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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Influenza Vaccine Ineffective For Elderly

Experts estimate that adults over the age of 70 account for approximately 75 percent of all flu deaths. Many elderly people are strongly encouraged to get the flu vaccine to prevent the illness and its complications: pneumonia, hospitalization and death. But influenza immunization has not been effective at reducing risk, nor has it been thoroughly tested in placebo-controlled clinical trials.

In one study, published in The Lancet, researchers in Seattle reviewed medical charts of more than 3500 seniors over three influenza seasons. Participants were between the ages of 65 and 94 years. Researchers found that factors unrelated to the flu, such as history of smoking, frailty, and pre-existing conditions like heart and lung disease, skewed results of previous studies and overestimated the benefits of immunization.

Another study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, reported that while the number of adults aged 65 years and older who received the flu vaccine increased from 15 to 20 percent before 1980 to 65 percent in 2001, there was no reduction in the number of flu-related deaths. In fact, there were more. The vaccine was not protective.

Instead of influenza immunization, older adults should reduce their risk of catching the flu by washing their hands frequently, getting plenty of sleep, and avoiding people with upper respiratory infections. Eating a nutritious diet, optimizing digestion, and engaging in regular physical activity are also essential for maintaining a healthy immune system.

References

Jackson ML et al. Influenza vaccination and risk of community-acquired pneumonia in immunocompetent elderly people: a population-based, nested case-control study. The Lancet, 372(9636):398-405, August 2008.

Simonsen L et al. Impact of influenza vaccination on seasonal morbidity in the US elderly population. Archives of Internal Medicine, 165:265-272, February 2005.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Is Organic Food Healthier?


The Annals of Internal Medicine recently published a review from Stanford University comparing organic foods to conventional foods. Media coverage of this study has been stunningly misleading with reports that organic foods are not healthier than conventional foods.

This isn't what the study says at all.

It's true that the amounts of vitamins and minerals weren't significantly different between the organic and conventional foods, but nutrients have nothing to do with whether foods are organic or not. Nutritional content has to do with the environment plants grow in.

Foods grown in soil that is rich in nutrients will be naturally rich in nutrients, whether or not they're sprayed with pesticides. Foods grown in nutrient-poor soil will be poor sources of nutrients, whether they're sprayed with pesticides or not.

So organic foods may not always be more nutritious than conventional foods but that doesn't mean they aren't healthier.

They are healthier. Even the Stanford researchers concluded that "Consumption of organic foods may reduce exposure to pesticide residues and antibiotic-resistant bacteria."

According to a report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the National Institutes of Health, and the National Cancer Institute, pesticides approved by the Environmental Protection Agency have been linked to several kinds of cancer including "brain/central nervous system, breast, colon, lung, ovarian, pancreatic, kidney, testicular, and stomach cancers, as well as Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, multiple myeloma, and soft tissue sarcoma" (connective tissue cancer).

Eating organic food reduces our exposure to cancer-causing pesticides and superbugs, and it decreases our risk of developing cancer and life-threatening infections.

Organic foods have other advantages too:
  • They don't contain genetically modified organisms
  • They don't contain growth hormones or sex hormones like estrogen, progesterone, and/or testosterone
  • They don't come from animals treated with antibiotics or other medications commonly given to livestock including anti-inflammatory drugs, anti-parasitic medications, cardiac stimulant drugs, and tranquilizers
  • Organic farming techniques conserve water and topsoil, improve soil quality, and strengthen biodiversity without polluting the environment 

So keep buying organic, especially when it matters most. Prioritize animal products because they are near the top of the food chain. This includes meat, seafood, eggs, and dairy products.

Also avoid the Dirty Dozen Plus most contaminated fruits and vegetables if they're not organic: apples, celery, bell peppers, peaches, strawberries, nectarines, grapes, spinach, lettuce, cucumbers, blueberries, potatoes, green beans, and leafy greens including kale and collard greens.

References:

Leffall LD, Kripke ML et al. Reducing environmental cancer risk: what we can do now. 2008–2009 Annual Report, President’s Cancer Panel. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. April 2010, p. 45.

Smith-Spangler C. et al. 2012. Are organic foods safer or healthier than conventional alternatives?: a systematic review. Annals of Internal Medicine 157(5):348-66.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Campfire Cooking


School may have started but summer isn't over yet.
(The autumnal equinox is on September 22nd this year.)

Late summer and early fall are some of the best times to enjoy the great outdoors. There are fewer mosquitoes, the sun is less intense, and the weather is mild. Day are still warm but no longer hot and humid, and nights are cooler and more comfortable, sometimes even a bit chilly. Conditions are perfect for a campfire.

Cooking over a campfire isn't as convenient as cooking at home, but it can be just as fun if you get organized and plan meals ahead.

My friend Keely, who I call the Campfire Gourmet, prepares the most impressive meals in the middle of nature. It's always such a pleasure to camp with her. Left to my own devices, I usually keep things simple.

My camping staples include lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, a jar of home-made vinaigrette, and foods that don't have to be kept cold or require cooking before eating like hard boiled eggs (with a little sea salt), tinned fish, and Lara bars.

Lunch in the Redwoods

I do like a fresh, hot meal at night when I'm camping. I usually pack proteins like wild salmon and pasture-raised sausage frozen inside a cooler. They won't thaw in time for the first dinner, so I also pack some food pouches prepared ahead of time that I can cook with very little effort. It's especially welcome after a long journey.

Recently I camped in the California Redwoods with my friend Juliah and we made Aromatic Salmon Pouches for dinner and Dark Chocolate Bananas for dessert. It's easy to do: Assemble them before you leave home, then nestle them in some red hot campfire coals about 10 minutes before you're ready to eat them.

See recipe: Aromatic Salmon Pouches


See recipe: Dark Chocolate Bananas



Sunday, September 9, 2012

Whole Foods and Strong Bones

The Whole-Food Guide to Strong Bones offers
a holistic approach to strengthening bones and rebuilding bone mass. Author Annemarie Colbin explains why bones need more than calcium and how diet can help (leafy greens top the list on
page 113).

She also offers recipes using the foods she recommends, including tofu, tempeh, seaweeds, fish with edible bones, and home-made soup stocks. Colbin even includes a section of Recipes Featuring Healthy Fats and explains how to make your own ghee.

I'm looking forward to making the Five Hour Fish Stew (with ginger and miso) on page 223.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Airplane and Office Stretches


Being sedentary for extended periods of time increases the risk of blood clots. Whether you're working in an office, riding on a train, or flying off into the sunset, increase circulation throughout your body, relieve muscle tension, and help prevent blood clots by taking time to do these simple stretches every hour.

Most of these activities can be done in a seated position but I've included some standing stretches as well. Perform each activity slowly and gradually, and do not bounce while you stretch. Hold each position for 15 seconds.

Neck Stretches
  • Gently rotate your head from side, looking over your right shoulder, then over your left shoulder. 
  • While looking at your right shoulder, move your left ear closer to your chest.
  • While looking at your left shoulder, move your right ear closer to your chest. 
  • Flex and extend your neck, looking up, then down.

Shoulder Rolls
  • Gently roll your shoulders backward, making circles in the air.
  • Gently roll your shoulders forward.

Shoulder Stretch
  • Clasp your hands behind your head and gently extend your elbows back as far as they will go.

Arm Rotations
  • Rotate your wrists in a clockwise direction, drawing circles in the air with your finger tips, then in a counter-clockwise direction. 
  • Rotate your elbows in a clockwise direction, drawing circles in the air with your hands, then in a counter-clockwise direction. 
  • Rotate your arms at the shoulders in a clockwise direction, drawing larger circles in the air with your hands (or with your elbows if you don't have room to extend your arms). Repeat in the counter-clockwise direction.

Arm Stretches
  • Raise your right arm above your head. Bend your elbow, bringing your right hand toward your right shoulder. Place your left hand on your right elbow and gently pull it toward your head. Repeat with the left arm.
  • Clasp your hands together and turn them inside out in front of you with your palms facing outward. Extend your arms in front of you as far as possible, pushing your shoulders forward, rounding your back, and pulling your belly button in toward your spine. 

Torso Rotations
  • In a standing position, place your hands on your hips. Keep your shoulders and feet stationary while you and rotate your hips clockwise, bending at the waist and drawing circles in the air with your hips. 
  • Repeat in the counter-clockwise direction.

Torso Stretches
  • Clasp your hands, palms facing outward, and extend your arms above your head. Reach as high as possible, lifting your shoulders up and lengthening your spine. Then gently lean back, extending your arms back as far back as comfortably possible and arching your back until feel the stretch in your abdomen.
  • In a seated position, cross your right knee over your left leg. Place your left hand on your right knee. Gently rotate your shoulders to the right and your hips to the left. Repeat on the other side.

Lower Back Stretch
  • In a seated position with your knees shoulder-width apart, bend forward and stretch your arms out in front of you and toward the floor, reaching as far out as possible. 
  • In a standing position, bend at the waist and reach for the ground, stretching your arms out as far as possible. 
  • Remain in the same position while you reach to the right, extending your arms out as far as possible until you feel the stretch in your left hip. Then reach to the left, extending your arms out as far as possible until you feel the stretch in your right hip.

Leg Rotations
  • In a seated position, lift your right leg off the floor and rotate your foot, drawing circles with your big toe in the air in a clockwise direction. Repeat in the counter-clockwise direction. 
  • Keep your thigh as still as possible and rotate your right knee, drawing circles with your heel in a clockwise direction. Repeat in the counter-clockwise direction. 
  • In a standing position, keep your leg straight and draw circles with your foot in a clockwise direction. Repeat in the counter-clockwise direction. 
  • Repeat on the left side.

Leg Stretches
  • In a standing position, lean forward slightly and hang on to a solid surface with both hands. Extend your right foot back, straighten your leg, and lean forward until you feel the stretch in the back of your leg. 
  • Bend your knee until you feel the stretch in the lower part of your calf muscle. 
  • Return to an upright position and stand with your feet shoulder-width apart. Keep your right leg straight and lean to the left, bending your left knee, until you feel the stretch inside your right thigh. 
  • Grasp your right foot with your right hand behind your back and gently pull until you feel the stretch in the front of your right thigh. 
  • Repeat with the left leg.