All Posts tagged heart disease

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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Carrots: More Than Just Good for the Eyes

I remember growing up and being told to eat my carrots because they are good for my eyes.  Now as I sit here writing this post wearing my glasses that are never far from my face, I start to wonder if…  But I guess we shouldn’t look back but always look forward towards what we can do to improve our health.  And eating your carrots should definitely be on your list of things to do.

Carrots are actually one of the most nutritious vegetables that can easily fit into your diet.  They are an excellent source of beta carotene (which is converted to vitamin A by the body) and vitamins C, D, E, K, B1 and B6.  They are also rich in biotin, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, organic sodium and some trace minerals.  The known phytonutrients in carrots are lutein, lycopene, anti-oxidants alpha, beta and gamma carotenes, falcarinol, zeaxanthin and xanthophyll.  All of these are helpful in promoting healing in the body.

Carrots are by far one of the richest source of carotenoids (one cup provides 16,679 IUs of beta-carotene or roughly 686.3% the RDA for vitamin A).  High carotenoid intake has been linked with a 20% decrease in postmenopausal breast cancer and an up to 50% decrease in the incidence of cancers of the bladder, cervix, prostate, colon, larynx, and esophagus. Extensive human studies suggest that a diet including as little as one carrot per day could conceivably cut the rate of lung cancer in half.  A recent National Cancer Institute study found lung cancer occurrence was higher in men whose diets did not supply a healthy intake of alpha-carotene.

Heart Disease

When six epidemiological studies that looked at the association of diets high in carotenoids and heart disease were reviewed, the research demonstrated that high-carotenoid diets are associated with a reduced risk of heart disease.  In one study that examined the diets of 1,300 elderly persons in Massachusetts, those who had at least one serving of carrots and/or squash each day had a 60% reduction in their risk of heart attacks compared to those who ate less than one serving of these carotenoid-rich foods per day.  In addition, potash succinate, a nutrient found in carrot, is said to have anti hypertensive drug properties, making it useful for those suffering from high blood pressure.

Vision

Beta-carotene helps to protect vision, especially night vision.  After beta-carotene is converted to vitamin A in the liver, it travels to the retina where it is transformed into rhodopsin, a purple pigment that is necessary for night-vision.  Plus beta-carotene’s powerful antioxidant actions help provide protection against macular degeneration and the development of senile cataracts, the leading cause of blindness in the elderly.

Blood Sugar

Intake of foods such as carrots that are rich in carotenoids may be beneficial to blood sugar regulation.  Research has suggested that physiological levels, as well as dietary intake, of carotenoids may be inversely associated with insulin resistance and high blood sugar levels.

Colon Cancer

Although best known for their high content of beta carotene, carrots also contain a phytonutrient called falcarinol that may be responsible for the association between frequently eating carrots and a reduced risk of cancers.  A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry showed that falcarinol provided protection against colon cancer in laboratory animals.

In addition, these other health benefits are supposed to come from carrots:

  • Known to be good for the health of the spleen and stomach.
  • Believed to have antiseptic properties and prevent numerous infections.
  • Good for healthy skin, hair and bones.
  • Its soup is a popular home remedy for diarrhea.
  • Its juice helps relieve stress and fatigue and makes you feel energized.
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