Sunday, 29 January 2017

Independence Day Brought a Second Chance to Woman Living With Chronic Migraine

Meet Indianapolis resident Dana Hartman, a winner of the Rewrite Your Day contest, which is giving 15 people living with chronic migraine the chance to work with celebrity event planner Mindy Weiss to re-create a special moment lost to the condition.

I’ve lived with migraines since the age of 16, but two years ago I was officially diagnosed with chronic migraine, a condition that causes me to experience at least 15 headache days or more each month, with headache lasting four hours or more. I have not been able to enjoy many special moments due to chronic migraine, including birthday parties and family gatherings. Last year, I missed my family’s annual July Fourth party due to a migraine, which was especially heartbreaking since it was our first Independence Day without my wonderful father-in-law who passed away earlier that year.

My father-in-law loved holidays with our family, especially when cooking and fireworks were involved, so Independence Day ranked high on his list. I wanted this first July Fourth without him to not feel sad for my young daughter, husband and extended family. I was focused on celebrating the day, which we decided would include a family party where we could eat, play and share memories of the great times we had with Dad.

Unfortunately, I awoke that morning to a fuzzy, sleepy feeling, which typically signals to me that a migraine is about to hit. The symptoms started quickly—neck pain, nausea, stabbing pain in my head. I could barely lift myself off the couch, so my husband ultimately decided to go to the party without me, taking our daughter along to play by the lake and watch the fireworks show. I was so disappointed I couldn’t be there to support my husband and his family and take joy in my child enjoying a summer holiday that she’ll remember nostalgically when she is older, though I won’t be part of that memory due to chronic migraine.

I am now working with a headache specialist to manage my condition. I am hopeful that together we will be able to find a treatment plan that works for me. I urge anyone who is living with chronic migraine to find a specialist who can help diagnose and manage their condition. Help is available; you just need to take the first step.

Dana’s Re-creation

Although I can never get back last July Fourth, I am thrilled I was given the chance to re-create that day thanks to celebrity event planner Mindy Weiss and the Rewrite Your Day campaign. Mindy helped plan a festive red, white and blue celebration that would have made my father-in-law proud. I was especially excited to see how enamored my daughter was by all the festive décor and delicious food, and I feel fortunate that I am now part of new July Fourth memories for her.

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How We Automatically Lose Fat – Where We Don’t Want To

So many of us are trying to lose fat. The good news? With the proper diet and exercise it’s possible to get rid of unwanted fat. The bad news? We lose some fat without even trying … whether we like it or not.

Wait-I said bad news. What’s so bad about losing fat without even trying?
The cruel irony is this: We lose it in a place that we need it – our feet – and age accelerates its departure.
Just look down at those two things connected to your ankles, the things with ten toes. Your body’s precious commodity that carries you the equivalent of three times around the Earth in your lifetime. The body parts that contain a whopping 26 bones, 33 joints and upward of 100 tendons, ligaments and muscles. By the time most of us are 50, those feet have carried us about 75,000 miles!
All that mileage is not without problems, unfortunately.

National Public Radio reported that a study of over 3,000 adults sponsored by the National Institutes of Health found that nearly 28 percent of the American population had chronic foot pain, with women experiencing it twice as much as men. And foot pain is not just in your head: though they do lose fat, feet naturally grow both wider and longer with each passing year, so the shoes that were so comfy last year might become torture devices today.

Feet Don’t Fail Me Now!

So, what’s a person to do, when foot pain is almost as common as, um, the common cold? How can we stay active and on our feet, despite arthritic joints, bunions, poor circulation, loss of flexibility, loss of fat pads that cushion our soles and the like?

Sitting Can Be Hazardous to Your Health

Lose the extra weight. Since the force on your feet is equivalent to about 120 percent of your body weight, it goes without saying that the heavier you are, the more pressure you’re putting on your feet.
Five Little Changes to Lose Weight

Pay extra attention if you have diabetes. Diabetes can result in many complications, among them poor circulation and loss of feeling in your feet. With that, you’re likely to experience poor wound healing. Make sure to have your doctor examine your feet each time you visit, or at the very least, on an annual basis, and stay away from ill-fitting shoes that irritate or rub your feet.

All About Diabetes

Steer clear of high heels. Sorry, stiletto-lovers: They may look sexy and add some wished-for height, but at the same time they can contribute to hammertoes, neuromas (pinched nerves at the ball of the foot), bunions and even toenail problems.

“The higher the heel, the more the shoe increases the arch height and changes its position,” says Australian podiatrist Phil Vasyli, who has engineered the Orthaheel brand, which includes over-the-counter orthotic foot beds, slippers, sandals and walking shoes in over 25 countries around the globe. Vasyli suggests sticking to a maximum heel height of 1 1/2 inches so that the shoes can contour to your arch and distribute your weight over the entire foot rather than just the ball of the foot. If you absolutely can’t resist, try to wear higher heels only for a short time.

Keep your toenails trimmed. Trimming nails straight across will go a long way toward preventing painful ingrown toenails, which can cause irritation, redness and swelling and make walking anything but pleasant.

Avoid cheaply made footwear. Your feet are worth the investment in a good pair of shoes-and they’ll thank you in return. Poorly made shoes usually mean reduced support, lack of breathability and poor quality control, says Vasyli.

Walking Is More Than Just for Fitness

Make sure the shoe fits. The American Orthopedic Foot and Ankle Society reports that 90 percent of women wear shoes that are too tight, resulting in foot problems. Unfortunately, what looks glamorous in magazines can feel ghastly on your feet. When buying shoes, make sure to fit them to the larger foot (we all have one foot slightly larger than the other).

Consider shoe inserts or orthotics if your feet hurt. You can pick up inexpensive nonprescription shoe inserts to wear inside your shoe at any drugstore, or visit your podiatrist for specially made orthotics to support and comfort your feet.

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How to Steer Clear of Food Poisoning

It wasn’t until I got a frantic phone call this past Sunday that I remembered how absolutely dreadful feeling nauseous looks.

“Can you meet me downstairs please?” I heard the muffled sound of traffic in the background. “I’m in my car, two blocks away, and I’m feeling so nauseous.” My friend K. sounded absolutely awful.
I instinctively grabbed a couple of small plastic garbage bags (that stems from the days of having small children who habitually got carsick) and rang for the elevator. Fourteen floors took longer than usual. As I got outside, her car was pulling up. I ran around to the driver’s side, ready with my strong arm and my sick-bag and helped her into the building.

K. was doubled over in pain, sweating profusely and breathing irregularly. She had to sit down on a chair in the lobby to steady herself before she could make it upstairs to her apartment.
“What in the world happened?” I asked.
“I’m not sure,” she answered, her teeth chattering. “But I think … it was the shrimp salad.”
READ: Healthy Foods That Can Make You Sick
One in six Americans (that’s 48 million of us) each year becomes sick from eating contaminated food. And up to 70 percent of the cases of food poisoning originate not in a manufacturing plant (as in many well-documented cases of contaminated produce), but in the kitchen.
Storage or preparation is often the culprit.
You know this saying? “You can’t control what happens to you, but you can control your attitude.”
Well, here’s where I’d turn it around slightly and say instead, “Your attitude can control what happens to you.”
In other words, being careful and prudent in the kitchen can go a long way toward keeping you safe from food poisoning. How?
Separate raw meats, poultry and fish from other foods in the refrigerator. Store them in a bin or tray to catch possible dripping, or on the lowest shelf.
If you’re not using meat within two to three days of purchase, freeze it in moisture- resistant wrap. After securely wrapping, place it in plastic freezer bags.
Use eggs within three to five weeks of purchase. Refrigerate them as soon as you get them home. Keep them in their carton and place them in the coldest part of the refrigerator—not in the door, which can cause temperature fluctuations that lead to bacteria growth.
If your refrigerator and freezer do not have built-in thermometers, put some there. The refrigerator’s temperature should be at or below 40 degrees; the freezer should be at two degrees.
Never defrost uncooked foods on the counter; always place them in the refrigerator, microwave or in a bowl of ice water. Use a plate or pan under the thawing food so the dripping does not spill onto other foods.
Refrigerate or freeze perishable foods within two hours of purchase or preparation, but sooner (within one hour) if the room temperature is above 90 F (32.2 C).
READ: Outdoor Food Safety: Don’t Let Spoiled Dishes Ruin Your Barbecue

To begin, wash hands with warm soapy water for at least 20 seconds. Rewash them after using the bathroom, handling pets, blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing or handling uncooked eggs, raw meat, poultry or fish and their juices.

If your hands have any sort of abrasion or infection, wear clean disposable gloves.
Thoroughly wash surfaces that come into contact with raw meat, poultry, fish or eggs with hot, soapy water before moving on to the next step of food preparation.

Use paper towels to clean kitchen surfaces. If you’d rather use a kitchen sponge or cloth (which often harbor germs) make sure to wash the cloths often in the hot cycle of your washing machine and place the sponge in the dishwasher or microwave (for no more than two minutes), which can effectively kill bacteria.

Keep cutting boards clean by washing in hot, soapy water after each use, then rinse and air-dry or pat dry with clean paper towels. They can be sanitized with a solution of one tablespoon liquid chlorine bleach per gallon of water. To clean, cover the surface with the bleach solution and let it stand for several minutes, then rinse and air or pat dry.
Wash nonporous cutting boards (acrylic, glass, plastic and solid wood boards) in the dishwasher.
Replace cutting boards once they become excessively worn or develop deep grooves, which are hard to clean.

Always wash produce before using. This includes melons, lemons, limes and even fruits that you plan to peel. Organisms that might be lingering on the surface can spread inside when the fruit is cut.
READ: Important Facts About Cantaloupes and Listeria

Always thoroughly rewash a knife, plate or cutting board that has come in contact with raw food to avoid cross-contamination, a common cause of food-borne illness.

When using a food thermometer, wash the probe after each use with hot, soapy water.
Cover foods securely if you’re making them ahead of time, and refrigerate them promptly, keeping them cold until it’s time to reheat or serve.


Be aware of proper temperatures—cooking foods to the right temperature can kill harmful organisms in most foods.

Ground beef or pork should be cooked to 160 F (71.1 C). Steaks and roasts should reach at least 145 F (62.8 C). Pork should be cooked to at least 145 F (71.1 C). For chicken and turkey, cook to 165 F (73.9 C). Most steaks, roasts and chops should rest for 3 minutes after cooking, before serving, during which time the temperature continues to rise or remains constant, which destroys germs.
Fish is usually cooked safely when it reaches 145 F (62.8 C). If preparing shellfish like shrimp, lobster and crab, cook until flesh is milky white or opaque and firm. Cook clams, mussels and oysters until the shells are open. Eggs should be cooked until the yolk and white are firm.
When in doubt …

Not sure if a food has been prepared, served or stored correctly? Was food left out too long? Did the power outage last for more than four hours (or two hours for highly perishable food)? Was the can rusted, dented or swollen?

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Eating Disorders Over 50

Back when I was in high school and college, before there was a name for it, many girls around me resorted to what I then thought of as odd behaviors around food. They’d eat about week’s worth of cookies, candy—just about anything teeming with sugar, calories and super-sweetness—all in one sitting. They’d talk incessantly about their weight; how fat they felt, how they hated so-and-so because she was blessed with a naturally skinny body, how they couldn’t fit into their too-tight jeans. They’d eat nothing for days—and then eat endlessly. They’d gather in the bathroom after a particularly substantial eating binge and purge themselves of all their poisons, only to return to the same routine the very next day.

I suppose I didn’t give much thought to that puzzling behavior in those days, shrugging it off and accepting it, in what was a popularly no-care attitude summed up in one word: whatever.

It wasn’t until junior year when my emaciated college roommate, who was part of this food-and-body-focused gang, left college mid-semester and was hospitalized that I realized this was a real—and widespread—medical emergency. And then, years later, words—and shockingly emaciated girls—seemed to be all around me. Aha, I thought. So that’s what it was all about. Anorexia. Bulimia. Eating disorders.

The upside of growing older, I like to think, is leaving adolescent, attention-seeking, insecure and unhealthy behaviors behind, having outgrown them and/or figured them out. What’s upsetting is that I’m woefully mistaken (and perhaps a bit too optimistic).
The more I age and struggle with it, the more I realize that while we can strive for liberation from the woes of our younger years, it’s not always possible to break away and achieve complete freedom from them.
To prove my point, last week, a report about eating disorders and women over 50 came out. While many think that eating disorders are the product of teenage girls, a new study proves otherwise: many women over 50 engage in this unhealthful practice.

The report was published June 21 in the International Journal of Eating Disorders, and the statistics reported by women over 50 are alarming (1,849 women participated in the online survey):
Almost 4 percent report binge eating
Nearly 8 percent report purging
More than 70 percent diet to lose weight
62 percent say their weight or shape adversely impacts their lives
In their continued quest to control their weight, women’s unhealthy behaviors involved diet pills, excessive exercise, diuretics, laxatives and vomiting.
So why these growing and disturbing numbers? Is it the stress put upon us by society’s standards for thinness and youth? Our fast-paced lives, which leave little time to eat right? Excessive commercialism of food?

Marsha Hudnall, a registered dietitian and owner of Green Mountain at Fox Run in Vermont, the nation’s oldest weight management retreat, says that excessive concern about eating and body size is a hallmark of eating disorders. If you spend a lot of time worrying about whether what you eat will result in weight gain, or whether what you eat will help you lose weight, you already have an eating disorder or are in danger of developing one. (To me, there’s a dangerously fine line between being aware of what you put in your mouth and this.) Further complicating things is the confusion about how to eat well in a food environment that predisposes to obesity, she adds.

It’s understandable that women would fall prey to disordered eating and eating disorders, says Hudnall. “There’s that inability to measure up to the image that defines success and beauty, which is what we all strive for. Being unacceptable, whether in our own or others’ minds, then leads to feelings of insecurity, worthlessness, defeat—those painful issues that underlie eating disorders.”
Our bodies, ourselves: can’t we just get along?

One way to move past all this is to accept and respect that all of us cannot be thin. Hudnall offers some sage advice here. Respect your natural self and do your best at keeping yourself healthy. Eating and food can be pleasurable, but it doesn’t have to take up all of your time and attention. You can learn how to eat to satisfy your individual nutritional needs and at the same time support your natural systems.

The practice of self-compassion can be tough at times. We need to remind ourselves to be mindful and in touch with our emotions and our bodies. Hudnall suggests this: “Place your hands over your heart and say this to yourself: ‘In this moment, may I be kind to myself and my body.'” It takes just a moment out of your day—but in that moment, it can change your direction and head you toward a better place.

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Feeling Lousy? If the Heat’s Got You Down, You May Be Dehydrated

Exhausted? Have a headache? Dizzy? Muscle cramps? Nausea? You may be dehydrated. As the weather gets warmer in many parts of the country, it’s not uncommon for many people to experience these symptoms. As the temperature rises, so does our need for increased water intake. But how much is enough?

Everyone’s body needs water. We lose it by sweating, excretion or simply not taking in enough through foods—like fruits and vegetables—and drinks. Mild dehydration (losing less than 2 percent of your body weight due to inadequate fluids) can cause the health problems mentioned above—dizziness, headaches,fatigue, nausea and more.

To keep your body supplied with the fluid it needs, especially when exercising, follow these tips:
Get the basics. Most women need eight to nine cups of total fluids a day, including all beverages and the water in foods.

Increase according to the weather. High temperatures or humidity outside, heated indoor air and high altitudes all cause you to need more fluids.

Add when exercising. Drink one cup of fluids every 15 minutes during physical activity, advises Werner W.K. Hoeger, EdD, FACSM, professor of kinesiology and director of the Human Performance Laboratory at Boise State University. He recommends drinks that contain electrolytes—important in providing the minerals necessary for proper cellular metabolism, which is disrupted during physical exertion. Electrolyte replacement also helps maintain proper muscle contraction and cardiac function. Try coconut water for an all-natural, tasty electrolyte boost.

Add more for big events. If you’re going to be in a race or charity walk, make sure you drink enough to be well-hydrated the day before, Hoeger adds. Also, drink a glass of fluids an hour before the event.
Drinking for two? Pregnant and nursing women need additional fluids. Talk with your health care professional about what’s best for you.

Limit alcohol intake. As the weather gets nicer, there are more barbecues and backyard parties. That means more opportunities for cocktails. But alcoholic beverages can definitely contribute to dehydration, so make sure to follow up that glass of wine with two glasses of water.
Still thirsty? If drinking fluids doesn’t relieve your thirst, you may have a health condition such as diabetes. See your health care professional right away.

Too much of a good thing. In very rare cases—chiefly among marathon runners—drinking too much fluid leads to a life-threatening illness called hyponatremia. This occurs when sodium levels in the blood fall too low. It happens chiefly to athletes who have run for more than four hours and gained a lot of weight during the race from drinking.

Three tips on getting more water:

Keep a water bottle on your desk as you work and fill it regularly. For those worried about drinking tap water, one company offers a new water bottle with a built-in filter (very cool!).
Eat more hydrating foods, such as cucumber, watermelon, lettuce, celery and tomatoes.
Bored by plain old H2O? Try adding a drop of juice or a squeeze of lemon for added flavor.

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The Girls’ Guide to Pain-Free Feet

This summer has brought out a variety of shoe styles. Rainy days (and there have been lots of them!) preclude me from wearing sandals (unless I want soaked feet). And on the hot, humid days, wearing the wrong sandals can cause swollen feet to feel misplaced in even the most comfortable pair.
Suddenly it seems like foot problems are an epidemic. Lately, everyone I talk to l has a foot story to share—a bump here that precludes them from wearing their favorite flats, a pain there that makes getting out of bed in the morning an excruciating challenge.

What gives?

If you’re anything like me—and my bet is that you are—then I’m sure you’re a cranky mess if your feet hurt. I can’t count the times I’ve been caught in too-tight shoes, shoes that rub my feet the wrong way and cause painful blisters to erupt, shoes that are too flat, too high, too tight, too loose—too ill-fitting to warrant anything but throwing them in the trash.

And to make matters worse, it’s not only your mood that can suffer from the wrong shoes, it’s your feet. The wrong fit, or shoe, can cause painful, stubborn and hard-to-treat conditions like plantar fasciitis, ingrown toenails, corns and calluses.

Here are some common offenders—and ways to put your foot down and say NO to foot pain:

Gladiator and strappy sandals might look great, but beware of the havoc they may cause: irritation between your toes and calluses around your heels.

When shopping for sandals, look for natural materials (like soft, pliable leather). Make sure the sandals fit properly. Sounds obvious, I know, but it’s easy to fall head over heels for a style or be tempted by a half-off sale. Resist the urge to buy the wrong size—they’ll never be comfortable. Buy them too small and your heel can hang over the edge and you may suffer abrasions. Buy them too large and your feet won’t get the proper support they need.

Ankle-wrap sandals are cute, right? Well, yes, but proceed with caution. They don’t offer the best support. If you’re walking on uneven surfaces, your ankle can easily twist. And the friction from the ankle strap can rub you the wrong way. The result: painful blisters.
No need to give up on this style, though. Choose ankle wraps made of a soft material like leather, cotton or satin, and make sure not to buckle or tie the strap too tight.

Wedges or espadrilles can also cause your ankle to twist if they’re too high. Go for a wider, flatter wedge, and a rubber sole that provides traction can keep you steady on your feet. The platform should be beneath the front of the foot, with a lower incline in the heel so that your weight is better distributed.

Flip-flops have their place but can overstay their welcome. While they offer basic protection to the bottom of your foot if you’re walking around a pool or warm surface during the summer (they can also help prevent you from contracting athlete’s foot or plantar warts in public showers), beware of their lack of arch support. What can follow: heel pain from lack of cushioning, twisted or sprained ankles and even tendinitis and other potentially painful conditions like plantar fasciitis (see below).

Flats look stylish under the right circumstances—but be careful to make sure the shoe has adequate cushioning or arch support. Without it, you can be prone to a type of heel pain known as plantar fasciitis (PLAN-tur fas-e-I-tis), an inflammation of the thick band of tissue that runs along the bottom of your foot, connecting your heel bones to your toes.

Pointy-toed shoes make me wonder if they’re worth it. Ingrown toenails, hammertoes, bunions, calluses and corns … oh, my. I can personally attest to a very painful condition called Morton’s neuroma, often caused by those fashionable-looking pointy-toed shoes or footwear with a narrow toe box. Constricting shoes like this can pinch the nerve between the toes, resulting in discomfort and extreme pain, as if you’re stepping down onto a hard rock every time you take a step.

Stay one step ahead of foot pain with these tips:
Have your feet measured. Foot sizes can, and do, change.
Buy for the larger foot. All feet are not created equal.
Bring along an insole while shopping. It may be just what you need to make the shoe fit comfortably.
Don’t convince yourself the shoe will be comfy once it’s “broken in.” It should feel good the moment your foot hits the ground. You can bet that if it hurts in the store, it’ll hurt even more once you get home and start walking around.

Buy sports-specific sneakers. Because of all the quick lateral movement and weight shifts, sports like racquetball and tennis require a sneaker that supports both sides of your foot. You don’t need as much shock absorption as a running or basketball shoe. Running shoes should provide maximum shock absorption to protect you against shin splints and knee pain.

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How to Summer-Proof Your Hair

When it comes to sun protection, skin gets most of the focus, but our hair needs some consideration as well. As anyone who’s ever suffered from stringy strands or a burned scalp knows, the sun can do some major damage to your tresses.

Here are some tips to keep your hair looking and feeling healthy all summer long.
1.  Avoid the Burn
Your scalp needs SPF, too. Nothing is worse than an itchy red scalp that peels after a bad burn. Powder sunscreens and sprays make it easy to protect your scalp so don’t skimp on the sunscreen.
2. Be Gentle
If you plan to be outside a lot—sweating and swimming—you’ll end up washing your hair more often. Some shampoos contain harsh chemicals that will dry out your hair with more frequent washes. Try a sulfate-free formula instead. Although it may be difficult at first to get used to the lack of suds in these shampoos, the sulfate-free formulas will be much gentler on your stressed-out strands. Another way to lessen your hair stress is to use no-tangle bands when you wear it up. Ribbon ties are the only thing I’ll use to style my hair up these days—they don’t cause creases and they never twist my strands into knots.

3. Protect All Day Long

Give your hair a boost of moisture that lasts all day with a light, nourishing leave-in conditioner. This will give you a healthy dose of shine and help prevent static in dry conditions. My favorite formula is Sexy Hair Concepts’ Healthy Sexy Hair Soy-Tri-Wheat Leave-In Conditioner.

4. Repair Your Hair

If the damage is already done and your hair looks limp, frizzy or dull, do a deep conditioning and repairing hair mask to restore shine and body. Applying a hair mask once every week or two is a great practice for everyone during the summer months. I love to use Argan oil and coconut oil for this, although they can be difficult to rinse out. Moroccanoil makes a wonderful restorative hair mask, too. If you’re dealing with split ends, schedule regular trims with your hair stylist over the summer months and lay off the flat iron and hair dryer a couple days a week.

5. Wear a Chic Topper

You already have your stylish bathing suit cover-up, why not scoop one up for your hair as well? Hats and scarves are back in a big way. They make any summer ensemble more chic and double as perfect protection for your hair. Try a straw fedora with your jeans and tee, a glam wide-brim hat with your sundress or a cool scarf tied around your chignon when you’re running errands.

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Do You Have Your Emergency Aspirin?

In the movies, a heart attack is depicted as a dramatic moment—the person clutching his or her chest (usually his) and crying out in pain. In reality, women can suffer a heart attack without any chest pain. The experience might feel like extreme fatigue, pain in the back or jaw or light-headedness. With such apparently small symptoms, a life or death moment can be hard to spot.

It’s important for women to know how to identify a heart attack and what to do when it happens.
Read More: Your Risk for Heart Disease
According to the American Heart Association, heart disease is the number one killer of women. Heart attacks kill more than 250,000 women a year in the United States, yet many can’t name the signs that are unique to women. Look out for:
Pressure or fullness in your chest that lasts more than a few minutes or dissipates and returns
Shortness of breath, with or without chest pain
Nausea, cold sweats or light-headedness
Pain in your arms, neck, back or jaw
Extreme fatigue

Women are more likely than men to experience these other symptoms with or without chest pain. If you experience these symptoms, call 911 or the emergency number in your neighborhood and chew aspirin as directed by a doctor. It’s important to act quickly to limit damage to the heart.
Heart attacks usually develop when an area of plaque in your arteries breaks open, causing a blood clot to form. If the blood clot grows too large, it will block the flow of blood to the heart. The part of the heart that doesn’t receive blood begins to die.

Read More: Understanding Heart Disease

Taking aspirin prevents the blood’s ability to clot. By inhibiting the growth of the blood clot, some blood may be able to reach the heart to prevent further damage.

Bayer Aspirin and WomenHeart: The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, have teamed up to start Handbags & Hearts, a campaign that encourages women to carry aspirin in their purses in case of emergency. For $5, they’re offering a Heart Attack Preparedness Kit with your emergency aspirin, warning signs of a suspected heart attack and tips for what to do in case of a heart attack.
Visit Handbags& and pledge to carry Bayer Aspirin in your handbag and start a conversation about heart attack preparedness.

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Dr. Wulf Utian Speaks Out on Hormone Therapy

It is never ever pleasant in the practice of medicine to live to see a health warning you issued become fact.
In July 2002, right after the infamous press conference held by the NIH to announce the premature termination of the estrogen–progestogen arm of the Women’s Health Initiative study (WHI) and warn women off taking postmenopausal hormones, I wrote an editorial in MenopauseManagement saying: “While the merits and demerits of the data and the wisdom of the decision to terminate this arm of the WHI study will be debated for years, the manner in which the study was terminated was poorly planned, abrupt and inhumane. Predictably, the media response was enormous, ranging from thoughtful to sensational.”1

Despite their own evidence showing a nonstatistically significant increase in breast cancer, the results were exaggerated to achieve maximum impact and terrify women.

Ten years later, as the deleterious effects on women’s health were becoming quite alarming, I wrote a key paper2 stating “literally millions of women discontinued hormone use after the dramatic announcement by NIH in 2002.

The real story of the WHI may turn out to be incalculable damage wrought on younger peri- and early postmenopausal women who discontinued their therapy and who are now several years beyond menopause and off hormones. Not only have they have suffered through menopause-related symptoms, but the very women who might have been protected from heart disease, the single biggest killer of women over 50, andosteoporosis, one of the most significant causes of long-term disability, are the ones potentially most damaged by the WHI.

Women who discontinued postmenopausal hormone therapy (PHT) have significantly increased risk of hip fracture compared with women who continued taking hormone therapy (HT).3 Indeed, there are estimates that discontinuation of PHT may have resulted in over 43,000 bone fractures per year in the USA. The number of increased cardiovascular events in young women who discontinued ET may be even more staggering. Publications from the WHI clearly demonstrate no increase in cardiovascular risk in women aged 50-59, and indeed, for the first time ever, an intervention, namely estrogen, has been demonstrated to actually reduce calcified plaque burden in the coronary arteries of these women. Even statins have not been demonstrated to be this effective in women.”2

Now a new scientific study recently released online ahead of print reports that over a 10-year span, starting in 2002, a minimum of 18,601 and as many as 91,610 postmenopausal women died prematurely because of the avoidance of estrogen therapy.4

This situation is outrageous. Deaths of women in America as a result of fear of postmenopausal hormone therapy now equate to losses in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. How many more women must suffer before the WHI investigators call another press conference and repudiate their own warnings? Or what does it take for our government to open an inquiry into the real results of the billion-dollar WHI study?

There is urgency and a necessity for women to hear the truth and take appropriate actions to enhance the duration and quality of their lives.

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5 Weight Loss Updates You Might Have Missed

It’s tough to keep up with the latest health news, much less the latest news in general. Granted, it’s not always exciting or uplifting to read or listen to the news … especially if you’re like me and take it all to heart (after all, do we ever actually hear goodnews?). But it is nice to be in the loop.
True, no one is expected to know everything. But lest you get stuck staring into space with a blank look when your dinner companion tries to make conversation with, “So, what do you think of that new study that came out about diets?” as you’re biting into your cheesecake, here are some quick catch-ups on what you might have missed. And after the recent show-that-everyone-is-talking-about, “The Weight of the Nation“, it’s likely to happen.
How to Succeed at Weight Loss
Among Americans who are obese, nearly two-thirds try to lose weight and about 40 percent of them actually succeed. Their secret is as old as the word “diet”: eat less, exercise more and switch to more healthful foods. Structured weight loss support programs are helpful, too. These determined dieters might try other strategies—like liquid diets, nonprescription diet pills and other popular diets—but according to a study published by theAmerican Journal of Preventive Medicine, they’re rarely successful.
Stop Signs Help Portion Control
Researchers at Cornell University tested the willpower and self-perception of how much we snack on by inserting special edible red-dyed chips into stacks of packaged chips at regular intervals. A control group ate chips without anything added. Those who consumed the chips with the red chips added (a type of “visual stop sign”) ate about 50 percent less than those who didn’t and were also better able to estimate how many chips they had actually eaten.

In a statement, Brian Wansink, Cornell Food and Brand Lab director said, “An increasing amount of research suggests that some people use visual indication—such as a clean plate or bottom of a bowl—to tell them when to stop eating.” Visual markers, he said, might help people better monitor how much they are eating by interrupting their tendency eat in a semiautomatic manner (otherwise known as mindless eating).

Healthy Peer Pressure

A new study in the journal Pediatrics finds that being around other active children can positively influence a kid’s activity level, leading them to exercise more (and thus reduce current and future dangers of obesity). Kids tended to emulate the activity levels of their closest four to six friends, increasing it if their friends were active and decreasing it to match the sedentary friends.

Cesarean Deliveries Could Mean More Obesity for Kids

After taking factors like birth weight and maternal weight into consideration, cesarean sections were associated with doubling the odds of obesity for a child by the time they reach 3 years old. According toScience Daily, “The researchers speculate that one possible explanation … is the difference in the composition of gut bacteria acquired at birth between the two delivery methods.” Previous research has shown that children delivered by C-section have higher levels of a type of bacteria (known as Firmicutes bacteria) that are present in obese people.

Genes Can Influence Obesity

Variations in certain “obesity genes” previously linked with obesity can lead certain people to consume more meals and snacks and more calories per day and often be drawn to the same types of high-fat and sugary foods, according to a study published online by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. All the more reason for those with a genetic propensity toward overweight to consider their food choices more carefully and step up their exercise and other healthy lifestyle habits.

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Tr(Eat) Your Body Right

The old saying, “Treat your body right, and it’ll treat you right,” refers to more than just getting adequate sleep (7-9 hours a night for most of us), exercising and managing your stress levels.
It also means carefully considering the foods you’re eating to fuel your body.

You know that fatigue that knocks you off your feet in the middle of the afternoon? That cracked tooth? Or that moodiness that randomly strikes and results in an ugly spat with your spouse? Could be that your body is out of whack and missing out on important nutrients; all the more reason for you to eat a well-rounded diet.

1. Your Teeth/Bones Need: Calcium

Why You Need It: Ninety-nine percent of the body’s calcium supply is stored in the bones and teeth, where it supports their structure and function. But since our bones are continuously remodeling themselves, they need a constant supply of calcium to reabsorb into new bone. The balance between bone reabsorption and deposition changes with age.

Where to Eat It:
Fat-free or low-fat (1%) milk, yogurt and cheese
Broccoli, spinach and other green leafy vegetables
Tofu with added calcium
Soy-based drinks with added calcium (soy milk)
Orange juice with added calcium

Who Needs It Most: Postmenopausal women, people with lactose intolerance or an allergy to cow’s milk, women with history of prior stress fractures.

2. Your Eyes Need: Lutein and Zeaxanthin, Omega-3s, Vitamins C and E, Zinc, Beta-carotene
Why You Need It: Nutrition plays a vital role in your overall eye health as you age and helps replenish nutrients that decline as a result of the normal aging process.
Where to Eat It: Registered dietitian Kerri Gans says that kale and spinach are both packed with lutein and zeaxanthin. You can also add berries to yogurt in the morning for extra vitamin C. Other sources:

  • Vitamin C: citrus fruits, berries, tomatoes and broccoli
  • Vitamin E: vegetable oils, wheat germ, nuts and legumes
  • Zinc: oysters, beef and other meats, nuts, legumes and dairy from plant sources of zinc
  • Lutein and zeaxanthin: kale, spinach, broccoli, peas, corn, colored bell peppers, goji berries and Brussels sprouts
  • Omega-3 fatty acids: fish oils from cold water fish like salmon or tuna
  • Beta-carotene: carrots, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and spinach

Who Needs It Most: In a review titled “Nutrients for the Aging Eye,” Elizabeth Johnson, Ph.D., a nutrition researcher at Tufts University, and Helen Rasmussen, Ph.D., R.D., an adjunct faculty member at Lesley University, found that Americans over 50 are not getting recommended amounts of important nutrients that support eye health through their daily diet. The eye is particularly susceptible to oxidative damage, and the key nutrients can help diminish the oxidative stress that lead to eye disease as we age.

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Startling Facts on the Dangers of Being Overweight

It’s all at once astounding, frightening and heartbreaking to see the growing girth of not just adults but of children, as well. To hear experts from leading research institutions along with struggling individuals and families talk about it made it that much, er, bigger and more urgent.

Here’s one scary statistic: In 2010, over 64 percent of people were overweight or obese, and the number continues to climb. Steering clear from becoming a statistic might seem rather obvious, yet if it is that obvious, why do people continue to struggle with their weight? Perhaps it’s too overwhelming to deal with, as life can be so complicated while people are pulled in so many directions. Maybe weight comes dead last behind the everyday and overwhelming tasks of working, caring for a family, juggling finances and finding time to exercise. Oh, I’ll think about that tomorrow, people think. I’m not really that overweight … I’m doomed because of my genetics … after menopause there’s nothing I can do … I just don’t care all that much; vanity is not my thing.

What defines obesity? A common and somewhat reliable measure for adults is your BMI (body mass index). You’re considered overweight if it’s between 25 and 29.9 and obese if it is higher than 30. (Curious how to calculate yours? I’ll supply the handy link from the CDC at the end of this post.)
But weight goes way beyond vanity. You should care: there are too many implications and reasons not to. Here are some startling facts from the series.

For adults:

One study showed that obese people, compared with normal-weight folks, are 83 percent more likely to develop kidney disease.
Obesity costs the workforce an estimated $73.1 billion per year.
In the 25 years between 1987 and 2010, the number of Americans diagnosed with diabetes almost tripled to 20.9 million.
Americans should get at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-intense activity every week, according to the Physical Activity Guidelines.
One in four adults gets no leisure-time moderate or vigorous activity.
Foods obtained outside the home tend to be higher in calories and fat than food prepared at home.
Being overweight puts you at increased risk of dangerous diseases and conditions like type 2 diabetes, highblood pressure, high cholesterol, coronary heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis and certain cancers.
For children:
Approximately 12.5 million children and adolescents aged 2-19 (17%) are obese.

The percentage of children between 6 and 11 in the United States who were obese increased from 7 percent in 1980 to nearly 20 percent in 2008.

Ninety percent of parents with obese children do not seek medical help.

Half of all obese teenage girls will become extremely obese by their early 30s.

Children and adolescents consume not only too much sugar-sweetened beverages (the largest source of sugar in their diets), but too much media, too (more than 7.5 hours a day, 7 days a week).
Preschool children, according to Nielsen data, were exposed to 50 percent more TV ads for energy drinks in 2010 compared to 2008.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for American children recommend a daily dose of 60 minutes of physical activity.

In schools, daily physical education is sparse: only 4 percent of elementary schools, 8 percent of middle schools and 2 percent of high schools provide it.

On average, kids who spend more time playing outdoors are more physically active and less likely to be overweight; they also have better blood pressure and cholesterol than those who don’t.
Fact: To burn off an average serving of French fries, a 150-pound adult needs to run for 1.5 hours at a speed of 5 mph or walk for 3.13 hours at 2 mph.

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A Midlife Woman’s Wish List for Her Medical Team

This is a rather confusing time in my life. In fact, it’s almost like being a teenager all over again (minus the wonderfully un-saggy skin and quick metabolism). My hormones are shifting. My body is changing. I’m feeling new sensations—both mentally and physically—and everything seems to be fluctuating. For me, the earth—my earth—is shifting, and I feel my inner magnetic field striving for equilibrium.

I’d like to take this opportunity to reach out to you with this important letter. I think putting it on paper can help both of us. I know it helps me gather my thoughts and document everything, because: 1) I can no longer depend on my memory to retain all the facts; 2) I need to be efficient in our visits, since the average doctor’s visit these days is somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes—way too short for a decent conversation.

READ: Menopause Guide

1.  Please don’t dismiss me as just another “hysterical” midlife woman. I am an individual who is navigating through some foreign waters.

2.  Please don’t do as many mothers of my generation did and hand me a manual like “How Babies Are Made”—or the grown-up version of that, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting Menopause.” Each experience is unique. In talking to friends around my age, I’ve noticed there is definitely no one-size-fits-all solution to problems like hot flashes, weight gain, insomnia, memory loss, mood swings, adult acne, food cravings, loss of sex drive, irregular periods, breakthrough bleeding, vaginal dryness, headaches … what was I saying?

READ: Secrets of a Memory Champ
3.    Likewise, please don’t automatically offer me a “fix” like hormones to treat my various symptoms. At the very least, I’d need to learn about the proper timing, dose and benefits of hormone therapy before I could make an informed decision. And I’d love to discuss more natural alternative treatments for menopausal symptoms.

4.    If I’m a newly single midlife woman and have started dating, please realize that I might still be interested in sex. It’s important we have an honest discussion about the risks of sexually transmitted diseases, which have increased among women aged 45 to 64 in the last decade. I may no longer be able to get pregnant, but I do need to know how to protect myself.
5.    On the other hand, the drop in my estrogen levels might cause my sex drive to droop. But rather than write that off to menopause, let’s explore other possible causes, like certain prescription medications, a thyroidproblem or other medical conditions.

READ: Midlife & Beyond: Sex and Intimacy

6.    Please don’t keep me waiting more than 15 minutes. My time, like yours, is valuable. I realize you work very hard and emergencies do come up. But if you’re running late, there’s nothing better than a call or a text in advance from your receptionist—or at the least, being told when I arrive how long I might have to wait. If it’s longer than 15 minutes, I may choose to go have a cup of coffee or run some errands and return at the approximate time that you’ll be ready. (It might be nice to be offered an alternate appointment—or even a discount on my bill or a gift card as a token for waiting longer than 30 minutes.)

7.  Please don’t call me in for my examination, only to put me in a tiny room behind a closed door with nothing to do or read—and then have to wait another 20 minutes or more. It’s no wonder my blood pressurereading is high.

8.  Speaking of high blood pressure, please don’t automatically prescribe medication before we discuss alternatives. The same goes for other conditions that become more common in midlife like high cholesteroland osteoporosis. I might be willing to consider lifestyle changes before popping a pill.

9.Please don’t think I am being “difficult” or “challenging” if I ask questions. I’ve done my homework, and although I didn’t go to medical school like you did, I understand my own body pretty well.

10.  Please be patient with me and give me time to talk and take notes if necessary. I will not remember everything you are telling me. That’s a guarantee.

11.  Please give me a copy of all my test results. I’ll never remember all the numbers, and I like to keep a record of my visits.

Now that I’m solidly in midlife, I don’t feel a so-called “crisis,” but, instead, a wonderful freedom to be able to know—and speak—my mind. Still, I look to you for information and guidance.

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Give Your Medicine Cabinet a Makeover

Medicine cabinets tend to be unceremonious dumping grounds for old, unused and long-forgotten makeup and medication. What’s more, you may be putting your health at risk by keeping and using expired beauty products and medicines.

When should you chuck those old facial cleansers and moisturizers, cracked eye shadow palettes and expired over-the-counter allergy and prescription medicines? Below are some guidelines to follow when it comes to cleaning out your medicine cabinet:

When to Discard Makeup*
Expiration dates for common makeup products are:
Cream cleanser: 1 year
Cream/moisturizer: 1 year
Foundation: 1 year
Gel cleanser: 1 year
Lipstick: 1-2 years
Mascara: 3-4 months
Powder: 2 years
Shadows: 2 years

Always throw out anything that has: leaked, separated, dried out, caked up or had a change in odor, color or consistency.

According to the Food and Drug Administration the marked shelf life for cosmetics can vary depending on when a product was opened and how it was stored (exposure to heat, light, moisture, etc.). When in doubt, it’s always best to throw it out.

Every time you start using a new cosmetic or beauty product, mark and date labels using a thin black waterproof marker or affix waterproof stickers (one color for each month) to easily identify when products were opened.

When to Discard Medicines

Simply put, medicines should be discarded as soon as they reach their expiration dates.
Go through your medicine cabinet every couple of months to check on medication expiration dates. Also get in the habit of checking medicine expiration dates before you use them, especially if it’s a product you haven’t used in a while. Dispose of the item if the expiration date has passed.
How should you discard medicines? That depends. The FDA makes the following suggestions:
•   Follow the disposal instructions on the medicine bottle.
•   Go online and research drug take-back programs in your area.
•   Follow federal guidelines for disposing of medicines in household trash.

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7 Quick and Easy Energy Boosters

Do you feel it? I do, from time to time … that all-out sensation of gravity pulling my body downward to a place I don’t want it to go. It’s energy drain. I’m dealing with it today, and I’m assigning blame to the cloudy, rainy weather. I felt it yesterday at around 2 p.m., then realized I’d been so busy I hadn’t eaten my lunch yet. Whatever the reason for that low-grade energy lapse, here are some helpful—and simple—solutions. (Alert: Read all the way through for a special giveaway “hidden” within this post!)

Drink Water. Pour yourself a tall cool glass of water. You might already know that sometimes we think we’re hungry when the culprit is thirst. But thirst can cause fatigue, too. If water is not your thing, eat fruits or veggies high in water content—these include watermelon (my fave!), iceberg lettuce, tomatoes, zucchini, bell peppers and celery.

Get Up and Move. Sitting—aside from being really bad for your health—can make you so fatigued that you’ll be fighting to keep from sliding off your chair. Get up and move—it’s an instant energizer. Even five minutes can invigorate you. March in place, do some Rockette-style kicks, run up and down the stairs, grab a hula hoop, jump up and down—you get the idea.

Eat Complex Carbs. Carbohydrates provide your body with energy, especially your brain andnervous system. Avoid highly processed carbs, though, which provide very little nutrition. Instead, increase your consumption of complex carbs by reaching for whole-grain rice, breads and cereals, as well as legumes (beans, lentils, dried peas). Get your natural sugars from fruits and veggies rather than refined sugars.

Deal With Stress. Being anxious, worried or angry takes a lot of energy and can leave you feeling like you just ran a marathon or took a six-hour exam. Just as much—or more—energy goes into holding in those feelings. So, acknowledge them and move on
Meditate. Lots of studies have pointed to the fatigue-fighting benefits of meditation. Try a simple mini-meditation of about three minutes. It can restore your energy and can be done just about anywhere. For a quickie pick-me-up, close your eyes and begin to relax your body. If thoughts intrude, picture a relaxing scene—clouds floating in the sky or perhaps a beach at sunset. Breathe deeply and evenly.

Eat a Fruition Bar. PROBAR, a natural foods and snack company, just came out with this “superfood snack,” its first certified gluten-free product. These 160-calorie, chewy, dense snacks are 100 percent vegan, organic and non-GMO. They’re filled with healthy treats like dates, oats, chia seeds and cashews. The peach was my favorite, but you can’t go wrong with the other flavors like cherry, lemon, blueberry, chocolate orange and cran-raspberry, either.
Enter a Giveaway. There’s nothing more energizing than a little competition and hope. The PROBAR folks are generously offering my readers access to their new bars by giving away one box of mixed flavors (12 bars in all) to one lucky winner.

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Wednesday, 11 January 2017

5 Foods You Thought Were Unhealthy—But Aren’t

Food fads and facts come and go. Remember when fat-free foods were the answer to everything? It wasn’t too long before people began to learn that something else had to be added to make up for the loss of flavor caused by removing the fat. That something was sugar.

There’s nothing like a little knowledge (and a lot of sugar) for a dose of reality.

But the news is not all bad. There are some formerly “forbidden” foods you might want to reconsider.
Popcorn. After it was uncovered that a medium-sized movie popcorn along with a medium soda was like eating the nutritional equivalent of three Quarter Pounders topped with 12 pats of butter, people avoided popcorn like the plague. But recently scientists reported that popcorn contains even more healthful antioxidant substances called “polyphenols” than fruits and vegetables. These substances have been linked to a reduction in heart disease and certain cancers. More surprising is that the highest concentration of those polyphenols is contained in those annoying hulls that get stuck in between your teeth. Another plus for popcorn: It’s a great source of fiber and 100 percent whole grain.

What not to eat: Movie-theater-style popcorn. It’s cooked in lots of oil with butter and salt aplenty. Some movie theaters also pop their popcorn in coconut oil, which is about 90 percent unhealthy saturated fat. Microwave popcorn can contain twice as many calories as the more healthful air-popped variety. (Calories may not be the only problem with microwave popcorn, either, as dangerous chemicals, used in the flavorings and ink on microwave bags, could be toxic.)

Chocolate. It used to be associated with things like calories, acne, sugar and caffeine. But dark chocolate gets a pass, because it has so many healthy benefits (sorry milk chocolate fans). It contains powerful antioxidants called flavonoids, which are also abundant in red wine, green tea, fruits and veggies and are associated with a decreased risk of coronary heart disease, cancer, high blood pressure and stroke.
What not to eat: A big slab of chocolate cake or a daily bar of chocolate. Dark chocolate still has calories, after all, which can lead to weight gain (and weight gain increases your risk for heart problems and strokes). The German study that found chocolate’s health benefits also found you need only consume about six grams a day, which is the equivalent of about one square of a chocolate bar.
Eggs. If you had high cholesterol or heart disease—and even if you didn’t—you were once warned to limit your consumption of eggs. New research has found that healthy adults can consume an egg a day without worrying about increasing their risk of heart disease. According to the American Heart Association, the lutein found in eggs can actually be protective against the progress of early heart disease. Eggs are also loaded with protein, Vitamin D and valuable vision and brain-fostering vitamins and minerals.

What not to eat: A four-egg omelet cooked in lots of butter and oil, stuffed with cheese and sausage. That’s hardly an excuse to indulge in “healthy” eggs; neither is an order of fried eggs—even if you do order whole-wheat toast on the side. (If you fry an egg at home in a nonstick pan with no added fat, it’s OK.)

Coffee. Stunted growth … spikes in heart disease … cancer. True or false? That’s old news. The new scoop on coffee is that its health benefits far outweigh its risks. Recent studies have found that coffee contains high levels of antioxidants and may protect against Parkinson’s disease, dementia and type 2 diabetes.

What not to drink: Lots of it. Heavy caffeine use—anywhere from four to seven cups a day—can create its own set of problems, like anxiety, irritability and sleeplessness. So can all the trimmings, like half -and-half and sugar, adding anywhere from 40 to 70 calories per cup (and up).
Peanut butter. Although a two-tablespoon serving can pack about 15 grams of fat, that fat is the heart-healthy, monosaturated kind (like olive oil). Peanut butter also helps with appetite regulation, since it’s packed with fiber and protein. It also contains health-enhancing vitamin E, potassium and vitamin B6. And research shows that consuming peanuts can decrease your risk of diabetes, heart disease and other chronic health conditions.

What not to eat: Just any peanut butter—it’s not all created equal. Watch the sodium counts, which can range from 40 to 250 milligrams per tablespoon serving. Sugar, too, can be an issue, and is more prevalent in the reduced-fat varieties.

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How to Keep a Healthy Closet

Is your closet at the bursting point? Having trouble finding what you need when you need it?
Here are a few health-inspired tips to keep your closet healthy and in functioning order:

Put your closet on a diet. Lighten up your closet by combing through and purging the following: clothes you haven’t worn in several years, clothes you no longer want, clothes that no longer fit (too large or too small), clothes that are damaged beyond repair (stained, torn, pilled, faded). Think twice when shopping for new clothes. Is the item a necessity (for example, running shoes you really need) or is it just something nice that you would like to have (such as a pretty sundress, but you already have five perfectly good sundresses)?

Exercise your wardrobe. Are you regularly using or wearing all of the clothes in your closet? Figure out what you really use by taking several pieces out and putting them into dead storage in another part of your home. Mark your calendar to check on these pieces in a few weeks. Did you miss any items? If so, pop them back into your wardrobe; if not, pack them up and donate to charity. Another good way to exercise your wardrobe to the fullest is to remove and store out-of-season items to free up space.

Take care of your supplements. Clothes typically take up the bulk of space in a closet, but when’s the last time you took stock of your accessories? Evaluate all accessories in your wardrobe such as shoes, belts, hats, ties, scarves, bags and jewelry. Keep what you want and donate unwanted items to a local school or neighborhood theater or to the charity of your choice.

Strengthen your closet’s storage capacity. There are many ways to enhance the storage capacity of a closet—from heavy interior renovations to organizing products you can purchase at the store. Is all the space in your closet being used to full capacity? Consider unused floor or shelving space as well as the back of a closet door to maximize your closet’s full storage potential.

Give your closet regular checkups. Take a few minutes every month or couple of months to weed out unwanted or damaged items. Donate unwanted but slightly used items to charity.

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Genetic Testing and Breast Cancer: What You Need to Know

If you found out you were at high risk for breast cancer, what would you do?
Angelina Jolie made a very brave decision when she recently opted for, and announced, she had undergone a prophylactic doublemastectomy after finding out she carried a genetic mutation.
More: Prophylactic Mastectomy: Why This Woman Chose It
A harmful mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene puts a woman at a much higher risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer (men with the mutation also face an increased risk of breast cancer). Jolie’s decision to get tested was fueled by her mother’s death from ovarian cancer when she was just 56.

In a recent op-ed in the New York Times, Jolie writes:

“I wanted to write this to tell other women that the decision to have a mastectomy was not easy. But it is one I am very happy that I made. My chances of developing breast cancer have dropped from 87 percent to under 5 percent. I can tell my children that they don’t need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer.”

The choice to proactively remove healthy breast tissue can be fraught with indecision as well as doubt. Consulting with various physicians and researching the options can be time-consuming as well. But knowing that you’re at high risk for developing a potentially deadly disease is like having a rare glimpse into a window of your possible future. And if the future is a bleak or dangerous one, why not do everything in your power to turn it around if given the opportunity?

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in my 30s, and, like Jolie, I opted for a prophylactic mastectomy to give me some peace of mind. Click here to read more about my personal experience.
Prophylactic mastectomy is not necessarily the right decision for everyone. For women at high risk of developing breast cancer, there are other options: watchful surveillance with screening by mammography, MRI and clinical breast exams, treatment with estrogen-blocking medications (called chemo-prevention) like tamoxifen, raloxifene (Evista) or exemestane (Aromasin) and making or maintaining healthy lifestyle practices—maintaining a healthy weight, getting plenty of exercise, limiting your alcohol use and not smoking (or quitting if you do smoke). Of course, there’s also the controversy of hormone use during menopause and the question of whether or not it increases your risk for breast cancer.

More: Breast Cancer Guide

What a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation really means

If you inherit this mutation, you’re at an increased lifetime risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer at an early age (before menopause). It’s also likely you’ll have multiple, close family members who already have or will be diagnosed with one of those cancers. You’re also at risk for developing other cancers, including cervical, uterine, pancreatic and colon.

If you do test positive for a genetic mutation, it doesn’t necessarily mean you will definitely develop breast or ovarian cancer. But it does increase your risk—making it five times more likely—compared to the person without the mutation.

To put it more clearly: Women in the general population have about a 12 percent chance (120 out of 1,000) of developing breast cancer in their lifetime. If you’ve inherited a harmful genetic mutation, that number changes to 60 percent (600 out of 1,000).

The genetic test is simple, performed either through a blood sample or a swab of the inside of your cheek. Results can take up to several weeks, and it’s recommended to get genetic counseling before and after the test with a health care professional who is experienced in cancer genetics. The counselor will ask about your family’s medical history and will discuss the medical implications of a positive or negative result, the psychological risks and benefits of the results and the risk of passing on a mutation to a child.

Genetic testing is not for everyone. Only about 5 percent of breast cancers are caused by the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation. And while the test is costly – it can range anywhere from several hundred to several thousand dollars – and insurance coverage varies, the cost of saving your life may be priceless.

The Mayo Clinic offers these helpful tips for preparing for a test or visit with a genetic counselor:
Gather your family’s medical history, especially for close relatives.

Document your own medical history, including records from specialists or previous genetic testing.
Write down any questions you may have.
Consider asking a friend or family member to accompany you to take notes or ask questions.

Monday, 9 January 2017

The Stomach Flu While Pregnant

At five weeks pregnant, I woke up at 1 a.m. in a dash to the bathroom, where I continued to get sick for the next four hours. I wondered with dread, could this be morning sickness? If so, I thought, I’m in for a rough first trimester. But pretty soon my temperature spiked. Looks like a stomach bug. Since your immune system is suppressed during pregnancy, it’s not uncommon to get a bug such as the one I experienced. However,gastrointestinal distress is not usually a call for alarm. But don’t hesitate to call your health care provider, because every woman and pregnancy is different. Here are some standard things to remember:

Your top priority should be to stay hydrated. Dehydration can cause early labor and be dangerous to your developing baby. So, make sure you are forcing fluids, such as water and electrolyte juices. If you are having a hard time keeping these down, consider sucking on ice chips.
Skipping a few meals will not harm your baby. When you feel ready to eat, start with a bland diet, such as toast and broth.

If your fever is high, make sure to let your health care provider know, because this could be dangerous during early pregnancy.

Stay in bed. Rest is the key to a quick recovery.
Try ginger. I chewed on ginger candies and found it helped slightly with the nausea.
Talk to your health care professional about what over-the-counter medications are safe.

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Is Yoga on Your To-Don’t List?

About 10 years ago, I decided I needed to add some variety to my workout routine. I also craved something a bit slower-paced and meditative. So I took up yoga.

I loved the way it stretched out my body. I loved the way it forced me to slow down and relax. I loved the way I felt when I took that special time out from my busy life.

But then my love affair with yoga ended. I hurt my neck (no, not during yoga, but tripping over a pair of wayward sneakers in my home) and subsequently needed not one, but two neck surgeries.
I attempted to return to the practice, but my neck was not liking it. And in addition to that, I found that other parts of my (aging) body, like my knees, did not sign on either.

Last week I was excited to see an article in the New York Times, “Yoga After 50“. It’s so good to have company and be recognized:
“While many yoga classes across the country seem to cater to the youthful enthusiast who wants to sweat his or her way through an hour-and-a-half workout, a growing number of longtime yoga devotees are raising questions about the best way to safely continue a yoga practice into midlife and beyond.”
I asked Laurel Attanasio some of my questions. Laurel is a 500-hour certified yoga/Pilates teacher who teaches classes in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. She also teaches workshops nationally and globally. Here is her advice:
Q. As we age, our bodies inevitably change, and we can’t do what we might have been able to do years ago. How can someone 50-plus still enjoy yoga and avoid injuries if they, for instance, have a bad neck or haveosteoarthritis?
A. Yoga is truly for every body! Some of my most flexible and strongest students are in their 50s and 60s. I think a person’s activity level, health history and prior injuries impact their yoga abilities more than their actual age. I like to focus on the person as an individual and how they currently feel rather than on their age.

THIS MATTERS: Make sure to arrive early to class and discuss any major issues with your instructor so that needed modifications can be provided. Many teachers will ask students before class if they have any injuries the instructor should be aware of, which is the perfect time to discuss any complications.
Q. So let’s say you decide, despite some limitations, you want to pursue a yoga practice. How can you feel comfortable doing so?
A. If you’re new to yoga, start with a beginner’s class. If you’re suffering from a major injury, go for a gentle or restorative class. Remember, modifications can be provided for all poses, allowing students with injuries and limitations to practice yoga at all times.
THIS MATTERS: Yoga is not a “no-pain-no-gain” activity. If you’re living with osteoarthritis or any other health issue, something may feel good one day and feel awful on another. The key to yoga is to listen to your body and respond appropriately.

Q. Along with aging comes a loss of muscle mass and bone strength. How can yoga help?

A. Yoga helps maintain and build muscle mass and bone density. During yoga, you often need to support your own body weight; in fact, during your practice you’re essentially moving through a weight-training session without using a lot of fancy equipment.

THIS MATTERS: Poses such as down dog, plank and handstands require a lot of upper body strength, which you build throughout your practice. And, while holding standing poses, your leg muscles are working hard to support you.

Q. If there are not classes specifically aimed at people 50-plus, what can a person do? How can you find a class for you?

A. All classes are for every age and every body! Read the class descriptions, levels and type and then make an educated decision based on the information. Do not be afraid to talk with the studio employees to get their feedback. Also, read the instructor’s bio and find out how long they’ve been teaching, where they studied and what they specialize in.

THIS MATTERS: It may take a few tries to find your favorite class or teacher. Remember: You are a student and the teacher is there to help. It’s the teacher’s job and responsibility to make sure you have the best injury-free practice possible.

Q. Are there certain poses you can easily do at home to help with balance and strength?

A. Tree pose is always a great and safe balance pose to start with. You can even stand next to a wall for a little extra assistance. Start with your lifted foot near your ankle, then the calf, and then move to the thigh, making sure to never prop the foot on the side of the knee.

THIS MATTERS: Remember, there are always levels and modifications.

Q. Finally, what’s your best advice for someone who has never tried yoga but wants to start now?
A. Shop around to find a teacher and studio you love. Don’t take it so seriously—it’s only yoga! Have fun and look at it as an adventure and the start of a new journey of self-exploration.

Thursday, 5 January 2017

10 Reasons to Fear Sugar

Did you just jump when you read that? Incredible, but true.  One hundred and thirty pounds…that’s a LOT of sugar.

I wrote about sugar on this blog back in 2009 and 2010. And here we go again.

What alarmed me this time was a report that aired a few weeks ago on 60 Minutes, where Sanjay Gupta reported new research showing that sugar—in whatever form—is a toxin and the driving force behind many major killers, like diabetes, hypertension, obesity and heart disease. Dr. Gupta interviewed Dr. Robert Lustig, a California endocrinologist who became especially alarmed to the deleterious effects of sugar while treating his own patients, many sick and obese children, and is leading an anti-sugar campaign.

Although it’s true that sugar consumption has gone down by nearly 40 percent since the 1970s, when low-fat foods became a way to lose weight, what’s also true is that high fructose corn syrup—which is just as (or more) dangerous—has taken its place. Something had to replace the flavor that was lost when fat was taken out of food, after all. Take a look at the sugar content on any low-fat food, whether it’s in peanut butter, yogurt or cereal, and you can be sure the sugar content on that food is significantly higher than in the full-fat version.

Both sugar and HFCS are equally dangerous, he said, since they both contain fructose. It’s the fructose that makes a beeline for the liver, which then converts some of it into fat, bringing it the bloodstream and generating LDL cholesterol. Not only is LDL cholesterol the “bad” cholesterol, but this type of LDL contains dangerous small dense particles, which can lodge in blood vessels and form heart-threatening plaque.

So, you and a lot of other people may be thinking, I’ll substitute artificial sweeteners for the sugar. But that’s not necessarily the answer. Although the sugar substitutes on the market have to clear FDA approval, some health advocates are wary of their safety. Aside from that, sugar substitutes provide empty calories and no nutritional value. Worse yet, some studies show that some people who use artificial sweeteners, instead of losing weight, gain it instead. Why? They set you up for even more sugar cravings, confusing the body. Your brain thinks you’re getting a lot of calories when you’re ingesting something sweet, and your metabolic reflexes gear up for that to happen. When it doesn’t, the system is thrown out of whack. You might eat more or expend less energy than you otherwise would.
But I digress. We gorge on sugar, to the point of one-third of a pound of the stuff each day. It’s time to curb that awful habit. If you’re not convinced, here are some other takeaways from the show:

Sugar in any form—honey, agave nectar, table syrup, crystallized—is all equally toxic.
Fruit is metabolized differently in our bodies because its fiber slows the absorption of fructose.
Eat ‘real’ foods that don’t come out of a box or can. Those foods, like vegetables, poultry and fish, are usually found along the outer perimeter of the supermarket.

Sugar may raise your cholesterol as much as, or even more than, fatty food (like a cheeseburger).
The American Heart Association recommends that women should not consume more than 100 calories of added sugars each day (that figure goes up to 150 for men). This is less than the amount in one can of soda!

Sugar is a “public health crisis” that belongs in the same category as tobacco and alcohol—a dangerous substance whose consumption should be limited.

Sugar causes insulin to spike, which can fuel certain types of cancers. One-third of common cancers (including breast and colon) have insulin receptors on their surface. When insulin binds to these surfaces, it can feed the tumor. In the pipeline are drugs that will be able to cut off the supply of glucose to cancer cells.

If you must eat sugar, keep it to a minimum.

Sugar is more addictive than people realize. MRI scanners show that when sugar fires up the brain’s reward regions, releasing dopamine and producing a euphoric effect.
The body can build up a tolerance to sugar; the more you eat, the less rewarded you will feel, leading to more consumption.