Monday, December 21, 2009

Mushrooms & Green Tea are associated with lower breast cancer risk in a Chinese study

A study in the International Journal of Cancer, March 15, 2009, looked at 1009 women in China newly diagnosed with breast cancer and compared them with 1009 healthy age-matched women. The researchers – from the University of Perth in Australia - adjusted for known risk factors for breast cancer, such as smoking, passive smoke exposure or close relatives with breast cancer. Working with detailed registers of the women’s consumption of 100 different foods, they found that women who consumed (on the average) more than 10 grams (.353 ounces) of fresh mushrooms a day had 64% less risk of developing breast cancer that those who did not eat mushrooms. The effect was dose dependent – the more mushrooms women reported eating, the lower their risk. Moreover, intake of fresh or dried mushrooms plus green tea had an additive, dose dependent effect on risk. Those who consumed the most green tea plus fresh mushrooms lowered their risk of breast cancer by 89%. All types of mushrooms consumed by the women in this study were counted.; the most common types were white button mushrooms (Agaricus bisporus) and fragrant dried mushrooms (Lentinula edodes). The author of this study, Dr. Min Zhang, noted that the rate of breast cancer in China is 4-5 times lower that that in developed countries. She speculated that the Chinese diet, high in green tea and mushrooms, might play a role. Rates of breast cancer are currently rising in the more affluent parts of China. Researchers have suggested that the adoption of a more western diet may be a causative factor.

So – if you are looking for a way to counteract the western diet of cookies and egg-nog in the next few weeks – here is the famous list of

The 11 Best Foods You Aren’t Eating by nutritionist and author Jonny Bowden, printed in the New York Times and a ‘most viewed story’ of 2008.

Beets – Think of beets as red spinach says Bowden, with folate and red pigments that may be cancer fighters.

Eat them raw – grated into salad

Cabbage – a brassica vegetable, similar to broccoli – with anti cancer effects – see my blog on brassicas.

Swiss Chard - lots of beneficial carotenes in the leaves.

Cinnamon –lowers blood sugar and LDL cholesterol

Pomegranate juice – increases blood flow in the heart muscle. See my blog on pomegranate for details.

Prunes – packed with antioxidants, and a safe laxative

Pumpkin Seeds – good source of protein, magnesium and zinc. Toast and eat.

Canned Pumpkin –an easy way to get lots of carotenes - use in soup and whole grain pancakes.

Sardines – lots of omega-3 fatty acids, high in calcium – try the low sodium kind with bones and skin intact. Turmeric – anti-cancer, good for the brain, see my blog for details. It’s in curry powder. Add to rice and stir fries.

Frozen Blueberries – associated with better memory in studies of aging animals. Add to a yogurt or soy smoothie.

Dear Readers – I wish you a wonderful Solstice as you celebrate the light returning. Stay warm with a cup of green tea and some sauteed mushrooms. They are protective for men as well as women. Have a joyous Christmas, whether you are a Christian, Jew, Atheist, Muslim, Buddhist, Pagan, Pantheist or other spiritual path. It’s the spirit of friendship that counts.

Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH back issues on this blog

Monday, December 14, 2009

Exploring Slow

Life in the fast lane: multi tasking, 24/7, the 70 hour work week, texting while driving, texting during sex, road rage, fast food, take-out (wrapped in plastic), after-school classes and scheduled sports every afternoon and weekend. If you want to hang on, you’d better speed up.

However, there’s a counter-trend in the world, called the Slow Movement.

Slow Food In 1986 McDonald’s tried to open a shop near the Spanish steps in Rome; this triggered a movement that has spread to over 132 countries. Slow Food aims to preserve and celebrate the cultural cuisine, associated plants and animals and farming practices of an ecoregion. Its aims include forming seed banks to preserve heirloom varieties of local foods, educating the public on the risks of factory farms, pesticides and fast food, teaching gardening to students and prisoners, preserving family farms and reviving home cooked meals with local ingredients from each locale. Family farmers from every continent attend Terra Madre, the bi-annual slow food conference in Italy, The work of Alice Waters to teach students about food and healthy eating through schoolyard gardens, and Michelle Obama’s organic garden on the White House lawn are all related to the slow food movement.

Slow Parenting Children (in middle and upper class families) are generally enrolled in numerous after-school classes and organized sports – while each of these activities is valuable in itself, the result is that there is little time for free play before or after a heavy load of homework. One rationale is that the world is more dangerous, so that unsupervised play outside is risky; another is that such activities are needed for entry to a good high school or college, and another that both parents are working and need after-school childcare. It is hard for parents to find a way out of these problems, but awareness of the child’s need for free play and an individual learning style is a start. The slow parenting movement advises that children should pick their own activities, rather than fulfill their parents’ dreams. Parents should turn off the television and allow children to play with simple toys, make their own breakfast, and explore the out-of-doors whenever possible. ‘Cramming schools’ to push for higher academic results put children under continuous competitive pressure and take away their own creativity and independence. The slow movement has even reached the Ivy League. In a 2005 letter to Harvard students, the Dean advised students not to become overcommitted with athletics, clubs, arts and classes, or to be stretched too thin to appreciate other aspects of college life, including friendships and time to explore unexpected areas of knowledge.

Slow Medicine American medicine manages acute problems and specialized procedures such as organ transplants, eye surgeries and joint replacements extremely well. Chronic diseases that require education, lifestyle changes and home support are often handled less well by overworked doctors and nurses. Slower acting modalities such as appropriate exercise, healthy eating, and meditation are not paid for or readily available. Some elderly patients are subjected to ‘death by intensive care’ when home-based care would be more comforting and comfortable. The ‘slow medicine’ movement sees family, friends, visiting nurses and hospice workers improving the life of older patients at home by offering emotional support, social stimulation, better nutrition and help with sleeping, moving, bathing and other activities. Many towns and cities have organizations providing such services, and they deserve support.

Slow sex The movement for slow food, and enjoying a slower life began in Italy. So did the discussion of slow sex. There are current articles in our popular magazines about what sex researchers found in the 1960’s – the longer the foreplay, the better the climax for both partners. Many women who cannot achieve orgasm in intercourse can easily do so by clitoral stimulation. The Pointer Sisters have a song that lays it out for heterosexual couples - Slow Hand: I want a man with a slow hand – I want a lover with an easy touch….. (YouTube Pointer Sisters – Slow Hand)

The Slow Movement Summed Up:

“The trouble with the rat race is that even if you win, you’re still a rat.” Lily Tomlin. “Anything worth doing is worth doing slowly.” Mae West

In Praise of Slowness: How a Worldwide Movement is Challenging the Cult of Speed by Carl Honore

Under Pressure: Rescuing Our Children from the Culture of Hyper-Parenting by Carl Honore

Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH back issues on this website


Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Go to Health - Vitamin K

Vitamin K is a fat-soluble vitamin – a substance essential for the human body. The K comes from the German word for coagulation – or blood clotting. Plants synthesize vitamin K1 (phylooquinone); when we eat green vegetables or certain vegetable oils, bacteria in our guts transform the K1 from food to K2, the main active form in our bodies. Vitamin K is essential for blood clotting and bone strength.

Blood Clotting: As soon as a blood vessel is damaged, the body begins to prevent serious bleeding by many mechanisms. Blood platelets form a plug at the site of injury, and proteins in the blood - called clotting factors – are activated to form fibrin strands which strengthen the platelet plug. Vitamin K is essential for the formation of many of the clotting factors in this process. Since these clotting factors are made in the liver, severe liver disease may result in lower blood levels and a risk of uncontrolled bleeding. Alternatively, some people are at risk of forming clots which could block the flow of blood in arteries to the heart, brain or lungs, resulting in heart attack, stroke or pulmonary embolism. If they take Coumadin as an anticoagulant, the drug works by antagonizing the action of vitamin K. Doctors advise patients on Coumadin to have a reasonably constant amount of green vegetables containing vitamin K in their diets, but not to avoid them..

Bone mineralization: Osteoblasts are bone-forming cells that make proteins essential for bone mineralization. Vitamin K plays a role in the synthesis of these proteins (their activity is also regulated by vitamin D). Population studies have shown a relationship between foods containing vitamin K and hip fracture – the Nurses’ Health Study followed 72,000 women for 10 years and found that those with the highest intake of vitamin K had a significantly lower risk of hip fracture than those with lesser intake. Lettuce was the food contributing the most to vitamin K intake. A similar finding was seen in the Framingham Heart Study of men and women – a 65% lower risk of hip fracture in those in the highest quartile of vitamin K intake from food, compared to those in the lowest, despite no association with bone mineral density. Researchers in Japan used very high doses of supplemental vitamin K in patients on hemodialysis and in osteoporotic women and reported significant reductions in bone loss and fracture risk. However, using supplemental K at doses attainable in the diet has shown mixed results with respect to bone density. There are inconsistencies here that need further research.

Foods containing Vitamin K: A good diet that includes a daily intake of green leafy vegetables is endorsed by all vitamin K researchers. Kale, chard, spinach and broccoli are high in K, and lettuce is moderately high. . Levels of K are not reduced by many cooking methods, however it is unwise to cook most vegetables in abundant water if you discard the cooking water. Canola, soy and olive oils all contain vitamin K. To eat the amount of foods high in K associated with a decreased risk of hip fracture in the Framingham Heart Study, an individual would need to eat at least a cup of cooked dark green vegetables a day, or a large salad of mixed greens. Many multivitamins now include small amounts of Vitamin K1; while this may be helpful, it should not substitute for leafy greens in the diet. Using olive, canola or soy oils instead of butter will increase K intake and provide less saturated fat. Prolonged use of broad spectrum antibiotics may decrease the synthesis of K by intestinal bacteria, so extra care will be needed to get adequate levels from food and multivitamins. Here in California we have access to leafy greens throughout the year, often locally grown. A really easy green vegetable to grow yourself is the fava bean – and you don’t have to wait for the beans to form. Their green leaves are delicious and are becoming a culinary trend in salad or cooked.

Sadja Greenwood, MD, MPH. Past issues on this blog. Leave me a comment if you wish.