Chocolate & health

Dear Dr. Mo: Are there any health benefits I could possibly get by eating chocolate? I just love it so much.

Dear reader: What a sweet question (and I mean literally).
The answer is YES but let me make one clarification right from the start: when we talk about potential health benefits of chocolate, we always refer to dark chocolate, which has a high cocoa content.

Dark chocolate has health benefits

It is the Flavanols in cocoa beans that have antioxidant effects responsible for most of the benefits that come from dark chocolate consumption. Flavanols reduce cell damage implicated in heart disease and also help lower blood pressure and improve vascular function. In addition, some research has linked chocolate consumption to reduced risks of diabetes, stroke and heart attack. Eating a moderate amount of dark chocolate was associated with a lower risk of being hospitalized for heart failure.

Flavanols are thought to also reduce the levels of stress hormone Cortisol and its metabolic effects and they are being researched for their sun protecting abilities, doubling the time before which skin turns red in the sun, marking the beginning of a sun burn. Continue reading

Saunas and health

Dear Dr. Mo: Is sauna really healthy and should I go there when I have a flu?

Dear reader: When you are in most saunas, its dry heat, which can become as high as 85° C (in some saunas, even higher), can have some intense effects on the body.

Your skin temperature spikes to about 40° C within minutes. The average person will pour out a half a liter of sweat during a short stay in a sauna.

Saunas have been around for centuries – its relaxing and well-being effects on the body are well known

The heart rate jumps by 30% or more, allowing the heart to approximately double the amount of blood it pumps out each minute (its minute volume).
Stress hormones ACTH and Cortisol rise substantially while Adrenalin and Noradrenaline are reduced; other changes in hormonal balances happen as well.

These effects (vigorous sweating, increased heart rate and hormonal changes) are similar to those induced by a moderate exercise, which is why saunas could be so appealing.Circulation patterns change while in sauna and most of the extra blood flow is directed to the skin, which becomes reddish; the circulation actually diverts blood away from the internal organs.

Blood pressure in saunas is always unpredictable, rising in some people but falling in others, which might be a health risk for some people with blood pressure problems. Saunas generally should not be considered as a therapeutic approach to hyper or hypotension – visit your doctor first. Continue reading

What is Syndrome X?

Dear Dr. Mo: What is the Syndrome X? I have heard I may be having it – what to do if that’s so?

Dear reader: Syndrome X, more commonly known as the metabolic syndrome and also known as the insulin resistance syndrome is characterized by a clustering of several risk factors for cardiovascular disease and Type 2 diabetes.

This syndrome is among the very common ones in the modern times mostly due to our changed dietary and activity habits and yet, many people have never heard of it and many people (especially people over 50) have it – and, many live their lives without knowing it.

Metabolic syndrome is silent but dangerous

This syndrome presents a serious threat to health.

As I explained, it is a congregation of high-risk factors and if you have this syndrome, you have a much higher risk of a heart attack or stroke as well as of developing diabetes, liver and kidney disease.There’s also evidence that older adults with this syndrome could be more likely to have problems with their memory.

These risk factors most commonly include:

  • Excess intra-abdominal fat (belly fat – the apple shape). This excess is present if a waist size is 101.5 cm (40 inches) or more for men or 90 cm (35 inches) or more for women;
  • Insulin resistance (High fasting blood sugar measure);

And one or more of the following:

  • Elevated triglyceride levels in the blood;
  • Decreased levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL – the “good” fat or good cholesterol)
  • High blood pressure (Hypertension)

So, you have a metabolic syndrome (the syndrome X) if you have three or more of the above-listed risk factors.
Continue reading

Are you a fish fan? You should be!

Dear Dr. Mo: I keep reading and listening about how fish oils are good for your health. I’m not really a fish fan but should I reconsider?

Dear reader: What you’ve been hearing and reading about  is correct. Fish contains oils that are rich in polyunsaturated essential omega-3 fatty acids, which are also called a “healthy fat.” People whose diets are rich in omega-3s seem to have a lower risk of heart disease and stroke.

Now, why is that?

There are several good things that omega-3s do for our bodies.

Like eating fish – great! That’s awesome news for your heart and wits

They help to reduce high blood pressure and high blood pressure is one of the most dangerous things for our overall health.

They guard platelets from forming clots in the blood and clots may lead to heart attacks and strokes.

They help to regulate blood fat levels and keep them within limits by raising HDL also called the “good cholesterol” and lowering triglycerides. This helps to prevent buildup of dangerous plaques on the walls of blood vessels, and plaques may cause angina and lead to heart attacks and strokes.

Another important effect they have is protection against dangerous and even lethal heart-rhythm disorders that can result in cardiac arrest – I’d even say that this may very well be the most important health benefit of Omega-3s. Continue reading

Coping with Hypertension

Dear Dr. Mo: How to cope with high blood pressure, walking or resting?

Dear reader: First of all, you have a high blood pressure or Hypertension, if you have a sustained elevation of resting systolic reading of at least 140 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) or a diastolic reading of at least 90 mm Hg, or both.

Swimming could help to reduce high blood pressure

The top number in your blood pressure reading is the systolic pressure. It reflects the amount of pressure in your arteries when your heart pumps – it is generated by the heart as a pump and the larger its output, the higher the systolic pressure.

The bottom number is the diastolic pressure. It is the measure of the pressure in the arterial tree in between heartbeats, when the heart is relaxing and it depends on the total peripheral resistance to the blood going out of the arteries into the veins and back to the heart.

High blood pressure is a common condition in which the force the blood exerts against your artery walls is high enough to eventually cause health problems, such as heart disease. Heart has to work harder and harder as blood pressure rises above normal limits and over time, this weakens the heart. It also injures the arteries, which then become susceptible to plaque formation and atherosclerosis in them. At times, high blood pressure may rupture the artery leading to bleeding and strokes.

Blood pressure measurement is one of the most important measurements for any doctor to take in order to determine your health status. Many people have elevated blood pressure, which increases as we age or develop certain health conditions. The trouble is, that if left unchecked, our bodies quickly adapt to elevated values as we go about our daily lives unaware of a serious health problem slowly evolving inside of us – until a big symptom occurs – a heart attack, a stroke, a kidney failure, eye sight problem or internal bleeding.Undiagnosed and untreated elevated blood pressure is among the biggest and most serious threats to our health, both short and long term. Continue reading