Category Archives: Health

Good News Monday: 11 Medical Breakthroughs

Look for these promising new initiatives to become more widely used in the next couple of years.

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1. Tecnic Symfony, a newly approved, first-in-class lens replacement for cataracts, can now provide an extended depth of focus.  We’ll no longer have to choose between optimal close-up or distance vision, and a tiny stent is now available to treat people with glaucoma.

 2. Drones are distributing medicine to isolated areas. In 2016, a start-up company used drones to deliver medicine to Rwanda. This practice has since become routine and it’s estimated that even more areas will benefit.

3. Gene editing is helping prevent disease. A new technique to “edit” embryos (CRISPR Technology) may help future generations avoid retinal degenerative disease and inherited  diseases such as cystic fibrosis and hemophilia.

4. ALS patients will soon be able to communicate with their thoughts. New technology may help decode the thoughts of people with functional brain activity who have a completely paralyzed body resulting from a stroke, traumatic injury or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).

5. Diabetics can be helped by an artificial pancreas. Diabetes is caused when the pancreas produces insufficient insulin. In May 2017, it was reported that the first artificial pancreas systems (the Hybrid Close-Loop Insulin Delivery System) were beginning to be distributed, helping diabetics regulate their insulin levels.

6. Reduction of LDL cholesterol. When powerful cholesterol drugs — known as PCSK9 inhibitors — were approved by the FDA in 2015, experts hailed it as a huge breakthrough, but more studies were needed to see whether this would result in medications with fewer side effects than statins.

Since then, new studies have reported good news – earlier in 2017, a 20% reduction in LDL was reported in a study group of 25,982 patients. These new cholesterol meds should become increasingly available.

7. Enhanced post-surgery recovery. Traditional surgery protocol involves no eating or drinking beforehand, feeling nauseous or groggy afterwards, and being prescribed pain medication to help with recovery, which can lead to opioid dependence.

New research has been evaluating the Enhanced Recovery After Surgery (ERAS) protocol, which recommends various methods including post-operative nutrition plans and alternatives to pain medication, to speed up the recovery process.

8. More targeted and precise breast cancer therapies. Treatments such as chemotherapy fight cancer cells but don’t always have the desired outcome. In the near future, according to Breastcancer.org, expect to see treatments for breast cancer that are designed to target specific cancer cell characteristics, such as the protein that allows cells to grow in a malignant way, .

9. Improved treatments for sleep apnea. Treatment for moderate to severe sleep apnea is often invasive and uncomfortable, involving the Continuous Positive Airway Pressure machine (CPAP). This machine blows air into your nose via a nose mask, keeping the airway open and unobstructed.

But a less invasive method was approved by the FDA in October, 2017. The Remede sleep system is an implanted device that treats central sleep apnea by activating a nerve that sends signals to the diaphragm to stimulate breathing.

Following successful trial studies, this may become the treatment of choice.

10. Next-generation vaccines. New techniques include freeze-drying, which allows vaccinations to be transported to remote areas. Companies are also investigating faster ways to manufacture vaccinations to make them more readily available.

11. The first human head transplant! Italian scientist Sergio Canavero and Chinese surgeon Xiaoping Ren are developing a plan to transplant a human head — and yes, it involves neck bolts and electricity! The goal is to help patients with spinal cord injuries and paralysis.

The surgeons have already performed the procedure on mice, rats and a dog, all of which survived surgery and even regained some motor function. Is that cool or what?!

Have a GOOD week! xx

Dementia or Alzheimer’s?

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A few days ago DH and I watched the lovely and touching movie, The Leisure Seeker, which reminded me to share an interesting article.

My parents’ generation used to refer to this health issue as “losing your marbles”, which sounds more charmingly benign than the sad reality of cognitive decline. Whether you’re concerned for yourself, an aging relative, or a friend, I hope you’ll find it informative.

(SHARED FROM AARP)

Dementia vs. Alzheimer’s: Which Is It? How to understand the difference — and why it matters

by Kathleen Fifield, AARP, June 25, 2018 

The terms “dementia” and “Alzheimer’s” have been around for more than a century, which means people have likely been mixing them up for that long, too. But knowing the difference is important. While Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia (accounting for an estimated 60 to 80 percent of cases), there are several other types. The second most common form, vascular dementia, has a very different cause — namely, high blood pressure. Other types of dementia include alcohol-related dementia, Parkinson’s dementia and frontotemporal dementia; each has different causes as well. In addition, certain medical conditions can cause serious memory problems that resemble dementia.

A correct diagnosis means the right medicines, remedies and support. For example, knowing that you have Alzheimer’s instead of another type of dementia might lead to a prescription for a cognition-enhancing drug instead of an antidepressant. Finally, you may be eligible to participate in a clinical trial for Alzheimer’s if you’ve been specifically diagnosed with the disease.

What It Is

Dementia 

In the simplest terms, dementia is a nonreversible decline in mental function.

It is a catchall phrase that encompasses several disorders that cause chronic memory loss, personality changes or impaired reasoning, Alzheimer’s disease being just one of them, says Dan G. Blazer, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at Duke University Medical Center.

To be called dementia, the disorder must be severe enough to interfere with your daily life, says Constantine George Lyketsos, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center in Baltimore.

Alzheimer’s

It is a specific disease that slowly and irreversibly destroys memory and thinking skills.

Eventually, Alzheimer’s disease takes away the ability to carry out even the simplest tasks.

A cure for Alzheimer’s remains elusive, although researchers have identified biological evidence of the disease: amyloid plaques and tangles in the brain. You can see them microscopically, or more recently, using a PET scan that employs a newly discovered tracer that binds to the proteins. You can also detect the presence of these proteins in cerebral spinal fluid, but that method isn’t used often in the U.S.

How It’s Diagnosed

Dementia

A doctor must find that you have two or three cognitive areas in decline.

These areas include disorientation, disorganization, language impairment and memory loss. To make that diagnosis, a doctor or neurologist typically administers several mental-skill challenges.

In the Hopkins verbal learning test, for example, you try to memorize then recall a list of 12 words — and a few similar words may be thrown in to challenge you. Another test — also used to evaluate driving skills — has you draw lines to connect a series of numbers and letters in a complicated sequence.

Alzheimer’s 

There’s no definitive test; doctors mostly rely on observation and ruling out other possibilities.

For decades, diagnosing Alzheimer’s disease has been a guessing game based on looking at a person’s symptoms. A firm diagnosis was not possible until an autopsy was performed.

But that so-called guessing game, which is still used today in diagnosing the disease, is accurate between 85 and 90 percent of the time, Lyketsos says. The new PET scan can get you to 95 percent accuracy, but it’s usually recommended only as a way to identify Alzheimer’s in patients who have atypical symptoms.

(Images from Pixabay.com)

Blue Streak

Earlier this week, I took a break from my favorite summer activities of wine tasting, beach walks and bread baking to pick blueberries at nearby Gibson Farms. I can’t say I’m the most efficient at this, as I subscribe to the notion of “pick one, eat two”, but both my friend P and I wound up with a solid haul: 9 pounds for her; 7 for me. (Not unlike giving birth, we joked.)

The first acres on this family farm were planted in the 40’s, with more added in the 80’s. The moist, mild climate of the central coast gives the berries their distinctive sweetness, and draws large crowds during the two-week “U-pick“ season.

Berkeley blueberries are Gibson’s current crop. Considered the most popular home garden variety of blueberry, Berkeleys grow well in mild climates. Their medium to large size fruit has great flavor and firmness, as well as a long shelf life, should you happen to not devour the entire crop in one sitting.

Blueberry Berkeley, Vaccinium corymbosum, High Bush Blueberry

You probably know that blueberries are healthy — at least until they turn into a pie!
A few facts:
  • Blueberries contain a plant compound called anthocyanin. This gives blueberries both their blue color (cyan) and many of their health benefits.
  • Blueberries can improve bone strength, skin health, blood pressure, diabetes management, cancer prevention, and mental health.
  • Their fiber, potassium, folate, vitamin B6, and phytonutrient content support heart health. (Fiber helps to reduce the total amount of cholesterol in the blood and decrease the risk of heart disease.)
  • One cup of blueberries provides 24% of a person’s recommended daily allowance of vitamin C.
  • People who use blood thinners, such as warfarin, should speak to their doctor before increasing their intake of blueberries, as the high vitamin K content can affect blood clotting.

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Now, other than merely eating great handfuls, what else can you do? Plenty! — from smoothies to pancakes to salsa to desserts.
Besides the aforementioned pie, I made up a batch of muffins using this King Arthur flour basic muffin recipe and adding 2 cups of blueberries to the dry ingredients before combining with the wet ones. This trick keeps the berries from sinking to the bottom.
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The muffins would be even tastier with the addition of a streusel topping, but I thought it prudent to skip the additional butter and sugar.
If you are feeling indulgent, though, check out this wonderful Ina Garten recipe from my friend Terry’s blog. Terry will never steer you wrong when it comes to deliciousness!
Enjoy the rest of your week!

 

 

Scenes From a Derm Convention

Much as I dislike having my yearly skin check, I always enjoy chatting with my dermatologist, especially about the crazy things women (it’s mostly women) will do in our mostly futile attempts to defeat the march of time.

She had me laughing during my otherwise unpleasant squamous surgery with the following report.

Dr. D had recently attended a dermatology conference.  She said you could tell at a glance what everyone’s specialties were.  The cosmetic derms all had the age-indeterminate, inflated look you get when you have unlimited access to fillers, Botox and multiple procedures. Designer clothes, Jimmy Choos and Birkins were de rigueur. She observed a lot of air kisses with this group; a vigorous hug could potentially squash an implant or two.

Dr. D says about cosmetic work, “Never make the critical mistake of only looking at the mirror straight on.” We need to know how we look from all angles, lest we resemble a blowfish in heat.

In contrast, the doctors involved with serious medicine such as reconstruction for burn victims had the slightly distracted look of people who wished they were somewhere else.  They greeted each other with firm handshakes; no frivolous air kisses for these folks.

One of the lectures dealt with a client whose complaint was that her labia were uneven. (One wonders how she knew that.)  In any event, she’d had cosmetic surgery to repair the issue — I forgot to ask whether one side was inflated or the other side deflated. Next visit! But as Dr. D says, “If you’re with a man who loses interest at the point he can tell that your labia are uneven, you have much bigger problems!”

Finally, here is one of my favorite anecdotes:

One of Dr. D’s clients tried Botox and complained that it “didn’t work” and that she didn’t look any different. Her husband told Dr. D in confidence, “You’ve saved our marriage.”

Apparently, every time the poor man offered a suggestion about where to have dinner or something equally benign, his wife would scowl at him. To avoid an argument, he’d usually change the subject.

Now that she doesn’t scowl, he continues talking and is amazed how often she will be receptive or even agree with him!

Beauty Adventures: Vanity and Necessity

This getting older thing seems to require ever-greater vigilance. The wear and tear of sun exposure and general activity caught up with me recently, resulting in a few rounds of sclerotherapy and in-office surgery for a squamous cell (non-melanoma) carcinoma.

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Prominent veins are much prettier on leaves

First, the vanity part: sclerotherapy.

I’ve made peace with my legs’ freckles, moles, scars and other mementoes of time but one thing was really bothering me: clusters of ugly spider veins around my ankles that had appeared over the past few years. (Thanks, gravity!)

Since boots are not a year-round option and the distracting power of red nail polish only goes so far, I finally decided to do something.

Sclerotherapy is commonly used to treat varicose veins or spider veins. Depending on the types of veins affected, lasers and other methods may be indicated. In my case, sclerotherapy was the recommendation and – spoiler alert – it has made a difference.

The procedure is non-surgical, doesn’t require anesthesia, and, in most cases, doesn’t require any special preparation. Your doctor injects a solution (called a sclerosant) into the blood vessels or lymph vessels, which causes them to swell and cut off the flow of blood or lymphatic fluid to the veins, which in turn makes them shrink. The practitioner can actually see them disappear – how cool is that?

During the treatment, you lie on your back with your legs up. After cleaning the area, the doctor injects the vein with the irritant. You may feel burning, tingling, or nothing at all. In my case there was some stinging but it wasn’t too bad. When the injection is complete, the doctor massages the area to prevent blood from re-entering the vein. Depending on the area being treated compression socks may be helpful afterwards.

After treatment, you need to remain active to prevent blood clots from forming, and avoid sunlight, which can cause dark spots at the treated area. Other than some soreness, redness and bruising at the injection site, recovery is easy.

 Research suggests that sclerotherapy effectively removes spider veins in 75-90% of cases, but typically requires multiple treatments. It took me 3 sessions to remove all but the most visible cluster, which has not gone away completely but is much lighter. Unfortunately, the procedure isn’t covered by insurance and since standing and walking put pressure on the veins, they’ll probably come back eventually.  I’m hoping it takes a few decades.

Necessity: skin cancer prevention

Being fair-skinned and paranoid, I’m vigilant about sun block and see my dermatologist annually for a full-body skin check. This time, I called her attention to a small but tenacious spot on the back of my hand and she agreed that a biopsy should be done. Most red spots resolve within a month (a bit longer as we get older and our skin takes more time to heal). Anything that doesn’t go away should be evaluated.

Turns out I had a squamous cell non-melanoma carcinoma, the second most common form after basal cell carcinoma. Not life threatening, but not something you want to ignore, either. We scheduled surgery for a couple of weeks later.

Skin cancer is the most common of all cancers; each year in the U.S. nearly 5 1/2 million cases of non-melanoma skin cancer are treated in more than 3.3 million people. It’s also the easiest to cure when diagnosed and treated early. The head (particularly if you have thinning hair), face, tops of the ears and back of the hands are especially vulnerable. Hats and gloves, people! And wear sun block every day, including driving and swanning about in your corner office with the big windows!

Dermatologists used to focus on brown, unevenly shaped or mottled moles. But scientists have now learned that melanomas can also be pink or red. Be on the lookout for areas that are rough, red and raised. Often you’ll detect anomalies more by feel than by the way they look.

Pre-op: The biopsy has removed most of the problem already, since squamous cells are in the top layer of skin. The pre-op prep includes avoiding blood thinners such as ibuprofen, certain supplements and alcohol the week before, plus cleaning the area in advance with an over-the-counter antibacterial liquid.

Day Of: First, the surgical area is numbed with a lidocaine injection. Mine is on my wrist so the incision is lateral and should be hidden by all the other creases. Surgery isn’t painful and I only need acetaminophen a couple of times in subsequent days.

A Week (Plus) Later: A nurse at the derm’s office removes the stitches and applies three Steri-Strips. These fall off after another week. Three weeks post-op, the back of my hand is still sore and puffy but is slowly improving.

After-care: Dr. D recommends Gold Bond Strength and Resilience to moisturize skin, Anthelios 60 sunscreen, and Serica for scar improvement – it’s much easier to apply this gel than bulky scar strips. I’m also trying it on last year’s bunion scar to see if it helps.

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Dr. D has also suggested I try nicotinamide (B3) supplements. In the recent ONTRAC study, oral use significantly reduced the risk of melanoma in patients who’d had two or more precancerous basal or squamous lesions.

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I’m taking 500 mg twice a day and will start seeing my derm twice a year from now on. I’ll also be ordering Anthelios by the truckload.

 

How To Be A Happier Couple

We’re off to Italy tomorrow — (see #1 below). Since I won’t be posting while we’re traveling I wanted to share the following thought-provoking article with all of you.

(Shared from WhoWhatWear):

According to the app Happify, the most blissed-out couples have been married for under five years and have no children. If you’re among that demographic, congrats! If you’re not, or if you foresee yourself crossing over into a long-term partnership or having a family at one point, fret not, as there’s still good news—happiness in relationships, just like individual happiness, is something you can work to achieve. Here, eight research-backed methods for becoming one of those happy couples of whom everyone is jealous (and not just on Instagram, but in actual life).

1. BE ADVENTUROUS

According to the New York Times, “New experiences activate the brain’s reward system, flooding it with dopamine and norepinephrine. These are the same brain circuits that are ignited in early romantic love, a time of exhilaration and obsessive thoughts about a new partner.” So while butterflies inevitably fade, studies show you can inject new energy into your relationship by regularly trying new things with your partner. Try date night activities that are outside of your comfort zone, rather than spending another night in watching Netflix or simply walking over to your favorite neighborhood restaurant. It’s fine to continue with these beloved activities (after all, fall TV!), but if you want to keep the flame alive, it’s advisable to mix things up every once in a while.

2. MAKE AFFIRMATIONS A DAILY OCCURRENCE

According to research conducted by Terri Orbuch, a psychologist and author of the book Finding Love Again: 6 Simple Steps to a New and Happy Relationship, one of the biggest learnings from her divorced clients was that they wished they had been more affectionate toward their spouse, or that their spouse had been more affectionate to them. Dr. Orbuch recommends performing one small act of kindness for your partner each day, be it a verbal affirmation (something focused on a positive attribute they possess or a positive feeling you have about them) or a physical action (like folding their clothes, giving them a hug). Taking specific note of the small things your significant other says and does to make you feel loved is important, too, as negative interactions are more naturally notable to our brains than are positive ones.

3. TALK ABOUT THINGS OTHER THAN MONEY, WORK ETC.

Dr. Orbuch’s research also revealed that the happiest couples made time to talk about things you might talk to your boyfriend about in the early stages of dating—dreams, values and goals. She recommends you commit to spending 10 minutes per day discussing with your significant other something that does not concern your job or other practical life demands. Ask your partner questions about their past (“What’s your favorite memory from childhood?”) and encourage them to share their bolder visions for the future (“What would you do tomorrow if money was no object?”).

4. FIGHT MORE BUT BETTER

Communication is key in relationships, and because you are two separate people, with separate world views, perspectives and goals, chances are that communication sometimes manifests as an argument. If you’re fighting small fights, often, this can be healthy, as it means neither partner is letting resentments build up. That said, the key to a “good” fight is to really listen to your partner’s point of view from a non-defensive place, and to try to look at the situation not just from their perspective, but from a non-partial, third party perspective. Also, it’s important to remember that you likely suffer from a closeness-communication bias, which means that you think you’re communicating your perspective to the people with whom you’re most intimate better than you actually are.

5. MAKE UP MORE

Apparently, being intimate one time per week is enough to increase happiness levels for couples, according to one study, and that going from one time per month to one time per week creates a happiness boost equivalent to that of a $50,000 raise. Though the same study also shows that intimacy more frequent than one time per week does not improve happiness levels, we don’t really believe that you can over-do it on this one.

6. LAUGH A LOT

Couples who laugh together, stay together, according to one study. Apparently, remembering times in which you shared a giggle in the past helps increase happiness within a relationship, as well.

7. MAKE OTHER PEOPLE A PRIORITY

This one has a few caveats. In news that’s sad for discarded single friends everywhere, it turns out that couples who hang out with other couples feel closer to one anotheras a result. More sad news, for divorced people, is that hanging out with friends who have split makes couples 75% more likely to divorce.

Generally speaking, though, it’s assumed to be healthy for any relationship for couples to spend time apart, with friends and family who are outside of the relationship bubble. This way, you’re not putting all of your expectations and needs onto one person—author Bella DePaulo articulates the dangers of doing exactly that here.

On another note, couples who prioritized others in the sense of parading their relationship for them online are not happier than couples who keep it a little more low-key. Read more about this fascinating phenomenon here.

8. DRINK TOGETHER… or don’t

Consuming a similar amount of alcohol as your partner increases the odds of success in a relationship; however, if you and your significant other do not have similar boozing habits, there could be trouble down the line.

Random Hacks

The Internet was full of interesting tips this week!

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7 ways to prevent (and fix!) smelly shoes

1. Start with clean feet: Soak them in salt water, then dry off and dust with talcum powder (baby powder or Gold Bond).

2. Put antiperspirant on the soles of your feet.

3. Sprinkle the inside of your shoes with baking soda and leave overnight. Vacuum or shake out in the morning.

4. Place dry tea bags inside your shoes and leave them overnight.

5. Put crumpled newspaper inside your shoes and leave overnight. It absorbs odor-retaining moisture.

6. Place your shoes in individual plastic zip bags and leave them in your freezer overnight to kill bacteria. During the winter, leaving them overnight in a cold car will work too. Let your shoes slowly return to room temperature before wearing.

7. Spritz sneakers or fabric-lined shoes with mixture of water and white vinegar. Let dry thoroughly.

 

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5 steps to relaxation

1. Place the tip of your tongue just behind your front teeth and exhale sharply.

2. Close your mouth and inhale slowly through your nose for a count of four.

3. Hold your breath for a count of seven.

4. Exhale strongly to a count of eight.

5. Repeat 3 times. Ahhhhh.

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17 ways to save money

  1. Clear your browsing history. When shopping online – especially for airline tickets – make sure to empty your cache. Online companies follow your history and raise prices based on this information.
  2. Shop as a guest. When buying online, use the Guest option instead of creating an account. New customers usually get lower prices.
  3. Leave items in your online cart. Get everything filled in, with your name, e-mail address etc., but don’t purchase immediately. You’ll often get a follow-up e-mail a day or two later offering a discount code to incentivize you to complete the sale.
  4. Lower the brightness on your TV and computer screen. Reducing the brightness of your TV and/or computer monitors from their default settings can reduce power consumption by up to 40%. 
  5. Carry large bills. Research shows that you’re likely to pay less if you use cash instead of a credit card. That’s because purchases feel more “real” when you see the amount you’re spending. If you carry only $50 bills you’ll be less inclined to break them, which helps avoid impulse buys.
  6. Make lists. You’re also less likely to succumb to impulse buys at the mall or grocery store if you’ve decided ahead of time what you need and plan to buy.
  7. Build your credit. Your credit score determines your rate on loans; nowadays utility and insurance companies use these scores to calculate monthly premiums.
  8. Make large purchases at the end of the month. Buying a couch, car or electronics? All sales reps have to meet monthly quotas. If they’ve had a slow month they may be willing to give you a deep discount in order to make a sale—and reach their quota. 
  9. Paint your roof white. If you live in a warm climate, this quirky idea could save you a bundle on air conditioning bills. Traditional roofs are dark, and dark colors absorb more heat.  Go even further and install solar panels – the upfront cost will be worth it if you plan to live in your house for a long time.
  10. Brew your own coffee. Home brewing cuts your cost to about $0.25 per cup vs. $3 at a pricey coffee shop, saving you hundreds per year (and over $1000 if you have a 2/day habit!) 
  11. Eat less meat. Eating vegetable-centric meals 2-3 times per week will save you some major cash.
  12. Buy generic. Store brands often have the same ingredients as name brands and may even be made by the same companies. Same with prescriptions – ask your doctor if the generic version is an effective option. 
  13. Buy a water filter. Bottled water isn’t just expensive; it’s not necessarily healthier than tap water. The filtration process may result in water that’s actually better for you than spring water!
  14. Exercise daily. Research confirms that working out regularly limits the number of trips you’ll take to the doctor’s office.
  15. Eat out at culinary schools. If you love dining out, investigate culinary schools in your area. You can enjoy delicious meals from up-and-coming chefs at significant savings vs. restaurants.  
  16. Stay hydrated. Many people overeat because they mistake thirst for hunger. Drinking water before a meal will help you to only consume what you need. Result: lower grocery bills!
  17. Ask for discounts. Most companies offer money-saving promotions but may not advertise them. When contacting your cable, gas, phone, or credit card companies, ask if there’s a way to reduce your bills. Sometimes, mentioning that you’re ready to cancel a service or switch providers is all it takes for them to “magically” come up with a better deal.