Archive for January, 2010

Even Teens Can Have High Cholesterol

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Most of us associate high cholesterol levels with advancing age. Cholesterol is something you are not supposed to have to worry about until middle to late adulthood. This is not necessarily the case: a new study has shown that many teens have high cholesterol levels, predisposing them to the risk of heart disease at a younger age.

A study of 3,125 teens found that an astonishing 20% of the subjects, aged 12 to 19, had abnormally high lipid or cholesterol levels. Males were affected more often than females. In some cases high levels correlated with the teen being overweight, but even some of the normal-weight teens (14.2%) had unhealthy levels. Being overweight would likely lead to screening of cholesterol and lipid levels for some of the teens, but those of normal weight would likely not be tested on a routine basis.

The study pointed to the need for health care professionals and parents to be aware of the risks of these high levels, and to encourage teens to modify their risk factors early. Exercising and weight reduction, as well as watching their diet, should be counseled. For teens who have a positive family history of heart disease, this may be even more important.

Source: Prevalence of Abnormal Lipid Levels Among Youths — United States, 1999—2006

What is Cholesterol?

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Cholesterol is a substance that is needed in the body in order for it to function properly. Its role is to produce hormones, vitamin D and acids used to aid your body in digesting fat. Our bodies generally produce enough cholesterol naturally, without us having to worry about whether we get enough of it from the foods we eat. In fact, many of us get too much cholesterol from our diet which can cause problems such as atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries, leading to heart disease. This is because excess cholesterol and fat line the arteries that supply our hearts, choking off the heart’s supply of oxygen-rich blood.

Perhaps you have heard the terms “good” and “bad” applied to cholesterol. LDL (low density lipoproteins) are proteins that carry the bulk of the cholesterol in the blood, so having too high a level of LDL means that your risk of developing heart disease may be higher. HDL, or high density lipoproteins, carry cholesterol in the body back to your liver which disposes of it; therefore, this lipoprotein is the “good” cholesterol because it helps to lower the amount of cholesterol that can build up in the arteries. You may have also heard of triglycerides. Trigycerides alone are not necessarily problematic, but some trigycerides are associated with lipoproteins that carry cholesterol, so high triglyceride levels may be a sign of a problem with cholesterol.

Many factors relate to how your body handles lipoproteins and cholesterol. Age, sex, weight, exercise, diet and heredity can all play a role in how your body metabolizes cholesterol. It is important to know your risk factors for heart disease, and managing your cholesterol and triglyceride levels can go a long way towards preventing heart disease.

The Low-Down on Lower Back Pain

Thursday, January 28th, 2010

Back pain is a common problem, estimated to affect up to 80% of the adult population at some point in their lives, and is the second most common reason for visits to the doctor. It is also a common reason for missing work. Yearly, Americans spend somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 million dollars on back pain care. Most back pain is not related to a serious illness, but is instead the result of mechanical strain (ACA, 2010). Back pain not caused by organic disease can result from one or more of the following:

  • Aging- Aging results in “wear and tear” on the spine that can result in pain in the neck and back. A previous history of back pain or injury makes it more likely to happen again.
  • Occupation- Jobs that require excessive lifting, bending, standing and/or sitting can result in back pain.
  • Weight- Being overweight, in combination with lack of exercise, can set the stage for chronic back pain.
  • Sports- Many sports can contribute to back pain, especially if no warm up is done prior to engaging in the activity.
  • Poor Posture- Slouching and poor lifting techniques can cause back pain, as can sleeping on a surface that is too soft and does not properly support the back.

Treating back pain can involve a combination of treatments, such as rest, application of ice and heat, physiotherapy, massage therapy, strengthening exercises and medications aimed at addressing the pain and inflammation that result from back injury. Weight reduction, attention to posture, proper lifting techniques and taking care to warm up prior to engaging in sports can aid in the prevention and improvement of back pain.

Source: American Chiropractic Association Back Pain Facts and Statistics

What is Pre-Diabetes?

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Pre-diabetes can be defined as the condition of having abnormally high blood glucose levels that are not high enough to warrant the diagnosis of type 2 diabetes. It is estimated that 57 million people in the United States are pre-diabetic (NDIC, 2007). How can you tell if you are one of these people?

Some groups of people are at higher risk of developing diabetes. These groups include the elderly, African Americans, those of Asian descent, Native Americans and those of Latin descent. However, pre-diabetes and diabetes can occur in people of all ethnicities and ages. Other risk factors for pre-diabetes and diabetes include a sedentary lifestyle, high blood pressure, a family history of diabetes, being overweight and a history of having had diabetes during pregnancy.

Two common tests that can help determine whether you have an abnormal metabolism are the Fasting Glucose Test and the Oral Glucose Tolerance Test. Abnormal results on either of these tests signal that your body has an impaired ability to metabolize glucose.

A diagnosis of pre-diabetes does not necessarily mean that you are destined to become diabetic. Studies have shown that lifestyle changes, such as regular exercise and weight loss, can prevent the development of diabetes. Knowing your risk factors for diabetes can help you to avoid developing the disease.

Source: National Diabetes Information Clearinghouse (NDIC)

Study Finds Link between Menopause and Rising Cholesterol Levels

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

The symptoms of menopause can be overwhelming for some, including hot flashes, night sweats, menstrual irregularities, fatigue, sleep disturbances and mood swings. These symptoms herald major changes occurring in the body, mainly a decrease in the hormones that regulate menstruation. As if these symptoms weren’t enough to contend with, new research reveals that menopause can signal an end to healthy cholesterol levels for some women.

A study of 1,054 women revealed that, as women entered menopause, total cholesterol levels and levels of LDL cholesterol rose dramatically. This rise in cholesterol levels began one year prior to menopause and continued for one year after the study participants’ last menstrual periods. Risk factors and ethnicity of the participants had no bearing on this rise.

The take-home message of this study is that women going through menopause need to be mindful that the decrease in estrogen levels brought about by menopause can have a broader impact on their health than the annoying, and sometimes unbearable, symptoms mentioned above. Menopause should signal the need to examine personal risk factors for heart disease and stroke, as these risk factors can be somewhat modified through lifestyle changes such as diet and exercise.

Source: J Am College Cardiol. 2009;54:2366-2373 and 2374-2375.

Exercise Improves Arthritis Pain

Tuesday, January 26th, 2010

When you suffer from debilitating joint pain, you may be tempted to decrease your level of activity, hoping that becoming less active will ease the chronic pain associated with arthritis. This could not be further from the truth- exercise can actually improve joint pain, as well as promoting restful sleep, an enhanced mood, and a sense of overall well-being.

Studies have shown that regular exercise can stabilize arthritic joints and strengthen the muscles supporting the joint, leading to less pain. The key to exercising for those who suffer from arthritis is to limit those activities that put too much stress on the affected joints. There are several types of exercises that may be more suited to those who have arthritis. These may include:

  • Range-of-motion exercises- Yoga and similar exercise programs, such as tai-chi, increase flexibility and range of motion in affected joints, as well as strengthening supporting muscles. Relaxation is an added bonus.
  • Low-impact activities- Walking, swimming and low-impact aerobics are safe activities for most people who have arthritis. These activities strengthen muscles, improve conditioning and increase endurance.
  • Working with weights- Strength training builds muscles and can be done with machines, free weights or your own body as resistance.

Anyone with arthritis who wishes to engage in an exercise program should first be cleared by their physician, to ensure that there are no contraindications to the proposed exercise regime.

Lower Cholesterol Levels May Reduce Risk of Prostate Cancer

Monday, January 25th, 2010

According to the National Cancer Institute, 1 in 6 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime. Often, early prostate cancer causes no symptoms; in fact, many men do not discover they have prostate cancer until it has spread beyond the prostate. Symptoms that are noticed usually affect urination and sexual performance. These symptoms may prompt a visit to the doctor. Prostate cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States in men (Terris, 2009).

A study conducted at Johns Hopkins, funded by the National Cancer Institute, shows a startling relationship between cholesterol levels and prostate cancer. The study included more than 5,000 men. The results? Men with lower levels of cholesterol are less likely to develop high-grade cancer of the prostate, the most severe form of the disease, which has a lower survival rate. Lowering cholesterol levels decreased the rate of contracting high-grade prostate cancer by more than 60%, according to the study.

We already know that lower cholesterol levels are beneficial for heart health, but this study clearly shows that keeping your cholesterol level low can have other benefits in the body, such as lowering your cancer risk. As studies such as this one prove, there is more to cholesterol than meets the eye.


Martha K Terris (2009)

Poor Economy Leads to Higher Use of Natural Remedies

Sunday, January 24th, 2010

It has been estimated that approximately 45 million people in the United States are without health insurance coverage. Some estimates are higher, some are lower- the bottom line, however, is that an alarming number of people in the US cannot afford health care coverage. This not only impacts those who have already been diagnosed with a health condition, but also those who are not yet aware that they may be in the beginning stages of what may develop into a life-threatening condition, such as heart disease, diabetes, or one of the many chronic health problems that can have devastating consequences.

It has long been known that preventing disease is more cost efficient than treating disease that has already manifested itself: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and “An apple a day keeps the doctor away” are not new or novel concepts. In an ideal world, under an ideal system, all citizens would have easy and affordable access to quality health care. The current economic crisis has further eroded the health care system’s ability to be proactive in preventing many inherently preventable diseases, forcing many to confront their health care issues only after they have become firmly entrenched and more difficult to treat.

Is it any wonder, then, that 38% of American adults turn to complementary medicine as a means of taking charge of their health? (NCCAM, 2007) People are more interested than ever in using natural and more cost effective methods to maintain their health and well-being. Science has gotten behind this movement, devoting more time to exploring complementary and alternative medications and practices. This increased interest has led to many studies confirming the validity of many of these therapies, which has further encouraged their use. It is likely that, as the economic situation continues, higher numbers of people will join this movement.