Blueberries: A Magical Memory Booster

   by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

 Blueberries — in pies, pancakes and muffins — take me right back to my childhood summer vacations at the beach. Or, based on the latest research I’ve seen on this super-food, it may actually be that eating all those blueberries sharpened my cognitive abilities, making their deliciousness all the more memorable!

 Perhaps the connection is not quite so direct, but I just read a study reporting that blueberries have a profound effect on human brain function. Researchers from the University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center asked nine older adults (mean age 76 years) who were experiencing early-stage memory decline to drink blueberry juice three times a day for 12 weeks. The amount they drank was adjusted for their weight and ranged from about 15 to 20 ounces per day. Results (based on tests performed at the beginning and end of the study) showed that participants’ memory function significantly improved, and there was also a slight trend toward reduced depressive symptoms and better blood sugar control.

 Antidote to Poor Dietary Habits

 When I spoke with study author Robert Krikorian, PhD, he told me that the polyphenols in blueberries may somehow correct abnormalities in our brains that result from our nutritionally weak Western diet. His guess is that if we ate more whole, nutritious food and less artificial and processed food, we might not need the brain boost that blueberries give — but, since few people eat so well, almost everyone, including older adults with good cognitive functioning, would benefit from eating blueberries regularly.

 An all-natural juice with no additives (the expensive kind you find in quality health-food stores) was used in the study, but Dr. Krikorian told me that you get the same benefits by eating somewhere between a half cup and a cup of whole blueberries each day. Though fresh ones are easy to find at farmer’s markets at this time of year, the most nutritious blueberries are actually to be found in the freezer section of your supermarket, Dr. Krikorian told me. Regular readers probably already know this is because nutrients get locked in when the berries are frozen at the very height of ripeness.

 Dr. Krikorian said that blueberries aren’t the only fruit with memory-boosting polyphenols — they’re also in other berries and grapes and even fruits (such as cranberries) and vegetables (including artichokes, parsley and Brussels sprouts) that do not have the distinctive blue/purple color. But I love the thought that all those mornings spent making blueberry-everything with mom not only built memories but actually made me smarter, too — so you can guess what I’ll be baking with my own daughters come Saturday morning.


Robert Krikorian, PhD, associate professor of clinical psychology, University of Cincinnati Academic Health Center, Ohio.

Secret Signs of a Great Dentist

  by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

                As she asked around for the name of a really good dentist, a colleague recently commented that it’s easier to find a great auto mechanic these days! Lots of dentists advertise via direct mail and on the radio, but they’re not necessarily the best ones — and the old-school ones with 10-year-old tools and techniques may not be such a great choice either. While I like my dentist just fine, the remark led me to wonder what I would do if I had to find someone to replace her. Asking for recommendations is a good start, but what would I be looking to learn?

                I called Michael Apa, DDS, who practices with the Rosenthal Apa Group in New York City and teaches at the New York University College of Dentistry for Aesthetic Advantage, to ask how he would choose a dentist. Beyond the obvious — someone who comes highly recommended, has good academic credentials, is convenient, personable and, of course, covered by your insurance plan (if you are lucky enough to have dental coverage) — he gave me some great insider secrets to evaluate whether a dentist really is as good as people say …

                Clue Number One: What modern tools and toys are on display? Dental techniques and the equipment they require change so rapidly that few offices have everything out there. So you shouldn’t expect the moon and the stars — this is expensive equipment and few dentists can afford all of it. However, the dentists who are most likely to provide high-quality care will have at least some standard equipment available, says Dr. Apa…

  • Many dental offices now use digital X-rays, which are easier to read and therefore more accurate and — importantly — require less radiation than those of old.
  • For 21st-century teeth cleaning, ultrasonic cleaning instruments use sound waves to break up and remove plaque and tartar, including that which has accumulated under the gums. This makes cleaning teeth faster, more efficient and, for most people, more comfortable.
  •  Lasers are now used to trim soft tissue such as gums and other areas around the mouth, with benefits that include less bleeding than traditional procedures, often no stitches or discomfort, and faster healing. Some offices even have laser equipment to cut hard tissue — i.e., your teeth. With laser “drilling” you no longer have to hear that high-pitched whine, and since it doesn’t hurt, you don’t need anesthesia either.
  • Many offices now have a Cerec machine, which Dr. Apa calls a “miracle tool.” It uses a technique called CAD-CAM (computer-assisted design-computer-assisted manufacture) to create fillings, crowns, veneers and so on in just one patient visit. The Cerec scans a tooth, takes measurements and then precisely carves the needed item from a ceramic block. Since it creates digital “impressions” of the tooth, there’s no need to create putty impressions either.

                               Clue Number Two: He/she examines your mouth for clues about your overall health. Dr. Apa says that today’s best dentists consider it their job to monitor your mouth for other problems beyond cavities and receding gums. More and more studies reveal dentists to be the new health-care generalists, on alert for many health problems that may reveal themselves in the mouth — among them TMJ, circulatory problems, inflammatory disease, sleep apnea, precancerous lesions and oral cancers. All dentists should routinely perform visual examinations of the mouth, and many now do this with a special light that changes color if it lands on suspicious tissue.

                 Clue Number Three: Who’s in the “in crowd”? When an unusual oral problem presents itself, you need an expert in treating that particular issue — this comes down to who your dentist knows. As Dr. Apa says, not everyone can be good at everything, and to become really excellent requires lots of experience and specialized training. Ask dentists for their lists of patient-referral specialists, and expect to find names of endodontists (for root canals and tooth implants)… periodontists (for gum disease)… TMJ specialists (for headache and jaw pain)… and dental surgeons (for tooth implants). Yet another area where it is best to work with an expert is cosmetic dentistry — today it has turned into a sophisticated practice that few general dentists are trained to do.

                 Clue Number Four: Lab work is done locally, not off-shore. Many dentists now outsource lab work for such things as veneers, crowns and bridges to China, Mexico or other foreign countries. While this may not be a terrible practice, it’s not optimal, says Dr. Apa. He explained that offshore labs typically do “good enough” work, but when dentists have a personal relationship with lab owners, they are more likely to get a level of excellence that helps assure the best product, and this is more likely with US labs.

                 Clue Number Five: According to Dr. Apa, graduating from even the finest dental school is just the start of a dentist’s education. He suggests asking “so, how’s school these days” to see what your dentist has to say — paying attention not only to what he/she says, but also to the comfort level in discussing it. The only way for dentists to stay on top of their profession is to regularly attend conferences and workshops offering continuing education (CE) credits. Nearly all states require CE credit hours, but the range is wide — from 15 to 100 hours, depending on the state. And Dr. Apa told me that good dentists take many more credits than that each year. The best dentists commit themselves to a lifetime of learning to stay current and keep their skills sharp, he said — and that sounds like the kind of dentist we all want to find.


               Michael Apa, DDS, practices aesthetic and restorative dentistry in the Rosenthal Apa Group in New York City and is an instructor at the New York University College of Dentistry for Aesthetic Advantage.

Why Doctors Hate Chiropractors

 by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

If you’ve ever complained of a terrifically sore neck or lingering back pain, I’ll bet someone suggested that you see a chiropractor. I visit my chiropractor when my recurrent neck pain flares up (as in, when I spend too many hours in front of my computer for too many days in a row), and I know lots of other people who see chiropractors, too. Now research is affirming the efficacy of chiropractic care for a number of conditions, and this trend may be further stoked by changes brought about by health-care reform.

For many complaints, including such varied and seemingly unrelated ones as headaches and digestive distress as well as back and neck problems, chiropractic care can often provide safe, effective and fast-working treatment — and (unusual for natural therapies) most insurance plans cover it. However, many mainstream medical doctors aren’t fans. Their reasons aren’t always clear but seem to lie somewhere on the spectrum between being worried that chiropractic care is not safe and feeling threatened that good chiropractors may take away many of their patients.

The Time is Right

In a glass-is-half-full kind of way, today’s troubled health-care environment actually presents an opportunity for chiropractors to gain some long overdue respect — at least that’s a hope that’s currently afloat in the chiropractic community, I heard from Robert A. Hayden, DC, PhD, spokesperson for the American Chiropractic Association. A critical-care nurse for 20 years before becoming a chiropractor himself, Dr. Hayden explained that the nation’s ongoing and pressing concern about health-care costs and treatment efficacy is a good backdrop against which to understand the many ways chiropractic care can help patients.

Why are doctors skeptical? Dr. Hayden told me that one of his regular patients is an orthopedic surgeon — but another orthopedist in his community won’t accept patient referrals from Dr. Hayden, and a nearby hospital won’t perform MRI scans for his patients. He believes this lack of acceptance is fueled by the very fact that chiropractic does not involve drugs and can be an effective alternative to hospitalization and surgery, which makes it attractive to both patients and the bean counters of health-care costs. The fact that Medicare now covers some chiropractic services enhances its credibility but also adds weight to worries that this natural, less invasive and less expensive alternative will divert health-care dollars away from medical doctors and hospitals.

What Will It Take?

Key to the growing acceptance of chiropractic care is evidence-based research demonstrating that it is safe, clinically effective and cost-efficient. In the latest such effort, funded by Mercer Health and Benefits in San Francisco, Dr. Niteesh Choudry and colleagues reviewed existing literature on the efficacy of chiropractic. Their conclusion is that it works as well as or better than conventional modalities, including exercise programs, drug regimens and surgical intervention, for treating many forms of low back and neck pain, two of the most common medical complaints. Numerous other studies also support the effectiveness of chiropractic treatment for spine and neck issues in particular. For instance, a 2002 study of patients with nonspecific neck pain found that pain was reduced and function improved for 68.3% after seven weeks of chiropractic care, while the success rate for those in the care of general practitioners was only 36%. The patients of chiropractors missed work less frequently and needed less pain medication.

Can It Cause Stroke?

One very specific concern voiced by many medical doctors is that chiropractic neck manipulation has the potential to cause stroke, or — if done improperly — even death. The basis for this is a fairly rare and often undiagnosed condition in which the vertebral arteries in the neck are weakened, possibly by high levels of homocysteine. The fear is that in a vulnerable patient, twisting or stretching those arteries during a chiropractic manipulation could cause them to rupture.

To investigate whether this is a real danger, researchers at the University of Calgary (Alberta, Canada) studied vertebral arteries from several recently deceased people and found that it would take nine times the force of a typical chiropractic adjustment to damage these arteries and mobilize plaque. In fact, according to Dr. Hayden, normal head and neck movement present a greater risk than chiropractic manipulation for the kind of weak arteries that are of concern. By that measure, it’s risky to have your hair washed in one of those beauty parlor sinks where you have to lean way back (there’s even a name for this one, “the beauty parlor stroke”), play sports or even to turn your head to complete a turn while driving.

The condition that puts people at risk for this problem is very rare, Dr. Hayden said, noting that the statistics don’t support the level of concern being expressed. He pointed out that chiropractic is so low-risk that practitioners’ malpractice insurance costs only about one-tenth what an MD has to pay — around $1,300, on average, compared with $10,000 to $20,000 for general physicians.

The Trend Is Good…

Meanwhile though, patients are voting with their feet — so maybe doctors should try to learn more about chiropractic care rather than stand in the way of progress. The number of chiropractic patients in this country doubled in the two decades from 1982 to 2002, and an estimated 10% of Americans have seen a chiropractor in the past year.

As for me, well, when my neck hurts, I visit my chiropractor… and I feel better. If you’re interested in exploring this form of alternative medical care, you can go to to find an experienced, licensed practitioner in your area.


Robert A. Hayden, DC, PhD, founder and director of Iris City Chiropractic Center, PC, Griffin, Georgia, and spokesperson for the American Chiropractic Association.