Category Archives: brain health

Could a pet improve your mental health?

dog, pet, mental health, health, happy, healthyAnxiety and depression can take a huge toll on quality of life. It can affect your work, relationships, and can also make it hard to take care of your yourself. However, recent research shows that having a pet may help reduce anxiety and depression. Therefore, let’s learn more about how a pet could improve mental health status as well as other ways to help yourself feel happier and healthier.

Basics of mental health

By definition, mental health involves your social, emotional, and psychological well-being. And a person may be more prone to such issues through factors like genetics, traumatic life experiences, or a family history of such issues.

There are many types of mental health issues, with the most commonly known being anxiety and depression. Some general signs of such issues include:

  • eating too much or too little
  • mood swings
  • Low energy
  • unexplained aches and pains
  • inability to perform daily tasks
  • feeling confused or on edge

These are just a few early warning signs of mental health issues. And if you notice such signs, it may be time to visit a healthcare professional. Also, you can visit the Mental Health America website for helpful resources.

Pets for better mental health

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that the “pet effect” may help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Experts also report that pets and therapy animals can lower feelings of stress, loneliness, and isolation. Not only that, but research also shows that pets can spark biological changes that can help reduce anxiety and depression.

One of these changes is that having a pet encourages physical activity. Exercise can improve not only brain health, but also the health of your body. This in turn can help improve your quality of life.

Pets can also improve your social support networks. For example, when you take your dog to the park or in public, people will likely interact with you and your pet. This in turn could help you feel more connected to your community. Also, this connection could help you feel less lonely and isolated.

Recent pet research 

Also, the presence of a pet in the home could help you feel a sense of security and protection. A 2019 study looked at the impact of pets on physiology of college students. The study divided 249 students into four groups. One group had 10 minutes stroking and playing with cats and dogs. Then, another group observed those people interacting with the animals. Finally, the other two groups either looked at slideshows of animals or simply sat and waited in silence.

All the students had their saliva samples taken in the morning and after their interaction. Study results show that those who interacted with the animals had significantly lower cortisol, or “stress hormone,” levels as compared to baseline than the others. This early study shows promise that having a pet could help reduce mental stress in the body and mind. In turn, having a furry friend could help improve quality of life for their owners.

Other ways to improve mental health 

If you don’t want a pet or don’t have the time or money to care for a pet, there are other ways to improve mental health at home.

Improve your diet: Experts report that eating foods high in refined sugars, like sugary drinks and processed snacks, are harmful to the brain. In turn, they can impair brain function and lead to mental health disorders like depression. Therefore, try to limit such foods in the diet and focus on adding more antioxidant-rich foods like fruits and vegetables that can reduce inflammation in the body and mind.

Add a supplement: In addition to eating healthier foods, you can also add a supplement to help improve your mood. An example of such a supplement is Elevia by Vita Sciences. Elevia contains natural ingredients like GABA and 5-HTP that help calm the mind and body while boosting serotonin, or “feel good hormone” levels.

Move more: Exercise helps release endorphins that can reduce stress in the body and mind. Therefore, try to be active each day by walking, jogging, cleaning house, dancing, or swimming, to name a few ideas.

Get involved: Volunteering in your community or joining groups like a walking group or arts and crafts group can help you feel better. This is because it will help yo feel less isolated and will provide you a better sense of purpose in your life.

Find support: Talking to a counselor or joining a support group can help you talk about what is causing stress in your life. And by talking about it, you can obtain resources from others to help reduce stress in your life. However, always be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional first if you feel you may be depressed or anxious.

Take home message

Taking care of your mind is just as important as taking care of your body. Therefore, whether it be a pet or gaining support from your community, there are plenty of small things you can do to help yourself. However, if you feel like you don’t know where to start, then visit your healthcare provider for resources.

-written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN

References:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America (accessed July 22, 2019) “Tips.”

Feldman, S. (November 2018) “Alleviating Anxiety, Stress and Depression with the Pet Effect.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. 

Mental Health Foundation (accessed July 22, 2019) “Pets and mental health.”

MentalHealth.gov (last updated April 5, 2019) “What Is Mental Health?”

Sandoiu, A. (July 19, 2019) “More evidence that pets benefit mental health.” Medical News Today. 

Selhub, M.D., E. (November 16, 2015) “Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food.” Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School. 


  • Managing work hours could lower stroke risk

    brain, health, stroke. headache, inflammationRecent statistics show that stroke is the number five cause of death and disability in the United States. This is why it’s so important to look into what factors may increase risk of this condition and work to reduce them. For example, a recent study shows that working long hours may increase one’s risk for stroke. Although this may not always be a factor that you can prevent, let’s learn more about this condition and ways you can lower your risk.

    What is stroke?

    In technical terms, a stroke occurs when there is a clot blocking a blood vessel to the brain or when that blood vessel bursts. Since such blood vessels carry oxygen and nutrients to the brain, this type of issue can cause brain cells to die. In turn, this can lead to a variety of health issues including brain health issues or even death.

    Causes of stroke

    As mentioned before, there are two major causes of stroke. The most common cause  occurs when arteries to the brain become narrow or blocked. This is called an ischemic stroke. About 80-percent of strokes are ischemic strokes.

    The other cause is when a blood vessel in the brain leaks or ruptures. This type of stroke is called a hemorrhagic type. Hemorrhagic strokes can be caused by factors such as high blood pressure, overtreatment with blood thinners, or aneurysms. Aneurysms occur when there are weak spots in the blood vessel walls.

    Warning signs

    Although you may not be able to prevent all strokes, you may be able to see warning signs. When you notice such signs, you can contact emergency medical services right away to receive treatment. Such warning signs include:

    • trouble with speaking such as slurred speech
    • issues with understanding speech
    • paralysis or numbness of face, arm, or leg
    • vision issues in one or both eyes
    • a sudden, severe headache
    • sudden dizziness, loss of balance, or loss of coordination

    If you notice any of these symptoms in someone, then it’s important to think fast. This is because after the onset of symptoms, brain health issues can quickly escalate. Therefore, as soon as you notice symptoms, be sure to use the acronym FAST, or:

    • Face: Ask the person to smile. If one side of their face starts to droop, then it may be a sign of a brain health issue.
    • Arms: Ask the person to raise both arms. If one arm starts to drift downward, or if they are unable to raise their arm, then there may be a brain health issue.
    • Speech: Ask the person to repeat a simple phrase like “How are you?” Listen closely for any slurred speech that may indicate a brain health issue.
    • Time: It’s important not to waste any time if you notice any of these symptoms, since it doesn’t take long for brain health issues to escalate from time of symptom onset.

    Work hours and stroke research

    A recent French study looked at the effect of work hours on stroke risk. It was found that those people who worked more than ten hours on at least fifty days per year were at higher risk for this brain health condition. Those working such long hours had a 29-percent high risk, while those who worked like this for ten years or more had a 45-percent higher risk.

    How to lower risk of a stroke

    Besides reducing work hours, there are plenty of other things you can do to lower your risk of a stroke.  Several of these things include taking steps to live healthier such as:

    • Exercising more to help improve heart health and vessel health as well as to help manage weight.
    • Losing weight to help reduce the stress placed on the heart and blood vessels.
    • Stop smoking to help lower risk of high blood pressure.
    • Eat a healthier diet such as reducing intake of processed, sugary, calorie-laden foods and eating more fruits and vegetables. A healthier diet can help reduce cholesterol, lower blood pressure risk, help you manage weight, and reduce risk of diabetes, to name a few.
    • Add a blood vessel health supplement to your daily regimen such as Circova by Vita Sciences. Circova contains ingredients like L-arginine and niacin that can help to naturally improve blood flow and blood pressure.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

    References:

    American Stroke Association (accessed June 25, 2019) “About Stroke.”

    BBC Health (June 20, 2019) “Long working hours ‘linked to stroke risk.'”

    Mayo Clinic (last reviewed June 11, 2019) “Stroke.”

    National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (last modified January 31, 2019) “Brain Basics: Preventing Stroke.”


  • June is Alzheimer’s Brain Awareness Month

    brain, health, alzheimer's, cognitiveWith so much focus on diet and exercise helping the heart, brain health may take a back seat in the wellness arena. However, the brain is the control center of the body, and in turn must not be neglected. During the month of June, it’s especially important to be aware of the brain disease known as Alzheimer’s. You may have heard of it before, but may not know what it entails. Let’s learn more about this disease and how you can be an advocate for this devastating brain health condition.

    Alzheimer’s basics

    Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive and irreversible brain health condition that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Although some memory loss may be a normal part of aging, the severity of symptoms in Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. More than 5 million people in the United States suffer from this type of dementia. And along with this number, there are countless other people, including loved ones and caregivers, that have to live everyday watching those they care about suffer from this disease.

    Causes of Alzheimer’s include plaques and tangles in the brain. These plaques form from abnormal deposits of protein in the brain. Also, the damage caused by these deposits typically start in the hippocampus and entorhinal complex of the brain. And its these parts of the brain that are vital in forming memories. Over time, more neurons die and other parts of the brain begin to shrink.

    It is not fully understood why certain people may be more at risk for this disease. However, it’s thought that less than 1-percent is from genetic changes, while for most people it is likely a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors.

    Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s 

    The early symptoms of this disease may be things as simple as forgetting recent events or conversations. These memory problems are one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease. However, other red flags of the disease may include:

    • repeating statements over and over again
    • forgetting appointments and events and not remembering them later
    • frequently losing things
    • getting lost in familiar places
    • forgetting the names of family members and everyday objects
    • having trouble thinking of words to describe common objects or hold a simple conversation

    If you, your family member ,or someone you know exhibits any of these symptoms, it may be time to visit the doctor. This is because a complete physical exam, detailed neurological exam, and mental status exam can help diagnose Alzheimer’s or whatever other condition may be causing symptoms.

    Later symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

    In the later stages of the disease, you may start to see some of the following symptoms:

    • inability to learn new things
    • trouble with simple activities of daily living like bathing, dressing, and eating.
    • Hallucinations
    • Paranoia
    • Impulsive behavior

    Alzheimer’s research

    Recent research shows that there are currently not many treatments for AD. One medicine is a cholinesterase inhibitor. This medicine is for those with mild, moderate, or severe AD.  This medicine is also give to those with Parkinson’s dementia. Memantine is another medicine that is approved in use for those with moderate and severe AD who show difficulty in attention and alertness.

    Besides such treatments, research shows an independent link between vitamin D deficiency and AD. Therefore, those with symptoms should have their vitamin D levels tested for this vitamin.

    Another nutrition-related link with AD has to do with omega-3 fatty acids. This is because research shows the heart health of individuals correlates with brain health. In fact, recent reviews show that those who eat a heart healthy diet based on the Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of cognitive decline compared to those on other eating regimens.

    Future research

    Future research of Alzheimer’s has to do with targeting the plaques and tangles in the brain. However, researchers cannot yet seem to agree on what abnormality has the most impact on cognitive decline. That is why it’s important now to support research efforts that will help find more effective treatment for this terrifying condition.

    How you can support research

    Be sure to visit the Alzheimer’s Association website for more ideas on ways you can help support Alzheimer’s research. Also, hashtag #endalz in your social media posts this month to show your support in Alzheimer’s disease awareness.

    How you can keep your brain healthy

    As mentioned before, some research is showing that lifestyle changes like diet may help brain health. Read below for specific things you can do to help keep your brain healthy.

    • Exercise your brain with puzzles and word games: This is thought to keep building connections between nerve cells and may even help generate new brain cells.
    • Exercise your body: Walking, jogging, swimming, and dancing, to name a few can help keep your heart and brain strong. Not only can it help create new nerve cell connections, but can improve blood pressure and cholesterol that can also help brain health.
    • Improve your numbers: Help keep your blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure in healthy ranges by eating healthier. This means more plant-based foods in the diet like fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Healthy fats can include olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and olives, to name a few.
    • Avoid tobacco and limit alcohol: Smoking can constrict blood vessels and increase heart health risk, while excessive alcohol intake is a major risk factor for dementia. Therefore visit your healthcare provider or websites like SAMHSA.gov to help you quit smoking and abusing alcohol.
    • Reduce stress and increase social support:  Those with a lower risk of dementia also have strong social ties. Also, people who are anxious or with depression tend to score lower on cognitive function tests. Therefore, be sure to keep a support system around you of friends, neighbors, loved ones, and healthcare providers to keep your brain healthy.
    • Take a daily supplement:  Vitamin deficiencies like vitamin D are often seen in those with cognitive health issues. Also, omega-3 fatty acids may help improve brain health. Therefore, if you don’t eat enough healthy fats and vitamins in your diet it may be time to add a dietary supplement to your daily routine. The fish oil supplement produced by Vita Sciences can be a great addition to your healthy lifestyle routine.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

    References:

    Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School (updated January 16, 2018) “12 ways to keep your brain young.”

    Kumar, A. and Tsao, J.W. (last updated December 18, 2018) “Alzheimer disease.” StatPearls

    Mayo Clinic (December 8, 2018) “Alzheimer’s disease.”

    National Institute on Aging (accessed June 12, 2019) “Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.”

    Weller, J and Budson, A. (July 2018) “Current understanding of Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis and treatment.”  F1000Res., 7:F1000 Faculty Rev-1161.

     

     

     


  • Add nuts to your diet for better brain health

    Bowl of mixed nuts on rustic wooden table in natural light.

    Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and pistachios are all delicious nutrient-dense snacks. Nuts are often mentioned as healthy snacks for heart health. Not to mention that they taste great and can be a healthy replacement to chips as a salty and crunchy snack. But did you know that they can also help your brain health? A recent study shows that eating a little bit of nuts everyday can benefit brain health.

    About nuts

    Nuts come in many varieties, but they all provide rich health benefits. These tasty plant-based treats contain many important nutrients like:

    • healthy fats like monounsaturated (MUFA)  and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fats
    • protein
    • soluble and insoluble fibers
    • vitamin E
    • vitamin K
    • folate
    • thiamine
    • minerals such as magnesium, copper, potassium, and selenium
    • antioxidants
    • phytosterols

    Because of their antioxidant content, nuts are great for reducing the amount of inflammation in the body. This in turn can help lower risk of inflammatory related conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

    In particular, eating just an ounce or two of almonds daily can reduce blood glucose levels after meal time. They can also increase satiety or fullness in those with type 2 diabetes. Also, eating an ounce or so of walnuts daily can help some people lose weight since they also help increase fullness and reduce insulin levels. Finally, research shows that eating an ounce and a half of pistachios daily can help improve lipid markers such as reducing LDL-C or “bad” cholesterol.

    Nuts and brain health

    A 2019 study looked at data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey over 22 years. Nut intake data was collected from over 4800 study participants in 1991, 1993, and during the years of cognitive function data collection in 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006. Study results show that nut intake is associated with reduced levels of cognitive decline.

    In particular, eating more than 10 grams or more of nuts daily, which equates to about 2 teaspoons a day, may benefit brain health. In fact, the researchers report that this small amount of nuts can improve thinking, reasoning, and memory. Also, they report that this same amount of nuts can improve the brain function of older adults by about 60-percent compared to those who didn’t eat nuts.

    Interestingly enough, the same antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities that help improve heart health also benefits brain health. Therefore, make sure to add nuts to your daily routine to reap these awesome health benefits.

    Other ways to help brain health

    Now if you’re allergic to nuts, this talk of nuts and health benefits may be a bummer. However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t other ways you can improve brain health. Read below for tips on keeping your brain at its healthiest.

    • Keep your brain busy: As the saying goes “Use it or lose it.” The same concept works for brain health. Just like you exercise your body to stay fit, you should not forget to do the same for your brain. Crossword puzzles, reading, drawing, painting, and even crafts can help keep your brain strong.
    • Exercise your body: Like I mentioned before, exercise for your body is important for heart health, but also for brain health too. This is because your heart pumps all-important oxygen-rich blood to the brain to keep it healthy. Every step counts, so walk, jog, bike, dance, or do whatever movement you enjoy. Your brain will thank you.
    • Improve your diet: Eating lots of fiber-rich and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables can benefit brain health as well as overall health. This is because, just like nuts, these antioxidants reduce inflammation in the body that can increase chronic disease risk. Color your plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables each day to reap the benefits of the different antioxidants they contain that possess different healthful properties.
    • Limit alcohol intake and stop smoking: Smoking can constrict blood vessels , which means less oxygen reaches your brain. For help to quit smoking, visit Smokefree.gov for helpful resources. And as far as alcohol goes, research shows that more than two standard drinks a day can increase dementia risk. A standard drink is equal to 12 ounces beer, 5 ounces wine, or 1.5 ounces liquor.
    • Take a supplement for brain health:  If you don’t feel like you’re getting enough brain food in your diet, then you can add a brain health supplement like UltaMind to your daily routine. UltaMind by Vita Sciences contains innovative compounds like St. John’s Wort and Gingko biloba, to name a few that have been shown to support brain health, memory, focus, and concentration.

    References:

    de Souza, R., Schincaglia, R. M., Pimentel, G. D., & Mota, J. F. (2017). Nuts and Human Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review. Nutrients9(12), 1311. doi:10.3390/nu9121311

    Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School (accessed April 4, 2019) “12 ways to keep your brain young.” https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/12-ways-to-keep-your-brain-young

    Li, Ming and Shi, Z. (February 2019) “A Prospective Association of Nut Consumption with Cognitive Function in Chinese Adults Aged 55+ – China Health and Nutrition Survey.” The Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging, 23(2): 211-216.

    Roche, Ph.d., B. (July 17, 2014) “10 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health.” Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/iq-boot-camp/201407/10-ways-improve-your-brain-health

     


  • Could sugary drinks reduce life expectancy?

    soda, cola, sugar, sugary drinkAnyone who has been on a healthy lifestyle plan knows that you should try not to drink your calories. This is because you want to cut calories wherever you can to lose weight. However, cutting out those sugary drinks are not only helpful in weight loss, but also in cutting your disease risk. In fact, a recent study found that those who drank less sugary drinks had a lower risk of chronic diseases and early death as compared to those who drank sugary drinks often.

    What is considered a sugary drink?

    A sugary drink can be anything from processed colas to fresh squeezed juices. Here are some examples of sugary drinks you should limit in your daily routine.

    • cola
    • milkshakes
    • coffee drink blends
    • orange, apple, or other fruit juices
    • certain kinds of smoothies
    • flavored milks
    • sports drinks
    • sweetened waters
    • energy drinks

    These sugary drinks can be sweetened with plain sugar or one of many forms of sugar used in processed goods. Some examples of added sugars include:

    • brown sugar
    • corn sweetener
    • corn syrup
    • dextrose
    • fructose
    • glucose
    • high-fructose corn syrup
    • honey
    • lactose
    • malt syrup
    • maltose
    • molasses
    • raw sugar
    • sucrose

    Sugary drinks and health outcomes research

    Sugary drink intake has been linked to cognitive impairment, obesity in children and adults as well as dental caries.   Also, some research shows that sugar-sweetened beverage intake may be linked to heart health issues.

    One recent study looked at the impact of sugary-sweetened beverage intake on health. Study results show that those women who drank sugary drinks more than two servings a day had a 63-percent higher risk of early death than those who drank less than one serving a month. Also, by looking at the same factors in men, those who drank more sugary drinks had a 29-percent higher risk of premature death than those who drank less.

    Researchers suggest that this risk of premature death comes from chronic diseases linked with sugary drink intake. For example, those who drink more sugary drinks may have overall poorer diets. In turn, this may lead to a greater risk of obesity. Then this increase in body weight may increase risk of obesity-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Therefore, it’s these chronic diseases that increase the risk of early death in those that drink a lot of sugary drinks.

    Other ways to reduce sugar in your diet

    Besides cutting down on sugary drinks, you can cut out sugar in your diet by following the tips below.

    • Have healthy snacks on hand: If you’re not prepared with healthy snacks in tow, then you are more likely to walk to the vending machine for a snack. However, most convenience snacks are full of added sugar and sodium. Therefore, grab some portable fruit like bananas, apples, or oranges before you leave the house for work. Fruit may also contain sugar, but it’s natural sugar. Not to mention, that fruit also contains fiber and antioxidants that help reduce inflammation in the body and keep your gut healthy.
    • Find alternatives to sugary drink options: Instead of energy drinks, reach for a cup of coffee with some almond milk. Or instead of a soda, try drinking a seltzer water infused with fruit like lemon or limes. Also, if you enjoy your coffee blended drink, just opt for sugar-free flavorings, skim or plant-based milk options, and skip the whipped cream and chocolate or caramel drizzle on top.
    • Take a sugar control supplement: If you’re in the midst of trying to cut down on sugar in your diet, but need a little help, then try a glucose control supplement. Glucarex by Vita Sciences is one example of a natural supplement that can help you control your blood glucose levels. This is because Glucarex contains ingredients like chromium, alpha lipoic acid, and cinnamon to help naturally support weight loss, metabolism, and healthy blood glucose levels. Therefore, such a supplement could support any healthy lifestyle habits you are trying to make to improve your health.
    • Know your numbers: By keeping track of your blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides you can detect health problems before they start. Just be sure to visit your doctor often to have your labs checked at least once a year. However, you may have to visit more often if you have a family history of or diagnosis of chronic disease(s) already.

    References:

    Anjum, I., Jaffery, S. S., Fayyaz, M., Wajid, A., & Ans, A. H. (2018). “Sugar Beverages and Dietary Sodas Impact on Brain Health: A Mini Literature Review.” Cureus10(6), e2756. doi:10.7759/cureus.2756

    Bleich, S. N., & Vercammen, K. A. (2018). “The negative impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on children’s health: an update of the literature.” BMC obesity5, 6. doi:10.1186/s40608-017-0178-9

    Bracho-Sanchez, E. (March 18, 2019) “Sugary drinks linked to higher risk of premature death, especially for women, study says.”  https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/18/health/sugary-drinks-premature-death-women-study/

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (last reviewed February 27, 2017) “Get the Facts: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Consumption.”

    Deshpande, G., Mapanga, R. F., & Essop, M. F. (2017). “Frequent Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption and the Onset of Cardiometabolic Diseases: Cause for Concern?” Journal of the Endocrine Society1(11), 1372-1385. doi:10.1210/js.2017-00262

    Luger, M., Lafontan, M., Bes-Rastrollo, M., Winzer, E., Yumuk, V., & Farpour-Lambert, N. (2017). “Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain in Children and Adults: A Systematic Review from 2013 to 2015 and a Comparison with Previous Studies.” Obesity facts10(6), 674-693.

     


  • A plant-based diet may help treat diabetes

    fruit, vegetable, nuts, seeds, healthy, dietIf you’ve ever tried to eat healthy, which I’m sure most of us have, then you may have been told to eat more vegetables. This is a tried and true statement that is vital to every healthy lifestyle. This is because plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables are full of gut-healthy fiber and antioxidants.  In turn, this helps to lower your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. That is why it may not be surprising that a recent study shows that a plant-based diet may help diabetes treatment.

    What is a plant-based diet?

    There are several ways you may view a plant-based diet. And you don’t have to be a vegetarian or vegan to reap the benefits of this eating plan. In fact, the definition of a plant-based diet is a group of eating habits that avoid eating most or all animal products and support mostly intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, whole grains and nuts. Therefore, all you have to do is include a plant-based food to each meal or snack time. So try to pick a variety of colors of plant-based foods to reap the benefits of the vast array of antioxidants.

    Plant-based diet research

    There is a lot of research supporting the benefits of a plant-based diet. Research shows that such a diet can help improve mental health, heart health, quality of life, HbA1c levels, and body weight. It can also help people manage their diabetes. It’s thought that these health benefits stem from the antioxidants in produce that help improve gut health and decrease oxidative stress and related inflammation. Also, plant-based foods provide a ton of nutrients like fiber, potassium, magnesium, folate, iron, and vitamins A and C.

    A recent study looked at how the vegan diet may help those with diabetes. Researchers looked at the effects of vegetable-based foods on health versus animal-based foods. For sixteen weeks, 20 people with type 2 diabetes were fed either veggie-based burgers or meat-based burgers.

    Study results show that the tofu burgers enhanced post-meal insulin secretion more than the meat burger. This means that after meals, blood glucose levels did not rise as much in those on the plant-based diet.  Also, the vegan meal improved beta-cell function, which produces, holds, and releases insulin. This is important since diabetes usually damages the beta-cell function in those who have the condition. Therefore, this study shows that a plant-based diet could help those with diabetes control their condition.

    Other ways to help control diabetes

    Besides eating a plant-based diet, there are other things you can add to your healthy lifestyle to help control diabetes.

    • Stay active: Exercise can help increase how sensitive insulin is and can help the body use blood glucose better for energy. Therefore, be sure to move as much as you can each day. This can be walking, cleaning house, walking around the market, or aerobics, to name a few. Every step counts, so just because you can’t work out at the gym, that doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways to stay active and control your blood glucose levels.
    • Take medications: Many people with type 2 diabetes benefit from taking daily medications that help lower blood glucose levels. Some people may also have to take insulin to assist with diabetes treatment. Your diabetes healthcare team will look at your health history and current health status to find the medicine regimen that will work best for you.
    • Add a daily supplement: A supplement like Glucarex by Vita Sciences can help control blood glucose levels naturally. Glucarex contains  compounds like chromium, alpha lipoic acid, and cinnamon that can support healthy weight, metabolism, and blood glucose levels.
    • See your doctor often: If you have a chronic disease like diabetes, it’s vital to visit your doctor more than once a year. During these visits, have your labs checked and have your medicines adjusted if needed. This can help you stay on top of your diabetes and lower risk of complications.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD of LighttrackNutrition.com

    References:

    Hever, J., & Cronise, R. J. (2017). “Plant-based nutrition for healthcare professionals: implementing diet as a primary modality in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease.” Journal of geriatric cardiology : JGC14(5), 355-368.

    Kahleova, H., et al. (2019) “A Plant-Based Meal Stimulates Incretin and Insulin Secretion More Than an Energy- and Macronutrient-Matched Standard Meal in Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Crossover Study.” Nutrients, 11(3): 486.

    Kerley C. P. (2018). “A Review of Plant-based Diets to Prevent and Treat Heart Failure.” Cardiac failure review4(1), 54-61.

    McMacken, M., & Shah, S. (2017). “A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes.” Journal of geriatric cardiology : JGC14(5), 342-354.

    Toumpanakis, A., Turnbull, T., & Alba-Barba, I. (2018). “Effectiveness of plant-based diets in promoting well-being in the management of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review.” BMJ open diabetes research & care6(1), e000534.


  • Could preventing or treating hypertension protect your mind?

    hypertension, blood pressure, heart health, healthWhen you think of high blood pressure, or hypertension, your heart health may be the first thing that comes to mind. But what many may not realize is that blood pressure also relates to the health of your mind. It makes sense if you think about it. All the body’s tissues and organs require oxygen from the blood that flows from the heart. If something is affecting blood flow, then this can affect the health of many parts of your body. Let’s look a bit more at blood pressure and how controlling it can improve the health of your heart and mind.

    About hypertension

    Hypertension happens when the blood flow in your vessels has to use extra force to travel though the body. There are several different causes of blood pressure. Some of these causes include high sodium intake, obesity, thyroid problems, or sleep apnea, to name a few.

    A person has hypertension if their blood pressure consistently reads at or above 140 mm Hg over 90 mmHg. The top number is the systolic blood pressure, or the pressure of the blood in the arteries during contraction. On the other hand, the bottom number is the pressure of the blood in the vessels at dilation, or in between contractions.

    It’s important to see your doctor on a regular basis so you can track your blood pressure. This is because untreated high blood pressure can lead to complications like heart attack, heart failure, or stroke, to name a few.

    Blood pressure and brain health

    By keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy, you ensure healthy blood flow all over the body, This includes healthy blood flow to the brain. According to the Centers for Disease Control, taking care of your heart can help reduce your risk of stroke and dementia.

    A recent study looked at a group of older adults at risk for heart disease but had no history of stroke or diabetes. Researchers looked at whether intensive or standard treatment for hypertension could improve cognitive health outcomes.

    Intensive blood pressure control would involve a goal of a systolic blood pressure of less than 120 mm Hg. On the other hand, standard treatment would merely try to lower the systolic blood pressure below 140 mm Hg.

    Study results show that the intensive treatment helped reduce mild cognitive impairment risk by 20-percent. Because of this finding, researchers suggest that intensive blood pressure treatment could lower risk of dementia. However, more studies will need to be done to see if this theory holds true.

    How can you improve your blood pressure?

    When it comes to heart health, here are several steps you can take to help control your blood pressure and in turn help the health of your mind.

    • Eat a heart healthy diet: Cut back on sodium, fatty red meats, alcohol, and sugary processed foods for better heart health. Instead, swap out these foods for lean animal or plant-based proteins like chicken, fish, nuts, or seeds. Also, load up on antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits that also provide gut- and heart-healthy fiber.
    • Move more: Every step counts when it comes to heart health. Try to walk, swim, bike, dance, or do whatever moves you to exercise. Try to move at least thirty minutes total a day most days of the week to help keep your weight within a healthy range and your heart strong.
    • Sleep enough: During sleep, your body takes care of a lot of internal business. One piece of business is regulating fluid and hormones in the body. If interrupted this can have a negative impact on blood pressure. This is why most adults should sleep at least seven to nine hours a night most nights for optimal health.
    • Quit smoking: Smoking can constrict blood vessels and in turn narrow them and increase risk of blood pressure. Therefore, if you smoke, be sure to visit smokefree.gov for resources on how you can quit today to help your heart and brain health.
    • Take a heart healthy supplement:  Along with these lifestyle changes, it also never hurts to add a heart healthy supplement to give your heart health the upper hand. One such supplement is Circova by Vita Sciences. Circova contains ingredients like L-arginine, niacin, and hawthorne that help to naturally improve blood pressure and blood flow.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

    References:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (March 26, 2018) “Brain Health Is Connected to Heart Health.” https://www.cdc.gov/features/heart-brain-health/index.html

    Mayo Clinic (January 9, 2019) “10 ways to control high blood pressure without medication.”

    National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (accessed February 18, 2019) “High Blood Pressure.”

    NIH Research Matters (February 12, 2019) “Intensive blood pressure control may lessen cognitive loss.”

     

     


  • Could fish oil lower your risk of stroke?

    fish oil. stroke, healthy fat, health, heart healthStroke continues to be one of the top ten leading causes of death in the United States.  And even if a person survives a stroke, they may face permanent disability from a stroke. In turn, having a stroke could greatly impact a person’s quality of life. This is why it’s so important to keep learning more about how this disease can be prevented. A recent study shows that taking a fish oil supplement each day may help lower risk of stroke.

    What is stroke?

    Stroke is a form of vascular disease that affects the arteries to and within the brain.  A stroke occurs when these vessels become blocked by a clot or bursts. A stroke caused by a blockage is called an ischemic stroke. On the other hand, a stroke called by a ruptured vessel is called a hemorrhagic stroke.

    Since these arteries normally carry oxygen and blood to the brain, this blockage can be deadly. If the brain, or the control center of your body, doesn’t receive oxygen or nutrients, then brain cells can die. This in turn can wreak havoc all over your body.

    Depending on what area of the brain the stroke occurs, different complications can occur. A right brain stroke can cause paralysis on the left side of the body, vision problems, and memory loss. On the other hand, a stroke on the left side of the brain can cause paralysis on the right side of the body, speech problems, and memory loss.

    Either way, these complications can greatly affect quality of life. However, by taking care of your heart health, you can lower your risk of stroke.

    What is fish oil?

    Fish oil is a supplement that contains omega-3 fatty acids. Two of the primary long-chain omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements are DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, and EPA, or eicosapentaenoic acid.  These fatty acids are marine-based, hence fish oil supplements.

    The omega-3 fatty acids are polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) are well-known for their role in heart health. Study results show that fish oil works well as a supportive treatment, along with statins, to help lower heart disease risk. The average fish oil supplement provides about 1000 milligram of fish oils, containing about 180 mg EPA and 120 mg DHA or more.

    An example of a high quality fish oil supplement is the formula developed by Vita Sciences. This fish oil by Vita Sciences contains 400mg of EPA and 300mg of DHA in a 1000 milligram fish oil supplement.

    Stroke and fish oil research

    A recent study analyzed data from about 55,000 people enrolled in the Danish Diet, Cancer and Health study. They completed dietary surveys and had baseline adipose tissue analysis completed. Then, the individuals had follow-up assessments after 13.5 years to check for ischemic stroke status events, if any.

    Study results show that those with higher adipose tissue content of EPA showed a lower risk of total ischemic stroke.  Also, lower rates of large artery atherosclerosis were seen with higher intakes of total marine n-3 PUFA, EPA, and DHA.

    Other ways to reduce stroke risk

    Besides taking a fish oil supplement each day, here are some other ways you can lower your stroke risk.

    • Quit smoking if you already do. This is because smoking can constrict blood vessels. This, in turn, can raise blood pressure and increase risk of stroke.
    • Maintain heart health by keeping blood pressure and cholesterol levels in a healthy range. You can do this by eating a diet rich in fiber and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Also, be sure to move more on a regular basis to keep your heart muscle strong and maintain a healthy weight.
    • Keep your blood glucose levels in a healthy range. This is because those with diabetes are at higher risk for heart health issues than those without diabetes.
    • Visit your doctor regularly. By having your labs done at least yearly (or more often if you have a chronic disease risk), you can track your progress. Early detection of heart health issues can help lower your risk of stroke.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

    References:

    American Stroke Association (accessed January 23, 2019) “About Stroke.”

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (last reviewed November 28, 2017) “Stroke.” https://www.cdc.gov/stroke/index.htm

    Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health (accessed January 23, 2019) “Omega-3 Fatty Acids: An Essential Contribution.” https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/nutritionsource/what-should-you-eat/fats-and-cholesterol/types-of-fat/omega-3-fats/

    Hughes, S. (January 17, 2019) “Fish Oil, Particularly EPA, Linked to Reduced Ischemic Stroke.” https://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/907950

    National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (last updated November 21, 2018) “Omega-3 Fatty Acids.”

    Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion (last updated October 29, 2018) “Reduce Your Risk of Stroke.”


  • Could a Mediterranean diet improve your brain health?

    heart, cardiovascular, brain, heart healthy, omega-3, vessel, cholesterol, diabetesYou can’t talk about a heart healthy lifestyle without at least referring to the Mediterranean diet. That’s because this Greek-style eating plan is full of heart healthy foods and other healthful tips. But did you know that this diet is also good for brain health? Recent research shows that certain nutrients found in the Mediterranean diet can help with brain health aging in older adults.

    What is the Mediterranean diet?

    The Mediterranean diet is a heart healthy diet based on healthy fats like olive oil. Along with olive oil, healthy fat-containing foods like fatty fish, avocado, olives, nuts, and seeds make up the largest portion of the diet. The omega-3 fatty acids in these foods can help lower blood fats, also known as triglycerides. In addition, these fats can also help improve blood pressure and blood vessel health.

    The majority of foods in this eating plan are plant-based. In other words, this means eating plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. These foods will also provide fiber and important nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and vitamins C and E. This also means switching to whole grains if you’re going to eat breads or pastas.  Also, it encourages consuming fiber and protein-rich plant foods like beans, peas, nuts, and seeds.

    Other eating guidelines of this diet include limiting whole-fat dairy products, red meat, processed foods, and foods high in sodium. This eating plan also encourages use of spices to flavor food instead of using table salt.  Finally, to maintain a balanced healthy lifestyle, this diet encourages exercise and eating meals with family and friends.

    Mediterranean diet and brain health

    A recent study looked at healthy, older adults and how a Greek-style diet affected brain health. MRI scans and cognitive function tests measured brain health. These tests were done throughout the study and two years after the study to assess the diet’s impact on brain health.

    The researchers focused on 32 nutrients found in this diet. These nutrients included folate, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and vitamin D. Also, the researchers looked at antioxidants found in the Greek-style diet like omega-3 fatty acids, lycopene, and carotenoids. Study results show that such nutrients, along with omega-6 fatty acids, were involved in biomarker patterns. Also, those people who ate foods with such nutrients had better results on cognitive function tests of general intelligence, memory, and executive functions like attentional and inhibition control.

    Take home message

    So, if the heart healthy benefits of this eating plan haven’t convinced you to go Greek-style in your eating, hopefully the brain health factors did. This is because this diet has shown time and again that it ranks on top for health benefits.  Therefore, take small steps towards such an eating plan. You can do this by starting to eat more vegetables one day. Then maybe trying new recipes that use olive oil to roast or stir-fry those vegetables. Finally, you can add in nuts and/or seeds as snacks for even more healthy fats and fiber.

    If you feel like a supplement would help you at first, then try an omega-3 fatty acid supplement. An example of a high quality omega-3 fatty acid is the fish oil supplement by Vita Sciences. This fish oil supplement contains a healthy balance of EPA and DhA, which are two important omega-3 fatty acids for brain health. Not to mention that this supplement is burpless and ensures optimal purity.

    Therefore, if you’re thinking about starting a healthy lifestyle this new year, consider the Greek-style diet. Not only will it help you work towards just about any health goal you have, but it will taste fresh and delicious in the process.

    References:

    Mayo Clinic (November 3, 2017) “Mediterranean diet: A heart-healthy eating plan.”

    Paddock, Ph.D., C. (December 21, 2018) “Mediterranean diet nutrients tied with healthy brain aging.” Medical News Today.

    Romagnolo, D. F., & Selmin, O. I. (2017). “Mediterranean Diet and Prevention of Chronic Diseases.” Nutrition today52(5), 208-222.

    Zwilling, C.E., Talukdar, T., Zamroziewicz, M.K., and Barney, A.K. (March 2019) “Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and fMRI measures of network efficiency in the aging brain.” NeuroImage, Volume 188, 239-251.


  • Drinking less alcohol could help weight loss goals this new year

    holiday, drinking, alcohol, cocktail, beer, wine, health, weightWhen you think of celebrating the holidays, sweet treats, comfort foods, and holiday-flavored spirits may come to mind. Although it’s definitely ok to indulge a little during the holidays, too much of anything can sabotage your healthy lifestyle efforts. And with the new year rolling around soon, you should think ahead and make a plan. Because once this holiday season is over, the new year will surely bring about new celebrations with more food and drink temptations.  And recent research shows that by drinking less alcohol, you could increase your chances for weight loss success.

    What is a standard drink?

    You may hear health experts urge you to keep your drinking to so many standard drinks a week. When this term is used, a standard drink is equal to:

    • 12 ounces beer (5% ABV)
    • 8 ounces malt liquor (7% ABV)
    • 5 ounces wine (12% ABV)
    • 1.5 ounces liquor (40% ABV)

    So, when you order that tall beer at the bar and grill, keep in mind that 22 ounces is nearly equal to two standard drinks. And experts recommend that women should consume no more than 7 standard drinks a week.  Also, men should consume no more than 14 standard drinks per week. Any more than this is considered heavy drinking.

    Also, if you consume more than 4 standard drinks for women or 5 standard drinks for men in a two hour occasion, then you are binge drinking. So, if you feel like this describes your holiday or social events, then it may be time to visit you health care provider or call for resources in your area that can help you control or stop your drinking.

    Alcohol health effects

    Drinking too much in one night or over time can have serious health effects. Not only does alcohol impair mobility and speech in the short-term, but can also impact brain, heart, and liver health. Even short term, drinking too much can impair your immune system for up to 24 hours after becoming drunk. This puts you at higher risk for catching illnesses than others during this time. Also, long-term alcohol intake can lead to increased risk for inflammation of the pancreas and heart disease. Both of these conditions can place you at higher risk for hospitalization and serious illness.

    Alcohol and weight loss

    When it comes to weight loss, alcohol can stall your best efforts. First of all, alcoholic beverages contain unnecessary calories. No matter how low in carbs certain concoctions may be, you are still drinking your calories when consuming alcohol. Not to mention that alcohol can lower your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from the food you eat and can slow your body’s fat burning abilities. The latter is because the liver is in charge of tasks like fat burning and removing toxins from the body. It considers alcohol a toxin.

    Therefore, when you drink, it has to stop fat-burning to focus on ridding of the alcohol toxins from your body. In turn, your body burns less fat while you drink. It takes about one hour for your body to break down one standard drink of alcohol.

    A recent study looked at alcohol and its impact on long-term weight loss in those with diabetes. Study results show that those who did not drink during the four year study lost more weight than those who drank any amount. Heavy drinkers had even worse long-term weight loss than others. Therefore, researchers suggest that patients with type 2 diabetes especially should not drink alcohol if they are trying to lose weight.  Needless to say, this study shows that anyone, regardless of health status, would benefit from drinking less alcohol.

    Other ways to be healthier in the new year

    Besides cutting down on drinking alcohol, there are also other ways you can be healthier this coming new year.

    • Sleep more: Most adults should sleep at least seven hours a night for optimal health.
    • Move more: Experts suggest that moving more each day, even in two minute spurts, for at least 150 minutes total each week, can benefit overall health.
    • Manage stress: Yoga, meditation, or just talking with a counselor can help you manage stress better and lower risk for emotional eating that can lead to weight management issues.
    • Eat more fruits and veggies: Antioxidant-rich fruits and veggies can provide inflammation-fighting compounds that can help lower your risk of diseases like heart disease and diabetes. Not to mention that the fiber from such foods is vital to gut health.
    • Take a supplement: If you don’t feel you are getting enough nutrients in your diet, then take a supplement like Zestia by Vita Sciences. Zestia not only contains whole food vitamin and mineral sources, but also digestive enzymes and probiotics for digestive health.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

    References:

    1. Bertoia, M. L., et al. (2015). “Changes in Intake of Fruits and Vegetables and Weight Change in United States Men and Women Followed for Up to 24 Years: Analysis from Three Prospective Cohort Studies.” PLoS medicine12(9), e1001878. doi:10.1371/journal.pmed.1001878
    2. Centers for Disease Control (last reviewed March 29, 2018) “Alcohol and Public Health: Frequently Asked Questions.” https://www.cdc.gov/alcohol/faqs.htm#heavyDrinking
    3. National Health Service (last reviewed July 26, 2018) “How long does alcohol stay in your blood?” https://www.nhs.uk/common-health-questions/lifestyle/how-long-does-alcohol-stay-in-your-blood/
    4. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (accessed December 18, 2018) “Alcohol’s Effects on the Body.” https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/alcohols-effects-body
    5. National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (accessed December 18, 2018) “What Is a Standard Drink?” https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/what-standard-drink
    6. ScienceDaily (December 3, 2018) “Alcohol intake may be key to long-term weight loss for people with Diabetes.” https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/12/181203115449.htm
    7. Sinha, R., & Jastreboff, A. M. (2013). “Stress as a common risk factor for obesity and addiction.” Biological psychiatry73(9), 827-35.
    8. Traversy, G., & Chaput, J. P. (2015). “Alcohol Consumption and Obesity: An Update.” Current obesity reports4(1), 122-30.
    9. Watson, N. F., Badr, M. S., Belenky, G., Bliwise, D. L., Buxton, O. M., Buysse, D., Dinges, D. F., Gangwisch, J., Grandner, M. A., Kushida, C., Malhotra, R. K., Martin, J. L., Patel, S. R., Quan, S. F., … Tasali, E. (2015). “Recommended Amount of Sleep for a Healthy Adult: A Joint Consensus Statement of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine and Sleep Research Society.” Sleep38(6), 843-4. doi:10.5665/sleep.4716