As the playwright Tom Stoppard ("The Real Thing" and "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead") once said, "We give advice by the bucket, but take it by the grain." That may describe all-too-human pushiness and folly wrapped up together, but what if we did the opposite? When it comes to whole grains, dishing them out by the bucket,well, that's the smart move, guaranteed to improve your health.
A new study headed by the National Food Institute at the Technical University of Denmark shows that exchanging refined and processed grains – white rice, white bread and pastas – for whole grains has two far-reaching health benefits:
1. They promote weight loss by filling you up and keeping you full longer.
2. They slash low-level, bodywide inflammation (measured by declining levels of the proinflammatory cytokine interleukin-6). That reduces your risk of everything from cardiovascular disease to depression and some cancers.
Tracking 60 participants at risk for Type 2 diabetes and heart disease, the researchers found that all whole grains had benefits, but whole-grain rye was particularly effective in reducing markers of low-grade, chronic inflammation. Other surprises: Over two eight-week periods, researchers found that whole grains did not measurably alter gut biome composition or insulin sensitivity. It may be that those changes take longer to happen, so keep good grains center stage and go with 100 percent whole wheat, rye, oats, sorghum, barley, buckwheat and corn. They'll give you a healthy long run.
Driving under the influence – of your meds
In 2014, when a 19-year-old Justin Bieber was pulled over for racing his Lamborghini around Miami, the police chief said the songster admitted to having marijuana, alcohol and prescription drugs in his system. At that time, no one was surprised that he was snagged for driving under the influence ("I'm a different person now," he said recently). But did you ever think you could be that reckless? It turns out many folks have no idea that their prescription medications make driving dangerous and put them at risk for a DUI arrest.
A 2017 study looked at data from the 2013-2014 National Roadside Survey, in which drivers across America were asked about drug use, including prescription drugs. Almost 20 percent said they'd recently taken a prescription medication and yet were unaware the medication could affect their driving. A 2015 study found that the prevalence of drivers with prescription opioids in their systems at the time of death from a car accident surged from 1 percent in 1995 to 7.2 percent in 2015.
Opioids are a big risk when you're driving (around 35 percent of adult Americans were given a painkiller prescription by medical providers last year). So are other legitimately prescribed meds like antidepressants, sedative hypnotics (including diazepam/Valium and others), antihistamines (Benadryl), decongestants, sleeping pills and medical marijuana. They can compromise your reaction time. So, read the warnings on medications and ask your doc about driving risks associated with medications and combinations of medications so that you're not a danger to yourself and others.
How to make a healthy habit stick
In the 2006 movie "Stranger than Fiction," Harold Crick (Will Ferrell) discovers that he's the protagonist in a novel – and that the voice he's been hearing in his head is the author's narration of his life. "Every weekday for 12 years, Harold would brush each of his 32 teeth 76 times; 38 times back and forth, 38 times up and down. Every weekday for 12 years, Harold would tie his tie in a single Windsor knot instead of the double, thereby saving up to 43 seconds."
While Harold's habits sound extreme, adding a new healthy habit to your morning routine is a good idea. That's the time to make a new habit, well, habitual. Researchers think that's because your levels of cortisol, a stress hormone that makes learning more difficult, is highest in the morning, and focusing on learning something when it's a challenge may mean that the info is more solidly encoded in your memory.
In a study published in Health Psychology, researchers instructed 48 people to adopt a new stretching routine. Half were told to do it after waking up, the other half before going to sleep. An app tracked whether they'd done the stretch and how automatic it became. While both groups made progress, the daily routine became a habit much more quickly for the morning group.
So if you're looking to adopt a healthy habit (say, meditation or yoga), start doing it first thing in the morning. Before you know it, you might find that it's second nature.
PPIs and histamine 2 blockers to the rescue
In the 1970s TV sitcom "Sanford and Son," whenever Fred Sanford (Redd Foxx) got disagreeable news – usually about a failed moneymaking scheme – he'd place his hand over his heart and exclaim: "This is the big one! I'm coming, Elizabeth." Of course, there was nothing wrong with the character's heart.
A serious flare of acid reflux can feel like a heart attack. Luckily, proton pump inhibitors and histamine 2 blockers ease the discomfort. But a new study in the journal Gut found that folks who use PPIs (Prevacid, Prilosec and Nexium) for extended stretches are at risk of developing stomach cancer (even after taking antibiotics to eliminate H. pylori infection, a known cause of stomach cancer).
The risk goes up five-fold after more than a year on the meds, more than six-fold after two-plus years, and over eight-fold after three-plus. Another study indicated that prolonged PPI use is associated with a doubling of heart attack risk. H2 blockers such as Pepcid and Zantac were found to have no link to stomach cancer or increased heart attack risk.
The scoop: PPIs are generally safe if taken as directed. Prilosec advises you to use the product once every 24 hours, for up to 14 days; four months later, you may repeat a 14-day course. But many folks use over-the-counter PPIs for months or years.
The right moves:
1. Don't take PPIs for extended periods of time without your doc's permission.
2. Try easing heartburn by making changes to your diet and reducing alcohol or coffee intake.
Mehmet Oz is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.