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

November 29, 2005 [Volume 6, Issue 25]

In this issue of To Your Health:

  • Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects Men and Women Alike
  • Mediterranean Diet Good for the Heart
  • Higher Folate Levels May Protect You From Alzheimer's Disease

Rheumatoid Arthritis Affects Men and Women Alike

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is one of the most common forms of arthritis in the United States, affecting approximately two million Americans. According to the American College of Rheumatology, women are almost three times as likely to suffer from RA as men. While it is well-known that women are at a much higher risk of developing RA, it is unclear as to whether a person's sex determines the severity of the disease.

In this study, a team of scientists compared the records of 133 male rheumatoid arthritis patients with an identical number of female rheumatoid arthritis patients, all of whom had been suffering with the disease for approximately the same length of time (7.4 years). Among the data they collected were the number and type of joints affected, episodes of surgery to treat RA, and scores on a health assessment questionnaire.

Women experienced a condition called sicca syndrome (an inflammation of the glands and other tissues of the body) more than twice as often as men. In addition, tests revealed that 21 percent of the women carried two RA-associated genes, compared to only 11 percent of the men. Aside from these findings, there were no significant differences in the severity of the disease.

While there is no cure for rheumatoid arthritis, your doctor of chiropractic can help manage the pain and stiffness associated with the disease. Your chiropractor can also help create an exercise program that will increase flexibility and improve overall fitness levels.

Gossec L, Baro-Riba J, Bozonnat MC, et al. Influence of sex on disease severity in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. Journal of Rheumatology, August 2005;32:1448-51.

Mediterranean Diet Good for the Heart

The health benefits of the Mediterranean diet (which emphasizes whole grains, large amounts of fruits and vegetables, fish and olive oil, and low amounts of red meat and alcohol) are well-known. Interestingly enough, few studies have documented what happens when relatively healthy people switch their eating patterns to a Mediterranean-style diet. The purpose of this study was to determine what types of benefits healthy people can get from a Mediterranean diet, and to see how it compared to a traditional low-fat diet.

In the study, researchers assigned 212 men and women who were moderately at risk for cardiovascular disease into one of two diet groups. One group switched to eating a Mediterranean diet for three months, while the other group stayed on a low-fat diet (also for three months). The guidelines for the Mediterranean diet were as follows:

  • high levels of nuts, whole-meal bread, cereals, and raw, cooked, fresh or dried fruit, vegetables and legumes;

  • intake of at least seven milligrams of carotenoids each day from fruits and vegetables;

  • consumption of fish four times per week;

  • consumption of red meat only one time per week;

  • intake of 25 grams of fiber per day;

  • a maximum calcium intake of 800 milligrams per day; and

  • a maximum of two glasses of red wine per day for men (one glass per day for women).

Patients in both groups consumed fewer calories than they had on their previous diets, and showed small - but significant - decreases in body mass index over the course of the study. Among people on the Mediterranean diet, total cholesterol levels dropped by an average of 7.5 percent, compared to 4.5 percent among low-fat diet patients. Based on this reduction, the researchers estimated that the overall risk of cardiovascular disease fell 15 percent for Mediterranean diet patients.

If you are considering losing weight or are thinking about going on a diet, the Mediterranean-style diet appears to be a safe, healthy option that provides a wealth of advantages. In addition, ask your doctor of chiropractic about crafting a dietary plan that can provide you with the benefits you're looking for.

Vincent-Baudry S, Defoort C, Gerber M, et al. The Medi-RIVAGE study: reduction of cardiovascular disease risk factors after a 3-month intervention with a Mediterranean-type diet or a low-fat diet. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Nov. 1, 2005;82(5):964-71.

Higher Folate Levels May Protect You From Alzheimer's Disease

Also known as folic acid, folate is a type of B vitamin found in a variety of foods. It is often considered a "brain food" - and with good reason. Previous research has shown that folate can help reduce the risk of certain serious and common birth defects called neural tube defects, which affect the development of the brain and the spinal cord. Whether it can protect against conditions that affect the brain later in life, however, remains uncertain.

In this study, scientists examined the eating habits of 579 elderly people to determine what role folate may play in the development of Alzheimer's disease. Each person was asked to complete a seven-day "dietary diary" that tracked the intake of several vitamins and minerals, including folate. Patients submitted similar diaries approximately every two years, and were tracked an average of 9.3 years.

After adjusting for age, caloric intake and other factors, the researchers found that people who consumed the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) or greater of folate were 59 percent less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's than those who consumed less than the recommended dietary allowance. They suggested that folate may reduce the risk of Alzheimer's by lowering levels of homocysteine, an amino acid that is found in the blood and can cause severe damage to nerve cells.

How can you increase your intake of folate? Simple - eat large amounts of fortified cereals and breads, beans, green vegetables (such as spinach and asparagus), and other foods that are naturally high in folate. In addition, talk to your doctor of chiropractic about foods and supplements that have high folate levels. Your brain will thank you later!

Corrada MM, Kawas CH, Hallfrisch J, et al. Reduced risk of Alzheimer's disease with high folate intake: The Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging. Alzheimer's & Dementia, July 2005;1(1):11-18.