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Monthly Archives: December 2016

How to Eat a Healthy Diet

If you are what you eat, it follows that you want to stick to a healthy diet that’s well balanced. “You want to eat a variety of foods,” says Stephen Bickston, MD, AGAF, professor of internal medicine and director of the Inflammatory Bowel Disease Center at Virginia Commonwealth University Health Center in Richmond. “You don’t want to be overly restrictive of any one food group or eat too much of another.”

Healthy Diet: The Building Blocks

The best source of meal planning for most Americans is the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Food Pyramid. The pyramid, updated in 2005, suggests that for a healthy diet each day you should eat:

  • 6 to 8 servings of grains. These include bread, cereal, rice, and pasta, and at least 3 servings should be from whole grains. A serving of bread is one slice while a serving of cereal is 1/2 (cooked) to 1 cup (ready-to-eat). A serving of rice or pasta is 1/2 cup cooked (1 ounce dry). Save fat-laden baked goods such as croissants, muffins, and donuts for an occasional treat.
  • 2 to 4 servings of fruits and 4 to 6 servings of vegetables. Most fruits and vegetables are naturally low in fat, making them a great addition to your healthy diet. Fruits and vegetables also provide the fiber, vitamins, and minerals you need for your body’s systems to function at peak performance. Fruits and vegetables also will add flavor to a healthy diet. It’s best to serve them fresh, steamed, or cut up in salads. Be sure to skip the calorie-laden toppings, butter, and mayonnaise, except on occasion. A serving of raw or cooked vegetables is equal to 1/2 cup (1 cup for leafy greens); a serving of a fruit is 1/2 cup or a fresh fruit the size of a tennis ball.
  • 2 to 3 servings of milk, yogurt, and cheese. Choose dairy products wisely. Go for fat-free or reduced-fat milk or cheeses. Substitute yogurt for sour cream in many recipes and no one will notice the difference. A serving of dairy is equal to 1 cup of milk or yogurt or 1.5 to 2 ounces of cheese.
  • 2 to 3 servings of meat, poultry, fish, dry beans, eggs, and nuts. For a healthy diet, the best ways to prepare beef, pork, veal, lamb, poultry, and fish is to bake or broil them. Look for the words “loin” or “round” in cuts of meats because they’re the leanest. Remove all visible fat or skin before cooking, and season with herbs, spices, and fat-free marinades. A serving of meat, fish, or poultry is 2 to 3 ounces. Some crossover foods such as dried beans, lentils, and peanut butter can provide protein without the animal fat and cholesterol you get from meats. A ¼ cup cooked beans or 1 tablespoon of peanut butter is equal to 1 ounce of lean meat.
  • Use fats, oils, and sweets sparingly. No diet should totally eliminate any one food group, even fats, oils, and sweets. It’s fine to include them in your diet as long as it’s on occasion and in moderation, Bickston says.

Healthy Diet: Eat Right and the Right Amount

How many calories you need in a day depends on your sex, age, body type, and how active you are. Generally, active children ages 2 to 8 need between 1,400 and 2,000 calories a day. Active teenage girls and women can consume about 2,200 calories a day without gaining weight. Teenage boys and men who are very active should consume about 3,000 calories a day to maintain their weight. If you’re not active, you calorie needs drop by 400 to 600 calories a day.

The best way to know how much to eat is to listen to your body, says Donald Novey, MD, an integrative medicine physician with the Advocate Medical Group in Park Ridge, Ill. “Pull away from the table when you’re comfortable but not yet full. Wait about 20 minutes,” he says. “Usually your body says, ‘That’s good.’ If you’re still hungry after that, you might want to eat a little more.”

Healthy Diet: Exercise Is Part of the Plan

At the bottom of the new USDA food pyramid is a space for exercise. Exercise is an important component of a well-balanced diet and good nutrition. You can reap “fabulous rewards,” says Dr Novey, just by exercising and eating “a healthy diet of foods that nature provides.”

The Truth About Radiation Exposure

Japan’s ongoing nuclear crisis understandably has people around the world worried about radiation exposure and the potential health risks it may pose. According to the latest reports, radiation from Japan was detected in Southern California late this week, but experts are quick to point out that the levels are far from dangerous. The readings were “about a billion times beneath levels that would be health threatening,” a diplomat with access to United Nations’ radiation tracking told the Associated Press.

Nor is it unexpected. “Whenever radioactive particles get in the atmosphere, they have the potential to spread around the world,” says James Thrall, MD, president of the American College of Radiology. “But they get diluted as they travel, so they’re unlikely to pose any real health problem.”

In fact, we’re probably exposed to significantly more radiation every day than the miniscule fallout arriving from Japan. Here’s a quick tutorial on radiation to put our collective anxiety in perspective:

What Is Radiation?

Radiation is a form of energy in waves. It exists on a spectrum, with low-frequency radiation (from radio waves and microwaves) on the low end and high-frequency radiation (from gamma rays and x-rays) on the high end. All radiation affects the cells in our bodies to some extent, but the lower the frequency of the waves and the lower the exposure, the less dangerous it is.

To understand the risks of high-frequency radiation — the kind we’re talking about in this article — think back to high school physics: These waves have enough energy to knock electrons off molecules, which can cause damage to cell DNA that can ultimately lead to cancer.

How Are We Exposed to Radiation?

We encounter radiation each day from a variety of sources. The average American is exposed to about 6 millisieverts (mSv) of radiation annually, according to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC). Half of this typically comes from background radiation that occurs naturally in the environment, and half comes from medical tests, such as X-rays, mammograms, and CT scans.

According to Kelly Classic, MS, spokesperson for the Health Physics Society, sources of environmental radiation include:

  • Radioactive compounds in soil and building materials like concrete, brick, and stone
  • Radiation from outer space that your encounter when you fly on airplanes or visit high-altitude places
  • The mineral potassium in your own body (a small fraction of potassium, which our bodies need to function, is radioactive)
  • Radon gas in the home, which accounts for about 2 mSv of exposure each year, and is the largest contributor of background radiation

Finally, there’s the kind of radiation released during nuclear reactions, such as what’s disseminating from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.

Here’s a look at various sources of radiation exposure (dose of radiation in millisieverts (mSv)), according to data from the Health Physics Society and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). By way of comparison, a single dose of radiation below 0.01 mSv is considered negligible by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements.

  • Banana: 0.0001
  • Dental X-ray: 0.005
  • Living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant: 0.01 (per year)
  • A flight from New York to Los Angeles: 0.04
  • Smoking 1 ½ packs of cigarettes: 0.08
  • Chest X-ray: 0.1
  • Living at sea level: 0.25 (per year)
  • Mammogram: 0.3
  • Living in Denver: 0.5 (per year)
  • Abdominal CT scan: 14
  • Measures between reactors No. 3 and No. 4 during the March 15 explosion at the Fukushima plant: As high as 400 per hour

What Level of Radiation Exposure Is Safe?

It’s well-established that exposure to large amounts of radiation at once can cause acute sickness and even cancer. (A 1,000 mSv-dose can trigger acute radiation sickness, causing symptoms such as nausea and vomiting; 3,000 mSV can be lethal, according to Thrall.)

But there’s no good data on the long-term risks of the low levels of radiation to which we’re continually exposed.

According to the World Nuclear Association, annual exposure to 100 mSv or greater carries a measurable, though small, increase in cancer risk. Below that level, it’s believed that your body’s cells are able to heal themselves from radiation. “There are enzyme systems in the body that repair damage from these low levels of background radiation,” says Thrall.

But even small levels of radiation exposure may impact cancer risks later in life.

This has been of particular concern in the medical community, where some experts worry that increasing use of diagnostic CT scans (which has skyrocketed from 3 million annual scans nationwide in 1980 to 70 million in 2007, according to MedPage Today) will impact future cancer rates. For example, in one 2009 study, National Cancer Institute researchers estimated that one in 270 women and one in 595 men who had a heart CT at age 40 would eventually develop cancer related to the test.

While the health benefits of necessary diagnostic imaging usually outweigh the small risks of secondary cancers, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before any procedure involving radiation to understand exactly what you’re getting, why you need it, and what the potential health risks may be.

Simple Saliva Test Detects Your ‘Real’ Age

A new test that uses a saliva sample to predict a person’s age within a five-year range could prove useful in solving crimes and improving patient care, University of California, Los Angeles geneticists say.

Their test focuses on a process called methylation, a chemical modification of one of the four building blocks that make up DNA.

“While genes partly shape how our body ages, environmental influences also can change our DNA as we age. Methylation patterns shift as we grow older and contribute to aging-related disease,” principal investigator Dr. Eric Vilain, a professor of human genetics, pediatrics and urology, said in a UCLA news release.

He and his colleagues analyzed saliva samples from 34 pairs of identical male twins, aged 21 to 55, and identified 88 sites on their DNA that strongly linked methylation to age. They replicated their findings in 31 men and 29 women, aged 18 to 70, in the general population.

The team then created a predictive model using two of the three genes with the strongest age-related link to methylation. When they entered the data from the saliva samples taken from the twins and people in the other group, the test correctly predicted their ages within five years.

“Methylation’s relationship with age is so strong that we can identify how old someone is by examining just two of the 3 billion building blocks that make up our genome,” study author Sven Bocklandt, a former UCLA geneticist now at Bioline, said in the university release.

The research appears online June 22 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Physicians might use this test to evaluate patients’ risk of age-related diseases, the researchers suggested.

“Doctors could predict your medical risk for a particular disease and customize treatment based on your DNA’s true biological age, as opposed to how old you are,” Vilain said. “By eliminating costly and unnecessary tests, we could target those patients who really need them.”

In addition, police could test traces of saliva found at a crime scene, such as that on a coffee cup or cigarette, to get an idea of a criminal suspect’s age.

Giant Weed Can Cause Blisters

Call it the import that nobody wants.

Experts are urging residents of several states to beware of the “giant hogweed,” a tall plant native to Central Asia with umbrella-size flowers containing toxic sap that can cause burns, blisters and, in some cases, even blindness.

“Avoid it at all cost,” Jodi Holt, a professor of plant physiology at University of California, Riverside, told ABC News.

“The sap causes something called phytophotodermatitis when it touches humans,” causing scars and potentially blindness if it comes into contact with the eyes, Holt said. Some cases of blindness occurred after children used the hollow stalks as telescopes.

Heracleum Mantegazzianum, as hogweed is botanically known, is already a concern in the Northeast and spreading fast. Patches of giant hogweed have also been sighted in the Pacific Northwest.

With white blossoms a foot or larger in diameter, giant hogweed towers up to 15 feet tall and thrives in wet, cool places. It is often spotted near homes, roadways, railroad beds and streams, ABC News said.

Crews in several states, including New York, have been charged with seeking out and destroying the invasive species. New York has also set up a giant hogweed hotline — 845-256-3111 — for people to identify sightings.

Typically, large quantities of herbicides are needed to vanquish the plant when found in large patches. Smaller patches can be controlled by hand-cutting the roots, according to published reports.

Giant hogweed has been found and destroyed in three counties of Vermont — Bennington, Washington and Windsor, state plant pathologists reported. And officials in Washington, D.C., are asking residents to be on the lookout for giant hogweed so they can weed out the botanical terrorist, according to news reports.

According to the New York state Department of Environmental Conservation, reactions can occur within 15 minutes when skin contact occurs in conjunction with sunlight. The sap contains a photosensitizing chemical that accelerates sun damage and can result in a serious sunburn. Perspiration can increase the reaction, officials said.

If you spot giant hogweed, don’t try to remove it yourself, experts said. Instead, report the sighting to your state or local department of invasive species control.

“The importance of learning what the plant looks like cannot be overstated,” Holt toldABC News.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has put the giant hogweed near the top of its Federal Noxious Weed list. The agency said the plant has been reported in Connecticut, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New York, New Hampshire, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington and Vermont.