March 2014 Health Pearls

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March 24, 2014

1.  Did you know that if you’re taking St John’s Wort and hormonal contraception (birth control pills, implantable contraceptives…), you might be at a higher risk for an unplanned pregnancy? 

St John’s Wort is an herbal remedy used mostly for symptoms of mild depression.  The UK Medicinal Products and Healthcare Regulatory Agency reported unplanned pregnancies in women who were taking St John’s Wort and hormonal contraceptives, warning that this herbal remedy has the component hyperforin which breaks down almost 50% of prescription drugs. 

Since herbal remedies are not regulated tightly in the U.S., there is a lack of specific warnings of drug interactions in the St John’s Wort ‘s packaging insert.  So be aware that your hormonal contraceptives might not be effective if you are also taking St John’s Wort!

2.  Vitamin D has been known to be important for bone health, muscle mass, and a strong immune system.  Several studies have tried to link Vitamin D deficiency to an increased risk of many cancers including lung, colon and even breast.  There are some concerns about Vitamin D deficiency and multiple sclerosis.  Many people in the Northeast area of the United States, reportedly as high as 85%, have been found to be Vitamin D deficient.

The researchers at Oregon Health and Sciences University recently reported that a high level of Vitamin D is associated with better cognitive function and improved mood in patients with Parkinson’s Disease, although the relationship is not clear.  The researchers admitted they don’t know if Vitamin D has a direct relationship in improving mood or cognitive function, or maybe patients with Parkinson’s disease tend to get less sunlight. 

NIH recommends 1,000-2,000 IU Vitamin D per day for most older adults and believes the ideal level of Vitamin should be 50 nmole/L, although the minimal level usually is believed to be around 30 nmole/L. 

3.  Even if you do not have diabetes, is it important to pay attention to your glucose (sugar) regulation?  A study published in November 2013 in Neurology showed it is important even for non-diabetics to better regulate their glucose level by exercising, lowering calorie intake, lowering consumption of simple carbohydrates and having enough sleep.  Poor sugar regulation can affect memory and hippocampal structure of the brain.

4.  Flaxseed was found to possibly lower blood pressure, as reported in the December 2013 issue of Hypertension.

In this study, 2 tablespoons of flaxseed (30 gram) added to a daily diet can result in a 10/7 mm Hb drop in six months.  For those with hypertension, an even more significant drop of 15 mm Hb in the systolic BP was observed.  With this benefit, the risk of heart attack would be expected to drop by 30% and stroke by 50%

What does flaxseed taste like?  To me, they taste “bland” like sesame seeds.  They can be added to many kinds of foods including rice without changing much of the taste of your dish.