Friday, July 31, 2009

Calcium Isn't the Only Key to Strong Bones

Dietary calcium has been shown reduce the risk of osteoporosis and brittle bones. Calcium is also an electrolyte, which plays an important role in muscle function, including the regulation of heart muscle rhythm (or heart rate), and fluid balance. Bone is living tissue, continuously replacing new cells. Our skeletal structure is our calcium "bank," or storage system. When blood calcium drops below normal range, regulating hormones trigger the "withdrawal" of calcium from the bones to maintain normal blood levels to supply the demands of the tissues. Increased dietary calcium raises blood calcium levels, triggering the hormonal response to build bone cells. As we age, the hormone that cues the process of bone building dwindles, which is why maintaining bone health becomes more difficult. Building a good store of calcium in our younger years leads to stronger bones in our senior years.
But, it's not the only nutrient that matters. Studies show that most Americans, including infants, are not getting enough Vitamin D. It has recently been discovered that the recommended 400 IU per day is not enough. Most researchers now recommend a minimum of 1000IU per day for adults, especially in the northern regions where exposure to sunlight is reduced. Vitamin D is necessary for the transport of calcium and other minerals from the digestive tract into the blood. Vitamin D deficiencies have also been linked to migraines, breast cancer, autism, and all inflammatory illnesses such as heart disease, arthritis, and asthma. The recommended amounts of vitamin D are difficult to obtain from the diet alone, as the limited variety of foods rich in vit. D such as anchovies, herring, tuna in oil, and salmon, are not typically found on our daily dinner table. Thought milk and dairy products are fortified, and vit. D is manufactured in our bodies through sunlight, we are still falling short. Most fish oil capsules do not contain vit. D! Calcium supplements that include vit. D typicaly offer 600 IU per dose.
Other nutrients that keep the bones going strong are the alkaline residues generated from fruits and vegetables. They neutralize acid residues produced by grains and proteins in the diet. Without the alkali supply in the diet, the bones are again called upon to produce alkali. If those fruits and vegetables include leafy greens like spinach, kale, collards, or salad greens, their vitamin K may also strengthen bones. "Vitamin K is required to build bone matrix" according to Bess-Dawson Hughes, director of the Bone Metabolism Laboratory at Tuft's Human Nutrition Research Center on Aging. (One serving of greens a day supplies 150-250mcg of Vit. K; more than enough!)
Exercise also matters to the bones. Stress to the bones in the form of weight-bearing stimulates the uptake of calcium. Just about any weight-bearing exercise will do, including walking. Almost any activity other than swimming or bicycling is considered weight-bearing!

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Weight Loss Confusion

There seems to be and endless sea of weight loss products, pills, foods, clubs, books, and basic garbage everywhere you look. TV, Internet, radio, books, are just the beginning, so it's no wonder that people try them, fail, and give up. Weight loss is not as complicated as many of the so called "programs" or "diet plans" make them out to be, and if weight loss came in a bottle, the country would not be on the verge of an obesity epidemic. Basic knowledge can help you recognize the scams from the real deal. Here are some basic rules about weight loss:
Maintaining a healthy weight is a lifestyle, not a diet. The reason diets fail is because as soon as people go off the diet, the old habits come back, and so does the weight. The most successful "losers" did not follow any special diet. At the end of the day, it's all about the calories. It really doesn't matter if it's in the form of carbohydrates, fats, or protein, how they are combined, or what time of day, as long as they are balanced. Just remember the equation that more calories have to be burned than consumed. Managing weight and calories is just like managing your checking account; think of dieting as a "budget."
Never eliminate a basic food group. A "diet" that suggests eliminating or restricting dairy, carbs, certain colored foods, etc., is not a legitimate program. The food groups as designated by the USDA's Food Guide Pyramid supply all the nutrients required for a healthy metabolism. ( See for more info). By including all types of foods in the diet, not only are you getting balanced nutrition, it keeps meals from becoming boring.
Exercise is the only natural way to boost your metabolism. Metabolism refers to the way the body uses energy. Most of the products advertised do nothing to boost the metabolism. Even caffeine, though it is a stimulant, only increases your heart rate for a few hours. Side effects include insomnia and heart arrhythmia, which are counter productive to weight loss. Aerobic exercise is the best for boosting metabolism. Increasing muscle mass with strength training will increase your metabolism, as muscle requires more calories just to maintain itself. Alcohol slows the metabolism, so use moderation. Eating meals regularly keeps the metabolism working at an optimal level. When you skip meals, your body shifts into starvation mode, conserving energy.
Fat Free isn't always a good thing. Fat free cookies and such contain more sugars and salt to give flavor, but they don't provide satiety; satiety is the feeling of satisfaction from eating. Fats can provide satiety, one reason being is because they take longer to digest and provide more calories per gram than do sugars. 10% of your daily intake can be saturated fat, and 20% should be unsaturated fats, in the way of mono or polyunsaturated. They provide long lasting energy and essential fatty acids (nutrients to help maintain nerves, hormonal balance, and much more), and help ward of that hunger feeling. So eat that favorite cookie! Just remember to count the calories.
Get your ZZZZ's! How long you sleep may effect hormones that regulate appetite and weight. Sleeping only 4 - 5 hours a night, instead of the recommended 7 - 8, alters levels of the appetite regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin, leading to increased appetite. These hormonal changes combined with having more awake time for eating and feeling too tired to exercise all contribute to weight gain.
Make sure your sources of information are reliable. Always ask a nutrition professional for diet advice. Beware of the label "nutritionist," as there is no certification or definition of such. The label can be used quite freely. Chiropractors, vitamin sales people, health food store clerks can all refere to themselves as "nutritionists" thought they may not have any specialized education or certification in the field. A Registered Dietitian or Dietetic Technician are the only nutrition professionals educated and certified in accredited nutrition programs. Reliable and unbiased information generally comes from Universities, Govt. agencies, and health organizations.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Ginko Biloba Isn't Just Brain Food

New research from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston was recently presented to the American Association for Cancer Research concluding that women who took Ginko Biloba supplements for at least 6 months were 60% less likely to have ovarian cancer. In this study, 600 women with ovarian cancer were compared with 640 women who were healthy. Positive results were found as specific compounds in Ginko Biloba called ginkgolides, were tested on ovarian cancer cells. Thought the exact dosage used by the women was not revealed in the study, the usual dose is 60 to 120 mg. a day. Continued research is needed before any cancer prevention claims can be made on Ginko Biloba's behalf, but the findings thus far are quite significant.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Safe Summer Grilling

For those of us in the northern regions of the country, barbecues and picnics are cherished social events. Make the best of this warm weather ritual with these tips for safe food handling.
Keep cold food cold!

❅ Cold food should be held at or below 40° F.
❅ Meat, poultry, and seafood may be packed while still frozen so that it stays colder longer.
❅ Keep raw meat securely wrapped so their juices don’t contaminate already cooked foods or items eaten raw.
❅ Keep beverages in a separate cooler that will be opened more often.
❅ Transport coolers in the air-conditioned back seat of the vehicle, instead of the hot trunk.
❅ In hot weather, never let food sit out for more than one hour.
Keep hot food hot!
❂ After cooking meats on the grill, keep them hot until served - at 140° F or warmer.
❂ Cook thoroughly. Use a food thermometer to be sure the food has reached a safe internal temp. Don't ruin a good cut of meat by guessing!
Whole poultry - 180° F
Breasts - 170° F
Hamburgers (beef) - 160° F
Ground poultry - 165° F
Pork - 160° F
Fin fish - 140° F
❂ Beef, veal, lamb steaks, roasts and chops can be cooked to 140° F.
❂ NEVER partially grill meats and finish cooking them later.
Before you begin!
❦ Food safety begins with hand washing - even in outdoor settings. Pack hand sanitizer for picnics.
❦ Marinate food in the refrigerator, not on the counter.
❦ Use a separate brush for raw and cooked meats; wash the brush in hot, soapy water between uses.
❦ Don’t use the same platter and utensils that previously held raw meat or seafood to serve cooked meats. Harmful bacteria from uncooked drippings can contaminate safely cooked food.
What about the cancer risks with grilled foods?
As long as you don't "char" the meat, the risk is minimal. Rare to medium produces fewer mutagens than well done meats. Precooking in the microwave for 1&1/2 - 2 minutes can reduce mutagens by 90%. Sea food produces less than red meat and poultry. Veggieburgers and vegetables generate little or no mutagens. Cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage) can even help the liver detoxify mutagens.

Coenzyme Q10. Is it Worth the Hype? (Or the Price!)

Coenzyme Q10 is manufactured by the body, and plays a valuable role in the mitochondria; the working metabolism within individual cells. CoQ10 also functions as an antioxidant there, protecting the cells' DNA from free radicals. It is abundant in hard working muscles, especially the heart. Levels of CoQ10 tend to decline with age, and are lower in congestive heart failure and other diseases. There is speculation that replenishing the body's CoQ10 might help treat those diseases and slow the aging process, but evidence of such is still questionable at this time.
CoQ10 is often recommended for heart failure or cardiomyopathy patients since the majority show a deficiency. In these instances, it can be a valuable tool. Whether it can prevent heart disease has yet to be studied. The typical dose is 200mg/day, and toxicity levels have not yet been established.
Some statin users claim to benefit from the supplement, though there is no confirmed evidence that the CoQ10 alone provided the relief from muscle aches. This is one of the problems some people experience with statins. Researchers believe that pain occurs when the mitochondria become impaired because their natural CoQ10 has been depleted by the statins. Here's how it works: The same enzyme makes both cholesterol and CoQ10, so when the statins block cholesterol production, they are also blocking the production of the body's natural CoQ10. Since there are no known risks to taking the supplement, one can only give it a try. As always, check with your doctor before taking any supplements.
Can healthy people benefit from CoQ10 as a preventative? Probably not. In studies with healthy mice, it didn't do much of anything to prevent disease or delay aging.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Stone Prone?

Kidney stones are one of the most common disorders that affect the kidneys. Kidney stones are usually composed of calcium oxalate and/or phosphate. Less common are stones formed of uric acid, which are frequently associated with gout.
To help prevent the formation of kidney stones, physicians have traditionally recommended reducing dietary calcium intake. The true chemistry behind the formation of calcium oxalate stones shows the real enemy are the oxalates that bind with the calcium. Since calcium is a necessary nutrient, it only makes sense to reduce the intake of oxalate instead. A low oxalate diet can be rather restrictive, and since oxalates are also found in many nutritious foods, the trick here is to avoid eating foods high in oxalates in combination with calcium rich foods. For example, spinach and cheese together on a pizza may be tasty, but it's not a good combination if you are prone to kidney stones. For a list of foods high in oxalates, click here.
To reduce your intake of phosphate, simply limit your intake of sodas. Any carbonated beverage, including flavored "fizzy" waters contain phosphorous, and they generally have no other nutritional value. Eliminating them altogether would not cause any nutritional deficiencies.
Uric acid stones can be prevented by restricting purine in the diet. Foods high in purine include pork, red meat, organ meats, sardines, anchovies, and alcohol; primarily beer. If you are following a diet for the treatment of gout, you are already on the right path to preventing uric acid stones.
Increasing fluid intake, mainly water, will dilute the urine and can help in preventing the formation of kidney stones.