Jan
25
2014

Live Your Best Life

While attending the 21st Annual World Congress on Anti-Aging, Regenerative & Aesthetic Medicine the audience was treated to a magnificent speech by the keynote speaker, who you all know from the TV show  “The Doctors”, namely the ER-doctor, Dr. Travis Stork.

He said that there are 4 main ingredients that are necessary to live the “best of your life”.

1. Healthy living starts in the kitchen

You want to make sure that you leave out unhealthy foods. This includes that you also need to cut out sugar. Be aware how important protein is, so you need protein with each meal. This includes legumes, fish, chicken, turkey meat and others. Saturated fat is essential, can improve your health and makes you feel full, but stay away from unhealthy, sugary snacks.

Snacks do not harm your health, but they must be healthy ones like nuts three times per day. To include nuts three times per day lowers your risk of dying by 39% and your rate of heart attacks by 52%.

In order to prove a point about cutting out junk foods, the TV producer convinced Dr. Stork to go on a junk food diet for 7 days to see what would happen. He gained 8 pounds after 6 days, his mood was getting subdued and he started to look forward to his next meal as if he was addicted to the junk foods. But suddenly he could not take it anymore and was concerned about getting sick from this experiment (rightfully so). He told his producer that he had to stop this experiment. He explained that most of his fat accumulation was happening in the abdominal area (visceral fat) and he showed a video that illustrated this further. He explained that the visceral fat is metabolically very active, produces inflammatory agents and causes changes in the heart vessels that eventually lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Live Your Best Life

Live Your Best Life

2. “I need you to start working out!”

We were designed to get moving. Our ancestors were gatherers and hunters, so they were constantly on the move. Our genetics have not changed, but our lifestyle habits are far removed: the sessile habits are not suiting us well healthwise. Translated into modern life this means: sit less; do gardening; use pacing as a technique to move when you are on the phone. Take the stairs instead of the elevator; walk (a minimum of 30 minutes three times per week). Personally, I like to add that our body never takes a holiday, so I think we should exercise 7 days per week.

3. Mind and body are connected

Stress can ruin your health. Happy people are 50% less likely to die prematurely. Laughter heals. A funny video was shared with the audience where a parent ripped a piece of paper into smaller and smaller pieces and the toddler watched with glee and laughed every time when the paper was ripped into two smaller parts. A service dog can be a great companion for disabled individuals, but pets have a positive impact on the health of any individual. They can be of help to reduce stress.

It is known that mind and body are connected. As a result, if your mind and body are balanced, your hormones get balanced and this helps to keep your metabolism in check. If your metabolism is balanced, you will avoid getting diseases like heart attacks, strokes, arthritis, and even cancer.

4. Make sure you get enough sleep

40% of people do not get enough sleep. You can change your sleep behavior. How do you do it?

a)    Have a consistent bedtime/waking time. Set your alarm clock to the same time every morning. Aim for 7 to 8 hours of sleep per night.

b)    Avoid late night caffeine as it prevents a good night’s sleep.

c)    Get active throughout the day; this will prepare you to get tired in the evening.

d)    Towards the end of the day have a to-do-list ready for the next day. This prevents tossing and turning and thinking about what you want to do the following day. You know that it is all written down on the list, so you can relax and get to sleep.

e)    No bright lights in the bedroom, no bright alarm clocks, no control lights of electronic gadgets and have light-blocking window coverings in place. Do not have a TV in the bedroom, also no cell phone, and stay away from the computer for 1 hour before your bedtime.

After you re-programmed your body and mind to a regular sleep rhythm, you automatically get tired when you should and your hormones and body chemistry find a new balance, which contributes to good health.

Dr. Stork stated that we all need to prevent disease. We do this by making health our hobby. There is no need to be obsessed about it. “Just live your best life!”

Conclusion

I summarized Dr. Stork’s presentation from the anti-aging conference, as it struck me how simple it really is to live a healthier life. If we all follow these simple steps, we are a long way into anti-aging, because it gives us the footing we need to further refine it from there.

In many previous blogs I have mentioned these 4 factors that are needed to slow down aging. However, there are other factors that may be needed like bioidentical hormone replacement when there are hormone deficiencies; detoxification, if there is evidence of toxicity; and vitamins and other supplements. Anti-inflammatory and antioxidant vitamins and supplements like CoQ10, vitamin D3 and omega3-fatty acid/DHA supplements are needed to keep LDL from getting oxidized as this is the reason why people die of heart attacks and strokes and get cancer.

I have recently written a book entitled “A Survivor’s Guide To Successful Aging” (being published at Amazon.com in March 2014), which explains the science behind why it is important to cut out sugar and starch. Sugar and starchy foods are the foods that oxidize LDL cholesterol, and ultimately it is the oxidized LDL cholesterol that causes deaths from heart attacks and strokes. In this text I have explained how proper nutrition, exercise, hormone rebalancing, supplements and lifestyle changes will allow you to prevent the major illnesses from setting in thus extending your life expectancy considerably. Included in the book is a chapter (written by my wife, Christina Schilling) that contains 7 days of recipes for breakfasts, lunches, dinners and desserts as well as snacks.

Last edited Oct. 25, 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

May
01
2005

Red Bull Not A Natural Health Drink

Some people like the caffeine fix in the form of coffee, cola drinks or chocolate. The kick of 36 mg of caffeine in one can of cola is enough of a wake up call and can interfere with falling asleep at night. In the meantime however, some soft drinks appeal to the crowd that thinks that more must be better. One of the concoctions, Red Bull, which came originally from Austria, has managed to be approved by Health Canada as a “natural health product”.

There are a few strings attached: the label must carry a warning that the drink is not recommended for children and breast-feeding women. The drink should not be mixed with alcohol, and no more than 500 ml (two cans) should be consumed per day. The European Commission on Food Safety had closely scrutinized it, and the product is in fact banned in France, Denmark, and Norway, as the authorities are not sure about the long-term effect of the ingredients, namely taurine, caffeine and glucuronolactone.

The problem remains that any kid can have access to Red Bull at the corner store. No one is watching how much is consumed. These drinks have become hot seller-last year alone 80,000 L of “energy drinks” were sold in Canada alone. Red Bull packs a significant 80 mg of caffeine, “Guru” comes in with 125 mg of caffeine, and it is even sold in school cafeterias in Montreal.

Red Bull Not A Natural Health Drink

Red Bull Not A Natural Health Drink

A sports nutritionist observed also, that it has become a popular practice among certain athletes to down three or full cans of Red Bull and in addition combine this whopping dose with a product” Hot Rox”, which delivers another jolt of 1000 mg caffeine. Exaggerated adrenaline rush can be the perfect recipe for injury, insomnia and poor recovery.
The breweries seem to want a market slice too, as Labatt’s new “Shok” sports more alcohol (6.9%) and 60 mg of caffeine in addition. Molson”s “Kick” delivers 55 mg caffeine and 5% alcohol.
Doctors should be on the watch for caffeine overdoses and also the resulting withdrawal symptoms. Transient behavior changes, irritability, nervousness and anxiety are on the list for the first, lack of energy and inability to concentrate are the effects of withdrawal. Reaching for stimulants also give a false sense of energy is no substitute for energy from real food. And last not least the label saying “all natural” does not guarantee safety.

Reference: The Medical Post, April 12, 2005, page 21

Last edited December 7, 2012