Tag Archives: diet

Folic Acid And Health

Only 400 μg per day of vitamin B9, or folic acid, taken prenatally can help the fetus to develop normally, avoiding miscarriage and reducing the risk of birth defects by nearly three fourths. In particular, it helps prevent spina bifida, a condition in which some of the vertebrae that ordinarily cover the spinal cord don’t fully close, leading to physical problems and neurological and cognitive deficits.

However, there are other birth defects that folic acid, which is a part of the cell division process that underlies almost all tissue formation and growth, can help prevent. It helps prevent all neural tube defects, the type of birth defect of which spina bifida is among the most common, and also congenital heart defects, cleft lip, and other conditions.

To be most useful in fetal development, folic acid should be taken early in the pregnancy—the most effective time to up B9 intake is the first four weeks after conception. Most people don’t know they’re pregnant for much of that time, which is why women who might become pregnant are generally advised to get their extra 400 μg daily, in order to be sure they’re ready. However, getting a head start—being sure to get that amount even before conception—has been shown to have benefits for the future fetus.

Moreover, folic acid is beneficial in adults as well, even men. Folic acid can help prevent colorectal cancer as well as cervical cancer. It’s good for the heart, lowering the risk of heart attack and stroke. It’s also good for a large number of other things. People worried about the effects of growing older should know B9 helps slow or prevent Alzheimer’s disease and a kind of progressive vision loss called age-related macular degeneration, as well as other signs of aging. It’s good for depression and sleep problems, nerve and muscle pain, and even AIDS.

Fortunately, folic acid is easy to get. There are supplements, but most people don’t need them. Vitamin B9 is found in leafy green vegetables, asparagus, okra, bananas, beans, oranges, lemons, organ meats, mushrooms and even yeast. By law it’s added to flour as well in the United States. Inadvertently omitting folic acid from the diet would be next to impossible.

New Year’s Resolution: Lose Weight

One of the most common—possibly the most common—New Year’s resolutions people make is "this year, I will lose weight." It is also one of the most commonly abandoned. People go into it full of good intentions, but somehow it doesn’t seem to happen. It’s not a problem of lack of discipline or will; often, it’s simply a matter of the words being easy to say—particularly in the heat of holiday overeating—but actually following through turns out to be a lot more difficult.

There are things someone can do that make it easier. Setting a specific target is one. Rather than a vague "lose weight," a better resolution is "lose X pounds" or "get under X pounds by a certain date, and stay there". Alternatively, the goal can be not a number, but a practice. The idea is something concrete and measurable, providing a specific course of action and a way of knowing if the resolution is indeed being worked on. Accountability is another motivator. Writing down the resolution, or better yet, telling a friend, lessens the temptation to cheat.

There are also some things it is important no to do. Setting unrealistic goals, or unrealistically strict regimens, can hamper efforts to be healthier by encouraging cheating, or abandoning the resolution entirely. Someone who falls short of a goal is likely to simply give up on the project entirely, and not be motivated to attempt to reach a target they know they won’t be able to. Things like constant weigh-ins or cutting out junk food—anything that makes weight loss a drag or a chore—also do more harm than good.

In fact, some experts suggest that making weight loss a resolution—even with a specific goal weight—may be one of the worst ways to develop healthier habits, for that very reason. By making weight loss seem like a burden and a mandate, someone who makes this resolution gives unhealthy behavior a forbidden-fruit appeal while instilling in themselves exactly the sort of negative emotions that lead people to turn to unhealthy comfort foods. Far better to just decide to eat better and develop a plan for that.

Preventing And Treating Ovarian Cancer

As is often the case with the various forms of cancer, ovarian cancer, which is diagnosed in around 21,000 Americans each year, generally has no clear symptoms at first. This presents a major challenge to health care professionals, because early diagnosis is vital to treatment. Indeed, the survival rate in the early stages, before the tumor has spread, is more than double the overall survival rate for the disease, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

While it is called "the silent killer," ovarian cancer is not wholly asymptomatic, but the symptoms are not always strongly felt and are not specific to cancer—heartburn, back pain, frequent urination, gastrointestinal difficulties, and other symptoms could be any of a number of conditions, though gastrointestinal symptoms that grow steadily worse as opposed to fluctuating may indicate cancer.

Genetically, ovarian cancer is linked with breast cancer; the same genetic mutations that cause someone to be prone to one also indicate a heightened risk of the other, and a family history of either means risk of contracting both. Beyond that, ovarian cancer risk is tied to ovulation. Earlier menarche, later menopause, and not having children are all risk factors, though hormonal birth control can reduce the risk, as can breastfeeding. For similar reasons, fertility treatments and hormone treatment after menopause make ovarian cancer more of a threat.

Researchers have found that a diet high in vitamin A and fiber can help prevent ovarian cancer, as well as compounds called flavonols found in black tea and in citrus. One study also found that women who went up a skirt size in adulthood were one-third more likely to develop caner after menopause. Eating habits are also linked to mortality in people who do get ovarian cancer. In another study, people who had been eating healthily before being diagnosed had a 27 percent lower mortality rate over five years.

A new form of chemotherapy could help doctors fight ovarian cancer more effectively. The approach helps deliver chemo drugs with greater efficiency, making them better at shrinking tumors and allowing lower doses. This approach is expected to also be particularly effective on late-stage ovarian cancer.

Metabolic Syndrome And Diabetes

"Metabolic syndrome" is a medical term referring to a confluence of symptoms that may not always cause distress themselves but that do indicate poor health and a dangerously high risk of other, serious problems later on. The syndrome occurs when someone is obese and has high blood pressure, high blood glucose, or a poor cholesterol profile. In particular, "central obesity," when fat is carried in the abdomen, is a diagnostic criterion. Elevated blood glucose itself indicates a diabetes precursor called insulin resistance. The relevant factors of the cholesterol profile ae triglycerides—high in metabolic syndrome—and HDL cholesterol, low in patients with the condition.

There is strong evidence of a genetic component to the risk of metabolic syndrome, meaning someone with a family history of the condition or of any of the diseases for which it is a risk factor should be careful, but there are a number of risk factors that can be controlled. Diet and exercise are factors; people who eat poorly—foods high in sugar or fat—and a sedentary lifestyle raise the risk of the condition the latter in women especially. People with certain medical conditions, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome or sleep apnea, are especially prone to metabolic syndrome as well.

Because of the insulin connection, people with metabolic syndrome are likely to get type 2 diabetes. Many people with metabolic syndrome have what is called insulin resistance, wherein the body produces insulin normally but the cells are unable to respond to it properly, leading to elevated blood glucose levels. This is a factor in the diagnosis of metabolic syndrome, but it is also a factor in the diagnosis of diabetes, the symptoms of which result from too much glucose in the blood. People with metabolic syndrome are also prone to getting heart disease.

The most common recommendation for people who have or are at risk of metabolic syndrome is to loose weight and exercise more—to address the causative factors of obesity and high blood pressure. It is particularly important for older people and people with a hereditary risk of the condition. A recent study found that eating a healthy breakfast can help avoid cravings for high fat foods later in the day, and help ward off metabolic syndrome.

Mistakes People Make Losing Weight

For too many people happiness means thinness. These people believe that their weight is the only thing standing between them and fulfillment. While this can lead to unhealthy behavior, such as anorexia, bulimia, and other eating disorders, it is also demonstrably not the case even if it is approached in a healthy manner. A study earlier this year of successful dieters—those who had lost more than five percent of their body weight—were physically healthier, but more prone to glumness. Another study found that women who exercised to lose weight were less happy than those who exercised out of a love of exercise. Both studies suggest that the emotional effort required for sustained self-control offset any mood benefits from being thinner.

Moreover, a lot of dieting techniques are less effective than they could be. The biggest example is probably counting calories. Calorie counting is intuitively the most direct way to lose weight—fewer calories, less fat. However, it’s not actually that simple. Eating fewer calories affects metabolism, meaning the body doesn’t burn calories as efficiently, and more of the calories consumed are retained. In addition, many people who try counting calories for weight loss are still counting too many of them; most people who are trying to lose weight overestimate their base metabolism, and thus the number of calories they should consume.

Diet foods, too, would seem to help dieters, but can actual hinder. Research has shown that people who eat diet foods actually consume more calories. That’s because the lower calorie count of each portion becomes, in the dieter’s subconscious, license to indulge in the foods more than they otherwise might. Instead, experts They compensate for the lower-calorie foods by eating larger portions of what is available.

Instead, experts say the better strategy is to eat smaller portions of ordinary food. Other strategies that can be helpful are to leave space for cheating. A person who insists on being perfect about sticking to the diet at all times will consider themselves doomed to failure after a single lapse. However, someone who knows that these things happen will see a lapse as an occasional thing that shouldn’t derail the grand plan.

Diabetes And Fitness

Good news for people who lead active lives: it’s one of the best and most effective ways to avoid type 2 diabetes. Unlike type 1, type 2 diabetes isn’t congenital; instead, it happens during a person’s life. Risk factors for type 2 diabetes include inactivity and eating too many sugary foods, and in people who get diabetes, these factors can also affect the severity. Exercise, in particular, is considered the most effective treatment for diabetes. Patients who are taking medication are urged to add exercise as well to boost its effectiveness. Studies show that people who exercise get three times the benefit from diabetes medication as more sedentary people.

Diet can also make a difference. A diet high in legumes, vegetables such as peas, beans, and lentils, for example, reduces levels of a protein known as glycated hemoglobin. High glycated hemoglobin levels are associated with type 2 diabetes—indeed, doctors regard an excess of glycated hemoglobin as a diagnostic indicator of diabetes. As with exercise, legumes provide a benefit to diabetics as well. Eating legumes has been found to reduce the risk of heart disease in people with diabetes—fiber provides similar benefits to a lesser degree.

In addition to diet and exercise, other things that prevent diabetes are melatonin and oddly, whole-body vibration. Brief, daily whole-body vibration of people with conditions typically regarded as precursors to type 2 diabetes may help keep glucose levels under control. Vibration was tested on laboratory animals , and found to work on juveniles, but was not as effective in full grown specimen. Nonetheless, researchers hold out hope that applications can be found that will be beneficial to human beings.

Melatonin is a sleep hormone produced by the brain, and melatonin supplements are often used as a sleep aid. A study has found that people with lower concentrations of melatonin in the blood are more prone to developing type 2 diabetes. The study found that people with insufficient melatonin have more than twice the diabetes risk. The mechanism is not entirely clear. However, melatonin can help prevent or reduce weight gain, and being overweight has been associated with risk of diabetes.

Bulimia Basics

As many as one percent of all women are believed to have bulimia, an eating disorder characterized by a cycle of binging and purging. Unlike anorexia, in which patients simply do not eat, people with bulimia eat normally or even excessively, then "purge" by forcing themselves often to vomit. Some bulimics purge using laxatives as well as or instead of emetics, or by exercising. Bulimia and anorexia can occur in the same person, part of a broader pattern of eating disorders; both are rooted in an obsession with food, calories, and control.

Although men can and do develop eating disorders, more than 80 percent of people with bulimia are female, although it is difficult to get exact figures for men even more than for women. There is a hereditary component to bulimia; people with bulimic relatives are likely to develop the disorder themselves. As with other eating disorders, bulimia owes a lot to the broader culture. Where thinness and beauty are highly prized, women tend to feel more pressure to develop the sort of obsession with weight that leads to bulimia. People with psychological and emotional issues, such as perfectionism, obsessive-compulsive disorder, poor impulse control, anxiety, or depression, are at risk for bulimia.

Bulimia can be dangerous. Purging through emesis can damage the esophagus and the teeth, and excessive laxative use can permanently alter the functioning of the digestive system. The binge-purge cycle puts a strain on the heart and can lead to dehydration. Signs of bulimia include secrecy, rushing to the bathroom immediately after meals, calluses on the knuckles, and fluctuations in weight. Unlike anorexics, bulimics are not necessarily underweight.

Treatment for bulimia can be a complex process. Beyond psychological help to fix the disordered eating itself—which can be a lifelong process—the actual purging is likely to have damaged the body, and this damage has to be repaired as much as possible. In addition, treating bulimia involves not only the patient but also her or his family and social circle; as with addiction, it is necessary for the patient to be surrounded by people who will encourage recovery, not relapse. The patient also needs to relearn normal, non-disordered eating habits to have a chance of fully recovering.

Celiac Disease

Found in grains such as wheat, rye, and barley, gluten is the stuff that makes it possible for bread to rise—it gives it the structure to expand up rather than out. However, for nearly one percent of Americans, it is indigestible. These people have a condition called celiac sprue, which is a sensitivity to molecules in a component of wheat gluten called gliaden. These molecules cause bowel inflammation, which damages the small intestine and keeps the person from properly absorbing nutrients from food. Celiac is particularly common in people with conditions such as type 1 diabetes, lupus, thyroid disease, Down syndrome, and colitis.

However, most people don’t have significant symptoms, with the possible exception of slight fatigue as malabsorption leads to malnourishment over the long term. When celiac is this mild, however, even that might not be severe enough to be recognized as a symptom. Other patients are less lucky. For them, celiac means bloating, gastrointestinal distress, bloating, diarrhea, bruising, flatulence, even infertility and nosebleeds.

Another symptom people with celiac often experience is "brain fog," or confusion and cognitive difficulties that affect attention, memory, and problem solving abilities. A new study suggests that this may actually be related to intestinal health in celiac patients, and that a gluten-free diet, the main tool in managing the disease, and also help restore mental functioning. People with celiac who switched to gluten-free eating were better able to focus, the study showed.

There is currently no treatment for celiac disease. Unlike lactose intolerance, which can be addressed by taking enzymes which digest the problem nutrient, there is no way for people with celiac to eat gluten safely. Nor can the damage to the intestines be easily repaired, though a gluten-free diet will not only help avoid further problems, but will also let the intestines heal naturally. Celiac disease means a life of looking out for gluten in foods.

However, avoiding gluten is not as difficult as it sounds; many common foods are gluten-free, such as beans, eggs, and most dairy, and nowadays there are plenty of gluten-free substitutes that compare quite well to the originals. Even many grains, such as arrowroot, cornmeal, quinoa, rice flour, flax, soy, and teff, are gluten-free. The biggest difficulty is avoiding cross contamination in other people’s kitchens but with a little planning this can easily be dealt with.

Grapefruit For Health

Though a breakfast staple today, grapefruit were first cultivated in the 18th century, when a hybrid of Jamaican oranges and a Indonesian fruit called pomelo was grown in Jamaica. At first, it was considered too bitter to be edible, but soon it was being praised as better than oranges. The first grapefruit in the United States were grown from fruits brought to Florida in 1823. Grapefruit is now grown in Texas and Florida, as well as China, the Caribbean, and the Middle East.

Today, grapefruit is enjoyed not only for its taste but also for its health benefits—but it’s possible to take this too far. In recent years, many magazines and web sites have touted what is supposedly the "Mayo Clinic diet," which is heavy on grapefruit. This is wrong on two counts:

  • Grapefruit, while healthy, is not the miracle food it is said to be. Grapefruit-based diet plans typically call for one and a half grapefruit each day, but there is no scientific evidence this will contribute to weight loss.
  • The real Mayo Clinic diet is actually based not on specific foods, but on the dieter changing eating habits wholesale—it is as much psychological as nutritional. The Mayo Clinic does not endorse grapefruit-based diets, or any single-food-centered diets or diet programs with rigid menus, and in fact warns that they may be dangerous.
    • That’s not to say grapefruit doesn’t have health benefits. Grapefruit is full of antioxidants—substances that help protect against heart disease—such as vitamin C and lycopene. In fact, grapefruit juice has among the highest levels of antioxidant activity of any food. Eating one grapefruit per day, studies show, can lower cholesterol levels as much as 15 percent. D-limonene, another component of grapefruit, blocks the formation of carcinogens and keeps cells in the body from turning cancerous. Grapefruit also improves iron absorption.

      There is a downside, however. Grapefruit juice can interfere with some medications. People taking statin drugs, antidepressants, and blood pressure medications may find that grapefruit juice heightens the effects of these medications, to the point that accidental overdose becomes a significant risk. In addition, grapefruit is high in potassium, which can be dangerous to people with kidney problems.

Weight Loss and Happiness

Although some research indicates losing weight makes people healthier, many dieters don’t cite health concerns as their reason for trying to lose weight. Instead, they say they are doing it in pursuit of a more general life improvement. Now a new study, which followed nearly 2,000 people in the Unite Kingdom over four years, reiterates that people who expect weight loss to lead to a better, happier life may well wind up disappointed, and in reality, losing weight does not make people happy.

One aspect of the problem is high expectations. Weight is only one aspect of someone’s life, an a fat person with problems who slims down is likely to end up as a thinner person with many of the same problems. Moreover, weight loss is a slow and difficult process, and there are no instant results. The researchers characterized their results as meaning that dieters should not expect instant improvement in all areas.

That doesn’t necessarily mean no one should bother. In the study, subjects who had a weight loss of at least five percent were found to have significantly improved health outcomes. Fourteen percent of study subjects achieve this level of weight loss, an average of 15 pounds each, and their physical health improved, but at the cost of mental health. Even taking unrelated averse life events into consideration, the subjects who lost weight were 50 percent more likely to be depressed than those who did not.

The researchers cite unrealistic expectations, encouraged both by the culture generally and weight loss industry advertising in particular, as one factor in this linkage. Another aspect of it is the constant temptation, also encouraged by advertising, to eat unhealthy foods and foods that might impede weight loss. In fact, many of these foods are promoted as enjoyable because they are in opposition to weight loss efforts.

The researchers say their findings are relevant not only to people considering losing weight but to their doctors. They say doctors should take mental health and well-being into account when advising patients on whether and how to lose weight. Doctors should monitor patients who are losing weight to ensure that signs of depression are promptly addressed. The study only looked at the weight loss period, an it is not known if the effect diminishes or disappears once the goal is reached and the dieter can switch focus from losing weight to keeping it off.