Taking A Break To Cultivate Faith

Hello everyone! I’m sending a short update because I’m taking a break this week from blogging. My son and I are attending the National Catholic Youth Conference in Indianapolis this weekend.

If you are Catholic and have young people in your life, PLEASE encourage them to get involved with their youth ministry at church. Encourage them to come to the next NCYC in November 2021. They will not regret it. This hasn’t been an incredible experience for me and for the teens.

I’ll be back to writing about health topics next week. In the meantime please pray for me – I am praying for you! If you have a specific intention you’d like me to pray for, please drop me an email ❤️

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Low Carbohydrate Diets And Health

Confession time. I tried Atkins in the ’90s to try to lose that stubborn 10 pounds that clung to me like stink on a skunk. I dutifully checked my urine every day to see if the magical ketones were present. Unfortunately I found that unless I ate nothing but meat and cheese those ketones kept disappearing. Unable to exercise due to profound fatigue, I eventually gave it up. The few pounds that I did manage to lose came right back, and brought along friends. My experiment with low-carbohydrate diets was a miserable failure.

Many of my patients proudly tell me that they are eating “low carb” to lose weight. A research study was recently published that looks at the evidence regarding the health effects of low-carbohydrate diets.

Credit: GreatLakesLedger.com

It doesn’t matter if it is called “keto,” Atkins, South Beach, or Paleo. Proponents of low-carbohydrate diets all insist that carbohydrates are the cause of overweight and obesity and must be avoided. The original ketogenic diet was developed to treat intractable seizures in children and did have some success. However, low-carbohydrate diets today are almost exclusively used for weight loss. A survey of over 1000 adults conducted in 2018 found that 16% reported eating some sort of low-carb diet in the previous year.

Are low-carbohydrate diets better than diets (low-fat, calorie-controlled, DASH, Mediterranean, etc) that don’t restrict carbohydrate intake? It seems that, in the short term, they do promote more weight loss while suppressing appetite. They also do increase insulin sensitivity and decrease blood sugar levels in diabetics.

However, low-carb diets are notoriously difficult to maintain. It is just really hard to avoid fruits, root vegetables and whole grains for long periods of time. Once a person starts adding back carbohydrates, it is a slippery slope and the weight typically starts coming back, with interest.

Scientists have not done long-term studies on those who eat a low-carb diet. We don’t know if they are less likely to have a heart attack, cancer, diabetes or other lifestyle-related illness. Low-carb diets are associated with higher levels of LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. And after a year or more, those who eat low-carb haven’t lost more weight than those who use other diets.

A healthy diet is pretty simple, but it isn’t easy. Plenty of whole fresh fruits and veggies. Green leafy vegetables, nuts, seeds and beans. Small amounts of lean meats and lowfat dairy, if any. Fatty fish several times per week. Water, water, water. Avoid processed foods and artificial food ingredients when possible. Carbohydrates-good fat-protein macros in a 50-30-20 ratio for most people. If you’re not sure what your macro ratios are, you can track for a few days at MyFitnessPal.com (not an affiliate, just a happy user of the app).

Low carbohydrate diets sound like an attractive way to lose weight rapidly. But they are hard to maintain and result in yo-yo dieting. They are not more effective for long-term weight loss than other diets. And they haven’t been shown to create long-term health.

QUESTION: Have you tried a low-carbohydrate diet? What was your experience?

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Vape Lung And E-Cigarette Use

It always sucks to see a young, healthy person die. Car accidents, homicide, suicide, overdose. There are so many dangers out there! What we don’t expect a young healthy person to die from is a sudden, severe lung illness that strikes out of the blue.

Well, six people in the US have died of this sudden severe lung illness over the last few months. The CDC has received 380 reports of so-called “vape lung” over the last several months. All the patients had a history of using e-cigarettes, most had used e-cigarettes that deliver THC, many used products that deliver both THC and nicotine, and some had used only nicotine products.

There is no evidence of infection in these patients. Right now researchers believe it is a direct toxic effect of inhaling the vape liquid on the lung tissue. Many theories are being discussed about which chemicals might be responsible, but the answers aren’t clear yet.

vaping, e-cigarette
Credit: theverge.com

What symptoms should people watch out for? If you use e-cigarettes or other vape products and get sick, these symptoms mean you should see the doctor to make sure you don’t have Vape Lung:

  • Respiratory symptoms like cough, chest pain and shortness of breath
  • Systemic (whole-body) symptoms like fever, chills, fatigue and a high heart rate
  • Gastrointestinal symptoms like abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea
  • Abnormal findings on chest Xray and chest CT scan.

Please consider stopping using e-cigarettes if you already use them. Ask your doctor for help, the same treatments that help with cigarette smoking cessation help with giving up e-cigarettes. They have NOT been proven safer than cigarettes.

The most important measure, though, is not to start using e-cigarettes in the first place. It is scary to realize how many tweens and teens use e-cigarettes: over 5700 kids start vaping every day! You have to talk to your kids about this. If you need help starting the conversation, the American Lung Association has resources to help.

Vape lung is real. Vaping is not safe. It is not a good way to try to stop smoking cigarettes. Vape products are marketed to children, easy to get, and easy to hide. It is important to protect yourself and your family from these dangerous products.

QUESTION: Have you heard of vape lung? Have you tried vaping?

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Depression In Pregnancy

Childbirth and the newborn period is supposed to be a joyful time. It’s stressful and overwhelming and sleep is hard to come by, but new moms are increasingly struggling with one more hurdle to enjoying time with their newborn. Depression.

depression, sad pregnant woman
Credit: profmed.co.za

About 25% of women in the United States will have depression bad enough to require treatment at some time in their life. Sadness, feeling that life isn’t worth living, not enjoying things that used to bring you joy, lack of motivation, trouble sleeping, and unusual fatigue are all symptoms of depression. What happens when a woman suffers depression in pregnancy?

An article published recently in Obstetrics & Gynecology looked at rates of depression diagnoses in women hospitalized for childbirth. The authors found that rates of depression increased from 0.41% in 2000 to 2.87% in 2015. That’s a seven-fold increase.

This study wasn’t designed to discover why diagnosis rates went up. It’s possible awareness is increasing so more patients are getting diagnosed, when the rates of illness aren’t actually rising. We do know that depression in pregnancy has serious consequences for both mom and baby, so more accurate diagnosis is important.

There are many possible triggers for depression, in pregnancy and at other times. Family history, stress, complications with the pregnancy or previous pregnancy loss, history of abuse or trauma, and relationship problems can all lead to depression.

Depression in pregnancy can have health consequences for both mom and baby. Poor nutrition, lack of exercise, alcohol and other drug abuse, smoking, poor sleep and social isolation can all stem from depression. Not taking good care of oneself during pregnancy (which includes withdrawing from loved ones who can help provide support) can lead to less robust health once the baby arrives.

Poor nutrition, substance abuse (including smoking) and social isolation can increase the risk of premature birth, low birth weight, bonding problems, and abuse/neglect of the baby once born.

If a pregnant women is feeling sad from time to time, usually all that is needed is to talk about her feelings honestly with her mate or a close friend or other family member. Symptoms that are severe enough to keep her from enjoying life, that last longer than 2 weeks or so, should be discussed with her obstetrician or family doctor.

Treatment can start with some dietary and nutrition changes and talk therapy with a trained counselor. If symptoms are bad enough, medication can definitely be prescribed to help with the mood. Remember, although no medication is perfectly safe in pregnancy (or at any other time, really), the risks of depression in pregnancy can be significant.

Pregnancy, while confusing, overwhelming and sometimes uncomfortable, doesn’t have to be as big a struggle as it is with depression. If you or a woman you know is struggling with depression in pregnancy, please make sure to discuss your symptoms with your doctor.

QUESTION: Have you or someone you know suffered with depression while pregnant? What helped?

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Fatty Liver Disease And Dietary Factors

I have a LOT of patients who have fatty liver disease. It is a huge epidemic in the USA and is the number-one cause of liver transplant now that hepatitis C has such successful treatments available.

New research is shedding more light on the causes of fatty liver disease, and giving clues to dietary factors that may be protective. I found a recent article with some very exciting findings that will help me guide my patients who are dealing with fatty liver disease.

Credit: indigobiosciences.com

It is becoming increasingly clear that fatty liver disease is a consequence of diets high in saturated fat and sucrose, fructose and other simple sugars. (Fruit doesn’t seem to carry the same risk; it is thought that the fiber in fruit is protective. Also most fruits don’t impact the blood sugar and raise insulin the way processed sweets and simple sugars do.)

When people eat diets high in saturated fat (like that found in meat, dairy, coconut oil and palm oil) and sugar, it causes hormonal changes that damage the liver and cause droplets of fat to accumulate in the liver cells. It can progress to permanent liver damage and even to cirrhosis and liver failure, requiring transplant.

Turns out two different foods have been found to be protective against the development of fatty liver disease. They are even powerful enough to reverse it once it has set in. I have NO medication to do this. Food is medicine!

Soy

β-Conglycinin, a protein that makes up about 30% of the protein in soybeans, has been shown to reduce intra-abdominal obesity and serum triglycerides and lower insulin levels. It took a LOT of this protein, 5 grams daily, to produce this effect, which corresponds to 15-20 grams of soy protein daily.

In both mice and humans, β-Conglycinin was shown to prevent the development of fatty liver disease and to improve the condition once it is present.

I have known soy to be a healthy food for a long time. Soy protein supplementation helps me maintain my weight and provides a lot of my protein needs, since I don’t eat meat, dairy or eggs. Want a safe, non-GMO, delicious soy protein shake to use for breakfast or lunch? Check out Shaklee’s Life Shake – you’ll love it, I guarantee it 🙂

Fish Oil

Fish oil has been a bit controversial in the treatment of fatty liver disease. It has been shown, in doses equivalent to 1000-4000 mg daily in humans, to prevent the development of fatty liver disease in mice and to improve fatty liver disease in humans.

I advise people who choose to take fish oil to take one that provides at least 300 mg EPA per gram of fish oil. This ensures you are getting the “good stuff” as EPA and DHA are the omega-3 fats responsible for fish oil’s good effects. Shaklee’s OmegaGuard is highly concentrated and free of contaminants. It’s the one I trust for my and my family’s use.

If you have been told you have fatty liver disease, please take steps to reduce your intake of added sugar and saturated fat. Consider adding soy to your diet, preferably as a protein shake or smoothie as it takes a LOT of soy protein to affect this disease. Also consider adding a high quality fish oil supplement.

QUESTION: Do you know anyone with fatty liver disease?

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How To Get Quality Sleep

One of the most common problems we see in primary care is complaints about not getting quality sleep. People can’t fall asleep. Once they’re asleep they keep waking up. They wake up unrested. They’re tired and sleepy during the day.

Sleep disturbances have huge impact on our quality of life. Fatigue and sleepiness decrease our enjoyment of our hobbies and activities with family. In extreme cases, severe fatigue can be fatal in the case of people who fall asleep behind the wheel.

The good news is that sleep problems are very responsive to treatment even without medications. Changes in behavior related to sleep make a huge difference in quality of sleep. Continuing bad sleep habits (called poor sleep hygiene) make it very difficult for even sleeping pills to produce good results.

The absolute first thing to do is to have a consistent wake-up time every morning, 7 days per week. This sets your “biological clock” and helps improve sleep onset. And don’t nap. If you absolutely must nap every once in a while, set an alarm so you only sleep 20-30 minutes, and nap early in the day.

Can’t Fall Asleep

This actually is one of the easier problems to correct. Why can’t you fall asleep? Usually it’s because you’re worrying about something, or because you have trained yourself to be awake in bed.

The first thing to do is to make a commitment that the ONLY things you’re going to do in bed are sleep and have sex. Everything else happens somewhere else. No watching TV, no reading, no eating, no nothing. Often just taking this one step is enough to help gradually improve your ability to fall asleep.

If you are a light sleeper and use the TV to block out outside noise, change to a white-noise machine. TV noise (and light) actually makes it hard to sleep because of the change in pitch and volume from show to show and with commercial breaks.

If you have trouble getting to sleep because you’re worrying about something, take a week and try scheduling time earlier in each day to make a plan for dealing with whatever is worrying you. If you lie down and then remember something, get up and take care of it right away or make yourself a note so you don’t forget to deal with it in the morning. Oh, and don’t check work emails right before bed!

Can’t Stay Asleep

Many people fall asleep just fine but wake up before they need to get up, and then have trouble going back to sleep. This is often stress related and responds to stress reduction, meditation, and exercise.

This may sound weird, but it is important to only sleep as much as you need to feel refreshed the next day. Not everyone needs 8 hours, and spending excess time in bed can increase broken sleep and make it hard to get deep, restful sleep.

One important thing to do is STOP watching the clock. This makes it even harder to go to sleep. Set your alarm for your wake-up time and turn the clock towards the wall. Turn your phone over or plug it in in a place where you can’t reach it without getting out of bed.

Also, make sure you have a comfortable bed and bedroom. Cooler temperatures usually make it easier to sleep. It should be quiet and dark. As I said earlier, a white noise machine and blackout curtains can help if you are a light sleeper.

Substance use can interfere with quality sleep too. Caffeine, alcohol and nicotine all interfere with quality sleep. Caffeine should be avoided after noon, alcohol should be avoided after dinner and nicotine should be avoided altogether 😉

What Next?

If you have tried these measures and still find yourself unable to fall asleep, unable to stay asleep, and feeling sleepy during the day, it’s time to see the doctor. Sleep trouble is potentially dangerous and treatment can significantly improve your quality of life.

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Dietary Fiber Decreases Health Risks

Do you eat plant-based? Vegetarian? Paleo? Keto? The Standard American Diet (appropriately abbreviated as SAD)? If you are interested in avoiding heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes, new research suggests you need to take a good look at your dietary fiber intake.

A huge meta-analysis of over 200 studies examining almost 135 million person-years of data was done. That’s an enormous amount of data! Both observational studies and clinical trials showed that eating higher amounts of dietary fiber resulted in lower body weight, blood pressure and cholesterol. Also, eating more fiber was associated with lower risk of heart attacks, stroke, diabetes and colon cancer.

How much lower was the risk? 15-30% decreased risk, which is huge! Statistical analysis suggests that the risk reduction really is from the fiber intake. First of all, there is a dose response curve, meaning that small increases in fiber result in smaller benefit, and larger intakes of fiber result in larger benefit.

How much fiber do you need to eat to get the benefits? This research suggests the most benefit is seen at intakes of 25-29 grams per day. The average American eats less than 15 grams of fiber per day. There is evidence that even more daily dietary fiber may give even more benefits!

What is the best way to figure out how much fiber you’re getting? I always recommend folks use MyFitnessPal, a free nutrition tracking program. Track for a week and see what your average fiber intake is. The best way to gradually add fiber is with FOOD, not supplements (although fiber supplements like Metamucil are better than nothing).

Fresh and dried fruits, veggies, beans, nuts, seeds and whole grains are your best sources of dietary fiber. WebMD has a nice article listing some high fiber foods to choose.

The higher fiber content of plant foods is likely the main reason plant-based diets are so healthy and result in such positive health benefits. Not able to give up meat, eggs and dairy altogether? Take positive steps for your health and start adding more plant foods (and therefore more fiber) to your diet today!

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Online Patient Portal Use

Does your doctor offer an online patient portal for you to communicate with her? Have you decided not to take advantage of this important opportunity? You might be making a mistake.

More and more patients have the opportunity to access a growing portion of their electronic medical record directly through a patient portal. They can request medication refills and appointments, send emails to their care team, and even read the office visit notes generated by their doctors.

My employer does offer a patient portal but a number of my patients won’t take advantage of it. Sometimes they say that they don’t want to provide their email address. Elderly patients sometimes don’t have a computer at all. Sometimes they won’t say why they don’t want to enroll.

I do know that I like when that little box on my EMR dashboard is green, showing my patient uses the portal. I can email her directly about her test results and make sure all her questions are answered. She can see what medications and supplements WE think she’s taking and let us know if our records aren’t correct.

There was a report published recently that looked at online patient portal use. They found that over 60% of respondents said they did NOT use a patient portal. Most of those people also said they had never been offered one.

What I found interesting in this study was WHY people said they didn’t want to use an online patient portal. Patients wanted to talk to someone in person. Well, yeah! If I have something concerning or confusing going on I want to talk to a real person. But if all my labs are normal, shoot me an email. Oh, and also let me SEE my results (and download and print them too). That’s the bonus!

Clear and easy two-way communication between patients and their care team is very important. An online patient portal is one of many tools patients and physicians can use to facilitate communication. If you have the opportunity to sign up for an online patient portal please consider doing so!

QUESTION: Do you use an online patient portal? What has been your experience? If not, why not?

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Is It Pertussis, Or Just A Cough?

My husband and I got a notification from the county health department this week. A student at my son’s high school was diagnosed with pertussis.

My first thought was that s/he must have not been vaccinated. But then I looked into the data and found that isn’t necessarily so.

What is Pertussis?

Pertussis, or whooping cough, is a childhood illness that starts with typical cold symptoms and progresses to a horrible spastic cough. It is very dangerous for small children and can be fatal. 13 children in the US died from pertussis in 2017.

As a bacterial infection, pertussis does respond to antibiotics but only if they are started BEFORE the typical whooping cough begins. Unfortunately, before the typical cough starts it looks just like a cold. This is one of the reasons we vaccinate against it – there is no other way to prevent the awful, potentially fatal cough.

In case you are thinking “Oh, it’s just a cough,” here’s a video of a baby girl in the ICU with pertussis. And here’s a video of a 64-year-old man hospitalized with pertussis.

What about the vaccine?

I know you’re going to say “But Dr. Jen, if there’s a good vaccine available how does this happen?” The problem with the vaccine is that the immunity decreases over time. (The immunity you get from having whooping cough itself also appears to decrease over time, which is a scary thought.)

No vaccine is 100% effective, but the current vaccine is pretty good. Immunity is estimated at 80-90% over the first year and starting to wane about 4 years after vaccination. The pertussis vaccine was changed from whole-cell to acellular (no cells) in the 1990s because the whole cell vaccine had a lot of side effects. However, the new acellular vaccine is not as effective.

It is recommended that TDaP (tetanus, diphtheria and acellular pertussis) vaccine booster doses be given every 5-10 years. Unfortunately it is not indicated for adults over 65. Pregnant women and those who spend time with babies and small children should be particularly careful to get booster doses regularly.

Bottom Line

Even though the pertussis vaccine isn’t perfect it still does a nice job of reducing the risk of whooping cough in the US. According to the CDC, in 2015 there were about 20,000 cases of pertussis in the US and 6 deaths between 2014 and 2015. Worldwide it is estimated that there were 24 million cases of whooping cough and over 160,000 deaths in 2015. Most of these cases occurred in developing countries where vaccination coverage is low.

Community vaccination decreases the risk that someone will be exposed to pertussis. Personal vaccination decreases the risk that, if exposed, an individual will get sick. Because the most vulnerable individuals are babies under the age of 1 year (too young to be fully vaccinated) it is important that all of us get regular boosters.

We live in a country that vaccinates, and we all benefit from that. We all should roll up our sleeves and get vaccinated to protect our precious, vulnerable babies from pertussis.

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Merry Christmas!

My family and I are traveling this Christmas, but I wanted to take a moment to write to you. I’m hoping you have a wonderful, peaceful holiday with your loved ones!

I’ve been reminded of a few things today:

  • Traveling makes you crabby sometimes
  • People do crazy things when driving in construction traffic
  • North Carolina has even more orange barrels than Ohio
  • When you’re 6’4″ you don’t fit on a pull-out couch anymore
  • Eating sushi while driving is not recommended

However, I also was reminded that traveling with my favorite people in the world to see my OTHER favorite people in the world is really a lot of fun 🙂

God bless you and bring you a bring you plenty of joy this holiday season <3

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