweight men. This suggests that physical fitness may be the best measure of healthy HDL function and, by extension, the risk of heart disease.

Christian K. Roberts et al, “Untrained Young Men Have Dysfunctional HDL Compared to Strength Trained Men Irrespective of Body Weight Status,” Journal of Applied Physiology. July 25, 2013, doi: 10.​1152/​japplphysiol.​00359.​2013