Category Archives: General Health

FDA Has Concerns About PBA But No Bans Yet

The latest FDA advice on controversial chemical Bisphenol A, or BPA, suggests that we should all take “reasonable” steps to avoid it, though this won’t be easy as the substance is used to make plastics that are virtually everywhere.

Baby bottles, water bottles, sports equipment, medical and dental devices, dental fillings and sealants, lenses in glasses, CDs and DVDs and electronics in the home all have BPA’s.

The chemical is also used in the coatings of almost all food and beverage cans. What’s worse, more than 90% of American have detectable levels of BPA in their bodies, and some estimates suggest the amount of BPA used in the U.S. is equal to about 6 pounds per person, per year.

Back in 2008 the FDA issued a draft assessment that assured us BPA was safe. Only a short time later the National Toxicology Program disagreed and voiced “some concern” that BPA exposure during pregnancy or infancy might be troublesome for long-term health. Official agreement that there is reason for concern over fetus/infant exposure to BPA has just come from the FDA.

What are the worries over BPA?

Experts believe that there are key periods of development when exposure to BPA may lead to certain health effects – behavioral effects, diabetes, reproductive disorders, development of certain cancers, asthma and heart disease that can pass from one generation to the next.

Two earlier National Institutes of Health studies focused on the effects on development and reproduction. The research didn’t look at effects in adults, which is why the NIH officially has “negligible concern” over adult risk of exposure from BPA.

In a news conference in mid January 2010, FDA Commissioner Margaret Hamburg, MD, announced the change, and the beginning of a BPA research program costing $30 million, at a news conference. “At this time, we share the perspective of the NTP of some concern of health effects of BPA. This means we need to know more,” Hamburg said. “In the interim, as a precaution, the FDA is taking reasonable steps to help reduce human exposure to BPA.”

This does not mean BPA is banned, or that BPA-containing products are unsafe. Today the FDA is seeking greater regulatory powers to track and control the use of the chemical in industry.

The regulations in place today date from the 1960s, and allow manufacturers to use BPA without telling the agency they are doing so.

At present, the FDA believes the risk of BPA exposure from canned formula is far less than the risks that come from feeding a baby less nourishing food.

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FDA Has Concerns About PBA, But Bans Yet Continued…

What to do if you’re the parent of an infant or toddler concerned about BPA?

- Breastfeed infants for at least a year, if this isn’t possible, iron-fortified infant formula is a safe, nutritious option.

- Inspect your baby bottles or sippy cups for scratches and throw them away.

- Don’t put boiling water in BPA plastic bottles, and mix powdered formula with water boiled in a BPA-free container cooled to lukewarm.

- Warm baby formula by running warm water over the outside of the bottle as opposed to microwaving.

- Be sure bottles or cups are labeled “microwave safe” and “dishwasher safe” before putting them into these appliances.

The American Chemistry Council, a plastic industry group, is disappointed by the FDA recommendations, saying in a statement, “Plastics made with BPA contribute safety and convenience to our daily lives because of their durability, clarity, and shatter resistance.

Can liners and food-storage containers made with BPA are essential components to helping protect the safety of packaged foods and preserving products from spoilage and contamination.”

Also good to know, the six largest manufacturers of baby bottles (about 90% of the U.S. market) are now making bottles without BPA.


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Sitting Too Much Can Kill You

The new warning from health experts is that sitting, especially for prolonged periods, is deadly.

Even if you’re exercising on a regular basis, sitting at work, in school, in the car, in front of a computer or TV all add up – and not in a good way.

Figures from a U.S. survey in 2003-04 found we spend more than half our time each day sitting.

Worrisome because preliminary findings from several studies point to time spent sitting as increasing the likelihood of heart attack or death.

In an editorial that appeared earlier this month in the British Journal of Sports Medicine written by Dr. Elin Ekbolm-Bak and colleagues, the suggestion is plain that authorities take another look at definitions of physical activity and highlight the dangers of prolonged sitting.

We’re all aware of guidelines for a minimum amount of physical activity (at least 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous intensity exercise).

We all know that being active cuts your risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease as well as helping you manage stress, improve your immunity and help you get more restful sleep.

But recent research has found that long bouts of sitting and lack of whole body muscle movement can undermine all you’re doing to stay healthy.

What’s more, there’s nothing out there about limiting the time spent in a seated position, and this is a dangerous oversight in the opinions of the Swedish scientists.

“After four hours of sitting, the body starts to send harmful signals,” says Elin Ekblom-Bak of Stockholm’s Swedish School of Sport and Health Sciences. Sitting for a long period causes the genes regulating the amount of glucose and fat in the body to start to shut down. Even if you exercise or would be considered “in shape” by others, a long stretch at your desk isn’t good for your body.

In fact, a study published in 2009 tracked more than 17,000 Canadians for almost 12 years and found that people who sat more had a higher death risk, and it didn’t matter if they exercised or not. “We don’t have enough evidence yet to say how much sitting is bad,” points out Canadian study leader Peter Katzmarzyk of the Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge. “But it seems the more you can get up and interrupt this sedentary behavior, the better.”

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Sitting Too Much Can Kill You Continued…
Dr. Ekblom-Bak agrees and recommends a five-minute break from sitting every 45 minutes.

Stand up; move around for several moments before resuming your seat (and your work). Remember, Mother Nature designed our bodies to be active, recognizing and working with this is a step toward achieving lasting good health.

The idea that sitting too long is bad for you isn’t all that new. There’s a condition known as deep vein thrombosis (DVT), the medical term for when blood thickens and clumps together to form a clot in a vein that’s deep in your body.

And while most DVTs happen in the lower leg or thigh, they can also be found in other parts of the body. The clots can either partially or completely block the flow of blood, bringing swelling, pain and hypertension. The danger here is that a blood clot like this can break off and travel through the bloodstream. If it reaches the lungs it can cause a pulmonary embolism (potentially deadly) though the condition is treatable with blood thinning medications.

Experts from the World Health Organization offer a smart solution while more research is being done. Spread out your daily workout into smaller, but still intense, sessions rather than doing it all in one shot.


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Health Repercussions Of Being Overweight

You’ve read about all the health risks of obesity, including heart disease, type 2 diabetes, certain cancers and even early death.

But there are surprising risks to your health from those added pounds that are not nearly as well documented.

Some recent studies have found that overweight woman…

- Might have a harder time getting health insurance, or have to pay more for it.

- Are at higher risk of being misdiagnosed, or getting an inaccurate dosage of a drug.

- Are less able to find a fertility doctor who will help them get pregnant.

- Are less likely to have cancer detected early.

Current numbers have just about 70 million American women considered overweight, which makes for a lot of patients who may not be getting the care they need.

Overweight or not, these findings should have everyone taking note, and taking steps to be sure you get the quality healthcare you deserve. Overweight or not, being mistreated or dismissed by your doctor because of your weight is unacceptable – you don’t want that person in charge of your medical care.

“Our culture has enormous negativity toward overweight people, and doctors aren’t immune,” explains Harvard Medical School professor Dr. Jerome Groopman, M.D., author of How Doctors Think. “If doctors have negative feelings toward patients, they’re more dismissive, they’re less patient, and it can cloud their judgment, making them prone to diagnostic errors.”

When it comes to just how many diagnostic errors are due to a patients’ weight, there are no hard numbers to attest to the problem, though it’s long past time for the medical community to take a hard look at the biases that might be affecting the treatment they give overweight patients.

Data on diagnostic errors for the general population is sobering. “Doctors make mistakes in diagnosing 10 to 15 percent of all patients, and in half of those cases it causes real harm,” Groopman says.

Carrying too much weight does bring legitimate concerns to the operating table, and those with high BMIs often find that surgeons are reluctant to offer a procedure to very overweight patients as they make for longer, more difficult operations.

Hospitals too, who track data on surgical complication rates may warn doctors off more high risk cases in order to preserve their standing with insurance companies. Patients may be denied procedures like cardiac catheterization, organ transplants of kidney or liver, knee surgeries and more because of their weight.

Being too heavy can even get in the way of effective cancer treatment according to the experts. The most likely culprit is underdosing, basing chemotherapy drug doses on the patient’s ideal weight, rather than their actual weight.

Trials usually only include women of average weight, so doctors don’t have a good handle on the doses for larger women. And since these drugs are quite toxic, no one wants to take chances with the dosing.

Doctors have known that obese women are more likely to die from breast or ovarian cancers. Especially troubling then is the finding that obese women are less likely to get Pap smears than women of normal weight, but the screening lapse isn’t all on the women here. A University of Connecticut study of more than 1,300 doctors found that 17% were reluctant to do a pelvic exam on an obese patient; the number jumping to 83% if the patient herself seemed hesitant about the exam.

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That should NEVER happen.

But you can’t blame it all on doctors as being overweight can obscure illnesses like heart disease and some types of cancer. All those extra pounds bring added strain to joints and pain you might not be having if you were thinner.

What’s more, large patients don’t always fit into the small spaces of diagnostic scanning machines. Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and even X-rays and ultrasounds aren’t able to deliver as clear a picture, and without that, imagine your doctor driving blindfolded as he tries to treat you.

Ultrasounds are particularly vulnerable to added fat; the beams can’t penetrate the tissue if you have more than 8 centimeters of subcutaneous fat. Naturally this affects more women since ultrasounds are used to spot uterine tumors and ovarian cysts, not to mention to check on the baby’s health during a pregnancy.

Researchers have also confirmed false positives to mammograms in overweight and obese patients.

This leaves a doctor with little to go on except the symptoms you mention and intuition. That isn’t the best option in the emergency room. “If we can’t get the imaging because of a patient’s weight, and we are concerned about a pulmonary embolism or appendicitis, for example, we have to go ahead and treat based on our clinical impression,” explains Dr. Archana Reddy, M.D., a practicing emergency room physician.

Certainly something we all need to be aware of when it comes to medical care.


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Too Much TV Leads To Earlier Death

According to a new Australian study set to appear in the January 26, 2009 print edition of the journal Circulation, watching too much TV won’t just leave you brain dead – It may actually take years off your life.

In fact, the more time you spend in front of the tube, the greater your risk of dying at an earlier age.

Earlier work had found a link between the time we spend sitting and heart disease (and death), but this is the first research to look specifically at TV watching, one of our most common activities.

Adults in Australia average about three hours of television watching each day, but in the U.S. the average is estimated to be as much as five hours a day.

Interestingly other activities that require sitting, like reading or doing homework, don’t seem to be linked to the risks of early death as much as time spent in front of the TV.

Maybe it’s the inactivity and the snacks…

The latest work, which controlled for diet quality and calorie intake, involved a six-year follow up of 8,800 adults (284 died during the study) who didn’t have any history of heart disease.

Those who watched four hours or more of TV a day were 80% more likely to die from heart disease; 46% more likely to die early from any cause, as those who watched less than two hours of television each day.

Each added hour in front of the TV upped the risk of dying from cardiovascular disease by 18%, and the overall risk of early death by 11%.

The pattern held up even after the researchers accounted for overall health and the education levels of the subjects. Age, smoking history, cholesterol numbers and blood pressure were also considered.

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Too Much TV Leads To Earlier Death Continued…

And if you think that exercising will counter the damage of too much TV, the research found that being active didn’t necessarily make up for the long hours in front of the TV. Watching burns about as many calories as sleeping, and this reduces how much overall energy you body puts out, as well as stops the body from using muscles and processing sugars and fats.

Even when the team compared groups of adults who exercised the same amount, but watched different amounts of TV, they found that those who watched more TV were still at a higher risk of dying earlier than those who watched less. A little exercise, while better than one at all, is just not enough.

It’s not that TV is replacing exercise time, but it does cut down on everyday movements like standing and walking around, and study lead author David Dunstan, Ph.D., the head of the physical activity lab at the Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute in Victoria, Australia, believes the positive health benefits of these actions are underestimated.

“Prolonged watching of television equals a lot of sitting, which invariably means there’s an absence of muscle movement,” says Dunstan. Muscles that stay inactive for too long can disrupt your metabolism, but he cautions that TV isn’t the only thing to blame for our lack of activity.

More and more of us sit behind desks at work all day, technology like e-mail and instant messaging have made it easier to stay put – Appliances make everyday chores faster and less physically demanding, and all these things have combined to make our lifestyles less active overall.

To avoid long periods of sitting, you might try…

- Propping your monitor up with a few books so that you need to stand up for a while.

- Stand while on the phone.

- At regular intervals, get up and move around – take a walk, stretch, get a drink.

- Get up during commercials – fold laundry, feed a pet, empty the trash.


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Cure For Unhealthy Air – Houseplants

Nature is an amazing thing, and according to some University of Georgia research appearing in a recent issue of HortScience, there are some plants that can actually remove dangerous airborne contaminants that might be found in anyone’s home – even yours.

Things like harmful volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, toluene, octane, alpha-pinene and trichloroethylene (TCF).

Adding a few living green plants to your home or office may do more than just add some warmth and bring the outdoors in, it might also help to clean the air.

In all, 28 indoor plants were tested by Stanley Kays, Ph.D. of the University of Georgia and his team to see which might remove contaminants (a process known as phytoremediation) from the air.

The plants were put in glass, gas tight containers and then exposed the plants to some organic compounds you’d find indoors. The plants did a good job of removing the contaminants from the air.

In fact, there might be thousands of plants that are able to remove airborne contaminants, but the team found 5 “super ornamentals” with the best rates of contaminant removal. The best included:

- Red ivy (Hemigraphis alternata)

- English ivy (Hedera helix)

- Variegated wax plant (Hoya cornosa)

- Asparagus fern (Asparagus densiflorus)

- Purple heart (Tradescantia pallida)

No one can explain why some plants are able to do this and others show little promise, but science continues to dig for the answers. “We also want to determine the species and number of plants needed in a house or office to neutralize problem contaminants,” Kays explains. “The idea that plants take up volatile compounds isn’t as much of a surprise as the poor air quality we measured inside some of the homes we tested.”

Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) are likely in the air of any home, given off by your furnishings, carpet, plastics, building materials (drywall, paint, solvents, adhesives), cleaning products and perhaps even your tap water.

Turns out that the air in our homes and offices is a concentrated source of these pollutants – astonishingly some indoor spaces can be up to 100 times more polluted than outdoor air.

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Cure For Unhealthy Air – Houseplants Continued…

Dangerous VOCs have been linked to conditions like asthma, cancer, neurological and reproductive disorders.

They claim about 1.6 million lives a year according to a 2002 World Health Organizations report. Since 1957, experts have identified fifty million organic and inorganic chemicals and registered them in the CAS system.

Not all volatile organic compounds are toxic, and there are plants that emit VOCs too, though most of these don’t appear to be dangerous.

Some plants are better for certain toxins than others. Today there is no test you can do inside your home to check for toxins, but the hope is that in the near future there will be an affordable test to help you identify the contaminants in your home, along with a list of the best plants to clean the air.

“Ideally, we’d have an extension service that would send out a packet that would do the test for you to send back and get recommendations,” Kays concludes. There are scientists in Korea who are well ahead of the U.S. in phytoremediation, and have already looked at 86 species in an effort to identify one that might remove indoor formaldehyde.

In the meantime, you might consider adding a few ornamental plants to your home or office not just to upgrade the look of the space, but to take advantage of the potential air quality benefits they might bring.


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Dirt Is Actually Good For Kids

A team of U.S. researchers has come to the conclusion mother’s (and likely Mother Nature) have known for some time – That kids should be allowed to get dirty so they are exposed to germs in the environment.

Super clean hands were actually shown to hinder the ability to heal because the normal bacteria that live on your skin aren’t there to prevent inflammation after an injury, keeping cuts and grazes from swelling. Could it be that our focus on germ proofing our world might be harming us instead?

This research confirming maternal instincts appears in the online edition of Nature Medicine.

The team from the School of Medicine at the University of California San Diego found that a common species of bacteria known as staphylococci is responsible for blocking a vital step in the cascade of events that bring on inflammation in the body.

Looking at mice and human cells, the team found that the harmless bacteria accomplished this by producing a molecule known as lipoteichoic acid or LTA that acts on keratinocytes, the main types of cells found in the outer layer of your skin.

The LTA seems to keep those keratinocytes in check, preventing them from mounting an overly aggressive inflammatory response to an injury.

Research leader Professor Richard Gallo explains, “The exciting implication of the work is that it provides a molecular basis to understand the hygiene hypothesis and has uncovered elements of the wound repair response that were previously unknown. This may help us devise new therapeutic approaches for inflammatory skin diseases.”

The results of this work offer support for the “hygiene hypothesis” that’s been being floated since 1989, suggesting exposure to germs during early childhood helps protect the body against allergies.

It seems that the millions of bacteria and viruses that enter the body help spur the development of a strong, healthy immune system. There’s even research going on today that suggests the worms living in garden variety dirt might actually help redirect an immune system that’s not working properly. Though they might make you squirm, experts assure us that most worms are harmless to well nourished people.

There are those who blame the current obsession on cleanliness (notice all the anti-bacterial wipes, lotions and soaps out there?) for the upswing in allergies in developed nations.

The rising rates of autoimmune conditions and asthma have also been linked to a failure to expose our young children to normal, everyday dirt, encouraging the immune system to turn inward – on itself.

A spokeswoman for Allergy UK confirms, “Rates of allergy have tripled in the UK in the last decade. One in three people now has some kind of allergy.” They confirm that there’s a growing body of evidence that exposing kids to germs is a good thing, but still more research is needed.

Experts such as Dr. Joel V. Weinstock, the director of gastroenterology and hepatology at Tufts Medical Center in Boston believe that the immune system at birth is like an unprogrammed computer that needs instruction.

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Dirt Is Actually Good For Kids Continued…

And while public health efforts like cleaning up contaminated water and food have saved the lives of many children in poor nations, they’ve also reduced the exposure to organisms that might be good for our young people.

“Children raised in an ultraclean environment,” he says, “are not being exposed to organisms that help them develop appropriate immune regulatory circuits.”

How can you do this in today’s super-sanitized world? Here are five great suggestions to help build the immune system of your children, and maybe your own as well:

1. Let kids play in the dirt.

2. Wash using regular soap, not the antibacterial kind.

3. Keep all vaccines up to date, including your tetanus shots.

4. Get plenty of sleep, drink lots of fluids, eat well and avoid as much stress as possible.

5. Don’t obsess about cleanliness.


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