Life lessons from everywhere

Several years ago, Robert Fulghum wrote a wonderful book called “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” and it started a trend in books and articles, all relating the life lessons we learn from unexpected places, including television shows.

I came across an exceptionally good example of this “genre” the other day and it soars above most I’ve read and I wanted to share it with you. In it, writer Andrew Wyns (Executive Director of Bridges of Greater New York, a transitional housing program for men struggling with addiction and being released from prison) talks about how the sport of rugby helped him become a better father, and a better person.

As a father, it has particular meaning for me, but I also see the direct application of the lessons to other areas in life and even business, since it touches on leadership, team building, and rebounding from mistakes.

Take a few minutes to read this and you’ll see why I think this ranks right up there with Fulghum’s classic!

5 Lessons Rugby Taught Me About Fatherhood

Excessive fructose: an “environmental toxin”

This candy, a traditional treat to celebrate the Day of the Dead, may be telling us something about the hazards of sugar!

I’ve sometimes been accused of going a little overboard when it comes to nutrition and diet, and I have to admit I do put a great stress on food choices as a component of health and wellness. I advocate (and for most of my adult life have followed) a vegetarian diet, with an emphasis on organic and raw or minimally processed food. In particular, I sound a warning gong every time I see someone eating a lot of sugar in their diet.

I feel like I’ve been vindicated (at least on the sugar topic) by a research study that was just published in the Journal of the American Society of Nephrology (JASN). The review study exposes the dangers of excessive fructose in diet.

In their study, Richard J. Johnson, MD and Takahiko Nakagawa, MD (Division of Renal Diseases and Hypertension, University of Colorado) provide a concise overview of recent clinical and experimental studies to understand how excessive amounts of fructose, present in added sugars, may play a role in high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, and chronic kidney disease (CKD).

As noted by the authors, dietary fructose is present primarily in added dietary sugars, honey, and fruit. Americans most frequently ingest fructose from sucrose, a disaccharide containing 50% fructose and 50% glucose bonded together, and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), a mixture of free fructose and free glucose, usually in a 55/45 proportion. With the introduction of HFCS in the 1970s, an increased intake of fructose has occurred and obesity rates have risen simultaneously.

The link between excessive intake of fructose and metabolic syndrome is becoming increasingly established. However, in this review of the literature, the authors conclude that there is also increasing evidence that fructose may play a role in hypertension and renal disease. “Science shows us there is a potentially negative impact of excessive amounts of sugar and high fructose corn syrup on cardiovascular and kidney health,” explains Dr. Johnson. He continues that “excessive fructose intake could be viewed as an increasingly risky food and beverage additive.”

Their final piece of advice was even more radical than mine usually is: “We suggest excessive fructose intake should be considered an environmental toxin with major health implications.”

The research is an important one that includes highly documented scientific references that overcome the credibility gap created by the disclosure that the authors are listed as inventors on several patent applications related to lowering uric acid for the treatment or prevention of hypertension, diabetes, and fatty liver. Dr. Johnson has also published a book, “The Sugar Fix” that covers this topic for the general public.

SOURCE: “The Effect of Fructose on Renal Biology and Disease,” November 29, 2010, doi 10.1681/ASN.2010050506. ABSTRACT

Keeping things in perspective

I worked hard earning my black belt in karate when I was younger. It was tough, physically and mentally. But when I learned about a young guy named Kyle Maynard, I realized how “easy” I’d had it.

Maynard also trained in mixed martial arts, and is a former college award-winning wrestler. Not only that, but he’s modeled for clothing retailer Abercrombie & Fitch.

What’s really amazing, though, is that he was born with congenital amputation of the forearms and lower legs. He has no arms or legs. And he’s still been able to accomplish more than many “whole bodied” people! He won the ESPN Espy Award for Best Athlete With A Disability in 2004 and has appeared on radio and television interviews, been featured on talk shows including “The Oprah Winfrey Show” and “Larry King Live,” and is now a highly in-demand motivational speaker and the author of the memoir “No Excuses.”

Take a look at this video and see if it doesn’t inspire you to give up the phrase “I can’t …”

Yoga as fibromyalgia ‘treatment’

Yoga positionI have mixed feelings when I read research reports on the medical applications of things like walking, yoga, healthy eating, and even laughter. The tendency today is to categorize all healthy practices as medical “treatments” for specific diseases or conditions. Walking is a treatment for osteoporosis. Laughter is a remedy for high blood pressure. Raw foods cure cancer.

It’s one thing to tout the health benefits of a certain food, exercise program, or behavior. But to transform it into a “treatment” for a certain condition puts it into a medical category and that bothers me.

Still, I do find these research studies of interest, if for no other reason than to witness the focus shifting away from the use of drugs and surgery to non-invasive methods. That, at least, is a positive.

The latest example of what I’m talking about is a study conducted at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) demonstrating that yoga exercises may have the power to combat fibromyalgia — a medical disorder characterized by chronic widespread pain. The research appeared online on Oct. 14 and is being published in the November 10 online edition of the journal Pain.

“Previous research suggests that the most successful treatment for fibromyalgia involves a combination of medications, physical exercise and development of coping skills,” said James Carson, PhD, a clinical health psychologist and an assistant professor of anesthesiology and perioperative medicine in the OHSU School of Medicine. “Here, we specifically focused on yoga to determine whether it should be considered as a prescribed treatment and the extent to which it can be successful.”

In this study, researchers enrolled 53 female study subjects previously diagnosed with fibromyalgia. The women were randomly assigned to two research groups. The first group participated in an eight-week yoga program, which included gentle poses, meditation, breathing exercises and group discussions. The second group of women — the control group — received standard medication treatments for fibromyalgia.

Following completion of the yoga program, researchers assessed each study subject using questionnaires and physical tests. The results were then compared with testing results obtained prior to the yoga classes. The members of the control group underwent the same evaluations. In addition, each participant in the yoga group was urged to keep a daily diary to personally assess their condition throughout the entire program.

Comparison of the data for the two groups revealed that yoga appears to assist in combating a number of serious fibromyalgia symptoms, including pain, fatigue, stiffness, poor sleep, depression, poor memory, anxiety, and poor balance.

All of these improvements were shown to be both statistically and clinically significant, meaning the changes were large enough to have a practical impact on daily functioning. For example, pain was reduced in the yoga group by an average of 24%, fatigue by 30% and depression by 42%.

“One likely reason for the apparent success of this study therapy was the strong commitment shown by the study subjects. Attendance at the classes was good as was most participants’ willingness to practice yoga while at home,” added Carson. “Based on the results of this research, we strongly believe that further study of this potential therapy is warranted.” Carson’s previous research showed yoga can be helpful with cancer-related pain.

While I’m a firm believer in the physical, mental and emotional benefits of yoga, I hate thinking of it as “therapy!” I’m sure the women in the study who discovered yoga thanks to this research didn’t care what it was called, as long as it worked for them. I suppose I’m a little paranoid after defending chiropractic from medical detractors for more than 30 years. Will I one day see my yoga teacher carted off to jail for practicing medicine without a license, just as our early chiropractic pioneers were? I’d better go and participate in some laugh therapy to manage my stress reactions over that scary thought.

Feel better … live longer

It’s amazing to me that scientists get millions of dollars in research money to reach conclusions that are already pretty much agreed upon.

For instance, the U.S. National Institutes of Health, the Swedish Council for Working Life and Social Research, and the Swedish Heart-Lung Foundation (among others) all funded a study published in the November issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. After studying close to 5,000 people over a 25-year period, they came to the not-very-surprising conclusion that people who are mentally and physically fit live longer.

“Our results suggest that being fit and finding ways to reduce distress … are related to better health and longer lifespan,” said study lead author Francisco B. Ortega, a physiology researcher with the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and the University of Granada in Spain.

You and I could have told them that and saved a few million dollars. It’s not like this is the first research project to come to that conclusion. Health professionals have been saying this for decades.

The researchers didn’t even bother to examine a representative cross-section of the world’s population: 80% were men, 98% were white, and most were well-educated and worked as executives or other professionals.

The results “suggest that people with low levels of distress have a 34 percent lower risk of dying prematurely compared to those with higher levels of distress,” Ortega said. “Likewise, people with high levels of fitness have a 46 percent lower risk of death than those with a low fitness level.”

It’s hard to understand how they came to this conclusion based on their sample: only 212 people (4.3% of the total) died during the study period.

I’m not the only one to feel this research was a waste of money. Professor Felicia A. Huppert, director of the Well-being Institute at the University of Cambridge in the UK, said, “It does not add much because of the relatively small number of deaths and some other odd findings. One of those “odd findings” was that the study suggested age and gender didn’t affect the likelihood of death, despite well-documented research to the contrary.

SOURCE: “Psychological well-being, cardiorespiratory fitness, and long-term survival,” by Ortega F, et al. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 39(5), 2010.