Tuesday, December 31, 2013

One stop fitness

TourDeFIT.com is a one-stop "wellness" portal--you can find gyms, spas, yoga studios, boot camps, equipment, a concierge to guide you--you name it.

It's especially handy when traveling--you can hook up with a gym in a second. The classes and gyms are located worldwide.

Zumba, rock climbing, hot yoga, the other kind, spinning, boxing, massage, on and on.

OK, I am exhausted from the typing.

That's just plain sad.

I am also jealous--because if you are still reading this, you may be planning lots of travel in 2014 or at least an accelerated heart rate. I promise not to beleaguer you with diet advice. I am never sure what to believe in that area anyhow.

YAY! Who's got the confetti?

No one? It's always something, isn't it?

Monday, December 30, 2013

Your health landscape in coming year

Actually, I have no idea what your health landscape will be. But I can speculate. If you don't have Medicare (they are coming for us later), you may be worried all year about losing your employer-based insurance and having to scavenge through the dumpster of healthcare.gov come late fall.

Or...You may be wondering if the plan you just "got" on healthcare.gov or a state exchange will actually cover you come Jan 1.

But even if it does, you may have to "cover" the first $5K or more yourself before it cuts in--except for that colonoscopy or mammogram you have been wanting.

How about your pills--the ones your body is used to--that is also a crapshoot. You may be to try a few other ones.

If you are like us out here in AZ, whatever doctor you have may SEND you to the ER if he or she has no same-day appts for you if you are sick.

Or you may be like us--we go where the wind takes us--drug store clinic, urgent care, ER, doctor, anyplace where we can get someone to take a look at our rash or test our urine for UTIs. We try to look at not seeing our regular doctor as getting a second opinion--all good, right?

This last is what the smarties like to call the "convenience revolution" in health care. In other words, we cobble together some solution to non-acute situations.

And we will all have to get much better at it!

The smarties? You know who they are. The bland MIT guys and cadaverous Harvard guys who thought all this up. Of course, they won't be on a Bronze plan anytime soon.

Like good, inventive, and brave Americans that we are, we will try to find some corner of this mess that doesn't hurt us too badly and get beneath the radar. Then the smarties can say how great this is working.

Friday, December 27, 2013

When the skin is kissing the body good-bye

Dry skin! I live in the desert. We have it. But even in cold climes, your epidermis can crisp up.

This is called xerosis--zero moisture.

Two dermatologists, Joshua Fox, MD, and Barry Silver, MD of Advanced Dermatology in Roslyn Heights, NY, say look for lotions with humectant--and urea. At least 15% urea and 15% alphga-hydroxy to slough off dead cells.

What causes dry skin? Age, for one. Also scrubbing over overcleansing. Bathing too much or in too hot water. Toweling off too hard. Central heating. Over-exposure to the run, even in cooler climes.

Forget wash cloths or loofahs, the docs say.

Use soap with no fragrance or alcohol.

Try not to scratch.

Use a sunscreen even in winter.

If you have large areas that are peeling or ...oozing..hate that word...time for the doc.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Hope for the iced and snowed in

I see from the news that many of you are under the white stuff or the slippery stuff or the wintry mix, as they like to call general crappiness.

So think about spring gardens--for a nice minute. Some gardens are underway now--in cold frames.

The New York Institute of Technology om Old Westbury, NY, has a community garden.

Actually, many colleges and universities do. Some even loop in local seniors to help.

They teach and learn organic gardening, composting, and good nutrition.

They also learn to cook their efforts--pasta and kale, chicken with sauteed Swiss chard, greens with white beans.

They also learned a lot about bugs, one student said. Cabbage worms are nasty.

No argument there.

I think this is nice and worthwile for a college.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Crazy hard health insurance confusion

I follow this stuff and I can't tell you what to do or not do.

My own daughter has thrown up her hands--accept some plan from where she works (which was too expensive before so she doesn't have it) or just see what happens to her. Will they send the black choppers?

Supposedly you need to sign up by midnight tonight (Christmas Eve, people--did you think of that?) to get insurance to cut in Jan 1. What? You didn't pay yet or the check did not clear? No problem--the govt will pay and figure it out later. What could go wrong there? The govt did not pay and you cannot get that operation--who do you call, the United Nations?

All of this is not provided by law--but no one can sue until it goes south completely.

So give it a week or two. And you may have until Mar 31 to sign up if you don't care about the Jan 1 deadline. And they can't fine you anyhow--that is a mess, too.

By the time they figure out the people who lost plans in the first round and those who were uninsured who actually want it now--it will be time to throw 75 million off employer insurance and into the pit.

And of course, having cut Medicare by almost a trillion--they will get to that eventually, too.

So what the hey--drink some grog, hug your family, open presents, and try not to think!

Merry Christmas all! And to all Good Health!! We are going to need it.

Monday, December 23, 2013

That patient is a person

I once went to a doctor whose "clipboard" asked what name I liked to be called. Since I like to be called something other than my official name, this was a first! I was impressed.

I don't have that doctor anymore--but was impressed at the time.

Anyhow, now with the health care system oozing toward the dumpster, I guess doctors won't have time to get to know their patients better.

But Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Anna Quindlen wishes they would. They ask your profession on the clipboards, too--I have only had a doctor or two in my life ask me what I wrote. One used to bring up stories I had in the Washington Post--but he was the only one.

Research shows that doctors who care, or seem to, are sued less and the results in terms of care are better.

Quindlen has been described as a "monster of empathy." Sort a weird phrase, but probably a good thing.

It only takes a minute, she says in lectures to med students, to look, really look, into someone's eyes, and pass back and forth the spark of humanity we all share.

It would sure beat the "Had your mammogram, had your guts snaked, blood tests, we require you to get weighed in this office, come back in a year, NEXT."

Friday, December 20, 2013

Food, 2014--yum or yuck?

This morning on the show Morning Joe, the panel was warbling about some high-priced blender and sort of reluctantly sipping some green goo. Apparently smoothies are in for the worried well and health overly conscious.

The University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is also trying to second-guess what food trends we will see in the coming year.

First, they say a third of food in the world is wasted because it tastes terrible. Efforts will be made to make food taste better. This is new?

Fruit will be kept fresher. Something called "modified atmosphere packaging" will allow fruit to be picked closer to ripe tastiness without going bad.

The University of Florida is also tinkering with some fabulous tasting tomatoes. My ex used to make tomato, basil, mozzarella salad that was out of this world. The world needs better-tasting tomatoes.

Some fairly good studies show that garlic helps cut the symptoms of cold and flu, if not prevent them. So you know what to do there.

Broccoli will be more popular, but supply may be limited. Beware.

Shitake mushrooms may really improve immunity...so again, proceed accordingly.

You don't need a $500 blender for any of these. Also good.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Try to keep your guests alive

Allergist Michael Foggs, MD, president of the American College of Allergy, asthma, and Immunology (acaai.org), says you can reduce allergens in your home--and spare touchy guests a load of discomfort.

Dander, saliva, and urine from animals can cause allergic reactions and asthma attacks. Keep pets in another room when allergic people visit--and keep them (the pets) off upholstered furniture the rest of the time (yeah, good luck with that). Vacuum and clean hard surfaces to get rid of dust mites. Replace your air filter.

Cool it with the air fresheners and smelly candles. A third of people with asthma report problems with these.

Don't pour for everyone--alcoholic bevs can trigger reactions. How about sparkling juice?

Spices are not so nices. Cinnamon, garlic, black pepper, vanilla--and others--can set off reactions.

And--this is new--watch the long cellphone convos. The phones can contains allergy-causing cobalt and nickel. These can cause redness, itching, blistering, and occasionally, scarring, in sensitive users.

A minefield, I say--how did we survive Christmas in the past?

Oh, yes--eggnog. If we weren't allergic to eggs.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Do we need science to prove the obvious?

Joe Queenan is a humorist, but sometimes real life is funnier than any humorist can say. In the Nov 16, WSJ, Queenan takes on "science," notably what studies try to tell us.

First, maybe you heard about the study that "proved" men like to ogle women's bodies. They don't look at the eyes (farther up, if you need to know). AND--the more curvaceous she is, the longer they don't look at her face.

Let's see. Another study showed that if the doctor owned a piece of the MRI machine, the less likely it would be to reveal a problem. Could it be that MRIs were done, you know...a lot? Even on people with nothing wrong?

Those cheap magnets people wrap around their wrists don't work.

Married patients tend to do what they are supposed to to fight cancer--and thus do better. We call that nagging on our planet.

Drinking too much alcohol makes it harder to drive an 18-wheeler. Good to know.

Dishonest people can't be trusted.

Brain surgeons are smarter than jocks.

More people get killed by bee stings than by sharks--but people prefer the bees. Maybe it's because sharks are messy eaters, Queenan ventures.

Actually, I think Queenan ventured a lot of this...

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

What Dad ate may affect babies--in mice, anyhow

We have all heard the advice to women wanting to get pregnant--eat leafy greens for folate acid, stop smoking, stop drinking, and so on.

But what about the father?  Researchers at McGill University are finding that what the male eats before conception plays a role in the development and health of the baby. So far, this is proving out in mice.

For one thing, the father's folate levels figure in and may be just as vital as the mother's.

Folic acid is now added to foods, but the father's obesity and high-fat diets may influence how folic acid is metabolized.

At least this is true in mice. In the test rodents, a lack of folate from the male resulted in a 30% increase in birth defects.

Now the research focus is switching to humans. "Fathers need to think about what they put in their mouths, smoke, and drink," one scientist said.

Sooo...more salads, more cereal, fruits and meats--and fewer Whoppers?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Santa is 550--what about his health?

Dr. Thomas Cavalieri, a geriatrician and founder of the New Jersey Institute of Successful Aging, part of the Rowan School of Osteopathic Medicine, says aging is more than adding years--it means adding LIFE to your years.

So how is Santa doing?

Well, he's fat. In the 1823, A Visit from St Nicholas, Santa was described as "chubby and plump." Now, 190 years later, he could still drop a few el-bees. Maybe by skipping those billions of cookies kids leave out.

He used to smoke, but lately is not seen with his "stump of a pipe...held tight in his teeth." Maybe Santa is PC now.

Santa drinks milk. This is a good source of bone-building Vit D and calcium. Does he stick to skim? Does Santa drink anything else--well, I would not deny him a slug of brandy in his cocoa, but this has not been proved.

Santa must also work out. He only "works" a job one night a year, but needs to stay "lively and quick." Climbing down chimneys is not recommended for the public, by the way.

Santa may have some memory issues. He has to "make a list and check it twice." Making toys should keep him smart--reading plans and blueprints.

Santa has pets--the reindeer may be lowering his BP.

Santa has a long relationship with the missus. Married people tend to do better and even survive cancer better.

So, overall, Santa is hanging in there! And to all a good night!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Washing machine for (support) dogs

Don't get your hopes up--Old Yeller is not taking over the laundry duties.

But a company in England--JTM Service--has designed a washing machine support dogs can use to wash their owner's clothes for them.

Support dogs already can strip beds, fill laundry baskets, and empty washers--now this is the next step.

The machine responds to a dog's bark.The liquid soap loads automatically. When it's done, a push of the paw opens it so the dog can unload it.

I am not sure on the folding--did I take it too far?

Neat, huh?

To see this in action, go to http://jtmservice.co.uk.

Sorry about the Santa pix--but the other pix were videos. Check it out. There is a cute shot of a good boy opening a machine.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Diet soda--sinking drink

Mike Esterl, WSJ, Dec 9, 2013, says despite the usual crazed emphasis on weight in this country, sales of diet soda are dropping.

Between 1990 and 2010, diet rose from 26% of soda sales to 31%.

But now, sales have plunged 6.8% in the last year.

Pepsi called this a fundamental shift.

Instead of banging it in with meals and all day, more 18-36ers consider it a "treat."

Most of the problem is with doubts about aspartame and sucralose and acesulfame potassium--the sweeteners.

The American Beverage Assn says these are the most studied ingredients ever--but a July opinion piece in Trends in Endocrimology and Metabolism said these chemicals may trigger "metabolic derangements" by tripping mechanisms that regulate caloric intake, as the article put it.

Meanwhile Coke, among others, is studying stevia and other products. They believe in diet drinks.

They are even marketing them to manly men.

But what about that weird metallic taste? Or am I not supposed to say that?

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Behavioral therapy may be better than drugs for OCD

Do you or anyone you know wash hands dozens of times a day, double and triple check that appliances are turned off, or otherwise focus helplessly on small things?

Repeated images of someone breaking in your residence, or being overly tidy can be other symptoms. These rituals can eat up entire days--keep people indoors--cost them jobs and relationships--take over their lives.

This is Obsessive Compulsive Disorder--and scientists are circling it, trying to see where in the brain these irksome messages are coming from and what can be done.

Many doctors prescribe medications for this condition, but doctors are now finding that "therapy" can help more.

It's called exposure and response prevention therapy--a cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT)--and in a study of people with OCD, 80% of those unresponsive to antidepressants showed improvement, compared with 23% who got anti-psychotics and 15% who got the placebo.

Basically, the patient retrains the brain to unlearn the rituals.

This approach takes time and patience. The sufferer repeatedly does the thing he or she fears most--touching a germy item, for instance--and not washing after.

Of course, it does not work for everyone. But it might be worth exploring, according to Francine Rosenberg, PhD, a licensed clinical therapit at the Morris Psychological Group in Parsipanny, NJ.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

When a dog is not good for an older person

I know the conventional wisdom—the outside of a dog is good for the inside of a person, animals soothe us and lower our blood pressure, on and on.

Not all animals.

Saturday, my dog Jim went to an adoption event at Petsmart with a young couple whose life is rescuing dogs. I have had Jim six years, but I can no longer manage him.  I heard of older people giving up animals—how could they, I thought. Now I know how they could.

First some back story. Six years ago, my right retina detached. I was in restaurant—my eye filled with blood that gushed up and down like a lava lamp. Eventually, I had surgery—and the instructions for after care were so sketchy, it sounded like even looking at my beloved dog Spencer could cancel out the surgery. I gave him to a young man who worked for me to keep until I could walk around the house better.

When it came time to reclaim  my “heart,” the young guy paused. He didn’t have Spencer. What? He ran away. No, he was in an accident—the young man had buried him. Could I see where? Well, he forgot exactly where.

I never learned what happened to Spencer. But he was gone. Gone, gone, gone. I cried so much we asked the eye surgeon would it hurt my eye. He shrugged—crying was on the outside, he said.

Three more surgeries followed, and finally, that eye was blinded.

I went on Craigslist—just looking at dogs, nothing serious. Boy was that an exercise in weirdness. I can’t even get into it all.

Eventually, I found a small poodle mix someone had found in a 7-Eleven parking lot. Spencer was a large poodle mix, a Benjy type. Not fair to compare, I told myself.

This little mutt became my Jim, named after a friend. He wasn’t a brain trust. He also wasn’t housebroken that you’d notice—you have to keep mental checklist of his goings-out. He did not like toys. He begged for people food aggressively almost leaping onto the plate.  Sometimes he would stand and stare at you for hours.

As the years passed and my arthritis grew worse, he became a lot to handle. He was always a foot in front of me. He thought his name was Move Jim. Usually with another MOVE added.

During TV time, he ambled around the house in a circuit, around, in a room, out,  back and forth. Always moving. Still he never liked being leash-walked even when I could take him out.

He was stressing my brain, my blood pressure, my knees—to the door, no, wait, yes, to the door, no, in the kitchen, forget the door.

So I decided in favor of myself. Yes, I felt a little disloyal. But I also felt it’s time.

The one thing I did know is he wouldn't be going to be bait for fighting pit bulls or  mistreated.  This young couple is a stickler for good homes.

And those two are angels in disguise, it turned out. Jim got adopted by a couple with a 13-year-old son. They bought out the store with treats and gear for him. The father is named Jim, so Jim the Dog is to become Jim Junior—or J.J.

Peace reigns.

Monday, December 09, 2013

Those genetic tests

Amy Docker Marcus, WSJ, Nov 19, 2013, talks about the wave of genetic testing in the country.

To know or not to know--that is the question.

A big home test company recently trailed off on offering testing--because the results would not be interpreted by a physician, among other reasons.

People who do get tested can in some cases become what the industry calls "patients in waiting." They wonder with every twitch if "their" fate is coming true. They know they have a genetic propensity.

BUT--they may never ever get the disease.

One little girl tested for cystic fibrosis--she kept going to the doctor--he would say she looks fine. Her parents were afraid to expose her to colds in preschool--what to do, what to do.

Cystic fibrosis is a good example of a condition that really has no cure. They even came up with a long technical name for the "pre" CF condition. But even patients with this offiicial sounding name--CRMS--are in limbo and may never get the disease despite all the worrying, doctors, and uncertainty.

Another thing they test for is a genetic disease of the heart muscle called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. These pre-patients can get a defibrillator implanted--but, as one doc said, for a condition that may never materialize, this is hard to justify.

No kidding.

Friday, December 06, 2013

Getting in that ambulance can cost you

Robert Anglen, AZ Republic, Nov 17, 2013, wrote about a woman who was transported by helicopter against her protests--she was strapped to the gurney--and it cost her $32,000 plus! A 20-minute flight.

She told them to call her husband and he would come get her. But no.

We had a similar experience after a house fire--my daughter had been in the house--her room was totaled--she had some soot in her throat--the paramedics insisted on an ambulance while we followed in a car--$800. It would have been a $12 cab ride if we had gone that route--or we could have taken her in my sister's car.

It's against the law--at least out here in AZ--to force treatment on someone who refuses it. This includes ambulance or chopper transport. I did let the paramedics take her. I was pretty stressed at the time--I came home to a fire with firemen in the house, etc.

The NYT (Dec 4, 2013) had a story by Elisabeth Rosenthal featuring a swim teacher who fell and broke three teeth. She accepted an ambulance ride--$1,772.42.

Ambulance rides used to be free--a municipal service. Now, they are private businesses.

They are anything from fire depts, to hospital-run, to volunteers. The quip is that if you have seen one ambulance company, you have seen one ambulance company.

Medicare rides alone have gone from $2 billion in 2002 to $6 billion now.

Even under that Obamacare thing, you will make a copay under most of the plans--more than $200 as a rule.

Some companies also gauge if your situation was a true emergency--going to the ER instead of a low care place can make it one. Sometimes you need to be admitted to the hospital for it to be an emergency.

In other words--crapshoot. And you are paying something, usually a lot. One woman went 2 blocks for $900.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

How long would you wait to get 2nd opinion?

I watched a show called Mystery Diagnosis the other night. Of course, this is not like reading a medical history or chart, but it is interesting in that in almost all the cases depicted, it takes ages--years even, sometimes decades--for some doctor or patient/parent-doc combo to come up with a diagnosis.

In this one, a young girl of about 8 was crazy-thirsty all the time--she drank gallons a day, her teachers were sick of her asking to go to the wash room, etc. She hid the water bottles from her parents. She wet the bed. They kept taking her to the pediatrician--they tested for diabetes--nope--OK, go home.

This went on for years.

Then she got a horrible headache--another specialist (finally) and of course, tons of imaging. This doctor had an inkling--it was a rare brain tumor made up of germ cells that should have dispersed in the womb--it was pressing on her pituitary gland and that region and causing the thirst. They did a biopsy and finally chemo and radiation. She will have to take drugs for life--but she is functional--even philosophical about it.

Now--if my kid drank a couple of gallons of water a day, I think I would doctor-shop more. I hope I would.

I know I would put the weird symptoms in a search engine and see if somewhere this computed.

Don't be afraid of offending your doctor--it's your body--get it fixed if you can!

Wednesday, December 04, 2013

Watch out for shin splints if you plan some exercise burst

I had shin splints once in the Wayback. Yowie!!

But they are something to prevent or look out for if you plan to "start" exercising--say after January 1.

They were written up in the WSJ on Dec 3, 2013.

First, the symptoms. You take off running or doing some unfamiliar power walking or something and get shooting pains in the bone running from knee to foot down the front of your leg. And I mean SHOOTING.

Not only is your shinbone irritated but fibers of tendons and muscles are torn. This can happen most often if you switch up running surfaces--grass, to asphalt, to cement.

To prevent this, start off slowly. Try for a 15% increase in activity per week. Warm up--maybe even a hot compress.

Get your footwear from a store where they know their cookies. Be sure you are fitted properly. And replace shoes every 300-400 miles.

Shin splints affect both legs. If only one leg hurts--it could be a stress fracture.

If you get shin splints, you can modify your routine--but you don't have to quit. I remember my father saying they get better if you run--and they seemed to.

Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Here we go--try to survive Christmas

Don't you love all the "holiday" staples--don't eat, exercise more, don't get electrocuted, no ER for you!

I will try not to overdo it.

But 13,000 people get Christmas injuries. Come on, can't we tighten up?

AFC/Doctors Express has some tips for avoiding some disgusting problem in the next few weeks.

First, packaging. That hard plastic covering on things--it can slash you to ribbons. Ribbons, I say! This accounts for 6,000 ER visits a year. Use a scissors. And throw away packaging before kids can chew on it.

Don't climb roofs or shaky ladders to put up decorations.  Do you need the Centers for Disease Control to tell you not to stand on the top of a ladder?

Those little button batteries--poison.

Scooters, skateboards--helmets, please.

Do not put a crispy tree in your fireplace. Good grief--why not just coat yourself in gas and light a match?

And carving--carve away from yourself. Keep knives dry. And keep the tots at bay. Picture their little faces at slippery knife level.

Just think, be smart! Oh--and don't have real holly. My cat once at one berry and cost me $300 at the vet.

Monday, December 02, 2013

Some hospitals prescribe yogurt

Laura Landro, WSJ, Nov 18, 2013, reports that one hospital, Holy Redeemer in Meadowbrook, PA, is experimenting with pushing yogurt to counter an uptick in infections.

They also are handy with the bleach, scrubbing surfaces.

Yogurt is in the arsenal of probiotics--helpful live bacteria that fight horrible bugs, such as C. diff.

Patients on antibiotics, of course, can kill the good bugs in their system--thus the yogurt, which contains replacement good bugs.

Clostridium difficile--C. diff--can colonize your innards and produce a toxin that gives you diarrhea and dehydrates you. People--usually older people--die of it. About 14,000 a year.

Alcohol-based cleaners don't kill the spores, though soapy handwashing may.

The hospitals are adding the yogurt before the symptoms from the antibiotics really get going. This can cut the risk of antibiotic-induced diarrhea by 60%.

What probiotics and how much--not really known. In fact, some docs think probiotics can also cause trouble.

They also do "stool replacement" for C.diff--to put in some healthy mix of bugs from...er, someone else.

I have to go now.