Pass the salt, please. It’s good for you.

The salt intake that is often deemed high may actually have benefits, scientists say.

“We humans eat more salt than is necessary. But we all do it. So the question is: why?” asks Paul Breslin, a professor of nutritional sciences who researches sodium appetite at New Jersey’s Rutgers University.

In the past, people thought that salt boosted health — so much so that the Latin word for “health” — “salus” — was derived from “sal” (salt). In medieval times, salt was prescribed to treat a multitude of conditions, including toothaches, stomachaches and “heaviness of mind.”

While governments have long pushed people to reduce their intakes of sodium chloride (table salt) to prevent high blood pressure, stroke and coronary heart disease, there are good reasons why cutting down on salt is not an easy thing to do.

Scientists suggest that sodium intake may have physiological benefits that make salt particularly tempting — and ditching the salt shaker difficult. It comes down to evolution.

“In biology, if something is attractive and we invest in gaining it, it must be beneficial, adaptive in evolutionary terms,” says Micah Leshem, a professor of psychology at Haifa University in Israel, who spent decades researching salt’s unique appeal.

People tend to consume about the same amount of sodium no matter where they live, and this amount hasn’t changed much in decades. Those facts hint at the biological basis of our sodium appetite.

A 2014 analysis of data that spanned 50 years and dozens of countries (including the United States, France, China and several African nations, including Zimbabwe and South Africa) found that the quantity of sodium that most people consume (and then excrete) falls into a historically narrow range of 2.6 to 4.8 grams per day. (And then there are extremes: In 16th-century Sweden, for example, people ate 100 grams a day, mostly from fish that had been salted to preserve it.)

Read the rest of the article here.

Gut bacteria could be the reason why you can’t lose weight

The gut microbiome. Sounds like some sort of science experiment, doesn’t it?  Did you know that a number of bacteria on and in our bodies outnumbers actual human cells by more than nine times? The majority of those bacteria are in your gut, where 80 percent of your immune cells can also be found.

What if I told you that every aspect of your health is defined by the ecosystem that lives inside your belly? Scientists are using your microbiome to discover the answers to why we can’t lose weight (even when we eat all the right things and work out) and why we feel depressed (even when things are going extremely well in our lives).

Sounds intriguing, right? Recent research shows that the bacteria in our gut play a huge role in aspects like how well our metabolism is working, our moods (happy, sad, mad, anxious), and inflammation.

Our bodies contain trillions of bacteria (microorganisms) in our intestines; this is known as our gut flora. There are many functions for these living organisms, some include:

  • Helping the body to digest certain foods

  • Producing certain vitamins (B and K)

  • Helping to fight bad bacteria that comes into our bodies

  • Helping to keep our immune system strong

The composition of our intestinal flora evolves as we age and is influenced by environmental factors. If we develop a loss of balance in gut microbiota, this may lead to problems such as functional bowel disorders, allergies, obesity, and diabetes.

So in order to achieve greater health and longevity, we need to create a stable environment in our gut.

Still, need some convincing? Consider this:

Anxiety From Bad Bacteria

A study done by Oxford scientists on rats showed healthy probiotic supplementation that increases good bacteria gave the rats a significant decrease in anxiety symptoms after just three weeks. Our brain and body are interconnected, constantly sending messages to each other back and forth. If your body is in a state of homeostasis, your mind will feel more balanced and at ease.

Find out what feeds bad bacteria and kills good bacteria here.

The 8 things that happen when you finally stop drinking diet soda

You’ve decided to give up diet soda — good idea! Maybe you weren’t hitting your weight-loss goals or couldn’t stomach that long list of ingredients anymore. Or perhaps you heard one too many times that it’s just not good for you.

Whatever the reason, eliminating diet soda from your diet will improve your health from head to toe. Research on diet soda is still in its infancy, but there’s enough out there to identify what you can look forward to when you put down the can and cool down with an unsweetened iced tea instead.

Migraines disappear and focus sharpens.

It turns out the headaches you expected from diet soda withdrawal didn’t materialize. And now that you’ve quit the stuff, you probably find yourself thinking clearly for the first time in a while. That’s because the chemicals that make up the artificial sweetener aspartame may have altered brain chemicals, nerve signals, and the brain’s reward system, which leads to headaches, anxiety, and insomnia, according to a review in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition. And a 2013 animal study found that rats that drank diet soda had damaged cells and nerve endings in the cerebellum — the part of the brain responsible for motor skills. (If you’re still drinking diet soda, here’s what’s happening in your body right now.)

Taste buds are more sensitive.

It’s not your imagination: Without your usual diet soda chaser, you may find that food has more flavor. It has subtlety. It’s more enjoyable. That’s because the artificial sweeteners in your diet soda overwhelmed your taste buds with an onslaught of sweetness. Aspartame ranks 200 times sweeter than table sugar. Splenda? Six hundred times. In fact, brain scans show that diet soda alters sweet receptors in the brain and prolongs sugar cravings rather than satisfying them. “We often see patients change snack choices when they give up diet soda,” says Heather Bainbridge, RD, from Columbia University Medical Center Weight Control Center. “Rather than needing sugary treats or something really salty like pretzels and chips, they reach for an apple and a piece of cheese. And, when they try diet soda again, they find it intolerably sweet.”

Read the rest of the list here.

Peppermint oil and cinnamon could help treat and heal chronic wounds

Infectious colonies of bacteria called biofilms that develop on chronic wounds and medical devices can cause serious health problems and are tough to treat. But now scientists have found a way to package antimicrobial compounds from peppermint and cinnamon in tiny capsules that can both kill biofilms and actively promote healing. The researchers say the new material, reported in the journal ACS Nano, could be used as a topical antibacterial treatment and disinfectant.

Many bacteria clump together in sticky plaques in a way that makes them difficult to eliminate with traditional antibiotics. Doctors sometimes recommend cutting out infected tissues. This approach is costly, however, and because it’s invasive, many patients opt out of treatment altogether. Essential oils and other natural compounds have emerged recently as alternative substances that can get rid of pathogenic bacteria, but researchers have had a hard time translating their antibacterial activity into treatments. Vincent M. Rotello and colleagues wanted to address this challenge.

The researchers packaged peppermint oil and cinnamaldehyde, the compound in cinnamon responsible for its flavor and aroma, into silica nanoparticles. The microcapsule treatment was effective against four different types of bacteria, including one antibiotic-resistant strain. It also promoted the growth of fibroblasts, a cell type that is important in wound healing.

Official press release link is here.

How spicing up dinner could save your life

People who eat spicy food every day have a lower risk of an early death, research suggests.

Scientists found that spicy food was linked to fewer deaths from cancer, heart disease, and breathing problems.

A study of nearly 500,000 middle-aged people found that those who ate a spicy meal every one or two days were far less likely to die than those who infrequently ate the food.

Scientists suspect that capsaicin — a chemical contained in chili peppers — has anti-obesity, antioxidant, anti-inflammation and cancer-fighting properties.

The research, published in the British Medical Journal, was based on a study of 487,000 Chinese people, each aged between the ages of 30 and 79.

Each participant was questioned about their general health and eating habits, and then tracked over the following seven years, in which time 20,224 of them died.

The researchers, from Oxford University, Harvard School of Public Health in the US and the Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences, found that people who ate spicy food every one or two days were 14 percent less likely to die than those who ate it less than once a week.

Frequent consumption of spicy foods was particularly linked to a lower risk of death from cancer, heart disease, and breathing problems.

The authors stressed that because they had only looked at broad statistical trends, and not at the exact role spice had played in each case, they could draw no concrete conclusions about cause and effect.

Read the rest of the article here.

Choosing the Right Running Shoes

Many runners may be wearing the wrong shoes for their particular stride or the right shoes that were chosen for the wrong reasons, according to a new scientific review about running shoes and injury risks.

The study helpfully concludes that there is a reliable, scientifically valid way for each of us to pick the right running shoes, but it’s so simple that most of us ignore it.

The connection between running shoes and running injuries is surprisingly controversial and, from a scientific standpoint, unsettled.

Most of us who run have heard that we should choose our shoes based, for the most part, on two broad technical criteria.

The first is whether and how much our foot pronates, or rolls inward as we land. Orthopedists, coaches, and runners long have believed that over- or under-pronation contributes to the risk of running injuries and should be controlled using particular types of shoes.

More recently, impact force, or the pounding that we experience with each stride, has also been getting plenty of attention, especially in relation to barefoot running and the question of whether we should wear shoes at all. Some barefoot-running proponents claim that running without shoes or in minimal, slipper-like models somehow changes impacts and substantially reduces the risk of injuries.

Learn more about how to pick the right shoes here.

Summer Skin Care — How Important Is It?

Now that we are well into the summer months, be sure to consider the health of the largest organ in our body, our skin. Our skin serves as a barrier against our environment. It serves vital functions such as temperature regulation, protecting us against infection, and sensing the environment around us. The health of our skin is important not only for our beauty but also for our livelihood.

One of the most prevalent diseases of the skin is skin cancer. In fact, there are more cases of skin cancer diagnosed each year than the number of breast, prostate, lung, and colon cancers combined. Each year nearly 5 million people in the United States are treated for skin cancer. One in five Americans will develop skin cancer during their lives.

There are three major types of skin cancer: basal cell, squamous cell, and melanoma. Basal cell and squamous cell skin cancers are grouped together as these are the less dangerous varieties. These skin cancers can usually be treated by surgery alone. Although treatment for these conditions can be disfiguring, it is rarely life-threatening.

Melanoma, on the other hand, is a very different story. Melanoma caught in its early stages is very treatable. However, melanoma tends to spread through the lymphatic channels of the skin. Once it has spread and gained a foothold, melanoma is very difficult to treat. New chemotherapies have recently been approved by the FDA, but these treatments are often not curative.

How do we detect skin cancer? A simple rule of thumb is the ABCDE’s of melanoma. Asymmetry refers to the fact that dangerous moles are not round, but irregularly shaped. Borders of melanomas tend to be uneven, even notched. Melanomas tend to be multi-Colored, and are often darker than the surrounding moles. Moles with a Diameter larger than 0.25 inches (about the size of a pencil eraser) tend to be more worrisome, although early melanomas can be smaller than this. Melanomas tend to Evolve, so moles that change are the ones that should arouse suspicion.

What changes can we make to reduce our risk of skin cancers? First and foremost, avoid tanning beds. Frequent indoor tanners were found to be three times more likely to develop melanoma than those who avoided indoor tanning beds. In fact, of those who developed melanoma before the age of thirty, fully three-quarters of them had used tanning beds.

Although we cannot change our genetic risk factors, like our shade of skin color and our tendency to burn, we can still change our behavior. Cover up if you know you are going to be out in the sun. Use broad-spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30. Apply sunscreen thirty minutes before outdoor activity and re-apply every two hours. Wear wide brim hats that cover the scalp, neck, and ears, and wear long-sleeve shirts.

Skin cancer can be a frightening diagnosis. But remember, when diagnosed early, skin cancer is very treatable. Frequent self-examination of your skin and yearly skin-checks by your health care provider are all good strategies for smart skin health.

Credit: Living at the Hill, August 2015 issue

From Farm to Table: Incorporating Fall Foods into Your Diet

Fresh pumpkin pie. Apples straight from the orchard. Home-grown squash. Savory sweet potatoes. Nothing compares to locally grown food from the farm making its way to your table. Why not incorporate a few fall favorites into your diet?

Pack on the Pumpkin

With the arrival of fall comes plump pumpkins ready to be harvested from fields. Think pumpkin pie, pumpkin bread and even pumpkin beer. Or get creative in the kitchen and try out pumpkin ravioli or risotto. The sky is the limit with this rich beta-carotene food. Just 1 cup of cooked pumpkin yields more than 200 percent of your RDA of Vitamin A, which is an asset to your vision. Cooked pumpkin is also packed with potassium. Don’t overlook the pumpkin seeds either; these are packed with tryptophan, an amino acid that helps in the production of serotonin. Not to mention pumpkins seeds being good sources of copper, calcium, iron, magnesium, zinc and other essential minerals!

Add Apples to Your Diet

With 4 grams of fiber per serving, apples should be a fall staple in your diet. Whether you start the day with the apple, bite into an apple for an afternoon snack, or indulge in homemade apple pie for dessert, this fruit deserves to be a part of your diet. Full of antioxidants, apples come in a variety of textures and flavors that you and your family are sure to love. Try pairing Granny Smith apples with Gorgonzola and maple dressing. Or celebrate the season with a crisp caramel apple. Don’t miss out on the skin either. Packed with flavonoids, apples can be a weapon in better health. Want an extra flavonoid boost? Go for the Pink Lady apples.

Say Yes to Squash

Squash is a fall favorite that people have grown to love. The options are endless for this seasonal vegetable. Try piping hot squash bread fresh from the oven served with butternut squash soup. Or expand your culinary horizons with acorn squash over penne, seasoned with cinnamon and ginger. And squash your risk of gallstones by consuming more squash. According to a recent study, 1 cup of acorn squash has approximately 28 percent of the RDA for magnesium — a mineral that can reduce the risk of gallstones. Squash also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which support metabolism, benefit brain health, as well as reduce inflammation.

Savor the Sweet Potatoes

Tired of the traditional sweet potato casserole? Why not try roasting your sweet potatoes in wedges? You might actually maintain more vitamins this way. And with sweet potatoes, you’ll want to maintain all the vitamins you can. This fat-free food contains B6, Vitamin D, Vitamin A and Vitamin C. Sweet potatoes also have anti-inflammatory benefits and can regulate blood sugar spikes (unlike white potatoes).

So before you pass on your local farmers’ market, think again! Take your food from farm to table by cherishing fall favorites. Incorporate the nutritional benefits of pumpkin, apples, squash and sweet potatoes into your diet.

Credit: Living at the Hill, August 2015 issue

Flu Vaccination

Why should people get vaccinated against the flu?

Influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently. Even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others. Over a period of 31 seasons between 1976 and 2007, estimates of flu-associated deaths in the United States range from a low of about 3,000 to a high of about 49,000 people. During recent flu seasons, between 80% and 90% of flu related deaths have occurred in people 65 years and older. “Flu season” in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May. During this time, flu viruses are circulating at higher levels in the U.S. population. An annual seasonal flu vaccine (either the flu shot or the nasal spray flu vaccine) is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get seasonal flu and spread it to others. When more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through that community.
 

How do flu vaccines work?
 

Flu vaccines cause antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide protection against infection with the viruses that are in the vaccine.

The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the influenza viruses that research indicates will be most common during the upcoming season. Traditional flu vaccines (called “trivalent” vaccines) are made to protect against three flu viruses; an influenza A (H1N1) virus, an influenza A (H3N2) virus, and an influenza B virus. There are also flu vaccines made to protect against four flu viruses (called “quadrivalent” vaccines). These vaccines protect against the same viruses as the trivalent vaccine and an additional B virus.

Read more about the flu vaccine here.

How much fluid is enough fluid?

Q: I am an athlete involved in multiple sports. Can you please offer some recommendations as to how much I should drink while I train?

A: There are many variables that must be taken into account when recommending hydration needs for an athlete. I will address four of these variables: current hydration status, environment, training session length, and gender.

First, an athlete should begin every training session well hydrated. Therefore, an athlete should begin the day with a couple cups of water to rehydrate, as the body loses water through the skin overnight. One way to assess an athlete’s current hydration status is to look at the color of their urine. Dark urine can indicate a state of dehydration and, therefore, more water is needed. On the other hand, urine that is pale yellow is a good indicator that a person is adequately hydrated. To stay hydrated throughout the day, an athlete should consume water-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, which provide both hydration and nutrients. Fruits and vegetables are water-rich, anti-inflammatory, alkaline, and nutrient-dense, which are all important for the health of an athlete.

Over-hydration is actually more of an issue than dehydration. The more recent hydration recommendations are to drink according to thirst since over-hydrating can lead to hyponatremia, a condition where there is too little sodium in the body and excess amounts of water. This can be caused by drinking too much water before or during a training session. Thus, forcing yourself to drink when you are not thirsty can be both dangerous and fatal.

In order for an athlete to adequately hydrate, it is important to include both salt and carbohydrates as they help to maximize absorption. Gatorade contains both salt and carbohydrates, but it also contains harmful chemicals, colors and possibly, excess calories and is, therefore, not recommended. Coconut water, on the other hand, is a powerhouse of natural electrolytes, vitamins, minerals, trace elements, amino acids, enzymes, anti-oxidants, and phytonutrients, and is both low in calories and sugar. Thus, drinking coconut water can provide everything an athlete needs for hydration during longer training sessions.

Second, the training environment is important to consider when assessing hydration needs. Very hot climates would require an athlete to drink more liquids as the amount of sweat also increases, while cool temperatures would require less. Thus, heat acclimation is important if an athlete trains in moderate temperatures but competes in a hot climate.

Third, training length and intensity determine whether or not an athlete should consume water alone or a combination of water, salt, and carbohydrates. Fluid intake during training should allow an athlete to maintain energy until the very end. Fatigue toward the end of training is typically due to competition between working muscles for metabolism and the skin to offload heat. The skin wins as heat is a bigger priority for the body. A short bout of training in an average temperature would require nothing but plain water. On the other hand, a session that is over sixty minutes long where an athlete is sweating would benefit from the addition of salt and carbohydrates taken in conjunction with water.

Lastly, there are gender differences when it comes to hydration needs. High estrogen and progesterone act on the kidney’s hormone to reduce plasma volume, a drop of up to 8% from ovulation to the mid-luteal phase. Therefore, women can have a reduced capacity to sweat to remove heat from inside the body.

In conclusion, an athlete should stay on top of his/her hydration before and after training by monitoring urine color and consuming plenty of fruits and vegetables; they should drink according to thirst and add in salt and carbohydrates during bouts of training over 60 minutes; and finally, females should increase fluid consumption during portions of their cycle.

To make your own healthy sports drink, follow the recipe below.

Homemade Sports Drink:

3 cups coconut water

1 cup water

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/4 teaspoon celtic sea salt

2 tablespoons of maple syrup

3 drops of Trace Mineral Drops (optional)

Instructions:

Mix all ingredients together and store in the refrigerator. Should last for at least one week.