Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What Can Other Countries Teach Us About Eating Right?

Ever notice how people in some countries never seem to get the same diseases we do?

The secret is in what they eat.
By Mehmet Oz

In spite of all the bad news about Americans' health, the truth is that we have one of the highest life expectancies in the world, 77.9 years. (Andorra has the highest, 83.5.) But there's a caveat: A big part of why we live so long is that we're good at treating what you might call lifestyle diseases -- things like high blood pressure and diabetes. It turns out that there are places in the world where people live about as long as we do without needing fancy medicine or surgery. We can learn from them.

Costa Rica's Nicoya Peninsula
Fruit every day -- especially papaya, which you can now get year- round in the U.S. Papaya contains enzymes that help break down food in the stomach, which lets you absorb more nutrients. It's also a prebiotic, which means it promotes the growth of good bacteria in the gut. Bonus tip: The staple food in Nicoya is a mix of corn and beans. Replace the corn with quinoa, a protein-rich seed from South America, and you've got what I call a perfect meal: rich in protein, complex carbs, fiber, and vitamins.

Sardinian wine from the Nuoro region contains five to ten times the procyanidins -- powerful antioxidants with cardiovascular benefits -- of most other varieties. Look for it next time you're at the wineshop. Bonus tip: Many Sardinians farm their own food, including naturally grazed meat. It doesn't just taste better, it's also better for you, because it contains omega-3 fats that feedlot meat doesn't. Buy grass-fed beef whenever possible.

The incidence of Alzheimer's and Parkinson's is significantly lower there, and we think the reason is the use of curry spices. The science isn't complete yet, but studies on three specific spices -- turmeric, chili, and cinnamon -- are solid enough to report that they help reduce everything from inflammation and chronic pain to bacterial infections and cancer.

Okinawa, Japan
Okinawans drink a lot of tea, which I'm now recommending Americans use in place of coffee. Green tea in particular contains the most antioxidants. Bonus tip: We should all follow the Okinawan philosophy of eating: Hara hachi bu, which translates to "eat only until you are 80 percent full." That's excellent advice. Calorie restriction is the single most potent antiaging trick we know about. You'll be hearing a lot more about it soon -- by pure coincidence, my new book talks about it -- but for now, just start saying no to a second helping.

I recommend drinking kefir, the thin yogurt popular in Turkey, for overall gut health. Almost anything with live cultures in it -- kimchi and kombucha, the Russian health drink you see a lot these days, are other examples -- will do the trick. They're all probiotics, meaning they supply you with good bacteria you need to absorb maximum nutrition from your food.

Mehmet Oz is a heart surgeon and the coauthor of You: Staying Young (Free Press, $26), out October 30.

Monday, November 12, 2007

In The Moment

When I first started acting in the mid 1980s I worked with an acting coach by the name of Darryl Hickman. Darryl introduced me to an acting technique and life philosophy he called "Being In The Moment." He felt that to be a good actor, you needed to stop acting or pretending and start listening. The words you'd hear from another actor had to be felt on a deep emotional level. It's affect on the actor needed to be real, not pretended. He'd say that poorly trained actors rehearse scenes with preconceived attitudes and/or fake emotions. If the stage direction in a script says a wife and husband are yelling, it doesn't mean that the actors needed to think and act angrily. His method taught actors to learn their lines and let things happen organically. He felt that good acting happened when two or more people in a scene re-acted to the events around them, as opposed to acting with some kind of a preconceived interpretation of a script. This was a very scary undertaking because it forced actors to trust a process that constantly left them open and vulnerable.

I tell you this because far too often I see people in the "real world" try to present themselves in a light that they think others want to see them. We have found a way to protect ourselves by putting on an act. Many of us aren't real in the real world. We're acting for others. The second
we wake, we start writing the script, and act our way right up to the point before we fall asleep. It's because we're afraid to "live in the moment." Living in the moment sometimes means appearing imperfect and vulnerable. We think we're better off if we present ourselves as busy, smart, important, brash, tough or cool. Most often, this kind of show doesn't allow us to really be us. The crazy thing is that most people aren't even aware that they're doing it. Boasting, bragging, excuses and little white lies are all part of the act. We get so used to acting this way that it feels normal. It's a way of protecting our fragile egos because we're afraid to appear human. It's only in the quiet times alone that this acting routine we present to the world feels empty and wrong.

What does any of this have to do with Health and Fitness? Everything! Being, living and working out in the moment allows you to release the ego and the act, so you can re-act and enjoy the reality of the moment. My beach workout today is a perfect example of letting go of the act (loaded with expectations) and allowing my body to listen. It turned out that my main job today was to show up and pay attention moment to moment. Were my reps down today? Yes. Was my form less than par? Yes. Was my range of motion compromised do to the cold and damp weather? Yes. Was my strength and ability less than the week before. Indeed. Did the workout, the way it played out deter me? No! Did it mess with my ego at first? A little. Cest la vie. It is, so therefore I accept it. The acceptance of each moment as it's happening makes it easier to come back the next day, and coming back another day is the most important part of fitness.

How you act (or don't act) through the process of getting fit is equally important. There's a fine line between a humble person, who works hard and is proud of their results, and someone else who shouts from the roof tops pleading for others to notice them. This "look at me" routine is part of the ego-fest that can jeopardize your long term health and fitness, because it's based more on your need to be seen and less on your desire to be healthy. Turn off the act, be in the moment, listen to what's really happening, stop looking for approval, and believe that your own health, fitness and quality of life is far more important than the dog and pony show of scales, tape measures, after photos and how you want to be perceived by others who could care less.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Obesity Linked to Increased Cancer Risk

Report says exercise and diet can lower chances of malignancies
By Steven Reinberg
Posted 10/31/07

WEDNESDAY, Oct. 31 (HealthDay News) -- Weight management, exercise and proper nutrition are key to reducing your risk of cancer. And the earlier in life you adopt these practices, the better off you'll be, a new study suggests.

Factors such as birth weight, childbearing, breast-feeding, and adult height and weight also influence cancer risk, according to the report released Wednesday by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the Britain-based World Cancer Research Fund. Understanding how these factors affect cancer risk, and how to put this information to use to prevent the disease, offer promising new directions for cancer research, the study authors said.

"We need to think about cancer as the product of many long-term influences, not as something that 'just happens,' " Dr. Walter J. Willett said in a prepared statement. Willett, a professor of epidemiology and nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, was one of 21 authors of the report, Food, Nutrition, Physical Activity, and the Prevention of Cancer: A Global Perspective.
"Examining the causes of cancer this way, across the entire lifetime, is called the life course approach," he added.

The report, an analysis by scientists from around the world of more than 7,000 studies, offers 10 recommendations to help prevent cancer. They include staying lean, getting at least 30 minutes of exercise daily, limiting your intake of red meat and alcohol, and avoiding processed meats.

"These findings are right on," said Colleen Doyle, director of nutrition and physical activity at the American Cancer Society. "They are consistent with our own nutrition and physical activity guidelines. They clearly put the emphasis where the emphasis needs to be, and that's on controlling your weight."

"This is a good-news report," added Karen Collins, a nutrition adviser at the American Institute for Cancer Research. "If we are watching our weight, working regular physical activity into our daily life and eating a healthy balance of foods, we could prevent a third of cancers," she said. "Extra weight is not dead weight," she said. "It's an active metabolic tissue that produces substances that promote the development of cancer."

"People should take this message to be empowering," Collins said. The analysis of the studies found a definite link between excess fat and cancers of the esophagus, pancreas, colon and rectum, endometrium, kidney as well as breast cancer in postmenopausal women.

The risk from excess weight begins at birth, according to the report. The reason for the link between birth weight and breast cancer has to do with body fat. Excess body fat influences the body's hormones, and these changes can make it more likely for cells to undergo the kind of abnormal growth that leads to cancer, the researchers said.

In addition, overweight girls can start menstruating at an earlier age. So, over their lifetime, they will have more menstrual cycles. This extended exposure to estrogen is associated with increased risk for premenopausal breast cancer, the report found. Not smoking is the most important thing one can do to reduce the risk of cancer, Doyle said. But, she added, "there are estimates that obesity will overtake smoking as the leading preventable cause of death.

"It's great to see another report that emphasizes being active, watching your weight and eating a healthy diet are not only going to help you reduce your risk of cancer but heart disease and diabetes as well," Doyle said.

The report also found that breast-feeding can lower a mother's risk for developing breast cancer. In addition, breast-fed infants have a lower risk of becoming overweight or obese, and this means a lower risk of developing cancer.

"The evidence is uniformly strong on breast-feeding, and the fact that it offers cancer protection to both mothers and their children is why we made breast-feeding one of our 10 Recommendations to Prevent Cancer," Willett said. In addition, tall people seem to have a higher risk of colorectal and postmenopausal breast cancer, according to the report.

"We found that tallness is also probably linked to increased risk for ovarian, pancreatic and premenopausal cancer as well," Willett said. Although the association between height and cancer is convincing, tall people are not destined to get cancer, he added. Willett noted that being at increased risk is not a guarantee that you are going to develop cancer. "Risk isn't fate," he said. "The evidence clearly shows that risk can be changed.

"We wanted to point these emerging links out, because we now believe them to be more important than the scientific community, much less the public, has yet realized," Willett added. "Whether or not we get cancer has to do with our genes and with the choices we make everyday. Our cancer risk is also influenced by our whole accumulated life experience, from conception onwards."

Body weight and composition is a big factor, one expert said. "This report really reinforces the connection between being overweight or obese and the increased risk of many, if not all, cancers," said Carolyn Lammersfeld, the national director of nutrition at Cancer Treatment Centers of America. "The majority of Americans are not aware of that connection. They are more concerned with pesticides and environmental contaminants, but obesity is a much greater risk factor," she said.

But risks can be minimized, she added. "If you don't have cancer, it's never too late to try to do what you can to lower your risk," Lammersfeld said. "In addition, cancer survivors should follow the diet and weight recommendations to prevent a return of cancer." The report said that people should not use dietary supplements to try to offset cancer risk -- something Lammersfeld agreed with. "You can't fix a crappy diet with supplements," she said.