Dr. Allan Spreen, MD

  1. Try vitamin E to protect against memory loss

    It happens to all of us from time to time. You forget a friend’s birthday, flake out on an important appointment, or blank on where you parked your car.

    Sure, brain burps might be common, but that doesn’t make them any less troubling when they happen. It’s hard to not wonder if those little memory slips aren’t the first sign of something far more serious down the road.

    Just a couple of weeks ago I sang the praises of vitamin E as a weapon against Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers showed that the simple vitamin worked better than a popular Alzheimer’s’ drug at preserving people’s ability to perform everyday life tasks longer. If you missed that issue, click here to catch up.

    Well, when it comes to supporting our brains, it turns out that vitamin E doesn’t quit there. According to a new study, published in the journal Experimental Gerontology, if you’re a senior you now have another reason to get more of the vital vitamin into your diet.

    For eight years Finnish scientists followed 140 volunteers who were over 65, and who had no memory impairment at the start of the study. It turns out that the seniors who had high serum vitamin E levels were less likely to suffer from memory disorders than their peers with lower levels.

    You can get more vitamin E in your diet by eating almonds, sunflower seeds, and leafy greens like spinach, chard, and turnip greens. But to really boost your levels consider taking a supplement. Other memory supporting nutrients you might want to add to the mix are Ginkgo Biloba, vitamin B-12, Vinpocentine, DMAE, and inositol.

  2. Could type-2 diabetes & Alzheimer’s be the same disease?

    Diabetes and Alzheimer’s; one of these diseases isn’t just like the other—scientists   say it may actually BE the other.

    This isn’t the first time we’ve connected high insulin levels and the debilitating form of dementia known as Alzheimer’s. We knew they were linked, but we just didn’t know how, exactly. But this is the first time research has connected diabetes and Alzheimer’s so closely that they’re believed to be different stages of the very same disease.

    According to researchers at the University of Albany in New York, Alzheimer’s is actually an advanced stage of type-2 diabetes. And this finding would help explain why up to an estimated 75 percent of type-2 diabetics do eventually end up with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis.

    The research team believes that the excess insulin produced by diabetics is finding its way into the brain. Once there, it is wreaking havoc, disrupting brain chemistry and knocking critical chemicals out of balance. Eventually those super-high insulin levels lead to the tangled up brain proteins we know as beta amyloid plaques.

    And those plaques, of course, are the hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease.

    Elevated insulin poisons your brain cells

    This game-changing discovery was made when researchers gave a group of lab rats diabetes by feeding them a junk food diet. They then gave the clever little critters some memory tests. They found that as the rats diabetes became worse, so did their scores on the memory tests.

    Later, when they took a look at the rat’s brains, they quickly spotted the problem. The rodent’s noodles were riddled with those amyloid plaques I mentioned earlier.

    The scientists say those plaques are the direct result of a short-circuited enzyme building up in the brain, rather than breaking down the proteins as they would in a normal non-diabetic brain. And I’ll give you one guess what it is that causes those enzymes to start misfiring in the first place.

    If you said insulin, then you’ve been paying attention.

    Lead study researcher Ewan McNay told Medical Daily, “High levels of insulin swamp this enzyme so that it stops breaking down amyloid. The latter then accumulates until it forms toxic clumps that poison brain cells.”

    He went on to confirm that it’s the very same amyloid build up to blame in both diseases, and that type-2 diabetics actually have low level Alzheimer’s. In other words, Alzheimer’s is essentially type-3 diabetes.

    If you’ve been struggling with your own blood sugar problems, and this news scares you… well, good, it should.

    Now don’t misunderstand me. This discovery doesn’t mean that you’re doomed to a future of dementia. But what it does mean is that it’s time to step-up your efforts to get those numbers under control.

    And the good news is I can help you do just that with my simple-to-follow three step plan.

    Avoiding Alzheimer’s may be as easy as 1, 2, 3

    Let’s kick things off with step number one. To bring your own blood-sugar levels back under control, the best place to start is with the basics. Good nutrition is always the key to good health, and it’s no different with diabetes. If you haven’t already changed your diet, it’s time to get started.

    But don’t worry, the changes aren’t going to be anywhere near as painful as you imagine. As I’ve explained before, a diet that’s high in healthy (and delicious!) fats, but low in added sugars and simple carbs is vital to maintaining a healthy weight and brain, as well as healthy cholesterol and blood sugar numbers.

    That means more organic meats, fish, and fresh dairy. And while you’re at it, you can add in some tasty walnuts, cocoa, and berries. (Hmm, doesn’t sound much like denying yourself at all, does it?)

    Now I know the anti-fat police have been trying to drum something different into your head for years now. But they’re just flat out wrong. And even the mainstream medicine lemmings are finally starting to see the light on this one. (Heck, even Dr. Oz caved in and finally admitted that eating lots of healthy fats and limiting carbs is the way to go.)

    Step number two is to remove your rear from the seat and start moving. Now I’m not talking about a seven day a week gym habit (unless for some reason that’s your thing), I’m talking about finding something active that you love to do, and doing it more often.

    Naturally, with my background as a diving coach, you’re likely to find me in the pool. But perhaps you prefer hanging out on the golf course, going on bike tours or gardening. Whatever your passion is, just do it—and MORE of it!

    And step number three is to add some blood-sugar supporting nutrients to your routine. Chromium, biotin, cinnamon, vitamin D-3, magnesium, green coffee extract, curcumin, Gymnema sylvestre, and berberine are all great natural choices for supporting healthy blood sugar.

    Work with a doctor skilled in natural medicine to figure out the right combination of supplements for you, and you can deal type-2 AND “type-3” diabetes the one two punch.

  3. Sleeping pill risks--Could your sleeping pill kill you?

    You can’t sleep. You’re lying awake staring at the ceiling. And frankly, as the minutes tick by you’re starting to feel a little desperate to get some shut eye before the sun comes up. What do you do? If you said reach for a sleeping pill, you’re not alone. In fact, millions of Americans—or one in four—take a sleep aid every year. But could you be trading in a night of tossing and turning for a dangerous, or even deadly, heart attack? As bizarre as it sounds, if you take prescription sleeping pills a shocking new study on the risks of sleeping pills finds that you very well may be doing just that. Researchers have linked the multi-billion-dollar sleep drug Ambien to a staggering fifty-percent increase in heart-attack risk. And while this is the first time the drug has been directly linked to heart problems, it isn’t the first time Ambien has come under fire. In fact, it was nearly a year ago that I first warned you about a bizarre new side effect linked to the drug—next day impairment. Some Ambien users who took the drug to sleep at night were unknowingly driving high, and doing other everyday activities, all while still under the influence of the drug the next morning. The reports were so shocking that the typically complacent FDA even arose from its slumber and spoke up. The usually drug-friendly organization issued a warning of their own, and forced the manufacturer to slash their recommended dosage of Ambien in half for women, and strongly encouraged changes for men, too. And another earlier study found that sleeping pill users (including those taking Ambien) are more likely to develop cancer than non-users. Even worse, they’re five times more likely to die young!

    Heart-attack risk skyrocketed!

    But now Taiwanese scientists say, if you take the drug on a regular basis, downing the equivalent of 60 of the pills in a year (not at all difficult for a chronic insomniac), you could unwittingly send your heart-attack risk shooting through the roof—causing it to skyrocket by as much as 50 percent. And if you’re a more moderate user, don’t start celebrating yet. Just four standard-dose pills could cause your risk to soar by around 20 percent, according to the study. Researchers compared 5,000 heart attack victims to 20,000 healthy adults. And to everyone’s surprise, they found a significantly higher rate of heart attacks in people who were taking zolpidem, the generic name for the active ingredient in Ambien.

    Shocking sleeping pill risks and side effects

    But potential sleep-drug-side-effects don’t stop there, not by a long shot. In one study, zolpidem was shown to increase a healthy adult’s fall risk by 27 percent. And if you’re a senior taking the drug, your fall risk could shoot up by 58 percent, according to the same study. Sleeping pills risks have also been linked to a 50 percent increase in dementia in seniors. And perhaps most bizarrely of all, they’ve been linked to eating, sleeping, driving, and even having sex, all while, technically, still slumbering.

    Natural shut eye tricks

    Now for the good news—you don’t need to fall into the prescription-sleep-pill trap. You can start with the most obvious change, which is to simply reduce or eliminate stimulants like coffee, soda and caffeinated teas from your diet. Next turn your bedroom into a sleep haven. Remove the TV, adjust the temperature (slightly cooler temps are usually best for sleep), try adding a white noise machine and ban stimulating backlit devices like iPads and cell phones. Make sure your bedroom is as dark as possible. Blackout shades can keep bothersome outside light from getting in. And get rid of any sneaky light sources like digital alarm clocks or blinking electronic equipment. Supplements of l-tryptophan, GABA, 5-HTP, chamomile, valerian or the hormone melatonin can be helpful, too. And, surprisingly, just 500 milligrams of simple magnesium can help a lot of people with sleep issues get some much-needed shut eye. Talk with a doctor skilled in natural medicine for advice on the best combination of natural sleep aids for your own situation. Give the natural approach a try and before you know it you’ll be slipping off to sleep without having to face the potentially devastating and deadly side effects of a sleeping pill.
  4. File this one under “uggh”

    As a NorthStar blog and Guide to Good Health reader, you already know all about the dangers of superbugs.

    And you even know that cleaning hospital surfaces more often clobbers the two most common antibiotic resistant bugs—Clostridium difficile (C. diff) and methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA)—into submission.

    But I’d be willing to bet you didn’t know that a quarter of all health-care workers are walking around with C. diff diarrhea spores stuck to their hands.

    I’ll pause while we all take a moment to shudder.

    That’s right, according to French researchers one in four health-care workers had the dirty bugs clinging to them after carrying out routine care on infected patients.

    Now, you and I would assume that health-care workers are routinely washing their hands after working with ANY patient. Well, apparently you and I would be wrong, because the recommendation to come out of the study was… wait for it… “Effective hand hygiene should be performed, even in non-outbreak settings.”

    Yes, that’s right my friend, health-care workers are being told that they really ought to break out the soap and water after they’ve touched a sick patient. You really can’t make this stuff up.
  5. Vitamin E beats Alzheimer’s drug memantine in major study

    I couldn’t believe my eyes. But there it was in black and white in The Journal of the American Medical Association study on vitamin E and Alzheimer’s. An admission by the medical establishment that plain old vitamin E—one that you can pick up for mere pennies a day—works where a mainstream drug flat out fails! A vitamin beating the socks off of a drug is not so surprising, of course. But a study that confirms it actually ever seeing the light of day—and in a major mainstream medical journal, no less—well, that’s just unheard of. According to the study on vitamin E and Alzheimer’s published in a recent edition of JAMA, vitamin E can put the brakes on the progression of Alzheimer’s disease. This is HUGE news—big enough, in fact, that you may have even heard some rumblings about it in the mainstream press. But what most of those reports failed to make clear is that the billion dollar dementia drug memantine failed miserably. Even worse, vitamin E’s apparent ability to fight off devastating Alzheimer’s symptoms was canceled out by the drug!

    Dementia drug fizzled while E sizzled

    When volunteers were given both vitamin E and memantine there was no improvement. In other words, they didn’t get the same exciting benefits as those lucky volunteers who got vitamin E alone. A total of 613 veteran volunteers, mostly men, were divided into four groups. The first group was given a large dose of vitamin E, 2,000 I.U.’s, daily. The second group got the dementia drug memantine, and the third group got both the vitamin E and drug. The final group was given a placebo. The researchers hoped that combining the vitamin with the drug would result in double the benefits. But they were shocked to find that this wasn’t the case. And the bad news didn’t end there. While the veterans who got the vitamin E alone were enjoying the benefits of the vitamin—the coveted ability to perform daily functions longer—neither the group getting the drug alone, nor the group getting the combination, saw any benefits at all. That’s right. Although the researchers didn’t bother to comment on it… and the press glossed right over it… the widely prescribed Alzheimer’s drug memantine appears to have destroyed the nutrient’s proven benefits! So the drug is worse than useless; it actually appears to be detrimental. Ah, but it gets even better… or perhaps I should say worse.

    Researchers fail by using fake vitamin E

    The clueless cretins performing the study not only failed to use a mixed tocopherol vitamin E, they didn’t even bother to use a NATURAL form of the vitamin! Yep, when you dig deeper into the study you will find that they actually admit to using synthetic d,l-alpha E. We may never know what benefits were missed out on when they made this idiotic choice, but I’m willing to bet you dimes to doughnuts that they would have been tremendous. As I’ve explained before, not just any vitamin E will do. Real vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant made up of eight distinct molecules, divided into two groups: alpha, beta, and delta tocopherols, and alpha, beta, and gamma tocotrienols. And although we don’t yet know a whole lot about each of the individual molecules, we do know that nature combined them together into these two distinct groups for a good reason. You will find vitamin E in nuts, seeds, green leafy vegetables, and certain oils. But getting enough E from diet alone can be challenging. And getting the levels used in this study from food is, of course, likely impossible (more on that, including a caution, in just a moment).

    Skip synthetics and go natural instead

    When you choose a vitamin E supplement, pick a “mixed tocopherol” version. And be sure you’re getting a natural vitamin E. A couple of years ago on the Guide to Good Health blog I shared a super-simple trick for spotting a cheap synthetic. Click here to learn what it is (look under “Getting to know the vitamin E family”). And now, let’s get back to the levels of vitamin E used in this Alzheimer’s study. I typically recommend a 400 I.U supplement of a natural mixed tocopherol vitamin E daily. I’ve always said higher amounts of the NATURAL version of the vitamin are perfectly safe and may be desirable for fighting certain diseases. And this study has even confirmed the safety and benefits of significantly higher dosages, despite using a poor synthetic version. But if someone you care about is suffering from early Alzheimer’s or dementia, don’t try vitamin E therapy on your own. Instead, seek out the help of an experienced naturopathic doctor. Alzheimer’s is a complicated disease and a naturopath will be able to tailor a personalized treatment plan for your loved one, so that he will get the most benefits possible.
  6. Compound found in grape seed extract kills cancer cells

    One of my favorite fruits is making health headlines again. Or at least its seeds are. A study on grape seed extract for cancer published in the journal Nutrition and Cancer found that an active component in grape seed extract can kill cancer cells on contact. If you’re a long time NorthStar blog or Guide to Guide Health reader you may recall that way back in 2009 I told you about grape seed extract’s ability to clobber cancer cells. That exciting research was done by University of Kansas researchers, and this new study comes to us from the University of Colorado. By far, the most active component in grape seeds is the compound called B2G2. So, not surprisingly, it’s B2G2 that the scientists focused on. They found that the compound blew away prostate cancer cells by causing them to essentially commit suicide. And, unlike sickening mainstream meds, the B2G2 left the healthy cells alone! The researchers say a human clinical trial is in the future.  Unfortunately, they will be using a synthesized version of the compound for that trial. But you can take the natural whole-food approach yourself, starting today, simply by adding more grapes to your diet. Just be sure you are choosing a seeded variety. Or you can try a real grape-seed extract, which can be found both as a stand-alone supplement and as part of a number of comprehensive anti-aging or multivitamin formulas.
  7. Get smooth, moist skin from the inside out

    In many areas of the country, January is brutally cold. Plus, the dry, warm air inside your house can make your skin feel like sandpaper. Especially if you're a postmenopausal woman. That's because as you enter your golden years, your hormone levels drop off dramatically. As a result, you've got less natural oil and moisture in your skin and hair. To boost your flagging hormones and improve dry, rough skin, I recommend you give natural progesterone cream a try. It's free from side effects (as long as you don't use so much that you cause your period to start again)...and has lots of benefits. Most women start to notice a difference in just weeks. Your skin will hold moisture better. And it will appear more youthful. Natural progesterone cream can be a bit tough to find. So look closely at the labels. Most good health food stores carry it as Mexican yam cream. But remember, progesterone cream isn't like normal skin cream that you apply to dry patches on your elbows and feet. It's a natural hormone that gets absorbed into your system. And it works from the inside out to boost your hormone levels and improve the overall feel of your skin. You'll want to use a touch of it (roughly ¼ to ½ teaspoonful) twice a day on a soft area of your skin (such as your face, inner arms, belly, or neck), as these tender spots absorb the hormone better. Apply the cream in one spot for three weeks. Then move on to a different area. Side effects from the cream are rare and usually associated with prescription progesterone, called progestin. It's a synthetic knock-off of the real stuff. Make sure you find natural (or bioidentical) cream. In a few weeks, I think you'll start to notice a big difference in the feel of your skin and hair. Even in the coldest of winters!
  8. The apple of my heart

    Fighting heart disease and slashing your risk of dying from a heart attack or stroke just got a whole lot safer and easier. Toss those side-effect linked statins and head for the produce aisle instead. A new study published in the British Medical Journal found that if we wrote a prescription for an apple a day for everyone 50 or older, we could save an astounding 8,500 lives every year in the UK alone. That puts the delicious side-effect free fruit on par with what they claim statin drugs can do. I’ll take THAT swap any day of the week!
  9. Are your vitamins and minerals REALLY useless?

    When is a study not a study? Give up? When it’s an editorial based on a mish-mash of three cherry-picked studies, with a lead author who’s done none of the actual research himself. You’ve no doubt seen the excited flurry of headlines that hit right prior to the holidays. In huge screaming fonts they deemed multivitamins and minerals “useless,” “a waste of money” and even, possibly “harmful.” And of course the mainstream media just LOVES a controversy, so they jumped on this one with both feet. There’s just one problem, there’s actually no controversy to begin with. (Okay, there are actually MANY problems… but let’s just start with this one). Who in the world would ever make the claim that by popping a single multivitamin it’s guaranteed that you’ll never experience cognitive decline, heart disease, cancer or really any chronic disease at all? No legitimate doctor, nutritionist, or researcher… regardless if they’re holistically-minded or not… would ever make such an outlandish claim. In fact, the only people I can even think of that would propose that you can simply pop a pill and be guaranteed to stay disease free are drug company execs—and the marketers that work for them, of course. Yes, what we have here is the very definition of a non-controversy.

    The brain surprise that wasn’t

    Now let’s get back to those studies on vitamins and minerals that the lead editorial writer didn’t have a blessed thing to do with. No, instead, he swooped in to ride some apparently irresistible coattails when the Annals of Internal Medicine kindly covered three studies in a single issue that found that the vitamins they used didn’t prevent certain diseases. The first study found that taking a multivitamin didn’t prevent cognitive decline in men. Yeah, that’s it. To which I reply, “Uh, no, duh.” While a good multi can certainly help top off some of the vitamins and minerals that are missing in your diet, who in their right mind would ever think it was some kind of magic bullet that gives you an invincible brain? If only good health were that simple. However, along with a healthy (organic when you can) diet, avoiding nasty chemicals and toxins, and getting up and moving, nutrients (including vitamins, minerals, and herbs) can absolutely play a critical role in your brain health. And any so-called “expert” who tells you different is just blowing hot air.

    B’s are good for your brain

    As I’ve told you many times before, B vitamins could be your brain’s best friend. In fact, earlier this year a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences confirmed that high dose B vitamins may be able to stop Alzheimer’s disease in its tracks. You can up some of your B’s by eating certain foods like shellfish and spinach—and I encourage you to do just that—but, realistically you’re not likely to get enough to make a sizable dent in your Alzheimer’s risk. For that, a supplement might be your best bet. And the way those B vitamins accomplish this cognition-preserving feat has nothing to do with a magic bullet. B’s naturally fight the homocysteine build up in your body that leads to brain shrinkage and atrophy as you age. In fact, Oxford researchers found that B vitamins can slash your homocysteine levels up to an incredible 50 percent! And just a couple of weeks ago I explained how the omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil could drive down your risk of common brain lesions that lead to cognitive decline. (If you missed that issue, catch up by clicking here to read it on the NorthStar Blog).

    Closing the case on nutrient bashing

    The second study mentioned in the editorial was actually just a review of material from earlier studies, not new research. The authors said that, according to the data they looked at, vitamin and mineral supplements don’t prevent heart disease or cancer. At the risk of repeating myself my response is, once again, “Duh.” Taking an isolated vitamin or mineral will NEVER be a guarantee that you won’t get a chronic disease. Nutrients can only help reduce your risk by filling in holes in your diet—and combined with a healthy lifestyle they can help you stay healthy… no magic bullets needed. Besides, there’s a stack of studies showing how certain supplements may indeed reduce your risk of heart disease or cancer. For example, there’s the study that showed how omega-3’s are linked to a lower risk of heart disease, the one that linked nickel and selenium to lower cancer risk, and the two studies showing that resveratrol can help fight both heart problems and cancer, to name just a few. Heck, I could fill up an entire website with evidence of the important role vitamins minerals, and herbs can play in our health—and, in fact, I have. My advice is to ignore this ridiculous vendetta against vitamins and nutrients and visit my NorthStar Blog for the real scoop, instead.
  10. Why FDA ruling won’t stop antibiotics use in farm animals

    Hold off on strapping on that party hat, and put the champagne back on ice, my friend. Looks like that “Adios to Antibiotics” party you’re planning is a bit premature. Okay, I’ll admit that when I first spotted the announcement I was ready to throw a party, too. But once I dug into the details on the FDA’s new “limitations” on antibiotic use in farm animals, well, let’s just say a party was the last thing on my mind.

    FDA’s failure to act put your health at risk

    For years now the FDA has been dragging its feet, burying its head in the sand and—let’s face it—kowtowing to the interests of the twin terrors known as Big Pharma and Big Food. Meanwhile, a looming public health crisis became a full-blown horrific reality. Antibiotic resistance didn’t sneak up on us either … not by a long shot. The reality is we’ve known for YEARS that it was a growing problem. And so has the FDA, which has been aware of the issue since 1977! I started warning my own Guide to Good Health and NorthStar blog readers that the antibiotic use in farm animals was a crisis on the verge of exploding years ago. And … KABOOM! ... It’s done just that. We’ve literally run out of drugs to treat out-of-control drug-resistant superbugs, and dosing up our food supply with antibiotics is at the heart of the problem.

    Factory farms breed drug-resistant superbugs

    As I write this, in the United States alone we have roughly four times the amount of antibiotic use in farm animals as we do in people. Typically, factory farms dump these drugs into the food and water of the animals. The crowded, filthy and stressful living conditions that the majority of food animals live in is a breeding ground for illness. So dosing your Sunday dinner up on antibiotics is the only way these factory farms can manage to keep the animals alive long enough to make it to market. And those very same drugs have an added “benefit,” and that is they help fatten the animals up quickly on less food. But what’s a win for both Big Pharma and Big Food is a loss for you and me, because those same factory farms are breeding grounds for dangerous drug-resistant bugs. And when those nasty bugs find their way into US, the antibiotics that we should be able to use to fight them off are perfectly useless, leading to serious and even deadly consequences.

    FDA’s “limitations” are too little too late

    So, naturally, an announcement that the FDA has FINALLY committed to limiting antibiotic use in farm animals seems like a reason to celebrate. That is until you look at devil hidden in the details. What this so-called “limitation” actually turns out to be is nothing more than a request to voluntarily participate in a plan to curb the use of these drugs for “growth promotion.” That’s right; the FDA is asking the drug companies if they would pretty please consider changing the label on their drugs to say that users should limit their use to medical purposes only.(You know, like the miserable failure of a voluntary approach they’ve had in place for years.) You certainly don’t need me to tell you that the word “voluntarily” is essentially a synonym for “loophole.” Like, for instance, the fact that limiting the drugs for growth promotion still leaves disease prevention on the table. And if you think the factory-farm big wigs will hesitate for even one second about labeling their usage as “disease prevention” I’ve got a bridge to sell ya in Brooklyn. Besides, actually enforcing these practices on the farm is a whole different animal. Let’s face it; The FDA doesn’t exactly have a sterling reputation when it comes to protecting our food supply. The glimmer of good news is that the two drug companies responsible for the majority of drugs used on factory farms (right now) have said they intend to comply with the request. Only time will tell if they’re being truthful about the labeling change (not drug companies strong suit), and whether it will amount to anything more than reputation building if they do. I, for one, won’t be holding my breath. If you haven’t made the switch to certified organic foods and local small-farm meats, there’s no time like the present. Antibiotic-free meats are far less likely to harbor hidden superbugs.
    And don’t forget to take your daily dose of gut-restoring probiotics to shore up your immune system. You can read more about it right here on the NorthStar Blog.
  11. Garcinia Cambogia fruit extract makes weight loss resolutions easier

    Now that we’ve officially made it through the holidays, the question on many of our minds this morning when we climbed on the bathroom scale was, “What did I DO?!” No matter how many times it happens, somehow those extra pounds we pack on over the holidays always seem to take us by surprise. And just thinking about taking them back off can put you in a bad mood fast. But what if it were possible to ride your “chocolate high” right past the blahs of weight loss? Researchers have uncovered chocolate’s secret to making us feel good, and we’ve bottled those molecules … caffeine and theobromine … in a breakthrough mood-supporting formula with Garcinia Cambogia fruit extract that could help provide just the extra motivation you need to stick to your New Year’s resolution this year. I’ve talked about the incredible fruit extract Garcinia Cambogia in the NorthStar blog and the Guide to Good Health before. This amazing South Asian treasure has taken the natural weight loss world by storm, and of course we had to include this powerful extract in our own weight management formula.
  12. Magnesium benefits: A happy heart and a longer life

    Heart troubles? Make sure you know about the benefits of magnesium … it could save your life. Now you may already know that magnesium is important for your heart health. Without enough of it in your system you may suffer with an irregular heartbeat, chest pain, hardening of the arteries or high blood pressure. But magnesium benefits other aspects of your health also and is, in fact, a key player in over 300 chemical processes that keep your body in tip top shape. (Magnesium is critical for maintaining healthy blood sugar too.) And now a new review of studies dating all the way back to 1937 has confirmed what I’ve been telling you all along, and that is that cholesterol and saturated fat are not the big bad villains they’ve been made out to be when it comes to heart disease. According to researchers low magnesium is the real culprit. And in another recent study, Spanish researchers demonstrated just how critical magnesium benefits are for those suffering with heart problems. In a study of 7,216 volunteers between the ages of 55 and 80, people with the highest dietary intakes of magnesium had a 34 percent less chance of dying from heart disease or cancer. In fact, those who got the most magnesium (442 mg a day) had a 59 percent drop in their risk of dying from a stroke, heart attack or heart disease when compared to those with the lowest intakes of magnesium. It’s easy to add more magnesium benefits to your diet simply by eating more almonds, spinach, cashews, peanuts, black beans and avocados. You also may want to consider a magnesium supplement, but be sure to talk with your own doc about what’s best for your specific situation.
  13. Omega 3 for brain health: Why fish may be your brain’s best friend

    They’re small and painless. You don’t even know they’re there, but that doesn’t mean you aren’t feeling their effects. I’m talking about little lesions that can form in your brain called brain infarcts. Brain infarcts can cause your thinking skills to head south; they can lead to dementia and, at their worst, they could even cause a stroke. These lesions can only be detected in a brain scan, and they’re found lurking in the brains of about 20 percent of otherwise healthy seniors. That’s the bad news, but now for the good news. One small change could slash your risk of these silent brain bugaboos by up to an astounding 40 percent! Even better, if you’ve been following my advice you may already have taken this noggin-protecting step.

    Protect your memories with omega 3 for brain health

    According to a new study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association omega-3 fatty acids… like the kind found in fatty fish or a fish oil supplement… could dramatically lower your risk for brain infarcts and other brain abnormalities. In the study, 3,660 volunteers aged 65 and older underwent brain scans to detect brain infarcts. Scans were then performed again five years later on 2,313 of the volunteers. (I shudder to think what kind of damage zapping those volunteer’s brains with massive amounts of cancer-causing radiation—not even just once, but twice—may have done. That’s like subjecting their poor brains to at least 100 x-rays PER sitting. That’s practically criminal! But I suppose that’s a topic for another day.) Researchers found that volunteers who had a high level of omega 3’s in their blood had a 40 percent lower risk of having brain infarcts compared to those who had low levels of the fatty acid. And the good news about omega 3 for brain health didn’t stop there. The group with high omega-3 levels also had fewer changes in the white matter of their brains. This is critical because healthy white matter is vital to good brain function. Your brain relies on white matter to transmit signals between different parts of your brain. If that process is interrupted, thinking problems and even dementia can follow.

    Slow brain shrink with fish oil

    Of course, we’ve known for years that fish is good for your thinker. Heck, your mom or grandma probably even told you to eat your fish because it’s brain food. (Oh, and for the record, she was absolutely right. In fact, a study earlier this year confirmed that increasing the omega 3’s in your child’s diet could help him do better in school.) But you don’t have to be a tyke for fish oil to give your brain a boost. Another study, published in the journal Neurology last year, found that seniors low in omega 3’s had lower brain volumes than volunteers with higher levels of the fatty acid. That’s important because although our brains naturally shrink a bit as we age, the faster the shrink happens the more we see the negative effects. In fact, shockingly, the brains of the volunteers with the lowest omega 3 levels appeared to be about two years older than the brains of their counterparts with the highest levels. And that faster shrink had real-world consequences too, with the omega-3-deficient seniors scoring lower on tests of visual memory, problem solving, multi-tasking and abstract thinking. Omega 3’s benefits don’t stop with the brain, either. As I’ve explained before, researchers now believe that low-grade systemic inflammation could be at the heart of a host of devastating illnesses, ranging from heart disease to Alzheimer’s. And it looks like omega-3-rich fish oil—a natural inflammation fighter—could play a critical role in beating those illnesses. (Click here to visit the NorthStar Blog to learn more about beating back inflammation with fish oil.) To give your brain and your body the support they need, boost the omega 3’s in your diet. Sardines, halibut, salmon, chia seeds, flax seeds, and walnuts are all terrific (and delicious) sources of omega 3’s. A fish oil supplement is another easy way to up your omega 3 levels. And add in a mixed tocopherol and tocotrienol vitamin E to zap any free-radicals that pop up while you’re at it.
  14. Health benefits of resveratrol: Going grape to fight cancer

    The health benefits of resveratrol, the so-called “red wine nutrient,” are back in the news again. Of course, we’ve been talking about this grape-based anti-aging miracle for years now. This powerful antioxidant could help with everything from hearing loss to heart disease to diabetes. Studies have been stacking up for years that have found that resveratrol may help with insulin regulation, cholesterol control, high blood pressure and even cognitive performance. In other words, it’s good stuff. Now researchers from the University of Missouri studying the health benefits of resveratrol say the grape extract could become an important player in the fight against cancer. In the recent study scientists showed that resveratrol can make certain tumor cells more susceptible to radiation treatment. This study focused on melanoma cells, and a previous similar study showed the same effectiveness against prostate cancer. This means, of course, that shorter, more effective and less damaging treatments could be in the future for cancer patients. But if you’re interested in battling cancer sooner rather than later, resveratrol could already be an important weapon in your arsenal. We know that the grape extract is a natural inflammation fighter, and since inflammation plays an important role in the development of cancer (as well as many other diseases) resveratrol is a no-brainer. In fact, earlier studies on the health benefits of resveratrol have already shown that the extract can kill pancreatic cancer cells, increasing the effectiveness of cancer treatments. And, even better, the resveratrol appeared to protect healthy cells at the same time. I generally recommend 200 mg a day (or around 100 mg if it’s part of a comprehensive anti-aging or heart formula). Check with your own naturopathic doctor to find out what’s the best choice for you.
  15. Vitamin D benefits for your brain and memory

    If you’re not already a D-devotee, a new University of Kentucky (UK) study on vitamin D benefits may very well change your mind. Well, that’s if you don’t end up losing it first. Let me explain. You, of course, already know that D is essential for healthy muscles and bones. In fact, maintaining your levels may even be the key to keeping you out of a nursing home. Click here to learn more on the NorthStar Blog. And as a NorthStar Blog reader you also know about this essential vitamin’s vital role in cancer and diabetes prevention, blood pressure maintenance and heart health.

    This is your brain without D

    I’ve even told you about vitamin D benefits for brain health. The sunshine vitamin may play an important part in warding off Alzheimer’s disease. Deficiencies of D have been linked to Parkinson’s disease. And if you’ve ever experienced the winter blahs you sure don’t need me to tell you how important D is to warding off depression. But now, researchers say the vitamin’s role in brain health could be even stronger than we ever imagined. The animal study, published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine, found that rats that were fed a low D diet for several months developed free-radical brain damage. That’s important because free radicals in your brain can lead to oxidation, memory loss, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

    Low D led to memory and learning problems

    And, in fact, the poor critters in the study did suffer a significant drop in their cognitive performance on memory and learning tests. According to the UK scientists, a number of different brain proteins were damaged by the lack of D. And there’s every reason to believe that something similar happens in our own brains when our D levels drop too low. With some experts saying that up to 90 percent of people are walking around with less than optimal D levels and that means the vast majority of us may be in serious danger of low-D brain damage. But, while experts tend to disagree on just how many of us are D deficient, one thing they DO agree on is that D deficiency is wide-spread among seniors. This means, of course, that those of us who are starting to go gray need to be extra careful about keeping our levels up in order to reap the vitamin D benefits. Now, of course, I’ve been preaching about vitamin D benefits for many years now, but it looks like the mainstream is finally catching on, too. According to Allan Butterfield—lead author on this new study and professor in the UK Department of Chemistry—we need to maintain adequate vitamin D levels to prevent free radical damage in our brains. Welcome to the vitamin D fan club, Dr. Butterfield. I would also add to your solid D advice that maintaining those healthy D levels could also help us avoid Alzheimer’s, cancer, heart attack, stroke, diabetes and more.

    Top off your D levels

    Pretty impressive for a vitamin you can get for free simply by spending 15 minutes or so outside in the sunshine every day. And if cold weather, a busy schedule or disability is keeping you indoors you can always top of your D levels by eating a D-rich diet (fish and fish oil are great sources), or by taking a supplement. I generally recommend taking 2,000 to 4,000 IUs of vitamin D3 daily. Try to take your D with a meal containing healthy fats, such as olive oil or a serving of fatty fish (a fish oil supplement will work too) to help your body better absorb the vital nutrient.
    To find out if you’re D deficient, talk with your doctor. He can run a simple blood test to check your 25-hydroxy vitamin D levels.
  16. Omega 7 benefits finally being covered by mainstream

    They say things are better late than never. And I reluctantly agree. However, when a bullheaded refusal to accept the facts that are staring you in the face means a delay in helping even one person back to good health, I must admit I get a little testy. And this has been the case with one emerging heart-health superstar. I first told you about the benefits of omega 7’s… kissing cousin to the well-known omega 3’s … well over a year ago now. As I explained then, this overlooked miracle oil is showing great promise as a natural cholesterol buster. Research has found that omega 7 benefits may be able to help your body maintain a healthy inflammatory response and could even be the KEY to keeping your cholesterol healthy. Well, it looks like mainstream medicine is finally starting to catch on. Coverage of this life-saver is starting to pick up. In fact, if the latest buzz is correct, one of America’s top TV docs may even reveal some news about omega 7 benefits soon. Of course if that does happen, I should warn you that omega 7 is liable to start flying off the shelf so fast it will make your head spin. So if you’re interested in trying an omega 7 supplement to support your own heart health I would suggest you place an order for it fast. Just make sure your omega 7’s come from a fish oil source, like the kind used in the studies. Sea Buckthorn, another common source, is high in an unhealthy saturated fat called Palmitic acid. We already know it’s better late than never, but let’s just hope the mainstream coverage on omega 7’s doesn’t turn out to be too little too late.
  17. The death of the “dirty” handshake?

    Occasionally I run across a study that manages to be both hilariously funny and informative at the same time. That was the case with a recent study published in The Journal of Hospital Infection which set out to find whether replacing the standard issue handshake with a modern fist bump could reduce the risk of infection. Researchers at West Virginia University had a small group of volunteers alternate between shaking hands and fist bumping. If you’re not sure what a fist bump is simply picture a two people literally bumping their closed fists together. They found that the handshakes were exposing more than three times as much skin surface area to contact as the fist bump… and that contact averaged 2.7 times longer when shaking heads than when fist bumping. Not surprisingly, when they cultured the bacteria that grew on their hands they found that more bacteria were transmitted with the good old-fashioned handshake. The researchers concluded that “the fist bump is an effective alternative to the handshake in a hospital setting.” And that the fist bump “may lead to decreased transmission of bacteria…” Now I can’t argue with the WVU team’s results, but I do have to admit that just the thought of my doctor fist bumping me after a hospital visit makes me literally laugh out loud. I’m not sure if the fist bump is going to take the medical community by storm or not. But while we wait to find out I suggest you simply wash your hands frequently… especially now during flu and cold season... and shore up your immune system with a good probiotic, vitamin D, vitamin C, zinc, garlic, and green tea.
  18. Harvard study on health benefits of nuts finds improved longevity

    In my book, it’s hard to beat the health benefits of nuts for a filling and delicious snack. Since they’re packed with protein, good fats, and healthy fiber, nuts aren’t just tasty, their good for you, too. Now Harvard researchers say they’re not just good for you, they could literally add years to your life. More on that exciting new finding in a moment, but first let’s look at what we already know about the health benefits of nuts. Over three years ago, I told you about the humble walnut’s apparent ability to reduce stress levels and lower blood pressure. Volunteers who ate the nuts had improved blood pressure numbers during two different types of stress tests. In 2011, Tuft’s University researchers revealed that nuts could help us control both blood sugar and cholesterol. When a group of type-2 diabetics was given a half- cup of mixed nuts daily for three months, it lowered both their blood sugar, and bad cholesterol. (Click here to read more about the Tuft’s study on the NorthStar Blog.) And a more recent study, published in the Journal of Nutrition, found that snacking on walnuts could drive down a woman’s diabetes risk by as much as 24 percent.

    Live longer and healthier with nuts

    In fact, at least 57 clinical trials have found that nuts may help protect you against heart disease, and a stack of others have linked nut eating with a reduced risk of cancer and diabetes. And with that kind of track record, it’s really no surprise that yet another study has confirmed the health benefits of nuts, one of my favorite snack foods. But what did surprise everyone—including those Harvard researchers, no doubt—was just how impressive the numbers that came out of this massive study were. The carefully designed study, which tracked 119,000 men and women over 30 years, found that those who ate nuts almost daily were an astounding 20 percent less likely to die from any cause during the three-decade long study. And the impressive nut news didn’t stop there… not by a long shot. Regular nut eaters (seven or more times a week) had their risk of dying from heart disease plunge by an incredible 29 percent. They were 20 percent less likely to die from diabetes or lung disease. And their risk of dying from cancer dropped a healthy 11 percent.

    Eats nuts and weigh less

    Oh, and if you’ve been afraid to indulge in nuts because they’re high in fat, I’ve got great news for you. The nut eaters stayed slimmer than the non-nut eaters! That’s right, eating nuts will NOT make you fat, my friend. As I’ve explained before, nuts are rich in the good-for-you monounsaturated fats. Heck, even the very mainstream American Heart Association admits the kind of fats found in nuts are heart healthy and can help you reduce your cholesterol while lowering your risk for heart disease and stroke. And…you might want to sit down for this one… the usually clueless folks over at the FDA even stood up for the health benefits of nuts way back in 2003, when they recommended them as part of a diet to help reduce heart disease. Honestly, with results like these, unless you happen to be allergic to them, you’d have to be nuts to not include nuts in your diet.

    Solid research adds to the nut resume

    I do, however, need to mention two things about the Harvard study that you should keep in mind. First of all, while it was well-designed and solid, this was an observational study. And as I’ve explained many times before, observational studies can only show an association or connection between two things. They’re not designed to prove cause and effect. (For instance, those nut eaters also ate more healthy fruits and veggies.) That doesn’t erase any of the positives about nuts, but it’s good to know. Second, the Harvard researchers made one HUGE misstep with their study. Unfortunately, they accepted some funding from the International Tree Nut Council Nutrition Research and Education Foundation. Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t have anything against the Tree Nut Council folks. They run a fine non-profit organization. But once they forked over some money to Harvard it became much easier for naysayers to try to question the findings. Luckily, nuts already have a ton of solid research backing up their health value, so it’s pretty clear that these latest findings—published in The New England Journal of Medicine—only add to that growing stack.
  19. Is cookie rehab in your future?

    Suddenly the phrase “junk food junkie” has taken on a whole new meaning after a recent study claimed that Oreo cookies are as addictive as cocaine. In the study—designed to find out more about the addictiveness of high fat or high sugar foods—researchers from Connecticut College offered rats a choice of either a rice cake on one side of a maze or an Oreo cookie in the other. And, well, to no one’s surprise the rats chose the cookies (duh) over the dry tasteless rice cakes.  Later they repeated the experiment using an injection of saline on one side of the maze or an injection of cocaine on the other. And again, to no one’s surprise (duh), the rats choose the cocaine over the saline. And here’s where things get a bit dicey. The researchers compared the amount of time the rats spent on each side of the maze, and from that concluded that Oreo’s are as addictive as cocaine. So did this study really prove that Oreos are as addictive as cocaine? No, not really. But as anyone who has ever given in to the temptation of junk food can attest, it’s awfully hard to eat just one cookie, cheese doodle, or French fry. Eating high fat or high sugar foods does indeed light up the reward centers in your brain (and in rat brains too, as the researchers were also able to show). Junk food tastes good and, not surprisingly, we enjoy eating things that taste good. Replace junk food in your diet with healthy alternatives that also taste good. Fresh fruit, nuts, and the occasional piece of antioxidant rich dark chocolate can be just as rewarding, and unlike Oreos they don’t come with any downsides.
  20. BPA affects our health at much lower doses than previously thought.

    A new study has found that BPA (bisphenol A) —the nasty chemical that I’ve been warning you about for YEARS now—is affecting us at much lower doses than previously thought.  Well, I should say at lower doses than the mainstream drones thought. In case you’re not familiar with BPA… or it’s potentially devastating side effects… let me bring you up to speed with a recap. When you open up that can of cranberry sauce today to serve with Thanksgiving dinner you’ll be serving up more than just those jellied cranberries. It will come with an unwanted side dish of a creepy chemical that’s used to make plastics called bisphenol A (BPA).

    BPA wreaks havoc with your hormones

    BPA is found in all kinds of plastic materials including water bottles, cash register receipts, and even the inside lining of food cans. It’s what’s known as an endocrine disruptor and it can wreak havoc with your hormones. Even worse, your body has a heck of a time telling BPA apart from estrogen. As you can imagine, this dual disaster can really do a number on your health, kicking off all kinds of unwanted side effects. And the higher the BPA exposure, the greater the hormone disruption is. With most US adults getting conservatively nearly 5 micrograms a day, and our friends elsewhere getting even more than that, it’s a catastrophe that hasn’t been waiting to happen. Men exposed to high levels of the chemical may have significant erectile dysfunction issues as a result. (Learn how BPA could result in ED on the NorthStar blog.) And for women, excess estrogen in the bloodstream is a big risk factor when it comes to breast cancer.

    Creepy chemical drives up your disease risks

    We’ve known for a long time now that high BPA levels in the body are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer. One Yale study linked the chemical to neurological problems in animals, and found a connection between BPA and disruptions in brain cells linked to memory, learning and mood. And some scientists suspect that the chemical may be playing a key role in the obesity epidemic as well as the troubling turn towards early puberty for young girls. In other words, BPA is nothing but bad news. And yet the yahoos at the FDA refuse to admit that the chemical is even a significant threat.  In fact, beyond finally banning it in baby bottles and sippy cups in 2012 (a good, but FAR too late move), the Big Business loving Feds haven’t done a darn thing to protect you from this chemical. According to them, the levels that we’re being exposed to aren’t enough to worry about. And if you believe that one I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I’d like to sell you.

    Low doses still equal HIGH dangers

    That’s why this new research, published in the journal Endocrine Disruptors, is so important. Sure, we already know this stuff is bad for us, but with the FDA burying its collective head somewhere where the sun doesn’t shine, we need as many studies as we can get showing that even at so-called “low” exposures BPA is damaging. A group of scientists that study endocrine disruption set out to build on and refine an earlier 2007 review of the low-dose effects of BPA. What they found was shocking. They were able to confirm reproductive effects in animals after exposure to incredibly low doses of the chemical. We’re talking ten to forty times lower than in the typical studies that have been used to justify keeping BPA on the market. In addition, the researchers identified several dozen “low dose” studies that illustrated the effects that BPA has in amounts that people are being exposed to every single day. In fact, according to the scientists, exposure to BPA likely contributes to a wide variety of health issues including decreased fertility, polycystic ovarian syndrome, behavioral problems, breast tumors, obesity, thyroid dysfunction, brain synapse issues and immune response to allergens. And the problems don’t even end with the human population, either. Scientists say that BPA’s effect on wildlife is widespread, too. The bottom line here is that, once again, the very agencies that supposedly exist to protect our health can’t be relied on. We have to fend for ourselves. That means switching to brands that are packaged in non-BPA packaging (stores that specialize in natural and organic foods and online sources are your best bets) and choosing fresh organic foods over packaged ones whenever possible. And make your voice heard. Write the manufacturers of your favorite brands and demand BPA-free packaging and write your representatives in Washington and demand legislation that removes this toxic chemical from our food supply. Maybe by next year on this day we’ll have one more thing to give thanks for… a BPA-free life.

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