Category Archives: Home Care Essentials

Arthritis Relief

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Osteoarthritis is a condition of aging. As a person gets older, the cartilage that protects the joints and helps them move better wears away, leading to pain. Although some wear on the cartilage happens with everybody, arthritis is not simply an inevitable feature of aging. It can be controlled, and even prevented. Repetitive motion without a break wears down the cartilage, and finding a way to avoid that can stave off arthritis. Resting the joints provides some benefit, and lessens wear and tear. On the other hand, exercise can help keep the joints flexible and increase bone strength. Exercise can also help keep weigh under control, which means less strain on the joints, less deterioration of cartilage, and less pain.

One particularly helpful kind of exercise is running. Running wouldn’t seem like an activity that would be beneficial, or even possible, for someone with osteoarthritis, but recent research suggests that going for a run on a regular basis helps prevent damage to the cartilage in the knees. In the past, studies done on professional runners found an increased incidence of arthritis, but people who are involved in less intense forms are less prone to developing the condition. Running helps lower BMI, putting less strain on the knees, as well as building tolerance for movement.

No one has yet found a cure for arthritis, or a way to reverse the damage. A different kind of joint has been suggested as a treatment, but research has found no evidence that medical marijuana is an effective remedy. Medical treatment generally involves drugs to reduce inflammation, along with pain medication. Physical and occupational therapy are used in addition to or instead of medication to manage or relieve pain or to increase range of motion. Braces and orthopedics can help take pressure off affected joints so that the worn-away cartilage isn’t stressed.

Anti-inflammatory drugs called COX-2 inhibitors are commonly prescribed for arthritis, but have been shown to increase the risk of stroke. Another common treatment, acetaminophen, was found in studies to be useless for arthritis pain. However, research has found that high zinc levels contribute to the destruction of cartilage that is behind arthritis, and reducing zinc could help save joints.

Pancreatic Cancer Spreads

pancreatic tumor

Pancreatic cancer is one of several types of cancer that has been linked to the genes primarily associated—and named for—breast cancer. As with breast cancer, however, genetic susceptibility is only a small part of the picture. Because the pancreas is where insulin is produced, pancreatic cancer is associated with diabetes, and diabetic people are more likely to develop cancer, as are people with other diseases of the pancreas. That means obesity and other risk factors for diabetes are also risk factors for pancreatic cancer.

It is also one of the cancers to which smokers are particularly vulnerable, and the vulnerability lasts a long time, taking years or even decades after quitting to return to non-smoker risk levels. Cutting back on red meat is suggested for cutting risk, but the evidence for a connection is unclear.

As with many forms of cancer, pancreatic cancer ordinarily has no obvious symptoms in the early stages. However, pancreatic cancer can lead to the appearance of jaundice. Other symptoms include poor appetite and weight loss, odd stools, or pain in the upper abdomen, though these are not as specific. Moreover, while diabetes is a risk factor for pancreatic cancer, it can also be caused by it. That means the sudden onset of type 2 diabetes can be an indication that pancreatic cancer screening is in order, particularly in patients with no real risk factors for diabetes, those with a family history of pancreatic or breast cancer, or African-American patients.

Even with an early diagnosis, however, pancreatic cancer has a relatively low survival rate, around one in three, largely because it is such an aggressive form off cancer. Recently this month, researchers found that a gene called TRIM29, which is involved in a substantial majority of cases of pancreatic cancer, affects the way tumor cells grow. The pancreatic cancer variant of the gene also alters the structure of the tumor cells in such a way that they have an easier time moving around and spreading through the organs of the body.

Because it is so deadly even in the early stages, prevention is more important that screening for pancreatic cancer. The means quitting smoking, exercise, and a healthy diet that includes fruits and vegetables.

Vitamins

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Vitamins are essential nutrients, which means that they are needed by the body, but not produced in the body. As a result, people need to get vitamins in food or from other sources in order to get enough. There are 13 vitamins, though some chemicals that were formerly included among the B vitamins were later determined to be a different type of nutrient, which is why the B vitamins skip B4, B8, B10,and B11. The current list consists of vitamin A, 8 types of B vitamins, C through E, and vitamin K. A, D, E, and K are stored in the body’s fat cells; the remainder are water-soluble and get passed in urine, meaning they are needed more frequently.

Doctors have long—as far back as ancient Egypt—recognized that certain foods treated certain ailments, but before the development of organic chemistry they were at a loss to explain why. For example, in 1747, a Scottish doctor discovered that citrus prevented and treated a disease called scurvy, what we now know as vitamin C deficiency. In 1881, a Russian surgeon found that experimental animals fed an artificial milk made out of the known proteins, fats, salts, and sugars, in the right proportions, died, whereas animals fed milk thrived; he concluded that there was some other, unknown nutrient. In the 20th century, these nutrients were chemically isolated and named vitamins.

Thanks to an improved understanding of vitamins, and nutrition in general, vitamin-deficiency diseases, such as rickets, scurvy, and beriberi, are virtually unknown in the developed world today. However, the mindset that if something is god, more is better has led to a market for vitamin supplements. While some people have medical conditions that interfere with vitamin absorption, most people in the West get sufficient amounts of most vitamins from their diets, and vitamin pills do little more for those people than give them costly and sometimes colorful urine.

However, it is possible to overdose on vitamins. This is particularly true of vitamins A, D, E, and K, which don’t get flushed out in urine, but all vitamins can be harmful if taken in excess, and in some cases this can cause permanent damage.

January Is Radon Month

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The second leading cause of lung cancer in the United States—after tobacco smoke—is invisible and odorless radon gas, which is blamed for 20,000 lung cancer deaths . Unlike smoking, it’s not something people expose themselves to intentionally. The radioactive element uranium is ubiquitous, albeit in small amounts, in soil, an is gradually decomposes into radon, which naturally occurs in gaseous form. In 1985, scientists realized that this gas comes into homes through the foundation, which is generally slightly porous. In some cases, the building materials can emit radon—this is seldom enough to cause problems, but it can add to the radon from the soil. Whatever the source, it gets trapped by the walls and roof. It can’t be seen or smelled, but it can be spotted with radon testing kits.

It is estimated that one in 15 American homes has what is considered to be a high level of radon, more than 4 picocuries per liter of air. Picocuries per liter is the measurement of the concentration of a radioactive substance, based on the radioactive decay of radium, which Marie and Pierre Curie studied. Excess radon gas can cause cancer. Radon is the most common cause of lung cancer among non-smokers—more than secondhand smoke—and one reason for this is that secondhand smoke can be seen and often avoided, while radon gas cannot be.

That is why home testing is so important. Winter, when the doors and windows are closed, is ordinarily the season of peak radon concentration, meaning if radon levels are not dangerously high in the winter they are unlikely to be dangerously hi in other parts of the year. Test kits are available, for short-term testing over a period of to days to three months, or long-term testing that can be longer than that. The reason even short-term testing can last so long is that the intention is to get an average radon level over time.

There’s no way to completely remove radon gas from the home; there’s always be some around. However sealing up cracks in and near the foundation can help prevent more from entering, and ventilation can help get out what is already there. Specialized radon reduction can can even be installed that is designed to get radon gas out of the home.

B12 In The Body

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Vitamin B12, or cobalamin, is an important nutrient. It is an essential nutrient, meaning in this case not that it is necessary for good health—though it is—but it is not produced in the body, and must be consumed in food or supplements. Vitamin B12 is needed to produce red blood cells and effects the functioning of the brain and nervous system. It is also used to treat cyanide poisoning, to essentially suck the cyanide out of the bloodstream so it can be passed harmlessly.

It is also, unsurprisingly, used to treat B12 deficiency. B12 deficiency is rare, because most people consume more than they need and the body stores the excess—as much as five years’ worth—primarily in the liver. Certain medical conditions or treatments can diminish the body’s ability to absorb or use B12, however, and this can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, depression, and impaired memory. More severe deficiency can result in irreversible damage to the brain and nervous system, leading to dementia.

Dietary sources of vitamin B12 include in fish and shellfish, meat, eggs, and dairy products. Vitamin B12 is often added to livestock feed in the United States, so farmed meat generally has particularly high levels. Vegans, who don’t eat eggs or dairy, often need to take supplements, which are typically made from a synthetic form called cyanocobalamin. This molecule does not occur in natural sources but is easily converted by the body into the natural forms of the vitamin. Vegetarians who do eat eggs and dairy products may still need supplements, because vegetarian diets often feature a lot of soy, which can impair B12 absorption.

Scientists have recently found signs of a previously unknown role for vitamin B12. In conjunction with the compound taurine—known from energy drinks, but actually an important nutrient in its own right, with important roles in the functioning of the cardiovascular and central nervous systems—B12 helps regulate the creation of new bone tissue.

This means doctors may be able to add osteoporosis to cyanide poisoning and vitamin B12 deficiency on the list of conditions treated with B12. While it can stop or even reverse cognitive decline resulting from B12 deficiency, there is no indication B12 can improve cognitive function in healthy people.

Pets Are Great

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More and more public health experts are recognizing the health benefits of pet ownership. People have had companion animals for thousands of years—one archaeological site from 12,000 years ago includes the remains of a person accompanied by remains of a dog. Today in the United States there are more than half as many pets as there are people, and around two in three households has at least one pet in residence. Only recently, however, have researchers begun to really understand how and why these pets are making people healthier and happier.

One thing pet ownership is good for is helping boost fitness. Walking the dog is a well-known source of exercise, to the point that veterinarians have had to warn joggers to beware of dragging their dogs faster than their four legs can carry them. However, even walking a a normal pace can help burn calories. Dog owners often have to do this to a certain extent, obviously, but beyond that, dog ownership can provide motivation to get out there, as well as alleviate the boredom that can so often dissuade people from just walking on their own.

Dog walking promotes heart health in other ways as well. Pet owners in general seem to have healthier cholesterol levels than non-owners, one study suggested. Petting a dog or cat has also been shown to lower blood pressure. Pets have a stress-lowering effect by their mere presence, to the point where certain dog breeds are trained as assistance dogs for people with PTSD and anxiety disorders. The unconditional love a dog or cat displays for its human can provide an important boost to self-esteem as well as alleviating loneliness, another way in which animals contribute to heart health. Pet owners who do have heart disease have been found to have higher survival rates.

Increasingly, animals are finding work helping people with chronic conditions, including mental health issues. "Seeing-eye dogs"—guide dogs for the visually impaired—are perhaps the most famous type of service animal, but there are actually a number of conditions for which dogs and other animals can be trained to provide assistance. Dogs have been shown to help with depression, anxiety, fatigue, and even pain.

New Year’s Resolution: Lose Weight

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One of the most common—possibly the most common—New Year’s resolutions people make is "this year, I will lose weight." It is also one of the most commonly abandoned. People go into it full of good intentions, but somehow it doesn’t seem to happen. It’s not a problem of lack of discipline or will; often, it’s simply a matter of the words being easy to say—particularly in the heat of holiday overeating—but actually following through turns out to be a lot more difficult.

There are things someone can do that make it easier. Setting a specific target is one. Rather than a vague "lose weight," a better resolution is "lose X pounds" or "get under X pounds by a certain date, and stay there". Alternatively, the goal can be not a number, but a practice. The idea is something concrete and measurable, providing a specific course of action and a way of knowing if the resolution is indeed being worked on. Accountability is another motivator. Writing down the resolution, or better yet, telling a friend, lessens the temptation to cheat.

There are also some things it is important no to do. Setting unrealistic goals, or unrealistically strict regimens, can hamper efforts to be healthier by encouraging cheating, or abandoning the resolution entirely. Someone who falls short of a goal is likely to simply give up on the project entirely, and not be motivated to attempt to reach a target they know they won’t be able to. Things like constant weigh-ins or cutting out junk food—anything that makes weight loss a drag or a chore—also do more harm than good.

In fact, some experts suggest that making weight loss a resolution—even with a specific goal weight—may be one of the worst ways to develop healthier habits, for that very reason. By making weight loss seem like a burden and a mandate, someone who makes this resolution gives unhealthy behavior a forbidden-fruit appeal while instilling in themselves exactly the sort of negative emotions that lead people to turn to unhealthy comfort foods. Far better to just decide to eat better and develop a plan for that.

Chocolate And Health

chocolate

Possibly one of the greatest inventions in culinary history, chocolate possibly seems to have health benefits over and beyond spreading happiness. In fact, perhaps counter-intuitively, dark chocolate has he power to help fight obesity and type 2 diabetes. The key is a type of antioxidant—a compound that helps prevent certain kinds of cell damage—called a flavonol, in particular flavonols of a type referred to as "oligomeric procyanidins." In a study, these flavonols helped keep weight down even in experimental specimens given diets high in fat. Preventing obesity is an important part of avoiding type 2 diabetes, but dark chocolate has a direct effect on that as well. The same compounds were found to improve insulin utilization, meaning the body processes glucose more efficiently, avoiding type 2 diabetes.

While the compound was studied in laboratory animals, there is evidence that it works in human beings as well. In particular, teenagers who eat lots of chocolate generally have lower levels of body fat than their diets (beyond chocolate) might be expected to lead to. Adolescents in Europe who reported on surveys high levels of chocolate consumption were found to have lower BMIs and smaller waists regardless of how much exercise the were getting. An earlier study had found similar results among adults, that regular chocolate-eaters are leaner than those who indulge only rarely. The teen years, however, are where eating habits often develop, and overall health during that period often has lasting effects.

Researchers say the secret to why chocolate is so healthful is in the stomach. Humans have bacteria called gut microbiota to thank for making chocolate something so beneficial. These bacteria, which line the intestinal tract and other parts of the digestive system, play a vital role in digestion in general, and some of them eat chocolate. When they do, they ferment it, seizing on the sugars and producing anti-inflammatory chemicals. The also make it possible for the flavonols to be digested.

The anti-inflammatory compounds mean dark chocolate is also good for hear health. These chemicals make the blood vessels wider and more flexible, and preventing blood cells from adhering to the walls, lowering stroke risk.

Preventing And Treating Ovarian Cancer

ovarian cancer

As is often the case with the various forms of cancer, ovarian cancer, which is diagnosed in around 21,000 Americans each year, generally has no clear symptoms at first. This presents a major challenge to health care professionals, because early diagnosis is vital to treatment. Indeed, the survival rate in the early stages, before the tumor has spread, is more than double the overall survival rate for the disease, according to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention.

While it is called "the silent killer," ovarian cancer is not wholly asymptomatic, but the symptoms are not always strongly felt and are not specific to cancer—heartburn, back pain, frequent urination, gastrointestinal difficulties, and other symptoms could be any of a number of conditions, though gastrointestinal symptoms that grow steadily worse as opposed to fluctuating may indicate cancer.

Genetically, ovarian cancer is linked with breast cancer; the same genetic mutations that cause someone to be prone to one also indicate a heightened risk of the other, and a family history of either means risk of contracting both. Beyond that, ovarian cancer risk is tied to ovulation. Earlier menarche, later menopause, and not having children are all risk factors, though hormonal birth control can reduce the risk, as can breastfeeding. For similar reasons, fertility treatments and hormone treatment after menopause make ovarian cancer more of a threat.

Researchers have found that a diet high in vitamin A and fiber can help prevent ovarian cancer, as well as compounds called flavonols found in black tea and in citrus. One study also found that women who went up a skirt size in adulthood were one-third more likely to develop caner after menopause. Eating habits are also linked to mortality in people who do get ovarian cancer. In another study, people who had been eating healthily before being diagnosed had a 27 percent lower mortality rate over five years.

A new form of chemotherapy could help doctors fight ovarian cancer more effectively. The approach helps deliver chemo drugs with greater efficiency, making them better at shrinking tumors and allowing lower doses. This approach is expected to also be particularly effective on late-stage ovarian cancer.

Give The Gift Of Health This Holiday Season

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It’s holiday time, and that means shopping for holiday presents. A common problem a lot of gift-givers have is the proverbial person who has everything. One thing they always need more of is health. Medical products make unique gifts.

A lot of people start new exercise regimens around this time of year, whether as part of a New Year’s resolution or to work off extra holiday eating. Walking is a fun and inexpensive form of exercise, requiring little in the way of equipment, but walkers do need to know how far they’ve gone. The Fabrications ThinQ Pocket Pedometer is the size of a credit card and can be carried in a pocket, and still help someone keep track of the distance they’ve walked and the calories they’ve burned.

Walking is made even better exercise with the addition of weights such as the Thera-Band Ankle and Wrist Weight Set. Weights up to 2.5 pounds on the wrists and ankles provide extra resistance for a better workout, without a gym membership or bulky training machines.

After a workout, a nice relaxing massage can help soothe tired muscles. In fact, experts say massage after physical exertion can help prevent strains and muscle pain. Therapeutic touch can also help with stress and anxiety. The Thumper Sport Personal Massager is ergonomically designed to reach whatever parts are under strain, to help promote relaxation and improve circulation of blood.

For deep tissue massage at home, the Theracane Massager is just the thing. This tool allows the user to apply pressure to important muscle areas to help relieve muscular tension, stiffness, tenderness, and soreness. Deep tissue massage involves applying intense pressure to the "trigger points" of the muscles to lessen chronic pain, restore mobility, alleviate symptoms of fibromyalgia and other chronic pain disorders, and help with recovery after a workout.

These gifts can help that special someone achieve their health goals for 2015. Getting more exercise is one of e most common New Year’s resolutions among Americans and people will appreciate gifts that make this easy to do. The people who love them will also appreciate their getting presents that will make them healthier so they’ll stick around longer.