Archived Posts from this Category
Archived Posts from this Category
Listening to the Sunday news pundits and watching recent breaking news has caused us to look at what might make a difference—individually and as a nation. There is one thing: love. Its power is amazing.
We’ve all heard the stories of people losing their will to live after a partner dies. They say that often a long-time love will follow a sweetheart into death, passing in less than six months, or often much sooner, of their spouse. The occurrence even has a name: the Widowhood Effect. At first glance, this may seem the stuff of fairy tales (or perhaps nightmares), but a study published in the American Journal of Public Health verifies the facts.
The Widowhood Effect “is one of the best documented examples of the effect of social relations on health. The Widowhood Effect has been found among men and women of all ages throughout the world.”
This phenomenon may seem scary at first, but there’s also many quite positive sides to the Widowhood Effect—love makes people not only want to keep living, love makes people live better, healthier lives.
For starters, it’s true that half of the people who exercise solo quit their programs after one year. However, two-thirds of those who work out with a loved one stick to it. In addition, men and women alike workout 12 to 15 percent harder when they are with a romantic partner.
After a heart attack, men and women who are married recover more quickly and have a lower mortality rate than those individuals who are single. Those in committed, healthy relationships experience less stress, and men are more likely to give up risky behaviors such as smoking and driving too fast when they get married. (http://www.health.harvard.edu/newsletter_article/marriage-and-mens-health)
Happily married and/or committed people have fewer doctor visits, less depression, substance abuse and less anxiety. They have lower blood pressure. Those who are unhappily married have the highest. An added benefit to marriage is that in a study done by the Centers for Disease Control of over 127,000 adults, married people were less likely to complain of headaches and back pain. Those in a happy marriage heal more quickly, have fewer colds and are able to manage stress better. (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/series/sr_10/sr10_185.pdf)
The National Longitudinal Mortality Study, following more than a million subjects since 1979, has shown that married people live longer. The study confirmed they have fewer heart attacks and lower cancer rates and even get pneumonia less frequently than those who are single. (http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13524-011-0032-5)
The benefits of a loving, committed relationship are innumerable. If we love, we are happier, and if we are happier, there will be less anger and hate. Life isn’t always easy, but love makes life better.
Promoting loving and healthy relationships will help us all to thrive and survive. So, that brings me to what can make the world a better place, back to a simple, one-word answer: love.
“Where there is love there is life.” Mahatma Gandhi
You may not be a hugger, but maybe you should be. It turns out hugging is actually a
very good thing, and can be beneficial on many levels for both hugger and hugee. (We
just verified this is an actual word—in the Urban Dictionary).
The Healing Power of Hugs on the Body
Hugs create a galvanic response, changing the electrical resistance of the skin. This
creates a more balanced state in the parasympathetic (or involuntary) nervous system.
The skin sensation activates receptors which then send signals to the vagus nerve, the
area of the brain responsible for relaxation and creating memories. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11251731)
Touch and hugging affect the brain the same way chocolate does, by lighting the orbital frontal cortex causing a surge of oxytocin allowing a feeling of trust and
connection. The electrical impulses result in lowering blood pressure and heart rate. ( https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15740822)
A study of married women who were exposed to experimental pain had their brains
scanned while their husbands touched their hands. There was an instant drop in activity in the areas of the brain involved in danger, fear and threat.
The women were calmer and less stressed. A similar but smaller effect occurred with the touch of a stranger.
Hugs stimulate the release of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone that helps with bonding in relationships and promoting empathy.
Stress raises cortisol levels responsible for our
fight or flight response. Hugs lower those levels. (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15740822)
Hugging’s Healing Effects for the Soul
Hugging helps to boost self-esteem. For babies, hugging is incredibly important for nerve development.
The experience of touch is imprinted on us at a cellular level, and when we are hugged as adults,
we remember that. It helps us to feel secure and confident.
There is something about a hug that makes everything better. It helps boost confidence
before a test, it soothes the hurt of a failed romance, and it makes parting from friends
easier. Physiologically, hugs soothe our nervous system, and psychologically they are
calming and also boost our confidence.
If you want to help your friends, family and yourself embrace them. Give hugs freely and
be grateful for the ones you receive.
“Hugs should be available at the medical stores 24/7. Sometimes, they are the best
healers for almost everything.”
― Minhal Mehdi
If you listen to the news, it’s easy to see our country and our world is rife with conflict and divisiveness. It can be hard to remain positive and hopeful. One thing we can do in response to this sometimes-overwhelming feeling is to simply turn off the news for a while. This strategy is officially called a news fast. The other thing we can do is to actively work to make our own personal world a better place; this can have far-reaching effects—
particularly on our own health.
The Health Benefits of Kindness
There have been a large number of studies conducted by The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love. (Yes, this is an actual institution. Learn more at: http://unlimitedloveinstitute.org.) Headed by Stephen G. Post, PhD, bioethics professor at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, the studies have shown that when people are on the giving and/or receiving end of generosity and compassion, their health is improved.
As an example, studies of older adults found those who volunteered lived longer than nonvolunteers. In fact, volunteers had a 44% reduction in early death compared to those who did not volunteer; the effect was greater than exercising four times a week!
Good deeds reduce our stress and boost endorphins, those feel good chemicals we hear about in runners and other athletes. MRI brain studies have actually found what they call the compassion-altruisim axis. The scans show joy and happiness that comes from giving to others. It is something totally different from the emtoion of romantic love, even located in a different part of the brain. It comes from interacting with others, giving a hug, a smile or speaking in a certain tone.
The Bottom Line
Happy, joyful people have both a better quality and quantity of life. They also spread happiness around them. Practice kindness with good deeds. Volunteer, smile at strangers, say a kind word, and/or give lots and lots of hugs for a start.
This new year we suggest you try a news fast to begin with, and encourage you to strive to perpetuate kindness and break the chains of negativity. It is something we all can do for our health and the health of our world.
“It would be easy to become a victim of our circumstances and continue feeling sad, scared or angry; or instead, we could choose to deal with injustice humanely and break the chains of negative thoughts and energies, and not let ourselves sink into it.” –Erin Grunwell, The Freedom Writers Diary
We really do mean winter boost—as in immune boost, although we also recommend you put on your boots as well. Winter: ‘tis the season for colds and flu, but you can stay healthy. There are some simple ways to improve your immune system and ward off colds and viruses. It can be as simple as eating the right foods and exercising!
Foods that Boost your Immunity
Omega 3 fatty acids that are found in fish, flaxseed, and walnuts, reduce inflammation and help strengthen the immune system. Step up to at least two servings a week.
Zinc is important for white blood cells to function properly. The white blood cells are the cells that fight infection. Zinc is found in protein such as lean meats, chicken, eggs, and tofu. It is also found in fortified foods. It is important to eat adequate amounts of these zinc-containing proteins.
Fruits and Vegetables
Brightly colored fruits and vegetables are loaded with phytonutrients. Phytonutrients improve the immune system and can help to fight cancers as well. Not to mention, they are just plain good for you. And they look good.
Citrus fruits contain vitamin C. This vitamin can help ward off colds. Although you can find it in supplements, it is probably more effective if you can get it in food such as oranges and grapefruit.
Nuts contain vitamin E. Vitamin E is an antioxidant vitamin that helps to fight colds and upper respiratory infections. The best nuts for vitamin E are sunflower seeds (1/4 cup per day), almonds (1/4 cup per day) and 2-3 Brazil nuts per day (they also contain selenium, which plays a key role in metabolism and contains antioxidants).
Garlic has immune boosting properties that fight bacteria and viruses. If you have a cold, the best way to use garlic is to chop it up and swallow it. You can use it as a paste on bread or mixed in applesauce. Don’t chew it if you don’t want your breath to smell!
The hot liquid of chicken soup clears the nasal passages. However, something else about most chicken soup helps boost the immune system and helps to fight colds. Whether it is the soup or the love with which it is cooked, chicken soup works!
Maitake, shitake, and reishi mushrooms are among the mushrooms that help boost the immune system. You can stir fry them or get them in capsules (fungi.com). Better yet, put them in your chicken soup.
Regular, moderate exercise allows the cells that fight viruses and bacteria to circulate more quickly throughout the body. While they are getting an energy boost, they give your immunity a big boost. The more you exercise, the longer lasting the immune effect. That is another reason why exercise is so important. Again, consider wearing your boots while boosting your immunity when exercising outside.
By eating well and exercising, you can increase your odds of having a healthy, cold-free winter despite the cold!
There is an age-old argument about whether eating breakfast is important. I have so many patients who tell me how hard it is for them to think about eating anything in the morning. Unfortunately, the majority of these people are overweight; they crave sugar and are totally pooped out by the end of the day. The connection between their lack of sustenance in the morning, their carbohydrate cravings, their low energy level throughout the day and overall weight problem has not dawned on them.
There’s a proverb that advises, “Eat your breakfast alone, share your lunch with a friend, and give your dinner to your enemy.” In other words, eat a big breakfast, a middle-sized lunch, and a light dinner.
It turns out this proverb is right on the money. There are multiple studies that have shown why my non-breakfast patients and anyone else who wants to get thinner might want to reconsider their eating patterns. The most impressive study was one done in Israel. Researchers took 93 obese women and divided them into two groups. They were given the same number of calories and in fact the same food daily for 12 weeks. Their meals totaled 1400 calories a day. The only difference was when they ate them.
The breakfast group ate 700 calories in the morning, 500 calories at lunchtime and 200 calories at dinnertime. The dinner group ate 200 calories for breakfast, 500 calories for lunch and 700 calories for dinner. Both groups ate exactly the same foods, just at different times.
Those who ate the high-calorie breakfast lost an average of 17.8 pounds each and three inches off their waistline, while those in the high-calorie dinner group lost only 7.3 pounds and 1.4 inches off their waistline. That’s more than twice as much weight lost! In addition, the breakfast group significantly lowered their triglyceride levels and sugar spikes throughout the day as compared to the dinner group. This improves energy levels as well as reduces the risk for cardiovascular disease. They also had less of a desire to snack during the day and felt satiated.
Interestingly, the meals did contain forbidden foods such as cakes and cookies. But this did not seem to impact the large weight loss in the big breakfast group. Another study found that having some forbidden foods early in the day is probably a good thing. See what we mean and read on.
A study of 193 obese adults was done in which participants were assigned to two groups. Men were given 1600 calories a day and women 1400. One group was given a low carbohydrate diet including a 300-calorie breakfast and the other (lucky) group was given a 600-calorie breakfast high in protein and carbohydrates which always included a tasty dessert. Halfway through the study, both groups had lost on average 33 pounds a person. However, in the second half, the low-carbohydrate group started gaining their weight back due to the difficulty of resisting temptation. They regained 22 pounds a person on average by the end of the study that lasted 32 weeks. The 600-calorie, yummy breakfast people lost on average 40 pounds a person!
Both of these studies show the significance of eating a nice-sized breakfast and tapering off your calorie intake as it gets later in the day. They also illustrate why it is important to find ways to eat so you are making healthy choices most of the time and that you don’t feel deprived. For those patients who I have been able to convince to eat either dinner for breakfast or to make it their biggest meal of the day, the results have been nothing short of a miracle. They have energy, feel great all day and have been able to lose weight and maintain it.
If you are struggling, think about changing the timing of your calorie intake. If commit to this approach, you will be delighted with the results.
Super Agers are people who are over 80 and perform cognitively as well as those much younger. A study was done looking at 40 adults between the ages of 70 and 80. It compared these older adults with a group of 41 younger adults between the ages of 18 and 35. Twenty-three of the older adults performed normally as regards to memory and cognition for their age group. However, 17 of the older adults performed equally as well compared to the younger adults who were 4 or even 5 decades their juniors! MRI studies showed the brains of these “super agers” revealed no shrinkage of the prefrontal cortex and the hippocampus, areas that typically shrink with age.
Researchers are not sure what makes a Super Ager, but there are some clues: Most are socially connected and have a positive attitude. My mother is a member of this club. She will not let me reveal her exact age, so I can’t tell you how long she has been a part of this esteemed group. However, she is athletic, witty, smart and articulate. She plays doubles tennis, bridge and golf. She hikes and bikes. She goes to lectures and classes as often as she can and is an avid reader of books and newspapers. She volunteers as a court appointed special advocate (CASA) for children.
She looks at least 20 years younger than her actual age. She eats a healthy diet much like the one that is described below, and it is something she has done for over half of her life.
Are you wondering how you too can achieve Super Ager status?
Eat Like a Greek
Multiple studies have found the Mediterranean diet is good for brain and heart health. It improves mood, cholesterol and prevents coronary artery disease and diabetes. Those who follow the diet eat plenty of vegetables, whole grains, fruit, lean protein, and drink an occasional glass of red wine. [For more information on the specifics of this diet, check out: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/in-depth/mediterranean-diet/art-20047801]
Exercise your Body and your Brain
Several other studies have found that reading, doing crossword puzzles and exercising the body and the brain in general is good for maintaining cognitive function. This is something that my mother has done for decades. She has always been physically active. If you have not been physically active yourself, it is never too late to start; fitness can be achieved at any age.
One way to improve brain function and increase neural connections is by doing ballroom dancing. In fact, a study of seniors who were followed over 20 years found those who did ballroom dancing 2 to 3 times a week reduced their risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by a whopping seventy-six percent. It’s good cardio, too! Time to find a local dance studio and get started.
Healthy aging is something that we all hope for. Clearly it takes work, but you don’t need super powers or even tights and a cape. No matter how old you are, it is never too late to take flight toward achieving and maintaining physical health, and to keep your brain vital and fit. My mother is having the time of her life, and she is over 80 years old.
When you get there you can too!
Whenever I ask patients what their biggest fear is regarding their health, the answer is fairly unanimous. They are most afraid of losing their minds. If you gave people a choice between getting cancer or Alzheimer’s, the vast majority would pick cancer. National studies reflect similar feelings all over the country. But the concern doesn’t seem to be helping the situation. In the US there are 5.4 million people who are suffering with Alzheimer’s disease. By mid-century, someone will develop the disease every 33 seconds. It is unrelenting, and as of now, there have been limited options for treatment. However, there are some promising treatments/therapies.
Researchers in Australia have taken mice that were bred to have Alzheimer’s disease and treated their brains with ultrasound. They zapped the amyloid plaques and tangles that are suspected to be responsible for the disease. After treatment, 75% of the mice reverted to normal and there was no damage to the surrounding brain tissue. Human trials are slated for 2017. This treatment could definitely be a game-changer.
Another treatment, something which may also change the prognosis for the disease, is the one implemented in the MEND study (metabolic enhancement for neurodegeneration) at UCLA. This study has shown that memory loss in patients can be reversed and sustained. Researchers used a 36-point therapeutic personalized program to effect change. The program incorporated a healthy diet, brain stimulation, exercise, sleep optimization, specific vitamins and medication to lower cholesterol and regulate blood pressure, and other programs such as meditation and yoga for stress relief. It was a small study that was done in ten people with varying degrees of dementia. Nine out of ten were able to reverse their disease by strictly following the program.
Finally, an important though not as recent study of seniors who were on average 75 to start with was done over the course of 21 years at the Albert Einstein School of Medicine. Researchers found there were certain activities that reduced the risk for Alzheimer’s disease. Reading reduced the risk by 35%, doing crossword puzzles reduced it by 47%, playing golf; bicycling and swimming reduced it by 0%. Ballroom dancing 2-3 times a week reduced the risk by a whopping 75%!
What is exciting about all of these treatments/therapies is they do not appear to have any toxicity associated with them. It is good that zapping the brain could potentially treat the disease once it forms, and it is good that eating healthy in conjunction with exercise may reverse it. Knowing there is something fun, that is good for the body and can prevent it…now that is priceless!
Parkinson’s is a disease of the brain. It’s progressive. It gets worse over time, usually many years, even decades.
Top Five Signs and Symptoms of Parkinson’s disease (note: there are more)
5. Tremors and shaking, upright posture becomes a stoop, and gait slows down.
4. Fatigue and weakness, loss of appetite, and problems with memory are common, along with a
softening of the voice.
3. Sexual problems.
2. Pain and progressive body stiffness and balance issues worsen as the disease progresses.
1. Physical and mental incapacitation.
For more information, check out the National Parkinson Foundation website. It’s excellent: http://www.parkinson.org/. You will find that it is not contagious and it doesn’t seem to be hereditary. In short, the researchers don’t have the answer. Yet.
Did we mention there is no cure? True. Despite the millions of dollars and countless hours poured into research, once someone has Parkinson’s, they have it.
Yes! Dr. Rafi Eldor, a leading Israeli economist, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Rather than let the disease take its course, he decided to do something proactive. He started ballroom dancing. (http://www.dancingthroughparkinson.com/rafi-eldor-dancing-through-parkinson/).
By dancing, he has maintained normal body movement 8 YEARS after his initial diagnosis despite the progression of the disease. He has actually won competitions and is changing the way Parkinson’s disease is being treated in Israel, where he lives. He is living a normal life!
TEDx did a talk on his story. Definitely worth a watch. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7cBYGh2E6t4
What is the basis for this improvement of movement?
Parkinson’s disease affects the part of the brain called the Globus Pallidus. This area of the brain becomes deficient in dopamine, a hormone that is important for movement.
There is growing evidence that dance, specifically ballroom dance, can make a big difference for those struggling with this disease. Studies have found that ballroom dancing requires the use of external cues such as music and touch for movement. These cues bypass the part of the brain that is damaged and create new nerve pathways in the brain.
Ballroom dance, in general can do this, however, tango has been found to deliver the most benefit. The reason is that the forward and backward movements along with long strides are particularly therapeutic. Brain scans have confirmed that the damaged part of the brain shows increased activity when patients do the tango, particularly when the music has a regular beat.
Exercise is tough to do for those who don’t have a movement problem. Imagine how hard it is for those who are rigid, stiff and fight for balance due to this disease. Fortunately, dancing makes it fun and much easier for patients to exercise, and as Dr. Eldor has found, it has allowed those who are regular dancers to maintain normal function despite progression of the disease.
If you or someone you know has Parkinson’s disease, NOW is time to find a place to dance. There are ballroom dance programs in almost every city and town. Find one and do it!
The sores are ugly and painful, often right on your face where you can’t hide them. Because herpes is so easily transmitted, it’s more likely than not that you already had to deal with this nasty virus. If you’ve never had them before, you’re actually in the minority. At least twice as many people have it as those who don’t. According to the World Health Organization, a staggering two-thirds of the world population (the US included) suffers from oral herpes, while the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) reports at least an additional 15% suffers from genital herpes. That means that in some populations, 9 of 10 people have herpes!
The herpes virus is responsible for causing cold sores, also known as fever blisters, and genital herpes. Generally herpes virus 1 (HSV-1) causes cold sores and herpes virus 2 (HSV-2) causes genital herpes. Of course, you really don’t want either one, but it’s statistically likely you’ll contract it even if you haven’t already. But there is good news:
Lemon balm! Also known as Melissa Officinalis, Lemon balm is a great natural treatment for these viruses. There are properties of the plant that explain its therapeutic effect. The leaves contain plant substances called tannins and terpenes that give the plant its antiviral effects. They also contain eugenol, which helps with pain and discomfort and kills bacteria.
There are studies that have shown topical lemon balm cream and ointments can heal cold sores. In one study of 66 people, lemon balm cream was applied and patients experienced significant decreased redness and swelling after just two days. Unfortunately, the cream did not effect the scabbing and discomfort.
A series of impressive studies were done in Germany. The results showed when lemon balm was used to treat a first time infection of HSV-1, not a single recurrence was found. In addition, it reduced healing time of both genital and oral herpes.
How can lemon balm be used?
Lemon balm can be found in ointments and creams. Soaking a cotton ball in lemon balm extract and dabbing it on the cold sore can also be very effective. Lemon balm tea can be used as a facial or body wash or soak. Lemon balm soft gels can be taken orally. Preparations are relatively inexpensive, and if you want to be even more natural, you can grow the plant in your garden and make your own teas and extracts.
When should it be used?
For those plagued with cold sores, we recommend patients apply lemon balm nightly to their lips to prevent them. It feels good, works well and keeps the lips from getting chapped. For outbreaks, we suggest applying the cream or ointment 4-5 times a day. For genital herpes, put the extract or tea in a bath and soak. It will be soothing at the very least, and many people find that it helps with the intensity and duration of symptoms. It is worth a try, and fortunately there have been no reported side effects.
I admit it. I love a good sweet now and then. OK. I love them all the time, but I control myself. About two months ago I had a craving for oatmeal cookies. I bought a box from a local grocery store chain. I could only eat a couple of them, and then I gave Dave two of them (when they were fresh) and I saved the rest. Today, I was going through my cabinets and found the cookies. They were still moist and ready to eat, just like they were two months ago. That got me thinking. How good could processed foods with preservatives be good for us?
The answer, they are NOT.
What are processed foods?
When we refer to processed foods we are talking about those that are chemically treated. They contain refined ingredients and artificial substances. Of course, they have their positives, especially from the point of view of the sellers, but these substances can be quite harmful. Read on.
In order to keep the cookies fresh, preservatives are added. In many foods, color has been added to make them look more attractive to consumers. Additives for flavor and texture are also added to make them more palatable. When you look at the labels to see what’s added to many of these foods, the lists are long. These foods contain things that you would never consider eating. For the cookies, here are the ingredients:
Sugar, Bleached Enriched Flour (Wheat Flour, Niacin, Reduced Iron, Thiamine Mononitrate Riboflavin and Folic Acid), Oats, Vegetable Shortening (Palm Oil), Raisins, Eggs, Butter (Milk), Water, Contains 2% or Less of each of the following: Molasses, Baking Soda, Salt, Spices, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Contains Milk, Egg and Wheat, May contain Soy, Peanuts and Tree Nuts.
Note that the US Food and Drug Administration requires that listed “ingredients [be] in descending order of predominance by weight, so the ingredient that weighs the most is listed first, and the ingredient that weighs the least is listed last” (FDA 2015). Dave’s cookies, despite being labeled as “oatmeal,” really ought to be called sugar cookies.
What about sugar?
Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup
Processed foods are often loaded with sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Sugary foods and drinks are loaded with empty calories with basically no nutritional value. Excess dietary sugar leads to insulin resistance and type 2-diabetes. (And don’t be fooled by labels that claim “sugar-free” yet still admit to high levels of corn syrup—that’s legal, although not particularly honest.)
We have mechanisms in our brain and body that help us regulate energy balance in our bodies. Food manufacturers have found the combination of flavors and additives (such as sugar and salt) that bypass our regulatory abilities. As a result, processed foods are very rewarding to our brains and often lead us to overeat.
Processed foods are high in refined or simple carbohydrates. When consumed, they release energy quickly, causing sugar spikes and an increase in insulin levels. They make us feel good initially and then there is an energy crash later. When we feel a crash coming on, we often crave more of the same foods that keep us “up,” which leads us to doing it all over again.
In the processing of the food, nutrients are lost. Therefore, vitamins and minerals are replaced but not to the level of natural foods. If a person eats a diet based primarily in processed foods, they will likely be nutrient deficient.
Lack of Fiber
Fiber is important for general health, and again it’s often lacking in processed foods. Fiber slows down the absorption of carbohydrates, helps us maintain a normal weight, promotes good bacteria in the gut, decreases the risk of colon cancer and prevents constipation. Processed foods generally have the fiber removed. This makes it much easier to digest, requiring less energy. Eating processed food causes us to eat more and burn less than if we eat foods that are whole and unprocessed.
Processed foods are often loaded with these. Made with cheap vegetable oils that become trans fats, which are associated with inflammation and heart disease. That is why the FDA has banned them. That’s right—that’s how bad they are for you! But the ban does not start until 2018. That is why you need to look on the food label for partially hydrogenated oils and avoid foods that contain them. Just stay away. Now.
Needless to say, I am going to throw out the rest of the 2-month old cookies, and will avoid them in the future, and I have already apologized to Dave. After learning more about processed foods, it is clear it is best to avoid them. An occasional indulgence now and then is fine and love the taste and the false energy lift they provide, but indulge only on occasion; don’t make this stuff (it really is border-line poison) part of your daily menu. Sticking with whole foods is the key.
Otherwise, it could be deadly by leading to obesity, diabetes, heart disease and a variety of inflammatory ills.