Monthly Archives: March 2014

What If Americans Went Vegetarian?

What if Americans were vegetarians? There are plenty of people who defend meat, even to the point of excluding virtually all foods at the favor of meat. However, the truth is that vegetarians and vegans are at lower risk of heart disease, obesity, cancer, and a number of other major health problems.

Yes, we have been taught and raised to include meat in everything. We even include it in things like stuffing, and for that matter other meat. Take for example bacon wrapped turkey. Frankly, if you want to eat vegetarian or vegan, half the time you have to ask for modifications to virtually everything. There are a growing number of coffee shops that specifically offer quite a few vegan options. One of my favorite coffee shops actually has a mac and cheese dish that has a cashew sauce that is way better than any regular mac and cheese I’ve ever had. Go figure.

Right now, vegetarians make up about 5% of the US population, and according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American is spending nearly $1100 on meat, fish, poultry, etc. In other words, vegetarians and vegans can save a lot of money. Take that 30% out of your grocery bill, and you could start saving for say a vacation!

So what would happen if we all became vegetarian? Would we all be richer, healthier, and happier?

Not exactly. According to Rebecca Solomon, Director of Clinical Nutrition at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York City, A plant based diet is a great idea for almost everyone, but complete elimination leads to other substitutions.

In other words, even if you eliminate meat, you still have to remember to eat healthy. The idea is to replace meat with nuts, tofu, fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods. As you may have noticed though, there are vegetarians who replace it with meat substitutes, fried foods, prepackaged foods, and everything unhealthy they would have eaten anyway, minus meat. They don’t always remember to include the right amount of protein, which can be detrimental, and it takes planning. You can’t just go to any restaurant near you and find what you want. In fact, for some vegetarians, pizza is a big pitfall.

So what about money? We have some serious debt problems in the US, and we can use all the help we can get in that area.

If we were to drop meat altogether, there would actually be a number of jobs lost. According to the USDA Economic Research Services, about 1.5 million people are necessary to produce the food supply for the country, which includes 32% in the meat industry alone. Only 11% are needed to help with fruits and vegetables. That could lead to some serious job loss and people who will subsequently have less money, not more.

Being a vegetarian (and I have been vegan before), I’ve done quite well. I have been healthier, wealthier, and happier on a personal level. When I was vegan, I actually felt incredible. However, obviously it’s not for everybody. Not everybody would take the time to plan their meals, and many would fall back on unhealthy alternatives, not getting necessary protein and calcium for starters. If you are ready though, there’s really nothing wrong with going in a healthier direction.

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Do Antidepressants Work?

I recently went to lunch with a friend of a friend who insisted that medication was not effective. She insisted that mental disorders were simply a figment of our imagination in some cases, that schizophrenics could recover better on their own, and that those who are depressed or suffer anxiety should go with natural treatments like diet and exercise. I can tell you from experience that running 20 miles a day (which I am pretty sure most would say is plenty of exercise) didn’t cure my depression. Off that treadmill, I was barely functioning.

Yes, I struggled, as statistically many do, with treatment. I went through therapy and various medications, and it was discouraging. I don’t know if everyone knows what it feels like, but that condition where you are devoid of any feeling actually felt good to me. For me, it was literally better not to feel anything than to be drowning and suffocating in depression. I ended up switching to a medication that is generally used for seizures, but has an off label use for depression and anxiety a few years ago. It doesn’t make me incredibly happy, but it takes the edge off with no side effects. Comparatively speaking, I feel great, and I can handle things in an emotionally appropriate way.

I don’t apply my experience to everybody. Some people can’t handle the struggle of going through various treatments or medications, and ultimately about 13% of Americans (could be more) take an antidepressant. This would be SSRI’s and other prescription antidepressants.

So do they work? The answer is yes and no, and it depends on the person.

I know, it’s not the best answer, but it is what it is. For me, Zoloft eliminated emotion in general for me. Paxil actually turned me a bit crazy, and yet I’ve heard from others that Paxil was a miracle worker. It goes that way for every medication.

In 2008, Dr Irving Kirsch of Harvard Medical School looked to create a stir in the mental health community with a study analyzing 35 different antidepressant drug trials again. These studies covered Prozac, Effexor, Serzone, and Paxil. Using the Freedom of Information Act, he accessed both the studies that showed the drugs’ effectiveness and the ones that showed that they may not work.

For those with mild to moderate depression, their studies found that antidepressant treatment was no better than a placebo. For those with severe depression, the effects of antidepressants were present, but small. Only those who suffered the most severe depression saw results. In total (across mild to severe), placebos hit 82% effectiveness as compared to antidepressants.

In 2010, a paper in the Journal of the American Medical Association found a similar result. In other words, the results seem to vary based on the severity of the depression, and there are other lifestyle habits that may vary pretty widely in setting patients up for success in mild to moderate cases. Or at least that could be part of it.

On the other side, there is proof, and there are people who suggest that antidepressants DO work.

The truth is that yes, the studies show what they show. However, considering the fact that most patients go through various treatments before finding one that works (there is no one size fits all), it does vary by individual. Different body chemistries respond differently to different drugs. So of course drugs aren’t going to work miracles on every patient in the test group. You can’t control the way your body metabolizes medication, the specific chemical imbalances running through the body, or various other factors. Nothing relies more on genetics than antidepressants.

In addition, you only have to compare antidepressants to other drugs (for other problems) to see that of course it has the biggest effect on those with the most severe cases. The more sick you are, the more room you have to improve, and the more likely you are to notice the difference. HIV drugs, for example, have the biggest impact in many patients when those patients start out with higher levels of the virus.

Finally, antidepressants actually seem to work well for mild depression when that is a longer lasting depression. In other words, when a person has suffered low grade depression for more than 2 years, which is known as dysthymia, they actually demonstrate a significant improvement. In 2011, 17 studies were re-analyzed. 52% of subjects with dysthymia experienced improvements with antidepressants as opposed to just 30% with the placebo.

Finally, the 2008 Kirsch study was looking at trials submitted to the FDA. FDA clinical trials vary widely from the use of that drug in real life. The studies are limited to short 4-8 week periods for one thing, whereas in real life, most people have to stay on antidepressants for at least 6 to 8 weeks to metabolize and start seeing significant effects. Most people also stay on antidepressants for months, or even years. These kinds of short trials cannot mirror real life.

Likewise, mental health is not quite like many other trials. You can’t measure temperature, run a blood or urine test, or use other hard tests to measure improvements in mental health. It is based largely on feedback from the patient, which can be highly unreliable.

Lastly, especially when it comes to mental health and such short trials, the placebo effect can be quite powerful. Think about it. Over just 4-8 weeks, you could feel better, because you expect to feel better. Then you find that if of course the drug wasn’t working, it would fade away. But how do you really tell the difference between the two effects without extended use to pass that.

So should you take an antidepressant?

That’s ultimately up to you. You know how you feel. You know how severe it is for you, and maybe you’ve tried antidepressants in the past. There are many potential benefits associated with antidepressants, and I have seen them first hand. But there are people who do fine going to therapy, exercising, eating right, etc. It just depends on your case.

Natural Ways To Prevent And Treat Headaches

Personally, I like Excedrin Migraine. It is the only thing that really handles my migraines, and what do you do. However, I know of at least one person who insists he just rubs some herbs on his forehead to handle headaches, even migraines. Frankly, yes, it’s stupid. This doesn’t mean that natural methods don’t work though. It just means that you should probably know a little bit more about what you’re doing if you’re going to rely on natural methods. There are a few basic things to consider.

  • Water – One of the most common causes of unnecessary headaches that are completely within your control is water. When you get dehydrated, you are more likely to suffer headaches. So if you keep yourself hydrated (8 glasses a day or whatever it is), you are less likely to get headaches.
  • Rest – Yes, a headache is often a sign that you are not getting enough rest and your body needs a break according to Elizabeth Loder MD, chief of the headache and pain division at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston and President of the American Headache Society. A little nap may actually be quite helpful, but of course a full night’s sleep is optimal.
  • Small, Frequent Meals – Sometimes, the most basic cause of a headache is that your blood sugar is not regulated. I’m not talking about weight loss here. I’m talking about keeping your body’s basic hormones from spiking unnecessarily. If you haven’t eaten anything in a while, you may want to try magnesium rich foods such as spinach, tofu, olive oil, or pumpkin seeds. Especially if you have had other symptoms of low blood sugar, you may want to eat smaller and more frequent meals throughout the day rather than the 3 larger meals.
  • Ice Therapy – Think about it. When you have sore muscles, you often are told to use ice/heat packs. The same applies to a certain degree with headaches. Try applying a cold compress on your forehead and eyes, and it may help you to relieve a headache. It may even get rid of it entirely. According to Dr. Loder, it may be a counterirritation effect.
  • Take a Hot Shower – Again, the hot/cold effect comes into play. Sometimes, when you are feeling pain, heat can release that pain. Staying in bed until your headache goes away rarely works. If you get a little breakfast to get your blood sugar going and take a hot shower, the warm air could clear your nasal passages, which could be a big part of fighting your headaches.
  • Try a massage – A simple rub around the temples could actually be one of the most effective natural ways to fight a headache. Any type of basic massage could be a considerable part of this. In a study in New Zealand, people with migraines were able to improve their condition. Migraines were less frequent, and they slept better when the appropriate massage was involved. A 2010 Spanish study also showed that patients who used massage with recurring tension headaches were able to improve their psychological states, reduce stress, and experienced fewer headaches in just 24 hours after a 30 minute massage.
  • Look Into Accupressure – An old Chinese tradition, Accupressure is ultimately applying pressure to points between the thumb and index finger, and it can help to relieve headaches. You just need to squeeze the indentation between the thumb and index finger of your opposite hand, massaging in a circular motion for just 5 minutes. Then you can simply switch hands. It may also help to include ice therapy on this spot for a few minutes.
  • Lay Off The Alcohol – Yes, it’s obvious, and yet it’s not. When you drink more, it does dehydrate the body, and it actually makes hangovers (and the associated headaches) more likely. If you drink water (especially if it has additives as in some health waters, you can reduce the impact of a hangover and prevent unnecessary headaches.
  • Keep Your Weight Under Control – If you are obese or significantly overweight, you are more likely to have regular migraines. Accordingly, if you are able to maintain a healthy weight, you are less likely to experience regular migraines. This is especially true for white people, women, and people under 50 according to studies.
  • Reduce Stress – In a 2014 German study, researchers showed that people who have more stress in their lives are more likely to suffer headaches. Call it the stress effect. For those with more stress in the study, tension headaches increased 6.3% while migraines increased 4.3%. If you are suffering more stress, you may want to get involved in anti-stress activities while simultaneously taking a break from stressful activities when you have to deal with them.
  • Get a Little Caffeine – Of course, don’t go overboard. However, at the first sign of a headache, you can try getting a little bit of caffeine. Just don’t overdo it. If you drink too much, you could actually build up a tolerance over time that could make it less effective, or entirely ineffective. If you consume too much on a regular basis, you are likely to experience more headaches, but if you use just a little in the right situations, you can stop headaches in their tracks. Tricky.
  • Don’t Spend Too Much Time in the Sun – Have you ever noticed how sensitive you are to light when you have a migraine. I personally lock myself in a closet with a towel under the door to eliminate all possible light. It helps. If you spend more time in the sun, yes you can get dehydrated. Bottom line though, you are more likely to suffer severe headaches, your risk goes up by about 7.5% with every 5 degrees celsius. A little air conditioning and water goes a long way.
  • Regular Exercise – Another double edged sword, some migraines are actually triggered by more exercise. It depends on the person, and accordingly, it’s important to keep your own patterns in mind. Regular exercise could raise happy hormones while also helping you to maintain a healthy weight. Running is good, but things like hot yoga could actually be more likely to trigger migraines due to dehydration and other factors.

How To Detox Without A Juice Cleanse

Forget the Master cleanse or some special juice cleanse. You can get healthier, improve your skin, enhance energy, and get rid of the problems that supposedly go away when you cleanse with a more bearable and normal method. Do toxins exist? Who knows. All we really know is that people report feeling and looking better after detoxing, but you don’t have to make yourself miserable (by drinking nothing but juice) to do it.

  1. Sweat a Little – You can go to a sauna, or for that matter go for a run or otherwise work out. When you sweat, you get rid of a lot of things including toxins. Saunas in particular have been used for years in various therapies according to Susan S Blum MD, assistant clinical professor of preventative medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, who also wrote The Immune System Recovery Plan. She recommends infrared saunas (which replicate the sun’s rays without the UV radiation) in comparison to regular saunas. Proponents suggest that this ma burn more fat, help you to release drug buildup in their system, and more.
  2. Deep Breathing Daily – Deep breathing, which has also been called ujjayi breathing, can help to rid your body of toxins (not just relax you). According to supporters, it increases heat in the body, causing you to sweat out toxins (like in saunas), and it eliminates excess carbon dioxide every time you exhale according to Sinda Anzovino, a Westchester, New York based yoga instructor. All you need to do is sit comfortably, breathe deeply in and out, and focus on breathing through your nose. While inhaling, imagine that your throat is opening as if it were yawning. While exhaling, try to constrict the back of the throat and make a soft ha sound as if you’re mimicking the sound of the ocean. You can do this for about 15 minutes, which can leave you feeling relaxed and ready to go.
  3. Get some extra zzz’s – Believe it or not, getting enough sleep can make a huge difference in your health. Make sure that you take the time to get the right amount of sleep. It can reset your body while removing waste with the glymphatic system. When you’re in your waking hours, according to some, toxic proteins that cause Alzheimer’s disease can build up. When you sleep, you eliminate some of these, thereby preventing this type of dementia (as much as you can of course).
  4. Remember Clean Eating – There are plenty of people who encourage clean eating. They say don’t eat too many prepackaged foods and focus on whole foods like fruits and veggies. These will provide fiber to help you to get everything moving (so you’re not constipated), and they also provide healthy vitamins and antioxidants that can kill off toxins and harmful free radicals. There are even some whole foods like dandelion for example, that claim to be cleansers in and of themselves. Try a glass of green tea to really kick it off with more antioxidants and a little caffeine.

Can You Get Too Much Omega?

Omega has been long associated with healthy. When we hear omega, we think of all of those heart healthy good fats, but it is actually a bit more complicated. Yes, there are omega fatty acids that are extremely healthy, but most Americans actually get TOO MUCH omega-6, which can actually be potentially dangerous. This doesn’t mean that you should throw all omega fatty acids away. Just keep in mind a few basic facts.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Most of the hype surrounding omega fatty acids is specifically about omega-3. They contain an essential fatty acid called alpha linolenic acid, and it is commonly found in salmon, sardines, tuna, walnuts, flaxseed, and other healthy foods. With powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory benefits, omega-3 does have quite a few major heart healthy benefits. In fact, it reduces the risk of heart disease, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriasis, asthma, and other disorders in some cases. Of course, depending on the severity, you should still work with your doctor. This is just a dietary aid.

Omega 6 Fatty Acids

Omega 6 don’t get as much attention, but they deserve some. Containing linoleic acid, you can find omega-6 in seeds, nuts, vegetable oils, etc. They are healthier than trans fats according to experts like Kelly Hogan RD of the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. They are typically healthier than saturated fats from animals.

Omega 6 fatty acids also come with arachidonic acid, which can cause inflammation, which can lead to blood clots, arthritis, and heart disease over time. This could also increase the risk of cancer. So yes, it can be healthy, but everything in moderation.

The typical American diet has an omega-6 to omega-3 ratio is about 15 to one. Many experts recommend a ratio of four to one to one or even two to one. This is similar to the Mediterranean diet, which is actually one of the most successful diets that people are likely to actually stick to.

Reducing Omega-6 And Better Health

The right balance can be complicated. Knowing if you’re getting too many omega-6 fatty acids as compared to omega-3’s can be complicated, and it can at the same point be extremely vital. So what do you do?

For one thing, you do what has been commonly said as common sense. You cut back on prepackaged foods, which often come with various chemicals that your body doesn’t need as well as trans fats. Try whole foods such as lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables. Second, try cutting down oil, even vegetable oils. Yes, you can use vegetable oils, but you can minimize it to the amount you actually need to cook. The exception would be flaxseed oil, which should be refrigerated and can’t be heated. Otherwise, even vegetable oils like olive oil can be too much with omega-6.

Finally, you should stick to the ideas proposed when it comes to omega-3’s. Try fish (or if you don’t like fish, fish oil or omega-3 supplements). It’s all about balance, and the best ideal would be to have at least 400 to 600mg of DHA (which is brain healthy). Vegetarians and vegans can also use supplements derived from algae so as not to use the fish as well as flaxseed, chia seeds, and hemp. It doesn’t have to be complicated, just balanced, and it is possible for any healthy diet to have that balance.

The Newest HIV Breakthrough

We’ve had ups and downs as of late in the fight against HIV/AIDS. On one hand, we found that a man who was previously thought cured by a bone marrow transplant is actually still infected. On the other hand, it has come out just recently in the annual Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI) in Boston that the second baby born with HIV has been declared virus free with early, aggressive treatment.

Scientists are of course, cautiously optimistic. According to Reilly O’Neal, editor of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s blog BETA, That case is definitely intriguing. The baby was tested with incredibly sensitive tests. The case supports the idea that very early treatment has the potential to dramatically reduce HIV reservoirs (the genetic code of the virus that ‘hides’ in the body), which are a major obstacle in curing HIV.

The famous second baby was cured in Los Angeles after receiving no prenatal care when born last year with a HIV positive mother. They have found that treating the pregnant mother prenatal can actually reduce the transmission of HIV in the first place. Just 4 hours after the baby was born, it was given an antiretroviral cocktail which was previously used in Mississippi 3 years ago with the first baby cured. 9 months later, there is no sign of any infection. However, she continues on treatment.

Be cautiously optimistic though. Yes, this baby is thought to be cured, but it does not necessarily mean that we have found a cure for anyone but possibly newborns. In addition, one of the doctors involved, Yvonne Bryson, an infectious disease specialist at the Mattel Children’s Hospital UCLA said to the audience at CROI, We don’t know if the baby is in remission, but it looks like that. The real definitive proof would be if the treatment stopped and you did not see the HIV virus coming back.

Of course, you have to ask, is it okay to withdraw treatment? When is it ethically okay to do so to see if it comes back? When treatment was stopped at 18 months, the Mississippi baby showed no signs of HIV 5 months later. There are currently 200 babies born with HIV in the US annually. In April, NIAID plans to fund a series of trials with babies treated for the virus and carefully taken off the powerful drugs under highly controlled conditions.

There are a small number of people who have been found to actually be resistant, or even immune to HIV. Their immune cells do not have CCR5, which acts as the gateway for the HIV virus. Again though, it seems that while the effects can be temporarily effective in transplanting these cells into others, they may not be a cure. Timothy Brown, the Berlin Patient received a bone marrow transplant for leukemia from a patient who had this mutation, and it was thought that he was cured for quite a while as it did modify his cells. He was the patient who recently saw the HIV virus reemerge.

Of course, especially in poorer countries, gene therapy may be particularly difficult to really introduce on a widescale basis. Some of those poorer countries also seem to be among the hardest hit. There are plenty of other studies though that suggest that there may be serious potential.

In a study recently released, researchers used 750 mixed HIV mixed status couples who were having unprotected sex. No cases of HIV transmission were found when the positive partner used the antiretroviral therapy. Of course, this could be huge. If you could literally cure millions of people, this could be a significant breakthrough we’ve been waiting for years for. Just keep in mind that we are still ultimately years away from knowing, but all the progress gives hope and good news for now about a day when we could be HIV free.

Is Inflammation Hurting Your Health?

Ever heard of antioxidants? They talk about free radicals, but what it comes down to is inflammation. Inflammation gets a pretty bad rap, and it’s associated with everything from basic pain to cancer. It has been strongly associated with heart disease, and Danish researchers have also connected it to depression and mood disorders, which were previously connected solely to chemical imbalances and other mental issues. Some think that inflammation is the root cause of evil when it comes to disease and health. So is this really that important, and more importantly, if it is, how do you prevent or fight inflammation? It could be life or death after all. It may be in the food you eat.

The Inflammatory Process

Inflammation is used by the body as a natural mechanism to protect itself. When you face injury, fever, etc, the body can experience swelling, redness, and inflammation along with hotness in the body’s attempt to protect itself and treat itself. However, chronic inflammation (not just associated with say a sprained ankle) is not natural, and it can cause more damage over time. The body is trying to deal with harmful cells, but it should be seen as a serious cause for concern.

Steven Masley MD, author of the 30 Day Heart Tune Up says, Inflammation means to ignite or set afire. If your joints are inflamed, they’re hot and painful. If your brain is inflamed, it shrinks and you could get Alzheimer’s. In other words, if there’s inflammation in the brain, it could potentially lead to brain damage that could lead to Alzheimer’s, cancer, and other issues. There are countless extremes of inflammation, and it’s no joke. Are we just doomed to deal with it forever?

The Causes of Inflammation

There are various causes of inflammation, a lot of which come down to lifestyle. Yes, injuries like a sprained ankle can be difficult. However, what you eat, what you wear, smoking, alcohol, and other lifestyle habits can have a big impact on inflammation. Stress can significantly increase inflammation, weakening the immune system and immune cells and function, even if there is no infection, which is part of some incidents of chronic inflammation.

You may be surprised to know that something as simple as having too much insulin in the body could actually cause inflammation. In other words, spikes in insulin could cause inflammation, which could actually lead to diabetes and other health issues, not just the extra weight we’ve been taught to think about as the first problem in a list of many.That’s not all. Mix insulin with sugar and it can actually get lethal. When you add sugar to the mix, according to researchers, your body can create an exponential amount of cytokines.

The problem is that there is no one pathway to inflammation. There are multiple things that can lead to inflammation and related disease.

How to Fight Inflammation

Start with diet and exercise. Diet and exercise may seem simple (and yet lifestyle changes can be extremely complicated), but it is one of the most effective ways to fight inflammation in your everyday life. You don’t need a special pill or a special routine. It may not be commonsense with the way most of us live our lives now, but if you can get into a healthy routine, it can prevent a slew of problems.

If you get just 2.5 hours of moderate exercise per week, you can lower inflammation by 12%. At Ohio State University, they have shown that 12 weeks of regular yoga can reduce inflammation by 20% in breast cancer survivors (likely by reducing stress).

A healthy diet plan can fight inflammation, with fruits and vegetables and other foods with antioxidants providing more potent effects. Berries, broccoli, take your pick. You can get a lot of different tastes and a variety in your diet that you would not find in many diets that do not have as many antioxidants or other health benefits.

The Bottom Line

There are plenty of things that can cause or contribute to inflammation. At some point, you may need medical intervention to fight the effects of inflammation. As you may have noticed throughout this blog though, healthy lifestyle habits early on can help to prevent a lot of those issues from becoming too serious.