Nutrition & Physical Activity

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The body mass index (BMI) and being overweight

Dear Scales,

You've encountered an issue with the body mass index (BMI) that many others have encountered, too! A tremendous amount of press has been given to the BMI charts and the "strict" standards many people feel the U.S. government has imposed upon the population. The truth is most of these articles and news reports don't tell the entire story. To set the record straight, keep reading.

BMI is a ratio of weight to height. BMI is frequently used as a measure of overweight and obesity because it's a quick, easy, and inexpensive measure that correlates pretty accurately with body fat percentage for most people. The key word here is "most." As you've discovered, it doesn't work for everyone. The major shortcoming and the primary point of contention among health care providers is that it cannot decipher between fat and muscle weight. It's a rather simplistic measure that does not take into account other factors such as age, build, and body composition.

The rationale behind these numbers is that, across large population groups, there is an increased prevalence of certain diseases in people with a BMI over 25, and a much greater risk of disease and death in those with a BMI over 30.  BMI is calculated as follows:

BMI=weight (kg) / [height (m)] 2

OR

BMI=weight (lb) / [height (in)] 2 x 703.

The standard weight calculations for overweight and obese adults are as follows: a person with a BMI of 25.0 to 29.9 is classified as overweight; those with a BMI greater than 30 are classified as obese.

When BMI measurements are taken into account with other factors such as family history, gender, race, age, and dietary and exercise habits, it may help health care providers determine a person's risk for developing the following conditions:

  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Coronary heart disease
  • Type 2 diabetes (adult diabetes)
  • Stroke
  • Gallbladder disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Sleep apnea and other respiratory problems
  • Endometrial, breast, and colon cancers

List adapted from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

An important point here is the relationship between being overweight or, better yet, "overfat", and disease development. BMI often doesn't tell the entire story. A better tool is a person's waist-to-hip measurement ratio (measuring around the widest part of the hips then dividing this number by the measurement around the widest part of the abdomen). The recommended threshold ratio for these two measurements is equal to or less than 1.0 for men and 0.8 for women. Increased risk for the diseases listed above is associated with lower ratios and thus excess abdominal fat — the apple body shape (vs. pear where body fat is primarily carried on the hips and buttocks). When using either this ratio or BMI measurements, other risk factors for developing disease are important to assess. Considering these factors together, health care providers must use their clinical judgment to determine whether or not a person really does need to lose weight.

Many web sites, books, and articles that publish BMI charts tend to simplify this message. A trained athlete or physically fit individual is NOT the target of this message. These BMI charts are a tool to be used as one part of an overall health assessment. Over large population groups, many people with BMIs in the upper range, and high waist measurements or waist-to-hip ratios, are the folks with whom health care providers need to discuss various aspects of health. A fit, well-nourished person with developed muscles may have a higher BMI, but it's likely due to increased muscle mass.

Hopefully, this answer has clarified some of the misunderstanding about BMI. Overall, it is a very limited and highly criticized measure of overweight and obesity; therefore, focus on your overall health, fitness level, dietary variety, and self-satisfaction. Your well-being is certainly much more than just an absolute number.

Alice

One cannot live on water alone

Dear Reader,

How much did you bet? It's time for your co-worker to pay up!

The human body can survive a surprisingly long time on water alone, but it is nowhere near six months. When the body is deprived of new fuel (i.e., food), it breaks into its energy reserves to keep going. The body stores energy in the form of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

After one day without food, the body will have used up its carbohydrates, which are stored as glycogen in liver and muscle cells. After that, it's on to the fat reserves. Your average Joe/Jane, weight-wise, has enough fat reserves to live for four to six weeks without food. After that, the body begins to use its protein reserves (basically, the body itself). Body proteins are used up at a much faster rate than fat, and you could really only get another two to three weeks out of protein. At that point, however, you can't really call it living since so much irreparable damage has been done to the body, including the brain.

Bottom line: an average person could live for about eight weeks on water alone, give or take about a week for an over- or underweight person, respectively.

Alice

Pros and cons of vegetarianism

Dear Reader,

It's a great idea to plan consciously when switching over to a vegetarian diet. Not eating meat can offer many health benefits, as well as addressing environmental and ethical concerns you may have regarding eating animals. However, before making the switch to a meat-free lifestyle, it is important to get a sense of the pros and cons.

Here’s the best news of all: with a well-planned diet, vegetarians can live a totally healthy lifestyle and help contribute to a better planet. The following list describes various benefits of vegetarianism:

  • Plant foods are abundant in nutrients, including vitamins, minerals, and protein. They also contain phytochemicals — plant chemicals that are not essential to life, but may help protect against disease — such as beta-carotene. Eating a variety of colors of fruits and vegetables can help ensure that the benefits nature provides are reaped.
  • Reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes. Vegetarians benefit from eating less saturated fat and cholesterol, and higher amounts of complex carbohydrates, dietary fiber, certain minerals, and phytochemicals. Cholesterol is only found in animal foods, so vegan diets are completely cholesterol-free.
  • Contribute to the vegetarian cause! Whether you have aim to respect animals, lessen your carbon footprint on the environment, or just want to make a lifestyle change, as a vegetarian you are making your own positive impact on the world. You can be proud that you are living according to the beliefs that you stand for.

Whenever you cut a food group out of your diet, it is important to understand how to replace the vital nutrients that go along with it. While the positives are all fine and dandy, it is important to be aware of the challenges of being a vegetarian:

  • It can be harder to get the protein you need. Protein is important formaintaining and repairing muscle tissue, and manufacturing blood cells, antibodies, hormones, and enzymes. Fortunately, there are plenty of non-meat proteins to supplement your diet.
  • Possible vitamin and mineral deficiencies can develop without a balanced eating plan. Cutting out dairy, meat, fish, and poultry reduces your intake of vitamin B12 (important for nerve transmission and necessary for life), calcium (for strong bones, among other functions), iron (for blood), and zinc (for immunity and healing), just to name a few.
  • Depending on where you live, it may be challenging to adhere to a meat-free lifestyle. For example, living in a big city may provide you with endless veggie options, while a small-town lifestyle may make it more difficult to find healthy substitutions for meat.
  • You may have difficulty explaining your eating habits to family and friends.While it may seem that being a vegetarian is relatively mainstream, certain cultures leave little room for herbivores. You may encounter some sticky situations where people have prepared for you a meaty meal, or perhaps, your friends and family may challenge your decision to remain meat-free.

Remember, what is included in your diet (rather than what is excluded) is what counts. It is extremely important to incorporate a balanced eating plan full of nutrient-rich foods. For help in selecting a healthy eating plan appropriate for your state of health, age, size, activity level, preferences, and moral and ethical values, consult with a registered dietitian. Columbia students can make an appointment with a registered dietician at Medical Services through Open Communicator or by calling (212) 854-7426. Informed choices are the best choices!

Alice

February 23, 2012

507783
I've been vegetarian for over two decades, vegan for the past 6. Most days I get more than the daily recommended allowance of protein and calcium. For B12, there are really good veg supplements. I...
I've been vegetarian for over two decades, vegan for the past 6. Most days I get more than the daily recommended allowance of protein and calcium. For B12, there are really good veg supplements. I also use vegan nutritional yeast (sprinkle over pasta or rice or another savory dish). I'd recommend checking out some vegetarian resources online so you can try going veg in a way that's going to make you feel satisfied and healthy. Veg meet-up groups are a great way to meet some like-minded folks and help give some social support. Personally, going vegan was the best decision I've ever made. I'm now naturally thin (something I definitely wasn't before then), I eat a lot of yummy food each day and always feel satisfied, my health is great, and I feel good about how my choices affect animals and the environment. There's a new film called Vegucated that documents three New Yorkers' experiences going from meat lovers to trying out a veg diet. You might find it interesting. Good luck and enjoy!

Managing high blood pressure through diet

Dear Reader,

Hypertension is known as the "silent killer" and is one of the most common diseases of the cardiovascular system. It is defined as a condition of sustained elevated pressure in the arteries of 140/90 or higher. In this case, 140 is the systolic pressure. Simply put, systolic pressure represents the blood pressure against the arteries while the heart is contracting or beating. The number 90 is the diastolic pressure, meaning the blood pressure while the heart is relaxing or between beats. People who are genetically sensitive to sodium experience high blood pressure from excesses in salt intake. People who are most likely to be salt sensitive include children of parents with hypertension, African Americans, and people over 50 years of age. It is important to keep in mind that not everyone is salt sensitive. As hypertension in the body becomes prolonged, the risk for heart failure, vascular disease, kidney (renal) failure, and stroke increases.

Although there has been no cause identified for hypertension in 90 percent of people, dietary factors have been shown to influence blood pressure. People with hypertension can use the following food guidelines:

Avoid foods high in sodium.
Sodium causes vasoconstriction, the narrowing of blood vessels. Therefore, the amount of space blood has to travel through decreases. This decrease creates an increase in the resistance the blood has to overcome. This increased resistance makes it more difficult for the arteries to expand with each beat of the heart, causing the internal pressure to rise. High sodium foods include processed meats, salted snack foods, cheeses, and canned foods.

Eat foods high in potassium.
Good dietary sources of potassium include bananas, potatoes, avocados, tomato juice, grapefruit juice, and acorn squash. Potassium helps maintain intracellular osmotic pressure, which is the force required to stop the flow of water across a membrane.

Limit adding salt to foods, particularly in restaurants.
Most foods, especially at restaurants, are already high in sodium.

Use salt substitutes.

Eat calcium and magnesium rich foods to help reduce blood pressure.
Food sources rich in calcium include low-fat milk, green beans, sardines with bones, broccoli, spinach, and tofu. Good sources of magnesium-rich foods include any legumes and seeds, such as navy beans and sunflower seeds.

Lower saturated fat intake.
Saturated fat increases the level of low density lipoproteins (LDL), which tend to stick to the sides of the arterial wall. This deposit of fat is known as atherosclerosis. Atherosclerosis begins with the accumulation of fatty streaks on the inner arterial walls. When this fatty buildup enlarges and becomes hardened with minerals, such as calcium, it forms plaque. Plaque stiffens the arteries and narrows the passages through them. Thus, blood pressure rises. This rise in blood pressure is due to the arteries' lack of elasticity.

Hypertension can also be treated with drugs, including diuretics, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, and ACE inhibitors. Talk with your health care provider to see what treatment is best for you, if you need it.

According to a Harvard research study, the DASH! Diet could be another possible way to decrease blood pressure. DASH! stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. The Dash trials began with 459 adults with systolic pressure of less than 160 and diastolic pressure between 80 and 95. The Dash study randomly assigned people to one of three diets for eight weeks. The first diet was the Control Diet. This diet had levels of fat and cholesterol that matched the average American's diet. It had lower than average levels of potassium, magnesium, and calcium. The other two groups were divided into a "Fruit and Vegetable Diet" and a "Combination Diet." The Fruit and Vegetable group matched the control group in fat, saturated fat, cholesterol, and protein. However, the difference was that this diet had more potassium and magnesium. The fruit and vegetable diet reduced systolic blood pressure 2.8 mm Hg more than the control diet. It also reduced diastolic blood pressure 1.1 mm Hg more than the control. The Combination Diet had less total fat, saturated fat, and cholesterol than the fruit and vegetable and control diets. The combination diet, rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, also had more potassium, magnesium, calcium, fiber, and protein. This combination diet reduced systolic blood pressure 5.5 mm Hg more than the control diet. It also reduced diastolic blood pressure 3.0 mm Hg more than the control diet.

To adapt the Dash Diet into your lifestyle, follow these guidelines:

  • Make gradual changes in your eating patterns.
  • Center your meal around carbohydrates, such as pastas, rice, beans, or vegetables.
  • Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables.
  • Treat meat as one part of the whole meal.
  • Decrease use of fat.

For example, total number of servings in a 2,000 calorie per day menu would look like this:

Food Group Servings
Grains 8
Vegetables 4
Fruits 5
Dairy Foods 3
Meats, Poultry, & Fish 2
Nuts, Legumes, & Seeds 1
Fats & Oils 2.5

For more info on the Dash Diet, you can go to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide website.

Finally, weight loss is recommended if you are overweight. Obesity can worsen hypertension. Extra adipose tissue means miles of extra capillaries through which the blood must be pumped. Weight loss can be accomplished through aerobic activity. Aerobic exercise will utilize fat stored in the body. This, along with weight training, will increase your muscle mass, which, in turn, will raise your metabolic rate. Therefore, you will expend more calories throughout the day.

Alice
[Material adapted from:

Marieb, Elaine N. Human Anatomy and Physiology. CA: The Benjamin/Cummings Publishing Co., 1997: p. 710.

Whitney, Eleanor and Sharon Rolfes, eds. Understanding Nutrition. Minneapolis/St. Paul: West Publishing Co., 1996.]


Anorexia, Dexatrim, and Prozac?

Dear Worried friend,

Your question brings up a couple of different, complicated issues. Let's start with your inquiry, about the dangers of mixing Dexatrim and Prozac. Prozac is not, as you stated, in the antidepressant class of MAOI inhibitors. Rather, it is an SSRI, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor. These two different groups of drugs are both prescribed to address biological causes of depression, as well as some other psychological conditions. Their use is only one part of such treatment, which should also include counseling in the form of individual, group, or family therapy with a trained social worker, psychologist, or psychiatrist.

The main ingredient in Dexatrim is phenylpropanolamine (PPA), which decreases appetite and has been, until recently, a common ingredient in decongestants, as it also relaxes the bronchial tubes. A study by the Yale University School of Medicine revealed that PPA is associated with an increased risk of stroke. Therefore, in November 2000, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released a statement asking that manufacturers of products containing PPA replace it with alternative active ingredients. For further important information about this, read the response to Too much Dexatrim?.

If your friend is indeed taking Prozac while also taking Dexatrim, the best bet would be for her to discuss this with her health care providers. Although using these two drugs together is not specifically contraindicated from a medical standpoint, it's possible that there could be adverse reactions, such as an increased or decreased effect of one or both of the drugs, unhealthy changes in heart and blood pressure, or intensified side effects. For example, both Dexatrim and Prozac can cause nausea, headache, trouble sleeping, and nervousness.

There are some other things for your friend to think about, too. One is that PPA is an amphetamine-like drug and can cause people to feel unusually good about themselves and the world while they're taking it. If your friend is taking Prozac to treat symptoms of depression at the same time, it will be difficult to tell which of the drugs is having an effect on her emotions. Discussing this with the health care provider who has prescribed the Prozac will help in figuring out if the anti-depressant is helpful, and, if so, an appropriate dose.

Another complicated aspect of your question has to do with the treatment of eating disorders. One concern is the simple fact that your friend is taking Dexatrim. You state that your friend has anorexia. The hallmarks of anorexia are severely restricted eating and a significant drop in body weight. In fact, Prozac is contraindicated for the treatment of this disorder, as it may actually cause a loss of weight and disinterest in food. It's possible that your friend has been prescribed Prozac because she's depressed (common in eating disorders), yet hasn't revealed the fact that she's struggling with issues around food. On the other hand, Prozac has been found to be helpful in the treatment of bulimia, an eating disorder involving cyclical periods of intense eating or binges, followed by purging of the food by vomiting or other compensatory behaviors. It is very important that your friend be honest with her health care providers and counselors about her patterns of eating and the feelings that prompt her behavior. Only then can she be appropriately diagnosed and helped to find healthier ways of managing food and the emotional stresses in her life.

If you would like to speak to a counselor about your friend, Columbia students can meet with a counselor at Counseling and Psychology Services (CPS) (Morningside) or Mental Health Services (Medical Center). If your friend is a Columbia student (Morningside), she can make an appointment with a healthcare provider by logging on to Open Communicator.  If she is a student at the Medical Center campus, she can contact Student Health.

Alice

Recommended dietary allowances (RDAs) of nutrients?

Dear Reader,

RDAs (Recommended Dietary Allowances), prepared by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Academy of Sciences, have been around for over 50 years, with periodic updates. The RDA is the average daily dietary intake level that would adequately meet the nutritional needs of nearly all (98 percent) healthy persons. RDAs include nutrients for which there is sufficient scientific evidence that they are required for good health. Their intention has always been to establish "standards to serve as a goal for good nutrition." RDAs provide the basis for evaluating the adequacy of diets of population groups. They are set at a level that includes a safety factor appropriate to each nutrient; so, this level actually exceeds the requirement for most individuals.

The Food and Nutrition Board has established Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs). In addition to RDAs, DRIs include recommendations for food components for which RDAs cannot be established. Some of these include fat, carbohydrate, fiber, and plant estrogens, among others. DRIs also include maximum intake levels. Three dietary intake reference values for DRIs are:

  • Adequate Intake — the dietary intake level that would adequately sustain health when an RDA cannot be determined because of insufficient scientific evidence.
  • Estimated Average Requirement — the estimated dietary intake level that would maintain the health of half of a specified age and sex group.
  • Tolerable Upper Intake Level — the maximum level of daily nutrient intake that's apparently safe and unlikely to cause negative health effects in most healthy individuals.

DRIs and RDAs are not developed for specific individuals, but are for the making of policies for feeding programs, food labeling, and food fortification. The numbers signify levels of each compound that are appropriate for most healthy people in each category. To access information on RDAs and DRIs, check out the United States Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food and Nutrition Information Center website.

Vitamin supplements may contain an amount equivalent to the RDA for DRI, but you'll probably not find a supplement with every imaginable nutrient, vitamin, and mineral. There are innumerable substances that keep us healthy, many of which cannot be packaged in a pill. In addition, many nutrients are difficult for the body to absorb when they come in pill form. Obtaining nutrients directly from a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins is still the recommended manner of giving your body all it needs to be healthy.

To assess whether your current diet is filled with nutrients, check out ChooseMyPlate.gov. You can also speak with your health care provider about whether you need a multivitamin or if the food you eat is sufficient. Students at Columbia can also make an appointment to speak with a registered dietician or a health care provider either through Medical Services (Morningside) or the Student Health Service (CUMC). Take care,

Alice

Will sex-ercise shed those extra pounds?

Dear Curious,

Burn, baby burn — talk about a great workout! While you may experience some of the same physical effects during sex as you would during a vigorous workout (sweating, rapid heartbeat), you may not want to rely on sex as a main source of exercise.

It is estimated that the average 175-pound person burns 150 to 200 calories during 30 to 40 minutes of sex. Of course this will vary, depending on a person's weight, the type of sexual activities involved, and a person's overall fitness level. When compared with activities such as running, cycling, or rollerblading, however, sex does not burn as many calories. A research article on sex and the heart suggests that the maximum energy expenditure during sex occurs during orgasm but returns to normal within two to three minutes after. So, while you may burn more calories during orgasm, this higher rate of metabolism is not sustained after orgasm has ended.

Keep in mind that the number of calories burned during sex depends on a variety of factors, including duration, intensity, length of orgasm, type of sexual activity (i.e., oral, vaginal, anal), and position. Individual factors such as age, weight, and body composition also influence how many calories are burned during sex as with any other physical activity. It may be helpful to check out What exactly does moderate intensity mean? in the Go Ask Alice! fitness and nutrition archives for more information on energy expenditure and how it is calculated.

If you are interested in finding ways to burn calories and/or achieve a higher level of fitness, you may want to consider starting/maintaining a regular exercise program. If you are a student at Columbia, you can check out the offerings at the Dodge Fitness Center and/or join the  CU Move initiative.  CU Move encourages members of the Columbia community to engage in active lives that include regular physical activity. The program provides participants with motivation and incentives to be active throughout the year. You can also check out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more information on physical activity and calorie-burning.

So, while sex-ercise may not be the primary option for shedding pounds, you can still enjoy sex for the other benefits it provides.

Alice

How to eat your veggies, even if you don't like them

Dear Reader,

Eating fruits and vegetables is an essential part of maintaining good health. In 2011, the USDA launched its most recent food guide called Choose My Plate. Most health professionals and health promotion organizations, including the USDA, recommend eating at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily. Or, in the case of the Choose My Plate campaign, make half of your plate fruits and vegetables.

Since eating vegetables is not very appealing to you, let's start by discussing ways to incorporate some essential vitamins and minerals into your diet via fruit. Look to a wide variety of fruits to take in more vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals, which are plant substances that may ward off heart disease and certain forms of cancer. For example, a fruit salad composed of oranges, assorted berries, grapes, kiwi, bananas, apples, and peaches with fresh lime juice squeezed over it can be enjoyed as a delicious part of any meal or on its own as a snack. A piece of fruit, such as an apple or a pear, is also an excellent dessert and can be paired with protein, such as nut butter or cheese, to make a well balanced snack.

Now let's move to the incorporation of vegetables in a positive way. Vegetables can taste bitter, particularly when eaten raw. A good place to begin may be experimenting with roasting a few different vegetables to see what you may like. Roasting vegetables brings out their sweetness via a process called caramelization, which reveals the sugars in vegetables, causing them to taste sweeter. This works particularly well with root vegetables, such as onions, potatoes, sweet potatoes, turnips, and carrots. To roast vegetables, simply cut them into one-inch squares, toss with olive oil, salt, and pepper, place on a baking sheet, and put in an oven at 450 degrees for 30 to 40 minutes, tossing and turning throughout cooking. You will know they are done when they are golden brown, slightly crispy on the outside, and soft on the inside. Broccoli and cauliflower are also delicious when roasted. Feel free to experiment by adding grated parmesan or other cheeses, herbs, and spices to the vegetables after roasting. You can also look to "sweeter" vegetables, such as corn, peas, tomatoes, and carrots and incorporate them into pasta or rice dishes or put them together to make a salad. The Get Balanced! nutrition initiative offers some recipes to get you started, such as the Cilantro Corn Tomato Salad.

It is also possible to disguise vegetables in your food, similar to the way some parents do when their children don't eat their veggies. This is typically done using vegetable purees, which can be made at home simply by microwaving a vegetable and then pureeing it, or can be found in the freezer section (most often found are pureed sweet potatoes or squash) or as jars of baby food in the children's section of your grocery store. Purees can be added to stew, soup, pasta sauce, baked goods, etc.; the options are endless. There are several good cookbooks available that offer recipes that incorporate vegetable purees. You can also sneak in an extra veggie by making fruit smoothies with spinach added in — all you'll taste is the fruit!

In addition to purees, you can also incorporate vegetables into other foods. Examples include:

  • Make omelets with tomatoes, peppers, and/or mushrooms — be sure to sauté the vegetables first before adding the eggs.
  • Add broccoli and/or olives to your pizza.
  • Add chopped spinach and/or grated carrots and onions to turkey burgers or meatloaf.
  • Mix chopped carrot and celery into tuna or chicken salad.
  • Choose soups rich in vegetables, such as Minestrone or Gumbo.
  • Add peas, carrots, and/or zucchini to rice pilaf.

It's difficult to "force" yourself into liking a specific food, especially if you are turned off by the taste. Luckily, you can choose from a variety of vegetable options and cooking methods. Keep an open mind (and mouth), and perhaps you will come to enjoy some of these foods!

For more tips about healthy eating, fruits, and vegetables, check out the Optimal Nutrition section of the Go Ask Alice! archive, learn more about the tools from Columbia's Get Balanced initiative, or visit Choosemyplate.gov.

Alice

Dancing for health

Dear Reader,

According to researchers at the Mayo Clinic, social dancing provides the body with many health benefits. It may help reduce stress, increase energy, and improve strength, muscle tone, and coordination. Dancing can also burn as many calories as walking or riding a bike. One factor that determines how many calories you will use is the distance you travel while grooving to the beat. In one study, researchers found that square dancers covered five miles in a single evening. That's a lot of do-si-doing!

Other aspects of dance that contribute to your cardiovascular conditioning depend on how long, how often, and how intensely or vigorously you boogie and get down. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recognizes the benefits of dance in lowering coronary heart disease risk, decreasing blood pressure, and managing weight. Another plus of dancing is that the weight bearing movements of your steps can strengthen the bones of your legs and hips, important for maintaining bone health as you age. As a result, dancing may be used as part of a rehabilitation program, of course with appropriate supervision.

While we may not all be hip-hopping into our nineties, dancing is one activity we can (hopefully) do for the rest of our lives... and the sociability it provides is part of its allure. It's a great way to make new friends, be creative and expressive, and just plain old enjoy life. And, the best part of dancing is the fun you can have while you're doing something great for your body.

Whatever your preference, there's sure to be a style to get your toes tappin'! Whether it's belly dancing, funk, swing, ballet, jazz, tap, square, hip-hop, the hustle, the tango, or modern dance, classes are popping up all over. Columbia students can join one of numerous student dance clubs (ballroom, latin, swing, oh my!). Visit the Clubs & Organizations page for more information. In addition, you can contact your local gym, YW/YMCA, recreation/community center, or dance studio to see what they offer.

Well, now that you know that dancing is good for you, put on your dancin' shoes and cut a rug!

Alice

Ginkgo biloba and physiological impotence?

Dear Reader,

Some people swear by Ginkgo biloba, calling it a miracle herb with the power to fix anything from Alzheimer's to erectile dysfunction. But what are the facts? Scientifically speaking the data is less clear.

According to available research, Ginkgo has been used effectively to improve cognitive function in patients with Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, as well as to improve memory in healthy adults and to treat peripheral vascular disease. Though it shows some potential with sexual dysfunction, the results have been mixed. In fact, Ginkgo’s effectiveness appears to be limited to relieving sexual dysfunction that is caused by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) anti-depressants and not more generalized physiological causes. Some of ginkgo’s success with treating sexual dysfunction is believed to be the result of the placebo effect.

Though ginkgo is considered safe, there are some side effects such as headache, nausea, upset stomach, vomiting, and irritations around the mouth. Because of ginkgo’s ability to thin the blood, experts advise that you not take ginkgo if you are currently taking medication for diabetes, aspirin, ibuprofen or anticoagulant drugs such as heparin and warfarin. Doctors also advise caution to patients with bleeding disorders or those who are taking drugs, herbs (such as garlic, ginseng and red clover), or supplements that may increase the risk of bleeding.

Ginko biloba is usually sold as an extract because many of the plants parts, including its seeds, are considered poisonous and their consumption could lead to seizures and death. You may want to avoid these altogether.

Overall, Ginkgo could work for you either through the placebo effect or because of actual biochemical interactions — it just might not be your best bet. If you are interested in help with impotence you may want to speak with a health care provider. S/he can help you determine possible causes, the best treatment options, as well as answer any other questions you may have about Ginkgo biloba and its effects. Columbia students on the Morningside campus can make an appointment with Medical Services using Open Communicator or by calling 212-854-2284. Columbia students at the Medical Center can make an appointment with Student Health by calling 212-305-3400.

Alice

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