Healthy Sleep Benefits
Lifestyle for Better Sleep
Dietary Supplements for Insomnia
Ask Dr. J: Carnosine Benefits
In the Health News
Diet and Disease
Recipe of the Month: Three Bean Salad with Corn
In the process of remodeling our new house in Florida, we
also decided to overhaul the “garden,” which consisted
only of grass and one old palm tree set in the middle of the
lawn. St. Augustine grass, which is so common in Florida lawns,
is extremely water hungry, coarse, and not particularly attractive.
Eliminating the lawn was an environmental as well as an aesthetic
decision. The aquifers in Florida are being depleted by excessive
water use, partly to keep up the lush green lawns. In addition,
lawns here are difficult to maintain without pesticides. Even
though their use can be minimized, these chemicals leach into
the aquifers, pollute the waterways, and lower the quality
of drinking water. Choosing to garden organically stops this
We decided to have a “waterwise” garden. Many
landscape plants need lots of water to survive, especially
in hot, sunny Florida. Planting mainly native, drought-tolerant
plants means that once established they will rarely need watering.
We also chose plants to attract birds, bees, and butterflies.
It was amazing to see just days after planting the birds and
butterflies found us and were singing and fluttering around
the shrubs. Pesticides are detrimental to wildlife–yet
another reason to garden organically.
Our choice of mulch was yet another environmental decision.
We chose melaleuca (the source of tea-tree oil, but an invasive
pest in south Florida), not cypress (which is endangered),
or “red mulch”–artificially-dyed, shredded
pallets. We chose plants for color and scent, and made sure
there were plenty of edibles, such as fruits and berries.
We already have papaya, paw paw, and guava, and plan to put
in loquat trees, strawberries, and a variety of citrus. In
the vegetable garden, we have already picked tomatoes and
basil, and soon some butternut squash will be on the way.
Next year we plan a wider variety of vegetables.
All of these plants help to improve our personal environment,
and they bring us closer to nature in our everyday life. Staying
in touch with our own environment and taking small steps to
enhance the general ecology can also make us healthier (it
also helps to be minutes from a beautiful beach walk).
Gardening is a wonderful activity (literally adding to our
sense of wonder) that provides physical exercise and at the
same time a connection to the earth which, with our busy lives,
offers a chance to slow down, watch things grow, and appreciate
the world of nature. Our neighbors have been watching with
great interest as we have transformed a sterile lawn with
a lonely palm tree into an oasis of tranquility that is a
habitat for wildlife and in tune with nature. If you have
any opportunity to garden, give it a try. I think it helps
elevate the mood and relieve anxiety, and learning new activities
is one way to preserve brain function well into old age.
For many people living at the fast pace of modern society,
getting adequate and restful sleep is an elusive dream. With
late nights, early workdays, long commutes, caring for children
and elderly parents, and job stress, it is often impossible
to allow time for sleep that is so important not only for
rest and replenishment, but also maintenance of strong immunity
and prevention of chronic disease. In addition, chronic pain
or illness may interfere with sleep.
Insomnia may be the inability to fall asleep, or waking in
the middle of the night and not being able to go back to sleep.
In a condition called sleep apnea, breathing is briefly interrupted,
for up to a minute, sometimes hundreds of times a night. This
is more common in overweight and middle-aged people, but can
happen in others, resulting in poor quality sleep.
Sleep apnea is often associated with loud snoring. It may
be helped by supplements and a treatment called continuous
positive airway pressure, or CPAP, administered by a small
machine by the bed through a mask worn during sleep.
No matter what kind of insomnia someone has, the result is
often daytime fatigue and sleepiness, mood disorders, irritability,
headaches, and proneness to accidents. It is also associated
with heart disease and sexual dysfunction. While typical sleep
needs are between seven and eight hours a night, some people
need more or less. The number of hours is not as important
as whether sleep is restful and restorative.
You do need to set aside enough time for sleep, but people
are so busy that they chronically fail to do this. Occasional
lack of sleep is not a significant health issue. Everyone
will experience this with some stresses, such as a death in
the family, business difficulties, marital problems, jet lag,
or a loud, late-night party at a neighbors house or apartment.
If the problem is persistent or unrelated to temporary difficulties,
it is important to do something about it. In the Nurses’
Health Study, heart disease rates were found to be 50 percent
greater in the group reporting less than 5 hours of sleep
compared to those reporting 8 hours or more. Those who reported
7 hours had no greater risk than those reporting 8 hours.
Interestingly, those who were getting 9 hours or more also
had increased risks, and a large Swedish study showed a direct
relationship of increasing sleep difficulties with higher
risk of heart disease.
A test for CRP, an inflammatory marker and a known risk factor
for heart disese, showed that complete deprivation of sleep
for three days elevated both CRP and blood pressure. The researchers
did a related study, allowing only 4 hours of sleep a night
for 10 days, and showed that both CRP levels and heart rate
Sleep disturbance is a particular problem in the elderly.
It is estimated that it occurs in one half of people over
65, and results in sleepiness, depression, falls, and poor
memory. It may be that other disorders lead to insomnia, but
it is also clear that insomnia itself contributes to a worsening
of these health problems.
While many people resort to drugs to help sleep, these may
not leave one feeling rested, and often have many side effects.
It is better to practice good sleep habits. Eat a healthy
diet low in sugar and processed foods, avoid alcohol and stimulants
such as caffeine, and get regular exercise.
Make your bedroom comfortable and peaceful, with a good,
firm bed. Keep the TV out of the bedroom, and not to watch
anything stimulating or depressing just before bed. Try listening
to relaxing music at a reasonable volume. It may help you
to exercise up to two hours before bedtime, but not later
than that. It helps to keep your bedroom as dark as possible,
While some people thrive on a few hours of sleep plus regular
naps, most people do better if they establish a regular pattern
of going to bed and waking. For them, napping too much can
interfere with nighttime sleep.
However, you have to find the schedule that works for you
so that you feel rested, do not fall asleep at movies or concerts,
can do your work competently, are not accident prone, and
can drive safely. Supplements may help with this.
Supplements that help sleep and anxiety include vitamins,
hormones, amino acids, and herbs. While they may not be adequate
for the more persistent cases of insomnia or sleep apnea,
they can be very helpful with insomnia related to stress,
anxiety, depression and other causes.
Niacinamide (vitamin B3) is a relaxant and often helps with
anxiety and depression. Earlier studies showed that it attaches
to the same receptors in the brain as the benzodiazepine drugs
used to treat anxiety. Typical doses are from 500 to 1000
mg at bedtime.
Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland, and
it is a regulator of the body clock. It is useful for shift
workers and to treat jet lag. Taking 1 to 6 mg at bedtime
can be helpful for sleep induction and depression, and it
helps people wean off anti-anxiety drugs (Valium).
The herb valerian reduces anxiety and it promotes sleep but
without the side effects seen with medication. The typical
dose is 500 to 1000 mg of standardized extract. Treatment
of depression with St. John’s wort, 300 mg 3 times a
day, often helps relieve anxiety and insomnia.
5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), a precursor to the neurotransmitter
serotonin, helps treat fatigue, migraines, and depression,
while it promotes better sleep. The usual dose is 50 to 100
mg at bedtime. Of course, nothing works if you don’t
take the time to sleep.
Q. Is carnosine as good as I’ve heard
for reversing skin aging and cataracts?
-- PD, via Internet.
Carnosine is a dipeptide (consists of two amino acids, alanine
and histidine) that acts as an antioxidant free radical scavenger
and as a metal chelator. It is present in brain and other
neurological tissues, and also in both skeletal and heart
muscle and the lens of the eye.
Oxidative free radicals are associated with accelerated aging,
so carnosine is likely to be protective. In tissue culture
it has been shown to slow down cellular aging. In animals,
carnosine slows down age-related degeneration and blocks Alzheimer’s-related
beta-amyloid cell damage.
Carnosine inhibits the formation of age-inducing substances
called "advanced glycation end products" (AGEs).
These occur when sugar molecules attach to proteins and block
their normal metabolic function.
AGEs are a particular problem for diabetics, as their high
sugar levels lead to increased formation of AGEs, and lead
to numerous complications. For example, AGEs cause dysfunction
of the endothelium (arterial lining cells), leading to atherosclerosis,
so carnosine is likely to protect against arterial disease
due to both its antioxidant activity and AGE inhibition.
Studies also suggest that carnosine protects DNA and proteins
from cross-linking. This reaction inhibits enzyme activity,
and it leads to abnormal cell reproduction and membrane function.
Because age-related skin damage is due to both free-radical
activity and protein cross linking, carnosine should help
protect the skin from the aging process and wrinkling. The
typical dose of carnosine is from 500 to 1000 mg per day.
Carnosine speeds wound healing after surgery, and helps to
heal peptic ulcers, enhancing the effect of antibiotics in
treatment of Helicobacter pylori, the bacteria associated
with ulcers. It is also helpful in treatment of hepatitis
C. Human and animal studies show that topical N-acetyl carnosine
helps to prevent and reverse cataract formation in the lens
of the eye.
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Coop Extension Service)
Ayas NT, et al., A prospective study of
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Garfinkel D, et al., Facilitation of benzodiazepine
discontinuation by melatonin...Arch Intern Med. 1999 Nov 8;159(20):2456-60.
Ziegler G, et al., Efficacy and tolerability
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2002 Nov 25;7(11):480-6.
Hallam KT, et al., Comparative cognitive
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serotonin precursor. Altern Med Rev. 1998 Aug;3(4):271-80.
Quinn PJ, et al., Carnosine: its properties,
functions and potential therapeutic applications. Mol Aspects
Kashimura H, et al., Polaprezinc, a mucosal
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pylori infection. Aliment Pharmacol Ther. 1999 Apr;13(4):483-7.
Hipkiss AR, Brownson C, Carnosine ...another
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Vitamin C is toxic to cancer cells, but the concentration
needed is higher than oral vitamin C usually provides. Intravenous
vitamin C is one way to significantly increase the plasma
level (Padayatty SJ, et al., Vitamin C pharmacokinetics: implications
for oral and intravenous use. Ann Intern Med. 2004 Apr 6;140(7):533-7).
With the same dose, vitamin C was six times higher with an
IV compared to oral administration. At higher doses, the difference
was up to 140 times higher with IV doses than with oral administration.
This has implications for the treatment of infectious diseases
and cancer, conditions that might benefit from high plasma
levels of vitamin C.
A controlled trial of ginger compared with vitamin B6 to
treat nausea and vomiting of pregnancy showed that either
supplement significantly reduced symptoms at 7, 14, and 21
days after starting treatment (Smith C, et al., A randomized
controlled trial of ginger to treat nausea and vomiting in
pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol. 2004 Apr;103(4):639-45). The study
involved 291 women who were given either 1 g of ginger or
75 mg of B6. Standardized extract of ginger works at doses
of 250 to 500 mg.
Vegetable fiber appears to protect men from prostate cancer,
according to a study in Italy (Pelucchi C, et al., Fibre intake
and prostate cancer risk. Int J Cancer. 2004 Mar 20;109(2):278-80.)
Among more than 2500 men studied, those with the highest fiber
intake had up to a 20 percent reduction in the incidence of
prostate cancer. The multi-center case-control study was conducted
over 12 years. It is no surprise that vegetables protect against
cancer, and for many reasons–antioxidants, vitamins,
minerals, and phytochemical content, so the high fiber may
only be a marker for high vegetable intake.
Start with any three organic beans (for example, organic
chick peas, pinto beans, and navy beans). I usually pressure
cook these after soaking for 4-8 hours and discarding the
soaking water to reduce the gas that beans can cause. (You
can also buy organic canned beans.) Add diced vegetables such
as celery, tomatoes, scallions, green and red bell peppers,
zucchini, cucumber, and carrots. I also like to add chopped
fresh spinach. Chopped arugula and watercress add some spicy
pizzazz, and you can also add chopped parsley and cilantro.
I then add thawed, frozen organic sweet corn, as this is readily
available. For dressing, I combine flaxseed oil or olive oil,
lemon juice or apple cider vinegar, and a selection of herbs,
including thyme and fresh or dried basil (I grow both in my
garden), cumin, a clove or two of fresh crushed garlic. I
add fresh ground pepper and another option is some prepared
mustard. Serve this with whole grain bread or brown rice.