NorthStar Nutritionals Blog

Join the conversation and stay up to date on all your natural health news. Plus, discover solutions to everything from arthritis to blood sugar.

  1. D-3: Two for the price of one

    Last week, I suggested you take D3 to help ward off the flu. Well, if you followed my advice (and I hope you did), here's another thing D3 will do for you. It just might lower your insulin resistance, if you're prediabetic.

    Scientists recruited 81 South Asian women with insulin resistance to take part in a study involving the sunshine vitamin. Half the women got 4,000 IUs of D3 for six months. And the other half got a placebo. At the end of six months, the D3 women significantly lowered their insulin resistance following meals. They also lowered their fasting insulin levels.

    So if you followed my advice last week and started taking 5,000 IUs of D3, good for you. Keep it up. If you haven't started yet, there's no time like the present. Especially since you'll get two times the protection for the price of one!

  2. Douse inflammatory disorders without drugs

    You may ease your symptoms of colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, asthma, and other inflammatory disorders without taking drugs. That's what new scientific research out of Australia suggests.

    But before we get into the details, let's get a grip on how these problems take hold in the first place.

    Why your immune system goes rogue...

    A healthy immune system defends you against diseases, bacteria, and toxins. But sometimes, it becomes confused. It attacks the very stuff it's supposed to protect.

    So, for example, if you suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system strikes your joints. Your bones and cartilage also come under attack. Then, your body reacts with inflammation to fix the damage. As a result, your joints become swollen and sore.

    Now -- most conventional treatments for autoimmune disorders focus on drugs that suppress your immune system. So, for instance, if you've got RA, your doctor has probably told you to take a drug like Humira or Enbrel to ease the pain.

    And sure, these drugs may control your flare-ups. But, remember, they also suppress your immune system. And this comes with its own fair share of problems. In fact, new evidence suggests that taking these drugs (called TNF blockers) may increase your risk of getting a certain type of skin cancer by 50 percent.

    Scary stuff, I know. But, according to new research out of Australia, you may be able to bring your symptoms under control without resorting to drugs.

    Control your inflammation with food

    Australian scientists found that mice that eat plenty of insoluble fiber have healthier immune systems with less inflammation.

    Sounds too simple, I know. But stick with me.

    Insoluble fiber comes from fruits and vegetables as well as nuts and seeds. Your body converts the insoluble fiber you eat into 'short-chain fatty acids.' Scientists believe these fatty acids help reduce inflammation in the body. In fact, previous studies have shown that these compounds ease the inflammation of colitis.

    Sure, that makes sense. Eat more fiber and your colon problems settle down. No big surprise there. But what about other inflammatory disorders? Does insoluble fiber work on them too? Turns out, it does!

    In fact, it appears insoluble fiber has a calming affect on your immune system. That's because short-chain fatty acids bind with a molecule in your body called GPR43. And according to the new research, your immune system needs GPR43 to function properly.
    But if your body doesn't make enough GPR43, your immune system goes haywire, attacking its own tissues and creating inflammation. The good news is, by getting more insoluble fiber, you make more GPR43 available to your body.

    According to Professor Charles Mackay, one of the study authors:

    "The notion that diet might have profound effects on immune responses or inflammatory diseases has never been taken that seriously. We believe that changes in diet, associated with western lifestyles, contribute to the increasing incidences of asthma, Type 1 diabetes and other autoimmune diseases. Now we have a new molecular mechanism that might explain how diet is affecting our immune systems."

    Immune health starts in your gut

    According to the new research, there's one other factor critical to keeping your immune system toned down. And that's healthy bacteria. You've got to get plenty of it.

    According to Kendle Maslowski, the other lead author in the study, "Changing diets are changing the kinds of gut bacteria we have, as well as their by- products, particularly short chain fatty acids. If we have low amounts of dietary fibre, then we're going to have low levels of short chain fatty acids, which we have demonstrated are very important in the immune systems of mice."

    Now, I'm the first to admit it. Mackay's research is just a drop in the bucket. And they used mice, not humans.

    Nevertheless, I'm a believer. And that's because naturopaths have preached this same stuff for decades. Your gut is the frontline of your immune system. And certain foods help tame an inflamed immune system. Mackey's just added the scientific proof.

    My advice?

    If you've got an autoimmune disorder, go ahead and boost your intake of insoluble fiber (good sources include: dark greens, beans, broccoli, zucchini, celery, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and the skins of fruits). And take a daily probiotic with billions of active units of healthy bacteria. What's it going to hurt? And besides, if Mackay's research is on target (and I think it is), it just might help tone down your symptoms.

  3. Fight off H1N1 without resorting to Tamiflu

    As I said back in September, I think all the hype surrounding H1N1 has more to do with selling drugs than keeping people healthy. Here's one reason why... A couple of years ago when the Avian flu began to make headlines, the Swiss drug company Roche started cranking out barrels of Tamiflu. But the avian flu turned out to be a dud. And no one bought the drug. Too bad for Roche, right? They had all this inventory of Tamiflu just sitting on the shelf with no one to buy it. Then, along came H1N1. What a windfall for Roche! In fact, it looks like this will be a banner year for the company. They expect sales of Tamiflu will triple to almost $2 billion. Ease symptoms without serious side effects But here's the problem. Just because Roche is having an inventory sale, I still wouldn't recommend it to my worst enemy. Why? Just read this from the drug's web site: People with the flu, particularly children and adolescents, may be at an increased risk of self injury and confusion shortly after taking TAMIFLU and should be closely monitored for signs of unusual behavior. Give me a break...'self injury' and 'unusual behavior'? Those are pretty funky side effects for a drug that only acts to shorten the symptoms you'll most likely get over in a few days anyway. If you ask me, I'd skip Roche's inventory sale. Instead, focus on prevention with 5,000 mg of D3 daily. And if you do come down with H1N1, Echinacea and astragalus can help to shorten the duration without the risk of crazy side effects.
  4. Prevent macular degeneration with one simple food

    According to a recent study, you can cut your risk of developing age-related macular degeneration (AMD) by adding one kind of food to your diet. In fact, by eating more of this food, you may slash your risk by a whopping 35 percent. So for those of you who worry about losing your driver's license or making out the fine print on your medicine bottles, keep reading. In a moment, you'll learn about which kind of food works best to prevent AMD and how much you need. You'll be surprised to learn just how simple it is! But first let's take a quick look at how AMD starts... The deck's stacked against you Macular degeneration is the leading cause of blindness in older adults. Smoking ups your risk, but so does the simple act of getting older. In fact, as the years pass, your risk of getting AMD skyrockets. For instance, only about 10 percent of men and women between the ages 66 to 74 have AMD. But what a difference a few years makes! By age 75, almost a third of all men and women will get some degree of the disease. Subtle symptoms to start There are two types of AMD—wet and dry. Both involve damage to the macula, a part of your retina. With dry AMD, the tissue in the macula slowly erodes causing your central vision to become blurry or dark. Wet AMD is far less common. This occurs when tiny blood vessels under the macula begin to leak and cause scarring to your retina. The problem is, symptoms of both wet and dry AMD can be subtle to start. Images in the center of your vision appear out of focus. But the disease can progress quickly. And I've seen too many people lose their ability to drive because of preventable AMD. The good news is, you can help protect yourself against AMD and keep your vision strong well into your 80s and 90s and beyond. Here's how... Stack the deck in your favor! U.S. scientists looked at the eating habits of nearly 2,000 men and women with a moderate-to-high risk of developing AMD. After 12 years, they found that men and women who ate fish every week got some added protection against AMD. In fact, those men and women who ate the most fish cut their risk of developing wet AMD by 35 percent and dry AMD by 32 percent. What's so great about fish? Sure, it supports heart health. And it's a great source of protein. But can it really protect your eyes? Yes, it can! And that's because certain types of fish contain lots of omega-3 fatty acids. These nutrients protect you against heart disease, diabetes, and depression. And, yes, they even support the healthy nerves in your eyes! In fact, that's why companies like Enfamil and Nestle now add DHA and AHA (both fatty acids) to their baby formula. They know these nutrients support eye development in babies! Protect your eyesight into your 80s and 90s So how much fish do you need to eat to get results? Well, according to a similar study published last year by a group of Australian scientists, you don't need much. In fact, their patients who ate fish just twice a week slashed their risk of developing advanced AMD by 38 percent! So what does that mean for you? Well, if you want to protect your vision into your 80s and 90s (and who doesn't?), strive to eat salmon, herring, sardines or tuna two to three times a week. These fish contain the highest amounts of omega-3s. But avoid the farm-raised varieties. They can contain shocking amounts of mercury and other toxins. Instead, go for wild caught fish to avoid the toxins. You can also up your omega-3s by eating walnuts, Brazil nuts, and macadamia nuts or by taking a high-quality fish oil supplement. But remember, omega-3s tend to increase free radical production. So you always want to get plenty of selenium and vitamin E along with any fish oil supplement.
  5. Cut your risk of depression by 30 percent by eating Italian

    Eating fish, drinking red wine, and using olive oil in cooking may cut your risk of developing depression. That's what Spanish researchers discovered when they followed more than 10,000 healthy men and women for 10 years. Throughout the study, the researchers monitored each patient's diet as well as their mental health. While some patients ate whatever they wanted, others followed the so-called Mediterranean diet. This means they ate mainly fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and nuts. They also cooked with plenty of olive oil and indulged in the occasional glass of red wine.

    At the end of the study, the researchers found that the Mediterranean dieters fared much better overall. They were much more likely to steer clear of depression. In fact, the incidence of depression among the Mediterranean dieters was 30 percent lower than those who ate whatever they wanted.

    Researchers aren't exactly sure why the Mediterranean diet seems to support mental health, but they're on their way to figuring it out. If you ask me, it's all about eating fish and olive oil. These foods contain omega-3 fatty acids, nutrients known to support mental health. (A small glass of red wine at the end of a long workweek probably didn't hurt either.)

    Bottom line? While I'm not the biggest promoter of drinking alcohol, I do think you should use plenty of olive oil in your cooking. And strive to eat fatty fish two to three times a week. If you're a salmon lover, avoid farm-raised varieties. These poor fellas just aren't as healthy. And farmers actually inject dye into the filets to make them look pink. Instead, go for wild Alaskan sockeye salmon. You can even find individual packages in the freezer section of many grocery stores.

  6. Break the bad breath cycle by fixing the one hidden cause you will not hear about from your dentist...

    That's right. Chances are your dentist can't do anything to help your bad breath, because for many, it has nothing to do with brushing your tongue or using the right mouthwash. It's not even about avoiding onions and garlic. Believe it or not, chronic bad breath can actually signal a hidden problem lurking in your digestive tract. You see, every day there's a war waged in your gut. It's a battle for real estate, really. The bad bacteria (or intestinal flora) want to take over the good bacteria's territory. And, chances are, if you've got chronic bad breath, the bad bacteria have already taken over quite a bit of territory. Plus, as you get older, your army of good intestinal flora shrinks. That's why -- despite careful mouth care -- bad breath can be a big problem among older adults. Eliminate bad breath for good! Bad breath doesn't have to be a life sentence. You just have to get to the root of the problem. So, here's a list of things you can do to eliminate the causes: 1. BOOST YOUR INTESTINAL FLORA Too much bad bacteria in your gut can affect your breath! So how do you give the advantage back to the good guys? Yep, I've said it before. You've got to start taking daily probiotics. And a puny yogurt isn't going to cut it. You need to call in the big guns and take a probiotic capsule containing billions of units of acidophilus. 2. STOP THE SUGAR You've also got to limit your sugar intake. Believe it or not, your sugar intake directly affects your breath. Interestingly, this is why you'll find that people with diabetes often suffer from bad breath. You see, harmful bacteria in your mouth and gut feed on sugar. So if you give them lots of fuel, the bacteria will spread. If you limit the sugar, the bad bacteria have nothing to eat so they stay in check. Now remember, I'm not just talking about sugary foods, like cookies and candy. I'm also talking about any processed white flour foods, like bagels, bread, and cereal. Cut out these kinds of foods from your diet and I bet you'll see an immediate improvement in your breath! 3. WATER, WATER, WATER Drinking water helps to flush away bad bacteria from your mouth and gut. You don't have to go overboard. Just stay hydrated without resorting to sugary drinks. For instance, instead of coffee with cream and sugar in the morning, try drinking peppermint or ginger tea. For ginger tea, use whole, fresh ginger. Just heat up some water and add a slice of fresh ginger. Both peppermint and ginger aid in digestion. They also freshen your breath. Also, if you prefer something sweet in the morning, you can always add a few drops of the natural sweetener Stevia to your tea. 4. FRESHEN YOUR DIGESTIVE TRACT Here's another secret weapon against bad breath: chlorophyll. It's the green pigment found in plants and vegetables. It also helps destroy harmful bacteria in your body. You can get more chlorophyll into your diet by eating more green foods, of course. Eat lots of spinach, Swiss chard, and romaine lettuce. When cooking green vegetables, lightly steam or sauté them. This keeps them green and preserves the chlorophyll. Also try to use fresh herbs in your cooking, especially parsley as it contains lots of chlorophyll. In fact, chew a sprig of parsley after meals. It will freshen your breath and help control harmful bacteria in your gut. You can also take chlorophyll tablets after meals and at bedtime. These will help cleanse your intestines and keep bad breath under control. 5. CHOOSE TOOTHPASTE AND MOUTHWASH CAREFULLY I probably sound like a nervous Nelly, but I don't trust most toothpaste or mouthwash products on the market. Most tubes of toothpaste contain aluminum (one of the worst toxins to the human body). And most mouthwash products contain alcohol. This ingredient actually dries out your mouth and makes your bad breath worse over time! Instead, go for organic, herbal-based toothpaste that's sugar and saccharin free. You may have to head to the health-food store to find one you like. In terms of mouthwash, look for a brand that's alcohol-free. Or skip it altogether. If you're following each of the above steps, chances are, you won't need it anyway! In closing, remember that you can control bad breath once and for all by getting to the root of the problem. By following these simple steps, you'll do more than just mask your symptoms. You'll correct a digestive problem that's started to take hold. As an added bonus, you'll feel fresh and clean in your mouth all day long. And you'll definitely have more confidence talking to friends and family.
  7. Natural ways to support good hearing

    Do you feel like your hearing's just not as sharp as it once was? Well, you're not alone. About 36 million men and women suffer from age-related hearing loss. Well, before you order an uncomfortable and costly hearing device, listen to this new discovery: One of the most common vitamins on earth may help maintain hearing in older men! The trick is, you have to get plenty of it. Good news for spinach eaters... The study looked at 3,500 cases of men with hearing loss. Researchers asked the men about the kinds of foods they ate and the supplements they took on a regular basis. They found that men over 60 with the highest intake of folate from foods and supplements reduced their risk of developing age-related hearing loss by 20 percent. It's easy to get more folate into your diet. It's a water-soluble B vitamin found in foods like spinach, broccoli, asparagus, liver, and great Northern beans. Food manufactures also add folic acid to breads and cereals. But I wouldn't count on those "enriched" foods for anything. Go straight for the real stuff. And if you don't find you're eating enough naturally folate-rich foods, you can always take a folic acid supplement. A word of caution... Some prescription medications used to control diabetes, Crohn's disease, and rheumatoid arthritis interfere with your body's absorption of folate. So if you're taking medication for one of these conditions, be sure to ask your doctor about adding a folic acid supplement to your regimen. Alcohol also interferes with your body's absorption of folate. So if you're a regular drinker and suffer from hearing loss, my best advice is to cut way back. And add some folic acid to your regimen. Lastly, NorthStar Nutritionals has a product called VitaEar that contains 200 mcg folic acid as well as 14 other ingredients to help support your hearing and prevent nutritional deficiencies.
  8. You can turn back the clock on back curvature

    In photos taken in your 20s and 30s, your shoulders are back, your head's held high, and your back's as straight as a rod. (Just like your mother always taught you!) But as you've gotten older, things may have changed. Your back's not as straight as it used to be. You may have even developed a curve in your back known as a dowager's hump. This kind of curvature of the upper spine -- called hyperkyphosis -- is all too common among women over 60. Though men get it too, a dowager's hump mostly occurs in women with a history of osteoporosis or arthritis. Hyperkyphosis develops slowly over time as the vertebrae in the spine weaken. This makes it almost impossible for you to stand up straight. As a result, you can lose up to a foot of your height. Plus, the condition is often painful. Worst of all, for anyone who's supposed to be enjoying their "golden" years, this condition can wreak havoc on your self-esteem. Most people (even doctors!) think that once you develop the hump, there's nothing left to do but accept your fate. At best, you can try to slow the progression of the curvature. But that's simply not true. A new study out shows that you can significantly improve this condition by making one simple change to your exercise routine. New hope for lost causes... A team of scientists from UCLA recruited 118 men and women ages 60 or over with moderate hyperkyphosis. Though, when looking at the details of the study, I'd call it more than just "moderate" hyperkyphosis. Each of these men and women had curvature of the spine of at least 40 degrees or more. But despite their disability, each of the men and women remained in overall good health. No one had other serious ailments. They were all able to stand up independently. And none of them used a medical device, such as a cane or walker, to help them get around. But these men and women did experience pain. And about 60 percent of them said they experienced frequent or daily pain. So what did the UCLA scientists propose to do with these patients? Send them to yoga class, of course! Yoga: Not just for suburban moms and celebrities Scientists separated the patients into two groups. One group took a yoga class three days a week for six months. The other group attended an informational luncheon once a month during the study period. Well, how did the two groups compare after six months? You guessed it. The yoga group improved quite a bit. In fact, they decreased their spinal curvature by about 5 percent after just six months. On the other hand, the seminar group increased their spinal curvature after six months. In addition, the yoga group experienced less upper back pain and less insomnia. They also stood up more quickly from a seated position. Plus, they showed small improvements in their overall height. Turning back the clock on back problems Yes, I know. A five percent improvement isn't a total cure. But remember, hyperkyphosis takes a lifetime to develop. And these women improved their posture in just six months, instead of experiencing a decline. Plus, their pain improved as well as their mobility. Indeed, that's medically remarkable! In my book, it's like these women turned back the clock 5 to 10 years just by taking a yoga class. Imagine how they'd feel after taking yoga for several years. In closing, remember this: the human body is an amazingly resilient machine. Even a condition like hyperkyphosis -- once thought a lost cause -- can improve with the right tools!
  9. Seeing the hidden picture

    Have you ever looked at one of those optical illusions floating around the internet these days? If you look at the picture one way, you see a glamorous young woman wearing a hat. But if you look at it another way, you see an old hag with a crooked nose. That's kind of how I felt the other day. I came across an article about how scientists have been able to restore color perception to color-blind monkeys. I'm color blind, so I admit, the story piqued my interest. According to Jay Neitz, the study's lead researcher, "The great challenge of finding a way to cure color blindness is solved. Now, the great problem is transforming this technology so it can be used on humans and be perfectly safe." Wow! They found the cure for color blindness! Sounds amazing, doesn't it? Well, what about the flip side? Where's the old hag? Sure enough. She was easy to spot. You see, Dr. Neitz used gene therapy to "cure" the monkeys of their color-blindness. In fact, Neitz's team attached the missing gene to a virus and injected it into the monkeys' eyes. And, voila, there was my "aha" moment looking at the illusion. You see, gene therapy research scares the bejeezus out of me. There are many reasons why I'm against it; none of which is remotely religious. From a purely medical standpoint, I'm extremely wary of this kind of genetic tinkering. And that's because unplanned side effects accompany every single genetic manipulation. According to the article, the monkeys are "still alive" and doing well. But that hardly reassures me. I'd rather have my (relatively severe) color-blindness any day of the week!
  10. Beefing up your fiber

    You know fiber's good for you. It keeps the pipes running smoothly and keeps the laxatives on the shelf. Plus, according to many well-known studies, fiber helps protect you against colon cancer. But what about breast cancer? Does eating plenty of fiber play a role in preventing breast cancer as well? That's what scientists from the National Institutes of Health recently set out to discover. Are women eating enough fiber? Scientists asked 200,000 women to fill out a lengthy survey about their eating habits. Then they did some quick math to figure out each woman's daily fiber intake. Seven years later, the scientists checked back in on the women. More than 5,000 of them had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Did fiber intake play a role in preventing cancer? It sure did! Compared to women with low fiber diets, the women with high fiber diets decreased their overall risk of developing cancer. In fact, women with the highest fiber intake reduced their risk of developing certain types of breast cancer tumors by 44 percent. But is all fiber created equal? When most of us think of fiber, we think of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. But that kind of fiber, called insoluble fiber, really didn't help the women in the study very much. Instead, the women who ate the most soluble fiber got the most protection. This kind of fiber is found in foods like oats, nuts, barley, and flax seed. That certainly got me thinking. Why does soluble fiber provide more protection against breast cancer? We know that soluble fiber controls blood sugar and insulin better than insoluble fiber. Does that make a difference in preventing breast cancer? Or does it have to do with estrogen? We know that too much estrogen puts a woman at risk for developing breast cancer. Does soluble fiber help regulate estrogen in the body better than insoluble fiber? Clearly, this study raises lots of questions. And it may take years to figure it all out. But it definitely makes the case for eating more soluble fiber! So here's a little primer about how to get more into your diet... Soluble fiber facts Oatmeal makes a great breakfast high in soluble fiber. Plus, try to keep plenty of nuts around the house. They're high in soluble fiber as well as omega-3s. You can also get a decent amount of soluble fiber from apples, oranges, peas, pinto beans, brown rice, and carrots. All of these fiber rich foods will help fill you up and flush you out. Plus, they will help you metabolize sugar. They will also help keep your "bad" cholesterol in check. And they will even help you control the most nagging IBS symptoms. Stop counting fiber grams Some diets have you counting fiber grams. And most experts recommend getting 25-45 grams of total fiber per day. But I've never had to count fiber grams. That's because I eat lots of nuts, fruits, and vegetables. And I only eat unrefined grains like real brown rice, 100 percent stone ground whole wheat, dehulled barley, and steel-cut oats. (Be careful of the wolf dressed up in sheep's clothing. Any bread described as anything but 100 percent stone ground whole wheat isn't whole grain. And it's not going to do you any good.) In closing, let's hope these government docs have hit the nail on the head for once. It's good news, indeed, for women already eating plenty of fiber!
  11. Put on your bulletproof vest this winter

    Come December, you'll shake hands with clients. You'll eat breakfast at your favorite diner. And you'll kiss the kids or grandkids after their holiday program at school.

    But will you be wearing your bulletproof vest?

    Of course, I'm talking about your immune system. Like a bulletproof vest, your immune system protects you against the enemy...millions of run-of-the-mill germs, bacteria, and toxins that would like nothing better than to take you down.

    Actually, it's important to have a balanced immune system all year round, not just during the winter. Forget "boosting" your immune system for just a few months out of the year. You need constant steady support that helps you fight off invaders 365 days a year.

    For lasting support like that, I recommend PureImmune Plus from NorthStar Nutritionals. It contains 18 immune-supporting compounds that will help you build a tough immune system.

  12. Vitamin D: My Heart Healthy Obsession

    The newscasters can't stop talking about H1N1. I can't stop talking about vitamin D. Such is life. Well, at least my obsession is justifiable. According to one new study, men and women with low vitamin D levels significantly increase their risk of dying from heart disease. How much do they up their risk? You'll have to keep reading to find out. But I'll tell you this, it's not good. Especially when you think about how many of us don't get enough vitamin D. I've seen some studies suggesting as many as 94 percent of adults might be deficient. Disturbing statistics for retirees... Scientists from the University of Colorado and Massachusetts General Hospital teamed up to look at the role vitamin D plays in promoting health and longevity in elderly adults. They collected blood samples from more than 3,400 men and women ages 65 and over. They recorded each of the patients' vitamin D levels. Then they let the patients go about their lives for seven years. In 2000, the scientists checked back in with their patients. Just under half of the men and women had died. And about half of those deaths were due to cardiovascular disease. Hitting the bull's eye...twice! So how did vitamin D deficient patients fare? Not good, I'm afraid. Compared to patients with the most vitamin D, men and women with the lowest levels were three times more likely to die from heart disease. Plus, compared to their healthier counterparts, the deficient men and women were 2.5 times more likely to die from any cause over those seven years. Unfortunately, this study isn't the exception to the rule. It's the norm. In recent years, hundreds of studies have come across my desk showing the importance of vitamin D. In fact, back in August scientists found that low vitamin D doubles a diabetic's risk of suffering from heart disease. The study's lead investigator explained why vitamin D is especially important for your heart: "Vitamin D inhibits the uptake of cholesterol by cells called macrophages. When people are deficient in vitamin D, the macrophage cells eat more cholesterol, and they can't get rid of it. The macrophages get clogged with cholesterol and become what scientists call foam cells, which are one of the earliest markers of atherosclerosis." Getting to the heart of the issue... Yes, vitamin D is critical to maintaining optimal heart health. And if you don't get enough, you may cut your life short. Dr. Adit Ginde from the University of Colorado explains why: "It's likely that more than one-third of older adults now have vitamin D levels associated with higher risks of death and few have levels associated with optimum survival. Given the aging population and the simplicity of increasing a person's level of vitamin D, a small improvement in death rates could have a substantial impact on public health." Translation? Very few of us get enough vitamin D. Even fewer adults get enough to support good health into their 80s, 90s, and 100s. (That's how long we can and should live.) But it's really, really easy to get more vitamin D. Just go out in the sun for 20 minutes! Or take a vitamin D supplement. Something so simple to fix! Here's the bottom line: Most of us don't get enough vitamin D. How much do we really need? Well, that depends on who you ask. But don't assume that you're safe if you're simply getting your daily recommended allowance. Even our friends from the University of Colorado admit the RDA is too low to maintain optimal health. For anyone not getting out in the sun much, I recommend taking 2000 IUs of vitamin D daily. In winter months, go for 4000 IUs daily. Remember, sitting in the sun for 30 minutes gives you 10,000 IUs or more of vitamin D. So there's little risk of reaching an upper limit with this supplement. You can also get vitamin D into your diet by eating more eggs (naturally found in yolks), liver, and fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, and sardines). Also, if you think you are vitamin D deficient, ask your doctor to test your blood serum levels. Ideally, you'll want levels between 50-70 ng/mL. In closing, when you think about retiring...definitely consider setting up shop in a sunny state! Your heart will thank you.
  13. What is causing the rise in learning disabilities?

    Walk through any elementary school across the country and you'll see firsthand that learning disabilities are at an all-time high. According to the latest government statistics, approximately 8 to 10 percent of schoolchildren suffer from some type of learning disability, whether it is difficulty deciphering numbers, coordinating movement, or mastering reading. So what's causing the spike in learning disabilities among our children? Researchers at the University of Copenhagen think they've uncovered a major cause: vitamin C deficient mothers. Researchers at U of C tested vitamin C deficient guinea pigs and compared them against guinea pigs with adequate levels of the vitamin. They found that vitamin C deficient guinea pig suffered learning disabilities. In fact, their spatial memory was "markedly" worse, according to the University press release. In addition, the vitamin deficient guinea pigs had 30 percent fewer hippocampus neurons. These special brain cells help with learning and gathering new information. It's a big jump from guinea pigs to humans, but bear with me. Like guinea pigs, we must acquire vitamin C through the foods we eat. Our bodies don't make it naturally. So -- if a guinea pig with a vitamin C deficiency exhibits problems learning, it's fair to assume that humans might suffer similar consequences. In addition, U of C researchers are currently examining the effect a vitamin C deficiency among pregnant mothers has on guinea pig babies. Does it affect their learning? The next step, of course, is to study the theory in humans. Can a vitamin C deficiency in a pregnant woman cause learning problems for her unborn child later in life? Dr. Jens Lykkesfeldt, the study's lead researcher, seems pretty confident it can. According Dr. Lykkesfeldt, "We may thus be witnessing that children get learning disabilities because they have not gotten enough vitamin C in their early life. This is unbearable when it would be so easy to prevent this deficiency by giving a vitamin supplement to high-risk pregnant women and new mothers." As a reminder, I urge even the healthiest of individuals (especially pregnant women) to get at the very minimum 2,000 mg (1,000 mg 2x daily) of vitamin C. If you know of any pregnant mothers, make sure to forward them this week's Guide to Good Health. It may just save their unborn child from suffering a learning disability later in life.
  14. Pumping out Vaccine Machines

    It seems that the medical community has gone vaccine crazy! First Gardasil. Then the Shingles vaccine. Then the H1N1 vaccine. What's next? A vaccine for pimples? I sound paranoid, I know. But I've got my guard up, especially after reading that researchers at the University of Michigan have been busy developing a vaccine to prevent urinary tract infections. To be clear, I'm entirely against using a vaccine to prevent something the body can (and should!) fight off on its own. Case in point: urinary tract infections. Your body should ward off these nagging infections on its own. (Sometimes, you may need a little extra help to get rid of chronic infections. Keep reading and I'll give you some tips for conquering UTIs without antibiotics or a vaccine!) But proponents of the UTI vaccine say: think of all the benefits, especially for women prone to recurrent infections. No more antibiotics, no more agonizing pain, no more doctor visits. Plus, look at all the money it could save! According to one report, UTIs cost Americans $2.4 billion in doctor's visits, hospitalizations, and lost work time. Forget cranberry juice! Just vaccinate young girls and boys and they'll never have to worry about another urinary tract infection again. I have my doubts whether this vaccine will really prevent UTIs as well as real concerns about what these new -- and in my book unnecessary -- vaccines will do to the delicate immune system. Still, let's take a look at how the vaccine is supposed to work… The building blocks of infection Most UTIs are caused by E. coli bacteria in the urinary tract. The E. coli bacteria start causing trouble when they track down tiny receptors in the body called bacterial proteins. The bacteria attach themselves to these proteins, like two Legos snapping together. The bacterial proteins help the E. coli to find iron circulating in the body. The E. coli feed on the iron, using it to grow. Eventually, the E. coli multiply out of control and cause an infection. Outsmarting the bacteria? The University of Michigan researchers figured if they could find the proteins that E. coli attach to, they could stop the bacteria from multiplying. They analyzed 5,000 different protein molecules taken from a patient infected with E. coli. After this exhaustive search, UM researchers hit the jackpot. They found three proteins that E. coli use to set off their chain reaction and cause infection in the body. Researchers sprayed these proteins into the noses of test mice. Then they exposed the mice to a strain of E. coli. And what do you know…the mice didn't get UTIs! Evidently, by exposing the mice to these bacterial proteins, their immune systems became "primed" and ready to fight E. coli the next time around. Hurray for the mice…but what will this kind of vaccine do to a 60-year-old woman prone to UTIs? Say she's already gotten the shingles vaccine, gets the flu vaccine every fall, and this year will get the H1N1 vaccine. Plus, she's already had a bout of breast cancer. Think her immune system has gone a bit off track? Instead of knowing how to fight real invaders (metastic cancer cells), her immune system wants to sit back and relax and wait for the vaccine to jump start things. More on the way… The UM team is currently testing the vaccine against more strains of E. coli. The team hopes to move forward in the near future and test the vaccine in human trials. If all goes as planned, the vaccine could reach the market in a few years! I'm sure that would be a windfall for the drug company that purchases the rights to this vaccine. I can see the ad campaign now, targeting women prone to UTIs. But here's the thing…UTIs are entirely preventable. And, say you do get stuck with a UTI from time to time, you don't need a vaccine to get rid of it! Here's what you should be doing if you're prone to urinary tract infections: 1. Avoid any UTI vaccine! 2. Drink more water. 3. Take cranberry extract daily to help prevent recurring UTIs. In one study published in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, cranberry extract works nearly as well as antibiotics in preventing urinary tract infections. The antioxidants in cranberries prevent bacteria from sticking to the walls of your urinary tract. 4. Take probiotics daily. These "good" bacteria help keep harmful bacteria like E. coli in check. Take your capsules before meals and at bedtime. Look for a capsule with billions of units of these healthy bacteria. 5. As a general rule, you'll want to limit sugar and refined sugar products. This will help clear the infection and make you less prone to a recurrence. That's all well and good for preventing infections. But what about if you've already got a UTI? Well… Before panicking and calling your doc for antibiotics, consider giving D-mannose a try. It's the natural ingredient in cranberries responsible for fighting off infections. It will take care of just about any bladder infection caused by E. coli. Every two to three hours, you'll need to take 1/2 to 1 teaspoonful of D-mannose dissolved in water. Try this route for a day or two and see if you don't get some relief. Though, not all urinary tract infections respond to D-mannose. So if your symptoms don't improve within 48 hours, see your doctor. In closing, if you're watching the nightly news and you hear about the latest and greatest vaccine that will protect you against UTIs (or pimples!), just turn it off! You know better. And your body knows better too.
  15. Back pain got you down? Try the downward-facing dog!

    After a certain age, your chances of throwing out your back once in a while are pretty good. It doesn't take much. Just lift a heavy box the wrong way or spend too much time working in the yard and you're laid flat for a week.

    So what can you take to get you back on your feet? Pain killers or muscle relaxers, right? Well, according to a new study published in the medical journal Spine, you're actually better off taking a yoga class.

    In this $400,000 study funded by the National Institutes of Health, researchers followed 90 men and women with back pain over a period of three years. The participants all had mild to moderate functional disability due to their chronic back pain.
    Researchers divided the men and women into two groups. The first group received conventional medical therapy, which included drug treatments. The other group practiced yoga for 90 minutes twice a week. They focused on postures that would ease their chronic back pain.

    The results of the study were impressive. The yoga group had less pain, functional disability, and depression compared to the group receiving standard medical treatment. In fact, the yoga group fared better than their counterparts even six months after stopping their biweekly exercises. Furthermore, when the yoga group had pain, it was less intense than the control group. Plus, they could manage it with less medication.

    Bottom line here folks: if you're prone to back pain, get yourself enrolled in a yoga class. It might just get you off the "bad back" bandwagon.

  16. All about Onions and Colon Cancer

    Adding an onion to your sandwich might not earn you any points with your spouse, but it may help protect you against colon cancer. In fact, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, increased intake of quercetin (a nutrient found in onions) may slash your risk of developing colon cancer. Unfortunately, the onion gets a bad rap in many homes. Sure -- you may use them as flavor-enhancers in some of your favorite dishes. But when most of us try to "eat healthy," onions don't automatically jump to the top of the shopping list. And that's too bad…because onions are one of the healthiest foods on the planet. They've been used medicinally for centuries to treat everything from constipation to hair loss. Today, we know that onions have powerful anti-inflammatory properties. In fact, in many parts of the world, onions are used topically to reduce the swelling from bee stings, blisters, and boils. Scientists now know that onions are also a great source of flavonoids. Why are flavonoids important? Well, basically these phytochemicals (chemicals found in plants) are like the "Green Berets" of antioxidants. They seek and destroy toxins and cancer cells in the body like nobody's business. In fact, in 2004, researchers from Cornell University found that when you inject onion extract into cancer cells, the cancer cells stop multiplying. All onions aren't created equal Researchers measured the flavonoid levels of 10 different types of onions. They found that Western Yellow onions had highest flavonoid content. Shallots had the highest phenolic content (another type of phytochemical). The researchers injected colon and liver cancer cells with extracts from the different onions. According to the University's press release "The pungent yellow and Western Yellow onion extracts provided the strongest anti-proliferation against colon cancer cells. The Western Yellow, shallot, and pungent yellow extracts provided the strongest anti-proliferation protection against liver cancer cells." The team's lead researcher went on to say, "Our study of 10 onion varieties and shallots clearly shows that onions and shallots have potent antioxidant and antiproliferation activities and that the more total phenolic and flavonoid content an onion has, the stronger its antioxidant activity and protective effect." Getting results outside the lab? No doubt about it, the Cornell folks got great results in the lab using onion extract to stop dividing cancer cells. But what about in real life? Does eating more onions translate into cancer prevention? That's what researchers set out to discover in the latest study published in the British Journal of Nutrition. Scientists designed a case-control study with 264 patients with confirmed colorectal cancer and 408 healthy, cancer-free controls. They found that patients with the highest intakes of quercetin, the flavonoid found in onions, significantly reduced their risk of developing colon cancer. In fact, those with the highest intakes reduced their risk by up to 40 percent! Well, what do you know! One of the world's oldest (and most pungent) vegetables might also be one of the most beneficial. Choose your onions wisely Overall, these studies just scratch the surface. More research is needed to fully uncover the role onions play in preventing cancer. I'll keep you posted as I run across more evidence exploring the benefits of these vegetables. In the meantime, go ahead and throw caution to the wind! Add onions to your salads, sandwiches, and stir-fries. Choose shallots and Western Yellows, for the most antioxidant punch. And if you're worried about bad breath, just chew on a little fresh parsley following your meal. That should do the trick quite nicely. I keep a fresh parsley plant in my kitchen window for just such occasions!
  17. Answering reader questions about L-tryptophan

    A few weeks back in 9-03-09's Guide to Good Health, I discussed natural ways to improve your sleep. I suggested giving the amino acid L-tryptophan a try as a natural alternative to prescription sleep aids. Well, it seems my advice may have been a little unclear and I received this e-mail message from one GTGH reader:

    Why does it say that it's OK to take L-tryptophan if you are under 40? I am 61 and have been taking it with good results. I would appreciate any insight that you could provide. Thanks....D. Parkhurst

    First off, let me say thanks for the feedback! It's great to hear that some of you are already having success with L-tryptophan.

    Now, on to your question...

    What I meant to emphasize in 9-3-09's article is that if you're under 40, L-tryptophan is your best option. I don't recommend anyone younger than 40 take melatonin as it's a hormone. Since hormone production starts to flag after a certain age, melatonin is generally considered a safe bet for anyone past their 40th birthday.

    But if you're over 40, feel free to try melatonin or L-tryptophan. L-tryptophan, as you can attest, is a great way for men and women of all ages to get a better night's rest.

  18. Enjoy the last locally grown tomatoes

    Summer's over and I'm going to miss all the locally grown tomatoes I enjoyed on my salads. Not only were the tomatoes this season tasty, they also provided me with much-needed lycopene, a nutrient found in brightly-colored fruits and vegetables that's known to help protect against cancer, diabetes, and even male infertility.

    It's also good for your arteries. In fact, according to a new study published in the journal Artherosclerosis, high blood levels of lycopene were linked to lower cholesterol and C-reactive protein, two markers used to assess heart health. The study was done on women, but I'd bet the same would hold true for men.

    So if you never want to hear your doctor say "your cholesterol is a bit high," try getting more foods rich in lycopene into your diet. Fresh tomatoes are going out of season in many parts of the country, but you can also find lycopene in red bell peppers, guava, papaya, pink grapefruit, and watermelon.
  19. The Good, the Bad and the Ugly about the H1N1 vaccine

    The H1N1 virus (swine flu) has had a relatively mild run in the U.S. so far, with about 550 virus-related deaths reported to the CDC. Worldwide, it's caused about 2,000 deaths. Unfortunately, we haven't seen the end of H1N1. Government officials say as many as 60 million Americans could get hit with the virus this winter. But don't worry. The CDC has it under control. The new H1N1 vaccine will protect you from this deadly pandemic! Officials at the CDC plan to have 45 million doses of it ready by October 15th for when flu season starts to take off. Plus, the government will keep pumping out 20 million doses a week throughout flu season. Eventually, the CDC hopes to vaccinate millions of Americans against the virus. (Plus, if they think they're running short on supplies...there's a little something called an adjuvant that they can add to the vaccine to make it stretch. More on that pearl of an ingredient in a moment.) The CDC wants children (and their caregivers) and pregnant women to get vaccinated first. Then they want to move on to adults between the ages 25 and 64 who have compromised immune systems. Why aren't older adults on that list, you ask? Well, that's because a similar H1N1 flu went around in 1957, so anyone born before then may already have some immunity to the virus.

    Questions about efficacy and safety Now, I know that the H1N1 virus has got a lot of you worried. But here's something to keep in mind as you hear the word "pandemic" thrown around by newscasters urging you to get the H1N1 vaccine this fall. Roughly 36,000 Americans die each year because of complications due to the seasonal flu. Even if the swine flu reaches that scale this winter -- which it won't -- it's still a bad idea to get the new vaccine. First of all, just because you get the new vaccine, doesn't mean that you're 100 percent protected against the H1N1 virus. You could still get it. In fact, the government has been pretty cagey about the vaccine's effectiveness. You won't find them going on record anywhere giving us any real data about how effective the H1N1 vaccine will be. The best offer you'll hear is that it will be about as effective as the seasonal flu vaccine. And maybe that's why about half of one group of care workers -- when surveyed -- said they won't get the H1N1 vaccine when it's ready. Safe as mother's milk? I also have serious questions about the vaccine's safety. Clinical trials for the vaccine involving adults and children began in July. In Maryland, officials had to sweeten the deal to encourage mothers to enroll their children in the clinical trial. In fact, they are handing out a $40 gift card to Target every time a mother brings her child into the clinic. Before it's all said and done, the vaccine will get tested only on about 4,500 human guinea pigs before rolling out to millions of Americans. But don't worry, in an August teleconference, government officials said the vaccine appears to be safe with no serious side effects. Riiight. Remind me...how many people have been given the vaccines...4,500? And how long have we been watching these people for adverse effects...three months? Okay, so based on a sample of 4,500 people, we'll know everything there is to know about the long-term effects of this vaccine by mid-October! Heck! It took me longer to paint my house than it will take the CDC to develop, test, and market this brand-spanking-new vaccine that will be given to millions of Americans. I guess the government can be efficient when it wants to be. It's just that I don't have a whole lot of faith in our government or the drug makers to get this right. First of all, the last time they pushed through a vaccine for the swine flu, the vaccine caused a paralyzing condition called Guillain-Barre Syndrome. How do we know the kind of same thing won't happen with the 2009 vaccine? In fact, it's possible that the H1N1 vaccine will roll out to the general public before the FDA's even had a chance to review all the data from this summer's clinical trials! To be continued... Next week, I'll continue my rant about the H1N1 vaccine. I'll also tell you all about a dangerous ingredient called an adjuvant the government may add to the vaccine to make it more potent. Plus, the head of the Department of Health and Human Services has enacted a law that protects Big Pharma from any lawsuits brought against the new vaccine. So even if the H1N1 vaccine kills thousands of people, the drug companies can't be sued. Learn all about Big Pharma's big fat carte blanche next week, plus how you can protect yourself against H1N1 without getting the vaccine.
  20. More proof that antioxidants do not cause skin cancer

    Back in 2007, a group of French scientists published a study suggesting that women who take antioxidants are four times more likely to develop melanoma. This study scared a lot of people -- especially women -- out of taking selenium, zinc, and beta carotene as well as other antioxidants. Thankfully, a group of scientists in the U.S. set out to debunk the French study. They published their findings in the August issue of the Archives of Dermatology. And what do you know… The French study was just plain rubbish. In fact, according to Maryam Asgari, MD, MPH, and lead author of the U.S. counter-study, their methodology was completely flawed! First off, the French study involved just 13,000 men and women. Not bad, really. But the U.S. study, on the other hand, was much larger. They looked at the vitamin intake and rates of skin cancer for more than 70,000 men and women. They found no link whatsoever between antioxidant use and increased risk of skin cancer. Plus, the French scientists only looked at men and women who agreed to answer a single question on their lifetime sun exposure. This strict limitation placed on the selection process clearly skewed the data, according to the new study's authors. Lastly, the U.S. study reiterates the findings of dozens of well-respected studies over the years that have found zero connection between antioxidants and skin cancer. Clearly, the French study was just a fly in the ointment and a poorly-conducted study at best. Just goes to show you that even so-called scientific facts are much more open to interpretation than most of us would think. In any case, keep up with the antioxidants. Not only will they NOT give you melanoma, they'll actually protect you against a whole slew of other cancers as well!