Thursday, 22 December 2016

Self-Care for Lower Back Pain

It must have been that super-strenuous spin class I took last week, when my mind fooled me into believing I was 35 but my body stubbornly acted its age. Energized but exhausted, I continued this self-deception by joining a friend after class in some challenging new ab work. She showed me new moves she’d recently learned. I struggled to keep up with her, but my body protested until I graciously bowed out.

What happened the next day wasn’t pretty. The minute I got out of bed I knew something was wrong. Pain shot through my right leg and then the leg buckled, threatening to throw me to the ground. And at frequent intervals throughout that day, that strange sensation threw me into fits of grimacing and grabbing onto the closest thing within reach to steady myself. Fortunately, I was in my house working, and no one except my dog could see my twisted expressions (and it didn’t seem to faze her one bit—she’s old; what can I say?) Except, that is, when hubby returned from work that night. “That’s just not normal!” he said, the first time he witnessed my sudden near-collapse. “There’s something wrong!” he insisted.

I figured I’d injured myself the day before and this is what I got … but then I guess his worry became contagious and suddenly seized my more sensible thoughts. Nasty contemplations ran through my head: A blood clot? Some rare neurological disease? A bone/circulation/muscular disorder?
I called my doctor the next day and described what was happening. “It’s most likely your lower back,” he said. “That’s common.” I decided to wait a few days for it to improve. And the next morning, when I got out of bed, my lower back was sore—but the leg only buckled once or twice. And by the day after that … voila! My leg stayed as steady as the proverbial rock.

I’m sure you can relate to lower back pain; if you can’t, you’re in the minority. Up to 80 percent of us experience it at one point or another. It’s so prevalent that it is estimated to cost Americans at least $50 billion each year in the quest for relief, and comes in second (behind headaches) as the most common neurological complaint in the United States.

Fortunately, I’m pretty much on the mend now, my back feeling (almost) back to normal. But I realize I’m lucky: many lower back aches take much longer to go away. Mine was caused by a sports injury, most likely pushing myself beyond my limit for that day, or positioning myself incorrectly on the bike. Others might experience back pain after lifting something too heavy, gardening or an event as innocent as sneezing, coughing or just turning around too quickly. Or a degenerative condition like arthritis may be to blame. And then there’s always another cause—that “A” word. Aging. Our bone strength and muscle tone elasticitydecrease with age; discs begin to lose their cushioning fluid and flexibility.

But back pain does not have to equal surgery. Most people do recover, in time, with some self-care.
Ice or heat: Compresses may help reduce pain and inflammation. Time matters: As soon as possible, apply a cold pack or cold compress to the tender spot for up to 20 minutes several times daily; a bag of ice or even a bag of frozen peas wrapped in a towel will work. After two to three days, switch over to heat to relax muscles and increase blood flow to the area. And there’s nothing more soothing than a warm, relaxing bath.

Rest: I remember long ago when bed rest was the standard treatment for back pain. I don’t know about you, but I feel much better when I’m up and about; things seem to stiffen up when I sit or lay flat. And studies have backed that up, finding that people who continue with their activities tend to appear to have better back flexibility than those who rested in bed for a week. Caution: there are some instances where rest is necessary and the preferred treatment. And when you do rest, lying on your side with a pillow between your knees can take some of the pressure off your muscles; or try lying on your back with a pillow beneath your knees.

Exercise: Gentle exercises can speed recovery and keep flexibility at its peak. This may include swimming, walking and movement therapy, which can develop better posture and coordination. Yoga and gentle stretching also might be effective ways to manage lower back pain. And there’s a lot to be said, psychologically, for feeling like you’re in control and actively doing something to help yourself. (Don’t get overzealous, though: If you feel pain that goes beyond mild and lasts more than 15 minutes during exercise, stop what you’re doing. Don’t push yourself to do something that causes even more pain. Stay within your limit and listen to your body.)

Alternative treatments: Needles may sound scary, but these tiny, hair-thin flexible needles (in fact, it’s hard to really call them “needles” in the conventional sense) can trigger the release of endorphins, the body’s naturally occurring pain relievers. Acupuncture dates back centuries, but studies have shown it to be superior to medications or physical therapy in treating chronic back pain. Although acupuncture is controversial among many Western scientists and physicians, others support it. The WHO (World Health Organization) has found it effective in treating 28 conditions.

In addition, some people (about 22 million Americans visit them annually) swear by chiropractors, who gently manipulate and align the spine and may also incorporate other treatments such as ultrasound, massage,biofeedback and nutritional therapy.

Therapeutic touch and Reiki are “energy-based” techniques that don’t involve direct physical contact. They are thought to help activate the body’s own self-healing capacities. The jury is mixed on their efficacy, though, for many, they may help ease the a***y associated with pain and thus might relieve muscle spasms associated with stress.

Medications: Many people find they are able to manage their pain with over-the-counter remedies like ibuprofen, aspirin or naproxen. Prescription drugs like muscle relaxers, opioids, anticonvulsants and even some antidepressants are sometimes recommended to manage moderate to severe pain. (But please remember to always check with your doc before taking drugs to manage pain; even over-the-counter medications can be unsafe in certain instances and can conflict with other medications or herbal supplements you might be taking.)

And then, there’s more: More approaches to treat back pain include injections of local anesthetics, steroids or narcotics into affected areas; traction, TENS (transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation) and ultrasound.

Spinning class will have to do without me for now, although I must admit, I miss the challenge. Perhaps the next time I go, I’ll forgo the after-class exercises with my friend and instead use that time for some gentle stretching and catching up.

Living With COPD

I was diagnosed with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) in January 1999 after spending six weeks getting over pneumonia. It was at a follow-up visit that my primary care doctor said, while listening to my lungs, “I don’t hear much.”After all those weeks of coughing, wheezing and gurgling when I breathed, I thought that was a good thing. It was a surprise when he said, “No, it isn’t a good thing.

He had already taken X-rays and checked my oxygen levels. He said he thought I had COPD. At my puzzled expression, he explained what COPD is, but all I caught was the word “emphysema.” I vaguely thought of an old man with a walker and oxygen and decided the doctor was wrong. How could I have emphysema? I was still relatively young and healthy. He encouraged me to see a pulmonologist and quit smoking, and he signed me up for pulmonary rehabilitation.

I left his office in shock and partial denial—I say “partial” because, like many smokers, I was always waiting for the sky to fall. Aside from feeling weak from the pneumonia, I felt fine and healthy. I had two children, one an undergraduate in college and one working on her master’s, and an aging mother, who needed me. I also owned a small business that had finally turned profitable after years of struggle. I needed to be well.

After much research and a visit with a pulmonologist, I began to understand the seriousness of my COPD. I joined a pulmonary rehab group and continued to educate myself about my disease, which was a bit of a challenge 13 years ago. There was little information available. I felt truly alone and very afraid, so I set out to take more control over my disease. I quit smoking, which was one of the hardest things I have ever done, and took my medications as prescribed. When pulmonary rehab was over, I continued to exercise and eat nutritiously. These helped me feel significantly better.

During my first few years with COPD, I became involved in speaking with others about COPD and working with organizations that asked me to help spread awareness. You see, I found out by then that I was lucky to have been dia

5 Tips to Liven Up a Tired Face

For the last month I have been completely entrenched in the process of moving. The chaos of this has left me running on a lot less sleep than normal. Add that lack of snoozing to my winter-pale skin and most mornings I don’t look like the liveliest of ladies. Luckily, however, I have a few tried and true tips on how to fake a rosy, I’ve-had-plenty-of-sleep look when you’re feeling tired and pasty.

1. Work Out

Yes, this seems counterintuitive; you’re already tired so why would you want to work out? Well, it may not be the most fun thing in the world but an early morning gym visit means you get that awesome post-workout glow. A little brisk walking, running or even doing a DVD in your living room will get your blood pumping and wake up your complexion.

2. Drink Water

It may seem obvious, but so many of us skip water in favor of coffee (or nothing) in the morning. After your workout, carry a bottle of water around the house and drink it while you get ready. It’ll hydrate and plump up your skin cells, giving you a healthier look. For an added benefit, squeeze in some fresh lemon juice to perk up your metabolism!

3. Use Herbal Eye Pads

When I am really in need of a facial refresher, I use herbal eye pads to combat black under-eye circles and puffiness. You can find these at many health food stores and online. The herbs in the pads soothe swelling and increase circulation, and certain formulas contain ingredients that will dramatically lighten dark circles.

4. Use Highlighter

Several cosmetic brands have excellent highlighter creams that will give you a refreshed look. These formulas often contain light-reflecting particles that give your skin a gorgeous glow. Apply your makeup as you normally would, then sweep a pea size amount of highlighter across the tops of both your cheekbones. You’ll look more awake in seconds. Dabbing some highlighter (or a very light shade of eye shadow) under the arches of your eyebrows and in the corners of your eyes will liven up your eyes as well.

5. Mascara and Blush Are Musts

Even if you aren’t normally the makeup wearing type, these two products are necessary when you need to look like you’ve had a good night’s sleep. Mascara will make your eyes look bigger and more open. A blush with pink tones and even a touch of shimmer will bring life to your cheeks.

Protect Yourself: Keeping Your Medication Usage Safe

Prescription medication usage is rising. Over the last 10 years, the percentage of Americans who took at least one prescription in the past month climbed from 44 percent to 48 percent, says the CDC. And there was a similar climb for people using two or more and five or more. The average American fills 12 prescriptions each year, with 40 percent of adults over 60 taking five or more drugs.

I’m not anti-medicine; sometimes it’s necessary, useful and beneficial. But what’s frightening to me is how many people abuse prescription medications, take them incorrectly or don’t take them at all when they’re clearly needed. What happens next is even scarier: serious injuries or even death.
Another problem with medications is the dangers of overprescribing.

Every medication you take comes with side effects. Many times—and this increases along with the number of prescriptions you take—a person complains about a side effect (not realizing it’s just that), and gets yet another medication to treat the side effect. And so on.

That’s known as a “prescription cascade,” and it’s just that: a snowball effect. Before you know it, you have a LOT of bottles treating everything from fatigue to nausea, skin irritation and muscle aches—and it’s tough to determine if those problems are new illnesses or are caused by medications you’re taking.

So many of us have heard those stories—and they often involve older people. Many older people have all sorts of problems and health complaints that no one seems able to figure out. Then, they go into the hospital or a nursing home and bring their cache of medications with them. An astute doctor or nurse realizes that something is clearly up and starts eliminating, one by one, certain medications. Remarkably, the person’s health vastly improves, and many of his or her complaints disappear.
Please read these helpful tips from the FDA. They pertain to both prescription and over-the-countermedications.

Click image to enlarge

And speaking of medicines, have you ever wondered what the right way is to dispose of them? Well, wonder no more.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers these suggestions:

Never flush any medication down the toilet, unless package instructions specifically say to do so. Trace amounts of birth control pills and painkillers have been found flushed into rivers from sewage treatment plants.

Ask your local police department if it offers a drug collection program.
Find out if your community has a household hazardous waste collection program.
If you must dispose of a medication yourself, dispose of it in a sealed container with coffee grounds, kitty litter or something else that will discourage people from digging through the mixture.

The Surprising Secret to Glowing Skin

As a product junkie I’ll admit that having great creams and cosmetics in your arsenal helps make stunning skin more attainable, but what I’ve learned is to get truly radiant skin you have to get green.
Last year I began starting my day with a green smoothie for breakfast. Loading up on this concoction of leafy greens and fruit each morning has transformed my skin. It is packed with beneficial nutrients that make skin glow and hair shine with health.

Even if you faithfully chow down on a green salad every day for lunch, you’ll see a big positive change in your skin and hair if you add a morning smoothie to the mix. Blending greens breaks them down and allows your body to soak up all the nutrients they contain faster and more easily than chewing.

More reasons to try green smoothies:

Fiber! Green smoothies are packed with fiber, and that means a healthy digestive system for you; flushing toxins is key to healthy skin.

Antioxidants are essential to great skin; you’ll find a slew of beauty products that contain them and tout their benefits. However, the best way for your body to get antioxidants is through food, and green smoothies are the easiest way to do that.

In addition to glowing skin, green smoothies balance your body’s PH and provide so much energy you will likely need less caffeine (I’ve gone from three cups of coffee per day to one).
Adding a green smoothie to your diet is easy. All you need is a blender, some fruits and veggies and a good recipe. You can make a blender-full at night and keep it refrigerated until the next morning. One blender-full is two servings for me.

By adding a green smoothie to your daily nutrition plan, you’ll see a difference in your skin and hair in just a few weeks. Let me know if you try it out!

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Words That Can Mislead You into Thinking “Healthy”

Do some of your New Year’s resolutions include eating healthier?
Nothing wrong with that.
But it pays to be not only educated, but also specific.
Looking for wholesome and nourishing foods can be confusing. Food items with words like “healthy,” “natural” and “multigrain” might fill your shopping cart and make you feel virtuous, but the truth is, they should be approached with caution.
For fun, I recently took a look at Lake Superior State University’s 38th annual List of Banished Words, a list based on nominations from the United States, Canada and beyond. Along with “fiscal cliff,” “boneless wings” and “bucket list,” I’d like to add a few of my own, including “foodie,” “awesome” and “no worries.” Let’s also banish the word “superfood,” which made me think about other food terms that are overused or, worse, misleading.
Multigrain. We all know that we should eat more grains—and maybe that’s why this word sounds so healthy. But what we need to eat are whole grains—and multigrain does not mean whole grains. (The same goes for the term “seven-grain.”)

Whole grain means that all parts of the grain kernel are used. By leaving the grain whole, certain nutrients, fiber and other healthy plant compounds that are found naturally are preserved. In refined grains, the healthiest portion of the grain is stripped away.

Multi- or seven-grain products might be a combination of grains, but those grains are not necessarily whole. Your multigrain bread, crackers or cereal might, instead, simply be refined flour with caramel coloring.

To do: Look for the word “whole” in the ingredient list, as in “whole-wheat flour.”
READ: 10 Sneaky Ways to Get More Fruits and Veggies in Your Diet
Natural. There’s no formal definition by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the word “natural” to appear on food labels. Instead, the FDA’s policy is that the term must be “truthful and not misleading” and that the product doesn’t contain added colors, artificial flavors or “synthetic substances.” The product’s ingredient list may not contain the word “natural,” except when the word is used in the phrase “natural flavorings.”

Room for interpretation? Perhaps. Here’s how: a food label may say “natural” but still contain preservatives—or, as is the case with raw chicken, be injected with sodium or other preservatives. For meat and chicken, the FDA allows the word to be used on products that are minimally processed and contain neither artificial nor added color. Also, some natural products may contain high-fructose corn syrup. (The excuse that companies may use for this one: Because it comes from corn, it’s healthy. It’s not.) Even processed foods may sometimes bear the label “all natural.”
READ: Make Your Recipes Healthier

No Sugar Added. If you’re concerned about calories and carbs, possibly because you have diabetes or want to prevent diabetes, these three words might entice you. But this doesn’t necessarily mean that the food contains no sugar.

A word to the wise: Foods like milk, fruits and vegetables contain sugar—it’s in there naturally—so technically, it’s not “added.” Those sugars may be healthier choices than processed foods with added sugars, because they may contain more fiber or other healthy nutrients, but you still should be aware of the sugar.

And, just because there’s no added sugar does not mean there are no calories or carbohydrates. “No sugar added” products may contain other added ingredients like malodextrin (a sweetener made from rice, corn or potato starch), which is a carbohydrate. They may also contain added salt or have a high fat content to add flavor not provided by the absent sugars.

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Resources for Health Care Professionals

Welcome to HealthyWomen’s new For Professionals channel, where women like us who are health care providers can find industry news, information and printable patient-education resources. As a nurse practitioner (NP) I know all too well the time constraints associated with office visits. To be able to build on the foundation you’ve established in the exam room, with trusted, medically reviewed health content that’s easy for patients to understand—that’s a win-win for patients and health care providers alike.

This resource could not come at a more crucial time for NPs like me. With the recent election results, it is evident that health care reform, otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act, is here to stay. Within the next two years, if federal health care reforms proceed as expected, roughly 30 million uninsured people in the United States will be newly insured and trying to find new health care providers.

This creates a huge problem because, according to research in the Annals of Family Medicine, leading medical researchers project that the United States will experience a shortage of about 52,000 primary care physicians by 2025. We are already seeing a mass exodus in doctors from primary care. There are major Medicare cuts happening, and they will continue to happen as states look for ways to make up budget shortfalls. For this very reason, many physicians are choosing to specialize, as opposed to entering primary care.

It is truly a time for NPs to step up and take an active role in health care reform.

For nearly a half-century, NPs across the United States have provided comprehensive, cost-effective, patient-centered services to millions of Americans in need of primary, acute and specialty health care services. But right now there are bills in congress, including in my own state of Tennessee, that would place new limits on the types of procedures NPs can perform.

Recently, the Institute of Medicine, together with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, released a report addressing some of the current challenges to the health care system. The report strongly recommended that advanced practice registered nurses—including nurse practitioners—be allowed to practice to the full scope of their abilities and that unnecessary barriers to that practice should be removed.

As many of you are aware, NPs are advanced practice nurses who provide high-quality health care services similar to those of a physician. We diagnose and treat a wide range of health problems and offer a unique approach that stresses both care and cure. Besides clinical care, NPs focus on health promotion, disease prevention, health education and counseling. We help patients make wise health and lifestyle choices. We are truly a patient’s partner in health.

NPs have graduate, advanced education and clinical training beyond their registered nurse preparation. Most have master’s degrees and many have doctorates.
From treating illness to advising patients on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, we provide a full range of services, including:

Order, perform and interpret diagnostic tests such as lab work and X-rays
Diagnose and treat acute and chronic conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, infections and injuries

Prescribe medications and other treatments
Manage patients’ overall care
Spend time counseling patients
Help patients learn how their actions affect their health and well-being

And patients who see NPs report an extremely high level of satisfaction with the care they receive.
Healthcare in America today faces many obstacles, most notably rising costs and the shortage of available health care providers. We have the chance right now to play a part in solving the health care problems we currently face in the United States.

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Which Kind of Yoga Class Is Right for Me?

The beauty of yoga is, like brands of shampoo, there are different kinds for each taste preference and desire. Depending on what’s available in your community, options can range from “power yoga,” which often includes a fast-paced flow of sequences (sometimes called vinyasa) with intermittent challenging holds to Kundalini yoga, which focuses more on breath work and mantras.

What are you looking to achieve from your yoga class?

Are you looking for a good workout to enhance your overall fitness routine? Perhaps power, Ashtanga or a vinyasa flow yoga class would be best for you. These classes are faster paced and often more physically demanding. If you like it hot, try Bikram or hot yoga. Make sure to listen to your body in these classes, so as to not overdo it and hurt yourself.

Do you want to increase your connection to your breath while exercising and achieving stress relief?Most yoga practices aim at connecting the body to the breath, but if you’re just starting out, try hatha or restorative class for a slower-paced flow that will help you to get the hang of it. Kripalu yoga aims at achieving stress relief by observing the sensations in your body (I love this type of practice for an early morning class).

Are you coping with a chronic condition or injury that you think yoga can help with? A slow-paced restorative yoga could be good for you, but the most important thing is to talk to your yoga teacher about whatever specific needs you might have.

Are you looking for a place to get in touch with your spirituality and connect with others? Classes that incorporate prayers and mantras might be best for you. For example, Naam combines Kundalini yoga with the principles of Kabalah. It combines movement, pranayam (rhythmic breathing) and mudras (hand positions). I recently had the pleasure of taking a class and was able to chat with Naam instructor Kelley Black who talked about what she sees as the benefits of this type of practice. “Naam yoga provides the just-in-time technology that enables the practitioner to adapt to constant change, embrace ambiguity, as well as recalibrate careers, health, business models and assumptions about what it takes to thrive, not merely survive in the age of information overload.”

Choosing the right yoga class can depend on a lot of things, even your mood. Some days, I like to challenge myself with more strenuous flows, and other days, I like to breathe and just roll around on the floor a bit. But whatever choice I make, I always go home feeling like a new person.

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Let’s Raise a Toast to Health

Cheers to the holidays! But before we get carried away, here are some tips on holiday drinking and health.

You may have heard that drinking alcohol can benefit your heart. However, alcohol can also damage your heart. The key is moderation—both during the holidays and throughout the year.

Most experts agree that you should not start drinking just for the health benefits, and, if you do drink, do so in small doses. Here’s some advice from Jonathan Fong, MD, a cardiovascular, thoracic and vascular surgeon with the Venice-Ocala Heart Institute in Venice, Florida.

“The possible heart benefits of alcohol primarily have to do with its effect on atherosclerosis,” Dr. Fong says. “This condition occurs when cholesterol deposits build up in the arteries, potentially leading to a heart attack. Alcohol—in moderation—may decrease the chances of developing this disease.”

Does the Kind of Alcohol Matter?

You may have heard that red wine can help prevent heart disease . This is true of all forms of alcohol, but red wine has one additional ingredient that may give it the edge as your beverage of choice. The antioxidant resveratrol comes from the grape skins used to make wine and helps protect the lining of the heart’s bloodvessels. Because red wine is fermented with these skins longer than white wine, red wine contains more of this healthy ingredient, Dr. Fong explains.
New research, however, suggests that white wine may provide the same heart-healing benefits as red because the pulp of the grapes used can be just as heart-healthy as the skin.

“But before you pop that cork, it is important to know that you can get the same antioxidant benefits from fresh grapes or grape juice. So, for those who do not currently drink alcohol, these may be a better option for getting heart-healthy resveratrol,” Dr. Fong adds.

Some studies suggest the folate in beer may help lower the risk of cardiovascular disease. When it comes to hard liquor, a French study found it does help reduce bad cholesterol, but not as much as red wine, and it can cause other unfavorable side effects.

So, before enjoying a few drinks to possibly benefit your heart, remember that restraint is key. “Healthy ‘doses’ of alcohol are small ones and only beneficial for some—not all—people,” says Dr. Fong. “And, these amounts differ between men and women.”

How Much Is Healthy?

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), moderate drinking for healthy women means no more than one standard drink per day, and for men, no more than two glasses per day. That doesn’t mean a tumbler filled with alcohol or a giant balloon wine glass filled to the brim. And keep in mind that the alcohol content of different types of beer, wine and distilled spirits can vary substantially.
A standard drink contains about 14 grams of alcohol (0.6 fluid ounces or 1.2 tablespoons), which is typically equivalent to:

12 ounces of beer or wine cooler
4-5 ounces of wine
1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor
1 ounce of 100-proof liquor

This is intended to measure the amount consumed on a single day and does not represent an average over several days. (In other words, if you don’t drink all week and then down seven drinks at a holiday party, it’s not the same as having one drink a day.)

“Strictly staying within these guidelines is the only way to gain any heart-healthy rewards,” Dr. Fong says. Also, if you have a chronic health condition or take certain medications, you may have increased risks from drinking alcohol. Women are more vulnerable than men to certain alcohol-related health problems such as organ damage, trauma and relationship problems.

Remember, drinking alcohol won’t magically improve health. Many lifestyle changes have proven to be more beneficial than alcohol consumption in promoting heart health: exercise every day and eat a low-fat, low-sodium diet.

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Friday, 9 December 2016

Kate Middleton’s Pregnancy Symptoms: What Is Hyperemesis Gravidarum?

Britain’s Royal family announced that the Duchess of Cambridge Kate Middleton is pregnant and was admitted to a London hospital with severe morning sickness. The hospitalization prompted an early public announcement of the pregnancy — she is said to be less than 12 weeks pregnant.

Morning sickness is often the first sign of pregnancy. It can occur as early as two to eight weeks. Nausea tends to happen because elevated hormonelevels may cause food to empty the stomach slowly. Also, pregnancy may make women more sensitive to smells, making certain odors more likely to trigger nausea.

First Signs of Pregnancy

Up to 90 percent of pregnant women experience nausea with or without vomiting and there are things they can do to generally alleviate symptoms, including:

    Eating saltine crackers or dry bread just before bed at night and first thing in the morning
    Eating smaller, more frequent meals so the stomach never completely empties
    Avoiding greasy or fatty food
    Drinking fluids between rather than during meals
    Getting enough rest and taking breaks when energy levels flag
    Avoiding highly seasoned foods, cream and strongly flavored vegetables such as onions
    Taking a total of 1 to 1.5 grams of powdered ginger in divided doses throughout the day (upon advice of a health care professional)
    Taking 25 mg three times a day of vitamin B6 alone or with the antihistamine doxylamine (upon advice of a health care professional)

Pregnancy A-Z Guide

But up to 2 percent of pregnant women suffer from a very severe form of “morning sickness” called hyperemesis gravidarum, which causes extreme nausea and vomiting. For these women, nausea and vomiting may continue all day, every day, and can last beyond the first trimester when morning sickness often subsides. Pregnant women who experience weight loss of more than 5 pounds during the first trimester due to severe nausea and vomiting should discuss the topic of hyperemesis gravidarum with their health care professional. The severity of symptoms can lead to serious complications that may prevent sufficient weight gain for a healthy pregnancy. General guidelines from the Institute of Medicine recommend that women who were underweight before getting pregnant gain 28 to 40 pounds during pregnancy; normal weight women gain 25 to 35 pounds; overweight women gain 15 to 25 pounds; and obese woman gain between 11 and 20 pounds.

Pregnancy Nutrition Dos and Don’ts

The good news is that morning sickness is associated with lower risks of miscarriages and stillbirths and is generally viewed as a sign that hormone levels are rising normally, establishing the placenta.

The Latest Breast Cancer News

More than 230,000 new cases of breast cancerare expected to be diagnosed in our country in 2011. Though death rates are declining by 31 percent, incidence rates are not keeping pace, only declining by about 5 percent. And since less than 10 percent of the cases are genetic, clearly more needs to be learned about ways to prevent the disease.

Because I’m both a breast cancer survivor (just passed year 23!) and a health writer, many people come to me with questions or advice about breast cancer. And it’s sometimes hard, really, to know what to say since despite my close relation to the disease, I’m NOT a doctor. Yet it’s that combination of curiosity and professional obligation that keeps me busy keeping up with the latest (or trying to, anyway). I don’t expect everyone to follow the news on this disease like I do; but being that we’re all women (OK, I know some men are reading so here’s my chance to say thanks for that!), I’m certain that you might be curious, too.

Though October and breast cancer awareness month have long gone, last week felt like it was October once again. The topic was all over the news after a report by a respected panel of science advisors, paid for by the Susan G. Komen breast cancer foundation, was presented at a major cancer conference in Texas. In case you missed the latest, here’s a round-up of what’s been out there.

Some of it is not new and might not surprise you (like smoking being a probable cause); some of it might anger you, especially if you are an environmentalist and believe in chemical policy reform (like BPA evidence being “biologically plausible” but not conclusive); some of it might scare you (like two to three abdominal CT scans being the equivalent of the radiation atomic bomb survivors received).

Ways to lower our risk of breast cancer:

    Avoid unnecessary or too much medical radiation (especially during childhood).
    Don’t take combination estrogen–progestin hormone therapy for menopause.
    Limit alcohol use.
    Don’t smoke; if you do, then quit (it’s possible, too, that secondhand smoke presents a risk).
    Avoid excess weight after menopause (fat tissue is the body’s main source of estrogen after menopause).

Other “possible” causes for increased risk include benzene and a few other chemicals in the workplace, breathing car fumes or pumping gas. The jury might still be out, but many groups firmly believe that there is a definitive connection. To me, that signals the wisdom in erring on the side of caution.

According to the panel of independent experts who advise the government, these are things we can worry less about:

    Hair dye
    Radiation from cell phones, microwaves and electronic gadgets

And then, there are things we should do more of, like increase physical activity.

You might be thinking, “I already know all this. It’s nothing new!” I’m sorry. I wish there was more I could tell you that you probably don’t already know. But at least The Institute of Medicine is recommending improving the tools for epidemiologic research and for testing of chemicals and other substances, as well as developing effective preventive interventions and improving communication about the risks.Other news:

For the 45,000 women who are diagnosed with DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ), the earliest form of breast cancer, a new genetic test might be effective in identifying those who are least likely to suffer a recurrence. It’s unclear whether or not this type of cancer (or pre-cancer, as many people think it should be called) should even be treated; so far, many commonly opt for lumpectomy and/or radiation.

Increased consumption of foods rich in carbohydrates, especially starches, may boost the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Though researchers did not target the exact foods, refined carbs like white breads and white pasta, contain more starch than whole grains.

Essential Vitamins for Strong Bones

If you think weakness and brittle bones are an inevitable result of aging, think again. As women, we play many important roles in life, from caregivers to career women, and weak bones can cramp our style. However, it’s possible to feel strong and agile at any age, especially if you take the right measures for maintaining healthy bones.

One way to build strong bones is to get ample calcium in your daily diet. This nutrient builds strong teeth and bones and helps to maintain regular circulation, muscle action and nerve function. Some foods high in calcium include yogurt, cheese, canned salmon or sardines with bones, collard greens, tofu, figs, broccoli, spinach and almonds.

However, the reality is that 81 percent of adult women do not get enough calcium from diet alone, leaving their bodies to steal it from their bones. In these cases, a calcium supplement can be helpful.

But don’t forget about calcium’s necessary sidekick, vitamin D. As we age, our body’s ability to absorb calcium diminishes, which is why we must have adequate levels of vitamin D, the so-called “sunshine” vitamin, to help our bodies to absorb calcium and maintain enough calcium and phosphate in our blood so it doesn’t get pulled out of bone. It also enables bone growth and the breaking down and building up of bone.

Leading experts believe up to 77 percent of Americans have insufficient levels of vitamin D, thus increasing their risk for falls and fractures. The best source of vitamin D is sunlight, but it’s nearly impossible to get enough in the fall and winter or if you’re using sunscreen. That’s why supplements are your best bet. Start with a supplement that has both calcium and vitamin D.

And don’t forget that exercise is another powerful tool in maintaining strength and agility as you age. Strength or resistance training—whether performed with hand-held weights, exercise bands, or more sophisticated machines—helps fight that muscle loss. Start with these three simple exercises.

Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup: Not Such a Sweet Deal

November is Diabetes Awareness Month and a good time to think about the significant amounts of sugar and high fructose corn syrup in the American diet, which have contributed to a dramatic rise inobesity and diabetes. The addictive qualities of sugar and high fructose corn syrup are creating a new focus on foodaddiction.

Ironically, when the government ordered cocaine removed from all Coca-Cola beverages no one knew that the substance that took its place would have significant health consequences. High fructose corn syrup hit the markets in the 1950s as a wonder product.

Cheaper than sugar cane while still packing all the intense sweetness we associate with confectionery delights, high fructose corn syrup is now used to sweeten tons of candies, juices, sodas, cookies, cakes and creams and has even found its way into items like bread, soups and other prepackaged foods.

Shadowing the same receptor pathways of other ingested addictive chemicals, including cocaine and opiates, high fructose corn syrup alters the transmission of certain brain chemicals including endorphins, dopamine andserotonin, which, in turn, trigger the pleasure center of our brains, leaving us wanting more.

A 2007 study (Lenoir M, Serre F, Cantin L, Ahmed SH) found that intense sweetness surpasses cocaine reward even in addicted and drug-sensitized individuals leading to increased aggression upon withdrawal and a disruption of the dopamine/acetylcholine reward balance in the brain. The alterations on brain function brought on by high fructose corn syrup and other refined sugars produce many of the hallmarks of addiction: intense craving, the inability to control or stop use, a preoccupation with the substance and withdrawal symptoms. The idea of dessert becomes elevated to a whole new level.

The researchers concluded that the excessive stimulation of sweet receptors by sugar-rich diets, such as those now widely available in modern societies, generate a supranormal reward signal in the brain, with the potential to override self-control mechanisms and lead to addiction.

As someone who works with eating disorders and emotional eaters, I am convinced that sugar—and particularly high fructose corn syrup, which is so overused in foods today—is an addictive substance, leaving one wanting more and more. Unfortunately, there are many nutritionists, dietitians and professionals who don’t believe sugar can be addictive to some people.

My years of work, as well as this new scientific study, show otherwise. Sugar is like alcohol: some people have no problem having a few drinks, but others cannot stop after that first drink.

We are in the midst of a major obesity crisis in this country. More than one-third of U.S. adults (35.7 percent) are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. This raises their risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer. Currently, diabetes affects 8.3 percent of people in the United States, approximately 25.8 million people. Another 79 million people—35 percent of all U.S. adults—have prediabetes, which raises their risk of developing diabetes.

I’m convinced that sugar and various forms of sucrose and fructose are major culprits in this health crisis. I’ve known how addictive sugar and high fructose corn syrup can be from working with disordered eating victims for decades. Now, with this new scientific backup, maybe we can educate the general public that, for some, sugar and high fructose corn syrup can lead to obesity, diabetes and/or addiction. Nothing less than the health of our nation is at stake.

Learn More About Treating Premenopausal Symptoms

Most of us know what menopause is, but some women aren’t aware that symptoms related to our changing hormones can start in our mid-30s. This time of life is

sometimes referred to as premenopause, and the time closer to the end of our menstrual cycles is referred to as perimenopause.

But more important than what we call it is what we do about it. Dr. Whitney Pollock, an OB/GYN with the Gynecology Center in Pottsville, Pennsylvania, believes we

women do not need to suffer silently with symptoms that too often disrupt our lives. In this videotaped interview with Dr. Pollock, she urges women to educate

themselves about their symptoms and to talk to their health care providers.

Dr. Pollock says that heavy menstrual bleeding is the No. 1 reason that women visit their gynecologists. Heavy bleeding can cause anemia and affects quality of life,

causing women to miss out on activities. This is not necessary or acceptable, she says, because there are many treatment options available. Hysterectomy is not the

only (or best) solution for most women. For those of us who are through having children, a new minimally invasive procedure that takes five minutes and has no recovery

time may put an end to heavy bleeding.

Breast Cancer: What You Can Do to Lower Your Risk

Few diseases elicit as many emotions as breast cancer. We all know someone who has dealt with it; we all fear it and feel powerless over it. But despite some contributing factors like family history, toxins in the environment and too many unknowns about what else might cause it to develop, there are some things that can be controlled.

Want to gain some extra information about your risks? Here are some myths and truths that can help you manage the information at hand.

1. Truth: Extra pounds are a risk factor.

Not only does obesity increases your chances of getting breast cancer in the first place, it worsens the outcome in women who have already been diagnosed, according to studies. What’s the connection? Fat cells make more estrogen, which can make hormone-receptor-positive breast cancers develop and grow.

MORE: 9 Strategies for Weight-Loss Success

2. Myth: You’re only at risk if breast cancer runs in your family.

While there is a genetic component, the fact is that the vast majority of women with breast cancer have no family history. In fact, only 5 percent to 10 percent of all breast cancers are hereditary, due to mutations in genes associated with the disease. The mutations appear more commonly among certain geographic or ethnic groups: people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent and people of Norwegian, Icelandic or Dutch ancestry.

3. Truth: Exercise can help decrease your risk.

What’s more, in the long run, it keeps you healthy if you have already been diagnosed, reducing your risk ofrecurrence. Exercising four or more hours a week may play a hand in decreasing levels of circulatinghormones, like estrogen, that may contribute to some breast cancers. The effect of exercise on breast cancer may be greatest among premenopausal women who are of normal or low weight. And by helping you maintain a healthy weight, exercise helps with another risk factor-obesity (see item 1).

MORE: Get Motivated: The Workout You Won’t Cancel

4. Truth: Dense breasts increase your risk.

There are two things at play here. Since both dense breast tissue and tumors appear white on mammograms, it’s harder to detect breast cancers in women with dense breasts. What’s more, high density is also linked with an increase in tumors.

MORE: Estrogen

5. Myth: Dense breasts increase a woman’s chance of dying from the disease.

While having dense breast tissue is a known factor in increasing your risk, it does not increase your odds of death if you do develop the disease, compared to other breast cancer patients, according to a new study.

6. Truth: Drinking and smoking both contribute to the risk of breast cancer.

Having two drinks a day increases your risk by 21 percent, according to studies. And in one study, smokers had a 16 percent higher risk than subjects who never smoked.

7. Myth: Breast self-exams are the best way to catch early breast cancer.

Neither breast self-exams nor clinical breast exams have been found to decrease the risk of dying from breast cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). They may be used in conjunction with mammograms to help catch breast cancer early, but self-exams shouldn’t be your only screening tool.

Expert Tips on Eating Healthy During Pregnancy

Are you newly pregnant and wondering what dietary changes you might want to make? You’re not alone. So, we asked registered dietician Nora Saul:

What are the three most important dietary changes I should make during my pregnancy?

Here’s what she had to say:
The old adage says you are eating for two during pregnancy, but I like to phrase it as you are eating for the health of yourself and your child. You need to provide your body with the nutrients it most needs because your fetus gets its nourishment from your body.

Pregnancy puts extra demands on the body: you have to have enough calories and protein to support the extra tissue that makes up the lining of the uterus and the placenta, as well as to supply energy for the growth of your baby. Consuming too few calories and gaining too little weight can lead to preterm delivery or babies who are small for their gestational age. There may also be long-term consequences, such as learning disabilities for the child later on.

On the other hand, eating too many calories can result in obesity and gestational diabetes for you, and obesity, difficulties in delivery and possible hypoglycemia at birth for the baby, as well as an increased risk of obesity for the child later in life.

Extra calorie needs during pregnancy are quite modest. Women need approximately 300 extra calories during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. In addition, they need about 10 extra grams of protein. Three cups of 1 percent milk provide more than double the protein and all the needed extra calories.

On the micronutrient level, which refers to your vitamin and mineral intake, pregnant women need additional calcium, folic acid and iron. Calcium helps support the baby’s skeletal structure and the extra weight of pregnancy. Folic acid is needed to prevent neural tubular defects, and iron allows for the expanded blood volume.

Folate is found in green leafy vegetables such as spinach, bok choy and kale, as well as  in oranges. Good sources of calcium are milk, yogurt, cheese, many leafy green vegetables, legumes and canned fish with bones. Iron sources include red meats, beans, dried fruits and fortified cereals.

The other big nutritional changes for pregnancy are things to avoid: all alcohol; cold cuts and unpasteurized foods to reduce the chance of listeria; and shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish because they contain high levels of mercury. Also, reduce caffeine intake to less than 200 milligrams a day, the amount in a small coffee or a 12-ounce diet soda.

Eat, Drink and Be Merry to Boost Your Energy

Pure exhaustion: it can reduce your ability to concentrate, play with your patience and make your frustration climb to frightening levels, even though the challenge or task might be quite simple. And it’s not always purely physical, with achy muscles and all-out yawning dominating your day; instead, it’s a low-grade type of general malaise or discomfort.

While there are lots of things that zap your energy, don’t despair. There are ways—fun ways—to help restore it.


Many experts say that small, frequent meals every few hours beat three meals a day where your energy is concerned. Do you ever feel so tired you can’t think straight? One reason is that your brain needs a steady supply of nutrients, since it has very few of its own. Also, eating every few hours helps maintain a normal blood sugar level, which can keep your energy levels steady.

I never go anywhere without carting along some snacks. This helps me avoid that overwhelming feeling offatigue that sometimes seems to come out of nowhere, until I realize that it’s coming out of actual hunger. My tank is empty and needs to be filled. Having small frequent snacks also helps keep me from being so ravenous come mealtime that I lose all sense of dignity.

But beware: eating more frequently doesn’t mean you can eat whatever or as much as you feel like. If you’re eating more meals during the day, make sure you adjust the quantities to reflect that. And speaking of quantity, don’t ignore quality. Include healthful snacks like whole fruit, low-fat cheese, whole-grain crackers or a handful of nuts.


Caffeine certainly has its place in helping with an energy boost. Coffee helps increase alertness, so having a cup when you first wake up or before you go into a meeting or start a project does have its advantages. But remember, drink it too late in the day and you’re risking insomnia.

Alcohol, on the other hand, can make you sleepy, so have a glass (or two) of wine with lunch and you’re almost guaranteed to spend the rest of your day in a full-size slump. If you’re planning on spending some hours after dinner hitting the books or catching up on work, that evening cocktail can do you in, too.

A word to the wise: alcohol can interfere with sleep. Even though it makes you tired, in some quantities it acts as a stimulant. It can cause you to wake throughout the night, destroying the quality of your rest. (And then you’re right back to feeling that energy drain the next day.)

Steer clear of energy drinks,  which can contain huge amounts of sugar and caffeine, not only contributing to weight gain but causing other health problems like increased blood pressure or nervousness. Better to stick with plain water. Remember, lack of water can lead to dehydration, which can drain your energy and cause feelings of fatigue. How much you actually need remains controversial, but it’s easy to remember the “drink eight 8-ounce glasses a day” as a general guideline. You might be happy to know that all fluids (and foods containing water, too, like watermelon and tomatoes, which contain 90 percent or more water by weight) count toward this total.

Be Merry

Feeling sad and depressed is an energy drain. On the other hand, feeling happy is an energy boost.

Try smiling; even if you don’t feel like it, force it. Studies have shown that our emotions are reinforced or even driven by their corresponding facial expressions. One researcher found that the facial changes involved in smiling directly affect certain brain activities associated with happiness.

And happiness can also come with the company we keep. Research shows that your chances of becoming happy are increased by hanging around another happy person; even a second-degree contact (like the husband of your friend) or third-degree connection (the friend of your friend) can increase your happiness with their own.

It’s hard to argue with this quote from Swiss philosopher and poet Henri-Frederic Amiel: “Happiness gives us the energy which is the basis of health.”

The Truth About Inducing Labor: What Every Pregnant Woman Needs to Know

You may have heard about a woman who has had her labor induced by the drug Pitocin simply because her doctor was heading out on vacation. Or perhaps, it was that the expecting mom just couldn’t stand being pregnant any longer. While the latter seems more justified (if you’ve been pregnant, you can probably relate), inducing labor without a valid medical reason, such as problems with the baby’s growth, medical risks for mom or going way past the due date, is not without its risks. However, a recent survey by the American College of Nurse-Midwives (ACNM) found that 9 out of 10 women wouldn’t mind a labor induction even if there is no medical reason.

Read More About ACNM’s Recent Study and their Our Moment of Truth Initiative

Labor induction rates are on the rise. In 1990 just 9.5 percent of U.S. women had labor induced, but by 2008, that number rose to 23.1 percent, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. However ACNM’s survey found that three out of four women did not talk with a care provider about induction during their pregnancy, so therefore it’s likely they don’t know the risks.

A recent study shows that even babies born just a few weeks early and not considered preterm have a higher risk of poor health, including problems with asthma, than those born later. The study, published this spring in the British Medical Journal, analyzed more than 14,000 children born in the United Kingdom who were either late preterm babies (born at 32-36 weeks) or early term (37-38 weeks) and found that babies born at 37 or 38 weeks required readmission to the hospital in the first few months more often than full-term babies (39-41 weeks).

When commenting on inducing labor without medical necessity, ACNM President Dr. Holly Powell Kennedy, a professor of midwifery at the Yale University School of Nursing, says that the problems is the baby’s readiness for being born. She uses the analogy of berry picking: “Anyone who has picked berries, they know that a berry that is ripe falls into your hand. One that is not quite ready leaves parts on your hands and one that is not ready at all is green. Like a berry, a woman’s uterus and specifically her cervix, ripen as she gets ready to open or dilate.”

Read More: What to Expect from Prenatal Tests in Your Third Trimester

A study of nearly 8,000 women sited in the July 2010 issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology found that inducing labor more than doubles the risk of having a cesarean delivery. Powell Kennedy attributes this higher risk to additional interventions and limited mobility. She says, “Most spontaneous labors build up gradually, while an induced labor starts with hard contractions either way.” She says this leads to the use of continual fetal monitoring (which has been linked to increased cesarean rates as compared with intermittent monitoring), the use of pain medication and the resulting lack of mobility of the mother. “If you stub your toe, you don’t just stand there, you hop around to try and make yourself feel better,” says Powell Kennedy. When you can’t cope with pain on your own, medications become more necessary.

So what can an expectant mother do?

Have a candid conversation with your health care provider. When meeting with a prospective obstetrician or midwife, Powell Kennedy recommends asking the following questions:
What percentage of women you work with have their labors induced?
What are your reasons for inducing before 41 weeks?

Read More: Who’s Who On Your Prenatal Team

The best option with a healthy pregnancy is to let your baby tell you when it’s time. On coping with the impatience, Powell Kennedy says, “It’s worth the investment to completely pamper yourself in the last weeks of pregnancy. Nourish the body and soul as best you can. And engage the whole family in helping you get through those final weeks.”

Time to Dispose of Unused Medicines

If your medicine cabinet is out of control and prescription drugs seem to be creeping onto countertops and into nooks and crannies around the house, it’s time to take action and safely dispose of your stash of unwanted and unused medicines.

You may think unused and outdated medicines are just a nuisance, but they can present a real danger through drug abuse or accidental overdose. Prescription drugs were involved in more than 20,000 overdose deaths in 2008, more than half of the total 36,450 overdose deaths that year, according to a recent study. If children live in or visit your house, it’s even more important to make sure the drugs you need are safely stored and the ones you don’t need are disposed of safely.

Many years ago, when I was a young child, the little brother of a friend of mine got mad because we weren’t playing with him. He went in the bathroom, climbed on the toilet, then climbed on the sink, opened his medicine cabinet, and ate a bottle of children’s aspirin. Fortunately, his mother got him to the hospital quickly, and he recovered. But not all kids are so lucky. It was a lesson to me that even when you think your medicines are safely stored and out of the reach of children, some children can be very determined, and it only takes a minute for an accident to occur.

A study published in Annals of Emergency Medicine reported that nearly 10,000 very young children accidentally ingested opiates prescribed for adults in their household between 2003 and 2006.

The American College of Emergency Physicians, sponsor of the national challenge, suggests you inventory all the medicines in your household, both prescription and over-the-counter, and get rid of any that you aren’t using or that have expired.

Forty-four states, the District of Columbia and two Native American nations are participating in the drug disposal event.

    Take inventory of your prescription and over-the-counter medicine.
    Secure your medicines.
    Dispose of your unused, unwanted and expired medicines at an American Medicine Chest Challenge disposal site or in the trash as outlined below.
    Take your medicine(s) exactly as prescribed.
    Talk to your children about the dangers of drug abuse.

Here are the federal guidelines for safe disposal of prescription medications:

    Take prescription drugs out of their original containers.
    Mix the drugs with an unappealing substance, such as cat litter or used coffee grounds.
    Put the mixture in a disposable container with a lid or in a sealable bag.
    Conceal or remove any personal information, including the prescription number, on the empty container by covering it with black permanent marker or duct tape or by scratching it off.
    Place the sealed container with the mixture and the empty drug containers in the trash.

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Saturday, 3 December 2016

4 Tips for Building Your Baby’s Brain Health During Pregnancy

Oftentimes, a woman begins to think like a mother as soon as the stick turns pink. She may ask herself: What can I do to create the healthiest most nurturing environment for this fetus to grow and develop physically? She may also wonder if there are actions she can take to help build her baby’s brain health and intellect.

David Perlmutter, MD, FACN, ABIHM, board-certified neurologistand author of Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten, offers these tips for expecting mothers about how they can boost their babies’ developing brains.

Make sure you’re getting adequate DHA in your diet during pregnancy. DHA, or docosahexaenoic acid, is an essential omega-3 fatty acid that plays a critical role in brain, immune system and eye development. Because your body’s reserves of DHA will be selectively given to the fetus, it’s important to replenish your body’s reserve of this fundamental fat. Eating fish helps replenish DHA, but many fish are contaminated with mercury and other toxic chemicals, so taking an algae-derived DHA supplement is best. There are many prenatal vitamins that contain added DHA, as well as more than 500 food products that have been enriched with DHA derived from algae. DHA remains a vital nutrient for brain development after baby is born. That’s why many infant formulas have added DHA. But the best option by far is to breastfeed if at all possible. Keep in mind that the DHA content of breast milk is substantially higher when mothers add DHA to their diets. Breastfeeding women are often advised to take a daily algae-derived DHA supplement supplying about 600 mg of DHA.

Keep in mind that during pregnancy you are in complete control over the environment your future child experiences. Pregnancy is not the time to paint a room, expose yourself to potentially dangerous cleaning products, smoke cigarettes, expose yourself to secondhand smoke or consume foods that may harbor dangerous levels of pesticides. These exposures may lead to compromised brain function.
Exercise is important and encouraged, but excessive exercise that keeps your body temperature elevated for a prolonged time should be avoided. One of the best exercises during pregnancy is swimming. Not only is it good for you from a cardiovascular perspective, but it doesn’t elevate your core body temperature. Yogaalso gets the nod, but avoid the “hot yoga” classes that have become popular. Stretching and yoga poses are a great idea, but make sure the room is comfortable.

Finally, you may be overwhelmed by the number of toys, games, dolls and music CDs that promise to enhance your child’s brain development. While there may be some good products out there, don’t underestimate the powerful influence of the spoken word in terms of your baby’s brain development. Get face to face with your infant and talk with as much animation as you can muster. Singing to your baby does wonders for brain development, even if you think you don’t have the world’s greatest voice. It’s all about the interaction.

How Yoga Fights Disease

September is National Yoga Month. I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Yoga is an effective stress reducer and may even help you lose weight, but new research shows that a certain type of chanting yoga may also be effective in warding off disease. And that is good news, indeed, for all of us wishing to live longer, healthier lives.

Yoga A-Z 

In a study published in the online edition of Psychoneuroendocrinology, psychiatrist Dr. Helen Lavretsky and colleagues at UCLA looked at 45 caregivers of family members with Alzheimer’s and found a difference in genetic response in those asked to practice Kirtan Kriya Meditation (KKM), a type of yoga that focuses on rhythmic breathing and chanting, daily.
Different Types of Yoga

Study participants were divided into two groups. One group participated in a 12-minute yoga practice that included KKM, performed daily at the same time of day for eight weeks. The second group rested in a quiet place with their eyes closed while listening to relaxation music, also for 12 minutes daily for eight weeks.

Blood samples were taken from all subjects at the beginning and end of the study, and the researchers found that 68 genes responded differently in the KKM group, resulting in reduced inflammation. Both groups were “relaxing,” however, only the KKM group’s activity (yogic breathing and chanting) was found to deter inflammation at the cellular level.

Caregivers were optimal subjects for this study, as caregiving for an ill family member is a significant life stressor, with older adult caregivers reporting high levels of stress andand showing higher levels of the biological markers of inflammation than the general population.
Caregiver Resource Center

The ability of yogic meditation to not only reduce stress but also inflammation in the body is great news for those of us wishing to reduce stress, improve our health, and lower our risk for chronic health conditions.

How Yoga Heals

One of the great things about yoga, is that you don’t need any special equipment to begin. “Start with basic yoga poses and build on those to ensure understanding of more advanced postures and yoga terminology for safe transition from pose to pose,” says celebrity fitness trainer Kristin McGee.
Access Kristin’s step by step fitness module at, an online fitness and personal training service that features workout programs designed by the world’s best personal trainers for in-home exercise. In honor of National Yoga Month, the site has a free trial offer.

Beware of the Halloween Sugar Monster

While ghosts, ghouls and goblins haunt the little ones on Halloween, a more terrifying monster haunts us parents: dental decay. We know the kids will come home Halloween night with bags full of candy, and we will immediately transform into the bad guys who must determine what and when and how much they can eat. Now that my kids are too old to trick-or-treat, I realize my candy management may not have been the best.

My kids were not huge candy eaters, and, generally, were contented with a handful or so of candy on Halloween night, followed by a daily treat in their lunch bags for weeks and months to come. Each of them kept a perpetually filled candy bag in the cabinet: first Halloween, then Christmas stocking candy, then Valentine’s and finally, Easter candy. My method of doling it out piece by piece was great for weight management but may not have been so great for dental health (just ask my older daughter who’s been plagued with cavities all her life).

The problem with my daily rations of candy was that my kids finished their lunches with a mouthful of sticky sugar—with no way to clean their teeth after they ate.

A recent press release from Raymond Hatland, DDS, who is part of the Chicago Healers integrative health care network, reminds us that Halloween candy is our worst enemy when it comes to teeth. Foods with starches and sugars mix with the mouth’s natural bacteria to form a mild acid that erodes tooth enamel and causes those nasty cavities. But, don’t worry. You don’t have to dump your kids’ entire stash of candy in the trash. Just follow these tips from Dr. Hartland:

Wash it down. After your kids tire of stuffing themselves on Halloween candy, make sure they finish with a big glass of water to clean sugar residue off the teeth. Better yet, send them to brush their teeth and go to bed. (It is a school night, after all.)

Avoid sticky situations. Limit sticky candies like toffee and gummy candies because the sugars stick to your teeth (remember trying to pick a Bit-O-Honey out of your teeth—and worrying that you’d pull out your fillings in the process?). Also go easy on hard candies like suckers, Jolly Ranchers and Tootsie Roll Pops (combines both sticky and long-lasting) because the sugars linger in your mouth longer.

Satisfy your chocolate craving. The occasional piece of solid chocolate is better than one filled with a gooey center—again because it won’t stay in your mouth as long, meaning the bacteria won’t have as long to feed on the sugars. For kids’ teeth, that means a Hershey’s kiss or a Nestle Crunch mini-bar may be a better choice than a Snickers or a Three Musketeers—especially if the kids won’t be able to rinse or brush when they finish.

Chew on this. If you’re traveling or are somewhere your kids can’t rinse or brush after eating candy, give them a piece of sugar-free gum to help cleanse the mouth. Just make sure it’s sugar-free—regular gum only adds to the problem. (As a parent, you should determine when it’s safe for your child to chew gum. The International Chewing Gum Association recommends that very small children not chew gum.)

Don’t limit your dental concerns to Halloween. Remember to get regular checkups for you and your kids and encourage brushing at least twice daily. Read labels carefully and seek low-sugar alternatives. Sugar can also be labeled as corn syrup, molasses, dextrose, fructose, glucose, sucrose and honey. Too much sweet stuff can cause blood sugar to spike and energy to crash later on—not to mention what it does to your teeth.

Why Your Eyes Might Be Red and Itchy

My post on crying got a lot of us thinking about emotions. But one comment I received from Nancy (“My optometrist told me that we actually need testosterone as well as estrogen to produce tears, which is why many women develop dry eye as they age and as the hormone levels plummet”) got me thinking about another aspect of tears: the lack of them as it relates to menopause. Indeed, hormones play a significant role in lubricating our eyes.

As if it’s not enough to deal with headaches, hot flashes, insomnia, hot flashes mood swings, fatigue…it a wonder we survive menopause. But we do.

Menopause – and the years leading up to it – can introduce us to this condition, where our eyes get dry. Very dry. Redness, irritation, stinging, burning – that’s dry eye. Feeling like you want to rip your contact lenses out of your eyes because it’s so uncomfortable to wear them – that could be it, too. Other symptoms:
Stringy mucus in or around your eyes
Increased eye irritation from smoke or wind
Eye fatigue after short periods of reading
Sensitivity to light
Periods of excessive tearing
Blurred vision, often worsening at the end of the day or after focusing for a prolonged period
Last year at my annual wellness exam, I mentioned some of these symptoms to my physician. He thought for a moment and then added an additional blood test to the mix, to check for autoimmune diseases. Why? Because dry eyes can sometimes be common with certain disorders like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, scleroderma and Sjogren’s syndrome. It can also point to thyroid disorders and Vitamin A deficiency.
Thankfully, I turned out not to have any autoimmune diseases – just the garden variety dry eye. Ironic, coming from a natural-born crybaby. Where are the tears when I need them??
Even if menopause may not be to blame for dry eye, be aware of these other culprits:
Certain drugs to treat high blood pressure, such as diuretics
Antihistamines and decongestants
Birth control pills
Certain antidepressants
Pain relievers, like ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) and naproxen (Aleve)
Isotretinoin-type drugs to treat acne
Okay, why all the fuss? Well, besides being a major interruption in your everyday routine, dry eye can lead to complications like more frequent eye infections or in more severe cases, scarring on your eye’s surface, which can lead to vision problems down the line.
The best line of defense is prevention. People may think I’m making a fashion statement when I wear my sunglasses outside on a cloudy day, but I’m not. They help protect my eyes from the wind, which is so, so irritating and drying to my eyes.
Other ways you can protect your eyes:
Direct hair dryers, car heaters, air conditioners or fans away from your eyes
Protect your eyes with goggles when you swim
Take periodic breaks during long bouts of reading or computer work. You can close your eyes for a few minutes or even blink repeatedly for a few seconds – that’ll help spread your tears evenly over your eye
Stop smoking (I truly hope you don’t smoke!) and avoid smoke, which can worsen dry eye symptoms

Position your computer screen below eye level. If it’s above eye level, it’s likely you are opening your eyes wider to view it, which can contribute to dryness

Add moisture to the air. Try a humidifier in the winter, when the air is likely more devoid of moisture
This Matters> There is relief from itchy, dry eyes. You can try an over-the-counter eye drop (there are many varieties, so discuss them with your healthcare professional), wash your eyelids to control inflammation, or try adding omega-3 fatty acids to your diet either in supplement form or in foods like walnuts, salmon, flaxseed, canola or soybean oil.

Or, how about watching a real tear-jerker of a movie to get your eyes nice and lubricated (at least for the moment)? Some guaranteed to work: Marley & Me, The Notebook, Steel Magnolias, Terms of Endearment, Ghost, March of the Penguins (I don’t know why, but that one really turned on the tears for me)…I could go on and on. Chances are you have your own!

6 Easy Ways to Regain the Weight You’ve Lost

Congratulations! You’ve worked hard to take off that 10, 20 or more pounds that snuck up on you seemingly overnight. Maybe you’ve taken up exercise, sworn off the carbs, switched out full-fat ice cream for frozen yogurt or taped your mouth shut. Whatever it was, you worked hard and you should be proud of yourself.

And now … the hard work begins. What’s that? Keeping the weight from ever crossing your path again. A dismal failure rate of 99 percent has been associated with that challenge. Truth is, many people focus more on the actual diet than with keeping the weight off for good. And when you consider the interplay of physiology and behavior, weight maintenance can be a tricky proposal.
If you’re the type of person that likes to be in the majority, I’ve done you a favor. Even though new data from the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) shows that there are people who have managed to lose at least 30 pounds and keep it off for a year or longer, here is how you can stay in the majority that hasn’t managed that feat:

Don’t track your food intake. Why be accountable for what you’re eating? It’s easier to play a game of denial, I-don’t-remember, out-of-sight-out-of-mind. After all, if you’ve eaten it and written it down, you actually have to be reminded that you quaffed three slices of blueberry pie or two heaping scoops of rocky road.

Skip breakfast. You don’t need the most important meal of the day. Why eat in the morning when it takes all your effort to gulp down some coffee and run out the door? You have way more important things to do than that. And on the importance scale, eating a meal that is shown to reduce your risk of diabetes and obesity is way low.

Watch a LOT of television. Make sure to stay put during the commercials (instead of getting up to stretch or sneak in some quick exercise), which are a great reminder of things you haven’t thought about eating but are now suddenly craving—those calorie-dense, low-nutrient foods that have taken up residence in your immediate-gratification wish list. Don’t pay attention to the research that shows that adults consume more of both healthy and unhealthy snack foods following exposure to snack food advertising, whether or not they’re even hungry. And while you’re at it, grab a bag of crunchy, fatty snacks like chips or cookies to keep you company throughout your date with your couch.
Eat out. Why cook for yourself and control what you eat and how it’s cooked when you can sit, relax and let someone else decide how much and what kinds of creamy, calorie-dense concoctions you’ll consume? And while you’re at it, hit some fast-food places—an added plus, since your budget won’t take as big a hit!

Don’t combine diet with exercise. It could make it easier to not only lose weight, but also maintain that loss. Who needs to spend time exercising when instead you can hit the snooze button and sneak in an extra 10 minutes of sleep instead of taking a quick 10-minute walk? You’ll only forfeit 100 calories. And chances are that during the day, you wouldn’t want to take a 10-minute break to do something as simple as walking up and down a flight of stairs. After all, why burn 100 calories if instead you can spend that time sitting with your feet up, catching up on the latest on Demi and Ashton—or better yet, multitasking by reading a magazine and munching on a bag of your favorite chips.

Don’t weigh yourself regularly. Why get the bad news from a bunch of trivial numbers? Put the scale away. It’s so much more fun to make a guessing game out of it. You wouldn’t want to be in the 75 percent group of successful losers from the NWCR who weigh themselves at least once a week (or those who—gasp!—hit the scale daily) and have a built-in voice that warns, “Hey, you! Time to cut back on the calories.” Who needs that obnoxious warning every time you see some digits?

New Look for HealthyWomen

For more than 20 years, HealthyWomen has been committed to delivering quality health and wellness content on all aspects of women’s health. To allow us to continue our mission of serving women, and to expand the resources that we offer, you’ll soon see the outcome of a new revenue stream on our website and in our newsletters: advertising.

HealthyWomen regularly receives inquiries from potential advertisers, and after careful consideration, we’ve decided to accept ads for products and services of interest to our constituents that meet the guidelines of our newadvertising policy. We want to assure all of you, our supporters, that this advertising will not in any way impact the integrity of the content and products we produce. It will be clearly identified so that visitors will know what is an advertisement versus our health education information.

Advertising will begin on in early February. You’ll start seeing ads in our electronic publications soon afterward. We are pleased that this new revenue stream will allow us to expand and enhance the resources we provide to women online, in print and via phone.

Dance Yourself Healthy

It’s 2011 and I want to have some fun! And, I want to look good and feel even better for it. How do I plan on accomplishing all three? It’s easy: I’m going to get in touch with my inner Debbie Allen and dance, dance, dance.

Dancing, like walking or cycling, is a great no-cost or low-cost way to build aerobic fitness, improve balance and strengthen your muscles at any age. And you don’t have to wait for a special event or find a partner to enjoy dance’s benefits. If you’re a mom, your little one(s) is the best dance partner imaginable! Trust me, there’s nothing more fun than rocking your best Snoopy dance or robot moves while dancing wildly to upbeat and fun music by kid faves Kimmy Schwimmy or Laurie Berkner.
You can even pick dance as your main physical activity. Research has shown that dancing gives even formerly inactive people a good workout. Beginners in a tango class logged about 20 percent of their recommended daily steps by participating in the twice-a-week program.

The fun factor of dancing helps encourage you to stick with the activity. Many people find dancing more enjoyable than spending time in a gym on traditional exercise equipment. Dance classes provide social connections that help improve mood and build feelings of well-being. If you’re concerned that you may not be fit enough to tap your toes in public or that your two left feet may be your downfall, don’t be. There are dance groups for all activity levels—and more dance styles than you ever knew existed. From A (Argentine Tango) to Z (Zumba), there’s a dance out there for you.

Groups specializing in line dancing are especially good if you don’t have a regular dance partner, but many classes are set up to make sure that everyone dances, regardless of whether you come alone or not.

To get started with dancing for fitness:
•   Â Borrow dance DVDs from your local library and try them at home.
•   Â Participate in a community dance class through your local adult school or recreation center.
•   Â Alternate dance sessions with walks or jogs you may already be taking.
•   Â Wear comfortable shoes and loose clothing.
•   Â Bring water and a face towel for comfort.

Breast Cancer: 10 Common Misconceptions

Pink is swirling all around this month. You can’t help but notice that. And I’d be burying my head in the sand if I didn’t acknowledge that it is, after all, breast cancer awareness month. This photo was taken a few weeks ago when my 25-year-old son, Jonathan, ran in the Race for the Cure in Central Park. When I spotted him coming around the bend, I unexpectedly burst into uncontrollable tears!

But really, every month is about breast cancer; it’s never far from my consciousness. I’m reminded of how the disease touched me when I get dressed every morning. I’m reminded how the disease steals lives when, each January and October, I would have been toasting to another year growing old together with my two closest friends who are no longer in this world because they were part of the cruel statistics. I’m reminded that, despite lots of advances in medical screening, diagnosis and treatment, 12.15% of women born today will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some time during their lifetime.

There is increased awareness and increased knowledge for sure. But with that, confusion and misinformation still circulate around the issue. Here are some common misconceptions:

Breast pain is a symptom of breast cancer. That’s rarely the case; breast cancer, especially early breast cancer, usually does not cause pain and may exhibit no noticeable symptoms. Most aches, pains or tenderness can be attributed to things like fibrocystic breast changes and the rise and fall ofhormones, or a benign fluid-filled sac (a cyst), which can feel firm or squishy and can be aspirated by a doctor to withdraw the fluid causing the pain.

You’re only at risk if breast cancer runs in your family. Only 5 to 10 percent of all breast cancers are hereditary due to mutations in genes associated with the disease. These mutations are more common among certain geographic or ethnic groups, like people of Ashkenazi (central or eastern European) Jewish descent and people of Norwegian, Icelandic or Dutch ancestry. Because they have a shared ancestry over many generations, particular genetic changes can occur more frequently in these groups.
Monthly self-exams don’t make a difference. Despite recent advice discounting the importance of regular breast checks, many experts still believe in them. Mammography, clinical exams, MRIs: they’re reliable screening methods, yet none of them is perfect, so it’s wise to increase your chance of early detection by becoming familiar with your own breasts and reporting any changes, like lumps, swelling, dimpling or discharge to your doctor.

Tight, underwire bras cause breast cancer. This myth started with a husband and wife medical anthropologist team claiming that by wearing tight-fitting bras all day, every day, women inhibited lymphatic drainage, thus causing toxins to become trapped in breast tissue. But scientists discounted this theory in its failure to exclude confounding variables such as the presence in some women of known risk factors for breast cancer such as family history, hormones, age, weight, exercise levels, giving birth over the age of 30 or not having had children.

Only women get breast cancer. Although women do account for the vast majority of breast cancers, men are susceptible, too. With men, their cancers are usually linked to a strong family history or genetic causes and are usually seen in later stages, since men are not typically screened for breast cancer.

Older women don’t need to get mammograms. Since the incidence of breast cancer increases with age, older women should get mammograms indefinitely. The highest incidence of the disease is in women in their 70s. The risk is approximately 1 in 23 for a woman in her 30s; rising to 1 in 8 by the time she is 85.

Wearing antiperspirant causes breast cancer. Parabens, which are used as preservatives in some antiperspirants, do have weak estrogen-like properties. One small study  found parabens in samples of tissue from human breast tumors but failed to analyze healthy breast tissue or tissues from other areas of the body (thus failing to demonstrate that parabens are found only in cancerous breast tissue). Subsequent studies have been unable to make a definite connection between parabens and breast cancer. The American Cancer Society says that more research is needed to study this issue.

A lump is the only sign of breast cancer. While a lump may indicate breast cancer or other benign breast conditions, there are other changes that could indicate cancer, like skin irritation or dimpling; swelling, nipple retraction or discharge (other than breast milk); redness, scaliness, or thickening of the nipple or breast skin. Lymph nodes under the arm might swell if the cancer has already spread before a tumor in the breast is even large enough to be felt. And a mammogram can pick up a cancer before any symptom is felt or seen at all.

Only your mother’s family history of breast cancer is important. Your father’s family history is just as important, especially the women on his side of the family. And other cancers in men, like early-onset prostate or colon cancers should be considered when assessing your risk, too.

Women with lumpy, fibrocystic breasts are more at risk. Once thought a factor in increasing your risk, it is no longer seen as a connection. Lumpy breasts do, however, make it more difficult to differentiate normal tissue from cancerous tissue, so ask your doctor if you might be helped further by adding an ultrasound to your mammogram screenings.