Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Good Fats and Good Diet Patterns

If you have spent any time scrolling through my blog posts, the recent news about the need to get calcium from food and the benefit of the Mediterranean Diet came as no surprise to you.
I will point out just a couple of things that you might not have caught from the media reports.

With regard to calcium and vitamin D supplementation, there is not evidence that calcium or vitamin D in pill form assists in maintaining strong bones.  High doses of vitamin D may be helpful, but that has not yet been established.  The bottom line from the recent research was a recommendation to consume foods high in calcium, like greens and low or no fat diary products, or almond milk.  Since vitamin D is hard to find in foods, some exposure to sunlight is necessary.  In fact, the advice to older adults was specifically  get calcium from foods, spend some time in the sun  AND exercise.  Remember exercise strengthens bones.  The advice on vitamin D supplements, as I said, is still being worked out.  I take a vitamin D pill (1000 IU) during winter months.

I have long promoted the Mediterranean Diet and it is the foundation of my Volumetrics recipes (on You Tube and Scribd). To be VERY clear, it is not a diet, it is a pattern of eating that focuses on healthy oils, plant based foods, whole grains, legumes and fish.  What is important in the newest study, the best one yet, is that the people consumed specifically extra virgin olive oil.  They also received their healthy fats form nuts... another reason to switch to almond milk. The benefits in this study were around heart disease.  The researchers are continuing to consider other benefits, like weight control.   Here is one of several news stories about the latest findings.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Depression, Pills and Trying Something New

   "If one medicine doesn't work, why take another?"  She asks rather simply.  Maybe it isn't the pill that's the problem but treating the illness WITH pills.
   I am NOT a physician.  Still, every time I hear the latest commercial for the antidepressant medicine Abilify - I get sort of freaked out.  The side effects are intense and listening to them makes me well... depressed!  Uncontrollable movements, high blood sugar, coma, death....
   I cannot  (and do not) suggest that anyone taking a medicine stop doing so.   But I would consider whether a different strategy - LIKE EXERCISE - is worth trying, or adding.
   Instead of asking your doctor or psychiatrist if "abilify is right for you" maybe ask if you could do something BESIDES take more pills.  It could well be that "exercise is right for you."
   It's just a thought... well, it is more than a thought because there is scientific evidence that exercise reduces depression in some people.  There is no money in it - you don't have to go to the doctor to get an order for it, or pay the pharmacist to pick it up - but you sure have to own it. It doesn't work if you don't do it.  And like the medicine you take - its generally needed at LEAST once a day.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Guest Post on Caregiving and Cancer

I was approached by a fellow blogger with a request.  He is a caregiver for his spouse, or was a caregiver for his spouse during her acute phase of mesothelioma.  He wanted to share his story with you, my readers.  I read his suggested post and will share it with you in full.  The main reason I agreed to post it for him is because I understand two things.  1) People who care for the ones that they love do not always call themselves caregivers and 2) It is important that "caregivers" pay attention to their own needs and health. Of course, in my world that means that caregivers should be mindful to eat well and get daily exercise.  You must make time for yourself in order to give quality time to others.  

The story below was written by Cameron Von St. James. It is a good and important read.
He has a blog of his own which you can access here.  I went to his site and as best I could tell he isn't trying to sell you anything, but always consider the risks when linking to other webpages and clicking on links you find there.

What I Learned From My Wife's Cancer

November 21, 2005 is a day that will be ingrained in our minds forever. This was the day that my wife and I received word that she was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. This was also the day that I became my wife’s caregiver, but I wasn’t prepared for the responsibility. It was only three months prior to the diagnosis that we had our daughter Lily. When I thought we should be parenting and celebrating her first holiday, we were talking about finances and cancer treatments. I will never forget how we felt – helpless, scared, and uncertain about our future.

After the diagnosis, Heather left her job to focus on healing, and I had to scale back to part time in order to care for her and Lily. This put a strain on our finances that only added to the stress of our situation. I had so much responsibility during this time. I had to take care of my daughter and make doctor’s appointments for my wife. I also had to make travel arrangements, but I was so overwhelmed with my responsibilities. The stress was so intense that my thoughts spiraled out of control.  
I began to wonder, “Is my wife going to die? Am I going to end up penniless and broke? Will I end up being a widower and caring for my daughter alone?” I cried out of control sometimes, and there were days when I was so weak, but she never knew how I felt. I needed to be strong for her, and the last thing she needed was to see my fears.

I could not have coped with cancer alone. I needed the help of my family, friends, and even strangers. They offered badly needed financial assistance and comforting words in our time of need. We were grateful for the help we received, and we recommend that everyone accept the help offered to them. As I would learn the hard way, there is no room for pride in a cancer battle.

Being a caregiver is difficult and stressful at times. There are many days that I wanted to give up, but I knew I could not walk away from my responsibilities. I used my resources to cope with the situation and to remain sane.

After months of grueling treatments including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, Heather was able to achieve what we feared was impossible.  Despite the bleak prognosis for mesothelioma, she was able to defeat this ugly disease once and for all. Now, over seven years since the awful diagnosis, Heather is still cancer free and healthy.  We hope that by sharing our experiences, we can help inspire all those currently battling through cancer today.  Never give up hope, and never stop fighting for those you love. 

Saturday, February 9, 2013


   It is that time again.  I have to "go dark."  You might know that to be urban slang for going silent.  In other words, it is time for me to stop blogging for a bit. (of course if I were truly going dark I'd get off facebook and stop texting as well!) 
  I realize that if it is not 1) my dissertation research/writing, 2) my course work or 3) my graduate research job - I don't have time to do it.  I did not include exercise or healthy eating in that list because they are habits, like brushing my teeth.  I won't stop doing them.
   I have decided that for this parting post (before my temporary sabbatical), I will share an observation I've made regarding people's response to science. It seems to me that when people hear about studies that support their current practices, they believe them.  If research challenges what people are comfortable doing, they do not believe it.  This explains why so many people brush off studies that support climate change and embrace the few that 'disprove' it.  If  we believe the studies that confirm environmental harm, then we have to change.  We have to drive less and use less coal and plastic, for example. If ONE study out of 100 does not show an increased risk of heart disease from eating too much, or lung cancer from smoking, than that is the study we call truth.  
   We tend to believe the science that lets us keep on doing what we have always done.  Not really the best way to evaluate research.
   Soon I will present the results of my research studies and they will no doubt generate similar controversy. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

The Perfect Mix for a BEST DAY

   One day last week and again yesterday, I was able to run before class, lift weights after class -go to a meeting, then go swimming after the meeting and then do some studying.  In other words, my three big cognitive or mental activities were split up with exercise, not just physical activity (walking from one to the other would be physical activity).  Instead, I set time aside to systematically increase my heart rate and tone my body, lungs and heart.
   This is my ideal type of day.  I will as often as possible break my mental activities up with little walks or some activity.  Because of the mix it up routine I feel confident saying that I am at the 95th percentile of productivity. By this I mean, if you assessed 100 people on level of productivity, only five of them would be more productive than me (and maybe less!).

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Anthocyanin and Heart Attacks (Ok Berries)

   In another review of the the Nurses Health Study data (i.e., secondary data analysis), researchers Cassidy et al. (2013) found that persons who consumed the most anthocyanins in their diet (from strawberries and blueberries) had the least amount of heart attacks and death from heart disease during the 18 years of study.        Only women were enrolled and at the start of data collection they were between the ages of 25 and 42.  In the 18 years that followed, the women who ate the most blueberries and strawberries (as determine by food frequency recalls conducted every four years) had the least heart attacks. The research shows a link between eating strawberries and blueberries and a reduction in heart disease in middle aged women.  Of course, it makes sense to infer the same protective effect to men and possibly older women.  I say possibly  because it may take some years of consumption for the benefit to kick in.  The sooner you start eating blueberries and strawberries the better!
  citation: Cassidy et al. (2013) See study here.  It is free on line, published in the peer reviewed journal of the American Heart Association Circulation.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Sugar and Weight

   A group of researchers reviewed numerous studies that explored the relationship between sugar intake and weight outcomes (weight loss, weight gain, BMI, etc).  The citation for the study is BMJ 2013;346:e7492  and you can read it in full by clicking here.  I think the meta analysis was very well done.  The scientists used strict criteria in deciding which studies to include and also in interpreting the findings from those selected.
    Studies included adults and children and were mostly quasi-experimental and/or involved cohort and correlation studies.  Because there were no studies that used a treatment and control group to compare sugar users to non sugar users while holding everything else about people the same, a conclusion that sugar 'causes' weight gain can not be claimed.  
   However,  the research does indicate that the people who consume the most sugar weigh the most.  There is an association between sugar intake and weight.  It is likely that people who consume the most sugar also consume the most calories.  One of the studies that was reviewed included a group of people who ate the same amount of calories, but replaced the sugary foods with other carbohydrates and in that study there was no difference between the two groups weights (or weight gain/loss)
   I am really simplifying things here.  The bottom line was that sugar intake and weight were related, but it may just be that too many calories is too many calories.  That is different from some  research that indicates a different metabolic response to calories from sugar.  Stay tuned for more as research into this matter continues. 
   I hope you will check out the study that I linked above, here is the summary paragraph regarding the conclusion the authors made:
Among free living people involving ad libitum diets, intake of free sugars or sugar sweetened beverages is a determinant of body weight. The change in body fatness that occurs with modifying intakes seems to be mediated via changes in energy intakes, since isoenergetic exchange of sugars with other carbohydrates was not associated with weight change. 
    To break break that down.  Free living means people in their every day lives (environments/context) and ad libitum diets means eating whatever is usual ( no diet restrictions, etc) and isoenergetic means the same amount of calories.  So regular people like me and you who eat a lot of sugary foods or drink sugary drinks will weigh more than people who do not - but this seems to be due to the fact that a high sugar diet is also high in calories.