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.

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.

Everyday Health: What causes hyperpigmentation?

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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.

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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.

How to Prevent Hearing Loss

Do you have trouble following a conversation in a noisy room? Do other people complain that you have the television turned up too loud? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, you may already have some degree of hearing loss.

Hearing loss can start at any age. According to the National Academy on Aging and Society, the number of affected Americans between the ages of 45 and 64 has increased significantly since 1971. But it’s much more common in seniors: Some 40 percent of the 20 million Americans who have hearing loss are 65 or older.

Contrary to popular belief, however, hearing loss is not an inevitable part of aging. Some causes of hearing loss can be prevented, and most types of hearing loss can be helped.

Types and Causes of Hearing Loss

There are three basic types of hearing loss:

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  • Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear nerves or the nerves that carry sound to the hearing area of the brain. Once you have this type of nerve damage, the only treatment is a hearing aid. Causes of sensorineural hearing loss include injuries, tumors, infection, certain medications, and excessive noise exposure.
  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by a condition that blocks sound waves from being transferred to the nerves involved in the hearing process. Whereas sensorineural hearing loss usually affects both ears, conductive hearing loss may only affect one ear. Common causes include ear infections, ear wax, ear trauma such as a punctured eardrum, and other diseases that affect the ear canal, the eardrum, or the tiny bones in the middle ear. Unlike sensorineural hearing loss, this type of hearing loss can often be corrected and restored.
  • Mixed hearing loss occurs when someone who has nerve type hearing loss from aging or noise trauma then gets an ear infection or develops a wax impaction, causing their hearing to suddenly get much worse. It’s a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss.

Hearing Loss Evaluation

If you are having trouble hearing or develop sudden deafness, you need to get your hearing checked as soon as possible. Sudden deafness is a serious symptom and should be treated as a medical emergency. For many people, though, hearing loss may be gradual and not obvious. Here are seven warning signs to watch out for:

  • You have trouble hearing while on the telephone.
  • You can’t seem to follow a conversation if there is background noise.
  • You struggle to understand women’s or children's voices.
  • People complain that you turn up the TV volume too high.
  • You constantly ask people to repeat themselves.
  • You have a long history of working around loud noises.
  • You notice a ringing, hissing, or roaring sound in your ears.

 

 

If you think you have any kind of hearing loss, the place to start is with your doctor. Whether your hearing loss is gradual or sudden, your doctor may refer you to an audiologist (a medical specialist in hearing loss) or an otolaryngologist (a medical doctor specializing in disorders of the ear).

 

 

Depending on the cause and type of your hearing loss, treatment may be as simple as removing ear wax or as complicated as reconstructive ear surgery. Sensorineural hearing loss can't be corrected or reversed, but hearing aids and assistive devices can enhance most people’s hearing. For those with profound hearing loss approaching deafness, an electronic hearing device, called a cochlear implant, can even be implanted in the ear.

Tips for Hearing Loss Prevention

One type of hearing loss is 100 percent preventable: that due to noise exposure. Noise is measured in units called decibels: Normal conversation is about 45 decibels, heavy traffic may be about 85 decibels, and a firecracker may be about 120 decibels. Loud noise — anything at or above 85 decibels — can cause damage to the cells in the inner ear that convert sound into signals to the brain. Here are some tips for avoiding noise-induced hearing loss:

  • Minimize your exposure to loud noises that are persistent.
  • Never listen to music through headphones or ear buds with the volume all the way up.
  • Wear ear plugs or protective earmuffs during any activity that exposes you to noise at or above 85 decibels.
  • See your doctor about a baseline hearing test, called an audiogram, to find out if you already have some early hearing loss.

You should also see your doctor if you have any symptoms of ear pain, fullness, or ringing, or if you experience any sudden change in your hearing. These symptoms could be early warnings of preventable hearing loss.

Hearing loss or deafness can have a serious effect on social well-being. It can cut you off from the world around you. Know the causes of hearing loss, and practice hearing loss prevention to preserve the hearing you still have.

The Real Monthly Cost of Depression

Six people reveal how much they spend to treat their depression, how they save money on medications, and more.

With an illness like depression, the cost of treatment often adds up to more than the price of medication alone. Untreated or undertreated depression can break the bank in the form of lost work, lost productivity, and hospital stays.

In fact, depression is estimated to have cost the U.S. economy more than $210 billion in 2010 (including the cost of comorbid, or simultaneously existing, conditions), according to a study published in 2015 in The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry. “The key to managing the cost of depression is managing depression itself,” says health economist Adam Powell, PhD, president of Payer+Provider, a Boston-based consulting firm that works with insurance companies and healthcare providers. “The direct cost American society spends on treating depression is far smaller than the indirect costs spent on its consequences.”

And the personal costs of effectively managing depression can add up, too. In addition to medication, many people with depression pay for therapy, top quality foods, gym memberships, yoga or mindfulness meditation classes, supplements, educational materials, or other goods and services that they feel help them manage the condition.

Here we share what six people with depression spend on the condition — including which costs they must absorb on their own — and how they cut corners to make ends meet.

Susan Hyatt, 56, Corporate Social Responsibility Advisor

Monthly Medication: $70

Additional Monthly Treatments: $420-$470

Net Monthly Out-of-Pocket Costs: $490-$540

Much of what business consultant Susan Hyatt of Denver pays to manage her depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) relates to keeping herself productive. And if her strategies to stay productive aren’t effective, she loses income and can’t pay for the things that help her feel and stay better. In addition to her medication — about $70 a month out-of-pocket for Wellbutrin (bupropion) and Oleptro (trazodone) — Hyatt spends about $100 to $150 on supplements and herbs each month, and a little more than $300 for exercise and other lifestyle activities that help keep her motivated to work.

For example, Hyatt, who founded the consulting company Big Purpose Big Impact, walks to Starbucks or another nearby coffee shop every day to work; her tab adds up to $4 to $8 a day. “The noise forces me to have to really concentrate to get anything done, and it works,” Hyatt says. “Once I go home, I can easily slide back into not being very motivated.”

RELATED: 5 Things Psychologists Wish Their Patients Would Do

Too little motivation becomes costly for an entrepreneur. Hyatt’s depression has caused her to miss phone calls about potential work or speaking opportunities on days when she avoids answering her phone. And as she finishes up her long-term contracts, she often finds it exhausting to apply for new ones, costing her potential income. That means she also can’t currently afford massage, acupuncture, and therapy — all of which have helped her manage her illness in the past. “Friends or family who haven’t had issues with depression or SAD may be sympathetic,” she says, “but they often can’t really get their minds around the fact that depression can be debilitating.”

Her best tip: When her Wellbutrin dosage was increased from 300 milligrams (mg) to 450 mg a day, her doctor originally prescribed three 150 mg tablets. But getting one 300 mg bottle and one 150 mg bottle saved her about $35 a month. If your doctor can similarly prescribe a specific dosage that is cheaper, the savings can add up.

Kathryn Goetzke, 44, Nonprofit Founder

Monthly Medication: $0 currently (previously up to $100)

Additional Monthly Treatments: $300-$700

Net Monthly Out-of-Pocket Costs: $300-$700

Kathryn Goetzke, who lives in San Francisco, can easily tick off the ways her depression has cost her: lost productivity, strained relationships, bad decisions, a poorly functioning immune system, and an inability to maintain boundaries. It’s also led to unhealthy habits, such as smoking, alcohol use, and overeating. But after dealing with all these ramifications of the illness, she’s now found that exercise and a healthy diet help her the most in dealing with the condition.

She avoids sugar, eats organic food, makes smoothies, and spends $75 a month on a gym membership, plus another $75 on exercise classes such as Spinning. Not included in her monthly costs is the $600 she paid for a Fisher Wallace Stimulator, an FDA-cleared wearable device that treats anxiety and depression by sending slight electrical pulses to the brain through two nodes that are attached to the temples; Goetzke uses the Stimulator twice a day.

The $150 a month she spends on supplements goes toward 5-HTP, omega-3s, vitamin D, GABA, Dr. Amen’s Serotonin Mood Support, and green powder — a supplement mixture of vitamins, minerals, probiotics, prebiotics, and other ingredients, depending on the manufacturer.

When Goetzke, who is also founder of the International Foundation for Research and Education on Depression (iFred), goes to therapy, it costs about $400 a month.

She emphasizes that depression is treatable, but many people require treatment beyond medication: Therapy is essential, she believes. And while Goetzke no longer needs medication, she would sacrifice anything for it when she did. “There is nothing more important than mental health,” Goetzke says. “I lost my dad to suicide and never want to follow in his footsteps.”

Her best tip: Goetzke has made a lot of changes to cut corners: she finds therapists covered by insurance, does workouts outside instead of taking extra gym classes, borrows books from the library, and quit drinking and smoking. But her biggest tip is to avoid making big decisions while you’re depressed.

“Give it a month to be sure it’s the right decision,” she says. “That’s really helped me avoid making expensive decisions that were more the depression talking than me.”

Maggie White, 34, Stay-At-Home Mom

Monthly Medication: $170

Additional Monthly Treatments: $500-$1,000

Net Monthly Out-of-Pocket Costs: $670-1,700

Although Maggie White, of Downers Grove, Illinois, spends $80 for Pristiq (desvenlafaxine) and $90 for Klonopin (clonazepam) each month, her other costs vary greatly depending on the month. She cares for five young children at home and needs to “keep [herself] as mentally healthy as possible” since her husband travels frequently, and her mental health affects her family, too.

Her therapy adds up to about $50 a month, and the $40 she spends on essential oils is worthwhile because the aromatherapy helps her feel better. When she can afford gym or yoga classes, they’re about $15 each, but most of her additional costs include organic foods and the $175 per month she spends on a range of supplements: vitamin D3, B-complex, B-12, magnesium/calcium, chromium, 80-billion live probiotics, flaxseed oil, potassium, zinc, and vitamin C.

“You cannot put a price on sound mental health,” White says. “If you’re walking around in that black, haunting fog so many of us know, there is no quality of life, no hope, no way to make healthy decisions, or even to know how to surround yourself with healthy people.”

Her best tip: With five kids, planning ahead and trimming the fat are the secrets to White’s household money management. Clothes are hand-me-downs or come from The Salvation Army; for food, she plans meals two weeks out and purchases only the exact groceries needed. Not only does the family skip restaurants, movies, and vacations, but they also don’t have cable TV or personal electronic devices. Instead, they watch old VHS tapes.

Lisa Keith, PsyD, Assistant Professor of Special Education

Monthly Medication: $80

Additional Monthly Treatments: $105

Net Monthly Out-of-Pocket Costs: $185

For Dr. Lisa Keith, of Fresno, California, health insurance helps tremendously with medication costs. The $80 she spends monthly on Cymbalta (duloxetine) and Abilify (aripiprazole) would cost closer to $1,000 per month if not for her insurance. In addition to the $30 she spends each month for a gym membership, $25 in co-pays for her psychiatrist, and $50 for multivitamins, iron, calcium and a few other vitamins, the Fresno Pacific University professor invested $150 in a blue light for light therapy.

“I have it good because I work full-time and have benefits,” Keith says, but those without insurance for medications are less fortunate. “I’ve spent tens of thousands of dollars over the years on medications, doctors, therapy … but the worst thing is that depression cost me a marriage. There’s no price on that.”

Her best tip: Find apps that help manage mental health effectively for you. Keith uses Headspace for meditation, Focus@Will for concentrating, and Spotify for custom music playlists.

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.

Statins May Boost Survival Odds After Cardiac Arrest

The odds of surviving cardiac arrest seem higher for patients who've been taking cholesterol-lowering statins, a new study shows.

Researchers in Taiwan studied the medical records of nearly 138,000 cardiac arrest patients. Those already using statins such as Lipitor (atorvastatin) or Crestor (rosuvastatin) were about 19 percent more likely to survive to hospital admission and 47 percent more likely to be discharged. Also, they were 50 percent more likely to be alive a year later, the study found.

"When considering statin use for patients with high cholesterol, the benefit of surviving sudden cardiac arrest should also be considered, as statin use before cardiac arrest might improve outcomes of those patients," said study author Dr. Ping-Hsun Yu.

Yu is a researcher from the National Taiwan University Hospital and College of Medicine in New Taipei City.

The greatest survival benefit from statins was seen in patients with type 2 diabetes, Yu's team said.

Cardiac arrest is the abrupt loss of heart function. Death often occurs instantly or shortly after symptoms appear, according to the American Heart Association.

"We know that a large proportion of cardiac arrests occur due to coronary plaque rupture," said Dr. Puneet Gandotra, director of the cardiac catheterization laboratories at Northwell Health Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y.

RELATED: Bystander CPR Doubles Cardiac Arrest Survival Rates

"This rupture leads to a snowball effect in arteries and can cause arteries to get blocked, resulting in a heart attack or cardiac arrest," he explained.

So how might statins help?

"I feel that due to statin therapy, there is significant plaque stability and the effects of rupture are not as significant. Thus, an improvement in survival is noticed with patients on statin therapy who have cardiac arrests," Gandotra said.

Statins are often prescribed for patients after a heart attack or stroke as a way to prevent a second cardiovascular event. However, "this does not mean that everyone should be on statin therapy," Gandotra said.

These drugs can have side effects, such as muscle pain and weakness and higher blood sugar levels. In addition, the value of statins for preventing a first cardiac arrest or stroke is not clear, the researchers added.

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of Women's Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said, "What we learn from studies like this is that [statins] have other benefits.

"A study like this gives me a reason to say, 'There are more reasons for you to take a statin than just to lower your cholesterol,' " Steinbaum said.

For the study, Yu and colleagues divided the medical records of almost 138,000 patients according to whether they had used statins for 90 days within the year before their cardiac arrest. The researchers also accounted for gender, age, other medical problems, number of hospitalizations, post-resuscitation and other variables.

Because more than 95 percent of the patients in the study were Asian, these results might not apply to other groups or ethnic populations, Yu said.

The findings were to be presented on Sunday at the American Heart Association annual meeting, in New Orleans. Data and conclusions presented at medical meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

This week marks the second anniversary of my writing this blog.  It’s a good chance to remember why I write the blog,

This week marks the second anniversary of my writing this blog.  It’s a good chance to remember why I write the blog, what it has meant to me, and to think about what’s ahead.  I originally wanted to write because the original site, HealthTalk.com, helped me immensely with their psoriasis web content.  I especially enjoyed the various topics presented in the monthly webcast.   By writing I believed I could bring my own story and perspective to the discussion of how to live with and treat psoriasis.  At that time I also felt down about many aspects of my life, including psoriasis.  With no end in sight managing this disease I wondered if anything good could be redeemed from the experience.  If I could help one other person feel like they are not alone in battling psoriasis, if anyone could benefit from my trial and errors with medications, or if caregivers could understand the different dimensions of living with psoriasis then writing would be worth it.  Finally, I wanted a community I could share the struggles with and how better to find one than to help create one?

Getting an IBS Diagnosis

Diagnosing irritable bowel syndrome isn’t like diagnosing other diseases. Your doctor can’t take a swab or a vial of blood and test it to determine the problem. There is no single test that can point to IBS as the cause of your symptoms.

Instead, when you go to your doctor about IBS symptoms like diarrhea, constipation, abdominal pain, and stomach cramps, he has to rule out other conditions and then pay careful attention to your symptoms before giving you a diagnosis.

Diagnosing IBS “For years, anyone who had gastrointestinal symptoms that couldn’t be explained was told they had IBS,” says Steven Field, MD, a gastroenterologist and clinical assistant professor of medicine at New York University School of Medicine in New York City. But now doctors use the "Rome criteria," which are a specific set of symptoms that have to be present in order to give a diagnosis. In addition, the criteria designate red-flag symptoms that don’t point to IBS, he says.

 

 

Giving your doctor detailed information about your symptoms and when you experience them will go a long way toward getting an accurate diagnosis. Here’s what your doctor considers before he makes a diagnosis:

Laboratory tests to rule out other conditions. To make sure something other than IBS isn’t causing your symptoms, your doctor may run blood tests, test your stool sample, order an X-ray, or perform a colonoscopy (a procedure in which your doctor uses a small flexible camera to look inside your colon).

Your symptoms. Under the Rome criteria, a diagnosis of IBS can be made if you have had abdominal pain during at least 12 weeks during a 12-month period, even if those 12 weeks aren’t consecutive, and if you experience two of these three things:

  • A bowel movement that causes the abdominal pain to go away
  • A change in the frequency of your bowel movements
  • A change in your stool’s appearance (it becomes hard and lumpy or loose and watery

Other signs of IBS include mucus in your stool, a swollen abdomen, an urgency to have a bowel movement, having trouble passing stool, or a feeling that your bowel isn’t empty after going to the bathroom.

If you have red flag symptoms. Your doctor will also be looking for red-flag symptoms that aren’t associated with IBS, Dr. Field says. Those include: 

  • Blood in your stool
  • Fever
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Pain or diarrhea that’s so intense it wakes you up when you’re asleep
  • What triggers your symptoms. The factors that bring on your symptoms are another clue as to whether or not you have IBS. Eating such items as fried and greasy foods, caffeine, dairy products, chocolate, alcohol, and carbonated drinks often trigger symptoms, but the exact food triggers are different for everyone. Large meals may also trigger IBS symptoms.

 

 

Stress — which can result from major life changes such as getting married or getting a new job — is also a major trigger for IBS symptoms, Field says. And for women, symptoms are usually more severe during their menstrual period, possibly because of the effect of hormones on IBS.

The bottom line: Giving your doctor detailed information about your symptoms and knowing what triggers them will help with your diagnosis. Many doctors recommend keeping a food diary to determine exactly what brings on your symptoms and sharing that information with your doctor to make a better diagnosis and get you the right treatment.

By Marie Suszynski | Medically reviewed by Cynthia Haines, MD

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.’”

Constant Traffic Noise May Boost Depression Risk

People who live with constant road noise may face a higher risk of developing depression, researchers say.

The risk was about 25 percent higher for people living in areas with a lot of traffic, compared to those living in areas with little road noise. However, the risk was largely confined to those who were poor, unemployed, had limited education, smoked or had insomnia, the German study authors found.

"Although we can't say for sure, it has been thought that noise causes stress and annoyance," said lead researcher Ester Orban, of the Center for Urban Epidemiology at University Hospital Essen.

"If this noise persists over a long time and is constant and loud, it may contribute to depression," she said.

Orban cautioned that these findings only show that road noise is associated with depression, not that it causes depression. "Road noise seems to play a role, but I wouldn't talk about causality," she explained.

RELATED: How the Street You Live On May Harm Your Health

Orban said there are some simple things people can do to reduce their exposure to traffic noise, short of moving.

"If you feel annoyed by traffic noise you can use earplugs, and if traffic noise is disturbing your sleep, choose a bedroom away from the busy road," she suggested.

The report was published online Nov. 25 in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.

For the study, Orban and her colleagues collected data on more than 3,000 people, aged 45 to 75, who took part in the Heinz Nixdorf Recall study. The study participants were followed for an average of five years.

Depressive symptoms include feeling lonely, sad, depressed, having trouble concentrating or feeling like a failure.

Simon Rego, director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said this study adds to existing evidence that traffic noise is linked to an increased risk of depressive symptoms.

"This is not surprising, as we already have extensive evidence that noise is associated with both stress and heart disease," he said.

Given that depression is common worldwide and can have a negative effect on individuals and society, and given that its cause is complex, it's important to examine everything that may play a role, including environment and how it interacts with psychological, social and biological factors, Rego said.

Those with a low socioeconomic status and sleep disturbances may be particularly vulnerable to noise effects, he added.

"This suggests that, along with targeting biological factors with medications and psychological factors with treatments such as cognitive behavioral therapy, interventions may also be aimed at targeting environmental factors," Rego said.

Targeting environmental factors includes both individual and societal approaches, he added.

On an individual level, helping patients get a good night's sleep with better sleep practices may help lower the odds of depression, Rego said.

"On a larger scale, communities can work on improving urban planning to address traffic noise in order to help treat depression or perhaps even prevent it," he added.

8 Ways to Squeeze Fitness Into Your Day

While I aim for 20 or 30 minutes of daily exercise, I never miss an opportunity to sneak in extra movement throughout the day. After all, your muscles have no idea if you’re in a fancy gym or in your kitchen — as long as you’re working them, they’ll get toned!

By doing little exercises throughout the day wherever you can — in the kitchen, in your car, while you brush your teeth, or while you're sitting at your computer — you’ll keep the oxygen flowing and stretch and tone your muscles.

 

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You’ll also boost your metabolism: Did you know you can burn up to 500 calories per day just by fidgeting? It’s true! I like to call these little movements "fidget-cizes." They take only one minute or less and they really do work! Fidget-cizes don't replace your regular workouts, but when life gets too hectic, use these moves as a way to squeeze in a little extra fitness all day long. Here are a few of my favorites. Give them a try!

  • Squeeze that butt: Do it in the elevator, as you're walking down the aisles of a grocery store, and while you're waiting in line at the bank. No one will know — and it's so effective!
  • Work those legs: Try doing leg lifts at your desk or squats while you brush your teeth at night.
  • Add some steps to your day: Whenever you can, sneak in extra walking. Park your car far away from the store, take the stairs instead of the elevator at work, or do a few laps of the mall before you shop this weekend. Every step counts!
  • Tuck that tummy: If you're relaxing in the living room in front of the TV, try lying on the floor or on a blanket and doing crunches. Make a deal with yourself that you'll do them throughout each commercial break. Easy!
  • Take a “dip” on the couch: Sit at the edge of the couch and place your palms down on each side of you. Move forward so that your body is off the couch, bend your elbows behind you, and lower your body toward the floor with your knees bent and feet together. Bend and extend your arms multiple times as you watch TV — you’ll lose that arm jiggle in no time!
  • Stretch it out: Tension can build up in the neck and shoulders simply from sitting at your desk, and it gets even worse as the long work day drags on. Stretching encourages those tense muscles to relax and counteracts any tightness from poor posture and tired muscles. Try doing my Shoulder and Chest Relaxer, One-Arm Reach, and Neck and Shoulder Release at your desk — you'll probably start an office trend!
  • Get firm on the phone: If you spend a lot of time on the phone like I do, don't just sit there — make it a workout by "pretending" to sit! Press your back flat against a wall and lower your body by bending your knees to a 45- to 90-degree angle. Hold the position for as long as you can.
  • Get lean while you clean: Did you know that by doing household chores — carrying laundry upstairs, vacuuming, making your bed, dusting — you can burn up to 400 calories an hour? You’ve got to do these tasks anyway, so you might as well turn on some music and think of it as exercise!

Go ahead: Turn idle time into exercise time and look for every opportunity to move your body. All of those little moments will add up to major health benefits — you’ll see!

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.

10 Ways to Fight Chronic RA Pain

The aches and pains of rheumatoid arthritis can be hard to overcome, but these strategies may help in treating chronic pain.

From fatigue to loss of appetite, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can impact your life in a number of ways, but the most limiting symptom for many people is pain. Because that pain comes in different forms, you may need more than one strategy to relieve it.

“The primary cause of rheumatoid arthritis pain is inflammation that swells joint capsules," says Yousaf Ali, bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery, an associate professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine and chief of the division of rheumatology at Mount Sinai West Hospital in New York City. Joint capsules are thin sacs of fluid that surround a joint, providing lubrication for bone movement. In RA, the body's immune system attacks those capsules.

The first goal of pain relief is the control of inflammation, Dr. Ali explains. “Inflammation can cause acute (short-term) pain or longer-lasting smoldering pain," he says. "Chronic erosion of joint tissues over time is another cause of chronic pain. But there are many options for pain relief.”

Getting RA pain under control may take some work. You may find that you'll need to take several drugs — some to slow the joint damage and some to alleviate joint pain. Alternative therapies, like acupuncture, combined with drugs may help you to feel stronger. It may take some time, too. Try the following strategies — with your doctor's supervision — to discover which are most effective for you:

Treatments and Strategies to Help Relieve Chronic RA Pain

1. Inflammation Medication "In the case of RA, all other pain-relief strategies are secondary to controlling inflammation," Ali says. The No. 1 option in the pain relief arsenal is to control inflammation with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, called DMARDs. These drugs, which work to suppress the body's overactive immune system response, are also used to prevent joint damage and slow the progression of the disease. DMARDs are often prescribed shortly after a diagnosis in order to prevent as much joint damage as possible.

"The most commonly used is the drug methotrexate," he says. It's administered both orally and through injections. Digestive issues, such as nausea and diarrhea, are the most common side effect of DMARDs, and of methotrexate in particular, if taken by mouth. Hair loss, mouth sores, and drowsiness are other potential side effects. Methotrexate, which is taken once a week, can take about five or six weeks to start working, and it may be three to six months before the full effects of the drug are felt; doctors may also combine it with other drugs, including other DMARDs.

"Steroids may be used to bridge the gap during an acute flare," adds Ali. "If flares continue, we can go to triple-drug therapy, or use newer biologic drugs that are more expensive but also effective.” The most common side effect of biologics are infections that may result from their effect on the immune system.

The next tier of pain relief includes these additional approaches:

2. Pain Medication The best drugs for acute pain, Ali says, are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, called NSAIDs. Aspirin and ibuprofen belong to this class of drugs, as does a newer type of NSAID called celecoxib. While NSAIDs treat joint pain, research has shown that they don't prevent joint damage. In addition, NSAIDs may irritate the stomach lining and cause kidney damage when used over a long period of time.

"Stronger pain relievers, calledopioids, may be used for severe pain, but we try to avoid them if possible," says Ali. "These drugs must be used cautiously because of the potential to build up tolerance, which can lead to abuse."

3. Diet Although some diets may be touted to help RA symptoms, they aren’t backed by the medical community. “There is no evidence that any special diet will reduce RA pain," Ali says. But there is some evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation — and the joint pain that results from it. Omega-3s can be found in cold-water fish and in fish oil supplements. A study published in November 2015 in the Global Journal of Health Sciences found that people who took fish oil supplements were able to reduce the amount of pain medication they needed.

4. Weight Management Maintaining a healthy weight may help you better manage joint pain. A study published in November 2015 in the journal Arthritis Care & Research suggested that significant weight loss can lower the need for medication in people with RA. Among the study participants, 93 percent were using DMARDs before they underwent bariatric surgery, but that dropped to 59 percent a year after surgery.

5. Massage A massage from a therapist (or even one you give yourself) can be a soothing complementary treatment to help reduce muscle and joint pain. A study published in May 2013 in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice involved 42 people with RA in their arms who received either light massage or medium massage from a massage therapist once a week for a month. The participants were also taught to do self-massage at home. After a month of treatment, the moderate-pressure massage group had less pain and greater range of motion than the others.

6. Exercise Although you may not feel like being active when you have RA, and it might seem that being active could put stress on your body, gentle exercises can actually help reduce muscle and joint pain, too. “Non-impact or low-impact exercise is a proven way to reduce pain," Ali says. "We recommend walking, swimming, and cycling.” In fact, one of the best exercises you can do for RA is water aerobics in a warm pool because the water buoys your body.

The Arthritis Foundation also notes that yoga is another option to help reduce RA pain, and traditional yoga poses can be modified to your abilities. Yoga may also help improve the coordination and balance that is sometimes impaired when you have the disease. When it comes to exercise, though, it’s also wise to use caution. Talk with your doctor if any workouts are making your pain worse, and, in general, put any exercise plan on hold during an acute flare.

7. Orthoses These are mechanical aids that can help support and protect your joints. Examples include padded insoles for your shoes and splints or braces that keep your joints in proper alignment. You can even get special gloves for hand and finger RA. A physical therapist can help you determine the best orthoses options for you.

8. Heat and Cold Heat helps to relax muscles, while cold helps to dull the sensation of pain. You might find that applying hot packs or ice packs, or alternating between hot and cold, helps reduce your joint pain. Relaxing in a hot bath can also bring relief, as can exercising in a warm pool.

9. Acupuncture This Eastern medicine practice, which has been around for centuries, is thought to work by stimulating the body's natural painkillers through the use of fine needles gently placed near nerve endings. “I have found acupuncture to be helpful for some patients, but the pain relief is usually not long-lasting,” says Ali.

10. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) TENS is a form of therapy that uses low-voltage electric currents to stimulate nerves and interfere with pain pathways. “TENS is usually used for stubborn, chronic pain and not as a first-line treatment for RA,” Ali says. One of the benefits of this treatment is the low occurrence of side effects. If you're interested in trying it for pain relief, talk with your physical therapist.

Remember, you’re not alone — your doctor and specialists can help you find relief from chronic pain. If you’re experiencing more pain than before, or if pain is interfering with your ability to get things done, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. Ask your rheumatologist about pain relief options, like exercise, massage, yoga, and acupuncture, but remember that the first priority on your pain relief list should be to get RA inflammation under control.

What to Expect Before and After Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery isn't a spur-of-the-moment operation. In fact, preparing for the procedure may begin a year or more before your surgery date, and lifestyle changes continue well after the surgery has been performed. Be prepared by knowing what will be asked of you every step of the process.

The Year Before Surgery

Leading up to the procedure, your surgical team will likely recommend becoming more informed about diet and exercise.The amount of time you spend in this stage depends on several factors, including your insurance and your team’s recommendations, says bariatric surgeon Ann Rogers, MD, director of the Penn State Hershey Surgical Weight Loss Program in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

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“There’s always some component of nutritional education and some expectation that patients will lose some weight in that program,” explains Dr. Rogers. The dietitians and others who work with you during this stage will send reports on your progress to your surgical team before you schedule your surgery date.

In this phase, you may need to make additional lifestyle changes as well depending on the program. Rogers’ program, for instance, requires smoking cessation, though other weight-loss surgery clinics do not.

The Week Before Surgery

The final days before your surgery can be extremely emotional, filled with excitement, nervousness, and anxiety. Taking these steps as you prepare for your surgery will ease tension and ensure that everything goes smoothly the day of your procedure:

• Read the materials from your clinic.

• Eat and drink as directed. “We have a preoperative diet for eight days, which consists of bariatric-friendly protein shakes,” Rogers says. “They are high in protein, and they do not have sugar.” Most programs have a preoperative diet, although the duration varies, she says. Make sure you understand how long that diet lasts and exactly what you can eat.

• Adjust medications as needed. Discuss how to manage any other conditions you might have, such as diabetes, with your weight-loss surgery team and your primary care physician.

 Meet with the anesthesiologist. Once your surgery date is scheduled, you'll also meet with the anesthesiologist, who will ask about your health history. Although patients will have lots of tests done and medical information detailed during the months before surgery, the anesthesiologist might ask for more tests, advises Rogers.

 Take a blood thinner. Clotting is a risk associated with surgery, says Rogers. Your doctor might recommend taking a blood-thinning medication before and after the surgery.

What to Pack

Rogers suggests taking the following items with you to the hospital:

 Instructions. Bring the manual or other instructions you’ve been given, as well as any preoperative paperwork.

• Identification. You’ll need it to check in.

• CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. If you've been using one for sleep, take it with you.

• Laptop and cellphone.

• Pajamas and toiletries.

• Pillow and blanket.  

The Day of the Surgery

What your weight-loss surgery will entail varies depending on the specific type of surgery you'll be having.

• Roux-en-Y: This procedure is also known as “gastric bypass.” Your stomach will be divided into a small top pouch and a larger lower pouch. Your small intestine will also be divided and the lower part raised up to attach to your new, smaller stomach. This procedure reduces the quantity of food you can eat at any given time.

• Sleeve gastrectomy: In this procedure, the majority of your stomach will be removed, creating a banana-shaped stomach.

• Biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch: In this procedure, a portion of your stomach is removed. The remaining portion is then attached to a lower segment of your small intestine.

 Banding: In this procedure, an inflatable band is wrapped around the upper part of your stomach, creating a small stomach pouch. The band can be adjusted as needed. 

9 Things You’ll Have to Do After Surgery

• Have a ride home in place. Expect to spend at least one night in the hospital, Rogers says. When you're discharged, you'll need to have someone drive you home.

• Prevent blood clots. You will need to adhere to strategies to prevent blood clots from developing. These include taking blood thinners and getting up and walking around while in the hospital and at home.

• Take pain medication. You'll probably get a prescription for pain medication. Laparoscopic surgery reduces pain and hospital stays, but you still may need prescription pain medication for a day or two after discharge, Rogers says.

• Anticipate constipation, as it's a byproduct of the pain medications and the surgery itself. Be sure to talk with your doctor or nurse about how to prevent constipation.

• Eat a restricted diet. Your diet will be restricted to liquid protein shakes for a week or so after the procedure, and then soft foods following that period. Most people can transition to eating food with texture after their one-month follow-up appointment. By three months you should be able to eat fruits and vegetables, Rogers says. The ASMBS recommends cutting down on carbohydrates and increasing protein.

• Drink lots of fluids. The ASMBS recommends at least 64 ounces, or 8 cups, of fluids daily.

• You may need to take supplements. Calcium, vitamin D, and B vitamins are among those your doctor might recommend.

 Exercise – but nothing too strenuous. Walking daily, starting the day you get home, is good for you, says Rogers. However, skip the gym until you have your doctor’s permission. You should be able to lift small weights, she says, but avoid heavy items.

• Plan on missing work for a while. People with desk jobs usually can go back to work in about three weeks, Rogers says. Those with physical jobs or jobs that require extended periods of sitting, such as driving trucks, will have to wait a longer period of time.

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.

Herbal remedy isn't regulated, and can have side effects and serious drug interactions.

Herbal remedy isn't regulated, and can have side effects and serious drug interactions.

St. John's wort is a popular herbal therapy for depression, but a new Australian study highlights the fact that "natural" does not always equal "safe."

Using reports filed with Australia's drug safety agency, the researchers found that adverse reactions to St. John's wort were similar to those reported for the antidepressant fluoxetine -- better known by the brand name Prozac.

Those side effects included anxiety, panic attacks, dizziness, nausea and spikes in blood pressure, the researchers reported in the July issue of Clinical and Experimental Pharmacology and Physiology.

"It's concerning to see such severe adverse reactions in our population, when people believe they are doing something proactive for their health with little risk," lead researcher Claire Hoban, of the University of Adelaide, said in a university news release.

Research has shown that St. John's wort can help ease mild to moderate depression. But the fact that it works also means there is a risk of side effects, said Dr. Samar McCutcheon, a psychiatrist at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus.

"Even if the bottle says 'natural' or 'herbal,' it still has ingredients that are active in your body," said McCutcheon, who was not involved in the study.

It has long been recognized that St. John's wort can have significant side effects and interact with certain medications, McCutcheon pointed out.

But many consumers may not know that, she noted, largely because dietary supplements are not regulated in the way that drugs are.

"I definitely think this [lack of awareness] is still an issue," McCutcheon said. "People think St. John's wort is safe because they can buy it at a health food store."

In the United States, dietary supplements do not have to be studied for safety and effectiveness before they reach the market.

"Plus," McCutcheon said, "you're relying on companies to make sure these products include the ingredients they're supposed to, and keep out ingredients that they shouldn't."

The situation is similar in Australia, and many consumers there are unaware that supplements are largely unregulated, according to Hoban's team.

RELATED: 7 Supplement Risks Every Woman Should Know About

The researchers based their findings on doctors' reports to Australia's national agency on drug safety. Between 2000 and 2013, there were 84 reports of adverse reactions to St. John's wort, and 447 reports on Prozac.

But since those are voluntary reports, they do not reflect the actual rate of side effects from either therapy, according to the researchers. And, Hoban said, bad reactions to St. John's wort are particularly likely to go unreported, since the herb is often not even considered a drug.

According to McCutcheon, it's important for people with depression symptoms to see a health professional before self-medicating with St. John's wort. "That will help ensure you have the right diagnosis," she said.

If your symptoms are actually part of a different disorder, St. John's wort may be ineffective -- or possibly even risky. For example, McCutcheon said that in people with bipolar disorder, the herb might fuel a manic episode.

But possibly the biggest concern, she said, is the potential for St. John's wort to interact with commonly used medications.

The herb can dampen the effectiveness of birth control pills, blood thinners and heart disease drugs, along with some HIV and cancer drugs, according to the U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health.

What's more, it can interact with antidepressants. It's not clear exactly how St. John's wort works, McCutcheon said, but it's thought to boost levels of the brain chemical serotonin -- which is how the most commonly used antidepressants work.

"If you use the two together, you run the risk of having too much serotonin," she said. And that raises the risk of a potentially fatal condition called serotonin syndrome, whose symptoms include confusion, tremors, diarrhea and a drop in body temperature.

Some side effects of St. John's wort are caused by the herb itself, such as skin rash that's worsened by sunlight, said Dr. John Reed, director of inpatient services at the University of Maryland's Center for Integrative Medicine in Baltimore.

But the main concern is still its potential for interacting with other medications, he said. "Compared with other herbs, St. John's has more drug interactions," Reed explained. "So if you're using it, don't take other medications unless it's under medical supervision."

He added that anyone on any medication should do some homework before starting an herbal product. "Go online and do a search for drug interactions. Ask your pharmacist or doctor," Reed advised.

"Unfortunately," he said, "this type of information [on drug interactions] doesn't have to be printed on product labels."

The bottom line, according to McCutcheon, is that people with depression should talk to their providers about any supplements they take, or want to take. And those providers, she said, should be willing to have nonjudgmental discussions.

"I want all my patients to be comfortable enough to bring up anything with me," McCutcheon said.

How to Prevent Hearing Loss

Do you have trouble following a conversation in a noisy room? Do other people complain that you have the television turned up too loud? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, you may already have some degree of hearing loss.

Hearing loss can start at any age. According to the National Academy on Aging and Society, the number of affected Americans between the ages of 45 and 64 has increased significantly since 1971. But it’s much more common in seniors: Some 40 percent of the 20 million Americans who have hearing loss are 65 or older.

Contrary to popular belief, however, hearing loss is not an inevitable part of aging. Some causes of hearing loss can be prevented, and most types of hearing loss can be helped.

Types and Causes of Hearing Loss

There are three basic types of hearing loss:

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  • Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear nerves or the nerves that carry sound to the hearing area of the brain. Once you have this type of nerve damage, the only treatment is a hearing aid. Causes of sensorineural hearing loss include injuries, tumors, infection, certain medications, and excessive noise exposure.
  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by a condition that blocks sound waves from being transferred to the nerves involved in the hearing process. Whereas sensorineural hearing loss usually affects both ears, conductive hearing loss may only affect one ear. Common causes include ear infections, ear wax, ear trauma such as a punctured eardrum, and other diseases that affect the ear canal, the eardrum, or the tiny bones in the middle ear. Unlike sensorineural hearing loss, this type of hearing loss can often be corrected and restored.
  • Mixed hearing loss occurs when someone who has nerve type hearing loss from aging or noise trauma then gets an ear infection or develops a wax impaction, causing their hearing to suddenly get much worse. It’s a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss.

Hearing Loss Evaluation

If you are having trouble hearing or develop sudden deafness, you need to get your hearing checked as soon as possible. Sudden deafness is a serious symptom and should be treated as a medical emergency. For many people, though, hearing loss may be gradual and not obvious. Here are seven warning signs to watch out for:

  • You have trouble hearing while on the telephone.
  • You can’t seem to follow a conversation if there is background noise.
  • You struggle to understand women’s or children's voices.
  • People complain that you turn up the TV volume too high.
  • You constantly ask people to repeat themselves.
  • You have a long history of working around loud noises.
  • You notice a ringing, hissing, or roaring sound in your ears.

 

 

If you think you have any kind of hearing loss, the place to start is with your doctor. Whether your hearing loss is gradual or sudden, your doctor may refer you to an audiologist (a medical specialist in hearing loss) or an otolaryngologist (a medical doctor specializing in disorders of the ear).

 

 

Depending on the cause and type of your hearing loss, treatment may be as simple as removing ear wax or as complicated as reconstructive ear surgery. Sensorineural hearing loss can't be corrected or reversed, but hearing aids and assistive devices can enhance most people’s hearing. For those with profound hearing loss approaching deafness, an electronic hearing device, called a cochlear implant, can even be implanted in the ear.

Tips for Hearing Loss Prevention

One type of hearing loss is 100 percent preventable: that due to noise exposure. Noise is measured in units called decibels: Normal conversation is about 45 decibels, heavy traffic may be about 85 decibels, and a firecracker may be about 120 decibels. Loud noise — anything at or above 85 decibels — can cause damage to the cells in the inner ear that convert sound into signals to the brain. Here are some tips for avoiding noise-induced hearing loss:

  • Minimize your exposure to loud noises that are persistent.
  • Never listen to music through headphones or ear buds with the volume all the way up.
  • Wear ear plugs or protective earmuffs during any activity that exposes you to noise at or above 85 decibels.
  • See your doctor about a baseline hearing test, called an audiogram, to find out if you already have some early hearing loss.

You should also see your doctor if you have any symptoms of ear pain, fullness, or ringing, or if you experience any sudden change in your hearing. These symptoms could be early warnings of preventable hearing loss.

Hearing loss or deafness can have a serious effect on social well-being. It can cut you off from the world around you. Know the causes of hearing loss, and practice hearing loss prevention to preserve the hearing you still have.

Vitamin D

 

 

Depression and Substance Abuse

Depression often feeds a substance abuse problem, but the opposite may also be true. Find out just how intertwined these two conditions are.

Mood disorders, like depression, and substance abuse go together so frequently that doctors have coined a term for it: dual diagnosis. The link between these conditions is a two-way street. They feed each other. One problem will often make the other worse, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).

About 20 percent of Americans with an anxiety or mood disorder, such as depression, also have a substance abuse disorder, and about 20 percent of those with a substance abuse problem also have an anxiety or mood disorder, the ADAA reports.

Compared with the general population, people addicted to drugs are roughly twice as likely to have mood and anxiety disorders, and vice versa, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA).

The Shared Triggers of Depression and Substance Abuse

When it comes to substance abuse and depression, it isn't always clear which one came first, although depression may help predict first-time alcohol dependence, according to a study published in 2013 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry.

The conditions share certain triggers. Possible connections between depression and substance abuse include:

The brain. Similar parts of the brain are affected by both substance abuse and depression. For example, substance abuse affects brain areas that handle stress responses, and those same areas are affected by some mental disorders.
Genetics. Your DNA can make you more likely to develop a mental disorder or addiction, according to research published in 2012 in Disease Markers. Genetic factors also make it more likely that one condition will occur once the other has appeared, NIDA reports.
Developmental problems. Early drug use is known to harm brain development and make later mental illness more likely. The reverse also is true: Early mental health problems can increase the chances of later drug or alcohol abuse.
The Role of Environment

Environmental factors such as stress or trauma are known to prompt both depression and substance abuse.

Family history is another factor. A study published in the Journal of Affective Disorders in 2014 found that a family history of substance abuse is a significant risk factor for attempted suicide among people with depression and substance abuse.

These types of dual diagnosis may also be traced back to a time in early life when children are in a constant process of discovery and in search of gratification, according to David MacIsaac, PhD, a licensed psychologist in New York and New Jersey and president of the New York Institute for Psychoanalytic Self Psychology.

RELATED: 6 Depression Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

Any interruption or denial of this natural discovery process can manifest clinically and lead people to believe that everything they feel and think is wrong, he explains.

This idea, which Dr. MacIsaac says is based on the work of Crayton Rowe, author of the book Empathic Attunement: The 'Technique' of Psychoanalytic Self Psychology, challenges the idea that people dealing with depression try to self-medicate using drugs or alcohol. In fact, people with a dual diagnosis may be doing just the opposite, MacIsaac suggests.

"Individuals who are severely depressed drink to feed this negativity," he explains. "Initially it's soothing, but only for about 15 minutes. After that individuals sink deeper and deeper and feel worse than they did before."

For these people, MacIsaac points out, negativity is "where they get their oxygen." Any inclination that treatment is working will trigger a need to go back into the black hole of negative discovery, and alcohol will intensify their depression, he adds.

Why Simultaneous Treatment Is Important

Successful recovery involves treatment for both depression and substance abuse. If people are treated for only one condition, they are less likely to get well until they follow up with treatment for the other.

If they are told they need to abruptly stop drinking, however, depressed people with a substance abuse problem may be reluctant to undergo treatment, MacIsaac cautions. "They cling to drinking because they are terrified of losing that negativity," he says.

People with dual diagnoses must understand the root of their issues on a profound level, MacIsaac says. Once they understand, he says, they may have the ability to change. Treatment for depression and substance abuse could involve therapy, antidepressants, and interaction with a support group.

If you think you need treatment but are unsure where to start, the American Psychological Association provides the following suggestions:

Ask close friends and relatives whether they have recommendations for qualified psychologists, psychiatrists, or other mental health counselors.
Find out whether your state psychological association has a referral service for licensed mental health professionals.

Fighting Off Fatigue

You might write off a feeling of fatigue to doing too much. You work, run a home, raise kids, volunteer in your community — all of these activities can leave you feeling overtired, you tell yourself as you collapse on the sofa.

But there’s fatigue, and then there’s chronic fatigue, a feeling of exhaustion that probably signals a medical condition and needs a doctor’s evaluation to help you start feeling like your old self again.

Chronic Fatigue: A Better Health Plan

If you experience a level of fatigue that leaves you exhausted at the end of the day, but is not so severe that it’s keeping you from living your normal life, making a few healthy lifestyle changes may help. Try taking these steps:

  • "Pick a stress-relieving habit," says Donna Jackson Nakazawa, author of The Autoimmune Epidemic, "Try daily meditation, a brisk morning walk, yoga, or all three. Stress suppresses the immune system.”
  • Avoid processed foods full of chemicals, preservatives, and additives.
  • Avoid heavy meals, alcohol, and caffeine in the evening, which can keep you from getting a good night’s sleep. Sleep disturbances are common in people with chronic fatigue.
  • Follow a regular exercise program, which has been shown to relieve symptoms of fatigue.
  • Get help for depression. Cognitive therapy, a non-medical way of treating depression, has also been shown to be effective in treating chronic fatigue.
  • If you're still menstruating, to avoid anemia eat foods high in iron, such as liver, lentils and beans, and green leafy vegetables, . Remember that vitamin C helps your body absorb iron, so be sure to include fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C in your diet.

 

 

Chronic Fatigue: What Can Cause Exhaustion

If your fatigue is more than garden-variety tiredness, a visit to your doctor can help pinpoint a cause. About 40 percent of people who have symptoms of chronic fatigue turn out to have a treatable, underlying medical condition, such as:

  • Anemia. Anemia occurs when you don't have enough red blood cells or when your red blood cells are not carrying enough oxygen. Some common causes are loss of excessive amounts of blood during menstruationautoimmune diseases, dietary iron deficiency, and vitamin B-12 and folate (another B vitamin) deficiencies. The most common symptoms of anemia are fatigue and weakness; other symptoms are dizziness, headache, and low body temperature.
  • Depression. Studies consistently show that depression is twice as common in women as in men, and tends to last longer and be more serious. About 10 percent of women experience depression during pregnancy, and 10 to 15 percent in the postpartum period. A very common symptom of depression is constant fatigue; other symptoms include sadness and difficulty concentrating.
  • Stress. Stress can have serious effects on your health. Short-term stress and long-term stress have both been shown to cause trouble sleeping, lack of energy, and lack of concentration.
  • Thyroid disease. An autoimmune disease of the thyroid gland called Hashimoto's thyroiditis is a common cause of fatigue in women. When working correctly, your thyroid gland produces hormones that give you energy. When your thyroid gland is under-functioning because of an autoimmune attack, one of the main symptoms is fatigue; others include depression, low body temperature, dry skin, and weight gain.

Chronic Fatigue: When It’s Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Fatigue means being too beat to go to the movies or shopping, or to engage in any number of the other normal activities you're used to. With chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) you might be struggling to get through each day; for some people it can get bad enough that even holding down a job becomes difficult, forcing them to consider going on disability leave.

 

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that between 1 and 4 million Americans have chronic fatigue syndrome. It is four times as common in women as men and usually begins in the childbearing years, although in rare cases it may occur in teenagers.

At this time, there are no tests to diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome. Your doctor can only diagnose CFS when other medical conditions known to cause fatigue are ruled out. Doctors call this "a diagnosis of exclusion."

The most debilitating symptom of CFS is severe, unexplained, persistent fatigue, lasting six months or more. It’s a fatigue that doesn’t go away after rest or sleep and keeps you from doing at least half the things you would normally do each day. To make the diagnosis, doctors will also look for four or more of the following symptoms:

  • Poor concentration or memory loss
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Headache
  • Tiredness not relieved by sleep
  • Tiredness lasting more than 24 hours after exertion

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Possible Causes

Just what causes chronic fatigue syndrome is still unknown. Originally, scientists thought that being infected with certain viruses, especially the Epstein-Barr virus that causes mononucleosis, might be at the root of CFS, but there have been no conclusive findings. Now researchers are looking at whether inflammation brought on by an abnormal, overactive immune response occurrs in the nervous system of those with chronic fatigue.

Nakazawa believes that shifts in our 21st-century lifestyle, including daily exposure to toxins, pesticides, heavy metals, chemicals in our processed-food diets, and modern stress levels, are partly responsible. "Scientists who study autoimmune disease have called this epidemic 'the global warming of women's health,'" she says.

Advises Nakazawa, "At the same time that you work to lessen exposure to things that might overwhelm your immune system, you also need to relax and find joy in the world every day. How optimistically you perceive the world around you also impacts your stress level and your well-being."

Overly Controlling Moms Lose Out, Study Says

Helicopter parents, take note: A mother has a better relationship with her child if she respects the youngster's need for independence at a young age, a new study suggests.

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Mothers who allowed children more freedom at age 2 were viewed more positively by their children later in childhood, according to the University of Missouri study.

The study included more than 2,000 mothers and their children. The researchers observed how much the mothers controlled the children's play at age 2 and then interviewed the children at fifth grade to assess how they felt about their mothers.

"When mothers are highly controlling of small children's play, those children are less likely to want to engage with them," Jean Ispa, co-chair of the department of human development and family studies, said in a university news release.

 

 

Respect for independence is important both for children's growth and for creating positive parent-child relationships, she said. "We found that mothers who supported their children's autonomy were regarded more positively by their children than mothers who were highly directive," she said.

RELATED: Being a Good Parent Without Judging Other Parents

"Mothers who are very directive when their children are toddlers often tend to still be controlling when their children enter adolescence," Ispa noted.

Mothers with small children mostly use physical controls, she said, but when children are older these directives become more verbal and psychological -- not allowing kids to speak their mind, for instance. "It's not surprising that their children begin to view them in a negative light," Ispa said.

The findings, published online recently in the journal Social Development, don't mean that parents should not establish and enforce rules or offer advice, Ispa said. She noted that behavioral rules -- such as teaching children to check for cars before crossing the street -- did not have a negative impact on mother-child relationships.

It was psychological control -- such as inducing guilt or telling children what to think and feel, or to play in certain ways -- that damaged mother-child relationships, the study found.

 

 

"Many times, parents think that employing these controlling behaviors is the 'right way' to raise children, but our research shows that really does not work," Ispa said.

"Allowing children age-appropriate levels of autonomy to make safe decisions is very good for kids, and they usually will make wise decisions when they have been taught about safe choices as well as consequences," she added.

"A good place for parents to start would be to have open discussions and allow their children to express their own points of view," she suggested. "When giving children instructions, explain reasons for decisions rather than simply saying, 'Because I said so.' "

7 Detox Tips From Scientists Who Actually Tried Them

One of the realities of 2014 is that when a baby is born, he or she has already been exposed to toxic chemicals. The evidence is in umbilical cords, which research has confirmed contain pesticides, waste from burning coal and gasoline, and garbage. Even if you try to do everything right (eat organic, buy natural products, live in a cabin in the middle of the woods, etc.), you can’t avoid all of the chemicals that have become pervasive.

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Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith researched the dominance of these chemicals while writing their first book, Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health (2009), which took a look at everyday items, including canned food, pajamas, Tupperware, and rubber ducks, that put toxins into our bodies. Their readers bombarded them with a simple question: If all this stuff is inside us, how do we get it out?

So the two authors, armed with Smith’s PhD in biology and collective decades working in the environmental field (Smith's the executive director of the Broadbent Institute and Lourie is the president of the Ivey Foundation), went out again to determine what actually worked to get toxins out of the body. Through a series of self-designed experiments on themselves and others, they take readers through their journey in Toxin Toxout: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World.

Here are some key facts they learned about what actually matters when it comes to detoxing:

1. Chemicals are everywhere, but you don’t have to worry about all of them.Not all chemicals are actually going to damage us, Laurie said, and people have different tolerance to chemicals (though you may find that out the hard way). Some chemicals are disappearing from our lives (DDT, dioxin, lead) because of awareness of their dangers. “I joke sometimes that I’m a worrier, and I carry around a worry list with me,” Smith said. “In the book, we tried to come up with a short worry list.” The list included phthalates, BPA, pesticides, methyl paraben, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulphatel, and metals that can be harmful when they accumulate, such as aluminum, tin, and mercury. Yes, that’s still a long (and confusing) list, but there are some simple ways to avoid or eliminate them.

 

 

2. Avoid some toxins by shopping natural. Chemicals don’t just get into our bodies through what we eat — they come in through what we slather on our skin, what furniture we sit on, and what we breathe. While reporting for the book, Smith measured his urine before and after simply sitting and breathing in a new Chevy Tahoe for eight hours, and found that doing so had elevated his body's levels of four chemicals from the worry list. So shop smart (and roll down the windows when driving). “When you’re making a purchase, be it a cosmetic, a shampoo, or a new sofa, ask ‘Is this the most natural thing I could buy?’” Lourie said. Read ingredient labels and look up the ones you can’t pronounce. Do your research and check out eco-certifications before making big purchases like sofas or cars to see which, like the Tahoe, are made with dangerous chemicals. 

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3. Organic is actually better, if you want to avoid pesticides. Recent research — particularly one study from Stanford that concluded organic produce doesn’t have more nutrients — has ignored the intended benefit of going organic, Smith and Lourie argue. Organic farming isn’t necessarily meant to yield more nutrient-dense food. It’s meant to make food that won’t contain excessive pesticides. (Yes, it may have traces of pesticides, because almost everything does. Remember the umbilical cords?) Smith and Laurie asked nine kids who hadn’t eaten organic before to eat an all-organic diet for five days while giving urine samples. The urine samples showed the switch yielded a big drop in pesticide levels. “Once people start eating organic food, pesticide reduction occurs in a matter of hours,” Smith said.

 

 

4. It’s better to adjust your habits than to go through a cleanse.  One of the most basic things you can do to get toxins out of your body is to drink more water. Another is to eat less animal fat and more (preferably organic) fruits and vegetables. But is the best way to do that a four-day juice cleanse? Probably not, say Smith and Laurie. "'Cleanse' makes it sound like it’s a special thing,” Lourie said. “If you’re eating more vegetables and drinking plenty of water, and you want to put the vegetables in the water, that’s a good thing to do. Just don’t be mistaken that if you do that for four days out of the year, you’re going to be detoxing your body — it doesn’t work that way.” It’s much better to incorporate fruits, veggies, and water into your daily diet.

5. Embrace sweat — and saunas. Toxins enter your body through what you eat, breathe and touch, and they go out the same way, through breath, digested food and drink, and sweat. While exhaling and urinating are pretty non-negotiable, a lot of us are engaged in a war against sweat. “We’re really confused as to what clean smells like,” Jessa Blades, an eco-blogger, tells the authors in the book.Antiperspirants and some deodorants prevent us from sweating out toxins while using toxic metals to keep the sweat in, a “double toxic whammy” Smith said. Lourie even admitted that he’s stopped using deodorant. Even if you change or quit your antiperspirant, you should try to sweat more, too. You can do this by exercising more or by using saunas to “detox through heavy sweating,” Lourie said. You’ll also end up drinking more water, which is good for eliminating toxins.

6. Be wary of fat. Fat holds on to toxins, which is part of the reason chemicals like DDT still hang around our systems. So if you’re eating lots of animal fat, you’re also eating the chemicals that the animal fat is holding. Then, you’re probably also putting on weight and thus adding fat to your body, which will hold on to those chemicals. “It’s a positive feedback loop,” Lourie said. In fact, if you’re worried about toxins and you’re overweight, losing that extra body fat should be the first step toward reducing the toxins in your body.

7. Push companies to do the right thing, and support regulation of toxins.“Only part of the solution to this problem is being a more careful consumer,” Smith said. ‘The other part is to be a more engaged citizen.” Remember when people learned that Subway bread contained a yoga mat chemical, and took to social media to demand that change? “Never has a company capitulated so quickly,” Smith said. It’s easier than ever to make your voice heard. 

Scientists Test 'Magic Mushroom' Chemical for Tough-to-Treat Depression

Study of only 12 people suggests it may help some, but more and better research is needed.

A hallucinogenic compound found in "magic mushrooms" shows promise in treating depression, a small, preliminary study found.

"Depression continues to affect a large proportion of the population, many of whom do not respond to conventional treatments," said Dr. Scott Krakower, a psychiatrist who reviewed the study.

"Although this was a small study, it does offer hope for new, unconventional treatments, to help those who are battling with severe depression," said Krakower, who is chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y.

The new trial included 12 people with moderate to severe depression who had been resistant to standard treatment. All of the patients were given the compound psilocybin, found in hallucinogenic mushrooms.

Three months after treatment, seven patients had reduced symptoms of depression, according to a team led by Dr. Robin Carhart-Harris of Imperial College London, in England.

There were no serious side effects, the study authors said in the report published May 17 inThe Lancet Psychiatry.

Carhart-Harris' team stressed that no strong conclusions can be made from the findings -- only that further research is warranted.

RELATED: 9 Natural Therapies for Bipolar Depression

About 1 in 5 patients with depression does not respond to treatments such as antidepressants or cognitive behavioral therapy, the study authors noted.

"This is the first time that psilocybin has been investigated as a potential treatment for major depression," Carhart-Harris said in a journal news release.

"The results are encouraging, and we now need larger trials to understand whether the effects we saw in this study translate into long-term benefits, and to study how psilocybin compares to other current treatments," he said.

How might the drug work to ease depression?

"Previous animal and human brain imaging studies have suggested that psilocybin may have effects similar to other antidepressant treatments," explained study senior author David Nutt, also of Imperial College London.

"Psilocybin targets the serotonin receptors in the brain," he said, "just as most antidepressants do, but it has a very different chemical structure to currently available antidepressants and acts faster than traditional antidepressants."

However, Krakower stressed that caution must be taken with such a powerful drug.

"Psilocybin is still a potent psychedelic compound and can have unwanted side effects," he said. "Patients should interpret these results with caution until more studies are conducted."

Another mental health expert agreed.

"Anyone reading of this study should be cautioned to not use this drug on themselves," said Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

He said the study also had some flaws, most notably its small size and the fact that patients had "expectations" of benefit that might have skewed the results.

Furthermore, the need to watch over the patient, "for hours after treatment may make this an impractical drug to clinically use and further research into dosages is required," Manevitz said.

But he noted that this isn't the first time psilocybin has been thought of as medicine.

"Psilocybin has been considered for the use for easing the psychological suffering associated with end-stage cancer," he explained. "Preliminary results indicate that low doses of psilocybin can improve the mood and anxiety of patients with advanced cancer, with the effects lasting two weeks to six months."
 

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.