Thursday, July 22, 2010

Your Digestive System and Its Importance to Your Health

Today we're going to discuss a fascinating topic involving what happen to foods and drinks once they enter your body. We will start from when you put a morsel of food or a sip of liquid in your mouth, to when it passes out as feces or urine.

Foods and drinks are of little value to the body except for the digestive system which breaks them down into smaller molecules that are absorbed into the blood, and carried to all parts of the body to repair and nourish cells and provide cellular energy.

Digestion begins in the mouth. When you begin chewing a piece of bread or meat, the mucosa lining of the mouth produces digestive juices that break the food down into a mixture that is pushed down through the esophagus by peristalsis or a wavelike movement toward the stomach.

Once the swallowed food and drink enter the stomach through the esophageal sphincter, digestive juices produced by the stomach are added, to be thoroughly mixed by the muscle movement of the lower part of the stomach. The mixture now in semi-liquid form, is emptied from the stomach into the small intestine.

As the semi-liquid mixture enters the small intestine, the absorption of nutrients in their simpler molecular form begins. For instance, carbohydrates from bread, potatoes, dried peas and beans, rice, pasta, fruits and vegetables are first broken down to search and sugar. Fibers from carbohydrates are broken down into soluble and insoluble fibers.

Enzymes in the saliva, and in the juices produced by the pancreas break down starch into maltose. Then enzyme from the mucosa lining of the small intestine splits the maltose into glucose molecules that can be absorbed into the blood. Sugar is also broken down by intestinal enzymes to glucose and fructose that are absorbed into the blood. The smaller molecules of both sugar and starch are carried to the liver to provide energy for cellular activities.

Foods such as fish, meat, eggs and beans have large molecules of proteins that cannot be absorbed directly into the blood. Enzymes in the digestive juices of the stomach start the breakdown of these huge protein molecules, then additional juices from the pancreas and mucosa lining of the small intestine complete the breakdown into smaller molecules called amino acids before they can be absorbed into the blood, and used to build and repair the walls and other parts of cells.

Foods cooked with saturated and trans fats, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and butter or margarine are the major sources of fats for the body. Fats are dissolved into the watery content of the intestine by bile acids from the liver that allow enzymes from the pancreas and small intestine to break large fat molecules into smaller ones like fatty acids and cholesterol.

Since fats are also a source of energy for the body, excess fats are retained for future use. To do this, bile acids attach themselves to the fatty acids and cholesterol and carry them into the mucosa cells of the small intestine. While in the cells, the smaller fat molecules are reformed into large fat molecules, most of which are carried by lymphatic vessels to the veins of the chest, from where the large fat molecules are carried by the blood to storage areas in the body. This explains  why people who eat lots of saturated and trans fat are overweight.

Vitamins are another molecule of nutrients from food that are absorbed through the small intestine into the blood for distribution to all parts of the body. Vitamins are either soluble as in all B and C vitamins, or fat-soluble as in vitamins A, D, E and K. Fat-soluble vitamins are stored in the liver and fatty tissue of the body, but soluble vitamins are hard to store, and excess amount are flushed out in the urine.

Water and mineral salts are also molecule of nutrients absorbed into the blood. The body's essential mineral salts include sodium, phosphorus, potassium, chlorine, sulfur, magnesium and calcium. Smaller elements of these such as iodine, iron, fluoride and zine are absorbed directly into the blood. Sources of mineral salts include fruits, vegetables and sea foods, liquids and the juices secreted by the digestive glands. Salts deficiency cause insomnia, fatigue, anemia and osteoporosis. 

At the end of the digestive process wastes are produced which include undigested parts of foods such as fibers, and dead cells shed from the mucosa lining. These waste products are pushed into the colon where they remain until they are expelled from the body as feces.

You will note that the digestive system breaks down foods and drinks to their smallest molecule of nutrients and mineral salts that can be absorb into the blood. Once in the blood the final destination of these are the cells. Why are the cells so important? They are important because they give form and life to all the organs and tissues in your body. Which is why to remain healthy, you need a healthy digestive system to extract the essential nutrients and mineral salts your cells need to function optimally.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Kidney Dialysis and How To Prevent It

About 23 million people in the U.S. have physiological evidence of chronic kidney disease, according to statistics from the National Health and Nutritional Examination Survey. By 2007 over 500,000 U.S. residents were under kidney dialysis treatment.

Kidney dialysis is a medical procedure used to artificially remove waste substances and excess fluid from the blood, when the kidneys fail.

Healthy kidneys remove wastes and excess fluid from the blood as it flows through the body. By this process, they regulate normal levels of sodium, potassium, calcium, chloride, magnesium, sulfate, phosphate and hydrogen to maintain homeostasis and tranquility in the physical body.

1500 liters of blood enters the kidneys everyday through the renal arteries, of which 180 liters are filtered. The blood is filtered by glomeruli inside the kidneys where wastes and excess fluid are removed from the blood, as it passes through the kidneys.

The cleansed blood returns to the heart to be circulated through the body, while the waste substances and excess fluid leave the kidneys as urine. By removing excess fluid from the body, healthy kidneys maintain the body's fluid balance, which in women is 55% of body weight, and in men 60% of body weight.

Healthy kidneys regulate blood pressure. They make two important hormones called renin and angiotensin. These are like gatekeepers; they regulate the amount of sodium or salt and fluid the body holds, and the expansion and narrowing of blood vessels. Failing kidneys retain to much fluid in the body, and make too much renin, both of which increase blood pressure.

Healthy kidneys make another hormone called erythropoeitin (EPO). The blood carry EPO to the bone marrow where it stimulates the production of red blood cells, which carry oxygen to all parts of the body. Deficiency in red blood cells leads to animia, resulting in weakness, cold, and shortness of breath.

Another hormone made by healthy kidneys is calcitriol. It maintains the right balance of calcium and phosphate in the blood and bones to keep bones healthy. Failing kidneys may not make enough calcitriol resulting in an imbalance of calcium, phosphate, vitamin D, and the end effect of renal bone disease.

The major causes of kidney failure are: diabetes, hypertension, glomerulonephritis, cystic kidney, urologic disease and few others. Kidney failure tends to happen slowly and the symptoms are unnoticed for a long time. The symptoms may include:

Fatigue and frequent urination, especially at night; erectile dysfunction, itchy skin, nausea and shortness of breath, swollen feet, hands and ankles, blood in urine and protein in urine.

When the kidneys stop performing their lifesaving functions, as a result of damage or disease, one of two types of kidney dialysis is used to remove wastes and excess fluid from the blood: hemodialysis or peritoneal dialysis.

In a hemodialysis, a catheter is inserted into the vein to remove blood that goes through a machine with special filters that filter out waste substances from the blood. The filtered blood is returned to the patient's body through another catheter. The process of removing and filtering the patient's blood takes about 3-4 hours each week.

In a peritoneal dialysis, a catheter is used to fill the abdominal cavity with a dialysis solution containing a sugar called dextrose which pulls wastes and excess fluid from the blood through the peritoneum into the abdominal cavity. The wastes and excess fluid leave the body when the dialysis solution is drained through the catheter. A typical peritoneal dialysis schedule requires four filling and draining a day, each lasting 4-6 hours.

Obviously, when we talk about our health, what we are really talking about is the health of our internal organs. As this knowledge become prevalent, we will trend toward selecting the specific nutrients from what we eat and drink, and oxygen from the air we breath that our cells need to maintain the good health of our internal organs, and consequently help us prevent a medical procedure like kidney dialysis.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ostomy and How To Prevent It

For many of us, as long as they function well, we tend to forget about our internal organs until there is a problem. Unfortunately, in many cases, when we begin having problems with our internal organs it is too late to save them, resulting in surgical procedures such as ostomy to remove them.

Ostomy is a surgical procedure that creates an opening in the wall of the abdomen, called a stoma, to allow waste to leave the body after the removal of all or part of the small intestine, colon, rectum or bladder. About 1 million people in the U.S. live with ostomies, and more than 75,000 ostomy operations are performed each year.

For instance, a defective or diseased colon or rectum will necessitate a Colostomy surgical procedure to remove the affected portion of the colon or rectum, and attach the healthy portion of the colon to the stoma to allow waste to leave the body.

Where the entire colon and rectum are defective or diseased, an Ileostomy surgical procedure is performed to remove both the colon and rectum, and attach the bottom of the small intestine, called ileum to the stoma to provide an outlet for body waste.

An Urostomy surgical procedure will be performed where the bladder is defective or diseased and cannot carry out its normal function of disposing of urine from the body. Urostomy attaches the ureters, the tubes that carry urine to the bladder, to either the small intestine or the stoma.

These are the three major surgical procedures of Ostomy. They leave an opening in the wall of the abdomen that has to be managed with what is called the Pouching System. It is a device used to collect diverted body waste. It may include a one-piece or two-piece system with a collection pouch and a skin barrier to protect the skin from body waste.

At intervals, the pouches which are attached to the body at the stoma, are changed or emptied depending on whether a one-piece or two-piece system is used. There is also the Irrigation System that consists of an irrigation bag with connecting tubes or catheter, a stoma cone and irrigation sleeve. The irrigation system cleans waste directly from the colon through the stoma.

For all ostomy patients, the diversion of intestinal and urinal waste is a major change in their lives. Some take the change as a challenge to demonstrate their ability to live through adversities; while others are devastated by the change in their body's appearance and function that it negatively affects their self-esteem.

After the tears and acute grief have subsided, the ostomy patient will eventually begin to adapt to the reality of living with ostomy in four recovery phases: shock, denial, acknowledgment and resolution.

If the recovery phases are going well, the ostomy patient is then able to deal with the psychological concerns of ostomy, which involves self-image and self-esteem issues, confidence in providing self-care, and actual or perceived rejection by friends and loved ones.

Having read all this, wouldn't life be much easier if we start early in life, or right now, to protect our colon, rectum and bladder from becoming infected with diseases that will necessitate their removal? If you agree, as I believe you do, a balanced diet and regular age-appropriate physical exercise is a good start.

As always when it comes to the body and its organs, the cells that give life to them are the major players we should strive to keep healthy. Once the cells are healthy and performing optimally, the organs they give form to will also be healthy, and in turn perform their normal function to keep us healthy.

The days are coming, if they are not already here, when Medical Science will put less emphasis on curing diseases with pharmaceutical drugs and surgery, and more emphasis on preventing diseases by providing the human cells with the right types of micronutrients and oxygen to keep them healthy and performing at their optimal levels. If nothing else, the rising costs of providing health-care for ostomy patients and others will accelerate that change.

Monday, July 5, 2010

How To Prevent A Heart Attack

Over 1 million people in the U.S. have heart attacks each year, and almost 50% of them die, according to statistics from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.

Heart attack is the number 1 killer of men and women in the U.S., and about 50% of deaths occur within an hour of the first symptoms. Added to that is the forboding statistics that about 12 million Americans currently live with coronary heart disease.

Heart attach occurs when one of the coronary arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the heart is blocked. This effectively slows down or completely stops blood flow and oxygen to a part of the heart muscle. Without blood and oxygen, the heart cells die, and the heart stops functioning.

What causes the coronary arteries to become blocked is common knowledge. Over the first 30 to 40 years of our lives, the cholesterol from the food we eat builds up on the walls of the coronary arteries and slowly forms into plaque.

The plague, once formed, attaches to the walls of the arteries. In time, it develops cracks or tears and causes bleeding in the arteries. Blood platelets stick to these tears and form clot called thrombus. The blood clot, if large enough can block the coronary artery, and stop blood flow and oxygen to the heart and cause a heart attack.

Other causes of heart attack include a sudden overwhelming stress, increasing age, smoking, high blood pressure, diabetes, family history, chronic kidney disease; but most deaths from heart attack occur from a blockage of one of the coronary arteries caused by a high fat diet, high bad cholesterol (LDL) levels, and low good cholesterol (HDL) levels.

Chest pain is a major symptom of a heart attack. The pain may start in the chest, move to the arms, shoulder, neck, teeth, jaw, belly area, or the back. It may be severe or mild and feels like: a tight band around the chest, a bad indigestion, something heavy on the chest, or a squeezing or heavy pressure.

The chest pain may last for 20 minutes or more, and may not go away by resting or taking nitroglycerin. However, do not panic. Sometimes the sudden overwhelming stress and fear about having a heart attack can actually precipitate a heart attack.

Angina pectoris or chest pain are of two kinds. A stable angina is a chest pain that typically occurs with activity or stress. The pain begins slowly and gets worse before going away. The good news is that it goes away with rest and medication.

An unstable angina is the bad one. It's a condition where the heart doesn't get enough blood flow and oxygen, as a result of coronary artery blockage. The pain gets worse and it doesn't go away. It's a prelude to a heart attack.

Since it is difficult to know whether a chest pain is the result of a stable or an unstable angina, treat all mild to severe chest pain as an emergency, and seek immediate help. Call 911 or your local emergency number immediately. Delay in seeking help immediately may result in a sudden cardiac death, which usually occurs in the first few hours of a heart attack.

As the major cause of heart attack is broadly known, so too is the solution, but it is such a common place solution it is often overlooked. The solution to coronary arteries blockage is to eat foods low in fat, avoid as much as possible saturated and trans fats, keep bad cholesterol levels down and good cholesterol levels up, eat foods high in fibers as part of a balanced diet, and do regular age-appropriate physical exercise.

A change in diet and lifestyle early in life, as well as starting right now, could well be our most effective weapon against heart attack, and the untold pain and suffering associated with the number 1 killer of men and women in the U.S.

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

How to Prevent Bone Density Loss and Osteoporosis

More than 350,000 hip fractures a year occur in the U.S., according to statistics from the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons. By 2050 it is estimated the number will rise to 650,000 a year.

Of the 350,000 hip fractures a year, 24% of the patients over 50 will die within a year. 50% will be unable to walk without assistance, and 25% will require long-term nursing care. The current cost of caring for one patient with a hip fracture per year is $26,912; for all hip fracture patients the cost is about $17 billion a year.

This expenditure is more than enough incentive to examine what causes hip fracture and how to prevent it, as sooner rather than later, all who are in their forties and fifties will have to deal with problems associated with bone density loss, which for most people begins at about age 35.

Bone density loss or osteoporosis is caused by a decrease in the function of the bone making cells called osteoblasts, or a change in parathyroid activity from a decrease in the body's calcium absorption, due to less sun exposure, decrease vitamin D synthesis, or insufficient vitamin D intake.

Other causes of bone density loss include excessive smoking, excessive alcohol, early onset of menopause, physical inactivity, and prolong use of certain medications. Relating to medication, you may want to consult your doctor before using corticosteroids, or steroid for arthritis.

The loss of bone density leads to the thinning of bone tissue, decreasing bone strength, and fragile bones. If left untreated, the bones of the affected person will become so fragile it is likely that he or she may have multiple bone fractures severe enough to make them unable to stand or walk. Early treatment is important to replace absorbed old bone with the formation of new bone.

On the formation of bones three cell types are involed. Osteoblasts are cells that build the bone matrix and helps in mineralizing the bone into the second cell type called osteocytes. The third bone cells are called osteoclasts. They absorb bone, and as a result release calcium into the blood.

You may be wondering why do we need osteoclasts whose only function is to degrade bones. Osteoclasts are important in regulating the calcium level in the blood. Calcium provides electrical energy to the nervous system, the muscular system and to the skeletal system. Without calcium all chemical reactions in the body will stop.

When the blood calcium level is low, the parathyroids make parathyroid hormones (PTH) that instruct the osteoclasts to absorb bone for calcium release into the blood. When calcium level is high, the osteoclasts stop absorbing bone until the need to do so arises again. Without the osteoclasts human behavior and movement would be erratic.

Because of the activities of the parathyroids, it is crucial that bones that are absorbed are replaced. Under normal conditions, bones that are absorbed by osteoclasts are replaced at the same rate of formation of new bones by the osteoblasts. When the rate of new bone formation falls below absorption rate, then osteoporosis occurs.

Maintaining a healthy blood calcium level is the key to preventing osteoporosis. Daily, but moderate consumption of calcium-rich foods such as salmon, tofu, sardines, beans, peas, broccoli and low fat dairy products will maintain the calcium level in your blood, and minimize the absorption of bones by parathyroid hormones to maintain your blood calcium level.

Your body also needs vitamin D to enable it absorb calcium. In addition to getting at least 15-20 minutes daily exposure to the sun, eat foods rich in vitamin D such as mackerel, salmon, tuna, eggs, and cod liver oil. Where calcium and vitamin D deficiencies persists, consult your doctor for advise on safe and effective bone supplements.

Physical exercise including weight bearing exercise, walking, jogging, aerobics, swimming and cycling also help to increase bone density. For immobile persons, standing or sitting on a vibrating device that subject the bones to mild vibrations have helped to increase bone density. However, before starting any physical exercise first consult your doctor.

Your bones allow you to stand, walk, hold a cup in your hand without it falling, and do all the other productive and fun things that make up your day. Eating a balanced diet, and doing regular physical exercise will ensure that you maintain the density and strength of your bones, and prevent osteoporosis well into your seventies.

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