First it was smoking (then asbestos and DDT) and now charcoal grilling. One after another, life’s little pleasures are yanked from us by their statistical associations with increased cancer risk.
By now everyone’s heard about the significant connection between colorectal cancer and regular consumption of red meat (beef, pork, lamb) and processed meats (bacon, ham, sausages, cold cuts, hot dogs).
Most doctors I know swallow one of those low-dose healthy heart aspirins every day. I count myself among them (here’s the 81-mg version I take, but many brands are available, Costco’s among them). When research studies first started appearing well over 20 years ago showing a daily smidgen of aspirin could prevent both heart attack and stroke, the general attitude among most doctors was a profound: “Well, it couldn’t hurt…”
Scientists identified vitamin E about 80 years ago, but only in the past few decades has its power as an antioxidant been revealed and fully appreciated. What this means is that you’ll have to get far more than the government-established RDA for this vitamin to benefit from its ability to stave off disease and enhance overall health. Unfortunately, most foods containing vitamin E–nuts, vegetable oils and margarine, for example–are high in fat. So to get the protective punch of vitamin E without adding fats to your diet, you need to seriously consider taking supplements.
In the eighteenth century, seasoned sailors found that by sucking on lemons they could avoid scurvy, a debilitating disease that often developed during long voyages when fresh fruits and vegetables were scarce. When the lemon’s key nutrient was formally identified in 1928, it was named ascorbic acid for its anti-scurvy, or antiscorbutic, action. Today ascorbic acid is widely known as vitamin C.
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Westerners have been slow to put tempeh, soy milk, tofu, and other soybean products on the table. But as evidence mounts that compounds in soy–isoflavones–have impressive health benefits, so too does consumption of this Asian dietary staple.
The trace mineral selenium makes its way into our bodies because it is contained in certain foods. Over time, it becomes part of nearly every cell, with particularly high concentrations in the kidneys, liver, pancreas, spleen, and testes.
The most concentrated food source for selenium is the Brazil nut; a single one contains 120 mcg, (which is about twice the RDA). Seafood in general, as well as poultry and meat, are also good sources. So are grains, especially oats and brown rice.
To treat a host of ills ranging from fungal infections to the common cold, traditional healers in South and Central America have long brewed a tea made from the inner bark of a native evergreen tree of the Tabebuia species.
Today, this healing brew, variously referred to as pau d’arco or Taheebo, is readily available in North American health-food stores and sold as a “cure” for cancer and numerous other ills (including diabetes, warts, and vaginal yeast infections). Whether pau d’arco actually works for any of these conditions is unclear and the subject of ongoing confusion and controversy.
Along with the bold yet delicate taste that shiitake, maitake, and reishi mushrooms add to soups and other dishes, these gourmet delicacies are prized as herbal medicines. Traditional Asian healers have used them for centuries to strengthen the immune system and promote longevity. Recently, an extract from a different mushroom altogether–PSK (Coriolus versicolor)–was identified as a possible ally in the fight against cancer. While mushrooms other than these may well have specific health-promoting actions, they haven’t been as thoroughly researched for medicinal purposes.
Long before holiday revelers started a custom of kissing under the mistletoe, traditional folk healers used this evergreen shrub to treat various ailments. While they recognized early on that the sticky white berries of the mistletoe plant were poisonous, they brewed the leathery leaves into a therapeutic tea, a remedy that has long endured for ailments ranging from nervous tension to skin sores.
Glutamine is a nonessential amino acid. “Nonessential” means that the body can create its own supply if the diet is lacking in glutamine-rich sources, such as poultry, fish, and legumes. Few people who are basically healthy and follow a balanced diet are deficient in this amino acid, one of the most abundant in the bloodstream. But there are some important exceptions.