Friday, December 11, 2009

5 Natural Ways to Help Your Health

Want to improve the nation’s health care? Stay healthy.

No matter how the laws change in Washington, D.C., preventive medicine experts say the single best way to improve the nation’s health is simple: Stay healthy.
Preventable illnesses like heart disease, type 2 diabetes, stroke, and several leading forms of cancer make up a big chunk of health care spending, costing billions of dollars. They rob millions of Americans of years of life and blight the final years of others with sickness and disability.
It doesn’t have to be that way. Consider evidence from a 2009 study of 23,153 adults who took part in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition. Volunteers who followed four  tenets of good health -- they didn’t smoke or get fat; they exercised and ate a healthy diet -- were 80% less likely to develop chronic illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, cancer, and heart disease. Their risk of developing type 2 diabetes was 92% lower than the risk of people who shunned the familiar health advice. Their odds of having a heart attack were 81% lower.
“Results like these prove again and again that the most powerful tools we have to improve health are prevention,” says Wes Alles, PhD, director of the Stanford Health Improvement program at Stanford University. “Yet we still have trouble convincing people to make those healthy changes.” To craft your own health care reform program, here’s what Alles and other experts say you should do to get the biggest bang for your efforts:

1. Be More Active and Exercise

Exercise offers so many health benefits, it’s nothing short of a magic bullet. Something as simple as a brisk walk for half an hour a day dramatically reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, and several forms of cancer, including colon cancer, one of the leading killers.
“A lifetime of regular exercise improves brain function, allows people to be active and independent in their later years, and adds years to life,” says Steven Blair, PhD, professor of exercise science at the University of South Carolina, who has helped shape federal exercise guidelines. “That addresses most of the leading chronic health threats we face.”
A 2008 study by researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston showed that regular exercise lowered the risk of dying prematurely by 30%.

2. Maintain a Healthy Weight

Easier said than done, according to findings from a new analysis of data from state health departments.
Over the past five years, obesity rates climbed in nearly all states. Indeed, not a single state in the U.S. saw a decline.
Losing weight and keeping it off is difficult. Yet studies show that losing weight just a few pounds if you’re overweight will improve your health. If your weight is normal, work to keep it there by reining in calories and exercising frequently. A healthy diet includes abundant fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. A good diet limits refined sugars and saturated fats. One easy way to shed calories from your diet: drink water instead of sugary beverages. They account for more and more calories in the American diet.

3. Get Screened and Get Your Shots

This year, with flu in the headlines, no one needs to be reminded that flu shots can dramatically reduce the risk of getting this seasonal bug and its potentially life-threatening complications. Yet only 42% of people 50 to 64 get yearly flu shots. Keeping up to date on all recommended vaccinations can prevent many deadly and debilitating illnesses.
Routine health screens are also lifesavers. Knowing and managing your cholesterol levels and blood pressure is crucial to reducing your risk of heart disease. Cancer screening tests have been shown to catch some forms of the disease early enough to eliminate them.
For the latest recommendations on what tests to get when, check out the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommendations at

4. Don’t Smoke: Quitting Saves Lives

A no-brainer. But lung cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death -- and between 80% and 90% of cases are directly caused by smoking, according to the National Cancer Institute.
The good news: smoking rates are falling in the U.S. And thanks to a variety of new nicotine replacement therapies -- from patches to nasal sprays -- quitting is easier than ever. One recent analysis of studies found that nicotine replacements can almost double the odds that smokers will successfully quit. New medications to help smokers kick the habit are also available. Talk to your doctor about the best strategies for success.

5. Find Joy From Family and Friends

Enjoying life and maintaining a circle of supportive friends is a big part of good health. Indeed, having friendships may be second only to not smoking for preventing heart attacks. People with extensive social networks, according to research at the Uniformed Services University, are less likely to have calcification in their arteries, a sign of heart disease risk.
One way to increase your happiness is to foster cheerful friends. “Happiness turns out to spread through social networks,” says James D. Fowler, PhD, an associate professor of political science at the University of California, San Diego. His research, which tracked the spread of happiness among friends and even friends of friends, found that a person is 15% more likely to be happy if a close contact is happy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Truth About Tryptophan

Every year at Thanksgiving, most of us engage in an annual rite of passage: stuffing ourselves mercilessly with turkey, cranberry sauce, and pie. Not a bad way to spend a Thursday.  But inevitably, in that hour between feeling so full you think you'll explode and gearing up for round two with the leftovers, your relatives can find you conked out on the couch.

Along comes Aunt Mildred with her armchair scientific explanation. You're tired, she tells you, because the turkey you just ate is laden with L-tryptophan. Tryptophan, she says, makes you tired.
So is your aunt right? Is the turkey really what's to blame for Thanksgiving sleepiness? The experts helped WebMD sort out the facts.

What is L-Tryptophan?

L-tryptophan is an essential amino acid. The body can't make it, so diet must supply tryptophan. Amino acids are building blocks of proteins. Foods rich in tryptophan include, you guessed it, turkey. Tryptophan is also found in other poultry, meat, cheese, yogurt, fish, and eggs.
Tryptophan is used by the body to make niacin, a B vitamin that is important for digestion, skin and nerves, and serotonin. Serotonin is a brain chemical that plays a large role in mood) and can help to create a feeling of well-being and relaxation. "When levels of serotonin are high, you're in a better mood, sleep better, and have a higher pain tolerance," says Elizabeth Somer, MA, RD, author of numerous nutrition books, including her latest, Eat Your Way to Happiness.
Tryptophan is needed for the body to produce serotonin. Serotonin is used to make melatonin, a hormone that helps to control your sleep and wake cycles.

Turkey the Sleep Inducer?

As it turns out, turkey contains no more of the amino acid tryptophan than other kinds of poultry. In fact, turkey actually has slightly less tryptophan than chicken, says Dawn Jackson Blatner, RD, LDN, an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman and author of The Flexitarian Diet.
Jackson Blatner says that if we're sleepy on Thanksgiving as a direct result of eating turkey, then eating other foods rich in tryptophan should have the same effect.
"When is the last time someone ate a chicken breast at a summertime barbecue and thought they felt sluggish [because of it]?" she asks.
Turkey is, indeed, a good source of tryptophan. Still, it's a myth that eating foods high in tryptophan boosts brain levels of tryptophan and therefore brain levels of serotonin, Somer says.
Somer says that proteins like turkey, chicken, and fish, which are high in tryptophan, require assistance from foods high in carbohydrates to affect serotonin levels.
"Tryptophan is quite high in milk and turkey, but that's not the food that will give you the serotonin boost," she says. It's a small, all-carbohydrate snack -- no more than 30 grams of carbohydrates -- in combination with the tryptophan stored in your body from food you've already eaten that will give you the biggest boost of serotonin, Somer says.
A serotonin-boosting snack may include a few Fig Newtons, half of a small whole wheat bagel with honey drizzled over it, or a few cups of air-popped popcorn some time after you've eaten foods high in tryptophan. "Research shows that a light, 30 gram carbohydrate snack just before bed will actually help you sleep better," Somer says.

Amino Acid Overload

When you eat foods rich in tryptophan, as the food digests, amino acids - not just tryptophan - make their way into the bloodstream. This causes competition among the various amino acids to enter the brain.
"Tryptophan, which is a bulky amino acid, would have to stand in line to get through the blood-brain barrier with a whole bunch of amino acids," Somer says. "It would be like standing in line when the Harry Potter movie comes out and you didn't get in line early enough. The chances of getting in [to see the movie] are pretty slim. That's what happens when you eat a protein-rich food. Tryptophan has to compete with all these other amino acids. It waits in line to get through the blood-brain barrier and very little of it makes it across."
The small, all-carbohydrate snack is tryptophan's ticket across the blood-brain barrier, where it can boost serotonin levels. So have your turkey, Somer says, because it will increase your store of tryptophan in the body, but count on the carbohydrates to help give you the mood boost or the restful sleep.
"It's the all-carb snack that ends up being like a sneak preview of the [Harry Potter] movie, where no one else knows it's showing," she says.

Too Much of a Sleepy Thing

Is it possible to have too much tryptophan in the body? Not really, Somer says. "Except if you end up eating a lot of tryptophan, it means you're eating a lot of protein and Americans already eat a lot of protein. It's the only nutrient we get too much of," she says.
"If you're getting even one serving of 3 ounces of meat, chicken, or fish; a couple of glasses of milk or yogurt; or if you're eating beans and rice, you will get all the amino acids you need and in there will be the tryptophan," Somer says.

Thanksgiving Grogginess: Look Beyond the Turkey

So if eating turkey isn't exactly the same as popping a sleeping pill, why the sudden grogginess as soon as our holiday feast is over?
"It boils down to Thanksgiving being a time when people overeat," Jackson Blatner says. "When people overeat food, the digestion process takes a lot of energy. Don't incriminate the turkey that you ate," she says of post-Thanksgiving meal exhaustion, "incriminate the three plates of food that you piled high."
And let's not forget that the holidays generally mean time off from work and with family. Many people feel more relaxed to begin with (family wars not withstanding). Add alcohol to the mix, and voila! Sleep!
Speaking of sleep, Joyce Walsleban, PhD, associate professor at New York University's Sleep Disorders Center, suggests we all get plenty of it. "Coming up on the holidays and trying to get all the things done that one would normally be doing, you short cut your sleep and that's never helpful. By the time the holiday comes, everyone has gotten sick."
At least then you'll have a good excuse to lay down and take a nap.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Super Foods That Strengthen Immunity

One of the best ways to keep your immune system strong and prevent colds and flu might surprise you: Shop your supermarket’s produce aisle.

Experts say a diet rich in fruits and vegetables can help you ward off infections like colds and flu. That’s because these super foods contain immune-boosting antioxidants.
What are antioxidants? They are vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients that protect and repair cells from damage caused by free radicals. Many experts believe this damage plays a part in a number of chronic diseases, including hardening of the arteries (atherosclerosis), cancer, and arthritis. Free radicals can also interfere with your immune system. So fighting off damage with antioxidants helps keep your immune system strong, making you better able to ward off colds, flu, and other infections.

Antioxidants for Immunity: Where to Find Them

Adding more fruit and vegetables of any kind to your diet will improve your health. But some foods are higher in antioxidants than others. The three major antioxidant vitamins are beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E. You’ll find them in colorful fruits and vegetables – especially those with purple, blue, red, orange, and yellow hues. To get the biggest benefits of antioxidants, eat these foods raw or lightly steamed; don’t overcook or boil.
Beta-carotene and other carotenoids: Apricots, asparagus, beets, broccoli, cantaloupe, carrots, corn, green peppers, kale, mangoes, turnip and collard greens, nectarines, peaches, pink grapefruit, pumpkin, squash, spinach, sweet potato, tangerines, tomatoes, and watermelon.
Vitamin C: Berries, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cantaloupe, cauliflower, grapefruit, honeydew, kale, kiwi, mangoes, nectarines, orange, papaya, red, green or yellow peppers, snow peas, sweet potato, strawberries, and tomatoes.
Vitamin E: Broccoli, carrots, chard, mustard and turnip greens, mangoes, nuts, papaya, pumpkin, red peppers, spinach, and sunflower seeds.
Other super foods that are rich in antioxidants include:
  • Prunes
  • Apples
  • Raisins
  • All berries
  • Plums
  • Red grapes
  • Alfalfa sprouts
  • Onions
  • Eggplant
  • Beans
Vitamins aren’t the only antioxidants in food. Other antioxidants that may help boost immunity include
  • Zinc: Found in oysters, red meat, poultry, beans, nuts, seafood, whole grains, fortified cereals, and dairy products
  • Selenium: Found in Brazil nuts, tuna, beef, poultry and fortified breads, and other grain products

Antioxidant Super Foods: How Much Do You Need?

Here are the RDAs for some antioxidants:  

Zinc: 11 milligrams for men, 8 milligrams for women. If you are a strict vegetarian, you may require as much as 50% more dietary zinc. That’s because your body absorbs less zinc when you have a diet rich in plant-based foods.
Selenium: 55 micrograms for men or women.
Beta-carotene: There is no RDA for beta-carotene. But the Institute of Medicine says that if you get 3 milligrams to 6 milligrams of beta-carotene daily, your body will have the levels that may lower risk of chronic diseases.
Vitamin C: 90 milligrams for men, 75 milligrams for women. Smokers should get extra vitamin C: 125 milligrams for men and 110 milligrams for women.
Vitamin E: 15 milligrams for men and women.

How Foods Boost Immunity

Can’t you get antioxidants from taking a vitamin or a supplement? Yes, but you may be missing out on other nutrients that could strengthen the immune system. Foods contain many different nutrients that work together to promote health. For example, researchers delving into the mysteries of fruits and vegetables and the complex antioxidants they contain have discovered benefits of:
  • Quercetin: a plant-based chemical (phytochemical) found in apples, onions, teas, red wines, and other foods. It fights inflammation and may help reduce allergies.
  • Luteolin: a flavonoid found in abundance in celery and green peppers. It also fights inflammation and one study showed it may help protect against inflammatory brain conditions like Alzheimer’s.
  • Catechins: a type of flavonoid found in tea. Catechins in tea may help reduce risk of heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer’s disease.
If you can’t get enough antioxidants in your diet by eating fresh produce, some experts recommend taking a multivitamin that contains minerals, too. But be cautious about taking individual immune system supplements to boost immunity. With antioxidants, as with most anything, moderation is key. Vitamins A and E, for example, are stored in the body and eliminated slowly. Getting too much can be toxic.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Teen Peer Pressure: Raising a Peer Pressure-Proof Child

Learn what kinds of peer pressure teens face, who’s most vulnerable, and how to help your son or daughter resist.
Remember when your teenager took her first steps as a toddler? You hovered behind her -- back bent, arms spread -- prepared to catch her should she fall. Much as you might like, you can't shadow your adolescent as you did back then, being there to break her fall when she missteps.

But, say experts, there are steps you can take to support your adolescent in the face of teen peer pressure. Follow them and you'll rest easier when your teen heads out of the house on a Friday night.

Teen Peer Pressure: What's Being Pushed?

So, just what high-risk behaviors might your adolescent feel pressured to engage in? Plenty, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), which periodically conducts surveys on health-risk behaviors among youth. The latest survey results indicate that teen peer pressure is real. Many adolescents are engaging in behaviors that place their health at risk -- including cigarette smoking, alcohol consumption, illegal drug use and sexual activity. And in all likelihood, their peers are pushing them to try these behaviors.
Here are some of the survey's findings.
Smoking. By the time adolescents are just 13, one in five has tried smoking.
Alcohol use. Two-thirds of teens between the ages of 14 and 17 have tried alcohol. Of teen boys who have tried alcohol, 20% did so by the time they were 12. Episodic, or binge drinking, is also fairly common. Of the adolescents aged 12 to 17, one in four said they'd had five or more drinks consecutively within the past month. Almost a quarter of drinkers aged 16 to 21 admitted to driving after drinking.
Drug use. Slightly more than 25% of adolescents aged 14 to 17 have used illegal drugs. One-third of young adult marijuana users aged 18 to 21 started using the drug by the time they turned 14.
Sex. About one in every three kids aged 14 to 15 has had sexual intercourse. Of sexually active teens, almost 30% used no birth control during their last sexual encounter.
Well-documented risky behaviors aren't the only ones teens may feel pressure to try. Health professionals who work with adolescents report other equally troubling behaviors that may not be as common, but are, nonetheless, on the rise. And they point to teen peer pressure as a culprit.
Consider teens' ardent attempts to emulate unrealistic body ideals. "There's a lot of peer pressure to have your body look a very specific way," says Lauren Solotar, PhD, chief psychologist at May Institute in Massachusetts. While the desire to look "fit and thin" is more pronounced among girls, she notes that many boys as young as middle-school age are on the quest for "six-pack" abs. "It's scary, all the push and the pressure," Solotar says.
Intentional self-injury, in some instances provoked by teen peer pressure, is also on the rise. "It's a method of coping with difficult emotions," says Alec L. Miller, PsyD, chief of Child and Adolescent Psychology at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. "There seem to be some peers who are engaging in this behavior [slashing their arms], and persuading others to try it." For example, a survey conducted at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in Massachusetts during the 2004-05 school year, based on the CDC's Youth Risk Behavior Survey, revealed that 20% of high school students had intentionally hurt themselves within the past year.

Identifying Vulnerable Teens

When it comes to determining who will succumb easily to teen peer pressure, there's no single profile.
Some experts say those who are socially adrift are the most likely candidates. "Teens who are prone to social isolation, and have less of a cohesive sense of self, will do things to feel connected," Miller says.
But others say adolescents who seem like the least likely suspects are actually the most susceptible to teen peer pressure. "Popular kids tend to be the most vulnerable. They pay attention to what their peers value. And at 14 or 15, when their peers value experimenting with alcohol, they're going to be right there," says Joseph P. Allen, PhD, a professor of psychology at the University of Virginia.

Why Teens Fall Prey to Peer Pressure

Kids' personal traits aside, many experts agree that simply being of middle-school age is one of the leading causes of peer pressure. "Developmentally, these kids really want to conform," Miller says.
Headstrong children who have known few parental limits in their lives are increasingly vulnerable to peer pressure during the middle-school years. "I see young kids who are strong and willful who have gotten away with a lot," says Michelle M. Forcier, MD, head of adolescent medicine at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "Then parents suddenly panic because the risk-taking behavior is now about more serious things."
How society is set up also makes adolescents conducive to teen peer pressure, some experts say. "If you go back 40 or 50 years ago, adolescents were much more likely to be integrated with adults, to be more a part of adult society," Allen says. That has changed, he notes, and there's now a much stronger emphasis for teens to socialize with peers. "It's an independent youth culture, where values don't come from parents. There's no real connection to adult values," Allen concludes.

Making Your Child Resilient to Teen Peer Pressure

In spite of adolescents' vulnerability and the strong influence of peers, parents can exert a positive influence on their adolescents' decision-making processes, offering them ways to combat the effects of peer pressure. Experts explain how.
  • Keep communication lines open
    Talk to your kids -- and don't wait until they're teens. Healthcare professionals, counselors, and educators agree unanimously that open communication between parents and their children helps youth better manage teen peer pressure. "It's not too early to have an honest conversation about drugs, sex and other pressures when your child is in fifth grade," Miller says.

    Dialogue that starts early pays off in the long run. "The kids who weather the decision-making process are those who can talk to their parents, no matter what the issue, and who know that even if their parents don't approve of it, they will listen and help them make a decision that makes sense to them," Forcier says.

    Research supports this theory. Teens who report learning a lot about the risks of drugs from their parents are up to 50% less likely to use drugs than those who say they haven't learned a lot about drugs from their parents. That's according to results of an annual, nationwide survey of teens in grades 6 through 12, conducted by Partnership for a Drug-Free America and reported by Tom Hedrick, senior communications officer and founding member of the association.

  • Practice peer pressure scenarios
    Teen peer pressure may come as a surprise to your child. Out of the blue, he may be offered a cigarette or a swig of alcohol, and he may have no idea how to respond. You can help prepare him for these scenarios. "Find a calm period, prior to or during early adolescence, and role play," Solotar suggests. "It's much easier to manage a situation if you've already thought it out."

  • Listen to your teen's perspective
    Express your personal opinions, but don't let them shut down communication, advises Forcier. "You want to make clear to your adolescent what you believe in. But if you shut down on certain topics, your kid won't come to you as a trusted adult," Forcier says. She offers the example of the parent who adamantly refuses to discuss birth control with her 15-year-old daughter. "These kids are the ones we often end up seeing for pregnancy tests," Forcier says.

  • Keep inviting your kids into your life
    "There is a natural break [between teens and their parents], and it should happen. But I tell parents to keep inviting kids to do things. Kids want their parents to maintain the relationship," Allen says. He warns that it may take some creativity and effort on the part of the parent. "You might have to find new ways to relate to your kid," he says. He suggests trying to find mutual, life-long interests to share with your adolescent, like playing tennis or cooking together.

  • Think beyond punitive responses
    A parent's initial reaction to an adolescent who comes home inebriated may be to punish. But, ultimately, that's not a solution to the real problem. "A punitive response doesn't get at what you need to change the behavior," Forcier says. "If a teen is 14 and she's drinking, there's probably a good reason for it. If you address it, maybe she won't need the alcohol."

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

4 Weight-Loss Rules to Break

Eat five small meals a day

Who breaks it Renee Melton, R. D., director of nutrition services for the mobile weight-loss program Sensei."My schedule doesn't give me time to prepare healthy snacks, much less eat them, so I make sure I get what I need in three squares a day."

Why you can, too The "graze, don't gorge" philosophy is based on the premise that having frequent small meals keeps your blood sugar steady, your metabolism ramped up, and your appetite in check. But some studies show a link between obesity and eating more than three times a day, most notably in women. More frequent noshing means more opportunities to overeat. Plus, says Melton, having to constantly think about what you're going to eat can be stressful, especially for emotional eaters.

Do it right To keep hunger pangs from overriding your willpower throughout the day, eat fiber-rich foods at mealtimes—they make you feel fuller and take longer to digest. Shoot for 21 to 25 grams a day, starting with a high-fiber grain cereal like Kashi's GoLean with low-fat milk and fruit. For lunch and dinner, Melton says, fill half your plate with produce, a quarter with carbs, and the other quarter with lean protein.

Avoid white bread, rice, and pasta

Who breaks it Christine Avanti, clinical sports nutritionist and author of Skinny Chicks Don't Eat Salads. She was raised on homemade "white" pasta by her Italian immigrant grandparents.

Why you can, too Carb lovers have long been warned against highly processed products because they're believed to cause a blood sugar spike. But research published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association found that people on high-carb diets were slimmer than their pastaphobic counterparts even when they threw "bad" carbs like white bread into the mix of fiber-rich whole grains.

Do it right Follow the U. S. Department of Agriculture recommendation of six ounces of carbs each day, and make sure at least half come from whole grains. Then measure out a serving of refined carbs, such as a cup of cooked white pasta, and dig in guilt-free. If a single cup isn't gonna do it for you, pair your pasta with filling protein, like a meaty red sauce made with extra-lean ground turkey.

Don't eat late at night

Who breaks it Ann G. Kulze, M. D., author of Dr. Ann's 10-Step Diet: A Simple Plan for Permanent Weight Loss and Lifelong Vitality. She sits down to dinner every night at 9 p.m. or later.

Why you can, too "A calorie consumed at 9 p. m. isn't handled any differently by your body than one consumed at 9 a. m.," Kulze says. It's less about when you eat than how much you eat. A study published in the European Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that obese women were more likely than svelte women to eat meals late at night, but they were also more likely to eat more, period. And a study by the USDA showed that your metabolism hums along at the same rate no matter how you time your meals. And delaying dinner does have one undisputed advantage: It helps eliminate late-night snacking, one of the worst diet busters.

Do it right One reason you're likely to stuff yourself late at night is that you're ravenous from not having eaten since lunchtime. A healthy snack in the late afternoon (around four if you're planning to eat at nine) can help you avoid this pitfall. Studies have found that the fat in nuts is particularly satisfying, so grab a 100-calorie pack of almonds when you're on the go. When you finally find the time for dinner, actually sit at a table, and nix the distractions. Scarfing a meal in the car or in front of the TV means you usually aren't paying attention to what—or how much—you're eating.

Skip dessert

Who breaks it Judith S. Stern, Sc. D., a professor of nutrition and internal medicine at the University of California, Davis. She has a "few bites of something decadent" when she dines out.

Why you can, too We all discover a little more room beneath our waistbands when the dessert tray rolls by. Studies show that when you're offered a variety of foods, you never achieve what's known as taste-specific satiety; your appetite is stimulated anew as each novel flavor is introduced. Outsmart your taste buds by planning ahead. Stern's trick: She looks at the dessert menu along with the main menu, and if she decides to end the meal with, say, a dark-chocolate tart, she'll always choose a salad dressed in a little olive oil and vinegar to start and then have an appetizer as her entree.

Do it right Desserts are unsurprisingly high in calories, and chain restaurants tend to serve enormous portions—an Applebee's chocolate chip cookie sundae has 1,620 calories and 73 grams of saturated fat! Order off the kid's menu or get something to share. Also consider sorbets and chocolate-dipped fruit, which satisfy a sweet tooth for fewer calories. Dining at home? Try the chocolate raspberry parfait Avanti prepares: Top a half cup of fat-free ricotta cheese with a teaspoon of cocoa powder and a quarter cup of fresh or frozen raspberries. "This snack offers just enough sweetness to calm a sugar craving," she says, "and it's packed with filling protein."

Friday, October 2, 2009

15 Cancer Symptoms Women Ignore

No. 1: Unexplained Weight Loss

Many women would be delighted to lose weight without trying. But unexplained weight loss -- say 10 pounds in a month without an increase in exercise or a decrease in food intake -- should be checked out, Mishori says.
"Unexplained weight loss is cancer unless proven not," she says. It could, of course, turn out to be another condition, such as an overactive thyroid.
Expect your doctor to run tests to check the thyroid and perhaps order a CT scan of different organs. The doctor needs to "rule out the possibilities, one by one," Mishori says.

No. 2: Bloating

Bloating is so common that many women just live with it. But it could point to ovarian cancer. Other symptoms of ovarian cancer include abdominal pain or pelvic pain, feeling full quickly -- even when you haven't eaten much -- and urinary problems, such as having an urgent need to go to the bathroom.
If the bloating occurs almost every day and persists for more than a few weeks, you should consult your physician. Expect your doctor to take a careful history and order a CT scan and blood tests, among others.

No. 3: Breast Changes

Most women know their breasts well, even if they don't do regular self-exams, and know to be on the lookout for lumps. But that's not the only breast symptom that could point to cancer. Redness and thickening of the skin on the breast, which could indicate a very rare but aggressive form of breast cancer, inflammatory breast cancer, also needs to be examined, Linden says. "If you have a rash that persists over weeks, you have to get it evaluated," she says.
Likewise, if the look of a nipple changes, or if you notice discharge (and aren’t breastfeeding), see your doctor. "If it's outgoing normally and turns in," she says, that's not a good sign. "If your nipples are inverted chronically, no big deal." It's the change in appearance that could be a worrisome symptom.
If you have breast changes, expect your doctor to take a careful history, examine the breast, and order tests such as a mammogram, ultrasound, MRI, and perhaps a biopsy.

No. 4: Between-Period Bleeding or Other Unusual Bleeding

''Premenopausal women tend to ignore between-period bleeding," Daly says. They also tend to ignore bleeding from the GI tract, mistakenly thinking it is from their period. But between-period bleeding, especially if you are typically regular, bears checking out, she says. So does bleeding after menopause, as it could be a symptom of endometrial cancer. GI bleeding could be a symptom of colorectal cancer.
Think about what's normal for you, says Debbie Saslow, PhD, director of breast and gynecologic cancer at the American Cancer Society in Atlanta. "If a woman never spots [between periods] and she spots, it's abnormal for her. For someone else, it might not be."
"Endometrial cancer is a common gynecologic cancer," Saslow says. "At least three-quarters who get it have some abnormal bleeding as an early sign."
Your doctor will take a careful history and, depending on the timing of the bleeding and other symptoms, probably order an ultrasound or biopsy.

No. 5: Skin Changes

Most of us know to look for any changes in moles -- a well-known sign of skin cancer. But we should also watch for changes in skin pigmentation, Daly says.
If you suddenly develop bleeding on your skin or excessive scaling, that should be checked, too, she says. It's difficult to say how long is too long to observe skin changes before you go to the doctor, but most experts say not longer than several weeks.

No. 6: Difficulty Swallowing

If you have difficulty swallowing, you may have already changed your diet so chewing isn't so difficult, perhaps turning to soups or liquid foods such as protein shakes.
But that difficulty could be a sign of a GI cancer, such as in the esophagus, says Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society.
Expect your doctor to take a careful history and order tests such as a chest X-ray or exams of the GI tract.

No. 7: Blood in the Wrong Place

If you notice blood in your urine or your stool, don’t assume it's from a hemorrhoid, says Mishori. "It could be colon cancer."
Expect your doctor to ask questions and perhaps order testing such as a colonoscopy, an exam of the colon to look for cancer.
Seeing blood in the toilet bowl may actually be from the vagina if a woman is menstruating, Mishori says. But if not, it should be checked to rule out bladder or kidney cancer, she says.
Coughing up blood should be evaluated, too. One occasion of blood in the wrong place may not point to anything, Mishori says, but if it happens more than once, go see your doctor.

No. 8: Gnawing Abdominal Pain and Depression

Any woman who's got a pain in the abdomen and is feeling depressed needs a checkup, says Lichtenfeld. Some researchers have found a link between depression and pancreatic cancer, but it's a poorly understood connection.

No. 9: Indigestion

Women who have been pregnant may remember the indigestion that occurred as they gained weight. But indigestion for no apparent reason may be a red flag.
It could be an early clue to cancer of the esophagus, stomach, or throat.
Expect your doctor to take a careful history and ask questions about the indigestion before deciding which tests to order, if any.

No. 10: Mouth Changes

Smokers should be especially alert for any white patches inside the mouth or white spots on the tongue, according to the American Cancer Society. Both can point to a precancerous condition called leukoplakia that can progress to oral cancer.
Ask your dentist or doctor to take a look and decide what should be done next.

No. 11: Pain

As people age they seem to complain more of various aches and pains, but pain, as vague as it may be, can also be an early symptom of some cancers, although most pain complaints are not from cancer.
Pain that persists and is unexplained needs to be checked out. Expect your physician to take a careful history, and based on that information decide what further testing, if any, is needed.

No. 12: Changes in the Lymph Nodes

If you notice a lump or swelling in the lymph nodes under your armpit or in your neck -- or anywhere else -- it could be worrisome, Linden says.
"If you have a lymph node that gets progressively larger, and it's [been] longer than a month, see a doctor," she says. Your doctor will examine you and figure out any associated issues (such as infection) that could explain the lymph node enlargement.
If there are none, your doctor will typically order a biopsy.

No. 13: Fever

If you have a fever that isn't explained by influenza or other infection, it could point to cancer. Fevers more often occur after cancer has spread from its original site, but it can also point to early blood cancers such as leukemia or lymphoma, according to the American Cancer Society.
Other cancer symptoms can include jaundice, or a change in the color of your stool.
Expect your doctor to conduct a careful physical exam and take a medical history, and then order tests such as a chest X-ray, CT scan, MRI, or other tests, depending on the findings.

No. 14: Fatigue

Fatigue is another vague symptom that could point to cancer -- as well as a host of other problems. It can set in after the cancer has grown, but it may also occur early in certain cancers, such as leukemia or with some colon or stomach cancers, according to the American Cancer Society.

No. 15: Persistent Cough

Coughs are expected with colds, the flu, allergies, and sometimes are a side effect of medications. But a very prolonged cough -- defined as lasting more than three or four weeks -- should not be ignored, Mishori says.
You would expect your doctor to take a careful history, examine your throat, check out your lung functioning and perhaps order X-rays, especially if you are a smoker.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Food & Fitness

Ran across this program on WebMD and wanted to share it with you:

With the WebMD Food & Fitness Planner You Get:
  1. Weight, fitness and daily calorie recommendations based on your personal goals.
  2. Access to food nutrition and fitness data information on more then 37,000 foods and over 650 activities, exercises and sports — all with tracking and personal calorie calculations.
  3. Portion size guidelines based on common household objects to help you manage your serving sizes.
  4. A printable planner to keep you on track throughout the day.

It's been proven that people who plan their meals and exercise everyday are more successful in meeting their healthy eating and weight goals than those who don't create a plan.

Meet your goals:
Step 1. Set your goal and calculate recommendations.
Step 2. Plan your foods and activities.
Step 3. Follow your personal plan.

Did You Know...

Portion Distortion

  • Most restaurants serve 2-4 times the recommended serving sizes.
  • You could be adding more then 100 extra calories to you plate resulting in a weight gain of 10 or more pounds per year!
  • The WebMD Food & Fitness Planner contains the new WebMD Portion Size Plate to help you understand serving sizes and prevent overeating for lifelong success!

Fitness Recommendations

  • Lack of time is the reason most people don't exercise.
  • People usually don't think to count day-to-day activities (yard work, laundry, etc) as healthy calorie burners.
  • The WebMD Food & Fitness Planner will give you a personalized target heart rate calculation to help you achieve the greatest fitness benefits.

Go to the Food and Fitness Planner page and get started TODAY.

Have Sympathy for the Little People

Heeheehee! That's me! I am going to get swallowed up in this:

I know, I know, this isn't a health post, but today, I need your help. I am trying to "collect" comments for a chance to Win a Samsung Washer and Dryer over at my Yummy! Yummy! Yummy! blog. If you have a minute, could you go THERE and leave me a comment.

While you're THERE, take a look at the information on how YOU can post and win a washer and dryer, too. If you decide to enter, let me know and I will comment for you, too.

Thanks my Virtual Friends Forever.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

and Kelly Ripa Kick Off
"Text-a-Thon for a Cause"

Electrolux and Kelly Ripa remain committed to raising money and awareness to support this worthy cause. Together, they are launching another exciting campaign that utilizes a form of communication that many of us use every day - texting! During September, Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, Electrolux and Kelly are holding a "Text-a-Thon for a Cause" to help raise support for the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund whose mission is to fund research to find a method of early detection and ultimately a cure for ovarian cancer.

Throughout September, you can donate $5 to the cause by texting "KELLY" to 85944 from your mobile phones (standard text messaging rates apply) - or logging on to Also, every time you log on to the Web site, you'll be entered for a chance to win an amazing contribution to your home - a luxury front load washer and dryer from Electrolux in Turquoise Sky, the color inspired by the teal ribbon of ovarian cancer awareness.

Also during September, visitors to Kelly Confidential can help spread awareness for this important cause by sending a virtual T-shirt to a friend. For every virtual t-shirt sent, Electrolux will donate $1 to the OCRF. Fashion-forward Moms can also purchase a limited edition T-shirt designed by Ripa; 100% of the proceeds from the sale of the T-shirts will go to OCRF.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Arthritis: Ankylosing Spondylitis

A few months back, my son, Cody, started having some problems with his legs and feet. He came home from work on day and with the problems and was having a lot of trouble walking. He had some tests run and, after about 2 weeks, the doctor told us that he had a strained ligament in his knee. He gave him medication and told him to stay off of it for a week or so and see if that would fix it.

It didn't.

After a few weeks went by, the pain was mostly gone, with a few "flare ups" from time to time, mostly in his feet, but he still just couldn't walk right.

Back to the doctor for more extensive tests. This time, a problem showed up with his blood work. They did more blood work, running a few other tests to confirm what they were seeing. After seeing all the blood work, they explained to us that Cody had an imbalance in his enzymes and said they wanted to send him to a Rheumatologist.

Let me pause for a moment and tell you that I was scared to death. Cody is a very healthy, 19 year old, young man. He's never had anything beyond a cold his entire life. Plus, you parents know, we don't want anything to ever be wrong with our child. EVER.

We made the appointment and met with the Rheumatologist a couple of weeks later. What a wonderful doctor. He checked Cody head to toe, he literally checked every single joint in Cody's 6 foot 3 inch body. He talked to us about some possibilites of what he thought was going on with Cody, saying that he had a lot of indicators that were leaning towards "Reactive Arthritis", a very treatment, low maintenance form of arthritis that generally flares up on occasion but rarely gives in major problems.

However, he was concerned because Cody also had several indicators for Ankylosing Spondylitis, another form of arthritis that, as you will see in a moment, is not what you would want your child or anyone else to have.

The doctor performed x-rays, which also indicated the presence of Ankylosing Spondylitis, he followed up with a more "probing" form of blood tests to see if the indicators were present there and we had to go home and wait.

I was contacted two days later by the doctor himself who told me that the blood work also showed positive for Ankylosing Spondylitis.

At this point, there aren't other tests that can say that it is absolutely Ankylosing Spondylitis. From here on out, all we can do is treat his symptoms as they develop and hope for the best.

Please keep him in your thoughts and prayers. We don't want this to develop, but all indicators say that it is going to.

Here is some information about it:

Ankylosing spondylitis is a type of arthritis that affects the spine. Ankylosing spondylitis symptoms include pain and stiffness from the neck down to the lower back. The spine's bones (vertebrae) may grow or fuse together, resulting in a rigid spine. These changes may be mild or severe, and may lead to a stooped-over posture. Early diagnosis and treatment helps control pain and stiffness and may reduce or prevent significant deformity.

Who Is Affected by Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Spondylitis affects about 0.1 to 0.5% of the adult population. Although it can occur at any age, spondylitis most often affects men in their 20s and 30s. It is less common and generally milder in women and most common in Native Americans.

What Are the Symptoms of Ankylosing Spondylitis?

The most common early symptoms of spondylitis include:

  • Pain and stiffness. Constant pain and stiffness in the low back, buttocks and hips that continue for more than three months. Spondylitis often starts around the sacroiliac joints, where the sacrum (the lowest major part of the spine) joins the ilium bone of the pelvis in the lower back region.
  • Bony fusion. Ankylosing spondylitis can cause an overgrowth of the bones, which may lead to abnormal joining of bones, called "bony fusion." Fusion affecting bones of the neck, back or hips may impair a person's ability to perform routine activities. Fusion of the ribs to the spine or breastbone may limit a person's ability to expand his or her chest when taking a deep breath.
  • Pain in ligaments and tendons. Spondylitis also may affect some of the ligaments and tendons that attach to bones. Tendonitis (inflammation of the tendon) may cause pain and stiffness in the area behind or beneath the heel, such as the Achilles tendon at the back of the ankle.

Ankylosing spondylitis is a systemic disease, which means symptoms may not be limited to the joints. People with the condition also may have fever, fatigue and loss of appetite. Eye inflammation (redness and pain) occurs in some people with spondylitis. In rare cases, lung and heart problems also may develop.

What Causes Ankylosing Spondylitis?

Although the cause of spondylitis is unknown, there is a strong genetic or family link. Most, but not all, people with spondylitis carry a gene called HLA-B27. Although people carrying this gene are more likely to develop spondylitis, more than 75% of these people never develop the disease.

How Is Ankylosing Spondylitis Diagnosed?

The diagnosis of spondylitis is based on several factors, including:

  • Symptoms
  • Findings on physical examination
  • X-rays of the back and pelvis

How Is Ankylosing Spondylitis Treated?

There is no cure for spondylitis, but there are treatments that can reduce discomfort and improve function. The goals of treatment are to reduce pain and stiffness, maintain a good posture, prevent deformity and preserve the ability to perform normal activities. When properly treated, people with ankylosing spondylitis may lead fairly normal lives. Under ideal circumstances, a team approach to treat spondylitis is recommended. Members of the treatment team typically include the patient, doctor, physical therapist and occupational therapist. In patients with severe deformities, osteotomy and fusion can be done.

  • Physical and occupational therapy . Early intervention with physical and occupational therapy is important to maintain function and minimize deformity.
  • Exercise . A program of daily exercise helps reduce stiffness, strengthen the muscles around the joints and prevent or minimize the risk of disability. Deep breathing exercises may help keep the chest cage flexible. Swimming is an excellent form of exercise for people with ankylosing spondylitis.
  • Medications. Certain drugs help provide relief from pain and stiffness, and allow patients to perform their exercises with minimal discomfort. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) are the most commonly used drugs for spondylitis treatment. Many NSAIDs are currently available. In moderate to severe cases, other medications may be added to the treatment regimen. Disease modifying anitrheumatic drugs (DMARDs) such as Azulfidine and Rheumatrex can be used when NSAIDs alone are not enough to reduce the inflammation, and help to prevent joint stiffness and pain. In addition, the relatively new drugs Enbrel and Remicade have been FDA approved for treating ankylosing spondylitis. A similar drug, Humira has also been shown to improve the pain and stiffness of ankylosing spondylitis.
  • Surgery. Artificial joint replacement surgery may be a treatment option for some people with advanced joint disease affecting the hips or knees.

    In addition, people with spondylitis are urged to not smoke or chew tobacco products because of the increased risk of lung problems and reduced ability to expand the rib cage. Certainly, all of the other reasons why doctors discourage smoking also apply here as well.

    People with spondylitis are encouraged to sleep on a firm mattress with the back straight. Placing large pillows under the head is discouraged, since it may promote neck fusion in the flexed position. Similarly, propping the legs up on pillows should be avoided because it may lead to hip or knee fusion in the bent position. Choose chairs, tables and other work surfaces that will help avoid slumping or stooping. Armchairs are preferred over chairs without arms.

    Since those with ankylosing spondylitis could easily hurt their rigid necks or backs, special care should be taken to avoid sudden impact, such as jumping or falling.

    Reviewed by the doctors at The Cleveland Clinic Department of Rheumatic and Immunologic Diseases

Sunday, September 6, 2009

7 in 10 U.S. Kids Have Low Vitamin D

Kids' Low D Means Heart Risk, Rickets, Weak Bones

Seven out of 10 U.S. children have too-low vitamin D levels, putting them at risk of heart disease, rickets, and weak bones.

Nearly one in 10 kids -- 7.6 million American children -- are actually deficient in vitamin D. Low vitamin D is risky, but vitamin D deficiency is a serious health threat in which the body begins to reabsorb calcium from the skeleton.

The new findings come in a study by Juhi Kumar, MD, MPH, of Montefiore Medical Center; Michal Melamed, MD, of Albert Einstein College of Medicine; and colleagues.

"We expected the prevalence of vitamin D deficiency would be high, but the magnitude of the problem nationwide was shocking," Kumar says in a news release.

Rickets, a bone disease of infants caused by too little vitamin D, has been on the rise. It's not the first time: A U.S. epidemic of rickets at the end of the 1800s ended only when the U.S. fortified milk with vitamin D.

It's now apparent that more must be done. People get vitamin D from foods like milk and fish, but it's hard to get enough from diet alone. The body makes its own vitamin D, but only when a person gets at least 10 minutes of direct sunshine a day, before putting on sunscreen.

Most people need regular vitamin D supplements. Indeed, the Kumar study found that children who took vitamin D supplements were least likely to have low vitamin D levels. But only 4% of kids get these supplements.

Some kids were at particularly high risk of low vitamin D levels:

  • Older children
  • Girls
  • African-American children
  • Mexican-American children
  • Obese children
  • Kids who drank milk less than once a week
  • Kids who spent more than four hours a day watching TV, playing video games, or using computers

Melamed noted that the widespread use of sunscreens keeps kids from getting vitamin D from sunlight.

"It would be a good idea for parents to turn off the TV and send their kids outside," she says in the news release. Just 15 to 20 minutes a day should be enough. And unless they burn easily, don't put sunscreen on them until they've been out in the sun for 10 minutes, so they get the good stuff but not the sun damage."

The Kumar study is an analysis of data gathered in the 2001 to 2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) of a nationally representative sample of 6,275 children aged 1 to 21.

Low Vitamin D, Future Heart Disease

Kids who have low vitamin D levels are at serious risk of heart disease in adulthood, find Johns Hopkins researcher Jared P. Reis, PhD, and colleagues.

Reis' team analyzed data from 3,577 12- to 19-year-olds in the NHANES database.

They found that even after controlling for all kinds of factors that affect heart disease risk -- obesity, exercise levels, race/ethnicity, age, gender, and socioeconomic status -- low vitamin D put kids at risk of heart disease as adults.

Compared to the 25% of kids with the highest vitamin D levels, the 25% of kids with the lowest vitamin D levels had:

  • a 2.36-fold higher risk of high blood pressure
  • a 2.54-fold higher risk of high blood-fat levels
  • a 50% higher risk of low levels of good HDL cholesterol
  • a nearly fourfold higher risk of metabolic syndrome, a set of risk factors for diabetes and heart disease.

Kids with low vitamin D levels were more likely to be obese, but even non-obese kids with low vitamin D had more risk factors for heart disease in the not-too-distant future.

Friday, September 4, 2009

10 Surprising Health Benefits of Love

Lower Blood Pressure, Fewer Colds, Better Stress Management Are Just the Beginning

“I need somebody to love,” sang the Beatles, and they got it right. Love and health are intertwined in surprising ways. Humans are wired for connection, and when we cultivate good relationships, the rewards are immense. But we’re not necessarily talking about spine-tingling romance.

“There’s no evidence that the intense, passionate stage of a new romance is beneficial to health,” says Harry Reis, PhD, co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Human Relationships. "People who fall in love say it feels wonderful and agonizing at the same time.” All those ups and downs can be a source of stress.

It takes a calmer, more stable form of love to yield clear health benefits. “There is very nice evidence that people who participate in satisfying, long-term relationships fare better on a whole variety of health measures,” Reis tells WebMD.

Most of the research in this area centers on marriage, but Reis believes many of the perks extend to other close relationships -- for example, with a partner, parent, or friend. The key is to “feel connected to other people, feel respected and valued by other people, and feel a sense of belonging,” he says. Here are 10 research-backed ways that love and health are linked:

1. Fewer Doctor’s Visits

The Health and Human Services Department reviewed a bounty of studies on marriage and health. One of the report’s most striking findings is that married people have fewer doctor’s visits and shorter average hospital stays.

“Nobody quite knows why loving relationships are good for health,” Reis says. “The best logic for this is that human beings have been crafted by evolution to live in closely knit social groups. When that is not happening, the biological systems ... get overwhelmed.”

Another theory is that people in good relationships take better care of themselves. A spouse may keep you honest in your oral hygiene. A best friend could motivate you to eat more whole grains. Over time, these good habits translate to fewer illnesses.

2. Less Depression & Substance Abuse

According to the Health and Human Services report, getting married and staying married reduces depression in both men and women. This finding is not surprising, Reis says, because social isolation is clearly linked to higher rates of depression. What’s interesting is that marriage also contributes to a decline in heavy drinking and drug abuse, especially among young adults.

3. Lower Blood Pressure

A happy marriage is good for your blood pressure. That’s the conclusion of a study in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine. Researchers found happily married people had the best blood pressure, followed by singles. Unhappily married participants fared the worst.

Reis says this study illustrates a vital aspect of the way marriage affects health. “It’s marital quality and not the fact of marriage that makes a difference,” he tells WebMD. This supports the idea that other positive relationships can have similar benefits. In fact, singles with a strong social network also did well in the blood pressure study, though not as well as happily married people.

4. Less Anxiety

When it comes to anxiety, a loving, stable relationship is superior to new romance. Researchers at the State University of New York at Stony Brook used functional MRI (fMRI) scans to look at the brains of people in love. They compared passionate new couples with strongly connected long-term couples. Both groups showed activation in a part of the brain associated with intense love.

“It’s the dopamine-reward area, the same area that responds to cocaine or winning a lot of money,” says Arthur Aron, PhD, one of the study’s authors. But there were striking differences between the two groups in other parts of the brain. In long-term relationships, “you also have activation in the areas associated with bonding ... and less activation in the area that produces anxiety.” The study was presented at the 2008 conference of the Society for Neuroscience.

5. Natural Pain Control

The fMRI study reveals another big perk for long-term couples -- more activation in the part of the brain that keeps pain under control. A CDC report complements this finding. In a study of more than 127,000 adults, married people were less likely to complain of headaches and back pain.

A small study published in Psychological Science adds to the intrigue. Researchers subjected 16 married women to the threat of an electric shock. When the women were holding their husband’s hand, they showed less response in the brain areas associated with stress. The happier the marriage, the greater the effect.

6. Better Stress Management

If love helps people cope with pain, what about other types of stress? Aron says there is evidence of a link between social support and stress management. “If you’re facing a stressor and you’ve got the support of someone who loves you, you can cope better,” he tells WebMD. If you lose your job, for example, it helps emotionally and financially if a partner is there to support you.

7. Fewer Colds

We’ve seen that loving relationships can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression -- a fact that may give the immune system a boost. Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University found that people who exhibit positive emotions are less likely to get sick after exposure to cold or flu viruses. The study, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, compared people who were happy and calm with those who appeared anxious, hostile, or depressed.

8. Faster Healing

The power of a positive relationship may make flesh wounds heal faster. Researchers at Ohio State University Medical Center gave married couples blister wounds. The wounds healed nearly twice as fast in spouses who interacted warmly compared with those who demonstrated a lot of hostility toward each other. The study was published in the Archives of General Psychiatry.

9. Longer Life

A growing body of research indicates that married people live longer. One of the largest studies examines the effect of marriage on mortality during an eight-year period in the 1990s. Using data from the National Health Interview Survey, researchers found that people who had never been married were 58% more likely to die than married people.

Aron tells WebMD marriage contributes to longer life mostly through “mutual practical support, financial benefits, and children who provide support.”

But Reis sees an emotional explanation. Marriage protects against death by warding off feelings of isolation. “Loneliness is associated with all-cause mortality -- dying for any reason,” he says. In other words, married people live longer because they feel loved and connected.

10. Happier Life

It may seem obvious that one of love’s greatest benefits is joy. But research is just beginning to reveal how strong this link can be. A study in the Journal of Family Psychology shows happiness depends more on the quality of family relationships than on the level of income. And so we have scientific evidence that, at least in some ways, the power of love trumps the power of money.

Nurture Your Relationships

To foster a loving relationship that yields concrete benefits, Aron offers four tips:

  • If you are depressed or anxious, get treatment.
  • Brush up on communication skills and learn to handle conflict.
  • Do things that are challenging and exciting with your loved one on a regular basis.
  • Celebrate each other's successes.

This last point is crucial, Aron tells WebMD. Although partners often provide support during a crisis, this support is even more beneficial during good times. As the proverb goes, Shared sorrow is half sorrow; shared joy is double joy.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Migraines, Headaches, and Hormones

It has been estimated that 70% of migraine sufferers are female. Of these female migraine sufferers, 60%-70% report that their migraines are related to their menstrual cycles -- hence the name, menstrual migraines.

What Is the Relationship Between Hormones and Headaches?

Headaches in women, particularly migraines, have been related to changes in the levels of the female hormone estrogen during a woman's menstrual cycle. Estrogen levels drop immediately before the start of the menstrual flow.

Premenstrual migraines regularly occur during or after the time when the female hormones, estrogen and progesterone, decrease to their lowest levels.

Migraine attacks typically disappear during pregnancy. In one study, 64% of women who described a menstrual link to their headaches noted that their headaches disappeared during pregnancy. However, some women have reported the initial onset of migraines during the first trimester of pregnancy, with disappearance of their headaches after the third month of pregnancy.

What Triggers Hormonal Migraines in Women?

Birth control pills as well as hormone replacement therapy during menopause have been recognized as migraine triggers in some women. As early as 1966, investigators noted that migraines can become more severe in women taking birth control pills, especially those containing high doses of estrogen.

The frequency of side effects, such as headache, decreased in those who took birth control pills containing lower doses of estrogen and did not occur in those who took birth control pills containing progesterone.

What Are the Treatment Options for Menstrual Migraines?

The medications of choice to stop a menstrual migraine are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medications (NSAIDs).

The NSAIDs most often used for menstrual migraines include:

* Orudis
* Advil and Motrin
* Nalfon
* Naprosyn
* Relafen

NSAID treatment should be started two to three days before the menstrual period starts and continue til the period ends. Because the therapy is of short duration, the risk of gastrointestinal side effects is limited.

For people who have severe menstrual migraines or who want to continue taking their birth control pills, doctors recommend taking a NSAID, starting on the l9th day of the cycle and continuing through the second day of the next cycle.

Other medications that may be used are given by prescription only. They include:

* Small doses of ergotamine drugs (including Bellergal-S, Cafergot, Migranal)
* Beta-blocker drugs such as propranolol
* Anticonvulsants such as valproate (Depakote)
* Calcium channel blockers such as verapamil

These drugs should also be started two to three days pre-menses, and continued throughout the menstrual flow.

Because fluid retention is often associated with menses, diuretics have been used to prevent menstrual migraine. Some doctors may recommend limiting salt-intake immediately before the start of menses.

Lupron is a medication that affects hormone levels and is used only when all other treatment methods have been tried and have been unsuccessful.

What Are the Treatment Options for Menopausal Migraines?

For people who need to continue post-menopausal estrogen supplements, the lowest dose of these agents should be used, on an uninterrupted basis. Instead of seven days off the drug, you should take it on a daily basis. By maintaining a steady dose of estrogen, the headaches may be prevented. An estrogen patch (such as Estraderm) may also be effective in stabilizing the levels of estrogen.
What Are the Treatment Options for Migraines During Pregnancy?

During pregnancy, no treatment is recommended to treat migraines. Medication therapy used to treat migraines can affect the uterus and can cross the placenta and affect the baby, so these medications should be strictly avoided during pregnancy.

A mild pain reliever can be used, such as Tylenol. It is important that pregnant women suffering from headaches discuss the safety of headache medications with their obstetricians and headache specialists before taking anything.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Tribute Tuesday

Tribute Tuesday is debuting here today. I had originally started this on my Yummy! Yummy! Yummy! blog but decided that, since charities are generally involved with a health issue, it would be best suited here. Enjoy!

Tribute Tuesday: Charity Begins With You -

It's about AWARENESS

Tribute Tuesday is to honor charities, charitable groups and those who go above and beyond for their charities.

The Empty Cup Runneth Over - Cindy Papale

After being diagnosed in July, 2000 with a stage I, left, multi-focal, invasive breast cancer, rather than have a pity party I would turn something so negative and life threatening as breast cancer into a positive. October is breast cancer month, which is the month not only everyone is made aware about the disease, but for some survivors, including my self it can be overwhelming. The possibility of whether my breast cancer could return is enough to frighten anyone. Even though I worked for a breast surgeon at the University of Miami for 11 years, I still went on to web sites to look up the type of cancer I had once diagnosed. I wondered whether I was doing the right thing because sometimes information on web sites either can be incorrect or obsolete. When I began to look up my type of cancer, I realized I was reading more than I wanted to know.

It was very difficult for me to say the words breast cancer to anyone. The word cancer alone was even more frightening. Unless one hears those words from a physician that “your biopsy is positive for breast cancer,” it is difficult for anyone to understand how they would react.

Approximately one year later I was invited as a guest speaker in Psychology classes at the University of Miami where I shared with many students my breast cancer experiences. There have been many times when I lectured that I had to hold back my tears. Just remembering all I had gone through was very emotional for me. However, I knew that I needed to be strong because I wanted very much to help educate other young women and men about breast cancer.

As I began to speak, I noticed the interest in their faces and I realized they truly were interested in learning about breast cancer. I explained to them that self breast examination, awareness and early detection of breast cancer was critical for early diagnosis and cure. I encouraged them to be proactive, and if they felt something was wrong with their body to tell someone.

Soon after I spoke in psychology classes at the University of Miami, my husband at the time asked if I would speak in his psychology high school class (11th and 12th graders). I thought about it for sometime before I agreed. Most teenagers seem to think that nothing bad can happen to them, as I did at that age. I was not sure they would really be interested because I thought they would find it difficult to relate to the experience.

On the day of my talk I was extremely nervous. I wondered whether they would like me or even care about the subject of breast cancer. As I began speaking to the students I was thrilled how they opened up to me, which inspired me to continue speaking for the entire hour. I shared everything with them from how it felt to have a mammogram, to having a biopsy procedure, and the removal of my breast.

After my lecture I remember one young girl approached me and asked all kinds of questions, which she was embarrassed to ask in front of the other students. She also mentioned she could not even speak with her own mother about breast cancer. I was not surprised because I remember myself as a teenager never talking to my own mother. I was embarrassed and would rather speak with my friends never realizing they, too, knew just as much as I did about breast cancer, which was nothing.

When I finished speaking I realized how little these students knew about breast cancer, I decided to make the commitment to developing and communicating understandable and accurate information in a book (which I did titled The Empty Cup Runneth Over, published by Dorrance Publishing Company) to better help educate high school and college women and men about breast cancer.

After more than six years of lecturing, I have found that students had many questions about what it feels like to have a mammogram, how are biopsies performed and does it hurt, how it feels when one is first diagnosed, what it feels like to have no breasts, how did I finally make the decision to have breast reconstruction, and most importantly, how to examine their own breasts.

In many of the chapters in The Empty Cup Runneth Over, I navigate my story and share the interviews with several University of Miami cancer specialists who have contributed chapters in my book. There are other survivor stories and a nutrition chapter with delicious, healthy recipes that I personally have tried.

The Empty Cup Runneth Over ( is written in a dialogue that is easy and even humorous in many chapters. We feel it is important to begin educating high school and college students before they have to deal with breast cancer or other heath issues, either with a family member, or a friend. We know you will find it informative, but more so, hope it will inspire you to get to know and take care of your body. For a personal signed copy of The Empty Cup Runneth Over the University of Miami college campus book store in Coral Gables, Florida would be happy to contact me. The number to call is (305) 284-4101 and ask for Randi, and my book also is on AMAZON.

A portion of the proceeds from The Empty Cup Runneth Over will go towards The Kristy Lasch Miracle Foundation. Kristy was diagnosed with breast cancer at 22 and lost her battle at age 26. Her dream was to create a foundation for women under 30 to help with medical-related expenses. Before Kristy passed away she began writing a journal. Her parents, Tom and Lynn Lasch found her journal and permitted me to share her story in my book The Empty Cup Runneth Over. I am also honored to be Board Member to the Foundation. For more information about Kristy please go to

Cindy can be found:
Twitter: @CindyPapale
Facebook: Cindy Papale