this article was published as my Holistic Outlook column in The Times Herald Record and recordonline.
As the year comes to a close, let’s review some of the big health topics of 2015 that captivated our interest:
- Red Meat and Cancer? Don’t ban the burger yet: headlines can be deceiving. The WHO report listed 941 things that could cause cancer, including air, sunny rooms, anything grilled, coffee and wine. Does red meat contain potential carcinogens? Sure. Want to reduce them? Don’t eat processed meat, or cook with high heat, or eat it with a big white bun, side of fries, soda and a pond of fructose-containing ketchup. And eat meat from healthy pastured animals: you are what you eat, eats. (Look for my column with further details soon)
- New Breast Cancer Screening Guidelines The American Cancer Society acknowledged drawbacks to mammograms, including false positives, unnecessary treatment, radiation exposure, and little change in survival for aggressive treatment of early stage cancers. That I understand. I am baffled they dropped the recommendation that women examine their own breasts regularly. That is how I, and so many others, found a lump. Every woman should be familiar with her own breasts, how they feel, and how they change over her cycle. Screening is important; make an informed decision.
- Female “Viagra”? Addiyi, the first pharmaceutical approved to treat low sexual desire in women, comes with a frightening list of serious side effects, and benefits both extremely minimal and highly questionable, leading the FDA to reject it twice before finally approving it (in the same form). It’s an anti-depressant, unlike Viagra and its rivals, which have specific physiological effects. The good news: women can recover their desire as part of recovering their health and vitality, as I regularly see in my practice.
- Sitting is the new smoking. This concept has been around, but gained traction with research showing that moving regularly during the course of each day benefits health more than sitting all day but having a few weekly workouts. Set a reminder on your phone or computer: get up and stretch, walk, do jumping jacks. Moving hourly is a simple shift for better health.
- Vitamin D You can sunbathe naked daily and still not get sufficient Vitamin D in this latitude. There are few food sources, and many medications block absorption. Without supplementation, I see blood levels of 30 or below, and while 30 will prevent rickets, optimal levels are much higher. Low Vitamin D is associated with higher incidence of bone, colon and breast cancer, diabetes, hypertension, thyroid issues and MS; higher levels are associated with lower incidence. Vitamin D is essential for bones, hormones, cardiovascular and immune health and works synergistically with fat-soluble vitamins K, D, A and E.
- Preventing Dementia Around 5.3 million Americans have dementia, with more diagnosed daily. The good news? Lifestyle choices dramatically decrease risk and may even decrease symptoms. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet, low sugar (Alzheimer’s has been called Diabetes Type 3), go gluten-free, include plenty of fresh veggies and healthy fats. Maintain social engagement and physical activity as you age. Practice meditation and yoga. Studies show these all produce significant healthy changes in the brain. And maintain quality and quantity of sleep, which is when the brain repairs, detoxes and drains plaque.
- Intermittent Fasting. A new take on calorie restriction, this approach limits the hours you eat each day, for instance, from 1-7PM, while fasting 15-18 hours. Why? Because it increases autophagy, the self-cleaning mechanism of our cells, and theoretically kicks you into fat burning mode. Want more? Decreases cholesterol and serum glucose, strengthens neurons, may ameliorate age-related cognitive deficits, and make us more resilient to stressors of all sorts. But fasting itself is stressful and – especially for women – raises cortisol, which is exactly what you don’t want. So caveat emptor. Coming Soon: My reviews of The Bulletproof Cookbook and the Bone Broth Diet, each discussing their own take on intermittent fasting.
- The Ubiquitous Reign of Kale and Spinach I’m a huge proponent of eating more veggies, but not these two raw. Why? a.Oxalates Naturally present in many foods, they’re generally not a concern, but daily consumption increases your risk of kidney stones, achy joints and other inflammatory symptoms. GI issues, chronic pain or other chronic health issues? You might consider a low oxalate diet. Studies also show kids on the autistic spectrum improve on a low oxalate diet. b. Goitrogens. Eating lots of kale and other cruciferous veggies raw can be bad for your thyroid, and we’ve got an epidemic of thyroid disease. Minimize oxalates and goitrogens by cooking: blanch, dump the water (and most of the toxins), then add healthy fat like pastured butter.
- E-Cigs Should smokers have cheaper, less dangerous forms of nicotine, or should we simply tell them to stop smoking? Will e-cigs encourage more young people to take up the habit? Are there yet-unrecognized long-term effects of inhaling vaporized nicotine? Those are the controversies, but short term studies suggests e-cigs could reduce risk of heart disease, lung disease and cancer, compared to cigarettes.
- Late breaking news on cancer risk! As I have repeatedly written (see my columns on breast cancer), environment is a larger factor than genes. A huge new study in the highly respected journal Nature states that 70-90% of cancers occur because of external, environmental factors, and that “intrinsic risk factors contribute only modestly (less than 10-30% of lifetime risk) to cancer development.” Translation: most cancers result from avoidable factors, and prevention counts, so pay attention to what and how you eat, sleep, exercise, and de-stress!
That’s my wrap up. Let me know if I missed anything, and what you want to read more about.
My 5 Runners Up (coming soon)
- Updated Dietary/Cholesterol Guidelines
- Curcumin/Turmeric (read this)
- The Risks of “Junk Sleep”
- Essential Oils “Debunked”?
- Antiobiotics in foods increased this year