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How Exercise Prevents Diabetes AND Preserves Your Brain

Several studies show that vigorous exercise can help to prevent and to treat diabetes. A recent study from the University of Missouri in Columbia helps to explain why (American Journal of Physiology - Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, April 2008).

The vast majority of people who have diabetes do not lack insulin. Their disease is caused by an inability to respond to insulin. Since their cells do not respond to insulin, blood sugar levels rise and damage their cells. By studying blood flowing to and from the hind legs of obese rats, researchers found that acute muscle contractions markedly increased the passage of sugar into skeletal muscles, and markedly increased the flow of electrons in mitochondria.

Muscle cells have anywhere from six to thousands of tiny inclusions called mitochondria. Mitochondria convert food to energy by shuffling electrons from the building blocks of food. Each movement of electrons supplies more energy. However, in converting food to energy, some electrons end up attached to oxygen to produce reactive oxygen species (ROS) that stick to your DNA and proteins to damage them, preventing insulin from doing its job of driving sugar into cells and shortening cell life. When a muscle contracts, it shunts electrons away from oxygen so that fewer reactive oxygen species are formed.

Furthermore, this same process protects brain function and helps to prevent strokes, Alzheimer's and Parkinson's diseases. A study from Semmelweis University in Budapest shows that the lowering of ROS levels with exercise helps to prevent loss of mental function (Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, October 2007).

More than 80 percent of diabetics die of heart disease. If you are at high risk for diabetes or are already diabetic, check with your doctor and perhaps get a thallium stress test to check out the condition of your heart. If you pass the test, you should try to exercise as much as possible.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Are organic foods more nutritious than those grown conventionally?

Perhaps, but since the average North American eats far more food than is necessary, it is doubtful that adding more nutrients to the diet will have much effect on health. A review of 97 scientific papers shows that organic food has higher levels of eight of 11 nutrients studied, including greater concentrations of polyphenols and antioxidants (The Organic Center's State of Science Reviews, March 2008).

However, we don't know how much of these nutrients the body requires. With 35 percent of the population becoming diabetic, 91 percent developing high blood pressure, 78 percent having high cholesterol levels, and 40 percent dying of heart attacks and strokes, I think it is more important to focus on the lifestyle factors that cause these health problems: overeating; eating too much meat, saturated fat, partially hydrogenated fats and refined carbohydrates; not eating enough vegetables; exercising too little; drinking too much; and smoking. Enjoy organic products if they fit into your budget, but you harm yourself if the higher cost causes you to eat fewer fruits and vegetables.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Last week you talked about testosterone for men; should it be given to a woman who has had her ovaries removed?

A woman's ovaries produce the male hormone, testosterone, as well as female hormones. Testosterone can improve a woman's libido, muscle strength and self confidence, and prevent or alleviate depression. A woman who has no ovaries, or any woman with lack of sexual interest, depression or weak muscles, should get blood tests to measure male hormones produced by the ovaries (testosterone) and by the adrenal glands (DHEAS). If either is low, she may be helped by taking testosterone. Nobody knows if testosterone increases breast cancer risk. There is no evidence that it does, but it could. The dose of testosterone gel for a woman is a single five-gram tube, rubbed anywhere on the skin about an hour before making love. She cannot use more than a tube a week or she may develop facial and body hair. One half of a tube can be used twice a week. The results can be dramatic. Check with your doctor.

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Recipe of the Week

For Passover or anytime –
Vera Mirkin's No-Liver Chopped Liver
(my mother is 102 years old, so she must be doing something right!)

You'll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book - it's FREE

June 25th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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