Keeping Extra Pounds off your Holiday List

expanding SantaAlthough by now you’ve hopefully now finished the last of the Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie, the holiday eating season has just begun. And, as a result, over the next month, the average American will gain one or two pounds. While that might not sound like much, the annual weight gain adds up from year to year and can lead to significant gains as the years goes by.

So, if the seams on your favorite holiday outfit are already bursting ahead of the onslaught of holiday parties, all-you-can-eat buffets, peppermint bark and eggnog, now’s the time to consider strategies to maintain your current weight and still enjoy the season.

At this time of year, most of us are bombarded with food. High calorie treats appear everywhere you look. Tables are filled with home-made cookies, gingerbread, hot apple cider, and irresistible savory appetizers. But resist you must, says Amy Moore, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University.  Here’s her advice to keep you lean this holiday season:

holiday weight cartoonBe picky about your splurges. You can eat crackers and cheese any time, but the holidays are a time to sample special seasonal treats that people have spent a lot of energy preparing. So, if you’re at a holiday buffet, browse before you graze to size up your best options. If that delectable chocolate dessert beckons, enjoy a slice but pass on the brownies or soda. Allow yourself to indulge, just choose where you want to spend your calories.

Be mindful. When there’s a bowl of chips right in front of you, you are more likely to keep munching without really thinking about it. So pay attention to what you’re eating. Slow down and savor every bite, taking the time to appreciate what you’re putting into your mouth. Watch your portion size.

Plan ahead. If you know you are going to a party in the evening, eat a healthy breakfast and lunch. Don’t starve yourself; in fact, consider eating a snack to take the edge off of your hunger. Bring something healthy to potlucks so at least you can count on one healthy option being offered. Seasonal fruit such as pomegranates, clementines and cranberries are terrific holiday dishes because they are pretty, festive and, best of all, guilt free.

Conversation is calorie-free. Once you’ve taken a plate of food at a holiday gathering, step away from the table. Find a comfy space where you can talk to others. Fill up on fellowship, which is calorie-free!

Water is calorie-free, too. So, drink up. Alternate a glass of water with every alcoholic beverage to pace yourself as you celebrate and prevent a next day hang-over. Consider creating a wine spritzer by adding flavored sparkling water to your wine. Instead of drinking lemonade or soda with a meal, choose water. Not only does water fill you up, it’s also good for your digestive system, skin, muscles and kidneys.

Christmas fitness woman wearing santa hatIn addition to watching what you eat and drink, you should offset holiday calories by becoming more active. Saint Louis University associate professor of physical therapy and athletic training, Ethel Frese, DPT, offers the following tips:

Be realistic.  Becoming more active is a great way to mitigate a few extra calories, but it is not license to add massively to your diet. So, suppose you splurged and ate a 350 calorie pastry, on top of your normal daily calories. If you want to burn off all of the excess, you’ll need nearly an hour of intense exercise. While it’s not necessary to count every calorie, it is good to have a rough idea of how your calorie intake corresponds to your exercise, and know that it can take more exercise than you might think to balance out your food intake.

Everything counts. That said, don’t be discouraged. Exercise offers many overall health benefits, and burning off even an extra hundred calories a day makes a significant difference. In some cases, extra activity may be a natural part of your routine this season. Walking from the back of a packed parking lot at the mall and scouring stores for the perfect gift provides good exercise. House cleaning for company can burn calories, as can shoveling snow, playing with children and putting up decorations.

Fight the urge to hibernate. If rainy or snowy days tempt you to stay at home watching movies and reading books, be sure you don’t make a habit of avoiding outings. Bundle up and get out for fresh air and exercise. Run errands, stop by to see friends and neighbors, drop off canned goods at a food pantry, check out an exhibit at a museum or build a snowman!

Be consistent. The secret to success is to add a little bit of exercise each day. The effort really does add up, and you’ll find that daily activity makes you feel healthier, more alert, and happier in general. You’ll enjoy the season more without the sluggish feeling brought on by too many sedentary hours. Even if you don’t burn off all of the extra calories through exercise, you’ll limit the damage and in January, you’ll appreciate having only one pound to lose, instead of five.

Remember that the secret to controlling your weight is balancing the calories you take in (food) with the calories you burn. “Even the healthiest eaters need to exercise and the best exercisers need nutrition,” says Moore. “Nutrition and exercise provides the one-two punch of holiday weight management.”

Holiday DietMake your weight management mantra for the season to maintain not gain.

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Fend off a 2nd Heart Attack with Fruit and Fiber

Pills_from_MDEach year, at least 20 million people worldwide survive a heart attack or stroke. Most of them, will then be prescribed a veritable cocktail of drugs including lipid-lowering agents, beta blockers, aspirin, anti-platelet medications, and angiotensin modulators.

In the misguided belief that this polypharmacy will guard against future catastrophic cardiovascular events, many patients think they don’t need to follow a healthy diet.

However a new, 5-year study of almost 32,000 patients in 40 countries showed those who ate a heart-healthy diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish had an average:

  • 35% reduction in risk for cardiovascular death
  • 14% reduction in risk for new heart attacks
  • 28% reduction in risk for congestive heart failure
  • 19% reduction in risk for stroke

Healthy-Eating-and-Weight-LossResearchers from McMaster University were able to demonstrate, for the first time, that while drug treatments, substantially lower the risk of another heart attack, a high quality diet also significantly lowers the risk.

Mahshid Dehghan, the study’s lead author and nutritionist at McMaster University’s Population Health Research Institute (PHRI) and his team assessed the association between diet quality and the risk of cardiovascular disease using information collected from men and women who participated in two major McMaster-led global studies: ONTARGET, and TRANSCEND.

Participants with cardiovascular disease were asked how often they consumed milk, vegetables, fruits, grains, fish, nuts, meat and poultry over the past 12 months. They were also asked about lifestyle choices such as alcohol consumption, smoking and exercise. A healthy diet was indicated by a high intake of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and nuts as well as a high intake of fish compared to meat, poultry and eggs.

Clipart Illustration of a Healthy Red Heart Running PastThe results showed that a heart-healthy diet offered a “consistent benefit” over and above the benefits of taking medications to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke.

Globally, healthy eating was associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease by more than 20% in all regions of the world and across all income groups.

Physicians should advise their high-risk patients to improve their diet and eat more vegetables, fruits, grains and fish,” Dehghan said. “This could substantially reduce cardiovascular recurrence beyond drug therapy alone and save lives globally.”

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Putting the squeeze on anti-cancer drugs?

For years, doctors have warned patients that grapefruit juice can cause overdoses when combined with anything from cholesterol medication to antihistamines. Now, researchers at the University of Chicago medicine have discovered that drinking one glass of grapefruit juice a day can actually reduce the dosage, cost and side effects of certain drugs, including those used to treat cancer.

Doctors were interested in studying the sirolimus, a drug approved to prevent rejection after kidney transplant, on patients with incurable cancer. Knowing that only 14% of the drug is absorbed into the blood stream, and that higher doses can cause nausea and diarrhea, they went about searching for a supplement that would boost sirolimus absorption.

That was when lead researcher Dr. Ezra Cohen remembered grapefruit juice can increase blood levels of certain drugs.  “We saw that not as a problem but as an opportunity to enhance the pharmacology to not only sirolimus but to a wide range of drugs.”

Grapefruit juice’s potential pharmaceutical prowess stems from its ability to inhibit enzymes in the intestine that break down certain drugs. The effect begins within a few hours of drinking it and  wears off gradually over a few days.

So Cohen and his team gave some patients grapefruit juice to see if they could get more sirolimus into their bloodstreams. At first, Cohen gave his patients grapefruit juice, but nothing happened. That was when the Florida Department of Citrus got wind of the study and offered to test a sample of the grapefruit juice Cohen’s team was using.

Dr. Cohen didn’t realize that the compound that enhances drug absorption can be degraded kind of drastically,” said Dan King PhD, the director of scientific research at the department. “This juice he was using didn’t have a whole lot of this compound present.”

The compound is furanocoumarin, and it works by inhibiting enzymes in the intestine that would otherwise limit drug absorption. Cohen’s juice had almost none because it was canned and stored in the non-refrigerated section of the grocery store.  Such juice is heated to temperatures that degrade the furanocoumarin.

Having identified the problem, the Department of Citrus supplied “potent” grapefruit juice for the rest of the study. It worked, increasing sirolimus levels by an incredible 350% and lowering the necessary doses from 90 mg per week to between 25 and 35 mg per week.

Sure enough, what they sent was very potent,” Cohen said. “It allowed us to reduce the dose of sirolimus dramatically.”  It could also reduce the cost of cancer treatments which are problematic for a lot of patients.

Unfortunately, the study didn’t show that the sirolimus-grapefruit combo was completely effective against cancer. None of the 138 patients in the study had a complete response, but about 30% achieved stable disease, meaning a period when their cancers did not advance. And one patient in the grapefruit juice group experienced significant tumor shrinkage that lasted for more than three years.

Jerry Avorn MD, chief of the Division of Pharmacoepidemiology and Pharmacoeconomics at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, did not work with researchers on the study, but said he is excited about the results.  “It’s important not to see this as a new cure for cancer, but rather, it’s a very interesting way of using a known food-drug interaction as a means of getting better drug levels into cancer patients.”

SRxA’s Word on Health believes this is the first cancer study to harness a grapefruit-drug interaction rather than warn against it. We look forward to more.

Getting Cheery Over Cherries!

Regular readers of SRxA’s Word on Health will be familiar with the many claimed health benefits of fruit. Bananas for HIV prevention, citrus to safeguard us against stroke, berries to prevent Parkinson’s Disease and even exotic cupuaçu for improved reproductive health.

According to many, including TV’s Dr. Oz, the latest superfruit on the block is tart cherries. Extensive research has linked the delicious bright red fruit to a number of benefits, including better sleep, reduced pain from gout and arthritis, reduced post-exercise muscle and joint pain as well as reduced cholesterol, and decreased risk for atherosclerosis and metabolic syndrome.

Dr. Oz, has gone so far as to say that tart cherries are the ultimate antioxidant.

New research from Oregon Health & Science University presented last week at the American College of Sports Medicine Conference confirmed that tart cherries can help to reduce chronic inflammation and can help people with osteoarthritis manage their disease.

In a study of twenty women ages 40 – 70 with inflammatory osteoarthritis, the researchers found that drinking tart cherry juice twice daily for three weeks led to significant reductions in important inflammation markers – especially for those women who had the highest inflammation levels at the start of the study.

With millions of Americans looking for ways to naturally manage pain, it’s promising that tart cherries can help, without the possible side effects often associated with arthritis medications,” said principal study investigator Kerry Kuehl, M.D. “I’m intrigued by the potential for a real food to offer such a powerful anti-inflammatory benefit – especially for active adults.”

Often characterized as “wear and tear” arthritis, osteoarthritis is the most common type of arthritis. Athletes are often at a greater risk for developing the condition, given their excessive joint use that can cause a breakdown in cartilage and lead to pain and injury.

Anthocyanins – the antioxidant compounds in tart cherries – appear to reduce inflammation to levels comparable to some well-known pain medications.

Previous research on tart cherries and osteoarthritis found that a daily dose of tart cherries helped reduce osteoarthritis pain by more than 20%.

Leslie Bonci, Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center for Sports Medicine, has incorporated tart cherries into the training menu of her professional athletes. She claims they are a natural and easy way to manage pain and also taste great.

Never heard of tart cherries, or concerned that they have such a short season?  The great news is that they are available year-round in dried, frozen, powder and juice forms too.

Memorial Day Health Tips

Happy Monday and Happy Memorial Day to our US readers.  Today, we would like to start by thanking our servicemen and women for all they do in the line of duty, and reflect on those who have died serving our country.

Later today, many people will be celebrating this unofficial start of summer. And with that comes  BBQs, beer, and burgers. I could go on. And so could you. But don’t!

Instead, Word on Health would like to offer the following tips to help you enjoy the day – healthily:

Don’t talk with your mouth full!

It’s all too easy to wolf down food during holiday cookouts because we’re so busy talking and laughing with friends. But, eating too quickly leads to swallowing air, which leads to indigestion and bloating. By all means, talk to your friends, laugh and have a great time, but do it in-between eating and try to not talk until you have chewed properly and swallowed.

Eat the fruit first!

Summer cookouts are synonymous with overeating.  One of the worst habits is to get loaded up with burgers, chicken and hot dogs, then bring out the watermelon as an afterthought. From a digestive standpoint this is about as wrong as it gets. Fruit digests very quickly, whereas heavier foods don’t. Eating fruit first can help to prevent bloating and other digestive issues.

Don’t Fry!

Avoid sun burning, by applying sunscreen generously before you go out and after each dip in the pool. Wear sun-protective clothing, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses and seek shade in the heat of the day.

Pack Light!

If you are planning on traveling, pack a cooler of low-fat, healthy snacks and water. This will help curb the temptation of drive-thru fast food restaurants.

Whatever you end up doing, we wish you a happy, healthy, and safe Memorial Day!

Who’s to blame for your allergies?

Are you one of the 35 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies? If so you’re probably not cheering the official end of winter.  But before you start blaming Persephone – goddess of Spring, for your symptoms you may want to look a little closer to home.

Many of the everyday things you’re doing, from what you eat to how you clean your home may be interfering with relief from your stuffy nose, sneezing, sniffling or other symptoms.

People with spring allergies often don’t realize how many things can aggravate their allergy symptoms so they just muddle along and hope for an early end to the season,” says allergist Myron Zitt, M.D.“But there’s no reason to suffer. A few simple adjustments in habits and treatment can make springtime much more enjoyable.”

The American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) advises people with spring allergies to be on the lookout for five things that can aggravate suffering.

1. Eating fruits and vegetables – Many people with seasonal allergies also suffer from pollen food allergy syndrome (also called oral allergy syndrome), a cross-reaction between the similar proteins in certain types of fruits, vegetables and the allergy-causing pollen. 1:5 people with grass allergies and as many as 70% of people with birch tree allergies suffer from the condition, which can make your lips tingle and swell and your mouth itch.

If you’re allergic to birch or alder trees, you might have a reaction to celery, cherries or apples. If you have grass allergies, tomatoes, potatoes or peaches may bother you. Usually the reaction is simply annoying and doesn’t last long. But up to 9% of people have reactions that affect a part of their body beyond their mouth and almost 2% can suffer a life-threatening anaphylactic reaction.

2. Using the wrong air filter – Using an air filter to keep your home pollen-free is a good idea, but be sure it’s the right kind. Studies show inexpensive central furnace/air conditioning filters and ionic electrostatic room cleaners aren’t helpful – and in fact the latter releases ions, which can be an irritant. Whole-house filtration systems do work, but change the filters regularly or you could be doing more harm than good.

3. Opening your windows – When your windows are open, the pollen can drift inside, settle into your carpet, furniture and car upholstery and continue to torture you. So keep your house and car windows shut during allergy season.

4. Procrastinating – You may think you can put off or even do without medication this spring, but the next thing you know you’re stuffed up, sneezing and downright miserable. Instead, get the jump on allergies by taking your medication before the season gets under way.

5. Self medicating – Perhaps you’re not sure exactly what’s making you feel awful so you switch from one medication to the next hoping for relief.

This spring, your best bet is to see an allergist, who can determine just what’s triggering your symptoms and suggest the most appropriate treatment.

Top Ten Healthy Gifts for the Holidays

Happy Black Friday to all of our readers.  Before you head out to the stores this morning to buy the perfect presents for your loved ones, why not consider giving the greatest gift of all – health.

“Health truly is the gift that keeps on giving,” says James Rohack, past-president of the American Medical Association.

With disposable income more scarce than ever this year, giving practical gifts is in vogue. And what could be more useful than a well-woman exam, or a gym membership?

Here’s SRxA’s Word on Health’s 10 suggestions to help make 2011 gift-giving a little healthier:

1. Be a Tooth Fairy. We’re not suggesting you add free root canals to your Christmas stockings, but since dental coverage is either limited or non-existent for so many people, a tooth cleaning could make a great gift for anyone who’s been putting off getting dental care because of cost. Most dentists offer gift certificates. A  $50 certificate might get you a basic cleaning, and for a little more you could give a professional whitening treatment.

If you’re buying for kids, consider a cool toothbrush such as Tooth Tunes Musical Toothbrush or a fun Spinbrush. For grown-up gadget fans, a high-end electric toothbrush or flosser can be a great present.

2. Office Visits. With almost 50 million Americans lacking health insurance and skyrocketing co-pays and deductibles, a pre-paid visit to the doctor’s office or a drug-store gift card for someone who has high pharmaceutical bills makes a useful present.

These may be especially appropriate for young, single women. National Center for Health Statistics data show that unmarried women ages 25 to 64 were more likely to be uninsured than married with in the same age group.

3. Fancy Foods. Organic fruits and vegetables are often pricey and end up being one of the first things to be cut from the family budget when times are tight. Even non-organic fruit can seem expensive these days, so consider a monthly shipment of produce or other healthy treats. Visit on-line sites such ashttp://www.americasbestorganics.com/ or check with a local organic farm.

4. Fit Club.  Splurge for a friend or family member who enjoys working out. If they are already a member or if a full years gym membership is beyond your means, how about a gift certificate for a personal-training session?

5. Yoga Stuff. Is there a better gift than inner peace?  Yoga helps with stress, flexibility and blood flow. “It’s one of those forms of exercise that not only works your body but works your mind, works your soul, your spirit,” says yoga instructor Peter Sterios. Buy the yoga lover in your life some great gear, a fabulous mat or a gift certificate for classes at a local yoga studio.

6. A Rub Down.  After a workout, or a stressful day, a massage can go a long way to making you feel better. To find a massage therapist who meets all state or local licensing requirements, visit:  www.findamassagetherapist.org.

7. Exercise Gear. Good shoes are a runner’s best friend, but they’re expensive. And it’s not just about fashion. If you don’t have good foot support, then you wind up getting foot injuries, and then your motivation to get healthy is limited. So don’t let your favorite amateur athlete work out in worn-out gear. Buy them a gift certificate to a good sports supply store.

8. Health Monitoring Gadgets. While buying someone a bathroom scale might be a bit insulting, high-tech at-home self-test kits such as a blood-pressure monitor could be just the ticket. Eighty million Americans have high blood pressure, and only a third of them have it under control.

9. Pick Up the Check. Most restaurants now offer healthy options. One way to find good spots: the National Restaurant Association‘s (NRA) partner site,www.healthydiningfinder.com. According to the NRA, 77% percent of consumers say they would like to receive a restaurant gift card.

10. Good-For-You Reads. Skip the fads and invest in books like the American Medical Association’s “Complete Guide to Prevention and Wellness,” the American Pediatric Association’s “Caring for Your Baby and Young Child” ; “The Pill Book: An Illustrated Guide to the Most-Prescribed Drugs in the United States.or even the hard-core Merck Manual.

Happy Shopping!