Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Call That Kills–A Deadly Link Between Cell Phones & Cancer

For years, scientists thought — but couldn’t prove – a connection between mobile phone usage and health risks.  That just changed.  And where did they find the smoking gun? In our spit!

How researchers concluded that heavy cell phone use increases cancer risk

In a recent study, scientists tried once again to identify the cellphone/cancer connection – a link that circumstantial evidence has always supported but that had previously proved elusive when put to the test of formal research.  While earlier scientific efforts did not disprove a link between mobile phones and cancer, results had always  been labeled “inconclusive” – as possibly carcinogenic to humans, as defined by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.  The precise question, in scientific terms is this; do low intensity radio frequency electromagnetic fields associated with cell phone use negatively affect human cells? 

This time, scientists took an entirely new tack.  Since the mobile phone spends a great deal of its time against our cheeks when we make a call, could there be a measurable effect on the salivary gland (where your spit comes from) of those who use mobile phones heavily, since the gland is located right where the phone rests during the call? 

To test this, researchers comparatively measured saliva content between heavy-cellphone users and a control group comprised of deal cellphone users.  Since the deaf primarily use mobile phones for texting, and thus rarely or never use a phone at their ear, the scientists deemed them to be an ideal control group. 
The study patients in the heave-usage group were all using their mobile phones at least eight hours monthly, and up to 30-40 hours monthly.  The salivary content of the control group and the salivary content of the heavy cellphone users were in fact significantly different, with heavy increases in the heavy-usage group – indicative of oxidative stress. Their findings, reported in the journal Antioxidants and Redox Signaling, identified a clear link between heavy cellphone use and oxidative stress.
Oxidative stress and how it suggests a cancer link
You may recall from our articles What the Heck Are Free Radicals Anyway and What the Heck Are Antioxidants Anyway, that the human body, like just about everything in nature, oxidizes.  In humans, this oxidation (damaging or aging) often occurs at the cellular level, where oxidative stress can generate cellular and genetic mutations, leading to tumors.

Thus, while scientists in this study did not witness cancer cells form in the test subjects, they did identify that the saliva glands were stressed at the cellular level, which would likely increase the risk of tumor development. 

What you can do to protect yourself

First: check your monthly phone usage with your phone service carrier, as there is no need for alarm if you are not using a cellphone to the same degree as the test subjects (more than eight hours per month).  If you are in fact a heavy user, then it’s time to take protective measures to reduce your health risk from cellphone usage.

Two factors seem to increase risk, and they are both factors you can control: cell phone position and frequency/duration of cell phone usage:
  • The study specifically identified high-usage mobile phone users as those at greatest risk.
  • In the study, researchers compared equal amounts of heavy cell phone use between those who are deaf and those who are not. Those who are deaf did not exhibit the same disconcerting effect from heavy cell phone usage. The difference seems to be entirely in how a deaf person uses a cell phone – for handheld texting, not for talking and listening. In other words, they were not affected because they didn’t keep the cell phone at their ear when using it.
Based on these two factors, the advice is simple; reduce hours of phone usage and/or get the phone away from your head.  Tips to help you do this:
  • Use a headset – wireless or otherwise – when you are using your mobile phone. By doing so, you are putting a lot of space between your head in those incoming/outgoing radio signals. There has been no health risk link identified with using a headset.
  • Even better, use a speakerphone, which allows you to be completely untethered from electronics while making phone calls.
  • Push out when you reach out. If you are making and receiving calls with your mobile phone at your ear, at least make a point of pulling the phone away from your head during the moments of phone connection. Research has shown that the potentially harmful radio waves are strongest while your phone is making the connection. Even pulling the phone a couple of inches away from your head can significantly reduce electromagnetic field exposure risks.
  • Use a landline. Many people use a mobile phone at work and at home even when they have a landline alternative. Whenever possible, choose to make your phone call from a landline since landline phones do not have the same low intensity radio frequency electromagnetic field risks.

Learn more

To find out more about this study and the potential cancer risks of cell phone usage, you can download and listen to a WNEW (a CBS radio affiliate in Washington, DC) lively interview with Doctor Hamzany, who discusses the research in detail:  Part 1 and Part 2.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Celebrate National Dog Day!

August 26th is recognized as National Dog Day. This special day acknowledges the importance family dogs have in our lives and recognizes working dogs that protect and serve on a daily basis. Celebrated since 2004, National Dog Day is also known as International Dog Day and Dog Appreciation Day.

What is National Dog Day?

Recognizes the special role family dogs play.
Acknowledges working dogs of all kinds – search and rescue, K-9 law enforcement partners, service dogs, therapy dogs, and more.
Encourages adoption over purchasing. If purchasing, promotes reputable breeders over pet stores, backyard breeders, or puppy mills.

How can you participate in National Dog Day?

Donate to your local shelter or a rescue organization of your choice.
Adopt a furry friend who needs a home. Check out for a list of shelters in your area.
Organize an event, and encourage attendees to bring their dogs.
Educate others regarding the importance of rescuing animals and respecting pets.
Volunteer with your family at a local shelter. This is a great family activity to do on an ongoing basis.
Treat your own dog to a new toy or special treat.

How do you know if/when adopting a dog is right for your family?

1. Consider the ages of your children. Ask yourself if your children are old enough to share in the responsibility of a pet and/or if they can tolerate the activity and behavior of a dog.
2. Evaluate your family’s lifestyle. How much time do you have for a pet? Are you a young, active family? Or, are you a retiree who desires more of a companion?
3. Recognize the financial commitment. Aside from any initial adoption fee, you’ll want to consider ongoing costs for veterinary care, food, training, and pet supplies.

What are the benefits of owning a dog?

According to, dogs can offer you many benefits on a daily basis, including:

1. A pet can help you make healthy lifestyle choices. Activities such as walking a dog or throwing a ball can increase your daily activity and encourage a healthier lifestyle.
2. A dog can help alleviate isolation and loneliness. Especially for individuals living alone, dogs can help reduce likeliness of depression.
3. A furry friend can help instill a sense of responsibility and routine in your life. This can be especially beneficial to children.

Where can you adopt a dog?

Local shelters.
Rescue groups, which may be breed specific but can also offer mixed breeds.
Friends/acquaintances.  Often, individuals find themselves giving up a dog due to a change in their lifestyle – living arrangement, new baby, or work, for instance. In some cases, you can find a great rescue through word-of-mouth.

What is the adoption process?

Application fee may be applicable.
Home visit to determine if your household meets the requirements and ensure you understand the specific needs of the dog.

Where can you learn more about National Dog Day?

Check out these websites for more information and great ideas to help celebrate this special day:

Be Wize & Be Healthy (that means you too, dogs!)

Thursday, August 21, 2014

When Muscles Attack...

Here’s How to Avoid Muscle Cramps When Working Out

Congratulations on your resolution to push yourself physically this coming year.  But if you’re one of the many who suffer from severe, temporarily debilitating “charley horse” muscle cramps during or after a hard swim, run, cycling challenge, or other physically demanding effort, you may be dreading the exertion you’ve scheduled.  These painful muscle spasms can stop you completely during the middle of a race or may seize up your muscles hours after a strenuous effort.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to keep your muscles from putting the brakes on your good physical fitness intentions – steps based on new research that challenges long-held assumptions on causes and cures.

The Charley Horse – a Common Malady

If misery truly loves company, then find comfort in knowing that muscle spasms affect even trained athletes.  Some studies have shown significant cramping in 21 percent of Ironman athletes.  And one need only spectate between miles 20 and 26 of a marathon race to see many runners suddenly stop and clutch at the back their legs or hamstrings to know that many suffer from the painful charley horse cramp.

“I too had my season finale ‘A’ race, a Half-Ironman, absolutely demolished by severe cramps for two consecutive years,” says orthopedic surgeon Ronald E. Michalak, M.D., FAAOS, MS, also known as Dr. Ron, medical consultant and blogger for  After two years of dedicated training, only to perform worse than he had at his first Ironman attempt three years ago “was quite depressing. I had achieved the appropriate swim-bike-run volumes. I had several blood tests to investigate, all with normal results.”

What could have gone wrong for Dr. Ron, and for others whose efforts to push themselves are thwarted by muscle cramping? “Walking the last 11 miles of what was supposed to be my crowning achievement gave me ample time to strategize about how to prevent this from happening ever again,” he says.
The next day he began his research.

Causes of Exertion-Related Muscle spasms

What brings on severe muscles spasms during or after a hard workout?  Not all experts agree, which is one reason why the problem is not easy to treat.  Theories abound:
  • Some experts contend that insufficient pre-workout stretching of muscles is to blame, even as others say that over-stretching is the cause.
  • Another theory is that the emotional exuberance or anxiety that accompanies a competitive event causes muscles to “over-fire” and thus cramp up.
  • “Electrolyte imbalances and dehydration have often been blamed but the anecdotal evidence is quite weak,” Dr. Ron says. “In more recent (and more scientifically rigorous) studies, these have not been supported.”
Instead, focus is shifting towards neuromuscular fatigue as the main culprit. “This often occurs when pushing distance or pace – such as longer training runs while building aerobic base, higher intensity interval sessions, or (as in my case) races,” Dr. Ron explains.

Muscle Spasm Solutions

Once the cramping begins, most runners and physicians agree that stopping and stretching out the spasm-laden muscle is an effective way to getting the cramping to subside. But, obviously, you cannot have your best race performance unless you can keep the spasm from occurring in the first place.

Because the causes are not clear cut, solutions to exertion-related muscle spasms have proven elusive and often contradictory.  But new studies and new data are offering solutions worth trying, as are some anecdotal remedies worth discussing.  If one does not work for you, another might.

Given the recent research that sheds new light on the subject, we’ll start there.  Dr. Ron advises that, “Prevention of cramps requires dedicated strength training and plyometrics.” Plyometrics – exercises based on maximum-force exertion in spurts to increase both speed and power – will “help to prevent the neuromuscular fatigue that leads to cramps.”

According to Dr. Ron, “Aerobic exercise (running, cycling, swimming, etc.) is not an efficient way to build strength. Adding more miles to your training schedule (i.e. over distance training) may help to prevent cramps on race day, but may also put you at risk for other overuse injuries and suboptimal race performance.”
Instead, Dr. Ron advises appropriate strength training and judicious use of plyometrics to reduce your risk of injury and prevent cramps. “My cramps were focused in my hamstrings. I added suspension training and plyometric exercises specifically targeting hamstring strength three times per week that winter during the off-season. I was shocked at how weak my hamstrings actually were at the start of this program despite training over 500 hours the previous year (mostly swim-bike-run),” he admits.

“I kept up this strength program once weekly during the high-volume summer peak season. The next year, despite being two years older and lower training volume, I went back to the same Half Ironman, got my PR (personal record), and had no cramps – Redemption was mine!”

Dr. Ron has continued this strengthening routine and has since made the jump to the full Ironman 140.6 distance successfully, and “as part of the 79 percent of finishers who did NOT cramp.”

More Solutions and Links to Help You Resolve Muscle Spasm Issues

If cramping is holding back your exercise program, Dr. Ron recommends that you consult with your physician. “There are some metabolic issues (although uncommon) that can cause cramps that need to be ruled-out first.”

His other recommendation: “Work with a local coach or trainer who may be able to help with this type of program if you are not well acquainted with this plyometric type of exercise as improper technique or progression can lead to injury.”

For more info and solutions or recommendations related to muscle cramping:
You can read Dr. Ron Michalak’s frequent article contributions on fitness at

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Can a Scent Improve Your Health?

You have likely heard the word aromatherapy, referring to the use of essential oils that have been extracted from plants and that are believed to have therapeutic value.  Historic documents suggest that aromatherapy has been practiced in various forms for nearly a thousand years by those who claim that certain scents can produce psychological or even physical well-being – that inhaling certain aromas can help us fight inflammation and depression, induce sleep, and reduce stress.

But is it true? Can smelling a certain odor improve your health and happiness, or is this just wishful thinking – psychosomatic influence at best? 

Until recently, your answer would have been as good as mine.  But now, Japanese scientists have concrete evidence that inhaling certain fragrances can have pronounced affects on our bodies – that some smells are capable of altering the activity of our genes and influencing our blood chemistry, resulting in stress reduction.  These researchers found that the use of fragrant plant oils to improve mood and health – a popular form of alternative medicine today – really works! 

Some of the scents that were tested by scientist Akio Nakamura and his colleagues, as reported in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, include lemon, mango, lavender, and other fragrant plants.  One of the most widely used substances in aromatherapy is the compound linalool, a naturally occurring component of lavender oil, geranium oil, ylang-ylang oil, and many other essential oils.  Linalool has long been used to soothe away emotional stress. Until now, however, linalool's exact effects on the body have been a deep mystery.

The scientists in this Japanese study exposed lab rats to stressful conditions while inhaling and not inhaling linalool. The stress-elevated levels of neutrophils and lymphocytes (key parts of the immune system) in the rats exposed to the linalool returned to near normal, but the stress levels of the rats who were not inhaling linalool remained elevated.

The scientists also observed that inhaling linalool reduced the activity of more than 100 genes that normally go into overdrive when we are in stressful situations.

What does this mean for the present? We can now confidently invest in aromatherapy at least for the purpose of reducing stress, as long as the essential oil contains linalool. 

What does this mean for the future?  Imagine a world where you can buy aftershave or perfume that not only improves your body odor but also has the power to soothe your troubled soul.  According to the researchers, the findings could form the basis of new blood tests for identifying fragrances that can soothe stress.  But you don’t have to wait for the future; you can already find after shaves, massage oils, baby creams, shampoos, body washes, foot balms, and facial lotions on the market that contain linalool. 
Are there any risks with aromatherapy?  Yes, the most common risk being the potential of allergic reactions.  For example, linalool can over time break down, forming by-products capable of causing allergic reactions, including eczema.  Because this is a process of oxidation, keep the lid closed tightly on any aromatherapy products, or any product containing linalool, and consider buying the product in smaller sizes.

Another linalool risk: It turns out that what’s good for the goose may not be good for the gander – when humans are the goose and insects are the gander.  While linalool benefits us, you’ll also find that it is used in pest control as an insecticide to kill fleas, fruit flies, and cockroaches.  It’s also used in some mosquito repellents. 

If you’d like to try aromatherapy at home, rather than buying pre-mixed essential oils, you can.  There are many online recipes for creating your own “brew” for the most personalized aromatherapy experiment.  One good resource is the AromaWeb recipe section, which breaks its recipes into useful categories, such as aroma recipes for emotional well-being, for household cleaning, for physical well-being, skincare, and more.  Also, check out the Easy Aromatherapy Recipes site and the Aromatics International collection of Essential Oil Blending Recipes – a 15-year collection of aromatherapy recipes.

If you have any good essential oil recipes or other kinds of aroma recipes, please use our comments section to share!

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Managing Chronic Pain

Pain is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong. Acute pain, such as a nagging headache or an ankle injury after a fall, typically goes away shortly after treatment. But chronic pain is different, requiring another management approach.

What is chronic pain?

According to this site, pain is a normal trigger in your central nervous system that alerts your body of injury or illness.
Persistent pain that last longer than 6 weeks is considered chronic.
Typical types of chronic pain include: chronic back pain; chronic neck pain; fibromyalgia, chronic wide spread pain that affects nerves; and arthritis, painful inflammation and stiffness of the joints.

What causes chronic pain?

While chronic pain may be caused by different factors, some include:

1. An old injury or accident. You may find even after treatment for an injury, the pain continues.
2. Lower-than-normal levels of endorphins.  Clinical research has found that chronic pain sufferers often experience lower-than normal levels of endorphins, the hormones in your body that produce the feel-good response. Findings don’t specify whether this occurs as a result of injury or accident, or if an individual is born that way.
3. Lack of movement.  In the case of arthritis or chronic lower back pain, healthcare professionals recommend moderate inactivity can actually worsen pain. Unfortunately, when you’re in pain, you want to sit more and move less, which often is counter-productive.

What is chronic pain syndrome?

In addition to neurologically based chronic pain, individuals experience anxiety, depression, anger, and significant changes in their lifestyle. Specialists in the area of chronic pain refer to the “terrible triad” of chronic pain – suffering, sleeplessness, and sadness – which impacts pain sufferers and their families.

What are other effects of chronic pain?

Fatigue. Chronic pain is exhausting for those who suffer from it, often leaving individuals too tired to do much else.
Debilitation. Sufferers often are forced to severely alter their lives as a result of pain. This includes spending less time with family and friends, less participation in the hobbies and activities they once enjoyed, and sometimes giving up work.
Depression. Chronic pain patients may suffer from depression as a result of this significant upset in their lifestyle.

How can you manage chronic pain?

Medications. Both over-the-counter and those prescribed by a healthcare provider may be helpful. Remember to use your FamilyWize Discount Prescription Drug Card when filling prescriptions at your pharmacy for maximum savings.
Complementary practices such as:
1. Acupuncture: View our blog about acupuncture from November, 'Acupuncture--What is it? Does it Work?'.
2. Electrical stimulation: A treatment used to strengthen muscles or activate nerves to activate healing through electric impulses.
3. Biofeedback: An approach that teaches individuals that their thoughts control their body, which is believed to be helpful in managing chronic pain.
Exercise.  Always speak with your doctor or healthcare practitioner before starting an exercise program to ensure it’s appropriate for your condition.
Minimize stress. Studies have shown that pain and stress have a similar effect on the body, with an increase in stress aggravating existing pain.
Surgery. This option is usually a last resort.

Many individuals find a combination of these therapies are most useful in managing chronic pain.

What advancements have been made in chronic pain management?

Clinical trials are constantly being held for those who suffer from different types of chronic pain. New findings are released through, a registry and results database with publicly and privately supported clinical studies of human participants conducted around the world.

As always, Be Wize & Be Healthy!

Is Ginseng Good for You?

In our increasingly expanded world of dietary options, many exotic and foreign herbs are entering our lexicon and even our diets.  One of those you may have heard of – ginseng – has grown in popularity around the globe.  Hardly a new discovery, Asian Ginseng has been a part of eastern Asian diets for more than 5,000 years, prized for its rejuvenating powers, and is considered by the Chinese as one of their most important medicines.  American ginseng has influenced local and international diets – Chinese in particular – since its discovery 300 years ago. 

Should ginseng take root in your diet?  Quite likely.  Is it safe to consume? Maybe, with certain considerations regarding quantity, frequency, and the health needs of the individual.  Let’s take a closer look at this gnarled and fascinating root, both its health benefits and risks.

What is ginseng?

Until uprooted, the prized ginseng plant is unassuming in appearance, looking like a low-lying, small, leafy plant.  The fat, fleshy, and gnarly shape of the root, however, is telltale.  The ginseng plant can be found growing deep in the forests of the Northern Hemisphere, primarily in the eastern half of North America and in eastern Asia.  There are 11 known species of ginseng, mostly variations of the Asian ginseng, such as the popular Korean red ginseng and Oriental Ginseng.  Primarily it is the ginseng root that is prized for its health benefits.

Are all Ginsengs alike?

No. In fact, one herb, Siberian Ginseng, is not in the ginseng genus at all.  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) does not even consider Siberian Ginseng (also called eleuthero or Eleutherococcus senticosus) to be a true ginseng. 

Of the true ginsengs, there are different varieties, including Asian ginseng (Panax ginseng) and American ginseng (Panax quinquefolius).  Both have been widely studied in recent years due to ginseng’s most valued health benefits.

One significant chemical element that defines the true ginsengs is the ginsenosides – a unique compound found only in ginseng, theorized as the responsible element behind the herb’s claimed medicinal properties.  In clinical research ginsenosides appear to show significant potential benefits for humans.
American Ginseng
American ginseng has often been associated with, or taken for, its adaptogenic qualities (adaptogenic herbs increase our ability to adapt to environmental and internal stresses), for strengthening of internal organs, for stress reduction, and to improve general health.   American ginseng medicinal claims made by its proponents include relief from dry skin conditions, headaches, depression, high blood pressure, and anemia.
Asian Ginseng
By comparison, Asian ginseng is valued by many for its stimulating and rejuvenating qualities.  It has traditionally been used in China, Korea, Russia, and Japan to treat heart disease, kidney and liver problems, nervous system disorders, male sexual potency, Alzheimer's disease, asthma, and rheumatism.

Ginseng Research

While it is noteworthy that ginseng has such a revered history for treatment of ailments, is there any scientific evidence to support these claims?  For certain ailments, yes. Not all its treatment claims have been verified, and some of the studies are only preliminary, piquing interest among those in the medical and scientific communities, but requiring more thorough research before being fully accepted. That said, there is a growing body of evidence of ginseng's health benefits.  A few examples related to cancer:
  • There have been several population studies in Asia supporting the belief that certain substances in ginseng could prevent cancer. 
  • In a 2001 study "Anticarcinogenic effect of Panax ginseng” published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science, both white ginseng and red ginseng were shown to to reduce the incidence of cancer.
  • Research at the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center found that Ginseng improved survival rates and quality of life after a diagnosis of breast cancer. 
  • This Chinese study found positive benefits from red ginseng in reducing gastric cancer relapses.
  • A recent laboratory study suggests other potential anti-cancer benefits from ginseng.
  • A Mayo Clinic study showed that cancer patients struggling with fatigue benefited from ginseng.

Studies and data supporting other health benefits of ginseng:

  • A 2002 double-blind study of Korean ginseng found that 60 percent of its study participants found positive benefits from conditions of impotence and male erectile dysfunction.  As well, the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology published study results that support the value of red ginseng in treating erectile dysfunction.
  • American ginseng is presently being tested in clinical trials for its value in improving HIV-related fatigue.  This follows up on a study showing benefits for HIV patients when Korean red ginseng is combined with traditional antiretroviral therapy.
  • Research performed at the Medical School of Nantong University in China, suggests that ginseng may be able to improve cognitive function and general thinking ability.  Supporting this belief, the Journal of Dairy Science, reported positive results from a study on fortifying milk with ginseng to improve cognitive function.
  • This study reported in 2010 suggests that ginseng may increase lifespan.
  • This article compiles results from six different preliminary studies, collectively showing that Korean red ginseng may be useful in reducing hypertension, attention deficit disorder, high blood sugar problems, erectile dysfunction, and in treating certain types of cancer, heart problems, dementia, high cholesterol, and kidney damage and high cholesterol.
  • Another study suggests that the fatty alcohols in ginseng appears to have antibiotic properties
As you can see, ginseng has been and is being thoroughly studied. But before you jump on the ginseng bandwagon, you should be aware of…

Ginseng Risks

For all its potential benefits, you need to be aware of the following potential problems or risks in adding ginseng to your diet.
  • Most studies show that, while short-term use of ginseng is generally safe safe for most of us, some reports show potential negative side effects when used continuously for long periods of time.
  • Ginseng can increase the risk of bleeding if you are also taking drugs that affect blood clotting.
  • Asian ginseng in particular has the potential to lower your blood sugar levels. Therefore those with diabetes may experience problems if they are already using medicines that lower blood sugar.
  • Some people have experienced side effects from taking ginseng. These include sleep problems, gastrointestinal issues, headaches, allergic reactions, menstrual irregularity, breast tenderness, bleeding, blurred vision, palpitations, irritability, dry mouth, increased body temperature, decreased appetite, eczema, diarrhea, and high blood pressure.
  • Certain antidepressants should not be taken with ginseng.
If you experience any of these reactions, discontinue taking ginseng.  As with any complementary health additives to the diet, it is important to let your healthcare providers know to ensure coordinated care.

How to Take Ginseng

The ginseng root is prepared by drying it. Ginseng is then processed and made available in many forms including as a tablet, capsule, powder, tea, candy, candy, facial lotion ingredient, and even as a chewing gum ingredient. 
For more information on ginseng, you can watch this fascinating video on The History of American Ginseng.  Other useful resources include the articles Asian Ginseng at a Glance from the NIH, American Ginseng Overview from WebMD, and Medline Plus National Institute for Health: Ginseng.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Magnesium: A Cure for Alzheimer's?

New Alzheimer’s research suggests actual prevention and even curative powers from magnesium.

Scientists project that the prevalence of dementia and Alzheimer's – the most common type of dementia – will increase dramatically worldwide in the coming decades, burdening health service and social programs. This memory-deteriorating disorder, caused by brain disease or injury, results in memory confusion, impaired reasoning, and changes in personality that impinge on the quality of life for its sufferers and their families. But recent research offers extraordinary hope in a highly accessible form – not an expensive, experimental drug, but a common, abundantly available mineral: magnesium

Some research indicates that increased magnesium intake can reduce dementia risk or slow down dementia’s takeover of the brain. But researchers from one recent study make an even bolder statement, concluding from their research that higher magnesium intake not only reduces dementia risk but can prevent and even reverse the effects of dementia, such as cognitive deficits and synaptic loss.

Caution: Some minerals good, some bad for dementia

Before you take this news about magnesium intake to heart and start gobbling down mineral tablets, be careful; researchers also report that increased intake of certain other minerals can increase the risk of developing dementia conditions, such as mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and other mild cognitive disorders (MCD).

For example, researchers involved in an 8-year study reported in 2014 that higher magnesium intake reduced the risk of developing MCI/MCD – that’s the good news – but they also determined that higher intake of potassium and iron increased the risk of developing MCI/MCD.

Beyond slowing dementia development – a cure?

Last year, Professor Guosong Liu's "biophysics of memory” laboratory at Tsinghua University, Beijing, reported the results of their study on mice that indicated magnesium as a mechanism for reversing cognitive decline for those in advanced stage Alzheimer's disease. Their results also showed magnesium intake as a functional long-term treatment for those in the earliest stages of Alzheimer's disease.

The Tsinghua University experiment involved increasing brain magnesium levels, using an approach that differed from previous studies on Alzheimer's disease. Magnesium, unlike drugs that have been tested for dementia influence, magnesium rested, rather than stimulated, brain cells, preventing non-specific activation and, in the process, reversing brain aging activity and restoring it to a more youthful state.

The result: a dramatic reversal of cognitive decline, and equally dramatic improvement in advanced stage Alzheimer's disease. As well, the results showed magnesium as an effective long-term treatment for early stage Alzheimer's disease.  As a medical bonus, the researchers found that elevating brain magnesium proved helpful in reducing fear memory and anxiety.

While the study used mice as subjects, the researchers plan to launch human clinical trials this year, working with Stanford University.

What foods provide magnesium?

According to NIH, the diets of most people in the United States provide less than the recommended amounts of magnesium. Men older than 70 and teenage girls are most likely to be taking insufficient amounts of magnesium.

The NIH chart to the right shows the recommended daily amount of magnesium in milligrams.

But do you need magnesium supplements to reach the recommended amount of magnesium? Not necessarily; without supplementing your diet at all, you may be getting sufficient magnesium from your daily food intake, either from foods that naturally contain magnesium or from mineral-fortified foods.

To strive for sufficient magnesium intake from your diet, NIH recommends that you look to the following:
  • Legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables (such as spinach)
  • Fortified breakfast cereals and other fortified foods
  • Milk, yogurt, and some other milk products

Magnesium risks: Can you take too much magnesium? 

That depends. NIH advises that magnesium obtained from foods where it is naturally present (such as nuts, seeds, whole grains, and green leafy vegetables) is not harmful to you.  So, eat up!

But magnesium from dietary supplements or medications can be overdone.  And too much of a good thing, as they say, is not a good thing.  In the case of magnesium, too much of it can lead to diarrhea, nausea, or abdominal cramping. And higher magnesium intake can even cause irregular heartbeats or cardiac arrest.

Consequently, if you determine that you are getting enough magnesium from natural sources, you may be better off not using magnesium supplements, or using them judiciously.

Magnesium forms your body can absorb

If you do decide to take magnesium dietary supplements, be advised that not all forms are as accessible to your body on a cellular level. NIH advises that the most easily absorbed forms of magnesium in dietary supplements are magnesium aspartate, magnesium citrate, magnesium lactate, and magnesium chloride.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Inside or Out, Aloe Benefits Your Health!

Five Scientific studies support Aloe Vera’s health benefits, taken internally or externally.

If you live in the Southwest U.S., there’s a good chance the aloe vera plant is growing abundantly in your yard or a friend’s yard.  But if you are only using the aloe plant for its decorative value, you’re missing the bulk of its true worth.

What is Aloe Vera?

Aloe vera is a gelatinous substance – a plant food – found inside the leaves of the aloe vera plant, which grows abundantly and easily in the Southwest U.S. but can be grown indoors just about anywhere.
You can find evidence of its use as an herbal medicine as long as 5,000 years ago. While many people know that it can be applied topically, you may be surprised to learn that you can also take parts of the plat orally for many more aloe health benefits.

The two parts of the aloe plant that are most commonly used for health purposes are the gel – a clear, jelly-like substance inside the leaf – and the plant’s latex, a yellowy substance found just under the leaf’s skin. These two substances are taken both topically and internally. 

Aloe vera gel is used as an ingredient of countless skin products. It’s also been FDA-approved for use as a food flavoring.  Aloe gel and juice products designed to be swallowed can be found in many grocery stores, health food stores, or online.

Benefits of aloe

Aloe is believed to boost our ability to resist illness and eliminate toxins. Aloe Vera, is naturally high in vitamins A, B1,B2,B6, B12, C, E, folic acid and Niacin. It’s been used in a number of ways for an incredible variety of health purposes, including treatment for Alzheimer's disease, hair loss, hemorrhoids, bladder stones, arthritis, skin infections, chronic fatigue syndrome, frostbite, and acid reduction, to name just a few. It’s used as an antibiotic, antifungal, anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antiseptic, antiviral, uterine stimulant, and as a vaginal contraceptive.

But we’ll focus in this article on five of the scientifically supported health benefits of aloe vera, as some of the other uses have either not been tested for veracity of the claims or have been tested and the results did not support some of the specific health claims of aloe vera.

1. Aloe aids type 2 diabetic patients

In a 2012 randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled clinical trial, researchers concluded that aloe is a safe anti-hyperglycemic and anti-hypercholesterolemic agent for hyperlipidemic type 2 diabetic patients.  The aloe gel significantly lowered study participants’ fasting blood glucose, HbA1c, total cholesterol, and LDL levels, and with no noteworthy negative effects.

2.  Aloe vera gel delivers anti-inflammatory benefits

Historically, aloe vera has been used for anti-inflammatory benefits, especially among patients with inflammatory bowel disease.  A 2004 study, also randomized, double-blind, and placebo-controlled, appeared to support those claims. Patients took it for four weeks and experienced a measurable benefit. The aloe also safely reduced colitis disease activity.

3. Aloe is safe and effective treatment for vulval lichen planus

Vulval lichen planus is a disease of unknown cause that creates an itchy, burning, or painful rash or lesions on the skin throughout the body.  Researchers in a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled 2008 study in India, found that locally applying aloe gel resulted in vast improvement after eight weeks of treatment.

4. Aloe helps in some types of burn wound healing

In 2007, scientists combined research data from four controlled clinical trials with a total of 371 patients, compiling results to determine if aloe vera can aid in burn wound healing. The conclusion is that, for first to second degree burns, aloe helped, reducing burn wound healing time by nearly nine days.

5. Psoriasis sufferers find relief from aloe

A 1996 double-blind study of adults with psoriasis used aloe cream to treat this chronic skin condition. The aloe treatment produced symptom relief that remained for up to a year after treatment was stopped, with some patients apparently cured of the condition. Another study showed that aloe cream worked better in treating psoriasis than traditionally used corticosteroids.

Aloe Vera Risks, Aloe Vera Cautions

In spite of the many and varied health benefits of aloe, some risks should be considered, including side effect and interactions with certain drugs and dietary supplements. 
  • Drug interactions: Aloe can interact or interfere with many drugs, so check with your doctor for possible contraindication.
  • Allergies: Avoid aloe if you have known sensitivities to it.
  • Abdominal pain: If you are experiencing abdominal pain, do not use aloe to treat it, due to the possible nature of the pain source (appendicitis, bowel obstruction, fecal impaction, etc.).  
  • Skin reactions: Continued use of aloe skin gel applied to the skin can cause allergic skin reactions. Do not use for for severe wounds, burns, or frostbite.
  • Pregnancy: Though generally safe to use externally during pregnancy, avoid taking it internally. During lactation, do not take the dried juice from aloe leaves.
  • Blood sugar: Aloe can lower your blood sugar levels, which may interfere with blood-sugar-lowering medications.
  • Medicines, herbs, supplements: Aloe can interact with many herbs and supplements, as well as certain anesthetics and antifungals.
As with any skin treatment or dietary change of consequence, consider consulting first with your physician.  This is especially true if you have a medical condition or are taking other herbs, drugs, or supplements.

Consult your doctor right away if you experience side effects.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer