Friday, July 31, 2009

How to Detox Your Body

Every day we put potential toxins into our mouths, breathe them into our lungs, and track them into our homes without ever really knowing where they’ll end up—or how much damage they’ll do when they get there. In fact, if you could peek inside your body you’d find fire-retardant chemicals, heavy metals, pesticides, plastic particles, and dozens of other residues of modern life.

The time has come to fight back! Our 12 simple steps will help you detoxify everything from your food to your feet, from your bedroom to your breasts. Purifying your life won’t happen overnight, despite what those detox foot-pad makers promise on late-night television. (PS: They don’t work!) But if you begin today you’ll definitely be a little healthier by the time you get into bed. Here’s how to get started:

1. Protect against pesticides
Washing fruit and veggies is a must-do every time you bring them home. Why? An overload of pesticides in air, food, or water may set the stage for Parkinson’s disease, breast cancer, and possibly Alzheimer’s disease decades down the road, according to research. Apparently the chemicals in pesticides—which find a home on the surface of produce—can damage the energy-producing parts of brain cells. There’s also a pesticide-and-arthritis link. Protect your brain and body by washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly, especially if you aren’t eating organic. (You don’t need to use fancy detergent; plain water should do the trick.)

Also watch out for pesticides in your own yard and garden, because anything you spray outside will likely end up in your home. Defend your greenery, instead, with insects (such as ladybugs) or a natural, safe repellent like neem oil (1 quart, $22.50).

2. It’s curtains for plastic
You know that strong odor emanating from some new plastic shower curtains and mattress covers? Blame the polyvinyl chloride (PVC) used to manufacture them—which releases toxic chemicals that can make you dizzy and drowsy with just a few deep whiffs. Retailers like Target sell curtains made with materials like cotton, polyester, or hemp, which are safer to use and easier to clean.

3. Look out for lead
Thanks to the widespread use of leaded gasoline in past decades, women 40 and up have high amounts of lead in their bones, says Ellen Silbergeld, PhD, a toxicology expert at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Why that’s bad: As your bones greedily soak up calcium, they can easily be fooled by lead, a dangerous metalliclook-alike. Lead-laden bones may be weak and prone to breaks. And as bones start to thin after menopause, the toxic metal could be released into the bloodstream, where it can increase blood pressure and possibly lead to neurological and kidney trouble.

How to fight back? Calcium, vitamin D, and regular exercise all can slow bone loss and reduce the amount of lead that moves from the bones into the blood, Silbergeld says. To keep more lead from climbing aboard, reduce dust in your home with either frequent wet-mopping or good vacuuming with a HEPA-filtered cleaner. (HEPA vacuums trap even those tiny dust particles you can’t see.)

The lead-paint issue is a toughie. If you live in an old home or apartment with chipping paint, talk to a knowledgeable inspector about testing before you do any renovating. Call the National Lead Information Center at 800-424-5323. Keep in mind: The Environmental Protection Agency says home test kits aren’t very reliable. Ask your doctor whether you need a blood-lead test, which usually isn’t necessary unless you’ve gotten acute exposure, say, during a home renovation. (And while we’re on the topic of paint, be sure to renovate with these healthy paint brands that don’t contain irritating volatile organic compounds.)

4. Be smart down there
Do tampons have dangerous levels of dioxins or asbestos? Nah, it’s a myth. But don’t ignore the small-but-real risk of toxic shock syndrome (several dozen women get it each year), a potentially fatal condition caused by poison-producing staph or strep bacteria. Lower your odds by changing your tampon every four to eight hours and avoiding highly absorbent types (often labeled “ultra”).

Protect your ovaries while you’re at it, by limiting exposure to perfluorinated chemicals (PFCs)—often in the coatings of nonstick pans and many other items like clothing, furniture, and packaged-food containers—which may double the risk of infertility, according to a study in Human Reproduction.

5. Don’t party hard
There’s some concern that chemicals found in plastic bottles and food containers have estrogen-like effects and can slightly raise the risks of breast cancer. But so far there is no real proof. What do we know that really does boost breast cancer risk? Alcohol. A new, massive study from England suggests that just one drink a day is linked to 11 additional cases of breast cancer per 1,000 women, and each drink after that increases the dangers. Even then, the risks remain small—your overall lifetime risk is about 12%. But if you think of alcohol as a toxin, maybe you’ll think twice before getting a frequent buzz.

6. Soap yourself silly
It’s tempting to try those gadgets or elixirs (or even foot pads) that claim to help you shed toxins through pores or sweat glands, but they’re a waste, experts say. The one skin product every toxin-conscious person should have? Soap. Sudsing up your skin every day (with extra washes for your hands) will help clear away toxin-producing germs, including methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), that can cause nasty skin infections. Use alcohol-based hand gels when soap and water aren’t convenient. If you’re worried about soap’s drying effects, try a natural moisturizer like Dr. Hauschka Skin Care Rose Body Moisturizer ($39.95).

7. Use pain pills sparingly
Your liver is a toxin-clearing machine, but it’s not perfect. Many medications, including common drugs such as the pain-reliever acetaminophen, can damage the organ. According to the American Liver Foundation, you shouldn’t take more than 3 grams of acetaminophen a day—the equivalent of six extra-strength pills—for more than a few days in a row. Take as small a dose as you need to feel better.

8. Don’t fool with fire retardants
Flame-retardant chemicals common in foam products and electronics, such as mattresses and televisions, have found their way into virtually every human body. No one is sure if that’s a problem for humans, but animal studies show that these chemicals, known as polybrominated diphenylethers (PBDEs), may interfere with the functioning of the thyroid gland and immune system. To be safe, seal up any rips in old foam cushions or mattresses (which may have been treated with the retardants) or get new ones, since many companies are phasing out PBDEs.

9. Stay smoke-free
You know regular smoking is a killer but think the occasional smoke can’t hurt? Not true. University of Arizona researchers found that just one cigarette impairs blood flow in the heart. And a Norwegian study showed that women who smoked one to four cigarettes a day tripled their risk of dying from heart disease and saw a fivefold jump in the risk of dying from lung cancer.

The threat of secondhand smoke is no less scary: Exposure kills nearly 50,000 adult nonsmokers every year. There are even new worries that thirdhand smoke (what’s left in your hair or your clothes after being in a smoke-filled room) is harmful, especially to babies. Sadly, you can’t stop other people from smoking. But you can help your body rebound by eating a lot of broccoli and cauliflower. These cruciferous vegetables (which also include Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and watercress) contain sulfouraphane and other compounds linked to lower disease risks. Studies suggest that people who regularly eat these vegetables enjoy protection from lung cancer. Three to five servings a week should do the trick, but don’t boil or microwave them to mush; overcooking may destroy the toxin-fighting compounds.

10. Freshen in friendlier ways
That sweet-smelling air freshener? It may be polluting your home with chemicals that can irritate your eyes and lead to headaches and nausea. Aerosol cleaners are equally guilty. Instead of covering up unpleasant smells, open the windows when weather permits. Get some fresh air in your home office, too, where ultrafine particles from laser printers can escape into the air. And green up with Areca palms, Boston ferns, and English ivy; they help purify your air. When you’re cleaning, try natural solutions like baking soda or vinegar.

11. Eat safer fish
Heavy metals can be hard on the heart. Mercury, for example, may raise your risk of atherosclerosis or a heart attack. Ironically, we get the vast majority of our mercury from fish, a supposedly heart-healthy food because of its high omega-3-fat content. The Food and Drug Administration urges women who are pregnant or nursing to avoid mercury-rich fish including shark, swordfish, and king mackerel. It’s probably wise to go easy on slightly less-tainted types such as tuna, too. Such advice actually makes good sense for every adult, Silbergeld says. To cut down on mercury, stick with cod, flounder, and wild Alaskan or Pacific salmon, as well as shellfish like clams and shrimp. If you love sushi (with its healthy combo of resistant starch and omega-3s), limit yourself to one to two meals a month, and don’t always choose tuna.

12. Wipe your feet
Your shoes can play a vital role in detoxifying your home. Pesticides and lead-contaminated dust—not to mention annoying pollen during allergy season—tend to settle on the ground and can stick to footwear. Wiping your feet on an abrasive, high-quality door mat before walking inside can keep toxins from invading your space. Better yet, make a habit of taking off your shoes at the door.

Antipsychotics Risky for Elderly With Diabetes

Drugs Used for Dementia Symptoms May Raise Risk of Hyperglycemia in Older People With Diabetes:

A class of drugs used to treat dementia symptoms and other mental ailments in the elderly may be dangerous for those with diabetes.

A new study shows that older people with diabetes are more likely to be hospitalized for hyperglycemia (elevated blood sugar levels) after beginning treatment with antipsychotic drugs.

Researchers say antipsychotic drugs are being increasingly prescribed to treat dementia and other behavioral problems in the elderly.

These drugs are known to carry a number of risks, including an increased risk of stroke, diabetes, and Parkinson’s disease-like symptoms. There have also been some reports of hyperglycemia after beginning therapy with antipsychotics, but researchers say few studies have examined these risks in older people as well as in elderly with pre-existing diabetes.

Antipsychotic Drug Risk

The study, published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, looked at the risk of hospitalization for hyperglycemia in older adults with diabetes between 2002 and 2006 in Canada.

Of the 13,817 people studied, 11% were hospitalized for hyperglycemia, diabetic ketoacidosis, or hyperosmolar coma.

Researchers found that those who were taking an antipsychotic were about one-and-a-half times more likely to be hospitalized for hyperglycemia than those who stopped taking the medications at least 180 days prior. The risk was highest among those who had just started taking an antipsychotic drug.

The results showed the risk of hyperglycemia was increased in elderly people with diabetes regardless of the type of antipsychotic drug they used.

Antipsychotics are divided into two groups, older or typical antipsychotics, such as Haldol, and atypical or second-generation antipsychotic drugs, such as Zyprexa, Seroquel, and Risperdal.

Although further studies are needed to confirm these results, researchers say the study suggests that the start of antipsychotic therapy is a critical period in which older adults are particularly vulnerable to hyperglycemia.

“In the meantime, other options to manage behavioral symptoms of dementia should be considered among older persons with diabetes,” write researcher Lorraine L. Lipscombe, MD, MSc, of the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, University of Toronto and Women’s College Research Institute at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, Ontario, and colleagues.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

7 Pains You Shouldn't Ignore

No. 1: Worst Headache of Your Life

Get medical attention immediately. "If you have a cold, it could be a sinus headache," says Sandra Fryhofer, MD, MACP, spokeswoman for the American College of Physicians. "But you could have a brain hemorrhage or brain tumor. With any pain, unless you're sure of what caused it, get it checked out."

Sharon Brangman, MD, FACP, spokeswoman for the American Geriatrics Society, tells WebMD that when someone says they have the worst headache of their life, "what we learned in medical training was that was a classic sign of a brain aneurysm. Go immediately to the ER."

No. 2: Pain or Discomfort in the Chest, Throat, Jaw, Shoulder, Arm, or Abdomen

Chest pain could be pneumoniaor a heart attack. But be aware that heart conditions typically appear as discomfort, not pain. "Don't wait for pain," says cardiologist Jerome Cohen, MD. "Heart patients talk about pressure. They'll clench their fist and put it over their chest or say it's like an elephant sitting on their chest."

The discomfort associated with heart diseasecould also be in the upper chest, throat, jaw, left shoulder or arm, or abdomen and might be accompanied by nausea. "I'm not too much worried about the 18-year-old, but if a person has unexplained, persistent discomfort and knows they're high risk, they shouldn't wait," says Cohen. "Too often people delay because they misinterpret it as [heartburn] or GI distress. Call 911 or get to an emergency room or physician's office. If it turns out to be something else, that's great."

He tells WebMD that intermittent discomfort should be taken seriously as well. "There might be a pattern, such as discomfort related to excitement, emotional upset, or exertion. For example, if you experience it when you're gardening, but it goes away when you sit down, that's angina. It's usually worse in cold or hot weather."

"A woman's discomfort signs can be more subtle," says Cohen, who is director of preventive cardiology at Saint Louis University School of Medicine. "Heart disease can masquerade as GI symptoms, such as bloating, GI distress, or discomfort in the abdomen. It's also associated with feeling tired. Risk for heart disease increases dramatically after menopause. It kills more women than men even though men are at higher risk at any age. Women and their physicians need to be on their toes."

No. 3: Pain in Lower Back or Between Shoulder Blades

"Most often it's arthritis," says Brangman, who is professor and chief of geriatrics at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, N.Y. Other possibilities include a heart attack or abdominal problems. "One danger is aortic dissection, which can appear as either a nagging or sudden pain. People who are at risk have conditions that can change the integrity of the vessel wall. These would include high blood pressure, a history of circulation problems, smoking, and diabetes."

No. 4: Severe Abdominal Pain

Still have your appendix? Don't flirt with the possibility of a rupture. Gallbladder and pancreas problems, stomach ulcers, and intestinal blockages are some other possible causes of abdominal pain that need attention.

No 5: Calf Pain

One of the lesser known dangers is deep vein thrombosis (DVT), a blood clot that can occur in the leg's deep veins. It affects 2 million Americans a year, and it can be life-threatening. "The danger is that a piece of the clot could break loose and cause pulmonary embolism[a clot in the lungs], which could be fatal," says Fryhofer. Cancer, obesity, immobility due to prolonged bed rest or long-distance travel, pregnancy, and advanced age are among the risk factors.

"Sometimes there's just swelling without pain," says Brangman. "If you have swelling and pain in your calf muscles, see a doctor immediately."

No. 6: Burning Feet or Legs

Nearly one-quarter of the 24 million Americans who have diabetes are undiagnosed, according to the American Diabetes Association. "In some people who don't know they have diabetes, peripheral neuropathycould be one of the first signs," says Brangman. "It's a burning or pins-and-needles sensation in the feet or legs that can indicate nerve damage."

No 7: Vague, Combined, or Medically Unexplained Pains

"Various painful, physical symptoms are common in depression," says psychiatrist Thomas Wise, MD. "Patients will have vague complaints of headaches, abdominal pain, or limb pain, sometimes in combination."

Because the pain might be chronic and not terribly debilitating, depressed people, their families, and health care professionals might dismiss the symptoms. "Furthermore, the more depressed you are, the more difficulty you have describing your feelings," says Wise, who is the psychiatry department chairman at Inova Fairfax Hospital in Fairfax, Va. "All of this can lead the clinician astray."

Other symptoms must be present before a diagnosis of depression can be made. "Get help when you've lost interest in activities, you're unable to work or think effectively, and you can't get along with people," he says. "And don't suffer silently when you're hurting."

He adds there's more to depression than deterioration of the quality of life. "It has to be treated aggressively before it causes structural changes in the brain."

Monday, July 20, 2009

Food Poisoning and Safe Food Handling

What is food poisoning?

Food poisoning is an illness caused by eating foods that have harmful organisms in them. These harmful germs can include bacteria, parasites, and viruses. They are mostly found in raw meat, chicken, fish, and eggs, but can spread to any type of food. They can also grow on food that is left out on counters or outdoors or is stored too long before you eat it. Sometimes food poisoning happens when people do not wash their hands before they touch food.

Most of the time, food poisoning is mild and goes away after a few days. All you can do is wait for your body to get rid of the germ causing the illness. But some types of food poisoning may be more serious, and you may need to see a doctor.

What are the symptoms?

The first symptom of food poisoning is usually diarrhea. You may also feel sick to your stomach, vomit, or have stomach cramps. How you feel when you have food poisoning mostly depends on how healthy you are and what germ is making you sick.

If you vomit or have diarrhea a lot, you can get dehydrated. Dehydration means that your body has lost too much fluid. Watch for signs of dehydration, which include having a dry mouth, feeling lightheaded, and passing only a little dark urine. Children can get dehydrated very quickly and should be watched closely. Pregnant women should always call a doctor if they think they may have food poisoning

How do harmful germs get into food?

Germs can get into food when:

* Meat is processed. It is normal to find bacteria in the intestines of healthy animals that we use for food. Sometimes the bacteria get mixed up with the parts of those animals that we eat.
* The food is watered or washed. If the water used to irrigate or wash fresh fruits and vegetables has germs from animal manure or human sewage in it, those germs can get on the fruits and vegetables.
* The food is prepared. When someone who has germs on his or her hands touches the food, or if the food touches other food that has germs on it, the germs can spread. For example, if you use the same cutting board for chopping vegetables and preparing raw meat, germs from the raw meat can get on the vegetables.

How will you know if you have food poisoning?

Because most food poisoning is mild and goes away after a few days, most people do not go to the doctor. You can usually assume that you have food poisoning if other people who ate the same food also got sick.
If you think you have food poisoning, call your local health department to report it. This could help keep others from getting sick.

Call your doctor if you think you may have a serious illness. If your diarrhea or vomiting is very bad or if you do not start to get better after a few days, you may need to see your doctor.

If you do go to the doctor, he or she will ask you about your symptoms (diarrhea, feeling sick to your stomach, or throwing up), ask about your health in general, and do a physical exam. Your doctor will ask about where you have been eating and whether anyone who ate the same foods is also sick. Sometimes the doctor will take stool or blood samples and have them tested.

How is it treated?

In most cases, food poisoning goes away on its own in 2 to 3 days. All you need to do is rest and get plenty of fluids to prevent dehydration. Drink a cup of water or rehydration drink (such as Lytren, Rehydralyte, or Pedialyte) each time you have a large, loose stool. Sports drinks, soda, and fruit juices have too much sugar and should not be used to rehydrate. Doctors recommend trying to eat normally as soon as possible. When you can eat without vomiting, try to eat the kind of food you usually do. But try to stay away from foods that are high in fat or sugar.

Antibiotics are usually not used to treat food poisoning. Medicines that stop diarrhea (antidiarrheals) can be helpful, but they should not be given to infants or young children.

If you think you are severely dehydrated, you may need to go to the hospital. And in some severe cases, such as for botulism or E. coli infection, you may need medical care right away.

How can you prevent food poisoning?

You can prevent most cases of food poisoning with these simple steps:

* Clean. Wash your hands often and always before you touch food. Keep your knives, cutting boards, and counters clean. You can wash them with hot, soapy water, or put items in the dishwasher and use a disinfectant on your counter. Wash fresh fruits and vegetables.
* Separate. Keep germs from raw meat from getting on fruits, vegetables, and other foods. Put cooked meat on a clean platter, not back on the one that held the raw meat.
* Cook. Make sure that meat, chicken, fish, and eggs are fully cooked.
* Chill. Refrigerate leftovers right away. Don't leave cut fruits and vegetables at room temperature for a long time.
* When in doubt, throw it out. If you are not sure if a food is safe, don't eat it.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Hormone Therapy Raises Ovarian Cancer Risk

Study Shows an Increase in Risk for Estrogen-Only or Estrogen-Plus-Progestin Therapy

Women who are on hormone therapy or who have used it in the recent past are at higher risk of ovarian cancer than women who have never been on hormone therapy, a new study shows.

The increase in risk was found regardless of the hormone dose or formulation, whether hormones were taken by mouth, transdermal patch, or vaginally, or whether the treatment included just estrogen or estrogen and progestin, the researchers say.

The study confirms earlier research linking hormone therapy and ovarian cancer, but the new study is believed to be the largest and most detailed study to date on the topic, says the study's lead author Lina Morch, a researcher at Rigshospitalet, Copenhagen University in Denmark.

"Our study underlines that postmenopausal hormones increase the risk for ovarian cancer," she tells WebMD in an email interview. "Furthermore, this study suggests that no type of hormone seems safe regarding the risk of ovarian cancer -- even at use below four years the risk is increased." Some previous research had not found an increased cancer risk with hormone use of less than five years.

Both estrogen alone and combination therapy that adds progestin boosted risk, Morch says. Her study is published in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Ovarian Cancer and Hormones

In the study, Morch and her team evaluated more than 909,000 Danish women, ages 50 to 79, who were on national Danish registers. After an average of eight years of follow-up, 3,068 cases of ovarian cancer were found. At the end of the study, 63% of the women were never-users of hormone therapy and 9% current users.

Compared to never users, current hormone therapy users had an overall 38% increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Put another way: for every 8,300 women on hormone therapy per year, one extra case of ovarian cancer could be attributed to hormone therapy.

Risk did decline in past users as the years of being hormone-free increased. By the time past users had been off hormone therapy for two years, their risk of ovarian cancer was about the same as for non-users, Morch found. By the time women had been off the hormone therapy for more than six years, the risk of ovarian cancer was nearly 40% less in these past users than the never users. Morch says that finding is based on a low number of women who had quit hormone therapy for more than six years. ''What is important is the risk declines in former users with increasing time since last use,'' she says.

For those currently on hormone therapy, the risk of getting ovarian cancer didn't differ much among the various therapies, doses, or administration, Morch found.

''Ovarian cancer is among the most lethal of gynecologic cancers," Morch says. "The five-year survival rates are 40%." To complicate the issue, ovarian cancer is difficult to detect, and thus often not found until it is in advanced stages.

Previous research has found that current use of hormones raises ovarian cancer risk by 30% compared with no hormone use, with the risk of estrogen-only therapy sometimes found to be higher than combined therapy.

''This study supports an approximately similar increased risk for ovarian cancer disregarding the hormone type," she says.

This year, 21,550 new cases of ovarian cancer are expected in the U.S., with an estimated 14,600 deaths from the disease, according to American Cancer Society estimates.

Second Opinion

"It's a well done study," says Andrew Li, MD, a gynecologic oncologist at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, Los Angeles, who reviewed the study for WebMD. "Their findings are in line with what other people report," says Li, who is also an assistant clinical professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University California Los Angeles' David Geffen School of Medicine.

Like most research, the study has limitations that may have affected the results, Li says, and the authors also acknowledge this. Among the limitations are that the researchers didn't adjust for age at menopause or use of birth control pills; birth control pill use and early natural menopause both reduce ovarian cancer risk.

The main contribution of the new study is to look at large numbers of women who took different types of hormone therapy and determine which type or types carry risk, says Shelley Tworoger, PhD, an assistant professor of medicine and epidemiology at the Harvard School of Medicine and School of Public Health, who has also published her research on hormone therapy and ovarian cancer risk. "The real contribution [of the new study] is that the combined regimen also increases the risk of ovarian cancer," she says. In her research, Tworoger found that estrogen-only therapy boosted risk and a suggestion of an increased risk with estrogen and progestin therapy.

The new research basically confirms what has been shown in previous studies, says Corrado Altomare, MD, senior director of global medical affairs for Wyeth Pharmaceuticals in Collegeville, Pa. "This finding doesn't really change what we know," he tells WebMD. "We actually have a warning in our label about ovarian cancer."

Wyeth's label summarizes the risks found for ovarian cancer with hormone use, using information from various studies.

The best advice for women? "If a woman has a special predisposition for ovarian cancer, she should consider not taking hormones," Morch says. Past users, she says, can be reassured that their risk declines to that of never users after being off the therapy for two years.

Even with the link to ovarian cancer, Morch says, she is not saying hormone therapy should never be used. "Hormones may still have a therapeutic place in women with severe perimenopausal symptoms, and among women going into premature menopause," she says.

Women should talk to their doctor about hormone use, Li says, so the decision can be based on individual risk factors and medical history.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Are Your Friends Making You Fat?

Courtesy of Fitness Magazine

Your BFF could also be your BDD (biggest diet downfall). Here's how to break the pal-pig-out cycle.

Healthy Friendship and Diet Fixes

I was digging into spaghetti Bolognese with my book group the other night when it hit me: My friendships have always revolved around food. As teens, my pals and I scooped chocolate frosting right from the can and ate raw cookie dough by the spoonful at sleepovers. In college, I bonded with my roomies over pizza and beer. As adults, my sporty girlfriends and I lived for our Saturday post-run brunches and our pre-race pasta dinners. Yikes -- were we food-obsessed?

"Eating is a social experience," says Evelyn Attia, MD, director of the Columbia Center for Eating Disorders at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City. "For some of us, it's an activity we do with our friends." Unfortunately, group munching can cause the pounds to add up. When you dine with another person, you consume 35 percent more than you would alone, research shows.

Got a pal (or two) who pushes your all-you-can-eat button? Here's how to ID a chowhound and give your friendship -- and your diet -- a food fix.

Food Friend: The Comfort Queen

You just lost your job. You broke up with your boyfriend. No matter what the crisis, your best pal can see you through -- usually over a pint of mocha fudge ice cream or a package of chocolate chip cookies. "Guys have drinking buddies when they're depressed; women have eating buddies," says Daniel Stettner, PhD, director of psychology at UniSource Health Center in Troy, Michigan. "Unfortunately, what should be a supportive relationship turns into a situation where both women enable each other to eat -- and eat and eat."

Step away from the table: Instead of self-medicating with food, do some cardio. "Exercise is a potent weapon against depression," says Edward Abramson, PhD, a professor emeritus of psychology at California State University at Chico and the author of Body Intelligence. Thirty-minute aerobic workouts three to five times weekly for three months reduce mild to moderate symptoms by nearly half, finds a study from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center. Sign up for a Spinning class or start training for a 5K, and invite your friend to join you. In addition, stop the graze-and-gripe fests. If you need to spill, do it over the phone or when the two of you are on a power walk.

Food Friend: The Party Girl

Your phone rings at 5 p.m. after a crazy day at the office. It's one of your buds, suggesting you both blow off steam by meeting at your favorite watering hole. Three margaritas, a heaping plate of nachos, and an order of chicken wings later, you head home feeling ill.

"Overdrinking and overeating are common ways to cope when you're under stress," says Stacey Rosenfeld, PhD, a psychologist in New York City. Alcohol also loosens inhibitions, which means that you and your friend are much more likely to start diving into the chip bowl.

Step away from the table: Limit time with your partying pal to Friday nights only. If you go to a bar, pick one with few or no appetizers so you're not tempted to overeat, Abramson suggests. When you arrive, order a glass of wine and a glass of water and hold the alcohol in your nondominant hand, says Jackie Keller, RD, a nutritionist in Los Angeles. "Most people drink less with this technique."

Food Friend: The Pig-Out Partner

After she moved into her own apartment last spring, Alina Tuttle-Melgar, 29, accepted a dinner invitation from her new next-door neighbor. The two hit if off, and soon they were spending three or four nights a week together eating hearty dishes like meat loaf and chicken pot pie. On Saturday mornings they went to a local diner, where they ordered huge stacks of pancakes with bacon. "I never ate like that when I was alone," says Alina, an account executive in Boston. Why would someone who normally nibbles on healthy fare like grilled salmon and vegetables suddenly start putting away food like a truck driver? "When you see a friend chowing down on something fattening, it may give you permission to let go," says Martin Binks, PhD, director of psychiatry and behavioral health and research at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center at Duke University. "The guilt is gone, and it's suddenly easy to justify the hot fudge sundae even when you haven't planned to indulge."

Step away from the table: Visit with your pal between meals. "Schedule activities, such as going for a walk, that will keep you so busy you won't have time to think about food," says Abramson. Or suggest that the two of you sign up for a gym membership, so that all your get-togethers revolve around doing something healthy.

Food Friend: The Temptress

Whether it's a pal who's always cooking every time you visit or a friend who likes to surprise you with a batch of homemade brownies or cookies, it's hard not to eat something that looks and smells fantastic and is right in front of you. "Many of us communicate warmth and love through food because that's how we were raised," says Warren Huberman, PhD, a psychologist at New York University Medical Center. There's nothing wrong with a friend occasionally bringing you a treat, of course. But if it becomes a pattern, that's a problem. "A buddy who constantly offers you food may be envious of your weight-loss efforts," says Stettner. "Subconsciously, she might want you to fail -- especially if she needs to lose pounds herself."

Step away from the table: Be open and honest with your pal: Tell her you're trying to watch what you eat, says Judith Beck, PhD, a psychologist in Philadelphia and the author of The Complete Beck Diet for Life. She should get the message. However, "if you find yourself having to explain this to her more than three times, question how good a friend she really is and whether she has her own eating issues or is trying to sabotage your diet," adds Beck. If you still want to save the relationship, find a way to keep your get-togethers food-free: Visit a museum, for instance. If she shows up toting a bag of goodies anyway, it's time to steer clear of her, Beck says.

Food Friend: The Restaurant Junkie

Melissa Gibbs loves to go out to eat with her friends, but the cost has been steep: She's struggled with her weight for years. "When we sit down to dinner, someone orders a round of fancy martinis at 300 calories a pop, then a round of appetizers, and suddenly there's a day's worth of calories sitting on the table and the entree hasn't even arrived yet," says Melissa, a 39-year-old business development manager for a construction company in New Orleans. "Sure, I try to limit my intake or ask the waiter to leave off the mashed potatoes and put the sauce on the side. And all the while, I ignore the fact that I sound like Meg Ryan in When Harry Met Sally."

"A group dinner gives you the green light to eat a lot, because the atmosphere is festive and others at the table are eating a lot too," says Binks. Considering that most restaurants serve gigantic portions and you're likely to be distracted by conversation, you probably won't even realize how much you're consuming until it's too late. "In theory, if you're in tune with your body and know when you've had enough, it shouldn't be a problem," adds Judith Matz, director of the Chicago Center for Overcoming Overeating and the author of The Diet Survivor's Handbook. "But many of us don't listen to those internal cues, and that's where we get stuck."

Step away from the table: Arrive at the restaurant hungry but not famished; snack on a mix of carbs and protein, like a piece of string cheese and an apple, an hour before to take the edge off, suggests Matz. Order what looks appealing, but try to stick to an appetizer and a salad and just one drink, preferably wine, which usually packs less than half the calories of a margarita or a martini. Eat slowly and savor your food, stopping as soon as you start to feel full. (Take the rest home with you for another meal.) If you'd rather have an entree, choose grilled meat or fish, and ask for an extra serving of vegetables instead of a potato or rice. For dessert, order one or two sweets for the table to share.

Finally, help both your waistline and your wallet by making expensive restaurant meals an occasional indulgence. Instead, offer to host a monthly supper club, says Christine Avanti, a nutritionist in Los Angeles. "Ask guests to bring a healthy dish of their choice so you can enjoy each other's company without calorie overload."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Moderate Drinking May Cut Dementia Risk

Study Shows Alcohol Has Potential Benefits in Preventing Dementia

A drink or two a day may help to protect older people from developing dementia.

But once people 75 and older already have mild cognitive impairment, or have been diagnosed with memory loss, any amount of alcohol accelerates the rate of memory decline, says researcher Kaycee Sink, MD, of the Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Many studies have shown that moderate alcohol intake, especially wine, is associated with a lower risk of dementia in healthy middle-aged adults. But it was not known whether this association is also true for older adults or for those with mild cognitive impairment, Sink tells WebMD.

For the new study, the researchers followed 3,069 people 75 and older for six years. At the start of the study, 482 of them had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment.

The study showed that people who drank one to two drinks a day were 37% less likely to develop dementia than teetotalers. It didn't matter whether their drink of choice was wine, beer, or hard liquor.

The reduction in risk is similar to that associated with exercising three times a week or more, Sink says.

Among people who had mild cognitive impairment at the start of the study, those who drank more than two drinks a day were nearly twice as likely to develop dementia, compared with nondrinkers.

The analysis took into account smoking, education, depression, and other factors that can affect the risk of dementia.

The findings were presented at the Alzheimer's Association 2009 International Conference on Alzheimer's Disease.

To Drink or Not to Drink

Sink says no one should start imbibing in an effort to ward off dementia. "But older adults who are already drinking moderately don't necessarily need to cut back if they're cognitively normal," she says.

The study doesn't prove cause and effect. It could be alcohol itself or some other lifestyle factor shared by moderate drinkers that is responsible for the protective effect, Sink says.

But other research has suggested moderate drinking might protect against dementia by increasing levels of good cholesterol and preventing blood platelets from sticking together. It may also stimulate the release of acetylcholine, a chemical that's important for memory, Sink says.

So why didn't it help people with mild cognitive impairment? Sink says any benefits from alcohol may not have been strong enough to slow the degenerative disease process that's already kicked in with people who have mild cognitive impairment.

"Moderate drinking may be protective for healthy adults, but once there are memory problems, it may be very important to curtail that," says Maria Carrillo, PhD, director of medical and scientific relations at the Alzheimer's Association. She moderated a news conference to discuss the findings.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Summer Safety: Protecting Your Family from Environmental Health Risks

As you prepare to let your kids explore the great outdoors this summer, you may have some nagging worries. What chemicals and environmental toxins might lurk in the local pool, lake, or beach? How can you protect your family from them?

The good news is that there are ways you can reduce their exposure to risky chemicals and environmental toxins. Here are outdoor safety tips on how to keep your kids healthy in the water.

Swimming Pools

When many of us were growing up, the summer didn’t really start until the local swimming pool opened. Although you may like the idea of your own kids swimming the day away, you may also have concerns. That crystal blue water may not be as clean as it seems. Water quality can be affected by biological toxins (such as bacteria) or chemical toxicants (such as chlorine). In one corner, you have recreational water illnesses. These include Cryptosporidium, Giardia, and E. coli. Many of these germs are spread by feces, and one person can contaminate an entire pool. Every summer, these infections make thousands of people sick.

In the other corner, you have chlorine. Although it can kill most of those water-borne germs, it’s also a chemical toxicant that poses risks of its own. Chlorine can bind with sweat or urine in pools to form chloramines, which can cause stinging eyes, nasal irritation, and breathing problems. Some studies have found that heavy exposure to chlorinated pools can increase the risk of asthma in children. Although the greatest danger is from poorly ventilated indoor pools, even outdoor pools can cause problems.

So what can you do? How can you balance the risk of waterborne illness with the risks of chemicals like chlorine?

Here are some tips:

If you’re using a local pool, you should:

Ask the management how the pool is sanitized and ventilated.

Talk to a pediatrician about the safety of chlorine exposure for your child.
Only swim in a pool if the water looks clear and not cloudy -- you should be able to see right to the bottom. Although a clear pool could still harbor germs, cloudy water is an indication of a pool that's not being properly maintained.

Touch the sides of the pool before going in -- they should not be slimy or sticky.

Listen to make sure that the filtering equipment is on.

Be wary of a very strong chlorine smell -- it’s a sign of chloramines and poor ventilation.

Tell your kids not to swallow the water in swimming pools -- it’s really best if they don’t get it in their mouths at all.

Protect others by telling your kids to shower before getting in a pool, and by never letting them go in a pool when they’re sick – especially with a stomach bug.

Avoid swimming in a highly chlorinated pool every day:

If you have your own pool at home, you should:

Make sure indoor pools have good ventilation -- just opening the windows and doors can make a big difference in air quality.

Keep your pool free of leaves and insects.If you use chlorine, make sure not to use more than necessary.

If you’re interested, look into alternatives to chlorine for your own pool, or at least ways to reduce the amount you use.

Alternative pool-cleaning methods include ultraviolet light, hydrogen peroxide, and potassium iodine.

What’s the downside? Many of these methods have not been independently tested, so no one knows how well they work. Certainly, don’t just assume that anything called a “natural” alternative to chlorine is preferable.


One way to avoid the conundrum of the unsanitary versus over-chlorinated swimming pool is to swim in natural bodies of water. But there can still be risks of environmental toxins or chemical toxicants. How do you know if the water in the ocean, or lake, or pond, or swimming hole that your kids are splashing around in is actually safe?

It’s not easy to figure out on your own, but Sonya Lunder, MPH, a senior analyst at the Environmental Working Group in Washington, D.C., suggests starting with a phone call. “Call the local department of health,” she says. “They should be keeping an eye on local water quality issues and should give you some guidance.”

The Environmental Protection Agency has some general tips for safe swimming:

Don’t swim after a heavy rain – rains can cause waste water to seep into lakes and oceans.

This should be obvious, but if you see trash in the water, or if it smells bad, don’t go in.

Stay away from potential sources of pollution, like pipes or runoff ditches.

Don’t swallow the water -- and with very small children, try to keep their heads above water.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Our Deepest Sympathy - Ms. Dorothy Kingston

Last night, I learned Mrs. Dorothy Kingston had lost her battle with breast cancer. Ms. Kingston fought hard and had a very strong will to survive. She had been diagnosed in June, 2007.

This post is for Ms. Kingston's family. I hope they find comfort knowing that she is with Our Heavenly Father and is resting, whole once again, at his side. My thoughts and prayers are with them during their time of sorrow.

If you would like to join me in sending your thoughts and prayers to Mrs. Dorothy's family, please leave a comment. I will then attach them to the postcard above and e-mail it to them.

Special Note:

Ms. Kingston was one of my Spirit Jumps, an organization I joined in May. We send cards and gifts to adults and children who are battling cancer and other debilitating diseases.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Stealth Health: Get Healthy Without Really Trying

Living healthier doesn't have to be complicated or time-consuming.

Try the Stealth Health Approach

Pick any three of the following 12 changes and incorporate them into your life for four days. When you feel comfortable with those changes, pick three others. Once you've incorporate all dozen changes, you should start to feel a difference within a couple of weeks.

To Improve Nutrition:

1. Buy whole foods -- whether canned, frozen, or fresh from the farm -- and use them in place of processed foods whenever possible.
2. Reject foods and drinks made with corn syrup, a calorie-dense, nutritionally empty sweetener that many believe is worse for the body than sugar, says Katz.
3. Start each dinner with a mixed green salad. Not only will it help reduce your appetite for more caloric foods, but it also will automatically add veggies to your meal.

To Improve Physical Fitness:

1. Do a squat every time you pick something up. Instead of bending over in the usual way, which stresses the lower back, bend your knees and squat. This forces you to use your leg muscles and will build strength.
2. Every time you stop at a traffic light (or the bus does), tighten your thighs and butt muscles and release as many times as you can. (Don't worry, no one will see it!) This will firm leg and buttock muscles, improve blood flow -- and keep you mildly amused!
3. Whenever you're standing on a line, lift one foot a half-inch off the ground. The extra stress on your opposite foot, ankle, calf and thigh, plus your buttocks, will help firm and tone muscles. Switch feet every few minutes.

To Improve Stress Control:

1. Give your partner a hug every day before work. Studies show this simple act can help you remain calm when chaos ensues during your day, Katz says.
2. Have a good cry. It can boost your immune system, reduce levels of stress hormones, eliminate depression, and help you think more clearly.
3. Twice a day, breathe deeply for three to five minutes.

To Improve Sleep:

1. Sprinkle just-washed sheets and pillowcases with lavender water. The scent has been shown in studies to promote relaxation, which can lead to better sleep.
2. Buy a new pillow. Katz says that studies show that pillows with an indent in the center can enhance sleep quality and reduce neck pain. Also, try a "cool" pillow -- one containing either all-natural fibers or a combination of sodium sulfate and ceramic fibers that help keep your head cool.
3. Eat a handful of walnuts before bed. You'll be giving yourself a boost of fiber and essential fatty acids along with the amino acid tryptophan -- a natural sleep-inducer.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Mom on a Mission

I have recently discovered a site for parents called "Healthy Child, Healthy World". This site is full of wonderful information about children and issues involving their health. Make sure you bookmark them or Join the Movement to receive their communications, action alerts, and trusted information.

I recently contacted "Healthy Child, Healthy World" and requested permission to share their site and information with you. They have graciously accepted my request.

Here is an interesting article I wanted to share with you. I think it is very important to bring attention to those who go above and beyond, if you feel the same, take the time to read this and make your nomination:

We are you know a “Mom on a Mission"?

This October 2009 at our benefit gala – The Healthy Child Healthy World AWARDS - we will honor one special and inspiring American woman, dedicated to creating healthier and happier environments for children and families. This special “Mom” will be flown out to Los Angeles, California, and stay for 2 nights at a local green hotel. During the benefit dinner, this mom will be formally presented the first annual Healthy Child Healthy World “Mom on a Mission” award for her extraordinary service and inspiration. And to top-it-off, the award presentation will be given by an extra-special celebrity presenter!

Want to know how to nominate that special mom, or yourself?

Our judging criteria: We are seeking a heart-lifting, true story that both moves and inspires us about a mother working to create healthier environments for children and families.

Who is a candidate: Any exceptional mother (currently living in the United States) who seeks to make a difference for the better, generously gives back to others, or overcame adversity with courage.

How to enter: ONE nomination per person is allowed. Please enter by sending your “heart-lifting, true story” to:

Submissions should be no more than 750 words in length.

Deadline for Nominations: August 15, 2009, 11:59pm PST.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

FDA May Restrict Acetaminophen

Advisers Tell the Agency to Lower Over-the-Counter Dose of Popular Pain Drug

The FDA should put new restrictions on acetaminophen, an advisory committee recommended Tuesday, saying the move would protect people from the potential toxicity that can cause liver failure and even death.

The FDA does not have to follow its advisory committees’ recommendations, but it usually does. It will likely be months before the FDA makes a final decision on the drug.

You might not know "acetaminophen," because that's the drug's generic name. One of the nation’s top drugs for pain relief, acetaminophen is found in many over-the-counter products -- including Tylenol, aspirin-free Anacin, Excedrin, and numerous cold medicines. It's also found in many prescription drugs.

Billions of doses of acetaminophen are used safely every year. But acetaminophen-related overdoses cause 56,000 emergency room visits, 26,000 hospitalizations, and 458 deaths annually, according to studies done between 1990 and 1998.

Some people inadvertently take more than is recommended. Others -- such as people with underlying liver disease -- are more at risk of liver injury from acetaminophen use. Because acetaminophen is in so many products, people sometimes take two or more products containing acetaminophen without realizing it. That risk extends to children, who may be poisoned because they swallow the medication. Sometimes caregivers mistakenly give children too much acetaminophen.

Acetaminophen: Limiting Dosage Amounts

The advisory committee voted that the single adult acetaminophen dose should be no more than 650 milligrams, significantly less that the current 1,000 milligrams often contained in two tablets of certain over-the-counter pain products. The panel of 37 doctors and other experts also said that the maximum total dose for 24 hours, now at 4,000 milligrams, should be decreased.

Some advisory committee members said the move should help lower the overall amounts of acetaminophen that people take. Some on the panel said they were influenced by research indicating there are changes in liver function in some people who had taken only the currently recommended levels.

Call to Eliminate Some Acetaminophen Products

In a recommendation that would be a real change for the prescription industry, the committee voted 20 to 17 that prescription products that combine acetaminophen with other medications should be eliminated. Today, billions of doses of products are prescribed in which acetaminophen is combined with narcotics, according to the FDA. Some brand-name pain prescriptions containing acetaminophen include Vicodin, Lortab, Maxidone, Norco, Zydone, Tylenol with codeine, Percocet, Endocet, and Darvocet.

The combination of hydrocodone and acetaminophen, for instance, has been the most frequently dispensed drug since 1997, according to the FDA.

Richard DeNisco, MD, MPH, medical officer at the National Institute of Drug Abuse and a panel member, said that so much acetaminophen is going out to people in hydrocodone/acetaminophen mixes that he is uncertain why there is not more liver damage.

Prohibiting these combined products “would rock the system,” he said, but the two products should be prescribed separately, if necessary.

The combination prescription products, which have rapidly increased in use in the last five years, are clearly the biggest cause of the acetaminophen overdose, said Marie Griffin, MD, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University. But she worried that people will simply turn to plain narcotics, if the combinations are eliminated. “We need a broader answer to chronic pain, because these drugs are being used extensively in the older population," Griffin said during the meeting. "And I am not sure that practitioners feel like they have many other choices.”

On the other hand, the committee declined to vote for eliminating combination acetaminophen products that are sold over the counter.

Karl Lorenz, MD, who is with the VA Los Angeles Healthcare System, said that many people are being creative in managing low level chronic pain. “I just think we have to be cautious about eliminating an entire category of products that many people find useful,” he said.

Black Box Warning Advised for Acetaminophen Combination Products

The advisory committee also voted overwhelmingly to recommend that the FDA require a boxed warning -- often called a black box warning -- on the labels of prescription acetaminophen combination products, with members noting this is considered the highest precaution the agency can give.

They also called for limiting formulations of liquid over-the-counter acetaminophen to only one concentration level in order to reduce confusion when people give the medicine to children.

Linda Suydam, president of the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents companies that make over-the-counter products, objected to the committee’s recommendations for new limits on acetaminophen in over-the-counter products.

“CHPA strongly believes that patients and physicians need to have a wide range of dosing available for patients who need their acetaminophen-containing products,” she said, asserting there is little data to support the idea that patients are harmed at current levels.