How To Help A Friend With Cancer

These are three of the most frightening words in the English language.  “You have cancer.”

My dear friend was just diagnosed with cancer.  As you can imagine, this is overwhelming and confusing.  In most situations, friends and family desperately want to help but it’s hard to find the balance between helping and hovering.

When my husband was first diagnosed with cancer, I was asked over and over, “How can I help?”  It’s difficult to know how to help a friend with cancer.

For those with cancer and their loved ones, it’s important to remember that they are too busy with doctor’s appointments, treatment options, financial worries and sleepless nights to think “Hey, I can ask Karen to bring dinner over,” or “I wonder if Tom could pick up the kids from practice tonight.”

No one WANTS to need help.   Most of us resist asking for help fiercely.  So if you have a friend that’s newly diagnosed with cancer, they need YOU to reach out and offer.  Here are a few suggestions from our experience.

FOOD

If your friend is undergoing chemo, healthy nutritious food is often just too much trouble.  Offering to bring dinner is an incredibly kind way to take a small weight off.

For a cancer patient undergoing chemo, the sense of taste is often disrupted.  Food doesn’t taste good and nausea can be a big problem.  Simple nutritious foods, lightly flavored and spiced, are the best.

If you know your friend well and understand his or her food preferences, feel free to choose for him.  Otherwise it’s best to offer a small number of options.  “Hey Sharon, I’m going to bring dinner over for you tomorrow night.  I know chemo sucks and I’m not sure how your stomach is feeling.  Would you like some of my black bean soup and a salad, or maybe a pasta dish with chicken?”

ERRANDS AND HOUSEHOLD CHORES

All the little things that go into running a household are ten times harder to accomplish while undergoing cancer treatment.  Everyone can use help with cleaning, laundry, shopping and running the kids to and from their activities.

Again, remember that your friend is not likely to reach out and ask for help.  It’s up to you to offer.

PRAYER

One of the most important services you can provide for any cancer patient is prayer.  Studies have shown that third-party prayer improves health care outcomes.  No matter what your faith, prayer works and will help.

Encourage the cancer patient to stay active in their faith.  Offer to pick them up for services or reach out to the clergy at their congregation and ask for in-home ministry.  If your friend is hospitalized be sure to notify their congregation and let the nursing staff know to alert the hospital’s pastoral ministry department.  I know from personal experience how comforting it is to have a visit from a clergy member or lay minister while hospitalized.

If your family member or friend is diagnosed with cancer, it can be overwhelming to know what to do to help.  There are a number of simple, concrete things you can do to help a friend with cancer.  And remember to stay in touch.  Short phone calls can help reduce the isolation that cancer patients feel and remind them that they are loved.

QUESTION: Have you had trouble knowing how to help a loved one with cancer?  What was your experience?

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Mental Health Care For Diabetics

Someone very dear to me has diabetes.  She has also been dealing with a lot of stress over the last year or so, and struggles with depression.  While her doctor has been trying to help her, there really aren’t a lot of resources available that specifically provide mental health care for diabetics.

Do you know anyone with diabetes?  Do they struggle sometimes with their mood?  If they seem depressed and anxious, they’re certainly not alone.  Up to 30% of diabetics are depressed at any given time, depending on how it is assessed.

Credit: steptohealth.com

Depression is a big deal for those with chronic illness.  Not only does it steal the fun out of life, but it plays havoc with motivation to keep up with behavior change.  Depression makes it really hard to eat right, to exercise, to take medication properly.

If a diabetic is struggling with depression there is definitely treatment available.  However, that treatment may be hard to find.  Ideally, the person or group treating the diabetes will be able to direct treatment for diabetes.

A group at the University of Massachusetts Medical School just published a study that showed that a lot of diabetes care clinics don’t have good access to mental health services.  Even the highest-ranked care centers didn’t have mental health professionals on staff.

Why is this?  The biggest reason is probably money.  Mental health services in this country are NOT a priority for insurance companies or the government.  Coverage is spotty and there are limits on the number of visits covered.

For a very common problem that has a huge impact on quality of life, limiting treatment is very shortsighted.  Depression impacts diabetics’ health in a number of ways.  For instance, diabetics suffering from depression have more complications, have a harder time controlling their blood sugars, are not as likely to take their medications properly and are more likely to die.

If you know and love a diabetic, make sure to keep an eye on their mood.  If they seem depressed, encourage them to talk to their doctor about it.  See if your loved one will let you go to a doctor’s visit with them.  This will give you an opportunity to talk directly to the doctor about your concerns.

If your loved one needs mental health services, the American Diabetic Association just launched a directory which you can access at this link: https://professional.diabetes.org/mhp_listing.  This link is a searchable directory of mental health providers with experience in treating diabetics.

This directory is brand new and doesn’t contain a lot of names.  The nearest provider to where I practice outside Cleveland is 100 miles away :-/  But hopefully it will grow!

Be persistent in seeking treatment for depression and anxiety.  If you or a loved one has diabetes, treatment will certainly improve quality of life.  It may be the difference between life and death!

QUESTION: Is there a diabetic in your life suffering with depression?  What has been your experience in seeking treatment?

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Fish Oil And Inflammation

Fish.  Everyone knows they should eat more fish, right?  Why is that?  Fish is good for your heart, but why?  And what kind of fish? Turns out FATTY fish intake reduces cholesterol and, more importantly, there is a strong link between fish oil and inflammation.

Seems I have been talking to EVERYONE this week about fish oil, diet and inflammation.  When a patient’s cholesterol is high I often check a profile called an essential fatty acid (EFA) panel which gives a nice peek into their diet.  Often I just get confirmation of what I already know – their diet stinks and we need to get to work ASAP!

Ultimately I really don’t care about an individual’s cholesterol.  I really don’t.  High cholesterol in and of itself is not a disease.  I care about their risk of OTHER diseases either directly related to the high cholesterol levels (like pancreatitis from super-high triglycerides) or for which high cholesterol is a marker (like heart disease).

High cholesterol is like the fire alarm going off.  When the fire alarm goes off, do you just go turn it off and go back to bed?  No, of course not, you go figure out what made it go off in the first place.  Find the fire, right?  When a person’s cholesterol is high, that means we need to go search for the fire, and an EFA panel is one of my first steps in hunting for the fire.

One of the calculations I can make based on the EFA panel is a quick-and-dirty check of overall inflammation levels in the body.  The ratio of arachidonic acid (AA) to eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) is directly tied to inflammation in the body.  The higher the ratio, the higher the levels of inflammation.

Why do we care so much about this ratio?  Higher ratios are also associated with higher risk of heart disease, as reported in the Journal of Cardiology.

I tell patients (and my students) that over the next 10 years I believe we’re going to be paying much less attention to cholesterol and much more attention to inflammation.  Inflammation hurts the cardiovascular system over time.  It damages the insides of the artery walls and when they heal they scar, which causes plaque.

Arachidonic acid is a precursor for a lot of pro-inflammatory signaling molecules in the body.  EPA is a precursor for ANTI-inflammatory molecules.  So you want MORE EPA and LESS AA.

Where does EPA come from?  The richest dietary source of EPA is fatty fish, although it is also found in low levels in seaweed.  When I’m talking to patients I tell them there are 6 fish that are “fatty” fish: salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herring and tuna.  (The mnemonic is SMASH-T.)  All other fish (like cod, whitefish, tilapia, catfish, etc) are meat and should be eaten sparingly, if at all.  The human body can make small amounts of EPA from alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) which is found in walnuts, seeds like flaxseed and chia seed, and canola oil.

What about arachidonic acid?  AA can be made from another essential fatty acid, linoleic acid, which in humans must come from the diet.  The only dietary sources of AA are animal foods like meat, dairy and eggs.

Here comes the question I keep expecting: Dr. Jen, you keep telling us that the healthiest diet is completely plant-based.  If we need EPA and the best source is fish (which are undoubtedly animals), why is a completely plant-based diet so heart-healthy?

That’s a great question.  First of all, scientists are still working on the “why” but there is no doubt that a completely plant-based, whole-foods diet is the best choice if your goal is overall health and avoiding heart attacks and strokes.  My patients who choose to try a plant-based diet find their blood pressure goes down, they feel better and they usually lose some weight.

My personal interpretation of current research is that if you give the body ALA and LA from plant sources, it will manufacture the EPA and AA that it needs for its purposes.  The ratio of AA to EPA will be low because the body won’t make extra AA.  However, if you eat a lot of meat you get a lot of AA from the diet and the body isn’t so much in control of how much is floating around.

The best choice for those who want to reduce their risk of heart disease is to eat NO animal foods at all.  Adding a small amount of fish oil as a supplement is good insurance to further reduce inflammation in the body.

If you have high cholesterol, ask your doctor to order an Essential Fatty Acid profile or a Boston Heart Diagnostics panel.  If it is coded with a high-cholesterol or high-triglyceride diagnosis code, it will almost certainly be covered by your insurance.The results should look something like what is shown at this link.  Calculate the ratio of arachidonic acid to EPA.  The goal is <3, an elevated level is >10 and a high level is >15.  I’ve seen it over 30.

Then look at the ratio of omega-3 to polyunsaturated fatty acids (w3:PUFA).  The healthiest people in the world have a ratio of about 50%, but we eat so many omega-6 oils in the USA that I’m usually content with a ratio of 15-20%.

The last thing to look at is the total saturated fat level.  If it is high you REALLY need to think about how much meat you’re eating.  The main sources of saturated fat in the body are animal foods (meat, dairy and eggs).  Palm kernel oil is found in many processed foods and is also a big dietary source of saturated fat.  Read your ingredient lists.  There is currently a big craze to eat coconut oil, which is also a rich source of saturated fat.  No research suggests adding more coconut oil to your diet improves health at all.

You are what you eat.  Your body is 100% created from the food and drink you put in your mouth.  Your health is 90% determined by lifestyle factors, mostly diet.  Now is the time to look at what you’re choosing to feed your body and make good choices.  It’s up to you!

QUESTION: Will you change your diet based on this information?

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Less Saturated And Trans Fat Intake Recommended

What should we eat to be healthy?  This is the ultimate question that EVERYONE is trying to answer and nobody really has a good handle on it.

Our diets are getting worse and worse.  We are eating more processed foods, more convenience foods, more sugar and fat and salt.  Our risks of diabetes, heart disease and cancer are climbing.  Our kids are the first generation that has a shorter life expectancy than their parents.

The World Health Organization is intensely interested in these worrisome trends.  They are trying to analyze the confusing array of nutritional research coming out to make recommendations to help people all over the world live longer, healthier lives.

Recently the WHO came out with a report recommending less saturated and trans fat intake in the diet.  The goal is to reduce saturated fat intake to less than 10% of daily total calorie intake, and trans fats to less than 1% of calories.

Saturated fat and trans fats are both largely found in animal foods.  Animal flesh from all species, eggs and dairy are rich sources of both saturated and trans fats.  While many people know to avoid partially hydrogenated vegetable oils which are added to processed foods to make them taste better, surveys suggest that trans fat intake from animal foods is greater than that from industrial sources.

If you’ve been following my blog for any length of time, you know I recommend that the whole-foods plant-based diet is the healthiest diet for humans.  This type of diet has the best research showing reduced heart risk and reduced cancer risk.  It has been shown to decrease diabetes risk (a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and cancer).  In fact, switching as little as 5% calorie intake from animal protein to plant protein reduced diabetes risk by 20-25%.  This translates to 25 grams of protein from plant sources rather than animal for someone who eats 2000 calories per day.

I get that not too many of my readers are going to switch tomorrow from a Standard American Diet to a whole-foods plant-based diet and never look back.  I’m about progress, not perfection.  Hey, my husband calls me “vegan-ish!”  I avoid animal foods as much as I possibly can but every once in a while I have ice cream or macarons for a treat.

So gradually substituting plant-based meals for ones with meat and dairy will reduce your heart and cancer risk.  Reducing animal foods to have less saturated and trans fat intake in the diet is a good step to take for improving your health.  You’ll feel better, and your body will thank you!

QUESTION: Do you try to reduce animal foods in your diet?

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“Adrenal Support” Supplements Contain Hormones

Yet again we have evidence that supplement companies are either not testing their products or are deliberately adding pharmaceuticals to their supplements.

In a report released in March, researchers at the Mayo Clinic purchased bottles of the twelve most popular “adrenal support” supplements at a “popular online shopping website.”  The publication does NOT specify which website or which supplements were tested, more’s the pity.

The researchers analyzed the products and found that ALL of the products contained thyroid hormone.  UNDISCLOSED thyroid hormone.  This means that if someone who took these products was also taking thyroid medication for hypothyroidism, the supplement may very well disrupt their treatment and make adjusting their medication dose very difficult.  For instance, one of the supplements contained 1.2 mcg of liothyronine per recommended daily dose.  Those who take liothyronine (brand name Cytomel) will know that the smallest dose tablet is 5 mcg which means this particular supplement DEFINITELY would have affects on someone’s thyroid function.

Other hormones found in these “adrenal support” supplements include pregnenolone and 17-hydroxyprogesterone (female hormones), androstenedione (male hormone), budesonide, cortisone and cortisol (adrenal hormones).  These hormones are present in biologically meaningful amounts.  They are NOT just contaminants and unimportant.  These hormones will change the way the body functions.

I know WHY they are in these supplements.  A number of these supplements have declared animal gland extracts documented on the labels.  (I wrote in a previous post about why this is problematic.)  However, a number of these are considered “herbal” adrenal support supplements with NO gland extracts.  There is NO way these hormones got into “herbal” supplements by accident.

Why would a supplement company “dope” their adrenal support supplements with hormones?  Easy.  They can improve fatigue symptoms, which is what these supplements are marketed for.  However, the hormonal environment in the body is very finely balanced, and supplements with undisclosed and unregulated hormone ingredients are NOT the way to go about treating fatigue!

If you have fatigue symptoms PLEASE see your doctor, nurse practitioner or naturopath and have testing done BEFORE starting any supplement that promises to fix your “adrenal fatigue.”  Especially beware of and avoid any product that has the words “bovine,” “porcine” or “ovine” anywhere on the label, because those indicate ingredients that come from cow, pig or sheep body parts.  (Ewww…)

If you choose to use supplements (and I definitely recommend that you do, because only 5% of Americans get all the nutrition they need from their diet on a daily basis), be sure to choose a company with a long track record of safety, quality testing, and a commitment to advancing the understanding of human nutrition for the benefit of all humanity.  This is why I partner with the Shaklee Corporation!

Want to see if you would benefit from Shaklee supplements (and get personalized recommendations for diet and lifestyle changes to get and stay healthier)?  Click this link to get your HealthPrint today!

QUESTION: Do you have fatigue?  Have you tried supplements to improve your symptoms?  What was your experience?

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Spring Exercise Tips

 

spring-into-fitnessHooray!  It’s finally spring!

How many of you out there love to work out outdoors?  I do!  I’m a runner and I’m really excited about getting back outdoors for a jog 🙂

So is there anything special about the springtime exercise transition that you should keep in mind?  Here are 3 spring exercise tips to be aware of.

1.  Dress warmly

It’s really NOT that warm out there yet.  Today’s temperature is in the sixties and I’m comfortable in jeans and a hoodie.  Of course I’m not running, but people tend to overestimate the temperature and UNDERESTIMATE how much clothing they need in the spring.

Layering is key.  You should dress so that you’re comfortable when you start AND so you can take off a layer or two as you warm up.  Also consider it tends to be windy in the spring.  Wind wicks body heat away quickly and can cause you to get cold especially when you’re sweaty.  Respect your body and dress properly!

2.  Train up slow

When you’re transitioning from indoor sport/training to outdoors, remember it’s not a simple switch.  Running on a treadmill or riding a stationary bike is different from road racing.  Hills, wind, traffic, uneven terrain and other factors make outdoor workouts different.

Make sure to decrease your intensity/mileage when you transition to exercising outdoors.  Take it slow!  If you’re training for a road race make sure to give yourself plenty of time for a leisurely and thorough transition.  Fast changes lead to injuries!

3.  Try something new

A new season is a perfect time to try a new sport or fitness activity.  Spend a little time thinking about what the best activities are for the current season.  Jogging and cycling are perfect warm-weather outdoor sports, but there are others too.

Hiking and climbing are popular in northern Ohio especially in the Metroparks.  Horseback riding is perfect for warmer weather (if you have a friend who owns horses or can take classes).  Rowing and sailing will be starting up soon.

Spring is a beautiful time of year, especially in a place that spends so much of the year buried under snow and ice!  Get out there and take advantage of it by taking the show on the road!

QUESTION:  What is your favorite form of exercise in warmer weather?  Are you interested in trying something new this year?

 

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Is It Love? Or Is It Limerence?

As the mother of a teenager, I think I speak for most parents when I say I worry about my child completely losing his head over a girl.  Whether your teen is male or female really isn’t relevant to this intensely visceral worry that keeps parents up at night.

Part of what steals parents’ peace of mind when their teen starts dating is that most of us have been there.  We’ve said and done things that make us cringe in thinking back, while praying desperately that our children will have more sense than we did.

A friend recently pointed me in the direction of an entirely new (to me) concept called limerence.  In reading about it, I immediately recognized elements of my teenaged patients’ first experiences with dating and, if I’m completely honest, with my own first dating experiences back when the dinosaurs roamed the Earth 😉

What is limerence?  The dictionary defines this word as “the state of being infatuated or obsessed with another person.”  Sounds like a crush, right?  There’s actually a bit more to it than that.

The concept of limerence was first explored by psychologist Dorothy Tennov in her book “Love And Limerence: The Experience Of Being In Love,” which was published in 1979.  She believed limerence was a disordered form of romantic love, closer to obsession.

Tennov’s limerence was characterized by

  • Idealization of the person – to the point that negative characteristics are minimized or not recognized at all.
  • Uncontrollable and intrusive thoughts about the person
  • Extreme shyness and awkwardness, nervousness and confusion around the person
  • Euphoria in response to real or imagined signs the person returns your feelings
  • Fantasizing about or searching for signs of reciprocation
  • Arranging one’s schedule to maximize encounters with the person
  • Being reminded of the person by everything around you
  • Fear of rejection and despair or thoughts of suicide if rejection occurs

Sounds very much like a teenage crush, right?  There’s actually something to that.  There is evidence that limerence, or infatuation if you like that word better, activates the same parts of the brain that addicts activate by using their drug of choice.  The intense euphoria and deep despair, the amount of time spent thinking about the person and the inability to think of anything else strikes a chord with those of us who treat addicts.  Substitute “heroin” for “Judy” and you would instantly recognize your lovesick teenage boy as an addict.

Limerence is much more likely to be seen in teenagers.  First of all, their brains aren’t done developing yet and they are much more susceptible to addictions of all sorts.  Smoking, alcohol, opiates and dating all light up the brain in similar ways, ways in which teenagers’ brains seem to be primed to behave.

If you’ve ever tried to tell a teenager they aren’t REALLY in love and the world won’t REALLY end if Judy doesn’t love him back, you know you might as well tell those things to the family dog for all the good it will do you.

It’s painful enough when one teen has a bad crush and the object of his crush doesn’t want anything to do with him.  What do you do when two teens experience the intensity of limerence for each other at the same time?

These times are when we earn our parenting badges.  Just like addicts, teens (and adults) in limerence are sneaky.  They lie to those who love them and take advantage of them.  Adults in limerence have extramarital affairs.  They do things that, were they in their right minds, they would never do.  Personalities change.  Formerly sensible people have sex in spite of knowing the risks and get pregnant and/or contract sexually transmitted diseases.  Good students ditch school or let their studies suffer.  Money that should be saved for college tuition or car insurance is spent impulsively on gifts and activities to impress the beloved person.

How do we keep our teens safe?  If your teen is dating and you notice a big change in behavior or personality, that should cause you to be very concerned.  Make sure you are talking to your teen about their activities and keep them appropriately chaperoned.

Remember my analogy about the lap bar on the roller coaster.  Everybody pushes the lap bar when they get into the seat on the roller coaster.  We are relieved when the restraint holds firm, NOT when it gives with a little pressure.  Our teens are the same way.  WE are their lap bar in the roller coaster of dating.  Expect them to push against us.  They will chafe against our restraint, but letting go, letting them get themselves in too deep, is not what they need from us.

Limerence, research has shown, does not last.  It generally does not deepen into an adult form of love that leads to happy marriages and families.  It is intense and overwhelming but does not stand the test of time and adversity.  Our teens need us to help them avoid making choices that will alter their life forever.

QUESTION:  Is this the first time you’ve heard of limerence?  Do you recognize the concept (if not the word) from your own adolescence or the experiences of friends and family?

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Waist Circumference Predicts Heart Risk

When you step on the scale, do you see a normal weight?  When you check that BMI chart by the scale at the doctor’s office, are you reassured to see your score is under 25?  That means you’re good, right?

Not so fast.  There’s another measurement to take.  Your waist circumference also says a lot about your heart risk.

Carrying body fat around your middle, called abdominal adiposity, is a marker of higher heart risk.  For women, a waist circumference over 35 inches is a risk factor for heart disease.  (That’s assuming she’s not pregnant, of course!)  For men, the threshold is a waist circumference over 40 inches.

A study published recently in the European Heart Journal shared some interesting insights.  The authors analyzed data from almost 300,000 people to see what waist circumference and other measures of “fatness” tell us about heart risk.

They found that there was a linear increase in heart risk with increasing waist circumference.  Also, body fat percentage, waist-to-hip ratio and waist-to-height ratio also gave almost a linear increase in heart risk with increasing values.

BMI did NOT give a good correlation to heart risk.  I’ve always hated the BMI.  It’s stupid and doesn’t account for body composition.  Someone with a lot of muscle, like LeBron James, is NOT obese but you can’t tell that from the BMI.

So when you go to the doctor and he or she measures your weight and height, don’t stop there.  Ask to have them measure your waist circumference too.  Better yet, see if they have a body fat analyzer.  I have a handheld unit in my office that isn’t perfect, but it does give a much better estimate of whether someone is overweight or obese than BMI does.

When I am working on weight loss with patients, I target 30% body fat in women and 25% in men.  That’s just a starting point, people may need a different individualized target.

A third of Americans die of cardiovascular disease, and two thirds of Americans are obese or overweight.  Waist circumference can help determine whether you are at higher risk for a cardiovascular event.

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Social Media Makes Teen Girls Unhappy

There is a lot of controversy now about children’s access to electronic devices and, particularly, social media.  Many parents are understandably concerned about the effect social media may have on their kids.

Those of us adults who use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media know that people often choose to show only the happy, pretty, upbeat side of our lives.  Who wants to post about the fight you just had with your spouse, about the fact that you don’t like your daughter’s boyfriend, or the fear of losing your job that’s keeping you up at night?

Those whose only real exposure to others is through electronic media may not realize how inaccurate and misleading others’ social media profiles may be.

I know as a mom I worry that my teen is confining so much of his communication with peers to texting that he is not practicing valuable communication skills.  Gone are the days of teen girls spending hours holed up in their room chatting with friends on the phone.  Now they trade texts which are completely devoid of the tiny clues of tone of voice, facial expression, and uncomfortable pauses that can help interpret and layer meaning on spoken words.

Not to mention that it’s hard to create deep, long-lasting emotional relationships when all you can see is what another person purposely chooses to show.  It’s when things AREN’T pretty that you learn what someone is really like.  And tough times and real struggles build deep connections with others.

There was a study from the UK published recently that brought new focus to these pitfalls.  Researchers conducted a huge survey (almost 10,000 teens) which examined how much time the teens spent chatting on social media.  They also asked questions designed to evaluate the teens’ emotional and behavioral status and created a “happiness score.”

The researchers found that girls used social media more often than boys, although both genders’ use rose with age.  Also, use of social media in girls, particularly at a younger age, was associated with lower “happiness scores.  In boys it didn’t seem to have much if any effect.

Those of us who are parents of teens need to be careful to monitor our children’s use of social media.  Their happiness and well-being can be seriously impacted by spending too much time online, especially our daughters.

QUESTION: Do you have teens who use social media?  Do you notice it affecting their mood and well-being?

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What Parents Need To Know About E-Cigarettes

You see them everywhere.  Adults walking in no-smoking zones exhaling huge clouds of white with ball-point-pen-shaped devices in their hands.  My patients often tell me they’re switching to e-cigarettes when I remind them that they need to quit smoking.

Are e-cigarettes safer than regular cigarettes?  Do they help smokers quit?  What impact are they having on our teenagers?

As parents, we need to understand the appeal of e-cigarettes to our teenagers and what the health risks are.

E-cigarettes are electronic devices that provide a vapor that contains carrier chemicals, nicotine and flavorings.  They don’t contain tobacco and therefore don’t expose the user to the carcinogens and other harmful additives in traditional cigarettes.  They are seen as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes.

But are they really safer?

According to the American Lung Association, the chemicals in e-cigarettes are largely untested.  Because they are usually marketed without drug claims, companies don’t have to disclose or test their ingredients for safety.  One chemical, called diacetyl, is associated with a lung condition called popcorn lung.

Nicotine itself is NOT safe.  It doesn’t matter whether a user gets nicotine from patches, gums, lozenges, e-cigs or traditional cigarettes, it is harmful to the brain and to the circulatory system.  Nicotine is harmful to developing fetuses and therefore pregnant women should NOT smoke or use e-cigarettes.

Newer research shows that the brains of young people continue developing far longer than was previously thought.  (This is not a surprise to those of us raising teens, right?)   Use of nicotine is associated with problems of working memory and attention in adolescents.

Do e-cigarettes help smokers quit?

Credit ComplianceSigns.com

No, they don’t.  Evidence is pretty clear that using e-cigs actually REDUCES the likelihood of quitting smoking.

There was a survey done in North Carolina of middle- and high-school students about the use of cigarettes and e-cigarettes.  It found that use of e-cigs increased 4-fold between 2011 and 2013.  Those who used both cigarettes and e-cigarettes were actually LESS likely to quit (and less likely to try to quit) than those who smoked cigarettes alone.  Teens who use e-cigs are more likely to start smoking traditional cigarettes as well.

An study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine last month reported that those who use e-cigs are about half as likely to quit smoking cigarettes as those who don’t.  Using e-cigs keeps people from quitting smoking!

There has never been any evidence that e-cigarettes help smokers quit.  They cannot be marketed as a smoking cessation aid, but that doesn’t stop people from believing they will help.

As parents raising teenagers it is important we talk to our kids about e-cigs.  They will hear that e-cigs are safe, that they are just a fun, tasty way to get a little nicotine buzz.  E-cigs are heavily marketed to the adolescent age group.

The truth is that they are addictive, dangerous drugs that should be considered a gateway to traditional cigarettes.  They hurt teenagers’ ability to learn and process new information.  They are harmful to the lungs and circulatory system just as traditional cigarettes are.

When we’re talking to our kids about smoking, alcohol, drugs and sex, we can’t forget to cover the dangers of e-cigarettes because marketing messages and their friends certainly won’t give them the whole story.

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