Category Archives: obesity

Dr. Oz on the Real Threat to The Sopranos

Dr. Oz on the Real Threat to The Sopranos

James Gandolfini’s death is a reminder that everyone is vulnerable to heart disease

When I heard of actor James Gandolfini‘s untimely passing after a heart attack, I was reminded of a recurring theme in the television series he made so memorable. His tough mafia don character valued family above all, but was incessantly anxious about his ability to protect them and keep them well. Tony Soprano did keep his family safe—in his decidedly unconventional fashion. And Gandolfini, a husband and a father of two, looked after his own as well — until he left them altogether, claimed by a heart attack at just 51.

When it comes to our health, we are all like the much-missed Gandolfini. We will do anything for the people closest to us — anything, that is, except take the steps we need to maintain our health and allow us to spend as many years as possible loving and playing with the people we treasure most.

If even tough guys like Tony Soprano need to get checked out, the rest of us do too — whether we think we’re in good shape or not, and whether we’ve ever had chest pains or not, since plenty of people are pain free until the very moment their heart gives in. Some have argued that Gandolfini’s past substance abuse contributed to his premature death. Perhaps it did. But we shouldn’t ignore the more obvious risk factor: at just over six feet tall and around 272 lbs. (123 kg), he was an outsized personality in a dangerously outsized body. In a country that is simultaneously obsessed with bodily perfection, even as two-thirds of us are overweight or obese, weight has become an exceedingly fraught topic, and in the first hours after Gandolfini’s death, some commentators sought to sidestep the topic, wondering how a vigorous man with no known health complaints could have suddenly succumbed. But if we saw an anorexic teenager we wouldn’t pretend she wasn’t heading for serious health trouble, so why should we be so coy at the other end of the weight spectrum?

A key role in anyone’s weight gain may be stress—something that can be a defining feature of a celebrity’s day. Stress hormones such as cortisol can hijack our normal appetite sensors, pushing us to eat even when we are not hungry. This is particularly dangerous when the excess fat that results from overeating is belly fat, which squeezes the kidneys. Since it’s the kidneys that, in turn, regulate blood pressure, it’s no surprise that overweight people are at such high risk of hypertension, the leading cause of heart attack and stroke. Belly fat also harms the liver, prompting it to release more cholesterol. In many people, those changes can block the ability of insulin to break down blood sugar, contributing to diabetes, which wears away at our major arteries and leads to atherosclerosis, a condition often discovered after lethal heart attacks. Half of all victims die during their first heart attack because they do not know their risk factors or do not recognize the subtle warning signs that make their hearts vulnerable.

This awareness can be a life saver, and two of Gandolfini’s own Sopranos cast mates are living proof. Vincent Pastore and Frank Vincent both had heart artery blockages that resembled the type that may have killed Gandolfino. They both noted increasing shortness of breath, and although they did not realize at the time they were at risk of heart disease, they were brave and wise enough to seek help for their symptoms; each had life-saving surgery at my center during the run of The Sopranos. Shortness of breath is a telltale sign of cardiovascular trouble, since it results when the heart cannot even pump the blood out of the lungs, essentially meaning we are drowning from lack of oxygen. But most of us ignore this symptom and many people have no symptoms at all—until it’s too late. And that is why we suffer the loss of so many wonderful people like James Gandolfini.

It wasn’t easy for Pastore and Vincent to shed their afraid-of-nothing mobster characters and visit the doctor. In fact, when Pastore first met my colleague Michael Argenziano, he introduced himself by his Soprano’s nick name of “Big Pussy.” Dr. Argenziano had never seen the show and was caught off guard. Don’t worry, he assured him, we’re all afraid in situations like these. But showing up for treatment in the first place was a profound act of courage—courage that is fortified by our deep desire to protect our families.

Pastore and Vincent both agreed to speak openly about their cases because they hope their stories will serve as an important example. For those willing to follow it, here is my gauntlet for the brave:

First, if your belly looks like James Gandolfini’s, you need a check up. I am specifically asking you to measure your waist size at the belly button and honestly report if this number is more than half your height. Forget using your current belt size as a tool, since most men slip it below the belly fat pad.

Second, ensure that your baseline risk factors like hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol are under control. These are often corrected with lifestyle alone.

Third, shortness of breath from walking up two flights of stairs or any sudden change at all in your breath or stamina is worrisome. Think of it as the equivalent of having chest pain.

Fourth, what have you eaten in the last 24 hours? Fatty and fried foods cause spasms in blood vessels, which limits blood flow for six hours, at which point we often have another fatty meal. Most heart attacks occur on Monday mornings because of our dietary transgressions over the weekend and the stress of the upcoming work week. What you eat and do today will effect the chance of a heart attack tomorrow.

We’ll never know what wonderful work James Gandolfini would have done if he had had a full measure of years. We’ll never know either the things he would have taught his young daughter, who will have her first birthday in October. We do know the steps that might have helped him live to have all those experiences, and they’re the same things that can help protect us—and our families—too.

10-Year-Old ‘Workout Kid’ Has Grade Schoolers Sweating And Football Coaches Drooling | ThePostGame

C.J. Senter may or may not be the next Tony Horton or the next Barry Sanders, but he is definitely the next 10-year-old to watch.
Granted, when most people hear “child prodigy,” they rightfully raise an eyebrow and wonder who is pulling the strings. Add a workout DVD by a fourth-grader with sculpted muscles to the mix and “cute” can turn to “concerning.” But it turns out the story behind “C.J. The Workout Kid” is a lot more inspiring than insidious.
C.J. started working out five years ago when his football coach told him and his teammates to go home over a weekend and get some exercise. He did some push-ups and sit-ups and loved it. Not too long after, he saw a P90X infomercial and loved that too. He’s been working out ever since. C.J. does his own routines three times a week, after school and homework, and he’s given new names to some old and boring moves, like the burpee, which involves a squat, push-up, and jump. C.J. calls that one the “shredder.” He even teaches a class of (mostly older) kids at the gym near where he lives in Locust Grove, Ga.
“It feels great,” C.J. says by phone from his Georgia home. “I love staying fit and healthy.”
But wait a minute. Research shows kids shouldn’t be touching weights until at least age 15.
“I don’t use weights,” C.J. says.
Not even bench press?
“I don’t bench press,” he says. “It’s not good for kids.”
Surely he’s on some insane diet, right? His dad feeds him wheat grass and cow brain, perhaps?
“I’m not on a diet,” C.J. says. “I eat everything.”
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Disbelieving? So is Carlos Senter — C.J.’s dad. Carlos has spent most of his son’s life in shock, ever since C.J. somehow climbed out of his crib — at seven months old.
“It was two, three o’clock in the morning,” Carlos says, “and boom! My wife would go look in his room and here he comes, crawling out. He would go into the refrigerator, too.”
Carlos can’t quite figure out how his son got to be so fit. He says his relatives put on muscle easily, but not this easily. C.J. has an older brother and a younger sister who don’t really love sports as much. And Dad isn’t exactly chiseled like Terrell Owens. In fact, he admits C.J.’s work ethic has shamed him and his wife into getting into better shape.
“He doesn’t really eat candy,” Carlos says. “I have no idea why.”
And for that matter, Carlos has no idea why his son doesn’t have an attitude. “This kid will score a touchdown, take the football to the ref and act like nothing ever happened,” Carlos says. “If it was me, well, I probably would be a little different.”
But as much as the “Workout Kid” routine is working — C.J.’s DVDs are in so much demand that his dad hired a PR rep — Carlos says he gives most of the DVDs away for free and the primary objective is to help kids get off the couch.
C.J.’s primary objective has always been the same thing: make it to the NFL. He’s a running back and safety, modeling his game after another C.J. — Titans speed demon Chris Johnson.
C.J.’s already been named MVP for the state of Georgia as an 8-and-under, and last year he played in the 10-and-under group as a 9-year-old. Carlos says that the team run by former NFL running back Jamal Lewis expressed interest in having C.J. commute to Atlanta to join up, but the drive was simply too far.
High school coaches are already aware of C.J., but Carlos, who runs a local barber shop, insists on not looking too far ahead.
“As long as he’s happy,” Carlos says, “I’m happy.”
C.J. does seem happy, even though he’s a little bit tired of when kids come up to him at school and ask, “Are those your real muscles?”
The next generation of Atlanta prep football players is about to find out


Risk factors for obesity

Here are some of the things that make it more likely that you’ll get obese. It’s probably a combination of these that lead to obesity in most people. 1 2
Your parents and your genes

You’re at risk of obesity if one or both of your parents is overweight or obese. This might be because you share the same genes as your parents. Or it could be because family members tend to eat the same things and have a similar lifestyle. 3

The ob gene

Genes are in every cell in your body. They tell cells how to grow and what to do. The ob genetells the cells in your body that store fat to make a chemical called leptin. Leptin tells the brain how hungry or how full you feel. It also helps your body burn the food you eat to keep you warm.

Researchers think that some people who are obese might have a faulty ob gene. So these people don’t make enough leptin. This makes it harder for them to control how much they eat because they don’t sense when they feel hungry or full. This makes them more likely to be obese. 4
But this problem is rare. Most people with obesity don’t have this problem.
Comfort eating

You might eat too much as a way of dealing with painful or difficult emotions. Perhaps you eat when you feel unhappy or bored, even when you don’t feel hungry. This is often called comfort eating. It can be hard to break this habit.

You might also eat too much if you have a mental health condition, such as depression oranxiety disorder, or if you feel bad about yourself (have low self-esteem).
Other risk factors

Many things make it more likely that you’ll gain too much weight. If you’re overweight, there’s a risk you might get obese.

  • Your sex: Women are slightly more likely to be overweight than men are.
  • Your ethnic group: Women who are Mexican American or African-American are particularly at risk.
  • Age: Men and women are most likely to gain weight between the ages of 20 and 40.
  • Menopause: The changes in levels of hormones during menopause can make it easier to gain weight.
  • Drinking too much alcohol: Alcoholic beverages are high in calories.
  • Quitting smoking: Quitting smoking is good for your health, but you might gain weight afterward.
  • Being married: Married people are more likely to be overweight than those who stay single.
  • Having children: Women are likely to gain about 2 pounds each time they have a baby.
  • Poor education: People who do less well at school are more likely to get obese later in life.
Sources for the information on this page:

  1. Kopelman PG.Obesity as a medical problem.Nature. 2000; 404: 635-643.
  2. Hughes D, McGuire A.A review of the economic analysis of obesity.British Medical Bulletin. 1997; 53: 253-263.
  3. Flier JS, Foster DW.Eating disorders: obesity, anorexia nervosa, and bulimia nervosa.In: Wilson JD, Foster DW, Kronenberg HM, et al (editors). Williams textbook of endocrinology. 9th edition. WB Saunders, Philadelphia, U.S.A.; 1998.
  4. Flier JS.Obesity.In: Braunwald E, Hauser SL, Fauci AS, et al (editors). Harrison’s principles of internal medicine. 15th edition. McGraw Hill, New York, U.S.A.; 2001.


What Soft Drinks are Doing to Your Body

By Dr. Maoshing Ni – Posted on Fri, Oct 30, 2009, 12:29 pm PDT

Soda, pop, cola, soft drink — whatever you call it, it is one of the worst beverages that you could be drinking for your health. As the debate for whether to put a tax on the sale of soft drinks continues, you should know how they affect your body so that you can make an informed choice on your own.

Soft drinks are hard on your health
Soft drinks contain little to no vitamins or other essential nutrients. However, it is what they do contain that is the problem: caffeine, carbonation, simple sugars — or worse, sugar substitutes — and often food additives such as artificial coloring, flavoring, and preservatives.

A lot of research has found that consumption of soft drinks in high quantity, especially by children, is responsible for many health problems that include tooth decay, nutritional depletion, obesity, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease.

Why the sugar in soft drinks isn’t so sweet
Most soft drinks contain a high amount of simple sugars. The USDA recommendation of sugar consumption for a 2,000-calorie diet is a daily allotment of 10 teaspoons of added sugars. Many soft drinks contain more than this amount!

Just why is too much sugar so unhealthy? Well, to start, let’s talk about what happens to you as sugar enters your body. When you drink sodas that are packed with simple sugars, the pancreas is called upon to produce and release insulin, a hormone that empties the sugar in your blood stream into all the tissues and cells for usage. The result of overindulging in simple sugar is raised insulin levels. Raised blood insulin levels beyond the norm can lead to depression of the immune system, which in turn weakens your ability to fight disease.

Something else to consider is that most of the excess sugar ends up being stored as fat in your body, which results in weight gain and elevates risk for heart disease and cancer. One study found that when subjects were given refined sugar, their white blood cell count decreased significantly for several hours afterwards. Another study discovered that rats fed a high-sugar diet had a substantially elevated rate of breast cancer when compared to rats on a regular diet.

The health effects of diet soda
You may come to the conclusion that diet or sugar-free soda is a better choice. However, one study discovered that drinking one or more soft drinks a day — and it didn’t matter whether it was diet or regular — led to a 30% greater chance of weight gain around the belly.

Diet soda is filled with artificial sweeteners such as aspartame, sucralose, or saccharin. These artificial sweeteners pose a threat to your health. Saccharin, for instance, has been found to be carcinogenic, and studies have found that it produced bladder cancer in rats.

Aspartame, commonly known as nutrasweet, is a chemical that stimulates the brain to think the food is sweet. It breaks down into acpartic acid, phenylalanine, and methanol at a temperature of 86 degrees. (Remember, your stomach is somewhere around 98 degrees.) An article put out by the University of Texas found that aspartame has been linked to obesity. The process of stimulating the brain causes more cravings for sweets and leads to carbohydrate loading.

Carbonation depletes calcium
Beverages with bubbles contain phosphoric acid, which can severely deplete the blood calcium levels; calcium is a key component of the bone matrix. With less concentration of calcium over a long time, it can lower deposition rates so that bone mass and density suffer. This means that drinking sodas and carbonated water increases your risk of osteoporosis.

Add in the caffeine usually present in soft drinks, and you are in for even more trouble. Caffeine can deplete the body’s calcium, in addition to stimulating your central nervous system and contributing to stress, a racing mind, and insomnia.

Skip the soda and go for:

• Fresh water

Water is a vital beverage for good health. Each and every cell needs water to perform its essential functions. Since studies show that tap water is filled with contaminants, antibiotics, and a number of other unhealthy substances, consider investing in a quality carbon-based filter for your tap water. To find out more about a high-performance filtration system, click here.

On the go? Try using a stainless steel thermos or glass bottle, filled with filtered water. Enhance the flavor of your water with a refreshing infusion of basil, mint leaves, and a drop of honey.

• Fruit Juice
If you are a juice drinker, try watering down your juice to cut back on the sugar content. Buy a jar of organic 100% juice, especially cranberry, acai, pomegranate, and then dilute three parts filtered water to one part juice. You will get a subtle sweet taste and the benefit of antioxidants. After a couple of weeks, you will no longer miss the sweetness of sugary concentrated juices.

• Tea
Tea gently lifts your energy and has numerous health benefits. Black, green, white, and oolong teas all contain antioxidant polyphenols. In fact, tea ranks as high or higher than many fruits and vegetables on the ORAC scale, the score that measures antioxidant potential of plant-based foods.

Herbal tea does not have the same antioxidant properties, though it is still a great beverage choice with other health benefits, such as inducing calming and relaxing effects.

If tea doesn’t satisfy your sweet tooth, try adding cinnamon or a little honey, which has important health benefits that refined sugar lacks. For a selection of healthy teas that promote total body wellness, click here. Drink up!

I hope you find the ways and means to avoid soft drinks. I invite you to visit often and share your own personal health and longevity tips with me.

May you live long, live strong, and live happy!

–Dr. Mao

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