Dr Gigi Chow

Archive for April, 2013|Monthly archive page

Study Links Autism With Antidepressant Use During Pregnancy

In Hormonal Health, Stay Healthy on April 23, 2013 at 12:47 am

From the New York Times http://parenting.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/22/study-links-autism-with-antidepressant-use-during-pregnancy/?ref=health

A cautiously worded study based on data collected in Sweden has found that “in utero exposure to both selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (S.S.R.I.’s) and nonselective monoamine reuptake inhibitors (tricyclic antidepressants) was associated with an increased risk of autism spectrum disorders, particularly without intellectual disability.”

The Swedish medical birth register (which contains data on current drug use reported by mothers early in their pregnancies), along with a system of publicly funded screenings for autism spectrum disorders and extensive national and regional registers of various health issues, make a detailed, population-based case-control study possible — one that controls for other variables like family income, parent educational level, maternal and paternal age and even maternal region of birth (all factors the authors note have been previously associated with autism).

This is the second study in two years to associate antidepressant use during pregnancy with an increased incidence of autism in exposed children. An earlier, smaller study in California also found a modest increase in risk. The Sweden-based study could not (and did not) exclude the possibility that it was the severe depression, rather than the use of antidepressants, that created the association, but the smaller California study (which considered only S.S.R.I.’s) found “no increase in risk” for mothers with a history of mental health treatment in the absence of prenatal exposure to S.S.R.I.’s.

The authors of the current study took a very cautious approach to their findings:

The results of the present study as well as the U.S. study present a major dilemma in relation to clinical advice to pregnant women with depression. If antidepressants increase the risk of autism spectrum disorder, it would be reasonable to warn women about this possibility. However, if the association actually reflects the risk of autism spectrum disorder related to the nongenetic effects of severe depression during pregnancy, treatment may reduce the risk. Informed decisions would also need to consider weighing the wider risks of untreated depression with the other adverse outcomes related to antidepressant use. With the current evidence, if the potential risk of autism were a consideration in the decision-making process, it may be reasonable to think about, wherever appropriate, nondrug approaches such as psychological treatments. However, their timely availability to pregnant women will need to be enhanced. Read more

Foods That Can Improve Cognitive Function

In Diet, Stay Healthy on April 17, 2013 at 10:31 am

A growing body of evidence indicates that nutrients in food can have significant positive impact on brain functions such as learning and memory. Cognitive impairment is increasingly attributed to oxidative stress, a condition that involves excessive harmful molecules called free radicals or oxidants. Because these free radicals lead to inflammation in the brain, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory compounds are critical in keeping the brain young and healthy. Many of these nutrients are found in foods readily available at the supermarket.

Nuts and Seeds

Walnuts can boost cognitive function. A 2011 study published in the British Journal of Nutrition compared college students who consumed 2 ounces of roasted walnuts in banana bread daily over an eight-week period versus those who ate plain banana bread. Testing showed that inferential reasoning — the process of reaching conclusions — significantly improved at the end of the eight weeks of walnut consumption. Walnuts are rich in vitamin E, a strong antioxidant, and alpha-linolenic acid, a plant-based omega-3 fatty acid. A sprinkle of sunflower seeds on top of your salad can also help with memory. Not only are sunflower seeds one of the richest sources of vitamin E, they are also abundant in choline. Choline is a precursor for the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is critical for memory.

Fruits and Vegetables

A 2006 study published in the British Medical Journal suggested that eating two or more servings of vegetables a day could slow mental decline by about 40 percent compared to eating fewer vegetables. In the study, green leafy vegetables were found to be especially beneficial because they are higher in vitamin E than other vegetables. Among the fruits, berries are your best bet for healthy brain function. A 2012 study published in Annals of Neurology suggested blueberries and strawberries slow cognitive decline, based on an analysis of more than 16,000 women over two decades. Women who ate berries more frequently showed slower decline in brain functions like memory and attention than those who ate the fruits less often. Berries are high in flavonoids, a class of antioxidants that appears to reduce and delay mental decline due to aging.

Olive Oil

Among cooking oils, olive oil has been shown to improve memory, according to a 2009 study published in Dementia and Geriatrics Cognitive Disorder. Researchers suggested this effect is due to the rich monounsaturated fatty acids that help maintain the structure of the brain cell membranes. The study also indicated olive oil is rich in antioxidants such as vitamin E and flavonoids, and intensive use lessens the decline of visual memory.


Curcumin is a compound found in turmeric, an Indian herb used in curry powder. In a study published in Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, curcumin was shown to improve memory in those with traumatic brain injury and Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers attributed curcumin’s benefits to its potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Furthermore, researchers at UCLA-Veteran Affairs, who published their findings in the Journal of Biological Chemistry, hypothesized that frequent consumption of curcumin in curry may help explain why the rate of Alzheimer’s disease in India is among the world’s lowest.

Tea and Wine

When it comes to brainy beverages, the winners are green tea and red wine. Green tea possesses the potent antioxidant compound epigallocatechin-3 gallate. According to a 2012 study published in Molecular Nutrition and Food Research, EGCG is shown to benefit memory and spatial learning by boosting the production of brain cells. Red wine contains an antioxidant known as resveratrol. A 2010 study published in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded resveratrol increases blood flow and oxygenation to the brain. Because brain functions are critically dependent on adequate blow flow and oxygenation, the study suggested resveratrol can be helpful for conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease and strokes.


•    British Journal of Psychiatry: Possibilities for the Prevention and Treatment of Cognitive Impairment and Dementia.
•    The British Journal of Nutrition: Effects of Walnut Consumption on Cognitive Performance in Young Adults.
•    National Sunflower Association: Powerhouse of Benefits?
•    Current Opinion in Neurobiology: The Role of Acetylcholine in Learning and Memory.
•    British Medical Journal: Vegetables may Slow Cognitive Decline in Older People.
•    Annals of Neurology: Dietary intakes of Berries and Flavonoids in Relation to Cognitive Decline.
•    Dementia and Geriatric Cognitive Disorders: Olive Oil and Cognition: Results from the Three City Study.
•    Huntington’s Outreach Project for Education at Stanford: Fatty Acids.
•    Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology: The Effect of Curcumin (Tumeric) on Alzheimer’s Disease: An Overview.
•    University of California, Los Angeles: UCLA-VA Study Names India Dietary Staple as Potential Alzheimer’s Weapon

Antibiotic Resistance Can be Passed on From Animals to Humans!

In Environment on April 17, 2013 at 10:20 am

I want to share this article that I just read on Mother Jones…antibiotic resistance is on the rise, even though you may not take antibiotics routinely.

For decades, the meat industry has denied any problem with its reliance on routine, everyday antibiotic use for the nation’s chickens, cows, and pigs. But it’s a bit like a drunk denying an alcohol problem while leaning on a barstool for support. Antibiotic use on livestock farms has surged in recent years—from 20 million pounds annually in 2003 to nearly 30 million pounds in 2011.

Over the same period, the entire US human population has consumed less than 8 million pounds per year, meaning that livestock farms now suck in around 80 percent of the antibiotics consumed in the United States. Meanwhile, the industry routinely churns out meat containing an array of antibiotic resistant pathogens.

As former FDA commissioner David A. Kessler recently put it in a New York Times op-ed, “rather than healing sick animals, these drugs are often fed to animals at low levels to make them grow faster and to suppress diseases that arise because they live in dangerously close quarters on top of one another’s waste.” And feeding antibiotics to livestock at low levels may “do the most harm,” Kessler continued, because it provides a perfect incubation ground for the generation of antibiotic-resistant microbes.

The meat industry’s retort to all of this is, essentially: And the problem is? The websites of the major industry trade groups—the American Meat Institute, the National Chicken Council, the National Pork Producers Council—all insist current antibiotic practices are “safe.” The main reason they can claim this with a straight face is that while scientists have long suspected that drug-resistant pathogens can jump from antibiotic-treated animals to humans, it’s been notoriously difficult to prove. The obstacle is ethics: You wouldn’t want to extract, say, antibiotic-resistant salmonella from a turkey and inject it into a person just to see what happens. The risk of what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention politely calss “treatment failure,” i.e., death, would be too great.

But this decades-old industry fig leaf is fraying fast. The latest: a gene-sequencing study from Denmark that documents two cases of the movement of MRSA, an often-deadly, antibiotic-resistant staph infection, from farm animals to people.

Read more on http://www.motherjones.com/tom-philpott/2013/04/study-confirms-antibiotic-resistant-bugs-jump-animals-humans

The Immortal Maca

In Hormonal Health on April 16, 2013 at 10:25 pm

What is Maca?
Maca is a Peruvian root vegetable that was sacred to the Incas and has been used as a food and medicine in the Andes for centuries. According to “Superfoods: The Food and Medicine of the Future,” maca was known for its ability to enhance strength and endurance. Legend has it that the Incan warriors would consume maca before long journeys and battles. Today, maca is growing in popularity due to claims that it can enhance energy, correct hormonal imbalances and promote fertility.

Stress and Fatigue
In an article published in the January 2009 issue of Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, Tori Hudson, ND, reported that maca is best known as an adaptogen. An adaptogen is a substance that helps the body adapt to a variety of physiological, biochemical and psychological stress. Since stress can lead to fatigue and impaired mental and physical function, consuming maca can improve the body’s response to stress. According to Dr. Hudson, adaptogens such as maca are one of the most useful herbs because they enhance the ability of individuals to manage anxiety, fatigue and stress.

“The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine” suggests that maca can help with menopausal symptoms such as anxiety, insomnia and hot flashes. According to the authors, while the root does not contain estrogens, it stimulates the hypothalamus and the pituitary areas in the brain to increase estrogen levels in the body. The book also contains a discussion of a four-month study in which menopausal women were given either a placebo or 2 grams of maca daily. After two months, there was an increase in estrogen production among those in the maca group, and the women reported that the maca significantly relieved numerous symptoms of menopause after four months.

Male Reproduction
According to the book “Natural Medications for Psychiatric Disorders: Considering the Alternatives,” the current scientific evidence indicates that maca has a positive effect on male reproduction. In a 12-week double-blind, placebo-controlled randomized trial, healthy adult men received either placebo or maca at daily doses of 1,500 to 3,000 milligrams. Although there was no discussion by the authors on the differences in effects between the groups that received 1,500 or 3,000 milligrams of maca, both groups reported an improvement in sexual desire starting at eight weeks of treatment. The book also described a four-month study trial in which healthy men were given a daily dose of 1,500 or 3,000 milligrams of maca, by the end of the study the men had improved sperm count and sperm motility.

Considerations and Contraindications
The process of preparing maca is important to obtain its desirable health benefits. Traditionally maca is dried and boiled before consumption. Since most of the maca supplement that are available on the market is in the form of loose or encapsulated raw powder, it is unknown whether consuming powdered maca long term is safe. Therefore, when purchasing maca, it is best to purchase the extracted herb. In addition, safety information on maca for pregnant or nursing women is lacking, therefore it is unknown whether consuming maca by these groups of women is safe.

Due to its ability to promote estrogens in the body, the use of maca by women and men with hormone-related disorders may be contraindicated. Individuals with thyroid conditions should be very cautious when taking maca because maca contains compounds called glucosinolates. Glucosinolates, when consumed in excess, may cause goiters, especially when the diet is iodine-deficient. Before adding maca to the regimen, it is best to consult a healthcare provider who has experience working with the herb.

1)Superfoods: The Food and Medicine of the Future; David Wolfe. Publication Date: April 2009; pp67, 70
2) Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal: Maca: New Insights on an Ancient Plant http://www.imjournal.com/resources/web_pdfs/IMCJ_Hudson.pdf
3)BMC Research Notes: Determinants of Fatigue and Stress http://www.biomedcentral.com/1756-0500/4/238
4) The Encyclopedia of Natural Medicine; Michael Murray and Joseph Pizzorno. Publication date: July 2012; p791
5) Natural Medications for Psychiatric Disorders: Considering the Alternatives; David Mischoulon and Jerrold F. Rosenbaum. Publication date August 2008 pp327-328.
6) Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine: Ethnobiology and Ethnopharmacology of Lepidium meyenii (Maca), a Plant from the Peruvian Highlands http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3184420/
7) The Transition of Maca From Neglect to Market Prominence by Michael Hermann and Thomas Bernet. Pubication Date: 2009 p.48