August 2013

Probiotics-Are They Good For You?

You’ve seen the TV commercials promoting special yogurt to rid abdominal cramps, bloating, and make up for years of poor eating habits. And you must be wondering: What makes yogurt so therapeutic? Wonder no longer, yogurt contains probiotics.

What are probiotics?

Probiotics are live bacteria that are good for us — improving the balance of good and bad bacteria in our bodies. Yes, bacteria has become a “dirty” word, but truth be told, we all have lots and lots of bacteria living in our gut, mucus membranes and on our skin. When these bacteria are in balance they assist in digestion, release gas in our colon (and are the origin of all farts), and improve your immune system by, among other things, stimulating our body’s own production of antibodies to help fight infection. Probiotics also help your body turn certain foods – through fermentation – into important vitamins for you to absorb.

Why do we need probiotics?

1. Antibiotics – They kill off the bacteria that make us sick, but in the process, they can kill strains of natural bacteria that help your body absorb nutrients. This can cause diarrhea and other digestive upsets, such as gas and cramping. In women, antibiotics can also cause yeast infections.

2. Enzyme deficiencies – Lactase, for instance, is an enzyme that helps us digest milk products. As we age, many of us become lactase deficient, causing gas and bowel trouble. Drinking milk with acidophilus can help.

3. Irritable bowel syndrome – A common problem as we age, irritable bowel syndrome causes gas, bloating, and abdominal cramping. Many factors can cause the discomfort, however, many of the symptoms may actually be caused by a bacteria imbalance in our gut.

4. A recent study done in China has found that children given probiotics had 72% fewer fevers in the winter and used 84% fewer antibiotics.

And, even if you do not have any of these problems, probiotics are still worth trying. They can help relieve constipation, prevent yeast infections, lower cholesterol, and increase protection from certain cancers including colon and bladder cancer.

Where can you get probiotics?

You can find probiotics in cultured dairy products like yogurt and kefir, as well as fermented foods like sauerkraut. You can also take supplements, which are made up of a mix of bacteria. The most common types are acidophilus, lactobacillus species, and bifidobacteria species. Most probiotics need to be refrigerated and kept tightly sealed in an opaque container.

If you’re experiencing cramping or bloating, you should start feeling better soon after you begin taking the probiotics. If you’re healthy, you won’t notice much change. Although you might have a happier glow because you are preventing illness.

Have you tried any probiotic products? Did you notice any improvement in your health?

Are Vitamins And Supplements A Waste Of Money?

A couple of weeks ago, one of my patients came in for a visit with a bag full of 15 vitamins and supplements. She wanted me to review them and tell her which ones I thought were good and which ones were not.

It took about 20 minutes to go through all her stuff. Truthfully, she had some good quality supplements. There were antioxidants, fiber pills, an assortment of vitamins – I had to admit that they were excellent quality.

Then she asked me which ones she actually needed. I told her that she could do without most of them if she would eat a healthy diet. She looked at me incredulously – as if, I bought all these pills for nothing?! The secret: Most supplements are unnecessary. The key to ultimate health lies in what you choose to eat. The problem is that most people want to do everything but eat a super-clean and super-healthy diet.

When you take nutrients out of food and eat them as supplements they are not going to pack the same punch. There is tremendous value in consuming the whole food. Furthermore, some supplements may go right on through the gastrointestinal tract without being digested.

I will never forget the story a septic tank cleaner told me (it’s a little gross, but worth repeating). He said that one time he was cleaning someone’s septic system and the hose exploded all over the lawn. He said it looked like a bunch of shiny jewels were everywhere. It was all the vitamins that the owner of the system had consumed that had landed on the lawn undigested!

You might say that organic veggies and fruits are expensive. But when you think about it, if you stop buying all those expensive supplements you might be able to afford more of the healthy food. If you eat a diet rich in vegetables, lean protein and healthy grains and fiber, there are only a couple of things you might need in addition.

Those supplements include calcium, vitamin D and possibly fish oil. Vitamin D is hard to get if you wear sunscreen, which will block its absorption. Calcium may also be hard to get if you are unable to eat dairy products, and if you are unable to find fresh fish, fish oil may be needed as a supplement. That’s about it.

Your selenium for the day can be obtained by eating two (just two) Brazil nuts. If you need iron you can find it in clams, liver, pumpkin seeds, beans, lean red meat (no more than three 3-4 oz. servings per week) and even in chocolate. Spinach and almonds are rich in magnesium. Sunflower seeds and almonds contain vitamin E. Vitamin C is in citrus fruits. B12 is found in clams, salmon and rainbow trout. You get the idea. The bottom line is that it is always best (and a lot tastier!) to get vitamins the way nature intended.

I have quoted Hippocrates before and I will do it again because it makes so much sense. “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food” ― Hippocrates

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Have a Statin Chaser With Your Burger

A recent study done in England has found that it would be cost effective to have statin drugs as condiments at fast food restaurants for those who choose to have cheeseburgers and milkshakes. I am speechless, which for me is quite unusual. I have often joked to my patients that it is not okay to eat their twinkies with their statin drugs. Personal responsibility for healthy eating and exercise is so important when it comes to wellness. This suggestion to me flies in the face of common sense and points out why we are having an obesity epidemic.

There are a lot of tempting foods in our world right now for some of us. Many are not healthy. There are 2000 calorie milkshakes, 700 calorie coffee drinks and 1700 calorie appetizers. As much as we may want to have them, it is time for us all to stand up and say “No!” We adults should know better. It’s one thing if you’re a child and you need to learn that you can’t have everything that you want. But, come on adult world. You cannot have fatty foods along with your statin and think that is okay!
Statins are great for those with high cholesterol and who are at risk for heart attack and stroke. For those who really don’t need it the risks may outweigh the benefits.

The secret to a long, healthy life is eating a healthy diet and exercising. Take a pass on the cheeseburgers and milkshakes with the statin chaser and just live well.


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