I have known a lot of trying situations in my life, but very little compares to the relentless frustration of trying to wrestle my toddler into bed, night after night.
Can you relate?
So, what if I told you there was something that may actually be at the root of all that irritating sleep trouble for your little one? Something simple, and something that can be corrected. Would you think it sounded too good to be true?
Well, if you’re curious, click over to Yummy Mummy Club and read the post I recently wrote about this. Because this one is not just me, conveying medical information. This is me, describing what was happening in my own family, and how I fixed it. It may not be the answer for you…but on the other hand, it just may be.
An anti-inflammatory lifestyle has become something of an obsession for me. It was thrust upon me, really, after a health incident that caused me to take a very hard look at my own lifestyle. Chronic inflammation is at the root of many of our disease processes, as we’re only just beginning to understand.
I blogged about an anti-inflammatory diet a while ago, but besides modifying your eating habits…are there other things you should be doing?
1. Deal With Stress
I’ll admit, I can get a little evangelical about stress management (and the next topic, below) but relentless stress can be a big source of chronic inflammation. Trouble is, stress is a hugely overwhelming topic. How do you even begin to deal? Here’s some help.
2. Get More/Better Sleep
We need sleep to restore, rejuvenate, and recover from all the various insults our systems face all day long. And, yes, that includes inflammatory insults. We’re all busy, for sure, and sleep often comes far down on the priority list. Here’s how to get more sleep. (If you’re facing the special challenges of getting enough sleep because you’re a mom, read this.)
3. Consider Supplements
I do, generally speaking, promote healthy nutrition first and foremost. But I also think there’s a role for certain supplements. Of course there are always new, fancy supplements being touted as part of a preventive, anti-inflammatory lifestyle. Here are the ones I think, currently, have the most evidence in favor of them: omega-3, vitamin D, multivitamins, calcium, magnesium, and possibly selenium (the subject of a future post). But this is all subject to change, as research rolls out.
Every time I turn around I see more studies published demonstrated more health benefits to exercise. And sometimes I think: Do we really need more research to prove what we already know? That notwithstanding, you really are making a big mistake by not figuring out a way to get more exercise into your life. It’s an important part of an anti-inflammatory lifestyle. But–easier said than done, right? Rest assured, every little bit helps. A little exercise, in any form, is better than none. (But if you’re going to choose just one, with anti-inflammation as your goal…I’d choose yoga.)
Everybody is afraid of cancer.
It’s the elephant in the room for many, many of my patient visits. Occasionally people will vocalize their fear, but often it’s lurking there, unsaid.
One of the scary things about cancer is the feeling that it could strike us down, randomly, like winning some horrible lottery. And that makes us feel like we’re out of control.
Fact is, there are lots of things we can do to stay healthy. To counteract feelings of helplessness, here are my top tips on how to prevent cancer:
1.Eat a Mediterranean diet.
This diet, rich in fruit & veggies, fish, whole grains, nuts and olive oil has been repeatedly linked with lower rates of cancer. The Mediterranean diet is my personal fave, and it’s not just about cancer prevention…there are other health reasons to adopt this way of eating (and lifestyle), like heart disease prevention. And then there’s the pleasure factor, something the Mediterranean diet has in spades.
Do I really need to go into detail on why this one is a good idea? Of course, easier said than done, I know. Quitting smoking is huge-ola. But help is out there. See your friendly doctor as a starting point! If you’re in BC, check out QuitNow. Or check out Health Canada’s advice. Also, the American Cancer Society has some ideas.
Preventing skin cancer is definitely within your control. Wear the highest SPF you can get your hands on. Also? Sport a hat, slide on those sunglasses. Another benefit of sunblock: wrinkle prevention. Leathery skin is so 1986. A caveat: if, like me, you wear sunblock like a religion…think about your vitamin D level–you could be deficient (which is easily fixed, though–see below).
4.Drink green tea.
Green tea is chock full of antioxidants. Those are the compounds that fight free radicals and reduce inflammation–underlying mechanisms that cause cancer. Early research on green tea is showing some promise in terms of cancer prevention, but some study results have been mixed. Still, green tea is safe, and if you find a blend you like, it’s a pleasurable ritual. Plus there are other health benefits to tea. While the scientists are busy sorting out the full story, I say enjoy a cup or two of green tea a day.
If you’ve adopted a Mediterranean diet, you’ll already be getting many of these superfoods shown to reduce cancer risk, but as extra weapons in your arsenal, try adding these yummies to your diet: blueberries, broccoli, beans, apples, garlic, grapes, tomatoes, and…wait for it: dark chocolate. Oh yes, people, I said chocolate.
6.Aim for a healthy weight.
There is a clear connection between excess body fat and cancer risk. Why? Fat cells don’t just sit there, merely thwarting your desire to squeeze into last year’s jeans. They produce estrogen. And estrogen promotes cell growth. They also secrete various chemicals and proteins that trigger inflammation and insulin resistance. Which also encourages cell growth. Maintaining a healthy weight is one of the best things you can do to prevent cancer. But…easier said than done. Need assistance? Start with portion control. Belly fat your issue? Here’s help in that department.
7.Take an Aspirin and call me in the morning.
A fascinating thing was discovered recently–a daily aspirin seems to reduce the risk of some big-time cancers: colon, lung, prostate, and more. And in this study, it reduced them by a lot. Why might this be? Aspirin is a potent anti-inflammatory, and it may also cause DNA-damaged cells to die. But aspirin is not for everyone–it can cause stomach lining irritation and bleeding. If you’re considering this route, talk to your doctor first.
Beyond keeping our weight under control, physical activity itself helps prevent cancer. It regulates hormone levels, boosts our immune systems, helps the digestive tract function smoothly…and we call that winning. Of course, shoe-horning exercise in to our busy lives is no small challenge. Here’s how to do it.
9.Take Vitamin D.
Studies have recently shown a higher cancer risk when vitamin D levels are low. Many of us are walking around deficient in vitamin D with no idea (ahem, count me as one of those). Consider a blood test to check your level, consider a little more sunshine in your life (but not too much!), consider supplements.
10.Get regular checkups & screening.
Paps, mammograms, colonoscopies…we’ve got all kinds of tools now to help us detect cancer early. Recommendations for screening will vary based on age and individual risk factors, so see your doc about this.
There you go, you’re on your way to a healthier future. Nothing to fear. Now…say it with me: Voldemort.
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.
Didn’t think so.
Dealing with stress, in my opinion, requires a multi-pronged approach…but not all of those prongs need to be complicated.
Over on Yummy Mummy Club, I recently wrote a post about one easy thing you can do. (hint: are you getting enough of this amazing mineral?)
Yes, there are tons of viruses going around this year. If you haven’t caught one yet, just wait…(sorry!)
However, when you’re sick with a cold, do you have to suffer in misery? Well, truthfully, your immune system does need to deal with the virus, and that process takes time (typically a week). But does mean there’s nothing you can do to help that poor ol’ overworked immune system of yours?
Here’s something you can do: take zinc.
There’s actually quite a bit of research to back this up. Zinc seems to shorten the duration and severity of the common cold, in otherwise healthy people.
Because most viral replication happens within the first 24 hours of symptom onset, you’re going to get the most benefit from zinc if you start taking it on Day 1. That said, taking it within the first 3 days may still have benefit.
Aim for at least 75 mg/day of zinc. The studies showing the most benefit used 75 mg as a minimum dose.
It seems that contact time with zinc is important. Zinc lozenges appear to be most effective when you dissolve them slowly in your mouth (slowly, here, is sucking on a lozenge for 20-30 minutes), and doing this every 2 hours.
The exact mechanism of zinc is unknown, but it’s thought to assist T cells (a subset of white blood cells) which kill virus-infected cells.
Intranasal administration of zinc is not recommended–this has been linked with a loss of the sense of smell, which can be permanent. Yikes. And don’t overdo it with zinc. Large doses (more than 300 mg per day) can compete with copper and manganese absorption, and can interfere with T-cell function. It can also chelate some antibiotics and cause drug-drug interactions.
Yep, it seems to be helpful for that, too. Supplementary zinc taken on a daily basis appears to help prevent pesky colds from striking in the first place. In studies, children receiving supplements for at least 5 months had fewer colds and fewer absentee days from school.
I’ve recommended zinc to patients for quite some time now, and I personally use it, whenever I start to feel those first inklings of a sore throat. If you start taking it early enough, you can really knock that cold flat. Before it does that to you.
Most of us have a sense that probiotics are a good thing. That’s what TV commercials and food packages tell us, anyway. And why would they lie? But…what are these mysterious health benefits exactly? Why should we bother with probiotics?
Not many women get away with never experiencing the joys of a vaginal yeast infection. If you’re one of the lucky ones who gets them on a regular basis, probiotics are a must for your arsenal.
For those of you plagued by irritable bowel syndrome (and the uber-frustration at the variability of your symptoms, the endless search for just the right thing to help, etcetera…) taking daily probiotics might help you. Not a magic bullet (I don’t believe there is a magic bullet for IBS, unfortunately), but nonetheless worth a try.
Sometimes antibiotics are needed. Which is a good thing. Ever since 1928 when Alexander discovered penicillin in the form of bread mould (yes, people, antibiotics were originally a “natural” treatment!) a whole lot fewer people have been dying from bacterial infections. Still, the GI upset that antibiotics can cause (plus yeast infections…and here, kindly refer to point #1) is no picnic. Antibiotics do tend to upset the natural balance in your system and wipe out your resident “good” bacteria in addition to the bad guys. I have been told by some German patients of mine that it’s standard practice in Germany to prescribe probiotics alongside antibiotics, and I think that’s perhaps not a bad idea.
This is a benefit that is not firmly established yet. There needs to be more research, but some early studies have shown promising results. Children in daycare who were given daily probiotic supplements had fewer fevers, coughing episodes, and nasal congestion.
So how do you get probiotics? Yogurt is the most common source but you can also find probiotics in other fermented foods like kefir, sauerkraut, and tempeh.
Then there are supplements, of course. But to be honest that’s not something I bother with. I eat plain yogurt on a daily basis, pretty much, because I love it. And if you think it’s weird to eat yogurt daily, pick up a copy of French Women Don’t Get Fat (Mireille, my French idol, advocates making your own yogurt from scratch).
Or think: Mediterranean Diet. Greek yogurt is the bomb. Have you ever tried it with a handful of walnuts and a little drizzle of honey? The. Best.
But if you can’t tolerate dairy, or simply don’t like yogurt, given all the potential benefits of probiotics, supplements are probably a good idea.
A friend of mine recently told me she’d done a “cleanse” that lasted 9 days. It cost her $150. It involved a regime of supplemental shakes and powdered cleansing drinks (this product was the reason for the $$), fasting days of only juice and water, alongside other recommended dietary changes. The main claims? Weight loss, cleansing the body of toxins, improved energy and digestion.
My friend is hardly the first person to go on such a regime. It seems like, these days, every other celebrity is talking about this, and I’ve had countless patients tell me they’re “doing a cleanse”.
So here’s my question: Do detox diets and cleanses actually benefit your health? Do they live up to their claims?
Or, put another way: does a detox diet cleanse anything other than your wallet?
My friend said, after the 9 days, she felt great, and she had lost “inches”. And this wasn’t the first time she’d done this particular cleanse. She was telling me this, of course, as we munched our way through a big tub of movie popcorn. Had she changed her diet long-term? Nope. The last few times she’d done this cleanse she’d also lost weight, and inches, and felt great. Had she regained the weight each time? Yep.
So, naturally, as we talked I was formulating an opinion on this particular diet, but I decided I needed to do some research. Here are the positions of some reputable institutions on “detox-ing”:
Essentially, what everyone seems to say is this: there’s no evidence to support these sorts of “cleanses” or “detox diets”. But does that mean there hasn’t been sufficient research done yet? Or does it mean there is definite evidence against it? That bit is a little unclear.
I think it’s helpful to tease out the reasons for using a cleanse. And there appear to be two different camps. One primary goal is to rid the body of toxins. The other is to lose weight. There are all sorts of side-benefits mentioned in these programs, but as far as I can tell, these are the two primary goals. And they can be considered separately.
The consensus is pretty clear on the weight loss goal: it will work, but it will be short-lived, and you will likely have rebound weight gain–often more than your initial loss. See, the thing is, your metabolism is now slower. Your body has gone into starvation mode.
As for the detoxification goal, I think this one is still up for debate. I do believe that our bodies need detoxification. But the fact is, we were born with internal systems designed to do this job for us (liver, kidneys, and skin, via sweating). However, whether these systems are sufficient for this job in our modern age, and with our North-American-ized diet, is perhaps not totally certain.
I really, really wish I’d been able to find some solid scientific studies on this topic. But I didn’t. I’m going to keep checking, and maybe something will be forthcoming. As Dr. Marc Cohen, Professor of Complementary Medicine, in a paper that reviewed detox diets (in Australian Family Physician) said: “lack of evidence for an effect does not mean lack of effect”. Which is quite true.
That being said, I would personally expect there to be some pretty convincing evidence available to prove a system’s effectiveness before shelling out $150.
Here are some prominent physicians’ viewpoints:
Here is what Dr. Weil said about cleansing/detox-ing diets:
Fasting and near-fasting routines such as the Master Cleanse are not effective weight loss tools – they alter your metabolism in a way that actually may make it harder for you to lose weight or easier to regain the weight once you go back to the way you normally eat. Most people compensate for the deprivation of the regimen by increasing their caloric consumption afterward.
I mean, if someone like Dr. Weil doesn’t even endorse this kind of thing (and he’s a fan of some pretty out-there stuff sometimes), it’s quite likely you’ve really got something pretty ineffective on your hands.
I have little doubt there’s a placebo effect to these pre-packaged detox systems. I mean, you’ve got a vested interest in believing that something is working when you’ve forked over a big chunk of your paycheque, don’t you?
The diet system my friend used also required that she eliminate dairy, meat, alcohol, and caffeine from her diet during the 9 days. And drink plenty of water. I asked her what she thought might happen if she tried just doing the diet cleanup part, without all the pricey shakes. Any chance she might feel better, slim down, have more energy…all without the hyped-up product?
And I guess that’s my opinion in a nutshell. If you’re looking to detox from junk food and processed food and all those other toxins…how about not eating junk food and processed food? How about having a healthy, bountiful diet of whole food? How about drinking plenty of water anyway? How about exercising, and sweating, and getting lots of sleep?
Any thoughts? Anybody have any experiences doing a cleanse?
So what’s the truth? As with many things, it’s controversial. And not even the “experts” can agree.
Some studies have shown benefit. Others have been equivocal, or downright discouraging.
For example, the Annals of Internal Medicine published a study of more than 88,000 women (the Nurses’ Health Study, at Harvard). Those who took multivitamins for 15 years or more significantly reduced the risk of colon cancer as compared to those who took multivitamins for less time.
Another study demonstrated that taking a multivitamin reduced the risk of a first-time heart attack in a group of Swedish men and women aged 45 to 70.
However, a different Swedish study showed an increase in breast cancer risk among women who took multivitamins.
Welcome to the thorny world of medical research.
In 2002 a study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Researchers from the Harvard School of Medicine had pored over 35 years’ worth of research on vitamins. Their conclusions? Every adult should take a daily multivitamin as a safe and inexpensive way to improve health.
A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition in 2009 showed that multivitamin use was associated with longer telomere length in women. (Telomeres–the tips of your chromosomes–are a biological marker of aging. Essentially, the longer your telomeres, the younger/healthier your cells are.)
There are more studies, of course, but I can see your eyes glossing over so I’m going to stop there.
My opinion? I think multivitamins are a good thing. Maybe not a cure-all, but I think there’s some benefit nonetheless.Think of your multivitamin as an insurance policy. Possibly unneccessary, but generally low-risk. And perhaps there to bridge your various nutritional gaps. I wouldn’t count on a multivitamin to significantly boost your health, but it’s not a bad idea.
Don’t fool yourself, however, that all you need to do to stay healthy is take a multivite. Vitamins are not a substitute for a healthy lifestyle and a nourishing diet.
So what should you look for in a multivitamin?
Most multivitamins have a label filled with a dizzying array of ingredients, doses, and RDA. For the most part, any standard/reputable brand, or drugstore generic, will provide a pretty comparable list of ingredients. If you’re in doubt, ask the pharmacist for a little guidance. (I love pharmacists, they’re an awesome resource)
To get you started, here are some things to keep in mind as you’re shopping for a multivitamin:
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:
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)
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:
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.
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?
Eating habits? Big topic. Here’s some food for thought (ptp=pardon the pun)
Now how about Vitamins + Supplements:
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.