Category Archives: Medical Conditions

Sleep More, Weigh Less?

I’m a notoriously bad sleeper. I go to bed too late, wake up throughout the night and always bank on catching extra zzz’s on the weekend. Apparently I’m not alone.
 
Twenty eight percent of American adults sleep six or fewer hours per night. What’s more alarming is that partial sleep deprivation has been linked to many chronic conditions, including obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Could years of poor sleeping patterns be affecting my eating habits and health?
 
comfy bedThere is plenty of scientific evidence that associates short sleep duration with weight gain. The more time we spend awake, the more opportunities we have to eat. Add to that a lack of motivation to hit the gym when we’re tired. Partial sleep deprivation may also influence two hormones that affect appetite. The jury’s still out, but many studies have shown that sleep shortage increases ghrelin, which induces hunger, and reduces leptin, thereby lessening satiety.
 
In a study to be published later this year, researchers looked at how eight nights of sleep restriction affected hormone levels and caloric intake in 17 healthy, normal weight adults. Despite no significant changes in leptin and ghrelin, participants limited to sleeping two-thirds their usual duration consumed an average of 566 more calories per day compared with their energy intake under ad lib sleeping conditions.
 
In a separate study of obese adults, participants ate an extra 83 calories per day for every 30-minute reduction in sleep. Therefore, sleeping just one hour less than the recommended 7.5 hours per night could translate into a 17-pound weight gain per year if no compensation occurs!
 
Cutting short a snooze may also negatively affect glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, although these results are not universally observed. In a 2011 study published in Sleep, 15 healthy, normal weight men had significantly greater peak insulin and glucose responses to breakfast after two nights of sleep restriction (four versus eight hours in bed).
 
More research is needed to clarify how sleep deprivation affects endocrine function, but chronically catching too few winks may create the perfect storm for overconsumption. Of all sedentary activities, sleeping is clearly one with positive health benefits and we should all aim to rest 7 to 8 hours a night!

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Filed under Heart Healthy Choices, Medical Conditions, Weight loss

Does Zinc Cure the Common Cold?

‘Tis the season for coughing, sneezing and sniffling. Many of us have stocked our medicine cabinets with vitamins, minerals and herbal remedies to ward off or cure these nasty symptoms of the common cold. Zinc supplements are a particularly frequent treatment, because zinc is known to support immune function. But do zinc supplements actually work?

Zinc is thought to halt the replication of rhinoviruses, the most common cause of colds. A recent scientific analysis pooled data from previous studies that compared oral zinc treatments with placebo or no intervention. It was found that zinc had no significant effect on the severity of symptoms experienced, but zinc did shorten the duration of a cold by an average of 2.63 days in adults. Not all zinc formulations are equally effective, however. Only zinc acetate caused a statistically significant reduction in symptom duration. Zinc gluconate and zinc sulfate were not successful.

zinc-lozengesSo if zinc can help kick a cold faster, how much should we take once we feel the beginnings of a sore throat and runny nose? The evidence says to start using zinc within one to two days after the onset of a cold, but researchers have yet to offer an optimal dose. In the analysis mentioned above, subjects took zinc acetate lozenges every 2-3 hours while awake until symptoms resolved. By my own estimations, this provided about 54-104 mg zinc daily.

Remember that more is not always better. Zinc lozenges may cause a bad taste in your mouth or even nausea. Taking too many, or popping mega-dose zinc tablets can be harmful. The safe upper limit of zinc is set at 40 mg daily. Exceeding this amount for an extended period of time can actually decrease immunity and cause low copper levels.

The bottom line?  Zinc may help your body fight the common cold, but if you’re going to load up, do it for a maximum of 7-10 days and be wary of how much zinc you’re ingesting! Read labels and choose supplements or lozenges with zinc acetate (or zincum aceticum) as the main ingredient.

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Filed under Medical Conditions, Supplements, Vitamins & Minerals

Coconut Water: Nature’s Gatorade?

Happy Summer! I’m hoping the warmer weather inspires more of us to dust off our sneakers and get active! But, considering we’re currently enduring an East coast heat wave, we need to take precaution and rehydrate properly when exercising under the mid-day sun.

A typical workout lasting less than 60 minutes usually only requires you to rehydrate with water. However, with more strenuous exercise (indoor or outdoor), it’s necessary to replace both water and electrolytes that are lost through profuse sweating.

Lately, coconut water has been touted as the ultimate post-workout hydration beverage! Coconut water is naturally packed with potassium, which plays a key role in fluid balance and muscle contraction. However, little potassium is actually lost in sweat. During intense physical activity, sodium becomes the more significant mineral to replenish. While pure coconut water straight from the fruit may contain adequate sodium, the amount of sodium in commercial brands of coconut water is not sufficient to replace what’s been excreted.

Electrolyte replacement beverages or “sports drinks” are specifically formulated for athletes. They contain the right proportions of sodium and carbohydrates for proper rehydration and easy digestion. For example, the carbohydrates (i.e. sugar) in Gatorade help the intestine better absorb sodium and fluids, which fights fatigue and prevents dehydration.

My take? Cool off with coconut water while lounging by the pool or after a light workout. When sweating for longer than 1 hour, choose a sports drink that has approximately 120 mg of sodium per 8 ounces. This will help replenish lost sodium and minimize the risk of cramping.  In addition, beverages containing about 6 grams of carbs per 8 ounces will be most effective in maximizing water absorption in the gut. That said, many sports drinks are made with about 14-16 grams of carbohydrates per cup. This quantity of carbs is unlikely to cause stomach upset and, with more calories, can offer an extra energy boost during a marathon workout.

Coconut Water:

Vita Coco

Coconut Water:

Zico

Gatorade:

Original G

Gatorade:

G2 – low cal

Carbs

14 g

7 g

14 g

5 g

Sodium

28 mg

91 mg

110 mg

110 mg

Potassium

485 mg

325 mg

30 mg

30 mg

 *Nutrient quantities were calculated per 8 oz of each beverage.

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Filed under Fruits and Vegetables, Medical Conditions, Supplements, Vitamins & Minerals

Megan Madden, MS, RD quoted on SHAPE.com

Check out Megan’s comments on avocados, whole grains, olive oil, nuts, plant sterols & salmon as featured on Shape.com’s “20 Artery-Cleansing Foods You Should Be Eating”.  Here’s to a healthy heart!

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Filed under Fats & Oils, Food Groups, Grains, Heart Healthy Choices, Media, Medical Conditions

You Snooze, You Lose. But is caffeine a healthy alternative?

For many of us, the afternoon slump at the office usually triggers a coffee run to the nearest Starbucks. While it’s true that a caffeinated “cup of joe” can perk you up, you may want to rethink how many you’re consuming in one day.

A standard 12-ounce Starbucks coffee may contain as much as 260 milligrams (mg) of caffeine. That’s nearly the amount of caffeine I would recommend you consume in an entire day! I don’t want to pick on coffee though. Tea, soda and energy drinks can also pack a caffeinated punch and there are hidden sources of caffeine, such as chocolate, coffee-flavored ice cream and over the counter cold medicine.

How much is too much? Moderate caffeine consumption – about 300 mg per day for adults – appears relatively safe. Overdoing it on the java, however, can cause temporary undesirable effects, depending on your usual intake and tolerance. Common symptoms may include headaches, trembling, raised heart rate, a spike in blood pressure and increased fluid losses via urine. Consuming caffeine within six hours of bedtime may also interfere with getting a good night’s sleep.

During pregnancy, caffeine crosses the placental barrier, but a baby has only a limited ability to metabolize it. Pregnant women should consult their doctor on how much caffeine is appropriate to consume.

Some studies have indicated that caffeine may be detrimental to bone health, but the research is inconclusive. Ordinary intakes of caffeine (say, the amount in two small cups of coffee), may increase calcium losses in the body, but this may occur only when calcium consumption is low. Studies have also shown that high intakes of coffee, in particular, may inhibit iron and zinc absorption, but it’s not all simply due to caffeine.

Is it best to nix the caffeine all together? Not necessarily. It’s perfectly healthy to indulge in two small cups of coffee per day, as long as you’re not also slugging back sodas and energy drinks. This should provide enough caffeine to give you the energy boost you’re looking for. Plus, there is limited evidence that coffee and tea may actually reduce the risk of developing Parkinson’s disease, dementia and certain types of cancer.

Use the table below to tally how much caffeine you’re consuming and aim for less than 300 mg per day!

Beverage (serving size)

Approx. Caffeine Content

Coffee, generic, brewed (12 oz)

140 mg

Starbucks coffee, brewed (12 oz)

260 mg

McDonalds coffee, brewed (12 oz)

75 mg

Green Tea (8 oz)

30 mg

Black Tea (8 oz)

38 mg

Lipton Brisk Lemon Iced Tea (12 oz)

7 mg

Coca-Cola Classic (12 oz)

35 mg

Mountain Dew (12 oz)

54 mg

Pepsi Max (12 oz)

69 mg

Club soda, 7-Up, Sprite (12 oz)

0 mg

Red Bull energy drink (8 oz)

80 mg

Monster energy drink (8 oz)

80 mg

5-Hour Energy (2 oz)

140 mg

**In addition to caffeine content, you should always be aware of the liquid calories you’re consuming, so that beverages do not contribute to unwanted weight gain.

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Heartburn: Turning down the heat

Do you ever experience a burning sensation in your chest, especially when lying down after a meal? You’re not alone! In fact, 7 to 8% of the population experiences this discomfort, which is a symptom of acid reflux disease commonly called heartburn.

Normally, a valve at the junction between your esophagus and your stomach opens to let food pass through and then closes again. But if the valve opens too frequently, or does not create a proper seal upon shutting, the acidic contents of the stomach can flow back into the esophagus. That’s when you feel pain radiating from your upper abdomen toward your throat.

Occasional heartburn may not be cause for alarm, but chronic acid reflux can have serious consequences, like increasing your risk of developing esophageal cancer. Persistent or worsening symptoms should be brought to your doctor’s attention. 

There are a variety of over-the-counter and prescription drugs that may provide relief, including Tums, Zantac, Pepcid and Prevacid. But, if you’re like me, and you want to minimize medication usage, try making these simple dietary and lifestyle modifications…

1. Avoid common trigger foods, like coffee, alcohol, vinegar, citrus fruits, tomatoes, chocolate, peppermint & spicy dishes.

2. Skip the Big Mac and fries. Large meals, especially those with a high fat content, take a long time to be digested, which raises your chance of feeling the burn from it later.

3. Fight the flab and start a weight loss program if you’re overweight. Abdominal obesity puts pressure on your stomach, forcing stomach contents back into the esophagus.

4. Quit smoking! Cigarettes may actually increase stomach acid production and weaken the function of the valve between the esophagus and the stomach.

5. Stop eating 3 hours before bedtime.  Remaining upright after meals puts gravity to work and keeps food down in the stomach where it belongs.

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Filed under Fats & Oils, Heart Healthy Choices, Medical Conditions, Weight loss

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Q: What is ‘MSG’ and is it harmful?

A: Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a compound added to foods to enhance natural flavors. It’s made of glutamate, water and sodium. As a building block of proteins, the amino acid glutamate is found naturally in a wide variety of foods. Glutamate is also produced by the human body.

Glutamate from MSG is metabolized in our system in the same way as naturally-occurring glutamate. American consumption of MSG is estimated to be about 0.55 grams per day, though Taiwanese intake averages roughly 3 grams daily. A U.S. government committee on food additives evaluated MSG in the late ‘80s and concluded that the substance does not represent a health hazard for the general population. In one study, adult men consumed diets containing up to 147 grams MSG daily (200-300 times higher than normal consumption) for up to 42 days and researchers observed no adverse reactions to this dosage (Bazzano et al, 1970).

Surprisingly, MSG contains less sodium than table salt. MSG is 14% sodium, while the salt shaker holds 40% sodium. Therefore, MSG can actually be used instead of salt to obtain the same palatability.

So why the bad reputation? The late 1960’s saw a flurry of reports that consumption of large amounts of MSG causes flushing, lightheadedness, facial pressure and chest tightness. This cluster of reactions has been dubbed Chinese Restaurant Syndrome (CRS). However, well-designed experiments of the past decade have not been able to attribute CRS symptoms to MSG. It is possible, however, that some individuals may, in fact, be sensitive to MSG after ingesting greater than 3 grams in the absence of food.

Asian cuisine is not the only place you will find MSG! Even Italian dishes contain it and some highly-seasoned restaurant meals may contain up to 5 grams. MSG is available for purchase in the spice section of many supermarkets, and on packaged foods labels, you can find the ingredient listed as “monosodium glutamate.”

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Filed under Meal Tips, Medical Conditions