Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Don't Worry. Be Happy and Avoid Heart Disease

A 10-year Canadian study tracked nearly 2,000 adults to determine whether attitude affects the development of heart disease. The study, published just last week, is thought to be the first to show a relationship between emotion and heart disease.

"Being happy means you have less likelihood of having a heart attack 10 years later," said psychologist Karina Davidson, director of the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Medical Center in New York. "What we don't know yet is if you're not a happy person and you were to get an intervention to help you increase your happiness, would that offset your risk?"

The research team looked at the association between positive affect (which was defined as “the experience of pleasurable emotions such as joy, happiness, excitement, enthusiasm and contentment”) and cardiovascular events in 1,739 adults in the 1995 Nova Scotia Health Survey. Trained nurses interviewed the 862 men and 877 women.

"We had to wait quite a few years as these people had heart attacks, and then we looked to see whether being happy predicted fewer heart attacks, and indeed it did."

Over the 10-year period, researchers discovered that participants with no positive affect were approximately 22% more likely to have heart attack or angina than those with a little positive affect, who were themselves at 22 per cent higher risk than those with moderate positive affect. However, Davidson warns that this is an observational study, and rigorous clinical trials are needed to support the findings.

From my view as a functional medicine physician, however, these findings make perfect sense to me. Happy people, those who don't take things too seriously, have lower levels of stress cortisol, compared with type-A people with higher stress-induced cortisol levels. They also tend to have stronger, closer support networks. All of these attributes leave them happier, healthier and longer lived.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Scientists discover the secret of aging

The UK’s Financial Times reports that scientists have solved the question as to how and why living cells age. Though they have no plans to create a Fountain of Youth, this information may be the harbinger of better drugs for age-related diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, not to mention skin wrinkling, fading eyesight and diminished hearing, all associated with aging.

An international team of scientists in Newcastle, UK worked in conjunction with the University of Ulm in Germany. Through a comprehensive systems biology approach utilizing computer modeling, cell culture experiments and genetically modified mice, they set out to discover why cells age.

What they learned from their research, published in Molecular Systems Biology Journal, is that when a cell detects damage to its DNA (due either to wear and tear or a disease state), it sends a signal that instructs the cell to self-destruct or simply stop dividing. This signal is actually delivered by free radical molecules created by the cell’s energy storehouse, the mitochondria. If this signal is not delivered, aging cells that continue to replicate can result in weaker systems, such as failing hearts, and more fragile bones and skin, and their free radical molecules can cause the cells to become cancerous.

One of the team’s scientists, Thomas von Zglinicki, cautioned about the research’s next stage, which is to explore ways to prevent cellular aging. “It is absolutely essential to tread carefully in trying to alter processes that cause cells to age, because the last thing we want is to help age-damaged cells [sic] to break out to become malignant,” said Mr. von Zglinicki.

We, in the Functional Medicine Department at Sanctuary Medical, will be watching this closely for more updates on the research!

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Diabetes Meds May Decrease BMI in Obese Teens

The obesity rate among children has tripled since 1960, with 32% of US children considered overweight or obese. Obese kids suffer some of the same weight-related problems as do adults: diabetes mellitus type 2, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. The February issue of Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine included a report by Darrell M. Wilson, M.D., of Stanford University and the Lucile S. Packard Children's Hospital, Stanford, Calif., and colleagues in the Glaser Pediatric Research Network Obesity Study Group.

The research group randomly assigned 77 obese teenagers, ages 13 to 18, to a “lifestyle intervention program” which included dietary changes and increased physical activity plus either 2,000 mg of Metformin XR or a placebo. The study ran for 38 weeks and participants were monitored for an additional 48 weeks after they stopped participating in the study. The use of Metformin showed a significant impact on BMI over the initial 52 weeks of the study, but the teens’ BMIs shot back up within 12-24 weeks after the drug was discontinued.

An obese child/teen has more adipocytes (fats cells) than a normal weight child. This will make it harder for them to maintain a reasonably healthy weight. Add to that a lack of experience and knowledge in what they should and could be eating for better health, as well as poor adult examples of what a meal or a snack should consist of, and you have set them up for a future of weight gain.

So parents, clean out the cupboards and fridge of the "Frankenfoods"...any pseudofood made with trans fats, food colorings/dyes/preservatives and high fructose corn syrup, and replace them with nutrient-rich whole foods (organic if possible). Shop the perimeter of the food market where the fruits and vegetables wait for you. Buy foods that come from nature, not from a lab. Try to cook together to teach your children (depending on age) simple basics of putting a meal together. Let the kitchen be the central point where the family meets, greets and eats together. Turn off the TV, leave your cell phone, put a leash on your dog and go for a walk together. Formalized exercise routines can be built later on, but for now, "go outside and play" should be heard more than the sounds of X-box, PS3 or video games.

Feel free to send me a health question!

To your health,
Dr. David Blyweiss