Tag Archives: Stanford University

Put some spice into your (longer) life

Do you like spicy food? I do! So I was happy to learn about the mounting evidence that eating spicy food is linked to a longer life.

The New York Times, CNN, and Time magazine recently reported on a Chinese study of nearly half a million people (487,375, to be exact). The mass of data collected in that study showed an association between eating spicy food and a reduced risk of death.

The study, reported in the medical journal BMJ, included Chinese men and women enrolled between 2004 and 2008 and followed for an average of more than seven years. Using self-reported questionnaires, the researchers analyzed the spicy food consumption of people aged 30 to 70 across 10 regions in China, excluding those with cancer, heart disease, and stroke. The researchers controlled for family medical history, age, education, diabetes, smoking, and a host of other variables.

They found that those eating spicy food, mainly food containing chili peppers, once or twice a week had a 10 percent reduced overall risk for death, compared with those eating spicy food less than once a week. Further, they found that consuming spicy food six to seven times a week reduced the risk even more–14 percent.

Spicy food eaters had lower rates of ischemic heart disease, respiratory diseases, and cancers. (Ischemic heart disease, a common cause of death, arises from a reduced blood supply to the heart, usually caused by atherosclerosis.)

Although the researchers drew no conclusions about cause and effect, they pointed out that capsaicin, the main ingredient in chili peppers, had been found in other studies to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

“There is accumulating evidence from mostly experimental research to show the benefit of spices or their active components on human health,” said Lu Qi, an associate professor of nutrition at Harvard’s T. H. Chan School of Public Health and a co-author of the study. But, he added, “we need more evidence, especially from clinical trials, to further verify these findings, and we are looking forward to seeing data from other populations.”

What’s different about spicy foods? The study highlights the benefits of capsaicin, a bioactive ingredient in chili peppers, which has previously been linked to health perks like increased fat-burning.

But most experts emphasize the need for more research. One such expert is Daphne Miller, associate clinical professor at the University of California, San Francisco, and author of “The Jungle Effect: The Healthiest Diets from Around the World, Why They Work and How to Make Them Work for You.”

Miller told CNN that many variables associated with eating spicy food haven’t been addressed in the study. The study itself notes that it lacks information about other dietary and lifestyle habits and how the spicy food was cooked or prepared. “It’s an observational study within a single culture,” she said.

In addition, the researchers note that although chili pepper was the most commonly used spice, the use of other spices tends to increase as the use of chili pepper increases. Consuming these other spices may also result in health benefits.

But Miller said the findings are still plausible, given the fact that spicy foods also have high levels of phenolic content, which are chemicals with nutritional and anti-inflammatory values.

Bio-psychologist John E. Hayes agrees. Hayes, an associate professor of food science and director of the Sensory Evaluation Center at Penn State University, has previously studied spicy food and personality association. According to CNN, he notes that chili intake has an overall protective effect. But why? “Is it a biological mechanism or a behavioral mechanism?”

Eating spicy food might work biologically to increase the basil metabolic rate, says Hayes. But it might also slow food intake, causing a person to eat fewer calories.

Although Lu Qi believes the protective effect associated with spicy foods would translate across cultures, Hayes isn’t sure. When we talk about spicy food, “we can mean vastly different things, with different health implications,” Hayes says. “That spicy food could be…vegetables, like kimchee. Or it could be…barbecued spare ribs.”

“This isn’t an excuse to go out and eat 24 wings and then rationalize it by claiming they are going to make you live longer,” Hayes adds.

Let’s not forget that eating spicy foods also has some risks. Spicy food can create problems for people with incontinence or overactive bladders, according to Kristen Burns, an adult urology nurse-practitioner at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. And some believe that spicy foods can aggravate colds or sinus infections.

Another risk is “heartburn.” Does spicy food trigger heartburn in some people? Yes, but not always. According to Lauren Gerson, a gastroenterologist at the California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco, a lot of her patients with heartburn (more precisely acid reflux disease, or GERD), were told by other doctors to stop eating everything on a list of 10 trigger foods. The list included favorite foods like chocolate and spicy food.

Gerson told Nutrition Action that these patients were “miserable because their heartburn wasn’t much better” even when they gave up all of those foods. Gerson and her then-colleagues at Stanford University screened more than 2,000 studies, looking for evidence that avoiding trigger foods helps curb acid reflux systems. They found that there wasn’t “any data out there that if you stop these foods…, GERD would get any better.”

So when the American College of Gastroenterology updated its treatment guidelines for GERD in 2013, it concluded that there wasn’t enough evidence for doctors to advise cutting out a whole list of foods. Instead, patients are advised to avoid certain foods only if that lessens their symptoms. The key seems to be “individualized trigger avoidance,” allowing many heartburn sufferers to enjoy spicy food, so long as it doesn’t make their symptoms worse.

The bottom line? If you like the taste of spicy food, and it doesn’t trigger any adverse effects (like heartburn or weight-gain from too many calories), you should enthusiastically munch on the spicy foods you love. According to the latest research, you just might prolong your life.

Bon appetit!

You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry

We see anger all around us. And it’s worse than ever. As The New York Times recently noted, rudeness and bad behavior “have grown over the last decades.” The Times focused on rudeness and incivility by “mean bosses” who cause stress in the workplace, but the phenomenon is widespread, appearing almost everywhere.

Along with mean bosses, we’ve all witnessed incidents of “road rage.” These sometimes lead to fatal results. I can understand road rage because I’m susceptible to it myself, but I strive to keep it under control. (I’m usually satisfied by hurling vicious insults at other drivers that they fortunately can’t hear.)

As a pedestrian, I’m often angered by rude and careless drivers who nearly mow me down as I walk through a crosswalk. Fortunately, my rage is usually tempered by my silent riposte, “I’m walkin’ here,” Ratso Rizzo’s enduring phrase.

Other common examples of anger include parents’ frustration with their children’s behavior. You’ve probably seen parents going so far as to hit their children in public, unable to restrain their anger even when others are watching.

Can we deal with anger by seeking revenge? That tactic, unwisely adopted by the two enraged drivers in the Argentinian film “Wild Tales,” may be tempting, but it’s clearly not the answer. Why? Because being angry simply isn’t good for your health.

Although anger can be useful—helping the body prepare to fight or flee from danger–strong anger releases hormones, adrenaline and cortisol, into the bloodstream. These can trigger an increase in heart rate and blood pressure and problems metabolizing sugar (leading to still other problems).

According to the Times article, Robert M. Sapolsky, a Stanford professor and author of “Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers,” argues that when people experience even intermittent stressors like incivility for too long or too often, their immune systems pay the price. Major health problems, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, and ulcers may result.

A host of medical researchers are not at all upset to tell you the results of their studies. “Anger is bad for just about everything we have going on physically,” according to Duke researcher Redford Williams, co-author of “Anger Kills: Seventeen Strategies for Controlling the Hostility That Can Harm Your Health.” Over time, he adds, chronic anger can cause long-term damage to the heart.

For example, new evidence suggests that people increase their risk for a heart attack more than eight times after an extremely angry episode. A study published in March 2015 revealed that patients who’d experienced intense anger had an 8.5 times greater risk of suffering a heart attack in the two hours after an outburst of intense anger than they would normally.

The study, published in the European Heart Journal: Acute Cardiovascular Care, focused on patients in a Sydney, Australia, hospital who’d been “very angry, body tense, maybe fists clenched, ready to burst,” or “enraged, out of control, throwing objects, hurting [themselves] or others.” Although those are instances of extreme anger, not a typical angry episode, the finding is useful nonetheless.

A review of nine other studies, including a combined 6,400 patients, found a higher rate of problems like strokes as well as heart attacks and irregular heartbeat.

According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, most doctors believe smoking and obesity pose greater heart risks than anger does. But someone with risk factors for heart trouble or a history of heart attack or stroke who is “frequently angry” has “a much higher absolute excess risk accumulated over time,” according to Elizabeth Mostofsky at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, who help lead the nine-study review.

As the Journal article noted, some older studies have suggested that anger may be linked to other unfavorable results: increased alcohol consumption, increased smoking, and greater caloric intake. One study also found that high levels of anger were associated with serious sleep disturbances.

How do we deal with all of this anger? Anger-management counselors like Joe Pereira, cited by the Journal, recommend ways to curb hostility. First, avoid assuming others are deliberately trying to harm or annoy you. Also learn to tolerate unfairness, and avoid having rigid rules about how others should behave. “The more rules we have, the more people are going to break them. And that makes us angry,” Pereira says.

Experts also advise taking a timeout when one is gripped by anger. Karina Davidson, director of the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health at Columbia University Medical Center, advises those who are prone to shouting to tell others “I’m very [hotheaded and] say things that don’t help the situation. It would help me if I could have 10 minutes and then maybe we could work together to resolve the situation.”

Lawyers are people who deal with anger all the time. As long ago as ancient Rome, the poet Horace wrote that lawyers are “men who hire out their words and anger.” Today, lawyers not only confront angry clients but also have to manage anger stemming from their opponents and themselves.

An article in the June 2014 issue of California Lawyer noted that lawyers currently face “an epidemic of incivility contaminating…the profession.” The authors, Boston lawyer Russell E. Haddleton and Joseph A. Shrand , M.D. (author of “Outsmarting Anger”), noted that the California Supreme Court had just approved a revised oath of admission requiring that new lawyers commit to conducting themselves “at all times with dignity, courtesy, and integrity.”

Acknowledging that incivility will continue to crop up, the authors maintain that an angry lawyer is an ineffective advocate. They suggest a number of things lawyers can do to stay calm. Tips like these can help all of us.

Among their suggestions: Begin by recognizing the physical signs of anger, and think of ways to change the situation. Next, try to avoid being jealous of a talented adversary. Jealousy can cloud one’s vision and ignite anger. Finally, to defuse anger “in yourself, your opponent, the judge, jurors, or a witness,” they advise lawyers to aim for a calm demeanor that displays empathy, communicates clearly, and above all, shows respect for others.

“Respect” is the key watchword here. The authors argue that it gives lawyers an advantage by allowing them to use reason and common sense instead of rashly reacting to what goes on in a courtroom. Lawyers who reject angry responses and choose a respectful approach are better advocates. This approach can clearly help non-lawyers as well.

In the current Pixar film, “Inside Out,” an 11-year-old girl struggles with her emotions. The emotion of Anger (voiced by Lewis Black) sometimes tries to dominate, but the emotion of Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler) seeks to keep it under control, not letting it take over. This may be the answer for all of us. If we try to find the joy in our lives—the good things that make us happy–we can triumph over anger and all of the dangerous consequences that flow from it.

We don’t have to turn into a large green Hulk every time something angers us. Let’s try instead to emulate the non-angry side of the Hulk.

I plan to do just that. You’ll like me much better that way.

What’ll You Have? A Brewed Awakening in 2014

When a local pub ran an ad touting PBR for the special price of $1, I was puzzled. What was PBR? Peanut butter and raisins? Unlikely.

I turned to my 30-something daughter for help. She immediately knew what it meant: Pabst Blue Ribbon beer.

Was Pabst Blue Ribbon still around? Really?

Growing up in the ’50s, I remember Pabst Blue Ribbon thanks to its incessant TV commercials and their memorable jingle: “What’ll you have? Pabst Blue Ribbon…Pabst Blue Ribbon Beer.” I associated it with a bunch of other blue-collar beers brewed in Milwaukee, and I even have a dim memory of touring a Milwaukee brewery with my family–either Pabst or Blatz—when I was a kid.

It seems that PBR’s sales slumped badly between their peak of 18 million barrels in 1977 and less than one million about 20 years later. But after this two-decade slump, sales began to revive in the early 2000s, largely because of its increasing popularity among “urban hipsters.” Who knew?

My re-encounter with Pabst Blue Ribbon inspired a host of other beer-related memories to emerge from my subconscious.

First, I remember watching my father occasionally drink beer. I once asked to taste it, and when he obliged, I was shocked to find that it tasted awful. Tasting Daddy’s beer is stashed among many treasured memories of my father, who died when I was 12. Among them: His singing “Peg o’ My Heart” or “Let Me Call You Sweetheart” to help me fall asleep. His leaning back on his favorite olive-green upholstered chair, leaving a Brylcreem mark that must have infuriated my scrupulous-housekeeper mother. His impromptu soft-shoe dance across our living room floor when he was in a particularly ebullient mood. His fondness for smoking a pipe–although he usually smoked cigars (probably why I’m a rarity among women; I don’t mind the smell of a cigar).

I didn’t learn to drink beer till my law school years, when I happily joined my male classmates in convivial gatherings over steins of beer. Suddenly I found it palatable. It must have been the testosterone-laden atmosphere that induced me to change my opinion. I’m pretty sure my taste buds hadn’t changed.

One male classmate took me out for a beer in the basement of The Wursthaus, a Harvard Square institution…until it wasn’t. (It closed in 1996.) Before the beer arrived, he told me it would taste like raspberries, and indeed it did. I’ve since learned that it was a German beer called a “Berliner Weisse,” a lightly carbonated white beer infused with raspberry juice. Although I could have drunk much more raspberry-flavored beer, which was vaguely reminiscent of soda pop, for some reason I never did.

After leaving school, I usually preferred a different beverage, but I occasionally quaffed a beer or two on dates. And when I met and married my husband, we often had a beer together, especially with pizza or Mexican food. But even before the PBR slump began around 1977, we chose brands like Michelob, Heineken, and Dos Equis, never Pabst Blue Ribbon.

When my daughters were born, I took up the challenge of feeding them the old-fashioned way, via my breasts. Folklore had it that imbibing beer was a good way to speed things along. Although I may have sipped on a beer or two, I found I didn’t need any help and abandoned the idea pretty fast. Luckily, as it turns out. Medical experts now advise against even a small amount of alcohol for breast-feeding moms.

Thanks to my travels, I’ve sampled unusual beers found in distant corners of the world. In Cardiff, Wales, for example, I tried a local beer called Brains. It tasted just fine, but above all, I loved its slogan: “it’s Brains you want!”

More recently, I’ve encountered a whole new world of beer. When I traveled to Alaska with a beer-loving friend, he introduced me to a hefeweizen in Anchorage, and we shared an Alaskan Amber and an Alaskan White in a small pizza joint in Nome (yes, Nome). On another trip, this time to Denver, we sought out Wynkoop Brewing Company, a brewpub founded in 1988 by Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper and friends, where we sampled deliciously spicy pumpkin beer.

Now my son-in-law has taken up beer-brewing. A techie with a Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Stanford, he brews beer at home, then bottles it with his own labels. It works for him because it combines his interest in science with a complicated recipe that requires a dedicated focus to the task at hand. He finds it a welcome departure from his demanding computer-science work. And, like a chef who prepares fine food using a cookbook like Julia Child’s, he enjoys sharing the result with his family and friends.

I don’t follow the trends in beer-brewing very closely. But almost every day I read about new varieties of beer, from winter IPAs to nitros. All these new varieties had surely shoved aside the old blue-collar beers like PBR. Or so I thought.

But here comes PBR, rearing its foamy head among the new guys.

“What’ll you have?” Whatever you choose, bottoms up!