Tags Posts tagged with "Health"


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Mild headaches and fatigue are common consequences

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

During the summer, we talk a lot about the dangers of dehydration. However, it can also cause problems during the cooler winter months. Dry heat quickly evaporates moisture in the air, making it hard to stay hydrated or to keep any humidity in your home or office. This can dehydrate us.

Complications and symptoms of dehydration can be mild to severe, ranging from constipation, mood changes, headaches and heart palpitations to heat stroke, migraines and heart attacks.

In addition, the dry air can make our throats and sinuses dry, making us uncomfortable and more susceptible to irritations and viruses.

Let’s look at some of the consequences of dehydration and suggestions for keeping hydration up.

Headaches and migraines

In a review of studies published in the Handbook of Clinical Neurology, those who drank four cups more water had significantly fewer hours of migraine pain than those who drank less (1). Headache intensity decreased as well.

Heart palpitations

Heart palpitations are very common and are broadly felt as a racing heart rate, skipped beat, pounding sensation or fluttering. Dehydration and exercise contributing to this (2). They occur mainly when we don’t hydrate prior to exercise. If you drink one glass of water before exercise and then drink during exercise, it will help avoid palpitations. Though these symptoms are not usually life-threatening, they can make you anxious.

Heart attacks

The Adventist Health Study showed that men who drank more water had the least risk of death from heart disease (3). Group one, which drank more than five glasses of water daily, had less risk than group two, which drank more than three. Those in group three, which drank fewer than two glasses per day, saw the lowest benefit, comparatively. For women, there was no difference between groups one and two; both fared better than group three.

The reason for this effect, according to the authors, may relate to blood or plasma viscosity (thickness) and fibrinogen, a substance that helps clots form.

Decreased concentration and fatigue

Mild dehydration resulted in decreased concentration, subdued mood, fatigue and headaches in women in a small study (4). The mean age of participants was 23, and they were neither athletes nor highly sedentary. Dehydration was caused by walking on a treadmill with or without taking a diuretic (water pill) prior to the exercise. The authors concluded that adequate hydration was needed, especially during and after exercise.

I would also suggest, from my practice experience, hydration prior to exercise.

How much water?

How do we go about this? How much water we need to drink depends on circumstances, such as diet, activity levels, environment and other factors. It is not true necessarily that we all should be drinking eight glasses of water a day. In a review article, the authors analyzed the data, but did not find adequate studies to suggest that eight glasses is the magic number (5). It may actually be too much for some patients.

You may also get a significant amount of water from the foods in your diet. Nutrient-dense diets, like Mediterranean or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diets, have a plant-rich focus. Diets with a focus on fruits and vegetables increase water consumption (6). As you may know, 95 percent of the weights of many fruits and vegetables are attributed to water. An added benefit is an increased satiety level without eating calorically dense foods.

Remember that salty foods can dehydrate you, including breads and pastries, so try to avoid these.

Caffeinated beverages

In a review, it was suggested that caffeinated coffee and tea don’t increase the risk of dehydration, even though caffeine is a mild diuretic (7). With moderate amounts of caffeinated beverages, the liquid has a more hydrating effect than its diuretic effect.

Keeping some humidity in the air

To reduce sinus inflammation and dry skin that heated air can promote, measure the humidity level in your home with a hygrometer and target keeping it between 30 and 50 percent (8). When the temperature outside drops below 10 degrees F, lower this to 25 percent.

Strategies for adding moisture to the air include using cool mist humidifiers, keeping the bathroom door open after you bathe or shower, and placing bowls of water strategically around your home, including on your stovetop when you cook. If you use a humidifier, take care to follow the manufacturer’s care instructions and clean it regularly.

It is important to stay hydrated to avoid complications — some are serious, but all are uncomfortable. Diet is a great way to ensure that you get the triple effect of high nutrients, increased hydration and sense of feeling satiated without calorie-dense foods. However, don’t go overboard with water consumption, especially if you have congestive heart failure or open-angle glaucoma (9).


(1) Handb Clin Neurol. 2010;97:161-72. (2) my.clevelandclinic.org. (3) Am J Epidemiol 2002 May 1; 155:827-33. (4) J. Nutr. February 2012 142: 382-388. (5) AJP – Regu Physiol. 2002;283:R993-R1004. (6) Am J Lifestyle Med. 2011;5(4):316-319. (7) Exerc Sport Sci Rev. 2007;35(3):135-140. (8) epa.gov (9) Br J Ophthalmol. 2005:89:1298–1301.

Dr. David 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.

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New research on PSA outcomes can inform your screening decisions

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

You may see more fuzzy faces among men this month. Welcome to “Movember,” when men grow facial hair to raise awareness and research money for men’s health issues (1). An initiative of the Movember Foundation, the intention is to fund men’s health projects focused on mental health and suicide prevention, prostate cancer, and testicular cancer.

Its prostate cancer initiatives focus on early detection, treatment options, and quality of life considerations for different treatments. Here, I’ll add prevention options to the conversation.

Regardless of your family history, you can reduce your risk of prostate cancer with simple lifestyle modifications. Factors that contribute to increased risk include obesity, animal fat, and supplements. Equally as important, factors that reduce risk include vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables, and tomato sauce or cooked tomatoes.

I’ll also share new research to inform your decision-making about prostate-specific antigen (PSA) screening.

Obesity’s effect

According to a review of the literature, obesity may slightly decrease the risk of nonaggressive prostate cancer; however, it may also increase your risk of aggressive disease (2). Because larger prostates make biopsies less effective, the authors attribute the lower incidence of nonaggressive cancer to the possibility that it is more difficult to detect it in obese men. Ultimately, those who are obese have a greater risk of dying from prostate cancer when it is diagnosed.

Animal fat

There appears to be a direct effect between the amount of animal fat we consume and incidence of prostate cancer. In the Health Professionals Follow-up Study, those who consumed the highest amount of animal fat had a 63 percent increased risk of in advanced or metastatic prostate cancer, compared to those who consumed the least (3).

Also, in this study, red meat had an even greater, approximately 2.5-fold, increased risk of advanced disease. If you continue to eat red meat, reduce your frequency as much as possible, targeting once a month or quarter.

In another large, prospective observational study, the authors concluded that red and processed meats increase the risk of advanced prostate cancer through heme iron, barbecuing/grilling and nitrate/nitrite content (4).

Cooked tomatoes

Tomato sauce has been shown to potentially reduce the risk of prostate cancer. However, uncooked tomatoes have not shown the same beneficial effects. It is believed that lycopene, which is a type of carotenoid found in tomatoes, is central to this benefit. Tomatoes need to be cooked to release lycopene (5). 

As part of this larger study, 32 patients with localized prostate cancer consumed 30 mg of lycopene per day via tomato sauce-based dishes over a three-week period before radical prostatectomy. Key cancer indicators improved, and tissue tested before and after the intervention showed dramatic improvements in DNA damage in leukocyte and prostate tissue (6). 

In a prospective study involving 47,365 men who were followed for 12 years, prostate cancer risk was reduced by 16 percent with higher lycopene intake from a variety of sources (7). When the authors looked at tomato sauce alone, they saw a reduction in risk of 23 percent when comparing those who consumed at least two servings a week to those who consumed less than one serving a month. The reduction in severe, or metastatic, prostate cancer risk was even greater, at 35 percent. There was a statistically significant reduction in risk with a very modest amount of tomato sauce.

Although tomato sauce may be beneficial, many brands are loaded with salt, which creates its own bevy of health risks. I recommend to patients that they either make their own sauce or purchase prepared sauce made without salt.

Cruciferous vegetables

While results among studies vary, they all agree: consumption of vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables, help reduce prostate cancer risk.

In a case-control study, participants who consumed at least three servings of cruciferous vegetables per week, versus those who consumed less than one per week, saw a 41 percent reduction in prostate cancer risk (8). What’s even more impressive is the effect was twice that of tomato sauce, yet the intake was similarly modest. Cruciferous vegetables include broccoli, cauliflower, bok choy, kale and arugula, to name a few.

A separate study of 1338 patients with prostate cancer in a larger cancer screening trial concluded that, while vegetable and fruit consumption did not appear to lower outright prostate cancer risk, increased consumption of cruciferous vegetables — specifically broccoli and cauliflower — did reduce the risk of aggressive prostate cancer, particularly of more serious stage 3 and 4 tumors (9). These results were seen with consumption of just one or more servings of each per week, when compared to less than one per month.

What about PSA screening?

In a recently published retrospective analysis of 128 Veteran’s Administration facilities, those where PSA screening was less frequent found higher rates of metastatic prostate cancer (10). During the study period from 2005 to 2019, researchers found an inverse relationship between PSA screening rates and metastatic prostate cancer. When screening rates decreased, rates of metastatic cancer increased five years later, while in facilities where screening rates increased, metastatic cancer rates decreased. While the study authors caution about extending these findings to the general population, they do suggest they could help inform conversations between men and their physicians about the value of PSA screening. 

When it comes to preventing prostate cancer and improving prostate cancer outcomes, lifestyle modifications, including making dietary changes, can reduce your risk significantly.


(1) www.movember.com. (2) Epidemiol Rev. 2007;29:88. (3) J Natl Cancer Inst. 1993;85(19):1571. (4) Am J Epidemiol. 2009;170(9):1165. (5) Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2002; 227:914-919. (6) J Natl Cancer Inst. 2002;94(5):391. (7) Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2002 Nov;227(10):886-93. (8) J Natl Cancer Inst. 2000;92(1):61. (9) J Natl Cancer Inst. 2007;99(15):1200-1209. (10) JAMA Oncol. Published online October 24, 2022.

Dr. David 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.

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Different dietary approaches may help modulate the immune system

By Dr. David Dunaief

Dr. David Dunaief

Autoimmune disease is when the body’s immune system attacks the organs, cells and tissues and causes chronic inflammation. However, this umbrella term refers to more than 80 different diseases (1). Some are familiar names, like type 1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis (RA), psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and inflammatory bowel disease. Others, like Lambert-Eaton myasthenic syndrome and Cogan syndrome, are less well-known.

Chronic inflammation is the main consequence of immune system dysfunction, and it is the underlying theme tying these diseases together. Unfortunately, autoimmune diseases tend to cluster (2). Once you have one, you are at high risk for acquiring others. They disproportionately affect women, although men are also at risk.

Treating autoimmune diseases with meds

The primary treatment is immunosuppressives. In RA, for example, where there is swelling of joints bilaterally, a typical drug regimen includes methotrexate and TNF (tumor necrosis factor) alpha inhibitors, like Remicade (infliximab). These therapies seem to reduce underlying inflammation by suppressing the immune system and interfering with inflammatory factors, such as TNF-alpha. Disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs (DMARDs), a class that also includes Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine), may slow or stop the progression of joint destruction and increase physical functioning.

However, there are several concerning factors with these drugs. First, the side-effect profiles are substantial. They includes risks of cancers, opportunistic infections and even death, according to black box warnings (the strongest warning required by the FDA) (3). Opportunistic infections include diseases like tuberculosis and invasive fungal infections.

It is no surprise that suppressing the immune system would increase the likelihood of infections. Nor is it surprising that cancer rates would increase, since the immune system helps to fend off malignancies. In fact, a study showed that after 10 years of therapy, the risk of cancer increased by approximately fourfold with the use of immunosuppressives (4).

Second, these drugs were tested and approved using short-term clinical trials; however, many patients are prescribed these therapies for 20 or more years.

So, what other methods are available to treat autoimmune diseases? Medical nutrition therapy using bioactive compounds and supplementation are being studied. Medical nutrition therapy may have immunomodulatory (immune system regulation) effects on inflammatory factors and on gene expression.

Managing inflammation with nutrition

Raising the level of beta-cryptoxanthin, a carotenoid bioactive food component, by a modest amount has a substantial impact in preventing RA. Several studies have also tested dietary interventions in RA treatment (5). Included were fasting followed by a vegetarian diet; a vegan diet; and a Mediterranean diet, among others. All mentioned here showed decreases in inflammatory markers, including c-reactive protein (CRP), and improvements in joint pain and other quality of life concerns.

Fish oil’s effects

Fish oil helps your immune system by reducing inflammation and improving your blood chemistry, affecting as many as 1,040 genes (6). In a randomized clinical study, 1.8 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) plus docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) supplementation had anti-inflammatory effects, suppressing cell signals and transcription factors (proteins involved with gene expression) that are pro-inflammatory.

In RA patients, fish oil helps suppress cartilage degradative enzymes, while also having an anti-inflammatory effect (7). A typical recommendation is to consume about 2 grams of EPA plus DHA to help regulate the immune system. Don’t take these high doses of fish oil without consulting your doctor, since fish oil may have blood-thinning effects.

Probiotic supplements

Approximately 70 percent of your immune system lives in your gut. Probiotics, by populating the gut with live beneficial microorganisms, have immune-modulating effects that decrease inflammation and thus are appropriate for autoimmune diseases. Lactobacillus salvirus and Bifidobacterium longum infantis are two strains that were shown to have positive effects (8, 9).

In a study with Crohn’s disease patients, L. casei and L. bulgaricus reduced the inflammatory factor TNF-alpha (10). To provide balance, I recommend probiotics with Lactobacillus to my patients, especially with autoimmune diseases that affect the intestines, like Crohn’s and ulcerative colitis.

Increasing fiber intake

Fiber has been shown to modulate inflammation by reducing biomarkers, such as CRP. In two separate clinical trials, fiber either reduced or prevented high CRP in patients. In one, a randomized clinical trial, 30 grams, or about 1 ounce, of fiber daily from either dietary sources or supplements reduced CRP significantly compared to placebo (11).

In the second trial, which was observational, participants who consumed the highest amount of dietary fiber (greater than 19.5 grams) had reductions in a vast number of inflammatory factors, including CRP, interleukin-1 (IL-1), interleukin-6 (IL-6) and TNF-alpha (12).

Immune system regulation is complex and involves over 1,000 genes, as well as many biomarkers. Dysfunction results in inflammation and, potentially, autoimmune disease. We know the immune system is highly influenced by bioactive compounds found in high-nutrient foods and supplements. Therefore, bioactive compounds may work in tandem with medications and/or may provide the ability to reset the immune system through immunomodulatory effects, treating and preventing autoimmune diseases.


(1) niaid.nih.gov. (2) J Autoimmun. 2007;29(1):1. (3) epocrates.com. (4) J Rheumatol 1999;26(8):1705-1714. (5) Front Nutr. 2017; 4: 52. (6) Am J Clin Nutr. 2009 Aug;90(2):415-424. (7) Drugs. 2003;63(9):845-853. (8) Gut. 2003 Jul;52(7):975-980. (9) Antonie Van Leeuwenhoek 1999 Jul-Nov;76(1-4):279-292. (10) Gut. 2002;51(5):659. (11) Arch Intern Med. 2007;167(5):502-506. (12) Nutr Metab (Lond). 2010 May 13;7:42.

Dr. David 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.

Warmer winters are likely contributing to the steady rise of tick populations and the spread of tick-borne diseases in the area. Illustration by Kyle Horne @kylehorneart
By Chris Mellides

As winters on Long Island become milder due to climate change, the existing tick problem on Long Island will likely intensify.

Already, municipalities along the North Shore have engaged the public to discuss the dangers of ticks and consider possible remedies. 

During a Village of Port Jefferson Board of Trustees meeting July 5, one concerned resident said, “Another child just got bit by a lone star tick and she can’t eat meat for the rest of her life.”

The meat allergy in question is Alpha-gal syndrome. AGS is a tick-borne disease commonly transmitted by lone star ticks, which are commonly carried by deer, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 

The instances of the prevalent Lyme disease have nearly doubled in the years 1991-2018, based on findings from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. As the climate becomes warmer, the size of tick populations and the spread of tick-borne diseases are projected to increase. 

Village trustee Rebecca Kassay, whose background is in environmental community outreach, is well aware of the problem that these pests pose to the larger community. She considers recent public interest in tick activity to be worth the board’s attention. 

“As time goes on and as climate change is affecting our area, one of the effects is these more mild winters,” Kassay said. “When there’s not a deep freeze for a prolonged period of time, the ticks don’t have that die-off like they used to and, as that happens, we’re seeing a steady increase throughout Long Island and the Northeast of tick populations.”

Wooded areas and athletic fields are more prone to being havens for these external parasites that are carried by wild animals like mice and deer and typically affect mammals, though other organisms are also fair game to these blood-feeding, eight-legged insects. 

“I’m going to be looking into messaging, making sure that there’s accurate information that gets out to parents,” Kassay said, adding, “What are ticks? What are the dangers of [them]? And how important it is to regularly check for ticks both on their children and themselves?”

Barbara Sakovich, Port Jeff clerk, shared that while the village does not spray for ticks, private homeowners are permitted to spray their own properties.

Referring to the July 5 meeting, Sakovich said in a statement, “Deputy Mayor Snaden, as well as an attendee in the audience, discussed tick tubes and that they can be somewhat effective to manage the tick problem in the mice population.” The village clerk added, “A lint roller can be effective in removing ticks from clothing after being outside.” 

The New York State Department of Health lists several diseases known to be carried by ticks. However, the severity of symptoms has raised a number of eyebrows. Lyme disease is the most common but anaplasmosis, rickettsiosis, ehrlichiosis and tularemia are also contracted via bioactive molecules in tick saliva.

Tick bites affect parents and children alike, and the Port Jefferson Village website recommends that afflicted residents should “call your physician as soon as possible so appropriate preventative treatment can be given.”

“There’s a vigilance and an awareness that needs to be spread and hopefully our community will not be learning about these things through personal experience,” Kassay said. “Rather, [we need] neighbors talking to neighbors and parents talking to parents and sharing this information so that through information we can prevent other children from suffering [from AGS].”

Symptoms of diverticular disease include fever and abdominal pain. METRO photo
Focusing on fiber can provide dramatic results

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

Diverticular disease, or diverticulosis, is a common malady that affects us as we age. Thirty-five percent of U.S. 50-year-olds are affected and, for those over the age of 60, approximately 58 percent are affected (1). The good news is that it is potentially preventable through modest lifestyle changes. Here, I will explain simple ways to reduce your risk, while also debunking a pervasive myth — that fiber, or more specifically nuts and seeds, exacerbates the disease.

What is diverticular disease? 

Diverticular disease is the weakening of the lumen, or wall of the colon, resulting in the formation of pouches or out-pocketing referred to as diverticula. The cause of diverticula may be attributable to pressure from constipation. Its mildest form, diverticulosis may be asymptomatic. 

For those who experience symptoms, they may include fever and abdominal pain, predominantly in the left lower quadrant in Western countries, or the right lower quadrant in Asian countries. It may need to be treated with antibiotics.

Diverticulitis affects 10 to 25 percent of those with diverticulosis. Diverticulitis is inflammation and infection, which may lead to a perforation of the bowel wall. If a rupture occurs, emergency surgery may be required.

Unfortunately, the incidence of diverticulitis is growing. As of 2010, about 200,000 are hospitalized for acute diverticulitis each year, and roughly 70,000 are hospitalized for diverticular bleeding (2). For those between 40 and 49 years old, the incidence of diverticulitis grew 132 percent between 1980 and 2007, the most recent data on this population (3).

How do you prevent diverticular disease and its complications? 

There are a number of modifiable risk factors, including diet composition, including fiber intake, along with weight and physical activity.

In a study that examined lifestyle risk factors for diverticulitis incidences, adhering to a low-risk lifestyle reduced diverticulitis risk almost 75 percent among men (4). The authors defined a low-risk lifestyle as including fewer than four servings of red meat a week, at least 23 grams of fiber a day, two hours of vigorous weekly activity, a body mass index of 18.5–24.9 kg/m2, and no history of smoking. They estimated that a low-risk lifestyle could prevent 50 percent of diverticulitis cases. 

Examining fiber’s effects

In terms of fiber, there was a prospective study published online in the British Medical Journal that extolled the value of fiber in reducing the risk of diverticular disease (5). This was part of the EPIC trial, involving over 47,000 people living in Scotland and England. The study showed a 31 percent reduction in risk in those who were vegetarian. 

But more intriguing, participants who had the highest fiber intake saw a 41 percent reduction in diverticular disease. Those participants in the highest fiber group consumed >25.5 grams per day for women and >26.1 grams per day for men, whereas those in the lowest group consumed fewer than 14 grams per day. Though the difference in fiber between the two groups was small, the reduction in risk was substantial. 

Another study, which analyzed data from the Million Women Study, a large-scale, population-based prospective UK study of middle-aged women, confirmed the correlation between fiber intake and diverticular disease, and further analyzed the impact of different sources of fiber (6). The authors’ findings were that reduction in the risk of diverticular disease was greatest with high intake of cereal and fruit fiber.

Most Americans get about 16 grams of fiber per day. The Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends daily fiber intake for those <50 years old of 25-26 grams for women and 31-38 grams for men (7). Interestingly, their recommendations are lower for those who are over 50 years old.

Can you imagine what the effect is when people get at least 40 grams of fiber per day? This is what I recommend for my patients. Some foods that contain the most fiber include nuts, seeds, beans and legumes. In a 2009 study, those men who specifically consumed the most nuts and popcorn saw a protective effect from diverticulitis (8).

Obesity’s impact

In the large, prospective male Health Professionals Follow-up Study, body mass index played a significant role, as did waist circumference (9). Those who were obese (BMI >30 kg/m²) had a 78 percent increased risk of diverticulitis and a greater than threefold increased risk of a diverticular bleed compared to those who had a BMI in the normal range of <21 kg/m². For those whose waist circumference was in the highest group, they had a 56 percent increase risk of diverticulitis and a 96 percent increase risk of diverticular bleed. Thus, obesity puts patients at a much higher risk of diverticulosis complications.

Increasing physical activity

Physical activity is also important for reducing the risk of diverticular disease, although the exact mechanism is not yet understood. Regardless, the results are impressive. In a large prospective study, those with the greatest amount of exercise were 37 percent less likely to have diverticular disease compared to those with the least amount (10). Jogging and running seemed to have the most benefit. When the authors combined exercise with fiber intake, there was a dramatic 256 percent reduction in diverticular disease risk. 

Thus, if you are focused on preventing diverticular disease and its complications, lifestyle modifications may provide the greatest benefit.


(1) www.niddk.nih.gov. (2) Clin Gastroenterol Hepatol. 2016; 14(1): 96–103.e1. (3) Gastroenterology. 2019;156(5): 1282-1298. (4) Am J Gastroenterol. 2017; 112: 1868-1876. (5) BMJ. 2011; 343: d4131. (6) Gut. 2014 Sep; 63(9): 1450–1456. (7) Am J Lifestyle Med. 2017 Jan-Feb; 11(1): 80–85. (8) AMA 2008; 300: 907-914. (9) Gastroenterology. 2009;136(1): 115. (10) Gut. 1995;36(2): 276.

Dr. David 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.

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Medications and lifestyle changes can reduce your risk

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

With all of the attention on infectious disease prevention these past two years, many have lost sight of the risks of heart disease. Despite improvements in the numbers in recent years, heart disease still underpins one in four deaths in the U.S., making it the leading cause of death (1).

Heart disease is on the decline due to a number of factors, including better awareness in lay and medical communities, improved medicines, earlier treatment of risk factors and lifestyle modifications. We are headed in the right direction, but we can do better. Heart disease is something that is eminently preventable.

Reduce your baseline risks

Significant risk factors for heart disease include high cholesterol, high blood pressure and smoking. In addition, diabetes, excess weight and excessive alcohol intake increase your risks. Unfortunately, both obesity and diabetes are on the rise. For patients with type 2 diabetes, 70 percent die of cardiovascular causes (2).

Inactivity and the standard American diet, rich in saturated fat and calories, also contribute to heart disease risk (3). The underlying culprit is atherosclerosis, fatty streaks in the arteries.

Another potential risk factor is a resting heart rate greater than 80 beats per minute (bpm). In one study, healthy men and women had 18 and 10 percent increased risks of dying from a heart attack, respectively, for every increase of 10 bpm over 80 (4). A normal resting heart rate is usually between 60 and 100 bpm. Thus, you don’t have to have a racing heart rate, just one that is high-normal. All of these risk factors can be overcome.

Medication’s role in reducing risk

Cholesterol and blood pressure medications have been credited to some extent with reducing the risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, according to 2018 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) data, only 43.7 percent of those with hypertension have it controlled (5). While the projected reasons are complex, a significant issue among those who are aware they have hypertension is a failure to consistently take prescribed medications, or medication nonadherence.

In terms of lipids, statins have played a key role in primary prevention. Statins are effective at not only lowering lipid levels, including total cholesterol and LDL — the “bad” cholesterol — but also inflammation levels that contribute to the risk of cardiovascular disease. The JUPITER trial showed a 55 percent combined reduction in heart disease, stroke and mortality from cardiovascular disease in healthy patients — those with a slightly elevated level of inflammation and normal cholesterol profile — with statins.

The downside of statins is their side effects. Statins have been shown to increase the risk of diabetes in intensive dosing, compared to moderate dosing (6).

Unfortunately, many on statins also suffer from myopathy (muscle pain). I have had a number of patients who have complained of muscle pain and cramps. Their goal is to reduce and ultimately discontinue their statins by following a lifestyle modification plan involving diet and exercise. Lifestyle modification is a powerful ally.

Do lifestyle changes really help?

The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging, a prospective (forward-looking) study, investigated 501 healthy men and their risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. The authors concluded that those who consumed five servings or more of fruits and vegetables daily with <12 percent saturated fat had a 76 percent reduction in their risk of dying from heart disease compared to those who did not (7). The authors theorized that eating more fruits and vegetables helped to displace saturated fats from the diet. These results are impressive and, to achieve them, they only required a modest change in diet.

The Nurses’ Health Study shows that these results are also seen in women, with lifestyle modification reducing the risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD). Many times, this is the first manifestation of heart disease in women. The authors looked at four parameters of lifestyle modification, including a Mediterranean-type diet, exercise, smoking and body mass index. The decrease in SCD that was dose-dependent, meaning the more factors incorporated, the greater the risk reduction. SCD risk was reduced up to 92 percent when all four parameters were followed (8). Thus, it is possible to almost eliminate the risk of SCD for women with lifestyle modifications.

Monitoring your heart disease risk

To monitor your progress, cardiac biomarkers are telling, including inflammatory markers like C-reactive protein, blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index. 

In a cohort study of high-risk participants and those with heart disease, patients implemented extensive lifestyle modification: a plant-based, whole foods diet accompanied by exercise and stress management (9). The results showed an improvement in biomarkers, as well as in cognitive function and overall quality of life. Most exciting is that results occurred over a very short period to time — three months from the start of the trial. Many of my patients have experienced similar results.

Ideally, if patient needs to use medications to treat risk factors for heart disease, it should be for the short term. For some patients, it may be appropriate to use medication and lifestyle changes together; for others, lifestyle modifications may be sufficient, as long as patient takes an active role.

By focusing on developing heart-healthy habits, we can improve the likelihood that we will be around for a long time.


(1)cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.(2) Diabetes Care. 2010 Feb; 33(2):442-449. (3) Lancet. 2004;364(9438):93. (4) J Epidemiol Community Health. 2010 Feb;64(2):175-181. (5) Hypertension. 2022;79:e1–e14. (6) JAMA. 2011;305(24):2556-2564. (7) J Nutr. March 1, 2005;135(3):556-561. (8) JAMA. 2011 Jul 6;306(1):62-69. (9) Am J Cardiol. 2011;108(4):498-507.

Dr. David 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. 

Avocados are a great source of micronutrients. METRO photo
Improving calorie quality makes a difference

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

The road to weight loss, or even weight maintenance, is complex. Many things influence our eating behavior, including food addictions, boredom, lack of sleep and stress. This can make weight management or weight loss very difficult to achieve.

Unfortunately, awareness of a food’s caloric impact doesn’t always matter, either. Studies assessing the impact of nutrition labeling in restaurants gave us a clear view of this issue: knowing an item’s calories either doesn’t alter behavior or encourages higher calorie purchases (1, 2).

Does this mean we are doomed to acquiesce to food temptation? Actually, no: It is not solely about willpower. Changing diet composition is more important.

In my clinical experience, increasing the quality of food has a tremendous impact. Foods that are the most micronutrient dense, such as plant-based foods, rather than those that are solely focused on macronutrient density, such as protein, carbohydrates and fats, tend to be the most satisfying. In a week to a few months of focusing on micronutrients, one of the first things patients notice is a significant reduction in cravings. But don’t take my word for it. Let’s look at the evidence.

Refined carbohydrates

Many of us know that refined carbohydrates are not beneficial. Worse, however, a randomized control trial (RCT) showed refined carbohydrates may cause food addiction (3). Certain sections of the brain involved in cravings and reward are affected by high-glycemic foods, as shown by MRI scans of trial subjects.

Study participants consumed a 500-calorie shake with either a high-glycemic index or a low-glycemic index. They were blinded (unaware) as to which they were drinking. The ones who drank the high-glycemic shake had higher levels of glucose in their blood initially, followed by a significant decline in glucose levels and increased hunger four hours later. The region of the brain that is related to addiction, the nucleus accumbens, showed a spike in activity with the high-glycemic intake.

According to the authors, this effect may occur regardless of the number of calories consumed. Granted, this was a very small study, but it was well designed. High-glycemic foods include carbohydrates, such as white flour, sugar and white potatoes. The conclusion: Everyone, but especially those trying to lose weight, should avoid refined carbohydrates. Calorie composition matters.

Comparing macronutrients

We tend to focus on macronutrients when looking at diets. These include protein, carbohydrates and fats, but are these the elements that have the greatest impact on weight loss? In an RCT, when comparing different macronutrient combinations, there was very little difference among groups, nor was there much success in helping obese patients reduce their weight (4, 5). Only 15 percent of patients achieved a 10 percent reduction in weight after two years.

The four different macronutrient diet combinations involved overall calorie restriction. In addition, each combination had either high protein, high fat; average protein, high fat; high protein, low fat; or low protein, low fat. Carbohydrates ranged from low to moderate (35 percent) in the first group to high (65 percent) in the last group. This was another well-designed study, involving 811 participants with an average BMI of 33 kg/m², which is classified as obese.

Again, focusing primarily on macronutrient levels and calorie counts did very little to improve results.

Micronutrient deficiency

In an epidemiological study looking at National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data, results demonstrate that those who are overweight and obese tend to be lacking in micronutrients (6). These include carotenoids, such as lutein, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene, alpha-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthin, as well as vitamin B12, folate and vitamins C, E and D.

Unfortunately, taking supplements won’t solve the problem; supplements don’t compensate for missing micronutrients. Quite the contrary, micronutrients from supplements are not the same as those from foods. With a few exceptions, such as vitamin D and potentially B12, most micronutrient levels can be raised without supplementation, by adding variety to your diet. Please ask your doctor.

Cortisol levels

The good news is that once people lose weight, they may be able to continue to keep the weight off. In a prospective (forward-looking) study, results show that once obese patients lose weight, the levels of cortisol metabolite excretion decrease significantly (7).

Why is this important? Cortisol is a glucocorticoid, which means it raises the level of glucose and is involved in mediating visceral or belly fat. This type of fat has been thought to coat internal organs, such as the liver, and result in nonalcoholic fatty liver disease. Decreasing the level of cortisol metabolite may also result in a lower propensity toward insulin resistance and may decrease the risk of cardiovascular mortality. This is an encouraging preliminary, yet small, study involving women.

Controlling or losing weight is not solely about willpower or calorie-counting. While calories have an impact, the nutrient density of the food may be more important. Thus, those foods high in a variety of micronutrients may also play a significant role in reducing cravings, ultimately helping to manage weight.


(1) Am J Pub Health 2013 Sep 1;103(9):1604-1609. (2) Am J Prev Med.2011 Oct;41(4):434–438. (3) Am J Clin Nutr Online 2013;Jun 26. (4) N Engl J Med 2009 Feb 26;360:859. (5) N Engl J Med 2009 Feb 26;360:923. (6) Medscape General Medicine. 2006;8(4):59. (7) Clin Endocrinol.2013;78(5):700-705.

Dr. David 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.

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The focus is on absorption and blood levels

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

With the recent storms, the cold temperatures and the not-quite-so-short, but still short days, it’s likely you’re not spending a lot of time outside in the sunshine with your skin exposed these days.

Here in the Northeast, this is the time of year when many reach for vitamin D supplements to compensate for a lack of vitamin D from the sun. Let’s explore what we know about vitamin D supplementation.

There is no question that, if you have low levels of vitamin D, replacing it is important. Previous studies have shown that it may be effective in a wide swath of chronic diseases, both in prevention and as part of a treatment paradigm. However, many questions remain.

At the 70th annual American Academy of Dermatology meeting in 2012, Dr. Richard Gallo, who was involved with the Institute of Medicine recommendations, shook things up by noting that, in most geographic locations, sun exposure will not correct vitamin D deficiencies. Interestingly, he emphasized getting more vitamin D from nutrition. Dietary sources include cold-water fatty fish, beef liver, and egg yolks. Most of us receive food-sourced vitamin D from fortified packaged foods, where vitamin D has been added.

We know its importance for bone health, but as of yet, we only have encouraging — but not yet definitive — data for other diseases. These include cardiovascular, autoimmune and skin diseases and cancer.

There is no consensus on the ideal blood level for vitamin D. For adults, the Institute of Medicine recommends between 20 and 50 ng/ml, and The Endocrine Society recommends at least 30 ng/ml.

Cardiovascular mixed results

Stock photo

Several observational studies have shown benefits of vitamin D supplements with cardiovascular disease. For example, the Framingham Offspring Study showed that those patients with deficient levels were at increased risk of cardiovascular disease (1).

However, a small randomized controlled trial (RCT) called the cardioprotective effects of vitamin D into question (2). This study of postmenopausal women, using biomarkers such as endothelial function, inflammation or vascular stiffness, showed no difference between vitamin D treatment and placebo. The authors concluded there is no reason to give vitamin D for prevention of cardiovascular disease.

The vitamin D dose given to the treatment group was 2,500 IUs. Thus, one couldn’t argue that this dose was too low. Some of the weaknesses of the study were a very short duration of four months, its size — 114 participants — and the fact that cardiovascular events or deaths were not used as study end points.

Most trials relating to vitamin D are observational, which provides associations, but not links. However, the VITAL study was a large, five-year RCT looking at the effects of vitamin D and omega-3s on cardiovascular disease and cancer (3). Study results were disappointing, finding that daily vitamin D3 supplementation at 2000 IUs did not reduce the incidence of cancers (prostate, breast or colorectal) or of major cardiovascular events.

Mortality decreased

In a meta-analysis of a group of eight studies, vitamin D with calcium reduced the mortality rate in the elderly, whereas vitamin D alone did not (5). The difference between the groups was statistically important, but clinically small: nine percent reduction with vitamin D plus calcium and seven percent with vitamin D alone.

One of the weaknesses of this analysis was that vitamin D in two of the studies was given in large amounts of 300,000 to 500,000 IUs once a year, rather than taken daily. This has different effects.

Weight benefit

There is good news, but not great news, on the weight front. It appears that vitamin D plays a role in reducing the amount of weight gain in women 65 years and older whose blood levels are more than 30 ng/ml, compared to those below this level, in the Study of Osteoporotic Fractures (4).

This association held true at baseline and after 4.5 years of observation. If the women dropped below 30 ng/ml in this time period, they were more likely to gain more weight, and they gained less if they kept levels above the target. There were 4,659 participants in the study. Unfortunately, vitamin D did not show statistical significance with weight loss.

USPSTF recommendations

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends against giving “healthy” postmenopausal women vitamin D, calcium or the combination of vitamin D 400 IUs plus calcium 1,000 mg to prevent fractures, and it found inadequate evidence of fracture prevention at higher levels (6). The supplement combination does not seem to reduce fractures, but does increase the risk of kidney stones. There is also not enough data to recommend for or against vitamin D with or without calcium for cancer prevention.

When to supplement?

It is important to supplement to optimal levels, especially since most of us living in the Northeast have insufficient to deficient levels. While vitamin D may not be a cure-all, it might play an integral role with many disorders. But it is also important not to raise the levels too high. The range that I tell my patients is between 32 and 50 ng/ml, depending on their health circumstances.


(1) Circulation. 2008 Jan 29;117(4):503-511. (2) PLoS One. 2012;7(5):e36617. (3) NEJM. 2018 published online Nov. 10, 2018. (4) J Women’s Health (Larchmt). 2012 Jun 25. (5) J Clin Endocrinol Metabol. online May 17, 2012. (6) JAMA. 2018;319(15):1592-1599.

Dr. David 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. 

Pixabay photo

With nearly 2 feet of snow covering the North Shore of Long Island, it’s important to remember that shoveling it can be a strenuous task for both the young and old. 

While freshly fallen snow looks pretty, it gets ugly fast when it piles up preventing us from getting to work, school or the supermarket. 

In order to get back to our daily tasks, the bottom line is we have to shovel. But shoveling can lead to not only minor aches and pains, but unfortunate situations such as heart attacks or death. 

This week alone with the most recent nor’easter, there were three blizzard-related deaths on Long Island — two in Syosset and one in Cutchogue. 

According to data analyzed in a 2019 Washington Post story, shoveling during snowstorms is responsible for about 11,500 injuries — 100 of which on average are fatal. 

However, Catholic Health Physician Partners cardiologist, Dr. Chong Park, gave his insight on how to prevent heading to the hospital while cleaning up your property. 

Park suggested doing a 10-minute warm-up before going outside.

“Light exercise and stretching allow your muscles and joints to loosen,” he said. “Also, avoid eating a heavy meal and consuming alcohol prior to clearing snow.”

Park added, “Should symptoms such as chest pain, chest heaviness, palpitations or shortness of breath occur as you shovel snow, stop immediately and seek medical attention.”

Other tips from Park include:

Dress properly: To stay warm when you’re outside, wear several loose layers of clothing. Additionally, don a water-resistant coat and boots along with a knit hat, scarf and gloves. It’s important to keep your gloves as dry as possible while shoveling. Wet gloves won’t keep your hands warm.

Set your pace: You may want to clear the snow as fast as possible, but that’s when injuries occur. Go slow and do it step-by-step. As much as possible, push snow along the ground. Use a smaller snow shovel to avoid lifting a load that is too heavy. 

Be sure to take frequent breaks, return inside to warm up and consume plenty of water. It’s also important to clear snow as quickly as possible before it begins to melt and gets too heavy.

Good form: When lifting snow, it’s important to use your legs. Bending at the waist can lead to an injury. Keep your back straight and squat with your knees wide. Avoid tossing snow. Instead, walk it to where you want to dump it.

Avoid falls: Wear boots with slip-resistant soles. Once you have cleared your driveway and walkway, throw down salt or sand to eliminate any remaining ice or snow and enhance traction.

So, please follow our motto, “Snow: Handle with care.”

Metro photo
Moderate exercise is better for weight maintenance than weight loss

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

It’s that time of year again, when exercise product commercials flood the airways. If you have “lose weight” on your list of 2022 resolutions, it’s helpful to consider what the research tells us about the relationship between exercise and weight loss.

Unfortunately, exercise without dietary changes may not actually help many people lose weight, no matter what the intensity or the duration (1). If it does help, it may only modestly reduce fat mass and weight for the majority of people. However, it may be helpful with weight maintenance.

Ultimately, it may be more important to reconsider what you are eating than to succumb to the rationalization that you can eat with abandon and work it off later.

Don’t give up on exercise just yet, though. There is good news: Exercise does have benefits for a wide range of conditions, including chronic kidney disease, cognitive decline, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, fatigue, insomnia and depression.

Exercise may not result in weight loss

The well-known weight-loss paradigm is that when more calories are burned than consumed, we will tip the scale in favor of weight loss. The greater the negative balance with exercise, the greater the loss. However, study results say otherwise. They show that in premenopausal women there was neither weight nor fat loss from exercise (2). This involved 81 women over a short duration (12 weeks). All of the women were overweight to obese, although there was great variability in weight.

However, more than two-thirds of the women gained a mean of 1 kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of fat mass by the end of the study. There were a few who gained 10 pounds of predominantly fat. A fair amount of variability was seen among the participants, ranging from significant weight loss to substantial weight gain. These women were told to exercise at the American College of Sports Medicine’s optimal level of intensity (3). This is to walk 30 minutes on a treadmill three times a week at 70 percent VO2max — maximum oxygen consumption during exercise — or, in other words, a moderately intense pace. 

The good news is that the women were in better aerobic shape by the end of the study. Also, women who had lost weight at the four-week mark were more likely to continue to do so by the end of the study.

Other studies have shown modest weight loss. For instance, in a meta-analysis involving 14 randomized controlled trials, results showed that there was a disappointing amount of weight loss with exercise alone (4). In six months, patients lost a mean of 1.6 kilograms, or 3.5 pounds, and at 12 months, participants lost 1.7 kilograms, or about 3.75 pounds.

Exercise and weight maintenance

However, exercise may be valuable in weight maintenance, according to observational studies. Premenopausal women who exercised at least 30 minutes a day were significantly less likely to regain lost weight (5). When exercise was added to diet, women were able to maintain 30 percent more weight loss than with diet alone after a year in a prospective study (6).

Exercise and disease

Walking the dog several times a week is a good moderate exercise. METRO Photo

As just one example of exercise’s impact on disease, let’s look at chronic kidney disease (CKD), which affects 15 percent of adults in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (7).

Trial results showed that walking regularly could reduce the risk of kidney replacement therapy and death in patients who have moderate to severe CKD, stages 3 to 5 (8). Yes, this includes stage 3, which most likely is asymptomatic. There was a 21 percent reduction in the risk of kidney replacement therapy and a 33 percent reduction in the risk of death when walkers were compared to non-walkers.

Walking had an impressive impact, and results were based on a dose-response curve. In other words, the more frequently patients walked during the week, the better the probability of preventing complications. Those who walked between one and two times per week had 17 and 19 percent reductions in death and kidney replacement therapy, respectively, while those who walked at least seven times per week saw 44 and 59 percent reductions in death and kidney replacement. These are substantial results. The authors concluded that the effectiveness of walking on CKD was independent of kidney function, age or other diseases.

Therefore, while there are many benefits to exercise, food choices will have a greater impact on our weight and body composition. 

However, exercise can help maintain weight loss and is extremely beneficial for preventing progression of chronic diseases, such as CKD.

So, by all means, exercise, but also focus on consuming nutrient-dense foods instead of calorically dense foods that you may not be able to exercise away.


(1) uptodate.com. (2) J Strength Cond Res. 2015 Feb;29(2):297-304. (3) ACSM.org. (4) Am J Med. 2011;124(8):747. (5) Obesity (Silver Spring). 2010;18(1):167. (6) Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 1997;21(10):941. (7) cdc.gov. (8) Clin J Am Soc Nephrol. 2014 Jul;9(7):1183-1189.

Dr. David 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.