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Health

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Toenail fungus can have medical implications

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Summer is almost here, and millions of Americans are beginning to expose their toes. Some are more self-conscious about it because of a disease called onychomycosis, better known as nail fungus.

Nail fungus usually affects toenails but can also affect fingernails. It turns the nails yellow, makes them potentially brittle, creates growth underneath the nail (thickening of the nails) and may cause pain.

Many consider getting treatment for cosmetic reasons, but there are also medical reasons to treat, including the chronic or acute pain caused by nail cutting or pressure from bedsheets and footwear. There is also an increased potential risk for infections, such as cellulitis, in those with compromised immune systems (1).

Onychomycosis is not easy to treat, although it affects approximately 8 percent of the population (2). The risk factors are unclear but may relate to family history, tinea pedis (athlete’s foot), older age, swimming, diabetes, psoriasis, suppression of the immune system and/or living with someone affected (3).

Many organisms can affect the nail. The most common class is dermatophytes, but others are yeast (Candida) and nondermatophytes. A KOH (potassium hydroxide) preparation can be used to differentiate them. This is important since some medications work better on one type than another. Also, yellow nails alone may not be caused by onychomycosis; they can be a sign of psoriasis.

When considering treatment, there are several important criteria, including effectiveness, length of treatment and potential adverse effects. The bad news is that none of the treatments are foolproof, and the highest “cure” rate is around two-thirds. Oral medications tend to be the most efficacious, but they also have the most side effects. The treatments can take from around three months to one year. Unfortunately, the recurrence rate of fungal infection is thought to be approximately 20 to 50 percent with patients who have experienced “cure” (4).

Oral antifungals

There are several oral antifungal options, including terbinafine (Lamisil), fluconazole (Diflucan) and itraconazole. These tend to have the greatest success rate, but the disadvantages are their side effects. In a small but randomized controlled trial (RCT), terbinafine was shown to work better in a head-to-head trial than fluconazole (5). Of those treated, 67 percent of patients experienced a clearing of toenail fungus with terbinafine, compared to 21 and 32 percent with fluconazole, depending on duration. Patients in the terbinafine group were treated with 250 mg of the drug for 12 weeks. Those in the fluconazole group were treated with 150 mg of the drug for either 12 or 24 weeks, with the 24-week group experiencing better results.

The disadvantage of terbinafine is the risk of potential hepatic (liver) damage and failure, though it’s an uncommon occurrence. Liver enzymes need to be checked while using terbinafine.

Another approach to reducing side effects is to give oral antifungals in a pulsed fashion. In an RCT, fluconazole 150 or 300 mg was shown to have significant benefit compared to the control arm when given on a weekly basis (6). However, efficacy was not as great as with terbinafine or itraconazole (7).

Topical medication

A commonly used topical medication is ciclopirox (Penlac). The advantage of this lacquer is that there are minor potential side effects. However, it takes approximately a year of daily use, and its efficacy is not as great as oral antifungals. In two randomized controlled trials, the use of ciclopirox showed a 7 percent “cure” rate in patients, compared to 0.4 percent in the placebo groups (8). There is also a significant rate of fungus recurrence. In one trial, ciclopirox had to be applied daily for 48 weeks in patients with mild to moderate levels of fungus.

Laser therapy

Of the treatments, laser therapy would seem to be the least innocuous. However, there are very few trials showing significant benefit with this approach. A study with one type of laser treatment (Nd:YAG 1064-nm laser) did not show a significant difference after five sessions (9). This was only one type of laser treatment, but it does not bode well. The advantage of laser treatment is the mild side effects. The disadvantages are the questionable efficacy and the cost. We need more research to determine if they are effective.

Alternative therapy

Vicks VapoRub may have a place in the treatment of onychomycosis. In a very small pilot trial with 18 patients, 27.8 percent or 5 of the patients experienced complete “cure” of their nail fungus (10). Partial improvement occurred in the toenails of 10 patients. The gel was applied daily for 48 weeks. The advantages are low risk of side effects and low cost. The disadvantages are a lack of larger studies for efficacy, the duration of use and a lower efficacy when compared to oral antifungals.

None of the treatments are perfect. Oral medications tend to be the most efficacious but also have the most side effects. If treatment is for medical reasons, then oral may be the way to go. If you have diabetes, then treatment may be of the utmost importance.

If you decide on this approach, discuss it with your doctor; and do appropriate precautionary tests on a regular basis, such as liver enzyme monitoring with terbinafine. However, if treatment is for cosmetic reasons, then topical medications or alternative approaches may be the better choice. No matter what, have patience. The process may take a while; nails, especially in toes, grow very slowly.

References:

(1) J Am Acad Dermatol. 1999 Aug.;41:189–196; Dermatology. 2004;209:301–307. (2) J Am Acad Dermatol. 2000;43:244–248. (3) J Eur Acad Dermatol Venereol. 2004;18:48–51. (4) Dermatology. 1998;197:162–166; uptodate.com. (5) Pharmacoeconomics. 2002;20:319–324. (6) J Am Acad Dermatol. 1998;38:S77. (7) Br J Dermatol. 2000;142:97–102; Pharmacoeconomics. 1998;13:243–256. (8) J Am Acad Dermatol. 2000;43(4 Suppl.):S70-S80. (9) J Am Acad Dermatol. 2013 Oct.;69:578–582. (10) J Am Board Fam Med. 2011;24:69–74.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.       

KEEP MOVING A regular program of walking can reduce stiffness and inflammation. Stock photo
A 10-pound weight loss reduces pain by 50 percent

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Over 27 million people in the U.S. suffer from osteoarthritis (OA) (1). Osteoarthritis is insidious, developing over a long period of time. By nature, it is chronic. It is also a top cause of disability (2). What can we do about it?

It turns out that OA is not just caused by friction or age-related mechanical breakdown, but rather by a multitude of factors. These include friction, but also local inflammation, genes and metabolic processes at the cellular level (3). This means that we may be able to prevent and treat it better than we thought by using exercise, diet, medication, injections and possibly even supplements. Let’s look at some of the research.

How can exercise be beneficial?

In an older study, results showed that even a small 10-pound weight loss could result in an impressive 50 percent reduction of symptomatic knee OA over a 10-year period (4).

Most of us either tolerate or actually enjoy walking. We have heard that walking can exacerbate OA symptoms; the pounding can be harsh on our joints, especially our knees. Well, maybe not. Walking actually may have benefits.

In the Multicenter Osteoarthritis Study (MOST), results showed that walking may indeed be useful to prevent functional decline (5). The patients in this study were a mean age of 67 and were obese, with a mean body mass index (BMI) of 31 kg/m2, and either had or were at risk for knee arthritis. In fact, the most interesting part of this study was that the researchers quantified the amount of walking needed to see a positive effect.

The least amount of walking to see a benefit was between 3,250 and 3,750 steps per day, measured by an ankle pedometer. The best results were seen in those walking more than 6,000 steps per day, a relatively modest amount. This was random, unstructured exercise. In addition, for every 1,000 extra steps per day, there was a 16 to 18 percent reduced risk of functional decline two years later.

Acetaminophen may not live up to its popularity

Acetaminophen (e.g., Tylenol) is a popular initial go-to drug for osteoarthritis treatment, but what does research tell us about its effectiveness?

Although acetaminophen doesn’t have anti-inflammatory properties, it does have analgesic properties. However, in a meta-analysis (involving 137 studies), acetaminophen did not reduce pain for OA patients (7).

In this study, all other oral treatments were significantly better than acetaminophen, including diclofenac, naproxen and ibuprofen, as well as intra-articular (in the joint) injectables, such as hyaluronic acid and corticosteroids. The exception was an oral Cox-2 inhibitor, celecoxib, which was only marginally better.

What about NSAIDs?

NSAIDs (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) help to reduce inflammation, by definition. However, they have side effects that may include gastrointestinal bleed, and they have a black box warning for heart attacks. Risk tends to escalate with a rise in dose. Interestingly, a newer formulation of diclofenac (Zorvolex) uses submicron particles, which are roughly 20 times smaller than the older version. This allows it to dissolve faster, so it requires a lower dosage.

The approved dosage for OA treatment is 35 mg, three times a day. In a 602-patient, one-year duration, open-label randomized controlled trial (RCT), the newer formulation of diclofenac demonstrated improvement in pain, functionality and quality of life (7). The adverse effects, or side effects, were similar to the placebo. The only caveat is that there was a high dropout rate in the treatment group; only 40 percent completed the trial when they were dosed three times daily.

Don’t forget about glucosamine and chondroitin

Study results for this supplement combination or its individual components for the treatment of OA have been mixed. In a double-blind RCT, the combination supplement improved joint space, narrowing and reducing the pain of knee OA over two years. However, pain was reduced no more than was seen in the placebo group (8).

In a Cochrane meta-analysis review study of 43 RCTs, results showed that chondroitin, with or without glucosamine, reduced the symptom of pain modestly compared to placebo in short-term studies (9). Yet, the researchers stipulate that most of the studies were of low quality.

So, think twice before reaching for the Tylenol. If you are having symptomatic OA pain, NSAIDs such as diclofenac may be a better choice, especially with SoluMatrix fine-particle technology that uses a lower dose, hopefully meaning fewer side effects.

Even though results are mixed, there is no significant downside to giving glucosamine-chondroitin supplements a chance. However, if it does not work after 12 weeks, it is unlikely to have a significant effect. Also, try increasing your walking step count gradually; this could reduce your risk of functional decline. And above all else, if you need to lose weight and do, you will reduce your risk of OA significantly.

References:

(1) Arthritis Rheum. 2008;58:26-35. (2) Popul Health Metr. 2006;4:11. (3) Lancet. 1997;350(9076):503. (4) Ann Intern Med.1992;116:535-539. (5) Arthritis Care Res (Hoboken). 2014;66(9):1328-1336. (6) Ann Intern Med. 2015;162:46-54. (7) ACR 2014 Annual Meeting: Abstract 249. (8) Ann Rheum Dis. Online Jan 6, 2014. (9) Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2015 Jan 28;1:CD005614.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.   

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Smithtown decked out for autism awareness. Photo by Alexandra Damianos

By Donna Deedy

The Town of Smithtown held a special Light the Town Blue ceremony in front of Town Hall April 3. Local families and members of the community living with autism joined with elected officials and town employees in the ceremonial kickoff for the month-long campaign. 

The ceremony was led by 21-year-old Brendan Lanese, who lives with autism, and his family. Prior to the lighting ceremony, Lanese invited any residents living with autism to assist him in illuminating the town in blue.

For the duration of April, blue lights and giant puzzle ribbons, the Autism Society’s official symbol for autism awareness, will embellish major landmarks throughout Smithtown, including Whisper the Bull, Town Hall, the Smithtown Parks and Highway Department grounds. 

In 2018, Councilman Tom Lohmann (R)and Parks Director Joe Arico helped to revive the tradition, which began for the first time in April 2015. Residents can pick up free blue light bulbs at the Town Council Office, 99 West Main St., Smithtown.

For more information, call 631-360-7621.

Zinc supplements (available as tablets, syrup or lozenges) should be taken within 24 hours of the onset of a cold. Stock photo
Supplements and exercise for the common cold

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

All of us have suffered at some point from the common cold. Most frequently caused by the notorious human rhinovirus, for many, it is an all too common occurrence. Amid folklore about remedies, there is evidence that it may be possible to reduce the symptoms — or even reduce the duration — of the common cold with supplements and lifestyle management.

I am constantly asked, “How do I treat this cold?” Below, I will review and discuss the medical literature, separating myth from fact about which supplements may be beneficial and which may not.

Zinc

You may have heard that zinc is an effective way to treat a cold. But what does the medical literature say?

The answer is a resounding, YES! According to a meta-analysis that included 13 trials, zinc in any form taken within 24 hours of first symptoms may reduce the duration of a cold by at least one day (1). Even more importantly, zinc may significantly reduce the severity of symptoms throughout the infection, thus improving quality of life. The results may be due to an anti-inflammatory effect of zinc.

One of the studies reviewed, which was published in the Journal of Infectious Disease, found that zinc reduced the duration of the common cold by almost 50 percent from seven days to four days, cough symptoms were reduced by greater than 60 percent and nasal discharge by 33 percent (2). All of these results were statistically significant. Researchers used 13 grams of zinc acetate per lozenge taken three to four times daily for four days. This translates into 50-65 mg per day.

The caveat is that not all studies showed a benefit. However, the benefits generally seem to outweigh the risks, except in the case of nasal administration, which the FDA has warned against.

Unfortunately, all of the studies where there was a proven benefit may have used different formulations, delivery systems and dosages, and there is no current recommendation or consensus on what is optimal.

Vitamin C

According to a review of 29 trials with a combined population of over 11,000, vitamin C did not show any significant benefit in prevention, reduction of symptoms or duration in the general population (3). Thus, there may be no reason to take mega-doses of vitamin C for cold prevention and treatment. However, in a subgroup of serious marathon runners and other athletes, there was substantial risk reduction when taking vitamin C prophylactically; they caught 50 percent fewer colds.

Echinacea

After review of 24 controlled clinical trials, according to the Cochrane Database, the jury is still out on the effectiveness of echinacea for treatment of duration and symptoms, but the results are disappointing presently and, at best, are inconsistent (4). There are no valid randomized clinical trials for cold prevention using echinacea.

In a randomized controlled trial with 719 patients, echinacea was no better than placebo for the treatment of the common cold (5).

Exercise

People with colds need rest — at least that was the theory. However, a 2010 study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine may have changed this perception. Participants who did aerobic exercise at least five days per week, versus one or fewer days per week, had a 43 percent reduction in the number of days with colds over two 12-week periods during the fall and winter months (6). Even more interesting is that those who perceived themselves to be highly fit had a 46 percent reduction in number of days with colds compared to those who perceived themselves to have low fitness. The symptoms of colds were reduced significantly as well.

What does all of this mean?

Zinc is potentially of great usefulness the treatment and prevention of the common cold. Echinacea and vitamin C may or may not provide benefits, but don’t stop taking them, if you feel they work for you. And, if you need another reason to exercise, reduction of your cold’s duration may a good one.

References:

(1) Open Respir Med J. 2011;5:51-58. (2) J Infect Dis. 2008 Mar 15;197(6):795-802. (3) Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2013, Issue 1. Art. No.: CD000980. (4) Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2014, Issue 2. Art. No.: CD000530. (5) Ann Intern Med. 2010;153(12):769-777. (6) British Journal of Sports Medicine 2011;45:987-992.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.    

٭We invite you to check out our weekly Medical Compass MD Health Videos on Times Beacon Record News Media’s website, www.tbrnewsmedia.com.٭

Elimination diets may play a role in treating eczema. Stock photo
Broken bones are a common side effect of eczema

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Eczema is a common problem for both children and adults. In the United States, more than 10 percent of the adult population is afflicted (1), with twice as many females as males affected (2).

Referred to more broadly as atopic dermatitis, its cause is unknown, but it is thought that nature and nurture are both at play (3). Eczema is a chronic inflammatory process that involves symptoms of pruritus (itching) pain, rashes and erythema (redness) (4). There are three different severities: mild, moderate and severe. Adults tend to have eczema in the moderate-to-severe range.

Treatments for eczema run the gamut from over-the-counter creams and lotions to prescription steroid creams to systemic (oral) steroids and, now, injectable biologics. Some use phototherapy for severe cases, but the research on phototherapy is scant. Antihistamines are sometimes used to treat the itchiness. Also, lifestyle modifications may play an important role, specifically diet. Two separate studies have shown an association between eczema and fracture, which we will investigate further. Let’s look at the evidence.

Eczema doesn’t just scratch the surface

Eczema may also be related to broken bones. In an observational study, results showed that those with eczema had a 44 percent increased risk of injury causing limitation and an even more disturbing 67 percent risk of bone fracture and bone or joint injury for those 30 years and older (5). And if you have both fatigue or insomnia and eczema, you are at higher risk for bone or joint injury than having one or the other alone. One reason for increased fracture risk, the researchers postulate, is the use of corticosteroids in treatment.

Steroids may weaken bone, ligaments and tendons and may cause osteoporosis by decreasing bone mineral density. Chronic inflammation may also contribute to the risk of bone loss. There were 34,500 patients involved in the study, ranging in age from 18 to 85. For those who have eczema and have been treated with steroids, it may be wise to have a DEXA (bone) scan.

Are supplements the answer?

The thought of supplements somehow seems more appealing for some than medicine. There are two well-known supplements for helping to reduce inflammation, evening primrose oil and borage oil. Are these supplements a good replacement for – or addition to – medications? The research is really mixed, leaning toward ineffective.

In a meta-analysis (involving seven randomized controlled trials, the gold standard of studies), evening primrose oil was no better than placebo in treating eczema (6). The researchers also looked at eight studies of borage oil and found there was no difference from placebo in terms of symptom relief. One positive is that these supplements only had minor side effects. But don’t look to supplements for help.

Where are we on the drug front?

The FDA approved a biologic monoclonal antibody, dupilumab (7). In trials, this injectable drug showed good results, improving outcomes for moderate to severe eczema sufferers when topical steroids alone were not effective.

Do probiotics have a place?

When we think of probiotics, we think of taking a pill. However, there are also potentially topical probiotics with atopic dermatitis. In preliminary in-vitro (in a test tube) studies, the results look intriguing and show that topical probiotics from the human microbiome (gut) could potentially work as well as steroids (8). This may be part of the road to treatments of the future. However, this is in very early stage of development.

What about lifestyle modifications?

In a Japanese study involving over 700 pregnant women and their offspring, results showed that when the women ate either a diet high in green and yellow vegetables, beta carotene or citrus fruit there was a significant reduction in the risk of the child having eczema of 59 percent, 48 percent and 47 percent, respectively, when comparing highest to lowest consumption quartiles (9).

Elimination diets may also play a role. One study’s results showed when eggs were removed from the diet in those who were allergic, according to IgE testing, eczema improved significantly (10).

From an anecdotal perspective, I have seen very good results when treating patients who have eczema with dietary changes. My patient population includes about 15 to 20 percent of patients who suffer some level of eczema. For example, a young adult had eczema mostly on the extremities. When I first met the patient, these were angry, excoriated, erythematous and scratched lesions. However, after several months of a vegetable-rich diet, the patient’s skin had all but cleared.

I also have a personal interest in eczema. I suffered from hand eczema, where my hands would become painful and blotchy and then crack and bleed. This all stopped for me when I altered my diet many years ago.

Eczema exists on a spectrum from annoying to significantly affecting a patient’s quality of life (11). Supplements may not be the solution, at least not borage oil or evening primrose oil. However, there may be promising topical probiotics ahead and medications for the hard to treat. It might be best to avoid long-term systemic steroid use; it could not only impact the skin but also may impact the bone. Lifestyle modifications appear to be very effective, at least at the anecdotal level.

References:

(1) J Allergy Clin Immunol. 2013;132(5):1132-1138. (2) BMC Dermatol. 2013;13(14). (3) Acta Derm Venereol (Stockh) 1985;117 (Suppl.):1-59. (4) uptodate.com. (5) JAMA Dermatol. 2015;151(1):33-41. (6) Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;4:CD004416. (7) Medscape.com. (8) ACAAI 2014: Abstracts P328 and P329. (9) Allergy. 2010 Jun 1;65(6):758-765. (10) J Am Acad Dermatol. 2004;50(3):391-404. (11) Contact Dermatitis 2008; 59:43-47.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. 

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dear Santa,

Dr. David Dunaief

This time of year, people around the world are no doubt sending you lists of things they want through emails, blogs, tweets and old-fashioned letters. In the spirit of giving, I’d like to offer you some advice.

Let’s face it: You aren’t exactly the model of good health. Think about the example you’re setting for all those people whose faces light up when they imagine you shimmying down their chimneys. You have what I’d describe as an abnormally high BMI (body mass index). Since you are a role model to millions, this sends the wrong message.

We already have an epidemic of overweight kids, leading to an ever increasing number of type 2 diabetics at younger and younger ages. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as of 2015, more than 100 million U.S. adults are living with diabetes or prediabetes. It complicates the issue that approximately two-thirds of the U.S. population is overweight and/or obese. This is just one of many reasons we need you as a shining beacon of health.

Obesity has a much higher risk of shortening a person’s life span, not to mention quality of life and self-image. The most dangerous type of obesity is an increase in visceral adipose tissue, which means central belly fat. An easy way to tell if someone is too rotund is if a waistline, measured from the navel, is greater than or equal to 40 inches for a man, and is greater than or equal to 35 inches for a woman. The chances of diseases such as pancreatic cancer, breast cancer, liver cancer and heart disease increase dramatically with this increased fat.

Santa, here is a chance for you to lead by example (and, maybe by summer, to fit into those skinny jeans you hide in the back of your closet). Think of the advantages to you of being slimmer and trimmer. Your joints wouldn’t ache with the winter cold, and you would have more energy. Plus, studies show that with a plant-based diet, focusing on fruits and vegetables, you can reverse atherosclerosis, clogging of the arteries.

The importance of a good diet not only helps you lose weight, but avoid strokes, heart attacks and peripheral vascular diseases, among other ailments. But you don’t have to be vegetarian; you just have to increase your fruits, vegetables and whole-grain foods significantly. With a simple change, like eating a handful of raw nuts a day, you can reduce your risk of heart disease by half. Santa, future generations need you. Losing weight will also change your center of gravity, so your belly doesn’t pull you forward. This will make it easier for you to keep your balance on those steep, icy rooftops.

Exercise will help, as well. Maybe for the first continent or so, you might want to consider walking or jogging alongside the sleigh. As you exercise, you’ll start to tighten your abs and slowly see fat disappear from your midsection. Your fans everywhere leave you cookies and milk when you deliver presents. It’s a tough cycle to break, but break it you must. You — and your fans — need to see a healthier Santa. 

You might let slip that the modern Santa enjoys fruits, especially berries, and veggies, with an emphasis on cruciferous veggies like broccoli florets dipped in humus, which have substantial antioxidant qualities and can help reverse disease. And, of course, skip putting candy in the stockings. No one needs more sugar, and I’m sure that, over the long night, it’s hard to resist sneaking a piece, yourself.

As for your loyal fans, you could place fitness videos under the tree. In fact, you and your elves could make workout videos for those of us who need them, and we could follow along as you showed us “12 Days of Workouts with Santa and Friends.” Who knows, you might become a modern version of Jane Fonda or Richard Simmons or even the next Shaun T!

How about giving athletic equipment, such as baseball gloves, footballs and basketballs, instead of video games? You could even give wearable devices that track step counts and bike routes or stuff gift certificates for dance lessons into people’s stockings. These might influence the recipients to be more active.

By doing all this, you might also have the kind of energy that will make it easier for you to steal a base or two in this season’s North Pole Athletic League’s Softball Team. The elves don’t even bother holding you on base anymore, do they?

As you become more active, you’ll find that you have more energy all year round, not just on Christmas Eve. If you start soon, Santa, maybe by next year, you’ll find yourself parking the sleigh farther away and skipping from chimney to chimney.

The benefits of a healthier Santa will ripple across the world. Think about something much closer to home, even your reindeer won’t have to work so hard. You might also fit extra presents in your sleigh. And Santa, you will be sending kids and adults the world over the right message about taking control of their health through nutrition and exercise. That’s the best gift you could give!

Wishing you good health in the new year,

David

P.S. I could really use some new baseballs, if you have a little extra room in your sleigh.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician. 

٭We invite you to check out our new weekly Medical Compass MD Health Videos on Times Beacon Record News Media’s website, www.tbrnewsmedia.com.٭

Studies show that walking a modest distance can reduce triglyceride levels. Stock photo
Reducing carbohydrates may be more important than restricting calories

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Triglycerides are part of the lipid, or cholesterol, profile. They get less attention than the other substances, HDL (“good”) and LDL (“bad”) cholesterol, but they’re no less significant. 

For 30 years, we have debated whether a high triglyceride level is a biomarker for cardiovascular disease — heart disease and stroke — or an independent risk in its own right (1, 2). Either way, triglycerides are important.

What are they? The most rudimentary explanation is that they are a kind of fat in the blood. They are composed of sugar alcohol and three fatty acids. Thus, it’s no surprise that alcohol, sugars and excess calorie consumption may be converted into triglycerides.

Risk factors for high triglycerides include obesity, smoking, a high carbohydrate diet, uncontrolled diabetes, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid), cirrhosis (liver disease), excessive alcohol consumption and some medications (3).

What levels are normal? Optimal levels are <100 mg/dL; however, less than 150 mg/dL is considered within normal range. Borderline triglycerides are 150–199 mg/dL, high levels are 200–499 mg/dL, and very high are >500 mg/dL (3).

While medicines that focus on triglycerides, fibrates and niacin can lower them significantly, this reduction may not result in clinical benefits, such as reducing the risk of cardiovascular events. The ACCORD Study, a randomized controlled trial, questioned the effectiveness of medication; when these therapies were added to statins in type 2 diabetes patients, they did not further reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease and events (4). Instead, it seems that lifestyle modifications may be the best way to control triglyceride levels. Let’s look at the evidence.

Exercise — timing and intensity

If you need a reason to exercise, here is a really good one. Study results showed that walking a modest distance with alacrity and light weight training approximately an hour after eating (postprandial) reduced triglyceride levels by 72 percent (5). However, if patients did the same workout prior to eating, postprandial triglycerides were reduced by 25 percent. This is still good, but not as impressive. 

Participants walked a modest distance of just over 1 mile (2 kilometers). This was a small pilot study of 10 young healthy adults for a very short duration. The results are intriguing, nonetheless, since there are few data that give specifics on the optimal amount and timing of exercise.

Exercise trumps calorie restriction

There is good news for those who want to lower triglycerides: Calorie restriction may not be the best answer. Instead, we probably should be looking at exercise and carbohydrate intake.

In a well-controlled trial, results showed that those who walked and maintained 60 percent of their maximum heart rate, which is a modest level, showed an almost one-third reduction in triglycerides compared to the control group (maintain caloric intake and no exercise expenditure) (6). Those who restricted their calorie intake saw no difference compared to the control. This was a small study of 11 young adult women. Thus, calorie restriction was trumped by exercise.

Carbohydrate reduction, not calorie restriction

In addition, when calorie restriction was compared to carbohydrate reduction, results showed that carbohydrate reduction was more effective at lowering triglycerides (7). In this small, but well-designed study, patients with nonalcoholic fatty liver disease were randomized to one of two diets, lower calorie (1200–1500 kcal/day) or lower carbohydrate (20 g/day). Both groups lost similar amounts of weight and significantly reduced triglycerides, but the lower carbohydrate group reduced triglycerides by 55 percent versus 28 percent for the lower calorie group. The reason for this difference may have to do with oxidation in the liver and the body as a whole. However, the weakness of this study was its duration of only two weeks.

Fasting versus nonfasting blood tests

The paradigm has been that, when cholesterol levels are drawn, fasting levels provide a more accurate reading. Except this may not be true.

NHANES III data suggest that nonfasting and fasting levels yield similar results related to all-cause mortality and cardiovascular mortality risk. LDL levels were similarly predictive, regardless of whether a patient had fasted or not. The researchers used 4,299 pairs of fasting and nonfasting cholesterol levels. The duration of follow-up was strong, with a mean of 14 years (8).

With regards to stroke risk assessment, nonfasting triglycerides may be more valuable than fasting. In a study involving 13,596 participants, results showed that as nonfasting triglycerides rose, the risk of stroke also rose significantly (9). Compared to those who had levels below 89 mg/dL (the control), those with 89–176 mg/dL had a 1.3-fold increased risk of cardiovascular events, whereas those within the range of 177–265 mg/dL had a twofold increase, and women in the highest group (>443 mg/dL) had an almost fourfold increase. The results were similar for men, with a threefold increase.

The benefit of nonfasting is that it is more realistic and, according to the authors, also involves remnants of VLDL and chylomicrons, other components of the cholesterol profile that interact with triglycerides and may affect the inner part (endothelium) of the arteries.

What have we learned? Triglycerides need to be discussed. Elevated triglycerides may result in heart disease or stroke. The higher the levels, the more likely there will be increased risk of mortality — both all-cause and cardiovascular. Therefore, we ideally should reduce levels to less than 100 mg/dL.

Lifestyle modifications using carbohydrate restriction and modest levels of exercise after a meal may achieve the best results, though the studies are small and need more research. Nonfasting levels may be as important as fasting levels when it comes to triglycerides and the cholesterol profile as a whole; they potentially give a more realistic view of cardiovascular risk, since we don’t live in a vacuum and fast all day.

References:

(1) Circulation. 2011;123:2292-2333. (2) N Engl J Med. 1980;302:1383–1389. (3) nlm.nih.gov. (4) N Engl J Med. 2010;362:1563-1574. (5) Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013;45(2):245-252. (6) Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013;45(3):455-461. (7) Am J Clin Nutr. 2011;93(5):1048-1052. (8) Circulation Online. 2014 July 11. (9) JAMA 2008;300:2142-2152.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management.    

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BOE approved changes in 2017, slow transition to full compliance to continue into ’18-19 school year

A BOE policy is increasing healthy food options in PJ schools. Stock photo from Metro

Port Jefferson School District is looking to become a healthier place.

Students and parents returning this fall should expect to see further changes to foods offered in cafeterias, sold for team and club fundraisers, and even those foods allowed at school celebrations for the 2018-19 year to meet standards set in a May 2017 board of education policy change.

In a July letter addressed to parents from Danielle Turner, the now-departed district director of health, physical education and athletics, the policy was enacted to address nutritional concerns as well as increase students’ physical activity throughout the school day, a move designed to keep the district in line with state and federal regulations.

“Elements of the policy went into effect last year,” Superintendent Paul Casciano said. “We chose a path of gradual compliance starting with last year so our students and advisers could plan accordingly going into the 2018-19 school year.”

Under the policy, school meals in the district now must include fruits, vegetables, salads, whole grains and low-fat items, adherent to federal standards. In addition, food and beverages sold in vending machines and school stores must meet nutrition standards set by federal regulations. Food and beverages sold by clubs and teams for fundraisers, both on school grounds and off, will also be subject to the same regulations. The policy also impacts in school celebrations and parties where food and drinks are provided, saying building principals will “encourage” parents and staff to follow the guidelines, and restricts the use of food “as
an incentive or reward for instructional purposes.”

“As a school community, it is important that we model what we teach about health,” Casciano said.

Student body president and Port Jefferson senior Reid Biondo said clubs and teams were made aware the policy change was coming last year and started to make preparations to adhere to the changes when it comes to fundraising.

“The fundraisers are very important for clubs and teams,” he said. “Not being able to fundraise by selling food is a source of concern but the students at Earl L. Vandermeulen are very creative and are already coming up with solutions. Last year, one of the classes hosted a volleyball tournament in place of a bake sale. There are plenty of alternatives to bake sales but students and teams are going to need to work a little harder for their money.”

Despite the challenges created by the policy, Biondo said he sees the district’s point of view in trying to foster a healthier school environment.

“I think they are right to encourage a more healthy lifestyle and I think it is a step in the right direction,” he said. “Students should have access to healthy eating options and that part of this change in the school district excites me. However, I do not think removing the unhealthy choices entirely is the solution.”

Biondo pointed out that CVS is less than a five-minute walk from the school’s front door, and he suspects many of his peers will go there to purchase an unhealthy after-school snack. This would mean the revenue from bake or candy bar sale would be going to an outside source, while students continue making unhealthy choices. The senior also suggested the district should provide additional education about healthy lifestyle choices and consuming snacks in moderation, to encourage students to lead a healthy lifestyle in and outside of school.

Casciano said the district took the fundraising obstacles for extracurricular organizations into account when crafting the policy and suggested healthier alternatives can still be sold to raise money. He added the district’s hiring of Adam Sherrard to take over for Turner will have no bearing on the implementation of the policy.

The full board wellness policy can be found at www.portjeffschools.org under “Community” tab.

Plastic presents a difficult but necessary to address challenge for the world's oceans. Photo courtesy of United States Coast Guard

By Herb Herman

“The charmed ocean’s pausing, the waves lie still and gleaming, and the lulled winds seem dreaming,” wrote Lord Byron, an 18th-century British poet.

Yet is our ocean, in which scientists estimated in 2014 that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris, still charmed? Of that, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some 4 billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea. The United Nations estimated in 2006 every square mile of ocean contains 46,000 pieces of floating plastic. According to a University of Georgia study, about 19 billion pounds of plastic trash winds up in our oceans each year.

Durability is one of plastic’s chief properties, which is the reason plastics present a seemingly endless threat to the marine environment. And the oceans are not the only repository of pollutants. Approximately 40 percent of the lakes in America are too polluted for fishing, aquatic life, or swimming. More than 1 million seabirds and 100,000 sea mammals are killed by plastic pollution every year.

One of the main culprits of this high level of ocean, lake and river pollution is from industrial sources, an abundant source of plastics in various forms. Further contributors to pollution are municipalities’ garbage, a significant quantity of which ends up in our waterways. But boaters are not by any means innocent. Virtually all boaters have plastic bottles, Styrofoam cups, plastic wrappers and more onboard. Much of this detritus finds its way overboard instead of into designated garbage bags, which should be removed when departing a boat. Remember, plastics are not degradable. And while plastic bags and other items may be labeled as biodegradable, in most cases they will only break down at temperatures over 50 degrees Celsius, a temperature not normally reached in the ocean.

Hurricane Irma resulted in an enormous number of fiberglass boat wrecks in the Florida Keys. In an effort to clean up after the hurricane, many of the boats were crushed, giving off fiberglass particulates. This airborne pollutant made many people ill, to the extent that a number of residents had to be hospitalized. There is no acceptable way to recycle fiberglass, although means for doing just that are widely sought.

Further, plastic microparticles less than 5 millimeters in size, have shown up in the stomachs of marine life. These particles can be consumed by humans, causing still not clearly understood health problems, although it is believed these toxins can cause cancer and stunt the growth of fetuses. The U.N. has further recognized the possibility of these plastic microparticles acting as vehicles for transporting diseases such as Zika and Ebola from animals to humans.

So, you might ask, why bother us, the boating public with these lectures about keeping the trash in the boat and disposing of it responsibly? It might seem that boats contribute a marginal amount of pollution. However, for example, during an average summer, Port Jefferson Harbor has almost 600 resident boats and some 6,000 transients and is a busy cruising destination from May through October. One can imagine the amount of plastic pollution this number of boats could contribute to this beautiful body of water.

“Take it with you” should be emblazoned on all boaters’ minds.

Herb Herman is the public affairs officer for the USCG Auxiliary Port Jefferson Flotilla 014-22-06. He is a distinguished professor emeritus at Stony Brook University.

Preventing diabetes, cancer and stroke

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

What better way than a season centered around eating al fresco to kick-start you on the path to preventing chronic diseases? In the past, I have written about the dangers of processed meats in terms of causing chronic diseases, such as cancer, diabetes, heart disease and stroke. These are foods commonly found at barbecues and picnic meals. Therefore, I think it is only fair to talk about healthier alternatives and the evidence-based medicine that supports their benefits.

The Mediterranean-style diet is the key to success. It is composed of thousands of beneficial nutrients that interact with each other in a synergistic way. This particular diet, as I have mentioned in previous articles, includes fish, green leafy vegetables, fruit, nuts and seeds, beans and legumes, whole grains and small amounts of olive oil. We all want to be healthier, but doesn’t healthy mean tasteless? Not necessarily.

At a memorable family barbecue, we had a bevy of choices that were absolutely succulent. These included a three-bean salad, mandarin orange salad with raspberry vinaigrette, ratatouille with eggplant and zucchini, salmon filets baked with mustard and slivered almonds, roasted corn on the cob, roasted vegetable and scallop shish kebobs and a large bowl of melons and berries. I am drooling at the memory of this buffet. Let’s look at the scientific evidence.

Cancer studies

Fruits and vegetables may help prevent pancreatic cancer. This is very important, since by the time there are symptoms, the cancer has spread to other organs and the patient usually has less than 2.7 years to live (1). Five-year survival is only 5 percent (2). In a case control (epidemiological observational) study, cooked vegetables showed a 43 percent reduction and noncitrus fruits showed an even more impressive 59 percent reduction in risk of pancreatic cancer (3). Interestingly, cooked vegetables, not just raw ones, had a substantial effect. 

Garlic plays an important role in reducing the risk of colon cancer. In the IOWA Women’s Health Study, a large prospective (forward-looking) trial involving 41,837 women, there was a 32 percent reduction in risk of colon cancer for the highest intake of garlic compared to the lowest. Vegetables also showed a statistically significant reduction in the disease as well (4). Many of my patients find that fresh garlic provides a wonderful flavor when cooking vegetables.

Diabetes studies — treatment and prevention

Fish plays an important role in reducing the risk of diabetes. In a large prospective study that followed Japanese men for five years, those in the highest quartile of intake of fish and seafood had a substanttial decrease in risk of Type 2 diabetes (5). Smaller fish, such as mackerel and sardines, had a slightly greater effect than large fish and seafood in potentially preventing the disease. Therefore, there is nothing wrong with shrimp on the “barbie” to help protect you from developing diabetes. 

Nuts are beneficial in the treatment of diabetes. In a randomized clinical trial (the gold standard of studies), mixed nuts led to a substantial reduction of hemoglobin A1c, a very important biomarker for sugar levels for the past three months (6). As an added benefit, there was also a significant reduction in LDL, bad cholesterol, which reduced the risk of cardiovascular disease. The nuts used in the study were raw almonds, pistachios, pecans, peanuts, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts and macadamias. How easy is it to grab a small handful of unsalted raw nuts, about 2 ounces, on a daily basis to help treat diabetes?

Stroke 

Olive oil appears to have a substantial effect in preventing strokes. The Three City study showed that olive oil may have a protective effect against stroke. There was a 41 percent reduction in stroke events in those who used olive oil (7). Study participants, who were followed for a mean of 5.2 years, did not have a history of stroke at the start of the trial. Though these are promising results, I would caution use no more than one tablespoon of olive oil per day, since there are 120 calories in a tablespoon. 

It is not difficult to substitute the valuable Mediterranean-style diet for processed meats or at least add them to the selection. This plant-based diet offers a tremendous number of protective elements in the prevention of many chronic diseases. So this Independence Day and beyond, plan to have on hand some mouth-watering healthy choices.

» A staple of the Mediterranean pantry, beans are a healthy, versatile and super affordable ingredient. Rich in antioxidants, fiber, B vitamins and iron, they are a hearty great alternative to high-fat proteins. Serve guests the following three-bean salad as a side dish at your next summer barbecue or picnic. 

Three-Bean Salad

YIELD: Makes 10 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 15-ounce can of black beans

1 15-ounce can of red kidney beans

1 15-oounce can of cannellini beans

1 yellow bell pepper, chopped

½ red onion, finely chopped

¼ cup olive oil

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar or to taste

1 clove garlic, minced

1 small bunch cilantro, basil or parsley, chopped

¼ cup dill pickle, diced

¼ cup celery, chopped

Salt and pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS: 

Wash and drain the beans. Transfer to large bowl. Add remaining ingredients, toss well and refrigerate for a few hours before serving.

References:

(1) Nature. 2010;467:1114-1117. (2) Epidemiol Prev Anno 2007;31(Suppl 1). (3) Cancer Causes Control. 2010;21:493-500. (4) Am J Epidemiol. 1994 Jan 1;139(1):1-15. (5) Am J Clin Nutr. 2011 Sep;94(3):884-891. (6) Diabetes Care. 2011 Aug;34(8):1706-1711. (7) Neurology. 2011 Aug 2;77(5):418-425. 

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. 

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