Is the Paleo Diet Healthy? Arguments For The Paleo Diet

Posted on Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Nutrition, Seminars

breakfast-1058726_640More than one-third of U.S. adults are obese—and at high risk for obesity-related diseases such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers. Yet is the Paleo Diet, one of the newest weight-loss trends, the most healthful way to reduce the risk of obesity-related diseases?

The Paleo diet—which relies on eating like our hunter-gatherer ancestors — is one of today’s most controversial diets. It is based on the nutrition of our ancestors living in the Paleolithic period between 2.5 million and 10,000 years ago. The Paleo nutrition plan is a low-carb diet based on meat, non-starchy vegetables, and fats such as coconut oil. It eliminates many of the products of modern agriculture—such as grains, dairy products, beans, and soy products.

Since the 1990s, researchers have known that lifestyle factors, such as diet, can lead to obesity-related health risks, morbidity, and mortality. Yet whether the Paleo diet really plays an important role in avoiding these risks is hotly debated among leading nutritionists.

Arguments for the Paleo Diet: A Good Bet for Reducing Health Risks

The Paleo diet is not only helpful for losing weight—it also has the potential to reduce the incidence of diabetes, high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, and hypertension, according to some nutritionists. Paleo diet proponents even claim that the Paleo nutrition plan can decrease the risk for cancers and inflammatory diseases.

Some studies do show that a Paleo diet can be beneficial for those with metabolic syndrome, and it can also lead to lower HbA1c levels, lower triglycerides, and lower blood pressure levels, according to Kellyann Petrucci, a naturopathic physician, who wrote an editorial for the Wall Street Journal in March 2015.

Dr. Petrucci argued that some studies suggest that the Paleo diet can be as healthful as the Mediterranean diet for reducing risk for cardiovascular disease and some cancers. She argued that studies have suggested that the Paleo diet in patients with ischemic heart disease may lead to better glucose tolerance and a larger drop in abdominal fat than the Mediterranean diet. She also maintains that diets high in carbohydrates increase risk for colon cancer, while the Paleo diet may reduce this risk.

Some scientific studies have found no evidence that diets high in saturated fats and low in carbohydrates increase risk for heart disease, according to Paleo diet proponents. The criticism that the Paleo diet leads to nutritional deficiencies is also unfounded, according to nutritionists who favor the Paleo diet. Paleo diet foods such as salmon, kale, and broccoli, for instance, are high in calcium. Necessary dietary fiber and nutrients can also be found in the vegetables and fruits, seafood, eggs, and meat found in the Paleo eating plan.

  1. Petrucci K. and Nestle M. Is a Paleo Diet Healthy? The Wall Street Journal. March 23, 2015.
  2. Jabr F. How to Really Eat like a hunger-gatherer: Why the Paleo Diet is Half-Baked. Scientific American. June 3, 2013.
  3. Hamblin J. Science Compared Every Diet, and the Winner Is Real Food. The Atlantic. March 24, 2014.

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Exploring Parkinson’s Disease

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Elder Care, Homestudy

parkinsonBy  James Coggin, M.D.

Every movement of the body requires communication among the central nervous system—especially the brain and spinal cord—and the nerves and muscles. Movement occurs when specialized clusters of neurons in and around the brain stem, called basal ganglia, release neurotransmitters, chiefly dopamine. When there is insufficient formation and action of this neurotransmitter, degenerative disorders can occur, impairing one’s motor skills, speech, and many non-motor skills as well.

Parkinson’s disease (PD) is a chronic, progressive, and degenerative neurological disorder characterized by a loss of dopamine-producing neurons in the substantia nigra (Latin for “black substance”), a small region in the brain stem. The brain stem connects the spinal cord to the brain  and is comprised of the medulla oblongata (myelencephalon), pons (metencephalon), and mid-brain (mesencephalon). Parkinson’s disease or “primary parkinsonism,” results from a neurodegenerative process without any secondary systemic cause. Patients typically experience muscle rigidity, tremors, bradykinesia (slowing of movement), and ataxia (poor balance).

The symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, as well as possible therapies, were discussed in the Ayurveda, the system of medicine that has been practiced in India since 5000 BC, and Nei Jing, the first Chinese medical textbook, published 2,500 years ago. Descriptions of symptoms and treatment of PD date back to medieval times, most notably by Averroes.

Researchers estimate that between 500,000 and one million Americans have Parkinson’s disease, making it one of the most common neurodegenerative disorders in the U.S., second only to Alzheimer’s disease. These statistics are not precise, however, because Parkinson’s is frequently misdiagnosed. The disease occurs in one of two forms:  idiopathic (or sporadic) or — rarely — familial. Most forms of PD are idiopathic  while secondary cases can result from drugs, head trauma, and other medical disorders. Some forms have a genetic or familial basis.

A number of environmental factors has been linked to an increased incidence of Parkinson’s disease. These include:

  • exposure to heavy metals and pesticides.
  • living in a rural area within an industrialized country.
  • exposure to jet fuel.
  • drinking well water.
  • not smoking cigarettes.

The elderly are particularly affected. Parkinson’s is the second-most common neurodegenerative disease of the elderly, and about one percent of Americans over age 65 has been diagnosed with PD. While the average age of onset is about 60 years, the disorder does occur in younger people. In fact, five to 10 percent of cases are diagnosed before age 40. People with early-onset Parkinson’s discover initial symptoms between the ages of 21 and 40. The first symptom in juvenile-onset disease occurs before the age of 20.

People of all ethnic origins can develop Parkinson’s disease although it is slightly more prevalent in Caucasians than in Asians or African-Americans in the United States.

Parkinson’s occurs with slightly greater frequency in men than in women. About 15 percent of sufferers have a first-degree relative who also has the disease although there is typically no clear path of inheritance. Researchers suggest that most cases arise from a combination of factors, including genetic susceptibility, exposure to certain toxins, and aging.

You can learn more about Parkinson’s disease by reading our Parkinson’s Disease & ALS

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Sleep: Crucial for Good Health

Posted on Posted in Continuing Education, Homestudy, Psychology, Seminars, Webinars

baby-22194_640By Michael Howard, PhD

Regular and restful sleep helps keep immune systems strong.  Such sleep also helps keep blood pressure and blood sugar at low levels.

This kind of sleep can help resist weight gain and obesity, assist in emotional stability and forming new memories, and reduce pain perception.

Many older people in their 70s and 80s get only about six hours of sleep per night. Centenarians typically have regular sleep patterns and get plenty of restful, restorative sleep—usually seven to eight hours.

One of the major characteristics of 100-year-olds in an area of Costa Rica is sleeping about eight hours per day on a regular basis. While sleep times can vary from person to person, getting regular rest is the key.  Centenarians have established sleep routines, tending to go to bed and wake up at the same time each day. In general, they go to sleep when the sun goes down and wake up when it comes up. In the Japanese Centenarian Study, spontaneously waking up at regular times in the morning was a major characteristic of those who were living independently.

Taking a nap during the day may be a healthy sleeping pattern for older people. While sleeping continuously throughout the night is often touted as the most recommended way to sleep, midday napping appears to be a common characteristic of the healthiest older people. In the MEDIS study of long-lived people in the Mediterranean islands, all of the people in the study older than 90 years were found to engage in naps around noontime.

Unfortunately, as many as 40 percent of the elderly have some type of sleep disorder that can result in physical and cognitive problems. “Short-sleepers” getting less than six hours of sleep a night have been found to have poor insulin control of blood sugar, more diabetes and obesity, stronger appetites, more heart attacks, and shorter life spans. These risks are even more pronounced for those getting five or fewer hours of sleep per night.  Obesity and sleep deprivation are strongly connected. Studies show that, compared with those getting about eight hours of sleep per night, those who sleep only five hours have a 50 percent higher chance of becoming obese. Those who sleep only four hours have a 73 percent higher chance of obesity. It also appears that getting too much sleep—hypersomnia—of nine or more hours nightly may be even worse for health and longevity than sleep deprivation.

Increasing age increases the chance of developing several sleep disorders. Sleep disorders are associated with many health problems and are major risk factors for heart disease, stroke, depression, and even Alzheimer’s disease.

Common age-related sleep disorders include insomnia, obstructive sleep disorder, restless legs, periodic limb movement disorder, and REM (rapid eye movement) behavior disorder. Insomnia is the biggest culprit, because it is the most common sleep disorder. Other less-common sleep disorders may be even more dangerous. Obstructive sleep apnea, for example, dramatically raises the risk of heart attack and stroke. According to a study in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care, even mild obstructive sleep apnea raises cardiovascular disease risk because of increased arterial stiffness. It seems clear that getting a good night’s sleep is crucial to health and longevity.

If there are problems sleeping, there are techniques you can try at home to help, called “sleep hygiene.”  Techniques of improving sleep with easily-implemented sleep hygiene strategies can be found on the internet, and many people can help themselves to a better night’s sleep by using them. Centenarians practice many of these techniques. If sleep hygiene techniques do not work and sleep problems continue, the best recommendation is to see a sleep disorders specialist or go to a sleep disorders clinic for thorough evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment.  Bottom line: to live long, sleep well.

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