How Google Exercises Your Brain

by Gary Small, MD

Can you use the Internet to better your brain? Yes, say researchers at University of California at Los Angeles who conducted a study called “Your Brain on Google.” The research team, led by Gary Small, MD, of UCLA’s Center on Aging, explored whether searching the Internet stimulates areas of the brain that control decision making, complex reasoning and vision. It does indeed, but only for those who use Google or other search engines in a certain way.


The study included 24 people aged 55 to 76. Half the subjects (the “Net Naïve” group) had little or no experience in searching the Internet, while the other half (the “Net Savvy” group) were skilled computer users who regularly use the Internet. This age group was chosen because researchers postulated that age-related brain changes are associated with declines in cognitive abilities, such as processing speed and working memory, and that routine computer use might have an impact — negative or positive. Both groups were asked to perform two tasks — first, to read text on a computer screen, and second to use Google to search the Web. The reading material and research topics were interesting and similar in content (for instance, the benefits of drinking coffee, planning a trip to the Galapagos Islands, how to choose a car, etc.).

Meanwhile, as the subjects worked on their computers, researchers scanned their brains with a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) device to ascertain which parts were active. During the text-reading phase, these fMRI scans revealed similar activity for both groups in the regions that control language, reading, memory and vision. But there were very dissimilar results when the two groups performed Web searches. When the Net Naïve group searched the Internet, their brain activity was similar to what they had experienced while reading… in contrast, the Net Savvy group produced activity in areas of the brain that control decision making and complex reasoning. Previous studies have shown that this type of brain activity is important for everyday cognitive tasks.

Engaging Content

This result shows that the Internet is itself “brain stimulation,” said Dr. Small. He explained that this may be especially helpful as people age because, compared with reading, Web searches require many more decisions to be made. For instance, searchers must decide which information to pursue and which to ignore. When I asked Dr. Small why the Net Naïve group showed less brain stimulation than the Net Savvy group, he said it may be that they lacked direction due to their lack of experience with the Internet. When this group was given some training for later experiences, their brains showed similar patterns of activity to those who were adept at Internet use, he told me.

So, if you’ve been feeling guilty about how much time you spend online — don’t. And if you haven’t been very involved with using your computer to search topics of interest, give it a try — it’s great exercise.


Gary Small, MD, director of the Memory and Aging Center at the Jane & Terry Semel Institute for Neuroscience & Human Behavior, University of California, Los Angeles. He is also coauthor of many books, including iBrain (Collins Living).

Eye Fatigue — Is It Your Computer or Something More Serious?

by Kent M. Daum, OD, MS, PhD

By the end of each day, my vision tends to get a little fuzzy, and sometimes my eyes actually ache. I’ve assumed that this is due to the many hours I spend staring at my computer screen each day — but based on what I’ve learned from this afternoon’s conversation with an eye specialist, I’ll be scheduling an appointment with my own doctor just to be sure that’s the cause.

I’d been reading research that found that you can get what’s known as computer vision syndrome (CVS), which produces symptoms like tired eyes, headaches, an uncomfortable burning sensation and blurry vision, after as few as four hours a day in front of the screen. So I placed a call to Kent M. Daum, OD, MS, PhD, a professor of optometry and vice president and dean for academic affairs at Illinois College of Optometry. He said yes, this is true — but before we discussed how to solve it, he wanted to stress the importance of being sure the problem is fatigue, not something else. Other possible causes include problems with the body’s system for moving the eyes and changing or coordinating focus… inappropriate prescription eyewear… uncorrected astigmatism… or, said Dr. Daum, “it might mean that the patient is asking the eyes to do something that they shouldn’t — like the classic example of a law student who spends 15 hours a day studying.” There are many things that can cause eye fatigue, so it is very important to get your eyes checked and have a trained clinician tell you what is really the problem.

One Glaringly Obvious Cause

After you’ve confirmed that CVS is the likely culprit, the first corrective step you can take is to evaluate the lighting in the area where you do your computer work. “You should not see any glare off your computer screen,” Dr. Daum said. Being able to see any reflection — of a window, a desk lamp or overhead lighting — means your eyes have to work harder to bring the resulting blurred image into focus, which can lead to eye strain.

Try this: To make sure your computer screen is free of glare, hold a folder or magazine above and then on each side of your monitor so that it sticks out four to five inches. The screen should look exactly the same with or without the magazine. If the screen darkens or shows a shadow or a reflection, there is glare. Fixes can include moving the light source… moving and/or re-angling the monitor to block the light (you might have to move your work station to another part of the room to accomplish this)… closing your blinds… or turning off any lights that reflect on your screen. The American Optometric Association cautions against facing an unshaded window or having one at your back while working on a computer due to the impact of glare. Along the same lines, Dr. Daum advises against using a laptop computer outdoors, as the light against the screen will strain your vision.

Keep Your Distance

I asked Dr. Daum if there is an ideal distance to sit from the computer screen. Noting that few people realize how important this is, he said the best distance typically falls somewhere between 20 and 28 inches but that a variety of factors, including height, age and vision issues, need to be considered in determining what’s most comfortable for your eyes. “People put their computers in all sorts of odd places, like on a counter or side table, where there’s not enough room to get close enough or far enough away from the screen to be comfortable,” he commented. Another helpful measure is to enlarge the text on your computer screen to a size that you don’t have to squint to see. Eyes that have to work extra hard tire more easily.

Personal Training for Your Eyes

Dr. Daum told me that you can use exercises to strengthen your eye muscles. If you have specific problems including focusing or eye movement problems, it is important to get specific advice from your doctor as to what’s best for you as exercises should be tailored to your specific problem.  When it comes to soothing and restoring tired eyes or relieving strain from the workday, however, he told me about some things that may help you feel better…

  • Look away. Lift your eyes from the computer screen at least once an hour, but preferably more often, to give them a break. Try gazing into the distance for a few minutes to reduce your focusing effort — looking outdoors can be refreshing, too, if you have a window nearby.
  • Compresses. If your eyes feel tired at the end of the day, a cold compress is wonderfully soothing. Soak a washcloth in cool water, wring it out a bit and then fold it and use it to cover your eyes while you lie down or rest your head against the back of a chair — do this for a couple of minutes and you will find it quite refreshing. Some people like to use tea bags that have been soaked (and allowed to cool to a comfortable temperature if you made tea!), then squeezed to eliminate excess liquid so none can run into your eyes. Caffeine in the tea may help shrink puffiness, and antioxidants can soothe redness… cucumber or raw potato slices work well too.


Kent M. Daum, OD, MS, PhD, is professor of optometry and vice president and dean for academic affairs at the Illinois College of Optometry in Chicago. Dr. Daum is a Fellow of the American Academy of Optometry.

Do CT Scans Cause Cancer?

by E. Stephen Amis, Jr., MD

The last several months have presented one worrisome story after another regarding the dangers of CT scans… including more than 200 patients receiving radiation overdoses while undergoing brain scans at a California hospital… unpredictable and widespread variation in radiation dosing for cardiac scans from one hospital to the next… and a new research report revealing that the cancer risk from radiation in a CT scan may be far higher than was thought. Two studies on this topic were published in the December 2009 issue of Archives of Internal Medicine. One of the studies reports that just one scan can deliver enough radiation to cause cancer and predicts that 29,000 new cancers will develop that can be linked to CT scans received in just the year 2007. Making matters much worse is the fact that the use of CT scans in medicine has grown explosively — more than tripling in the US since the 1990s, with more than 70 million given each year.

Where it was previously thought that only those who underwent numerous scans were in danger, the second of the published studies shows that having had even one can boost cancer risk notably — for example, a heart scan at age 40 would later result in cancer in one in 270 women and one in 600 men. Abdominal and pelvic CT scans raise the risk for cancer more than brain scans, and the risk is far greater in younger patients, especially children.

The same researchers also noted huge variability in how much radiation patients get, with some patients getting 10 or more times as much radiation as others. There are a variety of reasons for this, including equipment settings that aren’t standardized and the radiologist’s decision about how much is necessary to capture a high-quality image of a particular part of the body. Also, methods for reducing radiation, such as adjusting for the size of the patient, are underutilized. Yet another danger — when equipment is new and unfamiliar (as was the case with the California patients who received overdoses) and technicians aren’t properly trained, the patient may receive unintended excess radiation.

This is frightening stuff — but let’s put it in context. I called E. Stephen Amis, Jr., MD, chair of radiology at both the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York, to get his thoughts on the risk versus reward and what people should do to protect themselves from the risks of radiation exposure in imaging procedures. He said it is important to realize that in many cases CT scan technology is truly “lifesaving” and that, when used properly, the benefits obtained by getting the comprehensive information on what’s currently wrong outweigh the future risks presented by the radiation. For instance, if you have suspected acute appendicitis or head trauma as a result of a car accident, your doctor needs to know that — fast. Dr. Amis also pointed out that no direct evidence shows particular cancers are related to CT scans — rather the relationship is “inferred, based on increased cancers in survivors of the atomic bombing of Japan and in those exposed to the fallout from Chernobyl (among others).”

What you need to know

The radiology community is working to get these problems under control. Meanwhile, however, it is not safe for each of us as patients to pretend these problems don’t exist while the system sorts itself out — at best, that will take years. It is important to take steps now to minimize your risk. Here is what you can do…

  • Keep notes on all the scans you’ve had that you can remember (ask family members if you are unsure), including the body area and type of scan (x-ray or CT). If you have a chronic condition, such as colitis or chronic lung disease, that necessitates multiple imaging procedures, ask your doctor about other imaging options that might be a good substitute for CT scans.
  • Carry records with you. Keep and update a wallet-sized card listing the imaging tests that you’ve had and where and when each was done. (Note: To download a form to record your imaging tests, go to or send a self-addressed, stamped business-sized envelope to “Daily Health News/Medical Imaging Record,” Box 10702, Stamford, Connecticut 06904-0702.)
  • If and when your doctor advises you to have a CT scan, ask lots of questions. This is particularly important for tests like cardiac CT scans that may not be strictly necessary, but that your doctor may order to gather more information about your overall health. Ask about the possibility of using alternative imaging methods, such as MRI or ultrasound, neither of which uses radiation. Dr. Amis suggests using language something like this: “I’ve seen a lot of articles lately about some of these tests increasing your radiation exposure. Please tell me what knowledge you hope to gain by having me go through this CT scan. Is this test really necessary?”
  • Be aware of dosages. Dr. Amis also advises asking about the radiation dosage required for the specific test your doctor has prescribed, noting that sites such as list typical doses, comparing exposures among various types of x-ray and CT examinations. “It never hurts for patients to look at such Web sites so that they are informed,” he said, advising asking the technician about the dose to be sure it is in a reasonable range.

The bottom line? Know the risks and be careful. As Dr. Amis told me, “the point is to be aware, but not overly concerned.”


E. Stephen Amis, Jr., MD, professor and university chair, department of radiology, Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center, Bronx, New York.

How Nasal Irrigation Increases Sinus Infections

 by Talal M. Nsouli, MD

Like brushing and flossing, nasal and sinus irrigation has become a daily ritual for many people who tend toward chronic nasal problems. Popular wisdom has it that removing mucus daily via nasal irrigation (also called nasal lavage) rids the nose of dust and other pollutants, eliminating a possible breeding ground for germs and infections while also allowing for easier breathing. It seems to make sense — but does it work? Not at all, according to a new study. In fact, long-term nasal irrigation actually contributes to nasal infections.

 What’s Going On?

 Talal M. Nsouli, MD, director of the Watergate and Burke Allergy & Asthma Centers in Washington, DC, has a lengthy résumé that includes having been personal allergist to President Clinton during his two terms, clinical professor at Georgetown University School of Medicine and former president of the Greater Washington Asthma, Allergy and Immunology Society. Dr. Nsouli says he began to question whether regular irrigation was helpful or harmful when he saw that patients who practiced regular lavage had nasal linings that looked hard and smooth, “like a piece of plastic.” He began to notice the trend toward more use of this practice about seven or eight years ago, and decided to investigate, recruiting 68 patients who had used neti pots for nasal saline irrigation at least twice a day for 10 months or more.

 For one year, these patients continued irrigation as before. At the end of the year, they were instructed to suspend nasal irrigation for the next 12 months. Another group of 24 patients who used neti pots daily were used as a control group and monitored for 12 months. The results were startling, even to Dr. Nsouli: Patients who stopped nasal irrigation for one year had a 62% reduction in sinus infections from the previous year — and got half as many infections when not using sinus irrigation as those in the control group.

 According to Dr. Nsouli, mucus contains aggressive antimicrobial agents that have antibacterial, antifungal and antiviral activity. One called lactoferrin, an immune system stimulator, has been shown to be effective against infection, including cold-causing viruses (rhinovirus) and, I was surprised to learn, even the HIV virus. Irrigating the nose regularly washes away the mucus and with it a valuable defense mechanism. When study participants stopped their nasal irrigation routine, they were astounded at how much better they felt and how quickly — even though it takes two to six weeks to fully restore the natural condition of the nasal passages.

 Frequent irrigation does moisten nasal tissues, but this effect lasts just 20 minutes — in fact, notes Dr. Nsouli, the viscosity of mucus helps the nose stay moist. Some patients experience a yellow-green discharge after giving up lavage, but Dr. Nsouli said this is actually a symptom of a low-grade infection or chronic undiagnosed allergies. He advises them and anyone else with a chronic stuffy nose to see a doctor. Typically, the solution is a course of antibiotics and/or prescription nasal sprays that block symptoms while they improve the condition. Dr. Nsouli points out that it is the practice of rinsing that is problematic, not the solutions used, so this advice applies to over-the-counter nasal sprays as well.

 Neti or Not?

 Nasal lavage grew in popularity after the well-known physician/author Dr. Mehmet Oz sang its praises on Oprah a few years ago. Many adherents use a spouted, urnlike device (it comes from the Ayurvedic tradition) called a neti pot. It gets placed in the nostril and water is poured through it to flush out mucus. While previous studies have supported regular use of the neti pot, Dr. Nsouli says these were based on subjective, self-reported, short-term findings — unlike his study, which was carefully controlled with objective evidence provided through CT scans of the sinuses, fiber-optic endoscopy and detailed medical histories.

 Dr. Nsouli emphasizes that he’s not completely against using the neti pot or any of the many other nasal-lavage devices on the market today including pumps, Waterpic-like devices and OTC saline sprays. In his opinion, these should be used only when specifically needed and for a short time, such as when you have a bad cold that makes it difficult for you to breathe. There also is a risk for contamination of whatever device you use and resultant chronic infections, so be sure to practice good hygiene. Use whatever device you like to wash out the mucus once or twice a day, but for one week only — that’s what Dr. Nsouli does and what he now advises his patients to do.


Talal M. Nsouli, MD, director of the Watergate and Burke Allergy & Asthma Centers, Washington, DC.

Graze Your Way to Weight Loss

  by David Grotto, RD, LDN

Somewhere between the rigidity of eating three meals a day with nothing in between and the self-indulgence of mindless snacking is a middle ground called grazing. Now research from the University of Texas at Austin says that grazing is a good thing — in fact, the more frequently people eat, the more likely they are to be healthy.

Using data from the American Time Use Survey, conducted by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the report found that those who spread the amount they eat over more time have a body mass index (BMI) that is 0.2 lower, on average, than those who spend less time eating… and they also have better self-reported health. While the difference in BMI is not huge, for a person of average height it results in a few pounds less weight.

Good Grazing… Bad Grazing

You might think that this study’s findings go against the grain… after all, isn’t too much eating the cause, in part, of weight gain and many health problems? But science supports grazing, says David Grotto, RD, LDN, a former spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of 101 Foods That Could Save Your Life. “When there are large gaps of time between meals, the body goes into a self-preservation mode, reserving calories and storing fat,” he explains. “If you eat more frequently, your body ratchets up metabolism and burns calories. Also, when you graze, you’re less apt to overeat at the next meal.” Note the really important part of what Grotto said — eating more frequently… not eating more.

I asked Grotto to share some suggestions on how to keep grazing healthful. First and foremost, he says, it is important to stay aware of what and how often you eat. “Don’t think you can simply graze to your heart’s content,” he says. “Research clearly shows that calories consumed shouldn’t be greater than energy spent if you are to avoid gaining weight.”

The best grazing foods, he says, contain protein, fiber, monounsaturated fats and/or slow-digesting, complex carbohydrates. These will make you feel fuller than other foods, and you’ll be inclined to consume fewer calories. Nuts are a good choice as they contain monounsaturated fats, which take a long time to digest. One study showed that women who ate one to two ounces of nuts a day lost more weight and kept it off longer than women who did not eat nuts. To avoid monotony, mix a variety of nuts (almonds, walnuts and pistachios, for example) with oat cereal, dried fruit and dark chocolate. Keep some handy in a resealable bag and eat a few at a time. Also healthy are snacks like apple slices, cheese and whole-grain crackers, and peanut or almond butter.

It’s important to note that Daily Health News contributing editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND, registered a dissenting opinion on the greatness of grazing: “It isn’t necessary to eat all day to keep the body supplied with a steady stream of healthful nutrients. If you don’t skip breakfast, lunch or dinner… consistently make smart dietary choices… and take the time to chew thoroughly during meals, you’ll digest your food more completely, have a steady stream of nutrients coming into your body from the gastrointestinal tract, and not feel the need to graze.” However, he added, if you can’t seem to fit in three healthful meals a day, a certain amount of grazing may be a good short-term solution.


David Grotto, RD, LDN, a nutrition counseling consultant and former spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association and author of 101 Optimal Life Foods (Bantam). He is based in Elmhurst, Illinois.

The Real Reason You’re Tired — Your Adrenals Could Be Worn Out

by Mark A. Stengler, NMD 

You’re exhausted and you really need a good night’s rest… but what if you always feel that way and sleep doesn’t help? A common and often misunderstood cause of constant fatigue is a condition called adrenal fatigue, which regular Daily Health News contributor Mark Stengler, NMD, says he sees in approximately 40% of his patients and which affects as many as 20% of Americans, at least to some degree. However, since few medical doctors recognize and treat adrenal fatigue, millions of people live with feeling chronically exhausted and confused about why that’s so. What makes this particularly disturbing is that once adrenal fatigue is diagnosed, it can be treated and resolved and people start to feel better in just a few months’ time.

Running on Empty

Under normal circumstances, the adrenals (small walnut-sized glands that sit on top of the kidneys) produce numerous hormones — adrenaline and others — that impact bodily functions including blood pressure, heart rate and metabolism, liver function and immunity. They also produce two crucial stress hormones — DHEA and cortisol — whose job it is to balance the body’s response to stressful influences, including blood sugar fluctuations. According to Dr. Stengler, living with stress — whether mental, physical or emotional — for a protracted period results in a situation where the need for a constant supply of these two hormones outstrips the adrenals’ production of them. This deficiency dulls cognitive function, energy levels and, of course, your ability to handle stress. It also slows the immune response and with it the ability to fight off infections and even possibly cancer. DHEA and cortisol interact in complex ways that affect many functions — deficiencies can contribute to cardiovascular disease, diabetes, weight gain, fatigue, allergies, infections, mood disorders and poor libido, says Dr. Stengler.

To Know Whether You Have Adrenal Fatigue

Fatigue is just one adrenal fatigue symptom. If you are chronically tired and have any of the following, you may want to consider asking your doctor for a blood or saliva (Dr. Stengler’s preference) test to determine whether you have adrenal fatigue…

  • Morning fatigue
  • Mood swings
  • Light-headedness after standing up
  • Decreased sex drive
  • Inability to focus
  • Memory problems
  • Body aches, including pain in the lower back
  • Craving for salt and/or sugar
  • Slower recovery from illness than is usual for you.

Given the mainstream resistance to recognizing adrenal fatigue, Dr. Stengler suggests that those who think they may have it should seek out  naturopathic physicians.

Fixing Your Fatigue

Once adrenal fatigue is diagnosed, treatment is multi-pronged, including a combination of nutrients and lifestyle changes:

  • Stress reduction. Not surprisingly, your first task is to review what’s causing all the stress in your life so that you can determine what changes need to be made to reduce it.
  • Get more sleep. You need plenty of high-quality, restorative sleep — Dr. Stengler says to aim for eight to 10 hours every night, and he also advises taking daily naps. For those who have trouble falling asleep or who find themselves awakening in the night, he often prescribes 0.5 mg to 3 mg of melatonin, the “sleep” hormone, or 100 mg of the amino acid 5-HTP an hour before bedtime to help the body prepare for sleep. Ask your doctor which you should take.
  • Adjust your diet. Dr. Stengler points out that people with adrenal fatigue often have blood sugar swings and cravings for sweets, so it’s very important to have breakfast every day and to eat small, healthy snacks between meals. He advises eating plenty of whole-grain foods and protein, including almonds, walnuts and macadamia nuts, and avoiding processed foods and simple sugars, including refined grains, fruit juices and, of course, sugary sodas. Also stay away from caffeinated beverages and alcohol. And if you have low blood pressure, which often results from adrenal fatigue and further contributes to fatigue, do be sure you are getting enough salt, which helps maintain blood volume and proper circulation. However, don’t go overboard — 2,400 mg per day of sodium from all sources is usually about right.
  • Exercise — in moderation. While exercise helps regulate stress hormones, too much will exhaust adrenal fatigue patients further, says Dr. Stengler. He advises his patients to start by walking 15 minutes a day, adding time as symptoms improve until reaching 45 minutes per day, but again, keeping it to a moderately intense level. Reduce the amount of exercise if afterward you find yourself feeling more tired rather than less — the goal is to increase overall energy.


To help speed recovery, Dr. Stengler often prescribes the following nutritional supplements…

  • Vitamin B5 — (pantothenic acid) is especially important for stress-hormone production… he often prescribes 500 mg of B5, three times a day. A good multivitamin (or B-complex) will supply enough of the other B vitamins needed, says Dr. Stengler.
  • Vitamin C — typically 1,000 mg to 2,000 mg twice daily is prescribed, but reduce this dose if loose stools develop.
  • Adrenal glandular extract (AGE) — made from cow, pig or sheep adrenals, AGE contains growth factors that promote cell healing and also has nutrients to support gland function and repair. Take one to two tablets daily without food, and reduce the dosage if you become jittery or have trouble sleeping.
  • Ashwagandha — this herb, popular in Ayurvedic medicine, helps normalize adrenal functioning. A brand Dr. Stengler often dispenses is Jarrow Sensoril Ashwagandha… typically one to two capsules are taken daily on an empty stomach.
  • Rhodiola rosea — most often, he directs his patients to take 500 mg twice a day away from food… he uses a standardized formula of 3% to 5% rosavins, such as Paradise Herbs’ Dual Action Rhodiola. Note: Those with bipolar disorder should not use this product, since it can increase brain levels of serotonin, a chemical that affects mood.

Dr. Stengler said he sometimes uses hormone therapy consisting of DHEA, cortisol or other hormones and supplements to treat severe adrenal fatigue, but he noted that such measures require the supervision of a physician who is well practiced in the therapy.

Effective adrenal fatigue treatment ends up being an intensive self-care regimen in which you ratchet back the unreasonable demands you’ve been making on your mind and body. Fortunately, given time to recover, the adrenals are able to regain their strength… and with it, your natural energy will return.


Mark A. Stengler, NMD, a naturopathic medical doctor and leading authority on the practice of alternative and integrated medicine. He is editor of the Bottom Line Natural Healing newsletter, author of The Natural Physician’s Healing Therapies (Bottom Line Books), director of the La Jolla Whole Health Clinic in La Jolla, California, and adjunct clinical professor at the National College of Natural Medicine in Portland, Oregon. To learn more about his work, visit and

5-Second Artery Stiffness Test

 by Kenta Yamamoto, PhD

As we age, arteries can lose flexibility, and that’s not good because arterial stiffness is often a precursor to cardiovascular disease. So I’m happy to be able to tell you about a simple, do-it-yourself way to gauge whether your arteries might be dangerously stiff.

 The simple test

 Muscle flexibility is a component of cardio-respiratory fitness and physical fitness and is also an aspect of arterial flexibility. In a study at the National Institute of Health and Nutrition in Tokyo, 526 healthy participants were divided into three age groups and instructed to sit on the floor with their backs against the wall. While researchers held their legs straight in front of them, they were asked to use their arms to push forward a device that measured their maximum reach. Researchers then classified each as having “poor” or “high” flexibility. They also simultaneously measured blood pressure and pulse wave velocity, which gives a clinical measure of arterial stiffness.

 The results: In middle-aged and older people, poor body flexibility was associated with arterial stiffness. The findings were reported in American Journal of Physiology-Heart and Circulatory Physiology.

 “This study takes the first step in determining the relationship between flexibility and cardiovascular diseases,” says Kenta Yamamoto, PhD, a research fellow in the department of integrative physiology at University of North Texas Health Science Center and lead author of the study.

 There could be several reasons for the association. The researchers speculate that habitually working to increase flexibility by stretching your muscles may also relax the arteries and help decrease arterial stiffness. Another possibility involves collagen and elastin, the composition of which changes with age, reducing the flexibility of both muscles and arteries. A third possibility relates to blood pressure, since we already know elevated blood pressure stiffens arteries. In this study, researchers found that those with the highest blood pressure also had the poorest flexibility.

 How to Test Yourself

 It’s easy to test yourself at home, says Dr. Yamamoto: “If you cannot touch your toes when sitting with your legs held straight, your flexibility is poor.” He suggests integrating flexibility exercises — such as yoga, Pilates or basic stretching –into your routine, adding that doing this may help prevent arterial stiffness. He says to follow the recommendations from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association, which advise those who don’t work out regularly to stretch for 10 to 15 minutes every day… and says that those who do exercise regularly should incorporate several minutes of stretching before and after each workout. That’s a very easy prescription for something that could save your life.


Kenta Yamamoto, PhD, research fellow in department of the integrative physiology at University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth,

The Healthiest Chocolates of All

  by Joy Bauer, MS, RD, CDN 

It seemed too good to be true when studies began to tell us, seven or so years ago, that dark chocolate actually is healthy… but since then additional research has made the claims sweeter yet. Cacao beans, the base of chocolate, contain flavonoids (antioxidant-containing plant pigments) that make the antioxidants in dark chocolate nearly eight times as abundant as those in strawberries, which are themselves considered an excellent source. And then we learned that cacao beans help lower blood pressure and LDL (bad) cholesterol and that they can increase levels of serotonin, a natural antidepressant, as well.

 With all that going for chocolate, it’s not surprising that there’s now a wide array of “healthy” chocolates for sale pretty much everywhere, from bustling national supermarkets to tiny, Zen-like health-food stores. Soon you will even be able to buy camel-milk chocolate, said (of course) to have health benefits unique to its unusual source. But what makes the difference between a healthful piece of chocolate and just a fattening indulgence? I called über nutritionist and weight-loss expert Joy Bauer, MS, RD, CDN, regular contributor to the “Today” show and author of several books, including her newest, Your Inner Skinny, to ask the question.

 Healthy Chocolate

 Bauer says the only way to be sure you are getting a reasonable amount of flavonoids in chocolate is to select those containing at least 70% cacao, noting that the health value escalates the higher that percentage climbs. She said that milk chocolate — including the camel-milk variety — can’t compete in the healthy sweepstakes, since the added milk reduces the body’s ability to absorb the antioxidants in cacao. Bauer gave a thumbs down to the heart-shaped boxes of Valentine’s chocolates that have those creamy or caramel centers — these are very heavy on sugar and should definitely be left in the box, she says. On the other hand, “mix-ins” made of nuts and berries are good. As for white chocolate — it isn’t a true chocolate and, not surprisingly, contains almost no flavonoids.

 If you are looking for a healthy dark chocolate, Bauer says you don’t have to pay up for a premium brand. While upscale brands use very high-quality cacao beans and are “incredibly delicious,” she says that the health benefit is about the same no matter the price, noting this is true of mass-produced brands, such as Hershey’s and Dove (which is owned by M&M/Mars), and mid-priced brands, such as Lindt or Ghirardelli. And it must be said… all chocolate contains lots of calories along with the flavonoids — averaging 150 calories per ounce, says Bauer — so it is important to enjoy it in moderation.


Joy Bauer, MS, RD, CDN, Today show contributor, and author of several books, including her newest, Your Inner Skinny (William Morrow Cookbooks).