Connection:The True Path to Health and Happiness? By Robin H. Miller MD, MHS & David Es. Kahn MS, CPT

In the movie City Slickers one of the main characters is Curly, a crusty guy who teaches the citified folks a thing or two about being real cowboys. There is a pivotal scene where Curly asks the main character Mitch, played by Billy Crystal, the ultimate question:

Curly: Do you know what the secret of life is?
[holds up one finger] This.
Mitch: Your finger?
Curly: One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and the rest don’t mean s***.
Mitch: But, what is the “one thing?”
Curly: That’s what you have to find out.

We contend the one thing is connection. Our minds immediately jump to romantic connection, but today our focus on connection is on social relationships: family, friends or groups. There is growing evidence to support that relationships are essential for our health and happiness.

Want to live longer?

Multiple studies show those with little to no involvement in relationships are more likely to die earlier than those with greater involvement. As an example, a study done of adults with coronary artery disease found that patients who were socially isolated were almost two and a half times more likely to die of heart disease than their peers who were socially connected!

Researchers at the University of Chicago have found loneliness increases a person’s chance of early overall mortality by 14%. Surprisingly, it has double the impact of obesity on premature death. In terms of risk, others describe loneliness as the new smoking.

What about happiness?

Several long-term studies on longevity have found it is the connections we make, not necessarily the amount of money we have, which make us happy. Does money hurt one’s chances of being happy? No. It fact, large study found money can help with happiness—but only up to a point. When it comes to income, those who make up to $75,000 a year are happier compared to those who make less. However, beyond that, the happiness factor does not increase.

What is it about connection that makes it key?

Social connections influence our health behaviors. For some it enhances support for mental as well as physical health. According to the researchers at University of Chicago, there are a variety of types of connection:

Intimate connectedness: Having someone in your life validating you as a person.

Relational Connectedness: Having face-to-face contacts that are mutually rewarding.

Collective Connectedness: Being part of a group.

The downside…

Of course, when there are stresses in relationships, they can have negative consequences as well. That is why it is so important to leave or improve those relationships that are unhealthy or dysfunctional and build and nurture those that nurture you.

What can you do to get connected?

If you are not connected yet, don’t despair. According to Harvard researcher Robert Putnam, if you join a group and participate, you can decrease your chance of dying by half for the year. Some viable options: volunteer on a community project resonates with you, join group that is already doing something that interests you, or start dancing. There are dance communities all over the country doing all different kinds of dance. (Lead & follow is shown overall to be the healthiest option.) Dance can help you remain healthy, and you can join a welcoming community that is sure to improve your ability to connect in dance and in life.

City Slicker Mitch found out the one thing for him was his family (which included his wife, kids and a calf named Norman). This was a connection he had all along that he came to realize was what truly mattered to him.

If you are connected, hug your friends and family—put your time in—realize that they are your lifesavers, your true north, possibly your one thing is what makes life meaningful, healthy and happy.

National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month; Don’t Weight! By Robin Miller, MD MHS & David Es. Kahn, MS CPT

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June is when Americans from all walks of life rush to celebrate National Fresh Fruit and Vegetables Month. At least they should. Who knew there even was such a thing as a National Fresh Fruit & Veggies Month? In honor of this (admittedly, odd celebration), we’ll tell you some things you may not know.

Two Cool Fruits You Need More Of

Grapefruit and raspberries are well known and popular, true A-listers in the fresh fruit world. Of course they taste great, but they can even help you to lose weight.

Grapefruit has many of the vitamins of the other citrus fruits but has a lower Glycemic Index. That means that sugar is released slowly in the body rather than in one quick rush. [This is good because…]

The famous Grapefruit Diet actually has many variations. The results of a 12-week study linking grapefruit to weight loss done at the Scripps Clinic in 2004 put 100 men and women on a diet that included half a grapefruit or grapefruit juice three times a day with a meal. The average weight loss was 3.6 pounds for those who ate their grapefruit, 3.3 pounds for those who drank it. However, many reportedly lost more than 10 pounds.

Grapefruit has chemicals that may lower insulin levels and expedite weight loss. The only problem with it is that it can interact with certain medications. It is important to check with your doctor or pharmacist to find out if you are on any of these medications. If so, you need to avoid it. (Sorry about that.) Even if you don’t lose much weight, the vitamins and enzymes found in grapefruit are good for you. We actually don’t recommend the grapefruit diet, but rather that you supplement your diet with this healthy fruit.

The poor raspberry has an unpleasant sound connected with it, which expresses “disapproval or contempt,” according to Webster, and has even had an award of cinematic shame named after it (the Golden Raspberry). But don’t let that part of its reputation dissuade you; there are many good things these sweet red berries can provide.

Raspberries are rich in antioxidants. Eating just three or more servings per week has been found to lower the risk for age-related macular degeneration. The anthocyanins (important antioxidants) in raspberries have been found to delay the effect of aging. Although raspberries contain sugar, it does not seem to affect blood sugar in a significant way. Red raspberry ketones are currently being used in Japan as a weight loss supplement. Red raspberry seed oil has attracted the interest of the cosmetic and pharmaceutical industries because it is rich in Vitamin E, omega-3 fatty acid and has a sun protection factor (SPF) of 24-50. So, assuming someone is giving you the right kind of raspberry, accept it gladly.

Eat Your Veggies, Dear

Mom was right again? Yep. Broccoli and kale are now the darlings of the modern veggie world. There is good reason for this. To start with, they are rich in flavonoids, which have powerful anti-inflammatory effects and reduce the allergic response in the body. They both lower cholesterol when steamed. When cooked, they bind with bile acids that actually take out the cholesterol, and they both help with the body’s detoxifying ability.

Broccoli and Kale help to restore vitamin D levels in those who are deficient and help everyone else’s levels stay normal. They are loaded with vitamin A and K, and these two vitamins work together for the balance of the essential vitamin D’s metabolism.

Broccoli and Kale both help reduce the risk of certain cancers. Broccoli has been found to lower the risk of oral and liver cancers. Kale has been found to reduce the risk of bladder, breast, colon, and ovarian and prostate cancers. And like most veggies, they contain few calories relative to their mass. In a full pound kale, there’s only 222 calories. In a full pound of broccoli there’s just 153! (Compare that to your average-sized glazed doughnut, which has about 260 calories in just 2 ounces—that’s well over 2,000 calories a pound!) Bottom line: you can eat a LOT of veggies and gain relatively little weight.

Vegetables and fruits are great for all of us to consume. That is why ALL doctors recommend them. (None of that “4 out of 5” stuff here!)

Celebrate the rest of this month properly by eating lots of them and enjoy!

Probiotics : Are They Good For Your Health? By Robin H. Miller MD, MHS and David Es. Kahn MS, CPT

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, in our mucus membranes and on our skin. When these bacteria are in balance, they assist in digestion, release gas in our colon (and thus are the origin of all flatulence, we must admit), and they improve the immune system by 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.

Do we need probiotics? Yes!

Here’s some of the many things probiotics can do:

1. They help our body deal with antibiotics. Antibiotics 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. By restoring the balance, probiotics help to mitigate some of the unanticipated negative effects.

2. They help us fight 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, the most commonly used probiotic, can help.

3. They help control irritable bowel syndrome. IBS is common problem that increases as we age, causing gas, bloating, and often painful abdominal cramping. Many factors can cause the discomfort; however, many of the symptoms may actually be caused by a bacteria imbalance in our gut. Probiotics can help, or even sometimes reverse IBS.

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

And even if you do not currently 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. Of course, in order for the probiotics to work and maintain a healthy gut, you need to eat a healthy diet. Getting probiotics from food as part of that diet is the most natural approach.

Where can you get probiotics?

You can find probiotics in cultured dairy products like yogurt (as seen on TV!) 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’ll be preventing illness.

The Many Virtues of Chocolate By Robin H. Miller MD, MHS and David Es. Kahn, MS, CPT

If you believe everything you read in magazines and on the Internet, you might already be convinced that chocolate is all we need to cure our many ills. It has been touted as a health food that is good for everything from improving blood flow, to curing depression and spicing up our love lives. But is any of this really true?

There is actual scientific evidence, looking at dark chocolate in particular, which details a multitude of benefits, but I suggest you take this with a grain of sugar. Here are some of the major findings:

Chocolate can improve brain health

The results of a limited study of 60 seniors done at Harvard suggest that older people who drink two cups of hot chocolate a day may protect their brains from memory loss. The chocolate appeared to preserve blood flow to the brain. Another study found that an extract of cocoa might help reduce or block the damage to the nerve pathways found in those with Alzheimer’s disease. More studies need to be done, but this is a good start.

Chocolate can help prevent diabetes and heart disease

A recent study conducted in Luxembourg of over 1000 people found that those who regularly consumed chocolate had a lower incidence of type 2 diabetes and heart disease. However, of note is that the chocolate consumers were generally younger and healthier than the non-consumers to begin with.

A huge study spanning 11 years observed 21,000 older residents of Norfolk, England. Researchers found that 12% of those in the top tier of chocolate consumption developed or died of heart disease vs. 17.4% of those who did not eat chocolate. These are not huge findings, but they are of some significance.

Another small study looked at the result of giving dark chocolate to patients with peripheral artery disease (PAD). PAD causes a circulation problem and makes it difficult to walk. Those given chocolate were able to walk farther and had improved blood flow. But even these modest results were qualified; the same effect was seen as a result from regular meditation.

Chocolate can lower bad cholesterol and raise good cholesterol

In a small controlled trial of men conducted over 2 months, cocoa powder significantly decreased the type of LDL or bad cholesterol that can cause harm to arteries. It also increased HDL or good cholesterol by 20% while it lowered the LDL cholesterol levels by 20%. This may be in part why eating chocolate lowers the risk of heart disease.

Chocolate and Libido

A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine reported that women who ate chocolate every day had higher libidos. However, in many studies where this finding was noted, the women who ate chocolate frequently were significantly younger than those who did not. Thus, libido strength may be related to age rather than chocolate intake. So, does chocolate really increase sex drive? The definite answer is: Maybe.

Chocolate does cause blood vessels to dilate and endorphins to be released. How this impacts mood and sex drive still needs to be determined by further study.

Chocolate can stop a cough

Dark chocolate contains a chemical known as theobromine that works as a great cough suppressant. Taking a small square of chocolate and letting it melt on the tongue is a great way to stop a cough. Next time you have a cough, try it. If you like chocolate, you will like this treatment!

In summary

Dark chocolate is packed with antioxidants, and in small amounts, it can be a healthy benefit to the heart and blood vessels. The key, of course, is to eat it in moderation. It may be really good for us in other ways, but the evidence is not completely convincing. It is also important to note most of the studies supporting its benefit are observational and rely on subjects’ recall of their chocolate consumption, which could be faulty. In addition, it is possible chocolate eaters have other characteristics making them healthier. Only a long-term randomized trial would tell if we should all be taking chocolate as part of our daily health regimen.

So, go ahead and enjoy come dark chocolate—but don’t go expecting a miracle cure. In the meantime, it won’t kill you, and it could be just what your body craves.

Just Dance By Robin H. Miller, MD and David Es. Kahn MS, CPT

Time to Dance!

The TV show Dancing with the Stars has brought attention to the fun and many health benefits of ballroom dancing. Watching stars lose weight and become fit is inspiring. Seeing how they enjoy themselves and in some cases find partners is exciting. As an example Robert Herjavec, Shark Tank mogul, recently announced his engagement to Kym Johnson, his professional dance partner on the show. Is there something to all this that we regular people can take away regarding our own health?

There is.

Both the Mayo clinic and the National Institutes of Health have found that social dancing helps to reduce stress, improve energy and coordination, improve overall strength, and it specifically strengthens the bones of the hips and legs. In addition, it lowers blood pressure and improves cardiovascular health. An added benefit is that it provides a social life for those who participate regularly.

A recent study of 75-year-olds discovered that those who did activities such as dancing, playing music, playing board games and reading at least 11 days a month reduced their risk of dementia by 63%. A major study that followed seniors for 21 years found that ballroom dancing on a regular basis reduced the risk of Alzheimer’s disease by 76%.

Recent studies of Parkinson’s disease patients who were taught tango determined that, when compared to regular exercise, tango-dancing patients improved their balance and functionality. When they were taught waltz and fox trot, locomotion and balance improved, but the tango dancers showed the most improvements.

Many of us have a hard time exercising. A big factor for this is because for many, exercising just isn’t a lot of fun. However, dancing is great fun and is a wonderful form of exercise. The best thing about it is that it doesn’t feel like exercise—it just feels great. If you are trying to figure out how to get more movement and positivity into your life, find a dance class and get started. It is good for your body, your brain and your spirit!

Feel Better, Go Green! By Robin H. Miller, MD MHS

It is estimated that 10% or 27 million Americans are on antidepressants. The good news is that they can be very effective particularly for severe depression. They also can be helpful for mild to moderate depression. The other thing that has been found to help mild to moderate depression is exercise. Thirty minutes or more a day three to five days a week can make a big difference. Exercise boosts endorphins, which improves mood. It also increases body temperature, which can have a calming effect. It can improve anxiety and boost self-esteem. If you exercise outside there is even greater potential improvement.

In fact, a recently released study has found that exercising in the great outdoors for just 5 minutes a day can improve mood and self-esteem. Outdoor activities included gardening, walking, bicycling and farming.

I find it fascinating that as we have become more of an indoor-based society and have gotten away from working outdoors, depression has risen precipitously. Maybe the results of this study are reflecting exactly that. I think it is important that all of us evaluate our activity level, our relationship with the out of doors and think about reconnecting with our roots….like the ones in the ground. Maybe many of us would be able to get off some of the antidepressant medications.

Got Stress? Deal with it! By Robin Miller, MD MHS

Stress is inevitable in our lives. It is something that causes us to react with a fight or flight response. This response is something that has protected us through the ages. When confronted with a perceived dangerous situation, a chemical reaction in the body takes place that can improve alertness and our ability to move quickly. This allows us to flee the danger. If stress continues without relief, it can have a negative, wearing effect long term.

The acute symptoms of stress are a rapid heart rate, dry mouth, clenched jaw, muscle tension; possible upset stomach and loss of appetite. Long-term symptoms include depression, eating disorders, skin and hair problems, and chronic fatigue.

In the US, forty-three percent of all adults suffer from adverse health effects. Three quarters of all doctor visits are for stress-related complaints. Stress can contribute to heart disease, high blood pressure, chronic headaches, arthritis, asthma and anxiety. If left unchecked, there is a 50% chance that it will evolve into a chronic emotional disorder.

Occasional stress can be dealt with, but when stress is continuous an interesting phenomenon sets in. At its most extreme, it is something that occurs in those who are living in abusive situations. At a lesser extreme it can occur with chronic job stress. In both examples, individuals become used to a continuous level of stress and the health effects can be substantial.

An alarming possibility is that stress can cause or spread cancer. It can do this in a couple of ways. In reaction to stress people may adopt behaviors such as smoking, drinking and overeating all of which increase the risk of developing certain cancers. In addition, psychological studies have found in animal studies that stress can affect the ability of a tumor to grow.

A study of women with triple-negative breast cancer treated with chemotherapy that used beta-blockers, medications that interfere with stress hormones, before and after their treatments had a better chance of surviving than those who did not use the beta-blocker. There is also data to suggest that those who feel helpless or hopeless during treatment have higher death rates.

For all of the above reasons, it is important to find ways to cope with stress. Exercise, talk therapy, meditation, yoga, relaxation techniques and finding support from friends and family can be helpful. Sometimes, medication is necessary.

There will always be stress. That is how life works. The key is to recognize what is going on in your body and find constructive ways of dealing with it.
“Its not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”
– Hans Selye

Love Heals

Listening to the Sunday news pundits, angry hateful words from some of the presidential candidates, and watching recent breaking news has caused me to look at what might make a difference to us individually and as a nation. There is one thing. That thing is love. The power of it is amazing.

For starters, half of people who exercise alone 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 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 when they get married.

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.

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 it 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

Spring is Approaching and Stress is in the Air By Robin Miller, MD MHS

Spring is approaching and stress is in the air. There are worries over the economy, the upcoming election, and the state of healthcare (among other things). There are ways that each of us deals with stress -both consciously and unconsciously. Some people get sick (not a great solution);others overeat; still others drink too much alcohol. But many people have learned to work it out in a healthy way using exercise, meditation, yoga, and talk therapy such as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

CBT is a process that looks at a person’s beliefs, and helps to change negative thought patterns. It is like teaching people to look at the cup as half full, rather than half empty. A recent study has found that ten sessions of CBT significantly improved worry in older individuals with generalized anxiety disorder. CBT has also recently been shown to have an impact on depression and health outcomes in those who have undergone cardiac bypass surgery.

If you are stressed out, you are not alone. I suggest that you look to healthy ways to deal with stress and worry. If you feel you need help and would benefit from talking to someone, you might want to find a therapist who does CBT. And of course, you can eat a healthy whole food diet and exercise too!

A History Of Meanness By Robin Miller, MD

In 1968 a very brave teacher named Jane Elliott embarked on a social experiment with her classroom of third graders. She wanted to teach them about prejudice. In my opinion, she taught them and us a whole lot more. She divided the class into blue-eyed children and brown and green-eyed children. She said that the brown-eyed children were superior to those with blue eyes. That day, the brown-eyed children berated those with blue eyes and became bullies.

The next day, the blue-eyed kids were told that they were better than the shifty, lazy brown-eyed kids. The reverse happened but not to the same degree as the day before. Perhaps, having suffered berating, the blue-eyed children were more empathetic. Just by being told they were better, the children were emboldened, became bullies and lost most of their compassion for their fellow students of different eye color.

Looking at what is going on in the Republican primaries, I am wondering if the same phenomenon is occurring. The candidates are saying essentially that we as American citizens are better then those trying to immigrate here to the US. That white Americans are better than those of color. The behavior that is ensuing as a result is embarrassing, frightening, and downright un-American. The rhetoric coming from Donald Trump in particular is mean-spirited and devoid of compassion. It is bullying behavior that would be very dangerous if he were to become the leader of the free world.

The fact that so many are following him makes sense when we look at the children in Jane Elliott’s classroom experiment. He is tapping into insecurities and fears and preying on those who would like to feel better about themselves. Unfortunately, to stop bullying behavior it doesn’t help to distinguish between them and us. What will work is to give people a hand and hope that their lives can be changed for the better. Stomping on someone to get a leg up will only hurt all of us.

When people are so mean and nasty, it makes me wonder what type of pain and lack of love they must have in their life. What is the answer? I am hoping that if each and every one of us can find a way to be kinder to others and pay it forward, that will help. I know it sounds trite, but love is the answer.

The experiment that Jane Elliott did with her students was and remains controversial. But, many of her students have returned and thanked her for changing their lives in a very positive way and helping them to find compassion and empathy for others. Perhaps it is time for the Republican candidates to have a go at a remedial class with Ms. Elliot!

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