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.

Oct
04
2014

The Problem Are Sugar And Starchy Foods

Fareed Zacharia interviewed Chief Medical Correspondent Sanjay Gupta on CNN on Sept. 10, 2014 regarding why sugar is worse than fat.

I like to explain why it is important to rethink the issues of fat, cholesterol, sugar, starchy foods, longevity, prevention of cardiovascular diseases (strokes, heart attacks) and cancer.

I have blogged about this many times before, but perhaps an overview regarding these issues would be in order.

The Framingham Heart Study indicated first that too much cholesterol in our system was a problem leading to heart attacks and strokes (Ref. 3). As more research was done, the reasons for this have become clearer.

1.Liver metabolism

The liver plays a major role in the metabolism of glucose. Digestion of refined starchy foods starts in the mouth where amylase from the saliva digests the surface of the pasta or white bread you eat. The stomach carries on with this process and the job is finished in the small intestine with the help of pancreatic enzymes (Ref.1). This digestive process is so efficient that within 20 to 30 minutes all of the refined carbs from pasta, donuts and bread appear as sugar in the blood stream. The portal vein system that collects the nutrients from the gut delivers all sugar straight to the liver where it is reassembled into glucagon as the storage form in the liver and skeletal muscles. This would all be good, would we have periods of fasting in between our sugar consumption. Periods of famine are no longer part of modern civilization, but consumerism is. Most of the processed food contains sugar and this leads to excess sugar uptake, which has to be processed by our liver. The end result is production of LDL cholesterol, oxidization of LDL cholesterol by sugar and in the process the production of VLDL (=very low-density lipoproteins) that leads directly to deposits in the arterial walls and clogging of arteries. Triglycerides are also produced, which leads to fat deposits (the cause of the obesity wave all around us).

2. Where does the fat that we see around us come from?

In the past we thought that it was from too much saturated fat and cholesterol in the food that would have caused the accumulation of fat and cholesterol in the body. Now we know that this was an over-simplification. In fact more cholesterol and fat comes from metabolized sugar and with a slight time delay also from starchy foods.

Sugar and starchy foods (like pasta, white rice, white bread, potatoes, grapes, honey etc.) get metabolized by your liver into LDL cholesterol, triglycerides, and fat. This does not mean that you should not pay attention to the total fat content and the quality of fats you eat.

3. The finer points about subfractions of cholesterol

You have heard many times about the good (HDL) and the bad (LDL) cholesterol. Sugar and refined starches do not only lead to the production of LDL cholesterol, but also to oxidized LDL cholesterol, which is very aggressive (VLDL=very low-density lipoproteins) leading directly to deposits in the arterial walls and to clogging of arteries. Your doctor can order a detailed lipid profile test, if you belong into a higher risk group to determine your VLDL level.

It may surprise you to read that many of the foods that were demonized in the past 2 to 3 decades like whole eggs; unprocessed grass-fed red meat, coconut oil etc. are now seen to be good for you.

But there are provisos: supplement with molecularly distilled omega-3 fatty acids, have enough vitamin D3, vitamin K2 and calcium in your diet or supplement with these. This will make sure that calcium will leave the blood stream (not lead to arteriosclerosis) and enter into the bones where it is needed for healthy bone structure. The anti-inflammatory effect of vitamin D3 and of the omega-3 fatty acids will prevent arthritis, strokes, heart attacks and cancer.

The Problem Are Sugar And Starchy Foods

The Problem Are Sugar And Starchy Foods

4. Four major conditions causing heart attacks and strokes

According to Ref. 2 only 4 conditions have been proven over the years to lead to serious hardening of arteries causing strokes and heart attacks: dyslipidemia (high triglycerides, high LDL cholesterol and VLDL), hypertension, cigarette smoking, and/or diabetes (Ref. 3). What has not been appreciated until recently is the fact that sugar and refined starchy foods metabolized by the liver are the culprits in causing plaque in arteries as the oxidized LDL cholesterol is aggressively invading the arterial wall and is inflammatory. A total cholesterol level greater than 5.2 mmol/L (200 mg/dL) has been shown to be associated with increased heart attacks and strokes. Ref. 2 also points out that dietary changes; days of fasting and weight loss have all been shown to stabilize and reduce plaque lesions and reduce heart attacks and strokes. It is the rupture of unstable plaques that lead to attraction of platelets and thrombus formation. It is this localized thrombosis that leads to the closure of coronary arteries or brain vessels causing heart attacks and strokes. According to Ref. 2 there are 9 factors that determine whether we get a stroke or heart attack, the four factors mentioned above (dyslipidemia, hypertension, cigarette smoking, diabetes) and abdominal obesity, lack of physical activity, low daily fruit and vegetable consumption, alcohol overconsumption, and a psychosocial risk. This latter factor includes any kind of chronic stress like interpersonal stress at work or home, depression, financial stress, major life events like marriage, death, divorce, and lack of control. Counseling is useful for support regarding psychosocial risk factors. It is significant to note that according to Ref. 2 several studies have shown that 90% of heart attacks and strokes can be prevented by paying attention to these 9 risk factors. Managing stress effectively and seeking professional help for psychosocial difficulties as well as avoiding the  physical health risks will contribute to good allover health.

Conclusion

Where does this leave us? For decades we have been told that saturated fats and cholesterol in our diet were the culprits and we replaced them with sugar that is part of a low-fat diet. We need to pay attention to the glycemic index and cut out high glycemic foods. However, it is OK to eat some carbs from the medium glycemic food list and most of our carbs from the low glycemic food list. With regard to fat it is important to consume only the healthy fats including omega-3 fatty acids. By taking care of the 4 major causes of heart attacks and strokes and also attending to the additional minor contributors mentioned above you will be able to eliminate 90% of the cardiovascular events. As you change these things you will also prevent many cancers as you changed the body metabolism and chronic inflammation has been taken care of as well as I pointed out in several blogs before. Finally, pay attention to stress management. The body and mind work together.

I have discussed all of these items in detail in my book as well (Ref. 3).

More information on high density and low density carbs: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/nutrition/carbohydrates/

References:

1.Townsend: Sabiston Textbook of Surgery, 19th ed.,Copyright 2012 Saunders.

2.Melmed: Williams Textbook of Endocrinology, 12th ed.,Copyright 2011 Saunders.

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

Last edited Nov. 8, 2014

Apr
19
2014

Measuring Your Heart Function

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

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

Measuring Your Heart Function

Measuring Your Heart Function

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Last edited Nov. 8, 2014

Mar
29
2014

Alternative Treatment Of Hyperactivity (ADHD)

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD or ADD, attention deficit disorder) has been in the spotlight on and off over the years. It affects 8% to 10% of school-aged children, and about 2% to 5% of adults who still have this condition.

Typically a parent receives a note from school that they must come to a teacher/parent meeting and it is discussed that the child is disruptive in class, not paying attention, interrupting the teacher inappropriately and forgetting to do their homework. The teacher suggests that this may be a sign of hyperactivity. The school nurse is also of this opinion and they suggest getting a prescription for Ritalin or Adderall (amphetamine type medications), drugs that have been shown in other kids to be fairly effective in treating the symptoms.

Next the child is seen by the doctor who confirms the diagnosis and Ritalin (methylphenidate) is prescribed.

In an attempt to quickly control the situation, the side effects of Ritalin are often not discussed in detail: agitation, insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, nausea, vomiting and loss of appetite, palpitations, dizziness, headaches, an increase in the heart rate, blood pressure elevation, and even psychosis (Ref.1).

It is easy to just write a prescription for Ritalin and hope that all is well. Had the parents heard of all the possible side effects, they may have asked whether there were alternative treatments available.

The causes of hyperactivity (ADHD)

The exact cause of ADHD remains unknown, but there is a clustering of this condition in some families, so there seems to be a clear genetic component (Ref.2). It appears that several genes are involved, namely those associated with serotonin and glutamate transporters, but also those affecting dopamine metabolism. Males are affected with ADHD more often than females (in children 3:1, in adults 1:1).

Alternative Treatment Of Hyperactivity (ADHD)

Alternative Treatment Of Hyperactivity (ADHD)

Some remarks regarding brain development are in order: Dr. Kharrazian describes that the grey matter of the brain develops before the age of 9 and the development of the white matter is completed by the age of 19 (Ref. 3, p.3). In ADHD patients the frontal brain is underdeveloped resulting in an inability to suppress unacceptable behavior, immediate desires and impulses. Prescription drugs may alter the behavior on the surface, but the frontal brain development is still lagging behind. The only thing that can influence this is behavioral/cognitive therapy and extra tutoring while the symptoms are controlled. The window of opportunity is closed by the time the ADHD patient has reached the age of 19. After that a juvenile ADHD turns into a permanent adult ADHD. The cases that had only childhood ADHD and outgrew it were the ones where the frontal lobe abnormalities had corrected themselves before the age of 19.

This review article has noted that there is an association between a Western style diet (sugar and fat rich) and ADHD.

Interestingly both Ref. 1 and 2, which I would categorize as having originated from mainstream conventional medicine circles, deny such an association. But the link also noted that a healthy diet with fiber, folate, and omega-3 fatty acids as well as supplementation with iron and zinc when these minerals are found to be low in the blood, do make a significant difference in ADHD patients towards normalization of their symptoms.

One of the under diagnosed causes of ADHD is gluten sensitivity as Dr. Perlmutter described in his book (Ref. 4, pages 150-158). This can spare the child or teenager the toxic side effects of anxiolytics, antidepressants or antipsychotics that may be inappropriately prescribed by their physicians, and a gluten free diet would allow the brain to recover very quickly in such cases. A food sensitivity history and some simple gluten sensitivity blood screening tests will diagnose this condition or rule it out.

To complicate matters even more, Dr. Amen has mentioned in several books that there are at least 7 different subcategories of ADHD that he has found in ADHD patients when studying thousands of single-photon emission computed tomography brain scans (SPECT brain scans). Dr. Amen mentions that the 7 subcategories of ADHD are the combined type ADD, the primarily inattentive ADD subtype, overfocused ADD, temporal lobe ADD, limbic ADD, ring of fire ADD and trauma induced ADD. Dr. Amen explains that each of these types needs to be treated differently and some of the treatment failures are explained by the fact that the wrong type of ADD was treated (Ref.5).

Treatment of ADHD

In the following I mention 5 steps that are useful for treating ADHD patients.

  1. A first step toward normalization of the metabolic changes in the brain metabolism of the affected child or adult is to adopt a diet that has been linked with low risk for ADHD: avoid food additives, cut out refined sugar, avoid known food allergies like gluten sensitivity and others. You may need to test the patient for food allergies using an elimination diet. Add a good amount of molecularly distilled omega-3 fatty acids (the pure form of omega-3 without mercury, lead or PCBs) as this has shown beneficial effects in ADHD patients.
  2. Involve a behavioral psychologist for behavioral/cognitive therapy treatments. This is particularly effective in the 9 to 19 year old category where the frontal region of the brain is still developing.
  3. Work together with the schoolteacher and get supplemental teaching in areas of academic weakness to reduce the frustrations in the classroom setting.
  4. In adolescent girls who just started their period, a relative lack of progesterone (estrogen dominance) may be a contributory factor. A small dose (20mg to 30 mg) of bioidentical progesterone from day 6 to 16 of the menstrual cycle may help significantly in alleviating the symptoms of ADHD. You may need to consult a naturopathic doctor or anti-aging physician to get a prescription for that.
  5. If all of this helps only marginally, then a smaller amount of Ritalin may be helpful; however, blood tests should be drawn from time to time to monitor for drug toxicity as the rate of absorption and elimination of the drug varies significantly from patient to patient.

It is interesting that studies have shown that a combination of Ritalin or Adderall with alternative treatment methods had a better outcome than either method alone.

Conclusion

It is important to think about the various possible causes of ADHD and not just get caught up in the knee-jerk reflex of treating ADHD with Ritalin (note that this was only step 5 above, if all the other things failed). In co-operation with the school system and using alternative ways at home first (change of diet, possible addition of low dose bioidentical progesterone cream in girls) and additional tutoring in weak school subjects the need for Ritalin may be avoided. If all else fails, the conservative approach is still available, but I suggest that drug monitoring (blood levels that should be done from time to time to avoid toxicity) is important.

More information about ADHD: http://nethealthbook.com/mental-illness-mental-disorders/developmental-disorders/attention-deficithyperactivity-disorder/

References

1. Ferri: Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2014, 1st ed., © 2013 Mosby.

2. Jacobson: Psychiatric Secrets, 2nd ed., © 2001 Hanley and Belfus

3. Dr. Datis Kharrazian: “Why Isn’t My Brain Working?” © 2013, Elephant Press, Carlsbad, CA 92011

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. Daniel G. Amen: “Use Your Brain To Change Your Age” © 2012, Harmony Books, An imprint of Crown Publishing.

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

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Feb
01
2014

Early Alcohol Use Will Result In Memory Loss Later In Life

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

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

Review of the effects of alcohol

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

Early Alcohol Use Will Result In Memory Loss Later In Life

Early Alcohol Use Will Result In Memory Loss Later In Life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cardiology view of preventative alcohol

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

References:

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

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

Dec
07
2013

Slow Down Aging And Prevent Disabilities

You have seen it many times before: a man or a woman retires at age 65; for a while you see them around at social functions; then they are not seen any more and they return in a wheel chair only to die prematurely. You ask yourself: what can I do better to avoid this death trap?

There are several aspects to this equation: first, we would like to slow down the aging process. Part of this is to retain our physical functioning. In the following I am discussing the ingredients that are necessary to achieve the goal of aging in dignity, but avoiding disability.

It starts with a healthy mind set

You need to be optimistic and have a mindset of believing in yourself that you can do it. With a negative attitude, you will manage to find something to complain about, no matter how perfect the day has been. Negative thinking is rampant, and depression tends to be higher in the older population. If you suffer from depression or you had negative events such as accidents or abuse in the past, it is important to do some house cleaning. Do not be hesitant seeking professional help and counseling from a health professional to help you build up your self-esteem.

Regular exercise is important

A regular exercise program helps you to get your day organized. If you think that you are too busy to find the time to exercise, you are sacrificing your wellness and in fact you sabotage your health. It’s time to rethink your lifestyle! The reason you need exercise is to set the automatic pilot on staying healthy and active. If you are accustomed to sitting down in front of the computer or television set for hours, your muscles do not get the exercise they need. Fast-forward several decades and you will be one of those who rely on walkers, wheel chairs and assisted living establishments. Without training your muscles you are more prone to falls and injuries. Your balance organ is not getting the impulses it needs on an ongoing basis to prevent you from falls later in life. People in their 80’s are often stable up to the point where they trip and fall. I have seen many patients like this arrive in an ambulance where I was doing my shift as the emergency physician in a community hospital. When I summarize the fate of all of the people in their 80’s who had falls and broke their hips over the years, 50% of them made it through the surgery and went back home (often with a walker or in a wheel chair) or ended up in a nursing home; the other 50% died from complications of the surgery, often from heart attacks during the surgery or from clots in their pelvic veins or in the leg veins that dislodged and turned into pulmonary emboli. A fracture and in particular a hip fracture in your 80’s is a serious, potentially deadly accident. So, you need strong muscles and joints and you need strong bones. All of this comes free to you from years of regular exercise in your 60’s and 70’s.

Slow Down Aging And Prevent Disabilities

Slow Down Aging And Prevent Disabilities

You guessed right: good nutrition is important!

Eat right and your body will function right. This is where a lot of people are sent on the wrong path due to clever advertising from the Agro Industry, Big Pharma, the American Dietetic Association and the United States Department Of Agriculture. So they preach that wheat and wheat products are good for you, but the lab tests show that it induces hyperinsulinemia and leads to diabetes. The genetic changes of wheat (“accomplished” through forced chemical hybridization in the 1970’s) are responsible for the metabolically very active wheat belly (accumulation of visceral fat) that Ref. 1 has described in detail. But others have researched this topic as well. Ref. 2 for instance confirms that gliadin, the glue in wheat, which allows dough to stick and makes it easy to create bread, bagels and pasta, is responsible for neurological issues like numbness of fingers and feet (peripheral neuropathy), balance problems and cognitive decline all the way to Alzheimer’s disease. If you continue to eat wheat and wheat products (all contained in conveniently packaged “processed” foods), you may very well find that your balance and muscle control will deteriorate by the time you are in your eighties. This condition is not new: one of the lecturers I listened to at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario in 1977 referred to those unfortunate individuals who were severely disabled as the “tea and toasters”. The tea in this case was probably the lesser evil, but the wheat induced malabsorption and malnutrition was a reality already in the mid and late 1970’s.

However, if you start eating organic foods to avoid the chemicals and estrogen-like xenoestrogens from pesticides, and you cut out sugar, high-density carbs and wheat products, you will no longer have problems with weight control and you will maintain your muscle, brain and nerve function. This is not what you learn from the regular agencies mentioned at the beginning of this paragraph, but Ref. 1 and 2 will fill you in on the details. Essentially, I follow a Mediterranean diet without sugar, starchy foods and wheat or wheat products. Ref. 2 stressed the importance of enough saturated and healthy fat (omega-3 fatty acid rich oils) in a balanced diet consisting of 20% protein and low carbs. No specific numbers were given regarding the %-age of fat. I would say that a limit of about 25 to 35% for fat would be reasonable except for the Inuit who are used to a fat content in their diet of 80%. The new thinking is that healthy fats are good for your brain and heart. Healthy fats are omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA) derived from fish oil as they are very protective (anti-inflammatory) oils, so is olive oil and coconut oil. These latter two are anti-inflammatory monounsaturated fatty acids. Keep in mind that you want to change the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids (the ratio in this link is cited as omega-6 to omega-3) more in the direction of omega-3 fatty acids, so that the ratio will be between 1:1 and 1:3. Most Americans are exposed to ratios of 1:8 to 1:16 (too many omega-6 fatty acids in fast food and processed foods), which leads to inflammation of the arteries as well. Omega-6 fatty acids, found in safflower oil, sun flower oil, grape seed oil and canola oil are bad for you when not balanced by enough omega-3’s (flax seed oil and fish oil) as they lead to inflammation through the arachidonic acid system in the body. It may be a surprise to you that saturated fats are OK: animal fat like butter, lard, cream, ghee (clarified butter), and other animal fats provided they come from clean (not antibiotic or bovine growth hormone treated) animals. Buy organic and buy organic meats as well such as grass fed beef and bison, chicken and turkey.

Here is an example of what a day would look like nutritionally in terms of a breakfast, lunch and dinner (recipes by Christina Schilling):

Breakfast:  Great Greens Omelet

(2 servings)

1 tablespoon olive oil or coconut oil

3 chopped green onions

3 cups spinach leaves or a mix of greens: kale, spinach, Swiss chard

1 red pepper cut into strips

3 eggs and 3 egg whites

2 tablespoons grated Parmigiano

In non-stick pan sauté green onion, greens and pepper strips in oil, stir eggs and egg whites and pour over the vegetables, sprinkle with Parmigiano. Cook on medium heat, till the egg mixture has started to set. Turn over and briefly let cook. Remove from pan, divide into two portions and sprinkle with a bit of salt (optional). Serve with salsa and guacamole.

Lunch: Oriental Salad

(2 portions)

1 small Sui choy cabbage (Napa cabbage)

2 cups mung bean sprouts

1 small daikon radish, shredded to yield 1 cup

1 red pepper, cut into thin slices

3 green onions, chopped

1 medium sized carrot, cut into matchstick size pieces

1 can sliced water chestnuts, rinsed.

Dressing: 2 tablespoons sesame oil,

2 tablespoons rice vinegar,(light balsamic vinegar works too)

1-tablespoon tamari soy sauce

1 tablespoon Thai sweet chilli sauce

1-teaspoon fresh grated ginger

3 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

Prepare all vegetables and put into salad bowl. Stir all dressing ingredients together and pour over vegetable mix. Stir gently, cover and refrigerate. This salad can be consumed immediately or kept refrigerted for a day. To complete the salad with a protein portion add your choice of 6 oz. cooked shrimp or the same quantity of cubed or sliced grilled chicken.

Dinner:  Florentine Chicken

(2 servings)

1 large boneless chicken breast

1 tablespoon of chopped fresh basil-alternatively use 1 teaspoon dried basil.

1 tablespoon grated Parmigiano

4 thin slices prosciutto

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 tomatoes- cut into halves

3 chopped green onions

2 cups baby spinach leaves

pinch of salt

Spread chicken breast flat and top it with the basil, Parmigiano and prosciutto slices. Fold into half an hold the stuffed chicken breast together at the edges with a toothpick or two. Heat olive oil in frying pan, add onion and tomato slices and put the chicken breast on top. Put lid on the pan, and cook at medium heat till the chicken is cooked through. If you test with a fork, the juices will be clear. Remove vegetables and chicken from pan, put on serving plate and keep warm. Remove toothpicks from meat, and cut chicken breast into two portions. Put spinach into pan and let the leaves wilt at medium heat (cover with lid). Put spinach on the side of the chicken and tomatoes, and sprinkle with a bit of salt.

Dessert after dinner: Berry Sorbet

(2 servings)

2 cups of deep frozen berries (strawberries, blueberries or a berry mix, no sugar added)

¾ cup of organic yogourt or goat’s milk yogurt

a few drops of liquid stevia or small amount of powdered stevia-to taste.

Put into blender and process till smooth. You will have to open the blender jar to stir the contents in between. Serve with a dollop of whipped cream,  if desired.

What about the “slow down” of menopause and andropause?

It is a fact that as we age, our hormone glands do not produce as much hormones as when we were in our 20’s and 30’s. But if you find a health care provider who is interested in anti-aging medicine (there are about 26,000 physicians, chiropractors and naturopaths who are members in the A4M), your hormones can be measured accurately from saliva and blood tests. This will tell whether you are hypothyroid, deficient in sex hormones and whether you should be supplemented with the missing hormones in adequate doses through bio-identical hormones. For instance, women are often deficient in progesterone in menopause and men deficient in testosterone. Treatment needs persistence and patience, as it often takes months for the patient to feel better and up to 2 years, to find the exact balance for you where the hormones are re-balanced and your symptoms of tiredness, insomnia, hot flushes etc. disappear. All our body cells have hormone receptors that require stimulation for the cells to function normally. Your health professional needs to pay attention to this and not just treat your symptoms symptomatically. When your hormones are in balance and you take a few supplements, your bones will be strong (no osteoporosis), your brain will be clear, your hearing perfect, and your balance great. You will be much less likely in your eighties to fall and break a bone and your mind will be clear and sharp.

Stress management

As the baby boomers age, they need to be aware of the stress in their lives. You may have been accustomed to having lots of energy when you were in your child rearing years or in your active professional career. Often we do not even notice that there may be stress in our lives. But your adrenal glands know. This is really a subpart of what I said of hormones: they need to be in balance. But cortisol, which is produced in your adrenal glands, is different from the menopause/andropause hormones. Corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH) from the hypothalamus and adrenocorticotrophin hormone (ACTH) from the pituitary gland are the rulers of the adrenal glands. And it is how you handle stress when you are in your 40’s, 50’s and 60’s which will determine whether you come down with adrenal fatigue, various degrees of adrenal insufficiency or not. Ref. 3 is a whole book that deals with this topic. Here I like to mention only that the best test to diagnose adrenal problems is a four-point saliva hormone test for cortisol. You connect the four points and get a curve where the cortisol level is expressed as a function of time. If this curve is below the lower normal range, which the laboratory provides for you, you need to be managed by a knowledgeable health care professional in order to build up the reserves of your adrenal glands. Yoga, meditation, deep prayer, self-hypnosis and enough regular sleep are all proven methods to overcome any stress related issues. Sometimes more effort is needed to rebuild the adrenals by specific herbs or porcine adrenal gland cortex extracts. Your health care provider can tell you more regarding this.

Useful supplements

1. On March 17, 2013 I wrote in a blog about prevention of osteoporosis the following summary:

“The best combination is 1000 mg (or 1200 mg as per National Osteoporosis Foundation recommendation) of calcium per day together with 400 to 800 IU of vitamin D3 (for cancer prevention you may want to take 4000 IU to 5000 IU of vitamin D3 per day instead monitored by a 25-hydroxyvitamin D blood level test through your physician) and 100 micrograms of vitamin K2 (also called MK-7). In the age group above 50 missing hormones such as bioidentical testosterone in men and bioidentical progesterone/estrogen combinations in women should be given as well. This works best, if you also watch your weight, cut down your alcohol consumption to a minimum (or better cut alcohol out altogether), exercise regularly (this builds up bone and muscle strength) and stick to a balanced diet resembling a Mediterranean or zone type diet (low-glycemic,  low fat, wheat free and no sugar).” I would add in view of Ref. 1 and 2 that “low fat” should now be replaced by “balanced fat diet”. With this I mean that nuts, almonds, olive oil, unsalted butter are allowed within reason. Lately there have been new insights that some cholesterol is needed for normal hormone production. What needs to be cut out are omega-6 fats and trans fats.

2. Omega-3-fatty acid supplements from molecularly distilled fish oil at a good dosage (3 to 6 capsules a day) will prevent chronic inflammation that often causes arthritis. Chicken cartilage (UC-II) from the health food store will desensitize your system in case you have rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis. This will prevent crippling arthritic disease down the road.

3. Mitochondrial aging (the mitochondria are the energy packages in each body cell) is slowed down by the two supplements ubiquinol (=Co-Q-10, take 400 mg per day) and 20 mg of PQQ (=Pyrroloquinoline quinone). Co-Q-10 repairs DNA damage to your mitochondria and PQQ stimulates your healthy mitochondria to multiply. Between the two supplements you will have more energy.

4. Vitamin C 1000 to 2000 mg per day and a multivitamin supplement help to support the rest of your metabolism. Some may want to add PS (Phosphatylserine) 100 to 200 mg per day, which works together with vitamin D3 for Alzheimer’s prevention.

Conclusion

By now you noticed that nothing comes from ignoring the fact that we are aging. We need to pay attention to our body functions and think about what we can do to make us stronger. In the end we are our own caregivers. When we are in our eighties, we should still be active and our brains should function with a lot more experience than in our past. Our bones will be strong and our balance should prevent us from falling. I do not want to use assisted living and I do not like the confinement of a wheel chair. In the meantime I am going to carry on dancing.

More information on:

1. Fitness: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/fitness/

2. Nutrition: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/nutrition/

3. Vitamins, minerals and supplements: http://nethealthbook.com/health-nutrition-and-fitness/nutrition/vitamins-minerals-supplements/

References

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

2. 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.

3. James L. Wilson, ND, DC, PhD: “Adrenal Fatigue, the 21sty Century Stress Syndrome – what is it and how you can recover”; Second printing 2002 by Smart Publications, Petaluma, Ca, USA

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

Oct
26
2013

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Any general practitioner knows that fall and winter are the time when patients come in with a variety of complaints like a lack of energy, problems sleeping, inability to cope with stress, but often there may be non-specific pains like muscle spasm in the back, the shoulders, or indigestion. These symptoms can all be part of seasonal affective disorders (SAD) like depression, the winter blues, often coupled with anxiety.

Emotional health does not fit easily into our health care model. The receptionist will warn the doctor that this is going to be a “difficult” patient. If the doctor has only time for a 5 or 10-minute visit, where only one or two problems can be dealt with, then this does not fit when a patient with SAD has a problem concentrating, falling asleep, and presents with a long list of other complaints. Even 20 minutes or 30 minutes may not be enough to deal with this patient adequately. It is easier to send the patient for tests and to prescribe an antidepressant and a sleeping pill and reschedule for a follow-up appointment. But this likely will result in normal blood tests and investigations, added health care costs, but no solution to the patient’s problem when he  or she simply states “doctor, I feel so sick”.

I thought it would be interesting to review how our emotions can get out of balance and review an integrative approach to SAD.

Definition of SAD

Seasonal depression (also called seasonal affective disorder) occurs during fall (autumn) and winter, but this alternates with no depressive episodes during spring and summer. A person defined to suffer from SAD would have suffered from two major depressive episodes during the past 2 years with no depressive episodes in the intervening seasons of spring and summer (Ref.1). Alternative names for SAD are winter depression and wintertime blues. Typically SAD lasts about 5 months.

Brain hormone disbalance

Around 2002 it was detected that in mice there was a second light sensitive pathway from ganglion cells in the retina that were responsible for circadian hormone rhythms. This was later confirmed to be true also in humans, where photosensitive retinal ganglion cells buried deep in the retina and containing the pigment melanopsin absorb blue light in the visible light spectrum. The electrical signals are sent along the retinohypothalamic tract, so that light from the retina regulates the hormone circadian rhythm (daily hormone fluctuations including the sleep/wake cycle) in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is one of the major hormone centers in the center of the brain. As this publication shows there are minor genetic sequence changes for the retinal photopigment, melanopsin in patients with SAD. This affects about 1 to 2% of the American population. Many more have probably partial defects in the function of this pigment.

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Being SAD in Fall (Seasonal Affective Disorders)

Many hormones in our brain experience a circadian rhythm.

When the sun goes down, melatonin is produced making us sleepy. In the morning serotonin production goes up and stays up all day, which normally prevents depression. There are other hormones that cycle during the course of the day. Cortisol is highest in the morning and low in the evening and at night. Growth hormone and prolactin are highest during sleep.

There is a lack of serotonin in the brains of patients with SAD and depression.

Symptoms of SAD

A person affected by SAD or any other patient with ordinary depression will present with symptoms of lack of energy, with tearfulness, negative thought patterns, sleep disturbances, lack of appetite and weight loss and possible suicidal thoughts. On the other hand symptoms may be more atypical presenting with irritability and overindulging in food with weight gain. Some patients somaticize as already mentioned in the beginning of this review experiencing a multitude of functional symptoms without any demonstrable underlying disease. It is estimated that up to 30 to 40% of patients attending a general practitioner’s office have some form of depression and in the fall and winter season a large percentage of them are due to SAD.

Treatment approaches to SAD

There are several natural approaches to SAD. However, before deciding to go this route, a psychiatrist should assess the patient to determine the risk for suicide. When a patient is not suicidal, light therapy can be utilized.

1. Light therapy: According to Ref. 2 a light box from Sun Box or Northern Light Technologies should be used for 30 minutes every morning during the fall and winter months. The box should emit at least 10,000 lux. Improvement can occur within 2 to 4 days of starting light therapy, but often takes up to 4 weeks to reach its full benefit (Ref.2).

2. Exercise reduces the amount of depression. The more exercise is done the less depression remains. A regular gym workout, dancing, walking, aerobics and involvement in sports are all useful.

3. Folate and vitamin B12: Up to 1/3 of depressed people have folate deficiency. Supplementation with 400 mcg to 1 mg of folic acid is recommended. Vitamin B12 should also be taken to not mask a B12 deficiency (Ref.3). Folate and vitamin B12 are methyl donors for several brain neuropeptides.

4. Vitamin D3 supplementation: A large Dutch study showed that a high percentage of depressed patients above the age of 65 were deficient for vitamin D3. Supplementation with vitamin D3 is recommended. (Ref.3). Take 3000 to 4000 IU per day, particularly during the winter time.

5. St. John’s Wort (Hypericum perforatum) has been found useful for minor to moderate depression. It is superior in terms of having fewer side effects than standard antidepressant therapy (Ref.3).

6. Standard antidepressants (bupropion, fluoxetine, sertraline and paroxetine) are the treatment of choice by psychiatrists and treating physicians when a faster onset of the antidepressant effect is needed (Ref.3).

7. Electro acupuncture has been shown in many studies to be effective in ameliorating the symptoms of depression and seems to work through the release of neurotransmitters in the brain (Ref.4).

8. A balanced nutrition (Mediterranean type diet) including multiple vitamins and supplements (particularly the vitamin B group and omega-3 fatty acids) also stabilize a person’s mood (Ref.3). Pay particular attention to hidden sugar intake, as sugar consumption is responsible for a lot of depression found in the general population.

9. Restore sleep deprivation by adding melatonin 3 to 6 mg at bedtime. This helps also to restore the circadian hormone rhythm.

Conclusion

Seasonal affective disorder is triggered by a lack of light exposure in a sensitive subpopulation. An integrative approach as described can reduce the amount of antidepressants that would have been used in the past in treating this condition. This will reduce the amount of side effects. The use of a light box can reduce the symptoms of this type of depression within a few days. But the addition of electro acupuncture and St. John’s Wort may be all that is required for treatment of many SAD cases. Regular exercise and a balanced nutrition (with no sugar) and including vitamin supplements complete this treatment. If the depression gets worse, seek the advice of a psychiatrist and make sure your doctor has ordered thyroid tests and hormone tests to rule out other causes where depression is merely a secondary symptom.

More information on depression: http://nethealthbook.com/mental-illness-mental-disorders/mood-disorders/depression/

References

  1. Ferri: Ferri’s Clinical Advisor 2014, 1st ed. © 2013 Mosby.
  2. Cleveland Clinic: Current Clinical Medicine, 2nd ed. © 2010 Saunders.
  3. Rakel: Integrative Medicine, 3rd ed. © 2012 Saunders.
  4. George A. Ulett, M.D., Ph.D. and SongPing Han, B.M., Ph.D.: “The Biology of Acupuncture”, copyright 2002, Warren H. Green Inc., Saint Louis, Missouri, 63132 USA

Last edited Nov. 7, 2014

Jul
06
2013

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

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

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

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

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

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

Fats and oils

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

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

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

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

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

The Inconvenient Truth About Convenience Foods

Sugar, starch and other carbohydrates

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

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

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

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

Protein in meats, dairy products and sausages

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

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

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

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

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

Vitamins and minerals

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

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

Public Awareness

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

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

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

What you can do to get healthy food

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

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

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

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

Last edited Nov. 6, 2014