Archive for the 'General Health' Category

11
Nov
13

Fighting Back Against Insomnia


InsomniaDo you struggle to fall asleep at night?  Or do you find yourself wide awake at three in the morning staring up at the ceiling and wondering if you’ll fall back to sleep at all before your alarm goes off?  If you answered “yes”, you are not alone. Research has shown that up to 50 percent of the population suffers from sleep problems, with up to a third having struggled with it for at least a year.

The average adult requires a little over 8 hours of sleep each day.  However, very few people are able to manage that with lives that are more hectic than ever. Jobs, children and other obligations require us to be up with the birds and to go to bed far later than we would if we were following our own biological rhythm. A disruption to our circadian rhythm, which governs our hormone production, body temperature and sleep, can lead to insomnia.

We need adequate, restful sleep in order to perform at our best. Prolonged insomnia can cause mental fuzziness and interfere with how you perform your daily activities. It also increases your risk of depression, headaches, auto accidents, and can lead to substance abuse. Of course, worrying about the lack of sleep you are getting rarely helps you get more sleep! Stress, anxiety, and widespread use of coffee and alcohol are some of the greatest contributors to insomnia.

Learning how to manage stress effectively is one of the best ways to increase your chances of getting a good night’s sleep, and making some changes to your lifestyle may make a difference in the number of hours of sleep you get. Following are some strategies you can use:

  • Get regular exercise before dinner, which can help put your body in a restful state by bedtime. Just be sure not to exercise too close to bedtime, as this will likely make you restless.
  • Try to get out in the late afternoon sun as often as possible to stimulate melatonin release, which will help get your circadian rhythm back on track.
  • Use stress reduction techniques such as yoga, meditation and Tai Chi, which are great ways to help teach your mind and body to relax.
  • Caffeine and smoking keep the body stimulated. Try to avoid them from mid-afternoon on, and keep your consumption of alcohol to a minimum.
  • Eat a small snack of protein with a complex carbohydrate just before bed, such as peanut butter on a whole-grain cracker. It can keep your blood sugar from dipping too low and waking you up in the night.
  • Keep to the same sleeping and waking schedule every day and don’t change it by more than an hour on weekends.
  • Avoid television or computer use at least an hour before bedtime, as it stimulates the brain, making it difficult to fall asleep.
  • Keep your bedroom dark, quiet and cool.
  • If you are lying awake for more than about 20 minutes, get up and go sit in another dimly lit room until you feel sleepy.

 

These strategies have proven useful for many people in getting them back to a regular sleeping rhythm. Give them a try — they may help you too!

 

 

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11
Nov
13

Should You Have a Bone Density Test?


??????????Osteoporosis is one of the most prevalent conditions among older people. According to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, one in two women and one in four men over age 50 will have an osteoporosis-induced fracture at some point in their lives.

A loss of bone mass becomes more common as we age, causing bones to become more brittle and increasing the risk of a fracture or break. Many fractures that occur are asymptomatic.  However, some may cause shooting pain or chronic pain in areas such as the back, where a fracture will only be evident on imaging tests. A bone density test can be a very useful tool for helping to keep your chances of having a fracture to a minimum.

There are a few good reasons why you may want to have a bone density test. First, it can tell you if you have osteoporosis or if your bones are weak before you experience a break or fracture; second, it can predict the likelihood of you experiencing a break in the future; and third, it can measure if your bone density is getting better or worse based on any actions you are taking (such as medications or exercise).

The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that people who are likely to be at greater risk for osteoporosis have a bone density test done.  You should consider having one if any of the following descriptions apply to you:

  • You are a woman age 65 or older
  • You are a postmenopausal women under age 65 with risk factors
  • You are a women of menopausal age with risk factors
  • You are a man age 70 or older
  • You are a man between the ages of  50 and 69 with risk factors
  • You have broken a bone after the age of 50
  • An x-ray has shown a break or bone loss in your spine
  • You have back pain that may indicate a break
  • You have lost ½ inch or more of height in one year
  • You have lost 1 ½ inches from your full grown height

 

The bone density test uses a DXA machine (dual energy x-ray absorptiometry) to measure the density of bone in your hip and spine, and occasionally other bones, depending on your particular situation. The density of the hip and spine is measured because these are the bones most likely to break with osteoporosis, and because breaks in these areas are also among the most debilitating. The test is painless and non-invasive and is performed with the patient fully clothed. It takes about 15 minutes and the level of radiation from the machine is minimal.

If you feel you fit into any of the at-risk categories above, it may be beneficial for you to have a bone density test done so you and your health provider can develop strategies to reduce your chances of breaking or fracturing a bone.

 

08
Nov
13

Can Mobile Phone Use Lead to Brain Tumors?


can a mobile phone create cancerThere are currently close to 6 billion mobile phone subscriptions worldwide, and increased usage of cell phones has understandably led to a greater level of interest in how safe they are. The main concern for our health is that mobile phones emit and receive electromagnetic radiation as a result of their need to communicate with relay towers, and some of this radiation is absorbed by the head when the phone is held up to the ear. Whether or not the radiation (both the amount and the frequency) that a typical mobile phone user is likely to receive is potentially damaging to their health has been the subject of debate for some time.

Anecdotal evidence that high mobile phone use can potentially lead to brain tumors is not hard to find. Newspapers and other media sources are only too ready to run such stories. However, given that there are so many people using mobile communication so regularly, the chances are that someone is going to have a brain tumor at some point, whether or not there is any link with the amount of time they spend on their phone. The obvious question is whether or not there is good reason to be concerned over how and how much you use your phone.

The most recent assessment of the scientific evidence of mobile phone safety was carried out by the European Commission Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks (SCENIHR). They concluded that mobile phone usage was unlikely to increase the risk of developing brain tumors.

The most recent results from a long-term study by researchers from the Institute of Cancer Epidemiology at the Danish Cancer Society in Denmark also failed to find any link between mobile phone usage and the development of brain tumors or any other cancers of the nervous system. This study was particularly significant in that it used most of the Danish population to determine if there was any difference in the incidence of brain cancers between mobile phone users and non-mobile phone users. Unsurprisingly, this work has been quoted frequently, especially by cell phone companies, as evidence that their products have now been given a completely clean bill of health.

In contrast to the previous results, the conclusion of a 2010 paper published in the International Journal of Epidemiology on the subject suggested that while no overall link was found between two kinds of brain tumor and mobile phone usage, the data did point to a possible increase in the development of glioma-type tumors in the most intensive users. The authors also pointed out that since the new generations of smart phones are being used for even greater periods of time, especially by younger people, further and ongoing studies in this area are definitely merited.

In 2011, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified mobile phone radiation as “potentially carcinogenic to humans.” Following from this, many countries have adopted a precautionary approach and suggested moderation in cell phone usage. Using a hands-free kit to avoid holding a phone next to your head has also been advised. While the available evidence suggests that low and normal usage of a mobile phone does not increase your risk of developing a brain tumor, it is probably wise to reduce your exposure to electromagnetic radiation as much as you can, and certainly to avoid spending long periods of the day with a phone next to your ear.

 

07
Nov
13

Dowager’s Hump Causes and Treatment Options


Camel. Ship Of DesertAlthough the name “Dowager’s Hump” implies that this condition is one that affects elderly women (which it primarily does), it can also affect anyone who spends a lot of time hunched over or who has a severe case of osteoporosis, including men. The medical term for Dowager’s Hump is hyperkyphosis, which is an increase in the forward curvature of the lower cervical and upper thoracic spine. It is a condition that can either be relatively painless or can cause considerable pain and discomfort.

Dowager’s hump is common in people with osteoporosis and is usually due to what is called a wedge fracture. This is when the front part of the vertebra (the side facing your chest) collapses. This causes the vertebra to tilt forward, which forces the back to curve and the head to jut forward. In some cases the curvature is so severe that it forces the head to look downward. It can become a sort of domino effect, with the collapsed vertebra tilting and putting pressure on the one below, until it too subsequently fractures and tilts, etc. In advanced osteoporosis, the bones of the vertebrae can become so porous that they may fracture as a result of lifting something or doing something as simple as coughing or sneezing.

A wedge fracture does not necessarily cause pain, and the first signs of it may be a loss in height or an obvious rounding of the upper back. Other people are more likely to see it before the person suffering from the disorder, as we do not generally see ourselves from the side. Someone with hyperkyphosis may also experience neck pain, breathing difficulties, rib pain and loss of appetite. Symptoms may be worse when coughing or sneezing and may be relieved when lying down.

Those with mild cases of hyperkyphosis may find some relief through yoga. A study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that elderly women with Dowager’s Hump who took yoga classes three times a week for six months had a slight reduction in the curvature of their spine. In situations where Dowager’s Hump is more severe and is causing pain, there are also more invasive treatments available. The surgical treatments vertebroplasty and kyphoplasty involve the injection of cement into the vertebrae to restore their height, reducing pain and spinal curvature.

The best treatment, however, is prevention, which involves strengthening the bones as much as possible and preventing bone loss by eating a healthy diet and getting regular weight-bearing exercise. Maintaining correct posture is also important, as habitual slumping (such as when you use a laptop or when sitting at a desk) eventually causes muscle imbalances, and the muscles and ligaments supporting the spinal column weaken, putting additional pressure on the vertebrae, allowing them to slip out of place. Regular chiropractic adjustments can help keep the vertebrae aligned, along with exercise to strengthen the supporting muscles.

Dr Dubois, DC, CCSP

Pierre DuboisDr. Dubois, a Swiss physician, and a Triangle Certified Sport Chiropractor has over 20 years of experience in the treatment and prevention of disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Amongst his patients, two world champions in martial arts (gold medalists in 2005 WMJA), one carrier of the Olympic flame in 2004, and numerous soccer players, swimmers and athletes of all levels who benefited from his chiropractic care.

 

06
Nov
13

Essential Facts About West Nile Virus


mosquito-200-300West Nile virus (WNV) is a mosquito-borne disease that has become an increasing problem since it first appeared in the United States in 1999. Over 30,000 people have reportedly become ill with the virus, and outbreaks are becoming more frequent.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have classified WNV as a seasonal illness that tends to flare up in the warm summer months (when mosquitoes are most prevalent) and continues into autumn. It is a serious illness that can lead to death if not properly treated. Following are some essential facts about West Nile virus so you know what to look for and how best to avoid it.

Symptoms of West Nile virus:

  • About 4 out of 5 people (80 percent) infected with WNV will show no symptoms at all.
  • As many as 20 percent of those infected with WNV will experience flu-like symptoms, such as headache, fever, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting. They may also develop swollen lymph glands and a rash on the back, chest and stomach. Symptoms may persist from only a few days to several weeks, even in those who are normally healthy.
  • A few people (approximately 1 in 150) will develop a more serious illness that may be life-threatening. Symptoms may include high fever, headache, disorientation, stiff neck, muscle weakness, tremors, convulsions, loss of vision, numbness, paralysis and coma. The symptoms can last for several weeks, often with permanent neurological damage.
  • Symptoms develop from 3 to 14 days after being bitten by an infected mosquito.

 

Risk of becoming ill from WNV:

  • People over age 50 are at greater risk of becoming seriously ill from WNV and should be sure to take extra precautions when outdoors.
  • Those who work or spend a lot of leisure time outdoors are at greater risk of contracting WNV.
  • There is a very small risk of contracting WNV through a blood transfusion or organ transplant, but the risk is negligible.
  • There is no risk of getting WNV through casual contact, such as touching or kissing someone who has the virus.

 

Prevention of WNV:

  • Preventing mosquito bites is the best way of avoiding West Nile virus. Some areas of the country have implemented programs for mosquito control to help keep the number of mosquitoes to a minimum.
  • Check to ensure that the screens on your doors and windows are in good shape and adequate to keep mosquitoes out of your house.
  • At dawn and dusk, when mosquitoes are most active, be sure to wear long sleeved shirts and pants and use an effective mosquito repellent.
  • Remove as many areas of standing water as possible, which is where mosquitoes breed. Empty out any standing water in the bottoms of flowerpots or in buckets and barrels, and change the water in pet dishes and birdbaths often.

 

09
Sep
13

Risks of Mixing Drugs with Herbal, Dietary and Energy Supplements


??????????????In the past several decades, the number of people taking herbal, dietary and energy supplements has increased exponentially. Whereas, prior to the late 1980s, most patients were unlikely to be supplementing with anything other than multivitamins, now a doctor must expect the majority of the population to have read about their condition on the Internet and be using whatever complementary remedies they think might help, with or without expert guidance. Once seen as natural and harmless, it is now clear that herbal supplements, dietary supplements and energy supplements can interact with conventional medications just as conventional medications can interact with each other.

It is important to note that many complementary medicines are quite safe to take alongside most forms of pharmaceutical drugs, and a cup of nettle or chamomile tea together with your morning pill of whatever form is not going to have any deleterious effect. However, a little awareness goes a long way and it is good to know of the more serious risks of mixing conventional drugs with supplementary remedies.

The risks of taking medications together, whether conventional or complementary, are threefold:

1. The action of the drug, or supplement, may be increased

2. The action of the drug, or supplement, may be reduced

3. The rate and degree at which the drug or supplement is absorbed or eliminated may be altered.

Medications are prescribed at a certain dose in order to achieve a specific effect, so increasing or reducing the effectiveness of a medicine is potentially risky, especially in the case of life sustaining treatments. Many conventional medicines are based on chemicals that are also found in plants, so herbal medicines taken for a particular disease may have the same action as a pharmaceutical taken for the same reason and can result in an effective overdose.

One example of this is aspirin, which was originally derived from plants and herbal anti-inflammatories containing salicylic acid, the active ingredient of aspirin. Such herbs include willow bark, meadowsweet and wintergreen.  Salicylic acid is toxic in large quantities, so these herbs should clearly be avoided if taking aspirin.

Other examples of interactions that increase the effect of medications include taking kelp with drugs for hypothyroidism and herbal diuretics such as dandelion, globe artichoke and celery seed with diuretic drugs. Niacin (vitamin B3), calcium and/or magnesium taken in combination with hypotensive pills can lead to a greater than expected drop in blood pressure. Except under expert guidance, the blood thinner Warfarin should never be taken with a medication that decreases blood clotting, whether conventional or complementary, due to the risk of hemorrhage. Supplements such as cayenne, garlic, feverfew, willow bark, St John’s wort and the drug aspirin all fall into this category. Hawthorn berries increase the action of digoxin on the heart, with potentially fatal effects, and the adaptogen herb Siberian ginseng (Eleutherococcus) also increases digoxin levels in the blood.

Examples of drug and supplement combinations that can decrease the effectiveness of either are taking supplements that stimulate the immune system such as zinc, Astragalus and Echinacea with corticosteroids intended to suppress the immune system, as they are working in opposite directions. Also, remedies with a hyperglycemic (blood sugar raising) action such as celery seed, Bupleurum, rosemary and Gotu kola can counteract the hypoglycemic (blood sugar reducing) work of diabetic drugs. High doses of vitamins A, C and K can all decrease the anticoagulant activity of Warfarin.

If the absorption or elimination of a drug or supplement is altered due to taking something else at the same time, its effectiveness may be at risk. The drug may either be absorbed too quickly or excreted before it has a chance to work. Diuretic remedies are particularly problematic, because of increased elimination, and herbs with this effect include juniper, dandelion, celery seed and licorice. These are certainly to be avoided when taking lithium. Grapefruit juice, while not really a supplement, is also a concern when taken with several drugs, such as hypotensives and the immunosuppressant Cyclosporine, since it reduces the breakdown of the medicine in the body.

Although a comprehensive treatment of the risk of mixing conventional medicines and nutritional and herbal supplements is well outside the intention of this short article, it is hoped that this article serves to communicate the potential problems that may arise and some of the more well-known bad combinations. You should always consult your doctor before taking any combination of drugs and supplements. For further information, there are a number of websites that may prove valuable in flagging most of the riskiest drug-herb-supplement interactions. These include Herb-Drug interactions at i-care.net (http://www.i-care.net/herbdrug.htm), the herb and supplement database at Medline, which includes known drug interactions (http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/herb_All.html) and a paper on herb-drug interactions published in The Lancet (http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10675182).

Dr. P. Dubois, CCSP, DC.

 

30
Aug
13

Is There Really Such a Thing as “Positive Stress”?


stressDo you consider yourself an optimist or a pessimist? When the going gets tough, the optimists among you can take heart—new research that has found that viewing stress positively can be of benefit to both the mind and body.

When the brain perceives stress (either physical or psychological), it reacts by releasing cortisol, adrenaline and norepinephrine to prepare the body for a “fight or flight” response. Fortunately for us, this response is not triggered in most people today as frequently as it once was or for the same kinds of reasons. After all, relatively few of us are in life-threatening situations on a regular basis. Today’s “modern” stresses are more likely to be caused by wrestling with the IRS, trying to escape a traffic jam or competing with a coworker for a promotion.

It is interesting to note that stress, in itself, is not necessarily a negative thing. It is how we perceive it that makes it either good or bad for us. This is a hopeful discovery, as most people have only limited control over how much stress they experience. The everyday stresses of modern life are difficult to escape. But if we can train our minds to view them as a challenge rather than a threat, it could actually help to bring about better health.

Scientists from a handful of universities, including Yale University and Columbia University, examined the effects of stress on 300 investment bankers who had just emerged from a round of layoffs (I know it’s difficult to feel bad for the stress of investment bankers, but stay with me here). In the study, published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, scientists divided the participants into two groups, and tried to alter the perception of half of them to view stress as debilitating and the other half to view it as an enhancement.

The first half of the participants were shown videos of people succumbing to stress. The other half were shown videos of people meeting challenges, such as sports figures accomplishing a difficult goal. The results showed that those who had a more optimistic view of stress had fewer health problems, including headaches and muscle pain, and performed better at work than the pessimistic group. In addition, levels of cortisol (the stress hormone) were lower in those who viewed stress as potentially enhancing.

There is actually a term for positive stress, called eustress, which was coined by endocrinologist Hans Selye in the 1970s. It has been proven that stress in moderation improves cognitive performance and improves memory. Good stress involves the kind of challenges where we feel that we are in control and are accomplishing something. It boosts the immune system and can improve heart function. So eliminating all stress from our lives is probably not a good idea.

The stress to watch out for is the chronic, long-term emotional stress, which causes stress hormones to remain at persistently high levels, leading to many chronic ailments such as heart disease, high blood pressure and depression.

However,  viewing certain stressors as challenges rather than threats can be a positive thing and can help ensure that you have a healthy, satisfying and exciting life.

Dr Dubois, DC, CCSP

Dr.Pierre DuboisDr. Dubois, a Swiss physician, and a Triangle Certified Sport Chiropractor has over 20 years of experience in the treatment and prevention of disorders of the musculoskeletal system. Amongst his patients, two world champions in martial arts (gold medalists in 2005 WMJA), one carrier of the Olympic flame in 2004, and numerous soccer players, swimmers and athletes of all levels who benefited from his chiropractic care.

 

 




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