Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Do You Need a Coach for a Doctor's Visit?

news you may not knowNow, Get In There...

Are you a sports fan? No? Hmm... Don't love the crack of the bat and the crunch of Cracker Jack? Just as soon pass on the chance to catch a glimpse of the latest quarterback with a rocket attached to his shoulder socket? Fair enough, but...

Then why would you be on the hunt for a personal coach?

Well, according to researchers at The Cochrane Library, if you have plans to visit the doctor you just may benefit from a little pre-session coaching. They studied the impact of coaching on patient satisfaction and found that patient's who received coaching just prior to doctor's appointments were more satisfied with their care.

The coaching consisted of helping patients organize their thoughts and formulate appropriate questions for their visit. This resulted in the patient receiving more useful information during their visit, and typically also extended the length of the visit slightly.

Let's face it - doctor's visits are high stress and patients are at a huge disadvantage. Anxiety, lack of expertise, feeling hurried, and other factors can lead to a disappointing visit.

How do you best prepare?

Plan...

The experts recommend you plan ahead. Take time to prepare. Think through your symptoms and questions. Ask yourself what you most want to accomplish during your visit, and what are your most important questions. Make notes, so you won't get caught up in the moment and forget. Finally, be determined and expect answers. If you're not satisfied, or don't understand what your doctor said, ask for clarification.

The coach? Well... If you don't have a personal medical coach - who does? - try the bathroom mirror, or your sister, or, when the UPS guy drops off that package, practice by telling him, "You know, I've had this ache just behind my sternum for about..."

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To learn more about preparing for a doctor's appointment, see this from The-Health-Pages.com, or this from the American Heart Association.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

What's the Key to a Long Life?

tidbits that tantalizeCould I Get That Without The Prattle?

It's not exactly Science 101, but researchers at Children's Hospital in Boston have a thought or two to share on longevity.

It works like this:

The amount of insulin in the brain may be the key to living longer. They engineered mice with defective genes to mimic various capabilities of insulin management. The gene they targeted is known as insulin receptor substrate 2 (Irs2). One group had no copies of the Irs2 gene, resulting in diabetes. The second group had a single copy of the gene, resulting in distinct advantages that extended their lives.

The second group lived slovenly lives, overeating and packing on the pounds - attributes that should shorten life. But, because the mice had been designed to use less insulin in the brain, they actually lived longer than normal lab mice. In fact, they lived an average of 18% longer.

Confused? Join the club.

Fortunately, the scientists have a simple take away message: diet and exercise are the key.

Ah... There's a statement of scientific fact that makes sense. All this prattle about insulin receptors, genetically engineered mice, and other such nonsense only serves to confuse the issue. Let's have some straight talk, with a bit of practicality thrown in for good measure.

Yes, diet and exercise. Eating less, and exercising more, make the body's peripheral tissues more sensitive to insulin. The result is lower insulin production, resulting in less insulin circulating in the brain, resulting in a longer life.

But, lest we fall into the prattle trap once again, let's review the central message:

Diet and exercise are the keys to a long life.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about healthy diets and exercise, see this from the HealthCentral Network.

Friday, July 27, 2007

Are Kids an Essential Marketing Segment?

news you may not knowI Don't Want To Be A Segment...

Let's see if we can make some sense of this.

As background information, consider these facts: advertising is a $250 billion/year industry with over 900,000 brand names to promote; the average young person views over 3,000 ads per day on television, the Internet, billboards and in magazines.

Now...

Research continues to determine the exact age at which a child becomes "market savvy." It's a critical issue, with billions of dollars riding on the successful determination. Barring a satisfactory scientific stipulation, advertisers will be left to allocate budgets by guesswork.

The risk, of course, is that the target demographic will be set too high. For sake of argument, let's assume the advertisers determine they will mercilessly target children from 19 months and older. Fair enough. But, what if the correct age is really 16 months? Exactly - 3 months of life wasted on silly childhood games and gibberish.

The stakes are high, indeed.

Several large U.S. companies recently announced "voluntary" plans to reduce advertising aimed at children. The announcements come just prior to a meeting of the Federal Trade Commission expected to place pressure on the companies. At issue is the effect their advertising has on childhood obesity.

While it's a step in the right direction, consider the action of the McDonalds Corporation. They have decided to advertise only twp types of "Happy Meals" to children under twelve. These meals fit their guidelines of deriving no more than 35% of their calories from fat, and containing no more than 35% total sugar content.

Hmm...

So, let the parents beware. Guard your children fiercely and let them grow up in that other segment of society - the one where the demographic components are simply known as carefree children.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about staying healthy, see this from KidsHealth.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Does Fat Help Fight Cancer?

tidbits that tantalizeDoctor's Orders...

This is unbelievable. No, really - your husband will never believe it.

The breast cancer diagnosis was a shock for both of you. But, you're pretty proud of him. He's really hung in there, sticking right by your side through chemo and radiation. A real trooper. But, now...

You're afraid this new treatment may throw him. After all, it is hard to believe that a chocolate ├ęclair is part of a comprehensive cancer treatment plan. Or, for that matter, a dish of macaroni and cheese, a bowl of Ben and Jerry's, or a fresh piece of piping hot blueberry pie covered in homemade whipped cream. But, you're just following the doctor's orders...

Yes, it may be true - researchers at the University of Chicago report that adding food, especially high fat food, to a new breast cancer drug enhances its effectiveness. The drug, Tykerb, is a product of GalxoSmithKline.

The findings contradict the "take on an empty stomach" admonition carried by many drugs. The scientists explain that the liver metabolizes many drugs through the same process it uses to break down foods. Fortunately, it appears the liver is a poor multi-tasker. While its attention is focused on breaking down the foods it ignores the drugs, allowing them to circulate in the bloodstream longer.

This means that a lower dose can have the same effect. It's potentially quite significant news, particularly given the high cost of many cancer treatment medications.

Oh, you remember that whole thing about not drinking grapefruit juice with your medications? Well... It appears just the opposite may be true, with grapefruit juice providing a final boost to a drug's impact by slowing its breakdown.

A word of caution: This is in the study phase. While it appears quite promising, no changes should yet be made based on these results.

But, while we wait for the final word, maybe just a bite or two of chocolate pie would...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, see this from breastcancer.org.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Take a Hike

news you may not knowLooking Good...

Ah, the weekend. This is great. You've decided you're finally going to get serious about your health and, with all the talk about walking, you think it's a good way to start. So, let's see. Maybe the Internet will give you some guidance. So, you plop down in the chair and start to surf.

...Six agonizing hours later, you give it all up. You've visited well over 100 sites that tout the benefits of walking - and come away with about 70 different recommendations on how to "do it right." Arghh!! Can it really be this difficult?

Well, maybe not quite this difficult - but, the number of programs, plans, and promises does quickly overwhelm one's resolve. Let's face it. It took a lot simply to decide to exercise. Now, you want to keep it simple.

Dr. James Levine, of Mayo Clinic, agrees. He says to forget about all the fancy programs and concentrate on one thing: get outside and walk. Around the block, down the street, to the mall and back, past the creek - fast or slow, long or short, all at once or with a break or two...

Sorry... But, you get the idea. Dr. Levine says all walking is good for what ails you. And, he points out, it's free and requires no fancy equipment. It's the perfect do-it-yourself exercise program.

Consider these benefits of walking:

-Walking reduces your risk of heart attack.

-It helps you maintain a healthy blood pressure.

-It helps you manage your weight.

-Walking reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

-Walking is a stress buster - it puts a smile on your face.

So, what are you waiting for?

That's right. Take a good, hard look at yourself in the mirror. Then, mustering all your resolve, tell yourself to "Take a hike!"

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about the health benefits of walking, see this from the Mayo Clinic, or this from walkinginfo.org.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Do Food Police Ensure Healthy Eating?

tidbits that tantalizeConstable McAdams - Croissant Division

Oxford University.

How can this be? When you think of Oxford, you think of hallowed halls, brilliant minds, and arcane academic pursuits. But...

Researchers at Oxford now say they want to formalize the Food Police. OK, so it's not really police for which they're calling. However, they do want to tax foods they deem to be unhealthy. You know the types - pastries, cakes, cheese and butter. They say the tax would reduce midline bulging by encourage people to think twice before indulging.

The team points to the additional taxes already levied on cigarettes and alcohol as an example of government promoting healthy lifestyles. Opponents say the tax would impinge on personal freedom and say the government should encourage healthy living by assuring high quality foods are available at reasonable prices.

17.5%

That's the tax figure the team recommends be assessed on those oh-so-good, but oh-so-bad tasty treats. No word on what they propose to do with the funds collected through the Value Added Tax (VAT). Yes, in a bow to politicians worldwide, the team refers to the tax as one with Value... Try explaining that to little Jessie and James when you tell them their omelets won't have any cheese this morning - or real eggs. Hmm...

It makes one long for days gone by - days of hallowed halls, brilliant minds, and arcane academic pursuits...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about living a Food Police free, healthy lifestyle, see this from England's Heart of Mersey.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Hispanic Paradox Refuted by a Pair of Docs

news you may not knowIs That A Good Thing?

Yes, the "pair of docs" is an old and cheap ploy. But, what about the Hispanic Paradox itself? Well, if you are late to the game, you may be out of luck. A new study refutes the paradox and, wanting hard science on your side, you'll need to dig a bit deeper for water-cooler trivia.

The Hispanic Paradox, widely accepted until now, suggests that Hispanics living in the United States are healthier than their white counterparts. This was believed to be the case despite their lower levels of education and earnings. But, researchers at USC and UCLA are now saying, "Not so fast, amigo."

Their study, based upon data from the National Health and Nutrition Survey, found that Mexican-born immigrants are indeed as healthy as whites. But, for Mexican-Americans born in the United States the story is less hopeful. Hispanics born north of the border are a sickly lot - they fall well behind not only white Americans, but those Hispanics who began their life's journey elsewhere and then immigrated to the United States.

It seems the American Dream comes with strings attached. Or, in this case, French fries, milk shakes, and cable television.

The researchers postulate that two primary forces explain the undoing of the paradox. First, it's likely only the healthiest Hispanics make the move to the United States, while those who are sick or disabled stay behind. Second, and more telling, is the lifestyle adopted by those Hispanics born within the Land of Way More Than Plenty. Poor dietary habits, smoking and inactive lifestyles place American-born Hispanics at greater risk of diabetes, high blood pressure, and coronary artery disease than those born abroad.

So, is this the beginning of a new paradox - one in which pregnant Hispanics rush to Mexico to give birth in hope of raising healthy little chicos y chicas? Hmm...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about being a healthy kid, see this from KidsHealth.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Trouble With Trampolines

tidbits that tantalizeWhat Goes Up...

You want your kids to exercise. But, facing stiff competition from 250 cable channels of mind-numbing delight, you're at a real disadvantage. Then, thumbing through the Sunday paper, you stumble across the answer. The local sporting goods store has a big sale this weekend - on trampolines. So, you hop out of your recliner and bounce on down.

And, you're not alone. In 2004, 1.2 million trampolines were sold. But, is this really the best way - or even a good way - for kids to get their exercise?

Not according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Based on their review of safety issues, the AAP recommends trampolines, "never be used in the home environment, in routine physical education classes, or in outdoor playgrounds." Seems a bit harsh, don't you think?

...Maybe not.

Consider the findings from Rhode Island Hospital's recent study. They find trampoline injuries are on the rise. Annual visits to the emergency room for treatment now number over 88,000 - more than double the number of visits in the 1990s. The most frequent injuries are soft tissue (sprains), followed by fractures and dislocations. Ouch! Kids between 5 and 12 - the age group having the most fun (?) - represent 71% of those injured.

So, while the goal of getting your children to exercise is fabulous, maybe the trampoline is not the way to go. Unless, of course, you have a new health care plan you can't wait to try out...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about the benefits of children exercising, see this from KidsHealth.


Sunday, July 15, 2007

Is Yawning Air Conditioning for the Brain?

tidbits that tantalizeMaybe A Yawn Would Help...

Interesting. Not critical, or earth shattering. But, if you're bored - more about that later - take a minute and consider the humble yawn.

It's a universal act of man, regardless of heritage or culture. It's spontaneous, occurring when and where it darn well pleases, offering no apologies to the close-at-hand conversationalists enamored with their own tales. It's a sprinter, lasting on average a mere six seconds. It has the ability to raise one's heart rate a full 30%. It holds universal appeal, inducing over 50% of those who witness a yawn to partake of one themselves within the following five minutes.

But, why do we yawn?

Ah, well - if you can answer that, please step to the front of the class and claim your reward. There is a long line of notable researchers and scholars who will shake your hand, pat you on the back, and do their best to inhibit their desire to yawn until they seek the refuge of the hallway.

Theories as to why we yawn are plentiful: we yawn to increase our oxygen intake, or to expel carbon dioxide; yawning is an evolutionary holdover, originally intended to intimidate foes by baring one's teeth; yawning is the natural response to longwinded speeches and poorly written screenplays - the boredom factor.

However, researchers at the State University of New York at Albany say, "Not so fast!" They contend that yawning plays a much more critical role: it cools the brain.

The scientists studied the number of spontaneous yawns induced in three groups. Two of the groups performed activities known to cool the brain (breathing through the nose, and applying cold packs to the forehead). The third group - the Hot Heads - applied hot packs to their foreheads. All three groups then watched video clips that included people yawning.

The Hot Heads fell in line, yawning on cue, while yawning was virtually nonexistent in the other two groups. Hmm...

So, when you're next confronted with a situation calling for "cooler heads to prevail," you'll know what to do. A simple yawn or two should do the trick...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about yawning, see this from How Stuff Works.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Alcohol Addiction and Abuse Widespread

news you may not knowMaybe The Stairs Would Be Better...

You step onto an elevator by yourself and press the button for the 15th floor. A second rider joins you on the second floor, and then a third on floor three. Now, look at your fellow riders and see if you can tell which one has abused alcohol. If they both look innocent, then check out your own reflection. Statistics tell us that one-in-three has abused or been addicted to alcohol.

It's really quite remarkable. If you continue to pick up a single new rider at each floor, by the time you step off the elevator on fifteen, odds are there will be five people for whom alcohol has been a problem. Thank goodness you didn't have to go all the way to the 72nd floor.

Researchers at Columbia University Medical Center in New York reported the results of a survey involving over 43,000 adults. They found that almost 18% had abused alcohol at some point in their lives, and that over 12% had been dependent on it. The current active rates of abuse and dependence were lower, with just under 5% having abused alcohol within the past year, and slightly less than 4% having been dependent in the last year.

Sadly, of those impacted, fewer than 25% seek treatment. Also of note is the age of those affected - most first exhibit an alcohol problem between the ages of 21 and 22. It certainly points to the dangers inherent in young adulthood.

So, while a return to the days of Eliot Ness may not be necessary, caution is certainly called for. Oh, and, when it comes to elevators - consider taking the stairs...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about alcohol abuse and addiction, and to find resources to help overcome a problem, see this from About.com, or this from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Do Dietary Supplements Need an Office?

tidbits that tantalizeWhere's The Phone?

Who Ya Gonna Call?

Well, if you were around in 1984, you know the only reasonable answer is, Ghost Busters! But, what if your difficulty has nothing to do with the paranormal, and everything to do with the more pressing issues of health and wellbeing? In this case, the question is, "Who ya gonna call when you need the real scoop on vitamins and supplements?"

Yes, of course, there exists an endless world of possibilities. Consider these more common sources of guidance: your holistic health care practitioner; the vitamin guru at your local health food store; your sister from Spokane, who "Really knows her stuff;" and, of course, the, "I've heard this really works wonders," juicy tidbit of wisdom you overhear at the checkout stand.

It's a tough choice, to be sure.

But, did you know the United States government has an official office dedicated to this? Indeed, the Office of Dietary Supplements, within the National Institutes of Health, was established in 1995. Its purpose is to, "strengthen knowledge and understanding of dietary supplements by evaluating scientific information, stimulating and supporting research, disseminating research results, and educating the public to foster an enhanced quality of life and health for the U.S. population."

That's a significant goal. How are they doing so far?

Hmm... That's difficult to say. But, a woman in the checkout line at Whole Foods was overheard saying...

To learn more, visit the Office of Dietary Supplements.


Monday, July 09, 2007

Sunshine No Guarantee of Vitamin D

news you may not knowGimme The D...

Are you feeling fortified today? Good - it's likely your Vitamin D level is up to snuff. But, if you're feeling a bit brittle, grab a glass of milk and head outdoors. Both milk and sunshine are excellent sources of Vitamin D. Milk because it's been fortified with the vitamin since the 1930s; sunshine causes a photochemical reaction in the skin, resulting in natural production of Vitamin D.

Vitamin D is particularly critical to the health of our bones, and deficiency has been linked to rickets, osteomalacia, and osteoporosis. Rickets is a childhood disease, and osteomalacia a bone thinning disease. Osteoporosis, of course, is a disease resulting in weaker bones and increased risk of fractures.

Until recently, it was believed that adequate exposure to sunshine was a sure fire way to fill up your Vitamin D tank. But, scientists from the University of Wisconsin now say that may not be the case. They studied the effect of sunshine on Vitamin D levels in people living in Hawaii. Hmm... I wonder if their research forced them to travel to the sunny isles in the middle of the harsh Wisconsin winter...

They found even the sun-drenched denizens of Hawaii, averaging over 20 hours per week outside, were not guaranteed adequate Vitamin D levels. In fact, 51% of those studied actually had a Vitamin D deficiency.

The researchers say, in light of these results, they will establish ongoing studies and winter in Hawaii for the next several years.

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about Vitamin D, see this from the Office of Dietary Supplements, or this from the Mayo Clinic.

Photo courtesy of thiagofest.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

4 Simple Steps Reduce Death Risk 40%

tidbits that tantalizeCome On - You Can Do This...

If you ate your way through your twenties, and worked your way through your thirties, you're probably showing a bit of wear. But, don't despair. You have a long-lost friend in South Carolina who's going to help you regain the vigor of your teenage years - or, at least help you bring the downward spiral to a screeching halt.

Dr. Dana King, of the University of South Carolina, reports rather stunning results concerning the impact of midlife lifestyle changes. It takes a mere four years - think about that - to effectively reverse the damage done in those years of work and wantons. But...

There's a plan you must follow to achieve these results. It's not a complicated plan, and it requires no special tools. It requires only the full participation of one critical component for success: your horribly neglected body.

So, take these simple steps to reduce your risk of heart disease by 35%, and your risk of death by 40%:

-Eat five or more fruits and vegetables each day

-Exercise a minimum of 2.5 hours each week

-Maintain a healthy weight

-Stop smoking

That's it. Do these four simple things and, at the end of four years, you'll be on a par with the folks who have been doing them all along. Wow - it's a bargain!

But - you have to do all four. Completing only 3 of the 4 showed little, if any, reward.

So, come on - toss that butt, grab an apple, take a walk, and shed a pound or two. That's it - Welcome to the first day of the rest of your healthy life!

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read more about leading a healthy lifestyle, see this from the Heart of Mersey.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Is Recovery From Hip Surgery a State of Mind?

news you may not knowMy Doctor Says I'm Better, But...

It's an age-old debate. Scientists point to indisputable measurements, reproducible test results, and emotionless logic. The common woman of the day leads with her heart, and hopes her mind will come along for the ride. So, when it comes to medicine, who's right?

Hmm...

Researchers at the Saint Louis University School of Medicine (SLU) studied patients who had undergone hip surgeries. They were interested in evaluating a patient's recovery, from their own perspective, as well as that of their surgeon. Not surprisingly, they found there is often a major disconnect in the assessment of progress.

Surgeons utilize a standard clinical measurement to determine hip function. This physical assessment serves as the foundation of the physician's evaluation, but may not always be in line with a patient's own assessment. Though the surgeon may consider progress to be excellent, the SLU team found patients often disagreed, complaining that they still had aches and pains.

The researchers suggest the difficulty may extend beyond the cold facts of physical recovery and have more to do with the patient's emotional state. Ah, yes - this strikes at the heart of cold logic versus warm heart, doesn't it? The team believes the sudden loss of mobility, and associated sense of dependence, may exacerbate existing depressions, or set off a new episode of depression.

What's the answer? The SLU team recommends surgeons pay more attention to their patient's emotional state, and consider involving a psychologist or social worker in patient care process.

What's the other answer? Ah, the other answer is yes - the age-old debate between mind and heart will continue for as long as there are women with keen minds and strong hearts...

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about living a healthy and emotionally balanced life, see this from WebMD.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Daily Meditation Yields Focus

tidbits that tantalizeRelax? - Who Has Time For That?!

Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania say the key to managing life's details is to clear your mind of... life's details.

The researchers assessed the effect of meditation on the ability to focus and manage life's tasks. The results suggest that a daily dose of mind-clearing meditation is not only good for the soul, but helps keep us organized as well.

The scientist's primary focus dealt with effects of meditation on three areas of attention: the ability to prioritize tasks, the ability to focus, and the ability to stay alert. Two groups participated in the study: The Committed Group (CG) completed an eight-week course that included 30 minutes per day of meditation; the Insanely Committed Group (ICG) participated in a rigorous one-month retreat dedicated to meditation.

The researchers assessed participant's ability to perform computer related tasks indicative of cognitive focus and agility. At the outset, those in the ICG group, who were more experienced with mediation, showed greater ability to focus and manage tasks. However, by the study's conclusion, the neophyte meditation participants of the CG group showed greater improvement in their ability to quickly manage and shift their focus.

It's a bit of a paradox, but those with the heaviest demands on their time, may actually benefit most from the 30-minute-per-day routine. Rather than a wildly unfocused dash through the rigors of life, they may find themselves doing the rather extraordinary - smiling.

To read more about the study, see this from ScienceDaily. To read more about the University of Pennsylvania's "mindfulness meditation," see this from the Penn Program for Stress Management.


Sunday, July 01, 2007

New Vitamin Standards a Mixed Bag

news you may not knowHmm - Looks Pretty Good...

In keeping with the general tone of the vitamin and supplements industry, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) new standards are less than complete.

Vitamins, herbs, and dietary supplements are an $18-billion-a-year phenomenon. Think about it. Name one person you know who doesn't take some form of supplemental vim, vigor or vitality in a bottle. Hmm...

But, as recent news out of China spirals from bad to worse to, "Where will it stop?", the spotlight of public scrutiny has intensified. The battle lines are decades old - how much right does the government have to regulate "natural" products? After all, what harm can come from taking a bit of milk thistle, dandelion extract, or an energy booster consisting of Ginko Biloba, Bee Pollen, and Ginseng?

Well...

That depends, one might say, on whether the supplement really contains those natural ingredients - in the amounts reported on their labels.

This is the part of the new regulation that seems to make sense. The product labels must accurately reflect the content of the magic little pills within. This is only to be expected and, not to look a gift horse in the mouth, makes one wonder what took quite so long? The congress gave the FDA the power to establish and enforce such standards in 1994...

The other stellar aspect of the regulation is the assurance the supplements are free of contamination. This is also exceptionally reasonable and, likely, something the majority of Americans already thought to be routine.

Is there a down side?

Opponents point to the continuing lack of scientific evidence required within the industry. Vitamins and herbs don't face the same testing and clinical trial requirements as prescription drugs.

But then again, what harm can come from taking a bit of milk thistle, dandelion extract...

Ah - let the debates begin...

To read more about the study, see this from Reuters. To read about the advantages of taking a daily multivitamin, see this from the Harvard School of Public Health.