The Magic of Maca

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In previous blogs, we’ve covered several “M” superfoods such as Moringa, Matcha and Maté so why not add Maca?  This radish relative is native to Peru and has been used as a staple in Peruvian dishes for decades.    More recently, a number of heart protective properties have been uncovered.  They include powerful antioxidant effects and reductions in blood levels of glucose, cholesterol and triglycerides.

Maca has also been long known to be an aphrodisiac with as little as 3 grams producing a desirable effect.  Unless you live in Peru, I recommend purchasing organic raw maca in powder form.  Just 1 teaspoon of Maca contains 5 grams to uplift mood, spirits and libido.

Check out our Maca Date Shake recipe shown below:

What you need: 1.5 teaspoons raw organic maca powder, 1 teaspoon Chinese 5 spice powder, 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder and 2 Medjool dates (chopped), 1/2 cup raw almonds or cashews, 1 cup almond milk, 1/4 cup goji berries, 1 tablespoon honey.

What you do: In a blender, combine all ingredients on high speed until smooth. Serve immediately as a single serving (or split into 2 servings).  This heart healthy shake is enriched in protein (26 grams) and fiber (18 grams) and low in saturated fat (4 grams).

Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  His book, “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease” contains 100 heart healthy, award winning recipes.

 

 

How Much Exercise Do You Need?

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While exercise plays an important role for maintaining good health, one question that my patients commonly ask is how much exercise they need to reap cardiovascular benefits.  It turns out that you do not need to run marathons or engage in rigorous activities to derive the advantages.  What is most important is to be active; walking is arguably the easiest and most available activity to keep your heart young and healthy while limiting wear-and-tear of your joints (knees and hips).

Listed below are several useful tips related to physical activity that I recommend to my patients interested in keeping their hearts young (and keeping them young at heart).

  1. Aim to walk approximately 5 miles a day:  Keep track of your daily activities using a pedometer or similar tracking device (iphones have a built-in “health app” that automatically tracks your daily activities).  Every 2,000 steps equals 1mile; 10,000 steps is equivalent to 5 miles.
  2. Walking burns calories: If you weigh between 100-200 pounds, you can expect to burn 250-500 calories simply by walking 5 miles each day.  Because 3500 calories is equal to 1 pound, adding 5 miles a day will result in weight loss (provided of course that you don’t increase food intake).
  3. Aim for a walking rate of 3-5 miles per hour (mph):  When it comes to heart health, the sweet spot is walking at a “brisk” rate of 3 to 5 mph.  If you are walking on a treadmill, start off with a 5-10 minute warmup period (2-3 mph), then engage in the higher walking rate for 20-30 minutes followed by a 5-10 minute cool down period.
  4. Arise and stretch every 20-30 minutes at work: If you have a sedentary job where you are assigned to a desk/computer, stand and stretch at least twice each hour.
  5. Build in light weight toning and stretching exercises:  A healthy physical activity regimen should incorporate light weights and stretching to stabilize and improve balance & coordination in order to lower fall risk.  Engaging in aerobic activities and weight toning exercises, lowers cardiovascular risk by 20-30%.  If you have not participated but wish to begin such an exercise regimen, make sure to speak with your health care professional to ensure that it is safe for you.Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  His most recent book is    “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“.

     

Feasting on Figs

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This past week we’ve enjoyed daily treats of colorful, ripe and amazingly delicious figs from our local food market.  While figs have been around for centuries, they remain underrated with respect to their high nutrient value.  Just 2 medium-large figs daily provides an ample supply of potassium (230-270 mg), magnesium (15-20 mg) and soluble fiber (2-3 grams) that when combined with other fruits/vegetables help maintain normal heart rhythm, promote vascular health and lower cholesterol.

Recent Studies also suggest that figs possess anticancer properties.  Suppression of tumor cells have been observed in breast, prostate and colon cancer.  In animal models, the antioxidant compounds in figs have also been implicated in the attenuation of neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer’s , Parkinson’s and Amyloidosis. Taken together, feasting on figs should be part of your dietary ritual for optimal health!                                                                                                                                                                      Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  His most recent book is    “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“.

 

Is Your Cholesterol Level Too Low?

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Earlier this week, a young appearing middle-aged woman came to see me because she was concerned that her cholesterol levels were too low.  In fact her total cholesterol and LDL levels were less than 80 mg/dL  (~2 mmol/L) and 35 mg/dL (~1 mmol/L), respectively; similar levels are observed in healthy newborn babies.  Her low cholesterol levels were not the result of a low cholesterol diet and she was not taking any cholesterol lowering medications.   It turns out that she was lucky enough to have inherited a protective gene that will keep her “bad” cholesterol levels low for the rest of her life and her blood vessels free from significant blockage, provided of course that she maintains an otherwise healthy lifestyle.

Not too long ago, concern reigned high that low cholesterol was unhealthy.  Because cholesterol is a vital structural component of cell membranes in all of our tissues and organs including the brain, naysayers suggested that very low cholesterol levels, would pose increased risk of neurologic and psychiatric issues.  Their concerns voiced in books and other outlets that garnered considerable media attention included depression as well as homicidal or suicidal tendencies.

However, the “cholesterol myth” has finally come to pass for 2 reasons:

  1. Natural selection studies have demonstrated that patients with very low LDL due to a genetic alteration (such as the woman I presented) also have a tendency toward longevity.
  2. Medications that drive LDL well below 70 mg/dL is associated with a reduced risk of future cardiovascular events.  In fact, the recent FOURIER study found that lowering LDL all the way down to 10 mg/dL continued to be associated with reduced cardiac risk.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              We anxiously await the new cholesterol guidelines to determine whether there will be new LDL lowering targets based upon the level of cardiovascular risk. In the meantime, keeping LDL levels down with lifestyle and medication when needed has been shown time and again to effectively reduce your overall cardiovascular risk.                                                                                                                                                 Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  Everything you need to know about natural ways to lower your cholesterol is discussed in his latest book,   “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“.

The Truth About Water & Your Heart

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My brother-in-law Jeff recently sent me an email that he had received questioning the innumerable virtues of drinking water for heart protection.  Not only was he correct in the lack of legitimacy for this assertion, but I was quite astounded to learn of the magnitude of false information (AKA, “fake news”) that is circulating on the internet.

While drinking water is vital to overall health and dehydration can pose health concerns, there is no evidence that the following list bears any physiologic truth.

2 glasses of water after waking up helps activate internal organs.

1 glass of water before taking a bath helps lower blood pressure.

1 glass of water before going to bed avoid stroke or heart attack.

What I recommend to my patients is the following:

  1. Drink ~1 glass of water (4-8 ounces) upon awakening.  This is not for heart protection but rather to replenish the modest insensible water losses that occur during sleeping hours.
  2. Stay well hydrated when traveling.  The rule of thumb is to drink ~8 ounces of water for every hour of air travel.  However, if you drink alcohol on the flight, then you need another ~8-ounces of water for per glass of wine, can of beer or shot of spirits.
  3. Stay well hydrated when engaging in physical activity.  Drink ~6-8 ounces of water before the workout begins and then supplement ~6-8 ounces of water every 15-30 minutes during the workout (depending upon intensity).                                 Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  His latest book is   “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“.

 

She’s Leaving Home…

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As our 18-year old daughter finishes packing en route to her first year of college next week, a bittersweet (ours) yet energizing (hers) fragrance permeates the household.  As if it were yesterday, I lucidly recall the excitement of leaving home for college, feeling ecstatically free and beginning a new chapter in life.   For parents though, the process is a bit different. At the very least, our house will be significantly quieter…less bickering, drama, attitude & sibling rivalry issues.  And it will be very refreshing not to constantly hear “Dad, you’re so stupid“!  Yet, we will obviously miss her.  Fortunately, it is easier than ever to communicate…when I think back to my college days, the main sources of communication were 1) good old fashioned letter writing and 2) using the public phone booth in our dorm to make the call on a dime.   How things have changed…and I’m not even that old!

For stress reduction during this time, I recommend the following:

For parents, the simple act of planning an upcoming visit or trip when your child returns home releases the neurotransmitter dopamine that uplifts mood and spirits.

For your child, a useful strategy for reducing college-test anxiety as recommended by one of my patients is to complete exam preparation the day before the actual test.  For example, if the test is scheduled for Wednesday, complete preparation by Monday so that Tuesday is a more relaxing review day; this strategy helped him reduce his pre-test stress levels, significantly raise his scores and develop work habits that ultimately made him a successful attorney.

For parent and child, set aside a regular time to communicate (at least once weekly) to ensure that needs are met and nothing falls through the cracks.

Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  His latest book is   “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“.

 

5 Surprising Health Benefits of Coffee

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Do you enjoy at least 1 cup of fresh brewed coffee every morning?  If you do, you’re certainly not alone as coffee is a staple in many countries.  In the United States at least 4 out of every 5 men and women drink coffee daily and in recent years the health benefits of coffee appear to far outweigh risks.  However, before discussing the virtues of java, it should be pointed out that the effects of caffeine can stick around for hours.  For my patients with insomnia, I recommend that they consume their final cup of coffee at least 8-10 hours before bedtime.  Second, due to  recent cancer concerns related to the toxin acrylamide that is released when coffee beans are roasted,  I recommend staying away from instant and light roasted coffee because they contain significantly higher amounts of acrylamide than medium or dark roasted varieties.

Now that you are armed with a cup of dark roasted coffee, let’s explore some of the proven health benefits:

  1. Improves Mood and Concentration: coffee contains the chemical methylxanthine, that helps to boost mood and concentration by blocking a compound that prevents the release of dopamine, norepinephrine and glutamate,  powerful neurotransmitters intimately involved in emotional health, focus and attention span.
  2. Reduces Glucose Levels: coffee contains the phytochemical, chlorogenic acid that slows the absorption of carbs, thereby lowering blood glucose levels and possibly the risk of type 2 diabetes.
  3. Clears your Lung Fields: coffee also contains the compound, theophylline that dilates lung airways and in medicinal form is commonly used as a treatment for asthma. If you have wheezing, try taking a deep breath after a cup of morning Joe and you may be surprised that your breathing is better and your lungs are clear.
  4. Speeds Up Your Metabolism: coffee boosts metabolism by increasing basal metabolic rate (BMR) due to activation of the flight-or-fight chemical epinephrine (or adrenaline); this can result in burning of fat calories and weight loss.
  5. Helps You to Live Longer:  Compared to non-drinkers, drinking as little as 1-2 cups of coffee a day is associated with improved lifespan.  Perhaps more importantly, your quality of life will improve too!

Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  He is a member of the American College of Cardiology Nutrition Workgroup and bestselling author.  His latest book is   “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“.

Why I Recommend A Handful of Blueberries Daily

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I won’t lie to you…I’ve had a longstanding love affair with blueberries ever since I was a 9-year old picking wild blueberries off bushes nestled in upstate New York. In fact, over the years, blueberries have become one of my daily staples and one that is featured with a dozen recipes in “Heal Your Heart.  That’s because blueberries are a win-win-win when it comes to tasting delicious, improving health and providing “supermood” qualities. I consume (at least) 1 handful of blueberries every day and you should too…here’s why: 

  1. Reduces Risk of Heart Disease in Women: blueberries are loaded with antioxidant flavonoids including anthocyanins, the pigments that give blueberries its rich color.  In a study of women in their mid-30s to early 60s, consuming blueberries and strawberries 3 or more times each week reduced the risk of heart disease by 34%.
  2. May improve (night) vision: Anthocyanins in blueberries have been reported to reduce inflammation in the retina and increase production of the visual protein, rhodopsin.  In fact, a recent report suggests that night vision may be improved.  I wonder whether the improvement that I have experienced in my vision (no glasses needed anymore…thank you) partly reflects my daily consumption of blueberries!
  3. Improves memory: Studies have demonstrated improvement in short term memory in older men and women consuming blueberry based products.
  4. Slows growth of tumors:  A growing body of evidence support the antioxidant and antiinflammatory components contained in blueberries to slow growth of a variety of tumors.
  5. Helps to maintain (or reduce) weight:  A number of animal studies have shown that antioxidant compounds in blueberries can lead to effective weight reduction. Although more modest effects have been reported in humans,  the low glycemic and high fiber index of blueberries make it one of nature’s healthiest and sweetest gifts and one that should be taken advantage of on a regular if not, daily basis!
  6. Michael Miller, MD is Professor and cardiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  His research has been featured in numerous media outlets including The Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Toronto Globe & Mail and Times of India.

5 Natural Ways to Boost Brainpower

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With last weeks discovery of a potentially new blockbuster drug that may be the most effective to date to slow progression of Alzheimer’s, I thought it would be timely to review some natural and proven ways to keep our brains young, sharp and focused.

  1. Reduce high blood pressure:  Good cognitive function is associated with systolic blood pressures (SBP) that range between 100-120 mmHg   In contrast, living with a high SBP (greater than 140 mmHg) raises the risk of developing age-deteriorating brain deposits (or amyloid plaques) that contribute to memory loss.  A study entitled “SPRINT-MIND” presented last week at the Alzheimer’s Association Annual meeting found that lowering systolic BP to less than 120 mmHg reduced memory loss by 15% compared to higher levels.  A word of caution: lowering blood pressure in older men and women should be done slowly and cautiously because an overly intensive regimen that lowers SBP too much (e.g., more than 20 mmHg) and too quickly (e.g., as measured in days rather than weeks) may result in dizziness, fatigue and possibly a stroke.  Therefore, a wise approach toward intensive blood pressure lowering should be aimed at gradual and sustained reductions that do not cause the symptoms outlined above.
  2. Eat fish at least twice each week:  Fish consumption offers a wide range of benefits for both your heart and mind. Not only does brain function improve with fish consumption, but for every 2 portions (3.5 ounce or 100 grams) of fish consumed weekly,  the risk of Alzheimer’s is reduced by more than 20%.
  3. Add turmeric to your meals: The rate of Alzheimer’s is lower in India and other countries where turmeric is a staple.  The principal ingredient of turmeric, curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compound that also reduces amyloid deposits from forming. Unfortunately, turmeric at low doses is not well absorbed; to enhance absorption add 1/4 teaspoon of black pepper to 1 teaspoon (2000 mg) of turmeric to enhance these biologic effects.
  4. Exercise: Physical activity not only boosts brainpower but may also reduce the probability of developing Alzheimer’s. The good news is that you do not need to run marathons to derive brain protection.  Simply add 30 minutes of moderate-exercise (walk at an average speed of 3 to 5 mph) at least 3 days weekly to reap the benefit.
  5. Manage your Stress:  Everyone experiences stress but effective management on a day-to-day basis results in sharper focus and concentration.  On the other hand, chronic stress that is not managed effectively places you at increased risk of Alzheimer’s.  Check out “Heal Your Heart” to learn the most effective natural tools that I recommend to my patients for managing day-to-day stress and boost brain and heart health.                                                                                                                           Michael Miller, MD is Professor and cardiologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  His original research has been featured in numerous media outlets including The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Toronto Globe & Mail and Times of India.

 

What Aspirin Dose to Reduce Risk of Heart Disease?

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We’ve been prescribing aspirin for many years to reduce the risk of heart disease and a commonly recommended dose is 1 baby aspirin (81 mg) daily.  This dose is much lower than the adult size (325 mg) used as an uncoated (chewable) form if a heart attack is suspected.    However, a new study suggests that the effectiveness of aspirin may be largely based on body weight.  The study examined results from 10 clinical trials and included more than 115,000 volunteers.  The results found that men and women who weighed less than 70 kg (or 154 pounds) had an approximate 25% lower risk of heart disease, stroke or cardiovascular death than no aspirin treatment; however, weighing more than 70 kg did not confer benefit unless the aspirin dose was adult size (325 mg).

Unfortunately,  another commonly used amount, 1/2 adult aspirin (162 mg) was not tested.  With respect to cancer risk, the baby aspirin dose was also associated with a 36% reduced risk of colon cancer in volunteers who weighed less than 70 kg but was of no benefit in those with higher weights.

Bottom Line: This is an interesting observational study though it does not prove cause and effect.  If you are at increased risk of heart disease, please speak with your physician and determine 1) whether you are a candidate for aspirin therapy and 2) if so, what may be the most suitable aspirin dose for you.

Michael Miller, MD is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA.  He is a member of the American Heart Association Council on Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health.  His latest book is  “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“.