August 25th, 2015

The Importance of Being “Awe Inspired”

awe inspiring

Introduction:

The field of positive psychology is providing valuable insights on exactly how our emotions influence our physiology. One are of body function that is very closely tied to our emotional experiences is the functioning of our immune system. Our emotional state not only influences how well we are protected from infection, but also the degree of inflammation that we may suffer from. Two new studies have found that the most powerful emotion in fighting inflammation is the feeling of awe.

Background Data:

While there have been a lot of studies on the impact of emotions on physical health, in general, these emotions are most often all lumped together. Negative emotions like grief, sadness, shame, fear, and anger are all viewed as having pretty much the same effects. The same is true for all positive emotions grouped into the general category of optimism or positive mood. What needs to be answered is if all positive emotions are created equal, or is there a way to boost certain body functions by focusing on experiencing more of a particular positive emotion.

New Data:

In an effort to better understand the different effects of various positive emotions, researchers conducted two studies at the University of California-Berkeley. The first study featured 94 freshman undergraduates who completed a questionnaire and provided a sample of the fluid from their inner cheek (oral mucosal transudate [OMT]). In the second study, 119 freshmen completed a questionnaire on their home computers using a secure website and then went to the lab for a follow up session where OMT was collected and another questionnaire was given.

In both studies interleukin-6 (IL-6) was measured from OMT samples. IL-6 is an important marker for inflammation that is influenced by the immune system. Higher IL-6 levels are associated with greater inflammation. In the first study, a questionnaire known as the Positive and Negative Affect Schedule (PANAS) was used to determine emotional status. In the second study, two additional questionnaires were used, the Dispositional Positive Emotion Scale (DPES) and The Big Five Personality Inventory were added as outcomes measures in addition to PANAS.

In both studies, positive emotions were associated with lower IL-6. In the second study, researchers were able to dig deeper into the type of positive emotion that had the most significant impact on IL-6 levels by examining the seven subscales of the DPES (awe, amusement, compassion, contentment, joy, love, and pride). Surprisingly, they found that awe had the strongest correlation to lower levels of IL-6 compared to any of the other emotions. In fact, only the degree of awe was able to significantly predict levels of IL-6. On the day the OMT was taken in the second study, the participants who reported feeling the most awe, wonder and amazement, that day had the lowest levels of IL-6. Joy, contentment, pride and awe were all strongly correlated with lower levels of IL-6; however, awe was the strongest predictor of low IL-6 levels.

The takeaway message from these studies is that it stresses the importance of fostering feelings of awe in our lives to positively influence the immune system and reduce inflammation.

Commentary:

O.K., let me answer the question “How do I experience more awe in my life?” Well, first of all, awe is often linked to feelings of social connectedness and social exploration. So from a practical perspective, the first step is to become more socially engaged. This goal is especially important if you are older of dealing with depression, because these situations often lead to social isolation. Here are some recommendations to become more socially engaged:

  • Get connected online. Using email, the Internet, and Web-based social networks such as Facebook or Twitter can make a big difference in helping people feel more connected.
  • Encourage positive relationships. A person is never too old to learn how to be a better friend, parent, mentor, or better listener. Personal development is a never-ending process.
  • Join a club or church. In today’s world, there are always opportunities to find places to socialize that are positive and healthful.
  • There is perhaps no greater opportunity to feel connected than by finding a way to volunteer time and energy towards a greater good. It is perhaps the most powerful way of connecting to people outside of our deepest personal relationships.

The health benefits of increased socialization are significant. Many of these benefits may be related to fighting inflammation and studies indicate that people who feel connected and have strong social relationships have lower levels of inflammatory markers in their blood.

Next, I would ask the question “What inspires you and causes you to feel awe?” What research shows is that something as simple as listening to music, walking in nature, or being creative, can have a positive impact on health. These effects may be related to feelings of awe.

For me, the things that really make me say “wow” are research studies like this one above. I am constantly reading studies that create an awe-inspired appreciation of the wonder of nature or the way in which our body and mind function. Of course, just looking around at nature or the stars is pretty awe inspiring to me. My message to you is to find a something that you can enjoy on a daily basis that makes you feel awe. It is important!

Reference:

Stellar JE, John-Henderson N, Anderson CL, et al. Positive affect and markers of inflammation: Discrete positive emotions predict lower levels of inflammatory cytokines. Emotion. 2015;15(2):129-133.

Dr. Michael Murray
8/25/15

August 18th, 2015

Flaxseed Consumption Lowers Cholesterol Levels

flaxseed

Introduction:

One of the most healthful additions to a heart healthy diet is ground flaxseeds. This wondrous little seed has played an important part of human history for over 5,000 years. Native to the Mediterranean, flax has been used not only as a food, but also for its fibers, which can be woven into linen cloth. Now most valued for its ability to reduce the risk of breast and prostate cancer, a new study from the Canadian Center for Agri-Food Research highlights another important effect in promoting cardiovascular health.

Background Data:

The major health benefit of flaxseeds has focused on their rich content of oil and the fiber components known as lignans. Flaxseed oil contains nearly twice the level of omega-3 fatty acids as fish oils – although it is the smaller-chain alpha-linolenic acid rather than the longer-chain fats like EPA and DHA found in fish oils.

Flaxseeds are the most abundant source of lignans. These components are fiber compounds that can bind to estrogen receptors and interfere with the cancer-promoting effects of estrogen on breast and prostate tissue. Lignans also increase the production of a compound known as sex hormone binding globulin, or SHBG. This protein regulates estrogen levels by helping to escort excess estrogen from the body. Ground flaxseeds as well as purified lignan dietary supplements (300 mg per day) have also been shown to lower blood LDL cholesterol levels. Ground flaxseeds consumption can lower blood pressure. In a double-blind study conducted at the St. Boniface Hospital Research Centre in Winnipeg, Canada, 30 g of ground flaxseed consumed daily produced an average reduction of 15 mm Hg in systolic blood pressure and 7 mm Hg in diastolic blood pressure in hypertensive patients.

New Data:

The purpose of the study was to evaluate the effects of dietary flaxseed on plasma cholesterol in a patient population with clinically significant peripheral artery disease (PAD) including many who were taking statins to lower LDL cholesterol levels. Patients (110) consumed daily foods that contained either 30 g of milled flaxseed or 30 g of whole wheat for one year. Plasma lipids were measured at 0, 1, 6, and 12 months.

Dietary flaxseed in these PAD patients resulted in a 15% reduction in circulating LDL cholesterol as early as 1 month into the trial. Results at one year, however, did not reach statistical significance in all patients. Interestingly, in the subgroup of patients taking flaxseed and statins (n = 36), LDL-cholesterol concentrations were lowered by 8.5% compared with baseline after 12 months. This result indicates that flaxseed consumption provides additional LDL-cholesterol-lowering capabilities when used in conjunction with statins.

Commentary:

The takeaway message from the study is that a simple dietary addition can produce significant health benefits. Most of the beneficial research has focused on the use of ground flaxseeds, as this form allows for the beneficial compounds to be more easily liberated compared to consuming the whole seeds. When buying ground flaxseeds it is highly recommended to purchase ground flaxseeds in a vacuum-sealed package or has been refrigerated since once flaxseeds are ground; they are much more prone to oxidation and spoilage. Here are some quick serving ideas:

  • Sprinkle ground flaxseeds onto your hot or cold cereal.
  • Add ground flaxseeds to your breakfast shake.
  • Mix in with yogurt.
  • To give cooked vegetables a nuttier flavor, sprinkle some ground flaxseeds on top of them.

Reference:

Edel AL, Rodriguez-Leyva D, Maddaford TG, et al. Dietary flaxseed independently lowers circulating cholesterol and lowers it beyond the effects of cholesterol-lowering medications alone in patients with peripheral artery disease. J Nutr. 2015 Apr;145(4):749-57.

Dr. Michael Murray
8/18/15

August 11th, 2015

FDA Issues New Warning on Anti-inflammatory Drugs

FDA Logo

Introduction:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is strengthening an existing label warning that non-aspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) increase the risk of having heart attack or stroke. This new warning is based on a comprehensive review of new safety information. Given the widespread use of these drugs, both via prescription and over-the-counter (OTC), it is important that all physicians and consumers take heed.

Background Data:

NSAIDs including aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin and Advil), Aleve (naproxen sodium), Celebrex (celecoxib), Feldene (piroxicam), and Voltaren (diclofenac sodium) are used extensively in the United States in the treatment of arthritis, menstrual cramps, headaches, colds and the flu. Despite their widespread use, the emerging picture is that these drugs at best may produce short-term benefits, but also long-term problems. For example, over 7,500 deaths each year in the United States are directly attributable to NSAID use. Also, use of NSAIDs in osteoarthritis many of these drugs actually accelerate the progression of joint destruction.

In terms of side effects, NSAIDs can cause minor issues like gastrointestinal upset, headaches and dizziness, as well as more serious side effects such as peptic ulcers, strokes, and heart attacks. NSAIDs are therefore recommended for only short periods. Nonetheless, millions of Americans use NSAIDs on a daily basis. More than 70 million prescriptions for NSAIDs are written each year in the United States. With OTC use included, more than 30 billion doses of NSAIDs are consumed annually in the United States alone. Based upon a new review by the FDA the widespread use of these drugs is problematic.

New Data:

The FDA first addressed the risk of having a heart attack or stroke with NSAID use back in 2005 that resulted in a boxed warning on prescription drug labels. Since then, they have reviewed a variety of new safety information on both prescription and OTC forms of NSAIDs including a large meta-analysis of clinical trials looking at safety of these drugs. Based on the FDA’s comprehensive review and the recommendations from the advisory committees, they are requiring label changes to reflect the following conclusions:

  • A large number of studies support the finding that NSAIDs cause an increased risk of serious cardiovascular events. Estimates of increased risk ranged from 10 to 50 percent or more, depending on the drugs and the doses studied.
  • Patients treated with NSAIDs following a first heart attack were more likely to die in the first year after the heart attack compared to patients who were not treated with NSAIDs after their first heart attack.
  • There is also an increased risk of heart failure with NSAID use.

To reduce the risk with NSAIDs, the FDA recommends using the lowest effective amount for the shortest possible time, as well as to seek medical attention immediately if after taking a NSAID, a person develops symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, sudden weakness or numbness in one part or side of the body, or sudden slurred speech.

Commentary:

If the FDA is issuing a bigger warning on a drug, you can be assured that it is a serious issue. Here is my take; the problem with NSAIDs is that they are not curative. They are simply biochemical band-aids that are certainly not suitable for long-term use. My recommendation is to avoid using them entirely. To put this situation in perspective, let me paraphrase the “Tack Rules” from noted physician Sidney Baker, MD:

  • Rule #1: If you are sitting on a tack, it takes a lot of aspirin to take the pain away.
  • Rule #2: If you are sitting on two tacks, removing just one does not result in a 50% improvement.
  • Rule #3: The appropriate treatment for “tack sitting” is removal of all tacks.

The bottom line is that conventional medicine focuses on the masking of symptoms with drugs, rather than identifying and eliminating the cause. In contrast, the beauty of naturopathic medicine, to use Dr. Baker’s analogy, is that it focuses on the removal of tacks. After all, there is no such thing as a NSAID deficiency.

Reference:

http://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm451800.htm

Dr. Michael Murray
8/11/15