Current Health Research News Winter 2010

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Taking time to smell the roses

Excerpted from a Washington Post Article.) In a Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007 a man with a violin played six Bach pieces for almost an hour. During that time approximately two thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work.

After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

Four minutes later the violinist received his first dollar; a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk. Six minutes later a young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

At 23 minutes a 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The child stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the boy continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

Finally he finished playing. No one noticed or applauded, nor was there any recognition. In that hour, only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money, but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

What no one knew was that the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a Stradivarius worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the Metro Station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste, and people’s priorities. The questions raised: “In a common place environment, at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?”

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made…. How many other things are we missing?

The Post story concludes: “Life is not measured by the breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

The full article on which this summary is based can be found at:


Is flying dangerous?

It can be if you eat at Cinnabon, Burger King, or Sbarro. On the other hand, it is now possible to get a healthy meal at most airports, although easier in some then in others.

The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) publishes a yearly survey of 17 of the nation’s busiest airports. It revealed that, on average, 79% of the restaurants in the airports examined had at least one healthful food options (low-fat, high-fiber, cholesterol-free vegetarian entrée.). Of these airports, Detroit Metropolitan Wayne scored the highest with 100% of restaurants there offering a healthy entree. But healthful choices are still difficult to find in some cities, including Las Vegas and all three airports serving Washington, D.C., as well as Chicago O’Hare International Airport. Here are some of the best and the worst.

Near the top: Orlando International Airport (83 percent): Healthful options include the lentil chili at McCoy’s Bar and Grill, the fajita veggie burrito at Qdoba, and the soba noodles from Cibo Express.

Near the bottom-the DC airports:

  • Baltimore/Washington International Airport (71 percent): The best bet for savvy travelers is the Silver Diner, which offers portobello vegetarian stir-fry with tofu, veggies, and wheat noodles in teriyaki sauce, summer salad, and veggie chili with kidney beans, mushrooms, carrots, and squash.
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (70 percent): This airport has been slowly improving from a score of 42 percent in 2007. Look for entrées such as a hummus and veggie flatbread sandwich on freshly baked bread (Cosi) and angel hair puttanesca (Cibo Bistro and Wine Bar).
  • Washington Dulles International Airport (68 percent): Out of 34 restaurants, only 23 offered healthy, low-fat meals, such as the whole-wheat pasta with mixed vegetables at Moe’s Grill & Bar. Good options are also available at Cosi’s.

Worst: Las Vegas McCarran International Airport (66 percent): Las Vegas offers travelers a few healthful options-including the vegan wrap at Burke in the Box-among the many eateries offering only burgers, sausages, hot dogs, or pre-made items full of fat and cholesterol.

The full report can be found at:


Let your food be your medicine.

We are constantly seeing studies showing the beneficial effects of natural substances, sometime in concentrated form, and sometimes in the amount that you would eat in healthy meals. Here are a few examples.

  • Curcumin, the biologically active part of the yellow spice turmeric has long been used for its anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and antioxidant properties. A controlled (but not double-blinded) study compared the response of ibuprofen (the active ingredient in Motrin or Advil), 400 mg twice daily to a turmeric extract (500 mg 4 times/day) on pain and function in patients with knee osteoarthritis. After 6 weeks both groups were significantly improved from baseline and the curcuminoid group had greater speed and less pain with stair walking. (This difference was not statistically significant because the study group was small). (Kuptniratsaikul V, et al. Efficacy and safety of Curcuma domestica extracts in patients with knee osteoarthritis. J Altern Complement Med. 2009;15(8): 891-897.)
  • More curcumin: A similar study in Italy compared a turmeric derivative with standard treatment in 50 patients with knee osteoarthritis. After 90 days, patients in the curcumin group experienced a 58 percent decrease in their overall pain, stiffness and physical functionality as well as lower levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammation, and a 63% reduction of pain killers. (Belcaro G, et al. Product-evaluation registry of Meriva®, curcumin-phosphatidylcholine complex, for the complementary management of osteoarthritis. PanMinerva Med. 2010;52 (Suppl. 1 to No. 1):55-62.)
  • Green tea is also known to have many beneficial health effects such as reducing stress and decreasing inflammation. A Japanese study found that drinking green tea reduced symptoms of depression in a community-dwelling older population. Consumption of 4 cups of tea per day was associated with a 44% decrease in depression symptoms. (Niu et al. Green tea consumption is associated with depressive symptoms in the elderly. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, doi:10.3945/ajcn.2009.28216)
  • Hibiscus and Hypertension. Used in many parts of the world as both a cold and hot drink, hibiscus contains many constituents including alkaloids, anthocyanins, quercetin and more. It has been traditionally used for high blood pressure, A double-blind, randomized, controlled trial (considered the best type of study) used hibiscus for 60 type II diabetics with mild hypertension. The control group drank black tea. Hibiscus drinkers drank one cup of hibiscus tea infusion two times per day for one month. The mean systolic blood pressure of the hibiscus drinkers decreased by 21 mm Hg (this would be an excellent result for a drug study), but increased in the black tea drinkers. Other studies have shown hibiscus to reduce blood pressure and cholesterol. This herbal approach to hypertension provides a potential simple, safe, inexpensive and easy treatment. (Mozaffari-Khosravi H, Jalali-Khanabadi B, Afkhami-Ardekani M, et al. The effects of sour tea (Hibiscus sabdariffa) on hypertension in patients with type II diabetes. J Human Hypertension 2009;23:48-54.)
  • Hibiscus recipes (Suggestions from the American Botanical Council). Hibiscus can be combined with warming herbs for a delicious warm winter beverage. Hibiscus has no caffeine but, when drinking it in the evening, keep in mind that it is mildly diuretic.
  • Brewing basic hibiscus tea: Heat 1 cup filtered or spring water to just before boiling for each teaspoon of hibiscus (1 gallon per cup of hibiscus for a larger batch). Pour over the hibiscus, cover, and let steep until cool enough to drink for hot tea or until cool enough to refrigerate or pour over ice for iced tea. The longer it steeps, the stronger it will be. Hibiscus is normally a bit tart and tangy (it’s called sour tea in Iran) so sweeten it a little if you need to with a little agave nectar, honey or white grape juice. If you make it too strong, you can always water it down.

Here are some other herbs to combine with hibiscus (These are all 1 cup water ratios):

  • Add 1 teaspoon lemon balm for a yummy tea that will help you relax.
  • Mint or peppermint 1 tsp, can be soothing for the stomach.
  • 1/4 teaspoon each ginger, clove, cinnamon, and nutmeg, for a warming drink that also settles digestion.
  • Other herbs and foods that combine well with hibiscus include hawthorn berries, rose hips, elderberries, lemon or orange peel, other dried berries or cherries.
  • Ginger: A traditional Christmas drink is made in Jamaica by putting hibiscus into an earthenware container with a little grated ginger and sugar as desired, pouring boiling water over it and letting it steep overnight. The liquid is drained off and served over ice, often with a smidge of rum.

When you find a blend you like, make up a batch to share with loved ones over the holidays. A jar of hibiscus blend tea makes a cheerful gift.


Can we prevent breast cancer?

New science is emerging about the risk of environmental toxins in causing breast cancer. Some of these toxins are present in products we commonly put on our lips, our toothbrush, our skin, our plate and our lawn.


Monster smoothies, Veggies in a blanket and more.

Healthy recipes for kids are hard to come by. The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) that brought us info about airport food has a wealth of healthy recipes for kids (and grown-ups) on line. Some tend to be a little heavy on sweeteners for our health sensitivities, so we suggest modification to reduce sugary ingredients.


Does being close to nature make you smarter and calmer?

Many people have described to me how deeply they feel nurtured and restored through experiencing the natural world when fishing, gardening, jogging or engaging in other outdoor activities. There is little question that these encounters can restore our spirit. However, a new study at the University of Michigan showed that they may actually aid our cognition as well. Thirty-eight students were asked to take a three-mile walk- 19 in the Nichols Arboretum in Ann Arbor and 19 down a busy street. Those that were surrounded by nature demonstrated dramatically improved cognitive functioning, while those who walked in the city did not.

Recently, Peter Kahn, a developmental psychologist studied how we respond to real versus digital representations of nature. In an experiment reported in The Journal of Environmental Psychology, he subjected 90 adults to mild stress and monitored their heart rates while they were exposed to one of three views: a glass window overlooking an expanse of grass and a stand of trees; a 50-inch plasma television screen showing the same scene in real time; and a blank wall. Kahn found that the heart rates of those exposed to the sight of real nature decreased more quickly than those of subjects looking at the TV image. The subjects exposed to a TV screen fared just the same as those facing drywall.

Studies such as these about the link between our cognitive and emotional well being and the health of the natural environment are reflected in the growth of ecopsychology. Dr Kahn who on the editorial review board of the journal Ecopsychology, writes, “more and more, the human experience of nature will be mediated by technological systems” He asks whether our new lives will be “impoverished from the standpoint of human functioning and flourishing.”

A 230-page report released last August by the American Psychological Association suggested that the answer to this question is “yes.” Moreover, to quote the New York Times article from which this information is drawn, the emotional costs of environmental degradation are “anxiety, despair, numbness, ‘a sense of being overwhelmed or powerless,’ [and] grief.”

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