No-calorie soft drinks, weight and your gut bacteria

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Do you know anyone who drinks a lot of diet sodas and just cannot seem to lose weight? It has been known for some time that these artificial, no-calorie sweeteners not only do not encourage weight loss but may actually promote weight gain and even diabetes by continuously stimulating our desire to taste sweetness. When they were invented by the food industry, these new-to-nature molecules promised to offer a positive option to sugar. They seemed to be a healthier alternative that promised to change our habits and health risks from drinking the high fructose, sugary soft drinks that have defined American billboard culture since the 1950s. However, there are issues.

Sweet foods, it turns out, activate a set of digestive processes, enzymes and hormones like insulin that promote weight gain and diabetes. No-calorie sweet drinks do the same. This is very different from the gut and endocrine response to more bitter or alkaline foods such as vegetables, grains, legumes and other plant-based foods. So despite no calories, these sweeteners have not been so helpful in weight loss as a substitute for the sugary soft drinks. They also are not helpful to diabetics for these same reasons. There is now another reason to suspect that there are other problems with these beverages. It turns out that no-calorie soft drinks change the profile of bacteria in our gut, part of the so-called microbiome. These bacteria, which may in aggregate weigh three to six pounds, constitute one of the largest “organs” in the body. They actually contain about 150 times as much DNA as our human genome. The key issue for our diet is that they are essential to the process of healthy digestion. Many foods, especially plant materials, cannot be adequately metabolized and absorbed without a healthy gut bacterial population. When artificial sweeteners alter this profile, our ability to utilize our food effectively is impaired. We still feel hungry. Continue reading

Find your inner peace

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Chinese philosopher Lao Tsu once said, “Stillness and tranquillity set things in order in the Universe.”

The Danish sage Søren Kierkegaard likewise encouraged us to times of quietude: “Far from idleness being the root of all evil, it is rather the only true good.”

This is a remarkable attitude in our very busy, constantly moving world where activity, productivity and busyness are equated with our value as a human being. Is this really true?

Perhaps the things we busy ourselves with are not all that important, taking too much time and effort while accomplishing little or nothing in service of others or in helping us achieve our major life goals.

In my daily medical practice, I often encounter people who are busy, very busy. They attest to being too busy to exercise, to shop for and cook healthy meals at home, to attend to important relationships — and too busy, for sure, to center their minds by relaxation or meditation. In other words … too busy. Continue reading

Rainforest is a reservoir for new medicines

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Lives

On a recent trip to Brazil, I immersed myself in an exploration of the richly diverse Amazonian rain forest. I was awed to learn that so many of the plants that filled this paradise have been used throughout human history to make medicines, poisons, hallucinogens, rubber, building materials and so much more.

While it makes sense that native people use the plants to support their lives, it is astonishing to learn that approximately 70 percent of the new drugs introduced in our country in the past 25 years are derived from nature. Despite the expanding sophistication of bioengineering, Mother Nature retains the crown as the world’s greatest drug engineer.

The indigenous healers in the Northwest Amazon have used more than1,300 species of plants for medicinal purposes. Today, pharmacologists and ethnobotanists work with native shamans to identify potential drugs for further development. Continue reading

Always tired? Here are 5 things to check

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

“Doc, I just feel tired all the time.”

This is the kind of vague complaint, along with dizziness, that challenges every physician. Such patients often show up on a Friday afternoon or mention the fatigue at the end of a visit for other matters. The issue is so common, yet complex, that up to 40 percent of those suffering from chronic fatigue may never receive a specific diagnosis.

Our medical students are trained to make sure a fatigue complaint isn’t caused by anemia or low thyroid. While these certainly can be a factor, it is rare to find the answer to chronic fatigue with a simple blood test.

Many medical conditions can cause fatigue. Loss of organ reserve in vital organs such as the heart, lungs, liver, adrenal glands, and kidney can all lead to fatigue. Chronic infections, cancer, chronic pain, poorly controlled diabetes, obesity, and sleep apnea make up a partial list of well over a hundred identifiable medical causes for fatigue. Continue reading

Five tips for handling those holiday blues

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

This is the time of year when everyone is acting cheerful and happy, so why do I feel blue?

Just know you are not alone. The holiday blues are a common phenomenon and may seem paradoxical in just the time of the year when we are in the midst of planning to enjoy friends, family, feasts and fun.

In fact, this is not always such a cheerful time for some. Those who have lost family members, those who are financially stretched, or those who already feel their life activities are too stressful may not look forward to the holidays.

Holding unrealistic expectations that everything will go perfectly is another source of inner stress. Such thoughts, beliefs and feelings may even be internalized as physical symptoms: chest pain may show up from emotional heartache, headache could represent repressed anger, or backache concerns about lack in financial according to some metaphysical interpretations. Continue reading

It’s not just Venus and Mars anymore

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

While the gender gaps are closing, sometimes the differences between men and women seem as great as the differences between Venus and Mars. For example, men and women tolerate medications very differently. Due to this, the Food and Drug Administration has recently changed the recommended dosage of the sleep aid Lunesta from 2 milligrams to 1 milligram because of its prolonged effects on women.

Women reported feeling drowsy in the morning hours after waking, raising concerns about the hazards of driving and working. While men and women are often prescribed the same dosages of medications, this case shows how men and women are not the same organism and drug dosing might need to take that into consideration.

For basic studies in the biomedical laboratory, many cells lines that are used experimentally are derived from tissues obtained from males, either human or animal. Even in the very early steps of identifying a drug and determining how it works, efforts are already focused on those of us with a Y chromosome. Continue reading

Getting some sunlight is good for you

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

As the days grow shorter, we become more aware of the role of light in our life. Light has certain obvious benefits. It keeps us from falling down and hurting ourselves or bumping into each other.

It activates vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, to keep our bones strong. Light feeds all our food crops and secondarily the animals that consume plants that serve as our food sources. We take light for granted. In fact without light, life as we know it would not exist. Yet, like so many things like water, dirt, gravity and oxygen that surround us, we often give it little thought or attention. Yet it has many more health benefits. At a recent integrative oncology meeting I attended, a psychiatrist who studies sleep and sleep disorders showed us her data on how light can be therapeutic. Her research subjects were women with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy.

It turns out these women have significant disturbances in their sleep quality, getting worse with each week of chemotherapy. By the fourth week of therapy, they have major disruptions of their daily and nightly circadian rhythms. This causes severe fatigue and other negative effects on the immune system and healing response. In her studies, she exposed some women to light in the form of bright white light boxes and the control group to dim red light. The results were nothing less than dramatic. Continue reading

Bone health should be a lifelong pursuit

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Lives

The last subject I dove into in this column was falling. I challenged all women to work on improving their physical balance to decrease their fall risk.I should have paid more attention to my topic.

On a recent visit to Asheville, N.C., I watched the sun rise over the Blue Ridge Mountains as wisps of fog nestled on the hilltops. The beauty called me. I grabbed my husband (thank goodness!) and marched off into the crisp mountain air.

Along one of the hillsides, my right foot landed on a mound of acorns in the dewy grass. As my foot rolled under me, I heard a pop. Something as simple as chasing beauty left me sidelined with a broken ankle.

Bones are dynamic tissues in our bodies. Building and maintaining the health of our 206 bones should be a lifelong goal. By 20, women generally reach their peak bone mass. That means it is crucial for young women to build strong bones with physical activity and adequate calcium intake in their youth. Continue reading

Falling is big risk for older women

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Selves

While most women today no longer fight off wild animals for survival, we constantly try to combat other dangers. Cancer screenings are now on most women’s preventive health agendas. We know that regular mammograms, pap smears and colonoscopies help keep us safe.But what about the risks posed by taking a fall?

As we age, we fall more frequently and recover more slowly.Falls are responsible for 70 percent of accidental deaths in people 75 and older.Only seven percent of woman diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer die of their disease within five years. Yet fully one-quarter of all elderly people who fracture a hip will be dead within six months.Among those who survive a hip fracture, half end up in a nursing home after hospitalization. Of women sent to nursing homes, half remain there for more than a year.With frightening statistics like those, we need to take the dangers of falling very seriously.

Everyone loses muscle, bone mass and strength as they age.Some women envision enjoying their golden years in a rocker on the front porch, passively watching the years roll by, rather than taking life by the horns and signing up for Zumba class.Pain, arthritis, neurological conditions or incontinence may hold them back. Yet maintaining and even gaining muscle strength is a very important way to guard against falls.Weightlifting or water aerobics can increase muscle strength and function without the dangers associated with high-impact sports. Building muscle is the first step to improved balance.As children, we darted side-to-side avoiding a tag in the middle of a game, all the while building our core strength and muscle memory to keep us upright. We need to regain that kind of agility. Pilates, yoga and water aerobics classes help women improve their flexibility and balance. They allow a woman to keep her body, rather than her rocker, moving. Continue reading

Domestic violence is not just an NFL problem

Dr. Jeff Temple

Dr. Jeff Temple

After an initially weak response by the NFL and victim-blaming by the Baltimore Ravens, pro football player Ray Rice was finally dropped from his team for knocking his wife (then fiancée) unconscious. It has been more than 100 days since the incident, and he was cut loose by his team only after a video clearly showed him knocking her out.

The video of Rice dragging his victim’s body out of the elevator wasn’t enough to warrant this punishment. Apparently, NFL officials needed to see the punch. Some, including Rice, argued that he acted in defense. The Ravens tweeted, “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.”

Sound familiar? That’s because women in abusive relationships have heard this all before

“Why did you marry him?”; “Why do you stay?”; “What did you do to make him so angry?”

And rarely do women in violent relationships have a video to document what happened to them.

While violence perpetrated by pro athletes may demand disproportionate attention, we must be careful not to forget that domestic violence is a very real problem that affects our sisters, daughters, mothers, colleagues and neighbors. Continue reading