Taking on Trans Fats

Friday, January 31, 2014 11:59 AM comments (0)

trans fatThe Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced in 2013 that it plans to label partially hydrogenated oils (PHO’s), which are the primary dietary source of trans fats, as not generally recognized as safe for use in food. This relabeling of trans fats is just the first move in a process that will likely lead to a ban on trans fats in the U.S. food supply. 

Trans fat first entered the American food supply in 1911 in the form of Crisco shortening. Fairly early in its history, preliminary studies show that trans fats could be more harmful than other fats. Later studies confirmed this finding, indicating that trans fat contributed to heart disease.  While their presence has already been greatly reduced in the food supply, trans fats can still be found in many processed foods, like frozen pizzas, microwave popcorn, baked goods, margarine and store-bought icings. 

Philip Krause, MD, Director for the Section of Cardiology at NorthShore Skokie Hospital, explains why doctors have long urged their patients to stay away from trans fats:

  • Increases LDL cholesterol. High levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or “bad” cholesterol, build up the walls of your arteries and can make them hard and narrow. Elevated LDL cholesterol levels are a significant risk factor for heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Consumption of trans fats can raise the bad LDL cholesterol in the body.
  • Lowers HDL cholesterol. High-density lipoprotein (HDL) is your cholesterol friend. It’s responsible for cleaning up your bloodstream, picking up excess cholesterol from where it doesn’t belong and bringing it back to your liver.
  • Increases triglycerides. A type of fat found in blood, triglycerides are also partly responsible for the hardening of arteries. When combined with high LDL cholesterol, elevated triglycerides put you at high risk for stroke, heart attack, heart disease and even diabetes. 
  • Causes inflammation. Inflammation is the body’s response to injury. Trans fats can increase inflammation by damaging the lining of the blood vessels. Inflammation may also be a cause of fatty blockages in the heart’s blood vessels. 

Notably, manufacturers have made steps to reduce fat levels in many foods and products. Since 2006, after which food labels reported trans fat content, intake of this substance has dropped significantly.

It is hoped, after the FDA finalizes its preliminary determination, PHO’s would be considered as “food additives” and could only be used with prior authorization. The primary goal and hope is that with better consumer education and these changes in product and food manufacturing, Americans can look forward to much healthier life ahead.

 

It's a Lifesaver: Blood Donation Facts & Stats [Infographic]

Monday, January 27, 2014 10:57 AM comments (0)

National Blood Donor Month is a time to celebrate both the generosity of current volunteer blood donors and encourage others to register as donors and start making regular lifesaving donations of their own. In recognition of National Blood Donor Month, NorthShore University HealthSystem has created an infographic that highlights important facts and statistics of blood donation, from the time it takes to make a donation, to a breakdown of blood types and more. 

Share our infographic with your friends and family and encourage them to consider donating to our own NorthShore Evanston Hospital Blood Bank. Click on the image below to view our full National Blood Donor Month infographic.  

donation infographic

A Gluten-Free Diet: Is It Right for You?

Thursday, January 23, 2014 11:55 AM comments (0)

Gluten chatAre you contemplating going gluten-free? Gluten-free products now line the aisles of the grocery store, and it seems more and more people are adopting the gluten-free lifestyle. But is it right for you?

Geeta Maker-Clark, MD, Integrative Medicine at NorthShore, answers questions on all things gluten, from the difference between gluten sensitivity and celiac disease to going gluten-free for weight loss.

What is the difference between celiac disease and gluten sensitivity? If it isn't an allergy issue why would some people's bodies react to it?
Celiac disease and gluten sensitivity involve two different responses to the gluten protein, which is found in wheat, barley and rye. The symptoms of both conditions can be very similar, which makes it difficult to determine which one you might have (if either) without the use of a lab test. We can check for celiac but not for gluten sensitivity with a lab test. 

Celiac disease occurs when gluten triggers your immune system to attack the lining of your small intestine. The condition is autoimmune in nature, which means gluten doesn't cause the damage directly; instead, your immune system's reaction to the gluten protein triggers the cells to mistakenly attack the lining of your small intestine. 

The theory around gluten sensitivity or intolerance is that a person experiences a direct reaction to gluten, or, in other words, the body views the protein as an invader and fights it with inflammation both inside and outside your digestive tract.

Is there a test for gluten sensitivity?
There are no good lab indicators for gluten sensitivity. You can be tested for celiac disease. But, if this is negative, it does not mean that you are not gluten sensitive. The best indicator is to try an elimination diet and see if your symptoms improve. This is the gold standard.

What are the drawbacks of a gluten-free diet? 
The main drawback to a gluten-free diet is the effort. One needs to prepare in advance by looking through the pantry and refrigerator, reading ingredients on labels, and understanding what contains gluten so it’s not consumed. It’s very helpful to have a cookbook or some recipes in place so that you have what you need to make the trial successful. Some foods labeled as gluten-free are high in fat and sugar, so this needs to be considered when purchasing. That being said, I have scores of patients who have done this successfully, felt much better and then were motivated to continue.

What is the best basic way to begin gluten-free lifestyle?
I think that the best way to begin is to clean out your kitchen and pantry of things you can no longer eat. Removing the temptations will make this lifestyle shift easier for you. Next you can focus on fresh, whole foods such as produce, grains and fish. Become a label reader and familiarize yourself with the hiding places of gluten. There are some great supportive gluten-free living blogs online, gluten-free smartphone apps that will tell you what you can buy in the grocery store, and excellent cookbooks too. There is a lot out there to support you on your path!

Some people go gluten-free to control their weight. Is there any risk in that?
A gluten-free diet is not a good way to approach weight loss, if that is the goal. Some people who are gluten-free do lose weight, but usually because they are consuming fewer calories overall when they eliminate baked goods, bread, etc. 

The gluten-free diet can lead to weight gain if one is consuming enough gluten-free food, or processed foods high in fat and sugar. I would not recommend a gluten-free diet for those looking to lose weight. A balanced diet high in fresh, whole foods and low in processed food, as well as an active lifestyle would be a more effective method.

If a gluten-free diet has improved digestive symptoms of celiac disease, should you still be tested for celiac disease? 
It is very important that you do find out if you have celiac disease, as this information can help guide your lifestyle as well as help your family understand their risks because there is a genetic component to celiac disease. This can be accomplished with a blood test ordered by your doctor.

Is there a relationship between ulcerative colitis and gluten?"
While there is no evidence that gluten causes ulcerative colitis, it may trigger symptoms in some people who are sensitive to it; thus, it may be useful to try a gluten elimination diet for three weeks to see if symptoms improve. There is no risk in doing it, so it is a reasonable option.

Can a gluten-free diet help treat Barrett's esophagus?
Whenever I’m considering an inflammatory disease process, especially when related to the GI tract, I always discuss an anti-inflammatory plant-based diet. Of course this is most helpful to prevent disease, but it does have a role in treatment as well. Barrett's esophagus occurs after chronic insult to the esophageal lining over time. Losing weight and eating a diet high in anti-oxidants, like colorful fruits and veggies, are an important part of the treatment. A gluten-free diet is a reasonable step as well to see if acid reflux symptoms improve. Since Barrett's is diagnosed by upper GI endoscopy and biopsy, the only way to know if a gluten-free diet is helping would be to repeat these same tests later with your gastroenterologist.

Could a gluten-free diet help with the symptoms of hypothyroidism?
People with celiac disease or gluten sensitivity often have gastrointestinal symptoms like gas, bloating, diarrhea and abdominal pain after eating. There are people with autoimmune thyroid disease and other autoimmune diseases who also do much better with a gluten-free diet, so I do utilize the elimination diet for 3-4 weeks as a trial. There is no risk in trying, but it does take some preparation to successfully eliminate the gluten from your diet.

Get Fit: Great Exercises Your Family Can Enjoy Together

Friday, January 17, 2014 10:00 AM comments (0)

family fitnessGet them when they’re young! Exercise is important for every single member of the family, even the small ones. Physically active kids are more likely to grow up into physically active adults, which could ultimately reduce their risk for heart disease, obesity and many other health issues. In addition to the long-term and obvious physical benefits, children that are physically active have better concentration at school, higher self esteem, improved ability to handle stress and greater social acceptance than those who are not active.

Help your kids make a lifetime commitment to health and fitness by making that commitment as a family. Show your kids the way it’s done and you could set them on a path for a healthier future. 

Ideally, all children over the age of two should be physically active for at least one hour per day.  For toddlers and preschoolers, much of that will be unstructured play, but it’s important, nonetheless.  If a child or family is not currently active at all and one hour per day seems intimidating or unrealistic, it’s perfectly fine to set smaller goals (i.e., 15-20 minutes per day) and build from there.

Leslie Deitch Noble, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore, shares some ideas for family fitness that will get everyone moving and, most importantly, having fun:

Hiking. A moderately difficult hike can burn approximately 400 calories per hour.  If you don’t happen to be near a hike-friendly area, simply go for a brisk walk as a family. It’s a great safe way for the family to catch up, explore the outdoors and get fit together. 

Ice-Skating. Cold weather doesn’t mean the entire family should hibernate. There are many calorie-burning activities that embrace the season and feel more like fun than exercise, including ice-skating, which can burn over 400 calories per hour. Make sure everyone stays safe by keeping ice-skating confined to skating rinks and not lakes or ponds.

Yoga. The family that does yoga together reduces stress levels together. There is a yoga type for every age and every fitness level. When introducing beginners and children to yoga, help prevent injury by using a certified yoga instructor.

Biking. When roads aren’t icy or snowy, break out the helmets and hit the road. Make sure everyone is up-to-date on safety and the rules of the road before heading out. Biking is a great way to explore as a family, and, it could potentially awaken a lifetime passion for fitness for your kids.

Dancing. Nothing could be simpler or more fun than turning on some tunes and dancing as a family. If a fitness craze like Zumba can work magic for adults, a little dancing could do wonders for kids too. Dance games for the Wii, Xbox or other gaming consoles are also a great way to get the family dancing at home during the cold months.  Parents and kids, alike, love a little bit of friendly competition when everyone is laughing and grooving together.

How do you stay fit as a family?

 

The Height of the Season: Flu Myths vs. Facts

Monday, January 13, 2014 2:30 PM comments (0)

flu seasonWorried about catching the flu this season? There are many things you can do to prevent the spread of the flu—washing your hands regularly, getting adequate sleep, maintaining a healthy diet and exercise routine—but one of the best is to make sure you get vaccinated. 

Kenneth Fox, MD, Pediatrician at NorthShore, addresses some of the pervasive myths surrounding the flu and the flu shot to give you your best shot for dodging the bug this season:

Myth: I got the flu shot and got the flu right away.
Fact: The flu shot is not 100 percent effective but it is effective. The vaccine reduces a person’s risk of developing significant symptoms by 60%.

Myth: The flu shot is effective immediately.
Fact: It takes a period of two weeks for the flu shot to take effect.

Myth: Only the elderly and young children are affected by the flu.
Fact: The elderly and children younger than two (as well as people with other underlying medical conditions such as asthma, heart disease, cerebral palsy, COPD, diabetes, kidney or liver disease) are at highest risk for flu complications. Those with compromised immune systems are also at especially high risk. But, the flu can strike anyone.  Some of the most serious cases can occur in people who were previously healthy.

Myth: People suffering from the flu should always go to the hospital.
Fact: Healthy people should take care of themselves at home: get plenty of rest, drink lots of fluids and take Tylenol or Advil. Be watchful of other health issues though. If you are suffering from labored breathing or dehydration, you should go to the emergency room.

Myth: You should feed a cold and starve a fever.
Fact: Maintaining nutrition and staying hydrated is important when you are sick with the flu, so the answer is feed and feed.

Myth: Getting the flu shot once per season is always adequate.
Fact: One flu shot per season is adequate for almost everyone, with the exception of children under nine years old who should get two doses of flu vaccine (separated by  four weeks) during the first flu season they are immunized.

Myth: Flu and cold symptoms are the same.
Fact: Flu symptoms include a fever, cough, congestion, chills, fatigue, body aches, and often sore throat and headache. Cold symptoms are fewer in number, much milder and last just a few days.

Myth: The flu lasts 24 hours.
Fact: Children are typically ill 7-10 days but can shed the virus a few days before their symptoms begin and up to 2 weeks after the start of symptoms. Adults are typically ill 5-7 days but shed the virus 1 day before symptoms begin and usually up to 5 days after the start of symptoms. Some symptoms like fatigue may last for several weeks in kids and adults. 

Myth: There is no way to protect yourself from the flu.
Fact: The flu vaccine is a safe and effective way to prevent the flu and to reduce the risk of its complications. Also, thorough and frequent hand washing, avoiding contact with contaminated surfaces, getting adequate sleep, nutrition and hydration all reduce a person’s flu risks. Being watchful of complications and seeing your doctor if serious symptoms arise (like difficulty breathing and dehydration) reduce your risks of harm. Staying home when ill with the flu and covering your mouth when coughing also reduces the risks of spread in the community. 

It’s not too late to get vaccinated this flu season. Have you had your flu shot?

Winter Safety Tips

Tuesday, January 07, 2014 1:20 PM comments (0)

Winter SaferyWinter has arrived--with a venegence. Shovels and snow plows are out of storage for the season, and there's probably a layer of frost covering the windows. Winter can be quite beautiful from the safety of your home, but it can be dangerous as soon as you step out the front door, from an increased risk of frostbite and slip-and-fall injuries to impaired road conditions.

With proper preparation and attentiveness to potential hazardous seasonal conditions, many of the risks of winter can be greatly reduced or avoided altogether.

Timothy Sanborn, MD, Cardiologist at NorthShore, offers the following winter safety tips:

  • Take your time when shoveling. While you may want to get the job done fast, it’s important not to overexert yourself. If you start to feel pressure in your chest or experience shortness of breath, take a break and slow down. If symptoms last more than five minutes, you may need to seek medical attention.
  • Be careful of icy sidewalks. Common winter injuries, especially to the ankles and wrists, can be the result of slipping or falling on slick surfaces. For minor injuries, be sure to stretch the area and maintain flexibility for 2-3 days. If you fall and are in severe pain, and notice swelling around the joints, be sure to go to the hospital. You should also go to the hospital if you’ve hit your head and are suffering from a severe headache, vomiting or confusion.
  • Use salt on sidewalks and driveways. The more steps you can employ to reduce your risk of injury, the better. Before a big storm, try to salt heavily trafficked area to help limit your chances of accidents.
  • Stay inside in inclement weather. If you know a big storm is coming, postpone going out to run errands. Stay off the roads as much as possible. If you are elderly or have problems with your balance, get help with shoveling and daily routines.
  • Watch for signs of frostbite. Keep skin covered at all times. Signs of frostbite include: pain (stinging, throbbing, burning), numbness, blistering of the skin or discoloration.

How do you prepare for winter weather?

New Year and New You: Clean Eating

Monday, January 06, 2014 2:03 PM comments (0)

clean eating

Jeni Panicko, RD, LDN at NorthShore, shares her tips and suggestions for making clean eating part of your 2014.

Have you made a New Year's resolution to lose weight each year for as long as you can remember? Make a change this year. Instead of vowing to lose weight and beating yourself up when you come up short, change the way you think about food by changing the way you eat. This year, practice clean eating.

When you eat “clean,” it means you focus on consuming whole, unprocessed foods, such as fruits, vegetables, beans and legumes, dairy, whole grains and heart healthy fats like avocados and olive oil. Clean eating also involves avoiding many of the pitfalls of dieting, like skipping meals and replacing healthy whole, unprocessed foods with diet foods that may contain high levels of sodium and sugar.

Do you try to eat "clean" in your family?

Four Healthy Changes You Should Make This Year

Wednesday, January 01, 2014 8:00 AM comments (0)

healthy changesDo you make a New Year’s resolution every year? How long does this resolution stick around on your to-do list? Many of us start the year with the best intentions only to fall back into our old, unhealthy habits by February or March. This year, make healthy positive changes instead of resolutions and look forward to a healthier year ahead. 

Richard S. Katz, MD, Internal Medicine at NorthShore, shares some healthy changes he would tell all his patients to make this year:

  • Exercise more. Don’t just make a resolution to lose weight again this year. Broaden your overall focus to include a bigger, better change. Implementing a regular exercise routine into your day-to-day life is the single best thing you can do for your health. It boosts your immune system and mood, reduces stress levels, improves heart health and, as a result, you’ll probably lose weight as well.  Your exercise routine should consist of a minimum of 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise, plus strength training and stretching.  For example, three days a week of indoor cycling and two days of yoga.
  • Change the way you eat. Don’t try to cut out sweets altogether because you’ll likely overindulge a month or two into the New Year. Instead, focus your attention on your overall diet by eating healthy, well-balanced meals as often as possible. With a healthier overall diet, you won’t have to beat yourself up if you indulge in something sweet every now and then. Make fruits and vegetables the center of your diet instead of meat-based protein. Remember: If it walks on four or more legs, then include it in no more than two meals per week. And, always make sure you keep your portion sizes under control. 
  • Get a yearly physical. Are you seeing your primary care physician every year? You should be. Take the time to make that yearly appointment and do your homework before you get there. Write down any health complaints, research your family history and assemble questions ahead of time. Your doctor can help you better understand what you’re doing right and what you need to improve.
  • Find a way to de-stress. Identify what has your stress levels soaring and find a way to address it. Chronic stress can increase blood pressure, risk of infection and cause headaches, insomnia and more. Finding a way to reduce stress levels can improve both your physical and mental health. Exercise is a great stress reducer and finding a quiet place to sit and breathe can work wonders. Determine something that works for you and make plenty of time for it in your schedule.  In order to handle stress well, we all need seven to eight hours of sleep a night.

What healthy changes do you plan to make this year?

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