How You Can Reduce Stress And Be Healthy

 Brain Health, Heart Health, Obesity, Sleep  Comments Off on How You Can Reduce Stress And Be Healthy
Feb 062013
 

We Americans like to chime about being part of the greatest nation in the world, and having the best work ethic anywhere. However, we pay a heavy price for our greatness and productivity. When it comes to worldwide life expectancy, we Americans don’t even make the top 40. According to the Central Intelligence Agency, the United States ranks 51 in a country comparison of life expectancy.

One of the reasons may be high stress levels. Stress levels that are a results of constantly wanting to be high achievers, and maintaining our expensive lifestyles. The price we pay is a less healthy and shorter life, even though we have the most expensive and perhaps the most advanced health care system in the world. This just proves that you can’t buy good health.

When we put ourselves under constant stress, we overexpose ourselves to cortisol and other stress hormones. Our body’s normal processes get disrupted by these hormones, and we increase our risk of health problems including:

  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems
  • Digestive problems
  • Depression
  • Obesity
  • Memory problems
  • And skin problems

A new 5 year study conducted by the University of Buffalo, Stony Brook University and Grand Valley State University, has shown that helping others can buffer the bad effects of stress. Routinely doing something beneficial to others not only reduces stress levels, but also reduces mortality risks. Help others and you are less likely to die anytime soon.

Research has also failed to find any health benefits in receiving help. This may prove that giving is indeed better than receiving.

The researchers studied that stress levels and helping behavior of 846 participants from the Detroit, Michigan area. The participants in this study reported the amount of time they spent in the past 12 months helping friends, neighbors or relatives who did not live with them by

  • Providing transportation
  • Doing errands and shopping
  • Performing housework
  • Or providing child care and other beneficial tasks

The conclusions of this study showed strong evidence that helping others reduces your mortality risks by buffering the association between stress and mortality. This supports the conclusions of other studies that found people with long and healthy life spans have strong social associations with family and friends. So let’s provide a helping hand as often as we can and live long and prosper.

Sources:

University of Buffalo: Study Finds It Actually Is Better (and Healthier) to Give Than to Receive

Central Intelligence Agency: Country Comparison: Life Expectancy at Birth

Mayo Clinic: Stress: Constant Stress Puts Your Health at Risk

You Can Significantly Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease By 32%

 Diet, Heart Health  Comments Off on You Can Significantly Reduce Your Risk of Heart Disease By 32%
Jan 312013
 

If, like me, heart disease is prevalent in your family, you can significantly reduce your risk of hospitalization and death from heart disease, according to a study from the University of Oxford.

The study reports that you can lower your risk of this disease by 32% by being a vegetarian. This agrees with a finding that I wrote about in a previous post titled A Heart Healthy Diet. That post summarizes the lifestyle of the people on the Greek island Ikaria, who tend to live long and healthy lives. One of their dietary habits is that they eat little meat. When they do eat meat, it is typically just on Sundays, and they eat meat from grass fed animals.

The conclusion of this Oxford study stresses the importance of diet on heart disease. The researchers believe that a vegetarian diet significantly improves cholesterol profiles and blood pressure. Vegetarians have lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels than non-vegetarians.

Vegetarians also have lower body mass indices and fewer cases of diabetes.

As a matter of fact, cultures worldwide that have better than average life spans tend to eat a lot of green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables like cabbage, broccoli and kale, fruits, nuts, seeds and legumes. They also tend to eat little meat and dairy products.

The evidence is growing that diet is key not only for the prevention of heart disease, but also good health in general.

The Oxford study looked at 45,000 volunteers from England and Scotland, which is a rather large group of people to study. After taking into account age, smoking, alcohol usage, physical activity, education and socioeconomic background, the results clearly show that a vegetarian diet reduces our risk of heart disease by 32%.

So skip the meat and start eating a plant based diet and live a long, healthy and prosperous life.

Sources:

University of Oxford: "Vegetarianism Can Reduce Risk of Heart Disease By Up to a Third"

A Heart Healthy Diet

 Diet, Heart Health  Comments Off on A Heart Healthy Diet
Jan 202013
 

Instead of a heart healthy diet, this article should be titled “A Whole Body and Mind Healthy Lifestyle.” If you truly are looking for a long, healthy and happy life, you should follow the example of the people who live on the Greek island of Ikaria.

Dan Buettner wrote an excellent article on the lifestyle of these people, and called his story "The Island Where People Forget to Die." He starts by telling the story of a Greek war veteran by the name of Stamatis Moraitis who moved to the US and developed lung cancer in 1976. After being diagnosed with cancer, he decided to move back to Ikaria with his elderly parents, where he could die among family and friends of his youth.

He has never taken chemotherapy or any kind of medical therapy for his cancer. The only thing that he has done is move back to Ikaria and live the lifestyle of this lovely island. Dan finds him in 2012 still alive and well at the age of 97 still living on Ikaria. The only thing that Stamatis knows is that his cancer simply went away.

One of the most important aspects of their lives may not be what they eat, but what they don’t eat. They

  • Eat very little meat. Meat is usually eaten on Sunday. And the meat is typically from grass fed animals. They may also eat wild fish about three times a week.
  • Don’t eat refined sugars. They do eat a local honey.
  • Don’t eat refined, white wheat. They use ground whole wheat for breads.

Their diet consist of a lot of wild greens, fruits from their own gardens, a lot of virgin olive oil, goat milk from goats that eat wild grass, frequently drink a tea made from wild herbs (marjoram, mint, rosemary and sage) and red wine. And their caloric intake is less than the average American. They also eat a lot more beans than the average American.

I almost forgot to mention that they also drink a lot of coffee. What’s interesting about their diet is that most of their food is home grown or wild. They limit their dairy intake, and only consume milk and cheese from grass fed goats.

They do a lot of walking, and spend a lot of time in their gardens. They stay up late and sleep late. And perhaps most importantly, they have close relationships with family and friends, which helps lead to a low stress lifestyle.

We Americans can learn a lot from the people of Ikaria. Unfortunately, our culture and urban lifestyle makes it difficult if not impossible to duplicate the healthy lifestyle of the island of Ikaria. Genesis describes paradise as two people sharing a large garden. In today’s highly populated world, Ikaria may be the closest thing to paradise that any of us can hope to experience.

References:

The New York Times: The Island Where People Forget to Die

Blue Zones: Ikaria, Greece

Now It’s Cholesterol Particle Size That Matters

 Diet, Heart Health  Comments Off on Now It’s Cholesterol Particle Size That Matters
Dec 112012
 

Yep. When it comes to cholesterol, size does matter.

At least that’s the theory proposed by cardiologist Dr. Stephen Sinatra and nutritionist Dr. Jonny Bowden. They are coauthors of the book “The Great Cholesterol Myth: Why Lowering Your Cholesterol Won’t Prevent Heart Disease and the Statin-Free Plan That Will.”

Dr. Sinatra and Dr. Bosden are a small but growing number of doctors that believe that the particle size of cholesterol in your blood stream is what causes plague formation rather than the amount of cholesterol. Dr. Mark Hyman is another well known doctor who has a similar belief.

LDL in particular comes in small, medium and large sizes. This new theory states that the small particle size version of LDL is inflammatory and the main culprit in arterial plague formation. The plague that eventually leads to a heart attack. The large, fluffy sized version of LDL causes no harm.

They even state that saturated fats are not a problem as far as cardiovascular health is concerned. The real culprits in our diet are trans fats, sugars and high-glycemic carbohydrates. In combination with high stress, these three are the true villains of heart disease.

A few doctors over the years have been trying to convince others in the medical community that the data collected in the 1960’s and 70’s are flawed. Researchers and doctors have continuously been ignoring the fact that over half of the population with high cholesterol do not develop arterial plagues. And over half of the population with low cholesterol do develop plagues and have heart attacks.

They also note that people with high cholesterol actually live the longest. High cholesterol is good as long as the particle sizes of the various cholesterol molecules are of the large, fluffy variety.

They stress that high cholesterol is a lousy predictor of heart attacks. A better predictor of heart attack risk is your triglyceride to HDL ratio. A ratio of 2 or less is very good, while a ratio of 4 or higher indicates heart health risks. According to the results of a Harvard study, the triglyceride to HDL ratio is a stronger predictor of heart attacks than the more commonly used LDL/HDL ratio.

Here is another shocking fact that few realize. According to another Harvard study by Dariush Mozaffarian, replacing saturated fats with high-glycemic index carbohydrates increased heart attack risks by 33%. Again, sugar and foods that easily convert to sugar in your digestive tract may actually be the true culprits of plague formation and heart attacks.

So, how do we help our bodies to make the large, fluffy version of cholesterol?

Basically, it involves eating a diet that reduces inflammation. It involves a diet that eliminates trans fats, and minimizes sugar and high-glycemic carbohydrate consumption. Dr. Bowden recommends a diet of

  • Fresh fruits and vegetables
  • Wild, cold water ocean fish high in omega-3 fatty acids
  • Eat more anti-inflammatory spices like turmeric
  • And beef and dairy products from grass fed cows

In summary, a new belief is surfacing that states that it is more important that you know the particle size of your cholesterol, rather than the amount of cholesterol in your blood. Just remember, small is bad and big is good. And ask your doctor to also check your triglyceride to HDL ratio. Again, low is good, high is bad.

References:

DrSinatra.com: "Cholesterol Educatiion of the Right Kind"

DoctorOz.com: “Cholesterol Facts vs. Myths”

Dr. Mark Hyman: "Seven Tips to Fix Your Cholesterol Without Medication"