We took a look at stress reduction during the second half of December 2018 and the first two weeks of January 2019 to help us close out one year and begin another with a more peaceful and centered frame of mind.

To continue our health journey into the new year on a positive track, we’ll now examine some of the ways we can reduce our risk of developing cancer, any cancer, and we’ll shine a brief spotlight on cervical cancer, a topic of especial importance to women.

Firstly, let’s jog our memories of some anti-cancer basics.  Then we’ll take a look at some less well-known tips for preventing cancer.

Here are some basic, everyday cautions to heed when wanting to reduce cancer risk:

  •  Don’t use tobacco products of any kind.  They either directly increase risk of certain cancers, such as those of the lungs or mouth, or the tobacco products increase the risk of other diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, thereby weakening the body and leaving it more susceptible to cancers of any kind.
  •  Use alcoholic products modestly and with common sense.  Alcohol abuse or overindulgence sickens and weakens the body in general, and the liver in particular, leaving the liver and other organs more prone to malignant growths.
  •  Consume a varied and balanced diet with heavy use of vegetables, fruit, nuts, seeds, legumes, eggs, fish, and lean meats, as well as whole grains and (preferably organic) dairy products.  Be sure to include some fat, both saturated and unsaturated, to get a healthy spectrum of fatty acids in the diet. Think variety, balance, and moderation in all dietary categories.
  •  Be sure to get adequate sleep.  The body’s immune system doesn’t function at its best without proper rest, and if only working at “half speed”, the immune system may miss those few stray malignant cells in the body that are best killed now rather than later – after they’ve become a full-fledged cancerous tumor.

Now, we’ll delve into some cancer related issues with which you may not be familiar.  The following topics are less well known publicly and discussed more lightly in general media.

  •  People should avoid toxic chemicals in and around the home as much as possible.  Lawn pesticides, many air fresheners, new carpet (or other flooring) fumes, and even the “off-gassing” of upholstery or mattress coverings contain chemicals that promote the growth of cancerous cells.  To reduce exposure and risk, choose environmentally friendly lawn products and natural or organic air fresheners. If you must have new flooring or carpets, open windows or turn on vents in the home periodically to “air out” the gradual build-up of fumes.  These products will “off gas” for years, so be prepared for a long-term commitment to ventilation.

Another option to help decrease toxic gasses escaping from flooring or fabrics is to rent a portable ozone generator.  Turn it on and let it run in the affected space for several hours. Remove all humans, animals, and plants from the space while the ozone generator is operating.  The ozone will react with the toxins, “disabling” them from harming you or your loved ones. Although the ozone can’t destroy all of the toxins, it can make a significant difference in your risk levels.

Be sure to open up the space and “air out” the remaining ozone after the treatment time has elapsed before returning any people, animals, or plants to the area.

  •  Around the years 2012 and 2013 (and continuing today), research published in various peer-reviewed journals began finding links between air pollution from traffic to a higher risk of ovarian, cervical, brain, and stomach cancers.  Research continues on the association, but it may be due to volatile organic compounds (VOCs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and other toxic substances in car exhaust that cause cellular damage throughout the body, not just the lungs.  To reduce exposure to substances from automobile emissions that are suspected of causing cancer, try the following suggestions.

If you live near a busy road, close your windows during peak traffic hours.  Also, try to avoid driving, biking, or walking near rush hour traffic whenever possible.  When driving, maintain a reasonable distance from the car in front of you to reduce the intake of exhaust into your vehicle.

  •  Various medical conditions can raise your risk for developing some type of cancer during your lifetime.  Too often, primary care physicians overlook these risks; therefore, each patient must be proactive in looking out for herself/himself.

One such medical condition that can raise cancer risk is diabetes.  Recent research has shown that for every 1% increase in HbA1c, an approximate “average” blood sugar reading for the past three months, there is an 18% increase in the risk for cancer, according to a study published in Current Diabetes Reports.  Although not all studies are quite this dire, there is a generally agreed upon theme running through diabetes/cancer risk research which shows that higher blood sugar readings correspond with some degree of higher risk for various cancers.  Therefore, diabetics should be cautious and forward thinking about controlling blood sugar levels and demanding screening tests (for common cancers), such as the colonoscopy and mammogram.

Helicobacter pylori infection is known for causing stomach ulcers, gastritis or inflammation of the stomach, and ulcers of the small intestine.  What many people don’t know is that H. pylori is also the cause of most stomach cancers. If you’ve ever suffered with an H. pylori infection, your risk for stomach cancer is increased – even if you received proper antibiotic treatment for the H. pylori and seem to have fully recovered.  Still, some increased stomach cancer risk remains over and above what would be considered a normal risk level for a person having never contracted H. pylori.

Yet another disease that leads to increased cancer risk is IBD, or inflammatory bowel disease, which can take two forms, ulcerative colitis and Chrohn’s disease.  Both forms predispose a person to colon cancer, raising risk levels considerably. Open lines of communication with your doctor(s) and frequent colonoscopies can be lifesaving if you’ve ever been an IBD patient.

Specific to Women:

Coffee Consumption and Endometrial Cancer

A meta-analysis of 16 studies on coffee and endometrial cancer risk was conducted by Harvard researchers and published in International Journal of Cancer.  Results showed that women who drank the most coffee, an average of three to four cups daily were 29% less likely to get endometrial cancer than women who drank little to no coffee.  Generally, each eight-ounce cup of coffee consumed per day reduced a woman’s risk of developing endometrial cancer by 8%. (The studies involved drinkers of caffeinated coffee or those who drank some regular and some decaf coffee.  There were not enough exclusive decaf drinkers included in the study to draw a conclusion about decaf’s effectiveness.) Generally speaking, in other studies concerning the anti-oxidant and anti-cancer benefits of coffee, decaf was also found to be beneficial.

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer is now much less common in the United States than it used to be just a few decades ago, and we can all thank the invention of the Pap test and American women’s adherence to frequent testing for that decline in cervical cancer rates.  Still, to keep this awful disease’s rate of occurrence on a steady downward slide, there are some basic facts about the disease and its prevention that we should all understand.

To begin, the cervix is the lower part of the uterus that connects the main body of the uterus to the vagina.  Almost always, cervical cancer is caused by a virus known as HPV. There are a few rare exceptions where the cause of the cervical cancer is unclear, but the vast majority of cervical cancer cases are linked to HPV infection.  HPV is an abbreviation for human papilloma virus, of which there are more than 100 related types. About 60 types are found on the skin and can cause the common wart with which we’re all familiar. The remaining 40+ types of HPV are called genital HPV because they affect the anal and genital areas only, not other skin areas, such as on the hands or feet.

These roughly 40 types of genital HPV are divided into two groups called “low-risk” and “high-risk” HPV.  “Low-risk” genital HPV causes genital warts and can even cause changes in cervix cells, but not changes that lead to cancer.  “High-risk” HPV, on the other hand, has been linked with genital or anal cancers in both women and men. It is these “high-risk” HPV viruses that cause cervix cell changes that lead to pre-cancers or cancer.

Fortunately, much can be done with regard to early detection of the disease, treatment, and prevention of infection in the first place.  Let’s start with how HPV is contracted. According to the American Cancer Society, “Genital HPV is passed from one person to another by direct skin-to-skin contact during vaginal, oral, or anal sex.  It is not spread through blood or body fluids.” Genital HPV is very common; approximately 50% to 75% of people who have ever had sex will get HPV at some time during their lives. Certain estimates name a rate as high as 80% of sexually experienced individuals are expected to contract some form of HPV.  Yet, comparatively few people go on to develop cancer. The reason for this low rate is two-fold. Not all HPV infections are of the type to cause cancer. Also, the human body tends to clear the virus over time. Usually, from six months to two years after contracting HPV, the human body succeeds in extinguishing the infection; and therefore, the HPV viruses that can cause pre-cancerous cells to form never have a chance to spread or cause problems.

For the relatively small percentage of women (about 10%) who don’t clear the virus from their bodies naturally over time, they may find themselves at higher risk for pre-cancerous cell formation.  Still, not every woman who has detectable levels of HPV over several years will go on to develop pre-cancerous or cancerous cells. Some individuals seem to be able to live with HPV and suffer few effects.

For those women who do develop pre-cancerous or cancerous cell changes, there are a number of treatment options available, which are often quite effective and lifesaving.  The key to successful treatment is to discover the pre-cancerous or cancerous cells early in their development. Pre-cancerous cells, if destroyed at this early stage, will never develop into actual cancer.  Similarly, early stage cancerous tumors are much more successfully treated than those in later stages.

With early detection of problem cells so vital to positive outcomes, in steps the need for regular Pap tests, which provide that essential information.  Between 1955 and 1992, cervical cancer death rates declined by nearly 70%. The primary reason for the change was the increased use of the Pap test. In more recent years, the death rate from cervical cancer continues to decline by about 3% per year for American women. The Pap test has been a huge help in the fight against cervical cancer.

Although the Pap test is a wonderful means of identifying problem cells, even the Pap has its limitations.  For one thing, the test is interpreted by humans, who can make mistakes. Also, a number of other factors can make the chances of obtaining an accurate result less likely.  To increase the likelihood of catching problem cells early, the American Cancer Society makes the following recommendations:

  • All women should begin getting Pap tests three years after they start having vaginal intercourse.  A woman who waits until after age 18 to have sex should begin screening by age 21. Pap tests should be performed every year until age 30.  Women with no exceptional risk factors who have had three normal Pap test results in a row by age 30 may then be tested less often, generally every two to three years.  Women who have exceptional risk factors, such as HIV (AIDS virus), other cancers, or a weakened immune system from other causes should continue to get Pap tests yearly.
  • Women age 70 and older who have had three or more normal Pap results in a row can choose to stop screening altogether unless they fall into a high risk factor group due to other health conditions.  Women are urged to consult their doctors about their individual health situations before electing to cease testing.
  • Women who have undergone a total hysterectomy, including removal of the cervix, may also cease Pap testing, unless the reason for removing the cervix was because of pre-cancer or cancer formation.  If so, those women are advised to consult their doctors about appropriate screening for the possibility of future cancer risk in other areas of the body.

To help reduce the number of factors that can cause an inaccurate Pap reading, always do the following prior to the actual Pap test:

  • Don’t schedule the appointment during a menstrual period.
  • Don’t have sexual intercourse for 48 hours before the test.
  • Don’t douche, use tampons, birth control foams, jellies, or other vaginal creams or vaginal medicines for 48 hours before the test.

Besides frequent screenings (Pap tests), there is another way to help prevent cervical cancer – vaccination, which can prevent becoming infected with two types of HPV that most often cause cervical cancer.  Vaccination with either Gardasil or Cervarix, which are vaccines designed to protect the previously unexposed person from ever contracting HPV, can be helpful. These vaccines are generally recommended for people who are not yet sexually active, and therefore, highly unlikely to have been exposed to any HPV viruses.  Girls and young women, ages 9 to 26 years, are urged to consider getting vaccinated by the American Cancer Society. Boys and young men, aged 9 – 26, are also eligible for vaccination. Males can get cancers of the head, neck, anus, and penis from HPV, as well as genital warts; therefore, HPV viruses do pose a threat to males as well.  There is evidence that vaccination provides at least some protection, perhaps quite a bit, to males for both cancer protection and genital warts. Gardasil also contains protection against the two types of HPV that cause most genital warts (about 90%) in both males and females.

There are some downsides to vaccination, which should be considered before making a final decision to vaccinate.  There is a greater than normal (as compared to other types of vaccines) risk of fainting immediately after receiving the injection.  Because of this risk, there is a mandatory waiting period of 15 minutes after receiving the shot before patients are allowed to leave.  Although most patients recover from a fainting spell with no further problems, some scattered individual accounts have complained of other side effects well after the injection was received.

Individuals with multiple allergies, especially to yeast, should consult their doctors before deciding to proceed with vaccination.  Likewise, individuals who have histories of medical difficulty with vaccines in general should consult their doctors before proceeding.  Anyone who has had a bad experience with the first shot (in the series of three) for HPV should not receive additional HPV vaccinations.

Another issue to consider with HPV vaccination is the cost. Always check with your insurance company or state or federal health authorities about your individual options before proceeding uninformed.

Possible vaccination benefits to older males and females, from ages 27 and up, are being studied. Although most people have generally been exposed to HPV by this age, there is reason to believe that vaccination, even after virus exposure, may somehow help prevent the virus from causing troublesome cellular changes in the body.

Whether young or older, all women should remain vigilant with Pap test screening.  Even HPV vaccinated young women should still get regular Pap tests. The vaccine can help prevent only about 70% of cervical cancer risk.  There’s still that 30% risk lurking out there for the vaccinated group and a greater risk than that for the unvaccinated.

Early detection is a lifesaver; always make use of your friend, the Pap.  Also, there is much we can do to prevent any type of cancer from attacking us, and much we can do to fight back if it does.  Let’s go forth and conquer, armed with information and determination!

By Darra McMullen,

Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher

by Darra McMullen
Women’s Health Network Writer/Researcher

Author’s Note:  Ordinarily, the December topic of the month is anxiety and depression, and there are past articles addressing those topics available on this website, but due to an overwhelming interest in the topic of stress reduction, this month we’re going to take a little diversion from our usual topic of anxiety/depression, and instead, look at the arena of excessive stress and investigate ways to effectively dial down our responses to life’s challenges.

Stress, modern lives, and “ancient” bodies:

Although humankind has progressed enormously throughout the ages with regard to technology, science, and general understanding of the world – to name just a few areas of growth – there is a particular biological response that hasn’t changed markedly through the millennia.  That biological response, often referred to as “fight or flight”, still functions pretty much the same now as it did thousands of years ago.  Unfortunately, the modern world’s demands are not well suited to this type of biological response, or conversely, one could say our “ancient” biological responses don’t fit well with modern life.

Though increased blood pressure, respiration, muscle tension, adrenaline, and cortisol levels can all be quite helpful if running from a wild animal, as our ancestors had to do, the aforementioned physical responses can now instead cause emotional discomfort and long-term physical ills if the stress response occurs too often or too strongly due to everyday modern life events.

In present-day America, most of the time, we live lives of relative comfort and safety due to improved technology, lawfulness, and basic prosperity.  However, the limbic system, which is the part of the brain that generates our primitive survival instinct, continues to do its job as it always has throughout time.  Only now, when the limbic system senses a “threat”, it is reacting to ordinary discomforts, frustrations, and pressures of daily life rather than a true physical danger or life-threatening event.

The trick to stress reduction involves retraining the brain’s response to unpleasant (but not life-threatening) events to be a more productive, rational, and yes, less “stress-producing” outcome.

Often, we will hear that the following can help with stress reduction: exercise, meditation, and positive self-talk.  All of the above listed things can definitely help reduce stress, but sometimes the limbic system is simply too over-stimulated for any of these tools to be able to “get in” to do any good.

Instead of trying to figure out how to reduce stress when already in a “worked up” state of mind, practice good stress responses when in a calm and leisurely atmosphere.

To regain control of the “survival” response, use three sensory tools (one each of auditory, visual, and olfactory) that can be practiced at home under relaxed conditions and then, once mastered, can be brought to mind when stressful situations occur.

Learning to use these sensory tools can effectively “dilute” or weaken the impact of the brain’s fear center, thereby allowing the individual person to maintain some perspective and control over behavioral and biological responses to stressful events.

The brain’s fear response is not controlled by the same region as are the auditory, visual, and olfactory senses.  Therefore, stimulating these “competing” areas of the brain serves as a distraction to the brain’s “single-minded” fear response to stressful conditions.

To use this method of stress management, do the following:

  • Choose a favorite, uplifting song.
  • Choose an inspiring person, real or fictional, that represents strength and stability to you.
  • Choose a scent that has a positive connotation for you.
  • When relaxed and at home, first imagine a stressful situation. Then practice singing (aloud) the chosen song.  Likewise, visualize the person of strength, and imagine the positive scent chosen as your calming trigger.
  • Continue to practice the previous step at least three to six times over the next week. When feeling confident about “at-home” practice, try using these techniques the next time a stressful event occurs.  (Singing “in your head” can be substituted for singing aloud once good habits are established through home-based practice.)

Additional options for stress reduction:

Physical Activity:

Whether it is a formal exercise regimen, informal dance practice, yard work, house cleaning, or an enjoyable walk in the outdoors on a beautiful day, physical activity is an emotional stress reducer.  What is a bit physically taxing is, in most cases, a stress reliever for the mind.  If feeling stressed, get the body moving and emotions will calm down.  Thinking will be clearer and more focused, and attitudes will be more positive.

Meditation and Positive Self-Talk:

Positive affirmations from self-talk are proven stress relievers, as are any number of meditative methods, whether faith-based or not.  Basically, what these meditative prescriptions have in common is a goal of slowing the person’s swirling mind down into a calmer state and forcing the mind to focus on one thing long enough to “short-circuit” the limbic system’s over-response to stimuli.  Once the mind is calmer and focused, it can then sort out worries, plans, and experiences in a logical manner, and order is restored.

Positive self-talk can serve to remind a person that he/she really can handle the various challenges placed before them, and that life stressors are frequently not as bad as they might at first seem anyway.

An Attitude of Gratitude:

Studies have shown that an attitude of gratitude for life’s positive aspects can actually help thwart anxiety, depression, and simple feelings of being “stressed out”.  Biologically speaking, these studies make sense.  When the brain is focused on recalling and counting positives in life, it has difficulty focusing on fear and fear responses that lead to stress.

“Cut Some Slack” to Your Fellow Humans:

If you find yourself getting stressed out over a rude driver on the road or someone who bumps into you at the grocery store or an overly chatty co-worker on the job, before you “blow your top”, try calmly thinking about what set of circumstances might have led the person to behave in such a manner.  Usually, whatever is troubling them has nothing to do with you personally, and as such, you have no “need” to get defensive, angry, or stressed.  Even if there is a direct link between you and the other person’s behavior, in most cases, it is better to diffuse a situation, rather than escalate it.  See if you can find a way to be part of the solution, not part of the problem.  Your stress levels and the stress levels of others will all go down.

Let’s all start the New Year on a calm, peaceful, and stress-free note!

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!

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.

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.

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