Oil and vinegar

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

The Latin derivation of the word ‘salad’ simply meant “with salt.” A little sprinkle of salt over green herbs, maybe with a drizzle of olive oil was the essence of a salad. This is a far cry from our current prepared dressings containing hundreds of calories of unhealthy fats and other chemical ingredients.

So instead of store-bought salad dressings, why not do it yourself? You control taste, ingredients, and freshness. The easiest way to make a healthy homemade dressing is whisking your own vinaigrette. Stir in a small bowl: ¾ cup of extra-virgin olive oil, ¼ cup of red or white wine vinegar or add a touch of balsamic, ¼ teaspoon of fine sea salt, 1/8 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper. Making your own dressing can be as much fun as creating the salad.

You can expand your culinary delight by adding any of the following to the basic mixture: mince a small to medium shallot; add a teaspoon of Dijon mustard; add 2-3 finely chopped garlic cloves; blend fresh or dry oregano, tarragon, or lemon juice. Other interesting ingredients include sun-dried tomatoes, anchovies, or walnuts. Red pepper flakes on top of a salad or in the dressing instead of the regular coarse ground black pepper add a nice extra zest. Continue reading

A closer look at the cause of sporadic ALS

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

When the groundbreaking theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease at 21, he was given two years to live. Now he is 73 years old. How has he managed to survive this invariably fatal disease for so long? We may not have all the answers when it comes to ALS, but one study has brought us closer to understanding its cause.

ALS is a devastating, progressive neurodegenerative disorder characterized by gradual degeneration and death of motor nerves responsible for controlling voluntary muscles, resulting in the loss of all voluntary movement — including the face, arms and legs. The disease becomes life-threatening when the muscles in the diaphragm and the chest wall fail and the patient requires a ventilator to breathe. Most people with ALS die from respiratory failure three to five years after the onset of symptoms. Only 10 percent survive 10 years or longer. Continue reading

Salads: Simple is best

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Often when I called my dad to see how he was doing, he’d start with saying, “I’m making a salad.” He died at 92 and taught me the value of how enjoying a salad regularly is a truly healthy habit. Eating salads is an easy way to get close to our daily goal of 5 to 11 servings of fruits and vegetables. A half-cup of salad is pretty small so a typical lunch or dinner salad can garner 2 to 3 servings of veggies.

These days, making a salad is easier than ever. Pre-washed, pre-cut, packaged spinach, romaine lettuce, mixed greens, arugula, kale, radicchio/endive, collards, mustard greens, and others shave long eclipsed the boring and low nutrient iceberg lettuce most of us remember from childhood. This was perhaps drizzled
Thousand Island dressing or these days Ranch, currently the most popular U.S. dressing. Unfortunately it is relatively high in fats, carbs, and other unhealthy ingredients compared to simpler dressings like vinaigrettes which we will discuss next week.

Remember that the darker, leafy greens are chock full of health-essential fiber, phyto-oxidants, B vitamins, vitamin C, and omega-3 fatty acids, and are tastier by a long shot than common iceberg lettuce. Continue reading

The Plague: It was the Gerbils

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

In the past 800 years, many things have been blamed for the plague that swept through Europe in the Middle Ages: the alignment of the planets, bad air, lack of proper hygiene, black rats and their fleas. Now scientists have data that suggests the climate in Central Asia at that time influenced the size of the great gerbil population, which triggered cycles of plague in Europe. These furry little rodents carried the plague bacterium, as did the fleas that fed on them. When the gerbil population shrank, the fleas found alternate hosts like horses, humans and eventually rats, which then made their way to Europe and triggered the plague pandemics.

The plague was caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis. It is transmitted to humans through the bite of a flea that has fed on an infected rodent. Plague outbreaks have afflicted humans for thousands of years and changed the course of history. The first recorded plague pandemic began in 541 and was named the Justinian Plague after the 6th century Byzantine emperor. Frequent outbreaks for the next 200 years are likely to have killed over 25 million people. The second pandemic, called the Great Plague or the Black Death, began in China and spread westward along trade routes to Constantinople and into Europe. About 60 percent of Europeans died, eliminating entire towns. Continue reading

Bottle of Red? Bottle of White?

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

The old Billy Joel song posed the dynamic of choosing the right color of wine. This has long been debated with oenophiles, those that study and love wines, each with strong opinions, including how to pair wines with foods. The classic alignment is white wines with salads, chicken and fish dishes, even desserts. Reds are traditionally recommended for heartier fare such as soups, stews, roasts, red meat, aromatic cheeses, and so on.

Like food, the appreciation of wine incorporates aromas providing character, flavor, mouth feel, and a sense of appreciation or distaste. Most chefs and even snooty sommeliers agree that the best wine for you is the one that you actually like. The vintage, age, color, bouquet, type of grape, and all the other complexities of wine should never stand in the way of your enjoying a glass of wine that you personally enjoy. Continue reading

A real-life ‘Game of Thrones’

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

The mummies of ancient Egypt have given science much insight into their lives and deaths. Just a year ago they unearthed an unknown pharaoh from a dynasty whose existence historians had only speculated about. Although ancient tomb robbers had torn his mummy apart, modern archaeologists have cataloged the 18 blows he suffered in battle that led to his death over 3,600 years ago.

An expedition led by archaeologist Josef Wegner from the University of Pennsylvania at Abydos in Sohang province (about 300 miles south of Cairo) discovered the tomb of Woseribre Senebkay, who lived from about 1650-1600 BC, and was probably one of the first kings of a dynasty in Abydos. The tomb consisted of four chambers, which was modest for a pharaoh, and a burial chamber made of limestone with the goddesses Nut, Nephthys, Selket and Isis painted on the walls. The discovery confirms the existence of a separate dynasty in Abydos, which was suggested by Egyptologist K. Ryholt in 1997. It also identifies the necropolis as a site called Anubis Mountain. Continue reading

A way out of our continuing antibiotic crisis

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Antibiotic resistance occurs when strains of bacteria that infect people — such as staph, tuberculosis, and gonorrhea — do not respond to antibiotic treatments. In America, 2 million people become infected with resistant bacteria every year and at least 23,000 die each year because of those infections. If nothing is done to stop or slow the resistance of bacteria to antibiotics, the World Health Organization warns that we will find ourselves in a post-antibiotic world, in which minor injuries and common infections will be life-threatening once again.

The crisis arose primarily from three conditions. First, when people are given a weeks’ worth of antibiotics and stop taking them as soon as symptoms improve, they often expose the bacteria causing their infection to the medicine without killing it. This allows the bacteria to quickly mutate to further avoid the effects of the antibiotic. Second, antibiotics are overprescribed. Most common illnesses like the cold, flu, sore throat, bronchitis, and ear infection are caused by viruses, not bacteria, so antibiotics are essentially useless against them. Yet they are prescribed 60-70 percent of the time for these infections. This once again provides bacteria in the body unnecessary contact with antibiotics. Third, tons of antibiotics are used every year in the agriculture industry. They are fed to livestock on a regular basis with feed to promote growth and theoretically for good health. But animals are also prone to bacterial infections, and now, to antibiotic-resistant bacteria, which spreads to humans who eat their meat or who eat crops that have been fertilized by the livestock. The good news is that the Food and Drug Administration is working to focus antibiotic use on bacterial infections and regulate its use in livestock. Continue reading

Staying hydrated vital to health

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

While there is a debate about the health benefits of red or white wine, which I will cover in next week’s column, there is no debate among health care experts about the benefits of water. In fact, most of us don’t take in enough.

I recently picked up a copy of a complimentary journal called Bay Area Health and Wellness. It is free by calling 832-323-3020 or you can get if online at www.txhwmagazines.com. It’s user-friendly, evidence-based, and a practical source for health information.

An article called Sip on This! by Darlene Staheli, a health coach, particularly intrigued me. Reading it while sweating between sets on the weight machines, I realized I was thirsty. Off to the water fountain for a much-needed rehydration.

We all need a regular, abundant supply of water to keep our tissues and organs moistened and optimally functioning, to remove waste, to replace fluids lost in respiration and sweat. A rough guideline is to drink at least a ½ ounce of water for each pound of our body weight daily. According to the Institute of Medicine, an adequate liquid intake for men is roughly 13 cups a day and about 9 cups for women. Drinking when you feel thirsty and drinking beverages with meals is good common sense and will usually be a good start. Exercising vigorously obviously increases our need for fluids. Continue reading

Psychobiotics

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

By now, you have heard about probiotics, the healthy bacteria in our system that help maintain our health. This six pound mass of microscopic organisms are essential to digestion as they help us break down cellulose and other plant and animal matter that our bodies’ can’t digest on their own.

One surprising area of the impact of bacteria and the microbiome that has been recently discovered are the effects of gut bacteria on the brain and on behavior.

Dr. Mark Lyte faced strong headwinds in the research community when he proposed that gut bacteria could affect our moods. Though he was one of the first to advocate the concept of “psychobiotics,” he still advises caution in rushing to overly broad conclusions and therapies until more science is done in the area.

A recent New York Times Magazine synopsized several recent studies done primarily on mice found correlations between their gut bacteria and behavior such as markers of anxiety. Mice are not men but the physiology suggested by these studies was fascinating.

Stressed mice whose gut was infused with certain probiotics acted more relaxed compared to those with usual gut bacterial profiles. They behaved “as if they were on Prozac” according to the researcher, Dr. John Cryan. Continue reading

The many genes of autism

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

In the past decade, autism has garnered a lot of media attention. Lately much of the focus has been on finding the cause. Much is still a mystery, despite confirming that vaccines and parenting are not responsible. Now a new study of twins has given us another clue, revealing that the influence of genetics on the development of autism may be between 56 and 95 percent.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in 68 children have autism, a neurodegenerative disorder that exists on a spectrum, meaning its symptoms and their severity varies tremendously. A hallmark feature of autism is impaired social interaction, noticeable even in babies. Those with autism find it difficult to interpret what others are thinking or feeling because they miss the social clues most take for granted. Other symptoms can include repetitive movements such as spinning or rocking, speech delays and self-destructive behaviors. Children with autism can also have a variety of other conditions including epilepsy, Tourette’s syndrome, learning disabilities and attention deficit disorder. Continue reading