Standing Together Through Tough Times

I’m thankful to have a loving wife who has been willing to stick with me through the good times and the bad ones. I was in a car accident last year and had to make regular trips to a Vacaville car accident chiropractor while I healed. Some people leave their significant other at the drop of a hat, regardless if they are married or not, but not my wife. She helped me move around, fed me, and even helped bathe me. If that’s not love, then I don’t know what else could possibly be it. This year the tables have turned and now I have to help my wife through a troubling time.

My wife was having some pains in her abdomen and was having a hard time with her bowels. We went to the doctor, and it was determined that she had ulcerative colitis. Continue reading →

Quitting Time?: The Truth About E-cigarettes

e-cigaretteIt’s been 20 years since I lit my first cigarette. I was standing in a filthy corner of my high school courtyard. I remember the sensation—there was a rush, right down to my toes—but mostly I remember feeling free. As I looked at the banal scene through the blur of smoke—the football practice, the knapsacks dotting the field—I felt, for the first time, like I had a say. I could be a grown-up woman and not a boring kid.

The same scene today would look a little different. Instead of a Player’s Light, a teenage girl might be “vaping” on a Blu, an NJOY or any of the other e-cigarette brands currently flooding the market. According to the National Youth Tobacco Survey from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of American middle and high school students who have tried e-cigarettes doubled from 3.3 per cent in 2011 to 6.8 per cent in 2012. While research shows the majority of vapers are either former or current smokers, the survey found that 160,000 students who had tried e-cigarettes had never smoked traditional cigarettes.

Today it’s also a lot easier to purchase e-cigarettes than analogs, a term used for old-school cigarettes. While Health Canada hasn’t author­ized the sale or advertising of any e-cigarettes, minors can buy them from suppliers online, where no proof of age is required. (Nicotine-free brands, such as eRoll and Dune Cigs, are sold over the counter in Canada at convenience stores and are exempt from age restrictions.) There’s no real data yet, but medical authorities such as the CDC are concerned young non-smokers exposed to nicotine in e-cigarettes may be enticed to take up traditional smoking.

As more tobacco companies enter the e-cig market, the “gateway” risk rises, says David Hammond, an associate professor at the School of Public Health and Health Systems at the University of Waterloo in Ontario.

“If I’m a CEO, there’s an incentive to grow the nicotine market, not shrink it by having people transition from cigarettes to e-cigarettes to abstinence,” Hammond says. “They want people to use both. Even the marketing of e-cigarettes is similar. They use superattractive models—images that say it’s fashionable. It doesn’t look like a health message, as in ‘Here’s a way to quit smoking.’ What it does look like is, ‘Wouldn’t you like to try these?’”

The Benefits of Taking Breaks

Benefits of Taking BreaksYou’ve been at work for five hours straight. Your mind is wandering, your shoulders are slumped, and your eyelids are heavy. You know you need to get back on track. Surprisingly, your best strategy might be to slack off.

“If you run and don’t fuel your body, you eventually collapse,” says Karen Turner, the CEO of Calgary-based Turner Efficiency Coaching, a company that helps businesses improve employee productivity. “The same thing happens with work. If you don’t rest, you’ll crash.”

It may seem counterintuitive, but taking a break from the task at hand can jump-start your brain, boost your motivation and improve your focus. And as recent research shows, more inane distractions can have especially positive effects on your powers of concentration.

Take a nap

Most of us ditched our daily naps after preschool, but recent experiments suggest that was likely a mistake. Having a snooze—even one as short as 10 minutes—can improve alertness, memory and cognitive performance.

It might also help you organize your thoughts. In a study presented at a 2012 neuroscience conference, researchers at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., observed 15 people at rest. While subjects dozed, the right hemispheres of their brains—the area associated with creativity—were more active than the left hemispheres. Andrei Medvedev, a scientist involved with the study, speculates that this activity might indicate that the brain is doing some useful housecleaning during its downtime, like classifying data and consolidating memories.

Experts say that between noon and 4 p.m. is the ideal time for napping. Some recommend taking a “caffeine nap”—drinking a cup of coffee, then snoozing for 15 minutes or less. The combo can boost energy and leave you feeling sharper.

The power of cute

Scrolling through galleries of baby animals is good for the soul, but it might benefit your performance, too. In a 2012 study conducted at Japan’s Hiroshima University, subjects were asked to play a version of the board game Operation, which involves precise motor skills. During a short break, one group was shown photos of puppies and kittens, while the other viewed pictures of older animals.

When the groups resumed the game, participants who had viewed snaps of younger animals improved their scores by 34 per cent. Their counterparts showed only a nine per cent improvement. So the next time you encounter a slide show of the “15 Cutest Piglets Wearing Boots” online, consider clicking through as an investment in your mental acuity.

Just browsing

The funny article your friend posted on Facebook may seem like a waste of time, but taking a few minutes to check your social media feeds can help you focus. In 2009, researchers at Australia’s University of Melbourne found that workers who spent up to 20 per cent of their time during the day surfing the Internet were nine per cent more productive than peers who avoided cyberloafing altogether. However, this approach has its limits: productivity levels were shown to dip when subjects spent more than 20 per cent of their day online.

To maximize the effectiveness of mini browsing breaks, Brent Coker, the study’s lead researcher, suggests workers visit the sites that make them the happiest. “The more enjoyable the break, the better it was in terms of boosting productivity,” he says.

Coker also advises dividing your time into chunks. “After about 40 to 60 minutes, people’s attention starts to wane,” he says. “Work for that stretch, then set aside five to 10 minutes for a break.”

Let your mind wander

Because all brain activity burns glucose, even something as simple as multi-tasking can take a toll on your mental energy. You can help replenish those stores by taking a few moments to “reset” your brain. Daydreaming is one method—when you let your mind wander, you’re allowing it to cool down.

“You’re detaching from the cognitive demands of constantly switching between tasks,” says Vinod Menon, a professor at California’s Stanford University who discovered a brain network involved in daydreaming. Moderation is key. While daydreaming can be a great restorative tool, Menon says, it should be kept in check. Nevertheless, whether you’re planning dinner or musing about your next trip, it pays to temporarily have your head in the clouds. 

Lice With Drug-Resistant Mutations Found to Be Widespread in US, But Experts Say Don’t Panic

Researchers say they have found what every parent fears before the start of the school year: mutated lice that may be resistant to common treatments. But experts are cautioning against a panic, saying these results are preliminary.

Kyong Yoon, an assistant professor at Southern Illinois University, and John Marshall Clark, director of the Massachusetts Pesticide Analysis Laboratory and professor at the University of Massachusetts, presented preliminary findings from their study on mutant lice at a meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in Boston on Tuesday.

The team gathered lice samples from 30 states and found that 25 states had lice with genetic mutations called “knock-down resistance” mutations that have been known to help certain insects, including house flies, survive insecticides.

“If you use a chemical over and over, these little creatures will eventually develop resistance,” Yoon said in a statement. “So we have to think before we use a treatment. The good news is head lice don’t carry disease. They’re more a nuisance than anything else.”

The specific mutations have been shown in other insects to protect them from common insecticides, including the chemicals used in common over-the-counter treatment for lice.

However, the team did not study if the lice with the mutations actually survived over-the-counter treatments in practice. They did study if there has been a reported rise in drug-resistant lice in the affected states. The team plans to look at lice in at least 48 states before publishing the results.

At least one expert said the findings were interesting but that it was too preliminary to say for sure that the mutant lice are also drug resistant and causing a widespread problem.

Dr. Joseph Gigante, a pediatrician at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, said more study was needed to see if these lice are actually drug resistant to common over-the-counter medication.

“We see it with antibiotics that in the lab test tube it’s resistant, [but] if you treat them with the medicine you see a response,” Gigante said of other studies that are focused in the lab.

However, he said he’s eager to see more study in the area and that anecdotally he’s seen more patients who have stubborn cases of lice even after two or three over-the-counter treatments.

“The message I would share is that don’t panic and catch your breath,” said Gigante, who said he would tell patients to “treat with over-the-counter medicines more than once.”

Gigante pointed out that lice are annoying and itchy but that they don’t spread disease.

“Your child is not going to get sick. There’s a lot of social stigma with this,” Gigante said. “It truly is more of a nuisance.”

He said even if the lice seem resistant after a few treatments with over-the-counter drugs, there are prescription therapies as well, but they are generally more costly. There is also a chance that parents aren’t appropriately treating lice the first time or that the insects return if they infected a favorite hat or headband, he said.

“If they’re using things like headbands or hats, they can spread it from one child to another,” he said. “It can also be a potential reason why they’re not getting better.”

Employees Working Long Hours Face Increased Risk of Stroke, Study Finds

strokeA long work week doesn’t just mean less time for fun or friends, it can also mean an increased risk for certain cardiac events such as stroke or heart attack, according to a new study.

The large study published this week in the Lancet Medical Journal studied up to 603,838 individuals and found those that worked past a 40 hour work week faced increased health risks.

And there was a 33 percent increased risk of stroke for workers who spend more than 55 hours a week at the office, even after controlling for certain behavioral risks such as smoking and alcohol consumption, according to researchers at University College London and Umeå University in Sweden who looked that people chosen from largely the same pool of study subjects.

The researchers also found people faced a 13 percent increased risk for coronary heart disease or heart attack if they worked more than 55 hours in a week.

For worker bees who spend extra hours on the job, the longer an employee worked past the 40-hour mark, the more they faced an increased risk for stroke or other cardiac events, the study found. People working just a few extra hours a week, between 41 and 48 hours per week, had a 10 percent higher risk of stroke, researchers found, and those working 49 to 54 hours had a 27 percent increased risk of stroke.

The findings are important to help employees and employers understand how long hours and stress can take a physical toll and on the workforce, experts said.

Dr. Roy Buchinsky, director of wellness at University Hospitals Case Medical Center and who was not involved in the study, said the findings may help people be less complacent about looking after their health when spending long hours in a stressful environment.

“It’s not too surprising in a sense that clearly when you’re working longer hours you’re reducing the amount of time you have for yourself in terms of physical activity,” Buchinsky told ABC News. “It can be stressful for most people.”

Nearly every workplace involves stressful situations that can harm the body over time, Buchinsky noted.

“Cortisol [a hormone linked to stress] goes up and the big thing that happens is increased inflammation,” said Buchinksy, who said it can result in narrowing of arterial walls or blood vessels.

Narrowing of blood vessels means decreased blood flow, which can mean increased risk for a host of issues, including heart attack, stroke or erectile dysfunction.

While the health consequences of a long work week are serious, Buchinsky said there are simple steps any office worker can take to decrease the harmful effects of stress.

“Move around. If you’re on the phone at work, stand up. The key is to get the person up and about,” said Buchinsky who recommends getting up for one to two minutes every half hour.

He also noted it’s important to try and lower stress by taking deep breaths, meditating or simply going for walk.

“You count to four and breathe out to four and do that four times,” Buchinksy said. “You reset [the] body’s cortisol level and lower stress level.”

Buchinsky said it’s key that both employees and employers take stock of how people are spending their time in order to be productive and healthy workforce.

“It’s not so much the hours. It’s how are we spending our time during those hours,” Buchinksy said. “People are being asked to do more with less resources.”