Category Archives: Health Concerns

Some of the best supplements and strategies for stress management

In this day and age, it's practically impossible to be unaffected by stress. Many people have especially stressful jobs. Others are juggling careers and family responsibilities. Even not having a job can be a significant source of stress. 

While a little extra anxiety now and again may help individuals accomplish tasks when they absolutely have to, ongoing stress can lead to many undesirable health conditions over a long enough period of time. In a September of 2012 article in the Huffington Post, National Institutes of Health visiting scientist George Chrousos said that chronic stress has been linked to depression, migraines and heart attacks. Other sources confirmed that being stressed over long periods of time may harm a person's immune health.

Luckily there are many ways that people can calm themselves down a bit. 

Vitamin B
Mehmet Oz, M.D. encourages people with stress-induced headaches to consider taking up regular consumption of a cocktail of vitamin B supplements – specifically B6 and B2 on his website. Noting that stressful scenarios frequently lead to the body eating up whatever B vitamins it has on reserve, Dr. Oz says that 25 mgs of B2 and B6 a day could help reduce the pain of migraines or tension headaches. 

In addition, when combined with magnesium, vitamin Bs may help some women's health problems that arise under extreme levels of duress, according to Dr. Oz.  

Omega-3 fatty acid
One of the good kinds of fat, omega-3 seems to find its way on quite a few lists of best supplements. Nonetheless, Dr. Oz recommends two to three grams of omega-3 per day for lessening chronic neck, shoulder or hip pain often associated with and enhanced by extended periods of stress.

Mediation
According to the Mayo Clinic, many styles of medication encourage the practitioner to divert his or her attention away from factors in life that may be sources of anxiety. The organization notes that – while many people prefer privacy and quiet for their meditative time – it's not impossible to meditate while going on a walk, riding the bus or in basically any situation where your immediate attention isn't required for something specific. Yoga, an ancient discipline of Indian stretching, is also pointed to by the Mayo Clinic as a good form of stress relief. 

Keep things in perspective
The first thing listed on the website Stress Management Tips is "take a deep breath and count to 10…" which may sound a bit of a simplistic solution. However, when looked at in a broader context, that's actually pretty sound stress management advice. Sometimes it's important to remember that we can't control everything, as much as we'd like to. So when stress starts to feel overwhelming, it might be time to take the old adage "stop and smell the roses" literally. After all, what can flowers do except for alliviate stress? 

Do your favorite things and rest up!
Rest is cited often on lists of best measures against excess stress, but there are types of mental rest apart from sleep. The Mayo Clinic noted that learning a music instrument could aid with keeping stress under control, while Stress Management Tips advises stressed out readers to listen to their preferred types of music. Watching television and reading books could have similar effects, notes the latter source. Exercise is cited as a potential stress reliever, but you could always make exercising about more than health. Those with an adventurous taste for the outdoors could consider mountain climbing. People who prefer to stay close to the ground could, for example, take up tennis. 

But if none of these or other methods of getting stress under control seem to be working, don't hesitate to contact a professional. 

News source point to best diets

Perhaps you've made a New Year's resolution to change your diet, either to lose weight, or with a more specific goal like improving your cardiovascular health in mind. In light of this, a handful of news sources have examined which diets may have the most benefits.

DASH diet
According to U.S. News and World Report, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) Diet, which was originally designed to lower blood pressure, is the simplest to understand, most nutritious, low-risk and overall most effective diet their panel of experts was able to identify.

The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute explains that the DASH diet calls for moderate physical activity, eating certain healthy foods and reducing the amount of fatty or sugary foods consumed on a daily basis. It's possible these minor lifestyle changes will heighten the amount of potassium, calcium, protein and fiber in an individual's body, which could lead to a reduced risk for developing hypertension.

Other top diets
Another diet cited at the top of U.S. News and World Report's list of effective diets includes the Therapeutic Lifestyle Changes (TLC) Diet, created by the National Institutes of Health and endorsed by the American Heart Association. The TLC Diet is thought to have benefits for cardiovascular health and high cholesterol. It's said that the level of low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol, in an individual's blood stream could be reduced by 8 to 10 percent in six weeks if he or she follows the guidance of the TLC Diet. This strategy largely revolves around reducing saturated fat intake, according to the U.S. News and World Report.

Also included in the top five is the Mediterranean Diet, which requires the consumption of plenty of fruits, vegetables, olive oil, fish and a reasonable amount of red wine. This diet is a favorite among some people who want to improve their health while continuing to eat especially tasty foods.  According to the Mayo Clinic, regular adherence to the Mediterranean Diet has been linked to a lessened risk of heart disease death.

In addition to reducing the unhealthy fat individuals consumes, the Mediterranean Diet instructs them to stay physically active, replace butter with olive and canola oil, and doing away with salt in favor of herbs and spices.

Milk: It’s good for your heart, study finds

Researchers have been looking into all the ways milk could affect your body, and recently discovered that dairy consumption could positively impact cardiovascular health. According to a study published in a recent issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC), dairy helps to make arteries more flexible and may even lower blood pressure, helping you live more actively.

The study took place over the past 28 years, following men and women who varied in health. The systolic blood pressure of participants who consumed the most milk was significantly lower compared to those who drank the least dairy, suggesting that milk could be useful for warding off high blood pressure.

Additionally, the study found that arterial elasticity begins early in life, with more milk consumption before puberty leading to greater flexibility.

Kara Marlatt of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis studied the arteries of almost 900 participants between the ages of 6 and 49, and found that men over 18 had significantly higher blood pressures when compared to women of the same age group.

2 cups a day for preschoolers
According to investigators from St. Michaels Hospital in Toronto, children who drink more than two glasses of milk a day may be lowering the iron levels in their body too sharply, causing an increased risk of anemia. Two cups a day are optimal and will provide vitamin D as well as calcium that can improve bone and joint health for children and adults.

St. Michael's researchers followed the dairy intake of 1,300 preschoolers, finding that 3 or more cups of milk was associated with lower levels of ferritin, an intracellular protein that stores iron.

For some children, supplements may prove useful for ensuring they have optimal levels of key nutrients that may not be found in the diet. In particular, those who drink more than two glasses of milk each day may want to consider iron supplements to make up for lost ferritin. Parents should check with pediatricians to ensure that children don't take supplements that might harm their health. 

If I exercise regularly, will I live longer?

Research on the effects of exercise has almost unanimously shown that physical activity can improve heart health and increase blood flow throughout the body, but studies have been lacking as to its effects on longevity, with the most widely cited study involving mice but excluding human correlates. Now, scientists from the University of Melbourne in Australia have shown that for Olympic athletes, exercise does pay – and not just in gold medals.

The study authors determined that Olympic athletes have significant "survival advantage" when compared to non-athlete controls, living on average 3 years longer.

Researchers evaluated records of more than 15,100 Olympic athletes who were active between 1996 and 2010. Among athletes, those who performed in endurance and mixed sports, including running and soccer, had the greatest longevity. David Studdert, ScD, MPH, professor at UM, noted that this may be due to their greater cardiovascular health, which may also lead to healthier immune systems.

The research is promising, although it focuses only on those who have made careers out of their exercise habits and not on those who do it regularly outside of work or family obligations.

"The elite warrior Achilles in Greek mythology was forced to choose between a short glorious life and a long obscure one," the authors told the British Medical Journal (BMJ). "There is no such trade-off for Olympic medalists."

Collision sports show opposite effect
For high-collision sports like football, athletes actually showed lower longevity, on average experiencing an 11 percent higher risk of sudden death as a result of sports-related injuries. For sports with high physical contact and average collision rates, athletes experienced an even greater risk at 16 percent.

Is there a limit to the benefits?
Researchers found that the benefits of physical activity waned after 300 minutes (5 hours) of exercise a week, suggesting that while olympic athletes have it good, those exercising at home may have it almost as nice. However, the scientists noted that additional studies are required to fully understand the phenomenon and determine a peak exercise intensity and timeline for longevity.

Further studies from Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center show that those who live mostly sedentary lives before starting physical fitness regimens are significantly less likely to die suddenly. The results suggest that while exercise has been partially implicated in longevity, it may be particularly useful in preventing cardiovascular impairments – the leading cause of sudden death noted in the study. 

Keeping clean utensils could improve your health

Taking showers, brushing your teeth and washing your clothes are all great ways to stay clean, boost immune health and stay popular with your poker buddies, but what about cleaning your dishes? Many people will leave pots filled with warm, soapy water to remove hard-to-get stains or buy a dishwasher for added efficiency, but some others (cough, college students) may quickly flush a fork under water and place it back in the drawer for future use. New research published in the Springer journal Food and Environmental Virology has shown that this tactic may not only leave your food tasting gross, but like forgetting to wash your hands, may also also cause foodborne illness.

How grime gets into your meals
The leading causes of foodborne illness in the United States are produce and other ready-to-eat foods, which consumers may be less apt to wash, considering that the product either was pre-washed or doesn't require such treatments.

In the first study of its kind, researchers from the Center for Food Safety at the University of Georgia determined that the rate of foodborne illness is higher if produce is cut using unclean utensils when compared to clean ones. Tests were performed with contaminated produce and uncontaminated utensils as well as the other way around.

Researchers found that contaminated utensils, apart from dirtying up your food, can also spread contaminants to other utensils, particularly when they are placed back inside of drawers alongside other items. After being cut with contaminated utensils, previously uncontaminated produce was able to spread contaminants to sterilized utensils, which could then spread the mess on to up to seven further pieces of product.

When does food contamination occur?
Food contamination most commonly occurs during preparation, close to when it is consumed. If the food is heated beforehand, contaminants can be cooked and destroyed, while uncooked foods pose far greater risk and may lead to digestive health problems.

When cooking foods, it can be useful to know where your hands have recently been. It goes unsaid that washing your hands is perhaps the best way to prevent foodborne illness.

Contamination can occur at any time during the process of cultivating, preparing and distributing foods. While cooked foods are less risky, produce can be touched by any number of hands before it reaches your plate, so be sure to always wash it thoroughly before consumption.

Recently, orange and lemon juice extracts have begun to be used for produce cleaning because they offer non-toxic alternatives that effectively remove dirt and grime.

Health tips
According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, you should wash your hands for at least twenty seconds and always with soap and running water. After use, you should wash utensils and also surfaces that foods may have touched directly or indirectly through your hands or other means. The Department recommends using paper towels and clean cloths to wipe surfaces.

For fruits and vegetables, it can be helpful to cut off any damaged or bruised areas before cleaning, and for melons and other large produce with thick skins, using a produce cleaning brush can help remove extra dirt. Washing raw meat is always a bad idea because it takes off the top layer of bacteria and makes it follow wherever the water goes. In other words, washing a raw chicken could fill your sink with harmful bacteria that can splash their way onto nearby surfaces. You don't need to wash eggs because they are cleaned before sale, and extra washing may cut nicks in the shell and cause leaks.

Electronic cigarettes: healthy or not?

Cigarette smoking has been linked to a wide range of conditions affecting heart health as well as immune health, but what about cigarettes' younger electronic cousins? According to new research from the Fraunhofer Institute, electronic cigarettes emit far fewer harmful chemicals when compared to traditional cigarettes, which significantly exceed healthy air levels for the selected harmful agents.

What are electronic cigarettes?
According to Forbes, over 700,000 people worldwide currently use electronic cigarettes daily, either to help them quit smoking or as a long-term alternative. These products deliver nicotine into the bloodstream through water vapor rather than smoke, avoiding many carcinogenic compounds. While no combustion takes place, the nicotine from the tobacco is still delivered with comparable efficacy.

A study of the European Respiratory Society showed earlier this year that, like cigarette smokers, those who use e-cigarettes have greater airway resistance and lower oxygen levels in the bloodstream when compared to nonsmokers. The report claims that these complications could significantly impact health, although the study Included only 32 participants and its findings are preliminary.

Differentiating science
Researchers found that while electronic cigarettes produce some harmful emissions, the chemicals released are far less dangerous and also don't include formaldehyde, among the most deadly ingredients in cigarettes. While nicotine alone may be addictive and the treated water vapor may carry a small odor, researchers believe the vapor in e-cigarettes is too diffuse to be harmful to bystanders.

The main goal of the study was to determine the amounts of propylene glycol, formaldehyde, ultrafine particles and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that were released into the air from cigarettes and e-cigarettes. Scientists compared the two using a 10-liter glass chamber into which they pumped vapors from the products.

"In general, the emissions of VOCs and ultrafine particles when smoking an e-cigarette were lower than the equivalent emissions from a standard cigarette," said lead researcher Tobias Schripp, M.D.

Many politicians, on the other hand, have lobbied against electronic cigarettes, claiming that we cannot know the long-term health effects of the product without better technology to study it. This is somewhat of a catch-22, however, as we may not have that technology for years, by which time we may have even more effective alternatives in place. That said, caution may be a good strategy when using products that are so new to the market, particularly ones that are intended to replicate cigarettes.

Both cigarettes and electronic cigarettes release propylene glycol, a common additive in tobacco.

"While it's true that the electronic cigarette contributes less to indoor air pollution than tobacco cigarettes, it is not entirely emission-free," Schripp said. "Consequently, it seems reasonable to assume that bystanders are exposed to the released vapor and thus 'passive vaping' is possible."

Tobacco cigarettes
Cigarettes are the leading preventable cause of death in the U.S. and according to Dr. Klaus Lessnau, a pulmonary critical care specialist at lenox Hill Hospital in New York, electronic cigarettes may offer fewer negative health effects to who who use them. Regular tobacco products produce more than 1,000 toxic substances, many of which are tar-related and can't be found in e-cigarettes.

Conclusions
At present, doctors are in agreement that e-cigarettes are probably better for you than cigarettes, although most believe that the benefits are small when compared to quitting entirely. Quitting cigarettes may require adherence to a step-by-step program, and those struggling to end their reliance on nicotine may turn to patches or gums. Community programs may also offer behavioral approaches to quitting, which some health specialists believe could be equally as effective as cessation products.  

Intermittent fasting could help weight loss efforts

It can be hard to think that giving up sustenance for a short period could actually improve health, but that's exactly what researchers have found in several recent studies. According to the Mayo Clinic, intermittent fasting – fasting infrequently for 24 hours or less – could improve cardiovascular health and aid in weight management, although researchers are still trying to figure out exactly how the benefits work.

Hunter-forager model of eating
Doctors and nutritionists have been recommending that their patients eat more frequently and in smaller amounts, based on a hunter-forager model of consumption. But according to the British Journal of Nutrition, the most important determinant of weight gain is food intake, and popular tactics to spread out ingestion may not be effective.

Furthermore, eating smaller meals throughout the day may be a bad idea for several reasons. Extra meals, for the most part, tend not to be vegetable- or fruit-based and are often fat-packed snacks and snack mixes intended to hold you over until your next meal.

The other problem is that when you are told to eat more frequently, the natural impulse will be to put yourself somewhere with lots of food nearby, or to "eat all the time" rather than "eat small meals frequently". The Huffington Posts notes that it may not be a coincidence that rates of significant and unhealthy weight gain increased in the 1980s when governments and health organizations were supporting the hunter-forager model.

Benefits of intermittent fasting
Intermittent fasting works for the same reason that scientists believed the hunter-forager model of consumption worked – because it aligns perfectly with our evolutionary history. According to researchers, homo sapiens' food supply was nefarious 250,000 years ago, causing them to frequently take long bouts between meals. This led early humans to build fat and muscle during abundant times and cut back when resources were low. During these times, fasting accelerates the clearing out of dead cells through a process called autophagy.

Infrequent but occasional fasting also appears to increase cellular activity throughout the body. Some scientists believe that to make up for times of lacking resources, our body's upped our mental capacities to help us remember where food was last seen or come up with new solutions to our food insecurity.

Backing research
In a study published in Nutrition Journal, 54 overweight women were randomly assigned to two groups to test responses to intermittent fasting. The first group followed a low-calorie liquid diet for eight weeks that required daily fasting for short periods. The second group followed a low-calorie solid food diet over the same span and fasted one day a week. Both groups then moved to a two-week maintenance program to ensure optimal health and care.

Researchers found that the participants who ate only liquid and fasted daily lost eight pounds on average compared to the solid food average of five pounds, suggesting that daily fasting periods could improve weight loss efforts. The Mayo Clinic notes that intermittent fasting can increase heart health by helping the body to metabolize sugars and lower fat levels in the blood.

Science of aging complicates with new research

The science of aging is poorly understood, simply because for the most part, we don't know why or how aging occurs. New evidence from the Hutchinson Cancer Research Center shows that factors like diet and exercise interact to influence lifespan, and researchers also found that for some, weight management to restrict calorie intake can promote greater life spans.

Mitochondria
Mitochondria are the nutrient-storing mechanisms in cells often likened to batteries, and researchers now believe they could offer significant insights into the science of aging. Daniel Gottschling, Ph.D., and Adam Hughes, Ph.D., lead researchers in the Hutchinson study, observed that mitochondria take on damage as people age.

"Normally, mitochondria are beautiful, long tubes," Gottschling said, "but as cells get older, the mitochondria become fragmented and chunky."

Diet and exercise affect the amount of calories stored in mitochondria as well as how we use them. When we have diets too high in calories, mitochondria can swell or burst, causing a range of health problems. This is one reason why researchers stated that low-calorie weight loss diets could improve longevity for some.

Acidity
Longevity was also linked to the acidity of vacuoles, which are cellular depositories that break down proteins and store nutrients. In yeast cells, vacuoles become less acidic early in life, preventing nutrient storage and leading to the death of mitochondria. When Hughes artificially stopped vacuoles from becoming less acidic, the mitochondria retained their shapes and lived significantly longer. More tests are still needed to determine whether acidifying vacuoles could improve longevity in humans.

Calorie restriction
Calorie restriction increases longevity in yeast, worms, flies and mammals, according to researchers. Calorie restriction works in two ways, by reducing the resources being stored in each cell and by lowering vacuolar acidity. Because organisms differ in how they consume, store and use nutrients more research is needed to fully understand the effects of calorie restriction on humans.

So, why do we age again?
Nobody knows exactly why or how we age, but Gottschling and Hughes hypothesize that age-related cellular death takes place when mitochondria become inactive as a result of low vacuolar acidity. The declining acidity of vacuoles limits how many nutrients they can store, and when these build up elsewhere in the cell, they can flood the mitochondria. The mitochondria then use up all their energy at once, burning their motors out and absorbing the surplus, becoming misshapen and unusable. In effect, this is how Gottschling and Hughes believe humans age. Further research, though, will test the theory's own lifespan. 

Cognitive workouts could help the brain age

Have you ever played Sudoku, a weekly newspaper puzzle or tic-tac-toe? If so, chances are your brain will age in better health than it would have otherwise. Research from Rush University Medical Center and the Illinois Institute of Technology shows that mental activities like reading, writing and playing games can help strengthen neutral synapses and improve brain health.

The study was presented at the 98th annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) and included 152 people at an average age of 81 involved in the Rush Memory and Aging Project, which examines risk factors for cognitive disorders that sprout up later in life. Self reports were used to determine how often participants read newspapers and magazines, wrote letters or played board games or cards.

More mental activity could lead to healthier brains
Researchers found a significant link between greater mental activity and slower rates of cognitive decline, using a type of MRI called Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), which measures how well water molecules travel in the brain. In white matter, water moves parallel to axons and less easily in perpendicular directions, because nerve structures get in the way. DTI measures the difference in water flow from one area of the brain to another, showing scientists the effective strength of resource movement in that region.

"Several areas throughout the brain, including regions quite important to cognition, showed higher microstructural integrity with more frequent cognitive activity in late life," said Konstantinos Arfanakis, Ph.D. "Keeping the brain occupied late in life has positive outcomes."

Keeping a healthy brain
Ensuring your brain is healthy throughout your lifetime isn't just an issue of performing the right mental tasks. It's also important to keep your body in good health so that you have optimal oxygen flow and proper levels of key vitamins and minerals.

Omega-3s have also been shown by some studies to improve cognitive functioning, and it's worth reading up on dark chocolate to see if it may make a nice addition to your snacking. Studies published in the journals Neuroscience and Translational Psychiatry have also shown that exercise can be effective at boosting and maintaining brain health.

Since 2006, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been running the Healthy Brain Initiative, which helps guide people on healthy aging practices that can benefit their brain. According to a 2011 Healthy Brain Initiative report, risk factors for cognitive decline include poor nutrition, lack of exercise and absent social engagement. The CDC notes that among adults aged 60 and older, approximately 13 percent have perceived cognitive impairments. 

Too much or too little exercise can damage bone health

Many people have recurrent knee pain throughout the day and during winter months, and according to new research from the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA), particularly high or low levels of physical activity could be partly to blame.

Researchers from the University of California in San Francisco (UCSF) had previously shown that cartilage degeneration increases with physical activity. A more recent study from UCSF examines changes in cartilage health among different age groups over a four-year period. Using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), researchers found that among the 205 patients aged 45 to 60 years, high impact activities such as running were associated with poorer bone and joint health. Particularly low activity levels produced similar results.

Almost half of Americans experience significant knee problems during their lifetimes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and by 2030 an estimated 67 million American adults are expected to suffer from poor joint health in their hands and feet.

Getting stronger bones
Bone health is important throughout life and can be improved by taking small steps, like changing diet and altering exercise type and extremity. We reach peak bone mass, the genetic potential for bone density, soon after adolescence. The CDC says that our bone mass significantly decreases as we age, making us more susceptible to bone and joint problems.

Proper calcium consumption is important for bone health because our bones are partly made up of calcium and require the nutrient to build and heal. Vitamin D, commonly found in fortified milks and cereals, helps the body to absorb calcium.

While research shows that large amounts of weight-bearing exercise can harm bones and joints, moderate levels have not been shown to damage bone health, and in adolescents have been shown to actually increase bone mass. Walking, jogging, basketball, hiking, soccer and a range of other activities, performed daily in intervals no shorter than 30 minutes, can keep bones flexible and healthy while also helping you to meet physical activity recommendations. However, for those with knee and joint problems, swimming may be a great way to engage the body without sanding down joints.

Preventing bones from softening early on is a good way to ensure you have high levels of mobility later in life. No matter your age, consuming foods that are high in calcium, like dark green leafy vegetables, dairy products and nuts, is a tried-and-true plan to improve bone health.