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Monthly Archives: May 2017

Helped her fight breast cancer

When a visit to the doctor revealed a surprising breast cancer diagnosis.

“I was only 36 years old, and I was single,” she said. “I just couldn’t process anything he was saying.”
She worked full-time as a special-education teacher in New Jersey, but her most important job was raising her 8-year-old son, Michael.
McLaughlin dreaded the thought of telling people she had cancer.
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“I remember I was laying on my stomach saying to myself, ‘You’re never going to have to tell anyone, because you’re going to die tonight,’ ” she said of the night she got the news.
For someone who was always in control of her life, the diagnosis felt like a fatal blow for McLaughlin. She went through the motions of treatment and had a lumpectomy in her left breast, followed by radiation.
“I hated radiation. It felt like I was in a ‘Star Wars’ movie. You’re in this machine, and then there’s a sound that makes you think you’re going to be disintegrated,” McLaughlin said.

Battling cancer, striving for normalcy

To most people, McLaughlin’s life appeared normal. She continued working full-time and caring for Michael, who was in third grade, as if nothing had changed. The principal at her school set up a room with a cot so she could take naps during her off periods. She did it out of necessity but also because she didn’t want Michael to be affected by her diagnosis.
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“He didn’t understand that I could die,” she said. “That never entered his mind, because I didn’t look like I was sick; I didn’t act like I was sick; I didn’t sit around and cry. I kept doing the things that I was always doing.”
After a few months, McLaughlin was cancer-free. She returned to her normal routine, replacing weekly chemo and radiation treatments with a mammogram every six months.
But on the same date in April three years later, McLaughlin’s doctors found cancer cells in her left breast again. A mastectomy was her only option this time. She had immediate breast reconstruction and repeated the rigorous treatment schedule.
Again, she shielded Michael from as much as possible. He was in sixth grade, seemingly unaware; school-wide prayer calls were the extent of his exposure. “He’d come home from school and say, ‘Oh, Mommy! Sister Laura got on the PA system today and had the whole school say a prayer for you!’ ” McLaughlin recalled.
Unlike with her first diagnosis, McLaughlin knew what to expect. The countless biopsies that followed were the greatest challenge. Her doctors were extra cautious, taking tissue samples at the first sign of a lump or mass in her remaining right breast.
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“I told my doctor, ‘My breast looks like a scenic railroad! Every which way, scars, scars, scars.’ And he said to me, ‘You can have 10 benign biopsies, but the 11th could be the cancer that kills you.’ “

Another diagnosis

Seven years later, McLaughlin felt a lump in her right breast. The mammogram didn’t reveal any inconsistencies. Her new doctor suggested that she wait a couple of months, but she insisted on getting a biopsy.
She remembered lying on the operating table as her doctor read the results. “Usually, I’d be told it looks clean. This time, I saw his face, and he didn’t tell me anything. I knew at that moment I had cancer again.”
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It was her third diagnosis in a 10-year period.
Michael was a senior in high school, old enough to understand her condition for the first time. “I was honest with him about having cancer, but I’d never say ‘I’m going to die.’ I’d just say ‘I saved my life,’ ” McLaughlin said.
Michael struggled with fear about his mother’s condition but was eager to help. He drove her to the hospital for her second mastectomy and breast reconstruction. Leaving little time to sulk, McLaughlin went back to work immediately and enrolled in graduate school to earn her master’s in education.
Cancer-free once again, McLaughlin’s life stabilized. Neither her body nor her behavior evidenced the decade-long struggle she endured. She loved her reconstructed breasts and felt in control again. Throughout all of her diagnoses, “I never cried. I never got emotional about it,” she said.
McLaughlin’s moment of weakness came years later.

Questing for confidence

Eight years after her last treatment, an unexpected staph infection forced doctors to remove her implants. “That’s when I cried,” she said. “They were so beautiful and life-like that I couldn’t believe it was happening to me.” Doctors removed the infected skin, expanded the remaining flesh on her chest, and inserted smaller implants.
But after six weeks, she was rushed to emergency surgery for a second staph infection and lost the option of reconstruction entirely. Flattened, misshapen lumps of fatty tissue and scars from 28 surgeries were all that remained.
McLaughlin struggled with her appearance after losing her breasts. She removed all the full-length mirrors from her home, preferring not to see herself in them, and pined over the lumps on her chest when she caught glimpses of her torso in the bathroom. “Every time I looked in the mirror, you think I’d be mad about the scars; I’d say, ‘Oh God, I hate that fat.’ I hate it, you know, and I was obsessed with it.”
McLaughlin didn’t find solace until years later when Michael, then in his 30s, gave her a tablet computer. With his help, McLaughlin opened a Twitter account. She became fast Twitter friends with Friday Jones, a celebrity tattoo artist and cast member on Oxygen’s “Tattoos After Dark.”
Through Jones, McLaughlin discovered a community of breast cancer survivors and mastectomy tattoo enthusiasts. Jones introduced McLaughlin to P.ink Day, a nationwide event in which volunteers connect breast cancer survivors with experienced artists, providing complimentary tattoos to cover their scars during Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Apple cider vinegar

 the most popular use for apple cider vinegar? If a simple internet search is any measure, it involves diabetes.
Dietitian Carol Johnston has been studying the effects of the main component of any vinegar, acetic acid, on diabetic blood glucose levels since 2004. She’s conducted 10 small randomly controlled studies and published six papers on the subject.
Her studies indicate vinegar can help lower blood sugar in people with type 2 diabetes; in those who are prediabetic, also called insulin-resistant; and even in healthy control subjects. The improvement was slight for all but those at risk for diabetes, she says.
“In pre-diabetics, it was too good to be true,” says Johnston, who is also associate director of the Arizona State University’s School of Nutrition and Health. “It fell a good bit and stayed that way. It may be this is the group that could benefit the most.”
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But this antiglycemic response can be induced by any sort of vinegar, she says: red and white wine vinegars, pomegranate vinegar or even white distilled vinegar. She suggests adding it to salads, as in the Mediterranean diet, or diluting it in water and drinking it before a meal.
“Basically, what acetic acid is doing is blocking the absorption of starch,” Johnston says. “If my study subjects eat a starch and add vinegar, glucose will go down. But if they drink sugar water and add vinegar, nothing happens. So if you’re having bacon and eggs, don’t bother. It only helps if you are consuming a starch.”
If you choose to use apple cider vinegar, be sure to tell your doctor, says nutritionist Lisa Drayer.
“If you’re taking a diabetes drug, the vinegar could amplify the effects of your meds,” she warns, “and your doctor might want to adjust your dosage.”
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Johnston notes that there is no evidence, in her studies or others, to establish that connection.
“I simply determine if your glucose level goes up and down,” she says. “If I was to show that vinegar slows progression to diabetes, then I would need hundreds of people and millions of dollars to do the studies, because diabetes has a lot of causes, including genetics.”

Weight loss

Weight loss, or dieting, is another popular use for apple cider vinegar and there is some evidence that it can help.
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The most cited study was done with 175 heavy but otherwise healthy Japanese subjects. The 12-week treatment produced lower body weight, body mass index, visceral fat, waist measurements and triglyceride levels. Sounds great, right?
“People didn’t really lose that much weight,” Drayer says. “Only 2 to 4 pounds in three months over a placebo. That’s only a third of a pound a week.”
Johnston agrees the study showed “a very, very modest weight loss.’
“In fact, I would say most people who are on a diet for 12 weeks and only lose a couple of pounds aren’t going to be very happy,” she adds.
If you are using apple cider or other vinegars as one part of an overall plan, combining it with a healthy diet, portion control and exercise, it might help, Drayer says. She suggested using balsamic vinegar on salads, in a 4:1 ratio with oil, or adding it to sauces for poultry and fish.
“If you were doing all the other things to lose weight, it might give you a slight edge,” Drayer says. “Also, if you’re drinking it in water, that’s good, as water makes you feel full.”
“Sometimes, people get really excited to try something new, and then their other behaviors change, too,” she adds. “So if this helps people be more careful overall, that’s a good thing.”

Teeth cleaning and whitening

“Some people like to use it to remove stains and whiten their teeth,” according to one of many online articles touting apple cider vinegar for this purpose: “To try this, rub a small amount of apple cider vinegar onto your teeth with a cotton swab.”
“I let out an audible gasp when I read about this!” says Chicago dentist and American Dental Association spokeswoman Alice Boghosian. “It made me cringe, to be honest with you. What are people doing?”
“You’re putting acid on your teeth,” Boghosian continues, “the last thing you’d want to do to promote oral health. What would be a healthier option is to brush your teeth twice a day for two minutes, with a whitening toothpaste with the ADA seal. That shows it’s been tested to do what it’s supposed to do.”
Other articles promote rinsing your mouth with apple cider vinegar, soaking dentures with a diluted mixture or using it to clean a toothbrush.
“You just have to rinse off your toothbrush, get all the toothpaste out, and let it air out. That’s all you have to do,” Boghosian says. “Cleaning dentures or rinsing with vinegar is not a good idea. It too could put your teeth at risk. And just think how it might affect the metal on partial dentures.”
A pH of 7 is neutral, explains Boghosian; anything less is acid. She said many of today’s popular apple cider vinegars are in the 2 to 3 range — about the same as stomach acid.
“Anything acidic which contacts your teeth will wear out the enamel, the protective coating, and that will cause cavities,” Boghosian adds. “So, this is totally, completely wrong, unless you want to be paying more visits to your dentist.”

Skin, hair and nails

Commonly suggested uses for apple cider vinegar across the internet include it’s use as a treatment for skin infections and acne, fighting lice and dandruff, as a natural wart remover and as an anti-aging treatment.
“It will dry out a pimple, but it’s not an anti-aging method,” says dermatologist Dr. Marie Jhin, a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Dermatology. “It might fade dark spots, or maybe you could use it as a skin toner, if you dilute it a great deal. But I wouldn’t recommend it. We have much more effective and safe methods today than this.”
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One use she can agree with: “I do love it for bites, especially mosquito bites. It’s a very underutilized home remedy. If you have a lot of bites, put two cups in a full tub of water and soak. It will help with itching,” she says.
“It can also help with sunburn, although there are so many other good remedies,” Jhin adds. “We don’t usually suggest that to patients.”
Apple cider vinegar might help with dandruff, says Jihn, because the acidity could increase the sloughing of the skin on the scalp, and it does have some antifungal properties.
But don’t turn to it to get rid of head lice. One study found the use of vinegar to be the least effective method among several natural solutions; only petroleum jelly killed adult louse, but it did next to nothing to fight the eggs.
Another use Jhin recommends: “I love vinegar for paronychia, an infection under the cuticle that a lot of people get,” Jhin says. She suggests mixing one-fourth cup of vinegar with three-fourths cup of water and soaking nails.
But what about warts and other home uses?
“Warts are caused by a virus, so there’s no cure,” Jihn explains. “You can dab a diluted version of apple cider vinegar on a wart with a Q-tip, and it’s going to help remove dead skin, which is what we do in the office by paring it down, cutting it out or burning it with liquid nitrogen. But it’s not going to be as fast or effective as what we do in the office.”
American Academy of Dermatology spokesman Dr. Michael Lin, director of the Advanced Dermatology and Skin Cancer Institute in Beverly Hills, has a more negative perspective on home use.
“I’ve had quite a few patients harmed by apple cider vinegar,” Lin explains. “One terrible example was a man trying to treat genital warts. When he came into the office, the entire area was raw, burned by the vinegar.
“I don’t know if he was using it full-strength, but whatever he was doing it was too strong,” he continues. “He probably has permanent scarring from that natural home treatment.”
Lin says he feels more comfortable recommending distilled white vinegar, as it is created to a standardized formulation of 5% acidity.
“With apple cider vinegar, you don’t know what strength you’re getting,” Lin says. “It’s depends on the brand, and even among batches within a brand, you could get different concentrations of acidity.”
“If you do choose to use apple cider vinegar, try to buy a name brand that clearly labels the acidity level. And whatever you do, don’t use it full-strength.”
He suggests a 1:10 ratio.

All-purpose cleaner

Because of apple cider vinegar’s antimicrobial properties, it is often suggested as a natural cleanser for the home.
The acid is effective against mold, but according to the Pesticide Research Institute, an environmental consulting firm, so are salt, lemon juice, hydrogen peroxide, tea tree oil and baking soda.
Many of those also smell better.
Apple cider vinegar is biodegradable, and because of its low pH, it’s great against alkaline grime such as hard water and mineral deposits, as well as soap scum.
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But it won’t cut grease. Why not? Just think of a simple oil and vinegar salad dressing. After mixing, the oil and vinegar quickly separate because oil is nonpolar, while vinegar and water are polar, meaning they are not attracted to each other.
Will apple cider or other vinegars sanitize or disinfect your home? Probably not enough to make you feel germ-free.
This 1997 study showed that undiluted vinegar had some effect on E. coli and salmonella, but a study conducted in 2000 showed no real impact against E. coli or S. aureus, the common staphylococcus bacteria responsible for most skin and soft tissue infections.
That 2000 study also showed vinegars to be quite effective against the waterborne bacteria Pseudomonas aeruginosa, mostly found in hospitals and untreated hot tubs. It was also effective against Salmonella choleraesuis, a rare pig-borne version of salmonella.
If you do choose to use a vinegar to clean your home, never mix it with bleach or ammonia, because it will create toxic chlorine or chloramine gases.

The Sugar Detox

“Sugar makes you fat, ugly and old,” said Brooke Alpert, a registered dietitian and co-author of “The Sugar Detox: Lose the Sugar, Lose the Weight — Look and Feel Great.” “What we’ve discovered in the last couple of years is that sugar is keeping us overweight. It’s also a leading cause of heart disease; it negatively affects skin, and it leads to premature aging.”

Sugar addiction

Here’s more bad news: We can’t stop consuming sugar. “People have a real dependency — a real addiction to sugar,” Alpert said. “We have sugar, we feel good from it, we get (the feeling of) an upper, and then we crash and need to reach for more
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About 10% of the US population are true sugar addicts, according to Robert Lustig, professor of pediatrics and member of the Institute for Health Policy Studies at the University of California, San Francisco. What’s more, research suggests that sugar induces rewards and cravings that are similar in magnitude to those induced by addictive drugs.
One of the biggest concerns is the amount of added sugars in our diets, which are often hidden in foods. Although ice cream cake is an obvious source of sugar, other foods that may not even taste sweet — such as salad dressings, tomato sauces and breads — can be loaded with the white stuff.
“People don’t realize that seemingly healthy foods are loaded with sugar — and so we’re basically eating sugar all day long, from morning till night,” Alpert said.

How to sugar detox: Going cold turkey for three days

The good news is that even if you’re not a true sugar “addict,” by eliminating sugar from your diet, you can quickly lose unwanted pounds, feel better and have a more radiant appearance.
“There is no one person who wouldn’t benefit by eliminating added sugars from their diets,” Lustig said.
Children can benefit, too. Lustig’s research revealed that when obese children eliminated added sugars from their diets for just nine days, every aspect of their metabolic health improved — despite no changes in body weight or total calories consumed.
But going cold turkey is what works best, at least in the beginning.
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“Early on in my practice, when I would notice that people had real addiction to sugar, we’d start trying to wean them of sugar or limit their intake or eat in moderation … but the word ‘moderation’ is so clichéd and not effective,” Alpert said. “It was just ineffective to ask people to eat less of something when they’re struggling with this bad habit. You wouldn’t ask an alcoholic to just drink two beers.
“What was so successful in getting my clients to kick their sugar habit was to go cold turkey. When they would go cold turkey, I wasn’t their favorite person — but the number one positive effect was that it recalibrated their palate,” she said. “They could now taste natural sugars in fruits, vegetables and dairy that they used to be so dulled to.”
So for the first three days on a sugar detox, Alpert recommends no added sugars — but also no fruits, no starchy vegetables (such as corn, peas, sweet potatoes and butternut squash), no dairy, no grains and no alcohol. “You’re basically eating protein, vegetables and healthy fats.”
For example, breakfast can include three eggs, any style; lunch can include up to 6 ounces of poultry, fish or tofu and a green salad, and dinner is basically a larger version of lunch, though steamed vegetables such as broccoli, kale and spinach can be eaten in place of salad. Snacks include an ounce of nuts and sliced peppers with hummus. Beverages include water, unsweetened tea and black coffee.
Though they don’t contribute calories, artificial sweeteners are not allowed on the plan, either. “These little pretty colored packets pack such a punch of sweetness, and that’s how our palates get dulled and immune and less reactive to what sweetness really is,” Alpert said.
Consuming artificial sweeteners causes “you not only (to) store more fat,” Lustig explained, “you also end up overeating later on to compensate for the increased energy storage.”

How to sugar detox: When an apple tastes like candy

Once the first three days of the sugar detox are completed, you can add an apple.
“By the fourth day, an apple tastes like candy,” Alpert said. “The onions are sweet! Almonds are sweet! Once you take sugar away from your diet cold turkey, your palate recalibrates, and you start tasting natural sugars again.”
Starting with day four, you can add one apple and one dairy food each day. Dairy, such as yogurt or cheese, should be full-fat and unsweetened. “Fat, fiber and protein slow the absorption of sugar, so taking out fat from dairy will make you absorb sugar faster,” Alpert said.
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You can also add some higher-sugar vegetables such as carrots and snow peas, as well as a daily serving of high-fiber crackers. Three glasses of red wine in that first week can be added, too.
During week two, you can add a serving of antioxidant-rich berries and an extra serving of dairy. You can also add back starchy vegetables such as yams and winter squash.
For week three, you can add grains such as barley, quinoa and oatmeal, and even some more fruit including grapes and clementines. You can also have another glass of red wine during the week and an ounce of dark chocolate each day.
“Week three should be quite livable,” Alpert said.
Week four is the home stretch, when you can enjoy two starches per day, including bread and rice, in addition to high-fiber crackers. Wine goes up to five glasses per week.
“You can have a sandwich in week four, which just makes things easier,” Alpert said. “I want people living. Week four is the way to do it.”
Week four defines the maintenance part of the plan — though intentional indulgences are allowed, such as ice cream or a piece of cake at a birthday party. “Because the addictive behavior is gone, having ice cream once or twice will not send you back to square one,” Alpert said. Additionally, no fruit is off-limits once you’ve completed the 31 days.
“The whole purpose is to give people control and ownership and a place for these foods in our life,” Alpert said.

Healthy’ Foods Really Good

Hydrogen water

So-called hydrogen water–water into which hydrogen gas is dissolved–has become increasingly popular in recent years, with a handful of companies (including one created by physician personality Dr. Nicholas Perricone) selling bottles, tablets you can dissolve into water and even machines to boost water’s hydrogen content. Some claim that adding more hydrogen increases energy, improves workout recovery and reduces inflammation.

 But the science behind those claims is weak, backed only by a few encouraging studies in rats and mice and even fewer–and smaller–trials in people. “We don’t know anything about dosing or the frequency you need to drink hydrogen water to get health benefits,” says Robin Foroutan, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

Moreover, the amount of hydrogen in water products varies widely, and there is no regulation to standardize formulas. For now experts say that while drinking hydrogen water probably isn’t risky, the benefits, if any, are also unknown.

Protein powder

There is a variety of protein powders–whey, hemp, soy, pea and more–that you can add to foods that don’t otherwise have the nutrient in high quantities, like smoothies and shakes. Powders can aid muscle recovery after exercise and help you feel fuller–and stay that way

 But in the ways that count most, protein powder is not necessarily an adequate substitute for the real thing. Protein is important for muscle, bone and skin health, and it can provide the nine essential amino acids that the human body doesn’t make by itself. While some protein powders contain the full amino-acid profile, many fall short. In general, animal-based protein powders–like whey, casein or egg-white protein–are more complete than non-animal-based ones.

Additionally, eating a high-protein food can provide other nutrients a person might need. For example, eggs contain protein as well as healthy fat and vitamin D. “When you eat protein from whole foods, you get extra nutrients and fiber that contribute to a healthy diet,” says Nancy Rodriguez, professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Connecticut, Storrs.

Low-calorie ice cream

Halo Top’s low-calorie, high-protein ice cream recently became the best-selling pint in the U.S., in part by billing itself as a healthier alternative to the likes of Häagen-Dazs and Ben & Jerry’s.

That’s technically true, especially for calorie counters. But nutritionists warn that such low-calorie counts typically derive from artificial and zero-calorie sweeteners, which don’t appear to help people lose weight, according to a July report in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

As for the added protein, unless you’re following a high-protein regimen, the little extra you get in ice cream could just as easily be gotten in foods like chicken and quinoa. Federal data shows that American adults consume about 15% of their daily calories from protein–well within the recommended amount.

That said, if you’re choosing to indulge, you could do a lot worse than Halo Top. “As far as the ingredients go, there’s nothing there that I would question as a red flag,” says Keri Gans, a registered dietitian in New York

Wholesome snack bars

Granola bars have long been a staple in the health-food aisle, despite the fact that many contain just as much sugar as a candy bar.

That said, there’s been an influx of legitimately healthy snack-bar options in recent years; to pick one, you just have to read the ingredients closely. Dietitian Andy Bellatti recommends looking for bars that rely on sweetness from foods like dates and coconut rather than table sugars (see: brands like RXBAR and Lärabar). That way, he explains, “you are getting nutrition and fiber, without added sugar.” But if you’re looking for a midday snack, a handful of almonds or an apple can often do the trick for fewer calories.