Busyness May Be Better For Your Brain

Do you ever complain about how busy and hectic your life is? Your to-do list is a mile-long. You spend your day running from place to place. There just aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done.

If you’ve ever worried about how this busyness might affect your health, here’s some reassuring news: the results of a recent study showed that older adults who lead busy lives tend to perform better on tests of cognitive function than their less busy peers.

The research, published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, is part of the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study (DLBS), which was designed to assess cognition and brain health, structure, and function in healthy adults. 330 healthy adults ages 50-89 from the DLBS participated in the current study on busyness.

The participants were administered a questionnaire regarding their daily lifestyle to assess their level of busyness. They responded to questions such as:

  • How busy are you during an average day?
  • How often do you have too many things to do each day to actually get them all done?
  • How often do you have so many things to do that you go to bed later than your regular bedtime?

Each participant also underwent a series of neuropsychological tests to measure their cognitive performance. The researchers examined five core cognitive constructs—processing speed, working memory, episodic memory, reasoning, and crystallized knowledge.

The results showed that the busier the participants were, the better their cognitive function. A busier lifestyle was associated with superior processing speed of the brain, working memory, reasoning, and vocabulary. The strongest association existed between busyness and episodic memory, or the ability to recall distinct events from one’s past. The findings were consistent across the entire span of ages and education levels.

The research team warns that their data does not lead to the conclusion that busyness causes better cognition. While that is one possibility, it’s also possible that people with better cognition are capable of participating in more activities and tend to seek out a busy lifestyle.

A factor that the researchers believe could possibly mediate the relationship between busyness and cognition is new learning. Those leading busy lives may have more opportunities to learn new things – they’re more likely to be exposed to new information and different types situations from day to day. Previous research supports the theory that new learning enhances cognitive function.

So don’t let your busy life get you down. Focus instead on all the good it might be doing for your brain.

Article sources:

Festini, Sara B. “The Busier the Better: Greater Busyness Is Associated with Better Cognition.” Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 17 May 2016.

News release, Frontiers

 

Mind-Body Practices May Ease Low Back Pain

Have you ever had an achy low back? If so, you’re not alone. 80 percent of Americans will experience pain in their low back at some point in their lives. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 25% of adults responding to a large survey said they had experienced low back pain in the past three months.

You might be tempted to reach for painkillers for relief from low back pain. Unfortunately many drugs may interact with other drugs, cause unwanted side effects, or lead to dangerous conditions like liver damage, ulcers, or gastrointestinal bleeding.

Luckily, new research has revealed a non-drug alternative to treat lower back pain – mind-body therapy. Researchers at the Group Health Research Institute set out to explore ways to treat low back pain without resorting to medication. They examined a type of mindfulness meditation called mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) and a type of talk therapy called cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) to see how each technique affected low back pain.

Study leader Daniel Cherkin, PhD, a senior investigator at Group Health Research Institute, was encouraged by the results. “We’re constantly looking for new and innovative ways to help our patients,” he said in a news release. “The research suggests that training the brain to respond differently to pain signals may be more effective–and last longer–than traditional physical therapy and medication.”

MBSR and CBT are both mind-body practices. MBSR is a technique developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn, MD that emphasizes paying attention to feelings, thoughts and reactions from moment to moment. It also encourages awareness of the body through the practice of simple yoga poses. The goal of CBT training is to change pain-related thoughts and behaviors.

342 Group Health patients aged 20 to 70 enrolled in the study. Each patient had experienced low back pain for at least three months and was unsure of the cause of their pain. Patients were randomly assigned to one of three groups. Two of the groups participated in eight weekly two-hour training sessions. One of these groups was trained in MBSR, the other in CBT. The third group received just their usual care.

Compared with the group receiving only usual care and no training, the MBSR and CBT groups were more likely to experience at least a 30% improvement in their low back pain.

“Our findings are important because they add to the growing evidence that pain and other forms of suffering involve the mind as well as the body,” Cherkin said. “Greater understanding and acceptance of the mind-body connection will provide patients and clinicians with new opportunities for improving the lives of persons with chronic back pain and other challenging conditions that are not always effectively managed with physical treatments alone.”

The research team will continue to study the effects of MBSR and CBT on low back pain. They plan to examine whether the pain-relieving effects of the therapies persist for more than a year. They will also examine whether mindfulness and CBT impact pain through similar or distinct processes.

The results of the study were published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

 

Article sources:

Cherkin, Daniel. “Effect of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction vs Cognitive Behavioral Therapy or Usual Care on Back Pain and Functional Limitations in Adults With Chronic Low Back Pain.” JAMA. 2016; 315(12):1240-1249.

National Institutes of Health – “Low Back Pain Fact Sheet”

News release, Group Health Research Institute

 

 

 

 

Save Your Eyes From the Sun

Survey says too many Americans are putting their vision at risk by not protecting their eyes from the sun.

Most of us are aware of the potentially dangerous effects of the sun on our skin. So we slather on the sunscreen, slap a hat on our heads, and stay in the shade when the sun is high. Unfortunately, very few of us pay attention to protecting our eyes when we’re outdoors.

A nationwide survey released today by the Vision Council reveals the risks that many of us take with our eyes and vision. Although 75 percent of Americans surveyed expressed concern about eye problems that might result from UV exposure, only 31 percent protect their eyes by wearing sunglasses every time they step into the sun.

“UV damage to your eyes can start in as little as 15 minutes,” said Justin Bazan, OD, medical adviser to the Vision Council, in a news release. “Many Americans have a ‘passive’ relationship with their sunglasses, and they don’t realize the dangerous health consequences that can occur from overexposure to the sun’s rays without the right eye protection.”

The lack of attention we pay to protecting our eyes from the sun is taking its toll. 34 percent of respondents have already experienced symptoms of prolonged UV exposure, such as red or swollen eyes, vision problems, and eye irritation.

The Vision Council’s report, based on a survey of 10,279 adults from across the United States, shows that Americans are much more aware of the long-term effects of the sun on their skin than their eyes. 51 percent of respondents identified skin cancer as a concern, and 42 percent worry about sunburn. But many fewer respondents identified sunburned eyes (31 percent), cataracts (26 percent) or age-related macular degeneration (21 percent) as concerns.

The results of the survey indicate that many Americans are playing a dangerous game with their vision. UV exposure to the eyes is risky – immediately and over longer periods of time.

Short-term effects may be experienced after just a few hours of intense, prolonged exposure to the sun. These include photokeratitis, or sunburned eyes, and pterygium, a growth on the surface of the eye. These conditions cause pain and irritation. Eyes may become bloodshot, irritated, swollen, or hypersensitive to light.

The longer-term effects are even more frightening. Cataracts and macular degeneration are dangerous disorders that may result from long-term exposure to UV light. Both carry the threat of eventual vision loss.

The following recommendations from the report will help to minimize your risk of UV-related eye damage:

  • Make UV protection a crucial consideration when buying sunglasses.
  • Look for lenses and frames designed for specific activities and lifestyles.
  • Purchase sunglasses only from a reputable source and look for a label on the lens or frame indicating UVA and UVB protection.

“By highlighting the cumulative and irreversible damage UV overexposure can cause, we hope to encourage Americans to make UV-eye protection an everyday habit to preserve their eyesight,” said Mike Daley, CEO of the Vision Council.

 

Article sources:

Vision Council – “Spare Your Sight: Using Shades for Protection and Style”

 

 

 

 

The Dangers of Too Little Sleep

Try not to lose sleep over the results of the latest sleep studies. Those lost hours of rest could lead to a variety of health issues, according to recent research – the common cold, depression, even heart disease or Parkinson’s.

Insomnia may cause alarming changes in the brain.

The findings of a recent study published in Radiology link chronic sleeplessness to alarming changes in the brain. Researchers in China used an advanced MRI technique to compare the brains of 23 people suffering from insomnia with the brains of 30 people with normal sleep patterns.

The images allowed them to analyze the brain’s white matter tracts. “White matter tracts are bundles of axons–or long fibers of nerve cells–that connect one part of the brain to another,” study author Shumei Li said in a news release. “If white matter tracts are impaired, communication between brain regions is disrupted.”

The scientists found that the insomnia patients had reduced white matter integrity in several right-brain regions and the thalamus. The affected areas control sleep, wakefulness, alertness, cognitive function, and sensorimotor function. The cause of these changes in the white matter may be the loss of myelin, the protective sheath that coats nerve fibers.

Sleep loss may lead to heart disease.

A team of researchers at the University of Helsinki recently discovered that lack of sleep affects the way the human body metabolizes cholesterol. By analyzing small blood samples, they observed that the genes responsible for controlling cholesterol transport were less active in people experiencing sleep loss than in those who got adequate sleep. They also found that people who slept less had fewer high-density HDL lipoproteins (the “good cholesterol” transport proteins) than those who slept sufficiently.

These risk factors may contribute to the higher risk of atherosclerosis (hardening or narrowing of the arteries) and cardiovascular disease in people suffering from sleep deprivation.

Chronic lack of sleep may increase your risk of Parkinson’s disease.

A study published earlier this month in Molecular Psychiatry reveals that chronic sleep loss and irregular sleep-wake cycles may be risk factors of Parkinson’s disease. Researchers from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University (LKSOM) examined how disturbances in circadian rhythms affected the development of Parkinson’s in a mouse model of the disease.

The mice were divided into two groups. The first, the control group, was exposed to a normal circadian schedule – 12 hours of light and 12 hours of dark each day. The second group was exposed to 20 hours of light and 4 hours of dark. All the mice developed Parkinson’s, but those exposed to the altered circadian schedule experienced significant learning impairments and drastic reductions in motor coordination and motor learning skills – much worse than those observed in the control group.

The findings lend support to the research team’s theory that sleep disorders and disrupted circadian cycles may contribute to the development of Parkinson’s.

Sleeping fewer than 5 hours may increase your risk of cold and other infections.

People who sleep no more than five hours each night may be at higher risk of suffering from a cold or other infection than those sleeping more, according to a study recently published in JAMA Internal Medicine. Surveys of 22,000 Americans showed that 19 percent of those sleeping five hours or fewer each night suffered from a head or chest cold in the last 30 days, compared with 16 percent of those who slept for six hours and 15 percent of those who slept more than seven hours.

Lack of sleep may affect cardiovascular, endocrine and immune functioning, which in turn heightens your risk of disease or infection. In addition, “poor sleep may lead to health behaviors that raise one’s risk for poor heath,” study author Aric Prather told Reuters Health. “Short sleepers are less likely to exercise and more likely to engage in less than ideal nutrition that, again over time, can affect health.”

Insomnia may lead to depression.

Insomnia may increase your risk of depression by impairing your ability to regulate emotions. Published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, the study surveyed 880 current and retired United States firefighters between the ages of 18 and 82 years. 52.7 percent of participants reported insomnia symptoms, while 39.6 reported suffering from depression.

Analysis of the firefighters’ survey responses revealed that emotional regulation difficulties had a significant impact on the relationship between insomnia and depression. These difficulties included a lack of problem-solving skills and the inability to control negative emotions.

“Our study findings suggest that firefighters with sleep difficulties are likely to experience greater struggles accessing strategies to regulate their emotions, especially when feeling upset. This, in turn, may lead to or worsen feelings of depression and low mood,” said lead author Melanie Hom said in a news release. “These results are important because they provide a plausible explanation for why and how sleep problems may contribute to depression, which are critical questions for prevention and intervention.”

Article sources:

Aho, Vilma. “Prolonged sleep restriction induces changes in pathways involved in cholesterol metabolism and inflammatory responses.” Scientific Reports 6, Article number: 24828 (2016), doi:10.1038/srep24828.

Doyle, Kathryn. “Short Sleep May Be Tied to Cold or Infection Risk.” Reuters.com.

Hom, Melanie A. “The association between sleep disturbances and depression among firefighters: emotion dysregulation as an explanatory factor.” Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine, http://dx.doi.org/10.5664/jcsm.5492.

Lauretti, E. “Circadian rhythm dysfunction: a novel environmental risk factor for Parkinson’s disease.” Molecular Psychiatry, 5 April 2016, doi:10.1038/mp.2016.47

Li, Shumei. “Reduced Integrity of Right Lateralized White Matter in Patients with Primary Insomnia: A Diffusion-Tensor Imaging Study.” Radiology, DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1148/radiol.2016152038.

Prather, Aric A. “Association of insufficient sleep with respiratory infection among adults in the United States.” JAMA Intern Med. Published online 11 April 2016, doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2016.0787.

News release, American Academy of Sleep Medicine

News release, Radiological Society of North America

News release, Temple University Health System

News release, University of Helsinki

 

 

 

 

Study Reveals Mediterranean Diet Reduces Heart Attack Risk

Research has shown us that the Mediterranean diet has many benefits. However, many people, especially those in the United States, are slow to believe in them. The latest research continues to push this diet saying that it has an impact on the risk of heart disease.

The Benefits of the Mediterranean Diet

Previous research has shown the Mediterranean diet benefits people’s health in many ways:

  • Helps your bones
  • Keeps your brain healthy and young
  • Improves longevity
  • Manages weight
  • Lowers the risk of cancer
  • Reduces the chance of cardiovascular diseases

The newest study supports these benefits to give the Mediterranean diet another healthy push in the direction of being a lifesaver for many who may be headed towards heart problems.

The study included 15,000 participants in 39 countries. All of them suffered from heart disease and had an average age of 67 years. Researchers analyzed their diet by asking them how many times a week they consumed:

  • Meat
  • Fish
  • Dairy
  • Whole grains
  • Refined grains
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Desserts
  • Sweets
  • Sugary drinks
  • Fried foods
  • Alcohol

The responses were scored with a Mediterranean diet score or a Western diet score depending on how much of each food they consumed. After four years, they followed up with participants to see how many of them had a cardiovascular event, such as a stroke, heart attack, or had passed away.

Researchers found the 100 people of those who scored high with the Mediterranean diet score suffered three fewer heart attacks, strokes, and deaths than those who didn’t eat that type of diet.

In conclusion, the study found that people who consumed Mediterranean foods reduced their risk of heart disease by one third.

Mediterranean Foods

Mediterranean foods are simple to find in your local grocery store. All you have to do is purchase them and create delicious meals by combining them in different ways. The following is a list of Mediterranean foods you should pick up the next time you go grocery shopping.

  • Mushrooms
  • Tomatoes
  • Corn
  • Beans (White, kidney, black, red, pinto, green, navy)
  • Chicken thighs
  • Lean ground beef
  • Bone-in pork chops
  • Eye of round
  • Salmon
  • Tuna
  • Chicken
  • Broccoli
  • Peas
  • Spinach
  • Onions
  • Berries (strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, cranberries, blackberries)
  • Peppers
  • Squash
  • Zucchini
  • Kale
  • Collard greens
  • Potatoes
  • Whole wheat pasta
  • Whole wheat tortillas
  • Lentils
  • Barley
  • Oatmeal
  • Brown rice
  • 2% milk
  • Eggs
  • Greek yogurt
  • Cheese (part-skim mozzarella and parmesan)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • Canola oil
  • Nuts (almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, brazils, pistachios)
  • Italian spice mix
  • Chili powder
  • Cumin
  • Garlic

As you can see, there are many combinations you can make with these foods to cook delicious meals. For example, you can flavor chicken thighs with the Italian spice mix, bake it and eat it with some fresh squash and zucchini sautéed in a pan with canola or extra virgin olive oil.

Moderation Is Key

The Mediterranean diet is a great diet to focus on, but remember the best diet is one that incorporates moderation. If you eat many of these foods, you will gain weight. It still has a lot to do with calories in and calories burned. Be mindful of how much you eat to gain all of the benefits of these foods.

You probably noticed this list does not include sweets. Sweets are something many people have a difficult time controlling. Many experts say that sugar is just as much of an addiction as drugs. It’s important to limit the amount of sugar you consume. They are empty calories, which means they do not provide any nutrition to your body, so you will likely feel hungry after eating a sugary food. Enjoy a treat when you’re rewarding yourself for a job well done. This should not be every day.

Introducing a new diet can be difficult. Do the best you can as you learn to eat differently. Some days, you will be able to make good choices all day, while other days you may make some mistakes. Don’t give up on the diet because you think you can’t do it. Just try to incorporate as many of the Mediterranean foods as much as possible. It won’t be long before you start to eat them without even thinking about it, and that’s when you’ll start to gain all of the benefits.

 

Five Surprising Ways Women Are Dying

The world is changing, and studies are showing women’s longevity is declining. Researchers are paying attention to these changes, and are looking for ways to help women live longer. One way that everyone can help is learning the five ways women are dying.

#1: Suicide – Mental Health

In a recent report by the National Center for Health Statistics, there has been an increase in suicide rates. The participants in the study were categorized and women were the ones who showed the highest rate of suicide. The rate of suicide for women has increased 60% since 1999.

Depression can be a debilitating condition for women. Women in this world are expected to care for others. They are also expected to work and be the anchor for many people. When they face a crippling condition such as depression, they feel as though they aren’t fulfilling their purpose in life. For that reason, many of them feel as though death is the only solution.

The answer is more education on depression and ways to treat it. The more women know about the condition they suffer, the more likely they will seek help for it. This can save many women’s lives worldwide.

#2: Heart Disease

One in four women dies of heart disease. It’s the #1 killer for women. Plaque builds up on the inner walls of the coronary arteries. This plaque keeps blood from flowing freely and if it ruptures, a blood clot could cause a heart attack.

Fat, cholesterol, and other substances found in blood form plaque. The best way to avoid plaque buildup in the arteries is to avoid excess fat and cholesterol in the body. Many foods contain high amounts of fat and cholesterol, which is why it is best to stay away from those foods, especially if you are already susceptible to heart disease due to genetics. Exercise can help with plaque buildup as well because it uses the excess fat and cholesterol for energy.

Women need to pay attention to the warning signs of heart disease such as obesity, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure. Taking care of your body with highly nutritious foods and exercise can reduce the risk of heart disease greatly.

#3: Cancer

Breast cancer is the most common cancer for women. Some women are more likely to suffer from breast cancer because of genetics.

The best defense against breast cancer is early detection. Administering a self-exam every month can lead to discovery of a lump that could be cancerous. By removing the lump early, the chances of survival are high.

Experts report foods high in antioxidants such as fruits can reduce the risk of cancer. While you may want to add them to your diet, the best way to ensure you are safe from this form of cancer is self-exams. It only takes a minute to do, and it could save your life.

#4: Stroke

Stroke is one of the most common causes of death in women. The symptoms are obvious, but many women who die from it do not realize it’s a stroke until after they have had one, which can be devastating.

High blood pressure can cause a stroke. It’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly by your doctor. It’s also important to work on keeping your blood pressure at a good level, such as eating healthy foods, exercising, and implementing stress-relieving techniques.

It’s important to pay attention to the signs of a stroke.

  • Numbness or weakness in the face, arms, legs, or on just one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion
  • Trouble speaking
  • Sudden vision loss
  • Trouble walking
  • Dizziness
  • Loss of balance
  • Loss of coordination
  • Severe headache

If you experience the signs of stroke, seek medical attention immediately.

#5: Chronic Lower Respiratory Disease (CLRD)

CLRD is a serious illness comprising of three major diseases:

  1. Chronic bronchitis
  2. Emphysema
  3. Asthma

They are characterized by shortness of breath, which is caused by airway obstruction. This can lead to women not being able to breathe, which causes death.

Women who have trouble breathing should make an appointment with their doctor immediately. If a diagnosis of CLRD is made, medication and lifestyle changes are made to keep the illness under control to reduce the risk of death.

Save Lives – Educate Women

Keep these health conditions in mind, and discuss them with your friends. The more women know about these conditions, the more lives will be saved.

 

 

 

How to Treat and Prevent Swimmers Ear This Summer

Summer is a popular time for young and old to spend a lot more time in bodies of water. While the ear does a great job keeping a lot of that water out the ear canal, it’s not perfect. For many people, they end up with water caught in their ear. After a while, this can lead to inflammation and infection, if left untreated. To avoid the miserable pain that comes along with swimmers ear, consider the following to treat and prevent the condition.

Treat Swimmers Ear Quickly and Easily

You can treat swimmers ear quickly and easily. All you need to do is ensure all of the water stuck in the ear comes out. You can do this by tilting your head to the side and waiting for a few minutes. If you don’t feel anything come out, it’s possible to help it along with some hot compresses. Place a hot compress on the ear while tilting the head. This should result in discharge. Some of it can be the water that’s stuck in the ear, but a lot of it will be earwax. Earwax melts when warmed up and then it naturally drains.

Be sure the hot compress is not too hot. This can burn the ear, which will cause more problems. A warm compress that is comfortable on the ear will do just as well as a hotter one.

Besides hot compresses, it’s possible to remove water from the ears with eardrops. Most eardrops sold in stores contain alcohol. Alcohol will dry up the inside of the ear and help excess water drain. Simply place the eardrops in the ear and tilt the head. Do this for a few minutes to see if water starts to drip out of the ear.

Since swimmers ear can lead to severe inflammation that causes pain, an over-the-counter pain reliever may be needed. Tylenol, aspirin, Motrin, and other pain relievers are appropriate for swimmers ear pain. If the pain worsens or continues for more than a couple of days, it’s best to contact a doctor for evaluation. Swimmers ear can sometimes turn into an infection, which will require antibiotics to treat. Antibiotics prescribed by a doctor should be taken in its entirety to ensure the infection is completely resolved.

Preventing Swimmers Ear

Swimmers ear is caused by having water stuck in the ear. To prevent the inflammation that occurs, it’s important to keep water out of the ear. The easiest way to do that is to wear earplugs. Not all earplugs will work because they need to fit in the ear. Earplugs in stores usually do not fit everyone’s ears the same and some people end up with water in their ear anyway. In this case, it is worse because instead of the water naturally coming out, it becomes stuck because of the earplug. This is why it is important to speak to a doctor to have earplugs specifically made to fit into the ear.

If earplugs are not desired, eardrops can be used to help move the water out of the ear. Eardrops specifically for people vulnerable to swimmers ear are available in stores, but it’s possible to make some at home. One part vinegar and one part alcohol work well. Simply use a couple of these drops in the ears before going swimming and any water that enters should easily come out.

Whenever water does become lodged in the ear, it’s critical to remove it as soon as possible. Do this by tilting the head to the side for a few minutes. Shaking the head in the direction of the tilt can help the water move towards the exit of the ear canal. Using the hand as a suction can also help with removing the water. Simply place the palm of the hand on the ear and push slightly against the ear and then away from it. Doing this several times can greatly help bring the water outside of the ear.

Swimmers ear is not serious unless it becomes infected. It’s frustrating to deal with, though. Try to prevent swimmers ear as much as possible. If it does happen, treat it quickly with the options above. If it doesn’t get better, turn to a medical professional for help.

5 Surprising Health Benefits of Coffee

Do you worry that your coffee habit is getting out of hand? Don’t put down that cup of joe just yet. Numerous research studies in recent months point to ways in which coffee may actually improve your health. Here are their findings:

It reduces your risk of premature death.

People who drink a moderate amount of coffee daily (fewer than five cups per day) have a lower risk of death from heart disease, neurological disease, type 2 diabetes and suicide, according to researchers from Harvard University. In a study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation, the scientists looked at the effects of drinking caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee. They observed health benefits from both. This led them to believe that coffee’s protective effects come not from caffeine, but from other chemical compounds.

“Bioactive compounds in coffee reduce insulin resistance and systematic inflammation,” said study author Ming Ding, MD, in a news release from the American Heart Association. “They might be responsible for the inverse association between coffee and mortality.”

It reverses the effects of liver disease.

Scientists in Europe recently studied the effects of coffee on non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). When mice with a high fat diet were also given a daily dose of coffee, there was significant improvement in several markers for NAFLD. They also experienced less weight gain than other mice fed the same diet. The dose of coffee given was equivalent to 6 cups of coffee for a human weighing 155 lbs. The scientists concluded that coffee protects the liver from NAFLD because it reduces the permeability of the gut.

It prevents type 2 diabetes.

Three to four cups of coffee per day could reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In a report in the American Chemical Society’s Journal of Natural Products, scientists revealed that two naturally occurring compounds in coffee have an impact on insulin levels in the body.

Insulin is a hormone that the body produces to convert glucose from food into energy. People with type 2 diabetes develop a resistance to insulin. The pancreas then makes more insulin to overcome this resistance, but eventually it just can’t make enough. When there’s not enough insulin, the glucose can’t be converted to energy and remains in the blood. High blood glucose levels are dangerous and can lead to blindness, nerve damage, and other health issues.

The researchers discovered that two compounds in coffee, cafestol and caffeic acid, both increase insulin secretion when glucose was present. They also found that cafestol increased glucose uptake in muscle cells, leading to lower blood glucose levels.

It’s rich in antioxidants.

When researchers from Monash University in Australia observed the behavior of free radicals in coffee, they discovered that coffee acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are compounds found in food that keep free radicals in check and prevent them from inflicting damage on cells and DNA.

Free radical reactions may be responsible for most degenerative diseases, such as atherosclerosis, cancer, inflammatory joint disease, asthma, diabetes, senile dementia and degenerative eye disease. By stabilizing free radicals, the antioxidants in coffee may help to prevent these diseases and slow the aging process.

It lowers your risk of dying from heart disease.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death for both men and women in the United States, where it’s responsible for one in every four deaths. Drinking coffee may prevent this deadly condition. Researchers from the Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee report that three to five cups of coffee per day may reduce your risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by up to 21%.

Article sources:

Centers for Disease Control – “Heart Disease Facts”

Florence, TM. “The Role of Free Radicals in Disease.” Aust N Z J Ophthalmol. 1995 Feb;23(1):3-7.

News release: American Chemical Society

News release: American Heart Association

News release: European Association for the Study of the Liver

News release: Institute for Scientific Information on Coffee

News release: Monash University

 

 

 

10 Ways to Protect Yourself During Allergy Season

Spring is right around the corner, and you know what that means – allergies! As many as 50 million American suffer from allergies. If you’re one of them, you are probably already starting to think how you can protect yourself from all of the sneezing, headaches, and congestion you’ll have to deal with in a few short weeks. The following can help you do that, so you can make this allergy season much less bothersome.

#1: Make an Appointment with Your Allergist

This is the time to schedule an appointment with your allergist if you haven’t done so already. He can test you for allergens, so you know exactly what you’re fighting against this season. He may even be able to give you some tips on how to avoid them when the results come back.

#2: Stock Up on Meds

You should shop for allergy medications now. You can save money if you buy ahead of time because of coupons and pre-allergy season sales. The other benefit of buying allergy medications now is that you won’t have to rush out to the store when you’re feeling sick from them.

If you need prescriptions for medications, be sure to ask for as much as you need for the entire season when you’re at the allergist’s office. You don’t want to be stuck with no medication, and for some allergists, it can take a while to get a refill.

#3: Eat Healthy and Exercise

Eating healthy and exercising can strengthen your immune system, which takes a huge hit during allergy season. If you start now, your reactions may not be as bad because your immune system will be well-rested and ready to combat all of the allergens.

#4: Pay Attention to Pollen Counts

If pollen is your biggest allergen, you need to pay attention to pollen counts each day. Your local news station will tell you, but there are many apps and website that will give you the same information when you need it for your area. Simply conduct a search on Google or in the App Store or Google Play on your mobile device.

#5: Plan Your Day Around Pollen Counts

If the pollen is going to be high during the morning, it makes sense to wait to go outside until the afternoon or evening.  If it’s going to be bad during the afternoon, you should go outside in the morning. It may be frustrating to plan your day over something as trivial as pollen counts, but it can help you feel less miserable the next couple of months.

#6: Take Medication Before Being Exposed

Unless you take medication daily, you should try to  prevent an allergy attack before it happens. When going outside, be sure to take a dose of your medication, even if the pollen counts are low. With this defense, you’ll have even less of a chance of becoming sick.

#7: Invest in Face Masks

It’s not the most stylish thing you can do, but it’s worth it when you don’t feel ill after mowing your lawn. The best ones are the N95 filter masks because of their effectiveness in blocking pollen.

#8: Limit Stress

Stress can make your immune system tired, which will decrease its efficiency in keeping allergens from hurting you. Be sure to take good care of your mental health during allergy season by engaging in stress-reducing activities – yoga, meditation, prayer, reading, or whatever works you.

#9: Wash Your Hair at Night

Pollen can cling to hair, especially if you use mousse or gel. Be sure to wash your hair at night, so you’re not breathing in the pollen while you sleep. Try not to use mousse or gel during allergy season to limit the amount of pollen that gets trapped in your hair.

#10: Wash Your Nose

Your nose has little hairs inside of it to keep dust, germs, and yes, allergens out of your body. It’s important to wash your nose during allergy season for more of a defense against them. Use a saline sinus rinse or a nasal spray.

Live Better This Allergy Season

You can make it through this upcoming allergy season. Just take care of yourself and do what you have to do to prevent allergens from invading your body. It’s time to fight the allergy battle and win this time.

 

Healthy Habits – How Many Do You Have?

Recent research reveals that 97% of Americans don’t have all four of these basic healthy habits.

What are the most important things you should be doing for your health? While there’s a ton of advice out there, most doctors agree that it boils down to four basic habits: watch what you eat; exercise moderately and regularly; keep an eye on your body fat percentage; and don’t smoke.

Just doing these four things lowers your risk of many health issues, such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Seems simple, right? But according to recent research, only 2.7 percent of American adults adhere to all four habits.

When researchers from Oregon State University and the University of Mississippi looked at the behavior of 4,745 adults from across the United States, they were shocked to discover how few people had all four habits. Ellen Smit, senior author on the study and an associate professor in the OSU College of Public Health and Human Sciences, remarked on the findings in a news release. “This is pretty low, to have so few people maintaining what we would consider a healthy lifestyle,” she said. “This is sort of mind boggling. There’s clearly a lot of room for improvement.”

Not smoking was the most popular healthy habit, with 71 percent of subjects avoiding cigarettes. 46 percent of subjects hit or exceeded their activity level goal. 38 percent ate well. A mere 10 percent had a body fat percentage in the normal range.

Rather than simply asking the subjects about their behavior and relying on self-reported data, the study also used actual behavioral measurements. Each subject wore an accelerometer, which is a device that measures movement. The goal was 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous activity per week. Smoking status was confirmed by blood samples. X-ray absorptiometry was used to determine body fat percentage. Subjects who were in the top 40 percent of people who ate foods recommended by the USDA were considered to have a good diet.

Some other remarkable findings of the study were:

  • Having a normal body fat percentage appeared to be the most important factor in achieving healthy levels of HDL and total cholesterol.
  • While only 2.7 percent of the subjects had all four healthy habits, 11 percent had none, 34 percent had one, 37 percent had two, and 16 percent had three.
  • There were differences in habits according to gender. Women were less likely to get enough exercise, but were more likely to avoid smoking and eat well.
  • Mexican Americans scored higher on the healthy eating scale than non-Hispanic white or black adults.
  • While adults over 60 had fewer healthy habits than adults ages 20-39, they were more likely to be non-smokers and eat a healthy diet.

While the findings of the study were alarming, hopefully they will serve as a wake-up call to the many American adults who have unhealthy habits. Experts agree that more research needs to be done to discover the best ways to help people incorporate healthy behaviors into their daily lives.

 

Article Sources

News release: Oregon State University