10/26/18 Newsletter – Sun, Scents and a Side of Succotash

To my Patients and Friends,

Here are the latest health-related news highlights… enjoy!

Organic food vs. cancer

A new study from the University of Paris involving almost 69,000 volunteers has revealed that organic food consumption is associated with decreased risk of lymphoma and postmenopausal breast cancer, as recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine.  Thus far, the study has not shown a reduced risk for other types of cancers, although it is ongoing.  The researchers theorize that organic foods- because they don’t contain synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, genetically modified organisms (GMOs) or residue of veterinary medications– pose less risk for chronic diseases, including cancer.  Those who argue against the benefits of organic food do so primarily on the basis of a lack of evidence that they are nutritionally superior to traditionally-produced foods.  However, there is ample concern in the scientific community with respect to the negative health impacts of the chemicals used in non-organic farming.  Additionally, as demand for organic foods grow, they will likely become increasingly affordable… so I would encourage you to keep them on your grocery list when feasible.

A message for Ponce de Leon

We all know that exercise is good for our health.  However, there have been questions as to whether or not more extreme levels of exercise could have negative impacts.  According to researchers at the Cleveland Clinic, any form of cardiovascular exercise- at any age and regardless of intensity level- contributes to a longer life.  This is good news for all of us, and particularly for endurance athletes.  Of course, use common sense; if there’s any question as to whether or not you should be pursuing vigorous exercise, it’s always advisable to check in with your physician (as certain medical conditions should be taken into consideration).  But these data are reassuring… so in general, my recommendation is to “just do it!”

Snake oil isn’t purple

Many in the wellness sphere have operated under the assumption that the aroma derived from lavender oil can induce a physiologic relaxation response.  However, understanding of the potential mechanisms for these responses (or scientific proof that they truly occur) has remained elusive.  Finally, a study just published in the journal Frontiers in Behavioral Neurocience provides some answers.  Although this research was performed on mice, it convincingly demonstrated that there are indeed calming chemical changes that occur in the brain in response to the aromatic components of lavender oil.  And because the particular chemical pathways studied in the brains of these mice also exist in humans, there is good reason to believe the benefits are real and relevant.  So if you feel the need to chill out, or if you have difficulty with sleep, try one of the common methods for using lavender oil… you may be pleasantly surprised.

Time to head to the tropics

It’s commonly believed that cold weather can negatively affect our health, particularly for those who suffer from arthritis, asthma, migraines or mood disorders.  A large study recently published in JAMA Cardiology provides evidence that extreme winter weather conditions do increase our heart attack risk.  So stay warm this winter, and if you happen to have the opportunity to spend some time in a warm, sunny climate, grab those plane tickets!  But come on back now, y’hear?  New England’s springs, summers and autumns can’t be beat.

A common blood pressure medication and lung cancer risk

A large study of almost 1,000,000 adults published in the British Medical Journal has found a modestly increased risk of lung cancer in patients who take Angiotensin-Converting-Enzyme-Inhibitors or ACE-Inhibitors– medications which are commonly used for kidney disease, high blood pressure and other cardiovascular conditions.  Examples of these include ramipril (brand: Altace), lisinopril (brands: Zestril or Prinivil), and perindopril (brand: Aceon).  The increased risk was seen only in those who have taken these medications for five years or longer, and it bears mentioning that this study did not provide proof of a causal relationship.  The good news is that the risk is very small and is most certainly outweighed by the many health benefits associated with these medications.  The other piece of good news is that there does exist a related class of medications (called Angiotensin II Receptor Blockers, or ARBs)- also commonly used and highly respected- which work in a similar fashion but have not been linked with lung cancer.  This study needs to be replicated in order to verify the findings, and no formal recommendations for medication changes have thus far been made.  However, for some patients (particularly for those at higher risk for lung cancer), it may be worth having a discussion with a physician.

Stress and memory

A high blood level of cortisol (one of our ‘stress hormones’) is associated with reduced brain volumes and lower cognitive performance among adults in their 40s, as published recently in the journal Neurology.  Although stress can never be entirely avoided (and intermittent periods of moderate stress can be adaptive), we can mitigate the negative impacts of chronic stress on our cognitive function- and on our health in general– by regularly incorporating relaxation techniques and mindfulness practices into our busy schedules.
That’s all for now… stay calm, and enjoy the days ahead!