Thursday, June 29, 2006

In Brief: Caffeine & Persuasion, Coffee & Liver Disease

New studies show that caffeine makes people "more open to persuasion," reports the LA Times, and in other news coffee appears to protect against liver disease.

The persuasive power of caffeine
According to a study
reported by the LA Times, caffeine can make us "more open to persuasion." In the study, researchers gave two groups of people a glass of orange juice-- one group had their drinks spiked with two cups worth of caffeine, the other group got pure stuff. After drinking the juice, participants, "read a position paper that ran counter to his or her beliefs," reports the Times.

As it turns out, the people who had the caffeinated OJ, "understood and remembered the counter-arguments better and were more in agreement with those arguments." So it's not that caffeine-drinkers were "dupes." It's just that, "subjects hopped up on caffeine paid better attention to well-made arguments and thus appeared better disposed to their logic," concluded the study.

Coffee may shield us from cirrhosis
Among the list of coffee's benefits -- for example,
I recently blogged on how coffee can make your muscles work harder -- protection from liver disease may be added to the list.

According to a 22-year study of 125,000 people,
reported by WebMD, "Among more than 125,000 people studied for up to 22 years, coffee drinkers were less likely to be diagnosed with alcoholic cirrhosis." Researchers even figured out how much each daily cup of coffee helps. "For every daily cup of coffee that participants reported drinking, they were 22 percent less likely to have been diagnosed with alcoholic cirrhosis during the study," read the WebMD report.

So far, researchers aren't sure why coffee protects against liver disease, but they're pretty sure it's not the caffeine. "Tea contains caffeine, but tea consumption didn't appear to lower participants' odds of being diagnosed with any form of cirrhosis," WebMD reports.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

To Improve Memory, Shed Some Pounds

A new study suggests that obesity is linked to memory function. According to a posting at Eurekalert.com, a hormone called leptin, which regulates appetite, has trouble entering the brain in obese people. However, as it turns out, leptin does more than tell the brain to stop eating. "We've now found leptin affects the brain in other ways, compromising learning and memory," says Susan A. Farr, Ph.D.

In lab tests, mice that were given leptin boosters had "improved learning and long-term memory," said Dr. Farr. To test this, her team used an old classic: the maze.

Interestingly enough, leptin seemed to help out on "older mice that have Alzheimer's disease," Dr. Farr explained. On Alzheimer stricken mice "leptin worked even better and at a lower dose than it did in younger mice."

Speaking of Alzheimer's,
a study reported by ScienceDaily found that calorie restriction may fight the onset of the memory-killing disease. According to the report, people with Alzheimer's "exhibit elevated levels of beta-amyloid peptides that cause plaque buildup in the brain." In mice, it was found that calorie restriction reduced the presence of these peptides in the brain.

The study also revealed that one of the best ways to contract Alzheimer's is a diet high in saturated fat. "High caloric intake based on saturated fat promotes Alzheimer's type beta-amyloidosis," read the ScienceDaily article.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

In Brief: The Nasty Effects of Ozone, Pesticides and Global Warming

Recent news shows how aspects of our environment are putting us at risk for heart disease, Parkinson's disease, and causing allergy sufferers to suffer more. What really stings is that, since these are environmental factors, you'll be hard-pressed to avoid them.

Link between smog and heart disease found
Scientists had previously suspected that smog was somehow linked to heart disease, but they lacked definitive evidence. But now a new study
reported by Scientific American "shows how ozone's byproducts in the body can harden arteries and cause heart disease." Ozone, which is present in smog, interacts with your body's cholesterol (which "makes up 40 percent of most of your membranes") to produce a substance called "atheronal." An expert told Scientific American that, "atheronals can actually cause all the relative aspects that are known to promote cardiovascular disease,"

Pesticides may cause Parkinson's in men
There's good news and bad news. The good news is that another factor in developing Parkinson's disease has been found. The bad news is that it's pesticides and those aren't going away anytime soon. According to
a report at EurekAlert, "men with Parkinson's were 2.4 times more likely to have had exposure to pesticides than those who did not have Parkinson's." Interestingly enough, the same did not hold true for women. According to the report, "estrogen may protect women from the toxic effects of pesticides."

How global warming makes allergies worse
Whether or not we can agree on the causes of global warming, it's certainly real and the consequences can be a real drag. Case in point: "higher levels of [carbon dioxide] will also boost pollen production, causing allergy sufferers to suffer even more in the future," according to
an article at WebMD. The problem is spurred by two factors. One, higher concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere cause plants to spew more pollen. Two, global warming causes spring to start earlier, thus expanding the annual window of pollen production.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Five Super-bad Foods

Recently, I posted on WebMD's "5 Superfoods for Your Hearts." (You can read the piece here.) Now it's time to look at the dark side, "5 Foods to Avoid for a Healthy Heart," with another list from WebMD.

As the WebMD piece points out, the foods on this list are not instant killers. But eaten habitually over the decades, you're asking for trouble. So read this list, memorize it, and when you see these foods, a soft, yellow caution light should light up in your mind. When that light comes on, you might ask yourself, "when's the last time I ate this stuff?" If the answer is something like, "yesterday," or, "three times in the last two days," then you should probably reach for something on the superfoods list
covered here.

Anyway, below is the fearsome five with a quick description gleaned from the WebMD piece.

Cookies
I never said this list would be full of surprises. Yes, you know cookies are not the cornerstone of a healthy diet. But do you know why? It turns out that cookies usually feature hydrogenated oils (like coconut or palm) and shortening. These things, also known as transfats, raise "bad" cholesterol (LDL) and lower the "good" (HDL).

Ice Cream
Yes, I encouraged you to load up on ice cream in
this posting. But that was because of a study that found low-fat diets don't cut risks for heart attacks, colon cancer and other nasties. But unless you're going for the Pillsbury Doughboy look, I'd suggest getting your calories from lower fat, higher vitamin foods. WebMD points out that ice cream crams 300 calories and 20 grams of fat into just half a cup.

French Fries
An expert in the WebMD piece called French Fries, "America's favorite vegetable." Yes, that's because they taste really, really good. The problem is that one serving has 500 calories and 25 grams of fat. The second problem is who stops at just one serving?

Potato Chips
I'd say these are in the running for America's second favorite vegetable. And speaking of who stops at just one serving, who stops at just three servings of potato chips? As with fries, you've got a food here that's full of salt, fat and calories, but not much else. When you eat potato chips, "you're getting no nutritional value whatsoever," reads the WebMD article.

White Bread
It seems that Wonderbread ain't so wonderful these days. According to WebMD, white bread is "another nutritionally empty food." Instead of white bread, which is made of refined grains, sub in whole-grain breads, pastas, and other high-fiber foods, suggests WebMD. "High-fiber foods reduce your cholesterol, which reduces your risk for heart disease."

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Does Teflon Cause Cancer?

The short answer: we don't know. It causes cancer in lab animals, and "can be fatal to pet birds," reports TIME. But we just don't know what it does to humans.

Let me explain.

When you're cooking with a Teflon coated pan (who doesn't, right?), and it gets hotter than 600 degrees (and how are we supposed to know that?), the coating breaks down and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA for short) is released. Apparently, according to the TIME article, you can get the same effect by "plunging a hot pan into cold water." So, if you do either of these things -- plunge a hot pan in cold water or overheat a pan on the burner -- your pet parakeet gets a dirt nap.

Mixed signals
Despite harm to animals, TIME reports, "no study has proved that cooking with Teflon is harmful to humans." But the EPA isn't taking any chances. In January, the federal agency slapped the "likely human carcinogen" label on PFOA. So that means you should stop using it, right?

Well, not exactly.

"At the present time, EPA does not believe there is any reason for consumers to stop using any consumer or industrial related products that contain PFOA," reports TIME.

My unprofessional, humble advice? Stop using Teflon. Why take a chance? Sure, you need to use a little oil to keep your eggs from sticking to the pan, but I've already done you the favor of finding out what the healthiest oils are. For the record, the TIME piece suggests using a cast-iron skillet. "It's cheaper than a coated pan, it browns food better, and as for the nonstick factor, when properly seasoned, it's nearly as good," read the article.


Other interesting findings from the TIME article:
  • Teflon was accidentally discovered in 1938 by DuPont chemist Roy Plunkett (he was "testing DuPont's refrigerant gas, Freon," when the discovery was made, according to wonderquest.com)
  • DuPont was cranking out one million pounds of Teflon by 1950
  • "60 percent of all pots and pans in American kitchens are nonstick"
  • "95 percent of Americans have traces of PFOA in their blood"

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Lemon Juice May Stop Pregnancy & AIDS

The idea is nothing new. In medieval times, "legendary lothario" Casanova used lemon juice as a contraceptive, I read at the BBC.

More recently, in 2002, University of Melbourne reproductive scientist Roger Short stirred controversy by suggesting lemon juice could stop both sperm and HIV dead in its tracks. "Lemons could be used as a contraceptive by soaking a piece of cotton wool in the juice and inserting it into the vagina before sex," read the BBC piece.

Of course, the findings aren't without critics. Recently, Short went on
ABC Radio National's "The Science Show" to defend himself against critics. Critics don't doubt that lemon juice can kill sperm or the fragile AIDS virus, but they are concerned that lemon juice could damage the uterus.

However, as Short pointed out, studies of lime juice applied to the vaginas of monkeys showed no legions. In humans, a study on women at Berkley using a 20 percent concentration (one part lemon juice to four parts water) has yet to turn up any legions.

Also, some Nigerian sex workers have been using lemon juice as a douche (right before or after intercourse) for ten or more years without problems, Short told ABC Radio National. Still, Short urges patience, "watch this space and I think in another year, through studying these girls in Nigeria, we'll actually have the answers."

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

The Difference Between 'Natural' and 'Organic' Meat

We're all trying to eat better these days. But it can be hard to do with all the labels we see on our food. For example, when you see labels like "natural" on a steak at the grocery store, what does it mean? Anything? If you're not sure, don't know, or just plain confused, you're not alone.

According to an article at the New York Times, "natural" is "probably the most confusing and fungible word in all of food labeling."

In order for meat to get the "natural" label, the only thing the Agriculture Department requires is that it's "minimally processed." That could mean "the animals were not given antibiotics or hormones, that they were not fed rendered animal byproducts and that they lived a happy life outdoors… or it could mean almost nothing," reports the Times.

For a better label, look for "organic." According to the Times report, for meat to be labeled organic, "animals must be raised without the use of antibiotics, growth hormones and chemicals used to kill parasites and they must be given feed that has been grown without pesticides or chemical fertilizers."

Now, if you're looking for beef that is grass-fed, neither of these labels helps. Nor does a label on meat that says its "grass-fed." As the Times points out, the Agriculture Department is working on standards that would require "grass-fed" to mean cows got 99 percent of their food from grass. But for now, it only means that cows have "access to a pasture," a phrase that can be very loosely interpreted. For example, I have "access" to a lot of parks in the town where I live, but I can't remember the last time I ever went to one.

Monday, June 19, 2006

ABC: 'Is Sauerkraut the Next Chicken Soup?'

It's hard to imagine downing a bowl of sauerkraut the next time you're sick, but after reading a report last November by ABC that outlined the health benefits of fermented cabbage, you may change your mind. Okay, maybe not. But you might start thinking of ways to work the stuff into your diet.

In the ABC report, they explain how recent studies show sauerkraut may be used to fight breast cancer and the dreaded bird flu.

Fermented cabbage, or sauerkraut, is packed with vitamin K, vitamin C, lactic acid and a bit of iron. Lactic acid, "helps with digestion and may weaken infections," reads the ABC report. Vitamin K is known mostly for its role in helping blood clot (it's occasionally given as a snake venom antidote), but it may also help prevent kidney stones, body odor and some forms of cancer, according to the
University of Maryland Medical Center. Vitamin C, of course, is good for (almost) everything. Also from the UM Medical Center, C may fend off all sorts of heart disease, some cancers, colds, weight gains, eye diseases, diabetes and so much more.

So how much sauerkraut do you need to get the benefits? In the breast cancer study, University of New Mexico researchers found that four or more servings per week of sauerkraut did the trick. But for bird flu, the benefits of Vitamin K, C and the rest, more testing needs to be done.

Four servings a week? While people in some cultures can put back four servings in one meal, it could be just as difficult for the rest of us to get four servings of 'kraut as
the 12 cloves of garlic (per day) that you need to get it's cholesterol-cutting benefits.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

How Much Do You Sweat in an Hour?

During a "typical summer day" in Phoenix, AZ, where the average temperature is 93.3 degrees Fahrenheit, a person produces 26 ounces of sweat per hour. That's three cans of soda. In other words, in Phoenix, you will sweat a six pack every two hours during the summer.

I dug up these numbers in
a Reuters report (by way of Yahoo! News) on a Procter & Gamble Co. survey for the country's sweatiest city.

Across the city, about every three hours, "Phoenix residents collectively produced enough sweat to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool," said Jay Gooch, a "sweat expert" at Old Spice (a P&G brand).

So where does all that sweat go? Apparently, in Phoenix, where the humidity is a dusty 22 percent, the air soaks up a lot of the sweat. In a city like Miami, on the other hand, where the average temperature is 83.9 F and the average humidity is 76 percent, that sweat just sticks to your body and soaks your clothes.

Because of Miami's mix of heat and humidity, it was named the "most uncomfortable" city by the survey.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

What's the Deal with Antibacterial Soap?

Since 2000, around 1500 products have hit store shelves containing the antibacterial agents triclocarban and triclosan, reported the LA Times last month. Marketed as a way to get your hands cleaner and protect yourself from getting sick, you may be disappointed by the latest findings.

According to experts, antibacterial products are no more effective than plain old soap and they may be doing harm to the environment.

Back in October of last year, an FDA panel found that, "mass-marketed antiseptics have shown no evidence of preventing infections more effectively than hand washing with regular soap,"
reported WebMD.

So what's the problem? People have a right to buy snake oil and manufacturers have a right to get rich off of it. Fine. But as the LA Times reported last month, almost 75 percent of the microbe-killing compounds in antibacterial soap, which consumers wash down their drains, makes it through sewage treatment plants and into the earth.

In total, 200 tons of the compounds triclocarban and ticlosan are dumped into the environment each year, reported the Times. And this has concerned some experts. According to the Times article, experts fear, "widespread use of such products may be helping turn some dangerous germs into 'superbugs' resistant to antibiotics."

While monster microbes have yet to rise out of the sludge taken from sewage treatment plants and spread across fields, WebMD explains that experts don't see the point of risking it. While "the risk of resistant bacteria is theoretical," read the WebMD report, "the potential risk of resistance may not be worth continued mass marketing of soaps that have no proven benefit to consumers."

There are other potential risks associated with antibacterial soaps. For example, "triclosan can react with chlorine and turn into chloroform and dioxins linked to cancer," and "the chemicals also might kill microbes beneficial to ecosystems," according to the LA Times.

For the record, billions of pounds of sludge, the solid waste that comes out of sewage treatment plants, is produced each year. That's 47 pounds for every man, woman and child in this country.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Vitamin D Supplement is the Latest 'Wonder Pill'

Beta carotene and vitamin E both enjoyed brief reins as super-supplements (beta carotene for fighting cancer and vitamin E for stopping heart disease). But they were both yanked from the spotlight as broad studies discredited their potency.

Now vitamin D is stepping up to the throne as a growing stack of evidence indicates the vitamin may provide a wide range of benefits. Heralding the rise of vitamin D is a new article in the LA Times about vitamin called, "
Wonder Pill. Really."

According to the Times, vitamin D can, "ease aches and pains, strengthen bones, slow down cancer and prevent diseases as varied as Type 1 diabetes, multiple sclerosis and schizophrenia." All that from one vitamin? That's Wonderful.

So how does vitamin D work? "It improves absorption of calcium, controls the growth of cells (both healthy and cancerous), strengthens the immune system and seems to rein in overzealous immune system cells that cause diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis," explained the LA Times piece. That's a lot of benefit from the unique compound called vitamin D.

Vitamin D is unique among vitamins for a couple of reasons. One, it's the only vitamin that your body can make on its own. That is, so long as you get enough sun. Your body needs ultraviolet radiation to create vitamin D.

Interestingly enough, people who have dark skin or live in sun-depraved regions have higher rates of cancer.

Vitamin D may prevent cancer by attaching to receptors in cancer cells and telling the cells to stop growing. That's part of vitamin D's other unique quality. After being ingested, your liver and kidneys turn vitamin D into a hormone that can "switch at least 200 genes on and off," reads the Times.

One recent study referenced by the Times piece found that, "cancer deaths were especially common in men with low levels of vitamin D."

For the record, it was once though that Vitamin D was only good for fighting rickets. While racing to combat that disease, German scientist Adolf Windaus discovered Vitamin D in 1926.

In Brief: Gender Differences on Detecting Anger, Eating Veggies & Guess Who Scratches More?

Recent news shows interesting differences between the sexes. Compared to men, women are more likely to enjoy veggies; men have developed a better sense for detecting angry people; and there really are gender differences in amounts of scratching.

Food preferences a matter of sex, nature & nurture
According to
a recent feature at BBC News, a Cancer Research UK study "found girls were more likely to enjoy vegetables than boys." Reasons for the difference were not given. However, the very interesting article also pointed out that a taste for mean, fish and other "high-protein food" is genetic, while preferences for fruits and vegetables are largely taught. So for you parents out there, get the kids hooked on broccoli early.

Quick, which one of these people is pissed?
Apparently, men and women differ in their ability to pick out faces that convey certain types of emotions,
reports the NY Times. Men are good at picking out angry faces; women are skilled at finding "expressions that communicate happiness, sadness, surprise and disgust," read the Times article. These findings are in line with "sexual selection theory." According to this theory, the Times reports, "anger in the male face would be detected rapidly by other males to whom such cues might have had very real survival consequences."

And the scratching title goes to …
Discover.com is
reporting on a news study that found gender differences in "itch-induced scratching." As it turns out, "females scratched themselves 23 percent more often than males did." Also in the article, it's revealed that women are more sensitive than men-- at least physically. In the Discovery piece, they explain that, "women have, on average, 34 nerve fibers per square centimeter of facial skin while men only possess around 17 nerve fibers over the same area."

Monday, June 12, 2006

Green Tea May be Protecting Smokers

Scientists think that green tea may explain the Asian paradox, reports CNN. What's the Asian paradox? Glad you asked. In Asia, despite higher smoking rates, a smaller ratio of men die from coronary heart disease than in the United States.

According to the CNN piece, 348 of every 100,000 U.S. men die from coronary heart disease while just 186 per 100,000 die of the disease in Japan. But wait, there's more. Despite the fact that more adults smoke in Korea than the United States (37 percent compared to 27 percent), just 40 per 100,000 Korean males die from lung cancer while 67 of 100,000 American males die of the disease.

"In Japan, China and other Asian countries, it is a social custom to drink green tea… and it's possible that this habit helps explain the so-called 'Asian paradox,'" read the CNN piece.

Green tea is rich in antioxidants called catechins. These compounds destroy free radicals that, "in excess, can damage body cells and potentially lead to disease," reports CNN. Free radicals can be created by "normal body processes" and not-so-normal sources like tobacco smoke.

In addition to neutralizing free radicals, catechins can lower "bad" LDL cholesterol, "keep artery walls functioning smoothly," "block tumor formation or growth," and "inhibit blood cells from sticking together and forming clots," according to the CNN article.

Despite these benefits, I'd like to remind smokers that people in Asian cultures still die from coronary heart disease and lung cancer. Green tea is not a magic shield. As CNN quoted one expert, "smoking cessation is the best way to prevent cardiovascular disease and cancer."

More bad news: High School Smoking Rates Stagnate
CNN also reports that, between 2003 and 2005, smoking rates among high school students leveled off after dropping since 1997. Nine years ago, 36 percent of students said they had smoked in the previous 30 days. That figure dropped steadily until 2003 when it hit 22 percent. And that's about where we are today, reports CNN, one-in-four high school students have smoked in the last 30 days. Special note to high school students: If you're going to drink, please, at the very least, drink some green tea. Lots of it.

See also:
Green Tea: Not so Hot
In Brief: Chocolate, Booze & Cigarettes

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Scientists Grow Meat in Petri Dish

Face it, eating meat is a dirty habit. We're killing animals to get the same protein we could from a bowl of beans and rice, over-indulging in meat can lead to all sorts of health complication, meat can carry some of the most serious food-borne illnesses (like Mad Cow disease and bird flu) and the carnivore's diet is harder on the environment than a vegetarian's.

But science is working on solutions. For example, scientists are tinkering with the genes of pigs so that someday, pork chops may be rich in heart-friendly omega-3 fatty acids. And in an even more bizarre turn, some scientists are experimenting with growing meat in Petri dishes.

According to
a report in the LA Times, scientists have been trying to grow meat in a lab dish since 1912. Back then, "French scientist Alexis Carrel placed chicken heart tissue in a flask of nutrients. The muscle cells grew for more than 30 years -- outliving Carrel himself," reported the Times.

Now, scientists use a "starter" like embryonic myoblasts (a type of stem cell), and then nourish it with "a fluid containing a combination of vitamins, minerals, amino acids, sugars, salts and growth factors," read the Times report.

When will the first test tube meats show up in stores? The most ambitious estimates are 2011. But one professor told the Times, "It'll never be practical," for technical and financial reasons. As of now, it costs between $1000 and $5000 per pound to create meat in a Petri dish.

However, if scientists can get the costs down, "McDonald's breakfast sausage patty could protect you from heart disease instead of giving you heart disease," one public health expert told the Times.

In Brief: Too Much Garlic, Not Enough Candy and Disney Fruit?

Good news: Garlic can cut cholesterol. Bad news: You need 12 cloves to get the benefit. Also, Hershey and Nestle are seeking larger market share with smaller servings and Disney jumps into the produce business.

Would you trade cholesterol for raging BO?
A study
reported this week by WebMD finds that garlic, famous for giving bad breath and foul body odor, may reduce cholesterol. But to have an effect, you'll need to somehow stomach 12 cloves of the stuff. That's the finding from tests on lab rats that were given 500-milligram shots of garlic per day (the equivalent of 12 cloves in a 150-pound person), for four weeks. The garlic also helped fight blood clots.

Candy makers cut portion size, but it's a net gain
At this week's All Candy Expo, Hershey and Nestle launched "stick versions" of their candy bars,
reports CNN. Apparently, this is nothing new. Hershey told CNN that, "the company has always had calorie-controlled versions of its candies." Oh, are they referring to those sacks of miniature Mr. Goodbars, Krackles and Hershey's Special Dark? The same bags that, instead of sitting and eating one normal-sized bar, I'll open up and eat about 20 mini-sized bars? I don't call that calorie control, I call it guilt control. Because instead of feeling guilty for eating a whole candy bar, I feel comfortable eating a bunch of seemingly harmless little ones.

Disney Fruit Hits European Grocery Stores
According to the Financial Times (
by way of MSNBC), Disney is trying its hand at dealing fruit. Look for satsumas now, and then bananas and apples later. Maybe this is how they expect to make up for losses at the box office. That or, as the Financial Times suggests, they are trying to distance themselves from McDonald's, which they had been partnered with for a decade, and "jump onto the healthy eating bandwagon." Then again, the report does say that existing products in Disney's food portfolio (there are 300 in all) include "pasta, pizza and beef burgers in the shape of Mickey Mouse."

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

It's Already Here: 'The Biggest Pandemic of All Time'

Earlier this year, Newsweek columnist Dr. Dean Ornish wrote, "cardiovascular disease kills more people each year worldwide than any other disease. It's the biggest pandemic of all time."

Were you aware that we are living in such perilous times? No? Me neither. So how could the "biggest pandemic of all time" slip right under our noses? According to Ornish, "Heart disease is so common that we've become accustomed to it, thinking of it as a natural cause of death. Yet there's nothing natural about it."

Creeping up behind heart disease on the pandemic scale, according to Ornish, are obesity and diabetes. Due to rising rates of these slow killers, "this may be the first generation in which children have a shorter lifespan than their parents," wrote Ornish.

The sad part is that, unlike
pandemics of the past -- like The Black Death, AIDS (which continues to this day) and the 1918 Influenza outbreak that killed 50 to 100 million people in just six months -- the scourge of heat disease "is almost completely preventable just by changing diet and lifestyle," says Ornish

According to Ornish, "nine factors related to nutrition and lifestyle accounted for almost 95 percent of the risk for a heart attack in men and women." For the record, these factors are: smoking, cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes, obesity, diet, physical activity, alcohol consumption and psychosocial issues (for example, emotional stress and depression).

In his column, Ornish points out that the costs of fighting heart disease is costing the United States billions of dollars each year. This is one factor in rising health care rates, which are threatening the profitability of major U.S. employers. Ornish gave two examples: "Starbucks reportedly spends more on health care for its employees than on coffee beans. General Motors spends more on health care than steel."

To reverse this trend, Ornish suggests that doctors look at treating heart disease differently. Instead of paying $40,000 to clear blocked arteries with
angioplasty, how about $50 for a pair of running shoes? According to Ornish, "regular physical exercise worked even better than angioplasty for preventing heart attacks, strokes and premature deaths."

So what are doctors waiting for? The money. Insurance companies don't pay for running shoes. They pay for angioplasty. And, wrote Ornish, "We doctors do what we get paid to do, and we get trained to do what we get paid to do."

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Exercise Pain? Coffee to the Rescue

More bad news this week for the makers of Advil, Tylenol and other pain medications: "caffeine can reduce the pain caused by exercise," reports the LA Times. This follows news last week that listening to music can reduce chronic pain.

In a study by the University of Georgia, participants who had taken some caffeine before a workout felt 25 to 48 percent less pain while exercising. Participants took the caffeine equivalent (probably in pill form) of two to three cups of coffee.

But use caution if you're reaching for a tripple latte instead of Gatorade to push your workouts longer and harder. An article published the same day by the Times, "
Go for the burn, not the burnout," reveals that over-exercising can have the same dreadful affects as under-exercising: "muscles get weak, energy droops, mood and sleep patterns go haywire," read the Times article.

To find the LA Times piece on caffeine and exercise, I had to do a bit of digging. And I didn't notice the same story picked up by any other publication. Why is that? Well, if I'm an editor, and I'm trying to pick relevant stories that will grab reader attention, something about cutting exercise pain probably isn't it. How many people exercise regularly? And how many people exercise enough to cause pain?

I hope you're one of the 75 or so Americans that finds this story relevant. If you're not, drop and gimme 50! (That's 50
pushups)

Monday, June 05, 2006

FDA to restaurants: Cut Portion Size

Warning: I'm going to get a lot more political in this posting than I usually do in this blog. Bear with me here, give this posting a read, and if you'd prefer that I stay more apolitical in this blog, please post a comment and let me know.

A new report from the FDA, "encourages restaurants to shift the emphasis of their marketing to lower-calorie choices… in addition, restaurants could jigger portion sizes and the variety of foods available in mixed dishes to cut calories,"
reports CNN.

In other words, the government wants fast food restaurants to cut portion size and mix more fruits and vegetables into their meals.

Remember, this is an FDA that reports to a Republican president. What happened to the GOP which stood for a hands-off approach to business? I thought Republicans liked to let the market decide what businesses sold.

In the case of portion size, I like that idea: let the market decide.

If people want to gorge themselves on Super Size french fries and Quarter Pounders with cheese, then we should let them. However, I would appreciate it if obese people were forced to pay higher health insurance premiums, and I would like a break in my insurance for staying trim. (Much in the same way that bad drivers pay more for car insurance and good drivers get discounts.)

Here are some other interesting facts from the CNN article:
  • There are 900,000 "restaurants and other establishments that serve food" (that's about one restaurant for every three people that live in the United States)
  • Leading menu choices among Americans, 2005: Hamburgers, french fries and pizza (source: NPD Group)
  • In 2000, Americans ate 300 more calories than they did in 1985
  • 64 percent of Americans are overweight, 30 percent are obese
  • Overweight people cost the United States $93 billion in medical costs each year

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Another Superfoods List… Can You Resist?

If I'm tired of hearing any buzzword in the health sphere it's "superfood." They've got it printed on bags of spinach at the store, Odwalla has a product based on the term, I've seen complete books and magazines dedicated to it and every couple of weeks, a new article appears online with this term in the headline.

However, I reluctantly admit I'm a sucker for scanning these pieces. I figure the more I read these articles, the more that individual foods will stick in my head and the more likely I'll be to buy them. Then again, if you've seen these lists, you know that superfoods are either A) really expensive or B) not so tasty.

Today, the piece I'd like to bring to your attention is WebMD's "
5 Superfoods for Your Heart." Below, I'll give you the food and what it does.

Blueberries
These berries are packed with antioxidands. So what, lots of fruits are packed with antioxidants, right? Well, according to WebMD, "blueberries rank No. 1 in antioxidant activity when compared with 40 other fresh fruits and vegetables." So what are antioxidants good for? Glad you asked. "Antioxidants help neutralize harmful byproducts of metabolism called free radicals that can lead to cancer and other age-related diseases," reads the WebMD piece.

Salmon
This fish usually makes superfood lists because its rich in omega-3 fatty acids. According to WebMD, "This fat is believed to reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease by lowering the levels of triglycerides in the body." Triglycerides are believed to cause heart disease and diabetes. The article also points out that omega-3s fight blood clots and make blood vessels "less likely to constrict"-- two things your cardiovascular system likes.

Soy Protein
If you don't eat meat (including fish), then you can get your omega-3s from soy protein. This stuff is also full of protein, vitamins and minerals that help lower cholesterol and make it a "good alternative to red meat," says WebMD.


Oatmeal
Who eats oatmeal anymore? I don't know. But it's a standard on superfood lists. It makes the cut because for the low, low price of 130 calories you get 5 of the 21 grams of fiber that your body needs each day. According to WebMD, "[fiber] helps to lower cholesterol and keep body weight to a healthy level." Oatmeal, because it is a whole grain, also sticks to your ribs, so between meals, "you're not tempted by unhealthy snacks," one doctor told WebMD.

Spinach
This is a tough one for people to swallow, but it's packed with "vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that may protect against cardiovascular disease," reads the WebMD report. The article also explains that spinach has lots of folate, which cuts the level of an amino acid called homocysteine. This stuff is suspected as one of the nasties that, in high amounts, causes cardiovascular disease.

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I started pound360 to channel my obsession with vitamins, running and the five senses. Eventually, I got bored focusing on all that stuff, so I came back from a one month hiatus in May of 2007 (one year after launching Pound360) and broadened my mumblings here to include all science.