June 7, 2011 [Volume 5, Issue 11]
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In this issue of To Your Health:
Beware of the Barbeque
Fifty States, One Mission
Kids Don't Need Energy Drinks

Beware of the Barbeque

Grilling meat is an inherently dumb thing to do. Here's why: Cooking animal flesh over a hot open flame triggers a series of chemical reactions that yield a meal loaded with carcinogens. Scientists have been warning us about this danger for two decades. Cancer-causing compounds known as heterocyclic amines (HCAs) can form, particularly when cooking animal flesh over high heat, which is common when barbequing. These chemicals – the same chemicals that are found in cigarette smoke – have been shown to cause cancer.

Is there a solution; a way to avoid filling your body with HCAs? Don't grill your meat (or don't eat meat at all, since research suggests grilling vegetables does not generate HCAs). The trouble with that "solution" is that we've been cooking dinner over open fires for two million years. Taking pleasure in grilling meat over a fire is so deeply ingrained in our blood that most people aren't about to change.

That said, researchers studying the production of heterocyclic amines during the cooking process have discovered a number of "tricks" that may reduce the risks posed while barbequing, either by interfering with the creation of HCAs or inactivating them once they're formed. For example, precooking a hamburger patty for two minutes in a microwave before barbequing reduces heterocyclic amines by a whopping 90 percent, according to research. Adding vitamin antioxidants to the meat or marinating it in antioxidant-rich spices before cooking appears to work almost as well.

When it comes to marinades, there are also important things to know. First, not just any marinade seems to work – old-style tomato-based barbecue sauces actually increase heterocyclic amine production, while marinades like teriyaki sauce reduce heterocyclic amines produced during cooking by half. Those packets of store-bought powder marinades that you add oil and vinegar to also seem to be surprisingly effective.

There is also another approach to reducing the harm caused by heterocyclic amines. A number of foods have been identified that neutralize heterocyclic amines in the intestine and prevent them from causing DNA damage. For example, several studies suggest that the Lactobacilli strains in yogurt do this, so serving yogurt on or with meat meals provides additional protection because it actually reduces the harmful effects of these chemicals.

The bottom line for anyone who wants to cook meat, whether chicken, beef, pork or anything else on the grill is simple – make sure to marinate all meats before cooking. When cooking ground beef, knead in herbs and/or vitamin E. Stick with skinless chicken if cooking poultry. Always accompany barbecued meat with a yogurt dish and a little alcohol, preferably stout ale; and use a yogurt salad dressing or even something as simple as frozen yogurt for dessert. And, remember that you can cook vegetables on the grill without the danger of heterocyclic amine formation – and increase the nutritional content of your meal at the same time. Talk to your doctor for more information.

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Fifty States, One Mission

When Jenn Sommermann was diagnosed with stage III ovarian cancer, she was inspired to not only beat the disease herself, but help others beat it as well. Five years later, Jenn is a cancer survivor and triathlete, swimming, biking and running across the country to raise money and awareness – one race and one state at a time.

Five years ago, at the age of 42, Sommermann, a massage therapist and financial consultant, was on top of the world and eager to conquer the world of triathlons. She was busy getting in the best shape of her life when she received the grim diagnosis that would change everything: stage III ovarian cancer.Like many women who get diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Sommermann was shocked. She hadn't felt "right" for months, but the symptoms she'd felt were not indicative of cancer, many doctors told her. There was indigestion, a 5-pound weight gain and some fatigue; all vague symptoms that have given ovarian cancer the label of "silent killer."

Not satisfied with initial tests from doctors, Sommermann pushed for more answers after feeling her lumpy stomach one day in bed. Doctors eventually found a 6-pound eggplant-sized tumor in her pelvis and within four days, Sommermann was undergoing a full hysterectomy and chemotherapy, which ultimately eliminated the cancer and saved her life.

Today, Sommermann is cancer-free and healthy, and she is helping other women become aware of the reality of ovarian cancer by competing in triathlons. But it's not just a few triathlons she's competing in – it's 50, to be exact. Her goal is to complete 50 triathlons in 50 states by her 50th birthday and raise $100,000 for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund (OCRF) in the process.

"No one has to die from this if it's detected early. I have an opportunity, I am able to help and I almost feel an obligation," said Sommermann. "I was spared; there is a reason I was spared. I want to use that for the greater good."

So far, all of Sommermann's efforts are paying off. She has been able to raise over $40,000 for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund and has the rest of the year planned out. She has 11 states to compete in this summer and plans on doing at least 10 more triathlons in 2012. To follow her journey, visit her blog at www.jennsommermann.blogspot.com.

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Kids Don't Need Energy Drinks

Energy drinks are big business, with more than a thousand distributors globally and annual sales expected to top the $9 billion mark this year.

Who's buying them? Everyone. And with average caffeine content equal to or exceeding a cup of coffee, the question can certainly be raised, should our children be consuming them?

Definitely not, according to a recent review of data published in Pediatrics. Although surveys show that 30-50 percent of teens and young adults drink energy beverages, the study, which analyzed scientific studies, government and media reports, and other data on energy drinks, concludes that the drinks "have no therapeutic benefit, and many ingredients are understudied and not regulated." The study authors "discourage routine use" by children and teens.

So, does your child consume energy drinks, and if so, how many on a daily basis? And what about soft drinks and other sugar-sweetened beverages? Maybe it's time to find out. Talk to your doctor for additional information.

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