I’ve heard mixed reports about soy and heart disease. Can you help?

udon noodles, with vegetables and tofu Most people are familiar with the heart-healthy benefits of soy. More than 100 studies show that soy protein lowers LDL-cholesterol by 10 to 15 percent and raises HDL-cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol), thus reducing heart-disease risk. Studies, such as one from the University of Kentucky, show that adding one to two ounces of soy protein to the daily diet lowers cholesterol by about 10 to 20 percent, reflecting a 20 to 40 percent decrease in heart-disease risk. Soy also lowers oxidized LDL-cholesterol, homocysteine levels, and blood pressure. The Portfolio Diet studied at the University of Toronto and published in JAMA found that diets that included several servings daily of soy, along with other real foods, managed cholesterol (29% decrease) as well as statin drugs, while conventional low-fat diets lowered it by only 8%. While you can’t depend on soy alone to lower heart disease risk, as part of a healthy diet, daily exercise, not smoking, and managing stress, a bit of whole soy foods added to the diet can be a help in preventing and managing heart disease for many people. Of course, always, always check with your physician before making any major changes in dietary intake.   Photo credit: sharyn morrow via Compfight

I hear conflicting advice on what the most important factor is for lowering heart disease. Can you help?

Central Park foliage photo-walk, Nov 2009 - 51Preventing heart disease is a three-tiered job that includes diet, exercise, and healthy lifestyle practices. All three impact the number one most important thing you can do to save your heart: maintain a healthy weight! Even a few extra pounds, if they are packed around the middle, will increase your heart-disease risk, while losing weight lowers blood cholesterol levels by up to 30 points or more, which equates to a 60% reduction in heart disease risk.

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I am 45-years old and am told I need to start exercising regularly. At my age, is it really that important?

Miss Speedyboots If you were promised a pill that would slow aging, help prevent heart disease and cancer, and help you feel and look younger for the rest of you life, and it had no side effects other than improved mood and self image, would you take it? You’d be crazy not to! Well, it may not be a pill, but there is something you can do every day that provides all of these benefits. It’s exercise.
People in their second 50 years not only slow the aging process, they may even be able to reverse it with exercise. A routine that includes daily weight-bearing exercise such as walking or jogging, with two to three sessions weekly of weight lifting helps prevent bone deterioration and even reverses bone loss; reduces the risk of developing heart disease; boosts metabolism while lowering body fat, thus helping maintain a desirable weight; reduces the risk of losing your independence later in life due to frailty and weakness; might even reduce cancer risk; and is essential to grasping the vitality to enjoy those extra years. In fact, an unfit person at any age can reduce his or her risk of dying prematurely by up to 50% by becoming fit, and active people are two decades younger than their sedentary couch potatoes. And, it’s never too late to begin. Even people in their nineties see a 227% improvement in strength within just a few weeks of starting an exercise program. So, no more excuses. There is nothing you can do for yourself and your health today and down the road that is more important than exercising almost every day and for at least 30 minutes to one hour. Just do it!

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I am hearing a lot about inflammation these days. What is it?

The term inflammation comes from the Latin word for “setting a fire.” It is the body’s natural response to healing. Not to be confused with infection, inflammation is how the body contains infection and injury, while promoting repair of damaged tissue. You know inflammation by its outward signs: redness, joint pain, or flu-like symptoms, such as fever, chills, or muscle stiffness.

There are two types of inflammation, one is good and the other isn’t. Acute inflammation works great for healing a cut finger or a bumped head. The white blood cells and their chemicals get in, do their job, and get out. But, too much of a good thing leads to problems. In other words, chronic inflammation damages, rather than repairs tissues. When inflammation is too intense or prolonged it produces diseases instead of healing.

Tissues damaged by the wrong diet or lifestyle choices sets up a constant irritant in the body. This sets the stage for chronic inflammation that works silently under the surface, damaging arteries leading to heart disease or dementia, or inflaming tissues leading to cancer, diabetes, or rheumatoid arthritis (arthritis literally means “inflammation of the joint.”)

How do you know if your body is raging an inflammatory war? You won’t feel it, but you can check for markers. If any part of you is inflamed, a marker, called C reactive protein or CRP, will be high in your blood. If your value is more than 1mg/L, you are at risk.

Everyone is telling me to eat yogurt these days. Why is it so good for me?

breakfastYogurt contains bacteria, called probiotics, that have health benefits. The digestive tract contains both probiotic (good) and pathogenic (bad) bacteria. Encouraging the growth of probiotic bacteria helps maintain a strong digestive tract lining, improves absorption of nutrients, and helps block toxins and pathogens from entering the body. Probiotics in yogurt inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and aid normal eliminations. As a result, probiotics reduce symptoms and risk for a wide range of digestive tract problems, from diarrhea, lactose intolerance, and certain allergies to gastroenteritis, irritable bowel syndrome, and possibly colon cancer.  Beyond the gut, probiotics in yogurt might help boost the immune system and lower the risk for both urinary tract infections and candidiasis infections in women. Limited evidence suggests yogurt might help lower the risk for dementia, cancer, heart disease, and more. Finally, yogurt is a great source of nutrients, such as calcium, zinc, protein, and B vitamins.

Not all “healthy” bacteria are considered probiotics. A strain of bacteria is only considered a probiotic if it survives the acidic stomach and thrives in the intestine. Skip the high-priced, designer yogurts. Instead, look for plain, low-fat yogurts that contain tried-and-true bacteria, such as Lactobacillus acidophilus, Bifidobacterium, and L. rhamnosus. Probiotics do not permanently adhere to the intestinal lining, but exert their benefits as they move through the intestines. So, you need to consume yogurt at least several times a week, choosing ones with a variety of strains rather than a single strain. Besides being the perfect snack food, add yogurt to smoothies or use as a topping for pancakes or as a dip for fruit.

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