UVA Health System Blog

Stories about the patients, staff and services of UVA


Q&A: What’s The Deal with Soy? Take A Quiz!

On July 31, 2014 | At 9:46 am

Registered dietitian Carole Havrila, who works with cancer patients, and Brandy Patterson, MD, discuss the benefits of soy and debunk myths surrounding the controversial food.

Soy, like these edamame beans, can help decrease your heart disease risk and lower cholesterol.

Soy, like these edamame beans, can help decrease your heart disease risk and lower cholesterol.

Soy and Estrogen

Q: Many people are concerned about estrogen in soy, but is there really enough estrogen in soy for it to make a difference?
Havrila: Plant-based estrogen (or what is often referred to as estrogen), called isoflavone, isn’t actually estrogen. Isoflavones have a chemical structure that looks somewhat like estrogen, which explains their name “phytoestrogens.”

However, isoflavones are NOT the same as female estrogens and soy foods do not contain estrogen. In some studies, soy acts more like the medicine Tamoxifen, preventing estrogen from binding to cells and exerting harmful effects in women’s body.

Large research studies show no significant effect of eating whole soy foods in amounts typical to a traditional Asian diet (1-2 servings) on male hormones. Since isoflavones are not estrogen, they do not have feminizing effects in men.

Soy and Heart Disease

Q: Can soy help prevent cancer? Does it have any helpful or preventive traits?
Havrila: Studies seem to show that whole soy foods, and the intake of these foods may be associated with lower incidences of breast cancer. Whole soy foods are products that contain unprocessed soy, such as edamame and soy beans. Tofu, a common soy food, is not considered a whole food because it is slightly processed. Research studies show that diets that include whole soy foods tend to be associated with a decreased likelihood of breast cancer recurrence in those who have had the disease. In some men, soy food intake is associated with decreased risk of developing prostate cancer, but this is not seen in all men.

Q: Does soy help reduce your risk of heart disease?
Patterson: There is much controversy over the many potential health benefits of consuming soy. Furthermore, there have been differences in Eastern and Western health outcomes and consumption of the legume. Soybean consumption in Asia, typically around 100-200g per day, almost always involves a form of the legume that is whole-food-related. In sharp contrast, consumption of soy in the United States seldom involves a whole food form. This includes soy protein powders, soy cheese, and soy “meat” products, which often contain less nutritional benefit than less or unprocessed whole soy foods.

Reports on cardiovascular health have been mixed, with some studies showing larger impacts on lowering LDL (or “bad”) cholesterol and others showing minimal effects. In 2006, a study concluded that soy protein’s effects on LDL cholesterol and other cardiovascular disease risk factors was not significant, compared with other proteins. The study suggested that “a very large amount of soy protein, more than half the daily protein intake, may lower LDL cholesterol by a few percentage points when it replaces dairy protein or a mixture of animal proteins.”

With that in mind however, they also reported that “soy products such as tofu, soy butter, soy nuts, or some soy burgers should be beneficial to cardiovascular and overall health because of their high content of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and low content of saturated fat. Using these and other soy foods to replace foods high in animal protein that contain saturated fat and cholesterol may confer benefits to cardiovascular health.”

Introducing Soy to Your Diet

Q: Sometimes people want to cut down on meat or fatty foods by introducing soy into their diets. What are some good ways to do this? Any recipes?
Patterson: According to Whole Foods Market, “genetically modified (GM) soybeans have reached 90 percent market penetration in the United States.” Therefore, they recommend you select organically grown soy products to avoid GMO. An easy way to introduce soy into the diet may be as simple as using soymilk, soy protein powder and fruit to make a wonderful smoothie. Simply tossing edamame beans into your salad is also an easy way to incorporate soy. Soy products such as soy hotdogs, which can be dressed up with chopped onions, mustard and ketchup, make it difficult to taste the difference between meat and soy. Tofu may replace chicken or meat in pad thai, tacos or stir-fry. Soy hotdogs, soy cheese, soymilk and edamame are some of my favorite products

Havrila provides her soy cheat sheet:
Shelled versus unshelled edamame: Most people don’t eat the pod, and it is hard to shell the edamame unless the pod is cooked, so I recommend cooking and then popping out the edamame to eat. Many places sell shelled edamame already cooked, which is an easy and convenient protein source to add to soups or salads or for a snack.

Additives: If you don’t want any, buy plain tofu and season it yourself or eat it plain. They do sell Asian, smoked and other flavors that make eating on a salad, or part of a stir fry, very easy.

Calcium: When tofu is bought fresh, it is usually in a water bath that has added calcium. If you are looking to increase the calcium intake of your diet, look at food labels for those with the most calcium per serving (look for a higher percentage on the Nutrition Facts section).

Fat: I look for lower fat versions of tofu, as these products usually contain fewer calories per serving. Silken, or soft, tofu is usually lower in calories than firm or extra firm tofu.

Patterson adds: There is recent evidence that consuming soy protein may lower systolic blood pressure and that it contains active antioxidants such as flavonoids and isoflavonoids. Another group of antioxidant phytonutrients called phenolic acids has also been recently investigated in soybeans. When we enjoy this antioxidant-rich legume, we also benefit from its phenolic acids.

Want to learn more about soy and vegetarian diets? Check out:

Filed under : Cancer,Healthy Living,Heart,Nutrition | By
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Who Lives Well? Understanding What Makes People Flourish

On July 14, 2014 | At 9:58 am

While some people thrive throughout their lifetimes, other struggle.

Peggy Kern, postdoctoral fellow at University of Pennsylvania

Peggy Kern, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, researches well-being.

Peggy Kern, a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Pennsylvania, wants to know why.

Her research seeks to answer fundamental questions she posed to UVA employees during a recent presentation.

“How can we understand who lives a healthier life than others?” she asks. “How can we help people live the best life they can within whatever circumstances they have?”

To answer those questions, it’s important to adopt a lifespan perspective, or in other words, understand “where a person’s been, where they are now and where they’re going,” Kern says.

Extraverted? Agreeable? Linking Personality and Health

Using the Terman Life Cycle Study, Kern looked at how five personality traits — extraversion, agreeableness, conscientiousness, neuroticism and intellect — are linked to a person’s health and well-being over time.

The Terman study began in 1922 with 1,528 gifted children. It followed up with the participants in intervals of five to ten years throughout their lives, building a comprehensive collection of interviews and questionnaires about a wide array of topics.

Kern found elements of the participants’ personalities at age 30 predicted measures of wellbeing 45 years later at age 75.

For example, those high in extraversion and agreeableness at age 30 reported higher levels of social competence and subjective well-being at age 75.

Kern also found that conscientiousness predicted longer life, which prompted to her combine the results of 20 studies with more than 9,000 participants that measured both traits.

“It wasn’t always significant, but it was always protective,” she says. “Conscientiousness had a stronger effect than socioeconomic status or intelligence. It produced a two to four year difference in when people died.”

Kern also found other ways that personality influenced well-being in the Terman study participants:

  • People who were more successful in their careers tended to live longer, but conscientiousness made a difference: Unsuccessful but highly conscientious people also had a lower mortality risk.
  • Men who scored high in neuroticism were less active than men who scored lower, but neuroticism made no difference for women.

“Oftentimes we look at someone at a single point in time and try to tell them what to do,” Kern says. “But that doesn’t take into account who they are as a person and where they are in their life journey. Understanding that is important.”

By looking at personality, “we can start to tailor things in ways that are going to better fit with intervention and hopefully be more effective,” Kern says.

“When personality is ignored, interventions can be shortsighted, wasting precious time, energy, and resources,” she says.

Well-being: Lack of Disease or Something More?

At the University of Pennsylvania’s Positive Psychology Center, Kern’s work is part of a shift in focus from traditional psychology’s mission to eradicate mental illness to positive psychology.

“In positive psychology, we’re saying neutral is not enough,” she says. “We want people to thrive. We focus on what’s going good in life and how we can start to build more of that.”

Kern’s latest work has focused on social and mental well-being, specifically “how we can use measures as a way to shift some of these perspectives,” she says.

The first step to improving well-being is to measure it, Kern says.

“We measure what we value and we value what we measure,” she says.

To that end, Kern worked with other well-being experts to develop a brief questionnaire to measure five areas of well-being — positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment.

They also developed a similar measure for adolescents.

“Using the measures, we can compare things, gain insight and provide a metric of change,” Kern says.

In recent studies, Kern measured well-being in the workplace and in general.

“Feeling engaged and positive relationships with coworkers were most important for job satisfaction,” she says. “For life satisfaction, a sense of meaning was much more important.”

Kern also recently partnered with linguists and computer scientists to look at “big data” from social media.

The studies revealed that the words people use correlate to personality traits, life satisfaction, and likelihood of disease.

Overall, Kern has an important goal for her research.

“We hope to figure out who lives well and help more people do that,” she says.

Get more information about Kern’s research.

Tips for Your Wisdom and Well-Being

Kern’s presentation was the first in the Wisdom and Well-being Speaker Series, sponsored jointly by the Center for Appreciative Practice, School of Nursing and Mindfulness Center.

“This series is intended to start a conversation across our health system about how we can become our very best selves together,” says Dorrie Fontaine, dean of the UVA School of Nursing. “We want wisdom and well-being to be a signature of the health system.”

Presentations are free and include lunch.

View additional dates and speakers in the series.

Filed under : Events,Healthy Living,Nursing,Research | By
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Summer Severe Weather: 4 Things You Can Do To Prepare

On July 9, 2014 | At 8:03 am

With summer comes severe weather, so it doesn’t hurt to be prepared for storms, extreme heat and floods. It’s important to be able to recognize an impending hazard and know how to take action so you and your family can stay safe. Here are steps you can take for any emergency:Be as prepared as possible for storms, extreme heat and floods.

1. Make a Family Emergency Plan

Families aren’t always together during an emergency, so it’s important to plan ahead. Download the Family Communication Plan for Parents and Kids and fill it out together, so everyone knows what to do. This covers important information, like where to meet and how to contact each other during an emergency. Look into emergency preparedness plans at places where your family members spend the most time (school, work, sports events, etc). If no plans exist, volunteer to make one! Get started planning with these critical questions.

2. Build a Go-Kit (Emergency Bag)

A disaster go-kit contains any household items that you and your family could need in an emergency. Because there’s a chance you’ll have to survive on your own after an emergency, the kit should have food, water and other supplies to last you at least 72 hours.Your kit should also include supplies that don’t require electricity, gas or water, as these might be inaccessible during a disaster. Find out what you need in your emergency preparedness go-kit.

3. Download an App

FEMA offers an Apple iOS and Android app that contains:

  • Disaster safety tips
  • An interactive emergency kit list
  • Meeting location information
  • A map with open FEMA shelters

Ready Virginia also offers an emergency preparedness app, which provides you with information about local weather and public health alerts. The Ready Virginia app is similar to FEMA’s and offers maps of nearby American Red Cross shelters, hurricane evacuation routes and “This Day in Hazard History” trivia.

4. Listen to the Radio

Stay updated on severe weather by listening to the local radio. Remember to keep a battery-operated radio on hand in case you lose power in an emergency. If you have access, NOAA Weather Radio broadcasts warning and post-event information for all types of emergencies, including natural events, environmental accidents and public safety concerns.


Podcast Tuesday: Are You At Risk for Vascular Disease? [AUDIO]

On June 3, 2014 | At 9:35 am

Filed under : Healthy Living,Heart,Podcast Tuesday | By
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Vim & Vigor: Bradley Cooper, Pediatric Epilepsy & Lowering Stress

On June 2, 2014 | At 9:06 am

In 2012’s “Silver Linings Playbook,” Bradley Cooper portrayed the role of a mental health patient diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

Image of Jennifer Raymond, who lost her son to H1N1 flu.

Jennifer Raymond’s son died of H1N1 flu complications in 2009. Read Vim & Vigor to find out how she honors his memory.

Read about Cooper’s experiences and his journey from passive bystander to activist for those 5.7 million adult Americans currently suffering from bipolar disorder.

Cooper’s interview along with a Q&A about the disorder are featured in the Summer 2014 issue of UVA’s family health magazine, Vim & Vigor.  Check it out for stories about:

  • Ongoing therapy to reduce peanut allergies
  • Quick and easy stress-busting techniques
  • Common myths about sunscreen
  • Warning signs of concussions

Read the online version here.

Live in Virginia? Sign up to receive Vim & Vigor in the mail for free.


15 Fun Ways to Keep Kids Active This Summer [INFOGRAPHIC]

On May 29, 2014 | At 10:25 am

Angie Hasemann, a registered dietitian with the Children’s Fitness Clinic, contributed this post.

Although it’s easy to focus on reaching a certain number on the scale, our eating and activity habits tell us a much clearer picture of our health. Especially this summer, try to get your kids eating more colorful foods (fruits and veggies of course!) and make sure their primary drink is water. Keep them moving with ideas from our infographic below, and you’ll be sure to have a healthy kid who is making the most out of summer freedom.

Ways to Keep Your Kids Active Over the Summer infographic

Poetry Contest Winners!

On May 5, 2014 | At 9:20 am

For National Poetry Month, we held a poetry contest focusing on medical themes. We received numerous submissions, from hilarious haikus to heartfelt free verse. We all found it very difficult to choose our favorites!

Daniel Becker, MD, editor of Hospital Drive, worked with our editorial staff to choose the winners.

All winning poems will be published here on this blog. Look for them in our weekly “Poetry Fridays” post!

Grand Prize Winners

The grand prize winners each will receive a $50 Visa gift card.
image of flowers
Meditation on the Sickle Cell, Laura Kolbe
Kolbe’s poem will also be published in UVA Health System literary journal Hospital Drive.

The Maddening Gladness, Jarish Cohen

Honorable Mention

Doctor, Katherine Crowley

Runners-Up by Category

Category I: Bedside Manners

Untitled, Tina Auth

Category II: How Sick Did You Get?

An Embolic Tale, Jamie DeVore

Untitled, Bonnie Carey

Untitled, Jessica Garber

Category III: Grab (the Black) Bag: Miscellaneous Medical Moments

For John, Lisa A. Ryan

Blink, Callie Bateman

Insomnia, Rabita Alamgir

Congratulations to the winners and thanks to everyone who submitted a poem and to Daniel Becker, MD, for his time and efforts. Don’t forget to subscribe to this blog and to Hospital Drive for more poetry and stories about health, wellness, medicine and survival.

Filed under : Healthy Living,Patient Stories | By
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Recipe Review Thursday: Crispy Oven-Fried Chicken

On April 10, 2014 | At 8:31 am

We’re trying new heart-healthy recipes every month and will share the results with you. All recipes are from Club Red, UVA’s heart health club for women.

Crispy oven-fried chickenCrispy Oven-Fried Chicken

I’ve said it before: While I like to cook, I don’t have much time to spend in the kitchen these days. I need foods that are quick to prepare, and a recipe that gives me lots of leftovers is a plus. This is an easy, versatile recipe that takes very little prep work. The crushed red pepper flakes add a nice heat, and you don’t taste the corn flakes, which are really just a vehicle for the seasonings.

I only made a minor change to the recipe by mixing in minced garlic instead of garlic powder, but I think this recipe could be changed depending on your mood. For instance, to add a more Southwest flair to your chicken, try replacing the poultry seasoning with chili powder and add some cumin to the seasoning mix.

One note of caution if you do try this recipe: I ran out of breading mixture halfway through and had to make a new batch. Make sure you have some extra corn flakes and spices on hand just in case the same thing happens to you.

Stars: 5 out of 5

Filed under : Healthy Living,Heart,Recipes | By
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Poetry Contest! Just What the Doctor Ordered

On April 2, 2014 | At 2:00 am

Celebrate National Poetry Month with us!

Writing a poem can help you stay healthy.You might be wondering… why would a hospital blog hold a poetry contest?

As we learned from a past interview with UVA’s own Daniel Becker, MD, doctor and editor of the journal “Hospital Drive,” research shows that creative writing is healthy for both patients and doctors alike.

Becker will judge the contest.

So: Ready, set, write!

 How to Enter

  1. Write a poem or poems that fit in one of the three categories listed below.
  2. Submit poems via email. uvahsblog@virginia.edu
  3. Make sure to tell us which category your poem is for.
  4. Deadline for submissions: April 15.
  5. Submit as many as you like! No previously published poems, please.
  6. Winners will be announced at the beginning of May.

Prizes: Get Published, Win a $50 Gift Card

The top three winners in each category will have their works published on this blog.

Two winners will be selected to receive a grand prize: A $50 Visa gift card. Use it to purchase writing materials, poetry books, medical guides, or anything else you would like.

All winning poems will be considered for publication in the journal “Hospital Drive.”

Poetry Submission Categories

Category I: Bedside Manners

Enter your praise for the best doctor, nurse, other healthcare provider experience you’ve had.

Category II: How Sick Did You Get?

What’s the worst illness you’ve ever suffered? Most painful accident? Worst scrape, rash, virus, tear?

Send us your worst in your best limerick or haiku form.

Category III: Grab (the Black) Bag: Miscellaneous Medical Moments

Submit any healthcare-themed poem of any form.

Contest Rules
No purchase necessary to enter or win. A purchase or payment of any kind will not increase your chances of winning. Void where prohibited. To enter, email your poems to uvahsblog@virginia.edu by Tuesday, April 15, 2014. Open to legal U.S. residents 18 years or older who live in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Odds of winning are dependent on the number of entries received. Winners will be notified via email. Winner is responsible for complying with any applicable federal or state laws pertaining to taxes, Medicaid and Medicare. Winner agrees to have his or her name shared via this website and other UVA Health System websites.
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Recipe Review Thursday: Healthier Cinnamon French Toast

On March 13, 2014 | At 9:13 am

We’re trying new heart-healthy recipes every month and will share the results with you. All recipes are from Club Red, UVA’s heart health club for women.

Cinnamon French Toast

healthy french toast

This healthier French toast still satisfies a sweet tooth.

Early one Wednesday morning, I stumbled out of bed and remembered I had agreed to provide breakfast for the entire office.

Fortunately, this cinnamon French toast recipe turned out to be a pretty easy — and tasty — dish to quadruple on the fly.

I didn’t develop a sweet tooth until I was an adult, which means I never really appreciated breakfast. Years before childhood obesity dominated headlines, my parents gave me my choice of sugar-coated cereals for breakfast. On weekends, we had pancakes, waffles or French toast, drowning in syrup.

As an adult, I understand I can’t eat like that every day. But I wish I had enjoyed the sugar more when I had the chance.

This recipe is a nice compromise. If you’re craving butter and powdered sugar, it’s not going to do the trick. But it’s a filling breakfast with a touch of sweetness. Fresh fruit is just as good as those sugar-soaked fruit toppings you’ll get at a restaurant, and you can slice it the night before. And while I was skeptical about using fat-free milk, this dish was plenty flavorful.

Best of all, it only took about 20 minutes to make breakfast for 20. Most of the ingredients are things I already keep around the house. I did use eggs rather than the suggested egg substitute.

Trying different breads would add some additional flavor and nutrition to the dish.

I still miss the sugar-coated cereals of my childhood. But this French toast makes a tasty breakfast that adults and kids will both enjoy.

Stars: 4 out of 5

Filed under : Healthy Living,Heart,Recipes | By
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