"Americans who eat a diet high in sodium and low in potassium have a 50% increased risk of death from any cause, and about twice the risk of death from heart attacks.
In a traditional, largely plant-based diet, potassium content is high and sodium content low.
As foods are processed, typically sodium is added and potassium is removed, reversing the sodium-potassium ratio.
Encouraging consumption of unprocessed, potassium-rich fruits and vegetables is the safest and preferred pathway to increasing potassium intake."
-Drs. Lynn D. Silver & Thomas A. Farley, commenting on, "Sodium and Potassium Intake and Mortality Among U.S. Adults," Archives of Internal Medicine 171(13):1183-1190, July 11, 2011-
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Honestly, there are so many medical articles that are published every week, it's tough to choose the ones that really matter to our everyday lives.
After looking through last week's news--here are the stand-outs that IMHO are worth paying attention to. It's research you can put to use, right now. I know I'm going to!
Bad News: The High-Sodium Low-Potassium Diet = Processed & Fast Foods
Good News: The Low Sodium-High Potassium Diet = Whole Real Foods
1. Here's what you need to know: If you eat a diet that's high in sodium, highly processed, and mostly comes from restaurants, your local grocery store deli or take-out counter or fast food joints, you significantly increase your chances of death, compared to those who eat a diet that's low in sodium, and high in fresh unprocessed food. Plain & simple! Doesn't it just make sense to eat lots of plants & cook your own food?
The Sodium-Potassium ratio matters! In a recently published research study, in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the folks with the highest ratio of sodium to potassium had the highest risk of death from all causes, including heart disease. Who wants that?
Think of it this way: Sodium = processed food. Potassium = Fruits, Vegetables, & Unprocessed whole foods. It might not seem like a real news flash, but most U.S. adults get on average 3,300 milligrams of sodium a day--which is over twice the amount recommended. If you're over 50, you're only supposed to be consuming 1,500 milligrams of sodium. If you're under 50, your max is 2,300 milligrams of sodium. Note: 1 tsp. of table salt contains 2,200 mg of sodium
So where's all that sodium coming from? Restaurant foods, packaged foods, canned foods, cheese, processed meats, breads, soups, fast foods, and pastries--they all have a lot more sodium than potassium in them.
How much potassium are we supposed to be consuming a day? 4,700 milligrams a day. Honestly, it would be tough to get this much everyday if you didn't eat lots of fruits & vegetables. You can get your own potassium count on some of your favorite foods on the Nutrition Data site. But check out how easy it is to rack up the potassium milligrams on a plant-based diet:
- My typical green smoothie is made with 4 cups of kale (1200 mg), 1 cup of carrots (410 mg), 1 orange (313 mg), 1 kiwi (522 mg), and 1 cup of frozen blackerrries (211 mg) comes to a grand total of 2656 mg of potassium.
- 1 cup of baked sweet potato=950 mg
- 1 large banana=487 mg
- 1 serving of cooked lentils=534 mg
- 3 cups of romaine lettuce=348 mg
- 1 cup of cooked quinoa=348 mg
- 2 ounces of uncooked oatmeal=240 mg
- 3 Medjool dates=501 mg
- 1 cup of cooked Swiss chard=961 mg
- Grand Total= a whopping 7025 mg of potassium (and this is just for starters)
No wonder the famous DASH Diet to stomp out high blood pressure recommends eating 8-10 servings of fruits & vegetables everyday. It's all that potassium, baby!
And the benefits of the DASH Diet have extended to preventing memory loss. Just check out the Cache County, Utah study where the results showed that those seniors who were closest in following the DASH diet, had the slowest decline in cognitive functioning--while the participants in the lowest quintiles had the most rapid decline in congnitive functioning.
Why is this study so important?
It's the first one to look at a nationally representative sample of Americans, and examine the association between mortality and how much potassium & sodium we are consuming. The researchers used top-notch statistics--analyzing the data from the the CDC's Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III)--which collected data about the nutritional & health status of 12,267 U.S. adults for 15 years, from 1988 to 2006.
What can we take home from this study?
- The higher the sodium to potassium ratio, the higher the risk of cardovascular disease--and the higher the sodium intake, the higher the higher the risk of all-cause mortality.
- Increase your potassium levels with whole foods that are also low in sodium, such as leafy greens, like spinach & collards, grapes, blackberries, carrots, potatoes, & citrus fruits.
- Potassium increases should come from real food--not through supplements. Those with diabetes mellitus, renal failure, or heart failure, or taking certain medications are at risk of hyperkalemia when using potassium supplements. (Arch Intern Med 171(13);1191-1192, July 11, 2011)
- The CDC says, "People who reduce their sodium consumption, increase their potassium consumption, or do both, benefit from improved blood pressure and reduce their risk for developing other serious health problems."
- Read labels carefully--eat out with caution--chef's like their salt shakers. It makes food taste good! And you won't find nutritional labelling on restaurant menus.
- Rip Esselstyn's Rule of Thumb: Limit the amount of sodium per serving to the number of calories per serving, or less. You'll be shocked when you carefully look at the sodium/calorie content of processed foods. It's not so easy to lower sodium.
From one of the study's authors, Dr. Elena V. Kuklina of the CDC:
"The major implications of our findings are that a diet balanced in both micronutrients (sodium & potassium) is important. People should try to reduce sodium in particular by consuming less processed food, but also they should increase potassium intake, and this is easily done by eating more fruit and vegetables and dairy products, which are a good source of potassium and low in sodium. This is nothing new: a healthy diet is good for your health.
We found that potassium does matter."
But, wait a second, I've got a question:
Is it really the sodium-potassium ratio that's responsible for such a positive health benefit in this study--or is potassium just a marker for a diet that's high in fresh vegetables and fruits--that brings with it a number of benefits, like vitamins, antioxidants, polyphenols, and fiber? Hmm!
The conclusions of the July 11, 2011 Archives of Internal Medicine article sound strangely familiar to an article published just seven months ago in the November 22, 2010 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine, "Serum Alpha-Carotene Concentrations and Risk of Death Among US Adults":
"[O]ur findings, based on data from a large representative sample of US adults, showed that serum alpha-carotene concentrations were inversely associated with the risk of death from all causes, and death from cardiovascular diseases and cancer. These findings support increasing fruit and vegetable consumption as a means of preventing premature death."
If You're Over 60 You'll Need to Boost Your Weight-Training If You Want to Keep Your Muscles
Ernestine Shepherd, age 74--Holds the Guinness Book of World's Record for the Oldest Female Body-Builder (read more about Ernestine here)
The older you get--the harder you have to work. Sorry. That's just how it is. This article couldn't have come at a more perfect time for me--now that I've set up an appointment with a trainer to design an at-home routine I can do 2-3 times a week. My motivation is for bone health--but I won't turn down bigger muscles.
Hot Off The Press: Older Adults Have to Exercise More to Maintain Muscle Size. Bickel, C. Scott et al. "Exercise Dosing to Retain Resistance Training Adaptations in Young and Older Adults," Medicine and Science in Sports & Exercise 2011 Jul;43(7):1177-87.
What can we take home from this study?
This is the first study to "suggest" that adults over age 60 need more weight-training sessions than 20-35 year olds need--if they want to maintain all their hard-won muscle mass gains they get from strength-training at the gym (or home). Once a week just won't cut it! If you cut back your weight-training to one day a week, your muscles will start to shrink. Sorry to break it to you.
20-35 year olds just don't have to work as hard. They can maintain their muscle mass gains with one day a week at the gym. They can even cut their repetitions down from 3 sets, to one set, strength-train only once a week--and still maintain their muscle mass.
The good news is that both young & old can maintain their muscle strength (not to be confused with muscle mass) with a once a week weight workout. But, strength isn't enough, if you want all the health benefits of resistance-training as you age. It pays to work out 2-3 times a week & build your muscle mass, too. It will help maintain your glucose balance, your fatty acid metabolism, as well as your bone & joint strength! Just do it!
How was the study designed?
- 31 adults were 60-75 years old. 39 adults were 20-25 years old. No one was obese, or had musculoskeletal problems. No one had resistance-training experience in the past 5 years.
- The study lasted 32 weeks
- Phase 1 Progressive Resistance Training-16 weeks: Three progressive resistance-training exercises were performed 3 times a week, for 16 weeks. Everyone did 3 sets of each exercise--leg extensions, knee extensions, & squats. All 70 participated.
- Phase 2 Detraining/Maintenance Training-16 weeks: After the 16 weeks of muscle-building, the groups were divided into 3 groups. One group did no exercise at all. One group cut their training down to once a week, but still did the three sets of the three exercises. One group cut their training down to once a week, but only did one set of the three exercises.
- How did the researchers measure muscle mass & muscle strength. To determine changes in muscle mass each subject had 4 muscle biopsies performed (ouch!)--baseline, after the training, after follow-up periods of 16 weeks, and 32 weeks. Each participant also had their muscle strength measured with load-lifting tests.
- The study took place at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, a joint effort of the Depts. of Physical Therapy, Surgery, Physiology & Biophysics, Geriatric Research, & the Birmingham VA Medical Center.
- For those over age 60, once-a-week strength-training will maintain muscle strength, but it will not maintain muscle size, once it has been achieved.
- The researchers demonstrated that a once-a-week resistance-training workout can maintain muscle strength up to 8 months in young & older adults.
- But, adults over age 60 need more frequent resistance-training workouts to maintain any muscle mass gains they achieve from weight-training.
"We are not advocating that people only train one day a week indefinitely, but we do believe such a program can be effective during temporary periods when it is difficult to maintain a consistent, intensive exercise regimen, several days per week." Lead author, Marcas M. Bamman, PhD.
"The positive health benefits of increased muscle mass among older adults extend well beyond muscle performance, to include glucose homeostasis, fatty acid metabolism, aerobic capacity, and bone & joint health.
Therefore, we recommend progressive resistance-training continue indefinitely for the health and functional status of all individuals." The authors
The Environmental Triggers of Autism
Graph: The prevalence of autism has increase dramatically in the last decade. (Wikipedia Creative Commons)
The causes of autism still remain a mystery. Is it genetic? Is it environmental? As the number of children with autism has increased in recent years, researchers can't pin down a single, clear cause.
Is it caused by parental age, prenatal viruses, infant vaccines, environmental toxins, or even a lack of vitamin D, as some researchers have suggested? Maybe there hasn't been an increase in cases at all. Some researchers suggest that the increase in numbers is just based on a loosening of the diagnostic criteria?
Back in 2008 I posted about the work of some of the country's top environmental researchers, who were betting that autism might be fueled by the endocrine disruptors that come from everyday chemicals.
Bisphenol-A (BPA) that was commonly found in moldable plastics & is still in the linings of cans, along with phthalates found in carpets & flame-retardants have been implicated. Click here for that post.
Since writing that post, many products made with BPA have been pulled off the market--substituted with other plastics. But are the BPA substitutes safe? If you have babies or children at home, or in your future, be sure to read what Dominique Browning has to say about the BPA substitutes in her recent New York Times Opinion piece: Hitting the Bottle
Two weeks ago, I was up early on a Saturday morning & caught an interview on National Public Radio's Living on Earth broadcast with Dr. Martha Herbert. She's a professor of neurology at Harvard Medical School and an expert in autism research.
She explained the findings of the latest autism study that was published in April 2011 in the Archives of General Psychiatry This new study found that the genetic causes for autism have been overestimated--and the environmental causes have been seriously underestimated. Definitely something we all need to consider carefully.
To read the complete interview transcript, click here.
GELLERMAN: So let's look at the methodology that the researchers used [in this study]- they studied twins.
HERBERT: Because twins are in the same family and they share at least some genes. But identical twins share all the genes and fraternal twins don’t share all the genes - they have maybe 50-50.
GELLERMAN: So if something shows up in the identical twins you’d say, ‘Ah, genetic.’ But, if something shows up in the fraternal twins, you’d say, ‘Mmm, there’s something else going on here.’
HERBERT: Yes, that’s what people have usually said.
GELLERMAN: So these researchers studied, what, about 192 pairs of twins?
GELLERMAN: What did they find?
HERBERT: They found that actually there was more concordance than expected in the fraternal twins, and less in the identical twins.
HERBERT: That means that if one is autistic, then the other is autistic. So usually it has been that 60-90 percent of the identical twins were both autistic, and 0-10 percent were both autistic if they were fraternal twins. And that led people to think that this was, by in large, very, very strongly, a genetic disorder. But to have there be so much match-concordance - in the fraternal twins, and not so much in the identical, suggests that there’s shared environment. What they calculated was that the risk for autism was 38 percent from genetics and 58 percent from the environment that the twins shared.
GELLERMAN: So it’s a very low number in terms of genetics and very high in terms of environmental issues.
HERBERT: Yes, which is really different from what everybody’s been saying up until now.
GELLERMAN: So what kind of environmental factors could we be talking about?
HERBERT: Well, there are lots of environmental factors that people have been talking about and trying to do research about. It ranges from chemicals to nutrition to exposures like to living near a freeway – many, many different types of factors.
GELLERMAN: Are there any suspects that perhaps stand out from the crowd?
HERBERT: There are a number of chemicals that it’s a good idea to watch out for.
- Bisphenol - plasticizers that make plastics moldable.
- Flame retardants - flame retardants in baby pajamas and in bedding that were not tested for the baby urinating in the bed, which then makes the chemicals float around in the air that the baby then breathes in.
- Pesticides - be really careful about spraying your house. Find more natural ways of avoiding pest exposure.
- Pesticides in food - try to eat organic if possible.
- Don’t microwave in plastic.
- Look under your sink and clean out a lot of the products, which have long lists of chemicals that you can’t pronounce.
- There’s lots of ways of cleaning your house with simple products, with vinegar and water and baking soda, and things that are not going to cause problems, that may show up now or later.
GELLERMAN: How does this research help us, and what happens next in autism research?
HERBERT: I think this paper is fantastic for saying: ‘Lets pull out the stops and look at everything we possibly can - environmentally.’
We have been putting our eggs so much in the basket of genetics. I have a dear friend who is a geneticist who said, ‘Why don’t you environmental people wait for awhile, we’ll work out the genes and you can sort of do the trimmings.’
Now, looking back, this is not the trimmings. This is not the icing on the cake, it’s the cake.