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Surprising Health Risks of a TV Habit

Most of us recognize that spending too much time watching television isn’t healthy, but two new investigations have shown that excessive hours in front of the tube can double the risk of premature death or dramatically increase the risk of colon or endometrial cancer. The link to the two types of cancers comes from a German review of 43 studies concluding that being sedentary was associated with a 24 percent increased risk of colon cancer and a 32 percent higher risk of endometrial (uterine) cancer. To make matters worse, the researchers calculated that for each two-hour increase in daily time spent simply sitting, the colon cancer risk rises by eight percent and the endometrial cancer risk by 10 percent. They also found that when the sitting was done in front of the television screen, colon cancer risk increased by 54 percent and the endometrial cancer risk by 66 percent. These risks appeared to be applicable to all of the four million people whose data was included in the 43 studies reviewed, including those who were physically active. More bad news came from researchers in Spain who found that watching three or more hours of television daily can double the risk of premature death among relatively young people. The study focused on over 13,000 college graduates.

My take? A number of studies in recent years have found that too much sitting isn’t good for us. Research has shown that sitting at work (where it may be unavoidable), while driving, and at home are lifestyle habits linked to type 2 diabetes, as well as metabolic syndrome, which increase the risk of diabetes. In addition, heart disease, stroke, and the appearance of fat deposits linked to heart disease have been tied to prolonged sitting. Too much television has been associated with a long list of problems in kids including obesity, tobacco use, drug and alcohol use, poor achievement in school, and sexual and attention problems.

I'm not against spending a few leisure hours in front of the television. I often watch movies in the evenings, but enjoyable as that can be, it is no substitute for the relaxation techniques that I recommend as the best means of reducing stress, or for the short- and long-term benefits that regular physical activity provide. As we understand more about how moving effects our health, it has become apparent that even small amounts of activity add up in positive ways. Even if your job requires you to be relatively stationary, I encourage everyone to get up and move as much as possible.

Daniela Schmid and Michael F. Leitzmann, “Television Viewing and Time Spent Sedentary in Relation to Cancer Risk: A Meta-analysis” Journal of the National Cancer Institute, doi: 10.1093/jnci/dju098

Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez,  “Watching too much TV may increase risk of early death in adults,” Journal of the American Heart Association, June 25, 2014 doi: 10.1161/JAHA.114.000864


Have You Had a Tonsillectomy? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed tonsil health and if it is necessary to remove the tonsils through a tonsillectomy: Time to Take Out the Tonsils? Check out the article and let us know if you have ever had your tonsils removed.


Broccoli Tea to Fight Air Pollution

Undoubtedly, the best way to avoid the damage air pollution can cause to your health is to move to where the air is clean. The World Health Organization estimates that the chemicals in air pollution take seven million lives per year, worldwide. Fortunately, there may be a way to cancel out some of the unhealthy effects of pollution without leaving home. Researchers from Johns Hopkins and China’s Qidong Liver Cancer Institute tested the effects of a tea made with broccoli sprouts among 291 residents of Jiangsu Province, an area of China that which has some of the worst air pollution in the country. The study showed that a daily drink of a half cup of the tea – a combination of freeze-dried broccoli sprout powder, water and pineapple and lime juice – increased elimination of by-products of the cancer-causing toxin benzene by 61 percent, and boosted excretion of acrolein, a lung irritant, by 23 percent. Increased elimination of these substances began immediately after the participants began drinking the tea and continued at the same rate through the study. No such changes were measured in study participants who drank a similar tea that did not include the broccoli sprout extract. Broccoli sprouts contain sulforaphane, a compound that has been shown in animal studies to help lower risks of cancer and promote excretion of benzene. You can get sulforaphane in your diet by eating broccoli, but a more concentrated form would be needed to match the levels provided by the tea in the study.

Thomas Kensler et al, “Rapid and Sustainable Detoxication of Airborne Pollutants by Broccoli Sprout Beverage: Results of a Randomized Clinical Trial in China,” Cancer Prevention Research, doi: 10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-14-0103


Peppercorn - Spices in the Kitchen (Video)

Dr. Weil discusses peppercorn and the various forms pepper comes in - black, green, and white pepper. Peppercorn is the whole, partially ripened fruit (or unripe fruit in the case of green pepper) of the pepper plant, native to Asia. Black pepper has been used to calm digestive issues - heartburn, indigestion, gas - and aid in the absorption of turmeric.

Want new videos from Dr. Weil? Subscribe to his YouTube channel for weekly videos!


Can Skipping Breakfast Ruin Your Diet?

The latest word on this subject is “no.” The question of whether or not skipping breakfast is key to weight loss has been asked and answered in any number of studies and the answers have often been contradictory. The latest effort to determine whether or not eating breakfast has an impact on weight loss came from the University of Alabama, where researchers looked at the effect of eating or skipping breakfast on 309 healthy overweight and obese people ages 20 to 65. One group was asked to eat breakfast before 10 a.m. while those in another group were asked not to eat anything before 11 a.m. A third group, divided between people who habitually skipped breakfast and those who always ate it, was not given any instruction about whether or not to eat the morning meal. None of the participants was on a strict weight loss plan, but all were trying to lose weight independently. After 16 weeks, skipping or eating breakfast had no discernible effect on weight loss. Study leader Emily Dhurandhar, Ph.D., said future studies would be aimed at understanding “why eating or skipping breakfast did not influence weight loss, despite evidence that breakfast may influence appetite and metabolism.”

Emily J. Dhurandhar et al, “The effectiveness of breakfast recommendations on weight loss: a randomized controlled trial,” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,
doi: 10.3945/ ajcn.114.089573


How Hard Are You Really Working Out?

A new Canadian study suggests that most adults are clueless about the intensity of their exercise. Researchers from Toronto’s York University recruited 129 inactive Canadians ages 18 to 64 to see what they know about strenuous workouts. Canadian guidelines specify that during moderate exercise your pulse rate should rise to between 64 to 76 percent of your maximum heart rate, and for vigorous exercise between 77 and 90 percent. U.S. guidelines say you should be able to "talk but not sing" during moderate exercise, and not be able to say more than a few words without pausing for breath during vigorous exercise.

Once they positioned their volunteers on treadmills, the Canadian researchers found that few were able to achieve and maintain a heart rate of 65 percent of their maximum during what they believed was moderate exercise, and even fewer were able to maintain a heart rate of 75 percent of maximum when they believed they were exercising vigorously. The researchers found that during every test, participants overestimated the intensity of their exercise.

To determine whether you’re meeting your intensity goals, you should take your pulse frequently during exercise, and if it remains below 65 percent of your maximum heart rate, step it up! The researchers also noted that the most accurate way to calculate your maximum heart rate is to subtract 64 percent of your age from 211.

My take? I don’t think it is necessary to calculate your target heart rate and take your pulse frequently during aerobic exercise to reap its benefits. I feel such monitoring can make workouts less enjoyable. If exercise is not fun, or if you do not see benefits from it fairly quickly, your motivation to continue may erode. If a period of aerobic exercise does not leave you feeling that you have labored, with your heart beating faster and your breathing stimulated, you likely have not performed it vigorously enough. If it leaves you collapsed on the ground painfully gasping for breath, you've probably overdone it. I think most people can figure out the right level of intensity without taking their pulse, consulting tables and charts, and worrying about whether they are in the target heart rate zone.

Jennifer L. Kuk, “Individuals Underestimate Moderate and Vigorous Intensity Physical Activity,” PLOS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0097927


What Supplement Do You Feel You Need Most? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed vitamins and supplements for seniors and whether seniors need specific nutrients: Do Seniors Need Special Vitamins? Check out the article and let us know what vitamins and minerals you feel you need the most in your diet.


Exercise for a Better Microbiome

Exercise could boost the diversity of the microbes in your gut, and eating a lot of protein might help, as well. A diverse “microbiome,” as this population of microbes is called, is necessary for optimal functioning of our immune systems, and supports overall health. By examining blood and stool samples, researchers in Ireland were able to compare the microbial diversity of professional rugby players with those of healthy men, some of normal weight and some overweight. They found that the athletes, overall, had greater gut diversity than the other men, which they attributed to the players’ strenuous exercise and diets that were higher in protein (22 percent of calories) compared to 15 to 16 percent of calories from protein the other men consumed daily. The athletes’ microbiomes were not only more diverse, the researchers reported that they were more populous than those of the other men in the study, and included higher levels of a species of bacteria associated with lower rates of obesity and obesity-related disorders. Whether exercise or protein or both were responsible for the diversity of the rugby players’ microbiomes remains to be confirmed by future studies, but this investigation certainly showed an intriguing association.

Siobhan Clark and Orla O’Sullivan, et al, “Exercise and associated dietary extremes impact on gut microbial diversity,” Gut, doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2013-306541

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