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Jul 28, 2011

Walking Briskly Improves Prostate Health

One of the more common concerns for men as they get older has to do with the health of their prostates.  With prostate cancer being by far the most common cancer in men in the United States, it makes sense to take as many preventative measures as possible to protect and support the prostate.  A new study published in Cancer Research has revealed that walking at a vigorous pace may dramatically improve prostate health.  Researcher Erin L. Richman, MD, of the Harvard School of Public Health, and colleagues studied 1,455 men with prostate cancer.  They found that those who walked briskly for at least three hours each week had a 57% reduced rate of cancer progression compared with men who walked only at a leisurely pace for under three hours each week.  The vigorous walkers also had a 61% reduction in death from prostate cancer.

The number of studies showing the benefits of exercise continues to grow every day.  Moving your body and getting your heart rate up regularly may protect you and/or your loved ones not only from prostate cancer, but from many other types of cancer.  Exercise is vitally important not only for the physical body, but also for the mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of health.  It can help relieve stress and anxiety as well as improve mood and outlook on life, all important factors that play a role in overall wellness and chronic disease prevention.    

Dr. Shana McQueen

FDA Warns About High-dose Simvastatin & Muscle Injury Risk

In June 2011, the FDA changed its recommendations for who is eligible for the highest approved dose of the cholesterol-lowering medication known as simvastatin.  Simvastatin is a type of statin drug also sold under the brand name Zocor.  It is also an active component of the pharmaceuticals known as Vytorin and Simcor.  

One of the potential side effects of simvastatin is muscle injury.  After a review of the link between high-dose simvastatin and muscle injury that began back in 2010, the FDA has recently stated that no new patients should begin taking the high dose of 80 mg (milligrams) daily.  Patients who have been on the 80 mg dose for at least a year without signs of muscle injury appear to be at lower risk since this particular side effect seems to show up most often within the first year taking the drug.  The FDA also stated that patients having difficulty lowering their “bad” cholesterol (LDL) on 40 mg of this drug should NOT be prescribed the higher 80 mg dose, but should instead be given another treatment.  

When it comes to high cholesterol and other cardiovascular disease risk factors, naturopathic medicine has much to offer.  Diet, nutritional status, exercise, and hormone balance are all major components of a healthy cholesterol profile.  Many patients who have previously relied on statins to lower cholesterol levels are able to reduce their dose or even stop taking these drugs altogether once they commit to making some positive changes in their lives.  If you are concerned about your cholesterol and cardiovascular health, talk to your naturopathic doctor today to find out what you can do about it.

Dr. Shana McQueen 

Jul 25, 2011

Pesticides in Our Produce

The purpose of pesticides is to kill insects and other “pests.”  They are innately toxic to living organisms, which means they are most certainly not good for living humans.  Controversy exists over just how bad pesticides are for human health, but for those interested in creating and maintaining optimum health, it’s only logical to minimize unnecessary chemical exposures as much as possible.  For some people, this means consuming only organically grown foods or foods grown without the use of synthetic pesticides (the way nature has provided foods since the beginning of human existence).  For others, it may mean buying a majority of produce known to be less contaminated with pesticides and smaller quantities or no produce known to be highly contaminated with pesticides.    

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a nonprofit group that ranks produce based on the level of measured pesticide contamination.  Rankings are based on tests from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the FDA, and a score given to each item in these six categories:

-Percentage of samples with detectable pesticide              
-Percentage of samples with 2+ pesticides                        
-Average number of pesticides found in a single sample   
-Average amount of all pesticides found
-Maximum number of pesticides in a single sample
-Total number of pesticides in the fruit or vegetable

The Dirty Dozen is a list created by the EWG that includes produce with the worst overall pesticide scores.  For 2011, here is the Dirty Dozen list:
  1. Apples
  2. Celery
  3. Strawberries
  4. Peaches
  5. Spinach
  6. Nectarines (imported)
  7. Grapes (imported)
  8. Sweet bell peppers
  9. Potatoes
  10. Blueberries (domestic)
  11. Lettuce
  12. Kale/collard greens
The Clean 15 is EWG’s list of fruits and vegetables with the best overall pesticide scores.  Produce with the least pesticide contamination are at the top of this list:
  1. Onions
  2. Sweet corn
  3. Pineapples
  4. Avocados
  5. Asparagus
  6. Sweet peas
  7. Mangoes
  8. Eggplant
  9. Cantaloupe (domestic)
  10. Kiwi
  11. Cabbage
  12. Watermelon
  13. Sweet potatoes
  14. Grapefruit
  15. Mushrooms                                                              
Dr. Shana McQueen 


Asthma Risk Lower in Breastfed Babies

Breastfeeding is known to provide multiple benefits to mothers and their babies.  A recent Dutch study published in European Respiratory Journal has revealed that breastfeeding for at least six months seems to lower a child’s risk for developing asthma while exclusive breastfeeding for six months offers an even higher level of protection.  Though other reports on asthma and breastfeeding have been made, this study seems to be the first to examine the correlation of length of breastfeeding with the number of wheezing events in children later on in life.  The study looked at more than 5,000 children from the Netherlands.  Parents of children ages 1 through 4 were questioned annually about asthma-related symptoms.     

According to Liesbeth Duijts, MD, PhD, "Children who were never breastfed had almost 50% more risk of wheezing symptoms as compared to children who were breastfed for more than six months."  A 20% increased risk of wheezing was found in children who were both breastfed and given other milk and solids from an early age.  Those children who were never breastfed not only had an increase in wheezing, but also higher risk for shortness of breath, dry cough, and persistent phlegm during their first four years of life compared with children who breastfed for over 6 months.    

Though this particular study was not performed on the U.S. population, the conclusions drawn likely have similar application in children living in the U.S.  According to the CDC, only 43% of babies in the U.S. are still breastfed by six months of age, while only about 13% are exclusively breastfed up to this age. 
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of age. Breastfeeding’s favorable effects on immune and digestive function in babies should be taken advantage of whenever possible!         

Dr. Shana McQueen


Jul 19, 2011

Green Tea in Autoimmune Disease

Drinking green tea has recently become widely popularized due the many health benefits it has to offer, including its ability to reduce inflammation, support the immune system, and prevent cancer.  Its effect on regulatory T cell production may be one of the underlying mechanisms for these types of health benefits. According to new research published in Immunology Letters (from the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University), at least one of the known beneficial compounds in green tea can increase regulatory T cells that play a vital role in immune function and prevention of autoimmune disease.  This compound is a polyphenol known as EGCG. 

Although pharmaceutical drugs that act similarly are a subject of interest, they tend to have problems with toxicity.  A product in its natural form may provide long-term and sustainable benefits without the corresponding toxicity.  "When fully understood, this could provide an easy and safe way to help control autoimmune problems and address various diseases," said Emily Ho, an LPI principal investigator and associate professor in the OSU Department of Nutrition and Exercise Sciences.

The immune system has a tough mission to accomplish.  It must attack foreign invaders and keep them at bay while simultaneously preventing damage to normal healthy cells.  When this balance is disrupted, autoimmune diseases ranging from allergies to Type I diabetes to Multiple Sclerosis can develop.  The body incorrectly interprets itself as enemy and begins attacking healthy tissues.  The job of some immune cells, including regulatory T cells, is to regulate or dampen the immune response in order to prevent autoimmune processes.  Certain biological processes, including those that influence DNA transcription and expression, are responsible for controlling regulatory T cell function.

Researchers found that mice treated with EGCG had significantly elevated numbers and frequencies of T cells located in spleen and lymph nodes.  This imparted a more controlled immune response.  EGCG may be influencing T cells through an epigenetic mechanism, whereby the DNA itself is not being changed but there is a change in the expression of DNA.

Green tea in its whole form may prove to be another excellent tool to help treat and prevent autoimmune disease.  Interesting as this is, it is also tremendously exciting to hear more about the effects of gene expression in disease processes.  How empowering it is to realize that many of the diseases once thought to be solely determined by unique gene make-up may be prevented if we encourage certain genes to be expressed and others to be turned off! Cheers to your next cup of green tea!

Dr. Shana McQueen


Jul 18, 2011

Effect of Meditation on Brain Structure & Function

When it comes to aging, most people automatically assume that brain function and size will only decline over time. But what if it was possible for our brains to grow in size rather than shrink as we age? What if we could actually improve our memory and cognition as we get older? Well, research shows us we probably can!

In 2009, scientists at UCLA discovered that the brains of long-term meditators were larger in particular regions and had more gray matter compared with those of non-meditators. Follow-up research published in NeuroImage revealed that people who practice meditation have stronger connections between different regions of the brain as well as less age-related brain atrophy. "It is possible that actively meditating, especially over a long period of time, can induce changes on a micro-anatomical level...Meditation appears to be a powerful mental exercise with the potential to change the physical structure of the brain at large" said Dr. Eileen Luders, visiting assistant professor at the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging. Dr. Luders also noted that typical age-related deterioration of white-matter in the brain is substantially lowered in people that regularly meditate. 

At Massachusetts General Hospital, recent studies demonstrated that measurable changes in participants' brain regions correlated with eight weeks worth of mindful meditation practice. These changes were associated with parts of the brain responsible for memory, stress, empathy, and sense of self. 

Regular meditation has enormous benefits to offer when it comes to maintaining and creating optimal health. And with the studies mentioned above and others like it, we are learning just how incredible meditation may be for helping to keep our brains younger and healthier for longer!

Dr. Shana McQueen
Arthur W. Toga, et al., Enhanced brain connectivity in long-term meditation practitioners, NeuroImage, 2011

Jul 15, 2011

Honey Used to Kill Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Long-used by traditional healers around the world, honey has been utilized for its healing properties. Up until the Second World War when the first antibiotic drugs were synthesized, honey had been extensively used for its antibacterial properties in treating wounds.

With the extensive use and often inappropriate overuse of antibiotics these days, it is of no surprise that we are hearing more and more about newly developed antibiotic-resistant superorganisms. Antibiotics can surely be life-saving when used in appropriate situations, but the gross misuse of these drugs only sets us all up for disaster. Nature luckily provides us with a number of excellent natural antimicrobials, one of which is honey, that do not select for superbugs in the same way that most antibiotics do.

Claims about the antimicrobial effects of honey are now supported by a bit of science.  Researchers in the Netherlands studied the antimicrobial properties of a “medical-grade” honey, which is produced by bees in closed greenhouses.  For studies done in vitro, a 40% solution of honey was found to reproducibly kill all bacterial isolates tested.  These included methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), vancomycin-resistant Escherichia faecium, and multidrug-resistant gram-negative rods.  
Patches of skin were swabbed with honey in forty-two healthy volunteers.   These were then covered with polyurethane dressings for 2 days.  In the same volunteers, control skin patches were covered with polyurethane but no honey.  It was found that the honey-covered patches were culture-negative significantly more often than the control patches.

Before rushing out to your local store to buy honey, keep in mind that not all honeys are equal!  Some store-bought honeys may be contaminated with certain bacteria, so it would be wise to use medical-grade honey for topical use.  

Dr. Shana McQueen

Diet Soda Linked with Cardiovascular Events

If you are looking for yet another reason to kick your diet soda habit, look no further.  A new study presented at the International Stroke Conference 2011, suggests that these popular beverages may increase risk for stroke, heart attacks, and other cardiovascular problems.  Lead investigator Dr. Hannah Gardener reported that “People who had diet soda every day experienced a 61% higher risk of vascular events than those who reported drinking no soda.”  Even when controls for metabolic syndrome, peripheral vascular disease, and heart disease were accounted for, the increased risk remained.  The observational study looked at more than 2500 people from the multiethnic Northern Manhattan Study.  Researchers collected information on how much and what type of diet soda participants drank.  Over the average period of about 9.3 years, the number of vascular events were recorded.  Researchers noted a “marginally significant” elevated risk for vascular events in those with a daily intake of diet soda and regular soda intake at least once per month.  Although previous studies have demonstrated a correlation between intake of diet soda and risk for diabetes and metabolic syndrome, this is the first study where diet drinks have been found to be more directly associated with cardiovascular events.  Though there is no proven causal relationship between diet soda and vascular events at this time, those who drink diet soda should beware of the risks involved and consider healthier low or no sugar/calorie beverage options.

Dr. Shana McQueen

Jul 11, 2011

Topical Coconut Oil in Atopic Dermatitis (Eczema)

Atopic dermatitis, also known as eczema, is a common condition affecting the skin.  The skin is typically dry, itchy and inflamed, and there may be other unpleasant symptoms such as redness, swelling, cracking, weeping, crusting, and scaling.  The skin may also be readily colonized by the bacteria Staph aureus as well as other unfavorable micro-organisms, predisposing the person to infection.  When treating eczema, the underlying causes (i.e. food sensitivities, improper digestion, diet, etc.) should always be considered and addressed.  Specific topical creams and salves can also be applied to the skin to help heal, moisturize, and protect the skin from infection. 

Coconut oil has historically been widely used for the treatment of dry infected skin.  Not only is there a large body of anecdotal evidence supporting both its effectiveness and safety, but now there is some scientific research that reveals the same.  In a 4-week double-blind controlled trial, patients aged 18-40 years with eczema applied either extra virgin coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil to affected areas twice daily (Dermatitis, 2008).  Researchers found that the patients who were treated with coconut oil had significantly lower scores for dryness and dryness-related conditions including excoriation, lichenification, redness, and swelling.  In his clinics, the author of the published study has also “found consistent improvement or clearing of inflamed or mildly to moderately infected psoriasis and atopic dermatitis lesions” after application of coconut oil. 

For those with eczema looking for a way to help moisturize and heal the skin while also preventing skin infections, topical extra virgin coconut oil may be a good option.  It proves to be effective, safe, inexpensive, and without the potential side effects of other topicals available.
Dr. Shana McQueen

Jul 9, 2011

Eat Your Breakfast!

The old saying, “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day,” may be more of an understatement than we realize. Those of us who eat breakfast on a regular basis are likely doing ourselves a huge favor when it comes to heart health. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (2010) revealed that people who regularly eat breakfast may reduce risk factors related to cardiovascular disease. Over 2,000 participants ages 9 to 15 years old were asked questions about diet, physical activity, and whether or not they ate breakfast prior to school. After twenty years, a third of the original participants followed up in the study by filling out meal frequency questionnaires, having waist sizes measured, and getting blood tests (triglycerides, total and LDL or “bad” cholest erol, fasting insulin). Participants were placed into four categories:
  • skipped breakfast in neither childhood nor adulthood, 
  • skipped breakfast only in childhood,
  • skipped breakfast only in adulthood, or
  • skipped breakfast in both childhood and adulthood.  
Those participants who skipped breakfast in both childhood and adulthood were found to have larger waist sizes as well as total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels in comparison with those who ate breakfast in both childhood and adulthood. Other risk factors for diabetes and heart disease, including higher fasting insulin levels and insulin resistance, were also noted in former group.   

Breakfast skippers were also noted to more often be single, have a lower education level, and have unhealthy lifestyle behaviors that included being less physically active and more likely to smoke, watch TV, and have a less healthy diet compared with breakfast eaters.  

We now know that eating breakfast every morning, particularly nutritious meals of course, helps to sustain energy levels throughout the day. When people have more energy, they are more likely to make efforts to be physically active during the day and less likely to reach for junk foods and high-sugar containing foods that negatively impact blood sugar and insulin levels. We naturally make better choices throughout the day when our blood sugar levels are not peaking and crashing as a result of skipping breakfast, a most important meal of the day.

Dr. Shana McQueen