Heart Health

The NorthStar blog on heart and cardiovascular health covers the latest news on these important topics, including the best natural options for keeping your ticker strong and healthy for a lifetime.

  1. Shocking sleeping pill side effects force changes

    In case you’re keeping score, the FDA has been caught asleep at the wheel yet again. After ten years of being on the market, they’ve finally admitted that for more than 11 hours after taking Lunesta, the sleeping pill's side effects may severely impair a user’s memory, coordination and ability to perform everyday tasks.

    You know… tasks like driving a two-ton car down the same highway your child’s school bus takes.

    It was about five years ago now that I first started warning you about a frightening side effect of some popular sleep drugs: “sleep driving.”  Sleep driving is a peculiar, sleep-walking-like behavior in which sleeping pill users drive their cars… or do other activities like making complete meals… while not fully awake.

    Shockingly, some sleep drivers have no memory (or only a hazy recollection at best) of even having driven their car at all. Like, for example, the Boise, Idaho man who was pulled over for suspected drunk driving, but who turned out to be driving sound asleep under the influence of a popular prescription sleeping pill.

    To make matters worse, these drugs have skyrocketed in popularity over the last decade. With around 55 million prescriptions written for these heavy-duty drugs in the United States alone last year, you can see the danger these under-discussed sleeping pill side effects put all of us in every single time we step out of our homes.

    Shocking sleeping pill side effects

    But if you’re a sleep-drug user, that’s far from the only danger you may face. According to a study I first told you about back in 2012, regular sleeping pill users were nearly five times as likely as non-users to die over the two-year study period. Plus, sleeping pill users also had a 35 percent increased chance of developing cancer.

    And if you’re in your Golden Years, sleeping pill side effects could put you at an increased risk for falls, hip fractures and dementia.Then there’s the research linking another popular sleep drug, Ambien, to a staggering 50 percent jump in heart attack risk.

    But it was another potential sleeping pill side effect—one that it appears to share with kissing cousin Lunesta—that forced the feds out of their lastnap. Ambien can result in next day “psychomotor impairment,” which may lead to users driving high without even knowing it.

    Finally, in a rare moment of strength from the dishrag agency, after almost eight years of it being on the market, the FDA admitted last year that doses of Ambien—and other zolpidem-containing sleeping pills—should be sliced in half for women. They also strongly suggested that health-care providers “consider” lowering the dose for men as well.

    Now after ten years of Lunesta users unwittingly driving, operating heavy machinery and doing goodness-knows-what else while still stoned, the FDA has finally admitted that there’s a potential problem with this drug as well. They’ve told the pill’s manufacturers to slash the starting doses for these potentially dangerous drugs in half, for both men and women.

    And sure, that’s a start. But the better move is to find a way OFF of these drugs completely. Because besides the laundry list of troubling—and in some cases even potentially deadly—sleeping pill side effects, they’re just not very effective. One UK survey found that up to 42 percent of people taking the drugs find little relief from their insomnia, even after years of use.

    Sleeping pills fall flat

    And even if you’re one of the lucky ones for whom sleeping pills “work,” you’re really not getting a whole lot of benefit in exchange for all those risks.  One study found that prescription sleep med users drop off to sleep, on average, just 22 minutes faster than non-drug users.

    Now, I understand that if you’re desperate for a little shut eye, even 22 minutes could sound pretty tempting. But it probably will sound less so when you learn that placebo takers fell asleep after just 42 minutes. In other words, you may be risking a heart attack, dementia, or even cancer for just 20 measly minutes of extra sleep.

    The good news is that there are safe natural ways to conquer your insomnia without experiencing any of those troubling sleeping pill side effects. Starting with the most obvious, if you’re a poor sleeper it’s time to deep six caffeinated beverages like coffee, tea, and soda. Then there are the often overlooked stimulants that you should avoid too close to bedtime like chocolate, ginseng, B12 and most processed foods.

    Next, turn your bedroom into a sleep sanctuary. Get rid of any glowing or blinking electronic equipment and install black-out shades if you need them. If you’ve got a TV in the bedroom get rid of it. Make sure the temperature is just right for sleeping (slightly cooler is better). And ban backlit devices like tablets and cell phones for at least one hour before bedtime.

    If you’ve made those changes and find you’re still having trouble getting your shut-eye, then l-tryptophan, GABA, chamomile or melatonin (if you’re over 40 for that last one) might do the trick. If anxiety is at the heart of your sleeping woes, then magnesium, red clover and even a probiotic may help.

    A doctor skilled in natural medicine can help you decide which combination of natural sleep supplements will work best for you.

     

  2. Statins and memory loss – Beware of the Statin Stupor

    If you’re on a statin… or are close to someone who is… I’m willing to bet that the results of a new study—published in the journal PLOS ONE—on statins and memory loss won’t surprise you all that much. That’s because memory problems are a common complaint from statin users. The good old Statin Stupor, as I like to call it.

    In fact, last year even the sleepy and slow FDA finally got around to forcing Big Pharma to add a side-effect warning to their statin drug labels alerting users that they could affect their cognitive function.

    The link between statins and memory loss

    But now researchers say a new animal study could confirm what many of us suspected all along, that statins and memory loss may be linked.

    Scientists tested two commonly prescribed statins—pravastatin (Pravachol) and atorvostain (Lipitor)—on rats. And while the atorvastatin somehow managed to make it through the test without tripping any cognition alarms, the pravastatin didn’t fare so well. The pravastatin negatively affected the rat’s simple learning performance as well as their ability to complete memory tasks.

    Shockingly, the time it took for these effects to show up was a mere 18 days. And, of course, considering once you’re on the statin merry go-round it’s typically a life sentence. So if these results of statin and memory loss transfer to humans… as we suspect they do… there’s very little chance of you missing out on those memory-robbing side effects.

    Obviously a lot more research needs to be done, but if you’ve already experienced Statin Stupor for yourself you don’t need a scientist to tell you how real, and debilitating, it is. The good news is that there are natural alternatives, starting with omega-3 packed fish oil. Click here to learn about more statin drug alternatives, and then have a serious talk with your doctor about weaning you off these potentially dangerous drugs.

  3. Benefits of beans: they’re good for your heart…

    Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart. I’ll spare you the rest of that classic school-yard rhyme about beans. Besides, if you were ever a kid I’m sure you know it anyway. (And if you happen to have spent a year as a 10-year-old boy, you’ve no doubt recited it a few times yourself.) In fact, if you dive into a daily serving of beans—or any legumes for that matter, including peas and lentils—you could significantly lower your heart disease risk, according to a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
  4. Lack of sleep could raise your stroke risk 54%

    I’ve told you before how dangerous a lack of sleep could be to your health. Now a new study out of Taiwan really drives that point home with a bang. Researchers found that sleeplessness, or insomnia, may boost your risk of stoke by a staggering 54 percent. The four-year-long study compared the health records of more than 21,000 people who suffer with insomnia to 64,000 who don’t have the condition. When the researchers crunched the numbers, and adjusted for other factors, they say there was a clear link between lack of sleep and stroke. And the worse your sleeping problem is the higher your stroke risk is.

    From diabetes to brain damage.. lack of sleep raises your risks

    As I’ve explained before, insomnia can raise your risk for a number of health problems including high blood pressure, cancer, diabetes and even brain damage. It now looks like we need to add stroke to that list. Perhaps must shocking of all is that younger insomniacs, people between the ages of 18 to 34, were eight times more likely to suffer a stroke when compared to their snoozing peers. Proving that no matter your age, you need to start taking sleep—or lack of it—seriously. But, whatever you do, don’t fall for Big Pharma’s dangerous sleep drugs. To find out why sleeping pills aren’t the answer to lack of sleep, as well as read up on some natural shut-eye tricks, click here.
  5. Depression raises heart failure risk by 40 percent!

    No matter what you call it—down in the dumps, feeling blue, in a funk, bummed out, being a Gloomy Gus, or in low spirits—it’s time to start getting serious about depression. Because a new study, presented at EuroHeartCare 2014, found that you might not just be dragging around feeling doomed, you very well could BE doomed if you don’t do something about those blues. Researchers in Norway uncovered a dramatic link between depression and deadly heart failure. In a study that included almost 63,000 people, scientists found that moderate to severe depression could send your risk of heart failure skyrocketing. The large, long-term HUNT study gathered a variety of data from their volunteers, including body mass indexes, physical activity levels, smoking habits, blood pressures, and depression levels. During the 11 year study 1,500 people developed heart failure. And when the data was crunched, a glaring link between depression and heart failure was uncovered.

    Depression kills

    People with mild depression had a 5 percent increased risk of developing the potentially deadly heart condition, when compared to the volunteers with no symptoms of depression. But, if you’re in the midst of a moderate or major soul-sucking depression you might want to sit down for this next bit. YOUR risk for heart failure could jump by a staggering 40 percent, according to the study data! In other words, the worse you feel the greater your risk. And being depressed could, quite literally, kill you. To make matters worse, when you’re depressed you’re your own worst enemy. If you’ve ever had a serious case of the blues you know exactly what I’m talking about. Depression makes it hard to care about anything, let alone our health. We stop watching what we eat. Getting up from the couch can seem like too much effort most days. And exercising? Forget about it. Bad habits, like smoking and heavy drinking, often make an appearance. And your weight can balloon. But if you’re thinking these factors might be responsible for that 40 percent leap in heart failure risk you’re barking up the wrong tree. The researchers adjusted the data for factors like obesity and smoking before they reached that shocking figure. No, for the real reason your heart failure risk skyrockets, you need to take a look at an old enemy… stress. You see, when you’re depressed your body reacts by sending your inflammation levels skyrocketing and having your adrenal glands pump out a horde of stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Your pulse rate rises, your breathing speeds up, your blood pressure climbs and your blood sugar spikes. And the more severe your depression, the more severe your stress reaction is going to be. Eventually, the build-up of all those stress hormones triggers inflammation and a hardening and narrowing of your arteries (atherosclerosis) that could lead to heart disease, heart attack or stroke. The truth is, ignoring your serious case of depression in the hopes that it might go away might not be just a costly mistake it may be a deadly one.

    Beat depression naturally with supplements

    Reducing your stress and reversing your depression is critical. But don’t become a victim of the failed mainstream medicine approach to the problem... heavy-duty antidepressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors). Because, despite Big Pharma’s cheerleading—and the wildly positive promises they make in their billion dollar ad campaigns—most depression drugs have been shown to be no more effective than a placebo at best, and linked to serious (and possibly even deadly) side effects at worst. Instead, turn to some tried-and-true natural approaches I’ve recommended before, starting with having your vitamin D levels checked. Running low on this important vitamin has been linked with depression. If you find your levels are subpar, top them up by spending more time outdoors and adding a D supplement to your routine. You can safely take up to 5,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. Your doctor can help you decide the amount that’s right for you. Next, make sure you’re getting enough vitamin B6 and vitamin B12. Vitamin B12, often called the “energy vitamin,” is used by every single cell in your body, and B6 is needed to kick your “feel good” neurotransmitters (serotonin and norepinephrine) into action. And low levels of vitamin B6 and B12 have been linked to depression. Make sure that you’re taking a good quality B-complex supplement daily. If you’re not already following my advice to take an omega-3 supplement, you may want to start. Not only are omega-3s good for your heart health studies show they’re also linked to mood and may help reverse depression.(Bonus, they also help fight inflammation!) And, finally, you might want to give curcumin, nature’s antidepressant spice, a try. Curcumin has long been used by opened-minded doctors as a natural mood booster. In one study, curcumin performed at least as well as Big Pharma darling Prozac in beating serious cases of depression. And of course the spice managed this feat without dangerous side effects.
  6. Health benefits of almonds: The perfect snack food?

    If you’re a regular reader of the Guide to Good Health you know I’m a firm believer in the power of nuts (being a health nut myself!). These delicious nutrition-packed wonders can do everything from boosting your energy levels to helping head off heart problems and fight cancer. In fact, according to one study, just 30 grams of nuts a day (a modest handful) could significantly reduce your stroke risk. A half a cup of mixed nuts a day drove down the blood sugar and cholesterol levels in a group of type-2 diabetics. And the vitamin E found in many nuts may help slash your risk of deadly pancreatic cancer. Now, a stack of new research on the health benefits of almonds—presented at the American Society of Nutrition Scientific Sessions and Annual Meeting in San Diego late last month—points to almonds as a way to help ward off obesity, metabolic issues, and heart problems.

    Better blood sugar with almonds

    A study of over 24,800 adults found that people who eat almonds tend to make better diet choices and have better overall health than non-almond eaters. And in a crossover, randomized clinical trial on the health benefits of almonds, overweight pregnant women who snacked on 2 ounces of almonds felt fuller… and as a result had a reduced appetite. In another analysis on the health benefits of almonds performed at Purdue University, researchers showed that people who eat 1.5 ounces of dry-roasted, lightly-salted almonds daily have better appetite control and healthier blood sugar levels, as well as higher vitamin E and monounsaturated healthy fat intake, than those who skip the healthy snack. But it gets even better with some real world results. The daily almond eaters, who were all at risk for type 2 diabetes, were also able to maintain healthy weight levels despite the fact that they had increased their calorie intake by 250 extra calories a day! And in yet another study, 52 adults with high cholesterol were able to reduce belly fat and slash their risk of heart and metabolic problems just by eating a modest serving (1.5 ounces) of almonds every day.
  7. Fish oil could help you ace your next dental exam

    I’ve told you before about the link between un-healthy teeth and gums and heart disease. And you may know that mouth problems are often connected to other serious conditions like diabetes and leukemia. Well I’ve got some great news! It turns out that a simple supplement… one I already recommend for everyone… may be the key to keeping your chompers healthy. According to the results of a new study, omega-3-packed fish oil supplements could significantly improve your periodontal health.

    Keep your teeth in tip-top shape

    In the 12-week double-blind study, volunteers with moderate to severe periodontal problems were given standard dental treatments (scaling and root planning) and either a daily placebo, or an omega-3 fish oil fatty acid supplement (180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA). The inflammation-fighting omega-3 fish oil produced some impressive results. The lucky volunteers who got the fish oil saw a significant improvement in their gingivitis and gum bleeding. And the deep pockets between their teeth and gums… a classic hallmark of periodontal disease… were vastly reduced, sliced almost in half. So if you haven’t already heeded my advice and started taking a daily fish oil supplement you now have one more reason to start. And if you’re already taking one, you can feel good that you’re helping to keep your teeth in tip-top shape.
  8. Vitamin D deficiency could be deadly

    Barely a month goes by when we don’t see yet one more unfounded attack on a vital vitamin or necessary nutrient. It’s become so predictable you can practically set your watch by it. They won’t be satisfied until supplements are removed from the picture completely—and along with them, your freedom to choose. This time it’s vitamin D that’s been placed on the chopping block, a nutrient critical to combatting bone loss, cancer, heart disease, depression, weight gain, inflammation and very likely diabetes, autism, dementia, autoimmune diseases, chronic pain, high blood pressure, and more. In fact, this vitamin is SO critical to our health and wellbeing that frankly this latest review trashing this valuable vitamin—published in the April issue of the British Medical Journal (BMJ)—is downright irresponsible. Even worse, when you consider how many of us have a dangerously low vitamin D deficiency, taking the researcher’s conclusions seriously could be as good as signing your own death warrant. According to the researchers, “Despite a few hundred systematic reviews and meta-analyses, highly convincing evidence of a clear role of vitamin D does not exist for any outcome…” Nonsense! Besides, it doesn’t take a genius to figure out that BAD science is going to lead to BAD results. And in the case of this BMJ-published “umbrella review,” they should have seen the bad coming from a mile away. Since the researchers chose to include flawed and poorly executed studies in the mix, it really isn’t surprising that the conclusions they reached are essentially rubbish, too.

    Vitamin D deficiency seriously bad for your health

    Let’s take a closer look at what research has already proven about vitamin D. But we’ll have to just hit some of the highlights, because we’d literally be here all day if I tried to cover EVERYTHING that D is good for. To begin with, despite its poor execution, the umbrella review in question still showed around an 11 percent drop in death risk for those taking a D supplement. In fact, study after study has shown us the value of this vitamin, demonstrating what a deficiency of D can lead to... starting with trouble for your ticker. In a seven-year collaboration, researchers from the University of Colorado and Massachusetts General Hospital uncovered evidence linking heart disease and vitamin D deficiency in men and women 65 or older. Seniors with the lowest levels of D were three times more likely to die from heart disease. And those volunteers who had a vitamin D deficiency at the start of the study were 2.5 times more likely to have died from ANY cause by the end of it. Now a new study confirms that if your vitamin D blood levels fall below 20 ng/mL (or 50 nmol/l), your risk of heart disease shoots up by a third. Even worse, if your levels dip into the dangerously low 10 ng/mL area, your risk for atherosclerosis (the hardening and narrowing of your arteries) doubles! But your heart isn’t the only organ that craves D: your brain is a big fan too. In fact, over the years research has linked D deficiencies to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even depression. And just last year, an animal study—published in the journal Free Radical Biology and Medicine—showed us just how critical the vitamin is to cognitive performance and memory.

    D doesn’t just target organ health either… it’s a whole-body elixir that could help to both keep cancer at bay,and drive down your diabetes risk.

    Vitamin D targets whole body health

    Studies have shown an association between vitamin D and cancer risk, and many experts agree that the vitamin likely offers some protection against a variety of cancers including breast, colon, prostate and bladder cancers. Even mainstream medicine organizations, like The National Cancer Institute, agree that there’s epidemiological evidence linking adequate D levels to a reduced risk. Research has also revealed that vitamin D could play an important role in preventing diabetes. For example, a Tufts University study found that higher concentrations of D are associated with a lower diabetes risk. And then there’s the meta-analysis of more than 100,000 people that sheds some light on how it is that D may be driving down diabetes risk. Blood work from 28 different studies revealed that those men and women with the highest D levels tended to avoid the dreaded collection of pre-diabetes symptoms… including high blood pressure, high fasting blood sugars, low HDL cholesterol, high triglycerides, and a large belly... that are commonly known as metabolic syndrome. The truth is that a vitamin D deficiency and diabetes link is so promising that even the mainstream medicine drones couldn’t ignore it anymore. Late last year the VERY mainstream National Institutes of Health (NIH) finally decided to fund a large-scale clinical trial to explore the effects of D on the disease. And those really are just a few of the D highlights. There are literally hundreds of studies linking D to good health. The evidence is so vast that public health guidelines here in the United States, as well as those in many other countries, recognize the critical importance of maintaining healthy D levels. Unfortunately, their D recommendations are entirely too low. That’s why up to 90 percent of us may be walking… or dragging… around with a vitamin D deficiency. Besides trying to spend a little bit of time every day outside in the sunshine, I typically recommend taking 2,000 to 4,000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. Your doctor can run a simple blood test to figure out what your current levels are.
  9. Cracking open a can of heart disease: Diet soda health risks

    I’ve warned you before about the link between that swill known as diet soda – health risks including diabetes. In short, just one can a day could send your diabetes risk skyrocketing. (If you missed that story, click here to catch up right here on the NorthStar Blog.) Now a new finding, from a study that tracked close to 60,000 women, has found that diet soda health risks are even worse than we thought -- drinking two or more of the dastardly drinks a day could be deadly. It turns out that the ladies with a bit of diet soda habit were FAR more likely to keel over from heart disease, than the women who rarely downed the drinks.

    30 percent higher risk of stroke or heart attack!

    According to the findings presented at a meeting of the American College of Cardiology on diet soda health risks, the diet soda drinkers had an incredible 30 percent higher risk of suffering a stroke or heart attack. (It’s not the first time we’ve seen a stroke connection. Click here to learn more.) Even worse, their risk of dying from heart disease was a staggering 50 percent greater than the women who hardly touched the stuff! And while those who tow the mainstream medicine line would like you to believe that diet sodas are really just the innocent bystanders in this story—and the steep rise in risk is simply because all of these women are making up for other bad health habits with their diet soda drinking—you and I know better, don’t we? Sure, no one would deny that other bad habits do play a role in raising your heart risk. But there’s no denying the mounting evidence that artificial sweeteners, like the aspartame and sucralose (Splenda) found in diet sodas, can monkey with your blood sugar and insulin levels.

    Artificial sweeteners overstimulate sugar receptors

    In addition, many experts believe these fake sweeteners can backfire, over-stimulating your sugar receptors, as well as literally causing you to crave and eat MORE sugary sweets. And frankly, with all these strikes against them, it doesn’t take a genius to see why diet-soda drinkers would have not only an increased risk for diabetes and obesity, but heart disease as well. The bottom line is, diet soda is anything but an innocent bystander. If you’re still drinking these killer “cocktails” in a can, it’s time to kick the habit before it kicks you.
  10. Don’t fall for bogus new statin guidelines

    Are you on a statin? If not, hold onto your hat, as you might be much sooner than you think. In fact, according to new statin “guidelines,” if you’re over 60 it’s practically a done deal… more on that in a moment. And if you are already on one, you better back up and make some room, because you’re about to get a LOT more company… around 13 million new statin users (I sure hope you have some extra guest towels on hand). You may have heard by now, while we were ramping up for the holidays—and still bundled up in mittens and scarves—the “geniuses” at The American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Cardiology (ACC) got together to dream up the most insane set of new statin guidelines you could imagine. But what Big Pharma’s best buds at the AHA and ACC actually did was give the drug companies the best late Christmas gift EVER. Their proposed Mickey Mouse guidelines vastly expand who can get these dangerous drugs, practically proposing every blessed American adult start popping these cholesterol-lowering “poisonous” pills. And if you suspect I’m exaggerating, unfortunately I’m not.

    Statins for everyone!

    If you’re over 40 you have around a 50% chance of your doc whipping out a prescription pad and dashing off a new statin prescription for you at your next checkup. And if you’re a man 60 or older, you may as well go ahead and clear a spot behind the bathroom mirror for your new statin bottle. If you don’t fall into those two categories, or your cholesterol isn’t elevated, don’t start celebrating too quickly. With the new statin guidelines you might still be getting an invitation to the statins party. Do you smoke? You’re on the guest list. Elevated blood pressure? Good news, your invite’s already in the mail. Diagnosed with diabetes? You get to join the statins club, too. In fact, a recent Duke University analysis found that what the new statin guidelines really mean is that HALF of every single person between the ages of 40 to 75 is now being advised to start downing a statin. And if that sounds crazy to you, that’s because it IS crazy. As I’ve explained before, statins are nothing but bad news.

    Avoid severe statin side effects

    Around 10 to 15 percent of statin users will suffer from—sometimes severe—muscle pain… not to mention serious aches and fatigue. And if you like to exercise for your health, if you become a statin user you better proceed with caution. Your risk for those debilitating muscle pains shoots up to 25 percent. Even worse, you could even be one of the unlucky souls who suffer from—sometimes permanent—muscle damage. But that’s far from the worst side effect that could be hiding in bottom of that statin bottle. Your brain needs cholesterol to stay in tip-top shape. That’s why so many statin users suddenly find themselves suffering from memory problems. And your eyes need the compound to stay crystal clear, so as a statin user you may have cataract surgery in your future. And while those statins are ridding your body of valuable cholesterol, they’re also depleting it of the important antioxidant CoQ10. I’ll give you one guess what organ thrives on the energy-producing abilities of CoQ10:yes, your heart.  In fact, the antioxidant has been proven to slash death risk in heart failure patients by 50 percent, according to researchers in Denmark. But we haven’t even gotten to the worst statin side effect yet. Statins cause your risk for type 2 diabetes to skyrocket. So you could be trading in elevated cholesterol (or even just the potential for elevated cholesterol) for a raging case of diabetes… not to mention all the complications that come along with the disease, including, ironically, hypertension, heart disease, and stroke. But with all those side effect risks, at least you can rest assured that statins are significantly lowering your chance of dying from heart attack or heart disease, right? Wrong. In a massive study of 10,000 people, researchers found that statin users still had the same death rate as those with high cholesterol who went the “usual care” route... watching their weight, getting some regular exercise, and not smoking. And, in fact, that’s exactly where my all-natural heart-healthy “prescription” for lowering cholesterol begins… skip the dangerous statin drugs, start watching what you eat, get a little exercise, and quit smoking. Next add in some heart-supporting supplements. To keep your ticker in tip-top shape I recommend L-Carnitine (1,000 mg), magnesium (500 to 800 mg), Coenzyme Q10 (100 mg), and mixed tocopherols vitamin E (400 to 800 IU). If your doctor is trying to force a statin on you because of the new statin “guidelines” it’s time to find a new doc. I recommend a naturopathic doctor you can trust to tailor an individual all-natural plan for you.
  11. Low fat diet is all wrong--Eat MORE fat to live longer and healthier

    Like a breath of fresh air. That’s how it felt when I ran across a recent editorial on the low fat diet craze, published in the BMJ journal Open Heart. Dr. James DiNicolantonio, a well-respected and leading cardiovascular scientist, did the unthinkable. He openly admitted that a diet low in saturated fat… the very low fat diet crammed down our throats by the entire medical establishment for more than 50 years… will NOT prevent heart disease or prolong life. Now as a Guide to Good Health reader his announcement might not seem all that revolutionary. After all, I’ve been telling you about the pitfalls of the saturated-fat-myth for many years now.  But make no mistake about it, for someone in the mainstream this was a very brave act. And that sound you’re hearing? No doubt it’s doors slamming as Dr. DiNicolantonio’s (ex) buddies in the mainstream turn their backs on him for daring to tell the truth about the low fat diet. No worries, Dr. D., we’ve got plenty of room for you over here on our (SANE) side of the fence.

    Saturated fat is not the problem!

    To understand where this ridiculous idea that a diet high in saturated fat will somehow harm your heart came from, we need to rewind all the way back to the 1950’s. It was then that another researcher lit the fuse, when he claimed to have found an association between fat calories as a percentage of overall calories and death from heart disease. For whatever reason this notion caught on like wildfire, and for over three decades now we’ve been told that if we don’t drastically limit the amount of saturated fat in our diets, we’re dooming ourselves to high cholesterol, heart disease, and an early death. The only problem? As Dr. DiNicolantonio pointed out in his editorial, the research on the low fat diet from the 1950’s study was flawed. I’ve warned you before about the dangers of cherry-picked data in studies, and that’s exactly what happened in the case of this fatally flawed fat study. Either deliberately, or through pure incompetence (take your pick), the researcher chose to use data from only six countries that happened to match his hypothesis. The data from sixteen other countries that didn’t that match were rejected, and never made it into the study. What followed was an overhauling of diet recommendations. Soon docs everywhere were preaching the evils of saturated fats—and suddenly refined carbohydrates and polyunsaturated fats were being pushed in their place.

    LOW-FAT diet leads to heart disease

    Fast forward, and over 50 years later we’re now being told to limit our saturated fats to less than 7 percent of our total daily caloric intake. Yet we’re fatter, sicker, and plagued with more heart disease than we ever have been before in history. And the evidence that cutting saturated fat will help reduce your heart risks? Oh, that doesn’t exist. But, according to Dr. D., what does exist in its place is research linking all those refined carbs and polyunsaturated fats you’ve being encouraged to gulp down to multiple health problems. You see, it’s no coincidence that heart disease, obesity, and diabetes have all reached epidemic levels in the last few decades.  We’re eating ourselves right into the grave with mainstream medicine’s so-called “heart-healthy” low-fat diet. And research, like the large-scale 2006 trial that found that low-fat diets don’t improve health outcomes or lead to fewer strokes or heart attacks –or the Spanish study that concluded we have to eat MORE fat to lower our heart attack risk—clearly shows that the mainstream approach has failed miserably. Dr. DiNicolantonio’s recommendations to turn this tide sound eerily familiar. In fact, as a Guide to Good Health reader you’ve heard them all before. Start by avoiding the deadly low-fat diet your doc is so fond of. Instead, choose unprocessed foods as much as possible, with lots of organic veggies, nuts, and grass-fed meats. I’d like to think this brave editorial signals a true sea change, but I sure won’t be holding my breath.
  12. Is omega 3 fish oil your heart’s best friend?

    A recently completed NIH study might have you soon adding more fish to your menu. According to researchers, the more fatty fish you have in your diet, the more your heart is protected. In fact, if you eat as much fish as our friends in Japan, you may even be able to ward off heart disease. It’s the omega-3s that are found in fish oil that are the key, of course. Fish oil naturally reduces inflammation and helps keep plaque from forming in your arteries. The researchers partnered with Japanese scientists to follow a mix of nearly 300 American and Japanese men for five years. They tracked a variety of heart-disease-related factors, including cholesterol levels, cigarette smoking, drinking, and diabetes and blood pressure status. (Even genetics were considered.) After taking into account all the heart-related factors, the American men, shockingly, had three times more artery calcification than their Japanese counterparts! What was the difference between the two groups? It turns out that the Japanese men had 100% higher levels of omega 3s in their blood streams. In Japan an average person eats about 100 grams of fish every single day—that equals about one and half servings. Even fish fans might find that much fish difficult to swallow. That’s where an omega 3 fish oil supplement can help fill the gap. Just be sure the one you choose comes from a source you trust.
  13. Vitamin D builds immunities

    If you had been watching me wade through my daily stack of research reading the other day, you’d have spotted me do one heck of a double take. Wondering what the line that caught my eye was? “Our data suggest vitamin D may be involved in maintaining the health of the immune system as well as the skeletal system.”  This remarkable “confession” was spoken by Dr. Mary Ward, one of the author’s on a new study on D that’s been accepted for publication in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. Now, there’s no denying the importance of vitamin D. There’s even a stack of research proving the critical role it plays in our health from fighting off respiratory infections to keeping you out of a nursing home… if you know where to look for it, of course. (Hint, it’s not in the mainstream media, but you can start with a search in the NorthStar Blog’s archives.)

    Be sure to get your D!

    But it’s still quite rare to see such a straightforward conclusion about the significance a vitamin plays in keeping us healthy, from such a mainstream, source. In this case, Irish researchers completed an observational study on 957 adults who were at least 60 years old. They found that those volunteers who were vitamin D deficient had significantly higher biomarkers for inflammation. And that’s important, because these biomarkers are linked to heart disease and other inflammatory conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. So what does this all mean to you and me? I’ll let Dr. Ward explain, “The results indicate immune function may be compromised in older individuals with vitamin D deficiency.” In other words, be sure to get your D! To raise your vitamin D levels, I recommend spending more time outside. But since many of us can’t—or don’t—get all the D we need from sunshine alone I also generally recommend taking up to 5000 IU of vitamin D3 daily. A blood test can help you, and your doc, figure out what’s right for you.
  14. 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.
  15. 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.
  16. 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.
  17. 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.
  18. 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.
  19. 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.
  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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