Shingles

You’re a woman in your mid-forties, generally healthy but under some stress with work and your family.  Going about your business every day as usual, you wake up one morning with the right side of your neck feeling stiff and sore.  No worries, probably just slept wrong, right?

Nope.  As the day goes on the pain gets worse.  Then the outer side of your shoulder starts to hurt, and the pain spreads into your upper back and then into the upper chest, which makes you a little nervous.  That evening you find what looks like an insect bite on your back.

After a restless, uncomfortable night in which Tylenol and Motrin are of NO help at all, you get up the next morning and find this:

Credit: www.zostavax.ca

You’ve got shingles.  And you’re miserable.

So what is shingles anyway?  Shingles, known as herpes zoster, is an illness caused by latent chickenpox virus.  Chickenpox is a herpesvirus, like the viruses that cause genital herpes, cold sores and infectious mono.  When a chickenpox infection clears up, the virus doesn’t go away completely but lies dormant in the cells of a particular part of the spinal cord.

When you’re under stress, sleep deprived or nutritionally depleted, or your immune system is depressed for any other reason (like old age or chemotherapy), the virus can reactivate.

Shingles is found on one side of the body, in a stripe of skin that is served by one or two spinal cord levels.  This is what’s known as a “dermatomal distribution.”  In the picture above, the affected skin is all served by one spinal nerve.  This is the nerve that is sick and being attacked by the reactivated chickenpox/shingles virus.

Shingles hurts.  It is a burning, electric pain.  The combination of pain and a blistering rash should make any medical person think of herpes and specifically shingles.  There’s no test needed to make the diagnosis of shingles, it is based on symptoms and the presence of a typical rash.  Sometimes if the rash is located in the area of the body covered by a pair of shorts, a culture needs to be done to distinguish shingles from genital herpes, because the treatment is different.

Treatment for shingles consists of a week of antiviral medicine to stop the virus from replicating.  Unfortunately, stopping the virus doesn’t make the rash or pain go away – they will slowly subside over several weeks.  We don’t have good treatment to relieve the pain of shingles.  Narcotics don’t work, and medication that relieves nerve pain can be very sedating in the doses needed to relieve the pain of a shingles outbreak.

Is shingles contagious?  In general the answer is no.  If someone who has never had chickenpox or been vaccinated against it touches the shingles rash, they can catch chickenpox.  Keeping the rash covered is all that is needed to protect loved ones if they are not immune to chickenpox.

We have a vaccine to decrease the risk of shingles, called Zostavax.  It is given at age 60 or thereabouts to adults who have had chickenpox.  If you have had shingles, you still benefit from the vaccine to boost your immunity.  If you are in your 60s and haven’t had the vaccine, talk to your doctor about whether this vaccine is right for you.

One of the biggest benefits of the shingles vaccine is that it really decreases the risk of permanent nerve pain after a shingles outbreak.  Yes, that’s right, this severe electric burning pain can be permanent.  This is called postherpetic neuralgia and it is a horrible problem that is so difficult to treat.  Much better to prevent it.

It is estimated that at least 25% of adults will have had shingles by the time they reach age 85.  YOU can decrease your risk of this terrible disease that can leave you in permanent pain.  Ask your doctor about the vaccine.

If you get shingles, what can you do to help it heal as quickly as possible?  The first thing to do is see your doctor as quickly as you can.  If you can’t see your doctor within 48 hours, go to the urgent care, because the antiviral medicine needs to be started within 48 hours of the rash starting.

As with other illnesses, you want to do everything possible to support your immune system.  This means getting plenty of sleep, eating healthy food and drinking plenty of fluids.  In addition, there is evidence that micronutrient deficiencies play a role in not only shingles outbreaks but in increasing the risk of postherpetic neuralgia, particularly zinc, calcium and vitamin C.  So taking a high-quality multivitamin is a good idea.

Shingles is common, it is serious and can have severe long-term consequences.  Recognizing it, getting it treated quickly, and taking steps to prevent it are important ways to protect your health from this major medical problem.

QUESTION: Have you or a family member had shingles?  What was your experience?

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The Nutrient We Miss The Most

I spend most of my time (in a professional sense) talking to people about nutrition.  I encourage them to eat right.  To get plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.  To skip the processed food, junk food and fast food.  To take a good-quality multivitamin.

But most people still skimp on one very important nutrient.  What is it?  What is the nutrient we miss the most?

It’s WATER.

Think about it.  Your body needs about one ounce of water per day for every two pounds of body weight (up to about 100 ounces per day).  For the average person that’s 60-80 ounces of water, or a half gallon or more.

Not coffee, not iced tea, not soda or lemonade.  WATER.

Water helps keep your blood pressure down.  It removes toxins and improves your digestion.  It fights fatigue and keeps your mind sharp.

When you’re a little thirsty, this can be interpreted by the brain in as hunger.  So staying well hydrated helps control appetite and promotes weight loss.

Every organ in your body depends on you staying well hydrated.  From your kidneys to your digestive system to your brain, water is critical for normal function.

So why is it so hard for us to get enough water?  I can’t speak for you, but I know why I have a hard time staying hydrated.

First of all, the most plentiful source of drinking water is the kitchen tap.  And tap water is NASTY.  Have you tasted it lately?  Ew!  It doesn’t help that I know more than is good for my mental health about what is actually in our tap water.  Pesticide runoff, pharmaceuticals, chlorine and other chemicals interact to make me not want to drink straight from the tap (or from the garden hose, but that’s another story…).

Your local water department has water quality reports available for download at their website, for those who use city water.  Cleveland’s water quality report for 2016 is available here, if you’d like to see.

The second problem I have with getting enough water to drink is that when I drink the water I should, I have to pee.  A LOT.  When I’m in the office that’s inconvenient but manageable.  When I’m traveling or pressed for time it becomes difficult for me to get all the water I need.

Honestly, there isn’t a good fix for this problem, I just tell myself to suck it up.  Every time I go, I think of all the toxins being washed away and that makes it easier to just do it.

The last problem my patients report with drinking copious amounts of water is that it’s BORING.  “I don’t like water, it doesn’t taste good.”  Which is silly, because fresh clean water has no taste at all.  It’s clear and cold and wet and refreshing!

What people are telling me when they say they don’t like the way water tastes is that they have trained themselves to expect flavor from everything that goes in their mouth, whether it should have flavor or not.  What I tell them is that their tastebuds may not like it (for now) but their bodies certainly do like water.  In fact, they NEED it, and they do NOT need all the sugar and flavorings and additives in their usual beverage of choice.

So if our tap water is so gross, what water should we be drinking?

Bottled water?  No, that’s not a good choice.  For one thing, it’s expensive.  It also puts tons of unnecessary plastic in the landfill and isn’t necessarily cleaner or safer than drinking tap water.  Often we don’t know where the water comes from or what testing was done.

My choice for lots of fresh, clean drinking water is Shaklee’s tabletop pitcher filter.  It is certified to remove lead (most tabletop pitcher filters, including Brita and Pur, are not) and has a replaceable carbon filter so that everything else is reused.

Do you have a water filter at home?  You can check the Water Quality Association’s website to see what your filter is proven to remove from the water you drink.

And it’s CHEAP!  Just did a price check on Deer Park spring water at Giant Eagle.  Buying bottled water (this brand, anyway), costs $2.25 per gallon and leaves you with lots of plastic bottles to deal with.  Shaklee’s Year of Get Clean Water costs just 52 cents per gallon.  And after the initial investment of the reusable plastic pitcher, replacing the carbon filters gives you clean, fresh water for only 25 cents per gallon.

So what are you going to do about your hydration problem?  For me, there’s only one choice.  Saving money, drinking fresh clean water, and avoiding putting unnecessary plastic in the landfill is a win-win situation!

QUESTION: Do you drink enough water?  How do you get your drinking water?

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The Importance Of Healthy Teeth

This week I saw a patient, Caroline, for a general physical.  She has some chronic health problems and only rates her health as “fair.”  As part of a routine physical I always ask about dental care.  Because she is on a limited income, she does not see the dentist regularly.

Is that important?  If you don’t have dental insurance, is it OK to skip your cleanings?  What is the importance of healthy teeth and gums?

Because I’m writing about this, I think you can guess my opinion!  It’s very important to keep your teeth and gums healthy.  I’d like to review what happens when you don’t take good care of your teeth.  What are the risks to your health?

When you don’t brush and floss regularly, plaque builds up on the teeth.  What’s plaque?  It is actually a biofilm of sticky bacteria on the surface of the teeth which extends under the edge of the gum.  It is removed when you brush with toothpaste, but builds up again over 12-24 hours.

If you look at the cuticle of your fingernail and push on it a little, you can see that there is a little space under the cuticle above the nail.  There is a similar space between your tooth and the gum.  Normally the space is very small and your toothbrush gets in there and cleans it out when you brush.

If you don’t brush regularly and the plaque builds up, your body mounts a local inflammatory reaction to protect your gum tissues from the bacteria in the biofilm.  The inflammation, over time, weakens the connection between the tooth and the gum.  The attachment point gets weaker and the gum gradually separates away from the tooth surface, causing formation of a pocket.  Food particles can get trapped and it is difficult for toothbrush bristles to get down in there and clear everything out.

Regular dental cleanings and exams to look for gum redness, swelling, easy bleeding and pocket formation are needed to identify problems early and get your gums back in good shape.  If left untreated, gingivitis can progress to periodontitis.  Severe cases can require surgery, tissue grafts and sometimes lead to tooth loss, bone loss, and abscesses.

Okay, Dr. Jen, but so what?  So I don’t have healthy teeth.  Why is that so important for the rest of me?

It turns out that the inflammation of chronic gum disease has a big impact on the health of the rest of your body.  I did a quick PubMed search and there have been an absolute wealth of studies published exploring the link between periodontal disease and various medical illnesses including diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis and systemic lupus erythematosus, and Alzheimer’s disease.

Without fail, it has been shown that better dental and gum/periodontal health results in better overall health.  Period.

So if you are one of those people who hates the dental chair, please explore the options to get more comfortable with regular cleanings.  Shop around and find a dentist and hygienist that you really like.  Some dentists will provide mild sedation for those who are really super anxious.

My hygienist, Barb, knows I don’t like getting scraped.  She cheerfully carries on a one-sided conversation while I’ve got a handful of instruments stuffed in my mouth and can only grunt in response, LOL!  While I don’t necessarily love the process, I do love having healthy teeth and gums and I know it’s a necessary thing.  Sort of like getting Pap tests, mammograms and colonoscopies to check for problems.  Uncomfortable but necessary for routine maintenance of your body.

It is very important for you to brush and floss regularly and see the dentist every 6 months for cleanings and checkups.  The health of your whole body depends on you having healthy teeth and gums!

PS – If you don’t have dental insurance I would recommend you check out the CWRU School of Dental Medicine’s student clinic.  They see both adults and children and provide extremely thorough care at reasonable rates.  When I was a student I used that clinic as I didn’t have dental insurance, and I can personally vouch for their excellent care!

QUESTION: Do you see the dentist twice a year?  If not, why not?

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Summer Is A Great Time To Lose Weight

Hello from Cincinnati!  We are traveling this week, on our way home from a great week away.  We spent several days in Gatlinburg, TN and are moseying home, refreshed and ready to get back to work.

This afternoon we went to church at a positively ancient and very well-known church in Mt. Adams, Holy Cross – Immaculata.  I can’t believe I grew up in Cincinnati and had never visited this beautiful old church on the top of Mt. Adams.  If you’re Catholic and visit Cincinnati, please go see it!

The pastor, Father Leonard, gave a lovely homily in which he very humbly reviewed his first year as pastor and numbered some of his goals for the next year.  I had to laugh a little when he mentioned a personal goal – to lose weight!  I know lots of people who would put that one on the list of their own goals to tackle 🙂

That ties in very well to my topic for this week.  I know a lot of my patients and Shaklee family members who make a huge push for weight loss after the New Year.  That goal gets legs and becomes almost desperate as the summer gets closer.  People want to get that “swimsuit body.”  If they are not where they want to be weight-wise by the time their kids get out of school, they are prone to giving up.

This week I want to give you 3 good reasons why summertime is a great time to keep working towards that weight loss goal!  Summer is a great time to lose weight!

Fresh Seasonal Produce

There is so much healthy fresh seasonal fruit and vegetables that are available this time of year!  Those of us who are focusing on eating healthy can positively gorge ourselves on healthy foods that are bursting with summertime goodness.  Curious about what is in season?  Find a local farmer’s market, feast your eyes and satisfy your tastebuds with just-picked produce that taste like heaven.

You might consider joining a CSA, a popular program with a number of local farms where you pay ahead of time for a share of the season’s crop.  Most CSA shares are sized to provide a weekly supply of produce to feed a family of four.  Every year I keep eyeing Greenfield Berry Farm’s CSA, but I’m worried I won’t use it all and haven’t found anyone to share it with.

Beautiful Weather

Go walk!  Run!  Chase your kids around the yard!  Dust off and oil up your bikes and go for a ride.

Summer weather means you can be active outside and aren’t limited to the things you can do in the confines of a gym or field house.  From frisbee to pick-up softball, there are so many things you can do outside to get some exercise.

Take your kids to the park and make it a family adventure.  Go hiking in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, or take the Bike-and-Ride for a longer excursion on the Towpath.

Less Clothes

Now be honest.  Why do you want to lose weight?  I’m going to encourage you to think of your body’s HEALTH rather than how it LOOKS, but I’m aware that most people (women in particular) also want to look better.

In the summertime, you’ve shed the bulky sweatshirts and jeans for more form-fitting clothes, so that means you may have more incentive to say no to the ice cream truck.  Eating healthy and keeping your body lean is a year-round goal, so why not use the fact that you’re seeing more skin in the mirror right now as a reason to double down on your commitment to treat your body right?  Why NOT avoid the treats and junk that are going to sabotage your ability to meet your goal of a leaner, healthier you?

You CAN do it.  And because this weekend is Father’s Day, I’ve got a special offer to help all you dads (and moms too!) get recommitted to your weight loss goals.

Shaklee is offering a special price on the Shaklee 180 Starter Kit, $150 for all you need for your first 2 weeks on the Shaklee 180 weight loss program.  And because we know that 2 weeks is not long enough to meet your goals (although it’s definitely long enough to start to see real results) Shaklee is offering up to $20 in free shipping for any order over $150 in July when you purchase the Shaklee 180 starter kit by June 30.

Summer is a great time to make real progress on your goal of a leaner, healthier you.  I’m excited to offer THE best weight loss program I’ve ever seen at a discounted price to help give you the tools to make it happen.  Order your Shaklee 180 Starter Kit today!

QUESTION: Do you put your weight loss goals on hold over the summer?

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What Is Lyme Disease?

It’s summertime!  Everyone is outside walking, hiking, camping and doing yardwork.  Every year at this time we start getting calls and appointments because people find ticks on themselves, their children, their family/friends/acquaintances/perfect strangers and their pets.  Finding a tick immediately makes people think of Lyme disease.  What is Lyme disease?

Lyme disease is an infection that causes pretty significant symptoms.  There has been a lot of buzz lately about so-called Chronic Lyme Disease and many people with chronic joint pain and fatigue (VERY common symptoms) are concerned they may have Chronic Lyme Disease.

Transmission

Lyme disease is caused by infection with a bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi.  The deer tick, Ixodes scapularis, transmits the infection when it bites a human and takes a blood meal.  Most of the time the tick must be attached to the host for 36-48 hours in order to spread the infection.

Credit: www.co.ontario.ny.us

Lyme disease can also be transmitted by the bites of immature ticks called nymphs.  Nymphs are less than 2 mm in size, much smaller than the adult tick pictured above, and difficult to see.  Just because you haven’t found a tick attached to your body doesn’t mean you can’t have Lyme disease!

Symptoms

Lyme disease causes flulike symptoms and a rash.  Symptoms include fever, chills, headache, muscle and joint pain, and swollen lymph nodes.  70-80% of patients will have the typical bulls-eye rash.  A small percentage of patients may have brain or nerve symptoms, like weakness of the face, burning nerve pain, severe headaches, stiff neck and problems with short-term memory.  Lyme disease can also affect the heart and cause irregular heartbeat, palpitations, shortness of breath and dizziness.

Credit: www.webmd.com

Treatment

Lyme disease is treated with antibiotics like doxycycline, amoxicillin and cefuroxime.  If caught and treated early, most patients will have a prompt and complete recovery.  Those who have brain or heart involvement may need to be hospitalized for IV antibiotics.  A small percentage of patients do not respond and develop long-term symptoms.  Also, those who are not diagnosed early may go on to have persistent symptoms.

Chronic Lyme Disease

Some patients who are treated appropriately with antibiotics for Lyme disease have symptoms that persist for more than 6 months.  This is commonly called chronic Lyme disease but it is more properly called “Post-treatment Lyme Disease Syndrome” (PTLDS).

The cause of PTLDS is not known.  There is some evidence that it may be a post-infectious autoimmune reaction similar to Guillain-Barrre after a viral or gastrointestinal infection, Reiter’s syndrome after Chlamydia infection, or rheumatic heart disease after strep throat.

PTLDS may also be due to persistent infection with Borrelia bacteria.  The research is ongoing to determine the cause and the best treatment.  Studies have NOT shown that long-term treatment with antibiotics results in better results than placebo, and long-term antibiotic therapy can have very serious adverse effects.

Most patients with PTLDS have gradual improvement of their symptoms over time.  It can take a VERY long time for symptoms to resolve completely, and sometimes they don’t go away altogether.  If this is the case, patients often get relief with treatments designed for chronic fatigue syndrome and fibromyalgia.

If you see the rash shown above at ANY time of year, not just in the summer, see the doctor right away.  If you develop a flu-like illness with fever, headache, body aches and joint pain and swelling, ask your doctor to test you for Lyme disease.  If you had Lyme disease and were treated, but your symptoms seem to be hanging around for longer than they should, talk to your doctor about it.  He or she may be able to help, or to refer you to a rheumatologist or infectious disease specialist who can help you feel better.

QUESTION: Do you know anyone who has had Lyme disease?

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Managing Seasonal Allergies

Happy spring everybody!  The trees are green, lawnmowers are running, flowers are blooming.  People are sneezing.  Yep, allergy season is here!

Now there are plenty of medications available for seasonal allergies over-the-counter that used to require a prescription.  Antihistamines like Allegra, Zyrtec and Claritin, and nasal sprays like Flonase and Nasonex can be purchased at the pharmacy.  Fewer people need to come see me to handle mild symptoms.

I’m still seeing people who are really suffering though.  Either the over-the-counter medications aren’t helping or they’re not reducing the symptoms enough to keep people comfortable.  I’ve got big-gun treatments like cortisone shots and higher-priced prescriptions, but is there anything else you can do to get your symptoms under control before seeing the doctor?

Of course there is!  (I probably wouldn’t be writing this if there weren’t, LOL!)  There are 3 more measures you can take to reduce your symptoms on your own.

1.  Ditch the fumes

Spring means spring cleaning, so many people are moving furniture, vacuuming carpet that hasn’t seen daylight in months, washing baseboards and the insides of cabinets.  What chemicals are you releasing in your house when you clean?

Pull out your cleaning supplies and read the labels.  If it says “use in a well-ventilated area” or contains bleach or ammonia, please don’t use it in your house!  Indoor air pollution from fume-forming cleaning products is a BIG problem.  Houses nowadays are much more airtight to stop energy leaks around windows and doors.  Chronic exposure to chemical fumes and scents can lead to chronic nasal and sinus congestion from the irritation.

I know this works from personal experience.  In medical training I developed what I was told was indoor allergies.  All winter I suffered with sinus congestion and occasional sinus infections.  It was worse when I spent nights in the hospital on call, and I figured that call rooms were just dusty places.  It got better in the warmer weather and I thought since the windows were open I was just not being exposed to as many indoor allergens.

When I joined Shaklee and switched my cleaning products, my indoor allergies went away!  Turns out I wasn’t allergic to dust and mold (I’m not any better at housekeeping now than I was as a medical student, LOL!) but I was reacting to the cleaning products I used.

If you’re suffering with allergy symptoms, I strongly suggest you change to nontoxic cleaning supplies.  Get rid of everything that has a scent or makes fumes.  Those of you who love scented candles and perfume and lotions, I recommend you pack them ALL up for 2 weeks and switch to unscented personal products to see if it makes a difference to your symptoms.

Shaklee has cleaning products that clean like crazy but won’t hurt you, your family, your pets, or the environment.  I encourage you to check out the Get Clean lineAll-purpose cleaning solution, disinfectant, laundry products, kitchen products, and personal care items are all available.  As always, if you don’t love them they have a money-back guarantee.

2.  Alfalfa

If switching cleaners doesn’t work, one supplement that really helps allergy symptoms is alfalfa.  Before you get really confused (thinking alfalfa is for horses and rabbits), yes, alfalfa is a very nutritious and perfectly edible salad green.  It also seems to tell the immune system that grasses and plants are safe for you!

Taking alfalfa by mouth seems to down-regulate the immune reaction to grasses and pollens (this is called oral immunotherapy).  Since 2/3 of the immune system lives in your intestines, and in THAT location it seems to be primed to ignore allergens, this response makes sense.

If you don’t want to eat a big alfalfa salad every day, Shaklee has alfalfa tablets which are produced organically.  I have customers with allergies who have been happily taking alfalfa tablets for years to control their symptoms.

3.  Food allergies

Yes, I see food allergies EVERYWHERE!  However, that’s because the symptoms that food allergies cause are everywhere too.  One of the many symptoms related to food allergies is chronic sinus congestion.

If you have switched your cleaning products and ditched scented, fume-forming products and added alfalfa and STILL have allergy congestion, you should consider a 3-week food allergen elimination diet.  The one I give my patients is found here.

Got allergies?  You’re not alone.  If nonprescription meds are not working or you’d prefer a non-pharmaceutical approach, there’s a lot you can do to reduce your symptoms before calling in the professionals 🙂

QUESTION:  Are you suffering with allergy symptoms this spring?  What are you doing about it?

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Nutrients For Fracture Healing

As many of you know, almost a week ago my husband broke both bones in his right ankle.  After a late-Sunday urgent surgery and a short overnight stay in the hospital he came home and has been keeping my couch from escaping pretty much ever since.

Since I am NOT loving the extra stress here at the start of summer, I am invested in getting his fracture healed as quickly and as well as possible.  What does the literature say about important nutrients for fracture healing?

Vitamin D

It’s no surprise that there’s been a lot of research about vitamin D and fracture.  It’s well known that calcium, magnesium and vitamin D are required for healthy bone matrix and vitamin D deficiency accelerates bone loss and osteoporosis.  It has been shown that vitamin D deficiency is more common in fracture patients, and there is preliminary evidence that vitamin D supplementation improved fracture healing.  Since in northern Ohio we can’t get any vitamin D from the sun in the winter, it makes sense to take supplemental vitamin D.

Pro-Angiogenesis Factors

In order to put down new bone matrix, the body must grow new blood vessels. This process is called angiogenesis.  There are nutrients that are known to promote the development of healthy new blood vessels and, in theory may help to speed the healing of bone fractures.  These nutrients include fish oil, antioxidants and polyphenols like resveratrol, and ginseng.

Other Nutrients

Good nutrition will support wound healing and help fractures heal properly.  From a high-quality multivitamin to trace minerals to probiotics.  Soy and zinc have also shown to be helpful in supporting healthy bone.

So what do I have my husband taking? He is taking Shaklee products, of course.  Vitalizer and Vivix, extra vitamin D and OmegaGuard and Chewable Cal Mag.  These are part of his normal supplement regimen so I don’t believe we need to make any changes at this point.

We didn’t plan on a serious fracture but it’s nice to know we are taking the right supplements to heal it if it happens.

QUESTION: Have you ever had a fracture?  Did you use supplements to help it heal?

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The Cost Of Poor Health

This topic comes up in the office all the time.  Patients tell me they can’t afford to eat healthy.  They don’t have time to exercise.  Their medications are too expensive.  There is always a reason why patients have a hard time doing the things they need to do to stay well.

Today I’m fed up.  I’m going to talk about how expensive BAD decisions are, when it comes to your health.  What exactly is the cost of poor health?

Which is more expensive?  Fresh fruits and vegetables, or a heart attack?  The time to exercise, or the time you miss with your grandkids because you died of a preventable stroke?  Your $150-for-90-days prescription for diabetes medication, or the $2,200/year pack-a-day cigarette habit?

Which costs more?  Health, or illness?  Where are you going to invest your time and money?

Now, I’m blessed that my parents taught me good eating habits and helped me learn to enjoy being active.  I’m even more blessed that my husband and best friend knows I’m happier and less stressed when I run regularly and eat right.

But I’m also an adult and in charge of my own health.  If I were not in good health, there are lots of resources I could use to learn what I need to know.  From my doctor to good books to reputable websites on the Internet (like this one, LOL!), there is plenty of good sensible information about how to improve your health.

If you or someone you love is unhappy with their health, suffering with the dreaded “I don’t feel good” disease, overweight or obese, PLEASE do three things.

LEARN

Talk to your doctor and ask for good resources to learn more about what’s going on with your health.  Ask for books, websites, referrals to specialists or nutritionists or physical therapists to skill up.

Invest TIME in learning about what’s going on with your body.  Learn how to eat, what foods are best for your particular health problems.  Ask if you’re able to exercise safely and what the best exercises would be.  Learn how to manage your stress.  Get enough hours of sleep.

LOOK

Check out your budget and track for a month where your money is going.  How much do you spend on junk food?  Do you eat out a lot?  Do you buy fast food lunches during the week?  Do you smoke?  Do you drink soda or energy drinks?  What discretionary money do you spend on things that are unhealthy, and how might you redirect that money to BUILD your health instead of tearing it down?

What money are you spending NOW because you are unhealthy?  Do you spend money on medications and treatments that you might not need if you changed your diet, improved your nutrition, exercised, got good sleep, managed your stress better?  How much is being unhealthy costing you NOW?

INVEST

Now I’m going to ask you to exercise some discipline.  I want you to make a mindful decision about where your money goes.  I want you to redirect some or all of the money you are spending on UNHEALTHY or frivolous purchases and spend it on your and your family’s health.

That may mean eating out once per week instead of three times.  That may mean packing a healthy lunch every day instead of hitting the fast-food drive-through.  That may mean getting up 15 minutes early and drinking your coffee at home instead of stopping at Starbucks on the way to work.

You might decide to decrease your pack-a-day cigarette habit to a half-pack and spend the other $100 per month on a gym membership and a high-quality supplement program.

After all, which is better?  Spending 2 hours a week in the gym, or spending 10 hours a week in the dialysis center?  (And no, that’s not a stretch.  The number one cause of renal failure requiring dialysis is diabetes which responds beautifully to regular exercise and a sensible diet.)

I have no idea what is going on in your life or in your budget.  However, I don’t know anyone (including myself) that doesn’t spend money on things that harm their health.  Think about how that money could be better spent.

What are you giving up in terms of money, time, and the ability to do the things you desperately want to do, because of your health?  What small changes (or really HUGE changes!) could you make that would pay big dividends in health and wellness?

You deserve it 🙂

QUESTION: Is your health costing you anything?  What are you investing to make it better?

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Healthy Heart Equals Healthy Sex Life?

In the office, I often feel like I’m beating my head against a brick wall with some guys.  They are in their 40s or 50s and they smoke, they’re overweight, they eat crap and don’t exercise.  They don’t care that they are increased risk for a heart attack, diabetes and stroke.

Maybe I should start telling them they won’t be able to get an erection…

Don’t laugh.  There was a study published last month that suggested that erectile dysfunction is more likely to develop in men with lower cardiovascular health.  Keeping your heart healthy means you’re more likely to have a healthy sex life.

This study, published in the American Journal of Hypertension, followed over 1000 men for 10 years, starting in their early 60s.  They were assessed for cardiovascular health using 7 metrics:

  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes / high blood sugar
  • Overweight or obesity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Sedentary lifestyle

The researchers followed these men for 10 years to see how having these risk factors affected their chances of developing erectile dysfunction.

Now, we already know that erectile dysfunction is considered a marker of cardiovascular disease.  In order for the penis to become properly erect for intercourse, there has to be good blood flow to the tissues.  Atherosclerosis, the development of blockages to blood flow, interferes with the function of the tissues of the penis.

The researchers found that the higher (or more unhealthy) each man’s cardiovascular health score was at the beginning of the study, the more likely he was to develop erectile dysfunction by the end of the study.  In fact, the risk of erectile dysfunction ranged from 15% in the healthiest men to 100% in the unhealthiest.

So if the risk of a heart attack or stroke isn’t enough to make you (or your mate) get serious about quitting smoking, eating healthy, exercising, maintaining a healthy weight and controlling blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol, here’s one more reason.

Poor cardiovascular health can make you unable to have sex.

Now THAT’S a motivator!

QUESTION: Are you surprised about these findings?

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Pelvic Exams

Women over the age of 21 know what THIS is all about.  You go to the gynecologist or your primary care doctor for birth control or for your annual checkup.  After a zillion questions and the typical heart-lungs-belly exam the doc pulls out those lovely things for you to put your feet into and invites you to “Come on down!”

After scooting your bottom down (your NAKED bottom) until you feel like you’re going to fall right off into your doctor’s lap, the doctor proceeds with the annual two-part indignity of Pap test and pelvic exam.

The Pap test involves inserting a speculum (used to let him or her see your cervix) and taking a sample of cells from the surface of the cervix.  The bimanual exam has the doctor putting one or two fingers inside the vagina and the other hand on the abdomen to assess the size and position of the uterus and ovaries.

What if I told you half of that exam wasn’t necessary?

In March of this year, the United States Preventive Services Task Force issued a summary recommendation stating there is not enough information to recommend for or against the bimanual pelvic exam as a screening test.

I admit I had to stop and think about that one.  I was taught in school to do a pelvic exam every time I do a Pap test, but when I stopped to think I realized that I have never found a true problem in a woman who has no symptoms.

What symptoms might a woman have that indicate a potential problem in their pelvic organs?  Pain, of course.  Heavy or irregular menstrual periods.  Bothersome vaginal discharge.  In those cases, the pelvic exam is a useful part of the diagnostic process.

However, how often do we find problems in patients who have no symptoms at all?  Studies have shown that doctors actually are pretty lousy at telling the difference between a normal exam and an abnormal one.  We tend to find problems that aren’t actually there.

One analysis of three different studies looking at pelvic exams’ accuracy in finding ovarian cancer showed that 96-100% of abnormal pelvic exams actually had no abnormality identified.  The doctor felt something and ordered a test (usually an ultrasound or CT scan).  The test showed no evidence of ovarian cancer.

So if pelvic exams are not terribly accurate in identifying ovarian cancer, are they harmful?  Yeah, actually, they can be.  In studies, up to 60% of women reported physical pain and discomfort with the exam.  Up to 80% of women reported fear, embarrassment and anxiety.  Also, women who have a negative experience (because of pain or fear) are much less likely to return to the doctor for a repeat exam.  Obese women are more likely to report a negative experience and are much less likely to have an accurate exam, because of the difficulty of performing the exam.

There are more serious harms too.  There was a study that showed 1.5% of patients who had a pelvic exam wound up with unnecessary surgery for a concern about ovarian cancer.

The USPSTF states that there is not enough evidence to recommend for or against pelvic exams.  However, the American College of Physicians and the American Academy of Family Physicians have made recommendations that pelvic examinations NOT be performed in women who have no symptoms and have no increased genetic risk of ovarian cancer.

What does that mean for female patients?  You need to see your doctor regularly for screening exams based on your age, which may include a mammogram, Pap test, colonoscopy and blood tests.  However, the doctor performing a pelvic exam shouldn’t be part of the visit unless you’re having symptoms.

QUESTION:  Will you be more likely to get regular physicals if you know you won’t have to have a pelvic exam?

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