Dr. Allan Spreen, MD

  1. Can stress make your allergies worse?

    They say stress is a killer, but researchers at Ohio State University found that it can also make your allergies worse (hard to say which is the lesser of two evils!).

    In a study of 28 men and women with hay fever, researchers found that when made to do high-stress tasks (in this case, give a ten minute speech and answer math questions in front of people), allergic reactions tested 75 to 100 percent higher than during periods of low stress.

    In fact, they were up to four times more likely to still show signs of allergic reaction the following day.

    So, for you seasonal allergy sufferers…here’s one more reason to keep tabs on your stress levels and maintain an even keel.

  2. Hands off my prostate!

    My colleague, Dr. William Campbell Douglass must be dancing a jig. A long-time opponent of unnecessary medical testing, the mainstream has finally come around to his way of thinking…at least as it pertains to prostate exams.

    Although prostate cancer is the leading cause of death among American men, in many cases, the tumors grow so slowly that, rather than treat the disease, doctors opt for “watchful waiting.”In other words, they postpone treatment and keep an eye on the progression of the disease. Only moving into “treatment mode” if and when the disease worsens.

    But the latest research (at least as far as the mainstream is concerned) shows that prostate cancer treatments may actually do more harm than the disease itself. Leaving many men incontinent, impotent or both—especially for men over 75.

    And now, there’s evidence that doctors should stop doing routine prostate screening for men in this same age group as well. Of course, Dr. Douglass would tell you mammograms and all needle biopsies should come to an end as well—but I suppose we’ll have to accept our small victories when we can.

    The PSA test, long considered a standard for prostate screening, has been shown to indicate false positives anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of the time. Leading to painful and unnecessary biopsies that often turn up nothing.

    And in a prepared statement, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, wrote that they “could not find adequate proof that early detection leads to fewer men dying of the disease.”

    In fact, a recent study showed that among men who were diagnosed with prostate cancer and chose to forgo treatment, most were still alive 10 years later, without significant symptoms. Or they had died of unrelated causes.

    So what does this mean for you? It means if you’re over 75, it’s worth asking your doctor if a prostate screening is really necessary. Especially, if you’re living without any obvious symptoms like pain, incontinence or difficulty urinating.

    And if you’ve already been diagnosed with prostate cancer, depending upon which treatment options your doctor has suggested, you may want to ask your doctor if “watchful waiting” might be an appropriate course of action for you.

  3. Treating babies for erectile dysfunction?

    When a drug has FDA approval to treat one condition, but is then prescribed by a doctor to treat another, it‘s called an "off-label" use. It‘s nothing new. In fact, contrary to what logic would dictate, the FDA is actually all for it. And, although drug companies are strictly forbidden to market their products for off-label uses, there‘s nothing to stop them from sending the results of their (often-biased) studies to doctors showing that "drug A" may actually be very helpful in treating "condition B." For example, the cancer drug Avastin is sometimes prescribed to treat macular degeneration, the anti-seizure drug Neurontin is sometimes used to treat hot flashes in menopausal women... ...and doctors at the All Children‘s Hospital in St. Petersburg, FL are treating babies with Viagra. No, these babies aren‘t being treated for erectile dysfunction (incidentally, the only condition that Viagra has approval for). They‘re being treated for pulmonary hypertension - a condition that affects approximately one in every 500-700 newborns. Pulmonary hypertension is the constriction or obstruction of the arteries in a newborn baby‘s lungs. This prevents the proper flow of blood and oxygen throughout the body - a potentially serious condition. Especially for a newborn. Viagra, it seems, works for a baby‘s lungs the same way it works in a man‘s penis - by opening up the constricted arteries and allowing blood to flow where it needs to flow. However, Viagra also carries many of the same risks for babies that it does for grown men. Including a dangerous drop in blood pressure, which can lead to unconsciousness. Appalling to say the least!, But even more importantly, what kind of long-term effects does this kind of treatment have on the tiny developing body of a newborn? No one knows. So it begs the question... Did anyone in the medical mainstream think to try a natural alternative? Especially when a completely natural amino acid like l-arginine can have the same benefits with none of the side-effects. It works essentially the same way Viagra does, opening blood vessels, allowing them to carry blood to the penis. And studies have even shown that men supplementing with l-arginine have seen dramatic improvement in erectile dysfunction. It would follow then, that l-arginine might be a far less risky solution for the treatment of pulmonary hypertension in babies. But did anyone in the medical mainstream think to try a natural alternative? Of course not.
  4. The Benefits of Fish Oil

    Fish oil‘s back in the news — and for a good reason. The list of benefits is getting longer and longer. As you know, fish oil is rich in the omega-3 essential fatty acids EPA and DHA. Both of which are also known to help support healthy circulation, cholesterol levels and promote healthy skin, hair and nails. But some very preliminary research, conducted at the University of Surrey and published in Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics, show that EPA and DHA may be of help to people with insulin resistance as well. In a very small pilot study, supplements consisting of 440mg of EPA and 660mg of DHA were shown to increase insulin sensitivity…a tremendous benefit to patients with diabetes. It‘s too soon and this was too small a study to draw any solid correlations…but I will keep you posted as research on the topic becomes available.
  5. GSK dubs natural fountain of youth a drug

    Why does science have to continually move in and poke its nose where Nature‘s already got things covered? A number of recent studies have shown that the people who eat the fewest daily calories tend to live the longest. Theories assume that, less food means less of a tax on your body to digest it, resulting in fewer free radicals and fewer toxins. Plus, the resultant weight loss puts less stress on the heart, bones and joints. This type of extreme low-calorie eating habit - one that is roughly 30 percent below the average - puts the body into "famine" mode. Essentially, the body concentrates the majority of its energy on self-preservation. It is this switching of gears that scientists believe may account for the resultant increase in longevity. And taking this theory one step farther, scientists at Harvard Medical School think they have isolated the enzyme, called sirtuin, that acts as the switch. So, researchers went looking for substances that could increase production of sirtuin without the 30 percent drop in calorie intake typically required to produce it. In screening various substances, one antioxidant superstar came out on top, resveratrol. For the uninitiated, resveratrol is a powerful antioxidant substance found in red wine. Its popularity was sparked when a mouse study showed that resveratrol maintained health and extended the lifespan of obese and sedentary mice. In attempts to further their theories on longevity, scientists have been doing experiments with a concentrated form of resveratrol that delivers five times the strength of "regular" resveratrol, and they‘re calling it SRT501. Their initial experiments have been so successful that they‘ve caught the attention of Pharma Big Dog, GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), who has since bought the rights to the product. Here‘s where it gets my ire up... GSK could put this concentrated form of resveratrol on the market right away, sell it as the nutritional supplement that it is and compete with the other natural health companies out there who‘re already selling it. Or, they can reach into their deep wallets, seek an FDA approval and have it classified as a drug. In which case not only can they charge whatever they want for it, but they would likely own all rights to health claims regarding resveratrol as well. A no brainer of a choice for GSK. The only potentially saving grace in this situation, is that the FDA doesn‘t recognize "longevity extenders" as a class of drug. So, in order to make this plan work, they will have to tie SRT501 to the treatment or prevention of a recognized disease. Otherwise, they have no basis for seeking an approval. No approval means no money, so GSK has moved on to plan B. They‘ve begun research on SRT501‘s effects on type II diabetes. Will it work? That‘s a good question. But if history has proven anything, when it comes to Big Pharma, you can finagle a study to confirm just about any theory if you spend enough money on it. In the mean time, whether you‘re already taking resveratrol or you‘ve been thinking about giving it a try, it‘s probably a good time to stock up. It might not be too long before this inexpensive natural wonder becomes a hundred-dollar-a-month prescription drug!
  6. Watermelon instead of Viagra?

    If researchers at Texas A&M University have their way, you might be tossing out your Viagra and replacing it with a delicious slice of watermelon. More than just a thirst-quenching summertime treat, it seems the rind of watermelon is rich in a substance called citrulline. Citrulline helps the body produce an amino acid called l-arginine, which works similarly to Viagra-by opening blood vessels and allowing blood to flow into the penis for strong erections. The difference is, citrulline is completely natural and actually relaxes blood vessels throughout the body. So not only could it be good for sex, but for gently lowering blood pressure as well. Right now there isn‘t quite enough citrulline in an average slice of watermelon to have much of an impact. But researchers are working to modify watermelons so they‘ll produce more of this potential Viagra alternative.
  7. Using one disease to cure another

    It reminds me of something I saw in a science fiction film a while back. They shrank a man small enough to be injected into another man‘s body...so he could fly around in a tiny spaceship and blast away "bad things." Now, replace the tiny man and his tiny spaceship with specially "trained" viruses and believe it or not, we‘re back into reality. Researchers at the Ohio State University comprehensive Cancer Center have modified a common virus to pass through healthy cells and destroy cancer cells. The virus is able to pass into the cancer cell and then replicate itself several times over until the cancer cell literally explodes. So far animal studies targeting brain cancer cells have shown great promise. According to researcher Dr. Balveen Kaur, "Even at the late stage of their tumor, burden has led to significant enhancement and survival, and sometimes even cures of some animals." The biggest challenge with the treatment, so far, is that often times the body‘s own immune system kills off the viruses before they can kill off the cancer. So Dr. Kaur is looking into ways to slow down the immune system just enough to allow the specialized viruses to do their work. Although animal studies have been pretty successful, human studies are still a ways off. However, the treatment has worked successfully in healthy human brain tissue and appears to be safe. Additional studies are looking at a two-pronged approach where the "trained" virus would be used in conjunction with drugs that prevent cancerous tumors from growing new blood vessels - essentially starving them and then attacking them. Special thanks to the old sci-fi films for the life-saving idea. Now if we could just get our hands on the flying cars!
  8. Red wine - is there anything it cant do?

    Apparently not. With the discovery and popularity of the powerful antioxidant, resveratrol, red wine has received more than its fair share of media time lately. And not without merit. Some of the health benefits attributed to red wine are improved heart health, better circulation, overall longevity—even cancer prevention. Unfortunately, to get a truly beneficial dose of resveratrol, one would have to drink gallons upon gallons of wine—a model with an obvious set of detriments. Resveratrol supplements are one solution. But a new red wine flour may hold another. Using a proprietary process, Northern Light Food Processing, removes the oil from the seeds and skin of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Then takes what‘s left of the grape to create healthful, antioxidant-rich flour that can be used in just about any baked good. Removing the oil helps increase the shelf life. And when baked into bread, it lasts an average of six days longer than bread made without the flour. But the shelf life is not what makes this new flour so exciting. It‘s the nutritional profile. Using about five to 10 percent wine flour, two slices of bread yields about 52 grams of fiber, 70 percent of the day‘s worth of calcium, 710 percent of a day‘s iron, four grams of omega-6 and .2 grams of omega 3. Plus you get a hefty dose of protein and powerful antioxidant proanthocyanidins. The only drawback, it seems, is the purple color the flour adds to the bread. So it‘s better suited to darker breads like wheat and rye. But the flour has already been sold in Canada and is currently being test marketed in the U.S. So keep your eye out for wine bread…coming soon to a grocery store shelf near you!
  9. Prunes -- not just for BMs anymore

    Have you heard the latest on prunes? Well, for one, they‘re no longer called prunes— they‘re dried plums. I guess someone decided "dried plums" sounded more appetizing than prunes. He may be right, but that‘s not the big news… It seems prunes…err…dried plums aren‘t just for regularity anymore. According to a recent article, published in the Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry, they may actually help combat osteoporosis as well. Osteoporosis is a disease, commonly afflicting postmenopausal women, that leads to a decrease in bone density—leaving bones weaker and more susceptible to breaks and fractures. Typical treatments include vitamin D and calcium supplements, which can be difficult to digest and absorb. As well as a highly toxic (and only marginally effective) class of drugs called bisphosphonates. But when researchers took mouse cells and introduced antioxidant substances from the dried plums, called polyphenols, results showed an increased production in the enzymes responsible for bone formation. Plus, they also found a decrease in the production of enzymes linked to bone loss. This could be great news for osteoporosis sufferers who are in search of less "toxic" options. In an effort to validate and further these findings, Florida State University researchers launched a similar study to examine the respective benefits of both dried plums and dried apples. They hope to isolate the exact compounds responsible for these bone-building benefits and use them to create a natural supplement. If successful, their work may provide an alternative solution, to the short list of options, to help fight against osteoporosis. In the meantime, if you ask me, whole foods are your best source for "good stuff." So, whether you‘re regular or not, whether you‘ve got osteoporosis or not, dried plums are still extremely high in antioxidants and they‘re a great source of dietary fiber. Get yourself a box and enjoy!
  10. Do not forget the ALA

    Offering benefits to the heart, nervous system, skin, hair and nails -- the omega-3 essential fatty acids (EFAs) made their way into the mainstream vernacular some time ago. And as a result, fatty fish like tuna and salmon have seen an increase in popularity they haven‘t seen since Starkist introduced Charlie (sorry Charlie). But while our fishy friends provide plentiful amounts of the fatty acids EPA and DHA, they fall short on another oft forgotten omega-3 called ALA. Found in both flaxseed and Salba seeds (among other plant sources), ALA provides cardiovascular protection, promotes healthy cholesterol levels, supports the nervous system, promotes healthy inflammatory response and helps boost the immune system. So, enjoy your fish. But don‘t forget your ALA-rich plants and seeds as well!
  11. Do Not Add Milk To Your Tea?

    Adding milk to your tea may block the tea‘s natural heart-healthy properties according to a recent study, conducted at the Charité medical school in Berlin, Germany, reported in the European Heart Journal. The study looked at black tea specifically. Which scientists have long known has the ability to relax the heart and arteries – helping to lower blood pressure and improve overall heart health. However, the proteins found in milk completely blocked this effect. So, while a little honey in your tea is just fine, if you‘re looking to improve your health with the help of black tea, you might want to leave out the milk!
  12. Cancer-fighting chicken?

    Apples are good for us, so we eat apples. Vitamins are good for us, so we take vitamins. If we get sick, there are medications we might need to take. And when we‘re thirsty, we drink water. Yet, for some reason, a potentially powerful, cancer-fighting extract, found in the oil of cotton seeds, is going a completely different route. The extract is called gossypol and in well-controlled lab tests on breast cancer tissue, it slowed the growth of cancer by up to 94 percent. Granted, positive lab results don‘t always translate into similar results in human trials. But rather than create a pill, potion or powder containing gossypol, researchers want to add the substance to chicken feed. No, not to stave off breast cancer in chickens. But they figure, if the chickens eat the gossypol and then people eat the chickens (and their eggs), they‘ll be absorbing all the cancer-fighting nutrients as well. Interesting. So there may come a day when a doctor‘s prescription goes something like, "Got cancer? Eat two chickens and call me in the morning." It‘s a unique approach to say the least. But it begs a number of questions. Like, how much would these chickens cost? And would this powerful cancer-fighter offset the affects of all the chemicals and hormones already in the chicken? Would one need a prescription for such a chicken? How would they stuff it into one of those little brown bottles? This may not necessarily turn out to be a bad thing. But it reeks of incredibility. I‘m going to keep my eye on this one…and I‘ll be sure to keep you posted.
  13. Chewing may help ward off dementia

    Seems like an odd correlation, but Japanese scientists say it‘s there. They noted that as we age, cells in the hippocampus begin to break down. The hippocampus is the area of the brain most closely associated with short-term memory. They also noted that people tend to lose their teeth as they age...reducing the ability to chew. So the scientists put an interesting theory to the test. In mouse studies, mice with their molars removed showed significantly poorer memory skills than mice with their teeth in tact. The team then used magnetic imaging to scan people‘s brains while they chewed. The imaging showed significant increases in brain signals in the hippocampus while chewing took place...yet no one seems to understand why. In the mean time...perhaps you should keep a pack of gum handy to help improve your memory.
  14. Silver…not so precious anymore

    My colleague, William Campbell Douglass, MD, is somewhere dancing a jig in celebration. After a decade-long battle between the FDA and a fistful of consumer advocacy groups, the FDA has announced that mercury amalgam fillings may be harmful to some people. Dr. Douglass has been telling his readers the same for more than 30 years…minus the caveat about "some people." Mercury itself has been linked to neurological disorders and kidney disease. While the amalgam fillings, which are about 50 percent mercury, can be linked to diseases like Alzheimer‘s and multiple sclerosis, according to some consumer advocacy groups. As part of a settlement with advocacy groups, the FDA has agreed to post information about the dangers of mercury fillings on their website, with the potential next year for stricter usage guidelines and/or restrictions. In a new notice posted on their site, the FDA states:
    Dental amalgams contain mercury, which may have neurotoxic effects on the nervous system of developing children and fetuses. When amalgam fillings are placed in teeth or removed from teeth, they release mercury vapor. Mercury vapor is also released during chewing. FDA‘s rulemaking…will examine evidence concerning whether release of mercury vapor can cause health problems, including neurological disorders, in children and fetuses… Pregnant women and persons who may have a health condition that makes them more sensitive to mercury exposure, including individuals with existing high levels of mercury bioburden, should not avoid seeking dental care, but should discuss options with their health practitioner.
    According to the American Dental Association, since 2003, only about 30 percent of fillings contained mercury. Newer procedures employ the use of resins, ceramics and glass. Gold can be used as well, but it‘s comparatively pricey and not as durable. The FDA stresses that those who currently have amalgam filings should not necessarily have them removed. As, in some cases, this can increase mercury exposure. That said, be sure to consult with your practitioner about available options before proceeding with any new dental work.
  15. Those antimicrobial wipes may be doing more harm than good

    As we hear more reports about "superbugs" and other evolving microbes, our obsession with antibacterial everything continues to flourish. Yet a new study shows that those antimicrobial wipes may be doing more harm than good. In efforts to control "superbugs," like MRSA, hospital protocols call for all surfaces to be cleaned with antimicrobial wipes. However, in a study conducted by the Welsh School of Pharmacy at Cardiff University, researchers found that, while the wipes successfully removed most bacteria from a given surface, the antibacterial agents do not kill off the actual microbes. So a wipe used on more than one surface may actually deposit more than it‘s clearing away. That‘s not to discount their effectiveness entirely. But it‘s important to dispose of wipes properly. And, obviously, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly after sneezing, coughing or wiping down surfaces that might carry harmful bacteria.
  16. IBS Rx is BS

    Which came first? The cure or the disease? Attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) didn‘t "exist" before the advent of FDA-approved drugs like Ritalin and Adderall…kids were just kids. Doctors all but dismissed restless leg syndrome (RLS) until all-of-a-sudden FDA- approved drugs like REQUIP and Mirapex hit the market. Today it‘s a mainstream newsworthy disease affecting millions. And fibromyalgia sufferers were told "it‘s all in your mind" until the FDA let Lyrica loose on the medical scene. Now dozens of cases of unexplained pain can be treated with this "miracle." Well, we can add a new drug to this list of which-came-first diseases as the FDA gave Amitiza a wink and a nod for the treatment of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). IBS affects between 10 and 15 percent of the population and can involve gas, pain, bloating, constipation and diarrhea. Amitiza, however, is designed to help only those women who have the form of IBS that causes constipation…but not other symptoms, like diarrhea. And it was shown to be effective for 20 percent of the women studied…after a week of use. In other words, the FDA has just approved a prescription-only constipation drug…that needs a week to be effective. Don‘t have the time or the inclination to get a prescription? No problem…you can find prune juice and fiber supplements on just about any grocery store shelf. Plus, my colleague, Dr. Alan Inglis, has been treating constipation with magnesium supplements for years…and with fantastic results. If that doesn‘t do the trick, there are any number of OTC laxatives that can get things moving as well. Heck, even a cup of coffee will sometimes do the trick. That‘s not to downplay the torments of women who are truly suffering through IBS. It is very real and can be rather debilitating. However, best as I can tell, Amitiza is not an IBS drug…it‘s a constipation drug. But they happened to test it on women with IBS, so now they get to market it as such. My opinion? Don‘t bother.
  17. Help prevent sunburns?

    I‘ve written several times on the benefits of a diet high in antioxidants for protection against sun-damaged skin. But a new study shows that, the powerful antioxidant, beta-carotene, may help prevent actual sunburns as well. In a recent meta-analysis, seven studies showed that supplementing with beta-carotene for at least 10 weeks provided skin protection with an approximate SPF of four. However, the study went on to show that, the protection level increased for each additional week of supplementation. And while beta-carotene is not meant to be a replacement for responsible sunscreen use, it is a fantastic natural way to further protect your skin from the inside out.
  18. Tea for type 2...

    New hope for type 2 diabetics may be found lurking in both tea cups and wine glasses alike. A University of Massachusetts study found that the polyphenols found in both wine and tea have a beneficial effect on alpha-glucosidase-an enzyme responsible for the absorption of glucose in the small intestine. For the study, researchers looked at four kinds of red and white wine and four types of tea (black, green, white and oolong). Results showed that red wine inhibited alpha-glucosidase by almost 100 percent.White wine showed only a 20 percent reduction while black tea, the most active of the four teas tested, came in at over 90 percent. White tea and oolong tea came in at a close second and third with 87 and 80 percent respectively. Many of the more common diabetes treatments are designed to inhibit alpha-glucosidase production, so these findings show great promise for developing a natural solution for people with type 2 diabetes. Neither wine nor tea had any effect (or only minimal effects) on alpha-amylase levels. Alpha-amylase is an enzyme used in the small intestine to break down starches and is usually inhibited along with alpha-glucosidase by a lot of the more conventional medications. Another key point in favor of this natural approach. Although these findings are both significant and promising, one obvious limitation is that the study was done in vitro. And although animal and human clinical studies are on the horizon, it‘ll be quite some time before your doctor prescribes a bottle of merlot to help treat your diabetes. In the mean time, both tea and red wine get to add another feather in their respective caps for yet another fantastic health benefit!
  19. Can not put down the sweets?

    Can‘t put down the sweets? A study conducted by University of Toronto shows it‘s not your fault. It turns out they‘ve identified a gene, aptly named glucose transporter type 2, or GLUT2, that plays a key role in sugar intake. And people with a particular variation of this gene are significantly more likely to consume sugar than others. Although it‘s not an excuse for throwing all dietary caution to the wind, those of us who find it tough to turn down a dessert, can stop beating ourselves up for lack of will power...it‘s simply part our genetic code!
  20. Has MRSA met its match in a cup of tea?

    Green tea is well-known for its powerful antioxidants and the dozens of health benefits that come along with them. But Egyptian scientists were "stunned" to discover that green tea increased the effectiveness of certain antibiotics by as much as 99.99%...even when pitted against antibiotic-resistant strains of bacteria. The 12-month, in vitro study was conducted by a research team lead by Dr. Mervat Kassem, of the Faculty of Pharmacy at Alexandria University in Egypt. The results show that green tea boosted the performance of several antibiotics used in the treatment of 28 different disease-causing bacteria -- including several strains of Staphylococcus. For example, 20 percent of previously drug-resistant bacteria were killed when green tea was combined with cephalosporin. This is great news because Cephalosporin is a widely used antibiotic - however many strains of bacteria have developed immunity against it. Green tea was also shown to effectively support the antibiotics tetracycline, cefuroxime and it helped prevent the production of beta-lactamases-substances produced by bacteria allowing them to develop resistance to antibiotics. Not only does this show new hope for fighting off previously resistant strains of bacteria, but it may allow doctors to cut down on the amount of antibiotics prescribed. Naturally, additional green tea studies are on the horizon. And Dr. Kassem‘s team plans to look at other herbs, like thyme and marjoram, to see if they have similar effects as well. The 12-month study is currently under peer review, but is scheduled to be published in the European Journal of Clinical Microbiology and Infectious Diseases.

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