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What Volunteering Can Do for Your Health

Volunteering can improve your mental health and lengthen your lifeHere’s the latest on the health benefits of lending a helping hand in your community: volunteering can improve your mental health and lengthen your life. A research team from the U.K.’s University of Exeter Medical School combined data from 40 scientific studies to conclude that volunteering is good for you, but they note that the question of whether volunteering is actually the cause of increased health and longevity has not been answered. Some of the studies reviewed by the Exeter team show a 20 percent reduction in all-cause mortality among volunteers compared to non-volunteers. Other health benefits reported by the volunteers who participated in the studies reviewed include lower levels of depression, enhanced well-being and higher ratings of life satisfaction. Nonprofessionals in the various studies claimed that their motives for volunteering were to give something back to their communities or help an organization that has helped them, but the researchers wrote that volunteering can also be used to gain work experience or to widen social circles. More research is needed to establish that the health benefits associated with volunteering actually stem from the practice of volunteering, the investigators said. Their study was published in the open access journal BMC Public Health.

Suzanne H Richards et al, “Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers.” BMC Public Health, 2013


Soy: Healthy or Dangerous? (Video)

The debate over the health effects of soy continues as many believe soy can be dangerous for your health. Dr. Weil believes including whole soy foods into your diet is a much better choice than isolated soy components, which are often found as an additive in many foods.

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Teach Your Mind to Multitask

Video games may help you train your brain to be more flexible and to think more strategicallyNew research from Britain suggests that video games may help you train your brain to be more flexible and to think more strategically. This kind of “cognitive flexibility” can be advantageous in today’s knowledge economy, the researchers said. Investigators at Queen Mary University of London and University College London recruited 72 female volunteers and measured their baseline cognitive flexibility, which they described as the ability to adapt and switch between tasks while keeping in mind at the same time multiple ideas for problem solving. All the volunteers were women - primarily because the researchers couldn’t find enough men who played video games for fewer than two hours a week. The women were divided into three groups. The first two groups were trained to play different versions of StarCraft, which requires players to construct and organize armies for battle. The third group played The Sims, a game that doesn’t require much memory or tactical thinking. The investigators found that the women who played the most complex version of StarCraft performed best in psychological tests given at the end of the study. Next on the agenda is to determine whether the positive brain changes seen are permanent. If so, the researchers said, certain types of gaming could be a tool to help people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or traumatic brain injuries. The study was published in PLoS One on August 7, 2013.

Brian Glass and Brad Love et al, “Real-time strategy game training: emergence of a cognitive flexibility trait,” PLoS One. August 7, 2013;8(8): e70350. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0070350. eCollection 2013.


Hold the Salt! Philadelphia’s Chinese Restaurant Crackdown

An order of takeout lo mein in Philadelphia averages 3,200 mg of sodium, far in excess of the daily intake of 2,300 mgAn order of takeout lo mein in Philadelphia averages 3,200 mg of sodium, far in excess of the daily intake of 2,300 mg (about a teaspoon) recommended in the U.S. dietary guidelines and more than twice the 1,500 mg recommended by the American Heart Association. In the latest example of a municipality taking steps to improve the health of its residents, the City of Brotherly Love has instituted the Healthy Chinese Takeout Initiative, an effort to pare down the amount of sodium its residents consume when they order Chinese food. About 37 percent of the city’s residents have high blood pressure – and that number jumps to 47 percent among the local African-American population. The Initiative aims to reduce the salt in Chinese food by 10 to 15 percent. City organizers decided that Chinese takeout was a natural place to start because these restaurants provide some three million meals per year. From a wider perspective, cutting sodium intake could save hundreds of thousands of lives, according to a study from the University of California, San Francisco, published earlier this year. It showed that immediately reducing daily sodium intake to about 2,200 mg would save 500,000 to 850,000 lives over the next 10 years and gradually reducing sodium intake over 10 years by habits such as cutting back on processed or restaurant-prepared foods would save 280,000 to 500,000 lives over a decade.

My take? Although I'm not sure a city initiative is the best approach, I’m pleased that my hometown has taken steps to improve the health of its residents. My recommendation for sodium intake is 1,500 mg per day, and it's likely we can do well on much less. Salt is hidden just about everywhere, and Chinese takeout is a good place to start considering how much sodium is likely to be in your diet. Processed foods are also high in sodium as it acts as a flavor enhancer and preservative. To cut back on sodium, I recommend eliminating or significantly reducing your intake of processed foods, canned soups and snack foods. Keep the saltshaker off the table, and exclude foods with visible salt like pretzels, chips and salted nuts.

Pamela G. Coxson et al, “Mortality Benefits From US Population-wide Reduction in Sodium Consumption,” Hypertension, Published online before print February 11, 2013, doi: 10.1161/​HYPERTENSIONAHA.111.201293


What’s Your Worst Digestive Problem? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed the Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO) diet: Diet to Cure SIBO? Check out the article and let us know what digestive problem you struggle with most!


Garlic to Ward Off Lung Cancer

Garlic has immune-stimulating properties and is an effective antibiotic and antiviral agentRaw garlic has long been recognized as a powerful natural medicine. It has immune-stimulating properties and is an effective antibiotic and antiviral agent that can be used to help address many kinds of infections. It also contains compounds that appear to fight cancer, and helps lower high blood pressure and high cholesterol. The latest on garlic’s health benefits come from a Chinese study showing that eating garlic two or more times per week can cut the risk of lung cancer by 44 percent. Among smokers, garlic consumption reduced the risk by 30 percent. The researchers conducted in-person interviews with 1,424 lung cancer patients and 4,543 healthy people who had completed a standard questionnaire about their eating habits and health, and analyzed this data to reveal the apparent association between garlic and cancer. The compound believed principally responsible for garlic's disease-fighting ability (and pungent smell) is allicin, which is formed from an inactive precursor compound only after garlic is mashed or chopped and exposed to air for at least a few minutes. The Chinese study was published in the July 2013, issue of Cancer Prevention Research.

Jin-Yi Zhou et al, “Raw Garlic Consumption as a Protective Factor for Lung Cancer, a Population-Based Case–Control Study in a Chinese Population,” Cancer Prevention Research, July 2013


Calling Arizona Home (Video)

People often ask Dr. Weil how he ended up in southern Arizona, and the answer may surprise you. Watch as Dr. Weil recalls the early days of his medical practice, and how he came to make his home in Arizona.


Fishy Approach to Rheumatoid Arthritis

Eating at least one weekly serving of fish seems to help cut the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis by 35 percent.Eating at least one weekly serving of fish – of any kind – seems to help cut the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis by 35 percent, and regular long-term (for at least a decade) consumption of omega-3 fatty acids from oily fish such as salmon reduces the risk by 50 percent. This finding, from a study at Sweden’s famed Karolinska Institutet, supports the conclusions from an earlier Swedish study showing a 20 percent reduction in the risk of rheumatoid arthritis among both men and women who reported eating at least one serving of fatty fish per month. The researchers reviewed detailed diet questionnaires completed by 32,232 midlife and older Swedish women, 205 of whom were diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis over an average of about eight years. The Karolinska team concluded that the lower risk of rheumatoid arthritis seen among participating women seemed to be associated with the omega-3s the women were getting from the fish in their diet. The investigators looked at how often the women reported eating fish, not their use of fish oil supplements. The study was published online on August 12, 2013 by the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases.

Alicja Wolk, et al "Long-term intake of dietary long-chain n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and risk of rheumatoid arthritis: a prospective cohort study of women." Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases   2013 DOI: 10.1136/annrheumdis-2013-203338.