Friday, October 31, 2008

With Vitamin D - Twice is Nice

news you may not know

It's a Powerhouse...

Sure, the vitamin craze can get a little insane at times. Just step into any Whole Foods and you'll get the picture. Folks load up their carts with every imaginable type of supplement (is Nick Nolte listening) to try to capture the fountain of youth. But, really -when you have to talk to the Whole Foods' credit manager to arrange a vitamins-are-wonderful-for-you payment plan, well...

But, there is one little, often overlooked vitamin that continues to receive rave reviews from the medical experts: the big D. Yes, vitamin D is in the news again.

The American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends infants get twice as much vitamin D as they did just, well, just last week. They now recommend infants receive 400 international units of vitamin D each day. Why the change? No, it's not that they were bored and needed something to keep them busy.

It's that vitamin D is often not consumed in adequate quantities from natural sources. Especially in infants who are breastfed. That's because many mothers themselves are deficient in vitamin D. The primary source of vitamin is Mother Nature, by way of that big bright ball in the sky. But, with air pollution, sunscreen and fear of skin cancer, the sun has fewer opportunities to work its magic these days.

Vitamin D helps prevent rickets in children, a disease that softens the bones and causes stunted growth. Though rickets is rare in the U.S., there are other significant benefits to vitamin D, including protection from osteoporosis later in life.

So forsake the credit manager, but not the little powerhouse vitamin D.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about vitamin D, see this from the Office of Dietary Supplements.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Internet Keeps the Old Mind Young

news you may not know

Keep Your Mind Young...

Do you love to surf? Does the thrill of the unknown send tingles down your spine, send you running in wild anticipation toward...

Your computer?

Well, if you love the kind of surfing you do online, that may be a good thing. Especially if you're a bit on the old hang-dog side of surfing fitness.

Researchers at UCLA decided to see what impact, if any, surfing the web had on the brain - particularly the brain of those over 65 years of age. So, they recruited 24 reasonably normal (can any of us really claim to be normal?) individuals between 55 and 76. Half of the volunteers were already experienced at searching the Internet, while the other half preferred more traditional methods of information gathering - presumably relying primarily on asking friends and family members.

The groups completed two tasks: reading a book and searching the web. Each individual's brain activity was observed using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), a type of scan that allows researchers to observe the intensity of activity within different areas of the brain.

During the reading task the visual cortex, which controls reading and language, lit up like a bonfire on a dark night. During the Internet search task there was even greater activity - but, only in the brains of those who already knew how to search the web.

It appears the same is true of surfing the web as the more precarious surfing activity - the more you practice the better you get. In this case that means increasing your ability to use more of your brain.

Surf's up...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Fresh Air Helps Fight SIDS

news you may not know

Yeah, These Little Things...

Sometimes it the little things that count. That’s certainly the case when a couple has a new baby – what could possibly be better? But, sadly, infants continue to be lost to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) far too often. However, there is a bit of good news out about simple steps to help reduce the incidence of SIDS.

Open a window – turn on a fan.

Two simple steps that have recently been shown to reduce the incidence of SIDS. Researchers with Kaiser Permanente's Division of Research interviewed close to 5,000 mothers about SIDS, some of whom had lost children to SIDS. The researchers found that infants sleeping in a room with a fan had a 72 percent lower risk of death due to SIDS. That’s a huge difference.

They also found that simply opening a window reduced the risk of SIDS by 36 percent.

The team speculates the fresh air prevents the carbon dioxide from pooling around the baby’s mouth and nose. This decreases the possibility the baby will re-breathe the already exhaled air.

The researchers also emphasized the best protection for your baby continues to be placing them on their backs while they sleep. This step alone has brought about a dramatic decrease in the number of SIDS deaths in recent years.

So, place your baby on its back when it sleeps. Use a firm mattress and avoid soft bedding, like comforters. And, turn on a fan – or open a window. Simple things for sure, but…

It really is the little things that count.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about SIDS and safety, see this from the National Institutes of Health.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

China is in Respiratory Distress

news you may not know
Let's Keep the Campfires Outside...

China is racing toward the future. But, the poor health habits of the past are making it hard for the Chinese people to catch their breath.

Even as China emerges as an economic superpower it remains firmly trapped in a third-world past. Over 70 percent of Chinese homes are warmed with harmful fuels, including wood, coal, and crop residues. These are the same fuels with which the Chinese cook their food.

Now, grilling a steak (or some fresh veggies) over an open flame is all well and good – if the grill is nicely situated in the great outdoors. But, when the grill sits smack dab in the middle of a poorly ventilated house, you’re heading for trouble.

In this case the trouble comes in the form of lung disease, specifically chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and lung cancer. Estimates are that 65 million Chinese will die between 2003 and 2033 due to COPD; another 18 million will die due to lung cancer. This represents almost 25 percent of all predicted deaths in China for that period.

Sooner or later you have to ask yourself what good it does to become an economic superpower if your nation will simply go broke providing health care – a topic about which the United States is currently in a hot debate.

Of course, with global warming, China is not alone in this problem. Whether we like it or not, China’s problem falls upon all of us. If China doesn’t curb their pollution problem the entire world will suffer the consequences.

So, come on China – step up and act like a superpower. Put some real, mean, green and clean programs into place. You – and the rest of the world – will breathe easier.

To read more about the report, see this from Reuters. To learn more about promoting clean air, see this from the Clean Air Council

Monday, October 20, 2008

Some Cereal Makers are Way Too Generous

news you may not know

Way Too Generous...

Generosity is wonderful thing. We drill it into our kids from an early age. Share this, share that, don’t be selfish… But, there are some who have simply taken the act of generosity to an absurdly obscene level.

Consider the cereal manufacturers.

While everyone knows that just a touch of sweetness will do, the cereal makers insist on going above and beyond. Way above and way beyond. Consumer Reports recently completed a study of many of the top cereal brands in the United States. What did they find?

Sugar – lots and lots of sugar.

As a matter of fact, they found that some cereals contain more than 50 percent sugar. Fifty percent! The group also found some cereals are actually packed with more sugar when they’re sold in the United States than when they’re shipped to overseas markets.

Among the biggest offenders were Post Golden Crisp, made by Kraft Foods Inc., and Kellogg's Honey Smacks. Each contained more than 50 percent sugar by weight. Other top brands contained over 40 percent sugar.

Which was the healthiest cereal? Cheerios, made by General Mills, had just one gram of sugar per serving.

A spokeswoman for Kellogg said the company had recently “reformulated” a number of their products to improve their nutritional content – she then mentioned something about a corporate bridge they were offering for sale…

To read more about the report, see this from Reuters. To learn more about helping your child eat a healthy diet, see this from KidsHealth.

Friday, October 17, 2008

India Attempts to Snuff Out Smokes

news you may not know
Nice Job, India...

India is tired of being a trendsetter. While virtually every other nation is jumping on the health bandwagon, India is one a handful of countries where cigarette use is on the rise. And the numbers are staggering. India has 240 million tobacco users, consuming over 102 billion cigarettes annually. It’s not the kind of trend India is interested in setting, so…

The Indian government has instituted a public smoking ban. The ban places all universities, restaurants, bus stops, hospitals, and pubs off limits. Offenders will be fined the equivalent of four dollars. Will it work?

Well, the Indian government has precious few resources with which to enforce the ban. But, in light of the costs associated with smoking, they may be wise to step up their efforts. Smoking related illnesses are the cause of 20 percent of all deaths in India each year. That’s a tremendous drain on any economy.

But, the numbers in India don’t tell the whole sad story. China’s puffers dwarf their Indian counterparts, being home to one-third of the world’s smokers. Worldwide it’s estimated there are more than one billion smokers, accounting for over 5 million deaths each year, or one death every six seconds – one in every ten deaths among adults. Tobacco use accounted for 100 million deaths in the 20th century, a figure predicted to rise to one billion this century if people continue to smoke at current rates.

So, hats off to India. Let’s wish them well in their efforts and hope this is the start of a new trendsetting era.

To read more about the ban, see this from Reuters. To find resources to help you quit smoking, see this from the American Cancer Society.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Stroke Rehab a Tricky Issue

news you may not know

Nothing Like a Parade...

It’s the mind that matters. Sure, the body is pretty terrific too. All that walking, talking, and jumping around. It’s a complete joy. But, though the body is the one out there leading the parade, it’s the mind that’s conducting the orchestra. And, when the mind rebels, the parade comes to a crashing halt.

A stroke stops us in our tracks. The walking, talking, and jumping around are replaced by painful efforts to perform the simplest of tasks. Like moving a foot or an arm. But, rehabilitation after stroke is often quite effective. And, new research out of Japan shows once again the power of the mind.

Not only is the mind involved in the stroke itself, the new study shows that the mind may be the most critical factor in the rehab process. Traditional stroke rehabilitation therapy has focused on the side of the body that has lost function. Concentrate on it, focus, struggle, move. But…

The new study shows that engaging the mind in the process provides better results. Rather than focusing on the damaged side of the body, the researchers erected a mirror that reflected the healthy side of the body. So, when the patient moved the healthy leg it looked as if both sides of the body were moving. A totally different approach – trick the mind into thinking the damaged side is functioning normally.

And it works!

The scientists found the patients treated with the mirror, tricked into thinking their weakened side was functioning normally, showed much more rapid improvement.

So, who knows? Remember those funhouse mirrors that made you look really skinny? Hmm…

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read about adopting a lifestyle that will help you prevent a stroke, see this from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Monday, October 13, 2008

U. S. Kids High on Psychotropic Meds

tidbits that tantalizeWith Drugs, More May Not be Better...

Americans are an edgy lot. Too much of this, or too little of that and life’s delicate balance quickly unravels. Parents are pulled in seventeen simultaneous directions in any given day and it’s beginning to show – in their kids’ prescriptions.

A new study reveals American kids are three times as likely to be prescribed psychotropic medications as their European counterparts. Is life really that much more complicated on this side of the Atlantic?

The researchers say it’s not likely. But, they do point to significant cultural differences to explain the disparity. Americans have been on a tear in recent years to label every over-active child as bipolar. Not surprisingly, the United States has a higher per capita number of psychiatrists.

Consider these facts. A previous study revealed that by 2001 ten percent of all office visits by teenage boys resulted in the prescribing of a psychotropic drug. About one-third of the visits yielded a new diagnose of ADHD, one of the favorite catchalls for teenagers. And, to top it all off, few of the prescribed medications have actually been approved for use in adolescents. And…

Drug manufacturers spent close to $30 billion in direct-to-consumer advertising in 2005.

Health is a challenge and, typically, the medical community does a fabulous job. But, we need to step back from the brink of medical management of every aspect of our children’s lives.

So if you, or your children, are a bit edgy maybe a dose of Prozac isn’t the answer. Instead, try something really radical and tell your kids to take a hike. As a matter of fact, put on your sneakers and join them – you’ll love the fresh air and, without the TV blasting, will have a great excuse to share some much-needed conversation.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about raising healthy kids, see this from

Friday, October 10, 2008

Skin Cells as Stem Cells

news you may not knowYeah - They're in There...

Which side of the debate are you on? Do you favor embryonic stem cell research, hailing it as an extraordinary medical breakthrough? Or, do you object to the use of embryos in the research, believing that destroying them is destroying a human life?

It’s a huge debate – with huge consequences.

But, there is some news on the stem cell front that may transcend the debate. Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School report they’ve made progress with using a patient’s own skin cells to create stem cells.

The advantages of this unique approach are significant. Embryonic stem cells are difficult to create, while the process of using skin cells is more straightforward. The cells are also totally compatible with the patient, as they were created using their own tissue. And, of course, they eliminate the argument over the use of embryos.

So, does this settle the debate? Well, with an issue this complex, the answer is “no – for now.” Additional testing needs to be completed to assure the skin-derived stem cells function as expected. But, the potential appears to be tremendous.

So, regardless of which side of the debate you’re on, keep your fingers crossed – success with skin-derived stem cells would be fabulous for everyone.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about stem cells, see this from the National Institutes of Health.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Daily Temptation Diet

tidbits that tantalizeMaybe a Bit Less Temptation Would be Good...

Just when you thought you had it all figured out. Just when you'd scrubbed every cabinet of the tiniest tidbits of delectably sweet morsels. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the kitchen again...

A new study turns your dietary dilemma upside down.

Researchers from the Lessius Hogeschool in Antwerpen, Belgium have a different take on life's little temptations. Contrary to the popular advice to keep your kitchens cleared of all tempting foods, the new study says a little temptation is a good thing.

One standard strategy for dieters is to avoid all temptation. And, at first look, it seems quite reasonable. If there is no tempting treat on the counter you're more likely to actually crack open that bottle of grapefruit juice. But, if a plate of brownies stands between you and the frig, well...

The new study says we've got it all wrong. The scientists say that without some temptation, dieters never learn any real self-discipline. As a result, when they are later confronted with a food that's off limits, they have no "self-control strategies" available to help them resist. So, instead of staying the course, they pull up a chair and dig in.

But, say the scientists, if we keep some tempting foods around all the time we learn to resist. Then, when we're faced with other temptations, we can draw on the strategies we've been practicing.

Really, it sounds pretty good - unless the temptation happens to be that plate of brownies...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To find fabulous, fresh whole foods, see this from The World's Healthiest Foods.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Pine Bark Powerful Against Pain

tidbits that tantalizeModern Medicine...

If you’re concerned about the medications you’re taking, including the over-the-counter stuff, there’s a bit of good news. A new study reveals a natural remedy may be effective in treating minor knee arthritis. As a matter of fact, if you have a green thumb and bit of science knowledge you may be able to grow your own treatment in your backyard.


So, it may be a bit more difficult than the backyard approach, but the new treatment is indeed from a likely backyard resident: the French maritime pine tree. Oh, yes – it would also help if your backyard were in France.

Scientists recently studied the effect of an extract of the French maritime pine tree’s bark on early-stage osteoarthritis. They gave one group the pine bark extract, and a second group a placebo. They then followed the groups for 90 days to assess their pain levels.

The pine bark group reported an improvement in their pain, while the placebo group did not. The pine barkers were also able to lower their non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) by 33 percent, compared to just 8 percent for the control group. And, the improvements lasted for a full 2 weeks after they stopped using the pine bark extract.

The researchers say the pine bark extract appears to be a powerful anti-inflammatory. Their study confirms the findings of 2 earlier studies.

It’s nice to have an alternative to NSAIDs, which can have serious side effects. And, taking the pine bark extract not only relieves pain, but it gives you that nice outdoorsy feel…

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about pine bark extract, see this from Drug Digest.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Working Out Whacks Weight Gain

tidbits that tantalizeNo Couch Potatoes Here...

Researchers from the University of Maryland and the University of Miami had a problem. They wanted to study the impact of the obesity-related gene, known as FTO. They were interested in assessing the varying impact of FTO on active and sedentary individuals. But, where do you find a group of people who are not naturally television-watching couch potatoes?

You go to the Amish.

The scientists went to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, where they found the perfect mix of activity levels for their study. Some Amish lead a fairly sedentary life, while others work the fields with horse-drawn plows. The researchers studied 700 older men and women from the community. They gave each an accelerometer to gauge their activity levels.

The results are, not surprisingly, not surprising.

The most active Amish, even though they carry the same FTO gene as the others, were far more likely to have a normal weight. The sedentary were less capable of combating their natural tendency toward obesity and their bathroom scales moaned with protest.

The researchers say the FTO gene, which is found in over 50 percent of people of European descent, was simply not a factor in the past. Manual labor and physical exercise were necessary for survival, so the pounds were kept at bay. But, today’s conveniences pave the way for the FTO gene to do its dastardly work.

So – unless you’re inclined to run off to Pennsylvania and join the Amish, you have some work to do. Any kind of work will do, so don’t be picky – just be active.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To learn more about the Amish, see this from The Amish & The Plain People.