Ten enlightened medical studies of 2013: Wellness to share - KMSP-TV

Ten enlightened medical studies of 2013: Wellness messages to share

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By Joel K. Kahn, MD

I hear in my kundalini yoga practice that the Age of Aquarius arrived in 2012 bringing increased attention to love, brotherhood, unity and integrity.  In some ways there does seem to be a recent increase in a discussion of preserving the environment, food quality, animal rights, yoga and meditation, and equality of gender and sexual orientation.

Even the somewhat stodgy medical community seems to becoming aware that another pill for another ill, or said another way, to cut is to cure, is an older model needing replacement with emphasis on healthy lifestyle messages. In that vein, there were several studies of note this past year that are worth highlighting.

1. CSPI downgrades Splenda to a caution rating. The Center for Science in Public Interest plays a role as a watchdog on health issues. Based on an Italian study in mice showing increasing ingestion of Splenda (sucralose) linked to an increased risk of leukemia, Splenda was downgraded in June to a caution rating. It joined saccharin, aspartame and acesulfame as products to avoid, and rebiana as safe.  

2. Healthy lifestyle lengthens telomeres. Dr. Dean Ornish and UCSF researchers examined telomere length in2 groups of men with low grade prostate cancer. The group following the Ornish program (plant based very low fat diet, walking, stress reduction, group support) demonstrated a lengthening of telomeres over a 5 year span, associated with extended lifespans while the control group had the more typical shortening of telomere length.

3. Exercise as effective as medication. Researchers at the London School of Economics analyzed data from trials performed in over 300,000 persons. They found that regular exercise and prescription drugs were equally effective in promoting health in persons with heart disease and diabetes. While the average number on prescriptions for these patients is over 10 a year, less than a third meet exercise guidelines.

4. Exercise may prevent neurologic disease. Exercise is frequently recommended as a brain healthy activity but the mechanism was not known.  Scientists at the Harvard Medical School reported in studies in mice that exercise boosted a muscle protein PGC 1 alpha which released a brain protective protein, BDNF, in the hippocampus. This elegant science is the first glimpse of what pathways activated during exercise may protect the brain.

5. An apple equals a statin. Statisticians in England used modeling to ask the question if the choice was to have everyone over age 50 in England begin a statin cholesterol lowering pill or eat a daily apple, what would bring more benefit?  The researchers published their report demonstrating that the gain would equal with either plan. The power of whole foods encompassing thousands of chemicals and fiber remains an underused miracle for health.

6. Meditation reduces inflammatory gene activity. The mechanism by which meditative practices promote wellness, and even have the ability to reduce death rates in heart patients, was not known. Doctors at the University of Wisconsin measured levels of gene activity after 8 hours of meditation and showed that the production of gene products specifically associated with inflammation dropped.

7. Whole fruit, not juices, reduce diabetes.  Three large nutrition studies were combined to provide data on over 180,000 persons as to their risk of developing diabetes.  Three or more servings a week of blueberries, grapes, pears, apples and raisins reduced the risk of diabetes while fruit juices actually increased the risk.

8. Oreos and cocaine similar to rats. Students at Connecticut College used Oreos as a model of high fat, high sugar foods and found that rats preferred Oreos over rice cakes and demonstrated similar behavior as when cocaine, not Oreos, where provided. Oreos actually stimulated more neurons than the opiod.

9. Breakfast and improved heart health. The Harvard School of Public Health studied data from 26,000 healthy men followed for 16 years.  The risk of heart attack or death increased by 27% amongst those skipping breakfast.  Men skipping breakfast tended to also exercise less, smoke and work more, and remain single and it remains unclear if the breakfast alone was to blame.  Men eating late at night also suffered more heart disease than those that did not.

10. Stop sitting to beat diabetes. In England an analysis of persons at risk for diabetes compared formal gym time to the time spent sitting during the week. The amount of time sitting was actually a stronger factor and reducing sitting by 90 minutes a day was recommended to reduce the risk of progressing to diabetes. Other studies this year linked sitting to cancer and heart disease.

While the media may hunger for a new sensational health story a day that is the new great thing, this year's medical research reinforces age old lessons: eat high quality plant based foods as your core nutrition, avoid toxins, move your body as much as possible, and recognize the role of stress in disease while managing it with mind-body practices like yoga and meditation.  And don't smoke.  Once again we learn that health does not happen in a doctor's office but where we work, live, play and pray.  Wishing you a healthy and active 2014.

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