Drink water to stay healthy

Dear Dr. Mo: How much water do I really need to stay hydrated and healthy?

Dear reader: This is the time of year where common colds are indeed common and when you will often hear that advice to drink lots of fluid, usually herbal teas or water. Of course, water is essential to your health but the needs for water vary from person to person and many factors may influence that, like for example your health condition, your daily activities, where you live, your age, metabolic rate etc.

Water means health!

Water is our main constituent – it makes up about 60% of our body mass. We need water to maintain normal functions: we throw out waste matter dissolved in water, water participates in digestion of food, it carries nutrients to cells, we use water to show emotions when we cry etc.

Water also helps to regulate body temperature through perspiration (sweating).

When water is insufficient we dehydrate. Dehydration is a state in which our cells don’t have enough water to function normally. Even a mild dehydration could cause fatigue because when tissues lose water, enzymes are slowing down their functions and energy production drops.

A simple way to see the link between health and water is to observe what happens when we age. As we age, the water content of our bodies is decreasing steadily and while a newborn is 80% water, in an adult this ratio is at 60% and it keeps on decreasing as years go by. Continue reading

Multivitamins – yes or no?

Dear Dr. Mo: How useful are multivitamin supplements and when should you take them? I tend to take them during the winter when I think I might be more likely to catch a cold from my students…

Dear reader:First of all, try to eat a healthy diet – this goes without saying. A multivitamin daily dose does provide some help against nutritional deficiencies but cannot and should not replace the natural way we take in vitamins – through a healthy and balanced diet. This diet is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, healthy oils, nuts and low in red meat and unhealthy fats.  For those people who manage to eat a healthy diet like that, a multivitamin may have little or no benefit.

Healthy diet removes the need for multivitamins

I realize however that many people don’t manage to eat such balanced and healthy diets for a variety of different reasons, some economic, some behavioral, some social etc.  In such cases, as well as in cases like yours (prophylactic), a simple message is this: a daily multivitamin is a good insurance policy for your nutrition!

Taking a daily multivitamin and perhaps some extra vitamin D is an inexpensive way for you to fill in some of the nutritional gaps and make sure you are getting all the nutrients you need to stay healthy.

There are even added health benefits to such habits – Folic acid found in most multivitamins helps prevent neural tube deficits in newborns if women take it before they become pregnant and during pregnancy; this acid also lowers risk for breast and colon cancer and heart disease. Continue reading

Herbal infusions during pregnancy – are they safe?

Dear Dr. Mo: What is the deal with other teas – not relating to caffeine? I’ve heard pregnant women shouldn’t drink chamomile tea…? I thought ‘herbs’ were generally healthy and a desirable component.

Dear reader: During pregnancy, many women choose herbal infusions instead of caffeinated drinks. Most of these choices are perfectly fine.
I would always advise to stay away from herbs and supplements of any sort during the first trimester, while the fetus is particularly vulnerable; but even during this sensitive period, one or two cups of herbal teas now and then (even daily) are so moderate an amount that any harm is virtually impossible.

Herbal infusions are generally safe during pregnancy

I would generally stay away from herbal infusions, which contain some additional supplements (such as Ginseng) as these are of unknown action on the fetus and are not undergoing sanction and approval by regulatory bodies. Choose pure herbal teas with nothing added.

The talk about herbs that may concern you is that some may help induce a certain level of uterine contraction so I’d stay away from herbs such as black or blue cohosh. Also avoid herbal infusions with known pharmacological actions that are intense and aggressive on your body and generally unhealthy like Sena leaves.

Chamomile infusion is fine and safe to drink in moderation – stay within a few cups a day but not liters of it. 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

Protein and weight loss

Dear Dr. Mo:  I am currently on a weight loss diet – I am trying to make it a healthy one. I’ve heard lots about carbs and fat but what about protein?

Dear reader: Very often, while trying to lose some weight, people obsess around planning their carbs, counting calories, avoiding fats and forget about a very important part of every healthy diet – protein.
Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins and they are not just an essential ingredient for a healthy weight loss, they are also essential for our bodies serving as building material for growth and repair and as a fuel source in times of need.

Turkey meet is high in protein and low in calories

Without protein in your diet, you run a risk of overeating, which, coupled with eating fast is one of the leading causes of weight gain and obesity.

If you overeat on a high-fat, low-protein diet, weight gains may be slower to show but you will be gaining more fat and you will be losing more muscle down the road.The weight as such needs to be considered in a broader perspective, beyond just the BMI (Body Mass Index) or the number on the scale – it is what makes up your total weight that counts the most – whether it is fat or lean muscle; and without protein in your diet, you will be leaning towards more fat and less muscle.

Whether or not you are trying to lose weight, remember that 10 – 35 % of your daily food intake should be lean protein. For men, this comes up to about 56 grams of protein every day and for women, 46 grams to avoid deficiency. Athletes, pregnant women and children may require more, to satisfy their increased demands for building blocks. Continue reading

The danger in sweetness

Dear Dr. Mo: I love sweet foods. I am slightly overweight but nothing serious and I try to control it. I’ve heard that fructose can cause heart disease and is bad for the health. Now I know fructose is found in fruit so how can this be true?

Dear reader: Let me begin by saying that two predominant sugars in our modern diet are glucose and fructose. Our cells need sugars (carbohydrates) to extract energy form them. Virtually every cell in our body can use glucose to get that energy.

With fructose however, the story has a little evil twist – only the liver cells can get energy directly from fructose metabolism and this is where the trouble starts for us.

Fructose in fruit is not the one to worry about. Fruit is good for your health

Fructose in liver undergoes a series of metabolic changes and one of those changes is that the liver uses fructose to create fat!

So when you think of fructose think of fat as well.Feed your liver with enough fructose (especially in today’s fast diets which unfortunately abound with sugary foods and beverages) and gradually, very small droplets of fat will begin to accumulate inside the liver cells – such a process of fat build up is called non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, virtually unknown before 1980 and affecting a large number of adults and 80-90% of those who are obese or have diabetes.This goes to say that what’s changed in the past few decades has not been us physically, but our life styles and especially our diets and I don’t mean extra fruit intake but all the sweet foods and drinks we manufacture.
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

Aching hearts – anginas

Dear Dr. Mo: I’ve recently been diagnosed with a Prinz-Metal angina and I’ve been told this type is somewhat unusual – what does it mean? And what exactly is angina?

Dear reader: Angina is a clinical syndrome resulting from a transient reversible cardiac ischemia – this means that blood flow through the coronary artery to one part of the heart, carrying all important oxygen, temporarily and reversibly becomes dangerously low leaving that part of the heart undernourished and basically starving – we call that segment of the heart a vulnerable myocardium (myocardium means a heart muscle). Coronary arteries are the ones responsible for feeding the heart.

Clinical presentation of angina is a central chest discomfort or pain – less like a pain, much more like a weight or pressure at times also described as a burning sensation. This intense discomfort and/or pain may radiate to one or both arms, neck, jaw, epigastrium (upper part of the stomach), may not radiate at all or may be felt only in the area of radiation.

This anginal sensation occurs when current oxygen supply to the heart is less than the demand for it and the suffering undernourished (ischemic) heart muscle cries, which causes symptoms felt in angina.

When hearts cry – it’s angina

We say that a tissue is ischemic when the blood supply to it drops below a minimum required level to provide oxygen and other nutrients necessary for normal function. If ischemia is prolonged, and depending on the type of tissue and its oxygen demand, cells die and in some tissues like in the heart or the brain, these cells cannot be replaced.

Duration of each episode of discomfort and/or pain typically shouldn’t last for longer than maximum 20 minutes and it usually spans from anywhere between 15 seconds to 15 minutes.
I am saying that 20 minutes of duration is maximum time within which we are talking about angina because longer ischemia causes myocardial infarction (death of heart cells which is irreversible as these cells are lost).  Continue reading

An apple a day? You should take this advice

Dear Dr. Mo: Is there some truth in the old saying that “An apple a day keeps a doctor away”?

Dear reader:  Your question is timed well as we are now in the season of apple picking. This saying could be in principle applied to many fruits and veggies and I always recommend a balanced diet to accommodate for a variety of healthful foods to keep us healthy. Here are some of the reasons why apples are so revered for their health benefits.

Apples belong to ‘super foods’

Apples lower cholesterol – there is about 4 grams of fiber per average-sized apple. Pectin is one of those fibers, which is soluble and is thought to lower your “bad” cholesterol (LDL) by reducing the absorption of it from food and bile and stimulating the body to use the cholesterol rather than to store it.

Apple helps with constipation and diarrhea – Pectin again, increases the volume and viscosity of stool and this relieves both constipation and diarrhea symptoms. Generally, fiber in apple (as with all other fiber-rich food) is beneficial for our digestion. Continue reading

Tired legs in the morning – why is this and what to do?

Dear Dr. Mo: My legs feel tired when I wake up. What could be wrong and what to do?

Dear reader: A feeling of tiredness and heaviness in legs is a symptom, which can accompany many health-related disorders, ranging from those as mild as insufficient sleep and rest to more severe ones like Fibromyalgia or Seasonal Affective Disorder.

For most of people, tired and achy legs is an experience, which occasionally comes and goes without any medical intervention.  This is usually from standing or sitting for longer periods of time and the problem goes away once the legs are rested or moved to a more comfortable position – crossing your legs often for instance or wearing uncomfortable shoes may contribute to discomfort.

Elevating your legs may help relieve some discomfort

In your case, however, waking up to a discomforting feeling of tired and heavy legs may not be caused by the lack of rest alone and it could be due to insufficient sleep or poor sleep quality.
If you generally feel tired in the morning, it may mean that your brain and other parts of your body (including legs) aren’t getting enough oxygen during sleep – this could be due to breathing problems like snoring or deviations in your nasal cavity (narrow or bent passageways in your nose), inflammation of sinuses, seasonal or other types of allergies which congest the nose, viral or bacterial infections of your upper respiratory system (nose and throat) and a more serious condition in which a person stops breathing all together for several seconds during sleep – this is called sleep apnea.

Feeling of tiredness can also come from the vitamin D deficiency and this has become a relatively recent discovery that a vitamin D deficiency is not only bad for bones and heart, it affects the rest of our body as well and you may feel fatigued and tired as a consequence.

Most of the time, the cause of this uncomfortable feeling is too much strain on your legs during day (either by walking/running or sitting for too long) and not enough of good quality sleep in a well aired room during night.
Also, don’t forget your head – stress, agitation and anxiety can disrupt sleep patterns and add to the feeling of tiredness in the morning.  Continue reading

Ordinary foods that keep you healthy

Dear Dr. Mo: Which foods should I always include in my diet to improve my health and why?

Dear reader: It goes without saying that good dietary habits are good for our health – but what is not often emphasized enough is just how good that is.
It has been widely recognized by medical community that by simply increasing your daily consumption of fruits and vegetables you are lowering your risk of heart disease and diabetes – and when I say lowering I mean really lowering it by 50 to even 70%!

Bananas are a nutrient powerhouse

There are of course other benefits too: an antioxidant called Lycopene in tomatoes, watermelon and red grapefruit is linked to protection against breast and prostate cancers, chances of developing kidney cancer are greatly diminished by frequent consumption of fruits and vegetables and fiber rich foods keep your intestines work properly preventing constipation, intestinal illness and help control your weight by keeping you fuller for longer.
We all have different appetites, habits and tastes but vegetables and fruits should be an integral part of our daily diet and many adults need roughly two cups of fruit and three cups of vegetables per day.

Here is my selection of some ordinary foods, which I consider rich in all the nutrients you need to turn your daily diet into a health promoting and health protecting habit. Continue reading

The All-Mighty Green Tea

 

Dear readers: Green tea has become one of the most widely consumed beverages on the planet, second only to water and its medicinal and health-protective properties have been known to its consumers for many centuries both externally in a paste form to treat rheumatism and internally as a ‘purifying’ soup.

One of my tea sets

I prefer Japanese teas, which are milder and more delicate than Chinese – the one in the photo is Ryokucha Midori

The Emperor Shen Nung, father of Chinese medicine and farming, wrote in his Medical Book that “tea relieves tiredness, strengthens the will, delights the soul and enlivens the sight.

Shen’s remarks had not been unfounded and modern science proves green tea’s potent medical properties.
Green tea as well as all other teas: black, white, red or dark come from a single Tea plant – Camelia Sinensis, a cultivated bush with evergreen leaves, which grows in hot and humid climates of Asia, Africa and South America. Camelia Sinensis itself originates from China, probably around the border of North Vietnam. Continue reading