Monthly Archives: March 2015

Avoiding “Text Neck”

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While virtually unheard of just a few years ago, “text neck” is becoming just as common as a cell phone company’s annual contracts.

According to the Cleveland Clinic Health Hub, this condition is a repetitive strain injury that smartphone users get from consistently hunching over their devices. The aggravating muscle pain in the neck and shoulders, and sometimes lower back, is occurring even in teens and adolescents.

You may think this is a lot of pain for such a small piece of equipment, but it all depends on how you look at it – literally.

Robert Bolash, MD, a pain specialist at Cleveland Clinic says when you look down at your phone, your head drops, which changes the curvature of your neck.  With the changed position of your neck, the neck moves forward, along with your shoulders, or they can lift up toward your ears, which will cause your neck and shoulder muscles to spasm.

“Neck muscles, in their proper position, are designed to support the weight of your head, about 10 to 12 pounds,” says Dr. Bolash. “Research shows that for every inch you drop your head forward, you double the load on those muscles. Looking down at your smartphone, with your chin to your chest, can put about 60 pounds of force on your neck.”

Sitting in this slumped position can also restrict your lungs’ ability to expand, therefor impairing your lung capacity. When you inhale less oxygen, your heart needs to pump harder to distribute more oxygen-carrying blood through your body.

But don’t let the head-dropping keep you from your unlimited everything plan! Dr. Bolash says there’s three easy tricks to ban text neck: straighten your posture, arch your back and look forward. Instead of pulling your shoulders down and tilting your chin down to read content on your phone, try putting the screen of your phone at eye level.

Omega-3: Natural Adderall?

While prescription drugs like Adderall, Vyvanse and Ritalin are leading the way in treatments for Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), new studies have shed light on a more natural substance which may provide similar benefits.

Omega-3, a fatty acid supplement made from fish oil and often used for dieting and heart problems, has been proven to reduce the short attention span of young boys with ADHD.

According to a recent news article, the study (which was funded by Unilever Research & Development) involved 80 boys ages 8 to 14. Half of the participants were given a margarine to eat with omega-3, while the other half was given plain margarine every day for 16 weeks.

When the study was finished, an improvement in attention was seen in the boys who consumed the omega-3 margarine. Those who were given the margarine did not all have ADHD. Small changes were also seen in the boys who were not diagnosed with ADHD.

While experts say this study would not be called definitive, it has been proven that boys with ADHD have lower levels of omega-3 in their blood.

“Omega-3s are an important building block of the brain. It is abundantly present in the brain’s cell membranes, where it is thought to facilitate the transmission of neural signals,” said study researcher Dienke Bos, of the University Medical Center Utrecht.

Bos also said that if you don’t want your child to take more medicine, another way to obtain the fish oil is to encourage them to eat fatty fish, such as salmon, twice a week.

How to Eat Well While Traveling

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Holding to a diet while traveling can be difficult, especially if you’re flying.

Southwest Airlines has those ever-popular dry roasted peanuts, followed by the mini pretzels which help your ears to pop. Delta has to-die-for Biscoff cookies and American Airlines has snack packs, filled with cookies, snack cakes and chips.

And while everyone deserves a cheat every now and then, these cheat snacks can go a long way.

Recently, I found an article which has helped me to reduce my cravings and expand my options while I’m traveling to and from La Guardia.

Even if you are headed to a different time zone, it’s best to keep your usual meal schedule for the day based on your point of origin. So if you leave at 9 a.m. on a two-hour flight, and the time zone you enter is an hour ahead of where you were, keep in the back of your mind to eat like it’s still 11:00 a.m. and try not to eat like it’s noon. Grab a bottle of water, perhaps, and wait until the designated meal time you usually set aside at home.

If your trip is overnight, you can eat according to the time zone change the next day. This will keep your internal clock in sync, instead of throwing everything out of whack. When you wake up, continue to eat on a schedule according to the time zone you’re in.

It’s true that alcohol and caffeine can dehydrate the body, but not many know that flying has the same effect. Grab a bottle or two before boarding the plane and take frequent sips through the flight. In addition, hydrating foods, such as fruits and vegetables, combined with fiber and protein are perfect sources of nutrition.

Sleep Solutions

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With the spring days growing longer, and the sun staying up later, The Cleveland Clinic Health Hub has come up with a few ideas to avoid the grogginess that can come with adapting to these extended days. If you’re still moving a little slowly, give these a try and let me know how they work:

  1. Prepare early.
    Instead of gradually moving into your sleep cycle, try going to bed 30 minutes early, in order to get closer to a full eight hours of sleep. This will prevent your morning woes when the alarm goes off at 7 a.m.
  1. Wake up early.
    According to sleep specialist Harneet Walia, MD, waking up early to the brighter spring sunlight can help you adjust to the time change and wake up feeling energized.
  1. Don’t take naps.
    Dr. Walia says avoiding naps is key for the time change. If a nap is necessary, try to keep it under 20 minutes, so you can still get a full night’s sleep in the evening.
  1. Avoid coffee and alcohol.
    Skip the after-dinner coffee or hot caffeinated tea four to six hours before bedtime. Alcohol can also prohibit you from getting the sleep you need, so it’s better to avoid it late at night as well, if you’re having trouble dozing off. Alcohol can also cause nightmares and breathing problems.

The Dress: #WhiteAndGold or #BlackAndBlue?

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Maybe I’m the last one in America still asking, but I just can’t get over it: If the dress is really black and blue, why does it look white and gold?

 

Neuro-ophthalmologist Lisa Lystad, MD, told the Cleveland Clinic Health Hub in an article that this Internet-breaking garment is the best optical illusion she has seen in a long time.

 

Dr. Lystad says there is no absolute answer about the color of the dress because it’s all based on color perception, which doctors and scientists are still grasping to understand. Three factors come in to play when it comes to our perception of color, according to Dr. Lystad:

1.       Cones perceive color.

2.       Context of color.

3.       Your brain’s perception of color.

Similar to the way a camera works, light comes in through the cornea in the front of the eye, goes through the lens and then hits the retina. Rods and cones in the retina turn light waves into neurochemical energy, which is then sent to the brain.

 

Still following? Good. There’s 6 to 7 million cones in the retina that tell the brain what color they’re seeing, while rods in the eyes help us to see in the dark. But cones in the eyes are distributed differently, which can partially account to what colors a person sees.

 

Also affecting how people perceive the dress is what background people are viewing the color against and how bright the background is. While the background on the right side of the photo of the dress is overexposed, the background on the left side of the picture appears to be very dark. Dr. Lystad says the side you use as a visual reference can influence how the dresses color is perceived by individuals.

 

“Color is relative to what’s next to it,” Dr. Lystad said. “You can take a little square of gray and put it on different color backgrounds, and it will look like a change of color. It depends on what color the square is sitting next to.”

 

Last, after the eye sends the information to your brain (what color the eyes see), the brain processes the area of color and associates the color a name, which associates it with a memory of the color.

 

Well. I’m glad to have that all sorted out.

Another Case for Coffee

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While nutritionists used to believe that coffee drinkers were more prone to heart attacks, growing evidence shows this habit can actually have a beneficial effect on your heart.

 

According to a recent article, drinking three to five cups of coffee per day can lower your risk of clogged arteries that can lead to a heart attack.

Recently, a study of healthy young adults in Korea found that, compared to people who didn’t drink coffee, those who drank three to five cups per day had a lower risk of having calcium deposits in their coronary arteries. Those deposits can be a key indicator of heart disease.

 

Dr. Eliseo Guallar, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md., and co-author of the study in the journal Heart, said the participants in the study who drank said amount of coffee had the lowest risk of clogged arteries. And it was even indicated that with only one cup per day, those who drank coffee still had a lower risk than those who did not.

 

The participants who drank five cups per day had 40 percent less calcium deposits in their coronary arteries. Those who drank one to three cups daily had 35 percent less calcium than those who didn’t drink coffee, and those who drank one cup a day had 23 percent less calcium.

 

There still isn’t a clear answer as to why coffee decreases the calcium deposits, other than the fact that it is rich in antioxidants. If you’re not a caffeine drinker, fret not, because the same antioxidants still exist in decaf coffee.

The Need for Sleep

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Running low on your “zzz’s?” If so — you’re not the only one.

Researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health have published a study called “The Great Sleep Recession,” in the journal Pediatrics, where they studied more than 270,000 teenagers. This age group is believed to suffer the most from sleep deprivation.

Scientists recommend teens and anyone older should be getting about nine hours of sleep per night/day, but according to this study, teens are averaging about seven hours of sleep.

In this CNN article, researchers reviewed 26 previously published studies and found that napping beyond age 2 is also linked to poor quality sleep at night.

The authors say there is no scientific evidence to continue having children older than 2-years-old nap and they recommend discontinuing it, especially if the child has trouble sleeping.

Along with the obvious lethargic side effect, sleep deprivation can cause other types of damage, no matter your age. Sleep deprivation is also linked to overeating, the shrinking of brains, Type 2 diabetes, memory problems and slower reactions times that can impair driving, just to name a few.

If you’re trying to come up with some easy self-improvement habits, more sleep just might be the answer.

Smoking’s Effects Go Beyond Lung Cancer

In case you haven’t heard, cigarettes are bad for you. But in a recent Fox News article, research in the international journal BMC Medicine was published with the proven statistic that at least two-thirds of the people who smoke are killed by their addiction – 67 percent.

A new study ties 60,000 to 120,000 deaths each year in the United States are probably due to tobacco use. The study by the American Cancer Society and several universities is published in the Feb. 12 edition of the New England Journal of Medicine. It looks beyond lung cancer, also adding heart disease, breast cancer and prostate cancer to the list of cancers caused by smoking.

Also, according to this study, smokers are likely to die 10 years earlier than non-smokers, which is true for both men and women alike.

This research was supported by the National Heart Foundation of Australia in collaboration with major 45 and Up Study partner Cancer Council NSW and was conducted by a national and international team. It also found that compared with non-smokers, smoking just 10 cigarettes a day doubles the risk of dying and smoking a pack a day increases the risk four- to five-fold.

On the bright side, this study has also proven that it really is never too late to quit the habit.

Wintertime Blues

Vincent_Willem_van_Gogh_002Punxsutawney Phil wasn’t lying when he predicted six more weeks of winter. It seems he wasn’t just telling us about the delay of spring, but the beloved groundhog was telling us that the worst is yet to come.

As another snowstorm moves over the East this week, those in both the northern and southern U.S. are already sick of the cold weather. And while some believe they’ve got cabin fever, particular symptoms can prove otherwise.

A condition known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD) affects millions of Americans every year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, in this CNN article, it’s a type of depression which can happen in the winter when less natural sunlight is present. Symptoms include:

  • Sad, anxious or “empty” feelings
  • Feelings of hopelessness and/or pessimism
  • Feelings of guilt, worthlessness or helplessness
  • Irritability, restlessness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities you used to enjoy
  • Fatigue and decreased energy
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering details and making decisions
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Changes in weight
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

While the specific cause of SAD remains unknown, researchers have narrowed down a few factors that may come into play.

Michael Terman, professor of clinical psychology in psychiatry at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons says that our inner clock needs to stay in sync with rest-activity cycles dictated by family and work life. If it does not sync, the effect can be disorienting and also a trigger for mood slumps and depression.

“Since the inner clock relies on sunlight to stay in sync, winter sunrise is later and winter nights are longer, melatonin can overshoot into the day, causing grogginess or ‘brain fog,’ for several hours,” he says.

Fortunately, this disorder is treatable in ways other than prescriptions and over the counter medication. Light therapy, while not regulated by the FDA, has been proven to help. Sitting next to a bright, heated light can mimic natural outdoor light and help to increase serotonin levels.

Staying active outside and around your home is also a quick fix. Movement helps to boost endorphins and exercise can make you feel better about yourself. Luckily, only a few more weeks remain in winter 2015; enjoy the sweater weather while it lasts and look forward to the upcoming spring!