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Dannon Sued For Exaggerated Yogurt Claims


I loved yogurt when yogurt wasn’t cool.

In fact, I grew up on a small dairy farm in Canada where our sole product was yogurt. My parents bought a cow (Daisy) “in an unguarded moment” and ended up having to get creative to get rid of all the extra milk that she produced for our family. One thing led to another – and I wound up as the VP of Sales and Marketing for a growing yogurt company taking Canada by storm. So when I saw today’s news release about Dannon being sued for exaggerated health claims for their yogurt, my dairy ears perked up.

First of all, if it’s true that Dannon is claiming that their yogurt has greater health benefits than other yogurts with active cultures, that’s false advertising.

I also think it’s pretty sneaky that they (allegedly) ran ad campaigns exaggerating the health benefits of yogurt, and then marked up their product by 30% to make consumers feel that they were getting added value from what was there all along. Typical big business move, right?

Secondly, yogurt bacteria do have beneficial uses (eating yogurt may decrease colon infection rates in hospitals, and can reduce the chance of vaginal yeast infections after antibiotic use). There is no conclusive evidence that yogurt treats or prevents diarrhea. However, it’s silly to extrapolate that these friendly bacteria will improve the health of your entire immune system – so you’ll never be sick – or that they will perfectly regulate your bowels – regardless of your underlying disease. As with many foods that have been shown to have some specific health benefits (green tea, blueberries, flax seeds) the media tends to blow them out of proportion.

And finally, what should you know about yogurt? Know that for those who are not allergic to milk products, it is a healthy nutritional option (especially the low fat variety without too much sugar) that may be especially important if you’re in the hospital or have received any antibiotics recently. Yogurt contains protein and calcium, which are important components of a healthy diet. But beyond this nutritional benefit (and the infection reduction in at-risk populations), I wouldn’t ascribe any particular magic powers to this tasty treat – as much as I’d like to.

1. Look for the “active cultures” sign on yogurt containers. The National Yogurt Association (NYA) established its own criteria for live and active culture yogurt in conjunction with its Live & Active Culture seal program. In order for manufacturers to carry the seal, refrigerated yogurt products must contain at least 100 million cultures per gram at the time of manufacture. Don’t pay extra for a yogurt because they have live cultures. The majority of them do!

2. Yogurt bacteria don’t live forever in your gut, so you’ll need to eat yogurt (or take active cultures) regularly to repopulate the colonies. I can’t find any data to support an exact consumption frequency. I guess it also depends on how many bacteria are contained in the yogurt or supplement you’re taking.

3. Acidophilus pills (one of the most popular yogurt bacterial strains) are available at health food stores for those who’d rather not eat yogurt but still want the benefits of the culture. These pills must be refrigerated to keep the culture alive (kind of like keeping milk cool) – and make sure you check the expiration date too. For more information on acidophilus, check out this supplement database.

4. The most common side effect of eating live yogurt cultures (in pill form or in yogurt form) is bloating and gas.

So don’t be surprised if you encounter it!

And I think that’s a nice thought to end on.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Fitness Victory Snatched From The Jaws Of Defeat


Washington DC boasts some of the longest escalators in the world.
I’m not sure who decided to build all these extra long escalators
(maybe an escalator manufacturer had some political friends?) but the
very longest one is at a subway station in Bethesda. One evening my
husband and I happened to be getting off at that subway stop to see a
play and were curious to experience this marvel of human engineering.
As we rounded the corner to the beginning of the escalator, we
encountered a very long line of people. I wondered what they had all
lined up for in a dingy subway station – surely no one was giving out
free country club memberships. As my cogs and wheels turned, I realized
that there was one tiny elevator at the very front of the line. As I
inspected the escalator more closely I realized that the stairs were
not moving. Ugh.

I looked at my husband, I looked at the elevator
line, I remembered my weight loss group, and I hiked up my coat and
began the very long journey to the top of the stairs.

Of course,
when it was time to return home after the play the escalator jubilantly
moved us from the top of the stairs to the depths of the subway
station. Murphy’s Law – it was working for the descending phase of the

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to lose weight, please
share your small victories here or join a couple of hundred people trying to do the same. Have you resisted
temptation or gone the extra mile to lose weight and get in shape? I’d
love to hear about it!This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

People With Diabetes Take Heed: The Wrong Shoe Could Cost You Your Leg

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Diabetes is a tricky disease. Sugar build up in the blood stream can damage tiny blood vessels that supply nerve endings, resulting in skin numbness. The feet are at the highest risk for nerve damage (neuropathy) and folks with diabetes often cannot sense pain in their feet.

How many of us have gotten blisters from ill fitting shoes? Painful, right? Well imagine if you didn’t feel the pain of the blistering and kept on walking, oblivious to the injury. Eventually you’d have a pretty bad sore there. This is what happens to people with diabetes who don’t choose their shoes carefully. In addition, sores don’t heal well because of the decreased blood supply to the area (from the damaged blood vessels). And to top it off, the high sugar levels in the sores provides additional sustenance to any bacteria that might be lurking on the skin. It’s pretty easy for diabetics to develop infected wounds, which can grow larger and even require amputations of dead tissue.

A recent research study suggests that the secret to avoiding this downward spiral is in choosing shoes that fit well – though they estimate that as few as one third of people with diabetes actually wear optimal fitting shoes. This may be because there is a strange temptation for people with diabetes to choose extra small shoes due to their neuropathy. When normal sensation is lost in the feet, tight fitting shoes actually feel better because they can be sensed more readily by the brain. So even though spacious shoes that don’t cramp the toes or cause blistering are the best footwear, they don’t always feel as comfortable. However, patients with diabetes who are properly fitted for orthopedic shoes with the help of a physiatrist or podiatrist, may substantially reduce their risk of ulcers.

So the bottom line for people with diabetes: choose your footwear carefully, and get professional help to make sure that your shoes fit well. Proper shoes could help to decrease your risk for foot and leg ulcers and potential amputations.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

Phantom Pain And A Plastic Brain

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Gruesome costumes abound at Revolution Health today. Characters from popular horror movies seem to be a favorite, some employees even toted plastic chainsaws and spouted red ink/blood. As I was chased down a hallway by a ghoulish colleague who pretended to amputate one of my arms, I began to think – maybe this could be the subject of an interesting blog post? [Enter awkward segue here.]

Did you know that one in every 200 people in the United States has had a limb amputation of some kind? While the majority of amputations occur due to poor circulation (usually related to diabetes), some are caused by trauma, cancer, or birth defects. Limb loss is not a fictional issue, but a real concern for more people than you think. The good news is that most folks do very well with prostheses and rehabilitation programs. But since this is Halloween, I couldn’t resist discussing a potential complication of limb loss: phantom pain.

Phantom pain” is the term used to describe pain sensations in a missing limb. Although this may sound impossible at first (how can a person feel pain in his foot when that same leg was amputated already?) the reality is that the brain takes some time to adjust to limb loss. The human brain has entire sections devoted to sensing input from and delivering movement messages to our arms and legs. When an arm or leg is lost, that part of the brain continues to function for several months or more. And so as the local brain cells lack the usual input from the nerves in the absent limb, they fire in a spontaneous manner that is perceived as cramping, aching, or burning.

How on earth can you treat this kind of pain? As you can imagine, it’s quite tricky. Some of the more successful approaches involve helping the brain to adjust to the loss of sensory input by touching or massaging the stump and walking on a limb prosthesis. These new sensations help the brain to adjust to the body’s changes. In fact, imagining moving the lost arm or leg can result in some relief of the perceived pain. This is the one case I can think of where imaginary exercise can be of real benefit to your body!Some folks do require special pain medicines (tricyclic antidepressants, seizure meds, and beta blockers can help modestly) to cope while their brain adjusts to the new input. However, most amputees experience the sensation that their limb is still there, but without any pain or unpleasantness. Phantom sensations and phantom pain almost always resolve with time – which is a testament to the amazing flexibility (or “plasticity“) of the human brain.

That being said, I hope you each have a safe Halloween – and that your only potential injury comes from a ghoul with a plastic chain saw.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

I Found A Lump In My Breast – What Should I Do?


You’d think that all my friends were participating in breast cancer awareness month – first the abnormal mammogram scare, now a new email from a young, worried friend: “I found a lump in my breast. What should I do?”

My friend is 28 years old, with no family history of breast cancer. However, I take all lumps seriously because my husband’s sister was diagnosed in her early 30’s, after complaining of some hip pain followed by an x-ray which revealed diffuse metastases. Nonetheless, it bears repeating that a breast lump in a woman in her 20’s is highly unlikely to be cancer. For those of you out there who have found a lump in your breast, here are the statistics:

  • An estimated 90% of breast lumps are benign (and that includes lumps in significantly older women).
  • The number one risk factor for breast cancer is age.  The risk of a woman in her 30’s having breast cancer is <0.43%.  The National Cancer Institute doesn’t have per cent risks for women in their 20’s but I’m sure it’s even lower.
  • Fibrocystic breast tissue occurs in up to 60% of all women, and has a lumpy texture.
  • Breast cysts are fairly common, up to 7% of western females have a breast cyst at some point in their lifetimes.
  • Breast lumps often occur in response to normal hormonal fluctuations in the menstrual cycle

So if you find a breast lump, you should have it evaluated, but please keep in mind that there’s a 60% chance that it’s due to harmless fibrocystic changes, and (if you’re in your 30’s) a 0.43% chance that you’ll develop cancer. Indeed, most lumps are benign at all ages.

The next step in a lump evaluation is to have an ultrasound and if you’re over 35 to also have a mammogram, and then if the clinical images warrant it, a biopsy to confirm the contents of the lump. Also keep in mind that once you’ve had a biopsy, you can expect some scarring which could be read as “abnormal” in future mammograms. So don’t be surprised if you get an abnormal mammogram later on after the biopsy.

Breast cancer awareness is very important and can save lives, but on the flip side it can also make us paranoid about our breasts. My advice would be to take any lumps seriously, but also know that it’s not cancer until proven so – and that most women have breasts with a somewhat lumpy texture, so if you don’t have any lumps, you’re technically in the minority.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at

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