Tuesday, June 27, 2017
Monday, June 26, 2017
This article originally appeared on Time.com.
It was the last day of high school. With one exam left to go, a group of us were sitting in the senior class hangout, some watching Netflix, some cramming for the test. I was braiding my friend Jackie Acierno’s hair. I’d gotten midway down her back when I started to feel dizzy.
I had been having similar spells for about six months, and though I’d run through the gamut of tests—ruling out low blood pressure and a brain tumor, among other things—my doctors still weren’t sure what was causing my occasional lightheadedness.
“Don’t worry. This happens to me,” I said, as I slumped onto the carpet. “Don’t call an ambulance.”
Jackie ignored my request. She immediately ordered someone to call 9-1-1 and asked someone else to go get the campus nurse. “I remember thinking: it’s better to be embarrassed for having overreacted than embarrassed for having done nothing,” Jackie says now. So when my pulse started to fade, my eyes rolling back into my head and my body completely limp, Jackie again sprung into action. Rather than wait “even five Mississippi seconds” for the paramedics to arrive, Jackie says, she started performing cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR)—something she’d learned at an EMT training class.
She sat beside me on the floor and, with one hand on top of the other, her fingers interlocked, Jackie started pumping her fists into my chest to the rhythm of, yes, “Stayin’ Alive.” It’s a form of hands-only CPR that leaves out the mouth-to-mouth part most people associate with the practice, and it’s what many major health groups encourage people to try in events such as this. Studies show it’s just as effective at saving lives, and it’s much easier to do, too.
Jackie kept at it until the school nurse, Pat Neary, made it to us with an automated external defibrillator (AED)—an electronic device that can be used to shock the heart back into action. Grasping the handles of the AED, the nurse applied a first shock to my heart. Nothing. Then she applied a second. Nothing. One more…still silence. Finally, on the fourth shock, my heart began to beat again.
By that point, a police officer was also on the scene. In the 25 more minutes it took for an ambulance to show up, they managed to keep my heart beating using only their hands. Ultimately, their quick thinking—and the CPR they performed—saved my life.
But here’s the thing: While they remain my personal heroes, there isn’t much to the physical act of performing CPR. It’s an arm workout, but it isn’t rocket science. In fact, you probably picked it up by reading through this article (but if you want a primer, read this).
What’s harder is doing what Jackie did: springing into action when someone falls to the ground. And while it may seem risky, there’s little reason to hesitate performing hands-only CPR on someone who may need it. First of all, it’s harder to break someone’s ribs than you think. And second, it’s better to risk doing unnecessary CPR than do nothing—and watch someone die.
But you have to move fast. Most experts agree that after just six minutes, a brain deprived of oxygen can be irreversibly damaged. If another four minutes go by, death is nearly certain. That means that if Jackie had waited for the paramedics, I likely wouldn’t be alive—and I’d almost certainly be brain-dead.
There are many causes of cardiac arrest—ranging from existing heart arrhythmia to being hit in the chest with a baseball. But regardless of the underlying condition, without CPR, 92% of people experiencing cardiac arrest die, and every minute that CPR is delayed, the survival rate decreases.
It’s been five years since my cardiac event, and my life feels far less fragile than it once did. After many more tests, doctors determined that my attack stemmed from a rare but manageable medical condition called hereditary hemorrhagic telangiectasia (HHT), and I’ve had two successful surgeries to ensure it won’t happen again.
But no matter how secure I feel, there’s rarely a day that I wake up without thinking about Jackie and how her hands saved my life.
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This article originally appeared on Time.com.
Last summer, public health experts were on high alert due to the rapid spread of the Zika virus, which has now been proven to cause birth defects and other health problems in infants. Today, experts know far more about the virus than they did at the start of the outbreak. Here’s what you need to know now about Zika.
Should pregnant women worry about Zika while traveling?
Short answer: yes. “Our general advice is that if you are pregnant, you should not go to places where Zika virus transmission is ongoing,” says Dr. Lyle Petersen, director of the division of vector-borne diseases at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “It’s all a matter of risk. Obviously, if you are staying in an air-conditioned hotel, your risk may be less. However, are you willing to take that risk? We know the consequences of infection of the fetus are huge and lifelong.”
Petersen recommends people check the CDC website for guidance on what locations have active Zika transmission. The CDC updates this list regularly, sometimes on a daily basis. If an area is no longer on the list, Petersen says it’s considered safe to travel. Currently, the CDC recommends that if a pregnant woman or her partner travel to an area with Zika, the couple should use condoms every time they have sex or avoid sex for the rest of the pregnancy, even if they do not have symptoms of Zika.
Should women who plan to get pregnant avoid traveling to places with Zika?
Women who are planning to get pregnant, and their partners, should also pay attention to where they are traveling. The first trimester, during which women may not know they are pregnant, appears to be the most risky time when it comes to Zika-related health complications for infants down the line.
The CDC recommends that women who travel to areas with Zika who want to get pregnant in the near future wait at least eight weeks after their last possible exposure to the virus before trying to conceive. For male partners, the CDC advises waiting six months after the last possible exposure before trying to conceive. Using condoms is also recommended for the waiting period.
What if I am invited to a destination wedding in a place with Zika? Should I not go?
It may be challenging to get a firm yes or no from your doctor about whether or not you should travel for a major event, though the recommendations are not to go to places with active Zika transmission if you’re pregnant or want to be soon. “My job is to give guidance; I never tell people what to do,” says Dr. Richard Beigi, the chief medical officer of the Magee-Womens Hospital of University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. “But I think the travel warnings are there for a reason, and nothing has changed from last year other than the fact that we have more information that has validated that Zika causes congenital health problems. The overall risk is the same.”
Deciding to travel despite the risk is ultimately a personal decision. “I ask my patients, ‘Do you really need to go?’ For some people, the answer to that is yes, and that’s fine, and I give them the best advice I can,” Beigi says.
Should I worry about traveling to places that have the types of mosquitoes that can spread Zika?
The CDC recently reported that the types of mosquito that carry Zika, Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus, are appearing in more counties in the southern U.S. where they haven’t been before. But unless the mosquitoes are transmitting Zika, there’s a “very, very, very low risk,” Petersen says. “In all of the places where we have this kind of mosquito that can spread Zika virus, we also see the kinds of mosquitoes that can spread West Nile and other diseases,” says Petersen. “General mosquito precautions in the summer are important for everybody—not only pregnant women.”
How likely is it that I will get Zika?
Experts can’t give a definitive answer to a person’s chances of getting Zika if they travel to a place that has reported spread of the disease. But experts are getting closer to understanding the likelihood of adverse events should a pregnant woman get infected.
A recent study found that one in 10 pregnant women in the U.S. with a Zika infection had a baby with brain damage or other serious birth defects. The first trimester was the most critical time: 15% of women with confirmed Zika infection in the first trimester had babies with birth defects. Another study found similar numbers for women in U.S. territories, revealing that during their first trimester, nearly 1 in 12 had a baby or fetus with Zika-associated birth defects.
“Out of the data collected, it appears that 5-10% of the time a woman gets Zika during her pregnancy, there will be in impact,” says Beigi. “Most of the impact is a malfunction; some of it is miscarriage. Probably the absolute risk of you having a problem is not very big, but it’s not zero, and it’s hard to know.”
How bad will Zika get in the U.S. this summer?
It’s unclear how many cases of Zika will be expected in and outside the U.S. this summer, though experts say it could be lower than last year. “Based on historical evidence, we would expect that outbreaks this year throughout the Western Hemisphere are going to be less than they were the year before,” says Petersen. “It’s not going away, but since a lot of people have already been infected and are no longer susceptible to infection, it will lower the number of cases over time.”
So far in 2017, about 650 Americans have gotten Zika, though that it is considered an underestimate. Most people do not experience symptoms and will not know they have the virus.
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Friday, June 23, 2017
This article originally appeared on Time.com.
Understanding where new viruses come from is critical for preventing them from rapidly spreading among humans. When it comes to preventing the next pandemic, a new study suggests that bats may be public enemy number one.
In a new study published in the journal Nature, researchers at the nonprofit EcoHealth Alliance collected data on viruses known to infect mammals, which included about 600 viruses found in more than 750 species. They were then able to calculate the number of viruses from each species and identify characteristics that make the transmission to humans more likely. Living more closely to humans and being more closely genetically related to humans increased the odds of transmission.
Out of all the species assessed, bats carried the highest number of these viruses. Researchers are currently looking into why.
“A lot of people don’t realize that these viruses have been on the planet for a long time, and they are in populations of animals all around the world,” says study author Kevin Olival, associate vice president for research at EcoHealth Alliance. “What we did in this study is prioritize where we should look if we want to stop the next Ebola or Zika from emerging.”
All groups of mammals were found to carry viruses that can spread to humans, and areas around the world most at risk for carrying emerging viruses differed based on the mammal. For bats, these places are most common in South and Central America and areas in Asia. For primates, the areas with the higher risks are in Central America, Africa and Southeast Asia.
The study was funded as part of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT program, a project that seeks to identify new emerging infectious diseases that could become threatening to human health. Olival says his team hopes that scientists will use this research to identify regions and viruses to focus on for prevention efforts.
Bats don’t deserve all of the blame, however. The spreading of new diseases often involves activity from both animals and people, Olival points out.
“These diseases are not just randomly jumping into people,” he says. “We see time and time again that it is the human disturbances in the environment that are causing these diseases to emerge,” through activities like chopping down forest and hunting animals out of certain areas. “It is our interactions with these species that are causing diseases to jump.”
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Thursday, June 22, 2017
You know those people who always boast about having a perfect memory? Maybe they shouldn’t, because having total recall is totally overrated. That’s according to a new paper in the journal Neuron, which concludes that forgetting things is not just normal, it actually makes us smarter.
In the new report, researchers Paul Frankland and Blake Richards of the University of Toronto propose that the goal of memory is not to transmit the most accurate information over time. Rather, they say, it’s to optimize intelligent decision-making by holding onto what’s important and letting go of what’s not.
RELATED: 8 Ways Sex Affects Your Brain
“It’s important that the brain forgets irrelevant details and instead focuses on the stuff that’s going to help make decisions in the real world,” says Richards, an associate fellow in the Learning in Machines and Brains program.
The researchers came to this conclusion after looking at years of data on memory, memory loss, and brain activity in both humans and animals. One of Frankland’s own studies in mice, for example, found that as new brain cells are formed in the hippocampus—a region of the brain associated with learning new things—those new connections overwrite old memories and make them harder to access.
This constant swapping of old memories for new ones can have real evolutionary benefits, they say. For example, it can allow us to adapt to new situations by letting go of outdated and potentially misleading information. “If you’re trying to navigate the world and your brain is constantly bringing up conflicting memories, that makes it harder for you to make an informed decision,” says Richards.
Our brains also help us forget specifics about past events while still remembering the big picture, which the researchers think gives us the ability to generalize previous experiences and better apply them to current situations.
“We all admire the person who can smash Trivial Pursuit or win at Jeopardy, but the fact is that evolution shaped our memory not to win a trivia game, but to make intelligent decisions,” says Richards. “And when you look at what’s needed to make intelligent decisions, we would argue that it’s healthy to forget some things.”
So what does that mean for those of us who frequently forget things we just read, people we just met, and where we put our keys? For one, we should stop being so hard on ourselves, says Richards—to a certain extent.
“You don’t want to forget everything, and if you’re forgetting a lot more than normal that might be cause for concern,” he says. “But if you’re someone who forgets the occasional detail, that’s probably a sign that your memory system is perfectly healthy and doing exactly what it should be doing.”
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Especially in today’s computers-at-our-fingertips society, Richards says, our brains no longer need to store information like phone numbers and facts easily found on Google. “Instead of storing this irrelevant information that our phones can store for us, our brains are freed up to store the memories that actually do matter for us,” he says.
Richards also recommends “cleaning out” your memory system on a regular basis by doing regular gym workouts. “We know that exercise increases the number of neurons in the hippocampus,” he says. Yes, that may cause some memories to be lost, he says—“but they’re exactly those details from your life that don’t actually matter, and that may be keeping you from making good decisions.”
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At Health.com, our goal is to deliver up-to-the-minute news on all the latest trends in the wellness world—and we want your help. We’re looking for writers to join our new contributor network. As a Health.com contributor, you’ll receive story pitches from our editors straight to your inbox, your byline will appear on Health.com, and you will be compensated for your work. And you’ll have the chance to share your story with millions of readers—whether it’s an essay about your weight-loss journey, a recipe for your favorite healthy Crock-Pot dinner, or a firsthand account of living with psoriatic arthritis, we want to hear about it.
You don’t have to be a professional writer to contribute to Health.com. But we are looking for well-written, thoughtful pieces that demonstrate a passion for health and wellness and tell a unique story. We’re particularly interested in essays that highlight cool new workout classes, positive body image, relationship challenges, nutritious meal ideas, healthy travel tips, or even your favorite products (such as that incredible, can’t-live-without-it retinol cream you just discovered).
Does this sound like you?Head to Health’s Springboard page and select follow the prompts to create your account.Once you’re part of our contributor network, you can answer our story requests, get paid for your work, and see your byline appear on Health.com.
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This article originally appeared on Time.com.
Have you ever recoiled at the sound of your own voicemail greeting, startled by what should be the most familiar of voices—your own? If so, then you’re not alone. It’s common to dislike the way your voice sounds in recordings, experts say. Here’s why.
You hear your own voice differently
When you hear people talking, sound waves travel through the air and into your ears, vibrating your ear drums. Your brain then transforms those vibrations into sound.
However, when you’re the one talking, your vocal cords and airways also vibrate. That means that you receive two sources of sound: the sound waves that travel into your ears from your own voice, as well as vocal cord vibrations.
“When we talk, it’s like everyone hears the sound through speakers, but we’re hearing it through a cave complex inside our own heads,” says Martin Birchall, professor of laryngology (the study of the larynx, or voice box) at University College London. “The sound is going around our sinuses, all the empty spaces in our heads and the middle part of our ears, which changes the way we hear sounds compared to what other people hear.”
People perceive their own voice to be the combination of those two sources of sound, but everyone else just hears the external stimulus. This is why when you listen to your voice in a recording, it sounds different than the voice you’re used to. You’re hearing only the external stimulus, rather than the combination of the two sounds.
People are bad at recognizing their own voice
Most people don’t sit around listening to the sound of their own voice independently from talking, so they can become detached from how they actually sound. One study, during which people were played recordings of their own voices, found that just 38% of people were able to identify their own voice immediately.
“When we hear our own voice in a recording, it can often feel surprising and disappointing,” Birchall says. “We get used to the sound we hear in our heads, even though it’s a distorted sound. We build our self-image and vocal self image around what we hear, rather than the reality.”
Birchall says this can be a particular problem for people with body or gender dysmorphia. “For people with gender issues, hearing that their voice sounds like someone of the opposite sex’s can be a really big issue,” he says. “We like to think that the way we are talking fits with our own gender identity and when we feel we are in the wrong body or our voice isn’t representative of who we are then that can be a major deal.”
You’re not necessarily stuck with your voice forever
If you’re really disturbed by the sound of your voice, you have options, Birchall says. First, you can go to see a properly trained voice therapist, which is different from a speech therapist. Voice therapists work with patients to improve their cadence and the rhythms of their pitch by doing specific exercises, like working on breathing patterns by getting them to blow bubbles through a straw. “It’s like physiotherapy, but for the voice,” he says.
If voice therapy is unsuccessful, people can seek seek specialist psychologist support. It’s also possible to make a person’s pitch higher or lower through surgery, which is a common part of gender reassignment surgery.
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Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Between the jet lag, dry air, and muscle-cramping seating in coach, flying can really do a number on your health. But one of the most common body complaints fliers experience tends to go overlooked or be blown off as no big deal: clogged or plugged ears.
The proper term is “ear barotrauma,” which pretty accurately describes the pain and discomfort the condition typically causes. This complaint isn’t just a passing annoyance. Besides starting your vacation or business trip on a particularly sour note, it can also lead to some pretty serious complications, too.
To understand what’s behind that clogged sensation, you’ll need a quick anatomy lesson. Your ear is divided into three sections: the outer ear, the middle ear (which houses the eardrum), and the inner ear. The middle ear is connected to the back of the nose and upper throat via a passageway called the eustachian tube, whose job it is to stabilize the air pressure levels between your nose and ear.
“Our eustachian tubes open and close multiple times a day, but the passageway is so tiny that we don’t really notice it as long as it’s moving properly,” says Ana Kim, MD, an otolaryngologist at ColumbiaDoctors Midtown and associate professor of otolaryngology—head and neck surgery at Columbia University Medical Center in New York.
RELATED: 7 Vacation Health Hassles Solved
“When we’re flying, however, there’s a rapid change in the barometric [air] pressure, which causes a collapse of the eustachian tubes and interferes with the normal air flow from the nose to the ear,” explains Kim. Getting on a plane while you’re sick with a cold or other head infection that triggers nasal congestion makes those changes in air pressure even worse.
“If you have an active ear or sinus infection, you’re taking away what little volume of air you have [in the Eustachian tube] by flying, which could cause a lot of pain,” says Kim. Gwen Stefani experienced this a few weeks ago when she hopped a flight while fighting a cold and ended up with a ruptured ear drum due to changes in cabin pressure, boyfriend Blake Shelton told Entertainment Tonight.
To re-stabilize the air pressure levels and prevent uncomfortable aching, you’ll need to open up those tubes. Here are three things to try if it happens to you.
Pinch your nose and blow—gently!
To get your ears to “pop,” you can try closing off your nose and mouth, then gently forcing the air into the middle ear. Do not—repeat, do not—blow too hard. Doing so can actually rupture the membranes of the cochlea (the organ that allows us to hear), says Kim. And when that happens, fluid can leak out, causing hearing loss, nerve damage, dizziness, or a type of ringing in the ear called tinnitus.
Move your mouth muscles
Call it a good reason to keep a pack of gum in your carry-on: moving the muscles of your jaw by chewing, yawning, or swallowing water or another beverage can help reopen the eustachian tubes, says Kim. If you’re traveling with a baby or toddler and you suspect (or they tell you) their ears are plugged up, have them sip juice or water or use a pacifier to get those mouth muscles going.
Take a decongestant
Medications like Afrin shrink blood vessels and reduce inflammation in your nasal cavity. Since it works right away, you can take it 10 minutes before takeoff to prevent your ears from clogging in the first place. One word of caution: Although these meds are over-the-counter, people who have heart problems or are pregnant shouldn’t take them unless they’ve cleared it with their doctor.
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If the clogging doesn’t go away …
Most of the time, the pressure should clear up a few hours after you’re back on land, she says. If it lingers longer—into the following day, for example—you might have a buildup of fluid behind your ear that isn’t ventilating properly. For that, you’ll probably want to see a doctor. Not only will you experience some temporary hearing loss (everyone will sound like you’re listening to them underwater) you could put yourself at risk of a serious infection.
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Tuesday, May 16, 2017
This article originally appeared on People.com.
Trying on bathing suits tends to be a time when women self-criticize, but Brittney Johnson made sure her recent mother-daughter bikini shopping trip was a positive one because she knew her young daughter was listening to how she spoke about her appearance.
In the post, Johnson details her shopping trip, noting that her young daughter was polite to servers and generous to other children she encountered at the mall. When they got to Target, her daughter helped her pick out a few different swimsuits to try on. Johnson started snapping pictures of herself in the swimsuits to get her friends’ opinions, and noticed that her daughter was trying on the bikinis too.
“I stopped for a second to see what she would say, and when she turned to the mirror, she said, ‘Wow I just love cheetah print! I think I look beautiful! Do you think I look beautiful too?!’ ” Johnson wrote. “It hit me that she only says what she hears. What she sees. I tell her that she is beautiful every single day.”
“She is kind walking through the mall, because I tell her she is kind everywhere else,” she continued. “She is polite at the order counter because she hears me when I’m polite to strangers everywhere. She gives compliments to people she doesn’t know because she loves how it feels when she hears them. And when we are in a dressing room, with swimsuits of all God-forsaken things, there is a split moment when I have the power to say ‘Wow I have really gotten fat this year’ or ‘Wow I love this coral color on me!’ And those are the words burned into my daughter’s brain.”
Johnson notes that parents know to be a model for good manners and kindness, but often forget to be good role models when it comes to body image.
“When it comes to body image, be an example,” she wrote. “I am not a size zero. I never will be. I have big thighs and a huge rump and for some reason the middle of my body gets more tan than the rest. But this body made a whole other body. I am strong. I am able. And I am happy. I don’t have to be beautiful like you, because I am beautiful like me.”
She knows that instilling a positive body image in her daughter now will benefit her as she grows up.
“As my daughter gets older, and she faces judgement and criticism, I will always remind her that the girls who look the prettiest in a two-piece or a body suit or a freaking Snuggie are the ones who are happy. Because that’s all that matters,” wrote Johnson. “And I want her to look at herself every single day and say, ‘Oh wow! I think I look beautiful!’ because every girl deserves to feel that.”
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Thursday, May 11, 2017
Here at Health, we’re dedicated to sharing the best and latest wellness advice. Our drive comes from our own goals to live healthfully—and these were inspired in part by the healthy-living lessons our mothers instilled in us throughout our lives. With Mother’s Day right around the corner, we’re excited to share the mom-backed wisdom that didn’t always make sense at the time … but we’re now super grateful for. Thanks a ton, Mom!
“The healthiest thing I learned from my mom is how to run a functional kitchen at home: how to shop for groceries and produce, how to store and keep food fresh, and how to plan for a week’s worth of meals for a whole family. She also taught me the basics of cooking, whether salads, soups, or main courses. My mom’s cooking mantra was always ‘delicious and nutritious' and to this day I find myself muttering those words as I putter around my own kitchen!”
—Michael Gollust, research editor
Taking Charge of My Own Health
“My mom taught me that it’s important to ask a lot of questions and to advocate for myself when it comes to doctors, not to just do what anyone says blindly. Her point was that ultimately any decisions about my health are up to me.”
—Beth Lipton, food director
Avoiding Unhealthy Fats
“Remember when everyone became very concerned with trans fats in 2006 or so? My mom was obsessed with trans fats five years before they were a mainstream thing to worry about. She refused to let us buy anything that contained partially hydrogenated oils (which was about 90% of my preferred diet at the time) and would go on about how terrible they were for you. While it was embarrassing to be the only kid not allowed to eat packaged foods, I think it helped me become a healthier adult—I still read every nutrition label and double-check that there’s nothing partially hydrogenated in there.”
—Kathleen Mulpeter, senior editor
“It’s never not awkward to receive sex advice from your mom (especially as a teenager). But my mom saying to hit the bathroom and pee after doing the deed will always stick with me. It’s the simplest way to prevent UTIs and although my 16-year-old self cringes at that conversation, her advice is tried and true.”
—Julia Naftulin, assistant editor
RELATED: 17 Healthy Mother’s Day Gifts
“Growing up, our pantry was scarce of processed and sugar-laden products and treats like ice cream and sweet cereals. Even Lunchables were reserved for special occasions. Instead, my mom fed me clean, nutritious food—including kale, way before it was trendy. At the time, I wasn’t always a fan of this healthy lifestyle, but now I couldn’t be more grateful for her nutritional guidance. She taught me there’s nothing wrong with enjoying less-than-healthy foods every so often—the key is simply balance and being kind to my body.”
—Kristine Thomason, assistant editor
Embracing Body Empowerment
“My mom grew up in the 1950s, when information about sex and women’s health was suppressed. She wanted better for me, so she gave the quintessential 1970s feminist book Our Bodies, Ourselves when I was in high school. Our Bodies, Ourselves introduced me to the body- and sex-positive attitudes that empowered me.”
—Olivia Barr, digital photo editor
Making Time for Sleep
“My mom gets up with the sun and is in bed around 9 p.m. and she’s had this schedule her entire life. I don’t have her early-bird body clock, but I try to turn in as early as possible and get a solid 7 to 8 hours of sleep. Considering how good she looks and how active she is, it’s clear that sleep is a key to health. She’s the only person I’ve ever known who doesn’t complain about being tired all the time.”
—Esther Crain, deputy editor
Moderation Is Key
“My mom’s healthiest advice? Everything in moderation. She picked it up from her mother (although my grandma would relay the wisdom in Greek) and she has subscribed to this balanced mentality ever since. Permission to indulge in a slice of chocolate cake now and then, granted.”
- Anthea Levi, assistant editor
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This article originally appeared on People.com.
Mikalya Holmgren is already a pageant pro, but she’s about to make history as the first woman with Down Syndrome to compete in Miss Minnesota USA.
The 22-year-old college student decided to apply for the pageant in April.
“I said, ‘I want to do this,’ ” Holmgren tells PEOPLE. “I want to show my personality. I want to show what my life looks like, being happy, and joyful. I want to show what Down Syndrome looks like.”
The Marine on St. Croix, Minnesota native, who is also an accomplished dancer, previously won the Minnesota Miss Amazing pageant, which features women with special needs. Holmgren says that she wasn’t nervous at all about applying for Miss Minnesota — just “super proud!”
And she was thrilled to get in.
“I was just so happy and I had a smile on my face,” Holmgren says, of hearing the news.
Denise Wallace, executive co-director of Miss Minnesota USA, says Holmgren was a perfect fit for the pageant.
“Mikayla is such an incredible and accomplished young woman. We feel she definitely has what it takes to compete at the Miss Minnesota USA pageant this fall in that she is the epitome of what the Miss Universe Organization strives to look for in contestants — someone who is confidently beautiful,” she tells PEOPLE.
Holmgren now has until November 26 to prepare, and she’s excited to make a difference as the first person with Down Syndrome to compete for the crown.
“That means my life is changing because of the pageant. I’m very proud of myself. It’s a new thing in my life,” she says. “I’m going to blaze the trail!”
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Wednesday, May 10, 2017
This article originally appeared on Time.com.
Ibuprofen, naproxen and celecoxib are among the most commonly used drugs in the U.S. They don’t require a prescription, and they’re a quick answer to all kinds of pain. But lately there’s been growing evidence that non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may not be as benign as people think they are. (For more recent reporting on the potential side effects of NSAIDs, read this.)
In general, NSAIDs are considered safe when used as directed—which is to say occasionally, for spot relief of pain. More and more people, however, are relying on them for long term use, and at higher doses. Experts—and a growing body of science—say that’s where problems can start.
RELATED: The Ibuprofen Risks You Need to Know
In the latest study, published in the journal BMJ, researchers found that some risks can appear after even a few days of using NSAIDs. Compared with people who didn’t take the painkillers, those who did had a 20% to 50% greater chance of having a heart attack. The risk was higher for people who took 1,200 mg a day of ibuprofen—the equivalent of six standard tablets of Advil—and 750 mg a day for naproxen, the equivalent of roughly three and a half standard Aleves.
The researchers pooled data from several large studies on the drugs and their health effects. In all, more than 446,000 people who used the non-prescription painkillers were included. Among them, more than 61,000 had a heart attack. People who took NSAIDs for even a week had a significantly higher risk of having a heart attack; the highest risk occurred for those taking them for about a month. (After a month, the risk didn’t appear to increase further — the researchers think that’s because everyone who was vulnerable to the drugs’ effects on the heart would have experienced heart problems by then.)
The results confirm those from earlier studies that also found a heightened risk of heart problems in NSAID users, but the large number of people in this analysis—and the more detailed look at how long people were taking the drugs—makes the connection even stronger. The researchers also accounted for other possible factors that could connect NSAID users and heart problems, such as diabetes, high cholesterol levels and previous history of heart disease. Even after those adjustments, the linked remained significant.
The study also confirmed that newer NSAIDs like celecoxib, known as COX-2 inhibitors, which were originally thought to cause more heart problems than traditional NSAIDs, were not more risky when it comes to heart attacks.
As TIME reported previously, some studies found a 19% higher risk of having heart trouble among NSAID users compared to people who didn’t use the drugs. Other studies have found higher risk of hearing loss and miscarriage as well. Those led the Food and Drug Administration to add a warning on NSAID labels about the risks of taking the drugs, especially for long periods of time at high doses.
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Society tells us that you can’t teach an old dog new tricks—that it’s harder for adults to learn new skills than it is for kids. And in many ways, that’s true: Babies have nothing to do but eat, sleep, and learn, while grown-ups are faced with all sorts of time, money, and real-life constraints. (Not to mention, we get annoyed when we’re not good at things right away.)
But it doesn’t have to be that way, says Rachel Wu, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of California Riverside. In a new paper published in Human Development, Wu argues that using a childlike approach to learning can help people of any age take on and conqueror new challenges.
Not only will this help adults develop new talents and hobbies, Wu says, but research suggests that it can keep their brains young, delaying or slowing age-related cognitive decline.
Wu says that as we age, we transition from “broad learning” to “specialized learning,” focusing on our careers and specific areas of expertise. It’s that increasingly narrow specialization that leads to cognitive slowdown, she theorizes—initially in unfamiliar situations, but eventually all the time.
Instead of falling into this trap, Wu says, adults should embrace broad learning through the following six strategies. In children, these behaviors have been shown to increase basic cognitive abilities like working memory, inhibition, and attention. Wu predicts the same would be true for adults, too, if we’d actually give them a chance.
RELATED: New Ways to Boost Your Brain Power
Venture outside your comfort zone
As adults, we tend to use similar skills day in and day out: We take jobs in fields we’re already proficient in, drive the same routes to the same places, and fall into routines we’re comfortable with. But all this familiarity limits the parts of the brain we’re using on a regular basis, says Wu.
“If you’re trying to learn a new skill and it’s turning out to be really easy for you, that may be a sign it’s too similar to what you’re already familiar with,” she says. “Switching to something more challenging, that’s truly different than what you’re used to, may have more cognitive benefits.”
Get a teacher
It’s difficult for adults to teach themselves new skills, says Wu, especially if they really are trying something totally unfamiliar. Hiring an instructor or taking a class, on the other hand, can inspire discipline and hold people accountable for their progress.
Can’t afford professional lessons? “I’ve seen barter systems in groups of adults where someone is a skilled artist, for example, and someone is a musician,” says Wu. “At some point, everyone’s a teacher and everyone’s a learner.”
Believe in yourself
“This may be one of the toughest ones, because it’s so embedded in our culture and our stereotypes that you really can’t develop as an adult,” says Wu. Many people also believe that adults need natural talent to succeed in new areas, and that hard work simply isn’t enough. (Wu wrote about her own experience with these beliefs in a recent Scientific American blog post.)
“It comes down to ignoring those people who don’t believe in the process,” says Wu, “and pushing yourself to really believe it yourself—to know that you can and you will improve with practice.”
Surround yourself with encouraging people
A fear of making mistakes is another reason adults are so slow to learn new things; if we try and fail, we can face criticism, lose money, or get fired. And if we’re not good at something right away, we’re told to not give up our day jobs.
That’s why it’s important to build up a support network of people—at work and at home—who allow you to make mistakes and learn from them, says Wu. “Surround yourself with positivity,” she says. “It’s kind of a general life lesson, but it’s especially applicable here.”
RELATED: 8 Ways Sex Affects Your Brain
Make a serious commitment—and don’t give up
What keeps people motivated is very individualistic, says Wu, and people need to find the inspiration that works for them. “One of the reasons I have a piano teacher is that I will quit and use my time for something else if I’m not being pushed every week,” she says.
Some research shows that telling friends and family about a new goal can also help keep you motivated, she says. If you can afford it, spending money on a new pursuit—pre-paying for tennis lessons and a fancy new racket, for example, or booking a trip to Rome to practice your Italian—might also make it harder to throw in the towel.
Learn more than one thing at once
“Because our time is so valuable, we tend to zero in on one hobby or one skill we want to get better at,” says Wu. But dividing that time and energy into three or four areas will “stretch your brain in all different directions,” she says.
That doesn’t mean you should start four new challenges all at once, though. “Maybe you started learning a new language in 2016, and this year you add singing lessons, and next year you try something else,” she says. “You can add things gradually based on what you can handle.”
Strive for a variety of activities, as well. “If you try new things in different domains—one related to physical activity, one related to music, and another one artistic, for example—you might be stretching your brain more effectively than if you were learning how to paint, sculpt, and draw.”
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Wu says the idea that these six strategies can counteract cognitive decline still needs to be tested with scientific studies. But she says her theory is based on five decades of research, and she’s optimistic about what study results will reveal.
She also acknowledges that spending time and money on learning is a luxury that not everyone has, especially when we’re rewarded—by our jobs, other people, and our own egos—for doing what we’re already good at.
“I think the first step is being aware that this kind of living may be advantageous to you in the short term, but detrimental in the long run,” she says. “The second step is finding ways to work some variety, some new skill, into your daily life. Even just 10 minutes is better than nothing.”
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This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.
The next time you could use a little burst of power—whether you’re biking up a steep hill or simply trying to open a jar of pickles—it might help to utter a few not-safe-for-work words while giving it your all. According to a new study, swearing seems to increase strength for short periods of time.
Previous research has shown that using profanity can increase pain tolerance. Scientists think this might be because it stimulates the body’s sympathetic nervous system—the system that revs the heart rate and activates the body’s “fight or flight” response when it senses some kind of threat.
Researchers from Keele University and Long Island University Brooklyn hypothesized that this might also give people a quick strength boost, as well. To test their theory, they asked a total of 81 participants to complete short tests of anaerobic and isometric power. Some rode an exercise bike at maximum intensity for 30 seconds; others squeezed a hand-grip device as hard as they could.
They measured participants’ performance on these tests under two circumstances: once while repeating a curse word of their choosing every three seconds, and once while repeating a neutral word—something to describe a table in the room, like “flat” or “round.”
As predicted, the volunteers produced more pedaling power and had stronger hand grips while they were cursing. Surprisingly, though, the researchers found no significant differences in heart rate, blood pressure, and skin conductance (a measure that increases physiological arousal) between the swearing and non-swearing scenarios.
This suggests that the sympathetic nervous system may not be the driving factor after all, says co-author David Spierer, former associate professor of athletic training, health, and exercise science at Long Island University Brooklyn. Instead, the researchers think cursing may allow people to “shut down their inhibitions,” says Spierer, “and somewhat veil the effort and the pain of this really difficult task.”
In this way, Spierer says, using swear words might be helpful in any circumstance where muscle strength and a sudden burst of force or speed is required. “If you’re trying to open a jar of pickles and it’s really tough, I’m not going to say that cursing will definitely enable you to open it,” he says. “But I do feel that cursing could decrease your awareness of what it is you’re doing, and that could actually make it more forceful.” The same could go for athletic events, too. “If you’re not really aware of the pain and difficultly, you can put more into your performance.”
For reasons that aren’t quite understood, a neutral word didn’t have the same effect on participants in the study. Spierer says it’s likely that everyone has different responses to profanity, as well. “In the study, some people chose more explicit words than others,” he says. He adds they were all short—mostly four letters—and repeated at a normal volume. “It’s not like they were going on a tirade and screaming at people.”
If you want to try it yourself, Spierer suggests repeating your chosen word at a structured pace, like a mantra. “We think that if you get into a rhythm and your body can predict when it’s coming, it can have more of an effect.”
The study, which has not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal, was presented this week at the British Psychological Society’s annual conference in Brighton, England.
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Tuesday, May 9, 2017
This article originally appeared on Time.com.
This essay is part of a TIME series on the growing effects of antimicrobial resistance: superbugs that may no longer be treated with standard-course antibiotics. In 2016, World Health Organization leaders called drug resistance a “major global threat” that’s estimated to kill 10 million people a year in 2050. Here is the remarkable story of Aimee Copeland, who lost her leg, foot and hands after acquiring a bacterial infection that couldn’t be cured with standard antibiotics alone.
Before my accident, I had big plans for the summer of 2012. Everything seemed to be going right: I had just finished my final exams (I was working on my master’s degree in psychology), I was in a relationship, and I had a job as a waitress at a local café in Carrollton, Georgia.
After finishing my shift on the afternoon of May 1, a coworker invited me and another friend to hang out at her home. It was a warm, sunny day, and there was a beautiful creek in her backyard. We put on our swimsuits and started wading in the water. Soon enough, we stumbled across an old, homemade zip line. I’ve always been adventurous, so I was thrilled to try it. All of us went across the zip line once with no problems. But on my second try, I heard a loud snap. The zip line broke, and I was hurled to the sharp rocks below. I got a nasty gash on my left leg and had to go to the hospital, where I was given 22 staples to close the wound.
If only that was the worst of it.
A few days after the injury, I knew something wasn’t right. Even though I was given antibiotics, my leg didn’t seem to be responding or getting better. Instead, the pain in my leg felt like it was moving to different parts of my body, which didn’t make sense. Then one morning, I woke up and discovered my entire left leg looked like it was rotting. I couldn’t speak, and I felt like I was dying. What happened next remains a blur.
I was rushed to the hospital, where doctors eventually diagnosed me with necrotizing fasciitis—also known as flesh-eating bacteria—a bacterial infection that was destroying my tissue. The infection wasn’t responding to antibiotics. If doctors didn’t act fast, the bacteria would kill me quickly.
I was airlifted to a hospital in Augusta, and upon arriving, doctors told my parents that my organs were starting to fail. They asked for their permission to amputate my left leg and some of my abdomen to stop the bacteria from spreading to other parts of my body. I don’t remember much from this initial surgery since I was on life support, going in and out of consciousness. My parents said that every time I woke up, I would ask them where I was and how I got there. Each time I would react like it was the first time they were telling me. It was traumatizing for all of us.
The first thing I solidly remember from the ordeal happened a few days after losing my leg. My dad sat next to me in the hospital room, gently took my hands into his own and held them up so I could see them. My hands were dark purple and black and looked unrecognizable. Drugs I was taking, called vasopressors, had tightened my blood vessels and raised my blood pressure to keep adequate blood flow to my organs. But as a consequence, my hands and feet lost blood, and my risk for infection was high.
“Aimee, these hands are not healthy,” my dad explained. “They are hampering your progress. The doctors want to amputate them and your foot today to assure your best possible chance of survival.”
It was really hard to hear, but at that moment, all I wanted was to live. If my hands could hurt the rest of my body, then take them off. “Let’s do this,” I told my parents.
During the surgeries I was given a lot of painkillers, so everything felt hazy. It wasn’t until the medication wore off and I started physical therapy a few weeks later that I truly began to grieve the loss of my limbs. As I was learning to feed myself, brush my teeth and get dressed with no hands, it dawned on me that this was going to affect the rest of my life. But I was determined to move forward, and thanks to a supportive community around me, I pushed through the pain. I attended a 51-day rehabilitation program at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where I worked to rebuild my strength. It felt like boot camp. I spent hours learning how to get in and out of my wheelchair, and eventually I was fitted with prosthetics. Soon enough I was baking brownies and making jewelry.
My experience, and my positive outlook, gained a lot of media attention. I’m glad my story was inspiring, but I worry that people think I was happy-go-lucky the entire time. I cried a lot and went through a really dark period. My self-esteem was shot. I was going through withdrawal from all the painkillers I stopped taking, and my boyfriend and I broke up. The trauma of what we both experienced was just too much. I felt like I lost my best friend.
But these traumas, both physical and emotional, did not hold me back. When physical therapy was over, I finished school and obtained my master’s in psychology like I had always planned. After that, I got my social work license. I began interning at the Shepherd Center—the same rehab center where I was initially treated—and helped other people cope with injuries similar to my own.
Just a couple months ago, I began my first private practice job at Heartwork Counseling Center, where I now work as a psychotherapist. It’s extremely rewarding, and I think I have the best job in the whole world. In January, I started a non-profit called the Aimee Copeland Foundation, and my goal is to create a nature park that’s accessible to people with disabilities. Even before my accident, I wanted to use nature as a therapy. I remember lying in my hospital bed thinking, I can’t take people on hikes anymore without legs. That’s why I want to create a space that I and others can use to garden, hike and meditate.
Of course, not everything is easy. I still see a therapist regularly, and getting back into the dating game was hard to say the least. I did meet someone special though, and we’ve been together for two years now. Having a partner that loves me has helped heal my self-esteem.
People want to feel sorry for me, but I have an awesome life. I’ve learned to be grateful for the pain because it has helped me grow. I completely trust in the universe now. So much has been taken away from me. What do I have to fear?
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This article originally appeared on Time.com.
Researchers from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center accidentally stumbled upon this explanation for baldness and graying hairs—at least in mouse models—while studying a rare genetic disease that causes tumors to grow on nerves, according to a press release from the center.
They found that a protein called KROX20 switches on skin cells that become a hair shaft, which then causes cells to produce another protein called stem cell factor. In mice, these two proteins turned out to be important for baldness and graying. When researchers deleted the cells that produce KROX20, mice stopped growing hair and eventually went bald; when they deleted the SCF gene, the animals’ hair turned white.
“Although this project was started in an effort to understand how certain kinds of tumors form, we ended up learning why hair turns gray and discovering the identity of the cell that directly gives rise to hair,” said lead researcher Dr. Lu Le, associate professor of dermatology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, in a statement.
More research is needed to understand if the process works similarly in humans, and Le and his colleagues plan to start studying it in people. “With this knowledge, we hope in the future to create a topical compound or to safely deliver the necessary gene to hair follicles to correct these cosmetic problems,” he said.
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They may look harmless, but cotton-tip applicators send an estimated 34 kids to the ER every day, according to a new study in The Journal of Pediatrics. The authors say their findings debunk the myth that we need to clean our ears regularly—and serve as a reminder that doing so may cause more harm than good.
The Q-tip, the original cotton-tip applicator, was invented in 1923 after the company’s founder watched his wife clean their baby’s ears with cotton wads and a toothpick. The ready-made swabs may have been a more convenient alternative at the time—but since the 1970s, doctors have cautioned against using them for the purpose of ear cleaning, noting that they can push wax deeper into the canal (causing impaction) and increase injury risk to the eardrum.
Today, research shows that the use of cotton-tip applicators is the most common cause of accidental penetrating ear injury in children. But despite doctors’ and manufactures’ warnings not to use the bathroom staple for ear hygiene, many people still do, says Kris Jatana, MD, an otolaryngologist at Nationwide Children’s Hospital and associate professor at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
For the new study, Dr. Jatana and his colleagues looked at reports of cotton swab-related ear injuries at hospitals across the country between 1990 and 2010. (Because the National Electronic Injury Surveillance System stopped coding hospital reports for these specific injuries after 2010, more recent info was not available.)
In that 21-year period, an estimated 263,000 patients under age 18 were treated in emergency departments for complaints like ear blockage, pain, and bleeding—more than 1,000 a month, or about 34 a day. Most of these injuries—77%—occurred while children used cotton-tip applicators themselves. Parental and sibling use accounted for 16% and 6% of injuries, respectively. Overall, 73% of the injuries occurred during ear cleaning; other causes included children playing with the swabs or falling down while a swab was in their ear.
The most common injuries were foreign body sensation (the feeling that something is stuck in the ear), perforated eardrum, and soft-tissue injury. (While cotton swabs have also been associated with ear infections and earwax impaction, these conditions were excluded from the study because it wasn’t possible to know if they developed before or after a swab was used.)
Two-thirds of patients were under 8 years of age, and 40% were younger than 3. Fortunately, 99% of patients were treated and released—but the authors note that some of these injuries still could have been serious. Damage to the eardrum or inner ear can lead to dizziness, problems with balance, facial nerve paralysis, and permanent hearing loss, they write.
Injury rates did decline over the course of the study, but more than 12,000 children were still treated in 2010—a number that Dr. Jatana says is “unacceptably high.”
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So how are people supposed to clean their ears?
In short, they’re not—at least not on a regular basis. “The ear is actually self-cleaning,” says Dr. Jatana. “Wax serves a function, to trap dirt and debris and bring it toward the outside of the ear.” It also humidifies the ear canal, he adds, and has antimicrobial properties.
“When visible wax is seen in the outer part of the ear, that can be wiped away with a small wet towel or baby wipe,” he continues. “But sticking any object into the canal itself is completely unnecessary and very dangerous.”
In January, the American Academy of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery Foundation released updated guidelines on this topic, including a new list of do’s and don’ts for patients. They include “Do know that ear wax is normal,” “Don’t over-clean your ears,” and “Don’t put cotton swabs, hair pins, car keys, toothpicks or other things in your ear.”
There are effective ways to treat bothersome earwax impaction, including irrigation devices, wax-softening drops, or in-office procedures. But the Academy recommends that people speak with their doctors before trying any treatments at home, since they aren’t safe for everyone.
You should also see a doctor if you experience drainage or bleeding from the ears, hearing loss, or feelings of pain or fullness in the ears, the guidelines state.
The study authors recommend that cotton-tip applicators be stored out of reach of children, that stronger warning labels be added to their boxes, and that parents be advised—as soon as babies are born—never to use them for ear cleaning. And just as importantly, they recommend more public education about the myths and facts of ear hygiene.
“I think some parents instill in their children that cleaning out the ear canal is similar to brushing their teeth,” says Dr. Jatana. “That misconception needs to be dispelled in order to help prevent these injuries from occurring.”
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Monday, May 8, 2017
This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.
People who suffer from anxiety are often plagued by repetitive thoughts, which can distract from the task at hand and affect mood and productivity. But a new study suggests that just 10 minutes of daily meditation can help reduce episodes of mind wandering, especially for people who report high levels of emotional stress.
Previous research has found that meditation can help prevent “off-task thinking” in healthy individuals, but this study, published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, aimed to determine the benefits of mindfulness specifically as they relate to anxiety.
Researchers from the University of Waterloo asked 82 college students, all of whom met the clinical criteria for anxiety, to perform a monotonous computer task that measured their ability to stay focused. At random points throughout, the participants were asked to reveal their thoughts “just prior to this moment.”
Then they divided the participants into two groups: One listened to an excerpt from The Hobbit, and the other listened to a 10-minute meditation that instructed them to focus on breathing and “remain open-minded to their experience.” (You can listen to the same recording, called Mindfulness of Body and Breath, here.)
The groups then repeated the computer task. This time, 43 percent of thoughts in the meditation group were considered “mind wandering,“ meaning they weren’t related to the task or to things going on around them, down slightly from 44 percent in the pre-test.
In the group that listened to the audio story, the percentage of mind-wandering thoughts actually increased—from 35 percent in the pre-test to 55 percent in the post-test.
The meditation group also reported a significant decrease in “future-oriented thoughts,” from 35 percent before the mindfulness exercise to 25 percent after. This could indicate a shift in thinking from internal worries (about tomorrow’s exam, for example) to things going on around them in the moment (say, a dirty computer monitor or a flickering light), the authors say. That’s important, because stressing about future events is a hallmark of anxiety.
And while meditation didn’t reduce all forms of off-task thinking in the study (like being distracted by external stimuli), it did appear to lessen performance disruptions associated with those thoughts. Both groups also experienced a decrease in negative emotions between the pre-test and the post-test.
“In short, meditation is beneficial in both improving mood and helping people stay focused in their thoughts and also behaviors,” says lead author and PhD student Mengran Xu. “The two do go together.”
Mind wandering accounts for almost half of humans’ daily stream of consciousness, Xu adds. It can cause us to make errors on everyday tasks, like mailing an envelope without its contents, but it’s also been associated with an increased risk of injury and death while driving, difficulties in school, and impaired performance in everyday life.
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This article originally appeared on Time.com.
There are few things more more ritualistic—and to many, more sacred—than a morning cup of joe. 64% of Americans drink at least one cup a day—a statistic that’s barely budged since the ’90s. Despite warnings from doctors over the years that coffee may be hard on the body, people have remained devoted to the drink.
Luckily for them, the latest science is evolving in their favor. Research is showing that coffee may have net positive effects on the body after all.
Is coffee bad for you?
For years, doctors warned people to avoid coffee because it might increase the risk of heart disease and stunt growth. They worried that people could become addicted to the energy that high amounts of caffeine provided, leading them to crave more and more coffee as they became tolerant to higher amounts of caffeine. Experts also worried that coffee had damaging effects on the digestive tract, which could lead to stomach ulcers, heartburn and other ills.
All of this concern emerged from studies done decades ago that compared coffee drinkers to non-drinkers on a number of health measures, including heart problems and mortality. Coffee drinkers, it seemed, were always worse off.
But it turns out that coffee wasn’t really to blame. Those studies didn’t always control for the many other factors that could account for poor health, such as smoking, drinking and a lack of physical activity. If people who drank a lot of coffee also happened to have some other unhealthy habits, then it’s not clear that coffee is responsible for their heart problems or higher mortality.
That understanding has led to a rehabilitated reputation for the drink. Recent research reveals that once the proper adjustments are made for confounding factors, coffee drinkers don’t seem have a higher risk for heart problems or cancer than people who don’t drink coffee. Recent studies also found no significant link between the caffeine in coffee and heart-related issues such as high cholesterol, irregular heartbeats, stroke or heart attack.
Is coffee good for you?
Studies show that people who drink coffee regularly may have an 11% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes than non-drinkers, thanks to ingredients in coffee that can affect levels of hormones involved in metabolism.
In a large study involving tens of thousands of people, researchers found that people who drank several cups a day—anywhere from two to four cups—actually had a lower risk of stroke. Heart experts say the benefits may come from coffee’s effect on the blood vessels; by keeping vessels flexible and healthy, it may reduce the risk of atherosclerosis, which can cause heart attacks.
It’s also high in antioxidants, which are known to fight the oxidative damage that can cause cancer. That may explain why some studies have found a lower risk of liver cancer among coffee drinkers.
Coffee may even help you live longer. A recent study involving more than 208,000 men and women found that people who drank coffee regularly were less likely to die prematurely than those who didn’t drink coffee. Researchers believe that some of the chemicals in coffee may help reduce inflammation, which has been found to play a role in a number of aging-related health problems, including dementia and Alzheimer’s. Some evidence also suggests that coffee may slow down some of the metabolic processes that drive aging.
One downside is that people may become dependent on caffeine (no surprise to any regular caffeine-drinker who takes a coffee break). The symptoms—headaches, irritability and fatigue—can mimic those of people coming off of addictive drugs. Yet doctors don’t consider the dependence anywhere close to as worrisome as addictions to habit-forming drugs like opiates. While unpleasant, caffeine “withdrawal” symptoms are tolerable and tend to go away after a day or so.
How much coffee is safe?
Like so many foods and nutrients, too much coffee can cause problems, especially in the digestive tract. But studies have shown that drinking up to four 8-ounce cups of coffee per day is safe. Sticking to those boundaries shouldn’t be hard for coffee drinkers in the U.S., since most drink just a cup of java per day.
Moderation is key. But sipping coffee in reasonable amounts just might be one of the healthiest things you can do.
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Most of the time, they’re harmless and go away on their own. But if hiccups persist for more than two days, call your doctor.
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Friday, May 5, 2017
This article originally appeared on Money.
The Republican bill to repeal and replace Obamacare narrowly passed the House of Representatives on Thursday, advancing a plan that would gut health coverage for millions of Americans while delivering tax cuts to the rich.
The American Health Care Act, as the bill is called, had been tweaked in several ways since it was pulled from a House vote in March after failing to garner enough support. In making changes, Republican leaders tried to appease both hardline conservatives who thought the previous version was too much like Obamacare (aka, the Affordable Care Act or ACA) and moderates who worried about people losing coverage.
But the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has not yet scored the revised bill, so lawmakers voted without key projections on how the legislation would affect the number of insured, premium costs, the federal budget, and other measures. The last CBO score—delivered in response to the prior iteration of the bill—estimated that the legislation would increase the number of uninsured people overall by 24 million by 2026.
Proponents, including House Speaker Paul Ryan, say the bill will restore choice to consumers and lower premiums that spiraled out of control under Obamacare. But critics counter that the bill’s effects on premiums would vary greatly based on an individual’s situation, and that weakened consumer protections could ultimately hurt everyone, including those with employer coverage.
Generally speaking, younger, healthy people would likely see their premiums decline under the Obamacare replacement, while older and less healthy people would see them rise. Young people can continue to remain on their parents’ health insurance until age 26. Yet people will no longer be forced to pay a penalty if they go without health insurance for more than a short stretch—the bill does away with Obamacare’s “individual mandate,” but includes other incentives for people to maintain their coverage.
Here’s what you need to know about the bill, which continues next to the Senate. There, it faces new challenges and likely revisions before any vote. If it passes the Senate, President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill into law.
1. Essential Health Benefits Could Disappear
Obamacare created a list of 10 essential health benefits that health plans must offer, including maternity care and mental health care, which were routinely excluded from pre-Obamacare policies on the individual market. The amended American Health Care Act would allow states to apply for a waiver to define their own essential health benefits starting in 2020. There are several concerns with this approach. One is that insurance carriers would likely decline to offer costly benefits if they’re not required to, Linda Blumberg and John Holahan of the Urban Institute write in a recent report. Or if they do, they’ll offer them at such a high price that coverage will be unaffordable for most consumers.
Another concern is that, without essential health benefits, coverage for pre-existing conditions becomes meaningless. Obamacare detractors, including President Trump, are quick to say they want to retain coverage for pre-existing conditions. But if you have cancer and your policy doesn’t cover chemotherapy—because it no longer has to offer comprehensive benefits—then practically speaking, you’re not covered even though you can technically buy a policy.
What’s more, weakening of essential health benefits could also affect people with health coverage through their jobs, experts say. Obamacare required all health insurance plans, including those provided through an employer, to have an out-of-pocket maximum limiting the amount that the patient would have to pay in a given year. But that ceiling only applies to benefits that are considered essential health benefits. Under the GOP bill, employers could choose any state’s definition of essential health benefits, and those seeking to lower costs could gravitate toward the skimpier ones. This would leave workers vulnerable to catastrophic expenses if they get a serious injury or health diagnosis.
2. Medicaid Would be Cut
The American Health Care Act would radically change Medicaid, by phasing out the Obamacare Medicaid expansion that extended health coverage to more than 10 million lower-income Americans.
States would be allowed to continue to enroll people into the expanded Medicaid program until 2020. Then, it will “freeze,” and no other enrollees can be added, the thinking being people would eventually drop out of the program as they earn more money.
Beyond that, the bill would restructure all of Medicaid, not just the parts that Obamacare touched. The American Health Care Act would slash federal Medicaid spending by about $840 billion over 10 years, according to CBO projections. This would likely lead to benefit cuts for the 74 million Americans who rely on the program, including lower-income beneficiaries, as well as, the disabled and elderly people who have exhausted their assets.
These cuts to Medicaid would help fund that tax cuts that the bill grants to wealthy Americans. Obamacare levied certain taxes on the wealthy to help fund the premium subsidies that help make insurance more affordable for the 85% of the people on the individual marketplace who receive them. Yet the American Health Care Act rolls back the tax increases, and cuts to Medicaid will help to make up some of that lost revenue.
3. Pre-Existing Conditions Wouldn’t be Adequately Protected
After initially promising to protect people with pre-existing conditions from exorbitant premiums and deductibles, the House plan would allow insurers to once again charge sick people more for coverage under certain circumstances.
Insurers still cannot deny coverage outright to people with pre-existing conditions, as they could before the passage of the ACA. However, they will be able to charge significantly higher premiums once again if individuals do not maintain continuous coverage. States can apply for a waiver to the ACA’s community rating provision, which banned charging sick people in a community more for insurance than “healthier” people in the community (with exceptions for age and tobacco usage). In order to receive the waiver, states would receive money from the Patient and State Stability Fund to create things like high-risk pools.
These high-risk pools are intended to help bring down costs for sick people, but a recent report from the AARP found that premiums could exceed $25,000 per year for people in these pools, pricing many people out. The AHCA has $138 billion over ten years earmarked for the pools, which is not nearly enough to help subsidize costs, according to experts, even with an additional $8 billion that was added to the pot at the last minute.
4. Tax Credits Would Decrease for Most People
Tax credits to pay for individual coverage varied based primarily on income, as well as age and geographical region, under Obamacare, and 85% of enrollees receive help paying for coverage. In the AHCA, subsides depend almost exclusively on age, with all individuals in a certain age range receiving the same amount of support. The credits are phased out for the highest earners: they start decreasing when an individual earns $75,000, or $150,000 for joint filers.
Overall, the AHCA dramatically reduces the amount of money people will receive to help pay for their insurance, excepting the youngest, healthiest enrollees. This is the age breakdown for subsidies:
- 30 and Under: $2,000 per year
- 30 to 40: $2,500 per year
- 40 to 50: $3,000 per year
- 50 to 60: $3,500 per year
- 60 and Over: $4,000 per year
Compared to the ACA’s credits, this structure benefits young healthy people, while hurting older people as well as sick young people. Lower-income older people would be hit particularly hard, as the fixed dollar subsidy won’t go as far in covering their costs as the income-based one. In 2026, a 64-year-old making $26,500 would owe a sizable $19,500 in annual premiums under Ryan’s plan, versus $15,300 under Obamacare, according to CBO projections. Meanwhile, the difference in subsidies would mean that the consumer pays just $1,700 out-of-pocket for premiums under Obamacare, versus $14,600 under the American Health Care Act.
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5. Women’s Health Access Would Take Extra Hits
Though not explicitly stated, the AHCA aims to defund Planned Parenthood, the largest network provider of women’s health care in the country, by denying reimbursements from Medicaid and Title X (a federal program for family planning) funding for preventative and primary care. That could lead to as many as 650,000 women losing access to preventive care.
The waivers for pre-existing conditions and essential health benefits would also disproportionately affect women: things like maternity and newborn care could be on the chopping block, as well as birth control coverage. Other services that are currently considered preventive care that could change if essential health benefits are rejiggered include breast pumps, domestic violence screening and counseling, mammograms, newborn care, screenings for cervical cancer, STI counseling and well-woman visits. A recent study from the Kaiser Family Foundation found that because of increased birth control coverage, out-of-pocket prescription costs are actually on the decline—and that too would be reversed.
At the same time, sexual assault, domestic violence, pregnancy, C-section, postpartum depression, and eating disorders are all conditions affecting significantly more women than men (though not exclusively women), that could be considered pre-existing conditions once again.
The bill could put domestic violence victims at even more risk. As MONEY reported previously,
Under Obamacare, couples have to file taxes jointly to receive a tax credit—unless they are victims of domestic abuse, domestic violence, or spousal abandonment. The AHCA doesn’t account for this and requires all couples to file jointly to receive a tax credit, without exception.
Finally, women also make up the majority of Medicaid recipients, and nearly half of all births are covered by Medicaid.
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This article originally appeared on Money.
The Republican plan to repeal and replace the the Affordable Care Act (ACA), which narrowly passed a vote in the House today, rolls back protections for people with pre-existing conditions, which could increase health care costs for an estimated 130 million Americans.
The American Health Care Act stipulates that states can allow insurers to charge people with pre-existing conditions more for health insurance (which is banned under the ACA) if the states meet certain conditions, such as setting up high-risk insurance pools. Insurers still cannot deny people coverage outright, as was a common practice before the ACA’s passage, but they can hike up premiums to an unaffordable amount, effectively pricing people out of the market.
In fact, premiums could reach as high as $25,700 per year for people in high-risk pools, according to a report from AARP. People who receive insurance through their employer would not be affected, unless they lost their job or moved to the individual insurance market for some other reason.
But what counts as a pre-existing condition? While it depends on the insurer—they have the right to choose what counts as “pre-existing”—these ailments and conditions were universally used to deny people coverage, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, a nonprofit focusing on health care research.
- Alcohol or drug abuse with recent treatment
- Cerebral palsy
- Congestive heart failure
- Coronary artery/heart disease, bypass surgery
- Crohn’s disease
- Kidney disease, renal failure
- Mental disorders (including Anxiety, Bipolar Disorder, Depression, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Schizophrenia)
- Multiple sclerosis
- Muscular dystrophy
- Organ transplant
- Parkinson’s disease
- Pending surgery or hospitalization
- Pneumocystic pneumonia
- Pregnancy or expectant parent (includes men)
- Sleep apnea
But Cynthia Cox, Kaiser’s associate director, notes that the above list is a conservative sampling of all of the issues and maladies that insurers could count as pre-existing conditions. “There are plenty of other conditions, even acne or high blood pressure, that could have gotten people denied from some insurers but accepted and charged a higher premium by other insurers” says Cox.
Here are some examples of those other conditions that experts have noted could hike premiums:
- Acid Reflux
- Celiac Disease
- Heart burn
- High cholesterol
- Kidney Stones
- Knee surgery
- Lyme Disease
- Postpartum depression
- Seasonal Affective Disorder
- “Sexual deviation or disorder”
The left-leaning Center for American Progress notes that high blood pressure, behavioral health disorders, high cholesterol, asthma and chronic lung disease, and osteoarthritis and other joint disorders are the most common types of pre-existing conditions.
Just how expensive are pre-existing conditions? A recent report from the Center for American Progress found that insurers could charge people with metastatic cancer as much as $142,650 more for their coverage, a 3,500% increase.
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Thursday, May 4, 2017
This article originally appeared on Time.com.
House Republicans voted on Thursday to repeal Obamacare, making good on a seven-year campaign promise that could reshape health care in the United States and dramatically reduce the number of Americans with health insurance.
If the Republican bill passes in the Senate, it will reorganize insurance markets and affect coverage for many millions of Americans.
“Seven years of Obamacare is enough,” House Speaker Paul Ryan wrote on Twitter Thursday morning.
The vote comes nearly six weeks after House Republicans had to pull an earlier version due to disagreements between moderates and conservatives in their caucus. The bill has since been amended twice, though the broad outlines remain the same.
The bill weakens protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions. It rolls back the expansion of Medicaid and cuts taxes on the wealthy. It also significantly reduces federal assistance to lower-income Americans paying for health insurance, and it defunds Planned Parenthood.
In addition, it repeals the Obamacare “individual mandate,” the rule requiring people to buy insurance.
“This bill brings choice and competition back into the health care marketplace and puts health care decisions back in the hands of patients and doctors,” Rep. Diane Black said on the floor of the House. “It’s been a winding road to get to this point, but we’re here today to fulfill the promise we made to the American people.”
Called the American Health Care Act, the bill was passed on Thursday morning without a score from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, which is highly unusual for major legislation. But a similar, earlier version of the Republican bill would have reduced the number of insured by 24 million people by 2026 and raised premiums by 15 to 20% before they began to drop, according to the CBO.
Democrats decried the bill, saying it was rushed through the House without enough review and would damage the health care system. “Republicans are maliciously again attempting to destroy healthcare and coverage for the American people,” said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi.
The vote on Thursday morning was a nailbiter.
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Many Republicans — including those who voted for it — were privately unhappy with health care bill. For conservatives who wanted to repeal Obamacare fully, it does not go far enough; for moderates, it is too harsh on lower- and middle-income Americans. The bill is a “technocratic crap sandwich,” one Republican lawmaker said.
In addition, the bill comes without a score from the CBO, and some members felt the bill was rushed to the floor without members having time to understand the effects of the bill.
Rep. Peter King of New York said he had not read the latest amendment just hours before the vote, but that he would vote in favor anyway based on his discussions with Republican leadership. “You have to strike while you can,” King said.
For some, assurances from leadership were not enough. “I’m certainly not going to vote on a bill of this magnitude that hasn’t been fully scored by the Congressional Budget Office and whose price tag is unknown,” said Rep. Mike Coffman, Republican of Colorado.
But Republicans in the House, embarrassed by their failed effort to pass the bill at the end of March, were determined to push the health care on to the Senate. It will almost certainly face a significant overhaul in the Senate, and then be sent to a joint-chamber conference committee, where changes are reconciled.
Republican House members described the bill as a first-draft effort, necessary to begin the repeal of Obamacare. Waiting any longer, some Republicans said, could cause the bill to fail.
“If we couldn’t get this across the floor it would all stop here today,” said Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma. “Nobody should look at this as the be-all and end-all. It’s the first step, not the last step.”
“I don’t think time would be our friend. We want to get it over to the Senate so they can start their job,” said Rep. Chris Collins of New York.
But as a legislative blueprint, the House bill significantly weakens the protections established under Obamacare for Americans with preexisting conditions. It also will cut aid to lower-income Americans, making health care subsidies based on age, rather than income.
Those who stand to gain immediately include younger and healthier insurance buyers in the open marketplace, and the wealthiest taxpayers, who will see a significant tax cut.
The farthest-reaching effect of the American Health Care Act, however, may be provisions that roll back the expansion of Medicaid beginning in 2018. Obamacare expanded Medicaid for states who chose to opt-in to everyone making up to 138% of the poverty line, expanding coverage in those states by well over 10 million people.
Halting the Medicaid expansion in those states, combined with the bill’s restructuring of health insurance subsidies, will mean that people making minimum wage and slightly more will experience the sharpest drop in coverage.
“The AHCA would lead to catastrophic coverage losses among those right above the poverty line,” said Dr. Julie Donohue, director of the Medicaid Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh Health Policy Institute. “While individuals right above poverty-level could technically purchase coverage on the marketplace, such coverage will be out of reach for nearly all.”
President Trump has promised the bill would cover those with preexisting conditions, but the bill would allow states to let insurers charge people with preexisting conditions higher premiums.
Thursday’s House vote ensures that the Republican effort to repeal Obamacare does not end. But the Republican victory on Thursday may be setting lawmakers up for a major defeat in 2018.
The Republican health care bill is deeply unpopular, with just 17% of Americans approving of the bill, according to a poll from late March. The bill was opposed by AARP as well as the American Medical Association, health groups and hospitals. A majority of Americans want Congress to fix Obamacare rather than repeal it outright.
Democrats believe the bill’s passage on Thursday will help set up the party for a wave of congressional election victories next year. Even as they lambasted the Republican vote, Democrats were preparing to target the moderate Republicans in swing districts who voted for the bill.
“You vote for this bill, you’re walking the plank,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told Republicans on the house floor.
The bill “is going to provide a great civics lesson for America,” she said. “Most Americans don’t know who their Congressperson is. But they will now.”
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