Monday, March 3, 2014

Living With Seasonal Affective Disorder

If you start feeling a little out of sorts at the change of seasons, there might be a good explanation. It’s estimated that approximately half a million individuals are adversely affected by the changing seasons, with many unaware of the cause. But, with greater awareness, an array of treatment options and a plan for self-care, you’ll be back to feeling like yourself in no time.

What is Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Seasonal Affective Disorder, also known as S.A.D., is a type of depression that occurs seasonally. Typically, symptoms affect individuals in the fall and winter months, lasting until the warmer summer months.

What are the symptoms of S.A.D.?

According to the Mayo Clinic, individuals affected by fall/winter S.A.D. usually experience the following types of symptoms:

Loss of energy
Heavy feelings in the arms and legs
Social withdrawal
Loss of interest in activities usually enjoyed
Appetite changes, especially craving high carbohydrate foods
Weight gain
Difficulty concentrating

Does S.A.D. only occur in the fall/winter?

Many individuals are unaware that a second type of S.A.D. can occur from spring to early summer. The spring/summer form of S.A.D. is not as common as the fall/winter form. There is a different set of symptoms that accompany spring/summer S.A.D.

Symptoms of spring/summer S.A.D. include:

Difficulty sleeping (insomnia)
Increased sex drive
Poor appetite
Weight loss

How is S.A.D. diagnosed?

Your health provider can diagnose S.A.D. based on your symptoms, creating a treatment plan specifically for you.

What causes S.A.D.?

While the exact cause remains unclear, experts agree that genetics, age and your body’s chemical makeup all play a role in developing Seasonal Affective Disorder.  Changes in exposure to sunlight may affect S.A.D. by disrupting your circadian rhythm, causing a decrease in serotonin levels and affecting melatonin levels in the body.

Does S.A.D. affect men and women differently?

Yes, typically women are diagnosed with S.A.D. more often than men. However, men may experience more severe symptoms.

Are certain individuals more susceptible to S.A.D.?

Yes, especially:

Those who live farther from the equator.
Individuals with a family history of S.A.D.
Those who have clinical depression or bipolar disorder.

What is the treatment for S.A.D.?

Light therapy (phototherapy)

What can you do to help alleviate the symptoms of S.A.D. at home?

Make your home sunnier and brighter by opening shades and curtains, allowing as much natural light in as possible.
Get outside, even on cold or overcast days.
Exercise regularly. It’s a great stress reliever and produces endorphins, which help you feel and look better.

What other factors should you consider in the treatment of S.A.D.?

According to a recent article, if you suffer from S.A.D., holiday time can be particularly challenging. Experts suggest:

Limit your alcohol consumption at parties and festivities.
Don’t let holiday overspending dampen your spirits, causing unnecessary worry and depression.
Be aware that fatty, sugar-laden foods can sap energy.
Recognize if you’re feeling overwhelmed by obligations – family traditions and work parties, for instance –and reduce your commitment to these activities.
If you’re feeling nostalgic, especially if spending the holidays alone or far from family, socialize, volunteer or find another way to connect with others.

S.A.D. is by no means a sign of weakness or a character flaw. It’s a chemical imbalance in your body that can be managed with the proper treatment. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to get help if you need it.

Kathy Rembisz
Contributing Writer

Friday, February 28, 2014

Shopping Carts Injure Children in Record Numbers

Maybe you saw the recent and popular viral video in which a baby falls from a store shopping cart, rescued mid-fall by the lifesaving actions of a store employee. We can rejoice in this, but a January study report warns that many children do not fare as well from all-too-common shopping cart accidents – that more than a half-million children have been treated in emergency rooms for injuries from shopping cart incidents in the last 21 years.

Even more alarming: the statistics show that, even with a decade of operation with voluntary shopping cart safety standards, the number and rate of concussions and  injuries from shopping carts accidents have continued to climb. In fact, today, one child is injured every 22 minutes from a shopping cart mishap.


The study was conducted by researchers in the Center for Injury Research and Policy of The Research Institute at Nationwide Children’s Hospital.  They examined shopping cart accident data sourced from the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) from 1990 through 2011 regarding children who ended up in emergency rooms.  What they found:
  • More than 530,000 injured children – an average of more than 24,000 children annually – found themselves in an emergency department from a shopping cart incident.
  • Most injuries (70.4 percent) resulted from running into or falling over the cart, a cart tip-over, or entrapment of extremities in the cart.
  • At 78.1 percent, head injuries were by far the most commonly injured body region.
  • The annual rate of concussions and  internal head injuries increased dramatically – by more than 200 percent! – during the study period.
  • Most of the head injury rate increase happened to children under five years of age.
Clearly, the voluntary shopping cart safety standards that were introduced by the federal government 10 years ago are not enough to ensure the protection of our children.

Can shopping cart design changes reduce injuries?

Several cart design changes, whether initiated voluntary or required through legislation, are being considered to improve the safety of children.  These changes include:
  • Elevating performance standards for shopping cart child restraint systems
  • Lowering the child seating area of the cart to reduce cart tip-over by lowering the center of gravity of the cart and to decrease the severity of injuries because the child will not fall as far
  • Creating parental guidance literature or programs on how to safely use shopping carts
  • Using store-wide broadcasts that encourage shopping cart safety belt use
  • Requiring store employees to encourage parents to use the cart safety belts.

How to protect your children from shopping cart injuries

There are steps you can take as a parent to reduce your child’s risk of a shopping cart injury:
  • Stay with the cart and your child at all times and make sure your child remains seated in the cart.
  • When possible, choose alternatives to placing your child in a shopping cart.
  • Choose another cart if parts of the cart restraint system are missing or are not working.
  • If available, use a cart designed to lower the child seat position.
  • Always using a shopping cart safety belt when one is available if your child needs to ride in the cart. Be sure your child is snugly secured in the straps and that the child’s legs are placed through the leg openings.
  • Remain diligent even when your children are not in a shopping cart, but just walking. Many injuries occur when children and carts collide. Especially in the case of smaller children, adults may not see the walking child.
  • Do not let children operate/steer the shopping cart unless you are watching closely.
For related injury prevention materials or to learn more about the Center for Injury Research and Policy, visit

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Take a Bite Out of Dental Decay This Month

February is National Children's Dental Health Month – a good time to educate your children about the importance of oral health. The American Dental Association (ADA) wants to help you do this!  They provide a wealth of educational materials and tips to support good dental hygiene in America: to get the word out that developing good habits at an early age is the best way to get children on the path to lifelong healthy teeth and gums.

Five ways to encourage dental health at home

You can put a dent in dental decay at your school or in your home with these tips and materials designed to educate and encourage kids regarding good dental health.

Tip #1 – get the Super-Smile poster

Download, print, and display these posters in places your kids can’t miss them, like the bathroom mirror or on the fridge. 
Get the large 11"x17" Tabloid Sized poster:

Download Children's Poster  Download Teen Poster

You can get both of these posters in a standard 8”x12” letter size as well:

Tip #2 – Do activities geared toward great teeth and gums

ADA offers a wealth of games, puzzles, coloring sheets and more, each designed to get your kids excited and more knowledgeable about dental health. The links below include English and Spanish language versions.

Tip #3 – Reveal those missed spots!

One of the most powerful ways to identify insufficient tooth brushing or improper technique is to use a simple food coloring technique to shed light on otherwise invisible plaque. You’ll need some red food color, water, a mirror – preferably the kind that magnifies – a new toothbrush, and toothpaste.
To make the magic happen, add three or four drops of the food color into a few tablespoons of water in a paper cup. Have your child swish the colored water around in his or her mouth for about ten seconds and then spit it out into the sink. Ask your child to use the magnifying mirror to study their teeth and gums; the red food coloring makes the areas with plaque show up as bright red!
The education continues when your child brushes afterward with toothpaste and a new toothbrush.  If they miss any spots, they’ll know right away, as the red coloring highlights the missed sections.  Have your child brush again until they’ve successfully removed most of the red food coloring. 
Your child will likely never brush the same way again.

Tip #4 – Do a fun science experiment on tooth decay

To demo tooth decay effectively, you can use an apple with a hole in it.
First, make a one-inch deep hole in an apple. Put it in a paper bag and set it aside for about three days.  Take a knife and cut through the apple through where you made the hole. Show your children the decay that formed around the hole. This is a good way to demonstrate shows how decay can also spread through a tooth.
Explain that good oral hygiene, including brushing at least twice a day with fluoride toothpaste and flossing daily is important to stop tooth decay from spreading.

More ways to promote dental health at home

Try all of the above tips and you'll have your kids on the road to a healthy smile in no time.  As well, visit the ADA's "For Kids" section, where you can play student-focused dental games and animations.  Also check with a local dentist; many of them have public speaking events during National Children's Dental Health Month that you could attend.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Monday, February 24, 2014

Dry Skin S.O.S.

We’re in the endless winter doldrums – the holidays have passed, cold weather has settled in, and winter coats are our daily fashion statement. Not to mention, our skin is dry and itchy. How do we combat it in this dry season?

Common skin lotions and salves often contain strong perfumes and odors, not to mention a list of ingredients that can only be found in a laboratory. So what do you do when your skin is dry and flaky, but you don’t want to use chemical-laden solutions?

First, take a look at your food. Your diet can greatly affect the health of your skin! As the body’s largest organ, it’s a gauge of our internal health. Not sure what to munch? Eat foods that are high in silica content, like celery and cucumber. Drink plenty of water. And enjoy healthy fats, like fatty fish (salmon or sardines), walnuts, and flax seed. The more nutrients you give your body, the healthier and more moisturized your skin will be, so aim for getting at least 3 or more colors of fruits and vegetable per day.

Second, travel no further than your kitchen! You’ll be surprised how many of the top natural dry skin remedies are hanging out in your cupboards. Kitchen finds like buttermilk, olive oil, and guacamole are easy, gentle moisturizers and skin soothers, and you don’t need to add anything to them for effectiveness. Simply lay them on the skin and let their anti-inflammatory properties and moisturizing oils sink in.

If you have a little more time, you might want to whip up a few easy recipes for any dry skin ailments. From under-eye dry patches to rosacea, you’ll find plenty of ways you can keep your skin treatment both cheap and easy, while avoiding chemicals and perfumes. Be prepared for a different texture than what you are used to: making skin lotions and treatments at home means you don’t add the extraneous ingredients for smoothness or color. But with a little practice, you will be surprised how simple and quick these effective remedies can be.

Last, if making your own solutions doesn’t appeal to you, take heart! There are many organic options with few ingredients, lots of nutrients, and moisture and healing for your dry skin. Not sure where to find them? Your local health food store will offer plenty of choices! If you don’t have one close to you, do a search online for organic lotions and dry skin remedies. You will find plenty to choose from. Be sure to check out the ingredient list, as natural products are trending right now, and the term “natural” can be used for any product, as there are no federal guidelines for its use. You may search for terms like “organic,” or “100% pure.” But still review the ingredient list to be sure you are satisfied with what you are putting on your skin as it absorbs everything we put on it.

Your skin might suffer during the cold months, but you can combat the drying effects of winter with some great alternatives! What natural remedies work best for your skin? Do you have a recipe for a natural solution that you would recommend?

Contributing Writer

Friday, February 21, 2014

Are We Getting Stupider?

As we humans grow in our scientific knowledge and our technological advancement, surely we must be getting smarter too, right?

Wrong, according to the latest genetics research, published in November 2013 in the Cell Press journal Trends in Genetics. This research claims that we may in fact be slowly but surely losing both our intellectual and emotional abilities as individuals.

How is this possible? And doesn’t this appear to fly in the face of evidence that human IQ scores are on the rise? 

The new research suggests that we are losing ground intellectually and emotionally as a result of the intricate web of genes that give us our brain power.  It turns out that this gene web is highly susceptible to mutations – changes to the basic structure of a gene – and that changes in our societal behavior has weakened our genetic selections – that these important mutations are not being selected against in our modern society. 

Do you feel like you’re under pressure?  Maybe this is why; Human intelligence and behavior require optimal functioning of a large number of genes, which requires enormous evolutionary pressures to maintain.

"The development of our intellectual abilities and the optimization of thousands of intelligence genes probably occurred in relatively non-verbal, dispersed groups of peoples before our ancestors emerged from Africa," says the papers' author, Dr. Gerald Crabtree, of Stanford University.

In other words, Crabtree believes that we were genetically at our prime hundreds or even thousands of years ago – that if a person from ancient Greece were time-transported to 2014, that person would likely give most of us a run for the money in terms of intellectual capacity.

In the long-ago early African environment, intelligence was critical for survival, and there was likely to be immense selective pressure acting on the genes required for intellectual development. These pressures would naturally result in a peak in human intelligence. From that point, it's likely that we began to slowly lose ground.

Beyond that intelligence-needed-for-survival phase, the development of agriculture and resulting urbanization made survival and health easier to acquire, which, the researchers believe, may have weakened the power of selection to weed out mutations leading to intellectual disabilities.

Based on calculations of the frequency with which deleterious mutations appear in the human genome and the assumption that 2,000 to 5,000 genes are required for intellectual ability, Dr. Crabtree estimates that within the past 3,000 years – which equates to roughly 120 generations – we have all sustained two or more mutations that are harmful to our intellectual or emotional stability.

Genes serve a multitude of purposes in our bodies. Surprisingly, recent findings from neuroscience suggest that specifically those genes that help our brains to function are the most susceptible of our genes to mutations.  This, Dr. Crabtree argues, combined with less selective pressure, is eroding our intellectual and emotional capabilities.

There is some good news in all this; the greatest concern is not for you, but for your grandchildren’s grandchildren’s grandchildren.  In other words, the intellectual slippage is extremely gradual from generation to generation. 

Judging by society's rapid pace of discovery and advancement, the researchers believe that future technologies are bound to reveal solutions to the problem. "I think we will know each of the millions of human mutations that can compromise our intellectual function and how each of these mutations interact with each other and other processes as well as environmental influences," says Dr. Crabtree. "At that time, we may be able to magically correct any mutation that has occurred in all cells of any organism at any developmental stage. Thus, the brutish process of natural selection will be unnecessary."

As long as Dr. Crabtree is right – that we will be able to identify and solve for this genetic slide into mental oblivion before we’ve become intellectual amoebas – then there’s no need for us to worry.  We can safely return to watching our favorite, mind-numbing reality television shows, knowing that we’re a good dozen-or-more generations away from seeing the consequences of our genetic laxity.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Understanding Metabolism

If you’ve ever been on a diet – or read popular health magazines – you’ve no doubt heard the term “metabolism.” It’s being boosted, sped up, or super-charged, depending on what supplement or diet plan you are considering. But what is it exactly? And why are we so interested in changing its speed?

Metabolism not just one thing that we can define. It’s actually used as a general reference to all the chemical processes in the body. What are these processes? They are what make our bodies run – and, hopefully, run smoothly! The chemical processes break down into catabolic and anabolic processes. Catabolism is when our body takes what we’ve eaten, breaks it down into usable parts, and then extracts energy as a result. That means we can walk, talk, eat, and sleep! Anabolism is the collection of the nutrients the cells need to do their work and keep us healthy. Therefore, when we talk about “speeding up” metabolism, that may or may not be to our benefit, depending on what needs our body has at the time.

Then what is a calorie? Put simply: it’s energy. The technical definition can be found here, but the important part is that you need calories to survive. Without them, our body can’t keep going. With too little energy (too few calories), the body will slow all its processes down to reserve energy. With too many calories, our bodies will increase the speed to use up a small surplus, but with too much energy, it will store those extra calories as…you guessed it: fat. This isn’t a bad thing! Some extra padding can be used up in time of need, like when there is little food. But if you live in food abundance – and many of us do – it can cause problems, such as obesity. If you aren’t sure how many calories you need, here’s a great calorie calculator to help you figure it out!

What about BMR, or basil metabolic rate? And no, it’s not an Italian seasoning! Your BMR the amount of energy your body needs to keep you alive, and nothing more: no walking, working out, talking, or dancing. Think of it this way: just like your vehicle needs a certain amount of fuel for normal driving, your body needs a certain level of fuel for all the activity it is doing while you are laying in bed. That is your BMR – the baseline of fuel needed to stay alive. However, if you drive fast or use all of the features on the car, they require more energy – which means you use more fuel. Our bodies work the same way – the more you do, the more fuel it requires. So you want to squeeze in an extra workout? Remember that you need more food to fuel it!

Before you scratch your head and say, “But aren’t I overweight because I eat too much?” Maybe…and maybe not. Sometimes we carry extra weight on our bodies due to hormone imbalances, nutrition imbalances, or inflammation. Some of us may eat too much, but others may have a body process that is out of balance and is causing our body to hold onto extra weight.

So when you are hearing terms like metabolism, calories, or BMR used for the latest fad food plan or supplement, ask yourself if the retailer’s claims make sense. You might find that sometimes, it doesn’t!

What lifestyle changes are you considering that may help you maintain a healthy metabolism? What do you think about calories and metabolism now that you have a better understanding of how they interact?

Contributing Writer

Monday, February 17, 2014

February is American Heart Month

Cardiovascular disease is often called the silent killer because it can have no noticeable symptoms. Especially for this reason, it’s important to learn the components of good heart health to keep you and your family safe and healthy.

What do you need to know about heart health?

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC):

  • Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women.
  • Every year, approximately 715,000 Americans suffer from a heart attack.
  • About 600,000 people die from heart disease in the United States each year, which accounts for one in four of all deaths.

Common types of heart conditions:

  • Coronary heart disease: Also called coronary artery disease, this is the most common type of heart disease in the United States. This condition occurs when plaque builds up in the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This disease can cause a heart attack, angina, heart failure, and arrhythmias.
  • Heart attack: According to the Mayo Clinic, a heart attack usually occurs when a blood clot blocks the flow of blood through a coronary artery. This can cause damage or destroy part of the heart muscle. Also known as a myocardial infarction, a heart attack can be fatal.

What are the symptoms of a heart attack?

  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
  • Feeling lightheaded, faint, or weak.
  • Discomfort or pain in the chest.
  • Shoulder or arm pain or discomfort.
  • Shortness of breath.

If you experience any of the symptoms, call 911 immediately.

Are heart attack symptoms different for men and women?

Yes, they can be. In fact, women often ignore their symptoms because they’re not those typically associated with heart attacks. Women should pay attention to:

  • A burning sensation in the upper abdomen
  • Lightheadedness
  • An upset stomach
  • Sweating.

What steps can you take to ensure good heart health?

  1. Eat a healthy diet.  A diet of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, and unprocessed foods is best. Limit salt or sodium intake. Also watch your intake of saturated and trans fats and cholesterol.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese can increase your risk of developing heart disease.
  3. Get moving! Experts recommend moderate to intense exercise at least 30 minutes most days of the week. If necessary, break those workouts into shorter periods of time. In general, include more movement in your daily routine, especially if you have a job that requires sitting for most of the day.
  4. Watch your blood pressure.
  5. Don’t smoke. If you smoke, quit. And limit exposure to secondhand smoke, too.
  6. Limit alcohol consumption. Men should consume no more than two alcoholic drinks per day; women should drink no more than one beverage containing alcohol daily.
  7. Have your cholesterol checked.
  8. Manage diabetes. In women, other chronic conditions, such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, too.
  9. Take medications as prescribed.
  10. Reduce stress levels.
  11. Get treated for depression.
  12. Be aware of your family history.

What events are being held throughout the month?

Go Red for Women is one of the organizations with a specific focus on heart health. Visit for events in your area. Check out the American Heart Association’s Website for valuable information on American Heart Month.

Kathy Rembisz
Contributing Writer