Increase Your Green Tea Consumption – May Keep Liver Cancer At Bay

Both published research and general observations have shown numerous health benefits of drinking tea in general, and green tea in particular.  Many of these are covered in a previous article “the health benefits of drinking tea“.  Of interest today is the anti-cancer properties of green tea, with particular regard to the liver.

Studies such as this one showing how “green tea kills breast cancer cells” concluded that ” the cytotoxic effect of GTPs [green tea polyphenols] against five human cancer cell lines and the mechanisms of apoptosis in MCF-7 cells induced by GTPs were studied. In summary, the results showed that GTPs
had broad-spectrum anti-tumor activities, especially for MCF-7 cells [a line of breast cancer cells].”  And this one that illustrated how “green tea kills lung cancer cells” – which concluded that “all results demonstrate that EGCG [green tea catechin] … stimulates apoptotic induction.”

And there are more, not an infinite amount however as things that cannot be patented or heavily profited from with particular regards to cancer do not tend to get studied heavily.  Regardless it is clear that there is benefit.

A less covered aspect in the studies surrounding green tea and cancer was information about the effects on liver cancer in particular and that is what the meta-analysis I’m writing about today explored.  Here researchers from the pharmacy departments at the Tongji School of Medicine in Shanghai and the Second Military Medical University, among other institutions, set out to answer questions about effectiveness and dosage.

They found significant reductions in the development of liver cancer in people who drank more than 4 cups of green tea daily, with some of the strongest benefits in those who did so for 20 years or more.  They concluded that a “significant dose-response association was found between green tea drinking and liver cancer risk” and “increasing green tea intake may have a preventive effect against liver cancer.”

Now interestingly Japan, a large green tea drinking country, has one of the highest rates of liver cancer in the industrialized world ( 1 ).  Much of this is due to the incredible amounts of intravenous drug abuse following the second world war – thus leading to large number of hepatitis C infections which is a risk factor for liver cancer.  According to this article in the japan times, “the Chemist Nagayoshi Nagai first synthesized methamphetamine from ephedrine in 1893, and this was used as a pick-me-up during World War II for military personnel”.  After the war however many of military stock ended up being used by the public to the point where in 1954 “police reports estimated there 550,000 addicts in the country, with around 2 million people having tried the drug at some point in their life.”

The country as a whole, however, has some of the lowest cancer rates – the US is 9th and Japan is 49th in this list,  and they consume some of the highest amounts of green tea worldwide.  That statistical observation would seem to back the benefits of green tea on cancer.  Perhaps they are also subconsciously healing their livers from the coping mechanisms that were used following one of the greatest tragedies in our modern times.  But that’s a story for a different article altogether.

For now, it seems fairly clear that if you enjoy green tea you shouldn’t hesitate to keep drinking it.

What Is Your Definition of Health?

What does it mean when we say we are “healthy”?  In the west it may often mean that we through any number of means (medications, diet, etc.) don’t have anything that is too problematic physically.  To a lesser extent in the west we might also consider our mental health in that definition.  And to an even lesser extent we might consider our ability to connect with others, our ability to have rewarding relationships with our family, have our roles be fruitful for our society, for the world.  While this clearly gets to a large view very quickly, shouldn’t it be?  Can we truly consider ourselves “healthy” if we aren’t deeply connected to each other and our environment?

From the perspective of the underlying theories of Chinese Medicine, all of our interconnections and relationships should be considered in our definition of “health” – of the picture of “health” that we strive for.

question_mark_personI think about these issues daily as a practitioner of Chinese Medicine, as I try in my own limited way to look deeply into where the issues that people have are truly coming from.  Without some aspect of appreciation for the many layered relationships which help to form us and our experience there would be limited responses from acupuncture in my opinion.  Even issues as seemingly straightforward as “pain” can be wildly complex and be experienced in such direct and clear ways with no underlying physical causes – even when it seems obvious where it should be coming from.

Researchers from the Beijing University of Chinese Medicine recently published an opinion piece in the “Chinese Journal of Integrative Medicine” regarding a perceived discrepancy between west and east in what should be our goal for “health”.  They felt the definition of health should be changed from our western idea of the mere absence of labeled disease to something more along the lines of the following (as best the translation can do):

“Health” is a state of physical and mental harmony of different individuals in the life process with the environment, and good self-adaptive and regulation ability to natural and social environment

That sounds like a wonderful goal at the base of it, doesn’t it?  But what would this entail?  For westerners generally it would require a break from our collective conscious force towards dominance and superiority towards one that is based on harmony and collective benefit.  Perhaps some of what Presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders has in mind at least from a political/societal standpoint.  People putting in place systems that are for the benefit of the collective good and not for the few dominant individuals/groups/systems.

But, wait, sneaking politics into a discussion of health?  Well I’m not particularly political so to speak, but these issues matter greatly.  Part of fostering health in people is having an environment where it can be fostered.  This also includes educating for this ideal – which means educating for moral and social capacities in addition to scientific, mathematical, and language skills.  Would health be fostered by educating for a more moral world as equally – or more, or less – as by continuing our focus on math and science education?

The Nobel Prize winner, HH the Dalai Lama, has a vision for our social systems along these lines.  The internationally recognized psychologist and author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Daniel Goleman,  recently covered these in A Force for Good: The Dalai Lama’s Vision for Our World. This text discusses a different vision that doesn’t necessarily involve removing capitalism or other more comprehensive revolutions so to speak.  It discusses how within many of our existing constraints we can begin to head towards these new ideals.  Towards a new definition of “health”.  There are amazing stories in this text of people defying the constraints of their social environment (being a woman, being physically disabled, etc.) and working directly towards a new environment with less constraints for others and by default for themselves as well.  In essence moving towards both collective health and as a by product individual health.

From the Chinese literary side, in the Tao Te Ching it says:

The more laws and restrictions there are,
The poorer people become.
The sharper men’s weapons,
The more trouble in the land.
The more ingenious and clever men are,
The more strange things happen.
The more rules and regulations,
The more thieves and robbers.

Therefore the sage says:
I take no action and people are reformed.
I enjoy peace and people become honest.
I do nothing and people become rich.
I have no desires and people return to the good and simple life.

This more “yin” side of our western “yang” would obviously need to be balanced in relative terms with the capacities of our society and our cultural mindset.  While these are societal constraints, read the above passage from the Dao, then think of terms that we use in the west with regards to health issues – “fighting cancer” or “beating depression” or “mind over body”.

These all illustrate our western consciousness of dominance over disease, rather than an appreciation of the very likely fact that disease comes predominately from ignoring our natural relationships and inter-connectedness.  Not that I am unhealthy because I haven’t found a way to “beat” the disease yet.

The other aspects to help widen our consideration of what constitutes “health” come from a complete consideration of how important our environment and our relationship with it is, including our diets.  More of this is covered in the basics of Chinese Medicine, explored for lay people in texts such as Between Heaven and Earth: A Guide to Chinese Medicine.

The basics of this is to first appreciate it that our role is not one of dominance, that our health does not rely on subduing the aspects of nature or molding them to our needs.  Perhaps it does?  But personally I think not.  No, I feel our health is directly influenced by how well we work within the constraints of our natural world – working as a part of it.

five-element-generating-cycleAfter that fundamental is established in your mind you can move into wonderful aspects of Chinese Medicine with correlations between seasons and our emotions and our physical organs, etc.  While these may not be 1000% correct, they at least give us a framework within which to view and appreciate these relationships.  Many of these are covered within our five element theory basics section.  Certainly the entire underpinning of Chinese Medicine is to help guide all of these influences within us and external to us into harmony which by all accounts improves our “health”.

From this approach you could propose a definition of “health” as the absence of friction within ourselves, within our environment and amongst eachother.  Considering the costs of mental health issues worldwide, this general viewpoint and the systems that would be altered and developed to support it would change the health of the world.  Perhaps the entire course of it.

 

What is your view of health?  and what systems would be helpful for you to develop that level of health?

One More Reason To Eat Your Veggies: Significant Leukemia Risk Reduction

We have all heard the multitude of reasons to improve our diets. Very important texts such as the China Study and the Blue Zones (and many others), have highlighted all of the reasons why in great detail. There is a real benefit to eating a whole foods diet with a concentration on increasing vegetable intake.

The study that I’m writing about here is from a group of researchers at the School of Population Health, The University of Western Australia, Perth. This team performed a multicenter case controlled study looking specifically at the role of a quality diet and limiting the risk of leukemia. In the United States there are around 50,000 people diagnosed with leukemia each year (leukemia and lymphoma society) and it is a problem around the world. While far in numbers from the most common cancer, breast cancer, leukemia is a considerable problem globally.

The team analyzed diet and leukemia risk relationships over a 5 year period with people from the northeast and southeast of China. In their analysis, there where 442 people diagnosed with leukemia and 442 controls that were matched individually (age, gender, etc.). Information about their diet was obtained via in person conversations as we as questionnaire.

Their analysis found that there was a significant decrease in leukemia risk as the vegetable intake was increased. Interestingly, they did not see a significant raised risk from red meat, poultry, fish, or fruits. The primary factors in elevating the risk were frequent intakes of “fat, deep-fried, and smoked” foods. They concluded that “diets rich in vegetables and adequate amount of milk reduce the risk of adult leukemia, whereas diets preferring fat, deep-fried, and smoked foods increase the risk in Chinese populations.”

I believe studies like this are important for two reasons – one, the obvious one, is that we need to improve our diets and this will improve our health – period. Second, and perhaps most important, is that dietary change does not have to be wildly strict to get at least some benefit. In this study, it was really just the avoidance of fried foods, smoked meats and large fat intake that made the difference. Not an extremely strict vegetarian or vegan diet. While the information in the China Study text, for example, would show more reasons for some deeper changes in diet, studies like this one show even moderate changes can improve health outcomes.

Can the bacteria living in your gut make you fat?

The importance of gut flora has become better known over the last few years, and for good reason. The balance of bacteria living in your gut is vital to health – from supporting  a strong immune system to a happy mood. “Probiotic” has become a buzzword in health conscious circles, and fermented foods like kombucha and kimchi have made their way into the mainstream. Now researchers are looking at two classes of  bacteria, Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes, and their effect on weight management and obesity. There are tens of trillions of  bacteria living in our guts, over 400 species, most all of them (in a healthy person) flourishing in our large intestine. These bacteria are hard at work, creating short-chain fatty acids like butyrate from resistant starch, and synthesizing nutrients like Vitamin K and B12.

Firmicutes and Bacteroidetes are two dominating groups of bacteria found in everyone, but research has shown that if you happen to have more firmicutes than bacteroidetes, you are more likely to put on weight and have difficulty losing it (Kotzampassi, et al. 2014). This sounds like a nightmare – a microscopic bacteria living inside of you is actually making you fatter? It sounds like a battle you are genetically destined to lose! Is that really the case? No! Do not give up, because researchers have also found that gut flora evolves to dietary change. Certain foods cause firmicutes to thrive,  while others allow bacteroidetes to outnumber firmicutes (Maslowski and Mackay,  2011). Fast food, processed foods, foods high in sugar and unhealthy fats should be avoided  if  you want to cut back on firmicutes. How to increase bacteroidetes?

1. Increase your intake of colorful veggies and other fiber rich foods like beans and lentils.

2. Include natural sources of probiotics in your diet: homemade sauerkraut, kimchi or other fermented veggies, miso, unsweetened  yogurt, kefir, or kombucha. If these are unavailable to you, it doesn’t hurt to invest in a good quality probiotic supplement.

3. Don’t forget the prebiotics! Prebiotics are food for probiotics. We get prebiotics from dietary fiber that can not be digested, and instead passes  through the digestive tract providing fuel for our beneficial bacteria. A few good prebiotic sources are jerusalem artichokes (aka sunchokes), raw  garlic and onions, green bananas, legumes, and cooked rice that has been allowed  to cool before being eaten.

4. And it can’t be stressed enough – avoid processed and sugary foods!

 

References:

Gorbach SL. Microbiology of the Gastrointestinal Tract. In: Baron S, editor. Medical  Microbiology. 4th edition. Galveston (TX): University of Texas  Medical Branch at Galveston; 1996. Chapter 95. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK7670/

Kotzampassi, K., Giamarellos-Bourboulis, E. J., & Stavrou, G. (2014). Obesity as a Consequence of Gut Bacteria and Diet Interactions. ISRN Obesity,  2014,  651895. doi:10.1155/2014/651895

Maslowski, K., & Mackay, C. (2011). Diet, gut microbiota, and immune responses. Nature Immunology, 12, (1), 5-­9.

 

Vitamin E and Selenium Do Not Slow Lung Function Decline – Study Shows

Vitamin supplementation is a hot topic in the alternative health world and within the general public as well.  In general, my clinical bias is strongly against supplementation particularly in the form of daily vitamins and/or in the if “they” say it’s good for me, it’s good for me ideology.  An article I wrote, Vitamins More Harm Than Good, discusses some of the reasoning behind this.  There have been a host of studies in recent years that have shown many of the anti-oxidative effects we were led to think certain vitamins had – that they either didn’t promote those changes internally or they literally blocked the body from allowing more beneficial changes by functionally confusing the related mechanisms.  Now this isn’t to say that all vitamins for all reasons are bad, but generally speaking a reasonable diet will get you much further and over supplementation has always shown long-term harmful effects in studies.

In this study the researchers were trying to evaluate the assumption that vitamin E and selenium intake would decrease oxidative damage and slow age-related declines in lung function – with particular emphasis on a cigarette smoker model.

The researchers recruited 1641 men who had multiple pulmonary function tests over a span of 3 years.  Using a randomized double-blind placebo-control model they found that the treatment group had “no main effect” on lung function.  The researchers concluded that “there was no effect of selenium and/or vitamin E supplementation on rate of lung function decline.”  With current smokers, however, they found that there was a slight beneficial effect of selenium on airflow reduction.

Simple Meditation Techniques – Stress Reduction, Focus, and Change

Meditation is often recommended by Complementary and Alternative Medicine practitioners as a way of reducing stress and its effects on our overall health and vitality. Studies show its usefulness in lowering blood pressure, raising immunity, and improving concentration, among other benefits. It is a technique, however, for which there are millions of theories and influences. Outside of the time commitment, many people have a hard time getting started with meditation because they get carried away with the style to choose, what philosophies to subscribe to, and so on. In reality, these issues have next to nothing to do with the science of meditation.

Meditation, in essence, is a scientific technique that will change your brain chemistry, emotions and interactions with people and your environment over time. The religious and philosophical relationships have very little to do with this. If you have a spiritual background it will only be strengthened and fostered by meditation, regardless of the tradition or techniques you use. For those of us who are not going to live in a hermitage, or join a monastery, and just want less stress in our lives and changes in our abilities to deal with “stressful” situations, the following techniques are for you.

This article comes from my experience in helping my patients get started with (or restart) a meditation practice. Some of them have meditated before and found it difficult for various reasons, or they have quit because they didn’t feel that they had the time. The results from meditation are easier to obtain than people realize, and the total time of meditation does not matter as much as people believe it does. The only aspect of a meditation practice that seems to make a difference is being consistent. In my experience, most people can easily follow the instructions I have laid out below and are able to start a simple meditation practice. I offer these in the hopes that you will benefit in some way from the techniques.

  • 1) Preparation:

As stated above, one of the major considerations when establishing a meditation practice is to think of the consistency. The factors to consider are when, how long, and where you will meditate. Your practice will flourish so long as you start with a practice that you can stick with.

When: Generally people will meditate either in the morning or in the evening – or both. To not overdo your practice you should start with only one session. The key to choosing when to meditate is the time where you are relatively awake and relaxed. One of the major keys in meditation is that it is not sleeping and it is not simple relaxation. It is a scientific process for which you must be conscious and ideally not overstressed. Trying to meditate while sleepy or too stressed is generally a waste of your time.

How Long: There are many views on this, but for most people any session longer than 20-25 minutes is probably unnecessary. Starting with 10-15 minutes for 2-3 months and then working up to 20 is sufficient for obtaining results.

Where: Where you meditate is important only in the sense that it shouldn’t be in bed or anywhere associated with sleep. It should be somewhere not too noisy and where you will not be distracted. Whether you face a shrine, the wall, overlooking a pond, it doesn’t really matter. What is important, is to meditate in the same place regularly. This consistency of place is useful in training your body and mind to relax once you sit down.

  • 2) Body Technique/Sitting:

sawaki_meditationThe only “bad” way to meditate is to lay down. Standing, sitting in a chair, sitting on a meditation cushion, etc. are all ok. Laying down is not good because it is too easy to fall asleep – and, again, meditation is not sleeping or simple relaxation. Regardless of position, you want your back straight but not tight, your eyes to be partially open (to avoid sleeping) and gazing slightly downward, your head held up upright with the chin tucked slightly downwards and the tip of your tongue lightly touching the roof of your mouth about 1cm behind your front teeth (for energy circulation).

A traditional way to sit is in the “full” or “half” lotus positions where you sit cross legged and either one or both feet are on the opposite thigh. This can be difficult for some but it ultimately is a good way to keep your body aligned properly. In essence, whatever sitting style where you can relax without being too sleepy or too uncomfortable is best for you.

  • 3) Meditation Techniques:

Below I have listed three techniques which people have found useful in the past. These techniques can be combined if your mind is too busy to help calm down the activity and reduced as your mind becomes clearer. In reality, meditation practice has its ups and downs, both from day to day and from month to month. It is a process with no end in particular and you should expect days where the meditation feels easy and days where it feels like a struggle. You should also keep in mind that the key is to loosely focus your mind – do not concentrate too hard on anything and do not lazily focus on nothing.

Technique (1) – Counting: As the purpose of meditation is not to sleep and not just simple relaxation, it is beneficial to use techniques that keep you conscious but slow your mind down and give it a stable point to relax into. Counting your breath, is traditionally one of the best ways to accomplish this.

In general, you want to count from 1 to 10 on each breath (either at the inhale or exhale). If/When you get to 10, start over from 1. While this sounds easy, you will find that you will count to 3, for example, and then 10 minutes will go by and you haven’t counted any further. The key to meditation is to be awake, but not too awake. It is easy to count to 10 if you are too conscious and impossible if you are too loose, you will find your way over time.

If counting 1-10 is too hard and your mind remains too active you can try some of the following techniques: count from 10 to 1, or from 100 to 1 by 10’s – basically anything that focuses your mind slightly more than the 1-10 routine.

Being flexible with the techniques is important, using more complex counting to restrain your mind and less complex when you are doing well – sometimes within the same session.

Technique (2) – Object Focus: Some people are more visually oriented and find counting their breath problematic. For these people, focusing on an object can be helpful for them. As one of the basic goals of meditation initially is to descend and focus your energy, visualization is often helpful in the area of the “dantian” or your energetic center. Traditionally, this is described as a point about an inch below your belly button and an inch inside of your abdomen (near CV 6).

A basic visualization technique is to picture a colored ball of light on the inside of your body near the dantian. Any color and size is fine. As you do not want to strain your concentration too hard, you can simply visualize a ball of light on an inhale and have it dissolve on the exhale – similar to counting.

If your mind is too busy, try changing the color of the ball every few breaths, or the size, whatever works best for your mind.

While there are many visualization techniques, initially it is better to not use those that are higher up such as light at the crown of the head, or those that are outside of you such as picturing yourself in a stream. Energetically these can lead to headaches and slightly dispersed energy respectively. Keeping it simple is best.

Technique (3) – Combined Counting and Object Focus: This technique works best during the initial stages of meditation or during particularly difficult sessions. It involves combining counting and a basic visualization. An example of this would be to breath in, say 1 in your mind and visualize the number 1 in your dantien. Any variation of this that lightly restrains your mind is fine.

Ultimately the counting and the visualizations are ways to stay conscious but loose. This allows the never ending rattle of thoughts and ideas in your head to die down. What you will learn over time is how not to pay attention to all the noise, but to be more selective. In reality, you are reacting all day to much of this information that is going around in your head but you are not fully conscious of it. One of the major benefits of meditation over time is to increase the awareness and processing time between an action and a reaction.

In a normal day there are many things which we react to with stress responses, some we are aware of and some not so much. What meditation allows is for your mind and body to ignore some of what is coming in, essentially cutting off the stress response. For your personal interactions it allows you to hear what someone else is saying and respond more clearly without as much emotional investment in the conversation. These are things, however, that each person experiences differently and only through consistent practice. Start now, keep it simple, and the benefits will come over time.

Vitamins and Supplements Show More Risks Than Benefit in Older Women

As we have written about before in our article, Vitamins and Supplements – More Harm Than Good, more is most often not better and this appears to be particularly true with unnecessary supplementation.  Yet another large-scale study has been performed which shows that supplementation (with the exception of calcium) appears to lead to an increased risk of mortality in older women.

Published in Evidence Based Nursing, researchers from the Gonzaga University Department of Nursing recently published “Various vitamin and mineral supplements are observed to increase mortality risk in older women, with the exception of calcium, which decreases risk.”

Their research drew the following conclusions:

    ■ Antioxidant use could be harmful to older women.

    ■ Calcium use is associated with lower mortality risk in older women.

    ■ Dietary supplements should be used to treat symptomatic nutrient deficiency disease.

    ■ Further research is needed to explore the relationship between dietary supplement use and mortality risks.
 

As with many things the marketing behind supplementation is often far more hype than based in true scientific study.  Supplements should be considered as medicine and only used when there is a true clinically measured deficiency.  Our bodies have a host of complex relationships that we simply do not yet understand.  What we can observe is that too much of anything – even “good” things – will cause problems.  This is all the basis of yin-yang theory – everything has it’s place and is well balanced as it is – we simply have to follow that.  The “Eat Like A Human Diet” article we wrote covers some of these concepts as they related to our diets and some of the common fears such as “my diet is not good enough so I supplement.”.  In short it is unwise and possibly damagine to your health to uncritically believe the hype regarding vitamins and supplements.