Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Unhealthy Dieting : The Consequences

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Unhealthy dieting may result in many undesirable consequences. Going on an extremely low-calorie eating plan that is devoid of necessary nutrients can not only sabotage your dieting efforts in the long run, but it often results in unintended health consequences too.

The Following are five consequences of unhealthy dieting :

1. Fatigue and Nausea
Some unhealthy dieting practices involve extreme calorie reduction. Juice fasts where you go for weeks without consuming solid foods often result in undesirable side effects. Fatigue, nausea, dizziness and headaches are common consequences of these unhealthy diets.

2. Eventual Weight Gain
When you go on an extreme diet, you don’t have the opportunity to gradually develop habits that will sustain you in the long haul.The challenge with unhealthy diets is that they usually cannot be sustained in the long term. You may be able to survive on a short term basis on an extremely low-calorie diet, but eventually you will have to resume eating regular meals.
It is much healthier and you will see greater results in the long term if you adjust your diet gradually. Instead of cutting thousands of calories on a daily basis, find ways to cut a few hundred calories each day. Combine that with daily exercise. When your body has energy, you can be more active and exercise will develop your muscles, which helps to burn off even more calories.

3. Binge Eating
Binge eating is sometimes the outcome of having gone too long without necessary nutrition and calories. If you consistently skip meals when on a diet, it is possible to feel deprived and eat many more calories late at night, especially if you’re unable to fall asleep from intense hunger.Unhealthy dieting can result in feelings of deprivation. If you cut your calories excessively, eliminate all of your favorite foods and eat very little food that delivers much needed nutrition, the consequence is often a need to make up for everything you missed out on.

4. Muscle Loss
Unhealthy dieting practices that don’t incorporate enough protein can lead to unwanted muscle loss. When you don’t consume enough protein in your diet, your body will consume its own muscle mass.Your body needs protein to build and repair tissues, and carry out a large number of processes.

5. Challenge to Mental Health
Unhealthy dieting is challenging for your mental health. Many people feel grumpy and irritable when they are hungry. Not getting enough calories, not having enough energy to carry out daily tasks, feeling dizzy and nauseous can all combine to push some extreme dieters into feelings of deep sadness or even depression.

The best way to avoid the consequences of unhealthy dieting is to establish healthy eating patterns. Do this gradually. Identify aspects of your diet that you want to change and work on one component at a time. Reduce calories gradually. Exercise more. Address your emotional needs. Over time, you will see the pounds fall off and stay off in the long term.

Sleep Disorder & Diabetes

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A new study reveals scientists have found a relationship between a gene associated with the “sleep hormone” melatonin, and the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes.We’ve seen a great deal of research that indicates a strong link between sleep disorders and Type 2 diabetes. 

Now there’s evidence that this link may be genetic. A group of researchers from France, Canada, and the UK have discovered a link between the risk of Type 2 diabetes and several mutations in the body’s melatonin receptor gene, a gene known as MTNR1B. Working with a group of 7,632 European women—3,186 of whom already had Type 2 diabetes—researchers found:
  • 40 different—and rare—mutations to the melatonin receptor gene associated with varying degrees of increased risk of Type 2 diabetes.
  • Analyzing these 4 mutations in an additional 11,854 people, researchers found that the presence of any single one was associated with a significantly increased risk of Type 2 diabetes—a risk as much as six times higher than average.
  •  4 of these rare mutations actually caused a total loss of function in the melatonin receptor gene
Previous research had already established a link between diabetes risk and other, more common mutations to the melatonin receptor gene MTNR1B. This new study has revealed both a wider range of mutations to the gene that can affect diabetes risk, as well as the elevated risk among the four rare mutations that disable the receptor gene altogether.

Melatonin plays a critical role in synchronizing the body’s biological clock and regulating its sleep-wake cycle. The rise-and-fall cycle of melatonin release is critical to our ability to sleep at night. A disruption in the body’s ability to produce melatonin will lead to disordered sleep.
 This is complicated stuff. These latest results also raise questions, and remind us just how much we still have to learn about the body’s biological sleep functions and the relationship to diabetes, as well as other chronic diseases.
There’s also evidence that disturbances to melatonin production may affect the body’s insulin levels. Insulin resistance—the body’s inability to use insulin effectively— is a fundamental characteristic of Type 2 diabetes. When functioning normally, the body produces just the amount of insulin it needs to help cells absorb glucose from the blood stream. Disturbances to insulin levels can lead this finely-tuned process to go awry.

What we do know is that there is a compelling and growing body of evidence that sleep—and its biological and genetic underpinnings—plays a significant role in determining risk for diabetes. Recent studies have shown:
  • Just one night of sleeping only 4 hours—rather than the recommended 7 to 8—can trigger insulin resistance.
  • Sleeping fewer than 6 hours increases the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. And the less sleep you get, the greater the risk—this same study found sleeping fewer than 5 hours elevates diabetes risk even further
  •  Poor sleep is linked to both weight gain and insulin resistance in healthy adults
Type 2 diabetes is most often thought of as a disease related to diet and exercise. There’s no question that poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle increase risk for diabetes. But often sleep is overlooked as a risk factor. When assessing risk for developing diabetes, disordered sleep should be considered as seriously as a diet full of fatty, starchy and processed foods, or a lack of physical activity. 
Too often, I’m afraid, this is not the case. In the meantime, all of us —doctors and patients both— need to give more attention to sleep as a risk factor for diabetes, and an overall indicator of general health.

Antibiotic Stewardship is Everyone’s Responsibility

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Since Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin in 1928 the world has been fascinated by this miracle drug that had the potential to save countless lives. When Dr. Fleming was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1945, about the time penicillin was being introduced into modern medicine, he warned of its potential dangers as well, but the enamored medical community was not listening. By the time that I was born in 1951, penicillin was being used for just about everything. It did not take long for antimicrobial resistance to occur. This miracle drug started to become less of a miracle.

Pharmaceutical researchers, in an on-going battle to combat emerging antibiotic resistance, scrambled and searched for new antibiotics. The battle continues to this day. Microorganisms naturally survive by complex adaptations. If just a few bugs survive an attack by antibiotics, those resistant organisms will multiply…and multiply…and multiply.  Soon, the original antibiotic will become less effective and, eventually, worthless.
Who is to blame? The simple answer is: everyone. In the past two decades, antimicrobial resistant organisms have risen to alarming levels due to a number of factors, but the primary reason has been the inappropriate use of antibiotics for acute viral infections (colds, influenza, viral sore throats, etc.). We have improved on this “treat ‘em all with antibiotics and let the body sort out the need” attitude over the last decade but we still have a long way to go.

 Strep throat – a bacterial infection – can present with some characteristic signs after you have had it a few days. The throat becomes bright red, covered in tiny hemorrhages called petechiae, and the breath smells awful. The person may have a fever, and children tend to have upset stomachs and malaise. (Incidentally, the “white stuff” that people see on the tonsils is NOT a characteristic sign of Strep.) Earlier in the course (the first few days), the throat may look normal, so the only way that you can be sure is to run a diagnostic test. A rapid Strep test, even taken carefully, is not a 100% accurate, but it is pretty darn good. A throat culture for Strep takes 2-3 days and is 100% accurate, but few people want to wait anymore.  Some medical providers do both; some don’t use tests at all. They feel they can diagnose Strep just by looking at it, but studies have shown that even the best clinicians are wrong 50% of the time. They might as well flip a coin in front of the patient. They just shell out the antibiotics, just in case, and just because a patient demands or expects them. This is a dangerous, on-going practice.

Children under the age of 14 or so are usually the ones who get inappropriately treated with antibiotics. Adults will wing it for a week or so with a nasty respiratory infection, but they rush the kids right to the doctor at the first sign of an illness, like a fever, sore throat, or a cough. Since most of these respiratory illnesses are due to self-limiting viruses, antibiotics would be futile.  Medical providers often find it easier, less-confrontational, and faster just to prescribe an antibiotic that is probably worthless than to take the time and effort to educate the patient.

Not to over-simplify the issue at hand, but it can be narrowed down to two causes: Inappropriate prescribing by medical providers who should know better, and patients who demand or expect antibiotics. There are three simple, logical steps that can make things better for all of us:
  1. Clinicians should follow evidence-based practices. No longer can medical providers afford to shoot from the hip when it comes to treating infectious diseases. Patients deserve to be treated on sound, scientific principles not clinical suspicions.
  2. Education may be preferable to Medication. Medical providers need to learn to say NO. If an illness is clearly viral, then forego antibiotics. Stop routinely treating middle ear infections with powerful antibiotics. The evidence is there. Read it. For patients, take time to educate yourselves about standard medical practices. Work with your medical provider as a partner, not an adversary. Stop demanding, begging, or soliciting treatment that is not needed.
  3.  An accurate diagnosis is essential. ER doctors cannot diagnose a middle ear infection in a child whose ears are full of wax, so why give antibiotics based on ear pain alone? Since most middle ear infections resolve on their own without antibiotics, parents should not demand, expect, or accept them. Insist on a Strep test to confirm a diagnosis rather than just randomly using an antibiotic.
Over time, this more judicious use of antibiotics will result in a turn-around. Not only will many of the super-bugs lose their acquired resistances, our improved immune systems will become stronger. If we do need to use antibiotics, we may be able to return to less-potent antimicrobial agents again. Antibiotics have been precious gift to mankind, but we cannot take them for granted anymore.

Does Chocolate Decrease the Risk of Strokes in Women?

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In the October 18, 2011 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Dr. Susanna Larsson of the National Institute of Environmental Medicine in Stockholm, Sweden stated in a news release that women who consume up to two bars of chocolate per week showed a significantly reduced risk of stroke. Those women who ate up to a half of a bar or even smaller amounts also had a reduction in the stroke rate.

Investigators listed the women into categories ranging from those who never ate chocolate to those who indulged three or more times a week and examined the risk of stroke over a mean follow-up of 10 years, adjusting for major risk factors associated with stroke. The study included 33,372 women who were asked to report how often and how much chocolate and other foods they consumed over the course of a year. Women who reported having been diagnosed with hypertension did not show any significant benefit; however, those without hypertension and higher chocolate consumption seemed to show a decrease in strokes. The researchers identified 1549 strokes in their study.

So, what are the health properties of chocolate? Researchers have long thought that cocoa, the main ingredient in chocolate, may have cardiovascular benefits due to the flavonoids in cocoa and their antioxidant properties. Antioxidants protect the body from damage caused by free radicals and can suppress oxidation of low-density lipoprotein particles, which are the carriers of the bad cholesterol in the blood. Dark chocolate consumption has also been shown to reduce blood pressure, which is a major risk factor for stroke, but the data is limited at best.

I know this sounds great to chocolate lovers, but there’s a problem with the way the study was conducted. The gold standard of any trial is to have what is called level 1 evidence. This means that the study was randomized, blinded to the researchers, controlled, and resulted in a statistically significant primary endpoint. An example of this would be a study comparing two drugs or a drug versus a placebo in which neither the patient nor the investigator knew what the patients were being given. The study is rigorously controlled and the goal of the study (primary endpoint) is clearly reached with statistical significance. This study did not appear to follow such strict standards.

First, the women were given a food frequency questionnaire and from this these wonderful results were reported. I don’t remember what I ate yesterday let alone keeping track of everything for an entire year. Then, a statistician was brought in to adjust the data and was somehow able to exclude anything else that may impact stroke rates. The result is a study saying that Swedish women who ate a certain amount of chocolate had lower stroke rates than those who did not. The association between chocolate consumption and stroke was stronger the higher the concentration of cocoa in the chocolate.

Now the question from chocoholics is: how much should one eat? Chocolate, and especially chocolate bars, are high in sugar, fat and calories and should therefore be consumed in moderation if at all. Dark chocolate, with a concentration of greater than 50% cocoa, is usually lower in sugar and has higher flavonoid content. Indulgence in chocolate in moderation remains a reasonable approach to satisfy a craving. Eating a healthy diet, controlling blood pressure and cholesterol levels, and modifying other risk factors for stroke is the best approach for now.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Is Your Diet Aging You?

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Did you look in the mirror this morning and think, “Wow, I look great?” Or instead, did you glance in the glass and think, “When did I get so old?” 
If it was the latter, you might want to take a look at your refrigerator, kitchen cupboard, and dinner table for one of the culprits. Aging happens to all of us, of course. There’s no way to put the brakes on it, no matter what the latest “nutraceuticals” may claim.

But an unhealthy diet can send your aging process into overdrive, leaving you looking years older than your real age -- and probably not doing the inside of your body any favors, either.

Quality Counts

“There’s an incredible amount of evidence that says that eating junk puts your body into an inflammatory state,” says Timothy Harlan, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Tulane University School of Medicine, a former restaurateur known as “Dr. Gourmet," and author of Just Tell Me What to Eat!
“Poor-quality foods, like trans fats, cause inflammation -- and aging is basically a chronic inflammatory state," Harlan says. "Can you look older because you’re eating crap? Absolutely.”
For example, too much sugar and processed carbohydrates in the diet can lead to the production of what are called AGEs -- advanced glycation end products. “These are associated with a number of diseases, like heart disease and diabetes, but they also damage the collagen and fibers of your skin,” says Andrea Giancoli, MPH, RD, a nutrition policy consultant for the California Center for Public Health Advocacy and a spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

Foods to Limit

Here are five examples of foods that you may want to limit to stay as young as possible, inside and out:
  1. Less-than-lean red meats. The key with meat is to keep it lean to minimize saturated fats, which are big producers of inflammation and no friend of your arteries. The USDA's 2010 dietary guidelines recommends eating a variety of protein foods, including lean meats. The American Heart Association suggests that you keep saturated fats from all sources (not just red meat) to less than 7% of your daily calorie intake.
  2.  Hot dogs, bacon, and pepperoni -- any processed meats. Sad to say, the meats on your favorite home-delivery pizza and ballpark dogs aren’t doing you any favors. They’re high in saturated fats and also contain nitrates, both of which contribute to the inflammatory process.
  3. Doughnuts and sugary pastries. These pack a multiple whammy -- often they’re high in trans fats and of course they’re packed with sugar, which is also linked with inflammation. And they produce those wrinkle-generating AGEs Giancoli talks about.
  4. Potato chips and French fries. Really, anything that’s deep-fried in oil is laden with trans fats, which contribute to inflammation throughout your entire body. You should keep trans fats to less than 1% of your daily diet, says the American Heart Association.
  5. Alcohol. This is a tough one: Some alcohol may be good for you, but too much can absolutely age you prematurely. “Research says there’s a sweet spot for alcohol,” Harlan says. That’s one drink per day for women (such as a 5-ounce glass of wine or 12-ounce glass of beer) and two for men. If you drink, on average, one or two alcoholic drinks per day, that may be good for your heart. More than that, and you may be revving the aging process and its associated diseases like liver disease and certain cancers. If you don't drink, health experts don't advise you to start, and if you do drink, talk to your doctor to make sure your drinking is in line with your particular health concerns.
More importantly, Harlan says, eating a diet rich in high-quality foods can reduce inflammation, and help to keep you from looking your best. “It’s very clear that following a Mediterranean-style diet reduces the risk of a number of illnesses associated with aging, like cancer, Alzheimer’s, and heart disease.”

Foods to Favor

Harlan and Giancoli both reluctant to pick out a list of “superfoods” that help to keep you looking young and healthy.
“There are people who have these theories that foods that are very high in antioxidants somehow slow the aging process, and there is some scant evidence of that in animal models,” Harlan says. “But don’t just pick out a few foods and focus on them. The minute you start talking about individual foods, people lose sight of the big picture.”

So avoid fad diets that are all about salmon and acai berries, he says. “I want you to eat lots of broccoli and sweet potatoes and salmon and chickpeas and good-quality chicken. Eat a healthy variety of foods and that will keep you looking your best.”
 In general, many sources are now saying that a traditional Mediterranean-style diet -- rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and lean protein -- is your best option for overall health.
Another important factor, Giancoli adds, is eating wholefoods, closest to their natural state as possible. “Don’t just eat plants, eat them pretty close to how they were when they came out of the ground or off the tree,” she says.
So instead of “superfoods,” here’s a list of five foods that are key elements of the Mediterranean diet, and are examples of the kinds of foods you need to be getting more of.

  1. Salmon. Along with other freshwater fish like tuna and herring, salmon is high in omega-3 fatty acids, which fight inflammation.
  2. Tomatoes. Along with watermelon, grapefruit, guavas, asparagus, and red cabbage, tomatoes are particularly high in the antioxidant lycopene.
  3. Oatmeal. Studies have found that whole grains such as oatmeal, whole wheat breads and pastas, brown rice, couscous, and quinoa help to reduce inflammation. “These also have B vitamins in them, like thiamine and riboflavin, which are important for skin as well,” Giancoli says. “Deficiencies in them causes rashes and scaly skin appearance.”
  4. Lentils. Beans are one of Harlan’s favorite sources of protein and are loaded with fiber and antioxidant vitamins. Try black beans, split peas, limas and pintos, and even fat-free refried beans. “Your skin is essentially made of protein, so if you don’t get enough healthy protein in your diet, your skin will reflect that,” Giancoli says. “Along with fish, beans are a great way to get it.”
  5. Romaine lettuce. Plain old Romaine salad is high in vitamins A and C, antioxidant vitamins that help battle inflammation. Other dark leafy greens that should be on your list include broccoli, spinach, arugula, watercress, escarole, and endive.
And you have to keep eating healthy to stay looking good. “Skin sloughs off all the time, so you need regular incoming doses of vitamins, nutrients, plant chemicals that we call phytonutrients, healthy fats, and proteins,” Giancoli says. “If you’re not getting enough of the good stuff on a regular basis, you won’t be able to produce healthy new skin cells in the way that you should.”
If you eat a diet like this, will you look better in the mirror? “That depends,” Harlan says. “I looked pretty ugly in the mirror before! But if you eat healthy, you are absolutely going to look better.”

Caffeine : The Myth and Facts

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Caffeine myth or caffeine fact?
Chances are you have some real misperceptions about caffeine. Do you know the most common sources of caffeine? Well, maybe two of the sources aren't too hard to name -- tea leavescoffee . But did you know cocoa beans and  kola nuts are also included among the most common caffeine sources? And do you know how much caffeine content can vary from food to food? Turns out it's quite a lot actually, depending on the type and serving size of a food or beverage and how it's prepared. and
Caffeine content can range from as much as 160 milligrams in some energy drinks to as little as 4 milligrams in a 1-ounce serving of chocolate-flavored syrup. Even decaffeinated coffee isn't completely free of caffeine. Caffeine is also present in some over-the-counter pain relievers, cold medications, and diet pills. These products can contain as little as 16 milligrams or as much as 200 milligrams of caffeine. In fact, caffeine itself is a mild painkiller and increases the effectiveness of other pain relievers.
Want to know more? Following is some of the most common myths about caffeine and gathered the facts to shed some light on those myths.

Caffeine Myth No. 1: Caffeine Is Likely to Cause Insomnia

Your body quickly absorbs caffeine. But it also gets rid of it quickly. Processed mainly through the liver, caffeine has a relatively short half-life. This means it takes about five to seven hours, on average, to eliminate half of it from your body. After eight to 10 hours, 75% of the caffeine is gone. For most people, a cup of coffee or two in the morning won't interfere with sleep at night.

Taking caffeine later in the day, however, can interfere with sleep. If you're like most people, your sleep won't be affected if you don't consume caffeine at least six hours before going to bed. Your sensitivity may vary, though, depending on your metabolism and the amount of caffeine you regularly consume. People who are more sensitive may not only experience insomnia but also have caffeine side effects of nervousness and gastrointestinal upset.

Moderate amounts of caffeine -- about 300 milligrams, or three cups of coffee -- apparently cause no harm in most healthy adults. Some people are more vulnerable to its effects, however. That includes such people as those who have high blood pressure or are older. Here are the facts:
  • Cardiovascular disease and caffeine. A slight, temporary rise in heart rate and blood pressure is common in those who are sensitive to caffeine. But several large studies do not link caffeine to higher cholesterol, irregular heartbeats, or an increased risk of cardiovascular disease. If you already have high blood pressure, though, have a discussion with your doctor about your caffeine intake. You may be more sensitive to its effects. Also, more research is needed to tell whether caffeine increases the risk for stroke in people with high blood pressure.
  •  Osteoporosis and caffeine. At high levels (more than 744 milligrams/day), caffeine may increase calcium and magnesium loss in urine. But recent studies suggest it does not increase your risk for bone loss, especially if you get enough calcium. You can offset the calcium lost from drinking one cup of coffee by adding just two tablespoons of milk. However, research does show some links between caffeine and hip fracture risk in older adults. Older adults may be more sensitive to the effects of caffeine on calcium metabolism. If you're an older woman, discuss with your doctor whether you should limit your daily caffeine intake to 300 milligrams or less.
  • Cancer and caffeine. Reviews of 13 studies involving 20,000 people revealed no relationship between cancer and caffeine. In fact, caffeine may even have a protective effect against certain cancers.

Caffeine Myth No. 2: Caffeine Is Addictive

This one has some truth to it, depending on what you mean by "addictive." Caffeine is a stimulant to the central nervous system, and regular use of caffeine does cause mild physical dependence. But caffeine doesn't threaten your physical, social, or economic health the way addictive drugs do. (Although after seeing your monthly spending at the coffee shop, you might disagree!)
If you stop taking caffeine abruptly, you may have symptoms for a day or more, especially if you consume two or more cups of coffee a day. Symptoms of withdrawal from caffeine include:
  • headache
  • difficulty concentrating
  • depressed mood
  • anxiety
  • irritability
  • fatigue
No doubt, caffeine withdrawal can make for a few bad days. However, caffeine does not cause the severity of withdrawal or harmful drug-seeking behaviors as street drugs or alcohol. For this reason, most experts don't consider caffeine dependence a serious  addiction.

Caffeine Myth No. 3: Caffeine Is Harmful for Women Trying to Get Pregnant

Many studies show no links between low amounts of caffeine (a cup of coffee per day) and any of the following:
  • trouble conceiving
  •  low birth rate
  • birth defects
  • premature birth
  • miscarriage
At the same time, for pregnant women or those attempting pregnancy, the March of Dimes suggests fewer than 200 milligrams of caffeine per day. That's largely because in limited studies, women consuming higher amounts of caffeine had an increased risk for miscarriage.

Caffeine Myth No. 4: Caffeine Can Help You Sober Up

Actually, research suggests that people only think caffeine helps them sober up. For example, people who drink caffeine along with alcohol think they're OK behind the wheel. But the truth is reaction time and judgment are still impaired. College kids who drink both alcohol and caffeine are actually more likely to have car accidents.

Caffeine Myth No. 5: Caffeine Has a Dehydrating Effect

Caffeine can make you need to urinate. However, the fluid you consume in caffeinated beverages tends to offset the effects of fluid loss when you urinate. The bottom line is that although caffeine does act as a mild diuretic, studies show drinking caffeinated drinks doesn't actually cause dehydration.
 As of 2004, children ages 6 to 9 consumed about 22 milligrams of caffeine per day. However, energy drinks that contain caffeine are becoming increasingly popular.
Studies suggest that up to 300 milligrams of caffeine daily is safe for kids. But is it smart? Many kids are sensitive to caffeine, developing temporary anxiety or irritability, with a "crash" afterwards. Also, most caffeine that kids drink is in sodas, energy drinks, or sweetened teas, all of which have high sugar content. These empty calories put kids at higher risk for obesity.
Even if the caffeine itself isn't harmful, caffeinated drinks are generally not good for kids.

Caffeine Myth No. 6: Caffeine Has No Health Benefits

Caffeine has few proven health benefits. But the list of caffeine's potential benefits is interesting. Any regular coffee drinker may tell you that caffeine improves alertness, concentration, energy, clear-headedness, and feelings of sociability. You might even be the type who needs that first cup o' Joe each morning before you say a single word. Scientific studies support these subjective findings. One French study even showed a slower decline in cognitive ability among women who consumed caffeine.
Other possible benefits include improved immune function from caffeine's anti-inflammatory effects and help with allergic reactions due to caffeine's ability to reduce concentrations of histamines. Some people's asthma also appears to benefit from caffeine. These research findings are intriguing, but still need to be proven.
Limited evidence suggests caffeine may also reduce the risk of the following:
  • type 2 diabetes
  • Parkinson's disease
  • liver disease
  • colorectal cancer
  • dementia
Despite its potential benefits, don't forget that high levels of caffeine may have adverse effects. More studies are needed to confirm both its benefits and potential risks.


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Men and Women: 10 Differences that Make a Difference

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The Society for Women's Health Research brought attention to sex differences in initiating the groundbreaking 2001 Institute of Medicine report, Exploring the Biological Contribution to Human Health: Does Sex Matter? 
The report underscored the need to better understand the importance of sex differences and translate that knowledge into improved medical practice and therapies.

When it comes to health, there are many crucial health differences between women and men . Yet many women don't know that they react differently to some medications, are more vulnerable to some diseases, and may have different symptoms.

The following are some quick but crucial facts about sex differences in health care that we probably did not know.
  • Depression – Women are two-to-three times more likely than men to suffer from depression in part because women's brains make less of the hormone serotonin.
  • Osteoporosis – Women comprise 80% of the population suffering from osteoporosis, which is attributable to a higher rate of lost bone mass.
  • Anesthesia – Women tend to wake up from anesthesia more quickly than men — an average of seven minutes for women and 11 minutes for men.
  • Heart Disease – Heart disease kills 500,000 American women each year — over 50,000 more women than men — and strikes women, on average, 10 years later than men. Women are more likely than men to have a second heart attack within a year of the first one.
  • Smoking – Smoking has a more negative effect on cardiovascular health in women than men. Women are also less successful quitting smoking and have more severe withdrawal symptoms.
  • STDs – Women are two times more likely than men to contract a sexually transmitted disease, and more likely to experience significant drops in body weight, which can lead to wasting syndrome.
  • Alcohol – Women produce less of the gastric enzyme that breaks down ethanol in the stomach. Therefore, after consuming the same amount of alcohol, women have higher blood alcohol content than men, even allowing for size differences.
  • Autoimmune Disease – Three out of four people suffering from autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus, are women.
  • Pain – Some pain medications (known as kappa-opiates) are far more effective in relieving pain in women than in men.
  • Drug reactions – Even common drugs like antihistamines and antibiotic drugs can cause different reactions and side effects in women and men.

Keep the Faith and Keep Your Health

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For more than twenty years, social epidemiologist Jeff Levin, Ph.D., M.P.H., has been collecting data to see if there's a link between faith and health.
"About 80% to 90% of these studies show there is something positive going on. We're swimming in empirical evidence."

Among those documenting the case is Harold G. Koenig, M.D., professor of psychiatry at the Duke University Medical Center: "Our studies have shown those who benefit most are those who both attend religious services and practice personal belief at home such as reading religious literature and prayer," he says.

According to his research as director of the Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, Dr. Koenig, who also has led seminars on the subject for the Harvard Medical School Continuing Medical Education program, has found:
  • Religious people tend to have healthier lifestyles. People who attend church at least weekly have about one-third the rate of alcohol abuse and are about one-third as likely to smoke as those who seldom participate in congregational worship.
  • People who attend religious services regularly may have stronger immune systems than their less-religious counterparts.
  • Religious youth show significantly lower levels of drug and alcohol abuse, premature sexual involvement, and criminal delinquency than their non-religious peers. They also are less likely to express suicidal thoughts or make actual attempts on their lives.
  • People who regularly attend church service, pray individually, and read the Bible are 40% less likely to have diastolic high blood pressure than those who seldom participate in these religious activities.
  • The deeper a person's religious faith, the less likely he or she is to suffer depression during and after hospitalization for physical illness..
  • People who attend church regularly are hospitalized less often and leave the hospital sooner than people who never or rarely participate in religious services.
Levin, who has received grants from many sources, including the National Institutes of Health, found that faith is an especially potent source of well-being. "The big challenge for us is to answer the why question, what does all of this mean?"
In his book "God, Faith and Health," Levin examined more than 200 studies on faith and health. Among the common links are:
  • New research on optimism and hope is suggesting a possible placebo effect that promotes healing.
  • The practice of prayer, meditation or public worship services elicits positive emotions. A variety of new scientific research suggests that our emotions can lead to psychological changes that benefit our health.
  • On the average, people who are more religious tend to have healthier lifestyles.
  • Attending church, mosque or synagogue provides a social structure. "Being around other people you receive support. We know that social support is good for people's health," he says.
The studies Levin looked at involved a range of  ethnic backgrounds,ages and religious affiliations. They involved a variety of research methods, including representative samples, longitudinal and psychiatric studies, as well as analysis by condition, such as lung disease or cancer.

Levin and Dr. Koenig are part of a growing movement to quantify the impact of religion on health.
Others are working on the subject too. For instance, a Columbia University research report concluded that people with religious faith are markedly less likely to abuse alcohol and illegal drugs than non-believers.

While research supports a connection between faith and physical well-being, the evidence is stronger for the benefits of faith on emotional and mental health, says Dr. Koenig, author of many books on the subject.Harvard University's Pluralism Project has joined with Boston Medical Center's Healing Landscape project to explore the extent of religious healing in an American city. The project is producing a data bank of information about the diversity of religious healing practices in urban America.

For most people, faith's power involves a healing of the intangible spirit, and of relationships with others, he adds.In fact, illness tends to bring spirituality to the surface.
The research suggests that intensity of belief and practice is an affecting characteristic in the relationship between health and spiritual practice. In one study patients were asked to rank the importance of their faith, they were given a range of possible answers from not important to strongly important.

"As people become sicker and struggle with more suffering they can become very deeply spiritual," Dr. Koenig says. "They may look sick or be struggling with depression, but they may be deeply spiritual and have a very strong faith connection."
This is because without faith, illness and suffering is devoid of meaning for patients and their loved ones, Dr. Koenig says. "It gives these difficult conditions a sense of purpose, that somehow a good thing can result. That God can transform this horrible situation into something good, or it can have a benefit to those around them."

Yet the research does not suggest that non-religious people can't also be healthy."There is some evidence from some of these types of questions, that people who answer in the stronger category tend to do better in health and in psychological well being," Levin says.

"There are unquestionably people who do not practice religion and are perfectly healthy and get along just fine. And there are people who are very religious and suffer illnesses," Levin says.
But with research unquestionably documenting a health benefit for members of religious groups, Levin concludes: "Spirituality in the broadest sense can be a vitally powerful resource in the lives of many human beings for those who participate in spiritual activities on a regular basis."


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