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A Prescription for Healthy Living

A Prescription for Healthy Living

Food that could lead to a stroke

posted by Ranya Elguendy

Few things feel more terrifying and random than a atroke, which can strike without warning. And fear of stroke — when a blood vessel in or leading to the brain bursts or is blocked by a blood clot, starving brain cells of oxygen and nutrients — is well founded. After all, stroke is the number-three killer in the U.S., affecting more than 700,000 people each year. Here are five foods that cause the damage that leads to stroke.

1. Crackers, chips, and store-bought pastries and baked goods

Muffins, doughnuts, chips, crackers, and many other baked goods are high in trans fats, which are hydrogenated oils popular with commercial bakeries because they stay solid at room temperature, so the products don’t require refrigeration. Also listed on labels as “partially hydrogenated” or hydrogenated oils, trans fats are found in all kinds of snack foods, frozen foods, and baked goods, including salad dressings, microwave popcorn, stuffing mixes, frozen tater tots and French fries, cake mixes, and whipped toppings. They’re also what makes margarine stay in a solid cube. The worst offenders are fried fast foods such as onion rings, French fries, and fried chicken.

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Why it’s bad

For years scientists have known trans fats are dangerous artery-blockers, upping the concentrations of lipids and bad cholesterol in the blood and lowering good cholesterol. Now we can add stroke to the list of dangers. This year researchers at the University of North Carolina found that women who ate 7 grams of trans fat each day — about the amount in two doughnuts or half a serving of French fries — had 30 percent more strokes (the ischemic type, caused by blocked blood flow to the brain) than women who ate just 1 gram a day. Another recent study, also in women, found that trans fats promoted inflammation and higher levels of C-reactive protein, which have been linked to an increased risk of diabetes, heart disease and stroke.

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What to do

Aim to limit trans fats to no more than 1 or 2 grams a day — and preferably none. Avoid fast-food French fries and other fried menu items and study packaged food labels closely. Even better, bake your own cookies, cakes, and other snacks. When you can’t, search out “health-food” alternative snacks, such as Terra brand potato chips and traditional whole grain crackers such as those made by Finn, Wasa, AkMak, Ryvita, and Lavasch.

2. Smoked and processed meats

Whether your weakness is pastrami, sausage, hot dogs, bacon, or a smoked turkey sandwich, the word from the experts is: Watch out.

Why it’s bad

Smoked and processed meats are nasty contributors to stroke risk in two ways: The preserving processes leave them packed with sodium, but even worse are the preservatives used to keep processed meats from going bad. Sodium nitrate and nitrite have been shown by researchers to directly damage blood vessels, causing arteries to harden and narrow. And of course damaged, overly narrow blood vessels are exactly what you don’t want if you fear stroke.

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Many studies have linked processed meats to coronary artery disease (CAD); one meta-analysis in the journal Circulation calculated a 42-percent increase in coronary heart disease for those who eat one serving of processed meat a day. Stroke is not the only concern for salami fans; cancer journals have reported numerous studies in the past few years showing that consumption of cured and smoked meats is linked with increased risk of diabetes and higher incidences of numerous types of cancer, including leukemia.

What to do

If a smoked turkey or ham sandwich is your lunch of choice, try to vary your diet, switching to tuna, peanut butter, or other choices several days a week. Or cook turkey and chicken yourself and slice it thin for sandwiches.

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3. Diet soda

Although replacing sugary drinks with diet soda seems like a smart solution for keeping weight down — a heart-healthy goal — it turns out diet soda is likely a major bad guy when it comes to stroke.

Why it’s bad

People who drink a diet soda a day may up their stroke risk by 48 percent. A Columbia University study presented at the American Stroke Association’s 2011 International Stroke Conference followed 2,500 people ages 40 and older and found that daily diet soda drinkers had 60 percent more strokes, heart attacks, and coronary artery disease than those who didn’t drink diet soda. Researchers don’t know exactly how diet soda ups stroke risk — and are following up with further studies — but nutritionists are cautioning anyone concerned about stroke to cut out diet soda pop.

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What to do

Substitute more water for soda in your daily diet. It’s the healthiest thirst-quencher by far, researchers say. If you don’t like water, try lemonade, iced tea, or juice.

4. Red meat

This winter, when the respected journal Stroke published a study showing that women who consumed a large portion of red meat each day had a 42-percent higher incidence of stroke, it got nutrition experts talking. The information that red meat, with its high saturated fat content, isn’t healthy for those looking to prevent heart disease and stroke wasn’t exactly news. But the percentage increase (almost 50 percent!) was both startling and solid; the researchers arrived at their finding after following 35,000 Swedish women for ten years.

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Why it’s bad

Researchers have long known that the saturated fat in red meat raises the risk of stroke and heart disease by gradually clogging arteries with a buildup of protein plaques. Now it turns out that hemoglobin, the ingredient that gives red meat its high iron content, may pose a specific danger when it comes to stroke. Researchers are investigating whether blood becomes thicker and more viscous as a result of the consumption of so-called heme iron, specifically upping the chance of strokes.

What to do

Aim to substitute more poultry — particularly white meat — and fish, which are low in heme iron, for red meat. Also, choose the heart-healthiest sources of protein whenever you can, especially beans, legumes, nuts, tofu, and nonfat dairy.

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5. Canned soup and prepared foods

Whether it’s canned soup, canned spaghetti, or healthy-sounding frozen dinners, prepared foods and mixes rely on sodium to increase flavor and make processed foods taste fresher. Canned soup is cited by nutritionists as the worst offender; one can of canned chicken noodle soup contains more than 1,100 mg of sodium, while many other varieties, from clam chowder to simple tomato, have between 450 and 800 mg per serving. Compare that to the American Heart and Stroke Association’s recommendation of less than1,500 mg of sodium daily and you’ll see the problem. In fact, a nutritionist-led campaign, the National Salt Reduction Initiative, calls on food companies to reduce the salt content in canned soup and other products by 20 percent in the next two years.

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Why it’s bad

Salt, or sodium as it’s called on food labels, directly affects stroke risk. In one recent study, people who consumed more than 4,000 mg of sodium daily had more than double the risk of stroke compared to those who ate 2,000 mg or less. Yet the Centers for Disease Control estimate that most Americans eat close to 3,500 mg of sodium per day. Studies show that sodium raises blood pressure, the primary causative factor for stroke. And be warned: Sodium wears many tricky disguises, which allow it to hide in all sorts of foods that we don’t necessarily think of as salty. Some common, safe-sounding ingredients that really mean salt:

 

  • Baking soda
  • Baking powder
  • MSG (monosodium glutamate)
  • Disodium phosphate
  • Sodium alginate

What to do

Make your own homemade soups and entrees, then freeze individual serving-sized portions. Buy low-sodium varieties, but read labels carefully, since not all products marked “low sodium” live up to that promise.

 

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Are you ready for your next hangover?

posted by Ranya Elguendy

Everyone has a go-to the “hangover remedy”—burnt toast, greasy food, a Bloody Mary. I even know a guy who swears by the harrowing concoction called “The Bull’s Eye,” raw egg mixed into a glass of OJ. I’ll pass. While the placebo effect is powerful, there are better ways to silence the house DJ playing in your skull—ways that actually work.

First, understand that a hangover is caused by more than dehydration—though it does play a large role. Your body metabolizes alcohol into acetaldehyde, which is toxic to brain cells, says Robert Swift, M.D., Ph.D., a professor at Brown University’s Center for Alcohol and Addiction Studies. Another byproduct of booze breakdown is adenosine, a neurochemical that dilates blood vessels in the brain and causes a splitting headache. Pile on low blood sugar, a loss of electrolytes, stomach irritation, and poor-quality sleep, and it’s no wonder you feel the way you feel.

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Don’t feel too shabby? You could be lucky; studies suggest that 25 to 30 percent of people are virtually immune to hangovers. That, or you might still be buzzed. It takes a full 8 to 11 hours for your blood alcohol content (BAC) to hit zero after you reach the amount of booze necessary to trigger a hangover. So, you still need to take precautions in the morning —even if you feel fine.

Follow these research-proven tips to fend off your nausea, pounding head, and general hatred of life.

 

1. Don’t Gulp Gallons

You’ve heard that dehydration is a major hangover cause, and it’s true. The problem: Too much water will only stretch out an already-irritated stomach, leading to (even more) nausea or vomiting. Instead, gulp 8 ounces of water every hour you’re awake after drinking.

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2. Take the Right Painkiller

 

That’d be ibuprofen. Acetaminophen (Tylenol) can risk liver damage after a night of drinking. Because both acetaminophen and alcohol are metabolized by the liver, boozing disrupts your liver from fully breaking down the toxins in the pain pills, And aspirin can upset your stomach.

3. Grab Gatorade

After a few cups of water, switch to a sports drink. The extra salt helps your body absorb the fluids more quickly.

4. Brew Tea—But Don’t Drink It

Need to look presentable today? Steep black, chamomile, or green tea bags in boiling water for 3 to 5 minutes. After you let them cool, lie down and place a bag over each eye for 5 to 15 minutes. The tannins in the tea constrict blood vessels, pulling the skin taught to battle puffiness.

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5. Eat Oatmeal for Breakfast …

When researchers gave breakfasts to hungover college students, those who ate slowly digestible carbohydrates, like oatmeal, performed better on mood and memory tests than subjects who chose simple sugars. To add protein and digestion-slowing fiber, stir a tablespoon of crunchy peanut butter into plain instant oats.

6. … With a Side of Eggs

The amino acid cysteine might help your liver recover from the stress of breaking down alcohol. Egg yolks, yogurt, and poultry are good sources.

7. Meet with Joe

Caffeinated coffee will increase your alertness and ease the dilated vessels in your brain, says Frederick Freitag, D.O., medical director of the Comprehensive Headache Center for Baylor Health Care System in Dallas. Just limit it two one or two cups to avoid caffeine’s potentially dehydrating effects.

8. Get Busy

Distraction—whether it’s taking down holiday decorations, or working out—will take your mind off the hangover. It won’t solve anything, but you’ll at least feel better in the moment.

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Happy New Year’s Resolution!

posted by Ranya Elguendy

Ah, it’s that time of year again. It seems ironic that we make weight-loss resolutions in winter, when there’s no shortage of warm pies fresh from the oven or crock-pots full of comfort food, rather than in summer when we can look forward to fresh berries and cool salads. But while researching my latest New York Times best-selling book, The Digest Diet, I was really struck by how much of weight loss is mental rather than physical. It’s not just about what you eat, but how you eat, when you eat—and how you present your food. For instance, studies have reported that people eat a whopping 40 percent more food when watching TV than during other activities. Imagine how much healthier we could all be if we stepped away from the tube!

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I’ve pulled out my five favorites below, because I promise you, they make for completely achievable New Year’s resolutions. Start making 2013 the year of a happier, healthier you!

1. Eat just one less cookie a day.

Or consume one less can of regular soda, or one less glass of orange juice, or three fewer bites of a fast-food hamburger. Doing any of these saves you about 100 calories a day, according to weight-loss researcher James O. Hill, Ph.D., of the University of Colorado. Ask yourself if you really want it before you pop that bite in your mouth. Because that 100 calorie deficit alone is enough to prevent you from gaining the two-plus pounds most people pack on each year.

2. Avoid any prepared food that lists sugar, fructose, or corn syrup among the first four ingredients on the label.

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You should be able to find a lower-sugar version of the same food, even items you wouldn’t think are loaded with sugars like ketchup, mayonnaise, or salad dressing. Also, think about how you can “thrive in five”: Look for fiber, protein, vitamin C, calcium, or dairy in all of your food choices. Seeking out these fat releasing groups of vitamins and nutrients on labels makes it easier to fill up without filling out and burn fat naturally.

3. Clean your closet of “too-big” clothes.

As you move toward your target weight, throw out or give away every piece of clothing that’s too loose, baggy, or ill-fitting. The idea of having to buy a whole new wardrobe if you gain the weight back will serve as a strong incentive to maintain your new figure. And what better time to start fresh than January 1st?

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4. Downsize your dinner plate.

Studies find that the more food that’s in front of you, the more you’ll eat—regardless of how hungry you are. So instead of using 10 to 14 inch dinner plates that look empty if they’re not heaped with food, serve your main course on salad plates, which are only about 7 to 9 inches wide. The same goes for beverages. Instead of 16-ounce glasses and oversized coffee mugs, return to the “old” days of 8-ounce glasses and 6-ounce coffee cups. You’ll probably find you don’t miss the additional portion. You may already know this tip, but now is a great time to put it in action.

5. State the positive.

We’ve dubbed 2013 the year of optimism. You can, too! Instead of focusing on the things you think you can’t do—resisting junk food, or getting in a daily walk—repeat positive thoughts to yourself. “I can lose weight.” “I will get out for my walk today.” “I know I can resist after-dinner dessert.” Repeat these phrases like a mantra every day. Before too long, they will become your own self-fulfilling prophecy.

Happy New Year!

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Understanding Memory Loss

posted by Ranya Elguendy

We all experience random moments of forgetfulness at some point or another in our lives, but for the most part, we laugh it off and go on with our day. But what happens when sporadic episodes become more frequent? Could these lapses in memory be age-related? Possibly. But what if you are relatively young? Could these episodes point to dementia or Alzheimer’s? In this article we will explore the many reasons memory loss occurs in adults. The good news is that the reasons surrounding memory loss do not have to be catastrophic, but can simply be the result of stress, and other such factors.

Chronic Stress

Stress is a common component in our lives that try as we may, cannot be escaped. It is what our body does with stressors that can make them dangerous to our health as well as have a direct impact on our memories. How does this happen? When we are confronted with chronic stressors, our brain produces an increased amount of cortisol, a chemical that feeds our fight or flight response to danger. This increase is normal if we are, let’s say, being chased down by a herd of wild elephants, but if you are constantly in the throes of a stressful situation, you will constantly produce a chemical that should only be used in emergency situations, thus, a person’s system reaches overload proportions. As a result, the brain loses some of its cells, and actually has difficulty when it comes to forming new neurons. This in turn, affects cognitive thinking and the ability to retain newly acquired information.

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What Else To Look For? 

What do your sleeping patterns look like? Do you sleep soundly or do you wake up several times a night? Are you getting the same amount of sleep as you have in the past, or do you feel less rested? Sleep deprivation can have a number of negative effects on a person’s health, but in terms of memory, lack of sleep can cause undue stress on the brain because thoughts, memories, and other forms of information are processed and organized during periods of normal sleep. Multitasking during a particularly stressful period of time can also drain a person’s memory bank.

Depression

Depression is a condition that is typically linked to low levels of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects a person’s emotions. Concentration and focus are often also targeted, impairing a person’s ability to properly store new memories. Most people who struggle with depression tend to focus on sad past events, which can contribute to a lack of attention to what is occurring in the present, which in turn makes it more difficult to store short-term memories.

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Three groups of people who are especially vulnerable to depression are older adults, caregivers, and people with dementia. When symptoms of depression are treated, memory problems that have been previously mistaken for dementia typically tend to resolve. 

Other signs of depression include feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, loss of interest in activities that were formerly enjoyed, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping. If you experience any of the aforementioned symptoms of depression, speak with your healthcare physician as your memory problems may be directly related to your feelings of depression. Can you drive a car or pay your bills? Although someone who suffers from depression may not feel like performing those tasks, a person with Alzheimer’s cannot perform such simple tasks.

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Medications

The drugs we take affect the entire system, and some of them can interfere with the ability of brain cells to communicate with one another. This effect may occur as the result of a contraindication in medications, which is a common problem for older adults who typically take a number of medications on a daily basis.

Always inform your doctor of any medications you currently take. This includes herbal supplements, vitamins, and over-the-counter medication. A new prescription may be the culprit for your new onset of memory problems. If you experience any troublesome effects from your medication, call your doctor right away, as there may be an alternate that can be prescribed to you. Likewise, even a small tweak in a dosage of a particular medication you have taken for years can result in big effects. Finally, are you taking any drugs that could actually cause memory loss? Statins that are prescribed for high cholesterol, certain sedatives anti-anxiety medication, and medication to address incontinence may all have a certain negative impact on memory.

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Thyroid Problems

Hypothyroidism is the body’s insufficiency of thyroid hormones, which regulates metabolism. Slow metabolism can affect the entire body, including the brain. Cognitive problems are often an early warning sign of thyroid issues. There is a possible connection among women, between Alzheimer’s, hyper and hypothyroidism (this correlation has not been seen in men).

Symptoms of hypothyroidism may include but are not limited to fatigue, weight gain, dry hair and skin, a decrease or loss of libido, irregular periods, and muscle cramps. Memory problems typically occur in tandem with several of these other symptoms, although it is a common initial complaint.

Pregnancy or Menopause

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A fluctuation in estrogen levels during pregnancy and menopause can negatively affect other brain chemicals.

Alcohol

Not only can overindulgence in alcohol have damaging effects on the liver and kidneys, but it has been proven that heavy drinking can also cause brain impairment. It appears that the frontal lobe of the brain, which is involved in memory, bears the brunt of the damage. Long-term overindulgence can cause a condition called Korsakoff syndrome, a form of alcohol-induced dementia.

Other signs of alcoholism include excessive sleep, drinking alone, tardiness at work, and drinking alcohol in the morning.

A person’s ability to metabolize alcohol decreases with age. So, two or three beers for a 70-year-old will have a much greater effect than it did when he was 50 years old.

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Mixing alcohol with prescription medication can have toxic effects on brain chemistry.

Concussion or Head Injury

Although the brain is protected by the skull, brain tissue is vulnerable to trauma. Traumatic brain injury typically occurs when brain tissue slams into the skull during a fall or sharp blow. The force of impact can cause numerous problems including those related to memory.

Signs of brain injury may include, but are not limited to, numbness, fatigue, headaches, weakness in extremities, dizziness, and slurred speech.

Do you participate in contact sports that may put you at an elevated risk for incurring such trauma?

Have you been involved in a recent car, bicycle, or motorcycle accident? These are among the most common situations in which head injuries commonly result, especially if the person was not wearing a seat belt or helmet.

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Aging

Memory lapse does not necessarily signify that there is a problem. Sometimes they are completely normal. Brain function begins to decline as early as a person’s late 20s.

While age-related memory loss is a common occurrence, Alzheimer’s disease is not.

What Else To Look For?

How old are you? The risk of Alzheimer’s increases with age. According to the Alzheimer’s Association the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s doubles every five years after the age of 65. Approximately one of every two individuals over the age of 85 has Alzheimer’s.

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