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Blue Light From Your Electronic Device - Keeping You Up At Night?

>> Friday, July 27, 2012

Most of us have one, and most of us do it - we use our computers, iPhones, tablets, and other devices until right before sleep. Heck, most of us bring them into the bedroom with us (it's our alarm clock too, right?).  If you are a person who struggles to get to sleep, rethink your actions - the blue light emitted from these devices may be making it harder for you to fall asleep.

Blue light is part of the spectrum of normal light, and it's abundantly emitted from the screen of your computer and your portable device.  Blue light stimulates a special sensor in our eyes called melanopsin, which is thought to regulate our sense of night and day by affecting levels of melatonin (a sleep hormone) in our brains.  When we see blue light, melanopsin is stimulated, which suppresses melatonin levels, effectively telling our brains that it is daytime and not the time to sleep.  So, if you're using your electronic device before bed, it may take a while after you shut it off for your brain to realize it's night time and fall asleep.

The makers of these devices are hard at work to develop features that limit the amount of blue light emitted from screens at night.  For iPad and iPhone users, you can dim the screen in the Settings menu, which helps to decrease the overall (and therefore also the blue) light emitted.  There are also funky orange tinted glasses and screen filters available out there that help to decrease the amount of blue light you see, and even computer software that can be installed to decrease the amount of blue light coming from your screen.

Knowing that sleep deprivation increases the risk of obesity, here's one more item we can add to the long list of contributors to weight struggles in modern society.

Not to mention that reading those palpitation-inducing work emails right before bed probably isn't the best idea, either. :)

Dr Sue Pedersen © 2012

Follow me on Twitter for daily tips! @drsuepedersen 


FDA Approves Second New Weight Loss Drug

>> Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hot on the heels of the first obesity drug approval in USA in 13 years just a few weeks ago, the American FDA has now also approved a new combination drug for the treatment obesity.

Dubbed 'Qsymia', it is a combination of two medications:  an extended release version of topiramate (which is currently used to treat seizure disorders and to prevent migraines), and a stimulant agent called phentermine, which was already in use for short term weight loss in the United States.

The studies that have been done have shown that this combination treatment for obesity results in an average of 6.7% weight loss after one year on the lower dose, and 8.9% weight loss after one year on the higher dose.   These numbers are more impressive than the recently improved lorcaserin, which results in a one year weight loss of just under 4% (though the two agents have not been studied head-to-head).

There are several important considerations in terms of potential side effects of Qsymia.  It can increase heart rate, and should therefore not be used by people who have unstable heart disease, or who have had a heart attack or stroke in the last 6 months.  It can also cause harm to a fetus, so it's essential that pregnancy is strictly avoided while using this medication.  There are other issues as well - you can read about these on the FDA website.  

As always, it's about assessing the benefit versus the risk of any medication, as a team of patient and doctor, to decide what the best treatment approach is. 

Perhaps the most exciting thing about this approval is that the tides are finally turning in the world of obesity - medications are finally starting to become available in an area where there is such desperate need.  Having a variety of agents available will improve our ability to find the best treatment approach for each individual.

Dr Sue Pedersen © 2012

Follow me on Twitter for daily tips! @drsuepedersen 


Dangers of Herbal Remedies

>> Thursday, July 12, 2012

Many people take some form of naturopathic or alternative remedy for a wide variety of reasons - a whopping $14.8 BILLION has been spent in the United States on herbal remedies in a single year.  For most people, it's the idea that the product is 'natural' that is attractive - it makes it seem as though these substances can only do good, and can do no harm.  Be warned - it is due to the unfortunate lack of regulation of these products that this 'do no harm' idea has been successfully disseminated - but it is not true at all.

As nicely summarized in a recent article which I highly encourage you to read, dietary supplements are exempt from the usual medication regulation by the American FDA.  This means that a product does not have to be proven effective or safe before it is put on the market.  The only information we have about potential side effects of a herbal remedy is from voluntary reporting after the product is in use, which only represents a small fraction of the side effects that are happening but not being reported.

As an example from the world of herbal treatments of obesity, the article notes:

Even when the agency identifies an unsafe product, it lacks authority to mandate its removal from the market because it must meet the very high legal requirement to demonstrate “significant or unreasonable” risk. That is why it took the FDA more than 10 years to remove from the market ephedra-containing herbal weight-loss products that had caused hundreds of deaths and thousands of adverse events.   

Other problems that limit the ability to understand these chemicals and herbs include:

  • Inadequate labeling of the supplement - in other words, it's not clear exactly what the product contains. 
  • Frequent unsound and illegal claims made by websites - a study investigating this found that staff at retail outlets have even been caught telling patients to take their herbs instead of prescription medications - which could have life threatening consequences.
  • Herbal remedies can be tainted with undeclared prescription drugs and heavy metals - as noted in the recent article“These tainted products can cause serious adverse events, including strokes, organ failure and death.”
The internet and TV media tend to overblow the potential benefits and downplay potential harms of herbal supplements, while the reverse publicity is true for prescription medications.  As such, many people have a trust in herbal remedies that they don't have for prescription medications. 

The bottom line is that just like for a prescription medication, the decision to take a herbal remedy should be made with a careful evaluation of the benfits vs the risks.  The unfortunate reality is that this information for naturopathic remedies is just not available, so it's impossible to make this assessment.  

The only solution to this problem is much stricter regulation of these substances, with careful evaluation of their benefits vs risks, before they are put on shelves.  The FDA has recently issued a draft proposal to gain authority to regulate supplements - let's hope that this goes through.  

As a final note - the beautiful, naturally occuring plant pictured above is the digitalis plant.  The extract from this plant (also called Digoxin) is a cardiovascular drug that is used to treat certain heart problems.  When digoxin is prescribed to patients, levels are monitored very carefully, as high levels can cause very dangerous side effects, including heart rhythm disturbances, which can be life threatening.  This example reminds us that just because a substance is natural, does not mean that it is free of possible side effects.

Dr Sue Pedersen © 2012

Follow me on Twitter for daily tips! @drsuepedersen 


Eating Healthy at the Calgary Stampede!

>> Friday, July 6, 2012

It's that time of year again - the Calgary Stampede is in town, and we are ringing in its 100th birthday this year!  Along with the chuckwagon races, bull riding, barrel racing, and other rodeo events, there's a huge fairgrounds set up at Stampede Park, with an ever growing list of crazy food choices to satisfy any craving.  I thought I'd go looking to see if there are any healthy(ish) choices amongst the new snacks available this year.  Here's my review of some of the highlights:

  • Beef Bacon Sandwiches: Touted on the website as 'Bacon that's healthy!' Hmm.  Beef bacon has only 10% less calories than pork bacon.  Guess again.
  • Naaco Bits: Butter chicken sausage, battered and deep fried.  'Nuf said!
  • Esquites: Warm corn salad in a cup.  I'm interested in this one.  It could be OK, depending on what they use for the sauce - if there's a lot of oil, the calorie count could be high.  Consider eating half (share!), as corn is not a FreeVeg - it contains a lot of sugar and should therefore be considered to be a carb.
  • Tempura Coated Deep Fried Vegetables... well... I like the 'vegetables' part!
  • Saltspring Island Noodle Stirfry - 'A healthy gourmet noodle box cooked with fresh veggies, chicken or shrimp, and no oil!'  Now THIS one has potential - I'll be asking for nutritional information on this one when I'm at the midway.
  • Loukomathes (Greek Honey Puffs) (pictured above) - looks like a variation of the mini donut with a fancy name....
  • Deep Fried Kool Aid - really?? How do they even do that?? 

The Bottom Line:  It's tough to eat healthy at the Stampede midway, but there are a couple of contenders that rise above the rest.  For many people, the food is a big part of the fun and excitement of going to the Stampede.  My suggestion is to enjoy in moderation: consider picking one or two treats, and practice portion control by sharing with friends!!

Happy Stampeding!

Dr Sue Pedersen © 2012

Follow me on Twitter for daily tips! @drsuepedersen 


New Weight Loss Medication Approved in USA

>> Sunday, July 1, 2012

After a 13 year drought without approval of any new medications to help combat obesity, the American  Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new medication called lorcaserin (trade name Belviq) this week.

I was asked to write an editorial with my colleague, professor Arne Astrup, for Medscape Today about this new weight loss medication - you can read the full editorial here.

Dr Sue Pedersen © 2012

Follow me on Twitter for daily tips! @drsuepedersen 



I am excited that you have arrived at my site, and I hope you are too - consider this the first step towards a Healthier New You!! As a medical doctor, Endocrinologist, and obesity specialist, I am absolutely passionate about helping people with weight management. Though there is certainly no magic cure for obesity, there IS a successful treatment plan out there for you - it is all about understanding the elements that contribute to your personal weight struggle, and then finding the treatment plan that suits your needs and your lifestyle. The way to finding your personal solution is to learn as much as you can about obesity: how our toxic environment has shaped us into an overweight society; the diversity of contributors to obesity; and what the treatment options out there are really all about. Knowledge Is Power!!

Are you ready to change your life? Let's begin our journey together, towards a healthier, happier you!!

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