Staying Healthy

Maintaining good health doesn't happen by accident. It requires work, smart lifestyle choices, and the occasional checkup and test.

A healthy diet is rich in fiber, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, "good" or unsaturated fats, and omega-3 fatty acids. These dietary components turn down inflammation, which can damage tissue, joints, artery walls, and organs. Going easy on processed foods is another element of healthy eating. Sweets, foods made with highly refined grains, and sugar-sweetened beverages can cause spikes in blood sugar that can lead to early hunger. High blood sugar is linked to the development of diabetes, obesity, heart disease, and even dementia.

The Mediterranean diet meets all of the criteria for good health, and there is convincing evidence that it is effective at warding off heart attack, stroke, and premature death. The diet is rich in olive oil, fruits, vegetables, nuts and fish; low in red meats or processed meats; and includes a moderate amount of cheese and wine.

Physical activity is also necessary for good health. It can greatly reduce your risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, breast and colon cancer, depression, and falls. Physical activity improves sleep, endurance, and even sex. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week, such as brisk walking. Strength training, important for balance, bone health, controlling blood sugar, and mobility, is recommended 2-3 times per week.

Finding ways to reduce stress is another strategy that can help you stay healthy, given the connection between stress and a variety of disorders. There are many ways to bust stress. Try, meditation, mindfulness, yoga, playing on weekends, and taking vacations.

Finally, establish a good relationship with a primary care physician. If something happens to your health, a physician you know —and who knows you — is in the best position to help. He or she will also recommend tests to check for hidden cancer or other conditions.

Staying Healthy Articles

Acupuncture

Acupuncture is a technique that involves inserting very thin metal needles into the skin at precise points on the body to clear energy channels, with the aim of restoring and maintaining health. The spots of insertion are picked based on a complex network of lines of energy, termed meridians. Meridians are thought to encircle the body like global lines of longitude and latitude. Acupuncture is a mainstay of traditional Chinese medicine, which has been practiced for thousands of years. The Chinese healing tradition sees the body as a delicate balance of yin and yang. These are two opposing, but inseparable forces. According to traditional Chinese medicine, disease occurs when the forces of yin and yang are out of balance. Imbalance, it is believed, blocks the flow of qi, a vital energy that regulates spiritual, emotional, mental and physical balance, along meridians. By inserting needles at specific points on the body that connect with these meridians, acupuncture is believed to unblock the flow of qi, restoring health to the body and mind. Western medicine explains acupuncture's effects within a different framework. Some Western scientists believe that acupuncture stimulates the central nervous system, signaling the body to release various substances including endorphins, immune system cells, opioids, neurotransmitters, and neurohormones. These may help control pain, change how the body experiences pain, and promote physical and emotional well-being. Some research also indicates that acupuncture influences involuntary central nervous functions, such as blood pressure, blood flow, and body temperature regulation. (Locked) More »

Vitamin B12 Deficiency

Vitamin B12 is needed to produce an adequate amount of healthy red blood cells in the bone marrow. Vitamin B12 is available only in animal foods (meat and dairy products) or yeast extracts (such as brewer's yeast). Vitamin B12 deficiency is defined by low levels of stored B12 in the body that can result in anemia, a lower-than-normal number of red blood cells. Vitamin B12 deficiency can develop for the following reasons: Absence of intrinsic factor, also called pernicious anemia — Intrinsic factor is a protein secreted by cells of the stomach lining. Intrinsic factor attaches to vitamin B12 and takes it to the intestines to be absorbed. An absence of intrinsic factor is the most common cause of pernicious anemia. Absent intrinsic factor is often associated with a condition called atrophic gastritis, a thinning of the lining of the stomach. Atrophic gastritis is more common in elderly people of African-American or Northern-European descent. In these people, pernicious anemia develops at about age 60. In children, decreased levels of intrinsic factor can be an inherited (genetic) condition. When this happens, low levels of intrinsic factor produce symptoms of juvenile pernicious anemia in patients younger than age 10. Pernicious anemia occurs more commonly in people who already have diseases that are linked to immune-system abnormalities, such as Graves' disease, hypothyroidism (under-functioning thyroid gland), thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid), vitiligo and Addison's disease (adrenocortical insufficiency).   (Locked) More »

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a disorder that causes people to stop breathing for short periods during sleep. These periods are called apneas. Apneas usually last between 10 and 30 seconds. In severe cases, apneas can happen many hundreds of times each night. People with untreated sleep apnea are more likely to develop high blood pressure. Apneas disrupt a person's ability to get a good night's sleep, making them less alert during the day. This can lead to accidents. People with untreated sleep apnea are up to seven times more likely to be involved in motor vehicle accidents. There are two types of sleep apnea: Obstructive sleep apnea occurs when the airway in your nose or throat becomes partially or completely blocked. It can be blocked by large tonsils, a large tongue or by too much tissue in the airway. Excess tissue in the airway is more common in people who are overweight. When airway muscles relax during sleep, this extra tissue can block the breathing passages. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain stem, the area of the brain that controls breathing, is damaged. The brain stem may be damaged by an infection or stroke. (Locked) More »

Basic Lifesaving Techniques

As you read this, someone somewhere in the United States is collapsing from a cardiac arrest. The odds are poor that she or he will survive this sudden disruption of the heart's normal rhythm. Most of the 1,000 or so people who go into cardiac arrest each day die because they don't get the treatment they need — an electric shock to the heart — fast enough. Heart-shocking devices were once found only in hospitals and ambulances. Now they're popping up in airports, movie theaters, fitness centers, casinos, malls, office buildings, and other places. These public versions, called automated external defibrillators (dee-FIB-rih-lay-tors), are so easy to use that sixth graders who have never seen one before can master their use in a minute or so, as shown in a 2002 study. This ease of use, combined with the fact that 3 in 4 cardiac arrests happen at home, have opened a national debate over whether it's a good idea to have a defibrillator at home.The chances of surviving a cardiac arrest fall about 10% for each minute the heart stays in ventricular fibrillation. Shock the heart back into a normal rhythm within two minutes, and the victim has an 80% chance of surviving. Deliver that shock after seven minutes — the average time it takes an emergency medical team to arrive in many cities — and the odds are less than 30%. If someone near you goes into cardiac arrest, calling 911 is a must. Even if there's a defibrillator nearby, you'll need professional help as soon as possible. CPR is also important because it keeps blood flowing to the brain and other vital organs. Still, a home defibrillator could let you restore a healthy heart rhythm several crucial minutes sooner than emergency medical technicians. With a prescription from a doctor and $2,500 or so, you can buy a defibrillator for your home, office, or car at many large pharmacies or medical supply companies. The question is, should you? Experts in the areas of sudden cardiac arrest, emergency medicine, and public health don't see eye-to-eye on this issue. Some argue that people who want to buy defibrillators for their homes should be able to do so without needing a prescription from a doctor. Others argue that people won't maintain the devices so they will be ready when needed, or that most people would be better off spending some of the money on a health club membership and donating the rest to their local emergency response team. More »

Emergency Care: A to Z

As you read this, someone somewhere in the United States is collapsing from a cardiac arrest. The odds are poor that she or he will survive this sudden disruption of the heart's normal rhythm. Most of the 1,000 or so people who go into cardiac arrest each day die because they don't get the treatment they need — an electric shock to the heart — fast enough. Heart-shocking devices were once found only in hospitals and ambulances. Now they're popping up in airports, movie theaters, fitness centers, casinos, malls, office buildings, and other places. These public versions, called automated external defibrillators (dee-FIB-rih-lay-tors), are so easy to use that sixth graders who have never seen one before can master their use in a minute or so, as shown in a 2002 study. This ease of use, combined with the fact that 3 in 4 cardiac arrests happen at home, have opened a national debate over whether it's a good idea to have a defibrillator at home.The chances of surviving a cardiac arrest fall about 10% for each minute the heart stays in ventricular fibrillation. Shock the heart back into a normal rhythm within two minutes, and the victim has an 80% chance of surviving. Deliver that shock after seven minutes — the average time it takes an emergency medical team to arrive in many cities — and the odds are less than 30%. If someone near you goes into cardiac arrest, calling 911 is a must. Even if there's a defibrillator nearby, you'll need professional help as soon as possible. CPR is also important because it keeps blood flowing to the brain and other vital organs. Still, a home defibrillator could let you restore a healthy heart rhythm several crucial minutes sooner than emergency medical technicians. With a prescription from a doctor and $2,500 or so, you can buy a defibrillator for your home, office, or car at many large pharmacies or medical supply companies. The question is, should you? Experts in the areas of sudden cardiac arrest, emergency medicine, and public health don't see eye-to-eye on this issue. Some argue that people who want to buy defibrillators for their homes should be able to do so without needing a prescription from a doctor. Others argue that people won't maintain the devices so they will be ready when needed, or that most people would be better off spending some of the money on a health club membership and donating the rest to their local emergency response team. More »

Killer Snow

Every winter, about 1,200 Americans die from a heart attack or some other cardiac event during or after a big snowstorm, and shoveling is often the precipitating event. Why is shoveling so hazardous? If you have a heart condition, you shouldn't shovel under any circumstances. People older than 50 should also try to avoid it. Contact your local council on aging to see if they provide a list of teens in your neighborhood who you can hire to do the job for you. Or buy a snow blower. If you must shovel, take it easy. Rest often. Dress warmly and stay well hydrated. Wherever possible, push the snow rather than lift it. Clear only the snow that blocks your path into the house, the rest will melt on its own. And of course, listen to your body. Head home if you experience potential signs of heart trouble, including chest pain, palpitations, undue shortness of breath, fatigue, lightheadedness, or nausea. Also stop if your fingers or toes get numb or hurt — you could have frostbite. More »

Medications for Postmenopausal Osteoporosis Prevention

Risk of osteoporosis increases after menopause, when levels of estrogen — which helps preserve bone density — drop. Until recently, most doctors recommended long-term hormone replacement therapy (HRT) to treat postmenopausal women who need medication to prevent bone loss. But things changed after results from a large trial on a common HRT drug showed that estrogen plus progestin (as the medication Prempro) did more harm than good. An increased risk for breast cancer and cardiovascular events outweighed the benefits of less colorectal cancer and fewer fractures. (See the Update from July 2002 for more information on the trial.) Health experts now encourage most women who have been taking long-term HRT for osteoporosis prevention to consider an alternative. Fortunately there are several options. Each of the FDA-approved treatments (see chart) has potential benefits and risks that women and their doctors should weigh before making a decision. Even with HRT's proven risks, it may still be a good choice for certain women — especially in lower doses, which recent data have shown to have bone benefits comparable to higher, standard doses. Medication More »

Healthy Diet Eradicates Need for Trendy Supplements in Elderly

Health experts, however, stress that a well-balanced diet rich in fruit and vegetables is just as effective and probably safer. But many older adults skip meals and eat small amounts of fruits and vegetables, citing reasons ranging from rotten teeth to unhappiness with eating alone. While doctors acknowledge that nutritional shakes and energy bars are helpful for seniors who need to gain weight or have trouble chewing or swallowing, those who eat a balanced diet or stay active do not need them. In spite of what the experts have said, the savvy advertisements are convincing millions of seniors that they need these expensive supplements, some of which have not even been proven safe. More »

Caution Always Key in Using Herbal Medicines

In the mid-1990s, doctors at a clinic in Belgium treated 43 patients with end-stage kidney failure, requiring dialysis or transplant. Not surprisingly, these individuals had something in common in their medical histories. Between 1990 and 1992, each had used a Chinese herbal remedy in combination with two other drugs for weight loss. The herbal preparation supposedly contained Stephania tetrandra and Magnolia officinalis. But the sudden appearance of kidney failure in these patients, caused their doctors to suspect that the herb Aristolochia fangchi, which is poisonous to the kidneys, had unintentionally been substituted for S. tetrandra. The Chinese names for A. fangchi and S. tetrandra sound similar and the two are often confused. Analysis showed that the herbal remedy did, in fact, contain aristolochic acids, which are derived from A. fangchi. Aristolochic acids cause cancer in rats and mutations in bacteria and mammals.Reports of patients who had developed urothelial carcinoma (cancer of the tissues lining the bladder, ureter, and part of the kidney), as well as kidney failure related to the Chinese herbs, drew concern among the Belgian doctors. When one of their patients also developed this cancer, the doctors decided that all patients with end-stage kidney failure related to the use of Chinese herbs should be checked for cancer of these organs. By removing these organs, the doctors hoped to prevent cancer from developing in their patients. Thirty-nine of the 43 patients agreed to undergo the preventive surgery. Of these patients, 46% of them already had cancerous growths in the removed tissues. In addition, 19 of the remaining 21 patients had abnormal growths in the urinary system. The investigators also analyzed DNA samples taken from the kidneys and ureters of each patient. The DNA samples for every patient showed changes typically found after exposure to aristolochic acid. The researchers compared these results to analysis of DNA samples taken from eight patients with end-stage kidney failure unrelated to Chinese herbs. None of these control samples showed DNA changes formed by aristolochic acid.The doctors calculated the cumulative dose of the implicated herb and other treatments for each patient. They found that the risk of cancer was related to the cumulative dose of A. fangchi. Because many of the patients had also taken appetite suppressants as well as a diuretic, the doctors noted that these drugs might enhance the toxicity of aristolochic acid.This case study provides strong evidence suggesting a relationship between the Chinese herb A. fangchi and urothelial carcinoma. While a manufacturing mistake led to the introduction of this herb into an herbal preparation for weight loss, this study highlights the risks involved in taking herbal remedies. There is little control over the quality of herbal medicines. This means that the label on an herbal medicine may not accurately represent what is actually in the container, as was the case with S. tetrandra. Several countries have banned the use of herbs that contain aristolochic acid, yet Aristolochia is readily available in the United States in capsule form.In the United States, the FDA does not have the authority to assess the safety and efficacy of a dietary supplement before it reaches the shelves of stores. The agency is allowed to restrict a supplement only after it proves the substance is harmful as commonly consumed, but there is no adequate system for reporting serious side effects associated with these products. Furthermore, the FDA does not have any way of knowing which herbal remedies contain harmful substances such as aristolochic acid. The case of the Chinese herbal diet pill and its association with urothelial cancer is just one of a number of cases that demonstrate the need for greater oversight of dietary supplements and caution in the use of supplements on the part of consumers. More »

Metabolic Disorders

  Two recent studies are adding to the data concerning fen-phen and heart-valve problems. These studies should offer some reassurance to patients who took this combination of weight-loss drugs. Researchers from Harvard Medical School evaluated echocardiograms performed on 226 people who took fen-phen as part of a long-term study from September 1994 to September 1997. Shortly after the manufacturer’s voluntary withdrawal of fen-phen, the medications were stopped and the patients underwent testing to determine if any heart-valve problems had developed. The echocardiograms showed that not one patient had severe valvular disease. Mild leaking of the aortic valve was detected in 12 patients, and three patients exhibited moderate aortic-valve leaking — a total of 15 (6.6%) patients. Three subjects (1.3%) had moderate leaking of the mitral valve. To compare the rate of heart-valve problems in these patients to the rate one might expect to see in the general population, investigators turned to data collected as part of the Framingham Heart Study (the long-term epidemiological study being conducted in a Boston suburb). They found nearly the same rates of aortic- and mitral-valve leaking in the Framingham volunteers as in the diet-drug study participants. More »