The Year in Review
For many people, good health involves natural healing and supplements. Research studies show the benefits of healthy foods, supplements, and exercise.
At alive, we’ve always believed that once we take genetic ?and environmental factors out of the equation, natural health and wellness is the most important key to a successful, long life. We’ve been engaging readers with this belief for more than 35 years.
Now it seems that science is verifying what we, at alive, believe. Over the course of the last 12 months, we’ve seen countless research-based studies providing more good news about the potential long-term success of a natural health and wellness lifestyle.
Some of the news is brand new and the result of detailed studies into specific heath concerns. Other news comes to us after scientists have culled the key components of numerous studies and highlighted their common findings. Either way, 2010 gave us a lot to chew on when it comes to advancing the pursuit of a long, healthy, and natural life.
Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia are often the biggest concerns for an aging population. We now know that the reduction in mind power that these diseases bring should not be considered a natural part of aging. Some simple options exist to help us avoid declining mental power.
Vitamin D The sunshine vitamin really matters. Recent reports indicate that those who are deficient in vitamin D are 60 percent more likely to experience declines in thinking, learning, and memory over a six-year period. Recommended dosages vary, and speaking with your health care practitioner can help determine the right dosage for you.
Exercise Exercise at any age can help to improve memory. Not only does staying active reduce factors of cognitive impairment (such as type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and obesity), but exercise also contributes to the growth of new cells in the area of the brain linked to memory.
Food The Mediterranean diet—a diet rich in tomatoes, dark and green leafy vegetables, cruciferous vegetables, fruits, nuts, fish, poultry, and extra-virgin olive oil—can help reduce the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease by 38 percent. Eating less red meat, organ meat, and high-fat dairy products is also helpful.
Arthritis is a catch-all term that encompasses more than 100 rheumatic diseases including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis. While these diseases are both complex and difficult to manage, certain natural approaches have seen impressive results.
Fish oil Inflammation in the joint linings is a key symptom of rheumatoid arthritis. Recent studies suggest that fish oils may become a new treatment option for this disease. It appears that our bodies convert a specific ingredient in fish oil to a chemical called Resolvin D2 (RvD2), which reduces inflammation without suppressing the immune system.
Tai chi A recent study of seniors with osteoarthritis-affected knees found that just 12 weeks of tai chi can significantly reduce pain. Seniors who practised tai chi at least twice a week enjoyed improved physical function, overall health status, and quality of life.
While the complicated genetic and environmental issues associated with cancer can be difficult or impossible to control, we can make a difference to our chances of avoiding this disease by making significant lifestyle changes.
Movement Three to six hours of walking every week can help prevent prostate cancer. Men who walk up to six hours each week are 86 percent less likely to develop an aggressive form of this cancer. Men who exercise moderately can reduce the risk by two-thirds.
Fish oil Fish oil is again in the nutritional spotlight—this time for breast cancer. A 32 percent reduction in the most common form of breast cancer was observed in postmenopausal women who regularly took fish oil supplements. Researchers suggest the high levels of omega-3 in fish oil supplements may be the trigger for the reduction.
Folic acid A recent study showed promise for folic acid supplementation. It was associated with a reduction in the recurrence of colon polyps, which can turn into cancerous tumours.
Green tea Drinking five cups of green tea every day has been shown to lower the risk for certain blood cancers. As well, drinking green tea has been associated with a reduced risk of lung cancer—just one cup a day can reduce the risk by 5 to 12 times.
Currently, more than 3 million Canadians are battling diabetes, and the numbers are set to increase dramatically if a solution isn’t found. Thankfully, the most prevalent version of the disease—type 2 diabetes—is preventable in about 90 percent of cases with some simple lifestyle changes.
Fibre We all need between 21 and 38 g of fibre every day. Unfortunately, most of us eat just half that amount. Fibre helps the body control glucose levels. We can increase our intake by eating whole grain breads and pastas, brown rice, green leafy vegetables, and legumes (which pack a whopping 5 to 8 g of fibre per half-cup serving).
Cinnamon This common household spice has seen much positive press this year. The common form of cinnamon, (Cinnamomum cassia), taken in dosages of 1 g, 3 g, or 6 g, helped diabetic patients to reduce their levels of fasting glucose, triglycerides, LDL (bad) cholesterol,and total cholesterol levels. While the effects were modest, combined with other lifestyle changes, cinnamon could be a simple addition to the diabetes-defending arsenal.
Activity Type 2 diabetes is clearly associated with abdominal fat. Fat cells (in particular those around the middle) secrete a number of chemicals that impair the body’s ability to use sugar and interfere with insulin production. Engaging in twice weekly resistance training can provide a significant improvement in insulin sensitivity, levels of fasting glucose, and decreasing belly fat.
Heart disease, like diabetes, is a manageable and often avoidable concern. Unfortunately, many of us choose to ignore the simple but necessary lifestyle fixes, with the end result that more than 70,000 heart attacks occur in Canada each year. Show your heart some love, and avoid becoming a statistic.
Diet The Mediterranean diet has also been shown to make a difference in heart health. Avoiding overconsumption of processed foods and simple carbo-hydrates can also assist in keeping the heart strong.
Activity Regular activity is a key component of avoiding heart disease. Recently, researchers looked at women who walked at a brisk pace for at least two hours a week. The results suggested that brisk walking could reduce the risk of stroke by 30 percent. In another study researchers advised us to get off the sofa and turn off the TV. Just four hours a day of sitting while watching television can lead to an 80 percent higher risk of cardiovascular-related death.
Smoking This advice is as simple as it gets: if you smoke, stop! While men and women are both putting their health at risk by smoking, recent studies suggest that women are more susceptible to the effects of smoking. Smoking causes unwanted changes in our body’s DNA and robs the body of important disease-fighting nutrients.
CoQ10 Coenzyme Q10 (CoQ10) has been well studied for its effect on cardiac health. Researchers believe it has the power to reduce the formation of artery-blocking plaques and to increase energy delivery to the heart muscle.
Fish oil Basking in the limelight again, fish oil may reduce the risk of coronary heart disease by 50 percent when taken at doses of 240 mg per day. If you’d rather get your omega-3s in their raw form, try eating fatty fish at least once a week. A recent study suggested that women who ate fatty fish once or twice a week enjoyed lower rates of hospitalization for heart failure.
The immune system is our first line of defence against disease. It controls how the body creates white blood cells to help fight infectious agents. A well-balanced, strong immune system is beneficial no matter what our age. Clearly, our immune system responds well to a consistent healthy intake of nutrients and to regular levels of exercise. There is a number of interesting ways we can strengthen our immunity.
Vitamin C White blood cells need vitamin C in order to fight infection. Since the body cannot create vitamin C, we must get our daily requirement from diet and supplementation. The average adult needs about 2,000 mg daily—depending on factors such as smoking, stress, and exposure to toxins. Vitamin C can also help with wound healing, and the reduction of bad cholesterol and common cold symptoms.
Vitamin D Vitamin D has recently been promoted as the favourite vitamin that we are likely not getting enough of. Researchers suggest that vitamin D plays a role in many specific conditions and also in the effective functioning of the immune system. The vitamin seems to have an ability to regulate our innate antibacterial response. Without adequate levels, we may not be fully armed to mount an adequate defence against infection and disease. Most adults should take up to 1,000 IU per day.
Probiotics These friendly bacteria that reside in the gut are believed to play an important role in regulating the immune system. A recent review stated that “these bacteria are integral to the regulation of the immune system, protection of the body from infection, and maintenance of homeostasis.”
How we feel, the state of our mental well-being, has a major impact on how we approach each day. Unfortunately, millions of Canadians suffer from depression and other mood disorders, and treatment with pharmaceutical drug treatments is on a steep rise. But there are some natural remedies and solutions to be considered.
Exercise Water and blue sky can impact our mental health. Just five minutes spent exercising in nature—walking, gardening, cycling, or your favourite outdoor activity—can improve mood and increase a sense of well-being.
Socialize We are a social species, so it’s not surprising that loneliness has been associated with depression. Not having an active social life has also been linked to diminished immunity, cardiovascular risk, obesity, and alcoholism. We can elevate our mood by fostering connections: talk to neighbours, engage others at the grocery store, get involved in the community—and feel better.
5-HTP 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) is a precursor to serotonin, a chemical in the brain responsible for balancing mood, sleep, and hunger. Supplementation with 5-HTP can help elevate serotonin levels. If you are considering taking 5-HTP, it is important to discuss it with your health care practitioner first to ensure you receive the proper dose and to avoid potential drug interactions.
St. John’s wort A well-known natural treatment for depression, St. John’s wort may also be helpful for those suffering with seasonal affective disorder (SAD). When St. John’s wort was taken over a period of 4 to 6 weeks, it helped to improve symptoms of depression, anxiety, and insomnia in patients with SAD. As with 5-HTP, consult your health care practitioner first to ensure against possible drug interactions.