Resveratrol + Exercise Renews Youth in Muscles

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The usual definition of “sarcopenia” is muscle loss related to aging. That’s grossly misleading because sarcopenia starts when we’re still officially young, sometime in our 30s.

People who do not exercise strenuously lose about 3% to 5% of their muscle mass every decade from age 30 onward. Those who do exercise also lose muscle mass, but somewhat less than that.

Sarcopenia is one of the reasons we tend to gain weight with age. Then, if we do gain a bit of weight, sarcopenia also makes it harder to shed those pounds. Less muscle mass means a lower calorie burn.

For instance, a six-foot male who weighed 180 in his youth (age 30) and was slightly active, could maintain that weight on 2500 calories per day. Now advance him to age 60 and a weight that has crept upward at just 1% a year. Now he weighs 242 pounds. Getting back to his youthful 180-pound weight would require dropping his intake to 2100 calories to lose weight slowly, over 18 months. If he wanted a “fast” loss, he could drop down to 1600 calories and make his goal weight in 8 months. That would more or less take a big plate of spaghetti and meatballs out of the diet.  

Most dieters want something faster than that, however. If this man wanted to shed his 62 pounds in 90 days with diet alone, he would need to cut his calories to less than 1,000 per day!

Women usually start at a lower weight, with less muscle mass, which means fewer allowable calories to begin with. Thus the effects of time and slow weight gain accrue even more bitterly. A 5’5” young woman weighing 120 pounds who is slightly active can maintain her weight on 1900 calories. But at age 60, after gaining 1% per year and becoming inactive, this woman would be at 161 pounds. Getting back to her earlier weight without exercise would limit her to only 1,017 calories per day for rapid weight loss or 1,350 to bring it down slowly in just under a year. A “rapid” 2-lb a week loss without adding heavy exercise is out of the question if she wants to maintain her health because the calorie allowance would be too low. 

This is why recent research on resveratrol alongside exercise is so encouraging. It can turn back the clock on your muscles. And that could speed up weight loss—just as if you were young again.

In an experiment at the University of West Virginia, researchers divided 12 men and 18 women into groups that undertook exercise alone or exercise combined with 500 mg per day of resveratrol.

The resveratrol did not lower their cardiovascular risk any more than exercise alone did, but it greatly enhanced their physical condition. The group that took resveratrol alongside exercise saw significant increases in their muscle fiber area, a boost in their maximal oxygen consumption, and an improvement in mitochondrial structure and density.

That last item is important for weight loss. The mitochondria in our cells control cell respiration and energy production. So an increase in well-formed mitochondria translates into better energy—a potentially higher metabolism—that essentially pushes the aging clock in the muscle cells backward.

Should you want to try this at home, the team at WVU had the exercise groups do moderate aerobic and resistance training that they felt was consistent with what a person age 65-80 (as their subjects were) could do on their own.

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Walking Is Good for You, And This Makes It Better

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Few activities have as much to say for themselves as walking does. It’s suitable for anyone age 2 to 100. You can meditate and gain peace while ambling around, or you can socialize and laugh while you walk with friends. Beyond suitable shoes, you don’t need elaborate gear or training.

Even that’s a minimal requirement if you are fairly healthy with good balance. I confess to regular five-mile hikes in flip flops, although it’s usually sturdy sandals. That said, sneaker-style walking shoes are probably a better choice. Do as I say, and all that…

If you live in a neighborhood like mine, walking can seem a little undemanding for physical activity. Where I live, riding a bike requires the purchase of skin-tight neon spandex clothes. Golf, beyond clubs, requires pastels and a different kind of clothes. Yoga, it seems simply cannot be done in cargo shorts and a snug tee shirt for modesty while doing shoulder stands.

Sometimes, I wonder what my mother was thinking, letting me grow up wearing the same kind of shorts and tops for working in the garden, biking, horseback riding, sailing, camping, and playing softball.

So if you feel walking doesn’t offer nearly enough shopping potential, I am glad to tell you that you can buy something special for your next walk to make it better—a set of Nordic poles.

The difference between regular walking and pole walking comes down to muscle engagement. According to Dr. Klaus Schwanbeck, regular walking uses 45% of the muscles in your body, almost all in the lower body. Pole walking uses 90% and engages the upper body as well. He claims that this also increases cardiovascular benefits by 22% compared to regular walking and burns 46% more calories.

 The increase in calories burned is incentive enough for many of us, but for people who are recovering from back surgery or anyone prone to lower back pain, walking with a pair of Nordic poles is more comfortable as well. Poles help you offload weight from your lower body—the hips, knees, and lower back—and transfers it to the upper body. That not only eases pain in the lower body but also increases the beneficial exercise in the upper body.

One older woman claims Nordic pole walking went beyond the known benefits to core and abdominal muscles and helped erase back fat and upper arm flab.

Anecdotes like this are encouraging, but we also have research confirming the benefits. Researchers at the University of Montreal recruited 128 walkers age 60 and older. Half undertook a 12-week program of Nordic pole walking. The rest served as a control group. The pole walkers gained significant strength in legs and arms. Those in the control group who did not exercise showed a measured loss in grip strength and walking speed after 12 weeks. That’s not so surprising, but the Nordic pole walkers also showed some improvement in cognitive function.

Another group of researchers put pole walkers on a treadmill then used electromyography to see what was happening in the muscles. When they raised the angle of the treadmill, the regular walkers and the pole walkers used their muscles alike. But when they sped it up, the pole walkers experienced more activation in the external oblique (EO) and rectus abdominus (RA) muscles.

The EO runs along your side and waistline from just below the ribcage to the top of the pelvis. The RA is the muscle that gives superfit young men and women washboard abs.

There’s another subtle benefit that’s worth mentioning, too. Walking with a cane might be a good idea for many older people and anyone of any age with hip, knee, ankle or foot problems that might interfere with their stability. But a cane looks “old,” and hence a lot of people refuse to adopt the habit even if it would be a good idea. Walking with TWO canes, called Nordic poles, however, looks pretty darn sexy.

So young or old, in need of support or not, there’s a lot to be said for taking up pole walking.

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Helping Your Hair Survive Shampoo and Sunlight

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California blondes. That’s all I need to say for you to get a picture of a nearly-mythical, natural, golden beauty with shiny, sun-streaked, beach-waved hair, a person who glows with good health. There’s a mythically gorgeous male surfer dude counterpart as well. Brazilian blondes of the female variety are all that Californians are, with perfect makeup.   

Mythic is the operative word here. We already know that unfettered time in the sun is bad for your skin. Scientists in Brazil just proved it’s not good for your hair, either. It doesn’t matter whether that hair is still a natural color or already gray. Sunlight causes morphological (structural) changes.

The outer part of the hair shaft, the cuticle, is where most of the damage happens. When the cuticle’s structure changes, the result is hair that is rough, dull, frizzy and rife with split ends.

Sun alone is damaging, but lots of men and women spritz their locks with salt to encourage waviness or lemon juice to lighten them. In the short run, these home-style treatments work. In the longer run, they can do so much damage the only solution is a shave to the scalp and starting over.   

So if you omit the salt and lemon juice abuse, then a nice gentle shampoo and conditioner after sunning restores your hair to glory, right?

Actually, shampoos tend to make the sun problem worse.

In an experiment to find out how sun and shampoo impact hair health, the Brazilian researchers literally split hairs. They kept half of each hair as a control then tested what happened with the other half. Some hairs got irradiation (light) from mercury lamps that mimicked sunlight. Some got light followed by hand washing. And some were only washed.

And the verdict? Sun does more damage than shampooing.  It causes fracturing and cavities in the hair shaft and cell lifting on the cuticle. But the combination of light and suds was the worst.

The interesting thing, however, is that while mainstream scientists have spent some time investigating what damages hair, they don’t report any cures. Published research on how to fix the damage is nearly nonexistent.  That work is done at cosmetic companies, and the likes of L’Oreal and Estee Lauder aren’t about to share their formulas.  

So what can you do to protect your hair in the sun? You can hardly smear it with a gob of zinc oxide. But some skin products are suitable for hair. Clarins makes a sun care spray-on oil that claims to work from head to toe. Opinions vary on whether it’s nice or gross on hair, however. Those who have very fine hair seem to object. Those with thicker, wavy hair love it. People with fine or colored hair seem to prefer Drybar’s Hot Toddy product. That one also includes protection from chlorine if you are a pool person.

It may take some trial and error to find a sunscreen for your hair that you like, but for most of us, it takes some experimentation to find a sunscreen that feels good on our skin, too, and this is no different. If you spend time in the sun and still want to have healthy looking hair, the search is worth it.

The alternative, if you hate hair products, of course, is to keep your hair covered with a hat or scarf. If that’s your option, you are in luck because you have thousands of variations to choose from.  Any hat will physically block at least some sunlight, but some hats and scarves are made with sunscreen-infused fibers for extra protection.

If you are fortunate enough to have a good head of hair, give it some protection.

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Why Your Food Should Mostly Be Processed

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A French study in the news this week warns that the risk of early death increases by 14% for every 10% increase in ultra-processed foods in your diet.

According to reports, Americans are devouring 61% of their diet as processed foods, followed closely by Canadians at 62% and the Brits at 63%. So, if the new study is right, we’ve just saddled ourselves with an 84% increase in the risk for an early death because of how we eat. That’s quite a feat considering that American lifespans have been increasing for two decades. 

Getting at the truth about food processing and health is complicated. It’s not surprising reporters pounce on the latest titillating research announcement and pass it along as a series of bad generalizations.

They’re not the only ones. Michael Pollan, who has done great work on nutrition education, has also been guilty of oversimplifying. A few of his rules that need rethinking…

Don’t eat food with more than five ingredients: Well, goodbye tossed salad. Au revoir ratatouille.

Don’t eat anything a third-grader can’t pronounce: So if the package promises Agaricus bisporus, put it back. But if it says mushrooms, keep it. Disregard the fact that they’re the same. Pronunciation is all.

Don’t eat anything your grandmother wouldn’t recognize: That’s it for you, tofu. Grammy didn’t do sushi, chia seeds or quinoa, either. Fortunately, given my vast food knowledge today, my grandchildren will be able to partake of them all in the future.

Don’t eat anything that won’t eventually rot: That might take sauerkraut out of the diet. I’ve never seen rotten sauerkraut, and I’ve forgotten a lot of things in my refrigerator over the years.

My personal favorite Pollan rule is “buy your snacks at the farmer’s market.” Yippee! Have you been to a farmer’s market lately? I adore pecan pie.

A CNN story on the same French research illustrated the embargo on processed food with a picture of sausage patties. And smack in the middle of that, on the same page, it ran a photo of bread for an article touting the health benefits of fiber.

Let’s see how they stack up with regards to processing—

Fresh sausage: kill hog, grind up, add salt and spices like sage, cook in a pan over moderate heat.

Fresh bread: thresh wheat, clean, moisten and condition for 24 hours, grind, bleach (if you want white bread), grist with other wheat to get the right gluten levels, enrich with niacin, thiamine, and folate. Harvest barley, soak to partially germinate the seeds, dry, heat, grind. (Malted barley flour is in every brand of all-purpose, bread, whole wheat, and plain white flours.) Combine the finished wheat flour with sugar, yeast, salt, and milk. Knead for a long time, let rise, punch down, let rise again, shape, bake in the oven.

I’m inclined to believe bread is healthier in general than sausage, but to call it “less processed” is a prodigious feat of food delusion.

And by the way, though whole wheat flour is healthier, it is not a bit less processed.

When I looked up “overly processed foods”  for some examples and a good definition, I found that included chicken nuggets. OK. That’s probably fair.

But this all reminds me of the brouhaha over eating carbs—perpetrated by people who somehow don’t realize celery and lettuce are pure carbs. Did you know that washing food is technically considered “processing?” I highly recommend it nonetheless.

Altogether, the public advice on processed foods is a royal mess. The fact that we humans largely don’t die off before our 30th birthday is closely linked to processing our food. Fire kills bugs. Salt delays rot. Acid preserves produce so we can keep eating through the winter. So does canning, something my grannies both did. Numerous studies have established that frozen vegetables often have more intact nutrients than much of the “fresh” produce in grocery stores do after a long trip from field to processor, to warehouse, to distribution center, to local store.

Processed food includes canned tomatoes, black beans, and tuna. It also includes orange-dyed, banana-flavored marshmallow peanuts. This category is too vague to make any sense at all. 

No matter which scientific studies capture headlines, the secret to eating healthy will not come down to such an ambiguous concept as “processed” food.

Instead, we need to look at food content. Salt is good within limits. Keep the daily dose under control. Fat is fine, as long as there’s not too much fat in your diet.

In contrast, additives with known problems, like sodium nitrate and BHT, are best avoided.

And who says more processing is always worse? It takes months of “processing” and many steps to create a delicious bleu cheese and hardly anything beyond a knife and fork to turn an avocado into guacamole. But I’m apt to put a mere schmear of bleu cheese on my crackers and gobble the guac on fried tortilla chips by the spoonful. So I ask you, which one is healthier?

False categories don’t help us. Eat lots of veggies, and I don’t care if you cook and puree them even though that is double-processing. Enjoy some fruit every day. Oatmeal to start the day is nice, even if it is a “breakfast cereal” and breakfast cereals seem to be on all the lists of taboo processed foods. Have a bit of cheese, but remember to keep the portion small—not because it’s processed, but because it is calorie dense, high in saturated fats and cholesterol with only modest nutritional value.  Limit sugar, control salt and watch the fat. Of course, a pickle is less nutritious than a fresh cucumber, but a fresh cuke’s no powerhouse, either, since it’s mostly water.

We’re all searching for the best food for health. The answer is not to avoid “processed” foods in general. Avoid too much frying, excessive salting, and prodigious amounts of sugar. Pretty simple.

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The Lowest-Cal Healthy Fat You Should Start Using

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American health and diet trends pay a lot of attention to fat. Just eliminate it and all will be well, Ornish-followers promise. Eat a lot of it and don’t worry, Atkins advocates counter. Don’t eat butter. Do eat butter

This past week at Renown Health, we caught up with the latest research and findings on fat and oils in the diet.

The first thing to note is that whatever form they come in, fats add calories quickly. But one of them is surprisingly low

The Regular Guys:

120 – 126 calories per tablespoon…. That’s the count for most oils including almond, avocado, Canola, coconut, corn, cottonseed, flaxseed, goose fat, grape seed, hemp, mustard, plum, peanut, rice bran, safflower, sardine, sesame, soybean, sunflower and walnut oils. Margarine also belongs in this group.

The Heavyweights

130 calories or more Cod liver oil packs 140 calories per tablespoon. Not that you would want much more than that under any circumstances. And, surprise, olive oil’s no calorie saint, either, as it comes in at 133 calories per tablespoon. “Light” olive oil will bring that back down to 120 calories, so it’s only reaching the same level as peanut and Canola oil, no matter what the label implies.

The Lightweights

Under 120 calories This is going to upset some notions. Lard will save you a few calories at 117 per tablespoon. Butter does even better, at 108 calories per tablespoon. Ghee, which is a form of clarified butter, is approximately 112 calories. Please note, however, that this can vary by brand. Most are 110-120 calories, but a few hit the 130 mark, so check labels. If you are lactose intolerant, you should get to know this butter-flavored fat because ghee has practically no lactose. The milk solids settle out and the lactose disappears with them. To continue the lower-fat group, mayonnaise has 94 calories and there are real calorie saving in the butter substitute, I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter, which is only 50 calories.

Yep, lard, butter, and ghee are calorie savers. Relatively speaking.

By-products from frying and high heat are another matter. Cooking with oils at high heat causes acrylamides to form, especially when the food being fried is a potato. Acrylamide is a known carcinogen and best avoided.

The acrylamides come from the food, not the oil itself, but some oils seem to foster higher levels. The interesting thing about this food threat is that saturated fats are less unhealthy on this score than unsaturated fats. For instance, scientists who fried foods and measured the results found 366ng (nanograms) of acrylamides per gram in lard. Even lower, ghee had 211ng/g. Those levels are a fraction of the 2447ng/g in soy oil and 1442ng/g in palm oil after frying vegetables.

Thumbs up for olive oil.  Few things are completely bad, and oils have benefits, too. Olive oil has had years of praise claiming it lowered cholesterol, improved your skin, managed diabetes, lowered blood pressure, reduced tension and turned you into a sexy Latin lover, just like that. Some had a bit of truth to them, and some were overblown.

Now there’s olive oil backlash. Most troubling is the ugly fact that olive oil might not be the real thing. There’s a big problem with counterfeiting. Also, some of the olive oil at your grocery store is old, and the benefits are lost or weakened.

There are whole “medical” or “health” websites that pound the table over olive oil’s terrible consequences. Naturally, these places tend to have systems and special food plans that will gladly sell you. As we’ll see, olive oil still rates a solid round of applause.    

We’ll strive for the truthful moderation of the mid-ground as proved by science.

Research that was just published in January 2018 in the journal with the intimidating name “Endocrine, Metabolic, and Immune Disorders Drug Targets,” gives olive oil high marks. To quote its summary: “The studies analyzed demonstrated the role of EVOO as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and vasodilatory nutrient that may contribute to lower the atherosclerotic burden.”

That makes slightly olive oil a health winner among oils, although it does add a few more calories.

To be sure you are getting real olive oil, it’s a good idea to avoid “light” versions in most brands. You can also look for certification from the California Olive Oil Council (COOC) and the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) for domestic olive oil. For international brands a certification from the Extra Virgin Alliance (EVA) the Italian growers association UNAPROL and the International Olive Council. UNAPROL is an Italian olive growers association and the brands it certifies will be labeled 100% Quality Italiana.

Ghee has advantages you should know. We’ve already established that ghee is somewhat lower in calories. But it’s also high in saturated fats, slightly more so than butter.

Ayurvedic medicine claims that ghee is good for the whole body, reduces inflammation, and promotes flexibility, intelligence, memory, better digestion and the quality of semen.

Research on ghee is still sparse. Some recent work done in rats looks good for ghee, but most research on humans has been in tests that were not randomized, placebo-controlled, or blinded. In those, the findings were promising, but the research design wasn’t high quality.

In 2018, researchers in India went house to house to find 2008 study participants and then divided them into three groups based on whether they ate more mustard oil and less ghee, about the same of each, or more ghee and little mustard oil. The mostly ghee group came in with lower triglycerides, lower cholesterol, lower low-density cholesterol, and higher high density (good) cholesterol. It’s not conclusive given the lack of randomization and blinding, but the data covered enough people to be convincing. Plus, another study in 2010 showed similar results comparing people who ate more ghee. The more ghee group had better cholesterol levels and less coronary heart disease (CHD). Researchers suggested that the rise in CHD in urban Indians might be related to a switch away from cow ghee (made from butter) toward vegetable ghees which have higher levels of trans fats.

The reason these benefits could well hold up under closer scientific scrutiny is that, when made with milk from grass-fed cows, ghee is very rich in vitamin A, D, E, and K. It is also a good source of butyrate, an acid that decreases inflammation and seems to improve insulin sensitivity.

Plus it has a high smoke point when sauteing food. It creates fewer acrylamides than any other oil. And it tastes really good on popcorn.

So a little ghee could save you some calories and do you some good.  If you decided to buy it at the grocery store, be sure it is made from butter, not vegetable oils.


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Prevent Bloating, Gas, and Stomach Pain—This Is What Most Doctors Miss

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When you feel like you’ve been pumped full of air and just want to sit on the couch and groan, who cares how you got that way? Relief is the first order of business. We suggested several tactics that work in the previous article.

Now, we’ll look at how to prevent bloat, gas, and associated stomach pains. There are a lot of tactics that may help you. So let’s run through them and end up with the one doctors are most likely to miss. It’s the one most likely to solve the problem if none of the more conventional answers work.

What you’re doing wrong to cause bloating and pain can be pretty obvious when you’ve gone to a chili cook-off and sampled everything on offer. In other cases, the reason you get bloated can be surprising. And even when you think you know what it is, the culprit may be hidden.

A case in point is the food additive inulin. It’s perfectly safe and is naturally contained in onions, wheat, bananas, artichokes, asparagus, and many other fruits and vegetables. It’s often added to prepared foods to increase fiber content. In that case, it was probably derived from chicory root. But here’s the thing…. Say, you think wheat bothers you, so you buy gluten-free bread. That’s smart. However, some of them also contain inulin, which could be another thing that bothers your digestion. In fact, if wheat is a problem, inulin may very well be an issue, too.

There are a host of small things that can cause bloat. Stop doing them; problem solved for many people. For instance, chewing gum.  Or drinking through a straw. Also soft drinks and carbonated beverages. These all cause you to swallow air.

Do you talk a lot when you eat? Eat on the run and bolt your food down? That will do it for many people because those habits also cause you to swallow air. Air in the gut is gas, and the effect is bloat. Slow down. Put your sandwich down, or your fork on the plate, swallow first, then talk.

Another tactic you may try is dividing your intake into smaller meals. This isn’t for some mythical “natural way to eat” or “key to weight loss” reason. Here’s why that can really help a lot of people who suffer frequent rounds of bloat and gas: As with irritable bowel syndrome, there is some evidence that the misery of bloating is actually a sensitivity to your own digestive processes. It is believed that some of us simply feel what is going on in our stomach and colons more acutely than most people do.  

Sugar can be a culprit in bloating and gas as well. But don’t think honey is an automatic pass, or that sugar-free candies are the perfect solution because they all contain different kinds of sugar (fructose in honey; mannitol, xylitol, etc. in candies) that cause problems of their own for many people.

After these simple causes have been eliminated, your next step is to see whether there is an allergy or food sensitivity involved. Now you are in for some work, and unfortunately, you may have to take the lead here and do a lot of problem-solving yourself. But there is a place to get help

If you have persistent bloating and gas, have tried everything above, and have already had a clean colonoscopy, your doctor is very likely to check out on you. Even good doctors. He/she will say something like, “try cutting out dairy, a lot of people have trouble with that.” Or “wheat could be the problem.” But there’s something else that really could be at issue besides wheat and dairy.

It took me two years and several doctors before anyone said, “FODMAP.” The acronym stands for fermentable oligo-saccharides, di-saccharides, monosaccharides and polyols. These are all forms of sugar alcohol, and they are present in almost all foods.

If you are desperate and willing to do a bit of work, a FODMAP investigation is absolutely worth trying. In the time it takes to investigate what is bothering you, a low FODMAP diet won’t do you any harm. Even if it takes many weeks.

Basically, you go on a very strict low-FODMAP diet to clear the system. Only after you are reliably free of any gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, borborygmi ( that’s fancy for “stomach rumbling”) do you proceed. At that point, you begin to test a few foods to find out what you react to.

It’s important that in each test, or “challenge” you only look at one kind of FODMAP at a time. For instance, to see if the problem is sorbitol, which is one of the polyols, you will introduce high-sorbitol foods like blackberries and avocados. Nothing else in the FODMAP universe. This is not the time to slide in a bite of pizza.

Food sensitivities can be so puzzling; it’s critical to test only one thing at a time.

Ideally, you can work with a dietician, but even many dieticians aren’t very well trained in this procedure, so check credentials.

Medical schools are notorious for not doing a very good job in nutrition training. On top of that the first paper published on FODMAPs was in 2005, so most textbooks say nothing about it.

Let me give you a bit of encouragement if all the normal treatments like eating slower or avoiding dairy fail to help.  The process of a thorough FODMAP evaluation will take weeks, but when you are tired of hurting, you’ll try anything. And it is completely worth the effort. In fact, if you find one thing that you can say for certain causes a problem, keep going. Most people with FODMAP issues react to more than one category of sugar alcohols and you may be very surprised by what you find.

I was shocked. Truly.

 For me, dairy products –the most common intolerance—are no trouble at all. Despite four different doctors suggesting that.  Wheat is, which I already knew,  but my FODMAP tests showed me that wheat wasn’t the main problem.  

The big surprise was that fruit was making me feel lousy. Yes, fruit.

I used to eat fruit every day, striving for three servings or more, but always getting at least two.  It turns out that polyols and fructose are my weak spots. It was the daily apple and the frequent peaches and cherries that were getting me down. I never realized they were an issue because they were always in my diet. I also discovered that honey is a trigger for trouble. In fact, once I cleared myself of symptoms and tested honey, I discovered it causes a reaction almost instantly for me.

If you want to do this, I highly recommend buying the book “The IBS Elimination Diet and Cookbook: The Proven Low-FODMAP Plan for Eating Well and Feeling Great,” by Patsy Catsos. It will explain everything and walk you through the whole program. See if you can find a dietician also.  And good luck.

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How to Make Bloat Go Away Fast

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Bloat isn’t fat, thank goodness, it’s only gas. So it passes. Literally.

But it may be even more miserable when it’s around. Sometimes it comes with a stomach ache. Sometimes you just feel like a Macy’s parade balloon that was accidentally filled with cement. If you’ve been lounging in sweats or yoga wear for a few days, zipping up regular pants can be alarming.

For the most part, time alone will take care of it—that’s how millions of us cope with Thanksgiving every year. The problem is, Thanksgiving gluttony aside, you may keep on doing whatever it was that caused the problem in the first place.

Want to get rid of bloat fast? Antacids can help, particularly old-fashioned Alka-Seltzer when you want immediate relief from the gas and have a stomach ache.

Even more old fashioned, you can add a bit of lemon juice to a teaspoon of baking soda in a bit of room-temperature water. Many sources suggest a glass of water, but frankly, this remedy is not delicious. Dissolve the lemon and soda in as little water as you can tolerate then follow up with nice clear water to wash the nasty out of your mouth. Lots of water, because water is also good for bloat.

Or you can go extreme. A rather scary farm wife once dosed me with a heaping tablespoon of straight baking soda. In the mouth, as is, no water. It was as nasty as you might expect, but immediately relieving. But warning, the gas comes up as belching, so definitely try this at home, but never in public.

Less urgent, but far more pleasant, some teas do a nice job. The best choices are ginger tea, peppermint tea, rosemary tea, and turmeric tea. Peppermint is most likely to work fastest to relieve the feeling of pressure, but ginger is especially good for any feeling of nausea. Try whichever one sounds best and experiment to find one you like. If you are simply feeling a little sick from too much rich food, even a cup of hot black tea seems to help. Provided you like tea.

Although dairy foods and milk, in particular, can be the source of many people’s stomach woes, buttermilk is good for bloat. Some people with lactose intolerance can handle buttermilk as it is low in lactose. If you can, then Ayurvedic medicine has a remedy for you:  ¼ teaspoon of cumin and ¼ teaspoon of asafetida (should you have it around) in a glass of buttermilk. Blend well and drink. Asafetida alone is also good for bloat, too. It’s a garlicky-oniony substitute that is a staple in Indian cookery. The “fetida” in the name is related to the smell, which goes away with cooking.

Now that we’ve covered what to do when in trouble, how about preventing bloating? That’s the subject of the next article.

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Vitamins, Minerals, Antioxidants That Help You Lose Weight

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Ever since Alice wandered into Wonderland and partook of the cake that made her grow bigger and the elixir that made her shrink, we’ve given food and drink almost magical status. Thousands of grandmothers have promised their balky offspring that eating carrots would ensure good eyesight and fish, being brain food, would make them smart.  

A good deal of research has actually gone into looking for food magic, as well. More specifically, it’s investigated whether different micronutrients can help us take control of our weight, Type 2 diabetes, or metabolic syndrome.

Many different vitamins, antioxidants, polyphenols, minerals, and anti-inflammatories do have a relationship to weight control that is much stronger than mere coincidence. Sometimes it seems that obesity itself leads to a vitamin or nutritional deficit. Other times, the order appears to be reversed, where it’s the deficit that may lead to obesity.

Before going down the list of what works, however, we’d like to put guilt and shame behind us. Almost everyone who is overweight is well aware of it. Most people who decide to do something about it make that decision many times. Even research on the matter has shown that trying a score of different exercise plans and eating patterns is the norm. So is finding out that (a) most diets don’t work, or (b) they worked but only while doing something so difficult or restrictive it’s impossible to maintain it as a lifestyle, (c) you can’t exercise pounds away without changing your diet, too, and (d) the weight usually comes back, anyway.

Failure doesn’t have to happen though. There are a lot of success stories and yours might start with a little vitamin support.

Here’s a rundown on what science has to say:

Vitamin C—is a powerful antioxidant. That’s important because if you are overweight, you are also very likely to have or to develop high cholesterol, which antioxidants help manage. Also, a diet that is strong in antioxidant-rich foods can help speed up metabolism and decrease inflammation. Both of those actions support your weight loss goals.

So Vitamin C doesn’t cause you to lose weight, but it helps manage the side effects of being overweight and supports the things that do help you lose. For instance, people with adequate levels of vitamin C oxidize 30% more fat during exercise than people with low levels[1]. 

Vitamin C also decreases the risk of diabetes and helps in controlling blood pressure. It’s best to get Vitamin C from your food rather than from supplementation if possible.  In addition to citrus fruit, guava, bell peppers, broccoli, kiwi, strawberries, tomatoes and kale are rich in vitamin C.

Vitamin E—Another antioxidant, vitamin E works in tandem with vitamin C. Everything above applies. It’s useful for controlling blood pressure…and it’s also better to acquire it from the diet if possible. Get it from sunflower seeds, spinach, avocados, almonds, butternut squash, kiwi, trout and shrimp.

Coenzyme Q10—Alas, despite claims, the proof that CoQ10 controls weight is not good. It has shown benefits for blood pressure and glycemic control, though. It’s also good for the heart among many other benefits. It just won’t make you skinny. This nutrient will probably need to come from a supplement if you are older since it’s hard to eat enough oil, seeds, and cold-water fish to bring levels up if they are seriously depleted. And even though it may not make you shed pounds, this micronutrient is getting a serious study for potential benefits in slowing Alzheimer’s, reducing migraines, and easing muscle pains.

Zinc—Taken as supplements or with adequate food zinc can improve blood lipid profiles—in other words, cholesterol and triglycerides. It seems to be especially beneficial for people who are obese or diabetic.

Cinnamon—Natural cinnamon varies widely in chemistry, which makes studies on its effects hard to compare. The region where it was grown, the amount of rain it got, the specific variety can all affect its strength. That said, it has been shown to improve fasting blood glucose levels, counter oxidative stress and may reduce fat. Cinnamon is a polyphenol. Other foods in this class include apples, cranberries, red beans, almonds and peanuts, but they have not been as widely studied for weight control yet.

Green tea—This may be the winner on the list. Green tea has shown that it can increase thermogenesis and fat oxidation. Thermogenesis is heat production and when it happens it burns calories.

Green coffee & chlorogenic acid—Though it doesn’t sound savory, chlorogenic acid is a component of green coffee, plums, peaches and dates. More studies are needed, but this shows promise for helping to lose weight. The fruits also contain ferulic acid, which is an antioxidant. Beware, however, that dates are high in sugar and thus a high-calorie snack.

Green coffee may be a champ, but studies so far have been small or lacked control groups. This looks very promising, so we will continue to monitor this situation and let you know if any new studies shed further light.

Lycopene—No help with weight loss, but it does help with glucose tolerance. Lycopene is found in guava, papaya, watermelon, tomatoes, eggplant and potatoes. But we already knew potatoes were not a weight loss food, didn’t we?

Antioxidants—Antioxidants do play a supporting role in weight loss. They help control low-grade inflammation which is associated with obesity and diabetes.

[1] C.S. Johnston, Strategies for healthy weight loss: from vitamin C to the glycemic response. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 2005 Jun 24(3), pages 158-65

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How Not to Smell Like an Old Person

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You love them, but you are squirming, looking for polite reasons to leave. You’d never want your favorite older relatives to know that visits to their house can be torture because of the old people smell that seems to be permeating everything, and maybe even your own clothes.   

They may be meticulous housekeepers. They may shower daily. But there’s something a little funky going on. Some people describe the odor as greasy, some call it grassy. In stale beer, it’s associated with a cardboard taste. And yes, it is a real thing.

Though if you want to be polite, “old people smell” is not the best way to put it. The correct term is “nonenal.”  It’s caused by the chemical 2-nonenal, an unsaturated aldehyde that is associated with the smells of cucumber, orris root, fat… and aging.

The human nose isn’t as sensitive as a dog’s, but it knows more than we usually give it credit for. Including how old other humans are.

At Monell Chemical Sense Center in Philadelphia, a team of researchers gave 41 participants swatches of body odor to smell and evaluate. The smellers ranged from 20 to 30 years old. Samples came from people age 26 to 75. The smellers could immediately identify which samples came from older donors.

The slightly scary thing about nonenal is that none of the old people you know probably have any idea they smell old. Which means, YOU might not know it if it happens to you. In fact, in the Monell experiment, smellers noted the nonenal smell in samples from people at age 40 and up.

The source of the smell is the breakdown of omega-7 unsaturated fatty acids on our skin. Around age 40, the antioxidants that inhibit this process become less efficient. Hormonal changes increase the rate of omega-7s on the skin as well. Menopause is regularly cited as one factor. And while no scientist has yet said that andropause has the same outcome, they have noted that the nonenal smell is strongest in middle-aged men.

The first scientific study of the problem occurred in Japan in 2000. Researchers asked 22 people ranging from age 26 to 75 to shower and put on an odor-collecting shirt before bedtime every night. During the day, each shirt was stored in an airtight container. Participants wore the same shirt for three nights in a row, then numerous chemicals they emitted were analyzed. The one that varied significantly between the young (with none) and the old was 2-nonenal.

Now that you know about this scent, what can you do?

One Japanese company, Mirai, has an answer. It makes soaps, body washes, and body serums that it says will remove the nonenal smell. The miracle ingredients purported to do that are persimmon and green tea. The serum includes astaxanthin.

Remember that your favorite old-smelling people aren’t dirty. They shower and keep a clean home. So can you really wash the nonenal smell away with a special soap? People who have tried it say they believe it works.  The products are certainly no more expensive than any premium soap and body wash. Which is to say that a bar of Mirai soap is only about 20 times as expensive as a bar of Ivory, but only half as much as Hermes.

If you’re not up for that, there’s this thought to remember. Researchers who collect nonenal for tests zero in on the nape of the neck, where your body emits the most. So you might want to scrub twice behind the ears.

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Let Us Praise Sleep and Get More of It

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Not too long ago, we ran an article on the problem of blue light and poor quality sleep.

Recently, the Washington Post made sleep a front-page topic-- “Wake Up to a Health Crisis: We Need More Sleep.” Subhead, “Brain researchers warn that our lack of shut-eye may be making us sick.”

Sleep, it seems, is a hot topic with the brain research community now. As it should be.

A few highlights from the WaPo story illustrate how important good sleep is at every age. We’ll quote directly:

·         Preschoolers who skip naps are worse at a memory game than those who snooze

·         Poor sleep may increase the risk of Alzheimer’s

·         Even a single night of sleep deprivation boosts brain levels of the proteins that form toxic clumps in Alzheimer’s patients

·         All-nighters push anxiety to clinical levels

·         Even modest sleep reductions are linked to increased feelings of social isolation and loneliness

·         Adults over 50 with lots of insomnia were more likely to fall[1]

That’s the gist of the news from the Post. The question as always is how to get that sleep.

The first step, of course, is to go to bed. That may be the hardest one when there’s a late game running into overtime or a movie you want to watch to the end, a party that’s too much fun to leave. 

But assuming you have put your body into bed in a timely manner, comfort comes next. For most people, a cool bedroom helps. And banish the TV if you have the least trouble with sleep quantity or quality.

Then there’s the mattress. Good ones are expensive so we tend to hang on to them longer than we should. Stop it.  

There’s one other thing that matters more than you might think, as well—your pillow.

Every few years there seems to be a pillow fad. Once it was memory foam, which every woman of a certain age soon came to realize made hot flashes worse. A couple of years ago, it was a type of shredded foam that was “better than down.”

Speaking of down, and feathers, that may or may not be a good idea. Some of us clog up at night on a bed of chicken feathers, which is what the cheaper feather-foam pillows use. Hotels for instance.

Size and fluffiness count, too. If you sleep on your back all night a very soft or flat pillow will be good for your neck and not push your head out of position. But if you’re a side sleeper, you need a nice tall, firm pillow to fill in between shoulder and head and keep you aligned well.

Earlier today, I looked all over the Internet for pillow suggestions. You can buy foam, feathers, down, polyester, and latex. I’d suggest the choice is one of those personal things.

But nowhere did I see anyone recommend my own favorite—buckwheat.

 Yeah, that’s strange, I know. But if no other pillow ever seems to be just right, you hate hot pillows, you like your neck supported, and you want your pillow to stay in place, give it some thought. You can’t get one at your local mattress store, but they are available at

Be warned, however, buckwheat pillows are hard as rocks. Not suitable for pillow fights. You could probably be arrested for throwing one of those babies around. And while hardness sounds like a bad idea, it’s actually comfortable… as if someone’s hands were propping your head in perfect position and keeping it there all night. With a buckwheat pillow, you actually push it into the shape you like and it stays there.

The other good thing about them is that you can push them to be thick enough for side sleeping, flat enough for back sleeping, and curved enough for stomach sleeping. The bad thing for some people, however, is that a fresh new buckwheat pillow will make a bit of sound as you shift. But if nothing else seems just right, it’s worth a try.

You may get so addicted you start taking it on trips with you.

[1]  Carolyn Y. Johnson, The Washington Post, page 1. Jan 24, 2019.

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Those Expensive Eggs Might Be Worth It—If You Have the Right Ones

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A lot of factors come into play when you push a shopping cart around the grocery store. First of all—will your family eat it? If no one is ever going to take even one bite of those excellent canned sardines, it doesn’t matter how much calcium, selenium, Vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids they have.

Then there’s quality. Blind comparisons at Serious Eats have established that Betty Crocker Instant Mashed Potatoes are markedly superior to Hungry Jack. So they say.

There’s also the question of whether you want to avoid GMO ingredients. And flavor preferences. I am personally certain that Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce is the only way to go. In fact, I am so certain of that, that I have never bought or tasted a competing brand. How’s that for objectivity?

But when it comes to ingredients that seem much the same from brand to brand—like eggs—is it worthwhile to pay more?

Honestly, the thought of chickens crowded in cages so small they can’t turn around is more than enough to keep me away from the brands known for their animal cruelty.  I’m not even going to mention some of the worst abuses because they are stomach turning. Let’s just say that for me there are reasons to avoid the cheapest eggs.

That doesn’t automatically mean the most expensive eggs are the best, however. I’ve tried top-dollar, cage-free, organic, small-farm eggs that turned out to be old and unworthy.  Organic foods protect you from exposure to pesticides, herbicides and growth hormones. They do not protect you from E. coli or other bacteria. That’s up to careful handling.

But what about those very pricey eggs that claim to have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids?

This is a case where, if your budget has room, paying up is a good idea. For your health, a diet that is close to a 1:1 ratio of omega 6 to omega 3 fatty acids is best.

We don’t usually get that without making some effort because our diet is now tilted toward rich omega-6 foods and low in omega-3s. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the average for Americans is about 4 ounces per week. Not enough.  The “average” also hides the fact that most of that consumption comes from just a portion of us. Only 10% of Americans get two or more servings of fish per week.

But they do eat a lot of things fried in vegetable oils, meats, and grains. Only canola oil or fish oils are high in omega-3.

Eggs that claim to be high in omega-3 fatty acids were raised to purposely achieve that. The hens were fed diets that include omega-3 sources like flaxseed or fish oil.

Now here is where it gets interesting. Different brands of omega-3 enriched eggs have different levels in the final product.  Research done by Nutrition Advance revealed these levels of omega 3 for different egg brands:

Organic Valley                   225 mg omega-3 per large egg

Christopher                        660 mg

4 Grain                               150 mg

Sauder’s Eggs                    325 mg

Eggland’s                           115 mg

Fresh & Easy                     160 mg

Gold Circle Farms             150 mg

Smart Balance                   192 mg

Now, you know that missives like this on health topics sometimes carry a caution: “This is not medical advice. This statement has not been evaluated by the FDA and is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical condition.”

Good thing. Because I just realized I was buying the wrong brand. Hope we all learned something useful today. Yours in good health—Lynn.

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Hands Hurt? Bring on the Frankincense

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Arthritis gets to most people sooner or later. Usually later. But “hand arthritis” can come very early.  

It’s a stress-related woe, and there’s no lower age limit on busy hands.

Believe me, I know. I will never forget the winter I decided to knit sweaters for four boys.   With a Christmas deadline, it was a nonstop venture, and my hands screamed.  Those were young hands. Finger exercises, stretching and ibuprofen was all I could do at the time. Because I didn’t know there was a better answer. 

That’s not surprising. Just try googling “hand stress arthritis” and you won’t get a lot of help—instead, your search engine will lead you into numerous blind alleys, and you’ll end up with articles on rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis.

This kind of pain isn’t osteoarthritis, bursitis or rheumatism. It disappears within a day or two when you stop overworking a joint and comes back when resuming your abuse.   For some people, ”hand stress” may be carpal tunnel syndrome that lands in the fingers instead of the more usual wrist area. But again, this is a pain that—unlike carpal tunnel—goes away if you stop doing whatever caused it.

That’s an obvious treatment: end the abuse. But what if you have an activity that you really, really need to pursue?

“Hand stress arthritis” doesn’t seem to be a medical condition that gets any attention. It doesn’t matter a lot, though, because if you’ve felt it, you know it’s definitely something real.  Stretching the fingers like a concert pianist warming up may help.

So does boswellia. At long last, the Italian journal, Edison Minerva Medica, reported on an experiment with young subjects who had this kind of pain. The researchers divided them into two groups. One got the standard medical treatment, basically physical therapy. The other got a boswellia supplement.

After two weeks the pain decreased significantly for the patients who got boswellia. Swelling was reduced more as well and their hands functioned better than the control group. Some of the control group had to resort to pain medications because the therapy alone was not enough, but none of the subjects who got boswellia needed any pain medication.

Boswellia, or boswellia serrata, to give the supplement its full name, is the plant that also yields the famous resin beloved of wise men—frankincense.

Finding this study was an interesting addition to what we already know about boswellia. At Renown Health, it is included in Isoprex, our solution for joint health.  It’s part of a formula that puts the brakes on a reaction called the “membrane attack complex” or MAC.

Most people think that the pain from arthritis is a simple mechanical problem. There’s nothing to cushion the cartilage between joints once the synovial fluid has been destroyed. But cartilage doesn’t have nerve cells. It’s the swelling and irritation in the muscles and tissues around the joint that cause the pain and set off a MAC attack. 

I still don’t have arthritis—knock on wood—but the next time I decide to knit four sweaters in six weeks, I know just what to do. Meanwhile, I can see why Isoprex gets such rave reviews from people with chronic problems. Boswellia is good stuff. 

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Exercise Builds a Reserve Against Alzheimer’s

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If you ever needed the motivation to exercise more, this is powerful:  It builds reserve mental powers that can help you hold on and function better in your old age, even if you develop any signs of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

Researchers found that higher levels of physical activity were associated with better cognition in older adults. So was higher levels of motor abilities.

The results came from randomized trials that tested the effects of physical exercise.  The bottom line, to jump right to it, is this: more exercise meant better brain health, even when Alzheimer’s was present.

Now for the details.  James Mortimer, PhD, at University of South Florida and Yaakov Stern PhD at Columbia University enrolled 454 older adults at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago in an experiment. Among them, 191 of these participants had already been diagnosed as having Alzheimer’s.  Because of their advanced ages, women were in the majority—73% of the group.

The team ran 10 tests to assess the participants’ motor abilities. The patients were also given a continuous multi-day accelerometer to measure their activity. The scores were reported in “counts/day.”  The average for everyone was 156,000 counts/day, and the most active participants without dementia reached 180,000 counts per day. Those who already had dementia averaged 130,000 counts/day.

The team also tested everyone for five cognitive abilities. These included remembering words, perceptual speed, visual-spatial ability and two types of memory.  They also tested 10 different motor abilities.

These elderly patients were tested about two years prior to their deaths.

The team then autopsied the brains of those patients who died for signs of dementia. The team looked for 10 different kinds of evidence including simple hardening of the cerebral arteries to plaques and Lewy bodies.   About 85% of the patients did have two or more signs of brain pathology at death.

Now comes the good news. Mortimer says it appears that exercise increased brain tissue. 

Most important, exercise even leads to growth in brain tissue of the hippocampus. The hippocampus is often the first part of the brain to show atrophy (wasting) that indicates Alzheimer’s disease.

This is science, so we have to introduce some statistics here, but it’s worth it. For each standard deviation above the average total daily activity or motor abilities, there was a significant reduction in the risk of Alzheimer’s. Exercise lowered risk 55% and motor abilities 31%.

This experiment does not mean that exercise or standing on one foot without falling will prevent Alzheimer’s. But it does establish that the increase in new brain tissue and increases in important chemicals like a brain-derived neurotrophic factor that exercise creates can significantly push back the effects of Alzheimer’s in old age among people who do develop it. 


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Remembering Pain Makes It Worse. Now, Guess Who Remembers It Best

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Men and woman are so different that John Gray became a rock star among self-help authors when he wrote a book with the catchy title, “Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus.” It resonated with those of us from both persuasions.

In the musical, My Fair Lady, Henry Higgins wants to know “Why Can't A Woman Be More Like a Man?” I can promise you that some women might reverse that question. But the French just wisely shrug their shoulders and say, “Viva la difference.” I can agree to that.

Men and women walk differently, talk differently, and now science has established that they tend to remember pain differently, too.

This applies, by the way, not only to male humans but male mice as well.

It matters because research has established that the memory of earlier pain plays a role in chronic pain. Male mice and humans clearly remember painful experiences very clearly. Take them back to the location where it happened and they will react with signs of stress and discomfort.

The researchers at McGill University and University of Toronto Mississauga are experts on pain, but this came as a surprise to them. At first, they noticed the difference between male and female mice, which they had not expected. When they tested humans, they found the same division.

One of the researchers opined that “because it is well known that women are both more sensitive to pain than men and that they are also generally more stressed out," they were gobsmacked by the results.

Naturally, the scientist who offered that opinion was a man. Would Human Resources please ask him to stop by for some sensitivity training?

In humans, the test consisted of strapping patients into a blood pressure cuff and blowing it up to be very tight. With the cuff in place, they were then asked to exercise their arms for 20 minutes and rate the pain.

That hurt so much that only 7 of the 80 people in the test rated the pain at lower than 50 on a 100-point scale.

Men and women both felt the pain acutely, the difference came the next day. Researchers either took the subjects back to the same room the next day or to a different one. When they returned to the same room, men rated the pain even worse the next day. That did not happen to men who were sent to a different room or to women in the test group. 

It suggests that the memory of pain may make chronic pain worse, especially for men.

At this point, you may be connecting some obvious dots. It is commonly said that women tend to forget the pain of childbirth. Some believe there might be an evolutionary reason for this difference in pain perception.

Alas, scientists have looked at that question before and consider it something of a myth.

Karolinska Institute studies found that about half of women do forget the level of pain, but only when conditions are right. It was only the women who felt they had a caring staff and good support and who viewed their experience as positive at the time of giving birth who were more likely to forget the pain over the years.

So, despite gender differences, we humans all don't like to be hurt once, and we really, really hurt when old pains take another jab. The difference between us may be that women tend to give more weight to the emotional elements and men to the physical.

Someone should test that. It could be one of those Mars-Venus things.


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