Tag Archives: health

Cancer Hides, Phytonutrients Seek

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How brightly colored fruits and veggies protect against cancer 

The foods we eat play a significant role in our health. Processed foods often contain additives and are stripped of their nutritive value. Junk foods that contain ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and trans fats promote chronic inflammation and weaken the immune system — factors that allow chronic diseases like cancer to ensue.  

Data show that in 2015 there will be an estimated 1,658,370 new cases of cancer and 589,430 deaths from the disease in the United States. By 2030, cancer, not heart disease, will be the No. 1 killer of Americans. While these facts are grim, it’s also important to understand that this doesn’t have to be the case.

Cancer isn’t smarter; it’s just stealthier. The truth of the matter is that cancer cells lie in our bodies for years waiting for the right conditions for it to grow and spread. How many years? Well, through postmortem studies we know that cancer has been found in the bodies of people in their 20s. So people can be walking around with cancer and don’t even know it until much later in life.

Cancer stem cells remain dormant until the conditions in the body are ideal — preferably when immune system is weak — before it begins to surge. More aggressive forms of cancer cells possess surface markers that render them invisible so they can remain undetected for years. Other cells are even capable of turning off tumor suppressor genes. 

Once cancer cells become active they proliferate. While some cells are benign, other tumors grow and spread to other tissues, a process called metastasis.

To make matters more complex, cancers stem cells may develop resistance to cancer treatments like radiation and chemotherapy.

But we are not defenseless against cancer. Cancer is preventable. In my new book, The Gene Therapy Plan, an entire chapter is dedicated to chemopreventive approaches through diet and lifestyle. In the book, I explain the crucial role that nutritional epigenetics plays in cancer prevention. Epigenetics is the study of chemical tags called epigenes that modify our DNA in ways that activates or inactivates genes to keep us healthy or make us sick.

So nutritional epigenetics is the way in which our diet impacts our health at the level of our DNA. The bioactive compounds found in wholesome foods affect our epigenes to boost health and thwart disease. When it comes to cancer, there’s a wide array of substances found in various foods that squelch cancer cells.

When you walk through a farmers market or supermarket, those brightly colored fruits and veggies get their hues from powerful phytonutrients that possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects that work to prevent cellular damage. Many of those compounds work to inhibit many of the ways in which cancer cells work to proliferate and spread in the body.

Eating a variety of produce daily has been shown to protect against cancer as well as other conditions like heart disease, obesity, and diabetes. Because there is no specific do-it-all nutrient that fights cancer, consume fruits and vegetables with various colors. These phytocompounds work together to kill cancer cells from the onset by enhancing the immune system.

Here are some fruits and vegetables that you need to include in your diet for cancer prevention.  

Apples are packed with vitamin C, fiber, and quercetin. Quercetin, much of which is contained in the peel, is an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant nutrient that helps to fight cancer.

Beets contain betaine a nutrient that block cancer development.

Broccoli and broccoli sprouts contain sulforaphane, a nutrient that inhibits cancer.

Radishes contain anthocyanins and vitamin C — compounds that possess anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compounds that help to prevent cancer.

Sweet potatoes are loaded with fiber. They also contain beta-carotene. Don’t peel off the skin, or you’ll be throwing away thousands of phytochemicals. 

Tomatoes contain lycopene, an anticancer nutrient that promote cancer apoptosis (cell death). Cook whole tomatoes to increase the bioavailability of the healthful nutrients it contains.

Black raspberries are packed with resveratrol, a promoter of cancer cell death.  It also activates hundreds of tumor suppressor genes. Because this fruit isn’t always in season, you can purchase its powdered form too.

Grapes also contain resveratrol. This anti-inflammatory, antioxidant nutrient prevents cancer.

Grapefruit contains loads of vitamin C and detoxifies the body and eliminates cancer-causing substances. 

Watermelon is rich in vitamins A and C and contains more lycopene than fresh tomatoes.  

Photo credit: CDC/Mary Anne Fenley/James Gathany

Reference:

“Cancer Statistics.” National Cancer Institute. Accessed August 14, 2015. http://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/what-is-cancer/statistics.

 American Society of Clinical Oncology, The State of Cancer Care in America, 2014: A Report by the American Society of Clinical Oncology Accessed August 14, 2015. http://jop.ascopubs.org/content/early/2014/03/10/JOP.2014.001386.full.pdf.

Research Links Mild Cognitive Impairment to Alzheimer’s Disease

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Over 5 million people age 65 and older are living with Alzheimer’s disease — the sixth leading cause of death in the U.S. AD is a neurological condition that is marked by progressive worsening of memory loss and increasing loss of one’s ability to carry out activities of daily living.

The hallmark signs of Alzheimer’s disease are plaques and tangles. Beta-amyloid plaques are deposits of sticky proteins in the brain that clump together and interrupt the communication between neurons (nerve cells). Neurofibrillary tangles are modifications in tau, a brain protein.

These proteins damage microtubules that are responsible for the transportation of material along neuronal extensions called neurites that allow nerve cells to communicate with each other. The more plaques and tangles build up, the more pronounced an individual’s memory and cognitive deficits become.

But not every instance of forgetfulness is indicative of early AD. The brain ages just like every other organ. So as we get older, we may experience problems like remembering where we’ve placed our keys or recalling what a person’s name is. Forgetfulness is a part of getting older and is attributed to the fact that as we age brain size become smaller, inflammation and free radicals damage is increased, blood flow is reduced, and plaques and tangles are formed.

So what’s the difference between changes in the brain of a normal, aging person and someone with AD? Changes like plaques, tangles, and inflammation become worse over time and irreversibly destroy memory and cognition.

Distinguishing between signs of forgetfulness that are normal or are associated with AD have been assessed through tests like the Mini-Mental Status Exam that helps to track memory and cognitive changes in older adults. But researchers have also been exploring new ways to identify AD. Studies show that a type of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) may be a harbinger of AD.

There are many subtypes of MCI. One that has been studied and linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease is called amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI). Memory loss is the most prominent feature of aMCI. People with aMCI have been shown to progress to AD more than those without aMCI.

In one study, researchers evaluated the brain tissue of people who were diagnosed with aMCI and found that more than 70 percent of those individuals progressed to Alzheimer’s disease.

Data from a different study used MRI to identify atrophy in the hippocampus and entorhinal cortex (temporal lobe structures responsible for making and storing memories) of people with aMCI and healthy brains over a five-year period. Among those with smaller temporal lobe structures, the progression to AD was shorter.

These studies provide useful insights that may help to shape and improve the way in which AD is detected and treated. While there are drugs that are prescribed to treat AD, there is still no cure.

In my new book, The Gene Therapy Plan, I provide information on ways to promote healthy aging, namely through a wholesome diet. To avoid premature aging and to bolster brain health, skip the processed foods and consume plenty of whole foods. By eating whole foods like fruits and vegetables, herbs and spices, the body is able to obtain optimal nutrition to bolster healthy metabolism and produce lots of energy.

Photo credit: CDC/Dawn Arlotta/Cade Martin

References:

Jicha, Gregory A., Joseph E. Parisi, Dennis W. Dickson, Kris Johnson, Ruth Cha, Robert J. Ivnik, Eric G. Tangalos et al. “Neuropathologic outcome of mild cognitive impairment following progression to clinical dementia.” Archives of Neurology 63, no. 5 (2006): 674-681.

Devanand, D. P., G. Pradhaban, X. Liu, A. Khandji, S. De Santi, S. Segal, H. Rusinek et al. “Hippocampal and entorhinal atrophy in mild cognitive impairment Prediction of Alzheimer disease.” Neurology 68, no. 11 (2007): 828-836.

Get Moving!

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Wellness tips to maintain a healthy weight

Has it been a long time since you’ve stepped on a scale and got excited to see how many pounds you weigh? If you answered “yes,” then you struggle with your weight, so the scale is not likely your friend. With millions of Americans struggling with their weight, the nation’s obesity epidemic is a public health crisis.

And it’s a problem that continues to increase in spite of all the physical fitness messages that we are inundated with in our society. We have so many opportunities to lose weight from dietary regimens to planned meals to workout classes. So why aren’t we, as a nation, healthier?

While many people are able to lose weight, keeping the weight off is another matter entirely. If you’re relying on a test of wills to help you lose weight, then you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Willpower, as it turns out, isn’t the best approach to facilitate weight loss. Because in our junk food packed society, temptations are everywhere.

And data show that relying on willpower as a strategy to attain a healthy weight will undoubtedly set people up to fail. Why? Willpower is reduced over time. Think of it this way, you spend your day making all kinds of decisions: Easy decisions like what to wear to work to more difficult ones that affect our health and finances. With each decision, researchers theorize that we deplete the limited amount of willpower we have as our day moves along. So when we’ve tapped out our willpower reserve, we tend to make poor decisions like snacking on chips, donuts, and candy bars or trading in our workout to lounge on the couch in front of the television.

So if willpower isn’t a reliable strategy for a healthy diet and weight, what is? It’s essential to find what physical activity means to you. Tailor strategies for a healthy lifestyle around things you enjoy. Also, be flexible in the process of achieving a healthy weight because wellness is a lifelong endeavor and what may have worked at one stage in your life may not be cutting in anymore. Here are some healthful tips that you can use to trim down your bulging waistline and achieve a healthier life.

What’s it Worth to You?

When it comes to achieving a healthy weight, shift your focus away from a desired dress or pants size and place your attention on life-improving strategies. Use meaningful goals to fuel your passion for health and fitness to help you achieve a healthy weight. For instance, perhaps you want to feel energized throughout your day or you want to keep up with your children when it’s playtime.

Let’s Get Physical!

Physical activity isn’t the same for everyone. So while your spouse may love running, maybe you enjoy swimming or walking. Take the time to figure out what you like and don’t like. Think long and hard before you invest in a gym membership. Have you signed up for a gym membership only to pay a monthly fee and you rarely make an appearance? If this sounds like you, don’t repeat history. Try something new.

Find Walking Buddies.

While hitting the gym is a time-restricted activity, there are many opportunities to walk throughout your day. Try to identify those times in your day when you can walk. It may be during the lunch hour at work. Ask someone at work if they want to walk with for a couple of minutes during your lunch hour.

Be “Step Wise.”

I know you’d rather take the elevator. It’s faster. If your office or apartment is in a reasonable distance from the ground floor, take the stairs — it’s good cardio!

There are many benefits to engaging in regular physical activity. Shedding those extra pounds helps to keep a healthy weight; lowers the risk of high blood pressure; reduces the risk for chronic disease like type 2 diabetes, heart attack and stroke, and cancer; and improves symptoms of anxiety and depression. And while physical activity helps to curb weight gain, eating a healthful diet is an integral part of living a healthy lifestyle. Watch my healthy weight video for tips on foods that prevent weight gain.

Photo credit: Sergey Nivens/shutterstock.com

Reference:
Baumeister RF and Tierny J. Willpower – Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength. New York: The Penguin Press, 2011.

The Diabetes-Alzheimer’s Disease Link

Brain Buster and Booster

In The Gene Therapy Plan, you’ll find chapters dedicated to diabetes and aging. And although they are discussed separately in the book, health conditions hardly ever exist in isolation. For one, diabetes has been linked to other conditions like obesity, heart disease, cancer, and advanced aging. Data show that memory and cognition may also be affected by diabetes and that the damage may contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s disease (AD).

Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and it affects over 5 million Americans 65 years or older. The condition is often preceded by mild cognitive impairment (MCI). And as the disease progresses into Alzheimer’s, people with AD will experience increasing deterioration of their cognitive function and behavioral ability — to such a degree that it impairs their ability to carry out simple, everyday activities like getting dressed.

In an animal study published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation, researchers took a closer look at the link between diabetes and AD. The researchers induced a hyperglycemic state in young mice without beta-amyloid plaques (a proteinaceous plaque found in the brains of AD patients) and found that the plaque increased by 20 percent. When they repeated the experiment, this time using AD mice, the researchers found that the level of plaques doubled (40%).

Dr. Shannon Macauley, a postdoctoral research scholar and one of the lead authors in this study said, “Our results suggest that diabetes, or other conditions that make it hard to control blood sugar levels, can have harmful effects on brain function and exacerbate neurological conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease. The link we’ve discovered could lead us to future treatment targets that reduce these effects.”

While further studies targeting the pathways and mechanisms involved between diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease may take years of research, the good news is we don’t have to wait that long for answers. We can’t deny the deleterious effects that poor glucose control has on overall health. Eating too many simple carbs and sugars are no good for our health. And because our brains main source of energy comes in the form of glucose, the type of sugars we eat has a huge impact on brain health.

So to prevent and treat diabetes, we can take control of what we eat and engage in physical activity to maintain a healthy weight and regulate blood glucose levels. Eat organic, wholesome foods that are nutrient-rich not calorie-poor like chicory, probiotics, brown rice, and organic lean meats. Chicory, for example, contains vanadium, a mineral, that helps to promote insulin sensitivity.

By eating healthful foods that keep us feeling fuller longer and are chock-full of health-promoting nutrients, we ensure that we don’t experience blood sugar spikes that are often associated with processed carbohydrates and refined sugars. 

Photo Credit: Positive thinker/Shutterstock.com

References: 

Macauley, Shannon L., Molly Stanley, Emily E. Caesar, Steven A. Yamada, Marcus E. Raichle, Ronaldo Perez, Thomas E. Mahan, Courtney L. Sutphen, and David M. Holtzman. “Hyperglycemia modulates extracellular amyloid-β concentrations and neuronal activity in vivo.” The Journal of Clinical Investigation

Melatonin Supplements May Prevent Osteoporosis

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How many times have you heard this: “You’re getting older now, so you can’t do the same things you did in your twenties?” Getting older is often considered a disease, rather than a normal physiologic process in the body. Yes, it is true that the levels of hormones, enzymes, and other substances in the body decline with age, which lead to a host of health issues: poor vision, reduced hearing, forgetfulness, arthritis, and osteoporosis. 

However, every older adult is different, and how well one ages is determined in large part by nutrition, exercise, and sleep. While one octogenarian may use a walker to get around, another may be preparing for a marathon. The body is an amazing machine, but its longevity and health is determined by taking measures to prevent accelerated wear and tear by making healthy food choices, remaining physically fit, and getting adequate sleep. 

Sleep, in particular, is involved with the activation of certain chemicals like melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone that is released by a gland in the brain; the hormone plays an important role in regulating the circadian rhythm, which is the body’s internal 24-hour clock that controls the sleep-wake cycle. Melatonin is a light-induced hormone. So when it’s light, the body secretes less melatonin; when it’s dark, more melatonin. 

Melatonin’s release from the pineal gland is determined largely in part by the amount of light exposure — natural or artificial. So working late nights in a brightly lit environment or experiencing jet lag can disrupt normal melatonin levels. Even a simple task like drawing your curtains when it’s daytime may expose you to minimal light, which can also affect melatonin. Well, what does this have to do with aging? A lot. Because melatonin decreases with age, the lower amount contributes to sleep problems among older adults.

Various health problems such as osteoporosis ensue with inadequate shut-eye. Osteoporosis is the breakdown of bone that occurs most frequently as we age.  Certain bone cells are involved in building bone up and breaking it down, osteoblasts and osteoclasts, respectively. Interestingly, their activities also follow a circadian pattern: Osteoblasts are active in the daytime, but osteoclasts work at night. So if our sleep cycle is disrupted, as it tends to be in aging adults, then osteoclasts activity is revved up in sleepless states. With less sleep at night, osteoclasts accelerate the activity of bone breakdown, which leads to the porosity of bone commonly seen in osteoporosis. Weak and brittle bones place older adults at risk for fractures from falls. Statistics from the National Institute of Health (NIH) has indicated that approximately 34 million Americans have been diagnosed with osteoporosis.

Fortunately, physical activity, proper nutrition, and high-quality pharmaceutical supplements can help to protect many older adults from age-associated health problems like osteoporosis. In one animal study, researchers found that melatonin supplements helped to improve bone strength in old rats. The study used 22-month-old rats (the equivalent to a 60-year-old person) and divided the rodents into the melatonin-supplemented group and the placebo group. After 10 weeks, the researchers compared the two groups by evaluating the femur bones of the rats using various tests that measured bone strength and density. The researchers found that bone density and volume were greater in the melatonin-supplemented rats than the rats that didn’t receive the supplement.

This study provides great insight into how melatonin-regulated sleep cycle can improve bone health. The researchers plan to conduct further research to determine whether melatonin is preventing or reversing the effects of osteoclasts on bone. To prevent bone breakdown or to improve bone health, I suggest you give your bones a boost through physical activity such as walking briskly or tai chi, which also helps with balance.

In my new book, The Gene Therapy Plan, I recommend foods to promote healthy aging. Consume foods like milk, cheese, yogurt, almonds and green leafy vegetables because they contain loads of calcium that is good for building bones. Make getting adequate sleep a priority — restful nights help to maintain a good balance between daytime and nighttime melatonin. Some tips include not using bright lights a few hours before bedtime, don’t bring your cellphone, tablet, or laptop to bed with you, and lie down in your bed only when you’re feeling sleepy. These nutritional, workout, and sleep-promoting tips will help you to keep your circadian rhythm and bone health in check.

References:

Tresguerres IF, Tamimi F, Eimar H, et al. Melatonin dietary supplement as an anti-aging therapy for age-related bone loss. Rejuvenation Res. 2014 Aug;17(4):341-6.

Photo Credit: www.BillionPhotos.com/Shutterstock.com

Bacterial Enzyme Overpowers Obesity and Conquers Cholesterol

Gut Bacteria

Obesity is a complex health problem. Many factors contribute to obesity: diet, genetics, and lifestyle choices. While there are no quick fixes to weight loss, gut bacteria do play significant roles in our health. Microbes in our gut help to regulate fat metabolism, maintain cholesterol levels, and block weight gain.

In fact, a study has shown that the gut microbial environment of obese individuals is different from those of lean people.  What’s even more interesting is that an obese person who loses weight has gut bacteria that resemble the bacteria found in a lean person.

Further studies in the area of gut bacteria have shown that these bugs produce an enzyme called bile salt hydrolase (BSH) that changes bile acid in the digestive tract. The modification of bile acid by BSH has been shown to improve fat metabolism. In one study, a group of researchers in Cork, Ireland examined lab mice and found that BSH significantly affects cholesterol and lipid metabolism to control obesity and prevent elevated cholesterol. High-level BSH expression in mice resulted in significant weight loss.

So what does all of this actually mean? While the exact mechanism of BSH activity is not clear, the enzyme’s influence on lipid regulation is apparent—BSH controls cholesterol and weight gain. To understand why the bacterial production of this enzyme is important to our health, you have to understand the function of bile acids.

Bile is made in the liver and stored in the gallbladder. It’s a fluid that comprises many molecules such as water, electrolytes, cholesterol, and, of course, bile acid. When we eat, the gallbladder contracts to release bile and the acid in bile is essential for the digestion and absorption of fats. As a result, bile acids are involved in maintaining an intricate balance in regulating fats in the body to prevent obesity and other metabolic conditions associated with excess fat storage (e.g., cardiovascular disease, diabetes).

The regulation of fats by bile acids is influenced by BSH, which is produced by bacteria in the gut. The study demonstrates the importance of gut microbiota in health. In particular, BSH production and its affect on regulating weight gain and cholesterol are strong indicators for obesity and cardiovascular disease. Bacteria in the gut compose 99% of the body’s genetic information, which is why it’s important to ensure healthy intestinal bacteria.

To maintain a healthy gut (1) stay hydrated by drinking lots of water, (2) eat foods that are high in fiber, and (3) consume foods like yogurt and kefir to boost good gut bacterial populations, and (4) add probiotic supplements to your diet. My latest book, The Gene Therapy Plan: Taking Control of Your Genetic Destiny Through Diet and Lifestyle, will be released in April from Viking and includes many healthful foods to beat obesity and rein in high cholesterol levels.