Part 1: Inflammation - The Silent Killer

Inflammation can be the good guy, the tough one that goes to work quickly when you get injured, sick, or stung by a bee. The immune system uses its super powers to protect your body, the swelling as result of an injury. When you get injured, the area swells up as a way to prevent from injuring it more. It also is painful and when we experience pain, we are careful and try to go easy on it, this allows it to heal! Inflammation definitely has its purpose, but what happens when it gets out of control? Chronic inflammation is the underlying cause of many diseases such as: cardiovascular disease, arthritis, dementia, and even cancer.

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Approximately 610,000 people die from heart disease each year in the US. How do inflammation and heart disease relate? Think of that injury that swells as your immune system rushes to the rescue, the inflammation causes it to swell, part of the healing process. Eventually the swelling goes down and the injury heals. Smoking, high blood pressure, high LDL, are all forms of ‘injury’ to the heart. All those risk factors tend to be long lasting, resulting in chronic inflammation. Low-level inflammation (anywhere in the body) can cause damage to blood vessels and plaque builds up. If plaque that builds up is loosened, it can lead to heart attack or stroke. There are ongoing studies and research looking at exactly what role inflammation plays in cardiovascular disease.

An exciting discovery has recently emerged regarding inflammation and heart disease. In a clinical trial, it was found that interleukin-1 beta (IL-1 for short) is an important molecule involved in inflammation. There is evidence that this pesky molecule might contribute to the development of heart disease. In Boston, Paul Ridker and colleagues had a group of high-risk patients that they treated with a drug that blocked the IL-1, just as they thought the group of patients suffered less heart disease! Furthermore, this group treated with the IL- 1 blocking drugs developed less cancers. Many patients in the group smoked and they believed some may even have small lung cancer due to their history. The IL-1 blockers seemed to stop the progression to detectable malignancy. This brings us to question, if we lower inflammation could that reduce our risk for heart disease and cancer? More research and clinical trials are needed, but it is noted that currently anti-inflammatory treatments don’t work in advanced cancers.

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Though we don’t know exactly how inflammation directly leads to cardiovascular disease, we have information connecting chronic low-level inflammation to the buildup of cholesterol and plaque inside our blood vessels, leading to heart attack or stroke if the plaque is loosened. As with many chronic diseases, eating a well-balanced diet, exercising regularly, and quit smoking are some of the best preventative methods out there. Don’t let inflammation slowly burn in your body, fight back and do your part in battling the chronic inflammation!

Stay tuned for part two of Inflammation - The Silent Killer! 

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STAYING HEALTHY IN THE SUMMER

During those warm summer months, where evenings and weekends are spent often times with good company, around a bonfire or pool with a drink in hand surrounded with a wide variety of foods, it may seem rather impossible to stick to a healthy routine. People look forward to summer where the days are warmer and longer. After winter, and trying to prepare for swimsuit season, how do you continue a healthy lifestyle while enjoying all summer has to offer?

Here are the top 6 ways to improve your health during the summer while enjoying it!  

1.       Get outside- After a long winter, you look forward to nothing more than being able to go outside without freezing, having to wear four layers of clothing, and tromp through 2 feet of snow. Summer is a great time to get outside, enjoy nature, and soak up some vitamin D. During the winter months, we rely on getting vitamin D through food, or supplement. Summer is also a time when people decide to take their workouts outside rather than a gym or at home. Walking, running, biking, or even a circuit in your backyard. It can be much more fun riding or running on trails than a stationary machine indoors. Exercise can be as simple as just playing tag in the backyard with the kids, or going on a nature hike, get the whole family involved. Get a walking or running group together in your neighborhood to encourage you to stick to it!

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2.       Eat well- Eat all the fruits and vegetables! When looking up recipes for “summer meals” ones that are full of fresh fruits and vegetables pop up. Kebabs, noodles with grilled chicken and veggies, and lots of salads! Tip: try planting a garden, even just a small one. Plant a variety of lettuce for fresh salads, green beans, zucchinis, summer squash, and cucumbers! Experiment with various plants and see what you can grow best. Being able to go grab a handful of lettuce and veggies to throw together to make a quick salad is the best!

3.       Stay hydrated- Those summer days can get HOT! It’s so important to stay hydrated, whether you’re mowing the lawn, boating, or sitting by the pool. Water makes up 60% of your body weight. Like a plant, your body needs water to survive. Every cell in your body needs water for body systems to function properly from your immune system to your metabolism and everything in between. Water removes toxins and wastes through urination or sweating, helps to lubricate joints, maintains your body’s temperature, and protects tissues. The more you sweat the more water your body needs to replenish the lost fluids.

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4.       Skin care- Adopting a healthy skin care regime is something many people do, whether it’s to control acne, reduce wrinkles, or just moisturize. Summer is a time you need to especially focus on taking care of your skin. During the summer months, the sun’s rays hit the earth at a steep angle which doesn’t allow the light to spread out much. This means that the amount of energy hitting one spot is increased. With your skin being exposed to this sunlight, it’s important to use good sunscreen to protect your skin from being sunburnt. The Academy of Dermatology recommends using SPF 30 or higher, and reapplying every 2 hours, more frequently if swimming or sweating heavily.

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5.       Stress less- Reducing stress is important not only for your mental health but also your physical health. Stress can have a negative impact on your immune system function, putting you at risk for catching illnesses and even putting you at a higher risk for cardiovascular disease. Trying to limit your stress during the summer can be stressful just thinking about it! Start by taking time for you, set aside even just 15-30 minutes (more if you are able) a day for ‘you time.’ Wake up before the kids, or take time after they go to bed. Take time to exercise, do yoga, read a book, whatever it may be. Even going outside barefoot in the grass, or putting your hands in the soil to plant a garden, may help to reduce stress because it’s a way of grounding! (See our blog post: Time to Get Grounded) Don’t feel selfish or guilty for taking ‘you time,’ you deserve it!  

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1.       Drink smart- Previously we touched on making sure you drink enough water to be properly hydrated, now let’s talk about drinking smart when it comes to alcoholic beverages! Summertime is the prime time to have a drink in hand at social gatherings around the bonfire, pool, concerts etc. Drinks can be a way to add up calories quickly without even knowing. You can easily consume 500-1000 calories or more after a night of drinking, especially when you order a pizza after, followed by the big breakfast the next morning to help with the hangover. So, what drinks are considered “healthy” that won’t completely sabotage your week of eating healthy and exercising?  Drinks such as beer or margaritas are very high in carbohydrates and the calories can add up quickly, however there are lower calorie options. Below is the calorie content of various liquors:

 

Vodka – 64 Calories per 1 oz                                      Whiskey – 70 Calories per 1 oz

Rum – 64 Calories per 1 oz                                         Champagne- 87 Calories per 1 glass
Brandy – 65 Calories per 1 oz                                     Light beer- 110 Calories per 1 can
Gin – 73 Calories per 1 oz                                           White wine- 120 Calories per 5 oz
Tequila – 65 Calories per 1 oz                                     Red wine- 125 Calories per 5 oz

Calories that come from alcohol are considered “empty calories” meaning they have no nutritional value.

Be sure if you do choose to drink, to drink responsibly.

CHEERS to a Healthy Summer!

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Acid Reflux 101

Have you ever experienced that burning in your chest or throat? Maybe even that sour taste of regurgitated food? You lay down for bed at night and can’t sleep because these symptoms keep you wide awake? This is what acid reflux or GERD is. Around 60 million Americans suffer from acid reflux including babies, children, and adults.  

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What is acid reflux?

Acid reflux happens when the contents of your stomach come back up your esophagus. This causes a burning sensation often felt in the throat or chest. The term acid reflux refers to period episodes, whereas the term GERD refers to a more severe form of acid reflux that is long- lasting. GERD also can be accompanied by more symptoms such as difficulty swallowing, coughing, or wheezing.

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Symptoms

The symptoms of acid reflux or GERD include:

  • Pain in chest/ upper abdomen

  • Nausea/ vomiting

  • Problems swallowing

  • Bad breath

  • Respiratory problems

What causes acid reflux?

Often the biggest question is: what exactly causes acid reflux? Besides eating spicy foods and having a burning feeling in your chest, what causes it?

The esophagus is the tube that runs from the throat to the stomach, when the lower esophageal sphincter, gets weak or relaxes it allows stomach contents to get into the esophagus. So, the next question, what causes that sphincter to become weak or relax?

  •   Being overweight/ obese, or pregnant, because this increases pressure on your abdomen

  • Certain medications (asthma medications, calcium channel blockers, antihistamines, painkillers, sedatives, antidepressants)

  • Smoking

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How to help control symptoms?

Of course, there are medication options from over the counter antacids, to medications that lower the acid amount in your stomach, and even surgery.

Controlling symptoms of acid reflux often begin with lifestyle changes such as:

  •   Losing weight (if you’re overweight or obese)

  •   Stop smoking

  •   Avoid eating 2-3 hours prior to bedtime

  •   Eat small meals throughout the day versus large meals

  • Avoid spicy or greasy foods and alcoholic drinks

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Tips for Transitioning Into A Healthier Lifestyle

It’s essential to be healthy so you can live a long life and enjoy it. There are many ways you can get healthy, but transitioning into a healthier lifestyle can be a little intimidating. If you are ready to make some changes and improve your quality of life, these tips can help you transition into a healthier lifestyle a little more easily.

Remove Temptation

Transitioning into a healthy lifestyle is a lot easier if the temptations from your old lifestyle aren’t around. If you are trying to eat healthier, remove all the unhealthy foods from your refrigerator and cupboards. If you are trying to get more sleep at night, set a timer on your TV and turn your phone on silent when it is time for bed. When these things aren’t around to distract you and tempt you, you are more likely to forget about them and work towards your health goals.

Get Support

It’s hard to make a lifestyle change on your own. Having a support system will make it that much easier for you to stick to your goals and feel motivated. Let your friends and family members know what your plans are and ask for their support. You can also find social media groups that are made up of people who are hoping to make the same changes. You can find support there and give your support to others. Everything is easier when you have someone cheering you on.

Talk To A Doctor

Before you make any big changes to your lifestyle, talk to your doctor to make sure they are okay and safe. If you have health problems, this is really important because some foods and activities could make those health problems worse. Your doctor may also have some suggestions about how to transition in a healthy way so your body and mind aren’t overwhelmed and you aren’t setting yourself up for failure.

Set Small Goals

Don’t make the mistake of making your goals too big in the beginning. It’s okay to have a larger ultimate goal, but you also need to understand that it takes time to reach bigger goals. It’s much more motivating and fulfilling to set small goals for yourself along the way to your larger goal. When you meet those small goals, you will feel like you are accomplishing something and be motivated to work towards the next one. These small goals will eventually lead you to your overall goal.

ARTHRITIS AND JOINT HEALTH

Arthritis affects 54.4 million US adults, 1 in 4 adults. It also can affect children. By 2040, it’s projected that 78 million adults in the US will be affected by some form of arthritis. The month of May is National Arthritis Awareness Month, time to learn about joint health!

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What is arthritis?

Arthritis is the umbrella term for the conditions that affect joints or tissues around joints. Though there are over 100 types of arthritis, the most common types include:

·        Osteoarthritis- mostly in hands, hips, and knees. Cartilage breaks down within a joint as we age, and from ‘wear and tear,’ resulting in osteoarthritis.

·        Rheumatoid arthritis- an autoimmune/ inflammatory disease. Hand, wrist, and knee joints are most commonly affected. Joints become inflamed and joint tissue is damaged.

·        Fibromyalgia- this condition causes widespread pain and stiffness throughout the body. The pain is accompanied with fatigue, sleep problems, and emotional/ mental distress.

·        Gout- inflammatory arthritis that can be very painful. Often affects the big toe joint. Symptoms can flare up, and also go away (remission).

Though arthritis affects millions of people including children, it’s still not well understood. Symptoms can come and go and range from mild to severe. Diagnosis typically begins at your primary physician, then usually a rheumatologist, who specializes in arthritis, often gets involved. Blood tests and imaging will be performed. Arthritis can remain the same or progressively get worse over the years. It can lead to permanent joint damage. There are a variety of symptoms associated with arthritis including:

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·        Joint pain

·        Swelling

·        Stiffness

·        Redness in joints

·        Loss of appetite

·        Tender joints

·        Decreased range of motion

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How can you manage arthritis?

Physicians may prescribe medications to reduce pain and inflammation and even “disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs” which slow/ stop the immune system from attacking the joints.

Aside from medication there are other things you can do to help with symptoms:

·        Regular exercise will keep joints flexible and also keep you at a healthy weight.

·        Weight loss will help take extra pressure off weight bearing joints.  

·        Eat healthy*, limit highly processed, sugary foods and try an anti-inflammatory diet.

·        Use heat/ cold packs for pain relief.

·        Acupuncture has been shown to reduce pain caused by some forms of arthritis.

·        Yoga helps improve and maintain joint flexibility.

·        Massage therapy may temporarily relieve pain.

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SKIN CANCER AWARENESS: THE MORE WE KNOW

 
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With summer just around the corner, it’s never to early to hit on the topic of skin cancer. The month of May is skin cancer awareness month, a month that aims to spread awareness and educate on ways to take care of your skin, especially as summer arrives. Summer is the perfect time for spending hours and hours in the sun whether you’re relaxing around the pool, boating on the river, or swimming in the ocean. The sun will find you wherever you may be. Sun exposure over the years can cause the skin to wrinkle, age spots, and even increase the risk for skin cancer.

Skin cancer is the most common types of cancer, in fact, the American Academy of Dermatology estimates that 1 in 5 Americans will be affected by skin cancer. Melanoma, the deadliest form of skin cancer, has become much more prevalent and cases have doubled from 1982 to 2011. Melanoma rates are higher in women than men, specifically in women ages 15-29. Sunburns during childhood may increase the risk of melanoma, therefore it’s important to protect children from the sun.

Skin cancer warning signs:

  • Changes in size, shape, or color of moles

  • Appearance of new growth on the skin

  • A sore that doesn’t heal

  • Spots on your skin that are different from others, changing, itching, or bleeding

If you have any of these signs, it’s important that you make an appointment with a board-certified dermatologist.

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The sun is the strongest between 10 am and 4 pm, which is the prime time for enjoying the outdoors. So, what can you do to be sure your skin is protected?

1.      Wear sunscreen that is at least 30 SPF.

2.      Be sure to not only apply it when you first go out, but reapply about every 2 hours. (Especially if you are swimming.)

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3.      Wear protective clothing such as long-sleeved shirts, sun hats, or have a shady spot you can go.

Sunscreen mistakes:

1.      Not reading the label. Not all sunscreens are the same. The American Academy of Dermatology recommends looking for ones marked “broad- spectrum” and “water resistant.”

2.      Not using enough. Many people don’t apply an adequate amount of sunscreen. Most adults need to apply about the amount to fill a shot glass (1 oz) to all skin that isn’t covered by clothing, 15 minutes before going outside.

3.      Not applying it when cloudy. It’s cloudy out, you’ll be okay without sunscreen. FALSE. While the sun may not be out, the harmful UV rays can still penetrate your skin. It’s recommended to use sunscreen every time you’re outside, not just on sunny days.

4.      Using old sunscreen. The FDA requirement for sunscreen is that they last at least 3 years. If you have old sunscreen, throw it away! If there is no expiration date and you are unsure, throw it out and buy new.

5.      Sunscreen only! Many people believe that once they are coated in sunscreen they are fully protected. Unfortunately, that’s not the case, while sunscreen does a good job of protecting your skin, it’s also good to wear protective clothing to help cover your skin and protect from harmful rays.

THE MORE WE KNOW…

 
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CLICK HERE

 

Mental Health Month

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May is Mental Health Month, a month geared toward raising awareness and educating the public on topics many people aren’t well educated on. Millions of Americans suffer from mental health related issues whether it’s anxiety, depression, eating disorders, PTSD, schizophrenia, or other related conditions.

Mental health is a topic many people feel the need to keep to be silent about due to stigma, sharing about their anxiety or depression doesn’t seem to be the same as sharing about a physical condition. Mental illness seems to be something people are afraid to share about and want to keep to themselves, for fear of how people will react and ultimately afraid of what others will think of them. Rather than a physical condition, mental illness is “invisible” people can’t see what is going on so it’s hard to explain and understand.

Lately, many organizations and inspiring individuals are creating more awareness and opening up about mental health topics, which has created a chain reaction of others opening up. More of an emphasis is being put on taking care of your ‘whole self’ physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health. A larger focus is being put on practicing mindfulness, relaxation, and self-care each and every day rather than once a month or every few months.

Diet and Nutrition

Did you know the food you eat can impact your mental health? Mental illnesses seem to becoming more prevalent, so is obesity, is there a link? It’s possible! Poor diets full of saturated fats, high sugar, and processed foods can lead to not only heart disease, obesity, and diabetes, but poor mental health as well. Research has shown that consuming a balanced diet of fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, and lentils reduces the risk of developing depression.

Vitamin D is an important vitamin that plays a role in optimal brain functioning which includes mood. Sunlight is a great source of vitamin D, but during the winter months our exposure to sunlight is decreased. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to depression; this explains why some people experience seasonal depression during the winter months. Be sure to get plenty of fish, eggs, fortified cereals, and dairy products in your diet to ensure your vitamin D levels are adequate.

The B vitamins are another important group that help regulate neurotransmitters in the brain. Those with low B12 levels could be at an increased risk to develop depression. B vitamins are found in leafy green vegetables, whole grains, fish, and eggs.

Along with Vitamin D and the B vitamins, magnesium is very important and one of the most essential minerals in the human body, connected with brain biochemistry. According to the The National Center for Biotechnology Information  a variety of neuromuscular and psychiatric symptoms, including different types of depression, was observed in magnesium deficiency. 

Fact: Every cell in your body contains magnesium and needs it to function.

Foods that are a good source of magnesium include whole grains, rice and wheat bran, nuts, seeds, chocolate, peanuts, peanut butter and green leafy vegetables.

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Fact: Every year as many as 8 million Americans with serious mental illness don’t receive adequate treatment.

Exercise

Including regular physical activity in your routine can keep your heart healthy, help you maintain a healthy weight, strong bones, prevent disease, and also create a healthy mind! Regular exercise has been shown to lower a person’s risk for depression, panic disorder, and phobias. As little as one hour of exercise a week has been linked to lower levels of mood, anxiety, and substance use disorders. Even short 10-minute chunks of vigorous exercise at a time contains benefits for your mental health. “What can you accomplish in only 10 minutes?” Set a timer for 10 minutes. Pick 3-4 exercises from the list below, decide on a number of repetitions (10-20) and do one exercise after another until the timer goes off! You’ll be surprised what you can do in only 10 minutes!
Squats                               Pushups

Lunges                               V-Ups

Star jumps                        Mountain climbers

Bicycle crunches              Glute Bridges

Jumping jacks                  Plank

(Ex: 10 squats, 20 mountain climbers, 10 V-ups, 25 glute bridges. Repeat one exercise after another, minimal rest, until 10 minutes is up.)

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Fact: Half of mental health conditions begin by age 14, and 75% develop by age 24.

 

The Gut-Brain Connection

The gut is often referred to as the “second brain,” why is this? First off, during fetal development the gut is developed from the same tissue as our central nervous system, so they both share a lot in common. Secondly, they constantly communicate back and forth. More and more research is being done on the gut microbiome and its connection to mental health. Research has found that there is a connection between changes and inflammation in the gut microbiome and symptoms of Parkinson’s, autism, depression, and anxiety. It’s important to eat a healthy balanced diet, reduce your consumption of soft drinks, and processed foods and be sure to get plenty of probiotics and prebiotics to make your gut happy.  

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Fact: 1 in 5 adults experience a mental health condition every year, and 1 in 17 has a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder.

Sleep

Not only do you feel like a zombie with lack of sleep, but your mental health can be jeopardized as well with too little sleep. Sleep is so important and being well rested is important for optimal health. When we sleep it gives our body an opportunity to re-energize cells and clear away toxins. Those who consistently struggle to sleep well at night are at an increased risk for problems such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, anxiety, and depression. Sleep affects the body as a whole, getting plenty of sleep is required for the health of our organs, immune system, hormones, ability to learn, and moods.

Tips for getting a good night sleep:

-Don’t nap too late in the day.

-Limit caffeine to the morning if you find you struggle to fall asleep at night.

-Try and avoid exercising 2-3 hours before bed.

-Say no to nicotine!
-Try and go to sleep and wake up at the same time every day.

 If you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, talk to your doctor.

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Fact: Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

Stress

We all know what it feels like to be stressed, not a fun feeling. Stressing over finances, your job, relationships, and just life in general. Your body responds to stress in ways such as elevating the blood pressure, heartrate, and breathing. While elevating those things, chemical signals are sent out signaling to slow down other body functions such as digestion, growth, and the immune system. This chronic stress leads to inflammation that doesn’t go away.  You can probably guess what the consequences are when stress becomes chronic. You become run down, fatigued, your immune system is weakened, and your risk for heart disease, diabetes, and even cancer is increased. Short term stress that comes and goes is healthy, it’s the chronic long-term stress that isn’t healthy. We need to remember we are all human! We can’t do everything, and we aren’t perfect.

Tips for handling stress:

-Know when to say enough is enough. Don’t take on more than you can truly handle.

-Be flexible.

-Vent when you need to.

-Have a close group of friends/ family you can turn to when the stress gets overwhelming.

-Breathe! Take a few minutes to just relax and breathe.

-Find a hobby you enjoy.

-Exercise. Take a walk outside and enjoy nature. Try yoga to help you relax.

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Mental health matters and it’s time to break the stigma. If you are struggling, get help. There are so many great resources out there. Don’t isolate yourself, find a support group, and speak out against stigma! You are not weak for seeking help, you are STRONG.