Staying Safe During Holiday Travel

holiday travel 1If you’re one of the millions of people planning to travel over the holidays, we’d like you to do it safely. Whether your plans involve car, plane or train take a minute or two to study these simple steps to stay healthy while traveling.

One health risk to consider when traveling is simply sitting for too long,” says Clayton Cowl, M.D., an expert in travel medicine at Mayo Clinic. “Concerns like blood clots in the legs from sitting too long, becoming dehydrated from lack of fluid intake or drinking too much alcohol, and not walking much when delayed in an airport or train station can be serious. Driving for hours to reach a destination after a long day at work can be as equally worrisome due to fatigue and eyestrain.”

Blood clots can be a concern when a person sits for too long because leg muscles aren’t contracting and blood can pool and stagnate in the vessels. This can lead to deep vein thrombosis and even pulmonary embolism – a potentially fatal condition, caused by clots becoming lodged in the lungs.  When travelling by car, both driver and passengers should stop every few hours to hydrate and walk. Plan ahead, and pick some good rest stops along your route. How about a park, a mall, or a place of interest?

As an added benefit, allowing children to run or play in a safe environment while traveling will often help curb their excessive energy in a confined space and may help them relax while traveling for longer periods.

full planeWhen traveling by plane, check the in-flight magazine for tips on how to exercise in your seat and on trips longer than three hours, get up at least once to take a walk to the bathroom or other end of the plane.

And regardless of how you travel, try to avoid crossing your legs while sitting for long periods, because this can inhibit adequate blood circulation.

If you’re the one doing the driving, plan to get a good night’s sleep the day before the trip, to avoid drowsiness during the journey. If possible, take turns at the wheel with other passengers. Take breaks at rest stops and chose healthy low carb meal options, to avoid crashing after a sugar high. Combining meals or rest room stops with a short walk to get fresh air and stretch can make a big difference in staying more alert and refreshed.

planesWhile we all want to just get to our destination for the holidays, budgeting a little extra time to account for unexpected weather delays and adequate driving breaks is a really smart plan.

To avoid stiffness from sitting too long, if you’re a passenger try doing some simple stretches, such as extending legs out and back several times and massaging thighs and calves.

To avoid eyestrain and its associated annoying symptoms including sore or irritated eyes, dry or watery eyes, double vision or blurriness, increased sensitivity to light or unremitting shoulder and neck fatigue never drive if you are sleep deprived.

A short nap can significantly relieve these symptoms and non-medicated eye drops can help if eye irritation persists

Whatever your travel method, avoid dehydration. Drink plenty of water and minimize or eliminate alcohol consumption as alcohol dehydrates at a cellular level.

holiday trafficAbove all, plan for the worst, and enjoy the best: When severe winter weather hits, many vehicles may become stranded and help may be hours or sometimes days away. Pack a simple emergency kit, including blankets, snacks, water, charging devices, flashlights and activities to keep kids amused.

Thank You for your attention. Now, please fasten your seat belts, place doors to manual and turn off all cellular devices. You’re ready for the holidays!

Bon Voyage.

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Consider Smart Choices rather than Smart Toys this Christmas

christmas giftsHave you finished your Christmas shopping yet or are there still some people left on your nice list?!?

With only 8 shopping days left, SRxA’s Word on Health wants to help you make smart gift choices for the little people in your life.   Bridget Boyd, MD, a pediatric safety expert at Loyola University Health System offers up the following tips to ensure you bring joy, not tragedy, on Christmas morning.

Christmas is a wonderful time of year, but it can quickly turn tragic if we’re not careful,” says Boyd. “Sometimes in our attempts to make Christmas extra special for our kids and grandkids, safety can get lost in the mix.”

Shopping for infants and toddlers can be difficult since many toys are labeled appropriate for ages 3 and up. Though it may limit the options, Boyd said following age-appropriate guidelines is important for keeping kids safe.

baby with toy in mouthAge labels are monitored closely and should be taken seriously. Choking and strangulation hazards can mean life or death to a child,” said Boyd. “Most people do follow the guideline to avoid small parts that might be choking hazards, but there are some safety tips that aren’t as obvious.”

She suggests when opening gifts to watch out for ribbons that could be a strangulation hazard and to try to keep older children’s gifts away from younger children so there is not accidental ingestion of a small part. Toys with strings are a choking hazard as well, especially those that are greater than 12 inches in length.

If a child is under the age of 2, they are more than likely going to put whatever they are given in their mouth, so avoid items with paint, chemicals or small parts,” Boyd said. Small magnets and button batteries are some of the most hazardous. Magnets should be kept away from small children as they cause severe damage or even death if ingested.

button batteries webButton batteries are extremely dangerous so try to avoid gifts that include them. They also can be found in musical greeting cards, hearing aids and remote controls so make sure to keep an eye on your child around those items,” Boyd said. “Go to the emergency room immediately if a child has placed a button batter into their body. This includes swallowing as well as shoving up the nose or in the ear.”

Still, gift-giving safety isn’t just about swallowing hazards, it’s also thinking about the entire well-being of a child. “When thinking about what gift to give, try to find something that encourages children to use their imagination and get up and get moving,” says Boyd.

baby with cell phoneThe American Academy of Pediatrics recommends children spend no more than two hours in front a screen a day. This includes video games, computers, phones and TVs. “So many young kids want cell phones, but is that really the best gift to give a child? Think about what is age-appropriate. There will be plenty of time to give phones and videos games in the future.”

And if you do give an electronic gift, supervision is key, especially if it involves the Internet.

Unfortunately, cyber predators and cyberbullying are becoming more common and pose a very real risk to children. If your child does receive a computer for Christmas, make sure you supervise their Internet use. The best place for a computer is in the family room.  There should be no screens, including computers, TVs or phones in a child or adolescent’s room. Screen time can interfere with sleep as well as distract them from participating in healthier activities for body and mind.

Whatever gifts you decide to give this holiday season, It’s also a good idea to periodically check consumer websites such as recall.gov and saferproducts.gov to ensure gifts are safe and have not been recalled.

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Keeping Extra Pounds off your Holiday List

expanding SantaAlthough by now you’ve hopefully now finished the last of the Thanksgiving turkey and pumpkin pie, the holiday eating season has just begun. And, as a result, over the next month, the average American will gain one or two pounds. While that might not sound like much, the annual weight gain adds up from year to year and can lead to significant gains as the years goes by.

So, if the seams on your favorite holiday outfit are already bursting ahead of the onslaught of holiday parties, all-you-can-eat buffets, peppermint bark and eggnog, now’s the time to consider strategies to maintain your current weight and still enjoy the season.

At this time of year, most of us are bombarded with food. High calorie treats appear everywhere you look. Tables are filled with home-made cookies, gingerbread, hot apple cider, and irresistible savory appetizers. But resist you must, says Amy Moore, Ph.D., assistant professor of nutrition and dietetics at Saint Louis University.  Here’s her advice to keep you lean this holiday season:

holiday weight cartoonBe picky about your splurges. You can eat crackers and cheese any time, but the holidays are a time to sample special seasonal treats that people have spent a lot of energy preparing. So, if you’re at a holiday buffet, browse before you graze to size up your best options. If that delectable chocolate dessert beckons, enjoy a slice but pass on the brownies or soda. Allow yourself to indulge, just choose where you want to spend your calories.

Be mindful. When there’s a bowl of chips right in front of you, you are more likely to keep munching without really thinking about it. So pay attention to what you’re eating. Slow down and savor every bite, taking the time to appreciate what you’re putting into your mouth. Watch your portion size.

Plan ahead. If you know you are going to a party in the evening, eat a healthy breakfast and lunch. Don’t starve yourself; in fact, consider eating a snack to take the edge off of your hunger. Bring something healthy to potlucks so at least you can count on one healthy option being offered. Seasonal fruit such as pomegranates, clementines and cranberries are terrific holiday dishes because they are pretty, festive and, best of all, guilt free.

Conversation is calorie-free. Once you’ve taken a plate of food at a holiday gathering, step away from the table. Find a comfy space where you can talk to others. Fill up on fellowship, which is calorie-free!

Water is calorie-free, too. So, drink up. Alternate a glass of water with every alcoholic beverage to pace yourself as you celebrate and prevent a next day hang-over. Consider creating a wine spritzer by adding flavored sparkling water to your wine. Instead of drinking lemonade or soda with a meal, choose water. Not only does water fill you up, it’s also good for your digestive system, skin, muscles and kidneys.

Christmas fitness woman wearing santa hatIn addition to watching what you eat and drink, you should offset holiday calories by becoming more active. Saint Louis University associate professor of physical therapy and athletic training, Ethel Frese, DPT, offers the following tips:

Be realistic.  Becoming more active is a great way to mitigate a few extra calories, but it is not license to add massively to your diet. So, suppose you splurged and ate a 350 calorie pastry, on top of your normal daily calories. If you want to burn off all of the excess, you’ll need nearly an hour of intense exercise. While it’s not necessary to count every calorie, it is good to have a rough idea of how your calorie intake corresponds to your exercise, and know that it can take more exercise than you might think to balance out your food intake.

Everything counts. That said, don’t be discouraged. Exercise offers many overall health benefits, and burning off even an extra hundred calories a day makes a significant difference. In some cases, extra activity may be a natural part of your routine this season. Walking from the back of a packed parking lot at the mall and scouring stores for the perfect gift provides good exercise. House cleaning for company can burn calories, as can shoveling snow, playing with children and putting up decorations.

Fight the urge to hibernate. If rainy or snowy days tempt you to stay at home watching movies and reading books, be sure you don’t make a habit of avoiding outings. Bundle up and get out for fresh air and exercise. Run errands, stop by to see friends and neighbors, drop off canned goods at a food pantry, check out an exhibit at a museum or build a snowman!

Be consistent. The secret to success is to add a little bit of exercise each day. The effort really does add up, and you’ll find that daily activity makes you feel healthier, more alert, and happier in general. You’ll enjoy the season more without the sluggish feeling brought on by too many sedentary hours. Even if you don’t burn off all of the extra calories through exercise, you’ll limit the damage and in January, you’ll appreciate having only one pound to lose, instead of five.

Remember that the secret to controlling your weight is balancing the calories you take in (food) with the calories you burn. “Even the healthiest eaters need to exercise and the best exercisers need nutrition,” says Moore. “Nutrition and exercise provides the one-two punch of holiday weight management.”

Holiday DietMake your weight management mantra for the season to maintain not gain.

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Soap vs Sanitizers

hand-sanitizerYou squirt it on your hands as you enter the grocery store, and then again on your way out. You have bottles in your car, on your desk and in your home too – and you use them often.

And no, you’re not a germophobe, it’s just that your hand-sanitizer habit is helping to protect you from colds and flu and other nasty’s, that are wet, sticky and not yours!

And even if it doesn’t, it’s harmless. Right?

Not so fast! Word on the street has it that despite how clean your hands feel after using a hand sanitizer, they’re actually still dirty.  Worse still, they’re potentially toxic and might actually lower your resistance to disease.

So are these rumors true?!  Let’s take a look at the evidence.

hand-sanitizer-triclosanWhen it comes to safety and effectiveness, the main concern with hand sanitizers is triclosan, – the main antibacterial ingredient used in non-alcoholic hand sanitizers.

There’s no good evidence that triclosan-containing products have a benefit,” says Allison Aiello PhD, associate professor of epidemiology at the University of Michigan. In fact, hospitals in Europe and the United States, won’t even use them because it’s thought that they don’t reduce infections or illness.

Dr. Anna Bowen, an epidemiologist at The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says, “Triclosan-containing products don’t provide any disease protection beyond what you get from washing with soap and water.”

Research has shown that triclosan can disrupt the endocrine system, amplifying testosterone. In animal studies, it reduced muscle strength. It may also harm the immune system. Whether these findings add up to human toxicity isn’t established yet, but the FDA is currently reviewing the issue.

A more established concern: “When you expose bacteria to triclosan, it can elicit antibiotic resistance,” says Aiello. “Once the resistance is transferred, pathogenic bacteria can become resistant to many types of antibiotics.”   She also points out that quaternary ammonium, another antibacterial found in nonalcoholic hand sanitizers, has been shown to elicit antibiotic resistance.

The main concern with triclosan, that it’s an anti-bacterial, meaning it doesn’t protect against viruses or fungi.  Which means, colds and flu are not destroyed because they are caused by viruses, not bacteria.

Alcohol-based sanitizers, on the other hand, are fairly effective and safe. Those that contain  60% alcohol are good at killing bacterial pathogens and can also kill some viruses though not all of them.  Norovirus, for example, the bug responsible for the recent cruise-ship outbreaks is not affected.

If you can’t get to a sink quickly, an alcohol-based sanitizer is a good alternative to washing with soap and water,” says Aiello.

One caveat: They don’t work on visibly dirty hands.  The alcohol can’t get past the dirt.

handwashing_355pxSo how does soap and water match up?   First, they are both safe and effective. That’s right. Good old-fashioned hand washing before you prepare food or after you go to the toilet has been shown to drastically reduce the risk of diarrhea.

Hand-washing campaigns reduce absenteeism in schools,” says Bowen, “and that means parents miss fewer days of work, too.”

But, and it’s a big but – you have to wash your hands correctly.

According to the CDC you need to wash for about 24 seconds to remove bacteria and viruses from your hands. You need to cover all parts of your hands, front and back and under your nails and then dry your hands well.

have u washedHow long is 24 seconds? Apparently it’s about as long as it takes to sing two verses of Happy Birthday.  However, as I always tell my infection control students, if you’re in public, sing it with your inner voice …or you could have more than germs to worry about!

Bottom line –  soap and water beats sanitizers hands-down.  Suds up and stay safe this cold and flu season.

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Compounding the Problem?

healthcare crisisHere’s a question to get you thinking this Friday morning.  What has been called the “worst public health crisis” in the US in decades?  Is it:

(a)  HIV

(b)  Obesity

(c)  Healthcare.gov

(d)  Heart Disease

(e)  None of the above

fungal meningitisWhile there’s no doubt options (a) through (d) challenge our healthcare system, the correct answer is in fact (e). What’s more, this public health crisis may have gone unnoticed by many. What we’re referring to is the fungal meningitis outbreak that was traced to the New England Compounding Center. So far, there have 751 reported cases, including 64 deaths.

fungal meningitis case-counts-960px-2013-10-23Indeed, most Americans had never heard of compounding pharmacies until the now-shuttered New England Compounding Center was blamed for making tainted steroid injections that killed and sickened people in 20 states.

Since then, the FDA has issued more than 60 reports of compounding pharmacies that had one or more quality or sterility issues. Five compounding pharmacy testing labs received similar reports.

Now, after months of negotiating, the US Senate has finally passed legislation that was drafted in the wake of the scandal.  The Drug Quality and Security Bill will give the FDA greater oversight of compounding pharmacies and also creates a national system for tracking prescription medicines from factory to pharmacy. The bill, which was already passed by the US House, is designed to bolster the pharmaceutical supply chain, and now goes to President Obama for his signature

The bill will create a new class of compounding pharmacies, as suggested by the FDA. The agency believes that traditional compounders – those who mix or alter ingredients for individual patients on an as-needed basis, should be distinguished from ‘non-traditional’ compounders – those that sell high volumes and ship out of state because these activities may pose a higher risk.

We know more from a barcode on a gallon of milk than we do from a barcode on a bottle of prescription drugs, which could mean the difference between life and death,” says US Senator Michael Bennet. “Whether it’s a stronger drug supply chain or better oversight for compounded drugs, this commonsense bill will help restore confidence in our prescription drugs and protect our families from potential health risks.”

compoundingThe bill also creates a voluntary category for so-called office compounding of sterile medications. These operations would voluntarily register with the FDA and submit to GMP, or good manufacturing practices, compliance and pay fees in exchange for the right to ship product without a prescription. But there is no criteria concerning interstate shipping or the percentage of production involved.

The legislation “leaves regulation of this vital and long-accepted practice by independent community pharmacies to state boards of pharmacy, where it should be,” says the National Community Pharmacists Association.

But not everyone agrees.

Rosa DeLauro, a Democratic Congresswoman from Connecticut, says the “voluntary approach will continue to expose patients to potentially unsafe, mass-produced compounded drugs that are not approved or evaluated by the FDA.”

NECC steroidsSimilarly, the International Academy of Compounding Pharmacists released a statement saying that “a voluntary category of outsourcing facilities is not the answer” and warned that another potentially deadly New England Compounding Center type of scandal could still occur.

Some health policy experts have even said they fear the new bill will make drugs, less, rather than more, safe.

Critics say that by giving compounding pharmacies the option whether or not to register with the Food and Drug Administration and adhere to stricter guidelines for testing, quality and sterility, does not go far enough.

It makes what is now illegal legal,” said Dr. Michael Carome, who directs the health research group at Public Citizen, a think tank.

Carome said he opposes the bill because it allows large scale compounding without individual prescriptions and with no requirement to follow the strictest quality and sterility guidelines that drug manufacturers must adhere to.

It makes no sense to have two different tiers of drug manufacturers – one that has to meet all the manufacturing guidelines and one that only has to meet some of them. We believe in a level playing field.”

What do you think of this legislation?  Has it gone far enough?  We’d love to hear from you.

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A Blinding Pill to Swallow?

woman eyesOn Monday we brought you news about the health benefits of sex. Today the news is not so good….and for many women will be extremely concerning.

Research presented earlier this week at the American Academy of Ophthalmology annual meeting, showed that women who have taken oral contraceptive pills for three or more years are twice as likely to suffer from glaucoma.

Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness affecting nearly 60 million worldwide.

glaucomaThe researchers caution gynecologists and ophthalmologists to be aware of the role oral contraceptives might play in glaucomatous diseases, and inform patients to have their eyes screened for glaucoma if they also have other risk factors.

The study – conducted by researchers at University of California, San Francisco, Duke University School of Medicine and Third Affiliated Hospital of Nanchang University, Nanchang, China – is the first to establish such increased risk.

The researchers utilized 2005-2008 data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). The study group included 3,406 US women aged 40 years or older who completed the survey’s vision and reproductive health questionnaire and underwent eye exams. They found that females who had used oral contraceptives, no matter which kind, for longer than three years are 2.05 times more likely to report that they have glaucoma.

aao posterAlthough the results of the study do not speak directly to the causative effect of oral contraceptives on the development of glaucoma, they indicate that long-term use of oral contraceptives might be a potential risk factor for glaucoma. Certainly, “the pill” needs to , be considered as part of the risk profile. Other risk factor include:  African American- ethnicity, family history of glaucoma, history of increased eye pressure or existing visual field defects. Previous studies in the field have shown that estrogen may play a significant role in the pathogenesis of glaucoma.

This study should be an impetus for future research to prove the cause and effect of oral contraceptives and glaucoma,” said Shan Lin, M.D., lead researcher and professor of clinical ophthalmology at the University of California San Francisco. “At this point, women who have taken oral contraceptives for three or more years should be screened for glaucoma and followed closely by an ophthalmologist, especially if they have any other existing risk factors.”

Given the fact that 28% of all sexually active women in the US are on the pill, that’s a lot of glaucoma screening. You may want to call your ophthalmologist or optometrist now and get a jump on the line. Alternately, you may want to reconsider your birth control.

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Side Effects of Sex

monday-morning-blues--large-prf-1124686656It’s Monday morning, it’s cold and the holidays are still too far away to be a reality for most of us.  Not a lot to be cheerful about?  Right!

Never fear, SRxA’s Word on Health is here to help start your week off right with some health news that may just bring a smile to your face.

While many people associate a healthy lifestyle with grueling workouts, strict dieting and general deprivation and misery  – this is a misconception.

According to Dr Joseph Mercola, an osteopathic physician, web entrepreneur and New York Times best selling author, healthy habits can be among the most rewarding.  Take sex. It counts as moderately intense exercise plus it boosts numerous aspects of both physical and mental health. As long as you’re engaging in safe-sex practices, increasing your sexual activity is a surefire strategy to better health!

benefits of sexMercola suggests regular sex can reduce stress, bolster self-esteem and foster feelings of intimacy and bonding between partners.  Better still, a healthy sex life can result in a longer, healthier and, most would agree, more enjoyable life.

In case that’s not enough – here’s 10 more healthy side effects of sex:

1. Improved Immunity

People who have sex frequently have significantly higher levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA). IgA is part of the immune system that forms your body’s first line of defense. Its job is to fight off invading organisms at their entry points, reducing or even eliminating the need for activation of your body’s immune system. This may explain why people who have sex frequently also take fewer sick days.

2. Heart Health

According to one study, men who made love regularly (at least twice a week) are 45% less likely to develop heart disease than those who did so once a month or less.

Sexual activity not only provides many of the same benefits to your heart as exercise but also keeps levels of estrogen and testosterone in balance, which is important for heart health.

3. Lower Blood Pressure

Sexual activity, and specifically intercourse, is linked to better stress response and lower blood pressure.

4. It’s a Form of Exercise

Sex helps to boost your heart rate, burn calories and strengthen muscles, just like exercise. In fact, research recently revealed that sex burns about 4 calories a minute for men and 3 for women, making it (at times) a ‘significant’ form of exercise. It can even help you to maintain your flexibility and balance.

5. Pain Relief

Sexual activity releases pain-reducing hormones and has been found to help reduce or block back and leg pain, as well as pain from menstrual cramps, arthritis and headaches. One study even found that sexual activity can lead to partial or complete relief of headache in some migraine and cluster-headache patients.

6. Help to Reduce Risk of Prostate Cancer

Research has shown that men who ejaculate at least 21 times a month (during sex or masturbation) have a lower risk of prostate cancer.

sex and sleep7. Improve Sleep

After sex, the relaxation-inducing hormone prolactin is released, which may help you to nod off more quickly. The “love hormone” oxytocin, released during orgasm, also promotes sleep.

8. Stress Relief

Sex triggers your body to release it’s natural feel-good chemicals, helping to ease stress and boost pleasure, calm and self-esteem. Research also shows that those who have sexual intercourse responded better when subjected to stressful situations like speaking in public.

9. Boost Your Libido

The more often you have sex, the more likely you are to want to keep doing it. There’s a mental connection there but also a physical one, particularly for women. More frequent sex helps to increase vaginal lubrication, blood flow and elasticity, which in turn make sexual activity more enjoyable.

10. Improved Bladder Control in Women

Intercourse helps to strengthen pelvic floor muscles, which contract during orgasm. This can help women improve their bladder control and avoid incontinence.

Happy Monday!

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