Could it Be Menopause?

01/04/2012

 

from the Menopause Health Center

 

You’re 40 and suddenly it seems as if you’re falling apart. You wake in the morning soaked in sweat, despite the ceiling fan above. You can’t lose those last five pounds no matter how hard you try. Your interest in sex has gone the way of…well it’s just gone. And suddenly you’re spending more time browsing the face cream aisle than the ice cream aisle.

 

Could this be the start of menopause?

 

Before we try to answer that question, let’s get the nomenclature right. First, there really is no “start” to menopause. Menopause is actually just one day — the day on which you’ve gone twelve consecutive months without menstruating. Normal menopause can occur any time between ages 40 and 58, although the average age is 51.4.

 

The day after that magical day of menopause, you’re considered postmenopausal. The day before: premenopausal. Then there’s this other phase called perimenopause. And that, my friend, may be the realm you’ve entered.

 

Perimenopause refers to the transitional time before menopause. It can last a few months or, most likely, a few years. It usually starts in your forties, although it can begin earlier in some women. The primary cause is loss of follicles in the ovaries, leading to slowly declining estrogen levels as your ovaries age. This decline isn’t consistent, however, which is why your symptoms may come and go as often as your college-aged children.

 

Tests Not Available

 

Unfortunately, there is no conclusive test that can tell you that you are, indeed, in the menopausal transition. No, not even those over-the-counter tests that purport to pinpoint your hormone levels. That’s because those tests, with names like Estroven, Menocheck and RU25 Plus, are designed to measure levels of a hormone called follicle stimulating hormone, or FSH. Your body releases this hormone when estrogen levels drop, because it signals the ovaries to produce more estrogen. So, the thinking goes, if FSH levels are high, it means estrogen levels are low, ergo you’re approaching menopause.

 

And indeed, for years gynecologists used this hormonal measurement as an indicator of menopause. But it turns out that estrogen levels fluctuate nearly as much as the stock market — not only day-to-day, but from morning to night. So a single FSH measure, even a couple, is really no indication of menopausal status.

 

Instead, you’re better off evaluating your status by your symptoms. These include:

 

  • Hot flashes and night sweats.
    Called vasomotor symptoms, we’re still not sure what causes them. Somehow, it seems, declining estrogen plays havoc with your body’s temperature controls, increasing your core temperature and triggering your body’s cooling attempt — sweating. Hot flashes are the second most common menopause-related symptom, affecting about 75 percent of women. It’s also one of the most bothersome. The bad news: In some women, they continue even after menopause itself.
  • Irregular periods.
    Fluctuating hormone levels mean strange things may be happening to your periods. You may find them coming more often — every 24 days instead of every 28 days, for example — or less often. You can even skip several periods in a row only to have them return on a regular basis. You may also find that your periods are considerably heavier or lighter than they used to be, and that they last longer or shorter than they used to.
  • Problems sleeping.
    We don’t really know if fluctuating hormone levels contribute to the sleep problems women say are so common during this time of life. It could be that the night sweats interfere with sleep, or that the stresses of this time of life, including teenaged children, aging parents and career transitions, keep you awake. Regardless, studies find that more women report insomnia as they move through midlife, primarily the type that involves waking up in the middle of the night.
  • Headaches.
    You may find you’re having more headaches, particularly around your period. And if you’ve always been prone to premenstrual headaches, you may find they’re more severe and last longer. The good news? Once you reach menopause, you should experience far fewer headaches.
  • Mood swings.
    There’s good evidence that perimenopausal women experience more irritability, fatigue and “blue moods,” during the perimenopausal transition than before. Again, this could be related to shifting hormonal levels, but is more likely related to midlife stressors. If these mood swings become so intense they interfere with your normal life, however, you should seek professional help.
  • Vaginal dryness.
    Estrogen plays a key role in maintaining the moistness and flexibility of the vagina. So as levels drop, you may find you feel “drier” down there. You may notice other changes, such as a discharge or odor, and you may even find you have problems with some urine leakage.

 

Although all the symptoms listed above are representative of perimenopause, they can also be caused by numerous medical issues. So regardless of whether you think your symptoms are from this midlife transition, it’s important to see your health care professional for a complete medical and psychological evaluation. He or she can rule out any other medical conditions and confirm whether you are or aren’t in the menopausal transition.

 

 For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit

 

the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

 

 

 

Menopause: www.healthywomen.org/condition/menopause

 

 

 

Menopause Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/menopause

 

 

 

 

 

© 2011 HealthyWomen.  All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.

 

 

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How the Computer May Be Damaging Your Eyes

12/20/2011

from the Eye Health Center

Call it the revenge of the electronic screens. Many of us spend hours each day peering at computer screens, televisions, hand-held devices, cell phones, GPS monitors and more. The result: dry eyes, irritation, blurred vision, double vision, headache, and tiredness.

There’s a word for this group of symptoms, or, rather, three words: “computer vision syndrome.” If the proliferation of eye drop products on store shelves is any measure, computer vision syndrome is an increasingly common problem. Here are a few suggestions to help your eyes feel more comfortable:

  • It’s easy to forget about blinking when you’re staring intently at a screen, so blink more often.
  • Women are more likely to have dry eyes than men. You may want to try over-the-counter eye drops known as “artificial tears.” These are available as lubricated, saline, homeopathic and other types. Using a humidifier may also help.
  • Turn down the lights. Reduce the wattage in desk lamps and adjust window blinds to cut down on screen glare.
  • Schedule rest breaks for your eyes during your workday. The American Optometric Association recommends resting your eyes for 15 minutes after working continuously for two hours on an electronic screen. In addition, every 20 minutes, look up from the screen and refocus your eyes on a distant object.
  • Want to try an alternative approach? A study in India tested 291 people who used computers at work and had similar levels of visual strain and discomfort. The researchers, who were from a yoga research foundation, put half of the subjects in a group that practiced an hour of yoga daily, five days a week. The others did their normal recreational activities for the same amount of time. After 60 days, the yoga group had reduced their eye discomfort, while the other group had increased amounts.
  • The easiest suggestion of all? Clean your screen frequently. Dust and smears make words harder to read, causing you more eyestrain.

 For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit

the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

 

Dry Eye Syndrome: www.healthywomen.org/condition/dry-eye-syndrome

 

Eye Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/eye-health

 

 

© 2011 HealthyWomen.  All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.

 

 

 


Stress Less in 7 Steps

12/04/2011

from the Healthy Living area

You know the feeling: the more you do, the more it seems you have to do. As challenges mount in your work, relationships, finances and health—sometimes in several areas of your life at once—they can easily turn from trying to overwhelming.

The source of your stress may be temporary, such as producing a big holiday party, so the pressure ends in a short time. More serious stressors are long-lasting or out of your control, such as what the stock market is doing or a major medical problem.

Yet, often, we take responsibility for solving every detail, every problem, every adversity, whether it’s realistic or even sensible to do so.

“Women are always chronically multitasking and under stress. This year (with the economic crisis), in particular, it’s more difficult,” says Nancy Molitor, PhD, an assistant professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Northwestern University, Feinberg School of Medicine, Chicago.

Preventing stress in real life may be virtually impossible, but managing it well is extremely important for both your physical and emotional health.

When stress hits

Stress floods your body with hormones, weakens your immune system, affects brain function and worsens many chronic medical conditions.

While short-term stress might cause worry or a sleepless night, stress that lasts longer can produce or contribute to high blood pressure, digestive difficulties, fatigue, heart problems, neck and back pain, obesity, breathing disorders, headaches, insomnia, anger, depression, lowered sexual desire, and more. Fortunately, there are many good ways to short-circuit the effects of stress (see suggestions below).

People differ in what triggers their stress as well as in which methods successfully manage it. What works to lower your stress might not work for your best friend. The wisest course is to find several effective de-stressing techniques. “You have to have a whole bunch of things in your toolkit,” says Dr. Molitor, who is also a psychologist in private practice in Wilmette, Illinois, and a Public Education Coordinator for the American Psychological Association.

To manage stress, she says, you need to develop ways to pace yourself and take time out. Stress relievers are vital, she adds, “like paying yourself first, or putting on your oxygen mask (on an airplane) before taking care of your kids.”

Facing challenges

Ramona Russell has been on the Stress Express ever since going to college full-time while working three jobs. “I have a very Type A personality and I’m intense. I’m a recovering perfectionist,” she says.

When she was 29, Russell had a demanding job working for a start-up nonprofit organization in Sacramento. “I did everything, from training volunteers to public relations and marketing.” Then the unthinkable happened: her younger sister, Liz, just 26 years old, was diagnosed with advanced breast cancer. At the same time, the nonprofit Russell worked for began to sink. “It made what was going on with my sister so much worse,” she recalls.

Although she had not been much of an athlete in her teen years, Russell had taken up running after college and ran in a marathon the year before her sister’s diagnosis. After her employer folded, Russell put off looking for another job so she could help with her sister’s care. She credits regular running (about 25 miles per week when she’s not training for a marathon) with reducing the ongoing stress she was experiencing. “It helped keep me focused and enabled me to better support my sister,” she says.

Repetitive exercise, such as running, brings forth the stress-busting “relaxation response,” according to research conducted by Herbert Benson, MD, of the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. Benson and his colleagues found that the relaxation response changes the way your body and brain react to stress. Put simply, you slow your metabolism, heart rate and breathing; lower your blood pressure; and reduce muscle tension. Recent research shows that the relaxation response can change gene expression for long-term benefits.

That process worked for Russell as she coped with her sister’s illness and death, the loss of two other young family members and separation from her brother, who enlisted and went to war. “When I run, I feel things melt away,” she says. “It gives you energy you didn’t have.” Running also sparked an idea for a business that Russell, now 33, created in her sister’s memory. Called Uptown Liz (www.uptownliz.com), the shopping Web site refers customers to products that benefit charitable causes.

Stress-busters that work

Don’t worry—you can get good stress relief from exercise without running a marathon. “There’s tons of research on this,” says Dr. Molitor. “Physical exercise of a very moderate amount, two times a week or more, is the best thing you can do to cope with chronic stress.”

  • Understand what you can control: Stress often comes from trying to control situations or people’s actions that are beyond our control. Avoidance also raises stress. Recognize the choices you do have, Dr. Molitor advises. You may not be able to control world financial markets, but you can read your statements, control how you invest and make choices about how to spend your available income.
  • Say good things about yourself: This one is so simple, but many of us reinforce our stress by piling on with an internal negative voice. Research shows that affirming your personal values keeps production of cortisol, the stress hormone, low. The next time you catch yourself putting yourself down in your thoughts, say or write something good about yourself instead. And make the goals you set for yourself realistic.
  • Encourage the relaxation response: Try activities that use repetitive motion or sounds while also pushing aside everyday thoughts that might pop up. This helps quiet your mind. Good stress-relieving repetitive activities: knitting, running, prayer, playing a musical instrument, meditating or chanting a word or phrase.
  • Keep meals and sleep healthy: Eat more veggies, fruits and whole grains. Avoid sugar, caffeine and fatty foods as much as possible. Good fuel promotes emotional resilience and calm. And avoid eating when you’re not hungry—another sign of chronic stress that can just lead to more tense feelings. Stress might also cause sleep loss, which makes you feel more stressed. Support healthy sleep by winding down at night, avoiding caffeine or food before bed and leaving enough time for a good night’s rest.
  • Find a passion: Stress can narrow your vision, so it helps to move outside the boundaries of your current situation. Start with a small step—a one-night class in an artistic interest you haven’t pursued before or two hours of volunteer effort for a community or charitable project—then see where that first step takes you. Many women find stress relief through a new passion for a career, hobby or cause.

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit

the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

 

Stress: www.healthywomen.org/condition/stress

 

Healthy Living: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/managing-stress

Mental Health Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/mental-health

Wellness in Practice Blog: www.healthywomen.org/womentalk/blog/wellness-practice

 

 

 

 

© 2011 HealthyWomen.  All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.

 


Simple Tips for Lowering Your Cholesterol

09/12/2011

from the Heart Health Center

 For many Americans working toward better heart health, an important first step is getting cholesterol to a healthy level. Diet and exercise are important steps to reduce high cholesterol. However, many people may find that with diet and exercise alone, cholesterol numbers are not where they should be. More than one hundred million Americans have high cholesterol, an important risk factor for heart disease. Though diet is very important, many people don’t realize that cholesterol is also produced in the body based upon heredity. Learning about your family health history is important—we recommend talking to your family about their health and creating a family health tree.

 Bringing this information to your next doctor visit will help you discuss your family history regarding cholesterol and other hereditary health concerns. Understanding Cholesterol What you eat affects your health, by raising or lowering the blood fats (cholesterol, triglycerides) that circulate through your body. Some foods increase your levels of total cholesterol, LDL or “bad” cholesterol and triglycerides. Over the years, excess cholesterol and fat are deposited in the inner walls of the arteries that supply blood to your heart. Eventually, these deposits can make your arteries narrower and less flexible, a condition known as atherosclerosis. Left unchecked, this buildup can lead to heart attack, stroke and death. Additionally, because of your family health history, your body may be genetically predisposed to make more cholesterol than you may need, in addition to the cholesterol from your food intake.

 Know your numbers!

Each one of us has a cholesterol goal level, based upon our individual risk factors and our risk for heart disease. The National Cholesterol Education Program (NCEP) recommends that everyone age 20 and over have a blood cholesterol test every five years to check their cholesterol levels.

 To learn more about your goal, visit http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/chd for the National Cholesterol Education Program’s Live Healthier, Live Longer Web site.

 If your cholesterol levels are mildly to moderately higher than your goal, making a few dietary changes may be all you need to get back on track. According to current NCEP recommendations, people with coronary heart disease or others considered to be at high risk for coronary heart disease generally have an LDL cholesterol goal of less than 100 mg/dL. An LDL cholesterol goal of less than 70 mg/dL is a therapeutic option for people considered to be at very high risk. Work with your doctor to develop a plan to help reduce your LDL cholesterol number to goal. Here are guidelines for your cholesterol and triglyceride levels according to NCEP guidelines (new guidelines will be released in 2010): Total blood cholesterol levels less than 200 mg/dL Desirable 200 to 239 mg/dL Borderline high 240 mg/dL or above High LDL blood cholesterol levels less than 100 mg/dL Optimal 100 to 129 mg/dL Near optimal/above optimal 130 to 159 mg/dL Borderline high 160 to 189 mg/dL High 190 mg/dL and above Very High HDL blood cholesterol levels above 60 mg/dL. Levels above 60 mg/dL are considered especially beneficial and can offset risk factors for heart disease, according to NHLBI. The higher the level, the healthier it is. Optimal 50 to 60 mg/dL for women; 40 to 50 mg/dL for men Average less than 50 mg/dL for women; less than 40 mg/dL for men. Below these levels is considered a major risk factor for heart disease. Low Triglyceride levels less than 150 mg/dL Normal 150 to 199 mg/dL Borderline High 200 to 499 mg/dL High 500 mg/dL or higher Very high It is important to remember that these recommendations are for healthy individuals, not for women with existing risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, kidney disease, being overweight, smoking or having a family history of heart disease. If you are at risk for heart disease, your target goals likely will be lower.

Fighting Back:  There are things that you can do now to help you gain a better understanding of your risk factors and perhaps lower your chances of high cholesterol and heart disease. For starters, it’s important that you eat right, get plenty of exercise, as recommended by your physician, and begin to understand your family health history. A healthy diet may help reduce total cholesterol. In general, you want to get “good” cholesterol higher and “bad” cholesterol lower. You can still enjoy a wide variety of foods by making healthful dietary choices and changes. If elevated cholesterol is part of your family genetics, or you have other conditions such as heart disease or diabetes, you may need medication in addition to eating a heart-healthy diet. But whether you have normal cholesterol, high levels, or are currently taking a cholesterol-lowering drug, eating a healthy diet is important for everyone. Good fats/bad fats Fats can be good for you and your heart, when they’re the right kind and consumed in limited amounts; but even good fat is packed with calories. Those include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which decrease “bad” cholesterol, and omega-3 fatty acids, which lower triglycerides. Unsaturated fats are liquid at room temperature. Monounsaturated fats include olive oil, canola oil and peanut oil. Polyunsaturated fats include corn oil, safflower oil and soybean oil. Saturated fats are the bad guys that may endanger your heart. They increase LDL or “bad” cholesterol more than anything else in your diet. Saturated fats, found mostly in animal products, are hard at room temperature or in the refrigerator. Think butter, shortening, fat on and in meat and poultry skin. Whole milk or two-percent milk products, half-and-half and cream all have a lot of saturated fat. Tropical oils—coconut, palm and palm kernel oils—also contain a lot of saturated fats. These oils are used in commercially baked crackers, cookies and non-dairy creamers. Foods containing saturated fats often also contain high amounts of cholesterol, which is only found in animal products. Trans fats are another culprit to watch out for. Trans fats raise “bad” cholesterol. Trans fats are found in foods made with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils—stick margarine and some store-bought cookies and cakes, fast-food French fries, potato chips and other snacks. Read your food labels before purchasing. If there are .5 grams or less of trans fats in an item, the company can claim 0 trans fats on the label, so check the ingredient list for hydrogenated oils.

Heart-Healthy Choices

1. Switch your dairy Make the change from whole or two-percent milk to one-percent and then to skim, for drinking and in recipes. Or try almond milk or rice milk for a nondairy alternative. Use low-fat or nonfat sour cream, yogurt, cream cheese and ice cream. 2. Choose lean cuts Beef tenderloin, sirloin, eye of round, ground beef with 10 percent or less fat and pork tenderloin are good choices. Other alternatives include white meat chicken or turkey. Remove the skin before cooking any poultry. 3. Cook with monounsaturated or polyunsaturated Oils These include olive, canola, peanut, safflower, sunflower, sesame and soybean oils. 4. Use more plant-based proteins instead of animal products These include beans and peas—black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans, chickpeas, lentils—and tofu or soy. Try veggie burgers (soy-based or grain-based) for an alternative to beef. 5. Boost your intake of foods that are high in soluble fiber This type of fiber binds to cholesterol in the digestive tract and helps remove it from your body. Good sources include oatmeal, oatmeal bread, oat bran cereal, beans and peas, apples, bananas and citrus fruits. 6. Increase whole grains in your diet Choose bread with at least 3 grams of dietary fiber per slice, whole-grain pastas and brown rice. 7. Use products containing plant sterol and stanol esters These components help keep your body from absorbing cholesterol. Consuming two to three grams a day decreases LDL cholesterol by 6 percent to 15 percent. Food products that have added cholesterol-lowering sterols and stanols include margarines, orange juice and yogurt. 8. Eat fatty fish twice a week Choose wild salmon over farm-raised to reduce possible toxin exposure. Pregnant or nursing women and children should limit tuna intake to 6 ounces a week and avoid swordfish, due to concerns about methyl mercury levels. 9. Increase the amounts of fruits and vegetables you eat Most women should have 1-1/2 cups of fruit and 2 to 2-1/2 cups of vegetables (without cheese sauce!) every day, according to new guidelines. Adding more of these to your diet fills you up, adds fiber and important nutrients and helps replace foods with saturated fats. For details on the new dietary recommendations, visit http://www.mypyramid.gov . 10. Keep an eye on dietary cholesterol Dietary cholesterol, such as is found in eggs, dairy products and some other foods, may raise cholesterol in the blood slightly, but newer studies find that consumption of dietary cholesterol is unlikely to substantially increase risk of coronary heart disease or stroke among healthy men and women. If you have other existing health conditions or risk factors for heart disease, such as diabetes, kidney disease, being overweight, smoking or having a family history of heart disease, you may need to monitor dietary cholesterol more closely. Egg yolks are filled with dietary cholesterol—213 milligrams in each. If you have elevated cholesterol, the National Cholesterol Education Program recommends you keep your consumption under 200 milligrams per day. Egg whites are cholesterol-free, so use two for each whole egg in recipes, or use cholesterol-free egg substitute, which works well in baking and omelettes.

Heart-Healthy Tips for Eating Away from Home

 Here’s how to eat out and have a terrific meal without taking in too much fat and cholesterol: Preparation counts. Order your food fresh, sautéed, grilled/broiled, or poached. If sautéed or broiled, ask for it to be cooked with olive oil or without fat. Have sauces served on the side, so you add only what you need. Divide and conquer. Resist the pitfalls of inflated portions by eating only half of what you order. Take the rest home for an easy lunch or dinner the next day. Ask if you and your dining partner can share an entrée, with each of you ordering individual salads. Balance. Have the nachos if you really want them, but order a healthy entrée. Dessert isn’t a no-no—pick fresh fruit or sorbet. Enjoy the bread or rolls, just skip the butter and drizzle on olive oil. Sip slowly. Wine may raise HDL “good” cholesterol a bit, but there’s also evidence it can boost your triglyceride levels. Fast food stops are OK. Most fast-food restaurants now offer healthier items than a bacon double cheeseburger. Depending upon which chain you visit, you may find salads (ask for nonfat or olive oil dressings), grilled chicken, yogurt, baked potatoes and fresh fruit cups. Look for a heart-healthy symbol. Some restaurants put a heart or other sign next to healthful menu items. Choose from those.

 For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below. Heart Health Center: http://www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/heart-health Weight Management: http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/weight-management Heart Disease: http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/heart-disease Atherosclerosis: http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/atherosclerosis Metabolic Syndrome: http://www.healthywomen.org/condition/metabolic-syndrome Healthy Living: http://www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/diet-and-nutrition © 2011 HealthyWomen All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (tollfree). On the Web at: http://www.HealthyWomen.org.


Colon Cancer Screening: Don’t Delay It

08/31/2011

“It was no big deal. I don’t understand why people stress over it.”

“The procedure itself was totally painless and relatively easy.”

 “It was a piece of cake.”

No, we didn’t pay these 50-something women to give us these comments about their first colonoscopy. All we did was ask them to tell us honestly what it was like. Given the negative perception about colonoscopy, their responses might catch a few readers by surprise. It should also make you think twice about skipping your colorectal screening test. Because the reality is that colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer among women. Since it’s also one of the few cancers we can stop before it even gets started (by removing precancerous polyps found during screening colonoscopies), the idea of missing something so clearly helpful has more than a few experts scratching their proverbial heads. And you don’t have to get a colonoscopy.

Other tests are available, although they, too, are underutilized. The main reason women don’t get recommended colorectal cancer screenings? Their health care professional never suggests it. You’ll never find David Stein, MD, neglecting to mention colorectal screening to a patient. The colorectal surgeon at Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia sees all too often what happens when people neglect their screenings. That’s why Dr. Stein is a big believer in colonoscopy. The statistics are amazing, he says. “About two percent of all colonoscopies pick up a cancer at the time of the test and about 15 percent pick up polyps,” he says. So 17 percent of patients undergoing a colonoscopy—about one in five—will have a finding that will save them from cancer in the first place or a bad outcome if they have cancer. “Colonoscopy probably detects true cancers about one centimeter or larger about 90 to 93 percent of the time,” he says. And it’s extremely safe.

The worst part of the colonoscopy, many agree, is the prep. For years, that meant drinking a large quantity of a nasty tasting liquid (even though it came in several flavors), designed to “empty you out.” Today, however, depending on the recommendation from your colonoscopist, you may only need to take a handful of pills. You’ll still spend a few hours in the bathroom, but at least you don’t have to choke down that awful liquid. Plus, two of the other three screening tests for colon cancer (flexible sigmoidoscopy and double contrast barium enema) also require a bowel prep and neither is as sensitive as the colonoscopy. And here’s the irony: If they show polyps or cancers, you’ll still need a colonoscopy to evaluate and/or remove them for evaluation.

The one test that doesn’t require prep is a fecal occult blood test. With this test, you collect stool samples, which are tested for breakdown products of blood in stool. You have to abstain from iron pills, red meat or broccoli before the test, and it still has a high rate of false positives. Plus, you have to do it three times. “Fecal occult blood tests probably pick up problems 50 to 60 percent of the time,” says Dr. Stein, which, of course, means it misses about half of all cancers. And if it’s positive, you still need a colonoscopy.

A newer stool test evaluates the stool for DNA from the most common mutations found in colon cancer and large polyps. That test, Dr. Stein says, is about 85 percent effective. However, it’s still considered experimental and most insurances do not cover it. One day, Dr. Stein predicts, colonoscopy will take a back seat to an improved DNA fecal occult blood test, or to a virtual colonoscopy, in which your colon is examined via a CT or MRI. Right now, however, you still have to do a colon prep for an MRI or CT, and they’re not covered by insurance either unless you cannot undergo colonoscopy for some reason. And you face the same issue with the virtual colonoscopy as you do with any other non-colonoscopy test: If it finds something suspicious, you still need a colonoscopy to remove the “something” for testing.

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

Colon cancer: www.healthywomen.org/condition/colon-cancer

Cancer: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/cancer

© 2011 HealthyWomen. All rights reserved. Reprinted withpermission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll free). On the Web at:www.HealthyWomen.org.


Color Code Your Vegetables

08/01/2011

Color Code Your Vegetables

What a Painter’s Palette of Vegetables Can Do for You

by Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN

 

Fresh, colorful vegetables: dark green and leafy; red, ripe, and juicy; or bright orange and crunchy. This exquisite rainbow-colored cornucopia is truly the class of foods that keeps our arteries healthy and clean. Head for your green grocer and harness the phenomenal medicinal power of natural plant compounds. Buy them fresh, buy them often, and fill your body with a spectrum of healthy colors, nature’s medicine chest.

Studies show that heart disease death rate drops with each added vegetable serving!
That is why phytochemical-rich vegetables, such as spinach, are part of a plan I developed to reverse heart disease, and/or to build good heart health to hopefully avoid heart troubles. The other key food groups are olive oil, figs and other fruits, lentils and other legumes, salmon and other seafood, walnuts and flaxseeds, oatmeal and other whole grains, and red wine. Dark chocolate is a bonus food in this plan. Yeah!

 

I like to paint the colors of health by classifying and color coding vegetables into six colors, divided depending on their individual high concentration of phytochemicals (plant warriors against free radical destruction).

Here are the 6 categories:

 

1. Dark leafy greens and cruciferous vegetables such as spinach & broccoli
2. Red/purple vegetables such as tomatoes, beets and eggplant
3. Yellow/orange vegetables such as carrots and pumpkin
4. Green herbs such as basil and rosemary
5. Allium vegetables such as garlic and shallots
6. Other vegetables such as artichokes and zucchini

Vegetables are chock full of myriad polyphenols (the major disease-battling phytochemical), so be sure to tap into the miraculous healing power of plants. Consuming greens and other colorful vegetables throughout the day will boost your heart disease defense system by:

  • Increasing your body’s antioxidant level
  • Fighting inflammation
  • And, helping to prevent and treat diabetes

 

One additional advantage of frequent consumption of vegetables is that they are the perfect diet food — loaded with nutrients but very low in calories. Hence, eating your daily vegetable prescription will also help you control your weight, and being overweight is another major risk factor that ups your odds of a heart attack.

Here are a few ideas for getting colorful vegetables into your daily eating plan:

  • Routinely eat a dark green salad at lunch and dinner when eating in or out, and remember to dress simply with extra virgin olive oil and wine vinegar and/or fresh lemon juice.
  • For quick and healthy, try purchasing prewashed, bagged, and prechopped vegetables, toss them on a sheet of tin foil, drizzle with extra virgin olive oil, and roast (425°F for at least 30 minutes). Keep in a container in the refrigerator for easy access.
  • Purchase frozen vegetables (with a short ingredients list). Frozen vegetables, picked and frozen immediately after harvest, are a nutritionally sound choice. (In fact, frozen spinach has been shown to retain its carotenoid power longer than fresh because of the lower temperatures at which it is stored.)
  • When time doesn’t allow for prepping fresh veggies, grab a bottle of jarred veggies, such as corn or roasted red peppers. Just watch out for added sodium, and if the veggies are packed in oil, check to ensure that it’s olive oil.
  • If the weather’s nice, fire up the grill and roast vegetables coated in extra virgin olive oil.
  • Infuse fresh herbs into your olive oil or mix into your salad dressing (olive oil vinaigrette) to add extra flavor and antioxidant power.
  • You can always get an array of colorful vegetables at a salad bar (some supermarkets even have them). Avoid the mayonnaise or oil-added veggie selections. Pile on the plain colorful vegetables instead and dress with olive oil and a splash of balsamic vinegar.
  • Remember, no lunch or dinner without that rainbow of vegetables!

 

You may be surprised at how some dishes truly come alive with the addition of this painter’s palette of health. A few of the recipes I include in Prevent a Second Heart Attack that feature greens and other vegetables are Chef Mario Spina’s Braised Broccoli Rabe, Chef Julie Korhumel’s Linguine with Fresh Garden Vegetables, Dr. Janet’s Spinach with Pine Nuts and Raisins and Dr. Janet’s Roasted Red Pepper Strips. All are sure to please the palate — and your heart health.

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Janet Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN, is a leading diet, nutrition, and fitness expert. She is the author of Prevent a Second Heart Attack and Cholesterol Down. Learn more at www.drjanet.com.

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Dr. Janet’s Roasted Red Pepper Strips

Serves 4

A quick and easy method for roasting red peppers. These are delicious in Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, Tuna Romesco, and Whole-grain Pasta with Roasted Eggplant, Olives, and Tomatoes found in Prevent a Second Heart Attack.

4 large red peppers, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch thick strips
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 375°F. Toss red pepper strips with olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread on a rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 50 minutes or until peppers are softened and starting to turn dark around the edges. Store refrigerated.

NUTRITION per 1/2 cup serving:
Calories: 133

Fat: 11 g (0 g EPA, 0 g DHA, <1 gALA)

Saturated Fat: 1 g

Cholesterol: 0 mg

Sodium: 294 mg

Carbohydrate: 10 g

Dietary Fiber: 3 g

Sugars: 7 g

Protein: 2 g

 

Excerpted with permission from Prevent a Second Heart Attack

by Janet Bond Brill, Ph.D., R.D., LDN ©2/2011.


Top 6 Fitness Myths

07/26/2011

from the Healthy Living area

Maybe you already know that “no pain, no gain” is a fitness myth. You don’t gain from pain; instead, if you workout until (or after) you have pain, you can injure yourself.

Fitness misconceptions such as “no pain, no gain” or “women who lift weights get bulky muscles” abound (that second belief is also not true—our biology makes it nearly impossible). Because of such erroneous ideas, many of us exercise incorrectly or avoid being physically active at all.

Even if you don’t fall for the two fitness follies above, there are plenty more you might believe. Here are 7 common exercise misconceptions, with realistic suggestions for effective activity:

Fitness Folly #1: Ab Crunches Will Flatten Your Mid-Section
How many sit-ups or crunches does it take to turn tummy fat into tight muscle? The answer is: none—you can’t turn fat tissue into muscle. Contracting your abdominal muscles in a crunch “will strengthen those fibers, but has nothing to do with the fat sitting on top” of those muscles, says Kathy Stevens, MA, a fitness consultant in Ranchos Palos Verdes, CA.

Stevens calls it “wishful thinking” to believe that exercising one spot on your body will take off fat in that location. “We want to hold onto that belief, even though we’ve been told time and time again that there’s no such thing as spot reduction,” she says. “Fat loss is systemic.”

What to do: Be patient and do activities you enjoy that burn as many calories as possible, such as aerobics, swimming and brisk walking.

Fitness Folly #2: Regular Exercise Keeps Your Balance Strong
You work on your strength and on your endurance, but when was the last time you worked on your equilibrium? Vonda Wright, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, Pittsburgh, PA, cautions against taking your balance for granted. “When women fall down and break a hip, 50 percent of them don’t return to pre-fall function,” says Dr. Wright, co-author of the upcoming book Fitness After 40: How to Stay Strong at Any Age.

Muscle strength helps you maintain your equilibrium, but it’s not enough, she adds. If your balance is wobbly, you need to do activities that will build it. To test yourself, stand near a table and place your fingertips on the table top. Close your eyes and stand on one leg. You should be able to balance for 20 seconds.

What to do: To increase balance, Dr. Wright suggests getting into the habit of standing on one leg while washing dishes or brushing your teeth. If that becomes easy, close your eyes.

Fitness Folly #3: You Can Tighten Your Upper-Arm Flab with Weights
You may be familiar with “turkey arms”—the wobbling flap of flab that hangs below the upper area of an outstretched arm. These shaky sections are especially common if you’re in midlife or older. Many women try to banish the unsightly flesh by lifting weights, only to discover that not much seems to change.

Sadly, that flab in the tricep area can’t be targeted, according to Irv Rubenstein, PhD, an exercise physiologist, teacher and certified personal trainer in Nashville, TN. “Women tend to deposit fat there, and with the change in collagen over time (with age), the area loses tautness and texture. It’s a nearly perfect storm,” Dr. Rubenstein says. Gravity finishes off the job. “Like the skin that starts to sag over your knees, it’s the same principle,” he adds. Swell news, huh?

What to do: Forget about that one spot, but do resistance training with weights or bands to build strength and overall functioning.

Fitness Folly #4: My Arthritis/Weight/Diabetes, etc., Keeps Me from Being Active
When you have an ongoing health concern, your condition can be a great excuse for avoiding fitness activities. Yet, in most cases, being physically active will help reduce your health problems.

Arthritis pain lessens with exercise, as does high blood pressure and insulin resistance. Physical activity will help a weight-loss effort and reduce the cardiovascular and diabetes risks of metabolic syndrome. By choosing the right activities and using medications as prescribed, you can also exercise with asthma or allergies.

What to do: First, see the physician treating your chronic condition and talk about physical activity options. To avoid stress on joints, choose pool activities or bike riding. Those with asthma or allergies will be helped by exercising indoors, especially during hot or cold weather. Warm, moist air is best for asthma, so swimming is a good choice.

Fitness Folly #5: You Must Lose Weight to Be More Fit
If you’re larger, imagine being let off the hook that demands you must lose 20, 30 or more pounds to achieve good fitness. Well, permission granted!

Research conducted with a group of overweight and obese (don’t we hate those terms!) women aged 30 to 45, showed that those who accepted their bodies as they were, ate according to their natural signals for hunger and fullness (not dieting) and pursued enjoyable activities instead of regimented exercise had a sharp increase in moderate activity. What’s more, they were able to sustain that activity level over time.

“Their overall health measures were amazing—reduced blood pressure and improved cholesterol and psychological factors,” compared to a control group that dieted and followed exercise recommendations, says physiologist and nutritionist Linda Bacon, PhD, MA, a researcher at the City College of San Francisco. Dr. Bacon conducted the study and is author of a forthcoming book, Health at Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight, based on her research findings.

In group meetings during the study, the non-dieters talked about ways to add movement they enjoyed, from shooting baskets with a child to walking to a farther bathroom at work. Although the control group initially lost weight by dieting, both groups were at their starting weights after two years. The non-dieters showed greater fitness, which they kept up with little effort. “You can improve your health dramatically without a change in weight,” Dr. Bacon says.

What to do: Accept your body as it is right now. Add physical activity to your life that you find fun. Walking in a natural area is interesting and helps the time pass swiftly. If you like social interaction, play a game with others. Avoid workout classes that make you feel discouraged or self-conscious.

Fitness Folly #6: Exercise Takes Too Much Time and Effort
It’s true that you can’t be physically active unless you actually get up and move. Once you get past that hurdle, you don’t have to push yourself hard. You’ll gain fitness benefits from very light to moderate exercise. That benefit is even greater if you are overweight or have been sedentary. As for time, all you need is 30 minutes a day of activity, which you can accumulate in 10-minute chunks.

What to do: Start by using time you ordinarily waste sitting in front of the television. Stand up and do 10 minutes of brisk walking while you watch. You can move around the room or walk in place. Swing your arms to ramp up your results. Do that three times daily and you’ll help banish the fitness follies.

 

For more information on the health topics mentioned in this article visit

the HealthyWomen.org areas below.

 

Fitness: www.healthywomen.org/condition/fitness

 

Weight Management: www.healthywomen.org/condition/weight-management

Healthy Living: www.healthywomen.org/ages-and-stages/healthy-living/fitness

Diet and Fitness Center: www.healthywomen.org/healthcenter/diet-and-fitness

Wellness in Practice Blog: www.healthywomen.org/womentalk/blog/wellness-practice

 

 

 

 

© 2011 HealthyWomen.  All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission from HealthyWomen. 1-877-986-9472 (toll free). On the Web at: www.HealthyWomen.org.