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Drug Shown To Protect Obese Mice From The Diseases Of Obesity

I usually choose not to write about the “new new scientific thing” that gets picked up by the press,  because early research is usually not reproducible and good science takes a long time to validate as true.  But since we know that mice and rats that are kept on low-calorie diets live 30% longer (and healthier) than their fat cohorts, I was interested in a new research compound, SRT-1720,  that was shown to protect obese mice from diseases of obesity.  Fat mice lived 44% longer if they were given this drug.

The “designer” drug works by Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at EverythingHealth*

Weight-Loss Counseling: Is Race A Factor?

Most people know that the U.S. is struggling to contain a surging epidemic of obesity, and that the problem is most acute among African-Americans. Whereas about 27 percent of all adult Americans are obese (defined as having a body mass index of 30 or more), fully 37 percent of African-American adults are obese, and that number jumps to an appalling 42 percent among African-American women.

Over the years, public health officials have provided evidence that socioeconomic and cultural factors drive this racial disparity. Now, a new study suggests there is another reason as well: Obese African-Americans receive less obesity-related counseling than their white counterparts, and it matters not whether the physicians they see are African-American or white.

To reach these conclusions, Sara Bleich and colleagues from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health used clinical encounter data from the 2005–2007 National Ambulatory Medical Care Surveys (NAMCS). The sample included 2,231 visits involving African-American and white obese people who were at least 20 years old and who visited family practitioners and internists that were either African-American or white. Asian and Hispanic patients and physicians were excluded from the study because their numbers were too small to permit hypothesis testing.

For each encounter in the study, the scientists determined whether the patient received guidance on weight reduction, diet and nutrition, or exercise from his or her physician. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Pizaazz*

Diet Soda And Your Risk For Heart Attack Or Stroke

It tastes sweet. It’s pleasurably fizzy. And free of calories. What’s more, the FDA says NutraSweet (aspartame) is safe. So what’s not to like about diet soft drinks?

A bunch. The ongoing debate about the healthiness of diet soft drinks reminds me of the old adage, “If something sounds to be true, it probably is.”

Artificially-sweetened “diet” drinks get touted as healthy alternatives to sugary drinks because they contain no calories or carbohydrates. On paper it seems plausible to think they are inert, no more dangerous than water. The Coca-Cola Company sublimely strengthens this assertion by putting a big red heart on Diet Coke cans.

But diet-cola news (Los Angeles Times) presented at the International Stroke Conference 2011 suggests otherwise. This widely-publicized observational study of 2,500 older patients (average age=69) from New York showed that drinking diet soda on a daily basis increased the risk of having a heart attack or stroke by 61 percent. The abstract — not a peer-reviewed study — stated that this association persisted after controlling for other pertinent variables.

Sure, this is only a look back at 559 patients who had a vascular event. The study asserts only an association, not that diet colas cause heart attacks and strokes. That’s a big difference.

That said, however, I don’t view these results as trivial either. This trial builds on the results of prior studies of diet drinks which strongly suggest that despite their lack of calories, diet drinks don’t prevent obesity. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

Three R’s Of Health And Wellness

I’d like to talk about how rodents, relationships, and riding relate to overall health and wellness.

This idea comes from a nicely-written New York Times piece entitled, “Does Loneliness Reduce the Benefits of Exercise?” Here, Gretchen Reynolds reviews a few intriguing studies about how relationships may affect exercise, stress hormone levels, and intelligence. The combo caught my eye.

Anyone who pays attention to wellness knows that exercise produces more flexible arteries, more durable hearts, and leaner body shapes. These benefits are obvious, and honestly, sometimes a bit tiresome to write about.

To me, a far more interesting — and lesser known — benefit of regular exercise is that it might make us smarter. Here’s where the rodents come into the story.

As was summarized in the New York Times piece, when researchers allowed rats and mice access to running wheels they observed (a) that they all ran, and (b) those rats that did run scored better on rodent IQ tests, and actually grew more brain cells. This is a striking finding because nerve cells — unlike blood, GI and skin cells, which turnover rapidly — grow very slowly, if at all.

But that’s not the entire story. The Princeton researchers wanted to know whether the rat’s social relationships could have measurable biologic effects.

It turns out that rodents — like humans — are quite social. So social, in fact, that in these trials the brain-growing effect of exercise was blunted when rodents lived alone. Compared to rats and mice that lived in groups, those that were kept in isolation failed to grow new nerve cells in response to exercise. And importantly, isolated rats produced higher levels of stress hormones than those who lived in groups, even though both groups ran the same distance. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

A Food-Culture Change Is Upon Us

As a pediatric endocrinologist, I am on the frontline of the childhood obesity epidemic. In fact, I am now seeing 100-pound two year olds and 150-pound three-year-old kids in my clinic and I am concerned. The obesity epidemic is perpetuated by a processed food-culture that lacks healthier local whole foods. 
Diets dominated by processed foods (refined carbohydrates with high fat- and/or high-sugar content and artificial ingredients) over whole foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains) spur more obesity and diabetes, and have even been shown to negatively change gene expression of the offspring during pregnancy. All-processed ingredients reflect the balance of desirable factors in the modern way of life such as shelf life (long), taste (sweet), texture (fat) convenience (high), and price (low) — all profitable, all less nutritious, and all with a mass-marketed, generic, “cultureless” appeal that reduces emphasis on local cultures and flavors.

The recent rise of social networking is testament to the fact that people are hungry to connect and yearn to be culturally inspired. Culture (art, food, music) deeply connects people and transcends time, politics, and poverty because it is the language of being human — and something that never changes. Medical research as well as the positive embracing of First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign demonstrates an open mind to the idea of a healthier culture and readiness for change. In fact, many of the families that I meet in my clinic are interested in considering whole-food choices, but lack knowledge and guidance.

Food-culture change offers the best hope for transforming obesity and what Americans eat. Oprah’s recent vegan-whole-food-challenge show on February 1st is a step in the right direction and will help to propel the emerging whole-foods movement. Columbus, Ohio is emerging as a center for local whole-foods activism and food-culture change. Just in 2010, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission released the Central Ohio Local Food Assessment and Plan — the first plan of its kind in the nation — and received an $885 million US. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) grant to create an urban foodscape in one of Columbus’ most blighted neighborhoods. Read more »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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