TGIF: The 10 Most Important Blood Tests

Annual blood testing is the most important step aging adults can take to prevent life-threatening disease. With blood test results in hand, you can catch critical changes in your body before they manifest as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, or worse. Having the proper blood tests can empower you to enact a science-based disease-prevention program that could add decades of healthy life.

Sadly, most annual medical check-ups involve the physician ordering only routine blood tests, if blood tests are ordered at all. Far too often, this blood work does not even test for important markers of disease risk. The consequences of failing to analyze blood for proven markers of disease risk are needless disability and death.

Blood tests have benefits that go far beyond disease prevention. For example, by monitoring levels of sex hormones, you can take decisive steps to enhance your quality of life, perhaps by correcting a depressive mental state, erectile dysfunction, abdominal obesity, or by improving your memory and energy levels.

In this article, we discuss the 10 most important blood tests that people over the age of 40 should have each year. Armed with the results of these tests, aging adults can work together with their physicians to avert serious health problems and achieve optimal health.

Chemistry Panel and Complete Blood Count

The Chemistry Panel and Complete Blood Count (CBC) is the best place to begin your disease-prevention program. This low-cost panel will give you and your physician a quick snapshot of your overall health. This test provides a broad range of diagnostic information to assess your vascular, liver, kidney, and blood cell status. The Complete Blood Count measures the number, variety, percentage, concentration, and quality of platelets, red blood cells, and white blood cells, and thus is useful in screening for infections, anemias, and other hematological abnormalities.

The Chemistry Panel provides information on the status of your cardiovascular system by testing for total cholesterol, HDL (high-density lipoprotein), LDL (low-density lipo-protein), triglycerides, and the total cholesterol/HDL ratio.1

The Chemistry Panel also measures blood glucose, which is critically important for detecting early-stage metabolic syndrome, diabetes, and coronary artery disease. In light of the rapidly growing epidemic of diabetes and other related metabolic syndromes, monitoring your fasting glucose levels is as important as knowing your cholesterol.

Also included in the Chemistry Panel is an assessment of critical minerals such as calcium, potassium, and iron.

Fibrinogen

An important contributor to blood clotting, fibrinogen levels increase in response to tissue inflammation. Since the development of atherosclerosis and heart disease are essentially inflammatory processes, increased fibrinogen levels can help predict the risk of heart disease and stroke.

High fibrinogen levels not only are associated with an increased risk of heart attack, but also are seen in other inflammatory disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis and glomerulonephritis (inflammation of the kidney).

Hemoglobin A1C

One of the best ways to assess your glucose status is testing for hemoglobin A1C (HbA1c).5 This test measures a person’s blood sugar control over the last two to three months and is an independent predictor of heart disease risk in persons with or without diabetes. Maintaining healthy hemoglobin A1C levels may also help patients with diabetes to prevent some of the complications of the disease.

The American Diabetes Association recommends testing HbA1c levels every three to six months to monitor blood sugar levels in insulin-treated patients, in patients who are changing therapy, and in patients with elevated blood glucose levels. Since HbA1c is not subject to the same fluctuations that normally occur with daily glucose monitoring, it represents a more accurate picture of blood sugar control.

DHEA

Dehydroepiandrosterone (DHEA), a hormone produced by the adrenal glands, is a precursor to the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone. Blood levels of DHEA peak in one’s twenties and then decline dramatically with age, decreasing to 20-30% of peak youthful levels between the ages of 70 and 80. DHEA is frequently referred to as an “anti-aging” hormone.

Recently, researchers in Turkey found that DHEA levels were significantly lower in men with symptoms associated with aging, including erectile dysfunction. Healthy levels of DHEA may support immune function, bone density, mood, libido, and healthy body composition.

Supplementation with DHEA increases immunological function, improves bone mineral density, increases sexual libido in women, reduces abdominal fat, protects the brain following nerve injury, and helps prevent depression, diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

Prostate-Specific Antigen (PSA) (Men Only)

Prostate-specific antigen (PSA) is a protein manufactured by the prostate gland in men. Elevated levels may suggest an enlarged prostate, prostate inflammation, or prostate cancer. PSA levels may also be used to monitor the efficacy of therapeutic regimens for prostate conditions.

The American Cancer Society recommends annual PSA testing for men beginning at age 50. Men who are at high risk should begin PSA testing at age 40-45. PSA levels increase with age, even in the absence of prostate abnormalities.

Homocysteine

The amino acid homocysteine is formed in the body during the metabolism of methionine. High homocysteine levels have been associated with increased risk of heart attack, bone fracture, and poor cognitive function.

C-Reactive Protein

Increasingly, medical science is discovering that inflammation within the body can lead to a range of life-threatening degenerative diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes, macular degeneration, and cognitive decline. By measuring your body’s level of inflammation through regular C-reactive protein testing, you can devise a strategy of diet, exercise, and supplementation to halt many of these conditions.

 

Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH)

Secreted by the pituitary gland, thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) controls thyroid hormone secretion in the thyroid. When blood levels fall below normal, this indicates hyperthyroidism (increased thyroid activity, also called thyrotoxicosis), and when values are above normal, this suggests hypothyroidism (low thyroid activity).

Testosterone (Free)

Testosterone is produced in the testes in men, in the ovaries in women, and in the adrenal glands of both men and women. Men and women alike can be dramatically affected by the decline in testosterone levelsthat occurs with aging.

In the serum of both men and women, less than 2% of testosterone typically is found in the free (uncomplexed) state. Unlike bound testosterone, the free form of the hormone can circulate in the brain and affect nerve cells. Testosterone plays different roles in men and women, including the regulation of fertility, libido, and muscle mass. In men, free testosterone levels may be used to evaluate whether sufficient bioactive testosterone is available to protect against abdominal obesity, mental depression, osteoporosis, and heart disease. In women, low levels of testosterone have been associated with decreased libido and well-being, while high levels of free testosterone may indicate hirsuitism (a condition of excessive hair growth on the face and chest) or polycystic ovarian syndrome. Increased testosterone in women may also indicate low estrogen levels.

Estradiol

Like testosterone, both men and women need estrogen for numerous physiological functions. Estradiol is the primary circulating form of estrogen in men and women, and is an indicator of hypothalamic and pituitary function. Men produce estradiol in much smaller amounts than do women; most estradiol is produced from testosterone and adrenal steroid hormones, and a fraction is produced directly by the testes. In women, estradiol is produced in the ovaries, adrenal glands, and peripheral tissues. Levels of estradiol vary throughout the menstrual cycle, and drop to low but constant levels after menopause.

In women, blood estradiol levels help to evaluate menopausal status and sexual maturity. Increased levels in women may indicate an increased risk for breast or endometrial cancer. Estradiol plays a role in supporting healthy bone density in men and women. Low levels are associated with an increased risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture in men and women as well. Elevated levels of estradiol in men may accompany gynecomastia (breast enlargement), diminished sex drive, and difficulty with urination.

Summary

Yearly blood testing is a simple yet powerful strategy to help you proactively take charge of your current and future health. A well-chosen complement of blood tests can thoroughly assess your overall state of health, as well as detect the silent warning signals that precede the development of serious diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.

Many diseases and disorders are treatable when caught early, but can severely impair the quality and length of your life if left unattended. Identifying these hidden risk factors will enable you to implement powerful strategies such as proper nutrition, weight loss, exercise, supplements, and medications in order to prevent progression to full-blown, life-threatening diseases. Blood testing can also detect biochemical changes that threaten well-being and quality of life, such as declining levels of sex hormones.

Armed with information on important health biomarkers, you and your physician can plan and execute a strategy to help you achieve and maintain vibrant health.

 

Source: http://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2006/5/report_blood/page-04

 

 

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Stickin’ It Tue You:Boosting Your Immune System This Flu Season

It’s now December. It’s cold, it’s grey, it’s not Christmas yet.  AND, it’s now flu season!

Also known as the season for drugging yourself silly and making yourself go to work even when you’d rather curl up in bed and do nothing for at least 48 hours.The ironic commercials touting the importance of the flu shot followed by ads for an anti-viral after you get the flu are in full force and on every channel.

Every holiday season we hear about people get whacked left, right and center with colds and many people simply take them as par for the course: you just deal with it. You know at least one person will be sick every place you go, so you just give in to the fact that, at some point, this winter you will be sick.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There are ways to strengthen your immune system without the use of expensive and sometimes dangerous drugs. Diet helps as does exercise and rest, but if you’re looking for a method to fill in the weak gaps in your immune system and promote relaxation and pain relief, you’re looking for acupuncture. How does acupuncture boost your immune system and prevent colds?

From the standpoint of the ancient practice of medicine, the reason why acupuncture works is because of the manipulation of energies in the body. Everyone has varying weaknesses in their energy; places where the Chi naturally has problems. Acupuncture can address these weaknesses in the same way a vaccine addresses weaknesses; by boosting energy and giving the body what it needs to strengthen itself. At the root of it all, we see the movement of energy. When the body’s Chi is moving sluggishly and brokenly, the body falls prey to viruses more readily; when the body’s Chi is in balance, the body stays healthy and can fight off viruses.

Not enough? Studies have shown that acupuncture helps the brain increase the body’s level of T-cells; cells which destroy bacteria and harmful viruses in the body. It is thought that acupuncture does this by provoking the body’s immune response through the use of the needles: the body thinks the needles are a threat and marshal their white cell and T-cell count to fight them off. However, the effect of this lasts days after the acupuncture session and so works on viruses and bacteria as well.

So, sick and tired of being… well, sick and tired? Acupuncture may be a great way to fill in the missing gaps in your immune system and keep you healthy this flu season.

Sources: http://rootwholebody.com/how-acupuncture-boosts-your-immune-system-to-prevent-colds

Get Moving Monday: Are You Eating Enough?

The majority of the time when you’re having a problem losing weight, it’s not because you aren’t making good food choices. The reason why your weight loss has stagnated is because you’re not eating enough calories to lose weight.

What Happens When You’re Not Eating Enough Calories?

When most people start dieting, they slash their calories and add a large amount of exercise to their daily routine. That’s fine, but they usually cut their calories way too low. Add in the extra exercise, and all of a sudden you have an extreme calorie deficit that is working against you.

Not eating enough calories causes many metabolic changes. Your body is a smart machine and senses a large decrease in dietary energy. Your large calorie deficit might work for a few days or even weeks, but eventually your body will wake up and sound alarms that it needs to conserve energy.

It doesn’t want to just waste away. It needs that energy (fat) to survive. So, what does your body do when it senses prolonged energy restriction? Not eating enough calories…

  • Slows down thyroid production – Your thyroid is responsible for fat, carbohydrate, and protein metabolism, among other things. Your body has the ability to slow down thyroid output in an effort to maintain energy balance.
  • Decreases muscle mass – Muscle is highly calorie intensive to maintain. In a prolonged extreme calorie deficit, it is one of the first things that your body looks to burn. Your body needs the fat, wants the fat, and the muscle can be spared. It breaks down the muscle tissue and uses it for energy.
  • Lowers testosterone levels – An important hormone for both men and women, testosterone is just one of many hormones that are affected with severe calorie restriction. Testosterone is anabolic to muscle tissue. Without it, it becomes that much harder to maintain, let alone put on muscle mass.
  • Decreases leptin levels – Leptin is one of many energy regulating hormones. More importantly, it’s a “hunger” hormone that tells you whether to eat or not. High leptin levels signal that it’s OK to stop eating, while low leptin levels are a signal to eat more energy. Because of this, leptin levels decrease in calorie restricted environments.
  • Decreases energy levels – There are many physical actions your body takes when you’re not eating enough calories, but there are also some mental ones. Neurotransmitter production is limited, which can lead to a lack of motivation. It’s your body’s way of telling you to “slow down” – conserve your energy.

How Many Calories Should You Be Eating?

Your goal should be to eat as many calories as possible and still lose weight. You always want to start high and then come down with your calorie intake. It’s much easier to do this than come up in calories after your weight loss has stalled and you’ve lost all your motivation.

How many calories should you eat? There is no perfect number. Each person’s metabolism is different. Calorie calculators are a good starting point, but they can’t take into account all the individualistic variables.

To do that, you need to find your calorie intake either through:

  • Experimentation – Journal your caloric intake and compare your weight loss and gain on the scale until you achieve optimal results.
  • Measure it with a device – A device, such as a type of pedometer watch, that measures steps and body movement are found it to be accurate within a 10% margin of error. Many will give you the amount of calories you burned in a 24 hour period. With this information, you should be able to adjust your caloric intake to reflect a loss on the scale.

The problem is most people want the weight gone, and they want it gone now. Weight loss is a patience game. It takes time and consistency to make it work.

Losing 1% of your body mass each week is the most I would aim for. At this pace, it will ensure that the majority of your weight loss is coming from stored body fat instead of muscle. You will also give yourself the best chance to build muscle while you lose fat, which is what you should be striving to do.

So if your progress has stalled, but you think you’re eating the right foods and exercising intensely, more than likely your problem is that you’re not eating enough calories to lose weight. Eat as much as you can, get in as many nutrients as possible, and your weight loss will start moving forward again.

Source: http://www.coachcalorie.com/not-eating-enough-calories-to-lose-weight/

Wellness Wednesday: Flexing Your Mental Muscle

Add mind exercises to your workout schedule.

Physical fitness gets plenty of attention—and for good reason. A healthy body can prevent conditions like heart disease and diabetes, and help you maintain independence as you age.

Mental fitness is just as important as physical health and shouldn’t be neglected. Incorporating mental dexterity exercises into your life can help you reap the benefits of a sharper mind and a healthier body for years to come.

Mental fitness is exactly what it sounds like: keeping your brain and emotional health in tip-top shape. It doesn’t mean training for “brain Olympics” or acing an IQ test. Rather, it refers to a series of exercises that help you slow down, decompress, and boost a flagging memory.

Mind-Body Connection

It’s no surprise that the more you help your body, the more you help your mind. Physical activity increases the flow of oxygen to your brain and increases the amount of endorphins, (feel-good chemicals) in the brain. For this reason, it’s not surprising that people who are in good physical shape also tend to enjoy a higher level of mental agility.

Engaging in a vigorous workout can help you battle depression and gain a more positive outlook on life and yourself. It’s also a great way to beat stress, which can harm you mentally and physically.

While exercise is good for the brain and the body, so is meditation. Meditation, in conjunction with other methods, is an alternative way to treat depression. Calming the mind allows you to calmly think through your problems.

Benefits of Mental Fitness

When you finally get to bed after a long day on the go, your body begins to relax, but the mind doesn’t always follow.

Achieve a sense of calm through imagery, the process of picturing a calming scene or location. This reduces tension in both your body and your mind by challenging neurons in the less-dominant area of your brain.

The less-dominant side of your brain is the area that controls feelings of self-confidence and optimism. Increasing activity in your brain’s neural structures by forcing yourself to think about something other than your daily worries through visualization, for example, boosts emotional well-being in addition to calming you down mentally.

Become Mentally Fit

Keeping your mind mentally fit isn’t as difficult as getting ready for a marathon, but it’s the best way to view it. You can simply add it to the many activities you already perform, such as reading, daydreaming, or finding humor in life.
Stop Multitasking

You may think that multitasking enables you to get many things done at once, but it actually creates more problems than it solves. Focusing on one task at a time will not only improve your concentration, but it will help you to see the bigger picture, and get you pointed toward in a productive direction.

Be Positive with Yourself

Positive affirmation is one avenue to increased mental proficiency.

Affirmation—or the way you talk to yourself—involves strengthening neural pathways to bring your self-confidence, wellbeing, and satisfaction to a higher level.

To start, make a list of your good qualities and remind yourself that you don’t have to be perfect. Set goals for what you want to improve, and start small to avoid becoming overwhelmed.

Try Something Different

New experiences can also set you on the path to mental fitness.

Trying new foods, different ways of accomplishing routine tasks, and traveling to new places improves your memory and expands your horizons. Even taking a new way to work improves your brain.

According to the Franklin Institute, mental dexterity exercises help you see the world in a new way and strengthen your neural pathways. In essence, breaking out of your routine can help keep your brain young and healthy.

Play Games

Crossword puzzles, Sudoku, and other games that test reasoning and other portions of your brain are fun ways to keep your mind sharp. Any kind of game that employs the use of logic, reasoning, or trivia are great ways to build up your brain muscle.

Read More

Reading is great for your brain. Even as you’re reading this sentence, your brain is processing each word, recalling the meaning instantly.

Beyond the mechanics, reading helps you visualize the subject you’re reading about, imagine what voices sound like in dialogue, and more. If you don’t think this works, find a picture of Morgan Freeman on the internet with a quote next to it and hear his voice in your head. It’s also a great relaxation technique as well.

Reading is a great activity because it can stoke the imagination and ignite so many different parts of the brain. There are also endless genres and types of reading material that you’ll never run out of interesting things to read.
Take the Time

Mental fitness does not have to take up a lot of your time. Just spending a few minutes every day visualizing, affirming, or relaxing can help you feel better and think more clearly. Schedule a mental fitness break into your calendar right next to your workout schedule. Your mind and your health are worth it.

Source: http://www.healthline.com/health/depression/mental-fitness#1

Get Moving Monday: Winter-Proof Your Workout

Hibernating isn’t going to burn you any calories. Winter-proof your workout and your waistline with our seasonal survival guide.

Winter Woe: Your body’s chemical switch has flipped to storing more fat.

Fix-it trick: Get your motor running. When University of Colorado researchers studied a group of 12 women and six men in both summer and winter, they discovered that their production of ATLPL, a chemical that promotes fat storage, almost doubled during the winter and dropped during the summer. But you’re not doomed to don fat pants all season, scientists say. Exercise may increase SMLPL, the muscle enzyme that promotes the burning of fat, to offset the pudge-promoting effects of ATLPL. “We found that people who are normally physically active are more protected from weight gain,” says study author Robert E. Eckel, MD. Get in at least 30 minutes of exercise on most days, whether it’s Spinning, snowshoeing, or building a snowman.

Winter Woe: ‘Tis the season for big sweaters — the better to hide your bulges with.

Fix-it trick: Opt for layers that leave a little bit of your silhouette intact. It’s no surprise that your comfy cardigan may stealthily up the odds you’ll skip your workout, since it keeps soft spots under wraps, says Jennifer Baumgartner, a psychologist in Potomac, Maryland, who makes the link between clothing and mind-set for her clients. “The first thing I tell people who are trying to lose weight is to avoid baggy clothing, since you won’t be able to see the positive changes in your body,” she says. “There’s also a subconscious association between baggy clothes and lounging.” To help break the lazy spell, pick sweaters in red, pink, or bright blue, Baumgartner advises. Mood research suggests that these colors jolt your senses and help energize you.

Winter Woe: Your carb cravings skyrocket when the days get short.

Fix-it trick: Munch on healthy carbs in the afternoon before the sun goes down to stave off a splurge. Winter can trigger cravings for comforting, sweet carbs because diminished sunlight during the season makes serotonin in the brain less active. Too little of this mood-lifting chemical leaves you feeling tired and hungry, says Judith Wurtman, PhD, founder of Triad, a Harvard Hospital weight-management center, and coauthor of The Serotonin Power Diet. Your brain is making you desire carbs because after you eat them, your serotonin level will rise. Wurtman’s research found that “carbohydrate cravers” with seasonal affective disorder may consume an additional 800 calories or more a day because they satisfy their munchies with fatty carbs; indulge like that for five days straight and you’ll gain a pound. Put yourself in a good mood during winter’s dark days by instead eating low-fat, healthy carbs, such as sweet potatoes, oatmeal with a sprinkle of brown sugar, and cinnamon toast. Because cravings tend to grow stronger as the day goes on, try to eat protein, dairy products, and vegetables for breakfast and lunch, Wurtman says. Then have a low-fat carb snack, such as popcorn, soy crackers, or cereal, in the afternoon. For dinner, opt for roasted potatoes, whole-grain pasta, black bean soup, or vegetable stew with barley. (Avoid eating a lot of protein, because that prevents serotonin from being made.) Another slimming strategy that may help put the brakes on binges is to spend at least 20 minutes a day outside or near a bright window to amp up your serotonin, suggests Donnica Moore, MD, author of Women’s Health for Life.

Winter Woe: A snowfall derails your usual outdoor workout.

Fix-it trick: Let it snow! The white stuff increases the calorie burn of each step. For example, a 30-minute moderate walk on an even surface burns 106 calories for the average 140-pound woman. Snowshoeing for the same amount of time more than doubles the burn, to 256 calories. Runners, meanwhile, can safely jog through the season by stealing these get-a-grip strategies from the pros up north, who regularly brave the flakes.

1. Invest in a trail-running shoe for its deeper treads, which provide better traction — some water-resistant models, like the Asics Gel-Arctic 2 WR have removable spikes on the outsole — or a set of winter cleats, such as Yaktrax, which slip on over your running sneakers.

2. Listen to your body: Run slower than usual and take shorter strides. “If you continue your normal stride length, your calves will be sore the next day, because you tend to claw the ground with your toes to keep your footing,” says marathon coach Ronnie Carda, PhD, coordinator of the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s physical activity program.

3. Skip the hills. “More falls happen on downhills, because you naturally tend to pick up your pace, making it harder to stop when you hit an icy patch,” says Jan Ochocki, a coach with the Road Runners Club of America in Minneapolis.

4. “Get out while the powder is down” is the basic rule of thumb, Carda says; sit it out if snow refreezes overnight into hard-packed ice.

Winter Woe: You’re too comfy on the couch to break a sweat.

Fix-it trick: Don’t settle on your sofa until you’ve completed your workout for the day. “It’s a motivation killer,” Baumgartner says. Change from your work clothes directly into workout wear — skip the pj’s! — when you get home. Still can’t peel yourself off the cushions? Stash resistance bands under the seat to remind yourself to get moving during commercial breaks. Or try the at-home, no-equipment routine that follows, from Mike Donavanik, a celebrity trainer in Beverly Hills. Do these moves during commercials rather than fast-forwarding and repeat the circuit until your show starts up again.

— 15 squats

— 15 push-ups

— 15 crunches

— 15 seconds of high knees

Winter Woe: Brr! It’s too cold to exercise outside.

Fix-it trick: Dress for success in freezing temperatures. With the right gear, it’s almost never too frigid to work out, according to John W. Castellani, PhD, an exercise physiologist at the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Massachusetts. Because moisture on your skin evaporates and pulls much-needed heat from your body, the key is to dress so that you’re protected but you don’t get soaked with sweat, Castellani says. “Begin your workout feeling cool, not toasty, since you’ll warm up once you get moving. Do your warm-up, stretching, and cooldown inside to reduce your exposure. If it’s a blustery day, start your walk or run by facing the wind so you’ll work hardest when you’re fresh.

Winter Woe: You can’t get out of bed on dark mornings to do your a.m. workout.

Fix-it trick: Tuck in earlier to go from tired to inspired. “Darkness is a cue for your brain to crank out the sleep-inducing chemical melatonin,” says Alfred Lewy, MD, a sleep and mood disorder researcher at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland. “In the winter, when you wake up before sunrise, it’s like having jet lag — for four or five months,” Lewy says. If it’s not possible to wait for the sun to sneak in your workout when you’re more energized, he suggests making your wake-up easier by going to bed 15 minutes earlier each week over the next four weeks: Set your cell phone alarm for when it’s time to hit the sack at night and avoid computer and TV use for an hour before bedtime to shut out light and other brain stimulators. That extra hour of shut-eye could make a huge difference in your morning-after mood: Brazilian researchers randomly assessed 200 healthy people and found that night owls, who went to sleep at midnight, were almost three times more likely to experience severe symptoms of depression than those who turned in at 11 p.m.

TGIF: Natural Methods for Reversing Atherosclerosis

Even when cardiologists aggressively manage their patients’ cholesterol and blood pressure levels, millions of Americans continue to suffer heart attacks and strokes. The reason is that many cardiologists fail to address the key underlying cause of coronary artery disease—that of endothelial dysfunction.

Endothelial dysfunction is the major cause of atherosclerosis—the blockage of arteries that increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, and congestive heart failure. Fortunately, it is never too late to start counteracting this circulatory breakdown, which is often a part of the aging process.

A wealth of research now points to several nutritional agents, such as cocoa polyphenols and pomegranate, that have been shown to dramatically improve arterial blood flow, helping promote youthful endothelial function and protect against the processes known to damage aging arteries.

Very few doctors discuss the importance of endothelial health with their cardiac patients. The endothelium comprises the thin layer of cells that line the interior surfaces of the entire circulatory system including the heart, blood vessels, the lymphatic system, and even the smallest capillaries. Essential to good health, the endothelium maintains uninterrupted circulation by allowing blood to flow smoothly to every part of the body and by participating in blood pressure control. One of its most important functions is the release of nitric oxide, which signals the surrounding smooth muscles of the arteries to relax and dilate, which increases healthy blood flow throughout the body.
But harmful oxidative stress, such as that which occurs in hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, cigarette smoking, and the aging process itself inactivates nitric oxide, thereby contributing to endothelial dysfunction.

Damage occurs when the endothelium’s structural integrity is compromised and is no longer able to protect the artery walls against the infiltration of cholesterol, triglycerides, and low-density lipoprotein (LDL). Thus, endothelial dysfunction is one of the first steps in the creation of atherosclerosis—the buildup of arterial plaque that elevates the risk for heart attack, stroke, and congestive heart failure.

Unfortunately, as we age, our body continually loses optimal endothelial function. A research study published in the journal Gerontology that examined healthy people showed that endothelial function declines with increasing age. Even worse, some research has shown that the development of endothelial dysfunction can begin as early as the teenage years. Cardiovascular researchers believe the endothelium has an “enormous yet largely untapped diagnostic and therapeutic potential,” which is why a better understanding of endothelial dysfunction may help to prevent or delay deadly cardiovascular events. As scientists continue to unravel the numerous causes of heart disease and atherosclerosis, the importance of preserving endothelial health is gaining appreciation.

Fortunately, researchers have identified several innovative nutritional ingredients that appear to enhance endothelial health. Among them are cocoa and pomegranate. In studies published in peer-reviewed journals, these substances have been shown to have properties that protect against endothelial dysfunction, while helping reverse clinical markers of arterial plaque.

Centuries before European confectioners processed the beans of the Theobroma cacao plant to make a confection we call “chocolate,” cocoa was used in Mexico and parts of Latin America in its powdered form for medicinal purposes. Recent studies in medical journals have found that cocoa may actually be cardioprotective, and a new study showed it may even be able to reverse the effects of endothelial dysfunction by improving the dilation of blood vessels.

Cocoa has a high concentration of polyphenol compounds, specifically a class of natural compounds called flavonoids. Scientists have identified several cocoa flavanols, including epicatechin and catechin, which can benefit circulatory health. Cocoa flavanols improve endothelial function by enhancing nitric oxide bioactivity, increasing blood flow, reducing the tendency of blood clot formation, reducing moderately high blood pressure, and helping LDL resist oxidation, which may prevent the buildup of atherosclerotic plaque in artery walls.
A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found that giving flavanol-rich cocoa to diabetic patients improved their vascular function. In an editorial accompanying the research report, another team of scientists noted that the study provides “sizable evidence that cocoa flavanols have a positive effect on the health of the arteries.”

A recent clinical trial examined the effects of dark chocolate including liquid cocoa on endothelial function and blood pressure in overweight adults. Consumption of dark chocolate or liquid cocoa improved endothelial function and decreased blood pressure. Sugar-free cocoa produced greater improvements in endothelial function, compared with regular cocoa containing sugar. This led the study authors to conclude that sugar may decrease cocoa’s benefits for endothelial health and blood pressure, and that sugar-free cocoa preparations may offer superior benefits.

An exotic fruit whose taste and beautiful ruby-colored seeds have been revered since ancient times, the pomegranate (Punica granatum) has recently become universally prized for its cardiovascular health benefits.
Studies have found that pomegranate has powerful antioxidant properties that appear to protect the heart and blood vessels. Pomegranate juice may have anti-atherosclerotic properties, slowing the progression of arterial plaques. Most promising may be the results from studies showing that pomegranate juice improves stress-induced ischemia in patients who already had cardiovascular disease and atherosclerosis. Pomegranate even shows benefits in reducing systolic blood pressure. Punicalagins, tannins, and anthocyanins are the major components in pomegranate that are responsible for its antioxidant and cardiovascular health benefits.

One of pomegranate’s key mechanisms for supporting cardiovascular health is its ability to modulate nitric oxide activity. In endothelial cells, pomegranate enhances the bioactivity of nitric oxide synthase, an enzyme that generates nitric oxide. Pomegranate’s antioxidant effects also help protect nitric oxide against oxidative destruction, thus ensuring its availability for essential vessel-protective functions.
Preserving optimal endothelial function is essential to maintaining smooth flow of blood through the arteries and preventing the accumulation of atherosclerotic plaque that can contribute to heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular diseases. Powerful, natural antioxidant sources like cocoa and pomegranate have been shown to enhance cardiovascular health. In some studies, pomegranate and cocoa have been shown to limit or reverse atherosclerosis, lower high blood pressure, and improve endothelial function in people with the most serious arterial problems, including heart disease and diabetes.

Source: http://www.lifeextension.com/magazine/2008/10/natural-methods-for-reversing-atherosclerosis/page-01

Curvesday Thursday: The Importance of Maintenance Care

Every day more and more people are reevaluating their options when it comes to health care. They are realizing that wellness comes from within and that the best way to avoid illness and discomfort is to be “health conscious” in their daily lifestyles. In order to accomplish this we must first understand what it is we need to do to get and stay well.

The simple answer is that we need to adopt lifestyle behaviors that promote health – as opposed to those that lead to sickness. Because the truth is there is no drug that can fix our poor diet or remove the toxins from the processed food we eat. There is no drug that can undo our sedentary living or poor fitness – the answer is in our lifestyle choices. One major lifestyle choice we can adopt is to receive regular chiropractic adjustments, often called maintenance or wellness chiropractic care.

Understanding the reason for maintenance chiropractic care mandates an understanding of two major well documented concepts: 1) immobilization degeneration; and 2) the neurology of pain processing. A primary component of a subluxation (misalignment in the spine) is loss of normal motion in that area; and there is an immense body of research to support the ensuing degenerative process that will occur with this loss of motion and the logical conclusion of restoring movement to the spine.

You see, chiropractic is important for our health in many of the same ways that exercise is so crucial for our overall health and well-being. It’s all about movement. Movement feeds the brain, when we become misaligned we lose the normal motion of that spinal segment – which leads to degenerated joints and  decreases these movement- rich nutrients to the brain (proprioceptive signals).

Immobilization degeneration is supported by over 40 years of research. The literature shows that a joint that has lost a degree of its normal movement will begin degenerating at a rate measurable within one week of onset. Its important to realize that this degenerative process will continue, often painlessly, until significant degeneration has occurred. A big reason why you don’t need to be in pain to be adjusted.

This loss of motion leads to an increase in nociceptors, which are receptors that fire when damage is detected, sending pain signals to the spinal cord and the brain. These impulses account for more systemic autonomic changes which can occur without the perception of pain. This is the same neural mechanism that allows serious disease processes to progress without warning.

What this basically means is that if we allow our body to progress in this direction, we are headed towards a state of alarm and adaptation, and ultimately fatigue, illness and early death. However, if we restore the motion to these spinal segments – through regular chiropractic care – we reduce stress hormone levels in the body and we restore proper brain-body communication, which in turn restores health and function in our body.

What happens when we reduce this stress load on our body? The many well documented improvements of chiropractic patients in areas like immune function, allergies, asthma, anxiety, colic, to name a few – show how far reaching of an effect this has on our body. Regardless of symptoms, the research shows we are much healthier with a properly moving spine than without.

Source: http://www.truehealthct.com/2013/why-do-i-need-maintenance-chiropractic-care/

Wellness Wednesday: The Low-Down on Probiotics

When venturing down the rabbit hole that is health and nutrition education, oftentimes it’s difficult to know exactly where you’re heading. There are countless signs claiming to be the way to go – offering a cure-all to your every ailment – and guaranteeing your success if you just follow along. Among these many signs and signals is a message to take probiotics – to load up on yogurt, kefir, sauerkraut and kombucha – but is taking probiotics really the way to go? And if so, how do you know if it is the right path for you?

To start, we know that probiotics are good for us, and that they are a natural part of the body’s environment. Probiotics are microorganisms (micro flora) that reside in our intestine. They are good bacteria that keep pathogens (harmful micro-organisms or bacteria) in check, aid in proper digestion and nutrient absorption, and contribute to immune function. Probiotics have been researched extensively, showing positive results for an array of conditions ranging from asthma and allergies, to skin disorders and vaginal and urinary infections. They crowd out bad bacteria, preventing the bacteria’s ability to host in the body, which inhibits infection, inflammation and disease.

Another way in which probiotics impact the health of the body is by improving digestion. Proper levels of probiotics in the gut have been shown to be effective in combating diarrhea, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease. In addition, they help the body to absorb nutrients, making sure your body receives the vitamins, minerals, fats and amino acids from the foods that you are consuming. In fact, probiotics are needed for the generation of certain B vitamins, vitamin K, folate, and some short-chain fatty acids.

Finally, we know that probiotics are the foundation of a concept called the “gut-brain” connection. This is the idea that micro flora (probiotics) directly impact your brain behavior. Proven by researchers at UCLA, the correction of healthy bacteria in the gut can optimize neurotransmitter function, leading to a reduction in anxiety, depression, and stress, and may even improve learning and sharpen focus and memory.

Now that we see how probiotics help the body, how do we know if our body needs them? Probiotics exist naturally in your gut, so we really only need to supplement with them if they have been depleted. And how do we know if they have been depleted? Take a look at this list of the top signs that indicate deficiency, and see if a probiotic supplement needs to be added to your shopping list.

 Antibiotic Use:

Antibiotic means anti-life, which is the exact opposite of probiotic, which means pro-life. Antibiotics are designed to kill bacteria in the body, and they do not discriminate between the bad and the good. So if you have ever taken a round of antibiotics, consider taking a probiotic to reintroduce the healthy flora back into the body.

Tip: Start a round of probiotics after you finish your antibiotics. Antibiotics prevent the probiotics from living in the body, so do not waste your money by taking them concurrently.

Food Poisoning:

If you recently have had food poisoning or have eaten something that just didn’t sit right, there is a good chance bad bacteria has made a home in your body. Taking a probiotic will fight off these bad guys and get your digestion and bowel movements back to normal.

Tip: When traveling in a foreign country, take probiotics as a preventative measure both before and during the trip. The more healthy bacteria you have in the gut, the better defense your body has against potential invaders.

Digestive Disturbances:

If your gut has not been functioning correctly and you are suffering from a condition of the digestive tract, consider using a probiotic supplement. Oftentimes the simple addition of these healthy bacteria can quell symptoms, and no further treatment is needed. Research has shown probiotics to be helpful for diarrhea, gas, inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn’s and H. pylori infection.

Tip: Always improve the diet first, eliminating hard-to-digest foods such as processed, packaged, and fried foods, dairy, gluten and soy. If your condition is still occurring, then you know it is time to bring in probiotics.

Skin Conditions:

If you suffer from acne, eczema, rashes, hives, or psoriasis, it’s most likely due to poor digestion and an imbalance in gut bacteria. Start using probiotics while also cleaning up your diet.

Mood Disorders:

If your daily life is riddled with stress, anxiety, irritability and depression, it could be because your intestinal flora is out of whack. Start using probiotics to normalize the flora, which will improve the functioning of your neurotransmitters and therefore your mood.

Tip: If your mood does not improve with the use of probiotics, consider taking a phyto-nutirent multivitamin with live source B vitamins as well.

Weak Immunity:

If you get sick from the flu every year, have maxed out your work sick days and seem to catch everything that goes around, then try probiotics. Probiotics have been clinically found to boost the immune system and strengthen the body’s defenses against illness. Healthy bacteria can train your immune system to distinguish between “foreign” microbes and those originating in your body, making probiotics the best front line against infection.

Asthma and Allergies:

Research has shown promise in the effects of probiotics in reducing symptom severity and medication use for asthma. Probiotics may also be helpful in reducing allergies, especially food allergies. Most often the root cause of food allergies is leaky gut, which can be improved by proper flora levels in the gut. Studies indicate that children with healthier gut flora have a reduced risk of developing allergies and asthma.

Autism:

New research suggests that probiotics may have therapeutic potential in autism spectrum disorder. They believe that gut bacteria may contribute to symptoms of Autism. By balancing the gut bacteria – reintroducing healthy probiotics – communicative, stereotypic, anxiety-like and sensorimotor behaviors were shown to decrease. While more research has to be done on the topic, probiotic supplementation for autism appears hopeful.

Yeast Infections:

If you suffer from recurring yeast infections or Candida, then this is a good indicator that there is an overgrowth of bad bacteria in the body. The best way to bring it back into balance is with probiotics. Probiotics, or good bacteria, crowd out the bad bacteria, helping to relieve the body of the symptoms attributed to the overgrowth.

Tip: Eliminate white sugar and significantly reduce natural sugars, and sugary carbohydrates. These foods are what bad bacteria feed on, so in order to expedite their elimination from the body, it is best to cut off their food source.

Insider’s Info: Probiotics are abundant in fermented foods, but most often their probiotic concentration is not enough to be used therapeutically when the gut flora has been drastically depleted. Therefore, use fermented probiotic-rich foods as an ongoing part of the diet to keep your levels up as a form of prevention. Then choose a high-quality probiotic as a form of nutrition therapy.

Source: http://thechalkboardmag.com/9-signs-you-need-probiotics

Stickin’ It Tue You: Acupuncture May Reduce Severity and Frequency of Hot Flashes

Menopause is a time of natural change in a woman’s body. Hormones and chemistry are shifting because of lower estrogen and progestin produced by the body. For some women, these shifts in hormones can cause hot flashes, night sweats, vaginal dryness, and mood changes. It can be a challenging time.

For women going through menopause, hot flashes can be one of the most uncomfortable symptoms. But a new study suggests that acupuncture may help to reduce the severity and frequency of hot flashes among menopausal women.

Hot flashes, also known as hot flushes, are a sudden feeling of heat over all or parts of the body. They may also cause redness on the face and neck, red blotches on the arms, back and chest, and heavy sweating or cold shivers. Many health conditions can cause hot flashes, but they are most common among women going through menopause. The study found that menopausal women who underwent acupuncture experienced a reduction in the severity and frequency of hot flashes for up to 3 months.

The most effective treatment for hot flashes is hormone therapy (HRT) – the use of medication that contains estrogen and/or progesterone. However, such treatment can increase the risk of other health conditions, including stroke, heart disease and cancer.

In this latest study, recently published in the journal Menopause, researchers wanted to see how acupuncture affected the regularity and severity of hot flashes a woman experienced while going through natural menopause.

Acupuncture is a form of alternative medicine that is more than 2,500 years old. It incorporates a number of procedures that stimulate anatomical points on the body as a form of healing. The most common form of acupuncture involves the use of thin, metallic needles that penetrate the skin. The technique is most commonly used to help treat chronic pain, but past research has indicated it can help reduce inflammation and may even boost weight loss.

The research team analyzed 104 studies that assessed the effectiveness of acupuncture. The team included 12 of these studies in their research, involving 869 women between the ages of 40-60 who were going through natural menopause.

The women included in the study underwent various forms of acupuncture, including acupressure, electro-acupuncture, laser acupuncture, ear acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicine acupuncture.

The investigators found that women who underwent acupuncture experienced a reduction in the severity and frequency of hot flashes for up to 3 months. Furthermore, the treatment appeared to have a beneficial effect on hot flashes regardless of the number of doses, sessions or duration of treatment received.

The team is unable to explain why acupuncture appears to help alleviate hot flashes among menopausal women, but they hypothesize that acupuncture may trigger a reduction in the concentration of beta-endorphin – a neuropeptide found in the cells of the central and peripheral nervous system – in the hypothalamus of the brain. They say lower levels of beta-endorphin may activate the release of calcitonin gene-related peptide (CGRP), which regulates body temperature.

Commenting on the team’s findings, Dr. Margery Gass, executive director of The North American Menopause Society (NAMS), says:

“More than anything, this review indicates that there is still much to be learned relative to the causes and treatments of menopausal hot flashes. The review suggests that acupuncture may be an effective alternative for reducing hot flashes, especially for those women seeking non-pharmacologic therapies.”

Source: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/279714.php

http://www.mainlinehealth.org/oth/Page.asp?pageID=OTH006124

Get Moving Monday: Maintaining Balance in our Lives

We tend to underestimate how much maintaining balance contributes to living life successfully and productively. As a sports enthusiast I appreciate how sports are a metaphor for, or a microcosm of, life so you will find me making many comparisons and analogies. Take the example of an Olympic athlete. To get optimum results he/she must train for the event in the most efficient and productive manner possible because the margin of error in a sporting event is minuscule. You could win or lose in an Olympic event by a hair or one 1/100th of a second. Not a chance you would want to take.

When in training the athlete must have discipline and maintain a routine that includes the proper balance of sleep, good nutrition and exercise. He/she must also employ psychology to make sure that the necessary mindset or attitude is in place. Attitude and mindset are so important that they could make the difference between winning and losing. If any one of these components is missing, or out of balance, the athlete will not perform well.

We can take a valuable lesson from elite athletes who, by knowing how to balance their training routines, are able to function at optimum levels. A well balanced life is essential for personal effectiveness, peace of mind and living well. Whether we work, go to school or are retired, we all have responsibilities. There is always someone, or something, to answer to. There are things we want to do and things we must.

The challenge is to balance what we must do with what we enjoy and choose to do. This is not always easy. If, however, we are unable to reduce stress and manage a well balanced life there can be physical and/or emotional health consequences. We don’t have to adhere to the strict regimen an Olympic athlete would, but in order to function at our best, we definitely need to balance taking care of ourselves physically, mentally and spiritually. Focusing too much on any one facet catches up with us and leads to health problems in the neglected area.

For instance, if you were to exercise too much (hard to imagine) and not take time to rest and replenish, you would injure yourself. If you read, or do a disproportionate amount of mental work, your body would lack proper circulation and fitness level.
If you spend an enormous amount of time meditating, or relaxing, your brain waves slow down and you lack mental agility. Whenever you overdo it in any aspect of your life, you lose perspective and balance.  As Aristotle said: “Moderation in all things.”

Take care of and nurture yourself.
You cannot accomplish anything if you’re unhealthy. Get plenty of rest, exercise and eat properly. Many of us think we can burn the candle at both ends, eat junk food, get very little exercise, and still function adequately. You may be able to get away with this for a while when you’re young, however, at some point, this life style catches up with the best of us. Burnout is a real possibility.

Keep your mind alert and in shape. As mentioned in the 10 Positive Habits To Develop , try to learn a new piece of information each day, even if it’s in conversation with your spouse and children at the dinner table.

Stay connected with family and friends. At the end of the day share with your spouse and children how the day went for each of you. We lead busy lives but we should never be too busy to connect with and make at least one phone call to a parent, sibling or friend during the day.

Do something spontaneous. Our lives can be too regimented at times so it’s a good idea to do something out of the ordinary every now and then. During your lunch one day go for a pedicure or massage. Take a drive in the countryside one afternoon. On the weekend go to a concert (rock, opera or symphony)

Make time for yourself. Each evening take time to unwind. If that means leaving the dishes overnight, so be it. Take a nice bath, read from the book you started, or listen to some soothing music. Ideally, set aside time each day for an activity that you enjoy, such as walking, working out or listening to music. Or, allow yourself to unwind after a hectic day by reading, meditating or taking a nice hot bath.

Know what your priorities are.
Balance does not entail cramming in every activity possible. Examine your values and decide what’s important to you; then set your boundaries. You may be in the process of building a career, starting a family or going to school. Depending on what stage you’re at in life, your focus and energies will be different. Avoid becoming overwhelmed by juggling too many big projects in your life at once. Maybe planning a wedding is not a good idea when you’re studying for the bar exam. Nor, is starting a family when you are unsure about your career direction, or relationship status. Not knowing what you want and trying to do everything at once can be a recipe for disaster instead of the road to leading a well balanced life. As the saying goes, “do not bite off more than you can chew”.

Create an efficient mindset.
Be organized and plan ahead. Take time at the beginning of each week to assess what needs to be done. Make a to-do list in a planner or calendar for upcoming appointments, impending exams. or meetings to attend. Be sure also to allow for recreation and quality time for yourself and your family. Taking the time to connect with family and friends will recharge your batteries and make you more efficient in the long run.

Expect the unexpected.
Rather than get stressed and upset, learn to roll with the punches when something over which you have no control happens. You could get stuck in traffic, your computer could crash, or your child could get sick with the chickenpox. Stuff happens. We’ve all experienced the unexpected. If you accept that anything can happen at any time, it’s less likely it throw you off your stride when it does. Be able to adjust your game plan.

Note also, that there are times when achieving balance may not be possible. For instance, you may have a family or career crisis that needs your immediate and undivided attention. It may require an exceptional amount of your time and resources. When that happens, do whatever it takes and when things go back to normal take time to refresh and rejuvenate yourself.

Maintain a positive mental attitude.
Begin each day with the intention of making the best and most of it. It may not always go as planned, but it can go more smoothly if you put it in perspective. Part of living a well-balanced life is learning how to deal with adversity, unforeseen events and uncertainty. If you practice not letting things get to you, you will not only learn to live a well balanced and less stressful life, you will learn to live in and savor the moment. Once you’ve done everything you can within your control, let your life unfold. Be prepared for the future, but don’t worry about it.

While we can’t anticipate and plan for everything in our lives, we can decide how, where and when to concentrate our energies. This may require some critical thinking and problem solving, but in the end it will lead to much less stress and a well balanced life.

sources: http://www.essentiallifeskills.net/wellbalancedlife.html

http://www.essentiallifeskills.net/balance.html