Sleep Late to Restore Brain Power

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

Oh boy, do I have good news to share!

Evidence demonstrates that sleeping in on the weekend is a smart idea after a tough week at work (or anywhere else). I’ve been known to sleep late myself on occasion, but always with a twinge of guilt, since we’re told that it’s better to go to sleep and get up at the same time every day. But juggling my job, kids, household tasks and other requirements all week sometimes leaves me weary and sleep-deprived by Friday afternoon — and I bet you know exactly how I feel.

Americans have a sleep debt that makes the national budget deficit look minor, warns Matthew Edlund, MD, MOH, an expert on rest, biological clocks, performance and sleep based in Sarasota, Florida, and author of the new book, The Power of Rest. Sleep is as important to health as food and water, and we should stop feeling guilty for allotting time for our bodies to rest, recharge and regenerate, he said.

Here’s Proof…

At the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, researchers conducted a study of the effect of sleep deprivation on the brain power of 159 healthy adults aged 22 to 45. A control group of 17 spent 12 consecutive days in the sleep lab — 10 hours in bed each night for seven nights — while the others spent 10 hours in bed for the first two nights, then were in bed only from 4 a.m. to 8 a.m. for five consecutive nights. Next, this group was assigned randomized amounts of recovery sleep, up to 10 hours per night.

All participants completed 30-minute computerized tests to assess their levels of alertness and neurobehavior performance every two hours while awake — and no one will be surprised to learn that in comparison with those who had adequate sleep, people with restricted sleep experienced:

  • Impaired alertness
  • Shortened attention span
  • Reduced reaction time.

Why You Need a Vacation

But here’s the happy finding: Normal function (alertness and performance, as above) was restored in sleep-deprived participants after just one solid night of recovery sleep — 10 hours, or the equivalent of squeezing in extra shut-eye on Saturday morning after a long week. (The more recovery sleep, the higher the scores.) In contrast, participants whose sleep continued to be restricted to an average of four to six hours per night performed poorly on tests and continued to get worse as their restricted sleep continued. Researchers also warned that even 10 hours of sleep in one night is not enough to bounce back if you continually push yourself too hard and burn the candle at both ends. Dr. Edlund said that, in fact, many studies have shown that even a few weeks of normal sleep won’t make up for a longtime habit of sleep deprivation — and he added that nowadays people rarely know what it’s like to feel fully rested. In that case, it is likely to take more than a day — think many weeks, and that’s only if you don’t go back to your old ways — to get back to par… which is why we need to take vacations!

These results were published in the August 2010 issue of the journal Sleep.

Just as we don’t expect our bodies to function without adequate nutrition, we can’t expect to feel fully fueled and alert without sufficient sleep, Dr. Edlund told me. The best scenario, of course, is to not allow yourself to become sleep-deprived in the first place — but this is not always possible. Most people require seven or eight hours a night to be at their best the next day. But when that doesn’t happen, we now know that you can get tremendous benefit from snoozing a little longer even for just one morning. It gives your brain time to recover and reboot — you’ll be more focused, productive and energetic as a result.


Matthew Edlund, MD, MOH (masters in occupational health), Center for Circadian Medicine, Sarasota, Florida. Dr. Edlund is author of The Power of Rest: Why Sleep Alone is Not Enough: A 30-Day Plan to Reset Your Body (HarperOne). Visit his Web site at

Pecans Protect Neurological Function

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

Here’s a not-so-nutty idea: Urge your holiday guests to get over the guilt and enjoy a piece of pecan pie as a healthy (albeit occasional) indulgence that can enhance their neurological function!

It’s not such a stretch. New research finds that eating pecans helps strengthen your nervous system, thus helping your brain to function better. Pecans are the tree nuts highest in disease-fighting antioxidants (such as vitamin E), according to the US Department of Agriculture, and they number among the 15 top antioxidant foods overall. Antioxidants shield your body’s cells from oxidative damage and may offer protection against central nervous system diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS or Lou Gehrig’s disease). While it is true that pecans contain significant levels of saturated fats, they also contain protective antioxidants (including proanthocyanidins) that make them helpful to heart and brain health.

The Study

At the Center for Cellular Neurobiology at the University of Massachusetts Lowell, Thomas B. Shea, PhD, director and professor of biological sciences, and his colleagues conducted several lab studies on the effects of pecan-enriched diets in mice. Mice bred to experience age-related neurological decline in motor neuron function (motor neurons are the nerve cells that send signals to the muscles) were divided into three groups. One group was given food that had lots of pecans ground into it… one group got somewhat less pecans… and the third group ate food with no pecans at all.

Dr. Shea and his team tested the motor neuron function in the mice before and after instituting the three diets. They found that…

  • Both groups of pecan-eating mice staved off motor function decline significantly, compared with the group that ate no pecans.
  • The mice who ate the most pecans (0.05% of their diet) fared the best.

These results were published in the June 2010 issue of Current Topics in Nutraceutical Research. Dr. Shea told me that the findings suggest that pecans “may enhance or sustain motor neuron health as we age.”

These findings motivated me to search out a really great recipe for a pecan pie that is healthful while also being delicious. After all, to my way of thinking, Thanksgiving isn’t complete without pecan pie for my dessert… and the recipe I discovered also includes heart-healthy dark chocolate.

Recipe: Dark Chocolate Pecan Pie

This pecan pie recipe comes from Southern cook extraordinaire Paula Deen, and since I’ve invited a friend with celiac disease to Thanksgiving dinner, I plan to make it with a ready-made gluten-free crust.

The Filling:

2 cups pecan halves
3 large eggs, beaten
3 Tablespoons butter, melted
½ cup dark corn syrup
1 cup sugar
2 Tablespoons good-quality bourbon
3 ounces semisweet chocolate, chopped


Preheat the oven to 375°F.
Cover bottom of pie crust with pecan halves.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the eggs and melted butter. Add the corn syrup, sugar, bourbon and the chopped chocolate. Stir until all ingredients are combined. Pour mixture into the pie shell over the pecans and place on a heavy-duty cookie sheet.

Bake for 10 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 350°F, and continue to bake for an additional 25 minutes or until pie is set. Remove from oven, and cool on a wire rack.

Recipe courtesy of Paula Deen.

Thomas B. Shea, PhD, professor of biological sciences, and director, Center for Cellular Neurobiology and Neurodegeneration Research, University of Massachusetts, Lowell.

Disconcerting Dementia News

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

I’m still deeply involved in the time-intensive job of raising my family, so I admit to harboring some wistful dreams of the days and years ahead when I’ll be able to indulge myself with brainy pursuits such as doing crossword puzzles, playing Sudoku and taking classes at the local college just because I want to — all the more so since it’s been thought that these activities help us stay sharp and stave off dementia.
That’s been the conventional wisdom, at least… but new research I’ve just read adds a bizarre twist — it appears that using your brain is protective only to a point. Then it may make matters worse. A new study from Rush University Medical Center in Chicago shows that once dementia symptoms set in and affected people who had been mentally active, the deterioration seemed to occur faster and to be more destructive. Can this really be true?
You can bet I picked up the phone right away to learn all I could about this study from its author, senior neuropsychologist Robert. S. Wilson, PhD. He told me that he and his research team evaluated 1,157 healthy people age 65 and older who did not have any signs of dementia. At the start of the 12-year study, each participant was assigned points (from one to five) based on the quantity and quality of mental activities he/she engaged in regularly. When these folks were checked again about six years later, about half (614) had no cognitive impairment… and, over the next six years, each point that they had earned on their mental activity scale correlated to a reduced rate of cognitive decline by an impressive 52% per year.

But there was a bit of bad news, too: Mentally active participants who did develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease had an average 42% increase (compared with those who weren’t as intellectually active) in their annual rate of decline for each point that they had originally scored on the mental activity scale.
In other words, said Dr. Wilson, exercising mental skills did help people retain their cognitive abilities if — and it’s a big if — they did not develop Alzheimer’s. For people who did, once symptoms were apparent, the decline appeared to be much faster than if they had been living a less stimulating life.

What Does This Mean?
How to make sense of these results? Dr. Wilson believes that the protective effect of increased mental stimulation actually masks the early signs of cognitive decline. When the symptoms finally do become evident, the disease is already far along — more so than among people who showed signs earlier because they had less mental stimulation.
Dr. Wilson told me that his research team is still following the same subjects — those who are still mentally sharp as well as those who now are officially diagnosed with Alzheimer’s — in order to learn more about how long a “cognitive lifestyle” is protective. Since other research has now established that Alzheimer’s starts decades before symptoms actually start to show up, it’s important to learn whether keeping the brain active is a way to delay the onset of disease symptoms even as the disease pathology moves forward, which may be a way to keep people living in a vital, independent state for a longer time.

Robert S. Wilson, PhD, senior neuropsychologist, professor of neurological sciences and psychology, director of the section of cognitive neuroscience, Rush University Medical Center, Chicago.


by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

I know lots of people who complain that they don’t hear as well as they used to — and plenty of others who make similar complaints about their loved ones. When my ears were ringing and I couldn’t hear so well in the days after I took my teenage daughter to a concert, I found myself wondering whether getting older makes us more vulnerable to hearing loss caused by loud noise.

Interestingly, a new study in the American Journal of Epidemiology reported that adults today are actually 31% less likely to suffer hearing loss than the previous generation. This seems to be the result of environmental and not physical causes. Researchers speculate that the reasons relate to workplace trends (fewer people work in factory settings with loud industrial noise, and even those who do are protected by health and safety regulations requiring noise abatement and earplugs) and medical advances (in particular, the fact that antibiotics now treat many illnesses and infections that previously resulted in hearing damage).

But the news wasn’t all good. About 15% of all adults between age 20 and 69 have already suffered some hearing loss specifically from exposure to loud noise, according to the latest statistics from the National Institute of Deafness and Other Communication Disorders.

That figure came as no surprise to Aaron G. Benson, MD, a neurotologist in private practice in Toledo and clinical professor of neurotology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Life is loud, he pointed out, even beyond concerts and (as I’m constantly reminding my daughters) in-ear headphones. Dr. Benson rattled off a bunch of examples of noisy assaults we suffer, including sirens, motorcycles and other traffic sounds, lawn mowers, leaf- and snowblowers, hair dryers and vacuum cleaners.

According to Dr. Benson, single explosive sounds and ongoing ambient noise both can be damaging — how much so relates to both the decibel level and length of exposure. For example, you’ll likely experience some hearing loss after eight hours of exposure at 90 decibels (which is the decibel level of a train whistle or trucks on the highway). As the noise gets louder, the damage happens faster, though genetics are a factor in how much noise exposure you can tolerate without damage.


Dr. Benson explained that loud noise is destructive to the tiny hair cells in your ear that convert sound into electrical signals for the brain. The more of these cells that get destroyed over time, the worse your hearing.

Some suggestions on how to protect yourself by turning down the volume in your life…
• Turn down iPods, Bluetooth receivers and other in-ear listening devices. Dr. Benson suggests finding a quiet spot where you can test the volume range at which you can hear comfortably. Use a permanent marker to identify this particular spot on your device’s controls, and avoid turning the volume up any higher.
• When you listen to music, talk on the phone or watch television, don’t use a headset or earbuds all the time. Varying the way sound comes into your ears helps protect your hearing, so use your speakers some times — at a moderate level.
• Consider using noise-canceling earphones if you know that you’ll be spending time in a loud environment, for instance on an airplane or at a racetrack.
• Buy quieter consumer goods. Check out Noise Free America’s site,
• Studies suggest that antioxidants such as magnesium or vitamins A, C and E, if taken prior to noise trauma, may provide some protection. (See Daily Health News, “Everyday Vitamins May Prevent Common Hearing Loss,” January 1, 2008, for more about this.) Check with your doctor first for information about proper dosage and drug interactions.
As can happen after a random exposure, my hearing returned to normal — for which I am thankful. However, Dr. Benson told me that cumulative damage, the kind that’s done over years of exposure to loud sounds, can’t be reversed. Clearly, it makes sense to do all that you can to protect the hearing you still have.


Aaron G. Benson, MD, clinical adjunct professor, division of neurotology, department of otolaryngology head and neck surgery, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. He is in private practice in Toledo.

Stomach-Churning News on PPI Dangers

by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health

The continuing onslaught of awful health news for people who take antacids is enough to cause heartburn itself — it just goes from bad to worse! A brand-new study has linked the use of proton-pump inhibitor (PPI) medications with increased risk for another heart attack in patients who’ve already had one. That finding follows closely on the heels of other research linking these drugs with a higher risk for intestinal infections in hospital patients and fractures in postmenopausal women. Each of these dangers can be life-threatening — so it seems unnecessarily risky to take a drug for something that can be controlled by making some lifestyle changes.

What makes this especially worrisome is that these new findings are getting tossed onto a heap of others that are being ignored — not only by the folks who are loathe to give up the quick relief that antacids bring after intemperate eating and drinking but also by their doctors, who continue to churn out enough prescriptions for popular PPIs such as esomeprazole (Nexium), lansoprazole (Prevacid), omeprazole (Prilosec) and pantoprazole (Protonix) to make them the third best-selling drug category in this country.

Why So Many Problems?

People are literally asking for trouble. “These antacids continue to be over-requested by patients, who depend on them to control chronic heartburn, and overprescribed by physicians for patients in the hospital and for everyday life to manage digestive disturbances,” said Daily Health News contributing editor Andrew L. Rubman, ND. “As a result, we’re seeing both long- and short-term medical complications.”

Dr. Rubman and I sat down once again to discuss the latest round of risks posed by PPIs. Other than as a short-term solution for serious digestive conditions, Dr. Rubman is vehemently opposed to these drugs and recommends that you explore safer alternatives.

PPIs, which work by suppressing stomach acid, are effective short-term treatments for gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and peptic ulcers. But, said Dr. Rubman, if taken daily for more than three weeks, they impair digestion, harm the liver and suppress immune functions. Even though their dangers have been widely reported, PPIs continue to be prescribed for longer periods of time than is safe and/or for less serious conditions, such as indigestion and heartburn.

Heart Attack Danger

The newest study connecting PPI use with subsequent cardiovascular events in patients who have had a first heart attack comes from Denmark and was published in the September 21, 2010, issue of Annals of Internal Medicine. Following more than 56,000 patients for one year after their first heart attacks, researchers found that taking PPIs raised the likelihood that a patient would have an additional heart event within 30 days of discharge by 30%!

Why? Dr. Rubman explained that PPIs skew nutrient absorption, impede liver function and alter the bacterial balance in the intestines, making the heart more vulnerable to inflammation, arrhythmia and oxygen starvation.

PPIs Make Hospital Patients Sicker

At Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, researchers examined the records of more than 100,000 adults who were admitted to the hospital for three days or more during a recent five-year period. They found that about half were prescribed acid-suppressing medications — and that these were associated with higher incidence of infections caused by the dangerous bacterium C. difficile. The risk was 53% higher in patients taking mild acid-suppressing drugs (known as H2RA drugs — such as Pepcid, Tagamet or Zantac)… and 74% higher in those taking the more powerful ones (Nexium and rabeprazole/Aciphex). This study was published in the May 10, 2010, issue of Archives of Internal Medicine.

The explanation: Doctors routinely administer PPIs to hospital patients whose digestion is impaired by illness, medications or surgery, Dr. Rubman explains. This offers short-term relief of discomfort but also drastically decreases digestive efficiency and removes an important natural barrier against pathogens such as C. difficile. Other research shows that hospital patients taking PPIs are at an increased risk for hospital-acquired pneumonia, with fragile seniors being especially vulnerable.

Fracture Risk

Another study (also in the May 10, 2010, Archives of Internal Medicine) affirms the link between PPIs and broken bones. Following 130,000 postmenopausal women (age 50 to 79) with no history of hip fracture for more than seven years, researchers found that those regularly taking PPIs experienced…

  • 47% increased risk for spine fractures.
  • 26% increased risk for forearm and wrist fractures.
  • 25% increased risk for total factures.

Possible cause: Based on earlier research with similar findings, the authors speculate that suppressing stomach acid over sustained periods may impair the body’s ability to absorb calcium.

Dr. Rubman’s Advice

Don’t mess with your digestive system, warns Dr. Rubman. It is your body’s most important point of interaction with the outside world, and altering its natural function causes a wide range of serious problems, some quite dangerous.

He suggests instead trying to improve digestive function by following these strategies: Avoid hard-to-digest foods such as red meat, fatty or fried items and sugary desserts… eat more fiber-rich whole foods, such as steamed vegetables and ripe fruits… chew food thoroughly… and don’t eat within 60 to 90 minutes of bedtime so that your digestive system is calm at night.

For occasional heartburn or indigestion: Dr. Rubman suggests sipping four ounces of water with one half-teaspoon of baking soda stirred into it — but cautions that even this natural remedy should be used only occasionally.

If your problems persist, see a physician with expertise in digestive issues, such as a licensed naturopathic doctor who can prescribe appropriate digestive enzymes to help your body process food better as part of a comprehensive treatment program. Solving the problem is far better than masking the symptoms.

Andrew L. Rubman, ND, founder and director, Southbury Clinic for Traditional Medicines, Southbury, Connecticut.