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You Docs: Three foods that could change your life

  • Published Saturday, Sep. 21, 2013, at 10:50 a.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, at 5:46 a.m.

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When Alexandre Dumas first serialized his novel “The Three Musketeers” (from March to July of 1844), the tale of D’Artagnan captured the hearts of people on both sides of the Atlantic. Well, there’s another upstanding trio that’s exciting and heart-friendly, too: dark chocolate, red wine and green tea. Here’s the heartfelt good news ...

If you eat chocolate (an ounce of 70 percent cacao) more than twice a week, you’ll have one-third less artery-clogging plaque and will cut your risk for heart attack and stroke by 30 percent. Red wine (one glass a day for women, two for men under 65) helps keep arteries and veins clear, boosts good HDL cholesterol and reduces lousy LDL cholesterol and blood clotting (less stroke risk). And green tea is packed with anti-inflammatory compounds that fight skin, breast, lung, colon, esophagus and bladder cancers. Plus, it lowers the risk of high blood pressure by 46 percent to 65 percent.

But the benefits don’t stop there: New research reveals that this trio contains powerful polyphenols that are antibacterial. Versions of them (tannic acid and pyrogallol) can be used to create sticky coatings on things like heart stents, catheters, hip replacements and even kitchen cutting boards to reduce infections and inflammation.

Once again, here’s an example of how nutrients found in everyday foods improve your life in unexpected ways. So if you regularly enjoy a bit of chocolate, a glass of wine and a cup of tea, you’ll have a stronger immune system.

Digital dentistry

Did you ever think your dentist would go into manufacturing? Well about 10 percent of dental offices now have the latest in on-the-spot crown-manufacturing technology. This new type of digital dentistry is making it possible to get perfectly shaped porcelain crowns made and installed in your mouth in about an hour. No more “temporary” crowns or multiple office visits. And they’re not more expensive.

How does it work? First, you have a digital scan made of your broken or misshaped tooth (the system can’t scan below the gum line, so while-you-wait implants are still in the future). Then the system feeds the data to an on-site CAD/CAM (computer-aided drafting/computer-aided manufacturing) system that mills the crown. After a little prep work, it is ready for your dazzling smile.

But this is new technology, and preliminary studies have shown that some of these machines make stronger and more fracture-resistant crowns than others. So here’s our recommendation: Before you get your on-the-spot digital crown made, ask your dentist how many he’s done, how the oldest one is doing today and what kind of problems he’s run into. If he hasn’t done many or can’t discuss success and failure rates, hold off and go with the old tried-and-true method. Even though the process can be irritating, you know it’s reliable – and soon enough on-site digital dentistry will become a well-tested way to get a crown. We think that’s enough to put a smile on anyone’s face.

Good cholesterol

In books and movies, double agents can cause chaos and intrigue – just think about Gerald in John Le Carre’s “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.” But in your circulatory system, HDL cholesterol is a double agent that’s working on two fronts for your good health, and that’s great news all around.

We’ve known for some time that HDL (high density lipoprotein) is a heavy lifter that shuttles artery-clogging LDL (low density lipoprotein) to the liver for removal from the body. Aim for an HDL level of 50 (and an LDL level of 100 or less) to protect your heart, brain, sexual function and the rest of your organs. But what’s more, a new study discovered that HDL also fights cancer – stopping the spread of cancer cells and even reducing tumor size. It appears that for every 10 mg/dl increase in HDL, there may be a 30 percent reduction in the risk for cancer.

So if you’re one of the more than 120 million adults in North America with low HDL (or high LDL) cholesterol, try these four steps to increase your HDL level:

• Ask your doc about taking an HDL-raising statin: Rosuvastatin and atorvastatin boost HDL to some degree.

• Exercise daily; aim for 10,000 steps a day, plus two to three days a week of strength-building workouts.

• Eat heart-friendly oils such as olive and canola, salmon and ocean trout or supplements of DHA omega-3 (900 mg a day) and purified omega-7 (210 mg a day).

• Eat an ounce of nuts (we love walnuts) daily, raw and unsalted.

The super-agers

Senior super-dudes Sly Stallone (67), Harrison Ford (71) and Arnold Schwarzenegger (66) are mercenaries-for-hire in the upcoming “Expendables 3.” But they still have a way to go before they can qualify as super-agers. That honor goes to a hearty batch of 80- to 90-year-olds who have the memory and cognitive skills of 50- to 65-year-olds. Seems these folks have a larger prefrontal cortex and inner brain, showing they’ve got bulging neural connections. (Your brain is the one area where size matters – a bigger hippocampus is better.)

How did they get so brain-brawny? They may be less stressed, more motivated and in better control of the life choices they make. That preserves brain size. So does controlling blood lipid levels (triglycerides and lousy LDL cholesterol) to protect your brain from cardiovascular damage. The good news is that you can acquire similar advantages by making lifestyle choices that reduce your cholesterol and stress levels.

So, we’re here to pump you (and your brain) up with these techniques:

• Banish trans fats (they reduce brain mass). Found in processed foods and baked goods, they’re the partially hydrogenated oils. And eliminate most artery- and vein-clogging saturated fat.

• Increase neural connections and protect against age-related brain shrinkage with a daily dose of omega-3 DHA. (Deficiency may increase brain shrinkage by 37 percent.) Eat salmon and ocean trout three times a week, and/or take a daily supplement of 900 mg DHA omega-3.

• Reduce stress by walking 10,000 steps a day and meditating for 10 minutes twice a day.

Seeing clearly

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch has around 1.9 million bits of plastic floating on the surface in every square mile. In a way, those scraps of trash are Earth’s floaters.

If you’ve ever gazed at a blank sheet of paper and seen black wisps and tangles drift through your field of vision, you know what we’re talking about. Floaters are a result of vitreous fluid inside your eyeball separating from the back wall of the eye, the retina, producing small stringy bits. Those bits cast a shadow on the retina, and what you see is the shadowy result.

But unlike pollution, there’s no harm in learning to ignore floaters. In fact, training your brain to not notice them is an effective and safe way to handle the problem. Most doctors won’t operate to remove floaters unless your vision is severely compromised.

Your brain is set up to filter out distracting visuals and prioritize what’s important. (Note: If floaters come with bright flashes or sharp-edged black areas, see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible. It may be an emergency: a sight-threatening retinal tear.)

Here are some tricks to reduce your perception of floaters:

• Practice extending your focus as far into the distance as possible so you are not “staring at” the floaters.

• If they have you stressed, practice meditation for 10 minutes, twice a day and make a conscious effort to let your thoughts about them float away.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is chief wellness officer and chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.

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