"If you aren't seeing a chiropractor, you must be on drugs."

March 08, 2005 [Volume 6, Issue 6]

Want to Lose Weight? Try Catching Some Zzzzs

Are you struggling to shed some pounds or working hard to maintain your current weight? The answer may be as easy as making some slight adjustments to your sleep patterns. A recent study showed that sleep deprivation may be linked to the hormones responsible for controlling hunger.

Researchers studied 12 healthy men for two consecutive nights in which sleep was limited to four hours and two consecutive nights in which participants were allowed to sleep for 10 hours. Volunteers reported feeling hungrier after sleeping for only four hours compared to sleeping for 10 hours.

Researchers believe the connection is related to leptin and ghrelin, two hormones responsible for regulating appetite. Leptin signals the brain that the body is full, while ghrelin triggers feelings of hunger. Following the four-hour nights, participants showed an 18 percent decrease in leptin and a 28 percent increase in ghrelin. Although the authors acknowledge study limitations, namely the sample size, they do note that "Additional studies should examine the possible role of chronic sleep curtailment as a previously unrecognized risk factor for obesity."

Clearly, a good night's sleep is important whether you're trying to lose weight or simply want to take better care of yourself. Experts suggest no fewer than seven hours a night.

Reference: Spiegel K, Tasali E, Penev P, Van Cauter E. Sleep duration and levels of hormones that influence hunger. Annals of Internal Medicine 2004; 141:846-50.

Soy for a Healthy Heart and Bones

New research from two studies out of Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center show that premenopausal women who maintain diets high in soy could have healthier hearts and bones. Researchers compared total cholesterol levels to high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or good cholesterol levels, in monkeys. In soy-eating monkeys with increased risk for heart disease, cholesterol levels decreased by 48 percent compared to those that did not eat soy. And cholesterol levels decreased by 33 percent in monkeys with a lower risk of heart disease.

But how do these results relate to premenopausal women? "Studies have shown that heart vessel disease, or atherosclerosis, begins in the 30s and 40s in women," said researcher Jay Kaplan, PhD. "From our work in monkeys, we believe that the time to prevent cardiovascular disease in women is before menopause, not after. Soy seems to provide a potent protection in monkeys, in terms of cholesterol levels, which is a good marker for general cardiovascular risk. We presume the benefit would apply to premenopausal women as well."

A second study showed that soy-eating monkeys had increased bone mass, as well. According to researcher Cynthia Lees, DVM, PhD, this "Suggests the possibility that if women consumed soy on a regular basis before menopause, it could benefit their health after menopause.

Try adding a little more soy to your diet. A variety of foods contain soy, including tofu, tempe, and meatless products with soy substitutes. Soy is also available in supplement form.

Reference: Soy could be good for heart/bones of premenopausal women. Newswise. Oct. 1, 2004.

Tai Chi for Health

Tai chi is an ancient practice that combines breathing techniques, meditation and body movements performed in slow-motion. Although first taught as a form of self-defense, tai chi is now practiced by millions of people worldwide as a means of reducing stress, promoting balance and flexibility, and enhancing well-being.

A recent study examined the role tai chi can play in treating heart failure. In the trial, 30 patients with chronic stable heart failure (average age 64) were randomized to receive either "usual care" (consisting of drug therapy and diet/exercise counseling), or usual care plus 12 weeks of tai chi training. Tai chi training consisted of a one-hour tai chi class held twice weekly. To measure changes between groups, the researchers incorporated a variety of tests, including a quality of life questionnaire and an exercise capacity test.

At the end of 12 weeks, patients in the tai chi group had significantly improved quality of life scores compared to the usual care-only group (an average of 25 points higher among tai chi patients). In addition, patients in the tai chi group were able to walk longer distances without difficulty, and had lower levels of B-type natriuretic peptides (an indicator of heart failure) than usual care-only patients. The researchers concluded that tai chi "may be a beneficial adjunctive treatment that enhances quality of life and functional capacity in patients with chronic heart failure who are already receiving standard medical therapy."

Reference: Yeh GY, Wood MJ, Lorell BH, et al. Effects of tai chi mind-body movement therapy on functional status on exercise capacity in patients with chronic heart failure: a randomized controlled trial. American Journal of Medicine Oct. 15, 2004;117(8):541-548.