Hometown Health

December 2011 Archives

Though Christmas is over (and I hope everyone had a merry one), most of us are still burning the candle at both ends during the final days of 2011. One great way to relax your mind and body during busy, stressful times is through meditation. Sound like something only monks can do? Not so, grasshopper. And since we are heading into a new year, why not make a resolution to try meditating this year? Even 5 or 10 minutes a day will get you started in the right direction.

Meditation has some pretty fascinating effects on the mind and body. A recent article in Scientific American titled "The Neurobiology of Bliss--Sacred and Profane," reported on a study that suggests that the brain reacts the same way to meditation as it does to sex. Both dissolve our sense of self-awareness, separating ourselves from our ego. The article explains that people meditating and having an orgasm both experience "diminution of self-awareness," "alterations in bodily perception" and "decreased sense of pain."

When you meditate, the left side of your brain lights up and when you have sex, the right side of your brain lights up. Why is this a good thing? Both experiences lead to a cessation of mental chatter and help you lose physical and mental boundaries.

You can find meditation classes and groups in the Glens Falls area, like the one that meets on Wednesday evenings at True North on Glen Street. Or you can follow the easy instructions below.

How to meditate

The purpose of meditation is to make your mind calm and peaceful. Meditation simply means to become familiar with your object, which could be a variety of different things - love, compassion, the faults of anger, or improved concentration. These are just a few the topics you could choose to make your mind calm and happy.

Preparation
Sit with your back straight but relaxed around a straight spine.
Allow the muscles in your body to relax.
Draw your attention inward by focusing on the breath.
When a thought arises, gently bring your attention back to the breath.
Set an intention - e.g. I want to improve my concentration, I want to reduce my anger, I want to increase my compassion. Your intention will inform your meditation.

Contemplation - Examples
To improve concentration, focus on your breathing.
To reduce anger, think about on the good qualities of a person and the bad qualities of anger.
To increase love and compassion, think that everyone has the same two wishes: to be happy and to be free from suffering.

Placement
When you find your object of meditation, hold it for as long as you can.
When you notice you have lost your object, engage in contemplation again.

Dedication
Send all the positive energy gathered during your session to the benefit of others.
You can think about specific people or everyone who has problems, wishing them to be free from those problems and to experience happiness and good health.

Subsequent practice
Carry your object of meditation with you as much as possible.
Try to integrate the meditation into your daily life.
Remind yourself of the benefits of your practice.

This month, Medicare announced they will now reimburse physicians for providing weight-loss counseling to obese patients. This is a small, but crucial victory in the health crisis, but it brings with it a new set of concerns.

Medicare is a government-run insurance program providing coverage to the elderly, the disabled, and those below the federal poverty level. The new policy allows for one-on-one counseling every week for a month, then bi-weekly meetings for 5 more months. If a patient is successful in losing at least 6 1/2 pounds, Medicare will continue to cover the sessions for a year.

This is fantastic news for the millions of Americans enrolled in government insurance, many of whom fall into the nation's poorest, and also most obese, demographic.

The fact that Medicare recognizes and is actively taking steps to fight obesity is definitely a step forward, but there is still a caveat: Since insurance has not previously covered weight-loss counseling, most physicians have no training in counseling. In some cases, doctors have little background (less than 25 hours in all of medical school) in nutrition at all.

Also, this benefit is available only to those with a BMI of 30 or above (considered clinically or morbidly obese), and offers no preventive care for those at risk for weight gain. Physicians' time is only covered for retroactive measures, when a person is already at severe risk for weight-related illnesses.

On the upside, Medicare's new policy may encourage doctors to seek out weight-loss training, which would be wonderful, both for patients and the healthcare system. There are also the growing professions of trained and certified Health Counselors (like myself) and Weight-Loss Counselors who have the tools, the training, and most importantly the time to help those with weight and health problems. With insurance support, doctors and counselors working in tandem could provide the personalized care to end more struggles with obesity and save more lives than ever before. It certainly is a step in the right direction!

Millions of Americans, including many vegetarians, consume large amounts of milk and dairy products each year. I grew up drinking milk every day, with almost every meal. Is this a bad thing, you ask? Possibly, in light of new research that indicates too much of a good thing can, indeed, be too much. Following are 4 ways milk and dairy can negatively affect your health.

 

1.     Osteoporosis. Surprisingly, The Harvard Nurse's Health Study (which followed 75,000 women for 12 years) showed no protective effect of increased milk consumption on fracture risk for the women involved. In fact, the study found increased intake of calcium may actually lead to a higher risk for fractures instead. Several other recent studies have shown no protective effects of dairy calcium on bone at all.


2.     Cardiovascular Disease. Many doctors and researchers argue that dairy products (cheese, ice cream, butter, milk and yogurt) contribute significant amounts of fat and cholesterol to our diets-too much, in fact. And there is no getting around the growing rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease in America. While some fat is needed by our bodies every day for normal functioning, diets that are too high in saturated fat have been linked to several chronic diseases, including heart disease.


3.     Cancer. Some cancers, including ovarian, breast and prostate cancers, have been linked to over-consumption of dairy products. According to another Harvard study on ovarian cancer, the problem lies in the breakdown of dairy products in the body and the enzymes involved. With breast and prostate cancers, the issue may be with insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) found now in cow's milk. IGF-1 has been found in increased blood levels in people who eat dairy as a large part of their diet.


4.     Diabetes. Completing our list of the epidemics facing us today, Type 1 diabetes (formerly known as childhood-onset) has also been linked to the over-consumption of dairy products. According to one study, a specific protein found in dairy creates an auto-immune reaction in the body (where the body attacks itself), which destroys the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. Other studies have found similar links between dairy and Type 1 diabetes not just in Americans, but in people all over the world.

 

Milk and diary also create problems for people in the form of lactose intolerance, and in the bovine growth hormones (rGBH) and antibiotics given to cows. But that is another post...

 

So, if the research is accurate, the bottom line is really to reduce the amount of milk and dairy products you eat, or eliminate them entirely. Milk and diary, while traditional foods, aren't truly necessary to our diets. Increase your consumption of fruits and vegetables, including darky leafy greens, and beans, which are all rich in calcium. Add in whole grains and nutrient-dense foods. Food-based calcium supplements, with added vitamin D, and some calcium-enriched foods can also be helpful. Add in regular exercise, stress management, and smoking cessation, and you will be well on your way to a healthier life, dairy consumer or not.

Public domain photograph of various meats. (Be...

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Despite the growing popularity of vegetarian and vegan diets, meat and other animal-derived foods still make up the majority of most American's diets. Whatever your philosophical feelings are about eating meat, anatomically we are designed to consume a varied diet; our teeth alone demonstrate that fact. We have sharp canines for cutting and biting, and pre-molars and molars for chewing and grinding. Meat, plants, nuts, seeds and fruit were all a part of what we evolved to consume.

I, myself, am an omnivore, meaning that I include both vegetable and animal products in what I eat. Though I have experimented with vegetarianism in the past (mainly when I was in high school and college), I always felt more grounded,energetic and healthy when I included meat in my diet. Today, I enjoy mostly fish and chicken, but I do have beef and pork occasionally. I also eat eggs and cheese. I try to buy organic as much as possible, including grass-fed beef and eggs from pasture-raised chickens. It's not always easy to do, especially when eating out or at other people's homes. But I do the best that I can.

Price is always a factor. Organic, locally produced meat that is often healthier for us costs more, whether you buy it at the grocery store or the farmer's market. Why, you ask? The costs of production are much higher for small local famers. You have only to read the front-page story in The Post-Star this past Sunday to see what our local farmers are up against trying to meet the demand for their products in our area. They don't have the resources that the large food and agricultural companies do to both produce and market their products. Thankfully, the demand for their meat is growing. And while part of me cringes at the idea of a slaughterhouse (I still have nightmares after watching Fast Food Nation), I know that it would help lower the cost to our local farmers and help more people have access to healthier meat and animal products, including myself. So then the argument, "organic is too expensive for me and my family," could become less of an issue.

Really, we should all be thankful that farmers are trying to bring us healthier, happier animals and the products that come from them. It was great to read how much insight one of the farmers, Sandy Lewis, from Essex County, had into the benefits of raising grass-fed cows without the use of antibiotics. The animals benefit, and so do we. We truly are what we eat, and the idea of "garbage in, garbage out" applies to our diets. If you do include meat and animal products in what you eat, then do yourself and our farmers a favor and try to incorporate some organic local products into your meals. Even just once a month is a good start.

In my perfect world, we would all be able to eat organic, locally produced food 100% of the time. But we're not there yet. I think it will take making different choices with our money when we purchase food, including meat. Sacrificing other purchases to afford better quality food is what I have learned to do; it's a trade off. For me, the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term costs.  I have seen where unhealthy diets lead so many people. It all starts with making one different choice, and going from there, one step at a time. And if we are all doing it together, what huge strides we can make for ourselves and our community.
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Hometown Health Bloggers:

Jackie Thorne,is a New York state Registered Nurse, Certified Health Coach (CHC), and accredited member of the American Association of Drugless Practitioners (AADP). She is also a counselor and educator, striving to guide and empower others to take a positive, pro-active approach to their health and well-being. As an avid yogi, gardener, and outdoorswoman, she feels privileged to make her home in the lovely Adirondack foothills of upstate New York, and to be a beneficial force in the community. Jackie enjoys sharing her passion for health, happiness and nutrition, and helping people live healthier and more fulfilling lives. Jackie lives and works with the belief that if we can improve our own well-being, it will lead to a better world for everyone.