Saturday, 31 March 2007

There's plenty of healthy fish in the sea

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For several years now, seafood has become one of the most popular dishes for the heart healthy eater. It's high protein, low fat combination make it a choice meal, as does its high Omega-3 content. But, not all seafood is created equal, and I don't mean the difference between fish and fish sticks. Aside from the health benefits that should be factored in when choosing seafood, you should also consider the amount of mercury each kind contains.

Taking into account the good and the bad, I've created my All-Star roster for seafood:

#1) Salmon - Be sure to get wild salmon, as the farmed kind may contain chemicals from polluted water. This powerful fish contains three times the 250mg the recommended dose of Omega-3 (a whopping 1.6g), while its mercury content is kept to a minimum (0.01ppm).

#2) Rainbow Trout - Unlike salmon, you should opt for the farmed kind with this fish. Containing 1g of Omega-3, as well as a healthy dose Niacin - which is known to reduce bad cholesterol - and Vitamin B12. Mercury content is also rather low, typically in the 0.07 range.

#3) Oysters - Though they may not look very appetizing, the slippery creature that dwells inside the ugly shell is a pearl of health. With 1.2g of Omega-3, in addition to a high amount of zinc, oysters are a very healthy choice. Note: Oysters are very difficult to open, so you may want to leave the "shucking" to the pros and make them a dining-out-only treat.

#4) Pollock - Not the film director of the famed artist, but the fish that contains .5g of Omega-3 and only 0.04ppm of mercury. This fish is usually what you'll find in fish sticks and even the fillet-o-fish, but of course you would not want to consume it in this form. Here's a recipe for a much healthier way to serve up your pollock.

#5) Alaskan King Crab - Ever watch the show "The Deadliest Catch" on the Discovery Channel? Me, for one, I'm hooked -- no pun intended. It chronicles the day-to-day dangers faced by crab fisherman as they troll the frigid Alaskan waters. Quality programming. Quality food, too. Alaskan King Crab contains .4g of Omega-3 and a very low amount of mercury (0.06ppm). It also contains over 50 percent of your recommended daily amount of zinc and five times the recommended amount of Vitamin B12.

There are a whole bunch of other seafood that is worthy of All-Star recognition, but these five are, in my opinion, the best of the best. Flounder, perch, shrimp, lobster, cod, halibut, tuna, orange roughy, tilapia -- all are also good second-string options. But, these five seafoods listed above make up my starting line-up.

Thought for the Day: Fighting cancer on the road

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The best cancer treatment centers are not always right around the corner. Sometimes, it's necessary to travel far and wide to reach facilities offering the latest and greatest in cancer therapy. And when a back-and-forth commute is not possible due to daily or long-term treatment protocols, lodging becomes a necessity. And often, a hassle.

If you find yourself confronted with a stressful travel scenario, key into Joe's House. It's sure to ease your burden.

Think about this:

Joe's House is a non-profit organization that serves hospital staff and cancer patients in search of lodging. Founded in 2003 by Ann Calahan who for six years struggled to find appropriate accommodations during her late husband's cancer battle, Joe's House makes life a little easier for those fighting cancer on the road.

Joe's House features a centralized listing of lodging information for patients to access online or with a simple phone call (877-563-7468). For online searches, a drop-down menu allows patients, loved ones, and caregivers to locate lodging by selecting states, cities, and treatment facilities. Details on each lodging facility are available with information on amenities, rates, and reservation methods, and requirements.

I just gave this system a whirl. I chose Florida as my state, Gainesville as my city, and the hospital where I receive my treatment. Up popped four lodging locations -- two are free for cancer patients, one runs $10 per night, and the other charges $77 per night. Fortunately, I live right around the corner from my treatment center. But for those who don't, this service -- it's free -- is definitely worth trying.

Basketball, jazz, and now cancer for Wayman Tisdale

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Award-winning jazz musician and former basketball star Wayman Tisdale revealed this week on his website that he has been diagnosed with cancer, that he will begin a six-month course of chemotherapy this week, and that his prognosis for recovery is excellent.

The 6-foot-9 former Oklahoma Sooners basketball great -- who played 12 seasons in the NBA with the Indiana Pacers, Sacramento Kings, and Phoenix Suns and helped score gold on the 1984 U.S. Olympic team -- reports that he broke his leg in a fall at his Los Angeles home last month.

After his fall, Tisdale's doctors determined a cyst in his right knee caused the injury. The cyst, identified as cancer, was then removed. Following chemotherapy, Tisdale, 42, will undergo knee-replacement surgery.

Tisdale has been told to hold off on his touring and public appearance schedules so can fully recover. But he plans to begin performing again in January 2008. In the meantime, he will focus on his new album with the working title Rebound.

Searching for stillness

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When I sit still in the middle of the day, I fall asleep. I'm not sure if it's a side effect of cancer or of life in general, but as a result, I keep myself moving at all times.

I'm always doing something -- writing, emptying the dishwasher, packing a school lunch, reorganizing cabinets and closets and drawers. There's always something to fiddle with, something to keep my body from crashing into a deep sleep.

My little boys have been playing with Lego all afternoon. For hours they have been content and happy and full of imagination. They've built flying boats and castles and pirate contraptions. My wish: to just sit and watch them, to absorb their words, their sound effects, their interactions.

I tried to just sit and watch, tried to hone my quiet observation skills. And then I fell sleep.

It's a dozing-off kind of sleep that creeps up on me and for brief moments, I am lost to the world, sometimes even dreaming for short periods of time. So I find I am more alert and productive in the study of my children when my mind is busy with some sort of task. It's not my ideal scenario. But I figure it's better to be awake and bonding with my boys -- even if it means I'm multitasking -- than sleeping through their special moments.

My boys are still building -- they are making flags for their ships -- and I'm awake. And writing and preparing dinner too.
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Read This: What You Don't Know Can Kill You

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WOW, what a book -- a perfect guide for those just embarking on a medical journey and a valuable resource for people like me -- already surviving a major illness -- who wish to better manage their health care for all of time.

Author Laura Nathanson, MD, wrote What You Don't Know Can Kill You: A Physician's Radical Guide to Conquering the Obstacles to Excellent Medical Care in honor of the husband she lost after a series of misdiagnoses and for everyone wishing to prevent such tragedy in their own lives.

Nathanson offers readers techniques for identifying signs of misdiagnosis and misleading analysis of symptoms. She shares tips for preventing medical miscommunication, keeping safe in the hospital, and choosing health care plans without falling into the uncovered services trap.

The allure of this book is the easy, non-medical approach Nathanson uses as she urges everyone facing the medical world to take charge of an often inpenetrable system. For the patient who is no stranger to this world, Nathanson's words will ring abundantly true.

"When I look back on that long period of delayed diagnosis and how we were then and later bounced around from one medical specialist to another, the image that pops into my head is that of a slightly mad, grotesque volleyball game -- with the patient as the ball," she writes.

For the patient new to medical confusion, Nathanson's words will impart volumes of truth.

"Here's what I've learned, and what you must learn if you wish yourself and your loved ones to survive a bout with serious illness," she reports. "No matter who you are, physician or not, lucky or not; no matter how rich, famous, successful, good-looking, innocent, kindly or powerful; no matter how close and trusting the relationship you have with those providing your medical care -- you cannot rely on today's medical system to keep you healthy, safe and alive."


Friday, 30 March 2007

Celebrating Fiber over Fad Dieting

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Wouldn't it be nice to find a diet that insists you stop fretting over carbs, fats and calories? Well a diet wouldn't be a diet unless it had rules. So what if the rules focused on combining fiber with lean protein at every meal? This is entirely possible, according to Tanya Zuckerbrot, author of The F-Factor Diet.

Tanya Zuckerbrot has spent more than a decade working with busy, successful clients who want and need to lose weight. She's watched fad diets come and go, offering only a temporary fix-and a lot of misinformation about healthy eating. To this end, Tanya has developed a plan that makes losing weight and keeping it off easy and convenient. Her healthy, delicious, sustainable diet redefines fiber as an essential piece to achieving weight loss with the added benefits of an energy boost, lowering cholesterol, and reducing the risk of metabolic diseases.

The F-Factor Diet is made up of 3 simple stages, each including a wide array of foods, packed full of fiber and available in any supermarket. She also hand-picks specialty products that compliment the high fiber goal of her plan and come nicely equipped with good taste! The F-Factor Diet also includes more than seventy-five delicious recipes-and a complete set of guidelines for those who don't cook.

Beyond her refreshing approach to easy weight loss -- Tanya Zuckerbrot, M.S., R.D., is a nutritionist in private practice, based in New York City and Miami Beach. She serves on the advisory boards of Shape and Men's Fitness magazines, and has appeared on Today and Fox News, among other shows. If the suspense is killing you and you must get a copy today -- checkout for your copy of The F-Factor Diet.

European BMI on the rise

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Although the United States clearly takes the cake (and devours every last piece of it) as the fattest country in the world, there are many European nations who also seem to be indulging a bit too much these days. With cases of type 2 diabetes being diagnosed concurrently with rising obesity rates, this is clearly an issue that deserves worldwide attention.

Tipping the scales with an average Body Mass Index (BMI) of 28 is -- well, that's us here in the good ol' U.S. of A. Not far behind, however, are the following nations:

~ Italy: 24.3 (The pasta diet - "I never walk pasta good meal!")

~ France: 24.5 (These 'Francy' eaters are also reaching for their namesake fries and toast)

~ Poland: 24.8 (Sausages Warsaw being eaten by the dozen)

~ Netherlands: 24.9 ("Hollandaise Me")

~ Belgium: 25.1 (Also known as 'Bulgium')

~ United Kingdom: 25.4 (United under what king? The Burger King?)

~ Hungary: 25.6 (Not anymore)

~ Finland: 25.8 ("F" inland, it's time to start jogging to the outer land, too)

~ Greece: 25.9 (Enough said)

BMI plays a crucial role in our cardiovascular health and risk for developing type 2 diabetes. Clearly, the growing waistline problem is not limited to the borders of the United States, making these diseases a global risk.

The "Fat Scan"

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Excess fat around the abdomen is a known risk factor for developing type 2 diabetes. In most cases, this issue is easily identifiable in people. If someone has a big belly, let's fact it -- they may be at risk. But, it turns out that it may not be that simple in all cases.

Scientists from London's Medical Research Council suggest that some people undergo what they are calling a "Fat Scan" -- an MRI to detect if slimmer looking people have excess fat around and inside their organs. Though most newer MRI machines are capable of measuring fat, only three centers (one in Dallas, one in New York, and one in San Diego) are currently using them for this purpose, and are doing so only for research purposes.

Until this MRI "Fat Scan" technology is perfected and regularly utilized, it's best to follow a healthy diet and regular exercise program, regardless of how fit they may appear on the outside.


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Did you know that between 60 to 90 percent of all doctors' visits are related to anxiety, insomnia, depression, obsessive anger and hostility, high blood pressure and heart attacks? It's true. And what is the common link among each of these issues listed? Stress!!!!!!!!!

Because stress signals your body to respond with surges of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol, blood pressure rises and your heart beats faster. We stress about our jobs, we stress about money, we stress about being stuck in traffic, we stress about stress! It becomes a vicious circle of stress begetting more stress, and it is a very damaging to our cardiovascular health.

How do we fix it? Some doctors suggest relaxing with meditation. Simply find a nice, quiet area to spend about 10 to 20 minutes breathing slow, deep and focused breaths. You can also repeat a word or sound, a mantra to help you drift off a bit in your mind.

I know what some of you must already be thinking: "Who has 10 to 20 minutes to waste sitting alone in a room?" Everyone's schedule is hectic (hence the stress in the first place) and time is a valuable commodity. But, 10 to 20 minutes? It's very do-able. First thing in the morning, middle of the day, before bed -- I'm sure the time is there somewhere. And, based on the research, these 10 to 20 minutes will not be wasted at all.

Dangers of high blood pressure during pregnancy

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The Journal of American Society of Nephrology features a research study suggesting that women who suffer high blood pressure during pregnancy are at an elevated risk of stroke or other heart problems later in life.

Scientists examined data on almost 5,000 women and found that half of those who had high blood pressure while pregnant also had it again by the age of 52. Concurrently, these women's' risk of heart attack and stroke became greater. Study authors assert that prenatal high blood pressure may actually change your metabolism and your veins, leading to a potential increase in blood pressure.

Doctors suggest that if your blood pressure soars above 140 over 90, you would do well to lower it through diet and exercise. With respect to the former, try walnuts, whole grains, produce and fish. You should also avoid any foods that contain trans fat.

How sweet it is

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Looking back on some recent posts, I realized that there has been too much negativity going on. While I do feel it is important to pass along research related to heart-related complications and dangers, I sometimes feel like a purveyor of doom. So, in efforts to 'add some heart' to this blog, I thought I'd mention something sweet.

Well, semi-sweet, anyway.

Yet another study -- this time conducted at Johns Hopkins Univeristy -- has found dark chocolate to be highly beneficial to circulation and overall heart health. The research, presented at a recent American Heart Association meeting, revealed a clear connection between the consumption of chocolate and the reduced risk of blood clots.

The flavonoids in chocolate affect how effectively platelets clump, thereby lowering an individual's risk of developing a clot. It also seems that the darker the chocolate, the higher the amount of flavonoids. Doctors suggest dark chocolate that contains at least 70% Cacao (it will say so on the packaging).

A hot deal on TY Breast Cancer Beanie Baby

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In the market for something pink? Something soft, cuddly, and awareness raising? Take a look at this baby.

It's a Beanie Baby, another product by TY -- maker of all sorts of handmade collectibles -- and this one is all about breast cancer awareness with its plush pink coat and signature pink ribbon.

Available on for the low, low price of $1.80, this is one hot deal. Grab it while is lasts.

Do the Crime, Do the Time with the Diet Detective

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We are what we eat. That's what we've always been told, isn't it? For good reason, because it is so very true. Just as important is what we do with that food. Burning it as fuel through exercise is clearly the healthiest option, for this will aid in lowering cholesterol levels, improving circulation, and reducing the risk of heart disease.

When it comes to food, there are usually three or four things that people pay closest attention to on labels: Carbs, Proteins, Fats and Calories. While it's near impossible for non-scientists to determine how proteins, fats, and carbs are being broken down during exercise, there is a way for the rest of us to figure out how much exercise would be required to burn a specific number of calories.

Among the several methods of doing so, I recently came across a website that may be the easiest way of all. It's called the Diet Detective (, and it's a website that is certainly worth looking at. For one, you can find out how long it will take you to burn off the calories of your favorite food. Plus, you can also find out how many calories are burned while performing some of your favorite exercises -- all in great detail in terms of time, effort level, etc. In addition, you can also roughly calculate your BMI and your Body Fat, and also learn your target heart rate.

Here's just a quick thing I put together based on info. on the Diet Detective website:

9 Hershey's Kisses contain 230 calories. This means that you'd have to either run for 24 minutes, or bike for 33 minutes, or walk for 59 minutes, or do Yoga for 129 minutes to burn off the calories consumed from those little chocolate treats. The good news about exercise, though, is that once you are following a regular, consistent program, you will burn a great deal of calories even when you are not working out.

Hope you enjoy the site -- but not for too long. Best I can tell, sitting in front of a computer hardly burns any calories!!!

Thought for the Day: Cooking out cancer with pizza

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Pizza just might have the power to fight cancer -- not the pizza loaded with cheese and pepperoni and tons of tempting toppings, the kind that may have your mouth watering at this very moment. But a version of pizza as we know it may fend off heart disease, obesity, and cancer.

The secret is in the crust -- the cooking of the crust, that is.

Think about this:

It seems baking pizza faster and at higher temperatures can release disease-fighting antioxidants. And it's this one small change to pizza preparation that has scientists at the University of Maryland claiming there is such a thing as a healthy pizza.

Scientists baked pizza at 500 degrees for six minutes and were able to increase antioxidant levels 100 percent. They used whole wheat dough, already high in antioxidants, and let it rise overnight before using their hotter, quicker cooking approach.

One researcher says this study is more a lab curiosity than anything else and might not really lead to a healthier pizza -- because it's unlikely pizza joints will change cooking methods to turn out healthier products.

If you are tempted to try this technique, be aware that the toxin acrylamide can be released if the pizza is baked too long. And don't forget to cut way back on those tasty toppers.

A cup of Joe a day -- not so bad, researchers say

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Don't give up that daily cup of coffee just yet. Studies show drinking coffee may reduce your risk of developing Parkinson's disease, diabetes, cirrhosis of the liver, and colon cancer. It's even been linked to a decreased risk of inflammatory and cardiovascular disease in postmenopausal women.

Why? According to an article in the March 2007 issue of Ladies Home Journal, it's because coffee contains large amounts of flavonoids and antioxidants -- and these combat a whole bunch of illnesses.

Now drinking too much coffee can have adverse side effects, like restlessness, anxiety, and headaches, but limiting yourself to one to four brewed cups per day seems to be a safe practice. Although for those with high blood pressure, consuming between two to four cups per day maybe a bit risky because coffee causes blood pressure to rise immediately after consumption. And all coffee drinkers should fight the urge to add sugar, flavored syrup, and whole milk to to their beverages.

A daily cup of tea seems to be healthy too. Researchers are investigating its use in the prevention of cancer, and we already know both black and green tea have significant quantities of disease-fighting flavonoids -- although not as much as coffee.
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What About Brian? He's surviving cancer, that's what

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His name is not really Brian -- that's just the character actor Barry Watson plays on the ABC TV show What About Brian that just ended its season on March 26.

I really like this show. The network calls it a contemporary, heartwarming ensemble drama that continues to tell the stories of a group of close-knit friends in various stages of romantic relationships and friendships living in Los Angeles.

This is exactly why I like it. But there's an underlying story not written into the script that has compelled me to watch -- and truly enjoy -- this show.

Barry Watson, best known for his role as Matt Camden on the long-running WB series 7th Heaven, is surviving cancer. Diagnosed with Hodgkin's Lymphoma in May 2002, he received treatment and reported in April 2003 that he was in remission. And he's been working hard ever since.

Watson is not only an actor. He is a husband -- his wife is Tracy Hutson of ABC's Extreme Makeover: Home Edition -- and he is a father. But most important in my book, Watson is a cancer survivor. And more than anything, this is what inspires me every time I watch What About Brian.
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Fosamax prevents bone loss in prostate cancer patients

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Hormonal therapy for prostate cancer can cause many side effects, one being bone loss. The goal of the hormonal therapy is to reduce the levels of the male hormones, called androgens, in the body. The main androgen is testosterone. Androgens can stimulate prostate cells to grow and lowering the levels often makes prostate cancer cells shrink or grow more slowly.

The Annals of Internal Medicine published an article that says Fosamax (alendronate) can prevent and even reverse bone loss associated with hormonal treatment for prostate cancer.

A trial was conducted that showed after one year bone density had increased among patients treated with Fosamax but had decreased among patients who received a placebo.

If you are receiving hormonal treatment for prostate cancer ask your doctor about a bisphosphonate, like Fosamax to control bone loss.

Thursday, 29 March 2007

Sleep apnea link to heart disease discovered

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A small study in the journal Circulation revealed that almost 60 percent of pacemaker patients also had undiagnosed sleep apnea. The researchers involved in the study posit that patients' sleep apnea could possibly contribute to their heart disease.

What is sleep apnea? Here's the Cliff Notes description: it's a sleep disorder characterized by 30 or more periods of interrupted breathing each hour during sleep. Usually, a person suffering from sleep apnea may wake-up or at least partially wake-up during these breathing interruptions. Considering the importance that sound sleep plays in cardiovascular health, it is quite clear that sleep patterns of this kind are dangerous.

As for the above mentioned study, researchers looked at 98 British, French and Belgian pacemaker patients and noted that thirty-six of of them had sinus node disease, in which a heart chamber pumps too slow or too fast. Furthering the connection, it is known that abnormally slow heart rhythms (known as Bradycardic rhythm disorders) are common among patients with obstructive sleep apnea.

The tricky part is that the researchers could not determine if the sleep apnea came before the pacemaker, or if it developed after the pacemaker therapy began.

Accidental Diabetes Drug

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Much like a roadblock, but with a fortuitous outcome -- an experimental heart drug didn't achieve the primary goal of a late-stage trial but it did dramatically reduce the risk patients would develop diabetes.

The anti-oxidant, anti-inflammatory drug, the first of its kind, reduced the risk of developing diabetes by 64% and demonstrated a small but statistically significant reduction in blood sugar after 12 months. The study included data from 6,144-patients. The company believes this finding to be a serendipitous outcome, despite the initial shortcomings of the trial objective. They need to confirm it in a large clinical trial. The impressive diabetes results may come as a surprise to investors who have abandoned AtheroGenics or who have been betting the drug will fail.

Heart patients in the study received either 300 milligrams of the drug or a placebo on top of a host of standard-of-care medicines they were already taking, such as aspirin, cholesterol-lowering statins, blood thinners and/or diabetes medicines.

The drug had an undesirable impact on blood fats, raising bad LDL cholesterol by about 12% and lowering good HDL cholesterol by roughly the same amount. There were also some potentially troubling safety signals with a trend toward more heart failure in those taking the drug. In spite of the undesirable affects on blood lipids, the drug has a profound effect on diabetes. Further research will be conducted on the efficacy of this drug in reducing the risk of developing diabetes.

My Friend, Jeff - the Trucker

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About a year ago, I met a guy named Jeff Mather. Well, we never met, personally. But we spoke many times over the phone about diabetes and how it has affected our paths in life. Jeff had lost his job, the one he had for over 10 years. The job he wanted to have since he was a little kid. According to Federal Safety Guidelines, if a trucker takes insulin - they are no longer safe to drive across state lines.

Jeff wrote letters every day. He posted to online forums. He contacted politicians and pleaded to every diabetic organization in existence to get him back on the road. And sure enough - his perseverance paid off. He took his predicament all the way from Washington D.C to National Public Radio. The story on NPR included details on how Jeff was able to qualify to drive again.

While diabetes advocates are pleased that it's now easier for truckers to keep their jobs when they go on insulin, they're not entirely happy with the way that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMSCSA) will decide whether a trucker is safe to drive. In order for a trucker to be considered "safe" to drive, his HgA1c must be between 7 and 10. This means that in order to keep trucking - one must sustain a blood sugar between 140 mg/dL and 200 mg/dL. Yes, this is flawed. I was going to use another choice F phrase to describe it.

FMCSA expressed it wants to see a higher test result because they feel people with lower scores who are aggressively managing their diabetes with insulin, may be more likely to have periods of very low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, that could make them pass out or feel woozy. Diabetes expert Christopher Saudek, at Johns Hopkins Hospital, says the agency's reasoning is flawed. And he says it puts diabetics in a bind.

"Essentially what you're saying with this kind of a rule is that if you are controlling your diabetes at all well, if you get it to 6.8 or 6.5, then you're liable to lose your job," Saudek says. "So congratulations. Your A1c is in a good range, but you aren't going to be able to drive your truck anymore. That doesn't make any sense."

Jeff, I'm so proud of you for not giving-up. You're driving your truck and I'm sure you're doing it in good health. Enjoy all that you've worked so hard to regain. Best of luck to you!

Breast MRI now officially recommended

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I get mammograms every six months. I get ultrasounds every six months. I get a breast MRI every year. That's my typical screening routine, intended to keep breast cancer from invading my life for a second time.

This combination of testing -- primarily the MRI part -- has not been typical for all at-risk women. It's just the plan my doctors have determined is the best insurance policy for me. But as of yesterday, the American Cancer Society began recommending regular use of MRI scans, rather than conventional mammograms, for women facing a breast cancer risk of 15 percent or more.

Family history places one to two percent of women at a 20 percent higher risk of developing the disease than women without such a history. Women carrying a BRCA1 or BRCA 2 gene mutation face a lifetime risk of up to 65 percent. And women with a personal history of the disease are at risk of a repeat diagnosis. These are the women MRI screening can help.

Recent studies show MRI to be much more sensitive than mammograms. And in an investigation of 969 women diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast, MRI found 30 additional tumors in the opposite breast previously missed by mammograms and physical exams.

Not typically used for routine screenings due to cost and a few false alarms -- sometimes the scans detect suspicious areas that once surgically tested turn out to be benign -- MRI is still the best tool for detecting more cancerous tumors earlier.

There is no proof yet that the cancers detected by MRI will translate into longer lives for patients. Life-extending benefits will become clear only after women are followed for a longer period of time.

Talk show host Larry King gets True Grit Award

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Patrick Wayne, son of late actor John Wayne, says Larry King has true grit. And that's why the CNN talk show host will receive the True Grit Award next month, an honor that hails from the John Wayne Cancer Institute.

King, 73, will receive his honor at the annual Odyssey Ball on April 14 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. Jamie Lee Curtis will host the event that will commemorate the centennial of John Wayne's birth.

The Odyssey Ball began 22 years ago and has helped raise more the $14 million to support the John Wayne Cancer Institute's research and treatment programs.

"Larry King epitomizes the strengths and qualities that characterized my father, and for which the True Grit Award was created," said Wayne, who serves as chairman of the board at the institute, located at the Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica.

Founded by the Wayne family in 1981, the institute honors John Wayne who died of stomach cancer in 1979.

Patients suffer as illiteracy stacks up

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In 2003, 29 percent of the American population had only basic prose literacy skills and 14 percent had below-basic skills.

Prose literacy measures the skills needed to understand texts such as new stories, brochures, and instruction manuals. People with basic skills can perform simple, everyday literacy activities. Those with below-basic skills are proficient in only the most simple and concrete literacy.

How is it that these individuals, when they are diagnosed with a disease such as cancer, are able to understand the medical jargon thrown their way, the literature that piles up in front them, the complicated process we call the medical system?

They aren't. And this leads to increased chances that people will be hurt, even killed, in the course of their medical treatment.

There are many barriers that lead to miscommunication -- cultural differences, language problems, and overall poor literacy skills -- and experts in this area are recommending some changes. They urge more education and training for health care professionals who may not ever imagine someone might not understand their words. They suggest health teams use medical interpreters. And they seek to embrace a culture of easy-to-understand communication in all aspects of medical care.

Toni Cordell, a nationally-known health literacy advocate, says humiliation and shame washed over her three decades ago when her gynecologist told her she needed a simple repair and she woke from surgery to learn she'd had a hysterectomy. Struggling at the time with dyslexia and a poor education, Cordell never asked any questions of her doctor. She just accepted the course of action, without knowing anything about it.

"Ignorance is not bliss," she says. "It's not a good place to be."

Cancer treatment: One size does not fit all

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Theranostics Health LLC is a company that was formed by George Mason University cancer researchers Dr. Lance Liotta and Emanuel Petricoin.

The company plans to tailor cancer treatments to individual patients based on proteomics, the study of proteins. Proteins play a central role in our bodies. Understanding the structure and function of each protein and its complexities of protein interactions can be critical for developing the most effective diagnostic techniques and disease treatments in the future.

Information about protein activity in tumors can allow doctors to choose the best drugs to kill the cancer cells. President and CEO of the company Joseph Reilly said "The physicians will then be provided a new class of information about that patients' individual cancer. This will enable the physician to tailor the therapy based on the individual patients' tumor."

One size fits all for cancer treatment is hopefully on its way out. We need to prescribe the right therapy to the right patient. This will increase treatment success rates and also spare patients unnecessary toxicity from chemotherapy drugs that would be unsuitable for their tumor.

Why does the cancer cell not stimulate an immune system reaction?

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This is a big question for those in the field of cancer immunotherapy, treatment based upon the concept of adjusting the immune system to reject and destroy tumors.

The National Cancer Institute along with a company called NewLink Genetics are looking to get FDA approval to start clinical trials of a drug that restricts a natural mechanism for immune suppression.

This enzyme named IDO, has been shown to help the fetus avoid rejection by the mother's immune system. This discovery led scientists to suspect and later prove that tumors express IDO.

Will suppressing IDO in humans help the immune system to seek out and kill cancer cells? This is what these scientists want to find out.

Doctor Mellor, a pediatric oncologist, says "What (cancers) do, we think, is make a protective cocoon so the immune system does not attack the tumor, so that gives you the therapeutic opportunity. If you stop IDO from blocking the response, you should allow the response, so now the specificity of the immune system is brought to bear directly on tumor cells"

Interesting stuff!

Wednesday, 28 March 2007

MUFA-rich diet prevents central body fat

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Central obesity is associated with insulin resistance through factors that are not fully understood. Researchers studied the effects of three different diets on body fat distribution, insulin sensitivity and peripheral adiponectin gene expression.

Adiponectin is secreted from fat tissue into the blood. The presence of adiponectin can result in improved insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, and can assist in mobilizing sugar out of the blood The hormone plays a role in the suppression of the metabolic derangements that may result in type 2 diabetes, obesity, atherosclerosis and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease.

The study involved 11 volunteers who were the offspring of obese type 2 diabetic patients with noticeable abdominal fat deposits. The volunteers were considered insulin resistant and they maintained average hemoglobin A1c levels of greater than 6.5% without medication. All subjects underwent three dietary periods of 28 days each in a crossover design: a) diet enriched in saturated fat (SAT), b) diet rich in monounsaturated fat (MUFA; Mediterranean diet) and c) diet rich in carbohydrates (CHO). Weight, body composition and resting energy expenditure remained unchanged during the three dietary periods. However, when patients were fed a CHO-enriched diet their fat mass was redistributed towards their abdominal region and their periphery fat accumulation decreased compared with a diet MUFA-rich and high SAT diets. Changes in fat deposition were associated with decreased levels of adiponectin after meals and lower insulin sensitivity.

The results of this study conclude a diet rich in monounsaturated fat prevents central fat redistribution and a decrease in after meal adiponectin levels. These findings support the belief that a carbohydrate-rich diet in insulin-resistant subjects exacerbates the insulin resistance. The moral of the story is: to enhance insulin sensitivity - look for a diet rich in monounsaturated fats and less dense in carbohydrates. Chances are if you've tinkered around with your food pyramid - you already knew the results of this study.

One in three will get cancer

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One out of three Americans will get cancer before they die. Who is at the highest risk?

Dr. David Nanus, an oncologist who has been treating cancer patients for over twenty years, says that "If you're obese or overweight, you have an increased incidence in a number of cancers". Nanus also tells CBS news that someone with a family history, someone who smokes, has a high fat diet and does not exercise are in the highest risk category for developing cancer in their lifetime.

According to the American Cancer Institute about one third of cancer deaths in 2006 were related to nutrition, physical inactivity and being overweight or obese -- and could have been prevented.

Nanus also says that "The biggest problem is the fear factor. People are so afraid of being diagnosed with cancer they wait. Even waiting three months can mean a difference between life and death.

DexCom - Continuous Glucose Monitoring

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DexCom has developed a continuous glucose monitoring ("CGM") system that could be the next generation of aggressive control. The DexCom GCM is a device that measures glucose trends throughout the day, providing up to 288 glucose measurements every 24 hours.

A traditional glucose monitoring test -like finger sticks - leave gaps in time where you are uncertain as to your blood sugar reading. Continuous monitoring is different from traditional blood glucose monitoring because it affords a comprehensive picture of where your blood sugars are throughout the day and night. The trend reveals times throughout the day where your sugar may increase or decrease, as well as how fast it is happening. This trend information together with the glucose value shows you patterns and problems that traditional finger sticks cannot cover as thoroughly. CGM allows you to set a target range for your desired glucose. When your glucose goes above or below this range, an alert automatically lets you know.

A 2006 study showed that people who used this device were able to achieve a 23% decrease in time spent high and a 21% decrease in time spent low. After speaking with Dianne on the DexCom customer support line - she advised me that they are offering a $375 startup kit that has everything you need to get going. The Rechargeable STS Receiver has a sleek rounded design that can easily be carried with the carry case on both your belt or in a handbag. The STS Transmitter is lightweight and fits comfortably underneath clothing. The STS Sensor & Applicator is easy to insert and safe to use with no visible needles or exposed sharps. With this wireless system, no cables or wires will get in your way allowing you to Take Control and Live Uninterrupted.. Each sensor lasts for 3 days. A set of 5 sensors costs $175 and will last you approximately 15 days.

The annual cost of continuous glucose monitoring averages a ballpark figure of $4,258. Okay, sounds a little steep - but lean on Uncle Sam to offset the cost of the best control. Sounds like it might be time to open up a Flexible Spending Account and write-off the yearning for glucose precision.

Medtronic's diabetes awareness initiative

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Yesterday was Diabetes Alert Day, the day that is set aside annually to raise awareness for the disease that has become a worldwide epidemic. I've mentioned it several times before on this blog, but I find it absolutely stunning that a disease so pervasive remains so out of the public radar. Specifically, I find the greatest ignorance stems from most people's lack of knowledge with regard to the difference between type 1 and type 2 -- or that there even are two types of diabetes, never mind one being different than the other.

According to recent statistics, 80 percent of the American population cannot distinguish between the two types of diabetes. To help remedy this problem, insulin pump manufacturer Medtronic, Inc. announced that they will spend an undisclosed amount of money on educating the public about the differences between type 1 and type 2 diabetes.

I personally witnessed, on a recent trip to the Caribbean with my girlfriend -- strike that, by this point in the trip she was my fiance -- how this lack of understanding can become highly problematic. While going through security at the Cyril E. King airport in St. Thomas, part of the U.S. Virgin Islands, a security officer came across a bottle of juice in our carry-on bag. Because of new flying regulations, bringing liquids of almost any kind on board an airplane is generally a no-no. When it was explained to the security officer that my fiance is type 1 and that she needed the juice at the ready to combat any unsuspected low blood sugars, the explanation seemed counterintuitive to the woman. Though she didn't actually ask the question, I could still hear it through her disconcerted expression -- "Why would she need to drink a high-sugar juice if she has diabetes?"

Because we were already running a bit late, and since it was clear that we were not getting through to our gate (or the security officer, for that matter) with that juice, we cut our losses and parted with the juice. Fortunately, you can buy juice and other food and drinks once past security, which is what we did.

To me, this was representative of what must be going on at airports, restaurants, places of employment, concerts, movie theaters, grocery stores and more every day; ineffective medical assistance and/or a lack of self-treatment cooperation due completely to a staggering degree of ignorance.

I truly hope that Medtronic's efforts to raise public awareness finds great success. Further, I hope their endeavors challenge and motivate other like-minded companies to jump on the proverbial bandwagon with this. If you'd like more information on Medtronic's educational initiative here:

Dietary patterns linked to type 2 diabetes risk

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For those of you who have lived the dietary gospel -- no meats and fatty foods and eating lots of greens and cooked vegetables -- guess what! It appears you've reduced the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, according to study findings published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

The study examined of 36,787 adults who provided dietary information over 4-years. At the beginning of the trial no adults had type 2 diabetes, but at the commencement of the study 365 new cases of type 2 diabetes were diagnosed. The researchers defined 4 eating patterns: a Mediterranean diet, a salad and vegetable diet, a diet of mostly meats and fatty fried foods, and a diet of many different fruits.

The Mediterranean pattern was associated with country of birth but not with diabetes. There was an inverse association observed between the Salad and Vegetable pattern and diabetes. The Meat pattern was positively associated with diabetes. No association was observed between the Fruit pattern and diabetes risk. The results of this study show a positive outcome for people who favor a diet high in salad and cooked vegetables. Those who eat a diet comprised mostly of meat and fried foods might find it helpful to avoid the onset of type 2 diabetes if they switched to foods with a lower fat saturation and more fiber assimilation.

Thought for the Day: An often undiagnosed breast cancer

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More than 200,000 American women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year. And about six percent of all invasive breast cancer cases involve a condition called inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), the most aggressive and often undiagnosed form of the disease.

IBC does not present itself in the form of a lump or mass and is typically not detected by self-examination, mammogram, or ultrasound.

IBC is a misunderstood disease. But if women learn to recognize some of the symptoms, there is a better chance for better diagnosis, treatment, and survival.

Think about this, a list of early symptoms of IBC:

o. One breast rapidly becomes larger than the other

o. Breast has a rash, redness, or blotchiness

o. Breast and/or nipple persistently itches

o. Breast tissue thickens or feels lumpy

o. Breast becomes sore with sharp pains

o. Breast is warm to the touch or feverish

o. Lymph nodes under the arm or above the collarbone become swollen

o. Breast dimples and may look like the skin of an orange

o. Nipple retracts or flattens

o. Color of the areola (the dark skin around the nipple) changes

Contact your doctor immediately if you detect any of these symptoms.

Pop Quiz: How health savvy are you?

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Time to test your smarts -- about sleep, sun, food, and alcohol.

Just read the following questions, pick an option and then scroll down to determine if you really know what's best for your health.
  • Is it healthier to sleep an extra hour or force yourself out of bed in the morning to exercise?
  • Is it healthier to spend 15 minutes in the sun without sunscreen or two hours in the sun wearing SPF 30?
  • Is it better to have a second glass of wine at dinner or a sinful dessert?

Is it healthier to sleep an extra hour or force yourself out of bed in the morning to exercise?

It's healthier to get out of bed and exercise. Research shows a full eight hours of sleep -- often touted as the necessary amount of slumber -- is not really necessary for optimum health. In fact, those sleeping about seven hours per night enjoy a lower mortality rate than those sleeping eight hours or more.

But exercise is necessary for optimum health. So roll yourself out of bed early, head outdoors for some fresh air and sunlight and in time, you will reset your body clock.

If you are sleep deprived, however, due to a new baby, an illness, or all-nighters, by all means -- sleep. Don't sacrifice sleep for exercise if you are already lacking in this department.

Is it healthier to spend 15 minutes in the sun without sunscreen or two hours in the sun wearing SPF 30?

Fifteen minutes of pure sun provides a necessary dose of vitamin D, but it also takes its toll. It's better to ingest vitamin D, says one expert, by drinking juice fortified with calcium or taking a calcium supplement or multivitamin.

So heading into the sun for two hours -- with SPF 30 -- is the smarter choice. But stay tuned for more on the possible negative effects of sunscreen.

Is it better to have a second glass of wine at dinner or a sinful dessert?

Take dessert -- just don't overdo it -- over that glass of wine. Because drinking more than one alcoholic beverage per day is known to increase risk of cancer and other health problems.

Quiz questions and answers were found in the August 2005 issue of Real Simple magazine.
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Cannibis linked -- kind of -- to lung cancer risk

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When I told my husband that the use of cannabis is being linked to a five percent increase in lung cancer risk -- that's 15 new cases each year in New Zealand where a study was just conducted -- he seemed to think this risk is comparable to his dying from a grasshopper landing in his eye.

A scientist John is not, but his thoughts on the matter seem to parallel international thinking on the drug which goes something like this: the risk marijuana use has on cancer incidence is so very low it's hardly worthy of much worry.

A California study of more than 1600 people last year found no link between cancer and smoking the drug, despite researchers' prediction they would find some kind of connection.

New Zealand researchers have found a connection, though, and however small it may seem, they say it's significant.

They found the risk of developing lung cancer increased by about eight percent each year for people whose cumulative exposure equated to smoking one joint per day -- about the same as the increase for someone who smokes one pack of cigarettes per day. They also found the younger someone starting smoking cannabis, the greater the risk and that contributing risk factors include smokers' deeper inhalation and the tendency to hold smoke in their lungs.

Cannabis, the most commonly used recreational drug in the world with 161 million users, has been thought to have a protective effect against cancer due to its chemical THC, which appears to kill aging cells and keep them from becoming cancerous. This study may prove otherwise.

Improved survival of colon cancer by removing more lymph nodes

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Surgeons will normally remove the lymph nodes during surgery when a patient has Stage II or Stage III colon cancer. These stages refer to colon cancer that has penetrated the colon and entered the abdominal cavity. There may be spread of the cancer to local lymph nodes that need to be removed and biopsied.

An article published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute says that patients have improved survival when a greater number of lymph nodes are removed during surgery. Patients have anywhere from six to forty lymph nodes removed and evaluated. The question is -- What is the optimal number of lymph nodes to remove and evaluate?

A clinical study was conducted that involved nearly 62,000 patients. The researchers concluded that patients with Stage II or III colon cancer had significantly improved survival when more lymph nodes were removed.

The author of the study stated "These results support consideration of the number of lymph nodes evaluated as a measure of quality of colon care."

Tuesday, 27 March 2007

Newly released recommendations for HPV vaccine

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The Human Papillomaviruses (HPV) vaccine called Gardasil can protect from the infection of four types of the HPV virus. Two of these types cause up to 70 percent of all cases of cervical cancer.

Recommendations were released by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) regarding the use of Gardasil. The FDA approved Gardasil in June 2006.

The role of ACIP is to advise the Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) about vaccine usage and vaccine-preventable diseases.

The recommendations published by the ACIP:

  • Recommended age for routine vaccination of girls is 11-12 years.
  • The vaccine can be given to girls as young as 9 years.
  • Catch-up vaccination is recommended for girls and women between the ages of 13 and 26 years who were not vaccinated previously or who did not complete the full vaccine series (the vaccine is administered in three separate doses).
  • Routine cervical cancer screening remains important following vaccination.

The ACIP's recommendations can influence policy and practice, but are not directly linked with school and daycare entry laws. These laws are made by individual states.

Best of the best

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Spring training is already underway, which means that opening day at your nearest ball field is right around the corner. Fittingly, Men's Health magazine features up-and-coming New York Mets slugger David Wright on its cover, and inside some of the game's best players are spotlighted. But, on page 122, you'll find an article on who are considered to be the best of the best -- not on the baseball field, but in the medical field.

Twenty different endocrinologists are listed as being among the best in this area of medicine. Taking top honors in the northeast is Dr. Martin J. Abrahamson, medial director at the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. Quoting Dr. Abrahamson, "A 15-minute visit to a primary-care physician isn't enough to help someone self-manage his diabetes. You need a team of experts to help you as you implement a whole new lifestyle to treat the disease."

America's Top Docs from other medical fields are also mentioned: neurologists, psychiatrists, gastroenterologists, dermatologists, cardiologists/internists, urologists, etc. You can find this article in the issue of Men's Health on news stands now.

C-Peptide - Missing in Action

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When treating diabetes, today's doctors focus on establishing blood glucose control, but often overlook the need to protect against common diabetic complications such as blindness, kidney damage, and nerve damage. The DCCT, even with a comprehensive treatment program, had a complication rate of approximately 40% of participants.

People who do not have diabetes make insulin with C-peptide. Those of us diabetics who inject synthetic insulin do not get the C-peptide. When scientists began developing insulin - they weeded out the pieces of the amino acid chain they felt were insignificant in lowering blood glucose. Synthetic insulin was designed to reduce the dangerous buildup of excess sugar in the bloodstream. Uh oh - hindsight is surprisingly clear! The long-term complications were initially thought to be caused by lack of insulin - not lack of something that should've been in it. It would make sense if insulin came equipped with this critically important element, wouldn't it?

Tada! C-peptide is the connecting peptide found on the amino acid chain of naturally produced insulin, but left on the cutting room floor in the lab. Studies have shown that C-peptide prevents the development and progression of many diabetic complications and was shown to improve glucose metabolism up to 66%.

Regardless of the potential profit decay C-peptide might cause the production of insulin - the bottom line is the salvation it will provide every man, woman, and child injecting insulin. If you're taking insulin injections, chances are you won't stop taking insulin because you're adding C-peptide to your daily lineup. Chances are - you'll be around a lot longer, and a lot healthier because you do not have the complications most often associated with long-term diabetes.

Wouldn't that be reason enough for you to celebrate the company that brings C-peptide to the drugstore nearest you? Consumer loyalty goes a long way. For those companies who knew a long time ago how beneficial C-peptide would be but didn't do a thing about it - is it really the 33% loss in insulin sales you didn't want to encounter? C'mon. We can handle the truth.

Stop the Pop

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Four things I knew about the effects of soda on your health:

1 - It contains extremely high amounts of sugar, in the form of sucrose, fructose, corn syrup, and just about every other form known to man.

2 - It is bad for your teeth and gums, due chiefly to the aforementioned high sugar content.

3 - It can be high in caffeine; something that can be looked at as being either a good or bad thing. But, considering the fact that so much soda is consumed by kids, I'd venture to say that it's definitely a bad thing.

4 - It can contribute to the development of type 2 diabetes.

One thing that I just learned about the effects of soda on your health:

1 - It can raise your risk of heart disease.

Canadian researchers analyzed the diets of more than 600 healthy people and discovered that those who regularly ate the most sugar-laden foods -- such as soda -- had the lowest level of HDL (good) cholesterol. Given the fact that HDL helps remove arterial plaque left by LDL (bad) cholesterol, and also because low HDL is related to related to high triglycerides, this sugar-based reduction of this cholesterol is far from sweet.

Coffee talk

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As part of their morning ritual, so many people down a cup or ten of coffee to help wake up. The same is often true of people who have some java before they workout, hoping that it will 'amp' up their intensity -- if not their desire in the first place to do it. Best I can tell, the jury is still out on whether caffeine is 1) good for you, and 2) helpful in any way with respect to giving you some extra pep.

More or less, the pick-me-up you get from caffeine is a result of an increased heart rate. So, right of the bat, it may not be the best thing to be drinking before you go into the gym (where your heart rate will be increasing anyway). That being said, a little caffeine does not seem to cause safety thresholds of any kind to be crossed, so maybe it's not so bad after all. But, what about how much pep it actually gives you?

It's actually kind of funny, but about two weeks ago I stumbled upon a news story on coffee. Apparently, a study was conducted (I don't recall where) on the effects of caffeine, revealing that it does not lead to any increase in vitality whatsoever. In fact, the researchers claimed that the feeling of steadiness and alertness people experience after having their morning cup of coffee is nothing more than satiating the demands of an eight hour caffeine withdrawal.

Insofar as how much pep caffeine gives you during a workout, a University of Nebraska study found that exercisers drinking decaf coffee daily experienced the same fitness gains as those drinking regular coffee.

I've come across so much information about the effects of caffeine and as it relates to cardiovascular health, but still I am yet to be convinced of its benefits or its detriments. I'd be interested to hear what you guys think about this one.

Thought for the Day: A new view on vitamin supplements

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I'm never quite sure what to do about vitamin supplements. Should I take them? Or should I leave them?

Sometimes I think supplements could surely help me with whatever I'm lacking in my diet. Other times I don't want to mess with what might be working just fine in my body. Now if a doctor tells me my iron is low, I'll take a supplement to boost my levels. But if there is nothing apparently off kilter in my system, I tend to just leave things alone.

I'm glad at the moment for my current plan. Because nutritionists now suspect that high doses of vitamins and minerals -- believed by some to prevent cancer -- might actually be harmful.

Think about this:

The American Medical Association journal
JAMA recently reported that high doses of antioxidant supplements can be harmful. Vitamin advocates challenged the analysis, saying it excluded large studies from China and Italy showing antioxidant supplements lowered mortality risk.

Consumers still should read labels carefully.

"Some of the things called daily vitamins can be higher than what we think is desirable," says one researcher who urges consumers to look for something about 100 percent of the daily value. That's really all people need, she declares. But a healthy diet is still most important and can prevent the need for supplements altogether. Yet for those who are sick, don't have access to nutritious food or for some other reason cannot eat well, the 100-percent rule is a good guide.

Sunscreens themselves may cause skin cancer

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The skin cancer we so desperately try to avoid may be caused, in part, by the very thing we use to prevent the disease -- sunscreen.

Scientists at the University of California report in the journal Free Radical Biology & Medicine that some of the chemicals found in sunscreen products can become cancer-causing agents once they are absorbed into the skin.
And perhaps this is why more and more people are developing skin cancer, despite the increasing use of sun lotions.

"Sunscreens may be doing more harm than good," says lead researcher Dr. Kerry Hanson.

May is the important word here. Sunscreens may contribute in some way to the incidence of skin cancer. But the jury is still out. And experts are not sure right now how significant this research will be in the long run.