Dairy Officially Deemed Unhealthy

The Harvard School of Public Health sent a strong message to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and nutrition experts everywhere with the recent release of its “Healthy Eating Plate” food guide.  The university was responding to the USDA’s new MyPlate guide for healthy eating, which replaced the outdated and misguided food pyramid.

Harvard’s nutrition experts did not pull punches, declaring that the university’s food guide was based on sound nutrition research. The greatest evidence of its research focus is the absence of dairy products from the “Healthy Eating Plate” based on Harvard’s assessment that “…high intake can increase the risk of prostate cancer and possibly ovarian cancer.”  The Harvard experts also referred to the high levels of saturated fat in most dairy products and suggested that collards, bok choy, fortified soy milk, and baked beans are safer choices than dairy for obtaining calcium, as are high quality supplements.

In my practice, I try to emphasize to people how “duped” we’ve been by the dairy industry, and that dairy products aren’t indeed the most nutritious source of calcium, as we’ve been brainwashed to believe in our society. Of course, this report doesn’t mean that you should avoid dairy entirely, especially when you can acquire local or non-commercial organic sources. Mainly, the take-away message here is that both past and present food recommendations from the government have emphasized dairy as a requirement, and this is clearly not the case!

Rethinking the Risk of Low HDL

Despite plenty of evidence that people with low levels of “good”cholesterol are more prone to heart attacks, a large new study suggests that the lacking lipid is not to blame.

The analysis of data on nearly 70,000 people in Denmark affirmed the link between low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), the so-called “good” cholesterol, and raised heart attack risk in the general population. But in people with a gene mutation that lowers HDL, heart attack risk was not found to be higher at all.

“Association itself doesn’t mean causality,” said lead author Dr. Ruth Frikke-Schmidt, a consultant in the Department of Clinical Biochemistry at Rigshospitalet in Copenhagen.

The results, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, indicate that just having low HDL is not what raises the likelihood of a heart attack.

“People with low ‘good’ cholesterol also have a whole bunch of other factors that relate to heart disease,” said Dr. Christopher Cannon, professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and editor of the American College of Cardiology’s website.

It’s difficult to study and isolate “good” cholesterol, added Cannon, who was not involved in the new study. People with low HDL often suffer from obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes and sometimes have higher levels of LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, he said.

To try to isolate the effects of HDL itself, Frikke-Schmidt and her colleagues focused on people with a well-known variant of a gene called LCAT, which lowers HDL levels and occurs in about four percent of the population.

The variant gene is used as a stand-in for low HDL, she noted, but people with the variant don’t necessarily have the other risk factors that usually affect HDL levels in the larger population.

In the new study, a 13 percent decrease in HDL relative to average levels in the population was linked to an 18 percent increase in heart attack risk — if the low HDL was not explained by a gene variant. For people with the variant gene, the same HDL reduction was not linked to any increased risk of heart attack.

The findings fit in with Frikke-Schmidt’s earlier research showing that two other genetic variants that lower “good” cholesterol levels are not associated with an increased risk of heart disease.

According to both Frikke-Schmidt and Cannon, the debate is particularly important, because there are currently drugs in trials that would raise “good” cholesterol.

If low HDL is not a cause of heart attacks, raising HDL may not be protective, they point out.

Ruling out low levels of “good” cholesterol, Frikke-Schmidt said the most likely cause of the increased risk is so-called remnant lipoproteins, which are like “bad” cholesterol and carry fats through the blood.

Until the real mechanisms are sorted out, Cannon said it’s still important for people to try and raise their “good” cholesterol by exercising and losing weight.

“Beyond that there are so many question marks,” he said. “We’re kind of in a wait and see mode.”

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/sWrkZo The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, online November 16, 2011.

ADHD and Essential Fatty Acids

In an observational study involving 810 children between the ages of 5 and 12 years of age who were referred for medical advice for “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” (ADHD), supplementation with a combination of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids in combination with zinc and magnesium for a period of 3 months was found to be reduce symptoms of ADHD, as assessed via the SNAP-IV, reduce emotional problems, and reduce problems falling asleep. The authors conclude, “…considering the behavioural benefit in combination with the low risk due to a good safety profile, the dietary supplementation with PUFA in combination with zinc and magnesium can be recommended,” to children labeled as having “ADHD.”

With ADHD, there are also more extensive testing options available to assess nutritional and neurotransmitter status, allowing for more specific treatment options, and ultimately not having to depend on pharmaceutical interventions. The bottom line is that many “alternative” treatment options have been proven effective in the management of ADHD, and that medications aren’t the only option out there.

School Lunch Reform

This article discusses how corporations are willing to sell out the health of our kids for financial interests. “Food companies have spent more than 5.6 million so far lobbying against the proposed rules.” Really, food companies? I’m sure you can find other ways to make money without promoting obesity and illness-disgusting!

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/11/02/us/school-lunch-proposals-set-off-a-dispute.html?scp=1&sq=school%20lunch&st=cse

Vitamins and Death? Not So Fast . . .

A lot of hype and negative press has been surrounding the recent study that demonstrated the supposed risks of taking supplements.  This is a reprint of an editorial written by Alan Gaby, M.D. that exposes the faults of this study, and why it should be taken with a grain of salt!
An observational study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that women using multivitamins or certain other common vitamin and mineral supplements had higher mortality risk over 22 years. However, while it achieved widespread media coverage, it did not provide any convincing evidence that nutritional supplements are harmful. Researchers calculated the mortality rates were by manipulating the data, and nothing in the study contradicts decades of controlled research showing healthful benefits of these vitamins and minerals.

What the study said

In this study, 38,772 women from Iowa, whose average age was 62 years, filled out questionnaires three times over an 18-year period regarding dietary supplement use.

After a total of 22 years, researchers followed up and report that the risk of dying from any cause appeared to be 6% higher among women who took a multivitamin supplement than among women who did not take a multivitamin. Additional supplemention with vitamin B6, folic acid, iron, magnesium, zinc, and copper was also said to be associated with increased mortality rates.

Two factors should be taken into consideration while interpreting these results, the method used for calculating the results and the type of study.

Interpreting mortality risk methodology

The media coverage did not note a potentially serious problem with this study: that researchers looked at “adjusted” mortality rates rather than actual mortality rates in the population of women who took supplements, adjusting for a wide range of factors including caloric intake, cigarette smoking, body mass index, blood pressure, educational level, diabetes, use of hormone-replacement therapy, physical activity, and intake of fruits and vegetables.

Studying health events to find patterns in a population (epidemiology) is a relatively inexact science, and it is quite possible that the assumptions upon which the researchers based their adjustments were not entirely correct. When they adjusted the data only for age and caloric intake, there was no statistically significant difference in mortality rate between supplement users and nonusers.

Observation only tells part of the story

The study was observational, meaning that while it might show a relationship between certain supplements and mortality, it does not provide evidence that one causes the other.

In observational studies, scientists correlate various lifestyle factors with health outcomes. Such studies help researchers develop hypotheses that can be investigated further, but the only type of study that can prove cause and effect is a randomized controlled trial, in which participants are randomly assigned to receive either a particular treatment or a placebo (an inert dummy pill) without knowing whether they are getting the treatment or not.

In the history of medical research, results of observational studies have sometimes eventually been contradicted by randomized controlled trials. In a famous example, numerous observational studies suggested that the use of hormone-replacement therapy by postmenopausal women prevents heart disease, but subsequent randomized controlled trials demonstrated that hormone-replacement therapy either has no effect or actually increases the risk of heart disease.

Should women stop taking supplements?

The new study does not negate previous research demonstrating that vitamins and minerals can have a wide range of health benefits. However, as with all substances that can affect your health, talk to your doctor about which dietary supplements are right for you.

(Arch Intern Med 2011;171:1625–33)

Is Eating Healthy Really More Expensive?

Time and again, I hear from patients that it’s too expensive to buy “healthy” food on a regular basis. It’s often this misconception that prevents them from following a healthy diet long-term, ultimately obstructing their ability to heal, or remain healthy. Some recent research has pretty much refuted the notion that eating healthy is more expensive than eating food that’s not so good for you-In fact, quite the contrary!

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/25/opinion/sunday/is-junk-food-really-cheaper.html?scp=5&sq=cheap%20food&st=cse

IBS and “Mindfulness”

A therapy that combines mindfulness meditation and gentle yoga may help soothe symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome, a small clinical trial suggests.

In a study of 75 women with the digestive disorder, researchers found that those assigned to “mindfulness training” saw a bigger improvement in their symptoms over three months than women who were assigned to a support group.

The findings, they say, suggest that the mindfulness technique should be an option for treating irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

A doctor not involved in the study agreed.

“I think people with IBS should learn mindfulness skills,” said Dr. Delia Chiaramonte, director of education for the University of Maryland’s Center for Integrative Medicine in Baltimore.

Learning such skills, she said in an interview, is “100 percent safe,” and it could offer people a way to help manage IBS symptoms on their own, long term.

People with IBS have repeated bouts of abdominal cramps, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. The typical treatment includes diet changes, as well as anti-diarrhea medication and, for constipation, laxatives or fiber supplements. There’s also some evidence that regular, moderate exercise helps.

The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but anxiety and less-than-ideal coping strategies — like avoiding going out because of your symptoms — are thought to make IBS worse for many people.

Because of that, psychological counseling is sometimes used. The best-studied form is cognitive behavioral therapy, which tries to change the unhealthy thinking patterns and behaviors that contribute to people’s health problems.

For the new study, Susan A. Gaylord and colleagues at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, looked at a different approach to managing the “brain-gut” connection — known as mindfulness-based stress reduction.

The researchers randomly assigned 75 women with IBS to either undergo the mindfulness training or attend an IBS support group once a week for eight weeks.

The training included lessons on meditation, gentle yoga postures and “body scanning,” in which people focus their attention on one body area at a time to detect muscle tension and other sensations.

Gaylord’s team found that three months after the therapy ended, women who’d undergone mindfulness training were faring better than the support group.

On average, their scores on a standard 500-point IBS symptom questionnaire fell by more than 100 points, with a 50-point drop considered a “clinically significant” improvement.

In contrast, women in the support group averaged a 30-point decline, according to results in the American Journal of Gastroenterology.

Chiaramonte said the trial was “tremendously well-designed,” and set up to address the common criticisms of studies of mind-body therapies. Testing mindfulness training against a support group, for example, helps control for the fact that people involved in any form of therapy may simply expect to get better — and, therefore, do.

In surveys, the researchers found that women in the support group were as likely to expect benefits as those in the mindfulness group.

“And still, the mindfulness group did better,” Chiaramonte said. “So it’s not just the contact with another human being, or not just that they expected to get better.”

It also makes sense that mindfulness training would help people with IBS, according to Chiaramonte. “Part of the problem in IBS,” she explained, “is the attention people give to the physical discomfort, and what the mind then does with that.”

With mindfulness training, the goal is to help people become aware of what they are feeling, but then “let it go” instead of ruminating, and potentially making the physical symptoms worse.

Of course, naturopathic medicine automatically takes “mindfulness” into account, so this is nothing new from my perspective. By always assessing people’s mental/emotional state, along with implementing diet and lifestyle changes, it’s not uncommon for me to see people’s IBS symptoms improve dramatically. It’s unfortunate to see so many patients who come to me after undergoing multiple symptomatic treatments (steroids, anti-spasmodics, etc.), only left to be feeling worse. 

Once again, this study demonstrates what naturopathic med
icine already practices-The impact of the mind on physical health cannot be avoided!

SOURCE: http://bit.ly/lfYimf American Journal of Gastroenterology, online June 21, 2011.

PMS and Essential Fatty Acids

Yet another case of naturopathic medicine being way ahead of the curve when it comes to using treatments for years before they’re eventually “proven” effective. 
Up to 95% of women suffer from at least one PMS symptom, and more than a third of these women have PMS severe enough to interrupt their routine activities. Fortunately, a new study may offer a way for women to get some much-needed relief from monthly bouts of PMS.
PUFA vs. PMS
The exact causes of PMS aren’t known, but health experts suspect that certain essential dietary fats, called polyunsaturated fatty acids, or PUFAs, may play a role. Not getting enough of and the right types of PUFAs may worsen PMS symptoms.
Researchers set out to test this theory by enrolling 120 women into a six-month study. The study authors randomly selected the women to receive a daily 1- or 2-gram PUFA supplement, or a placebo (no fatty acids).
Blood levels of cholesterol and prolactin, a hormone produced in the body that may affect PMS, were tested before and after the study. The women kept symptom diaries to track the details and severity of their PMS from month to month.
After 6 months, the researchers found that compared with the initial PMS ratings:

• Women taking the PUFA supplements had significant decreases in PMS symptoms at three and six months.

• Women taking 2 grams of PUFAs, the highest amount given, experienced the largest decrease in PMS symptoms over time.

• Women taking the placebo h
ad a small decrease in PMS symptoms at three months, but no improvement of symptoms at six months.

None of the women in the study experienced significant changes in blood levels of cholesterol or prolactin. This suggests PUFA supplements do not raise cholesterol in otherwise healthy women experiencing PMS, nor exert their anti-PMS effects through changes in prolactin levels.

Getting your essential PUFAs

If you are interested in trying a PUFA supplement, keep the following tips in mind:

• Talk to your doctor about whether PUFA supplements are right for you. Dietary supplements can interfere with medications, so err on the side of caution when adding new supplements to your self-care routine.

• The 2-gram PUFA supplements used in the study provided 420 mg of gamma linolenic acid, 350 mg of oleic acid, 690 mg of linoleic acid, 500 mg of other PUFAs, and 40 mg of vitamin E. Ask your doctor or dietitian to help you find a supplement with a similar mix of PUFAs.

• You can get more PUFAs from the food you eat as well. Try walnuts and other nuts and seeds, ground flaxseed, green leafy vegetables, tofu and other soy foods, and fatty fish, such as wild-caught salmon.

• Other lifestyle changes that may help ease PMS symptoms include getting enough sleep (seven to eight hours), exercising regularly, limiting intake of caffeine, alcohol, and sweets, and eating a healthy diet based around vegetables, fruit, whole grains, and legumes.

(Essential fatty acids for premenstrual syndrome and their effect on prolactin and total cholesterol levels: a randomized, double blind, placebo-controlled study. Accessed January 20, 2011; Available at: NewsRelease_Essential_oil pill_prevents_PMS.pdf)

PCOS Patients Benefit From Exercise and Acupuncture

Acupuncture and physical exercise improve hormone levels and menstrual bleeding pattern in women with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), reveals research from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. 

PCOS is a common disorder that affects up to 10% of all women of child-bearing age. Women with PCOS frequently have irregular ovulation and menstruation, with many small immature egg follicles in the ovaries. This causes the ovaries to produce more testosterone which, in turn, leads to troublesome hair growth and acneObesity, insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease are also widespread among these patients. 

In the current study, published in the American Journal of Physiology-Endocrinology and Metabolism, a group of women with PCOS were given acupuncture where the needles were stimulated both manually and with a weak electric current at a low frequency that was, to some extent, similar to muscular work. A second group was instructed to exercise at least three times a week, while a third group acted as controls. All were given information on the importance of regular exercise and a healthy diet. 

“The study shows that both acupuncture and exercise reduce high levels of testosterone and lead to more regular menstruation,” says docent associate professor Elisabet Stener-Victorin, who is responsible for the study. “Of the two treatments, the acupuncture proved more effective.” 

Although PCOS is a common disorder, researchers do not know exactly what causes it. “However, we’ve recently demonstrated that women with PCOS have a highly active sympathetic nervous system, the part that isn’t controlled by our will, and that both acupuncture and regular exercise reduced levels of activity in this system compared with the control group, which could be an explanation for the results.” 

In my experience, women I’ve seen with PCOS respond extraordinarily well to nutritional, botanical, and dietary interventions. Plus, conventional medical treatments tend to be very “piecemeal”, treating each component of PCOS as individual symptoms, rather than addressing the body as a whole. As this study confirms, exercise and acupuncture are other treatments that can be implemented to successfully reverse PCOS.  

Diet Soda and Heart Disease

As many of my patients know, I often discourage the use of diet sodas and other sources of artificial sweeteners. The reasons for this are numerous, but here is yet another suggestion that diet soft drinks may not be the best choice: 

http://www.latimes.com/health/boostershots/lat-heb-dietsodastrokeheartattack20110209,0,4324389.story