Nov
12
2016

Stress Drives Our Lives

Every year the American Psychological Association (APA) monitors the American public how stress drives our lives. This yearly report has been compiled since 2007. About 75% of the people questioned reported that they have experienced moderate to high stress over the past month.

Symptoms when stress drives our lives

What kind of symptoms can stress cause? It can cause sleep deprivation, anxiety, headaches and depression. But there can be more symptoms from any disease that stress may cause. The “Stress in America” report from February 2016 shows on page 5 that unhealthy life habits are used by low-income Americans to cope with stress. A bar graph shows that watching television or movies for more than 2 hours per day is common. Another way of coping is to surf the Internet more often, take more naps or sleep longer. Eating more, drinking alcoholic beverages and smoking more are other unhealthy ways to cope with stress.

As the stressed person gains extra weight and eventually becomes obese, there is a higher rate of diabetes that can develop with all of its complications.

Causes of stress in our lives

The “Stress in America” survey was based on 3,068 adults in the US who completed the survey during August 2015. 72% were stressed out about financial issues. 22% of these said that they were extremely stressed in the past month as a result of money concerns. Other common concerns were work, the economy, family responsibilities and concerns about personal health. Average stress levels among Americans decreased when compared to 2007. On a 10-point stress score respondents rated their stress at 4.9 in 2016 compared to 6.2 in 2007. But according to the American Psychological Association this is much higher than a stress rating of 3.7 considered to be a healthy level.

Stress affects people from all walks of life, workers, women, young adults, students and those with lower incomes.

“Stress is caused by the loss or threat of loss of the personal, social and material resources that are primary to us” Stevan Hobfoll, PhD, a clinical psychologist from Rush University Medical Center said. “So, threat to self, threat to self-esteem, threat to income, threat to employment and threat to our family or our health…” is what causes stress.

Stress drives our lives causing disease

When stress is too much for our system, we are starting to see pathology develop. “Stress is seldom the root cause of disease, but rather interacts with our genetics and our state of our bodies in ways that accelerate disease” professor Hobfoll says. The following are common diseases that can result from chronic stress.

Heart attacks and strokes

In a 2015 Lancet study 603,838 men and women who worked long hours were followed for a mean of about 8 years with respect to heart disease or strokes. All of the subjects were free of heart attacks and strokes when they entered into the study. There were a total of 13% more heart attacks in those who worked extra hours compared to those who worked 40 hours per week or less. With respect to strokes there were 33% more strokes in those who worked long hours. A dose-response association was calculated for strokes in groups with various workloads. Compared to standard working hours there were 10% additional strokes for 41-48 working hours, 27% for 49-54 working hours and 33% for 55 or more working hours per week.

Stress drives our lives and causes substance abuse

In order to cope with stress many of us treat daily stress with alcohol. It makes you feel good subjectively, but it can raise your blood pressure causing heart attacks and strokes down the road. A low dose of alcohol may be healthy, but medium and high doses are detrimental to your health.

Next many people still smoke, which has been proven long time ago to be bad for your health. It can cause heart attacks, various cancers and circulatory problems leading to leg amputations.

Overeating is another common problem. As comfort food relieves stress, extra pounds are put on. As you know it is easier to put weight on than get it off. Being overweight or being obese has its own problems: arthritis in the hips and knees makes walking more difficult. The metabolic syndrome sets in, which is a characteristic metabolic change causing diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes and certain cancers. The more weight you carry, the less likely you are to exercise. This deteriorates your health outlook.

Diabetes

Stress causes too much cortisol secretion from the adrenal glands. This raises blood sugar, and when chronic can cause diabetes. In addition unhealthy eating habits associated with stress can cause weight gain and high blood sugars leading to diabetes.

In a 2012 California study 148 adult Korean immigrants were examined. They all had elevated blood sugars confirming the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. Their waist/hip ratio was elevated.

A high percentage of the study subjects had risk factors for type 2 diabetes. This included being overweight or obese and having high blood glucose readings. 66% of them said that they were feeling stressed, 51% reported feeling anxious, 38% said they were feeling restless, 30% felt nervous and 3% said they were feeling hopeless.

An Australian long-term follow-up study computed risk factors for developing type 2 diabetes. Stress was a major contributor to diabetes.

Diabetes was significantly associated with a 30-day episode of any anxiety disorder with a 1.53-fold risk. A depressive disorder had a 1.37-fold risk to cause diabetes and posttraumatic stress disorder had a risk of 1.42-fold to cause diabetes.

Infertility

Stress changes hormones in women causing ovulation problems and infertility. 1 in 8 couples in America have problems getting pregnant. Stress has been identified as being at least a contributing factor. But in men stress can also reduce sperm count and semen quality as this study describes.

Alzheimer’s disease

A 2010 study from Gothenburg University, Sweden examined 1462 woman aged 38-60 and followed them for 35 years.

Psychological stress was rated in 1968,1974 and 1980. 161 females developed dementia (105 Alzheimer’s disease, 40 vascular dementia and 16 other dementias). The risk of dementia was reported higher in those women who had frequent/constant stress in the past and was more severe the more stress they were exposed to in the past. Women who were exposed to stress on one, two or three examinations were observed to have higher dementia rates later in life, when compared to women who were not exposed to any significant stress. Specifically, dementia rates were 10% higher when exposed to one stressful episode, 73% higher after two stressful episodes and 151% higher when exposed to three stressful episodes.

Remedies for stress

Before you can attempt to remedy stress, you must first detect that you are under stress. You can recognize this when you have problems sleeping, you suffer from fatigue, when overeating or undereating is a problem, and if you feel depressed. Others may feel angry or are irritable. Some bad lifestyle habits may also make you aware that you are under stress. You may smoke or drink more in an attempt to manage stress. Some people abuse drugs.

Here are some suggestions how to remedy stress:

  1. Seek support from family, friends or religious organizations. If you engage in drugs or alcohol overuse or you feel suicidal, it is best to seek the advice from a psychiatrist or psychologist.
  2. Engage in regular exercise. This produces endorphins, the natural “feel-good” brain hormone. This reduces symptoms of depression and improves sleep quality.
  3. Do something that increases pleasure, such as having a meal with friends, starting a hobby or watching a good movie.
  4. Positive self-talk: avoid negative thoughts like “I can’t do this”. Instead say to yourself “I will do the best I can”. Psychologists have developed a technique where they teach patients how to turn negatives into positives. It is called “cognitive therapy”. You may want to seek the advice of a psychologist to have a few cognitive therapy sessions.
  5. Daily relaxation: you may want to use self-hypnosis, tai-chi exercises or meditation to reduce your stress levels.
Stress Drives Our Lives

Stress Drives Our Lives

Conclusion

Stress is very common. Diverse diseases like heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease can all be caused by stress. It is important to minimize the impact of stress by seeking family support and support from friends. Engaging in regular exercise will release endorphins and make you feel better. Relaxation exercises and seeking counselling can all help you to manage stress. It is not a force in your life that can be ignored or simply tolerated. Stress is indeed there, but we can make a difference by managing it to avoid that stress manages us.

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Sep
17
2016

Seven Steps To Live Over 100 Years

Forbes invited me to publish a blog I wrote for Quora, “Seven steps to live over 100 years”.

The topic of habits by people who live more than a hundred years has been reviewed many times in the media. It continues to be popular. Here are seven things you can do to stay healthy followed by an explanation why.

Seven steps to live over 100 years – step1: Stay active

You want to stay active every day, even if you retire. You want to move and keep your mind busy. Part of that is to do a daily formal exercise routine to keep those muscles toned, which will prevent falls in the future.

Explanation: when you keep your muscles toned and you move about, your balance organ and coordination remains sharp, you are less likely to fall and break a hip. 50% of those who sustain a hip fracture die.

Seven steps to live over 100 years – step 2: Eat a healthy diet

Eat a Mediterranean type diet or follow the Okinawan diet. These diets contain less meat (or no meat as in the Seventh Day Adventist diet), but lots of vegetables and fiber. This keeps your cholesterol down, your arteries open and your metabolism controlled, preventing diabetes. If you are not obese and you have no diabetes, you are going to be OK with your cardiovascular system for decades to come.

Explanation: Heart attacks are still on top of the mortality list. Avoid them and you got it made, if you want to make it to 100 and beyond. But we need to stay away from the poor fats and the obsession about eating beef. Red meat, if eaten too often gives you a higher risk of getting cancer and heart disease. So eat it only once a week at the most, the rest would be chicken, turkey meat or fish. Nothing wrong with a vegetarian meal, let’s say kidney beans or lentils on a day in between. This still gives you protein for your muscles, but spares you a heart attack.

Seven steps to live over 100 years – step 3: Take care of your teeth

Brush your teeth and floss every day. This will control the bacteria in your mouth and prevent leakage into your blood affecting your heart valves. Studies have shown that this prevents heart attacks.

Explanation: When I heard this first about 20 years ago, I found it strange. But the literature is clear: chronic gingivitis is associated with bacteria that grow on the gums and spread into your blood. They can then colonize your heart valves and even the lining of the arteries, particularly where there is already hardening of the arteries (arterial plaque). This can lead to heart valve disease like mitral valve disease or heart attacks.

Seven steps to live over 100 years – step 4: prevention of disease

See your physician right away if there is a new skin lesion or anything that is different on your body. Removal of early cancer and treatment of any early medical condition is always easier to treat than waiting until it is out of control. Particularly with cancer treatment at an early stage, which usually involves only a small surgical procedure, this will reward you with a ripe old age.

Explanation: I learnt this point in general practice. Patients who waited until small problems become big problems were always much worse off than patients who saw me for small problems that we could remedy at an early stage. As mentioned above this is particularly important in cancer cases, as usually stage 1 and 2 of a cancer is curable with surgery. Once you get lymph node metastases and distant metastases, the cancer is much more difficult to treat, if at all. This is a principle that is pretty much true for any disease. The prevention factor is huge. Make use of it!

Seven steps to live over 100 years – step 5: Lifestyle matters

Watch excesses like smoking (cut it out!), alcohol intake, and recreational drugs. Smoking causes heart attacks, strokes, and cancers, which shorten your life. Recreational drugs just interfere with your body chemistry and have side effects. Cut them out, if you cherish growing older than 100. Alcohol needs to be kept at a very low consumption, if you want to preserve your liver, which is your central metabolic organ. If you can’t handle moderation with alcohol consumption, cut it out. No one has died from not consuming alcohol.

Explanation: I have already explained why lifestyle choices matter. The alcohol question is one that will be discussed back and forth for centuries. There are cardiologists who tell you that men should drink 1 to 2 drinks per day and women 1 drink per day and we all live longer, because of prevention of heart disease. The wine industry makes sure that you will hear this cardiology rule. It is true that centenarians often drink one glass of red wine per day. But there are plenty of centenarians who never drank in their life. It is a matter of personal choice.

Seven steps to live over 100 years – step 6: Avoid obesity and diabetes

I did mention to avoid obesity under point 2 above, which is associated with metabolic syndrome and diabetes. Your ideal body mass index should be in the 21 to 22 range. You can achieve this by following the diets I mentioned above. You should cut out sugar and starchy foods.

Explanation: I have followed such a diet since 2001 and my body mass index is between 21 and 22. I grew up in Germany where an emphasis was put on sweets and starchy foods. Needless to say my modified Mediterranean diet deviates from the good old German diet significantly. I find healthy food very tasty.

Seven steps to live over 100 years – step 7: Sleep and hormones

Getting sleep regularly, having an optimistic outlook on life, and having good relationships help to keep the immune system strong and keep your hormones balanced. This in turn will keep you healthy emotionally and physically.

Explanation:

There are two comments I like to make. One is that when you have calm nerves, and your emotions are balanced, your stress hormones are controlled. We know that people who are laid back and easy going live longer. The type A personality is the one who gets a heart attack.

The other point is that hormones have running times. When they start missing, we get menopause or andropause. When we are in our 50’s it is time to have your hormones checked by a knowledgeable health practitioner (naturopath, anti-aging physician). At this point regular physicians are mostly uneducated about bioidentical hormone replacement. I mention this as in European studies it has been shown that replacement of missing hormones with bioidentical hormones resulted in more youthful lives. Life expectancy can be prolonged by 15 years using bioidentical hormones according to Dr. Hertoghe, an endocrinologist in Belgium. http://www.askdrray.com/life-extended-by-several-decades/

Seven Steps To Live Over 100 Years

Seven Steps To Live Over 100 Years

Conclusion

People have always been fascinated about the factors that lead to a healthy age above 100 years. I am suggesting that you concentrate on enjoying your life and keeping toxins out. Engage in some form of exercise or stay active all the time. Adopt a healthy diet. This is where perhaps most people go wrong. They think they can go on pouring junk foods and alcohol down their throats and never get heart disease or cancer. The truth is not quite like that. We do need to adopt a healthy diet like the Mediterranean diet. We also need to limit drinking to a healthy level. Replacing missing hormones with bioidentical ones will prolong your life as well. Given these recommendations, happy journey to 100 and beyond!

Nov
16
2014

Smoking E-Cigarettes Of No Benefit

Electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) were invented to help people get away from the carcinogenic content of real cigarettes and they were thought to help people in the process to quit smoking as well.

In the October 2014 issue of the BC Medical Journal a review article is entitled: “Electronic cigarettes: Do we know the benefits vs. the risks?” In it Dr. Roy Purssell, the Chair of the Emergency Medical Services Committee in BC, Canada reviewed the literature about e-cigarettes (Ref.1). He pointed out that several studies have shown that the number of cigarettes used may have declined with the use of e-cigarettes, but the quitting rate on e-cigarettes is not higher than when quitting conventional cigarettes.

Why were e-cigarettes developed?

Originally they were marketed as an alternative to cigarette smoking with the thought that they would only contain the nicotine, but not the myriad of cancer producing chemicals. However, studies now show that this is not the case. As explained earlier people use e-cigarettes, but they often still smoke real cigarettes on the side, in effect just reducing the number of cigarettes smoked per day. Says Dr. Purssell: “Reducing the number of cigarettes smoked per day is much less effective than quitting entirely for avoiding the risks of premature death from all smoking-related causes of death” (also based on Ref. 2).

Chemical composition of e-cigarettes

E-cigarettes are battery-operated vaporizers that give you the feel of smoking a tobacco cigarette. The container inside the e-cigarette can be refilled with “e-juice” that can be bought through the Internet. The liquid contains highly concentrated nicotine, propylene glycol, glycerin, and flavorings (you can choose from cinnamon to cherry flavor and more). The liquid is vaporized by a heating element and the vapor is inhaled. No long-term experiments are available at this time with regard to the safety of these inhaled chemicals in humans. Only short-term experiments are behind the FDA’s declaration that propylene glycol would be “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS) as a food additive. But there is still a difference between inhaling and ingesting propylene glycol, and the same is true for glycerin.

The manufacturers of e-liquid (or e-juice) always put this disclaimer on their products: “Warning: Always keep e-cigarette liquid in a safe place and out of reach from children and pets. Nicotine in its pure form is a poison, and can cause harm if ingested by a child.”

Smoking E-Cigarettes Of No Benefit

Smoking E-Cigarettes Of No Benefit

Toxic effects of e-juice (e-liquid)

From September 2010 to February 2014 there were 2405 reports to the poison control centers in the US about e-cigarette exposures. In the month of February 2013 there were 70 calls, in February of 2014 there were 215 calls, a 300% increase.  More than 50% of these cases involved young children.

In BC, according to Dr. Purssell the Drug and Poison Information Centre received 70 calls between July 1, 2013 and June 30, 2014. 50% of these involved children who were younger than 4 years old. There was no case of serious toxicity. If, however, enough fluid is swallowed, there can be deaths from nicotine overdose, particularly in children and in pets. Seizures can be caused by nicotine overdoses and poisoning of the breathing center in the brain stem.

Nicotine is highly addictive. In children and in adolescents nicotine has a negative effect on brain development. Here is a report from the Minnesota Poison Control Center, which reports poisoning incidences with e-juice that was swallowed by young children and it reports also about adolescents who overdosed on e-cigarettes.

It appears that the nervous system is more sensitive for toxic effects of nicotine at a younger age.

Regulations of e-cigarettes

At this point e-cigarettes are illegal because the FDA is still examining the pros and the cons. The situation in Canada is similar: Under the Canadian Food and Drugs Act regulations it is currently illegal to sell e-cigarettes containing nicotine. The international Union against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease has issued a position statement saying that its preferred opinion is to regulate e-cigarettes as tobacco products. The UK will be following this advice.

Dr. Purssell commented: ”This is a reasonable course of action for a product that delivers a highly addictive substance with negative effects on brain development and can cause serious poisoning.“

While the Internet merchants are busy marketing these products, it is important that the legislators around the globe take swift action to draft policies and regulations now to protect children and adolescents.

Conclusion

In conclusion it can be stated that smoking e-cigarettes will not have any benefits whatsoever. Smokers still smoke, as the addictive substance (nicotine) in e-cigarettes undermines their efforts to quit. It may be true that they are not exposing themselves to lung cancers as much as those who puff away on regular cigarettes, but instead their cardiovascular system is exposed to the nicotine that causes heart attacks and strokes. It sounds very sobering that they just traded one cause of  unnecessary death (lung cancer) for another one (cardiovascular disease leading to strokes and heart attacks).

More information on:

1. Causes of lung cancer: http://nethealthbook.com/cancer-overview/lung-cancer/causes-lung-cancer/

2. Heart attacks: http://nethealthbook.com/cardiovascular-disease/heart-disease/heart-attack-myocardial-infarction-or-mi/

3. Strokes: http://nethealthbook.com/cardiovascular-disease/stroke-and-brain-aneurysm/stroke-prevention/

References:

1.BC Medical Journal Vol. 56, no.8, October 2014 (www.bcmj.org)

2.US Department of Health and Human Services. The health consequences of smoking – 50 years of progress: A report of the surgeon general. Atlanta, GA: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Health Promotion, Office on Smoking and Health, 2014.

Last edited Nov. 16, 2014

Feb
01
2014

Early Alcohol Use Will Result In Memory Loss Later In Life

Researchers found that heavy alcohol use in males during midlife paves the way to memory loss from dementia later in life.

I thought that this would be a good topic to review the effect of alcohol in general. Alcohol is a known cell poison, yet cardiologists keep on referring to the beneficial effects of that 1 glass of wine per day that will prolong your life. I will attempt to explain these diverse effects, where small amounts are supposed to be good for you while high amounts can be very damaging.

Review of the effects of alcohol

50% of the world population drinks alcohol, 10% to 20% have chronic alcoholism (Ref.1).  Just recently a Guardian news study was released showing that an astounding 25% of Russian men die before reaching the age of 55, compared to only 7% of men in the United kingdom and less than 1% of men in the US. The study looked at the effects of consuming large amounts of vodka.  There are about 10 million chronic alcoholics in the US. Chronic alcohol consumption leads to 100,000 deaths every year in the US. More than 50% of these deaths are from traffic accidents, the rest from medical problems caused by alcohol (Ref.1). Most of the alcohol gets detoxified through the liver cells and is metabolized into acetaldehyde. This involves the cytochrome P-450 system. That means that when a person also takes narcotics, sedatives or psychoactive drugs that are also metabolized through this liver enzyme system drugs and alcohol are taking much longer to be metabolized. This can lead to lethal overdoses that we hear about on TV all the time, hence the warning that you must not mix alcohol with drugs.

Early Alcohol Use Will Result In Memory Loss Later In Life

Early Alcohol Use Will Result In Memory Loss Later In Life

Alcohol is a cell and nerve poison. The most vulnerable organs in the body are the liver, brain, heart, pancreas, bone marrow and stomach. So, here are a number of conditions caused by drinking alcohol:

a)    Anemia: When a person drinks heavily and regularly anemia shows up in a blood test. Alcohol has a toxic effect on the bone marrow, which interferes with the production of red blood cells. But certain vitamins required by the bone marrow to manufacture red blood cells are often also missing in the diet of an alcoholic, which contributes to anemia as well.

b)    Cirrhosis of the liver develops in 10% to 20% of heavy drinkers. With cirrhosis part of the liver cells get replaced by fibrotic tissue and in advanced cases this can lead to a hepatic coma and death. Others are developing alcoholic hepatitis. This is an inflammation of the liver with fever and jaundice where the skin and eyeballs turn yellow. It is associated with severe abdominal pain.

c)    Gastritis: Alcoholic gastritis is common, but often undetected. The affected individual may just have stomach pains for a few days, or vomit food and/or blood in addition. With continued use of alcohol it may turn chronic. Alcoholic gastritis can turn into gastric ulcers with massive bleeding that often lead to death.

d)    Pancreatitis: The pancreas is a particularly vulnerable glandular tissue, which gets damaged by regular alcohol intake and with chronic alcohol intake gets partially replaced by fibrotic tissue causing the feared and painful chronic pancreatitis. This is a condition with vomiting and severe abdominal pains that can be unrelenting.

e)    High blood pressure, seizures, dementia, depression, heart irregularities and nerve damage:

You may ask yourself how all of these conditions would be reasonably under one heading. The heading for this is “nerve damage”. Let me explain: The sympathetic nerve is very sensitive to alcohol toxicity and when the sympathetic nerve fibers are damaged, you will develop high blood pressure. You see your physician, get blood pressure medication, but the pressure is difficult to control, if you continue to drink alcoholic beverages. It does not make sense to just add blood pressure pills and hope that this will cure your problem. Seizures are due to direct nerve damage in the more sensitive parts of the brain, which will cause these areas to produce extra electrical activities, which we call seizures. Again, just treating with anti-seizure medications is not the solution. Avoidance of alcohol is the other part of the treatment schedule. Dementia from heavy alcohol use is due to direct nerve atrophy in the brain. Our brain shrinks normally 1.9% to 2.8% per decade, depending on which research papers you read. But in the presence of heavy drinking the frontal lobe of the brain is particularly vulnerable to brain shrinkage.

As this publication shows, mild and moderate drinkers did not suffer more frontal lobe shrinkage than abstainers, but heavy drinkers had a 1.8-fold higher risk of frontal lobe shrinkage on average when compared to abstainers. It was calculated that alcohol had contributed 11.3% to that frontal lobe shrinkage.

The rest of the toxic effect on the nerve tissue explains why depression would develop. The frontal brain contains most of the serotonin producing nerve cells. When serotonin-producing nerve fibers get damaged, the body does not produce enough serotonin to prevent depression from setting in; GABA producing cells often also get damaged, which causes anxiety. It’s not good enough to just prescribe anxiolytic drugs to which the patient will get addicted. The whole person needs to be treated, and abstinence from alcohol has to be part of the program.

Heart irregularities (atrial fibrillation, ventricular fibrillation) can be life-threatening complications due to the toxic effect of alcohol on the nerve fibers within the heart muscle. Emergency physicians are aware of the connection of these conditions to alcohol consumption. Some people’s hearts are more sensitive to the effects of alcohol than others. The most common cause of temporary atrial fibrillation is excessive alcohol intake (holiday heart) according to Ref. 2.

Finally there is the effect of alcohol on nerves in the body. This explains that heavy alcohol consumers can come down with painful pins-and-needles sensations in their hands and feet or with numbness or loss of muscle strength. When the parasympathetic nervous system is affected embarrassing incontinence or constipation can result. Erectile dysfunction in men is also very common. Viagra and continuing to drink is not the solution.

f)      Gout: This painful formation of uric acid crystals in joints can be precipitated in sensitive individuals by consuming alcohol in combination with eating large helpings of beef. There may be a history of gout in the family. Treatment for this is to refrain from alcohol and avoid foods that are leading to uric acid production when ingested.

g)    Cancer: When the body detoxifies alcohol in the liver, the breakdown product is acetaldehyde, which is a known cancer producing substance. A whole array of cancers are known, which come from heavy, chronic alcohol consumption: cancers in the mouth, larynx, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver and colorectal cancer have all been linked to excessive alcohol intake.

h)    Cardiovascular disease: heart attacks and strokes can be caused particularly by binging; it is thought that binging makes platelets from the blood more sticky so they clump together and cause blood clots, which in turn leads to heart attacks and strokes.

i)      Infections: Alcohol weakens the immune system, which is another effect on the bone marrow similar to causing anemia, except that this is the toxic effect on the white blood cells and lymphocytes. Heavy alcohol consumers are more prone to pneumonia, to HIV, sexually transmitted diseases, and tuberculosis.

Cardiology view of preventative alcohol

Despite all of these hair raising toxic effects cardiologists have painted the rosy picture that 1 glass of wine for women and 2 glasses of wine for men per day will prevent heart disease. What is the true story here?

Ref.2 points out that there are about 100 prospective studies that confirm that there is an inverse relationship between mild to moderate alcohol consumption and “heart attack, ischemic stroke, peripheral vascular disease, sudden cardiac death, and death from all cardiovascular causes”. It describes further that the reduction of risk in these various studies was persistent and consisted of a 20% to 45% risk reduction. Using blood tests investigators have found that this is because of an increase of HDL cholesterol, reducing blood clotting, making platelets less sticky and reducing inflammation as evidenced by a reduction of the C-reactive protein. Further research has pinpointed that it is the phenols and resveratrol that are contained in alcoholic beverages that are responsible for the beneficial effects. The bad news is that three glasses of wine or more do the opposite, so does binge drinking. Unless you are extremely disciplined and never increase your allowed limit (1 drink for women, 2 drinks for men) you will CAUSE heart disease rather than PREVENT it (Ref.2). Some people have a family history of breast cancer or colon cancer and they should avoid alcohol altogether; also people coming from alcoholic families should avoid alcohol.

Conclusion

Where does this leave us with regard to prevention of heart attacks, strokes and hardening of the arteries in the legs (peripheral vascular disease)? If you are disciplined and stick to the limits, you could prevent 20% to 45% of cardiovascular risk. The brain study mentioned in the beginning of the blog would also confirm that there was no difference between dementia or brain shrinkage when mild to moderate drinkers were compared to abstainers over 10 years. What is not told by the wine industry is that the same effects that prevent cardiovascular disease in mild to moderate drinkers can also be achieved by natural means: exercising regularly will raise your protective HDL cholesterol; taking ginkgo biloba, flax seed and omega-3 fatty acids thins your blood and the platelets are getting less sticky; omega-3 reduces inflammation and resveratrol elongates telomeres making you live longer. At the A4M conference in Las Vegas in December 2011 there were three speakers who pointed out that even small amounts of alcohol will poison mitochondria of your cells and interfere with normal hormone action. This was enough to make me join those who abstain alcohol completely. One thing has not yet been investigated in long-term studies, namely how small effects of alcohol may affect the body over several decades and over an entire lifetime. Despite all the promises of interest groups that red wine is a trendy drink for those interested in heart health, the fundamental long-term studies are missing. What does a guy do with a healthy heart and a brain that is not functioning too well? I just do not want to be the guinea pig in that worldwide study.

More information on alcoholism: http://nethealthbook.com/drug-addiction/alcoholism/

References:

  1. Kumar: Robbins and Cotran: Pathologic Basis of Disease, Professional Edition, 8th ed. © 2009 Saunders
  2. Bonow: Braunwald’s Heart Disease – A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 9th ed. © 2011 Saunders

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

Jan
04
2014

Impressions From The 21st Annual World Congress On Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) In Las Vegas

Every year in mid December Vegas hosts the world A4M conference (from the American Academy Of Anti-Aging Medicine). This year’s conference was at the Venetian/Palazzo Resort in Las Vegas, NV from December 13th to 15th, 2013.

There were more than 3,500 attendees who participated in this yearly continuing medical education event in preventive and integrative medicine. Over 50 speakers reviewed various anti-aging topics including aesthetic medicine and stem cell topics. In addition there was a huge exhibition with over 300 exhibiting companies of health related products and books.

I attended this conference to see what is new in anti-aging medicine, which is the focus of my interest since my retirement in 2010.

Here are some highlights the way I saw it. As the topics were varied, I simply present a potpourri of snippets, all of which have some usefulness.

1. Opening remarks by Dr. Ronald Klatz and Dr. Robert Goldman

Dr. Klatz pointed out that the A4M has been very active over the years in lobbying for making supplements more available to the public. In 1995 the A4M was defending melatonin as a harmless sleep aid and the FDA agreed to allow it to be freely sold in health food stores. In 1996 DHEA followed this trend. Because of pressure of the A4M on the FDA Co-Q10, an important cardio protective supplement became available in health food stores in 1998. In 1999 the A4M stated in a public statement that newer research has confirmed that insulin is involved in obesity and diabetes and is an important aging substance. Those who continue to have high fasting insulin levels, will age faster than the average population. But those who lose weight, and exercise will reduce fasting insulin and will no longer age prematurely. The reason for this is that inflammation is the cause of high blood pressure and of cardiovascular disease like heart attacks and strokes. Reduce or eliminate fasting insulin and you eliminate the risk for heart attacks and strokes. In 2004 the A4M announced that stem cells could be used as an important tool to treat various end stage diseases to allow people to live longer. Since then this has become a huge specialty area. There was also a separate pre-conference workshop on stem cells. In 2009 the A4M announced that vitamin D3 was effective beyond bone health. Every cell in the body contains vitamin D receptors. Originally the 400IU per day RDA dose was established to fight rickets. Now it is recognized that 4000 or 5000 IU of vitamin D3 are required every day for a multitude of normal body functions. People with the poorest lifestyles have the shortest life expectancy, 66.5 years in Native Americans of South Dakota; in contrast the longest life expectancy in the US is found in Asian American women in New Jersey with 91.8 years. It just so happens that in New Jersey most of the 26,000 A4M physicians are practicing, which may be one of the reasons for the impressive longevity figures.  Dr. Katz suggested that we should recommend the following website to people: http://www.worldhealth.net/  This is the official medical news website of the A4M and deals with the latest health recommendations.

Dr. Goldman added to this that the anti-aging industry is growing rapidly (0$ in 1991; 250 billion $ in 2012; an estimated 345 billion $ in 2018).

He also emphasized that anti-aging can only be achieved, if blood tests are done early to detect any hormone or chemical abnormalities in the beginning stages before permanent organ damage sets in. Only with early detection can effective anti-aging treatments be initiated. Prevention is always better than waiting for an emergency to occur and then wanting to fix it, as it is commonly done in the conventional medical system.

Impressions From The 21st Annual World Congress On Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) In Las Vegas

Impressions From The 21st Annual World Congress On Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M) In Las Vegas

2. Hypertension diagnosis and treatment

Dr. Mark Houston (Nashville, TN) talked about new and revolutionary concepts in treating and diagnosing hypertension (high blood pressure). Endothelial and vascular muscle dysfunction are now in the center of the researchers’ attention. The reason for blood pressure to get elevated is from a combination of inflammation, oxidative stress and autoimmune dysfunction of the vascular system. Decades before the blood pressure shoots up, there are vascular and heart abnormalities. 24 hour ambulatory blood pressure monitoring (24hour ABM) is the most reliable test for assessing blood pressure.

Among other things a micronutrient test was suggested as this way a lack of magnesium could be detected. Too little magnesium in the blood has to be treated with magnesium citrate supplements.

In terms of treatment it was interesting to note that diuretics and beta-blockers are no longer recommended, because of serious side effects. Instead of these medications the treatment of choice now are calcium channel blockers (Diltiazem etc.) and angiotensin II receptor blockers (Losartan etc.):

3.  Testosterone therapy in men

This was the topic of Dr. Abraham Morgentaler, a professor of urology at Harvard Medical School. He asked whether it is a panacea, a scourge or the next big thing in medicine. He went through various literature citations that showed that there is no relationship between testosterone or DHT (de-hydro-testosterone) and prostate cancer. In a New England Journal of Medicine publication Dr. Morgentaler has shown by doing extensive prostate biopsies on men with or without prostate cancer that testosterone treatment did not cause prostate cancer or make prostate cancer worse. He found that testosterone treatment invariably made men feel better, and they had more energy using testosterone. They also lived longer. He also debunked a recent JAMA publication from November 2013 that stated testosterone replacement would have led to increased heart attacks. He explained that he called the editor after calculating the raw data and coming to the conclusion that the authors had miscalculated and misrepresented the data, as the risks of heart attacks in men using testosterone were actually half of what the controls without testosterone replacement showed. However, the editor elected to keep the false data in the publication, which has caused confusion with the public and with the medical profession. Here is another rebuttal by Dr. Trutt who came to the same conclusion. Fact is and this is in agreement with many other medical publications in the US, Europe and around the world that testosterone replacement (with bioidentical testosterone) in a testosterone deficient man will cut the risk for heart attacks and strokes into half of what it would be if he did not replace with testosterone. However, only bioidentical testosterone will show this heart and brain saving effect, as there is a key/lock mechanism between bioidentical testosterone and the testosterone receptors of heart and brain cells and the testosterone receptors in the arterial walls.

4. Keynote speaker

Suzanne Somers was the keynote speaker on the first day of the conference in a talk entitled “Our time has come”. Her books have greatly contributed to the popularity of the anti-aging movement in North America and around the world. She described how important it was for her to take charge of the health care in her own case and to explore alternatives to treat her breast cancer in the past. She allowed a lumpectomy, but she refused chemotherapy which conventional medicine wanted to force on her. Instead she changed her lifestyle completely as summarized in her books, particularly in “Breakthrough”. She also became one of the pioneers in the US to get the newly FDA approved mesenchymal stem cell/fat cell transplant done on the affected breast to restore the pre-surgical appearance. She made a plea to those who can afford it to bank their stem cells, which was later reiterated by Dr. Terry Grossman, MD whose lecture I did not review here. I noted this key sentence in Suzanne Somers’ speech towards the end: “I work prophylactically to take care of my health”. How often have I wished in the past that every one of my patients would have this attitude!

5. Hormone testing and nutrition

Jim LaValle, an adjunct professor in the College of Pharmacy, University of Cincinnati has more than 27 years of clinical experience in the field of natural therapeutics and functional medicine. He mentioned that many people are toxic from a leaky gut due to faulty nutrition, which in turn will lead to heart disease and kidney disease. Once a patient has heart failure, a leaky gut will make the heart failure worse. Leaky gut leads to multiple autoantibodies, which causes various autoimmune diseases. Another area he concentrated on in his talk is the fact that neuroplasticity in the brain can restore people’s brain after brain injuries or when autoimmune diseases have attacked the brain. Through lifestyle changes stem cells in the support tissue of the brain, called glia cells, can develop into neural progenitor cells, immature newborn granulocyte cells and eventually into mature nerve cells. In other words the same sequence that occurs in the embryo with brain maturation can also occur in adults. Researchers are only learning now how to approach this difficult subject. He pointed out that there has to be a balance between the gut, the brain and the immune system. As the gut is also an immune organ (Peyer’s patches) where Th1, Th2 and Th17 lymphocytes are produced, it is important to manage your gut through probiotics and through intake of organic foods to get away from anything that disbalances the gut/immune system/brain interaction. At the end he briefly touched on two important facts: zinc is a trace element that is important for prevention of a leaky gut as it keeps the cell bridges of the lining of the gut intact. However, when zinc levels are done on patients in the hospital setting, he found that patients are often deficient for zinc, but they are responding very rapidly to zinc supplementation. Stress, which causes high cortisol levels leads to lowered endurance, autoantibodies and allergies. By checking other hormones, which need to be in balance with cortisol the caregiver can recognize what is wrong with a patient and help restore the hormone balance with bioidentical hormones. This will also take care of the leaky gut, the autoimmune diseases and improve asthma in a person who has allergies.

6. Aging and the short telomere connection

William Andrews, PhD has worked in the biotech industry for 28 years and had obtained his Ph.D. in Molecular and Population Genetics at the University of Georgia in 1981. In the last 15 years he has focused on finding ways to extend the human lifespan by interfering with telomere shortening in human cells. He shared some interesting facts with the audience: reproductive cells do not age and their telomeres stay long. He said that in order to age gracefully it helps to know the length of your body’s telomeres. He recommended using the HT Q-Fish telomere test, which is a genetic test that gives an average of the telomere status of your body. This test will determine the %-age of short telomeres in the body, which is what is most informative about your biological age and your average life expectancy. There are several methods that are useful to know, which lengthen your telomeres: exercise, omega-3 fatty acid supplements, vitamin D3 in higher doses and not smoking are all known to lengthen your telomeres. Astragalus, a Chinese herb and extracts (expensive!) derived from this plant have also been shown to increase the length of telomeres. Other factors that help to preserve the length of your telomeres are reducing stress (yoga, meditation, enjoyable music), weight loss through a ketogenic diet, reduction of depression (rebalancing brain hormones), reducing pessimism, and being happy. Did you know that lobsters are blessed with ubiquitous telomerase expression? As a result they turn over 100 years. Humans are not so lucky, but we have access to simple steps that are protecting our telomeres! Dr. Andrews’ company has searched for telomere elongating substances. Through testing of 39 families of chemicals that are stimulating telomerase to elongate telomeres, he found a few that work. However, the main first step should be to concentrate on restoring the diet of our distant ancestors that gave us our genetic make-up. He stated that the Western diet is the worst contributing factor for telomere shortening. The macro and micronutrient difference between our ancestral diet and the modern diets have caused diseases like high blood pressure, heart attacks, stokes, obesity, diabetes, insulin resistance, dementia and cancer. Our modern diets (particularly the high carb/low fat diets) have increased oxidative stress in our bodies from increased reactive oxygen. This reduces our antioxidant reserves. It leads to malfunctioning of the endothelial lining. Other contributory factors are the overfeeding with omega-6 fatty acids from processed foods and cooking oils(such as corn oil and soybean oil and others.). These food infractions lead to a relative lack of the key vitamins A, D, E and K2 that are important to maintain cell function.

7. Telomeres, Aging and Disease

This title was the talk by Dr. Mark Rosenberg, who has been involved with drug research since 1991. This lecture reinforced what Dr. Andrews has said. However, he added a few aspects that are important to mention: “aging promotes aging”; in an aging person there are more circulating free radicals that undermine your health. So it is important, particularly for an older person to take anti-oxidant supplements to stop free radicals from aging you even faster. Dr. Rosenberg has done a lot of research with cancer cells. He noted that the circulation in a cancer or in metastases from cancer is very poor, which is the reason why chemotherapy often does not reach the cancer cells. He also found in the literature and in his own clinical experience that patients with low LDL cholesterol have increased cancer susceptibility. He mentioned that this was a new paradigm. I have recently discussed this in detail in a previous blog. Briefly, LDL cholesterol is the transport form of cholesterol going from the liver to vital organs like the heart or brain. When LDL is oxidized by free radicals from eating too much sugar and starchy foods that are metabolized into sugar, cells are starved of nutrients and oxygen. This sets the stage for cancer cells to develop, which have a metabolic advantage of being able to produce energy by glycolysis rather than by the aerobic metabolic pathway. Smoking and alcohol consumption shorten telomeres and this makes the person more prone to developing cancer.  On the other hand telomerase treatments have been shown to NOT cause cancer, which was a false belief in the past. At this point it is lifestyle changes that are needed to reduce the using up (aging) of telomeres. Resveratrol, vitamin D3, and astragalus all seem to contribute to lengthening of telomeres. The next few years will likely bring more news about this.

Conclusion

I have only been able to give a few highlights of the 21st Anti-aging Congress in Las Vegas. Another highlight was an appearance of Travis Stork, MD from the ER-doctor show on television. He gave a very down-to-earth presentation making 4 points: 1) healthy living starts in the kitchen, 2) “I need you to start working out”, 3) Mind and body are connected (stress can ruin your health) and 4) Get enough sleep (40% do not get enough sleep), because all of your hormone glands are recovering overnight. He concluded by saying: “Make health your hobby!” Another happening later in the conference was the appearance of California’s 38th Governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger. He received the highest honor of the A4M, the 2013 INFINITI AWARD for his leadership role of funding and supporting stem cell research in California.

Each A4M conference seems to have something new to offer every year. There were many other things that I learnt, but in my mind the topics I summarized above stood out from the rest.

More information on:

1. the use of testosterone and other hormones in male menopause:  http://nethealthbook.com/hormones/hypogonadism/secondary-hypogonadism/male-menopause/

2. high blood pressure: http://nethealthbook.com/cardiovascular-disease/high-blood-pressure-hypertension/

3. telomere lengthening by vitamins, minerals and supplements: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/nutrition/vitamins-minerals-supplements/   In this review I am mentioning a large Chinese study that proved telomere  lengthening with vitamin C and E, but no other vitamins. Other vitamins are still needed as antioxidants to prevent cancer and hardening of arteries.

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

Oct
19
2013

Healthy Choices Start In Your Brain

You may have seen the CNN heading “Where is self-control in the brain?”  If we want to make any healthy choices in life including sound financial choices, we need a balanced brain that makes the right decisions for us.

Researchers at the Caltech in Pasadena, CA have examined this question in detail using functional MRI scans and found out that there are two loci on the frontal lobe of the brain that control your impulses: the “ventral medial prefrontal cortex” (red in this link) that processes your initial image (like seeing a delicious ice cream cone”) and the “dorsolateral prefrontal cortex”(green in this link), where you decide that this is not healthy for you because it has too much sugar in it. The Caltech researchers found a group of volunteers who were impulsive and made the wrong choice simply based on their taste buds without consideration for their health in general. An equally large group of volunteers was also found who had functional activity in the ventral medial prefrontal cortex and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, the latter of which modified the final decision into the healthy choice. The impulsive group made their decision to buy simply with the activation of only the ventral medial prefrontal cortex.

The researchers think that it is this kind of lack of balanced thinking that decides whether we are going to make the right or wrong health choices for ourselves. The sad part is that ultimately, the summation of bad health decisions during life can become the cause of developing dementia, such as Alzheimer’s disease. The good news is that many of the causes of dementia can be avoided, which means that the average person could prevent dementia. I will discuss this in detail here.

Causes of dementia

It is interesting to study patients with various forms of dementia as it is often in the frontal and temporal portions of the brain where brain cells are dying off resulting in impulsive buying, impulsive behavior and lack of recent memory. It is also important to recognize that a number of conditions or factors can cause dementia:

1. Genetic causes

Here is the

There are two types of frontotemporal lobe dementias, a tau-protein positive FTD and a ubiquitin-positive FTD, which has been shown to be due to a deficiency in progranulin. Both of these genetic defects are located on chromosome 17. In Alzheimer’s dementia, which occurs later in life there can be genetic defects at chromosomes 21, 14 or 19. Epigenetic factors like exercise, avoidance of alcohol, and taking omega-3 supplements can even partially prevent or postpone the onset of dementia from genetic causes.

Healthy Choices Start In Your Brain

Healthy Choices Start In Your Brain

2. Toxins like alcohol

Another example of how people can get dementia is through the effect that regular alcohol consumption has on our brains and bodies. This image of an MRI scan shows a normal brain for comparison on the left and  the MRI scan of the brain of a chronic alcoholic on the right.  When a chronic alcoholic has severe atrophy of the brain a psychiatric condition, called Korsakoff’s syndrome can occur. This psychotic condition as a result of the brain having been poisoned by regular alcohol intoxication. Essentially the toxic effect of high daily doses of alcohol have shrunk not only the surface of the brain, but also the deeper substance of the brain. The patient is psychotic, has loss of memory and is unable to care for him/herself.

3. Vascular damage to the brain

Strokes can cause vascular dementia that leads to Alzheimer’s disease-like memory loss. This link points out that diseases like hypertension, obesity, diabetes, atrial fibrillation, ischemic heart disease and dyslipidemia all predispose you to possibly get a stroke with subsequent dementia.

4. Traumatic head injuries

In boxers, football players and combat soldiers brain cells can get lost from repetitive head trauma leading to dementia (in this case it is called “dementia pugilistica”).

5. Infectious dementia

HIV in AIDS patients can affect the brain and cause an HIV-associated dementia. Bacterial meningitis and viral meningitis can kill brain cells and cause a form of dementia as well.

6. Immune disorders

We know that MS can go on to develop dementia as a late complication. In MS there are autoantibodies against myelin, the insulation material that surrounds nerve fibers. An important category of immune disorders is autoimmune disease that can cause dementia. The cardiologist, Dr. William Davis, has presented compelling evidence that wheat allergies can cause dementia, but if detected early and treated by a gluten free diet, this clears up the mind and stops further development of dementia (Ref.1 describes wheat allergies causing dementia; a wheat free diet is described in Ref.2).

7. Hormone deficiencies

A classical example is hypothyroidism, which in the past before thyroid medicine was available, often led to dementia. A simple blood test, TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) can detect whether or not you are hypothyroid. The A4M recommendation for a normal level is below 2 (not below 5 as often reported by official lab value reports).

8. Lack of vitamins

Thiamine (=vitamin B-1) is often missing in alcoholics. If you are missing vitamin B-6 and vitamin B-12 in your diet, this can predispose you to develop dementia as well. Aging people lose a factor from the gastric mucosa (the intrinsic factor) that is essential to absorb vitamin B-12 in the mall bowel, which predisposes them to develop pernicious anemia and dementia. A simple vitamin B-12 injection can prevent this from happening.

9. Too much sugar consumption

Sugar consumption has skyrocketed in the 1900’s and keeps on going up in the new millennium as well. Here is a review that discusses the possibility that Alzheimer’s can be triggered by overconsumption of sugar. The higher the blood sugar levels in diabetics, the higher the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease. A study in Seattle has confirmed this. High insulin levels are found in type 2 diabetes; they are responsible for making brain cells stimulate the production of the gooey substance amyloid that causes Alzheimer’s disease. The authors of this study showed this to be true both in humans and in animal models.

10. Lifestyle issues like lack of exercise, excessive weight (obesity, being overweight) and poor diet (fast foods) play an enormous role in terms of causation of dementia in addition to the other factors mentioned. On the other hand organic foods Lack of toxins) and a Mediterranean type diet will preserve your brain cells.

Treatment of dementia

At present treatment of dementia is very limited, as we do not have a complete understanding of dementia at this point. The traditional treatment of dementia outlined here will only marginally delay further deterioration of dementia, but ultimately fail. In my opinion this is because the medical profession has been concentrating on fighting the symptoms of dementia rather than the cause.

Given the list of known causes above, I like to give you 6 recommendations that will help you to prevent Alzheimer’s disease and dementia in general.

  1. I would suggest that you cut sugar out of your diet and replace it with stevia. This also includes dates, grapes, bananas; also wheat and wheat products and starchy foods like pasta, potatoes, rice and bread (see Ref. 1 and 2 for details). The manufacturers of soda drinks, pies and cakes will not be happy about this recommendation, but it will please your brain cells. You will also be surprised how easy it is now to lose weight, which will please you (this also lowers your risk for heart attacks and strokes).
  2. Severely limit your alcohol consumption to less than 1 drink for women and 2 drinks for men per day (better still would be to stay sober) unless you want to become part of the hospital population mentioned in one of the links at the beginning of this blog.
  3. Have your hormones checked, particularly your thyroid hormones, but also estrogen and progesterone levels in women and testosterone in men. Our brain cells have hormone receptors for a reason. They need to be stimulated by our hormones, even in menopause or andropause. Replace the missing sex hormones with bioidentical hormone creams and missing thyroid hormones with thyroid tablets (Armour is the best mix of T3 and T4 thyroid hormones, not Synthroid).
  4. Prevent repetitive brain injuries before it is too late. Rethink whether you really need to box, street fight, play football, rugby or hockey.
  5. Use vitamins for prevention of dementia: The B complex vitamins like B-2, B-6, B-12 (by injection); vitamin D3 has recently been shown to be effective in slowing down Alzheimer’s disease. Vitamin D3 is low in Alzheimer’s patients and vitamin D3 supplements will slow down this disease. Although vitamin C showed equivocal results, it does have some neuroprotective qualities and decreases β-amyloid production and acetyl cholinesterase activity. A Mediterranean-type diet (Ref.2) is also helpful in preventing dementia.
  6. Exercise daily. It will discipline you to stick to the other points mentioned above. It gives you some extra endorphins and will make you feel good about yourself.

Conclusion

Although we do not yet have a complete picture regarding Alzheimer’s disease and dementias, we do know enough to reduce our risk of getting them. When you cut out wheat and wheat products, autoimmune antibodies against your brain cells will not be produced, your opiate receptors in the brain will not be seduced to eat more and more sugar, starchy foods or high fructose corn syrup, so you will have no problem in cutting out high glycemic index foods (Ref.1). This will reduce insulin and reduce IGF-1 growth factors that would have made you vulnerable to produce the gooey amyloid substance that makes you lose your memory. The orbitofrontal part of your brain (particularly the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex) will be reminding you what you read here: healthy lifestyle choices start in your brain.

References

1. William Davis, MD: “Wheat Belly. Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health”. HarperCollins Publishers LTD., Toronto, Canada, 2011.

2. William Davis, MD: “Wheat Belly Cookbook. 150 Recipes to Help You Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health”. HarperCollins Publishers LTD., Toronto, Canada, 2012.

Last edited Oct. 19, 2013

Oct
12
2013

Music More Powerful Than Anti-Anxiety Drugs

When was the last time you saw your physicians for anxiety and you were given a prescription that said: “for anxiety listen to your favorite music!” instead of receiving a prescription for an anti-anxiety drug (anxiolytic). This is exactly what a recent study suggests that showed prior to surgery you can control your anxiety either with anti-anxiety drugs or by listening to your favorite music. Listening to your favorite music will do you no harm, while many drugs do have harmful side effects.

How singing can change the brain chemistry

Other studies have investigated how singing can change your brain functioning in terms of brain chemistry. The researchers found that singing will release dopamine in your brain, which is responsible for feeling pleasure; it will stimulate your immune system by elevating immunoglobulin A and decreasing cortisol (the stress hormone). This in turn will preserve your immune cells (lymphocytes). Oxytocin levels of your brain are increased, which promotes social affiliation. It also calms down the autonomic nervous system resulting in a better airway opening, calming of your heart rate and soothing the wave-like muscle contractions in your gut, medically called peristalsis. You would refer to that as “butterflies in your stomach”. Music therapy reduces pain and anxiety by 50% and is important for children and adults alike.

Pain and anxiety reduced

A study in Germany showed that pain and anxiety were significantly reduced with music therapy. A Taiwanese study of women in labor found that music therapy significantly reduced pain and anxiety of women during labor. Ref. 1 explains that music therapy is useful as an adjunct to treating cancer pain, and reducing anxiety associated with colposcopy procedures. It also can help when treating patients who had heart attacks in the setting of a cardiac care unit.

Music More Powerful Than Anti-Anxiety Drugs

Music More Powerful Than Anti-Anxiety Drugs

Hypnosis and guided imagery

Music has been successfully combined with clinical hypnosis and guided imagery where words are carefully chosen to help the patient experience pleasant feelings, which counteract the experience of pain, anxiety or fear of dying. A simple relaxation CD or tape with soothing background music will facilitate this type of therapy. This is useful for patients in a palliative care unit where they prepare themselves to accepting the inevitable death from an incurable disease. But chemotherapy patients undergoing these procedures for cancer treatments also have benefitted from a significant reduction in nausea, vomiting (side effects of chemotherapy) and pain.

Autism and music therapy

A Cochrane study showed that autistic children did better in terms of communication skills when music therapy was incorporated into the treatment protocol. One of the core deficits in autistic children is in the area of communication and social skills. This is where music therapy was most effective. Behavioral problems (stereotypic behavior) in autistic children did not respond to music therapy. A comprehensive treatment program for autistic children should therefore incorporate music therapy. Here is a blog that describes what difference music therapy can make in the lives of autistic children written by a member of the American Music Therapy Association.

Substance abuse and music therapy

An area where you may not expect music therapy to have a role is in the area of drug and substance abuse rehabilitation , which is discussed in more detail in this site. The beauty about music therapy is that it is not a drug, yet the natural endorphins that are released by the brain help the affected person getting through withdrawal easier. Music therapy helps building up self-esteem, participating in group activities, promoting self awareness and expressing feelings.

Mood disorders in adolescents

One important area where music therapy has been employed is with anxiety and depression in adolescents. Adolescents spend an average of 4 hours per day listening to music. So they are already programmed to listen to music. With the help of a music therapist they can be directed to listening to the type of music that will help them get motivated, relax more, make them feel accepted and be part of their peer groups. In this study the authors suggested to combine music therapy with dance and art therapy. In this way the whole person gets involved in the treatment and this can be integrated with conventional antidepressant treatments at reduced doses (with less side-effects) or with cognitive therapy.

General objectives of music therapy

Music therapy is best incorporated into a treatment protocol as an adjunct. It can help reduce the use of drugs for psychiatric patients, for people with anxiety and for patients with pain conditions. The Cleveland clinic has a useful summary about music therapy, which describes the uses of it for reducing anxiety, for helping with coping skills, mood improvement and distraction from pain. There are registered music therapists you can ask for help. The website of the American Music Therapy Association may have other useful links for you.

Conclusion

Music therapy is a treatment modality with no side effects, but providing effective treatment for quite an impressive range of clinical conditions as discussed. Music therapists are widely available in the US and many other countries. This treatment can be integrated with conventional or complementary treatments. It helps people to heal the body as a whole unit (mind and body).

More information on anxiety disorders: http://nethealthbook.com/mental-illness-mental-disorders/anxiety-disorders-panic-disorders-phobias-ocd-ptsd-anxiety-others/

References

1. Rakel: Integrative Medicine, 3rd ed.© 2012 Saunders. Chapter on Integrative Therapy; subchapter of Mind-Body Therapy.

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

Sep
28
2013

Sleepless Nights

Sleeping problems (insomnia) are very common. About 10% of the population suffers from chronic insomnia; 30% of the population suffers from occasional sleep problems. In a large outpatient population of a clinic consisting of 3500 patients who had at least one major clinical condition, 50% complained of insomnia, 16% had severe symptoms, 34% had mild symptoms (Ref.1). Insomnia is more common among women, and older people as well as in people with medical or psychiatric illnesses. Long-term studies have shown that the same insomnia problems persist throughout many years. It is not possible to offer a simple remedy for insomnia, because insomnia is a complex problem. Here I will discuss some of the causes of insomnia and also discuss some of the treatment options.

Symptoms of insomnia

The person who suffers from insomnia will usually state that they have problems falling asleep. Worries of the day suddenly circulate through their thoughts and they toss and turn nervously looking at the clock from time to time and getting more and more anxious that they cannot sleep. Others fall asleep OK, but in the middle of the night they wake up perhaps to visit the restroom, but then they cannot go back to sleep. Others wake up 2 hours before their normal alarm clock time and they feel their stomach rumbling making it impossible to fall back to sleep. Older people with chronic diseases and general poor health suffer more from insomnia. In this setting insomnia may be more related to the underlying disease rather than old age. Psychiatric disorders also are associated with more insomnia. Treat the underlying psychiatric illness, and the insomnia disappears.

Although insomnia is a sleep disturbance during the nighttime, people who are affected with this complain of daytime fatigue, of overstimulation, yet they catch themselves making frequent mistakes, and their inability to pay attention gets them involved in accidents and falls. Longitudinal studies have shown (Ref. 1) that people with chronic insomnia are more likely to develop psychiatric disease, such as major depression,  anxiety disorder and alcohol and substance abuse. Unfortunately these disorders can by themselves again cause insomnia, which reinforces chronic insomnia. Insomnia leads to poorer social and physical functioning, affects emotions, leads to a lack of vitality and physical endurance, contributes to worsening of pain and can affect general and mental health.

Research about insomnia

Much has been learnt from sleep studies using polysomnography monitoring during a full night’s sleep. These studies have been used mainly as a research tool. In such studies eye movements, brain wave activity, muscle activity, chest movements, airflow, heart beats, oxygen saturation and snoring (with a microphone) are all simultaneously recorded. This way restless leg syndrome, sleep apnea, snoring, seizure disorders, deep depression etc. that can all lead to insomnia can be diagnosed and separated from insomnia. The stages of sleep (wakefulness, stage 1 to 3 sleep and the REM sleep stage) can also be readily measured using polysomnography (Ref.2). According to this reference the majority of insomnia cases do not need this complex procedure done.

Sleepless Nights

Sleepless Nights

Causes of insomnia

Traditionally insomnia cases are classified into primary insomnia and secondary insomnia. Secondary insomnia is caused by all of the factors discussed below. When they are dealt with, we are left with cases of primary insomnia.

The following medical conditions can cause insomnia: heart disease, pulmonary diseases like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); gastrointestinal disease like liver cirrhosis, pancreatitis, irritable bowel syndrome, ulcers, colitis, Crohn’s disease; chronic kidney disease; musculoskeletal disease like arthritis, fractures, osteoporosis; neurodegenerative disease like MS, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease; endocrine disease like diabetes, hyper- or hypothyroidism, adrenal gland fatigue and insufficiency; and chronic pain conditions. Also, psychiatric conditions like major depression, schizophrenia and anxiety disorders can cause insomnia.

This list in not complete, but it gives you an idea of how complex the topic of insomnia is.
The physician who is seeing a patient with insomnia needs to rule out any of these other causes of insomnia to be certain that the only condition that is left to treat in the patient is insomnia itself. The other diagnoses have to be dealt with separately or else treatment of insomnia will fail.

Ref. 1 points to a useful model of how to think about causation of insomnia: there are three points to consider, namely predisposing, precipitating, and perpetuating factors. Let’s briefly discuss some of these.

Predisposing factors

We are all different in our personal make-up. If you are well grounded, chances are you are not susceptible to insomnia. Anxious persons or persons who have been through a lot of negative experiences in life will have personality traits that make them more prone to insomnia. Lifestyle choices such as late nights out, drinking with the buddies in a bar (extreme circadian phase tendencies) will have an impact on whether or not you develop insomnia.

Precipitating factors

A situational crisis like a job change or the death of a loved one can initiate insomnia.  However, there could be a medical illness such as a heart attack, a stroke or the new diagnosis of a psychiatric illness that has become a precipitating factor. Sleep apnea and restless leg syndrome belong into this group as well as would the stimulating effect of coffee and caffeine containing drinks. Jet lag and nighttime shift work can also be precipitating factors.

Perpetuating factors

Daytime napping to make up for lost sleep the night before can undermine sleep initiation the following night, which can lead to a vicious cycle. Similarly, the use of bedtime alcoholic drinks leads to sleep disruption later that night and can become a perpetuating factor, if this habit is maintained. Even the psychological conditioning of being anxious about whether or not you will fall asleep easily or not the next night can become a perpetuating factor.

I will return to this classification and the factor model of causation of insomnia when we address treatment options.

Drugs that can cause insomnia

One major possible cause for insomnia  can be side effects from medications that patients are on (would belong to the ‘perpetuating factors’ among causes). Physicians call this “iatrogenic insomnia”. The antidepressants, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) like Prozac are particularly troublesome with regard to causing insomnia as a side effect. Other antidepressants like trazodone (Desyrel) are used in small doses to help patients with insomnia to fall asleep. Some asthmatics and people with autoimmune diseases may be on prednisone, a corticosteroid drug. This can cause insomnia, particularly in higher doses; so can decongestants you may use for allergies; beta-blockers used for heart disease and hypertension treatment; theophylline, an asthma medication and diuretics. Central nervous stimulants like caffeine or illicit drugs can also cause insomnia. Hormone disbalance in general and hyperthyroidism specifically as well as Cushing’s disease, where cortisol levels are high will cause insomnia.

Treatment of insomnia

So, how should the physician approach a patient with insomnia? First it has to be established whether there is secondary insomnia present due to one of the predisposing, precipitating or perpetuating factors. In other words, is there secondary insomnia due to other underlying illnesses? If so, these are being addressed first. Lifestyle choices (staying up late every night) would have to be changed; alcohol and drug abuse and overindulging in coffee or caffeine containing drinks needs to be dealt with. Cognitive therapy may be beneficial when mild depression or anxiety is a contributing factor to insomnia.

The remaining insomnia (also medically termed “primary insomnia”) is now being treated.

The following general points are useful to get into the sleeping mode (modified from Ref. 3):

  1. Ensure your bedroom is dark, soundproof, and comfortable with the room temperature being not too warm, and you develop a “sleep hygiene”. This means you get to sleep around the same time each night, have some down time 1 hour or so before going to bed and get up after your average fill of sleep (for most people between 7 to 9 hours). Do not sleep in, but use an alarm clock to help you get into your sleep routine.
  2. Avoid caffeine drinks, alcohol, nicotine and recreational drugs. If you must smoke, don’t smoke later than 7PM.
  3. Get into a regular exercise program, either at home or at a gym.
  4. Avoid a heavy meal late at night. A light snack including some warm milk would be OK.
  5. Do not use your bedroom as an office, reading place or media center. This would condition you to be awake.  Reserve your bedroom use only for intimacy and sleeping.
  6. If you wake up at night and you are wide awake, leave the bedroom and sit in the living room doing something until you feel tired and then return to bed.
  7. A self-hypnosis recording is a useful adjunct to a sleep routine. Listen to it when you go to bed to give you something to focus on (low volume) and you will find it easier to stop thinking.

Drugs and supplements for insomnia

1. In the past benzodiazepines, such as diazepam (Valium), lorazepam (Ativan), fluorazepam (Dalmane), temazepam (Restoril), triazolam (Halcion) and others were and still are used as sleeping pills. However, it was noted that there are significant side effects with this group of drugs. Notably, there is amnesia (memory loss), which can be quite distressing to people such as not remembering that someone phoned while under the influence of the drug, you promised certain things, but you cannot remember the following morning what it was. Another problem is the development of addiction to the drugs with worse insomnia when the drugs are discontinued. Many physicians have stopped prescribing benzodiazepines.

2. There are non-benzodiazepines drugs that are used as sleeping pills (hypnotics), such as Zaleplon (Sonata), Zolpidem (Ambien) and Eszopiclone (Lunesta).  They seem to be better tolerated.

3. Ramelteon, a melatonin agonist, is available by prescription in the US. It probably is the best-tolerated mild sleeping pill and works similar to melatonin, but is more expensive. Chances are that your physician likely would prescribe one of the non-benzodiazepines drugs or Ramelteon for you as they do not seem to be addicting.

4. However, there is an alternative: Many patients with insomnia tolerate a low dose of trazodone (Desyrel), which is an antidepressant with sleep restoring properties. A low dose of 25 to 50 mg at bedtime is usually enough for insomnia. This allows the patient to fall asleep within about 30 minutes of taking it, and sleep lasts through most of the night without a hangover in the morning. Many specialists who run sleep laboratories recommend trazodone when primary insomnia is diagnosed. However, this is still a drug with potential side effects as mentioned in the trazodone link, but 50 mg is only ¼ of the full dose, so the side effects will also be less or negligible.

5. I prefer the use of melatonin, which is the natural brain hormone designed to put us to sleep. Between 1 mg and 6 mg are sufficient for most people. We know from other literature that up to 20 mg of melatonin has been used in humans as an immune stimulant in patients with metastatic melanoma with no untoward side effects other than nightmares and some tiredness in the morning. A review from the Vanderbilt University, Holland found melatonin to be very safe as a sleeping aid. There are several melatonin receptors in the body of vertebrates (including humans), which are stimulated by melatonin.

6. Other natural methods are the use of L-Tryptophan at a dose of 500 mg at bedtime, which can be combined with melatonin. It is the amino acid contained in turkey meat, which makes you tired after a Thanksgiving meal. GABA is another supplement, which is the relaxing hormone of your brain, but with this supplement tolerance develops after about 4 to 5 days, so it is only suitable for very short term use. Herbal sleep aids are hops, valerian extract and passionflower extract. They are available in health food stores.

Conclusion

A lack of sleep (insomnia) is almost a given in our fast paced lives.

When it comes to treatment, all of the other causes of secondary insomnia need to be treated or else treatment attempts would fail. What is left is primary insomnia. This is treated as follows:

We need to review our sleeping habits, lifestyles and substance abuse. Remove what is detrimental to your sleep. Start with the least invasive treatment modalities such as self-hypnosis tapes, melatonin, L-Tryptophan or herbal extracts. Should this not quite do the trick, asks your doctor for advice. The non-benzodiazepines drugs or Ramelteon would be the next level up. It may be that an alternative such as low dose trazodone would be of help. Only, if all this fails would I recommend to go to the more potent sleeping pills (keep in mind the potential for addiction to them).

References

1. David N. Neubauer, MD (John Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD): Insomnia. Primary Care: Clinics in Office Practice – Volume 32, Issue 2 (June 2005)  © 2005, W. B. Saunders Company

2: Behrouz Jafari, MD and Vahid Mohsenin, MD (Yale Center for Sleep Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT, USA): Polysomnography. Clinics in Chest Medicine – Volume 31, Issue 2 (June 2010), © 2010 W. B. Saunders Company

3. Jean Gray, editor: “Therapeutic choices”, 5th edition, Chapter 8 by Jonathan A.E. Fleming, MB, FRCPC: Insomnia, © 2008, Canadian Pharmacists Association.

Last edited Sept. 28, 2014

Jun
15
2013

Electro-Acupuncture Twice As Effective As Conventional Acupuncture

Imagine that you had lower back pain and your doctor said that physically everything was OK. Would you consider traditional Chinese acupuncture? According to Ref. 1 chances are that 70% of patients with back pain will get better with a few visits to an acupuncturist. In 1972 Dr. Ulett’s laboratory at the University of Missouri succeeded in getting the first NIH research grant for the study of acupuncture in the US. During these studies they found remarkable facts, the most important perhaps that electrical stimulation of acupuncture needles resulted in a doubling of the effectiveness of traditional Chinese acupuncture. After extensive research Dr. Ulett stated: ”The ancient practice of traditional Chinese acupuncture is now obsolete” (Ref.1). It is now replaced by the much simpler, but more effective electro-acupuncture using electrical skin pads instead of needles.

The science of electro-acupuncture

In 1958 news came from China that they had done major surgeries with patients being awake and having been made pain free only with the use of electro-acupuncture. In other words no chemical anesthesia was used or else very little was needed to make patients comfortable. Professor Ji-Sheng Han from the Beijing Medical University observed that only electrical stimulation was powerful enough to produce the pain relief that was necessary to allow general surgery. Dr. Han conducted systematic experiments to study the phenomenon of electro-acupuncture and published this in Ref. 2. One of the experiments involved two rabbits where the donor rabbit was anesthetized with electro-acupuncture. Spinal fluid was taken and transferred into a recipient rabbit that had not been further treated. This second rabbit was now rendered pain free to the point where surgery could be performed without pain. Other researchers such as Dr. Pomeranz found that the brain released endorphins in response to electro-acupuncture, powerful morphine-like substances. It was the endorphins that were responsible for making the recipient rabbit of Dr. Han’s experiment pain free. Other experiments of Dr. Pomeranz showed that naloxone, a morphine and endorphin blocker also blocked the analgesic effect previously found by transferring spinal fluid. These lines of experiments also explain why some patients did not respond to electro-acupuncture, as they have a deficiency in the pain control system of their brain lacking endorphin release. Dr. Han did 30 years of experimentation and also observed patients very closely. Dr. Han also investigated the placebo effect and found that this can explain about 30% of healing  However, the remainder of the 70 to 75% response to electro-acupuncture in his opinion was due to the procedure. He was able to explain that traditional Chinese acupuncture points were merely spots on the body where electric currents are picked up easier and transmitted up to the spinal cord and into the brain. They are then switched over in the brain and spinal cord to nerves that go to other areas of the body. This explains how electrical impulses can travel from conducting polymer pads applied over acupuncture points, release neuropeptides in the brain and help the body to heal. Functional MRI studies have confirmed that the brain is stimulated by certain frequencies through electro-acupuncture or traditional Chinese acupuncture to give pain relief.

Electro-Acupuncture Twice As Effective As Conventional Acupuncture

Electro-Acupuncture Twice As Effective As Conventional Acupuncture

These types of studies have also shown that electro-acupuncture produces stronger signals in the brain than traditional Chinese acupuncture.

Beside pain relief many other applications exist for electro-acupuncture. Addiction medicine makes use of electro-acupuncture in weaning people from morphine or heroine etc. It can be used to treat psychiatric illness, particularly depression. It is useful in relieving nausea and vomiting due to chemotherapy with cancer treatments or associated with pregnancy without affecting the pregnancy.

It may also be useful as an adjunct to treating high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.

One area where clinical hypnosis and electro-acupuncture are coupled is called “conditioned healing” (Ref.1). For instance with posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in returned solders or in rape victims it has been shown that hypnotherapy treatment while using electro-acupuncture for 30 minutes at the same time can be useful in alleviating the symptoms these patients experience.

A few case studies using electro-acupuncture

Here are a few case studies that illustrate the use of electro-acupuncture with regard to patients (cases modified from Ref.1). A treatment consists of a 30-minute session where the patient is either sitting or resting comfortably on an examining table. Treatments initially are often given twice per week until the pain has been reduced to about 50% of the original pain (severity of pain is scored on a 0 to 10 scale right from the beginning). From that point in the treatment program the visits are reduced to weekly sessions. Most clinical problems require three to 12 sessions. If the pain goes away, but returns after a few weeks, repeat sessions can be scheduled, which often lead to pain relief in a shorter time interval than was the case with the original problem. Chronic problems can be treated on an ongoing basis once per month, if there was a clinical response, but the pain reoccurs.

  1. A 53-year-old painter with left shoulder pain, which radiated into the left chest, had problems with painting above his head. His physician did heart studies, but everything was OK. He was told that this was due to a muscle spasm in the shoulder muscles. One electrode was placed over the hoku point (also called LI-4 acupuncture point), which is located over the first interosseus muscle between the thumb and index finger, the other electrode over the area of pain in the left shoulder. Only seven treatments, twice per week for 2 weeks were given, then treatments with weekly intervals were administered. This approach cured his shoulder problems, and he could return to paining.
  2.  A 39-year-old woman came to the office complaining of lower back pain, which radiated into her right leg to the knee area. After tests she was told that she had spinal stenosis with sciatica (irritation of the sciatic nerve). No surgery could be done for this. She was given twelve electro-acupuncture treatments with one electrode placed below her right knee (ST-36 acupuncture point) and another electrode placed over her right lower back over one of the BL acupuncture points. She was almost pain free for about two weeks, but the pain came back after the last treatment. Since then she has been getting ongoing monthly electro-acupuncture visits with about 80% pain relief. Keep in mind that spinal stenosis is a condition for which regular medicine has nothing to offer other than symptomatic pain medication, which she did not want.
  3. A 30-year-old schoolteacher has been suffering from anxiety attacks and agoraphobia (fear of open spaces) for several years. Conditioning with electro-acupuncture (conditioned healing as mentioned above) was used to treat this woman. She received a series of treatments with electro-acupuncture over both interosseus muscles (hoku acupuncture point or LI-4) for 30 minutes during which time she was also listening to a relaxation tape with music in the background and suggestions for self-hypnosis. She was told how to do self-imagery at home. She did this for 10 minutes two or three times per day. Several weeks later she was able to control her anxiety attacks and overcome her fear of open spaces. In the beginning her symptoms were rated as 8 to 10 in severity on a scale from 0 to 10. At the end of the sessions she only had occasional symptoms with a 1 to 2 rating on this scale.
  4. A 50-year-old man with cluster headaches who had been investigated extensively by a neurologist without any other underlying cause was treated with electro-acupuncture. The electrodes were placed on acupuncture points of the head. Within only 4 sessions most of the headaches were gone. After 8 sessions he had no more headaches. However, a few weeks later his cluster headaches returned, but with ongoing monthly treatments he is able to prevent them from recurring. He did not like the side effects of all the pain medications, so he rather goes for his monthly booster electro-acupuncture treatments.

Take-home message regarding electro-acupuncture

Many people never considered traditional Chinese acupuncture for fear of needles. However, extensive research by Dr. Han and Dr. Ulett showed that electro-acupuncture with electrically conducting polymer pads or with EKG pads will replace the acupuncture needles. Not only is this method needle free, but also the weak electrical impulses that are used with electro-acupuncture treatment double the effectiveness of the older acupuncture method.

Many acupuncturists use both methods of acupuncture, but Dr. Ulett who used traditional acupuncture in the past has completely abandoned it and uses electro-acupuncture with the HANS machine instead. It is a complementary medical treatment, which has been authorized by the FDA.

More on pain conditions: http://nethealthbook.com/neurology-neurological-disease/pain/

References

1: George A. Ulett, M.D., Ph.D. and SongPing Han, B.M., Ph.D.: “The Biology of Acupuncture”, copyright 2002, Warren H. Green Inc., Saint Louis, Missouri, 63132 USA

2. J.S. Han: “The Neurochemical Basis of Pain Relief by Acupuncture”. Vol. 2. Hu Bei Science and Technology Press, Beijing, 1998 (784 pages).

Last edited Nov. 6, 2014

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Feb
19
2013

Forget The Glass Of Red Wine For Good Health

We have been hearing for over 10 years that 1 glass of red wine per day for women and 2 glasses of red wine per day for men would be recommended in order to prevent a heart attack or a stroke. Now we are confronted with new research from Boston showing that even small amounts of alcohol are bad for you as alcohol is a carcinogen (=cancer producing substance). Misinformation like this occurs when science concentrates only on one angle of health, such as cardiovascular disease prevention and the other part of the equation, the cancer producing (carcinogenic) effect of alcohol, is disregarded.

In 1996 this Australian study followed 1236 men and 1569 women 60 years and over for more than 5 years and studied their mortality rates as a function of alcoholic drink intake. The authors found that there was a short-term protective effect with regard to cardiovascular/stroke mortality. But due to the fact that mortality was the end point for both cardiovascular disease and for cancer, the study was mostly taken as evidence that alcoholic beverages would protect to a certain degree from strokes and heart attacks. The authors were aware that alcohol was cancer causing as they stated, “Those taking any alcohol exhibited an increased proportion of deaths due to cancer at the expense of a reduced proportion of CHD and stroke deaths”. But this part was not mentioned in the popular press or in future alcohol/cardio-protective recommendations. The authors also were aware that the observation time of 5 years was on the short side. We know from other studies that alcohol toxicity requires a longer observation time such as 15 to 20 years or longer to show significance in a multitude of cancers.

Forget The Glass Of Red Wine For Good Health

Forget The Glass Of Red Wine For Good Health

As already mentioned above, recently a new survey of alcohol-caused cancer was published and went through the popular press. Dr. Timothy S. Naimi from Boston University Medical Center was the main investigator of an international team of scientists. The study found that every year 18,200 to 21,300 cancer deaths in the US (that is 3.2% to 3.7% of all US cancer deaths) are directly caused from alcohol consumption. The authors of the study determined that every person who dies from alcohol related causes lost on average approximately 18 years of his/her life (scientists call this “years of potential life lost”).  51% of women developed breast cancer from alcohol exposure, 62% of men came down with upper airway and esophageal cancers. Less than 1.5 drinks per day caused between 26% and 35% of alcohol-related cancer deaths. There was no safe lower margin. The authors concluded, “Reducing alcohol consumption is an important and underemphasized cancer prevention strategy”.

Interestingly, in 2006 other research looked at alcohol caused cancer cases in the world based on WHO data and came to the conclusion that with the increased worldwide consumption, particularly in East Asia, preventative steps by eliminating or replacing alcoholic drinks would be wise.

A recent study in 2012 where cancer rates in the US were compared between Hispanics and Caucasians showed that Hispanics had higher rates of stomach cancer, liver cancer, uterine/cervix cancer and gallbladder cancer. The authors concluded that Hispanics need more screening done such as Pap tests and that effective vaccines (like Gardasil) should be used. In addition effective interventions should be applied to reduce obesity, curtail alcohol consumption and reduce tobacco use.

Studies have shown that there is no safe level of alcohol consumption, not even the famous 1 drink for women and 2 drinks for men (with regard to heart attack prevention), because cancer incidence increases with increasing alcohol consumption in a linear relationship.

What does alcohol do in the body that it is so dangerous to your cells? Many cancer researchers have researched this question in detail. Essentially, alcohol is by itself a toxin for your cells (the targets being sub particles in your cells called microsomes and mitochondria). Your liver metabolizes alcohol into acetaldehyde, your kidneys excrete it and your lungs exhale it (this is how a breathalyzer can detect how much you have been drinking). All of these chemical changes in your cells release free radicals, which in turn attack other cells. This sets up a chronic inflammatory process, which breaks down your immune system, leads to cell mutations and finally to cancer.

What protects you from cancer?  It is the antioxidants that stabilize the above-mentioned processes: vitamin C, glutathione, vitamin D 3, curcumin, multiple vitamins, magnesium, flavonoid foods, cruciferous foods (like broccoli), exercise and soluble fiber.

So, if you were serious about cancer prevention, you may want to stop any alcohol intake and take the above supplements instead. The heart attack and stroke protection will be achieved by flavonoid foods (perhaps specifically adding resveratrol 250 mg per day as well) and exercise.

If you were less conscientious about cancer prevention, at least reduce your alcohol consumption perhaps to the occasional glass of wine or beer, but avoid high percentage spirits and remember, the less the better! You may be toasting to ill health with that glass of wine. Say no to false advertising of the wine industry! Your body will thank you for it.

More information on alcoholism: http://nethealthbook.com/drug-addiction/alcoholism/

Here is another reference where you can read about the recent Boston study:

http://www.physbiztech.com/news/ceasing-alcohol-consumption-leading-way-prevent-cancer-death-study-finds

Last updated Nov. 6, 2014