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Archive for November 17, 2010

Leptin: What It Is, and Why It May Be the Most Powerful Tool in the Battle Against Diabetes

Leptin: What It Is, and Why It May Be the Most Powerful Tool in the Battle Against Diabetes

It’s well known that obesity and diabetes often go hand-in-hand. Over 60 million Americans are obese, a condition that makes it 20 to 40 times more likely that you’ll develop diabetes than someone of a healthy weight, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Even being overweight (as opposed to obese) increases your risk of type 2 diabetes seven-fold.

Still, while epidemic numbers of Americans–nearly 20 million–have diabetes, it is not known why some obese people develop diabetes, while others never do.

Some leptin research suggests that the tendency to overeat and gain weight may be formed at an early age.

A Hormone Called Leptin

The protein hormone leptin–which comes from the Greek word for “thin,” leptos–may hold the key to unlocking some of this mystery. Derived from fat cells, defects in leptin signaling may lead to obesity, overeating and less energy expenditure.

According to metabolic specialist Ron Rosedale, M.D.:

“Leptin is the way that your fat stores speak to your brain to let your brain know how much energy is available and, very importantly, what to do with it. Studies have shown that leptin plays significant, if not primary, roles in heart disease, obesity, diabetes, osteoporosis, autoimmune diseases, reproductive disorders, and perhaps the rate of aging itself.”

Further, a study on mice published in Cell Metabolism has revealed that leptin plays a role in regulating blood sugar, which it does via two brain-body pathways:

  • One that controls appetite and fat storage
  • One that tells the liver what to do with its glucose reserves

If the first pathway (the one involving appetite and fat storage) is disrupted, obesity is expected, which raises the risk of diabetes. However, the study found that both pathways may have to be disrupted in order for the body to lose control of insulin and blood sugar levels and develop diabetes.

“Taken together, our findings show there’s more to the obesity-diabetes link than the classic thinking that if you eat too much sugar, you’ll get fat and get diabetes and that if you don’t get diabetes, it’s only because you’re making more insulin to keep up with the sugar,” says senior author Martin G. Myers, Jr., M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Michigan Medical School. “There’s something else contributing. Now the challenge is to find out what that is.”

Leptin’s Link to Fat and Diabetes

“If a person is getting too fat, the extra fat produces more leptin, which is supposed to tell an area of the brain in the hypothalamus that there is too much fat stored, more should not be stored, and the excess burned,” Rosedale says.

“Therefore, signals are sent to stop being hungry, to stop eating, to stop storing fat and to start burning some extra fat off. More recently, it has been found that leptin not only changes brain chemistry, but can also “rewire” these very important areas of the brain that control hunger and metabolism,” he continues.

In fact, it is also possible to become leptin-resistant. How this process occurs is the focus of much research, but Rosedale suggests that leptin-resistance is similar to insulin-resistance in that it occurs after being overexposed to high levels of the hormone. At this point, the body no longer responds to the hormone, much like you no longer notice a bad odor after being exposed to it for a while, Rosedale explained.

The mouse on the right has a mutation in the leptin gene, which causes morbid obesity.

Much like high blood sugar levels result in surges in insulin, sugar metabolized in fat cells causes the fat to release surges in leptin. Over time, leptin-resistance may develop.

Can Leptin be Used to Help Lose Weight or Prevent Diabetes?

As it stands, leptin is still a mysterious hormone that researchers are trying to sort out. To put it simply, though, overweight people tend to have very low levels of leptin in their systems (they may have disruptions in leptin signaling or they may be leptin-resistant, for instance). And, studies have found that feeding leptin to overweight mice causes them to lose weight. This effect was not observed in humans, however.

For now, the best way to reduce your chances of diabetes and obesity (and other diseases like heart disease and accelerated aging), according to Rosedale, is to avoid surges in leptin (which can eventually make you leptin-resistant).

Eating the typical American diet, full of refined sugars and other processed foods, is a surefire way to cause surges in leptin. Focusing your diet on simple, mostly unprocessed foods like vegetables is currently the best way to reduce surges in leptin and leptin-resistance, Rosedale says.

So for now there is no magic leptin injection or pill to make you lose weight and prevent diabetes. The good old advice of eating a healthy diet, though, will help to keep your leptin levels normal, which is key to a healthy weight and life.

by www.SixWise.com

8 Things Your Hair Says About Your Health

8 Things Your Hair Says About Your Health


When it comes to our hair, most of us worry most about what to do with it: how short to cut it, how to style it, whether to color it once it begins to go gray. But experts say that our hair says a lot more about us than how closely we follow the latest styles. In fact, the health of our hair and scalp can be a major tip-off to a wide variety of health conditions.

“We used to think hair was just dead protein, but now we understand that a whole host of internal conditions affect the health of our hair,” says dermatologist Victoria Barbosa, MD, who runs Millennium Park Dermatology in Chicago. “Our hair responds to stress, both the physical stressors of disease and underlying health issues, and psychological stress.” Here, eight red flags that tell you it’s time to pay more attention to the health of your hair — and to your overall health in general.

Red flag #1: Dry, limp, thin-feeling hair

What it means: Many factors can lead to over-dry hair, including hair dyes, hair blowers, and swimming in chlorinated water. But a significant change in texture that leaves hair feeling finer, with less body, can be an indicator of an underactive thyroid, known as hypothyroidism. Some people conclude that their hair is thinning because it feels as if there’s less of it, but the thinning is due more to the texture of the hair itself becoming finer and weaker than to individual hairs falling out (though that happens too).

More clues: Other signs of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, slow heart rate, and feeling cold all the time, says Raphael Darvish, a dermatologist in Brentwood, California. In some cases, the
eyebrows also thin and fall out. A telltale sign: when the outermost third of the eyebrow thins or disappears.

What to do: Report your concerns to your doctor and ask him or her to check your levels of thyroid hormone. The most common blood tests measure the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and T4. It’s also important to keep a list of your symptoms — all of them.
“A doctor’s visit is best to work up this problem; he or she may choose to do a thyroid ultrasound and a blood test in addition to an examination,” says Darvish.

Red flag #2: Scaly or crusty patches on the scalp, often starting at the hairline

What it means: When a thick crust forms on the scalp, this usually indicates psoriasis, which can be distinguished from other dandruff-like skin conditions by the presence of a thickening, scab-like surface, says Lawrence Greene, MD, a spokesperson for the National Psoriasis Foundation. Psoriasis is the most common of all the autoimmune diseases and occurs when the skin goes into overdrive, sending out faulty signals that speed up the turnover and growth of skin cells.

More clues: Psoriasis, which affects nearly 7.5 million Americans, often occurs in concert with other autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. If you have another autoimmune disorder, it’s that much more likely you’ll develop psoriasis. In turn, the discovery that you have psoriasis should put you on the alert for more serious conditions. Up to 30 percent of people with psoriasis develop a condition called psoriatic arthritis, which causes painful swelling of the joints.

What to do: There’s a long list of ingredients that help relieve psoriasis, and treatment is often a process of trial and error. Topical treatments include shampoos containing coal tar or salicylic acid, and creams or ointments containing zinc and aloe vera. Hydrocortisone cream works to relieve inflammation. Prescription creams include vitamin D, vitamin A, and anthralin. Many patients also have great success treating the scalp with UV light therapy, and systemic medications such as cyclosporine work better for some people than topical medications.

It’s a good idea to see a dermatologist for help sorting out the various treatments, rather than trying to do it on your own. One thing to keep in mind: Psoriasis puts you at increased risk of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, certain types of cancer, metabolic syndrome, obesity, and depression. So if your psoriasis becomes severe, bring it to your doctor’s attention as part of a discussion of your overall health.

Red flag #3: Thinning hair over the whole head

What it means: It’s normal to shed approximately 100 to 150 hairs a day, the result of the body’s natural turnover. It’s when you notice considerably more hairs in your brush or on the towel after you
shampoo — or when hair appears to be coming out in clumps — that it’s time for concern. One common cause: a sudden psychological or physical stressor, such as a divorce or job loss. Another: having a high fever from the flu or an infection. Diabetes can also cause hair to thin or start to fall out suddenly; some diabetes experts say sudden hair thinning or hair loss should be considered an early warning sign that diabetes is affecting hormone levels.

A number of medications also cause hair loss as a side effect. These include birth control pills, along with lithium and Depakote, two of the most common treatments for bipolar disorder. More rarely, tricyclic antidepressants such as Prozac, and levothyroid — used to treat hypothyroidism — cause thinning hair. Hormonal changes can also cause hair to thin, which is why both pregnancy and perimenopause are well known for causing hair to fall out, while polycystic ovary disease can cause both hair loss and overgrowth of hair, depending on how the hormones go out of balance. Thyroid disease, especially hypothyroidism, is one of the most common causes of hair loss.

More clues: Check for tiny white bumps at the roots of the hair; their presence suggests that this is temporary hair loss rather than male/female pattern baldness, says Chicago dermatologist Victoria Barbosa. Any medication that interferes with hormones can cause this type of hair loss; the list includes birth control pills, Accutane for acne, and prednisone and anabolic steroids. Physical stressors that can lead to temporary hair loss include iron deficiency anemia and protein deficiency; these are particularly common in those who’ve suffered from eating disorders.

What to do: If you have what experts call temporary hair loss — to distinguish from hereditary hair loss, which is likely to be permanent — you’ll need to discontinue the medication or treat the underlying condition that’s causing the problem. It can also help to take supplemental biotin, which has been shown to strengthen and thicken hair and fingernails, says Barbosa.

And while vitamin D deficiency hasn’t been pinpointed as a cause of hair loss, research has demonstrated that taking vitamin D helps grow the hair back. “We don’t know how vitamin D contributes to hair loss, but we do know the hair follicles need good levels of vitamin D to recover,” Barbosa says. Recommended dose: 2000 IUs of vitamin D3 daily. In addition, talk to your doctor about getting your blood levels of iron checked for anemia, and take iron if needed.

Red flag #4: Overall hair loss that appears permanent, often following traditional pattern baldness

What it means: Both women and men are subject to what’s formally known as androgenetic and androgenic alopecia. It’s usually caused by a change in the pattern of the sex hormones, but diseases and other underlying conditions can cause this type of hair loss by affecting the hormones. In women, a derivative of testosterone is often the culprit, shrinking and eventually killing off hair follicles. Traditionally known as “male pattern baldness,” this type of hair loss is often hereditary and is typically permanent if not treated with medication, says Larry Shapiro, a dermatologist and hair surgeon in Palm Beach, Florida.

Men’s hair loss nearly always follows a pattern of thinning along the hairline, at the temples, and in the back of the scalp. Some women’s hair loss also follows this pattern, but more typically women experience thinning over the entire head.

Diabetes also can cause or contribute to hair loss. Over time, diabetes often leads to circulatory problems; as a result, the hair follicles don’t get adequate nutrients and can’t produce new hairs. Hair follicles can eventually die from lack of nutrition, causing permanent hair loss.

More clues: Certain underlying conditions can cause this type of hair loss by altering hormones; these include thyroid disease (both overactive and underactive thyroid) and autoimmune disease, Shapiro says. Many drugs taken long-term to control chronic conditions can have a side effect, in some people, of causing or contributing to hair loss. They include beta blockers such as propranolol and atenolol, anticoagulants like warfarin, and many drugs used to control arthritis, Parkinson’s disease, and other conditions.

What to do: If you suspect a medication is causing or exacerbating your hair loss, talk to your doctor about whether an alternative is available that’s less likely to have that side effect. (But don’t just stop taking your medicine.) Minoxidil, the generic name for the drug marketed as Rogaine, is the primary proven method of treating androgenic hair loss. It works by blocking the action of the hormones at the hair follicle. It’s now available over the counter, so you don’t have to have a prescription, and it’s sold in male and female versions.

Another drug, finasteride, requires a prescription. Some women find that taking estrogen helps with hormonally triggered hair loss.

Red flag #5: Dry, brittle hair that breaks off easily

What it means: When individual hairs litter your pillow in the morning, this typically indicates breakage rather than hair falling out from the follicle, says Chicago dermatologist Victoria Barbosa. Breakage is most frequently the result of hair becoming over-brittle from chemical processing or dyeing. “Bleaching, straightening, and other chemical processing techniques strip the cuticle to let the chemicals in, which makes the hair shaft more fragile,” Barbosa explains.

However, certain health conditions also lead to brittle, fragile hair. Among them: Cushing’s syndrome, a disorder of the adrenal glands that causes excess production of the hormone cortisol. A condition called hypoparathyroidism, usually either hereditary or the result of injury to the parathyroid glands during head and neck surgery, can also cause dry, brittle hair. Overly low levels of parathyroid hormone cause blood levels of calcium to fall and phosphorus to rise, leading to fragile dry hair, scaly skin, and more serious symptoms such as muscle cramps and even seizures.

More clues: If the cause of your dry, brittle hair is an underlying health condition, you’ll likely notice additional symptoms, such as dry, flaky skin. Overly dry hair also can signify that your diet is lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in salmon and fish oil, as well as many nuts and seeds, particularly flaxseed.

What to do: No matter what the cause of your dry, brittle hair, minimizing heat and chemical treatment are necessary for it to get healthy again. If an underlying condition is throwing your
hormones out of whack and in turn affecting your hair, talk to your doctor. The symptoms of hypoparathyroidism, for example, are often reduced or eliminated with supplemental vitamin D and calcium.

Next, deep condition your hair to restore it to health. Hair oils can help restore flexibility to the hair shaft, Barbosa says; look for products made with natural oils such as coconut and avocado oil, which penetrate the cuticle, rather than synthetic oils made from petrolatum, which merely coat the hair. Take fish oil supplements to renourish your hair. And minimize breakage while you sleep by replacing cotton pillowcases, which tend to catch and pull at hair, with satin pillowcases, which are smoother.

Red Flag #6: Hair falling out in small, circular patches

What it means: The body’s immune response turns on the hair follicles themselves, shrinking them and causing hair to fall out entirely in small, typically round patches. This kind of hair loss — which experts call alopecia areata — can also occur at the temples or at the part line. Diabetes can trigger the onset of such hair loss in some people. And it can continue to spread; in extreme cases, sufferers lose all their hair or lose hair over their entire body.

More clues:Alopecia areata can also cause the eyebrows or eyelashes to fall out, which in addition to the circular pattern can distinguish it from other types of hair loss. Alopecia areata is an autoimmune condition and has been shown to be more common in families with a tendency toward other autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis, early-onset diabetes, and thyroid disease.

What to do: The treatment most proven to work against alopecia areata is cortisone shots delivered directly into the scalp in the spots where the hair is falling out. “If you don’t get steroid injections, the circular patches will get larger and more cosmetically noticeable,” says California dermatologist Raphael Darvish.

Oral forms of cortisone and topical cortisone creams are also available, but topical cortisone is less likely to be successful unless it’s a mild case. Many doctors will also suggest using minoxidil (brand name Rogaine) to speed the rate of regrowth. Treatment may need to be repeated a number of times over a period of months.

Red flag #7: Yellowish flakes on the hair and scaly, itchy patches on the scalp

What it means: What most of us grew up calling dandruff is now understood to be a complicated interaction of health issues that deserve to be taken seriously. Seborrheic dermatitis is a chronic inflammatory condition of the scalp that causes skin to develop scaly patches, often in the areas where the scalp is oiliest. When the flaky skin loosens, it leaves the telltale “dandruff” flakes.

Seborrheic dermatitis coexists in a “chicken-and-egg” relationship with a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of a yeast that’s normally present on our scalps and skin. The yeast organism, Pityrosporum ovale, takes advantage of skin already irritated by dermatitis and inflames it still more. Some experts now believe that the yeast overgrowth may occur first, setting off the inflammatory reaction of the dermatitis, but that hasn’t been proven.

More clues: One way to differentiate seborrheic dermatitis from plain dry skin: When skin is dry,
you’ll typically also see dry, scaly skin between the eyebro[1]ws and by the sides of the nose, says California dermatologist Raphael Darvish. Also, seborrheic dermatitis tends to be seasonal, flaring up during the winter and disappearing in the summertime. It may be triggered by stress as well.

What to do: See a dermatologist to make sure it’s seborrheic dermatitis. If so, “there are great prescription shampoos and creams that can correct this,” says Darvish. The most effective treatment for yeast overgrowth is ketoconazole, a newer drug that works by damaging the fungal cell wall, killing the fungus. It comes in the form of pills, creams, or shampoo under the brand name Nizoral.

However, as an oral medication it has many side effects, so if you and your doctor decide on an oral treatment, an alternative antifungal, fluconazole, is preferable.

To calm flare-ups as quickly as possible, Darvish recommends using a prescription steroid cream. However, long-term use of these creams can thin the skin, particularly on the face, Darvish warns, so
doctors recommend using them in short-term doses known as “pulse therapy.”

To prevent recurrence, it’s necessary to get the skin back in balance, and many experts recommend garlic for this purpose. You can either eat lots of fresh garlic, which might annoy those in close proximity to you, or take a garlic supplement.

Red flag #8: Gray hair

What it means: Many people perceive gray hair as a red flag, worrying that it’s an indication of stress or trauma. And history abounds with stories like that of Marie Antoinette, whose hair was said to have gone snow white the night before she faced the guillotine.

Experts tend to dismiss such fears and stories, explaining that how our hair goes gray or white is primarily influenced by our genetics. However, in recent years research scientists have reopened the debate. While they can’t yet prove or explain it, many researchers now believe that stress may trigger a chain reaction that interferes with how well the hair follicle transmits melanin, the pigment that colors hair. Researchers are looking at the role of free radicals, which are hormones we produce when under stress, and studies seem to show that they can block the signal that tells the hair follicle to absorb the melanin pigment.

Other experts argue that a trauma or stressful event causes the hair to stop growing temporarily and go into a resting phase. Then when the hair follicles “wake up” and begin turning over again, a lot of new hair grows in all at once, making it appear that a great deal of gray has come in all at the same time.

More clues: The schedule and pattern by which you go gray will most likely follow your parents’ experience. However, if you suspect stress is graying you prematurely, keep careful track of stressful events. People who experienced a traumatic event that they believe caused them to go gray have reported that their hair eventually returned to its former color.

What to do: If you believe that stress or trauma is causing your hair to go gray, boost your coping strategies by working on your reactions to stressful situations. Yoga and meditation, for example, are effective stress-management tools.

If you see results, you’ll know you’re on the right track. In the meantime, you might want to talk to your parents about how their hair color changed over time, and learn what you can expect. After all, if Great-Aunt Eliza first developed her dramatic white skunk streak in her mid-30s, that might be something you want prepare yourself for.

(Leesa recommends Chews4Health!  Chews are great for your hair, skin, and nails and was chosen as the “Beauty from Within” product winner by Beauty Spaces! For healthy hair and a healthy body, chews  www.chews4health.com/Leesa)

 By Melanie Haiken, Caring.com senior editor

Caring.com was created to help you care for your aging parents, grandparents, and other loved ones. As the leading destination for eldercare resources on the Internet, our mission is to give you the information and services you need to make better decisions, save time, and feel more supported. Caring.com provides the practical information, personal support, expert advice, and easy-to-use tools you need during this challenging time.

Magnesium: Why Your Heart is Begging You for More of This Essential Nutrient

Magnesium: Why Your Heart is Begging You for More of This Essential Nutrient

Magnesium rarely edges out other more talked about nutrients like vitamin E or calcium to make front-page news — but it should. Magnesium plays a vital role in several hundred of your body’s functions, including normal heart function, but the majority of Americans are not getting enough in their daily diets.

An estimated 68 percent of Americans don’t get enough magnesium from their diets.

As many as 68 percent of Americans do not consume the daily recommended amount of magnesium, according to a government study. 19 percent do not consume even half of it.

Even the National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements (ODS) points out that, “For many people, dietary intake may not be high enough to promote an optimal magnesium status, which may be protective against disorders such as cardiovascular disease and immune dysfunction.”

Magnesium’s Role in Your Body

According to ODS, “Magnesium is needed for more than 300 biochemical reactions in the body.” It helps to:

  • Maintain normal muscle and nerve function
  • Keep heart rhythm steady
  • Support a healthy immune system
  • Keep bones strong
  • Regulate blood sugar levels
  • Promote normal blood pressure
  • Maintain energy metabolism and protein synthesis

“There is an increased interest in the role of magnesium in preventing and managing disorders such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes,” says ODS, and it is this increasing knowledge that magnesium is a major player in heart health that has peaked many scientists’ interest. Highlights of studies on the topic include:

  • The American Heart Journal reported that patients with good magnesium levels who had undergone surgery to replace damaged coronary arteries were less likely to die or have a heart attack in the following year than those with poor magnesium levels.
  • A strong link was found between optimum levels of magnesium and a lowered risk of coronary heart disease, as reported in the American Journal of Cardiology.
  • In a study of cardiac bypass surgery patients by Duke University Medical Center researchers, those with low magnesium levels were twice as likely to experience a heart attack or die from all causes than those with normal levels.
  • A long-term study of men by researchers at the University of Virginia School of Medicine found that those with the lowest magnesium intake were twice as likely to have had coronary heart disease problems than those with the highest intake.
  • Evidence suggests that low magnesium levels increases the risk of abnormal heart rhythms, which may increase the risk of complications after a heart attack, according to ODS.
  • Heart disease patients who received a magnesium supplement twice a day for six months had a 14 percent improvement in exercise duration and were less likely to experience exercise-related chest pain than those who received a placebo.

“A growing body of evidence,” explains Jerry L. Nadler, MD, division chief of endocrinology and metabolism at the University of Virginia, “suggests that magnesium plays a pivotal role in reducing cardiovascular risk and may be involved in the pathogenesis of diabetes itself.”

Signs of Deficiency

Recommended dietary allowances for magnesium are as follows:

  • Boys and girls aged 1-3: 80 mg/day
  • Boys and girls aged 4-8: 130 mg/day
  • Boys and girls aged 9-13: 240 mg/day

 

  • Boys aged 14-18: 410 mg/day
  • Girls aged 14-18: 360 mg/day

 

  • Men aged 19-30: 400 mg/day
  • Women aged 19-30: 310 mg/day

 

  • Men 31 and over: 420 mg/day
  • Women 31 and over: 320 mg/day

While whole grain is an excellent source of magnesium, refined grains (like this white bread) contain little of the nutrient.

Americans may have less-than-optimal magnesium levels and not experience signs of deficiency. For instance, while the recommended daily amount of magnesium for adult men is 420 mg/day, most eat only 327 mg/day. Early signs of actual deficiency include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fatigue and weakness

More severe magnesium deficiency can result in:

  • Numbness and tingling
  • Muscles contractions and cramps
  • Seizures
  • Personality changes
  • Abnormal heart rhythms
  • Coronary spasms

Severe magnesium deficiency can lead to low levels of calcium and potassium in the blood.

How to Get More Magnesium in Your Diet

Eating a variety of magnesium-rich foods is the best way to get more of this essential nutrient. Remember that it’s possible to have sub-optimal magnesium levels and not experience any actual symptoms.

“A diet rich in magnesium would benefit everyone, especially people with risk factors for type 2 diabetes, such as obesity, hypertension, elevated blood lipid levels, or a family history of diabetes,” said Monika Waelti, PhD, of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, Switzerland,

Some of the best food sources of magnesium include:

  • Whole Grains (only unrefined versions, as refined grains are typically low in magnesium)
  • Avocados
  • Squash
  • Almonds
  • Leafy Greens
  • Some Beans and Peas

“Hard” drinking water is also a good source of the nutrient. “Hard” water typically has a higher concentration of magnesium salts than “soft” water.

Unless your magnesium levels are very low, magnesium supplements are generally not needed.

“Increasing dietary intake of magnesium can often restore mildly depleted magnesium levels,” ODS reported. So go ahead and indulge in some magnesium-rich favorites like guacamole with some whole-grain crackers, baked acorn squash, fruit salad and mixed greens. You’ll be well on your way to a healthy magnesium level and, as more and more research is pointing out, a healthy heart to go along with it.

by www.SixWise.com

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