March 2013

Listen To Your Heart

Despite the fact that there has been a huge campaign to inform women about the different ways that heart attack can present, we (women) are still waiting too long to call for help. I believe that one of the reasons has to do with our nature. Most of us live in the land of denial. We do not think that something like heart attack can happen to us. In addition we are so busy taking care of others that we often ignore our own symptoms.

Research looking at heart disease in women done by the National Institutes of Health found that 95% of women studied noted symptoms that were unusual for them one month prior to having their heart attack. The most common being unusual fatigue; sleep problems, shortness of breath, indigestion and anxiety.

Despite all the research and push for public awareness, heart disease is still the number one cause of death in men AND women. Risk factors include: family history of heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, diabetes, lack of exercise, smoking, stress, and low magnesium.

Regardless of whether you have any of these risk factors or not, if you are a woman and you experience overwhelming fatigue like you do with a bad flu, (but you don’t have the flu), trouble sleeping, anxiety, a sense of dread, shortness of breath, vague chest or jaw discomfort; you may be having a heart attack or you are about to experience one.

If that is the case, do NOT drive yourself to the emergency room. Do NOT wait till a friend or family member can take you to the emergency room. Do NOT ignore the symptoms. Do call 911 and chew an aspirin while you wait (provided you are not allergic to aspirin).

The reason you call 911 is that you want to be cared for as soon as possible. As most cardiologists will tell you, time is muscle. If you take yourself to the emergency room, you may have to wait and that might have tragic consequences. I had a patient many years ago, who had her heart attack while she waited three hours in the waiting room of a hospital emergency room. Do not let that happen to you. The longer you wait the greater the chance you will sustain long-lasting heart damage. The sooner they can help you the better your chances of a full recovery.

Most of us may be self-sacrificing but we have really good gut instincts. Listen to your intuition. If you think that something is wrong with your heart then you are probably right. Take care of your heart so it can take care of you and keep you vital and healthy.

Perspective On Weight Loss Myths

A recent article in the New England Journal of Medicine dispelled certain myths and presumptions about weight loss and it has certainly given me food for thought. When translating the conclusions of this article, I think it is important to take them with a grain of salt so to speak. Sometimes, it is important to inject some common sense, and realize that studies address groups of people and some things may not apply to the individual.

What About Breakfast?

Let’s start with breakfast. As mentioned in the article, there are some studies showing that people who eat breakfast are not more likely to lose weight than those who skip it. However, there are many studies that show those who eat a regular breakfast are less likely to gain weight and are less hungry throughout the day. It is important for maintaining your metabolism. I have patients who have lost a significant amount of weight just by adding a healthy breakfast. Weight loss aside, breakfast is important for general health and daily function.

Is it Really Better to Lose Weight Quickly?

Another myth involves studies showing those who have goals of losing a lot of weight quickly are more successful than those who have more modest goals. That may be the case when you look at shows like the Biggest Loser. However, if you look further, the majority of those on the Biggest Loser do not maintain their weight loss.

Looking at pooled data the researchers found that although those with rapid weight loss vs. slow weight loss were more successful in the short run. There was no difference in their weight loss at the end of a year.

Along those lines, low calorie diets including those with prepackaged meals can be quite successful. Some of these diets can be maintained for over a year, but eventually the calorie restriction becomes too much and many patients gain their weight back.

Fruits and Vegetables Add Calories

According to the myths and presumptions, adding more fruits and veggies to the diet does not result in weight loss and can result in weight gain. Of course if you add them on top of what you are already eating, it will not work. However, if you replace unhealthy food choices with healthy ones such as lots of vegetables and a moderate amount of fruit, weight loss will happen. If you fill up with broccoli vs. foods such as potato chips and cheetos, of course you are going to lose weight.

Yoyo dieting does not cause early mortality

Finally, The article dispelled the presumption that yoyo dieting will cause premature death. It will not do that, but regardless it is unhealthy. It can slow metabolism and contribute to weight gain in the long run.

Knowing about these myths and presumptions is helpful. Clearly we have much to learn. However, it is important to realize that things such as eating vegetables and breakfast are healthy habits whether they aid weight loss or not.

We still do not have the magic pill or solution for successful weight loss. There are probably as many diets out there as people in the United States. The issue is complicated, but I believe that by honoring our uniqueness, we can find what works for the individual.

A Small Thing That Can Make A Big Difference

The connection between low magnesium and heart disease is one of the best-kept secrets in health research.

It was way back in 1957 that a study gave us evidence that low levels might cause cardiovascular problems, and research has percolated ever since. We now know that not having enough of this mineral can cause:

– high cholesterol

– plaque build-up in the arteries

– thickening of artery walls

– type 2 diabetes

– high blood pressure

There’s no dispute about any of this — and any researcher would say that all of the above raise the risk of heart disease. But over the last many years, the focus in heart disease prevention has been on everything but low magnesium. It’s time for that to change.

Last year, the Japanese Collaborative Cohort Study published data collected over the course of almost 15 years on more than 58,000 Japanese between the ages of 40 and 79. The scientists found that people with high levels of magnesium were 50% less likely to have a fatal heart attack than the people in the study whose levels were low. This adds to the data that supports the important connection between magnesium and heart health.

There’s another reason for us to get more magnesium: Our health depends on magnesium and calcium being in balance in our bodies. We should consume these in a 1:1 ratio, but public-health recommendations to get calcium for our bones has generally ignored the need for magnesium. That may be why an increased intake of calcium has been found to increase the risk of heart disease.

Unfortunately, most of us get way too little magnesium in our diets. One reason: Processed foods contain little to none! The recommended daily intake of magnesium is 400 mgs. Good sources include nuts, seeds, beans and organically grown vegetables. (A Mediterranean diet provides plenty of magnesium in heart-healthy whole foods.) It is always best to get it from food, but if you cannot get enough in your diet, you may need to take a magnesium supplement.

The data on the need for adequate magnesium is compelling. But whether you are convinced by the data or not, the key for health is to eat a balanced diet. I suggest that in addition to lean protein, fruit and whole grains, you eat plenty of vegetables (preferably organic), healthy nuts in moderation (almonds are the nuts with the most magnesium) and beans. It just makes sense! You might find that your blood pressure as well as your cholesterol goes down and that you feel better overall.

Magnesium seems like such a small thing, but as basketball coach John Wooden once said, “It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.”

Food As Medicine

Recently, a friend of mine recommended coconut oil for my cracked hands and dry lips. I found a jar at the local health food store for under $10 and thought that I would give it a try. It worked like a charm. My hands are soft and my lips are no longer rough and flaky.

That got me thinking. What types of food preparations are being studied for the treatment of skin problems? Here is what I consider to be the top three: coconut oil, honey and garlic. The following are some simple, effective uses for all three.

Coconut Oil

There are many studies looking at the therapeutic benefit of coconut oil. In patients with atopic dermatitis or eczema, the use of coconut oil improves healing and prevents infection with bacteria, viruses and fungus. Specifically and importantly it prevents infection with staphylococcus aureus.

Studies have found that coconut oil effectively moisturizes the skin and improves the appearance. In studies of coconut oil and wound healing researchers noted that it improves the turnover rate of collagen, which will also help to diminish wrinkles.

As an interesting aside, massage is standard therapy for preterm babies. A recent study found that when babies were massaged with coconut oil their weight and growth improved more quickly than those massaged with mineral oil.

Coconut oil is inexpensive and can be safely used as a moisturizer and lip balm.


Honey has been used as medicine for thousands of years. Recently there have been multiple studies done to examine its wound healing properties. A specific type known as Manuka honey from New Zealand has powerful anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties. A special gel called medihoney has been studied in wound healing and found to be very effective over standard therapies.

Please note! If you have a cut or a sore, do not take out your honey bottle and start applying it. Not all honey is made the same when it comes to healing properties. It depends on the kind of honey and when it is harvested. Medihoney is made specifically for medicinal use and cannot be found on the honey shelf at the grocery store.


Garlic has antifungal properties and has been found to be a very effective treatment for athlete’s feet. A study done in 2000, compared a garlic solution to the fungus cream Lamisil. They were both applied twice daily for two months and garlic had a 100% cure rate vs. 94% for Lamisil. Garlic can be used as a paste when mixed with olive oil or mashed up and dissolved in a foot bath.

Garlic is cheap and easily available. The down side is that it might be a bit stinky especially when your feet get hot and sweaty.

It is very interesting that in this day and age when we are dealing with antibiotic resistant bacteria and hard to treat infections, that food may be the ultimate healer. As a famous old-time physician once said,

“Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” ― Hippocrates

A Natural Approach To Migraine Prevention

For a migraine sufferer, there’s nothing better than a medicine that will make the headache go away — nothing, that is, except never having the migraine at all. Because let’s face it: Migraine drugs aren’t perfect. They can be pricey, and they can have side effects. What a lot of migraine sufferers don’t realize, though, is that a few simple steps can often work just as well as the drugs, without as much cost or risk. Here are a few moves that may help you control your headaches without so much as looking at your medicine cabinet:

Step 1

Start a food journal. Migraine experts know that some foods may trigger migraines. The biggest culprits are those that have an increased amount of a substance known as tyramine, which can cause headaches by increasing blood pressure. High-tyramine foods include aged cheeses, alcohol, processed meats and red wine. By keeping track, you can learn your triggers. Avoiding them can decrease the number of headaches you suffer.

Step 2

Exercise. A study done in Sweden found that regular exercise can be just as effective at preventing migraines as the drug Topamax. When study participants rode a stationary bike for 40 minutes three times a week, they had as big a reduction in headaches as participants who took 200 milligrams (mg) of Topamax a day. The only difference was that a third of the Topamax users had side effects, while the exercisers had none (unless you count a boost in fitness). Exercise increases endorphins, which may be the mechanism by which it prevents headaches.

Step 3

Try some healthy supplements. A number of studies have found that a daily dose of 400 mg of the B vitamin riboflavin can prevent migraines. It can’t stop one that’s already in progress, but people who take it for three months see their migraines drop by half.

Another nutrient that wards off migraines: magnesium, a common mineral found in beans, pumpkin seed, and nuts. The amount recommended varies according to which expert you ask, but anywhere from 600 to1000 mg daily is recommended, provided you don’t have kidney problems. A study done in Germany found that when migraine sufferers were given 600 mg magnesium daily for a month, their migraines decreased by more than 40%. Magnesium helps by calming the brain. And there’s a bonus: It’s good for the heart, too.

The herbal extract butterbur has been used for thousands of years for a variety of health issues. Several studies have found that in a dose of 50-75 mgs twice daily, it can reduce the number of migraines by as much as 50%.

I generally recommend starting with magnesium and riboflavin. If your headaches have not decreased then I suggest adding butterbur. In addition, I recommend trying 150 mg daily of coenzyme Q10. In one study, this supplement halved the number of “migraine days,” probably, researchers think, by improving blood flow in the brain.
Studies have also found that 1000 mg daily of omega 3 fatty acids reduce the frequency of migraines by reducing inflammation. Both of these supplements are good for general health.

These supplements are all generally safe (though, as with any supplement, you should discuss them with your doctor before you start). Whichever you choose, you’d need to take it regularly. And, unfortunately, none will help with a migraine that’s already in progress. Still, if you’re a migraine sufferer, it’s worth discussing alternatives like these with your doctor. They’re inexpensive, have fewer side effects than many migraine meds – and just might make your head feel much better.


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