Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Study Shows Intermittent Fasting Brings Big Health Benefits

Fasting on a given number of consecutive or alternate days – a practice known as “intermittent fasting” – is all the rage, mostly because of weight loss claims. But is it good for you?

Recent scientific evidence suggests that these fasting diets may do much more good for us than just aiding weight loss; intermittent fasting may boost health and prevent several diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular conditions, and Alzheimer's.

Recently, it's been hailed as a path to weight loss and improved cardiovascular risk. Now, a team led by James Brown from Aston University has evaluated the various approaches to intermittent fasting in scientific literature. They searched specifically for advantages and limitations in treating obesity and type 2 diabetes using fasting diets.

What is intermittent fasting and how does it work?

When we fast, our bodies modify how they select which fuel to burn. Studies have found that this results in improving our metabolism and reducing oxidative stress.

For people with obesity, few drugs are available to aid in healthy weight loss, and gastric surgery is a relatively rare and expensive alternative. Dietary changes remain the most common intervention used for obese people.

Fasting is known to help, but former treatments were based on intermittent starving. Today’s intermittent fasting regimes are easier to stick to, and are proven to help melt away excess pounds.

Scientists have known since the 1940s that intermittent fasting helps us lose weight, and can cut the incidence of diabetes in lab animals. Recent studies have also confirmed that restricting calorie intake could possibly reverse type 2 diabetes in some people.

The basic format of intermittent fasting is to alternate days eating ‘normally’ with days when calorie consumption is restricted. This can either be done on alternating days, or where two days each week are designated as “fasting days.”

Results of intermittent fasting in studies

These types of intermittent fasting have been shown in trial studies to be as effective or more effective than counting calories every day to lose weight.

Evidence from clinical trials shows many potential health benefits of intermittent fasting, including:
  • Limiting inflammation
  • Improving levels of sugars and fats in circulation
  • Reducing blood pressure
  • Improving pancreatic function
  • Reducing the fatty deposits associated with insulin resistance

Intermittent fasting and heart health

In animal models, scientists have shown that intermittent fasting has some cardiovascular benefits that appear similar to exercising, such as improving blood pressure and heart rate, and lowering cholesterol.

Fasting also appears to aid those with ischemic heart disease. Fasting may even protect the heart by raising levels of adiponectin, a protein that has several important roles in carbohydrate and lipid metabolism and vascular biology.

Intermittent fasting and weight loss

Based on these findings, researchers believe that intermittent fasting might achieve much of the same benefits as bariatric surgery, but without the costs, restrictions, and risks associated with surgery.

According to the study’s lead author, James Brown, “Whether intermittent fasting can be used as a tool to prevent diabetes in those individuals at high risk, or to prevent progression in those recently diagnosed with type 2 diabetes remains a tantalizing notion, and we are currently in preparation for clinical trials to assess the effectiveness of this form of lifestyle intervention in various patient groups.”

Intermittent fasting is an increasingly popular diet plan that hit the headlines in the run up to Christmas 2012 after the release of a book on the subject. Proponents claim that in addition to weight loss, the diet can lead to longer life and protection against disease, particularly conditions such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ginger: The Unlikely (and Tasty!) Spice for Arthritis Relief

Are you one of the estimated 40 million sufferers of rheumatoid arthritis or osteoarthritis in the U.S.? You can get help from your doctor or from the NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) in your medicine cabinet, but in the meantime, you may find that cheap, effective relief is growing in your own garden - or at least as close as your grocer's fresh produce section.

This mystery treatment? Ginger.

Ginger's anti-inflammatory properties are now considered undeniable, not only by alternative health proponents but also by professional medical researchers.  In fact, recent research suggests that ginger may be more effective in treating arthritis than many standard pharmaceuticals.

What the ginger-arthritis research shows

While ginger’s anti-inflammatory properties have been reported for thousands of years, scientific research spanning the last three decades has provided concrete evidence of ginger’s health benefits, especially when it comes to reducing inflammation in arthritis sufferers. For example:

  • In a University of Miami study, reported by the Arthritis Foundation, ginger’s anti-inflammatory benefits were shown to be so effective that researchers believe it may eventually become a common substitute for synthetic inflammation medications.  The study put concentrated ginger extract head-to-head with a placebo. The participants, suffering from osteoarthritis in their knees, reported 40% pain reduction and stiffness improvement.
  • A 2005 study showed that ginger may have better therapeutic benefits, with fewer side effects, than oft-prescribed NSAIDs.
  • This Copenhagen University research showed that ginger extract was as effective an anti-inflammatory agent as the drug betamethasone.
How much ginger do you need to benefit from its anti-inflammatory effects? Not much at all.  Osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis sufferers showed improvement in mobility and pain reduction from taking as little as a fingernail-sized sliver daily. 

Other ginger health benefits include the potential treatment and prevention of colorectal cancer and ovarian cancer, according to these studies by the University of Minnesota.

More ginger health benefits:
  • Boosting immunity: Eating ginger boosts body heat, thanks to the compounds gingerol and shogaol. Warming your body boosts your immune system, supporting your body’s natural detoxification and ability to fight infections.
  • Digestive relief: Ever notice how sipping a bit of ginger ale eases your stomach queasiness? You can also add a couple slivers of fresh ginger when steeping your tea to get the anti-nausea benefit.
  • Common pregnancy issue relief: Trouble with vomiting or nausea from pregnancy? In a University of Maryland study, participants found relief from morning sickness from just a single gram of ginger, with no side effects.

How to get more ginger in your diet

You can get ginger in teas, powders, capsules, tinctures, oils, or directly from fresh or dried/powdered ginger root. All forms can provide health benefits, but some researchers advise taking it in capsule form, especially if you can find brands that use super-critical extraction – a purer extraction method.  Others advise using raw ginger though, as it will have the highest amounts of the compound gingerol. 
To get ginger in your diet, chew the raw inner flesh. If the flavor is too strong for you, you can add it to smoothies, or use it to spice up your lemonade. Grated ginger also nicely perks up the flavor of any rice dish.

You can also make an easy, tasty ginger dressing by combining soy sauce, olive oil, a little garlic, and ginger shavings.  If you’re having a hot side dish instead of salad, add a bit of freshly minced ginger to your sautéed vegetable dish.

Ready for dessert?  Try some grated ginger in a homemade ice cream or sorbet recipe for a zesty, sweet treat.

Looking for ginger recipes? Try these:
If you have a favorite ginger recipe of your own, please use the comments field below to share!

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Heart Healthy Foods Your Whole Body Will Love

Are you new to picking heart healthy foods for you and your family? You’ll find following a few simple guidelines makes eating this way much easier. Adopt a heart healthy diet, and it's not just your heart that will benefit - your whole body will, too.

What foods are good for heart health?

According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, you should keep the following things in mind when making food choices:

  • Limit the amount of saturated and trans fat in your diet. Cut out fatty meats, fried foods and baked good such as cookies and cakes.
  • Eat less sodium nitrate, also known as table salt or simply "sodium." Don’t add additional salt to your foods. When food shopping, look for labels such as “low sodium” or “no salt added” on packaged cold cuts, snack foods and canned goods.
  • Add more fiber to your diet. Foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables contain fiber and are great for heart health.

Fruits and Vegetables:

  • Fresh is best. Eat leafy green vegetables like spinach and kale for salads, fresh vegetables such as tomatoes, broccoli and cabbage, and fruits like bananas, pears, peaches, apples and oranges.
  • Canned fruits or vegetables can be healthy, too. Make sure canned vegetables are low or no sodium. Canned fruits should be packed in 100% juice, not syrup.
  • Less is more with frozen produce. Look for unsweetened frozen fruits. For optimum heart health, frozen vegetables should have no added butter or sauces.

Breads, Cereals and Grains:

  • When buying grain-based products, whole wheat and whole grain products are best. White bread contains almost twice the amount of sodium as whole grain bread.

Milk and Milk Products:

  • Choose fat-free or low-fat products, including milk, cheese and yogurt.
  • A milk alternative such as low-fat soy milk with added calcium is a good choice, too.

Meat, Beans, Eggs and Nuts

  • Fresh seafood
  • Chicken and turkey breast, skinless
  • Lean cuts of pork and beef
  • Beans, lentils and peas
  • Nuts and seeds
  • Eggs and egg substitute

Fats and Oils

  • Always look for products with no trans fats.
  • Use non-stick cooking oil.
  • Vegetable oils, such as olive, canola, sesame or peanut, are recommended.

Guidelines to Keep in Mind for Heart Healthy Eating:

  • Fresh, unprocessed foods are best.
  • Always read the labels. Be aware of saturated and trans fat, salt, and fiber content.
  • Control your portion sizes. The healthiest meals become unhealthy when the portions are too large.
  • Plan ahead. One of the best ways to ensure healthy eating habits is to plan out meals, shop for heart healthy foods, and make cooking a family activity.

What are some ideas for heart healthy meals?

  • Breakfast: Try a bowl of plain oatmeal with fresh fruit instead of cereal, which is processed and tends to contain large amounts of refined sugar.
  • Lunch: Enjoy low-sodium cold cuts on whole grain bread vs. peanut butter and jelly on white bread.
  • Dinner: A meal of skinless, broiled chicken breast, cooked broccoli and brown rice easily replaces a breaded chicken patty and French fries.

Choosing heart healthy foods your whole body will love can be easy, delicious and fun. Encourage your entire family to take part in the process, and instill heart healthy food choices from an early age.

Live Healthy. Live Smart.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Do You Know Your Risk for Stroke?

Stroke is a leading cause of death and the leading cause of disability in adults in the United States. According to experts, the risk factors for a stroke fall into three categories:

  1. Risks that can’t be changed. These are typically hereditary factors - things you were born with.
  2. Risks that can be changed, treated or managed. These tend to be lifestyle choices, such as your diet and exercise habits.
  3. Other, miscellaneous factors. These are things that you have some, but not complete control of.

Stroke risk factors that you can’t change:

  • Age: After 55, your chances of stroke doubles each decade. However, stroke does affect younger individuals too.
  • Family history: Has a relative – parent, grandparent, sister or brother – had a stroke? This might increase your risk as well.
  • Race: African-Americans have a much greater risk of stroke than Caucasians do, in part, to a higher risk of high blood pressure, diabetes or obesity.
  • Gender: Women have a greater risk of stroke than men. Stroke causes death in more women than men. Experts attribute this higher incident in women to the use of birth control pills; pregnancy; diabetes during pregnancy (gestational diabetes); pre-eclampsia/eclampsia (a dangerous medical condition during pregnancy that causes high blood pressure); smoking; and hormone replacement therapy to manage menopausal symptoms.
  • Prior history: There is a much greater risk of stroke for someone who already suffered one. There is also great risk of stroke for an individual who has experienced a transient ischemic attack (TIA) or a heart attack.

Factors that can be changed, treated or managed:

  • High blood pressure: High blood pressure is the leading cause of strokes.
  • Smoking: Nicotine and carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke damage the cardiovascular system.
  • Diabetes: Diabetes is a treatable disease. However, many people with diabetes are also overweight and have high blood pressure and/or high cholesterol, conditions that put them at greater risk for stroke.
  • Carotid, peripheral or other artery diseases: These conditions cause your arteries to become narrow or blocked due to fatty deposits, which increases your stroke risk.
  • Atrial fibrillation or other heart disease: Any type of heart disease puts you at greater risk for stroke.
  • Sickle cell disease/anemia: This genetic disorder typically affects African-American and Hispanic children. With this disease, your cells have difficulty carrying oxygen to your tissues and organs.  Cells also stick to and block your artery walls. This increases your chance of stroke.
  • High cholesterol: Having high “bad” cholesterol is a risk factor for stroke. In addition, too low levels of “good” cholesterol may be dangerous, too.
  • Poor diet: Having a high intake of fats, cholesterol, salt and calories is dangerous.
  • Obesity or physical inactivity: Being inactive, overweight or obese are all unhealthy and increase your risk of stroke. Find ways to incorporate activity into your daily life.

Other factors:

  • Where you live: Strokes are more common in the Southeastern United States.
  • Your income: Stroke risk is more common in individuals with lower incomes.
  • Alcohol abuse: Medical professionals advise no more than two drinks per day for men; no more than one drink daily for women. Pregnant women should never consume alcohol.
  • Drug abuse: Heavy use of drugs and drug addiction is associated with stroke and other health problems, especially in younger people.

Where can you learn more?

Check out sites such as www.stroke.org, www.strokeassociation.org, or www.nhibi.nih.gov for more information regarding strokes as well as ways to reduce your risk factors.

The best way to reduce your risk is to immediately start managing any stroke risk factors you may have. Keep in mind that while there are some things you can't change, you still have control, and a balanced diet, exercise and an overall healthy lifestyle are always beneficial.

Live Healthy. Live Smart.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Can Low Income Mean Low Health?

It has been said that money does not bring happiness, “but it does bring you a more pleasant form of misery,” quipped writer-comedian Spike Mulligan. Recent research shows he may be right:
  • One recent study showed that rates of child maltreatment worsened as the recent Great Recession deepened and wallets deflated.
  • Researchers say that the less income your family had when you were growing up, the more likely you are to have health problems as an adult.
A 2013 research study, performed at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), showed an apparent connection between the length of the human cell’s telomeres (the protective cap-like protein complexes at the end of our chromosomes) and the socioeconomic condition of children and teens – that being raised in a lower socioeconomic state can result in shorter telomeres as adults, which, in turn, can eventually increase susceptibility to colds and other illnesses in middle-aged adults.

You can read more about telomeres and their effect on health and longevity here. The short story is this; telomere length is a “biomarker” of aging. That is, they shorten as we get older. And as they shorten, they lose their ability to function well.

Having shorter telomeres is connected to the early onset of many illnesses, including heart disease and cancer in older adults. As this 2013 study shows, the shortening of your telomeres also increases your susceptibility to acute infectious disease in young to midlife adults.

In other words, the common cold is more common to those who grew up in a lower socioeconomic state.

In the study, researchers measured the telomere lengths of white blood cells from 152 healthy volunteers between the ages of 18 and 55.

To gauge childhood and current socioeconomic status, the participants were asked to report whether they currently owned their home and whether their parents owned the family home when they were between the ages of 1 and 18.

The participants were then exposed to a rhinovirus, which causes the common cold. They were then quarantined for five days to see if they actually developed an upper respiratory infection.  Some did, and some didn’t.

The results showed that those participants who reported growing up with a lower socioeconomic status — indicated by fewer years that their parents were homeowners — had shorter-than-average telomere length, and were more likely to get sick.

  • Telomere length decreased by 5 percent for each year the participants' parents did not own a home.
  • Parental homeownership in both early childhood and adolescence were both associated with adult telomere length.
  • Participants with lower childhood socioeconomic status were more likely to become infected by the cold virus. Specifically, for each year their parents did not own a home during their childhood years up to age 18, the participants' odds of developing a cold increased by 9 percent.
The collective results of the study provide a compelling case to suggests a biological connection between our childhood experiences and our adult health.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Thursday, May 7, 2015

How to Keep Active as a Senior Citizen

Aging happens. But too often, aging is accelerated by reduced activity.  Staying active is essential to healthy aging, and living a happy, independent life.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, “Encouraging older adults to become and stay active has developed into an important public health priority. While the physical and emotional benefits of exercise are increasingly well-known, only 40 percent of older adults are engaged in regular leisure time physical activity.”

Being active – physically and socially – boosts energy, improves mood, stimulates memory, and improves your ability to handle stress.  According to research, staying active allows you to stay independent longer –  without physical activity, the decline of your strength, endurance, flexibility, and balance will diminish your independence and vitality, while increasing the likelihood of a disabling injury.

In this 2014 study, researchers found that a carefully structured, moderate physical activity program for seniors can reduce risk of losing the ability to walk without assistance. Following through with the activity for an average of 2.6 years reduced the risk of major mobility disability by 18 percent!

Six easy ways to become an active, healthier senior citizen

With proof that regular activity can make big differences in longevity and lifestyle for the elderly, how do you get started? How do you go about it safely?

First, always get your physician's approval before launching into any activity that involves physical movement or exercise regimen/activity. With the thumbs-up, try one of the following ways to get moving and get healthier – and happier – as you age.
1 – Do SOMETHING, even a little!
If the task of starting to be active is overwhelming, don’t sweat it. A 2015 research report, using data from more than a half million adults, concluded that any exercise is better than no exercise if your goal is to boost longevity. Those who did just 150 minutes/week of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise (such as walking) were rewarded with a substantial boost in health and longevity. 
The researchers also learned that even if you exercise just a fraction of this, you are still likely to have a 20% lower mortality risk than those who do no exercise at all.
2 – Discover the power of the stroll
Even if all you do is walk, you’re still doing a lot of good. Dan Buettner, author of “The Blue Zones Solution: Eating and Living Like the World's Healthiest People,” studied societies with the highest rates of centenarians (100-year-olds). He found that the citizens with the world’s greatest longevity and health are in Sardinia, Italy. They consume a mostly plant-based diet – heavy on legumes – and they average about 6-10 miles of walking daily.

If you have trouble picturing yourself walking more than a few minutes, try using audio books; a good book to listen to while you walk is an effective way to enjoy a long stroll, allowing your imagination to turn your focus away from the step-by-step rigor.
3 – Team up for fun and accountability
Find others with shared interests to exercise with, whether that means going to a fitness center, taking yoga classes, walking, cycling, etc.; by exercising with others, you double your activity gain – stimulating not just your body but your mind through the social interaction. 

Plus, accountability is a powerful motivator. Working out with others creates commitment.  It can be easy to ditch a morning walk when it’s brisk and you’d rather snooze longer. But if your jogging partner is meeting you at your door in 10 minutes…
4 – Give yourself a goal
If you are generally motivated by having a target, then having an activity goal is likely to help you get going in an activity too.  For example:
  • For walking, jogging, or biking, get a GPS watch (uses satellites to track your position on earth), which allows you to track how many miles you exercise. This allows you to set a weekly mileage goal and easily track your progress.
  • Aim for a competition related to your activity.  Maybe a 5k “race” or trying out for the Senior Olympics, where you compete with other seniors in a variety of sports. Here’s the Senior Olympics directory – find your state's competitions and to learn how to compete.
5 – Get classy!
Joining a class is an ideal way for most of us to try out an activity that we are not familiar with.  In most communities, you will have no problem finding classes and groups specifically for seniors, such as yoga, bowling, golf, tennis, weight lifting, ballroom dancing, square dancing, and more.
Check out Silver Sneakers – a nationwide program with Medicare-eligible memberships to more than 13,000 participating fitness centers nationwide. Its fitness program helps older adults take greater control of their health by encouraging physical activity.  It includes fitness classes, social gatherings, and seminars on healthy living.
6 – Think FUN!
If the thought of lifting weights or walking is not your cup of tea, then think outside the “exercise” box. Even if you never set foot in a gym, you can become physically active in one of many fun ways. Consider swimming, canoeing, fishing, dancing, badminton, croquet – any activity that elevates your heart rate is going to benefit your health and longevity, especially compared to staring at the TV.

Get moving today

Whatever you pick as your favorite way to get active, you’ll be improving the quality and length of your life.  For more guidance and ideas, check out Fun Activities for Seniors, Healthy Aging Research NetworkStay Fit in Your Senior Years, and, if you have mobility challenges, Sit and Be Fit TV.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

F.A.S.T. The Key to Quick Stroke Responsiveness

Every year strokes affect over one million Americans, often resulting in either death or disability. Do you know the warning signs and symptoms of a stroke? The key to effectively treating a stroke is acting F.A.S.T.

What does F.A.S.T. stand for?

According to the American Stroke Association, F.A.S.T. stands for:

1. Facial drooping. One side of a person’s face may droop during a stroke.

Test: Ask the person to smile. Is his/her face sagging?  Call 9-1-1.

2. Arm weakness.  An individual having a stroke may experience weakness and/or numbness in one or both arms.

Test: Ask the individual to raise both arms. Do you notice a difference in how he/she is raising the arms? Call 9-1-1.

3. Speech difficulties. Slurred speech or difficulty speaking may be signs of a stroke.

Test: Have the person repeat a simple sentence. If he/she can’t, or is having difficulty, call 9-1-1.

4. Time. It’s important to get help as soon as you recognize any signs or symptoms of a stroke. Also, record the time symptoms first appeared so you can tell medical personnel.

Why is time so important in responding to a stroke?

Like all organs, your brain relies on blood flow and oxygen to survive and work well. A stroke blocks the blood flow to the brain. The longer the brain is without blood flow and oxygen, the more likely an individual may suffer disability or death as a result of a stroke.

Important facts about strokes:

Stoke is a leading cause of death in adults in the U.S.
Stroke is the leading cause of disability in adults in the U.S.
Females are more likely to die from a stroke than males.
While a stroke is more common in older adults, it can affect younger people, too.

Types of strokes:

1. Ischemic Stroke: Caused by a clot that blocks blood flow to the brain.
2. Hemorrhagic Stroke: Caused by a blood vessel rupturing, which prevents blood flow to the brain.
3. Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): Also called a “mini-stroke,” a TIA is caused by a miniature clot that blocks blood flow to the brain.

How do you know if you’re at risk for a stroke?

According to experts, a stroke may occur as a result of:

Hereditary factors (risks you get from family members)
The natural aging process
An individual’s lifestyle

In many cases, a stroke is the result of a combination of all three.

Where can you learn more?

Visit sites such as the American Stroke Association or the National Stroke Association for valuable information on strokes.

Remember F.A.S.T. when it comes to stroke responsiveness, and take the time to teach the acronym to your family and friends. Acting F.A.S.T. can mean the difference between life and death.

Live Healthy. Live Smart