Apr
11
2015

Fish Oil, Your Best Supplement

The following review describes fish oil, your best supplement. There was a story in the CNN describing the dramatic recovery of a youngster who was involved in a hit and run brain injury. The physicians involved in his care strongly recommended “to let him go”. His family did not give up on him and tried bioidentical progesterone cream first. Subsequently they gave him fish oil in high doses, which lead to a successful recovery. Nine weeks after the accident the physicians transferred the patient to the rehabilitation hospital. He was still unconscious from his brain injury. At that time the family increased the fish oil dosage to 20 grams (=20,000 mg) per day. Within two days the young man woke up from his coma and called his mother on a cell phone.

The benefits of fish oil

Fish oil is available under various brand names. The high potency ones contain about 1400 mg of fish oil in one soft gel. Each soft gel has 647 mg EPA  and 253 mg DHA. EPA stands for eicosapentaenoic acid, commonly known as omega-3 fatty acid. DHA stands for docosahexaenoic acid. Any of these more potent fish oil preparations are molecularly distilled. That means that mercury, cadmium and PBA impurities have been removed from the products. Only then are the fish oil capsules passed on to consumers.

Fish oil boosts your memory, it helps brain cells to function better. EPA is more beneficial for the lining of arteries and prevents heart attacks and strokes. The DHA component of fish oil is the building block of brain cells. It likely was DHA that brought the young man with the hit and run accident back to consciousness.

Fish oil also has anti-inflammatory properties, which is important for arthritis and prevention of heart attacks.

Everyday supplementation with fish oil

When a person has no arthritis and no other health risks less fish oil supplement suffices. The dose would be 1 or 2 of the higher potency fish oil capsules per day. This will help to prevent inflammation. The American Heart Association recommends to consume salmon two times per week, which also gives you a good dose of fish oil.

People with arthritis need more fish oil

As this link shows people with arthritis need more omega-3 fatty acids (EPA), namely 2.7 grams or more (=2700 mg or more) per day.

This would mean 5 capsules of the high potency supplement I described above to bring the total EPA to just above 3000 mg per day. People who have arthritis have so much more inflammation in their body that they need this higher amount of fish oil to get the condition under control. When you start fish oil supplements for arthritis it takes about 2 to 3 months for the fish oil to work before the inflammation is under control. So be patient.

Fat metabolism

When it comes to the metabolism of fatty acids, it is important to know the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids that we take in. For instance, there are a lot of omega-3 fatty acids in fish and seafood. On the other hand there is more omega-6 fatty acid in chicken and processed meat. Omega-6 fatty acid metabolizes into arachidonic acid that causes inflammation. Most processed foods have too much omega-6 fatty acids in them. Here is a hint: when we consume more omega-3 fatty acids by increasing our fish oil supplementation, we counterbalance the omega-6 to omega-3 ratio. This will slow down aging, will control inflammation in the body and will prevent disabilities.

Side effects of fish oil

  1. Be aware that there is a difference between “fish oil” and “cod liver oil” or “halibut liver oil”. Cod liver and halibut liver oil has vitamin A in it; so avoid these formulations as this could lead to toxic levels of vitamin A.
  2. Fish oil is generally safe; there may be a mildly upset stomach at higher dosages, which is harmless and the dosage the patient can reduce the dosage until the stomach accepts it.
  3. Fish oil tends to thin the blood and theoretically there may be a problem when a person takes aspirin or blood thinners. Discuss this with the doctor. Patients with atrial fibrillation on blood thinners should discuss with their doctor whether it is safe for them to take fish oil supplements.
  4. Patients on platelet inhibitors (ASA and others) should first clear with their physician whether it is safe. The FDA did a review on this and stated that theoretically there could be interference in these situations, but practically they could not find a single case substantiating this.
  5. The cytochrome P450 pathway in the liver, which is used to eliminate antidepressants, erythromycin and many acid suppressing drugs (cimetidine, ranitidine) etc. is not interfering with the elimination of fish oil. The FDA confirmed this. This means that you will not have to fear that you overdose with fish oil because of drug interactions in the liver.

Fish oil supplementation in diabetes and heart disease

Many studies have shown that fish oil improves the control of diabetes, improves heart disease based on narrowing of coronary arteries and lowers blood pressure. It does so because of the anti-inflammatory effect of fish oil; this improves endothelial functioning, which leads to more nitric oxide production and lowering of high blood pressure. Patients find that they needed less insulin some time after starting fish oil supplementation, and their blood sugar was better controlled. They also get more energy, which may help to motivate them to engage in regular exercise, which in turn helps improve diabetes, prevents cardiovascular disease and Alzheimer’s disease.

Fish oil to prevent Alzheimer’s disease

Apart from other factors mentioned in this link the regular consumption of fish and fish oil will help improve memory and Alzheimer’s in general. The DHA content in fish oil supports the brain and the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil help keep the cardiovascular system healthy.

A study in the medical journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia from June 14, 2014 followed 193 older men and women with Alzheimer’s patients for 5 years. Every half-year they had a magnetic resonance imaging study (MRI scan) of the brain and neuropsychological testing. 117 subjects used fish oil supplements throughout the study. They were the ones who maintained their brain volume and in particular the hippocampus area, which is important for memory. Patients who supplemented with fish oil were the ones that preserved their brain function. Physicians compared them to those subjects who did not consume fish oil. Whoever did not supplement with fish oil showed brain shrinkage and a decrease in size of the hippocampus. In addition, they had poor brain function in neuropsychological testing. Patients who were carriers of the apolipoprotein E4 gene did not show the protective effect with fish oil.

Fish Oil, Your Best Supplement

Fish Oil, Your Best Supplement

Conclusion

Consumption of fish and fish oil capsules is a valuable adjunct to all of the other health measures.  Fish oil preserves brain and heart function like regular exercise and consumption of a Mediterranean diet. Take a supplement, which is higher dosed and is molecularly distilled (also called pharmaceutically pure). This way you will get all the health benefits, and you will avoid exposure to toxins from the ocean. The less potent, non-purified and cheaper fish oils do not eliminate toxins.

Sep
24
2014

Two Approaches To Heart Disease

Over the years I noticed that there are two approaches to heart disease that people and physicians seems to subscribe to.

1.The conventional approach to heart disease

The patient essentially ignores health advice, may smoke cigarettes and eat in a lot of fast food restaurants. People who do not care about their heart drink sodas, eat lots of sugar, starch and processed foods. They may think that they are invincible. Famous politicians have subscribed to this type of approach including former vice president, Dick Cheney.

But the big surprise comes when acute chest pain hits and an ambulance has to be called. We are lucky in the industrial countries where a 911 service is available. You call that number when in distress and an ambulance with all the modern equipment will rush to you. The problem though is that you have neglected your arteries for all those years and it is likely that one or two of the three coronary heart vessels are severely narrowed so much that your heart reported chest pain. This pain signals that one area of the heart muscle was not getting enough oxygen and nutrients.

On arrival at the hospital the emergency physician sees you. Nurses put monitors up, attach electrodes to you, and IV-lines are put into your veins, just in case things get worse and they would need to give you quick life-saving medicine intravenously. They have also given you an oxygen mask, and after 30 minutes or so you feel much better. A cardiologist has been called in by the emergency physician and will assess you.

This will very likely be the verdict: “We have to do a coronary arteriogram where I advance a thin catheter through your femoral artery backwards to where the coronary arteries originate from. We can then study each coronary artery separately and determine whether an angioplasty needs to be done.” Upon your questioning he explains that an angioplasty is a procedure where a catheter is advanced through a new clot that often forms during a heart attack and a stent is left behind that will keep the previously blocked off coronary artery open.

Within an hour the procedure will be completed. The cardiologist will explain that he found significant narrowing, such a san 85% narrowing in the anterior descending coronary artery and a second lesion in the right coronary artery with maybe 55% narrowing. He has stented both of these arteries successfully. But he warns you that the stents may close off, if you are unable (or rather unwilling) to change your lifestyle. He also will be very specific with what he meant: Quit smoking immediately, get into a regular exercise program and adopt a strict heart healthy diet like the Mediterranean diet. They would keep you overnight just to observe your heart rhythm and blood pressure. In the morning, if everything is OK he will likely discharge you.

Comment: Unfortunately this scenario is all too familiar to me having worked as a family physician doing my rotations as an emergency physician in a community hospital for 16 years. I found that people tended to NOT think preventatively unless they were forced to. When an acute event like a heart attack happens, a higher percentage of people is committed to prevention, but medical people call this “secondary prevention” as this prevention was only started after a close call. Our sample patient above could have developed a serious arrhythmia (irregular heart beats after a heart attack) and suddenly slipped into a coma and died before the interventional cardiologist could have placed the stents.

Primary prevention is much more powerful and this is what I like to cover next.

Two Approaches To Heart Disease

Two Approaches To Heart Disease (Placement Of Stent Shown)

2. The preventative approach to heart disease

Most people never have to be rushed to the hospital with chest pain. They engage in various ways of “primary prevention”.  So, what exactly is this?

They keep very active, like walking or jogging, dancing, working out in a gym, biking or swimming etc.

They also like a healthier than normal lifestyle: eat at home as much as possible, and many adopt to buy only organic food. Why, you may ask? Organic food does not contain insecticide residues that resemble estrogenic substances (so-called “xenoestrogens” which accelerate hardening of the arteries). But organic food also does not contain GMO (genetically modified food). We know enough about GMO now to indicate to us that autoimmune diseases with inflammation of the arteries and the gut can occur. But the full impact on people’s health will not be known for several more decades. So why experiment with yourself? Buy organic instead. It is known to be safe.

Vitamins and minerals can be very useful supplements that also prevent premature aging of our blood vessels.

Anti-aging research has shown that with aging come various hormone defects. Melatonin is one of the first to go (in your twenties). But melatonin tables that are widely available in drug stores and health food stores can come to your rescue:  3mg of melatonin at bedtime will give you a good night sleep and provide powerful anti-oxidant effects. DHEA is an adrenal gland hormone that can be measured in your blood (or in saliva). In case it is low, it can be easily replaced with supplements. In the 50’s or 60’s women and to a lesser degree men will start to show thyroid under-functions. We call this hypothyroidism. Have your TSH and T4 levels checked and talk to you doctor about whether you need thyroid replacement, if the values are off.

It is somewhat more difficult to explain the rest of the hormones. But you know that women get into menopause and men about 10 to 15 years later will hit andropause, which is the male equivalent of menopause in women.  An easy way to check this out is by doing a hormone panel from just one tube of spit. Yes, it is a saliva hormone panel I am talking about. For women it is estrogen, progesterone, cortisol, DHEA and testosterone that should be analyzed. For men it is testosterone, DHEA, cortisol, estrogen and progesterone. I am aware that these are the same 5 hormones, but I listed them in the order of importance for women and men. In this blog you find more details about bio-identical hormone replacement.

I have followed a primary heart attack prevention program since 2001 and it seems to suit me well.  Just to check things out I had a carotid intima test, which showed no hardening of the arteries. Just two weeks ago my optician took images of the retinal vessels and found hardly any hardening of my retinal arteries. I scored high on a Bruce treadmill protocol in March of 2013 and my lipid VAT values were excellent indicating a low risk for a heart attack.

I have delved into this subject in more detail in my book entitled “A Survivor’s Guide to Successful Aging” (Ref. 1).

Conclusion

Prevention of a disease is always better than curing a disease, this applies to heart attacks as well. While you do something good for your heart, you are at the same time preventing strokes and many degenerative conditions like Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease. In addition you also prevent cancer. It really is a good deal!

More information on prevention of heart disease: http://nethealthbook.com/cardiovascular-disease/heart-disease/heart-attack-myocardial-infarction-or-mi/prevention-heart-attack/

Reference:

1. Dr. R. Schilling: “A Survivor’s Guide to Successful Aging“. Paperback through Amazon.com, 2014.

Last edited Nov. 8, 2014

May
21
2014

Forty Percent Of Premature Deaths Can Be Prevented

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

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

1. Cancer:

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

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

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

2. Heart disease:

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

Forty Percent Of Premature Deaths Can Be Prevented

Forty Percent Of Premature Deaths Can Be Prevented

 

3. COPD/emphysema:

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

4. Stroke:

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

5. Unintentional accidents/injuries:

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

Conclusion:

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

More information on:

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

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

Last edited Nov. 8, 2014

May
10
2014

The Full Story About Testosterone

Much has been written about what happens when women get into menopause. This begs the question: do men experience a change of life? As a matter of fact, they do. It is called “andropause”, and they can experience problems as a result. Here is a study from the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, MA, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine (Sept. 2013) describing in detail what happens when men get into andropause (the male equivalent of the menopause).

We know from other studies that in obese men testosterone is converted into estrogen because of the enzyme aromatase that converts testosterone into estrogen resulting in erectile dysfunction and loss of sex drive. In lean men above the age of 55 there is a true testosterone reduction because the testicles produce less testosterone. This results in less sex drive, moodiness and lack of energy. But these men will do well with bioidentical testosterone replacement.

Main findings of the Massachusetts General Hospital study:

  1. Testosterone was responsible for thigh muscle development and leg press strength, for erectile function and sexual desire.
  2. Surprisingly, estradiol (the main estrogen component in both sexes) plays a significant part in sexual desire in the male. This became particularly apparent in the post-andropause male who desired hormone replacement. When bioidentical testosterone is used to replace what’s missing there was no problem with sexual desire or erectile function as a small amount of the testosterone was aromatized into estradiol. The researchers were able to measure both testosterone and estradiol levels.
  3. Here is a surprising fact: a lack of estrogen leads to abdominal obesity. This could also be verified by hormone measurements.
  4. In the past doctors used synthetic testosterone products like methyltestosterone, danazol, oxandrolone, testosterone propionate, testosterone cypionate or testosterone enanthate. The problem with these synthetic testosterone products is that the body cannot metabolize a portion of them into estrogen that is desirable for a normal sex drive, so the testosterone compounds alone are not doing their job as well as the bioidentical testosterone that the body can aromatize.

In obese men the problem is that there is too much estrogen in the system, which leads to a disbalance of the hormones in the male with a relative lack of testosterone. Overweight and obese men produce significant amounts of estrogen through aromatase located in the fatty tissue. Aromatase converts testosterone and other male type hormones, called androgens, into estrogen. Excessive levels of estrogen cause breast growth, muscle weakness, lead to abdominal fat accumulation, heart disease and strokes. Dr. Lee described what happens in men who enter andropause years ago as indicated under this link.

The Full Story About Testosterone

The Full Story About Testosterone

Testosterone to estrogen ratio:

Dr. Lee indicated that in his opinion saliva hormone testing is more reliable than blood tests (Ref. 1). One of the advantages of doing saliva hormone tests of estrogen and testosterone is that you can calculate directly the ratios of these two hormones. In hormonally normal younger males the testosterone to estrogen ratio is larger than 20 – 40 (Ref.2). The testosterone to estrogen ratio in obese men is typically less than 20 meaning it is too low. But lean men in andropause produce too little testosterone and their testosterone to estrogen ratio is also less than 20, because they may still have enough estrogen in their system from aromatase in the fatty tissue, but they are lacking testosterone due to a lack of its production in the testicles (Ref. 1 and 2).

When a man in andropause is given bioidentical hormone replacement with a testosterone gel or bioidentical testosterone cream this is absorbed into the blood and body tissues and then partially metabolized into a small amount of estrogen. This can be seen when saliva hormone tests are done; a higher level of testosterone is detected and much lower estrogen level so that the testosterone to estrogen ratio is now 20 to 40 or higher and the affected person will no longer be the “grumpy old man” that had been a source of distress to his partner before.

This New England Journal of Medicine study is important because it confirmed what anti-aging physicians had been saying for years: a small amount of estrogen is necessary for the male for bone health as estrogen receptors will regulate the bone density, it also helps for a normal sex drive. The same is true for women: a small amount of the opposite hormone (testosterone) will help a woman’s sex drive, but she needs the right mix of progesterone to estrogen (a progesterone to estrogen ratio of 200:1 using saliva tests) to feel perfectly normal as a women.

Health and well-being of a man depend on normal testosterone levels:

It is important to realize that testosterone is not only supporting a man’s sex drive and libido, key organs like the heart, the brain and blood vessels contain testosterone receptors as well. The body of a man was designed to respond to testosterone all along. It is when testosterone production is no longer keeping up that premature aging becomes apparent, as the target organs do no longer receive the proper signals.

A healthy heart in a man depends on regular exercise and testosterone stimulation whether he is young, middle aged or old. The same is true for the lining of the arteries where testosterone receptors are present to help with the normal adjustment to exercise and relaxation. The brain cells have receptors for all of the sex hormones and in a man they are used to higher levels of testosterone and lower levels of progesterone and estrogen. If you take the balance away, the aging man will feel miserable and grumpy. Depression will set in. Here is a brief review how one man’s life has been changed by testosterone replacement.

So, bioidentical hormone replacement is not just a matter of replacing one hormone, you need to pay attention to all of the hormones. Lifestyle issues enter the equation as well. I have reviewed the issue of bioidentical hormone replacement for women and men in this blog.

Conclusion:

When a man reaches the age of 55 or older there comes a point where a lack of testosterone and estrogen sets in. It is wise to start doing intermittent blood or saliva hormone tests before this point is reached in order to gage when bioidentical hormone replacement treatment should be given. Along with an assessment regarding the hormone status it would be wise to also assess lifestyle issues as often other factors play a role in premature aging. I have reviewed these factors systematically in a recent publication (Ref. 3). It is best to combine bioidentical hormone replacement with life style interventions to achieve optimal preservation of a man’s health.

More information about male menopause (=andropause): http://nethealthbook.com/hormones/hypogonadism/secondary-hypogonadism/male-menopause/

References:

  1. John R. Lee, MD: “Hormone Balance for men- what your doctor may not tell you about prostate health and natural hormone supplementation”. 2003 by Hormones Etc.
  2. George Gillson, MD, PhD, Tracy Marsden, BSc Pharm: “You’ve Hit Menopause. Now What?” 2004 Rocky Mountain Analytical Corp. Chapter 9: Male Hormone Balance (p.118-148).
  3. Dr.Schilling’s book, March 2014, Amazon.com:“A Survivor’s Guide To Successful Aging: With recipes for 1 week provided by Christina Schilling”.

Last edited Nov. 8, 2014

Feb
19
2014

Every Patient Is Unique

Modern Western Medicine tends to see the disease of a patient as a unique entity. Conventional medicine behaves as if a disease is associated with characteristic symptoms, findings and lab test results, which are then treated in a standard fashion by treating the symptoms of the disease.

The reality though is different: The same disease can present in various patients with different symptoms.

Naturopathic physicians, integrative physicians and anti-aging physicians see patients as unique individuals with characteristic personality traits and slightly varied presentations, which may be shared in a disease entity, but differ substantially from person to person.

It is important to be aware of this uniqueness, if the caregiver wants to achieve the optimal treatment result.

Big Pharma does not like this approach as they would like you to think that the conventional medicine system is superior. A certain disease is treated a certain way, preferably with the most expensive drugs.

I thought that in this blog it would be good to shed some light on this important topic.

Menopausal women with symptoms

Let us consider an example of a 55-year old woman who has hot flashes, dry skin, a loss of hair from the outer aspect of her eyebrows, does not sleep well and has lost her sex drive. She also has put on 20 pounds in the last year despite no change in her diet.

This is how conventional medicine would handle this patient

The doctor examines the woman and does a Pap test as well. A conventional doctor would likely order standard blood tests consisting of a complete blood count, thyroid tests (T4, TSH) and FSH and LH levels. The conventional physician would find that the thyroid hormones are low with a high TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) and would treat the woman with Synthroid (a synthetic thyroid hormone drug). The LH and FSH were found to be high indicating to the conventional physician that the woman is in menopause. He would offer the standard PREMPRO (a synthetic hormone preparation containing a mare estrogen combination with a progestin) with the warning that he will give her the lowest estrogen combination and only up to 5 years because of the negative findings of the Women’s Health Initiative.

Every Patient Is Unique

Every Patient Is Unique

Here is an example how a naturopathic or anti-aging physician’s would investigate and treat the patient

A naturopathic physician or an anti-aging physician would likely add a female saliva hormone panel to the other blood tests mentioned above and also do a T3 hormone level as part of the thyroid blood tests. The doctor will explain to the patient that she was found to be menopausal and also hypothyroid. With respect to the hypothyroidism the physician will explain that apart from thyroxin (T4) there is a second hormone, triiodothyronine (T3) that is also necessary in order to replace all of the thyroid hormones that humans have. Drug companies assume that T4 (Synthroid) will reverse automatically into whatever amount of T3 the body needs, so they have convinced most conventional doctors to prescribe T4 drugs only (like Synthroid). The problem is that as the body ages, the enzymes necessary to convert T4 into T3 do not work as well as in a younger age.This can be verified by testing T3 and T4 levels simultaneously.

The end result is that the patient who only gets T4 replaced may still have some of the symptoms like lack of energy and depression even when T4 has been replaced. Not so with the patient treated by the naturopath or the anti-aging physician who put our patient on Armour (porcine-derived thyroid hormone replacement containing both T4 and T3).

With regard to the blood tests and the saliva hormone tests the second patient was told that the blood tests confirmed menopause (high LH and FSH) and that the saliva female hormone panel showed what was going on. In this particular patient the female saliva hormone tests showed that the progesterone level was low, the testosterone level was low and estrogen was normal. Another hormone, DHEA-S (which is DHEA sulfate, the storage form of DHEA) was also on the low side. Cortisol that had also been tested was normal. The physician explained that the woman’s adrenal glands showed a slight weakness not producing enough DHEA, which is a precursor to testosterone. The low testosterone level was responsible for her lack of sex drive. Progesterone, which needs to be high enough to counterbalance estrogen, was missing, which was likely the cause of her hot flashes and the lack of energy together with the missing thyroid hormones. The physician explained that the woman needed a small amount of DHEA tablets by mouth, a full replacement of progesterone (through the use of a bioidentical hormone cream) and also a small amount of bioidentical testosterone cream to normalize her hormones.

A reassessment of the patients 2 months later showed that the first woman still had some depression and lack of energy, while the second woman felt her normal self again. Both women had regrown their eyebrows from replacing the missing thyroid hormones and have lost several pounds since the beginning of their treatments, but obviously there were quite different clinical results. The first woman was treated in a “standard conventional medicine” fashion, which will lead to breast cancer as unnecessary estrogen was given. She also will be at risk of getting cardiovascular disease as she was replaced with Progestin, a synthetic drug thought by conventional physicians to represent “progesterone”. The Women’s Health Initiative has proven that this was the outcome with PREMPRO and yet this drug is still on the market!

The second woman received an individualized and personalized holistic treatment protocol. The low progesterone from missing her ovulations after menopause was being replaced and her body very quickly responded favorably by making her feel normal again. The missing adrenal gland hormones and testosterone were replaced and this normalized her sex drive. Both, progesterone and thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) are anabolic hormones and they gave her back her energy and restored her sleep pattern. With normal hormone levels she also lost her depression symptoms.

Two men with depression

If you thought that the difference of these two clinical approaches were just coincidental, think again. The next examples are two men in their early 50’s who see their physicians because they felt depressed and had a lack of energy. Both were normal weight.

Here is the conventional medicine approach

The physician took a history, during which a lack of sex drive was also noted. He examined the patient and came to the conclusion that physically nothing was wrong with the man, but a diagnosis of depression was made. This would account for the tearfulness, sleep problems and loss of sex drive. The doctor prescribed one of the standard antidepressants (in this case sertraline, brand name Zoloft). Three weeks later the patient returned and as he was better, a repeat prescription for the antidepressant was given. After a further two months the patient was reassessed. When the symptoms were reviewed, it became apparent that a lack of sex drive was still present, if anything the patient felt the antidepressant had made this worse. Some of the depressive symptoms have improved on the conventional antidepressant. The doctor discussed that the antidepressant could be increased by one tablet per day. The doctor also discussed the option of using Viagra for the decreased sex drive and difficulty having an orgasm.

This would be the  naturopathic or anti-aging physician’s approach. Again similar to before a history was taken and a physical examination was done. The physician noted that the patient was in the age where a lack of sex drive could indicate an early andropause (the male equivalent of menopause, often difficult to spot with the first presentation). A depression questionnaire indicated that the man was moderately depressed. The patient was sent for blood tests and for saliva hormone tests (a male hormone panel). The physician stated that he would like to arrange for cognitive therapy treatment to sort out the various factors of his depression, but also help his mood by trying to start him on St. John’s wort, an herb that has been proven to be effective for mild to moderate depression. The blood work came back as normal. However, the hormone tests showed that testosterone was in the lower third of the normal range. DHEA-S, cortisol and estrogen were normal. So a few weeks later when the tests had come back the patient was called in.  The doctor explained to him that the low testosterone level would explain why his sex drive had deteriorated along with his symptoms of depression. Bioidentical testosterone cream was added to the antidepressant herbal treatment. The result was that within one month this patient’s sex drive was back to normal. Together with the cognitive therapy treatments and the herbal antidepressant the depression was also resolved. After a further three months of counseling he was able to stop the St. John’s wort. Due to the counseling sessions he felt stronger than ever before and his mood remained stable even when the counseling sessions were terminated. He continued to use the bioidentical testosterone cream regularly.

These are examples of two different approaches in two identical men in their early 50’s. It appears to me that the conventional approach did a disservice to the sick person, only treated symptoms, but did nothing to solve this patient’s real problems. The second case’s depression was treated properly and the physician luckily also did not miss the underlying early andropause with low testosterone levels. Repeat testosterone levels showed a high normal testosterone level, which was now in the upper 1/3 of the normal range.

The conventional approach missed the early testosterone deficiency, which  would cause heart disease, should the testosterone levels become even lower. Viagra certainly would not be the answer as this has a number of potentially serious side effects. The antidepressants at even higher doses would cause more erectile dysfunction, which was what he hoped to have treated.

Conclusion

People often have several conditions at the same time. It takes intuition, readiness to do testing, repeat close observation and repeat examination on the part of the physician. This needs to be coupled with good listening skills to sort out a patient. On behalf of the patient it is important to tell the physician all of your symptoms and observations. Be patient and never give up. A good patient/physician relationship will go a long way in sorting out complex medical problems. Every patient is unique. Not every symptom means the same thing in two different patients.

More information on:

1. Menopause: http://nethealthbook.com/hormones/hypogonadism/secondary-hypogonadism/menopause/

2. Depression: http://nethealthbook.com/mental-illness-mental-disorders/mood-disorders/depression/

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

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Dec
28
2013

Airplane Food And Airport Food, A Personal Travel Experience

Travelling for pleasure is usually something we eagerly anticipate: it can associate with a long wished for vacation, meeting family and friends, enjoying a different environment, in short: there is a bit of adventure attached to it.

Getting something to eat while you are in transit, however, can be a different story. Let me share a recent experience that my wife and I had on a transcontinental flight.

We had to get up shortly after 4 AM, and knowing that we would be in transit till later that evening we decided to prepare an early breakfast. As we usually do, we packed some plastic bags with travel snacks and stashed them away into our back packs: walnuts, almonds, apples, some cheese, some hard boiled eggs and a chocolate bar (70 % cocoa) for an indulgent dessert. It felt a bit unusual to sit down to a vegetable omelet, enjoy some berries and nuts and fix a cup of Americano at 5 in the morning, but we got over the early hour and enjoyed our breakfast. It was a good start to cope with a three-hour time switch that awaited us at the end of the trip.

After checking in at the airport we were greeted with the pleasant news, that our seat arrangement had been upgraded: we would travel first class, as they could not accommodate us in economy. To complete the sense of unexpected luxury, a full breakfast would be included. We did not expect any gourmet fare, but it was welcome news. After some time the flight attendants started to serve the meal. The choices were a cereal bowl or a scrambled egg skillet southwestern style for breakfast. My readers know already that I do not hold the breakfast cereal in high esteem. Cereal has the undesirable effect of sending blood sugar levels to unhealthy highs and as a result causing insulin spikes, so it is not a prudent choice in the first place. We asked for the scrambled eggs, cautiously enquiring: ‘What is in it?”

Airplane Food And Airport Food, A Personal Travel Experience

Airplane Food And Airport Food, A Personal Travel Experience

We were informed that it would be scrambled eggs with some black beans, green and red peppers, ham, onion and some cheese. It sounded really good, and we felt like a glutton having eaten a substantial breakfast at home and now getting some more! It turned out to be a bit different. The meal arrived. It was a flat skillet dish, which consisted of a thick layer of potato cubes held together by a yellow substance, which could not really be described as scrambled eggs. About half a dozen cubes of peppers were identifiable along with a few black beans. I started mining for onions and ham and tried to dig out the egg. It was virtually impossible! The amount of egg that I could retrieve was not more than 1 level tablespoon, and there were a few tiny specks of ham. My wife had the same experience. Needless to say, the skillets were almost full of potatoes, when we sent them back. The flight attendant came through one more time and offered a basket of croissants and buns to complete the breakfast, which we politely refused. As you see, we did not have any need to feel guilty about ingesting a second breakfast onboard, as this meal was simply unsuitable for anybody who was seeking balance in nutrition. To make it short: it is almost exclusively overfeeding the consumer with a load of dense carbohydrates (potatoes, croissants and buns), neglects a sensible amount of protein, and omits any healthy fat source. Out of sheer curiosity I flicked through the pages of an in-flight magazine that listed the foods that could be purchased on board for lunch. The results were not inspiring. There was an assortment of snack foods: potato chips, pretzels, super-size chocolate chip cookies, a candy bar that I had met before on TV and beef jerky. The meal selection featured three types of sandwiches: ham and cheese, brie and turkey breast, and a “loaded” super Italian affair with salami, which looked like a guarantee to a case of indigestion. The cheese plate was sold out and the fresh fruit plate was gone too. Sorry, no luck! As a matter of fact we were lucky and so were all the other passengers who came prepared with a stash of travel foods. When we got hungry towards noon we dug out our travel snacks, drank some water and were quite satisfied.

On our return trip, we traveled economy class (no upgrade to first class food or first class seats this time). It was another lengthy trip coast to coast, and as there were two lengthy layovers, the day was even longer. We arrived at one international airport at the East coast by lunchtime. This time we decided to get a meal at one of the numerous eating establishments. After all, just recently news articles had praised airport restaurants having embraced many healthy food choices. So this would not be airplane food but REAL food! We had some time to walk around and explore, and it turned out, that we certainly needed it! We salivated at the sight of a choice of mahi-mahi with a mixed salad at one café. Cautiously we wondered whether this would be grilled fish. No, we were told, this would be breaded and deep-fried! And it would not be offered in any other way. Too bad, this was not really what we wanted! An Asian food outlet offered a buffet-style assortment of food. It did look very good, and we loved the chicken and vegetable choice or the beef and broccoli with mushroom dish. It did look fresh and appetizing. Often Asian foods can contain MSG. We wanted to make sure that this substance would not be in the food at this place. Sorry, we were told, all the meats and vegetables did contain MSG! Monosodium glutamate is not a harmless flavor enhancer. It belongs into the group of excitotoxins. The substance can destroy brain cells. It also has the potential to give you a nasty headache, especially if larger quantities are used. We were looking for food minus a headache, so we walked away once again and looked for more. An Italian bistro offered the usual suspects: piles of pasta and pizza! And there was a bakery with towering-high tortes, cinnamon buns, and muffins. It was overfeeding of the already carbo-holic individual and under nourishing the traveller. Sad!

After this expedition through the terminal we did finally find a meal that would sustain us until the evening. It was a pre-packaged Thai salad. It was certainly nothing fancy, but it contained a large amount of lettuce and other salad vegetables, offered a small but appropriate amount of cooked shredded real chicken, not some processed salty fake meat, and a small container of salad dressing on the side. It was enough to feel pleasantly full without feeling stuffed and good enough to keep us going till the evening.

Yes, we really wanted a touch of luxury for dessert! We thought of the duty free shop and envisioned a square or two of sinfully dark chocolate. Actually, this is not sinful at all! Have a piece of chocolate with over 70 % cocoa content or even 85%. It is not bitter, but an explosion of flavor on your taste buds, and it happens to be a source of anti-oxidants and bioflavonoids. It lowers high blood pressure and gobbles up free radicals, and as a result it can protect you from heart disease. One word of caution: use moderate amounts! Two or three squares only, not more, please!

And there was chocolate at the duty-free shop, lots of it! There were praline selections in large varieties, and there were Lindt and Ghirardelli chocolate bars, two well-known brands! We rejoiced…but too early! There were six packs featuring extra-creamy, sea-salt, caramel, chocolate and chili. As we studied the labels it was very obvious, that this was not at all what we were looking for! One bar in six was of excellent quality with a high cocoa percentage. The rest was a “gourmet mix”, all of them with low cocoa percentage and high sugar content, which really means it was useless. Were we willing to waste our money on half a dozen chocolate bars of which just one single bar was the merchandise we wanted? The answer was no! And of course, the package could only be sold this way; sorry, no choice! After leaving the duty free store with all its high-class brands behind, we found a humble news and magazine outlet. It had nice, entertaining reads to shorten the next leg of our journey. And-what a surprise! There was a stack of chocolates by an unknown European manufacturer with an 85 % cocoa content. Lucky us! An interesting magazine and dessert too! Bon voyage!

Conclusion

We do not think that we are the only health conscious persons on the planet. We hope that someone in charge in any airport or in an airline catering company smells a business opportunity. We are not demanding. We just prefer healthy foods and it would be great to find a meal choice with whole foods such as greens, vegetables, wild salmon, organic chicken, or grass-fed antibiotic-free beef. There is no need for anything elaborate. It’s really back to the basics! Even a mixed salad with a healthy protein portion would fit in very well. It is time that not just a few high class chefs around the world take notice of the new changes of a healthy diet that I summarized in this blog recently: “Buying Into High Carb, Low Fat Myth Makes You Sick”. In case you want to read more, I am in the process of publishing a book, which also contains 7 days of healthy menus at the end of it. It will be published early in 2014 through Amazon.com and is entitled: “A Survivor’s Guide To Successful Aging” (addendum Nov.7, 2014: It has been published March 31, 2014).

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

Nov
16
2013

You Can Fight Back Against Arthritis

Osteoarthritis affects about 4 to 5% of the population with women outnumbering men by 2 to 1. The age of onset typically is less than 50 years, but becomes more evident and more disabling beyond the age of 50. About 40 to 60% of osteoarthritis is genetically linked as twin studies in women have shown (Ref.1).

Synonyms for osteoarthritis are degenerative joint disease, osteoarthrosis and arthrosis.

Till recently arthritis was accepted as something that was inevitable: people were getting old, were getting stiff and sore, and had to “take it easy” as a result when they got older. Things are not as uncomplicated, as arthritis affects about 53 million Americans, and it has become the leading cause of disability in the US.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease. It is not a disease of “old age” but can affect people of every age group. The body reacts to components in joint tissue, and this immune reaction to collagen will produce inflammation, pain and ultimately disability.

So far osteoarthritis was believed to be the result of wear and tear affecting the aging population, but more recently it has been discovered that osteoarthritis is also accompanied by the same inflammatory immune factors that are involved in rheumatoid arthritis.

When the body attacks collagen, which is needed to keep the joints moving smoothly, microscopic particles of it wander into the blood stream. There they are perceived as foreign molecules, and the immune system produces inflammatory substances (cytokines). These are sending out an army of “killer T-cells” to combat the collagen, which is perceived as a foreign matter. They are bombarding the exposed cartilage with toxic substances. This means a chaotic combination of oxidative stress and more inflammation. Over time the cartilage that was meant to protect the joint in its function to move freely is eroded and destroyed. For the person suffering of this disordered reaction, it means that the joint is not only creaking but causing pain, which is made even worse by weight bearing (walking, standing). Any person suffering of osteoarthritis will complain that he or she feels stiff and sore especially after a period of inactivity.

Commercials for anti-inflammatory medication are plentiful, and many sufferers resort to the pain relief that is promised. The warnings are mentioned right after the commercial or on the medication package, if the patient reads the fine print. Most anti-inflammatory medications are causing irritation of the stomach, and the kidneys get damaged (nephropathy)with prolonged use from these pills despite the promises in commercials of a happy, active and pain free life.

You Can Fight Back Against Arthritis

Causes of arthritis

There are many varied causes that can all contribute to developing arthritis.

It is important to take a critical look at lifestyle choices. Excessive body weight puts an additional burden on the joints in the body. Increased body fat is not just sitting at the abdomen as an inert potbelly. Abdominal fat is a highly active metabolic organ that releases inflammatory substances into the blood stream, which distributes them throughout the body. It is known to damage blood vessels. Inflammation will damage the joints as well. The statistics show that 33.8 % of obese women have arthritis. The percentage for obese men shows that 25.2 % suffer of arthritis.

Smoking leads to circulatory problems, and lack of oxygenation in the body’s tissues. It is a mistake to believe that damage is done only to the lungs or the heart. The joints will be affected as well.

Mechanical stress with inadequate self-repair is one cause; misalignment of bones such as knock-knee (genu valgum) and bowleggedness (genu varum) will lead to premature osteoarthritis of the knees as can loss of muscle strength. Exercise without injury does not contribute the risk for developing osteoarthritis; it is actually part of the rehabilitation plan.

According to Ref. 2 there are other causative factors, such as increased age, female sex, race (black women have a twofold increase of arthritis over Caucasian women), estrogen deficiency, nutritional factors, genetics, metabolic and endocrine disorders, joint trauma, joint deformity, occupational factors and sports participation (accumulation of mini injuries).

One of the newer findings is that osteoarthritis is actually an inflammatory condition where numerous destructive processes occur within the affected joints leading to a breakdown of cartilage and supportive synovial fluid factors (proteoglycans). These findings lead to the possibility of new therapeutic approaches discussed below.

Diagnosis of osteoarthritis

According to Ref. 1 there are no blood tests and analysis of synovial fluid is non-diagnostic. Diagnosis of osteoarthritis is made by history, X-rays of the affected joints and clinical findings. There are joint tenderness and swelling of the affected joints. Heberden’s nodes (swelling of the distal interphalangeal joints or DIP joints) and Bouchard’s nodes (swelling of the proximal interphalangeal joints or PIP joints) are present. There can be a decreased range of motion and a grating sound of two ends of bones rubbing together (called “crepitus”).  X-rays show typical osteoarthritis details with a narrowing of the joint space of the affected joint, subchondral sclerosis (increased bone formation around the joint) and new bone formation at the joint margins, called “osteophytes”).

Integrative therapy of arthritis

Ref. 2 points out that integrative treatment of arthritis is aimed at reducing joint pain, increasing joint function and reducing further joint deterioration. Some measures are symptomatic only, others are disease modifying.

Nutrition

Dietary habits can promote good health or have disastrous consequences. The news has been out for some time that the typical North American diet with a high load of omega-6 fatty acids will stoke the fires of inflammation in the body and lead to arthritis, heart disease and cancer. Soybean oil, cottonseed oil and safflower oil contain the cheaper omega-6 oils that are widely used in food processing and bakery products. Refined carbohydrates contribute to unhealthy spikes in blood sugar levels and wreak havoc in their own way paving the downward slope to insulin resistance, metabolic derailment, and diabetes. Take a hard look at your shopping wagon. Stay away from processed foods, shop the periphery of the supermarket, and choose organic meats, vegetables and fruit. Use heart healthy fat in the form of virgin olive oil. A Mediterranean type diet will be a good choice. Just bear in mind, that a heap of pasta like Fettuccine Alfredo does not constitute what a healthy Mediterranean diet is all about. An anti-inflammatory diet such as a Mediterranean diet also includes deep-water fish as a source of omega-3 fatty acids or molecularly distilled omega-3 capsules (you need 7 to 8 high potency, molecularly distilled fish oil, 1000mg per capsule) every day.

This approach has shown beneficial effects in beginning stages of osteoarthritis.

It is important to cut out sugar and starchy foods to reduce insulin resistance, which would otherwise maintain the inflammatory chronic condition causing arthritis and cardiovascular disease. For the same reason cutting out wheat and wheat products has been shown to be beneficial in reducing inflammation. Such an anti-arthritis diet prevents heart attacks and strokes at the same time.

Weight loss

Ref. 2 points out that one study showed that weight reduction of only 10% had a 28% improvement in joint function. When this is combined with an exercise program the improvements are even more striking.

Exercise

Exercise consists of aerobic training, resistance training and muscle strengthening. When patients with osteoarthritis were observed throughout controlled exercise programs, flexibility and range of motion of the affected joints were improving. A minimum of three days per week of exercise was required to show improvements, but the best effects were observed when patients exercised most of the days. Joints become less swollen, show improved circulation and less pain. Before an exercise program is done, those with increased cardiovascular risk should first undergo an exercise stress test to measure their cardiovascular reserve and establish that it is safe to start a program. Secondly, an acutely inflamed or swollen joint should first be treated before an exercise program is started. Lack of exercise will promote more disability. While a person with arthritis may be unable to run a brisk race due to joint discomfort, he or she will find water exercises and swimming much more manageable. Group programs for people with arthritis are available and you may enjoy the supportive company.

Heat and cold therapy

Ref. 2 points out that three weekly 30 minute sessions of microwave diathermy for 4 weeks showed a significant reduction of joint swelling in knee osteoarthritis with improved joint function and reduced pain. On the other hand cold packs for aching muscles after strenuous exercises can decrease muscle spasm and increase the pain threshold. Range of motion increased with cold application and joint swelling was reduced. Patients who have cold sensitivity (such as Raynaud disease) need to refrain from the latter treatment modality.

Acupuncture and electro acupuncture

These treatments were found by Ref.2 to be useful as an adjunct to anti-inflammatory medication with NSAIDS (non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs); the advantage was that the dosage of NSAIDS could be reduced, which reduced the potential serious side effects of gastric bleeds and kidney damage. Note that people with pacemakers or CNS stimulators cannot use electro acupuncture.

Intraarticular steroid injections

When only a few joints are affected by osteoarthritis (or rheumatoid arthritis), a physician can inject a corticosteroid into the joint. However, there are limitations, as each joint should not be injected more than 3 to 4 times per year. Otherwise there can be damage to the joint cartilage, which would make the arthritis worse. However, I have seen surprisingly good results for a long period of time, which allowed the patients to exercise and stabilize the joints that way.

Complementary treatments

A number of supplements and herbs are effective in reducing inflammation. Omega-3 fatty acids are the precursors for anti-inflammatory prostaglandins in the body, which helps both patients with osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. As indicated under nutrition above, higher doses are required for this effect and for safety (avoiding toxicity from mercury and PBC’s) molecularly distilled omega-3 fatty acid supplements should only be used (yes, they are more expensive).

Curcumin, the active ingredient of the spice turmeric, has been used in India and Asia for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties for centuries. It helps not only arthritis, but also helps also against the illnesses that are often associated with it (obesity, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune conditions). Ref. 2 points out that curcumin neutralizes inflammatory agents circulating in the blood of patients with arthritis.

Standardized ginger extract was shown to reduce pain significantly in patients with knee osteoarthritis.

Other common supplements for building up cartilage in the joint are glucosamine sulfate and chondroitin, both available at the health food store. They stimulate glycosaminoglycan formation, which in turn builds up hyaline cartilage, the enamel-like coating of the bone within the joint.

An oral desensitization to treat arthritis

Can joint health be helped in other ways? New answers have emerged. In the past, people who were suffering with colds or flus were consuming a steaming bowl of chicken soup. It should be mentioned that colds and flus are also an inflammatory reaction that occurs within the body.

While a lot of health professionals dismissed this home remedy as old-fashioned and useless, a team of scientist from the University of Nebraska decided to research the matter a bit closer. They discovered that it was not the vegetables, but a component in the chicken broth that showed anti-inflammatory activity. The chicken derived type II collagen functions to regulate the immune system, so it stops attacking proteins normally found in healthy joint cartilage. Results of a pilot study have shown remarkable results. A dose of 40 mg per day of un-denatured type II collagen (UC-II) showed a significant reduction in pain and swelling from arthritis. It also yielded good results in terms of relief from joint pain and stiffness due to exercise.

Animal studies on dogs and horses were also conducted demonstrating that both animal groups that frequently suffer from arthritis got significant relief. Human clinical trials with UC-II showed similar effectiveness.

A group of patients suffering from knee osteoarthritis were treated with the supplement for 90 days. 33% experienced a reduction in their osteoarthritis. The pain was reduced by 40%. Those patients who received the standard treatment without any supplement had 15.4% less pain. Joint function was improved by 20% in the group taking the supplement, while only 6% of improvement was seen in the patient group receiving standard care.

Healthy patients were also assessed who did not suffer of arthritis, but received the supplement to evaluate how they would fare with exercise-induced knee pain. They were treated with a daily dose of 40 mg of UC-II. After day 90 and 120 the group that was treated with the supplement could exercise for significantly longer periods before experiencing joint pain. They also recovered faster after joint pain. The placebo group who swallowed “fake pills” did not show these changes. When knee joint flexibility was examined, the supplement group had significant increases in their knee mobility, but no luck for the placebo group!

Numerous toxicological essays have evaluated the supplement. There is no oral toxicity. No mutations in bacterial genomes have been observed, which is a standard screen to ensure that a substance is non-carcinogenic.

The UC-II supplement works through a mechanism, where the immune system is desensitized by ways of oral administration. It reverses T-cell attacks on exposed cartilage. If our joints are healthy and intact, we normally do not react to our own cartilage. But the protective barrier between blood and cartilage diminishes as we age. Early treatment with UC-II may help induce immune tolerance even in healthy individuals and protect them from reactions of the immune system to their own cartilage.

Conclusion

The supplementation with UC-II offers a different approach to modify joint inflammation of arthritis. Standard treatment at this point consists mainly of symptomatic treatment. Side effects to the drugs can be serious, if they are used on a long-term basis. Few are tolerable to modify the course of the disease.

With the UC-II supplement the root of the disease (autoimmune disease) is being addressed, and relief can be achieved within a few weeks of starting it. With life style changes that were mentioned before and this supplement it is possible to fight back against arthritis!

More information on arthritis: http://nethealthbook.com/arthritis/

References

1. “Osteoarthritis. Basic information”. Ferri: Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2014, 1st ed., © 2013 Mosby

2.  Rakel: Integrative Medicine, 3rd ed., 2012 Saunders

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

Sep
28
2013

Sleepless Nights

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

Symptoms of insomnia

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

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

Research about insomnia

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

Sleepless Nights

Sleepless Nights

Causes of insomnia

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

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

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

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

Predisposing factors

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

Precipitating factors

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

Perpetuating factors

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

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

Drugs that can cause insomnia

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

Treatment of insomnia

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

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

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

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

Drugs and supplements for insomnia

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

References

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

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

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

Last edited Sept. 28, 2014

Aug
10
2013

Bioidentical Hormone Replacement

In many previous blogs I have mentioned that bioidentical hormone replacement prolongs life. Here is a more detailed look at what such hormone replacement looks like for both women and men. Before I get into details I want to stress that I am talking about replacing what is missing and replacing only with natural hormones, not some artificial hormone derivative produced by a drug company. The reason this is immensely important is that hormone receptors in the body are distributed all over our vital organs including bones, blood vessels and the nervous system. If there is no lock and key fit (bio-identical hormone fitting the hormone receptor), there is trouble as the Women’s Health Initiative in 2002 has shown. Unfortunately they had used synthetic hormones for HRT that were not fitting the hormone receptors, and this caused many problems (heart attacks, strokes, osteoporosis, cancer).

Physiology of aging

As we age, we gradually produce fewer hormones in our hormone glands, but the various hormone glands deteriorate in their functions at different rates. Beyond the age of 30 we produce less melatonin and less growth hormone. As a result our sleep pattern may change, as melatonin is necessary for a deep sleep. The decreasing growth hormone production means that we are losing some of our muscle mass and accumulate more fat in the subcutaneous tissues. Our adrenal glands produce less DHEA at the age of 35 to 40, a hormone that is a precursor to our sex hormones in males and females. The gonads (testicles and ovaries) also produce fewer hormones, a process which already starts 5 years before menopause and about 5 years before andropause (the male menopause equivalent).

Typically a woman will get into menopause at the age of 45 to 55 at which time the periods stop and postmenopausal symptoms are interfering with her well-being.  Men get into andropause (the male equivalent of menopause) at the age of 55 to 65 at which time erectile dysfunction occurs and often the individual will become the “grumpy old man”.

Other hormones such as thyroid hormones are also affected by the slow down. Hypothyroidism is common in people above the age of 50.

Bioidentical Hormone Replacement

Bioidentical Hormone Replacement

Baseline laboratory tests

In order to know what is going on, the physician or naturopath needs to order a number of tests to assess whether there is inflammation, how your key hormone levels are; the cardiovascular system markers should also be checked, the liver enzymes and vitamin D3 level. Inflammatory markers are fasting insulin levels and C-reactive protein (CRP). Fasting cholesterol and subfractions (HDL, LDL, VDLP, small LDL) and fasting triglycerides are also measured. Thyroid hormones (T3 and T4, TSH) are measured to rule out over or under function. Typically hypothyroidism is found, which would have to be rectified by taking Armour (a mix of T3 and T4 thyroid hormones).

At this point I need to explain that long time ago the research by Dr. Lee has shown that progesterone hormone levels are notoriously unreliable when blood tests are done. All of the other sex hormones, and cortisol are also not that reliable with blood tests. For this reason the saliva hormone tests have been invented that conveniently report a panel of 5 hormones from one saliva sample: DHEAS (which is the storage form of DHEA), estradiol (the major estrogen in a woman), progesterone, testosterone and cortisol. The saliva hormone tests correlate very well with the actual tissue hormone levels. You can order the saliva tests through Dr. Lee’s website. Another longstanding lab in the US is Dr. David Zava’s lab. In Canada the Rocky Mountain Analytical Lab can process your saliva tests.

Women’s hormone replacement

Let us assume that a woman is getting postmenopausal symptoms and bioidentical hormone replacement is being discussed. The physician will want to first rule out that insulin resistance is not present by ordering a fasting insulin level. If this is normal and the other baseline tests are normal as well except for missing estrogen and progesterone, the physician will usually start to replace progesterone first using a bioidentical hormone cream to be applied once or twice per day. If estrogen levels were also low, the next step in 4 weeks or so is to add Bi-Est, a bioidentical estrogen replacement cream. After 8 weeks of hormone replacement the saliva hormone test is repeated to see whether the estrogen and progesterone levels have come up and also, whether the ratio of progesterone to estrogen is at least 200 or more. Dr. Lee has extensively researched this and found that women with a ratio of less than 200 to 1 (progesterone/estrogen ratio) were more prone to breast cancer. He also stated in this link that there are 3 basic rules with regard to bioidentical hormone replacement:

1. only replace hormones, when they were measured to be low.

2. use only bioidentical hormones (never synthetic hormones) and

3. only replace with low doses of bioidentical hormones to bring hormone levels to physiological levels (body levels that were experienced to be normal before).

Many women who are not replaced in menopause have estrogen dominance meaning that the progesterone/estrogen ratio is less than 200:1, which puts these women at risk of developing breast cancer. Women who are overweight or obese also are estrogen dominant (from estrogen produced in excess through aromatase in the fatty tissue, explained further below), which makes them more prone to breast cancer, uterine cancer and colon cancer. Without bioidentical hormone replacement inflammatory processes take place in the joints (causing arthritis), in the nervous system (causing Alzheimer’s and dementia) and in the blood vessels (causing heart attacks and strokes). Rebalancing your hormones to a youthful state by paying attention to the hormone levels and the hormone ratios mentioned will remove the inflammatory reactions and reduce the risk for cancer.

Men’s hormone replacement

Males enter andropause 10 to 15 years later than women are entering menopause. Typically testosterone production slows down leading to hair loss, erectile dysfunction, loss of muscle mass, osteoporosis and Alzheimer’s/dementia. Blood tests (bioavailable testosterone) or saliva tests are both reliable in determining a deficiency. Replacement with bioidentical hormone creams once per day is the preferred method of treatment. Overweight and obese men produce significant amounts of estrogen through an enzyme localized in fatty tissue, called aromatase.

Aromatase converts testosterone and other male type hormones, called androgens, into estrogen. Estrogen causes breast growth, weakens muscles, and leads to abdominal fat accumulation, heart disease and strokes.

Similar to women, where the progesterone/estrogen ratio is important, there is another ratio for men, called testosterone/estrogen ratio. This should be in the 20 to 40 range for a man to feel good and energetic. Unfortunately many men above the age of 55 have testosterone/estrogen ratios much smaller than 20. This makes them more prone to heart disease and prostate cancer (Ref.1).

However, a male also does need a small amount of estrogen and normal thyroid hormones as well as all of the other hormones for his “hormonal symphony” (mentioned in Ref. 2) to function at his best.

Safety of hormone replacement

There are still otherwise reputable websites that state that bioidentical hormones are not safer than standard synthetic hormones. This confuses the consumer and does not serve the public well. I much prefer the text of the Wikipedia, which is a more thorough review regarding safety of hormone replacement and explains what the issues are.

In the US there is a collective experience of about 25 years on thousands of patients, but there have not been any randomized studies, as Big Pharma that would have the money to finance such studies is not interested in proving that bioidentical drugs would be safer than their distorted synthetic hormone copies that will not fit the body’s hormone receptors. There are some noble exceptions as Big Pharma is producing bioidentical insulin and human growth hormone that had toxicity studies done and showed safety. In Europe bioidentical hormones have been used since the 1960’s, on a larger scale since the 1970’s. So the European experience of safety of bioidentical hormones is presently about 40 to 50 years.

The FDA is contributing to the confusion of the public as can be seen from this publication. One example where the FDA is confusing the consumer, is the progesterone product Prometrium, a bioidentical micronized progesterone capsule that can be taken by mouth. By law the manufacturer had to put a warning label on the package identical to progestin, which is the synthetic, non-bioidentical hormone having been shown to have severe side effects. As is explained in this last publication Prometrium should not have been required to have a warning label in it ; the paper explains what I have already stated above, namely that bioidentical hormones are the safest form of hormone replacement and administered in the right ratios will actually prevent cancer and prevent premature cardiovascular and joint deterioration. In other words, bioidentical hormone replacement can add many years of useful life when started early enough before permanent organ damage sets in from the aging process (which would be due to missing hormones).

Why bother about hormone replacement?

Nature has a plan of “knocking us off” to make room for the next generation. The only way that you can change nature’s plan of killing us prematurely through cardiovascular disease, arthritis, dementia and loss of your sexual life is by bioidentical hormone replacement. Of course you also need the other ingredients of known life prolongers such as healthy (preferably organic) foods, exercise and detoxification. Many women are scared to treat the hormone deficiencies that cause their menopausal symptoms because of the Women’s health Initiative results with synthetic hormones. Men who would benefit from testosterone are often anxious that they may get prostate cancer, when in reality it is the exact opposite: testosterone prevents prostate cancer (Ref.3).

Conclusion

I wrote this blog about bioidentical hormone replacement in order to clarify this often-misunderstood topic. Don’t get confused by the FDA, by highbrow medical websites (such as the likes I mentioned). Big Pharma has a powerful lobby that attempts to keep the medical profession in the belief that their products are better than those that nature has provided (I call it “defend your patent rights”). We are still in a flux state where anybody who tells the truth about hormones gets much criticism. In another few decades it will be an accepted fact and people will wonder why the Women’s Health Initiative was done without a control with bioidentical hormones. With bioidentical hormone replacement you can add about 20 years of youthful life without disabilities to the normal life expectancy. Exercise, detoxification and organic food with avoidance of wheat, starch and sugar can add another 5 to 10 years to your life. The baby boomers are lucky that they have this new tool to prolong life. I wonder whether they will put it to good use.

More information about bioidentical hormone replacement: http://nethealthbook.com/hormones/anti-aging-medicine-women-men/

References:

1. John R. Lee: “Hormone Balance for Men – What your Doctor May Not Tell You About Prostate Health and Natural Hormone Supplementation”, © 2003 by Hormones Etc.

2. Suzanne Somers: “Breakthrough” Eight Steps to Wellness– Life-altering Secrets from Today’s Cutting-edge Doctors”, Crown Publishers, 2008

3. Abraham Morgentaler, MD “Testosterone for Life – Recharge your vitality, sex drive, muscle mass and overall health”, McGraw-Hill, 2008

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

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