Oh, the holidays. Before you say “bah, humbug!”, rest assured we’re going to help you stay healthy. Everyone knows the holidays are a spare tire waiting to happen. Alcohol, rich desserts and indulgent carbs are practically throwing themselves at you, begging to be eaten and taking it personally if you don’t. You know what we’re talking about – food is emotional, and powerfully so. It’s that bizarre twinge of guilt for attempting to say no to foods which, come holiday season, seem to take on actual feelings. It’s almost like you’re insulting the food if you don’t eat it. There’s a reason for this. Rich foods, particularly sugary desserts, have long been combined with emotional events. In the Middle Ages, these items were called subtleties, and they still exist today: in the form of Easter chicks, Easter bunnies, Valentine’s hearts, advent calendars, Christmas cookies, and so on. That’s really great, you say. But it still doesn’t help me say no to unhealthy foods or avoid gaining ten pounds before the New Year knocks at my door. Hey, we hear ya. So, here’s a quick-and-easy realistic guide to getting through the holidays, enjoying them, and maintaining your sanity. Part 1: It Ain’t Just the Sugar A lot of holiday health guides point to the obvious no-no: sugar. Of course you want to stay away from sugar, but that’s probably not realistic, no matter how disciplined you are. We suggest you instead focus on limiting portions. A lot of times, we simply expect too much from ourselves. “No sugar, period. I will be healthy and eat only bean casserole, being careful to remove the crispy fried onions.” This works fine for about five minutes, until peer pressure, Aunt Louise and mulled wine conspire to destroy your best-laid plans. Before you know it, you’ve eaten three cookies, two slices of pie and eighty-three truffles. You feel guilty, bloated and sick, you give yourself a pep talk, and at the next party…you do it all over again. Step 1: No ridiculous standards. Do not set a goal for yourself that you know you probably won’t reach (from past experience or awareness of your weak points). This just makes you feel bad, and no one is putting that pressure on you, so be nice to yourself. Who needs the added stress? Find a middle ground. If you normally end up indulging through the holidays, try giving yourself a “one freebie” rule: one treat at every party or event. Step 2: Portion control. The amount of indulgence is more important than anything else. If you love carrot cake, eat a big bite or two, and stop. It won’t taste any better if you eat the entire thing, and you’ll have accomplished two great things: some enjoyment and some discipline. One bite of sugary cake isn’t great, but it’s not going to be cause for regret. You can try out a few of your favorite treats this way without doing any serious damage to your health or … Continue reading “Holiday Survival Guide, Part 1”
HRT is all over the news again. This, from Newsday:
“Statistics from a major study revealing that rates of the most common form of breast cancer dropped dramatically between 2002 and 2003 are being greeted with applause and skepticism as the medical and advocacy communities digest the news.”
Yes, it’s a tough one to chew. In brief, cases of estrogen-receptor positive breast cancer (which accounts for nearly 3/4 of breast cancer cases) dropped dramatically from 2002 to 2003. This was the same time that several key studies, including a famous government-funded study (the Women’s Health Initiative), found that hormone replacement therapy (or HRT), particularly that derived from mares – in drugs like Prempro and Premarin – was linked to a significant increase in breast cancer risk.
It makes sense. Estrogen is a powerful hormone and using it in drug therapy has been and continues to be a risky proposition. A dramatic drop in estrogen-receptor breast cancer cases, occurring in tandem with the much-publicized discontinued use of HRT by millions of women, isn’t something I think the drug industry or medical community ought to be stumped by. These are highly-trained, intelligent individuals, and frankly, I think the situation is quite clear. What’s to digest? In one year – the same year in which Prempro saw its sales cut by half – breast cancer rates dropped by over 7%; for women over age 50, the rate was 12%.
This is why it is so important to be critical of any drug therapy that is recommended to us, especially for treating health matters that are either part of aging or can be prevented or better addressed through lifestyle choices. Blood pressure pills and cholesterol-lowering pills and arthritis prescriptions can help, but as we see with the HRT scandal (and last year’s Vioxx and Celebrex disasters), there are always side effects. There are always unintended consequences.
This doesn’t mean you ought to toss your medications if there is a legitimate need for them; but arm yourself with knowledge, be ruthlessly critical of everything that anyone recommends to you, and consider whether there are safer, more natural alternatives. The alternatives are often not as easy in the short term, but they’re certainly easier than painful and even fatal side effects down the road.
[tags] HRT, hormone replacement therapy, estrogen, breast cancer, estrogen receptor positive, Premarin, Prempro, Newsday, drug side effects, pharmaceuticals [/tags]
Made you think twice, didn’t it?
Many of us glom on the sunscreen in the hope of warding off the slightest wrinkle or, worse, skin cancer. And many of us diligently gulp down glass after glass of milk, convinced calcium will save our bones from the high rates of osteoporosis Westerners suffer from.
Enter critical reassessment.
For those craving some clickativity related to Mark’s examination of the Vitamin D-sunblock-health issue, the New York Post ran a terrific piece recently on the importance of getting your daily D-licious dose. I tend to beat the osteoporosis horse quite a bit – but hey, it’s important! D is absorbed through the skin. D is necessary for bones. And sunscreen stops this nice little evolutionary convenience from…well, convening.
As Mark points out, why slather on a sunblock that doesn’t prevent the more dangerous UVA rays (thanks, Uncle Sam), does prevent absorption of critical vitamin D that is as equally important to bone health as calcium, and interferes with nature’s built-in “Get your buns indoors!” mechanism? (Or, as the Big Apple puts it, burning to a crisp.)
[tags] New York Post, sunscreen, osteoporosis, wrinkles, skin cancer, calcium, dairy, milk, vitamin D, UVA rays [/tags]
Let me be the first to say: I am pro-sunlight. I’m not talking about weather patterns, either. I’m talking about exposing yourself to some rays. I spend a fair amount of time outside soaking up the sun’s energy (of course, being careful not to burn). Although evidently most dermatologists believe we would be better off spelunking in caves 24/7 and covering ourselves in head-to-toe black garb whenever we venture out, my own evolutionary perspective leads me to believe we were designed to get sunlight almost every day and that our health suffers if we don’t get enough. In fact, recent studies show that, as a result of our shunning the sun, many of us suffer from Vitamin D deficiency and a resulting loss of bone density and immune function (to name just a few effects). Some researchers opine that more people die from lack of sun than from too much sun! But, I digress. I came across an article the other day that piqued my curiosity since it dealt with the combination of running and sunning. It basically showed that marathoners (e.g. formerly yours truly) tend to get skin cancer at higher rates than other people. The more they run, the higher the incidence of skin cancer. My take on what’s happening is that not only are runners exposed to more sun (which can cause DNA damage in skin cells – ergo, cancer), but they are also bathed in more free-radicals overall from the excessive oxidation of glucose and fats. We know that sun exposure does deplete the skin of the antioxidant Vitamin C. Stick with me on this: the act of running tends to divert blood flow away from the skin, starving it of additional important antioxidants that could neutralize the free-radical damage in the skin tissues. Add to that the enormous amounts of stressful cortisol marathoners pump out doing this unnaturally high steady-state oxidative work and we not only get the DNA damage, we get the immune-bashing effects of the high-stress activity. The effect: more DNA damage and a reduced ability to recognize that damage and take steps to eliminate those cells and/or repair the damage. That’s one reason (among many) that I have doused myself with antioxidants inside and out for over 20 years now. That’s also why one of my mantras is: a little running is OK – a lot is bad. The above article also brings up other points of discussion, such as whether the reliance on inferior sunscreens might be another cause. This is vitally important to discuss and it’s not getting much attention in the mainstream media. It appears that for the past 30 years so-called sunscreens have been good at blocking UVB rays (the ones that burn) but not UVA (the ones primarily responsible for DNA damage and skin cancer). Thank you, FDA. The terrible effect is a generation of gung-ho health fanatics slathering on sunscreen and running 40, 50 or 100 miles a week. The fact that we didn’t burn only … Continue reading “Sunscreen May Not Be Your Friend”
I can’t tell you how furious I am about what I feel is the meat industry’s blatant disregard for human health. While I’m no vegetarian, I saw this study in the Archives of Internal Medicine, and let’s just say, I’m not buying the “Happy Cows” line.
The researchers looked at 90,000 women. That’s a huge study. They compared US and UK women, and here’s what they found:
Eating more than 1.5 servings of meat daily doubles a young woman’s risk of breast cancer. What concerns me is the type of cancer which had double the risk: hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. To me, that says something pretty sobering about the meat industry’s production habits.
Both the study, and the BBC News article that covered it, are cautious to merely “suggest” a link between eating red meat and increasing – doubling – the risk of breast cancer. It doesn’t take much to read between the lines here.
The reason I think this study is really important to highlight is not because I hope to bandy a statistic like “double the risk!” about. (Remember the Statistics Game: always consider context and relative risk or results.) It’s important because the women who ate high amounts of red meat had double the risk of hormone receptor-positive breast cancer. That is a big issue, namely, because the American meat industry uses growth hormone like it’s manna from Heaven. Growth hormone helps the animals get bigger, faster, which translates more profit – but I’m pretty skeptical about how this practice could possibly be in the interest of public health. I just wonder how these people sleep at night knowing their profits come at the expense of other human beings.
Personally, I believe it’s clear that human physiology supports being omnivorous. No culture anywhere at any time has done without some sort of animal flesh, whether it’s fish, beef or reindeer. So I’m not “anti-meat”. However, I am strongly opposed to the way meat is produced in this country: quickly, unethically, with little regard for the animals or the people eating the animals. That’s why I only buy meat that is free-range, local, organic and definitely hormone-free.
The researchers were careful not to draw any ultimate conclusions. I think we can probably begin to draw our own, with some additional critical considerations:
1) Processed meats generally contain a chemical known as heterocyclic acid, which has been shown to cause cancer;
2) Red meat, of course, contains iron, which can sometimes encourage the growth of some types of tumors (though this isn’t a significant concern, likely);
3) The standard line: “The biggest risk factors for breast cancer remain gender and increasing age.” This from specialist Maria Leadbeater, quoted in the BBC article. Fair enough.
[tags] breast cancer, beef, red meat, cancer, factory farming, growth hormone, omnivore, Maria Leadbeater, BBC, hormone receptor, heterocyclic acid, risk factors [/tags]