Obesity and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Being obese makes life more difficult, that’s for sure.  Type II diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and digestive issues plague the obese without respite. Now comes research that indicates that obesity may play a role in rheumatoid arthritis. Here’s what you should know.

Rheumatoid arthritis causes painful swelling in joints, especially in fingers. It is an autoimmune disease, which means that the body mistakenly attacks the joint tissues, leading to inflammation and pain. That makes it different from osteoarthritis, which is caused by friction in the joint from normal activity, sort of a “wear and tear” disease.

Dr. Eric Matteson is a rheumatologist at the Mayo Clinic. He led a research study that investigated a possible connection between obesity and rheumatoid arthritis. His theory was that estrogen secreted by fat cells triggered, or helped trigger, the autoimmune response that was the foundation of rheumatoid arthritis. This was supported by the accepted observation that women are twice as likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis as men.

The research followed 813 patients with rheumatoid arthritis and 813 people without. Both groups provided their medical histories for examination.  They attempted to adjust the data to exclude other health factors, such as smoking cigarettes. The study found that people who were obese were 25% more likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis than people who were not obese.

So, does this mean that losing weight will cure rheumatoid arthritis? Not really, unfortunately. There is anecdotal evidence that losing a substantial amount of weight, if obese, can reduce your joint inflammation, but medical research is not there yet.  But given the broad range of medical issues that can improve when dropping from obesity to a normal weight, why not give it a try?

Chocolate For Your Good Health

Chocolate has been getting a lot of attention lately from doctors, fitness experts and athletes. It is not only delicious but it also seems to deliver major heart health benefits. Could Godiva become tax deductible?

The latest good news comes from a report published in the British Medical Journal. Researchers from Great Britain and Columbia studied previous medical studies that involved chocolate and cardiovascular health. They reviewed the results of seven studies, comprising over 114,000 participants. They were able to correlate chocolate consumption with changes in long-term health.

Cardiovascular diseases are a leading cause of adult death. Metabolic syndrome, a catch-all term for cardiovascular diseases and type II diabetes, is thought to affect about 20% of adults today-+. Many of the underlying drivers for metabolic syndrome are related to lifestyle factors, such as diet and exercise. Clearly, anything that can improve these statistics is a good thing.

Since “we are what we eat” it makes sense to study the impact of various foods on our health. This study focused on chocolate consumption, and attempted to eliminate other factors such as exercise, smoking and other diet differences.

The analysis separated the study participants into low and high chocolate consumption groups. The incidence of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, coronary heart disease, and stroke was collected for these two groups. The differences between the two groups were attributed to chocolate consumption.

The group that ate a higher level of chocolate enjoyed a 33% lower risk of cardio-metabolic disorders. That broke down as a 37% reduction in cardiovascular disease, a 31$ reduction in type II diabetes and a 29% reduction in stroke. The only area that was studied that did not show an improvement was in heart failure.

This was not a perfect study. There has not yet been a classic, double-blind study, where participants and researchers do not know which pills contain chocolate and which pills contain a placebo. How would you make a chocolate placebo, and would it be delicious? Without this level of rigor, scientists are cautious when they report their results.

Eating chocolate also has some down side. Eating too much chocolate can cause weight gain, a key driver for metabolic syndrome. Kind of ironic, isn’t it? Moderation seems to be the key, striking the balance between getting enough chocolate to help out without eating so much that you hurt yourself.

So, is chocolate the answer? Cocoa products have been eaten for hundreds of years, so it is unlikely that a new dangerous side effect will be discovered. This study reinforces other research that seems to indicate that chocolate in moderation has health benefits. Plus, it is delicious. Maybe you should drizzle some over your fresh fruits at dinner tonight. It can’t hurt!

How To Pick The Perfect Diet

Are you ready to lose some weight but baffled by the hundreds (thousands?) of diets in the press? Which diet fits your individual goals, interests and lifestyle? Which diets allow your precious carbs or fit a vegetarian eating preference? Certainly, keeping up to date with this blog can help, but not there’s a quick and easy way to sift through all the hype and narrow your search down to a Top 5. Meet PickMyDiet.com!

With hundreds of diet books on the market and more being published every week, it seems that last year’s diets can’t possibly be worth anything. Yet many of the tried and true diets are helping people lose weight every month. Each diet has its own point of view, strengths, weaknesses and personality, but how can you easily learn about them?

The WannaBuddy blog has published brief overviews of many popular diets, which hopefully have helped people make informed choices. That still leaves the prospective dieter to do a lot of digging to compare and rate the various diets, all before taking on the real work of the chosen diet.

This situation led to the creation of PickMyDiet.com. The site helps to rate all of the diets in the WannaBuddy database, based on what is important to you. After you set your priorities, must have’s and deal breakers, PickMyDiet sorts through the diet database and displays the top five diets for you. Each diet has a brief description, plus a link that lets you click through to the appropriate WannaBuddy blog posting. Each diet also has Thumbs Up, Thumbs Down and Comments features to let you see how other visitors feel.

Once you have done your homework and chosen a diet, the PickMyDiet site can also help you track your eating and exercise. You can enter daily meals and workouts, and the site will graph your calorie intake and consumption. This can be a strong motivator and help you visualize your progress.

So what are you waiting for? PickMyDiet can help you select the diet that’s perfect for you. Once you start your diet, it can track your calories eaten and your calories burned. All that’s left is to find a dietbuddy and get back into shape!

The Joel Fuhrman Diet

Dr. Joel Fuhrman is a regular on the Dr. Oz Show. He is an expert on nutrition and weight loss, with numerous books (and diets) to his credit. His latest diet update promises to let you lose 10 pounds in 7 days, without feeling hungry or exercising! This 7 Day Crash Diet is the first of its kind to pass muster with Dr. Oz.

Dr. Fuhrman believes that our daily diet should have three characteristics. First, is should have a high level on micronutrients (think vitamins and minerals) per calorie. That means avoiding “empty calories” that taste delicious but don’t contribute to your nutrition.

Second, our food should contain plenty of macronutrients (these are complex carbs, proteins, and healthy fats) without too many calories. Again, avoiding foods with little nutritive value and concentrating on getting what you need without extra calories.

Finally, our food should avoid or limit “toxic” substances. These are substances that can be harmful to us, if eaten in quantity, like salt, trans-fats or nitrates.

In his book, “Eat To Live” Dr. Fuhrman proposes a new way of thinking about dieting. Following his “90/10” rule, about 90% of our plate should be covered by vegetables, especially the dark green, leafy kind like spinach. Only 10% of our plate should have meat and dairy. This represents quite a shift from the typical American dinner plate.

Another feature of the Joel Fuhrman diet approach is the focus on antioxidants from berries. Dr. Fuhrman recommends eating a lot of blueberries, strawberries and raspberries. His breakfast menus feature oatmeal (great for fiber) topped with the berries of your choice.

Dr. Fuhrman is also a fan of beans. Beans have a lot of fiber and make you feel full quickly. They also suppress insulin secretion, which can help avoid those nasty insulin spikes that can drive fat cell production and make you hungry again a half hour after you eat. Beans can also substitute for meat, or at least stretch out ground meat to reduce the overall contribution of meat to your diet.

By following the Joel Fuhrman diet, your food priorities change dramatically. Now, food is evaluated based on its nutrition density, the nutritive value per calorie consumed. By eating healthy, nutritious foods that are relatively low in calories, you can lose weight and enjoy much better health. Grab yourself a diet buddy and give it a try!

Sugar Makes You Stupid?

So sugar is back in the spotlight again. More specifically, high fructose corn syrup is in the cross-hairs. This ubiquitous food additive bears little resemblance to corn, or any vegetable, and is now causing widespread stupidity in laboratory rats.

Dr. Fernando Gomez-Pinilla, of UCLA has released the results of his research on the effect of high fructose corn syrup on rat brain function. This is relevant because high fructose corn syrup is found in everything from soft drinks to potato chips. The average American eats about 35 pounds of the stuff every year, which may explain reality television.

Dr. Gomez-Pinilla, in his paper published in the Journal of Physiology, reports that a diet high in high fructose corn syrup can cause long term problems with the brain’s ability to learn and remember new information.  In fact, the diminished brain function began within six weeks.

It is tough to get a rat to take a college entrance exam, so they used mazes to test their intelligence. The rats were divided into two groups. Both groups were trained to navigate the maze, following visual clues. One group was fed a diet of high fructose corn syrup and omega-3 fatty acids. The other group was fed high fructose corn syrup but no omega-3 fatty acids.

After six weeks, the rats were timed as they made their way through the maze again. The group that received omega-3 fatty acids performed much better than the rats that did not. This was a real triumph for fatty acids!

Dr. Gomez-Pinilla theorizes that the high fructose corn syrup caused insulin resistance in the rats, which hurts the brain cells. He believes that insulin plays a critical role in memory and learning. The omega-3 fatty acids seem to protect the brain from this insulin resistance damage, allowing the rats to retain their understanding of their maze clues.

So what does this mean for us humans? Certainly living our lives without high fructose corn syrup would be nice, but hardly practical for most of us. This is yet another reason to eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, like fish. Failing that, there are many multivitamins that contain an ample dose of omega-3s to get you through your daily maze!

The Vitamin D Diet

Vitamin D has been getting more respect lately. Many people are discovering that a deficiency in vitamin D has been causing aches and pains, especially with their joints and bones. Now there is a diet specifically crafted around making sure that you are getting all the vitamin D you deserve.

Most of us who are interested in dieting are most anxious to lose weight around our middle. The vitamin D diet focuses exactly there: on the stomach. The tool? A super dose of vitamin D in every meal.

The vitamin D diet is broken down into phases. Phase one is called the 7-day speed melt. As you might expect, during this initial week, you will lose weight fast. The diet’s author, Alisa Bowman, suggests that you can lose 7 pounds in 7 days. That’s a pretty aggressive goal, somewhat beyond what’s considered safe by the U.S. government, but be your own judge.

Vitamin D Sources
The second phase of the vitamin D diet is called the 4-week fat melt. The focus on vitamin D continues with every meal, but the calorie intake expands and the variety improves.

Vitamin D is not found in many foods. Swordfish, salmon, mackerel and tuna are pretty much the only naturally-occurring sources if you exclude cod liver oil, and believe me, I DO exclude cod liver oil! That means that we depend on fortified foods to get our dietary vitamin D. Orange juice and milk are typically fortified with vitamin D, as are many yogurts and margarines. Still, a multivitamin is your best bet for ensuring adequate supplies of vitamin D in your diet.

The other (more fun) way to get vitamin D is to be in the sunshine. A mere 10 minutes in the sun without sunblock can provide your vitamin D for the day. That’s great news for San Franciscans but not so great for Clevelanders. There’s always the multivitamins and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame strategy, guys.

The vitamin D diet book also has menus for Summer and Winter maintenance plans, so you can vary your diet as the seasons progress. These maintenance plans stress variety and little splurges, like snacks and treats (think merlot) that can help you stay on track.

Can the vitamin D diet help you to lose weight? Many people are walking around with a vitamin D deficiency and don’t know it, so the diet can really help them. For the rest of us, this is a quick lose plan that includes a diet-for-life maintenance so that you don’t just add the lost weight next month.

Have you tried this diet? Click on the Comment button and tell us your tale!

Saturated Fat Makes Your Brain Age Faster

Saturated fat needs a better publicist. Already seen as the villain for its role in “bad” cholesterol, now it is taking a beating for a suspected link to accelerating brain aging. And once again, those wonderful monounsaturated fats get all the glory for slowing brain aging.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital studied more than 6,000 women over 65 for a period of five years. Their results were recently published in the Annals of Neurology. The study attempted to related the type of fat intake to brain aging, using self-reported diet information and cognitive function tests.

The Good Fats
Some types of fat didn’t seem to affect the rate of brain aging at all. Total fat intake seemed harmless, as did eating polyunsaturated fats. Even the dreaded trans fats seemed to have no effect on how quickly the brain aged.

Women who ate a lot of saturated fat (red meat, cheese, most fried foods) had brains that functioned 5 or 6 years older than their actual age, based on the cognitive function tests. Women who ate a lot of monounsaturated fat (think olive oil and avocados) had brains that functioned 6 or 7 years younger than their actual age.

This research merely observed a correlation between fat intake and brain age. There was no attempt to put women into balanced groups with specific dietary instructions. There were other differences between the women in the study, such as tobacco and alcohol use, overall health, and other dietary differences. It may turn out that people who eat monounsaturated fats also eat something else that is actually responsible for slowing brain aging. The researchers were quick to point out that more study is warranted.

So what can you do to keep your brain young? It does seem that saturated fats are bad for your brain, just as they are bad for your heart, lungs and other organs. Monounsaturated fats are good for your brain, and the rest of your body.

The study seems to indicate that a small change in eating habits can pay big dividends in brain age. A 5% shift in fats calories from saturated fat to monounsaturated fat appears to deliver a 50% improvement in brain aging. Seems like a good time for a big bowl of guacamole!