Category Archives: Health & Fitness

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How To Keep Your Intention to Be Positive When the Going Gets Really Rough

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Our stress hormones are meant to help us in an emergency with a boost of energy and focus, but when a crisis drags on, those same helpful hormones can lead to exhaustion. Use the following practices to maintain your positive intention and see yourself through the rough chapter in your life and back into calmer living.

Establish order and routine in your life

In a natural disaster, the first support crew on the scene immediately sets up order and discipline. You can adapt their practices, whether your challenge is a sick child, a financial downturn, a lost job, or some other troubling matter.

Set up a schedule for regular meals, adequate rest and exercise. Assign essential tasks to others, whether they are friends, family members, coworkers, or outside help.

Build a routine for housework and bill-paying basics to create order, harmony, and a restful environment. When your surroundings are cluttered and dirty, it makes it harder to tame the chaos in your mind.

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Demystifying Health Fads

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Here in Los Angeles alone, it feels like you can find a restaurant to accommodate any dietary needs or preferences. Restaurants that serve only cold-pressed juice, vegan items or traditional fare from countries you’ve never even heard of. Gluten-free Southern food sounds like a paradox, but people can try.

There is a lot of talk about what you should be eating more of and what you should be avoiding so we decided to review three of the biggest buzzwords in health and diet these days.

Gluten: 
Everyone’s going gluten free because it’s healthier, right? That’s right, right? Interestingly enough, gluten is only a problem for the approximately 1% of Americans diagnosed with Celiac’s disease who’s immune system actually damages the lining of the small intestine while trying to process it. The problem with everyone else avoiding gluten, according to some experts, is not with the ingredient so much as how easy it is to miss out on other vital nutrients like iron and fiber by avoiding foods like whole wheat. There are certainly grains without gluten but the key here is knowing that going gluten-free isn’t necessarily the key to a healthier lifestyle.

Kale:
Traditionally a winter crop, this hearty green that’s sneaking it’s way into salads everywhere is actually super good for you. It’s got a ton of Vitamins A, C and K. We’re talking 684% of your daily value of Vitamin K in just a cup. It’s low in calories and while it might be an acquired taste, it’s worth considering as a dietary staple. Something to note- Kale will be less thrilling if you are low on calcium or taking anticoagulants as it blocks calcium absorption and can mess with certain medications, so check with a doctor before you start eating it by the bucket loads.

Probiotics:
We spend a lot of money on cleaning products every year to get rid of bacteria from our homes, but so why are buy bacteria to put into our bodies? Made more well-known thanks to the family favorite, yogurt, Probiotics are good bacteria that, when added to your digestive system, can help ease bloating and get your body processing food like it should. Stress, sitting on planes for hours, eating like a maniac can wreck you, or more specifically, the living microbes in your body that break down and retrieve the nutrients you need. Probiotics are valuable to keeping your intestines in good shape otherwise. We’ve also learned that just having some yogurt here and there won’t be enough to set everything back in balance which is why many opt for a probiotic supplement like SCD Essential Probiotics as opposed to consuming more miso soup than you know what to do with.

Before you hop on the health fad popping up in your grocery stores, make sure you know what works best for you and your body. If it means cutting the gluten, by all means. If not, you’ve made a knowledgeable decision. The point is that you’re in the know.

So, maybe have a donut. Not too many donuts. And maybe wait for dessert ’til you’ve had a kale salad.

 

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Helping Your Health Intentions

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Most of us start every year trying to lose a few pounds.
It’d always be nice to run faster, jump higher, lift heavier.
Whether it’s finally having those six pack abs or faithfully sticking to a healthy diet, getting healthier and staying there can be a lifelong process, so what are the best ways to do that? And are our best laid plans helping or hurting our goals?

1. Diet sodas aren’t helping your diet. The easy solution to losing weight while still fulfilling those carbonation cravings seems like switching from your favorite full calorie drinks to the diet version. Sad news: one study showed that the greater the number of diet sodas consumed, the greater the chance of being overweight. Another linked it to higher risks of metabolic syndrome.

2. Get a little extra shuteye. Sleeping the day away may feel lazy to us but the truth is a difference of even 16 minutes can show big differences in the health of test subjects. Feeling tired throughout the day might be an indication of not enough hours of sleep but it can also indicate a variety of disorders that could be keeping you from sleeping soundly through the night. A little tired? Take a nap. Persistent tiredness? Time to do some investigating.

3. Packaging Promises. The grocery store is bursting at the seams with good that will lower your cholesterol, boost your metabolism, gives you extra calcium to prevent osteoporosis, everything but a granola bar that will make you live forever! Who knows. It could be around the corner…

Recently, it seems the hot topic is probiotics and yogurt. It appears not all bacteria is bad for you and the microorganisms commonly associated with yogurt can help get your digestive system back in order after being ravaged by stress or a potato chip diet. They can also help with gas and bloating so you’re feeling good throughout the day.

The thing to know is some food products are vague about revealing how many bacteria are left in the product after processing. It may not be enough to make a difference unless you’re consuming it in bulk. In addition, the key to probiotics is delivery to the intestines which means they have to be strong enough to survive stomach acid. Most packaging has less to say about that, so do your research on bacteria counts and what is actually being promised. A cup of yogurt every now and then may not be enough to really affect your digestive health so consider natural probiotic supplements. One product, SCD Essential Probiotics, contains 11 strains of probiotics grown together and designed to survive stomach acid to actually do what you’re hoping. It’s also all natural and made with organic ingredients. Good news all around.

We support your intention to be a healthier you and staying informed helps you make wise choices, so learn and grow!

 

 

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How to Change Your Life One Thought At A Time

185429204One of the key reasons that I wrote “The Law of Sobriety” is because too many people focus only on the medical and behavioral aspects of addiction recovery and sobriety. It is as if they believe that if you change your behavior then somehow your mind will pick up on these thoughts and change your way of thinking.

As my studies into the Law of Attraction have clearly shown me, it is actually the opposite process that works. By changing the way that you think and how you expend your mental energy into the universe you will change your way of doing things and in leading your life.

To start to make those all-important mental changes to lead a life of sobriety you can implement the following tips at any time. Remember, it is about changing the way that you view the world that allows you to take advantage of what is presented to you and the natural positive energy all around you.

 

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Better Than Before: Making the Best of Arthritis

arthritisThe Europeans have it all figured out. At the first sign of any aches they don’t take to bed with a bottle of Aleve. No, they head for the thermae of Italy, the baden of Germany, the baths of England, and station thermales of France The treatments at these detox meccas include water (fresh and sea) and mud therapies that promise freedom from pain — not to mention a cleaner liver. And the concept goes back millennia. After all, Spa is not an acronym for Super Place for Aerobics. Rather, it is named after the town in Belgium favored by Peter the Great. (Yes, that Peter the Great!). They are based, instead, on the restorative and healing powers of thermal and mineral springs and imbibing waters that come directly from those sources.

Alas, we in America may be hard pressed to find these types of cures closer to home as there are only a handful of natural hot springs indigenous to this country. And, truth be told, most people don’t even know they exist. Just ask someone in your office to name a liquid that makes you feel really good. I doubt hot, bubbling water would be the first thing that comes to mind. In fact, make mine a kale and celery smoothie — and a Dirty Margarita for The Lawyer.

Does this mean, though, that we have to suffer such inflammatory ailments as arthritis in silence? After all, about 50 million Americans have been diagnosed with one of the seven common forms of Arthritis. Yes, I am one of them. But limited space will not allow me to regale you with stories about my recent hip replacement! (Call me!) Curative spas aside, it is important, therefore, for patients and care givers to understand the potential impact of the disease and how best to manage it. It can be a critical part of making the decisions to make good on your intent to live a healthier lifestyle that is Better Than Before.

Let’s start with learning a little more about the illness itself. For this I turned to Phyllis Crockett, a specialty-trained pharmacist in the Accredo Rheumatoid Arthritis and Inflammatory Disease TRC.

“Arthritis is a complex family of musculoskeletal disorders consisting of more than 100 different diseases or conditions,” she says. “Although common belief is that arthritis is a condition affecting the elderly, two-thirds of people with arthritis are under the age of 65, including 300,000 children. Also, arthritis affects people of all ethnicities.”

According to Crockett the vast majority of sufferers, about 27 million Americans, have what I have, Osteoarthritis (OA), which is characterized by a breakdown of joint cartridge. A vast majority of OA patients are elderly. (But it could be genetic, and the result of what sets in after you’ve sustained an injury! Hellooo!!)

The rest of arthritis sufferers have the more severe form: Rheumatoid arthritis. “Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) is characterized by inflammation of the membranes lining the joint. Although it can strike at any age, women are typically diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 60, while male patients are usually older. There are about 1.5 million affected individuals in the United States. Finally, Juvenile Arthritis (JA) is a term used to describe many autoimmune and inflammatory conditions that can affect children ages 16 and younger.”

The disease takes a heavy toll. “Each year, arthritis accounts for 44 million outpatient visits and over 900,000 hospitalizations. In fact, it’s the leading cause of disability in the United States and is a more frequent cause of activity limitations than heart disease, cancer or diabetes. By some estimates, 67 million Americans will have arthritis by 2030.”

So what do we do?

“Managing the disease so that patients can continue to live normal lives is important,” Crockett continues. “Each patient is different and a physician can help determine the best treatment plan, including pain management and managing the symptoms of arthritis.”

She shared with me some tips that she offers her patients, starting with exercise. “It is a valuable tool in the fight against arthritis. OA and RA patients particularly can benefit from both endurance and resistance training.”

Maintaining a healthy weight and protecting against joint injury can help prevent OA. “Every pound of weight lost reduces the pressure on each knee by 4 pounds. Even a small weight loss can be a big help in fighting it.”

Apart from lifestyle modifications, there are also many drug therapies available for arthritis patients—and doctors and specialist pharmacists can help identify the best one for you.

For patients who already are on medication to treat the condition, adherence – taking medications as prescribed – is critical to healthier outcomes.

“But do not self-medicate!” she cautions: “Combining over-the-counter medications with prescription medications can be risky, and can cause side effects such as an increase in GI irritation or a GI bleed. And don’t adjust doses or making changes to the medication regimen without checking with your health care team.”

“Watch for drug interactions: Some common medications like acetaminophen can have a drug-drug interaction with arthritis medications. Limit intake and remember that acetaminophen is often a component in common sinus, cough/cold and pain medications.”

Opt for an anti-inflammatory regimen like the Mediterranean diet – you know the drill, easy on the acidic foods like sugar, white flours, and alcohol, and sticking with leafy greens, whole grains, and lean proteins. “But some foods and beverages can block the effects of arthritis medications,” Crockett concludes. “These include grapefruit, apple and orange juice as well as milk and yogurt. Wait at least four hours after taking medications. Exact times can vary depending on the disease and the treatment. Check with a trained clinician.”

I can assure you from very painful, personal experience that if arthritis does go too far, surgery may be the only option. So if your intent is to help avoid – or at the very least, prolong – this possible outcome, be aware that lifestyle modification and medication may be the answer.

 

The Importance of “Keep Trying”

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This is definitely not me, but let’s pretend anyway.

Six months ago I spent half of my savings on a gym membership and a personal trainer at the gym down the street from my apartment. It was supposed to be a three month membership only because I had this Groupon, but I’m a sucker and they brought their whole sales team out. Next thing I know I was handing over my debit card, feeling convinced that I was finally making the right positive change in my life. I was also under the delusion that if I lost the right amount of weight that I could potentially replace Shailene Woodley as Mary Jane in the next installment of Spider-man (and basically my entire life would be a fantasy). I woke up the next morning having a full fledged panic attack. If you’re not aware, six months of personal training is expensive. Like thousands of dollars expensive and while I love my job, being a wellness blog editor does not really afford such luxuries. When I called the gym to cancel they informed me that they don’t do refunds on personal training unless you get hit by a bus or something. This is not a fact they mentioned the night before, or else I’d like to believe I wouldn’t have been so willing to just hand over the cash.

The point is I paid for this trainer. And now it’d be my job to make it worth it.

Yesterday was my last session. I have lost a total of five pounds. It’s not my trainer’s fault really – or at all even. The thing is that even though you’re paying someone all that money to help you get in shape the job is still yours. So you can pay someone to tell you how many reps to do twice a week but if you go home and eat an entire bag of Sour Cream and Onion chips – you’re only screwing over yourself. This is not to discredit the work of personal trainers. Their enthusiasm and guidance are invaluable, but they can’t lose the weight for you and if you’re not in the mindset to do it then all the wisdom in the world isn’t going to get you there. I can make a lot of excuses about why I didn’t lose more – I was depressed, I was juggling too much, there were scheduling problems, I couldn’t get a regular routine – but at the end of the day I just didn’t do it. 

It’s hard not to feel like a failure with something like that. It’s not like I didn’t want it, you know? I’ve been chubby to obese my entire life and for once I wanted to know what it felt like to try on pants at Old Navy without having to go to the maternity or plus sizes section. I wanted to know what it felt like to go shopping with my friends and not want to curl up in a fetal position thirty minutes in because none of the clothes I want come in my size or look right. This was the perfect opportunity to get there and I didn’t make the most of it. I’ve been beating myself up about it for weeks as I knew I was running out of sessions.

It came even more acutely at the end of the session yesterday. I had made it through warming up, backward bench presses, arm curls, rowing, twenty minutes of boxing and ab exercises (Okay, so how much did I have to gorge to only lose five pounds doing all that? I KNOW.) But to finish it off my trainer wanted to do these push up exercises. You start on your elbows and then push up into regular push up position. Then rotate back down onto your elbows, repeat. On top of being a chubber I also have basically no upper body strength. So I got onto my elbows and could barely hold myself up. I tried to get up on my hands and every time I did I would collapse onto my front. My trainer kept trying to encourage me, but it happened two or three times and the frustration really set in. Really? I know I didn’t lose the weight but I really can’t do a few push ups on my last session? Universe kick a girl while she’s down why don’t you? So I started crying. Now I’m just collapsing onto my still larger than doctor recommended belly in a boxing ring that is literally in the center of the gym, with tears streaming down my face as I explain to my exasperated trainer “I can’t! I keep trying and I can’t! *falls* DAMNIT!”

But I kept going. Even when Darlene told me that I had basically done the 10 I needed to do, I knew I hadn’t done a full one. So tears, chub and all I kept pushing myself up and falling until I got up on my elbows, rotated my hands, pushed up, and down on my elbows again before collapsing to the ground. “I killed your arms today,” Darlene tried to explain, “Don’t beat yourself up because you couldn’t do this. It’s more important that you kept trying. It’s only once we lose that, that we have a problem.”

I have only lost five pounds. And all of the excuses – holidays, work, family drama, etc were killing my arms. The important thing is to keep lifting yourself up. Keep trying to do the push up. Maybe you never get to do it or it takes 5 times as long as you expected it to. The important thing is you keep at it because it’s only once you give up that any of it becomes impossible. I’ll be seeing you eventually, Old Navy.

photo by: mikebaird

Better Than Before: Thinner for (Holiday) Dinner

holiday dinnerNext week brings us Passover and Easter. And just these two holidays alone can spell diet disaster. If you’ve ever eaten matzoh, you know that it stays in your system for all eight days, unable to find a way out! And matzoh balls can sometimes weigh as much as a Mack truck. An Easter brunch menu offers similar regimen wreckers as Thanksgiving fare, plus the obligatory chocolate eggs. And we haven’t even gotten to the rest of the barbecues and feasts found on Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Memorial weekend, July 4, and at June weddings, to name just a few. So what are we to do if our intent is to still be able to fit into a bathing suit this summer?

Since there doesn’t seem to be any end to opportunities to pile on the pounds, I asked Jacqueline B. Marcus, a Nutrition Consultant and Owner of Jacqueline B. Marcus and Associates Food and Nutrition Consulting in Highland Park, Illinois, if it’s possible to be Better Than Before weight-wise in spite of it all. Happily, Jacqueline devotes an entire chapter to healthy weight management in her new book, Culinary Nutrition: The Science and Practice of Healthy Cooking.

“Yes,” she began, “you can end the nonsense and regain control, if you simply stop, look and listen.” By that she means to stop the negative self-talk about your body and willpower, to take a hard look at yourself in the mirror and the numbers on your scale, and then to listen carefully to her advice to achieve and maintain your “true weight,” no matter what the temptations.

If you are invited to dinner, first up is to call ahead and ask your host: “What’s cooking?” If the answer is a collection of calorically-challenged courses, propose to augment the repast with BYO. Offer to bring a favorite dish to share the cost of a holiday meal. (You don’t have to mention that it is –horrors!—healthy.) If you happen to have a green thumb in cooking rather than gardening, there is no rule against buying something rather than risk poisoning your friends.

Of course, not all (or that many) social occasions will lend themselves to a non-insulting offer to bring your own food to someone else’s dinner party – or even an inoffensive query as to the menu. So Jacqueline suggests that if friendship or propriety trumps your diet concerns, eat a little lean protein or veggies beforehand to lessen your hunger.

Jacqueline also shares some general suggestions for keeping up with your weight management program any time of year. “Think Clean, Lean, Attractive, Simple, Small and Yummy.” In other words C.L.A.S.S.Y! “Choose small servings of simply prepared food without fat or skin and leave sauces on the side. Large, over-dressed portions are always no-no’s.”

Focus on selecting delicious lean proteins, brightly colored vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, wholesome legumes and flavorful fruit. “Healthy food prepared with care can be enormously satisfying. Nix the extra fats and sugars from fried appetizers, snacks and sweetened drinks. If tempted, make do with just a nibble or sip.”

I always like to make half my plate just salad and vegetables. (It helps, of course, that I actually like salads and vegetables.) On the other hand, the Lawyer’s worst nightmares usually start with a dish filled with Swiss chard. He therefore might disagree with Jacqueline’s prescription for delightful dieting. (But don’t go by him for health advice. He likes Cronuts.) “Nothing beats the color, crunch and aroma of garden-fresh vegetables,” Jacqueline continues. “If steamed or lightly dressed, you can pile non-starchy vegetables like D-L-G’s (deep-leafy greens) pretty high on your plate for lots of vitamins, minerals and fiber. Then add some lean protein and wholesome grains or legumes.” (Check out The Dukan Diet at www.dukandiet.com for great recipes, meals and diet recommendations.)

It is also important to practice what Jacqueline refers to as tradeoffs. “Want that starchy side? Forget the breadbasket. Dreaming of dessert? Skip the appetizer. Love those creamy sauces? Just dribble over protein-rich foods or steamed vegetables. Fried foods your temptation? Save those fat calories for something delicious and nutritious—like velvety nonfat yogurt or ricotta cheese.” (Sounds great to me; but cue the eye rolling by The Lawyer and his ilk.)

Water, not mixed drinks, should be your beverage of choice. “Mixed drinks may add a wallop of calories!” (Boo!) “If you must imbibe, stick with lower calorie and alcohol options, such as light wine or beer. And, of course, always exercise control.”

Speaking of exercise, “try the free track at the mall, park district or gym,” she suggests. “And while you’re there, use the stairs, too. It takes a lot of exercise time to balance any indiscretions. Body fat below the waist is particularly stubborn.” (Sigh!)

Furthermore, it’s important to maintain records. “By doing so, you commit on paper or screen (like on a smartphone) and then confront what you see or do. Record your biggest obstacles and greatest successes. Write positive affirmations and prominently place them where they will motivate you: Your bathroom mirror, the scale, fridge or closet.  Keep a weight loss chart so that you can monitor the way down.”

Practicing positive self-talk is essential. “Ditch the negativism. Dieting is hard, but there are no excuses for “I can’t”, “won’t”, “should have” or “would have.” Also, remove the words “failure”, “cheat” and “loser” from your vocabulary. “No dieter is perfect all of the time. Just focus on your successes one day at a time and get back in charge ASAP.”

It’s also fine to reward yourself along the way or when you reach your “true weight” and maintain it. “Just do it without food. Buy yourself a new pair of all-purpose athletic shoes for your new commitment to walk ‘30 in 30’ –30 minutes of daily walking for 30 days, or a jump rope to burn more calories, or even light weights to tone your muscles. (A new outfit also works, as do Louboutin pumps. Trust me!)

It’s easier if you don’t attempt to do it alone. “Reach out and connect with someone who knows how challenging it is to lose weight and keep it off. They can be your dieting or exercise buddy. “Just make sure that they’re really your pal throughout the ‘thick and thin’ of weight loss and weight maintenance.”

Finally, focus on your intent to be a Better Than Before you. “Downsize! Raid your pantry and part with the oversized packages of foods and beverages high in sugars, refined carbohydrates and sodium. Likewise, raid your closet and discard any too big, old clothes,” Jacqueline concludes. “When you think smaller and take baby steps in the process, you’ll celebrate each little accomplishment along the way.”

And when it comes to seconds on matzoh balls, remember the chorus of that ancient Passover song. Dayenu! (Enough!)

Get Active: 5 of the Best Cities in the US for Cycling

cyclingAs time goes on, an increasing number of people have started leaving their cars in the garage and grabbing their bikes instead. As populations grow, streets become more crowded. Rising gas prices make driving in a car more expensive. Cabs can cost a fortune, and nobody enjoys riding the bus. That leaves a lot of people looking to their bikes for transportation. But what cities accommodate such a decision? Let’s check out some of the most bike-friendly cities in the USA.

Madison, Wis.

Madison began turning itself into a bike-friendly city around 1972 during an oil crisis. Since then, the cycling situation has consistently improved. The city now has a well laid out network of paths off the street as well as bike lanes all over the city. Madison draws some of the top cycling companies thanks to its bike friendliness such as Planet Bike and Saris. Motorists have gotten used to the cyclists over the decades. The city has also implemented a “Safe Routes to School” program designed to help children safely walk and bike to class.

If you head just outside the city, you can find pastoral and hilly terrain, which is great for riding. Also, if you’re into competition, Madison hosts the Ironman Wisconsin triathlon, which usually draws around 2,500 each year and has one of the most difficult bike courses in the country.

San Francisco, Calif.

This city has recently become one of the biggest biking places in the country. It’s not just cycling enthusiasts; it’s the business men too. Twitter–headquartered in San Francisco–claims that 25 percent of its employees use their bikes to commute. The company even leased a building near one of the main bike-ways to help accommodate them, and probably to encourage others to join.

Recent innovations in 2010 included 20 miles of new bike lanes, 25 bike parking corrals and traffic signals to help give bikers right-of-way. These led to a huge increase in cycling over the past five years; around 71 percent more. But with those increases in cyclers came a rise in bike crash statistics, despite the heightened level of safety offered by these lanes.

Chicago, Ill.

In 2011, Chicago got Washington’s progressive transportation director, Gabe Klein. Together with the new mayor, they set an ambitious agenda to refuel the city’s bike network. The call the plan the Streets of Cycling 2020.

One of the main goals of the plan is to install 100 miles of separate bike lanes in the next four years. So far, they installed a protected bike lane on Kinzie Street, which only took six weeks. Fifty one percent of traffic during rush hour now consists of bike riders. Elevated railways should soon become bike paths, and the bike-share system should soon expand to 5,000 bikes.

Minneapolis, Minn.

The bike culture in Minneapolis thrives thanks to the Stupor Bowl Alley Cat Race, wintertime cycling tours, the Bicycle Advisory Committee’s thousands of volunteer hours, and a general enthusiasm for biking around the city. What started off as a simple cultural phenomenon has now become a community attitude. It’s made the city one of the best places to cycle in the country.

You’ll find the 4.57 mile Cedar Lake Regional Trail as one of the largest biking trails in America. The trail also connects to other biking and walking paths. It’s got two one-way bike lanes and a pedestrian lane running from the Mississippi River through the Minnesota Twins’ Target Field and into the suburbs in the west.

Portland, Ore.

Portland has long-held the title of best biking city in America. It often serves as the only American city on lists of the world’s top places for cyclists. It’s the only big city (with a population of over 600,000) to earn a “Platinum” status from the “League of American Bicyclists” thanks to 180 miles of bike lanes and 79 miles of off-street bike paths.

You’ll find a bike-rack or bar just about anywhere you go in the city. In Portland, sometimes it seems as if bikers have more control over the road than cars. When huge groups of bikers roam the streets, cars simply have to back off and wait for them to get through. Motorists have spent so much time around bikers, they’ll often let you into the road when no bike lane exists.

If you’re looking for a place where you can rely on cycling, you can’t go wrong with any of these cities. Find one that sounds like it best suits your riding style and enjoy fully embracing the healthy lifestyle.

Better Than Before: The Highs and Lows of Cholesterol

cholesterol“I’ll have the steak,” my husband with the three coronary artery stents announced to the waiter. “A fillet mignon, medium rare,” he added, with a look of self-satisfaction on his face. He was obviously proud of himself because he didn’t order what he really wanted—the marbled prime rib.

“While you’re at it, dear, why don’t you have cheesecake for dessert,” I suggested, “just in case you have any arteries left unclogged.”

I should say, however, that The Lawyer — dietary deviations aside — is in very good shape for a man his age and is extremely aware of what constitutes a healthy lifestyle. But that doesn’t always mean he makes the wisest menu choices when it comes to his heart. Indeed, out of my sight and left to his own devices he may just grab a hamburger — or horrors! — that deadly croissant-doughnut hybrid known as “cronut!”

He, of course, swears that a genetic predisposition—and my constant nagging—are the primary culprits for his coronary clogs. Therefore, I must remind him (always, of course, in calm, constructive tones), that while genetics may load the gun, lifestyle still pulls the trigger.

The reason I worry about what he eats, is cholesterol, a big component of all those unhealthy foods he likes to eat, and a known factor in heart disease. And while my husband’s cholesterol isn’t particularly high, every journal article I read seems to say that it should be lower!  It seems, too, as if practically everyone I know, the Lawyer included, is on a statin of some sort or another – 25% of all Americans over age 45, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. But do statins lower all cholesterol? How do you keep the HDL (high density lipoproteins — think “happy” ones) level high while lowering the LDL (low density, think “lousy”).  So my intent for this column is to help readers have a cholesterol ratio that is Better Than Before.

To advise, I turn to an expert, Ed Dannemiller, a specialist pharmacist, in the Cardiovascular Therapeutic Resource Center at Express Scripts and a recent guest on my new show for Clear Channel’s iHeartRadio Talk.  I started by asking just how bad is bad cholesterol.

Turns out it is very bad. “High cholesterol levels are the major controllable risk factors that contribute to hardening and narrowing of the arteries,” he says. “This is known as Atherosclerosis and it is the most common cause of cardiovascular disease, heart attacks and strokes. And as blood cholesterol levels rise, so does the risk of coronary heart disease, which is the Number one killer in America. “

But not all cholesterol is bad, and Dannemiller adds, it is important to understand the differences between the two types. High levels of HDL’s actually protect against heart attack and stroke, while low levels increase their risk. Too much of the “lousy” one circulating in the blood form thick hard deposits called plaque that narrows the arteries and makes them less flexible. Plaque that suddenly ruptures forms clots can result in and heart attacks and strokes because of the arterial blockage.

I have always been a firm believer in lifestyle modifications and Dannemiller agrees that for most people, those can help attain a healthy cholesterol balance.“LDL cholesterol is especially affected by diet,” he stresses. “Eat a heart healthy diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, and low in salt, fat, and cholesterol.”

He points to a Florida State University research study that found that eating an apple a day can reduce LDL cholesterol an average of 23%. “Apples are rich in pectin, a soluble fiber that blocks cholesterol absorption and prevents the body from storing it. Other LDL-lowering foods include oats, barley, beans, unsalted nuts and seeds, eggplant, okra, and fatty fish such as wild salmon.”

The main culprits for high cholesterol, he says, are fat. Hmm. What do you suppose they fry Cronuts in to  make them so tasty?  The Lawyer would obviously like to think it’s first-press, extra virgin olive oil! “Avoid saturated fat,” Danemiller cautions. “This includes fats from red, processed and organ meats, dairy products, and some plant products like coconut and palm oils.”

Processing liquid vegetable oil to make a solid fat creates the dreaded trans fats found in stick margarine, vegetable shortening, and some cookies, crackers, cakes, fried foods, breads and snack foods like chips, candy, and microwave popcorn, he explains. “Read your labels closely: Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated are the ‘good ones!”

Danemiller has a few other tips:

• Trim all visible fat from meat before cooking

• Broil rather than pan fry meats

• Prepare stews and soups a day ahead of time and refrigerate. Skim off the hardened fat from the top.

• Choose white meat chicken, lower cholesterol organic eggs and low-fat cheeses, milk, and yogurts.

• Lose some weight. As little as 5 to 10% of body weight can significantly reduce LDL levels.

And here’s the one The Lawyer particularly dreads — exercise. “Exercising is essential,” Dannemiller insists. “Just thirty minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity, like brisk walking, five days a week, or 25 minutes of the more vigorous jogging or running three times a week, can help your body to produce more HDL’s.”

Sometimes, though, lifestyle modifications just aren’t enough, and genetics may have a lot to do with it. “Cholesterol comes from two sources,” Damemiller continues. “The body itself makes about 75% of blood cholesterol, and the rest comes from food ingested. That means that some people are more prone to high cholesterol levels based on genetics. For them, medication treatment can be essential. Drugs like niacin are effective in raising HDL levels, but the workhorses in the medication class are the statin drugs which can decrease cholesterol by 30% to 40% or more, decreasing heart attack and stroke risk by 45% to 60%.”

Statins have some side-effects, including muscle pain. But Danemiller contends that statin drugs are so effective that it is worth working through these issues. “A lower dose of the same medication, a switch to another drug in the class, or changing the frequency of administration can help. If the statin drug is stopped, the muscle pains should subside within two weeks. If it persists after that, it may be caused by unrelated activities like other medical conditions such as arthritis, or possibly even low vitamin D levels or too much exercise.”

But didn’t I read somewhere that statins have been linked to memory loss?

“Studies found no evidence of this. In fact, long-term statin use can have a protective effect on memory and cognition.” Dannemiller says.

Also in the news last year, were reports that statin drugs increased the chance of developing type 2 diabetes, I challenged.

“While data suggests some statins may increase the risk of diabetes this risk is outweighed by the cardiovascular benefits for most patients.”

Lifestyle modifications and statin medication, if needed, are important elements to achieve optimal cholesterol levels. Just watch out for those Prime Rib and Cheesecake combos.

 

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