The Science of Prevention

The Science of Prevention
Do’s and Don’ts that Could Save Your Life!

Running, Exercising Outdoors

The key to living a healthy, balanced life is practicing prevention. Benjamin Franklin said, “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

If you are not already well versed in your family medical history, I can not stress the importance of having those conversations. If someone in your immediate family has a chronic illness like heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes, or a history of cancer, this is something both you & your doctor should be aware of.

There are basically two types of inherited disease: single gene inheritance & multifactorial (or complex) inheritance. Examples of single gene inheritance are diseases like cystic fibrosis and sickle cell anemia. In those instances, there are no changes that you can make to your environment or you lifestyle to impact whether or not you will develop these diseases. Multifactorial inherited diseases are a different story. Examples of these are things like diabetes, high blood pressure, and even cancer. If you inherited a risk factor for one of these types of diseases, taking preventive steps in your life could be difference between developing the disease or not.

Having regular physicals with your health care provider & scheduling recommended preventive screenings for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, ovarian cancer, and even depression could save your life. Many of these diseases, when detected early, can be treated with medication or in some cases even with simple lifestyle changes like diet and exercise.

Other preventive measures that are important for a healthy lifestyle and in some cases could save your life include:

Not smoking
Getting to & maintaining a healthy weight
Being physically active
Consuming a healthy diet
Not drinking excessively

I’m curious … are there diseases that you know of that run in your family that you could prevent or help your children or loved ones prevent with these tips? Comment below & tell me about it.

If you can’t remember the last time you had that physical or “annual” mammogram, schedule it NOW! Then come back to this page and tell me, “I did it!”

Don’t Let Your Genes Define You

 

I have a personal triumph story to share, and I hope it inspires you when you think that your genes define you.The first time I had my cholesterol levels tested, it was shockingly on the high side.  At that point, I was twenty-one years old, relatively thin and fairly active.  I was actually working in a Nutrition and Heart Disease laboratory at the time as a Research Associate, and I was learning quite a bit about genetic predisposition for a number of cardiovascular diseases and if changes to diet could in fact help a person avoid these diseases.I kept an eye on my cholesterol for the next several years and even though I knew more on the topic than the average person my age (e.g., the difference between “good” and “bad” cholesterol) I stupidly did not make any modifications to my diet to keep the numbers in check.  I’m sure laziness was a key factor in addition to the fact that I was coming off of the starving student years and thrilled to be able to afford more than bagels and bananas at the grocery store!About three years ago, I made a huge leap and became a pescetarian.  I figured that by giving up meat, I was not only saving animals lives but potentially my own by the huge amounts of fat and cholesterol that I’d be avoiding.  A year into this semi-vegetarian lifestyle, I couldn’t wait to go for my annual cholesterol check.  I was shocked and seriously disappointed when the numbers had in fact not gone down… but up by about 30 points!!!  After a little thinking, I realized it must be all of the cheese I was eating to compensate for the lack of meat in my diet.  I had also started to get much more regular cardiovascular exercise & strength training during this time.  Something else had to be done, and I needed to get smart about it if I wanted to avoid starting statin therapy in my thirties.I began to do research and planned to start a sort of “food detox,” where I avoided several foods for about two weeks to encourage myself to make new food choices rather than those upon which I have forever relied (I had still been lazy up until this point, often choosing foods that were quick & easy versus good for me).  For a week, I ditched foods such as dairy, soy, wheat, and anything processed.  Instead of cold cereal or non-fat flavored yogurts for breakfast, I tried apple slices with almond butter and fruit smoothies.  I felt really good after the “detox” period was over, and have continued to avoid most processed foods.  I also discovered Pu erh tea, which is known to have cholesterol-reducing properties.  Instead of having an afternoon cappuccino, I substituted a cup of tea.

 

Just a couple of weeks ago, I went in for my yearly cholesterol screening.  I was actually really nervous!  I was still exercising regularly, and my cheese consumption had dropped dramatically after being introduced to more protein-containing whole foods.  But the truth was, in all of the years I had been getting my cholesterol checked it had NEVER once gone down and had ALWAYS gone up.

The next day, I got a ping on my iPhone when a new test result from my doctor’s office was posted.  I was shocked and THRILLED to see that for the first time ever, my total cholesterol had gone down!  I still have some work to do on my LDL (bad cholesterol), but my trigylcerides had gone down by over 30 points!  I considered that a huge success and know that saying goodbye to sugar and artificial sweeteners had a lot to do with this accomplishment.

If this isn’t proof that lifestyle changes DO make a difference, then I don’t know what is!  I continue to drink my Pu erh tea every day, as well as include fiber-rich foods and vegetables into my diet.  You can see this isn’t something that I was able to change overnight, but your strength lies in perseverance.

I challenge you to set a life-changing goal today!  You CAN achieve it if you set your mind to it and get a little encouragement along the way.

 

Photo courtesy of www.surgical-blog.com

 

Controlling Stress May Be the Key to Fewer Age-Related Diseases

I’ve written about stress before, but I was compelled to write on this topic again after some of the interactions I’ve had this week.

Psychological stress and anxiety can’t be completely avoided, they are a part of life. Did you know that there is a 50% increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) for people who deal with chronic work stress? That’s a 50 percent greater chance than the average person has of developing CVD if you are stressed at work and don’t change your environment.

Stress can further increase the diseases associated with aging, such as Alzheimer’s disease. Before running to the doctor for a prescription to make the symptoms disappear, it is important to identify your stressors. It may be work-related, family-related, or a combination of things. Stress is a reaction. The brain is involved in a person’s stress response (e.g., interprets what is threatening) and then regulates both how your body responds both physiologically and behaviorally.

Studies have found that the following can help decrease your body’s response to stress:

1) Exercise. Exercise increases the level of telomerase produced. Telomerase is an enzyme that protects loss of DNA from important end region of our chromosomes called telomeres. Think of a telomere like the protective piece at the end of a shoestring. Studies have found that elite athletes have very long telomeres.

2) Your Social Network. I’m not just taking about how many Facebook or Twitter followers you have! People with a strong partner relationship and close friendships have been found to be at lower risk for diseases associated with aging and to have less of a stress response to situations such as public speaking (which can evoke fear in many).

3) Better quality of sleep. The average person needs between 7 and 9 hours of sleep per night. People who got a better quality of sleep and woke up feeling rested have, on average, longer telomeres than those who suffered from poor quality sleep.

4) Nutrition. Individuals diagnosed with obesity and insulin resistance had shorter telomeres than others, whereas those who consumed a diet containing antioxidants and added supplements such as omega 3s had longer telomeres.

The lesson to take from this is that if we can embrace these preventive measures, we can increase our body’s resilience. As resilience increases, so does our ability to age well.

Four Tips for a Healthier Heart

Did you know that one in four women in the United States dies from heart disease? Pretty shocking, huh? That makes coronary heart disease (CHD) the number one killer of women in the US. There are many steps people can take to prevent heart disease. Concentrating on key lifestyle areas such as exercise, nutrition, and smoking is the best way to reduce your risk.

Here are 4 tips to help you become more heart healthy.

1. Stop smoking. Smokers are TWICE as likely to have a heart attack than non-smokers. Quitting is the most important thing you can do to live longer. In the first 20 minutes of quitting, your heart rate and blood pressure decrease. Within one year, the excess risk of coronary heart disease is half that of a continuing smoker’s. (US Surgeon General’s Report, 2010, p. 359) If you need any more motivation, think of your loved ones. Second-hand smoke is dangerous for them too. Quitting is hard, but there are many aids on the market that can help you. If the other members of your household smoke, be the strong one! If you vow to stop, you may be the inspiration they need to stop too. What’s better than helping your loved ones become healthier and live longer?

2. Move it! Your heart’s job is to pump blood through your body. You need to raise your heart rate for about 30 minutes each day so your heart can do this efficiently. If you aren’t getting regular exercise now, start slowly. Take a brisk 15 minute walk, then move up to 20 minutes and so on. Having a walking buddy helps with motivation, and you can get your social fix too. Walking and talking with a friend gives your mental health a boost as well.

3. Watch your diet. A healthy diet can reduce your risk of heart disease. Try and eat a balanced diet with high fiber foods like vegetables and fruits, whole grains opposed to white flour, and fish. Minimize dairy products that are high in fat, as well as other high fat items without a lot of nutritional value like cookies and cakes.

4. Have your blood pressure and cholesterol checked regularly. If you have high blood pressure, you run a higher risk for heart attack and stroke. High blood cholesterol can increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and circulatory diseases. Know your family history! If high blood pressure or high cholesterol run in your family, you have to be even more diligent with your diet and get more exercise. High fiber foods and whole grains will help with you cholesterol. Your doctor may also recommend drug therapy if diet and exercise aren’t doing the trick.