Oct
01
2016

Sugar Can Cause Heart Attacks

Recently an online medical journal article from JAMA has revealed that sugar can cause heart attacks. As the Guardian reports, this analysis of influence peddling of the sugar industry going back 60 years has had far-reaching effects by confusing the public and policy makers in the US and around the world. At the same time the interference of the sugar industry was protecting its own interests. It increased sugar sales, but made people sick with obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. This story is similar to the tobacco industry that was able for years to cover up that cigarette smoke is causing heart attacks and lung cancer.

Denying that sugar can cause heart attacks

When the English physiologist John Yadkin noted in the 1960’s that sugar was elevating cholesterol and triglycerides, the sugar industry was panicking. Something had to be done to stop this new research. As we can read in the online JAMA review the Sugar Research Foundation (SRF) had 319 correspondences (1551 pages) with Roger Adams. He was a professor who served on the SRF’s scientific advisory board (SAB) from 1959 to 1971. Another piece of evidence of influence peddling came from a review of correspondence between the SRF and D. Mark Hegsted. He was professor of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. At the same time he was co director of the SRF’s first coronary heart disease research project. This took place from 1965 to 1966. There are 27 documents totaling 31 pages in the Harvard medical Library. It is clear from this correspondence that the SRF was looking for a way to undermine the new research findings of negative effects of sugar. The SRF was looking for a way to confirm that fat reduction would be beneficial for patients. This way many people would be put on a low fat diet, which in turn would ensure continuing and rising sales of sugar.

New evidence that sugar can cause heart attacks

New research came out by D. Mark Hegsted in the Annals of Internal Medicine in June 1965. It linked sugar consumption to cardiovascular disease. It noted that blood sugar levels were a better predictor of hardening of arteries than cholesterol levels or high blood pressure. Another paper stated that it was sugar rather than starches causing high triglycerides in the blood. He hypothesized that “perhaps fructose, a constituent of sucrose but not of starch, was the agent mainly responsible.” An editorial in the same publication noted that these new findings corroborated Dr. Yudkin’s previous research that sugar could cause heart attacks.

The sugar industry was very concerned about these studies. If publicized widely, it would have the capacity to lower sugar sales.

Sugar can cause heart attacks, but review paper ignores this

On July 1, 1965, the SRF’s Hickson visited D. Mark Hegsted to discuss his publication. He wanted him to be part of an extensive literature review that would show that it was too much saturated fat that was the cause of high cholesterol and triglycerides, not sugar. It also should state that a lowering of fat content from 40% to 20% was necessary and that polyunsaturated fatty acids should be used to replace much of the fat. The fact that the food industry would quietly increase sugar content in processed foods was not mentioned. The review paper was called “Project 226”. It resulted in a 2-part literature review by McGandy, Hegsted, and Stare. It was entitled “Dietary Fats, Carbohydrates and Atherosclerotic Disease,” and was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) in 1967. Industry and non-industry funding of the review authors’ experimental research was disclosed. However, the funding by the Sugar Research Foundation was omitted. The authors of the study received handsome amounts of money from the SRF for their efforts. The story that was fabricated is all too well known, but false. It claimed that the medical literature would have shown that a reduction of saturated fat intake would lower cholesterol. It ignored triglyceride levels and stated that only cholesterol levels were significant with respect to coronary artery hardening. It also stated that replacement of saturated fat with polyunsaturated fatty acids like corn oil would also be beneficial in reducing heart attack rates.

Effect of the literature review on heart attack rates

Sadly the NEJM literature review has resulted in government policy for decades where the gospel was preached that a low fat diet would prevent heart attacks. The food industry has prepared processed foods, all low in fats and high in sugar that were supposed to he healthy. But the extra sugar made people fat, it did not decrease heart attack rates, but made them more frequent. Strokes were also on the rise and diabetes has become rampant. The reliance on corn oil has introduced another problem: omega-6 fatty acids are now consumed at an alarming rate. Corn oil has a 1:59 ratio for omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids.

This means that corn oil contributes to the lack of omega-3 fatty acids in our food. When the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids falls below 1:3 or 1:4 the metabolism changes towards inflammation as the arachidonic acid system switches toward inflammation. Cardiologists have pinpointed inflammation as an important cause of hardening of arteries. Fish oil, a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids helps to prevent hard attacks and strokes.

The end result of the confusion regarding fat, sugar and heart attacks caused by the biased literature review meant misery, suffering and death for many for decades. But recently there has been a renaissance of Dr. John Yadkin’s research: Now it is clear what sugar is doing and how it affects our health.

How sugar can cause heart attacks and more

It is clear that sugary soda has detrimental effects on us: as little as one or two cans of sugary soda drinks per day lead to

  • 26 percent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes,
  • A 35 percent greater risk of heart attack or fatal heart disease, and
  • A 16 percent increased risk of stroke.

Dr. Frank Hu has participated in a study that spanned over 24 to 30 years and examined the replacement of saturated fat with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), monounsaturated fatty acids and whole grain carbohydrates. The study involved 84,628 women (Nurses’ Health Study, 1980 to 2010), and 42,908 men (Health Professionals Follow-up Study, 1986 to 2010). The diet was assessed with detailed questionnaires every 4 years. 7,667 cases of cardiovascular disease (CHD) occurred during the long observation times. Compared to controls that did not change their diet with respect to saturated fatty acid intake, those who replaced with PUFA had 25% less CHD, those who replaced with monounsaturated fatty acids had 15% less CHD and those who replaced saturated fatty intake with whole grains had 9% less CHD. In contrast, a subgroup that had replaced saturated fatty acid intake with carbohydrates from refined starches/added sugars ended up with a 10% increase of CHD.

We know now that sugar can increase cholesterol and triglycerides as Dr. John Yadkin has said in the 1960’s.

We also know that sugar can cause arthritis when combined with low omega-3 fatty acids and high omega-6 fatty acids. In the 1950’s Dan Dale Alexander wrote a book called “Arthritis and common sense”. The medical establishment did not accept that simple remedy and Dan Dale Alexander was classified as a “quack”. However, Dr. Mirkin describes a study from Berlin that later confirmed that Dan Dale Alexander’s observation was correct: an emulsion made by shaking orange juice with cod liver oil and taken three times per day on an empty stomach would indeed improve osteoarthritis.

High glycemic foods (sugar, starchy foods) were associated with breast cancer, colorectal cancer and endometrial cancer. The majority of trials showed this association although not all. The more obese patients were, the more pronounced the insulin resistance was and the more the relationship to these cancers became apparent. A diet that is high in starchy foods like potatoes, rice and bread is causing pancreatic cancer as was shown by researchers at the Dana-Faber Cancer Institute, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard School of Public Health.

Sugar Can Cause Heart Attacks

Sugar Can Cause Heart Attacks

Conclusion

The low fat/ high glycemic diet was a fad-diet based on fictitious science, sponsored by the sugar industry. In a way it became a human experiment and resulted in 60 years of suffering to show that this diet did not work. It caused the obesity wave, a wave of heart attacks, strokes and cancer, all caused by too much sugar in the diet. Associated with this are the consumption of processed foods with too much sugar and an abundance of omega-6 fatty acids causing inflammation and hardening of the arteries.

We finally know that sugar raises cholesterol (LDL cholesterol in particular) and triglycerides. This leads to fat deposits and hardening of the arteries resulting in strokes and heart attacks. Remove refined sugar, limit your starchy food intake and eat fish as a source of omega-3 fatty acids. Feast on vegetables, salads and have some nuts as another source of omega-3 fatty acids and you are well on your way to preventing heart attacks, strokes and many cancers. After reading all the facts it does no longer make sense to be a victim of the sugar industry and the associated health risks.

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Nov
10
2015

Sugary Soda Drinks Make You Sick

Dr. Frank Hu and colleagues have recently re-examined the old question of what sugary soda drinks do to you. They usually contain high fructose corn syrup, a mixture of 55% fructose and 45% glucose. This sugar mix can be found in sugary soda drinks as well as in many processed foods like fruit spreads. Dr. Hu’s publication is listed in PubMed , but details can be found in this summary.

The study found that one or two cans of sugary soda drinks per day lead to

  • As high as a 26 percent greater risk of developing type 2 diabetes,
  • A 35 percent greater risk of heart attack or fatal heart disease, and
  • A 16 percent increased risk of stroke.

The study also found that there is a difference of how glucose, the main sugar that the body uses for energy is metabolized versus fructose from high fructose corn syrup or the breakdown of table sugar, a disaccharide consisting of glucose and fructose combined as one molecule. Glucose gets directly absorbed from the gut into the blood circulation and with the help of insulin gets further absorbed directly into body cells. In contrast the liver metabolizes fructose into triglycerides, which can cause fatty liver disease and also insulin resistance. Fructose also raises the bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol). This in turn is a risk factor for developing diabetes, heart attacks and strokes.

It is fructose in sugary drinks and processed foods that are largely responsible for weight gain, metabolic syndrome, diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The newest finding: heart failure can also be caused by high fructose corn syrup

A study in Sweden has recently shown that sugary drinks can cause heart failure. 4200 Swedish men were followed for 12 years in regards to food habits. The study found that the men who drank at least two sweetened drinks per day had a 23% higher risk of developing heart failure. Dr. Susanna Larsson, a co-author of the study, said: “The takeaway message is that people who regularly consume sweetened beverages should consider limiting their consumption to reduce their risk of heart failure”. Heart failure affects nearly 6 million Americans. It develops either on its own in persons with inadequately treated high blood pressure or in people who had a previous heart attack. It is a condition, which disables the heart to effectively pump enough blood with nutrients and oxygen into the tissues. People who are affected by this condition feel the symptoms: they get short of breath with minimal activity. They also may wake up short of breath in the middle of the night. It is a miserable life, as people with heart failure are severely limited in their activities. Even walking a flight of stairs becomes a struggle or even an impossible task. Total disability is the next step.The key is prevention: do not use high fructose corn syrup, and stay away from sugar in any form; instead use stevia to sweeten your food when needed.

Be careful how you replace saturated fatty acids

Dr. Frank Hu has also participated in a study that spanned over 24 to 30 years and examined the replacement of saturated fat with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA), monounsaturated fatty acids and whole grain carbohydrates. The study involved 84,628 women (Nurses’ Health Study, 1980 to 2010), and 42,908 men (Health Professionals Follow-up Study, 1986 to 2010). The diet was assessed with detailed questionnaires every 4 years. 7,667 cases of cardiovascular disease (CHD) occurred during the long observation times. Compared to controls that did not change their diet with respect to saturated fatty acid intake, those who replaced with PUFA had 25% less CHD, those who replaced with monounsaturated fatty acids had 15% less CHD and those who replaced saturated fatty intake with whole grains had 9% less CHD. In contrast, a subgroup that had replaced saturated fatty acid intake with carbohydrates from refined starches/added sugars ended up with a 10% increase of CHD.

Cutting fructose out of diet lowers cholesterol and weight

A new study by Dr. Robert Lustig and colleagues from the University of California, San Francisco showed on 43 children that a change of diet reducing dietary sugar from 28% to 10% and replacing it with other complex carbohydrates led to a significant reduction in triglycerides, cholesterol and blood pressure.

The fructose stimulus was taken away, which stimulates a part in the brain, called nucleus accumbens, where the reward center is located. This is the reason why the more sugar you take in, the more addicted to sugar you become. Not surprisingly when the diet was changed, there were not only internal signs of improving with regard to blood tests, but physically the children showed weight loss just within 10 days as their total calorie intake had reduced. Another observation with regard to fructose metabolism is that ghrelin, the hunger hormone, which usually gets suppressed after a meal, will not get suppressed when you drink a sugary drink with fructose in it. The result is that you do not feel satisfied and you keep on consuming fructose containing drinks resulting in weight gain.

Sugary Soda Drinks Make You Sick

Sugary Soda Drinks Make You Sick

Conclusion

What we eat matters in terms of long-term consequences. This has been shown with refined sugar intake. Don’t lull yourself into the belief that honey is “healthy”. Even though it is a natural product, your body treats it according to its chemical composition: it is sugar, and unfortunately it will get you into health problems naturally. The currently fashionable agave syrup is largely composed of fructose: again, this is bad news for your health! No matter what type of sugar you choose, the long-term consequences have haunting qualities. Consequences of sugar intake are weight gain, diabetes, heart attacks and strokes. When you look at this, you will agree that is not worth to take any of these risks just to satisfy a sweet tooth. Biting into a crisp, sweet apple is enjoyable and has never harmed anybody. Eating a small helping of fruit salad to top off a meal can be a delicious finale to dinner. If you need a sweetener, you are better served using the plant-derived stevia, which is available as a powder or a liquid. Smallest quantities are adequately sweetening foods. Stevia has no calories and none of the consequences of sugar: you’ll enjoy the sweetness without the bitter aftereffects of tooth decay or heart disease!

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May
02
2015

Healthy Olive Oil

In the past it was thought that the monounsaturated fatty acids in olive oil would be the reason why it is protective of the heart. However, newer studies have shown that it is the polyphenols and among these in particular hydroxytyrosol that lower blood pressure and protect you from hardening of the arteries.

In a 2012 study from Spain it was found that mortality from heart attacks was 44% lower than that of a control group who did not incorporate olive oil in their diet.

How polyphenols in olive oil work for you

Only two tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil per day protect you from heart disease. It does so by reducing the total cholesterol level in the blood as well as the LDL cholesterol level. At the same time the more polyphenol is contained in olive oil (such as in extra virgin olive oil), the more HDL your body will produce, which is essential to extract oxidized LDL from arterial plaque. On top of that polyphenol rich olive oil will increase the size of the HDL particles (these larger particles are called HDL2), which are more efficient in extracting oxidized LDL from arterial plaques. A Sept. 2014 study in humans showed that higher polyphenol olive oil as found in extra virgin olive oil caused an increase in the more effective HDL2 particles, which cleans out plaques from arteries more efficiently than the regular, cheaper olive oil.

Endothelial function

The endothelium is the lining of the arteries. Normal endothelial functioning involves widening of the arteries and maintaining its flexibility. The body achieves this through production of a signal molecule, called nitric oxide; the endothelial cells that line our arteries from inside produce it. Exercise increases the production of nitric oxide as well (Ref.1).

In a group of patients with poor endothelial function 2 tablespoons of olive oil (polyphenol rich) per day given over 4 months (the time of the study) showed a significant improvement of endothelial function.

The authors suggested that an enzyme in the endothelial cells, called nitric oxide synthase is being stimulated by components of polyphenol-rich olive oil. This leads to protracted release of nitric oxide, which in turn keeps blood vessels flexible and wide open. Other investigators found that olive oil can influence even a hereditary gene variant of endothelial nitric oxide synthase found in people with a history of premature heart attacks. This high-risk group of people should take extra virgin olive oil regularly to prevent premature heart attacks and strokes.

Endothelial dysfunction occurs when the arteries no longer can deliver adequate amounts of blood to vital organs like the heart or the brain. Endothelial dysfunction is also present in patients with type 2 diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure and metabolic syndrome. Introducing extra virgin olive oil in the diet of these patients will help restore their endothelial function.

Lowering blood pressure

In a study on 23 hypertensive patients it was shown as far back as in 2000 that extra virgin olive oil over 6 months allowed physicians to reduce high blood pressure medications by 48%. When the study was crossed over, the reverse was the case for the control group on sunflower oil that had no such effect before.

Based on what was said about endothelial function above, it is easy to understand that the polyphenols of olive oil released nitric oxide, which is known to lower blood pressure. This is an important finding as high blood pressure is a known risk factor for the development of hardening of the coronary arteries leading to heart attacks, congestive heart failure, but also stroke. Regular intake of 2 tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil often will reverse high blood pressure and restore normal endothelial function.

Preventing heart attacks and strokes

In April of 2013 The New England Journal of Medicine published a Spanish diet study that showed that a participants on a Mediterranean diet with olive oil or nuts had 30% less heart attacks over 5 years than people on a low fat control diet. Other studies have also shown that olive oil and omega-3 fatty acids play a big role in preventing heart attacks and strokes. We also know that regular exercise reduces the risk further; so does keeping your body mass index below 25.0. Extra virgin olive oil is part of the protection from heart attacks and strokes, but it did not show protection against cancer.

Healthy Olive Oil

Healthy Olive Oil

Conclusion

It is a simple fact that incorporating 2 tablespoons of virgin olive oil in your daily food intake will definitely have all of the beneficial effects described above. It is readily available, is inexpensive and very effective. It is also not difficult to work into your eating routine: add olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice to your salads, and cook with olive oil. If you have not totaled 30 grams (2 tablespoons), then make up the difference by eating an extra teaspoon full of olive oil. This is not all! You need to cut down on processed foods as they are made with the wrong oils, such as safflower oil, corn oil, soybean oil and others. These are usually omega-6 containing oils that cause heart attacks and strokes. They are cheap oils use by food processors, and they are not doing anything for your health!

I would suggest that you read more about the powerful role of prevention that extra virgin olive oil has in our diet. Buy it and stick to it as a new healthy lifestyle habit. Two tablespoons a day is the weapon against disease!

Reference:

Ref.1. Current Medical Diagnosis and Treatment 2015, chapter 10 Heart Disease. By Thomas M. Bashore, MD; Christopher B. Granger, MD; Kevin Jackson, MD; Manesh R. Patel, MD: Heart Disease. Lange, 2015.

Oct
24
2014

TACT Study Proves Effectiveness of Chelation

Even though the Trial to Assess Chelation Therapy (TACT Study) has been published in March 2013 (Ref. 1), it still needs to make its way into the common public knowledge. The National Institute of Health was noticing an “alarming 68% increase” of chelation therapy between 2002 and 2007. These patients had problems with previous heart attacks and others had angina due to coronary artery disease, so they sought relief through intravenous chelation treatments. The purpose of the TACT study was to see whether chelation treatments with EDTA were safe and whether they would show any benefits when compared to a placebo group.

TACT study design

A total of 1708 patients were randomized into two groups, 869 treated with EDTA chelation therapy and 869 in treated with placebo infusions of normal saline/dextrose. Treatments were blinded (nobody knew what was given in the intravenous). 134 research sites in Canada and the US were involved in this trial including the Mayo Clinic. Patients had to be at least 50 years old, but the average age was 65 years. They had all a prior heart attack, but not less than 6 weeks before enrolment; on average they did have their heart attack 4.6 years before enrolment. Participants had to quit smoking at least 3 months before entering into the study and if they had revascularization procedures (bypass surgeries or stents), this had to be done more than 6 months in the past.

31% of the study population had diabetes. 83% had revascularization procedures done in the past. The majority of patients were taking heart medications (72% beta blockers, 73% statins to lower cholesterol and 84% aspirin to thin the blood).

65% completed 40 infusions, 76% completed at least 30 infusions.

The chelation infusion was the standard infusion usually used in chelation clinics, namely containing EDTA (the chelating agent), salts and vitamins as indicated in this Mayo clinic summary report. The follow-up period was for 4 years. There was a drop-out of 30% for various reasons and 17% refused their consent to carry on in the study.

TACT Study Proves Effectiveness Of Chelation

TACT Study Proves Effectiveness Of Chelation

Results of the TACT study

Overall mortality in the chelation group was down 2.8% versus the placebo group. Heart attacks in the chelation group were down 19.5%; strokes down 20% and hospitalization rates were down 28.6% when compared to the values of the placebo group.

Diabetic patients (the subgroup of 31%) appear to have greater benefits from chelation treatments than the non-diabetic ones. The diabetic group benefitted by 39% with regard to risk reduction (strokes, heart attacks, mortality) versus the non-diabetic chelation group (only a 4% reduction).

Perhaps as important as the results of the effect of the chelation study versus the placebo group was the fact that the side-effect profile was indistinguishable between the two groups. This establishes for the first time that chelation therapy is safe and that it also has beneficial effects.

It is interesting that when the results of the TACT Study were announced at the 2012 American Heart Association meeting in Los Angeles, the majority of cardiologists did not believe the results (that chelation was effective); instead they were looking for alternative explanations to explain the effect and suggested that this study needed to be repeated again.

What are the benefits of chelation therapy?

Originally EDTA was used to treat children with lead poisoning in Germany. However, workers who were exposed to lead containing paints in various industries also were described to have improve significantly with EDTA chelation (see this chelation history link).

In the 1990’s environmental concerns about heavy metal poisoning of the earth atmosphere came more into the forefront. This 2007 paper reports about heavy metal poisoning in detail.

A new concern for those who like organic food is the use of copper sulfate by organic food growers to spray against fungal and bacterial growth on crop as copper sulfate is one of the 5 chemicals used in organic agriculture approved by the USDA.

Those who consume organic foods may inadvertently expose themselves to copper in their system. This will reduce zinc levels as zinc naturally counterbalances the effects of elevated copper levels. But normal zinc levels are needed for normal body function, particularly in males.

As I have explained in this blog before, chelation therapy and several other methods can detoxify the body. Pollution continues to play havoc with our system and we need to consider taking steps to counteract that. In this blog I explained that we live in a toxic world and I mentioned several steps we can take to counteract this including chelation therapy. Particularly heavy metals like lead, mercury, cadmium and copper will be reduced in the blood by intravenous EDTA chelation treatments.

Conclusion

I felt that I should take some time explaining the carefully conducted TACT Study that was a randomized double blind, government sponsored study examining the effects of chelation treatments. It showed that there were significant improvements in terms of cardiovascular recovery, but it also showed that it was entirely non-toxic. Chelation should be done by an American College for Advancement in Medicine (ACAM) certified practitioner to ensure that you get the same chelation treatment as described in the TACT Study. People with heart conditions will need 30 to 40 treatments (usually 1 week apart) to improve. However, a person with a normal heart who considers detoxification will only need 10 treatments initially (twice per week or weekly), then one every three months for maintenance. We all reside on the same planet and are exposed to ongoing pollution and food toxicity. Due to this reality the topic of chelation and detoxification is worth some serious consideration not only for patients with heart health issues.

More information about vitamins and detoxification: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/nutrition/vitamins-minerals-supplements/

Reference: 1. J. American Medical Association (March 27, 2013, Vol. 309, No. 12)

Last edited Nov. 8, 2014

May
21
2014

Forty Percent Of Premature Deaths Can Be Prevented

A new report from the CDC (Center of Disease Control) in the US has revealed that up to 40% of premature deaths could be prevented by simple lifestyle changes. As this link shows every year about 900,000 premature deaths occur in the US, which are due to 5 major diseases that in the opinion of the CDC can be prevented by 20 to 40%. Here are the diseases that kill: cancer, heart disease, COPD/emphysema, stroke and accidents/injuries. These conditions were responsible for 63% of all deaths in the US in 2010.

Let’s discuss each of these conditions and how one could lower the risk of dying from them.

1. Cancer:

The Framingham Heart Study has shown that smoking and cancer are closely related. Smokers who quit can significantly reduce their risk of getting cancer. We also know that exercise and prophylactic supplements like fish oil and vitamin D3 have cancer preventative effects.

Antioxidant supplementation that included beta-carotene, vitamin A, vitamin C, and vitamin E daily or on alternate days for 1 to 12 years, along with selenium supplementation reduced the incidence of cancer of the esophagus, colon, pancreas, stomach or the liver. Insulin resistance due to sugar and starch overconsumption is causing cancer, particularly breast cancer, colorectal cancer and endometrial cancer. I have discussed this in a recent blog.

Pollution has been linked to increased lung cancer risks as discussed here.

2. Heart disease:

Heart disease can be caused by several factors in combination. Lifestyle issues are important: Smokers need to quit smoking as the Framingham Heart Study has shown more than fifty years ago that smoking causes heart attacks. Obesity and diabetes also contribute significantly to the risk of heart disease. Often these are connected to faulty nutrition, which is another lifestyle issue that comes to mind when too much sugar and starchy foods are taken in; your liver will convert these into fatty acids, triglycerides and elevated, oxidized LDL cholesterol, which gets deposited under the lining of the arteries. A lack of exercise adds to this problem as a lack of exercise lowers the protective HDL cholesterol and fat is deposited under the lining of the arteries. Start exercising and your protective HDL cholesterol will rise, your total cholesterol to HDL ratio will lower to healthier levels and your risk for hardening of the arteries and for getting a heart attack will fall. If you have diabetes, it is important that you manage your blood sugars well; this means that if you inject insulin, you want the blood sugar tests to be within the normal range and the hemoglobin A1C values to be below 5.5%. Poorly controlled diabetes is an important cause of heart attacks and strokes. High blood pressure is also an important cause of developing heart attacks and strokes. It is important to control your blood pressure by taking blood pressure lowering pills and also by exercising regularly. Exercise seems to send a signal to relax the blood vessels thus lowering the blood pressure, which in turn prevents heart attacks.

Forty Percent Of Premature Deaths Can Be Prevented

Forty Percent Of Premature Deaths Can Be Prevented

 

3. COPD/emphysema:

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or emphysema is mostly caused by chronic exposure to cigarette smoke from smoking. The earlier you can quit, the better your chances that your breathing will not be the limiting factor when you age. But it is also important to avoid exposure to other noxious gases, such as from welding and from exposure to pollution. This may involve a decision to move to a less polluted area. Or it might involve a job retraining. Those who are suffering from COPD can be helped to a certain extent by a portable oxygen tank with nasal prongs.

4. Stroke:

As mentioned before, quitting smoking, controlling high blood pressure and controlling blood sugar, if you suffer from diabetes have been shown to stabilize your blood vessels including the ones that supply your brain. The key is to prevent hardening of the arteries by a healthy lifestyle. Exercising and keeping your weight under a body mass index of 25.0 have been shown to be effective stroke prevention. Healthy nutrition as indicated above under “heart disease” is equally important for stroke prevention. Go green (eat more vegetables, consume more green smoothies), cut down grains, sugar and starchy foods and you will live longer without strokes and heart attacks. Remember, what’s good for your heart is good for your brain!

5. Unintentional accidents/injuries:

Wearing helmets when bicycling, wearing seat belts when driving in a car, avoiding risky behaviors are all measures that save lives. One factor stands out in all of this: if you drink too much, you run the risk of being involved in unintentional accidents or injuries. People may not like to hear this, but your brain lacks the natural inhibitory impulses when you are under the influence of alcohol, so you become more daring and you may not pay attention for the split second that could have prevented an injury or accident. People react very differently to alcohol. Some people feel inebriated after only ½ a glass of wine or beer whereas others can drink more before they make mistakes. The best is to be sober when you drive, ski, use power tools or walk in traffic. Even climbing ladders requires a clear mind!

Conclusion:

As the CDC said 20 to 40% of premature deaths (deaths that occurred before the age of 80) could have been prevented, if the above-mentioned recommendations were followed. Let me rephrase this: 180,000 to 360,000 premature deaths every year in the US before the age of 80 could have been prevented! Curative medicine cannot help with these statistics as a heart attack or stroke has happened when it has struck you. Cancer and end stage lung disease are similar conditions that you are suddenly faced with when they occur and unintentional accidents just seem to happen. This is where the importance of prevention can be seen, because these little baby steps every day are adding up to something formidable, a force to be reckoned with. Be part of the solution, think prevention!

More information on:

1. Cancer mortality: http://nethealthbook.com/cancer-overview/overview/cancer-mortality-rate/

2. Higher vitamin D3 intake lowers mortality from heart attacks, strokes, cancer, fractures due to osteoporosis: http://nethealthbook.com/news/higher-vitamin-d-levels-associated-lower-risk-mortality/

Last edited Nov. 8, 2014

Apr
19
2014

Measuring Your Heart Function

Recently I came across a book by Dr. Steven Masley, cardiologist (fellow of the American Heart Association, see Ref.1). The heart’s function is to pump your blood reliably all your life. It is a complicated organ, but it works well, if we treat it well. Western medicine has taught us that with complicated machinery and tests we can assess how the heart is doing. But until recently there was no reliable easier way to assess our cardiac health function. The purpose of this blog is to summarize a three-pronged approach to measure your heart and blood vessel health. It is described in detail in Ref.1, but I doubt that many people have yet read this important reference book. It is also important to FIRST see your doctor whether you are able to do the Bruce protocol (treadmill test, the third component below). If you neglect to be cleared by your doctor you run the risk of possibly getting angina pains or getting a heart attack.

1. Carotid IMT or carotid intimal-medial thickness test: You measure the degree to which there is hardening of the coronary arteries indirectly by measuring the thickness of the lining of the carotid arteries (carotid IMT or carotid intimal-medial thickness test). Dr. Masley has showed over a period of 10 years and more in many patients at his Health Center that there is a close correlation between the degree of coronary artery hardening and the degree of hardening of the carotid arteries. He stated that his research has shown that “90% of the time, the carotid arteries, the coronary arteries, and even the arteries of your legs all grow plaque at the same time”. The gold standard for checking the condition of your coronary arteries is a heart catheterization as Dr. Masley explains (page 58). But he adds: “IMT testing should be the new gold standard for cardiovascular plaque testing. However, this is not yet the case. Despite its usefulness, 95% of doctors are not ordering this screening test for their patients. You can rest assured that this is a situation I am to change“.

Measuring Your Heart Function

Measuring Your Heart Function

2. A detailed lipid analysis called the VAP test: A detailed laboratory test analyzing your lipid fractions (LDL, HDL, total cholesterol and VAP test). The buoyant HDL fraction, called HDL2 is the key to having a low risk for hardening of the arteries. HDL2 is large, fluffy and is designed to remove garbage from within the lining of the arteries. Also, the cholesterol ratio is another measurement for a low risk for hardening of the arteries when it is less than 3.0. The first two tests assess how much hardening of the arteries there is present and when they are normal, there is a relative reassurance that nothing drastic (like a heart attack or stroke) should happen within the next 10 years provided you keep up a regular exercise program and healthy food intake.

3. Bruce protocol (Treadmill test): The Bruce protocol (treadmill test) is often done by a cardiologists, but can also be done through many gyms, where a trainer with experience in exercise physiology will do it. This functional test measuring cardiac output has been developed many decades back and has withstood the test of time. Here is an overview what this is. As the slope of a treadmill and the speed of the belt are increased, the heart needs to do more work to maintain blood flow to your extremities and vital organs. The trainer or exercise physiologist measures the response of the heart activity in relation to the increase of the exercise load. A complicated formula allows calculating how much your maximal cardiac output is. This test has several variations and can be complicated to understand. Essentially, the higher the numbers you can create, the better. Here is a table with various results of the VaO2max from Bruce protocols and how they are interpreted.

4. Treating abnormalities found with the three basic tests: These are the necessary tools that tell you where you are in regard to your heart function. People with heart failure should not do this third test, because their heart muscle is too weak to sustain this and they would get heart failure meaning that blood gets backed up into the lungs and there could be severe breathing problems leading to a lack of oxygen (anoxia) in the heart tissue, which in turn can cause irregular heart beats (fibrillation of the heart muscle) and a heart attack. Assume that the first two tests were within the normal limit for your age, then the Bruce protocol would give you the maximum heart output at the peak level of your treadmill test. At this point you are measuring directly the cardiac output (in other words what your heart is capable of pumping for you in a certain time unit). This measurement is what physicians call the VaO2 max  or maximal oxygen consumption. This is the best index for maximal heart capacity. If your levels are higher than normal, you have extra reserves with respect to your heart as a pump for times when you need it. If this latter tolerance test shows poor results, it usually means that you were inactive and you would benefit from an exercise program. If the first test shows hardening of the arteries more than is appropriate for your age, you would need to look at your eating habits. At the same time often the VAT values and the cholesterol ratio is off meaning that you are eating the wrong foods and it shows in your blood test results.

5. Advise regarding diet, exercise and relaxation: Dr. Masley’s book has several sections that explain what needs to be done when things are not normal. For instance, the author does not mince words when it comes to eating the right fats and cutting out sugar and starchy foods. For instance on page 199 there is a neat table that lists the fiber content of different foods. We need more fiber to slow down the absorption of sugary substances, which will minimize the insulin response following a meal. Dr. Masley also mentions that omega-3-fatty acids from fish and good seafood choices will balance the omega-6-fatty acids that would lead towards the arachidonic acid pathway, which causes arthritis, inflammation and cancer. There are many more dietary recommendations, too numerous to repeat them all here. Suffice it to say that molecularly distilled omega-3 fish oil, vitamin D 1,500 to 3000 Units daily, and magnesium supplements are all good for you heart. Vitamin K2 gets calcium out of your blood vessels and into the bone (100 micrograms per day). Other worthwhile supplements mentioned in the book are CoQ-10 (50 to 200 mg twice per day), but it would be wise to have blood levels drawn, which should be above 2.5mcg/ml to which the CoQ-10 intake could be titrated. Curcumin and Resveratrol are also recommended. Most of all, it seems that regular physical exercise such as a balanced gym program is the single most effective way to reverse hardening of the arteries as measured by the carotid IMT testing.

Conclusion: Times have changed. It used to be thought that our lives were following a one-way street downwards. During periods of malnutrition, lack of exercise, being sessile and abusing alcohol and drugs this may well be the case. However, we now know that this is reversible. Change to healthier food, start smoothies with organic vegetables in a mixer, get going and walk. Jog or use a gym to get regular exercise. Physical exercise reverses the fat deposits inside the lining of the arteries. The HDL-2 fraction rises and helps counteract the elevated LDL cholesterol. Even the mood of the person who exercises regularly becomes more stabilized. Using these simpler three tests the physicians will not need the more complicated Thallium heart scans, heart catheterization etc. These three tests described above are well worth being done every two years, so that you can monitor what’s going on with your heart and blood vessels in general. What questions do you have? You could ask them below.

More information on heart disease: http://nethealthbook.com/cardiovascular-disease/heart-disease/

References: 1. Dr. Steven Masley, MD: “The 30-day Heart Tune-Up – A Breakthrough Medical Plan to Prevent and Reverse Heart Disease”, Center Street, A Division of Hachette Book Group Inc. New York, Boston, Nashville, USA © 2014.

Last edited Nov. 8, 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

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

Jul
06
2013

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

When your grandmother grew up there was very little convenience food, maybe ketchup and yes, there was processed cheese and coke. There were also bread and butter.

Now we go through a large grocery store and the center of the whole store is occupied by convenience food, row after row.

What is convenience food? It is pre-cooked or processed food that sits on a shelf waiting to be bought and consumed. You may be able to just eat it the way it is (power bars, fruit yoghurt snacks, ice cream, breakfast cereals etc.) or you just have to microwave it for a minute or two (ready made meals, pizzas). Even, if you make a fresh salad, you top it with a salad dressing that has been processed and may contain chemicals that are not necessarily healthy for you.

This blog is meant to make you think and get educated as a consumer. As a physician I am guided by what is healthy for you, but at the same time food needs to be interesting and taste good and be affordable.

As fat, carbohydrates and protein are the main food groups that we eat, I will deal with each of these categories first followed by vitamins and minerals, which we also need.

Fats and oils

Many convenience foods are full of saturated fatty acids, which contribute to the overall calorie count of the package and are one of the main reasons why we gain weight and deposit fat into our arteries in preparation for a heart attack or stroke down the road. As you may know the worst form of fat is hydrogenated fat, also known as “trans fat”.

It contains free radicals from the hydrogenation process, which damage your cells and interfere with normal body metabolism. Read labels and avoid any foods that have a long shelf life as this is due to hydrogenated fats and chemicals known as food preservatives.

This food group also contains sausages and other processed meat; I wrote a separate blog about this recently.

If you eat cheese, reduce your saturated fat intake by buying cheese with only 18% fat (such as Cantenaar cheese, Jarlsberg light, skim milk mozzarella and goat cheese). Avoid the rich 45% type cheeses. The best oil in your kitchen would be an organic cold pressed olive oil. It figures prominently in Mediterranean cooking.

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

Sugar, starch and other carbohydrates

A large portion of snacks from the mid section of the grocery store contains all forms of sugar: high fructose corn syrup, sugar, honey, agave syrup, maple syrup etc.  You may think that a harmless fruit juice would be healthy until you see from the ingredient list on the label that it contains 5 to 6 teaspoons of sugar per cup (250 ml) of juice.

Unfortunately our body is not equipped to process all the sugar that the food industry wants us to consume and we develop insulin resistance; the liver converts the excess sugars into fat and deposits it into our arteries and as fat deposits between our guts (visceral fat) and as subcutaneous fat in the thighs, around the hips and the waist. It is no secret that a lot of obesity is related to overconsumption of sugar containing convenience foods (snacks and sugar-laden drinks).

Often low calorie alternatives contain aspartame or sucralose (Splenda). Aspartame is an excitotoxin damaging your brain cells and sucralose was developed in the 1950’s as an insecticide. We do not want to replace disease-promoting sugar with toxins as sweeteners. Safe alternatives for sugar are xylitol, mannitol, and stevia.

Here is a recent headline that also described the dangers of sugar laden prepackaged foods.

What is sometimes overlooked is the fact that your body digests bread, starchy foods such as potatoes, and pasta, rice and flour products like pizza or cookies within 30 minutes into sugar that is as harmful to your pancreas as plain sugar or high fructose corn syrup. The body reacts with the same overproduction of insulin converting the excess sugar into fat and depositing it in your body as described above. Much of the obesity wave we see in the past 3 decades is due to baked goods like bagels, bread, pasta and pizza. It is much better to enjoy your stevia-sweetened coffee without any bakery pieces to go along with it.

Protein in meats, dairy products and sausages

You would think that a healthy cut of meat from the grocery store would be a good source of protein for you. You probably did not think that it could be contaminated with a superbug when you bought it. This is especially true for ground meats like hamburger meat. If you bought a portion of organic meat you can be more certain that you are buying a qualitatively superior product. I discussed this whole issue of superbugs in meat and meat products in this blog recently.

We need to be aware of the agroindustry, the feedlots and what they fed the animals. I only buy organic meat and organic dairy products as my source of protein. I avoid sausages altogether because of the food additives that they contain, which are cancer causing.

The problem with prepared meats like chicken nuggets and others is that they contain breading and food preservatives and they have been deep fried, which makes these items an unhealthy choice.

What are some of the problems with dairy products? Despite the allegations that bovine growth hormone would be harmless to your health, your body thinks otherwise. Your body has hormone receptors that are very specific and bovine growth hormone can block them so your own human growth hormone from the pituitary gland cannot function properly. This is why I would recommend only organic milk products. You may have heard that in many European countries bovine growth hormone is banned for that reason.

Next the fat content of dairy products needs to be monitored: go for low-fat milk, cheese and yoghurt. While we are talking about yoghurt, stay away from fruit yoghurts that have all kinds of sugar and food additives mixed in. Add fruit of your choice and stevia, if you need a sweet taste.

Vitamins and minerals

The more foods are processed, the less natural vitamins and minerals stay behind. Particularly vitamin C and the B complex group are affected, but also magnesium, which is an important co-factor to enzymatic reactions within our cells. Often processed foods contain too much salt with sodium displacing potassium from the cells resulting in a lack of energy and high blood pressure.

Your best prevention is to stick to as little processed food as possible and to eat organic. If you eat enough organic greens and vegetables, there is an ample supply of vitamins and minerals. Prepare your own soups as canned products are high in sodium; another unwanted additive is often sodium glutamate (MSG), which comes under many disguised names. It belongs to the group of excitotoxins like aspartame and is not welcomed by your brain cells.

Public Awareness

Lately there has been more of public interest and awareness to the detrimental effects of convenience foods. Alarming reports about the increase in the obesity rates, the rise in diabetes type 2 even in children have been in the media for some time. The publications are not only North American, but also European, as can bee seen in this link.

New legislation is being introduced in many states of the US regarding school snacks and vending machines in schools.

Not all food news is bad. Recently it was reported that fish oil could protect against the effects of junk food. Omega-3-fatty acids contained in fish oil are helping to rebalance the ratio between omega 3 and omega 6-fatty acids in food, which often is disbalanced towards an overabundance of omega-6 fatty aids in processed foods. Rebalancing the omega3/omega6 ratio in food helps to normalize the metabolism of the brain and prevents hardening of arteries.

What you can do to get healthy food

It starts when you buy food. Read labels and look for calories, sugar, fat and sodium content. You may be surprised how many stores carry organic foods now. The price may not be that much more. There is a useful app for your cell phone, Buycott, that you may want to download. This way you can scan items in the store and find out what ingredients are contained in a particular food item and which company produces it.

With meats it is particularly important to buy organic (because of superbugs and also because of the aspect that feed lot animals often receive antibiotics and hormones). Stick to organics also with vegetables and greens (xenoestrogens in non-organic greens that block hormone receptors). Milk products also need to be organic because of the bovine growth hormone facts mentioned above.

When you eat out, things become more difficult unless you find an organic food restaurant. You can always prepare your own salad for lunch with organic greens and a lean protein food, which you keep refrigerated until you are ready to consume it. On weekends a portable picnic in a park can be a great way to relax and socialize, especially in summer.

More information about nutrition: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/nutrition/

Last edited Nov. 6, 2014

Mar
04
2013

Coffee, Tea, Vitamin C And E Prevent Stroke And Dementia

Elizabeth E. Devore, ScD, now with Brigham and Women’s and Harvard Medical School, did a long-term study involving 5,395 people aged 55 and older who were part of the long-term Rotterdam Study of medical conditions and other factors in older adults. Over the 14-year observation period 601 patients developed strokes and 599 patients developed dementia. Detailed dietary questionnaires were available from the study that helped the author to detect what the protective factors were in those who did not develop strokes or dementia. When all other factors were excluded (including tea and coffee consumption) and only anti-oxidant factors were looked at, it turned out that there was no difference in terms of stroke or dementia rates when the lowest and highest percentiles of antioxidant groups were compared. But when the lowest and highest percentiles of tea and coffee consumers were analyzed and compared, about 90% of strokes and of dementia disappeared meaning that tea and coffee consumption is protective for both.  Dr. Devore explained that other studies have shown that vitamin C helps prevent strokes and vitamin E helps to prevent dementia and that both vegetables and fruit as well as tea and coffee have been shown in other studies to help reduce both.

Here is another article that investigated the role that vitamin E plays in reducing brain aging and preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s.

In a long-term study (over 20 years) vitamin C was shown to help prevent hemorrhagic and embolic strokes.

Coffee, Tea, Vitamin C And E Prevent Stroke And Dementia

Coffee, Tea, Vitamin C And E Prevent Stroke And Dementia

Vitamin C and E are not the only beneficial vitamins for the brain. Vitamin D3 can help prevent thromboembolic strokes as the Honolulu study going on for 34 years showed.

What about coffee and tea? There is a 10-year study involving 32,600 women where 1 or two cups of coffee per day led to a 25-32% reduction of strokes compared to non-coffee or tea consuming controls.

Males also experience a reduction of thromboembolic strokes with tea or coffee consumption. There has been a Finnish study that consisted of 29,133 smokers (smoking 5 cigarettes a day) aged 50 to 69 who were stroke free when entering the study. It ended in 1993 and had lasted for at least 5 years. Drinking two cups of black tea or 8 cups of coffee reduced the stroke risk by 21 to 23%.

Fruit and vegetables contain a lot of vitamin B complex. As this link shows vitamin B can lower cysteine, a blood component that contributes to heart attacks and strokes.

So, what should you do to prevent strokes and dementia?

Stop smoking, if you do. Avoid alcohol and drugs as much as you can. Your brain cells have very sensitive mitochondria that give you energy, but they are very sensitive to toxins. Avoid brain injuries like concussions as they can accumulate and lead to dementia. Whatever you can do for your heart is good for stroke prevention such as weight loss (down to a body mass index of 22.0), exercise, and sensible food intake (complex carbs, cut out sugar, have lean meat, more chicken, turkey, lean pork, only occasional beef). Take multiple vitamins including B, C, D3, E and drink tea or coffee. Some health oriented people may not want to hear this latter point (tea, coffee), but the studies show it is brain and heart protective.

More information on dementia: http://nethealthbook.com/neurology-neurological-disease/alzheimers-dementia-and-delirium/dementia/

More links regarding the Elizabeth E. Devore, ScD study:

1) http://www.everydayhealth.com/stroke/how-antioxidants-really-protect-against-stroke-and-dementia-3194.aspx

2) http://www.webmd.com/healthy-aging/news/20130220/high-antioxidant-diet-may-not-prevent-stroke-dementia-study-finds

Here is a link to the National Stroke Association about stroke prevention: http://www.stroke.org/site/PageServer?pagename=prevent

Last updated Nov. 6, 2014