Monday, June 29, 2009

Photo Contest Submission - UPrinting

Oh, the excitement of Summertime! Even with all the heat and tons of mosquitoes here in Arkansas, you just can't help but look forward to the longer days and all the summer activities. Spending time at the river is one of the best ways to beat the heat and, in this photo, you will see my boyfriend's granddaughters, Maggie and Kailey, enjoying the water and their blue dolphin.

I realize this is an unusual post for my health blog, so I will add that children should always wear a life jacket if they are going to be in water, particularly rivers which have strong currents. Now, that makes it a health post, right?

The reason for the post? I am participating in a photo contest from my blog sponsor, UPrinting. They are looking for "the best summer photo out there" and are offering prize money and a free 16x20" Gallery Wrapped Canvas Print for the winner!

Online Printing Company is a leading online provider of business cards, color brochures and mailing postcards.

If you are interested in receiving blog sponsorship from UPrinting, please, feel free to apply. They are always interested in finding new bloggers to add to their sponsorship program. Just click on their name.

Secret Summer Diet Foods: Slim down by enjoying these low-calorie fruits of summer.

The sun is shining, temperatures are rising. Summer is the time to shed layers of clothes, as well as some pounds. You could opt for a stringent diet regime, but what about simply enjoying all the wonderful foods the season brings? You'll still slim down, and do wonders for your health.

It's a natural trend to eat lighter during the summer, and you can easily do so without feeling deprived. If you follow the U.S. government's 2005 dietary guidelines of four-and-a-half cups of fruits and vegetables and three servings of fat-free or low-fat dairy each day, you'll be getting plenty of naturally low-cal foods that are high in fiber, calcium, and important nutrients.

"Fiber helps in weight control because it promotes a feeling of satisfaction or satiety," explains Registered Dietitian Cheryl Orlansky, of the Computer Science Corporation. "High-fiber foods, eaten consistently, prevent that rebound effect of feeling full one minute and looking for something else to eat the next. It also helps modulate blood sugars by slowing down the digestion of sugars to prevent a quick surge into the bloodstream."

Much of summer's bounty has extra nutritional benefits you may not be aware of. Fruits and vegetables contain antioxidants and other phytonutrients that may slow aging, protect against cancer and stroke, improve blood pressure, and keep your heart healthy. And just about all are low-calorie, so your waistline stays in check, another big health benefit.

Ready to slim down with summer foods? Start your summer "diet" with these:

Tomatoes and Peppers for Vitamin A, Vitamin C, and Lycopene

These powerhouses of nutrition are members of the fruit family, though thought of mostly as vegetables. Tomatoes and bell peppers of all colors deliver large amounts of vitamins A and C. A medium tomato, for example, is low in carbohydrates and has only has 35 calories but gives you 40% of the vitamin C and 20% of the vitamin A you need for the day.

Tomatoes have other benefits, too. "Consuming a diet rich in tomatoes has been shown to decrease the risk of prostate and other digestive tract cancer," says Emily Abercrombie, RD, LD, a clinical nutritionist at Atlanta's Emory Hospitals. This is because tomatoes and processed tomato products have high levels of a nutrient called lycopene, a powerful antioxidant that gives some fruits and vegetables their color.

Lycopene may prevent as well as treat several types of cancer. Research suggests it also may help prevent the LDL "bad" cholesterol in the bloodstream from being converted to oxidized LDL that can form plaques in arteries and increase the risk of heart attacks.

Peppers have antioxidants too, such as beta carotene, which can help boost the immune system and prevent the cell damage that comes from free radicals, a natural byproduct of our bodies' normal functioning. Studies show damaged cells can lead to a number of diseases, such as cancer and heart disease.
Peppers also have plenty of vitamin C, even more than tomatoes. Just a half cup of the green, yellow, or red varieties have more than 230% of your daily vitamin C requirement. Keep some pepper strips on hand for a tasty calorie-controlled snack. A half cup of fresh peppers has only 20 calories.

Nothing says summer like the colorful array of berries that start showing up in your produce section at the grocery store. Strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries satisfy your sweet tooth and are rich in nutritional bonuses, such as vitamin C. Strawberries have the most vitamin C of any member of the berry family.

Andrea Dunn, RD, LD, of The Cleveland Clinic, says, "Berries are rich in a substance called ellagic acid, which acts as an antioxidant, helps the body deactivate specific carcinogens, and slows the reproduction of cancer cells. Berries may also help prevent urinary tract infections."

Abercrombie adds, "Berries are a good source of fiber, which in turn help in lowering cholesterol." She also notes that studies with blueberries show they can help improve memory.

Berries in general are convenient to eat, tasty, and easily eaten by themselves or mixed with yogurt for smoothies. Their per-serving calorie count can be as low as 45 calories. You can cook them, too, though that tends to break down the antioxidants. A "cool" way to preserve them? Pop them into the freezer, and eat them frozen for a refreshing snack.

Yogurt for Calcium and Protein

Not so long ago, yogurt was considered something only health food junkies ate. Now, it is a dietary staple for many who enjoy the taste, convenience, low calories, and, yes, health benefits.

Yogurt can even help you slim down, according to recent studies showing a low-calorie diet that includes three servings of dairy a day can help promote weight loss. Orlansky says yogurt is very appealing to those wanting to lose weight because of the protein/carbohydrate combination it offers.

"These nutrient combinations can help stave off hunger," she explains, adding that, "Yogurt contains about 30% of the recommended daily value in calcium and should be added to the diet since most American adults are not drinking milk."

Yogurt is made by curdling milk with purified cultures. That means that in addition to protein and calcium, it is high in live active organisms called probiotics. These can boost your immunity, prevent yeast infections, and keep your gastrointestinal tract healthy.

Flavored, plain, or low fat, you can eat yogurt as a snack or as the protein source at a meal. Yogurts make a great dip for fruits and vegetables and a delicious dessert topping instead of ice cream. For the best of smart and tasty eating, combine low-fat yogurt and fresh berries for a summer smoothie.

Protein- and Fiber-Packed Beans

The benefits of beans or legumes are as wide as the varieties available. Peas, lentils, black beans, butter beans, lima beans, garbanzo beans (also called chickpeas) -- and that's a very short list. All are nutrient-rich and great sources of fiber, iron, and protein.

These small, tasty treasures can help you feel full longer, while curbing your appetite for foods that are high in fat. They have little or no fat themselves and are usually inexpensive as well. Most are good raw and can be easily mixed with other foods to add flavor, substance, and color.

"Substituting beans for animal protein in a meal can lower calories, saturated fat, and provide zero cholesterol," says Orlansky. She adds they are "particularly high in soluble fiber, which helps blood cholesterol levels."

Cleveland Clinic dietitian Andrea Dunn also notes that most beans are an excellent source of folate. Adequate amounts of folate may help keep the heart strong and are important for expectant moms, since studies show folate helps reduce certain birth defects in a growing baby.

The calorie count for a 4-ounce serving of beans ranges from about 65 calories for frozen peas to 115 for boiled black-eyed peas. The highest count, with just 160 calories, goes to Borlotti beans.

"Time to tango with the mango," Dunn says of this not-well-known summer treat. Mangoes have been a staple of people's diets in Southeast Asia and India for more than 4,000 years.

Mangoes have some big advantages over other fruits. They contain more fiber than most, which helps you curb your appetite. They are low in calories (about 95 for a medium fruit), fat, and sodium, contain no cholesterol, and have more beta carotene than any other fruit.

"Not only a source of one-fourth your vitamin A for the day, the mango is also a great source of vitamin C," Dunn explains, adding that it provides about 76% of your daily vitamin C needs in just one cup and is a nice alternative to oranges.

Mangoes are also high in carotenoids (like beta carotene) and bioflavanoids. These powerful antioxidants are good for a healthy immune system and help repair the cell damage that can lead to disease, such as cancer.

Potassium is another benefit of eating mangoes, which are loaded with this important mineral. Your body needs potassium to help regulate blood pressure and heartbeat, but many people don't get enough.

Last but Not Least, Wonderful Water

Probably the most important "food" of any diet is water. In fact, it's essential. It may have no nutritional value, but it is a catalyst for a majority of bodily functions, including digestion, metabolism, and cell function.

Water is also key for helping those trying to lose weight. It curbs hunger pains, especially when it's included in foods such as fresh vegetables and fruits.

"Research has shown that water-containing foods like fruits and vegetables and soups are encouraged for weight control because of the water," Orlansky says. "The water increases the volume of the food and lowers the amount of calories." Another reason water helps with weight loss is that if you don't get enough water, your body will try to hold on to what it has so it can continue to operate. This will leave you bloated and the only way to get rid of the excess water is to take in more water.

The adult human body is 60% water and on average, loses about one cup or 8 ounces per day from normal activity. On the upside, a typical daily diet includes about four cups of water in the food you digest. Still, nutritionists advise drinking eight glasses of water daily to keep your body functioning like a well-oiled, or hydrated, machine.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Antibacterials Are Not the Answer

There is no doubt that personal hygiene is important to good health, but how much is enough? Sales of personal care products for children have jumped significantly in the past decade in part because marketers continue to redefine the "needs" of children in order to increase profits. One of the biggest new "necessities" is antibacterial products. Marketers have done a brilliant job at making parents feel like they need a scrupulously sanitized home and if you scrub enough with enough antibacterials and disinfectants you can rid the world of germs and bacteria and keep your family safe and healthy.

Guess what? Antibacterials are not all they're cracked up to be. Consider these facts, shared with Healthy Child by Jay Feldman of Beyond Pesticides:

* The most common illnesses (colds, flu and gastrointestinal upsets) are caused by viruses. Antibacterials have little or no effect on viruses.
* Antibacterial products target good bacteria as well as bad, but our bodies need those good bacteria. They help us digest our food, for example, and keep harmful microorganisms from entering our bodies through our main orifices like our mouths and nose.

* The bad bacteria we encounter typically have no impact on a healthy immune system. In fact, only 1 percent to 2 percent of microbes are likely to make us sick.

* Bacteria are so prevalent and reproduce so fast that it's impossible to eliminate them anyway. In addition, a large number of recent studies have found substantial evidence that certain antibacterial products actually promote the emergence of bacteria resistant to antibiotic medications and antibacterial cleansers

* Research shows that plain soap and water is just as effective for hand washing as products containing triclosan. The Nonprescription Drugs Advisory Committee, which advises the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), voted 11-1 that antibacterial soaps and washes were no more effective than regular soap and water in fighting infections-both work equally as well.

* The overuse of triclosan (and other antibacterials) could potentially be increasing the incidence of allergies. The "hygiene hypothesis" theorizes that there is a correlation between too much hygiene and increased allergies and asthma. Studies have found an increase in the frequency of allergies, asthma and eczema in persons who have been raised in more sterile and hygienic environments. Through over-cleaning ourselves, The theory states, the body's immune system is not challenged, and thus it is prevented from developing and maturing.

* Even the American Medical Association concludes, "Despite their recent proliferation in consumer products, the use of antimicrobial agents such as triclosan in consumer products has not been studied extensively. No data exist to support their efficacy when used in such products or any need for may be prudent to avoid the use of antimicrobial agents in consumer products."

Visit Healthy Child Healthy World to learn safer ways to keep germs at bay.

Friday, June 26, 2009

6 Health Mistakes Smart People Make

The little things you can fix right now to keep your body healthy and happy in the long run.

MISTAKE 1: Dropping pounds with diet drinks.

A University of Texas Health Science Center study found that people who sipped one diet soda a day for seven years were 41 percent more likely to be overweight than non-soda drinkers. The reason: Diet drinks often lead to overeating as people "spend" the calories they just saved on a second slice of pizza or a cookie. There's also evidence that artificial sweeteners may whet your appetite for more sweets.

THE SOLUTION: Sip water, coffee, or unsweetened tea. If you crave a sweet taste, add a half teaspoon of sugar (just 7 calories) or natural agave syrup (10 calories) to coffee or tea. If plain water is too bland for you, try a flavored unsweetened water.

MISTAKE 2: Skipping the second opinion on a major condition.

It could alert you to alternatives your first doctor never mentioned or even correct a dangerous misdiagnosis. The best plan is to find an experienced doctor affiliated with a different hospital or practice.

THE SOLUTION: Sign up for an online consultation service. Try the Cleveland Clinic's MyConsult ( or Johns Hopkins University's Remote Medical Second Opinion (

MISTAKE 3: Quitting antidepressants cold turkey.

Maybe you're feeling good again, but abruptly abandoning them could saddle you with flulike symptoms, insomnia, nausea, and a blue mood for at least a week — a problem called "discontinuation syndrome."

THE SOLUTION: Don't give up. "If you're feeling better, it means your antidepressant is working," says Dr. Nada Stotland, president of the American Psychiatric Association. If you must stop, alert your doc and taper off slowly (e.g., reduce your dose by one-fourth every two weeks). And if depression creeps back at any point, resume your full medication.

MISTAKE 4: Forgoing a follow-up.

Fear and inconvenience prevent 30 to 50 percent of women from getting additional checks if a Pap test (a cervical-cancer screening) reveals suspicious-looking cells. But catching cervical cancer in its earliest stages boosts your odds for survival to 92 percent; allowing cancer to spread drops your chances to 39 percent or lower.

THE SOLUTION: Check in with your doc right away. If your Pap revealed only slightly unusual cells, you may just need another visit in four to six months to test for cancer-causing strains of the human papillomavirus (HPV). If the follow-up results are negative, resume with your regular annual routine.

MISTAKE 5: Popping extra acetaminophen.

The label says "650 milligrams every four to six hours," so wouldn't a little more kick the pain faster? "Acetaminophen is misused because it's considered 'safe and mild,'" says Dr. Anne M. Larson, of the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Exceeding the recommended dosage can lead to liver damage or even failure and kills about 100 people each year.

THE SOLUTION: Stick with the advised dose. And don't mix acetaminophen with other drugstore remedies. "Nearly all over-the-counter cold, flu, sinus, and allergy remedies also contain acetaminophen," Larson says, as do some menstrual-cramp formulas and prescription painkillers like Vicodin, Darvocet, and Percocet. If you're unsure, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

MISTAKE 6: Getting too tipsy.

Sure, a drink a day helps keep your heart healthy. But downing your week's quota on the weekend is a bad plan, a University of Buffalo study says. Getting tipsy just once a month triples heart-disease risk. Says Suzanne Thomas, Ph.D., of the Medical University of South Carolina's Charleston Alcohol Research Center: "Alcohol is especially toxic for women because we're smaller, we have more body fat [which processes alcohol more quickly than muscle], and we have lower levels of stomach enzymes that metabolize alcohol than men do."

THE SOLUTION: Start off the evening with club soda. And save the wine for dinner. That way, the food in your stomach slows the absorption of alcohol. Thomas also stretches her drinks: "I'll befriend the bartender and ask for one serving of gin in three separate glasses with tonic over the course of the night. That's three drinks — but only an ounce of alcohol." Wine spritzers also do the trick. Just don't forget to tip.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

8 Great Family-Friendly Foods that Help Fight Cancer

by Sheryl Crow

Being diagnosed with cancer was a life changing experience for me, as it is for anyone. One of the most significant shifts has been in the way I look at my body and what I put in it. When I was undergoing radiation, I began working with Nutritionist Rachel Bellar in order to eat foods that would help boost my immune system.

After working with her, I learned how to eat "defensively." I had never understood before how vital food was for protecting the body from sickness and disease. In fact, according to the National Cancer Institute, serious diseases that are linked to what we eat are the culprits in three out of four American deaths each year. And, recent research estimates that 35% of cancer deaths could be prevented through improved nutrition.

We truly are what we eat and what we put in our bodies matters to our long-term health. Rachel taught me this and I am so grateful to have worked with her. Her in-depth knowledge of how certain foods and spices are vital to promoting wellness throughout the body has become an integral part of my lifestyle after surviving cancer.

Even more importantly, having cancer made me re-think and re-define family - resulting in my greatest joy, my son Wyatt. As parents often joke, kids don't come with instruction manuals. Parenting is a constant challenge of self-education. One thing I do know, though, is that Wyatt is benefiting from what I learned from Rachel. And, I feel like I am giving my son one of the greatest gifts a mother can - the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating habits.

Here are some of our favorite foods that pack enormous nutritional value (including anti-cancer benefits), and the ways we make them fun and tasty for both of us. Truly, toddler tested, mother approved.

1. Whole Grains

* What to look for: whole grain breads, pastas, brown rice, oatmeal, quinoa, etc.
* How to make it: quinoa crusted chicken fingers, whole grain pita personal pizza, steel cut oatmeal cookies, vegetable barley soup

2. Beans

* What to look for: garbanzo, navy bean, kidney beans, lentils, etc.
* How to make it: hummus (use whole grain pita or raw veggies for dipping), puree navy beans and add to mashed potatoes, black bean nachos

3. Berries

* What to look for: blueberries, strawberries, raspberries
* How to make it: whole grain berry muffins, yogurt berry parfait

4. Tomatoes

* What to look for: tomato sauce, tomato paste, tomato juice (cooking releases the cancer-fighting lycopene)
* How to make it: pasta and pizza sauce, creamy tomato soup

5. Cruciferous Vegetables

* What to look for: cabbage and members of its family including cauliflower, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts
* How to make it: steam it and serve warm or cold (in funny shapes for tentative toddlers), also good in stir fry, and soups

6. Dark Green Leafy Vegetables

* What to look for: spinach, romaine lettuce, swiss chard, kale, leaf lettuce
* How to make it: use to wrap favorite cheese or chicken, chiffonade and toss into pasta or pizza sauce, toss into green smoothies

7. Grapes and Grape Juice

* What to look for: red or purple grapes (the dark colored skin is the main source of nutrition)
* How to make it: Enjoy as is, frozen grapes are a great summer treat (but can be a choking hazard for small children)

8. Walnuts

* What to look for: whole, natural walnuts without additives or preservatives
* How to make it: add walnuts and bananas to oatmeal, crush and toss into pastas and salads, mince and add to muffins and pancakes

However you decide to fix your food, eat a healthy, diverse diet. And remember, real foods, not supplements, are best for your body. The American Institute for Cancer Research recommends that at least 2/3 of your plate should be filled with vegetables, fruit, whole grains and beans. Start your children young and let them reap the rewards of healthy eating habits for a lifetime.

Friday, June 19, 2009

FDA Warns of E. coli Risk From Nestle Toll House Cookie Dough

FDA Warns of E. coli Risk From Nestle Toll House Cookie Dough

Shared via AddThis

The FitFlop Craze: Fashion or Fitness?

The FitFlop Craze: Fashion or Fitness?

Adeena Babbitt, a 33-year old public relations executive, sports her FitFlops day in and day out. An avid walker like most Manhattanites, she is hoping that these new shoes -- the very ones that TV host Oprah Winfrey gave a "thumbs up" to on a recent show -- will tone her butt and legs as she carries on business as usual.

Developed by a personal trainer with input from a biomechanical engineer, FitFlops have a thick midsole, which encourages wearers like Babbitt to use feet and leg muscles more efficiently while walking. Research conducted by the manufacturer has shown that this thick midsole works the gluteals, hamstrings, thighs, and calf muscles more.

They are not cheap. FitFlops cost close to $50, much more than standard flip-flops.

But are they worth it? It all depends on who you ask.

"They are really comfortable, so I definitely walk more, but I am not sure I am seeing any discernable results in my thighs, butt, or calf," says Babbitt, who started wearing FitFlop shoes about a month ago. She's still optimistic that she will start seeing a change in her physique. "I love them and everywhere I go people ask about them."

FitFlops: Shoes Made for Walking?

One thing is clear: FitFlops, which come in a host of colors and are available at many retailers such as Macy’s and Lady Footlocker, are flying off store shelves.

In addition to sandals, the company also makes a clog and an ankle-length shearling-lined boot.

FitFlops are "the multitasking ideal," says Katie Neiman, a spokeswoman and research coordinator for FitFlop Ltd. in London. "They give people the opportunity to add exercise into their increasingly hectic schedule."

The company also reports receiving letters and testimonials from individuals who experienced relief from back pain, plantar fasciitis, arthritis, heel spurs, and more when they started walking in FitFlops.

But even she admits they are no magic bullet. "You will tone -- provided you walk and don't just stand around," she says. "We strongly advise combining FitFlops with a healthy diet and a more active lifestyle."

FitFlops: What the Experts Say

While FitFlops certainly have their fans, not everyone is sold on their perks.

"The intentions are good, but these shoes are not all they are cracked up to be," says Fabio Comana, MA, MS, an exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise in San Diego.

"It has a nice thick shock-absorbing heel that tends to prevent overpronating, which in theory is a good thing," he says. In people who overpronate, the foot continues to roll in when it should be pushing off, twisting the foot, shin, and knee -- and causing pain.

But, he says, "I would rather take someone who is overpronating and train or teach them how to position their foot or recommend orthotics," he says. "FitFlops are a temporary solution. What happens when you take them off?"
Comana's bottom line? "FitFlops are a comfortable shoe to stand or walk in, so go ahead and use them," he says. "If you feel that when you stand in the shoe, the glutes and calf muscles are firing more, wear the shoe but don't overuse them."

Cary M. Golub, DPM, a podiatrist in private practice in Long Beach, N.Y., thinks FitFlop shoes have their proper place in certain people's shoe collections. But "they are not meant for everybody, especially the person with flat feet," says Golub. "For these people, it's like sticking a rock in the arch, which pushes the arch up, creating calf pain," he says, adding that he has seen several patients reporting such complaints.

For people who can wear FitFlops, "I recommend breaking them in by wearing them for an hour a day and increasing it by an hour each day," he says.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Best Diet for Allergies and Hay Fever

Certain foods and drinks can make allergy symptoms worse – or better.

Imagine your doctor giving you this prescription for your nasal allergies or hay fever: “Eat some grapes and call me in the morning.” Well, it’s not that far-fetched.

Just as the right grade of gas helps your car run well, the right diet for allergies is important to help you feel your best.

A healthy diet for allergies or hay fever protects you in many ways. It helps keep your respiratory system strong. Many foods can help you breathe better because they open up clogged nasal passages. A nutritious diet also boosts your immunity to allergies. Certain foods have nutrients that can help boost your immunity and help your body fight sinus and respiratory infections, which are linked to allergies and hay fever.

The Link Between Diet and Allergies

Let’s take a short trip to the island of Crete. While skin allergies are common here, nasal allergies and wheezing are rare. Why?

From childhood on, the bulk of the Crete islanders’ diet consists of fresh fruits and vegetables, fish, olive oil, and nuts. The natural foods in the Mediterranean diet are high in antioxidants. Antioxidants protect cells from the oxidative damage that causes diseases, and they have immune-boosting compounds.

In a study published in the journal Thorax, researchers found that Crete islanders who ate a Mediterranean diet had fewer allergies. They noted that diet staples such as nuts, grapes, oranges, apples, and fresh tomatoes were protective against allergies.

The researchers also reported that eating margarine increased the risk of allergies and wheezing. This is because margarine is made with unhealthy fat that boosts inflammation.

How 3 Foods Fight Allergies

Here’s how the anti-inflammatory properties of some typical foods on the Mediterranean diet protect against allergies.

* Nuts. These are a great source of magnesium and vitamin E. Studies show that magnesium helps increase lung function and may also protect against wheezing in patients with asthma, which causes inflammation of the lungs. Vitamin E is an immune booster and has been shown to reduce the risk of upper respiratory infections, especially the common cold. As an antioxidant, Vitamin E protects the body from damaging free radicals. Free radicals can cause oxidative tissue damage, which triggers inflammation and problems like allergies and asthma.
* Apples, Oranges, and Tomatoes. These three fruits are super sources of another antioxidant, vitamin C. Researchers found that they gave protection against allergies and asthma in the Crete diet study. This is important because nearly half of people with asthma also have allergies.
* Grapes. The skins of red grapes in particular are filled with antioxidants and resveratrol, which reduces inflammation in the body. The Crete diet study found that grapes gave protection against both allergies and wheezing.
Eating Fish to Reduce Allergies

The omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, found in cold-water fish, algae sources, and supplements, are touted for decreasing inflammation in the body. According to “America’s Pediatrician” William Sears, MD, this protects against allergies.

In his forthcoming book, MEG, which tells about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, Sears writes that kids and adults with allergies and asthma are some of the most common “i-Bods.” An i-Bod is “a person who is full of excessive inflammation,” says Sears, an associate clinical professor of pediatrics at the University of California, Irvine, School of Medicine.

His advice? Go fish. Wild salmon, mackerel, trout, herring, sardines, and albacore tuna are good sources of marine omega-3 fatty acids. If you don’t eat fish, consider fish oil or omega-3 and algae supplements.

Can Breakfast in Bed Reduce Allergies?

Murray Grossan, MD, a board-certified otolaryngologist at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and co-author of The Sinus Cure, offers this cozy treatment for sinus sufferers: “I tell allergy patients to have breakfast in bed,” he says.

Grossan’s advice relates to nasal cilia -- tiny hairs in your nose that sweep pollen and dust out of the passages. When nasal cilia are healthy, mucus flows naturally. But when cilia slow down with allergies or hay fever, you get all stuffed up.

Drinking hot tea with lemon and honey first thing in the morning activates movement of the nasal cilia, which helps prevent early morning sneezing with allergies or hay fever. Blocking the “sneezing cascade,” reduces the need for allergy medicine, Grossan tells WebMD. Herbs such as “fenugreek, fennel, anise, or sage” may stimulate nasal cilia even more, another diet boost for allergies.

Green, white, and black teas are also full of flavonoids -- plant compounds that reduce inflammation. Tea also boosts immunity by increasing proteins in the body that fight infection.

Zinc: Allergy Relief at the Oyster Bar

Oysters, lean beef, shrimp, crab, legumes, whole grains, and tofu are high in zinc. Zinc has an antibacterial and antiviral effect in the body and fosters immunity. The body may be unable to fight infection without sufficient supplies of zinc.
Foods That May Help or Hurt Allergies

Spicy foods can thin mucus and ease allergy congestion, but they can also irritate the throat, resulting in excess mucus and cough. Some people are allergic to these three foods, so Grossan advises caution when trying them out:

* Cajun spice. Made with cayenne peppers, Cajun spice is like a natural nasal decongestant for some because the peppers contain capsaicin, which stimulates nerve fibers.
* Garlic. This herb may help make mucus less sticky.
* Horseradish. The root of this plant contains a chemical similar to the one in decongestants.

Does Milk Make Mucus Worse?

Many people with allergies eliminate milk from their diet. They complain that milk makes them have more mucus or makes mucus thicker and harder to expel. But allergist Patrick H. Win, MD, president and director of the Allergy, Asthma & Immunology Center in Shiloh, Ill., tells WebMD, ”There is really no good data to support this.”

In other words, milk still does a body good -- even with allergies and hay fever.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Skip Breakfast, Get Fat

Brain Craves High-Calorie Foods When You Skip Breakfast, Study Shows:

Skipping breakfast is often a big no-no if you are trying to lose or maintain weight because it leads to high-calorie cravings later. Now researchers think they know why that happens.

Forgoing the first meal of the day actually tricks your brain into thinking you want higher-calorie foods -- foods that can make you fat, or at least increase your risk for weight gain.

A team from Imperial College London presented the news at the Endocrine Society's 91st annual meeting in Washington, D.C. The researchers used a scan called functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to look at how feeding behaviors affected the brain's "reward" center, which plays a role in pleasures and the body's response to them.

Functional MRI allows doctors to look at how blood flow increases in response to brain activity.

The study involved 20 healthy, non-obese people. They skipped breakfast before the fMRI exam. During the test, they looked at random photos of high- and low-calorie foods. The high-calorie foods included pizza, cake, and chocolate. The healthier options included vegetables, fish, and salad.

The brain's reward center lit up more vividly, or became more active, when the person saw a high-calorie food as opposed to a low-calorie choice. (The taste and smell of food can also activate the brain's reward center.)

However, when the participants ate breakfast and had the same test repeated 90 minutes after eating breakfast, the brain's reward center did not show any significantly greater activity when shown the high-calorie photos.

The study participants also rated how appealing they found each food picture. When skipping breakfast, high-calorie foods topped the list of favorites. After eating, however, the group did not show a strong preference for the calorie-laden foods. Their choices corresponded with the MRI findings.

Breakfast has long been touted as the most important meal of the day, and researchers say their findings add credence to that adage.

"Our results support the advice for eating a healthy breakfast as part of the dietary prevention and treatment of obesity," Tony Goldstone, MD, PhD, a consultant endocrinologist with the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre at Imperial College London, says in a statement. "When people skip meals, especially breakfast, changes in brain activity in response to food may hinder weight loss and even promote weight gain."

Researchers hope the findings could one day lead to the development of weight loss medications that target the brain's reward circuitry and disrupt the craving bias between high-calorie and low-calorie foods.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

SKINNY SIPPING: Drink Pounds Away

Skinny Sipping: Drink Pounds Away

Many of us watch what we eat but not what we drink when on a diet. That’s a mistake. The average American gets a fifth of daily calories from beverages. Choosing the right drinks can tweak your metabolism, curb your appetite, and reduce your total calorie count. Which drinks are spoilers and which are helpers on the path to weight loss?

Spoiler: Soda

Every time you chug a bottle of soda, you’re consuming hundreds of empty calories. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, carbonated soft drinks are the single biggest source of calories in the American diet. Switching to diet soft drinks is an obvious way to cut calories, but it’s unclear whether this switch results in weight loss. In some people, diet soda may increase their sweet tooth.

Helper: Water

Replacing carbonated soft drinks with water will cut hundreds of calories per day, and the benefits don’t stop there. Drinking two glasses of water before a meal may encourage the stomach to feel full more quickly, so you don’t eat as much. In addition, new research suggests drinking plenty of water may have a positive effect on your metabolism.

Jury’s Out: Fruit Juice

Juice can have as many calories as soda, but it has far more to offer in the way of nutrients. This presents a dilemma -- you want the vitamins and antioxidants without all the extra sugar. The safest bet: Look for 100% fruit juice. Steer clear of juice drinks that have added sweeteners. Look for the percent of real juice, noted on the nutritional label. You can also slash calories by drinking water with a tiny bit of juice added.

Helper: Vegetable Juice

Vegetable juice is every bit as nutritious as fruit juice with about half the calories. A 12-ounce serving of tomato juice has 80 calories, compared to 160 calories for orange juice. Vegetable juice with pulp is also high in fiber and can help control hunger.

Jury’s Out: Smoothies

Blend a banana, strawberries, and blueberries into a frothy smoothie, and you’ve got a delicious arsenal of disease-fighting vitamins and minerals. The homemade variety is best when you’re counting calories, because you can control the ingredients -- skim milk and fresh fruit are all you need. Restaurant smoothies may contain ice cream, honey, or other sweeteners that boost the calorie count sky-high.

Jury’s Out: Low-Fat Milk

Consuming calcium-rich foods may do a body good, but calcium probably won't help you lose weight, new research now reveals. Some earlier studies suggested calcium may prompt the body to burn more fat, but there’s little evidence to support these claims. Depriving the body of calcium, on the other hand, has been show to trigger an increase in the production of fat cells. To get the benefits of calcium without consuming extra fat, stick to skim or low-fat milk, yogurt, and cheese.

Spoiler: Energy Drinks

Sports and energy drinks are calorie bombs like soda. They may have more added nutrients, but you can find the same vitamins and minerals in low-calorie foods. People who are serious about losing weight should stay hydrated with water rather than sports drinks.

Helper: Black Coffee

When you need a shot of caffeine, coffee is a better choice than soda or energy drinks. Black coffee is calorie-free and rich in antioxidants. Studies have shown that consuming moderate amounts of coffee (about 3 to 4 cups a day) may improve mood and concentration, and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes and several types of cancer.

Spoiler: Fancy Coffee

Once you add heavy cream, flavored syrups, and/or a snowcap of whipped cream, that innocent mug of black coffee becomes a minefield of fat and sugar. Specialty coffees can contain up to 570 calories per cup -- possibly more than an entire meal! If you don’t like your coffee black, add a little skim milk and artificial sweetener to keep the calorie count low.

Helper: Green Tea

Green tea is another excellent choice when you’re looking for a little caffeine. Not only is it calorie-free, some research suggests green tea extract may stimulate weight loss through the action of phytochemicals. These are plant-based compounds that may temporarily cause the body to burn more calories and melt fat. The benefit appears to last only a few hours, so it may help to drink green tea at least twice a day.

Spoiler: Wine Coolers

Wine coolers may sound light and airy, but they are heavy on calories. A 12-ounce wine cooler can have 190 calories and 22 grams of carbs. Regular wine is not much better with at least 100 calories in a 5-ounce glass. A low-calorie alternative is a wine spritzer: mix a dash of wine with some sparkling water.

Spoiler: Cocktails

A shot of hard liquor has fewer calories than wine or wine coolers, but once you mix in soda or cream, watch out… An 8-ounce white Russian made with light cream has 715 calories. A less fattening option is to mix rum or vodka with diet soda.

Helper: Light Beer

OK, beer is not really going to help you lose weight. But if you’re out with friends and want to share a pitcher, light beer is the way to go. A serving has 100 calories, compared to 150 calories for regular beer.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

My Brother's Diagnosis: Arteriovenous Malformations

What are arteriovenous malformations?

Arteriovenous malformations (AVMs) are defects of the circulatory system that are generally believed to arise during embryonic or fetal development or soon after birth. They are comprised of snarled tangles of arteries and veins. Arteries carry oxygen-rich blood away from the heart to the body’s cells; veins return oxygen-depleted blood to the lungs and heart. The presence of an AVM disrupts this vital cyclical process. Although AVMs can develop in many different sites, those located in the brain or spinal cord—the two parts of the central nervous system—can have especially widespread effects on the body.

AVMs of the brain or spinal cord (neurological AVMs) are believed to affect approximately 300,000 Americans. They occur in males and females of all racial or ethnic backgrounds at roughly equal rates.
What are the symptoms?

Most people with neurological AVMs experience few, if any, significant symptoms, and the malformations tend to be discovered only incidentally, usually either at autopsy or during treatment for an unrelated disorder. But for about 12 percent of the affected population (about 36,000 of the estimated 300,000 Americans with AVMs), these abnormalities cause symptoms that vary greatly in severity. For a small fraction of the individuals within this group, such symptoms are severe enough to become debilitating or even life-threatening. Each year about 1 percent of those with AVMs will die as a direct result of the AVM.

Seizures and headaches are the most generalized symptoms of AVMs, but no particular type of seizure or headache pattern has been identified. Seizures can be partial or total, involving a loss of control over movement, convulsions, or a change in a person’s level of consciousness. Headaches can vary greatly in frequency, duration, and intensity, sometimes becoming as severe as migraines. Sometimes a headache consistently affecting one side of the head may be closely linked to the site of an AVM. More frequently, however, the location of the pain is not specific to the lesion and may encompass most of the head.

AVMs also can cause a wide range of more specific neurological symptoms that vary from person to person, depending primarily upon the location of the AVM. Such symptoms may include muscle weakness or paralysis in one part of the body; a loss of coordination (ataxia) that can lead to such problems as gait disturbances; apraxia, or difficulties carrying out tasks that require planning; dizziness; visual disturbances such as a loss of part of the visual field; an inability to control eye movement; papilledema (swelling of a part of the optic nerve known as the optic disk); various problems using or understanding language (aphasia); abnormal sensations such as numbness, tingling, or spontaneous pain (paresthesia or dysesthesia); memory deficits; and mental confusion, hallucinations, or dementia. Researchers have recently uncovered evidence that AVMs may also cause subtle learning or behavioral disorders in some people during their childhood or adolescence, long before more obvious symptoms become evident.

One of the more distinctive signs indicating the presence of an AVM is an auditory phenomenon called a bruit, coined from the French word meaning noise. (A sign is a physical effect observable by a physician, but not by a patient.) Doctors use this term to describe the rhythmic, whooshing sound caused by excessively rapid blood flow through the arteries and veins of an AVM. The sound is similar to that made by a torrent of water rushing through a narrow pipe. A bruit can sometimes become a symptom—that is, an effect experienced by a patient—when it is especially severe. When audible to patients, the bruit may compromise hearing, disturb sleep, or cause significant psychological distress.

Symptoms caused by AVMs can appear at any age, but because these abnormalities tend to result from a slow buildup of neurological damage over time they are most often noticed when people are in their twenties, thirties, or forties. If AVMs do not become symptomatic by the time people reach their late forties or early fifties, they tend to remain stable and rarely produce symptoms. In women, pregnancy sometimes causes a sudden onset or worsening of symptoms, due to accompanying cardiovascular changes, especially increases in blood volume and blood pressure.

In contrast to the vast majority of neurological AVMs, one especially severe type causes symptoms to appear at, or very soon after, birth. Called a vein of Galen defect after the major blood vessel involved, this lesion is located deep inside the brain. It is frequently associated with hydrocephalus (an accumulation of fluid within certain spaces in the brain, often with visible enlargement of the head), swollen veins visible on the scalp, seizures, failure to thrive, and congestive heart failure. Children born with this condition who survive past infancy often remain developmentally impaired.
How do AVMs damage the brain and spinal cord?

AVMs become symptomatic only when the damage they cause to the brain or spinal cord reaches a critical level. This is one of the reasons why a relatively small fraction of people with these lesions experiences significant health problems related to the condition. AVMs damage the brain or spinal cord through three basic mechanisms: by reducing the amount of oxygen reaching neurological tissues; by causing bleeding (hemorrhage) into surrounding tissues; and by compressing or displacing parts of the brain or spinal cord.

AVMs compromise oxygen delivery to the brain or spinal cord by altering normal patterns of blood flow. Arteries and veins are normally interconnected by a series of progressively smaller blood vessels that control and slow the rate of blood flow. Oxygen delivery to surrounding tissues takes place through the thin, porous walls of the smallest of these interconnecting vessels, known as capillaries, where the blood flows most slowly. The arteries and veins that make up AVMs, however, lack this intervening capillary network. Instead, arteries dump blood directly into veins through a passageway called a fistula. The flow rate is uncontrolled and extremely rapid—too rapid to allow oxygen to be dispersed to surrounding tissues. When starved of normal amounts of oxygen, the cells that make up these tissues begin to deteriorate, sometimes dying off completely.

This abnormally rapid rate of blood flow frequently causes blood pressure inside the vessels located in the central portion of an AVM directly adjacent to the fistula—an area doctors refer to as the nidus, from the Latin word for nest—to rise to dangerously high levels. The arteries feeding blood into the AVM often become swollen and distorted; the veins that drain blood away from it often become abnormally constricted (a condition called stenosis). Moreover, the walls of the involved arteries and veins are often abnormally thin and weak. Aneurysms—balloon-like bulges in blood vessel walls that are susceptible to rupture—may develop in association with approximately half of all neurological AVMs due to this structural weakness.

Bleeding can result from this combination of high internal pressure and vessel wall weakness. Such hemorrhages are often microscopic in size, causing limited damage and few significant symptoms. Even many nonsymptomatic AVMs show evidence of past bleeding. But massive hemorrhages can occur if the physical stresses caused by extremely high blood pressure, rapid blood flow rates, and vessel wall weakness are great enough. If a large enough volume of blood escapes from a ruptured AVM into the surrounding brain, the result can be a catastrophic stroke. AVMs account for approximately 2 percent of all hemorrhagic strokes that occur each year.

Even in the absence of bleeding or significant oxygen depletion, large AVMs can damage the brain or spinal cord simply by their presence. They can range in size from a fraction of an inch to more than 2.5 inches in diameter, depending on the number and size of the blood vessels making up the lesion. The larger the lesion, the greater the amount of pressure it exerts on surrounding brain or spinal cord structures. The largest lesions may compress several inches of the spinal cord or distort the shape of an entire hemisphere of the brain. Such massive AVMs can constrict the flow of cerebrospinal fluid—a clear liquid that normally nourishes and protects the brain and spinal cord—by distorting or closing the passageways and open chambers (ventricles) inside the brain that allow this fluid to circulate freely. As cerebrospinal fluid accumulates, hydrocephalus results. This fluid buildup further increases the amount of pressure on fragile neurological structures, adding to the damage caused by the AVM itself.
Where do neurological AVMs tend to form?

AVMs can form virtually anywhere in the brain or spinal cord—wherever arteries and veins exist. Some are formed from blood vessels located in the dura mater or in the pia mater, the outermost and innermost, respectively, of the three membranes surrounding the brain and spinal cord. (The third membrane, called the arachnoid, lacks blood vessels.) AVMs affecting the spinal cord are of two types, AVMs of the dura mater, which affect the function of the spinal cord by transmitting excess pressure to the venous system of the spinal cord, and AVMs of the spinal cord itself, which affect the function of the spinal cord by hemorrhage, by reducing blood flow to the spinal cord, or by causing excess venous pressure. Spinal AVMs frequently cause attacks of sudden, severe back pain, often concentrated at the roots of nerve fibers where they exit the vertebrae; the pain is similar to that caused by a slipped disk. These lesions also can cause sensory disturbances, muscle weakness, or paralysis in the parts of the body served by the spinal cord or the damaged nerve fibers. Spinal cord injury by the AVM by either of the mechanisms described above can lead to degeneration of the nerve fibers within the spinal cord below the level of the lesion, causing widespread paralysis in parts of the body controlled by those nerve fibers.

Dural and pial AVMs can appear anywhere on the surface of the brain. Those located on the surface of the cerebral hemispheres—the uppermost portions of the brain—exert pressure on the cerebral cortex, the brain’s “gray matter.” Depending on their location, these AVMs may damage portions of the cerebral cortex involved with thinking, speaking, understanding language, hearing, taste, touch, or initiating and controlling voluntary movements. AVMs located on the frontal lobe close to the optic nerve or on the occipital lobe, the rear portion of the cerebrum where images are processed, may cause a variety of visual disturbances.

AVMs also can form from blood vessels located deep inside the interior of the cerebrum. These AVMs may compromise the functions of three vital structures: the thalamus, which transmits nerve signals between the spinal cord and upper regions of the brain; the basal ganglia surrounding the thalamus, which coordinate complex movements; and the hippocampus, which plays a major role in memory.

AVMs can affect other parts of the brain besides the cerebrum. The hindbrain is formed from two major structures: the cerebellum, which is nestled under the rear portion of the cerebrum, and the brainstem, which serves as the bridge linking the upper portions of the brain with the spinal cord. These structures control finely coordinated movements, maintain balance, and regulate some functions of internal organs, including those of the heart and lungs. AVM damage to these parts of the hindbrain can result in dizziness, giddiness, vomiting, a loss of the ability to coordinate complex movements such as walking, or uncontrollable muscle tremors.
What are the health consequences of AVMs?

The greatest potential danger posed by AVMs is hemorrhage. Researchers believe that each year between 2 and 4 percent of all AVMs hemorrhage. Most episodes of bleeding remain undetected at the time they occur because they are not severe enough to cause significant neurological damage. But massive, even fatal, bleeding episodes do occur. The present state of knowledge does not permit doctors to predict whether or not any particular person with an AVM will suffer an extensive hemorrhage. The lesions can remain stable or can suddenly begin to grow. In a few cases, they have been observed to regress spontaneously. Whenever an AVM is detected, the individual should be carefully and consistently monitored for any signs of instability that may indicate an increased risk of hemorrhage.

A few physical characteristics appear to indicate a greater-than-usual likelihood of clinically significant hemorrhage. Smaller AVMs have a greater likelihood of bleeding than do larger ones. Impaired drainage by unusually narrow or deeply situated veins also increases the chances of hemorrhage. Pregnancy also appears to increase the likelihood of clinically significant hemorrhage, mainly because of increases in blood pressure and blood volume. Finally, AVMs that have hemorrhaged once are about nine times more likely to bleed again during the first year after the initial hemorrhage than are lesions that have never bled.

The damaging effects of a hemorrhage are related to lesion location. Bleeding from AVMs located deep inside the interior tissues, or parenchyma, of the brain typically causes more severe neurological damage than does hemorrhage by lesions that have formed in the dural or pial membranes or on the surface of the brain or spinal cord. (Deeply located bleeding is usually referred to as an intracerebral or parenchymal hemorrhage; bleeding within the membranes or on the surface of the brain is known as subdural or subarachnoid hemorrhage.) Thus, location is an important factor to consider when weighing the relative risks of surgical versus non-surgical treatment of AVMs.

Breast Cancer Study: New Clues for Risk

Ear Wax, Body Odor: Breast Cancer Link?

Researchers See Clues for Breast Cancer Risk in Underarm Body Odor and Wet Ear Wax

A variation in a gene already associated with breast cancer risk is also linked with especially unpleasant underarm body odor and wet ear wax, according to a team of Japanese scientists.

The discovery is not meant to make women with either condition anxious, says Toshi Ishikawa, PhD, professor of biomolecular engineering at the Tokyo Institute of Technology and the senior author of the study. Rather, he says, "we do strongly hope that our study will provide a new tool for better prediction of breast cancer risk" by using a new method of finding the variation developed by his team.

Having wet ear wax or excessively smelly armpits does not mean a woman is destined to get breast cancer, Ishikawa says. "To be clear, I should strongly mention that the [specific gene variation found to link body odor, wet ear wax, and breast cancer risk] is one factor that increases breast cancer risk," Ishikawa says. "And it might have to work in tandem with something else -- such as environmental factors and mutations of tumor suppressor genes such as BRCA1, BRCA2, p53, and so on."

Ishikawa's team extracted DNA from blood samples provided by 124 volunteers at Nagasaki University in Japan.

They studied a gene called ABCC11, discovered by them and others in 2001. Variations in the gene have been found to be associated with increased breast cancer risk. These variations, called SNPs ("snips") or single nucleotide polymorphisms, occur when a single nucleotide or molecule in an individual's genome sequence changes. SNPs are common in the population.

While many SNPs don't affect the way cells function, experts think that other variations may predispose people to specific diseases such as cancer or affect the way they respond to a medication.

In this study, Ishikawa monitored the activities of a protein created by the ABCC11 gene, finding a distinct link between the ABCC11 gene and having extremely smelly underarm odor and wet, sticky earwax.

Then they figured out the cellular mechanisms that control wet ear wax, excessively bad underarm odor, and breast cancer risk.

They developed a rapid method of typing this SNP in the DNA sequence associated with the higher risk for the three conditions. It can be done in 30 minutes.

The study is published in The FASEB Journal.

Armpits, Ear Wax, and Breast Cancer

Women shouldn't get anxious about the research, says Christy Russell, MD, associate professor of medicine at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, who reviewed the study for WebMD. "At this point the research is very early and women should not be concerned about body odor or earwax as a clue that they may have a higher risk of breast cancer."

"Having ear wax and body odor are normal physical processes that all women go through," she says.

To put the research in perspective, she says, the researchers are looking for common gene abnormalities in glands that secrete mucus, sweat, or wax that may be linked with breast cancer risk.

The researchers managed to figure out the exact cellular level mechanisms which lead to all three conditions, says Gerald Weissmann, MD, editor-in-chief of The FASEB Journal and research professor of medicine and director of the Biotechnology Study Center at New York University.

"I think this is a groundbreaking study which combines human genetics, human anthropology, and first-rate molecular and cell biology," he says. The development of the rapid SNP typing method, he says, promises to help predict who might be at higher risk for serious conditions such as cancer by looking at "trivial observations such as smelly armpits and wet ear wax."

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Vaccine Fights Melanoma

Experimental Vaccine Shrinks Tumors in People With Deadly Skin Cancer

For the first time, a vaccine that trains the immune system to seek out and attack cancer cells has been shown to shrink tumors in people with melanoma.

In a study of 185 melanoma patients, the experimental vaccine also extended the time that people remained free of cancer.

There are even indications that people given the vaccine live longer, but patients need to be followed longer before researchers can be sure, says Patrick Hwu, MD, head of melanoma medical oncology at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston.

Hwu presented the results at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Melanoma Vaccine: How It Works

Unlike the vaccine that helps prevent cervical cancer in healthy women, the melanoma vaccine is designed to help people who already have cancer.

The vaccine is given along with interleukin-2, or IL-2, the standard treatment for melanoma. IL-2 stimulates the immune system to attack and kill cancer cells. Tumors shrink in one in four patients with advanced melanoma who get this treatment.

The vaccine contains a substance, called gp100, that is on the surface of melanoma cells. The idea is that the immune system will see this as a threat and incite an even stronger attack against cancer cells.

“The vaccine is capable of taking immune system soldiers to boot camp. Then, interleukin-2 multiplies them into an army,” Hwu tells WebMD.

Melanoma is the deadliest form of skin cancer. This year in the U.S., there will be an estimated 68,720 new cases and 8,650 deaths from the disease, according to the American Cancer Society.

Melanoma Vaccine Shrinks Tumors

In the study, people with advanced melanoma were given the vaccine or a placebo injection, followed by four days of intravenous interleukin-2 treatment. This was repeated every three weeks until the tumor shrank or the cancer progressed.

Tumors shrank in 22% of patients given the vaccine plus interleukin-2, compared with 10% of those given interleukin-2 alone. The vaccine also extended the time until the cancer started growing, from about one-and-a-half months for interleukin-2 alone to nearly three months for the one-two punch.

That may not sound like much, but cancer advances are made in baby steps, says Len Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy medical director of the American Cancer Society.

Lichtenfeld tells WebMD that there’s reason for “cautious optimism.” A lot of cancer vaccines that seemed promising in early studies haven’t panned out, he says.

Louis M. Weiner, MD, head of the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center in Washington, D.C., says the vaccine study is the latest in a series showing that the immune system can be mobilized to attack cancer.

“Many of us believe that a combined approach that includes an immune system attack on cancer cells will ultimately prove to be most useful in controlling cancers such as melanoma,” he tells WebMD.

Hwu says the next step is to try to reproduce the findings in a longer, larger study. Also, his team hopes to add yet another punch -- in the form of an agent that takes the brakes off the immune system.

Then, the immune system soldiers can proliferate with impunity, hopefully killing even more cancer cells, he explains.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


The Dark Side of Sun Exposure

Over 80% of the signs of skin aging in adults result from their tans as teens.

Basking in the warm glow of the sun can make us feel good, and in the short term, makes us look good. But the cumulative effects of sun exposure put us at higher risk of cellular damage, early wrinkling, age spots, actinic keratoses, and skin cancer -- including melanoma, the most serious type. Can you spot the effects of excessive sun exposure?


A suntan is the body’s way of blocking UV rays to prevent further skin damage.

Tanned skin may be revered as beautiful, but that golden color you see is the result of injury to the epidermis, the top layer of skin. Exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays accelerates the effects of aging and increases your risk for developing skin cancer. To prevent sun damage, use a sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher when outdoors. If you have fair skin or burn easily, boost your SPF to 30 or higher.

Sunburn (First-Degree Burns)

Ouch! Redness and mild pain are characteristic of sunburn.

Sunburn is skin damage from the sun's UV rays. Most sunburns result in redness, heat to the touch, and mild pain, affecting only the outer layer of skin (first degree burns). Sunburn usually appears within hours after sun exposure and may take several days to weeks to fade. Pain relievers such as aspirin or ibuprofen, cold compresses, and aloe, hydrocortisone, or moisturizing creams may help reduce pain and discomfort.

Sunburn (Second Degree)

Blisters create a protective layer over the skin.

A second degree burn – damaging deep skin layers and nerve endings – is usually more painful and takes longer to heal. It’s characterized by redness, swelling, and blistering. If blisters form, do not break them – they’re a source of moisture and protection. Breaking the blisters may lead to infection. Consider seeing a doctor if you have a blistered sunburn.


Wrinkles are common on the face, neck, and hands – areas most exposed to sun.

The sun’s rays make skin look old and wrinkled years before it should. More than 80% of the signs of skin aging in adults are the result of the tans they had as teens before the age of 18. That’s because over time, the sun's ultraviolet light damages the fibers in the skin called elastin. When these fibers breakdown, the skin begins to sag, stretch, and lose its ability to go back into place after stretching.

Uneven Skin Tone

Changes brought on by sun damage include uneven pigmentation of the skin.

Too much sun also causes irregular coloring or pigmentation of the skin. Some areas of the skin appear darker, while others look lighter. The sun can also cause a permanent stretching of small blood vessels, giving your skin a reddish appearance.


Freckles are commonly found on the face and shoulders.

Flat, pigmented spots on the skin, freckles are usually found on sun-exposed areas of the body. They’re more noticeable in the summer, especially among fair-skinned people and those with light or red hair. Freckles pose no health risk. But some cancers in the earliest stages resemble a freckle. See a doctor if the size, shape, or color of a spot changes or becomes painful.

Melasma (Pregnancy Mask)

Exposure to sunlight can worsen melasma.

Melasma (or chloasma) is characterized by tan or brown patches on the cheeks, nose, forehead, and chin. Although usually called the "pregnancy mask," men can also develop it. Melasma may go away after pregnancy. If it persists, melasma can be treated with prescription creams and over-the-counter products. Use a sunscreen at all times if you have melasma, as sunlight worsens the condition.

Age Spots (Solar Lentigines)

Sun avoidance and the use of sunscreen are key in preventing “age” spots

These pesky brown or gray spots are not really caused by aging, though they do multiply as you get older. Age spots are the result of sun exposure, which is why they tend to appear on areas that get a lot of sun, such as the face, hands, and chest. Bleaching creams, acid peels, and light-based treatments may lessen their appearance. Solar lentigines are harmless, but to rule out serious skin conditions such as melanoma, see a dermatologist for proper identification.

Actinic Keratosis (Solar Keratosis)

Actinic keratoses range in size from 1 to 3 mm or larger and may itch or burn.

The small, scaly red, brown, or skin-colored patches caused by too much sun exposure commonly occur on the head, neck or hands, but can be found elsewhere on the body. They’re the early beginnings of skin cancer. Actinic keratosis usually appears on people after age 40, but they can show up in much younger people. People with fair skin, blond or red hair, and blue or green eyes are most at risk. Early treatment is advised to stop the possible progression to squamous cell carcinoma, a type of skin cancer.

Actinic Cheilitis (Farmer’s Lip)

Actinic cheilitis is more common in older males and light -complected people.

Related to actinic keratosis, actinic cheilitis is a precancerous condition that usually appears on the lower lips. Scaly patches or persistent dryness and cracking of the lips may be present. Less common symptoms include swelling of the lip, loss of the sharp border between the lip and skin, and prominent lip lines. Actinic cheilitis may eventually evolve into invasive squamous cell carcinoma if not treated.

Squamous Cell Carcinoma

Squamous cell carcinoma affects men more often than women.

This nonmelanoma skin cancer may appear as a firm red nodule, a scaly growth that bleeds or develops a crust, or a sore that doesn’t heal. It most often occurs on the nose, forehead, ears, lower lip, hands, and other sun-exposed areas of the body. Squamous cell carcinoma is curable if caught and treated early. If the skin cancer becomes more advanced, treatment will depend on the stage of cancer.

Bowen Disease

Bowen disease is the earliest form of squamous cell skin cancer.

Bowen disease is also called squamous cell carcinoma “in situ.” It is a typeof skin cancer that spreads outward on the surface of the skin. By contrast, “invasive” squamous cell carcinomas can grow inward and spread to the interior of the body. Bowen disease looks like scaly, reddish patches that may be crusted. It may turn into squamous cell carcinoma.

Basal Cell Carcinoma

Basal cell tumors can take on many forms.

The most common form of skin cancer, basal cell carcinoma is the most easily treatable and least likely to spread, though it can damage surrounding tissue. Because basal cell carcinoma spreads slowly it occurs mostly in adults. Basal cell tumors can take on many forms, including a pearly white or waxy bump, often with visible blood vessels, on the ears, neck, or face. Tumors can also appear as a flat, scaly, flesh-colored or brown patch on the back or chest, or more rarely, a white, waxy scar.


Melanoma can occur anywhere on the body.

Melanoma is a form of skin cancer that usually begins in a mole. It is not as common as other types of skin cancer, but it’s the most serious and potentially deadly. Possible signs of melanoma include a change in the appearance of a mole or pigmented area. Consult a doctor if a mole changes in size, shape, or color, has irregular edges, is more than one color, is asymmetrical, or itches, oozes, or bleeds. Melanoma can affect the skin only, or it may spread to organs and bones. It can be cured if it’s found and treated early.


Exposure to sunlight as well as aging can cause cataracts.

A cataract is a cloudy area in the lens of the eye that blocks the passage of light to the retina. Cataracts are painless but may cause vision problems, including foggy vision, glare from light, and double vision in one eye. Prevent cataracts by wearing a hat and sunglasses when in the sun.

Shun the Sun

Sunburns in childhood are the most damaging to the skin.

The best way to prevent sunburn, premature wrinkles, skin cancer, and other damaging effects from the sun is to stay out of it, especially between 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., when the sun’s rays are strongest. If you can’t, apply sunscreen liberally (don’t forget the lips and ears!), wear a hat and sunglasses, and cover up with clothing when outdoors. If you notice changes to your skin such as a mole changing appearance, a new growth, or a sore that won't heal, see a doctor right way.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

7 Nutrients Your Diet May Be Missing

Are you getting enough essential nutrients -- like calcium, fiber and vitamin E -- in your diet?

Think your diet is healthy? Guess again. The 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans says many adults lack seven essential nutrients -- from calcium to fiber -- and certain groups of people are missing even more. Filling in so many nutrient gaps seems insurmountable without supplements, but more often than not, food can solve the shortfalls.

Calcium: Essential Nutrient for Muscles, Bones, and More

You don't outgrow your need for calcium just because you're all grown up. While calcium is necessary to bolster developing bones, it's also needed to keep your skeleton strong throughout life. And that's not all. Besides participating in maintaining a normal heart rhythm, calcium plays a role in blood clotting and muscle function.

"Studies have shown a link between adequate calcium intake and lower blood pressure, as well as weight control," says Marisa Moore, RD, an Atlanta-based spokeswoman for the American Dietetic Association.

The Institute of Medicine (IOM), the group of experts that sets nutrient quotas, has determined that calcium needs increase with age. Here's what you need every day:

* 19- to 50-year-olds: 1,000 milligrams
* 51 years and up: 1,200 milligrams

Three servings of dairy foods each day, as part of a balanced diet, provides most people with the calcium they need.

"Try to get calcium from foods, preferably dairy," advises Moore. Calcium is best absorbed in the presence of lactose, natural milk sugar.

Some examples of foods that provide around 300 milligrams of calcium per serving:

* 8 ounces of milk or yogurt
* 8 ounces calcium-added orange juice
* 1 1/2 ounces hard cheese
* 8 ounces fortified soy beverage

Bonus nutrients: Dairy foods and soy supply magnesium; orange juice packs potassium.

Fiber: Essential Nutrient for Overall Health

Fiber is best known for keeping bowel movements regular and preventing other intestinal woes, including diverticular disease, an intestinal inflammation. Years of research on fiber underscores its importance in overall health, too.

"Fiber-rich foods lower the risk of developing chronic conditions, including heart diseaseheart disease, cancercancer, and type 2 diabetesdiabetes," says Hillary Wright, MEd, RD, director of nutritionnutrition services at the Domar Center for Complementary Healthcare in Boston. "Fiber is also filling, and it's found in foods that are relatively low in calories, so it's central to weight control."

Fiber needs are based on calorie requirements. That's why men and women generally differ in their daily fiber needs, and why quotas decline with age:

* Men 19-50 years: 38 grams; 51 and older: 30 grams
* Women 19-50 years: 25 grams; 51 and older: 21 grams

It's beneficial, so why don't many people get enough fiber? Experts blame a lack of plant foods, including whole grains.

Here are some easy ways to boost fiber intake:

* Snack on whole-grain crackers, fruit, or vegetables or popcorn (a whole grain) instead of cookies, candy, and chips.
* Choose whole-grain breads and cereals, whole-wheat pasta, and other whole grains, such as quinoa, millet, barley, cracked wheat, and wild rice.
* Look for breads with more than 3 grams fiber per slice; go for cereals with five or more grams of dietary fiber per serving.
* Start a meal with bean-based soups, such as lentil or black bean. Add canned, rinsed chickpeas to salads, soups, egg, and pasta dishes.
* Include fruits, vegetables, and whole grains at every meal.
Bonus nutrients: Fresh and lightly processed fruits and vegetables and beans are rich in potassium; beans also supply magnesium.

Magnesium: Essential Nutrient for Bones, Immunity & More

Magnesium is an unsung hero of sorts. This mighty mineral participates in hundreds of bodily functions that foster good health, yet few people know that magnesium contributes to bone strength; promotes peak immunity; and normalizes muscle, nerve, and heart function.

You need this much magnesium every day:

* Men, 19-30: 400 milligrams; 31 and older: 420 milligrams
* Women, 19-30: 310 milligrams; 31 and older: 320 milligrams

Here's how to satisfy magnesium needs:

* Opt for whole grains; quinoa and cracked wheat (bulgur) are particularly magnesium-rich
* Snack on pumpkin seeds
* Sprinkle an ounce of slivered almonds on top of cereal or low-fat frozen yogurt
* Choose legumes, such as black beans, white beans, and soy as a protein source a few times a week instead of meat
* Consume three servings of low-fat dairy foods each day

Bonus nutrients: Quinoa and cracked wheat are filled with fiber; almonds are bursting with vitamin E and contain calcium; and milk is an excellent calcium source.

Vitamin E: An Essential Nutrient to Combat Free Radicals

A misplaced fear of fat may harm health by preventing you from getting the vitamin E you need.

Vitamin E, found primarily in fatty foods such as nuts, seeds, and oils, is a potent antioxidant. It combats free radicals, the unstable oxygen molecules that result from normal metabolism as well as from exposure to air pollution, cigarette smoke, and strong ultraviolet rays.

"Many people are constantly trying to lose weight," says Moore. In the bargain, they are eliminating healthy high-fat foods and that's costing them vitamin E."

For example, one ounce of sunflower seeds supplies two-thirds of an adult's daily vitamin E quota. An ounce of almonds provides almost half.

Vitamin E is a complex nutrient; food supplies eight different types of vitamin E. Experts have determined that alpha-tocopherol vitamin E (AT) is the most useful of the vitamin E forms. Men and women over age 19 need 15 milligrams of AT every day.

Here's how to get more vitamin E:

* Snack on sunflower seeds or almonds and add them to salads, steamed vegetables, and cooked whole grains
* Enjoy a nut butter sandwich on whole-grain bread
* Use sunflower and safflower oil instead of corn or vegetable oils
* Combine low-fat milk, honey and 1 ounce toasted slivered almonds in a blender for a delicious and nutritious smoothie
* Include vitamin E-fortified ready-to-eat whole-grain cereals

Bonus nutrients: Whole grains supply fiber; sunflower seeds offer magnesium and fiber; and milk contains calcium.

Vitamin C: Essential Nutrient for a Healthy Immune System

It's touted for helping the body repel germs and cancer, but it's not solely responsible for a healthy immune system.

"Most research on diet and cancer prevention focuses on the benefits of consuming a diet high in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, not single nutrient supplements like vitamin C," says Wright.

Vitamin C is also vital for the production of collagen, the connective tissue that keeps muscles, skin, and other tissues, including bone, healthy. And, like vitamin E, vitamin C is a powerful antioxidant that helps ward off cellular damage.

You need this much vitamin C daily:

* Men, 19 and older: 90 milligrams
* Women, 19 and older: 75 milligrams

Your body can't store vitamin C or make it, so you need some every day. Include some of these vitamin C-rich foods in your choice of fruits and vegetables:

* Raw sweet red pepper, 1/2 cup: 142 milligrams
* Medium kiwi: 70 milligrams
* Orange juice, 6 ounces: 61-93 milligrams
* Strawberries, 1/2 cup raw: 49 milligrams
* Cantaloupe, 1/4 medium: 47 milligrams
* Broccoli, cooked, 1/2 cup: 51 milligrams

Bonus nutrients: Vitamin C-rich foods also provide potassium and fiber. Sweet red pepper and cantaloupe are rich in carotenoids. Consuming vitamin C at meals or snacks improves the absorption of iron from plant foods and iron-fortified grains.

Vitamin A and Carotenoids: Essential Nutrient for Eyes

An important player in good health, vitamin A is essential for normal vision, gene expression, tissue growth, and proper immune function, among many other duties.

Vitamin A comes in two forms: as retinol (preformed and ready for the body to use) and carotenoids, the raw materials the body converts to vitamin A. Americans have no trouble consuming adequate retinol, but they don't get nearly enough carotenoids.

"While there is no daily requirement for carotenoids, you should include foods rich in carotenoids every day," says Wright.

Concentrating on including colorful produce will likely get you more carotenoids than you're eating now. Top picks include:

* Carrots
* Sweet potato
* Pumpkin
* Spinach
* Cantaloupe
* Sweet red pepper
* Broccoli

Bonus nutrients: Foods that contain carotenoids are rich in potassium and supply fiber; there's vitamin E and magnesium in spinach, and vitamin C in broccoli.

Potassium: Essential Nutrient for Nerves and Muscles

Potassium is present in every cell of your body. It plays a central role in normal muscle contraction, transmission of nerve impulses, and fluid balance. Potassium even serves to promote strong bones, and it's necessary for energy production.

Adequate potassium intake hedges against high blood pressurehigh blood pressure, which creeps up with age. Men and women over age 19 need 4,700 milligrams of potassium every day.

"If you already have high blood pressure, check with your doctor or pharmacist about the medications you take to control it," Wright advises. "Some drugs, including certain diuretics, cause the body to lose potassium, which increases your potassium needs."
These potassium-packed foods will help you meet your daily quota:

* 1 cup canned white beans: 1,189 milligrams
* 1 cup cooked spinach: 839 milligrams
* Medium sweet potato, cooked: 694 milligrams
* 1 cup fat-free yogurt: 579 milligrams
* 1 cup orange juice: 496 milligrams
* 1 cup cooked broccoli: 457 milligrams
* 1 cup cantaloupe: 431 milligrams

Bonus nutrients: Beans supply magnesium and fiber. Sweet potato, broccoli, and cantaloupe can boost fiber and carotenoids; yogurt contains calcium.

Who May Need Even More Nutrients?

Women of Childbearing Age

If there's a chance you'll become pregnant, two nutrients are particularly important.

Folic Acid

Folic acid is the synthetic form of the B vitamin folate. Once you conceive, folic acid (and folate, the natural form) help protect your baby against neural-tube defects (and possibly cleft lip and/or palate) during the first 30 days.

Getting the recommended 400 micrograms of folic acid every day from supplements or foods along with a diet rich in folate-filled foods is critical for women who may become pregnant. Folate is important throughout the remainder of pregnancy, too. It's involved in cell production and guards against a certain type of anemia.

The body absorbs folic acid with twice the efficiency of food folate, which explains the recommendation for the man-made variety. Even so, folate-rich foods are important, too.

Fortified foods include:

* 1 ounce ready-to-eat breakfast cereals: 100-400 micrograms folic acid
* 1 cup cooked enriched spaghetti: 80 micrograms folic acid
* 2 slices enriched bread: 34 micrograms folic acid

Folate-filled foods include:

* 1 cup cooked lentils: 358 micrograms folate
* 1 cup cooked spinach: 263 micrograms folate
* 1 cup cooked broccoli: 168 micrograms folate
* 1 cup orange juice: 110 micrograms folate


Iron is responsible for transporting oxygen to cells and tissues throughout the body. It's important for women to consume adequate iron before pregnancypregnancy as well as during.

"Pregnancy is a drag on iron stores and may cause iron-deficiency anemiaanemia in mom," Wright says.

To avoid health problems, experts say women should include foods rich in heme-iron, the highly absorbable form found in animal foods, and include iron-rich plant foods or iron-fortified foods along with vitamin C. Vitamin C enhances the absorption of non-heme iron. The ideal amount is about 18 milligrams of iron daily for women ages 19 to 50. Pregnant women should get 27 milligrams a day.

Heme-iron sources:

* 3 ounces cooked beef: 3 milligrams
* 3 ounces cooked turkey: 2 milligrams
* 3 ounces cooked light meat chicken: 1 milligram

Non-heme iron sources:

* 3/4 cup Whole Grain Total cereal: 22 milligrams
* 1 cup fortified instant oatmeal: 10 milligrams
* 1 cup cooked soybeans: 8 milligrams
* 1 cup boiled kidney beans: 5 milligrams

Older Adults, People with Dark Skin, and Those Who Avoid the Sun

What do these groups have in common? They may lack vitamin D.

Vitamin D production is initiated in the skin in response to sunlight. People who avoid the sun may not make enough vitamin D. Ditto for people with darker complexions, who have a higher level of melanin, a natural sunscreen.

Age decreases the body's ability to make vitamin D, so older people may easily become deficient, even when they get enough sun. To make matters worse, vitamin D needs double after age 51 to 400 international units (IU) a day (the equivalent of four glasses of milk), and increase to 600 IU daily after age 70.

In addition, most foods are poor natural sources of vitamin D. That's why experts recommend consuming vitamin D from fortified foods, including milk and breakfast cereals, and from supplements. You may need a mixture of both to get the vitamin D your body requires.