Let’s talk about health risks (we are Life & Health, after all). It might be easy to brush risks in this arena aside, given that everything seems to be a health risk. But really, more than anything else, is your health something you should be risking? Risk-taking health can lead to costly, lifelong issues, most commonly with your heart. That’s why we’re here to help guide you to lessen your risk for coronary heart disease (CHD).
You might be relieved to hear that the risk factors related to coronary heart disease are preventable.
The four major risk factors are:
High blood pressure
It’s been shown that, if you have any of the above risk factors, the possibility of having CHD is extremely high. In fact, around 80-90% of CHD patients have one of the four above health problems. Out of patients who have had a fatal outcome from CHD, 95% of those patients had one of those four major risk factors.
Risk #1: Diabetes
Exactly how much does CHD risk go up when we have diabetes? A study of cardiovascular risk of patients with diabetes showed that diabetes can increase the risk of both CHD and ischemic stroke, a blood vessel blockage in the brain, by two to four times.
Risk #2: Smoking
The most preventable major risk factor for CHD is smoking. Just by not smoking, you can lower the risk of CHD, as well as lessen the risk of other diseases, especially lung diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and cancer. Never smoking in the first place is a great way to avoid one of the “big four” risk factors of heart disease. If you already smoke, don’t sweat it. It’s never too late to quit and the benefits are literally immediate.
Risk #3: High blood pressure
High blood pressure, or what clinicians call hypertension, is usually a diet-caused disease. High sodium in the diet, lack of exercise, and stress, all combine and result in high blood pressure. High blood pressure is the most common risk factor in the U.S. for death among females and comes in as the second leading risk factor for death in males. In short, the risks associated with high blood pressure are far too high to ignore. Blood pressure is very manageable by maintaining a diet low in sodium, refined sugars, and fats. Also, regular exercise will keep the heart in good shape and lower the risk of high blood pressure.
Risk #4: High cholesterol
When we screen for cholesterol, too often we get numbers above where the levels should be. There are many ways we can address high cholesterol, with diet playing a significant role. When we shop for groceries, we can lower our cholesterol levels by cutting out meats, dairy, and processed foods that contain unhealthy fats. Instead of those high-fat foods, choose heart-healthy foods such as fresh fruit, seeds, and tree nuts. These contain vitamins, essential minerals and the healthy fats that our hearts and various cells need.
The American Journal of Cardiology estimated that if just 5% of diabetes was prevented by lifestyle and diet changes, close to 30,000 incidents of heart failure could be avoided yearly. These smaller steps to lower risk can pay off when it matters. So what’s the consensus? Take less risks with your life and health so you can enjoy taking risks in other ways, like going on adventures, traveling to unknown places, and forming new relationships.
JUSTIN LEAL IS A BIOLOGY GRADUATE OF CALIFORNIA STATE UNIVERSITY, BAKERSFIELD. CURRENTLY, HE IS PURSUING A MASTER’S IN PUBLIC HEALTH AT LOMA LINDA UNIVERSITY IN HEALTH EDUCATION.
Effects of faith
Does your faith impact not only your thinking, but also your mental and physical health? Several studies have examined the question, how faith influences our health. Professor Harold Koenig is leading the Centre for the Study of Religion/Spirituality and Health in Durham, North-Carolina. In a meta-study he and his team collected more than 1.200 scientific articles that were published after 1871 and that analysed the connection between faith and health*. 80% of the studies dealt with the question how faith afflicts the soul. He found out, that in most cases believers had a better psychological health compared to none-believers. The majority of believers could handle disappointments better, had a higher self-esteem and more confidence, and were more optimistic. To trust in a higher power can relieve the soul. Even if a person was affected by psychological illnesses, faith in God helped to deal with the situation. 70% of 444 studies showed, that faith can ease depression and can provide help for anxiety-disorders. In addition, believers were more likely to succeed in overcoming addictions than non-believers. With God at their side it was easier for patients to become free from alcohol than without him. So far the vast majority of the studies showed the positive effects of Christian faith on mental health. But Koenig also found out, that believers have advantages concerning their physical health. People who were believers had a lower blood-pressure, a better immune system, less heart diseases and – they lived longer. This was shown in over 82 studies! So this huge meta-study of 1200 studies showed significant positive effects of faith on human health – mental and physical health.
So even from a “worldly perspective” it is beneficial to believe in an almighty, loving God who is in control of our life. And beyond that, how much more hope and confidence brings the thought about God‘s promise to be with us and to provide a new heaven and a new earth for us.
But you may say “Wait a minute” – didn‘t Herold Koenig just speak of the effects of faith in general, no matter what you believe in? Does it matter, what I believe in?
The nature of faith
Nowadays many people think, that it doesn‘t matter what you believe, as long as you believe something. But is this really true? Let me give you an illustration: Imagine you are standing at the shore of a frozen lake and you want to cross the lake to get to the other side. The ice is only very thin, but your faith is very big! You have no doubt, that you can cross that lake and you feel very good about it! You are 100% sure, that you will make it and so you start running across the thin ice – but you don’t get very far until you crash through the ice and sink into the water. Now imagine you are standing at the shore of a frozen lake one more time, but this time it had been colder and the ice is two meters thick. But you are very fearful. You have only little faith. You don’t know if the ice will carry you. You can’t imagine how in the world you shall cross this lake. With trembling knees you put one foot in front of the other and you are sweating and praying to reach the other side. It almost seems like a miracle to you, that you finally crossed the lake and reached the other shore. – But the truth is: The ice was so thick, you could have crossed the lake in an 70 tons Abrams M1A2-battle-tank without any problem! So we see, that it does make a difference, what we trust in. It is important to build our faith on the truth and that is why Jesus said, that if we study his teachings, we will discover the truth and the truth will set us free. So faith and truth must be united. Jesus said, he is the one who shows the truth and he is the truth.
So, how does Jesus describe the essence of faith that he asks us to have?
At one point, when his disciples were struggling with disappointment and discouragement, Jesus told them very plainly: “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Mt 18:4)
So Jesus said, if you have faith, nothing that you ask will be impossible for you. If it is God‘s will, he can even move mountains for us! So biblical faith is believing in the utter power of God and his possibility to act in our lives! But what is special about the faith Jesus wants us to have? You have to believe in something, that you can’t see right now. The mountain is there. It is as big and as steady as before, but you believe that God can move this mountain. Additionally, you haven’t ever heard of something like this before! You believe in something, you can’t see now. The book of Hebrews gives us a definition of faith that expresses this fact. Hebrews 11:1 says: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” And in verse 6 it says: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe, that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
So the nature of faith is, that we put our trust in the promises of God, although we cannot see their fulfilling today! It is like walking with your eyes closed, but hand in hand with a person that you trust. Even though you can’t see the way that is ahead of you, you trust in your companion, and that he is leading you right as he is telling you where to go. As we look back on our experiences with God and on how we took little steps of faith, we can win confidence for the future, although it may be unclear to us. But God has promised, that he will lead us to the end. In Hebrews it also says very clearly, “that anyone who comes to God, must believe, that he exists and that he will reward the ones, who earnestly seek him.” Of course, it only makes sense to believe, if we are sure, that God exists, but the text says, that it is equally important, that we believe in a God who is good and who will reward the ones that seek him. Many people are not sure, if God is good or not, but it is essential to believe in a gracious and loving God! We have the promise, that if we seek, we will find him (Mt 7:7). If we search for truth with all our heart, we will find it! Jesus said, God is like a father who is waiting for us to come home and for this reason he was willing to give his most precious gift for us.
But what does this faith in God‘s promises look like? How does it influence our lives?
I am so glad, that there are many examples of people in the bible that show us how to grow in faith. We can read many exciting stories, that tell us the experiences, the fortitude and the weaknesses of men and women of faith, and that show how gracious God was with those people and how he led them in their lives. We will notice, that their challenges were in essence oftentimes very similar to ours and that they gave us an example from which we can learn many lessons for our own lives.
One of those examples is Joseph. First he was sold as a slave to Egypt and then he was put into prison because of his loyalty to God and to his master. Surely, it wouldn‘t have been easy for me, if I had been in his position. But the real test came, when the cupbearer in prison promised Joseph to help him to get out of prison as soon as he was free – but then nothing happened. Joseph had to wait in prison for two more years. I‘m sure, that this was a very hard test of faith. Probably Joseph was tempted to give up. I would have asked myself: Why does nothing happen? But Joseph didn’t lose his faith! And God rewarded his loyalty. After many years of endurance, none other than the pharaoh himself called him out of prison and Joseph found himself to become the second most powerful man in Egypt! We also see, that Joseph‘s character changed throughout his life for the good through endurance and trust in God’s guidance, and that God prepared him through all the years for the work he wanted him to do. There are many other examples of faith in the bible: David, who was fighting Goliath, the giant, with just a slingshot and five stones. Or Daniel‘s three friends, who were rather willing to be thrown into the oven, than to worship the golden image of Nebukadnezar. But in the fire Jesus was with them and only their chains burned up. I‘m sure most of you will remember a person in the bible, that is a shining example of faith for you personally.
One outstanding example for me is the widow, that was willing to give her last bread to the prophet Elijah, although she and her son had nothing left for themselves. And even though she only knew very little about God, God rewarded her faith and worked a miracle: bread and oil in her house multiplied from that day on and God provided for her needs. But before this happened, she was tested whether she was willing to give the last thing she had to God. For me this is a good example of living faith. God can only put something into our hands, if we are willing to let go and open our hands first. Only then God can refill them. If the widow hadn’t given Elijah her last bread, probably no miracle would have taken place. If the disciples hadn’t decided to follow Jesus and leave their work and family, they wouldn’t have changed like they did. I think faith always requires to put our life into God’s hand no matter what and to take the risk to obey him.
The greatest example of such faith is found in the life of Jesus. His whole life was a ministry for God and mankind. I am especially astonished by the scene in Gethsemane, when Jesus prayed three times: “My father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Mt 26:39). Jesus was terrified when he thought of the sacrifice that he was about to bring, especially that the sin of the whole world should be laid upon him. But he was putting the will of his father first, entrusting his own life entirely to him! Even though his feelings were totally contrary, he was willing to do his father‘s will and to trust him, that his way is the best. I think this simple prayer shows what faith in summary is like – submitting our will to God‘s will: “Father your will be done!” A modern author puts it this way: “Faith means, to lay our plans into God‘s hands” (EGW). – Are we willing to do that today?
We have been looking at the benefits of faith for body and soul at the beginning of this article. As I write I can even feel the benefit of thinking about the principles of biblical faith. It is encouraging to see, that the people in the bible also started with little steps of faith and that their faith grew through persistence, despite of the personal weaknesses they had. And so it is with us: by acting out faith it will grow and show its positive effects in our lives today.
* Harold G. Koenig, “Religion, Spirituality, and Health: The Research and Clinical Implications”, ISRN Psychiatry Volume 2012, Article ID 278730, 33 pages
Source: Uchee Pines (www.ucheepines.org)
Sleep is such an integrated part of our lives that we tend to not give it much thought. Some people get just a few hours of sleep, and some are able to function on even less. What’s the big deal, anyway? We all get at least a bit of sleep, right? Does sleep really matter? If so, what’s considered “enough” sleep and is it possible to get too much?
In a previous article, we discussed the seven keys to longevity found by the Alameda County Health Study. The keys were:
- Sleeping seven to eight hours per night
- No eating between meals
- Eating regular breakfasts
- Maintaining a proper weight
- Exercising regularly
- Moderate or no drinking of alcohol
- Not smoking
Let’s start with number one: sleep.
How much sleep do you need?
Studies have shown that it is possible to get too little and too much sleep, but in general, six to nine hours of sleep tend to be ideal for most people. It was shown that those that got less than six hours of sleep or more than nine hours of sleep had 60-70% increased the risk of dying during the nine-year period of the study. 1
The importance of sleep versus exercise
Can getting proper sleep be as important as exercise? In men, it was found that too much or too little sleep carried the same risk to of dying as not exercising regularly. Within the nine-year period of the study, those that did not exercise regularly were found to have a 50% increased risk of dying compared to those that exercise regularly.1
From this data, it appears that getting proper sleep can be even more important than exercise in order to preserve life and vitality. Obviously, getting both proper rest and exercise would be even better! In fact, they’re connected. Getting an hour of exercise can boost your natural melatonin levels by two or three times!2 Melatonin has been shown to increase sleep quality and is also linked to increased longevity.3
The link between sleep and stroke risk
Researchers have been increasingly interested in sleep and its effect on health. In a recent study, scientists in Japan followed 100,000 middle-aged men and women for fourteen years. Upon observation, those that got four or fewer hours of sleep and those that got ten or more hours of sleep had a 50% increased risk of dying from stroke.4
In 2014 a similar study was conducted among 150,000 Americans. Individuals that slept for six hours or less or more than nine hours had the highest stroke risk. The lowest risk was found among those that got seven to eight hours of sleep per night.5 Other studies conducted in China, Europe, and elsewhere have confirmed that seven to eight hours of sleep is optimal for health and longevity.
Tips for better sleep
- Make sure to get natural light during the day and avoid nighttime light exposure, such as light from television and phone screens. This has been shown to boost melatonin production. 6
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat foods with natural melatonin, like oats, corn, rice, ginger, tomatoes, bananas, and barley). 7
- Sleep as early as possible. In general, the closer your bedtime is to sundown, the better for restful sleep. You know what they say, “Early to bed, early to rise.”
- Eat foods high in tryptophan, such as tofu, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, almonds, and black walnuts. Tryptophan is one of the eight essential amino acids and is a precursor for melatonin production.
Why do alcoholic men develop so-called man boobs and other feminine traits? We know estrogens produce feminization, and our liver clears estrogens from the body. As such, the original theory was that alcohol-induced liver damage led to the retention of excess estrogens. The problem was that when researchers measured estrogen levels, they weren’t elevated. What’s more, even those with cirrhosis of the liver appeared to clear estrogens from the body normally, and men’s testicles started shrinking even before serious liver disease developed.
So, alternative explanations were considered. If it’s not due to estrogens produced endogenously, meaning within the body, maybe alcoholics are being exposed to “exogenous estrogenic substances from dietary sources”—perhaps from phytoestrogens in the plants that alcoholic beverages are made from. The discovery that plants could contain hormonal compounds was made back in 1951 by two Australian chemists charged with finding out the cause of an “epidemic of infertility in sheep that was ravaging their nation’s wool industry.” It took them ten years, but they finally figured out the cause: a compound called genistein, present in a type of clover, and the same phytoestrogen found in soybeans.
You can read about the dreaded clover disease on scare-mongering websites, but you’ll note they never talk about the difference in dose. To get as much as the sheep were getting from clover, you’d have to drink more than 1,000 cartons of soymilk a day or eat more than 8,000 soy burgers or about 800 pounds of tofu a day.
This is not to say you can’t overdo it. There are two case reports in the medical literature that describe feminizing effects associated with eating as few as 14 to 20 servings of soy foods a day. But at reasonable doses, or even considerably higher than the one or two servings a day Asian men eat, soy phytoestrogens do not exert feminizing effects on men.
So, back in 1951, we realized plant compounds could be estrogenic. Two German researchers realized that perhaps that’s why women who handle hops start menstruating, and, indeed, they found estrogenic activity in hops, which is the bittering agent used to make beer. They found trace amounts of the soy phytoestrogens, but in such tiny quantities that beer would not be expected to have an estrogenic effect. In 1999, however, a potent phytoestrogen called 8-prenylnaringenin was discovered in hops, which I discuss in my video The Most Potent Phytoestrogen Is in Beer. In fact, it’s the most potent phytoestrogen found to date, fifty times more potent than the genistein in soy, “provid[ing] an obvious explanation for the menstrual disturbances in female hop workers in the past.” Today, we have machines to pick our hops, so our only exposure is likely via beer consumption, but the levels in beer were found to be so low that they shouldn’t cause any concern.
Then in 2001, a study on a hops-containing “dietary supplement for breast enhancement” raised the concern that another phytoestrogen in hops called isoxanthohumol might be biotransformed by our liver into the more potent 8-PN, which would greatly augment the estrogenic effect of hops. This study was conducted on mice, though. Thankfully, a study using human estrogen receptors found no such liver transformation, so all seemed fine…until 2005. “[T] he liver is not the only transformation site inside the human body.” The human colon contains trillions of microorganisms with enormous metabolic potential. It’s like a whole separate organ within our body, with a hundred livers’ worth of metabolizing power. So, let’s effectively mix some beer with some poop and see what happens.
Indeed, up to a 90 percent conversion was achieved. Up to then, “the concentration of 8-PN in beer was considered too low to affect human health. However, these results show that the activity of the intestinal microbial community could more than 10-fold increase the exposure concentration.” This can explain why you can detect 8-PN in the urine of beer-drinkers for days: Their gut bacteria keep churning it out. Obviously, the amount of straight 8-PN in beer is not the only source of estrogen effects given this conversion. So, a decade ago, the question remained: Might drinking too much beer cause estrogenic effects and feminize men? See my video What Are the Effects of the Hops Phytoestrogen in Beer? for the update.