Monday, December 9, 2013

Committing to Yourself

We're at year's end and about to turn the calendar into a new year.  Why not choose one step to take in the coming year to improve your health?  Just one!  One that you can and will commit to yourself to keep no matter what for 1 year.  One that you want to reach down deep into the core of your stubborn pride and determination to keep just because you want to see if you can and for which you want to be proud.  There are many possibilities.  Here is my list of top five changes that can have the biggest impact on anyone's health (in no particular order):
  1. Exercise
  2. Weight loss
  3. Eliminate Sugar
  4. Stop Smoking
  5. Alcohol in short moderation
Exercise:
Exercise can actually kill two birds with one stone - exercise and weight loss.  It doesn't have to be strenuous - in fact, it's better if it isn't to start!  But start -- 5 minutes or 10 minutes of walking if you haven't done any.  Let it grow on it's own as your pride in your sticking with it grows.  Valuable aids to exercise that can be good Christmas presents to yourself would be a pedometer or a gym membership (I'd recommend Valley Fitness Center.)  The list of benefits to exercise is long and include: improved cardiovascular health, lower cholesterol, better blood sugar, better mental cognition, better stress coping and reduced anxiety....

Weight Loss:
Improved cardiovascular health, lower cholesterol, better blood sugar control, less joint aches and pains, and more energy/stamina are just a few of the benefits from losing weight.  The goal would be to have a Body Mass Index (BMI) of less than 25.  You can check your BMI here: http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/guidelines/obesity/BMI/bmicalc.htm  I can supply you some suggestions on how to lose weight.

Eliminate Sugar:
Eliminating sugar can improve your blood sugar numbers, improve your immune function, and extend your life span.  1 tsp. of sugar = 4 gm of sugar.  Look at some of the labels of food items you eat.  How many teaspoons of sugar are in your common foods?  Remember to look at the serving sizes and adjust it accordingly.

Stop Smoking:
This almost goes without saying, yet I am still amazed at the number of people still smoking.  The evidence is incontrovertible that smoking causes cancer.  

Alcohol in Short Moderation:
Alcohol can be modestly helpful health-wise in small amounts.  Moderation by this definition would be fewer than 2 glasses of wine or beer or 1 hard drink per day.  If you are consistently consuming more alcohol than this, you are damaging your liver and your overall health.

Do you matter?  Absolutely you matter.  So take one health step to strengthen your health in 2014.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Cannabis Use in Adolescents and Young Adults

With Washington State running full steam ahead to implement the voter-approved initiative legalizing small amounts of marijuana, there are plenty of those advocating the positive uses of cannabis (the Latin name for marijuana.)  Washington State has had legalized medical marijuana for a number of years, and it does help in specific situations and conditions.  But with the potential for so many to start using it now, it is probably a good idea to learn what you can about the dark side of cannabis on your health.

The most significant negative impacts of cannabis use affect adolescents and young adults.  Under the recently passed law in Washington adolescents are not permitted to legally use marijuana.  However, a sizable percentage of middle school and high school youth already have access to illegal sources of weed in Washington, so I would not anticipate having more of it available through legal channels will reduce the number of users.  In addition to the fairly commonly known impact of marijuana use leading to harder drugs, there are three other disturbing impacts on youth and young adults reported from important studies on cannabis use.  These are: 1) a permanently reduced IQ in youth who use chronically through their teen years. (See my 6/3/13 blog) 2) Increased incidence of cannabis-induced psychosis.  3) An increase in cases of psychosis - as though cannabis use encourages psychosis.

Cannabis-induced psychosis is characterized by problems with motivation, hearing voices, a distorted sense of reality, hallucinations, and difficulty thinking rationally.  While many users of cannabis might say, "Well duh," these are symptoms much more significant and often require hospitalization when they last longer periods of time than just for the duration of a typical high.  In addition to these mental issues directly linked with cannabis use, other psychoses like Bi-polar disorder and Schizophrenia appear at much high rates in cannabis users aged 14-24 than in non-users.  Research has not determined the causation association here, so I can not go so far as to say cannabis directly causes these problems, or that it simply unmasks what is already there.  It could most accurately be said that using marijuana when you are between 14-24 years old is like playing Russian Roulette with your mental health.  Is it worth the risk?  There is also a strong association with the potency or frequency of cannabis use.  High potency or very frequent use increases the chances that a problem with psychosis will occur.

I am not opposed to recreational use of marijuana presuming it's used in a safe way much the same way as  alcohol.  However, if the use becomes a daily or frequent crutch to escape life issues and stress, or to maintain a peer group then some caution is prudent and a consultation with a health care professional advisable.

NatureWords for Your Health

(1) University of York. "Reclassification of cannabis linked to cannabis psychosis." ScienceDaily, 18 Jul. 2013. Web. 21 Jul. 2013.

(2) BMJ-British Medical Journal. "Cannabis use precedes the onset of psychotic symptoms in young people, study finds." ScienceDaily, 3 Mar. 2011. Web. 21 Jul. 2013

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Avoiding Diabetes

There is good news on the natural health - diabetes front.  Rather than news of new drugs, stem cells, and compatible pig-to-human pancreatic transplants (no joke) we have a super simple and natural approach to prevent diabetes.  That approach is to LOSE WEIGHT.

Researchers at Johns Hopkins Medical School discovered that people who were pre-diabetic and lost 10% of their body weight in the first 6 months of their diagnosis had an 85% reduction in their pre-diabetes worsening into diabetes.(1)

So if this is your health problem, you are probably saying, "GREAT, like I don't already diet out the kazoo."  Losing weight is no small challenge.  In the study there were three components to the weight loss program: diet, exercise, and support.  I have come to the opinion that all three are necessary.

Diet
There are 50 if not 100 or more different diets out there -- all of them claiming to be your answer to weight loss.  In 20 years of naturopathic practice what I can recommend in a nutshell about diet is: find the one that works and stick to it.  Every person has a unique set of hormonal, genetic, physical, emotional, and lifestyle factors that contribute to your body's response to food.  All of these factors provide an extremely individualized circumstance for you.  This means that a different diet will work for every person, you only have to find it.  While I might be able to steer you in the general direction if I met with you, trial and error will work too.  

Exercise
Exercise is simpler than you think.  Don't let the memory of that drill sergeant PE teacher in high school barking out the orders for your calisthenics send you running for the couch with your favorite comfort food.  In this study participants did only 150 minutes of exercise per WEEK.  150 minutes over 7 days is only 21 minutes a day.  You simply need to walk for 20 minutes.  Many of us can just park a couple blocks from work and walk where we need to and get in at least half of this time.  My experience is that once you lure yourself into just doing a few minutes, you decide since you're going already to just do the rest.

Support
I don't pretend to know why this works, but this piece is the one most people don't incorporate.  Weight Watchers has always held this component in high regard.  In the study, people were required to meet with a health coach one-on-one for 3 months and then be in a support group for the second 3 months. I don't know what support does, except that it adds an extra measure of accountability for staying on-track. 

So if your doctor has told you that your fasting glucose levels are running a little high, tackle your weight problems again and redouble your efforts.  It will beat getting pig pancreas cells transplanted, losing your toes and feet, or injecting insulin multiple times a day to treat diabetes.



(1) Johns Hopkins Medicine. "People with pre-diabetes who drop substantial weight may ward off type 2 diabetes." ScienceDaily, 16 Jul. 2013. Web. 17 Jul. 2013.

Friday, June 7, 2013

A Confirmed Benefit to Breastfeeding

Don't ask me about the sanity of sticking kids under 4 years old in an MRI just for research purposes.  But, when the deed has been done we should take all the information from it we can.  A research center compared the MRI brain results on three groups of children under the age of four.  The first group was exclusively breastfed for at least 3 months.  The second group was fed with a combination of formula and breast milk.  The third group was fed only formula.  The results of the MRI's showed that by the age of two years brain development was more pronounced in the group receiving exclusively breast milk.  The exclusively formula-fed babies showed the least brain development.  The mixed group fell in the middle.  The areas of the brain that were more developed were those that control language, cognition, and emotional control.  

Comment:
First, this tells us that whatever breast milk a baby gets is helpful.  Second, you do not have to breastfeed for years to see the maximum benefit - just three months showed the improvement.  Third, the reason for the results is likely connected to the rich, human-friendly essential fatty acids present in breast milk.  Essential fatty acids are vital to neurological well-being in humans. Mothers need to be aware that breast feeding will take essential fatty acids from their own tissues, so supplementing good fats while breast feeding is a significantly helpful thing to do while nursing.  So, bottom line is: Mom's supplement your omega-3 fatty acids and nurse your baby for at least three months.

You can read the reported research findings by clicking here

Monday, June 3, 2013

Marijuana

As most of the country knows, the voters in the State of Washington approved legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.  I have a LOT of mixed feelings about this and, in fact, did not vote for it.  On one hand, there is a certain hypocrisy in a nation that outright encourages pharmaceutical companies to run over our health care system with a MAC truck while simultaneously saying other drugs are illegal and can't be possessed by anyone.  On the other hand, the multitude of major problems in supplying marijuana are only just beginning.

When Washington passed its medical marijuana law a few years ago I saw an increase in the number of people coming to get prescriptions from me for medical marijuana.  Once again, with this new law I have seen an increase in the number of people seeking out prescriptions for marijuana.  I suspect the current increase is due to people wanting to get their hands on it for recreational purposes, but the outlets apart from medical marijuana dispensaries are still not available to supply it.  Since a number of people have called to see if I prescribe marijuana, I will just say here that I do not, and here's why.

I have worked with quite a number of drug addiction cases in my almost 19 years of practice, including cocaine, heroin, amphetamines, and alcohol.  I have seen my share of habitual marijuana users, and have talked with their families.  One of the sinister dark sides that I've observed, apart from all the blatantly obvious life/health/economic effects on their lives, is all of these substances zap all ambition, motivation, and spiritual groundedness.  Heavy users do little with their lives once they start using.  I don't believe God made us to be couch potatoes shut up in our houses killing our pain with any kind of substance - prescription or otherwise.  In the process of killing their pain and escaping their lives with drugs their divine calling, their vocations (as well as their income potentials) dry up.  They all become dependent upon someone else or an institution of some kind.

In addition, a study last summer out of Australia showed that people under 20 years old who use marijuana consistently lose IQ, which appears to be permanent.  What we do not need is a generation with less smarts up against the kind of complicated planet-changing processes that are becoming apparent to almost everyone.

But marijuana is natural.  So is foxglove (it can kill you.)  So is lobelia (it can make you deathly ill.)  So is pennyroyal... there are hundreds of plants that are not compatible with our physical well-being or should be used very carefully in the hands of someone knowledgeable as medicine, not as recreation.  The outright established medical uses for marijuana are actually pretty limited.  The list as I know it is limited to two: glaucoma and nausea from chemotherapy.  Just in the past week a third possible aid from it has been shown to be slowing dementia.  Many have a lot of other supposed uses for it.  While there is nothing wrong with fun and using marijuana occasionally, when it becomes a cornerstone of daily life -- as it often does -- then that is a recipe for a slide down a very unhealthy path.  

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Liver Health

What is the most important organ in your body?  The heart and brain are right up at the top of the list as being the most immediately necessary.  Kidneys are probably third in importance.  Fourth comes your liver.  It carries out so many essential functions that you cannot live long without it.  A few of the things the liver does include:
  • Converting fats or proteins into glucose when you haven't eaten
  • Filtering toxins and nutrients from your blood
  • Breaking down toxins, hormones, and foreign substances
  • Storing or sequestering toxins or foreign substances
  • Storing nutrients for later use
  • Making cholesterol for your hormones
  • Converting inactive thyroid hormones to active ones
  • Aiding the absorption of essential nutrients
A number of all too common illnesses can bring your liver down badly; these include Hepatitis, Cirrhosis, and Liver Cancer.

It is pretty easy to improve the health of your liver.  Many of us have heard of liver cleanses or detoxes.  The body is pretty adept at cleansing and detoxifying itself as long as it is given the rest and support it needs.  With summer arriving and the wide variety of inexpensive fruits and vegetables soon to be available, there is no time like now to help your liver have some relaxation and restorative support.  

Relaxation For Your Liver
You can relax your liver by just giving it less to do.  One of the most powerful ways to do this is to fast.  Since your liver has to be on the job every time you eat, not eating for a day is a good way to give your liver a day off.  If because of blood sugar problems you can't fast a whole day, then take a day's off from protein and fat intake.  Once a week eat only vegetables (preferably from the list below.)  In addition to fasting from food for a day, take a break from some of the more toxic vices in which we might participate like drinking alcohol or smoking (tobacco or marijuana).

Restoring Your Liver
Give your liver what it needs to function.  The following foods are extremely helpful to giving your liver the nutrition it needs to carry out its job.
  • Dandelion greens, burdock root, mustard greens, black radish, apples and saffron, watercress, beets, parsley, artichokes, cherries, grapefruit, parsnips, endive, garlic, onion, chicory, carob, horseradish, kumquats, limes, quinces, grapes, lemon juice mixed with water, upon rising in the morning 30 minutes before eating
• Wheat germ, lecithin, yogurt, tofu, soy
• Green tea: two to three cups per day.

fresh juices:
• Radish and pineapple
• Black cherry concentrate mixed with liquid chlorophyll
• Carrot, beet, and cucumber, radish, green pepper
• Papaya
• Cherry
• Carrot
• Carrot and spinach 

In addition, two herbs available in supplement form will supply very strong liver-specific antioxidant protection: 
  • Milk Thistle
  • Turmeric 
Your liver has to get you through a lot of toxic challenges in the 21st century world.  Give it the rest and help it needs to keep doing a good job for you.

NatureWords for your Health

Friday, May 17, 2013

Sodium Intake

The U.S. Institute of Medicine (IOM) recently reviewed all the studies and information about sodium intake to assess the value of eating a sodium-restrictive diet.(1)  For many years the American Heart Association and cardiologists have recommended a limited sodium intake for those with hypertension (high blood pressure.)  Based largely on a certain biochemical logic there has been a belief that limiting sodium intake was helpful dietary advice for those with hypertension, as well as some stereotypical groups for cardiovascular disease -- such as African-Americans and individuals over 51 years old.  The review performed by the IOM found that the actual benefits are not clear cut at all.  The American Heart Association is not happy with the IOM finding and continues to stick by their recommendation of keeping sodium intake below 1500 mg a day.

For most of the years in private practice I have dismissed the sodium connection to hypertension.  Sodium is an essential mineral; it's used in the body for nerve and muscle function.  The kidneys are especially adapted for eliminating excessive levels of sodium.  There are a few rare individuals who are sensitive to sodium.  In my clinical experience these cases have been pretty exclusively among those with impaired kidney function.  For those who have high blood pressure, it is worth a trial period of low-sodium to see if it reduces blood pressure.  In those cases where it matters, reducing one's sodium is a LOT better than taking pharmaceutical drugs.  But, 99% of the time sodium intake makes no difference.  Does this mean you should dump the entire salt shaker on your food?  No.  Moderation is ALWAYS a safe course of action!  Nobody should go overboard on anything just because it's not been proven harmful.  You also don't have to be totaling up every milligram of sodium.  Just eat healthy!

Naturewords for your Health
Dr. M.

(1) http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2013/Sodium-Intake-in-Populations-Assessment-of-Evidence.aspx 

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Careful How You Avoid Sugar

I am hoping that the message is getting through everyone's head that sugar is just devastatingly bad for your health.  Sugar sneaks into all kinds of foods though so one MUST read labels compulsively.  In this modern day and age there's a strong likelihood sugar will be in just about anything you eat -- even things you would intuitively think were low in sugar.  Take a look at this short video to reinforce this idea.

http://www.upworthy.com/your-assumptions-about-sugary-foods-are-about-to-be-blown-away-2?c=ufb1

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Cosmetic Surgery

In 2012 over 14 million people chose to have some form of cosmetic surgery, 91% of these surgeries were done on women.(1) I don't think most of us would come close to guessing which cosmetic surgery among women increased the most in 2012 so I'll just tell you -- upper arms.  "Upper arm lifts" increased from 300 in the year 2000 to 15,000 done in 2012, a 4378% increase.  This total pales in comparison to the 286,000 breast augmentation surgeries (down 7% from 2011) or the 243,000 nose reconstructions(2).  These statistics left me pondering the question -- what's with this huge necessity to pursue surgical alterations to one's body, most of them done financially out of pocket?

To be fair, it is not entirely about vanity.  Gastric bypass surgeries are becoming increasingly common and the resulting weight loss can leave lots of excessive skin on upper arms, thighs, and tummy's.  But, beyond these kinds of situations where most of us might choose, in essence, to remove the evidence of our unhealthy eating habits, one blogger pointed the blame at Michelle Obama and Jennifer Aniston who have very toned upper arms.  Apparently, the thinking goes that the women who set fashion trends cause those who don't have the bodies to pull off a particular look to go have themselves sculpted by a surgeon's knife to fit the look.  As an older male I am perhaps dull on this point, but I don't get it.  It leaves me a lot of questions which I'll just list below.  If anyone wants to pose answers or comments feel free to use the comment button... even more fun, spread the questions to your Facebook and see what your larger circle of friends think about it all.


  • Who is harder on your appearance -- you, your spouse/partner, your children, same gender friends, opposite gender friends, the masses you might see in public?
  • Just how strongly is your appearance tied to your self-esteem?
  • How strongly does your gender weigh in on how you look?  Do you use makeup, cosmetic surgery, exercise to make yourself look better for their sake or your own?
  • Why use artificial and even synthetic "fixes" (e.g. makeup, surgerical implants) when diet, exercise and supplements could work?
  • If God made you in God's own sacred image, does it bother you that you can't just be what God made you without ratcheting up the look for the social benefit of not being harassed about your appearance?
  • Do you feel harassed or bullied because of your physical imperfections?




(1) Medscape Medical News, "Reach of Upper Arm Lifts Growing Among US Women" April 30, 2013, http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/803397

(2)  American Society of Plastic Surgeons, "2012 Plastic Surgery Statistics Report", http://www.plasticsurgery.org/news-and-resources/2012-plastic-surgery-statistics.html

Monday, March 25, 2013

Drop Weight and Risks of Bad Cardiovascular Events

Do you like getting two for the price of one?  Here is some dietary news that is quite heartening in the battle to prevent strokes & heart attacks AND effectively pursue that healthy weight goal.  A recent study in Spain showed that the Mediterranean Diet with supplemental olive oil and/or nuts reduced cardiovascular events by 30%, while simultaneously helping participants lose weight.  All 7447 people participating in the study ranged in age from 55-80 years and had diagnosed diabetes.  The participants were divided into three groups.  The first followed the Mediterranean Diet with olive oil, the second the Mediterranean Diet with nuts, and the control group followed a restricted low-fat diet.  At the four-year mark the reduced number of heart attacks and strokes in the Mediterranean Diet groups caused the researchers to end the study.  Details on this research can be viewed here.

What is the Mediterranean Diet?  The diet has you eating more vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, legumes, extra virgin olive oil, and red wine in moderation.  Animal-based foods, particularly dairy and red meat, are limited but not strictly prohibited (except for purists.)  And, based on an entirely different study, I would also throw the use of more vinegar (e.g. balsamic vinegar) into the daily diet for it's positive effects on blood sugar control.

There are four very important health insights I get out of this study: 
  1.  A diet (e.g. Mediterranean) with GOOD fats (i.e. vegetable/plant based fats) is a qualitatively better diet than a restrictive low-fat diet.  The reason for this is at least three-fold.  A. The people in the control group dropped out at a much higher rate than the other participants (11.3% to 4.9%.)  Low-fat, calorie-restricting diets are difficult and do not lead to long-term lifestyle changes.  B. Good fats cause a meal to feel more complete, i.e. the meal is more satisfying, satiety is increased.  C. Presence of good fats reduces the feelings of deprivation often created by a calorie-restricting low-fat diet.
  2. The Mediterranean Diet is more about healthy (largely plant-based) food content than it is about calories.  Calories were not restricted or monitored for those in the study groups.  
  3. ALL these participants had diabetes and other significant risks for cardiovascular disease.  In spite of their elevated risks, the Mediterranean diet gave the people a 30% improved chance for a longer life.
  4. This study involved no exercise of any kind and they still saw a 30% reduction in heart attack/stroke risks.  What would the reduction be if they had also been exercising - even modestly?     

Nature Words for your health--
Mark

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Another Payback from Exercise

The results of studies about Alzheimer's and older age dementia of all types have shown mixed results regarding the benefits of exercise.  The studies to date had been pretty small undertakings and had not had very long follow-ups.  A new study out -- published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, Feb. 5, 2013 --- shows that there does seem to be a significant risk reduction for developing dementia by beginning an exercise program in your later 40's.

The amount of exercise is not extreme either.  The amount used in the study was 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week, which would amount to a brisk walk for about 20 minutes every day.  If you start that in your late 40's your risk for developing any kind of dementia drops by 36% over those who aren't exercising.  So in addition to reducing your risks from heart disease and cancer you can add dementia to the growing list of chronic health problems avoided by getting off your couch and moving for 20 minutes a day.

 

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Yeast A Problem?

Yeast is a problem.  While it is immensely helpful if you're trying to bake bread, having it alive and expanding in your body creates a host of problems.  Some of these health problems include:
  • Unexplained tiredness
  • Digestive troubles
  • Foggy thinking
  • Skin disorders
  • Mood swings
  • Sugar cravings
  • Vaginal itching and discharge
  • Anxiety, irritability and/or angry outbursts

You might strongly suspect yeast is the cause of these symptoms if you answer "yes" to the following questions:
  1. Have you taken one or more courses of antibiotics in the past year?
  2. Do you suffer from a high level of stress?
  3. Do you eat a lot of simple carbohydrate foods (cakes, donuts, candy, cookies, snack crackers & chips, etc.)
  4. Do you avoid or eat few fermented foods (yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut, cheeses)
  5. Do you frequently use antacids or acid inhibitors?
  6. Is your immunity suppressed?  (Take corticosteroid medications, have frequent colds/flu, have HIV/AIDS, etc.)
  7. Experience problems sleeping?
 Concerning both lists, the more affirmative answers you give to each item the more strongly the likelihood that yeast is contributing strongly to your body's inability to heal itself.  If you suspect yeast is a problem for you, you should make an appointment to pursue treatment.