Blog Posts

Stressed by the Headlines? There’s Hope

June 4th, 2020

Infections. Deaths. Racism. Brutality. Rioting. Looting. Shooting. Killing. It seems today’s headlines herald terrible news that the world we live in is in utter chaos. If you’re like me, you’re probably feeling somewhat frazzled by it all. And if you’re a news junkie, you may even be feeling downright depressed! There’s actually a name for that feeling.

Psychologist Steven Stosny originally coined the term election stress disorder to describe the feeling of anxiety caused by the onslaught of news surrounding the 2016 presidential election. Stosny later renamed the condition headline stress disorder when the anxiety persisted past the election. The term is pretty fitting for what’s happening today as well, don’t you think?

Headline stress disorder reflects the fact that to grab attention, news headlines often use words that create fear or anger in readers. Stosny recommends reading past the headline. Typically, once you read on and get all the facts, the situation being reported is not as awful as the headline portends.

But today’s news is stressful beyond the headlines. And we must learn to deal with stress in our lives because it can have a profound effect on our physical and mental health.

Stress is a natural response to life experiences. In potentially threatening situations, your central nervous system reacts to stress by initiating the “fight or flight” response. Your CNS triggers your adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol, which increase heart and breathing rates and send blood to your organs and muscles to prepare them for action.

Ideally, when the threat is over, your body returns to a normal, relaxed state called homeostasis. But with chronic stress, your body remains hyped up on stress hormones. This can lead to symptoms such as irritability, anxiety, depression, headaches and insomnia. https://www.healthline.com/health/stress/effects-on-body#1

Chronic stress can also elevate blood pressure, cause chest pain and sexual problems and worsen symptoms of existing diseases, including heart disease, cancer and lung disease. It’s also been linked to low back pain, inflammatory bowel disease, changes in women’s menstrual cycles and structural changes in the brain leading to memory, thinking and learning difficulties.

Some people living with chronic stress develop unhealthy behaviors as a way of coping. They may misuse food, alcohol, tobacco or drugs, or gamble compulsively, engage in sex, shop or use the internet excessively. Unfortunately, these behaviors tend to cause more stress rather than relieve it. It becomes a vicious cycle.

Today, we’re bombarded with a nearly constant flow of news about COVID-19 and the riots surrounding the George Floyd protests. And the bad news is keeping some in a state of chronic stress beyond headline stress disorder. The American Psychological Association notes that a few lessons learned from past disasters are applicable to what’s happening now.

We’ve learned that social media may escalate anxiety more than traditional media, but too much media of any kind can undermine mental health. Also, it was found that trustworthy information sinks in. The bottom line: you can stay informed of events, but be sure to find authoritative sources and be mindful of how much time you’re absorbed in the news.

To help you tune out the bad news for a while, set a limit on how much time you spend looking at the news on TV or on your social media on your phone or computer. This can give you a chance to relax from headline stress disorder and allow your body’s stress response to return to homeostasis.

You can also benefit by engaging in stress management. Regular exercise is a good way to manage stress in your life, as is spending time with your friends and family. Practicing relaxation techniques such as meditation, deep breathing and yoga can also help with stress. If you find that you can’t handle stress on your own and it’s affecting your health, seek professional help.

It’s important that you take care of yourself, especially if you feel stressed about the latest headlines. Self-care enhances your nervous system’s response to stress, and that improves your physical health and overall wellbeing. And when you feel good, you can better handle the negative impact of headline stress disorder and whatever crises are in the news.

Men: Is Low T Slowing You Down?

June 2nd, 2020

Hey guys, are you feeling sluggish, having trouble building muscle through your workouts or experiencing a slowdown in the bedroom? You could have low testosterone, or low T. Low T is a condition in which the male reproductive glands, the testes, don’t produce enough of the hormone testosterone.

Image: Zerbor/Dreamstime

When you think of testosterone, what comes to mind? Macho men? Aggressive, impatient, type A behavior? Road rage? Violence?

Testosterone is necessary for male development and sexual function. It’s also responsible for building muscle and bone mass in men as well as for sperm production and sex drive. In addition, testosterone has an effect on male fat distribution, bone density and red blood cell production.

In healthy men, testosterone levels peak during their early to mid-thirties, then they slowly decline as a normal part of the aging process. A man’s testosterone level typically declines by about one percent a year as he gets older.

Marginally lower testosterone levels are normal as men get older, but there are certain factors that can cause you to have a more significant underproduction or lack of production of testosterone. The causes low testosterone include:

  • Injury or infection of the testes
  • Chemotherapy for cancer
  • Medications such as opioids, hormones to treat prostate cancer and steroids such as prednisone
  • Acute or chronic illness
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Obesity or extreme weight loss
  • Uncontrolled type two diabetes
  • Severe hypothyroidism
  • Previous anabolic steroid use

Among the most troublesome symptoms of low T are decreased sex drive and erectile dysfunction (ED). ED is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection suitable for sexual activity. There are other symptoms of low T that you may notice and some that are going on inside your body that you don’t notice. Symptoms of low T include:

  • Decreased sense of wellbeing
  • Depressed mood
  • Difficulty concentrating and remembering
  • Fatigue
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Loss of muscle strength
  • Decrease in body hair
  • Breast development
  • Changes in sleep patterns
  • Decrease in hemoglobin in the blood
  • Thinning of the bones
  • Increased body fat
  • Infertility

Your doctor can diagnose low T by taking a blood test to measure the amount of testosterone in your blood and correlating that with your symptoms. It may take several measurements of your testosterone level because levels change throughout the day. They tend to be highest in the morning, so your doctor will likely order the blood test to be performed at that time.

The treatment for low T is testosterone replacement therapy, or TRT. There are several methods for delivering the testosterone including intramuscular injections, transdermal patches, gels and pellet therapy.

TRT is typically effective at increasing bone density, providing greater muscle strength and physical performance, and improving mood and sense of wellbeing, sexual function and mental sharpness.

But TRT can result in some side effects as well. These include acne or oily skin, swelling of the ankles caused by mild fluid retention, urinary symptoms caused by stimulation of the prostate, breast enlargement or tenderness, worsening of sleep apnea, overproduction of red blood cells, decrease in testicle size and skin irritation.

In January, the American College of Physicians (ACP) released new clinical guidelines for providing TRT to adult males with age-related low T. The evidence-based recommendations, which were published online on January 6 in Annals of Internal Medicine, highlight data from a systematic review of evidence on the safety and efficacy of TRT in that population.

The ACP recommendations suggest that clinicians should initiate TRT in adult males with age-related low T to help them improve their sexual function. The ACP also recommends that clinicians should avoid prescribing testosterone for any other concern, including depressive symptoms, low energy and decreased vitality.

In addition, the ACP recommends that clinicians reassess men’s symptoms within 12 months of initiating testosterone treatment, with regular re-evaluations during subsequent follow-up appointments. They should discontinue TRT if sexual function fails to improve.

For the most part, the ACP’s recommendations mirror the guidelines proposed by the Endocrine Society and the American Urological Society.

In any case, you should discuss the risks and benefits of TRT with your physician before beginning treatment. And it’s critically important that you be honest with your provider about your symptoms. Don’t be embarrassed. There’s help for you, but you have to open up to your provider. Do it today!

Aim Lower

May 24th, 2020

Blood Pressure Education Month seeks to reduce dangerous highs.

Did you know that the temperature inside the room, talking or simply crossing your legs can cause a spike in your blood pressure? It’s true, and recognizing such facts is why May has been dubbed National High Blood Pressure Education Month.

Sponsored by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the goal behind the event is to raise awareness about the impact high blood pressure can have on a person’s health and to educate people on ways they can better control their blood pressure.

To achieve those objectives, it’s important first and foremost to understand how a person’s blood pressure is measured and what constitutes a normal or abnormal blood pressure reading.

Written or expressed as one number over another, a blood pressure reading is the measurement of the pressure read when the heart has pumped (systolic) and the pressure read when the heart is between beats (diastolic).

The systolic number is typically higher than the diastolic, with a normal reading being in the range of 120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) over 80 mmHg and high blood pressure reading being anything that is 140 mmHg or higher over 90 mmHg or higher.

The higher the numbers in those readings, the more at risk people become for suffering heart disease and stroke, which currently rank as the first and third leading causes of death in the United States respectively.

High blood pressure can also cause congestive heart failure and even kidney disease, and in the U.S. alone one in three people suffer from this condition. Most, though, don’t even know they have it because, unlike a cold or the flu, it has no symptoms.

That’s why it’s important to understand who is most likely to suffer from high blood pressure and what the lifestyle choices are that one can make that can positively or negatively impact a person’s blood pressure.

As far as who is more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, studies show that men and women both suffer from the condition equally, but men under the age of 45 and women over the age of 65 are among those most affected.

Studies also show that in the U.S, where one in every three adults suffers from high blood pressure, the condition is more common among African Americans than Caucasians and Mexican-Americans.

The good news, though, is that high blood pressure can be controlled and not just through medication. For many, a simple change in lifestyle and food choices can help reduce blood pressure levels.

Since a lack of exercise, smoking and alcohol intake can all cause increases in blood pressure, developing an exercise routine, quitting smoking and drinking less are three lifestyle changes that can help lower a person’s blood pressure.

Eating healthier is another. Because a heavy intake of salt can lead to increases in blood pressure, reducing salt intake can reduce blood pressure levels. But less salt is just one of several food choices that one can make to improve their blood pressure levels.

Foods rich in potassium such as bananas, potatoes, fish, green leafy vegetables and citrus fruits are known to lower blood pressure levels, so incorporating more of those into your diet can help you maintain healthy blood pressure levels.

And finally, there are a few things you can do when having your blood pressure checked that can help you get a more accurate reading of your actual blood pressure. They include not talking and not crossing your legs.

Along with the temperature in the room, which can cause a spike in blood pressure if it causes you to feel chilly, talking and crossing your legs while receiving a blood pressure check can also cause blood pressure spikes.

So can caffeine from sodas and coffee, neither of which should be consumed more than 30 minutes prior to receiving a blood pressure check, a full bladder, your emotional state or sitting in a position where neither your legs nor your back are supported.

Any of those can cause a spike of 10 mmHg or more in the systolic reading of a person’s blood pressure, and as we now know, that 10 mmHg spike could be the difference between receiving a normal blood pressure reading and an abnormal one.

You Are Not Alone

May 21st, 2020

Mental Health Awareness Month Focuses On Solutions.

Shortly after the coronavirus first began to spread across the United States, public health officials expressed concern that mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression would soon be on the rise as well.

Their concern was so great that in New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced plans to establish a free mental health service that allowed anyone needing counseling to speak to a medical professional about the stresses caused by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Two months later, the effects of a spike in cases of anxiety and depression caused by the coronavirus is still being felt, which is why the selection of May for Mental Health Awareness Month carries as much meaning now as it ever has.

As it is every year, the goal during Mental Health Awareness Month is to “fight stigma, provide support, educate the public, and advocate for policies that support people with mental illness and their families.”

Sponsored by the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), the program also seeks to draw attention to suicide, and it does so through the “You Are Not Alone” campaign, which features real-life stories told by real-life sufferers of depression.

The NAMI website contains hundreds of personal stories that detail people’s trials and tribulations with depression. It also offers advice on how best to deal with anxiety and depression, which affects millions of people in the U.S. alone each year.

In 2018, for example, one of every five adults in the U.S. suffered from some form of mental illness and one of every 25 adults in the country suffered from some form of “serious” mental illness, according to a government study.

Another study showed that in 2016, nearly eight million youths between the ages of 6 and 17 experienced a mental health disorder, while another showed that more than nine million people struggled with both mental illness and substance abuse at the same time.

And like the coronavirus, mental illness does not discriminate. It affects people of all races and nationalities, with members of the gay, lesbian and bisexual community accounting for more than 37-percent of its sufferers.

Unlike the cold or flu, though, symptoms of mental illness are not always identifiable. What is typical behavior for one person may be a sign something is wrong with another, but the most common signs to look out for include:

  • Feeling excessively sad or low
  • Strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Decreased desire to socialize with friends or family
  • A strong desire to sleep all day or not get up in the morning

The good news is that solutions for all these problems can easily be found. In fact, in accordance with Mental Health Awareness Month, Mental Health America has created the #4Mind4Body Challenge.

It’s designed to improve people’s overall health and well-being through small lifestyle changes that include eating better, sleeping longer and avoiding many of the habits and practices that can increase depression and anxiety.

For more on the #4Mind4Body Challenge, check out the MHA website at mhanational.org.

Nutrition’s Role In Fighting COVID-19

May 21st, 2020

Eating right can help you build a healthy immune system.

The coronavirus had only taken the lives of some 3,000 people worldwide when a claim suggesting that eating a Nigerian dish called Yoruba stew or simply consuming a diet rich in pepper could cure someone of the virus within 24 hours.

Within a matter of days, the “pepper soup theory” was determined to be a hoax.

Since then, a number of similar theories claiming that everything from garlic to warm lemon water can prevent or cure the coronavirus have emerged. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to suggest that any of these “miracle foods” work either.

Not even a boost in vitamin C, which may help shorten the duration and severity of common cold symptoms, has proven to be an effective remedy against the coronavirus. That’s not to say, though, that diet cannot be an ally in fighting off COVID-19.

While doctors and scientists have so far discovered that proper hygiene and physical or “social” distancing are the best way to avoid contracting the virus, they do not discount the role that eating a proper diet can play in that battle.

It has long been known that adequate amounts of iron, zinc and vitamins A, C, E, B6 and B12 can optimize a person’s immune system. It’s quite possible then that by eating a well-balanced diet, a person’s immunity to COVID-19 can be enhanced as well.

The reason is simple. As the World Health Organization points out, “people who eat a well-balanced diet tend to be healthier, have stronger immune systems and are at lower risk for developing chronic illnesses and infectious diseases.”

That goes for the coronavirus, too. After all, it is now known that older people and those with pre-existing health conditions or a compromised immune system are among those affected most severely by the coronavirus.

So now more than ever, it’s important to limit your intake of processed foods heavy in sugar, salty snacks and fat and increase your consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, lean meats and fish, nuts and whole grains.

It is in the latter category of foods where the vitamins, minerals, dietary fibers, proteins and antioxidants that the body needs to function best exist, and it is through that proper function that a person can increase their chances of combating disease.

On the other hand, people who suffer from deficiencies of proteins and micronutrients tend to have less energy as well as depressed immune systems and are therefore more susceptible to infection than those who eat a healthy diet.

And let’s not forget the critical role that water plays in this equation. Water is essential because it transports nutrients and compounds in blood, regulates body temperature, promotes waste removal and lubricates joints.

That’s why doctors recommend drinking between eight and 10 cups of water per day to remain properly hydrated. That may seem like a lot to some, but those eight to 10 cups of water can include a cup of tea or coffee as well as fruits that contain a lot of water.

Examples of such fruits include melons of most any kind, especially watermelon, grapefruit, oranges, raspberries strawberries and cranberries. Adding a little lemon juice to water can help you reach your daily water goals as well.

The overall goal, of course, is to avoid developing deficiencies of the vitamins and nutrients that allow us to maintain a healthy immune system, and that includes vitamin D, so simply eating right may not be enough to keep that immune system humming.

Because exposure to sunlight provides us with our best source of vitamin D, it’s important during this time to get outside as much as possible if that is not a normal part of your regular routine.

Granted, that could prove difficult for some. But that’s why the British Dietetic Association (BDA) recommends that people who are quarantined or are otherwise unable to get outside regularly add a daily supplement of 10 grams of vitamin D to their diet.

The addition of that supplement can further boost a person’s immune system, though the best way to those immune systems running strong is to eat properly. And sure, that can include a bowl of pepper soup or Yoruba stew if you’d like.

Just keep in mind that according to the latest scientific research, those and other so-called “super foods” alone will not help you ward off or recover from the coronavirus.

The Health Care Appointment in the Age of COVID-19

May 21st, 2020

On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared COVID-19* a global pandemic. In response, health care providers across the US closed their office doors to all but the most emergent patients as a precaution against the spread of COVID-19.

Today, these providers are reopening to non-emergent patients, but practices must follow strict protocols to prevent transmission of the coronavirus.

With all the safety precautions in place, seeing your provider in the age of COVID-19 is an entirely new experience. But before you schedule an appointment with your provider, there are a few questions you should be prepared to ask about their process for seeing patients in this new era.

First, ask your provider if they are following the guidelines recommended by the CDC, state medical board, professional societies, and state, federal and local authorities for the screening and management of suspected COVID-19 patients in their practice. New regulations and guidance are issued regularly, so ask if your provider is staying on top of the changes.

Ask if your provider is following the CDC’s patient assessment protocol for triage and early disease detection. All visitors to the practice should be screened for symptoms of COVID-19 and contact exposure. If you have symptoms or have had exposure, are their protocols in place for you to be isolated from other patients and staff?

Find out how your provider is screening patients for COVID-19 symptoms before they enter the office. Are staff members taking temperatures and histories at a station outside the building, such as in the parking lot? Or, are they asking you to wait in your car for a staff member to meet you to take your information and temperature before you go inside?

Does your provider offer alternatives to face-to-face visits, such as telephone or telemedicine appointments or online self-assessment tools? Trained staff should be available to determine which patients may be managed safely at home versus at the office or a community health center.

Does your provider routinely test their staff for symptoms of COVID-19? Do they take staff members’ temperatures before each work shift, and are staff members provided with appropriate personal protective equipment (masks, gowns, gloves)? Does your provider require you to wear a mask while you’re in the office? What happens if someone refuses to wear a mask in the office?

Does your provider follow the recommended protocols for disinfecting waiting areas and exam rooms between patients? Do they have a formal infection control policy that includes transmission-based precautions such as contact precautions, droplet precautions and airborne precautions? Is this policy available for you to review?

Are the waiting areas and other common areas in the office set up for social distancing? Are the chairs spaced to keep visitors six feet apart? Or does your provider ask you to wait in your car until it’s time for you to be seen? Does your provider have protocols for patient movement through the office that limits contact with others?

You may have other questions for your provider as well. But remember, this is an unprecedented time in health care and the changes to practice procedures are new to providers and patients alike. Be patient with your provider as they adjust to the new guidelines and regulations and put them into practice in their offices. The rules are for everyone’s safety and health!

Useful Links:

*COVID-19, primarily a respiratory illness, is caused by the severe acute respiratory coronavirus 2, or SARS-CoV-2. As of May 21, 2020, more than five million people worldwide have been infected with COVID-19 and more than 328,000 people have died from the infection.

According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with COVID-19 have shown a wide array of symptoms that range from mild to severe. The most common symptoms reported are cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat and new loss of taste or smell.

Other, less common symptoms have also been reported with COVID-19. These include gastrointestinal ailments such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake up or stay awake and bluish lips or face are emergency warning signs that require immediate medical attention.

One Nation’s Gain

May 19th, 2020

America’s Obesity Crisis Intensifies.

The number of people in the United States who are overweight or obese has been climbing for years, and that excess weight has serious and costly health consequences. So, the projections from a highly respected team of scientists about obesity in America’s future are disconcerting at best.

After conducting national surveys and correcting for our tendency to underestimate our weight in surveys, the scientists discovered that in as many as 29 states, the prevalence of obesity will exceed 50 percent by 2030. In addition, they project that no state will have less than 35 percent of its residents who are obese.

The bottom line is that within the next ten years nearly one in two adults in the US will be obese. Further, the team projects that nearly one in four Americans will be severely obese by 2030.

The team’s report, Projected U.S. State-Level Prevalence of Adult Obesity and Severe Obesity, was published in The New England Journal of Medicine in December and suggests that the prevalence of severe obesity is expected to be higher than one in four in 25 states. Further, severe obesity is projected to be the most common weight category among the nation’s women, non-Hispanic, black and low-income adults.

Obesity will exceed 50 percent by 2030. – The New York Times

This study’s results mirror those of a study presented in the September 2012 “F as in Fat” report. That report, released by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, also predicted that half of US adults will be obese by 2030.

Obesity is dangerous. It is linked to a substantial number of negative health effects, including high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease and stroke, sleep apnea and breathing problems, osteoarthritis, gallbladder disease, mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety and certain cancers, including endometrial, breast, colon, kidney, gallbladder and liver cancer.

The “F as in Fat” report projected that there will be as many as 7.9 million new cases of diabetes a year by 2030, compared with 1.9 million new cases a year in 2012. They suggest there could also be 6.8 million new cases of chronic heart disease and stroke each year, compared with 1.3 million cases in 2012.

Obesity is also expensive. A study conducted in 2013 estimated that the medical cost of obesity totaled $342.2 billion per year. The study also determined that the indirect cost of obesity due to lost productivity came to another $8.65 billion per year. And that was in 2013. Those amounts are likely much higher in 2020.

Obesity is a leading cause of preventable illness, disability and life-years lost in the United States. It is responsible for about one in five deaths, nearly as many as smoking. That makes it an official public health crisis in this country. But what makes us obese?

In general, we’re considered overweight or obese when our weight is higher than a normal weight adjusted for height. Body Mass Index, or BMI, is the tool used for measuring this. BMI, which is related to the amount of fat in our bodies, is defined as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared. A BMI of 30 to 39 is considered obese. A BMI of 40 or higher is extremely obese. The higher our BMI, the greater our risk for developing the health problems associated with obesity.

There are several factors that contribute to obesity, but the bottom line is that we become obese when we consistently consume more calories than we burn through normal daily activity. What we eat also plays a role. Foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt cause weight gain. And most of us eat portions that are larger than necessary to satisfy our hunger.

Our genes also play a role. Genetics is a factor in how much body fat we store, where it’s distributed and how efficiently our bodies metabolize the food we eat into energy.

Medical disorders such as Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic condition, Cushing’s syndrome, a hormone disorder, and arthritis can lead to decreased activity and weight gain. In addition, certain medications including some antidepressants, anti-seizure drugs, steroids and beta-blockers can cause an increase in weight.

Lifestyle and behavioral factors such as a lack of physical activity, smoking, lack of sleep and an unhealthy diet also contribute to the development of obesity. Social and economic factors include not having enough money to buy healthy foods or access to stores that sell healthier food options. Another socioeconomic factor is not having access to a safe place to exercise.

Obesity is a major public health crisis in America that impacts more than 100 million adults and children and is projected to increase dramatically by 2030. Fortunately, obesity and the health and financial consequences associated with it are largely preventable, and that should be our goal.

Steps we can take to help prevent obesity include limiting calorie intake from total fats, shifting away from saturated fats to unsaturated fats. In addition, we can increase our intake of fruits and vegetables, legumes, whole grains and nuts and limit our intake of sugar. We also have to boost the number of calories we burn each day by increasing our physical activity. Health officials recommend at least 30 minutes of regular, moderate-intensity activity on most days.

But it will take more than willpower to change the future. There are already federal and state programs in place to educate about making healthy food and exercise choices and to counter fast food and soda marketing. Additional education and more firepower against the big-money fast-food conglomerates is still needed. Our country’s health, now and in the future, depends on it!

Life Expectancy: We’re Losing It

May 11th, 2020

The US was on the upswing for a while. Between 1959 and 2014, life expectancy for Americans, which is the average length of time we are expected to live, increased by nearly ten years, from 69.9 years to 78.9 years. But something started happening in the 1980s, and the increase slowed considerably. By 2010, it plateaued.

By The New York Times | Source: Journal of the American Medical Association

Between 2010 and 2017, death rates for people aged 25 to 64 increased in nearly every state.

Then in 2014, life expectancy in America began reversing, and by 2017, the latest year for statistics, life expectancy in the US had decreased for three straight years to 78.6 years. Our decline persisted despite the fact that the US spends more dollars per capita on health care than any other industrialized nation.

The findings of a comprehensive study that explored the nature of life expectancy in America as well as possible causes for its decline were released at the end of November and published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).

For the study, the researchers reviewed more than a half-century of data from the US Mortality Database and the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s WONDER database. That’s an integrated information and communication system for public health practitioners and researchers.

One key finding of the study was that adults ages 25 to 64, or working-age Americans, saw the largest increase in death rates, a rise of six percent. The increase in death rate in this age group was seen in nearly every state in the US.

According to the study, the death rate in working-age Americans from all causes increased from 328.5 deaths per 100,000 people in 2010 to 348.2 deaths per 100,000 people in 2017. The statistics showed this increase occurred across all racial and ethnic groups.

Dr. Steven Woolf, one of the study’s authors, noted this increase in mortality was driven, in part, by “deaths of despair.” Those include deaths from drug overdoses, which reflect the opioid crisis in this country, as well as those from alcohol abuse and suicide.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images, FILE

Men sit passed out in a park where heroin users gather to shoot up in the Bronx borough of New York, May 4, 2018.

The study found that between 1999 and 2017, fatal drug overdoses by working-age Americans increased by 386.5 percent. Deaths linked to alcohol use, including those from chronic liver disease and cirrhosis of the liver, rose 40.6 percent during those years. And suicide rates by that population rose 38.3 percent.

The study also pointed to health conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease as other causes for the death rate increase. It noted that these conditions are exacerbated by unhealthy behaviors such as smoking, being overweight or obese, eating a high-fat diet and living a sedentary lifestyle, problems that are rampant in our society.

And these problems impacted the death rates for working-age Americans. For example, deaths in this age group linked to obesity increased 114 percent between 1999 and 2017. The majority of American adults, about 71 percent, are overweight or obese. And obesity increases the risk for cancer, diabetes, heart disease and other chronic conditions.

Deaths related to high blood pressure increased by 78.9 percent in the 25 to 64 age group during the same time period. And about 80 percent of American adults don’t meet the physical activity guidelines. If we don’t manage chronic conditions better and change our unhealthy behaviors, our life expectancy will continue to decline.

And according to the new study’s findings, the increase in working-age death rates coincided with major shifts in the US economy dating back to the 1970s and 1980s. It was during those years that the US started to lose manufacturing jobs, and the middle class began to shrink, Dr. Woolf noted.

These loses hit certain areas of the country harder than others, and that is reflected in the statistics. The Ohio Valley, which includes Ohio, West Virginia, Indiana and Kentucky, is part of the  nation’s “Rust Belt.” This area was highly stressed economically with the closing of steel mills and auto plants.

The Ohio Valley, as well as northern New England, which includes New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont, experienced the largest relative increases in working-age mortality rates in the US. Both of these areas were hit hard by the opioid crisis and by declines in their economies

Dr. Woolf said it’s noteworthy that the largest increases were seen in these areas. The people living there have gone through long periods of economic stress, which can lead to a set of consequences that can affect health in many ways.

People struggling financially are more likely to turn to drugs, alcohol or suicide, he said. In addition, they may not be able to afford routine or emergency medical care, prescription medications or healthy food. And they are less likely to effectively manage chronic conditions such as diabetes and high blood pressure. These factors can lead to increases in mortality rates.

It’s pretty clear that reversing the downward trend in life expectancy will take a combined effort on the individual, community and national levels. As individuals, we must commit to changing unhealthy behaviors and eat healthier, exercise more and pay closer attention to our overall health. And we need to put our pride aside and seek help for substance abuse disorders.

Communities must work harder to increase local access to health education and services. And as a nation, we must continue to focus on battling the opioid crisis, tackling the obesity epidemic and increasing economic opportunities, especially in distressed areas. There’s a lot more to be done, but these steps are a good starting point. After all, our lives depend on our action.

Exercise For Mind and Body

May 6th, 2020

The benefits of exercise on physical health are pretty well established. It’s been shown in study after study that regular physical activity helps prevent heart disease and stroke, reduce high blood pressure and cholesterol, control glucose levels associated with diabetes, manage weight and prevent obesity, avoid osteoporosis, and relieve many types of pain, including back pain.

Regular exercise also helps us manage the stress in our lives.

But have you given as much thought to the benefits of routine physical activity on your mental health? It actually has a huge impact. For one thing, exercise releases “feel-good” chemicals such as endorphins and serotonin. These chemicals work to improve mood and reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. Exercise helps relieve symptoms of mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety and helps with recovery from mental health issues.

In some studies, regular exercise appears to be as effective as existing medication therapy in treating a wide range of mental health conditions, including mild to moderate depression, dementia and anxiety. It has also been shown to help reduce the cognitive issues related to schizophrenia.

Exercise is effective because it works directly on the brain. It increases the volume of certain regions of the brain by pumping extra blood to them. That improves the health of the brain’s nerve cells, or neurons, because more blood means more that oxygen and nutrients are supplied to the neurons. Improved blood flow also increases certain factors that support neuronal functioning.

For some adults, poor mental health may be linked to their lack of exercise as kids. A new study, released February 12 in Lancet Psychiatry, shows that young people who were sedentary between the ages of 12 to 16 had a higher chance of developing depressive symptoms at age 18 and beyond.

During this study, researchers followed 4,257 adolescents for six years starting at age 12. Participants wore accelerometers for seven days at a time that tracked the amount and intensity of their physical activity, and the information was gathered every two years from age 12 to age 18. Participants were screened for depressive symptoms every two years during that time.

Study results showed that higher amounts of time spent doing sedentary activities, such as watching TV, playing video games and surfing the net, were associated with higher depression scores by age 18. The study found that one additional hour of sedentary behavior per day increased depression scores by ten percent.

On the other hand, the study shows that time spent engaging in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity protected adolescents against developing depression later in life.

At this point, most of you are probably thinking, All of the physical and mental health benefits of exercise are great, but how much do I really need to work out to reap them? The answer may surprise you.

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans, issued by the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), recommends that for substantial health benefits, adults should perform at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity per week. The exercise can also be an equivalent combination of moderate intensity and vigorous activity spread throughout the week.

But in its second edition of the guidelines, HHS recognized the value of shorter intervals of exercise as well. And studies conducted over the past several years have borne that out. A French study from 2015 looked at exercise’s effect on the elderly. It found that even low levels of exercise have a protective effect. It led researchers to recommend 15 minutes of “light” activity five days per week to help improve health and longevity in seniors.

In another study on the benefits of short intervals of activity on health, researchers at the University of Utah School of Medicine found that individuals who got up and moved around for at least two minutes for every hour of sitting had a 33 percent lower risk of dying.

The researchers in that study defined “light-intensity” exercise as activities such as walking around the office, using the stairs instead of the elevator, or taking a short walk at lunchtime or while on a coffee break.

Finally, a January 2019 study suggested that short but intense bursts of physical activity offers cardiovascular health benefits. In this study, healthy but sedentary young adults were asked to climb three flights of stairs three times per day three days per week for six weeks. After six weeks, the participants’ aerobic fitness improved by five percent, and they had 12 percent more strength on a cycling test.

Don’t dismiss the health benefits of walking. The results of a 13-year study of 139,000 adults showed that people who fit in just two hours of walking per week were 26 percent less likely to die than sedentary people. Walking can be an excellent way to explore and enjoy your neighborhood as well.

So, don’t fret if you’re not a gym rat. You can still reap the physical and mental health benefits of exercise by simply getting up and moving more. Why not give it a try!

Pink Eye? It Could Be the Coronavirus

April 24th, 2020

The most common symptoms of the coronavirus that has stopped the world in its tracks are fever, coughing and breathing difficulties. But doctors are finding that the respiratory disease known as COVID-19 can also cause an eye infection called conjunctivitis.

The discovery of conjunctivitis in COVID-19 patients is rare. As of mid-April, doctors believed that only 1 to 3 percent of all the people who could contract COVID-19 would also suffer from conjunctivitis, most likely during the middle phase of the illness.

According to one report in the Journal of Medical Virology, a study of 30 COVID-19 patients in China showed that only one had ocular secretions or tears containing SARS-CoV-2 RNA, which is the carrier of the coronavirus’s genetic information.

But another study detailed in the New England Journal of Medicine Journal Watch claimed that a third of the COVID-19 patients in that study had confirmed cases of conjunctivitis, a finding that has since been challenged.

Also known as pink eye, conjunctivitis is what develops when the clear tissue that lines the inside of the eyelid becomes inflamed. The result is red, itchy and swollen eyes, and while conjunctivitis is not a serious condition, it is highly contagious.

Children are highly susceptible to conjunctivitis, which is known to spread easily throughout schools and day care centers. However, having conjunctivitis alone does not mean a person also has COVID-19.

Though it can develop as a result of exposure to viruses, conjunctivitis can also be caused by exposure to certain bacteria as well as more common irritants such as shampoo, dirt, smoke, pool chlorine and eye drops.

Though it’s best to be treated for conjunctivitis by an ophthalmologist, home remedies such as warm compresses and over-the-counter medicines can treat its symptoms. No matter the approach, it usually takes about two weeks for conjunctivitis to disappear.

During that healing period, several steps can be taken to expedite the healing process and protect your eyes from further damage. For example, if you wear contact lenses, wear glasses instead until the conjunctivitis is completely healed.

And don’t rub your eyes. Granted, that’s easier said than done, but treating your itchy eyes with moistening drops or dabbing them with a tissue and immediately throwing the tissue away can help you avoid spreading the condition.

Because conjunctivitis is highly contagious, it can be transmitted by the hands just as the coronavirus can, so washing your hands regularly and avoiding handshakes is another way to avoid spreading the infection.

Page 3 of 24