gums

  1. Brush away pneumonia risk

    Here's the easiest way yet to avoid pneumonia: brush your teeth.

    Simple enough, I know, but too many people skip out on oral hygiene -- and that's especially true when they're sick.

    Big mistake -- because that's exactly when you don't want to let your guard down: A small study of 37 patients on ventilators found that pneumonia often begins with a dramatic shift in oral bacteria.

    And that's a shift that can be prevented with a toothbrush.

    The study didn't look at how this change in oral bacteria leads to the misery of pneumonia, but other studies have already mapped out the route: Nasty little critters build up in the mouth... and then drip right into your lungs, where they can wreck havoc.

    Some studies have even shown that people with deep pockets in their gums are more likely to die of pneumonia -- and that's another sign of the role these bacteria play, since they just love to hide in those pockets.

    In fact, gum pockets are about as cozy a home as a germ could ask for: warm, wet and sheltered.

    The Yale University researchers behind the new study say you can minimize your own risk by brushing twice a day with a fluoride toothpaste -- and I'd say they got that half right.

    Brush twice a day -- but skip the fluoride.

    Despite what you've heard, fluoride isn't all that great for your teeth. And along with not doing much to prevent cavities, this toxic substance can actually damage your brain and weaken your bones.

    Try an all-natural fluoride-free toothpaste instead -- and don't forget to floss, because there's a lot more than gum disease and pneumonia on the line here.

    Just last month, I told you how gum infections can raise your risk of heart attack and stroke. Poor periodontal health has also been linked to everything from obesity to dementia to pre-term births and underweight babies.

    Along with brushing and flossing, there's another simple way to keep your mouth clean and protect your heart at the same time: give up sugar.

    Sugar serves as fuel for the bacteria that can damage your teeth and boost your risk of disease. Take away their fuel, and they die.

    One more note here: If you do get sick, throw away your toothbrush once you recover. The same bacteria that caused your illness can hide in your toothbrush -- getting a free ride back into your body, twice each day.

  2. The natural way to beat inflammation

    Inflammation has gone from a condition you should worry about to a marketing buzzword used to sell everything from drugs to juice to cereal.

    Well, at least they got it half right: You should worry about inflammation, and do what you can to bring your own levels down.

    But forget the drugs, juice and cereal -- because none of those things will ever beat the anti-inflammatory powers of plain old fish oil, and the latest research proves it again.

    A new look at data on 702 patients who took part in one of 11 clinical trials finds that people who take fish oil supplements have lower blood levels of homocysteine, an inflammation marker linked to everything from heart risk to dementia to bone breaks, according to the study in Nutrition.

    Other studies have also found that fish oil can put the hurtin' on homocysteine.

    One published in 2009 found that omega-3 supplements reduced levels of the inflammation marker by 22 percent in diabetics -- versus just one percent among those who took a placebo.

    And that's really only the beginning of the benefits.

    Studies have found that healthy omega-3 fatty acids can help protect your heart, eyes, and gums while raising levels of HDL ("good") cholesterol and lowering levels of deadly triglycerides.

    Fish oil can also help boost the mood and beat depression -- especially among seniors.

    The best sources of these omega-3s are fatty fish such as salmon, tuna, trout and herring -- and the highest concentrations are often in the one part of the fish you're probably not eating: the liver.

    Researchers looked at a dozen fish commonly eaten in Spain and found all had livers rich in the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids you need for good health.

    And if you like anchovies, good news: The livers of these famously oily little fish had some of the highest omega-3 levels of all.

    But why stick to the liver when you can eat anchovies whole?

    OK, I know that's not for everyone -- but if you don't like anchovies, fish livers or even fish itself, there's a simple solution: a high-quality fish oil supplement from a company you trust.

    Some can leave a fishy aftertaste or, even worse, a case of the "fish burps," but don't give up -- refrigerate your capsules instead.

    And if that doesn't work, try a different brand until you find one that leaves you with all the benefits... but none of the burps.

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