Optimism and Proactive Steps Can Beat Diabetes

By Darra McMullen,
Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher

One of the most important aspects of diabetes prevention and treatment is often overlooked and not brought to the public’s attention in a frequent and meaningful manner.  That aforementioned aspect is optimism.  Optimism about how much the individual person can do for himself/herself to affect the development of or course of the disease is one such example.

Another example is how optimism about drug treatments for diabetes can affect patient adherence to their prescribed regimens and even the outcomes to those prescribed regimens.

Additionally, the numerous available natural supplements that can positively impact blood sugar levels should be good cause for optimism.

An optimistic outlook also helps lower stress levels and the blood sugar spikes that accompany a high-stress mind-set.

In short, an optimistic attitude toward diabetes treatment and prevention can make a huge difference in the success or failure of the journey to a healthier outcome.

While we keep a positive outlook at the forefront of our minds, let’s examine some of the many tools we can use to hinder diabetes, its development, and its progression to disastrous effects.

The American Diabetes Association, traditional Western medicine, and naturopathic medicine alike agree on certain proactive steps we can all take to lower our risk of developing diabetes. The steps are also very effective in managing the disease for present diabetes patients.  Firstly, anyone can be more mindful of what he/she eats.  Healthful dietary choices are explained below, as are other widely accepted steps to avoiding/treating diabetes.

(1.) Reduce the consumption of simple carbohydrates/sugars.  Limit sodas, desserts, candy, white bread, white rice, or any source of simple carbs to an occasional treat.  The less often one stresses his/her insulin producing pancreatic cells, the longer they’ll last.  Also, the less often the body’s cells are exposed to big doses of insulin or glucose, the more likely the cells are to handle both substances properly.  The body’s cells can actually become “insulin resistant” over time.

(2.) Focus on increasing fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy or meat choices in the diet.  They are nutritious generally and help to stabilize blood sugar.  Focus on eating fish more often; it’s a good source of protein and healthy fats.

(3.) Get more active.  Anyone who can stand the idea of an organized exercise program should, by all means, pursue one.  It’s the best health choice.  If formal “exercise” either isn’t appealing or life circumstances prevent one from pursuing a formal plan at this point in time, then do anything possible to be more physically active.  Walk, dance, wash the car by hand, rake leaves, chase your kids, or do anything that gets you up and around and moving your muscles.  Physical activity improves metabolism and sugar uptake into cells, both of which improve blood sugar levels and lower body fat ratios, two important keys to preventing or treating diabetes.

(4.) Get adequate sleep.  Recent scientific studies demonstrate clearly that even young, healthy, fit adults with no pre-existing risk factors can be made to temporarily exhibit diabetic or pre-diabetic blood sugar levels by artificially depriving them of sleep (such as forced awakenings after three to four hours of sleep) for just a few days.  Similarly, weight gain occurs in test subjects deprived of sleep, even if calorie intake is carefully controlled.  Inadequate sleep is a major factor in blood sugar derangement, and sleep deprivation predisposes even healthy test subjects to weight gain, due to unfortunate chemical changes in the body that occur with inadequate rest.  Imagine the damage done by sleep deprivation in a middle-aged or older person with one or more risk factors, such as obesity or high cholesterol.

Doctors and the American Diabetes Association recommend getting seven to eight hours of sleep daily.  Sleeping less than five hours daily is associated with a substantial increase in diabetes risk, as well as an increased risk of several other serious problems.

(5.) Be mindful of your personal risk factors.  If you smoke, stop.  If diabetes, or its frequent companion ailments, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and heart trouble are prevalent in your family history, then get blood work often to check on your health situation.  See your doctor regularly for a check-up and ask lots of questions about what you can do to improve your odds of remaining healthy. Doctors sometimes don’t give out all the information needed unless prompted by a proactive patient.  (If your doctor refuses to answer questions, is vague or evasive in answering, or acts impatient or angry with questions, then it’s time to find another doctor who is more compliant and agreeable.)

If you are a member of an ethnic minority, especially African-American or Hispanic, you should be especially vigilant about monitoring your diabetes risk factors.  Sadly, diabetes is even more prevalent in these ethnic groups and less likely to be diagnosed promptly or treated effectively than in the general population.  Again, catching health problems at the pre-diabetes stage and taking proactive lifestyle steps to halt and reverse the progression of the disease at this point is the best choice.

(6.) Maintain or obtain a “can do” attitude, and take small, manageable steps to better health. Realizing that managing personal lifestyle choices (and therefore, your diabetes risk) is truly in your hands can go a long way to helping you take charge of your health.  Most of the major threats to our health, such as heart disease, diabetes, and even Alzheimer’s, can be delayed, alleviated, or sometimes avoided altogether by our positive, proactive health choices. Local Houston general practitioner, Dr. Ron Buescher, urges everyone at risk for diabetes due to overweight or obesity to think about the following statistic.  For every five-pound increase in body weight, diabetes risk doubles; conversely, for every five pounds lost, diabetes risk is cut by half.  Buescher urges anyone needing to lose body fat to set small, manageable goals.  Even modest weight loss of 5, 10, or 15 pounds can produce dramatic changes in body chemistry and reduce diabetes risk.  Buescher noted that even if a patient never reaches his/her “ideal” weight according to standard charts, huge improvements in health can be reaped by lesser accomplishments, and he urges patients not to “throw in the towel” and give up on healthy lifestyle choices simply because the patient is not “ideal” in the eyes of a standardized measurement.  Also, Buescher noted, that setting small, attainable goals is much more likely to bring long lasting success than trying to lose vast quantities of weight all at once, or completely overhauling one’s diet and sleep patterns in a few weeks.  “All or nothing” thinking leads a lot of people down a road to failure.  The American Diabetes Association echoes those same sentiments in their patient education materials.

Similarly, Buescher stated that a patient’s outlook on life in general can go a long way to reducing diabetes risk.  He gave examples, such as cutting the number of stressful moments (and therefore reducing blood sugar and blood pressure spikes) by changing our attitudes to common stressful situations, like being stuck in traffic or a grocery store line or dealing with an annoying relative or co-worker.  Calming down, looking at a situation from several points of view, and thinking through a constructive, healthy response put us back in control of our emotions and health.  By not seeing ourselves as helpless victims (or vengeful aggressors) of either everyday stresses or of diseases like diabetes, we are able to think and act in constructive ways that can help ourselves and others.  Buescher’s advice is again echoed – this time in Prevention magazine’s companion publication, Outsmart Diabetes, which details on p. 85 (winter issue, 2011) the results of a study indicating that patients with the most proactive attitude traits and the least number of angry or victimized attitudes had the best blood sugar control.

There are additional options for treating/avoiding onset of diabetes to be found in the naturopathic world of vitamin, mineral, herb, and food supplementation. For example, the book, Prescription for Nutritional Healing, has an 11-page section on diabetes treatment/avoidance.  Among the favored supplements for the condition are the following:  alpha-lipoic acid, chromium picolinate, garlic extract, L-carnitine, vanadyl sulfate, B-complex with extra biotin and inositol, zinc, CoQ10, magnesium, manganese, dandelion root, fenugreek seeds, juniper berries, and huckleberry.  Dosages and explanations of benefit are detailed thoroughly in the book.  Naturopathic doctors, health food stores, and numerous natural healing books and magazines can give additional insight.

There are so many ways to fight against the health robbing disease, diabetes, that to list them all would overwhelm the space for this relatively short web article, but because there are so many ways to resist insulin resistance (or insulin insufficiency), all the more reason to be optimistic about battling diabetes – and winning the fight!

Improve Brain Health with “Anti-Alzheimer’s” Health Tips

With some 5.7 million Americans presently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and many more patients to follow as our country’s population ages, this devastating brain disease is poised to be one of the leading causes of disability, death, financial ruination, and heartbreaking loss for years to come.

For now, there are no cures for Alzheimer’s disease.  Even drugs intended to lessen or slow down the advance of symptoms can work far better (or worse) for one patient than for another.  There are no certain preventives, either; although, there are some steps we can take to help delay onset of the condition and preserve a higher level of cognition for a longer time into our futures.

While we wait for scientific discovery to fill in the blanks about Alzheimer’s causes, treatments, and hopefully, cures, there are some things we can do to help ourselves delay onset of the disease or slow its effects if the ailment is already active.  This Alzheimer’s article will focus on a variety of these brain health issues.

Tips for Preserving Brain Health:

– Every person should work to ensure good heart health first. Some of the strongest evidence for improving cognitive function resides with making improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and obesity.

– Get or stay physically active. “Exercise” of any kind is helpful to the brain, but aerobic exercise has been shown to grow the volume of brain regions that tend to shrink during aging.

– People should stay or get cognitively active. Being engaged with the world intellectually over the course of a person’s life is one of the best ways to preserve brain function.  Reading, writing letters, learning a new skill, tinkering with a home improvement or decorative project, or playing challenging games that require thought, planning, or responding to novel situations are all examples of ways to positively stimulate the brain and improve cognitive health.

– Be social in daily life. More active social lives are associated with higher levels of cognition, both in scientific study results and by informal report.  Conversely, loneliness is associated with poor brain function, as well as an increase in mental illnesses like depression.

– Avoiding depression is another way to improve the odds of avoiding cognitive decline. Depression in middle age is linked to a doubling of risk of cognitive decline in later years.  The association between the two conditions is not a clear case of cause and effect, but depressive symptoms in a person should be addressed promptly, both for the relief of the depression and for lowering risk of other brain issues in the future.

– Various studies point to a relationship between poor sleep and cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Sleep apnea sufferers are known to have an especial risk for memory problems and other types of cognitive impairment due to their brains being deprived of oxygen several times each night while sleeping.One of the more interesting studies to come to the public’s attention recently showed the importance of doing at least some side sleeping each night.  Sleeping on the side, left or right, has been shown to do a better job of clearing protein build-up in the brain than either back or stomach sleeping. Getting the recommended 7 – 9 hours of sleep per day is also important to both everyday mental clarity and to overall brain health in the future.

– Dietary tweaks that can have significant impact on cognitive function have been in the news lately. One such interesting study comes from Penn State researchers, who report that consuming three cups of mushrooms weekly can slow brain aging by 30% and can halt the development of dementia.  Much of mushrooms brain saving properties come from two compounds, ergothioneine and glutathione, that work together to keep blood vessels free of plaque and sturdy, thereby improving circulation to the brain.

– Another surprising dietary tidbit comes from a study described in the journal, Current Neuropharmacology, which detailed how polyphenols and chlorogenic acid, which are natural compounds, have been found to help ward off dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. Even more interesting is that eggplant is loaded with these above-mentioned natural compounds, as well as nasunin, an anti-aging anti-oxidant that is known to help strengthen protective neural membranes and improve blood flow to the brain.  So, eat generously when consuming the beautiful purple eggplant; it can do more for the brain than anyone ever suspected!

Hopefully, these brain health tips will prove useful to your overall pro-health program.  Go forth and fight back against the brain robbing disease of Alzheimer’s and the related forms of dementia!

Part 2 – Confronting Alzheimer’s Disease

Part 1 of this month’s article on Alzheimer’s disease focused largely on aspects of lifestyle that can improve cognitive health, as well as a couple of dietary tips. Now, in Part 2, let’s look, briefly, at what Alzheimer’s disease is and its symptoms and then touch on a few more dietary tips that can help dissuade dementia.

The Alzheimer’s Association defines AD as “an irreversible, progressive brain disease that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills, eventually even the ability to carry out the simplest tasks.”  The disease was identified first by a German physician, Alois Alzheimer, in 1906, after performing an autopsy on a woman who’d been suffering severe memory loss and confusion for years.  It was during this autopsy that Dr. Alzheimer discovered the plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that we now know are the hallmarks of the degenerative brain disease.

Alzheimer’s disease is believed to be caused by an abnormal build-up of certain proteins in the brain.  One of these proteins is beta amyloid, which accumulates and forms plaques outside of the brain’s nerve cells.  Tau is another abnormal protein, which can proliferate and bunch up into tangles inside the nerve cells.  Eventually, these nerve cells die from the toxic build-up of proteins, and the stage is set for the gradual decline of mental function from Alzheimer’s disease.  Presently, it is unclear whether Alzheimer’s patients simply “overproduce” the troublesome proteins or whether the patients are simply unable to clear away the normally produced proteins in an efficient manner due to factors that are not presently fully understood.  More research will fill in the missing pieces in time.  Meanwhile, we should be cognizant of symptoms of the disease in ourselves and in others.  Like any other ailment, the sooner a problem is addressed, the greater the likelihood of some relief of symptoms, at least for a while.

Keep in mind, however, that Alzheimer’s disease is presently always fatal.

The Alzheimer’s Association has a list of 10 warning signs of possible Alzheimer’s disease affliction in a patient.  It’s important to note that these symptoms also may be indicative of other types of dementia or even other conditions, such as depression or dehydration.

If you or a loved one exhibits any of the symptoms listed below, please see a doctor as soon as possible to determine the nature of the problem and get appropriate treatment.

The ten warning signs are as follows:

(1.) Memory loss that disrupts daily life, (2.) Challenges in planning or solving problems, (3) Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, at work, or at leisure, (4.) Confusion with time or place, (5.)Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, (6.) New problems with words in speaking or writing, (7.) Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, (8.) Decreased or poor judgment, (9.) Withdrawal from work or social activities, (10.) Changes in mood and personality.

There are so many forms of dementia, that it is crucial to get an accurate diagnosis, so as to receive an effective treatment.  Some forms of dementia and some physical ills that have a cognitive or emotional component have much rosier outcome potentials than Alzheimer’s disease; they also have much different treatment protocols than Alzheimer’s, again making accurate diagnosis and treatment of paramount importance.  Always consult dementia experts if Alzheimer’s is suspected.

While we wait for scientific research to lead us down the road to greater understanding of this dreaded condition, we should avail ourselves of possible aids to avoiding or forestalling the development of dementia.

Here are a few more tips to help retain your good cognitive function for as long as possible:

– Boston University research shows that adults whose diets are rich in the essential B-vitamin, choline, perform better on memory tests and have fewer signs of impaired thinking skills with age. A natural source of choline is egg yolk, and consuming eggs regularly is recommended to help provide this necessary nutrient.  Choline is also available in supplement form for those persons needing or preferring to avoid eggs.

– Avocados are very rich in ultra-healthy mono-unsaturated fats as well as lutein. Mono-unsaturated fats promote blood flow to the brain, while lutein is known to enhance both mood and memory.  Be sure to include avocados in the diet for brain health, as well as the fruit’s well-known heart health benefits.

– One other “heart healthy” food that aids brain function is olive oil. Olive oil consumption among studied adults found that those persons who consumed olive oil regularly were 60% less likely to have cognition problems.  Another olive oil study – this one from Spain – found that women who consumed a teaspoon of the oil daily performed better on “brainteaser” exercises after 30 days on the regimen.

– A study detailed in Scientific Reports found that drinking a glass of red or white wine can help clear the toxins out of the brain, including those associated with Alzheimer’s disease. Just be sure to stick to one glass a few times per week.  Excess wine consumption (or excessive alcohol of any kind) can harm brain cells and other aspects of health.

– Canadian scientists have found that consuming one-third cup of peanuts or 2 Tbs. of sugar-free peanut butter per day sharpens memory by 41% and reduces the risk of cognitive decline by 37%. Manganese, copper, and p-Coumaric acid found in peanuts speed healing of damaged neurons, especially if not paired with brain-aging sugars.

– Finnish researchers have found that consuming three cups of bell peppers per week reduces risk of memory lapses and premature brain aging by 55%. Additionally, the colorful peppers are naturally rich in carotenoids, which are compounds that help to strengthen the capillaries that bring blood and nutrients to the cells of the brain.  As a result of this better blood flow, research subjects exhibited brain function comparable to that of brains approximately six years younger than the actual ages of the test subjects.

Hopefully, the information in this article and its previous companion piece posted on Sept. 12, 2018 will have given you some additional weapons to use to fight the looming specter of dementia.  Most reports close to Alzheimer’s research seem to “feel” that some breakthroughs are not too many years in the future.  However long the wait turns out to be, let’s use the tools we have now to preserve our irreplaceable cognitive health.

All the best to you and your brain!

Darra McMullen is a Women’s Health Network Writer and Researcher.

Moving Towards Better Nutrition

Nutrition Overview

We’ve all heard or read in the media that we should focus our diets on more unprocessed, natural foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, whole grains, and lean meats.  Likewise, we are urged to eat low-fat dairy, “healthy” fats, and natural sweeteners and top it all off with generous amounts of plain water.  While all of the above is sound dietary advice, we are not always aware of exactly why we should be following it.  What, then, do the above foods provide our bodies that some other type of food would not?  What do our bodies need to function at peak performance?  Is it possible to get peak performance from healthy foods alone, or are supplements really needed?

To answer the above questions, we should look first at what our bodies require, and then examine what the above listed food groups can contribute to our well-being.

Our bodies require water, carbohydrates, proteins, and fats (the “macro” nutrients), as well as vitamins and minerals (”micro” nutrients), and other less well- known micronutrients in order to survive.  Optimal levels of these “macro” and “micro” nutrients can mean the difference between just surviving and living life to its fullest potential (and length) as is presently known to mankind.

Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains provide carbohydrates, certain vitamins and minerals, fiber (a type of carbohydrate resistant to the body’s digestive enzymes), and phytonutrients (also known as phytochemicals) that are key components to preventing cancer and other physical maladies.  (Small amounts of other nutrients, such as protein, may also be present.)

Meats (including fish), dairy products, eggs, nuts, seeds, legumes (beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts), and the various soy products provide proteins, vitamins, minerals, and fats.  (Again, small amounts of other nutrients, such as carbohydrates, may be present.)

By consuming foods from all of these categories, we improve our nutritional balance and spectrum considerably and give our bodies what they need to survive.

Eating the above types of food in a “processed” form, that is to say in any way that has been significantly “added to” or “taken away from” the food’s naturally occurring state results in poorer nutrition for the individual.  For example, processed grains have had their naturally occurring outer layers removed, taking away much needed vitamins, minerals, and fiber.  Bleached flour has had virtually all nutrition removed, leaving only the basic, most sugar-like, simple carbohydrates intact.  Processed meats have had significant amounts of salt, sugar, and worse yet, cancer-causing preservatives added to them.  Processed fruits and vegetables have often lost nutrients through high heat processing and gained unneeded salt or sugar to improve flavor, which was lost through processing.

To preserve nutrition, always opt for fresh or frozen choices with simple preparation techniques.

In summary of the above, we can give our bodies excellent “survival gear” by eating a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy, whole grains, legumes, nuts, seeds, and lots of plain water, and by obtaining these food types in their most naturally occurring, unprocessed state, we give our bodies another nutritional advantage.

Are all of the above going to enable us to live our lives to full physical potential?  Evidence shows that it is unlikely, especially given our busy, stressful lives, and our modern food supply that is no longer as “micro” nutrient dense as it once was years ago.  To maximize our physical potential, we will, in most cases, need supplements for the “micro” nutrients.

Even with adherence to superior dietary standards, we simply can’t get optimal “micro” nutrition through diet alone.  Several scientific studies have shown that modern fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, seeds, and legumes aren’t as “micro” nutritious now as they used to be, even 50 to 100 years ago before recent farming practices were put into widespread use, and the herbivores (such as cattle, poultry, pigs) that we also consume are not as nutritious for us now either because they consume plant-based feed that isn’t as nutrient packed as it once was.

To make humans’ nutritional outlook even more precarious is our present state of always being “on-the-go”, too busy, and stressed.  Adherence to excellent dietary standards often falls by the wayside, even among the most well-intentioned, positively focused individuals.  To complicate matters further, our stressful lifestyles put additional demands on our bodies, causing them to need more micronutrients to handle the extra performance we ask of our physical and emotional selves.

To help ensure optimal “micro” nutritional intake, supplements are needed.  With the wide array of options available, what are the basics desired, and how best do we get them?

If time or budget constraints are severe, then an individual’s only option may be to take a well-known national brand multivitamin/mineral or a store brand equivalent.  Supplements of this type are quick, fairly inexpensive, and contain a small amount of several different nutrients.  However, the nutrient concentrations are not optimal in amount, nor are all needed nutrients included in the formulation.  Still, if money or time is a concern, taking one of these supplements is better than not taking supplements at all.

A better (and more expensive) choice is to supplement most vitamins and minerals individually or in small, related groups; less popularly discussed micronutrients, such as bioflavonoids or grape seed extract, can also be added to a person’s daily routine with relative ease if individual supplementation is his/ her norm.  Individual nutrient supplementation leads to much more precise nutritional enhancement and allows each person to customize his/her supplement regimen to meet personal needs.  If taking advantage of this method of supplementation, it is very important to know what dosage levels will help prevent a person from taking too much or too little of a given nutrient and suffering symptoms of overdose or deficiency.  Even if an individual person chooses to take a single multivitamin/mineral, awareness of optimal dosing is still a benefit in that it allows the person to gauge the desirability of a particular product and also gives the individual an idea of where his/her nutritional regimen is weak.

The subsequent list of vitamin, mineral, and other micronutrient recommendations (detailed below) is taken from the popular and comprehensive nutrition book, Prescription for Natural Healing, by Phyllis A. Balch.  Other nutritional guides echo similar “Optimum Daily Intakes”, as they are termed in Balch’s book, for superior health.

Please note that dosages listed are intended as a general guide for normal, healthy adults without pre-existing conditions, such as severe illness, pregnancy, smoking, alcoholism, recovery from surgery, etc.  Special conditions may call for more or less of certain nutrients, and special needs should be investigated thoroughly before proceeding with a supplement plan.  Always consult with your physician before proceeding with a supplement plan.

Also, please note that the dosages listed are often greater for many nutrients than are commonly found among government DVs (Daily Values) or RDAs (Recommended Daily Allowances).  The reason for this seeming disparity is that the focus of this article is on attaining optimal nutrition, not on merely getting enough of each nutrient to avoid deficiency diseases and providing a basic level of health, as is the case with government issued standards.

The optimal micronutrient dosing list is as follows:  Vitamin A – 5,000 to 10,000 I.U.; Carotenoid complex – 5,000 to 25,000 I.U.; Vitamin B-complex – 50mg., except for the following six “B” family members, whose dosages should be as indicated, B12 (200-400 mcg.), Biotin (400-800 mcg.), Folic acid (400-800 mcg.), Choline and Inositol (50-200 mg. each), and PABA (10-50mg.); Vitamin C – 1,000 to 3,000 mg. in divided doses; Bioflavonoids (mixed) – 200 to 500 mg.; Hesperidin – 50 to 100 mg.; Rutin – 25 mg.; Vitamin D3 (cholecalciferol) – at least 400 I.U., 2,000 to 6,000 I.U. is preferable according to many current sources; Vitamin E – 200 to 400 I.U.; Calcium (citrate, ascorbate, malate) 1,500 to 2,000 mg.; Magnesium – 750 to 1,000 mg.; Iron – 18 to 30 mg.; Zinc – 30 to 50 mg.

A number of other minerals are required for excellent health.  Many of these minerals, including boron, chromium, copper, germanium, iodine, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, silicon, sulfur, and vanadium, are considered trace minerals because they are needed by the body in such small amounts.  Consider supplementing these minerals with a trace mineral combination supplement from a health food store.  Supplementation of these minerals is especially important if dietary intake of healthy foods is low.

Numerous other micronutrients can improve health additionally and should be supplemented individually as personal needs and budgets permit.  “Optional” supplements include (but are by no means limited to) the following: Coenzyme Q10, garlic extract, lecithin, grape seed extract, lutein/lycopene, ginkgo biloba, octacosanol, spirulina, quercetin, and glucosamine and chondroitin sulfate.  Follow product label directions for proper dosing.

A few final thoughts for improving dietary nutrition are in order.  To preserve nutritional content of foods when cooking, consider using low to medium heat and generous quantities of plain water.  Season the cooking water generously; add small amounts of fat if desired.  Simmer gently for a longer time than would be needed with high heat.  Then serve part or all of the seasoned cooking fluid as part of the meal.  It is tasty, filling, and contains important nutrients that cook out of the food.  The low to medium cooking temps help prevent destruction of nutrients and also help prevent the formation of cancer causing substances known to occur when foods, especially meats, are cooked at high temperatures.  However, be careful to cook foods, especially meats, at 165 degrees for at least ten minutes to kill harmful bacteria.

Eat healthily, cook gently, supplement wisely, and most of all, live long and well!

Darra McMullen is a Women’s Health Network Writer and Researcher.

Important Vaccines and Healthy Travel Tips, Part One

For many people, August is a time of transition into something new and a time for completion of summer time goals. During the month of August and often extending into the first two weeks of September, people take their final summer trips, start new school routines, and slowly push toward concluding summer’s more relaxed, if very hot, pace of life. People start thinking about the details of fall’s activities.
End-of-summer vacations, new school years, and fall trips for business or personal needs all have a few things in common from a health standpoint. Those things are: (1) immunizations for the whole family, not just the kids, and (2) helpful tips on how to stay healthy while traveling.
There is so much information about these two topics – immunizations and healthy travel – that as the writer of this article, I’ve decided it would be best to divide all of this information into two parts for easier reading “consumption”. So, this month, we’ll have two installments to our story; the first one, which you are reading now, will include some vaccine information and healthy travel tips.

Part 1 of Vaccine Information


To get started, let’s take a look at one of the most commonly discussed (and used) immunizations, the flu vaccine. Influenza vaccines, although not perfect, have many benefits and are certainly worth getting. Some people criticize the vaccines by saying they received the immunization and still got the flu. That is certainly possible. Flu vaccines can’t possibly cover every strain of influenza out in the public; however, they can cover some of the most common ones, making you less vulnerable to those disease strains. Although immunity conferred by the vaccine is not 100%, if you do contract one of the flu strains for which you have been vaccinated, your symptoms will likely be far less severe and last less long than had you not been vaccinated.
Also, getting a flu vaccine is very helpful to those persons around you, especially the very young, the very old, or the sick or disabled, all of whom are at much greater risk of developing life-threatening complications than a healthy young adult or middle aged person would be.
The flu vaccine takes about two weeks after injection to confer optimal immunity; so, again, start early for best results. However, even if you don’t get the vaccine until late in the flu season, it is better to get it late than never.
Flu vaccinations come in the trivalent variety (meaning protection against three types of flu) or the “quad”, meaning protection against four strains of flu. The “quad” vaccine isn’t always available everywhere, although it is a better choice from an immunity standpoint. If you can find the “quad” vaccine, get it. If the “quad” is not available to you, by all means, get the trivalent variety of injection. You’d be better off with a trivalent vaccine than none at all.
Serious complications can result from contracting the flu, such as pneumonia, dehydration, and even heart attacks. The flu is a serious disease with life-threatening possibilities. Take every precaution not to contract it.
Another fairly recently discovered benefit of getting vaccinated for influenza is a noticeable reduction in the risk of death from cardiac related events, such as heart attack, stroke, or heart failure. A review of six studies of more than 6,700 adults who were vaccinated for the flu indicated a 36% reduction in death by cardiac related causes. This 2015 report was based on information from Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, Canada.


As mentioned above, pneumonia is a serious complication of the flu. However, pneumonia occurs quite often with no flu virus present. Often (mistakenly) thought of as a disease only for the very aged or for people with pre-existing conditions, in reality, pneumonia can strike anyone of any age at any time with little warning. For instance, something as commonplace as a light head cold can initiate a set of circumstances that allow pneumonia germs to take hold of a person. If the patient has a lot of sinus drainage down the back of the throat and into the chest, a secondary bacterial infection can “set up shop” in the wet, mucous coated lung tissue and/or bronchial tubes, resulting in pneumonia. Pneumonia can be quite difficult to eradicate in some patients. Weeks of downtime and multiple rounds of antibiotics may be necessary to clear pneumonia. Some weaker victims may never fully recover, keeping a low-grade cough and crushing fatigue for the rest of their lives. It is far better to prevent pneumonia than to have to endure it or its treatment options.
Fortunately for us, there are some vaccine choices for preventing pneumonia. Which type of vaccine you should receive is somewhat dependent on when, if ever, you were vaccinated in the past for pneumonia and what type of vaccine you received at the time of your last injection. You can be vaccinated for pneumonia more than once, but vaccines should be spaced apart properly. Consult with your doctor to figure out a proper pneumonia vaccination set-up for your personal needs.


Measles cases have been on the rise in Europe and the U.S. over the past few years. In 2011, there were 10,000 cases of measles in France alone, with thousands of other cases spread over several European countries in recent years. Although American statistics aren’t that dire yet, the U.S. has seen a concerning increase in numbers of measles cases. Travel between Europe and the U.S. is thought to contribute to an increase in cases in the States, along with “under-vaccination” of children. Adults in the U.S. may either not have been vaccinated properly as children, or vaccines from decades ago may no longer be providing adequate protection against the disease. In any case, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention here in the U.S. recommends that all children and adults have their measles vaccines updated to stem the tide of measles proliferation.

Part 1 of Tips for Healthy Travel:

  • If traveling out of the United States, start researching vaccine recommendations well in advance of your trip’s start date. Check with your doctor, as well as city, state, and national health authorities for advice on what diseases are prevalent in your destination country. If the consensus of your research points to the need for multiple vaccines, start early in receiving them, so that you may space out the vaccines, thereby allowing your immune system a chance to adjust to the challenges and work up immunity to the various diseases.
    It doesn’t hurt to contact the visitor’s bureau (or similar entity) or health authorities in your destination country for their requirements (if any) or recommendations for vaccines. They can also be of assistance in advising you about what diseases are prevalent in their country for which there are no vaccines, and for which you may need to be prepared with precautions or medicines.
  • When at a hotel or motel, prepare to clean the television remote, the alarm clock, ice bucket, and door handles yourself. Take along (or purchase soon after arriving) disinfecting wipes or rubbing alcohol (90% or greater) and paper towels. Maids rarely, if ever, clean these germ-infested items; so, “traveler beware”.
  • Another pair of areas of likely contamination are the steering wheels and gearshifts of rental cars. The aforementioned items are rarely cleaned by car rental companies. Again, use your own disinfecting materials.
  • There is some good news about airport restaurants and healthful eating. At 15 major U.S. airports, an average of 83% of restaurants have at least one vegetarian item on the menu now, as compared with 57% about 14 years ago. Most airport restaurants also now offer one or more low-fat or low-calorie meals.
  • Stick with bottled water or canned beverages on airplanes. Many airlines don’t stock enough bottled water for everyone. When the bottled supply runs out, flight attendants may resort to using the airplane’s water system, which the EPA found to be contaminated with coliform bacteria in 15% of planes, as reported by AARP in 2013.

Often, you can buy bottled water in the airport yourself before boarding to be extra safe.

Darra McMullen is a Women’s Health Network Writer and Researcher.

Everyday Help for Anxiety and Depression

Anxiety and depression are two of the most common mental health disorders in the United States, especially among women. Each condition is worthy of its own article and will get one in the upcoming few weeks, but first, let’s begin our investigation of anxiety and depression by taking a look at some of the recent news pertaining to these two conditions. Then, in January, we’ll dive deeper into each condition with more in-depth information.

Recent News about Anxiety and Depression:

  • There really are good reasons for adult coloring books; they are not just a fad. Among other benefits, coloring produces relaxing alpha brain waves, which can cut stress in half in 10 minutes, thereby relieving feelings of anxiety. The repetitive motion and fine motor control needed to color are thought to produce the calming alpha brain waves, according to British researchers.
  • People prone to worrying and anxiety over worst-case scenarios should take notice of this next piece of good news. A new study published in the journal, Cognition and Emotion, shows that the vast majority of people are much more capable of handling failure than they imagine themselves to be. Study subjects were asked to predict how well they would respond to badly failing a test and were then given an exam that was secretly set up for everyone to fail. Even people who predicted they would suffer greatly from failing an exam faired much better emotionally than their predictions had indicated. Because failure is often much scarier in our imaginations than in reality, people, even emotionally fragile ones, are quite a bit more capable of handling set-backs than they believe themselves to be.
  • Green tea, long known for its many health benefits, is now documented to assist with the fight against depression. Researchers at the Tohoku University in Sendai, Japan found that people who consumed two to three cups of green tea daily were about 40% less likely to report feeling depressed than those who drank one cup or less daily. The antioxidants in green tea are thought to reduce levels of cortisol, a stress hormone in the body associated with depression. Freshly brewed green tea has superior levels of antioxidants than bottled green tea; however, any green tea is better than none for providing increased antioxidants in the diet. The Japanese green tea study was featured in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
  • An interesting finding about pro-biotic foods, such as yogurt, was published by an Irish researcher. Ted Dinan, MD, PhD, and a professor of psychiatry, concluded in a meta-analysis that pro-biotic foods helped relieve depression, chronic fatigue, and other mood disorders. “Good” bacteria in the gut are thought to help produce serotonin and other beneficial chemicals in the brain.

Researchers are still studying how much of various pro-biotic foods will be needed to provide an “effective dose” for mood disorder relief.

  • Exercise has been shown by several studies to be “nature’s antidepressant”, relieving symptoms of depression by as much, or more than, medication for mild to moderate depression cases. Even sufferers of severe depression can gain some benefit from exercise; regular exercise can enable some patients with severe symptoms to reduce the amount of medication they take.
    One Norwegian study that tracked 39,000 people for two years concluded that participants who reported doing moderate-to-high levels of activity for more than 30 minutes on a daily (or near daily) basis scored significantly lower on tests of anxiety and depression than did non-exercisers.
  • Recently conducted research from Japan found that manicures stimulate acupressure points in the fingertips and nail beds that soothe the amygdala, the brain’s anxiety center; manicures can help induce calm for up to eight hours. Even when times are especially busy or rushed, try giving yourself a fingertip and nail bed massage to reduce feelings of anxiousness or nervousness. According to the Japanese research, levels of anxiety can be cut by 25% or more following fingertip massage.
  • Think of saffron when looking for a natural helper to fight depression. Saffron is a spice derived from a small, blue crocus, and saffron has been used for centuries in traditional medicine as a potent antidepressant. Saffron’s “active ingredient” is crocetin, which appears to enhance blood flow to the brain.

The country of Iran has conducted research on saffron and found that 30 mg. per day of saffron powder (about one-tenth of a teaspoon) relieved mild-to-moderate depression symptoms as effectively as standard doses of certain antidepressant medications. This is intriguing, early research that bears further investigation. Talk to your doctor if you are interested in treating depression with saffron and never stop taking currently prescribed depression medication without a physician’s advice.

  • Older women, please take note. A coffee habit may be helping you more than you know. Researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston examined health and lifestyle data on 50,739 women (average age 63) for more than 10 years. The study found that women who drank two to three cups of coffee per day were 15% less likely to develop clinical depression than those women who drank one or fewer cups daily. Decaffeinated coffee had no effect on depression, either positively or negatively. Caffeine is known to increase production of dopamine and other brain neurotransmitters that help regulate moods, and therefore, caffeine is theorized to be the active ingredient in coffee responsible for the protective benefits.
  • Research conducted at the Institute of Psychology, Health and Society at Liverpool in the United Kingdom found that ruminating about traumatic life events were a leading cause of anxiety and depression. However, people surveyed in the study that reported dealing with their trauma in a constructive manner, such as by talking with loved ones about the trauma, were less likely to experience anxiety and depression.
  • A study from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center points to a link between the color of night-light bulb emission and depression symptoms. Animals exposed to dim white or blue light at night were twice as likely to exhibit depressive symptoms as animals exposed to red or no light at all.

Study authors urge humans to use night-lights and clocks that emit dim red lights and avoid blue/green or white lights for two to three hours prior to bedtime.

  • Don’t forget the importance of an “attitude of gratitude” and of the benefits of helping others. Both scientific study and anecdotal experience have shown us that thoughts of gratitude for the positive things in our lives and altruistic behaviors can brighten our moods and calm anxious nerves.
    Gratitude and service to others are remarkable in their abilities to improve the mental states of the anxious or depressively afflicted, as well as to the improvement of the greater community.
  • Finally, remember the compelling effects color in our environments can have on our moods. Certain colors have been shown in studies to help calm nervous emotions or to lighten dark moods.

Blues and pinks help to calm nervous or worried feelings, while greens, yellows, and oranges are considered uplifting colors that brighten low, depressive moods.

Hopefully, these news “briefs” will present readers with some constructive, everyday options for assisting themselves or loved ones in the fight against anxiety or depression disorders.

Darra McMullen is a Women’s Health Network Writer and Researcher.


Greater Houston Women's Chamber of Commerce | 3201 Kirby Dr., Suite 400 Houston, TX 77098 | 713.782.3777

© 2017 Greater Houston Women’s Chamber of Commerce. All rights reserved. Powered by ASTOUNDZ