Cholesterol medications to become more accessible, but doctor says eat greens instead

(Photo/Getty Images)

(Photo/Getty Images)

New guidelines released this week for cholesterol-lowering medicines could mean many more people will be prescribed the statin medicines given to a quarter of Americans over 40.

Those guidelines, released this week by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, also mean a change in the decades-old practice of patients on statins no longer needing to lower their cholesterol levels to specific numerical targets.

The changes, based on a four-year study, could particularly affect Latinos who have high cholesterol at significantly higher rates _ 14.5 percent compared to 13.4 percent of all other Americans.

RELATED: Latinos raising awareness on how to keep Hispanic hearts healthy; offer tips

“Right now we don’t have a number that tells people this is what your cholesterol needs to be, according to the new guidelines,” says Dr. Sara Caceres, a family medicine physician who works with Kaiser Permanente to address the specific needs of the Hispanic community.

According to the old guidelines, Caceres says the LDL, or “bad cholesterol,” for someone young and healthy was supposed to be less than 160 and preferably less than 130. For somebody that has risk factors for heart disease, it had to be less than 100.

“The issue with that is that there is no significant evidence as to why those numbers were chosen,” says Caceres. “The evidence showed that the lower the cholesterol, the better. The key is to not get hung up on a number.”

Caceres explains statins _ medications that decrease the production of cholesterol in the liver _ can have a variety of potential side effects, including muscle pain and liver inflammation.

“This is not a mandate, these are guidelines and it’s a decision between you and your doctor,” says Caceres about whether or not taking statins are right for you. “Get the information from the right sources, and you can make your decision.”

The first thing patients should try, she says, is to improve their diet and exercise.

“I’ve seen it work much better than any medication,” says Caceres. “We know for a fact that works the best.”

She explains that statins act on the liver where we produce cholesterol. Our bodies make cholesterol, and we also eat cholesterol in foods, like meat.

“Statins don’t do anything to the cholesterol that we eat,” she says. “If you change the way you eat to a plant-based diet, there will be no need to take the medication … The majority of people that have high cholesterol, it’s not genetics, it’s their lifestyle. It’s up to the patient to take care of themselves.”

RELATED: Farm policies should support growing more fruits and vegetables, says study

She’s seen the proof happen in front of her eyes.

“I had a patient whose total cholesterol was 330, and she did a vegan challenge for 21 days, and this lady went from 330 to 175 with no medicine in three weeks _ that shows how powerful diet is,” says Caceres. “There is significant evidence mounting that that’s the way our bodies need to eat.”

It’s hard, she admits, to change one’s lifestyle, but if one is willing to exercise 150 minutes a week (and it can be broken down to 30 minutes, five times a week or 10 minutes every morning, afternoon and evening) _ and eat a whole grain, plant-based diet, it can make all the difference.

“The less meat the better, because plants don’t have cholesterol,” says the doctor, originally from Puerto Rico, who understands it’s especially hard for Latinos to change their highly meat-based diets strongly rooted in their culture. “The problem you see in Latinos is lack of information. There are certainly disparities because of that … it’s not that Latinos don’t care about their health, a lot of times its lack of education and know how. Risks start to decrease with more education.”

Originally published on

Farm policies should support growing more fruits and vegetables, says study

(Shoppers buy vegetables at a local Farmers Market in Annandale, Virginia, August 8, 2013. Photo: AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards/Getty Images )

(Shoppers buy vegetables at a local Farmers Market in Annandale, Virginia, August 8, 2013. Photo: AFP Photo/Paul J. Richards/Getty Images )

The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) recently released a report stating that eating right not only makes sense for our health but for our pockets. It found that if Americans ate the full two cups of fruit and 2.5 cups of vegetables recommended by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), we could prevent 127,261 such deaths each year from cardiovascular diseases and save $17 billion in medical costs. The economic value of the lives saved from cardiovascular diseases is $11 trillion.

Dr. Ricardo Salvador, the senior scientist and director of the Food & Environment Program at UCS says although this news seems like great news, there is a huge problem that needs to be addressed first.

“We need to invest in crops that the USDA guidelines tell us we should eat more of — fruits and vegetables,” says Dr. Salvador.


Currently, he says the USDA and current farm policies offer few incentives to grow fruits and vegetables – discouraging the production of the very foods federal dietary guidelines recommend. Instead, these policies subsidize “commodity crops” such as corn and soybeans, which are used as feed for livestock and for processed food ingredients — some of it referred to as “junk food.”

“We pay once to a program that makes us sick, and then pay again to cure our diseases,” says Dr. Salvador, explaining these policies require taxpayers to pay for subsidizing commodity crops that become ingredients in unhealthy foods and again through tax dollars that fund Medicare and Medicaid to treat these costly diseases.

He says that these subsidies were meant in good will — to guarantee stable market prices for farmers — but since they these policies were put into place in the 1930’s, they need to be updated.

Although the USDA did not respond for a comment, Dr. Salvador says they do have a lot of programs in place we can benefit from, like “Know Your Farmer Know Your Food” and “My Plate,” which encourage Americans to eat more fresh fruits and vegetables.

“We’re just advocating for the USDA to be more consistent with their own recommendations,” says Dr. Salvador, urging the public to write to Congress to let them know taxpayers want greater access to a healthier food supply and to patronize local farmers markets. “An individual can make a difference, but policy will make the greatest impact.”


RELATED: The use of GMOs in our food supply – a look at the debate

Originally published on

The use of GMOs in our food supply – a look at the debate

People hold signs during a demonstration against agribusiness giant Monsanto and genetically modified organisms (GMO) in front of the White House in Washington on May 25, 2013. (Photo/NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

People hold signs during a demonstration against agribusiness giant Monsanto and genetically modified organisms (GMO) in front of the White House in Washington on May 25, 2013. (Photo/NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

In the past two months alone, there have been international marches against Monsanto, which produces genetically modified seeds, in more than 400 cities, and the company has been named in several lawsuitsOccupy Monsanto is also gaining momentum for a large protest on September 17. On the other hand, others defend genetically modified crops as an answer to providing food for the world’s growing population.

NBC Latino decided to talk to scientists on both sides of the debate about biotech agriculture and the controversial genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) it produces.

“There have been lots of protests against Monsanto, because they sell their seed and want to make sure growers don’t use their own seed for a year,” says Dr. Juan Luis Jurat-Fuentes, a researcher at the Institute of Agriculture at the University of Tennessee who has been working on developing new types of transgenic crops since 1995. “Monsanto is just a company that has spent millions of dollars in research — I don’t think it’s wrong.”

After spending years studying how insects respond to insecticides and transgenic crops, he says he hasn’t seen any negative effects.

“The only negative thing I’ve seen is bugs that develop resistance to these transgenic plants,” he says. “The second thing that can happen is eliminating pests from the field opens up other pests to take their place.”

Currently, he says about 70 percent of corn in the U.S. and 80 percent of cotton is made in the transgenic variety.

Dr. Cecilia Chi-Ham is the director of science and technology at PIPRA — an organization started by the Rockefeller Foundation to make sure the latest technologies reach farmers in developing countries. The researcher agrees with Dr. Jurat-Fuentes that there is nothing dangerous about companies like Monsanto.

“I develop genetically modified crops and research the impact of genetically modified seeds on small farmers,” says Dr. Chi-Ham. “One our biggest challenges is that the world population is growing and we need to produce the same amount of food as before…that’s when technology like GM can be so important.”

She says many organizations such as, The Pontifical Academy of Science (the Vatican) and theAmerican Medical Association have also reached the conclusion that there is no harm in biotechnology. Instead, she feels it has only contributed to improving agriculture and health.

“There are many drugs that are made by using GM organisms — medications like for diabetes, for example,” says Dr. Chi-Ham. “Before, insulin was extracted from the pancreas of cows or pigs, which could cause some problems.”

Other researchers don’t agree and feel that GMOs pose health concerns as well as threaten the rights of small farmers.

Dr. Ignacio Chapela, a researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, has been an outspoken critic of UC Berkeley’s ties to the biotechnology industry for more than a decade. He’s also appeared in the documentaries “The World According to Monsanto” and “The Future of Food.”

Dr. Chapela pointed to studies showing that Bt toxins found in Monsanto crops damage red blood cells in humans, not only insects, and Dr. Chapela has been talking about the dangers of GM corn for years.

“For example, the corn produc[es] a toxin that kills insects [and] has serious consequences because it’s leaking that insecticide into the environment…through the roots,” said Dr. Chapela in a video. “A lot of that Bt toxin goes into the soil.”

Chapela also says GM seeds lead to crops becoming homogeneous, causing the loss of the diversity we need and require for the future survival of the crop.

“It’s not an exaggeration to say that it’s really world food sustainability that’s at stake,” said Dr. Chapela.

Dr. Ricardo Salvador, director of the food and environment program at the Union of Concerned Scientists, is also concerned about the monocrops being developed by biotech companies such as Monsanto.

“Through genetic modification, human beings have taken out lots of the characteristics of corn, which are not for human consumption,” says Dr. Salvador. “There’s a lot of people that argue that’s why we are developing huge food allergies and dietary diseases like Crohn’s disease.”

He explains that by changing the DNA of organisms, it’s harder to research the results. The assumption now, he says, is that GM seeds are safe unless there is evidence to the contrary.

“There is effectively no formal approval process for transgenic food crops…We need to produce more of the right stuff and less of the wrong stuff,” says Dr. Salvador, explaining we need healthier fruits and vegetables and less meat and grain — what is being produced now. “We need to do more research on that.”

He also says we need to take a closer look at where the GM products are really going.

“They are not going into the food supply or going to the hungry of the world, but to produce biofuel, fatten livestock, and to produce the raw ingredients for junk food,” says Dr. Salvador. “The market that is buying meat and biofuel is the wealthy of the world.”

As the use of GMOs increase, the debate continues between both sides of the issue.

Originally published on

10 tips for an emotionally healthy new year

Wellness expert/personal trainer/nutrition coach, Josette Puig, giving a group fitness class. (Courtesy Josette Puig)

Wellness expert/personal trainer/nutrition coach, Josette Puig, giving a group fitness class. (Courtesy Josette Puig)

It’s a brand new year, and you are anxious to start 2013 with vigor, but there’s a small problem –you’re feeling sluggish after about a month straight of holiday parties, drinking, and not eating right.

Not to worry; here comes wellness expert and author of “Frumpy to Fabulous: One Change a Week to a Healthier You,” Josette Puig, to the rescue. She says emotional health and energy are intrinsically tied to your overall health, as well as what you eat.

“People are so overwhelmed with so many diets, they don’t realize processed food is making them ill,” says Puig, whose own doctor gave her antidepressants before she learned it was processed foods and sugar which were making her feel unstable.

What inspired Puig to write her book was the frustration of seeing others not know how to eat as well — depriving themselves entirely of carbohydrates and meat. She recommends doing one change a week to improve your physical and emotional health.

Here are her 10 tips to an emotionally healthy year:

1. The most important thing to do first is detox. — Cut out sugar, processed foods and alcohol from your diet for a good month, at least. They are depressants, physically and mentally; they suppress your immune system. Puig recommends Stevia if you need a sweetener, as it’s natural and it’s not going to harbor any sort of side effects like other sweeteners do. Certainly, if you can keep this up as a lifestyle, even better.

2. Start your day with a motivational quote. — Whether you stick them on your nightstand or your Facebook wall, it triggers something and changes your frame of mind. Puig says that’s one of the biggest things that have helped her, especially in becoming a motivator for others. You can subscribe to receive them daily in your e-mail, or even download a free app for your smartphone.

3. Exercise — even if for as little as 10 minutes. — It releases endorphins, and they make you happy. Ideally, it is great to do first thing in the morning to kick start your day, but get it in whenever you can get it in. Even if you turn on your radio while making dinner, that’s better than not doing anything at all. If you enjoy running, swimming — whatever you enjoy doing, that’s what you should do in order to keep it up.

4. Eat breakfast within 30 minutes of waking up. — It can be something as simple as wheat toast with peanut butter. This will set your energy and pace for the day — not just physical, but emotional energy, too. If you start your day by skipping breakfast, all you are doing is slowing down your metabolism and your emotional energy, as well. If you are not hungry, that’s a huge sign that your metabolism has shut down and not working properly. Puig says it took her four months to get my metabolism working properly like a well-oiled machine. She says if you skip breakfast for long enough, you’re going to start storing fat in places you used to not store fat — this is a red flag.

5. Increase your Omega-3 intake. — This can be found in walnuts, avocados, olive oil and fish oils. Omega-3 helps with the brain, metabolism and helps you lose weight. Puig highly suggests fish oils before bed, as they will help you sleep and feel better. They also help people with depression, as they improve emotional energy.

6. Say “yes” to good carbs. — Make sure you have complex carbohydrates at breakfast, lunch and dinner. This includes, sweet potatoes, brown rice, oatmeal, whole wheat bread – and then fit in your snacks with omega-3s in between. You want to stagger it to keep your energy stable all day long. This is better than having coffee and a doughnut for a midday snack, which will give you a sugar high and then crash. Puig maintains great energy the entire day by eating apple slices with natural almond butter, or avocado and sliced turkey roll-ups. As a national fitness competitor, she says she eats six to seven times a day — even Greek yogurt and an ounce of crushed walnuts and honey before bed — which helps her sleep better and helps keep her metabolism up.

7. Drink a lot of water. — The key is drinking at least half of your body weight in ounces of water. If you weigh 150 pounds, you need to be consuming 75 ounces of water. And drink more, if you are trying to lose weight. When people are tired, they think, ‘Let me eat a candy bar,’ but sometimes all they need is water. For every ounce of caffeinated beverage, you are taking away an ounce of water. It’s also great for your skin and relieves headaches.

8. Get rid of the deadweight friends. — Negative people can drag you down emotionally and be very draining. Determine who is anchoring you down, and your real friends pushing you forward. You have to take care of you first. Puig says she has had a better life after doing this and feels she’s setting an example to her four children. She says to surround yourself with positive people, because in this day and age no one is looking out for you but you.

9. Sleep. — So many people aren’t getting enough sleep and that affects their emotional well-being. Not many people know how to turn off the light and roll over anymore, causing them to burn out. Start turning the television off and putting your phone away an hour before bed. Puig says she has noticed her children unwind much better after doing this. She says it’s just a habit that most people have lost in this era of technology. Find something else to do to unwind like reading, meditating, or chatting with your spouse. Have some sort of routine to re-learn how to turn off the light and go to sleep.

10. Set short-term goals. — These help with emotional well-being. Puig says she lost 40 pounds in 2004, by setting short-term goals. She says making one change a week, such as doing pushups on her toes instead of her knees, helped her keep pushing herself. Two years later, she was in a fitness competition. For every day she works out, Puig also puts a dollar in a jar. With the money she saved at the end of the year, she was able to take herself on a cruise for her 40th birthday. It’s just a little thing to keep you going.

Originally published on