Health & Fitness

You Docs: Four ways to fend off diabetes

Let’s say someone you care about (you?) is overweight. Enough overweight that you’re as nervous about type 2 diabetes as a roomful of freshmen is when the math teacher says, "Pop quiz!"

Maybe you’ve tried to lose weight but haven’t gotten far. Should you just curl up with a doughnut and wait for the big D? No way.

Think of us as Batman and Robin, swooping in (POW!) with an emergency plan to shield you from diabetes until the weight comes off. Here’s the plan: Besides maintaining a healthy weight, four factors keep diabetes at bay. If you combine any three of ’em, it’s like throwing up a force field between you and diabetes. The combo is more protective than the individual parts, a fact that has startled the experts.

It gets better: If you combine all four, you’ll start losing weight without half trying. Holy diabetes! What are the four steps? We thought you’d never ask. And we bet you’ve half-guessed.

1. Walk 30 minutes a day. Start slowly if you need to, but start. Buy a pedometer, and add a few more steps every day.

2. Drink lightly. Up to two drinks a day for men, one for women.

3. Eat smart. Lots of fruits and veggies, plenty of 100 percent whole grains, very lean protein (including at breakfast; it’ll curb your appetite later), a little low-fat or no-fat dairy, some nuts, a bit of dark chocolate.

4. Don’t smoke.

Then kiss diabetes goodbye. BAM!

Got terrible allergies? This will make you feel better

Could there be anything good about having an allergy? Yes! Like Cub/Sox fans and people who plan outdoor weddings, we tend to be eternal optimists. But even we couldn’t find anything upbeat about allergies (unless you own stock in Kleenex). There’s nothing fun about nonstop sneezing-blowing-dripping when fall harvests start or a cat purrs by, right?

Wrong. We’ve just seen some fascinating data that says allergies protect you from brain cancer. And it isn’t the first evidence of this.

How the heck do allergies keep good brain cells from going rogue? Something in the immune system’s overwrought reaction to allergens seems to help it recognize and wipe out bad brain-cancer cells. This appears to be especially true in men, who are somewhat more susceptible to the often-deadly brain tumors called glioma. A malignant glioma is what killed Ted Kennedy. They’re the most common brain tumors, and the type that scientists have been worrying cell phones may cause. (There’s new evidence against this, but that’s another column.)

If you don’t have allergies, or even if you do, are there other ways to defend yourself against brain cancer? You bet. Do all the smart stuff that protects you from other cancers. Eat and exercise as if your life depends on it. Take extra vitamin D-3. Drink moderately if you drink. Don’t smoke. And don’t keep your cell phone glued to your head. Even if cell phones turn out to be 100 percent brain-safe, your life is better when you’re 100 percent present.

Weight won’t stay off? Blame your hormones

Go ahead. Blame your hormones for hard-lost pounds returning. Specifically, blame two appetite hormones we have talked about before: ghrelin, which says, “Time to eat,” and leptin, which says: “Enough. You’re full.”

Ghrelin’s a chatterbox. It mentions food to your brain about every half-hour. When you’re hungry or cutting calories, the messages get fast and furious. (“Feed me, feed me!”) Eventually your brain caves -- and a box of cookies disappears.

Leptin tries to counter ghrelin’s pushiness with its own messages. (“Enough already. Stop eating.”) But like certain political candidates, leptin’s not a great communicator, and is easily outtalked by your pleasure center. (“Zip it. I want more cookies.”)

Unfortunately, cutting calories weakens leptin and strengthens ghrelin. Still, you’d think your brain would sort out the diet thing, buck up leptin and get ghrelin to chill. Nope. Ten weeks after you’ve started losing weight, leptin’s still tame and ghrelin’s the bully-in-chief. Worse, that’s true one year later. These hormones like things the way they were.

What to do? (1) If you’ve got lots to lose and can swing it, consider stomach surgery. It gets your hormones behaving normally again. (2) Diet smart, not hard. That’s our mantra in “YOU: On a Diet.” Eat the right foods (like nuts), and your hormones feel satisfied. Eat the wrong foods (like sweets), and they don’t; they just want more and more.

So eat foods that make you feel satisfyingly full. You know: fruit, veggies, 100 percent whole grains, fish, skinless poultry, eggs, beans, olives, dark chocolate. Eat those, and your hormones won’t think dieting’s so hard.

A medical advance you’ll never, ever forget

Suppose we told you that there’s a dangerous bowel infection spreading fast because it’s become resistant to antibiotics. And that (whew) there’s one safe, fast and remarkably effective way to treat it: fecal implants.

Yep, taking stool from a perfectly healthy person and inserting it into an extremely sick one. We can hear your reaction now: “Yuck! Are you kidding? Gross.”

Sounds gross, but it works great. Here’s the story.

The nasty infection is known as c. difficile, and “difficult” is the right word. It’s tough to wipe out in the first place, but if it makes a comeback (recurrent c. difficile), it can be next to impossible, exhausting patients and physicians. The evil invaders throw the natural mix of good and bad bacteria in the bowels so out of whack that the bad guys are left totally running the show. Your body is so sick from diarrhea and other problems that it can’t restore the balance.

Enter what’s medically called fecal bacteriotherapy, already the top treatment in Scandinavia. If you introduce healthy stool – usually from a family donor, and often given by a simple enema – it’s like sending in massive reinforcements. Suddenly there are good bacteria all over the place. The effects can be dramatic. In 11 Minnesota studies, two had cure rates of 81 percent and 94 percent. The other nine had 100 percent cures. Normal bowel function was usually restored within 24 hours. What’s not to like?

The ick factor. We squeamish North Americans need to get past that. In this case, gross is great.

There’s a new superfruit in town

Watermelon’s racking up health points. The latest:

1. Watermelon degunks arteries. Swapping watermelon juice for water reduces body fat, lowers LDL cholesterol and – the biggest effect – cleans heart-threatening plaque out of arteries. Early days on this research, but it fits.

2. It drops your blood pressure and boosts circulation. Watermelon is one of the few food sources of citrulline, a protein that’s a real powerhouse. Got borderline hypertension? Citrulline lowers systolic blood pressure by as much as nine points, enough to prevent full-blown hypertension. That’s because it helps produce nitric oxide, powerful stuff that opens and relaxes your arteries. Citrulline also turbocharges blood flow, enhancing circulation. And citrulline helps wound healing and cell division.

3. It’s loaded with lycopene. This potent plant polyphenol is thought to fend off heart disease and some cancers (though prostate cancer looks like a bust). Tomatoes are considered the lycopene all-stars, but cup for cup, watermelon has 40 percent more.

4. It’s naturally low-cal. There are only 96 calories in two fill-you-full cups of sweet watermelon.

Whether you slice it, dice it or juice it, eat watermelon year-round, not just on the Fourth of July. Happily, it’s increasingly a salad-bar staple. And, yes, you can buy 100 percent watermelon juice.