A Slippery Slope?

sledding 1As powerful blizzards hit the Midwest, leaving more than a foot of snow in parts of  Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois  and Missouri, many schools are closed leaving  kids to enjoy extended snow days, snowball fights, snowman building and maybe even some sledding.

But before heading to the hills, SRxA’s Word on Health wants to remind parents and children that although the adrenaline from speeding down an icy hill and feeling the snow spraying your face is hard to beat, serious injuries can also occur. While sledding has this connotation of innocence but you have to recognize that there is a potential for harm.

According to the CPSC (Consumer Products Safety Commission), each year there are more than 160,000 sledding, snow tubing and tobogganing-related injuries treated at hospital emergency rooms, doctors’ offices and clinics.

There are some hidden dangers to sledding. It’s a great winter pastime, but there are risks involved. Parents need to be aware of these risks to help prevent injuries,” says Terri Cappello, MD, pediatric orthopaedic surgeon at Loyola University Medical Center.

sledding 2In adults and older children extremity injuries such as broken fingers, wrists and ankles are the most common, while children aged 6 and under often suffer head and neck injuries. While some result in nothing more than minor concussion each year children suffer brain trauma, paralysis and even death as a result of sledding.

Over a 10 year period, the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio found an estimated 229,023 sledding injuries serious enough for ER treatment among children under 19. They also noted that:

  • 26% of the injuries were fractures
  • 25% were cuts and bruises
  • 51% of the injuries occurred during a collision
  • Collision injuries were most likely to result in traumatic brain injury
  • 34% of the injuries involved the head
  • 52% of the injuries occurred at a place of sports or recreation
  • 31% of injuries occurred on private property
  • 42.5% of injuries involved children aged 10 -14
  • 59.8% of all injuries were sustained by boys
  • 4.1% of all emergency department visits required hospitalization

sledding injuryParents don’t often think about putting a helmet on a child when they go sledding, but if the child is under the age of 6 it’s important. Also, never let your child sled head first. Injuries have been associated with the leading body part. If you lead with your head, you’re more likely to get a head injury,” warns Cappello.

Here’s a few more tips to keep kids safe while sledding:

  1. Adult supervision is critical. 41% of children injured while sledding are unsupervised. Ensure someone is there to assess the area and make sure it’s safe as well as to evaluate and respond should an injury occur.
  2. Make sure the hill is safe: that means a hill without obstacles in the sledding path, which doesn’t end near a street, parking lot, pond, or other danger
  3. Sledding should only be done in designated areas that are open, obstacle-free and groomed. Most injuries occur when a sled collides with a stationary object. Make sure there are no trees, poles, rocks, fences or cars in the sledding area.
  4. sled1Kids should be taught to be on the lookout for other sledders and to avoid collisions.
  5. Use helmets to avoid injuries and wear multiple layers of clothing for protection from injuries and cold
  6. Always sled feet first. Sledders should sit in a forward-facing position, steering with their feet.
  7. Use a sled that can steer—it’s safer than flat sheets, toboggans or snow discs

Stay safe in the snow!

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Don’t trust those Baby Blues

blue eye 2Trustworthiness is a trait we look for when determining whether someone is a friend or foe. It also helps with the social aspects of life, including social, economic, and reproductive success.

But how do we determine trust?

While character references might be a good idea, few of us screen potential friends and partners in this way. Most of us kind of go with gut feeling. Or at least that’s what I thought!

Now, according to new research, it seems that we may make the call based on eye color and face shape!

brown eyeA team of Czech researchers have been exploring which facial markers spark feelings of trustworthiness during our mind’s subconscious profiling. The researchers used 80 photographs of brown- or blue-eyed college science students. The photos were rated based on attractiveness, trustworthiness, and dominance.

The faces in the photographs were also analyzed based on the distance between the lips and brow, between the left and right cheekbones, and by the width to height ratio of the faces. This was done to determine which facial features translate into trustworthiness and which, if any, facial features are common among blue- and brown-eyed people.

What they learned was that people with similar eye color tend to share the same face shape. Brown-eyed men tend to have face shapes that convey happiness, whereas blue-eyed men, typically have face shapes that convey anger. This is consistent with previous research that showed blue-eyed babies are typically more inhibited, shy, socially wary, and timid than brown-eyed babies.

face shapeFor the record, the researchers say a brown-eyed trustworthy face contains:

  • a rounder, broader chin
  • a broader mouth with upward-pointing corners
  • relatively large eyes
  • eyebrows that are closer together

Compare this with the less trustworthy traits of blue-eyed people, which include:

  • an angular and prominent lower face
  • a longer chin
  • a narrower mouth with downward pointing corners
  •  relatively small eyes
  • distant eyebrows

Interestingly, they also showed that women tend to vote more favorably for other women with the same eye color as themselves, however eye color played no role in men’s decisions.

And the most untrustworthy trait? According to the study having downward pointing corners is a sure give-away of a shady character.

brown-eyes-blue-eyes-300x225Although the authors admit that much more research is needed, they propose several possible reasons why brown-eyed people are perceived as being more trustworthy than their blue-eyed brethren.  Apparently, brown-eyed people represent a “biosocial adaptation that has been established for millions of years. Additionally, brown eyes are one of the preferred evolutionary trait people seek in their mates.

So if you’ve ever been told that you have “one of those faces” maybe now you know why!

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Allergic to Bullying?

foodallergybullying1As if having a food allergy wasn’t bad enough, one in three children who do, also experience bullying. Worse still, nearly half of parents surveyed (47.9%) were not aware of the bullying.

Almost 8% of children in the U.S. are allergic to foods such as peanuts, tree nuts, milk, eggs, and shellfish.

The study, “Child and Parental Reports of Bullying in a Consecutive Sample of Children with Food Allergy,” was published on Christmas Eve in the online issue of Pediatrics.  Led by Eyal Shemesh, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics and Psychiatry at Mount Sinai, researchers surveyed 251 pairs of parents and children. The patient and parent pairs were consecutively recruited during allergy clinic visits.  Patients and parents independently answered questions about bullying due to food allergy or for any cause, and quality of life. Distress in both the child and parent were also evaluated.

child eating food aloneOf 251 families who completed the surveys, more than 45% of the children and 36% of their parents indicated that the child had been bullied or harassed for any reason, and 31.5% of the children and 24.7% of the parents reported bullying specifically due to food allergy.

The bullies were usually classmates and bullying frequently involved threats with the foods the child was allergic to. Not surprisingly, bullying was significantly associated with decreased Quality of Life and increased distress in parents and children.

Parents and pediatricians should routinely ask children with food allergy about bullying,” said Dr. Shemesh. “Finding out about the child’s experience might allow targeted interventions, and would be expected to reduce additional stress and improve quality of life for these children trying to manage their food allergies.”

kids-with-food-allergies-targets-for-bullies-webmdThe study also showed that when parents were aware of the bullying, the child’s Quality of Life was better. “Our results should raise awareness for parents, school personnel, and physicians to proactively identify and address bullying in this population,” says Scott Sicherer, MD, Professor of Pediatrics, and Chief of Pediatric Allergy at Mount Sinai Medical Center, NY.

Have you or your child experienced bullying as a result of a food allergy? Share your stories with us to help shed more light on this worrying trend.

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Tick-Tock, Tick-Tock. Understanding your food clock!

food-clock 2If the excesses of holiday eating have sent your system into butter-slathered, alcohol-soaked overload, you are not alone. People with jet-lag, those who work graveyard and 24 hour shifts and even late-night snackers know just how you feel.

Turns out that all these activities upset the body’s “food clock”  – a collection of interacting genes and molecules which keep the human body on a metabolically even keel. Look behind the face of a mechanical clock and you will see a dizzying array of cogs, flywheels, counterbalances and other moving parts.

Biological clocks are equally complex, composed of multiple interacting genes that turn on or off in an orchestrated way to keep time during the day. In most organisms, biological clockworks are governed by a master clock, referred to as the ‘circadian oscillator,’ which keeps track of time and coordinates our biological processes with the rhythm of a 24-hour cycle of day and night.

Scientists also know that in addition to the master clock, our bodies have other clocks operating in parallel throughout the day. food clock 1One of these is the food clock, which is not tied to one specific spot in the brain but rather multiple sites throughout the body. The food clock is there to help our bodies make the most of our nutritional intake. It controls genes that help in everything from the absorption of nutrients to their dispersal through the bloodstream. It’s also designed to anticipate our eating patterns. Even before a meal, our bodies begin to turn on some of these genes and turn off others, preparing for the burst of sustenance – which is why we feel the pangs of hunger just before our lunch hour.

And while scientists have known that the food clock can be reset over time if a person changes their eating patterns, very little was known about how the food clock works on a genetic level.

Until now!  A new study by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is helping to reveal how this clock works on a molecular level. The study showed that normal laboratory mice given food only during their regular sleeping hours will adjust their food clock over time and begin to wake up from their slumber, and run around in anticipation of their new mealtime. But mice lacking a certain gene (PKCγ) are not able to respond to changes in their meal time and instead sleep right through it.

The work has implications for understanding diabetes, obesity and other metabolic syndromes because a desynchronized food clock may serve as part of the pathology underlying these disorders.

food_clock_3It may also help explain why night owls are more likely to be obese than morning larks,” says Louis Ptacek, MD, Distinguished Professor of Neurology at UCSF. “Understanding the molecular mechanism of how eating at the “wrong” time of the day desynchronizes the clocks in our body can facilitate the development of better treatments for disorders associated with night-eating syndrome, shift work and jet lag.”

All of which is potentially good news for this sleep-deprived, word-traveler, up-all-night-on-the-ambulance, always-on-a-diet blogger! SRxA-logo for web

Rethinking Resolutions

Tablet PC computer with 2013 New Year counterNew Year’s resolutions. In previous years SRxA’s Word on Health has provided some great tips to help our readers improve their health. This year’s no different…except we’re telling you not to make resolutions.

Yes! We are officially letting you off the hook.  Why? Because according to new research, thinking of health and fitness goals as “New Year’s resolutions” can actually harm your health and have nasty emotional side effects.   For starters two-thirds of people end up ditching their New Year’s goals within weeks of starting them, less than 20% of people will stay with their resolutions for more than six months and less than 10% will keep them all year. This inability to stay on track, can lead to feelings of failure and inadequacy. Experiencing setbacks such as cheating on your diet or skipping a day at the gym can amplify those feelings, resulting in a downward spiral that can lead you back into old habits faster than if you hadn’t made resolutions in the first place.

New Year Fresh startAlthough cutting back on certain foods can be good for your health, completely depriving yourself of them can be a problem. While most New Year’s resolutions revolve around the idea of deprivation: eliminate fat or carbs or salt…these all have a place, in moderation, in your diet. The only time quitting a habit completely is really good for you is if it is dangerous to your health, like smoking or binge drinking. Even then, quitting cold turkey can be hard; it can take months to wean yourself from bad habits. The key is moderation, not deprivation.

Another problem with resolutions is that diet and fitness targets are often totally unrealistic. Setting over-ambitious goals for yourself can lead to perceived failure which means you’ll be more likely to give up and slip right back into old habits.  The key to improving your health habits is to gradually implement change and incorporate them as a part of your lifestyle.

new-year-resolutio_2384285bFinally, remember that feeding and fueling your body mentally, physically and spiritually should be fun. You should never feel like taking care of yourself is work. New Year’s resolutions often take all of the enjoyment out of the process of change. Improving yourself is not just about the end goal, it’s about overcoming obstacles in between and becoming more confident and aware of who you are. Yes, the destination matters, but so does the journey.

So this year, you have our permission to ditch the resolutions, and forego the guilt.  Instead, why not focus on the present…and each day think of one thing you can do right now, towards your goal?

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Spa Therapy

Uggghhh! Monday morning after a long holiday weekend. Not quite feeling the whole work thing today? Feeling guilty about those Thanksgiving pounds you packed on over the 4-day eating orgy?

Maybe what you need is a spa break! In case, you’re not yet in agreement – here’s another reason to consider swapping your business suit for a bathing suit.  According to a pilot study from the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine a weeks retreat at a spa is not only relaxing and nourishing, but can lead to marked changes in physical and emotional well-being.

The research evaluated 15 participants before and after their visit to a health and wellness spa in Desert Hot Springs, California.  The week-long program included meditation and colonic hydrotherapy, hatha and Vishnu flow-yoga programs, and a very low calorie diet of approximately 800 calories per day. Stress management was provided through daily structured meditation and personal meditation encouraging deep breathing, heightened awareness and a calming effect.

In preparation, participants were asked to modify their diet three to four days prior to arrival by replacing a normal diet with fruit, sprouts, raw and steamed vegetables, salads, vegetables, herbal teas, prune juice in the morning, laxative teas or herbal laxatives nightly and avoiding pasta, meat, cheese, caffeine, alcohol and processed foods.

The participants, 13 women and two men between the ages of 21 and 85, with no history of significant medical, neurological or psychological conditions each underwent a physical evaluation including weight, height, Body Mass Index (BMI), blood pressure and an EKG. They also received a complete blood count (CBC), liver function tests, tests measuring cholesterol and triglycerides, thyroid hormone testing, and the concentration of metals such as mercury and lead. In addition, psychological and spiritual measures before and after their arrival were measured.

An evaluation of the results showed that undergoing a spa program resulted in a weight decline of an average of 6.8 lbs., a 7.7% decrease in diastolic blood pressure as well as a decrease in mercury, sodium and chloride levels and a 5.2% decline in cholesterol level and mean BMI. Hemoglobin increased 5.9 percent. No statistically significant changes in liver or thyroid function and no EKG changes were noted.

No serious adverse effects were reported by any individual, but the study noted changes in the participants’ sodium and chloride concentrations, suggesting that those interested in going to a spa program should check with their physician to make sure they do not have any medical problems or medications that could put them at risk for electrolyte disturbances.

Improvements in anger, tension, vigor, fatigue and confusion were also noted as was a statistically significant improvement in anxiety and depression levels measured by the Speilberger Anxiety Scale and the Beck Depression Index.

Participants also reported significant changes in their feelings about spirituality and religiosity.

Programs such as these have never before been formally evaluated for their safety and physiological effects,” says Andrew Newberg, MD,  lead author on the study.

While beneficial, it is not possible to differentiate the effects of each of the individual elements of the program to determine which components were responsible for the changes observed. “This,” says Newberg “will require an evaluation of one or more elements—such as yoga, very low calorie diet or colonics—in isolation to determine which elements have the most significant effects.”

In the future, Newberg and colleagues plan to study the effects of a spa stay on specific disease population, i.e. diabetics.

Complete findings will be available in the December issue of Integrative Medicine, A Clinician’s Journal.

In the meantime, it’s back to our desks. We can but daydream of downward dogs and diets!

Beans, Broccoli and Bluefin could help new moms beat the “Baby Blues”

According to an article published last week in the Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, postpartum depression may be caused by low levels of omega-3 fatty acids.

For the 70-80% of all new mothers who experience some negative feelings or mood swings after the birth of their child could the answer lie with legumes?

Women are at the highest risk of depression during their childbearing years, and the birth of a child may trigger a depressive episode in vulnerable women. Postpartum depression is associated with diminished maternal health as well as developmental and health problems for her child.

Symptoms of “baby blues” include:

  • Weepiness or crying for no apparent reason
  • Impatience
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Anxiety
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Sadness
  • Mood changes
  • Poor concentration

Gabriel Shapiro of the University of Montreal and the Research Centre at the Sainte-Justine Mother and Child Hospital says “The literature shows that there could be a link between pregnancy, omega-3 and the chemical reaction that enables serotonin, a mood regulator, to be released into our brains.”

Because omega-3 is transferred from the mother to her fetus and later to her breastfeeding infant, maternal omega-3 levels decrease during pregnancy, and remain lowered for at least six-weeks following the birth.

Furthermore, in addition to the specific circumstances of pregnant women, it has been found that most people in the US do not consume sufficient amounts of omega-3. “These findings suggest that new screening strategies and prevention practices may be useful,” said Shapiro.

And while there are plenty of commercial omega-3 supplements, don’t forget that these clever little fatty acids are also present in seafood, (especially salmon, anchovies, tuna and sardines) as well as in oils, beans, nuts and seeds, winter squash, broccoli and my personal favorite – cauliflower.

Although Shapiro’s study was preliminary and the further research is needed to clarify the link, new moms could do worse than use salmon to stave off sadness or anchovies as the answer to anxiety!

OMG! Smartphone Sex Risk for Teens

Teenagers and their phones!  As any parent or indeed observer of human life knows, the mobile phone has become the most important adolescent accessoryTexting has even taken over from talking as their preferred form of communication. 72% of all teens and 88% of teen cell phone users text-message at least once a day.

And while they may not all rival world record texter, Fred Lidgren, who sent 566,607 text messages during a one month period, I know several who are not far behind. And for those of you still doing the math, yes that’s a staggering 18,887 texts per day or 787 per hour or 13 texts each minute. LOL!

Not only does smartphone use kill the art of conversation, it has a decidedly most sinister side-effect.  According to new research just presented at the American Public Health Association meeting, smartphone use among teens is associated with an increased likelihood of being solicited for sex and having sex with an internet-met partner.

According to a 2011 survey among almost two thousand Los Angeles high school students, young people with smartphones are one and a half times as likely to report being sexually active, almost two times as likely to have been approached online for sex, and more than twice as likely to engage in sex with an Internet-met partner compared with those who do not access the internet on their cell phones.

Additionally, those being solicited online for sex are also found to be engaging in unprotected sex. Five percent of the participants reported using the Internet to seek sex partners and 17% of the participants reported being approached online for sex by someone they did not know.

We, parents, health educators, physicians, must recognize that cell phones are yet another new way for adolescents to meet sex partners,” said researcher Hailey Winetrobe, MPH. “Parents and school health professionals should talk to their teens about being safe in meeting people online and in using condoms to prevent sexually transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies.”

While we’re not suggesting that parents take their teenagers cell phones away, maybe it’s time to put those smartphones to good use and create apps and websites for adolescent-targeted sexual health programs.

What do you think?

Foiling the Midnight Snack Attack

On-line weight loss programs, calorie-counting apps, and even Nintendo DS weight-loss coaching games are nothing new. But a novel gadget released this month by a Brazilian “diet reeducation program” takes the tactic to a whole new level.

Enter the Virtual Fridge Lock – a high-tech security device designed to foil late night fridge raids!  Subscribers to the Meta Real program can sign up to receive a giant red magnet. They then stick this on their fridge and synch it to their social networks. Once the lock is activated, the device sends a wireless alert to all their social networks whenever the fridge is opened.  By harnessing the power and speed of social media, the idea is that on-line friends will talk you off the dietary ledge by posting words of advice and encouragement. Or if your friends aren’t the supportive type – there’s always the public shame and humiliation approach.  Either way, the Virtual Fridge Lock is meant to help you stave off the midnight munchies and pass on that slice of pizza.

And while the Virtual Fridge Lock is only available to Meta Real clients, there’s a similarly humiliating app available free of charge to the general public: Aherk! offers a “self-blackmailing service” that encourages weight loss in three easy steps.

First, the dieter defines their weight loss goal. Second, in the words of their website ‘you put your ass on the line’ by uploading an unflattering picture of yourself to the site. And lastly, after your goal deadline expires, your on-line friends vote on whether or not you achieved your goal.  If, if their opinion you failed, the picture will be posted to Facebook.

Is public shaming is the key to weight-loss success or is it just a social media marketing sham?  Although, research shows that those trying to lose weight do better with a support network or buddy, we suspect there’s nothing like being publicly outed in front of your friends on Facebook and Twitter to keep you on the straight and narrow.

i-Nhaler i-Mprovement?

Asthma is one of the world’s most common chronic diseases, affecting some 300 million people and almost 5 percent of the world’s population. It’s also the 5th most costly condition in the US  – an estimated at $56 billion annually. But as we’ve reported here previously, a significant number of people with asthma either don’t use their asthma medications or use them incorrectly.

Improving asthma control is known to reduce the cost of treating asthma by eliminating unnecessary hospitalizations, ED visits, and office visits. The additional cost of an uncontrolled asthma patient compared to a controlled asthma patient is estimated at $3,000-$4,000  per patient annually.

So, we were interested to learn last week that the FDA approved a sensorized asthma inhaler that can track usage and transmit the data to a smartphone and the web. The manufacturer – Asthmapolis will begin to market the asthma sensor and both English and Spanish language versions of the companion software in the US very soon.

Our mission is to make it easier for patients and their physicians to do a better job of managing asthma with less effort than traditionally required.” said David Van Sickle, co-founder and CEO of Asthmapolis.

The small and lightweight device attaches to the end of most inhalers, and the app tracks the time and location of each medication discharge and reminds patients to use it if they forget.

In clinical studies of the Asthmapolis system, uncontrolled asthma declined by 50%, and more than 70% of patients improved their level of control.  In addition it can identify trends in a patients asthma triggers and symptoms over time and provide patients with personalized education on how to improve their asthma.

Not only will the device talk directly to the patients, physicians and other health care providers will be able to identify, in near-real-time, patients with uncontrolled disease and attend to them before they suffer a severe exacerbation.

Despite all we know about asthma and how to treat it, the majority of patients still do not have the disease under control, and traditional approaches to self-management have been time-consuming and complicated,” said Inger Couture, chief regulatory officer of Asthmapolis. “The Asthmapolis technology makes it much easier to track symptoms and use of metered dose inhalers, allowing patients, their families and their doctors to gain a valuable new perspective on the disease.”

And that can only be a good thing.