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Fighting Bad Cholesterol With GOOD Methods!

Re-calibrating Our Views On Cholesterol

As a doctor of Internal Medicine, I find that one common misconception many of my young adults (ages 35 and below) have is that “bad” (LDL or non-HDL) cholesterol is a problem of older age.  Too often the sentiment “Live while you are young!” is taken out of context by people in their teens, twenties and thirties to mean “Don’t worry about your health till you are older.” While it is true that after we reach the age of 20 our cholesterol levels begin naturally to increase, there are many factors besides age that determine the levels of bad cholesterol in our blood. While some of that is hereditary, many of these factors can be monitored and controlled from quite a young age. While I am a firm believer in living life to the fullest – I also am adamant that the choices we make about our health and wellness in our formative years provide a strong baseline for our bodies and minds of the future.

The Problems of Waiting Out Your Youth To Correct Cholesterol Levels

Patients of mine above the age of 50 are certainly at a higher risk of cardiovascular complications related to bad cholesterol than their younger counterparts. However, even children with poor dietary habits can have alarmingly high bad cholesterol levels and even the beginnings of blocked arteries before high school!

When one of my older patients at high risk has a very high LDL cholesterol (>190) and we have not been able to improve it with lifestyle changes such as exercise and diet, I may decide to use a prescription treatment for lowering those levels  to minimize the risks of complications like strokes or heart attacks. The most widely prescribed are statins, which quickly reduce bad cholesterol levels in the blood . Statins, such as Lipitor, Crestor or Zocor, work by inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase,  a liver enzyme which promotes cholesterol production in the human body.

(By the way, I have always advised my patients to CONTINUE their lifestyle efforts and to take Coenzyme Q10 whileon the statin, because statins deplete this substance which is a vital co-factor in your cells’ energy production.)

Despite the fact that I prescribe these medicines, as an advocate of a natural approach to health whenever possible, I’d much prefer that my patients never reach the point where taking a statin becomes their best option. While statins have proven to be extremely effective in reducing levels of bad cholesterol – their efficacy can be trumped by an array of side effects: muscle pain (not uncommon), liver problems (very rare) and increased risk of diabetes among them.

Today I’d like to talk specifically about one somewhat surprising side effect of statin use which has recently been highlighted by researchers in the peer-reviewed journal, Obesity.

In a new study, based on over 10 years of data collection, researchers found that patients prescribed statins “significantly increased their fat intake and calorie consumption, along with their BMI, in the last decade,” 

Why, you ask?  Patients taking these enzyme inhibitors are well aware of their positive benefits and therefore have a propensity for poor diet and lifestyle choices while prescribed them. Too often the mindset of “I take pills to lower my cholesterol – therefore I can eat whatever I want without getting sick” apparently becomes commonplace in those suffering from these kinds of health issues. Patients can become complacent with a poor, unhealthy lifestyle after viewing remarkably improved blood work results from a course of statins – and this is NOT a trend that doctors and patients should continue! When I read this I remembered that when the first statin, Mevacor, came out, one of my fellow doctors in my residency program told me he took it so he could “keep eating bacon and eggs”!

“Ok – I get it, Dr. Nolfo. You’d prefer I didn’t have to take statins if I had the choice. So what do I do instead? “

 I am SO glad you asked! There are many ways to keep our cholesterol at a healthy level:

1. Exercise!

Yes, I know I say it a lot. But countless other physicians and researchers like myself agree: Lack of physical activity can increase bad cholesterol (LDL) – and even DECREASE the good cholesterol! (HDL)

   2. DON’T SMOKE!

Smoking has been proven to lower your good cholesterol – BAD, BAD, BAD! And I seriously hope we don’t need to review the thousands of other health complications that can arise from such a terrible habit. Please don’t smoke! I like you just the way you are! 😉

3. See Your Primary Care Doctor Regularly

General health plays a large role in our cholesterol levels. It is best that you make regular visits with your primary care doctor so you can be screened for other health complications such as diabetes or hypothyroidisim, which can cause high cholesterol. Plus, it’s just the smart thing to do!

4. Eat Healthy, Real, Unprocessed Foods!

Clearly you saw this one coming! Diet is one of the most crucial factors in our cholesterol. Highly processed foods like chips, cookies, margarine, etc. can easily raise our levels of bad cholesterol. I have posted an array of healthy recipes of all kinds throughout this blog – please review for some great meal ideas to start changing your diet today! Vegan and Mediterranean diets have been shown to help cholesterol profiles. There is a little controversy about the effect of the Paleo diet on cholesterol, but my Paleo patients’ cholesterol profiles are usually quite good.\ because they don’t limit themselves to all meats and eggs and eat tons of fruits and veggies.

And just to give you a head start on the eating part – try this delicious and healthy black bean, corn and edamame salad! Not only is it perfect for the start of summer, but a new study shows that beans can help significantly reduce our bad cholesterol!

Go ahead, try this stuff!

Dr. Emily Nolfo

New Study: Exercise As Effective As Prescription Drugs

                                                           REJOICE! FANTASTIC NEWS IS HERE! 

As a physician who strives to provide the best treatments to all of my patients in my practice, I was incredibly overjoyed to read this week that researchers at Stanford Medical School were able to make an evidence-based conclusion that physical exercise can be as effective as prescription drugs in reducing the number of deaths caused by various common and serious conditions like heart disease and diabetes.

WOW! Now THAT is music to my ears!

*** IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE! Before we begin our discussion, as doctor of medicine, it is important that I emphasize that these findings do not change my belief the use of medications – all of my patients, clients and subscribers reading this should continue to take their medications as directed unless told otherwise by their primary care physician.

BUT!

Imagine a world where the power to improve and maintain our health was inside of our minds and bodies instead of a bottle of pills – what would that look like? For many who are already sick, sometimes a trip to the pharmacy is the only option. But, scientists already know that exercise is an extremely effective method of prevention for various chronic illnesses. So these new findings imply with significant data that with the right approach, engaging our bodies in regular physical activity may not only prevent but also help to cure certain illnesses without the use pharmaceuticals!

For some of you who aren’t very enthusiastic about physical exercise,

Here are a few reasons why the implications of this study are worth getting excited about!

  •  In 2013, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that Americans spend on average $1,000 per year on prescription drugs…..That’s A LOT of cash!  Not only that, each year Americans are spending 40% more on these medications than the rest of the world – and because of the high cost of these treatments, 1 out of every 5 Americans are not filling our prescriptions or are skipping doses to alleviate this financial burden. What would you do with your extra money?

 

  • A study conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey in 1999 and 2000 found measurable amounts of one or more medications in 80% of the water samples drawn from a network of 139 streams in 30 states – showing that the pharmaceutical industry is a significant contributing factor to water pollution. As it is, the oceans of the world are already in a great amount of duress from millions of tons of plastic deposits and other pollutants – something every human should be extremely concerned about. Ridding ourselves of our dependency on pharmaceuticals will improve water quality and make the earth a greener place. 

 

  • Prevention should ALWAYS be the goal of a healthy lifestyle as well as the focus of any interventions conducted by physicians. NOBODY wants to get sick! Instead of treating our ailments with prescription pills, wouldn’t it be better to not have health problems at all? If you knew that exercising for 30 minutes a day would prevent you from contracting diabetes, heart disease or cancer – would you participate? Hundreds of studies on physical exercise and its use in the prevention of chronic illness have revealed a strong connection between working out and staying healthy throughout a lifespan. Think about it!

 

  • Unlike many prescription drugs which can result in an array of complications, exercising is a treatment method with very few negative side effects. So if exercise can be used as a treatment in the event that we do get sick – we’re not only treating the illness but also preventing stress, strengthening our skeletal system and boosting our metabolism! Do your medications have those positive side effects???

 

There are myriad of additional reasons why every single individual should engage in regular physical activity – the trick is to find those reasons that are most important to you. It is fairly common knowledge that exercise is a very empowering tool for our minds and bodies – these findings by Stanford University only serve to emphasize that evidence.

I hope I have made a convincing argument for putting some spring in your step and getting in some workouts this summer! For those of you who aren’t interested in joining a gym or paying for a workout program, I highly recommend checking out the YouTube Channel “FITNESS BLENDER”! FitnessBlender is a free service created by an adorable young couple from Washington State that has hundreds of FREE exercise videos of all kinds, from yoga to High Intensity Interval Training. My youngest daughter Mariella and I frequent these videos – and they have really inspired us to get fit from the comfort of our own homes! The couple, Dan and Kelli, do a fantastic job of inspiring their viewers and creating realistic fitness goals. All of their videos are quite doable by most able-bodied individuals.

Give it a shot! Here is one of our favorite total body routines for beginners:

 

For this Summer 2014 – I urge all of you to not only get fit with me but GET HEALTHY too in the process!

Dr Emily Nolfo

 

St Patrick’s Day Wisdom: Combating Fears, Negativity and Other Distractions

 

Hi everyone!

First of all, I’d like to wish my patients, clients, friends, family and followers a very Happy Saint Patrick’s Day! In celebration of this Irish tradition, here’s a gluten-free, paleo-friendly version of Irish Soda Bread. I use currants or golden raisins, since my family doesn’t like cooked dark raisins.

Today I’d like to talk about stories. Your stories. The negative scripts we write about ourselves every day. You know the kind!

“I’m a klutz and not athletic.”

“I’m disorganized.”

“I’m always late.

This week alone, patients said to me:

  • “Once I put a carb in my mouth, I splurge on them for the next two weeks.” 
  • “I will never have enough time to exercise.”

At times I myself have been guilty of the same kind of self-deprecating dialogues.  For years I told myself I was just too anxious to speak in front of groups of people. I couldn’t even ask a question at a conference without a pulse of 130! And when my friends wanted to start a band, I felt there was no way I was ever going to be able to sing in front of anyone! However, I prioritized my desires and goals over these self-imposed shortcomings by pushing myself to take on opportunities that would allow me to break through my own stereotypes. As an executive member of several local and national medical societies, I have learned quickly that I can in fact, stand up in front of large groups of colleagues and overcome my public speaking anxieties when my time comes to make a presentation. Additionally, my cover band Take Two And Call Me In The Morning plays a gig almost every weekend here in Connecticut where I am featured as lead singer. I have discovered that the feelings of joy and achievement I get out of these experiences help me to slowly overcome those old fears – but only when and if I give myself the chance to engage in those moments of positivity!

So how do we make these leaps and bounds in our everyday lives?

 OK, well, here’s the thing: there are surely things about yourself you can’t change. I’d like to wake up tomorrow 5’7”. Not gonna happen!

 But, so many things we say about ourselves we want to change; we should change; and we really, truly CAN change!!!!

You don’t have to eat all carbs for two weeks after one cookie if you are trying to reverse metabolic syndrome. As I have written before, you can enjoy at treat and move on. But you have to tell yourself: “I’m not a person who sabotages his/her health because I ate one thing.”  Maybe you won’t believe yourself at first, but say it anyway!! Say it enough times and you start to rewrite your story, eventually you will start to live differently.

So: You CAN find 10 minutes in your day to exercise. Walk up and down your stairs or around your house, the grocery store or the parking lot. Put on music and dance for 10 minutes. Or try strengthening your core by engaging your abdominal muscles while you complete everyday tasks such as picking up a heavy object out of your car or stepping over the baby gates at home.

Think you’re not smart? Say: “I’m pretty smart!” and then make yourself smarter by exercising! Yup, that’s right — a study by Harvard shows that physical activity not only strengthens our bones and muscles but also our minds!

Try to recognize the stories you tell yourself that you would like to change.

Rewrite your story the way you’d like it to read.

Have a safe and happy holiday weekend!

Dr. Emily Nolfo

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