Category Archives: Health

What to Eat to Feel Better

Upset stomach? Whether it’s nausea, vomiting, or just a general icky feeling due to a stomach bug or something you ate, you want to feel better—now.

Sadly, your doctor may say that the best treatment is to just wait until the germ or symptoms run their course. However, choosing the right food may make that waiting period a bit easier.

Here’s a guide to what the experts generally recommend to soothe tummy trouble.

Bananas are the first item in the “brat” diet (bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast), which has been used by generations to soothe bellies.

Bananas contain potassium, which you may need if you’re dehydrated from vomiting or diarrhea, says Robynne Chutkan, MD, assistant professor in the division of gastroenterology at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC.

They also contain sugar so you get calories at a time when you’re probably not eating much. But they’re not so sweet it will make you nauseous, she adds.

Rice, along with other starchy foods such as potatoes and oats, helps coat the lining of the stomach, easing digestion and having an overall soothing effect, says Dr. Chutkan.

Starchy foods also don’t sit in the stomach for long periods of time, nor do they stimulate acid reflux, which would make you feel even worse, says Amit Bhan, MD, service chief of gastroenterology at Henry Ford Health System, in West Bloomfield, Mich.

Good bacteria in your gut

I bet you’ve heard a lot about the benefits of probiotics—but what about prebiotics? These nondigestible carbohydrates feed the good bacteria in your gut, which have been linked to digestive health, improved immunity, anti-inflammatory effects, and more.

Because prebiotics help probiotics flourish, eating more of them is a smart wellness strategy. Indeed, a 2012 study found a link between a diet high in prebiotics and a reduced risk of developing colorectal cancer. Other research has suggested that prebiotics increase calcium absorption and may improve bone density. And one small study tied prebiotics to increased satiety after meals.

You’re probably already eating some prebiotic foods simply because you like them. But I advise my clients to be strategic about getting prebiotics on a regular basis. And there may be a few prebiotic foods you haven’t tried yet. Here, six of the top prebiotic sources, plus easy, tasty ways to add them to your diet.

 

 

Asparagus

Raw asparagus, specifically. (When it comes to prebiotic produce, raw is usually the way to go because cooking can break down some of the beneficial matter in certain foods.) If you don’t find raw asparagus palatable, try lightly steaming the veggie, so it’s softer but still firm. Serve the asparagus warm, drizzled with tahini or sundried tomato pesto; or chill it and serve cool. Steamed, cooled asparagus is a great alternative to celery for scooping up healthy dips (like hummus, olive tapenade, and guacamole).

 

Bananas

For an extra prebiotic boost, look for bananas that are not quite fully ripe. Slice and drizzle the fruit with almond butter. Or chop and add some banana to Greek yogurt, along with fresh grated ginger and a dash of ground cinnamon. If you have a powerful blender, you can also whip an underripe banana into a smoothie, along with a sweeter fruit like berries or mango for more flavor.

 

 

Dandelion greens

Add raw dandelion greens to a salad, or use a small handful as the base of a side dish or a bed for lean protein, like fish or lentils. To offset the bitterness of the greens, toss them in a dressing made with of EVOO, lemon, and garlic, and top with sliced almonds. If you find the flavor too intense, balance it with sweeter foods like cooked yams, sautéed yellow onions, or in-season fruit.

Choose birth control tips

Hormone-based birth control often comes with side effects that can range from slightly annoying to bad enough to make you switch.

You may not know what you can tolerate until you’ve given a couple of them a try.

But here are some solutions for the most common problems.

“These side effects seem to go away after you’ve been taking the Pill for a while,” says Hilda Hutcherson, MD, an ob-gyn professor at Columbia University, in New York.

If they don’t, switching brands may help.

This reaction will probably go away in a couple of months.

If it doesn’t and you’re using oral contraceptives, try taking them with food.

If you’re using the ring or the patch, you might need to switch methods.

“I think this is the side effect that drives women crazier than any other side effect,” says Dr. Hutcherson, because it’s so unpredictable. Taking the Pill at precisely the same time every day may help. The bleeding occurs specially with shots, the mini-Pill, and the implant—the progestin-only methods—as the lining of the uterus is so thin that it sometimes sloughs off a little bit. (On the upside, this also makes your periods lighter and sometimes causes them to disappear entirely.)

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about spotting. “You can sometimes add an anti-inflammatory such as ibuprofen, or occasionally you can add a little estrogen,” says Anne Foster-Rosales, MD, chief medical officer for Planned Parenthood Golden Gate.

Memory Problems Solved

So you keep misplacing your keys and walking into the living room without remembering why. That doesn’t mean you’ve got early Alzheimer’s: “Normal memory problems—like being a little forgetful—start as early as age 27,” says Majid Fotuhi, MD, chairman of the Neurology Institute for Brain Health and Fitness in Baltimore and author of The Memory Cure.

Luckily, your memory is like a muscle, Dr. Fotuhi says—you can exercise it and improve it at any age. Here are some smart moves to help you do just that.

Problem #1: Stress
The lowdown: “In our fast-paced, wired world, many of us live our lives in chronic stress,” says Gary Small, MD, director of the UCLA Longevity Center and author of The Alzheimer’s Prevention Program. That means we’re perpetually bathing our brains in stress hormones like cortisol. The result? Studies done in mice show that chronically elevated stress hormone levels shrink the hippocampus, so you’re less likely to form new memories.

You get a similar result if you’re struggling with depression. “Some studies suggest that depressed individuals have fewer hippocampal neurons,” says Gary Kennedy, MD, director of the division of geriatric psychiatry at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. Other research has found that depressed people have lower levels of brain-derived neutrophic factor (BDNF), a protein that promotes the health of brain neurons, and thus boosts memory function.

The Rx: Unfortunately, there’s no way to get rid of stress entirely. But you can at least try to keep your anxiety levels at a minimum. Dr. Small’s number-one tactic? Meditation. One recent Harvard study found that participants who meditated for about 30 minutes a day over eight weeks increased their hippocampus size. “Meditation also fires up the frontal areas of the brain that are associated with attention,” Dr. Small says. That means you’ll be less likely to focus on feeling stressed or down, and more able to concentrate on the tasks at hand, so you can actually remember what’s going on.

Here’s a super easy way to start: Get comfortable and begin breathing slowly and deeply. Expand your rib cage as you inhale; feel your abdomen rise with each intake of breath. Stay relaxed and focus on each breath in and out. Start with three minutes and work up to 30.

If you suspect you’re depressed—say, you’re having persistent sad, anxious, or “empty” feelings that last more than a couple of weeks, and other symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, and loss of interest in hobbies—get a referral for a good psychologist or psychiatrist, who can provide counseling and possibly medication.

How to settle your stomach

If you’re in pain or have nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, or other symptoms, you’d do anything to feel better.

Luckily most stomach bugs are short-lived. However, choosing the wrong kind of food when your appetite starts to perk up again may prolong the misery.

Here are 9 foods you should avoid while recovering from an upset stomach.

Supersweet foods, such as those containing refined sugar can lead to spikes in insulin levels which, in turn, can lead to fluctuations in blood sugar.

Although this might not directly affect your stomach, it could make you feel clammy and shaky, which isn’t going to improve your overall state, says Robynne Chutkan, MD, assistant professor in the division of gastroenterology at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, DC.

Dairy products such as milk and cheese top the list of “don’t” foods when it comes to upset stomachs. For one thing, more than half the world’s population is already lactose intolerant, meaning they lack the necessary enzyme to digest dairy products.

But even if you’re not lactose intolerant, a viral or bacterial infection can affect lactase (the lactose-digesting enzyme) and could cause you to temporarily or even permanently lose your ability to digest lactose, says Dr. Chutkan.

Although many people attribute soda’s aggravating qualities to the carbonation, you can really blame citric acid and the preservative sodium benzoate, says Dr. Chutkan.

“The chemicals can be hard on the stomach,” she says. But the carbonation can also bother some people.

“It can give you a full feeling and if you have an upset stomach and you’re burping a lot and feeling full, that can be a problem,” she explains.

Protect Your Memory

It happens to all of us: You stop at the store and forget the one thing you went for. You blank on your co-worker’s husband’s name—Is it John? Jim? And where are those darn keys?!? It’s normal to be forgetful once in awhile, especially if you’ve got a lot on your plate.

But even if you’re years away from worrying about senior moments, research shows that memory loss can actually begin as early as your 20s, and it continues as you age. Thankfully, taking a few easy steps throughout your day can help you stay sharp—and maybe even help you remember where you put those keys!

Skipping carbs may harm your memory. A Tufts University study found that folks who eliminated carbohydrates from their diets performed worse on memory-based tasks than those who included them. Why? Your brain cells need carbs, which are converted in your body to glucose, to stay in peak form, says study co-author Robin Kanarek, PhD, professor of psychology at Tufts.

Pick whole grains and other complex carbs—they’re digested more slowly, so they deliver a steadier stream
of glucose. Grab a whole-wheat muffin or slice of toast with a scrambled egg and cup of berries for a breakfast that’ll jump-start your gray matter.

Exercise increases the blood flow
to your noggin, bringing much-needed oxygen and glucose for fuel, explains Sandra Aamodt, PhD, co-author of Welcome to Your Brain.

In fact, you can learn vocabulary words 20% faster if you try to memorize them after doing an intense workout rather than a low-impact activity, suggests a study in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory. Up the ante even more by taking a dance or kickboxing class—anything that requires you to remember a routine.

A subtle early sign of the disease

Scientists have long believed that loneliness can be hazardous to the health of older adults. But new research suggests there may be another link, as well: Feeling socially isolated (aka lonely) might actually be an early sign of brain changes that can lead to Alzheimer’s disease, according to a study published today by Harvard researchers.

“We were more interested in considering the possibility that there may be a relationship in the opposite direction—that as people age and decline cognitively, they may be more predisposed to loneliness,” says lead author Nancy Donovan, MD, a psychiatrist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

To test their hypothesis, Dr. Donovan and her colleagues studied 79 men and women with an average age of 76 and no outward signs of memory problems. The participants answered questions designed to assess how lonely they felt; and the researchers used imaging scans to detect the presence of cortical amyloid—a type of protein believed to a precursor of Alzheimer’s—in their brains.

About 32% of the people tested positive for these protein clusters. After the researchers controlled for other factors (such as depression, anxiety, and social network size), they found that the people in this group were 7.5 times more likely to be classified as lonely, compared with those whose scans were negative.

The association between high amyloid levels and loneliness was also stronger in people who carried the gene variant APOEε4, which is an inherited risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease.

 

Dr. Donovan says that brain changes in the very early stages of Alzheimer’s disease may cause people to feel lonely even if their social behavior doesn’t change. She notes that, for people in the study, loneliness was not necessarily related to a persons’ number of social ties or how often they interacted with friends and family.

In other cases, people experiencing these brain changes might indeed start to withdraw from group activities. “It may be that as people decline both physically and cognitively, they’re less able to successfully socialize and they become less comfortable and have more anxiety in those situations,” Dr. Donovan says.

Writing in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, the study authors acknowledge that the association between loneliness and memory problems could go either way, and that it’s possible that feelings of loneliness and detachment actually promote amyloid accumulation, rather than the other way round.

Dr. Donovan also says the relationship may go in both directions at the same time. “We don’t have evidence, but it does seem possible that there could be a kind of cycle,” she says.

 

In an editorial published along with the study, Paul B. Rosenberg, MD, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, called the findings “important and intriguing.”

Doctors are always looking for new and effective ways to screen patients in the early stages of dementia, he writes, and this study suggests that asking about loneliness could potentially be part of that process.

In fact, Dr. Rosenberg says, it’s become increasingly clear that Alzheimer’s disease affects many aspects of mental health—not just memory. “Perhaps other emotions (fear? existential angst? dread? or more positive emotions) might reflect amyloid burden or other biomarkers of preclinical [Alzheimer’s disease],” he wrote.

Dr. Donovan agrees that feelings of social detachment could be “one subtle clue” of Alzheimer’s-related brain changes, but says more research is needed.

Staying loyal to a great doctor

Staying loyal to a great doctor or a genius hairdresser—that’s just smart. But when it comes to birth control, sticking with the same method throughout the years isn’t always the right move. “Your contraceptive should fit your health, lifestyle, and values,” says Michele Curtis, MD, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Medical School at Houston. That’s because the more comfortable you are with your birth control, the more likely you are to use it consistently—meaning less risk of an unintended pregnancy.

Whether you’re 25 or 45, condoms are a must to guard against STDs. But since condoms also have a higher failure rate than other forms of birth control, it’s wise to double up. Hormonal contraceptives—the Pill, patch, or vaginal ring—are highly effective. As a bonus, they can also help regulate periods, reduce PMS symptoms, and lower the risk of some cancers.

If you want to avoid an estrogen-containing method, you can pair condoms with an intrauterine device (IUD)—either the hormone-free copper ParaGard or the progestin-containing Mirena. Other good options include Implanon, a progestin-releasing implant that’s inserted in the upper arm for up to three years; and Depo-Provera, a progestin injection that’s given every three months.

Reduced protein buildups associated with Alzheimer

Eating a healthy diet, getting regular physical activity, and maintaining a normal weight appear to reduce protein buildups in the brain associated with Alzheimer’s disease, according to a new study published in the September issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.

These lifestyle factors are already recommended for safeguarding against dementia, and have previously been shown to reduce shrinkage and atrophy of the brain. But this is the first study to demonstrate how they can directly influence abnormal protein growth in people who have subtle memory loss, researchers say.

This is significant, the study authors wrote in their paper, because it’s been estimated that up to half of Alzheimer’s cases can be attributed to modifiable risk factors such as low education, smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity. Even a 10 to 25 percent reduction in these risks could potentially prevent nearly 500,000 cases in the United States.

The study included 44 adults, ages 40 to 85, who’d been experiencing mild memory problems but had not been diagnosed with dementia. They provided information about their diet, exercise levels, body mass index (BMI), and other lifestyle factors. Then they were given a PET scan—a type of brain imaging test—to measure different levels of protein in their brain.

The researchers were looking for two specific types of protein: deposits of beta-amyloid plaque and knotted threads of tau protein tangles. Both types are considered key indicators of the development of Alzheimer’s disease.

Although the study could not prove a cause-and-effect relationship, it did find “moderate but significant” differences between participants with healthy lifestyles and people without. Specifically, people who got plenty of physical activity and had a normal BMI had fewer plaque deposits and tangles than those who got less exercise and had higher BMIs. The same went for those who followed a healthy diet—in this case, the Mediterranean diet—versus those who didn’t.

“The fact that we could detect this influence of lifestyle at a molecular level before the beginning of serious memory problems surprised us,” says lead author David Merrill, M.D., Ph.D., assistant clinical professor at UCLA’s Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior.

Merrell says that doctors have long appreciated the fact that exercise and diet can improve muscle and heart function. But there seem to be additional effects they’re just starting to understand: “Some older patients of mine report similar benefits for their sharpness and memory on days when they go for a long walk or eat fish like salmon,” he says.

The new study reinforces the idea that habits that are good for the body are also good for the brain, says Merrill—and that they seem to have an impact on abnormal protein buildup “for years, if not decades, prior to the diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease.”

In their paper, the authors also suggest that improving more than one of these lifestyle factors may lower Alzheimer’s disease risk more than focusing on any one factor alone. Luckily, they point out, eating healthier, getting more exercise, and losing weight often go hand-in-hand.

Merrell says it’s never too early, or too late, to adopt healthier habits—a belief he puts into practice when treating patients at UCLA. “We try to meet all patients and family members where they are,” he says, “recommending a guided increase in physical activity along with greater adherence to a Mediterranean style diet.” This helps to improve both their physical and mental health over time, he adds, no matter where they started.

Alzheimers Disease Treatments

No one wants to hear “You’ve got Alzheimer’s disease,” a progressive memory-robbing disorder that doesn’t have a cure. But the diagnosis may not be quite as grim as it was in the past

There are now a handful of medications that can help ease symptoms, like memory loss and confusion. What’s more, the evidence suggests that there are certain lifestyle changes that might help, and there are other types of treatments that address specific symptoms (rather than the underlying cause of the disease) that may make life a little easier for people with Alzheimer’s.

While the number of treatments is limited—and far from a perfect solution—“there is value in getting the proper care,” said James Hendrix, Ph.D., director of global science initiatives at the Alzheimer’s Association in Chicago. Treating symptoms can give people more time, allowing them to make decisions about their future while they still can, he explained.

Scientists continue to explore potential disease pathways to treat and prevent this insidious brain disorder, which affects more than 5 million Americans.

Here’s a rundown of current therapies, lifestyle changes, and promising treatments on the horizon that could help people with Alzheimer’s disease.

Approved for treating mild, moderate, and severe Alzheimer’s symptoms, donepezil doesn’t stop the disease. But it does prevent the breakdown of a brain chemical called acetylcholine, believed to be important for memory, thinking, and reasoning.

This medicine comes as a once-daily tablet, so it’s easy for patients to take and doctors to adjust the dosage.

“You can start a patient on 5 milligrams a day and after several weeks move them up to 10 milligrams,” said Gregory Jicha, M.D., Ph.D., professor of neurology at the University of Kentucky and a neurologist at the UK Sanders-Brown Center on Aging.

Side effects include gastrointestinal (GI) problems, like nausea, diarrhea, and vomiting. Other potential side effects include muscle cramps, fatigue, and weight loss.