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Nurse Bridgid

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Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Do chemicals in cooked meat cause cancer?

There have been a ton of news stories and links going around about the chemicals in cooked meat that can cause cancer. They all say don't eat meat, you won't get cancer...which we all know that there are many different reasons for cancer to occur, but one of them is a genetic marker, meaning that some people are predisposed to getting cancer (i.e. if a close family member mother, father, brother, sister has cancer).  The science behind Heterocyclic Amines (HCAs) and Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) is real, but the question of whether they cause cancer is another question.

What are HCAs and PAHs?
Simply, HCAs and PAHs are the chemicals that are formed when cooking muscle meat (from fish, beef, pork, and poultry) at high temperatures and/or over open flames (like grilling).  As the meat cooks, we are changing the chemical composition: chicken goes from being slimy and pink, to white and firmer (something that you would actually want to eat).  Throughout that cooking process, especially at high temperatures, there are more HCAs and PAHs present.  The HCAs form when the amino acids (protein), sugars, and creatine (part of the musculature) react to the high temperature. The HCAs bare not frequently found in foods that are not cooked at high temperatures. The PAHs are formed when the fat from your meat drips into the grill, creates a big flame; those flames contain the PAHs that then adhere to the outside of the meat.  PAHs are also found in cigarette smoke, when smoking meats, and car exhaust (if it tastes "smokey" most likely it has PAHs).  Also, it is interesting to note that the more "well done" your meat is, the higher the level of HCAs because the longer it has cooked and the more chemical change has occurred to the you might want to start appreciating a nice rare steak ;)

Do they cause cancer?
HCAs and PAHs have been shown, in lab studies, to cause changes in DNA which can possibly cause cancer.  The studies were done on lab rats that were fed diets high in HCAs: the rats then grew tumors in their breast tissues, liver, pancreas, colon, skin, lung, prostate, and other tissues.  With PAHs, the rats had tumors of the stomach (entire Gastrointestinal tract), leukemias (blood cancer), and lungs.  BUT these rats were fed thousands of times the amount of HCAs and PAHs that any human being would be consuming, and truly any chemical would cause cancers at that level.  Population studies of different people in their natural habitat have not shown any increase in cancer with HCAs and PAHs; the caveat is that if someone lives in an area with high levels of exhausts or fumes, their exposure to PAHs are higher, so they are at risk of cancer from that, but not specifically due to ingesting cooked meats.  The environmental exposure to PAHs are more of a risk than cooked food. As well, peoples genetic risk is also a factor here: if you had a genetic predisposition to cancer, your body may be more susceptible to DNA changes causing cancer from HCAs versus someone who has a very low risk and no cancer in their family.  Although, those with a diet high in well done, barbecued, and fried meats have higher risks of colon, pancreatic, and prostate cancer....but there are other risk factors there as well (which can include a sedentary lifestyle, lack of vegetables, preventative care, etc.)

How do I decrease my exposure?
I wouldn't tell you to stop eating meat based on this one outrageous study, but if you are worried about it, there are ways to still enjoy a tasty piece of meat, but decrease your exposure to HCAs and PAHs.  YAY!
-Cook meat lightly in a microwave, then pan sear or cook on a grill to finish the cooking process (decreasing the amount of time over high heat significantly decreases the amount of HCAs present)  OR partially bake in the oven then grill.
-Continuously moving meat over high flame can decrease HCA creation- instead of leaving that burger sitting there to cook a few minutes on each side, think rotisserie chicken, and keep it constantly moving to cook, which will decrease PAHS from adhering to it.
-Remove charred bits of meat, and don't make gravy or other sauces from meat dripping when grilling, it will significantly reduce the amount of HCAs and PAHs you ingest.
-Eat meat that is more rare, as opposed to well done!

Looking at all the research, I would not stop eating meat based on what is out there.  But if you are concerned, head towards rare meats, bake in the oven, use that microwave, and maybe don't eat grilled meat EVERY night of the week!  Remember that when studies are done, based on the funding the researchers get, they want exposure, and so do the people funding the studies, so they will create "science" and then make it a media sensation to get everyone talking about it- mission accomplished on this one!  Rest assured there are studies that are taking into account normal levels of ingested HCAs and PAHs and the FDA/US Govt has not made any recommendations to change your lifestyle based on this one study.  So keep eating healthy, and if you are concerned, talked to your HCP about it!

Yours in Good Health

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A veggie that can help you cut carbs!

There are a lot of people that eat pasta almost daily. I am not one of them, but I guess it is relatively quick to make and super easy, so I can understand the draw.  Although I must say, if I do eat pasta, I grab the fortified pasta with protein and high fiber (I like to get the most nutrition out of each meal as possible). The biggest downer of eating pasta so frequently is the amount of carbohydrates that you are eating, that can turn right into fat if the energy isn't utilized.  The upside is that there is an equally easy alternative that basically rocks: Spaghetti squash. I know you are saying there is no way that it tastes like pasta, and it doesn't, but the consistency is similar, and it is nutritious and totally delish!

What is spaghetti squash?
Spaghetti squash is a winter squash, it is yellow and oblong, and amazing!  The outer shell is pretty hard, and you really have to use some muscle to cut through it, but once you do, scoop out the seeds, then just flip it shell side up on a cookie sheet or baking tray (put a few fork holes in the shell), at 425F (218 C or Gas Mark 7) for about an hour.   When you take the squash out, just use a fork to fluff the meat of the squash...and it comes out like spaghetti! Amazing, right?  The prep is actually easier than boiling water!

How nutritious is it?
Lets do a little comparison, just to show how nutritious spaghetti squash is (as compared to regular pasta).
Spaghetti Squash (1 cup): 42 calories, 0 Fat, 1g protein, 10g carbs (4g as sugar), 2.2g fiber,  small amounts of calcium (3% RDA), Vitamin C (9%), and packed with Vitamin A.
Regular Pasta (1 cup): 221 calories, 1.3g fat, 43g carbohydrates (2.5g as sugar), and  small amounts of Vitamin B.

By switching to spaghetti squash, you are saving 179 calories, getting more Vitamins and fiber, and saving yourself from carbs and fat.  Spaghetti squash can be used just the same as pasta in any form: pasta with sauce, primavera, or even as a bed for proteins (i.e. grilled shrimp, chicken, etc).  There truly is no reason not to give this a try- power pack your meals with fiber and vitamins and dove yourself calories; no one loses!

I promise that if you substitute this for your pasta routine even 50% of the time, you will cut a ton of carbs and calories and not even miss the difference.  Go for the Folger's challenge!  Let me know how awesome you feel when you've lost a few pounds by cutting down on carbs ;)

Yours in Good Health

Monday, March 26, 2012

Can I drink on antifungals?

Antifungal medications are used to treat to treat fungal infections such as: toe nail fungus, athletes foot, thrush, or blood stream infections.  In the US oral antigun cal medications are by prescription only, and they are very strong, and helpful meds to treat fungus, but there are some things that your HCP might not tell you, that you need to be aware of when taking them.

How do Antifungal medications work?
When you take an oral antifungal, it is absorbed through your gut into your bloodstream and is excreted (filtered out) through your liver. Let's use one of the most common antifungals as an example, terbinafine (Lamisil), that you are taking for a toenail fungal infection: you take your lamisil every day for three months, and a few days into treatment, your blood has an appropriate level of Lamisil in it because of how slow your liver gets rid of it, and how your gut absorbs it.  The Lamisil attacks all cells that it can find that appear to be fungal cells, thus killing the infection.  Which is awesome! But, there are some side effects such as: nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, vision changes, skin rashes, and changes in taste.  Due to the build-up of the drug in your liver, a more serious side effect is liver damage or complete liver failure.  Plus, some other drugs can cause the levels of the medications to become to high in your bloodstream and you can become toxic, which can also cause the liver failure, so you need to discuss all medications, and the type/amount of drugs (non prescribed) that you may/not take, and the amount you drink.

Why shouldn't I drink on them?
As we all know, alcohol is absorbed in your gut into your bloodstream and also excreted through your liver.  Huh, just like the antifungals! So, when your liver is working really hard to filter out a prescription drug, that is very strong and powerful, it can cause too much stress on your liver to also be expected to filter out alcohol.  The worst side effect can occur, and can occur quickly: complete liver failure.  An the early sings of liver failure are nausea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and jaundice (a yellowing of the skin).  Once complete liver failure occurs, the only treatment is a liver transplant, which is a lifetime of medications, hospital visits, and having days of feeling well and unwell (which are much more frequently swinging than for someone without a transplant).

Maybe because I have worked with the diseased liver population for a long period of time, I am more sensitive to this, but think about how worth it is to you to drink or take other drugs when you are taking prescription medications. It isn't worth losing an organ that is super vital, for a few drinks.  Right?

So if you are taking these drugs, lay off the alcohol. And if you are being prescribed this medication, talk to your HCP and be honest with the amount you drink...and LAY OFF THE BOOZE!!  (at least until your fungus is gone!)

Yours in Good Health

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Steel cut vs regular: which oats to eat

 We all should know how fab oatmeal is for our body by helping to lower cholesterol levels, thus decreasing the risk of heart disease and the soluble fiber helps to keep your blood sugars leveled for longer (no dips) and keep you feel full longer.  The whole grain addition to your diet can also reduce your risk of type II diabetes, through controlling blood glucose levels and keeping them stabile. AND, the soluble fiber can help to prevent high blood pressure. Not to mention that oatmeal, when you look at the label (if all you are eating is plain oatmeal) has no other ingredients: just oats. They are a totally pure food, and I love that.  I love looking at the ingredients label and just seeing one ingredient, nothing added, just real food. Can you get more fab than that?  Nope! But that does bring up the age old question: Do I eat steel cut or regular milled oats?

old fashioned

Steel cut

What is the big difference between steel cut and regular milled oats?
Honestly, it is the way that they are processed.  All oats, once picked, are cleaned, hulled, and conditioned; the outer shell is removed and the inside little kernel is heated to dry them out, so that the oats can be stored over time and not perish.  This is where oats start to differ: steel cut (AKA Irish oats) are the kernels (post heating) that are literally chopped with steel blades, allowing for chewier oatmeal with more texture, that takes around 30 minutes to cook.  Rolled (AKA old fashioned) oats, take those same kernels, then steamed and run through heavy metal rollers to flatten them very thin so that they can cook in under 5 minutes.  Instant oatmeal is created the same way as the milled oats, but then cooked and dried again, so that they can cook in under a minute....because technically they are already cooked.  So really you are looking at a level of processing, and the steel cut oats are the least processed of the bunch.

Are there nutritional differences?
For the most part, nutritionally they are the same.  The main difference is that the steel cut oats have a slightly higher fiber content, thus making you feel fuller longer, give more benefits to decrease cardiac risks, high blood pressure, and prevent diabetes type II.  But it is really minimal and only due to less processing.  Oats are great for helping to eat a healthy diet when losing weight, low in sodium, and, did I mention, lots of fiber?
Oatmeal contains (on one serving size):
307 calories
5g Fat
5g sodium (virtually NONE)
8g Fiber
11g Protein
and 19% of your RDA (recommended daily allowance) Iron

So, truly the choice is up to you: Do you want to spend 30 minutes making yummy steel cut oats, or 5 minutes making (in my humble opinion) slightly less yummy regular oats?  I switch 50/50 because I don't have the time or, more importantly, patience to make steel cut oats and they are a little too grainy to add to my morning smoothies, so I have both on hand, and depending on the day/time I eat either.  So eat whichever you would like, but make sure to get some oats in your diet!

Yours in Good Health

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Mercury poisoning?!?!

I know that I was just touting how fab fish oil is: filled with Omega-3's, DHA, and EPA.  And it really is awesome for you, but if you eat a lot of fish, depending on the types you eat, you can be at risk for mercury poisoning.  With every positive, there has to be a negative, right?  Maybe not! As long as you are informed about the signs and symptoms of mercury poisoning and know what fish tend to be lower mercury fish, and steer clear, it can be all good!

What is mercury poisoning?
Basically, mercury poisoning is, by definition, a high level of mercury in your system.  Normally humans have little to no mercury in their bodies, it is not something that we need to live or to survive, but it can be introduced into our systems from foods.  The most common sources are fish (from the environmental circumstances) and some meats as well (due to poor living habits by the poor creatures before they are on your plate).   There are all sorts of issues that can occur from high mercury levels depending on the dose and the amount of mercury in your system.

What are the signs and symptoms?
The signs and symptoms can vary based on the level present in your system.  One of the most common first signs is peripheral neuropathy (either an itching, burning, or tingling in your fingers/hands or toes/feet), skin discoloration of the cheeks/fingertips/toes, heavily shedding skin, and swelling.   Mercury can also effect the ability of the body to respond appropriately to epinephrine, it cannot stop epinephrine surges, so you can have high blood pressure, tachycardia (rapid heart rate), anxiety, profuse sweating, and increased saliva production.  For children, the symptoms can vary a little in that they do get flushed cheeks, noses, and lips, along with losing hair, nails, and teeth.  They can also get rashes that come and go randomly, muscle weakness, and increased sensitivity to light.  Also, emotional irritability, insomnia, and memory impairment can also occur.  Some of the symptoms can be very subtle, and it can be hard to tell that mercury poisoning is occurring...of course reading this, it seems like you would be able to tell right away, the sweating and saliva alone!  Mercury poisoning can be diagnosed through blood levels (should be around 6ug/L but can be as high as 200ug/L), or through hair testing.

What is the treatment?
Chelation therapy is the standard treatment for mercury poisoning, along with removing mercury from the diet.  Basically, chelation therapy is used to bind heavy metals and remove them from your system.  Ethylene diamine tetraacedic acid (EDTA) is injected into the body, the EDTA then binds the heavy metal in the blood, it is brought through to the kidneys and leaves the body through urine.  This is the only known treatment to decrease mercury levels.

What are mercury levels of fish?
The fish/seafood with the highest mercury levels are:
Mackerel, Whale, Shark, Swordfish, Dolphin (only eaten outside the US/EU), and tilefish
Lowest levels:
Anchovies, butterfish, shrimp, clams, salmon, cod, crab, haddock, lobster, mullet, scallops, tuna, trout, and tilapia.
*You can get full lists of fish mercury levels on the FDA's website, in case I haven't listed one of your favorites!

I fully encourage you to eat fish, just make sure that you are eating fish that is low in mercury and full of those yummy Omega-3's!  And if you do like to eat fish which is higher in mercury content, then just make sure to keep the signs of mercury poisoning in is better to be safe than sorry!

Yours in Good Health

Monday, March 19, 2012

Why is fish oil so great?

Fish oil has tons of good stuff in it.  I know that not everyone loves eating fish as much as I do, so there is good news that there are plenty of Omega-3 and fish oil supplements on the market, that are mercury free and are odorless.  What worse than tang fish oil in the morning?  Burping it up later!  I am so glad that they fixed that one right quick.  But I am sure you are wondering why it is so good for you...

What's so great about fish oil?
Fish oil is known to contain docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).  These acids in the fish oils have been shown in numerous studies to lower triglycerides (a dense fat found in the body that can cause plaques in arteries), reduce the risk of death, heart attacks (probably due to less plaque build up in the arteries), cardiac dysrhythmias (when the heart beat abnormally), and decreases risk of stroke in people with known cardiac disease.  With lowered triglyceride levels, the plaques can still form, but at a much slower rate and decreased amounts, so there is less risk of hardened arteries.  So, taking fish oil is great....but beware that high doses can cause and increased risk of bleeding.

How much Omega 3 Fatty Acids should I take?
The recommended amounts of DHA/EPA (in the form of Omega-3's in Fish Oils) are:
Infants: 5g/day
Children 1-3yrs: .7g/day
                  4-8 yrs: .9g/day
                  9-13 yrs: 1.2g/day
Adults: 14 yrs +  Males: 1.6g/day Females: 1.1g/day
Pregnancy: 1.4g/day
Breastfeeding: 1.3g/day

And in, for example, a 3 oz (single serving size) of salmon, you can get 1.3 grams of Omega 3's, which is OK because you aren't eating salmon every single day, right?  Other fish sources high in Omega 3's (that contain DHA and EPA) are Tuna, Mackerel, Halibut, Herring, and Sardines.

For  those of you who hate fish, go to your closest pharmacy and grab some mercury free/odorless supplements, and for those of you who like to eat fish, chomp away, but do be weary of high mercury intake with certain fish.  So eat up, slurp down, but get your fish oil on!

Yours In Good Health

Friday, March 2, 2012

Fish that live in your urethra!?!?

I am sure we have all heard tales of swimming down in South America, people peeing while they are swimming, and getting some sort of a fish or parasite in their urethra, and the terror that exists after. Now, I can't even begin to tell you why I have gotten such a slew of emails regarding this in the past week, but I have, so I decided to investigate it.  I kind of assumed it was true, and figured that if I went to South America, before I went swimming, I would get to the bottom of this caper.  Looks like I have to put on my Encyclopedia Brown cap early!

Are there Urethra loving fish?
Well, here is where here adventure begins. There are fresh water fish known as Candiru (or toothpick fish), that live in the Amazon river.  They are small translucent fish that act as parasites: they live in the gills of many of the catfish in the amazon, sucking their blood as food. The Candiru have small, sharp, teeth that can penetrate flesh.  Since the 1800's there have been numerous reports by scientists that have observed men and boys with amputated penises in various South American tribes, and other males of the same tribes, that would go into the water to bath, fish, etc and wear covering for their penises.  Due to language barriers and keen observation, these scientists deduced that the Candiru fish are attracted to urine so swim up in it and into the urethra.  The fish do have barbs on their heads, and it was assumed that the fish swim up the urethra as far as they can go, then hook in with barbs, hang out, and suck on blood.  At the time, the only way that the fish could be removed was through amputation.  Yikes! Well, this is really only fiction.  The only documented case was in 1997, but the issue is that the facts do not add up: the video of the cystoscopy (the procedure in which a scope is inserted into the penis through the urethra) appears to show that the fish was pulled out by its tail.  That wouldn't be possible because the barbs from the fishes head would dig into the canal and not come out easily. The specimen of the fish had all barbs intact. Plus they have found that these fish are not attracted to urine at all. So really, the whole story seems to be false as far as males are concerned.  All of the penis amputations were related to piranha bites, and males cover their penises to prevent the risk of being bitten by piranhas that are in the water.  Looks like those scientists needed to think outside the box a little bit!

But, there is some bad news for ladies: the Candiru fish have been found on multiple occasions in women's vaginas! They were once touted as fish that entered the anus and penile urethra...which are both false accusations. They seem to have an easier time entering the vaginal canal and hooking in their barbs to suck blood, possibly due to the size of the entry and the tissue inside the vaginal canal. The good news is that they are easily removable by pushing the fish further in to unhook the barbs, flipping the fish, and pulling them out head first...although I suggest getting that done by a medical professional!

So, I hope you all you men out there feel a little better about swimming in the fresh waters of the Amazon, and having a fish free urethra when you get out of the water...but I never suggest peeing when you swim, its just kind of gross.  Ladies, beware when swimming in those same waters- and wear a bathing suit, that will keep those pesky fish out of your vaginas!  Rest your minds at ease and swim away (well, except for piranhas, snakes, etc.)!

Yours in Good Health

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Want to live forever?

For those of you who read my blog loyally, you know that I am always touting exercise and healthy diets as the best way to get into shape and live a healthy lifestyle.  And there have been numerous studies showing that a healthy lifestyle helps to prevent disease, increase your immune system, and allow to live a longer life (with the caveat that there obviously are some genetics that come to play in this as well!)But, for the most part, it is pretty interesting that after studying people that have lived to over 100 years, they do have some similar traits.

What will help me live longer?
-Retire later: After retirement rates of obesity and chronic illnesses increase. So, if you want to retire, go for it, but keep active!  Have a hobby that is active, like gardening, volunteering with kids or animals, join a walking club...keep yourself moving and have goals, even if it is just a goal to travel to your next place, but make sure you go on walking/biking tours!
-Keep up your oral care:  Keeping your toothbrushing up and regular flossing (at least twice a day) keeps down the risk of gum disease related bacteria that can enter your bloodstream and cause artery inflammation and lead to cardiac disease.  Long story, short: inflamed arteries due to oral bacteria is bad, so brush your teeth!!
-Get your move on: a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise per day is required by your body to feel better, and to keep your heart and lungs in shape.  exercising daily boosts your immune system, so not only do you feel better and look better, but your body will actually benefit and you could live longer too.  See?  There's a reason I tell you to exercise!! :)
-Boost your fiber: Eating a diet high in whole grains and fiber, will help to keep your blood sugar levels stable throughout the day, thus leading to a reduced rate of diabetes, and will help keep your colon running smoothly.  Plus, it keeps you full longer, so you will tend to eat less during the day and skip snacking!
-Sleep!  Getting 6-8 hours of sleep, helps your body to relax and recharge, making you more energized for the next day. Some people tend to skip on sleep, so that they can be "more productive" one day, will end up actually not being super productive, and it will take a while for your body to recharge.  When you can, get sleep, and wake up early to jump on it!
-Eat FOOD: People who have a vitamin rich diet, tend to live longer and be healthier, but supplements and vitamins aren't absorbed as well so people who eat crappy diets but supplement with pills, don't gain the same benefits form the vitamins.  Try eating colorful plates filled with lots of yummy and healthy foods; you'll boost your vitamin intake, which will stimulate your brain, and make you feel better.
-Chill out: We have got to learn not to stress out as much and dwell on things. People who live longer tend to not get stressed out easily (this knocks me out of the box of living long....) Or if they do, they deal with it and move on, they tend to get over things quickly and don't sweat the small stuff.  Try to take a different outlook on life, especially with little things that annoy you...try to not let them (I totally get that this is easier said than done- it is a total life change!)
-Make it a habit: Live your life based on routine. I'm not saying do the EXACT same thing every day, but if you have a basic routine for life, you tend to be more accomplished during your days.  For example, I have a morning routine that includes waking up, drinking tea, cuddling with my dogs, then heading out for my morning run; I clear my head, get focused and ready for the day, and I know exactly how long I need SO if I need to add an early morning meeting, or get a bunch of errands done, I know when to wake up, and I feel less rushed and less stressed starting my day.  So, if you have basic routines, you can figure out how to alter your schedule when you need to, but it also gives you time to go through your day the way you want to.
-PARTY! Well, not really. But hang out with your friends, stay connected socially.  Those who tend to be socially withdrawn are more prone to depression later in life vs those who keep close friendships and are socially active have less risk of depression and live longer. Of course, steering clear of drugs and alcohol also helps to increase your longevity!

All in all, not difficult goals to set for yourself (well, besides the whole stress thing- at least for me!) and as I said before, genetics does play a role, so we are all predisposed to some sort of length of life or possible chronic illness, but I think that these are good goals to set for yourself to try and get the most out of life.  So get your 30 minutes of exercise, ditch the vitamins and eat a healthy salad while chilling with your girlfriends, just like the Golden Girls and you will live forever, just like Betty White :)

Yours in Good Health