Energy Drinks Tied to Inattention, Hyper Behavior in Middle Schoolers

Yale University researchers looked at more than 1,600 students at middle schools in one urban school district in Connecticut. Their average age was around 12 years.

Boys were more likely to consume energy drinks than girls. The researchers also found that among boys, black and Hispanic students were more likely to drink the beverages than white students.

Children who consumed energy drinks were 66 percent more likely to be at risk for hyperactivity and inattention symptoms, according to the study in the current issue of the journal Academic Pediatrics.

RELATED: Energy Drinks Pack a Deadly Punch

Energy drinks have high levels of sugar and also often contain caffeine, the researchers noted. For the study, the investigators took into account the number and type of other sugar-sweetened drinks consumed by the students.

"As the total number of sugar-sweetened beverages increased, so too did risk for hyperactivity and inattention symptoms among our middle-school students. Importantly, it appears that energy drinks are driving this association," study leader Jeannette Ickovics, a professor in the School of Public Health, said in a Yale news release.

"Our results support the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation that parents should limit consumption of sweetened beverages and that children should not consume any energy drinks," she added.

The students in this study drank an average of two sugary drinks a day. The number of daily sugary drinks ranged from none to as many as seven or more such drinks. Some sugar-sweetened beverages and energy drinks contain up to 40 grams of sugar each. Depending on how old they are, children should only have about 21 to 33 grams of sugar a day, according to the researchers.

Along with causing problems such as hyperactivity and inattention, sugary drinks increase children's risk of obesity, Ickovics noted. About one-third of American children are overweight or obese, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Efforts by HealthDay to reach out to the beverage industry for comment were unsuccessful.

News From AAN: Correction on Tysabri/PML Blog (last of paper)

Last week we posted a blog about the risks of PML for patients taking Tysabri, based on news from the American Academy of Neurology (AAN) meetings which took place earlier this month. In the comments section, Chris asked that we check our facts and report back.

Well, once again, your commitment to the Life With MS Blog community has paid off.

I jotted off a quick e-mail to the Public Affairs department for Biogen/Idec and waited… and waited… and got nothing. Because, however, of the active participation of our community the conversation was noted and I got an e-mail asking if we needed any assistance directly from the senior manager for international public affairs.

I am not happy that I was wrong, but I am happy to know that we can get the correct information out to you today.

I had reported that Alfred Sandrock, MD, PhD, of Biogen/Idec, presented findings from the company’s study on progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy (PML) in patients using Biogen/Idec’s MS drug, Tysabri. I was mistaken in my assessment of “immunosuppressive” (IS) therapy in the list of risk factors for PML.

Risk factors for PML include:

More than two years on Tysabri
Prior immunosuppressant therapy
Positive serology for JC virus infection
According to Biogen, immunosuppessants, in the context used by Dr Sandrock are limited as:

“A prior IS would be considered mitoxantrone, azathioprine, methotrexate, cyclophosphamide, mycophenolate, cladribine, rituximab, and chemotherapy (not otherwise specified).”

Not included, as you can see, are any of the other MS disease modifying therapies (DMT) or even corticosteroids like Solu-Medral or Prednisone — which is normally considered an IS drug, but not for the case of the PML warning.

The original press release that I received on the topic was incomplete and I apologize for the misunderstanding.

As a side note, I took advantage of the conversation to request more information on the companies rational in keeping the patent on the JC Virus assay test that I also mentioned in that same blog post. I’ll update you on that conversation as soon as it happens.

Once again, your voice was heard by the people who have the answers and I think we’ve cleared up the misunderstanding. Thank you all for your continued involvement in our community. It makes a big difference in the lives of so many!

Wishing you and your family the best of health

 

Plastics Chemical Tied to Changes in Boys' Reproductive Development

When expectant mothers are exposed to plastics chemicals called phthalatesduring the first trimester, their male offspring may have a greater risk of infertility later in life, a new study suggests.

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Boys exposed to the chemical diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) may be born with a significantly shorter anogenital distance than those not exposed to these chemicals. Anogenital distance is the distance between the anus and the genitals. A shorter anogenital distance has been linked to infertility and low sperm count, the researchers explained.

"We saw these changes even though moms' exposure to DEHP has dropped 50 percent in the past 10 years," said lead researcher Shanna Swan, a professor of preventive medicine and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

"Therefore, we have not found a safe level of phthalate exposure for pregnant women," she contended.

Swan said that this study cannot prove that these boys will have fertility problems as adults or that DEHP causes these problems. However, animal studies have implicated the chemical in male reproductive problems. Based on the data from this study, Swan believes there is a strong association between exposure to DEHP and fertility in human males.

DEHP is used to soften plastics. Most exposure results from eating foods that pick up the chemical during processing, Swan said.

RELATED: 10 Toxic Household Items You Should Throw Away Now

 

 

"Since food is the largest source of DEHP for consumers, it is difficult for pregnant women to minimize exposure," she said. "Eating unprocessed food will likely help. However, eliminating DEHP from food really has to be done by food producers."

The chemical is also found in medical tubing and in a variety of products, including flooring, wallpaper, lacquers and personal care products, Swan said.

The report was published Feb. 19 in the journal Human Reproduction.

For the study, Swan's team collected data on almost 800 pregnant women and their infants.

Specifically, the researchers found that exposure in the womb to three types of DEHP was associated with a significantly shorter anogenital distance in boys, but not in girls.

A group representing the chemical industry took issue with the study, however.

In a statement, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) stressed that the study only examined one type of phthalate, not all versions of the chemical. And it said that phthalates are "one of the most widely studied family of chemicals in use today."

The ACC added that DEHP "is known to break down into its metabolites within minutes after it enters the body. Information collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the last 10 years indicates that, despite the fact that phthalates are used in many products, exposure from all sources combined is extremely low -- much lower than the levels established as safe by scientists at regulatory agencies."

 

 

But another expert says phthalate exposure may not be benign. Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., said, "virtually everyone in the U.S. experiences continual exposure to phthalates."

And, a number of studies have tied the chemicals with changes in developing fetuses. "Phthalates, in particular, have been shown in both human and animal studies to interfere with normal fetal development," he said.

This study supports what has been demonstrated before, that phthalate exposure in the first trimester is linked to male reproductive development, Spaeth said. "This study is an important step forward in establishing this effect because the study included a much larger number of individuals than prior studies and helps identify one particular agent, DEHP, as an important contributor to this effect," he said.

Additionally, this study shows the importance of exposure in the first trimester as a critical window for the effect of phthalates on the male reproductive system. "On the whole, given these features, the authors have contributed important information about the public health risk posed by phthalates," Spaeth suggested.

Purpose in Life Is Good for Your Health

Having a strong sense of purpose in life may not guarantee happiness, but research shows it could promote good health and longevity.  

“There’s no formal definition of having a purpose in life, but the consensus is that it’s a sense of meaning and feeling that life is worth living,” says preventive cardiologist Randy Cohen, MD, medical director of University Medical Practice Associates at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital in New York City.

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A Healthier Heart

Reviewing data from ten studies involving 136,000 men and women, Dr. Cohen and his colleagues found that people with a low sense of purpose, as measured by psychological surveys, were more likely to have a stroke, heart attack, or coronary artery disease requiring a stent or bypass surgery.

Individuals with a high sense of purpose had a lower risk of developing the same conditions. “We found a 23 percent reduction in mortality and a 19 percent reduction in cardiovascular events among those people,” Cohen says. That puts living purposefully on a par with other protective things people do, like engaging in exercise.

“What was so remarkable was that regardless of the country where the study was conducted, regardless of how purpose in life was defined, the effect was consistent,” says Cohen, whose findings were published this month inPsychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.

 

 

A 2014 study published in The Lancet found that people over age 65 who had a higher personal sense of purpose and well-being were more likely to live longer. Among 9,000 people followed over an 8 ½-year period, 9 percent of those in the highest well-being category died as compared to 29 percent in the lowest category.

Protect the Brain

The benefits of living purposefully may not be limited to heart health. Research conducted at the Rush University Medical Center in Chicago suggests a strong sense of purpose can protect the brain.

RELATED: The Life-Saving Power of Purpose

“Purpose somehow gives your brain resilience,” says Patricia A. Boyle, PhD, a neuropsychologist with the Rush Alzheimer’s Disease Center. “It makes your brain stronger and more resistant to the effects of diseases like Alzheimer’s.”

Participants in the Rush Memory and Aging Project agree to yearly testing and organ donation so that brain tissue can be examined after death. According to four studies published by the research team, subjects who scored higher on the purpose scale were:

  •          29 percent less likely to develop mild cognitive impairment (MCI)
  •          52 percent less likely to develop Alzheimer's Disease (AD)
  •          2 ½ times more likely to be free of dementia
  •          44 percent less likely to have a stroke
  •          52.3 percent less likely to have microscopic blood vessel infarcts that damage brain tissue

How Purpose Works

What it is about a strong sense of purpose that benefits the mind and body is not entirely understood.

Evidence suggests that people who believe their lives have meaning take better care of their health. Psychologists at the University of Michigan and the University of Wisconsin found that the higher men and women scored on a purpose scale, the more likely they were to have routine screenings, such as a colonoscopy, mammogram, prostate exam, Pap smear, and cholesterol test. Higher scores on the purpose scale also translated to fewer days in the hospital.

Dr. Boyle believes a purposeful life has physiologic effects. “There is some evidence that purpose in life protects the brain against the negative effects of stress,” she says. Studies associate a stronger sense of purpose with lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, which affects a variety of body systems.

Finding Purpose

The question then is: “If someone has a low sense of purpose, are there concrete steps we can recommend to improve that?" asks Cohen.

Mary Jo Kreitzer, RN, PhD, founder and director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, believes the answer is “yes.” She discusses these steps in workshops and on the university’s website.

 

 

Dr. Kreitzer says reflecting on what your individual talents and gifts are is the best place to begin. Next, she says, look at the needs of the world, starting with your loved ones and community: “Ask yourself, ‘Given my unique gifts and talents, how can I make a difference?’”

Dan Buettner, author of The Blue Zones, found that cultures that live longer typically share certain things in common: healthy diet, active lifestyle, and sense of purpose. One of the blue zones Buettner writes about is Okinawa, Japan.

“In the Okinawan language, there is not even a word for retirement,” Buettner said in a speech at a 2010 TED conference. “Instead, there is one word that imbues your entire life, and that word is ‘ikigai.’ And, roughly translated, it means ‘the reason for which you wake up in the morning.’”

Eating Carbs and Fats Before a Workout? Read This

The New York Times published an article “Should Athletes Eat Fat or Carbs?” last week which was based on a study that shows a diet comprised of 85 percent fat can help improve overall performance for ultra-endurance athletes more than the traditional high-carbohydrate diet considered best for athletes. And by fat, they mean good fats that come from foods like nuts, avocados, and extra-virgin olive oil — not your cheeseburgers and French fries. But before you throw all your healthy eating rules out the window, it’s important to note that this recommendation is not for most of us — these recommendations for real athletes. We’re talking about people who exercise for a living — think NBA players, Olympic swimmers, or professional marathoners.

Let’s be honest: Most of us don’t run more than two marathons a week or work out at all hours of the day, so this way of eating is not recommended, even for high school and college players and people who exercise regularly. However, this information certainly brings into question traditional thinking and, as so often with these studies, leaves us wondering if this type of eating could benefit other types of athletes or moderately active people. We’ll need to continue to watch the research for more answers.

It’s important to remember that carbohydrates are an essential part of a healthy, well-balanced diet and provide fuel for your workouts in the form of glycogen, which is stored in the liver and muscles. Fat, however, must be broken down into fatty acids before it can be used as fuel, and only endurance athletes who vigorously exercise throughout the day are able to use up all their glycogen stores before their bodies start using fat. A ketogenic diet, like the ones the article reviews with 85 percent of the diet from fat, forces your body to use fat more readily as an energy source. This is referred to as a ‘ketoadaption’ and takes several weeks to achieve.

Still, it’s not a good idea to overdo it on carbohydrates or fat for all your meals. Fats should only comprise 20 to 30 percent of your total daily calorie intake per meal (think two slices of avocado). Carbohydrates should make up 40 to 50 percent of your meal, and sources of good carbohydrates include vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains. Government experts have offered suggestions for the 2015 Dietary Guidelines, (due to be published in the fall) which encourage Americans to cut down on meat, added sugars, and starchy, high-carb foods and include more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats into their diets.

“The move toward reducing the amount of carbohydrates recommended for the general public is because most of us are not active. We sit too much! When we don’t move, or if we move for only an hour a day, we’re not utilizing all the carbohydrates we are eating, and therefore we continue to gain weight and increase our risk for chronic diseases. For the most part, we are moving too little and eating too much and especially carbohydrates because they are easy, available, and taste good,” says Maureen Namkoong, MS, RD nutrition and fitness director at Everyday Health.

There’s a place for good carbohydrates and fats in a balanced diet. Good carbohydrates and fats give you energy, may help you lose weight, and promote cardiovascular health. But too much of a good thing can be bad — and this is true for fats and carbs, too.

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11 Struggles Every New Runner Understands

I've never been one of those people. You know the kind, the ones who wake up in the morning or lace up in the evening and "go for a run."

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I've always been envious of my roommates, who can sneak in a jog with ease and carry on with their day, as if they had done something casually simple like taking the trash out. So, I made a vow to give running another chance. After all, the exercise has been shown to make you happier, reduce your risk for disease and even increase longevity.

While group classes and long walks will probably always be more my speed, I did find that I was enjoying running more than I ever did in the past. However, that doesn't come without a few hiccups. Below are a handful of struggles all new runners can probably relate to.

Getting winded in the first few minutes.

Probably one of the most discouraging elements of getting into a running routine is realizing that you're not as in shape as you thought you were. I continuously find myself doing more walking or jogging than actual running. But just because you need those intermittent breaks doesn't mean you aren't a runner. In fact, research shows that walking intervals during your run can help you maintain your overall pace.

Two words: Sore. Muscles.

The second-day pain is real. If you're experiencing those achy muscles, try one of these post-run remedies. Just make sure you're checking in with your body as you establish your routine. A little soreness is OK, but if the pain is more intense you may have sustained a running-related injury.

 

 

Feeling overwhelmed by the copious amount of races.

Color runs, beer runs, zombie runs, princess half marathons... the list is seriously endless. However, there are some perks to picking a race. Signing up for one helps you set a goal as you get into a routine, plus there's an opportunity to turn it into a social event by participating with your friends.

If your goal is to become a marathon runner (and props to you!), there are also some benefits there: Research shows consistent long-distance running can improve cardiovascular health and lower the risk for other organ disorders, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The jolting agony of waking up at 6 a.m.

My sleepy brain is constantly telling me my bed feels better than running (and often, the bed wins). If you need a little extra motivation, try one of these hacks to help you jumpstart your morning workout.

The boredom.

Part of the reason I never got into a routine in the first place was because the exercise itself seemed extremely dull to me (the treadmill is my arch-nemesis). Once I discovered more running-path options, I started to have more fun. However, that's not to say that I don't get a little bored sometimes — and that's OK.

Note: If you still just can't get excited by the process most of the time, you may want to try a more entertaining workout option instead. Exercise should be engaging, not mind-numbing.

Trying to find your perfect route.

Finding your favorite place to run is like finding a good apartment: It feels elusive until one day you hit the lottery. Whether you're into lush scenery or a skyline, it's important to find the routes that work for you in order to make the exercise entertaining.

The joy of picking out new workout clothes.

Sleek tanks! Compression pants! Neon shoes!

Running toward (multiple) "finish lines."

If you've ever uttered to yourself just one more pole, you're not alone. In fact, picking out an arbitrary finish line on your run can improve your performance. Research shows those who stare at a target in the distance go faster and feel less exertion than those who don't concentrate on anything, The Atlantic reported.

 

 

Bargaining with yourself on your run.

If you run five more blocks, you can binge-watch Scandal when you get home, I tell myself. Chances are I'd probably do it anyway — but at least it encourages me in the moment.

Creating a playlist that will consistently keep you motivated.

No, a simple music-streaming app won't do when your lungs are on fire and your legs feel weak. You need that one specific song that will inspire you to keep going (shout out to all my Shake It Off comrades). If you're looking for a playlist to spice up your run, check out some of these.

Eating Well As You Age

Looking in the mirror for changes as you age? A healthy diet helps to ensure that you'll like the reflection you see. Good nutrition is linked to healthy aging on many levels: It can keep you energized and active as well as fight against slowing metabolism and digestion and the gradual loss of muscle mass and healthy bone as you age.

Making healthy diet choices can help you prevent or better manage chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It's never too late to adopt healthier eating habits.

Strategies for Healthy Eating as You Age

Replace old eating habits with these healthy approaches:

  • Eat every three or four hours. “This keeps energy levels high and keeps appetite hormones in check to avoid overeating,” says Kim Larson, RD, of Total Health in Seattle and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Eat protein at each meal. Aim for 20 to 30 grams to help maintain muscle mass. Choose fish at least twice a week as a source of high quality protein. Other good sources of protein include lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Choose whole grains. Replace refined flour products with whole grains for more nutrients and fiber.
  • Choose low-fat dairy. Cutting out the saturated fat may help lower your risk for heart disease.
  • Learn about portion sizes. You may need to scale back on the serving sizes of foods to control your weight.
  • Choose nutrient-rich whole foods over empty calories. Whole foods are those closest to their natural state. Empty calories are typically processed foods with added salt, sugar, and fat. For example, snack on whole fruit instead of cookies.
  • Eat a “rainbow” of foods. “Eat five to seven servings of fruits and veggies each day to keep antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E high,” Larson says. Choosing fruits and vegetables of different colors provides your body with a wide range of nutrients. According to research published in the May 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatric Societyexercise coupled with higher fruit and vegetable intake led to longer lives. Fruits and veggies also fill you up with fiber, which cuts down on snacking and helps control weight, Larson says.
  • Choose healthy cooking techniques. Try steaming, baking, roasting, or sautéing food rather than frying it to cut back on fat.
  • Cut down on salt. If you’re over 51, national recommendations are to eat less than 1,500 milligrams of salt per day. Look for low-sodium foods and season your meals with herbs and spices rather than salt.
  • Stay hydrated. “Dehydration can cause irritability, fatigue, confusion, and urinary tract infections,” Larson says. Be sure to drink plenty of water and other non-caffeinated liquids throughout the day.
  • Ask about supplements. You may have changing nutrient needs as you get older and might benefit from vitamins B12 and D, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acid supplements, Larson says. Ask your doctor or a dietitian for guidance.

Overcoming Challenges to Healthy Eating

Eating a healthy diet can be complicated by changes you may face as you age, such as difficulty eating or a limited budget. There are strategies you can try to solve these common challenges:

  • If you've lost your appetite or sense of taste: Try new recipes and flavors — adding spices, herbs, and lemon juice can make foods more appealing. If you take medication, ask your doctor if appetite or taste changes are side effects and if switching to another drug might help.
  • If you have a hard time swallowing or chewing: Choose foods that are moist and easy to eat, such as nutritious soups made with beans and vegetables, Larson says.
  • If affording groceries is difficult: Shop from a list — careful planning can help you make the healthiest and most cost-effective food choices. Use coupons or shop on days when discounts are offered. Buying fruits and veggies when they’re in season and frozen produce in bulk can also help control expenses.
  • If you have trouble preparing meals: Consider buying healthy prepared or semi-prepared meals or at least pre-cut ingredients to cut down on energy-draining prep time.

Larson believes in the importance of enjoying your food. Make healthy-diet changes step by step and have fun experimenting to find new tastes and cooking styles. Eat slowly and pay attention to the experience. “Create a pleasant eatingenvironment," she says. "Sit by a window and enjoy every bite.”

What You Need to Know About Hyperpigmentation

Even small skin traumas like a pimple or bug bite can leave you with complexion-busting dark spots. “This is one of the most common ailments that patients come to see me about,” explains Jeanine Downie, MD, director of Image Dermatology in Montclair, New Jersey. “It’s an annoying condition that affects all skin types, but the good news is that it’s fairly easy to treat.”

Find out how Dr. Downie helps patients treat and avoid marks on their complexions.

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Jeanine Downie: Any trauma or inflammation to the skin — either from acne, pimples, bug bites, or simply a bump, cut, or scratch — disrupts the surface layers where you have melanin, responsible for skin’s color. As the skin heals, it leaves behind residual pigmentation and dark spots.

 

 

 

EH: Is there anything you can do to prevent it?

JD: Unfortunately, if you’re prone to these dark spots, it’s tough to prevent them. Still, picking or scratching at an irritation will further traumatize the area, so hands off! You’ll also want to be vigilant about wearing sunscreen. As your skin gets darker, so will those hyperpigmented areas — it’s not like a tan is going to even out the color. Obviously, daily sunscreen wear is a must anyway, but this is just one more reason to protect your skin from UV rays.

EH: What steps can you take to treat it?

JD: The sooner you start taking care of your wound, the better it’ll look once healed. I recommend keeping the wound covered, especially if the skin is broken, and applying a topical healing ointment.

 

 

For large cysts or cuts, you may even want to see your dermatologist for a treatment plan. Once the pimple or cut has healed, apply 2% hydroquinone cream, which is available over-the-counter, or 4% hydroquinone, available by prescription from your doctor.

If the topical creams don’t quite do the trick, talk to your dermatologist about chemical peels or laser treatments to completely eliminate more stubborn discoloration.

EH: Is hyperpigmentation more common in people with darker complexions?

JD: No matter your skin color, everyone is susceptible to hyperpigmentation. Still, those with darker complexions seem to hold on to those spots for much longer because they have more melanin in their skin. It also means those hyperpigmented areas are going to be darker and more visible as well. Pregnancy and certain medications can increase your body’s production of melanin, and lead to hyperpigmentation as well.

6 Ways to Prep Your Skin for Summer

Scheduling vacation plans and buying a new swimsuit will mentally prepare you for summer, but your skin may need some help getting ready, too. For gorgeous, smooth skin you'll feel ready to bare, you need to take a few simple steps. Try this head-to-toe refresher to take your skin out of hibernation.

1. Reveal Glowing Skin

Regular exfoliation can be a part of a healthy skin regimen no matter the season; as long as your skin is not sensitive, exfoliation can help you achieve smooth, healthy-looking skin that makes you look more glowing and youthful. “But it must be done with care,” says Doris Day, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. “The goal is to lift off the outer layer of skin cells that are ready to be sloughed off without stripping the skin.”

 

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Brushes, polishing cloths, and scrubs offer easy ways to smooth away rough spots. Rotating cleansing brushes work by physically buffing off the dead skin cells. Exfoliating cloths, microdermabrasion kits, and scrubs with granular ingredients also operate the same way. “For the body, look for a scrub that contains coarse particles that dissolve over time, like sugar, so you don’t irritate the skin,” says Dr. Day.

Products that chemically exfoliate the skin contain ingredients such as glycolic, salicylic, or polyhydroxy acids that cause the skin to shed its outer layer and reveal the newer layer.

2. Remove Hair Without Irritation

If your summer forecast calls for sunny days at the beach or poolside, you may be putting some effort into removing unwanted hair. But once you rip off the wax strip, it’s also important to care for the skin that’s newly exposed to the elements.

Give your skin some time to recover before rolling out your beach towel or getting active outdoors. “I advise clients to stay out of the sun or heat for at least 48 hours after any hair-removal process,” says Cindy Barshop, owner of Completely Bare spas. “Follicles are vulnerable to irritation, and skin may be sensitive due to any heat or friction from lasers, waxing, or shaving.”

Since most of us don’t plan our hair removal that far in advance, buffer your tender skin with an oil-free sunscreen, wait for it to dry (about 5 minutes), and dust on some talc-free baby powder, says Barshop. To prevent ingrown hairs, it’s helpful to wear loose-fitting clothing and use an after-waxing product that contains glycolic and salicylic acids, which team up to prevent dead skin cells from causing bothersome bumps.

 

 

3. Fight UV Rays With Food

All the work you put into making your skin look good won’t be worth it unless you guard it from the sun’s damaging rays, which are strongest during the summer. Surprisingly, you can protect yourself from the inside, too. “In addition to usingsunscreen, eat cooked tomatoes every day if you know you’re going to be in the sun,” says Jessica Wu, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at USC Medical School. According to research, cooked tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that helps fight the effects of UV rays such as redness, swelling, and blistering from sunburn. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, you may benefit from consuming tomato sauce, grilled tomatoes, or even Bloody Marys. “This doesn’t replace sunscreen, but the habit could give you additional protection if you can’t reach your back and miss a spot,” Dr. Wu adds.

4. Clear Up Body Breakouts

It’s no better to have acne on your body than on the face, especially in the heat, when hiding and covering up isn’t an option. The approach to treating acne on the back, chest, and elsewhere on the body is the same as treating facial acne: “Exfoliate regularly, don’t pick, and treat with effective ingredients,” says Day.

Washing with products that contain salicylic acid helps slough off the dead skin cells; a treatment product with micronized benzoyl peroxide can also help by penetrating the skin and killing off the bacteria that cause acne.

If your skin is sensitive, investing in an acne-treating blue light tool may be worth the cost. “You simply wave the light wand over skin for five minutes daily and it helps kill bacteria,” says Leslie Baumann, MD, a dermatologist in Miami. If you have severe body acne, see a dermatologist.

5. Erase Cellulite

First, the good news: Some products may be able to smooth out the undesirable dimples and unevenness of cellulite. The bad news: They won’t get rid of cellulite forever. The smoothing and toning effect, like many good things in life, is fleeting. Still, it may be worth slathering on a toning body lotion to make your skin look and feel tighter for a day at the beach or a special event.

“Products that contain caffeine and theophylline temporarily dehydrate fat cells,” says Dr. Baumann. “However, it’s the massage and the application of the cream that does the work.” The best course of action long-term is to exercise regularly, coupled with targeted massage, suggests Baumann.

Another way to hide cellulite is to apply a fake tan. Take advantage of the newest self-tanners, which have come a long way from the strong-smelling streaky creams or sprays of yesteryear. “There has been so much progress in the formulations — the colors are natural, there’s no streaking, and the scent is so much better,” says Day.

6. Treat Your Feet

If you’ve stuffed your feet inside boots all winter, they probably could use a little TLC for sandal weather. Jump-start your program with a salon pedicure, or if you’re short on time, you can heed Day’s DIY tip, which will help soften feet while you sleep. First, remove thicker skin with a foot file. Apply a rich emollient cream or ointment, then cover the feet in plastic wrap and cotton socks. Leave on overnight. Repeat every day until you achieve smooth skin, then once a week to maintain soft skin.

7 Healthy Habits of the 2016 Presidential Candidates

The New Hampshire primary's in full swing, and if there’s one thing all the presidential hopefuls can agree on, it’s that running for office is the ultimate endurance challenge. They’re canvassing across the country with little time to exercise or sleep, and it doesn’t help that at every stop they’re tempted by unhealthy foods like pizza, pork chops, and pies. So how do the presidential candidates stay healthy and keep their energy levels up during the grueling primary season? Read on to find out!

What Is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an illness that can result in muscle weakness or loss of muscle function in parts of the body.

In people with Guillain-Barré syndrome (pronounced GHEE-yan ba-RAY), the body's own immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system.

The peripheral nervous system includes the nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the limbs. These nerves help control muscle movement.

GBS Prevalence

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 or 2 out of every 100,000 people develop GBS each year in the United States.

Anyone can get GBS, but the condition is more common in adults than in children, and more men than women are diagnosed with GBS each year.

Causes and Risk Factors

Doctors don't know what causes Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Many people with GBS report a bacterial or viral infection (such as the flu) days or weeks before GBS symptoms start.

Less common triggers for GBS may include:

  • Immunizations
  • Surgery
  • Trauma

Guillain-Barré syndrome is not contagious — it cannot spread from one person to another.

Types of GBS

There are several types of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which are characterized by what part of the nerve cell is damaged.

The most common type of GBS is called acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP).

In AIDP, the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective nerve covering that helps transmit nerve signals from the brain to other parts of the body.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome Symptoms

The first symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome often include feelings of tingling or weakness in the feet and legs. These feelings may spread to the arms and face.

The chest muscles can also be affected. Up to a quarter of people with GBS experience problems breathing.

In very severe cases, people with GBS may lose all muscle function and movement, becoming temporarily paralyzed.

Signs and symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome may include:

  • Pricking or tingling "pins and needles" sensations in the fingers, toes, ankles, or wrists
  • Muscle weakness that starts in the legs and spreads to the upper body
  • Unsteady walking
  • Difficulty with eye or facial movements (blinking, chewing, speaking)
  • Difficulty controlling the bowels or bladder
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

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It's unclear what causes binge eating disorder.

Like other eating disorders, BED is probably caused by a combination of genetic, psychological, and social factors.

Some risk factors for binge eating disorder include:

  • A history of anxiety or depression
  • A history of dieting (especially in unhealthy ways, such as skipping meals or not eating enough food each day)
  • Painful childhood experiences, such as family problems

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

People with binge eating disorder have frequent bingeing episodes, typically at least once a week over the course of three months or more.

Binge eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following:

  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when you're not feeling hungry
  • Eating alone, because you feel embarrassed about how much you're eating
  • Feeling extremely disgusted, depressed, or guilty after eating

Some people also display behavioral, emotional, or physical characteristics, such as:

  • Secretive food behaviors, including hoarding, hiding, or stealing food
  • Feelings of anger, anxiety, worthlessness, or shame preceding a binge
  • Feeling disgusted with your body size
  • A strong need to be in control, or perfectionist tendencies

Binge Eating Disorder Treatment

If you have binge eating disorder, you should seek help from a specialist in eating disorders, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.

There are several treatments available for BED. Treatment options may include:

 

10 Varicose Veins Myths

If you have ropy, blue blood vessels in your legs, you may think that they’re unsightly but don't cause any overt symptoms. Yet for some people, varicose veins can cause skin damage and, even worse, lead to dangerous blood clots.

They’re incredibly common: Varicose veins affect about one in four U.S. adults, or about 22 million women and 11 million men between ages 40 and 80.

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Your leg veins face an uphill battle as they carry blood from your toes to your heart. Small flaps, or valves, within these vessels prevent blood from getting backed up on this journey, and the pumping action of your leg muscles helps push the blood along. 

But if these valves weaken, blood can pool — primarily in the veins of your legs — increasing pressure in the veins. As a result of this increased pressure, your body tries to widen the veins to compensate, causing them to bulge and thicken, and leading to the characteristic twisted appearance of varicose veins.

 

 

To help you learn the facts about these enlarged veins, we've set the record straight on 10 sometimes confusing pieces of information, including who gets varicose veins and why, health problems they can cause, and treatment options.

Myth 1: Varicose Veins Are Only a Cosmetic Issue

“A lot of people are told by primary care doctors or others that varicose veins are a cosmetic issue only, when oftentimes they can be much more than that,” saysKathleen D. Gibson, MD, a vascular surgeon practicing in Bellevue, Washington.

“A significant percentage of patients with varicose veins will eventually develop symptoms,” says Pablo Sung Yup Kim, MD, assistant professor of surgery at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. “The most common include dull achiness, heaviness, throbbing, cramping, and swelling of the legs.” Other symptoms include severe dryness and itchiness of the skin near varicose veins. People with varicose veins are also at an increased risk for a dangerous type of blood clot known as deep vein thrombosis.

Other not-so-common signs and symptoms, found in less than 10 percent of patients, include bleeding, skin discoloration, skin thickening, and ulcer formation — all due to varicose veins, says Kim. Unfortunately, once you have skin damage, it’s usually permanent.

“It’s very important to seek medical advice if you have varicose veins and experience symptoms — before changes in the skin are irreversible,” he says.

Myth 2: Varicose Veins Are an Inevitable Sign of Aging

Aging definitely worsens varicose veins, though not everyone gets them. “It's a degenerative process that gets worse and more prominent as we age,” says Dr. Gibson. But young people can get varicose veins, too. While the average age of patients treated in Gibson’s practice is 52, she and her colleagues have treated patients as young as 13.

If you've got varicose veins, it may run in your family. “The cause of varicose veins is primarily genetic,” Gibson explains.

Changes in hormone levels also come into play as a risk factor for varicose veins. “Your risk can be made worse, especially by pregnancy,” she adds.

Myth 3: Varicose Veins Are Strictly a Women’s Issue

While varicose veins are more common in women, men get them, too. About one-quarter of adult women have some visible varicose veins, compared to 10 to 15 percent of men.

Steve Hahn, 51, of Kirkland, Washington, first noticed in his twenties that he had varicose veins in his left leg after he sprained his ankle playing basketball. When he injured his knee about 10 years ago, he noticed that the varicose veins had become more extensive.

“After about five years of thinking about it, I finally had them treated,” he says. “Both of my legs felt very heavy all of the time at this point, as opposed to just after walking a golf course or playing tennis or basketball.”

After treatment, Hahn says, “I feel like I have new legs.” The heaviness is gone, as is the ankle swelling, which he didn't know was related to the varicose veins. And as a side benefit, he adds, he looks better in shorts.

Myth 4: Running Can Cause Varicose Veins

Exercise — including running — is usually a good thing for your veins. “Exercise is always good for the circulation,” Kim says. “Walking or running can lead to more calf-muscle pumping and more blood returning to the heart.”

“Being a runner doesn’t cause varicose veins,” adds Gibson, though there's controversy about whether exercise makes them worse or not.” Compression stockings can help prevent blood from pooling in your lower legs during exercise. “For patients who haven't had their varicose veins treated and are running, I recommend compression. When you’re done running and are cooling off, elevate your legs,” she says.

Myth 5: Varicose Veins Are Always Visible

While the varicose veins you notice are right at the surface of the skin, they occur deeper in the body, too, where you can't see them. “It really depends on the makeup of the leg,” Gibson says. “If you've got a lot of fatty tissue between the muscle and the skin, you may not see them. Sometimes surface veins are the tip of the iceberg and there's a lot going on underneath.”

Myth 6: Standing on the Job Causes Varicose Veins

If you have a job that requires you to be on your feet a lot — as a teacher or flight attendant, for example — you may be more bothered by varicose veins. But the jury's still out on whether prolonged standing actually causes varicose veins. “People tend to notice their varicose vein symptoms more when they’re standing or sitting,” Gibson explains.

RELATED: Steer Clear of These 9 Artery and Vein Diseases

Myth 7: Making Lifestyle Changes Won't Help

Your lifestyle does matter, because obesity can worsen varicose veins, and getting down to a healthy weight can help ease symptoms. Becoming more physically active is also helpful. “Wearing compression stockings, doing calf-strengthening exercises, and elevating your legs can all improve or prevent varicose veins,” saysAndrew F. Alexis, MD, MPH, chairman of the dermatology department at Mount Sinai St. Luke's and Mount Sinai Roosevelt in New York City.

Myth 8: Surgery Is Your Only Treatment Option

The only treatment available for varicose veins used to be a type of surgery called stripping, in which the vein is surgically removed from the body. That’s no longer the case. While this procedure is still the most commonly used varicose vein treatment worldwide, according to Gibson, minimally invasive procedures that don't leave scars have become much more popular in the United States.

Endothermal ablation, for example, involves using a needle to deliver heat to your vein, causing it to close and no longer function. While the procedure doesn't leave a scar, it can be painful, and you may have to undergo sedation before being treated. “You have to have a series of injections along the vein to numb it up; otherwise, you wouldn't be able to tolerate the heat,” Gibson explains. You may need to take a day off from work to recover, as well as a few days off from the gym.

Some medications, called sclerosing agents, close a vein by causing irritation. Others are adhesives that seal a vein shut and don’t require the area to be numbed. Gibson and her colleagues have helped develop some of the new technologies and products used in treating varicose veins, including adhesives.

Milder varicose veins can be treated by dermatologists with non-invasive approaches, such as laser therapy and sclerotherapy, says Dr. Alexis. “For more severe cases where symptoms may be involved, seeing a vascular surgeon for surgical treatment options is advised.”

Although treatment for varicose veins means losing some veins, you have plenty of others in your body that can take up the slack, explains Gibson. “The majority of the blood flow in veins in the leg is not on the surface at all; it's in the deep veins within the muscle,” she says. “Those deep veins … are easily able to take over for any veins that we remove on the surface.”

Myth 9: Recovery After Varicose Vein Treatments Is Difficult

 

 

Newer treatments have quicker recovery times. “These procedures can be performed in an office within 20 to 30 minutes with no recovery time. Patients can usually return to work or daily activities on the same day,” Kim says.

Myth 10: Varicose Veins Can Be Cured

Treatments are effective, but they aren't a cure, Gibson says. Sometimes, varicose veins can make a repeat appearance after treatment. “What I tell my patients is it's kind of like weeding a garden,” she says. “We clear them all out, but that doesn't mean there's never going to be another dandelion popping out.”

10 Essential Facts About Ovarian Cancer

Statistically speaking, ovarian cancer is relatively rare: It represents just 1.3 percent of all new cancer cases in the United States each year, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). But although its numbers are small, the fear factor for many women may be disproportionately large.

We spoke to two leading ovarian cancer experts: Robert J. Morgan, Jr., MD, professor, and Mihaela C. Cristea, MD, associate clinical professor, of the medical oncology and therapeutics research department at City of Hope, an NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, California.

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Here are 10 essential facts about ovarian cancer that you should know:

1. About 20,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. As a comparison, nearly 250,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Of the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, 90 percent will be older than 40; most ovarian cancers occur in women 60 or older, according to the CDC.

2. You should see your doctor if you experience any of these ovarian cancer symptoms:

  • Vaginal bleeding (especially if you’re past menopause)
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Pain or pressure in the area below your stomach and between your hip bones
  • Back pain
  • A change in bathroom habits, such as urgently needing to urinate, urinating frequently, or having constipation or diarrhea

It’s important to pay attention to your body and know what’s normal for you. If you have abnormal vaginal bleeding or have any of the other symptoms for two weeks or longer, see your doctor right away.

 

 

These symptoms can be caused by many different problems, but it’s best to have them evaluated, suggests the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

3. It’s tricky to pinpoint early, milder symptoms of ovarian cancer. However, the findings of a study published in Cancer in 2007 point to a cluster of vague symptoms that may suggest the need for ovarian cancer testing, says Dr. Morgan. In the study, researchers linked these symptoms to the possibility of ovarian cancer:

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Strong urge to urinate or frequent urination
  • Bloating or increased abdominal size
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full early

If a woman experiences these symptoms on more than 12 days a month for less than one year, she should insist that her doctor perform a thorough ovarian evaluation, says Morgan. This might include the CA-125 blood test or atransvaginal ultrasound exam.

4. Early detection can mean a better prognosis. When detected early enough, ovarian cancer can be cured. “Stage 1 and stage 2 ovarian cancer is curable about 75 to 95 percent of the time, depending on the tumor grade and cell type,” says Morgan. But because this cancer occurs deep inside the body’s pelvic region, it is often diagnosed in later stages, he says. The cure rate for stage 3 ovarian cancer is about 25 to 30 percent, and for stage 4 it's less than 5 percent, he adds.

RELATED: Overcoming Ovarian Cancer, Twice

5. Ovarian cancer has several key risk factorsThese include:

  • Women with a family history of ovarian cancer may be at higher risk.
  • Women who have never been pregnant and women who have uninterrupted ovulation due to infertility treatments seem to be at higher risk.
  • Early onset of your period, or having a late menopause, seems to increase risk.
  • Using talcum powder in the genital area may increase risk.
  • Smoking is a risk factor for a type of ovarian cancer known as mucinous ovarian cancer. Quitting smoking seems to reverse the risk back to normal, says Morgan.

6. Ovarian cancer is not a single disease. In reality, it’s a diverse group of cancers that respond to different treatments based on their molecular characteristics, says Dr. Cristea. Treatment will also depend on other health conditions, such as diabetes or heart problems, that a woman might have.

7. Ovarian cancer treatments are evolving and improving all the time.Immunotherapy is emerging as a new treatment option for many malignancies, including ovarian cancer,” says Cristea. In another recent development, the firstPARP inhibitor, a DNA-repair drug, has been approved for women with BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer when chemotherapy hasn’t worked. “Women should also ask their doctors about clinical trials that are evaluating immunotherapy as well as other new treatments,” she adds.

 

 

8. Surgery may prevent ovarian cancer in women at very high risk. For women who carry the BRCA or other genes that predispose them to ovarian cancer, doctors often recommend surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes.Angelina Jolie, the actor and human rights activist, decided to have this surgery in March 2015. “Removing the ovaries can decrease the risk of developing the disease by 98 percent, and can substantially decrease the risk of developing breast cancer,” notes Morgan. Women in this very high-risk group should opt for this surgery after they’ve completed childbearing at around age 35, he notes.

9. Even after remission, ovarian cancer can still respond to treatment. “About 80 to 90 percent of ovarian cancer patients will achieve remission after chemotherapy treatment,” says Morgan. However, many of those women will later experience a recurrence of the cancer. The longer the remission, notes Morgan, the better the chances are for achieving a second remission.

10. It’s best to see an ovarian cancer specialist. When you’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, getting a referral to an ovarian cancer specialist is a wise move, says Cristea. If you’re having surgery, it’s best to have a gynecologic oncologist perform the operation instead of a gynecologist, she adds. And to make sure you’re getting state-of-the-art treatment, consider seeking a second opinion at a NCI-Designated Cancer Center.

10 Ways to Live Better With Psoriasis

The keys to successful psoriasis management are working with your doctor to find a treatment plan that’s right for you and then sticking to that plan. But your role in treatment doesn’t stop with medication. Making certain lifestyle changes is important, too.

From the foods you eat to the support you seek, making healthy choices every day can help you ease the discomfort of flaky, red itchy skin, avoid flares, and start living life to the fullest. Follow these 10 steps.  

1. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet. Despite extensive research, there’s no evidence supporting a specific “psoriasis diet,” says Caitríona Ryan, MD, a dermatologist at Texas Dermatology Associates in Dallas and vice chair of the dermatology residency program at Baylor University Medical Center. However, many people with psoriasis report feeling better when they avoid foods that have been shown to cause or increase inflammation (such as fatty red meats, processed foods, refined sugar, and nightshade vegetables) and embrace foods that are known to reduce inflammation. Inflammation-fighting foods include those rich in omega-3s, such as salmon, albacore tuna, flaxseeds, and walnuts, and colorful fruits and vegetables, such as spinach, carrots, and blueberries, according to the National Psoriasis Foundation (NPF). 

2. Maintain a healthy weight. People who are overweight tend to have more severe psoriasis, according to a study published in November 2012 in Clinical & Experimental Dermatology Research. “We know that adipose tissue (fat) produces inflammatory cytokines like tumor necrosis factor (TNF),” Dr. Ryan says. Overproduction of TNF, a cell signaling protein, can trigger psoriasis. In addition, systemic and biologic agents for treating psoriasis tend to work better in patients who aren’t overweight, she says.

3. Aim for 30 minutes of exercise most days. Physical activity goes along when it comes to maintaining a healthy weight and lowering your risk for comorbid conditions — such as your risk for heart disease and type 2 diabetes, which increase when you have psoriasis. Try to get at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise five times a week, and add in some strength training. Although a study published in 2012 in the Archives of Dermatology showed that women who exercised vigorously lowered their risk of developing psoriasis, any level of exercise is better than none, says the NPF. That may mean simply taking the stairs at work instead of the elevator or parking farther away in parking lots.

4. Quit smoking and drinking too much. Neither of these habits is good for anyone, says Mark Lebwohl, MD, a professor and chairman of the department of dermatology at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York. But they may be even worse for people with psoriasis, he says. The chemicals in tobacco may trigger inflammation that can both cause psoriasis and make flares more severe, according to the NPF. In addition, excessive alcohol consumption may interfere with your response to psoriasis treatment and make it less effective. If you need help quitting smoking or drinking excessively, talk to your doctor.

5. Arm yourself with moisturizer to fight dry skin. “The skin of people with psoriasis is very dry,” Dr. Lebwohl says. “Moisturizing makes it feel better.” Apply moisturizer after showering and after washing your hands. The thicker the moisturizer the better — creams and ointments lock more moisture in your skin.

6. Avoid illness. “Infections worsen psoriasis — even mild colds or urinary tract infections,” Ryan says. “So keeping healthy is rather important.” To stay healthy, eat well, wash your hands frequently, get quality sleep, and be sure your immunizations are up to date. Also be sure to get a flu shot before the start of the flu season.

7. Avoid injuries, too. Some people can develop lesions in new areas if their skin is cut, bruised, or burned, according to The Psoriasis and Psoriatic Arthritis Alliance (PAPAA). Try not to scratch, Ryan says. Be sure to protect your hands and skin when doing activities that could lead to injury such as household chores in the kitchen or pruning bushes in the garden.

8. Cut back on stress. Stressed out? Like most inflammatory conditions, too much tension can cause psoriasis to flare or can exacerbate lesions, according to the NPF. If you’re feeling overextended, look for ways to reduce stress in your life — be it meditation, exercise, or talking to a therapist.

9. Reach out for support. “There are a lot of benefits to support groups,” Lebwohl says. Whether the groups meet online or in person, people with psoriasis often share tips that work well for them and that can help others in their group, Lebwohl says. And sometimes, it helps just having someone listen to you who understands what you’re going through.

10. Stick to your treatment plan—even when you feel good. “Many patients think they’re better off minimizing treatment,” Lebwohl says. They stop taking their medication or go longer than they should between injections. But if you want to avoid flares, you need to stick to the plan. Says the NPF: Using your treatments as prescribed makes a big difference in how well they work.

Loneliness May Fuel Mental Decline in Old Age

Slower deterioration seen in people with more satisfying relationships, researchers say.

Loneliness and depression are linked to an increased risk of mental decline in the elderly, a new study suggests.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 8,300 American adults aged 65 and older who were assessed every two years between 1998 and 2010. Seventeen percent reported loneliness at the beginning of the study, and half of those who were lonely had depression.

Over the course of the study, mental decline was 20 percent faster among the loneliest people than among those who weren't lonely. People who were depressed at the start of the study also had faster mental decline.

However, lower mental function did not lead to worsening loneliness, according to the study scheduled for presentation Monday at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference in Washington, D.C. Data and conclusions presented at meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

RELATED: The Health Risks of Loneliness 

"Our study suggests that even one or two depressive symptoms -- particularly loneliness -- is associated with an increased rate of cognitive decline over 12 years," study author Dr. Nancy Donovan said in an association news release. She is a geriatric psychiatrist at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston and an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.

"We found that lonely people decline cognitively at a faster rate than people who report more satisfying social networks and connections. Although loneliness and depression appear closely linked, loneliness may, by itself, have effects on cognitive decline," she explained.

This is important to know for the development of treatments to enhance mental health and quality of life for older adults, she added.

The new study suggested a link between loneliness, depression and heightened risk of mental decline, but it did not prove cause-and-effect.

Influenza, a viral infection, illness that can range from mild to life-threatening

Influenza, commonly known as "the flu," is a viral infection of the respiratory tract that affects the nose, throat, and sometimes lungs.

 tend to happen annually, at about the same time every year. This period is commonly referred .

However, each outbreak may be caused by a different subtype or strain of the virus, so a different flu vaccine is needed to prevent the flu each year.

For most people, a bout of flu is an unpleasant but short-lived illness.

For others, however, flu can pose serious health risks, particularly if complications such as pneumonia develop.

Every year, thousands of Americans die from the flu. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the number of deaths caused annually by flu in the United States ranged from 3,000 to 49,000 between 1976 and 2006, with an annual average of 23,607 flu-related deaths.

The best way to avoid getting the flu is to get an annual flu vaccination, encourage the people you live and work with to do likewise, stay away from people who are sick, and wash your hands frequently.

Risk of Preemie Birth May Rise for Depressed Parents-to-Be

Treating expectant mothers -- and fathers -- might help prevent early birth, study suggests.

It's known that an expectant mother's mental and emotional health can affect her baby. New research, however, finds that depression in either the father or the mother may be linked to an increased likelihood of preterm birth.

Screening for and treating mental health problems in both parents may help reduce the odds of a preterm delivery, according to study author Dr. Anders Hjern and his colleagues.

"Depressive fathers influence the stress hormone balance in the mother, and depression may also -- but this is more speculative -- have an effect on sperm quality," said Hjern, professor of pediatric epidemiology with the Centre for Health Equity Studies in Stockholm, Sweden.

Hjern and his colleagues analyzed more than 360,000 births in Sweden between 2007 and 2012. They determined parental depression by prescriptions for antidepressants that the expectant parents were taking. The researchers also looked at the parents' outpatient and hospital care. All this information was from 12 months before conception until six months after conception.

Mothers who had either a first bout with depression or recurring depression appeared to have a 30 percent to 40 percent higher risk of delivering a baby moderately preterm -- at 32 to 36 weeks. Full term is 39 to 40 weeks, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

For expectant fathers, only those who had "new" depression were linked to a greater risk of a preterm child. (People with new depression had no depression 12 months prior to their diagnosis.) These fathers had a 38 percent higher risk of a very preterm baby, defined as 22 to 31 weeks, the study authors said.

However, the study authors only found an association, and not cause-and-effect proof, that parental depression may affect a child's birth outcome.

RELATED: Should You Have Kids If You’re Depressed?

Preterm birth is a leading cause of infant death. Preemies that survive often face long-term health consequences.

Janet Currie, director of the Center for Health and Wellbeing at Princeton University, said stress can certainly be a culprit in causing early delivery.

"There is quite a bit of literature suggesting that stress could trigger labor," said Currie, who was not involved with the new research. "Possibly paternal depression could also have that effect on the mother, for example, if she is stressed out by a father's health problem, or if a father's depression leads to other stresses like loss of employment or income."

Hjern theorized that the effects of antidepressants and unhealthy factors such as obesity and smoking also may contribute to a greater likelihood of preterm labor.

Some experts recommend that couples planning a family or expecting a child seek advice if they are experiencing irritability, anxiety or a change in mood.

Hjern expressed concern that men are less likely to seek professional help for any mental health problems, suggesting a proactive approach toward targeting the well-being of expectant fathers may be beneficial.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force -- a panel of independent health experts -- recently recommended screening all adults, including pregnant and postpartum women, for depression.

ACOG applauded the recommendation, saying "routine screening by physicians is important for ensuring appropriate follow-up and treatment." Treatment might include lifestyle changes, therapy and/or medication, the association said.

"Perinatal depression or depression that occurs during pregnancy or in the first 12 months after delivery is estimated to affect one in seven women, making it one of the most common medical complications associated with pregnancy," ACOG said in a statement.

The new study was published online recently in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

6 Things I Didn't Know About Depression Until It Happened to Me

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with depression, these insights from people who are successfully managing their own depression may help you.

Depression can make you feel alone and isolated, but in reality you aren't. Many other people live with depression every day, and you can learn a lot from them. Here, three people diagnosed with depression share insights they’ve gained along the way.

1. It's Not Your Fault

For the longest time, "I felt like something was wrong with me," says Marisa McPeck-Stringham, 37, a social worker in Ogden, Utah, who blogs about her life, including her depression, as Iron Daisy. She first noticed as a teen that she was sometimes down in the dumps, but she wasn't diagnosed until age 20, she says. Before the diagnosis, she would ask herself: What's wrong with me? She knew she had a good family, a good home, and great parents. "I didn't know it was a mental illness," she says. "I didn't know it was a problem with my brain chemistry."

That reaction is a common one, says Michelle B. Riba, MD, associate director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center in Ann Arbor and past president of the American Psychiatric Association. Patients often tell her they think they did something to bring on the depression, and that they could have been stronger.

Dr. Riba tells her patients, "It's a medical condition and has to be treated like a medical condition." Anyone diagnosed with depression must be evaluated to see which treatment or combination might work for them, Riba says.

2. Being Depressed Takes a Lot of Energy

Elizabeth Moon, 70, of Austin, who wrote Crown of Renewal and other books, was diagnosed in the early 1980s. She didn't understand until after she got a diagnosis and was treated how exhausted she had been from trying to keep up with her life. "I didn't realize how long I had been depressed," she says.

"I was active, very physically active," says Moon. "I didn't think of myself as depressed; I didn't realize I was sliding into depression."

RELATED: 5 Things Psychologists Wish Their Patients Would Do

“Not everyone fits the stereotype of sitting on the couch," unable to do anything, she says. "If you’re feeling worthless, like you have no future — even if you appear to be healthy and holding down a full-time job, get checked out.”

"People may not pinpoint [depression symptoms] right away," Riba says of those who get depressed. They may think they’re sleep deprived, for instance, or just have some temporary issues balancing responsibilities.

3. Exercise Has Been Proven to Help With Symptoms

Often, the last thing you want to do if you’re depressed is go out and get some exercise. But those who’ve been there understand the value of exercise, and say it often helps. "If I don't get out and exercise, I have to really watch myself and make sure I’m not sliding," Moon says. "I do much better if I’m active. I have much less chance of sliding into another episode."

RELATED: The Real Monthly Cost of Depression

Exercise ''readjusts our brain chemistry," says McPeck-Stringham. She includes exercise as part of her "self-care" routine. Her workouts also become valuable "me" time, she finds.

And there is good evidence that exercise improves your mental health. A study published in 2014 in JAMA Psychiatry found that exercise does lower your chance of becoming depressed. And in people who already have depression, exercise helps lift depressive symptoms.

4. Writing Helps You Sort Out Your Emotions

Keola Birano, 33, of Hilo, Hawaii, is a full-time writer who also works for his wife's clothing business. Diagnosed at age 19, he soon learned the power of writing — not for his livelihood, but for his depression. First, he wrote a letter to his father and ''without giving it to him," burned it. "It released whatever [negative] feeling I may have held onto," he says.

He has continued writing, both for his blog, Keola Birano Reimagined, and for personal growth. "When you write, it opens up parts of your brain you didn't know were there,'' he says. "I try to do 10 minutes a day on autopilot, to let the feelings out."

5. Managing Depression Is an Ongoing Effort

"It takes a lot of significant work to keep yourself strong," Birano says. "You have to keep working on it. Once you start thinking you have it beat, you set yourself up for failure."

Moon agrees. "I can go downhill in 30 seconds,'' she says. "I've learned to have a plan in place when that happens," she says. Part of her plan is to keep tabs on her mental health before that slide downhill. "At least five times a year, I take the Beck Depression Inventory [a tool used by mental health experts] and see where I am. If I’m coming up [on the score], I need to be very careful. If the score doesn't go back down, I may need meds."

RELATED: 10 Foods I Eat Every Day to Beat Depression

For her, the best approach has been to take medications when needed and then taper off them, she says, but she doesn’t claim this is best for everyone. It’s important to remember that decisions to stop or start medications should always be done in conjunction with your physician.

6. Having a Depression Relapse Doesn’t Mean You Failed

"Right now, I’m in between episodes," Moon says. "I know another one may come and it isn't a disaster when it does come. It doesn't mean you’ll end up committing suicide either."

Figuring out what works for you to stay on an even keel is critical, Moon says. The most important thing for anyone who's depressed? "Recognize when you’re falling off the cliff," she says. Then go get the help you need and deserve.

Fewer Diabetes Cases Being Missed

Although the number of people diagnosed with diabetes is still on the rise, the good news is that most people with the disease know they have it, a new study shows.

The research suggests that over the past two and a half decades, the percentage of undiagnosed cases has dropped significantly.

"If you're going to your doctor, you probably don't have to worry about undiagnosed diabetes," said study author Elizabeth Selvin, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Selvin explained that previous estimates suggested that over a quarter to 30 percent of people with diabetes probably didn't know it. But those estimates assumed that doctors were only doing one test for diabetes and not following up with a confirmatory second test, as the American Diabetes Association recommends.

However, "we found that's not consistent with how diabetes is diagnosed in clinical practice. In practice, an abnormal finding is confirmed with a second test for the diagnosis. When you use two tests, we see that we're doing a good job with screening and diagnosing diabetes," Selvin said.

In fact, the two-test method seems to capture about 90 percent of all diabetes cases, the researchers noted.

Selvin and her colleagues used data from U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys done from 1988 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2014.

RELATED: 9 Types of Medication That Help Control Type 2 Diabetes

The surveys showed that when the research began in 1988 to 1994, there were about 10 million adults with diabetes and confirmed undiagnosed diabetes (that means people who just had one test and didn't get a follow-up test). By 1999 to 2014, there were 25.5 million adults with diabetes or undiagnosed diabetes.

The new research revealed that the number of undiagnosed cases as a percentage of all diabetes dropped from more than 16 percent to slightly less than 11 percent over 26 years.

People who were undiagnosed were more likely to be overweight or obese, older, or a racial or ethnic minority. They were also less likely to have health insurance or access to health care, the study found.

"What we need to figure out is how to target our screening and prevention efforts to the group that actually is undiagnosed. Some of the people being missed have very high [blood sugar levels] and the efforts should be concentrated on getting those people to the clinic," Selvin said.

The findings were published Oct. 23 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Dr. Anne Peters is director of the clinical diabetes program at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles. She wrote an editorial that accompanied the study.

"I think there are fewer undiagnosed cases than we used to think, but there are still a lot of people who are undiagnosed," Peters said.

"People with risk factors need to get tested. But people get afraid of the stigma. They get afraid of the disease. But diabetes doesn't have to be awful. People don't have to give up. We need a lot more public awareness and a lot more prevention," she said.

And that doesn't mean you have to lose 100 pounds. "Losing 15 pounds can make a big difference. Just walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week is incredibly beneficial. Take diabetes on in bite-sized pieces," Peters advised.

"There are so many new ways to treat diabetes. Almost everything has changed in the past 30 years. But the earlier you start treatment, the better. Some things are better to face," she said.

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Many Under 40 May Not Need Regular Cholesterol Checks: Study

Many adults under 40 may not need to have routine cholesterol screenings, a new study suggests.

To come to this conclusion, the researchers looked at the real world implications of two conflicting sets of guidelines on cholesterol testing.

One, from the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association (ACC/AHA), says that all adults older than 20 should have a cholesterol screening. They also suggest a repeat test every four to six years.

The other guidelines come from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, a government-funded, independent panel of medical experts. They say many adults can go longer before their first cholesterol test -- until age 35 for men, and age 45 for women.

The exception would be people with a major risk factor for heart problems -- such as high blood pressure, smoking or a family history of early heart disease.

Those patients can start cholesterol testing at age 20, the task force adds.

The new findings support the "more targeted" approach the task force uses, according to lead researcher Dr. Krishna Patel, of Saint Luke's Health System in Kansas City, Mo.

Why? The study, Patel explained, tried to estimate the impact of the two different guidelines in the "real world."

To do that, the researchers used data on 9,600 U.S. adults aged 30 to 49 who were part of a government health study.

The study team found that among nonsmokers with normal blood pressure, very few were at heightened risk of suffering a heart attack in the next 10 years. That means very few would be considered candidates for a cholesterol-lowering statin -- even with elevated LDL (so-called "bad" cholesterol) levels.

"So, screening cholesterol early doesn't bring much actionable information," Patel said. "If we're not going to treat, there's no point in doing it."

The study was published May 15 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Others disagreed with Patel's point.

The point of screening younger adults is not so doctors can put them all on statins, said Dr. Neil Stone, one of the authors of the ACC/AHA guidelines.

Instead, there are two central reasons, Stone explained.

One is to spot younger adults who may be heading down a path toward heart disease later in life.

Once they know their LDL is high, they and their doctors can have an "all-important discussion" about diet and lifestyle changes, said Stone, who is also professor of medicine at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

READ MORE: 9 Things Dietitians Wish You Knew About High Cholesterol

The other reason is to catch cases of familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic condition that causes very high LDL levels (above 190 mg/dL), he said.

People with the condition have a much higher-than-average risk of heart disease, and often develop it at a young age.

Because of that, the condition should be treated with statins, according to the ACC/AHA.

There is "strong and compelling evidence," Stone said, that catching the condition in younger adults makes a difference.

Dr. Paul Ridker, who wrote an editorial accompanying the study, had a similar view.

"Familial hypercholesterolemia is a common disorder, and it's easy to detect," said Ridker, of Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston. "Why delay something as simple and inexpensive as a cholesterol test?"

Plus, he said, catching even "run-of-the-mill" high LDL is important.

"Knowing about it early in life can be a good motivator to make lifestyle changes," Ridker said.

What if a young adult has healthy LDL levels? Ridker said he'd be "fine" with that patient forgoing further tests until later in life.

For her part, Patel agreed that a one-time check, to catch familial hypercholesterolemia, is a wise move for young adults. But she questioned the value of repeat testing.

According to Stone, the ACC/AHA guidelines say it's "reasonable" to repeat cholesterol testing every four to six years. "It's not mandatory," he noted.

But people's lives, and heart disease risk factors, change as they move through adulthood, Stone said. So, a periodic cholesterol check can be useful when it's done as part of a "global risk assessment" where doctors look at blood pressure, smoking habits and other major risk factors for heart disease.

Motivating younger adults to get those risk factors under control is critical, according to Stone. "We know it's a big deal if you can have optimal risk factor [control] by age 45 or 50," he said.

In the study, very few people were at elevated risk of heart attack -- as long as they didn't smoke or have high blood pressure. ("Elevated" meant a greater than 5 percent chance of having a heart attack in the next 10 years.)

In the absence of those two risk factors, only 0.09 percent of men younger than 40 were at elevated risk of heart attack. And only 0.04 percent of women younger than 50 were.

But smoking, in particular, changed everything: Among male smokers in their 40s, one-half to three-quarters were at elevated risk of a heart attack.

"Smoking had a huge effect," Patel said. Smokers, she stressed, should "definitely" have their cholesterol tested -- and, more importantly, quit the habit.

Regis Philbin Takes on High Cholesterol

The legendary talk-show host is helping raise awareness about heart health and the importance of staying on drug treatment.

Regis Philbin has been entertaining us for more than 50 years — from his legendary morning show with Kathie Lee Gifford and Kelly Ripa to . With his carefree personality and love of the sharp, off-the-cuff one-liner, at age 86 he remains one of America’s favorite television personalities. Seemingly forever young, he got a wake-up call in 1992, when he faced a major health scare that spurred him to lead a more .

Philbin was away from the TV studio and on a trip in Florida when he started to experience sharp chest pains.

“My heart was driving me crazy, I couldn’t believe it, I had these chest pains,” Philbin says. “We did an down there in Florida and my doctor told me my cholesterol levels were at 300. Are you kidding me? Three hundred!”

High blood cholesterol is one of the major markers of heart disease. According to the , a healthy total cholesterol level is less than 200 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL). Any levels at 240 mg/dL or above — like the levels Philbin had — would be considered significantly high.

Once Philbin was back in New York, his doctor put him on his first , and Philbin, with his wife, Joy, by his side, decided that he would make significant to fight off the progression of his heart disease.

“I think things changed in a hurry,” Philbin says about his approach to his health.

“It shook us both up, it was a wake-up call,” Joy recalls of her husband’s health scare. “Quite frankly, I didn’t give cholesterol a thought myself. I mean, Regis didn’t have the best diet, but I never thought it was that bad. It kind of set him on a new regimen. You really start to feel your mortality. He was only 61 when he had his first event.”

This wouldn’t be his only heart health scare. Philbin had triple bypass surgery in 2007 because of a buildup of .

The ‘Take the Cholesterol to Heart’ Campaign

Right now, the Philbins are raising awareness about heart health through the “” campaign, which they launched in October 2017 in cooperation with Kowa Pharmaceuticals and the American Academy of Family Physicians Foundation. The campaign aims to encourage people to remain on a heart-healthy routine while also seeking out better information and asking questions before considering stopping their . Philbin, who has shared almost everything about his life over decades of being on air, has always been very open about his experiences with and was approached by the campaign to be its public face.

Joy says that what was most stunning to her about being part of the campaign was learning that 50 percent of people who are on statins stop taking the drugs after one year of use. She adds this shocked her because of how helpful the drugs were for her husband’s health.

Statins are drugs that lower blood cholesterol levels by blocking an enzyme that produces cholesterol in the liver. Getting people to maintain their drug regimen is one of the big challenges of treating high cholesterol, says , the president of the Utah Lipid Center and a fellow at the American Heart Association and the National Lipid Association.

“The big question is, why do these people stop taking their statins? One issue is you don’t necessarily feel better or worse when you take a statin; you have to go through testing to know your cholesterol is lower, so you don’t necessarily have a daily reminder every morning telling you you’re getting better,” Brinton says. “Another thing is that some patients will experience , like muscle pain or weakness. They might have stomach pain or a skin rash.

"There’s also a lot of negative and sometimes factually inaccurate information on the web. However, reputable medical sites cite evidence that highlight the positive health benefits of statins and show that these side effects do not occur in anywhere near the high numbers some of these other sites might lead you to believe.”

Reasons to Stay on Your Statins

A looked into the effectiveness of both statin and non-statin therapies for lowering cholesterol. The study reviewed 49 trials from 1966 to 2016 that involved 312,175 people in total. The report’s authors assert that statins should remain at the front of the line in treating cholesterol, but alternative therapies could be just as helpful if a person can’t tolerate statins or is looking for a different source of treatment. These could involve bile acid sequestrants or even a simple .

“I’ll say this up front, . They prevent heart attack and can prevent stroke. But a statin can’t work if you don’t take it,” Brinton stresses.

Brinton says there are a few things people should keep in mind when looking to lower their cholesterol with statin treatment:

Stay informed. To help counter some potentially inaccurate information out there, Brinton says the first person to turn to is your doctor. Beyond that, he says there’s useful information at places like the , the American Heart Association, and the National Lipid Association website, .

Know your options. Brinton says that people who are discouraged by one drug should know that there are multiple statin drugs out there. “A lot of people who stop their statin for whatever reason didn’t talk to or consult their doctor, who then doesn’t have a chance of helping them decide what to do,” he adds. “There are several statins out there, and people need to realize that there are other options if what they try first doesn’t work out.”

Be vigilant. If you’re having a bad experience, your statin medication could be reacting with other medications you are taking. Brinton says it is important that people tell their doctor about other medications or supplements they're on. They could then be prescribed a different statin.

How Regis Stays Healthy in Retirement

This all rings true for the Philbins. After his scare in the early '90s, Philbin started seeing a cardiologist, , and became even more of a “fitness freak,” Joy says.

“When you’re in your thirties, for example, you aren’t running to a doctor. But when you hit your sixties, you become a little more proactive about your health,” Joy says. “If your diet is wrong, you start looking into it. You become more aware.”

Echoing Brinton, Joy says that communication between you and your doctor is key in maintaining the best possible heart health.

“Some people avoid going to the doctor; they’re afraid of bad news,” she adds. “It’s important to maintain that [relationship]. You get closer to your doctor as you age, it’s one of the things you do. That’s crucial. It was so important for Regis.”

For his part, Philbin is doing everything he can to stay healthy in retirement. The talk-show host with the gift of gab is more than happy to share his heart health journey.

“I’ve been dealing with this for 25 years. It’s been a long time,” Philbin says. “I'm always more than happy to talk about this. For me, it’s everything.”

Essential Facts About Antidepressants

Newer antidepressants target brain chemicals involved in regulating mood, but they're not magic bullets. Here are the risks and benefits of these commonly prescribed drugs.

Although mild forms of depression are often treated without medication, those with more severe symptoms may benefit from taking antidepressant drugs. These medications, which target brain chemicals involved in mood, may help people with severe depression who do not respond to talk therapy or healthy lifestyle changes alone, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

The Use of Antidepressants Is on the Rise

Roughly 67 percent of people living with depression use medication as their primary form of treatment, NAMI reports. Antidepressants are the second most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States, according to a study published in 2013 in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. Overall, use of antidepressants increased from 6.5 percent in 2000 to 10.4 percent by 2010, a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reveals.

How Antidepressants May Help

There are many theories about what causes depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Brain imaging technology shows that parts of the brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, and behavior look different in people with depression than in those who are not depressed. Genetics, stress, and grief could also trigger depression, according to NIMH.

RELATED: 6 Need-to-Know Antidepressant Facts

Because specific chemicals called neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin and norepinephrine, are involved in regulating mood, medications that target these chemicals are often used to treat depression. Antidepressants work by increasing concentrations of these chemicals. These drugs include:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs work by making more of the neurotransmitter serotonin available to your brain. Some of the drug names you may be familiar with are Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), and Celexa (citalopram).

The most common side effects associated with these medications include sexual problems, headache, nausea, dry mouth, and difficulty sleeping. These symptoms often fade over time, NAMI notes.

Atypical antidepressants: This class of drugs includes serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as Effexor (venlafaxine) and Cymbalta (duloxetine). In addition to serotonin, these antidepressants may target other brain chemicals such as dopamine or norepinephrine.

Side effects of SNRIs are similar to those associated with SSRI drugs. You may also experience, fatigue, weight gain, or blurred vision.

The antidepressant Wellbutrin (bupropion) affects only the levels of norepinephrine and dopamine. This drug, known as a norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI), has similar side effects as SSRIs and SNRIs, but it is less likely to cause sexual problems. Rarely, seizures may occur.

Tricyclic antidepressants: Tricyclics also affect levels of brain chemicals, but they are no longer commonly used because they have more side effects, including fatigue, dry mouth, blurred vision, urination difficulties, and constipation. If you have glaucoma, you should not take any tricyclic antidepressant. Some tricyclics antidepressants include amitriptyline, amoxapine, and Norpramin (desipramine).

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): Like tricyclics, MAOIs are now prescribed less often because of their risk for serious side effects. These drugs work by blocking an enzyme called monoamine oxidase, which breaks down the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine. People taking MAOIs can experience dangerous reactions if they eat certain foods, drink alcohol, or take over-the-counter cold medicines.

In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Emsam (selegiline), the first skin patch for treating major depression. At its lowest dose, this once-a-day patch can be used without the dietary restrictions associated with oral MAOIs. Some other MAOIs include Marplan (isocarboxazid) and Nardil (phenelzine).

Depression Medications and Government Warnings

In 2005, the FDA warned that the risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior could be higher in children and adolescents taking depression drugs. In 2007, the warning was expanded to include anyone under age 25 taking antidepressants.

However, to balance the risks and benefits of antidepressants, the FDA’s so-called black box warning also states that depression itself is associated with a greater risk for suicide, notes a 2014 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Nevertheless, if you are taking an antidepressant, especially if you are under 25, let your doctor know if your depression seems to be getting worse or if you have any thoughts of hurting yourself.

Antidepressants Are Not Magic Bullets

It's important to remember that simply taking a pill will not cure depression. It may take up to 12 weeks before these drugs have their full effect. Some people need to take various doses or combinations of different medications before they find the treatment strategy that works best for them, according to NAMI.

It’s also important to take antidepressants as prescribed and to follow up with your mental health professional on a regular basis. Some depression drugs must be stopped gradually — if you suddenly stop taking your medication, you could experience withdrawal symptoms or a relapse of your depression.

Often the most effective treatment for depression involves some form of talk therapy, notes NAMI. Discuss with your doctor how exercise and limiting alcohol can also help ease your symptoms.

Can the Anesthetic Ketamine Ease Suicidal Thoughts?

A small study found that the drug worked quickly in people with major depression.

Low doses of the anesthetic ketamine may quickly reduce suicidal thoughts in people with long-standing depression, a small study suggests.

By the end of three weeks of therapy, most of the 14 study volunteers had a decrease in suicidal thoughts and seven ended up not having any such thoughts, the researchers found.

To get into the study, patients had to have had suicidal thoughts for at least three months, plus persistent depression. "So, the fact that they experienced any reduction in suicidal thinking, let alone remission, is very exciting," said lead researcher Dr. Dawn Ionescu, an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Despite these results, many mysteries still remain about the drug, Ionescu said. For example, "we don't know yet how the drug works," she said. "In addition, we do not know if the doses of ketamine being used for depression and suicide will lead to addiction -- more research is needed in this area."

The study used only intravenous ketamine, but oral and intranasal doses may also work, she added.

Whether ketamine might ever become a standard therapy for depression and suicidal thoughts is also up in the air. "That is something we need to investigate," Ionescu said.

All of the study volunteers were being treated for major depressive disorder on an outpatient basis. They had all been experiencing suicidal thoughts for three months or more, and were resistant to other treatments, the researchers said. Eleven of the 14 volunteers were female, and their mean age was 50 years.

Ketamine, which is primarily an anesthetic, had been shown in other studies to quickly relieve symptoms of depression, Ionescu said.

For the study, two weekly intravenous infusions of ketamine were given over three weeks. The first three doses of ketamine were five times lower than typically given when the drug is used as an anesthetic. After initial treatment, the dose was increased.

RELATED: How to Create a Depression Treatment Plan

Patients were checked before, during and after treatment, and every other week during three months of follow-up. Assessments included measurement of suicidal thinking, in which patients were asked how frequent and how intense their suicidal thoughts were, the study authors said.

Of the seven patients who stopped having suicidal thoughts, two continued to be free of both thoughts of suicide and symptoms of depression during the three-month follow-up, the findings showed.

No serious side effects from the drug were seen, the researchers said.

"The most common side effects are an increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and changes in the way people perceive their environment. For example, some people will dissociate and feel like their environment looks different or that parts of their body look different. Generally, the side effects are mild and only last for one to two hours," Ionescu said.

Two patients dropped out of the study. One dropped out because of the drug's side effects, and the other had a scheduling conflict, the researchers said.

All of the patients knew they were getting ketamine. The researchers are now finishing up a study in which some patients received the drug and others got a placebo.

Drugs currently used to treat suicidal thinking include lithium and clozapine, but these drugs can have serious side effects requiring careful monitoring of blood levels. Electroconvulsive therapy can also reduce suicidal thoughts, but its availability is limited and it can have serious side effects, such as memory loss, the researchers explained.

Cognitive behavioral therapy, a type of "talk" therapy, can also be an effective treatment for suicidal thinking, but may take weeks to months to be effective, the study authors pointed out.

Dr. Ami Baxi is director of adult inpatient services in the department of psychiatry at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. She said, "Ketamine, often used as an anesthetic in medicine, has been recently shown to cause a rapid antidepressant effect and reduce suicidal thoughts in patients with treatment-resistant depression."

However, this study has many limitations, she added. First, it was a very small study and "only two of the 14 patients were able to maintain this reduction three months after the infusion," Baxi said.

Second, patients knew they were receiving ketamine, "leaving them exposed to a possible placebo effect," she explained.

Baxi agreed this is a promising study, but it's too early to know the effects of ketamine on suicidal thinking. "Additional studies remain essential to enhance our knowledge on the psychiatric benefits of ketamine," she said.

The report was published in the May 10 online edition of the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

8 Healthy Game Day Snacks for Football Season

1 / 9   Skip the Takeout and Whip Up These 8 Winning Snacks

Even if you're not a football fanatic, game day is always an excuse to watch a good matchup, spend time with family and friends, and especially to eat your favorite foods. Nachos, chili, cheese dips — your upcoming game-day gathering will probably boast some of the best non-holiday spreads of the year. Game on! This year, it’s not about what foods you should avoid; instead, we scoured our favorite blogs for healthier game day dishes that score major points for flavor, originality, and nutrition. One look at these winning recipes and you won’t want to order out.

Type 2 Diabetes Drug Helps Some With Chronic Depression

A new small study is adding evidence to the theory that insulin resistance may play a leading role in some people's depression.

The study found that a medication normally used to boost insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes appears to help ease the symptoms of chronic depression. And, the effect was strongest in people who were insulin-resistant but didn't have diabetes, the study found.

These findings "add to the neurobiological explanation of what's going on when people are depressed, and it should help de-stigmatize depression. It's a disease of the brain," said the study's lead author, Dr. Natalie Rasgon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine in California.

"Depression is kind of a catch-all term, like the common cold; it can have more than one cause," Rasgon said. "In this study, we saw two separate effects of the [drug]. In patients with insulin resistance, their insulin resistance improved, and their depression improved."

That may mean that insulin resistance is playing a significant role in the depression of these people, she explained.

But patients who weren't insulin-resistant also saw their depression improve during the trial.

"That speaks to a different mechanism. It could be an anti-inflammatory effect," Rasgon said.

Findings from the study were published Nov. 18 in Psychiatry Research. Funding for the study was provided by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The researchers received no support from the makers of the drug, pioglitazone (Actos), which has U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for use as a treatment for type 2 diabetes.

RELATED: Why Sugar Is Poison for Depression

Insulin is a hormone that allows the body and brain to use the sugar from foods as fuel. Someone who is sensitive to insulin uses the hormone effectively. Someone who is insulin-resistant doesn't use insulin well, and sugar is released into the bloodstream instead of being used to power cells in the body and brain. Insulin resistance can be a precursor to type 2 diabetes, the researchers said.

The study included 37 adults -- 29 women and eight men -- recruited at Stanford University. The study volunteers were between 21 and 75 years old. Their weight ranged from underweight to severely obese, the study authors noted. None had diabetes, but some were insulin-resistant or had pre-diabetes, the researchers said.

All of the study volunteers had depression for longer than a year. Despite standard treatments for the mental health disorder, they were still experiencing depression, the study authors said.

Rasgon and her team randomly gave the study volunteers 12 weeks of treatment with pioglitazone or an inactive placebo. People were allowed to stay on their current antidepressant treatment as well. Pioglitazone works by making people more sensitive to insulin, the researchers said.

All of the study participants were tested for depression and insulin resistance at the start of the trial, and again at the end.

People who were insulin-sensitive had improvements in their depression whether they were taking the drug or a placebo. But those who were insulin-resistant only saw improvement in their depression symptoms if they were taking the insulin-sensitizing drug. People who were insulin-resistant who took the placebo didn't get better.

The more insulin-resistant someone was, the better the drug worked on their depression, the study found.

The idea that insulin resistance could cause problems in the brain makes sense, Rasgon said. The brain uses a lot of glucose (sugar), so anything that makes it harder for the brain to get the glucose it needs could affect vital brain functions, such as controlling emotions and thinking, she suggested.

Whether it would be safe for people who don't have type 2 diabetes to take pioglitazone for long periods isn't known. Rasgon pointed out that the study was small and only done for 12 weeks. She hopes to be able to do a longer and larger trial.

"The data in this study is preliminary," said Dr. Eric Hollander, director of the anxiety and depression program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "But it may eventually lead to a new paradigm that could be helpful in reducing the stigma of depression," he added.

"Mood disorders may be part of a systemic illness -- at least in a subgroup of depressed patients," he said.

Hollander suggested that improvements in insulin resistance or decreased inflammation may be what helped ease depressive symptoms.

Both experts said these findings suggest that any of the treatments for type 2 diabetes may also help people with longstanding depression. Treatments include other medications that improve insulin sensitivity, and even lifestyle factors, such as losing weight or exercising. Both of those lifestyle factors increase insulin sensitivity, too.

Light Box Might Help Nonseasonal Depression, Too

Light therapy, a treatment for a kind of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD), may also benefit nonseasonal depression, a new study indicates.

"The combination of light and an antidepressant seems to work very well for treating nonseasonal depression," said study leader Dr. Raymond Lam, a professor and head of the Mood and Anxiety Disorders Program at the University of British Columbia in Canada.

Depression, a leading cause of disability worldwide, affects one in 20 people, according to background information with the study. Current treatments include psychotherapy and antidepressant medication, but recurrent episodes are common.

Since bright light treatment is used for people whose seasonal depression occurs in the darker months, the researchers hypothesized it might also lift depression that isn't brought on by light deprivation.

Lam and his team randomly assigned 122 adults with major depression not related to seasonal affective disorder to one of four groups. One group got 30 minutes of bright light treatment a day and took a placebo pill, while another used a device that was not light therapy and took the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac). A third group took a placebo pill and used a placebo device, while a fourth took Prozac and got light therapy.

The researchers followed the men and women for eight weeks, looking to see how many went into remission -- defined as having normal scores on a widely used depression scale.

"About 60 percent of the patients who got the combination [Prozac plus light] treatment went into remission with their symptoms compared to about 40 percent on light therapy alone," Lam said.

RESEARCH: 12 Ways to Treat Seasonal Depression

The antidepressant alone was not superior to placebo medication. Only about 30 percent of those on placebo medication and sham light treatment had remission, as did just 20 percent of those on Prozac with sham light treatment.

Light therapy alone was better than placebo, but not from a statistically significant point of view, Lam said.

Experts can't say for sure why light therapy works, but for seasonal affective disorder they think it may help correct disturbances in the body's circadian rhythms, or internal clock.

The same may be true for nonseasonal depression, Lam said. "Another theory is that light affects neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin [which affects mood]," he said. Or both could play a role, he added.

One limitation of the study, published online Nov. 18 in JAMA Psychiatry, is that patients' natural light exposure was not measured, the researchers said.

Simon Rego is director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center and an associate professor at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. He said the study is the first well-designed comparison of light therapy and the combination of light therapy and antidepressant medications in adults with nonseasonal major depressive disorder.

"In this case, the authors found that the light treatment, whether delivered alone or particularly when delivered in combination with an antidepressant medication, was efficacious in the treatment of nonseasonal [depression] and, just as important, the treatments were well-tolerated by the subjects," Rego said.

"It appears that light therapy, which is already seen as an effective treatment for seasonal affective disorder, may also be appropriate for nonseasonal [depression]," he added.

However, questions remain, Lam said, such as how long the combination treatment should continue.

Light boxes are sold at drugstores and other locations, Lam said, for less than $100 to $300. Some insurance plans cover them, he said.

Recommended treatment involves sitting in front of the fluorescent light box for a half hour daily as soon as possible after waking up. Lam said this can be done while eating breakfast or working on the computer.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research funded the study. Lam reports serving as a consultant to or receiving honoraria for speaking from various pharmaceutical companies, including Eli Lilly and Co., which makes Prozac.

5 Reasons Why Skin Cancer Surgery Isn’t So Scary

Get the inside scoop on Mohs surgery, the most popular treatment option for basal and squamous cell carcinomas.

Veva Vesper has dealt with more than her fair share of Skin Cancer in the last 25 years. The 69-year-old Ohio resident has had more than 500 squamous cell carcinomas removed since the late 1980s, when the immunosuppressant medication she was taking for a kidney transplant caused her to develop them all over her body — everywhere from the corner of her eye to her legs.

While Vesper’s story is unusual, skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States. In fact, it’s currently estimated.

Mike Davis, a 65-year-old retired cop, and like Vesper, a patient at The Skin Cancer Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, has a more familiar story. Earlier this year, he had a basal cell carcinoma removed from his left ear — the side of his face most exposed to UV damage when driving on patrol.

Hold That Pose: Yoga May Ease Tough Depression

Study finds weekly sessions, plus deep breathing, helped ease cases when medications failed.

The calming poses and meditation of yoga may be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to beating depression, new research suggests.

Researchers found that weekly sessions of yoga and deep breathing exercises helped ease symptoms of the common condition. They believe the practice may be an alternative or complementary therapy for tough-to-treat cases of depression.

The intervention seemed helpful for "people who are not on antidepressants and in those who have been on a stable dose of antidepressants [but] have not achieved a resolution of their symptoms," study lead author Dr. Chris Streeter said in a news release from Boston Medical Center. He's a psychiatrist at the hospital and an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University.

Major depression is common and often persistent and disabling, Streeters' team noted. Up to 40 percent of people taking medication for this form of depression won't see their depression go away, according to the researchers.

RELATED: Depression May Hasten Death in Years After Heart Diagnosis

However, prior studies have shown that the ancient practice of yoga may be of help.

"The mechanism of action is similar to other exercise techniques that activate the release of 'feel good' brain chemicals," explained Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who reviewed the new findings.

He added that exercise, especially yoga, may also "reduce immune system chemicals that can worsen depression."

Then there's yoga's meditative quality, as well, Manevitz said.

"It has been demonstrated that 'mindful' movement -- conscious awareness -- has a much more beneficial impact on the central nervous system," he said.

But would this bear out in a rigorous study? To find out, Streeter's team tracked outcomes for 30 people with major depressive disorder. All were randomly assigned to partake in either a "high-dose" or "low-dose" yoga intervention. The high-dose group had three 90-minute yoga classes each week along with home practice, while the low-dose group engaged in two 90-minute yoga sessions each week in addition to home practice.

The participants practiced Ilyengar yoga, a method that focuses on detail, precision and alignment in posture and breath control.

The study found that both groups had significant reductions in their depression symptoms. Those who took three weekly yoga classes had fewer depressive symptoms than those in the "low-dose" group, but Streeter's team said even two classes a week was still very effective in improving people's mood.

Streeter noted that this intervention targets a different neurochemical pathway in the body than mood-altering medications, suggesting that yoga may provide a new, side effect-free avenue for treatment.

For his part, Manevitz called the study "practical and well-designed." He believes the findings support yoga as a treatment "that can help the millions of people suffering from major depressive disorders around the world."

Dr. Victor Fornari is a psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. He agreed that the new study "supports the use of yoga for the treatment of depression... Yoga, like regular exercise, is good for most people for health maintenance as well as to treat what ails them."

Can 'Magic Mushrooms' Kick-Start Depression Treatment?

The active ingredient in "magic mushrooms" may help patients with tough-to-treat depression, a new study suggests.

Twenty patients received psilocybin -- the psychoactive compound in a group of mushrooms that cause hallucinations. Nineteen who completed the study showed improvement in their depression symptoms for up to five weeks after treatment, according to the researchers at Imperial College London.

None had responded to traditional depression treatment, they noted.

"We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin after failing to respond to conventional treatments," said study leader Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial.

However, his team emphasized that patients with depression should not try to self-medicate with magic mushrooms. While these results are promising, the study was small and did not include a comparison group of patients who did not receive psilocybin, they noted.

Still, brain scans before and after treatment suggest psilocybin may reset the activity of brain circuits that play a role in depression.

"Several of our patients described feeling 'reset' after the treatment and often used computer analogies," Carhart-Harris reported in a college news release. One said he felt like his brain had been "defragged" like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt "rebooted," the researcher added.

RELATED: Depression May Hasten Death in Years After Heart Diagnosis

"Psilocybin may be giving these individuals the temporary 'kick-start' they need to break out of their depressive states, and these imaging results do tentatively support a 'reset' analogy. Similar brain effects to these have been seen with electroconvulsive therapy," Carhart-Harris said.

Larger studies are needed to see if this positive effect can be reproduced in more patients, said study senior author David Nutt.

"But these initial findings are exciting and provide another treatment avenue to explore," said Nutt, director of neuropsychopharmacology in the division of brain sciences.

He added that a trial scheduled to start early in 2018 will test the psychedelic drug against a leading antidepressant.

For this latest study, patients received two different doses of psilocybin, one week apart.

In recent years, promising results have emerged from a number of clinical trials testing the safety and effectiveness of psychedelics in patients with conditions such as depression and addiction.

"Psilocybin can be a promising agent for depression," said Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, in Glen Oaks, N.Y. "For decades, there has been suspected benefit of psychedelic agents for the treatment of psychiatric and neurological disorders."

However, he said, the clinical trials to date have been very small, and without a placebo arm for comparison. He agreed that replication in larger studies is warranted.

The study was published Oct. 13 in the journal Scientific Reports.

10 Essential Facts About Ovarian Cancer

Statistically speaking, ovarian cancer is relatively rare: It represents just 1.3 percent of all new cancer cases in the United States each year, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). But although its numbers are small, the fear factor for many women may be disproportionately large.

We spoke to two leading ovarian cancer experts: Robert J. Morgan, Jr., MD, professor, and Mihaela C. Cristea, MD, associate clinical professor, of the medical oncology and therapeutics research department at City of Hope, an NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, California.

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Here are 10 essential facts about ovarian cancer that you should know:

1. About 20,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. As a comparison, nearly 250,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Of the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, 90 percent will be older than 40; most ovarian cancers occur in women 60 or older, according to the CDC.

2. You should see your doctor if you experience any of these ovarian cancer symptoms:

  • Vaginal bleeding (especially if you’re past menopause)
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Pain or pressure in the area below your stomach and between your hip bones
  • Back pain
  • A change in bathroom habits, such as urgently needing to urinate, urinating frequently, or having constipation or diarrhea

It’s important to pay attention to your body and know what’s normal for you. If you have abnormal vaginal bleeding or have any of the other symptoms for two weeks or longer, see your doctor right away.

 

 

These symptoms can be caused by many different problems, but it’s best to have them evaluated, suggests the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

3. It’s tricky to pinpoint early, milder symptoms of ovarian cancer. However, the findings of a study published in Cancer in 2007 point to a cluster of vague symptoms that may suggest the need for ovarian cancer testing, says Dr. Morgan. In the study, researchers linked these symptoms to the possibility of ovarian cancer:

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Strong urge to urinate or frequent urination
  • Bloating or increased abdominal size
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full early

If a woman experiences these symptoms on more than 12 days a month for less than one year, she should insist that her doctor perform a thorough ovarian evaluation, says Morgan. This might include the CA-125 blood test or atransvaginal ultrasound exam.

4. Early detection can mean a better prognosis. When detected early enough, ovarian cancer can be cured. “Stage 1 and stage 2 ovarian cancer is curable about 75 to 95 percent of the time, depending on the tumor grade and cell type,” says Morgan. But because this cancer occurs deep inside the body’s pelvic region, it is often diagnosed in later stages, he says. The cure rate for stage 3 ovarian cancer is about 25 to 30 percent, and for stage 4 it's less than 5 percent, he adds.

RELATED: Overcoming Ovarian Cancer, Twice

5. Ovarian cancer has several key risk factorsThese include:

  • Women with a family history of ovarian cancer may be at higher risk.
  • Women who have never been pregnant and women who have uninterrupted ovulation due to infertility treatments seem to be at higher risk.
  • Early onset of your period, or having a late menopause, seems to increase risk.
  • Using talcum powder in the genital area may increase risk.
  • Smoking is a risk factor for a type of ovarian cancer known as mucinous ovarian cancer. Quitting smoking seems to reverse the risk back to normal, says Morgan.

6. Ovarian cancer is not a single disease. In reality, it’s a diverse group of cancers that respond to different treatments based on their molecular characteristics, says Dr. Cristea. Treatment will also depend on other health conditions, such as diabetes or heart problems, that a woman might have.

7. Ovarian cancer treatments are evolving and improving all the time.Immunotherapy is emerging as a new treatment option for many malignancies, including ovarian cancer,” says Cristea. In another recent development, the firstPARP inhibitor, a DNA-repair drug, has been approved for women with BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer when chemotherapy hasn’t worked. “Women should also ask their doctors about clinical trials that are evaluating immunotherapy as well as other new treatments,” she adds.

 

 

8. Surgery may prevent ovarian cancer in women at very high risk. For women who carry the BRCA or other genes that predispose them to ovarian cancer, doctors often recommend surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes.Angelina Jolie, the actor and human rights activist, decided to have this surgery in March 2015. “Removing the ovaries can decrease the risk of developing the disease by 98 percent, and can substantially decrease the risk of developing breast cancer,” notes Morgan. Women in this very high-risk group should opt for this surgery after they’ve completed childbearing at around age 35, he notes.

9. Even after remission, ovarian cancer can still respond to treatment. “About 80 to 90 percent of ovarian cancer patients will achieve remission after chemotherapy treatment,” says Morgan. However, many of those women will later experience a recurrence of the cancer. The longer the remission, notes Morgan, the better the chances are for achieving a second remission.

10. It’s best to see an ovarian cancer specialist. When you’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, getting a referral to an ovarian cancer specialist is a wise move, says Cristea. If you’re having surgery, it’s best to have a gynecologic oncologist perform the operation instead of a gynecologist, she adds. And to make sure you’re getting state-of-the-art treatment, consider seeking a second opinion at a NCI-Designated Cancer Center.

7 Quick Fixes to Look More Attractive

One look at the billion dollar anti-aging industry and it's no surprise we find youth beautiful above all else. But skin isn't the only indicator of it — the size of your eyes is, too. "Women with baby-like features such as large, widely-spaced eyes are typically judged to be most attractive," says Viren Swami, PhD, author of The Psychology of Physical Attraction,who cites cross-cultural study data from African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Taiwanese participants.

The quickest and easiest way to maximize your eyes is to sketch a line on the top lash line using a smoky shade, and then smudge the shadow with a brush or your fingertip to soften and blend, says Tina Turnbow, a celebrity makeup aritst.

DIY Beauty Solutions

Strawberries, lemons, blueberries, and onions – sounds like your average grocery list, right? Just as they are nutritious and important for a well-balanced diet, these ingredients can give your skin and hair a major boost, too.
Strawberries, lemons, blueberries, and onions – sounds like your average grocery list, right? Just as they are nutritious and important for a well-balanced diet, these ingredients can give your skin and hair a major boost, too.

Read on to learn these six expert-recommended at-home treatments that can help combat your biggest beauty woes.

Strawberries, lemons, blueberries, and onions – sounds like your average grocery list, right? Just as they are nutritious and important for a well-balanced diet, these ingredients can give your skin and hair a major boost, too.

Read on to learn these six expert-recommended at-home treatments that can help combat your biggest beauty woes.

18 Ways to Make This Your Healthiest Summer Ever

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of summer always being linked to the dread of bathing suit season when there are so many healthy aspects to celebrate this time of year. Fresh produce is abundant, beautiful, and more affordable. The weather (at least in most parts of the country) is perfect for outdoor walking, biking, hiking, and swimming, and the days are longer so you have more time to fit in physical activity. Vacations allow you time to relax, de-stress, and get active with friends and family, and your schedule may be more flexible, allowing you more time to focus on healthy habits.

With summer upon us, it’s the perfect time to set some health goals and embrace new opportunities to eat smart and get fit. Here are 18 ideas to motivate and inspire you throughout the sunny months ahead:

Head to the Farmer’s Market

Loading up on summer’s best and freshest produce, including leafy greens, tomatoes, corn, zucchini, green beans, berries, and stone fruits will make it easier to gobble up more vegetable and fruit servings.

Make salad your main course a few times a week. Take advantage of farm-fresh lettuce and the bounty of seasonal produce to concoct creative salad bowls. For a quintessential summer meal, top your greens with sweet corn, diced tomato, avocado, and crumbled feta.
Swap sugary desserts for delicious seasonal fruits. Instead of reaching for cookies, pastries, or chocolate after dinner, dig into a bowl of naturally sweet, ripe fruit. Best bets include berries, watermelon, cantaloupe, apricots, peaches, and plums.
Lay out a healthy, no-cook summer spread. If it’s too hot to cook, throw together a picnic-style meal of sliced raw veggies (carrots, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, etc.) with hummus, sliced whole-grain bread or crackers, cheeses, olives, fruit, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, and other tasty nibbles.
Get grilling. It’s a terrific way to infuse flavor into lean proteins like skinless chicken breasts and thighs, turkey burgers, fish, shrimp, and pork tenderloin, especially if you start with a tasty spice rub or marinade. If you cook extra, you’ll have ready-to-eat proteins to add to leafy green or grain-based salads for simple meals later in the week.
And don’t forget the grilled veggies. Whenever you fire up the grill, toss on some sliced zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, bell peppers, and/or mushrooms. Chop them up and toss with pasta or cooked whole grains like brown rice, farro, and quinoa for a simple meal. Or, layer grilled vegetables on whole-grain bread spread with goat cheese or hummus for a tasty vegetarian sandwich.
Cool down with fruit smoothies. Blend your favorite summer fruits — and veggies like carrots, spinach, and beets — with yogurt and your milk of a choice for a hydrating breakfast or snack. The fruit will add plenty of sweetness, so you can skip added sugars like maple syrup and honey. Make extra and pour into ice pop molds or small paper cups with popsicle sticks for a fun frozen dessert.
Start your day with a hearty, refreshing breakfast. Overnight oats are a great choice this time of year (they’re the more seasonally appropriate counterpart to a hearty bowl of hot oatmeal). Or, top fresh fruit with a dollop of protein-rich yogurt or part-skim ricotta cheese and optional chopped nuts. I can’t wait to dig into my first bowl of fresh cherries, peaches, or nectarines with ricotta!
Go skinny-dipping. Whip up a tasty new dip each week to enjoy with all of the deliciously dunkable summer produce. Try Greek yogurt with mixed fresh herbs, artichoke pesto (you have to try this recipe!), or any number of unique hummus variations, including roasted red pepper, beet, edamame, and carrot-based blends.
Start spiralizing. I don’t endorse a lot of single-use kitchen gadgets, but I’m pretty fond of the vegetable spiral slicers that are all the rage right now. The price is right at about $15 to $25 per machine, and you can use it to make low-cal veggie pastas and salads out of all of the inexpensive summer bumper crops like zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, carrots, and even beets. Check out this recipe for zesty Carrot Noodle Stir Fry from the blog Inspiralized.
Sip on iced tea. To help you stay hydrated in the hot weather, I suggest keeping a pitcher or two of unsweetened iced tea in the fridge at all times. Switching up the flavor from week to week will prevent you from getting bored in the beverage department. Mint green tea is a classic summertime brew, but I also love fruity combos like pomegranate and raspberry.
Plant something … anything! Never grown anything edible before? Don’t let that stop you; starting a simple garden in pots or other containers is actually really easy. Go to the nearest hardware store and pick up a large planter, a bag of potting soil, and a small potted plant, like any fresh herb or one of the vegetables listed here. Consider starting with basil or a cherry tomato varietal; they’re both easy to grow and versatile in the kitchen.
Go on a pick-your-own adventure! Don’t wait for apple picking in the fall. Make a date with family or friends to harvest summer produce at a local orchard or farm (visit pickyourown.org to find a site near you). If you’re willing to put in the labor, you can buy buckets of berries, stone fruit, and other seasonal items at a great price.
Sit down and enjoy meals outdoors. So many people I know own lovely patio sets but rarely use them. Make a plan to sit down to a family meal in your backyard once a week. You’ll likely eat more slowly and mindfully when you’re dining al fresco. If you don’t have access to an outdoor eating space, plan a fun picnic at a local park.
Master a few healthy recipes for summer cookouts. Finding lighter fare at barbecues can be a challenge, but if you volunteer to bring a healthy dish, you know you’ll have at least one good option to pile onto your plate and dilute some of the heavier entrees and sides. To keep things simple, bring a big bowl of fruit salad or pick up a crudite platter from the grocery store. If you don’t mind doing a bit more prep, I recommend throwing together a pasta salad with lots of veggies, like this colorful soba noodle salad with edamame, red pepper, and purple cabbage.
Go for a daily walk. Now that the days are longer, it’s easier to squeeze in a short walk at the start or end of your day. Aim for at least 30 minutes most days of the week (but if you can only commit to 15 or 20, that’s still well worth the effort). When things start to heat up, schedule an early morning or late evening walk when temps are cooler.
Hit the trail. For a change of scenery, seek out some local walking and hiking trails in your area using sites like alltrails.com and traillink.com. Pack a healthy lunch or snacks and make a day of it!
Take a hiatus from TV. With all the network hit shows on summer break, it’s the perfect time to reduce your screen time. Cut down on evening television viewing and spend that time outdoors walking, biking, doing yardwork, or playing with the kids or grandkids.

Eating Well As You Age

Looking in the mirror for changes as you age? A healthy diet helps to ensure that you'll like the reflection you see. Good nutrition is linked to healthy aging on many levels: It can keep you energized and active as well as fight against slowing metabolism and digestion and the gradual loss of muscle mass and healthy bone as you age.

Making healthy diet choices can help you prevent or better manage chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It's never too late to adopt healthier eating habits.

Strategies for Healthy Eating as You Age

Replace old eating habits with these healthy approaches:

  • Eat every three or four hours. “This keeps energy levels high and keeps appetite hormones in check to avoid overeating,” says Kim Larson, RD, of Total Health in Seattle and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Eat protein at each meal. Aim for 20 to 30 grams to help maintain muscle mass. Choose fish at least twice a week as a source of high quality protein. Other good sources of protein include lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Choose whole grains. Replace refined flour products with whole grains for more nutrients and fiber.
  • Choose low-fat dairy. Cutting out the saturated fat may help lower your risk for heart disease.
  • Learn about portion sizes. You may need to scale back on the serving sizes of foods to control your weight.
  • Choose nutrient-rich whole foods over empty calories. Whole foods are those closest to their natural state. Empty calories are typically processed foods with added salt, sugar, and fat. For example, snack on whole fruit instead of cookies.
  • Eat a “rainbow” of foods. “Eat five to seven servings of fruits and veggies each day to keep antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E high,” Larson says. Choosing fruits and vegetables of different colors provides your body with a wide range of nutrients. According to research published in the May 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatric Societyexercise coupled with higher fruit and vegetable intake led to longer lives. Fruits and veggies also fill you up with fiber, which cuts down on snacking and helps control weight, Larson says.
  • Choose healthy cooking techniques. Try steaming, baking, roasting, or sautéing food rather than frying it to cut back on fat.
  • Cut down on salt. If you’re over 51, national recommendations are to eat less than 1,500 milligrams of salt per day. Look for low-sodium foods and season your meals with herbs and spices rather than salt.
  • Stay hydrated. “Dehydration can cause irritability, fatigue, confusion, and urinary tract infections,” Larson says. Be sure to drink plenty of water and other non-caffeinated liquids throughout the day.
  • Ask about supplements. You may have changing nutrient needs as you get older and might benefit from vitamins B12 and D, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acid supplements, Larson says. Ask your doctor or a dietitian for guidance.

Overcoming Challenges to Healthy Eating

Eating a healthy diet can be complicated by changes you may face as you age, such as difficulty eating or a limited budget. There are strategies you can try to solve these common challenges:

  • If you've lost your appetite or sense of taste: Try new recipes and flavors — adding spices, herbs, and lemon juice can make foods more appealing. If you take medication, ask your doctor if appetite or taste changes are side effects and if switching to another drug might help.
  • If you have a hard time swallowing or chewing: Choose foods that are moist and easy to eat, such as nutritious soups made with beans and vegetables, Larson says.
  • If affording groceries is difficult: Shop from a list — careful planning can help you make the healthiest and most cost-effective food choices. Use coupons or shop on days when discounts are offered. Buying fruits and veggies when they’re in season and frozen produce in bulk can also help control expenses.
  • If you have trouble preparing meals: Consider buying healthy prepared or semi-prepared meals or at least pre-cut ingredients to cut down on energy-draining prep time.

Larson believes in the importance of enjoying your food. Make healthy-diet changes step by step and have fun experimenting to find new tastes and cooking styles. Eat slowly and pay attention to the experience. “Create a pleasant eatingenvironment," she says. "Sit by a window and enjoy every bite.”

Side Effects of Multiple Sclerosis Medications

Twelve disease-modifying medications are FDA-approved to treat relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS). Specifically, these drugs help prevent relapses and slow progression of the disease.

The newest disease-modifying medications are called “immunomodulators” because they affect the functioning of your immune system. 

“All these therapies highlight the increased choices and options for patients living with MS, and the ability of physicians to select a therapy based on individual characteristics,” says Ari Green, MD, assistant clinical director of the UCSF Multiple Sclerosis Center and director of the UCSF Neurodiagnostics Center in San Francisco.

But all drugs can have adverse side effects, and those associated with MS medications range from mild (such as flu-like symptoms or irritation at an injection site) to serious (such as progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy [PML], a viral disease in the brain).

One of the challenges of MS treatment is balancing risk and benefit, says Dr. Green. Stronger medications might be more effective at slowing progression of the disease, but they may also be associated with more risks.

Discussing Medication Side Effects With Your Doctor

"A doctor has to have a frank and open discussion to find out what is tolerable for patients," says Green. "Some side effects go away as the body gets used to MS medications, but others, such as irritation where the injection takes place, do not."

Because people experience side effects differently, each individual has to decide which side effects he or she can live with, he adds.

In some cases, what are thought to be drug side effects may actually be MS symptoms. Fatigue and headache, for example, may be either.

Keeping a detailed log of your symptoms can help your doctor determine whether you are experiencing a symptom of multiple sclerosis or a medication side effect.

Make a note of when your symptom began, how long it lasted, what might have triggered it, and whether anything you did eased the symptom.

“The more patients are engaged in keeping track of things, the more they can be positively and appropriately engaged in directing their own care,” says Green. This information can also help your provider select appropriate therapies in the future.

Managing MS Medication Side Effects

Some simple steps can often help you manage the most common side effects of MS medications:

Infection risk Some of the immunomodulatory medications increase your risk of common infections, so it’s important to practice prevention strategies such as washing your hands frequently and limiting your contact with people who are ill.

Flu-like symptoms Fever, chills, achiness, and feeling generally under the weather are not uncommon following interferon beta injections, leading some users to stop the medication. Interferon beta medications include Betaseron, Extavia, Avonex, Rebif, and Plegridy.

According to nurses with expertise in MS care, the following steps can help to manage these side effects:

Staying hydrated
Eating healthfully
Taking medications before sleep
Warming injectable medicines up to body temperature before injecting
You can also take a small dose of Advil, Motrin, or Nuprin (ibuprofen) an hour before and an hour after your injection. Tylenol (acetaminophen), Aleve (naproxen), or Benadryl (diphenhydramine) may also help ease these side effects, Green says.

RELATED: 7 Side Effects of MS Steroid Treatment

Injection-site irritation Applying ice to your injection sites before injections, and a warm compress afterward, can help ease any irritation.

Some people may also benefit from some retraining on the finer points of giving themselves injections, notes Green. This is especially true because most people learn how to give self-injections right after their diagnosis — a period when they’re undoubtedly absorbing lots of information about the disease.

If you’re having trouble injecting your MS medication, speak to your healthcare provider about working with an MS nurse for training in self-injections.

Heart health The medication Gilenya (fingolimod) is known to slow some users’ heart rate within the first six hours after the first dose. Because of this, your doctor may advise you to have your first dose in a clinical setting, where your pulse and blood pressure can be monitored.

Distinguishing Side Effects From Symptoms

The immediate side effects of MS medications may be more apparent once you experience them. Immediate side effects, such as flu-like symptoms and chills, are easy to discern, says Green. Even the muscle aches and pains that can occur immediately after taking disease-modifying MS medications differ from the pain associated with multiple sclerosis.

The one rare medication side effect that might be hard to distinguish from an MS symptom is PML, which has been related to use of the drug Tysabri (natalizumab). PML, however, will progress much more quickly than multiple sclerosis — a good reason to stay on top of your medical checkups.


Ongoing Medication Monitoring

Most of the medications prescribed for MS require regular blood tests to keep track of the treatment’s effect on your body, including your liver.

The drug Lemtrada (alemtuzumab) requires blood and urine monitoring before, during, and for four years after treatment is given to watch for serious autoimmune conditions associated with the drug.

In addition to monitoring for side effects, you and your doctor should monitor for positive effects of drugs as well. Green says that a change in therapy is needed if you are having more than one MS relapse a year, if multiple new brain lesions are seen on your MRI, or if your symptoms are progressing despite treatment. Switching medications is a decision you and your doctor should make together.

Depression Screening Should Include All Pregnant, Postpartum Women

All U.S. adults, including pregnant and postpartum women, should be screened for depression by their family doctor, the nation's leading preventive medicine panel recommends.

Further, doctors need to follow through and get treatment for anyone who tests positive for depression, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded in an update of its depression screening guidelines.

This is the first time the panel has specifically advocated depression screening in pregnancy and shortly after giving birth. It cited a U.S. study that found that 9 percent of pregnant women and more than 10 percent of postpartum women exhibited signs of major depression.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) applauded the recommendation.

"Because fewer than 20 percent of women in whom perinatal depression is diagnosed self-report their symptoms, routine screening by physicians is important for ensuring appropriate follow-up and treatment," said ACOG president Dr. Mark DeFrancesco in a statement.

Depression can harm both the child and mother, interfering with their interactions and affecting social relationships and school performance, the panel noted. Risk factors during pregnancy and after delivery include poor self-esteem, child-care stress, prenatal anxiety and decreased social support, the report said.

The new report -- published Jan. 26 in the Journal of the American Medical Association -- updates a similar recommendation the panel issued in 2009 that called for routine screening of adults.

In general, primary care physicians should be able to treat most cases of uncomplicated depression, and refer more complex cases to a psychiatrist, said Dr. Michael Pignone, a member of the task force and director of the University of North Carolina's Institute for Healthcare Quality Improvement.

"That's part of our job," Pignone said.

Options for treatment include therapy with a psychologist or licensed clinical social worker or antidepressant medications.

The task force is an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in preventive medicine. It issues recommendations, and revisits them on a regular basis to make sure that medical evidence still supports the guidelines.

RELATED: 9 Depression Types to Know

Depression is among the leading causes of disability in persons 15 years and older, the panel noted.

Millions of adults suffer from depression and don't know it, said Dr. Michael Thase, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

At any given time, between 5 percent and 10 percent of U.S. adults suffer from a depressive disorder, but half receive no treatment for their depression, Thase said.

The task force's depression guidelines are aimed at detecting and helping those adults who unknowingly have depression, Pignone said.

"This is about screening, not about diagnosing people who come to a doctor's office saying, 'I feel depressed.' The potential value of screening is in those people who would not be found as part of regular clinical care," he said.

Some people may not want to acknowledge they are depressed because there is a stigma around mental illness, Pignone said. Others might just think they are feeling blue, and will get over it.

"In some people, their symptoms may seem more physical to them," he added. For example, depression might cause stomach pain, headaches or sleeping problems.

The task force did not recommend any particular questionnaire for depression screening, because "there are many good tools and there's no single tool that should be recommended above others," Pignone said.

The most common screening tool, the Patient Health Questionnaire, consists of 10 simple questions that can be answered in minutes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The task force also could not recommend how regularly people should be screened, because not enough research has been done in that area, Pignone said.

"The task force recommendation is that people should be screened at least once," he said. "For the meantime, clinicians should use their judgment about the risk of depression in their patients, in deciding how often to screen."

However, the task force did emphasize the need to follow up a positive screening with treatment.

Dr. Michelle Riba, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association, agreed that primary care doctors should be able to treat most patients with depression.

However, Riba added that doctors should develop a relationship with a psychiatrist they can consult on cases of depression. The psychiatrist could talk with the practitioner on the phone, review patient charts, and help decide the best course of action.

Doctors also should be open to other forms of treatment for depression, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or light therapy, said Elizabeth Saenger, a psychologist in private practice in New York City.

Light therapy affects the body's production of the hormone serotonin, and studies have shown it can help alleviate depression symptoms, Saenger said.

It makes sense for primary care doctors to lead the way on depression screening because they see patients most often, said Dr. Alan Manevitz, a psychiatrist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Treating depression can help patients face other health problems with which they are struggling. "As depression gets worse, so many other chronic illnesses also get worse," Manevitz said. "People don't take care of their health as well when they are depressed."

Obesity Linked to 13 Types of Cancer

There's a link between obesity and 40 percent of all the cancers diagnosed in the United States, health officials reported Tuesday.

That doesn't mean too much weight is causing all these cancer cases, just that there's some kind of still-to-be explained association, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Still, the study findings suggest that being obese or overweight was associated with cancer cases involving more than 630,000 Americans in 2014, and this includes 13 types of cancer.

"That obesity and overweight are affecting cancers may be surprising to many Americans. The awareness of some cancers being associated with obesity and overweight is not yet widespread," Dr. Anne Schuchat, CDC deputy director, said during a midday media briefing.

The 13 cancers include: brain cancer; multiple myeloma; cancer of the esophagus; postmenopausal breast cancer; cancers of the thyroid, gallbladder, stomach, liver, pancreas, kidney, ovaries, uterus and colon, the researchers said.

Speaking at the news conference, Dr. Lisa Richardson, director of CDC's Division of Cancer Prevention and Control, said early evidence indicates that losing weight can lower the risk for some cancers.

According to the new report from the CDC and the U.S. National Cancer Institute, these 13 obesity-related cancers made up about 40 percent of all cancers diagnosed in the United States in 2014.

RELATED: U.S. Cancer Death Rate Continues to Fall

Although the rate of new cancer cases has decreased since the 1990s, increases in overweight and obesity-related cancers are likely slowing this progress, the researchers said.

Of the 630,000 Americans diagnosed with a cancer associated with overweight or obesity in 2014, about two out of three occurred in adults aged 50 to 74, the researchers found.

Excluding colon cancer, the rate of obesity-related cancer increased by 7 percent between 2005 and 2014. During the same time, rates of non-obesity-related cancers dropped, the findings showed.

In 2013-2014, about two out of three American adults were overweight or obese, according to the report.

For the study, researchers analyzed 2014 cancer data from the United States Cancer Statistics report and data from 2005 to 2014.

Key findings include:

Of all cancers, 55 percent in women and 24 percent in men were associated with overweight and obesity.
Blacks and whites had higher rates of weight-related cancer than other racial or ethnic groups.
Black men and American Indian/Alaska Native men had higher rates of cancer than white men.
Cancers linked to obesity increased 7 percent between 2005 and 2014, but colon cancer decreased 23 percent. Screening for colon cancer is most likely the reason for that cancer's continued decline, Schuchat said.
Cancers not linked to obesity dropped 13 percent.
Except for colon cancer, cancers tied to overweight and obesity increased among those younger than 75.
The new report was published online Oct. 3 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

Dr. Farhad Islami is strategic director of cancer surveillance research for the American Cancer Society.

He said it's "important to note that only a fraction of the cancers included in the calculation in this report are actually caused by excess body weight."

According to Islami, "many are attributable to other known risk factors, like smoking, while for many others, the cause is unknown. Obesity is more strongly associated with some cancers than others."

The World Cancer Research Fund estimates that "20 percent of all cancers in the United States are caused by a combination of excess body weight, physical inactivity, excess alcohol, and poor nutrition. The American Cancer Society is currently doing its own extensive calculation of the numbers and proportions of cancer cases attributable to excess body weight, the results of which will be published soon," he said.

A Diet for Better Energy

Complex carbs are key for sustained energy throughout the day, while too many sugary snacks can lead to energy crashes. Find out which foods you need for round-the-clock energy.

 

Juggling the responsibilities of work, life, and family can cause too little sleep, too much stress, and too little time.

Yet even when you're at your busiest, you should never cut corners when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. Your body needs food to function at its best and to fight the daily stress and fatigue of life.

Energy and Diet: How The Body Turns Food Into Fuel

Our energy comes from the foods we eat and the liquids we drink. The three main nutrients used for energy are carbohydrates, protein, and fats, with carbohydrates being the most important source.

Your body can also use protein and fats for energy when carbs have been depleted. When you eat, your body breaks down nutrients into smaller components and absorbs them to use as fuel. This process is known as metabolism.

Carbohydrates come in two types, simple and complex, and both are converted to sugar (glucose). “The body breaks the sugar down in the blood and the blood cells use the glucose to provide energy,” says Melissa Rifkin, RD, a registered dietitian at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.

Energy and Diet: Best Foods for Sustained Energy

Complex carbohydrates such as high-fiber cereals, whole-grain breads and pastas, dried beans, and starchy vegetables are the best type of foods for prolonged energy because they are digested at a slow, consistent rate. “Complex carbohydrates contain fiber, which takes a longer time to digest in the body as it is absorbed slowly," says Rifkin. Complex carbs also stabilize your body’s sugar level, which in turn causes the pancreas to produce less insulin. This gives you a feeling of satiety and you are less hungry.”

Also important in a healthy, energy-producing diet is protein (preferably chicken, turkey, pork tenderloin, and fish), legumes (lentils and beans), and a moderate amount of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (avocados, seeds, nuts, and certain oils).

“Adequate fluids are also essential for sustaining energy,” says Suzanne Lugerner, RN, director of clinical nutrition at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. “Water is necessary for digestion, absorption, and the transport of nutrients for energy. Dehydration can cause a lack of energy. The average person needs to drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.”

Energy and Diet: Foods to Avoid

 

Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, should be limited. Ranging from candy and cookies to sugary beverages and juices, simple carbs are broken down and absorbed quickly by the body. They provide an initial burst of energy for 30 to 60 minutes, but are digested so quickly they can result in a slump afterward.

You should also avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol is a depressant and can reduce your energy levels, while caffeine usually provides an initial two-hour energy burst, followed by a crash.

Energy and Diet: Scheduling Meals for Sustained Energy

 

“I always recommend three meals and three snacks a day and to never go over three to four hours without eating something,” says Tara Harwood, RD, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “If you become too hungry, this can cause you to overeat.”

Also, try to include something from each food group at every meal, remembering that foods high in fiber, protein, and fat take a longer time to digest.

Even if life is hectic, it’s important to make wise food choices that provide energy throughout the day. Your body will thank you.

 

Antidepressant, Painkiller Combo May Raise Risk of Brain Bleed

Taking both an antidepressant and a painkiller such as ibuprofen or naproxen may increase risk of a brain hemorrhage, a new study suggests.

Korean researchers found that of more than 4 million people prescribed a first-time antidepressant, those who also used nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) had a higher risk of intracranial hemorrhage within the next month.

Intracranial hemorrhage refers to bleeding under the skull that can lead to permanent brain damage or death.

The findings, published online July 14 in BMJ, add to a week of bad news on NSAIDs, which include over-the-counter pain relievers such as aspirin, ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil) and naproxen (Aleve).

Last Thursday, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration strengthened the warning labels on some NSAIDs, emphasizing that the drugs can raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.

As far as the new link to brain bleeding in antidepressant users, experts stressed that many questions remain unanswered.

And even if the drug combination does elevate the odds, the risk to any one person appears low.

"The incidence of intracranial hemorrhage in people taking antidepressants and NSAIDs was only 5.7 per 1,000 in a year. So about 0.5 percent of people taking these drugs will develop a (hemorrhage) over one year," said Dr. Jill Morrison, a professor of general practice at the University of Glasgow in Scotland.

Still, she said, it's wise for people on antidepressants to be careful about using NSAIDs.

Both types of drug are widely used, and about two-thirds of people with major depression complain of chronic pain, the researchers pointed out.

Make sure an NSAID is the appropriate remedy for what ails you, said Morrison, co-author of an editorial published with the study.

It's known that NSAIDs can cause gastrointestinal bleeding in some people, and studies have suggested the same is true of SSRI antidepressants -- which include widely prescribed drugs such as Paxil, Prozac and Zoloft.

But neither drug class has been clearly linked to intracranial hemorrhage, said Dr. Byung-Joo Park, the senior researcher on the new study.

So Park's team looked at whether the two drug types, used together, might boost the risk.

RELATED: Some Antidepressants Linked to Bleeding Risk With Surgery

The investigators used records from Korea's national health insurance program to find more than 4 million people given a new prescription for an antidepressant between 2009 and 2013. Half were also using an NSAID.

Park's team found that NSAID users were 60 percent more likely to suffer an intracranial hemorrhage within 30 days of starting their antidepressant -- even with age and chronic medical conditions taken into account.

There was no indication that any particular type of antidepressant carried a greater risk than others, said Park, a professor of preventive medicine at Seoul National University College of Medicine.

He agreed that antidepressant users should consult their doctor before taking NSAIDs on their own.

Park also pointed out that the study looked at the risk of brain bleeding within 30 days. So the findings may not apply to people who've been using an antidepressant and an NSAID for a longer period with no problem.

That's an important unanswered question, said Morrison, noting it's possible that the risk of brain bleeding is actually higher for people who used NSAIDs for a prolonged period.

Why would antidepressants have an effect on bleeding? According to Park's team, the drugs can hinder blood cells called platelets from doing their job, which is to promote normal clotting.

Since NSAIDs can also inhibit platelets, combining the two drugs may raise the odds of bleeding, the researchers said.

It's not clear whether there is a safer pain reliever for people on antidepressants, Morrison said. But it's possible that acetaminophen (Tylenol) could fit the bill.

"Acetaminophen does not have the same propensity to cause bleeding problems as NSAIDs do," Morrison said. "So theoretically, this would be safer."

And since this study was conducted in Korea, she added, it's not clear whether the risks would be the same in other racial and ethnic groups. More studies, following people over a longer period, are still needed, Morrison said.

How Trauma Can Lead to Depression

You don't have to have been personally involved in a traumatic experience to suffer the effects.

Over the last few years, a long string of traumatic events have occurred and been widely covered in the news, including movie theater, school, and workplace shootings, as well as natural disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes. These events can be devastating for those personally involved, yet their impact may also be felt by others not directly involved at all.

Many people can go through or hear about such traumatic events and be fine after some time without additional interventions, says Anthony Ng, MD, chief medical officer at Acadia Hospital and chief of the psychiatry service at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.

But some people who experience such traumatic events — whether personally or just by hearing about them — can become depressed, according to the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. Traumatic life events were found to be the biggest single cause of anxiety and depression in a study by researchers at the University of Liverpool published in 2013 in PLoS One. 

RELATED: The Healing Power of Horse Therapy for PTSD

For some, traumatic events such as the Boston Marathon bombing and Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting challenge their basic assumptions about how life works, says Irina Firstein, a licensed therapist who has lived and practiced in New York City for more than 25 years. They can become so scared that they develop a generalized anxiety or panic disorder, which can lead to depression, she says.

Depression and PTSD: What's the Connection?

People who continue to experience extreme symptoms of stress long after a traumatic event may have post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which can also lead to depression — a continued feeling of intense sadness that interferes with a person's ability to function normally.

Depression and PTSD often coexist, and their symptoms may overlap. A study on Vietnam veterans counducted 40 years after the war, published in 2015 JAMA Psychiatry, found that about a third of those who suffered from PTSD also had major depressive symptoms.

Symptoms of depression include sadness, feelings of loss, disillusionment, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping, Firstein says.

Symptoms of PTSD include:

Reliving traumatic events through flashbacks or nightmares
Avoiding experiences that remind you of the trauma
Panic attacks
Physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, trembling, shortness of breath, or headaches
Symptoms of PTSD and depression that commonly occur together include:

Trouble concentrating
Avoidance of social contacts
Irritability
Abuse of drugs or alcohol
How to Cope With the Effects of Traumatic Events

"Some of these symptoms are normal after such an event," Firstein notes. "However, if they persist, one should try to get professional help.”

Dr. Ng. says red flags that you're not managing well on your own include:

Missing a significant number of days of work or school
Withdrawing from family members or people around you
Experiencing mood swings, such as being irritable and angry to the point that it’s causing problems at home
Not being able to eat and losing weight
Not being able to sleep at night. “As a result, you feel exhausted and can’t function in the daytime,” Ng says.
Having thoughts of hurting yourself or others
Mental health professionals can help. “Psychotherapy; eye movement desensitization and reprocessing, or EMDR therapy (trauma reprocessing using eye movements); and medication are very effective," Firstein says.

In addition to getting professional help, ways to cope with PTSD and depression include:

Spending more time with friends and family
Learning as much as you can about PTSD and depression
Taking part in activities you enjoy
Getting regular exercise
Learning relaxation techniques
Joining a support group
Avoiding drugs and alcohol
The following resources can help you find ways to cope with trauma and depression, as well as help you find therapists in your area: 

Your family doctor. “Tell your doctor, ‘I’ve experienced these symptoms. What can I do?’ Your doctor might treat you or refer you to a psychiatrist or counselor or therapist,” Ng says.
The National Alliance on Mental Illness HelpLine. This organization's staff and volunteers can help you find treatment. Call 800-950-NAMI (6264) or email info@nami.org.
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. If you are having suicidal thoughts, call 800-273-TALK (8255). Counselors are available 24/7, and the service is free and confidential.
The American Psychological Association’s psychologist locator.
The PTSD Alliance.
The National Center for PTSD, part of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.  
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America.
Don’t Ignore Symptoms That Persist

Unexplained and unexpected trauma has always been part of the human experience, and depression and PTSD are common results of these events. The best way to deal with them is to know the symptoms and ask for help.

Additional reporting by Beth W. Orenstein.

potting Between Periods: Should You Worry?

leeding between your periods, or “spotting,” can occur for many reasons.

The cause is usually benign; for example, hormonal fluctuations that occur at the very beginning of your reproductive life cycle (menarche, the onset of periods) or toward the end (menopause, when periods stop) are often likely culprits.

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But “spotting is never normal," says Joyce Gottesfeld, MD, an ob/gyn at Kaiser Permanente Colorado in Denver. "It doesn't necessarily mean that something bad is going on, but it's not normal.” So if you do notice spotting, it's worth a call to your physician to get it checked out.

When investigating why you’re spotting, healthcare providers consider your age and whether you’re pregnant, have been having unprotected sex, or recently started using a hormonal contraceptive.

 

 

If you’ve started taking the birth control pill or gotten a progesterone implant, it’s not unusual to experience irregular bleeding. If spotting doesn't taper off, talk to your doctor. “You're probably going to want to change birth control pills, because nobody wants to deal with that all the time,” Dr. Gottesfeld says.

Skipping a pill or two may also bring on spotting. “If you're on birth control pills and you missed a pill, that can also make you have bleeding between your cycles, and I wouldn't be so worried,” says Anne C. Ford, MD, associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, North Carolina.

Spotting in the Early Years

Spotting can mean different things at early versus later stages of your reproductive cycle.

When you first start having your period, it may be quite irregular for months or even years. This is because your brain, ovaries, and uterus are still working on getting in sync hormonally. Unless your bleeding is excessively heavy or prolonged, it's usually not a problem, according to Dr. Ford.

Once you become sexually active, spotting after intercourse raises a red flag. This is especially true if you’re having unprotected sex or have just started having sex with a new partner.

Bleeding can signal a sexually transmitted infection (STI), such as chlamydia orgonorrhea, that should be treated promptly, Ford says. “Often, the cervix can be very friable [eroded] or just bleed very easily from the infection,” she explains.

Another condition that can lead to post-sex bleeding is cervical entropion, in which the fragile glandular cells lining the cervical opening grow on the surface of the uterus.

Much more rarely, post-sex spotting can be a sign of cervical cancer. Your doctor can take a Pap smear, a sample of cells from your cervix — the opening of the uterus at the top of the vagina — to test for STIs and abnormal precancerous or cancerous cells.

Mid-cycle bleeding could also mean that you’re pregnant and could be miscarrying, although spotting during pregnancy doesn't always mean the pregnancy will be lost. Ectopic pregnancy, in which a fertilized egg grows outside of the uterus (usually within the fallopian tubes), can also cause bleeding, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). 

Spotting may also be due to vaginal trauma. “The vagina and the cervix are very vascular [they have a lot blood vessels], so they bleed very easily,” says Lisa Dabney, MD, an ob/gyn in the division of urogynecology at Mount Sinai West in New York City. “A scratch in the vagina will always bleed more than a scratch in your regular skin would.”

Bleeding Between Periods in the Middle Years

Once you reach your thirties, the chance that spotting could indicate endometrial cancer, a type of cancer of the uterus, increases. Obesity also boosts your risk of endometrial cancer, even if you’re a younger woman. “We're seeing more and more endometrial pathology like that because of the obesity epidemic. We have to worry about that in very obese women, even if they're younger,” Ford says.

Spotting “definitely becomes more worrisome after the age of 35, because it could be an early sign of endometrial cancer,” Dr. Dabney says. “Hormonal changes, fibroids, and polyps are far more common than endometrial cancer. It's probably one of those things, but unless you have it evaluated, you don't know if you're that one in 1,000 people who has the cancer.”

Fibroids, benign growths that can form in your uterus, are more likely to cause irregular bleeding if they grow into the uterine lining. Polyps, another type of benign growth, can also grow in the uterus or on the cervix and may cause bleeding. Bothfibroids and polyps can be removed surgically.

Endometrial hyperplasia, in which the lining of the uterus grows too thick, can also cause abnormal bleeding. While this condition is benign, it can be a precursor to cancer in some cases, according to ACOG.

If your doctor suspects you may have endometrial cancer, he or she will take a sample of tissue from the endometrium so that the cells can be examined under a microscope. Other tests, such as an ultrasound, may be used to determine if bleeding is related to polyps or fibroids.

The long march toward menopause — which officially occurs when a woman has not menstruated for a full year — begins for most women during their fourth decade. As your ovaries begin winding down egg production, your period is likely to become irregular. You may skip a cycle here or there, have your periods unusually close together, or experience heavy bleeding.

 

 

“As people's ovaries start to age, you can see mid-cycle spotting,” Ford says. “That's very normal and it comes from fluctuating hormone levels.” It can be hard to tell what's normal and what's not during this tricky time of life, according to Ford. “If your normal period was 3 to 5 days and now you're bleeding 7 to 10 days and it's heavy, then it's probably not a normal period.”