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Feeling tired? You might want to check your iron levels

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Feeling tired?  You might want to check your iron levels. 

Iron is one of the key ingredients  of your next batch of red blood cells.  These cells last only about three months; the old ones are broken down in the liver, and new ones are generated in  the  bone marrow.  If our iron levels fall, then we can end up anemic, and, commonly, fatigued.

While most iron deficiencies have been seen in women of menstruating age, it can occur in men as well.

Here are some considerations if you have low iron in your blood test:

1. INTAKE:  Iron is found in foods that are green (like fresh vegetables, including Popeye's famous spinach), and also in foods that have red blood (meat, fish, chicken).  If you are vegan ,  eat green veggies,  beans and whole grains.   One easy trick for anyone low in dietary iron  is to use an uncoated iron frying pan, as it will add a lot of real iron to your foods.   If you are a junk food fan, remember they don’t call it “junk” for nothing: there is usually little iron (or anything else) in it.

2. ABSORPTION:  Certain kinds of stomache or intestinal conditions make it difficult to absorb iron, even if enough is presented in one's diet.  This can be seen in cases of malabsorption, including patients with surgically shortened intestines.

3. OUTFLOW: Two major sources of blood loss to consider;

    a)  Vaginal loss: heavy periods, or constant slow leaks throughout the menstrual cycle can lose more blood than the body can produce. If this is the case, it is not something to put up with, it should be investigated by your doctor.

     b) Rectal loss:

          -Visible loss of blood is an obvious cause of low serum iron for men or women. Remember that blood can be black if it comes from higher up in the stomache or upper intestines, or it could be bright red, if it comes from a hemorrhoid .  These are very important to investigate.

          -Invisible loss of blood:  A slow daily leaking of trace amounts of blood in the stool can indicate important problems inside the colon. One way to screen for this is with the home kits for Fecal Occult Blood, which comes with a stick, and a fold-over place to put the stool sample.  To read more about this test, click this link: FDA: home fob tests.  If any hidden blood is detected, then colonoscopy comes next.  This gives the doctor a clear view of any bleeding polyps, which are often fixable on the spot.  Through the colonoscope, it is also possible to biopsy and photograph any other pathology, such as inflammatory diseases like colitis or diverticulitis. 

Once the cause has been determined, then a solution becomes clear.  In cases where the problem lies in low intake, one needs more iron in the diet, or an iron supplement from your doctor.  In cases where there is an excessive loss, one must plug the leak, or at least have one's doctors solve this. In all cases, remember to recheck your blood after three months, to make sure your body is back on track.

In any case, this is just another reason to check the silent signals in your body, to make sure you stay as bulletproof as possible.  Its a stressful world out there, and we all need to be in our best shape!

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Beware the Plastics

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Plastics may be great for consumer.  But they are NOT meant to be consumed. 

With today’s busy lifestyle, more people are reaching for packaged foods, and most of these are introducing small amounts of chemicals into the foods they touch.   Whether it is the fast food burger in a foam box, raw meats on a Styrofoam (made from toxic styrene) tray in the supermarket, or drinks that now come in plastic instead of glass bottles, unwanted chemicals are entering our digestive tracts, and getting into our bloodstreams.  Now scientists and doctors are starting to take notice.  Higher rates (and earlier ages of victims) of cancers and neurological diseases are starting to be noticed in areas where packaged food is the norm.  While the big food companies may argue that this is untrue, there is certainly no chance that these chemicals like BPA (BisPhenol-A) are “health foods”.  As a consequence, it makes sense to take some simple measures to reduce our exposure.

Action Items to keep plastics out of your body:

  1. Buy fresh food, whenever you can.  Try your local farmer’s markets, or at least get to know the people behind the fish and meat counters at your grocery store.  Have them wrap it in wax paper. 
  2. Buy small quantities, so you won’t have a fridge full of left-overs. Remember the best way to keep food fresh is to leave it in the store!
  3. Learn to cook.  You will save money, and save your health.  You will also save time.  Watch Jamie Oliver’s 15 minute mealson YouTube; you will learn how to make something nutritious from scratch in less time than it takes to go out (or order in) for “fast” food.
  4. Don’t buy landfill along with your groceries.  Today’s foam trays, plastic containers, and packages all end up in next week’s garbage.  Far better to have foods wrapped in paper, foil, or cardboard boxes, and to buy liquids in glass containers. To complete the green concept, take your own cloth bags to the store, instead of using any plastic ones.  You will be amazed at the reduced output when you just buy the product and not the containers.
  5. Throw out your non-stick pans, plastic utensils, and storage containers.  Use stainless steel-lined pots and pans, and glass or steel storage containers. 
  6. Use water for your main drink.  It’s a lot cheaper than sodas and juices.  Besides, you don’t have to carry tap water home!  If your tap water tastes poorly, consider a reverse osmosis water filter. To make it look more appetising, fill old wine bottles with water, and leave them to chill in the fridge.   If you do enjoy fizzy water, seek out those that still come in glass containers. 
  7. Time counts.  If you do need to bring some foods home in plastic containers, transfer them to dishes immediately.    If some of it is to be saved for later, put it in a glass container.  Try not to eat from (or store food in) original plastic containers.
  8. When you absolutely need to use plastic at times, make sure it is the "hard" kind, not the soft opaque version; the opaque one is much easier to scratch with utensils, and much more likely to leech chemicals into its contents, especially when heated for cleaning.

While we can’t control all of the chemicals that touche our foods, we can certainly take these simple measures to fight back.   

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Have a Glass of Red Wine to Relieve Stress and Fight Heart Disease and Cancer

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Do you drink an occasional glass of red wine in the evening after a stressful day at work? Are you also a bit confused about which foods are good for you and which ones to avoid? Well, its getting even more interesting now.

An image of glass of red wine

We've long known that dietary factors are being found by researchers to play a role in the prevention or cause of cancers. Edible items from fats to chewing tobacco have been implicated as cancer causing agents, while others such as fiber and some vitamins can offer protection. Well, add to the list of good dietary products: red wine, garlic, onions, and soy sauce, although please, not all at once.

Dr. Terrance Leighton, professor of microbiology at the University of California in Berkley, identified a substance called quercetin which is found in these foods and, ironically, can also be a carcinogen. However, he says that its power as an anticancer agent simply overwhelms its danger as a mutagen, or cancer causing one. Found in a wide variety of foods, quercetin is active in the micromolar range, in directly blocking the proliferation of cancer cells. In case you are not familiar with the micromolar range, try looking for it just this side of the Rocky Mountain range. Dr Leighton noted that Chinese who are on diets high in allium vegetables, such as onions and garlic, which have incredible levels of quercetin, have twenty times less cancer risk than those without these vegetables.

Meanwhile, Dr. Michael Pariza, director of the Food Research Institute at the University of Wisconsin reported that mice given a cancer-causing diet developed fewer tumors if they had soy sauce on their food. Mind you, what they don't tell you is that the salt in the soy sauce probably gave the mice swollen ankles, high blood pressure, heart failure, and kidney disease, but hey, this is only a cancer experiment.

Here's the news about red wine: in moderation, it has long been thought of as heart healthy. The alcohol and certain substances in red wine called antioxidants, such as flavonoids or a substance called resveratrol, have heart-healthy benefits and may help prevent heart disease by protecting against artery damage. Antioxidants in red wine called polyphenols may help protect the lining of blood vessels in your heart. A polyphenol called resveratrol is one substance in red wine that's gotten attention. Some research shows that resveratrol could be linked to a reduced risk of inflammation and blood clotting, both of which can lead to heart disease. 

The resveratrol in red wine comes from the skin of grapes used to make wine. Because red wine is fermented with grape skins longer than is white wine, red wine contains more resveratrol. Simply eating grapes, or drinking grape juice, has been suggested as one way to get resveratrol without drinking alcohol. Red and purple grape juices may have some of the same heart-healthy benefits of red wine.

Other foods that contain some resveratrol include peanuts, blueberries and cranberries. It's not yet known how beneficial eating grapes or other foods might be compared with drinking red wine when it comes to promoting heart health. The amount of resveratrol in food and red wine can vary widely.

While this update about red wine might sound great if you enjoy a glass of red wine with your evening meal, the medical community is wary of encouraging anyone to start drinking alcohol. That's because too much alcohol can have many harmful effects on your body.


Here's an action tip:
Medical research comes and goes, and foods that were the villains of yesterday can come back into favor. In the meantime, until we hear evidence to the contrary, it seems we can all sit back to a Chinese vegetable meal, have a glass of red wine, and take the medical news not with a grain of salt, but with a shake of soy.

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Colonoscopy for Cancer of the Colon: Hind-sight is 20-20

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Colon Cancer Prevention

 Aging is supposed to be a reward, not a punishment.  However, there are days when that may not seem to be much consolation.  Just like with a car, we can ignore maintenance at first, but after it becomes an old classic, it needs a lot more maintenance.

One human example is our search for preventable diseases.  Colon cancer is certainly one of the classic examples. 

Our society is at a high risk of the disease, for a number of reasons.  Our aging population, or changing diet with less fiber and more sugars and additives, and our increased levels of stress all mitigate increased risks of this (and other) diseases.  Because cancer of the colon is so easy to prevent, and yet so deadly if allowed to grow undiagosed, prevention trumps heroic surgery as our first option.  While prevention incorporates the usual good lifestyle choices of diet, exercise, and stress management, here are some critical elements of detection:

1.       Fecal Occult Blood test: this is a simple test kit, available from your doctor or lab, which will show trace amounts of blood in the stool.  This might be from bleeding from the gums or swallowed blood from a nosebleed, or it could come from the stomach or any part of the intestines down to the rectum.  While blood is visible as red or black discoloration in the stools, this test is sensitive enough to detect blood hidden from the human eye.  Because it is inexpensive and non-invasive, this can be done to any age group.  We often order it for patients with low iron levels, or with known bowel diseases like chron’s or ulcerative colitis.


2.       Colonoscopy:  This is the definitive test, routinely suggested for all adults after the age of 50.  Earlier screening is suggested for those who have any of the risk factors mentioned above, including those who have positive Fecal Occult Blood tests.


                1. Minor surgery:  Nip it in the bud: the point of a direct (as opposed to a “virtual” one) colonoscopy is that it will not only show any polyps, but allows the doctor to snip, zap, or otherwise eradicate them before they turn into cancers.  A classic “two-fer”, this means the diagnosis is made, and the treatment is given all during the same procedure.  For patches of suspicious cells, a biopsy can be taken which will detect diseases within a few days of lab processing. 

2.    Major surgery: If the above is too late, and the cancer has progressed into and through the wall of the colon, then full abdominal surgery is usually indicated.  Often this ends with a segment of bowel removed, and a colectomy or removal of bowel being done.  The patient is left with a colostomy bag, which is often permanent.  In some cases, the cancer may have already spread beyond the colon and into the lymph nodes, meaning that systemic chemotherapy or radiation may then be needed.

Please consider option 1, no matter how you might rather postpone or ignore it.  Those who are in denial are likely going to end up with Option 2, and for some of those, even surgery may be too late to save their lives.  Once cancer has been established,  a third of all patients will die from it.  If detected early, the survival rate should be 100%.

There are plenty of “bad luck” reasons for us to die; please don’t let “bad management” add to your risks!  Ask your doctor for a referral, and make sure you check out your colon when you are due. 

For more info on colonoscopy:

For more articles on colon issues, check these articles on




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Suntan Bed Dangers- the "Stupid Light" is ON

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Not very long ago, society people were pale, and outdoor workers had suntans.   For whatever reason, society reversed the trend, and now it is fashionable to have a dark tan.  

Movie stars led the way.  George Hamilton was so addicted to tanning that it was written into his contracts that he could escape for weekend tanning breaks.  This led to some humorous continuity problems on set, like one movie where he jumped out of an airplane tanned, and was then seen untanned in his parachute a few seconds later!  Today, icons like Paris Hilton continue the trend.

A generation ago teens would lie out in the sun for hours, and use no protective sun lotions.  Worse, they would use baby oil, sometimes tinged with iodine to enhance absorption, in order to get a faster tan.  Lotions and oils were sold for tanning, but not for screening.


When Christmas/New Year's holidays came, students who went south for the sun would actually try to stay a couple of extra days, in order for their tans to last further into the new term back at school.

Then dermatologists started reporting the obvious.  Sun exposure/tanning was horrible for the skin. 

 Not just for reasons of skin cancers like melanoma, but for cosmetic reasons. The price of burned skin is premature aging.

 We are now seeing signs of permanent damage in younger adults.  Hence the rise of procedures such as chemical or laser peels, dermabrasion, injections into the face and lips, and face-lift surgeries. 

Here are a few facts that might help change your mind before sunbathing or using a suntan bed.

1. The tanning-bed suntan before a beach holiday does not protect you from sun damage.  Even with a great tan, you are fully exposed to risk when bare skin is in the sun or UV lamp light.  

2. The suntan from a bottle or spray lasts about as long as a real tan, and doesn't flake during the second week. And of course it can be reapplied at regular intervals, unlike having to take a trip to the tropics every couple of weeks. Also, the fake tan is indistinguishable from the tan gained under the sun or lamps.

3. Skin cancer (basal cell cancer, and melanoma being salient) risks are increased over 75% in those who tan before the age of 30. 

4. Tanning beds (and of course tanning in real rays) has been ranked with asbestos and cigarettes as a huge cancer risk. 

5.  In addition to dangers of cancer (to which most young tanners will feel imune), consider the cosmetic consequences.  Like splotches of discoloured skin, increased moles, permanent wrinkles on the lips and face, and even thinning and sagging of the skin.

6. If you must be out in the sun, cover up with a hat, and use a high SPF sunscreen.  Reapply as needed.  Also avoid the brightest part of the day if you have a choice; stay in the shade during the midday sun.

For additional information: Tanning Beds: what you need to know


For an interesting message to teens, read this link: Tannning Bed Risks

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Fiber: The Stress Fighter

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Fiber.  I know it's good for me, doc, but how do I get enough of it?  Do I have to eat the wrapper off my bran muffin?  Perhaps bark chips and kitty litter? 

Luckily, its a lot easier than you thought. More importantly, if you do eat enough fiber you can help make yourself a lot more bullet-proof to stress.

Fiber: A Stress Defense


Fiber is the non-digestible part of the cell wall found in all plant materials, such as fruit, grains, and vegetables.  It cannot be found in any animal products, such as meat, milk, or eggs.  Fiber is inert, and has no caloric value, and thus could be said to do nothing.  In fact, fiber never even enters the body in the sense of getting into the blood stream.  Not unlike a swallowed plastic button, fiber leaves the bowels largely unaffected by the stomach’s attempts to digest it.  But fiber is also one of the most powerful, if often underrated tools we have to defend our bodies from stress.

In the stomach, fiber makes the digestive juices work harder.  The stomach acid burns itself out on the inert fiber, and the stomach takes several hours to empty.  As a result, you are more ulcer-proof, and will feel fuller longer.  In the bowels, fiber, as long as it is taken with sufficient water, will prevent constipation, and help protect you from inflammations such as colitis and diverticulitis. The U.S. and Canadian Cancer Societies have recommended we eat more fiber, to reduce the incidence of cancers of the digestive system.  The Heart associations have endorsed fibers such as found in oat bran as a means to reduce circulating cholesterol, which is of course implicated in heart disease. 

Fiber also makes the body work harder and longer to extract sugars out of our foods, meaning that blood sugar levels tend not to have such high and low swings.  Not only does this reduce the hypoglycaemic urgency of a quick sugar fix a couple of hours after a meal, but it helps diabetics reduce their intake of insulin by a few units a day. I have even seen borderline adult diabetics come off their pills when they switched over to a diet with exactly the same number of calories, but with a high fiber load. 

The overweight dieter also benefits from increasing dietary fiber.  Because the stomach stays full for about four hours after a high fiber meal, there is less room to accommodate post-prandial nibblers.  After all, if one lived next to a field of sugar cane, one could eat endless sugar and not get fat, because the sugar comes with such a high natural fiber content.  When that fiber is refined out of the sugar, and put into candies, then huge quantities of sugar can be crammed into the same space, and dissolves almost instantly into the bloodstream, causing obesity.  As an added bonus to help the obese lose weight, a high fiber diet will carry out about 150 calories of undigested food each day, which helps fiber fans stay slim.

Fiber is a great help in fighting stress, as well as many other conditions.  Try to have at least 35 grams of it per day, or more if you can.  Remember you can get the whole regimen of fiber from your favorite foods: Bran cereal, oatmeal, baked beans in tomato sauce, corn, peas, potatoes, apples and bananas are all foods people enjoy, but are often avoided by people who are trying to lose weight.  Think again.  As long as you don't garnish these foods with butter, margarine, or fattening sauces they will actually help you stay full, and lose weight.  Remember, you needn't eat grated pine cones to win against stress. 

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Breast Exams: Well Worth a Little Study

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 Breast cancer is certainly well known to the public, and its research has been well funded through charity dinners and the popular “Race for the Cure” events.  Annual imaging through mammograms, sonograms, or even MRI’s have become routine for women over the age of 50.  For reasons of family history or simply lumpy breasts, many women will have these tests starting at age 40 or earlier. In addition, women will also have their breasts checked by their doctors as part of their annual physical examination. 


But in the months between images and doctor visits, early detection begins at home.  However, in spite of all this good public awareness, my patients tell me they are still somewhat unclear about “if, when, and how” to perform their own self-exams.

Here is a simple review:

1.       (“…if”):  Many articles are now surfacing that suggest self-exams of the breast are merely “optional”, and at best, really not very helpful.  I have a problem with this “hands-off” approach, in the same way I would respond to an “expert” article dismissing self-examination of the skin to check for changing moles.  In just the same way as the skin cancers, changes in basic structure beneath the skin can be followed by patients between their visits to the doctor.  In a recent study of breast lump patients that came to surgery, as many as 40% were first picked up by manual exam, not just by high-tech machines.  As I tell my patients, if a new lump appears next month, they should not wait eleven more months for me to find it at their routine physical examination. 
2.       (“…when”):  Most women of menstruating age will note breast lumps and tenderness to some degree, peaking just before their next period.  For this reason, it would make sense to focus on examining the breasts at the beginning of each new cycle.  For post-menopausal women, just pick the same day each month, say the first, and make that the benchmark day of self-examination.  To be sure, there is nothing wrong with weekly or daily routines, but the monthly check removes some of the ebb and flow factors of hormonal levels.
3.       (“…how”):  I will include a written version of the breast self-exam below.  But, I would suggest three additions:

  • Perform the exam in the bath or shower, in addition to in front of a mirror.  When the skin is slippery on the surface, it is far easier to detect masses beneath.
  • Lay the flat of your hand against the rib cage, and roll your fingertips against the breast tissue.  Don’t squeeze or point your finger-tips perpendicular to the ribs.
  • PLEASE check the collar bone, as well as the arm-pit (axilla).  If any lumps appear above or below the collar-bone (clavicle), then these (as well as axillary lumps) could represent primary breast issues.


MayoClinic: Breast Self-Examination Self-Exam Guide

In conclusion, each woman should become an expert in her own breasts, to have the earliest chance of catching breast cancer before it spreads. 



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Exercise: Another Weapon in the Fight Against Cancer

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We all know that exercise keeps us fit, and prevents heart disease, but it turns out to also be a cancer fighter.

image of man exercising

Regular exercise, for which our body has been designed, and which our modern lifestyle sees far too little of, has a number of benefits beyond toning up the muscles. 

It can help prevent heart disease, burn off some cholesterol from our blood stream, release endorphines to reduce pains, and improve our mood. 

Researchers  at the University of Alberta, headed by Dr. Vickie Baracos, have shown a new value to the humble exertions.  Rats were placed on varying levels of exercise regimens, such as swimming, and then injected with cancer cells.  While all developed tumors, the sedentary ones had far more significant disease.  Those that exercised even modestly had tumor sizes fifteen to forty five percent smaller in the same time frame. 

Exercise dramatically slowed cancer growth regardless of the rats sex, when the tumor was introduced, or the amount of exercise over the moderate level.  The results are extremely promising, especially as exercise has no adverse side-effects and does not need to wait for government approval.

The tendency most of us show towards those being treated for cancer is to coddle them, to save them steps where possible.  Now it seems the exact opposite should obtain.  The exercise need not be herculean, but should be tailored to suit the physical limitations imposed by the disease itself.  Even patients who are admitted for chemotherapy, who may well prefer to stay in bed due to side effects, should be encouraged to get up for at least brief forays around the room, or down the hall. 

If you have cancer, make sure you augment your medical treatments with everything you can, including good humor, and a positive attitude. It also means summoning the resolve to do at least some form of exercise each day.  Come to think of it, there's no need to have cancer to benefit from the same advice. 

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