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

Supplements Shown To Reduce Breast Cancer Risk

In a randomized, placebo-controlled study involving 47 premenopausal and 49 postmenopausal women, results indicate that supplementation with a herbal formula may reduce the risk of breast cancer. The women were randomized to placebo or supplementation with a mixture of HMR lignan, indole-3-carbinol, calcium glucarate, milk thistle, Schisandra chinesis and stinging nettle, for a period of 28 days. At intervention end, a significant increase in urinary 2-OHE concentration and a trend toward an increase in 2:16alpha-OHE ratio was observed in the herbal group (Meaning that the “more harmful” form of estrogen was significantly diminished after use of this herb/nutrient combination).


While this proves that various supplements can certainly be beneficial in the prevention of breast cancer, 2 of the main ingredients (HMR lignan and indole-3-carbinol) can be found in flax seeds and cruciferous vegetables, respectively. Therefore, I would encourage all women to incorporate these foods into their diet on a regular basis, as well as supplementing with some of the herbs and nutrients mentioned above.

Source: “Effects of A Breast-Health Herbal Formula Supplement on Estrogen Metabolism in Pre- and Post-Menopausal Women not Taking Hormonal Contraceptives or Supplements: A Randomized Controlled Trial,” Laidlaw M, Sepkovic DW, et al, Breast Cancer (Auckl), 2010; 4: 85-95.

Vegetarian Source of Essential Fats

In the first study to investigate the effect of the omega-3 DHA (docosahexaneoic acid) derived from algae, researchers found that people suffering from age-related decline in their thinking (cognition) could get a memory boost by supplementing with the extract.
DHA is a fatty acid found in high concentrations in some fish. Together with other fish-derived oils, DHA is believed to help slow the rate of cognitive decline in people with mild impairment, but it has never been studied on its own.
As the world’s population continues to age, health issues related to aging bodies and brains are becoming more common. Many population-based studies have noted the association between lower DHA levels and cognitive decline in healthy people and those with Alzheimer’s disease.
According to the journal Alzheimer’s and Dementia, the new study was led by doctors at Martek Biosciences Corporation, the company that manufactures the algal DHA supplement used in this study. A total of 437 people aged 55 or older with age-related cognitive decline completed the 24-week study. Half of them were given 900 mg per day of DHA from the algae, Schizochytrium sp.; the rest were given a matching placebo.
Tests were given before and after the supplementation period to measure memory, learning, attention, problem solving, and skills involved with decision making and abstract thinking (executive function skills).
Anti-aging for the brain
The ability to recollect past experiences (episodic memory) and learning in the DHA group significantly improved. People with lower scores at the study outset seemed to benefit the most, as did those with a family history of dementia and those taking cholesterol-lowering medications, “suggesting that potential genetic and cardiovascular factors may influence the effects of DHA on cognition,” the team commented. There was also a significant decrease in heart rate associated with DHA supplementation.
Working memory–that which is used to store and manage information–was not affected, nor was executive function. Participants reported no adverse side effects related to treatment.
Use it, don’t lose it
Try these tips to help keep your mind spry.
• Get moving. Physical exercise helps keep the mind and body young by protecting brain tissue from age-related damage and by keeping the heart healthy.
• Stay involved. People who connect with others through church, volunteering, travel, and leisure activities are doing their brains a favor. Staying socially engaged reduces stress and helps keep the mind sharp.
• Eat right. Diets rich in brightly-colored fruits and vegetables and lean protein (especially fish) help ward off brain-damaging free radicals, preserving tip top brain function.
 (Alzheimers Dement 2010;456-64)

IBS and Exercise

People with irritable bowel syndrome may be able to find some relief by getting regular exercise, a small clinical trial suggests.

The study, of 102 adults with the disorder, found that those who were told to get some more exercise had better odds of seeing improvements in problems like cramps, bloating, constipation and diarrhea.

After three months, 43 percent of the exercisers showed a “clinically significant” improvement in their symptoms — meaning it was making a difference in their daily lives. That compared with a quarter of the participants who maintained their normal lifestyle.

For people who are currently less-than-active, even a moderate increase in exercise may curb irritable bowel symptoms, according to senior researcher Dr. Riadh Sadik, of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden.

In an email, Sadik said the researchers had told those in the exercise group to get 20 to 60 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise — like brisk walking or biking — on three to five days out of the week.

That’s a level that is generally safe and achievable, Sadik said. On top of that, the researcher added, “it will also improve your general health.”

About 15 percent of Americans have irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, which causes bouts of abdominal cramps, bloating and diarrhea or constipation.

It is different from inflammatory bowel disease, which includes two digestive diseases — ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease — that are believed to involve an abnormal immune system reaction in the intestines.

The exact cause of IBS is unknown, but people with the condition often find that they have certain symptom “triggers,” such as particular foods, larger-than-normal meals or emotional stress. From a naturopathic perspective, we also look at food allergies and dysbiosis (imbalances of gut bacteria) as major underlying causes of IBS.

According to Sadik, exercise may be helpful for several reasons. Past studies have shown that it can get things moving along in the gut, relieving gas and constipation. (Vigorous exercise, however, may worsen bouts of diarrhea.)

Regular exercise may also have a positive influence on the nervous and hormonal systems that act on the digestive tract.

None of the participants in the new study, reported in the American Journal of Gastroenterology, were regularly active at the outset. The researchers randomly asked about half to begin exercising over a 12-week period, with advice from a physical therapist. The rest stuck with their normal lifestyle habits.

At the end of the study, the exercise group reported greater improvements on a standard questionnaire onIBS symptoms. They were also less likely to show worsening symptoms.

Of the exercise group, 8 percent had a clinically significant increase in IBS symptoms, versus 23 percent of the comparison group.

That, according to Sadik, suggests that for a considerable number of people remaining sedentary may only worsen IBS.

“If you have IBS, then you can increase your physical activity to improve your symptoms,” Sadik said. “If you stay inactive, you should expect more symptoms.”  

Naturopathic medicine looks at IBS as a multi-factorial condition, involving physical, mental, and emotional issues, so it makes sense that exercise would have a positive impact when it comes to treating this “condition”. If you have symptoms of IBS, but have not yet explored naturopathic treatments, it would definitely be in your best interest. 

More Evidence That Olive Oil and Veggies Lower Heart Disease Risk

It’s no secret that eating well is good for both body and mind, so it may not come as a surprise that a new study finds women who eat more olive oil and leafy vegetables such as salads and cooked spinach are significantly less likely to develop heart disease.

A group of Italian researchers found that women who ate at least 1 serving of leafy vegetables per day were more than 40 percent less likely to develop heart disease over an average of eight years, relative to women who ate two or fewer portions of those vegetables each week.

Women who downed at least 3 tablespoons of olive oil daily – such as in salad dressing – were also 40 percent less likely to be diagnosed with heart disease, compared to women who ate the least olive oil.

It’s not exactly clear why specifically leafy vegetables and olive oil may protect the heart, study author Dr. Domenico Palli of the Cancer Research and Prevention Institute in Florence told Reuters Health. “Probably the mechanisms responsible for the protective effect of plant-origin foods on cardiovascular diseases involve micronutrients such as folate, antioxidant vitamins and potassium, all present in green leafy vegetables.”

Folate reduces blood levels of homocysteine, Palli explained, which is thought to increase the risk of cardiovascular disease by damaging the inner lining of arteries. Other studies have shown people who eat more potassium have lower blood pressure, which can protect the cardiovascular system. Virgin olive oil may be particularly effective at lowering heart disease risk because of its high level of antioxidant plant compounds, he added.

This is not the first study to link olive oil or vegetables to good heart health. Most famously, the traditional Mediterranean diet — rich in vegetables and monounsaturated fats from olive oil and nuts, but low in saturated fat from meat and dairy — has been tied to a decreased risk of heart disease.

Mediterranean-style eating has also been credited with lowering risk for some cancers, diabetes, and, more recently, with slowing brain aging.

Cardiovascular disease is a major killer, responsible for 30 percent of all deaths worldwide and the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S.

To look more closely at the role of foods in protecting against heart disease, Palli and colleagues reviewed dietary information collected from nearly 30,000 Italian women participating in a large national health study. Researchers followed the women, whose mean age was 50 at the beginning of the study, for an average of 8 years, noting who developed heart disease.

In that time, the women experienced 144 major heart disease-related events, such as heart attack or bypass surgery, the authors report in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Women who ate at least one daily serving (about two ounces) of leafy vegetables – such as raw lettuce or endives, or cooked vegetables like spinach or chard — had a 46 percent lower risk of developing heart disease than women who ate at most two portions per week.

Consuming at least an ounce of olive oil per day lowered their risk by 44 percent relative to women who consumed a half-ounce or less daily, the authors found.

The women’s intake of other types of vegetables, such as roots and cabbages, and their consumption of tomatoes or fruit did not seem to be linked to their risk for major heart events.

When visiting your Naturopathic physician, make sure you request homocysteine, cardio-CRP, and fractionated lipid levels, to make sure a thorough evaluation of your cardiovascular health is being performed. You can then use these levels to track your progress, especially if you’re just transitioning to a Mediterranean-style diet. 

Food Allergies-More Common Than You Think!

A study published in the October issue of the Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology estimated that nearly 2.5 percent of Americans have at least one food allergy. The study, which is believed to be the largest food allergy study to date, showed that the allergies were more common in children 5 years old or younger. 


“This study is comprehensive in its scope and is the first to use specific blood serum levels and look at food allergies across the whole life spectrum,” says study senior investigator Darryl Zeldin, M.D., acting clinical director at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). 

In the study, children under the age of 5 were more than twice as likely as those older than 20 to have a food allergy and black people were three times as likely as white people to have one, while men were nearly 1.9 times more likely than women to be affected. Black boys were more than four times as likely as white women over 20 to have a food allergy. 

The findings also show that food allergies were more common in those with asthma. While the researchers did not study cause and effect between food allergies and asthma, having a food allergy appeared to compound the risk for asthma and vice versa. 

Those with asthma had nearly four times the risk of having a food allergy than those without it. Overall, people with food allergies were nearly seven times more likely than those without them to have required ER treatment for their asthma in the 12 months leading up to the study. 

“Our findings confirm a long-suspected interplay between food allergies and asthma, and that people with one of the conditions are at higher risk for the other,” says investigator Robert Wood, M.D., director of Allergy and Immunology at Hopkins Children’s. 

Wood notes that many children experience an “allergic march,” developing a food allergy first and getting asthma and hay fever later. 

While people with food allergies were somewhat more likely to be diagnosed with hay fever, the link between the two was not particularly strong, and they did not appear to have higher risk for eczema, the investigators found. 


If you or your child are suffering from asthma or other allergy-related conditions, you should definitely consider pursuing food allergy testing from a licensed naturopathic physician.

Acupuncture, Hot Flashes, and Tamoxifen

The Journal of Complementary and Alternative Medicine published a recent study demonstrating the benefits of acupuncture for treating hot flashes and other side-effects related to chemotherapy and tamoxifen. Patients used in the study had been receiving tamoxifen for at least 6 months, and experiencing at least 4 hot flashes and night sweats per day for at least 3 months. Treatment with acupuncture (8 treatments) was found to reduce the frequency of hot flashes and night sweats by an average of 50%. At the end of the treatment period, significant improvements were found in: anxiety/fears; memory/concentration; menstrual problems; sexual behavior; sleep problems; somatic symptoms; and vasomotor symptoms. The authors state, “These results compare favorably with other studies using acupuncture to manage HF&NS, as well as research on nonhormonal pharmaceutical treatments. In addition to reduced HF&NS frequency, women enjoyed improved physical and emotional well-being, and few side-effects were reported.” 

Don’t Skip Your Breakfast!

Prior research suggests that breakfast eaters may be healthier than people who skip breakfast, and now a study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests a nutritious breakfast may be especially good for your heart. Specifically, the recent study shows that regular breakfast eaters may reduce risk factors linked to heart disease.

Breakfast eaters reduce heart disease risk factors

While prior research has shown that skipping breakfast may lower a person’s energy level and increase the risk of weight gain, less is known about the effects of skipping breakfast on other body organs and functions.

In this study, 2,184 participants, 9 to 15 years old, initially filled out a questionnaire about diet and physical activity and stated whether they usually ate breakfast before school or not. Twenty years later, one third of the original participants filled out a meal frequency questionnaire, had their waist size measured, and had blood levels of triglycerides, total and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, and fasting insulin (insulin levels after no food has been eaten overnight) checked. Participants were then classified into four groups:

• skipped breakfast in neither childhood nor adulthood,

• skipped breakfast only in childhood,

• skipped breakfast only in adulthood, or

• skipped breakfast in both childhood and adulthood.

Results showed that people who skipped breakfast in both childhood and adulthood had a larger waist size and total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels compared with people who ate breakfast in both childhood and adulthood. They also had higher fasting insulin levels, which indicates they have insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease.

Breakfast skippers also tended to be single, have a lower education level, and were more likely to smoke, watch TV, get less physical activity, and have a less healthy diet compared with breakfast eaters.

The authors comment, “Skipping breakfast was associated with a larger waist circumference, cardiometabolic risk factors, poorer diet quality, and unhealthy lifestyle behaviors.” They add that promoting the benefits of eating breakfast may be an important public health message.

M
ore reasons to be a breakfast eater

There are many good reasons to eat breakfast, and prior research has shown that compared with breakfast skippers, breakfast eaters tend to have:

Better habits. People who eat breakfast tend to have healthier diets and get more physical activity.

A more nutritious diet. Breakfast eaters tend to eat less daily fat and cholesterol and more fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

A healthier weight. Some studies suggest that breakfast eaters have a lower weight compared with breakfast skippers.

Natural Remedies and Anxiety-A Summary

The October 7th, 2010 edition of Nutrition Journal published a summary of studies investigating nutritional and herbal treatments of anxiety. 71% of the studies (15 of 21) showed that the nutritional and herbal interventions were indeed effective in the treatment of anxiety. Specific supplements tested which showed positive results included those containing extracts of passionflower, kava, combinations of L-lysine and L-arginine. Supplementation with magnesium showed promise, while St. John’s wort was not found to be effective as an anti-anxiety treatment. Another benefit with these therapies, as opposed to pharmaceutical interventions, is that minimal side-effects were reported.

If you’re suffering from anxiety or other mood disorders, it’s definitely worth pursuing “alternative” forms of treatment, as the risk of becoming dependent on anti-anxiety medications is very high. Clinically, I’ve found a number of these treatments, along with acupuncture and other modalities, to be just as effective or better than pharmacological interventions for anxiety.

Collards, Carrots, and Breast Cancer

Researchers looking at data from the ongoing Black Women’s Health Study found that eating carrots, collard greens, cabbage, and broccoli can reduce breast cancer risk, particularly an aggressive form common among African American women. Previous studies of the relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and breast cancer in white women have led to conflicting results, and no prior research has investigated this link separately among African American women.

The ER-negative form of breast cancer, which is insensitive to the hormone estrogen, is more common in this population than among white women. It is more difficult to treat and more often fatal than estrogen-sensitive cancers.

Researchers found that women who ate at least two servings of vegetables a day had a 43 percent lower risk of ER-negative breast cancer compared with women who ate fewer than four servings of vegetables each week.

Further, they identified certain types of vegetables that appeared to reduce the risk of all types of breast cancer, including broccoli, collard greens, cabbage and carrots.

Women who ate three or more servings a week of carrots, for instance, had a 17 percent lower risk of developing breast cancer than women who ate carrots less than once a month.

Still, it is too early to determine if this is a true cause-and effect-relationship, they note. High vegetable consumption could mark a healthier lifestyle in general or some other unknown mechanism that accounts for the apparent protection. Vegetables’ cancer-staving power needs to be confirmed in further studies, the researchers write. However, it is clear that, in addition to potential protective effects against breast cancer, higher vegetable consumption can lead to many health benefits, including lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Therefore, it is recommended that all women, especially African Americans, try to increase their daily intake of vegetables to meet the established guidelines.