Archive for August, 2006

Living forever

I came across this article about how scientists are trying to halt the ageing process.

It was interesting to see that a plastic surgeon is hoping to cash in on a potentially huge market by offering patients a therapy based on human growth hormone, that he claims reverses the aging process. After all very few of us want to die. Most of us would chose to live for as long as possible as long as the quality of life is there too.

The article got me thinking about my own attitudes, though. Why do I go the gym, or swim, four or five times a week? To be honest I have never really analysed it. I have always assumed that it is a good thing to do as it makes me fitter and healthier (hopefully).

Am I trying to stay youthful for longer? Probably not, as I know that is a lost cause already, but I am trying to stay as fit, alert and active for as long as possible. I truly believe that if you have adopted an active and energetic lifestyle throughout your life, then you will probably be active and fit in your later years.

This should increase the number of years where there is both quantity and quality of life. At least I hope so.

I am reminded of a patient I saw in the Cardiology department that I worked in. He had chest pains and needed an exercise stress test to rule out the possibility of it being cardiac in origin. He was in his late sixties and had the physique of someone at least thirty years younger.

He had walked three miles to the hospital for his test. During the exercise tolerance test he reached almost the maximum speed and incline, which very few people of any age can attain. He then walked the three miles back home again.

Needless to say his heart was completely healthy – he must have strained a muscle doing all his press ups and sit ups.

So when I go to the gym or plough up and down the swimming pool, I want to be like him. I want to be as fit and healthy as him in my late sixties.

Maybe then I can have a few more extra years with a good quality of life.

Add comment August 31st, 2006 Written By: chris

Our historic dislike for physical work

Ever since man invented the wheel, he has been on a gradual march towards lesser and lesser physical work. So the invention of wheel is the first landmark on our road to a society which finds physical work menial and a drudgery. Of course the wheel saved us lot of walking to begin with.

The second landmark in our history of evolution is industrialization, which brought in automation. Life thus came to depend upon machines. We have had motorized devices running simple household chores and producing everything we need.

Industrialization saved us lot of work we were used to doing with our hands.

Information technology is pushing us towards a culture of work which is computer mouse-driven. It seems our grand ambition of achieving a culture of ‘effortless work’ is nearing fulfillment.

I recall an article by an eminent scientist I read sometime back. In his predictions about science in general and information technology in particular, the writer drew our attention to a scary future. Accordingly, in another couple of million years from now, we as a human race will be reduced to grotesque looking creatures – with an oversized head and our right hand connected with an arm-like limb. That is if we go by Charles Darwin’s famous sub-theory of ‘disusage’ of organs under the theory of Evolution.

Hence as we reduce in our usage of our organs or body parts we gradually lose their strength and size, and finally lose them altogether. Thus a generation heavily dependant upon brain and the computer mouse will be ruled by the creatures who are capable of using only their heads and the right hands. The rest of the body will disappear, the writer scientist predicted.

I shared this view with my neighbour, who is an information technology professional.

Being overweight and suffering from a host of digestive problems, his doctor had advised him to clean his car every morning before he goes jogging. While he agreed to do the latter, he refused to take the car-cleaning chore. I asked him the reason, thinking that he would quote the most clichéd one – shortage of time. “My neighbours will think that I cannot pay to have my car cleaned”, he said, in all honesty.

Our dislike for manual work is historic, as old as our civilization. And we all know it in our wisdom why we suffer from the physical ailments, as a result.

Add comment August 30th, 2006 Written By: lalitgambhir

Bethany’s Story

I happened, quite by chance, to watch a programme on TV last night about a 19 year old girl – Bethany Walton – who weighed 34 stone.

You can read more about her here, however it was a moving portrayal about the pressures and un-happiness that had driven Bethany to seek comfort food in such huge quantities. It showed how her life was affected by her gross obesity and gave a clear picture of her future – she was highly likely to die before she reached 30 years old.

That was unless she did something about it.

With a body mass index (BMI) of more than 70 she was more than eligible for weight loss surgery, however few surgeons would undertake the risks of operating on her. Apparently it took six months to find a suitable surgeon, but she and her family then had to face the high risk of her dying on the operating table.

This brave girl underwent the operation which reduced the volume of her stomach by ninety percent. What was exhilarating to see was what happened afterwards.

Losing a stone in weight a month, her weight soon reduced to a still large 30 stone, however the confidence and self-esteem that she started to regain was a joy to watch. She wanted to dress in feminine clothes again, to take care of her appearance, and to enjoy being a teenager.

She has a future again, though there are still plenty of challenges and health issues that she must face.

Add comment August 29th, 2006 Written By: chris

High fat diets and copper intake cause memory loss

A recent study shows that a high intake of fat and copper are most likely associated with the cognitive decline in older adults. The study was led by Martha Clare Morris at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

The researchers found that copper alone “was not harmful at all in people who did not have this high-fat diet; but the combination of the two had a significant detrimental effect.” The findings of the study are reported in the August issue of the Archives of Neurology.

An earlier study had revealed an increase risk for Alzheimer’s disease by two to three folds and cognitive decline in older adults who were on the diet rich in saturated and low in unsaturated fats. Fat is saturated by the process of hydrogenation whereby it solidifies at low temperatures. The process helps increase the shelf life of fat.

The findings of the earlier study were based on an animal study. In the study a set of rabbits were put on a high cholesterol diet and were given distilled water which had copper in trace amounts. The presence of cholesterol is associated with the hydrogenation of fat.

Another set of rabbits were put on a diet rich in unhydrogenated fat along with distilled water. A loss of memory function was discovered in the former set of animals only.

Also during autopsy, amyloid beta plaques were discovered in appreciable amounts in the rabbits that were on a diet rich in hydrognetated fat and distilled water containing copper. The deposition of Amyloid beta plaques is particularly associated with Alzheimer’s disease.

A daily intake of 1.6 mg of copper is considered to be high, however the element is also part of vitamin supplements which older adults are advised to take on a regular basis.

Add comment August 28th, 2006 Written By: lalitgambhir

Making Yoga fun for children

I was watching a TV programme called Dragons Den last night. This programme gives budding entrepreneurs a chance to win funding from leading business financiers and features a range of sometimes wacky, sometimes brilliant, ideas and inventions.

“What’s this got to do with a blog on FurtherHealth?”, you might ask. Well one of the ideas presented last night was from two ladies who have set up a business called YogaBugs. They provide yoga classes to young children and also teacher training for adults who want to become “Yogabug” instructors.

Their pitch to the investors was impressive and even included a demonstration of how traditional yoga postures can be adapted in a fun way for young children. They were actually offered the funding that they wanted, but turned the offer down as the investor wanted too much equity in the business.

I find all this very interesting for a number of reasons. Firstly the fact that a highly successful business man was willing to invest £200,000 (around $350,000) of his own money in a Yoga based venture, shows that Yoga must be gaining a strong foothold throughout the world and is thereby presenting some viable commercial opportunities.

Secondly it is good to see that people are tackling the issues of chilhood obesity and their lack of exercise. Indeed research is showing that around 20% or British children will be obese by 2010, which will of course have major health implications for the generations to come.

Thirdly, I am reminded about Lalit’s, struggle to teach his young daughter Yoga and to imbue her with a desire to incorporate Yoga into her life. Perhaps he should approach YogaBugs to become an acredited instructor.

I wonder if they have any indian yoga instructors on their books.

Add comment August 25th, 2006 Written By: chris

Bottle Gourd helps constipation

As part of our continuing investigation with different aspects of yoga and ayurveda, a group of patients of serious and chronic constipation were put on the diet of bottle gourd.

According to ayurveda, bottle gourd is not only rich in essential minerals, iron, protein and trace elements; it is also rich in fibre. Fibre is known to be missing in the modern diet, the absence of which is the cause of not only constipation but other digestive disorders like flatulence and even piles.

The patients who volunteered for the study were served different preparations made from the vegetable.

For breakfast the juice of bottle gourd was served. Its pulp was boiled and served dipped in skimmed yoghurt. For lunch the vegetable was sparingly cooked with a dash of turmeric and salt.

For dinner the bottle gourd preparation had ginger chopped into pieces, about 5 mm in size. Ginger is carminative and helps in the digestion of food.

To get the best out of vegetables they must be cooked in such a way that they retain a bit of their hardness; soft cooked vegetables are rather a burden on the digestive tract. So the best way to ensure the hardness in cooked vegetables is chopping them into fairly big pieces. Each piece should be big enough to fill up a table spoon and should need to be chewed.

The idea is to allow a morsel to stay in the mouth long enough to complete the carbohydrate digestion, which is possible with the salivary amylase, present only in our mouth.

The patients were kept on this diet for six weeks. Ninety nine percent of the patients responded positively. While more than 50% had had their bowel movements regulated within a week, about 20% could get relief after five weeks. They started getting bowel movements once a day. The 30% of the patients had bowel movements twice a day, morning and evening, which according to ayurveda, is considered to be ideal.

According to ayurveda, the traditional system of medications and treatments the evening meal should be had after you have digested the food you have had during the day and have cleared your bowels.

Add comment August 23rd, 2006 Written By: lalitgambhir

Have a headache? Take a strong curry!

I like indian food, particularly the mild or medium strength ones such as masala based sauces, but I never realised that curries can have health benefits too.

In fact I’ve always associated strong curries with anything but good health as I suffered the after effects the next day, however the news that curries can help relieve headaches is great news for curry lovers across the world.

It is well known that many plants can exert a pharmaceutical effect, and this is of course the basis for homeopathic medicine, however it appears that the active drug in aspirin – salicylic acid – is found in indian spices such as turmeric, cumin and paprika.

So much so that in fact a portion of vindaloo contains more salicylic acid than one aspirin tablet.
Not only is aspirin effective for relieving headaches, it is also taken by those with heart problems, as it can help prevent clot formation, and can help prevent bowel cancer, so it turns out that curries are indeed good for your health.

Luckily for those who do not like indian food, salicylic acid, the research has found, is also present in a variety of other foods such as tomatoes, fruit and salads which further supports the five fruit and veg a day theory for health eating.

Add comment August 22nd, 2006 Written By: chris

Healthy food choices for children

Dr. Robert Lustig, a paediatric endocrinologist from the University of California, San Francisco, has blamed high-calorie, low-fibre Western diets for hormonal imbalances that lead to over eating among children. America now has twice as many overweight children than three decades ago. That means one in five children in the US is overweight.

Dr Lustig has particularly blamed the food processing industry, especially the fruit juice manufactures, for their increasing practice of loading their products with fructose and reducing their fibre content. Fructose is a form of sugar present in many fruits.

The fibre comes from the indigestible component of food, such as the peel in the case of fruits. The drink, which is therefore rendered less nutritious, is promoted as healthy for the children thus leading to its excessive consumption.
Going by the reports in the media, Dr Lusting has become a strong opponent of the processed food industry. He has also blamed parents at home and administrators at schools for their unhealthy choice of foods for children.

According to Dr Lustig, diseases that once occurred among adults are now increasingly seen in children. He particularly quotes type 2 diabetes in children to be largely associated with their being overweight and obese.

Overweight children will become overweight adults who will be at a greater risk of hypertension, heart disease and strokes.

Lustig says that the current Western food environment has become highly “insulinogenic”, which is demonstrated by its increased energy density, high-fat content, increased fructose composition, decreased fiber, and decreased dairy content.

“In particular, fructose (too much) and fiber (not enough) appear to be cornerstones of the obesity epidemic through their effects on insulin,” he adds.

Lustig’s current research focuses on the hormone leptin, which is associated with regulation of calorie intake and expenditure in the body. When leptin is functioning properly it increases physical activity, decreases appetite, and increases feelings of well-being. Conversely, when leptin is suppressed, feelings of well-being and activity decrease and appetite increases, a state called “leptin resistance”.

It is well known that another hormone called insulin acts on the brain to encourage eating and also helps in processing the blood sugar that comes from the food we eat.

The food processing industry has been held responsible for adding sugar to a wide variety of foods and for the removal of fiber. Both of these promote insulin production. This, according to Lustig, has created a “toxic environment” in which our foods are essentially addictive and tend to lure kids into eating calorie-rich, low-fibre products, and making them lose their sense as to when they should eat and when not.

Add comment August 21st, 2006 Written By: lalitgambhir

Obesity and the body mass index

I wrote recently about my brush with the body mass index (BMI) tables at my gym. I couldn’t help myself seeing where I my body mass was on the chart and was horrified to find that I was on the over weight scale, even with my levels of exercise.

Well it seems that my thoughts that the BMI is a poor way of determing obesity have been vindicated by recent research which found that many patients classed as “overweight” by the BMI test actually outlived those judged to be of normal weight.

This is to be expected, of course, as many people who are active acquire more muscle mass and as muscle is heavier than fat, often have a BMI that is in the over-weight category. These people are probably also fitter and more healthy, as they take ownership for their well-being, and therefore tend to live longer.

This is good news for those of us who do exercises such as swimming which tends to increase upper body muscles. We can forget BMI testing now, however we should be aware of another recommended test – the waist to hip ratio which compares the circumference of your waist to the circumference of your hips.

If your waist is much bigger than your hips then this could be due to abdominal fat deposits. We know that the so called “apple shaped” body shape, which is due to abdominal fat, presents greater chance of heart disease and diabetes, so this is a more reliable indicator of obesity and associated health risks.

So the next time I see a BMI chart lying around, i’ll feel justified in ignoring it, though I’d better go and find a tape measure, just in case!

Add comment August 18th, 2006 Written By: chris

My future yoga student

There are times when I am not able to cope with my morning routine of ablutions and work even if I am up at half past three.

The most upsetting thing is that I am forced to give up a major part of my yoga practice. On such occasions I have to be content instructing and watching my daughter do her practice while I am busy attending to my chores. I do try to catch up with my breathing exercises though while driving to my office about 35 km and an hour away from my home.

This morning was one of those occasions. As I drove through the slow moving traffic on a busy road in New Delhi, bumper to bumper, I had my fingers on my nose. I was doing a single-nostril breathing exercise, pressing my right nostril with my right thumb and the left with two middle fingers. I was changing hands during the exercise to shift gears and maintain control over the steering.

I did not notice that a lady driving on my right hand side was keenly watching me as I continued with my yoga practice. As the traffic pulled up at an intersection, the lady gestured me to roll down my window. It was quite noisy outside and the lady seemed to inquire what I was doing. I tried explaining but she was unable to hear. She gesticulated and asked me my mobile number. I gestured the 10-digit number with my fingers which she wrote in her mobile phone.

As I settled down in my office at 8:30 am, I got a call. It was from the lady who had taken down my mobile number. She was happy to finally ask me what I was doing. She was surprised how I was making the “best possible use of my time” in the middle of one of the busiest roads in the capital.

As she does not live very far from my home, she expressed her keenness to visit me and have a yoga lesson or two.

If she does pay me a visit, she will be the sixth person that I’ve met on various journies, that has become my student of yoga.

The five others took to yoga while we were co-passengers travelling by train or by air.

The sixth one would be unique – we were driving different cars and striking up a conversation by gestures alone.

Add comment August 17th, 2006 Written By: lalitgambhir

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