IFA News and Opinion
Issue Date:  July 1, 2009

Vitamin C: and disease prevention

As vitamins go, none have attracted the level of attention vitamin C has. It's not a cure-all for colds as thought in the 1960s, but recent research says is has great potential for helping to prevent heart disease, stroke and cancer.

Vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant. It blocks damage to cells caused by free radicals that contribute to the development of disease. For it to function at its best, however, the National Institutes of Health say cells must be fully saturated with C. That requires about 400 milligrams a day.

The vitamin's role as a component of collagen is less well known. Collagen is a component of skin, ligaments, tendons, blood vessels and scar tissue. The C in collagen is vital for wound healing and the health of skin, bones, teeth, cartilage and all body tissues.

At the Linus Pauling Institute at Oregon State University, their analysis of nine large studies shows that people who consumed more than 700 milligrams of C a day were 25 percent less likely to develop heart disease. To get that much, you would have to take a 500 mg. supplement and eat at least two pieces of fruit each day.

Cancer experts believe that getting just 200 milligrams of C per day may protect against several cancers. They recommend getting it from food.

People who are watching their weight should get about 500 milligrams of C a day, according to the Oregon State University lab. They found links between the level of vitamin C in blood and body fat, as well as waist measurements.

The best way to get 200 to 400 milligrams of C a day is by eating 2 1/2 cups of fruits and vegetables a day.


How to burn more calories

Metabolism is the factor that describes how the body uses energy, measured in calories. Some people claim their resting metabolism rate (RMR) is low, which is why they weigh more than they want to.

The body uses calories in three ways: To power vital functions like breathing, heart rate and cell growth. It even burns calories while you sleep. All this basic activity takes up to 75 percent of the calories you use each day.

Calories are also used for physical activity, which varies from person to person. And they are used for absorption of food, which uses about 10 percent of a day's calories, according to experts writing in Environmental Nutrition.

People who do aerobic exercise regularly burn more calories and build muscle, which burns more calories even when they sleep. Twice a week strength training with dumbbells or resistance bands is essential to boosting metabolism. The RMR stays high for hours after strength training.

Exercise is also important because it reduces stress. Stress can cause the release of cortisol in the body, which slows metabolism.

Getting enough sleep makes a difference. The Wisconsin Sleep Cohort Study shows that people who sleep four or five hours a night instead of seven or eight hours weigh more. They have lower levels of the appetite-regulating hormones leptin and ghrelin.

Many weight-loss supplements claim to raise the RMR, but there is little evidence that they do. The caffeine in coffee does increase the metabolic rate for about three hours. EGCG, extracted from green tea, increases the metabolic effect of caffeine.


Chuckles Corner

A focus on 'sleep efficiency'

When it comes to having a body that is resistant to colds, the number of hours you spend in bed is less important than the quality of your sleep.

Doctors at Carnegie Mellon University studied "sleep efficiency" and found that the number of hours spent "tossing and turning," was strongly related to getting the sniffles.

The study included 153 men and women, ages 21 to 55, and it recorded details of their sleep for two weeks. Then they were exposed to cold viruses.

Those reporting the least efficient sleep were 5.5 times more likely to come down with a cold. Those who reported sleeping less than seven hours a night, on average, were nearly three times more likely to get a cold than those who slept peacefully for eight hours.

Another sleep problem: Overweight and restless legs

Doctors at Harvard Medical School have found that seriously overweight people are much more likely to suffer from restless legs syndrome. The condition causes burning and creepy feelings in the legs that makes it difficult to fall asleep or stay asleep.

In a novel approach to the overweight/restless legs problem, authorities at Northshore Sleep Medicine in Evanston, Ill., say it's difficult to determine whether obesity causes restless legs or the other way around.

Restless legs could cause an overweight problem because lack of sleep disrupts hormones and metabolism, which can cause weight gain.

Those who have the condition may find some relief through moderate exercise, hot baths, prescriptions or massage.

Low-carb diet and memory

Researchers at Tufts University thought low-carb diets could decrease memory and thinking capability, because the brain doesn't store glucose, it's primary fuel. After a day or two, even glucose stored in the body is used up.

They tested 19 women who had chosen either a low-carb diet, such as the Atkins, or a reduced calorie diet recommended by the American Dietetic Association. Nine chose the low-carb diet and 10 picked the ADA plan.

They were tested for long- and short-term memory, spatial memory and visual attention before the study and again after 48 hours and after two weeks.

Those on the low-carb diet showed a gradual decrease in memory and reaction times on all tests. After resuming a normal diet, their responses returned to the pre-test level.

Protect vision with a checkup, sunglasses and a salad

Sunglasses do more than make you look like a movie star. A pair with 100 percent UV protection will reduce your risk of getting cataracts and macular degeneration. Sunglasses are the fun part of vision protection, but other important steps are easy too.

  • Get a checkup if you are in your 20s or 30s. After age 40, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends a checkup every two to four years. Glaucoma and other eye conditions can be treated if caught early.
  • Your eyes will be healthier if you eat carrots, leafy salads and spinach.
  • Quit smoking. It increases your risk of many eye diseases. Doctors say smoking is as dangerous to the eyes as it is to the lungs.
  • Care for your contacts properly. Always have a regular pair of prescription eye glasses available for those times when your eyes feel irritated.
  • Exercise. It increases circulation to the eyes, and it helps to keep diabetes away. Diabetes can lead to diabetic retinopathy and blindness.
  • Lubricate your eyes. Dry eyes can be caused by heat, air conditioning, or activities like computer use that discourage regular blinking. Use over-the-counter eye drops. See your doctor if they don't provide enough relief.
  • Wear safety glasses when doing home maintenance.
  • Listen to your optometrist. If you see one for eyeglasses and the doctor says you have an eye problem, make an appointment with an ophthalmologist.


  • Health benefits of a pet

    Doctors at the University of Cambridge say people's physical and psychological wellbeing improves after they get a dog or cat. They have fewer minor health problems and symptoms of depression and are more able to cope with stress.

    Some patients taking high-blood pressure medications stabilized after getting a dog or cat.


    New and better outpatient shoulder repair

    Unlike other joints in which the bone provides stability, the shoulder joint relies on muscle and tendons for its function.

    Tendons are fibrous tissues attached to the bone. These soft tissues are vulnerable to injury and to wear and tear. In some cases, repair of the rotator cuff requires surgery.

    The American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons (AAOS) says the surgery is easier than in the past. Specially designed suture anchors are embedded in the bone, forming a framework for the in-growth of bone cells.

    The anchors are gradually absorbed by the body in the months following surgery.

    Arthroscopic surgery is used today. It requires smaller incisions and is less painful for patients. Surgeons can "scope" a patient's shoulder and fix the torn rotator cuff through three or four small incisions.

    The patient goes home the same day. Generally, the patient takes some pain medication while recovering from surgery.


    A/H1N1: swine flu alert!

    Whether or not A/H1N1 becomes the pandemic some health authorities predict, it's up to you to take personal responsibility for avoiding it. Hand washing is the first line of defense.

    The flu is spread by contact with an infected person or contact with something the infected person has touched, such as a door handle, desktop or pen.

    If the virus is not washed from your hands, you will be infected when you touch your mouth, eyes or nose.

    If you get the flu, don't come to work and spread it to others.
    Most cases in the U.S. have been mild. Take care of yourself and get well.


    Stay sharp by controlling blood pressure

    Controlling blood pressure is one way to keep thinking powers strong, especially when approaching the senior years. Whether you are years away from that designation or not, the time to begin paying closer attention to blood pressure readings is right now.

    The ideal BP rating used to be 120 over 80. While that is still true, medical authorities are pleased when each of those numbers is a little lower.

    The first number is the systolic blood pressure, the pressure when the heart beats while pumping blood.

    The second number is the diastolic blood pressure, the pressure when the heart is at rest between beats.

    Hypertension is now designated as 120-to-139 over 80-to-89. High blood pressure is 140-to-159 over 90-to-99.

    A North Carolina State University study shows that increased blood pressure in older adults is directly related to decreased cognitive functioning, especially in those whose blood pressure was already high. Stressful situations make it more difficult to think clearly.