27 December 2009

Female Athlete Triad

When I was in high school, one of my best friends was a long-distance runner and a dancer. After only a few months of training, I knew something was wrong. She changed her diet to one of protein and almost no other calories. She was obsessed with exercise leading to a loss of many of her friends. Later on she lost a lot of weight and, to me, instead of becoming healthier she appeared to look pretty unhealthy.

What I didn't know then was that my friend may have suffered from the "female athlete triad". It is a three-part syndrome that affects the health and performance of female athletes and includes osteoporosis, disordered eating and menstrual disorders. Each of these are inter-related and inter-play. Together they can cause serious illness or death.

Writing in a review in British Medical Journal, Dr. Karen Birch explains that the syndrome can be caused by pressures psychological and physiological associated with a sports requirements to perform optimally, which can lead to a perception of needing a "low body mass, result of high-volume training" (1).

Being somewhat controversial, at least one medical researcher has called for abandonment of the syndrome. Dr. Michael Cullen of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Medicine points out that the term "blurs the concepts of a true eating disorder with that of a driven athlete who is simply ignorant of nutritional demands" and that osteoporosis in atheletes is rare (2).

Despite whether a syndrome should be recognized or not, clinicians should continue to recognize which women are most at risk, which are teen girls and female athletes of many kinds, especially where body image counts: gymnasts, figure skaters, ballerinas, swimmers, endurance runners, and so on (3).

The first signs of the female athlete triad may be low-calorie dieting or exercising to excess or obsession (3). The low-calcium diet contributes to low bone density. If amenorrhea results, it may be linked to decreased estrogen levels (3). It has also been my experience that smoking usually is another sign of an eating disorder among teens. The reasons why is because the teens see it as an effective method to control appetite and weight (4). Unfortunately, for a teen suffering already from female athlete triad, smoking can cause an exacerbated loss of bone (5 & 6). The impact of female athlete triad can lead to infertility and stress fractures in the future (1).


1. Birch K. Female athlete triad. ABC of sports and exercise medicine. British Medical Journal. Available at: http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/extract/330/7485/244.

2. Cullen M. et al. 10 Feb 2005. The Female Athlete Triad. Available at: al.http://www.bmj.com/cgi/content/extract/330/7485/244.

3. WebMD. The Female Athlete Triad. Available at: http://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/female-athlete-triad.

4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17056404

5. Gropper SS, Smith JL, Groff JL. Advanced Nutrition and Human Metabolism. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2009.

6. http://www.ausport.gov.au/participating/women/issues/osteo

20 December 2009

Family influence on meals

My thoughts after reading "A Review of Family Meal Influence on Adolescents' Dietary Intake" by Sarah Woodruff and Rhona Hanning:

It's pretty easy to imagine why having dinner with one's family would instill positive nutritional habits. Even the word family exudes in its meaning what goes further to credit an environment of caring and, above all, nurturing.

When mother and father are at the table, they are naturally given to see to it that their children are eating well. At the same time, they must also set the right example. Thus, it's clear why the authors of the article found that the studies reviewed found that those adolescents who ate with their families had a higher intake dairy, fruits and vegetables.

I would further suggest that family influence comes with wisdom as to healthy eating pattens. For example, when grandma or grandpa or mom or dad make a meal, they themselves are passing on food traidtions that may have well sustained generations with better health. When family is not available and adolescents are left to choose their own eating patterns, one could imagine they're much more inclined to make poorer choices as they have to "reinvent the wheel" so to say.

One element I would have liked to have seen the article address with more detail was actual preapartion of food. It's my own experience that a personal relationship with food can go a long way in how nutritious it is to a person. You might call it a greater food consciousness--more understanding of what's about to be eaten. Food consciousness is often lost on teens when going out to eat or when leaning on the microwave meals. When a teen prepares his or her own food, just the creativity itself involved by choice and cooking is likely to play a factor in actual nutrition.

14 December 2009

What's an ALT test?

Alanine aminotransferase (ALT) is an enzyme that is concentrated in the hepatocytes. When the liver is injured or affected by disease, the enzyme is released into the bloodstream. When jaundice occurs, for example, elevated ALT levels can distinguish a liver injury or disease instead of red blood cell hemolysis.

The test is performed on a patient by collecting 7-10 mL of blood in a red-top tube, then sending it to a lab for analysis. If a patient does have liver dysfunction, then the clinician should note that bleeding times may be longer.

Significantly elevated ALT levels may indicate hepatits, hepatitis necrosis or hepatits ischemia. Moderately increased levels may indicate cirrhosis, cholestatis, a hepatic tumor, a hepatotoxic drug, obstructive jaundice, severe burns or trauma to striated muscle. Drugs that may elevate ALT levels include acetaminophens, clofibrate, codeine, salicylates, tetracyclines among many others.

ALT levels may also increase to a lesser extent due to myositis, acute pancreatitis, myocardial infarction, mononucleosis or shock.

Summarized from the following:

Pagana, K.D., Pagana, T.J. Mostby's Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 3rd ed. Mosby Elsvier, 2006, pp. 40-42.

Lee RD, Nieman DC. Nutritional Assessment. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.

13 December 2009

When You Have an Abnormal Lipid Profile

An abnormal lipid profile is a consistent indicator of atherosclerosis and cardiovascular disease (CHD). Blood lipids include total cholesterol, LDL-C, HDL-C and triglycerides. Because each of these factors are ultimately affected by diet, it serves to reason to recommend dietary strategies to help lower total cholesterol and LDL-C, increase HDL-C and reduce triglyceride levels.

ATP III uses the term therapeutic lifestyle changes (TLC) for recommendations that can help to improve abnormal lipid profiles and reduce risk of CHD. TLC makes recommendations for saturated fat (less than 7% of total calories), polyunsaturated fat (up to 10% of total calories), monounsaturated fat (up to 20% of total calories), total fat (25-35% of total calories, fiber (20-30g/d), protein (approx. 15% of total calories), and cholesterol (less than 200 mg/d). The total calories recommendation, in addition, is based on a balance of energy intake and expenditure to maintain a healthy weight (1).

Because it is often difficult for patients to adhere to specific percentages, a nutritionist can help patients by summarizing recommendations as eating less to lose weight as appropriate, exercising regularly as appropriate, avoiding animal fats in keeping to a low-cholesterol diet, replacing saturated fats with polyunsaturated fats whenever possible, and eating more fruits and vegetables.

A nutritionist could also approach patients with a Mediterranean-style diet. Recent research is showing that this diet is appropriate because it represents many of the same diet recommendations included in TLC. This diet may also have lipid-lowering effects and cardio-protective benefits from the regular intake of red wine, olive oil and fish (2).

Reference List

1. Lee RD, Nieman DC. Nutritional Assessment. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.
2. Cheskin LJ, Kahan S. Low-carbohydrate and Mediterranean diets led to greater weight loss than a low-fat diet in moderately obese adults. Evid Based Med 2008;13:176.

When should prevention of atherosclerosis start?

I have three children, one boy, 13 and two girls, 10 and 11. As far as I’m concerned prevention of atherosclerosis should begin as early as possible. That means yesterday. However, I understand that there exists some uncertainty of exactly what age to begin prevention. It has to do partly with juvenile fatty streaks. What may appear unimaginable is that the occurrence of juvenile fatty streaks somehow may have an importance in child development.

Most North American children develop fatty streaks in their aortas by age 3 and in coronary arteries along with macrophage foam cells by age 10 (1); by the time children are reaching puberty, they may already have developed fatty streak lesions. Fatty streaks are nothing new. As offered by McGill et al, our hominin forebears likely developed them as do current non-human Old and New World primates even when living in natural habitats. Studies of other mammals reveal that many of them also develop fatty streaks.

From an evolutionary perspective, then, fatty streaks may have provided a selective advantage to pre-human or human ancestors. Or, as in most cases, there are “trade-offs” in evolution. What may have been a cause of poor health in the long run for human ancestors may have been important part of early development. Fats and calories, for example, may have helped a child's brain or muscle development (3). It also stands to reason that while fatty streaks are normal, they may not necessarily lead to atherosclerosis. Wild mice develop fatty streaks, for example, but won’t develop lesions. Caged mice on a high-fat/cholesterol diet, however, will develop lesions and atherosclerosis as they age (2). When comparisons are given of mice and men (or women), our modern “caged” sedentary lifestyles and high-fat/cholesterol diets suggest humans are a burden to their own health.

Long-range prevention, then, should be focused on encouraging an improved diet early. How early? The American Heart Association’s guidelines suggest starting children on a widely varied diet low in fat and calories by age 2 (4). The amounts of fats and calories, however, must take child development into consideration. Even once children reach puberty this should be the case. As with my own children, who I have on a Mediterranean-style DASH diet rich in fats from olive oil and fish, it is important to give the body a holistic approach.

Reference List

1. McGill HC, Jr., McMahan CA, Herderick EE, Malcom GT, Tracy RE, Strong JP. Origin of atherosclerosis in childhood and adolescence. Am J Clin Nutr 2000;72:1307S-15S.
2. Li Y, Gilbert TR, Matsumoto AH, Shi W. Effect of aging on fatty streak formation in a diet-induced mouse model of atherosclerosis. J Vasc Res 2008;45:205-10.
3. Mitchell MK. Nutrition Across the Life Span. "Chapter 9: Nutrition During Growth: Preschool through Preadolescence". Second Edition. Waveland Press: Long Grove, Illinois, 2003, pp. 271-300.
4. Lee RD, Nieman DC. Nutritional Assessment. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2007.

06 December 2009

When to use a C-peptide test

Normally, measuring insulin directly is more accurate with diabetics. But C-peptide levels more accurately reflect islet cell function in situations of insulinomas as well as cases of diabetics taking exogenous insulin (for treatment or secretly).

C-peptide, short for "connecting peptide" is the protein connecting beta/alpha chains of proinsulin. The chains are separated when proinsulin becomes insulin and C-peptide. C-peptide ends up in equal amounts to insulin in the portal vein, lasts longer than insulin so can be found more readily in peripheral circulation, and correlates with insulin levels.

Summarized from

Pagana, K.D., Pagana, T.J. Mostby's Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 3rd ed. Mosby Elsvier, 2006, p. 197.

Why get a glycosylated hemoglobin test?

Measuring blood glucose periodically is critical for staying off the blood sugar rollercoaster. But how can a clinician be sure a patient hasn't gotten on board the rollercoaster? This is when glyosylated hemoglobin comes into the picture.

What happens is that when a person is diabetic and doesn't adequately control blood glucose, her or his blood glucose becomes elevated. The hyperglycemia that results begins to affect certain proteins in the blood as well as hemoglobin. Blood glucose bonds to the hemoglobin and it becomes "glycosylated". The glycosylation mainly happens to hemoglobin A (HbA, the major form of hemoglobin, and it's pretty much irreversible.

After a few weeks, the amount of glycosylated hemoglobin will decline, but only if blood sugar is controlled. If it's not controlled, then a physician can order a glycosylated HbAIC test, or AIC test. A person without diabetes should have about 4-8% HbAIC and the American Diabetes recommends diabetics to stay below at least 7%. The glycosylated hemoglobin test is meant to evaluate how well treatment is going and how well a patient is following recommendations. It also serves as a method to individualize programs, compare therapys, differentiate short-term hyperglycemia in nondiabetics and diabetics, and also to offer as a reward for patients who do well in their control.

Summarized from

Lee, R.D. & Nieman, D.C. Nutritional Assessment, 4th ed. McGraw Hill Higher Education. Boston, 2007, p. 307.

Pagana, K.D., Pagana, T.J. Mostby's Manual of Diagnostic and Laboratory Tests, 3rd ed. Mosby Elsvier, 2006, p. 282.

Baby Steven

John and Susan are both prone to being overweight. They are concerned that their infant son, Steven will also have weight problems. They are referred to you when Steven is 5 months old. Steven's growth data are as follows

Age Weight Length
Birth 8lb 20inches
1 week 8lb 1oz 20 inches
1 month ll lb. 21.5 inches
2 month 12lb 8oz 23 inches
3 month 14lb 8oz 23.5 inches
4 month 16lb 25.5 inches
5 month 18lb 26.5 inches

Steven breast feeds six times daily for about 20-25 minutes at each feeding. He is not presently receiving any other sources of nourishment. Answer the following questions for John and Susan:

Their pediatrician told them that Steven's weight is above average. Is he gaining too much weight?

When charted, Steven’s birth weight and weight gain for the next two months is at about the 50th percentile (1 p. 566). His weight gain afterward appears to be higher than average and he is at the 90th percentile by 5 months (1 p. 566). Steven’s birth length for four months is at about the 50th percentile and then flows upward slightly closer to the 75th percentile (1 p. 567).

Because Steven’s length is slightly higher than average, I would judge that it is the extra growth that may also explain the extra weight gain. The weight gain, then, is probably not at a level that should be worried about. I will agree with others who have replied that at this moment the primary concern should be making sure Steven’s fed well to best support his physical and neurodevelopment that occur in the first year of life (1 p. 216).

Should they delay adding solid foods or add something now? If they should add something, what would recommend?

At Steven’s age of 5 months, the appropriate foods to be supplying him are breast milk or formula, infant cereal and strained fruits and vegetables. He’ll be teething soon, so within two or three months, he’ll be able to enjoy strained meats and breads (1 . Within five to seven months, he’ll be chomping on chopped fruits, vegetables and meats. Steven ca be weaned around 2 to 3 years (1 p. 200).

Should they give Steven juice in a bottle?

No, they should not. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there is no reason why juice should be given to Steven at all based on nutritional considerations (2). This is the case even as he grows older. From my own experience with my children, I can tell you that juice, while sure to be fascinating to a baby’s taste buds, would simply turn into a habit whereby breast milk and formula are avoided.

In fact, my own mother tells me all the time that she wishes she never would have given me juice because, as a baby, I immediately stopped breastfeeding when I tried it. The fruit juice also displaced nutrition I could have received otherwise (1 p. 242). Eventually baby bottle tooth decay would also be my fate (1 p. 242).

A neighbor has suggested that Steven could be given skim milk instead of breast milk, Do you recommend this?

Steven’s breastfeeding of six times daily is normal for babies of 2-3 months (1 p. 239). Once reaching 3-6 months, the level normally should drop to 4-5 and he should be introduced to other foods as mentioned above (1 p. 239). Steven should not be given milk at all, be it raw, whole, 2% or skim. Breast milk is best because of its unique properties such as lactoferrin, immunoglobulins and the bifidus factor (1 p. 231-232). These are able to prevent allergies, asthma and infections over time (1 p. 231-232). Infant formula is acceptable, however, and, unlike cow’s milk, can also provide a commonly deficient nutrient in infants: iron (1 p.236). Infant formula is carefully formulated and fortified with vitamins, minerals and essential fats to best support child development (1 p. 235).

1. Mitchell MK. Nutrition Across the Life Span. "Chapter 9: Nutrition During Growth: Preschool through Preadolescence". Second Edition. Waveland Press: Long Grove, Illinois, 2003.
2. http://pediatrics.about.com/od/weeklyquestion/a/0806_baby_juice.htm