Jan
11
2014

From Inflammation To Heart Attacks, Strokes And Arthritis

Have you ever wondered why people who limp from arthritis in their hip also often get heart attacks? And have you ever wondered why people with high blood pressure get strokes and/or heart attacks?

It is not that difficult to understand, although many people do not like to hear the truth.

After the holidays with lots of sweet presents and rich food it is a good time to reflect about the internal connections between our organs.

Let’s follow what foods can do to our system, then you will understand what to do to get out of a trap, where food is not friendly but damaging to your body.

1.    Sugar, omega-6 fatty acids and trans fats enter your system

When you opened the cheap chocolate bars, ate the pastas, the turkey gravy and the ice cream for dessert, your stomach faithfully digested all that food and broke it down into glucose (a simple sugar), omega-6 fatty acids and highly reactive trans fat with free radicals (from deep fried foods, margarine, shortening, pie crusts, cake mixes, frostings and non dairy coffee creamers just to mention a few).  Within ½ hour the sugar molecules from the digested meal will enter your blood stream.

2.    The metabolism sets in

We know from years and years of research that the glucose in the blood triggers the release of insulin from the pancreas, which facilitates absorption of sugar into your liver and muscles where it is stored as glycogen. This is meant to be a storage form of sugar, just in case you do not eat for a few hours, but need energy to burn for your physical activity. When you have saturated the glycogen storage in liver and muscles, your liver metabolizes sugar into fatty acids and triglycerides. There is the transport LDL cholesterol that is supposed to supply the brain and heart with healthy cholesterol for these organs to replace cell membranes. Instead, the LDL cholesterol that is supposed to be balanced by the protective HDL cholesterol gets oxidized from the extra sugar and from the free radicals of the TRANS fats that are now being outlawed by the FDA for exactly that reason. So, the oxidized LDL cholesterol turns into the vicious VDLDL particles, which can be measured as a special blood test by your doctor. The overabundance of omega-6 fatty acids start an internal fire by stimulating the arachidonic acid pathway, which causes inflammation in your arteries, your joints and your immune system.

From Inflammation To Heart Attacks, Strokes And Arthritis

From Inflammation To Heart Attacks, Strokes And Arthritis

3.    The consequences of eating foods which spike your blood sugar levels

The end result is hardening of your arteries and the beginning of arthritis in your joints. Mind you, this does not happen overnight, but when you eat this way decade after decade it takes its toll. Typically in your forties or fifties you will notice some swollen knuckles. Don’t just let this happen. Think that this is a sign that something is festering in you! If you don’t interfere, there could be one wrong move, when you play sports and a meniscal tear in your knee could put an end to the fun. Sure, you will find a reason that the angle of your jump was unfortunate and this was simply enough for your meniscus to tear. But could it be that there were inflammatory changes in your meniscus long before this incident, the meniscal material softened up, dried up because of a lack of proper nourishing synovial fluid? I found when I was in primary care practice that this was what caused the majority of meniscal tears. A normal meniscus does not tear easily, but decades of malnutrition will lead to these hidden changes, where a meniscus can be softened and is prone to damage without a warning.

Arthritis in your joints is similar to the process of what I described regarding meniscal degeneration. An imbalance of the omega-6/omega-3 ratio where people take in 12 to 16 times as much omega-6 fatty acids from processed food compared to omega-3 fatty acids from fish oil or fish consumed, causes inflammation of the joints via the arachidonic acid metabolism.

What about the arteries? It is no secret that many people in their 60’s have suddenly an episode of chest pain that leads to a referral to a cardiologist who will do a heart catheterization. A stent or two may have to be placed because of hardening and narrowing of the coronary arteries. In many trials where people with coronary artery disease were followed laboratory tests showed that these individuals had low 25-hydroxy-vitamin D levels in their blood and the calcium that was meant to make their bones strong, ended up in the arteries. Vitamin K2 is often also missing because of malnutrition.

People with high blood pressure often do not have enough nitric oxide production from their arteries, because they do not eat enough vegetables, they are too sessile and they eat too many sweets and starchy foods. As a result  the liver overproduces triglycerides and fat, and oxidized LDL cholesterol damages the lining of the arteries. Just treating high blood pressure with blood pressure lowering medications will not correct the underlying metabolic disbalance. This is why people who had 2 or three stents for coronary artery hardening will come back 5 or 10 years later and need more stents until they die of a full-blown heart attack. You must stop the underlying metabolic derangement, if you want to prevent further deterioration.

4.    Inflammation takes its toll

But what do the lining of the arteries, the inflamed joints, a degenerative meniscus and heart attacks and strokes have in common? It is the INFLAMMATION that changes the body chemistry. It gets even more complicated, because the extra calories that we consume get stored as visceral fat. This is done automatically when you eat too much sugar and starchy foods as you may have done over the holidays. Remember, our ancestors were hunters and gatherers, and our genetic make-up is still the same. So, when the glycogen stores are full, any surplus sugar gets metabolized by the liver into triglycerides, fatty acids and LDL cholesterol and gets stored as body fat. The most active fat is the visceral fat between our guts and around our body organs. This produces interleukins and other inflammatory cytokines that circulate in the blood causing inflammation in all our arteries.

This is the link between the various manifestations of inflammatory conditions in our bodies. We rarely think of all of these various conditions as being linked. We concentrate on each disaster as it strikes, but think that it is only a one-point-in-time event. We do not see the years of abuse of our bodies that have preceded any of these events.

5.    Disaster strikes in different ways

We usually hear about a person who just got a heart attack. Now it is an emergency!  Nobody thinks about the years of inappropriate food intake and the lack of exercise that led up to this heart attack event.

The same is true for a sudden stroke. The patient arrives at the hospital in an ambulance and cannot move one arm and one leg. Initially the patient may be unconscious. There is too much action required by the emergency personnel to ask the question why it had to come to this. The truth though is that the blood vessel deterioration in the brain vessels that led to the stroke have quietly happened years before the acute event.

And then there is the aging 75-year-old man with a stiffening hip and arthritis in the hands. The inflammation has been quietly developing in the synovial membranes of the joints for more than a decade. The patient probably swallowed anti-inflammatory medications for years for arthritis symptoms, which as you guessed has not changed the underlying biochemistry. But now it has come to the point where a total hip replacement is required, just to be able to continue to walk. I have experienced that scenario in the hospital setting many times. Many patients went through the total hip replacement surgery with no problems. But other patients had their total hip replacement done and they developed a heart attack under the general anesthetic, because unbeknown to the orthopedic surgeon the patient also had severe hardening of the arteries that had not shown up on the pre-surgical electrocardiogram. A stress test or a Thallium heart scan when the patient still could exercise would have shown this hidden cardiac condition before the surgery, so that a cardiologist could have addressed this condition before the surgery. After that the total hip replacement would most likely have been uneventful.

6.Prevention is the key

The lesson to be learned from all of this is: prevent these disasters from happening in the first place. Do the following:

1) Good, balanced nutrition

2) Regular exercise.

3) Take vitamins and mineral supplements for bone health.

4) As you age, have your hormones measured and replace what is missing.

5) Avoid toxins. Use detoxification.

6) Avoid junk foods.

I have covered these topics in many blogs before as indicated in the above links.

Conclusion

Health disasters are mostly not accidental, but are rather caused by not paying attention to the silent metabolic changes based on improper nutrition and a lack of exercise, which could also be termed as a lack of prevention. It takes some time, often even some suffering to understand the deeper meaning of what I discussed above (that prevention is much more powerful on the long-term than curative medicine). I speak from experience having worked in the medical field for more than 30 years. Curative medicine will take care of an emergency, but the underlying inflammation and metabolic derangement will persist, if this is not changed through the steps mentioned above. Treat inflammation and LDL oxidation by modifying your lifestyle. Think prevention!

More information on inflammation medicine: https://www.askdrray.com/chronic-inflammation-causes-cancer-heart-attacks-and-more/

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

Nov
30
2013

Statins Can Hurt The Consumer

Lovastatin (Mevacor, from Merck) was the first statin drug approved by the FDA in 1987 as a cholesterol-lowering drug in the US. It made history in helping high-risk heart attack patients reduce their cholesterol levels and has helped safe many lives. But with the detection around 2002 that heart disease is an inflammatory disease, and that measuring the C-reactive protein with a blood test was a better than measuring cholesterol levels in predicting who would be at risk for developing a heart attack, the landscape has changed. Lifestyle changes have also been shown to be very effective in reducing cholesterol, C-reactive protein and triglyceride levels. In fact, lifestyle changes will reduce the risk for heart attacks and strokes. The newest flurry of activity with calls for putting more people on statins makes me suspicious that there could be a misrepresentation of the facts.

In this blog I am analyzing the literature to get to the bottom of the facts on reducing risk for heart attacks and strokes. I also come to my own conclusion.

Facts about cholesterol

Cholesterol is a waxy substance that is part of the cell walls and plays a vital role in our metabolism. Liver cell membranes, for instance contain about 30% cholesterol. However, most of the cholesterol in our body comes from metabolism, 20 to 25% from the liver, the rest in the gut, adrenal glands and the reproductive organs, and also from the brain (the myelin sheaths contain a lot of cholesterol). 50% of the body’s cholesterol is recycled through bile salts and reabsorption of cholesterol in the gut (called the enterohepatic pathway).

Cholesterol is vital for cell function, for insulation of nerve fibers (myelin sheaths) and for synthesis of our steroid hormones (sex hormones and vitamin D3, which  is now considered to be a hormone). The medical establishment took most of the information regarding heart attack and stroke prevention from the ongoing Framingham study. This clearly pointed to the importance of lowering the LDL cholesterol fraction (the “bad” cholesterol) and maintaining or increasing the HDL fraction (the “good” cholesterol). When it was realized that concentrating only on lowering cholesterol missed 50% of all heart attacks that researchers refocused and found the missing link, namely inflammation. Inflammation is at the cause of heart attacks and strokes, high cholesterol and lipids were only secondary phenomena. Ref. 2 points out that a comprehensive approach to treating a patient with high cholesterol should involve a combination of treatments aimed at the underlying risk factors for heart disease or stroke in a particular patient. This involves sophisticated blood tests where a metabolic derangement can be pinpointed. It should include measuring cholesterol fractions, lipids, the C-reactive protein, hormone levels and more.

Statins Can Hurt The Consumer

Statins Can Hurt The Consumer

How the traditional thinking about cholesterol has changed

The Framingham study has provided the basis for the drug industry to produce statins until about 2002 when our thinking about cholesterol being the culprit for causing heart attacks has forever changed. Subsequently further research showed that other factors like inflammation of the blood vessels, the metabolic syndrome associated with obesity and lack of exercise were also to blame for causing heart attacks and strokes. Recently more details have come to light, which point to multiple causes like the consumption of too much sugar, too much trans fats, too much salt and eating too much over processed convenience food.  We end up gaining weight, develop the metabolic syndrome and inflammation of arteries (including the coronary arteries of the heart and the brain vessels). It is the lack of nitric oxide in the lining of the arteries, which combined with inflammatory substances from visceral fat are responsible for hardening of the arteries as the ultimate consequence of faulty nutrition and lack of exercise. We also know that oxidized LDL, particularly the very low-density lipoproteins (VLDL), will release free radicals and damage the arterial walls. CoQ-10 is a supplement, which is known to counteract this. One important test that had developed out of the Framingham study is the “ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol”, which is used by cardiologists to determine the risk of coronary artery disease. The average risk of this ratio for Americans is 5.0 for males and 4.4 for females. The ideal ratio to strive for is  the “1/2 average risk” ratio of 3.4 for males and 3.3 for women (Ref.2). A fit, slim person who eats a low carb, normal fat diet (modified Mediterranean diet) will often have a ratio of only 3.0, well below the 1/2 average risk. The moment you introduce grains in your diet (cereals, bread, pasta) your liver will convert carbs into LDL cholesterol, while HDL cholesterol will drop resulting in a high risk ratio of above 5.0 (often 7 or 8 or more). The LDL will get oxidized and is deposited into your arteries setting you up for coming down with a heart attack or stroke down the road.

How do statins work?

The statins are a group of drugs that inhibit an enzyme, called the hydroxymethylglutaryl–Coenzyme A (HMG-CoA), which leads to a lowering of cholesterol, specifically a fraction known as the LDL cholesterol. The success story of lovastatin (Mevacor) led to a flurry of new HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors (cholesterol lowering drugs) such as fluvastatin (Lescol), pravastatin (Pravachol), simvastatin (Zocor), atorvastatin (Lipitor), and rosuvastatin (Crestor) in the late 1980’s and the 1990’s. Collectively it is now a 26 billion industry in annual sales.

Later investigations showed that there were other mechanisms by which statins helped, namely they were found to decrease the inflammatory reaction, which can be measured by lowering of the C-reactive protein. However, there are significant side effects in about 1 to 3% of people who take this medication, particularly an inflammation of liver cells (evident from elevation of liver enzymes) and a myopathy, which is a painful muscle condition (Ref. 1). This latter fact, which can occur in as many as 33% of the population at large (particularly the exercise minded) has limited the use of statins in competitive athletes where myopathies can occur in as many as 75% of athletes treated with statins (Ref.2). The reason for that is that the muscles of athletes cannot keep up with the demands put on them when they are kept in check by the HMG-CoA reductase inhibitors. On the other hand statins have prevented heart attacks and deaths from heart attacks and strokes in about 25% to 35% of patients treated with them as many clinical trials have shown (Ref.1), but simple supplements that have no side effects can do the same or do even better (see below).

The lack of cholesterol synthesis by the body’s cells when statins are given, leads to an expression of more LDL receptors on the cell surfaces. LDL binds to these receptors and enters the cells, which removes the circulating high risk LDL fraction of cholesterol from the blood thus causing a drop in LDL cholesterol. All of the side effects of statins (pull down to side effects in this link) can be explained as a result of the slow-down of organ functions (brain, muscles, gut, adrenal glands, etc.) as cholesterol synthesis is reduced.

New information from the Framingham Heart Study

So far everything I said made sense. But when I came across Ref. 4 I noticed that there was a bombshell of new information from another follow-up study of the Framingham Heart Study (Ref. 5) that did not fit in with the latest marketing drive of the statin manufacturers. In this study from 2005 Boston researchers had studied the outcomes of 789 men and 1105 women over a period of 16 to 18 years with respect to cognitive function. Participants were divided into total cholesterol groups that showed levels that were desirable (less than 200), borderline (200 to 239) or high (above 240). The astounding results were that higher cognitive functioning as documented in multiple cognitive tests in these three groups showed the best performance in the group with the highest cholesterol and the worst cognitive test outcomes in the lowest cholesterol group, quite opposite of what was expected.

Another important piece of research (April 2013) comes from Spain where doctors followed a group of 7447 patients with a high cardiovascular risk who were put on a Mediterranean diet with olive oil, a Mediterranean diet with nuts or a regular diet. The end point was death from heart attack or stroke. After 4.8 years the study had to be interrupted as the Mediterranean groups showed a significant survival advantage over the group on a regular diet.

Ref. 4 cited literature evidence that statins cause a 48% increased risk in postmenopausal women who take statins to develop diabetes. It also cites compelling evidence that diabetes patients are twice as likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease within 15 years and are 1.75 times more likely to develop any kind of dementia in the same time period.

Dr. Seneff from the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT explains in great detail that statins effectively reduce cholesterol synthesis in the liver, which in turn starves the brain of one of its main nutrients explaining why patient develop Alzheimer’s disease and dementia as a result of statin treatment.

So, the lessons to be learnt from these clinical trials are that you want to offer your brain enough cholesterol and healthy fat to have a normal metabolism. Fortunately, what’s good for your heart is also good for your brain. Conversely avoid statins, if you can and try alternatives first. Ref. 4 explains that for years the experts had the wrong theory that low fat/high carb was what would be good for your heart and brain, but the opposite is true: what is good for your heart and brain is a high healthy fats/low refined carb diet.

Make sure that with your blood tests that fasting insulin is low (no insulin resistance), that the ratio of total cholesterol to HDL cholesterol is less than 3.4 (low risk for heart attacks or strokes) and that the hemoglobin A1C level is low (4.8 to 5.6%, ideally less than 4.5%), which means you are not diabetic.

How alternative treatment can save you from heart attacks

Lifestyle treatment through dietary intervention, moderate exercise, and weight loss has been somewhat neglected by mainstream medicine, but is now recognized in regular textbooks of medicine as first-line treatment (Ref. 3). Most patients can lower LDL cholesterol by 10 to 15% through a change in diet. High-risk patients with established heart disease (narrowing of coronary arteries) require a drop of 30 to 60% of LDL cholesterol; this high-risk patient group may need an addition of a statin. In patients with metabolic syndrome or diabetes high triglycerides are often present and will respond to decreased intake of simple sugars, alcohol, and calories (Ref.3). Total calorie intake should be adjusted according to what the weight is when weighed every day with the goal of reducing the weight when overweight or obese, but maintaining the weight when it is in the normal body mass index range (BMI of 20 to 25). The total fat intake should be around 25%-35% of the total calorie intake. Specifically, saturated fat needs to be less than 7% of total calories, polyunsaturated fat up to 10% of total calories and monounsaturated fat up to 20% of total calories. Healthy fats according to Ref. 4 are extra-virgin olive oil, organic butter, almond milk, avocados, olives, nuts, nut butters and cheese ( except for blue cheeses). Other healthy fats are sesame oil, coconut oil, and the oils found in seeds like flaxseed, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and chia seeds. Note that trans-fats (such as in margarine and baked goods) are a “no-no” as it causes free radicals in your body, which would accelerate the hardening of your arteries. Complex carbohydrates from vegetables and fruit are the main source of total calories providing 50%-60% of the total calories. Fiber intake needs to be 20-30 grams per day. Protein intake should be about 15% of total calories. Fat should provide 25% to 35% of the total calories per day. Cholesterol intake should be less than 200 mg per day. You may want to consider the use of plant sterols (2 grams per day) to enhance LDL cholesterol lowering. Physical activity from moderate exercise should expend at least 200 kcal per day (better 300 kcal).

Which supplements prevent heart attacks and strokes?

There are several nutrients that have been shown to be powerful preventers of heart attacks and strokes. I will review them briefly here (based on Ref. 2):

1. Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10): The cells lining the arteries are only working well when their mitochondria are working properly producing chemical energy in form of ATP. CoQ10 is an important component of the mitochondrial metabolism; it is also the only fat soluble antioxidant that gets absorbed into the LDL particles where it protects these from oxidation. Statins suppress CoQ10 synthesis, so patients on statins need to take CoQ10 supplements daily to counteract this. However, anybody who is healthy now should take CoQ10 as a daily supplement for prevention. I take 400 mg per day.

2. Vitamin E (tocopherols): this fat soluble vitamin is an antioxidant and has been praised in the past as being heart supportive, was subsequently bad-mouthed by some conservative physicians, but lately has been resurrected. It turns out that there are 8 different types of tocopherols, with the alpha tocopherol being the most known, but gamma tocopherol is the one you want to make sure you are also getting with your balanced vitamin E supplement every day as this is the one that is a powerful anti-inflammatory. Simply ask staff at your health food store for a vitamin E supplement with gamma tocopherol in it. Take 400 IU per day (of the mix).

3. Curcumin: This is a powerful heart and brain protector combining three different mechanisms in one; it is reducing oxidative stress, is an anti-inflammatory and counters the process that threatens to destroy the lining of the arteries. One study on healthy volunteers showed a reduction of 33% in lipid oxidation, a 12% reduction of total cholesterol and an increase of 29% of the protective HDL cholesterol when 500 mg of curcumin was taken only for 7 days (Ref.2). This is the daily dose I would recommend for prevention of heart attacks and strokes.

4. Polyphenols: Flavonoids are the largest group among the polyphenols contained in such common foods as vegetables, fruits, tea, coffee, chocolate and wine.  Over 130 studies have been done on humans showing improvement of the lining of the arteries (endothelial functioning) and lowering of blood pressure. Polyphenol consumption has been associated with a lower risk of mortality from heart attacks. Eat a Mediterranean type diet or a DASH diet and you will automatically get enough polyphenols with your food. However, resveratrol, the powerful red wine polyphenol warrants a separate daily supplementation as it prevents LDL oxidation in humans (Ref.2). Take about 250 mg of it daily.

5. Niacin/nicotinic acid: This supplement comes as “flush-free niacin” and also as extended release niacin; it can raise the beneficial HDL cholesterol by 30 to 35% when higher doses of 2.25 grams per day are used. In a metaanalysis of 7 studies it has been shown to significantly reduce heart attacks and transient ischemic attacks (precursor syndrome before developing a stroke). Niacin can change the small particle LDL into a large particle size LDL, which is less dangerous. Niacin has also been shown to reduce oxidation of LDL, which stops the atherosclerotic process. For a healthy person 500 mg per day of flush-free niacin is adequate.

6. Fish oil (omega-3-fatty acids): Because heart attacks are due to an inflammatory process and high LDL cholesterol is thought to be only a secondary phenomenon, it is very important to have this additional tool of an important anti-inflammatory supplement. In the past it was still safe to eat fish fairly frequently per week. But with mercury, radioactive iodine from Japan’s leaking reactor and carcinogenic PBC’s all congregating in the ocean waters, it is no longer safe to consume fish in large quantities. The remedy to this situation is molecularly distilled (or pharmaceutically pure) EPA/DHA supplements. EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid or omega-3 fatty acid. DHA is the acronym for docosahexaenoic acid. Fish oil supplements at a dosage of 3.35 grams per day of EPA plus DHA were shown to reduce triglycerides by up to 40%, equally to Lipitor or even more effective, but without the statin side effects. The amount of the dangerous small dense LDL is also being reduced with fish oil. Fish oil supplements have reduced the mortality from heart attacks and strokes and led to a higher survival from non-fatal heart attacks. At the same time these preventative fish oil doses will also treat and prevent arthritis.

7. Other useful supplements: Soluble fiber from psyllium, pectin, beta-glucans and others have been shown in clinical trials to reduce LDL cholesterol by binding bile salts in the gut (interrupting the enterohepatic pathway). Plant sterols (usually sold as sterol esters) are recognized by the FDA as reducing the risk of coronary heart disease, if taken in high enough amounts (2.4 grams of sterol esters per day). There are other useful supplements like artichoke extract, pomegranate, soy protein, Indian gooseberry (amla), garlic and pantethine (vitamin B5) that have been proven to be of benefit in terms of prevention of heart attacks and strokes. It would be too lengthy to get into more details here.

Conclusion

Recently there was a review in a medical journal that demonstrated that clinical guidelines (in this case for clinical guidelines for lowering cholesterol) erred 40% of the times when measured against scientific tests as this link explains. When it comes to saving lives by preventing heart attacks and strokes, what is needed is a multifactorial approach that treats the multifactorial causes of cardiovascular disease. Just pushing for treating more people with statins as Big Pharma is attempting to do is not addressing the fact that cholesterol is needed for our metabolism and the synthesis of our hormones. It is much superior to use a combination of different approaches that overlap and thus potentiate each other in their effects excluding statins first. Exercise creates more nitric oxide production by the lining of the arteries, which opens up arteries and prevents spasms. A proper diet with as many of the proven vitamins and other support factors will control inflammation and oxidation of LDL cholesterol particles as explained. This will prevent heart attacks and strokes as has been shown in many clinical trials. Only patients who come from families with genetically high cholesterol or high triglycerides and those patients who had heart attacks and strokes should be exposed to statins as they are at a higher risk of developing a heart attack or stroke. They need all of the help they can get in addition to the lifestyle factors mentioned. Most other patients and the public at large will do quite well without statins (no side effects of diabetes, Alzheimer’s and muscle pains). And, yes, a diet high in healthy fats, but low in refined carbs is what your brain and heart need (the opposite of what you have thought, see Ref. 4).

More information about side-effects of statins (acute pancreatitis): https://www.askdrray.com/pancreatitis-can-occur-with-statin-use/

Lower cholesterol with Mediterranean diet: http://nethealthbook.com/news/mediterranean-diet-benefits-us-workers/

 

References

1. Bonow: Braunwald’s Heart Disease – A Textbook of Cardiovascular Medicine, 9th ed. © 2011 Saunders.

2. Life Extension: Disease Prevention and Treatment, Fifth edition. 130 Evidence-Based Protocols to Combat the Diseases of Aging. © 2013

3. Melmed: Williams Textbook of Endocrinology, 12th ed. © 2011 Saunders.

4. David Perlmutter, MD: “Grain Brain. The Surprising Truth About Wheat, Carbs, And Sugar-Your Brain’s Silent Killers.” Little, Brown and Company, New York, 2013.

5. http://www.psychosomaticmedicine.org/content/67/1/24.full.pdf

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

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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

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Jul
27
2013

Flossing and Brushing Saves Your Heart

It was not until about the mid 1990’s when it became apparent that gum infections and severe tooth decay could cause inflammation in the blood measurable by using the CRP marker (C-reactive protein). As this link shows Dr. Joseph Muhlestein at the University of Utah demonstrated in 1996 that chronic gum infection could cause a heart attack. He isolated the bacterium Chlamydia pneumoniae in 79% of patients undergoing coronary bypass surgery, while samples from heart transplant patients isolated this bacterium in only about 5%. The new thinking was that bugs that multiply in diseased gums could migrate into the blood and cause platelets from the blood to clump together and block coronary arteries causing heart attacks. Harvard University researchers have confirmed this. In the past it was known that a bad tonsillitis with an aggressive bacterium, Streptococcus viridans, could cause subacute endocarditis, a dangerous infectious disease of the heart valves, which can be responsible for sudden death in younger persons. Neglected cavities in teeth can also harbor this bacterium. Another study in 2009 showed that two particular strains of bacteria in infected gums, Tannerella forsynthesis and Preventella intermedia, were associated with an increased risk for heart attacks; but it was more the overall burden of bacteria in the infected gums than the specific bacteria strains that mattered most.

Flossing and Brushing Saves Your Heart

Flossing and Brushing Saves Your Heart

 

Preventing heart disease by brushing and flossing

With this background it is easier to understand that we need to take good care of our teeth and gums, if we want to maintain good health. As a start most people should see their dental hygienist (who usually works in a dentist’s office) twice a year. The dental hygienist will probe the depth of gingival pockets with a periodontal probe. A normal depth measures up to and including 3 mm. Deeper pockets than that usually indicate that the patient did not floss regularly. One needs to floss at least once per day, better twice per day and it should not bleed after flossing (initially when a person flosses for the first time the gums tend to bleed a bit).

The hygienist will do scaling of plaques on the tooth enamel. Any cavity that is detected will be brought to the attention of the dentist. At the end of the scaling procedure fluoride is applied, which puts a coating on the tooth surfaces to prevent tooth decay.

When deeper pockets (6 mm or more) are detected a trial of subgingival root brushings has shown to have a very beneficial result within only 14 days.

Periodontal pockets were improved and bacterial counts of periodontal infections were shown to have improved as well.

Oral care and cavity prevention in the population

It has been accepted for quite some time that a combination of brushing and flossing are the best methods to control dental plaque, which is the precursor for cavities.

In order to test the knowledge of adults in families with small children these authors from the School of Public Health of the Maryland University investigated Maryland’s adult population knowledge regarding caries prevention. It turns out that there were deficiencies in knowledge about the prevention of dental caries and the importance of fluoride to create strong, decay resistant enamel.

A randomized, prospective study is planned in Hong Kong which will start teaching oral hygiene to kindergarten children aged 3 and will be reinforced several times later to instill good dental hygiene behaviors into these children’s health routine as outlined in this link. Not only is it important to teach brushing and flossing, but also food habits with cutting down on sugary and starchy snacks as these foods make the saliva acidy promoting caries producing bacteria in the plaque.

This English study shows that a primary school based caries prevention program reduced caries by 35% when sugar intake was limited in the interventional group and brushing of teeth was done twice per day along with flossing.

An addition to flossing for those with narrow tooth intervals or those with braces is a waterpik system. This can be used to clean food residues from the spaces between your teeth and from gum pockets. Flossing once or twice per day is still needed to remove plaque to avoid tartar build-up. Before bedtime it is advisable to floss first, then use a waterpik, then use your electric toothbrush with a fluoridated toothpaste. During the day use the waterpik after meals followed by brushing with an electric toothbrush with non-fluoridated toothpaste.  Water Picks are also called “water flossers”; they are easier on your gums.

Other measures helpful in preventing tooth decay

Xylitol is a natural sweetener originally derived from birch. Sugarless gum often is sweetened with Xylitol. This study has shown that chewing Xylitol containing gum can effectively reduce caries. This paper describes that the increased saliva production from chewing gum provides a slightly alkaline environment for teeth. This helps to clear out sugar faster from the oral cavity after a meal, inhibits bacterial growth, neutralizes the pH in plaque that is on the acidy side after sugar consumption. The authors concluded that chewing Xylitol gum is a useful addition to the other known preventative measures of dental decay prevention, such as brushing and flossing teeth.

The techniques the dentist is using to treat plaque and dental decay have been refined by a new technique describe in this Australian publication as a minimum intervention caries prevention program.

The four methods used in minimum intervention dentistry are described here.

1. Recognition: to recognize potential caries factors early through lifestyle factor analysis and saliva testing.

2. Reduction: alter the diet and lifestyles to increase the pH of the saliva, which will reduce the risk factors for caries.

3. Regeneration: to arrest and reverse minimum lesions at the earliest stage. Use agents such as fluorides and casein phosphopeptides-amorphous calcium phosphates to achieve this.

4. Repair: when a cavity is present, a technique of “conservative caries removal” involves using bioactive materials to allow healing of the dentine layer of the tooth.

Reduction of cariogenic bacteria

I already mentioned above that alkalization of saliva by chewing Xylitol gum could significantly help prevent tooth decay. It does so by raising the pH, while chewing on sugary foods or starchy foods lowers the pH (making it more acidy). Growth of caries producing bacteria, which are called “cariogenic bacteria” is stimulated by acidy saliva and inhibited by alkaline saliva. For this reason people whose diet consists of a lot of vegetables and greens will have more alkaline saliva and are less prone to develop cavities. The worst foods to get cavities are sugar in its many disguises and starchy products (candies, bread, rice, potatoes, pasta, bagels, cookies, cakes).

What can cause bacteria from the mouth to appear in the blood? One common condition is periodontitis, which is a chronic inflammatory condition of pockets of the gums around the teeth. This originates from neglecting your teeth and not flossing. Smokers are more afflicted by this as well. Dental procedures called scaling and root planing are often done for chronic periodontitis. This study from January 2013 shows that there is about the same amount of bacteria that leak into the blood following these procedures when compared to flossing.

Sometimes a dentist will recommend using a short-term antibiotic to reduce the leakage of bacteria into the blood, particularly with people who have heart valve problems or had porcine heart valve replacement in the past. This publication from 2009 also describes that dental flossing causes bacteria to be shed into the blood (bacteremia).

Conclusion

Dental self-care should be taught to children at an early age to educate them to brush their teeth twice a day and floss them at least once per day. At the same time they need education what causes cavities in terms of food intake and that fluoride can help make teeth more cavity resistant. They should avoid sugar in pop, candies and cookies etc. Parents best teach by example! Regular visits to the dentist’s office will safe money on the long term. Regular scaling by a dental hygienist every 6-month will remove plaque from which cavities develop when bacteria thrive in them and produce acids that affects the enamel. Minimum intervention dentistry discussed above (4 methods used) can prevent your teeth from decaying. Regular flossing will keep your gums healthy and reduce the colonization of the mouth with bad, cariogenic bacteria. With all this in place you likely will keep your teeth for a long time and not need dentures or tooth implants because of lost teeth. At the same time you will prevent your immune system being overwhelmed by mouth bacteria, which could have lead to a heart attack had you neglected your teeth. As mentioned in the beginning, a CRP blood test is a useful tool to rule out chronic infection.

More information on:

1. Tooth decay: http://www.nethealthbook.com/articles/dentistry.php#Tooth_Decay

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

Reference: http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/your-guide-gum-disease

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

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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.

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

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Feb
05
2013

News About Your Heart Health

February is heart month every year. So I thought why not review what is new regarding heart health in the last 15 years and put it into perspective. I will start with a review of the older teaching about heart disease and then explain the paradigm shift in medical thinking and how this has changed the approach to heart disease prevention. The anatomy of the heart including coronary arteries and the heart valves has not changed over the years. The heart has always been at the center of life and will remain there. It used to be thought that when a person ages one should expect to get problems with high cholesterol, which would be the cause of hardening of coronary arteries of the heart until one day the person would experience a heart attack from the closing of one or more of the three coronary arteries. Cardiologists can then offer an arteriogram, place a stent to reopen any blocked coronary artery and the patient would be OK for another 5 to 10 years. Alternatively, coronary bypass surgery can be offered by a cardiovascular surgeon to revascularize the coronary arteries. In the mid 1990’s all this changed with the realization that 50% of heart attacks happened in patients who had normal cholesterol levels. Research showed that it was inflammation of the heart vessels followed by subsequent blockage what caused heart attacks. Since then a great deal of research in animal models and with humans showed that a lot can be done in the area of prevention of heart attacks and that very little can be done with regard to improving cure rates when damage to the heart muscle has already occurred. The paradigm shift is in the understanding of what leads to a heart attack. We now know that too much sugar, too many starchy foods and too much animal fat will lead to inflammation of the arteries including the coronary arteries. The reason is that faulty nutrition leads to a lack of omega-3 fatty acids and a surplus of omega-6 fatty acids. This starts the inflammatory cycle, which causes inflammation in the arterial walls followed by rising LDL cholesterol (that’s the bad cholesterol) and falling HDL cholesterol levels (that’s the good cholesterol). Associated with this is a lowering of nitric oxide production in the lining of the arterial walls, which leads to a narrowing of the arterial opening and simultaneous development of high blood pressure. Research of the metabolism of cells, particularly the subunits of cells called mitochondria, shed a new light on the heart as well. It turns out that the mitochondria, which are the energy producing subunits of the cells are abundantly present in those organs that have a high metabolism, such as the heart, brain, liver and kidneys.

News About Your Heart Health

News About Your Heart Health

This newer knowledge allows the prevention-oriented physician to help patients not to get heart disease on the first place by preventing inflammation of the arteries, by adding nitric oxide as a supplement, by changing the food composition, by intervening at the mitochondrial level with the help of supplements and by a regular exercise program. Over the years there have been impressive clinical trials that show that these preventative means when taken together can add 10 to 20 years of productive life without any disability. In the following I am going to describe the rationale for each of these life-prolonging steps:

  1. Preventing inflammation of the arteries: at the moment many people eat the standard North American diet consisting of foods with too much sugar, processed foods with animal fat and lots of pasta. If people switch over to a diet rich in leafy-green vegetables (kale, spinach, Swiss chard) and lean pork, turkey and chicken, this will change the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio in favor of omega-3 fatty acids. This has a powerful effect on your body, as the surplus omega-3 fatty acids will suppress any inflammation in your blood vessels, which prevents heart attacks. If you also eat as much organic food as possible, you will in addition reduce the toxic load in your body from heavy metals like lead and mercury and chemicals like herbicides and insecticides that often are contained in regular non-organic foods. By cutting out sugar and refined carbohydrates fasting insulin levels and triglyceride levels fall. This prevents diabetes and keeps your arteries open longer.
  2. By adding nitric oxide as a supplement such as “Neo40 daily” or “Stay young” (both of these supplements have hawthorn and red beet extract in them) the lining of the arteries gets a boost of nitric oxide production thereby lowering your blood pressure and widening the arteries in your body including the coronary arteries. The result is more oxygen and nutrients for your heart cells. By intervening at the mitochondrial level with the help of supplements and by doing occasional intravenous chelation therapy to remove heavy metals you can revive the sluggish metabolism of the mitochondria of your major organs. It’s like you are recharging the battery of your car, just here we are dealing with the microscopic energy packages, the mitochondria, in the cells of your vital organs including your heart.
  3. Certain vitamins and supplements help in this process as follows: D-ribose, alpha-lipoic acid and Co-Q-10 support mitochondria; niacin lowers triglycerides and LDL cholesterol and elevates HDL-cholesterol (the good cholesterol); magnesium is an important co-factor of many enzymatic reactions in your cells and it also lowers blood pressure by widening the arteries making it easier for your heart to pump blood through them. Omega-3 and vitamin D3 both are anti-inflammatories, which makes these two important supplements for heart attack prevention. Vitamin D3 is also important for your immune system and helps to absorb calcium from the gut. Vitamin K2 has been found to be important to help transport the calcium into your bones preventing osteoporosis, so that it does not stay in your vascular system and cause hardening of your arteries by getting into your arterial walls.
  4. Bio-identical hormone replacement therapy is a powerful stimulus for the metabolism of your whole body, but particularly your heart. The heart needs adequate amounts of thyroid hormones and sex hormones (testosterone in males, balanced estrogen and progesterone in females). DHEA is a precursor hormone from your adrenal glands that is required in your hormone balance for support of your heart muscle. The physician can order hormone tests and replace what is missing with bio-identical hormones.
  5. A regular exercise program rounds up your heart support program. A regular exercise program by itself has been shown to be powerful heart attack prevention by cutting heart attack rates into half when compared to a non-exercise control group. Exercise builds up your heart muscle reserves and prevents clogging up of coronary arteries.
  6. Lifestyle changes can have a powerful effect in terms of preventing heart attacks. Everybody knows that those who smoke will not live as long as those who don’t. Smoking accelerates hardening of the arteries and causes not only heart attacks, but also cancer. Perhaps less known is the fact that alcohol can poison mitochondria. Due to the fact that wine also contains bioflavonoids, there have been statistics that showed that 1 glass of wine for women and two glasses of wine for men could prolong life. The wine industry was quick to exploit these statistics for the benefit of their sales. Fact is that even small doses of alcohol are a cell poison. Bioflavonoids are much more effective when taken as part of your daily supplements (resveratrol capsules) and it is much healthier for your heart and other body parts, if you do not consume any alcohol at all.

Originally the Framingham study showed that high LDL cholesterol was associated with heart attacks. But now we know that it is the overconsumption of sugar, high fructose corn syrup and refined carbohydrates in processed foods as well as animal fat overconsumption (mostly omega-6 fatty acids) that lead to inflammation of the lining of the arteries including LDL cholesterol overproduction from the liver. The focus has switched from lowering cholesterol and triglycerides to reducing and preventing inflammation and to supporting the mitochondria of the heart muscle cells. Simple steps as outlined above have the power to prevent about 85% or more of heart attacks. They work by treating insulin resistance through the diet changes, which in turn lowers fasting insulin levels, blood sugars and triglycerides as well as cholesterol. Inflammation is kept at bay. You prevent heart disease and in addition also arthritis, high blood pressure, strokes and Alzheimer’s disease. One of the side effects is weight loss, extra energy and a sense of wellbeing.

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

Last updated Nov. 6, 2014

Nov
01
2004

The Mediterranean Diet Definitely Not A Fad

Giacomo Castelvetro has first described healthy eating Mediterranean style in 1614. As an exiled Italian living in England, he tried to convince the English to eat a wider variety of fruit and vegetables and to prepare them in the same way he had eaten them in Italy. His attempt was a failure, however the same book has since been translated into English and published in 1989. In the meantime The Seven Countries Study by Ancel Keys in the 1950’s showed that the population of Crete in Greece had very low rates of heart disease, of certain cancers and a very long life expectancy, despite generous consumption of fat in the form of olive oil.

Despite a wide variation between all the 15 countries bordering the Mediterranean Sea, there are common characteristics: an abundance of vegetables and fruit are consumed, along with nuts and legumes. Cereal products are largely whole grain. Olive oil is the principal fat source, and fish, seafoods and poultry are eaten in moderation. Red meat is consumed rarely. Cheese and yogurt may be eaten, depending on the region.

The first clinical evidence supporting the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet came from the Lyon Heart Study. Patients who had suffered a heart attack were either assigned the diet designed by the American Heart Association or a Mediterranean style diet. After a follow-up of 27 months, the group eating the Mediterranean diet had a reduction of heart attacks by 73 % and a decreased mortality by 70% compared to the other group.

The Mediterranean Diet Definitely Not A Fad

The Mediterranean Diet Definitely Not A Fad

When the various foods of the Mediterranean diet are analyzed, the reasons for the health benefits become very clear. The fats, which are consumed, are heart-healthy monounsaturated fats like olive oil or fats that contain omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in fish (tuna, salmon, trout, sardines) or from plant sources (walnuts and other tree nuts and flax seed).

As there is an emphasis on natural foods, the diet is extremely low in trans fatty acids (hydrogenated fats), which are known to increase the risk for cardiovascular disease. As more than 300g of vegetables per capita are consumed daily, the contents of antioxidants and other beneficial plant chemicals is much higher when compared to Western diets. There are many individual components of the Mediterranean diet that contribute to the reduction of disease and in particular of heart disease. It also is apparent, that it is not one single food or nutrient, but all the interactive effects of all the nutrients that are responsible for the health benefits.

The practical application does not mean deprivation and starvation, but a move away from processed fats (margarine), baked goods (donuts, muffins, pastries), and high saturated fat snacks and trans fats (chips, crackers, cookies, pies). Food choices move towards those of fresh fruits and vegetables, nuts, fish, and olive oil. Portions or servings have to be adequate to maintain a healthy weight.

Mediterranean food is not the heaping plate of pasta with an afterthought of vegetables nor the super-size fast food pizza with pepperoni and cheese, but foods that incorporate the fresh food rather than the fast food. It entails a shift from large portions of red meat to smaller portions of fish, a transition from highly processed foods to ample helpings of dark green vegetables with a dose of olive oil. Low amounts of alcohol, especially red wine can make a meal enjoyable, which means one drink per day for women, and two drinks per day for men. And after dinner go for a walk! What Castelvetro tried to teach us in his writings back in 1614 is still true today.

More info on Mediterranean diet: http://nethealthbook.com/news/mediterranean-diet-benefits-us-workers/

Reference: Patient Care Canada, September 2004, Vol.15, No.9

Last edited October 27, 2014

May
01
2004

Age-Related Macular Degeneration Can Be Postponed

In a well-controlled study that was published earlier in 2004 Dr. Johanna M. Seddon

has shown that age-related blindness (AMD) is caused from an inflammation in the blood vessels, which is associated with an elevated blood marker, called C-reactive protein (CRP). The authors of this study also showed that the dry form of AMD would tend to deteriorate with age and/or from smoking cigarettes into the more serious wet form, a common cause of blindness.

The inflammatory component of cardiovascular disease is known to be controlled by the use of aspirin (ASA) or the statins, medication that is known to lower the bad LDL cholesterol. It is with this background that the author of the study that I am reviewing here, Dr. Jacque L. Duncan from the University of California at San Francisco, has examined the effects of ASA and of statins on AMD. 326 patients with AMD (204 with dry AMD, 104 with wet AMD from blood vessels forming underneath the retina and 18 with geographic atrophy) were followed between January 1990 and March 2003. Patients were at least 60 years old or older and followed at the San Francisco VA Hospital Eye Clinic.
Dr. Duncan found that patients with blindness due to wet AMD used ASA or statins significantly less than patients with stable AMD. Moreover, he found that patients who had AMD and took statins were 49% less likely to develop wet AMD and if they took ASA the were 37% less likely to develop wet AMD.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration Can Be Postponed

Age-Related Macular Degeneration Can Be Postponed

The study also suggests that there is a link between the inflammatory process that leads to heart attacks and strokes on the one hand and the further deterioration to blindness when dry AMD is not treated on the other hand. The notion that inflammation is the missing link in both of these processes is a relatively new finding.

More information about Macular Degeneration here.

Based on article by Dr. Jacque L. Duncan in the American Journal of Ophthalmology 2004;137: 615-624.

Last edited October 26, 2014

Mar
01
2004

Ankle Blood Pressure Reveals Diabetic Problems

One of the complications of diabetes is that ity leads to clogged arteries from peripheral artery disease and this can lead to heart attacks, strokes and circulation problems in the legs.

Recommendations were recently given to physicians in the December edition of the medical journal Diabetes Care that circulation problems in diabetics need to be monitored more stringently to avoid needless amputations.

Medically these circulation problems that affect mainly lower legs and feet are known as “peripheral vascular disease” (or PVD for short). PVD can be detected by the physician checking for ankle pulses. Another valuable and very simple test is to measure the blood pressure in the arm and at each ankle (using the stethoscope just under the inside (medial) ankle bone. If there is a major discrepancy between the arm and ankle blood pressure or if the ankle pulse is missing, this would be a sign of possible PVD. With a diabetic patient it would still be important to get the hemoglobin A1C under control through exercise, a low glycemic diet and possibly anti-diabetic medication. But the patient likely would have to be referred to a cardiovascular surgeon for further testing in order to find out whether there would be hardening of the arteries with circulation problems in the lower leg, the ankle or foot.

Ankle Blood Pressure Reveals Diabetic Problems

Ankle Blood Pressure Reveals Diabetic Problems

Dr. Peter Sheehan, the director of the Diabetes Foot & Ankle Center at the New York University school of medicine, stated that many patients and doctors overlook how frequent this condition is. About 33% of diabetic patients who are older than 50 years have PVD, but only a fraction know about it until it is too late. Once a patient has PVD in one of the legs there is a 4-fold risk of getting a heart attack or a stroke, because the hardening of the arteries is happening simultaneously in all of the body’s arteries. If the blood pressure is normal at the ankle, Dr. Sheehan recommends to check it again in 5 years.

Who should have the blood pressure check at the ankle? Here is a table that summarizes Dr. Sheehan’s recommendations.

Which diabetic needs the ankle blood pressure check?
High risk group: Remarks or more detail:
Anyone with leg PVD* symptoms legs tired or hurting when walking
Young diabetics
with other risks
smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes present for more than 10 years are such risk factors
diabetics 50 years of age and over particularly when the hemoblobin A1C is high and other risk factors are present
*PVD peripheral vascular disease

Why is it so important to screen for circulation problems in the lower legs? Because this is the area where diabetics tend to get problems that often result in amputations of a foot or lower leg below the knee. With early detection of these problems and intervention by a cardiovascular surgeon often disastrous outcomes can be avoided.

More info is available at:

Diabetes: http://nethealthbook.com/hormones/diabetes/type-2-diabetes/

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

Last edited October 26, 2014

Jan
03
2004

China Blows Alarm Whistle On Smoking

The risks of smoking are being addressed in China, where roughly 300 million people or one quarter of the population are puffing away. The number is rising by about 3 million new smokers each year, and according to statistics of the WHO 700,000 die each year from smoking.

In November of 2003 China joined the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC), a subsidiary of the World Health Organization. As a member China is now obliged to tighten restrictions on cigarette marketing and consumption.
Due to an economic boom in the country foreign tobacco giants are putting their hope into this rising market, as revenue has decreased elsewhere in the world. So far tobacco taxes, which are collected from the 1.7 trillion cigarettes sold in China amount to 8 billion $US or one tenth of government revenue. In the wake of SARS, however, the realization has come to the forefront, that health care cost have a severe impact on the economy of a country. Despite the seemingly enticing short-term gain from tobacco tax revenue, short cuts in health care can economically damage a country in the long run.

Health officials will have a battle with their counterparts in finance, when it comes to implementing tobacco control. In some areas of the country the sale of tobacco products to children has been banned and an attempt has been made to restrict cigarette commercials.

China Blows Alarm Whistle On Smoking

Quit smoking!

Powerful tobacco lobby groups actively undermine these efforts.
It is encouraging to see at least a beginning of public education about the risks of smoking. However, in a nation where cigarette manufacturing and consumption are the highest worldwide, it will be a long and arduous journey to clear the air to better health.

Based on The Lancet 363, No. 9402 (Jan. 3, 2004)

Last edited December 8, 2012