Tag Archives: Healthy Living Body

Weekly Health Tip: Soluble Fiber: Your Heart’s Best Friend

Visualization is courtesy of TheVisualMD.com

Brought to you by Deepak Chopra, MD, Alexander Tsiaras, and TheVisualMD.com

"Oatmeal is good for you heart." You hear that a lot, and not just from oatmeal companies. Many cardiologists and other health professionals recommend starting the day with a bowl of oats. There’s a good reason: Oatmeal is one of many foods that contains soluble fiber, a substance that can help your heart by reducing the amount of LDL cholesterol (also know as "bad" cholesterol) in your blood (1). Research shows that a moderate increase in the amount of soluble fiber in a person’s diet is likely to lower his or her risk of developing heart disease. It can also slow the progression of heart disease once it has begun. That’s not all: Soluble fiber can help lower the risk of developing diabetes. And the benefits of a diet rich in soluble fiber apply to children as well as adults. A 2009 study showed that soluble fiber helps reduce a child’s risk for future chronic diseases including cancer, heart disease and diabetes by helping to maintain normal blood sugar and blood pressure levels (2).

A Sponge for Cholesterol What exactly is soluble fiber, and how does it work its magic? Fiber is the part of a plant food that your body cannot digest. It travels intact through your stomach, intestines and colon and exits from your body. There are two kinds of fiber, and both are good for you. Insoluble fiber, which does not dissolve in water, adds bulk to the material moving through your digestive system and is good at relieving constipation. It’s found in whole wheat, nuts and many vegetables. Soluble fiber, as the name implies, dissolves in water, forming a gel-like substance. In addition to oats, soluble fiber can be found in beans, barley, flaxseed and certain vegetables and fruits.

Scientists aren’t sure exactly how soluble fiber reduces the LDL or "bad" cholesterol in your blood, but they suspect it works like this: Soluble fiber acts like a cholesterol "sponge" by soaking up cholesterol-laden bile salts in the small intestine and eliminating these salts along with waste. That not only removes harmful cholesterol from your body, it also keeps bile acids from being "recycled" back to the liver. As a result, the liver must produce new bile acids, and to do that, it pulls LDL cholesterol out of the bloodstream (1). That reduces "bad" cholesterol levels even further, which is good news for your heart: If there’s less bad cholesterol floating around in your bloodstream, it means there’s less that can collect on the walls of the arteries, where it increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Other Health Benefits The benefit of soluble fiber doesn’t stop with cholesterol reduction. Soluble fiber can also lower triglycerides — fats in the blood that contribute to heart disease. According to a 2010 study, it may also help reduce blood pressure and that’s good for your heart health (3, 4). Soluble fiber can also benefit people at risk for diabetes by regulating blood sugar. It slows down the body’s absorption of sugar, reducing the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes and helping to control existing cases of diabetes (4, 5). If that’s not impressive enough, emerging research shows that certain forms of soluble fiber may enhance the body’s immune function (2).

Foods With Fiber Does this make you want to eat more soluble fiber? It should. And if you’re like many Americans, you probably need to boost your intake of both kinds of fiber, soluble and insoluble. On average, children and adults in the U.S. consume less than half of the recommended amount of fiber. The USDA suggests that adult women get about 28 grams of total dietary fiber a day and adult men consume 36 grams a day. Children one year and older should consume 14 grams for every 1,000 calories in their diet (2).

At least 5 to 10 grams of your total daily fiber intake should consist of soluble fiber if you want to reap its cholesterol-lowering benefits, advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in its guidelines for a heart-healthy diet (6). That translates into about 1 ½ cups of cooked oatmeal (6 g of soluble fiber) plus a serving of fruit, such as apples or bananas (4 grams of soluble fiber). If you’re not a fan of oatmeal, there are lots of other tasty ways to get soluble fiber into your diet. Pears, citrus fruits and legumes such as kidney beans, peas, carrots, barley and psyllium (seed husks) are all good sources (4, 5). Try to avoid processed foods like pulp-free juice and canned fruits and vegetables and substitute fresh high-fiber ones instead. While packaged fiber supplements are an option, it’s best to get your fiber fix from food sources, since you get the additional benefits of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients. Whether you get your soluble fiber by starting the day with oat-based cereal, or munching on apples, beans or barley as the day progresses, your body will thank you from the bottom of its heart.

Learn more about the benefits of fiber:

TheVisualMD.com: Fiber helps lower cholesterol

References

1. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

2. Nutritional Reviews

3. American Heart Association

4. Mayo Clinic

5. TheVisualMD.com

6. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

PHOTO (cc): Flickr / abbyladybug

Weekly Health Tip: Prostate Cancer: Screening and Prevention

Visualization is courtesy of TheVisualMD.com

Brought to you by Deepak Chopra, MD, Alexander Tsiaras, and TheVisualMD.com

Chances are good that you or someone you know has had experience with prostate cancer. One in six men are diagnosed with the disease every year. But here’s the good news: Only 1 in 36 men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer dies from it. When cancer forms in the prostate, it often grows very slowly, and the person ends up dying of another disease. Still, in its aggressive form, prostate cancer is serious business: It kills 30,000 men each year in the U.S. and is the second most common cause of cancer death among men (after lung cancer) (1). No doubt you have heard about the debate surrounding screening for prostate cancer. What better time than Men’s Health Week to learn about the issues with screening and find out how you can reduce your risks of getting prostate cancer.

 

A Challenge to Diagnose The prostate is a walnut-size gland found in men that helps produce semen. As most men get older, the prostate becomes enlarged. This can cause urinary problems, but it has nothing to do with cancer. Sometimes, though, tumors develop in the prostate. Often they grow so slowly that they never require treatment. But some tumors can be lethal, and those are the ones that doctors aim to detect.

The current test used to screen for prostate cancer is a blood test called PSA. It measures the amount of a protein called prostate-specific antigen (PSA) in the blood. The test is not perfect, though, even when used in combination with a rectal exam. The problem is that PSA screening can indicate the presence of cancer when there is none (men with an enlarged prostate or other benign conditions can have elevated levels of PSA in their blood). The test can also underesti-mate the aggressiveness of cancer when it does detect it (2). That’s one reason why experts disa-gree about the efficacy of screening. Scientists are currently developing new diagnostic technol-ogies that will allow early, accurate detection of prostate cancer, such as using biomarkers that can be measured in blood or urine. PCA3 and Gene Fusion are two promising biomarkers being researched due to their close association with the presence of prostate cancer (3). Hopefully these biomarker tests will be able to accurately detect prostate cancer, but until this research becomes more robust, diagnosing the disease remains a challenge.

To Screen or Not to Screen Those who support PSA testing cite studies that link screening to a decrease in mortality from prostate cancer. They say that it’s best to detect aggressive prostate cancer early on, when it’s easier to treat (2, 4). They also note that deaths from prostate cancer have declined four times faster in the U.S. than in Britain since PSA screening was widely introduced in the United States. Currently, almost 60% of men in the U.S. over 50 get screened for prostate cancer using the PSA test, vs. fewer than 10% of men in the UK (5).

Those who argue against testing say that statistics that link screening to decreased mortality are misleading, and are the result of an increase in the diagnosis of low-risk cancers that aren’t fatal to begin with. They also say the decline in mortality rates in the U.S. compared to the U.K. may be due to factors other than screening, including different treatment practices and the greater use of hormone therapy in older men. Perhaps their most powerful argument against testing is that screening can lead to unnecessary treatment for slow-growing tumors that would not have caused any problem (4, 5). Treatments for prostate cancer, which include surgery and radiation, can have serious, long-lasting effects, including incontinence and impotence. A 2009 study of European men found that 48 men were diagnosed and treated for each prostate cancer death prevented (5, 6).

Know Your Risk Factors Confused? You aren’t alone. Medical organizations give varying ad-vice about screening. The American Cancer Society doesn’t recommend routine screening for men of average risk, although it does suggest talking to your doctor about screening sometime between the ages of 40 and 50, depending on your risk factors. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers the evidence insufficient to determine whether the benefits of screening outweigh the harms.

A recent study of 12,000 Swedish men sheds some new light on the debate. The study suggests using an initial screening at age 45-50 to determine the number of future screenings. Men with very high PSA levels would get screened every year; those with low levels could wait five years to get retested; and if PSA levels remained low, they could get their final test at age 60. The study needs to be replicated, but it suggests that many men may need just three screenings over their lifetime (6).

Until a more accurate test is available, your best bet is to learn your risk factors for prostate can-cer and then talk to your doctor about the pros and cons of PSA screening. Risk factors include age (after age 50, your chances of having prostate cancer increase significantly); ethnic back-ground (African-American men are at higher risk); having a close family member with the dis-ease; eating a diet high in fat, especially animal fat.

Prevention While there is no surefire way to prevent prostate cancer, research shows that diet and lifestyle changes may help reduce your risk of the disease. Eat a low-fat diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and fish (7). Avoid eating more calories than you need, maintain a healthy weight, and limit your intake of red meat, processed meat, and grilled meat. A 2011 study concluded that weekly consumption of three or more servings of red meat, 1.5 or more servings of processed meat, and 1 or more servings of grilled red meat were each associated with a 50% increased risk of developing advanced prostate cancer (8). Use alcohol in moderation—no more than two drinks a day for men (9). Consider adding soybeans and soy-based products and green tea to your diet. Soybeans contain chemicals that behave like the hormone estrogen, which may help prevent prostate cancer. Green tea contains antioxidants that may help fight cancer (9). And studies show that there may be a connection between chronic inflammation and prostate cancer, and that both green tea and soy products have anti-inflammatory effects (10).

Learn more about Prostate Cancer
TheVisualMD.com: Prostate Cancer

References

1. American Cancer Society

2. Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

3. Johns Hopkins Health Alerts

4. Borofsky MS, Makarov DV. Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) velocity: a test of controversial benefit in the era of increased prostate cancer screening. Asian Journal of Andrology. 2011; ad-vance online publication (May 2011): 1-2.

5. TheVisualMD.com

6. Bloomberg News

7. Ma RW, Chapman K. A systematic review of the effect of diet in prostate cancer preven-tion and treatment. Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics. 2009;22(3):189-199.

8. John EM, Stern MC, Sinha R, et al. Meat consumption, cooking practices, meat muta-gens, and risk of prostate cancer. Nutrition and Cancer. 2011;63(4):525-537.

9. Mayo Clinic

 

 

Weekly Health Tip: How To Ease Back Pain During Pregnancy


Visualization is the courtesy of TheVisualMD.com

 

Brought to you by Deepak Chopra, MD, Alexander Tsiaras, and TheVisualMD.com

"Oh my aching back!" is a complaint eight out of 10 adults will voice at some point in their lives (1). But for women who are pregnant, these words have special resonance. More than two thirds of women who are expecting experience lower back and pelvic pain during their pregnancy, usually in the second and third trimesters (2). For many, the pain is bad enough to interfere with sleep, work and other activities. In a 2004 study, one third of women reported that they had to stop at least one activity due to back pain (3).

It’s hardly surprising that pregnancy can deliver a wallop to the lower back. A woman who is pregnant carries an extra 20 to 40 pounds of weight (2). That changes the way she stands and walks, which puts a strain on her back. Add in hormonal changes that make the pelvic joints wobbly and you have the perfect recipe for back pain.

The good news is that for most women, back pain disappears after delivery, usually within six months. But you don’t have to wait until then to get some relief. Exercise, acupuncture and other remedies can relieve back pain — or at least make it manageable. And if you are planning on becoming pregnant, you can take steps now to try to avoid back pain. Stay active — or get active if you aren’t already. Studies show that women who have a sedentary lifestyle before they become pregnant have an increased risk of back pain (2, 4).

How Pregnancy Impacts Your Back What makes pregnancy such a pain in the back? It’s usually the result of several things. The new weight a pregnant woman carries in front shifts her body’s center of gravity, which puts more pressure on the lower spine. In order to balance the new load, many women change their posture to a swayback position, which adds even more pressure to the lower back. To make things worse, the stomach muscles stretch during pregnancy and can no longer support the torso. The muscles of the lower back pick up the slack, and they must work harder and harder as the torso gets heavier.

Hormonal changes may also contribute to back pain. In preparation for delivery, a hormone aptly named "relaxin" relaxes and softens the tissues of the pelvic joints. Normally, these joints help support the spine. When they loosen during pregnancy, it can cause pain and inflammation not just in the pelvis, but also across the lower back.

Another possible culprit is the expanding uterus. As the uterus grows, it presses on certain blood vessels, especially when a woman is lying down at night. One theory is that this pressure reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the pelvis and lower spine, causing pain (2).

6 Ways to Ease the Pain No matter what’s causing the back pain, there are steps you can take to get relief. Several studies show that the best results come from exercises that strengthen the abdomen and lower back, water aerobics, acupuncture and the use of support pillows at night (4). But those aren’t the only options. Try some or all of the remedies below until you find the ones that work best for you. Be sure to talk to your doctor if your back pain persists. Backache that doesn’t go away can be a sign of preterm labor, an infection or other serious problems.

1. Exercise: A strengthening exercise called the pelvic tilt is one of the best for relieving — and preventing — back pain. Here’s how to do it: Get down on your hands and knees. Bend your elbows slightly and make sure your back is flat, like a table, and your head in line with your back. Pull in your stomach by contracting your muscles, curving your back slightly. Hold for a few seconds and release. Gradually work up to 10 to 20 repetitions.

Ask your doctor about other exercises — such as lower back extensions and Kegel exercises — that can help strengthen your back and abdomen. Try taking a water aerobics class. And be sure to include gentle physical activities like walking and swimming in your daily routine.

2. Acupuncture and Massage: The nearly painless insertion of very thin needles in the skin has been a key component of Chinese medicine for centuries. Traditional practitioners say that it works by re-balancing the flow of energy — known as qi — through the body. Many Western practitioners believe that it works by boosting the body’s natural painkillers. However it works, acupuncture seems to help pregnant women. A 2007 study found that 60 percent of pregnant women who received acupuncture treatments reported a decrease in back pain (4). Prenatal back massage may also help relieve back pain.

3. Sleeping Position and Pillow Support: Sleep on your side instead of your back and try keeping one or both knees bent. Research shows that using a pillow to support your abdomen, especially during the last trimester, can make a real difference (4). A wedge-shaped pillow seems to work best, if you can find one. Also try placing a pillow between your knees at night.

4. Gear Up: Wear shoes with low heels and good arch support. Maternity support belts can relieve pain by making the pelvic joints more stable, and some women find maternity pants helpful. You can also try using a heating pad to apply heat to the problem area.

5. Perfect Your Posture: Take some pressure off your lower back muscles by standing up straight instead of leaning back. If you have to stand for a long time, try resting one foot on a low stool. It helps to sit up straight, too. Use a chair that supports your back and try putting a small pillow behind your lower back for extra support.

6. Don’t Overdo It: Ask for help when you need it, especially when lifting heavy objects or doing other chores that can strain your back. Have you found a way to relieve back pain during pregnancy? Share it in the comments.

Learn more about maintaining your health and well-being:

TheVisualMD.com

References

1. National Institutes of Health

2. Sabino J, Grauer J. Pregnancy and low back pain. Current Reviews in Musculoskeletal Medicine. 2008;1:137-141.

3. Wang SM, Dezinno P, Maranets I, et al. Low back pain during pregnancy: prevalence, risk factors, and outcomes. Obstet Gynecol. 2004;104:65-70.

4. Pennick V, Young G. Interventions for preventing and treating pelvic and back pain in pregnancy. Cochrane Database of Syst Rev. 2007; 2:CD001139.doi:10.1002/14651858. CD001139.pub2

Weekly Health Tip: The Power of Meditation

Visualization is the courtesy of TheVisualMD.com

Brought to you by Deepak Chopra, MD, Alexander Tsiaras, and TheVisualMD.com

The stress and strife of daily life have a direct effect on our health. Most dramatically, our very chromosomes are affected by stress. Telomeres are the end tips of our chromosomes, little caps that protect our DNA. (The bright spots in the above visualization of a chromosome are the telomeres.)

Telomeres play an important role in cell division, and get a bit shorter every time a cell divides. In studies, subjects with inherently stressful lives—notably mothers of special-needs children and spouses of dementia sufferers—showed extraordinary wear and tear on their telomeres. The stress-induced disruption to their cells’ life cycle actually caused them to age faster. But an enzyme called telomerase maintains and repairs the telomeres, prolonging the life of our cells. Increasing telomerase is a way to slow telomeres’ unraveling. And guess how we can we do that? Meditation.

An exciting 2010 study showed that people in an intensive meditation practice had greater telomerase activity in their immune cells than those who did not meditate. Scientists are working to gather even more information about how mindful awareness and other stress reduction techniques can help us live longer and more healthfully.

Those who have never attempted a meditation practice may feel unsure about beginning. Do I have to study anything, buy anything? No. There are many ways to meditate, and you may enjoy learning about many of them, but mindful awareness should never feel like hard work or a formal program. Meditation is, by definition, not trying. Start by taking 20 minutes to close your eyes and sit still. Find the quiet in your mind. Focus on one thing: Yourself doing nothing. Be aware of your breathing, let your muscles relax, and let go of your daily concerns. If you are thinking about the future or remembering the past, your mind is not in the present. The goal is for your mind to be only in the present. Not only will you feel at peace, you will know that your practice is benefitting your overall health and longevity.

Learn more about alternative paths to health:

TheVisualMD.com: Dr. Oz and Alternative Practices

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PHOTO (cc): Flickr / jessebezz

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