1. Losing weight with a low-calorie diet

    The best Christmas present you could ever give yourself

    I've never been shy about saying "Merry Christmas."

    Not the sterile generic greetings that are all the rage these days like "Happy Holidays" or "Season's Greetings," but "Merry Christmas" -- and no matter what religion you follow, I hope you find peace, joy, and a good meal with family on this special day.

    Of course, next week is New Year's, a time when people of all faiths make promises to themselves that they almost never keep like starting a low-calorie diet or joining a gym. Let's change that this time -- if you're overweight or obese, promise yourself you'll lose the weight... and this time, keep that promise.

    But don't try any old diet, because some of them can actually do way more harm than good. And for seniors, a bad low-calorie diet doesn't just mean regaining weight. It could mean losing weight, but losing muscle with it -- putting you at risk for sarcopenia.

    That's a condition where muscle levels shrink so much that you become frail and weak, and face a higher risk of mobility problems, disability, and even death.

    Now, it's normal to lose a little of that muscle as you age. And it's inevitable that you'll lose a little muscle when you diet. The trick is making sure you minimize that muscle loss and maximize the loss of fat.

    And now, one new study shows that a low-calorie diet supplemented with whey proteins and essential amino acids can help make that happen.

    Over 12 weeks, obese seniors given a low-calorie diet including those whey proteins and amino acids lost 7 percent of their body weight. Seniors given a diet with the same number of calories, but without the whey and amino acids, also lost 7 percent of their body weight.

    The main difference? Dieters given whey proteins and amino acids lost more where it counts -- they lost more body fat.

    I've used very low calorie diets with my own patients for short periods of time and seen remarkable results firsthand -- including loss of fat, preservation of muscle and, more importantly, a dramatic reduction in risk factors for diabetes, heart disease, and more.

    If you need help, don't wait for the New Year. Pick up the phone and call a holistic physician who can help you lose weight ASAP. And for a comprehensive personalized weight loss program, make an appointment to see me at the Stengler Center for Integrative Medicine.

  2. A new look at LDL

    You've probably heard that LDL cholesterol is bad -- they even call it "bad cholesterol," and you'd have to earn a name like that, right?

    Well, not so fast... because despite what you've heard, your body needs its cholesterol -- even that supposed "bad" stuff.

    And now, a new study shows why you might not want to rush to lower those LDL levels, especially if they're not all that high in the first place.

    Researchers from Texas A&M University recruited 52 adults in their 60s who were healthy, but not active or engaged in any kind of exercise regimen, and put them through a series of rigorous workouts.

    Then, they checked to see who gained the most muscle mass afterwards -- and, as it turned out, it was the volunteers who had the highest LDL levels.

    In other words, LDL may play a crucial role in the growth of muscle -- and when you consider the muscle pain some people experience when their LDL levels plunge while on cholesterol-lowering drugs, it starts to make sense.

    The researchers say they think low LDL levels may even play a role in sarcopenia, the debilitating loss of muscle that hits up to 65 percent of all older men and 30 percent of senior women.

    Translation: Skip the statins -- grill a steak, eat your eggs and get some exercise instead.

    But that's not the message you'll hear at your doctor's office. He's still trying to lower your LDL levels, even if he doesn't really know what those levels mean in the first place.

    Here's what he won't tell you: High LDL levels are a signal from the body, like a smoke alarm. Taking a drug to lower it is like pulling the batteries out of the alarm and going back to sleep without actually checking for a fire.

    In reality, that fire could be any number of lifestyle issues -- poor diet, a smoking habit or a lack of exercise... and the researchers behind the new study say it's time to understand the alarm and correct the reason for it, instead of just calling it "bad."

    And that sounds "good" to me.

  3. Why muscle loss can be deadly

    Since there's no drug to treat sarcopenia, odds are you haven't heard much about it.

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