Sunday, March 27, 2011

How to Fight Heartburn at Home

Just about everyone experiences heartburn from time to time. If you get heartburn once in a while, changing your diet or lifestyle—such as eating small, frequent meals and quitting smoking—can often head off heartburn before it gets started. Over-the-counter remedies such as Mylanta, Pepcid, or Prilosec OTC, will also help get heartburn under control.

But in some cases, avoiding certain foods or popping antacids simply aren’t effective. If you experience heartburn frequently, you may have gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Although watching your diet and eating habits is always important for fighting heartburn, chronic heartburn may require more aggressive treatment, such as prescription medicines. Left untreated, GERD can erode the esophagus and lead to more serious health problems.

Lifestyle changes to treat heartburn

You can make changes to your lifestyle to help relieve your symptoms of heartburn. Here are some things to try:
  • Change your eating habits.
    • It’s best to eat several small meals instead of two or three large meals.
    • After you eat, wait 2 to 3 hours before you lie down. Late-night snacks aren't a good idea.
    • Chocolate, mint, and alcohol can make heartburn worse. They relax the valve between the esophagus and the stomach.
    • Spicy foods, foods that have a lot of acid (like tomatoes and oranges), and coffee can make heartburn symptoms worse in some people. If your symptoms are worse after you eat a certain food, you may want to stop eating that food to see if your symptoms get better.
  • Do not smoke or chew tobacco.
  • If you get heartburn at night, raise the head of your bed 6 in. (15 cm) to 8 in. (20 cm) by putting the frame on blocks or placing a foam wedge under the head of your mattress. (Adding extra pillows does not work.)
  • Do not wear tight clothing around your middle. Lose weight if you need to. Losing just 5 to 10 pounds can help. For more information, see the topic Weight Management.

Medicines to treat heartburn

Note: If you are pregnant and have heartburn symptoms, be sure to talk to your doctor before you take any heartburn medicines. Some medicines may not be safe to take while you are pregnant. For more information, see the topic Pregnancy-Related Problems.


Many people take nonprescription antacids for mild or occasional heartburn. If you use antacids more than just once in a while, talk with your doctor.
  • Antacids such as Tums, Mylanta, or Maalox neutralize some of the stomach acid for 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending on whether the stomach is full or empty. Liquid or dissolving antacids usually work faster than tablet forms.
  • Some antacids, such as Gaviscon, have a foaming agent (alginate) that acts as a barrier between stomach acid and the esophagus.
  • Antacids such as Pepto-Bismol coat the esophagus and act as a barrier to reflux acid. Pepto-Bismol should not be used for more than 3 weeks and you should not take it if you can't take aspirin. It may make your tongue or stools black. The black color is usually not serious. Brushing your teeth and tongue after taking Pepto-Bismol may keep your tongue from turning black. If your child or teen gets chickenpox or flu, do not treat the symptoms with nonprescription medicines that contain bismuth subsalicylate (such as Pepto-Bismol and Kaopectate). If your child has taken this kind of medicine and he or she has changes in behavior with nausea and vomiting, call your doctor. These symptoms could be an early sign of Reye syndrome, a rare but serious illness. Ask your doctor if your child younger than 12 should take these medicines.
Antacids work faster than acid reducers (H2 blockers), but their effect does not last more than 1 to 2 hours. H2 blockers can provide relief for up to 12 hours. Antacids do have side effects. They may cause diarrhea or constipation. Also, antacids can interfere with how your body absorbs other medicines. 

If you have any health risks, talk with your doctor before you start taking an antacid. If you have kidney disease, it is especially important to discuss antacid use with your doctor. Regular use of antacids that contain magnesium or aluminum can cause a dangerous buildup of magnesium or aluminum in people who have kidney disease.

Stomach acid reducers

H2 blockers

Acid reducers, also called histamine receptor (or H2) blockers, decrease the amount of acid that the stomach makes, which may reduce irritation to the stomach lining and decrease heartburn. Some examples of nonprescription acid reducers are Pepcid AC, Tagamet HB, Zantac 75, or Axid AR. Talk with your doctor if you take an H2 blocker for more than 2 weeks.

Proton pump inhibitors

Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), such as omeprazole (for example, Prilosec), reduce stomach acid and effectively treat severe heartburn symptoms. These acid-reducing medicines are used when your heartburn has not gotten better with other home treatment measures, antacids, or H2 blockers. You may need to use a PPI for up to 5 days before you have relief of your heartburn but they are safe to use for long-term management. They also are safe to use if you have kidney or liver problems. PPIs are available without a prescription.
Acid reducers can sometimes change the way other medicines work. If you are taking prescription medicines, be sure to talk with your doctor before you take a nonprescription acid reducer.

Symptoms to Watch For During Home Treatment

Use the Check Your Symptoms section to evaluate your symptoms if any of the following occur during home treatment:
  • Heartburn is not relieved by home treatment and medicine.
  • Blood appears in your vomit.
  • Blood appears in your stools or you have black, tarry stools.
  • You have symptoms of mild heartburn for more than 2 weeks.
  • Swallowing problems are not improving.
  • You continue to lose weight for no reason.
  • Your symptoms become more severe or frequent.

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Saturday, March 19, 2011

Negative Emotions Surface As We Exert More Self Control In Our Daily Choices

People who make an effort to exert self-control are attracted to aggressive art and public policy appeals, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. They also don't appreciate messages that nag them to control their behavior.

"We set out to examine whether exerting self-control can indeed lead to a wide range of angry behaviors and preferences subsequently, even in situations where such behaviors are quite subtle," write authors David Gal (Northwestern University) and Wendy Liu (University of California San Diego).

"Research has shown that exerting self-control makes people more likely to behave aggressively toward others and people on diets are known to be irritable and quick to anger," the authors explain. The researchers found that people who exerted self-control were more likely to prefer anger-themed movies, were more interested in looking at angry facial expressions, were more persuaded by anger-framed appeals, and expressed more irritation at a message that used controlling language to convince them to change their exercise habits.

In one study, people who choose an apple instead of a chocolate bar were more likely to choose movies with anger and revenge themes than milder movies.

In another study, participants who exerted financial restraint by choosing a gift certificate for groceries over one for a spa service showed more interest in looking at angry faces rather than at fearful ones.

In a third experiment, dieters had more favorable opinions toward a public policy message that used an anger-framed appeal (if funds are not increased for police training, more criminals will escape prison) than they did toward a sad message.

Finally, participants who chose a healthy snack over a tastier, less-healthy one were more irritated by a marketer's message that included controlling language (words such as "you ought to," "need to," and "must").

"Public policy makers need to be more aware of the potential negative emotions resulting from encouraging the public to exert more self control in daily choices," the authors write. "Instead behavioral interventions might rely on a broader range of methods to foster positive behaviors toward long-term goals."

David Gal and Wendy Liu. "Grapes of Wrath: The Angry Effects of Exerting Self-Control." Journal of Consumer Research: October 2011.

Source: University of Chicago Press Journals Medical News Today

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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Women Who Enjoy Daily Cup of Coffee May Reduce Stroke Risk

Women who drink a cup or more of coffee each day may reduce their risk of stroke by as much as 25 percent. Swedish researchers have discovered that not only could the consumption of at least one cup of coffee daily lower a woman’s stroke risk, but also found that women who don’t partake in a regular cup of java could actually be increasing their chances for stroke. The details of the study were recently published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

According to lead researcher Susanna Larsson, of the National Institute of Environmental Medicine at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, “Results from our study in women showed that consumption of 1 to 5 cups of coffee per day was associated with a 22 to 25 percent lower risk of stroke, compared with consumption of less than 1 cup a day.” Larsson also noted that small amounts of coffee may also provide some benefit in the reduction of stroke risk.

For their analysis the researchers monitored the health of 34,670 women ranging in age from 49 to 83 for an average of 10 years. All of the women were participants in the Swedish Mammography Cohort, a long-term investigation of the association between diet, lifestyle and disease development. During the period between 1998 and 2008, a total of 1,680 women suffered a stroke. However, the researchers found that those women who drank coffee were 22 percent to 25 percent less likely to have a stroke. The benefits seen were similar whether the women reported consuming 1-2 cups each day, 3-4 cups a day, or 5 or more cups daily in comparison to women who consumed less than a cup on a daily basis. Moreover, the benefits remained after accounting for weight, high blood pressure, diabetes, drinking, and smoking.

It must be noted that the women in the study were not asked to report whether or not they consumed decaffeinated coffee. However, Larsson pointed out that the majority of Swedes drink coffee containing caffeine.

The researchers hypothesize that the reduction in stroke risk may be linked to coffee consumption providing for a reduction in inflammation and oxidative stress, as well as improved insulin resistance, all of which could lower the risk for stroke. However, the research team acknowledged that the findings are preliminary and are not cause for change in current coffee consumption habits. In addition, according to one expert, because the study was restricted to a Scandinavian population, it may not be representative of more diverse populations.

But just last year, British researchers from the University of Cambridge discovered a link between consuming coffee on a regular basis and a decreased risk of stroke in a study following 23,000 men and women over an average of 12 years. The study showed that drinking any amount of coffee was associated with a 27 percent reduction in stroke risk. There is even some evidence that the consumption of moderate amounts of coffee or tea can lower the risk for developing heart disease.
Larsson pointed out “Some women have avoided consuming coffee because they have thought it is unhealthy. In fact, increasing evidence indicates that moderate coffee consumption may decrease the risk of some diseases such as diabetes, liver cancer, and possibly stroke.” In 2008, a study by Larsson of men who consumed coffee or tea yielded similar results.
Stroke is the third leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer. By keeping your weight in check and getting a sufficient amount of exercise, you can decrease your chances for suffering a stroke, developing heart disease, and also ward off other illnesses and conditions.

Source: HealthNews By Drucilla Dyess

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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Emphysema Found In Blood May Help You Quit Smoking

Okay, so you smoke cigarettes in a regular basis with no plans to quit. Lung cancer and respiratory ailments could be looming, but how do you know? A new blood test is being developed that detects the early development of emphysema well before symptoms occur and provide some form of peace of mind. Not all smokers develop emphysema, but finding out far in advance may just be the wakeup call you need.

Dr. Ronald G. Crystal, chairman and professor of genetic medicine and the Bruce Webster Professor of Internal Medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College and chief of the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Medical Center says:
"We know, from other studies, that smokers who learn from objective evidence that their health is in danger are much more likely to quit. That is the only thing that will help them avoid this deadly disorder."

Emphysema and chronic bronchitis are the twin disorders that make up chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), which is now the fourth leading cause of death in Americans. Given the aging population, COPD is soon expected to move up to third in mortality prevalence.

The new test measures particles that are shed by tiny blood vessels known as capillaries that surround air sacs (alveoli) in lungs. These particles are debris shed by ongoing injury to the air sacs; damage that eventually results in devastation of the sacs and the "Swiss cheese" appearance of the lungs. The alveoli are where critical gas exchanges occur: blood in the capillaries brings carbon dioxide from the rest of the body for release into the air sacs, and the oxygen in the sacs (taken in from breathing) is taken up by the blood and transported to the rest of the body.

As the sacs are destroyed, people develop shortness of breath because they cannot take in enough oxygen to feed the body and eventually cannot remove carbon dioxide from the blood.

Dr. Crystal and his colleagues reasoned that as capillaries surrounding the air sacs are being injured, the debris would be carried out by the blood supply and could potentially be quantified as a disease biomarker. So they began to look for evidence of what they called endothelial micro particles (EMP).

Endothelial micro particles are small vesicles that are released from endothelial cells and can be found circulating in the blood. The micro particle consists of a plasma membrane surrounding a small amount of cytosol. The membrane of the endothelial micro particle contains receptors and other cell surface molecules which enable the identification of the endothelial origin of the micro particle, and allow it to be distinguished from micro particles from other cells, such as platelets. 

Although circulating endothelial micro particles can be found in the blood of normal individuals, increased numbers of circulating endothelial micro particles have been identified in individuals with certain diseases, especially hypertension and cardiovascular disorders. The endothelial micro particles in some of these disease states have been shown to have arrays of cell surface molecules reflecting a state of endothelial dysfunction. Therefore, endothelial micro particles may be useful as an indicator or index of the functional state of the endothelium in disease, and may potentially play key roles in the pathogenesis of certain diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis.

The researchers found a 95% positive correlation between elevated EMPs in the blood and an abnormal DLCO test result, meaning that it detected nearly all verified cases of early emphysema in participants.

Crystal continues:

"Our blood vessels are always being replenished, so we all have some level of EMPs in our blood. What we are looking for are elevated levels of EMPs. For smokers, this is the equivalent of a smoke detector sounding its alarm; elevated levels of EMPs suggest their air sacs are being injured and it is time to act. We need a blood test that can be administered to the 20% of American adults who smoke as well as nonsmokers exposed to secondhand smoke -- all who may not understand their risk of developing this progressive lung disease."
Source: The American Journal Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Cabbage With Tomatoes, Bulgur and Chickpeas

This recipe is based on a Greek dish made with red cabbage. I’ve used both green and red cabbage, and I like it both ways. It’s a comforting vegan dish that works as an entree or a side.

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 onion, finely chopped
Salt to taste
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 medium head green or red cabbage, finely shredded
1 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes with juice
2 teaspoons sugar
2 teaspoons red wine vinegar, cider vinegar or sherry vinegar
1/4 cup chopped fresh dill
2 cups water
1 cup coarse bulgur
1 15-ounce can chickpeas, drained and rinsed 

1. Heat the olive oil over medium heat in a large, heavy lidded skillet or Dutch oven. Add the onion, and cook, stirring often, until tender, about five minutes. Stir in a pinch of salt and the paprika. Cook, stirring, until the onion is thoroughly tender and infused with paprika, three to four minutes. 

2. Add the cabbage, and cook, stirring, for three minutes or until it begins to wilt. Stir in the tomatoes, sugar and vinegar, and add salt to taste. Bring to a simmer, lower the heat, cover and simmer 15 minutes until the cabbage is thoroughly tender. 

3. Stir in the dill and the water, and bring a to a boil. Add the bulgur and chickpeas. Stir to combine. When the water comes back to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer 10 minutes or until all of the water has been absorbed. Remove from the heat, taste and adjust seasonings, and serve hot or at room temperature.
Yield: Serves six. 

Advance preparation: Since this is good served at room temperature, you can make it several hours ahead. Reheat if desired. It will keep for three or four days in the refrigerator. 

Nutritional information per serving: 281 calories; 1 gram saturated fat; 2 grams polyunsaturated fat; 7 grams monounsaturated fat; 0 milligrams cholesterol; 42 grams carbohydrates; 12 grams dietary fiber; 311 milligrams sodium (does not include salt to taste); 9 grams protein 

Source:  The New your Times By Martha Rose Shulman

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Brain tumor radiation tied to later infertility

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Low doses of radiation therapy to the head, for brain tumors or some other cancers, might make it slightly harder for girls to have babies when they get older, a new study shows.

Doctors already knew that higher doses of radiation for these conditions can interfere with a woman's fertility, because it can destroy cells in the brain that control how her ovaries produce eggs, said Dr. Daniel Green, a cancer doctor at the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee.

"It was not known that more modest doses can possibly have an effect on fertility," Green, who was a co-author on the study, told Reuters Health.

Most of the girls in the study, about 6 out of 10, had either leukemia or a brain tumor. Others had cancers of the lymph nodes, bone, or muscles.

None of the girls had radiation of their ovaries, which might have affected their fertility.

Instead, Green and his colleagues wanted to know what happens to the fertility of girls who have radiation that reaches two glands next to the brain, the pituitary and the hypothalamus.

Leukemia -- cancer of the white blood cells -- is sometimes treated this way if cancer cells show up in the fluid that bathes the spinal cord and the brain.

"For brain tumors, radiation has always been part of the treatment," although doctors are using more chemotherapy now than they have in the past, said Dr. Jason Fangusaro, a pediatrician at Children's Memorial Hospital and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, Illinois.

This type of radiation isn't used for leukemia patients as often now as it once was, Fangusaro, who wasn't involved in the study, told Reuters Health.

But there are "many women who were treated for this 10 or 15 years ago" who could be at risk for fertility problems, Green said, and doctors don't know exactly what their numbers are.

In their study, Green and colleagues sent questionnaires to about 3,600 women who had cancer as girls, between 1970 and 1986, and also to about 2,100 of their sisters, asking about any pregnancies the women might have had.

About 3 of every 10 former cancer patients had been pregnant at least once, compared to about 5 out of 10 of their sisters, the researchers report in the medical journal Fertility and Sterility. This small difference, they say, could have been due simply to chance.

Green's group did not analyze how many times women tried to become pregnant.

But the actual pregnancy rate was significantly lower for some of the women - and not just those who received the highest doses of radiation to those two glands near the brain.

The highest doses involved more than 27 units of radiation, known as Grays. But women exposed to at least 22 units of radiation also had significantly lower odds of pregnancy; they had about a third fewer pregnancies compared to survivors who hadn't had been treated with radiation at all.

A dose of 22 Grays is more than 200,000 times higher than the amount of radiation in an average chest X-ray.

Leukemia is the most common type of cancer in kids, and about 3,300 new cases were expected in 2010, according to the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

And kids develop about 3000 to 4000 new brain tumors a year, Fangusaro said. 

When cancer survivors do become pregnant, "it's considered a high-risk pregnancy, and they need to be seeing a specialist who knows about helping the woman ovulate," and maintaining the pregnancy with the right hormone therapy, said pediatrician Dr. Susan R. Rose. Rose, from Cincinnati Children's Hospital in Ohio, was not involved in the study. 

Research advances have improved the odds of survival after childhood cancers. So if a girl was diagnosed with cancer in the past, it is likely she's still alive and may be facing fertility problems, Rose told Reuters Health. 

"It's also likely that if she didn't get (the radiation) treatment, she might have not survived," she said. "It's part of a lifesaving therapy." 

Source: Reuters By Leigh Krietsch Boerner 

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lower Sex Drive A Hidden Symptom Of Breast Cancer

For some women who have had breast cancer, the impact on their sex life can be just as devastating as other more obvious treatment related symptoms, such as hair loss. Reduced interest in sex among women is a familiar issue for the South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust's (SLaM) Psychosexual and Relationship Service. Professor Myra Hunter is a consultant clinical psychologist in the service and in her work she sees many women struggling with physical, emotional and sexual changes brought on or exacerbated by breast cancer.

"Adjuvant therapy like chemotherapy and tamoxifen can produce menopausal symptoms and women who have oestrogen-dependent cancers are advised not to have hormone treatment for these symptoms," Professor Hunter explains.

"Vaginal dryness is commonly brought on by reduced oestrogen levels following adjuvant treatments and hot flushes and night sweats can add to the discomfort."

Breast cancer is more common among older women and this means many women with breast cancer can have the symptoms of menopause exacerbated by cancer and its treatments. Breast cancer treatments can also trigger early-onset menopause in younger women.

Professor Hunter stresses that women experiencing changes in sexual functioning following breast cancer treatments need to acknowledge the range of physical and emotional changes they have undergone.

"Breast cancer can impact on a woman's self-esteem and body image, especially if she has had surgery or hair loss. Many women also feel as though their body is out of control or unfit. It is understandable that these feelings can result in a reduced lack of sexual interest and many couples adjust to this by recognising that other concerns take priority for a while."

"Sexual desire is closely linked to stress and women experiencing breast cancer can be under considerable stress, juggling their health concerns with ordinary life stresses. When stressed, sexual interest is affected in men and women."

Professor Hunter also says that relationship issues also play a part, with many people worried about their unwell partner's health and uncertain how to respond sexually. The stress of their partner's illness can also affect their own sexual functioning.

"Fortunately, most women find their quality of life, well-being and libido will improve as they enter remission. But for an estimated 20 to 30 per cent, problems can persist. Ongoing problems are more likely among women who have had chemotherapy," Professor Hunter explains. 

Professor Hunter is reluctant to reduce changes in sexual feeling in the context of breast cancer to 'female sexual dysfunction disorder' - a term often used flippantly by some doctors and the media to describe a range of female sexual issues.

"When working with women who have experienced breast cancer, it is helpful to normalise their experience in the context of stress. It would be counter-productive to give them an additional diagnosis just when they are trying to get their lives back to normal."

Professor Hunter works with women and their partners to discuss the many factors affecting their well-being and sexual relationships, including cancer. Along with facilitating improved communication, she also provides her patients with information and advice on managing menopausal symptoms, stress and their sexual relationships.

"For example, one woman was concerned that since her breast cancer treatment she and her husband had not had sex. She was feeling low about herself and began to worry that the lack of sex was a sign that there were problems in the relationship. She began to withdraw and blame herself. After a joint session with her and her partner, the couple were able to clarify these assumptions and this resulted in improved communication and more emotional intimacy and understanding between them." 

Source: South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust 

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Scientists find link between maternal diet and diabetes

Scientists say they have found a mechanism which may explain why a poor diet during pregnancy can increase the risk of offspring developing diabetes in later life. 

They say rat studies indicate an imbalanced diet in the mother can lead to the "silencing" of a gene linked to insulin production in the child. 

Experts said it showed a healthy diet was important during pregnancy.

Silent gene
Scientists already suspect that a poor diet during pregnancy can result in health problems such as diabetes for the offspring in later life. What the researchers at the University of Cambridge have come up with is a possible explanation. 

They believe an imbalanced diet in the expectant mother can compromise the long-term functioning of a gene in the child.

The gene, called Hnf4a, is thought to play a role in the development of the pancreas and in insulin production.
Because of the difficulties of testing the theory on pregnant women, they fed rats a protein-deficient diet and found higher rates of type 2 diabetes in the offspring, as expected. 

What they also found in the offspring was that this Hnf4a gene appeared to be "silenced" or "switched off" as the rats aged. The researchers suggest this may both cause diabetes, and can be linked back to the maternal diet.

Dr Susan Ozanne of the University of Cambridge, who lead the study, said further research would be needed to establish whether high-fat diets or other imbalanced diets had similar consequences in rats.

She believes similar mechanisms to those seen in the study could occur in humans, and that the effects might be felt by more than just the immediate offspring.

"Having a healthy well-balanced diet any time in your life is important for your health," she said, "but a healthy well-balanced diet during pregnancy is particularly important because of the impact on the baby long-term and potentially even on the grandchildren as well."

Earliest stages
Type 2 diabetes is often associated with obesity, although several inheritable genes have also been linked to the condition. 

This latest study focuses on what are called the "epigenetic" mechanisms which can affect whether a gene is expressed or not. Other studies have shown that these changes can be passed across generations without any modifications to our core DNA. 

Professor Jeremy Pearson of the British Heart Foundation said the research did not change the advice to pregnant women to eat a healthy, balanced diet, and said there was no reason for expectant mothers to be unduly worried. 

But he said the study "adds to the evidence that a mother's diet may sometimes alter the control of certain genes in her unborn child".

Professor Douglas Kell of the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council said the research fleshed out some of the molecular processes at play.

"This study uncovers - through epigenetics and molecular biology research - an important piece of this puzzle and shows us how apparently minor changes within cells at the very earliest stages of development can have a major influence on our health into old age," he said.


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Sunday, March 6, 2011

5 Cholesterol Myths and Facts


What you didn't know

Even if you think you know everything there is to know about cholesterol, there may be a few more surprises in store. Check out these common myths about high cholesterol; find out who’s most likely to have it, what types of food can cause it, and why—sometimes—cholesterol isn’t a bad word.

Americans have the highest cholesterol in the world

As a nation, we could certainly use some slimming down, but when it comes to cholesterol levels we are solidly middle-of-the-road.

According to 2005 World Health Organization statistics, American men rank 83rd in the world in average total cholesterol, and American women rank 81st. In both cases, the average number is 197 mg/dL, just below the Borderline-High Risk category. In Colombia the average cholesterol among men is a dangerous 244, while the women in Israel, Libya, Norway, and Uruguay are locked in a four-way tie at 232.

Eggs are evil

It's true that eggs have a lot of dietary cholesterol—upwards of 200 mg, which is more than two-thirds of the American Heart Association's recommended limit of 300 mg a day. But dietary cholesterol isn't nearly as dangerous as was once thought. Only some of the cholesterol in food ends up as cholesterol in your bloodstream, and if your dietary cholesterol intake rises, your body compensates by producing less cholesterol of its own.

While you don't want to overdo it, eating an egg or two a few times a week isn't dangerous. In fact, eggs are an excellent source of protein and contain unsaturated fat, a so-called good fat.

Kids can't have high cholesterol

Research has shown that atherosclerosis—the narrowing of the arteries that leads to heart attacks—can start as early as age eight. The American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines on kids and cholesterol recommended that children who are overweight, have hypertension, or have a family history of heart disease have their cholesterol tested as young as two.

Children with high cholesterol should be on a diet that restricts saturated fat and dietary cholesterol, according to the guidelines. Fiber supplements and more exercise are also recommended.

Food is heart-healthy if it says "0 mg cholesterol"

The Cholesterol portion of the nutritional label refers to dietary cholesterol, which is only one of the things found in food that can cause your cholesterol to go sky-high. (A bigger contributor to elevated cholesterol? A high-fat diet.) It's also believed to be the least important. Saturated fat (found in animal foods and dairy products) and trans fats (found in packaged foods) appear to have a far greater impact on low-density lipoprotein (LDL), the so-called bad cholesterol that causes atherosclerosis, than dietary cholesterol.

Cholesterol is always a bad thing

When most people hear "cholesterol" they think "bad." The reality is more complex. High cholesterol can be dangerous, but cholesterol itself is essential to various bodily processes, from insulating nerve cells in the brain to providing structure for cell membranes.

The role of cholesterol in heart disease is often misunderstood. Cholesterol is carried through the bloodstream by low-density and high-density lipoproteins (LDL and HDL). LDL, known as bad cholesterol, and not the cholesterol it carries per se, is responsible for atherosclerosis.


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Hope for early bowel cancer DNA test

Scientists have discovered what could be the first step towards a DNA test to detect the early signs of bowel cancer.

Tests on two distinct genes were highly accurate in distinguishing between tumours and benign polyps - growths in the bowel that can become cancerous. While not all polyps in the bowel become cancerous it is thought almost all bowel cancers develop from polyps.

The Cambridge study, in the BMJ journal Gut, analysed 261 samples from patients with benign polyps or bowel cancer. In particular it looked at what are called DNA methylation patterns - a key process in cell development. 'Protective genes' The researchers at Cancer UK's Cambridge Research Institute at Cambridge University say that DNA methylation is essential for life. 

End Quote Dr Ashraf Ibrahim Cambridge Research Institute In healthy cells a compound called a methyl group is tagged to DNA where it acts as a "red light", preventing certain genes from producing proteins. 
But this process can go wrong in cancer cells and DNA methylation can also contribute to the cause and development of cancer by blocking important "protective genes"

Dr Ashraf Ibrahim, the lead author of the study, says studying molecular changes could make diagnosing bowel cancer much simpler in the future.

"The molecular signals, which tell genes whether to make proteins or not, can become jumbled in cancer cells. We've identified several places where this signal becomes damaged and shown this is linked to bowel cancer development. 

"The majority of bowel cancers develop from benign polyps that turn cancerous - and this crucial research deepens our understanding of the molecular changes behind this development. 

"This first step in detecting molecular 'flags' for bowel cancer, could, one day, lead to a simple test to search DNA for the early signs of the disease." 

'Improve survival' Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK's director of cancer information, says the research opens up the possibility of much earlier diagnosis of bowel cancer, when it is easier to treat.

"We've come a long way in improving screening and developing better treatments - our scientists have been involved in testing many drugs that are used to treat bowel cancer and they've had a key role in pinning down the genetic causes of the disease. 

"But there is still more to be done. Research like this is vital in our goal to develop the best methods to detect, monitor and treat cancer and improve survival."

More than 38,000 people in the UK are diagnosed with the disease each year.


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Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Can you get hooked on diet soda?

First thing every morning, Ellen Talles starts her day by draining a supersize Styrofoam cup filled with Diet Coke and crushed ice. The 61-year-old from Boca Raton, Fla., drinks another Diet Coke in the car on the way to work and keeps a glass nearby "at all times" at her job as a salesclerk. By the end of the day she has put away about 2 liters. 

"I just love it," she says. "I crave it, need it. My food tastes better with it." 

Talles sounds a lot like an addict. Replace her ever-present glass of Diet Coke with a cigarette, and she'd make a convincing two-pack-a-day smoker. In fact, she says, she buys her 2-liter bottles 10 at a time -- more if a hurricane is in the offing -- because if she notices she's down to her last one, she panics "like somebody who doesn't have their pack of cigarettes." 

Most diet-soda drinkers aren't as gung ho as Talles, but people who down several diet sodas per day are hardly rare. Government surveys have found that people who drink diet beverages average more than 26 ounces per day (some drink far more) and that 3% of diet-soda drinkers have at least four daily. 

Are these diet-soda fiends true addicts? And if so, what are they addicted to? The most obvious answer is caffeine -- but that doesn't explain the many die-hard diet drinkers who prefer caffeine-free varieties. 

Factors besides caffeine are likely at work. Although diet soda clearly isn't as addictive as a drug like nicotine, experts say the rituals that surround diet soda and the artificial sweeteners it contains can make some people psychologically -- and even physically -- dependent on it in ways that mimic more serious addictions. And unlike sugared soda, which will make you gain weight if you drink too much of it, zero-calorie soda doesn't seem to have an immediate downside that prevents people from overindulging. 

"You think, 'Oh, I can drink another one because I'm not getting more calories,'" says Harold C. Urschel, MD, an addiction psychiatrist in Dallas and the author of Healing the Addicted Brain. "Psychologically you're giving yourself permission." 

How diet soda trains your brain 

The simplest explanation for a serious diet-soda habit is caffeine. Many people who chain-drink diet soda may be caffeine addicts who simply prefer soda to coffee or energy drinks, though diet soda doesn't provide much of a kick by comparison. (A can of Diet Coke contains four to five times less caffeine than a small Starbucks coffee.) 

Caffeine can't account for Steve Bagi's habit, however. The 44-year-old graphic designer from Chester Springs, Pa., gets his morning buzz from an enormous cup of coffee, yet he still buys caffeine-free Diet Pepsi by the case and downs six cans a day, "easy." 

His Diet Pepsi cravings stem from a prior addiction to nicotine, not caffeine. "It's all tied to smoking," says Bagi, who smoked a pack a day for 20 years and started drinking diet soda to mask the aftertaste of cigarettes. He eventually kicked the smoking habit -- but the Diet Pepsi one stuck. 

Trading one addiction or compulsive behavior for another -- a phenomenon known as addiction swapping -- is a well-known concept in addiction medicine, one that may explain Bagi's experience and that of other heavy diet-soda drinkers. Many people who drink diet soda are trying to lose (or keep off) weight by eating healthier, and they may turn to the sweetness of diet soda for comfort as they scale back on sugar, carbohydrates, and other satisfying foods -- much like a heroin addict who steps down to Oxycontin, Dr. Urschel says. 

Similarly, people may get hooked on diet soda because they associate it with a certain activity or behavior, as Bagi did with smoking. "You can get into a situation where you crave a diet soda by conditioning yourself," Dr. Urschel says. "[If] you stop for gas and always get a diet soda, the craving will start to come first, before you even pull into the station." 

The psychological components of diet-soda cravings are powerful, but they aren't the whole story. Research suggests that the artificial sweeteners in diet soda (such as aspartame) may prompt people to keep refilling their glass because these fake sugars don't satisfy like the real thing. 

In a 2008 study, for instance, women who drank water that was alternately sweetened with sugar and Splenda couldn't tell the difference -- but their brains could. Functional MRI (fMRI) brain scans revealed that even though both drinks lit up the brain's reward system, the sugar did so more completely. 

"Your senses tell you there's something sweet that you're tasting, but your brain tells you, 'Actually, it's not as much of a reward as I expected,'" says Martin P. Paulus, MD, a professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Diego, and one of the authors of the study. "The consequence might be that the brain says, 'Well, I'll have more of this.'" 

In other words, artificial sweeteners may spur drinkers -- or their brains -- to keep chasing a "high" that diet soda keeps forever just out of reach. It's not clear that this teasing effect can lead to dependence, but it's a possibility, Dr. Paulus says. "Artificial sweeteners have positive reinforcing effects -- meaning humans will work for it, like for other foods, alcohol, and even drugs of abuse," he says. "Whenever you have that, there is a potential that a subgroup of people ... will have a chance of getting addicted." 

Timothy S. Harlan, MD, a nutrition specialist and assistant professor of internal medicine at the Tulane University School of Medicine in New Orleans, says that while diet-soda dependence appears to be a real phenomenon, it is probably caused by a complex mix of behavioral factors, not necessarily artificial sweeteners. "I don't think there is clear-cut evidence of biochemical dependence on diet soda, but my sense is that certainly people do become habituated to diet soda and dependent upon it," he says. 

Are you hooked?
According to the American Psychiatric Association, a key sign of substance dependence is when a person continues to use a substance even when he or she knows it's causing physical or mental health problems.
Talles fits this description. She was diagnosed with brittle bones about six years ago, and her internist urged her to quit Diet Coke because the phosphoric acid in soda -- both diet and regular -- leaches calcium from bones, which can make osteoporosis worse. 

She's not having it, though. "It's not like I smoke or have any other bad habits," she says. "This is my thing." All the same, Talles acknowledges that drinking so much diet soda is probably not good for her, so in the last couple of months, she's started substituting one of her daily Diet Cokes for a caffeinated Crystal Light. 

Another distinguishing feature of substance dependence -- whether it's to caffeine, nicotine, or hard drugs like heroin -- is the painful withdrawal symptoms that occur if a person tries to quit cold turkey. Although it's difficult to pinpoint whether aspartame, caffeine, or some combination of ingredients is responsible, people who cut back on diet soda report symptoms such as headaches, nausea, and irritability -- a feeling that Talles knows well. 

She still remembers with horror a European vacation in 1982 during which she couldn't find diet soda for weeks. (This was still the infancy of diet soda; Diet Coke had just been released.) "I felt terribly lethargic and I had a headache," Talles recalls. "I tried to drink tea, but it didn't work the same way. ... I was having terrible withdrawal." When she finally found a vendor who sold Tab, four weeks into the trip, she bought every can he had. 

Catharina Hedberg, the owner of the Ashram, a wellness retreat nestled in California's Santa Monica Mountains, has seen what she believes is aspartame withdrawal firsthand. She claims that as many as 20% of the people who visit the Ashram are "totally addicted" to aspartame, mainly from diet drinks. "Withdrawals are horrendous," Hedberg says, even among those who drink caffeine-free diet soda. 

Before guests arrive at the retreat, Hedberg sends them a packet of literature that, among other things, encourages them to stop consuming diet soda and other products that contain aspartame. Although her observations are admittedly unscientific, Hedberg says that people who drink a lot of diet soda tend to experience nausea (and sometimes even vomiting) one to two days after arriving at the retreat, whereas coffee drinkers typically just get headaches. 

The dangers of too much diet soda 

Whether you feel dependent or not, drinking too much diet soda might be risky in the long run. In recent years, habitual diet-soda consumption has been linked to an increased risk of low bone mineral density in women, type 2 diabetes, and stroke. What's more, a growing body of research suggests that excessive diet soda intake may actually encourage weight gain. 

Researchers are still trying to sort out the counterintuitive link between zero-calorie soda and weight gain. One explanation may be that as your body gets used to experiencing the sweet flavor of diet soda without absorbing any calories, it begins to forget that foods containing real sugar and other carbohydrates do deliver calories. 

"The next time you go for a piece of fruit, your history says, 'I don't know if this has calories or not,' so you track those calories less well, and you may eat more of them," says Susan Swithers, PhD, a professor of psychological sciences at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind. 

It's also possible that people who gravitate toward diet soda are more likely to gain weight because they have less healthy diets overall than people who choose water or other unsweetened beverages. (They may use diet soda to wash down fast food, for instance.) 

If a relationship between diet soda and unhealthy food choices does exist, it may not be a total coincidence. There is some speculation -- largely unconfirmed, as of yet -- that diet sodas have subtle effects on insulin and blood-sugar levels that trigger hunger and food cravings and influence how (and what) you eat. 

None of this, however, is enough to persuade Talles or Bagi to swear off their habit. They simply have a hard time imagining life without diet soda. 

"I'd like to quit, and I know my wife would like me to," Bagi says. "I would like it to happen within the next year, but I'm not counting on it." 

Additional reporting by Carina Storrs.

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