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Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Sore Throat

The dry scratchiness and painful swallowing that are the hallmarks of a sore throat can make you miserable. A sore throat — known medically as pharyngitis — is most often caused by a viral infection such as a cold or the flu (influenza). In many cases, a sore throat is the first sign that you're getting sick. 

Sore throats are so common they're one of the main reasons people see a doctor. But many of those office visits aren't needed. In most cases, a sore throat is caused by a virus that soon goes away on its own. A sore throat is rarely caused by a bacterial infection that requires medical care or treatment with antibiotics. Until you're feeling better, over-the-counter medications and home treatments can help ease your symptoms.

Sore throat symptoms include: 

- A dry, scratchy or swollen throat

- Pain when swallowing, breathing or talking

Most sore throats are caused by viruses — the same germs that cause colds and flu (influenza). Less often, sore throats are due to bacterial infections. Viruses and bacteria both enter your body through your mouth or nose — either because you breathe in particles that are released into the air when someone coughs or sneezes, or because you have contact with an infected person or use shared objects such as utensils, towels, toys, doorknobs or a telephone. Because the germs that cause sore throats are contagious, they can spread easily wherever large numbers of people congregate, such as schools, child care centers and offices.

Most sore throats go away without treatment, often within a week or so. That's a good thing, because no medical therapy exists for sore throats caused by viral infections. But increasing your fluid intake and getting extra sleep can help speed your recovery. 

When you're sick, choose fluids such as water, soups and broths — not sodas or drinks that contain caffeine, which can dehydrate you further. If you find it extremely painful to swallow, try sipping warm broth through a straw or sucking on ice chips. You may also find that gelatin (such as Jell-O) is easy to swallow.
Until your sore throat has run its course, try these tips: 
1. Increase your fluid intake. Fluids such as water, juice, tea and warm soup help replace fluids lost during mucus production or fever. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which can cause dehydration.
Gargle with warm salt water. Mix 1/2 teaspoon of salt in a full glass of warm water, gargle, and then spit the water out. This will soothe your throat and clear it of mucus.
2. Use honey and lemon. Stir honey and lemon to taste into a glass of very hot water, allowing it to cool to room temperature before you or your children sip it. The honey coats and soothes your throat, and the lemon helps cut mucus. This time-tested recipe may relieve most of your pain — if only temporarily.
3. Suck on a throat lozenge or hard candy. This isn't necessarily soothing in itself, but it does stimulate saliva production, which bathes and cleanses your throat. 
4. Humidify the air. Adding moisture to the air prevents your mucous membranes from drying out. This can reduce irritation and make it easier to sleep. Be sure to change the water in a room humidifier daily and clean the unit at least once every three days to help prevent the growth of harmful molds and bacteria. 
5. Avoid smoke and other air pollutants. Smoke irritates a sore throat. At least while you're sick, stop smoking and avoid all fumes from household cleaners and paint. And don't expose children to secondhand smoke.
6. Rest your voice. If your sore throat has affected your voice box (larynx), talking may lead to more irritation and temporary loss of your voice (laryngitis). 
7. Avoid infecting others. If you're not well, take a few days off to avoid spreading your germs to others. Cover your mouth when you cough or sneeze.

The best way to prevent illness is also one of the simplest: frequent, thorough hand washing. Alcohol-based hand sanitizers are an excellent alternative to hand washing, particularly when soap and water aren't available. However, it's not necessary to use antibacterial soaps. With proper hand washing, standard soap will kill germs just as well.


Thursday, 9 July 2009

Not-so-HAPPY MEALS for kids

By now most of you have read or seen the gruesome details about kid's meals at fast food restaurants:

1. 93 percent of kid meal combos from major food chains exceed the 430 calorie per meal recommendations made by the Institute of Medicine for children ages 4 to 8. (This is approximately one-third of the daily calories that children in this age group need.)
2. 86 percent exceed recommendations for sodium.
3. Almost half are over the top in saturated and trans fat.

All of this was found by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, which looked at only those chains that have dedicated children's menus. The report goes on to quote the following "health" statistics for children: 
1. Obesity rates have tripled in children over the past 20 years.
2. One quarter of children ages 5 to 10 show elevations in blood cholesterol or blood pressure — early warning signs for heart disease.
3. Autopsies of teens (15 to 19 year olds) show signs of fatty deposits in more than one artery and 10 percent have more advanced fibrous plaques.

If we're not motivated to do something for children, then let's get real about ourselves. When we take children out to eat, consider what we order — big burger or several fried chicken pieces? French fries (small) — right? And then there's the diet beverage to offset things? AND, who finishes our kids meals? Us.

How do you deal with this? It starts with one adult person who's willing to accept responsibility for our children and for ourselves. Let's start a list of what we can do. I'll look forward to hearing from you.

Taurin in Energy Drink

Caffeine and taurine are not similar substances. Caffeine is a stimulant, and taurine is an amino acid. Taurine supports neurological development and helps regulate the level of water and mineral salts in the blood. Taurine is also thought to have antioxidant properties. 

Taurine is found naturally in meat, fish and breast milk, and it's commonly available as a dietary supplement. Some studies suggest that taurine supplementation may improve athletic performance, which may explain why taurine is used in many energy drinks. Other studies suggest that taurine and caffeine act together to improve athletic and perhaps even mental performance, although this finding remains controversial. 

Up to 3,000 milligrams of supplemental taurine a day is considered safe. Any excess taurine is simply excreted by the kidneys. Moderation is important, however. Little is known about the effects of heavy or long-term taurine use. It's also important to remember that other ingredients in energy drinks, such as high amounts of caffeine or sugar, can be harmful. For example, too much caffeine can increase your heart rate and blood pressure, interrupt your sleep, and cause nervousness and irritability. 

To ensure peak performance, don't depend on energy drinks and supplements. Instead, focus on a healthy lifestyle. Eat healthy foods, include physical activity in your daily routine and get enough sleep.

Wednesday, 8 July 2009

Is microwave popcorn linked to lung disease?

The food additive diacetyl, sometimes used to give microwave popcorn a buttery taste, has been linked with a rare lung disease known as bronchiolitis obliterans. This life-threatening condition, characterized by coughing and shortness of breath, is sometimes referred to as "popcorn lung" because it's been documented among workers in factories that produce microwave popcorn. But now, there's concern that a consumer who ate several bags of butter-flavored microwave popcorn a day for years may have contracted the lung disease. Although the possible connection is worth noting, it's important to keep it in perspective. Diacetyl is a Food and Drug Administration-approved food additive. Occasional consumption of foods containing diacetyl isn't likely to cause problems. If you eat butter-flavored microwave popcorn often, you might choose brands that don't contain diacetyl. As another option, switch to healthier air-popped popcorn.

What is MSG?

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer commonly added to Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups and processed meats. Although the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that is "generally recognized as safe," the use of MSG remains controversial.

A comprehensive review of all available scientific data on glutamate safety sponsored by the FDA in 1995 reaffirmed the safety of MSG when consumed at levels typically used in cooking and food manufacturing. The report found no evidence to suggest that MSG contributes to any long-term health problems, such as Alzheimer's disease. But it did acknowledge that some people may have short-term reactions to MSG. These reactions — known as MSG symptom complex — may include: 
-Headache, sometimes called MSG headache
-Sense of facial pressure or tightness
-Numbness, tingling or burning in or around the mouth
-Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
-Chest pain
-Shortness of breath

Is vegetable juice just as good as whole vegetable?

At least 2 to 3 cups (16 to 24 ounces) of vegetables a day are recommended for most adults, depending on age, sex and level of physical activity. Any type of vegetable counts, including raw, cooked, fresh, frozen, canned and dried vegetables. One-hundred percent vegetable juice counts, too. You're right about the missing fiber, though. Vegetable juice has plenty of vitamins and minerals, but it's lower in fiber than is a serving of most whole vegetables. Without enough fiber in your diet, you may risk constipation, high cholesterol, high blood sugar and weight gain. Some types of vegetable juice are high in sodium, too.

Is it possible to take too much vitamin C?

Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a water-soluble vitamin that supports normal growth and development. Vitamin C also helps your body absorb iron. Because your body doesn't produce or store vitamin C, it's important to include vitamin C in your diet. For most people, a small glass of orange juice and a cup of strawberries, a medium orange, or a serving of broccoli provide enough vitamin C for the day. Any extra vitamin C will simply be flushed out of your body in your urine. Still, it's possible to have too much of a good thing. Although too much vitamin C from your diet is unlikely to harm you, megadoses of vitamin C supplements can cause nausea, diarrhea, kidney stones and inflammation of the stomach lining (gastritis). Rarely, too much vitamin C can cause faintness, dizziness and fatigue.

Are high-protein diets generally considered safe?

High-protein diets are generally well tolerated by healthy adults. But a dramatic increase in protein-rich foods may be dangerous for people with liver or kidney disease because they lack the ability to get rid of the waste products of protein metabolism.

Some protein is essential to human life. Protein is found in your bones, muscles, skin, organs, blood, hormones and enzymes. 

Your body can't store excess protein. During digestion and metabolism, protein is broken down into amino acids — the building blocks of protein. Your body uses these amino acids to make enzymes and other proteins. But any "extra" amino acids are stripped of nitrogen. The non-nitrogen parts of amino acids are used for energy or converted into fat, and the remaining nitrogen is eventually excreted by your kidneys and liver. These waste products have been shown to cause kidney injury, and in the presence of liver disease, excess nitrogen can cause further problems. High-protein diets may also increase the risk of kidney stones and osteoporosis. If you have kidney or liver disease or any chronic health condition, talk to your doctor before starting a new diet.

How much caffeine I can take?

If you rely on caffeine to wake you up and keep you going, you aren't alone. Caffeine stimulates the central nervous system, alleviating fatigue and increasing wakefulness.

For most people, moderate doses of caffeine — 200 to 300 milligrams (mg), or about two to four cups of brewed coffee a day — aren't harmful. But some circumstances may warrant limiting or even ending your caffeine routine.

To change your caffeine habit more gradually, try these tips: 
1. Keep tabs. Start paying attention to how much caffeine you're getting from foods and beverages. It may be more than you think. Read labels carefully. Even then, your estimate may be a little low because not all foods list caffeine. Chocolate, which has a small amount, doesn't.
2. Cut back. But do it gradually. For example, drink one less can of soda or drink a smaller cup of coffee each day. This will help your body get used to the lower levels of caffeine and thereby lessen the withdrawal effects.
3. Go decaf. Most decaffeinated beverages look and taste the same as their caffeinated counterparts.
4. Make it quick or herbal. When making tea, brew it for less time. This cuts down on its caffeine content. Or choose herbal teas, which don't contain the stimulant.
5. Check the bottle. Some over-the-counter pain relievers contain caffeine — as much as 130 mg of caffeine in one dose. Look for caffeine-free pain relievers instead.

Quit Smoking

Tobacco is a killer. If you smoke, you're more likely to develop disease and die earlier than if you don't smoke.

Take that first step: Decide to quit smoking and set a stop date. And then take advantage of the multitude of resources available to help you successfully quit smoking.

The second item on your quit-smoking action plan? Plan for challenges. For example, make a list of high-risk places — and do your best to avoid them. Instead, try places where smoking isn't allowed, such as a museum or movie theater.

But living smoke-free doesn't mean living stress-free. In fact, smokers often cite stress as a reason for relapsing. As a smoker you used nicotine to cope with stress. Now you must learn new ways to cope. Be proactive. Learn about stress management online or at the library. For more help, talk with your doctor or a mental health provider.

The most important thing to quit smoking is your desire.

10 Tips For Better Sleep

1. Go to bed and get up at about the same time every day, even on the weekends. Sticking to a schedule helps reinforce your body's sleep-wake cycle and can help you fall asleep more easily at night.

2. Don't eat or drink large amounts before bedtime. Eat a light dinner at least two hours before sleeping. If you're prone to heartburn, avoid spicy or fatty foods, which can make your heartburn flare and prevent a restful sleep. Also, limit how much you drink before bed. Too much liquid can cause you to wake up repeatedly during the night for trips to the toilet.

3. Avoid nicotine, caffeine and alcohol in the evening. These are stimulants that can keep you awake. Smokers often experience withdrawal symptoms at night, and smoking in bed is dangerous. Avoid caffeine for eight hours before your planned bedtime. Your body doesn't store caffeine, but it takes many hours to eliminate the stimulant and its effects. And although often believed to be a sedative, alcohol actually disrupts sleep.

4. Exercise regularly. Regular physical activity, especially aerobic exercise, can help you fall asleep faster and make your sleep more restful. However, for some people, exercising right before bed may make getting to sleep more difficult.

5. Make your bedroom cool, dark, quiet and comfortable. Create a room that's ideal for sleeping. Adjust the lighting, temperature, humidity and noise level to your preferences. Use blackout curtains, eye covers, earplugs, extra blankets, a fan or white-noise generator, a humidifier or other devices to create an environment that suits your needs.

6. Sleep primarily at night. Daytime naps may steal hours from nighttime slumber. Limit daytime sleep to about a half-hour and make it during midafternoon. If you work nights, keep your window coverings closed so that sunlight, which adjusts the body's internal clock, doesn't interrupt your sleep. If you have a day job and sleep at night, but still have trouble waking up, leave the window coverings open and let the sunlight help awaken you. 

7. Choose a comfortable mattress and pillow. Features of a good bed are subjective and differ for each person. But make sure you have a bed that's comfortable. If you share your bed, make sure there's enough room for two. Children and pets are often disruptive, so you may need to set limits on how often they sleep in bed with you.

8. Start a relaxing bedtime routine. Do the same things each night to tell your body it's time to wind down. This may include taking a warm bath or shower, reading a book, or listening to soothing music. Relaxing activities done with lowered lights can help ease the transition between wakefulness and sleepiness.

9. Go to bed when you're tired and turn out the lights. If you don't fall asleep within 15 to 20 minutes, get up and do something else. Go back to bed when you're tired. Don't agonize over falling asleep. The stress will only prevent sleep.

10. Use sleeping pills only as a last resort. Check with your doctor before taking any sleep medications. He or she can make sure the pills won't interact with your other medications or with an existing medical condition. Your doctor can also help you determine the best dosage. If you do take a sleep medication, reduce the dosage gradually when you want to quit, and never mix alcohol and sleeping pills. If you feel sleepy or dizzy during the day, talk to your doctor about changing the dosage or discontinuing the pills.