#110 The 7 Most Dangerous Foods for Your Heart

June 19th, 2015 by

The 7 Most Dangerous Foods for Your Heart

“Margarine is healthier,” I was told in the 1980s.  I still remember moving out of my parents house and buying groceries for the first time in 1985. Like everyone else, I cringe to think that I used to buy that tub of trans fat laden margarine because I thought it was safer for my heart than butter.

The sad thing is that most Americans still unknowingly eat this unhealthy fat each day!  Fortunately, the FDA has finally intervened and announced this week that “food manufactures” must eliminate added trans fat from our food supply within 3 years.  As with lead poisoning, there is no safe level of this toxic fat.

Despite this good news from the FDA, there is a catch.  Food manufacturers can petition the FDA to keep putting trans fat into their fake food products.

Even if the food label says zero trans fat, you are still at risk due to legal loopholes in trans fat reporting requirements.  As long as there is less than a half of a gram, food manufacturers do not need to report this.  For people who eat a lot of processed foods or eat out a lot, this can really add up.  A large percentage of fast food establishments, restaurants, and bakeries still use this fat.

In this article I will share with you how to protect yourself from the 7 most dangerous foods for your heart. These 7 foods are those highest in trans fat.

Why Should We Worry About Trans Fat?

Trans fat causes inflammation to our arteries. It also dramatically raises our bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowers our good cholesterol (HDL).  The end result is rapid plaque build up within our heart.  The CDC estimates that trans fat causes up to 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 unnecessary heart deaths each year in the U.S.

Why Does the Food Industry Like Trans Fat?

Why do food manufacturers still insist on putting this fat into their products?  The answer is because it gives fake food products a shelf life that just may be longer than your own life.

In addition to a long shelf life, some claim that trans fat makes things “taste better.” Lastly, when frying with trans fat, you can re-use the oil over and over.

Trans Fat in Meat and Dairy

It might surprise you to learn that trans fat is also found in meat and dairy.  Grass fed animals may even have more trans fat than grain fed animals.

I should note that the chemical structure of naturally occurring trans fat is different from that of the man-made variety we have discussed thus far in this article.  Fortunately, the natural forms of trans fat don’t seem to present the same cardiovascular risks.  To stay on the safe side, it may be wise to eat leaner cuts of animal meat.

Why Are Cholesterol Levels Falling?

Something strange is happening in the U.S.  Despite the fact that we are gaining more and more weight, our cholesterol numbers keep dropping.  The pharmaceutical industry would like us to believe that this is due to the cholesterol lowering, “statin” drug, prescriptions being written.

Personally, I believe it is because we have been gradually phasing trans fat out of our diet.  As mentioned, trans fat raises our bad cholesterol (LDL) and lowers our good cholesterol (HDL).

Since the FDA loosely required food manufacturers to report trans fat in 2003, we have reduced our consumption of this fat by 78%.  Interestingly, over this same period of time, the number of people with high cholesterol in the U.S. has dropped by 27%.

Heart Stent and Bypass Surgeries Are Falling

Not only have our cholesterol levels dropped but the number of heart stent procedures has declined by 28% and cardiac bypass surgeries have gone down by 46% during this same period of time.  I suspect that much of this decrease has occurred due to the gradual elimination of trans fat from our diets.

The 7 Most Dangerous Foods for Your Heart

1. Pastries

As if the sugar and refined grains were not dangerous for your heart, the trans fat in many commercially prepared pastries delivers the triple hit to your heart.  Never eat cookies, cakes, donuts, or pies without first checking the label to see if there are partially hydrogenated oils.

Commercially prepared frosting and refrigerated dough can also be high in trans fat.  Even breads or crackers may contain trans fat.

If you want to have a pastry, try making a healthier version at home without all of the sugar, refined grains, or trans fat.  For suggestions on healthier options, please review the many recipes my wife has posted on our website.

2. Margarine and Shortening

Margarine was the poster child for trans fat a generation ago.  Shortening is another common source of trans fat.  Fortunately, Crisco has recently eliminated trans fat.

If you want to use a healthier oil, try using olive oil or coconut oil.  There are many healthier options than margarine or shortening.

3. French Fries and Fried Foods

French fries and fried foods are often fried in trans fat.  If you love French fries, try baking your own at home with a little bit of olive oil and sea salt.  Homemade sweet potato fries can be especially healthy.

4. Chips

Potato chips and other chips often contain trans fat. If you like the taste of chips, consider switching to kale chips.  Better yet, make your own kale chips at home with some olive oil and sea salt.

5. Candy

Candy can be another source of trans fat.  If you love your sweets, like me, consider switching to dark chocolate instead.  With regards to health, the darker the chocolate the better.  Dark chocolate has much less added sugar than milk chocolate.

6. Frozen Pizzas

Frozen pizzas are yet another source of hidden trans fat and other heart unfriendly ingredients.  Consider making your own pizza.  It is surprisingly easier than you think.  You can even include almond flour and coconut flour into your homemade pizza dough recipe.

7. Popcorn

Microwave popcorn often contains trans fat.  Movie theater popcorn is no better.  If you love popcorn you can still eat it–just try the air pop variety at home.

Bringing It Home

The key message is that trans fat is still in our food supply and there is no safe amount you can eat.  If you buy processed or prepared foods, you must ensure that partially hydrogenated oil or shortening is not listed anywhere on the ingredient list.

If you like to eat out, ask the manager, or your server, what types of oils are used.

Was it hard for you to eliminate trans fat from your diet?

#094 9 Ways to Stop Being a Night Owl

April 17th, 2015 by

9 Ways to Stop Being a Night Owl

Jeff struggled with weight issues his entire life.  He was a computer programmer and told me, “I do my best work between 8 pm and midnight.”  Does this also sound like you?

The trouble was that he was always hungry late at night, had troubles getting up in the morning, and was now was seeing me for heart problems.  Could his night owl ways be contributing to his heart condition?

One third of all adults are night owls.  Are you one of them?

In this article we will explore what makes people night owls, the health risks of night owls, and 9 ways to stop being a night owl.

Is There a Genetic Basis to Night Owls?bigstock-DNA-molecule-43755316

Some night owls have told me that they are genetically “hard-wired” to stay up late at night.  Could this be true?

Interestingly, researchers have now identified the “Night Owl Gene” or the “CLOCK gene” as it is known in the medical literature.  In the medical studies, night owls are often referred to as the “evening chronotype.”

People with the CLOCK gene have a genetic predisposition to an altered circadian rhythm.  The circadian rhythm is your built in 24 hour clock.  This genetic tendency toward an altered circadian rhythm keeps them up at night unless they are careful to control their environment.

Mice with the CLOCK Gene

Mice possessing the CLOCK gene have been studied extensively.  In these mice, not only is their circadian rhythm out of sync with the sun causing sleep disorders, but they also frequently suffer from mood changes, difficulties with pregnancy, and with obesity.

In humans, studies show that people with the CLOCK gene also frequently suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD or ADHD).  From these studies, the genes controlling for circadian rhythm are also tightly linked to mood, weight gain, and concentration.

Environment vs. Genes for the Night Owl Syndrome

Even if you have the CLOCK gene, are you destined to be a night owl for the rest of your life?

Many researchers have said that the equation for obesity is really quite simple.  Obesity equals the wrong genes plus a modern lifestyle.  The same could be true of night owls.  The night owl syndrome also equals the wrong genes plus our modern lifestyle.  Let me explain.

In a classic study, researchers at the University of Colorado, Boulder studied this question.  Their study group of people consisted of both “night owls” and “morning larks.”Camping Tents Near Lake

For the first week of the study, they extensively studied these people in their natural “modern lifestyle” sleeping state.  For the second week of the study, they took these people high up in the Rocky Mountains.

There, they camped in a location far away from any light pollution.  Also, as part of the study, all electronic devices or artificial light, including flashlights, were completely banned.  Study participants did have access to campfire light at night.

Interestingly, at the end of the week there were no night owls.  Everyone’s circadian rhythm, or their own internal 24 hour clock, was in sync with sun.  In addition, researchers also found the following:

1. People fell asleep and awoke 2 hours earlier in a natural environment.

2. People were exposed to 4-times more light during the day in a natural environment.

3. Natural melatonin production began at sunset.

4. Natural melatonin production turned off with sunrise.

5. No one suffered from insomnia.

Are There Night Owls in China’s Longevity Village?

An interesting question is whether or not there are any night owls in more natural or ancestral environments.  The answer is generally, “no.”  Based on our study of China’s Longevity Village, until recently there were no night owls.

Electric lighting is a recent phenomenon to this Village.  Prior to electric lights, night owls didn’t exist when all you had were fires or candles.  Modern studies have shown that the wavelength of light from fires and candles is such that it does not activate the brain the same way blue light does from electric lights and electronic devices.

Lessons Learned

What lessons can we learn from the Rocky Mountain Sleep Study and from China’s Longevity Village?  The take home message is that if people are exposed to natural light during the day and have no access to artificial light at night then their circadian rhythm will naturally be in sync with the sun.

The converse is also true.  Locking ourselves up in dark homes or offices during the day and then living by electric light and electronic devices at night will bring out the night owl tendencies in anyone.  This gets back to the equation of a night owl.  A night owl equals genetic tendencies plus a modern lifestyle.  If you take away one component of this equation then the night owls go away.

Health Risks of Night OwlsProtect Heart Healthcare

Does it really matter if you are a night owl or not?  Can this just be a “benign” lifestyle choice?  Are there any dangers of having an altered circadian rhythm?

The most extreme example of night owls are shift workers.  People who work graveyard shifts are the most extreme examples of night owls.  Their nights and days are completely reversed.  What are the health risks of shift workers?

In one of the largest studies ever done, researchers found a 23% increased risk of heart attacks in shift workers in this study of 2,011,935 people.  Not only do shift workers suffer more heart attacks, they also are much more likely to get cancer.

It is not just shift workers who are at risk.  Studies of people who travel and suffer from frequent jet lag have the same risks as shift workers.  For those who just prefer going to bed later, here are the health risks according to published medical studies.  I have hyperlinked each health risk with the medical study supporting this finding.

1. Obesity

2. Cancer

3. Depression

4. Muscle loss or weakness

5. Sleep apnea

6. High stress hormones

7. Cholesterol problems

8. Type 2 diabetes

9. High blood pressure

10. Heart disease

9 Ways to Stop Being a Night Owl

As you can see, the medical studies of night owls don’t look good.  If you suffer from the night owl syndrome, let me give you 9 ways to stop being a night owl and start enjoying better health now.  The old adage, “don’t fight the sun” really is true.

1. Get Morning Sunbigstock-Woman-And-Dog-Running-On-Beach-59456648

If there is one time of the day that is most important to get bright light, it is the first thing in the morning.  This bright and natural morning light will reset your own internal circadian rhythm and get you back in sync with the sun.

The morning sun is also critical to maintaining a healthy weight.  Indeed, studies show that morning light accounts for 34% of our body mass index or BMI.  Thus, if you have been struggling with weight issues your entire life, perhaps the solution is as simple as going outside first thing in the morning for 30 minutes to get some natural morning light from the sun.

Even if you are not a shift worker or suffer from jet lag, just prolonged exposure to artificial light at night may increase the risk of breast cancer.

2. Eliminate Blue Light After DinnerIMG_9021

With work deadlines, kid homework, etc. it can be impossible in our modern lives to eliminate all artificial light at night.  This artificial light, or blue light, throws our circadian rhythm off.

Studies show that even brief exposure to blue light at night can delay sleep by 30 minutes.  Additional research shows that artificial light exposure at night not only delays natural melatonin release but that it also shortens it throughout the night making it more likely that you will wake up through the night.

So how can we survive in this modern world without artificial light at night?  The answer may be as simple as wearing orange glasses after dinner to filter out the blue light.

Yes, this photo shows me sporting my new orange glasses.  Studies support that blue light shielding glasses have been shown to improve sleep. This is what we have started doing at our home.  It does seem to help.

3. Eliminate Electronic Devices After DinnerNo computer, no mobile or cell phone - forbidden, red warning si

While blue light filtering glasses may help, electronic devices are one of the biggest causes of the night owl syndrome.  Indeed, electronic devices may account for 50% of all sleep disorders according to the 2014 National Sleep Foundation Poll.

To stop the evening stress and cortisol stimulation, as well as the blue light stimulation, turn off all electronic devices after dinner.  This includes TVs, computers, phones, iPads, etc.

If you absolutely must use an electronic device at night, then either use blue light filtering glasses or download blue light shielding apps for your computer, iPad, or smart phones.  Here is a blog article to learn more about blue light filtering apps.  I am not aware of any filtering devices yet for TVs.

4. Dim the Lights After Dinner

If walking around your house with orange glasses or goggles on at night to filter out blue light doesn’t sound like something you want to do, a simpler approach is to just dim the lights in your house at night.  Dimming the lights at night can somewhat approximate “sunset” to your body and start to get the natural melatonin production from the pineal gland started.

5. Physical Activity During the Day

Countless studies have shown that maintaining physical activity during the day helps with sleep at night.  Even better would be to exercise outside each day.  This natural light exposure helps with keeping our circadian rhythms in sync with the sun.

6. Natural Light or Bright Office Lights During the Day

To keep our body’s circadian rhythm in sync with the sun, getting as much bright light during the day is critical.  Don’t despair, even if you work in a dark office there are still things you can do.

For example, try taking a walk outside on your lunch break.  Exposure to the midday sun will help to keep your body in rhythm.  Other options include purchasing a blue light device for your office during the day.

7. Maintain a Strict Bedtime Schedule

Because of their genetic tendency, night owls have to be very strict in maintaining a consistent bedtime schedule.  It is so easy to get involved in a task and then discover it is suddenly 1 am!

For most of my patients, they would be much better off to set a bedtime alarm clock instead of a morning alarm clock.  Indeed, for many of these patients, the real reason why they are seeing me in my cardiology practice is because they are chronically sleep deprived.

8. Maintain Adequate Vitamin D Levels

Studies report that night owls tend to have lower levels of vitamin D.  As you know, low vitamin D has been linked with just about every medical condition imaginable.  The cause is probably because they are fighting the sun and are not getting outside enough.

Regardless of the cause, talk to your physician about getting your vitamin D levels tested.  If they are low, get them back into the normal range through natural sunlight in a sun-smart way or through high vitamin D containing foods, like salmon, or through supplements under the direction of your physician.

9. Consider Melatonin Supplements

The data for melatonin supplements as a sleep aid are strongest for people suffering from jet lag.  In these studies, melatonin supplements seem to help them regain their natural circadian rhythm.  While melatonin has not been formally tested in people suffering from the night owl syndrome, anecdotally it seems to help some of my patients.  If you are considering melatonin supplements, please discuss this with your physician first.

Do you suffer from the night owl syndrome?  What have you found that helps you to get your circadian rhythm back in sync with the sun?

#061 How to Bulletproof Your Heart: The Roseto Effect

January 12th, 2015 by

How to Bulletproof Your Heart: The Roseto Effect

More than four in 10 Americans will die from a heart attack or other heart problems.  Not only is heart disease still the number one killer for both men and women but the same people who suffer from heart problems are also the ones more likely to suffer from Alzheimer’s Disease, strokes, and poor brain function later in life.

Is it possible to bulletproof your heart so that regardless of your diet or how much you exercise you won’t suffer from heart or brain problems later in life?

What I Was Taught at Johns Hopkins Medical School

When I was a medical student at Johns Hopkins in the early 1990s we were all taught the risk factors for heart disease.  Namely, if you don’t smoke, you don’t have diabetes, your cholesterol and blood pressure are in check, and there is no family history of heart disease then it would be very unlikely for you to have a heart attack.

As I have progressed further in my career and research I have come to learn that there are far more factors at play.  Indeed, these “other factors” may be just as important as the big five I was taught in medical school.   Let’s explore this concept further.  Welcome to a small mysterious town in Pennsylvania where people seemed to magically be protected from heart problems despite a poor diet, high rates of smoking, high cholesterol, and a lack of exercise.

Roseto, Pennsylvania: The Village of “Bulletproof Hearts”

In 1961, at the height of the heart disease epidemic in the U.S., a local Roseto doctor happened to mention to Dr. Stewart Wolf from the University of Oklahoma  that heart disease was virtually nonexistent in Roseto.  From this chance conversation, outside researchers quickly converged on this small town.

With the blessing of the mayor of Roseto, everyone in the village was studied.  They collected blood samples, monitored what they ate, and basically how they lived their lives.  Researchers poured over every death certificate and interviewed everyone.  After spending several years in this small town they had their answer.

As reported in the prestigious Journal of the American Medical Association in 1964, and later by Malcolm Gladwell in his bestselling book Outliers (affiliate link), Roseto was a small community where people ate all of the wrong foods and had high rates of obesity and smoking, had high cholesterol, breathed toxic fumes from working in the slate quarries, and yet somehow were protected against heart disease.  Indeed, the risk of a heart attack in this small Italian village in Pennsylvania was just half as much as the five surrounding towns.

How can this be?  How can you do everything apparently “wrong” for your heart and yet be protected from a heart attack?  There had to be an explanation for this paradox.

At the time, Roseto was a small tightly knit community of Italian immigrants living about 75 miles west of New York City.  This village was settled in 1882 by Italian immigrants from Roseto Valfortore in Italy.  When they immigrated to the New World they kept their exact same social structure as they did in Italy.

This was a socially isolated village.  They only married within the community, kept to themselves, spoke Italian, worshiped God, only shopped at their own local small stores, and lived as three generational families under the same roof.  The worked at the numerous local slate quarries and lived the “old” Italian way even though the rest of the country had already gone through rapid changes in the years following World War II.

The Roseto Mystery Explained

You may be wondering, how can you eat all of the wrong foods, gain weight, smoke, and have a high cholesterol but yet not develop any heart problems?  Let me outline the key factors as to why a heart attack was an incredibly rare event in Roseto.  If we can maintain a healthy lifestyle, unlike the Rosetans, and incorporate these additional four factors then we can truly “bulletproof” our hearts.

1. Family Centered Life

For the Rosetans, family was everything.  Families were close and multiple generations all lived within the same home. Families were self sufficient and took care of their own.

Indeed, there have been countless studies in the medical literature supporting the fact that strong marriage and family relationships can protect us from heart attacks.  As the quality of our family relationships has such a profound effect on our heart health the question is what can we do to strengthen these relationships?

For me, what has helped the most is to put the needs of my family ahead of my own.  As I give of myself it always seems that in the end my needs are met as well.

Also, given my busy lifestyle, I have found that what gets scheduled gets done.  In other words, the calendar on my iPhone is also filled with many family events including scheduled one on one time with family members.

2. Spirituality and Religious Ties

On Sundays, everyone in Roseto went to church.  It was a God fearing community.  They had strong Christian values and were very spiritual people.  They cared for their neighbors and looked after each other.

As with strong family relationships, many studies have shown that religion and spirituality can protect us not only from heart disease but many other chronic medical conditions as well.  Even if you are not religious, taking time to care for your spiritual needs can be very therapeutic.

In our family, we worship together at church each Sunday.  Even if it is a boring sermon at least you can tell yourself that, based on medical studies, you are getting healthier each time you go to church.

3. Strong Community

From a socioeconomic standpoint, you did not know in Roseto who was rich or poor.  There was no keeping up with your neighbors.  Even if you were wealthy it was socially taboo to display your wealth.

The community cared for everyone.  If a neighbor was in need, everyone came to help.  They were all “brothers” and “sisters” in the community.

Once again, there is a vast body of scientific data that socioeconomic disparities or even perceived disparities can lead to heart attacks.  Trying to keep up with your neighbors or peer group will drive you crazy and cause undo stress on your heart.  At the end of the day, all we really need to be happy is a safe home with enough food and loving relationships.

4. Low Stress

Despite difficult working environments at the slate quarries, Rosetans perceived very low levels of stress.  They put their worries into God’s hands and knew that whatever happened in life their family and community would always be there to help.  Crime was nonexistent in this village.

Based on all of the studies published to date, it goes without question that perceived stress is a powerful predictor of who will get a heart attack.  Much has been said about stress and I have published many blog articles on the subject as well.

For me, the three most important things in keeping my stress levels in check are to live as healthy as possible, always plan to arrive or be ready 15 minutes early, and to always look for ways to simplify my life.  As we can eliminate the “clutter” in our lives and focus on that which is truly essential we can minimize our perceived stress.

Roseto Today

By now you are probably considering moving to Roseto, PA and living a utopian life free of heart disease, stress, and worries.  Indeed, this is where Malcolm Gladwell left off in his book Outliers (affiliate link).

I wish this is where the story ended but unfortunately there was an unravelling of the Roseto Effect.  Today, Rosetans no longer have “bulletproof” hearts.  Let me now share with you what happened in the late 1960s.

By the time the late 196os rolled around, the American way of life had infiltrated the village.  They still ate poorly, smoked, and failed to exercise.  However, now they began intermarrying, families started to split up, religion was no longer the glue to the community, and the pursuit of wealth and materialism was in full swing.

Indeed, by the 1970s Roseto was no different than the neighboring towns and their heart attack risk became the same as everyone else as well.  They were no longer bulletproof.

What is the lesson of the Roseto Effect?

In medical circles, the term “Roseto Effect” has come to describe how a close-knit community can escape the risks of heart attacks.  When Rosetans lost the Roseto Effect they then fell victim to the consequences of their unhealthy lifestyles.

While the Roseto Effect is NOT an excuse to live an unhealthy lifestyle, it does show that by having close family relationships, living a spiritual life, caring for neighbors, and minimizing the effect of stress in our lives, we can escape many of the unnecessary chronic medical conditions like heart disease.

Do you have the Roseto Effect working in your life?  Is your heart bulletproof?

#047 Do Processed Foods Cause Memory Loss?

November 20th, 2014 by

Do Processed Foods Cause Memory Loss?

Can what we eat actually affect our memory?  Yes, according to a study just recently presented at the American Heart Association’s annual scientific sessions in Chicago.  This study showed that trans fat, which is common in processed and fast foods, can cause memory loss in even younger adults.

Can You Believe Trans Fat Food Labels?

You may be thinking, “I always read the labels and make sure that I do not buy any food with trans fat.” But sometimes the labels are not clear.

For example, a Fig Newton bar, which is even made with “real fruit” and is freely given to patients at my hospital, lists 0 grams of trans fat.  However, upon closer inspection of the ingredient list you will notice that it contains partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil.

Whenever you see “partially hydrogenated” or “shortening” listed on the ingredient list it is a trans fat.  This is a man made “Franken Fat” that improves the shelf life of the food like substance but decreases our own shelf life.

The problem is with our labeling laws in the U.S.  Many other countries have much stricter labeling laws.  As long as you have less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving in the U.S., you can legally advertise “0 trans fat”.  Although technically legal in the U.S., this is deceptive food labeling and many “food” companies participate in this practice.

How Much Trans Fat Do Americans Still Eat?

Another problem is that most serving sizes are not realistic.  Many people eat much more than one measly little serving as defined on the food label.  Also, trans fat is still in so many of our foods such as fast food, pizza, french fries, biscuits, bakery items, and a large percentage of packaged foods.  At the end of the day, the average American has eaten 5.8 grams of trans fat from all of these food like products.

The Dangers of Trans Fat

No amount of trans fat is safe.  Even the FDA realizes this and is working to ban this man-made trans fat from the American diet.  Trans fat dramatically increases both the bad cholesterol numbers and the risk of heart disease.  Trans fat has also been linked to obesity, cancer, diabetes, and depression.  Clearly, our goal is to completely avoid this very dangerous man-made fat.

Memory Loss from Trans Fat Study

This study, recently presented at the American Heart Association annual meeting  in Chicago, was interesting in that even younger adults (ages 20-45) showed significant memory loss after eating trans fat (here is a link to the news report of this study).  Specifically, they looked at 1,018 people and found that for every one gram of trans fat they ate each day resulted in a memory loss of 0.76 words on their memory test.

The biggest offenders of trans fat younger adults remembered 11 less words that those who tried to avoid these man made fat-like chemicals.  As the memory test only involved 104 words, this becomes even more remarkable.  A “healthy” young adult lost 10% of their memory just from eating junk food.

One could not help but ask, how is this memory loss from junk food affecting them in their schooling or with their jobs?  If these young and middle aged adults were showing memory loss from processed foods is it any wonder that Alzheimer’s Disease has also been linked to a diet high in trans fat?

We Are Making Improvements in the War Against Trans Fat

Fortunately, with recent labelling laws and other regulations, we are eating much less trans fat now than we did a generation ago.  Our average cholesterol numbers in the U.S. have been dropping and most feel the major driver has been less trans fat in our diets.  The recent decline we have seen in heart disease nationwide is also felt to be due to lower amounts of trans fat in our diets.  However, if one eats out a lot or purchases processed foods you are still exposed to this dangerous man-made fat.

How to Avoid Trans Fat

To answer the question, do processed foods cause memory loss the answer is clearly yes according to this most recent study.  As the goal is really zero trans fat in our diet, not the deceptive “0 grams of trans fat” that you see on so many food labels, here are my six rules to completely eliminate this toxic trans fat from your diet.

1. Do not eat anything with “partially hydrogenated” or “shortening” listed on the ingredient list.

2. Assume french fries contain trans fat unless proven otherwise.

3. Assume all pastries, cookies, cakes, pies, and other bakery items contain trans fat unless you are shown proof that they do not.

4. Assume anything fried or battered is trans fat until they can prove to you otherwise.

5. Assume anything that tastes like butter has trans fat unless you can see the ingredient list.

6. Assume any popcorn has trans fat unless you air pop your own corn yourself.

Has your memory or brain fog lifted with elimination of processed and fast foods?  What rules do you follow to keep trans fat out of your diet?

#042 Should I Eat Fish?

October 26th, 2014 by

Should I Eat Fish?

Do you like fish?  Based on its profound health benefits, you may decide to become a fish lover, if not one already.

If you eat at least two servings per week, studies suggest that you can extend your life by 2.2 years!  Not only will you live longer but fish will also decrease your risk of heart disease by 36%, help to prevent dementia, lower your triglycerides, and lower your blood pressure.

In this article I will discuss the health effects of eating fish and answer the question, should I eat fish?

My Fish Story

I did not always like fish.  In fact, I hated fish until this past year.  I hated the smell, texture, and taste.  Now, at the age of 47, I can say for the first time publicly that I like fish.

I am not really sure how I finally came to like the taste of fish.  It was something that happened very gradually.  As I became increasingly convinced of the health benefits of fish, I forced myself to start eating it.  Slowly, over time, I began to enjoy the taste.  Now I love my wild Alaskan salmon!

Indeed, it has been scientifically proven that people can learn to like foods they previously hated.  This was certainly the case with me.

Live 2.2 Years Longer by Eating Fish Study

Can eating oily fish really allow you to live longer?  Yes, according to a recent study by my friend, Dr. Dariush Mozaffarian, at Harvard University.  I should mention that Dariush and I did our residency training together many years ago at Stanford University in the 1990s.

In Dariush’s study of 2,692 people followed for 16 years, he found that the highest oily fish eaters not only lived 2.2 years longer but also had 40% lower risk of dying from heart disease, 47% lower risk of dying from a stroke, and a 45% lower risk of dying from an arrhythmia.

Dariush concluded in an interview that the minimum amount of oily fish needed to get these benefits seen in this study works out to be about two servings per week.  If a life long fish hater, like me, can learn to like fish at the age of 47 then this is something that we can all learn to like.

American Heart Association’s Fish Recommendations

Based on the very strong scientific data supporting fish in our diets, the American Heart Association recommends that we eat at least two servings of fish each week, preferably an oily fish high in the omega 3 fatty acids.  Despite these recommendations, less than 1 in 5 Americans follow these guidelines.  Even scarier is that about half of us really don’t eat fish at all.

Can I get all of my omega 3s from nuts and seeds?

Not all omega 3 fatty acids are created equal.  The omega 3 fatty acids in walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, or flax seeds are the short chain omega 3s (ALA).  The omega 3s in fish are the long chain omega 3 fatty acids or EPA and DHA.  EPA and DHA have the best track record for long-term health benefits.

While the body can convert some of the shorter chain omega 3s from walnuts, chia seeds, hemp seeds, and flax seeds to EPA and DHA, most of us will be lacking in these critical omega 3s unless we eat fish.  For vegetarians, you can get your DHA and EPA from where the fish do, namely marine algae.

Why do so many people avoid fish?

I suspect that the media’s hyped fear of mercury, dioxins, and PCBs in fish has frightened so many people from eating this incredibly heart healthy food.  Fish is healing food for the heart and brain.

Unfortunately, these industrial pollutants have made their way into our food supply, including fish.  However, as long as you are eating the right fish in the right amounts you don’t need to worry about mercury, PCBs, or dioxins.  Let me explain.

Mercury and Fish

Unfortunately, the fish available to us today is not the same fish that was available to our ancestors.  Today, we have to worry about mercury toxicity with fish.

While the media would have us to believe that any fish will poison us with mercury that it absolutely not the case.  Many of my patients are afraid to eat fish based on all of these media reports.

Yes, it is true that some fish are high in mercury.  However, many healthy oily fish, which are high in the protective omega 3s, are also very low in mercury.  In general, the smaller the fish the lower the mercury content.  Some of the fish which are very high in omega 3s and yet very low in mercury include the following:

   -Wild Alaskan salmon

   -Atlantic mackerel

   -Sardines

   -Anchovies

   -Trout

   -Oyster

   -Herring

Selenium Prevents Mercury Toxicity

While the media has done a good job of scaring us away from fish due to mercury risks, what they don’t tell us is that selenium binds mercury and gets it out of our body.  Fortunately, many fish are also very high in selenium so any potential mercury risks in these fish is extremely low.

Previous studies showing harm from mercury in fish were done with shark or pilot whale meat which are very low in selenium. For example, just one serving of salmon, sardines, tuna, or shrimp nearly give you all of the selenium you need for the day.

As the right amount of selenium in your diet has been shown to help protect against cancer and heart disease, to make sure you are getting enough just one Brazil nut will give you all the selenium you need for the day.  Work closely with your doctor if you are taking a selenium supplement as selenium supplements have been shown to cause harm.

PCBs and Dioxins in Fish

Once again, the media would scare us from eating fish due to the risks of PCBs and dioxins.  While we should be frightened of PCBs and dioxins from industrial pollution, fish is not where we get most of these carcinogens.

For example, according to a Harvard University report, more than 90% of the PCBs and dioxins we are exposed to come primarily from animal meat, dairy, eggs, and to a much lesser degree from vegetables.  Thus, if you are really frightened of PCBs and dioxins then you should also limit your intake of animal meat, dairy, and eggs.

This Harvard University report also states that if 100,000 people ate farmed salmon, which has 16 times the amount of PCBs and dioxins as wild salmon, for 70 years that it would cause 24 deaths from cancer.  However, eating farmed salmon over this same period of time would also prevent 7,000 people from dying of heart disease!

For me, I want the best of both worlds.  I want all of the protection salmon has to offer without the risk of cancer.  This is why I choose wild Alaskan salmon which is 16 times lower in these contaminants according the the Environmental Working Group and I eat one Brazil nut each day.

Can I just take fish oil instead of eating fish?

Perhaps it is because you don’t like the taste of fish or that it just is easier to take a pill.  Unfortunately, when it comes to health it doesn’t work that way.  Many vitamins and supplements, including vitamins C and E, beta-carotene, folic acid, estrogen, and testosterone, have all been linked to heart disease or cancer.

Fish oil is no exception.  Even fish oil, with its healthy halo effect, has been linked to prostate cancer.

It is a combination of everything in healthy fish that provides us with the health benefits not just a concentrated form of the omega 3s.  Nutrition is so much more than just isolated and concentrated compounds.  If you don’t like the taste of fish it has been scientifically shown that you can retrain your brain to like healthy foods.  I know this was definitely the case with me.

Nutritional Benefits of My Favorite Fish

It was probably knowing all of the good things I was feeding my body that allowed me to start liking wild Alaskan salmon.  Here are some of the amazing health benefits you get from just one four ounce serving of this salmon according to WHFoods website.  Even better, all of these nutrients come with only 158 calories!

   -Vitamin B12: 236%

   -Vitamin D: 128%

   -Selenium: 78%

   -Vitamin B3: 56%

   -Omega 3: 55%

   -Protein: 53%

Dr. Day’s Personal Fish Rules

While my diet is primarily plant based, I do eat healthy fish at least twice weekly because of the compelling health benefits and also now because I like the taste.  It did take two years of forcing myself to eat fish every week before I finally started liking the taste.  Here are my personal guidelines to eating fish:

1. Eat fish twice a week.

2. Focus on oily fish with the omega 3s.

3. Avoid the fish high in mercury, dioxins, and PCBs.

4. Get the right amount of dietary selenium to bind mercury.

5. I avoid fish oil supplements due to the link to prostate cancer.

To get back to our original question, should I eat fish?  My answer would be yes given the many health benefits of fish.

Have you always liked fish or did you learn to like it like me?  Do you have a favorite fish? Please leave me a comment and let me know!

#039 9 Signs You May Have Vitamin K2 Deficiency

October 5th, 2014 by

9 Signs You May Have Vitamin K2 Deficiency

You may have a vitamin K2 deficiency.  Sadly, few people have even heard about this vitamin.  In this article, I share the nine signs of vitamin K2 deficiency and what you can do now to reverse a vitamin K2 deficiency.

What is vitamin K1?

Most people have heard of vitamin K.  This is vitamin K1.  Vitamin K1 is important for blood clotting.  Vitamin K1 comes primarily from green leafy vegetables.

How much vitamin K1 do you need?

Many experts feel that the current recommended dose of vitamin K1 is too low to prevent disease.  The current government recommendations are for just 90 mcg of vitamin K per day.  To put this in perspective, you can easily get 10 times the amount of vitamin K the government recommends from just one cup of cooked kale or spinach.

What is vitamin K2?

Vitamin K2 is different than K1.  The main role of vitamin K2 is to put calcium where it belongs in the body, like your teeth and bones, and keep it out of your brain, heart, and other places where it can cause premature aging and an early death.

Do you need to worry about getting enough vitamin K2?

Historically, it was felt that you did not need to worry about a vitamin K2 deficiency.  The reasoning was that your body would make all the vitamin K2 it needed from vitamin K1.

New research suggests this may not be the case.  Most people eating a Western diet are deficient not only in vitamin K1 but K2 as well.

Unfortunately, there not a good test to see if your have a vitamin K2 deficiency.  There are also no government recommendations on how much vitamin K2 you need.  To help assess for a possible vitamin K2 deficiency, below are nine signs that you may have a vitamin K2 deficiency.

9 Signs You May Have Vitamin K2 Deficiency

1. You bruise or bleed easily.

Vitamin K was named “K” after the German word “Koagulation” or clotting.  If you are deficient in vitamin K1, you will bruise or bleed easily.

As much of the vitamin K2 in your body comes from the body’s conversion of vitamin K1 to K2, if you have a vitamin K1 deficiency you will also have a vitamin K2 deficiency.  To ensure enough vitamin K2 for your body, make sure you eat a large serving of green leafy vegetables every day.  Kale, spinach, or broccoli are all excellent choices.

2. You have osteoporosis or broken bones.

Many studies have linked low K vitamins to a higher risk of low bone mass, osteoporosis, or fractures.  Vitamin K2 is especially important for normal osteocalcin function. Osteocalcin is a protein critical for healthy bones.

As vitamin K2 is critical for good bone health, this could explain why the Japanese and Chinese have much lower rates of osteoporosis or fractures even though few eat calcium-rich dairy.  Indeed, the Japanese and Chinese both eat diets very high in green leafy vegetables and fermented soy, such as natto, which has the highest known levels of vitamin K2 of any food.

3. Your mouth is full of cavities.

Vitamin K2, through its effects on osteocalcin, not only strengthens your bones but your teeth as well. In our research of Chinese centenarians, one study of rural Chinese centenarians showed that centenarians eating a diet high in the K vitamins, without any processed carbohydrates, were able to keep all of their teeth at age 100 despite never brushing.

4. You have heart disease.

Vitamin K2 may be one of the most overlooked strategies to decrease your risk of heart disease.  Based on the Rotterdam Study of 4,807 people, those with the highest dietary intake of vitamin K2 had a 57% lower risk of heart disease.

5. You have diabetes or pre-diabetes.

Through complex mechanisms, vitamin K plays an important role in regulating glucose.  Indeed, getting enough of the K vitamins can cut your diabetes risk by 51%.

6. You have an autoimmune disease.

The K vitamins may also play a role in autoimmune diseases.  One study showed that vitamin K2 may not only prevent osteoporosis in people suffering from rheumatoid arthritis, but that it may also help to put rheumatoid arthritis into remission.

7. You are becoming forgetful.

A low vitamin K diet is linked to dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease.  This may be due to calcium plaque build up in the brain from a vitamin K2 deficiency.

8. You have taken a lot of antibiotics.

Antibiotics not only kill the bad bacteria but your healthy gut bacteria as well.  If you have recently been on antibiotics, probiotics and fermented foods may help you to restore the beneficial vitamin K producing gut bacteria.

9. You take Coumadin (warfarin)

While Coumadin (warfarin) is very effective at preventing blood clots, it can also cause a vitamin K2 deficiency.  This medicine works by blocking vitamin K.

If your doctor has prescribed this medication, it is still important to eat green leafy vegetables for optimal health.  In order to do so, you will have to work very closely with your healthcare provider.  If you eat the exact same amount of vitamin K in your diet each day, then your health care provider can dose your Coumadin (warfarin) appropriately.

How do you get enough vitamin K2?

The very best way to prevent a vitamin K2 deficiency, is to eat a large serving of green leafy vegetables every day.  Green leafy vegetables are sky high in vitamin K1.  Your body will then convert vitamin K1 to vitamin K2.

Fermented foods, like fermented soybeans, sauerkraut, and some cheeses, such as brie or gouda, can all be good sources of vitamin K2.  Even though yogurt and kefir are also fermented foods, the grocery store variety contains the wrong bacteria for vitamin K2.

Other good sources of vitamin K2 include liver and grass fed chicken eggs.  Of all these sources, nothing even comes close to the amount of vitamin K2 found in natto or fermented soybeans.

Indeed, one serving of natto has enough vitamin K2 for an entire week. Not only is natto loaded with vitamin K2, but this fermented food may also help your gut flora.

Natto is a delicacy in Japan.  Unfortunately, most Westerners cannot tolerate the taste.

While natto certainly isn’t my favorite food, I have learned to tolerate it.  I have eaten a spoonful of fresh natto everyday for the last few years.  You can find fresh natto at your local Asian food store.

Can you get too much vitamin K?

Fortunately, I could find no reported cases of vitamin K toxicity from eating too many green leafy vegetables.  Unlike other fat soluble vitamins, very little vitamin K is stored.  Thus, vitamin K toxicity from food isn’t known to develop.  On the other hand, it is always possible to overdose on vitamin K from supplements.

Ongoing Vitamin K2 Studies

I have recently learned of a study being done in the Netherlands to test the effect of vitamin K2 in reversing heart disease.  This study will be the first high quality study to be done on this important vitamin.

Hopefully, vitamin K2 will be shown to reverse coronary calcification or plaque build up in the arteries of the heart.  Any reversal of heart disease will be measured very accurately by CT scans.

This study is expected to be completed by the end of 2017.  Until that time, I will continue to “enjoy” my spoonful of fresh natto each morning.

Take Home Message

The key message of this article is that vitamin K1 and vitamin K2 deficiency is common in the Western world.  This is a very preventable condition.

To prevent or reverse a vitamin K2 deficiency, make sure you have a heaping serving of green leafy vegetables every day.  Also, some fermented foods and grass fed dairy may also help you to get enough vitamin K2 in your diet.

Please leave your comments below.  I will do my very best to answer any questions you may have about this article.

If you like what you have read, please sign up for my free weekly newsletter so that you never miss a thing.  Also, give my podcast a try.  It is great for working out or commuting.

#038 Is Dairy Good for You?

September 29th, 2014 by

Is Dairy Good for You?

“Should I be drinking cow milk?” a class member asked Jane last week.

“Do you like it?”

“Yes. Well then should I be drinking skim, 1%, 2% or whole milk? I am so confused. Everyone is saying different things!”

“Listen to your body. It has the capacity to tell you what it needs.”

The problem is that we receive so many mixed messages, even mandates, from so many outside sources that we stop looking inward for the answers.

For example, our government tells us we need 3 servings of low or non-fat dairy each day.

The dairy industry has convinced us that if we don’t drink our milk we will have weak bones.

Medical studies here in the U.S. and abroad show that these recommendations have no scientific basis.

In response to many of your questions via our website and in our seminars, I will address the important question of dairy and our health.

Dairy is certainly a very controversial topic and the scientific data are not yet clear if dairy is disease causing or disease preventing.

Let me share with you what we DO know and what we do NOT know about dairy, along with my recommendations, based on the scientific data available at this time.

My Dairy Story

I grew up with the typical American lifestyle. My parents encouraged me to drink milk with every meal. I thought that milk would help me grow strong bones and I drank huge quantities of it.

As I got older I began struggling with digesting my dairy.  Sometimes I would have a bowl of cereal with milk and then have my stomach become bloated and hurt for hours.  As I became more and more lactose intolerant I gradually stopped drinking milk but I still had my daily slice of pizza.

Eventually, as many of you know, by my mid-40s I found myself overweight with high blood pressure and high cholesterol.  I also had developed a severe case of eosinophilic esophagitis from a food allergy and an autoimmune disease.

The eosinophilic esophagitis was so bad, that at times the only thing I could keep from getting stuck in my throat were liquids.  This was something that developed at a young age and only seemed to get worse with time.

It was in this health crisis that I completely changed my diet.  Knowing that dairy is one of the major causes of food allergies, I cut out the dairy along with the wheat flour, sugar, and processed foods.  I also quadrupled my vegetable intake and started eating nuts, seeds, and beans or lentils every day.

I’m not exactly sure what my food allergy was,  but my 30+ year history of eosinophilic esophagitis completely went away along with being overweight, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and autoimmune disease.

Through this experience, I was left with the question, is dairy good for you?

Will dairy strengthen my bones?

With the aggressive advertising, the dairy industry attempts to convince us that if we don’t dutifully eat our 3 servings of dairy each day we will have weak bones.

According to the Nurses Health Study involving 77,761 people, dairy did not protect against fractures.  Conversely, those who ate the most dairy were most at risk from bone fractures.

In fact, study after study has shown that the risk of a bone fracture is much LOWER in countries like Japan or China, where they rarely eat dairy, than in the US. Could dairy actually be putting us more at risk of osteoporosis and bone fractures? At a minimum, it is clear that dairy is not a requirement for healthy strong bones.

Will dairy make me gain weight and become inflamed?

We know that weight gain and inflammation are among the major causes of chronic medical conditions. Indeed, heart disease, dementia, and cancer can all be caused by being overweight and inflamed.

Does dairy contribute to this problem?

While well-known doctors, such as Dr. Mark Hyman, have argued that dairy is a big cause of inflammation and weight gain, the overall body of published medical literature do not yet support this view.

Some studies do indeed suggest that dairy increases weight gain and inflammation whereas other studies report the opposite.  Until we see a preponderance of data going one way or the other, I am going to keep an open mind about the role of dairy in obesity and inflammation.

Gut Flora and Dairy

A diet high in dairy can have a fast and significant impact on gut flora.  After just two days of meat and dairy, we can quickly switch our gut bacteria to more bile loving bacteria such as Bilophila and Bactericides.  Bilophila has been associated with inflammation and gastrointestinal problems and Bacteroides has been associated with weight gain.

The ideal gut flora that promotes maintenance of a healthy weight is one where Firmicutes dominates.  This gut flora is found with diets high in plant-based foods.

The best dairy for our guts may be yogurt with live bacterial cultures. Probiotics have been associated with healthier gut flora.

Will dairy raise my cholesterol and cause heart disease?

While it has long been known that dairy can raise cholesterol levels, does this translate into more heart attacks? While the data are not enitrely clear, at this time it does not appear that dairy increases the risk of heart disease.

Does dairy increase my risk of cancer?

This has been an area of intense research.  The strongest link appears to be with dairy and prostate cancer.  For example, in the Physicians’ Health Study of 20,885 male physicians, researchers found a 32% increased risk of prostate cancer in people who ate 2.5 or more servings of dairy each day.

For women the link between dairy and cancer is not as strong.  However, one study of 90,655 women did link high fat dairy products with breast cancer.

Should I eat full fat or low fat dairy?

Thanks to the anti-fat movements of the 1980s, full fat dairy has almost been wiped out of our grocery stores.  However, recent data suggests that ironically higher fat dairy may actually be better than low fat dairy in preventing weight gain.

Dairy Contaminants and Organic Dairy Products

Unfortunately, dairy can be a significant source of contaminants and toxins in our bodies. Too often cows are pumped full of antibiotics and hormones which can alter our own hormones, metabolism, and gut flora.  Also, PCBs and dioxins, which are known to cause cancer, are frequently found in dairy.

Many of these contaminants have prompted savvy consumers to turn to organic dairy products to avoid the hormones and antibiotics.  Unfortunately, the higher heat pasteurization process used for organic dairy products may have unintended nutritional and/or health effects.

Unexplained Medical Conditions and Dairy

Often times people have unexplained medical conditions that their doctors cannot figure out.  Despite thousands and thousands of dollars worth of medical tests, no one can seem to figure out what is going on.

In situations such as these, it is worth considering food allergies.  The two biggest causes of food allergies are wheat and dairy. I have seen many cases where unexplained medical conditions have mysteriously resolved when the offending food item was removed from the diet.

My Assessment of Dairy

To get back to our original question, is dairy good for you, dairy is certainly controversial and we do not yet have clear answers. The bottom line is that if you don’t like dairy there is no need to eat it. Conversely, if you love dairy, there is no need to stop. Dairy is a personal decision.

1. There is no clear proof that dairy will strengthen your bones.

2. There is no scientific basis to our government’s recommendations that we must eat 3 servings of low or non-fat dairy each day.

3. We do not know if dairy is disease causing or disease preventing.

4. The best dairy is probably yogurt with live bacterial cultures.

5. We do not know if full fat or low fat dairy is best.

6. Dairy is a significant cause of food allergies.

7. Dairy is a personal decision.

The bottom line: if you like dairy, enjoy it. If you do not like dairy, you do not need to feel compelled to consume it to maintain your health. If you have specific questions about dairy and your own personal health, please talk to your physician.

How do you feel about dairy? Do you feel better with dairy in or out of your diet?

#027 Do You Have These 12 Magnesium Deficiency Symptoms?

August 11th, 2014 by

Do you have these 12 magnesium deficiency symptoms?

Chances are that you suffer from magnesium deficiency symptoms.  Indeed, up to 89% of Americans are magnesium deficient.

Most people have no idea they are missing this critical micronutrient.  Read on to find out if you may be suffering from magnesium deficiency symptoms.

Jill’s Experience

Early in my career as a cardiologist, I worked with a 48 year old nurse from Wyoming who suffered from palpitations, anxiety, and weight gain.  She was tired during the day and couldn’t sleep at night.  She had seen many doctors and nothing seemed to help.

As part of her work up for palpitations, I put her on a 24-hour heart monitor (Holter monitor).  The heart monitor showed frequent premature ventricular contractions (PVCs).

I also checked her lab work.  Everything was normal, including her serum magnesium level.  Fortunately, her stress echocardiogram was also normal so we didn’t have to worry about any other heart issues.

To help with her palpitations, I prescribed a beta-blocker medication.  Unfortunately, beta-blockers only caused more fatigue and only marginally decreased her palpitations.  What followed were a series of different medications, all with intolerable side effects.

Finally, I encouraged her to eat a high magnesium diet.  I also prescribed magnesium supplements.  Even though her serum magnesium level was “normal”, I was running out of options.

Miraculously, all of her symptoms went away.  Not only were her palpitations gone, but her anxiety resolved, she had more energy and she was now sleeping at night.  She even lost 10 pounds in the process.

Can you test for magnesium deficiency?

Unfortunately, there is no good test for magnesium deficiency.  This is why it is so important to recognize the magnesium deficiency symptoms.

While it is easy to test for magnesium in your blood (serum magnesium levels), less than 1% of the magnesium in your body can be found in your blood.  Thus, serum magnesium levels are a poor indicator of magnesium deficiency.  Most of your magnesium is stored in your bones or your cells.

Who is at highest risk for magnesium deficiency?

If you are under a lot of stress you likely are not absorbing much magnesium from your food.  If you drink filtered or bottled water, you are getting minimal magnesium in your water.  If spinach and other green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes are not on your plate every day, you probably suffer from magnesium deficiency symptoms.

If you are overweight, diabetic, or over age 60, you are probably magnesium deficient.  Likewise, if you take diuretics, calcium supplements, or stomach acid blocking medications you are also probably deficient in magnesium.

Do you have these 12 magnesium deficiency symptoms?

Below are 12 of the most common magnesium deficiency symptoms.  Chances are that you probably suffer from one of these 12 conditions.

1. Weight Gain or Diabetes

When you don’t get enough magnesium in your food and water, it can cause glucose and insulin levels to rise.  When insulin levels are high, you may suffer from food cravings.  Unfortunately, these food cravings are generally for processed carbohydrates which lead to further weight gain.

2. Fatigue and Muscle Weakness

Magnesium is a critical component of energy production in the body.  In fact, the body’s energy molecule, ATP, is created through magnesium dependent chemical reactions.

If you are tired all the time, you are probably magnesium deficient.  Likewise, if your muscles are weak, you may also not be getting enough magnesium.

3. Anxiety

People under high levels of mental or physical stress, poorly absorb magnesium from the gastrointestinal tract.  To make matters worse, magnesium deficiency is an important cause of anxiety.  Fortunately, studies show that restoring the magnesium may help in the treatment of anxiety.

4. Insomnia

Having enough magnesium balances out your stress hormones.  Magnesium also helps the body maintain sufficient melatonin and other sleep hormones.  Indeed, magnesium supplementation has been shown to help with sleep.

5. Depression

For over 100 years now, magnesium deficiency has been associated with depression.  It is also well known, that people with depression are more likely to eat a diet low in magnesium.

6. Dental Cavities or Osteoporosis

If you’ve had a lot of cavities, or been diagnosed with osteoporosis, you probably have magnesium deficiency.  Magnesium deficiency has long been associated with dental cavities.  Magnesium deficiency may also affect vitamin D metabolism and osteocalcin which play a key role in bone turnover and formation.

Ironically, if you are taking calcium supplements for osteoporosis, you may be making matters worse. Calcium supplementation can throw off your calcium/magnesium balance.

7. Constipation

If you suffer from constipation you probably are magnesium deficient.  Magnesium has long been used as a laxative.

8. Muscle Cramps or Migraine Headaches

Do you suffer from leg cramps, eye twitches, or muscle spasms?  Do you get frequent headaches? These may all be magnesium deficiency symptoms.

9. Inflammation, Arthritis, or Autoimmune Diseases

If you suffer from chronic inflammatory conditions, such as arthritis or autoimmune diseases, you may be magnesium deficient.  Studies have linked magnesium deficiency to arthritis and elevated C-reactive protein (CRP) blood tests.

10. Palpitations, Heart Attacks, Heart Failure, or Cardiac Arrest

Most forms of heart disease have been linked with magnesium deficiency.  This mineral is critical to optimal cardiac function.

11. Thyroid Problems

Thyroid problems are very common in the U.S.  Research suggests that many thyroid issues can be traced back to a magnesium deficiency.

12. Cancer

An often overlooked cause of cancer is magnesium deficiency.  Magnesium is a critical nutrient for many DNA repair mechanisms.   As new cancer cells are created every day in your body, you need your DNA repair mechanism functioning optimally.

Magnesium in Our Water

Our ancestors used to get large amounts of magnesium just from their drinking water.  Mountain spring water is naturally high in magnesium.  Unfortunately, many municipalities remove magnesium as part of their water treatment process.

If you want to see how much magnesium is in your drinking water, click here.  In general, the “harder” your water, the more magnesium you are getting.

Interestingly, drinking hard water may lower your risk of heart disease.  If you happen to live in a city with naturally hard water, you can get up to 30% of the magnesium you need each day from water.

Unfortunately, water softeners, water filters, reverse osmosis devices, and bottled water are generally all depleted of magnesium.  If you drink any of these magnesium depleted water types, you have to get 100% of your magnesium from food.

Magnesium in Our Food

Once upon a time, our soil contained much more magnesium.  Unfortunately, modern agriculture has stripped this essential mineral from the ground.

To make matters worse, the foods most often eaten in the U.S, namely wheat, dairy, meat, sugar, and other processed foods, do not contain much magnesium.

Fortunately, organically grown produce has been shown to have up to 29% more magnesium.  To get enough magnesium in your diet, make sure you eat plenty of green leafy vegetables, especially spinach, nuts, seeds, and legumes every day.  To see a breakdown of which foods contain the most magnesium click here.

Can you get too much magnesium?

In general, it is very difficult to get too much magnesium from your food and water unless you have kidney disease.  Certainly, it is possible to get too much magnesium if you are taking supplements.

How much magnesium do you need each day?

In general, adults need about 400 mg of magnesium each day.  Rather than trying to calculate the magnesium content of your food, just eat a heaping green salad each day.  If your heaping salad includes plenty of spinach, seeds, nuts, or beans you are there.  A heaping salad with the right toppings will get you 100% of the magnesium you need for the day.  This is especially true if the seeds on top are pumpkin seeds.

Magnesium in China’s Longevity Village

As you know, we have been studying the residents of China’s Longevity Village for many years.  We have found that these people do not suffer from magnesium deficiency symptoms.

The mountain spring water they drink is extremely hard and packed full of essential minerals.  Researchers suggest that these people get up to 50% of their magnesium just from the water.

Also, modern agriculture has yet to put a stake in the ground in this rural area of China.  Thus, the soil is extremely high in magnesium and other minerals.

Their diet, which is very high in vegetables, nuts, seeds, and beans, only further augments the magnesium they are getting every day.  We suspect that the magnesium in their food and water may be an important reason why heart disease is very uncommon and people live to old ages free of chronic medical conditions.

How can you correct magnesium deficiency?

Let me give you five simple steps to correct magnesium deficiency.

1. Drink hard water.

2. Eat a heaping salad with spinach, nuts, seeds, and legumes daily. 

3. Reduce Stress.

4. Talk with your doctor about magnesium supplements.

5. Talk with your doctor about diuretics, acid reducing medications, or calcium supplements.

Final Thoughts

Up to 89% of Americans suffer from magnesium deficiency.  Chances are that you may already be suffering from one of magnesium deficiency symptoms.

Fortunately, magnesium deficiency is easy to correct.  Talk with your doctor if you suspect that you have any of the above magnesium deficiency symptoms.

If you have any thoughts or experiences with magnesium deficiency, please leave your comments below.  Also, if you have any questions about what you have just read, leave your questions in the comments section below.  I will do my best to answer every question.

#025 Can You Gain Weight from a Fecal Transplant?

August 4th, 2014 by

Can You Gain Weight from a Fecal Transplant?

Did you catch the news headlines about the woman who experienced massive weight gain following a fecal transplant from her daughter this past week?  Can this even be true?

Just what is the science behind a fecal transplant and why on earth would anyone ever want to have this procedure done?  In this article I will discuss the answers to these questions.

A Medical Mystery?

An unnamed woman, I’ll call her “UW,” was innocently prescribed a course of antibiotics by her physician to treat an infection she was struggling with.  While the antibiotic cleared up her initial infection the antibiotic caused a new infection, Clostridium difficile colitis.

Clostridium difficile, or “C. diff” for short, is an infection of the colon that can arise after someone has been treated with antibiotics.  As antibiotics can quickly wipe out your good gut bacteria, this then allows very dangerous bacteria, like C. diff, to quickly fill the void and cause a life-threatening infection inside of your colon.

For anyone who has ever experienced C. diff colitis, this can be an especially difficult infection to treat.  Even more antibiotics are given.  Unfortunately, even our most powerful antibiotics often cannot touch this deadly C. diff.

It is in just these most difficult cases when doctors may consider a fecal transplant.

U.W. was just one such patient.  She was in severe pain and her life was in jeopardy from the C. diff infection.  UW opted to get her fecal transplant from her 16 year old daughter.  It just so happened that her daughter was gaining weight at this exact period of time that she needed a fecal transplant.

As this is still a new medical procedure and doctors did not know all of the potential complications, they thought UW’s daughter would make a great fecal donor.  Her physicians then took some of her daughter’s stool and placed it in her own gut.

Her daughter’s stool bacteria were able to fight off her C. diff infection and she was soon cured of this disease.  Unfortunately, over the next 16 months her appetite was uncontrollable and every calorie she took in just seemed to stick.

UW had never had to deal with weight issues before in her life.  Now, regardless of what she did or how she ate she just kept gaining weight.  UW told her gastroenterologist, “from the moment I had the fecal transplant, I felt like a switch flipped in my body.”  The switch was indeed “flipped” and a woman who had never dealt with weight issues before suddenly gained 34 pounds!

Fecal Transplants for C. diff Infections

Fecal transplants for C. diff infections have now gone “main stream.”  For example, the venerable Mayo Clinic even advertises a 90% cure rate for C. diff, with a fecal transplantation.  Based on UW’s experience, doctors now know not to perform fecal transplants from overweight individuals to avoid long-term weight gain.

Could a fecal transplant be used for weight loss?

If a fecal transplant from UW’s overweight daughter made her suddenly become obese, could the opposite also be true?  This is something researchers are looking into right now.  Could transplanting fecal material from the gut of a thin person to an overweight person help them to lose weight?

Gut Bacteria

As there are 10 times more bacterial cells in your gut than the rest of your entire body, could these bacteria play a role in preventing weight gain and even coronary heart disease? Exactly what are these bacteria doing in your gut?

Studies indicate that up to 1,000 different strains of bacteria live in your gut.  These bacteria eat your food, help you digest your food, absorb key nutrients, neutralize toxins, and keep nasty bacterial invaders, like C. diff, away.

Having the right gut bacteria or gut flora can help to protect you against cancer.  When you have gas it may just be a by-product of these bacteria helping you to break down foods like beans.

Depending on your gut flora, you could absorb all or just part of the calories from what you eat.  In other words, with the wrong gut bacteria in place, like in the case of UW, you could absorb more calories from the foods you eat.

Likewise, if you have the right set of bacteria in your gut, you won’t absorb as many calories from food allowing you to eat even more without gaining weight.  Your gut flora can even control your glucose absorption rate, thus influencing your odds of developing diabetes.

Fecal Transplant for Weight Loss

In one the most prestigious scientific journals, Science, Dr. Jeffrey Gordon and colleagues from Washington University published groundbreaking research showing that gut bacteria from a fecal transplant can determine whether mice are lean or obese.

In this study, researchers first created mice with no bacteria in their gut.  At the same time they identified genetically identical human twins of which one twin was thin and the other twin was overweight.  Researchers then injected fecal material from either the thin or the obese human twin into these mice that they had created who lacked any bacteria in their gut.

Dr. Gordon and colleagues found that with the same diet and exercise patterns, the mice who received a fecal transplant from the overweight twin became overweight, like UW, and that the mice who received a fecal transplant from the thin twin twin became lean.

Little Brown Hamster Eating Corn

Oral Version of the Fecal Transplant

Mice share a nasty habit of eating each other’s droppings, also known as coprophagia.  Thus, to further test their theory, researchers then put a thin mouse in a cage with overweight mice and an overweight mouse in a cage with thin mice.

Given the innate habit of coprophagia, they could then test the theory of fecal sharing through the oral route.  As you might guess, the thin mouse eating obese mice droppings became obese.  Likewise, the overweight mouse eating lean mice droppings became thin. This change in mouse body weight was completely independent of their diet and exercise patterns.

Our Diet Determines Our Gut Bacteria

There is more to this study than just measuring the effects of swapping fecal material.  Dr. Gordon and his team also found that mice eating a healthy diet (a diet high in fruit and vegetables while low in saturated fats) could prevent them from becoming overweight if they were exposed to fecal gut bacteria from an obese mouse.

In previous studies, Dr. Gordon and his team showed that within our guts there literally is a “food fight” to see whether the Bacteroides or Firmicutes bacterial strain will dominate.  Thin people tend to have more of the Bacteroides strain and overweight people tend to have more of the Firmicutes strain.

While it may seem like a fecal transplant could be a quick obesity cure, it would still require long-term effort.  For example, to maintain the weight loss after a fecal transplant a person would have to continue to eat a very healthy diet otherwise it would just be a matter of time before the Firmicutes strain took over again and the person gained all of their weight back.

Indeed, Dr. Gordon and colleagues have also shown that within just 24 hours of eating a Western Diet (high sugar and high saturated fat), the bacteria in the gut could be shifted back to Firmicutes despite a fecal transplant.  Thus, if you did not want to change your eating habits you would need a daily fecal transplant to stay thin.

I suspect few people would sign up for a daily fecal transplant procedure.  However, if you could put fecal material from a thin person into a supplement then perhaps this is something you could take every day…

Could antibiotics really be a “fat drug?”

Along the same subject of gut bacteria and weight gain, animal breeders have known for years that if animals are given just a small amount of antibiotics every day that they will gain weight regardless of their diet or exercise patterns.  The data suggest that the healthy gut bacteria killed off by antibiotics allows the bad bacteria to take hold and cause the animal to extract more calories and accumulate more fat from the same diet.

While most of the antibiotics given to animals to fatten them up don’t survive the cooking process, some people feel it is possible that some could survive to your dinner plate.  This small dose in non-organic meat and dairy could be just enough to cause you to gain weight.

Even more plausible is that the course of antibiotics you took last winter may have caused you to gain an extra five pounds that you just can’t seem to get off.  Could our love of antibiotics for livestock and for every cough we humans get be yet another potential cause of the obesity epidemic in the U.S.?

Probiotics and Health

Probiotics have become progressively more popular.  Yogurt and other fermented foods may just give the necessary boost to the healthy bacteria struggling to keep the bad guys out of your gut.

There are also many probiotic supplements now on the market.  Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium are the most popular as these are the best studied.  Many tout the benefits of ingesting live healthy gut bacteria.

A number of small studies have supported the use of probiotics for various gut, allergy, high cholesterol, depressive, and other conditions.  Currently, however, the strongest data supporting the use of probiotics is to prevent antibiotic-associated diarrhea.  This is an area of science that is still in its infancy and thus, there are still no FDA approved health claims for probiotics.

Personally, I believe we are just at the beginning of our understanding of the role of probiotics.  It certainly makes sense that if we can grow the right bacteria in our gut we just may be able to control many inflammatory and immune related diseases, obesity, and diabetes just to name a few.  Stay tuned, as this will be an exciting area of medical research for many years to come.

Gut Health in China’s Longevity Village

Remarkably, during our stays in China’s Longevity Village we could not find anyone, including the elderly, suffering from constipation, diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome, or any other gut malady.  They rarely take medications, including antibiotics, and don’t pump their livestock up with antibiotics either.

They eat an extremely high fiber diet.  Almost everything they eat is high in fiber.  How can you not have a healthy gut with so much fiber?

They also love fermented foods like fermented tofu.  Sugar and other simple carbs like bread as well as red meat, and dairy were traditionally absent from their diet.

While they did not intentionally practice intermittent fasting for health reasons, most of the older generations experienced periods of time where they were hungry when food was limited.  These periods of famine may have promoted the healthy gut bacteria which conferred upon them health and longevity.

9 Lessons for Maintaining a Healthy Weight and a Healthy Gut

1. Feed your gut bacteria fiber.

A high fiber diet, consisting of plenty of fruits and vegetables is just what you need to help colonize your gut with the good, disease and obesity fighting bacteria.  High fiber foods are also called “prebiotics” as they create the perfect environment for healthy gut bacteria to thrive. With the right gut bacteria, you can eat more food and be less likely to gain weight or become diabetic.

2. Only take antibiotics when it is absolutely necessary.

Everyone knows that antibiotics are over-prescribed. Not only are we harming our gut health but we may also be gaining weight and creating superbugs from excess antibiotics.  We are just beginning to learn about the potential life-long detrimental effects of just a single course of antibiotics on our gut health.

3. Only eat organic meat and dairy.

Eating non-organic meat and dairy, pumped full of antibiotics, may just be yet another source of unnecessary antibiotics in our diets.

4. Consider probiotics.

Early data are promising for probiotics.  Before considering supplements, I always recommend first getting probiotics naturally from foods such as yogurt or fermented foods.

5. Manage stress.

Studies have shown that when we are under stress it causes the beneficial gut bacteria to die off.  Make it a point to do something for stress each day.  Stress reduction could come in the form of yoga, exercise, being in nature, prayer, mediation, or even just spending time with friends and family.

6. Minimize unhealthy fats.

As shown in the mouse experiment, unhealthy fats in your diet promote the unhealthy gut bacteria, which then could lead to obesity and diabetes.

7. Minimize acid reducing and anti-inflammatory drugs.

These drugs also disrupt healthy bacteria in the gut.  It is important to keep the right acidity in the stomach to promote the right kind of bacteria in our guts.  Likewise, anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, can damage the walls of your gut which can also affect good gut bacteria.

8. Minimize the “hunger” carbs.

If possible stay away from sugar or anything else that is like sugar including even “whole wheat” bread, cereals, most pastas, pastries, crackers, processed foods, etc.  These simple carbs, which I like to call the hunger carbs, just make you hungry as soon as you finish eating them.

The disease causing gut bacteria also love these unhealthy carbs as much as we do.  If you love your bread, like me, making your own bread.  You can even try my wife’s “real” bread recipe.

Another option is to try Ezekiel Bread, which is also slowly absorbed and does not result in that sugar surge you get with even traditional whole wheat bread.  Ezekiel Bread can be found in the frozen section of most health food stores.

9. Intermittent fasting.

There are even data supporting the role of intermittent fasting and optimal gut health.  If you already fast for religious reasons, this may be one additional benefit.  Even going without food for just 12 hours seems to increase the balance of Bacteroides to Firmicutes which decreases your likelihood of obesity or diabetes.

Remember, this is early research, but it is fascinating to consider the possibilities.

What do you think about the idea of fecal transplant to control weight gain?  What have you found to help your own gut health?  Do you take probiotics?

Disclaimer

Please do not try anything discussed in this article without first speaking with your physician.  There can be risks with anything, even just changing your diet.

#020 Even a Little Alcohol Might Be Dangerous to Your Heart

July 21st, 2014 by

Could a recent study that hit worldwide news, provide enough evidence to overturn the long-held belief that a little alcohol is good for the heart?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), one in ten deaths of working age adults in the U.S. results from alcohol consumption. Despite this fact, many in the medical community have been telling us for years that a little bit of alcohol is good for us as it prevents coronary heart disease (plaque build up in the arteries of the heart).

What are the effects of alcohol on the heart? Is there a link between alcohol and heart disease?

This recommendation to drink a little bit of alcohol did not come from high quality studies. This recommendation came from observational studies based on how much alcohol people said they drank. So many of us wanted to believe that this vice could actually be healthy for us, so few questioned if this was even true or not. This groundbreaking and scientifically rigorous study of 261,991 people hit worldwide news demonstrating that any alcohol may be hazardous to your heart health.

My Previous Alcohol Recommendations to Patients

For years I have struggled with this alcohol conundrum in counseling cardiac patients. On one hand, alcohol, especially red wine, appeared to be very effective in preventing plaque build up in the heart. This was the “heart” of the so-called “French Paradox” where supposedly their red wine protects their hearts from their high saturated fat diet.

On the other hand, I have personally seen, and the tragic data shows, that alcohol destroys many families, and causes liver failure and cancer. While alcohol was believed to prevent coronary heart disease, it is a known cause of heart failure and the most common cardiac arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation. I struggled as to how I could best counsel my patients on the subject of alcohol.

With regards to alcohol and heart disease, my conclusion at the time was to advise limiting alcohol to one drink daily, if they drank, preferably a red wine. This way we could potentially minimize any negative bad effects of alcohol on the heart.

If they did not drink, I never encouraged drinking to prevent coronary heart disease.  Lastly, if they suffered from heart failure or atrial fibrillation I recommended that they stop drinking.

I advised such based on the available data—it was all we had. I now advise differently, as the latest study provides new findings.

Any Alcohol is Dangerous to the Heart Study

This study is very important in that it is much more scientifically rigorous than previous studies. The data behind the alcohol recommendation to prevent coronary heart disease was based on observational studies. Observational studies have to be taken with a grain of salt because there are so many confounding factors which researchers cannot control.

Could observational study bias explain the alcohol protective dogma that the medical community has believed for so long? Do we need to worry about alcohol and heart disease?

In this study, first author Dr. Michael V. Holmes from the Perelman School of Medicine in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and colleagues took a different approach. Rather than just doing yet another observation study based on the subjective recall of how much alcohol everyone drank, they looked at whether or not people had the ADH1B gene.

The ADH1B gene codes for the alcohol dehydrogenase 1B enzyme which breaks down alcohol in the body. People with this enzyme rapidly metabolize alcohol which results in nausea, facial flushing, and not feeling well when they drink alcohol. As a result, most people with the ADH1B gene drink very little alcohol or they abstain altogether.

In this study, Dr. Holmes and his colleagues had the brilliant idea to look at the clinical outcomes of 261,991 people in this international study to see if this gene could predict clinical outcomes.

Interestingly, people who genetically cannot tolerate alcohol were less likely to:

• Be overweight
• Have high blood pressure
• Have significant levels of inflammation
• Have a heart attack
• Have a stroke

Overnight, this study has challenged the long-held dogma that alcohol might somehow be good for the heart. We now have a pretty good idea about the effects of alcohol on the heart.

Our Experience in China’s Longevity Village

This study supports our findings during our stay among the residents of China’s Longevity Village. Based on our research in China’s Longevity Village, which is a rural mountain village in Southwest China near the Vietnam border, most of these long-lived people completely abstain from alcohol. These people were historically water drinkers.

This abstinence is largely based on their extreme poverty and geographic isolation from China and the rest of the world. In fact, based on studies of these long-lived people, 64% of the people completely abstain from alcohol. Could this be one factor, among many, that contributed to their long lives and freedom from the chronic medical conditions from which so many of us here in the U.S. suffer? We delve into our findings in China’s Longevity Village, and their implications for our own lives here in the U.S., in our book scheduled for publication next year.

My New Alcohol Recommendations to My Patients

The results of the more than 260,000 people in this study demonstrate that alcohol does not have any protective effect to the heart. In my opinion, given the many tragic outcomes of alcohol consumption, the less alcohol we drink the better. For my patients who have developed any form of heart disease, I now encourage them to avoid or minimize alcohol consumption.

Not only is it this study, another mega study just came out in the July 22, 2014 issue of Journal of the American College of Cardiology showing that any alcohol can be a significant cause of a dangerous heart rhythm abnormality called atrial fibrillation.

What do you think? Is this study strong enough to overturn the long held belief that alcohol is somehow protective for the heart? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#015 How to Find Your “Why”

June 23rd, 2014 by

Do you have a plan for your life?  Why are you committed to reclaiming or maintaining your health?

Finding your purpose or your “why” power is what gets us out of bed each morning.  If we don’t have a reason for living, the entire day becomes a chore and we lose site of our goal.  Over time, we can fall into a trap of a negative downward spiral. We stop investing in ourselves.  We stop investing in the relationships with family members or others within our social networks.  We may stop eating the foods that give us health and energy.  We may even stop exercising or moving altogether.

I have found that my patients who have successfully reversed their medical conditions have a very strong answer to “Why are you committed to regaining your health?”  They also have an answer to the follow up question, “What will happen if you cannot regain your health?”

We have to visualize our goal.  We also need to visualize what will happen if we cannot stick to our goal.  Every day I review my life’s goals and purpose.  It gives me much greater focus and clarity with all of the distractions and temptations in our modern life.

My Experience

In my mid 40s I had lost my health and lost my “Why”.  I was working long and crazy hours at the hospital.  I had lost my connection to my family, myself, and even my spirituality.

I would not take vacation time. Each day I would start working at 5 or 6 am and often would not come home from the hospital until 8 pm or later at night.  I definitely was not happy at that time either.

I had this crazy idea that if I just worked hard enough and we saved our money that we could retire early and start enjoying life.  I fell victim to the trap of once this happens (fill in the blank), I will be happy.  You cannot put off your happiness. The key is to be happy in the moment, happy in whatever stage of life you are in.

In the end, my body just gave out.  It hurt to move or do anything.  I wound up on 5 different medications and had developed an autoimmune disease, severe esophagitis, degenerative disk disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, horrible insomnia, and chronic fatigue.

I always felt tired and would try to compensate by eating plenty of donuts, bagels, pizza, and Diet Coke each day.  Finally, I realized how far off course my life had become.  I also realized that my answer to the second question, “what will happen if you cannot regain your health” was that I would become a decrepit, arthritic, and sickly overweight man and would likely wind up in one of those Jazzy scooters before age 60!

The first step for me to regain my health was to develop a strong life’s purpose.  My purpose required me to have excellent health so that I could fulfill my role in this life.  The purpose also had to be strong enough to resist all of the temptations of modern life.

The Power of Purpose and Risk of Heart Disease

Does having a sense of purpose matter with regards to health?  The answer is a resounding yes!  I learned this first hand.

One of the largest studies looking at the role of a life purpose and survival was done in Japan.  In this study, they had a total of 43,391 people that they followed for 7 years.  They found that those who did not have a sense of purpose for their lives were 50% more likely to die during the 7 years of the study.

Interestingly, in this same study the risk of dying from a heart related cause was 60% higher if you lacked a sense of purpose in your life.

The researchers offered several explanations for their findings.  They cited other studies which have shown that people without purpose or hope are more likely to develop blood clots, have increased levels of inflammation, and are more likely to have the dangerous forms of cholesterol.

Having a Purpose Can Protect Against Alzheimer Disease

An equally fascinating study was recently published on 246 individuals from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.  In this study, they found that having a life mission or purpose could help to prevent cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s Disease.  It makes sense to me, if you have a purpose you have passion.  If you have a passion for life you will live in a way that promotes health and wellbeing.  To read this study click here.

Lack of Purpose and Poor Health

This is something that I have seen many times in my career.  The most dangerous day in the life of a man is the day he retires.  For many men, their sense of purpose seems to come from their job or career.  So often, when men retire their health quickly crashes over the next 1 to 2 years.

Does this mean we can never retire?  Of course, not.  However, instead of turning retirement into lounging on the chair, it could be an opportunity to move from a “for profit” to a “non-profit” career.

Volunteering can be so incredibly therapeutic and health promoting.  Many studies have shown that those who volunteer gain remarkable health benefits.  We all need to feel needed and valued for optimal health.

How to Develop Your Life’s Purpose

How can we develop our own life purpose as this is the first step to reclaiming our health?  This is something that is very personal and will vary from person to person.  You must be sure that your purpose and goals are your own rather than “should’s” that may be placed on us externally.

For me, what seemed to give me the greatest clarity of my life’s purpose was to imagine what I would want people to say of me at my funeral.  What do I want my life to stand for and what legacy do I want to leave?  What mark will I leave on the world so that my posterity will know that I once lived here.  I hope that I can live my life so that on my gravestone my family will have carved my life’s purpose which is “He served God, loved his family, and healed the sick”.

To fulfill my life’s purpose I must have good health.  I now know that I can never take this for granted again!  This strong sense of purpose keeps me motivated and helps me each day to live in a way that promotes health.  It gets me out of bed, it motivates me to move each day, and it inspires me to resist foods that will take me away from this purpose.

What is your “Why”?  Does a strong sense of purpose give you the power to resist the temptations of modern life? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#013 How to Get Rid of Atrial Fibrillation Once and For All

June 23rd, 2014 by

Do you or someone you love suffer from atrial fibrillation (A-fib)?  If so, you are not alone.  One in four Americans will have at least one episode of A-fib in their lives.  In this article, I share how to get rid of atrial fibrillation.

Many of my patients feel horrible when A-fib strikes.  Their hearts race chaotically and they often feel short of breath, fatigued, dizzy, lightheaded, or may even have chest pain.

The effects of A-fib can be devastating.  A-fib is one of the major causes of stroke.  It can also put people on a number of different medications, all with serious side effects.

This is something you definitely want to avoid, if possible…

If you are like most patients with this condition, you have already been put on a heavy duty blood thinner for life.  You may also be on a medicine to slow your heart down or hold you in rhythm.

Do you want to live this way for the rest of your life?  There are other options.

If aggressive lifestyle changes are made soon enough, the A-fib may completely go away.  I have seen many patients “beat” A-fib just by making significant lifestyle changes.  For others, the A-fib attacks may significantly decrease.  Sometimes, lifestyle changes alone may not be enough.  If this is the case, all is not lost.  These lifestyle changes will double your chances of successfully beating A-fib with a minimally invasive procedure called an A-fib ablation.

If we are going to beat A-fib, we need to know everything that may be contributing to this condition.  If we can aggressively attack each of these 10 items early enough there is an excellent chance that you can get rid of A-fib once and for all!

1. Get Rid of High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure is one of the main causes of A-fib.  It puts a big strain on the heart which can cause the lower chambers of the heart to thicken and the upper chambers of the heart to enlarge.

If you have high blood pressure you are not alone.  Studies show that half of all Americans have a blood pressure above the goal of 120/80 mmHg as established by the American Heart Association.  As with A-fib, if significant lifestyle changes are made early enough, high blood pressure is completely reversible.

I have seen this with many of my patients.  In fact, after just a few weeks of making major lifestyle changes, under the direction of their physicians they can start getting off of their high blood pressure medications.  I personally dropped my blood pressure which could go as high as 150/90 mmHg down to 110/70 mmHg without medications.

For more information on how to reverse high blood pressure, please read my article “How to Get Off Your Blood Pressure Medications: Lower Your Blood Pressure with These Eight Steps.

Until you can reverse your high blood pressure with lifestyle modification, you may need to work with your physician on getting this under control.  For my patients with A-fib, I tend to be aggressive on getting the blood pressure under control.  I usually shoot for a target of less than 135/85 mmHg.

2. Reverse Your Biologic Age

Unfortunately, getting older is a big risk factor for developing A-fib.  Even though you are getting older year-by-year (your chronological age), you can reverse your biologic age now!  Your biologic age can be 10-20 years younger than how “old” you are.  You can regain your youth, feel great, and reverse the effects of aging on your heart.

How do you reverse your biologic age?  Please read my recent article “We Can Reverse the Aging Process“.

3. Keep Stress in Check

It seems like we are all stressed out.  According to a study from Everest College, 83% of Americans are stressed out at work.  One study showed that our chronic stress is the equivalent of smoking 5 cigarettes a day!  Even if you just think you are stressed is enough to increase your risk of a heart attack by 27%!

When we are stressed our bodies release cortisol and adrenalin into the blood stream.  These substances are toxic to the heart if it continues long enough.

What can we do to get our stress under control?  Make it a priority to do something every day to get your stress levels under control.  We will never be able to completely avoid stress.  It is part of the human experience.

Even something as simple as yoga to calm your nerves has been shown to decrease your risk of A-fib by 50%!  The key is to recognize your stress and do something actively every day to bring your stress levels down.  For some people this could be exercising, spending time in nature, reading a good book, getting a good night of sleep, or just hanging out with your friends.

For more information on this, please read my article “Seven Ways to Manage Stress”. http://drjohnday.com/?p=779

4. Reduce Inflammation

Inflammation is like stress, it can be helpful to the body for short periods of time. However, when inflammation never turns off it can damage the heart and the rest of the body as well as result in premature aging.

It has been recognized for quite some time that inflammation is an important cause of A-fib.  The good news is that if we can turn off the inflammation for our heart it will help the rest of our body to recover as well.

Did you know there is a simple blood test your doctor can order for you to check your inflammation level?  This test is called C Reactive Protein or CRP for short.  The goal is to have a CRP of less than 1 mg/L.  If you can get your CRP to less than one you can dramatically reduce your risk of A-fib, heart attacks, cancer, and even Alzheimer’s Disease.

How can we reduce inflammation?  Please read the article I wrote on this subject entitled “Six Strategies to Reduce Inflammation and Chronic Pain“.

5. Get Your Weight in Line

Did you know that being overweight is one of the biggest causes of A-fib today?  A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association by my good friend, Dr. Prash Sanders, showed how important weight loss is with reversing A-fib.  In this study, if overweight people could lose just 32 pounds, they could reduce their A-fib attacks nearly three-fold.

This is something I have seen time and time again in my practice.  Overweight people with A-fib who can lose the weight can often make their A-fib go away.

6. Eat the Right Foods

Did you know the rates of A-fib are several times higher in North America than anywhere else in the world?  The Standard American Diet (SAD) is like pouring gasoline on the A-fib fire.  The right foods can reverse most of the factors, discussed in this article, driving A-fib.

For my patients with A-fib I recommend the following:

-Nine servings of fruits or vegetables daily

-At least one serving of nuts or seeds daily

-At least one serving of legumes daily

-Two servings of a low mercury oily fish, like salmon, weekly

For many of my patients, they need to learn how to eat vegetables.  Vegetables can be the most wonderful tasting food if prepared right.  These foods can heal our hearts and our bodies.

To go along with these must eat healing foods, I recommend that my A-fib patients minimize or avoid the following three foods.

-Processed or prepared foods

-Animal meat, especially processed meats (hot dogs, sausage, bacon, deli meats) and red meat

-Sugar, including foods that are immediately turned to sugar like wheat flour, white rice, or potatoes

The goal is to eat real food.  To get back to cooking and sharing meals with friends and families!

7. Rejuvenating Sleep

I cannot stress enough how important it is to get rejuvenating sleep if we are to beat A-fib.  For most people this means at least seven hours of sleep.  It also means sleep free from sleep apnea.

What is sleep apnea?  That is where people stop breathing while sleeping.  These big drops in oxygen levels when people are not breathing can lead not only to A-fib but also to heart attacks, sudden death, heart failure, or high blood pressure.

How do I know if I have sleep apnea?  Generally I find that the spouse or sleeping partner can easily make this diagnosis.  People with sleep apnea usually snore like a train and then will stop breathing for 20 or 30 seconds.

Fortunately, for most people, sleep apnea is totally reversible. It is a complication of being overweight.  With weight loss the sleep apnea usually goes away.

Until the weight can be lost, I recommend that my patients with sleep apnea get treated.  Studies show that you can cut the numbers of A-fib episodes by about 50% with getting the sleep apnea treated.

8. Get Moving

Did you know that people with the least amount of physical activity are at high risk of developing A-fib?  The key is to get moving!  The first thing I recommend for my patients is to get a pedometer.

Studies show that just the mere act of tracking your steps will increase the number of steps you take each day by 2,500.  That is the equivalent of walking more than one extra mile each day just by tracking your steps!

The pedometer is so helpful because people overestimate their activity.  In fact, based on pedometer data, less than 5% of Americans get enough physical activity.

I have found that in my practice, most of my A-fib patients only get 2,000 to 3,000 steps each day.  The average American gets 5,000 steps each day.  The average European, where A-fib is much less common, often gets about 10,000 steps each day.  The goal is to get at least 10,000 steps a day.

While this may seem hard to achieve, most of my patients can easily get to this goal.  You just have to be creative. Can you walk somewhere instead of driving? Can you add an evening walk to your day?  The possibilities are endless.

In addition to 10,000 steps daily, I recommend at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise each day.  I am often asked, what exercises should I do.  My answer is simple, do what you enjoy.  Anything counts.  Gardening, dancing, skiing, hiking, etc. are all great.  The most important thing is that you are consistent and do something each day.

I do recommend varying your daily exercise to keep it fun, work different muscle groups, and to prevent overuse injuries.  Depending on what you choose to do, you may also need to incorporate a couple days of strength training into your routine.

9. Get Rid of the Vices

Tobacco, alcohol, and any stimulants, including caffeine, can be a trigger for A-fib.  Did you know there is even a condition called Holiday Heart?  This is when someone drinks a lot of alcohol and then goes into A-fib.

For many of my patients, just getting rid of these vices can eliminate A-fib episodes.  Other stimulant medications, including Sudafed, Ritalin, or other attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) medications can also trigger A-fib.

To learn more about the effect of caffeine to heart arrhythmias, please read this article I wrote.

10. When All Else Fails Get it Ablated

For most of my patients, aggressive lifestyle modification can drive A-fib into remission.  Unfortunately, there will always be some cases that just don’t seem to resolved with lifestyle modification.  What should be done in these cases?

For these patients, blood thinners, medications to slow the heart, and rhythm controlling medications are often prescribed.  Unfortunately, for most patients, rhythm drugs only work for a few years at most.

When medications are no longer effective in controlling the symptoms of atrial fibrillation, an ablation is the next step. This is also an excellent option for patients who have side effects from the medications or just do not want to be on life-long medications.

Fortunately, the lifestyle changes we have discussed in this article can double the chances of a successful procedure if an ablation is ultimately required to control the symptoms.

With an ablation, we go into the heart through an IV in the leg, map where the A-fib is coming from in the heart, and then ablate those areas.  The entire procedure takes about three hours and patients will typically spend the night in the hospital following the procedure.  The following day patients will go home with just a band aid.

I have personally done nearly 4,000 of these A-fib ablation procedures.  In experienced hands, most patients can ultimately be free of atrial fibrillation.  There are certainly risks associated with this procedure but these can largely be avoided by physicians with the most experience in performing these procedures.  Please discuss the risks, benefits, and alternatives of A-fib ablations with your physician.

Here is a link to see more that I have written about atrial fibrillation.  Also, be sure to sign up for my free weekly newsletter or subscribe to my podcast.

Feel free to leave your questions and comments below.

#012 Lower Your Blood Pressure with These Eight Steps

June 19th, 2014 by

Did you know that half of all American adults have a blood pressure above what the American Heart Association recommends?  Of the 70% of Americans on prescription medications, a large percentage of these take medications for high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is a leading cause of atrial fibrillation, stroke, and coronary heart disease.  If we are going to reverse or prevent those conditions, we need to get our blood pressure under control.

For many of my patients, these medications often leave them feeling tired, groggy, or lightheaded.  Some even report weight gain with these medications.  Do so many Americans really need to take all of these high blood pressure medications?  Is there another way?

Welcome to the foods that lower blood pressure.  These are the natural ways to lower blood pressure.

My Experience with High Blood Pressure

The first time I saw a high blood pressure reading was at about age 30.  I had a routine check up at the doctor’s office and they told me my blood pressure was 150/100 mmHg.  At the time I thought I was just “stressed” and did not pay it much attention.

For years, even as a physician I just pushed it to the back of my mind.  I was young and healthy.  Why should I worry about my blood pressure?  I couldn’t possibly have high blood pressure.

Of course, as a physician, I knew all of the long-term complications of high blood pressure.  I knew that high blood pressure can lead to heart failure, heart attacks, arrhythmias, strokes, kidney failure, blindness, and other problems.  Somehow, this all seemed “academic” or something that did not apply to me.

By age 40 my blood pressure consistently ranged anywhere from 135-150/85-90 mmHg.  Once I hit my 40s I knew I could no longer ignore it.  I decided to try a medication.

As I had Cozaar samples (losartan) at my medical practice, I decided to give this a try.  I put myself on 50 mg a day of Cozaar and it brought my blood pressure down by about 10 mmHg.

Fortunately, I did not have too many noticeable side effects.  I was a bit fatigued from the medication.  The hardest part was remembering to take it every day.

At the time, it never crossed my mind if there was another way.  Like most of my patients at the time, I also took my daily medications.

By my mid-40s, my health had hit rock bottom.  I was on 5 medications and felt horrible.  Not only did I have high blood pressure but I also was overweight, had high cholesterol, chronic fatigue, chronic pain, esophageal problems, and an autoimmune disease.

After learning of a small remote mountainous village in Southwest China where people live very long lives free of medical problems, medications, and surgeries, I knew this was a place we had to visit.  We had to learn their secrets to optimal health.  We spent several years studying the villagers and learning from them.

After completely changing my diet and lifestyle, the weight naturally dropped off and my blood pressure came way down.  Today, my blood pressure averages 110/70 mmHg.  I am also off of all medications.  I feel better now than I have ever felt.

Most of my patients who follow this same lifestyle can also drop their blood pressure 20-40 mmHg and get off of their high blood pressure medications.  This is far more than what most doctors think is even possible from making lifestyle changes.  It is not easy, but you will feel so much better if you can faithfully follow the 8 steps below and get off your medications!

A word of caution.  These eight steps will drop your blood pressure very fast and very significantly.  Please work very closely with your physician in lifestyle changes to treat high blood pressure and never stop any prescribed medications without first discussing it with your physician.

Eight Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure

1. Eat Less Sodium

When physicians talk to patients about lifestyle changes to reduce blood pressure, this is probably the number one piece of advice we give.  Unfortunately, this is often the only advice patients receive about how to lower their blood pressure naturally.

There is some controversy, even with physician organizations, on how low we should go.  The most aggressive recommendations are from the American Heart Association who recommend keeping sodium (salt) below 1,500 mg per day.  Some studies indicate potential harm with this ultra low sodium diet.

I now recommend eating approximately 2,300 mg of sodium each day for my patients.  Considering that the average American consumes 3,400 mg of sodium each day, this will require some significant sodium reduction.

When I discuss this with my patients they generally tell me, “I never salt my food”.  While that may be true, that is not where we are getting our salt overload.  For the typical American, 80% of their daily salt intake comes from processed foods.

If you are going to get to 2,300 mg/day of sodium you have no choice but to minimize processed foods and be very careful when eating out.  You have to eat real food to reach this goal.

2. Stay Physically Active

Did you know that exercising daily can lower your blood pressure?  Just as important as exercising daily is to keep moving throughout the day.  For my patients, I recommend 30 minutes daily of at least moderate intensity exercise AND 10,000 steps per day as recorded by a pedometer.

Studies show that even if we faithfully go to the gym each day, if we sit the rest of the day we negate the beneficial effects.  We need to find ways to keep moving throughout the day.

Too often we are confined to “desk sentences”.  This is not real living.  Our bodies were genetically designed to move. The old adage is true.  Use it or lose it.

3. Get Plenty of Potassium and Magnesium in Your Diet

A diet high in potassium and magnesium has been shown to also lower blood pressure.  You don’t typically find these important electrolytes in processed foods or sports drinks.  Rather, these electrolytes are found in certain fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes.  These are the foods that lower blood pressure. Once again, to lower your blood pressure you need to eat real food!

4. Eat Animal Meat Sparingly

While I am not advocating a vegetarian diet, I am suggesting that animal meats, especially processed and red meats, may raise our blood pressure.  The processed meats, like hot dogs, bacon, sausage, and deli meats, can be especially detrimental to our health and blood pressure.

For my patients, I recommend that animal meat should be a special treat eaten one or two times a week rather than something that is eaten several times a day.  For those who do enjoy animal meats, I recommend lean and organic cuts.

Fish, on the other hand, may lower blood pressure and has many other beneficial effects.  The key to selecting fish is to find a fish low in mercury and other contaminants.  My favorite fish for nutrition is Wild Alaskan Salmon.  While this can be quite pricy, places like Costco offer very affordable Wild Alaskan Salmon.  I personally eat Wild Alaskan Salmon twice a week.

5. Minimize Stress

When we are stressed out our bodies release chemicals, such as cortisol and adrenalin, which both raise blood pressure.  Not only will stress raise our blood pressure but stress is also an important cause of coronary heart disease. With our fast paced, hectic lives, we need to do something each day specifically to release our stress.

For me, I find that exercising in the mountains has a powerful effect on lowering my stress levels.  Regardless of what I may be feeling at the time, just spending some time exercising in the mountains seems to make it all go away.

For others, it could be meditation, yoga, spending time with friends, or reading that help with stress.  Find what works for you and do something each day to reduce your stress.

6. Minimize Processed Foods and Sugar

This recommendation goes without saying.  Our processed food and high sugar diet in the U.S. is a big cause of high blood pressure.  It also raises our blood pressure through weight gain.   These simple or hunger causing carbs also cause us to retain fluids which only further raise our blood pressure.  We have to return to real foods.

With regards to added sugar, the World Health Organization (WHO) now recommends keeping added sugars to 25 grams/day or lower.  As there are 4 grams of sugar in a teaspoon, that works out to be a little more than 6 teaspoons a day.  That really is not much if you consider that a 12 oz can of Coke has 39 grams of sugar!

7. Eat Primarily a Plant Based Diet

Eating primarily unprocessed real foods, like fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes with fish, is the key to a healthy diet.  These are the foods that lower blood pressure.  It is always better to first try natural ways to lower blood pressure.  These foods heal us.  These foods not only lower our blood pressure but can also reverse many other medical conditions.

8. Keep Your Weight in Check

High blood pressure and being overweight generally go hand-in-hand.  Being overweight is also an important cause of atrial fibrillation, coronary heart disease, and heart failure.

I saved this for number 8, as if you are doing numbers 1-7 then weight loss will occur naturally.  Most of my patients report dramatic weight loss without feeling hungry by following numbers 1-7.

One of the biggest challenges I have had in working with my patients is in teaching them how to prepare healthy foods. It seems that as a society we have forgotten how to cook.  Instead we have outsourced food preparation to the processed food and fast food corporations who often do not care about the long-term health of their customers.

If we can focus on eating real foods and real living then the weight will come off naturally.  We won’t need to count the calories.  We can live the way we were genetically designed to live!

One point to remember.  When lowering your blood pressure naturally it is important to work with your physician very closely.  Your blood pressure can drop very fast when you make healthy lifestyle changes.  Never stop medications on your own.

How is your blood pressure? What have you found that helps to keep your blood pressure in check? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#010 Six Reasons Why You Need a Vacation Now

June 2nd, 2014 by

Did you know that taking regular vacations can help you to prevent a heart attack? While it seems strange, most Americans do not take their full vacation time. I was the same way once. It really makes no sense at all.

Is stress crushing you?

According to the 2013 Work Stress Survey, 83% of Americans reported being stress out at work. Where are you right now in your life? Are you buried at work? Is stress crushing you?

Do you need a vacation?

The problem is that as Americans we just do not take many vacations. While Europeans get up to 30 days of paid vacation each year, we just get 14 days. Even with these 14 days of vacation, the average American only takes 10 days off.

I get this. I used to be the same way. I would never take any time off. I would let my vacation time go unused so that I could work more. Seems strange doesn’t it?

I’m really not sure what was going on in my head at the time. I think I was trying to work hard and not spend any money in hopes for an earlier retirement. That is if I still had my health by the time I hit retirement age…

It was not until I hit my own health crisis a few years ago that I started taking vacations. Now I know that vacations are absolutely critical to our health, happiness, and longevity!

Let me give you 6 Reasons Why You Need a Vacation Now!

1. Less Stress

We just do not do a good job of dealing with stress in our modern lives. 70% of all doctor visits are due to stress or illnesses brought on or made worse by stress. I see this every day in my medical practice. In fact In a study of 1500 women in Wisconsin, those who rarely took vacations were 90% more stressed out than those who regularly took vacations.

2. More Happiness

While we have always been taught money cannot buy you happiness, that is not always the case. Studies have shown that spending money on life experiences, such as vacations, actually improve happiness.

Interestingly, in a study of 1,530 Dutch people, vacations seem to boost their pre-trip happiness the most. Somehow, just thinking about your upcoming vacation makes you happier. I know this is the case for our family. For the last 20+ years our annual family vacation has been on my parent’s houseboat at Lake Powell. If we even bring up Lake Powell our kids instantly become joyous! Now that I am thinking about this vacation, I can already feel my spirits lifting!

3. More Energy

Yes, vacations can give you more energy! Perhaps it is because they give you a new perspective on life or a chance just to de-stress. Regardless, from the Wisconsin study cited above, women who rarely took vacations were 67% more tired and fatigued than those who regularly took vacations.

4. Better Marriage Satisfaction

Can you really improve your marriage just by taking a vacation? Yes, according to the results of this Wisconsin study. In this study, women who regularly took vacations reported 55% more satisfaction with their marriage. Vacations give us a chance to reconnect with those that are most important in our lives free from all of the stressors of everyday life.

5. Protect Your Heart

Yes, a vacation will help to save you from ever developing heart disease! In fact, from over 12,000 men followed for 9 years in the MRFIT Trial, those who regularly took vacations were 29% less likely to die from a heart attack. Studies of women have shown the same heart protective effects of vacation. Vacationing is indeed good for your heart!

6. Live Longer

If all of the above benefits were not enough, those who regularly take vacations live longer than those who do not. Based on the MRFIT Study above, regular vacationers were 17% less likely to die over the 9 years of the study.

What if I can’t afford a vacation?

You may be thinking, yeah that all sounds great Dr. Day but my wife and I just cannot afford a vacation right now. Vacations do not have to be expensive. In fact, you could even do a “stay’cation”.

Stay’cations, if done right, can yield the exact same health benefits. Of course, a stay’cation does not mean stay home and do chores around the house. It means to get out and explore the area around where you live!

What can I do today?

My challenge to each of you is to take some time and plan a vacation with your family or friends today. There is no better time than the present. It just might make you happier!

How have vacations helped you in your life? What was your best vacation? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#002 Does it Matter What Time of the Day We Eat?

May 18th, 2014 by

Does it really matter what time of the day we eat? At the end of the day it is all about the total number of calories taken in, right?

My philosophy in the past was a calorie is a calorie. I remember as a teenager or even in college sometimes eating a whole pizza right before bed. I was hungry so I ate right before bed. A calorie is a calorie, right?

Wrong! The timing of when we eat really does matter. Even if we eat the same number of calories, depending on what time of the day they are consumed can help to determine whether we are able to maintain a normal weight or become obese.

Eating Time of the Day Study

In a recent issue of the prestigious heart medical journal, Circulation researchers from Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital report their findings on nearly 27,000 American men from the Heath Professionals Follow-Up Study. At the beginning of this study, none of these men had coronary heart disease, however, after 16 years of follow-up, 1,527 of them developed coronary heart disease. Coronary heart disease is where the arteries feeding blood to the heart become plugged up with plaque and put people at risk of a heart attack or even a cardiac arrest.

In this study, the researchers asked the question as to whether or not these men skipped breakfast or ate late at night had any impact on their development of coronary heart disease or not. Interestingly, 13% of the men routinely “skipped” breakfast and 1% reported eating late at night. When they looked at the risk of coronary heart disease, those men that skipped breakfast were 27% more likely to develop coronary heart disease and 55% of those who ate late at night were more likely to develop coronary heart disease.

How do we explain these findings?

Paradoxically, many studies have shown that those people who skip breakfast are much more likely to become obese. In addition to carrying extra weight, skipping breakfast has also been shown to affect insulin and lipid metabolism which likely also leads to increased plaque build up in the arteries of the heart. Likewise, eating late at night also had a deleterious effect on the heart. Our body’s metabolism is highest in the morning and lowest just before bed. Thus, consuming calories earlier in the day with steady meals seems, in harmony with natural body rhythms, seems to optimize the way our bodies burn fuel.

The common saying, “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a pauper” really is true. This study, along with many others, have all shown the same thing. Breakfast is important and should not be skipped. Earlier dinners are best and we should not eat after finishing dinner. Taking these simple steps not only lowers our risk of heart disease but also helps us to maintain a normal weight and avoid obesity.

My Simple Two Suggestions:

1. Never Skip Breakfast

This is the most important meal of the day. Get your body’s metabolism working properly from the start. Get your calories in while your metabolism is at its highest.

2. Don’t Eat or Drink After 7 pm

Your body does not know what to do with calories right before bed other than just store them as fat. You will sleep much better without a full stomach. Also, if you are not drinking right before bed you are more likely to make it through the night without having to get up to use the bathroom. A proper night’s sleep is also critical in optimizing your body’s metabolism.

A calorie consumed at 7 am is much more likely to be burned than a calorie at 9 pm. A calorie is not a calorie with regards to your body’s metabolism.

What about you? Do you ever skip breakfast or eat late at night? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

#AF-001 The Most Important Factor to Cure A-Fib

January 1st, 2014 by

The Most Important Factor to Cure A-Fib

Do you or a loved one suffer from A-Fib?  A-Fib, which is also known as atrial fibrillation or “AF,” is the most common heart arrhythmia and affects 1 in 4 adults.  In A-Fib the heart typically beats very fast and irregularly leading to strokes, heart failure, dementia, and even premature death.

Just what exactly is the most important factor to cure A-Fib?  In this article we will explore the most important factor to cure A-Fib.

A-Fib 20 Years Ago

I can hardly believe it but 20 years have now passed since I graduated from Johns Hopkins Medical School.  I remember seeing my first case of A-Fib as a fresh young intern at Stanford University Medical Center in 1995.

John was an overweight 52 year old man who suddenly developed severe chest pain and palpitations while staying late at work one night to meet a stressful deadline.  Panicked he dialed 911 and was brought to the Stanford Hospital emergency room.  As I was the intern on call for the ER that night my pager went off and I was called to see John.

Seeing how severe his condition was we quickly shocked his heart back into normal rhythm.  It was just like what you might see on TV except his body did not jump off the table when we shocked his heart.

While this temporarily corrected his arrhythmia it was just a matter of time before I would see him again for more episodes of A-Fib.  In those days we really did not understand what caused A-Fib and all we had available to treat A-Fib were medications.

A-Fib Treatment in the Last 10 Years

Fast forward to the last 10 years.  Now, if you or a loved one has suffered from A-Fib then you have undoubtably heard about the very popular catheter ablation procedure.

As a cardiologist specializing in the treatment of heart rhythm disorders I personally have done more than 4,000 of these catheter ablation procedures for patients suffering from atrial fibrillation.  A catheter ablation procedure is where we go into the heart with catheters through a vein in the leg.

This procedure is so minimally invasive that all it requires is an IV.  No cutting or stitches are needed.  Once catheters are in the heart we can 3-dimensionally map out the source of A-Fib and then either cauterize or freeze those areas of the heart.

While this treatment approach has been very successful in treating A-Fib, unfortunately the arrhythmia often comes back a few years later.  When A-Fib recurs the ablation procedure is done again.  Some patients may even have three or more of these catheter ablation procedures performed.

Is there a better way to treat A-Fib?

As I have been involved in helping to develop the catheter ablation procedure for A-Fib since it was first developed in 1998, it has always troubled me that so many of these “successfully” treated patients have had their A-Fib come back.  Why is this the case?

Fortunately, we now have a much better understanding of the various causes of A-Fib.  For example, the obesity epidemic in the U.S. has made the U.S. the A-Fib capital of the world!  In fact, A-Fib is nearly 10 times more common in the U.S. than in Asian countries.

It is not just the obesity epidemic but also high blood pressure, a poor diet, stress, lack of exercise, and sleep apnea, among other conditions, which is driving the A-Fib epidemic.  Based on our new understanding of the causes of A-Fib we now know that while a catheter ablation procedure can be very effective in treating today’s A-Fib, if aggressive lifestyle changes are not made then it is just a matter of time before new A-Fib areas develop.

This new understanding of A-Fib led my good friends and fellow colleagues in Australia to perform a landmark study in the cardiology world to see if aggressive lifestyle modification changes can improve the long-term success of catheter ablation.

The ARREST-AF Study

In the ARREST-AF Study, my good friends in Australia recruited 149 overweight A-Fib patients who had recently undergone an A-Fib ablation procedure.  Of these 149 patients, 61 volunteered to participate in an aggressive lifestyle modification program.  The 88 patients that were unwilling to “change their ways” after this heart procedure served as the control group.

This aggressive lifestyle modification program consisted of the following:

1. Weight loss

2. Aggressive control of blood pressure, lipids, and diabetes

3. Treatment of sleep apnea

4. Smoking cessation

5. Decreasing alcohol intake

The group of patients who signed up for lifestyle modification did very well in “changing their ways.”  They were able to lose 29 pounds (13.2 kg), stop smoking, limit alcohol intake, and get their blood pressure, lipid, diabetes, and sleep apnea under control.  Many of these conditions were even reversed.

With these changes, the group that participated in lifestyle changes were 3 times more likely to have their procedure work long-term.  Unfortunately, for the group unwilling to make changes, most had their A-Fib come back within two years of their heart procedure.

Take Home Message of this Study

The big picture or take home message of this study is that modern medicine is not a “fix” for poor lifestyle choices.  We simply cannot undo years of damage with a pill or a procedure.

If you want to beat A-Fib, or for that matter any heart condition, the most important factor is to adopt a healthy lifestyle.  Indeed, studies show that 80% of all heart conditions are completely preventable or reversible with a healthy lifestyle.

It is not just heart disease either.  A healthy lifestyle can prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s Disease, diabetes, and most other medical conditions.

We are not victims of the genes we inherited from our parents.  Whether or not we will suffer from long-term medical conditions in this life, to a large extent, is based on the daily decisions we make.

Even if you have abused your body in the past it is never too late to change.  The body has a remarkable ability to heal itself if we will just give it a chance.  Make the commitment today to make healthy decisions!

Do you want to learn more about how to prevent atrial fibrillation naturally?  Here is a recent presentation I delivered at the most recent Stop Afib symposium in Dallas, Texas.

What positive changes have you made in your life?  Please share with me your comments below.

Disclaimer

Please do not self diagnose or treat based on anything you have read in this article.  Please work with your individual physician in deciding what treatment strategy is best for you.