Medical Insights

Here, find posts from our Kripalu faculty that relate to scientific studies, medical findings, and health research.

Posted on September 20th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Medical Insights

Turning Point: Daniel Siegel

Daniel J. Siegel, MD, is clinical professor of psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and executive director of the Mindsight® Institute. He has published extensively, including Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation, an in-depth exploration of the power of the mind to integrate the brain and promote well-being.

Q Describe what you do in 15 words or less.

A I teach interpersonal neurobiology to empower people to create more integration, kindness, and compassion in their lives and the world.

Q Tell us about a turning point in your life.

A I was working with a family whose relationships with each other were profoundly shaped by a brain injury the mother experienced. The question of how to help this family depended on addressing how mind, brain, and relationships are interconnected, and what makes them so fundamental to well-being. That experience gave birth to a journey to bring all the sciences together into one perspective, one we now call “interpersonal neurobiology,” that offers a definition of the mind, a view of mental health, and a framework that reveals how mind, brain, and relationships are three facets of one reality that shapes our lives.

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Posted on September 15th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Medical Insights

Think… Negative?

It’s not the thoughts that are the problem. It’s what we do with them.

A recent New York Times op-ed took issue with positive thinking. “What if we’re trying too hard to think positive?” asks Oliver Burkeman. According to research, he writes, visualizing a successful outcome, under certain conditions, can make people less likely to achieve it. “Or take affirmations,” he writes, “those cheery slogans intended to lift the user’s mood by repeating them: I am a lovable person! My life is filled with joy! Psychologists at the University of Waterloo concluded that such statements make people with low self-esteem feel worse—not least because telling yourself you’re lovable is liable to provoke the grouchy internal counterargument that, really, you’re not.”

But is this really true? According to the principles of Positive Psychology, focusing on growing happiness, love, success, and strengths through positive thinking is far more effective than trying to overcome anxiety, neuroses, and weakness alone. At the same time, overcoming anxiety and finding happiness needn’t mean denying less desirable emotions, such as fear, anxiety, or sadness. “Negative emotions are fact of life,” says Susan B. Lord, MD, who leads many Kripalu Healthy Living programs. “Instead of thinking about how we can live without them, we should be thinking about how to deal with them.” That is, it’s not negative thinking that‘s the problem—it’s how we choose to react to it. “Sadness is part of life, grief is a part of life, but depression means your sadness has gotten stuck,” she says. “The idea is to be mindful of the kinds of thoughts we have. Some are positive and some are negative. Our lives involve both.”

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Posted on September 11th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Medical Insights

Eating Tips for a Good Night’s Sleep

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) one-quarter of Americans report having occasional sleeplessness, and 10 percent of us struggles with chronic insomnia. In late July, SleepBetter.org released an analysis of the CDC data to help us determine if we are well rested or sleep deprived.

By any measure, challenges to a restful night’s sleep are on the rise, and it’s of concern since sleeping well supports our positive energy, cognitive health, and better moods, as well as our physical health. And most of us have had the experience of how poor sleep can lead to less-than-stellar eating habits. Several recent studies, covered in depth by Michal Breus PhD in the Huffington Post, illustrate the mechanisms by which we are more likely to reach for sweeter, saltier foods when we’re overtired.

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Posted on September 6th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Medical Insights

Declutter Mentally and Physically

How to clear your head—and your life—of all that stuff.

For their book, Life at Home in the Twenty-First Century, a team of researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles visited the homes of 32 typical middle-class, dual-income families in Los Angeles and recorded what they saw. The book was intended to provide, as they wrote, “an unflinching examination of actual homes amid all the joys and messiness of real life.” And messy it was:In the first house they went to, researchers logged more than 2,000 possessions—in the first three rooms alone.

Our well-documented obsession with stuff has spawned a backlash, naturally, including a movement of people who aspire to pare down to no more than 100 items—and utensils and underwear count. Many claim that among reducing the wastefulness associated with over-acquiring, a less cluttered home will lead to a less cluttered mind. But does it really work that way? Not necessarily, says Coby Kozlowski, MA, E-RYT, a professional life coach, inspirational speaker, and yoga teacher at Kripalu. “I don’t think it’s so black and white, though I do think having less stuff creates space in your life that can be supportive to reducing stress,” she says. “Stuff requires maintenance, which can eat up time and energy.”

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Posted on September 3rd, 2012 by in Ayurveda, Medical Insights

Aging Gracefully Through Ayurveda

It’s possible—really!

We’re a nation obsessed with youth. Even if you’re not actively trying to look like you did 10 years ago (or even one year ago), chances are you want to at least feel, and possibly think, younger. Who doesn’t?

“There seems to be a point where people realize that their previously youthful bodies—and minds—are changing, and they want to get back to where they were,” says Hilary Garivaltis, Dean of the Kripalu School of Ayurveda. That’s normal. What isn’t normal—or needn’t be—is the notion that aging has to be filled with inevitable aches and pains. “We shouldn’t expect that we’ll get old and decrepit and that our bodies should hurt,” says Hilary. “We don’t need to suffer inordinately. That’s not necessarily the reality of aging.” Not according to Ayurveda, anyway.

The truth is that our bodies do break down as we get older—that’s fact. As the synovial fluid in the joints starts to wear thin, our bodies become more brittle, causing friction and pain. Bones, joints, and organs are more delicate. In Ayurveda, this also means an excess of vata, the dosha that governs movement in the body. Too much vata can mean dry

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Posted on August 31st, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Kripalu Kitchen, Medical Insights

Breakfast—Not Just for Champions

Mom was right: It really is the most important meal of the day.

For 20 years, researchers at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health followed 5,000 men and women, looking specifically at their breakfast habits: what they ate and when. The results, presented recently at the annual meeting of the American Diabetes Association, found that people who ate breakfast every day were significantly less likely to become obese or develop type 2 diabetes than those who ate breakfast three times a week or less. These findings are significant, if not particularly surprising. Haven’t our mothers been telling us to eat our breakfast for years?

“This study affirms everything nutritionists have been talking about,” says John Bagnulo, PhD, MPH, who teaches nutrition in Kripalu’s Healthy Living programs. “When people eat breakfast, and in particular foods that give them less of what I like to call a ‘blood sugar tsunami,’ they make much better food choices throughout the day.” This includes avoiding foods containing sugar, not overdoing it on caffeine, and practicing portion control. “It’s all related to blood sugar,” says John. “If someone misses breakfast, their blood sugar levels come way down. They’re starving by 10:30 or 11:00, and because they haven’t eaten all morning, they crave foods that have a higher glycemic index,” like muffins, breads, candy, or pasta. Then they crash again by 1:00 pm—and look for yet another sugary pick-me-up. Sound familiar?

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Posted on August 30th, 2012 by in Medical Insights, Yoga

Why Yoga Works

Scientists Offer an Explanation of Why Yoga Increases Well-Being

With the ever-growing amount of scientific studies conducted in the field of yoga research, it’s no surprise that we’re starting to get answers to the question: why, exactly, does yoga work? Research has shown that yoga improves symptoms of a variety of conditions, providing relief from depression and anxiety, diabetes, chronic pain, and even epilepsy. Recently, the National Institutes of Health awarded several large grants to the study of yoga.

One such grant, given to Lorenzo Cohen, PhD, director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, explores the impact of yoga on the health of women with breast cancer. Another grant, awarded to Kripalu-affiliated researcher Sat Bir Khalsa, PhD, assistant professor in the Division of Sleep Medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, supports a study to investigate whether Kripalu Yoga prevents or diminishes high school students’ use of illicit substances.

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Posted on August 25th, 2012 by in Medical Insights, Nutrition

Egg to Differ: In Defense of Eggs

A study recently published in the medical journal Atherosclerosis reported that a diet rich in whole eggs is as artery-clogging as smoking. Researchers surveyed about 1,200 middle-aged male and female patients—all of whom had suffered a stroke or “mini-stroke”—about their egg yolk consumption, smoking, exercise habits, and other lifestyle factors. They concluded that the top 20 percent of egg consumers had a narrowing of the carotid artery that also appeared in two-thirds of the smokers. Of course, the media jumped on the catchiness of being able to call out that “Eggs are Nearly as Bad for Your Arteries as Cigarettes” and “Your Breakfast Eggs Are Going to Kill You,” as the Atlantic and others did.

But what most media reports didn’t point out—or buried after the alarmist headlines—is that the study was incomplete, says John Bagnulo, PhD, MPH, who teaches nutrition in Kripalu Healthy Living programs. “The way that eggs are cooked is a huge factor,” he says. Certain high-temperature cooking methods—including frying and scrambling—oxidize the cholesterol into a substance known asoxysterol, a molecule known to accelerate both heart disease and conditions such as Alzheimer’s and dementia. More, though, he worries about how the study’s information was gathered and presented. “Research like this is not good science,” he says. “I might be able to see the detrimental weight of eating fried or scrambled eggs as comparative to smoking, but even that seems a stretch.”

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Posted on August 16th, 2012 by in Healthy Living, Medical Insights

Get Happy

Can you learn to be an optimist? The answer is yes.

We’re always talking about the mind-body connection: how our emotional and mental state can affect our physical health. Now, a new study in the journal Aging confirms the notion, reporting that having a positive attitude about aging, but also generally, can add years to your life. That is, optimistic people live longer. Of course, optimism is a state of being often linked to genetics—you’re either born an optimist or you’re not—how you’re raised, and your life circumstances. For many who’ve faced certain hardship or personal struggle, it can be difficult to retain a sunny outlook when everything seems to be going wrong. What to do in that case?

“Centenarians often share genetically inherited positive personality traits: They’re easy going, out going, competent, and laugh easily,” says Susan B. Lord, MD, who leads several Kripalu Healthy Living programs. “They also tend to manage and express their feelings more freely than the general population.” These qualities have them—and their parasympathetic nervous system—living in a more relaxed state, which in turn optimizes organ function, slows down aging, and decreases the risk of developing disease. The question is: Can those of us who did not inherit a sunny, extroverted disposition develop this orientation toward life? Can we literally learn optimism?

Yes, says Susan. “Most of us are familiar with trying to change out of fear of getting sick or out of hating how we are now,” she says. “But this rarely works because it increases stress, which exacerbates the situation rather than turning it around.” When we focus on positive states, however, we actually change the brain, creating new neural pathways or habitual patterns of emotional stability, competence, positivity, contentment, and even joy—things that are consistent with longevity and good health outcomes. “Most of us spend entirely too much time wishing things were different, both in our past and our present,” she says. “We focus on negative emotions and memories so that is what we experience and create for ourselves. But neuroscience has shown that to change, we must put our attention on what we want instead of on what we don’t want.”

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Posted on August 10th, 2012 by in Medical Insights, Nutrition

It’s Plant Protein Season

Americans love protein; in fact, most Americans eat twice the amount of protein recommended by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) of the National Institutes of Health. (It recommends about 50 gm of protein per day for the average adult. For reference, a cut of animal protein the size of a deck of cards contains about 21 gm of protein) While the media and food marketing companies suggest that these high levels of protein make us strong and healthy, a growing body of science disagrees, reminding us that when it comes to nutrition, more isn’t necessarily better. While protein is critical for good nutrition, too much can cause problems, such as an acid-base imbalance, which can undermine bone and overall health. The food we eat profoundly impacts this balance.

Our bodies operate best at an overall pH of 7.35. When we eat foods that create acids (typically those that are high in protein and low in minerals), the body needs to buffer the acid in order to maintain its pH. The buffering process taxes the respiratory system and other organs, works the kidneys harder, and can draw calcium out of the body. In addition, research has shown that cancer development and growth is much greater in even slightly acidic conditions.

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