NorthStar Nutritionals Blog

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  1. Curbing Constipation Naturally Part 1

    When I was in medical school, I used to come across textbooks that said if your patient has three bowel movements a week, that's "normal." Wow -- can you imagine walking around carrying tacos from three nights ago in your belly? How's that considered normal?

    Going to the bathroom once every three days allows waste materials to spend far too much time in your digestive tract. As a result, toxins and antigens have the opportunity to invade your body. Not only do you end up feeling bloated, this puts you at risk for developing more serious digestive disorders, headaches, insomnia, and even cancer.

    What's considered "normal"?
    In a healthy body, the GI tract is constantly at work performing a wave-like motion called "peristalsis." This constant motion of contracting and releasing pushes unwanted materials through your bowel until it's released.

    When peristalsis is operating at full steam, you should have at least one to two solid bowel movements per day. Anything less means you're constipated.

    When things aren't running smoothly…
    When you're constipated, you feel uncomfortable and bloated. You're also more likely to suffer from diverticulitis and/or hemorrhoids.

    These two common conditions occur when food moves too slowly through your GI tract. This, in turn, places increased pressure on your bowel walls. Over time, your bowel walls can become weakened, causing a small pocket to form. This is called a diverticuli. If waste gets trapped there, it becomes inflamed and -- voila -- you've got "diverticulitis." The same kind of abnormal pressure -- when it occurs in your rectal area -- is what causes hemorrhoids.

    You'll find most people will say don't eat seeds if you've got diverticulitis or don't strain if you've got hemorrhoids. But that's not the answer.

    The key to preventing diverticulitis and hemorrhoids is to correct the underlying probl

    10 natural ways to curb constipation
    You don't have to resort to laxatives or stool softeners to stay regular. There are a few simple steps you can take to make sure your digestive tract is operating smoothly:

    STEP 1: Getting the right kind of fiber
    Of course you need fiber to stay on track. It's primarily what keeps your GI tract in a state of optimal peristalsis. Your body needs both soluble fiber (dissolves easily in water) and insoluble fiber (passes through your intestines almost unchanged). Aim for at least 35 grams a day.

    But choosing the right kind of fiber is where some people unknowingly slip up.

    Maybe you eat some fruits and vegetables with every meal. But what kind of grains do you eat? Are they 100 percent whole grain? Check the label. Does your bread say WHOLE WHEAT on the package? Sure, it looks brown, but check the ingredients list.

    Is the first ingredient on the list "enriched flour"? If so, it's not 100 percent whole wheat. Opt for breads and cereals made from 100 percent whole grains instead. These help grab and push out unwanted waste materials.

    Refined or enriched flour products, on the other hand, have been stripped of their natural fiber. Besides being devoid of nutrition, white rice and white flour turns into glue in your gut. Don't believe me? Squish up a piece of white bread and pour water on it. It turns into a sticky, gloppy mess. That's the last thing you want in your gut if you're prone to constipation!

    Of course, you can resort to taking a fiber supplement or a fiber drink. But I wouldn't recommend it on a routine basis. People taking fiber supplements tend to poorly absorb other vitamins and nutrients, as the fiber supplement can flush out the good as well as the bad.

    If you must resort to taking a fiber supplement once in a while, be sure to drink plenty of water. This will help break down the supplement and aid in the absorption of other nutrients.

    STEP 2: Drink plenty of water
    You don't have to drink a gallon of water a day to prevent constipation. A few full glasses a day should do the trick. Just make sure it's from a good source. (To learn more about the only kind of safe drinking water I recommend, read this previous Guide to Good Health.)

    Water is especially helpful in preventing a flair-up of diverticulitis. It tends to flush out food trapped in small pockets in your bowel.

    STEP 3: Add in probiotics and digestive enzymes
    For those of you who follow my Guide to Good Health regularly, you know that I'm a huge proponent of these two digestives aides. Make sure to take a daily probiotic such as acidophilus before meals and at bedtime. Look for a capsule that contains billions of active units of healthy bacteria.

    In terms of digestive enzymes, make sure you get a "full spectrum" capsule. This will contain the proteolytic, lipolytic, and amylolytic fractions. Take one capsule immediately after meals. If you can handle this without any stomach upset, you might try increasing it to two capsules after meals.

    STEP 4: Listen to your mother
    Mom always told us to chew our food. And guess what, she was right! Not only does eating too fast contribute to constipation, it also hinders your body's ability to break down your foods. As a result, you're not absorbing all the nutrients from your food.

    In addition, if you're prone to constipation, try eating smaller, more frequent meals. Again, these are easier for your body to digest and may just solve your constipation problem!

    Lastly, after a big meal, get up and walk around. Take a stroll around the block. Not only will it keep you fit, it will aid your digestion.

    STEP 5: Take a closer look at your medications
    You may not realize it, but many prescription medications can cause constipation. Certain pain medications and antidepressants are notable culprits. Be sure to check the packet of information you receive from the pharmacist for likely side effects. If constipation is one of them, make sure to devoutly follow STEPS 1-4! Iron is also a notable culprit. You really shouldn't take an iron supplement unless you're anemic, as it can cause constipation. It also promotes free radicals.

    To be continued…
    Next week we'll delve a little deeper into the causes of constipation and look at ways to naturally eliminate tougher cases.

  2. Maximizing profits one way or another

    Gardasil is the so-called "cancer vaccine" that's given to young girls to protect against the human papillomavirus (HPV), a cause of genital warts and cervical cancer. You've probably seen the touching mother-daughter commercials on TV.

    Well, if one Nobel Prize winner has his way, the touching mother-son commercials might be right around the corner.

    Here's why...

    According to Dr. Harald zur Hausen, the man who discovered the link between HPV and cervical cancer, there's only one way to wipe cervical cancer off the map: vaccinating boys too. That's according to an editorial he penned for the July 2009 issue of Lancet.

    Chomping at the bit
    You know execs at Merck are just grinning from ear to ear. The vaccine is already required in many states for girls entering 6th grade (thankfully, you can opt out). And now, hats off to good ole Dr. zur Hausen, Merck's market for Gardasil just doubled overnight.

    I can see the commercials now..."It's the responsible thing to do. I got my son vaccinated. Now I can be sure he won't ever give a girl cervical cancer." What a load of baloney!

    In a nutshell, here's the problem with Gardasil (as well as Cervarix, currently awaiting FDA approval) whether it's given to girls or boys:

    1. First off, it's just not necessary. The human immune system clears up most cases of HPV on its own. Yep, 90 percent of cases clear up on their own within two years! Don't believe me? Just ask Charlotte J. Haug, M.D., Ph.D. She wrote a paper about it for the New England Journal of Medicine last year. Or check it out on the American Cancer Society's web site.

    2. Secondly, Gardasil only protects girls against four types of HPV, not all of them. (There are over 100 types). So in theory, you can get your daughter vaccinated and she can still get cervical cancer!

    3. Thirdly, thousands of serious adverse events have been reported to the CDC regarding Gardasil, including reports of seizures and paralysis. Some of the girls who received the vaccine were hospitalized. Plus—at least seven young women died suddenly after receiving the vaccine.

    And for more information about the dangers of Gardasil, take a look at this video put together by a member of our research board, Jenny Thompson. If you think you know the whole story on Gardasil, I think you'll be shocked by what you're about to see. Just click here to start watching the video about the dangers of Gardasil. It's just a few minutes long...and those few minutes might just save a young girl's life.

  3. The Ghost of Vitamin E: Still Haunting Us Five Years Later

    Almost five years ago, Edgar R. Miller III PhD, an associate professor from Johns Hopkins University, dropped a bombshell on the nutritional world. He published an article warning us not to take large doses of vitamin E because it could increase our risk of dying. Miller's conclusions made a big splash in the mainstream news media. Everywhere you turned, you heard about the so-called dangers of vitamin E. I remember reading a particularly misinformed editorial in the New York Times entitled "Hazards of Vitamin E" after Miller's study was published. No big surprise there. Most mainstream hacks love to beat up on their favorite punching bag: nutritional supplements. To this day, we're still digging out of the mess created by Dr. Miller's study. Many people dropped vitamin E from their daily regimens. And that's a shame because it is one of the best tools we have to protect against heart disease and cancer. In fact, one recent study showed that taking vitamin E may reduce your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 28 percent. Low levels of vitamin E, on the other hand, are linked to bowel and breast cancer. So how much can you safely take? I'll answer that in a moment. But first let's look at why Miller's report is still a load of phooey five years later. Comparing apples to oranges Miller's conclusions were based on data gleaned from 19 different clinical trials. He found that men and women who took 400 IUs or more of vitamin E over a seven-year period had a greater chance of dying as compared to non-vitamin E takers. Most experts take this kind of research—called a meta-analysis—with a grain of salt. It's very different from a placebo-controlled clinical trial. In a clinical trial, patients would have been selected based on uniform criterion (such as age, overall health, gender, etc.). They would have been randomly divided into groups and given identical amounts of vitamin E or a placebo for a standard amount of time. But in Miller's analysis, nothing was standardized. Each set of patients came from studies with different protocols (meaning they took different amounts of vitamin E for differing lengths of time). They even took different types of vitamin E. Some took natural vitamin E (far superior) and some took synthetic vitamin E. Lastly, many of the patients Miller used in his analysis suffered from different types of chronic ailments, such as Alzheimer's disease and high blood pressure. Miller lumped all these results together to form his conclusion. But this kind of practice is like comparing apples to oranges. It allows too many variables for the results to be written in stone. But that's not my only beef with Miller's conclusions. There's more... Making a mountain out of a molehill Miller and his colleagues concluded that men and women who took 400 IUs or more of vitamin E over seven years had a relative increased risk of dying of about 1.05. But 1.0 is considered neutral. In my book, a .05 increased risk is hardly a red flag. Even among statisticians, a .05 increase is negligible considering the variables in Miller's analysis. This study should have been ignored, not touted. There are plenty of legitimate studies (and I mean loads of clinical evidence) dating back to the 1950s showing that vitamin E benefits your overall health. But if you'd read the media printed at the time, you'd have thought that taking vitamin E was a surefire admittance ticket to the pearly gates. Safely taking vitamin E Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant found in oils, nuts, seeds, and green leafy vegetables. It prevents cell damage and blocks the formation of free radicals (known to promote cancer). But as we get older, most of us don't get enough. And that's too bad. Because as we get older, vitamin E becomes even more important. In fact, according to a recent study by Yale scientists, men and women in their 70s and 80s with low levels of vitamin E in their blood experienced greater physical decline. The Recommended Daily Allowance for vitamin E is about 20 International Units (IU) per day. But that dusting of a dosage isn't going to get you anywhere. Vitamin E is safe in much higher doses. We've known that since the 1950s, when Wilfred and Evan Shute, (brothers and both MDs), used upwards of 8000 IUs of vitamin E on 30,000 patients with zero toxicity. Generally, I recommend looking for a gel cap that contains at least 400 IUs of vitamin E for someone in good health. Now here's where things can get tricky... Getting to know the vitamin E family Vitamin E is actually a family of eight different molecules. These molecules are divided into two groups: tocopherols and tocotrienols. Look for a gel capsule that contains these three tocopherols: beta, delta, and gamma. This is known as a "mixed tocopherol" because it contains three fractions of vitamin E. It provides balanced antioxidant protection. Alpha-tocopherol (sometimes listed as D-alpha or d-alpha-tocopherol) is the fourth fraction of tocopherol. It is the most common form of vitamin E supplements. But avoid taking this on its own as it upsets the balance of the other three factions, making them less effective. A word of caution: Dl-alpha (notice the difference in prefix) is a synthetic form of vitamin E and should be avoided for internal use. Look on the bottle to make sure it contains only 100 percent natural sources. If you can find a gel cap that adds in a healthy sprinkling of tocotrienols, that's even better! Lastly, always combine your vitamin E supplement with 200 mcg (micrograms) of selenium for enhanced antioxidant protection. A word of caution When adding vitamin E to your regimen, start out with lower amounts and gradually increase your dosage over several weeks. Occasionally the nutrient can be so stimulating to the heart, you can experience a moderate and temporary increase in blood pressure. In addition, vitamin E is a natural anticoagulant. So if you're currently taking blood thinner meds, I wouldn't advise adding vitamin E to your regimen.
  4. Can you ever get too much B?

    This week, I wanted to touch again on vitamin B. There are eight different B vitamins. They‘re all water-soluble, meaning your body flushes out any excess it can‘t use. This also means that because your body doesn‘t stockpile it, you really can‘t overdose on vitamin B. In particular, B-12 is one of the most important in this family of vitamins. Known as the "energy vitamin," it‘s used by every cell in the body. And it‘s especially important as we get older, as it also supports a strong memory. You can get B-12 by eating fish, meat, eggs, and milk. But as we get older, we tend not to get enough B-12. The current RDA in Europe of B-12 is a measly 1 microgram (mcg) per day. In the U.S., we do only slightly better. Our dietary reference intake (DRI) of B-12 is 2.4 mcg. I find that amount almost laughable. I‘d go for much, much more, especially if you are looking to support your memory and energy levels throughout the day. NorthStar Nutritionals‘ Sense of Mind contains 80 mcg of B-12 -- a great starting point for what your body really needs. You can click here to read more about Sense of Mind.
  5. Solve your chronic digestive problems by cranking up the engine of your stomach

    So what's my big beef with drugs like Nexium, Prevacid, and Prilosec? It's not much, really. Just that they mask your digestive problems, don't solve them. Plus -- once you start taking one, you may never get off it. Let me explain why… Millions of men and women across the country use proton-pump inhibitors (PPI) like Nexium, Prevacid, and Prilosec to improve their acid reflux, chronic indigestion, or peptic ulcers. These drugs work by shutting down the enzyme in your stomach that produces acid. But shutting down your stomach's acid production is never a good idea. In fact, if you suffer from acid reflux, chances are you don't have enough acid in your stomach. And it's only by adding more acid and enzymes to your system that you can the make the symptoms of this "chronic" problem disappear. More on how to do that in a moment, but first, consider this… Scientists prove PPIs induce acid reflux in healthy patients Scientists in from Copenhagen University studied the effects of PPIs on 120 healthy volunteers. (Just to be clear, these were people who'd never even had an occasional bout of acid reflux.) The patients were divided into two groups. One group got a placebo (sugar pill) for 12 weeks. And another group got 40 mg per day of esomeprazole (the PPI in Nexium) for eight weeks followed by a placebo for four weeks. So what did they find? Did both groups fare about the same? Of course not. In fact, during the wash-out phase (during weeks nine through 12), 44 percent of the patients who took a PPI experienced a "clinically relevant acid-related" symptom compared to only 15 percent of the placebo group. That means, after they stopped taking the darned drug, almost half of these folks experienced acid reflux, heartburn, or dyspepsia for the first time in their lives! Why did that happen, you ask? The study's authors called it a "rebound." You see, when the patients stopped taking the acid-suppressant, their bodies went into withdrawal. The researchers theorize that their bodies started over-producing a hormone that stimulates stomach acid. And this was during a clinical trial, with healthy volunteers! Just consider how this might play out in millions of homes across the country with someone who really suffers from GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease). Say a man has a bout of acid reflux. He has trouble getting rid of it. So he starts taking Nexium. He thinks he's got the reflux under control after eight weeks, so he goes off it. But then the symptoms return. Based on the conclusions of this study, his rebound symptoms could technically have been induced by the PPI! But he doesn't know that, of course. He just knows the symptoms came back. So he goes back on the PPI. I don't know about you, but in my book, that's called an addictive drug. It's a drug that you can never get away from scot-free. Soothing your stomach without drugs There are lots of options for controlling acid reflux without resorting to drugs like Nexium. Basically, the goal is to create a digestive environment that doesn't allow reflux to occur. First off, I would encourage you to add a probiotic like acidophilus to your daily regimen. Go for a capsule that contains billions of units of this beneficial bacteria. And you don't just swallow it with meals. Instead, you'll want to open up the capsule and pour the contents down your throat. Let your natural saliva wash it down. That way, your throat and esophagus will get coated with all soothing bacteria. This will also aid in your overall digestion. You should also add some "full spectrum" digestive enzymes to your regimen. You see, acid reflux occurs when your stomach doesn't produce enough acid. As a result, your food doesn't get properly digested and it starts coming back at you. Digestive enzymes crank up your stomach's engine and allow helpful acid to flourish. The enzymes also help you to properly break down all food types (proteins, fats, and carbs). Take them immediately after meals, so as to augment, not replace, the body's manufacture of its own enzymes. When acid reflux just won't quit Occasionally the combination of acidophilus and digestive enzymes isn't enough to stop severe acid reflux. You may have even developed an ulcer. If that's the case, you may experience relief with DGL, a form of licorice that has one component removed (DGL means De-Glycerrhizinated Licorice). Chewing or sucking on it 20 minutes before eating can be very helpful in difficult cases. If you've been dealing with acid reflux for a number of years, you probably already know to avoid spicy and acidic foods. But you may not know about lesser-known triggers for acid reflux such as flour products (sorry, no pancakes!), sugar, and even alcohol. Definitely avoid these triggers as well. I would also suggest eating several small meals throughout the day, instead of three all-you-can-eat feasts. This is approach is far easier on your digestive tract.
  6. Is your diet causing your Carpal Tunnel Syndrome?

    The gnawing pain in your hand and wrist just won't go away. It started out as a tingling sensation, but now the pain really puts a pinch on things when you're trying to write a letter, type on the computer, or work in the kitchen. You thought it was just arthritis at first, but now you know it's Carpal Tunnel Syndrome. You've tried resting your wrist and wearing a splint. But nothing's worked, right? Well, before you resort to drugs, injections, or surgery, here's something you should consider. Is it possible your wrist pain is related to your diet? More and more alternative medicine experts have begun to think so. In fact, yellow dye #5 (officially called Tartrazine) may be the culprit. Ideally, you shouldn't have any artificial dyes in your diet. I'd try eliminating all foods that contain them. You'll have to read all food labels carefully. Some products you'd never think to check contain dyes, like pickles, salmon from the seafood counter, mustard, horseradish, and even toothpaste. Now -- I haven't run across any scientific studies to back up the yellow dye hunch, just dozens of anecdotal success stories. If you decide to give it a go and scrap all the mac & cheese in your pantry, here's my fair warning: it may take up to six weeks to notice the results. But don't give up. Getting help with B6 Vitamin B may also help to ease your carpal tunnel. For most people, I recommend a good B complex (it's got all eight B vitamins in it). Go for at least 50 mg a day. If that doesn't work you can start to single out B-6. Try adding 100 mg of it a day. You can go as high as 400 mg per day. Some people start to worry about pyridoxine neuropathy with anything higher than 400 mg, but personally I think it's extremely rare. Plus -- B-6 always works better with magnesium. So always make sure you get 400-500 mg of that per day as well. Also, I'd also consider starting some acupuncture treatments before resorting to more invasive measures. As always, the American College for Advancement in Medicine is a great place to look for a qualified practitioner in your area.
  7. Rethinking the grapefruit diet

    Nearly everyone's heard of the grapefruit diet. It's a short-term approach to weight loss (low carb, healthy proteins) with one unique feature. For 12 days you're supposed to eat a serving of grapefruit with every meal. It appears that by adding grapefruit to a protein-based meal, your metabolism gets kicked into overdrive. This diet's a quick fix and it's really for those folks looking to drop a few pounds quickly. But I've always had a hunch that there's something worthwhile about this diet just waiting to be discovered. Sure -- grapefruit is healthy. It's packed with vitamins. But why does adding it to your diet seem to spur on weight loss? Well -- a new study published in the medical journal Diabetes zeroed in on one secret ingredient in grapefruit responsible for that sudden boost in metabolism. More than just an antioxidant Grapefruits contain a type of flavonoid called naringenin. It's basically an antioxidant that seeks and destroys free radicals (those nasty agents that promote cancer). But as followers of the grapefruit diet can tell you, naringenin also boosts your metabolism. In fact, the new Canadian study examined exactly how naringenin works and why it promotes weight loss. Scientists divided healthy mice with normal body weight into four groups. They fed one group a normal, healthy diet. The second group received a high-fat, high-calorie diet. The third and fourth groups received a high-fat, high-calorie diet along with a naringenin supplement. After just four weeks, the mice on the high-fat, high-calorie diet became obese. In addition, they became insulin and glucose intolerant. On the other hand, the two groups who received the naringenin supplement fared much better. Despite the same high-fat, high-calorie diet, these mice didn't gain weight like their counterparts. In addition, the naringenin mice didn't develop key health factors linked to Metabolic Syndrome. What's Metabolic Syndrome? Sometimes called "Syndrome X," it's when you have significant fat around your belly as well as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and insulin resistance. According to some published reports, as many as 40 percent of adults over age 60 have Metabolic Syndrome. And many experts believe that once you've got it, you also significantly increase your risk of suffering diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. But the mice taking naringenin didn't get metabolic syndrome. In fact, they lowered their triglyceride and cholesterol levels. They also continued to metabolize glucose normally and they never developed a resistance to insulin. So how did naringenin work such magic? Did it block the absorption of the fat? Did it suppress the appetite? Well, in fact, none of the above. The naringenin mice never absorbed the fat because their livers got kicked into high gear and flushed out what they didn't need for energy. Words of caution Now -- before you go off and start eating grapefruit with every meal, there are a few things you need to know: 1. First off, this study involved mice. As a general rule, I don't put a whole lot of stock into a study's findings if it's only proven to work on mice. Scientists still have a long way to go to prove that naringenin works the same magic in humans. But given what we already know about grapefruit, I've got a pretty good hunch that scientists will eventually find that this powerful antioxidant does have a positive affect on human metabolism. 2. Secondly, the mice didn't drink grapefruit juice every day. They took naringenin extracts. So it's tricky to determine how much you or I would need to get the same benefits of naringenin. According to the study authors, you'd have to drink roughly six to eight glasses of grapefruit juice a day to get the equivalent to what the mice took. And that's a lot of grapefruit juice. It's probably a better option to take a grapefruit juice capsule, like the mice did. But they're hard to find. 3. Thirdly, grapefruit juice is pretty powerful stuff. In fact, it blocks the absorption of certain types of drugs, like statin drugs and calcium channel blockers. (Unfortunately, men and women taking these drugs are the ones most likely to benefit from naringenin.) So make sure to consult with your doctor before adding naringenin to your diet, especially if you take any type of prescription drug. 4. Lastly, be sure to add a good probiotic capsule before meals if you begin a naringenin regimen or start eating grapefruit regularly. As I said before, grapefruit juice is pretty powerful stuff and can be hard to digest. But the probiotic will help regulate your digestion and soothe your stomach.
  8. Skip the angioplasty and start moving!

    So you've got heart disease and your arteries have begun to narrow. Technically, it's called coronary artery disease (CAD). And it's the most common type of heart disease. You may even consider yourself lucky. Up until this point, your biggest complaint has been occasional angina pain (or chest pain) due to narrowing of your blood vessels. But at your most recent check up, your doctor said you're a ticking time bomb. He found a clogged artery this time around. He said the only way to prevent a heart attack or stroke is to do an angioplasty. This is where the doctor places a small folded balloon into your artery. He then inflates the balloon to help open up blood flow. Doing this usually flushes out the plague that may have caused the blockage in the first place. Then a stent, or small tube, is placed there to keep the artery propped open following the procedure. The big question is: Should you take his advice and go under the knife? It's seems as though every Tom, Dick, and Harry on your street has already gotten one. Why not you? In fact, in the U.S. alone, we spend $25 billion a year for doctors to perform 1.2 million angioplasties...they must do the trick, right? Well, not so fast. According to new research out of Germany, you're much better off starting an exercise program than getting an angioplasty. German scientists from the University of Leipzig studied heart disease patients to see what kind of treatment turned up the best results. Each of the patients had angina, but were generally considered in stable condition. They were also all candidates for angioplasty, meaning one of their arteries had narrowed to the point of causing angina. The scientists divided their heart disease patients into two groups: one group received an angioplasty to treat their clogged artery and one group began a daily exercise regimen. They followed up with each patient after five years. They found that 63 percent of patients who followed a moderate daily exercise program survived without experiencing a cardiac event (such as heart attack, stroke, or death). On the other hand, only 40 percent of patients who received an angioplasty survived without a similar cardiac event. To me, this stunning research should make your decision crystal clear. Skip the angioplasty and tell your cardiologist you're going for a walk. Literally.
  9. Serious problems with "safe" over-the-counter drugs

    This week I'm writing about a drug that is extremely toxic to the liver. In fact, it's the leading cause of acute liver failure in the U.S. Plus, since it doesn't kill you right away, many people assume that it's harmless, even in higher dosages. But now it seems even the FDA may admit otherwise. In fact, a panel of experts recently recommended the FDA adopt new restrictions on this drug. I'm talking about acetaminophen (the main active ingredient in Tylenol). Acetaminophen is an over-the-counter analgesic (or painkiller). Lots of people use it to treat occasional aches and pains. In fact, it's one of the most used drugs on the market. According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, nearly 20 percent of the adult men and women in the U.S. use it in any given week. Safe enough for babies? Unfortunately, many people assume that acetaminophen is a gentle pain-reliever that can't do much harm. It's safe enough for babies. It's got to be safe for you and me, right? Well, that's not always the case. Just consider this... Currently, the single dose limit for acetaminophen is 500 mg for adults. The daily limit is 4,000 mg (or eight Extra Strength Tylenol capsules) for adults. But acetaminophen becomes toxic to the liver after a single dose of just 7,000 mg in adults. That's not even double the daily dosage. You can see how someone might inadvertently take too much if they were trying to manage their pain after a bad fall or following dental work. If the FDA decides to adopt the advisory panel's recommendations (and I hope they do), the recommended maximum dosage would come down to 2,600 mg per day and 325 mg per single dose. Too much of a good thing... Many adults use acetaminophen every day to manage their chronic pain. They may even take triple or quadruple the recommended dose to handle their pain on a regular basis. This sets them up to reach the toxic threshold much more easily. In addition, you can inadvertently reach toxic levels by mixing acetaminophen with other medicine. For instance, say you take an antacid to control your stomach upset. Maybe you also take an allergy pill to handle your springtime sniffles. Then you take a Tylenol when a tooth begins to bother you. Well, guess what? This could put you at serious risk for liver failure. You may not realize it, but all three of these drugs can contain acetaminophen. In fact, many cold and allergy products on the market contain acetaminophen. Be careful to check the label on the following products, as they may contain acetaminophen:
    • Alka-Seltzer Plus
    • Bayer Select Aspirin Free
    • Benadryl
    • Cepacol
    • Comtrex
    • Coricidin
    • Excedrine
    • Feverall
    • Nyquil
    • Percocet
    • Robitussin
    • Sudafed
    • TheraFlu
    • Triaminic
    • Vicks
    • Vicodin
    • Zicam
    Isn't it amazing to see just how many non-painkillers out there also contain acetaminophen? Now, don't get me wrong. Taking these medications for the occasional headache or sniffle is probably fine if you follow proper dosing guidelines. But if you've got chronic pain that just won't go away, there are other options you should consider. Getting rid of joint pain without drugs If you've got general aches and pains, you can also go for natural agents like white willow (the origin of aspirin), Boswellia, or bromelain. In terms of joint pain, I've always recommended glucosamine and sometimes chondroitin. In addition, you may want to consider addressing the root of your pain, instead of just masking it with painkillers. Have you ever given acupuncture or chiropractic adjustments a try? If you're willing to go that route, check out the American College for the Advancement in Medicine. It's a great resource for finding an established and skilled complementary health professional in your area. Use caution with acetaminophen & alcohol In closing, a note about acetaminophen and alcohol. You may not realize it, but drinking just one glass of wine with dinner puts demands on your liver. Add acetaminophen to the mix and you're asking for trouble. In its early stages, liver failure due to acetaminophen toxicity can seem like the flu. If you experience nausea, loss of appetite, vomiting, abdominal tenderness in your upper right quadrant, heart palpitations, or jaundice after taking any drug containing acetaminophen, seek immediate medical treatment. They could be signs of liver failure. In the meantime, I'll keep you posted on any new acetaminophen regulation. I doubt Johnson & Johnson will give in without a fight. It's a billion dollar industry, after all.
  10. Just take your pills and do not ask questions

    Last month a study came out in the peer-reviewed British Medical Journal (BMJ) that even shocked a cynic like me who suspects everyone's been paid off. Let me explain why... In the BMJ study, researchers concluded that women with osteoporosis who take a bisphosphonate drug (such as Fosamax, Boniva, and Actonel) should not get a bone mineral test for at least three years after beginning treatment. Why not, you ask? Don't we want to know how well the drugs are working? Don't we want to see if her bones are getting stronger? Well -- I guess not. According to the study, these tests can be "misleading." Apparently, these tests sometimes show a loss in bone density after a woman starts taking a drug like Actonel. As a result, the woman might question the effectiveness of the treatment and -- heaven forbid -- she might stop taking the drug. So because the test might show that the drug's not working, the study authors recommend not getting the test at all...well at least not for the first three years anyway. I almost fell off my chair when I read that one! As you may recall from my 12-18-09 Guide to Good Health "Somebody Warn Sally Field," I'm not a big fan of bisphosphonate drugs. Sure -- they stop your bones from losing their calcium, but they also block your bones from absorbing new calcium as well. This makes for brittle bones that are prone to fractures. Truth is, there are lots of non-drug options for women who've got osteoporosis. If you want to read more about how to build strong bones without these drugs, visit this link to find my article: http://www.northstarnutritionals.com/article_list.php?docs_id=77 And, by the way, any guesses which companies one of the study authors has financial connections to? You got it. None other than Proctor & Gamble, the makers of Actonel and Roche Diagnostics, the makers of Boniva. Plus, he received "honoraria" from Merck, the makers of Fosamax. Just a coincidence? I hardly think so.
  11. The Blood Sugar/Antidepressant Connection

    I know many of you reading this may suffer from depression. And you may take an antidepressant to help control your symptoms. But antidepressants aren't without their own pitfalls. A common side effect is weight gain. Some would say it's a small price to pay for regaining your mental stability. But gaining weight can also put you at risk for developing a whole host of other health problems. In fact, authors of a new study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry wanted to determine if taking an antidepressant increased your risk of developing diabetes. To figure this out, researchers analyzed the medical data of 165,000 men and women who took antidepressants to treat their depression. Were these patients more likely to get diabetes? Serious side effects for some users After analyzing data, researchers found that long-term use (more than 24 months) of antidepressants in moderate or high daily doses increased a patient's risk of developing diabetes. The antidepressant/anti-anxiety drug Paroxetine (Paxil) was the worst offender. Men and women who took 20 mg/per day or more of Paroxetine for at least 24 months experienced a four-fold increased risk of developing diabetes. On the other hand, patients who only used antidepressants for a short amount of time (less than 12 months) or who used lower daily doses did not increase their risk of developing diabetes. Here's the good news: while long-term use certainly seems to increase your likelihood of developing diabetes, a short-term stint may not cause a problem. So if you must resort to a prescription drug to help with your depression, keep it as short as possible. Furthermore, if you experience mild or occasional symptoms, you may also want to consider dietary causes of your depression. Can certain foods cause depression? Yes! In fact, in my practice, I found that mild depression was often caused by uncontrolled high blood sugar. You see, when you eat a jelly donut, it causes an intense sugar rush. Your blood sugar spikes off the charts. Your brain then sends an urgent message to your pancreas to crank out more insulin to control the sugar surging in your blood. But because your blood sugar went up so fast and so high (as will happen with sugary foods), your pancreas secretes way too much insulin. As a result, your blood sugar comes crashing down. In fact, it crashes too far. And then you have low blood sugar. Not surprisingly, at this point you may feel a craving for more sugar to boost your levels back up. And so begins a vicious cycle. But when this happens day after day, year after year, your body begins to exhibit very real symptoms, not the least of which is depression. So if you're feeling slightly depressed, try eliminating sugar and simple carbs like white rice, potatoes, pasta, and bread. Instead, go for meals with plenty of protein. The secret of omega-3s
    Speaking of good protein, wild salmon is one of the best if you're prone to depression. That's because it contains lots of omega-3 fatty acids. According to a study published this year, women who have the highest intake of omega-3 fatty acids improve their depression by nearly 30 percent! Now -- if you don't eat a lot of salmon, I'd recommend a high-quality fish oil supplement. But, remember fatty acids increase free radicals in your body. Left unchecked, these molecules can cause cancer and disease in the body. So always take some extra antioxidants like vitamin E and selenium along with the fish oil to neutralize the free radicals. Using some common sense In closing, if you must take an antidepressant for longer than 24 months, it's probably a good idea to boost your physical activity as well. Not only will you get all those "feel good" endorphins from the workout, it will also help control your weight and stabilize your blood sugar. And please remember that depression can be a debilitating disease. Make sure you seek the help of a mental health professional if your symptoms last longer than two weeks.
  12. The link between high blood sugar and poor sleep

    Do you or your partner snore at night? If so, please read closely. A new study conducted by scientists at the University of Illinois at Chicago has uncovered a critical link between how well you sleep and how well you metabolize sugar. Scientists examined the sleep patterns of 1,008 men and women. They were specifically looking for disturbances in sleep called apneas. Sleep apnea occurs when the soft tissue in the back of your throat collapses, causing breathing to stop momentarily. During an episode of sleep apnea, you may miss two, three, even four breaths before rousing slightly to resume breathing. And some people can have a hundred episodes throughout the night. Sure -- this makes you tired the next day. But this pattern of interrupted breathing also leads to poor absorption of oxygen into your blood. And as you can imagine, not getting enough oxygen into your blood can cause a whole host of health issues. In fact, according to the University of Illinois study, a history of poor blood oxygenation may play a compounding role in developing type-2 diabetes. Scientists found that 75 percent of the participants in their study did have sleep apnea. (This meant that they had at least five or more episodes of halted breathing per hour.) And of the men and women who had sleep apnea, 30 percent of them also had type-2 diabetes. On the other hand, only 18 percent of the men and women without sleep apnea had type-2 diabetes. So -- if you're over 55 and a heavy snorer (and your partner will know!), it's highly possible you have sleep apnea as well. I strongly urge you to seek treatment, as sleep apnea is a progressive problem that can affect your overall health. There are different types of non-invasive treatment options now that have shown good success in improving sleep apnea. Also, make sure you have your blood sugar levels tested as well. You run about twice the risk of developing type-2 diabetes.
  13. Preventing Dementia Naturally

    Years ago, a friend of mine lost her grandfather. He was 82-years-old and had been living in an assisted-living facility following a mild stroke. While he bounced back physically after the stroke, his cognitive abilities were never the same. Sure -- he could tell you all about his childhood growing up on the Jersey Shore. He could tell you about going to Harvard Law School and his travels across Europe and the Middle East. He could tell you all about the speeches he wrote for J. Edgar Hoover and President Kennedy. But he couldn't remember what day it was or what he'd eaten for breakfast. All of us have probably been touched in one way or another by a loved one or a friend suffering from dementia. It's an increasingly tragic problem. At age 65, only 5 to 10 percent of adults are affected by dementia. But that number gets worse as we age. According to some reports, nearly half of all men and women in their 80s have some type of dementia. But a new study out this month gives us all reason to hope that it's possible to prevent cognitive decline with extracts from a traditional Chinese plant that's been used for centuries to boost the immune system and promote longevity. Learning from China Chinese (or Korean) ginseng is generally considered an "adaptogen" plant that can boost your overall health. It's known to help lower blood sugar, control high blood pressure, and even treat erectile dysfunction. In the west, ginseng's most commonly used as an energy booster. You'll find it in lots of so-called "energy" drinks on the market. But just how versatile is ginseng? Can it actually improve your memory, or prevent dementia? Well, some very promising studies are starting to emerge that may encourage you to take a second look at this well-known Chinese plant extract. Improving stroke-induced dementia A few years back a small, but solid study was presented at American Stroke Association's 28th International Stroke Conference. This study showed that ginseng can improve memory in people who have vascular dementia (stroke-induced dementia). After Alzheimer's disease, stroke is the second-leading cause of dementia. Researchers looked at 40 patients with vascular dementia. They gave 25 patients Chinese ginseng three times a day for 12 weeks. They gave the remaining 15 patients Duxil, a prescription drug that's given to dementia patients to improve memory. After 12 weeks, the patients from both groups took five memory and cognition tests. Overall, researchers found that patients taking ginseng significantly improved their average scores after the 12 weeks. Plus -- the ginseng group scored higher overall on memory testing than the Duxil group. Previous laboratory studies on mice have suggested that ginseng could improve stroke-induced dementia, but this was the first study on humans shown to do the same. Improving age-related dementia Okay, so ginseng may benefit stroke-induced dementia patients. But age-related dementia is a far different disability. Can ginseng benefit these patients too? Well, a new study out this month takes that question by the horns. In this study, researchers looked at how ginseng would affect mice with age-related memory decline (not stroke induced). For eight months, mice were given 100 mg/kg of ginsenoside (an active component of ginseng). Researchers also gave a control group of mice placebo pills (or sugar pills) for comparison. As expected, the elderly mice given the ginseng extract performed better on water mazes and step-down tests (two standard tests used to gauge memory in mice) than the control groups. But researchers didn't stop there. They wanted to know why these mice performed better. Turns out that the ginseng extract actually changed the mice's brains for the better. The ginseng actually increased certain types of proteins found in the brain responsible for learning and memory. Hope for the future I hope we'll see more studies in the near future testing ginseng on men and women with age-related memory loss. I'll keep you posted as new studies emerge. Often, because they're undertaken by Chinese researchers, these relevant studies just don't make it into the mainstream press in the U.S. As a final note, only take Chinese ginseng under the care of a naturopath or M.D. Use caution if you have a bleeding disorder, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, or hypoglycemia. Also, I wouldn't recommend it for anyone who is sensitive to caffeine, as ginseng can act as a stimulant.
  14. Despite Tough Times, Organic Food is Catching On

    Even five years ago, it was hard to find organic produce at big-chain super markets. You had to go to your local farmer's market or to a small family-owned store to get a variety of organic products. But awareness about the dangers of using pesticides and insecticides to treat our food has grown. More people now seek out organic alternatives, even though it's usually more expensive. In fact, despite the tough economic times, it seems that more and more families are choosing organic food. According to the Organic Trade Association (OTA) nearly 75 percent of U.S. families now buy organic food, even if it's just occasionally. Plus—three out of 10 families bought more organic food in 2008 than they did the previous year. Supply-and-demand economics Now that there's a proven demand for organic food, the industry has just exploded with new products. In fact, U.S. sales of organic products (food and personal care items) grew 17 percent in 2008. Organic products now pull in $24.6 billion in sales in the U.S. alone. That's nearly a 600 percent increase over the last 12 years. Today, it's not uncommon to see organic milk, eggs, juice, bread, cereal bars, and baby food on the shelves of your local superstore. I've even seen organic macaroni and cheese! And the organic stuff is no longer stuck in the one "healthy" aisle in the store that everyone always skips. The organic products are now spread all over the store. So on your next trip to the grocery store, look around. See all the great alternatives out there. Even packaged products like waffles and cereal now have healthier, organic alternatives. And if we all keep up the demand for fresh organic food, competition in the marketplace will continue to grow. This will help to bring down the prices of organic products. And don't forget about continuing to support your local farmer's market. They're the ones who got this revolution started!
  15. Stimulants that can kill?

    Last week I got an e-mail blast from the FDA. Yet another FDA-approved drug is causing problems. And this time, it's a class of drugs prescribed to millions of kids and adults across the country. But they might not be as safe as we've been led to believe. In fact, a new study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry suggests that these drugs may actually increase a child's risk of dying suddenly by 500 percent! But the FDA is already backpedaling, due in no small part to enormous pressure from the drug lobbyists I'm sure. You see, these drugs are Big Pharma's bread and butter. Kids get started taking them as young as six or seven years of age. They take them throughout their school years. And guess what? Many continue to take them well into adulthood. So we're talking about 20, 30, even 40 years of potential pill popping by every patient! So when you consider that 30 million prescriptions are written for these drugs each year, it's no wonder Big Pharma's circling the wagons. Scary statistics So what drugs am I talking about? Of course, I'm talking about Ritalin (methylphenidate) and other stimulant medications used to treat Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. These drugs already carry the FDA's strongest "black box" warning, but this new study makes me think that's just not enough. In my opinion, parents should avoid giving these drugs to their children at all costs. Here's why... Researchers examined the medical histories of 1,128 children. Half of the children had died suddenly and half of them died in car accidents. Turns out that 10 of the 564 children who died suddenly had been taking stimulant drugs, like Ritalin. But only 2 of the 564 who died in car accidents had been taking stimulants. This lead study authors to conclude that there may be a six- to seven-fold increased risk of sudden death among healthy kids taking stimulants. But as I said earlier, the FDA is already backpedaling. Just three days after the first e-mail from the FDA, I got a second e-mail, this time from MedScape (the unofficial PR "mouthpiece" of the FDA in my book). This second e-mail told me that I should use "caution in interpreting the results of a new case-control study that shows that stimulant medications, specifically methylphenidate, are associated with a six- to seven-times increased risk for sudden death in children and adolescents." Evidently, the FDA is now pointing out holes in the study to soften the blow. At a press conference, the FDA trotted out a happy mouthpiece to make the case. Robert Temple, M.D., director of medical policy for the FDA's Center for Drug Evaluation and Research, said, "I don't think it makes the case that there is real risk here." Nah. A six- to seven-fold increased risk of sudden death... that's hardly a "real risk" at all! "Real" worries about sudden death Here's the thing... worries about sudden death in kids using stimulants have been around for a while. That's mostly because we know that stimulants can cause an increase in blood pressure, heart rates, and arrhythmias... in children as well as adults! The NY Times ran a story back in 2006 questioning the safety of stimulants such as Ritalin, stating "F.D.A. should study them more closely and warn patients and doctors about the potential risks to the heart." Well, here we have an actual FDA-funded study (yes, the new study was funded by the FDA) saying that stimulant meds cause a six- to seven-fold increased risk of sudden death, but it's disregarded. In that same NY Times article, the reporter quoted Dr. Thomas R. Fleming, a professor of biostatistics at the University of Washington. Dr. Fleming made the case against stimulants pretty clearly. He said that stimulants like Ritalin might even be more dangerous to the heart than drugs like Vioxx or Bextra. You may remember these drugs were yanked off the market because they caused heart damage in many users. Due to this very real concern, some doctors now require an ECG (electrocardiogram) to rule out pre-existing heart problems in kids before they start taking stimulants like Ritalin. In fact, that's what the authors of the AJP study recommend. But don't worry. The FDA says it's sponsoring "a large epidemiological study that will provide further information about the potential risks associated with stimulant medication use in children." Translation? They're drumming up more data to make us all forget about this scary little study showing that stimulants put kids at risk. Evidently, they're moving swiftly too. The study will be ready later in 2009. The real cause of ADHD Here's the bottom line, folks: Parents of kids with ADHD don't have to resort to drugs like Ritalin to control symptoms. Hyperactivity in children is very often a direct response to an unknown food allergy. Even kids who are labeled as "slow learners" or "day dreamers" or "high strung" may have an underlying food sensitivity. First, you'll want to remove all refined sugars as well as artificial flavors, colors, preservatives (except vitamin C), and enhancers (MSG) for at least a week from the child's diet. If the child's behavior gets worse for the first three to four days after eliminating these foods, you're absolutely on the right track. If that doesn't do the trick, I'd suspect an allergy to cow's milk. This can include yogurt, cheese, cream cheese, butter and even packaged products. (Read all packaged food labels carefully to see if they contain milk.) Unfortunately, it's tough to eliminate milk from a child's system. The effects of drinking milk linger longer than other foods. So you have to stay off the stuff for longer than a week. I'd recommend cutting out all cow's milk products for at least two to three weeks and see how the child does. Look for improved sleeping patterns and eating habits, as well as improvements in attention span and behavior. After milk, the top five offending foods are wheat, corn, eggs, citrus, and sugar. Try eliminating these foods one at a time to zero-in on the problem. There are lots of websites out there geared to helping parents through elimination diets. Also, for further reading about food allergies (adults have them too!), look at books by noted authors such as Lendon Smith, M.D., Ben Feingold, M.D., or William Crook, M.D. It may take a little work to get a handle on a child's food allergy, but it's well worth the extra effort... and much safer than taking a drug like Ritalin for the next 20 years!
  16. Beware of stolen insulin

    This week I got an urgent e-mail blast from the FDA. Apparently several batches of Levemir (a type of insulin made by Novo Nordisk Inc.) were stolen from the manufacturer in North Carolina. Now the vials have resurfaced in the Houston area, but they could be damaged and ineffective for controlling blood sugar.

    After some digging on the FDA and Novo web sites, I found out that a total of 129,000 vials of this product were stolen. According to the FDA, vials from these lots "may not have been stored and handled properly, and may be dangerous for patients to use.

    In fact, as of last week, the FDA has already received one report of an "adverse event" from a patient who used one of these vials. I'm guessing that the stolen insulin wasn't kept refrigerated, so it didn't work to control the patient's blood sugar.

    In any case, if you take Levemir, please make sure to check your supply. Look on the side of your box or on the vials themselves for lot information. Do not use the 10 mL Levemir vials if you see they came from the following lots:

    • XZF0036
    • XZF0037
    • XZF0038
    If you find a vial from one of these lots or have any questions, contact the Novo Nordisk Customer Care Center at 1-800-727-6500.

    Levemir is a type of insulin approved for the treatment of type 1 and type 2 diabetes. I'm not sure how the FDA plans to contact the thousands of patients currently taking Levemir, so if you know someone who's diabetic, make sure to forward them this e-mail.

  17. Do not be fooled by artificial "heart wise" foods

    Go into any grocery store nowadays and you'll find lots of processed food products aimed at attracting the "heart wise" shopper who's trying to lower his or her cholesterol. You'll find "heart smart" juices, milk, popcorn, spreads, and breads down just about every aisle. I'm not a big fan of these gimmicky processed foods. One of the worst types of offenders, in my opinion, is the "heart-smart" margarine spreads. These products pull you in with promises of delivering delicious and all-natural ingredients that help lower your cholesterol. But how do they get away with this, when most products are nothing more than plastic butter? A wolf in sheep's clothing? These products can be very confusing to most shoppers. And I suspect that's intentional on the part of the marketers. Take for instance a product like Smart Balance Buttery Spread™. This product claims to improve your "cholesterol ratio" because it contains plant sterols. Plant sterols have been in the press a lot lately because they have been shown to modestly help lower cholesterol. In fact, one clinical trial recently published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that sterol-containing margarine helped to lower cholesterol. In the study, 19 volunteers consumed sterol-containing margarine or control margarine three times per day for six days. At the end of the study, for those in the sterol-containing margarine group their LDL (or bad) cholesterol was lowered by 6 percent. Now come on. I could probably drum up a study of 19 people showing that drinking three glasses of water a day lowers cholesterol by 6 percent. To be honest, I'm disappointed that a study of this poor caliber got published at all, much less the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition! A rose by any other name... Now-I'm not discounting the fact that plant sterols have been shown to improve your overall health (not just cardiovascular), I'm just wondering if we really need to get them by eating artificial junk like margarine. Margarine is still margarine, no matter how you spread it. In fact, you can add all the plant sterols and omega-3s that you want to a product like Smart Balance™, but it's still filled with artificial ingredients. Just take a close look at the ingredients in Smart Balance™. The list is half a mile long and most of the stuff you won't recognize. Furthermore, you don't have to eat plastic margarine to get your plant sterols. Go natural instead. You can get plenty of plant sterols by eating lots of fruits and vegetables. (Hey, there's a novel idea!) In fact, you can also get plant sterols by eating nuts, seeds, and whole grain cereals. Questioning the problem of "high" cholesterol The second problem I have with products like Smart Balance™ is their premise: to lower your cholesterol. In most cases-if you are following healthy eating habits-you shouldn't worry too much about lowering your cholesterol. In fact, we all need a certain amount of cholesterol to function. Each and every cell in our body contains cholesterol. It helps maintain proper digestion, blood sugar, hormonal balance, and neurological function. Cholesterol also helps the body repair itself. In fact, scar tissue cells contain high amounts of cholesterol. Plus-lots of scientists believe high cholesterol doesn't increase your risk of dying from a heart attack (likewise, low cholesterol doesn't protect you from suffering a heart attack). In fact, according to a 2009 study almost 75 percent of heart attack patients have normal, healthy cholesterol levels. (As a side note, homocysteine and C-reactive protein levels are much better indicators of overall cardiovascular health than cholesterol. For more on cholesterol, homocysteine, C-reactive protein and my healthy eating tips, search through past issues of my Guide to Good Health at http://www.northstarnutritionals.com Go ahead and spread So remember to read food labels carefully on your next trip to the grocery store. A product may appear healthy due to some brilliant marketing-but take a close look at the list of ingredients. Do you need a technical food dictionary to figure out what's in it? If so, chances are it's not good for you. And lastly, if you're looking to spread a little something on your whole grain toast in the morning, opt for butter instead (Organic, of course.) Use it sparingly if you're trying to watch your weight. But it's a whole lot healthier for you than "fortified" plastic butter.
  18. Be wary of the little purple pill during hospital stays

    It's no secret that proton pump inhibitors (or PPIs) like Prevacid, Prilosec, and Nexium are cash cows. These drugs -- which work by masking your symptoms instead of solving the problem -- pull in billions for Big Pharma. And believe it or not, your local hospital might be adding to the problem. You see, many patients who get admitted to hospitals these days get a PPI to treat or even just to PREVENT heartburn. I guess given the state of hospital food, I shouldn't be surprised. But if you pop a purple pill during your next hospital stay, you may be getting more than you bargained for. A new study out by the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that men and women who got a PPI during their hospital stay were also MORE likely to get hospital-acquired pneumonia. In fact, if you got a PPI, you were 30 percent more likely to also get pneumonia (compared to other patients who didn't take a PPI)! Talk about two for the price of one! I can see the slogan now: "Come see us…not only will you get a PPI, you'll also get pneumonia!" All sarcasm aside, here's the bottom line, folks: make sure you ask your nurse about every pill you take during any hospital stay. If he or she tries to push a heartburn pill onto you "just in case," make sure to say thanks, but no thanks. You don't want to wind up getting pneumonia on top of everything else!
  19. BPA Plastics Update:More reasons to throw out your cans and buy (or grow) fresh!

    I warned you last October about using canned foods and clear plastic food containers as they might contain a form of plastic called Bisphenol-a (or BPA). Even though the FDA and the EPA said last year that BPA poses no threat to human health, I have my doubts. Plus -- a few new twists and turns in this story have me more frustrated than ever, so I wanted to give you an update. First off... Here's the problem with BPA: It leaches into your food and gets absorbed by the body. In fact, drinking from a polycarbonate water bottle for just one week can prove harmful. That's according to a new study out last month by the Harvard School of Public Health. Harvard scientists invited 77 students to participate in this groundbreaking study, the first to emphasis just how quickly the body begins to absorb BPA from food or beverage containers. The students began the study with a 7-day wash-out period. During that time, they only drank from stainless steel containers in order to minimize BPA exposure. The BPA in their urine was then measured and used as a baseline. On the 8th day, students began drinking from clear polycarbonate water bottles that were known to contain BPA. The students drank from the containers for just one week. (Polycarbonate bottles are clear, hard, non-breakable, and refillable. They usually have a pop-top or flip-top lid for drinking.) Any guesses how much the BPA spiked after just one week? The BPA found in the students' urine after just one week of drinking from the plastic containers spiked by 69 percent! And in case you were wondering -- the students did use the water bottles properly. They didn't heat them. They didn't put them in the microwave. They didn't put them in the dishwasher. Nor did they use them with hot liquids, as these are all known to increase leaching. But the BPA leached anyway! And what's most shocking to me is how quickly the spike occurred. In just one week, their urine was full of the stuff. So why do we worry when we see spikes in BPA? Well, according to the Harvard School of Public Health news release, BPA is an "endocrine-disruptor in animals, including early onset of sexual maturation, altered development and tissue organization of the mammary gland and decreased sperm production in offspring. It may be most harmful in the stages of early development." That's not good, especially when you consider many baby bottles still contain BPA. (You can find some BPA-free baby items in stores now. Look on the packaging to be sure.) Plus -- high BPA levels in the body are associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, neurological problems, and even cancer. In fact, one study by scientists from the University of Cincinnati showed that even low levels of BPA in the body can interfere with chemotherapy by essentially "protecting" the cancer cells. Big brother starting to take action… The good news is, lawmakers are starting to step in to put BPA food containers where they belong: off the market. Last week -- following the lead of Canada, the city of Chicago, and Suffolk County, NY -- the California state senate passed a bill to ban the use of BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups. And it looks like dozens of other states plan to follow suit...despite the FDA's 2008 ruling. In fact, it looks like the FDA's BPA ruling had less to do with actual scientific proof and more to do with dollar bills...5 million of them to be exact. Let me explain... Conflicts of interest from start to finish First off, the FDA ruling on BPA in 2008 was based on just two studies. And those were funded by the American Plastics Council. Clearly, they have a stake in keeping the status quo. And if that weren't enough of a conflict of interest… Martin Philbert is the founder and co-director of the University of Michigan Risk Science Center. Sounds benign enough, right? Well, he's also the Chairman of the FDA panel that put out the 2008 report on BPA telling us it was safe. But good old Marty has some explaining to do. Last year, reporters discovered that Philbert's Risk Science Center received a $5 million donation (that's 50 times the organization's annual budget) from a very dubious source. The donation came from Charles Gelman, an activist who, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinal "has fought against government regulation of pollutants for years." He's also gone on record saying he believes BPA does not pose a threat to public health. It should come as no surprise that Gelman's hefty donation was sent to the Risk Science Center just before Philbert was set to rule on BPA safety in 2008. Even more interesting is that Philbert never disclosed the large donation to the FDA. It only came to light after reporters asked about it. But not to worry...an FDA associate commissioner looked into it. Since Philbert's salary wasn't paid by the $5 million donation, he's certain there wasn't a conflict of interest. Riiight. Well, after some urging last week by two U.S. senators, it looks like the new FDA chief Margaret Hamburg, M.D. might actually have to fess up to the gaffe and reconsider last year's BPA ruling. Turns out that the ruling may have been made a bit hastily. I'd say! In any case, folks, if you're still unsure whether your plastic containers contain BPA, look for a recycling number somewhere on the bottom of the item. If it's got a #7 on it, you know it's got BPA in it. Plus -- it's wise to avoid all canned foods as these are likely to contain BPA as well. Go for fresh, organic string beans, peaches, and corn this summer, instead of the canned variety. I'm sure your local farmer's market has opened for the season, so it's a perfect time to clear out that pantry of all your canned foods. Or get really serious and plant your own beans this year!
  20. Just say NO to PSA screening

    Lots of men out there think they're taking care of themselves by getting an annual PSA (prostate-specific antigen) test and DRE (digital rectal exam) to screen for prostate cancer. But over the last 10 years, lots of MDs have raised questions about the effectiveness of these tests. Do they really work? Do they save lives or subject men to needless biopsies that can cause sexual impairment and incontinence? You see, lots of men get prostate cancer but don't have a high PSA number. And lots of men who experience spikes in their PSA numbers, don't really have cancer. The DRE is just as unreliable. Well -- a few months back scientists from the Washington University School of Medicine confirmed just as much. Their results -- published in the New England Journal of Medicine -- were so striking, I'm hoping all the urologists out there will finally get their heads out of the sand and throw out their PSA/DRE testing once and for all. WU scientists followed 76,000 men who received annual PSA and DRE testing between 1993 and 2001. (Data came from the US Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial.) The scientists followed up with the men seven years later. And what did they discover? They found that regular screening did turn up more cases of prostate cancer, but it did very little to reduce deaths from prostate cancer. In fact, according to senior study author Christine Berg, M.D., "There are men today who were diagnosed with prostate cancer, who now suffer from the side effects of treatment, and who would never have suffered from ill health or may have never died of the disease in the first place." Wow -- if that's not an unequivocal bashing of regular screening for prostate cancer, I don't know what is! Well -- fellas -- since regular screening isn't very useful, what's my suggestion? Keep up your overall health. Maintain a healthy weight. Go for a clean diet filled with fruits and vegetables. Take your daily multivitamins. And, of course, make sure to get plenty of natural (not synthetic) vitamin A!