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For Healthier Bones: Drink Up?

We already know that wine is full of antioxidants, is good for your heart, and reduces your risk of stroke…but now a recent study has suggested that wine may actually improve your bone health, too.

I’m going to go ahead and file this news under Y for Yesss.

In fact, this isn’t the first study to show the connection between wine and bone density, but until now it’s been unclear whether it’s just an association or an actual causative effect.

This was a small study, but the design was interesting. The study subjects were entirely female, and the women were instructed to abstain from alcohol for two weeks. After this period, they were asked to start drinking again. During the abstinence phase, researchers found blood markers of negative changes in bone formation and turnover. When alcohol intake resumed, there were blood markers that showed positive bone changes and rebuilding.

As with everything, moderation is the key. If drinking two glasses of wine a day is a good idea, what’s not a good idea is quickly tossing back those two drinks, then stumbling over your strappy sandals and falling, thus breaking a bone—no matter how good your bone density is.

Still, I’m a fan of the wine-for-health idea, as you may know. It’s a key part of the Mediterranean diet, and the Sonoma diet–both of which I like and recommend.

More about bone health, here: Are You Getting Enough Calcium?

More about wine, here: Secret Benefits of Wine

More Wicked Healthy “vices”, here: 

You Say Tomato…

People bat around the word superfood pretty blithely these days, which is easy, because there’s no real definition. Scientists tend to use the term “functional food” (meaning: food which provides a clinically proven and documented health benefit) but it’s not quite as sexy, is it?

Anyway, I like the term superfood, but I try to reserve it for only the best cases. And today I’m going to talk about one such case. The gorgeous food known as: the tomato.

Tomatoes are packed full of antioxidants. Carotenoids, flavonoids, vitamin C, vitamin E…basically, tomatoes are off the chart when it comes to phytochemicals. In particular, though, it’s lycopene that gets the most attention. Lycopene is the compound that happens to give tomatoes their luscious red color, and it confers all sorts of health benefits. It’s also unusual in one property: it becomes even more bioavailable after cooking and processing. So you can benefit from tomato consumption even if you’re having tomato sauce or tomato paste.

The tomato has been shown to be anticancer. This is primarily due to the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity of the nutrients in tomatoes. The evidence is strongest for prostate cancer–much research shows that regular tomato consumption can reduce a man’s risk of prostate cancer. But there are also studies showing that tomatoes can help prevent pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, and certain types of lung cancer, too.

Tomatoes are also good for your heart: they have been shown to improve cholesterol profile. They have anti-platelet activity. And it’s probably no coincidence that the tomato features heavily in the Mediterranean diet, well-known to be a heart-healthy way to go (and delish, besides).

Interestingly, there’s also some early research to indicate that tomatoes are good for our bones, specifically due to carotenoids and lycopene. Recent studies have shown that these antioxidants may be beneficial for bone density, and that poor intake correlates to low bone density and increased risk of fracture. (For more about bone health, read this.)

Another thing that’s great about tomatoes? They are just so damn easy to incorporate into your diet. Throw some fresh tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and sea salt onto toasted baguette…world’s best bruschetta.

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Are You Getting Enough Calcium?

Calcium has taken a back seat, lately, to some of the current darlings of the vitamin and supplement scene (like vitamin D and omega-3). So it’s easy to forget about calcium.

But…is calcium something you need to worry about? Should you take supplemental calcium?

The answer: it depends. It depends who you are, what your risk factors are, and what your diet is like. But most of us, to be honest, don’t get enough calcium.

Going vegan is a big-time trend right now, and while it can be a healthy lifestyle if done right, it can also leave you deficient in some things–and calcium is one of those things.

Cutting out dairy for food sensitivity/allergy/lactose intolerance is another trend. And something that can leave you wanting for calcium, too.

Calcium is important for bone health. And while that may sound a little on the boring side…trust me, you do not want to be one of those frail little things in your advanced years. Fractured hips and spines are an excruciating thing. Taking care of your bones, like many things about health, is an investment. You won’t see the payoff for a long time. But if you neglect your bones, by the time your body is showing signs, it will be too late.

So how do you make sure you’re getting enough calcium?

Adults need to aim for 1000 milligrams of calcium a day. Pregnant and breastfeeding women need to pay special attention to getting sufficient calcium. Women over age 50, and men over 70, should get 1200 mg a day.

Good food sources? Dairy is the best. A cup of milk contains about 300 mg of calcium. Other dairy products like cheese and yogurt, are excellent sources. But you can certainly find calcium in non-dairy foods: salmon, spinach, tofu, almonds, white beans, fortified OJ, and kale, to name a few. Some yummy stuff in that list, no?

The National Institutes of Health has a factsheet on calcium and a chart of calcium-rich food sources.

One approach: try to get at least half your calcium intake from food. Then supplement the rest to fill in the gaps.

The key with supplemental calcium is taking the right amount. Our bodies have a tough time absorbing calcium if the dose is higher than 500 mg at one sitting. So, two separate doses of 500 mg will be more effective than a single mega-dose of 1000 mg.

Also, recent research has shown that too much calcium may be not-so-great for your heart. If you overdo it with supplements, you could increase your risk of a heart attack. But this is a relatively new finding–more research is needed to figure out exactly what’s going on, here. In the meantime, use caution with calcium supplements if you’re at high risk of heart disease. Stick with food sources to be safe.

If you do take calcium supplements, you should also take vitamin D, to improve calcium absorption. (besides the other benefits of vitamin D).

And what do I do, personally? Well, I love milk. Love yogurt, couldn’t live without cheese (wouldn’t want to, either), take real cream in my coffee….basically, I could do commercials for the dairy board.

But that’s just me.

How Healthy Are You, Really?

So you feel, well, okay. But is okay good enough? Could you do better?

Time to be honest…with yourself. Because prevention, in my book, is far better than waiting for symptoms to appear.

Below you’ll find some questions to answer. Now, this is not a multiple choice quiz, with a cute classification scale at the end. These are open-ended questions. That’s because I’m assuming you’re a smart cookie. More important than a tidy little category is how you feel when you look at your answers all together, when you read them over, when you really start thinking about it.Most of us know, deep down, what we need to work on…we just need some prodding. And someone to pose the questions.

One further note: these questions are not intended to make you feel guilty. They are intended to jostle your brain, to give you something to think about. Perhaps to serve as a wake-up call. To get you thinking about what you are doing great (yay!) and what you could improve upon. This is a starting point. A time for reflection.

So, get out a notebook and get ready to jot some stuff down. Ask yourself:

Lifestyle

Do you get enough sleep for you? This might be 8 hours, or more, or less. More important: do you wake up feeling groggy? Check your eyes: just how dark are those circles, darling?

How is your alcohol intake? One glass of wine a day = purrrfect. More than that? Hmmmm…

Do you smoke? Sweetheart, you really gotta quit. Gonna quote Skinny Bitch on this one: smoking is for losers.

Exercise: are you moving that bod enough? Come on, fess up.

Any idea what your BMI is? Here’s a handy little tool  for ya. (no excuses)

Testing

When was the last time you had your blood pressure checked? High blood pressure is silent. You would never know, unless you checked.

When was your last Pap? Here are my thoughts on this: Yes, Pap smears are uncomfortable. Know what’s more uncomfortable? Cancer.

Have you had screening bloodwork done lately? Here are some things to consider having done, depending on your risk factors:

  • TSH level (a thyroid screen)
  • hemoglobin & ferritin (iron levels)
  • vitamin D levels
  • lipids (cholesterol)
  • fasting glucose
  • others…depending on your personal profile (which you need to discuss with your doctor)

And speaking of screening, if you’re over 40 have you had a mammogram? (screening recommendations might be different if you have a family history of breast cancer)

How about STD screening? Once again: silent. With nasty repercussions if left undiagnosed + untreated.

Prevention

Look at your family history. If there’s a strong history of CAD, cancer, etc…are you being proactive about not following in their footsteps?

Are you taking care of your bones? Not just for the elderly–you need to build bone mass now.

Do you wear sunblock? All. The. Time?

Body + Soul

What about stress? I’m gonna go ahead and assume you’ve got stress (we all do, don’t we?)…but do you have a plan in place to cope with that stress? Short-term and long-term coping, I mean.

How often do you have sex?

Are you happy? Like, really content in your life? Here’s a quick test: how do you feel on your birthday? As though you’re exactly where you should be….or, vaguely dissatisfied/anxious/frustrated?

Do you do stuff that’s just for you? Like, go to the spa, read a book for pleasure, fill in the blank…?

Do you feel fulfilled? Are you bored? Are you pursuing your dreams? Are you working too much?

Nutrition

Eating habits? Big topic. Here’s some food for thought (ptp=pardon the pun)

  • do you eat breakfast? every day?
  • do you eat because of boredom?
  • do you eat when what you really need is sleep?
  • does food make the good times better? And, um, the bad times better?
  • do you have lean protein with most meals?
  • is processed food a staple in your diet?
  • do you drink enough water?
  • do you drink lots of soda or sugary drinks?
  • are you in control of your cravings? (or are they in control of you?)
  • do you skip meals?
  • do you eat when you’re not really hungry?

Now how about Vitamins + Supplements:

  • are you taking the right ones for you?
  • are you taking too many (popping unecessary stuff and going broke in the process?) 
  • do you really know what you’re taking, and why? Or are you just throwing capsules at your fatigue, bloating, etcetera?

Okay, ’nuff for now. There’s more, but I’m going to leave it for another day. Hope you’re not feeling too overwhelmed. Keep in mind: it’s important to take the time to reflect on this stuff and take stock. It’s your body, after all. And it’s your life.

Ya get but one.

The Vitamin You Absolutely Need to Take

Many people have heard rumblings and murmurs about vitamin D lately. But do you need to take it? I get enough sunlight, you’re thinking, do I really need to worry about it?

In a word: yes. You should be taking vitamin D.

There’s a growing body of research that shows a boatload of benefits from Vitamin D. We used to just recommend vitamin D for the prevention of osteoporosis. But we’ve gone way beyond that now. Seems this is one little vitamin with big dreams. And it’s turning up in all sorts of unexpected places, making itself useful at the preventive health party (mingling, mixing martinis for people, doing the dishes after the guests leave…)

 So. It looks like adults with low levels of vitamin D have increased risks of heart disease—specifically heart attacks and hypertension. Taking supplements appears to help prevent cancer, with the strongest evidence so far for colorectal cancer. It also seems to play a role in preventing depression. And diabetes. It also appears to help regulate the immune system and reduce inflammation, which might help reduce the risks of autoimmune disease, and infections such as influenza.

Does that all sound good?

Hell, yes.

So, onto pumping up your D quotient. Turns out D-deficiency is something of an epidemic. Vitamin D is manufactured in your skin, with sunlight exposure. But most of us don’t get enough sunlight to make sufficient amounts. And we shouldn’t try, either! Skin cancer, anyone? Wrinkles? No thank you. I’ll take my vitamin D in oral form. Unfortunately, it’s tricky to get sufficient amounts in food. Fortified dairy and breakfast cereals, and fatty fish are sources, but you’re probably not going to meet your needs through food alone. This is where supplementation comes in.

How much to take? Official recommendations from the Institute of Medicine look a little like this: 600 IU for people up to age 70, 800 IU for people over 70. But most health care providers (me included) seem to advise 1000 IU daily. Infants and kids should be getting 400 IU daily.

If you’re curious, you can get a blood test to diagnose deficiency. But based on all the research, and the fact that vitamin D is cheap, readily available, and safe, my thinking is that people should be taking a supplement regardless.

One caveat: don’t go getting all vitamin D slap happy. Take too much and you run the risk of kidney stones. Ouch.

Dr. Kim Foster, MD. (photo credit: Tamea Burd Photography)

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