All Posts tagged diabetes

Blueberries Protect Against Heart Disease, Diabetes, and Belly Fat

It is hard to hate a blueberry.  That small, sweet bead of a fruit is sweet and delicious, and now new research shows it is good for you as well. Blueberries have been known to be good for your heart and brain function, but emerging research is also showing them to help prevent diabetes, arthritis, and belly fat.

One study presented at a Dieticians of Canada conference showed that men who drank a cup of wild blueberry juice every day for 3 weeks had less inflammation and insulin sensitivity, two factors that, when abnormal, can contribute to arthritis and diabetes.  In fact, most of the men noticed a slight improvement in glucose and insulin control.  This is why a professor at the University of Prince Edward Island in Canada suggests people eat half a cup of fresh or frozen wild blueberries a day.  Previous research from that same university found that feeding wild blueberries to rodents with high blood pressure helped lower their blood pressure.  It has not been determined if it has the same affect on humans.

Another study conducted by the University of Michigan and presented at Experimental Biology 2009 showed that rats who were bred to be obese had lost abdominal fat, lowered cholesterol, and improved glucose control and insulin sensitivity after eating blueberries for 3 months.  Fat in the belly area pads internal organs and releases inflammation-producing hormones.  More common in men than women, experts have long been convinced that those who carry excess weight in the belly region are at higher risk for some pretty serious health problems, even if they have a normal body mass index.

The most amazing thing about the University of Michigan study was the benefits occurred even when the diet was not all that heart healthy, though the benefits of the blueberries were higher in those that ate a low fat diet.  Besides all the other benefits to health, the group that ate a low fat diet had a lower body weight, lower total fat mass and reduced liver mass than those who consumed a high fat diet.  An enlarged liver is linked to obesity and insulin resistance, something lots of us deal with – fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome are common because of diets high in fat.  The researchers believe that their results show blueberries may have an impact on how the body stores and processes glucose for energy; and this reduces the risks of developing diabetes or heart disease.

Another study that looked at how blueberries affected men who are at a risk for heart disease backs up the University of Michigan study.  A researcher at the Cardioprotection Research Laboratory found that blueberry intake affected the genes related to fat burning and storage.  By looking at muscle tissue, they were able to see genes that were altered in relation to glucose uptake.  It is believed that the naturally occurring phytonutrients in blueberries called anthocyanins are what makes them help ease these serious health conditions.

Overall, it is important to realize how diet can have a tremendous impact on your health.  Fruits and vegetables can do wonders for our health, and they don’t come with a two-page list of side effects. To me, with low calories and no side effects, blueberries seem to be an easy, natural way to improve your health, especially if you are at risk for heart disease.  There are a lot of ways to enjoy this delicious fruit.  Fresh out of the container, in juice or on cereal, in muffins, even distilled into a compote.  The great thing about blueberries is that they keep their nutritional value, even after being frozen.  When you buy blueberries, look for ones that are fresh, locally or organically grown, with a firm feeling and lively color.  The deeper the color, the more antioxidants the fruit brings to the body.  To get the best bang for your buck, grab the wilder variety of blueberry whenever you can.  The berries come in two types – ones grown out in fields or existing in the wild (low bush variety), or those grown in greenhouses (high bush variety).  The wild variety are smaller, tend to taste better, and have more antioxidants than the greenhouse variety.  Because they are grown in the wild, they are exposed to more environmental challenges, so they produce more bioactive compounds that benefit people when they eat them.  If wild blueberries aren’t in season or available at your store, consider looking for unprocessed wild blueberry juice at a health food store.  You can often find wild blueberries in your store’s freezer section as well.   Try to buy organic blueberries.  A study looking at berries grown in New Jersey found that those grown organically were sweeter and contained up to 50 percent more antioxidants than those treated with chemicals.  Another study published in the journal Free Radical Biology & Medicine found that eating blueberries with milk impairs the fruit’s antioxidant power.  Enjoy the fruit with a cup of water instead.  So the next time you go to the farmer’s market or other fruit store, buy a container of blueberries, your body will thank you.

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Metabolic Syndrome: Are you at risk?

Metabolic Syndrome (also called Syndrome X) has become one of the most widely talked about health conditions in recent years.  Although it’s only been identified in the past 20 years, according to the American Heart Association, nearly 1 out of every 6 Americans have it (that’s about 47 million people).  That statistic is a little lower than the National Institutes of Health estimate which is 25% of Americans.  But why it is getting so much press lately is because it is being shown to double your risk of heart disease, heart attacks and strokes.  It also increases your risk of diabetes by 5 times.  Metabolic syndrome is not really a disease by itself but a collection of unhealthy risk factors.  According to the American Heart Association and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, there are 5 risk factors that make up metabolic syndrome:

  • Large Waist Size – For men, this means a waist of 40 inches or more.  For women, a waist of 35 inches or more.
  • High TriglyceridesEither 150 mg/dL or higher or using a cholesterol medicine
  • Low Good CholesterolEither less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women or using a cholesterol medicine
  • High Blood PressureEither having blood pressure of 130/85 mm Hg or greater or using a high blood pressure medicine.
  • Elevated Fasting Blood Glucose – Having a fasting blood glucose level of 100 mg/dL or higher

To be diagnosed with Metabolic Syndrome you need to have at least 3 of these factors.

Metabolic Syndrome is becoming more widely diagnosed, but the good news is it can be easily controlled with lifestyle changes.  In fact, one 2005 study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine showed how well lifestyle changes could prevent metabolic syndrome.  Researchers looked at more than 3,200 people who already had impaired glucose tolerance, a pre-diabetic state.  One group was instructed to make lifestyle changes. They exercised 2.5 hours a week and ate a low-calorie, low-fat diet.  After three years, people in the lifestyle group were 41% less likely to have metabolic syndrome than those who got no treatment.  The lifestyle changes were also about twice as effective as using a diabetes medicine, Glucophage.

Experts say you prevent and treat metabolic syndrome the same way.  Here are the primary ways that it is treated:

  • Exercise. Start slowly. The American Heart Association recommends, if possible, that you gradually step up to exercising on most days of the week for 30-60 minutes.  Exercise such as walking daily even in the absence of significant weight loss may normalize triglycerides.
  • Eat a healthy dietYou should follow a heart-healthy diet with lots of fruits and vegetables and few saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, and salt.
  • Get a good night’s sleep.  Emerging evidence indicates that individuals who sleep fewer than six hours per night may face an increased risk of metabolic syndrome.
  • Lose weight if you’re overweight. In order to prevent metabolic syndrome, it’s important to maintain a body mass index (BMI) lower than 25.  Women should maintain a waist measurement of less than 35 inches, while men should aim for a waist measurement of less than 40 inches.  For those with elevated blood glucose weight loss may not only return the sugar to normal levels, but in the Diabetes Prevention Study in individuals with slight elevations of blood sugar and a family history of diabetes, 20 pounds of weight loss decreased the risk for developing diabetes by 60 percent.
  • Quit smoking if you smoke — now.
  • Schedule regular checkups with your doctor. Since metabolic syndrome doesn’t have symptoms, you need regular doctor visits to check your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar.  However, research is showing that diet and lifestyle changes are more effective in reversing the condition than taking multiple medications.

Your diet is one of the most important factors in treating Metabolic Syndrome so here are some dietary recommendations:

  • Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables
  • Eat whole grains (rather than refined grains, like white rice and white bread)
  • Eat foods low in saturated fat, trans fat, and cholesterol
  • If you eat dairy, choose fat-free or low-fat dairy products
  • Have a low intake of salty foods
  • Eat few foods and beverages with added sugar

There are also some natural substances you can take that have shown positive results in improving metabolic syndrome.

Antioxidants

In a 2009 study of 374 adults, researchers found that consumption of carotenoids (a type of antioxidant found in fruits and vegetables) may help improve certain risk factors involved in metabolic syndrome. For instance, higher carotenoid intake was linked to smaller waistlines, less belly fat, and lower levels of triglycerides.  Carotenoids are naturally abundant in a number of foods, including spinach, sweet potato, red peppers, tomatoes, kale, pumpkin, carrots, papaya, and collards.

Grape Seed Extract

In a small study published in 2009, four weeks of treatment with grape seed extract appeared to decrease blood pressure in people with metabolic syndrome.  However, there were no significant changes in cholesterol levels.

Kudzu

The herb kudzu shows promise in metabolic syndrome treatment, according to preliminary research published in 2009. In tests on rats with metabolic syndrome, scientists discovered that kudzu-fed animals experienced less weight gain and had healthier levels of blood pressure, insulin, and cholesterol after two months (compared to animals that weren’t fed kudzu).

Basically, what metabolic syndrome comes down to is it is the result of an unhealthy lifestyle.  Poor diet, lack of exercise, smoking, and stress eventually has an effect on your body.  The only way it  can be remedied is to change your lifestyle and diet to adapt more healthy habits.

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Sitting Is Bad For Your Health

As you read this, you’re probably sitting, something we all do countless times a day. We sit to eat, to work, and to relax.  However, research has found that this simple action can be incredibly harmful to your health.  A recent editorial published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine suggests that people who sit still for prolonged periods of time, such as desk workers or couch potatoes, have a higher risk of disease than those who move a muscle every once in a while.  Other studies show rates of heart disease, diabetes, obesity and even certain types of cancer are doubled and even tripled in people who sit a lot.  A woman’s risk of metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes and heart disease, jumps 26% for every extra hour she sits in front of the TV, according to one study.

Researchers believe that muscle movement and contractions play a role in controlling important blood fats.  It is hypothesized that sitting stops of the circulation of lipase, an enzyme that absorbs fats.  So instead of being absorbed by your muscles, fat circulates in your bloodstream where it may end up stored as body fat, clogging arteries and contributing to disease.  Just standing up as opposed to sitting engages muscles and helps your body process fat and cholesterol in a positive way, regardless of the amount of exercise you do.  In fact, sitting for any length of time may overwhelm the benefits of exercise to the point that sitting less may be just as important as regular exercise for your health.

In fact, researchers have found that sitting not only has a negative effect on fat and cholesterol metabolism, but it also stimulates disease-promoting processes.  Even scarier, they found that exercising, even for an hour a day, does not reverse this effect.  An article on ScienceDaily.com stated that the enzymes in blood vessels of muscles responsible for burning fat are shut off within hours of not standing.  Standing or moving will re-engage the enzymes, but when people spend most of their waking hours sitting, they lose the opportunity for optimal fat metabolism throughout the day.  So if you do take the time to get regular exercise to stay healthy, you may not want to spend the time you aren’t exercising sitting because it will negate everything you just did.

Other studies found that just sitting may cause you to gain weight.  One study published in the International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders found that those who sat for 7 hours or more during the day were much more likely to be overweight than those who reported sitting for less than 5 hours a day.  In other words, just sitting may cause you to gain weight.  Another study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that the longer a man sits at a desk at work, the greater his chances are of being overweight.  In addition, that study found that same man was more likely to have back pain, leg cramps, tense muscles, and boredom.

So what if you have a job that requires you to do a lot of sitting?  What can you do?  The first step is to take the opportunity to stand rather than sit as often as you can.  Stand up while you talk on the phone, when you’re taking public transportation, or when you’re on your lunch break.  The average person can burn 60 more calories each hour just by standing instead of sitting.  Over the course, of a day this can add up to a lot of beneficial health effects.

In addition to standing, try to come up with ways that you can exercise while working. (You can check out my previous blog post on this subject for some ideas)  But here are a few other ideas:  climb the stairs rather than use the elevator, walk to ask a co-worker a question rather than calling them, drink plenty of water so you’re forced to take bathroom breaks, or just get up and stretch every 20 minutes.  According the Mayo Clinic, your body cannot tolerate being in one position for more than 20 minutes before it starts to feel uncomfortable anyhow.  So every 15-20 minutes stand up, stretch, walk around or change your position for at least 30 seconds.

The more you get up and move during the day and the more you stand instead of sit, the better your health will be.

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Garlic, From Heart Disease to the Common Cold

Garlic is good for more than just repelling people with your breath.  It’s actually one of the healthiest foods you can eat.  Its key medicinal ingredient is allicin, which is known to have wonderful anti-bacterial, anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-oxidant properties.  So here are just a few of the health benefits of garlic:

Acne – Garlic can be used in conjunction with other treatments for acne.  Because acne can be caused by numerous things including hormones, diet, and stress, garlic alone may not be as effective.  However, it has been known to help kill the bacteria that that causes acne so it is a good addition to any acne treatment protocol.

High Cholesterol – Studies have shown that taking 600-900 mg of garlic per day lowers cholesterol levels and reduces arterial plaque formation by 5-18%

Antioxidant – Allicin naturally increases antioxidant enzymes in your blood.  It can also help against the damaging effects of nicotine and slows the aging process of your liver.

Anti-Bacterial – Garlic has 1% of the potency of penicillin and can ward off a number of bacteria such as Listeria, Salmonella, E. coli, Candida albican, and Staphylococcus.  In addition, bacteria don’t develop resistance to it like they do antibiotics.  This benefit was first realized back in the early 19th century when English priests caught infectious fevers, and the French priests who ate garlic didn’t.

High Blood Pressure – Clinical trials showed that blood pressure can be reduced by 1-5% after taking garlic supplements.  This may not sound a lot but this small reduction can reduce the chance of a stroke by 30-40% and heart disease by 20-25%.  Another clinical study showed that people with high blood pressure who took garlic capsules daily for up to two months lowered their blood pressure levels as effectively as patients taking prescription blood pressure drugs. A suggested dosage is 600-900mg capsules once daily.

Sore Throat/Cough – Garlic’s antibacterial properties make it a wonderful treatment for coughs and other throat irritations. It may also reduce the severity of upper respiratory tract infections.

Diabetes – Garlic is considered to regulate blood sugar levels by increasing the release of insulin in diabetics.  Therefore an effective remedy is to take one clove or one supplement every day.

Toothaches – Garlic’s antibacterial, analgesic, and anesthetizing properties can help cure toothaches. Simply put some garlic oil or a piece of crushed garlic clove directly onto the affected tooth and the gum for instant relief.

Warts – Garlic’s ability to fight infections and bacteria makes it an effective cure for warts and other skin problems.  Take a fresh clove and cut its tip off.  Rub the cut area of the clove directly onto the wart for a few seconds.  Repeat this each night before going to bed until the wart disappears.  If you feel any kind of irritation or strong burning sensation, simply rinse the area with water.

Make sure you join us back tomorrow for how to use garlic as part of your health care regime.

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Ginger, Treating Cancer to Arthritis

Even though ginger has been used as a natural remedy for centuries, science is just now proving that it can treat everything from cancer to arthritis.  Historically, it has been very effective in alleviating symptoms of gastrointestinal distress.  It is regarded as a good eliminator of intestinal gas and a substance that relaxes and soothes the intestinal tract.  Modern scientific research has revealed that ginger possesses numerous therapeutic properties including antioxidant effects, an ability to inhibit the formation of inflammatory compounds, and direct anti-inflammatory effects.

Below are some of its research-proven health benefits:

Ovarian Cancer Treatment

Ginger may be powerful weapon in the treatment of ovarian cancer.  A study conducted at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center found that its powder induces cell death in all ovarian cancer cells to which it was applied.  Lab experiments by Dr Rebecca Liu showed that gingerols, the active phytonutrients in ginger, kill ovarian cancer cells by inducing apoptosis (programmed cell death) and autophagocytosis (self-digestion).   Ginger extracts have been shown to have both antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-tumor effects on cells.  Dr. Liu and her colleagues believe that it may be of special benefit for ovarian cancer patients because cancer cells exposed to ginger do not become resistant to its cancer-destroying effects like they do other chemotherapeutic agents.

Colon Cancer Prevention

Gingerols, the main active components in ginger, may also inhibit the growth of human colorectal cancer cells.  Researchers from the University of Minnesota’s Hormel Institute found that gingerol prevented mice from developing colorectal carcinomas when compared to a control group.  According to the researcher for this study, “These results strongly suggest that ginger compounds may be effective chemo-preventive and/or chemotherapeutic agents for colorectal carcinomas.”

Morning Sickness

A review of several studies has concluded that ginger is just as effective as vitamin B6 in the treatment of morning sickness.  Its anti-vomiting action has been shown to be very useful in reducing the nausea and vomiting of pregnancy, even the forms that require hospitalization.  A review of 6 double-blind controlled trials with a total of 675 participants confirmed that ginger is effective in relieving the severity of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.  And unlike anti-vomiting drugs, which can cause severe birth defects, ginger is extremely safe, without significant side effects, and only a small dose is required.

Motion Sickness Remedy

Recent double-blind studies have demonstrated that ginger is very effective in preventing the symptoms of motion sickness, especially seasickness.  In fact, one study showed that it was superior to Dramamine, a commonly used drug for motion sickness.  Ginger reduces all symptoms associated with motion sickness including dizziness, nausea, vomiting, and cold sweating.

Reduces Pain and Inflammation

One study showed that ginger has anti-inflammatory properties and is a powerful natural painkiller.  The gingerols are very potent anti-inflammatory compounds.  These substances are believed to explain why so many people with osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis experience reductions in their pain levels and improvements in their mobility when they consume ginger regularly. In two clinical studies involving patients who responded to conventional drugs and those who didn’t, physicians found that 75% of arthritis patients and 100% of patients with muscular discomfort experienced relief of pain and/or swelling.

Heartburn Relief

Ginger has long been used as a natural heartburn remedy. It is most often taken in the form of tea for this purpose.

Cold and Flu Prevention and Treatment

Ginger has long been used as a natural treatment for colds and the flu.  Many people also find it to be helpful in the case of stomach flus or food poisoning, which is not surprising given the positive effects it has upon the digestive tract.

Ginger can help promote healthy sweating, which is often helpful during colds and flu.  A good sweat may do a lot more than simply assist detoxification.  German researchers have recently found that sweat contains a potent germ-fighting agent that may help fight off infections which they named dermicidin.   Dermicidin is manufactured in the body’s sweat glands, secreted into the sweat, and transported to the skin’s surface where it provides protection against invading microorganisms, including bacteria such as E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus, and fungi, including Candida albicans.

Prevention of Diabetic Nephropathy

A study done on diabetic rats found that those rats given ginger had a reduced incidence of diabetic nephropathy (kidney damage).

Ginger Usage

Ginger is so concentrated with active substances that you don’t have to use very much to receive its beneficial effects.  For nausea,  tea made by steeping one or two 1/2-inch slices (one 1/2-inch slice equals 2/3 of an ounce) of fresh ginger in a cup of hot water will likely be all you need to settle your stomach.  For arthritis, some people have found relief consuming as little as a 1/4-inch slice  cooked in food, although in the studies noted above, patients who consumed more ginger reported quicker and better relief.

How to Select and Store

Whenever possible, choose fresh ginger over the dried form of the spice since it contains higher levels of gingerol.  Fresh ginger root is sold in the produce section of markets.  When purchasing it fresh, make sure it is firm, smooth and free of mold.  Ginger is generally available in two forms, either young or mature.  The mature form has a tough skin that requires peeling while the young form, usually only available in Asian markets, does not need to be peeled.  Fresh ginger can be stored in the refrigerator for up to three weeks if it is left unpeeled.  Stored unpeeled in the freezer, it will keep for up to six months.

Dried ginger powder should be kept in a tightly sealed glass container in a cool, dark and dry place.  Alternatively, you can store it in the refrigerator where it will enjoy an extended shelf life of about one year.

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