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Aug 30, 2011

Shorten TV Time to Increase Life Span

A common way that many people attempt to “unwind” after a long day of work is to plop down in front of the television.  It may feel like a relaxing way to spend the evening, but too much of it is detrimental to health and longevity.  When Australian researchers analyzed data looking at mortality and amount of time spent watching TV, they found that people who watched 6 hours of TV per day on average lived an average of nearly 5 years less compared with non-TV watchers.  The study gathered data from over 11,000 Australian adults over the age of 25 years, and found that they had watched approximately 9.8 billion hours of TV in 2008.  Another interesting statistic they found was that for each hour of TV viewed after age 25, life expectancy was reduced by 22 minutes!    

It really comes as no surprise why watching too much television reduces longevity.  Watching TV takes away from time spent being physically active.  It also tends to encourage poor eating behaviors, like mindlessly eating a whole bag of potato chips and promoting the consumption of junk foods displayed repeatedly in advertisements.  In this particular study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, the correlation between lower life expectancy and too much TV time was still present even after correcting for dietary habits.    

When it comes to living a long life, television is not our biggest ally.  If and when you choose to watch TV, enjoy your opportunity to relax, be entertained, or learn something new, but be sure to create some healthy limits on how long you do it.  And don’t forget to balance it out with your daily exercise and health-promoting eating habits!  

Dr. Shana McQueen

Whole Plant Medicines: Anti-Cancer Benefits of Ginger

Plant-based medicines have been utilized in cultures across the world for centuries.  Only in the last several decades has there been such a push to isolate single constituents from plants in order to formulate patentable synthetic drugs.  When single active constituents are isolated from plants, much of the wisdom of that plant is lost forever.  Many herbal medicine practitioners find that whole plant medicines tend to be superior to their isolated counterparts since nature has a way of packaging constituents together that work synergistically.  

In a recent study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, scientists have been looking at the anti-cancer properties of ginger in its whole form extract.  In her lab, Associate Professor of Biology, Ritu Aneja, made the discovery that ginger has the ability to stop cancer cell growth and induce cell death in prostate cancer cells.  Animal studies showed evidence that the extract had no significant toxicity to normal tissues like bone marrow, and tumor regression was impressive (up to 60%).  Analysis of data indicates that humans may receive benefit by taking only 3.5 ounces of whole ginger extract daily.  

In their quest to find solutions to cancer that are gentler and without the major side effects of most drugs available, Aneja and her team are taking a more holistic approach.  They are interested in multiple molecules found within the whole extract as opposed to single chemical components.  According to Aneja, “…The compounds we are seeking to identify may be low in abundance, but they may be very important and cannot be disregarded."  

This brings up a good question.  With so much medical research today focusing in on single isolated plant compounds, how much of our potential knowledge and understanding of whole plant medicine (from a western scientific perspective) is being discarded?  Thanks to scientists like Aneja and her team, a more holistic approach will surely give us a more thorough understanding, at least when it comes to whole ginger extract and its promising effects in prostate cancer.  

Dr. Shana McQueen

Aug 25, 2011

Dietary Changes Lowers the “"Bad"” Cholesterol

The idea that elevated cholesterol levels must always be managed with statin drugs is a frequent misconception.  Many people, including health care professionals, still discount the important role that diet plays in cardiovascular health.  A new study published in JAMA provides evidence that implementing appropriate dietary changes (beyond the well-known limitation of saturated fats) can significantly improve cholesterol profiles. 

In this study, 345 people with high cholesterol were assigned 3 separate dietary plans:  a diet low in saturated fat; a diet high in foods known to reduce cholesterol (soy, fiber, and plant sterols), with two dietary counseling sessions; or a diet high in those same cholesterol-lowering foods, with 7 dietary counseling sessions.  After a period of 6 months, those people assigned diets high in cholesterol-lowering foods plus either 2 or 7 sessions of counseling lowered their LDL (the “bad” cholesterol) by at least 13% (equivalent to a decrease of at least 24 mg/dL).  Those people assigned the low saturated fat diet had a reduction of only 3% (equivalent to a decrease of 8 mg/dL).

The use of statin drugs is correlated with a number of unpleasant side effects, including damage to muscles and depletion of the important antioxidant CoQ10.  If you are looking to improve your cardiovascular health and cholesterol profile, why not start with the proper diet, nutritional, and lifestyle changes?  More often than not, these types of changes will be all that are necessary to optimize cardiovascular health.  If not, your naturopathic doctor will help you determine the additional natural therapies that will get you to where you need and want to be.

Dr. Shana McQueen

Aug 22, 2011

Caution Against Intensive Glucose-lowering Treatments in Type 2 Diabetes

When it comes to managing and treating Type 2 Diabetes, diet, nutrition, and lifestyle make a world of difference. In some cases, more aggressive therapies, whether naturopathic or conventional, may be required. This is particularly important since diabetics are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease and microvascular complications (damage to smaller blood vessels).

Though many practitioners today prescribe intensive blood sugar lowering therapies (i.e. sulfonylureas, insulin) for their patients with type 2 diabetes, a recent study published in the British Medical Journal cautions against this type of practice. The study was a meta-analysis that looked at the results of 13 previous studies and included a total of over 35,000 diabetic patients. Out of all the participants, more than half (18,315) had received intensive glucose-lowering treatment while a little less than half (16,218) had received standard treatment.

Researchers concluded that intensive treatment not only failed to lower cardiovascular deaths and all-cause deaths in type 2 diabetics, it was also linked with a more than double-fold increased risk for severe hypoglycemia. Though intensive treatment was correlated with a 15% lowered risk for non-fatal heart attack and 10% risk reduction of microalbuminuria (a marker of kidney and cardiovascular disease), researchers were convinced that these small benefits were outweighed by the potential harm caused by dangerous levels of hypoglycemia. Furthermore, analysis of the higher quality studies revealed that use of intensive glucose lowering regimens significantly increased the risk of congestive heart failure while not providing any benefits to these diabetic patients.

The take home message from this study is that people with type 2 diabetes should be treated holistically. That is, practitioners should not aim solely to aggressively lower blood sugar levels with specific pharmaceuticals, but should instead use a multifactorial approach when treating a person. This involves appropriate diet and lifestyle interventions along with optimization of blood pressure and lipid profiles. Using a holistic approach, there is quite a bit of hope for sufferers of this all-too-common malady.

Dr. Shana McQueen

As Little as 15 Minutes of Moderate Exercise a Day Improves Survival

Some people love to exercise. Some don't. Many might feel discouraged at the thought of starting any kind of exercise program because of the perceived amount of time or energy required. We have all heard, either hundreds or maybe even thousands of times by now, just how important it is to get our bodies moving on a regular basis. For those who don't feel quite ready to devote 30-60 minutes to exercise each day or are still just plain resistant about getting into the marvelous habit, you might feel encouraged by the findings of a new study.

After evaluating over 416,000 people in Taiwan between the years 1996 and 2008, researchers found that physical activity consisting of moderate intensity for at least 15 minutes each day (for most days of the week) was enough to have a positive effect on overall mortality risk. Exercising at these levels reduced all-cause deaths by 14%. Authors of the study, which was published in the Lancet, noted that "The benefits of exercise appear to be significant even without reaching the recommended 150 minutes per week based on results of previous research." As expected, researchers also found that each additional 15 minutes of exercise performed beyond the minimal 15 minute interval corresponded with a further reduction in mortality risk from any cause. These benefits were seen across all age groups, in both males and females, and even in those with risks for cardiovascular disease.

As with all studies, there are some limitations to this particular study that should be pointed out. The conclusions made from the study population may not be equally applicable to other populations. Also, there was a significant reliance on self-reported data from participants, a factor that always leaves room for error. Regardless, the suggestion that some regular exercise is better than none makes good sense. Not everyone has to be an athlete, but those who choose to devote at least 15 minutes of moderate physical activity for most days of the week will likely be rewarded with a longer, happier, and healthier life.

Dr. Shana McQueen

Children Who Take Antibiotics More Susceptible to "Superbug" Infections

Antibiotic resistance is a serious health problem contributing to the deaths of tens of thousands of people annually. The connection between overuse of antibiotic drugs and development of antibiotic-resistant infections like methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) is fairly well-recognized. It then comes as no real surprise to learn the results of a new study published in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. Canadian researchers found that children who do a round of at least one antibiotic have triple the risk of developing MRSA compared to children with no antibiot ic use. Children are 18 times more likely to have MRSA when they have taken four or more antibiotics!

In this particular study, researchers from McGill University in Montreal analyzed data from more than 400 clinics in the UK. They showed particular interest in children diagnosed with MRSA between 1994 and 1997. Over half of the 297 children who had tested positive for MRSA had previously been prescribed an antibiotic within a 30-180 day window prior to diagnosis.

Though many people picture hospital environments as being one of the primary sources for superbugs like MRSA, contraction of superbugs outside of hospitals and in the general public (aka community-acquired MRSA) is now proving to also be problematic, according to this study.

Antibiotic therapy can be a valuable therapeutic method in certain situations, but should not be regarded as a panacea for every complaint. If they are used (and overused) without regard to the impact on our children's health, serious consequences can result. In many cases, numerous excellent herbal and nutritional remedies can be used to effectively eliminate infectious organisms, help correct the reason they got there in the first place, all the while not contributing to the problem of antibiotic resistance! Another tip for those interested in putting a stop to antibiotic resistance is to avoid consumption of animal products whereby the animals have been administered antibiotics, as these can be passed on to the end consumers (us!). Support local, free-range and organically-raised products as much as possible.

Dr. Shana McQueen

Aug 13, 2011

Breast Cancer Risk Declines with Fiber Intake

Overall health and prevention of chronic disease has a whole lot to do with functioning of the digestive system.  A new study has shed more light on the importance of dietary fiber in breast cancer prevention.  Researchers performed a meta-analysis, which is basically a review of previous studies on the same subject.  Ten studies looking at the association between intake of dietary fiber and breast cancer were analyzed.  The assessment included a total of 712,195 participants and 16,848 breast cancer cases.    

Results of the meta-analysis indicated that people with the greatest consumption of fiber had an 11% lowered risk for breast cancer in comparison with those who consumed the least amount of fiber.  Even more eye-opening was the researchers’ discovery that with every 10 grams of fiber consumed daily, there was a drop in breast cancer risk by 7%.        

Fiber has multiple ways in which it acts to optimize overall health.  High fiber foods include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds.  Fiber helps foods move more quickly through the digestive tract, thus preventing any toxic by-products from lingering too long.  The liver and colon are able to excrete toxic waste products from the body through regular bowel movements.  Fiber is a vital factor in keeping people “regular,” meaning that bowel movements occur 1-2 times per day, are well-formed, and easily passed.  Fiber also plays an important role in maintaining healthy cholesterol levels as well as keeping blood sugar stabilized.  

Dr. Shana McQueen


Aug 12, 2011

Fatty Foods Trigger Release of Natural Marijuana-like Chemicals

Has it ever crossed your mind why it can be so difficult to resist eating an entire bag of chips once you’ve tasted a few?  Newer research published in the online edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests that a natural biological mechanism is at least partly responsible for the temptation to overeat fatty foods like chips and French fries.  Marijuana-like chemicals known as endocannabinoids are produced in the body when these types of fats are consumed.  The team of researchers at UC Irvine found that endocannabinoids are produced in the digestive tracts of rats when they eat something fatty, but the same effect was not observed with consumption of sugars or proteins.  

According to Louise Turner Arnold Chair in the Neurosciences and professor of pharmacology, “This is the first demonstration that endocannabinoid signaling in the gut plays an important role in regulating fat intake.”  With the production of endocannabinoids, there is an apparent cascade of events tied with the release of other chemicals associated with hunger and satiety that encourage further food intake.  

From an evolutionary perspective, this biological mechanism is quite brilliant.  With fats being fairly scarce in nature but essential for healthy cell functioning, this mechanism stimulates animals to “stock up” on fats while they are available.  With fats being abundantly available in modern human society, this same biological mechanism is likely contributing to some of our major health problems today.  Although we should be careful not to demonize fats as a whole -- healthy fats are absolutely necessary for optimal health -- the overconsumption of fats in general, particularly unhealthy fats like trans-fats and hydrogenated oils, is certainly playing a major role in the development of obesity, diabetes, cancer, and other health conditions today.

Dr. Shana McQueen

Earlier Bedtimes Influence Depression in Teens

Restful and adequate amounts of sleep are essential for optimal health across all age groups.  A study recently published in the journal Sleep emphasizes the importance of adolescents getting to bed early.  Researchers at Columbia University found that adolescents with parentally-set early bedtimes (10 pm and earlier) were less likely to experience depression and suicidal thoughts than fellow classmates allowed to stay up later (until midnight or beyond).  In comparison with teenagers whose parents required lights-out by 10pm, the teens with later bedtimes were 24% more likely to be depressed and 20% more likely to think about suicide.  In this particular study, over 15,000 children grades 7-12 and their parents were surveyed.  

Dr. Shana McQueen


Stress Reduction Improves Fertility

Too much stress will take its toll on anyone.  Both casual and clinical observation continue to demonstrate excessive amounts of stress being related to multiple health conditions, including problems with fertility.  New research published in Fertility and Sterility found that women who are involved in a mind-body program designed to help lower stress while undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) have a much higher success rate for pregnancy compared with those do not.  

Principal investigator Alice Domar, Ph.D, OB/GYN, noted that the probability of conception can be reduced by stress.  Domar was responsible for introducing the Mind/Body Program for Infertility at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in 1987.  She later moved the program to Boston IVF in 2002.  This was designed as a 10-week stress management program for couples attempting to conceive.  Certain modalities, such as cognitive behavioral therapy and relaxation techniques, are incorporated into the program to provide tools for successful stress management.  

In Domar’s study, about 100 women participants ready to begin treatment at Boston IVF were selected and randomly assigned to either the Mind/Body intervention group or control group (no mind/body program).  All participants were 40 years of age or younger, had normal hormone levels, and underwent IVF treatment.  After most of the women involved in the Mind/Body program had completed at least five sessions, a significant increase in pregnancy rates was observed.  According to Domar, “By that point, they had acquired some real life skills to deal with their stress.”  During the study, out of those women involved in the Mind/Body program, 52% became pregnant compared with only 20% of women in the control group.  Even though this was a small-scale study, it effectively highlights the importance of stress management when it comes to successful conception.  Bringing new lives into the world will naturally be easier when life is not overwhelmed by stress!         

Dr. Shana McQueen


Aug 4, 2011

Antifungal Benefits of Lavender Oil

Many people recognize lavender oil by its delightful and relaxing aromatic scent, but few are familiar with the impressive antimicrobial properties it has to offer.  Newer studies have shown that lavender oil may be better at managing fungal infections than standard anti-fungal medications.  Research published in the Journal of Medical Microbiology found that the pure essential oil of Lavadula viridis shows potent antifungal activity against strains of fungi responsible for common skin and nail infections.  The oil was found to be lethal to a variety of skin-pathogenic strains, known as dermatophytes, along with various species of Candida.   

Unlike many of the conventional medications used to treat these types of infections, lavender oil comes without a long list of harmful side effects.  As conventional anti-fungal drugs continue to lose their effectiveness due to the development of superbug resistance, it is becoming more important to find natural and effective alternatives like lavender oil.  Not only does lavender show promise as being a safe and natural anti-fungal, it is also widely available, cost-effective, and easy to use.   

Essential oils derived from various types of plants in general can be very concentrated and potent medicines.  Be aware that not all essential oils have the same properties or safety profiles, and always use caution when using any type of essential oil.  Some essential oils are NOT appropriate for use topically, while some may be ok to apply topically if diluted and/or used in drop doses.  Essential oils should NEVER be used internally unless you are working with an experienced medical practitioner!

When buying essential oils, including lavender oil, be sure to find a good source.  Many products sold in stores are not pure and may contain added synthetic ingredients that smell similar to the oil of interest.  Oils with synthetic ingredients will not have the same therapeutic benefits as pure medicinal oils.

Dr. Shana McQueen


Encouraging Children to Eat Their Veggies

We’ have all heard the famous line that “children don’'t like vegetables.”  It is true that most people, young and old, like the taste of sweets and may express it as a preference over the taste of vegetables.  But contrary to what many people believe, most children enjoy eating vegetables when provided the opportunity. 
Probably one of the most important things parents can do to get their children to “eat all of their vegetables” is to model this behavior regularly.  Children learn and develop habits by watching others. When parents show consistent interest in eating different types of vegetables on their plates, children will naturally follow.  If you want your children to develop healthy habits, it’s always a good idea to look at yourself first and make any necessary changes as early on as possible!  If you really want to peak your childs interest, take them for a visit to a community garden or farm, and let them explore where their food comes from.  This can be a wonderful hands-on learning opportunity that will also stimulate more interest in eating a variety of foods.  

For those parents seeking out other options to encourage increased consumption of veggies in their child’s diet, consider throwing some vegetables into the blender and finding creative ways to enhance typical recipes with the resulting puree.  Researchers at Pennsylvania State University randomly gave 40 children regular meals or meals with either 3 or 4 times the vegetable content of the regular meals.  Pureed vegetables were included in some of the meals, including zucchini, broccoli, tomatoes, cauliflower and squash.  When the children were asked to rate the taste as yucky, O.K. or yummy, over 70% of the children gave the vegetable-enhanced meals ratings as O.K. or yummy.  It was observed that the 3-6 year-olds consumed the same amount of food by weight whether or not the meals included the pureed veggies.  This study was published in the April 2011 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.   

So there you have it- the old adage that you have to force kids to eat their veggies has been debunked!

Dr. Shana McQueen