Could salmon and sunshine prevent brain damage?

Brain-damageWant to keep your brain in tip-top condition? Then you may want to put mackerel and mushrooms on your menu or start eating your salmon in the sun!

That’s because a new study led by University of Kentucky researchers suggests that a diet low in vitamin D causes damage to the brain.

In addition to being essential for maintaining bone health, new evidence shows that vitamin D serves important roles in other organs and tissue, including the brain.

The study, published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine showed that middle-aged rats that were fed a diet low in vitamin D for several months developed free radical damage to the brain. Additionally, many different brain proteins were damaged.  The vitamin D deficient rats also showed a significant decrease in cognitive performance on tests of learning and memory.

“Given that vitamin D deficiency is especially widespread among the elderly, we investigated how during aging from middle-age to old-age how low vitamin D affected the oxidative status of the brain,” said lead author on the paper Allan Butterfield, professor of Chemistry, director of the Center of Membrane Sciences, faculty of Sanders-Brown Center on Aging, and director of the Free Radical Biology in Cancer Core of the Markey Cancer Center. “Adequate vitamin D serum levels are necessary to prevent free radical damage in brain and subsequent deleterious consequences.”

vitamin D bookPreviously, low levels of vitamin D have been associated with Alzheimer’s disease, and it’s also been linked to the development of certain cancers and heart disease.

The elderly are particularly prone to have low vitamin D levels.

Butterfield recommends that people consult their physicians to have their vitamin D levels determined. If they turn out to be low it’s important to normalize them either through diet or sunlight exposure to help protect the brain.

low that they eat foods rich in vitamin D, take vitamin D supplements, and/or get at least 10-15 minutes of sun exposure each day to ensure that vitamin D levels are normalized and remain so to help protect the brain.
Surprisingly few foods contain vitamin D.  That’s because your body is built to get it from sunlight skin rather than from food. However, if your body has enough, it doesn’t matter whether you got it through your skin or through your stomach.

SalmonThere are three vitamin D super foods:

  • Salmon (especially wild-caught)
  • Mackerel (especially wild-caught)
  • Mushrooms (exposed to ultraviolet light)

Other food sources of vitamin D include:

  • Cod liver oil
  • Tuna canned in water
  • Sardines canned in oil
  • Milk or yogurt – fortified with vitamin D
  • Beef or calf liver
  • Egg yolks
  • Cheese

sunlightIf all that sounds a little too fishy for you, then you can boost your vitamin D from 10-15 minutes of sun exposure a day.

I’m off to get mine now!

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Birds do it. Bees do it. Even butterflies and chimpanzees do it.

Chimpanzees Self-Medicate With FoodSRxA’s Word on Health was intrigued by a story we read this week in National Geographic.

It seems we could have a lot to learn from the abovementioned animals.  It turns out that they, and many other species self-medicate, using plants and other surprising materials to improve not only their own health but also the health of their offspring.

video of capuchin monkeys at the Edinburgh Zoo shows them rubbing onions and limes on their skin and into their fur as an antiseptic and insect repellent.

Biologists have noticed that parasite-infected female monarch butterflies are more likely to lay their eggs on anti-parasitic milkweed, giving their offspring instant medication, while uninfected females show no preference. And urban birds who incorporate cigarette butts into their nests may be doing so because chemical properties in the smoked cigarettes may repel parasites, according to a 2012 study.

cigarette birds nestsWhile cigarette-butt wallpaper may not appeal to most of us, other ways that animals self-medicate might be worth watching.

Mark Hunter, a University of Michigan ecologist who was involved in the monarch research, says there is plenty to be learned from observing the way animals use the entire outdoors like one big drugstore. It’s something our own species probably once did – and might do well to revisit with modern pharmaceutical engineering and computer modeling techniques.

It’s not the only way, but it seems to me that a sensible way would be to watch what animals do in nature to see how they exploit the natural products, the pharmaceuticals that are available to them in the environment, and try to learn from them,” he says.

Earlier this year, Hunter spent time with people of the Shangaan tribe in South Africa.

shangaan tribeIf you go for a walk with somebody, every plant you pass has a cultural or medicinal significance, and many of those have been learned from watching animals,” Hunter says. The bark of the black monkey thorn tree, for example, is used as a stomach medication, a choice based on watching how elephants behave.

Not long ago primates were thought to be the only animals smart enough to self-medicate. But now we’re learning that ground squirrels chew rattlesnake skins and then lick their fur, a trick likely to deter that particular predator.

Insects have been found to be prolific self-medicators, too. Take the arresting case of the fruit fly Drosophilia melanogasterwhich uses alcohol to protect itself against parasitic wasps. The wasps lay their eggs in the fruit fly larvae; the developing wasp grubs will eventually eat the flies from the inside out and burst forth from their dead bodies. Larvae that consume high doses of alcohol from fermented fruits, however, are less likely to be infected—and if they are, the invading wasp grubs die quite nastily with their internal organs being ejected out of their anus.

Moreover, fruit fly mothers who see female parasite wasps nearby will give their young instant protection by laying their eggs in alcohol-soaked environments – which means they see and remember their nemesis.

Not a bad defense,” says Hunter, adding that this demonstrates the idea that “the cost we’re willing to pay for a medicine depends on the consequences of not using it.” While the alcohol isn’t necessarily good for the flies, they will die if parasitized.

The alcohol has worse effects on the parasites than it does on them. So it’s worth laying your eggs in a high-alcohol environment if it will save your offspring,” he says.

Do animals learn to self-medicate, or is it pure instinct?

monarchWell, plenty of intelligent animals self-medicate, so it’s not always clear. But in the case of the monarch butterfly the mothers don’t hang around to see what happens to their babies, so there’s no learning involved. In this case, the only possibility is that it’s a genetically determined behavior or instinct.

So the next time you’re on your way to the drugstore and pass a monarch hovering around a milkweed, or a bird who seems to have taken up a smoking habit, consider that they might actually be running an errand, just like you!

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10 Brain Damaging Habits

brain damageAccording to the World Health Organization here’s 10 habits that can severely damage your brain:

No Breakfast1.  No BreakfastSkipping breakfast in order to lose weight or save time is totally wrong and directly affects our brain. Those who don’t take breakfast or take unhealthy breakfast having lower blood sugar level and sometime it may cause overweight.

2. Overreacting – causes hardening of the brain arteries, leading to a decrease in mental power.

3. High Sugar consumption – Too much sugar will interrupt the absorption of proteins and nutrients causing malnutrition and may interfere with brain development by reducing the production of Brain Derived Neutrotrophic Factor, without which the brain cannot learn.

Smoking4. Smokingcauses brain shrinkage, damages memory, judgment, learning and thinking powers and may even lead to dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

5. Air PollutionThe brain is the largest oxygen consumer in our body. Inhaling polluted air decreases the supply of oxygen to the brain, bringing about a decrease in brain efficiency.

6. Sleep Deprivation Sleep allows our brain to rest. Long term deprivation from sleep will accelerate the death of brain cells.

7. Head covered while sleeping – Sleeping with the head covered decreases available air space and forces you to start breathing carbon dioxide instead of oxygen. This leads to a rise in intracranial pressure and results in brain hypoxia which may lead to brain damaging effects.

8. Working your brain during illness – Working hard or studying with sickness may lead to a decrease in effectiveness of the brain. When we are sick the brain is at its weakest and becomes more easily stressed. This stress can also affect memory.

9. Drinking too little water – Water is the main source of energy and is essential for brain function and activity of neurotransmitters. Dehydration can lead to anger, stress, exhaustion, depression and lack of mental clarity.

Talking Rarely10. Rarely Talking – Intellectual conversations help to train and promote efficiency of the brain. Conversely, lack of stimulating thoughts may cause brain shrinkage. Reading SRxA’s Word on Health and discussing the content with friends is an excellent way to avoid this!  So grab a glass of water and subscribe today. Consider it free brain fuel!

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School is in Session and So Too Are Germs

calculusWhile many parents don’t remember much algebra or calculus, most know all too well that school + kids = sick days.

And with more than 200 cold viruses identified,  it’s no wonder parents feel like they are fighting a losing battle when it comes to keeping their kids healthy.

Kids will be exposed to germs and inevitably get colds, even with the best preventive measures, and that’s OK,” said Jessica McIntyre, MD, family physician at Loyola University Health System and assistant professor in the Department of Family Medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

According to McIntyre, young children will get between 7 and 8 colds a year and school-age children will average 5-6 colds a year. Kids tend to get more colds during the school year because they are in an enclosed classroom surrounded by other children who are sharing these very common viruses.

Parents sometimes worry that they have done something wrong to cause frequent colds, or that their child is not healthy. Actually, cold viruses help build a child’s immune system and are an unavoidable part of growing up,” McIntyre said.

smackdown_school_germs-e1317828551255Nevertheless, we bring you some tips to help keep your child’s sick days to a minimum

  1. You’ve taught your kids their ABCs –  now teach them their CCCs?
    a. Clean – wash your hands and make sure your kids wash their hands frequently
    b. Cover – cover your cough and sneeze, preferably with a tissue, but if one is not available, cough or sneeze into your elbow
    c. Contain – stay at home if you are sick; germs are one thing that aren’t good to share
  2. Family flu vaccines. Everyone who is 6 months or older should be vaccinated. Talk to your physician about which type of vaccine is right for your family members.
  3. Have your children wash their hands as soon as they get home from school.
  4. Change into “home clothes and shoes.”  It helps keep germs, allergens and dirt out of the house making it easier to keep clean. Plus, you won’t be searching the house for shoes that were kicked off under the couch.This is especially beneficial if you have a young infant at home
  5. Wash their lunch box daily. Lunch boxes carry more than veggies and fruit to and from school. They also carry A LOT of germs. If they’re dishwasher safe, run them through the sanitizing cycle at the end of each day. If not, spray them down with vinegar and water and wipe them clean before packing a new lunch
  6. Backpacks are another huge germ culprit. They make their way onto tables, beds and desks and can transfer nasty germs to all of these surfaces. Wash backpacks once a week to minimize the spread of germs.
  7. Reduce consumption of sugary foods before and during school. Consuming just a teaspoon of sugar weakens the immune system for up to 4 hours. To help the body fight germs, make sure to offer a low sugar breakfast and low sugar lunch. Avoid processed foods as much as possible. They are generally loaded with sugars.

big-stinky-germsAnd if you’d still like to do more to keep your little darlings safe, there is some evidence that certain  products can be effective in cold prevention if taken regularly:
(i) Probiotics: 1 gram mixed with milk twice daily
(ii) Vitamin C: 1 gram daily
(iii) Zinc sulfate: 15 mg syrup or 10 mg tablet daily

Despite all that, if they do develop a cold, don’t stress about it!  Everyone gets sick sometimes. And while we all hate to see  kids feeling bad, just remember, when they get sick their bodies are building up their ability to fight future infections.

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The Spread of Superbugs

superbugs on the riseThe U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has just published a first-of-its-kind assessment of the threat the country faces from antibiotic-resistant organisms.

And the news is not good.  In fact it’s downright scary. The agency’s overall conservative assessment of the problem includes frightening statistics such as:

  • Each year, in the U.S., 2,049,442 illnesses caused by bacteria and fungi that are resistant to at least some classes of antibiotics
  • Each year, out of those illnesses, there are 23,000 deaths
  • Each year, those illnesses and deaths result in $20 billion of additional healthcare spending
  • Each year, an additional $35 billion lost to society in foregone productivity.

The report marks the first time the agency has provided hard numbers for the incidence, deaths and cost of all the major resistant organisms. It also represents the first time the CDC has ranked resistant organisms by how much and how imminent a threat they pose, using seven criteria:

  • health impact
  • economic impact
  • how common the infection is
  • how easily it spreads
  • how much further it might spread in the next 10 years
  • whether there are antibiotics that still work against it
  • whether things other than administering antibiotics can be done to curb its spread

antibiotic resistant bacteriaOut of that matrix, their top three “urgent” threats they identified were:

multi-drug-resistant-pseudomonas-aeruginosa-horizontal-galleryIn addition, the CDC identified 12 resistant bacteria and fungal infections which the agency dubs “serious” i.e., requiring “prompt and sustained action.”  They include the hospital-acquired infections  Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, and Vancomycin-Resistant Enterococcus (VRE) ; the foodborne organisms CampylobacterSalmonella and Shigella; MRSACandida and TB.

The last category, “concerning” i.e., requiring “careful monitoring and prevention” includes rare but potent vancomycin-resistant staphylococcus aureus  (VRSA), as well as strains of streptococcus resistant to two different categories of drugs.

For each organism, the report explains why it is a public health threat, where the trends are headed, what actions the CDC is taking, and what it is important for health care institutions, patients and their families, and states and local authorities to do to help.

Commenting on the report, Ed Septimus MD, professor of internal medicine at Texas A&M Health Sciences Center in Houston says “It’s up to us to make the recommendations in this report happen. If we do nothing but say, ‘Here’s the problem,’ then the problem will continue to grow.”

Well said Doctor, well said.

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The Jaws of Life!

national dog dayIn case you missed it, Monday was National Dog Day – also known as: International Dog Day & National Dog Appreciation Day.

National Dog Day serves to help galvanize the public to recognize the number of dogs that need to be rescued each year, and acknowledges family dogs and dogs that work selflessly each day to save lives, keep us safe and bring comfort. Dogs put their lives on the line every day – for their law enforcement partner, for their blind companion, for a child who is disabled, for our freedom and safety by detecting bombs and drugs and pulling victims of tragedy from wreckage.
Founded in 2004 by pet lifestyle expert and author Colleen Paige, National Dog Day was created to honor dogs more than we currently do, to give them “a day”, to show deep appreciation for our long connection to each other – for their endearing patience, unquestioning loyalty, for their work, their capacity for love and their ability to impact our lives in the most miraculous ways.

National Dog Day wishes to encourage dog ownership of all breeds, mixed and pure – and embraces the opportunity for all dogs to live a happy, safe and ”abuse-free life”.

As our regular readers know, we’re big dog lovers here at SRxA’s Word on Health, so it seemed fitting to bring you a happy and healthy tale (or perhaps that should be waggy tail) for the weekend.

dogs and house firesEach year, in the U.S., thousands of people lose their lives to fire.  Unfortunately, we have become accustomed to hearing about these tragedies, but there is another tragedy that occurs in which we rarely hear about – the hundreds of thousands of cherished family pets who suffer injury or death due to smoke and flames.

Government statistics estimate that there are around 400,000 home fires are reported annually. And 62% of these homes will own at least one pet -meaning some 300,000 animals are at risk of smoke inhalation.

Although firefighters and their heroic efforts attempt to save a pet’s life during a burning building, the damage a pet sustains from inhalation of smoke or carbon monoxide overwhelms many of the animals that often die en route to a veterinarian.   But if fire and rescue crews are able to provide life-saving oxygen for animals, as they do for humans, more animals would be saved.

Of the 30,000 or so fire departments in the US, only 1,700 have some type of pet oxygen delivery device.  In Word on Health’s home state of Virginia, there are 24 fire departments with such equipment, including Fairfax, Arlington, Sterling, Chesterfield, Spotsylvania, and Stafford.

Previously, in Prince William County, Lake Jackson Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department was the sole company, within the fire and rescue system, that provided this device.  But now, thanks to a generous donation provided by Prince William SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals), firefighters have an opportunity to assist pets who are experiencing respiratory distress or failure due to a fire and potentially save more lives.

WAGN_FirstResponder_Banner_v2PWSPCA purchased 42 of the WAG’N 02 FUR LIFE delivery system/devices –each worth approximately $3,000 and has provided 2 kits to each of the 21 fire and rescue stations in the county.

I was honored and privileged to be asked to coordinate the introduction of the pet oxygen kits at Nokesville Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department and to ensure that all fire and EMS personnel are trained in the use and maintenance of the devices – a process we fittingly began on National Dog Day and hope to have fully operational by the Labor Day holiday weekend.

Dog-with-Oxygen-MaskThe pet oxygen delivery devices work similar to equipment manufactured for humans suffering from smoke inhalation except this device is used solely for four-legged animals.  The device has a cone shaped design with a rubber seal that creates a snug fit over the animal’s nose and mouth making the oxygen delivery more effective than oxygen masks designed for humans.

And while we hope that we never have to use them, we are confident  that by carrying the pet O2 kits on our fire trucks and ambulances that we can minimize the number of animal fatalities that occur due to fire.

What better way to mark dog appreciation day?

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Top Travel Tips To Ensure You Don’t Come Back With More Than You Left With

passport and airticketsPassport. Check.

Tickets. Check.

Health. Huh?

That’s Right! For those of you planning to get away this summer, SRxA’s Word on Health reminds you get your health planning in before leaving for the airport.  While an overseas trip may appear to be “just what the doctor ordered” , it can also pose various health hazards, depending on the type of travel, length of stay and destination.

Significant changes in altitude, humidity and temperature can lead to illness, and in many parts of the world – especially developing countries and tropical locations – the risk of infectious disease is high.

travel-vaccinations-600x400Not all countries are high-risk for travelers,” said Christopher Ohl MD, an infectious disease specialist at Wake Forest Baptist Medical Center in Winston-Salem, N.C. “Europe is generally safe, and so are Canada, Japan, Australia. But anybody planning to go to Mexico or Central America, the Caribbean, South America, Africa, most anywhere in Asia, or the Pacific islands should definitely look into what health risks they’ll encounter and what they’ll need to do to minimize their chances of getting ill.”

So where should you look for this information?  The Internet, of course, has a multitude of resources, some better than others, but you still need to be aware that even reputable sites such as those of the U.S. State Department, federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and World Health Organization offer only general information about the world’s countries and often do not include specifics about particular locations or activities within those countries.

For someone going to South Africa, there’s a big difference between staying in a modern hotel in Cape Town for a week and going on a two-week budget trip to Kruger National Park!

travel healthBecause the details of an individual’s health, destination, activities, accommodations and mode of travel are important elements in determining health risk, a travel medicine specialist is probably the best person to consult

Travel clinics also stock the sort of vaccines and anti-malarial medications you’ll need and can advise on up-to-the-minute requirements.

In addition to administering shots and writing prescriptions, travel clinics also provide information on how to avoid insect-borne diseases, how to self-treat diarrhea and other common ailments, what to eat and drink and what to avoid eating and drinking and so on, all based on the person’s health status, where they’re going, what they’re going to be doing and how long they’re going to be there.

And because accidents, not diseases, are the most common cause of injury and death among travelers the clinic can also provide safety tips based on information from the State Department and authoritative foreign sources, such as whether there may be civil disturbances in a particular location, whether it’s advisable to travel at night or even “if it’s safe to rent a scooter.”

Travel-Vaccinations1But don’t leave it until the last minute. Travelers, regardless of their age or the type of trip they’re planning should visit a travel clinic at least four to six weeks before departure, to allow sufficient time to get prescriptions filled and for vaccines to take effect. Even if the destination doesn’t call for any special shots, he said, a trip abroad presents a good opportunity to see that “routine” vaccinations such as measles-mumps-rubella, diphtheria-pertussis-tetanus, chickenpox and flu, are up to date.

And in the unfortunate event that you return home with something other than a suntan and souvenirs, travel clinics can also provide post-travel medical care. A number of diseases common overseas don’t present symptoms right away, some can even take months to develop, and they might not be recognized by a general practitioner.

Stay safe this summer!SRxA-logo for web