The Reality of Difficult Childbirth

Preparing for labor

They don’t call it labor because it’s easy. Labor is a difficult process and it can be very painful. But, every woman is different in how they experience the pain. Some bodies progress quickly and easily in childbirth. Some do not. We have to prepare ourselves for all possibilities.

Education is the best way to approach a new and unknown experience. The known is much less fearful than the unknown. And a lack of fear leads to less anxiety. Childbirth classes are a valuable educational tool to learn about the experience ahead and methods of relaxation and pain relief. Some women are able to get through the entire experience without any medications, but for other women, pain medications and epidurals allow them to relax and enjoy the experience.  Ultimately, you may not be able to have a vaginal birth and a Cesarean Section may be necessary.  There is a reason that the maternal and child morbidity are so low in the U.S. compared to third world countries. One in 7 women in the Sudan dies in childbirth. Only 7.7 women per 100,000 die in childbirth in the U.S. Modern medicine allows women to survive situations that they would have surely died from years ago.

Having your baby is worth every bit of the difficulties

The most important thing to remember is why you are there. You are there to have a baby. When all is said and done, once you’ve had the baby, no matter what you had to do to make that happen, you have succeeded! No woman who has had a baby in any way form or fashion should feel like anything other than a hero. As I look at my 3 beautiful children, I know that I accomplished what I went to those hospitals to do. And it was worth every bit of it!

Learn more about childbirth and the resources available at these websites: and Childbirth

Foods That Fight Sickness

Nobody plans to get sick. On the contrary, your efforts to avoid it sometimes seem borderline OCD: Don’t sneeze into your hands, always cook your chicken to exactly 170 degrees, and hose down every germ-carrying preschooler in sight with soap and water. And yet, no matter how many times you gargle with salt before bedtime or coat yourself in antibacterial hand cleanser, now and again the inevitable rumble in your tummy or tickle in your throat hits. Hard. Suddenly, you’re down for the count and up to date on the daytime soaps. What are you doing wrong? Probably nothing. But you can do a few more things right. Certain foods and drinks have a natural immunity boost; to tap their benefits, just open up and say, “Ahh.”

Tea Off Against Colds
Not just any hot tea, though. Chamomile, according to researchers from London’s Imperial College, is the one that’ll help prevent sickness. In a recent study, they found people who drank five cups of the brew a day for 2 weeks had increased blood levels of plant-based compounds called polyphenols, some of which have been associated with increased antibacterial activity. Levels remained high for 2 weeks after subjects stopped drinking the tea, says lead researcher Elaine Holmes, Ph.D. (Bonus: chamomile tea also raised levels of glycine, a mild nerve relaxant and sedative.)

Knock ’em Dead
There’s a killer living in all of us. Known as a macrophage and produced deep in your bone marrow, it’s a white blood cell that roams the body, picking fights with bacteria, viruses, or any other intruders. But it only works if you help it. These killer cells are activated by beta-glucans, a component of fiber foods. The best source? Oats, says David Grotto, R.D., director of nutrition education at the Block Center for Integrative Cancer Care in Evanston, Illinois. So eat your oatmeal. The steel-cut oats, like McCann’s Irish Oatmeal, have double the amount found in the rolled, quick-cooking kind.

Dressing for Success
Eating a salad for lunch is smart. Drowning it in fat-free dressing isn’t. A recent study from Iowa State University found that without dietary fat, your body doesn’t absorb some of the disease-fighting nutrients in vegetables. Researchers fed seven people salad for 12 weeks and tested their blood after each meal. Those who topped their salads with fat-free dressing consistently failed to absorb carotenoids, antioxidants that have been linked to improved immunity. Fat is necessary for the carotenoids to reach the absorptive intestinal cells, says lead researcher Wendy White, Ph.D. Choose dressings with healthy fats from olive or nut oils, such as Many Seeds of Change (available at Whole Foods or in the crunchy section of your neighborhood market) and many Annie’s Naturals dressings. If you’re feeling adventuresome, try making your own. For an Italianate, try 2 or 3 parts extra virgin olive oil to 1 part balsamic vinegar; for something with an Asian influence, go 3 parts sesame oil to 1 part rice wine vinegar.

Fight Bugs this Whey
A shot of whiskey might be one way to feel better, but whey protein is a much more effective immune-boosting cocktail. Whey is rich in an amino acid called cysteine, which converts to glutathione in the body. Glutathione is a potent antioxidant that fortifies cells against bacterial or viral infection. For the highest concentration of protein, try something called powdered whey protein isolate, which is more pure—and more expensive—than concentrate. Fortify your morning smoothie with whey protein powder or try another source: yogurt. The clear liquid that forms on top of most cartons of yogurt is pure whey protein—so don’t drain it off, just stir it back into the yogurt.

Tomato Trumps Chicken
To beat back a cold, you slurp chicken noodle soup. To avoid getting sick in the first place, ladle out some tomato. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 10 subjects ate a tomato-rich diet for 3 weeks, followed by a tomato-free diet for 3 more weeks. While subjects were on the tomato diet, their infection-fighting white blood cells sustained 38 percent less damage from free radicals—atoms in the body that damage and destabilize cells—than when they ate no tomato products. Researchers speculate that the lycopene in tomatoes acts as an antioxidant, helping white blood cells resist the damaging effects of free radicals.

Give Ma Nature a Taste of Her Own Medicine
Butterbur may sound like something that makes you sneeze. But the herbal supplement actually helps you fight allergies. Scottish researchers found that patients with grass and pollen allergies who popped 50 mg of the plant extract twice daily had 13 percent better nasal airflow than those who took a placebo. Another study published in the British Medical Journal reported that butterbur treated seasonal allergies nearly as well as the prescription medication Zyrtec. It’s effective against all symptoms of allergic rhinitis, including sneezing, itching, and conjunctivitis, says Andreas Schapowal, M.D., Ph.D., the author of the study. Butterbur is believed to block leukotriene, a chemical that causes allergic reactions, while at the same time controlling eosinophils, the white blood cells that accumulate when allergic reactions take place, says Dr. Schapowal. What’s more, there’s no drowsy effect with butterbur. You can buy the supplement ($25 for 60 capsules) at most health food stores or at

Down a Sports Drink
Not only will guzzling Gatorade help your body recover from a tough workout, but it may also protect you from the latest strain of the flu. According to a study published in the International Journal of Sport Nutrition, when 10 triathletes drank more than 1 cup of sports drink every 15 minutes during intense exercise, they had significantly better immune response than they did when they drank a placebo.

Wine, then Dine
Drinking wine with your meal, in addition to being good for your heart, may help ward off food poisoning before it happens. Scientists at Oregon State University recently found that wine can put the kibosh on three common food pathogens: E. coli, listeria, and salmonella. In lab studies, the wine’s combination of ethanol, organic acids, and low pH appeared to scramble the bugs’ genetic material. All wines have some effect, say researchers, but reds are the most potent.

Feel the Burn
Several animal and laboratory studies have shown that capsaicin—the compound that gives chili peppers their fire—can help stop sickness before it starts. Mice in one study were given a daily dose of capsaicin and had nearly three times more antibody-producing cells after 3 weeks than those given no capsaicin. More antibodies mean fewer colds and infections. Results of other studies suggest that eating food containing hot components such as capsaicin may improve immune status, says Rina Yu, Ph.D., of the University of Ulsan in South Korea, the lead researcher. The point is, it can’t hurt. At the very least, a dash or two of hot sauce might help flush out some toxins.

Change Your Numbers Game
Losing a little extra baggage will not only reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, but also will help shape up your immune system. Researchers at Tufts University asked a group of slightly overweight people to cut 100 to 200 calories from their daily food intake. The result, in addition to weight loss and a drop in cholesterol counts? Participants boosted their immune system response to disease-causing microorganisms. Researchers aren’t exactly sure why, but speculate that the benefit comes from a combination of effects. One thing is certain: Cutting 200 calories out of your daily diet is easy. At your next restaurant meal, ditch the baked potato with sour cream and order steamed vegetables instead.

Myrrh May Have Health Benefits

Myrrh is a rust-colored resin of certain trees of the Middle East and best known as one of the gifts of the Magi offered to the infant Jesus, along with gold and frankincense (Mt 2:11). A new study published in the International Journal of Food Safety, Nutrition and Public Health has studied the plant material and found it to have cholesterol-lowering properties.

Scientists from King Abd Al-Aziz University in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia studied myrrh, already known to have medicinal properties, including antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects. Historically, the plant resin has been used as a natural remedy for halitosis (bad breath), for treating sore throats and bronchial congestion, as an antiseptic astringent, and for embalming. Even today, it is an ingredient in toothpaste and mouthwash.

Nadia Saleh Al-Amoudi fed laboratory rats a combination of a variety of plant materials, including Commiphara myrrh and measured lipid levels, including total cholesterol, LDL, VLDL, triglycerides and HDL. Similar studies have found that myrrh may reduce total cholesterol from 11 to 32% and triglycerides by 17 to 30%. It may also raise HDL cholesterol.

Myrrh is used frequently in the practice of Ayurveda. The plant, called Daindhava, yields guggulsterones, named after the Indian myrrh, guggul. Guggulsterones are thought to lower blood lipids, including cholesterol. According to animal research, guggulsterone inhibits a gene in liver cells called famesoid X receptor (FXR). This receptor responds to bile acids and affects the absorption of cholesterol. The use of myrrh may inhibit this receptor, causing intestinal cholesterol to be less absorbed, lowering the amount released into the bloodstream.

Myrrh has also been studied as an herbal formula to lower blood sugar levels. Researchers in Kuwait studied myrrh and aloe gums in 1987 and found that they improved glucose tolerance in both normal and diabetic rats.

Scientists from the University of Florence in Italy also tested myrrh on mice as shown to produce analgesic (pain-relieving) effects. The terpene in myrrh affected opioid receptors in the mouse’s brain which influenced pain perception.

Myrrh is used in Traditional Chinese Medicine to treat the heart, liver, and spleen meridians. It is classified as bitter, spicy and neutral in temperature. It is used, along with frankincense, in arthritic conditions. It is also used in the treatment of menstrual problems, as it is thought to be “blood-moving”.

According to the German Commission E, 5-10 drops of the undiluted tincture of myrrh can be used in water as a gargle up to three times daily. Capsules, containing up to 1 gram of resin, or 25 milligrams of guggulsterones, can be taken three times a day for twelve to twenty-four weeks.

The supplement, which can be purchased in the United States either as myrrh extract or guggulipid, should be used under doctor supervision. Raw resin can be toxic and should never be used as a treatment. Common side effects are diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. It is believed safe in pregnancy, but should not be used by persons with liver disease or those with inflammatory bowel disease.

Researchers Discover Way to Reverse Immune System Aging

Researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology have discovered a way to reverse the aging process by removing old B lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell in the vertebrate immune system) from old mice, and forcing the production of young, potent cells to replace them. The findings were reported in the January 2011 issue of the scientific journal “Blood.”

“As with every aging process in the body, it is generally thought that aging of the immune system – including that of the B cell population – is a progressive process that cannot be stopped and/or reversed,” says lead researcher Prof. Doron Melamed of the Technion’s Rappaport Faculty of Medicine. “But we have succeeded in showing that it is possible to turn back the aging process.”

As is the case with the rest of the body, the immune system is weakened with age, a fact reflected by a significant increase in illness among the elderly, and a dramatic decrease in their ability to respond to vaccination. The B lymphocytes are major cellular components in the function of the immune system and are responsible for the production of antibodies.

According to Prof. Melamed, many studies have shown the B cell population undergoes dramatic changes with age as a result of a decline in the body’s ability to produce new B cells and a selection process that leads to an accumulation of old B cells with a limited and reduced response capability.

Using old mice, the Technion researchers showed that active removal of the B cells changes the cellular homeostasis in the body and generates conditions of chronic deficiency of these cells. To overcome this deficiency, the body re-activates the bone marrow, forcing it to produce B cells again at a rate not different than that which exists in young mice. The researchers found that the newly generated B cells replaced the old cells that were removed, and led to an improvement of up to 400% in the ability of the treated mice to respond to vaccinations.

“This paper shows — for the first time — that physiological aging is a regulated process that can be reversed, thus raising many questions concerning our understanding of the mechanisms of aging,” Prof. Melamed says. “It also presents a novel approach for rejuvenating the immune system, and for enhancing the efficacy of vaccination among the elderly population, an approach that is now being studied.”

Why Babies Digest Milk More Effectively than Adults

WASHINGTON – A new study has pointed out that infants are more efficient at digesting milk than adults due to a difference in the strains of bacteria that dominate their digestive tracts.

Researchers from the University of California, Davis, and Utah State University have identified the genes that are most likely responsible for this difference.

“Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are the third-largest solid component of milk. Their structural complexity renders them non-digestible to the host,” said the researchers.

“Bifidobacterium longum strains often predominate the colonic microbiota of exlusively breast-fed infants. Among the three recognized subspecies, B. longum subsp. infantis achieves high levels of cell growth on HMOs and is associated with early colonization of the infant gut,” they added.

The researchers used whole-genome microarray comparisons to associate genotypic biomarkers among 15 B. longum strains exhibiting various HMO utilization patterns.

They identified 5 distinct gene clusters on B. longum that were conserved (showed little or no variation) across all strains capable of growth on HMOs and have also diverged in strains incapable of growing on HMOs.

The results suggested that B. longum has at least 2 distinct subspecies: B. longum subsp. infantis, adapted to ultilize milk carbon and found primarily in the digestive tract of children, and B. longum subsp. longum, specialized for plant-derived carbon metabolism and associated with the adult digestive tract.

“Although early gut colonization is likely dependent on a multitude of dietary and non-dietary factors, the delivery of complex oligosaccharides through milk creates an ideal and unique nutrient niche for the establishment of, and colonization by, B. longum subsp. infantis strains,” said the researchers.

“During weaning, a gradual transitioning from milk-based to plant-based diets generates a shift in carbon availability in the gastrintestinal tract favorable for the expansion and formtion of an adult-like gastointestinal tract microbiota,” they added.

The results are published in the current issue of the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology.B

Human Model of Rare Genetic Disease Reveals New Clues To Aging Process

Scientists from A*STAR’s Institute of Medical Biology (IMB) in Singapore and the University of Hong Kong’s Department of Medicine have produced the world’s first human cell model of progeria, a disease resulting in severe premature aging in one in four to eight million children worldwide. This model has allowed them to make new discoveries concerning the mechanism by which progeria works. Their findings were published this month in the prestigious scientific journal, Cell Stem Cell.

Hutchinson-Gilford Progeria Syndrome, also known as progeria, is caused by a mutation in the gene encoding for the protein lamin A, an important component of the membrane surrounding a cell’s nucleus. The mutation results in a truncated form of lamin A called progerin, which in turn causes misshapen cell nuclei and DNA damage. Children with progeria suffer symptoms of premature ageing, including growth retardation, baldness, and atherosclerosis (hardened arteries), and all die in their early teens from either heart attack or stroke.

Led by IMB’s Profs Alan Colman and Colin Stewart, the team used a novel technique of deriving induced pluripotent stem (iPS) cells from cells of human progeria patients. This human progeria model allows the group to trace and analyse the distinctive characteristics of progeria as it progresses in human cells. Previously, only mouse models of the disease were available.

Said Prof Colman, “While mouse models of progeria have been informative, no one mouse model recapitulates all the symptoms seen in humans. Our human progeria model allows us to examine the pathology of the disease at a much closer resolution than previously possible.”

The researchers used their iPS cells to identify two types of cells – mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) and vascular smooth muscle cells (VSMCs) – that were particularly adversely affected by progeria. This means that a young patient with progeria would typically have fewer MSCs and VSMCs than other children. MSCs were found to be very sensitive to a low oxygen environment and their losses could delay renewal of the various tissues they gave rise to, thus exacerbating the patient’s symptoms of ageing. The same effect on VSMCs could explain why their number was reduced in the patient’s heart vessels.

The group’s findings are a significant boost to existing research on over 10 diseases associated with lamin gene mutations. Prof Stewart previously led a study in mice at IMB showing that progeria affected the connective tissues, potentially via defects in a signaling pathway connecting the nuclear lamina with the extracellular matrix and which was associated with death of the smooth muscle in major blood vessels.

Said Prof Stewart, “This new study provides further evidence for the role of lamin processing in connective tissue function, as well as insights into the normal ageing process. We hope to soon find new routes of intervention to treat this incurable disease. Such interventions may be of use in treating atherosclerosis in general, a condition afflicting many millions of individuals.”

Lazy Eye Appears To Respond Well To Acupuncture in Many Cases

Acupuncture may eventually become another optional treatment apart from patching for lazy eye, also known as amblyopia, especially among older children who have a poorer response to patching, say researchers from China in Archives of Ophthalmology. Approximately 0.3 to 5% of people globally are affected by lazy eye, the authors report as background information.

Lazy eye is a condition that appears during early childhood – the eyesight in one of the eyes does not develop as it should. In the majority of cases only one eye is affected. When a child has amblyopia their brain focuses on one eye much more than the other; in fact, the lazy eye may be ignored altogether. Lack of stimulation of that eye may result in the visual brain cells not maturing normally. Amblyopia is the most common cause of monocular blindness (partial or total blindness in one eye) in the USA.

Between one-third and a half of all lazy eye cases are caused by variations in the degree of myopia (nearsightedness) or hyperopia (farsightedness) between the two eyes (anisometropia). These variations are more effectively corrected with glasses or contact lenses when a child is aged up to seven years. Unfortunately, when the child is older, for example from 7 to 12, visual correction alone is only effective in about 30% of cases.

The addition of patching one eye – known as occlusion therapy – can improve children’s response rates considerably as long as they comply with the doctors instructions. Patching the eye brings with it emotional problems, and also a risk of reverse amblyopia.

Jianhao Zhao, M.D., of Joint Shantou International Eye Center of Shantou University and Chinese University of Hong Kong, Shantou, China, wanted to see how effective acupuncture was compared to patching for the treatment of lazy eye. The authors wrote that acupuncture has been successfully used for dry eye and myopia treatment.

They carried out a randomized, controlled trial with 88 children. They were assigned to one of two groups:

  • Acupuncture Group – 43 children. They were given five treatment sessions each week, which targeted five needle insertion sites, also known as acupoints.
  • Patching Group – 45 children. Their good eye was patched for two hours each day. They had to do near-vision activities with their lazy eye for one hour each day. Near vision activities include reading or typing.

After a total of 15 weeks’ worth of treatment:

  • Visual acuity improved by 2.3 lines in the Acupuncture Group
  • Visual acuity improved by 1.8 lines in the Patching Group
  • 75.6% (31) of the children in the Acupuncture Group experienced an improvement of at least two lines
  • 66.7% (28) of the children in the Patching Group experienced an improvement of at least two lines
  • In the Acupuncture Group lazy eye was considered as resolved in 41.5% of cases
  • In the Patching Group lazy eye was considered as resolved in 16.7% of cases

No serious side effects were detected in either group. In both groups, treatment was well tolerated, the authors wrote. The Acupuncture Group children had their treatment after school so that their studies were not disrupted.

The authors wrote:

“Although the treatment effect of acupuncture appears promising, the mechanism underlying its success as a treatment for amblyopia remains unclear.”

The authors believe that well targeted acupuncture may alter the activity of the part of the brain that receives data from the eyes – the visual cortex. They add that the treatment may also enhance blood flow to the eye and surrounding tissues. The generation of compounds that support the growth of retinal nerves may also be stimulated.

The researchers concluded:

“The findings from this report indicate that the treatment effect of acupuncture for amblyopia is equivalent to the treatment effect of patching for amblyopia. However, only patients with anisometropic amblyopia were involved in our study and the follow-up period was relatively short. Moreover, acupuncture itself is a very complicated system of therapy.

Differences exist among acupuncturists, and there are divergent manipulation modes, stimulation parameters, treatment styles and subjective sensations evoked by acupuncture stimulation. Because of the good results obtained in our study, the acupoints that we used could be considered for use in clinical practice.”

Don’t Toss the Salad

Heard the rumor that produce is a dud for cancer protection? Don’t believe it. Keep on sweetening your oatmeal with strawberries, and take a second helping of broccoli tonight.

We dug a little deeper into the claim that fruits and veggies offer only “weak” protection against cancer and found that if you eat six or more helpings of them a day (easier than it sounds), you could have an 11% lower risk of ALL cancers than folks who shove veggies around on their plates. If 11% doesn’t impress you, catch how big an even smaller number can be: If everyone ate just two more servings of fruits and vegetables a day, there would be 2.5% fewer cancers. That’s enough to prevent about 37,000 cases of cancer a year in the United States alone!

Think there’s no way you could ever eat six helpings of fruits and veggies a day? Here’s how easy it is to eat nine, which is the real ideal: Have a spinach omelet with salsa for breakfast, a banana for a midmorning snack, a big veggie salad at lunch, whole-wheat pasta tossed with broccoli, tomatoes, and sweet onions for dinner, and a baked apple for dessert

Your reward: There’s compelling evidence that leafy greens, garlic and onions, cruciferous veggies like broccoli, and fruit guard against the out-of-control cell growth that leads to digestive-tract cancers, from your mouth to your stomach.

Imagination Tricks the Brain into Eating Less

Simply imagining eating a certain food may help you eat less of it, new research indicates.

The finding challenges the assumption that thinking about a favorite food makes you crave it more and likely to eat more of it when it’s available.

In a series of experiments involving dozens of volunteers at Carnegie Mellon University, researchers found that people who repeatedly imagined eating a certain food, such as a cube of cheese or an M&M candy, subsequently ate less of it than they otherwise would have.

Simple Secrets to Portion Control and Healthy Eating

Suppressing Thoughts about a Desired Food Not a Good Strategy

“These findings suggest that trying to suppress one’s thoughts of desired foods in order to curb cravings for those foods is a fundamentally flawed strategy,” says Carey Morewedge, PhD, of Carnegie Mellon and author of the study.

“We think these findings will help develop future interventions to reduce cravings for things such as unhealthy food, drugs, and cigarettes; and hope they will help us learn how to help people make healthier food choices,” Morewedge says in a news release.

In one of Morewedge’s experiments, a group that imagined putting three quarters into a laundry machine and then imagined eating 30 M&Ms one at a time ate significantly fewer of the candies when given a bowl of M&Ms afterward, compared to a group that imagined putting 33 coins into a laundry machine and a third group that imagined inserting 30 quarters into a laundry machine and then imagined eating three M&Ms.

In other experiments, people were asked to imagine themselves eating cheese or another food, or doing something else completely different, like repeatedly putting coins into a laundry machine.

In each case where the group repetitively imagined eating a food, the researchers detected a gradual reduction in motivation to obtain food and a decrease in its subsequent intake, a process they called habituation. The research points to the conclusion that repetitive mental imagery has a different effect than picturing a single mental image, according to the study.

In IBS, A Patient’s Response to Hypnotherapy Can Be Predicted By Color Test

When people with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) were asked to relate their mood to a color, those choosing a positive color were nine times more likely to respond to hypnotherapy than those who chose a negative color or no color at all. Researchers writing in the open access journal BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine suggest that these findings could be used to predict responders to treatment.

Peter Whorwell worked with a team of researchers from the University of Manchester, UK, to carry out the study using a color chart called the ‘Manchester Color Wheel’ which allows patients to choose colors that have previously been defined as positive, neutral or negative. He said, “Our unit has been providing hypnotherapy for the treatment of IBS for over twenty years with approximately two thirds of patients responding to treatment. Unfortunately, patients may require as many as twelve one hour sessions of therapy to secure a response and therefore this results in the treatment being relatively expensive to provide. Consequently it would be very useful to be able to predict responders”.

Speaking about the results Whorwell said, “Being able to describe mood in terms of a positive color is a sign of an active imagination, which is an important component of hypnotic ability”. The hypnotherapy provided in Professor Whorwell’s Unit is called gut-focused hypnotherapy. The technique aims to give a patient control over their gut and they have shown that following a course of treatment actual changes in gastrointestinal function can be demonstrated.

Foods that Promote Happiness

If you’re feeling as blue as the skies above, you will be happy to know that a few spoonfuls of the right foods may turn that frown upside down! Whole foods contain vital nutrients that provide both physical and psychological benefits. Read on to discover which foods contain those mood-boosters to help you smile your way to longevity.

Fun with Folate

Eat folate-rich foods: Leafy greens like kale, broccoli, spinach, asparagus, turnip greens, bok choy, legumes, sunflower seeds, oranges, melons, beets, and fortified whole grains

Why? Folate, also known as folic acid, is a water-soluble vitamin that is necessary for cell division, DNA synthesis, and healthy blood cell production. Research at the University of York and Hull York Medical School has found a link between depression and low levels of folate. The recommended daily allowance (RDA) for men and women is 400 micrograms and 600 micrograms for pregnant women. To keep you smiling, increase your intake of folate-rich foods. A cup of cooked lentils provides 90% of the RDA of folic acid. Plus, the fiber and protein will satisfy you longer, stabilize blood sugar, and also promote a better mood. Additional bonuses: Folate can also decrease homocysteine, an amino acid that is linked to heart disease. Low levels of folate can cause anemia, while pregnant women must increase their folate levels to prevent fetal neural tube deficiencies.

Boost Your B6

Eat B6 foods: bananas, chicken breast, garlic, Brussels sprouts, collard greens, sunflower seeds, broccoli, red bell peppers, watermelon, avocados, and potatoes

Why? Vitamin B6 plays a role in red blood cell metabolism, protein metabolism, and synthesis of neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine. It also helps maintain healthy blood sugar levels, and increases the amount of oxygen carried to your tissues. Low levels can lead to an increase of homocysteine, anemia, headaches, and depression. The RDA for adults from age 19 to 50 is 1.3 mg/day and approximately 1.6 mg for individuals over 50. The next time you’re feeling down, grab a banana and munch your blues away!

Go Fish!

Eat omega-3-rich foods: fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel, anchovies, and herring, flaxseeds, walnuts, and algae

Why? DHA omega-3 essential fatty acid maintains healthy brain function and is vital for fetal brain and eye development. Current research also demonstrates the association between intake of omega-3 fatty acids and depression. A meta-analysis study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry found that depression was significantly improved in patients with unipolar and bipolar disorders after taking three daily fish capsules for eight weeks. Eat the oily fish listed above — a 3-ounce serving of salmon contains between 1.1 – 1.9 grams of omega-3 fatty acids. Supplementing with high quality fish oil capsules may be an alternative if you don’t consume fish on a regular basis. Vegetarian sources of omega-3 can be found in flaxseeds, walnuts, and algae. Toss a tablespoon of sunflower seeds or walnuts into a creamy cup of unsweetened low-fat yogurt for a mega mood boost!

You can also try Super Clarity, a blend of powerful herbs that nourish the brain and cardiovascular system, helping the mind be joyful.

Good Carbohydrates, Bad Carbohydrates

Eat good carbohydrates: whole grains, fruits, vegetables

Why? Not all carbohydrates are created equal. Whole grains, fruits, and veggies supply us with prolonged energy, fiber, and multiple nutrients that our bodies need for optimal health. Good quality carbohydrates can also trigger serotonin synthesis. Recognized as the “happy hormone,” serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that affects our mood and sleep. The next time you feel blue, instead of reaching for that bag of chips or sugary cookies, opt for unrefined, unprocessed carbohydrates that will provide you with sustained energy and an improved mood. Toss that muffin and enjoy a whole grain cracker with a tablespoon of natural nut butter for a delicious and uplifting snack!

Linemen Are Back In Game after Disc Surgery

If NFL linemen can recover from back surgery and return to their spine-bruising careers, so can you get back into your “game” of horsing around with your kids or working out at the gym after back surgery.

That’s the good news from a new Northwestern Medicine study that found 80 percent of NFL lineman – whose spines are especially vulnerable to degeneration – were able to return to play many more games after the surgery. These elite athletes spend a lot of time in a squatting stance that puts tremendous stress on their spine.

The study is encouraging to average people who are often fearful of becoming physically active after disc surgery, said lead study author Joseph Weistroffer, M.D., assistant professor of orthopedic and of neurological surgery at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and a spine surgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“Many times after the surgery, people are afraid to go back and live their lives, “Weistroffer said. “They don’t want to hurt themselves and have another herniation. If a football player can get back to playing football again, you, too, can resume normal life. Just because you had disc surgery doesn’t mean you are going to be broken for life.”

The study will be published in the March issue of the Journal of American Sports Medicine. The coauthor is Wellington Hsu, M.D., assistant professor of orthopedic and of neurological surgery at Feinberg and a spine surgeon at Northwestern Memorial.

For the study, Northwestern researchers scoured two decades of public records to determine the career outcomes of 52 NFL offensive and defensive linemen who had had herniated disc surgery during their active careers. Not only did 80 percent of the players return to the game, they also played an average of 33 games during three years after the surgery. More than half of them attained the prestigious distinction as starter at their position.

“The numbers show they were able to get back to the extreme and sustained activity of playing football on an NFL level,” Weistroffer said. “That’s significant.” There is a paucity of evidence showing clinical outcomes for high-end athletes after herniated disc surgery, he noted.

Discs, disk-shaped tissue that separates the bones of the spinal column, start to wear out as people age, Weistroffer said. The sidewall of the disc may tear, but usually heals on its own. Occasionally disc material will squirt out through the tear and pin the nerve root against the bone, causing extreme back and leg pain. Most of the time, the body can heal itself within six to 12 weeks. If healing doesn’t occur, surgery can relieve the pressure on the nerve root and in many cases, relieve the pain, Weistroffer said.

Post-surgery, patients need to take it easy for up to three months and not lift more than 10 pounds to enable the body to heal. It is also usually beneficial to develop good muscle tone in the back and abdomen to help support the spine.

Longer, More Regular Sleep May Reduce Childhood Obesity

Promoting longer, more regular sleep, even catching up at weekends on sleep lost in the week, may help reduce the incidence of childhood obesity, concluded US researchers in a new study published online in a leading journal this week.

You can read how Dr David Gozal, Professor and Chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Chicago Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois, and colleagues, arrived at this conclusion in a paper published online on 24 January in the journal Pediatrics.

Previous studies have already reported that insufficient sleep is linked to an increased risk of obesity in children, but in this study, Gozal and colleagues set out specifically to explore the effect of duration and regularity of sleep on BMI and metabolic regulation in children.

BMI stands for Body Mass Index, a measure of obesity, expressed in kg per meter squared, and equal to a person’s weight divided by the square of their height.

For this cross-sectional study, they recruited 308 community-resident children aged 4 to 10 years, and measured their BMIs, their blood glucose before eating in the morning, insulin, blood fats and cholesterol. In a sub-sample group, they also measured levels of high-sensitivity C-reactive protein (an “inflammation” marker used to assess risk of cardiovascular disease).

The children wore wrist monitors for a week. These measured physical activity and allowed the researchers to assess how often, when the children slept, and how long for, over the week.

The results showed that:

* The children slept for 8 hours every night on average, regardless of their BMI.

* However, there was also a non-linear trend between sleep and weight.

* The children in the obese BMI range, slept fewer hours and showed greater variability in the differences between weekend sleep time and school days sleep time.

* Children whose BMI was in the overweight range, showed an inconsistent sleep pattern.

* Analysis of sleep patterns and blood markers showed that high variance in sleep duration, or shorter sleep duration, was more likely to be linked to altered levels of insulin, LDL cholesterol, and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein.

* Children who slept the least, particularly those who also had irregular sleep patterns, showed the greatest health risk (ie the riskiest combination of BMI and blood markers).

The researchers found that just an extra half hour of sleep every night was linked to lower BMI and reduced pattern of risky blood markers.

And they also found that catching up with sleep at the weekend was linked to a lower risk of obesity, they wrote that:

“Obese children were less likely to experience ‘catch-up’ sleep on weekends, and the combination of shorter sleep duration and more-variable sleep patterns was associated with adverse metabolic outcomes.”

They concluded that:

“Educational campaigns, aimed at families, regarding longer and more-regular sleep may promote decreases in obesity rates and may improve metabolic dysfunction trends in school-aged children.”

Mindfulness Meditation Training Changes Brain Structure In 8 Weeks

Participating in an 8-week mindfulness meditation program appears to make measurable changes in brain regions associated with memory, sense of self, empathy and stress. In a study that will appear in the January 30 issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, a team led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers report the results of their study, the first to document meditation-produced changes over time in the brains grey matter.

“Although the practice of meditation is associated with a sense of peacefulness and physical relaxation, practitioners have long claimed that meditation also provides cognitive and psychological benefits that persist throughout the day,” says Sara Lazar, PhD, of the MGH Psychiatric Neuroimaging Research Program, the study’s senior author. “This study demonstrates that changes in brain structure may underlie some of these reported improvements and that people are not just feeling better because they are spending time relaxing.”

Previous studies from Lazar’s group and others found structural differences between the brains of experienced mediation practitioners and individuals with no history of meditation, observing thickening of the cerebral cortex in areas associated with attention and emotional integration. But those investigations could not document that those differences were actually produced by meditation.

For the current study, MR images were taken of the brain structure of 16 study participants two weeks before and after they took part in the 8-week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Program at the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness. In addition to weekly meetings that included practice of mindfulness meditation – which focuses on nonjudgmental awareness of sensations, feelings and state of mind – participants received audio recordings for guided meditation practice and were asked to keep track of how much time they practiced each day. A set of MR brain images were also taken of a control group of non-meditators over a similar time interval.

Meditation group participants reported spending an average of 27 minutes each day practicing mindfulness exercises, and their responses to a mindfulness questionnaire indicated significant improvements compared with pre-participation responses. The analysis of MR images, which focused on areas where meditation-associated differences were seen in earlier studies, found increased grey-matter density in the hippocampus, known to be important for learning and memory, and in structures associated with self-awareness, compassion and introspection. Participant-reported reductions in stress also were correlated with decreased grey-matter density in the amygdala, which is known to play an important role in anxiety and stress.

Although no change was seen in a self-awareness-associated structure called the insula, which had been identified in earlier studies, the authors suggest that longer-term meditation practice might be needed to produce changes in that area. None of these changes were seen in the control group, indicating that they had not resulted merely from the passage of time. “It is fascinating to see the brain’s plasticity and that, by practicing meditation, we can play an active role in changing the brain and can increase our well-being and quality of life.” says Britta Hölzel, PhD, first author of the paper and a research fellow at MGH and Giessen University in Germany. “Other studies in different patient populations have shown that meditation can make significant improvements in a variety of symptoms, and we are now investigating the underlying mechanisms in the brain that facilitate this change.”

Amishi Jha, PhD, a University of Miami neuroscientist who investigates mindfulness-training’s effects on individuals in high-stress situations, says, “These results shed light on the mechanisms of action of mindfulness-based training. They demonstrate that the first-person experience of stress can not only be reduced with an 8-week mindfulness training program but that this experiential change corresponds with structural changes in the amydala, a finding that opens doors to many possibilities for further research on MBSR’s potential to protect against stress-related disorders, such as post-traumatic stress disorder.” Jha was not one of the study investigators.

Alzheimer’s Links to Nutrition

Research is trying to determine whether Alzheimer’s disease might be slowed or prevented with nutritional approaches, but a new study suggests those efforts could be improved by use of nutrient “biomarkers” to objectively assess the nutrient status of elderly people at risk for dementia.

The traditional approach, which primarily relies on self-reported dietary surveys, asks people to remember what they have eaten. Such surveys don’t consider two common problems in elderly populations – the effect that memory impairment has on recall of their diet, or digestive issues that could affect the absorption of nutrients.

This issue is of particular concern, experts say, because age is the primary risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, and the upcoming wave of baby boomers and people 85 years and older will soon place many more people at risk for dementia.

“Dietary and nutritional studies have yielded some intriguing results, but they are inconsistent,” said Emily Ho, an associate professor of nutrition at Oregon State University, co-author of the study, and principal investigator with OSU’s Linus Pauling Institute.

“If we are going to determine with scientific accuracy whether one or another nutritional approach to preventing dementia may have value, we must have methods that accurately reflect the nutritional status of patients,” Ho said. “The gold standard to assess nutritional status should be biomarkers based on blood tests.”

The research was just published in Alzheimer’s Disease and Associated Disorders, in work supported by the National Institutes of Health. The study was led by Dr. Gene Bowman, a nutrition and aging researcher at Oregon Health and Science University, in collaboration with OSU researchers.

Prevention strategies for Alzheimer’s disease are “becoming more feasible,” researchers said, because scientists are beginning to understand what populations are at high risk for developing the disease.

“One of the issues in doing a good study is to understand the nutritional status of your participants when you start and how the nutrient treatment changes it,” Ho said. “Giving supplements or foods to a person who already has a normal nutritional status of that nutrient may be very different than if the person is deficient.”

Complicating the issue, she said, is that elderly people in general may not absorb or process many nutrients as well as younger adults, and because of genetic differences they many have different biological responses to the same level of a nutrient. Knowing what they ate gives, at best, only a partial picture of what their nutritional status actually is. And it also assumes that people, including those with beginning dementia, will always remember with accuracy what their diet actually has been when questioned about 124 food items in an interview that can last up to two hours.

In this study, the scientists recruited 38 elderly participants, half with documented memory deficit and the other half cognitively intact. They compared the reliability of the nutrient biomarkers to food questionnaires administered twice over one month.

The questionnaire was able to determine some nutrient levels, but only in the group with good memory. The reliability of the nutrient biomarkers depended on the nutrient of interest, but overall performed very well.

“Now that we have a reliable blood test for assessing nutritional status, we can begin to study nutrient biomarkers in combination, their interactive features, and how they collectively may influence chronic diseases, including risk for Alzheimer’s disease and dementia,” Bowman said.

Such approaches could lead to more effective nutritional therapies in the future to promote cognitive health, he said.