Sunday, February 12, 2017

How I’ve Saved the Health Care System Thousands of Dollars

  • Orthotics for problem feet, starting in my 40s, allowed me to do strenuous workouts and possibly to avoid later ankle, hip, and lower back surgery.
  • Opted for acupuncture instead of surgery for rotator cuff injury.
  • In my 50s, used diet and exercise to lose weight instead of taking statins to lower cholesterol.
  • Started taking protein supplements and proteolytic enzymes to retain and build strong muscles. Enzymes also help to heal injuries.
  • Discovered that probiotics could alleviate long-term digestive problems, improve overall health. Drinking homemade vegetable and fruit juices may have helped too.
  • In my 70s, began impact exercise (jumping) instead of bisphosphonates to improve bone strength.
  • Currently receiving chiropractic treatment (myofascial release therapy and active release technique) for scar tissue in my shoulders and arms instead of taking pain meds or trying surgery.
Of these, only the orthotics are covered by insurance and even those have been said to be ineffective in some studies.Yet athletes use them all the time.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

“Sorry, WebMD, Weight-Bearing Exercise Didn’t Help My Bone Density, Jumping Did.”

Bad news from last year’s DXA scan. My readings, which had floated around in osteopenia territory for years, had dropped. My right femur was down 5.2% compared with the previous reading and my spine was now osteoporotic, suggesting an increased risk of fracturing a vertebra.

Two factors, I think, accounted for this startling and unwelcome change. First, I think my dosage of Synthroid, which I need for my hypothyroidism, had been kept too high for too long. My doctor didn’t want to lower the dosage because my TSH was within the normal range, though just barely under hyperthyroid, for several years. It turns out that too much Synthroid can cause bone loss. Secondly, when the media came out with scare stories about how taking too much calcium supplement can contribute to heart disease (and where’s the evidence for that?), I foolishly cut back on the amount I was taking. The body is a proficient scavenger; if you don’t give it what it needs, it uses up what it has, in this case calcium in the bones.
Clearly, this trend needed to be reversed as soon as possible. The standard treatment for osteoporosis is one of the bisphosphonates, such as Fosamax or Boniva but, according to ConsumerReports, these are only modestly effective and can have dangerous side effects. A friend of mine took one of these drugs and experienced osteonecrosis of the jaw, in which the jawbone disintegrates and the teeth fall out. Not for me!

Fortunately I discovered some articles about the research of Dr. Larry Tucker of Brigham Young University and others, which involved jumping to increase bone strength in the hips. (See earlier post, “Maintaining an Imperfect Body: the Mini-Workout") The jumping routine is supposed to work for hips but the researchers say it doesn’t do anything for the spine; I decided it was an ideal opportunity to test the notion that weight-bearing exercise can help bone density. For the six months from 9/15 to 3/16, I did the jumping routine for 20 minutes, twice a day. During the same period, I did weight-bearing exercises for the back at a fairly intense level: 50 pushups, low rows with up to 80 pounds of weight, back extensions holding up to 30 pounds of weight. I also went back to a higher dosage of the calcium supplement.

When I had another DXA in March of 2016, the hip readings had stabilized but the readings for the spine had gone down 4%. If I had waited two years to do another DXA, the usual recommendation, I could have lost 16% from the bone density in my spine! Clearly, the heavy-duty weight exercises either hadn’t done anything or hadn’t done nearly enough for my spine.

What to do? Impact exercises had worked for the hips so perhaps I needed an impact move that would help the spine. In March I came up with a new exercise to target the spine and started using it for 15 minutes, twice a day. The results so far are promising but I’m not going to put it online until I’m sure it works. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Food Synergy Pesto with Almonds and Anti-Cancer Greens

Garlic, along with leeks, onions, and other members of the alium family are among the top anti-cancer foods. Most people find it inconvenient to consume raw garlic but this recipe tones it down with parsley, lemon juice, and other flavors. Besides the garlic, the anti-cancer foods are parsley, arugula, and avocado.

For this quantity of pesto, I use a mini-blender. The full sized blender tends to slide over the tops of the ingredients in Step 2.

¼ cup sliced almonds
2 T avocado or olive oil
2 T water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
¼ ripe avocado, skin removed
1 clove garlic coarsely chopped
1 small handful of parsley
1 cup arugula, packed
¼ tsp. of salt, or to taste

1.  Lightly toast the almonds over medium heat, stirring a few times. They should be fragrant and slightly crisp, not brown. Pour onto a plate to cool.

2.  In the bowl of a small blender combine the oil, water, lemon juice, avocado, and garlic. Puree until it forms a smooth mixture.

3.  Add the parsley and puree until smooth.

4.  Add the arugula and puree to whatever consistency you prefer.

5.  Add the salt and the toasted almonds and pulse a few times. Repeat until the almonds are coarsely or finely ground, depending on your taste. I like mine slightly grainy, as you can see from the photo.

6.  You can serve this with pasta, as a garnish for soup, or in a sandwich. I like to spread it on whole wheat bread with slices of cooked chicken. Sometimes I top the pesto with a slice of cheese and broil at around 425 degrees until the cheese melts.

Other Food Synergy Recipes:

The Mango Lassi With Anti-Cancer Spices 

The Pretty Good Almond Berry Green Smoothie

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

More Food Synergy – and Evidence That It’s Doing Something

Once I had created the Mango Lassi with Anti-Cancer Spices, I wanted to make another drink that would feature anti-cancer vegetables and fruit. Green drinks run the gamut from bitter or sulfury at one end to super-sweet with sugar or fruit juice at the other. I haven’t been a fan of most of the ones I’ve tried.

After months of experimenting, I’ve come up with this combo, where the rich flavor of almond and grapeseed oil tames the strong flavors of the greens. The raspberries, lemon, and stevia add just enough sweetness. One of the advantages of the blending process is that you can use the fibrous parts of the vegetables that normally get thrown away, like the stems of the broccoli and parsley. The anti-cancer foods in this drink are the two cruciferous vegetables, the parsley, and the raspberries. 

The Pretty Good Almond Berry Green Smoothie

Time: 15 minutes including cleanup
Servings: 1 large drink

½ cup sugar-free almond milk
1-2 tablespoons water
½ cup ice
2 teaspoons grapeseed or peanut oil
1 cup of light, leafy cruciferous vegetable, such as kale or arugula, firmly packed
1/3 cup of dense cruciferous vegetable, such as broccoli, cabbage, or cauliflower coarsely chopped
1 small handful of parsley or ½ celery stalk
¼ lemon, peel removed
2/3 cup raspberries or blueberries
1-2 packets stevia

Add almond milk, water, and ice to the container of a blender.
Add the remaining ingredients in the order given.
Pulse 20 times to chop the solids, then puree for a slow count of 30 or until mixture is smooth.
If the mixture is too thick, add a little more water.

I sometimes follow this drink with a half ounce of dark chocolate, another anti-cancer food.
Almond milk only lasts about a week after opening and I’ve only been able to get it in half-gallon containers, way too much for my needs. Kitchen stores sell little trays for extra large ice cubes, almost 4 oz. (1/2 cup). I freeze portions of almond milk and take them out one at a time. When you do this, you will add water rather than ice to the one-cup measure and you will have to puree about 2-3 times as long because of the extra frozen liquids.

I've read that cruciferous vegetables contain small amounts of various toxins. In order to limit exposure to any one toxin, it is recommended that you vary the ingredients of the smoothie on a regular basis.

Tip for Storing Vegetables: Many vegetables will keep longer if they are wrapped in a paper towel inside of the usual plastic bag. If the paper towel gets wet, it should be replaced with a dry one. For greens that come in a plastic clamshell, open the container immediately after you get it home, before storing it in the refrigerator. Put a paper towel on top, shake the container a couple of times, and re-close the lid. Store upside down (paper towel down) in the refrigerator. Each time you reopen it, remove any leaves that are starting to yellow, replace the paper towel if it is wet or stained, and shake the container before putting it away. This helps to keep the leaves from packing down, getting too wet, and spoiling.

One Way to Re-Use Plastic Clamshells: I give relatively clean and undamaged clamshells to a guy at my gym. He passes them along to Amish farmers who use them when they make butter and cheese.

The Evidence That It’s Doing Something
I’ve complained about my digestive malfunctions elsewhere in this blog (Trouble Down Below, Last year I started drinking the mango lassi ( and the Pretty Good Green Smoothie. Over the next couple of months I noticed that my fingernails were stronger and my skin looked better. 

This week I was doing my usual pedicure routine: remove old polish, file nails and calluses, wash and push back cuticles, and apply new polish. After the old polish was gone I noticed that there was a distinct difference in color between the upper and lower parts of the nail; the lower part was a nice, healthy-looking pink, while the upper part was yellowish. The dividing line comes 1/3 to halfway up the nail. 

Toenails take 12-18 months to grow out so this change represents a process that started 6-9 months ago. Mid-December, six months ago, is when I started with the drinks. Nothing was different about my foot care routine so this seems to represent a metabolic change of some kind. What sort of change is it and what are the implications for my health? I have no idea but I wish someone would check it out.

Update: Here are my feet six weeks later, seven and a half months after I started with the drinks:


Thursday, May 12, 2016

Food Synergy: New Cancer Research and a Recipe

Recent research is suggests an increasingly important role for nutrition in preventing and treating a range of conditions, including cancer. In the 1990s, scientists at the University College of Medical Sciences in New Delhi studied mice that had been exposed to a carcinogen that caused breast tumors in 100% of them. When nutritional substances were administered beforehand, the risk of developing cancer was reduced from 50% for the mice who ingested one substance to 90% for those who ingested four nutrients together (described in David Servan-Schreiber’s book, Anti-Cancer: A New Way of Life, p. 110).

At Sainte-Justine Children’s Hospital in Montreal Richard Béliveau, PhD, and his team worked with immune-deficient mice that had been injected with cancer cells. Mice that were fed a cocktail of anti-cancer nutrients stayed in better health and developed less serious, slower growing tumors, results discussed in Béliveau’s 2006 book Foods That Fight Cancer.

 A 2013 study headed by Madhwa Raj, PhD, at Lousiana State University Health Sciences Center tested ten nutrients and found them to be ineffective when used individually. However, when researchers selected six of the nutrients and administered them together, 100% of breast cancer cells were killed with no side effects for normal cells.

Live human beings will not necessarily respond the same way as mice or cells in a petri dish. Unless there is more research, these intriguing results will probably be ignored by conventional medicine. Financing such research is likely to be a challenge when a positive result will enrich only grocery store owners. In addition, there may be ethical limitations in designing such studies for people who already have cancer or some other serious illness.

As a creative project, I decided to develop a drink that included four easily purchased foods similar to the nutrients used in the LSUHC study. It is not the most delicious mango lassi you have ever tasted­ – the ginger taste still comes through – but it is certainly drinkable. Will it really help anyone’s health? There’s no way to know for sure, but the drink is cheap, easy to prepare, and safe, unless you’re allergic to one of the ingredients. As an added bonus, the four spices I have used show promise against Alzheimer’s as well as cancer. I’ll be drinking my mango lassi every day.

The Mango Lassi with Anti-Cancer Spices

Time: 15 minutes including cleanup
Servings: 1 large drink

Caution: Turmeric can leave a vivid yellow stain that may be impossible to remove. To avoid damaging clothing and countertops, wear an apron, measure over a plate or cutting board, and wash measuring spoons immediately after use. By itself, turmeric is not well absorbed by the body: mixing it with black pepper and olive oil improves bioavailability, the reason for the somewhat tricky procedure here.

Before you start: Cut a medium banana into thirds and freeze it in a plastic bag.

1 green teabag
4 oz. boiling water
1/3 medium banana, previously frozen
¼ teaspoon wasabi powder
2 level tablespoons vanilla whey protein powder
1 heaping tablespoon Greek yogurt
¼ teaspoon turmeric
1/16 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon olive or avocado oil
Raw ginger about the size of you first thumb joint, peeled andsliced across the grain
A handful of frozen mango chunks (1/2 – 2/3 cup)
Cold water (optional)
½ packet of stevia (optional)

1. Brew teabag in hot water and let cool while you prepare the other ingredients.
2. To the container of a blender add the 1/3 banana, wasabi powder, whey protein powder, and Greek yogurt.
3. Place a clean tablespoon on a plate or cutting board. Measure turmeric and put it in the tablespoon. Measure black pepper and add it to the tablespoon.
4. Pour olive oil into a measuring spoon over the blender container but don’t add it yet. Lift the tablespoon with the spices and hold it under the olive oil. Add the olive oil to the turmeric and pepper and use the measuring spoon to blend it into a paste in the tablespoon. Now add the paste to the blender and wash both spoons.
5. Peel the ginger and chop it into small pieces – you should have about two rounded teaspoons – and add that.
6. Add the mango chunks and the green tea. Squeeze the teabag to get out all the liquid.
7.  Pulse the mixture 15-20 times to chop hard ingredients, then puree for a slow count of 30.
8. If the drink is too thick, stir in some cold water. If it’s not sweet enough, add stevia.

Note: Ginger is easier to peel and chop if you wet it first. Thanks to Real Simple magazine for this tip.

Update: I have recently learned that I am deficient in alpha-linolenic acid. The fix for this is to take one tablespoon of flax seed oil per day. When I add this to the mango lassi, I find that it cuts back the ginger taste. Flax seed oil is expensive so I probably wouldn't use it if I didn't have the deficiency.

Update: The next post has another example of food synergy, The Pretty Good Almond-Berry Green Smoothie:

Important Update: An Egyptian study showed that curcumin plus EGCG, a green tea derivative, enhanced the effectiveness of chemo in 30 non-Hodgkins lymphoma patients. Twelve of the patients went into partial remission and 18 went into complete remission. The patients remained disease-free for a mean of 8.6 years after treatment.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

The Negative Placebo - Why Fitness Buffs Avoid Doctors

My personal trainer never visits a doctor. Neither do many of the weightlifters at the gym where I go. Part of it probably has to do with unease about appearing naked in front of a near-stranger, as well as a dislike of needles and other painful features of medical treatment. But fitness buffs have more fundamental reasons for their negative view of doctors.

     1.  They anticipate that the doctor won’t respect their values.

Fitness buffs are people who have spent years of their lives studying and fine-tuning their bodies. They have learned exactly how far this muscle will stretch and how much weight that one will lift. They know what foods and supplements work best with their particular body type. One of the rewards for this hard work is a precise sense of what and how the body is doing (proprioception). If something starts to go wrong, they usually sense it. Fitness buffs believe that proper diet and exercise can keep most people healthy most of the time.

Doctors aren’t taught much about diet and exercise in med school and they don’t learn more afterward. Many don’t exercise themselves; some are overweight. Ads for hospitals and medical practices frequently display photographs of these out-of-shape physicians, a good indicator that they haven’t gotten the message about diet and exercise either.

Doctors tend to give more credence to test results than to the patient’s own intuition about how she is doing. Some believe that patients are actually better off taking an FDA-approved medication or than trying to exercise. “People who can take statins are the lucky ones,” an MD told me once.   
2.  They don't want to be exposed to a doctor's negative attitudes.

The pursuit of fitness is based on hope and aspiration. The workouts I do each year are harder than the ones from the year before. The increased strength, flexibility, and versatility have enhanced my confidence and sense of well-being. In spite of scores of studies to the contrary, many doctors believe that exercise doesn’t work. I smiled when I read a post on Kevin MD by an orthopedic surgeon expressing appreciation for personal trainers and surprise that they could make a significant difference. 

Some doctors worry about injury; they recommend moderate exercise and advise people to “know their limits.” Fitness buffs believe that gently but persistently pushing against your limits is the path to better health. Each person needs to discover what amount and intensity of exercise works for him or her.

Doctors also believe that patients won’t follow a serious and consistent exercise program so they don’t even suggest it.

          3.  Doctors do crisis intervention, not health maintenance.

Although orthotics for problem feet can prevent devastating knee, hip, and lower back injuries in later life, this painless and inexpensive treatment is seldom recommended. Protein supplements and proteolytic enzymes can help older patients retain muscle but they are usually dismissed, along with supplements in general. If there were personal trainers in doctors’ offices, they might be able to implement some of these useful therapies and broaden a few minds in the process.

          4.    Doctors are relentless in their search for disease, sometimes finding it where it     doesn’t exist.

Fitness buffs like to think of themselves as healthy people. Doctors are trained to discover illness and to empathize with those who are suffering. Many fitness buffs don’t have annual physical exams because they fear that a misapplied test or misinterpreted test result will redefine them as sick, setting off a cascade of unnecessary interventions. I don’t have the option of staying away because I need renewals of the two or three medications I take and occasional blood tests to monitor my thyroid. Every year my doctor suspects me of harboring a different illness; every year I have to prove that I am healthy.

Heart disease and stroke are the major killers of people in the US. Stress can be a significant contributor to these illnesses. A recent study showed that women who had false positive mammograms had a greater risk of developing invasive breast cancer in future years. The researchers thought that the radiologist might have detected some subtle feature that anticipated the change. I would like to know whether these false positive women also had a greater risk of heart attack and stroke in future years. Perhaps the anxiety associated with the repeated tests contributed to future illness of several kinds.

For fitness buffs, the stress involved in visiting a doctor may be too high a cost for any possible benefits.

The truth is that both fitness buffs and doctors have important information to contribute. If those insights could be shared in a context of openness and mutual respect, everyone would benefit.

Maintaining an Imperfect Body: the Mini-Workout

Every body has them­­ – the trouble-making areas where pain, weakness, or disease tend to crop up. Sometimes they’re hereditary, sometimes the result of the wear and tear of decades of life. One of the perks of getting older is that these areas become familiar companions, not exactly friendly but no longer intimidating.

Over the years I’ve identified six or seven muscle groups or parts of my own body that are likely to cause problems. This year I’ve started doing a mini-workout of seven exercises every morning to monitore, stretch, and strengthen those areas. I also do an eighth move which is an experiment; if it turns out not to work, I’ll quit doing it. The whole series takes about 15 minutes.

Neck. When my father was in his sixties he developed a pinched nerve in the back of his neck that was very painful. Advised by his doctor, he started using a traction device to relieve the pressure on the nerve. To strengthen the muscles in the back of my neck and maintain flexibility I do this:

- Lie down on a flat surface and raise my head 2-3”. Stay in this position and count. Over several months I’ve worked up to 100. I take a break by bending forward toward my feet. I grab my heels (but that’s not essential for a good stretch).
- I return to the first position but this time I turn my head to the right and to the left as far as I can, like shaking my head “no” slowly and deliberately. I go up to 30 reps on this one.
- When I was a child I used to sleep on my stomach all the time, which meant that my face was turned to one side. As an older adult, I started to lose flexibility in the ligaments at the base of my skull so I work on them. I lie on my stomach, turn my face to one side and count. With all neck exercises it’s important to do them gently and work up gradually.

Calf and Hamstring Muscles, especially on the right side. My legs have pretty good strength and flexibility but my range of motion is limited in some exercises. This is not because of arthritis – I don’t have much of that – but because I have tight, bulky calf muscles, especially on the right side and little sore spots in the calf and hamstring. A massage therapist told me I have scar tissue in those areas.

- The sore spots are in different places each day so I start by doing sleeping child pose to see where they are. (Sleeping child is the yoga pose where you kneel with your forehead on the floor and sit back on your heels.) When I find a spot, I rub and push into it with a circular motion to loosen the area. Usually there are three or four spots.
- I check my work by standing up, then sitting down into a squat and counting. Then I stand up without using my hands. Sometimes I have to stop in the middle and work on more sore spots.

Lower Back. In old age my aunt and uncle on my father’s side both had lower back problems. (My uncle had a disastrous back surgery that crippled him for life.) With that in mind, I do five superman reps. Lying on my stomach with arms stretched out in front of me I lift my upper body for a count of 25. For this one, it’s important not to tilt the head up but to look down at the floor.

Upper Back. As a young adult, my upper back muscles were so weak I couldn’t do a single push-up. P90X changed that. I do 50 of these, though I don’t go very deep on the last 10.
Sit-ups. Rounding out the core group, I do 50 sit-ups.

Balance. My right leg is a bit shorter than the left so my balance is not great. I stand in a doorway on one leg and count to 10. Then I close my eyes and count to 30. If I get shaky, I grab the door frame. Same on the other side.

Back Strength and Flexibility. Using a pull-up bar, I lift myself as high as I can. I can’t do a full pull-up yet but I’m making progress.  Holding onto the bar but with my feet on the floor, I stretch through the whole length of my back and count to 75. If I’m in a hotel room I skip the pull-up and use the top of a piece of furniture for the stretch.

Jumping. My last bone density test showed that I was losing bone mineral density faster than I would like. I read about a study that showed that a 10 or 20 jumps with 30 second breaks in between significantly improved BMD in the jumpers as compared with the non-jumping control group.

We’ll see if this routine works for me. As for the cause of the lower BMD, I’m guessing that the dosage of thyroid hormone I take for hypothyroidism has been too high for too long. My doctor has lowered the dosage. I had also cut back on my intake of calcium supplement after reading scary stories in the media. That was probably a mistake and I’ve gone back to what I was taking before. 

Update 12/31/2015:

An article in the Wall Street Journal a  couple of weeks ago persuaded me that I shouldn't be doing situps anymore. I now do variations on plank for one minute, followed by 25 rollouts using an ab wheel. 

My personal trainer explained to me that the central ab muscle, the rectus abdominis, is designed to be a stabilizer and is meant to be stretched out flat, not curled up. Doing appropriate exercises will improve its appearance as well as being safer.