Saturday, October 5, 2013

How You Age is Up to You

What the doctors say may not always be the best thing for you

My mother passed away last week at the age of 87. She's the smartest woman I know. A valedictorian in her younger years and a magna cum laude in college, most of what she had done in her life was a product of careful planning and well thought-out execution. And yet, her health became a victim of her faith in what she believed to be the “authorities”. For decades, she had believed in the myths spread by media—that eating fat will make you fat, eggs can cause heart disease, butter clogs arteries, and coffee can stunt your growth. She had taken in all this information with blind faith and led her life accordingly, and thus avoided the fat her brain needed to function well, dodged eggs for fear of raising her cholesterol levels, switched to margarine mistakenly believing it was good for her, and restrained herself from enjoying coffee so her children wouldn't copy the “bad habit”.

And no matter how hectic her days were doing business, charity work and caring for five children and a husband, she made sure to walk a lot and still exercised and did stretches while watching TV; she gardened and went early to bed and was early to rise.

So where did all this lead her in her final years? She had heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, kidney disease and dementia.

Which is why, perhaps, her most unlikely legacy to me is my healthy lifestyle—and my “investigative” approach to my health habits. My mother didn’t have Google in her time; she had no access to forums and communities where ordinary people the world over can share testimonials and anecdotal evidence about health advice, so she went by the filtered and controlled information she got from magazines, news reports, and doctors’ orders. But even doctors make mistakes. One of the biggest mistakes one doctor made was to advise my mother to stop exerting her body. He had said, to paraphrase, “At your age, you should rest! Stop working. You’ve earned it. You deserve to live like a doña now.” And she took his advice to heart. She closed down her business and tapered down on her cooking—even though she loved wowing us with her mouth-watering dishes. When her health began to weaken, instead of assessing her diet, the doctors loaded her with drugs. When her legs became wobbly, rather than encourage her to exercise or do strength training, she was told to accept her condition and get a caregiver. In a span of a few years, she was transformed from a woman full of strength and vitality to someone reclusive, depressed and dependent on others to walk and move around. Even though she used to do a lot of charity work, she gave up all of that, too. In essence, she quit life

Don't get me wrong. I do believe doctors are crucial in our battle against diseases, which is why after seeing she was nowhere near improving, I forced her to see another doctor. What I'm saying is, don't consider them infallible. Listen to your body just as hard as you listen to their advice.

This blog is dedicated to her memory now. In hopes that all the health insights I have gathered in all the years I had cared for her after she had grown weak would help others live longer, stronger, healthier lives. Because the way you live your life, what you eat, and the environment in which you live all come together to determine your future health. Don’t blame it all on the number of birthdays you’ve had. After all, the more candles on the cake, the more chances to fulfill your wishes.

My mother and my daughter

Sunday, September 15, 2013

5 Little-known Benefits of Tea

My personal collection of tea varieties  (Photo by Nasty)
Despite the ubiquitous presence of coffee shops and sodas, tea is still the world’s most popular drink (that’s if you don’t count water, of course). Perhaps it’s because the health benefits of drinking tea have long been known. They go from as simple a promise as weight loss to downright medical wonders like helping prevent cancer, heart disease and diabetes. In case those still aren’t enough reason for you to start your own collection of tea, how about these?

Prevents Flu Better than Vaccines – The studies involved taking green tea supplements rather than taking the brew, but the results are nonetheless remarkable. Clinical trials have demonstrated green tea-based supplements reducing the risk of flu by 75%, outperforming vaccinations which reduce the risk by only 60%. Green tea in beverage form is loaded with polyphenols, long recognized to actively suppress many bacterial, fungal and viral species, thus helping your overall immune system.

Improves Eyesight – Studies show that drinking green tea could be protective of the eyes.  Researchers believe the catechins in green tea are able to help protect the delicate tissues of the eye from glaucoma and other eye diseases. 
3. Protects Your Bones – Studies show that regular tea drinkers have higher bone density--a very good predictor of fracture risk—compared to non-tea drinkers. It’s attributed to compounds found in tea such as phytoestrogens, flavonoids, catechins and fluoride. What’s more important is how long a person has been drinking tea regularly rather than how much tea was consumed daily. So go reach for that tea bag now.

Even the mugs you use can add to the pleasure of drinking tea  (Photo by Nasty)
4. Relaxes the Mind – Tea contains a unique amino acid, L-theanine that may modulate aspects of brain function, helping relax the mind without making you drowsy. Theanine is actually used for treating anxiety, high blood pressure, and for preventing Alzheimer’s disease.

5.       Keeps you Looking Young – The high levels of antioxidant polyphenols in tea—particularly white tea--are said to help prevent wrinkles and fine lines. As one ages, the skin gradually loses elasticity due to the breakdown of elastin and collagen. Extracts in white tea are said to prevent or delay this breakdown, thus making each cup of tea something like dipping into the fountain of youth.

Do note that these studies are based on traditional green, black or white tea--the beverage derived from leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Bottled green tea drinks are a completely different story; most of these are loaded with sugar and possibly contain insignificant amounts of extract or flavoring.

To gain these benefits, go the old-fashioned way by pouring boiling water over a teabag or loose leaves in a tea infuser and letting it steep until the flavor is just as you like it. Serve hot or cold.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Oatmeal for Breakfast

My staple breakfast favorite

For grownups, breakfast is necessary to help us perform at our best. For children, it’s even more crucial than that. Skipping that first meal of the day creates a stoppage in the constant flow of energy and nutrients needed by their growing bodies and developing brains. Surprising as it sounds, not breaking their fast when they should creates a period of semi-starvation that can lead to physical, mental and behavioral problems.

My personal breakfast-of-choice is a bowl of oatmeal sprinkled with raw honey and smothered with almonds, walnuts, and a variety of seeds. In a future post, I'm going to tell you all about that collage of nutty flavors in that picture above that keeps each mouthful an unpredictable treat. It's a surefire way of keeping breakfast from getting boring.

I don’t use just any kind of oatmeal. I stick to old-fashioned slow cooking rolled oats – which are oat groats (oat kernel with the hull removed) that have been steamed, rolled out and flattened. 

Oatmeal is an excellent source of fiber, and studies show that the unique fiber in oatmeal called beta gluten helps the body fight off infections better, thus enhancing overall immunity against diseases. The fiber also keeps you feeling fuller for longer, so it will help ease those mid-morning cravings.

Keep in mind, not all oatmeal are alike. Although nutritionally speaking, instant and slow-cooking oats are about neck and neck, instant oatmeal has a higher glycemic index, which is why I avoid it. Diabetes runs in my family, and so far, I’ve done a good job of avoiding it. Old-fashioned oats have a glycemic index of 55 (classified as low GI) compared to 83 for instant oatmeal (classified as high GI). Quick-cooking oats fall in the medium GI range. I also prefer rolled oats’ chewier texture that makes eating it more of a pleasure. 

In addition, many instant oatmeal variants have some undesirable additives—such as sugar, hydrogenated oil, artificial flavoring and salt. Always check out the fine print at the back that lists any added ingredients.

Few people know that non-dairy creamer is a trans fat source

Acesulfame K is an artificial sweetener suspected to be a carcinogen

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Why Owning a Pet Is Good for You

Photo of furry voyeur

I walked into my bathroom one morning and was surprised to find a voyeur peering through the window. I grabbed my cell phone and took a photo of the furry culprit. Of course, the peeping-tomcat was more than welcome to stay, and I did my best not to scare it away.

Stray cats often wander into our garden—which is quite a treat for my family. (We don’t touch them, because we have no idea where they’ve been. We just snap their photos.)

We love animals! We have two dogs and three aquariums in our house, and I encourage everyone to experience the pleasure of having pets. Besides the simple joy of relaxing in a home brimming with life, pets offer their owners a lot of mental and physical health benefits.

Less Allergies - The old belief was that kids growing up in homes with furry pets would be more likely to get allergies and that if their parents were allergy-prone, all the more they should avoid pets. But a growing number of studies is starting to prove otherwise. Research shows that kids growing up with furry friends have less risk of developing allergies, asthma and eczema. Of course, it’s a different case when it comes to adults already suffering with these conditions. The assumption is that the children growing up with these animals in their environment end up with more robust immune systems, primarily because they are allowed to grow up exposed to them.

Lessens Anxiety
– Pet owners are less likely to suffer from depression.  Playing with a pet elevates levels of serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters which help calm and relax. Even hardened criminals demonstrate a change in behavior after they experience the warm companionship of a pet. The animal need not be furry either. Even just watching fish in an aquarium can help soothe the nerves, reduce muscle tension and lower the pulse rate.

Decreases the Risk of Heart Attack - People with high blood pressure who adopt pets end up with lower blood pressure during stressful situations.  Studies have shown that heart attack patients with a dog or a cat have better recovery rates and ultimately survive longer than those without a pet. This is most likely due to the benefit stated above of it being able to lessen overall stress levels.

Our territorial Shih Tzu
They’re All-around Lifesavers – I grew up with dogs. And my spirit is alight with fond memories of what my pets have done with me and for me to show their devotion. The most moving of which is when my two dogs, who usually come into my study just to peer out my window, came in one morning and started nudging my legs from underneath my desk. I thought they were just rough-housing, so I ignored them. But they kept on bumping against me–something they never do–and I realized they were urging me to get up. Since my mother was the only other person in the house at the time, I went to check on her. And true enough, as soon as I walked in her room, I could tell from her wheezing that she was having a hard time breathing. I called her doctor and an ambulance and, to make a long story short, got her to the hospital in time to save her life—thanks to our two dogs!

Our friendly Labrador Retriever