Category Archives: Health

Womens health concerns

To look and feel your best at every age, it’s important to make smart lifestyle and health choices. Here are six simple things that women can do every day (or with regularity) to ensure good health:

Health Tip #1: Eat a healthy diet. “You want to eat as close to a natural foods diet as you can,” says Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. That means a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables and fewer processed foods. Eat whole grains and high-fiber foods and choose leaner cuts of meat, fish, and poultry. Include low-fat dairy products in your diet as well — depending on your age, you need between 800 and 1,500 milligrams of calcium daily to help avoid osteoporosis, Dr. Novey says. Avoid foods and beverages that are high in calories, sugar, salt, and fat.

Healthy eating will help you maintain a proper weight for your height, which is important because being overweight can lead to a number of illnesses. Looking for a healthy snack? Try some raw vegetables, such as celery, carrots, broccoli, cucumbers, or zucchini with dip made from low-fat yogurt.

If you’re not getting enough vitamins and nutrients in your diet, you might want to take a multivitamin and a calcium supplement to make sure you’re maintaining good health.

Health Tip #2: Exercise. Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women in America, but plenty of exercise can help keep your heart healthy. You want to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week, if not every day. Aerobic exercises (walking, swimming, jogging, bicycling, dancing) are good for women’s health in general and especially for your heart, says Sabrena Merrill, MS, of Lawrence, Kan., a certified personal trainer and group fitness instructor and a spokeswoman for the American Council on Exercise.

Health Tip #3: Avoid risky habits. Stay away from cigarettes and people who smoke. Don’t use drugs. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Most women’s health studies show that women can safely consume one drink a day. A drink is considered to be about 12 to 14 grams of alcohol, which is equal to 12 ounces of beer (4.5 percent alcohol); 5 ounces of wine (12.9 percent alcohol); or 1.5 ounces of spirits (hard liquor such as gin or whiskey, 80-proof).

Health Tip #4: Manage stress. No matter what stage of her life — daughter, mother, grandmother — a woman often wears many hats and deals with a lot of pressure and stress. “Take a few minutes every day just to relax and get your perspective back again,” Novey says. “It doesn’t take long, and mental health is important to your physical well-being.” You also can manage stress with exercise, relaxation techniques, or meditation.

Health Tip #5: Sun safely. Excessive exposure to the sun’s harmful rays can cause skin cancer, which can be deadly. To protect against skin cancer, wear sunscreen with a sun protection factor (SPF) of at least 15 if you are going to be outdoors for more than a few minutes. Even if you wear sunscreen faithfully, you should check regularly for signs of skin cancer. Warning signs include any changes in the size, shape, color, or feel of birthmarks, moles, or freckles, or new, enlarging, pigmented, or red skin areas. If you spot any changes or you find you have sores that are not healing, consult your doctor.

Health Tip #6: Check for breast cancer. The American Cancer Society no longer recommends monthly breast self-exams for women. However, it still suggests them as “an option” for women, starting in their 20s. You should be on the lookout for any changes in your breasts and report any concerns to your doctor. All women 40 and older should get a yearly mammogram as a mammogram is the most effective way of detecting cancer in its earliest stages, when it is most treatable.

A woman’s health needs change as she ages, but the basics of women’s health remain the same. If you follow these six simple healthy living tips, you will improve your quality of life for years to come.

A food additive that gives Coke

The FDA should ban the use of two compounds widely used in food products, including market giants Coke and Pepsi as well as other soft drinks, because they pose a cancer risk, according to a petition filed by a citizen’s group.

But the American Beverage Association denounced the petition, filed Feb. 16, as “nothing more than another attempt to scare consumers” that is not supported by science.

At issue are caramel colorings that contain 2-methylimidazole and 4-methylimidazole.

According to the petition, filed by the Washington-based Center for Science in the Public Interest, both have been found by the National Toxicology Program to cause cancer in animals.

Kick the Soda Habit With These 10 Tasty Alternatives

And last month, California regulators added one of them — 4-methylimidazole — to the list of chemicals “known to the state to cause cancer.” The state said the safe limit for consumption of the chemical is 16 micrograms a day.

However, a recent study suggested that 12 ounces of cola would contain up to 130 micrograms of the substance, according to the petition.

The coloring substances are made by treating sugars with ammonium alone or ammonium and sulfites under high pressure and temperatures; the two compounds are byproducts of the process.

Feeding studies conducted by the National Toxicology Program showed that high doses of the substances led to lung, liver, or thyroid cancer or leukemia in laboratory mice or rats.

The government researchers concluded there was “clear evidence” that 4-methylimidazole caused cancer in mice, although studies in rats were less clear, with significant increases in leukemia in females but no increase in tumor activity in males.

They also concluded that 2-methylimidazole caused cancer in female rats and argued there was “some evidence” the substance caused tumors in male and female mice.

“Carcinogenic colorings have no place in the food supply,” according to Dr. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the citizens’ group.

 

“The FDA should act quickly to revoke its approval of caramel colorings made with ammonia,” Jacobson said in a statement.

The American Beverage Association, however, noted that the National Toxicology Program does not include 4-methylimidazole among compounds on its list of substances “reasonably anticipated to be human carcinogens.”

“No health regulatory agency around the globe, including the Food and Drug Administration, has said that 4-methylimidazole is a human carcinogen,” the association said in a statement.

The beverage association did not mention the other compound, 2-methylimidazole, and a representative was not immediately available for comment.

The petition was supported by a letter from five other scientists, including two former members of the National Toxicology Program and one researcher still working there.

Learn more in the Everyday Health Healthy Living Center.

What to look for in a daily multivitamin

Our bodies need many different vitamins and minerals to function properly.

Vitamins and minerals also offer us protection against a host of ailments, including heart disease and some cancers, such as colon and cervical cancer.

The good news is that we can get most of the vitamins and minerals our bodies need daily by choosing the right foods and eating a wide variety of them.

Still, many people take a multivitamin daily as an insurance policy — just to be sure they are getting all the vitamins and minerals that their bodies require.

“A multivitamin is a good idea for the trace elements,” says Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill.

“You want a multivitamin for all those little things at the bottom of the ingredients list. The ones at the top of the list are familiar and the ones we can’t avoid if we’re eating enriched foods. It’s the trace elements at the bottom that are the ones often missing.”

Trace elements include chromium, folic acid, potassium, iron, manganese, selenium, and zinc.

Daily Vitamin: Our Needs Change With Age

Vitamin supplements can be particularly important during certain stages of our lives, Dr. Novey says. For example, women in their childbearing years can benefit from folic acid, which decreases the risk of some birth defects. A pregnant woman needs a multivitamin, starting in the first trimester, to ensure that the baby receives proper nutrition. Active and older women can benefit from increased calcium, which can help prevent bone loss and fractures. Vegetarians also can benefit from taking extra calcium, iron, zinc, and vitamins B12 and D.

Does it matter what time of day you take a multivitamin? Not really, says Stephen Bickston, MD, AGAF, professor of internal medicine and director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at Virginia Commonwealth University Health Center in Richmond. However, he says, some people find it helpful to take vitamins at the same time every day. If it becomes part of their routine, they are less likely to forget. Also, he says, some people feel that if they take their vitamin with food, it is less likely to cause stomach upset. “I often recommend that people take a chewable vitamin,” Dr. Bickston says, “because they seem to be well tolerated, even in people who have serious digestive conditions, which is what I deal with in my practice.”

Help Ease Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Patients with chronic fatigue syndrome who participated in programs aimed at helping them overcome their symptoms — a combination of exercise and counseling — improved more than those whose treatment was intended to help them adapt to the limitations of the disease, a large randomized trial found.

Mean fatigue scores among patients treated with graded exercise therapy — a tailored program that gradually increases exercise capacity — were 3.2 points lower than scores in patients who received specialist medical care alone, according to Dr. Peter D. White, of Queen Mary University of London, and colleagues.

Furthermore, fatigue scores were lower by 3.4 points among patients receiving cognitive behavioral therapy, in which a therapist works with the patient to understand the disease, alleviate fears about activity, and help overcome obstacles to functioning.

In contrast, among patients who were treated with a program known as adaptive pacing therapy, which emphasizes energy limitations and avoidance of excess activity, scores differed by only 0.7 points the researchers reported online in The Lancet.

In a press briefing describing the study findings, co-investigator Dr. Trudie Chalder, of King’s College London, said, “We monitored safety very carefully, because we wanted to be sure we weren’t causing harm to any patients.”

“The number of serious adverse events was miniscule,” she added.

Another co-investigator, Dr. Michael Sharpe, of the University of Edinburgh, commented that a difficulty in the management of chronic fatigue syndrome has been ambiguity — about the causes and whether these treatments recommended by NICE actually are effective.

“The evidence up to now has suggested benefit, but this study gives pretty clear-cut evidence of safety and efficacy. So I hope that addresses the ambiguity,” Sharpe said during the press briefing.

4 Ways to Save Energy With Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

However, the investigators conceded that the beneficial effects of these treatments were only moderate, with less than one-third of participants being within normal ranges for fatigue and functioning, and only about 40 percent reporting that their overall health was much better or very much better.

“Our finding that studied treatments were only moderately effective also suggests research into more effective treatments is needed,” they wrote.

In addition, they stated that their finding of efficacy for cognitive behavioral therapy “does not imply that the condition is psychological in nature.”

The importance of cognitive behavioral therapy was further emphasized by Dr. Benjamin H. Natelson, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York.

“This approach of encouragement of activity and discouragement of negative thinking should be a tool in every physician’s armamentarium,” he said.

Spreads Outside Hospitals

The dangerous bacteria Clostridium difficile spreads not only in hospitals but also in other health-care settings, causing infections and death rates to hit “historic highs,” U.S. health officials reported Tuesday.

C. difficile is a deadly diarrheal infection that poses a significant threat to U.S. health care patients,” Ileana Arias, principal deputy director at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a morning news conference. “C. difficile is causing many Americans to suffer and die.”

The germ is linked to about 14,000 deaths in the United States every year. People most at risk from C. difficile are those who take antibiotics and also receive care in any medical facility.

“This failure is more difficult to accept because these are treatable, often preventable deaths,” Arias said. “We know what can be done to do a better job of protecting our patients.”

Much of the growth of this bacterial epidemic has been due to the overuse of antibiotics, the CDC noted in its March 6 report. Unlike healthy people, people in poor health are at high risk for C. difficile infection.

Almost 50 percent of infections are among people under 65, but more than 90 percent of deaths are among those aged 65 and older, according to the report.

Previous estimates found that about 337,000 people are hospitalized each year because of C. difficile infections. Those are historically high levels and add at least $1 billion in extra costs to the health care system, the CDC said.

However, these estimates might not completely reflect C. difficile’s overall impact.

According to the new report, 94 percent of C. difficile infections are related to medical care, with 25 percent among hospital patients and 75 percent among nursing home patients or people recently seen in doctors’ offices and clinics.

Although the proportion of infection is lowest in hospitals, they are at the core of prevention because many infected patients are transferred to hospitals for care, raising the risk of spreading the infection there, the CDC said.

Half of those with C. difficile infections were already infected when they were admitted to the hospital, often after getting care at another facility, the agency noted.

The other 50 percent of infections were related to care at the hospital where the infection was diagnosed.

The CDC said that these infections could be reduced if health care workers follow simple infection control precautions, such as prescribing fewer antibiotics, washing their hands more often and isolating infected patients.

An upsurge in diseases like asthma and bronchitis

Medical and public health groups are banding together to explain how global warming has taken a toll on human health and will continue to cause food-borne illnesses, respiratory problems, and deaths unless policy changes are enacted.

In a conference call with reporters, the heads of the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Public Health Association (APHA) joined with a pediatrician and a scientist to lay out what they say is a major public health issue: climate change caused by global warming.

The Link Between Air Pollution and Asthma

The “evidence has only grown stronger” that climate change is responsible for an increasing number of health ills, including asthma, diarrheal disease, and even deaths from extreme weather such as heat waves, said Dr. Georges Benjamin, executive director of the APHA.

For one, rising temperatures can mean more smog, which makes children with asthma sicker, explained pediatrician Dr. Perry Sheffield, assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics and the Department of Preventive Medicine at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, in New York.

There is also evidence that pollen season is also getting longer, she said, which could lead to an increase in the number of people with asthma.

Climate change also is thought to lead to increased concentrations of ozone, a pollutant formed on clear, cloudless days. Ozone is a lung irritant which can affect asthmatics, those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and those with heart disease, said Dr. Kristie Ebi, who is a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

More ozone can mean more health problems and more hospital visits, she said.

Aside from air-related ailments and illnesses, extreme weather can have a devastating effect on health, Sheffield said.

“As a result of global warming, extreme storms including hurricanes, heavy rainfall, and even snowstorms are expected to increase,” Sheffield said. “And these events pose risk of injury and disruption of special medical services, which are particularly important to children with special medical needs.”

Extreme heat waves and droughts are responsible for more deaths than any other weather-related event, Sheffield said.

The 2006 heat wave that spread through most of the U.S. and Canada saw temperatures that topped 100 degrees. In all, 450 people died, 16,000 visited the emergency room, and 1,000 were hospitalized, said Dr. Cecil Wilson, president of the AMA.

Climate change has already caused temperatures to rise and precipitation to increase, which, in turn, can cause diseases carried by tics, mosquitoes, and other animals to spread past their normal geographical range, explained Ebi.

For instance, Lyme disease is increasing in some areas, she said, including in Canada, where scientists are tracking the spread of Lyme disease north.

Ebi also recounted the 2004 outbreak of the leading seafood-related cause of gastroenteritis, Vibrio parahaemolyticus, from Alaskan seafood, which was attributed to increased ocean temperatures causing infected sea creatures to travel 600 miles north.

Salmonella outbreaks also increase when temperatures are very warm, Sheffield said.

A 2008 study also projected that global warming will lead to a possible increase in the prevalence of kidney stones due to increased dehydration, although the link hasn’t been proven.

Wilson said the AMA wants to make doctors aware of the projected rise in climate-related illnesses. To combat climate change, Wilson says physicians and public health groups can advocate for policies that improve public health, and should also serve as role models by adopting environmentally-friendly policies such as eliminating paper waste and using energy-efficient lighting in their practices.

“Climate instability threatens our health and life-supporting system, and the risk to our health and well-being will continue to mount unless we all do our part to stabilize the climate and protect the nation’s health,” said Wilson.

Benjamin added that doctors should pay attention to the Air Quality Index. For instance, if there’s a “Code Red” day, which indicates the air is unhealthy, physicians should advise patients (particularly those with cardiac or respiratory conditions) that it’s not the day to try and mow the grass.

“ER docs are quite aware of Code Red days because we know that when those occur, we’re going to see lots of patients in the emergency room,” Benjamin said.

The conference call came as Congress is considering what role the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should have in updating its safeguards against carbon dioxide and other pollutants.

10 Easy Ways to Make Your Home Eco-Friendly

While the EPA has the authority to regulate levels of CO2, a budget bill passed by the House of Representatives last the weekend prohibited the EPA from exercising that authority. Meanwhile, other bills are pending in Congress that would significantly delay the agency’s ability to regulate air pollutants.

AMA has a number of policies on the books regarding climate change, including a resolution supporting the EPA’s authority to regulate the control of greenhouse gases, and a statement endorsing findings from the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that concludes the Earth is undergoing adverse climate changes, and that humans are a significant contributor to the changing weather.

In that statement, the AMA said it supports educating the medical community about climate change and its health implications through medical education on topics such as “population displacement, heat waves and drought, flooding, infectious and vector-borne diseases, and potable water supplies.”

Find out which personal hygiene

Mom was right: Good personal hygiene is essential to promoting good health.

Personal hygiene habits such as washing your hands and brushing and flossing your teeth will help keep bacteria, viruses, and illnesses at bay. And there are mental as well as physical benefits. “Practicing good body hygiene helps you feel good about yourself, which is important for your mental health,” notes Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. People who have poor hygiene — disheveled hair and clothes, body odor, bad breath, missing teeth, and the like — often are seen as unhealthy and may face discrimination.

Personal Hygiene: Healthy Habits Include Good Grooming

If you want to minimize your risk of infection and also enhance your overall health, follow these basic personal hygiene habits:

  • Bathe regularly. Wash your body and your hair often. “I’m not saying that you need to shower or bathe every day,” remarks Dr. Novey. “But you should clean your body and shampoo your hair at regular intervals that work for you.” Your body is constantly shedding skin. Novey explains, “That skin needs to come off. Otherwise, it will cake up and can cause illnesses.”
  • Trim your nails. Keeping your finger and toenails trimmed and in good shape will prevent problems such as hang nails and infected nail beds. Feet that are clean and dry are less likely to contract athlete’s foot, Novey says.
  • Brush and floss. Ideally, you should brush your teeth after every meal. At the very least, brush your teeth twice a day and floss daily. Brushing minimizes the accumulation of bacteria in your mouth, which can cause tooth decay and gum disease, Novey says. Flossing, too, helps maintain strong, healthy gums. “The bacteria that builds up and causes gum disease can go straight to the heart and cause very serious valve problems,” Novey explains. Unhealthy gums also can cause your teeth to loosen, which makes it difficult to chew and to eat properly, he adds. To maintain a healthy smile, visit the dentist at six-month intervals for checkups and cleanings.
  • Wash your hands. Washing your hands before preparing or eating food, after going to the bathroom, after coughing or sneezing, and after handling garbage, goes a long way toward preventing the spread of bacteria and viruses. Keep a hygiene product, like an alcohol-based sanitizing gel, handy for when soap and water isn’t available.
  • Sleep tight. Get plenty of rest — 8 to 10 hours a night — so that you are refreshed and are ready to take on the day every morning. Lack of sleep can leave you feeling run down and can compromise your body’s natural defenses, your immune system, Novey says.

Rebuilding Continues in Joplin

It’s been months since a massive Level 5 tornado flattened Joplin, Mo., killing 125 people and destroying more than 8,000 buildings. It was one of the most destructive twisters in U.S. history, and its devastating effects are still being felt.

In the immediate aftermath of the storm, the non-profit AmeriCares connected directly with its partner clinics, shelters, and health care providers in Joplin and nearby Springfield to provide essential first-aid supplies. It also supplied life-saving intravenous fluids and medications to the field hospital that was temporarily erected near the ruins of St. John’s Regional Medical Center, the city’s main hospital. But as important as these critical-care supplies were, residents were also in desperate need of chronic care medications for diabetes and heart disease, among other conditions. AmeriCares helped ensure the continued supply of these pharmaceuticals despite local pharmacies’ empty shelves.

Your donation will help AmeriCares keep the medications flowing to people who need them.

In mid-July, Alex Ostasiewicz, a multimedia associate for AmeriCares, revisited the devastated region to check up on the town’s progress. “I’d never seen tornado damage before,” she said. “Although it’s clear that much progress has been made in the cleanup, the landscape is bleak and barren, and there’s still a significant amount of debris.” Since the storm, more than 65,000 volunteers have flocked to Joplin and the surrounding areas, and debris removal is still ongoing. AmeriCares supplies tetanus vaccine, antibiotics, and other essential medications to ensure volunteers’ safety. In addition, like the rest of the country, Joplin has been engulfed in the heat wave, making the workers’ jobs harder.

What’s becoming increasingly important in the tornado’s aftermath is providing much-needed psychological care to the survivors. “We saw similar needs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and other natural disasters,” explains Ostasiewicz. “These people have lost their homes, their community, and their support system.” Group therapy to address longer-term complications like depression and anxiety is important to repairing the community of Joplin.

Healthcare Reform Law

A federal judge in Florida has ruled that the healthcare reform law is unconstitutional, siding with the 26 states that sued to block enforcement of the law.

The lawsuit, filed by 26 states that sued to block the Affordable Care Act (ACA), is considered likely to go all the way to the Supreme Court.

Judge Roger Vinson, of the U.S. District Court in Pensacola, Fla., stopped short of directing the federal government to stop implementing the law. Still, the ruling is the harshest legal action yet against the ACA.

Unlike a ruling last month by a judge in Richmond, Va., stating that the individual mandate portion of the ACA violates the Constitution, Vinson ruled the entire law “void” because the individual mandate provision can’t be separated out from the rest of the law.

Congress “exceeded the bounds of its authority in passing the Act with the individual mandate,” Vinson wrote in his 78-page ruling, which was released Monday afternoon. The mandate requires all citizens to have health insurance by 2014 or else pay a penalty.

“Because the individual mandate is unconstitutional and not severable, the entire Act must be declared void,” he concluded.

He did contend that Congress has the power to address the “problems and inequities in our health care system,” but that Congress overstepped its power in passing the ACA.

“There is widespread sentiment for positive improvements that will reduce costs, improve the quality of care, and expand availability in a way that the nation can afford,” Vinson wrote. “This is obviously a very difficult task. Regardless of how laudable its attempts may have been to accomplish these goals in passing the Act, Congress must operate within the bounds established by the Constitution.”

Aerobic workout may also build brain

Regular aerobic exercise such as walking may protect the memory center in the brain, while stretching exercise may cause the center — called the hippocampus — to shrink, researchers reported.

In a randomized study involving men and women in their mid-60s, walking three times a week for a year led to increases in the volume of the hippocampus, which plays an important role in memory, according to Dr. Arthur Kramer, of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Ill., and colleagues.

On the other hand, control participants who took stretching classes saw drops in the volume of the hippocampus, Kramer and colleagues reported online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings suggest that it’s possible to overcome the age-related decline in hippocampal volume with only moderate exercise, Kramer told MedPage Today, leading to better fitness and perhaps to better spatial memory. “I don’t see a down side to it,” he said.

The volume of the hippocampus is known to fall with age by between 1 percent and 2 percent a year, the researchers noted, leading to impaired memory and increased risk for dementia.

But animal research suggests that exercise reduces the loss of volume and preserves memory, they added.

To test the effect on humans, they enrolled 120 men and women in their mid-sixties and randomly assigned 60 of them to a program of aerobic walking three times a week for a year. The remaining 60 were given stretch classes three times a week and served as a control group.

Their fitness and memory were tested before the intervention, again after six months, and for a last time after a year. Magnetic resonance images of their brains were taken at the same times in order to measure the effect on the hippocampal volume.

The study showed that overall the walkers had a 2 percent increase in the volume of the hippocampus, compared with an average loss of about 1.4% in the control participants.

The researchers also found, improvements in fitness, measured by exercise testing on a treadmill, were significantly associated with increases in the volume of the hippocampus.

On the other hand, the study fell short of demonstrating a group effect on memory – both groups showed significant improvements both in accuracy and speed on a standard test. The apparent lack of effect, Kramer told MedPage Today, is probably a statistical artifact that results from large individual differences within the groups.

Analyses showed that that higher aerobic fitness levels at baseline and after the one-year intervention were associated with better spatial memory performance, the researchers reported.

But change in aerobic fitness was not related to improvements in memory for either the entire sample or either group separately, they found.

On the other hand, larger hippocampi at baseline and after the intervention were associated with better memory performance, they reported.

The results “clearly indicate that aerobic exercise is neuroprotective and that starting an exercise regimen later in life is not futile for either enhancing cognition or augmenting brain volume,” the researchers argued.