Five reasons why I give thanks today… and every day

Art Buchwald once wrote a daily, humorous, nationally syndicated newspaper column. At his peak, his column was featured in nearly 550 newspapers, making him one of the most-read columnists of the 20th century.

Each year, Art always took Thanksgiving Day “off” and reprinted his classic, satirical article explaining the significance of this quintessential American holiday to French audiences.

You may remember the bit about Miles Standish as “Kilometres Deboutish,” for example. Of course, in 2018, we should probably update the part about Pocahontas…or not.

In any case, today, in the spirit of Art Buchwald, I’m revisiting the best of my Thanksgiving messages over the past seven years with some new, timely tips about your health and happiness during the holiday.

I hope you enjoy it…

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Traditionally, many cultures around the world took time out in the fall to give thanks and celebrate as they finished up the hard work of the harvest. In England, for example, they called it a “harvest home” celebration.

Thanksgiving also has a particular history in America.

Of course, most of us probably learned that the “first” Thanksgiving in the colonies occurred in Massachusetts (or perhaps Virginia) in the early 1600s.

But I recently learned that the Spanish and French first held an annual feast of Thanksgiving back in the 1500s in Florida. (So, maybe Buchwald was on to something after all…)

Later, George Washington issued a proclamation designating Thursday, November 26 as a national day of thanks. Then, Abraham Lincoln made it an official observance during the Civil War. And FDR fixed an official date for a national holiday during the Great Depression and World War II.

So — today — I give thanks, especially, for these five things…

First, I’m thankful for a day of gratitude.

Giving thanks and feeling grateful benefits your mind and body. Indeed, gratitude is one of our healthiest feelings. Sometimes, I’ll even make a list of things for which I am grateful. Seeing it on paper can give my mood a positive anchor. And this sort of list can also provide a sense of real progress through life’s challenges.

As the Classical Roman statesman, Cicero, said, “gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others.”

Second, I’m thankful to spend time with friends and family on Thanksgiving.

This day together renews and refreshes relationships that last throughout the years.

This aspect of the holiday is especially important, considering research links social isolation to chronic illness risk and a shorter lifespan.

In fact, during a U.S. Senate hearing on aging last year, Lenard W. Kaye, Ph.D., testified on behalf of the American Gerontological Society that helping older Americans stay connected socially can dramatically support their health and longevity. Dr. Kaye stated, “social isolation is a silent killer that places people at higher risk for a variety of poor health outcomes.”

Third, I’m thankful to raise a glass and toast health and happiness.

Thanksgiving is a time for friends and family to gather and celebrate, share good cheer, and toast to each other’s health.

Indeed, science shows moderate consumption of alcohol greatly benefits health — especially heart health. Indeed most previous studies on moderate alcohol consumption have looked specifically at heart health. (In my view, moderate alcohol benefits the heart primarily because it reduces stress.)

In fact, one new study found that older, white, middle-class adults who moderately consume alcohol are more likely to live to the age of 85 without dementia or other cognitive impairments than non-drinkers. And perhaps more amazingly, men and women over 85 who consumed what they called “heavy” or “moderate” amounts of alcohol ¾ about five to seven days per week ¾ were twice as likely to be cognitively healthy compared to non-drinkers.

I do, however, have some qualms about the arbitrary guidelines the National Institutes of Health (NIH) uses to define “moderate,” “heavy,” and “excessive” drinkers in the study, but that’s a topic for another day…

The bottom line is that enjoying a toast — or two, or even three — over the course of the day benefits your heart and your brain, despite whatever agenda the neo-prohibitionists try to push.

For more details on the benefits of moderate alcohol consumption, see the November 2018 issue of my Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“The truth behind the latest anti-alcohol headlines: Raise a toast this holiday season to SAVE your heart, your brain…and your life”).

Fourth, I give thanks for all the delicious, healthy food we enjoy on Thanksgiving.

As you know, the government’s dietary guidelines to avoid meat and fats were all wrong, all along. Now, we know that enjoying wholesome foods like butter, eggs, meat, and nuts do benefit your health. (It seems that our parents and grandparents knew this all along too!)

So, go ahead and enjoy your turkey today, including the dark meat. It’ll give you some much-needed protein and fat.

Of course, we also fill our Thanksgiving table with dishes made with the beautiful yellow, orange, and red bounty of the fall season. These colorful, seasonal foods include so many of my favorites — carrots, pumpkins, squash, sweet potatoes, yellow corn, and yams — all of which reflect the presence of healthy carotenoids.

I actually helped discover the role of carotenoids like lutein, lycopene, and zeaxanthin in human nutrition and metabolism back in 1984, right around Thanksgiving time, along with my colleagues at the USDA Human Nutrition Research Lab in Beltsville, Maryland.

The body safely converts some of these carotenoids, which act as antioxidants, into vitamin A in the body. Lutein even crosses the blood-brain barrier to support brain and eye health.

Indeed, one study links higher lutein levels to a more “youthful” brain. In fact, in that study, older men and women with higher intake of lutein and zeaxanthin from yellow vegetables performed as well on cognitive tests as younger participants.

Many people also associate nuts with the fall harvest. And I, for one, always put out a bowl of walnuts in the fall, through Thanksgiving and Christmas.

Like many other foods and drinks consumed during the holidays, walnuts benefit brain health — which perhaps isn’t so surprising, considering a walnut’s shape is similar to that of the human brain!

According to folklore, the shape of a plant in Nature indicates the organ that it benefits. So ⎯ since walnuts look like the brain, they would benefit the brain.

In medieval Europe, these beliefs were part of “the doctrine of signatures,” which led colonial physicians in 17th- and 18th-century America to adopt Native American traditional remedies (and foods) into regular practice.

We now know walnuts contain rich, brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids as well as phytochemicals, phenols, fiber, and antioxidants. In addition, research links walnut consumption with a reduced risk of cancer (including colon), Type II diabetes, and heart disease, and increased longevity.

Recent research suggests walnuts may be so healthy because of their relationship with the GI microbiome and probiotics. I talked about this relationship in the November 2017 issue of my monthly Insiders’ Cures newsletter (“New scientific reasons to eat, drink, and be merry this holiday season”). Subscribers can access this article as well as my entire archive on my website, www.DrMicozzi.com. Not a subscriber? Click here to get started today.

Of course, no Thanksgiving would be complete without some homemade cranberry sauce (so you can leave out the sugar and add the walnuts!). I always thought it helped add a bright, tart flavor to the meal. And now, a new study shows cranberries help improve digestion too.

In fact, cranberries contain a compound that acts as a prebiotic, which means it essentially “feeds” the beneficial probiotic bacteria in your GI tract. Your body also uses prebiotics to produce energy. And you’ll need the extra energy to digest your Thanksgiving dinner and take a long walk afterward. (See tomorrow’s Daily Dispatch about the benefits of that long walk after dinner!)

Indeed, this Thanksgiving, go ahead and eat, drink (in moderation), and be merry. It seems to be a good prescription for a happy, healthy life.

Fifth, I’m thankful for my work and for you, dear reader

Of course, I’m also very thankful to have the opportunity to use my brain — and my heart — writing to you this Thanksgiving…and every day.

I’m also thankful for the wonderful team of people who work with me every day to put out useful information we can all be proud of.

And it goes without saying that I’m very thankful for you as well, dear reader. I love hearing from you, and thoroughly enjoy sharing scientific knowledge to help better the lives of others.

May you enjoy a happy, healthy holiday with friends and family. Perhaps you’ll even share some of these health benefits at the dinner table, over a delicious Thanksgiving feast!

Sources:

“Social Isolation Threatens Well-Being in Later Life, Says GSA Member in Senate Testimony.” The Gerontological Society of America (geron.org) 4/27/2017

“Reduced Sleep During Social Isolation Leads to Cellular Stress and Induction of the Unfolded Protein Response.” Sleep, 1 July 2017; 40(7)

“Alcohol Intake and Cognitively Healthy Longevity in Community-Dwelling Adults: The Rancho Bernardo Study.” Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 2017; 59 (3): 803

“The Role of Retinal Carotenoids and Age on Neuroelectric Indices of Attentional Control among Early to Middle-Aged Adults.” Front Aging Neurosci. 2017 Jun 9;9:183

“A human gut commensal ferments cranberry carbohydrates to produce formate.” Appl Environ Microbiol. 2017 Jun 30. pii: AEM.01097-17.

“Changes in the gut microbial communities following addition of walnuts to the diet.” J Nutr Biochem. 2017 Oct;48:94-102


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