Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Latest on TB

What is TB?

According to the Center for Disease Control, TB is a disease caused by a bacterium that typically affects the lungs. Also known as tuberculosis, TB can attack other organs such as the kidneys, the spine, and the brain. Left untreated, TB can be fatal. But, the disease is curable.

History of TB:

TB was once the leading cause of death in the U.S.  In the 18th and 19th centuries, the disease became an epidemic. TB still causes an estimated 1.5 million deaths annually.  While reported cases of TB are at a record low, the disease remains a worldwide health concern today, especially in undeveloped countries.

Symptoms of TB:

A persistent cough lasting for more than a few weeks.
Weight loss.
Weakness and/or fatigue.
Chest pain.
Coughing up blood.
Lack of appetite.
Night sweats.

What is the difference between latent and active TB?

With latent tuberculosis, you have the TB infection in your body, but you have no symptoms. The disease remains inactive and is not contagious. However, latent TB must be treated. Approximately 1/3 of the world’s population has latent tuberculosis!

In the case of active tuberculosis, you will suffer from symptoms, you will feel sick, and you are also contagious.

Is tuberculosis contagious?

Yes, active tuberculosis can quickly and easily spread through air particles from an infected person who is coughing or sneezing, for instance, to others. This is why it’s not uncommon to hear of TB outbreaks occurring after an infected individual uses mass transportation or travels by plane. Despite this, experts say that it’s not that easy to catch TB.

How is TB diagnosed?

According to the Mayo Clinic:

Physical Exam: Your doctor will check your lymph nodes and listen to your lungs while breathing to help determine if tuberculosis might be present.
Skin Test: The most common test for TB. A reaction on your skin in the area you’re tested indicates the possibility of having TB. False-negative results may occur, so follow-up tests usually confirm a diagnosis.
Blood Test: Typically used to rule out or confirm latent or active TB after skin test.
Chest X-Ray: Confirms findings of a skin test.
Sputum Test: This method, used after an x-ray, involves testing the sputum, mucus you bring up while coughing, for the TB bacterium.

Risk factors for catching TB:

Anyone with a compromised immune system has a greater chance of catching TB if exposed. Examples include:

Being infected with HIV.
Having other chronic health conditions, such as diabetes, which affect the body’s ability to fight infection.
Alcohol or tobacco use.
Improper treatment of tuberculosis in the past.

Treatments for TB:

The standard treatment is 6 months of antibiotics. This course of treatment can last up to 2 years if the medications stop working, which is known as drug resistance.

Latest findings:

Vitamin A may help to fight TB by boosting the immune system, according to this article.
TB can be difficult to treat because it is often drug resistant. This means scientists need to keep finding new drugs for the treatment of this disease. Medications known as multiple-target drugs have shown signs of being good treatment options. See this article for more details.
The TB Alliance is planning to launch a study of a combination of TB drugs used as a “cocktail” to treat the disease.  The hope is this new treatment option will alleviate the occurrence of drug resistance with TB.

For more information, visit www.annals.org or www.nim.nih.gov/medlineplus.

Be Wize & Be Healthy

The Caffeine Kick

Caffeine-enhanced products are popping up everywhere – from drinks and gum to slimming body wear and eye cream. But, how safe are these products for consumption and use? Here’s what you need to know to keep your family healthy and safe.

How safe is caffeine overall?

According to reports, adults who consume caffeinated drinks such as coffee, tea, and hot cocoa can actually experience mental benefits such as short-term focus and a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. Green tea offers added benefits by affecting areas in the brain responsible for motivation, focus, and pleasure.  Moderate amounts of caffeine are typically safe for women to consume during pregnancy, but caffeinated drinks are not advised for children.

What are the risks of consuming too much caffeine?

Poor quality of sleep.
Cardiovascular symptoms.
In large amounts, caffeine may stop absorption of calcium, leading to thinning bones (osteoporosis).
Consumption may lead to fibrocystic disease, painful, lumpy breasts.

How much caffeine is in foods?

Coffee – 100 mg per cup
Tea – 14 - 60 mg per cup
Cola drinks – 45 mg per 12 oz. drink
Chocolate – 45 mg per 1.5 oz.
Candy, snacks, and gum – 40 – 100 mg per serving

What products can contain caffeine without consumers knowing?

Non-cola sodas
Ice cream
Pain relievers
Cold medicines

How much caffeine can you consume per day?

**Consume no more than 200 -300 mg of caffeine per day, which is two to three 8 oz. cups of coffee or five servings of caffeinated soft drinks or tea**

How do you calculate caffeine content of products?

This is where part of the difficulty with caffeine consumption comes in. Because the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t require manufacturers to list caffeine content on labels, consumers are often unaware they’re consuming additional caffeine. In the case of caffeine-enhanced products, such as eye cream or body wear, there is no clear-cut answer regarding how much caffeine is absorbed into the body with use. As a result, you might be taking in more caffeine than you’ve accounted for.

The solution? Be aware of products, such as those mentioned above, that may contain small amount of caffeine. If using caffeine-enhanced products where it’s unclear how much caffeine you might be exposed to, make allowances for that additional caffeine, as insignificant as it may seem, as part of your daily intake. Check out this site for more info regarding caffeine-infused products.

What about caffeine-enhanced energy drinks?

These drinks provide temporary benefits such as increased alertness and enhanced energy levels, which explains why students often rely on these drinks to stay awake while studying. However, energy drinks can be dangerous to your health, and especially that of your children, due to their high caffeine levels, according to recent findings from the University of Waterloo and Dalhousie University, published in Preventive Medicine. According to this site, caffeine contents of energy drinks may range from 50 - 500 mg, clearly exceeding the AMA’s recommendations for daily caffeine consumption. When you couple the high caffeine content with being high in sugar, these drinks are linked to serious health risks.

Keep your family members safe and healthy with greater awareness as well as moderate consumption and use of caffeine-enhanced products.

Be Wize & Be Healthy

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Quick and Easy Thanksgiving Cleanup

You and your family gobbled up the Thanksgiving Day meal, but now it’s time for the cleanup. Rather than groan at the thought of the chore, enlist the help of family members, and your cleanup will be a breeze.

How can you ensure a quick and easy Thanksgiving cleanup?

Have storage containers ready. Younger family members can help with cleanup by transferring mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce and other side dishes into separate bowls for storage. Always label and date the containers for quickly locating in the refrigerator.

Clean the turkey bone. Always have an adult take care of this task, putting leftover meat into separate containers for sandwiches, baked dishes and soup.

Save the wishbone. If it’s your family tradition to save the wishbone to determine future good luck, place it out of hands of young children and pets while drying.

Safely dispose of discards. To ensure pets and young children can’t get into garbage, be sure to wrap everything well and throw out of reach of little paws and hands.

What do you need to know about leftovers?

According to the Mayo Clinic, you can safety keep leftovers for three to four days in the refrigerator. If you don’t think you’re likely to use leftovers within that timeframe, it’s best to freeze them.
To avoid food poisoning, refrigerate leftovers promptly and don’t let them sit for more than two hours at room temperature.
Refrigerate turkey and stuffing separately, rather than in one container.

What are the best uses for leftover turkey or ham?

You can quickly turn Thanksgiving leftovers into everyday meals by using either turkey or ham in soups, casseroles and sandwiches. With fresh new recipes, these ideas for leftovers are anything but boring.

Sandwiches are always a big hit with leftovers. Put a new twist on a classic sandwich with this recipe idea. Open-faced sandwiches are another idea. With gravy, stuffing or potatoes and a spoonful of cranberry sauce, you can easily create a delicious hot meal for your family to enjoy. Looking for a healthier alternative? Consider a wrap instead of sandwich bread.
Soups are an easy way to use leftover ham or turkey. Once cooked, soup can easily be frozen for use during the cold winter months. Check out this recipe for Creamy Mashed Potato and Turkey Soup.
Individual potpies can be made with both ham and turkey.  Step-by-step instruction are available at www.thenewlywedpilgrimage.com.
Replace bacon or sausage with ham or turkey as a breakfast meat for a change of pace.

Additional suggestions for leftovers:

Consider making individual meals for elderly neighbors who might not get out for the holiday.  Include a choice of meat, samples of all the fix-ins and a slice of pumpkin pie for a nice treat.
Encourage your guests to create plates to take home for themselves. Often, family members and friends say they enjoy eating out for Thanksgiving but miss the leftovers when they don’t cook at home.
Not a fan of leftovers? Don’t overcook. Keep your meals in proportion to your number of guests to ensure less or no waste.

Do have a favorite recipe for Thanksgiving leftovers? Feel free to share! Happy Thanksgiving.

Be Wize & Be Healthy

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Protecting Your Precious Eyes

With the increased use of computers and other electronic devices, it’s crucial to protect your eyes from the negative effects these devices may have. Whether you spend only an hour a day on a computer, or have a family member who is glued to an electronic device, it’s important to be aware of the special needs of your precious eyes.

What is Computer Vision Syndrome?

According to the American Optometric Association, CVS is a term that encompasses eye and vision-related problems associated with prolonged computer use. It can apply to cell phones and other electronic devices, too.

The most common symptoms of CVS are:

Blurred vision
Dry eyes
Neck and shoulder pain

What factors contribute to the symptoms of CVS?

Poor lighting
Glare on a computer or electronic device screen
Improper viewing distance
Poor seating posture
Uncorrected vision problems
A combination of causes

Why is staring at a computer screen or other device difficult on eyes?

In general, eyes work harder when viewing electronic devices than reading a printed page due to the unique characteristics of the screen and the high visual demands of viewing it. Letters on an electronic device are often not as precise or sharply defined as those on a printed page. In addition, the level of contrast of the letters to the background is reduced and the presence of glare and reflections on the screen may make viewing difficult.

How is CVS diagnosed?

A comprehensive eye exam, including an eyesight test.
A patient history.
Other specific tests as needed, including those to check measurements and how the eyes are focusing.

If you’re diagnosed with CVS, how is your overall vision affected?

Typically, most symptoms of CVS are temporary and will decline or stop completely after cutting back on or alleviating computer work. In rare instances, eye symptoms continue to worsen over time.

How can you protect your eyes from electronic devices?

Control the lightning and glare on your computer or electronic device screens. Consider a computer screen eye protector, if necessary.
Maintain the appropriate posture when using a computer or other device.
Establish a proper working distance from any electronic screen.

What are the recommendations for preventing or alleviating CVS?

Location of computer screen. Your eyes should be looking downward, approximately 4-5 inches below eye level.
Reference materials.  Placing reference materials beside your monitor usually works best. Refrain from moving your head back and forth from document to screen.
Lighting. Avoid glare from lighting and windows.
Seating. Use a comfortable chair, with feet flat on the floor. Your wrists should not rest on the keyboard.
Rest. For every two hours of computer work, rest your eyes for 15 minutes. In addition, for every 20 minutes of computer viewing, look into the distance to refocus eyes for a few minutes.
Blink. Help minimize dry eye by blinking as you work. Blinking keeps the front surface of your eye moist, which helps to alleviate this symptom.

What else do you need to know?

Special glasses for computer use are sometimes necessary. Even individuals who have an eyeglass or contact lens prescription may find it's not suitable for their computer requirements. Your eye care professional will work with you to determine your specific needs.

Sometimes vision therapy, also called visual training, might be necessary. This therapy is a series of eye exercises that assist the eyes and brain in working together more effectively.

Be Wize & Be Healthy,

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Bee Pollen Health Benefits & Risks

Some research shows that Bee pollen – the nutrient-rich pellet made by honeybees and used to feed their young – is full of concentrated goodness for humans too. To help you decide if supplementing your diet with bee pollen is right for you, let’s take a look at the benefits, the risks, and the research. But first…

What is bee pollen?

The pollen that makes you sneeze is chemically different than the pollen molded by bees into granules. Honeybees create bee pollen as they fly from flower to flower. When a honeybee lands on a flower, it scrapes off the loose pollen powder from the stamen using its jaws and legs, and then moistens the pollen with honey it brought from the hive, mixing it and pressing it down into pockets on its legs. It forms into a single pollen granule, which the bee takes back to the hive to become food for the young bees. Amazingly, a single teaspoon of bee pollen pellets represents about 240 hours of pollen-harvesting labor from one bee! 

Bee pollen possesses the nearly all the nutritional substances we need for survival and health, including B-complex, other vitamins, amino acids, and more accessible protein per ounce than that of any animal source. Bee pollen has been called by many "the ultimate survival pack," because it is such a complete nutrient combination. Purportedly, you could live indefinitely on a diet of nothing but bee pollen and water if you add a source of dietary roughage.

Key health benefits of bee pollen

While bee pollen is popular in health circles today, its history is deep, having been used as food for centuries. Written history shows that Hippocrates and Pythagoras recommended bee pollen for its healing powers, even prescribing it to their patients.
Positive health benefit claims by proponents of bee pollen include:
  • Boosting the immune system (due to its antibiotic effect on the body, potentially protecting it from viruses)
  • Enhancing energy (because of its carbohydrates, protein, and B vitamins)
  • Increasing sexual functions in both men and women – aphrodisiac (due to hormonal boosting)
  • Lifespan/longevity increase (because of its high antioxidant count)
  • Soothing skin irritation (bee pollen is often used in topical products for this reason)
  • Aiding digestion (due to its enzymes)
  • Protecting the skin and boosting skin cell regeneration (through its amino acids and vitamins)
  • Reducing inflammation in the lungs (due to its inherent antioxidants that can induce anti-inflammatory effects)
  • Boosting sports performance, including speed, stamina, and endurance
  • Reducing allergic reactions (by reducing the presence of histamines)
  • Correcting nutritional imbalances in the body
  • Improving prostate health (by reducing inflammation resulting from benign prostate hyperplasia)
  • Treating addiction and supporting weight loss (by reducing cravings)
  • Increasing cardiovascular health (due to be pollen's high amounts of the antioxidant bioflavonoid Rutin, which is known for strengthening blood vessels and capillaries)
  • Preventing heart attacks and strokes (also because of bee pollen's Rutin)
  • Stimulating ovary function
  • Battling oxidation (because of its high antioxidant content that strengthens the cells' ability to fight free radicals)

Research on bee pollen

Since many of the bee pollen health benefit claims come from those who market bee pollen, it's helpful to look at scientific research to see if it supports claims. Here is what we found:
  • A 1983 study of bee pollen to analyze its properties found that it  has high crude fiber content, and contains high concentrations potassium, phosphorus, calcium, and sodium. While they found bee pollen to be high in protein, it is minimally useful to humans because of its low digestibility.
  • One study reports anti-inflammatory benefits from bee pollen, similar to the effect of the drug Vioxx, but without the increased heart attack risks.
  • Two studies, one in China and one in Denmark, on the effect of bee pollen on memory found little to no improvement on memory. However, in both cases, the tests involved a formula that only had 14% bee pollen.
  • A 1977 clinical trial on bee pollen determined that bee pollen provided no significant sports performance enhancement benefit.
  • A 1978 study, reported in Journal of Sports Medicine, tested bee pollen’s effect on athletic performance, and concluded that the pollen had no significant effect.
  • Former Russian Olympic coach Korchemny determined in a 2-year study that bee pollen improves athletes’ recovery power. 
  • Vanderbilt University compiled results from multiple bee pollen studies, finding no proof that bee pollen has any energy-enhancing effects nor positive weight loss effects.
  • Some clinical tests showed that bee pollen is quickly digested and enters the bloodstream quickly.
  • One experiment showed that, on a diet of nothing but bee pollen,  mice can survive and reproduce.
  • A 1994 mouse experiment tested bee pollen’s effect on maternal nutrition and fetal growth. The pollen-fed group experienced increased body weight,  higher levels of total protein, and a lower death rate than the fetuses fed a normal diet. 
  • A 1995 clinical trial on pollen extract’s anti-tumor potential found it to be effective in treating prostate enlargement and prostatitis.
  • In a 1991 study on rats on the effect of pollen on prolonged poisoning of rats with simulated industrial exposure, liver damage was nearly nonexistent in pollen-treated rates, yet significant in the control group.

Bee Pollen risks

The University of Utah states that there are no significant food or drug interactions to bee pollen. That said, some people are allergic to ingested pollen, with symptoms ranging from mild to fatal.  Allergy warning signs include:
  • Wheezing
  • Rash
  • Photosensitivity
  • Anaphylaxis
If you have a history of airborne allergies to pollen, the risk of a reaction to bee pollen supplements is higher.
Some studies also suggest that bee pollen can create liver damage or renal failure.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

An Unexpected Health Benefit of Computer Games – Reduced Nicotine & Food Cravings

Can you "game" the system of addictive behaviors to reduce cravings? A recent study suggests that you can – that you can subdue your addictive cravings, such as those for cigarettes, food, or alcohol, simply by playing certain PC games for a few minutes.

Gaming can be good for you?

We reported in 2012 on the potential health benefits, and even social benefits, of computer gaming and video games. While the same potential risks from too much gaming or age-inappropriate games are still there (discussed in the 2012 gaming article), a 2014 study adds further grist to the mill of the arguments in favor of gaming.

The research psychologists focused on the measurable effects generated from study participants who were playing the computer game Tetris, observing that the game-playing activity lessened the severity of alcohol, food, and nicotine cravings.

In this study, the psychologists witnessed that the mental-visual stimulation experienced when players rapidly manipulated the Tetris game shapes distracted participants' brains from picturing food, alcohol, or tobacco products and, consequently, the associated cravings.

The study also revealed that the positive effects kicked in after as little as three minutes of gameplay. It appears that the visual stimulation inherent in the game Tetris reduced cravings associated with alcohol, cigarettes, and food.

How researchers discovered the positive effect of gaming

The science behind the study is based on "Elaborated Intrusion Theory," which suggests that imagery is central to craving and that, therefore, a visually-based tasks should decrease craving and craving imagery.

The research, conducted at the Plymouth University Cognition Institute, tested this theory using 121 study participants who were asked if they were experiencing a craving and, if so, were then instructed to rate the strength, vividness, and intrusiveness of the craving. Following this, the participants either played Tetris for three minutes or, for participants placed in the control group, watched what appeared to be a computer program trying to load for three minutes, effectively receiving no visual stimulation.

Before task completion, craving scores of both groups were essentially the same. However, after the three minute period, those participants who played Tetris had significantly lower craving and less vivid craving imagery than the control group.

The conclusion: loading up the visual-spatial part of our memory has the potential to reduce our naturally occurring cravings. The researchers also concluded that Tetris might be a useful way for just about anyone to tackle cravings outside the laboratory in everyday life.

Understanding the science of cravings

Earlier studies on addictive behaviors have shown cravings to be a trigger that launches undesirable activities such as binge eating, giving up on weight loss programs, and even the onset of obesity.

Cravings are an everyday occurrence; we all experience them. Cravings are usually associated to negative effects. When experiencing cravings that we can't ignore, we either lose resistance and engage in the undesirable behavior (such as breaking a diet, overeating, smoking, or drinking) or, even if we are able to resist the temptations of the cravings, we often experience undesirable distress or distraction.

What happens is that an internal or external trigger gives rise to a spontaneous thought that we are either able to ignore or that latches on, becoming elaborated. When elaboration happens, mental images are developed and held onto, overwhelming other mental faculties, such as the desire to resist the negative behavior.

The power of these images in the mind's eye is substantial. For example, an earlier study showed that alcohol-craving imagery resulted in a majority of study participants being able to mentally "taste" the substance they craved.

Why Tetris can short-circuit addictive behaviors

It turns out that working memory – the place in our minds where visual cravings occur – has a limited load capacity. As the new study showed, involving the working memory system with an irrelevant task load, such as playing Tetris, overwhelms that visual-spatial "sketchpad." The result is that this unrelated task can short-circuit the cravings for food, alcohol, or cigarettes – effectively distracting the mind and dulling the addictive cravings.

While this short-circuiting effect may work with other similar games, Tetris is specifically known to load the visual-spatial part of working memory. In Tetris, the player can only keep the game going if they rotate and move geometric shapes very quickly to achieve the goal of completing a row of shapes without gaps.

How you can game the system of addictive behaviors

If you want to try this same experiment at home, you will find that Tetris and several freeware knockoff versions of Tetris are available for download from the Internet. The next time you are experiencing cravings common to tobacco, alcohol, or foods, open your computer or mobile device right away and play a few rounds of Tetris.

You too may find that Tetris works to manage your cravings or other related imagery.  Worst-case scenario, you'll get to enjoy the pleasure of a short game break. 
As an added bonus, if you have any trouble with lazy eye syndrome, a 2013 study showed that Tetris can also improve problems with lazy eye.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Discover The Ancient Chinese Practice of Tai Chi

What is tai chi?

Tai chi is an ancient Chinese practice that originated as a martial art and form of self-defense. The practice has evolved into a form of exercise that incorporates a series of gentle, focused movements with deep breathing and relaxation. While there are thousands of different styles of tai chi, all are based on specific forms and moves. Often referred to as “meditative movement,” this non-competitive, self-paced practice is great for stretching, balance and calming the nervous system.

Tai chi basics for beginners:

* Styles of tai chi include: Yan, Wu and Chen.
* The ancient practice is based on forms, with short being best for beginners.
* Tai chi involves moves, which are a combination of actions. Many moves have been named after animals, such as Bird’s Tail, Horse Stance and White Crane Spreads Its Wings. But, don’t let the complexity of the names deter you.

What are the health benefits of tai chi?
According to the Mayo Clinic:

Relieves stress and anxiety
Benefits cardiovascular health
Increases stamina and energy
Assists with balance, flexibility and agility
Improves muscle strength

Results of studies evaluating balance, sleep quality and cognitive performance can be found at http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3396052/.

Additional benefits include:

Noticeable improvement in quality of sleep
Immune system enhancement
Lower cholesterol levels and blood pressure
Helps diminish joint pain
May improve chronic pain

Studies have proven that regular tai chi practice results in a reduction in the number of falls among participants. In addition, in a study involving stroke victims who practice tai chi, significant improvement in balance, quality of life and mental health issues were reported. Read more here.

What health conditions can tai chi benefit?

Balance, equilibrium issues or vertigo
Arthritis and any condition affecting the joints
Chronic conditions such as fibromyalgia

While tai chi is generally a gentle, safe form of exercise, always consult your healthcare provider before starting a practice.

Who can practice tai chi?

Individuals of all ages and fitness levels
Older individuals who otherwise may not be able to engage in exercise
Those recovering from injury or illness
Individuals or groups

How can you find a class?

Experts suggest you find a qualified teacher to learn tai chi movements
Videos and books are available to augment classes
Local YMCA/YWCAs, senior and health centers offer classes
Sites such as https://www.taichinetwork.org/ can help you find a teacher in your area.

Suggestions for maximum benefits of tai chi:

1. Set regular practice times
2. Practice several times per week, in addition to your class
3. Aim to workout for 20 minutes or longer
4. Wear loose, comfortable clothing

So, if you're looking for a new activity that offers numerous health benefits, can include the whole family and is relatively inexpensive to try, the ancient Chinese practice of tai chi might just fit the bill.

Be Wize & Be Healthy,