Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Brain-Healthy Spices You Should Be Using

Science and research is a godsend, but it can get so darn confusing and frustrating sometimes. Take Alzheimer’s disease; it’s forever in the news. Brain games help, researchers say. Sleep and diet is important, scientists insist. Genes and exercise count, everyone agrees.

It’s hard to keep up with everything; it all changes daily and sometimes, hourly. And the more I write about health and interview doctors and scientists and researchers, the more I realize that studies, even though they seem to say a lot, are oftentimes flawed, inconsistent, difficult to interpret and forever subject to change. But, alas, sometimes they’re all we’ve got. So my theory is approach them with caution and skepticism. What’s a no-no today can be heartily endorsed tomorrow. Bad news is the new good news. Yesterday’s skepticism is today’s miracle cure.

And then, just as I was feeling good and hopeful – writing about things we can do to keep our brains sharp – last night’s gloom and doom news announced the NIH’s latest stance on Alzheimer’s disease: the scientific evidence is not strong enough to make any recommendations to help prevent, or even slow it.

So…WHY do we need to know this? Does this mean we should give up our crossword puzzles, our exercises, our healthy lifestyles? Do we throw away the ginko biloba and fish oil because one of these panelists called them

So, let’s talk spices. There’s new research (I know, there’s that word again, but, hey, spices really seem kinda innocuous, you know?) that they are good for your brain. They may not be the anti-Alzheimer’s panacea, but since we probably already have a lot of these in our kitchen, why not put them to good use?

Turmeric: There might be a reason that the rate of Alzheimer’s in India is one-fourth of ours in the U.S. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric (that’s what gives curry its yellow color), breaks up brain plaques of amyloid beta (the abnormal protein buildup that is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s). Curcumin has also been found to inhibit the growth of cancer cells and reduce inflammation. Just a teaspoon of curry powder (which is a blend of turmeric and other spices) is equal to ½ cup of red grapes in antioxidants. Oh, how this makes me wish I liked Indian food….
Saffron: What does this have in common with Prozac? In a 2007 study, it was found to work as well as the anti-depressant in treating mild-to-. When my son visited Spain when he was in high school, my souvenir was 2 good-size bags of the stuff. (when I think about that, it’s cute…after all, all you need to use is ½ teaspoon added to 2 cups of rice. If you need any saffron, call me.) Saffron is a concentrated source of antioxidants, on par with strawberries, cherries and raspberries.
Garlic: It may help fight brain cancer; garlic compounds, in a study, eliminated cancer cells. Of course, further studies need to be done to further test the effectiveness of this claim. But hey, garlic has so many other benefits, like possibly helping keep cholesterol low, so who knows what else is hidden behind those cloves?

Cinnamon: Cinnamon has one of the highest antioxidant levels of any spice – and even more than many foods. There are as many antioxidants in 1 teaspoon of cinnamon as a full cup of pomegranate juice or ½ cup of blueberries. And chewing cinnamon gum may keep your brain sharp: a recent study found that it speeds the rate at which your brain processes visual cues. (It may be because cinnamon also helps to regulate blood sugar levels – which is good news for diabetics – and by doing this, may help you stay focused).

Thyme: A teaspoon of thyme has about the same amount of antioxidants as a carrot of ½ a cup of chopped tomatoes. And the flavanoids in this spice give it antioxidant properties as well. There are some studies that suggest these antioxidants may have age-related benefits like helping to maintain cognitive function and promote heart health.

Coffee: Okay, I’m cheating; it’s not a spice. But I wanted to sneak it in here because of this: Scientists have already documented coffee’s ability to enhance learning and memory and speed the processing of information. Now new research published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease says that coffee can also ward off some effects of aging on the brain. Previous research shows that caffeine can lessen the damage of Alzheimer’s disease caused by the toxic peptide that forms plaques in the brains of Alzheimer patients. New findings show that women (not the same for men, for whatever reason) who drank 3 or more cups of coffee a day (or 6 cups of tea) were protected against the deterioration and loss of brain tissue. Caffeine also stimulates blood flow.

Tips to Repel Mosquitoes Naturally

A coworker of mine was recently telling me of her mosquito woes—she can’t seem to leave the house without getting attacked. I can commiserate; after a weekend picnic, I’m itching my feet with one hand and typing with the other. But if you’ve been following this blog, you probably know that I’m a bit apprehensive about using traditional (chemical-laden) bug spray. Yes, DEET is super effective at keeping the bugs at bay, but it also been found to be very toxic to humans as well. So I’ve decided to do a little research about natural bug repellents.

Tip 1: Avoid wearing smelly stuff. This may seems obvious, but just as a reminder: When heading outdoors, avoid using strong-smelling soap, wearing scented lotions and using perfume (or even strong-scented fabric softener).

Tip 2: Garlic? Yup, that’s right, it doesn’t only fend off vampires. Garlic has been found to keep mosquitoes at bay as well. You can ingest lots of it (which will fend off bacteria as well – bonus!), so that it seeps out of your pores, or you can mix it with water and spray it on your body (test a small spot first to make sure you don’t have a skin reaction).

Warning: this suggestion has major social implications!
Tip 3: Invest in a Citronella candle. Oils from the Citronella plant are used to make these candles, which are pretty effective at keeping bugs at bay during a backyard barbecue. I also recently saw an advertisement for citronella bracelets you can wear. If you’ve tried them, please share a comment and let us know how they work.
Tip 4: Take a shower after working out before hanging out outdoors. Tempted to lay in the hammock after going for a run? It might be best to jump in the shower first. Lactic acid, which is given off by the body during physical exertion, has been known as a mosquito attractant. (Note: the release of lactic acid in the body may also be affected by eating certain foods such as those with high salt or potassium content).

Tip 5: Try one of these other volatile plant oils mixed with cooking oil as a natural repellent. I found this list on, which says: “These natural products will effectively repel mosquitoes, but they require more frequent reapplication (at least every 2 hours) and higher concentrations than DEET.” Look for these ingredients in natural products or click here for Anne Marie Helmenstine, Ph.D.’s guide on how to make the natural repellents:

Citronella Oil
Lemon Eucalyptus Oil (this one was called out for extra effectiveness)
Cinnamon Oil
Castor Oil
Rosemary Oil
Lemongrass Oil
Cedar Oil
Peppermint Oil
Clove Oil
Geranium Oil
Possibly Oils from Verbena, Pennyroyal, Lavender, Pine, Cajeput, Basil, Thyme, Allspice, Soybean and Garlic

Also, please keep in mind that many people are sensitive to plant oils, so remember to follow the manufacturers instructions and test your skin before applying it all over. If you are pregnant, consult your doctor before use.

Tip 6. If you can’t give up the DEET, try applying it to your clothes (the more coverage of bare skin, the better) instead of directly to your skin.

Sunday, 27 November 2016

What Does the New Health Care Reform Bill Mean for Me

Change is scary, especially when the parameters around it are unknown and rather confusing. Health care reform is one of those unnerving changes. The bill will extend insurance coverage to 32 million additional Americans by 2019, but it will certainly affect us all. The question is: how?

The new bill will place more stringent guidelines on health care companies. For example, the plans will have to stop setting lifetime limits on coverage, canceling policies when people get sick and denying people coverage for preexisting conditions (the last will take place in 2014). Another major change is that children and young adults can be covered under their parents until the age of 26.

If you can’t afford health care, depending on your income, you might be eligible for Medicaid, the state-federal program for the poor and disabled, which will be expanded with the bill. If your income is over the Medicaid limit, but you are still struggling, you may be able to receive government subsidies to help you pay for private insurance from the new state-based insurance marketplaces, called exchanges, slated to begin operation in 2014.

If you already have coverage, you can keep your plan or buy coverage through these marketplaces.
Beginning this year, Medicare will offer annual checkups and preventive screenings (colon, prostate and breast) free to beneficiaries. Medicaid will also offer additional preventive services without cost to children and adults.

Common Concerns:

Families that make over $250,000 will pay more in Medicare payroll taxes starting in 2018. Their unearned income, now exempt from the payroll tax, would also be subject to a 3.8 percent levy, according to The New York Times.

Most Americans will be required to buy health insurance by 2014 or pay a penalty. The penalty will start at $95 or 1 percent of income in 2014, whichever is higher, rising to $695 or 2.5 percent of income in 2016. However, families would not pay more than $2,085. Some people would be exempt from the requirement because of financial hardship or religious or cultural beliefs.
Flexible spending accounts, which allow users to put aside untaxed dollars for medical expenses, will be limited to $2,500 and will no longer be usable for over-the-counter medicines

How to Protect Your Vision Against Macular Degeneration as You Age

Since last week when I wrote about being part of the Sandwich Generation, I can’t seem to get my own parents, and their advancing age, out of my mind. And having just spent four days with my 80-year-old mom made it sink in even more. While she’s lucky not to be suffering from any major illness like Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes or cardiovascular disease, there is one major impediment to her everyday enjoyment of life: she has age-related macular degeneration, a disease that gradually destroys vision and is caused by the deterioration of the central portion of the retina, known as the macula. It’s this portion, in the inside back layer of the eye, that records the images we see and sends them (via the optic nerve) from the eye to the brain.

My mother can no longer decipher a newspaper, book or label. She is stripped of the ability to enjoy the variety of colors in sunsets, admire the details that shine in artistic creations or marvel over the fine nuances of her great-grandchildren’s ever-changing features as they morph from infancy into toddlerhood. She can no longer sit behind the wheel of a car but must be relegated to the passenger seat, and quite often she sees the world through a haze of wavy lines and hallucinations of geometric shapes.

More than 10 million Americans are affected by macular degeneration. Scary, since it’s no longer just our parents who are getting sidelined with the disease: it’s the leading cause of blindness for people aged 55 and older. As the baby boomer population ages, so will the rate of people who are affected with macular degeneration. While the exact causes are not known, what is known is that age increases the chances of contracting the condition.

Each year when I visit my ophthalmologist, I remind her of my mother’s deteriorating sight, aware that there could be a genetic link. “Is there anything I should be doing?” I ask, hoping that her answer will change from the one she gave me the year before (that is, eating a well-balanced diet with plenty of fresh fruits and veggies, keeping current with my annual checkups, not smoking and staying active). It all makes me feel so helpless and out of control; after all, the condition is downright frightening. Though treatable with drugs and/or surgery, it is not reversible.
But this morning, right after driving my mother home, I came back to my office and came upon some encouraging new information about vision loss and nutrition. (When something is not curable, any bit of new information takes on the label of “encouraging,” no?) Several nutrients, including zinc and omega-3 fatty acids, were linked to a lower risk of developing macular degeneration in the people who ate the highest amounts in their diets, researchers found.

When the researchers studied people over age 55 who had one of the two genes contributing to macular degeneration, they found that for one type of gene variation, people who got the most zinc, beta carotene, omega-3 fatty acids or lutein/xeaxanthin in their diets were less likely to develop the condition than the people who had low intake of those nutrients. And for those who had the other type of gene variation, two nutrients—zinc and omega-3—were associated with a lower risk.
There’s no need to eat huge amounts, either: the government-recommended daily allowances are sufficient. That’s 1.1 grams of omega-3s and 8 milligrams of zinc daily (for women). The amounts for men are a bit higher.

What foods are high in zinc? Oysters, red meat, toasted wheat germ, dark chocolate and cocoa powder, nuts and beans.

What foods are high in omega-3 fatty acids? Flaxseeds, walnuts, scallops and oily fish like salmon, sardines, halibut and tuna.

What foods are high in beta carotene? Carrots, sweet potatoes, broccoli, spinach, green peppers, apricots and cantaloupe.

What foods are high in lutein and zeaxanthin? Eggs, leafy greens, Brussels sprouts, kale and collard greens.

This matters: If you’re older than 50 and have noticed a change in your central vision, see your ophthalmologist. There are two tests—aside from your normal eye exam—that can be performed. In one, you look at a checkerboard like grid, called an Amsler grid. One eye is covered as you look with your other eye at a black dot in the center. If the lines are wavy or missing, this could signal a problem. Another test, which can pinpoint leaky blood vessels in your eye by injecting a dye into your arm and taking pictures as the dye reaches the blood vessels in the retina, may be performed as well.

Life After a Breast Cancer Diagnosis

Hi, I’m Marilyn Balcombe. I’m an active 52-year-old professional and community activist in a rural town in Maryland who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. I have a great husband, Jonathan, and an active, wonderful 15-year- old daughter, Emily. While we live very busy lives, we take time to enjoy ourselves and each other.

Before my diagnosis, I had spent the last eight months getting ready to run for the local county council. Working every weekend, out most nights, writing my plan, shoring up my contributions, securing endorsements, I was on schedule for what hoped to be a mid-February announcement. Needless to say, that has gone to the back burner.

On January 26, I had my annual mammogram—just another errand to check off my “to do” list. But instead of the tech coming back and saying, “You’re all clear,” the radiologist came in to explain my abnormal results. I was stunned. I got on the phone and the whirlwind began.

I had a biopsy a week later. It was a small tumor, and I was hopeful I would have the results of the biopsy in about a week. I loved my surgeon, Pamela Wright, from the minute she took my shoulders, pulled me closer, looked me in the eye and said, “Whatever this is, it is small, and you will survive this.”

I got the results the following Monday, sitting at my desk at work. I was shocked. I could not believe it. And I didn’t know what to do. Do I continue working? Do I call anyone? How do I move forward? I called Jonathan, who works at home, to share the news and to ask where our daughter was. I had decided not to tell Emily too much too soon, but now it was time to talk to her. She was very sad and scared and wanted to know if I was going to die. I told her I didn’t think I would but that I would have surgery and lengthy treatments to make sure that didn’t happen. As she continued to cry, I let her know that I really needed her to be a strong member of my team. She accepted that challenge

Toast the Oscars with a Healthy “Cosmo

Are you hosting an Oscar’s party this Sunday? Looking to make it festive without feeling terrible at work the next day? Why not skip the alcohol and try a non-alcoholic sweet treat, like this simple “Cosmo” recipe created by my favorite bartender:
* 3 ounces of cranberry juice
* 1 ounce of pomegranate juice
* 1 ounce of seltzer water
* Splash of Lime Juice
* Add all of your juices  to a shaker 1/2 full with cracked ice
* Shake for a full minute
* Top glass with a twist of lemon
* Slowly pour one
Besides the obvious lack of alcohol, this “Cosmo” packs a healthy punch with cranberry and pomegranate juices (opt for the unsweetened brands). Cranberry, often revered for its aid in preventing and overcomingurinary tract infections, has more antioxidants than grapes, and has been shown to be helpful in preventing certain cancers. The same goes for pomegranate, which has also been shown to reduce the risk for heart disease as well. Now that’s something to toast to!

5 Reasons to Love Peanuts

With all the ongoing debate about healthy school lunches, I can’t help but think back to my childhood. My nose still stings when I remember that pungent aroma (awful to me, but perhaps inviting to others) and the heaps of steaming, mass-produced slop (unappealing to me, but perhaps scrumptious to others) that appeared daily in the cafeteria. “You’re so picky,” my friends chided me, as I bypassed the lines and made a beeline for our table, lunch box in tow. “You’re so boring,” my friends joked as they watched me unwrap yet another peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Peanuts and I parted ways for a few years when I was in my 30s, struggling to lose the 40 pounds I put on with each pregnancy. Back then, I thought of anything that contained calories and fat as the enemy. But once I finally lost the weight and started feeding my two boys peanut butter, I couldn’t resist the occasional finger-in-the-jar swipe. It brought me a certain comfort I hadn’t had in years (and the weight didn’t come back to haunt me).

Since then, we’re friends again, the peanut and I. How did I tackle the high-fat content and calories? Moderation, of course. That’s easy to do, since it doesn’t take a lot to satisfy; peanuts’ fat and fiber content makes them very filling. And their fat—mostly of the monosaturated kind—is heart-healthy fat (not a reason to eat a LOT of it; just a reason to feel OK about eating it at all).

I say it’s a good thing peanuts are back in my life, because there are so many health benefits associated with eating them:

Protein and fiber. Peanuts improve satiety and help maintain weight loss. Several studies have found that eating small amounts of nuts helps dieters lose weight; when nuts were allowed in their eating plans, they did not feel deprived.

Nutrients. Peanuts are abundant in the vitamins niacin, folate, pantothenic acid, thiamin, riboflavin, choline, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin E and rich in minerals like magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, zinc, iron, copper, manganese and selenium.

Disease control. Studies have found eating peanuts five times a week decreased heart disease and reduced the risk of diabetes, gallbladder disease and colorectal cancer. Peanuts and peanut butter are included on the DASH diet eating plan, which helps lower blood pressure.

Antiaging. Peanuts have been found to contain the potent antiaging molecule resveratrol, the same phytochemical found in red wine and grapes. Studies have shown that resveratrol can fight the proliferation of fat cells and improve the uptake of sugar from the blood. The resveratrol in peanuts is found in the seed itself and the skin.

Cholesterol. When postmenopausal women with high cholesterol were fed a low-fat diet that included healthy fats from peanuts, their cholesterol improved. The phytosterols that peanuts contain have been shown to reduce cholesterol.

Skin Cancer Warning Signs and the Importance of Annual Screenings

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer, probably making up more than half of all diagnosed cases of cancer, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS). The incidence of skin cancer is rising dramatically in the United States. According to the American Academy of Dermatology (AAD), melanoma is the deadliest type of skin cancer, accounting for more than 75 percent of all deaths from skin cancer, about 8,700 last year alone.
With early detection, melanoma is highly curable. “The average five-year survival rate for individuals whose melanoma is detected and treated before it spreads to the lymph nodes is 98 percent,” cites the AAD. They also say that there is a direct correlation between the thickness of the melanoma and survival rate.
Preventative screenings save lives—period. If you’ve been putting off your annual skin exam, don’t delay any longer. It is also recommended that you examine your own skin for abnormalities, preferably once a month. If you find anything suspicious, make an appointment with your health care professional. Skin cancer is more common in men, so be sure to encourage the males in your life to get screenings as well.
Melanoma Warning Signs
The Melissa K. Bambino Melanoma Foundation sites these melanoma warning signs on its website:
Enlarging pigmented spot or mole
Changes in color of an existing mole
Changes in characteristics of skin over the pigmented spot, such as changes in size or shape
Bleeding or breaking open
Also, you can use the A-B-C-D-E guide developed by the American Academy of Dermatology:
A. ASYMMETRY: One half unlike the other half
B. BORDER Irregular: Scalloped or poorly circumscribed border
C. COLOR Varied: From one area to another, shades of brown and tan; black; sometimes white, red or blue
D. DIAMETER: Larger than 6mm as a rule (diameter of a pencil eraser)
E. EVOLVING: A mole or skin lesion that looks different than the rest or is changing in size, shape or color
Non-Melanoma Skin Cancer Warning Signs
There are many types of non-melanoma cancers, but the two most common types are basal cell carcinoma and squamous cell carcinoma. More than 2 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are diagnosed each year, leading to about 2,000 deaths. According to the AAD, these are the early signs to be on the lookout for:
Basal cell carcinoma (BCC)
This is the most common type of skin cancer. It most often appears on skin that gets lot of sun, such as the face, scalp, neck, hands and arms, but can appear elsewhere as well.
It may look like a:
Reddish patch of dry skin that won’t heal
Flesh-colored (or pink, red or brown) pearl-shaped lump
Pimple that just won’t clear
Sore that bleeds, heals and then returns
Scar that feels waxy—may be skin-colored, white or yellow
Group of slow-growing, shiny pink or red growths—look like sores, often scaly and bleed easily
Flat or sunken growth—feels hard, may be white or yellow
Squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) 
This common type of skin cancer often appears on skin that got lots of sun, such as an ear, face, bald scalp, neck or arm, but it can appear elsewhere on the body as well.
SCC often has a reddish color and often has the following characteristics:
Hard (scaly or crusty) reddish bump, patch or pearl-shaped growth
Open sore that itches and bleeds; it can heal and return
Scaly patch on the lip; skin on the lip can get thick

Saturday, 19 November 2016

Hair Loss During Pregnancy?

At five months pregnant, my friend Samantha is dealing with something most women experience at some point during a pregnancy or while breast-feeding: hair loss. Over the last few months she has noticed that she’s losing more hair than usual, especially when she washes it and combs it out. Understandably, she’s a little freaked out and wondering if there’s anything she can do about it.

Personally, I experienced big-time hair loss for about four months after I delivered, as did many of my mom-friends. During my pregnancy my locks seemed fuller, brighter and healthier (don’t hate me!). Unsure how to help Samantha, I turned toDana Jacoby, MD for answers.

Dr. Jacoby explained that women usually experience hair loss after pregnancy–which, as I mentioned, I certainly did. However, he explained that during pregnancy, major hair loss would be uncommon and may be a sign of an underactive thyroid or vitamin deficiency. He recommended that Samantha talk to her health care provider so that they can properly diagnose the cause and determine how best to treat it.

So, there you have it. If you’re dealing with the same issue, it’s good to know you’re not alone and that your health care provider can address the problem, isn’t it?

Note: The information provided here is not meant to replace a visit to your health care provider. He or she knows you, and your medical history, better than anyone. We strongly encourage you to speak with your health care professional about your particular health concerns.

Lose a Fat Cell, Get a Fat Cell: Is Liposuction Worth It?

Turns out that in the quest to shape and contour their bodies into perfection, patients are ending up with fat that shows up elsewhere, most assuredly where it’s not wanted; akin to an uninvited guest.

In other words, you might be minus the distressing saddlebags, but now you have fat in other places like your upper abdomen, around your shoulders or the triceps of your arms. As stated in the New York Times, the body “defends” its fat. Even if liposuction suctions out just a pound of the gelatinous goo, it will come back to haunt you back about a year later, albeit in a different guise. ho
In laboratory rats, studies have shown that when fat was surgically removed, it always came back, and it came back in places other than where it was removed. New fat cells grow to replace the ones that are lost. And scientists have found that although fat cells live an average of seven years, each time a fat cell dies, another one is formed and steps up to the plate.

Despite all this, the study that found all this new information also found that the women who had liposuction remained happy; they had gotten rid of the fat that they wanted banished. And what of the women in the control group – those who did not get the liposuction but were told they could get it after the study if they still wanted it?

HealthyWomen is Ranked Top Site in O, The Oprah Magazine

Living in the so-called information age, it can be difficult to know who to trust as a reliable source when conducting research—especially when it comes to your own health.

We all have that friend or colleague—or maybe it’s even your own mother—who turns to Google instead of her doctor when experiencing symptoms or side effects.  Let’s face it: The Internet can make a hypochondriac out of the best of us!

For 20 years, HealthyWomen has been a consistent and reliable source of information—both before and during the Internet era. But with countless sites offering conflicting information for every ailment, our independent source of online and print publications is more important now than ever before.

HealthyWomen is pleased to acknowledge its very own endorsement by one of today’s leading sources of health in media today—Dr. Mehmet Oz, host of The Dr. Oz Show and frequent medical contributor to the TheOprah Winfrey Show and O, The Oprah Magazine.
In this month’s March publication of O magazine, Dr. Oz lists HealthyWomen as the preeminent site for women’s health advice!

This is a huge honor and recognition for our organization, but it is nothing we didn’t already know ourselves, as do the legions of women who log on to  every day to find timely and well-researched medical information from this long-trusted source.

HealthyWomen provides information that is original, objective, rooted in evidence-based research and reviewed by renowned medical experts.

Our organization’s mission from day one has been to educate and empower women so they will be able to take control of their health, be proactive, and become their own advocates.
Entering our “30s” this year with a fresh face and ever-increasing confidence, those of us behind the scenes at HealthyWomen knew this new decade of growth had similar attributes to a woman entering her third decade: self-assurance, independence and the willingness to take on the world whether at work or at home.

At HealthyWomen we wish to publicly thank Dr. Oz and Ms. Winfrey for helping to spread the word of our commitment to protecting our women from the midday sun of the information age.

Want to Stay Healthy? Don’t (Just) Exercise

When my boys were little, I used to bug them about exercising, especially on the weekends. I was like a broken record. They would practically be chained to their chairs, playing with their computers. No matter that hours would pass and they hadn’t eaten. They were captive. I’m happy to say that now that they’re grown and on their own, I don’t have to nag them anymore. They are both proud card-carrying gym members.

So instead of bugging them, when I started writing this blog, I suspect I began to bug all my readers about exercising. If you haven’t noticed, I write about it a lot.

OK, I’ll make you a deal. This time will be different. I won’t tell you to exercise. I won’t tell you that it improves your overall health or that it can lower your blood pressure, improve your metabolism, cholesterol and triglyceride levels.

I’ll tell you something much simpler that has these same exact health benefits. (But you’re not exactly off the hook. I’m not telling you to give up exercise completely.)

Experts are now saying that even if you exercise regularly, it won’t make up for those hours you spend sitting. I wrote about this previously but that was almost a full year ago. I think it bears repeating. I know that after I heard the report on NPR this morning, I clipped on my pedometer (something I used to do but have gotten away from)  and made sure I put it to work to log at least 10,000 steps today.

One Australian study found that taking mini-breaks throughout the day resulted in lowering blood sugar levels as well as triglycerides and cholesterol. And waist sizes decreased, too. The NPR broadcast quotes epidemiologist Steven Blair, a professor of public health at the University of South Carolina, as saying, “Let’s say you do 30 minutes of walking five days a week (as recommended by federal health officials), and let’s say you sleep for eight hours. Well, that still leaves 15.5 hours in the day.”

So you see, most of us are sitting much more than we probably realize. And when we sit, our muscles don’t contract much; when major muscles aren’t moving, neither is your metabolism (at least, not very much). It slows down dramatically. Aside from that, sitting leads to other health problems, among them an increased risk of diabetes and heart disease.

Now that you know this, what do you do? Some suggestions:

Schedule a 10-minute mini-break (or several) into your day. Get up from your desk and walk around, stretch, bend, jump—just move.

When looking for a place to park, pull your car into the farthest corner of the parking lot.
Skip the elevator; take the stairs instead.

If you work in an office with others, instead of calling a coworker on the phone or e-mailing her, get up from your desk for some in-person communication.

Swap your desk chair for a stability ball or use a taller desk where you can work standing up.
During a meeting or while watching television, stand up regularly and walk in place, pace or just plain fidget.

Try Tai Chi and See Big Health Benefits

Did you know that Tai Chi has been found to lowerblood pressure, increase bone density, reduce chronic pain, increase flexibility, improve immune function and reduce stress and depression? This ancient Chinese method works both the mind and the body by pairing slow movements and shifts of balance with a strong focus on the breath; it is often referred to as moving meditation. Even just practicing for five minutes a day can have big benefits.

During my stay at Kripalu this past weekend, I tried Tai Chi for the first time. I found it relaxing and enjoyable, almost resembling a slow dance…with yourself (although, there are some great moves you can do with a partner too).

The best part is that once you’ve learned some basic moves, you can practice anywhere—in your living room or even in the local park (you’ve probably seen people practicing in a trance-like vibe).

To learn, you can watch a video if you prefer to practice in private, or if you would like to attend a class, look for one that says Tai Chi for your health (those are more centered on relaxation and health than exact form).

Have you tried Tai Chi? What do you think? Please share your comments below.

Tuesday, 15 November 2016

Loneliness Does Not Bode Well for Health

Perhaps it’s the gray, rainy day; the realization that winter has finally struck and the 60 degree days are merely an anomaly rather than the rule. Or maybe it’s the fact that for the past month, because of hubby’s multiple surgeries and a lot of my own work, I’ve been holed up a bit more than normal. But lately, loneliness has been sharing my space with me.

So when I noticed a report on Reuters Health yesterday about lonely rats and how they’re more prone to breast cancer, I was interested in what it had to say. When researchers at Yale University studied rats that were lonely and stressed-out, they found that, as opposed to rats living happily in a social group, the lonely rats had a three times higher risk of developing breast tumors than the others; moreover, the tumors in these rats were more deadly, being larger and more plentiful.

Stress. That’s the culprit, they think. The stress of social isolation may be the trigger for ill health, according to the article. Many studies have already suggested a link between loneliness and its negative impact on human health. And stress has already been shown to trigger cancer-causing genes in humans.

What’s interesting is that because of these findings, the scientists think it could could explain the earlier development of breast cancer in women who live in high-crime neighborhoods. The role of social network could be a big one in determining and protecting health.

Is being alone the same as that powerful feeling of loneliness, I wonder? I like being alone and am usually perfectly content when I am. But loneliness, I think, takes being alone to a whole other dimension. It’s more than just craving company; it’s unwanted solitude. And that’s the time to stand up and take notice, and make sure it does not have a negative impact on your health.

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Are You Vitamin D Deficient?

During his recent annual physical, my husband’s doctor informed him that he was extremely deficient in vitamin D. Two weeks later, my doctor reported that I’m in the same boat.  Often called the “sunshine vitamin,” the greatest source for vitamin D is the sun. But our efforts to protect ourselves from damaging UV rays by wearing ample sunscreen (which blocks the effects) combined with the less powerful rays given off from October to April, it’s no surprise that an estimated 50 percent or more of the world’s population have a vitamin D deficiency.

If women maintained high levels of vitamin D, they could reduce their risk of breast cancer as much as 50 percent; colorectal cancer up to 253 percent; and heart disease, stroke and peripheral artery disease more than 100 percent, says vitamin D expert Michael F. Holick, MD, PhD, of Boston University Medical Center. Vitamin D also assists in calcium absorption, which we know is integral for good bone health.

Taking a vitamin D supplement can help; talk to your provider about recommended dosage. But what else can you be doing to boost your intake? Get some sunshine: try for 10 to 15 minutes at least two times a week. Also, add some vitamin D rich items to your diet such as oily fish like salmon, cod, sardines, herring and mackeral, dried shitake mushrooms (sun-ripened) and shrimp.

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Should Breast Self-Exams be Shown on TV?

I’m a bit uncomfortable with something I just came across on the Internet. It’s about a television station in Washington D.C. airing an actual breast self-exam, with real demonstrations done by real women.

And some parental watchdog groups don’t like it much.

You know what? I’m uncomfortable. NOT with the fact that this is being shown on television – but instead, with the fact that the television station is being accused by some as trying to boost their ratings, since this two-part series is being aired during the fall sweeps. Some are calling it a “ratings stunt.”

Well, breast cancer awareness month happens to fall in the Fall. That’s one thing. And another thing? So many women are uncomfortable with, or don’t know how, to examine their own breasts…and I think many would be grateful to see a live demonstration. What’s important, too, is that one of the women doing the demonstration is a woman who discovered her own breast cancer by a self-exam. Along with that are interviews with two very public women dealing with breast cancer, one of them being Elizabeth Edwards.

So, I’m curious: what do you think? Does this offend you…or do you applaud the television station for helping women?

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Five Simple Ways to Get Fat

Losing weight can be hard—but getting fat is sometimes too easy. So, now, I’ll be the contrarian. Instead of telling you how to lose weight, I’ll have some fun and tell you how to get fat.
Eat what you want on vacation. Vacation is all about relaxing, and usually that leads to us relaxing about our diets, too. So, instead of sharing a splurge or limiting yourself to one or two really special desserts throughout the week, eat up. You’re guaranteed to not only have to pay overweight on just your luggage, but pay big time when you get home and see the truth on the scale.

Sit and relax on vacation. That’s what it’s for, right? If you seek out the gym or nearby walking or biking trail, you might be tempted to exercise and work off some extra calories. But if you want to get fat, steer clear of those, as well as a walking tour or choosing the stairs over the elevator.

When you’re depressed/stressed/tired, eat. Foods loaded with carbs help raise that feel-good serotonin, so go ahead and indulge. It’ll help you, albeit temporarily. And then you can repeat the whole cycle when your blood sugar plummets and you feel depressed/stressed/tired again. If you’d rather wallow in your bad feelings, steer clear of foods with protein.

Go to a party hungry. After all, there will be great appetizers and lots to drink. It’s always nice to have someone else’s cooking. The food always tastes so much better, doesn’t it? And alcohol is bound to loosen your inhibitions so that you’ll soon lose track of what and how much you’re putting in your mouth.

Watch TV with a bag of popcorn instead of portioning it out in a bowl. You’ll get so engrossed in the latest episode of Dr. Oz that you won’t even notice how much is missing from the bag. What fun are things like frozen grapes or apple slices with a small side of peanut butter when you can pull crunchy stuff out of a bag?

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Midlife Weight Gain and Health: In the News. Again.

Since I’m a health writer, I read just about everything I can get my hands on (and find time for) on new studies, findings, health reports and statistics…you get the story. And sometimes, it just gets frustrating. I mean, weight is a BIG issue (pun intended :) and here it is, turning up again, like a bad penny.

Here’s the latest: If you want to age well, avoid midlife weight gain. (Kind of an oxymoron, isn’t it: midlife and avoiding weight gain?) We try; we really do. But…it happens.

Researchers followed more than 17,000 women over 24 years, with an average age of 50. The study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that being overweight in middle age diminishes your chances of a “healthy survival” into your 70s by as much as 80 percent. The researchers considered “healthy survival” to mean living without chronic disease and also being able to perform everyday activities like climbing stairs and grocery shopping.

Being overweight in midlife, they found, resulted in multiple chronic diseases, impaired cognitive function, physical function and mental health.

Most women I know have gained some weight since they were 18. I’ll include myself in that statement, despite being a diligent exerciser and being careful with my diet. Then again, there is that friend of mine (you know who you are) who still wears the same jeans she wore in high school (despite having two children who are now in their 20s).

Did I mention I’m insanely jealous? Well, the only thing to do is to keep trying, right? Get some exercise and move your body (hate to exercise? Find a buddy to work out with); make the right food choices (okay, sometimes you do have to cheat a bit and let yourself have that cookie – but the trick is to use some willpower!) and learn all about belly (or visceral) fat and why you don’t want it.

Easy Ways to Rev up Your Metabolism

It’s a common misconception that we can eat whatever we want since we’ll burn it off exercising. The painful truth is this: You don’t burn as many calories as you think from exercise. In other words, just because you are sweating and working hard, it doesn’t give you free license to eat whatever you want.

Another part of the puzzle: As you age, metabolism gradually becomes more sluggish with each decade after age 20. You don’t suddenly wake up and poof- you’re 10 pounds heavier. It happens slowly, over time. Compared to age 25, at 35 you burn about 100 fewer calories a day. At 45, that number becomes 200 fewer…you get the picture.

You might be tempted now to throw in the towel at this news-not so fast!  There are ways to fight this slowdown:

Change your fitness routine. It’s easy to get complacent, bored, comfortable with the second-treadmill-from–the-right-with-the-best-view in the gym. But when you get used to a certain routine, it’s likely that you’ll forget to work hard. You’ll go through the motions, just to get it over with; familiarity at the gym breeds less challenge. Don’t forget to have fun and let your inner energy emerge: push yourself and try other fitness options like spin, Zumba, kickboxing or whatever else is new and exciting. If you walk, intersperse it with short bouts of jogging; if you like to bike, alternate easy pedaling with more resistance.

Add some peppers to your diet. Capsaicin, the chemical compound in chile peppers that gives them their heat, can also rev up your metabolism. Although studies show the effects are fleeting, it can add up over a long period of time, especially if you love eating spicy foods. You can add red pepper flakes to so many foods: pastas, stews, chilis, pizza…breakfast cereal (?).

Pick up some weights. People whose bodies have more muscle have more efficient metabolisms; that’s because each pound of muscle uses about 6 calories a day as opposed to each pound of fat, which burns about 2 calories a day. Over time, it all adds up.

Drink more water. Your body needs water to burn calories. One study found that adults who drank eight or more glasses a day burned more calories than those who drank just four. Another found that cold water, as opposed to room temperature water, raises your resting metabolism by as much as 50 calories a day. Iced tea or iced coffee (with lots of ice cubes) will do the trick, too (provided you don’t load it up with cream and sugar!)

Eat more often. (not MORE, but more OFTEN).  That’s because eating small meals or snacks every 3 or 4 hours keeps your metabolism churning as opposed to eating large meals with many hours in between. And some studies support this concept further by finding that people who snack regularly eat smaller amounts at mealtime.

Pick protein. The body works harder if you eat protein: it burns up to twice as many calories digesting it as it does digesting carbohydrates or fat. To keep your diet balanced, don’t eliminate carbs entirely. Instead, try replacing some carbs with lean, protein-rich foods.

Don’t crash (diet). Severely cutting your calories may peel off the pounds, but it does that by taking it off your muscle. And remember: the lower your muscle mass, the slower your metabolism. Your new, thinner body won’t stay that way for long, unfortunately. Its metabolism will now be even slower than before, so chances are good that you’ll gain back the weight – and then some.

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More on Emotions and Health: How Much Are We Responsible?

One recent post on illness and personality struck lots of readers and elicited many interesting comments. This comment resonated most strongly with me.

“This makes good sense to me except that it’s not always a one to one (sort of an obvious comment). I’m thinking of my dear friend struggling with lymphoma right now who is one of the most positive and kind people I know, with a very good outlook on life. I guess all that can’t prevent you from GETTING the disease but it can speed your recovery (at least I REALLY hope so in her case).”

I might be a bit sensitive when it comes to the topic of cancer – and reading this comment and thinking about these scientific studies really hits hard. The relationship between personality and health conditions is tricky; after all, illness can strike unfairly and randomly, and is it always under our “control?”

Yes, negative emotion can play a powerful role – chronic stress is responsible for suppressed immune function, especially where cancer, AIDS and autoimmune diseases are concerned …but what about the times when bad things happen despite our best intentions to stay healthy?

What bothers me even more is this latest report to hit the media:

It’s just too much weight for a cancer patient to carry (aside from all the burdens they are already coping with) : that somehow he/she could be or have been healthier *if only* they weren’t depressed; and survive, too, *if only* they kept depression at bay.

And you can be sure that there are loads of cancer patients out there who are depressed enough without reading or hearing on the news that their depression is an additional serious threat to their health.

If indeed this is the case – that depression lowers your chance of surviving cancer – and the majority of cancer patients will experience depression – what’s important here is for doctors – and anyone else who is a support system – to treat cancer as not just an illness to eradicate but as a life-changing emotional issue as well. Patients need to be emotionally well-armed to cope with what could be debilitating treatments and what follows – a life forever altered.

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What Does Your Personality Say About Your Health?

Did you ever notice how people with certain types of personalities also have certain kinds of illnesses or health problems? Years ago my oncologist told me that the reason he chose oncology rather than cardiology was that rather than being aggressive and type A, his patients were so grateful and pleasant to deal with. (I, for one, do think there’s nothing like a cancer diagnosis to humble you, big time)

I personally know a lot of calm, mellow people who seem never to get colds or other pesky illnesses – or at least get less of them than the general population.

So it was no surprise that I came across an article about how temperament impacts a person’s physical health.

For example, cynical people, which usually translates to hostility, are more prone to heart disease.
And what does hostility have to do with diabetes? According to researchers, hostility leads to stress, which leads to spikes in a protein called C3. The immune system is then affected and various diseases can follow, including diabetes.

Frazzled and anxious? That may lead to diseases like Alzheimer’s. A study of over 500 elderly people found that extroverts who were also outgoing and mellow had a 50 percent lower risk of developing dementia than those who were anxious and frazzled.

So what does this all mean? To me, it means to live a life as unencumbered by negative emotions as possible. I know it’s easy to strive for; harder to achieve, don’t you think? Maybe you have a special tip to share.

5 New Uses for Your Eye Moisturizer

In less-than-ideal economic conditions, “luxury” items often succumb to necessities. Commonly, beauty products are thought not to be necessary but this is debatable—especially if your skin has any say in the matter.

Yes, you may have to hold off on snatching up the hot new eye shadow color of the season and try mixing your existing colors to create something comparable, but there are certain products that you should not go without, like your moisturizer.
Moisturizer is key to keeping your skin healthy, hydrated and youthful. The good (and cost- effective) news is it is also a multitasker. I have come up with six uses for one small miracle worker: your eye moisturizer.
Why specifically an eye moisturizer? In my personal and professional opinion, if something is safe enough to use around your eyes, which constitutes your most delicate skin, then it is safe enough to use anywhere.

Here are six uses for this product:

1. As an eye moisturizer. This is the obvious choice but worth mentioning. Around your eyes is one of the first areas that will give away your age, with fine lines and crow’s feet starting as early as your late 20s or early 30s. Start young with an anti-aging eye cream, and you’ll be less likely to need a lift later on. But, keep in mind, it is never too late to start!

2. As a facial moisturizer. Most eye creams contain tightening, super-hydrating and wrinkle-reducing ingredients—traits that the rest of your face would like to take advantage of, as well!

3. To reduce puffiness. Coolness is the best anti-inflammatory, so try keeping your eye moisturizer in the fridge to help alleviate bags around your eyes.

4. To combat dark circles. Only concealer, or a product with color, will truly hide your dark circles, but concealer can be thick, and applying it to your under-eye area may draw more negative attention than it does good. To cut the heavy consistency, mix your concealer with an eye moisturizer for some effective and non-cakey coverage.

5. To customize a new foundation. Take a dime-sized amount of eye moisturizer and add a few pumps (or squirts or drops) of your favorite liquid/cream foundation to create a tinted moisturizer. The less foundation added, the sheerer the coverage, so mix just until you get your desired level.
6. To keep your lips from cracking. With the cold weather approaching, it is important to keep your lips moist. Dot a drop of your eye moisturizer on the perimeter of your lips and get to rubbing. Not only will it keep your lips soft and hydrated, but it will also aid in reducing the fine lines around your mouth.

Best of Midlife Matters

With more baby boomers reaching midlife each day and 60 percent of us utilizing social media, my readership has grown since I began back in February. If you’ve been a loyal follower, thanks for tuning in. But perhaps you’ve missed a few posts along the way.
And if you’re new to Midlife Matters, I’d like to catch you up with some of my most popular and topical posts.
On Beauty
Facing Aging With Aging Faces (My makeover with makeup guru, Laura Geller)
A Trip to a Cosmetic Dermatologist (Questions about lines and wrinkles answered by top dermatologist, Dr. Arielle Kauvar)
A Haircut With Nick Arrojo (He might be a TV star, but he gave us some time, too!)
On the Emotional Aspects of Aging
Sweet Little Lies (Where – and when – it’s safe to lie about your age)
Midlife Crisis? (Why are these two words always together?)
On Empty Nesting
The Birdies Come Back to Roost (When the nest is no longer empty)
If Your Child is Going Away to College (A handy health guide)
On Exercise
Exercise and Your Metabolism (With advice from a Canyon Ranch expert)
Does Exercise Make You Hungrier? (And does that mean you shouldn’t bother?)
I Hate Exercise (Four common myths debunked)
On Things That Make You Say “Ew!”
Bedbugs Stage a Comeback (They’re baaaack)
The Scoop on Cellulite (What helps – and what doesn’t)

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Simple Steps Toward Heart Health

’m not going to dispense advice on your love life – that’s best left to those experts who deal with emotional matters of the heart (like my friend and fellow blogger Alisa Bowman and her blog – but what I’m going to do give you the American Heart Association’s new guidelines for heart health, called “The Simple Seven.” (For ease, I’ve consolidated it into five tips. Still simple, though.)

It’s worth a look; in a nationwide study of close to 18,000 adults it was found that those who followed at least five of the seven criteria for ideal cardiovascular health had a 55 percent lower risk of death over five years than those who met none. And I think the statistics can be improved upon if we all pay close(r) attention, take them seriously and try just a bit harder.

Get Active. The AHA’s guidelines call for moderate exercise for at least 150 minutes each week; or vigorous exercise for at least 75 minutes each week. Exercise helps control your weight, reduce your blood pressure, increase your HDL (good cholesterol) and improve your body’s response to insulin, which helps control your blood sugar. Struggling with motivation?

Know – and Control – Your Numbers.  There are three significant and important measures that can predict – and increase –your risk for heart disease: blood pressure, blood glucose and blood cholesterol levels. Keep all three in the healthy range and you can reduce your risk of death from cardiovascular disease over 16 to 22 years by 70-80 percent compared with those who have at least one number in a high-risk range. Here’s what to aim for: blood pressure should be maintained below 120/80; fasting blood glucose should be below 100 mg per deciliter of blood; total cholesterol should be below 200 milligrams per deciliter of blood.

Feed Yourself Well. Being aware of the nutritional value of what you’re eating goes a long way toward a healthy heart. Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables; try to get 4-1/2 cups per day. Not only are they low in calories and high in vitamins, minerals and fiber; they can help control your weight and your blood pressure. Unrefined whole-grains are packed with fiber and can help push your unhealthy cholesterol levels down while keeping you full. It’s recommended you eat at least 3 ounces each day.  Aim to eat fish at least twice a week, especially oily fish (like salmon, trout and herring) containing omega-3 fatty acids; research shows it may have heart-healthy benefits. Avoid (or at least cut back on) foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oils to reduce the amount of trans fat you consume; since trans fat raises your “bad” cholesterol and lowers your “good” numbers.  Meats and poultry should be prepared without added saturated and trans fats; they should be as lean as possible and served without the skin. As for salt, new guidelines support that all people limit their daily intake to no more than 1,500 mg (less than 1 tsp.) And limit the amount of sugar you consume; it’s recommended you consume no more than 450 calories worth of sugar-sweetened beverages in a week.

Watch Your Weight. A staggering statistic: of Americans age 20-plus, 145 million are overweight or obese – that translates to 76.9 million men and 68.1 million women. Yikes. And since obesity is now a major culprit for heart disease, that’s just downright frightening. Too much fat – especially the kind of fat that sits around your waist – puts you at a much higher risk for problematic conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol anddiabetes, plus many more.  The AHA recommends keeping your body mass index (BMI) – which is your body weight relative to your height – below 25. To calculate it, multiply your weight in pounds by 703, then divide that number by the square of your height in inches.

Stop Smoking. I truly hope you never started, but if you do smoke, please stop! You can prevent premature death; lower your risk of developing many chronic and debilitating disorders like atherosclerosis (the buildup of fatty substances in your arteries) which can lead to heart disease, heart attack and stroke. Smoking also increases the tendency toward blot clots and decreases your HDL cholesterol

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