When tobacco giant Philip Morris changed its corporate name to Altria Group, it seemed it was trying to dodge the stigma of selling cigarettes that was attached to the original brand. Can’t fool you! (Between 2000 and 2007, cigarette sales decreased by 18 percent.) Now the high-fructose corn syrup folks are trying to pull the same kind of switcheroo. They want to change its name to corn sugar. Fortunately, the Corn Refiners Association got shot down by the Food and Drug Administration. The name stays the same for now.
Whatever you call it, high-fructose corn syrup or corn sugar – and even regular sugar in excess – is bad for you. It increases cardiovascular risks for young adults, promotes hypertension, adds body fat and ups uric acid levels (that wreck your arteries). High or low, added fructose (not natural fructose in fruit) in everything from ketchup to baked goods and soda to fruit juices messes with your appetite control system (the hormone leptin). We’re chowing down a horrifying 63 pounds of the sweet stuff a year; it’s making us fatter and fatter and more likely to get diabetes.
So if you have a hankering for something sweet, opt for an apple, nectarine, mango or pineapple. Enjoy a handful of nuts and a half-ounce of dark chocolate twice a day; 30 minutes before lunch and dinner would be great. And keep your eye out for the words dextrose, corn sugar, fructose and high-fructose corn syrup on labels – and just say no.
Hormone therapy update
Hot flashes, heart palpitations and brain fog can make daily life challenging for women going through menopause.
Unfortunately, alarms about hormone therapy have scared many women away from a treatment that banishes symptoms. An update by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggests that estrogen, alone or taken with progesterone, increases the risk for stroke, blood clots, and gallbladder and urinary problems. While the task force does admit that the recommendations don’t apply to women thinking about HT for menopausal symptoms, or those who have had a hysterectomy before age 50, it makes women hesitant to take advantage of the benefits.
So we want to say again: If you’re at increased risk for breast cancer or heart disease, HT may not be for you (unless you do it with two baby aspirins a day). We like 162 milligrams of aspirin daily for everyone on HT; it decreases clot and cancer risks substantially. Check with your doc. You may be able to use an estrogen ring or cream vaginally to counteract dryness; it can make sex fun again and keep you from having an accident.
For the rest of you: Oral estrogen decreases the risk of breast cancer and relieves menopausal symptoms; estrogen, or estrogen plus progesterone, reduces bone fractures and menopausal symptoms. But you need the right kind of hormones. Ask your doc about bioidentical estradiol and micronized progesterone plus 162 milligrams of aspirin.
What gets your grill going?
Firing up the grill to cook fish and veggies is one of the best parts of summer. But making sure you’re dishing up a healthy meal may take some revisions to your traditional family barbecue. And we’re not talking about replacing your hamburger with nothing but Hamburger Helper, as Cousin Eddie did in Chevy Chase’s first "Vacation" movie. Today we’re talking about what you burn and how you ignite it.
Lighter fluid + charcoal + match = Problem. Lighter fluid (petroleum-based) produces volatile organic compounds and leaves petroleum residue on food and in your lungs. We say, skip the lighter fluid. Try these healthier ways to get the grill going.
• A charcoal chimney starter ($10 to $35) looks like an oversized metal beer mug with a grate near the bottom. Put in the charcoal, ignite with paper, and in 12 to 15 minutes the briquettes are good to glow.
• An electric charcoal starter ($10 to $20) is a metal coil you bury in a mound of charcoal and plug in. In eight to 15 minutes, the fire’s on its way.
Is it better to eliminate charcoal completely? Yes, propane and gas grills are cleaner and more energy efficient. But charcoal is probably OK a few times a year. Just know that it produces soot that irritates respiratory conditions such as asthma and releases the carcinogenic VOC benzene, so stand away from the smoke. Also, avoid quick-start charcoals soaked with lighter fluid and those with additives such as sodium nitrate. Now go flip that veggie burger.
How to stop the room from spinning
Like the off-balance characters in Hitchcock’s "Vertigo" (remember that spinning spiral graphic?), people who get hit with benign positional vertigo can’t be sure of what’s up – or what’s down. And for the more than 160,000 North Americans diagnosed every year, that makes it hard to drive (you never know when an attack might hit) or feel comfortable with physical activity (just tilting your head can trigger an episode).
Turns out, there’s a lot going on inside the inner ear that we’re unaware of, until something goes wrong. In the canal-like vestibular system, tiny particles float on even tinier hairs. The motion of the particles against the hairs triggers electrical messages to the brain that let you know where up and down are. They’re sort of gravity meters. But if those particles end up in an adjacent area called the cupula, the world starts spinning. Nausea and anxiety follow. Although attacks may last only 30 seconds to two minutes, they’re discombobulating.
Treatment has depended on something called the Epley Maneuver, a series of motions (usually requiring two people) designed to get the ear’s fluid and particles back in the right position. When such position adjustments don’t work, surgery is an option. But an afflicted researcher at the University of Denver’s School of Medicine devised a simpler half somersault motion done on your own. It’s effective and prevents recurring attacks better than the Epley. For instructions on doing this new self-treatment, check online at RealAge.com.
Nutrition advice you can really follow
The Internal Revenue Service sent out 6.3 million notices about math errors on tax returns in 2011, and that’s a fraction of the goofs (in Social Security numbers, addresses, the spelling of last names) that were made. Even so, you (and your fellow citizens) say tax forms are easier to follow than the dietary information you’re bombarded with daily: 76 percent of you say ever-changing nutritional info makes it hard to know what to believe, and 52 percent say it’s easier to do taxes than shop smart. We agree. So we’re going to streamline that info for you, right now.
1. Don’t eat foods with added sugars or added syrups, and when possible avoid artificial sweeteners. They lie to your appetite-control system and can lead to weight gain.
2. Choose 100 percent whole grains. Your guts, immune system and heart will thank you.
3. Eat slowly so you can tell when you’re full, then stop.
4. Eat often (four to six times a day) to prevent hunger. Hunger = overeating. It’s bad for the heart and certain to trigger weight gain.
5. Get nine servings of fruits and veggies a day. Think of it as nine fistfuls of goodness.
6. Opt for lean protein: chicken (no skin), fish, beans and whole grains. Spare your heart and brain the damage too much saturated fat causes.
7. Get a blood test to check your levels of D and B-12. Take supplements if you’re deficient.
Follow these steps, and no matter what, you’ll be healthier and wiser.