Sunday, June 24, 2012

Tip #26: Limit the sugar

I know this is something we don't like to hear. But the more I learn about it, the more I feel we do need to cut down our consumption of sugar. All the books that I read about cancer and diet agreed on this point, even though they differed in other things, like eating meat or dairy or not. Even my nutritionist suggests that I should avoid sugar as much as possible, even in fruit. I should limit fruit to two pieces a day and select fruits that have other anticancer components, like berries or mango, and I should avoid oranges or bananas. For sweeteners, she recommends things like stevia, although I think even this should be used in moderation.

It makes sense that there is a connection with cancer, as being diabetic increases your chances of getting cancer and your prognosis is worse if you do have it. And a drug that treats diabetes, metformin, is also being now considered to treat cancer.

In "Sugar, enough  is enough," Dr. Fuhrman tells us that we do need sweets as carbohydrates for energy and for the many vitamins and phytochemicals to prevent illness, but that modern, refined sugar, high fructose corn syrup and other "white" carbs, which are devoid of real nutrition, are causing havoc in our systems. He does recommend eating lots of fruit, because of the many vitamins they have and also because they have the added fiber and I agree that for anyone not dealing with cancer or diabetes, lots of fruit is the way to go (but with the caveat of eating it whole and not in juice. The fiber is also essential).

And last April I saw this interesting segment on 60 Minutes, "Is sugar toxic?" which really convinced me that, in my case, I definitely have to be careful, and for my family, I don't want them to have too much sugar either. I urge you to watch it because it is quite an eye-opener.

As they explain in the video, the increase in sugar consumption since the 70s is so large because sugar (or other forms of it) is now added to so many products, from yogurts to soups, so it's not just candy or baked goods that would be the culprits here.

I think it is in our best interest to start limiting our sugar intake. It does not have to be all or nothing. Feeling deprived is not good for your health either, but you can start by first noticing how much sugar you consume and then, trying to limit it, little by little. As an added bonus, I do think sugar impacts my mood. Now that I'm a bit more relaxed and I sneak in sugar once in a while, I notice that if I overdo it, I feel depressed. Of course, I cannot say 100% that this the cause (as I don't want to eat sugar to test my theory), but because of the cancer connection, I feel it is in my best interest to be strict about this one in any case.

Let me know what you think and I really hope you watch the video! (And if you need more convincing, here's an article from the New York Times, that expands on the ideas of the 60 minute video).

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Tip #25: Learn to accept what you cannot change

This tip can go into the category of "Take my advice, because I'm sure not using it." But that's why I included the word "learn" in the title. There's always hope.

I've always loved the Serenity Prayer, (on the left). But, how difficult it is to put it in practice. When you are confronted  with things that you cannot change, the last thing you have, usually, is serenity. Normally, at that point, we have anger or fear most likely and I guess it is those feelings that actually prevent us from accepting anything, and instead we resist, creating what I see in my mind as a wall, where my emotions end up landing, breaking in little pieces, achieving nothing. And, of course, courage to change things is also extremely difficult. Do we speak up when we need to? Do we fight for justice? In theory, yes. In practice?

But, most important, how do we know the difference? How do I know if reading one more article about a health issue is going to help me when I'm frantically looking for answers or if it would just be better to accept what's in front me without understanding it because that knowledge will not help me in any way?How do I know if I need to have a particular fight, because I think the result may be an improvement, when all I really need to do is relax and accept that things are the way they are and I may just as well enjoy the moment?

Well, I just don't know, but I do think that acceptance of our present situation is always a good start, even if in the end we also need to change it. Simon Sinek, an author I discovered through this TED talk, How Great Leaders inspire Action, writes in this article that we of should "proact" instead of react to situations:

When we react, we look to point fingers and assign blame (to others or ourselves) for the existence of the situation. We work to compensate or prevent bad things from happening.
When we proact, we accept the situation as fact and start looking for solutions or alternatives.  We work to make good things happen.
In his article, he just tells us one example of this: when confronted with the possibility of missing a train because of traffic, instead of panicking and getting upset at himself because he left his house late, he starts "proacting," that is, thinking of what he needs to do if he does miss the train (call clients, find out when the next train is, etc.). He then feels more relaxed and feels he has changed the situation "from a race to a game." For him, "proacting" is accepting and I like his idea because, in my mind, just accepting something is too hard. We do want to "do" something.

I don't know. Like I said, I'm learning. This blog is my scrapbook of ideas and I know that I will have to come back to read this one often.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Tip #24: The grass may be greener, but so what?

Through the wonderful figure of Don Quixote, Cervantes told us that "all comparisons are odious," and I think he was definitely onto something. This week I got my contract for next year. Although I'm tenured (thank you God and everybody else), we still get yearly contracts with our salary for the next school year. As my memory is not that great, when I saw my salary I was quite happy, as I thought, "Wow! I make a lot!" Then, the next page in that contract listed how much my increase had been from last year. Not so good, really. But the following page was even worse: a list with averages of the salaries other colleagues make, according to rank and school. Well, it turns out that compared to my peers, I really don't make that much. Injustice! Tragedy! Why do I make so little!! So, I told myself, "Let's rewind. I was so happy with my salary, WHEN I DIDN'T COMPARE IT TO ANYBODY'S." Easy solution then: Go back to moment one and stop there.

This a very difficult thing to learn, though, but really necessary to be happy. Some years ago I read a very interesting article in the New Yorker by James Surowiecki in which he talks about the "ultimatum game" which is used in experiments in behavioral economics.  This is how he describes it:
The game is simple enough. Take two people. Give them a hundred dollars to split. One person (the proposer) decides, on his own, what the split should be (fifty-fifty, seventy-thirty, or whatever) and makes the other person a take-it-or-leave-it offer. If he accepts the deal, both players get their share of the money. If he rejects it, both players walk away empty-handed.
The rational thing for the second person to do is to accept the offer, whatever it is, since even one dollar is better than nothing. But in practice this rarely happens. Instead, lowball offers are almost always rejected. Apparently, people would rather throw away money than let someone else walk away with too much.
Can you imagine? If someone gives you a dollar, you'll be happy, but the moment you know that the other guy is getting more, you  don't even want your dollar! He goes on to say that this is good in the long term for the system as a whole, so it is fairer. But, if we just look at the game itself and how people react to it, I think you can see clearly that it is not in our best interest to compare ourselves with others, because the context, alone, changes the meaning of everything. Unfortunately, we rarely think of this in our everyday circumstances.

Another example of this situation, I think, is actually the parable of the prodigal son in the New Testament. If you don't remember it, here's a summary of what I recall of it. A rich man has two sons, one good, obedient and hard working, and one that is not. The "bad" son asks his father for his inheritance, leaves with the money, and spends it all partying. The good son keeps doing good things for his father. The years go by and one day the lost son comes back. His father is very happy and throws a party for him and gives him all sorts of presents. The good brother gets angry but the father says: "You have been taken care of, so don't complain." I remember never really understanding this story when I was young. The good brother was right, I thought. He had worked hard, by the rules, and the bad brother got the party? Hello? But, you know, the good brother was just like me when I saw my salary. He was completely happy until his brother showed up. Had his life changed? No, not really.

So, in the end, it always goes back really to Tip #1: Be grateful. Be thankful for what you have, no matter what it is, because it is a lot. Maybe our yard looks kind of tattered compared to the neighbors (a true fact), but you know what? I have a yard!! I grew up in an apartment and now I have a yard, with actual grass!! Let's not compare ourselves to others and avoid completely unnecessary pain. And, going back to my salary, yes, other people make more money than I do, and I could look at it as an injustice, but I don't have time to waste, honestly. That's one thing my diagnosis has made even clearer. I can look at the salary, be thankful and happy, and just move on.

Have you had similar experiences? What do you think?

photo credit: Foto_di_Signorina via photo pin cc

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Tip #23: Check your Vitamin D level

In general, I don't particularly like to recommend specific supplements to take. I'm not a scientist, I'm not a doctor. In addition, there is a lot of iffy stuff about supplements in themselves, as it is an unregulated industry. But I have to say that the more I read about Vitamin D, the more it makes sense to me that it may be a good idea to at least check your levels, and then maybe act from there. And, thus, I'm passing on this information here.

Vitamin D is really a hormone, not a Vitamin and it is needed for many processes that regulate the body's health. Mammals use it to build bones and its importance was discovered when around a  hundred years ago doctors saw that rickets could be cured by adding Vitamin D. Now, it is believed that it affects much more than bone health, from diabetes to cancer, even including mental health.

The main way, and the healthiest, to obtain your Vitamin D is from the sun. The problem lately is that, because of skin cancer and dermatologist recommendations, we are afraid to be out in the sun completely, or when we are, we cover ourselves in sunscreen, which blocks Vitamin D absorption. Fortunately, you do not need that much sun exposure to get the Vitamin D. Just 15 to 30 minutes of sun in your arms and legs from 10am to 3pm two or three times per week should be enough if you live south of Atlanta. North of Atlanta, you definitely should get sun in the Summer and you may need to take a supplement as well. Food is not a great source of Vitamin D. Only oily fish, like wild salmon (be careful with farmed varieties), would have some, and even so, you would have to eat quite a lot to get adequate amounts. Fortified milks are another source (although, as I don't eat dairy, not for me). Here you can find more specific recommendations according to where you live from Dr. Greger. Or here, there's an interesting article from WebMD about the topic.

To see if you need supplementation (and, actually most of us do) you should get a blood test, the 25-hydroxy Vitamin D or 25(OH)D test. The official recommendation as to how much Vitamin D you need has been changed lately, from 20 ng/mL or above to between 30 and 40 ng/mL. My nutritionist actually wants me to have at least 80 ng/mL. Can you get too much Vitamin D? Yes, so you should be a bit careful, although, from what I have read, it is quite difficult to get to toxic levels (more than 150 ng/mL) and you can never get to those levels just with exposure from the sun.  Another reason why sun exposure is always the best way to get your Vitamin D. For my family in Spain reading this, I doubt you would need any supplementation. Just make sure you walk outside everyday (also good because of the exercise).

I hope I don't transmit fear mongering here. I just think there are way too many advantages (which I had no idea before) to having an adequate amount of Vitamin D, one of them being the prevention of cancer, and it is relatively easy to do. Just don't be afraid of the sun. Make sure that after your 30 minutes you do put sunscreen on and also know your level of 25(OH)D so you find out whether you need to take a supplement or not.

Here's some more information I hope you find interesting:
And although this is quite long (almost an hour), if you have some time to spare, it is actually a very entertaining (yes!) and informative lecture titled "Vitamin D and Prevention of Chronic Disease," by Dr. Michael Holick, and expert in the field.

A lot of information today. Let me know if everything is clear and if you have any more information about Vitamin D that we should know about!