healthy living

Image result for volunteers working wikipedia Is volunteering good for you? People volunteer to benefit others, but there has been some debate over whether volunteer activities also benefit the volunteers. A multi-country European study found that volunteering is associated with better self-rated health and also household income when compared to people who don't volunteer. The volunteers had a health score which was equivalent to being 5 years younger than those who did not volunteer.

People were interviewed and asked “How is your health in general?” The participants could choose from five categories ranging from “very bad” to “very good” - so the people themselves rated their health. This way how people rated their own health might include “physical, mental and social well-being", thus including health indicators that are hard to measure - such as pain, suffering, or depression. The researchers found that volunteer activities are also associated with a higher household income, but note that other studies find that a higher household income is associated with better health. All these are associations in this study - can't say that one causes the other (causal). The researchers themselves say that after analyzing the data, the results show that the association between volunteering and self-rated health is stronger (a "direct association") than the "indirect" association with household income.

The overall rate of people participating in volunteer activities was 24.1%., while 75.9% did not participate in volunteer activities, but this varied from country to country. For example, in Germany, the Netherlands and Norway more than 40% of people volunteered, but in Bulgaria, Hungary and Lithuania fewer than 10% engaged in volunteering activities. From Science Daily:

Volunteers are in better health than non-volunteers

Researchers of Ghent University analysed data on volunteering, employment and health of more than 40,000 European citizens. Their results, just published in PLOS ONE, show that volunteering is associated with better employment and health outcomes. Even after controlling for other determinants of health (gender, age, education level, migrant status, religiosity and country of origin), volunteers are substantially in better health than non-volunteers. Doctoral researcher Jens Detollenaere: “This association is comparable in size to the health gains of being a man, being five years younger or being a native (compared to being a migrant).”....Volunteers have, after controlling for the aforementioned personal characteristics, a higher income and this higher income is associated with better health.

The researchers put forward three other explanations for an association between volunteering and health. Professor Sara Willems: “Firstly, volunteering may improve access to psychological resources (such as self-esteem and self-efficacy) and social resources (such as social integration and access to support and information), both of which are found to have an overall positive effect on health. Secondly, volunteering increases physical and cognitive activity, which protects against functional decline and dementia in old age. Finally, neuroscience research has related volunteering to the release of the caregiving-related hormones oxytocin and progesterone, which have the capacity to regulate stress and inflammation.”

The research results are based on data from the sixth round of the European Social Survey (conducted in 2012 and 2013). This survey measures the beliefs, preferences and behaviour of more than 40000 citizens of 29 European countries....[Original study.]

 This past week a study was published linking 8 to 10 portions of fruits and vegetables per day with a lower risk of early death, cancer, heart disease, and stroke. This confirms other research linking many daily servings of fruits and vegetables with various health benefits. For example, the study findings discussed in the Nov. 2, 2016 post: "Eating lots of fruits and vegetables (more than 10 servings a day!)  is linked to better cognitive functioning in both normal weight and overweight adults (both young and older adults), and may delay the onset of cognitive decline that occurs with aging and also dementia."

This new study led by researchers from the Imperial College London reviewed 95 previous studies of the relationship between diet and health. They found that people who ate 10 portions of fruits and vegetables a day had nearly a third lower risk of premature death and stroke than those who ate very little or no fruits and vegetables. The researchers pointed out that as the amount of fruits and vegetables eaten daily went up, the health benefits also increased (lower risk of heart disease, stroke, cardiovascular disease, cancer), and the risk of premature death decreased - thus a dose related relationship. So better to eat some fruits and vegetables than none! A portion is about 80 grams, equivalent to a medium apple, 1 banana, or generally about 1/2 cup of vegetables or fruits.

From Science Daily: Eating up to ten portions of fruit and vegetables a day may prevent 7.8 million premature deaths worldwide

A fruit and vegetable intake above five-a-day shows major benefit in reducing the chance of heart attack, stroke, cancer and early death. This is the finding of new research, led by scientists from Imperial College London, which analysed 95 studies on fruit and vegetable intake....the greatest benefit came from eating 800 g a day (roughly equivalent to ten portions -- one portion of fruit or vegetables if defined as 80 g).

The results revealed that even a daily intake of 200 g was associated with a 16 per cent reduced risk of heart disease, an 18 per cent reduced risk of stroke, and a 13 per cent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease. This amount, which is equivalent to two and a half portions, was also associated with 4 per cent reduced risk in cancer risk, and 15 per cent reduction in the risk of premature death. Further benefits were observed with higher intakes. Eating up to 800 g fruit and vegetables a day -- or 10 portions -- was associated with a 24 per cent reduced risk of heart disease, a 33 per cent reduced risk of stroke, a 28 per cent reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, a 13 per cent reduced risk of total cancer, and a 31 per cent reduction in dying prematurely. This risk was calculated in comparison to not eating any fruit and vegetables. [Original study.]

 A new study found differences in gut microbes between active women (they exercised at least the recommended amount) and those that are sedentary. When the gut bacteria were analyzed with modern tests (genetic sequencing) the active women had more of the health promoting beneficial bacteria such as Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Roseburia hominis, and Akkermansia muciniphila than the sedentary women. The sedentary women also had some bacterial species not seen in the active women. The researchers said that exercise "modifies the composition of gut microbiota" (the gut microbes) in a way beneficial for health.

And what is the recommended minimal amount of exercise? The World Health Organization recommends at least 3 days of exercise per week for 30 minutes at a moderate intensity. Note that exercise can mean doing exercises, but it can also include walking briskly, intense housework (scrubbing, vacuuming with lots of bending, etc.), gardening (digging, raking, etc), or shoveling snow, etc. In this study the group of active women had at least 3 hours of physical exercise per week. Note that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with a high incidence of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, while physical exercise or activity has metabolic and immune health benefits (prevents disease).

But...reading the full study, the research also showed that the active group ate more fruits and vegetables - which we know has an effect on the gut microbiome and feeds beneficial bacteria. Although the diets of the 2 groups of women were similar in total carbohydrates, protein and fat content eaten, the active women ate more fruits, vegetables, and fiber, and the sedentary group ate more processed meat. So it looks like both exercise and a good amount of fruits and vegetables may be important for nurturing beneficial bacteria. By the way, the 3 species of beneficial bacteria mentioned currently are not found in any probiotic supplements on the market. (Earlier posts on the beneficial F. prausnitzii and Akkermansia muciniphila). From PLoS ONE:

Differences in gut microbiota profile between women with active lifestyle and sedentary women

Physical exercise is a tool to prevent and treat some of the chronic diseases affecting the world’s population. A mechanism through which exercise could exert beneficial effects in the body is by provoking alterations to the gut microbiota, an environmental factor that in recent years has been associated with numerous chronic diseases. Here we show that physical exercise performed by women to at least the degree recommended by the World Health Organization can modify the composition of gut microbiota. Using high-throughput sequencing of the 16s rRNA gene, eleven genera were found to be significantly different between active and sedentary women. Quantitative PCR analysis revealed higher abundance of health-promoting bacterial species in active women, including Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Roseburia hominis and Akkermansia muciniphila. Moreover, body fat percentage, muscular mass and physical activity significantly correlated with several bacterial populations. In summary, we provide the first demonstration of interdependence between some bacterial genera and sedentary behavior parameters, and show that not only does the dose and type of exercise influence the composition of gut microbiota, but also the breaking of sedentary behavior.

Sedentary lifestyle is associated with a high incidence of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes. Physical exercise is a powerful preventative and treatment intervention that is known to be effective in generating metabolic and immune health benefits. The gut microbiota is essential for processing dietary components and has a major role in shaping the immune system.... Dysbiosis or imbalance in gut microbiota has been associated with many diseases, among which are ulcerative colitis, Crohn's disease, colon cancer, metabolic syndrome, type I and type II diabetes, cardiovascular disease, allergy, asthma, eczema and autism.....Several studies in experimental models have addressed the relationship between gut microbiota composition and physical exercise....Collectively, these findings indicate that modulation of the microbiota by exercise depends not only on the physiological state of the individual, but also on the diet.

A total of 15 phyla were detected, in order of presence: Bacteroidetes (54%), Firmicutes (44%), Proteobacteria (0.96%), Tenericutes (0.39%), Verrucomicrobia (0.11%), Euryarchaeota (0.08%), Actinobacteria (0.07%), Lentisphaerae (0.06%), Cyanobacteria (0.050%), Spirochaetes (0.04%), Fusobacteria (0.014%), Elusimicrobia (0.009%), Synergistetes (0.007%), kTM7 (0.003%), and Acidobacteria (0.0001%). Acidobacteria (2 subjects), Elusimicrobia (2 subjects) and Spirochaetes (2 subjects) phyla were detected only in sedentary subjects.... At the genus level, there were significant differences in eleven genera: Bifidobacterium, Barnesiellaceae, Odoribacter, Paraprevotella, Turicibacter, Clostridiales, Coprococcus, Ruminococcus, and two unknown genera of Ruminococcaceae family. Given the importance of some bacterial species in health, the presence of Bifidobacterium longum, Faecalibacterium prausnitzii, Roseburia hominis, Akkermansia muciniphila was measured by qPCR. Analyses revealed a more significant abundance of F. prautznnii, R. hominis and A. muciniphila in active than in sedentary women.

Among all the genera studied, the abundance of eleven of them was significantly different between the active and sedentary group, with Paraprevotella and an unclassified genus of the Desulfovibrionaceae family specifically associated with sedentarism parameters, while the remaining genera where largely associated with diet parameters.....Nonetheless, as exercise and diet often go hand in hand, an active lifestyle is frequently associated with a high consumption of fruits and vegetables, whereas sedentarism is associated with the consumption of high-calorie and fatty foods. Indeed, exercise interventions in human populations have resulted in an improvement in diet habits. Although the diets were similar in our study regarding total carbohydrates, protein and fat content, significant differences were observed for fiber (higher in the active group) and processed meat (higher in the sedentary group).

 Interesting idea - that perhaps our community of gut microbes being out of whack (dysbiosis) leads to hypertension. This study was done in both humans and mice - with an analysis of bacteria in both hypertensive individuals and pre-hypertensives, and also healthy individuals (the controls). Then the microbes from 2 hypertensive individuals were transplanted into mice (fecal microbiota transplants). And lo and behold - the mice became hypertensive with an alteration of their gut microbes. This is amazing!

The study showed that transplanting microbes from hypertensives to non-hypertensives caused an elevation in blood pressure in the formerly healthy group. This shows the direct influence of gut microbes on blood pressure. The bacteria found in both the pre-hypertensives and hypertensives (especially an overgrowth of Prevotella and Klebsiella bacteria) are those linked to inflammation. And what kind of diet is linked to that bacteria? A high fat diet. Yes, the Western diet with lots of fat and highly processed foods.

The researchers talked about other research also showing Prevotella being associated not only with hypertension, but also other diseases (e.g., periodontal diseases and rheumatoid arthritis). On the other hand, Faecalibacterium, Oscillibacter, Roseburia, Bifidobacterium, Coprococcus, and Butyrivibrio, which were "enriched" in healthy controls, were lower in pre-hypertensive and hypertensive persons. In the past I have posted about a "special" bacteria that is even called  a "keystone" gut bacteria - Faecalibacterium prausnitziithat is linked to health and is low or absent in the gut in a number of diseases ((here and here). It is not available in a supplement at this time (because it dies within a few minutes upon exposure to oxygen), but diet influences it. A high animal meat, high animal fat, high sugar, highly processed foods, and low fiber diet (the typical Western diet) lowers F. prausnitzii numbers, while a high-fiber, low meat diet increases F. prausnitzii numbers.

What you can do: Feed the beneficial gut microbes by increasing the amount of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, seeds, nuts that you eat. And cut back on the greasy, high fat processed and fast foods.

The following excerpt is misleading - for example, it ignores the first part of the actual study which looked at the gut bacteria of pre-hypertensives, hypertensive, and healthy people. Then gut bacteria from hypertensive people were transplanted into healthy mice, and gut bacteria from healthy people were transplanted into hypertensive mice. Also, it wasn't rats, but mice used in the study. It goes to show why it's important to look at original studies - not just believe articles out there blindly. [See original study.] From Science Daily: Unhealthy gut microbes a cause of hypertension, researchers find

Researchers have found that the microorganisms residing in the intestines (microbiota) play a role in the development of high blood pressure in rats mice....Scientists studied two sets of rats mice, one group with high blood pressure ("hypertensive") and one with normal blood pressure ("normal").... All animals were then given antibiotics for 10 days to reduce their natural microbiota. After the course of antibiotics, the researchers transplanted hypertensive microbiota to normal blood pressure rats mice and normal microbiota to the hypertensive group. 

The researchers found that the group treated with hypertensive microbiota developed elevated blood pressure. A more surprising result is that the rats mice treated with normal microbiota did not have a significant drop in blood pressure, although readings did decrease slightly. This finding is "further evidence for the continued study of the microbiota in the development of hypertension in humans and supports a potential role for probiotics as treatment for hypertension," wrote the researchers. "Studies showing that supplementing the diet with probiotics (beneficial microorganisms found in the gut) can have modest effects on blood pressure, especially in hypertensive models."

NOTE that the actual study said in its CONCLUSIONS:  "Taken together, we have described clearly the disordered profiles of gut microbiota and microbial products in human patients with pre-hypertension and hypertension, established the relationship between gut dysbiosis and hypertension, and provided important evidence for the novel role of gut microbiota dysbiosis as a key factor for blood pressure changes. Our findings point towards a new strategy aimed at preventing the development of hypertension and reducing cardiovascular risks through restoring the homeostasis of gut microbiota, by improving diet and lifestyle or early intervening with drugs or probiotics."

Image result for eggs Remember all the dietary advice that for years told us to avoid or limit consumption of eggs - that since they were high in cholesterol, they were bad for us and would increase our risk for heart disease? And the nonsense that we should only eat the egg whites while throwing out the yolks? Hah...That advice was wrong, which another recent study confirms.

Eggs are an amazingly nutritious food. They’re loaded with high quality protein, healthy fats, vitamins, minerals, high in choline (a brain nutrient), biotin, antioxidants, lutein, and zeaxanthin. One review of studies (involving millions of people) looked at whole egg consumption  and found that high egg consumption (up to one egg per day) is not associated with increased risk of coronary heart disease or stroke, and in fact there was a reduced risk of hemorrhagic stroke. Only among diabetics was there an elevated risk of coronary heart disease with high egg consumption (up to 1 egg per day). Another study found a lower risk of type 2 diabetes in middle-aged men (see post).

A recent study from Finland found that neither cholesterol nor egg intake (eating one egg per day) is associated with an increased risk of dementia or Alzheimer's disease in Finnish men who were followed for 22 years. Instead, eating eggs was associated with better cognitive performance in certain areas such as executive function, which includes memory, problem solving, and planning (they were given neuropsychological tests). From Science Daily:

High cholesterol intake and eggs do not increase risk of memory disorders

A new study from the University of Eastern Finland shows that a relatively high intake of dietary cholesterol, or eating one egg every day, are not associated with an elevated risk of dementia or Alzheimer's disease. Furthermore, no association was found in persons carrying the APOE4 gene variant that affects cholesterol metabolism and increases the risk of memory disorders. APOE4 is common in Finland.

The dietary habits of 2,497 men aged between 42 and 60 years and with no baseline diagnosis of a memory disorder were assessed at the onset the Kuopio Ischaemic Heart Disease Risk Factor Study, KIHD, in 1984-1989 at the University of Eastern Finland. During a follow-up of 22 years, 337 men were diagnosed with a memory disorder, 266 of them with Alzheimer's disease. 32.5 per cent of the study participants were carriers of APOE4.

The study found that a high intake of dietary cholesterol was not associated with the risk of dementia or Alzheimer's disease -- not in the entire study population nor in the carriers of APOE4. Moreover, the consumption of eggs, which are a significant source of dietary cholesterol, was not associated with the risk of dementia or Alzheimer's disease. On the contrary, the consumption of eggs was associated with better results in certain tests measuring cognitive performance

Image result for fast food wikipedia  Another study is adding to the evidence that food packaging  is frequently coated  with harmful chemicals - called perfluorinated chemicals or PFCs. The chemicals are used because they resist grease and stains, but unfortunately they then leach into the food, and when people eat the food - it gets into them. The evidence is also growing that these chemicals have all sorts of harmful health effects, including endocrine disruption (they are hormone disruptors) - even in low doses. They are linked to kidney and testicular cancer, high blood cholesterol levels, thyroid problems, development and immune system problems, low birth weights, and decreased sperm quality. (See earlier post) The list keeps growing each year.

Researchers tested about 400 pieces of food packaging from 27 fast food chains,  including McDonald’s, Burger King, Taco Bell, Chick-Fil-A, Quiznos, Starbucks, and Dunkin’ Donuts (see how they scored). Overall, about 33 percent of the packages contained fluorine (a chemical not found in paper, but is an indicator of perfluorinated chemicals present to make the packaging grease and stain resistant). What is even more disturbing is that when the researchers more closely examined 20 samples to find out exactly what fluorinated compounds they contained - they found that 6 of the more rigorously tested packages contained PFOA (which was used in Teflon). PFOA was phased out for use in the USA years ago due to it being so long-lasting in the environment and its serious health effects, but other countries still produce it. Unfortunately, even the replacement chemicals  seem to be similarly harmful (not surprising because of the chemical similarities), and they also persist in the environment.

It should be pointed out that perfluorinated chemicals are also used in products such as stain and water resistant coatings on clothing, upholstery, carpeting and floor waxes. They are in non-stick coatings in pots and pans. The chemicals leach or migrate out of products and degrade very slowly — thus showing up in air, household dust, water, dirt, wildlife, and people. Yes, studies show that almost everyone in the U.S. has these chemicals in their blood, and unfortunately some of them can stay in the body for years. PFCs pass from mothers to their babies during pregnancy, and in breast milk after birth. Exposure to perfluorinated chemicals from fast food packaging is of big concern for children, because one-third of U.S. children consume fast food daily, and children may be especially susceptible to the adverse health effects.

Yes, we are surrounded by a sea of harmful chemicals that are tough to avoid, but we should at least try to minimize our exposure. Fast food restaurants should be encouraged to use nontoxic alternatives (e.g., aluminum foil or wax paper) - after all, the study showed that there is packaging out there without these chemicals.

What can we do to avoid PFCs? 1) Try to avoid or eat less fast food and food that comes in "grease-proof" containers. 2) Don't use non-stick pots and pans - use stainless steel instead. 3) Try to avoid clothing, upholstered furniture, and carpets with stain and water-resistant coatings. 4) Don't use microwave popcorn bags, and try to avoid microwaving foods in their packaging - use a glass dish instead. 5) Don't use dental floss such as Oral-B Glide dental floss (uses PFC), and use unwaxed or natural wax floss instead. 6) Avoid personal care products that contain ingredients that include the words “fluoro” or “perfluoro". *Please check out the Environmental Working Group site for more information (here and here).

From Science Daily: Extensive use of fluorinated chemicals in fast food wrappers: Chemicals can leach into food

Americans may be consuming fast food wrapped in paper treated with perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs) -- the same chemicals used in stain-resistant products, firefighting materials and nonstick cookware, according to a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Researchers tested more than 400 samples of packaging materials, including hamburger and sandwich wrappers, pastry bags, beverage cups and French fry containers, and found evidence of fluorinated compounds called per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFASs). Of the materials tested, these chemicals were found in 56 percent of dessert and bread wrappers, 38 percent of sandwich and burger wrappers and 20 percent of paperboard.

Previous studies have shown that these PFASs can migrate, contaminating the food and, when consumed, accumulating in the body....Previous studies have linked PFASs to kidney and testicular cancers, thyroid disease, low birth weight and immunotoxicity in children, among other health issues. The chemicals have an especially long half-life and take many years before just 50 percent of the intake leaves the human body. The results are concerning when considering the role of fast food in the American diet. The National Center for Health Statistics reported one-third of U.S. children consume fast food daily.

Samples were collected from a total of 27 fast food restaurant chains including McDonald's, Burger King, Chipotle, Starbucks, Jimmy Johns, Panera and Chick-Fil-A, in and around Boston, San Francisco, Seattle, Washington, D.C., and Grand Rapids, Michigan. The study did not include takeout containers, such as Chinese food boxes or pizza boxes. [Original study]

ez-2016-00435z_0002 Credit: From L. Schaider et al., Fluorinated Compounds in U.S. Fast Food Packaging.

 Worried about whether being physically active just on weekends can make a difference in health if the rest of the week is spent sitting all day? Well, there is good news! Being a "weekend warrior" (one who exercises or is active only one or two days a week) may also offer health benefits according to a new study (associated with lower death rates from all causes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease).

Current government guidelines recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity (such as brisk walking or tennis), or at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous activity (such as jogging or swimming laps), or equivalent combinations of moderate and vigorous physical activity. From Science Daily:

'Weekend warriors' have lower risk of death from cancer, cardiovascular disease

Physical activity patterns characterized by just one or two sessions a week may be enough to reduce deaths in men and women from all causes, cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer, regardless of adherence to physical activity guidelines, a new study of over 63,000 adults reports. The finding suggests that less frequent bouts of activity, which might fit more easily into a busy lifestyle, offer significant health benefits, even in the obese and those with medical risk factors.

Regular physical activity is associated with lower risks of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, and has long been recommended to control weight, cholesterol, and blood pressure. The World Health Organization recommends that adults do at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity activity, or at least 75 minutes per week of vigorous-intensity activity, or equivalent combinations.

But research is yet to establish how the frequency and total weekly dose of activity might best be combined to achieve health benefits. For example, individuals could meet current guidelines by doing 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity five days of the week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity physical activity on just one day of the week. Those who do all their exercise on one or two days of the week are known as 'weekend warriors'. 

 Looks like exercise, even 20 minutes of moderate activity such as brisk walking, has beneficial anti-inflammatory health effects. Inflammation is part of the body's normal immune response - it is the body's attempt to heal itself after an injury and tissue damage, and to defend itself against infection from foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria. However, chronic inflammation (e.g., what can occur in obesity, diabetes, and poor lifestyle) can lead to serious health issues and is linked to cancer, heart disease, etc. So lowering chronic (systemic) inflammation is good. From Science Daily:

Exercise ... It does a body good: 20 minutes can act as anti-inflammatory

It's well known that regular physical activity has health benefits, including weight control, strengthening the heart, bones and muscles and reducing the risk of certain diseases. Recently, researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine found how just one session of moderate exercise can also act as an anti-inflammatory. The findings have encouraging implications for chronic diseases like arthritis, fibromyalgia and for more pervasive conditions, such as obesity.

The study, recently published online in Brain, Behavior and Immunity, found one 20-minute session of moderate exercise can stimulate the immune system, producing an anti-inflammatory cellular response. The brain and sympathetic nervous system -- a pathway that serves to accelerate heart rate and raise blood pressure, among other things -- are activated during exercise to enable the body to carry out work. Hormones, such as epinephrine and norepinephrine, are released into the blood stream and trigger adrenergic receptors, which immune cells possess. This activation process during exercise produces immunological responses, which include the production of many cytokines, or proteins, one of which is TNF -- a key regulator of local and systemic inflammation that also helps boost immune responses.

The 47 study participants walked on a treadmill at an intensity level that was adjusted based on their fitness level. Blood was collected before and immediately after the 20 minute exercise challenge."Our study shows a workout session doesn't actually have to be intense to have anti-inflammatory effects. Twenty minutes to half-an-hour of moderate exercise, including fast walking, appears to be sufficient," said Hong.

Inflammation is a vital part of the body's immune response. It is the body's attempt to heal itself after an injury; defend itself against foreign invaders, such as viruses and bacteria; and repair damaged tissue. However, chronic inflammation can lead to serious health issues associated with diabetes, celiac disease, obesity and other conditions.

  The wonderful blog posts of Dr. John Mandrola (physician, blogger, and columnist at Medscape) are always thoughtful, and this latest points out things a number of studies have pointed out for a while. Which is to stop obsessing or focusing on "preventive tests" and screenings and numbers, and instead focus on a healthy lifestyle - which means getting regular exercise or physical activity, don't smoke cigarettes, maintaining a healthy weight, and eating a healthy diet with lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and legumes (think Mediterranean-style diet). Don't want overdiagnosis and overtreatment (here, here, here, and here). Excerpts from Dr. John M:

I am changing…

The main thing that has changed about me is my views as a doctor, especially when it comes to dealing with people who complain of nothing. Medicine is most pure when we treat people with illness. The infirmed come to us with a problem and we use our intelligence, experience and procedural skills to help them. It’s immensely gratifying. The joy of helping people still negates the stifling burden of administrative nonsense. I’ll do your damn corporate safety modules one more year because helping sick people get well feels so good.

But when people complain of nothing, our first job is to do no harm. I know prevention of disease is better than treating it, but the process of prevention gets dicey. When we prescribe things (screening tests, statins, aspirin, diabetes drugs etc) to people who complain of nothing, we should have the highest evidence these therapies deliver benefit. Too often, we cite eminence rather than evidence.

I’ve come to believe the medical profession is too paternalistic, too arrogant. I fear the medicalization of the human condition. These days, I order fewer tests. Medical tests put people into the “system,” on the metaphorical train of healthcare. This train accelerates quickly, and it’s often hard to get off. Even a simple echo scares me. I could tell you stories.

More often than not, I tell patients to stop checking their “numbers.” If they insist on health numbers, I favor three–the scale, the belt size and a Timex to measure walking speed.

A 2002 article from Dr. David Sackett (a pioneer of evidence-based medicine) perfectly captures my views on preventive medicine. It’s called The Arrogance of Preventive Medicine. It’s worth a look, now more than ever.

 Image result for human heart in human body wikipedia Heart attacks run in the family? Does this mean you are doomed to also have a heart attack? Well, the good news from a large study is that a healthy lifestyle (with at least 3 of these 4 behaviors: not currently smoking, not being obese, regular physical activity at least once per week, and eating a good diet)  lowers the risk of a heart attack by nearly 50% even in those with a high genetic risk for heart attacks. (This is compared to those with an unhealthy lifestyle, which is none or only one healthy behavior.)  In this study a healthy diet was one with lots of fruits, nuts, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and dairy products, and a reduced amount of refined grains, processed meats, red meat, sugar-sweetened beverages, and trans fats.

The researchers also reversed the question and asked: "If you happen to inherit good genes, can a bad lifestyle offset that? We actually found yes." The risk of heart attack is also reduced nearly 50% in those people with good genes and a good lifestyle. BOTTOM LINE: Healthy lifestyle counts, no matter whether heart disease and heart attacks run in the family or not. There is an interaction between the two, From Science Daily:

Following a healthy lifestyle can greatly reduce genetic heart attack risk

It is well known that following a healthy lifestyle -- not smoking, avoiding excess weight and getting regular exercise -- can reduce the risk of heart disease. But what about people who have inherited gene variants known to increase risk? A study led by Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) investigators has found that, even among those at high genetic risk, following a healthy lifestyle can cut in half the probability of a heart attack or similar event

"The basic message of our study is that DNA is not destiny," says Sekar Kathiresan, MD...."Many individuals -- both physicians and members of the general public -- have looked on genetic risk as unavoidable, but for heart attack that does not appear to be the case."  

In order to investigate whether a healthy lifestyle can mitigate genetic risk, the multi-institutional research team analyzed genetic and clinical data from more than 55,000 participants in four large-scale studies. Three of these studies....followed participants for up to 20 years. Each participant in the current analysis was assigned a genetic risk score....The investigators used four AHA-defined lifestyle factors -- no current smoking; lack of obesity (defined as a body mass index less than 30); physical exercise at least once a week; and a healthy dietary pattern -- to determine a lifestyle score, whether participants had a favorable (three or four healthy factors), intermediate (two factors) or unfavorable (one or no healthy factors) lifestyle.

Across all three prospective studies, a higher genetic risk score significantly increased the incidence of coronary events -- as much as 90 percent in those at highest risk. While known risk factors such as a family history and elevated LDL cholesterol were also associated with an elevated genetic risk score, genetic risk was the most powerful contributor to cardiac risk. Similarly, each healthy lifestyle factor reduced risk, and the unfavorable lifestyle group also had higher levels of hypertension, diabetes and other known risk factors upon entering the studies.

Within each genetic risk category, the presence of lifestyle factors significantly altered the risk of coronary events to such an extent that following a favorable lifestyle could reduce the incidence of coronary events by 50 percent in those with the highest genetic risk scores. Among participants in the BioImage study, both genetic and lifestyle factors were independently associated with levels of calcium-containing plaque in the coronary arteries, and healthy lifestyle factors were associated with less extensive plaque within each genetic risk group. [Original study]