Thursday, January 29, 2015

Is Popcorn Dangerous to Your Health?

Popcorn is an American obsession. According to the Popcorn Board, we consume 16 billion quarts of popcorn every year – an astounding 51 quarts per person! But beware: the latest research suggests potentially great health risks with popcorn consumption, depending on how you consume it.

Isn’t popcorn actually good for you?

The problem is not with popcorn itself – a fairly healthy snack food in its most basic form. It is a natural whole grain, after all. In fact, popcorn is discussed on the nonprofit The World’s Healthiest Foods site as, if not super-healthy, at least fundamentally not bad for you.  And the popcorn’s hull is a rich source of the antioxidant polyphenols, known to prevent damage to cells.
But popcorn consumption does have a few inherent risks, such as:
  • Serious allergic reactions that some people experience
  • A choking hazard, especially to children age three or younger, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics
  • The risk of gastrointestinal problems for those with health conditions that require them to follow a low-residue or low-fiber diet
But the two most common popcorn health risks are both related to the way that most popcorn today is prepared:
  • Slathered after cooking in unhealthy toppings
  • Cooked in store-bought microwavable popcorn bags
The first popcorn risk is likely no surprise to you; the risks of using gobs of table salt, butter or oil drenching, or sugary coatings (such as caramel popcorn) are well known.
But the second and most insidious risk is the coating and ingredients inside those delightfully convenient microwavable bags. Inside popcorn bags, you get not just corn kernels but a whole host of additives that are capable of doing minor or serious damage to your body.
Part of what makes the risk so great is the amount of microwave popcorn we consume in the U.S.  A large part of popcorn’s rising popularity is the convenience of the microwave popcorn bag.  Introduced into the American culture in the early ‘80s, by the end of the ‘90s, microwave popcorn represented nearly 80 percent of all the popcorn we consume. Thus, if there are health risks unique to microwave popcorn, then a great number of us are at risk.

The dangers specifically associated with microwave popcorn

Let’s examine each microwave popcorn risks.
Cancer and infertility risk from the microwave popcorn bag coating
Microwave popcorn bags are typically lined with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA). PFOA is the chemical used to put the slick in nonstick cookware. But, when heated, PFOA increases cancer risk and infertility.

To quote the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “PFOA is very persistent in the environment and has been found … in the blood of the general U.S. population. Studies indicate that PFOA can cause developmental and other adverse effects in laboratory animals. PFOA also appears to remain in the human body for a long time.”

These factors prompted the EPA to investigate whether PFOA might pose a risk to human health. Related research:
  • In January 2012, the the Journal of the American Medical Association publish results of a study involving 600 children and their mothers that determined that PFOA lowered by 40 percent the the participants’ disease-fighting antibodies. 
  • The Journal of Occupational Medicine reported in 1993 that factory workers exposed to the PFOA had increased cancer risks, especially liver cancer and prostate cancer.
  • A 2009 study linked PFOA exposure to delays in achieving pregnancy.
Lung disease from microwave popcorn flavoring
A 2002 and 2007 PubMed article both confirmed human risk from the chemical diacetyl, a common flavoring agent in microwave popcorn, that appears to increase the risk of  bronchiolitis obliterans, a lung condition caused by a response to diacetyl that generates scarring of small airways and makes breathing difficult.
Though the condition was initially found in popcorn factory workers, the condition, also known as popcorn lung, has now been diagnosed in consumers who have made a habit of intentionally inhaling the smells of freshly opened, freshly popped microwave popcorn.

Other common and unhealthy microwave popcorn additives found in major brands of microwave popcorn include:
  • Partially hydrogenated oils, which are linked to heart attacks, according to the CDC
  • Tertiary Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), a preservative made from butane that has been linked to ADHD, breathing trouble, skin allergies and, in lab animals, stomach cancer
  • Propyl Gallate, used to minimize rancidity, but is linked to cancer in studies on rats and has been associated with stomach, skin, and breathing ailments.

What you can do to avoid microwave popcorn bag risks

If you insist on using microwave popcorn:
  • Let the popcorn bag cool before you open it, which will remove some of the popcorn lung risk.
  • Consider buying organic popcorn, which will not have pesticide residues common to conventionally grown corn.
Alternatively, you can make popcorn snacking much healthier by not using the store-bought microwave popcorn bags at all.  Healthy alternatives to consider:
  • Make do-it-yourself microwave popcorn. Using an ordinary brown paper lunch bag, just follow this homemade microwavable how-to video’s guidance.
  • Use a popcorn air popper. Prepared this way, you’ll fill up your tummy and only take in 30 calories for a cup’s worth.
  • Employ more traditional corn popping techniques, either using a popcorn popper machine or simply with a pan on your stovetop. Use a healthier oil, such as olive oil or coconut oil, a modicum of salt, and you’ll know your popcorn has no risky secret ingredients.
Using one of these alternatives, popcorn can still be a healthy family treat.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The 3 Evils of Texting

Caution: Indiscriminate texting can be Bad for Your Health

Texting  is convenient, and it’s becoming an increasingly popular way to communicate. But new research and statistics show that texting – sending or reading text messages on mobile devices – can be harmful to you and your family in several ways.  If you know someone (or if you are someone!) with a too-much-texting problem or a dangerous-use texting problem, share this article with them; you may save their life.

Texting risk #1 – Distracted driving

Whether or not we recognize it, texting involves a great deal of brain activity, making it difficult to safely multitask while texting.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NTSA), texting is one of the leading crash-causing distractions, and 10 percent of all drivers under age 20 involved in deadly car crashes were distracted at the time of the crash.

Statistics show that engaging in “visual-manual subtasks” – texting for instance –creates a 300-percent increase in your risk of getting into a car crash.

So, make sure your kids know that traffic crashes are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens – it might sober them to the risks of distracted driving.

Texting risk #2 – Distracted walking

While you are less likely to harm others if you’re texting while walking (instead of while driving), the same distractive nature of texting can put you at great risk  if texting while walking.

According to research from, 40 percent of teens say they have been hit or nearly hit by a motor vehicle or bicycle while walking, and statistically one teen every hour is struck and either injured or killed  by a vehicle on the road, with many of these incidences involving electronic activities, such as texting and listening to music with earphones.

Pedestrian texting risks exist for adults too, but teens are less likely to be cognizant of the inherent risks, as you can see at just about any street intersection in the U.S. – yes, teens often text even while crossing the street, according Safe Kids Worldwide.

To get your teen in a dialogue with you about the dangers of texting while walking, broach the subject by showing them these humorous “Seeing Eye People” videos.  Then show them the risk statistics from this article.

Texting risk #3 – Distracted parenting

Before you come down too hard on your kids regarding risk #1 and #2, don't forget to look in the mirror.  A recent study showed that roughly 33 percent of parents were using their phones almost continuously during restaurant meals with their children.

The 2014 Boston-based study, Patterns of Mobile Device Use by Caregivers and Children During Meals in Fast Food Restaurants,  identified and measured parental mobile device distraction by anonymously observing caregivers dining with their young children in fast food restaurants (where 40 percent of American restaurant meals are eaten). What they observed is that mealtime – a historically common time of face-to-face parent-child time of interaction – is being invaded by mobile devices.
The researchers observed that one third of the parents used their mobile device almost continuously during the mealtime, and that interactive phone activities (texting or swiping) further blocked the parent-child disconnect.

Researchers also noted that, at the time parents were most distracted by texting, they were more likely to be verbally or even physically harsh in response to their children's efforts to get the parents' attention.

Much previous research also shows that a lack of eye contact harms that all-important child/parent psychological and emotional bonding.  Make sure you are not damaging that parent-child interaction (which is instrumental in a child's cognitive, emotional, and language development) by turning off your cell phone completely during meal times.

Solution – throw away your cell phone?

Given these three risks, should you stop texting altogether then?  Not necessarily. But, like many other things in life, applying both moderation and wisdom in the use and timing of texting is important.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Thursday, January 22, 2015

What You Should Know about Folate and Folic Acid

Should you supplement with B-12 (folate)? What are the risks?

It has many names – folate, folic acid, vitamin B-9 and vitamin B-12. No matter what you call it, it adds up to one thing: Folate is a holistic benefactor of bodily health function. But is it safe to boost your B12/folate intake with supplements? Are there dietary ways to boost folate naturally? Let's investigate.

Folate/B-12 health benefits

The health benefits of folate are many, including fighting obesity, treating depression, improving brain function, preventing colon cancer and other forms of cancer, fighting heart disease and strokes, warding off dementia, processing amino acids, and repairing and maintaining cells, including red blood cells.

Folate is also important in fetal development, with some research showing that inadequate B-12/folate can hamper proper spinal cord development, resulting in brain damage or paralysis.
And though not all the research agrees, many people swear by folate/B-12 as a hangover cure.

How much B-12/folate do I need to take?

The amount of folate you need varies, depending on your age, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Their guidelines:
  • Birth to 6 months: 65 mcg
  • Infants 7–12 months: 80 mcg
  • Children 1–3 years: 150 mcg
  • Children 4–8 years: 200 mcg
  • Children 9–13 years: 300 mcg
  • Teens and adults: 400 mcg
As well, pregnant teens and women should consider 600 mcg daily, and breast-feeding teens and women should consume 500 mcg daily.

B-12 studies: folate research

With so many claims of folate health benefits, you may be asking, "says who?" Fortunately, folate and folic acid (the most common folate supplementation form) have been studied rigorously, offering insight into these claims.
While most research related to natural forms of folate (see the list below) confirm the health benefits, the results are not all positive for folic acid.
On the thumbs-up side:
  • A 2006 study found that the rate of stroke deaths fell dramatically during the first four years of cereal/grain fortification.
  • Several studies have shown that folate slows brain aging.
  • A 20-year US/China collaborative folic acid study determined that the newborns of women who took the daily recommended amount of folic acid during pregnancy experienced an 85% drop in the risk of neural tube defects while not increasing the risk of miscarriage or multiple births.
  • This study concluded that folic acid fortification in food products can significantly decrease the prevalence of spina bifida and anencephaly.
  • This 2013 study showed that folic acid given to mother rats protected their offspring from Colon cancer.
  • A CDC study concluded that mothers with preexisting diabetes who did not supplement with folic acid had an increased risk for birth defects.
On the thumbs-down side:
  • This study showed that, in abnormally high doses, folic acid supplements promoted the growth of existing pre-cancerous or cancerous cells in the mammary glands of rats.
  • A randomized control trial conclude that that daily supplementation with 1 mg of folic acid can increase prostate cancer risk.
  • Another study showed that older adults who consume more than 400 micrograms of folic acid per day accelerate the rate of cognitive decline.
  • This 2013 research showed that folic acid deficiency can be detrimental to the health of  your great-great-grandchildren.

B-12, folic acid risks

At least in its natural form, there are very few side effects or risks associated with folate, even in high dosage. That said, extremely high doses (more than 15,000 mcg) can negatively affect your sleep, cause stomach troubles, skin reactions, and possibly seizures.
However, there are a few risks associated with too much folic acid – the supplemental form of folate:
  • High doses of folic acid can mask the symptoms of anemia – a serious B-12 deficiency.
  • Some research suggests that high doses of folic acid can increase colorectal cancer risks.
  • Drug interaction risks with folic acid include methotrexate (when taken to treat cancer) and certain anti-epileptic medications. As well,  taking sulfasalazine (used for ulcerative colitis) can dampen the body's ability to absorb folate, thereby depleting your folate levels.

how to get B-12 folate into your diet

Generally, natural sources of vitamins are more bio-available (usable in your body) than synthetic sources. And fortunately, there are many natural ways to increase the amount of folate in your diet.
Folate is a word that comes from the same root as foliage – no accident there, as many greens are excellent sources of folate. But there are several more.
According to the USDA, you can get 100 micrograms of naturally occurring folate by consuming any of the following foods:
  • A cup of cooked Brussels sprouts
  • One cup of cooked collard greens or mustard greens
  • A cup of cooked broccoli
  • Five spears of asparagus
  • A half cup of cooked spinach
  • A full cup of cooked artichokes
  • A 1 cup can of sweet corn
  • Eight ounces of orange juice
  • A half cup of dry roasted peanuts
  • A half cup of cooked dried beans
  • A mere quarter cup of lentils
  • A half cup of sunflower seeds.

Though not as abundantly, you can also increase your folate intake by consuming yeast, cereals, mushrooms, eggs, poultry, liver, dairy products, and from some fruits such as bananas, strawberries, and oranges.
To boost your folate intake more, consider minimal or unprocessed consumption of the fruits and vegetables noted above. For example:
  • One cup of cooked garbanzo beans provides over 275 micrograms of folate, while canned garbanzo beans provide just 75 micrograms.
  • A cup of freshly cooked asparagus has more than 265 micrograms of folate, but a cup of canned asparagus only has about 170 micrograms.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Discovery: Using Sound to Explore the Brain and Medically Treat

Understanding the human brain and how it works has always been challenging – and risky, since it required invasive brain surgery to truly understand how the brain’s electrical pulses result in functioning. But recent research into sound technology could change the way we study and understand the brain. The sound-based techniques may also prove useful in treating certain illnesses or conditions, including epilepsy and blindness.

What may change: Instead of inserting devices through the skull and into the brain – the traditional way of studying the brain – scientists recently showed that we can use low-intensity ultrasonic waves to remotely and safely excite central nervous system neurons.

These revolutionary discoveries are expected to change our understanding of how cells function, and even how cells can be influenced to create medical advancements.

How Brain cells function and how sound Influences

The cells that form the brain, nerves, and spinal cord are called neurons. These neurons interrelate using electrical pulses, commonly referred to as action potentials.

Results of the new research,were published in 2014. The work was performed by Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, with assistance from a team at Stanford University, and used sound waves – also known as ultrasonic or ultrasound – to successfully and noninvasively reach inside the brain to better understand these intercellular action potentials. 

Ultrasonic waves may be relatively new to brain research, but they are not new to medical treatment. You’ve no doubt heard of, or experienced, ultrasound used to create an image of an unborn child, and you may have been given ultrasonic heat therapy by a physical therapist. The science behind these techniques are similar – identifying or stimulating cellular activity through interaction with sound waves.

The research

When ultrasonic waves are zeroed in on neurons, it can change how the neurons generate and transmit electrical signals, according to the researchers.

The new research they performed was based on applying a new model of understanding to identify the way sound waves and cells interact. The key: the cellular membrane.

The cell’s membrane is like a skin that surrounds the cell, keeping the cell’s contents intact and protected from outside influences, and also store an electrical charge.

The molecules that form the cell’s membrane are arranged in two layers, with a  buffer zone between them. The researchers found that when the ultrasonic waves “ping” a cell, both membrane layers vibrate, causing the membrane's electrical charge to move, creating an alternating current that builds the charge to the point that it can create an action potential.

The Technion researchers used the theoretical model to predict results, which were then verified by the Stanford University team using brain stimulation experiments in mice.

Increasing our understanding of how ultrasound affects nerve cells.

Some of the ways in which this new understanding of ultrasound neuron stimulation may engender new medical advances:
  • Scientists may use ultrasonic waves to explore the inner workings and structure of the brain – unquestionably less invasive and safer than physically implanting electrodes.
  • The ultrasonic wave information could serve to support information gleaned via MRI scans, giving doctors a more accurate and in-depth diagnosis of medical conditions in the brain or spine.
  • Ultrasonic wave therapy could became a way of treating epileptic seizures.
  • The research believe that ultrasonic wave therapy may be able to stimulate  retina cells in the eyes. Doing so may allow those with blindness see images or may enable anyone to “see” objects when there is no light.
The research team's findings have opened a door to improving our theoretical understanding of how something as central to nature as the cell actually functions, and may also motivate and guide the development of focused ultrasound stimulation. This new level of understanding releases significant potential to the future of medicine and biological understanding, offering many applications in the diagnosis and treatment of brain disorders.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Losing Sleep Harms Your Brain

Study shows: If you don’t snooze, you lose.

We already know from earlier studies that that losing sleep reduces your IQ the following day (so much for the “cram for the exam” practice), and that important synaptic connections in children's brains strengthen during sleep, for instance. But two recent sleep research studies reveal that losing significant sleep, such as when pulling an all-nighter, can shrink your brain, according one to study, and create brain damage , according to the other.

Study #1 – Lasting brain damage from sleep deprivation

A 2013 Swedish study found that depriving yourself of a good night’s sleep can result in damage to brain tissue.  The alarming news is that it happens almost right away; losing even one night’s sleep can lead to the type of brain damage more commonly seen as a result of a head injury. 

The goal of the study was to determine if  “total sleep deprivation” – i.e., pulling an all-nighter – would negatively affect certain neurons or proteins in the human brain. To test this, the scientists took 15 young and healthy normal-weight men and subjected them to few hours of sleep deprivation, drawing blood samples before and after the sleep intervention (because high concentrations of certain markers in blood suggest possible neuron damage or impairment of the blood brain barrier function). The scientist also tested the same subjects’ blood after getting a full night’s sleep.

The researchers found that the critical markers – increased blood concentrations of molecules NSE and S-100B – were present the morning after the sleep deprivation. These chemicals are the same ones that would be elevated in blood levels after a brain damage event (though not to the same degree).

Their conclusion: lack of sleep can invoke brain-degenerative processes.

The theory the scientists postulated from the study is that the lack of sleep prevents the brain from performing normal toxin-clearing functions.  Though the study did not go deep enough to connect the sleep deprivation with Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, or multiple sclerosis, the scientists suspect that further studies based on their research may make such a connection.

Study #2 – Brain shrinkage from sleep deprivation

Sleep has been proposed to be "the brain's housekeeper," serving to repair and restore the brain. A 2014 study, reported in the September issue of Neurology®, supported that theory, showing that sleep difficulties may be linked to faster rates of decline in brain volume.

The study researchers examined 147 young and elder adults, seeking a link between sleep difficulties (having trouble falling/staying asleep at night), and brain volume. The participants underwent two MRI brain scans, an average of 3.5 years apart, before completing a questionnaire about their sleep habits. The assessment looked at how long people slept, how long it took them to fall asleep at night, use of sleeping medications, and other factors.

The study found that those with sleep difficulties showed a more rapid decline in brain volume over the course of the study in widespread brain regions, including within frontal, temporal and parietal areas, with results most pronounced in those over age 60.

"It is not yet known whether poor sleep quality is a cause or consequence of changes in brain structure," said study author Claire E. Sexton, DPhil, with the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom.

"There are effective treatments for sleep problems, so future research needs to test whether improving people's quality of sleep could slow the rate of brain volume loss. If that is the case, improving people's sleep habits could be an important way to improve brain health."

Are you getting enough sleep? 

To learn more about getting a healthy night’s sleep, check out these related sleep resources:
Make sure to pass this article on to anyone you know that uses all night exam-cram sessions so that they will be aware of the health risks.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

January: Financial Wellness Month

There’s plenty of advice out there on how to make more money, be financially savvy, and aim for promotion at work (hint: become an invaluable and flexible employee). And I’ve written plenty on how to be financially smart . But as we reflect on financial wellness this month, perhaps it’s worth considering being happy…even when we’re broke.

It’s a conundrum, right? When the bankroll is small and the bills are headliners, we often want to hide under the covers and beg for it all to go away. But as it turns out, more money doesn’t necessarily equal happiness, particularly when we reach the end of life. Social media maven Mona Nomura offers the sad tale of her mother: "After she attained what she thought was success, [my mother] was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer. She spent the days up until her death regretting almost all the choices she made and beat herself up day after day. One of her last journal entries included reflections on how unappreciative she was with the things in front of her, and finally realizing happiness does not lie within superficial matters a little too late."

So how do you avoid having these savage regrets, in the face of mounting financial obligations and a still shaky economy? Can we be financially well and still live on a tight budget?

Practice gratitude. This can be a tough one, especially if you are feeling the squeeze in your wallet. But as author and speaker Britt Reints suggests, life is about more than just problems. Think about the things that matter – truly matter – in your world. Your loved ones, friends, family, co-workers. What about your mindset? What do you love best about yourself? Sure, there’s plenty we can come up with to complain about, but there are elements that make us unique. What are those? Make a list of the things that you can be grateful for, and put it by your desk, or tape it to your mirror. I keep mine on my calendar. Whenever I get down about anything, including my budget, I can pull it out and remind myself why this life is so worth the struggle.

This is now, not forever. You don’t have to stay here. If counting every cent by the end of the month doesn’t make you happy, start planning for change! Anna Manalastas left a career in the film industry and discovered yoga as her passion, but it swallowed up her savings. She describes being broke as just a moment in life.So embrace this phase and squeeze it for all it’s worth so you won’t have to go through it again in the future.

Live in the moment. While you are setting goals for future affluence, don’t get so ahead of yourself that you don’t enjoy what is right now. Despite the frustrations, there is so much for you to indulge in right now. Lisa Earle McLeod recommends living in the moment. Remember that this is the only time in your life that your children will be this age. That your friends will be at this place in their lives. That your parents will be who they are, right now. It goes by quickly, and soon, we will face other trials. There is no rewind in life. So despite the financial struggles that you may be enduring, don’t miss these opportunities for treasured moments.

Being broke isn’t fun, but it doesn’t have to be the worst time of your life, either. Part of financial wellness is not just having a certain dollar amount in the bank, but also having the right mindset about money. Having been on both sides of the experience, I can tell you I’m much happier with less in my bank account because I chose to put people and experiences into my life that money can’t buy. What are the parts of your life that can’t be bought? What ways can you work on embracing them even more?

Ally Bishop
Contributing Writer

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Can you wash away that nasal stuffiness?

Most of us are aware of the risks of dealing with nasal congestion by regularly using over-the-counter decongestant nasal sprays. But when winter colds or spring allergies overwhelm your nasal passages with itchiness or stuffiness, do you have a choice?  Maybe you do. 

Have you heard of bathing your nasal passages in a saline solution? Many people have found relief from nasal allergies or sinus pressure this way. 

In fact, saline nasal rinse products have become so popular in recent years that several big box stores now carry them, and many drug stores carry a broad selection of them.

In this article we’ll look at the benefits, methods, and risks of saline rinses to help you decide if saline nasal irrigation is right for you.

Nasal rinsing – Can it help with congestion?

First, let’s be clear that the common alternative to a nasal rinse – regularly using a standard over-the-counter decongestant nasal spray (which typically use such chemicals as xylometazoline or oxymetazoline – has risks. One of the biggest is a condition of nasal passage damage known as rhinitis medicamentosa. Using decongestant nasal spray for many consecutive days can cause this, and cause your nose to become unresponsive to the decongestant. Learn more about these risks at WebMD.

By comparison, nasal saline rinse products don’t use chemicals but rather a measured combination of salt water with baking soda (for buffering). It is introduced into the nose by gravity or spray pressure, which then drains back out of the nostrils into the sink, along with mucus.

When the mixture is correct (see risks below for the alternative) and you’ve properly warmed the solution (not too hot, not too cold) the nasal wash can be painless and even soothing.

It can take some getting used to the technique involved and to the whole concept of the nasal rinse, which you may find “gross” if you’ve never heard of it or done it. But many proponents swear by the nasal rinse, having found no better way to restore healthy breathing and clear air passages.
Do nasal rinses work? Apparently yes:
  • Many otolaryngologists, ENTs, and allergists prescribe saline rinses for their patients, and find that it can help to remove and and thin out excess mucus. Doctors recommend it because it restores healthy and refreshing moisture in nasal passages and eases mucous membranes inflammation.
  • Many medical studies of saline rinses have revealed that nasal rinsing aids air flow and can even reduce the count of the white blood cell accumulation that often causes the inflammation or allergy symptoms.
One of the big advantages of the nasal rinse is that, compared to surgical solutions, the effective nasal irrigation method is something you can do by yourself over any sink in your own home. But perhaps its biggest advantage is that, because it uses no chemicals or drugs, the nasal rinse can be used frequently without the risk of rhinitis medicamentosa side effects or the addictive quality of chemically-induced condition resurgence.

How to do a nasal rinse

The three most common solutions for nasal rinsing are neti pots, saline rinse spray bottles, and pressurized saline spray cans, described below.

With each method, the “trick” is to breathe only through the mouth during the process, which keeps the solution from getting into your throat or esophagus. Then, the solution can enter one nostril and will naturally drain back out – ideally out the other nostril, clearing your passages of excess mucus along with it.

The three common “tools” for using a nasal saline rinse solution:
  • Neti pots are long-spouted pouring devices that look much like a tea pot.  Sometimes plastic and sometimes ceramic, you fill the neti pot with the solution (water and the saline-soda solution packet that the product comes with), and then tilt your head to one side over a sink while pouring the solution into your highest nostril, such that the solution drains out your lower nostril into the sink basin. The neti pot is considered the most gentle method.
  • Saline rinse spray bottles use the same saline solution but you introduce the solution into your nose by squeezing the soft plastic bottle, thus squirting the solution into one nostril, which, because the bottle blocks the nostril, will drain the solution and mucus out the other nostril and into the sink basin. The spray bottle method is generally considered most effective because the pressure of the squirting action can get the solution further up into your nasal passages.
  • Pressurized sprays are in a metal, pressurized can with a nostril-shaped nozzle, and are a convenient way to get a very small amount of saline solution into the nasal passages.  Not really designed to be for a full nasal rinse, these pressurized sprays are better for moisturizing a dry nose.
After each method, gently blowing your nose with a facial tissue or handkerchief will eliminate the excess solution and further clear your passages.

Nasal saline rinse health risks

While considered safer than chemically-based nasal sprays, there are still several nasal irrigation health risks that you should be aware of.

  • Product sterility – Since the contents of the neti pot or squirt bottle are going to be either poured or squirted up into your nose, and since the container is typically reused for this purpose many times, it’s important that you keep the container clean to avoid contamination. Follow all maintenance and container replacement instructions that come with your product.
  • Sharing risks – If you’re sharing your nasal rinse container, you are introducing significant risk of sharing any germs/viruses that you or the other user has. Think of your nasal rinse container the same way you do your toothbrush – i.e., not a good idea to share with others.
  • Water sterility – Most doctors (and product instructions) advise you to use distilled water to ensure that you’re not introducing any germs, bacteria, or other foreign matter into your nose.
  • Measurement issues – For budget-conscious individuals, it’s tempting  to consider making your own nasal rinse solution.  In fact, there are many website with nasal saline solution recipes for doing this.  But doing so increases the risk that the solution ingredients will be incorrectly balanced, which can not only make the process uncomfortable (too little salt creates a burning sensation) but can also increase, rather than relief, stuffiness.
  • Long-term use risks – Recent studies on using saline nasal rinses say that too much of a good thing is a bad thing. A 2009 study suggested that if nasal rinses are used daily for many months experienced a higher incidence of sinusitis than those who did not use it continuously. The principle at play is that nasal irrigation can remove natural mucus coatings that provide some natural defenses against illnesses, much the same as how we need a a healthy gut “biome” of bacteria to keep us healthy. Thus, using it continuously adds the risk that, even as the rinse successfully removes bad, excess mucus, it can also remove beneficial natural fighters of bacteria, virus, and fungus.  The solution is to avoid long-term continual use.
If you want to try a nasal saline rinse and are not sure how to go about it, there are several videos online that individuals have posted. If you can handle the thought of watching a stranger do a nasal rinse, check out a couple of them.

Do you use saline nasal rinses? Do they work for you? Please use the comments tool below to share your thoughts and experiences.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Get Fit as a Family With These 7 Tips

January is National Family Fit Lifestyle Month.  Based on health statistics, getting families involved in fitness should be a high priority:
  • According to statistics, more than 10 percent of young children in the U.S. are obese.
  • Between 15 and 25 percent of U.S. school children are overweight, a recent Surgeon General report states.
  • And the trend is disconcerting; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that childhood obesity in the U.S. has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.
This alarming trend puts today’s children at risk for heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure in the coming years.

Advantages of fitness as a family

Getting fit can be done as a solo venture.  But there are several reasons why family fitness activities may be the better way to go.
  • Influence: We are affected by our environment, whether it’s negative or positive. When the kids see Mom and Dad regularly getting up early to go for a walk, or see their parents eating healthier, they notice this “new norm” and are more likely to perceive this fitter lifestyle as simply the way things should be.
  • Accountability: When fitness is a family effort, you create a sense of responsibility to one another, just as joining a running or cycling group creates accountability, which increases your likelihood of being consistent with your workout.
  • Togetherness: In the typical modern family, getting time together is often difficult.  A shared activity that happens to be physically beneficial can help you spend time together while simultaneously improving health.  So, instead of going to a movie or ordering a pizza for family TV night, try one of the family fitness ideas below.

Seven Ideas for Building family fitness

Creating a more fit family can be fun! The following ideas show how.  For any of the suggested team sport activities that require more participants than you have in your family, partner up with another family from your church or in your neighborhood to create friendly competition. 
Idea #1 – Take a healthy cooking class together
Many communities having cooking schools or health supermarkets that have a calendar of cooking classes. If there’s no minimum age, sign up as a family and learn new healthy food preparation techniques together.
Idea #2 – Go on family walks, family hikes
Make a habit of taking a Sunday family stroll.  Walking is something that just about any family member can do, and doing it together creates healthier hearts and healthier family communication.
Idea #3 – Go roller skating or ice skating
Skating is a good aerobic activity for both children and adults: one that also improves balance and coordination.  It’s also good for families with teenagers who might be more interested in being with each other or friends their age;  while they “do their thing,” you and your spouse can be within sight and yet enjoy some one-on-one time.
Idea #4 – Build archery skills
Though not a heavy calorie burning activity, learning to shoot a bow and arrow builds hand-eye coordination, upper body strength, and is a lot of fun! Many local communities have archery courses available for free. Take lessons as a family to get up to speed quickly.
Idea #5 – Team up for disk golf or Ultimate Frisbee
Disc golf is a rapidly growing sport, played very similarly to traditional golf, only with Frisbee-like discs. Like golf, disc golf is a great all-ages sport. Unlike golf, disc golf is very affordable! Many good discs can be bought online for under $10, and many local disk golf courses charge as little as five dollars per game, or are even free.
If your family is highly competitive and in good shape, Ultimate is a popular alternative. It rules are similar to soccer's, and it's as strenuous as a soccer game, basically using a Frisbee disc instead of a ball.
Idea #6 – Laser tag or paint ball
Most communities these days have laser tag facilities, or nearby access to a paintball course. Both activities are adrenaline-pumping ways to involve the entire family (or two families), particularly those with teenaged kids. Of the two, laser tag is a more affordable option, but both are worth trying as a family.
Idea #7 – Use people power to run errands
Sometimes, a more fit lifestyle can be as simple as choosing fit alternatives to running daily errands.  Build exercise into your family’s lifestyle by leaving the car behind whenever the distance is otherwise reachable on foot or by cycling.  Bike or walk together to the library or to your kids’ sports practice session, or to pick up a carryout meal.

Resources for a fit family lifestyle

Here are handy resources designed to work together as a family to improve health and fitness.
  • Eat Smart. Play Hard.™ -- This USDA-sponsored site provides for parents and caregivers with information to help you eat better, be more physically active and be a role model for your kids.
  • Let's Eat for the Health of It  -- This digital brochure based on the Dietary Guidelines for Americans provides tips for building a healthy plate, eating the right amount of calories, being physically active, and more.
  • Make Family Time Active Time  -- This site from the National Institutes of Health gives great tips for enjoying physical activity together as a family.
  • Create Healthy, Active Celebrations –  From the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, this PDF brochure provides ideas for making healthy eating and physical activity part of special events and celebrations, including low-cost recipes, party themes, and tips on event planning.
Why not use January's National Family Fit Lifestyle Month to kick-start your family's healthier new year? If you have suggestions or ideas for family fitness, please share them using the comments field below.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer