Category / Nutrition Diet

The Best Way to Improve Brain Health

November 8, 2018

The first in a series of interviews with Longevity Innovators
By The Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging

(Advances in science and public health are increasing longevity and enhancing the quality of life for people around the world. In a series of interviews with the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, 14 visionaries will be revealing exciting trends and insights regarding healthy longevity, sharing their vision for a better future. The Longevity Innovators interviews highlight new discoveries in biomedical and psychosocial science, as well as strategies to promote prevention and wellness for older adults. This is the first in the series.)

Renowned neurosurgeon Dr. Keith Black (chair of the department of neurosurgery and director of the Maxine Dunitz Neurosurgical Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles) has pioneered advances in our understanding and treatment of brain cancers and complex neurological conditions. Black is also a research scientist studying targeted drug delivery, cancer stem cells and Alzheimer’s detection through retinal imaging, among many other areas. In an interview with the Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging, Black talks about the importance of developing a test for early onset Alzheimer’s and his goal to inspire the next generation.

Dr. Keith Black

What is the most important thing that people should know about improving brain health?

People need to know how important lifestyle is to sustain health. Lifestyle, diet, exercise, moderating stress, making sure you get a good eight hours of sleep when you can, making sure you keep your brain engaged particularly in novel activities — all of these matter. You have to remember the brain is a living organism very much like a muscle — the more you use it, the stronger it becomes.

We need to treat our brains better. For example, try to avoid excessive alcohol and make sure that you screen yourself for diseases like diabetes and hypertension that can be devastating to the brain.

What will be the benefits of having a reliable test for early onset Alzheimer’s?

I think there’s a huge misconception that if you get Alzheimer’s or if you’re going to get Alzheimer’s, there’s nothing that you can do about it. And I think the science shows that that perception is incorrect.

We know two things now that address your question. The first is that Alzheimer’s starts about two decades before a person develops symptoms. During that period of 20 years, you’re losing brain cells, and you’re losing brain connectivity. If you can detect the disease at the very start, particularly before you lose enough brain cells to become symptomatic, we may have the ability to stop the process or at least slow it down and prevent an individual from becoming symptomatic.

If people are developing Alzheimer’s in their 50s and 60s, they are going to become symptomatic in their 70s and 80s. If you can slow the overall process and have people become symptomatic in their late 90s or 100s, you have the ability to essentially prevent the disease from being symptomatic in most of our lifetimes. That’s really the major reason to move towards early detection, because preventing brain loss is a lot easier than restoring brain cells once they’ve died.

The other reason people should be interested is that even though we don’t have a pill that can stop the progression, we know that Alzheimer’s also has a lifestyle component. The scientific evidence shows that lifestyle habits such as a Mediterranean diet, exercise, sleep, meditation and other types of mindfulness modify stress levels. We’re seeing that potentially even micronutrients like the omega-3 fish oils may be very important in slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease.

What’s your take on Pfizer ending research to find new drugs aimed at treating Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases? How do you think it will impact ongoing research?

I think a lot of the trials that have failed for Alzheimer’s disease, including the Pfizer trial, could’ve been better designed and better developed. I think we have a lot to learn from the failure of those trials.

For example, how do we get the drugs into the brain more effectively? How can we better select the right population of patients to treat? I think addressing those potential reasons for the failures of those drugs will lead to successful therapies and hopefully successful approvals.

By The Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging

The Milken Institute Center for the Future of Aging aims to improve lives and strengthen societies by promoting healthy, productive and purposeful aging.

Reinvent Yourself!

May 4, 2018

Engage at Every Age - even after retirement! If you are missing your 9 am to 5 pm lifestyle or are searching for a new “normal” after retirement, look for ways to find inspiration – a second career, helping others, discovering new interests – the possibilities are endless!

Click here to check out ways to reinvent yourself!

May is Older Americans Month!

May 1, 2018

Throughout the month of May, Presbyterian SeniorCare Network will be embracing the Engage at Every Age theme and will utilize the power of Facebook to publicize our inspiring resident and team member stories. We’ll keep the buzz going all month, so be sure to check Facebook often and be sure to share our posts with your friends and family!

Each May, the Administration for Community Living leads our nation’s celebration of Older Americans Month. The theme for 2018 is Engage at Every Age. This powerful theme emphasizes that you are never too old (or young) to take part in activities that can enrich your physical, mental, and emotional well-being. Participating in activities that promote mental and physical wellness, offering your wisdom and experience to the next generation, seeking the mentorship of someone with more life experience than you—those are just a few examples of what being engaged can mean.

No matter where you are in your life, there is no better time than now to start!

Tell Your Doctor What’s on Your Bucket List

April 16, 2018

It'll help direct your health where you want it to go

By Grace Birnstengel for Next Avenue

Your doctor can’t read your mind. A doctor assumes everyone wants to live and continue to live the best, healthiest, happiest life possible — but that means something different for everyone. If your doctor knows about your long-term goals and “bucket list” items, however, that can be used to direct your health plan and goals.

Dr. VJ Periyakoil, an internist, geriatrician and palliative care professional at Stanford Health Care wrote a piece for the New York Times about how she regularly asks her patients about their bucket lists.

“I started doing this to forge a personal connection and get a quick glimpse into what matters most to each of them,” she wrote.

In Periyakoil’s experience, most patients have bucket lists already — whether it’s burgeoning in the back of their mind or a concrete list pinned to a bulletin board.

Why a Bucket List Is Useful

What Periyakoil does with this information comes in two parts.

First, she uses the bucket list items as incentive for more healthy behaviors. “For example, I found that saying, ‘I don’t think your half-marathon is happening anytime soon if you don’t quit smoking’ got my patient’s attention much faster than making obvious and boring statements like, ‘Smoking is bad for you,’” she wrote.

But more importantly, the bucket list goals guide Periyakoil toward or away from certain medical decisions or recommendations.

She used the example of a patient diagnosed with a serious case of gallbladder cancer. When asked about his bucket list, the patient assumed he’d take his family on a trip to Maui the following year — after his radiation appointments. Periyakoil, knowing how the treatments would affect his ability to travel, suggested going to Maui while he still could and starting the treatments after the trip.

“If I had not asked about his bucket list, he would have stoically undergone the radiation and chemotherapy, and the Maui trip would have remained a sunny fantasy,” she wrote.

Making it Work

Periyakoil co-published a study in the Journal of Palliative Medicine to discover more about what’s on Americans’ bucket lists. The study suggested six prevailing themes of bucket list items: a desire to travel, personal goals (such as running a marathon or writing a book), life milestones (like marriage or children), quality time with friends and family, financial stability and daring activities (like surfing and bungee jumping).

These themes resonate with the experiences of Next Avenue readers and writers as well. We have stories about older adults setting out to conquer the largest and longest recreational bicycle touring ride in the world, learning to tap dance at 85 and skydiving with an early-onset diagnosis of Alzheimer’s.

Some of these common bucket-list items might not seem relevant to your health and therefore irrelevant to bring up in a doctor appointment. But Periyakoil rejects this notion.

“Many [people] — especially those who are not in perfect health — may underestimate the extensive coordination required to make their bucket list wishes possible,” Periyakoil said.

Your bucket list items may be completely in reach, and if your doctor is up-to-date on your goals, he or she can better advise you on how to best achieve them and when — taking into account health obstacles that may affect you in the process and avoiding treatments that could get in the way.

© Next Avenue - 2018. All rights reserved.

7 New Year's Resolutions for Your Mental Health

December 29, 2017

Resolve to focus on taking care of yourself, beginning now

By Patricia Corrigan for Next Avenue

Eating less and exercising more are likely on many a to-do list for 2017. But in between meals and after working out, we all can identify ways to improve our mental health as well. Below are seven new year’s resolutions I’ve devised to help me take better care of myself in 2017. What are yours?

1. Adjust the settings. While fixing my leaky faucet, the plumber blurted out: “I’ve lost my passion for this work. I’ve been at it for so long, and the passion just isn’t there anymore.”

We commiserated, and before he left, we had concluded that at some level, every job is just a job. We also spoke about how important it is to balance work with leisure time. And we agreed it’s important to evaluate our work lives from time to time. Even if we can’t make dramatic changes, we can tweak this or adjust that, in the hope of finding more satisfaction on the job.

I did, and it worked. I enjoy writing about the arts more than stories with political angles, and said so often — to all the wrong people. One day, I simply called the editor. “Arts stories and profiles — assign those to me,” I said. Inspired by my own moxie, I added, “Also, I am not accepting any more assignments about cancer. Just because I’ve had it doesn’t mean I want to write about it. I don’t.” The editor learned something new — and so did I. Life is too short to be subtle!

2. Embrace green therapy. Looking at nature — at the edge of the continent, in a state park or in your own backyard — beats looking out a window any day. Stand in the sun. Let the wind mess up your hair. Breathe deep.

Letting your mind play outside for a while is good for you. David Strayer, a cognitive psychologist at the University of Utah, told National Geographic in January 2016 that our brains are not “tireless three-pound machines.” They get fatigued, he said, but when we slow down and take in beautiful natural surroundings, “not only do we feel restored, but our mental performance improves too.”

Strayer promotes three-day getaways in nature, but even shorter visits can refresh your mind and your spirit. Grab a jacket and go.

At least once a week, I drive three miles to the Pacific Ocean. Regardless of the varying hues of the water — metallic green, slate gray, shining silver — the waves are relentless. I watch until the sight and sound lull my busy mind and wash away any heightened sense of false significance I may have about present circumstances, allowing my “three-pound machine” to take a break.

3. Take a time out. When the battery in my bathroom clock died, I took a good look at the clock. It was decades old, and the white plastic frame had yellowed badly. Impulsively, I threw it out. Along with the clock, I discarded the notion that my every moment must be tracked, relieving the stress that builds when I think I don’t have time or won’t have time — even when I do.

Four months later, I still glance at the clock’s former spot on the bathroom wall. The inexpensive framed print of the Golden Gate Bridge that hangs there now does not tell me the time, but it reminds me that I do not need to rush while showering, putting on makeup or filling my pill organizer.  

That makes for a more peaceful morning and helps me start the day with a softer focus. How do I stay on schedule when I must? I set my bedroom clock 12 minutes fast.

4. Downsize emotional reactions. Looking at the big picture is important — except when that’s too overwhelming. One day long ago, I cried in a therapist’s office, mourning the death of a friend and obsessing about a crisis at work.

“You’re looking at your life on a giant IMAX screen,” the therapist said, handing me more tissues. “Bring it down to a TV set in the living room. Sit with that a few minutes. Now, imagine how everything that’s going on would look when viewed on a small black and white TV on your kitchen counter. Is that more manageable?”

It was. To this day, after that first emotional rush of an upsetting moment, I try to remember to adjust the perspective to lessen the emotional intensity.

5. Rethink the closet. When I open the closet door, I see clothes I wear, clothes I once wore and clothes I will never wear. I see boxes I never open, full of stuff I can’t seem to part with. I see bags filled with gifts I bought too far in advance. Worse, I see bags full of bags, just in case I need more bags.

This is a not a closet that simply stores clothing. It has evolved into a storage locker, housing memories in a holding pattern and silly stuff, all stashed among too many pairs of black pants. What if I tossed the spare bags, pared down the sentimental items and donated the clothing I never wear?

For one thing, I would feel better organized and experience a victory over stuff — always a good feeling.

That victory may even extend to making peace with losses we all suffer in the course of a life. Patty de Vries, director of the Stanford Health Promotion Network, told U.S. News & World Report late last year that some people “collect clutter to make up for some sense of loss in other areas of their lives.” I need to remember that clutter does not minimize losses, and then fill a bag or two — I have plenty of those — with donations.

6. Find more teachers. When people come along who know more than I do, especially about things I want to know, I do whatever it takes to learn what they have to teach.

Sometimes great wisdom is revealed in a quick conversation with a stranger on a bus or in the waiting room at the dentist’s office. Other times, a casual encounter leads to a decades-long relationship. That’s what happened when I met Ross.

A close friend of my boss, he was artistic director of a dance company and a choreographer. When I learned that, I knew he had much to teach me about creativity and vulnerability. But Ross also was an introverted loner who was not inclined to make time to get close to anybody new.

After meeting him a time or two at the office, I pestered him for attention. The day he asked me — somewhat testily — what I was doing in his life, I replied, “Learning things from you that no one else has taught me.” We were close until he died, some 22 years ago. I continue to talk to strangers, looking for new teachers.

7. Take the short view. Worrying about what may or may not come to pass may help me prepare for an uncertain future, but it also propels me into a time beyond my control.

“There is no broom big enough to sweep up debris accumulating in the future,” a wise friend once told me.” When I start imagining the worst that could happen, I visit there for a while and then make myself return to the present.

Do I have clothes to wear? This month’s rent money? Food in the fridge? Family and friends to call on for help? If so, I am OK just now. If not, I can devise a strategy to improve the situation — and then I can head outdoors for some free green therapy. (See resolution No. 2.)


© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.

3 Recipes to Capture the Flavors of Fall

October 30, 2017

These easy, tasty recipes will warm your body and soul

By Meggan Hill for Next Avenue

Just as autumn has a traditional color palette, classic tastes are also associated with the season: rich pumpkin, tart cranberry, comforting apple and distinctive cinnamon, nutmeg and ginger.

The three recipes below wrap fall’s flavors in wonderfully-scented, warming-to-the-soul baked treats.


Double Ginger Cookies


2 ¼ c. flour
2 tsp. ground ginger
1 tsp. baking soda
¾ tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves
¼ tsp. salt
¾ c. butter
1 c. + 2 T. sugar
1 egg
2 T. crystallized ginger, finely chopped
¼ c. molasses
1 T. water


Preheat oven to 350°F. Sift together flour, ginger, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, and salt.

In a large bowl, cream butter with 1 c. sugar. Add egg and mix until uniformly combined. Stir in crystallized ginger, molasses, and water.

Add the sifted dry ingredients in 3 batches, mixing well after each addition.

Using wet hands, form rounded tablespoon-sized balls of dough. Roll each ball in the remaining 2 T. sugar and lay on ungreased baking sheets about 2” apart. Press down each to flatten slightly.

Bake for 8-10 minutes, rotating the baking sheet halfway through baking. Allow the cookies to cool on the baking sheet slightly, about 5 minutes, before removing to a wire rack to cool completely. Fall is the perfect time to whip up some delicious goodies that capture the flavors of the season.

Cranberry Bread


2 ¼ c. flour
¾ c. sugar
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. salt
½ c. dried cranberries
¾ c. + 1 T. half-and-half, divided
½ c. butter, melted and cooled
2 eggs
2 tsp. orange zest
¼ c. orange juice
1 oz. white chocolate, chopped
¼ c. powdered sugar


Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat the bottom of a 9” x 5” bread pan with nonstick cooking spray.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir in cranberries.

In a small bowl, combine ¾ c. half-and-half, butter, eggs, orange zest, and orange juice. Add to dry ingredients in 3 parts, stirring after each addition until ingredients are just moistened. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake 60 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean with just a few crumbs attached. Cool in pan for 10 minutes. Run a sharp knife around the inside of the pan to loosen and invert onto a cooling rack set over a baking sheet.

Meanwhile, combine white chocolate, the remaining 1 T. half-and-half, and ¼ c. powdered sugar in a small bowl. Microwave on high for 30 seconds and stir, heating a little longer if required to melt. Whisk in powdered sugar until smooth.

Pour over cooling cake, letting excess glaze fall through the cooling rack to the baking sheet below. Cool completely.(MORE: Top Chefs’ Tips for the Late Summer Harvest)

Old Fashioned Apple Crisp


½ c. flour
1 c. old-fashioned or quick-cooking rolled oats
½ c. firmly packed brown sugar
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. ground cinnamon, divided
½ c. unsalted butter, chilled and cut into ¼” cubes
½ c. walnuts, finely chopped
¾ c. sugar
¼ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
6 c. Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored, halved, and sliced ¼” thick

Vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream, for serving, optional


Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position. Preheat oven to 350°F. Coat a 2 quart or 9” x 13” baking dish with nonstick cooking spray

To make the topping, combine flour, oatmeal, brown sugar, salt, and ½ tsp. cinnamon in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender, a knife, or your fingers, cut or rub butter cubes into the flour mixture until crumbly.

Add the walnuts and stir to combine. Cover and refrigerate while preparing the filling.

To make the filling, combine sugar, nutmeg, and ½ tsp. cinnamon. In a large bowl, toss sugar mixture with apple slices until evenly coated.

Spread the apple slices evenly in the bottom of the prepared baking dish and cover with the topping.

Bake until the topping is crisp and golden brown, about 1 hour. Serve with vanilla ice cream or sweetened whipped cream, if desired.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.

6 Halloween Tricks For Healthier Treats

October 23, 2017

Resist the candy dish with these yummy alternatives

By Laine Bergeson for Next Avenue

It’s hard to avoid candy dishes around Halloween. They’re near the front door for trick-or-treaters, on your coworker’s desk, in the reception area of the auto repair place.

Basically, turn around and you’re face-to-face with sugary deliciousness.

You vow to leave the bowls of sweets untouched, saving them for the kids who come to your door or those with less willpower. But, somehow, as October 31 inches closer, the once-brimming bowls start to dwindle as your garbage can somehow fills with telltale empty wrappers.

It’s hard to say “no” when candy is ubiquitous. But, with a little extra effort, you don’t have to live without treats this Halloween season. You can make alternatives that will satisfy your sweet tooth — and better serve your waistline and your health.

Try these healthier substitutes for six Halloween staples:

Halloween Staple:

Almond Joy

Replace with:
Your own chocolate-covered almonds

Or try this recipe from Real Simple for roasted mixed nuts with chocolate and sea salt

Toasted Almond Bark, courtesy of PBS Foods, will give you a similar crunch without all the additives

Make it healthier: the higher the percentage of cocoa in the chocolate you use, the healthier, as the New York Times just noted in its article about the memory benefits of chocolate. Depending on your taste preferences, you can experiment with higher-percentage chocolate in these and other recipes.

Halloween Staple:

Hershey’s Bars, M&M’s

Replace with:
Opt for a high-quality, organic dark chocolate bar. Good quality dark chocolate is chock full of health-promoting antioxidants. Choose organic to eliminate pesticide worries and as high a cocoa percentage as your taste buds tolerate.

If you have the time or interest, select a few different bars and have a chocolate tasting. Like wine, chocolate can have a terroir, or “taste of place,” that is unique to each bar. Invite friends over and make it an evening: taste the bars side by side and try to identify each one’s unique flavors.

Halloween Staple:


Replace with:
Frozen grapes. Same satisfying fruity taste, waaaaay more health benefits

Halloween Staple:

Cracker Jacks

Replace with:
Follow this SFGate recipe for a healthier version of popcorn balls. You often don’t need more than one teaspoon of honey to hold together a half cup of popcorn, keeping the glycemic index relatively low.

Halloween Staple:

Caramel or candied apples

Replace with:
Dip apple slices in honey, peanut butter or almond butter

(New) Halloween Staple:

Halloween Oreos

Replace with:
Make your own pumpkin bread. This recipe from 100 Days of Real Food uses honey instead of sugar.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.

7 Ways to Step Up Your Self-Care as You Age

September 15, 2017

Try these things for a healthier mind and body — and to just feel good

By Patricia Corrigan for Next Avenue

How do you cope with aging?

I’ve been thinking about that question since first exploring it two years ago on Next Avenue. This time, I was prompted to add to my list after a rather unusual conversation with my doctor.

Below are seven of my self-care “do’s.” What are yours?

1. Get off the medical merry-go-round. “I am not accepting any additional medical conditions at this time.” That’s what I told my doctor earlier this month when she proposed a couple of tests to “rule out possibilities” of other medical conditions related to my growing older.

Saying “No” to the doctor is a powerful way to step off the medical merry-go-round when you’re sick of the ride, sick of the appointments, sick of the tests and all the follow-up conversations — and sick of thinking of yourself as a patient instead of as a whole person.

Of course, I would have agreed to the tests if I thought I was putting my health in danger. But after I rebelled, even the doctor agreed that “waiting and seeing” would do no harm.

2. Protect your body. Many Next Avenue readers are Too Old to Fall, and well aware of the damage that can be done if you move too quickly, overlook uneven pavement or miss a step where you didn’t expect one. Now is the time to use railings! Where there aren’t railings, use the wall, the branches of a shrub, the hood of a car or whatever will get you safely from point A to B. Leery of leaning on a cane? A trekking pole can provide extra stability.

Due to an antibiotic that never should have been prescribed for me, I have a troubled Achilles tendon. Every day, I have to remember to protect it from further injury. (No more hopping over flower boxes.)

I do all the exercises that strengthen the tendon, and I sometimes play cheerleader. “The Achilles tendon,” I tell mine, “is the longest and the strongest tendon in the body. You will get better.”

3. Save your sanity. In July, reporter Emily Yahr wrote in The Washington Post about a woman who was pondering how to better balance the joys in our personal lives with the current political climate. (As Next Avenue has noted, some mental health professionals use the terms “election stress disorder” and “headline stress disorder.”)  “Deep down, it’s easy to feel as though you’re doing something wrong for not focusing enough attention on serious issues,” Yahr said in her article.

Leslie Davenport, a psychotherapist in the San Francisco Bay Area, is all for staying educated and informed. But, she adds, “The dramatic and distressing aspects of the news — whatever one’s affiliations — have many people obsessing, going far beyond what is useful or healthy.”

Turn away from the news from time to time, she says. Hey, the circus will continue without you while you go for a walk.

4. Use it or lose it. Make time to do those physical therapy exercises that help with osteoarthritis and other painful structural conditions, no matter how boring they seem. Restorative yoga poses, done on the living room floor every day, will provide gentle stretches that enhance flexibility, which makes it easier to get back up off the floor.

Also, it’s important to educate yourself beyond any brochures provided by your therapist or doctor. You may want to read Crooked: Outwitting the Back Pain Industry and Getting on the Road to Recovery by Cathryn Jakobson Ramin, a science journalist with her own back pain. Spoiler alert: What finally worked for her was a multidisciplinary therapy program. Inspired by her experience, I’ve enrolled in a pain management clinic.

5. Pay what you need to for treatment. Eye drops applied every hour I’m awake and two ointments used four times a day and again at night make for big bills at the pharmacy. Because they are over-the-counter, insurance doesn’t pay for them. But 60 days of this regimen has helped calm a corneal disease. Oh, I’ve asked for samples and I’ve sought out coupons, but I also have concluded that the hope for restored vision makes the expense all worth it.

At 69, I need other lotions, potions, creams, unguents, oils and balms to moisturize crepey skin, soften thinning lips and hydrate brittle nails. I’m not picky; I tend to buy whatever is on sale. Plus, one circle of friends willingly shares recommendations for inexpensive skin care products. Sometimes, on holidays, we even give each other tubes of favorite hand creams as gifts.

6. Pamper your feet. Don’t forget the foot lotion, says Dr. Randal Aaranson, a podiatrist and medical school professor in St. Louis. He notes that using moisturizer on your feet every day will help you avoid cracked heels, bacterial infections and even athlete’s foot.

If this advice comes a little late for you, Aaranson cautions against what podiatrists call “bathroom surgery with filthy tools.” See a doctor instead.

If your feet hurt, that’s another reason to visit a podiatrist. “Feet are not supposed to hurt,” Aaranson says. “Ever.” Plus, when you adjust your gait to protect sore feet, you can throw your hips and spine out of alignment. Remember: Everything is connected.

7. Figure out what’s good for your cells. In a group therapy session for cancer patients some years ago, I listened as a commodity broker spoke of his meltdown at the office. In the middle of a particularly stressful call, he said, the man realized his professional situation likely was hurting his healing.

“I suddenly understood that my job and the tension I carried all the time was not good for my cells,” he said. He ended that phone call and proceeded to quit his job, effective immediately. That story affects me deeply to this day, and I often make decisions based on what’s good for my cells.

That’s why I spoke up at the doctor’s office when she recommended additional tests. I’m already managing a couple of health conditions, and I don’t have any interest in taking on more. At this point in my life, no matter what hurts or isn’t working quite right, it’s important to make time for joy.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.

6 Reasons You’re Still Having Trouble Losing Weight

August 11, 2017

You think you are doing everything right, so what's the problem?

By Maureen Callahan for Next Avenue

Since your fiftysomething body needs fewer calories than it did when you were cruising through your 20s, 30s, and 40s, chances are you’ve made some diet and exercise changes to counteract this metabolic slowdown. Yet, sometimes the pounds keep creeping on. What gives? Recent findings shed light on six lesser known lifestyle and environmental factors that could sabotage weight control efforts in small but significant ways.

  1. You are not sleeping enough

“The bottom line is that not getting enough sleep can lead to weight gain,” say Dr. Donald Hensrud, medical director for the Mayo Clinic Healthy Living Program. “One explanation might be that sleep duration affects hormones regulating hunger — ghrelin and leptin — and stimulates the appetite.”

Hormones are probably one of many factors though, he adds. Take behavioral issues, for example. When sleep proves elusive that can loosen inhibitions and lead to unhealthy middle-of-the-night snacking or overeating the following day. In fact, a 2016 meta-analysis of 11 different studies averages out exactly how far people fall off the calorie wagon the day after being sleep deprived. They eat an average of 384 extra calories, a sure way to tip the scales in the wrong direction.

Lack of sleep can also make you too tired to exercise. Preliminary reports even suggest that sleep restriction can cause insulin resistance, a precursor to type 2 diabetes. The National Sleep Foundation recommends aiming for seven to nine hours of sleep per night. Fewer than five hours is risky as it puts you in sleep deprivation territory.

  1. You’re getting too much light at night

It’s well known that exposure to light promotes weight gain in animals, even when food intake and activity levels are held constant. A 2015 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggests prolonged artificial light exposure in rats decreases levels of brown fat, the kind of adipose tissue that plays a key role in burning calories. Could this be driving weight gain in humans? Stay tuned.

Scientists are only starting to build a case for how late night light pollution — from electronic devices, night shift work, or even nightlights in the bedroom — might be setting people up to pile on the pounds. In 2015, U.K. researchers observed a strong connection between exposure to light at night and obesity in a cohort of 100,000 women in the Breakthrough Generations Study. In a recent Harvard study, using e-readers for four hours before bedtime each night for five consecutive nights decreased levels of melatonin, the hormone that induces sleep.

While that study wasn’t looking at weight loss, we already know (see above) sleep deprivation can mess with hormones and weight. So it makes sense that anything impacting sleep quality impacts weight gain. Looking to improve lighting habits? The Harvard Health Letter suggests taking these steps to minimize blue light exposure and its negative impact. Shut off electronic screens (phones, computers) at least two to three hours before bedtime. And opt for nightlights that generate dim red light since the red spectrum won’t wreak havoc with sleep.

  1. You are under chronic stress

In the presence of physical threats, it’s natural for the body to kick into “fight or flight” mode, raising levels of the main stress hormone cortisol. Unfortunately, chronic low levels of stress from financial worries or a tense work environment can do the same.

So too can weight discrimination. In 2016, British researchers linked higher cortisol levels in overweight older adults to negative attitudes about obesity, leading them to speculate that experiencing prejudice about weight and size might create a vicious cycle of elevated cortisol levels, biochemical stress and continued weight gain.

The problem with all these stressors: they keep cortisol levels elevated enough to drive overeating. “People handle stress differently,” says Hensrud. “Some people eat when they’re stressed.” Some don’t. But often what people reach for when stressed is junk food or calorie-dense comfort foods, he says. Think you could be a stress or emotional eater? Here are tips from the Mayo Clinic on handling excess tension so that it doesn’t lead to weight gain. On their suggestion list: meditation, yoga and exercise.

  1. You are taking these common medications

Some drugs create a “perfect storm” when it comes to weight gain, either by driving cravings, increasing appetite, or making metabolism more sluggish.

“For diabetics, it’s well established that insulin therapy causes weight gain,” says Kelly Lee, associate professor of clinical pharmacy and associate dean for assessment and accreditation at the Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at UC San Diego.

“Steroids, anticonvulsants, antidepressant drugs, antihistamines, some beta blockers and 99 percent of seizure drugs also cause weight gain.” It’s a long list, so Lee suggests checking for weight gain side effects when any new drug is prescribed. “Often there are weight-neutral alternatives and even some drugs that promote weight loss,” she says.

Taking meds for poor sleep? According to Lee, “Antipsychotics are being used frequently in older populations for inducing sleep,” but people don’t realize they’re big drivers of weight gain. “We’re not talking about one or two pounds,” she says, “but more like 20 pounds.”

  1. You are doing too much negative self-talk

All of us have a voice in the head that narrates practically every moment. When this internal dialogue turns negative, it can hinder all kinds of efforts, including weight control.

A 2010 study in NeuroImage takes a physical look at what’s happening. Using MRIs, scientists tracked areas of the brain involved with self-talk. With negative self-talk, brain activity was linked to areas known for error processing and behavioral inhibition. But when self-talk was reassuring, it engaged areas of the brain that express compassion towards others. In other words, talking kindly to yourself when you eat an extra helping of pie or those cookies in the break room might help you move on from the slip-up rather than let it derail weight loss efforts.

Another tip with self-talk: Don’t use the “I” word. University of Michigan psychologist Ethan Kross and his colleague Ozlem Ayduk, an associate professor of psychology at the University of California Berkeley, find it helps to switch to the second or third person with internal dialogue, maybe saying something like “you can do this” or using your name to encourage efforts.

“Not only does non-first-person self-talk help people perform better under stress and help them get control of their emotions, it also helps them reason more wisely,” they write in Harvard Business Review

  1. You have been exposed to chemicals and pollutants

Animal studies suggest the chemicals we are exposed to daily — air pollutants, flame retardants, pesticides and plastics like those that contain BPA (bisphenol A) — may promote weight gain. Called obesogens, these substances are potent endocrine disruptors, messing with fat cells and hormones, including the ones that regulate metabolism.

A big part of the damage occurs with early life exposure when fat cells and metabolic pathways are developing. Experts aren’t ruling out that poor eating and exercise habits contribute to weight gain, but exposure to these chemicals over the course of a lifetime might also play a role.

Could they be making some fiftysomethings more susceptible to packing on the pounds? ”Yes, but in many cases the damage has already been done,” explains Bruce Blumberg, a professor of developmental and cell biology at the University of California, Irvine. “It doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from limiting your exposure” going forward.

Blumberg offers three ways to cut exposure to these chemicals by 80 to 90 percent:

  • Filter water with carbon filters;
  • Don’t use plastics at home, switch to glass, stainless steel or ceramics;
  • Use fresh foods (not packaged processed foods) including fresh produce, preferably organic when you can find it.

For more background on obesogens, check out this report from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

The final take-away: Regardless of how big an impact any of these six factors have on your individual weight loss efforts, perhaps the real message here is that it’s time to stop defining weight loss as solely “diet and exercise.” Improve your chances of shedding pounds by expanding the picture: clean up how you think, your environment, your whole lifestyle. In the end, it’s all intertwined.

© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.

Caffeinated or Not, Coffee May Help You Live Longer

August 4, 2017

New research provides more good news for those who love their java

By Rita Rubin for Next Avenue

Two recent large studies suggest it might have been coffee that bubbled from the fountain of youth.

Both studies, one conducted in the United States, one across 10 European countries, found that people who drank even a single cup of coffee a day — decaf and/or caffeinated — lived longer than people who didn’t drink any coffee.

The effects were modest; compared to non-coffee drinkers, those who quaffed the most in the U.S. study, four or more cups a day, had an 18 percent lower risk of dying by its end. But given that half of U.S. adults drink coffee every day, the impact on the population could be substantial.

The research couldn’t prove that coffee deserved the credit for imbibers’ additional birthdays, because the studies were observational, which means participants chose whether they wanted to drink coffee. Maybe some other characteristic of coffee drinkers explained why they lived longer.

Researchers did account for known confounding factors such as smoking, because previous studies have shown that smokers are more likely to drink coffee than non-smokers. But there could have been other, unidentified factors related to drinking coffee that affected their results.

Can You Brew Better Health?

Still, the consistency of findings across different ethnic groups in the U.S. study and different methods of preparation in the European study — espressos in Italy, watered down coffee in Scandinavian countries — adds credence to the notion that coffee protects against many of the leading causes of death.

And as a trio of Johns Hopkins University scientists wrote in an editorial accompanying the two papers, “a protective effect of coffee is biologically plausible.” The studies and the editorial were published online Monday in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

“Coffee is a rich source of various compounds that have biological activity,” Marc Gunter, lead author of the European study, said in an email. ”Many of these have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.” Gunter heads the Nutritional Epidemiology Group at the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon, France.

Caffeine Not the Deciding Factor

Caffeine has been the most studied compound in coffee, but it didn’t appear to make a difference in either of the studies. Perhaps it’s a combination of compounds in coffee, not any individual compound, that might be beneficial, said Veronica Setiawan, senior author of the U.S. study and an associate professor of preventive medicine at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California. “We can’t tell from this particular study.”

Setiawan’s study followed more than 185,000 African-Americans, Native Hawaiians, Japanese-Americans, Latinos and whites for an average of 16 years. Little previous research had examined the effect of drinking coffee in people who weren’t white, the coauthors wrote.

“I’m actually very reassured that you see similar findings in non-white populations,” Setiawan said in an interview. “There’s something going on in coffee.”

Deaths from Digestive and Circulatory Causes

The European study, whose authors say is the largest ever of its kind, followed more than half a million adults, mostly aged 35 and older, for an average of about 16½ years. Researchers found that the more coffee people drank, the less likely they were to have died by the end of the follow-up period. The biggest difference was in rates of deaths from digestive and circulatory diseases.

Besides asking participants about how much coffee they drank, a randomly selected group of 14,800 participants in the European study underwent a blood test at the beginning to analyze levels of biomarkers, which are substances linked to health.

“We see in our study that people consuming coffee had lower levels of inflammatory factors and glucose (sugar) as well as healthier liver enzyme profiles,” Gunter said. “We need more research to identify the beneficial compounds in coffee, and a study such as this will probably stimulate research in this.”

Question About Ovarian Cancer

While the studies can’t confirm that coffee lowers the risk of dying, for the most part they found no indication that drinking coffee might hasten death. Gunter’s study did find that women who drank coffee were more likely to die of cancer during the follow-up period than non-drinkers, which might sound scary. But that finding was primarily driven by a statistically significant association between drinking coffee and risk of death from ovarian cancer.

“To our knowledge, there is no prevailing hypothesis as to why coffee drinking should increase the risk of death specifically from ovarian cancer,” Gunter and his coauthors wrote, noting that their finding could be false. One other study that followed people over time also found an association between coffee drinking and an increased risk of dying from ovarian cancer, but two other such studies did not, the researchers said.

Limitations of the Studies

As with most studies, especially those that are observational, the new coffee studies have limitations that could have affected their findings. There’s the aforementioned issue of unknown confounding factors, of course.

Plus, the researchers asked participants only once, at the beginning of the study, about how much coffee they drank. Their habits could have changed over the years, and/or they might not have accurately quantified their coffee habit in the first place. But, Setiawan said, previous research has shown that people’s coffee-drinking habits don’t change much over the course of a decade.

Neither of the researchers is suggesting that non-drinkers start guzzling java for its health benefits. Setiawan says she consumes a cup of coffee or two a day, although her research suggests drinking four cups a day might be even more beneficial. For her, two cups daily is enough.

“I’m not sure there’s enough evidence to support non-coffee-drinkers start drinking coffee — yet,” Gunter said. “I drink coffee, but tea too. I’m English!”

For a Q&A about the coffee studies, check out a patient summary on the journal’s website.


© Twin Cities Public Television - 2017. All rights reserved.


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