Friday, November 28, 2014

Coffee may cut Alzheimer's risk

Finally, slurp, slurp, some good news. Or at least news I prefer to think is good, solid, and valid.

They had a big Alz conference in Europe and did a giant overview of studies--and moderate coffee drinking seemed to cut the incidence of Alzheimer's by 20%.

This means 3-5 cups a day.

Another plus: The Mediterranean Diet--dish, fresh fruits and veggies, olive oil, and red wine--is also associated with less risk of Alz.

Notice the word "associated." This means it is not a lead pipe cinch (where did that expression come from, I wonder).

In the case of java, the caffeine and polyphenols may prevent formation of those gooey amyloid plaques, which stop signal transmission along nerves. Coffee also reduces inflammation.

I once went on a press trip to Majorca and learned about the health benefits of olive oil.

Both coffee and more wine and olive oil seem like reasonable approaches to me.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Are your fingernails a mess?

Winter is tough on nails--according to Loyola dermatologist Rebecca Tung, MD. Stress, poor eating, cold weather--and pretty soon you are a mangled mess.

Some tips:

Don't overdo buffing--it can make nails thinner and weaker. No more than once a month.

Apply a base coat--prevents staining and gives polish something to cling to.

Don't use quick-dry polish. It can make nails weaker.

Also use a top coat--reduced chipping.

Use non-acetone removers. Moisturize the nails themselves.

No toluene, formaldehyde, and bibutyl phthalate.

If your nail person uses UV rays to dry no-chip gel polishes, at least use SPF 30 on your hands. The dangers of this sort of drying, if any, are not yet well known.

I am allergic to nail polish, so go bare. But I do take biotin when my claws get particularly flaky and brittle. It seems to make a diff.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Yikes, deep frying turkey can be a hot time!

Guess what--there are more than double the number of home fires on T-Day as a normal day (US Fire Administration, whatever that is).

Splashes, spills, burns, cuts--it's not pretty in the kitchen. This according to a burn surgeon at Loyola.

Burn surgeon--shudder.

The new trend of deep frying turkeys has accounted for a rise in injuries. Plunging something heavy into boiling fat--what could go wrong?

Sometimes people even try to do this INDOORS!!! No no no no!

The turkey must be moisture free--meaning at very least, not still frozen.

One guy "basically fried himself," as he put it--spilling thirty quarts of hot oil on his leg. He tripped.

Also, $15 million in property damage is done by fryer accidents.

--Get a new fryer with a sealed lid.
--Keep the fryer in full view while in use.
--Keep it away from walls, fences etc
--Never use in a garage or under a carport.
--Never cook in short sleeves or with bare feet.
--Make sure the turkey is completely thawed. Be careful with marinades.
--Don't overfill--the oil can ignite if it overflows.
--Don't do this while drinking.

So the choice is yours--nice dinner or trip to the ER?

Monday, November 24, 2014

Do you want the good or bad news first?

OK--the good news. They did a survey of eleven countries--Health Affairs (Dec). Older, sick Americans can get a specialist appointment faster than in any other country surveyed--except Switzerland. Still, the average wait was four weeks.

The bad news? Well, there is a lot. First, only 57% of older Americans can only get same-day or next-day appts when they are sick.

And older Americans are sick, sick, sick. Sixty-eight percent had two or more chronic conditions. Fifty-three percent took four or more meds.

Still, good news dept, 83% had a treatment plan they could carry out in everyday life.

Hardly earth-shattering news to us creakies...

Add in docs falling in and out of our insurance plans, skyrocketing medication costs, medication reactions--and arg--it's enough to MAKE you sick.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Meet "Normal Barbie"

Her real name is The Lammily Doll...and her creator is a Pittsburgh graphic designer named Nickolay Lamm.

She is sturdily built, a few extra pounds around the hips, and comes with stickers of zits (see pix) and stretch marks that realistic tots can affix.

He is working on Normal Ken, too--chubby with some dirt stains, maybe. (Guys are grosser, Lamm notes, there are more things he could add.)

Lamm had his own body issues, trying like mad to get a 6-pack while being only 5'2" in HS.

His Mom loves Normal Barb.

No, you can't get it this Christmas at Toys R Us--but he has raised half a million and has 22,000 orders. Stay tuned.

To me, Abnormal Barbie's problem was she was nine "heads" high--and living people are about seven heads high. Elongated.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A bit of wine for thy stomach's sake

David Zulberg, author of The 5 Skinny Habits: How Ancient Wisdom Can Help You Lose Weight and Change Your Life Forever, says alcohol can have many benefits--if used correctly. Especially dry wine.

He bases this on his own weight struggles and extensive research into the bible, philosophy and scholars.

The five benefits include: Improved heart health, prevention of various diseases, fewer common colds, boosts in mood, and yes--weight loss.

Hippocrates, the bible, and many other sources approved of the vino.

At the holidays, alcohol enhances the experience, Zulberg says. People laugh more, let down their guard.

But--of course--this is in moderation. Seventy-nine thousand people a year die from not drinking in moderation.

What is moderation? According to Mayo, one drink a day for women and men over 65. Up to two drinks a day for men under 65.

What is a drink? 12 fluid oz of beer, 5 oz of wine, or 1,5 oz of distilled spirits.

If you think you will run over this allotment, prepare yourself before going out. Resist peer pressure.

Start with water, drink water between drinks if you have more than one.


No shots--they go in too fast. (Yes they do! I remember shots.)

Don't mix--if you start with wine, stick with wine, etc.

If you can't do this or don't want to, alcohol may not be the enjoyable health elixir you want.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Young kids may choose "healthy" food, but do they eat it

I try to stay away from politics on this site (I have other places for that), but our present administration is fixated on controlling kids' diet at school.

And now, a Johns Hopkins Bloomberg Public Health Study of 274 K-2nd grade NY public school kids. At one chicken and veggie entree day, they watched to see if the kids chose a fruit, a veggie, whole grain bread, or low fat milk.

Seventy-five percent chose the lean entree. Only 58% grabbed a piece of fruit. Fifty-nine percent took a veggie.

But--sadly--only 75% even took a bite of the entree, and 25% ate a morsel of the veggie.

Inerestingly, the kids were more likely to finish their food if a teacher ate in the cafeteria with them. More ate fruit and veggies if the atmosphere was quiet.  Also, food cut in smaller pieces was more likely to be consumed.

If lunch hours are too short, noisy, and distracting, little kids may pick or rush off.

I also venture to think that soggy, steam table veggies may not be appealing or even taste bitter. Apples may be hard to eat with teeth missing. That sort of thing.

I know some of the admin programs have drawn complaints that calorie counts are too low for kids with athletics after school and that kids toss a lot of the food.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

You don't need fancy software to have creative kids

Remember Baby Einstein--a popular set of games to enhance your youngster's intelligence? It was sort of pooh-poohed along the line. And it was spendy.

Now, Richard Hass, a visiting asst prof of psychology at Rowan University in New Jersey, has said that any activity can be a creative one--from making dinner to developing your career.

But, he adds, kids are not getting the right training to develop these processes. Only "gifted" children are considered eligible.

So what, as parent, can you do?

Try to take kids to museums, street fairs, cultural events--not just plop them in front of a video.

Play word games. Tell jokes.

Play UNO with your child--it requires adaptation to changing rules. Or work on a puzzle or collage with your kids.

Sometimes kids are only "creative" in one area--that's OK.

Acting or improv is fun for kids.

Encouraging "pretending" with toys.

Let kids fail sometimes--it's part of the creative process.

This isn't about raising a genius--it's about having fun, being interesting, learning, and feeling a sense of wonder and accomplishment.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Be a better pill popper

For some people, swallowing a pill is like running downstairs two at a time. If you think of it, you will fall. Or in the case of pills, choke.

But some German scientists are thinking about it. In a story in the LA Times by Karen Kaplan, Univ o f Heidelberg researchers came up with two techniques to make pull swallowing easier.

The first is the "pop-bottle method." And the second is the "lean forward" technique.

One hundred fifty one volunteers tried these (half reported trouble taking pills). They tried all shapes and sizes of pills.

Tablets were the worst. For this, the scientists suggested the pop bottle method. Put the pill in your mouth, close your lips around a flexible water bottle opening and suck. About two-thirds noted improvement. The ones without previous difficulty could swallow even larger pills.

For capsules, the docs suggested the lean forward method. Put the pill in, put the water in, then lean your head forward from the neck and swallow.

It seemed like tilting the head back would work better--my mother's method, by the way--but leaning forward won.

This morning on National Public Radio, some pill averse people tried these--and I did hear some choking noises.

My mother tilted back and stamped her feet three times like a horse counting. We used to laugh about it.

Friday, November 14, 2014

"Larks" and "owls" not only types of "people"

My ex and my kid--night people. They happily stayed up until all hours--while I slept. In the morning, I was raring to go--and they were slug-a-beds. This is the "lark" (day) and "owl" (night) body clock thing.

Olga Khazan, The Atlantic, Nov 12, 2014, writes about this, telling the story of Erwin Schrodinger, the Austrian physicist, who turned down a prestigious speaking invitation saying he could not work in the morning. For him--they changed the time.

Now scientists in Russia think there are actually four chronotypes. The other two are people energetic morning and night and people who feel lethargic all day.

They studied 130 people (J of Personality and Individual Differences).

Twenty-nine (according to their questionnaires) were larks with high energy at 9 am than 9 pm. Forty-four were owls, who were opposite, going to bed two hours later.

But--there was a high energy group of 25 who felt spritely morning and evening. And 32 others who felt dozy morning and evening.

What bird name can we assign--albatross and peregrine falcon? Nah--that part needs work.

How about hummingbird for those who keep on ticking and turkey for the slugs?

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Internet and text can make college students (a bit) healthier

Late nights, beer bongs, hookups, tobacco--there may be room for improvement in the health of some college kids.

The Univ of Florida (Gainesville) did a study in which students nationwide from 18-24 received individually targeted messages. (J of Nutrition Education and Behavior)

The results were not earthshattering--no one gained or lost weight. But the researchers said the awareness gained moved from from contemplating a change to acting on that and changing.

In fact, the scientists called their messages interventions, or less drastic sounding, "nudges.". Most were aimed at getting the young people to eat more fruits and veggies.

The messages varied depending on whether the student was pre-contemplation or an active phase.

To me this is sort of like nagging, but I guess propaganda does have its uses.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Stop back pain before it starts

The other day I was emptying a wastebasket--leaning over--and my back HURT! Whoa, whoa, whoa, thought I -- what fresh hell is this?

Brian Bannister, MD, pain management specialist at Atlantic Spine Center in NJ, says back pain is a signal that something has gone wrong in the lower back or pelvic area, most often a muscle spasm or sprain.

That I figured out. Something went wrong. Or as we like to say, went kerflooey.

Most back pain will resolve in a couple of weeks with rest, ice, and over-the-counter anti-inflammatories.

But what if you could keep your back in shape so it does not wimp out like this?

The abdominal muscles create 6-packs, but also support the spine. They are the spine's front anchor.

Google how to do elbow planks, abdominal crunches, and pushups. Yoga and Pilates are also effective. Do these 2-3 times a week.

If you already have back pain--consult a therapist or certified trainer for a regimen.

I once woke up with agonizing back squeezes--spasms. I called the doctor--they said oh, you're just middle-aged. A shot of bourbon eventually eased it.

Wait--did I type that out loud? Well, use your own judgment.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Solved my doctor dilemma

In today's healthcare environment, everyone has a hobby: Trying to get and keep health insurance.

I was notified several weeks ago that my primary doctor no longer "took" my Medicare Advantage plan.

Since I pretty much don't get along with all doctors, and could tolerate this woman's Physician Assistant (he got me, would discuss studies, etc), I thought, "OH NO!"

In typical fashion, I fell apart, called my insurance broker, got him worked up, called my plan, called the doctors, got the book of providers, tried to find a plan that took him--on and on.

Hours of hideous atonal "hold music" drilling into my skull, chirpy interruptions--"We value your call..." and my favorite, "Since this is open season to change insurance, we are probably too busy to discuss insurance."

Finally, I got a woman who said, why not get another medical doctor in your Physician Assistant's group who takes the plan? This can vary within a practice, some take a plan, others don't. Oh.

I changed to a primary that takes it--and now can see the PA. The one specialist I can still stand may be gone, though.

This is enough to make ya sick.

Monday, November 10, 2014

What to do to get out of a workout rut

Christopher Harrison invented Anti-Gravity Fitness and is a trainer to the stars.

Sometimes, he says, you reach a plateau in your "training." The scale seems stuck. Your clothes are no looser.

If you have been doing the same workout for a year, chances are the strengthening exercises are no longer working. Muscle tissue adapts. He recommends an Anti-Gravity yoga class to engage more upper body and core muscles.

Another tip is to change your brain by moving in new ways. How about some Anti-Gravity AIRbarre?

Also, try to detach from your familiar routines--you may be getting close-minded. Opening space in your body opens space in your mind, according to Harrison.

Or maybe vice-versa.


Friday, November 07, 2014

How to save yourself from medical errors

The third leading cause of are medical mistakes (heart disease and cancer are one and two).

About 400,000 hospital patients die of errors--preventable errors.

Gwen van Servellen, MD, UCLA professor emeritus, wrote The Healthcare Handbook. Go to

Errors occur in hospitals for a number of reasons...

Unnecessary treatment
Medication mistakes
Never events--that should never happen--like operating on the wrong limb
Malfunctioning devices
                                                      Sent home too soon

My advice is try to spend the least time in the hospital you can. Try not to stay over a weekend. Question medicines being given or hung in an IV--if you can't, have someone there who can. Just say, "What's that do?"

Also...insist on talking to the doctor, probably an in-house physician called a hospitalist, not your familiar doctor. Ask how you are doing. What is the care plan. When can you go home.

The biggest thing you can do is speak up! "This feels funny." "I went to the bathroom and almost keeled over." "I am not hungry for some reason."

When a new shift comes on, tell the new nurse what has been going on.

It is also important to be nice. If you are a screamer and curser, they will stay out of your room. You don't want that.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

NJ teen driver decal cutting accidents

The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia studied the effects of New Jersey's Graduated Drive Licensing (GDL) decal over a two-yr period. Apparently, as published in the Am J of Preventive Medicine, the decal prevented 3,187 crashes compared with yrs without it.

In May 2010, Kyleigh's Law was implemented--all youths 16 to 20 holding a learner's permit or intermediate license had to display the decal on the front and back license plates.

The decals were meant to be seen by police so the officers could enforce teen requirements. In the first year, there was a 14% jump in citations.

New Jersey already had a low teen crash rate but managed to lower it more. Experts recommend all states enact a decal requirement and raise the age to 21.

Does your state have this?

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

A veggie is not just a veggie

Jo Robinson,, says the storage and preparation of vegetables governs how many antioxidants and other nutrients you get.

Veggies today are not the same as the veggies our ancestors grew and ate. They are less nutritious, less fibrous, and more pulpy than 400 generations ago (the good OLD days).

Generally speaking--the more bitter the item, the more antioxidants. But we don't like bitterness these days.

SHAPE. Lettuces with broad leaves and more exposure to sun are usually healthier. Iceburg receives less sun exposure.

SIZE. Smaller tomatoes have more lycopene.

STORAGE. Store veggies in plastic gad with small holes punched in.

COOKING. Some veggies--carrots for example--have more nutrients cooked. Other veggies are better raw.

CHOPPING. If you chop garlic, let it sit 10 minutes before heating.

Eat all veggies 2-3 days at most after buying them.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Why don't we demand more palliative care?

With some ailments, you may need to settle for feeling better not getting better.

Palliative care is more than helping people die--it's about comfort and support. Also, I have heard--music, companionship, being with pets, good food. This according to Barbara Sadick, WSJ, Sept 15, 2014.

Such care--combined with the regular care--helps people live longer. Sadick interviewed Diana Meier, director of the Center for Advance Palliative Care.

Meier emphasizes that this is NOT brink of death care. It's a medical specialty--recognized in 2008.

But the health system is in flux between fee for service and paying for volume. Palliative care prevents or delays hospitalizations--hospitals need that money.

Most patients and families don't know about palliative care. Most doctors also don't understand it and won't recommend it until the patient is "dying."

Check out

My own mother went into "hospice" late in the game, already unconscious from some cerebral event. They withdrew all food and water and she lay there on heavy doses of morphine, although she had no pain, until
she died in eight days. I was shocked at this, water, too?

I am sure good palliative care is a comfort to families and patients. I am sure our experience was not typical.

At least I hope not.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Getting more detailed about predicting outcomes

According to Laura Landro, WSJ, Sept 15, 2014, physicians rely on studies and their own experience as well as gut feelings to tell patients how they will do on a given therapy. In the case of cancer, the disease is often "staged"--one through four--and therapy outcomes predicted from there.

But this does not take into account the type of cancer, the patient's age, gender, and other characteristics.

So docs are turning to more sophisticated methods. One of the physicians pioneering this, Michael Kattan, Cleveland Clinic, was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph nodes in his early 20s. He was lumped in with older patients in wheelchairs and on oxygen.

Now, he uses "nomograms," statistical models, using large databases from medical studies.

These nomograms are usually for doctors' use, but one on prostate cancer risk is on the Cleveland Clinic website. Still, a physician is needed to interpret it.

A friend recently found out she had the breast cancer gene--she is considering having her ovaries removed. I wonder if there is a nomograph to help make that decision.

I know when I had my detached retina bleeding into my eyeball--the blood oozing up and down like a lava lamp--the doc said I had a 90% chance of using the eye after the surgery. After the thing detached again, eventually requiring four surgeries, my eye is blind.

I often wonder if the doctor pulled that 90% out of his ...well, you know.