Medicine to Move You

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Alzheimer’s…the word alone is enough to scare most people over 50.  Whether it be because we know someone or some family that has been effected by this condition or whether we fear it for ourselves, Alzheimer’s disease (AD) has become a popular concern for my older patients.  By the way, many of my patients in their 30’s  also fear it when they walk into a room and can’t remember why they went in there.  This luckily is not the cardinal sign of Alzheimer’s; otherwise, we would be in real serious trouble.  Ok, back to the stats.  It affects 10% of Americans over 65 and nearly 50% of those over 85.  It’s one of the more genetically studied diseases and while several genetic markers have been identified, the reality is that less than 1 in 1,000 of people with Alzheimer’s has these genetic markers.  So when it’s unlikely to be caused by genetics, the medical community starts digging for another cause.  Well, diet & lifestyle are back in the medical news because of some very impressive findings recently.

Here are a few tips from the world of Functional Medicine known to support both the prevention of Alzheimer’s and also the improvement of early stage cognitive function issues (‘cognitive function’ is just medical fancy for your brain’s ‘thinking abilities’).

  1. Watch ‘Therapeutic Lifestyle Change’ on – learn how a lifetime of smoldering inflammation impacts your health, and more importantly, how you can stop it.
  2. Watch ‘The Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid’ – develop your personalized action plan for getting good fats, antioxidants and whole foods into your diet.  Additionally, eating this way will keep your blood sugar and insulin levels stable, which leads me to…
  3. Get your diabetes under control ASAP – current research published just this week in Neurology, a respected medical journal, has shown a significant link between type 2 diabetes and the development of Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia.  This is huge with diabetes affecting so many families and likely going to get much worse with childhood obesity on the rise.
  4. Get moving! – A recent study at the Mayo Clinic showed that exercise promotes better brain health as you age and reduces your risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  Set the goal of 150 minutes per week (in divided sessions) of moderate exercise.  Be sure to start low and go slow if you haven’t been exercising and check with your physician to be sure you are safe to start.
  5. Play Smart! – That’s right, play games.  Studies have shown that our brains have a ‘Use it or Lose it’ function.  In the infamous Nun Study conducted in the early 2000’s, research had proven that exercising your brain frequently is protective.  What a great excuse to grab that Sudoku or crossword puzzle, or just engage in a good old fashion debate with a friend.
  6. Quit Smoking! – For many, many reasons, but regarding dementia and Alzheimer’s the data show that individuals who have experienced a stroke significantly increased their chances of getting Alzheimer’s.  Smoking any amount doubles your risk of stroke and the longer you smoke, that risk increases even more.


Remember, your genes load the gun, BUT your lifestyle pulls the trigger!  If someone in your family has dementia or Alzheimer’s, you are not doomed like so many believe.  You can change the course of your future by making smarter lifestyle choices now.  Get educated, get your diet and exercise on track (the way you know is really best for your body),  and keep that brain active!

Surprise, surprise.  In the news this last week, another class of pharmaceutical medications is undergoing scrutiny by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for safety concerns.  Known as  ‘bisphosphonates’, this class include drugs such as Fosamax (alendronate), Boniva, Actonel and Reclast – meds used to prevent and/or treat osteoporosis.

The debate stems over the safety of the long-term use of these medications.  Specifically, it seems that a small group of patients who have been taking one of these medications for longer than 5 years are now experiencing one of three troubling conditions: (1) death of the jawbone tissue – ouch!, (2) unusual fractures in the thigh bone (isn’t that what they are supposed to treat?) or (3) increased risk and development of esophagus cancer.

While the FDA Advisory Committee (an independent expert panel commissioned by the FDA) is looking to the drug manufacturers to determine the best length of time a patient should receive these medications and include this information on the package insert, they themselves have not solidified any recommendations regarding the ‘safest’ timeframe.  The hidden truth- it takes approximately 10 (TEN) years to remove 50% of the this class of drugs from your body.  So, if you do the math…if you’ve been on a bisphosphonate for only 5 years (much shorter than how long most women take them), you will have the medication in your system for well over 20-25 years!

Without any clear guidance from any authoritative body just yet, this leaves the true decision-making in the hands of the physicians and their patients until we (the medical community) know more.

Here’s my take:  When working with my patients and pharmaceutical medications, it is always my preference to try to find the root cause of the condition and provide nutritional and lifestyle support to allow the body to return to a healthier state.  From time to time, the use of prescription medications makes good sense, but must always be evaluated from the vantage point of determining the lowest dose and length of time on a drug to achieve the most benefit to the patient.  From my perspective, bisphosphonates have become one of the most overly dispensed classes of medications this last decade.  This is due, in part, to the broad condition for which it is approved, mainly, “the treatment and prevention of osteoporosis in post-menopausal women”.   This is more easily interpreted by the industry as “all menopausal women”.  Truth is, not all post-menopausal women have the same risk for developing osteoporosis and likewise, there are many more non-pharmaceutical therapies that may be considered before jumping right into a 10+ year relationship with a medication.

So, while the FDA and pharmaceutical manufacturers sort themselves out, here’s an action plan to get you started on the road to a thoughtful, intelligently designed osteoporosis prevention plan:

1.       Watch “Them Bones, Them Bones” on for a comprehensive class on bone health and osteoporosis.  Learn how to read your bone density report (DEXA), understand how much calcium you really should be taking & what vitamin D really does for your bones, incorporate natural strategies for bone health and determine if  you should consider pharmaceutical medication as your best option.

2.       Get your bone mineral density tested if you are at risk – DEXA scans are the gold-standard (but have limits as discussed on LWU)

3.       Eat more green vegetables – they are a super source of healthy calcium, AND they’re alkaline to help prevent more bone loss

4.       Pump iron – Lifting weights or doing exercises that push your body to resist weight make your bones stronger

5.       Talk to your doctor about your risks and options – (especially after watching “Them Bones, Them Bones”,so you can really sit down and partner with your doctor to discuss the best plan for preserving YOUR bones and the rest of your body!)

If you’re interested in learning more about this topic, join our Education Beyond Medication online medical community.  Visit and simply register to watch the following Dr. Saxena Speaks! educational videos which also relate to this topic:

* Them Bones, Them Bones Part I
* Them Bones, Them Bones Part II
* The Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid
* Therapeutic Lifestyle Change

Cell phones are here to stay and we knew it the moment we laid hands on our first mobile communication superstar back in the early 1990s.  Technology has come a long way from the remote control sized cell phone and getting in touch with someone never seemed so easy.  But with everything that society considers progress, there’s always a part of me wondering…’What is the price our bodies are paying for this convenience?’  There’s always a catch, right?   Well, lend me your ears for this recent research article.

According to the Center on Media and Child Health, 60 percent of children ages 10 to 14 use cell phones. Amongst high school students in the 15 to 18 age group, 85 percent pack cell phones and they aren’t afraid to use them.   And in case your second grader asks you for a cell phone, don’t be surprised when she reports that 22  percent of grade schoolers 9 and younger own cell phones as well.

Cell phones use radio frequency which release a small amount of electromagnetic radiation with every use.  According to calculations published in the July 2008 issue of “Physics in Medicine and Biology” by Joe Wiart’s research group at France Telecom, “The brains of young children absorb twice as much radio frequency energy from a cell phone as those of adults.”  Hmmm.  The obvious question focused on the impact of cell phone use on our beloved kids’ brains.

So, it was a relief when a recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (2011;103:1264-1276), reported that children and adolescents who use cell phones are NOT at an increased risk for brain tumors.  But don’t sigh yet.  Here’s where the story gets a little more soap opera-esque.   Several experts in the field of environmental medicine are disputing these findings.  L. Lloyd Morgan, BSc, senior research fellow at the Environmental Health Trust and coauthors Ronald Herberman, MD, director of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute and the UPMC Cancer Center, in Pennsylvania, and Debra Davis, PhD, MPH, president of Environmental Health Trust, note that the study’s results are flawed and mislead the public. They explain that these errors should have been picked up during the peer-review process and by the journal.  Why?  Because the results and conclusion sections of the paper actually contradict the reported results.  In English, there were errors in the science experiment process; so, the results don’t really count.  They stated that the Journal of the National Cancer Institute should have picked these errors up before publishing this article and giving a false sense of security to all of us.

This next point may not be a surprise to you conspiracy theorists but, several cell phone companies provided funding for this study.  Some of the study’s authors are known to be linked to the industry and to other research that supports the interests of the industry.  Another expert, Joel Moskowitz, PhD, director of the Center for Family and Community Health at the University of California, Berkeley, also stated that “the results actually verify higher tumor risks for children but the findings are downplayed. They dismiss any evidence or prior evidence of increased risk and harm, and then the media plays it out as either being not conclusive evidence or no evidence.”

Dr. Davis also emphasized that aside from brain tumors, other studies have linked cell phones to serious health risks in children, including learning problems, autism, behavioral impacts, insomnia, attention disorders, and a broad array of disturbances to the developing nervous system.  So, even though there are no studies that definitively prove that cell phones cause health problems, there is enough evidence building that we might proceed with caution the next time we put one to our ears.  Knowing that it can take nearly 10 years of daily electromagnetic radiation (EMR) exposure to cause a brain tumor and that we get EMR from many other modern day ‘appliances’ in our lives, are we just sitting ducks?  About a dozen countries have taken precautionary steps, so it would “not be radical for the United States government to do so as well,” Dr. Davis said. No one is suggesting that we give up cell phones, “but there are ways to reduce the risk.”

Call me ‘old school’ but by their increasing use of cell phones and texting, our children are slowly losing the concept of hanging out, chatting on the front stoop or veranda, taking it easy and taking it all in… slowly, naturally and healthfully.  I bet the full body benefits of two people chatting face-to-face, eye-to eye, heart-to-heart and exchanging robust laughter over shared experiences does so much more for the mind, body and spirit than those 2 same people will ever be able to capture sending a LOL text… and with less electromagnetic radiation!

Quick tip:  Consider using earbuds in order to get the cell phone’s EMR further away from your brain and ears.  It can reduce your risks, free up your hands, and help prevent neck strain.  Of course, think about any ways you can reduce excessive cell phone use and get back to sharing your positive energy… up close and personal!