World Hypertension Day

The international society of hypertension initiated World Hypertension Day in 2005 and has promoted it yearly ever since.

Why?

Hypertension–you might know it better as high blood pressure–is called the silent killer because people who have it often don’t know it. And it’s a big deal, because the risk of stroke is four times greater in those with high blood pressure, and the risk of a heart attack is two times greater. Put it this way: as your blood pressure increases above the normal range, so do your chances of dying.

So what to do?

First of all, understand your risk. Then make sure you know what your blood pressure is. Normal range is 120/80 to 140/90. If it’s over 140/90 visit your health care provider.

Next, prevent or reduce hypertension. The biggest causes are lifestyle factors such as physical inactivity, a diet high in processed and fatty foods, and alcohol and tobacco use.

Hypertension is largely preventable and treatable through lifestyle change. The list should sound familiar:

  • Lose weight
  • Eat foods that nature makes – LOTS of fruits and veggies
  • Exercise regularly
  • STOP SMOKING
  • Drink alcohol sensibly – no more than 2/day for men and 1/day for women

What about salt? The connection between salt and hypertension is a story that’s been told for decades, but, as we’ve written about before, the connection is more complicated than it seems. A better approach? Focus on cooking your own meals and eating lots of whole food–good nutrition and exercise are the best tools you have.

If you’re curious about your cardiovascular health or have questions about lifestyle changes, contact the clinic anytime at 705-444-5331 or feelbetter@stonetreeclinic.com.

Heart and brain walking

Memory Issues? More Evidence that Exercise Helps

We have written endlessly about the value of exercise for overall health.

If you read through the research, it comes up over and over again. It’s good for our hearts. It helps moods. It keeps our bones strong. It keeps our weight stable. It even makes our brains bigger.

Here is more evidence to suggest it also makes our memory better.

In this study, they took women between 70-80 years old, all of whom were complaining of memory problems, or as the researchers referred to it, Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI).

These women were divided into three groups. One did aerobic exercise, one did strength training and a third was a control group. The treatment groups engaged in activity twice a week for 60 minutes.

Compared to controls the treatment groups both had improved verbal and spatial memory, with the best gains being in the group who did the aerobic activity.

The findings make sense. Move the body, move the blood, get more oxygen to the brain, as well as more fuel and nutrients for the old thinker to work.

But this might be the most important takeaway: “aerobic activity” wasn’t intensive marathon training. It was a 60-minute walk outside at 60% of max heart rate TWICE a WEEK. That’s basically a brisk-ish walk.

The average Canadian spends dozens of hours a week in front of conventional TV and the web combined, consuming media of one type or another. Converting just TWO of those to walking seems like an achievable goal.

Migraines and Bacteria in Your Mouth

New research out of the University of California San Diego School of Medicine points to a potential link between certain bacteria in the mouth and the incidence of migraine headaches.

The bacteria, Rothia mucilaginosa and Haemophilus parainfluenzae, actually convert nitrates (found in chocolate, wine, and cured meats) into nitric oxide (a powerful vasodilator in the body).

These two bacteria are part of the normal flora of the body, but when given an opportunity they can cause trouble. (Just like another critter we know, candida albicans, which causes yeast infections!) The researchers suggest that the production of nitric oxide by these bacteria may be the cause of the migraines by increasing vasodilation in the head.

Of course, more research needs to be done to confirm this theory, but it’s yet another example of why a healthy microbiome is so important to our overall health.

Balanced flora keeps opportunistic bacteria in check and playing nice. When things get out of balance from antibiotics, hormones, chemical exposures and stress, it can throw the bacterial balance off and lead to all kinds of health complaints.

How to Support a Healthy Microbiome

  • Eat plenty of fermented food and fiber. This feeds our microbiome and helps to re-populate it.
  • Get outside and get your hands dirty. Garden, stack wood, rack leaves, move rocks.  Exposure yourself to nature and the wonderful bacteria that live it in. This inoculates our microbiome with lots of healthy critters.
  • Avoid antibiotics when you can, and take a probiotic when you can’t. Much research now has demonstrated the benefits of taking a probiotic, especially after and exposure to an antibiotic. Taking at least 10 billion for 2 weeks post antibiotics is a no brainer.
  • Lay off the antibiotic soaps. They’re not helping.

Ditch the Antibacterial Soaps

Last week the FDA announced that the use of antibacterial agents in soaps will no longer be permitted in the US.

Why?

The manufacturers of antibacterial soap products have failed to establish that they are any more effective than just regular soap and water, and there is also some question of their safety. There are 19 different ingredients on the list including triclosan and triclocarban, which have been linked to microbial resistance and hormone disruption.

Health Canada has not followed suit with this ban, though we hope they do in short order. In the meantime, read labels and vote with your dollars. Avoid all products with these ingredients in them.

The 19 banned ingredients are:

  • Cloflucarban
  • Fluorosalan
  • Hexachlorophene
  • Hexylresorcinol
  • Iodophors, which are iodine-containing ingredients
  • Iodine complex, which is ammonium ether sulfate and polyoxyethylene sorbitan monolaurate
  • Iodine complex of phosphate ester of alkylaryloxy polyethylene glycol
  • Nonylphenoxypoly, or ethyleneoxy, ethanoliodine
  • Poloxamer, an iodine complex of Povidone-iodine 5 percent to 10 percent
  • Undecoylium chloride iodine complex
  • Methylbenzethonium chloride
  • Phenol greater than 1.5 percent
  • Phenol less than 1.5 percent
  • Secondary amyltricresols
  • Sodium oxychlorosene
  • Tribromsalan
  • Triclocarban
  • Triclosan
  • Triple dye

Alternatives are easy to find. Visit our local farmers’ markets, Georgian Health Foods, Good Health Mart, The Environment Network, Creemore 100 Mile Store, From the Blue House in Creemore for a wide array of safe and natural soaps and skin care products.

Alcohol and Cancer

I hate to be a bummer, especially during the hottest summer in a while, but…it seems that alcohol might cause cancer.

A paper published this month in the journal Addiction aimed to qualify the strength of the evidence that alcohol is causative in cancer.

A review of recent research showed evidence that:

  • Alcohol was causative in seven types of cancer: oropharynx, larynx, oesophagus, liver, colon, rectum and breast.
  • There was also evidence of “gradient effects” meaning that the more you drink, the greater your risk.
  • There was some evidence of reversibility of risk in cancers of the larynx, pharynx and liver, which means when the consumption was stopped the risk decreased.

At any rate, the study conclusion is an ominous paragraph:

“There is strong evidence that alcohol causes cancer at seven sites in the body and probably others. Current estimates suggest that alcohol-attributable cancers at these sites make up 5.8% of all cancer deaths world-wide.”

The biological mechanism–how alcohol actually causes cancer–is yet to fully be determined by research, but what the study suggests is that drinking and cancer are linked whether we like it or not.

What About the Health Benefits of Wine?

The study does say this:

“The same, or similar, epidemiological studies also commonly report protection from cardiovascular disease associated with drinking but a high level of scepticism regarding these findings is now warranted.”

What Should I Do?

Those of you in my practice know me to be a reasonable and moderate doctor. So what does this mean for the lovely gin and tonic you were planning to have on the dock this afternoon?

That depends.

Is that lovely gin and tonic a treat or a habit? Is it a daily occurrence that is turning into two (Fine, three.) gins on the dock and a glass of wine with dinner and an ounce of scotch as a night cap?

There are all kinds of reasons, why sustained daily use of alcohol is not good for you. We have written about it before. This is just another reason to do a “vice check” and make sure that your habits are not hurting you more than you intend.

Dear Furniture, This is Your Thyroid

We’ve written about thyroid many times in the past (see links at the end of this post), but a new study this spring from researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health is the first one to suggest that there may be a link between polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and increased risk of thyroid problems in post-menopausal women.

Wait! What’s a PBDE?

PBDEs are flame retardants that are used in the manufacture of furniture, beds, clothes and other consumer items. They are also known endocrine disruptors, which means they interfere with the normal function of our hormones. PBDEs mess around with estrogen levels in the body, and that has a downstream effect on the thyroid. As the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health reported in their article:

PBDEs have been used as flame retardants for decades, largely in furniture, in quantities up to 20% of the weight of the product. Over time, they migrate out of the furniture into the air, settle into dust in homes, schools, offices, and the outdoors, and accumulate in people’s bodies. Previous research has shown that these chemicals accumulate in fatty tissue and interfere with hormonal functions, including interference with thyroid hormones. Because it’s known that estrogen levels regulate thyroid hormones, researchers theorized that post-menopausal women may be particularly vulnerable to PBDE-induced thyroid effects.

To test their hypothesis, the researchers used data from The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).

That study began in the 1960’s and uses a combination of interviews and physical examinations to assess the health of the US population in everything from cardiovascular disease and infectious disease to environmental exposures. The scientists looked at nationally representative sample of women whose blood was taken in the 2003-2004 and had the levels of four common PBDEs measured.

What the researchers found was that the women with the highest flame retardant concentrations in their blood were far more likely than those with lower concentrations to have a thyroid problem.

If the women were post-menopausal, the chances of thyroid trouble in highly exposed women were even higher.

The study isn’t perfect–one limitation is its reliance on survey participants to accurately recall and report on any thyroid problems. Like many studies, it also doesn’t prove flame retardants cause thyroid damage, only that there appears to be an association between these two things. Another limitation is that the study was looking at the older flame retardant chemicals as the NHANES data is from 2003-04 and doesn’t report effects from newer chemicals.

What to do about it

What do you do? First, don’t panic. Almost everyone on the planet has PBDE exposure. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try to reduce yours, and look closer if you feel there’s a problem. Here’s how to get started:

Confused About Cholesterol?

The British Journal of Medicine published a controversial piece of research suggesting that perhaps bad cholesterol just isn’t that bad for you, especially if you are over 60 years old. There was some data in the study to suggest that high “bad” cholesterol or LDL cholesterol might even be associated with less overall mortality in older folks.

As you might expect, there are many critiques of the research that draw into question the validity of the findings.

But while the medical community and researchers argue over whether cholesterol does or doesn’t matter when it comes to heart disease, we thought we would look at it a different way–one that’s a little more forest, and a little less trees.

Here’s what we know for sure does matter in preventing and even reversing heart disease:

  • Exercising regularly matters
  • Eating a diet high in whole foods, good fats and lean proteins matters
  • Getting enough sleep matters
  • Quitting smoking matters.

Focus on making these things matter…and there’s a very good chance your cholesterol won’t.

A Food Guide We Can Truly Love

Just about every Canadian is familiar with Canada’s Food Guide, the omnipresent “rainbow“ of foods in classrooms across the country.

Through it, kids are taught to eat a certain amount of servings of each food group. The idea is, of course, that if you do, you’ll be healthier.

Well the food guide has been around since 1942 and the health of Canadians seems to be going in the wrong direction

Brazil, in developing their new food guide, decided to look at the question “What is healthy eating?” in a different way. As result, they have been said to have developed one of the best models in the world.

The guide doesn’t focus on servings or different food groups, so much as food quality, and cooking and eating practices that support health.

One of the most interesting things about the process of developing this new food guide is that Brazil did not allow the food industry to be part of the initial consultation at all. They were only allowed to comment during the public consultation stage.

Here it is in a nutshell:

  1. Make natural or minimally processed foods the basis of your diet
  2. Use oils, fats, salt, and sugar in small amounts when seasoning and cooking natural or minimally processed foods and to create culinary preparations
  3. Limit consumption of processed foods (like crackers or cereal)
  4. Avoid consumption of ultra-processed foods (like pop and chips)
  5. Eat regularly and carefully in appropriate environments and, whenever possible, in company
  6. Shop in places that offer a variety of natural or minimally processed foods
  7. Develop, exercise and share cooking skills
  8. Plan your time to make food and eating important in your life
  9. Out of home, prefer places that serve freshly made meals
  10. Be wary of food advertising and marketing

You can read the whole document here.

Heart and Stroke Foundation says ‘Cut the Crap’

After years of recommending a diet low in saturated fat or salt and suggesting that margarine is a healthy alternative to butter the Heart and Stroke Foundation has finally got it right.

This CBC article pretty much captured it all in the title: “‘Cut the crap,’ get back to nutritional basics, Heart and Stroke Foundation advises”

It’s great to see the news spread about not avoiding specific types of fats or different parts of food, but instead focusing on eating a WHOLE food diet.

What does that mean? It means focusing on the quality of what you’re eating–eating real, unprocessed foods like veggies, fruits, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains, dairy, eggs, lean meat, chicken and fish.

What’s processed? Sugary drinks, chips, snacks, processed meats, processed sauces, low-fat products, and all the “crap” that is passed off as food.

Some ideas to eat right from the Heart and Stroke Foundation:

  • Cook from scratch at home as much as possible using whole ingredients. (Check out this great video of author Michael Pollan for inspiration)
  • Teach children and young people how to cook.
  • Pay attention to portion sizes.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet with a variety of natural and whole foods.
  • Eat fewer highly processed foods with many ingredients, additives and preservatives.

Here is a great website of 31 crockpot meals that you can make ahead of time, put in the freezer and take out everyday to have a healthy, home cooked meal–easy, yummy and wholesome. Great for those times when you know the end-of-the-day-I-just-want-to-order-takeout days will overwhelm you!

Another Reason to Eat Whole Food

This summer, the Journal of Nutrition published a study that found that women who ate diets high in proteins had lower blood pressure and less arterial stiffness.

The researchers analyzed the diets of 1900 woman for levels of seven amino acids: arginine, cysteine, glutamic acid, glycine, histidine, leucine and tyrosine. Amino acids are the building blocks for proteins. They also measured the women’s blood pressure and arterial stiffness, both of which are risk factors for heart attack and stroke.

After accounting for established heart risk factors, including family history, sodium intake, body weight and physical activity, they found a couple of interesting things:

  • All seven amino acids, especially those from plant sources, were tied to lower blood pressure, similar to what had been reported in other studies of diet and hypertension.
  • Higher intakes of the amino acids, glutamic acid, leucine and tyrosine, all abundant in animal proteins, were associated with lower levels of arterial stiffness–just as seen in those who don’t smoke.

You can read the Globe and Mail coverage here.

Getting the Right Take Home Message

It would be easy to interpret the results of this study as, “Eat more protein.” But that might be missing the bigger picture. To get it right, we need to start by asking, Why are people protein deficient?

Often, the answer is that many North American diets are protein deficient because  they’re high in sugary drinks and processed carbohydrates. These are very calorie dense, but nutrient deficient.

The women who had diets high in those helpful amino acids were eating “whole foods” like meat, fish, nuts, seeds, legumes, whole grains and soy to name a few. These foods are nutrient dense, and not only high in amino acids, but also in anti-oxidants, minerals and vitamins. They’re all important for maintaining overall health, and heart health specifically.

Again, we’re returning to the same message: focus on food quality, not quantity. Eating whole food makes it easy to eat lots of great, cardio-protective amino acids. Eating highly processed food makes it easy to consume sugar, salt and additives. Often, the best food you eat is the food you cook.

Check out this great granola recipe to get you started, courtesy of our newsletter archives.