Nourish Your Friendly Bacteria

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

By Dr. Laura Pawlak

In a society of anti-bacterial warfare, who would imagine scientists touting the benefits of consuming foods fermented by living microorganisms?

The organisms are called probiotics, which means “for life.”  Identified on the skin and within the body, these beneficial microbes are part of a community of healthful and harmful micro-organisms called the microbiota.  Most probiotics are located in your gut, particularly the large intestine (colon).  Probiotics aid the digestion and absorption of food, improve immune function, overpower harmful gut microbes, and rebalance the microbiota following antibiotic therapy.

Research continues to demonstrate the versatility of these friendly critters. Potential benefits of probiotics have been seen in the treatment of gut discomfort and diseases of the gastrointestinal system.  Other benefits are treatments of vaginal and urinary tract infections.

Probiotics also release vaporous chemicals into the blood system.  Scientists are investigating the healthful effects of these metabolic products throughout the body and  brain — from fetal life through the elder years.

You can improve the number and diversity of probiotics in your gut.  Eating probiotic-rich foods is the first way to shape the makeup of your intestinal microbiota.  Fermented dairy products, such as yogurt, kefir (a fermented milk drink), and some cheeses are major sources of probotics.

Consuming a variety of fermented foods enhances microbial diversity and potency. Include sauerkraut, cider, miso, tempeh (a soy product that originated in Indonesia), buttermilk — or yogurt and kefir made from nondairy sources.  Grapes and grains, which are popular probiotics, can be fermented into wine and beer!

Another way to impact your gut microbiota positively is to eat foods that “feed” the probiotics in your gut.  Called prebiotics, foods with a high-fiber content have a positive impact on the growth of probiotics, but not on the harmful bacteria.  All plant foods contain fiber, but the fiber in whole grains improves the diversity of the probiotics — especially whole wheat and whole barley.

There is some evidence that good quality oils and certain nutrients in plants may also help probiotics to thrive.  The typical Western diet — low in fiber and high in sugar, saturated fats, and processed foods — feeds harmful microbes.  Probiotics are not associated with such negative consequences.

Although the fermentation of food and beverages is an ancient custom, the scientific analysis of the many probiotic species and strains is just now unfolding.  In the future, healthful longevity will certainly include adding more friends (probiotics) to your gut and feeding them well (prebiotics.)


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

A Very Long Reception Line

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

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

He was a bright light shining in the darkness.  Billy Graham changed the lives of hundreds of millions of people.  His message was simple and consistent:  God loves you.  He wasn’t concerned about denomination or fine points of theology even though he knew the Bible about as well as anyone.  He was a bold but humble force for good in the world.

In an age when being snide and snarky is considered “cool,” Billy Graham’s sincerity, honor, and compassion provided a beacon of hope.  Today, few things come more easily than cynicism.  I struggle with it every hour of the day.  But Billy Graham managed to rise above that temptation throughout his long life.  He never worried that someone might ridicule, criticize, or dismiss him because he never worried about himself.  Few people manage to subdue their egos the way Billy Graham did.  His lifelong focus was to share God’s love with as many people as possible.

Living a faith-filled life is very difficult.  Mother Teresa understood that. Pope John Paul II knew it.  Brave souls like these never agonize over focus groups, polls, or surveys.  Political correctness and fence-straddling, psycho-babble have no place in their lives.  They really do answer to a Higher Power.

Billy Graham gave spiritual counsel to 12 presidents regardless of their political party or religious affiliation.  He didn’t need to play games, massage egos, or create clever sound bites.  He said what he meant and he meant what he said. He had a clear understanding of right and wrong, and he wasn’t embarrassed by it.

Status had no claim on him. He lived a simple, scandal-free life.  For decades he showed as much attention and kindness to orphans in huts as he did to heads of state in palaces.

Finally, Billy Graham gave us all a noble example of how to endure the ravages of illness and old age with grace and dignity.  As we have seen with other saintly individuals, his patience, courage, and good humor endured until the very end. Protracted illness, pain, and suffering could not conquer the Spirit that worked within him.

I’ve heard it said that when you die, all the souls you’ve helped along the way are there in heaven to greet you.  In Billy Graham’s case, it must have been a very long reception line.

One Devastating Flaw

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

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

It happened again.  Seventeen precious lives were snuffed out by a vicious young man.  Before their bodies were laid to rest, “experts” began screaming at one another on TV.  However, finger-pointing, shouting matches, and emotional rants do not solve problems.  Thoughtful, well-informed, practical strategies solve problems.

Clearly what we have been doing to prevent school shootings has been inadequate.  The reasons are myriad.

  • Gun control laws are flawed.  I’ve long been baffled by the fact that there are more restrictions on me as a physician prescribing four ounces of cough syrup containing codeine than there are on a violent teen buying an assault rifle. Most reasonable people would probably agree:  This makes no sense.
  • Counseling is a fine endeavor.  We need more of it. But caring, prudent advice will not stop slaughter.  It’s impossible to reason with someone who is irrational.
  • School security needs attention.  In Israel, schools are locked at the final morning bell and teachers with military training carry hidden weapons. We now have hundreds of thousands of well-trained veterans who could help secure schools and do data mining of social-media sites to enhance intelligence analysis.  Why are we not enlisting their help?
  • Over the past 30 years, children have been exposed to tremendous levels of violence on TV, in movies, and perhaps most intensely, in video games.  Here there are no consequences to killing, apart from racking up points. Many kids who have been left to fend for themselves never have been taught to respect another person.

Additional resources providing better security, practical law enforcement, and sensible mental health care are needed almost everywhere.  But one devastating flaw remains.  Many people realized the shooter in Florida was dangerous.  The police had been called multiple times over the years.  He had beaten his mother and reportedly tormented and killed small animals.  His social media postings threatened murder.  Other students feared him and school authorities expelled him.  The FBI failed to follow-up on two credible reports.

Why do any of us fear getting involved in difficult situations?  It’s simple. We’re scared to death we might be sued.  We’re afraid of revenge or even the possibility of being called “mean.”

Many years ago, I had to confront a serious situation in a training program. Patient safety and professional standards were on the line.  I took action I deemed necessary and was clobbered with a lawsuit along with several other faculty.  It made our lives a living hell for nearly five years.  Other physicians and administrators simply looked the other way.  They suffered no retribution.  Some of us did what we believed was right.  Some chose to remain silent.

On February 14, 2018, many people did the right thing.  Some of them died trying to save others.  None of us is off the hook here.  Fear can have fatal consequences.  Courage is the antidote.

Memory Loss

Posted on Posted in Brain Science, Continuing Education, Homestudy, Seminars, Webinars

By Michael Howard, Ph.D.

While some memory loss — such as misplacing the car keys or wondering where that library book is — happens to people as they age, the memory loss associated with Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and other dementing illnesses is far more dramatic, severe, and progressive.

Memory loss is one of the distinguishing symptoms of AD, and it influences other aspects of the disease as well. Memory loss affects communication because the individual begins to forget words and, over time, loses the ability to read and write. Memory loss also affects mood and behavior because patients inevitably become frustrated, angry, and depressed as continual and worsening lapses impair their ability to think and function effectively. Several medications have been shown to slow memory loss and other cognitive decline. Many professionals also believe that exercises designed to stimulate memory, including memory enhancement and reality orientation exercises, may help slow deterioration somewhat. However, these exercises are demanding because they need to be repeated several times a day, and it would be helpful if caregivers could enlist the help of friends and relatives to work with the patient at specific times of the day or week.

Short-term memory loss, that is, loss of memories of events that occurred from several seconds to several days or weeks ago, is the first type of memory to become impaired with dementia. Patients may forget that they just finished a meal, or that a favorite cousin just paid a visit. Loss of long-term memory, memory for events that occurred months or years ago and that also involves remembering how to perform basic tasks such as cooking and dressing, is affected during the middle and later stages of the illness. The effects of memory loss cut across every aspect of the lives of people with AD and other dementias, affecting their ability to communicate, work, enjoy free time and relaxation, and care for themselves. In the later stages of illness, individuals lose their ability to recognize their spouses, family members, and friends. They forget how to bathe, dress, feed themselves, and use the toilet.

A Bit Of A Twist

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

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Have you given a thought to Valentine’s Day yet?  I suspect for most people it’s a last minute scramble for dinner reservations or roses.  The Valentine cards and candy in stores have been staring us in the face since Christmas Eve.  But most of us have had a few other things on our minds, things like floods, flu, holiday bills, and taxes.  Hearts and flowers aren’t top priorities for most folks unless they work for Hallmark or Russell Stover.

This year there’s a bit of a twist.  February 14th is Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday.  It’s most unusual.  As soon as I noticed this anomaly on the calendar, I realized several things would happen.  Some people would turn it into a theological controversy over which observance should take precedence.  I’ve always been perplexed by the propensity of some people to promote “either-or” thinking.  Sure enough, several prominent clerics have issued stern statements about the obligation of their members to fast and forego any Valentine treats.  That’s their call.

Some people will slog through the day unaware of either observance.  They don’t worry about philosophical or theological dilemmas, and, for the most part, they’re not terribly romantic or thoughtful to begin with.  No big deal.

I have a different take on this.  As a 63-year-old woman, I’ve had my share of lovely Valentine surprises and a few bitter disappointments.  That’s life.  As a geriatrician, I know how many sick, lonely, elderly people are ignored on Valentine’s Day.  That’s sad.  As a lifelong Catholic, I understand that Ash Wednesday is all about spiritual priorities and discipline.  We’re not supposed to be self-indulgent morning, noon, and night.  That’s prudent.

Here’s the good part:  Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday don’t have to be at odds with each another.  There is no need for “either-or” thinking.  St. Valentine was a real man, a priest who brought great kindness and love to persecuted people in third century Rome.  He was martyred for his devotion in 270 A.D.  Ash Wednesday is a major reminder that life is short.  The only thing we’ll take with us at the end is the love and compassion we have shown to others.

We all have patients, colleagues, neighbors, and even passing strangers in our lives who will be neglected on February 14th unless we remember them.  Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday.  Curious.  There’s never a need to “fast” from being thoughtful.

Drink Coffee, Live Longer?

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

By Dr. Laura Pawlak

A coffee plant can live 100 years.  Could humans extend their lives closer to a century by enjoying a cup — or more — of the brew each day?

Coffee beans are seeds of a red fruit called the coffee cherry.  Like all plant foods, coffee beans contain more than a thousand healthful chemicals.

The benefits of drinking coffee are pretty impressive.  The roasted bean has been shown to enhance brain function, increase metabolic rate, and improve exercise performance.  Used to make a daily beverage, the bean has also been linked to a lower risk of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, Type 2 diabetes, stroke, liver disease, and some cancers.

Several studies have found that men who regularly consumed the most coffee (including decaffeinated) had a 60 percent lower risk of advanced or lethal prostate cancer than nondrinkers.  Even drinking one to three cups per day was linked to a 30 percent lower risk.

However, the coffee bean also contains a potentially harmful chemical called acrylamide.  In 2002, Swedish scientists discovered that acrylamide was a product of the browning reaction.  When foods are heated at a high temperature during baking, broiling, frying, or roasting, the appearance, flavor, aroma, and texture of foods are enhanced by the browning reaction — as in toasted bread, French-fried potatoes, and roasted coffee.

The amount of acrylamide in coffee can vary greatly.  Well-roasted, dark coffee beans have less of the chemical than light, roasted beans.  All instant coffees have more acrylamide than fresh versions.

There is no way to remove all the acrylamide from coffee.  Still, the coffee industry is working on practical solutions to reduce its presence.  Should buyers be informed about this chemical with warning labels on the package?  This question is currently being debated in the California court system.

Presently, Americans consume less acrylamide than the maximum exposure levels recommended by the European Food Safety Authority.  To top it off, two recent studies in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that coffee drinkers have modestly lower mortality rates than people who don’t drink coffee.

The Food and Drug Administration’s best advice regarding acrylamide is that consumers adopt a healthy eating plan.  The Wellness Letter, University of California, Berkeley, states:  “There is no reason to deprive oneself of coffee if you like the lift it gives and the sociability it affords.”  If coffee affects you adversely, tea is another popular beverage linked to many health benefits.


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renown biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

Protein Powders

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

By Annell St. Charles, PhD, R.D., L.D.N.

Protein supplements and powders have become all the rage over the last few years, particularly for people trying to build muscle.  However, most Americans already get all the protein they need from their diet, and some may even be getting too much.

Proteins are made up of amino acids, which are the key component of muscles and play many important roles in body maintenance.  Meat, poultry, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and legumes (dry beans or peas such as lentils, chickpeas, and kidney beans) are good sources of protein, and most Americans consume 12 to 18 percent of their calories as protein.  Dr. Van S. Hubbard, director of the NIH Division of Nutrition Research Coordination, says that most Americans do not need to worry about getting enough protein. “Unless they have some other medical problem, most people are meeting or exceeding their protein requirements,” he says. “Since protein is such a common component of most foods that you eat, if you’re eating a relatively varied diet, you’re getting enough protein.”  However, some populations, like vegetarians and older people, need to be aware of the protein in their diets.  Vegetarians can get the protein they need from rice, beans, eggs, peanut butter, dairy products, and bread.  Vegans need to be particularly careful, as they do not consume either eggs or dairy products.

A recent National Institutes of Health study of men and women age 70 years and older found that those who ate the least protein lost significantly more muscle than those who ate the most protein.  Older adults who lose muscle in their legs and hips are more likely to fall and have injuries like broken hips.  They may also have trouble doing basic things like getting up from a chair, walking upstairs, or taking a stroll due to loss of muscle strength.  For elderly people who cannot eat enough protein or who have diseases that leave them malnourished, a protein supplement can be one way to help get enough protein.

Nevertheless, the majority of Americans derive little benefit from increasing their protein intake.  Long-term studies found that high-protein diets that result in weight loss usually work as a result of the amount of calories rather than the amount of protein being consumed.

Recent weight loss, muscle fatigue, or a drop in muscle strength may be signs of protein deficiency, but these symptoms could also be due to other health conditions.

The Party’s Over

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

By Dr. Laura Pawlak

Holiday food and spirits may have disappeared, but those extra calories can stubbornly remain as body fat.  With each new year, an array of diets emerges, promising to restore your former shape.

My suggestion?  This year, follow a new plan called Intermittent Fasting, which has captured the interest of both dieters and researchers.  Intermittent Fasting is a structured program without the drudgery of daily calorie deprivation.

Although traditional reduced-calorie diets are certainly science-based, intermittent fasting is a sensible alternative.  Studies suggest a modified fast is just as beneficial for weight loss as other diets.

For this program, the term “fasting” is defined as consuming a total of 500 calories for women and 600 calories for men on fasting days. If calorie counting is not convenient, you can eat about 25 percent of your normal calories on fasting days.  More importantly, you abstain from eating all calorie-containing foods and beverages for 14 hours (women) or 16 hours (men) on fasting days.

The popular 5:2 Intermittent Fasting Diet is appealing because the two fasting days each week can be chosen to fit one’s schedule best.  On the remaining five days, you eat sensibly.  If weight loss is your goal, it is important to avoid overcompensation during non-fasting days.

Alternate-day Fasting is a more aggressive approach to weight loss.  You consume only 500-600 calories every other day following the 14- to 16-hour fast. Recently, scientists compared the Alternate-day Fasting program with a standard weight-loss diet for six months followed by a maintenance diet for an additional six months.  Persons choosing the fasting program had slightly greater weight loss than individuals following the standard low-calorie diet.

To limit calories during fasting days, consider making a homemade soup, then establish portions and freeze individual servings.  A simple vegetable soup with legumes and wild rice or whole wheat quinoa is nutritious, high in fiber, and low in calories.  A variety of salad ingredients with fish or turkey and calorie-free dressing is always an excellent choice.  An egg-white omelet using fresh or leftover vegetables provides quality protein needed to protect muscle mass.

To dampen appetite during fasting days, choose vegetables high in fiber and protein-rich foods low in fat. Try adding herbs and spices to cooked vegetables.  They light up your taste buds with pleasing flavors and aromas.


Dr. Laura Pawlak (Ph.D., R.D. emerita) is a world-renowned biochemist and dietitian emerita.  She is the author of many scientific publications and has written such best-selling books as “The Hungry Brain,” “Life Without Diets,” and “Stop Gaining Weight.”  On the subjects of nutrition and brain science, she gives talks internationally.

A Different Tradition

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

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Has your home returned to a relative state of post-holiday normality?  I’m almost there.  The boxes and bags and bows and ribbons have been put away until next year.  The “thank you” notes are in the mail.  And my kitchen table has been restored to an acceptable state of neatness.

Many people will start to focus on new year’s resolutions now, knowing full well the resolutions are unlikely to last.  I have a different tradition at the end of December.  It goes back quite a few years.  In a reflective state of blissful solitude, I write down my own little “year in review.”  It takes some time, thought, and effort, but it’s an exercise that can generate some profound insights.

  • What were the best or most positive events of 2017 — personally, nationally, and globally?
  • What were the worst or most tragic events of 2017 — personally, nationally, and globally? How did I cope or respond?
  • What event or situation made me feel most grateful?
  • What was the most beautiful, unusual, or remarkable sight I saw in 2017? (Personally, it would be difficult to top the perfect, unobstructed view of the total solar eclipse I had from my own backyard in August 2017.)
  • What was the biggest mistake I made in 2017? This one can be tough and sobering.
  • What was the most important lesson I learned in 2017? It’s often related to the biggest mistake I made.
  • What experience or moment touched me the most deeply?
  • What was the most noble, courageous, or generous thing I did in the past year? Coming up short on this one is not a good sign.
  • And finally, what could I do in 2018 to become a better person — physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually?

The little, personal “year in review” may not be as fascinating as a list of the year’s top news stories, viral videos, or celebrities who have passed.  It will, however, become profoundly revealing to you 10 or 20 years from now.

Have a happy new year.

 

Let It Go!

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

By Mary O’Brien, M.D.

Did you survive Thanksgiving without major family stress or tension? If the answer is “no,” you’re not alone. Holiday gatherings don’t always bring out the best in everyone. Some folks are already frazzled by travel nightmares. Those hosting the feast are tense and worn down by days of planning, preparation, and cooking. No one ever has quite enough room in her kitchen for all the food, much less the guests who congregate in the middle of the mess. There’s nearly always one culinary mishap and someone is sure to announce she has a life-threatening allergy to gravy.

But wait! We haven’t even begun to address deeply ingrained differences in political perspectives, religious beliefs, and good, old-fashioned feuds and grudges. Was all of this supposed to be fun? Fortunately or not, many of us will have another crack at family festivity soon as we try to celebrate Christmas or Hanukkah. I have a few time-tested thoughts that might help—at least a bit.

  • Psychologists tell us that it takes 21 days to replace a bad habit with a good one. That means we have just enough time to make a difference. Starting now, try not to criticize, condemn, or complain. It’s not easy, especially in this culture. However, it will make the next family gathering much easier to endure, if not actually enjoy.
  • Remember some basic neurophysiology. The human brain cannot hold onto diametrically opposed emotions simultaneously. We can’t feel love and hatred at the same time. We can’t feel empathy and anger in the same moment. And we can’t experience gratitude and resentment all at once. It may sound simplistic, but gratitude is often the best remedy for resentment, anger, anxiety, and sadness. Those of us who have food, water, shelter, clothes, electricity, a little money, and a few loved ones have more than hundreds of millions of people around the world. Smile and say “thank you” — a lot.
  • Forgive yourself and everyone else. I’ve watched relatives feud for decades. They make themselves and everyone else miserable. None of us is perfect. We’ve all said and done things that were misguided or thoughtless. However, refusing to forgive is like drinking poison. It makes no sense. Forgiveness represents the ultimate act of overcoming ego. Let it go. LET IT GO!

Please don’t make me sing that song from “Frozen.” I have relatives who would never forgive me.