Model for a Hepatitis C Cure: Success in the Cherokee Nation

For 9 out of 10 American Indians, treatment led to a hepatitis C cure.

For most of the 3.5 million Americans living with a hepatitis C infection today, the promise of a cure is an empty one unless patients can get proper care. And deaths from hepatitis C keep rising, surpassing deaths from HIV.

Now, in a successful pilot program by the Cherokee Nation Health Services of northeastern Oklahoma, a May 2016 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report shows that curing hepatitis C is possible not only in clinical trials, but also in the larger population — even in remote and impoverished areas.

 

Local Hepatitis C Screening Success

American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rates of death from hepatitis C of any group in the United States, and also the highest number of new hepatitis C infections, according to the CDC, says Jorge Mera, MD, lead study author and director of infectious diseases at Cherokee Nation Health Services, though he says it’s not known why. “We made a great effort to detect hepatitis C virus-positive patients," he says. "Hepatitis C virus is known as the invisible epidemic — we tried to make it visible.”

To get more people screened, the health services implemented an electronic health record reminder to target everyone born between 1945 and 1965. The automatic alert prompted medical providers if the patient they were seeing that day was due for a hepatitis C screening test based on the patient's birthdate. This pilot program resulted in a fivefold increase in first-time hepatitis C testing between 2012 and 2015, from 3,337 people to 16,772 and included 131,000 American Indian people, mostly from rural northeastern Oklahoma.

The program educated healthcare providers on how important it is to identify these patients as early as possible, and to offer them treatment. It also informed them about the many ways people are exposed to hepatitis C, including by using or having used IV or intranasal drugs, having been incarcerated, or having received a blood transfusion before 1992. The CDC recommends testing for all people with such histories.

 

Progress in National Hepatitis C Screening

A report on a second, national initiative by the Indian Health Service (IHS) that ramped up hepatitis C testing in a similar way was also published in May 2016 in the CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR). As of June 2015, the number of people they had screened overall increased from 14,402 to 68,514 over three years, varying by region from 31 to 41 percent of people in the high-risk age group.

“The Indian Health Service’s screening rates for American Indian and Alaska Native patients in the [1945 to 1965] birth cohort have more than tripled since the national recommendations were released, greatly increasing the potential for early detection and follow-up for our patients living with hepatitis C infection,” says Susan Karol, MD, Indian Health Service chief medical officer and member of the Tuscarora Indian Nation in Niagara Falls, New York. The Indian Health Service provides healthcare for 1.9 million American Indian and Alaska Native people, including 566 different recognized tribes.
A Second Test for Active Hepatitis C

“Once patients were detected as HCV-positive, a confirmatory viral blood test was performed to make sure they had an active infection,” says Mera about his hepatitis C program. This test looks for RNA that’s proof of ongoing hepatitis C virus replication in the patient’s blood.

Of the 715 people who tested positive on the first screening test, 68 percent had an active infection. They were referred to one of five hepatitis C virus clinics set up by Cherokee Nation Health Systems, which had primary care providers who were specifically trained through the Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO) program. Outreach also included home visits to people who had hepatitis.
Access to Hepatitis C Drugs That Can Cure

A high proportion of the people who had an active infection — 57 percent — received antiviral drug treatment in this pilot program. Ninety percent were cured of hepatitis C.

“We don’t deny treatment to anybody because they’re depressed or have an alcohol dependence medical problem,” says Mera, though this is often a barrier to getting approvals for antiviral treatment. “We do offer and encourage them to be enrolled in a behavioral health program to address the other medical conditions. As long as they’re following up with the medical appointments and interested in HCV treatment, we will treat their hepatitis C virus.”

David Rein, PhD, program area director of the public health analytics division of NORC, an independent research institution at the University of Chicago, says access to hepatitis C care is improving for some. “In March, the U.S. Veterans Administration dropped all restrictions on treatment and began to provide treatment to any veteran in its system who is infected with the virus, regardless of how far the disease has progressed. Unfortunately, the VA is the exception and not the rule. Many state Medicaid programs and private insurance plans still place unnecessary barriers on treatment access.”   

Coverage to pay for medications is a barrier for many people with hepatitis C, notes a May 2016 editorial in The Journal of the American Medical Association.

The key to success, Mera says, is being relentless. “We have a wonderful group of case managers dedicated to hepatitis C treatment procurement,” he says. “They will work with the third party payers such as Medicaid, Medicare, and private insurance, and also with the patient assistance programs. Our case managers will not take no for an answer very easily, and will exhaust all the possibilities they have to obtain the medications.”
How to Cure Hepatitis C Across the United States

The three steps to a hepatitis C cure are to:

    Get screened to see if you’ve ever been exposed to the hepatitis C virus
    Get tested for active viral infection
    Get effective drug treatment

Yet half of Americans infected with hepatitis C don’t know they have it, while many of those who do know can’t get access to care or can’t pay for the antiviral medication they need.

A plan to cure hepatitis C is important because cases of infection have increased more than 2.5 times from 2010 to 2014, and deaths from hepatitis C are on the rise, exceeding 19,000 per year, according to the CDC's U.S. viral hepatitis surveillance report, published in May 2016.  

“Acute cases, which occur when a patient is first infected with hepatitis C, are increasing at an alarming rate, likely due to higher rates of injection drug use,” says Dr. Rein. But this group of people is not likely to develop symptoms of liver dysfunction for several decades.

“The record number of hepatitis C deaths that the CDC reported for 2014 is almost exclusively related to people who were initially infected with the disease in the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s who developed chronic infections which gradually destroyed their livers over the course of decades,” he explains.

Rein and his colleagues had predicted in 2010 that deaths from hepatitis C would increase to 18,200 annually by the year 2020, peak at 36,000 in 2033, and kill more than one million Americans by the year 2060 if we didn't take action to prevent it. But the sobering reality is that the U.S. case numbers have already exceeded that prediction, with more than 19,000 cases in 2014.

“I still believe that is what will happen if nothing is done to address the epidemic,“ Rein says. “However, I’m both hopeful and confident in our healthcare system, and I believe that we’ll see vastly expanded testing and treatment, which will lead to dramatic reductions in deaths from hepatitis C in the years to come.”

More people, especially those born between 1945 and 1965, need to be tested for the hepatitis C antibody, he says. “Simply disseminating guidelines and providing reimbursement for testing is insufficient to assure that doctors test their patients. Interventions are needed to prioritize testing for hepatitis C.”

The Cherokee Nation group is now working with the CDC on a model that experts hope can be expanded throughout the country to lead people effectively from screening through to a hepatitis C cure.

What can help the model succeed? According to Mera, support, commitment, and trust:

    Political support (in the Cherokee Nation program, from the tribe’s chief and council)
    Commitment and trust from the administration to do the right thing to eliminate hepatitis C
    Dedicated and motivated team members who include primary care providers (nurse practitioners, physicians, pharmacists), lab technicians, nurses, administrators, behavioral health personnel, case managers, and clerks who understand the importance and urgency of hepatitis C screening and a cure

“My wish would be that patients would ask their medical providers to test them for HCV if they think they could have been exposed. This would increase screening, the first step in visualizing the invisible epidemic,” says Mera.

 

Hepatitis C FAQs for the Public

Overview

What is hepatitis?

“Hepatitis” means inflammation of the liver. Toxins, certain drugs, some diseases, heavy alcohol use, and bacterial and viral infections can all cause hepatitis. Hepatitis is also the name of a family of viral infections that affect the liver; the most common types are Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C.

What is the difference between Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, and Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis AHepatitis B, and Hepatitis C are diseases caused by three different viruses. Although each can cause similar symptoms, they have different modes of transmission and can affect the liver differently. Hepatitis A appears only as an acute or newly occurring infection and does not become chronic. People with Hepatitis A usually improve without treatment. Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C can also begin as acute infections, but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver problems. There are vaccines to prevent Hepatitis A and B; however, there is not one for Hepatitis C. If a person has had one type of viral hepatitis in the past, it is still possible to get the other types.

What is Hepatitis C?

Hepatitis C is a contagious liver disease that ranges in severity from a mild illness lasting a few weeks to a serious, lifelong illness that attacks the liver. It results from infection with the Hepatitis C virus (HCV), which is spread primarily through contact with the blood of an infected person. Hepatitis C can be either “acute” or “chronic.”

Acute Hepatitis C virus infection is a short-term illness that occurs within the first 6 months after someone is exposed to the Hepatitis C virus. For most people, acute infection leads to chronic infection.

Chronic Hepatitis C virus infection is a long-term illness that occurs when the Hepatitis C virus remains in a person’s body. Hepatitis C virus infection can last a lifetime and lead to serious liver problems, including cirrhosis (scarring of the liver) or liver cancer.

 

Statistics

How common is acute Hepatitis C in the United States?

In 2014, there were an estimated 30,500 cases of acute hepatitis C virus infections reported in the United States.

How common is chronic Hepatitis C in the United States?

An estimated 2.7-3.9 million people in the United States have chronic hepatitis C.

How likely is it that acute Hepatitis C will become chronic?

Approximately 75%–85% of people who become infected with Hepatitis C virus develop chronic infection.

Transmission / Exposure

How is Hepatitis C spread?

Hepatitis C is usually spread when blood from a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus enters the body of someone who is not infected. Today, most people become infected with the Hepatitis C virus by sharing needles or other equipment to inject drugs. Before 1992, when widespread screening of the blood supply began in the United States, Hepatitis C was also commonly spread through blood transfusions and organ transplants.

 

People can become infected with the Hepatitis C virus during such activities as

  • Sharing needles, syringes, or other equipment to inject drugs
  • Needlestick injuries in health care settings
  • Being born to a mother who has Hepatitis C

Less commonly, a person can also get Hepatitis C virus infection through

  • Sharing personal care items that may have come in contact with another person’s blood, such as razors or toothbrushes
  • Having sexual contact with a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus

Can Hepatitis C be spread through sexual contact?

Yes, but the risk of transmission from sexual contact is believed to be low. The risk increases for those who have multiple sex partners, have a sexually transmitted disease, engage in rough sex, or are infected with HIV. More research is needed to better understand how and when Hepatitis C can be spread through sexual contact.

Can you get Hepatitis C by getting a tattoo or piercing?

A few major research studies have not shown Hepatitis C to be spread through licensed, commercial tattooing facilities. However, transmission of Hepatitis C (and other infectious diseases) is possible when poor infection-control practices are used during tattooing or piercing. Body art is becoming increasingly popular in the United States, and unregulated tattooing and piercing are known to occur in prisons and other informal or unregulated settings. Further research is needed to determine if these types of settings and exposures are responsible for Hepatitis C virus transmission.

Can Hepatitis C be spread within a household?

Yes, but this does not occur very often. If Hepatitis C virus is spread within a household, it is most likely a result of direct, through-the-skin exposure to the blood of an infected household member.

How should blood spills be cleaned from surfaces to make sure that Hepatitis C virus is gone?

Any blood spills — including dried blood, which can still be infectious — should be cleaned using a dilution of one part household bleach to 10 parts water. Gloves should be worn when cleaning up blood spills.

How long does the Hepatitis C virus survive outside the body?

The Hepatitis C virus can survive outside the body at room temperature, on environmental surfaces, for up to 3 weeks.

What are ways Hepatitis C is not spread?

Hepatitis C virus is not spread by sharing eating utensils, breastfeeding, hugging, kissing, holding hands, coughing, or sneezing. It is also not spread through food or water.

Who is at risk for Hepatitis C?

Some people are at increased risk for Hepatitis C, including:

  • Current injection drug users (currently the most common way Hepatitis C virus is spread in the United States)
  • Past injection drug users, including those who injected only one time or many years ago
  • Recipients of donated blood, blood products, and organs (once a common means of transmission but now rare in the United States since blood screening became available in 1992)
  • People who received a blood product for clotting problems made before 1987
  • Hemodialysis patients or persons who spent many years on dialysis for kidney failure
  • People who received body piercing or tattoos done with non-sterile instruments
  • People with known exposures to the Hepatitis C virus, such as
    • Health care workers injured by needlesticks
    • Recipients of blood or organs from a donor who tested positive for the Hepatitis C virus
  • HIV-infected persons
  • Children born to mothers infected with the Hepatitis C virus

Less common risks include:

  • Having sexual contact with a person who is infected with the Hepatitis C virus
  • Sharing personal care items, such as razors or toothbrushes, that may have come in contact with the blood of an infected person

What is the risk of a pregnant woman passing Hepatitis C to her baby?

Hepatitis C is rarely passed from a pregnant woman to her baby. About 6 of every 100 infants born to mothers with Hepatitis C become infected with the virus. However, the risk becomes greater if the mother has both HIV infection and Hepatitis C.

Can a person get Hepatitis C from a mosquito or other insect bite?

Hepatitis C virus has not been shown to be transmitted by mosquitoes or other insects.

Can I donate blood, organs, or semen if I have Hepatitis C?

No, if you ever tested positive for the Hepatitis C virus (or Hepatitis B virus), experts recommend never donating blood, organs, or semen because this can spread the infection to the recipient.

 

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of acute Hepatitis C?

Approximately 70%–80% of people with acute Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. Some people, however, can have mild to severe symptoms soon after being infected, including:

  • Fever
  • Fatigue
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Abdominal pain
  • Dark urine
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Joint pain
  • Jaundice (yellow color in the skin or eyes)

How soon after exposure to Hepatitis C do symptoms appear?

If symptoms occur, the average time is 6–7 weeks after exposure, but this can range from 2 weeks to 6 months. However, many people infected with the Hepatitis C virus do not develop symptoms.

Can a person spread Hepatitis C without having symptoms?

Yes, even if a person with Hepatitis C has no symptoms, he or she can still spread the virus to others.

Is it possible to have Hepatitis C and not know it?

Yes, many people who are infected with the Hepatitis C virus do not know they are infected because they do not look or feel sick.

What are the symptoms of chronic Hepatitis C?

Most people with chronic Hepatitis C do not have any symptoms. However, if a person has been infected for many years, his or her liver may be damaged. In many cases, there are no symptoms of the disease until liver problems have developed. In persons without symptoms, Hepatitis C is often detected during routine blood tests to measure liver function and liver enzyme (protein produced by the liver) level.

How serious is chronic Hepatitis C?

Chronic Hepatitis C is a serious disease that can result in long-term health problems, including liver damage, liver failure, liver cancer, or even death. It is the leading cause of cirrhosis and liver cancer and the most common reason for liver transplantation in the United States. Approximately 19,000 people die every year from Hepatitis C related liver disease.

What are the long-term effects of Hepatitis C?

Of every 100 people infected with the Hepatitis C virus, about

  • 75–85 people will develop chronic Hepatitis C virus infection; of those,
    • 60–70 people will go on to develop chronic liver disease
    • 5–20 people will go on to develop cirrhosis over a period of 20–30 years
    • 1–5 people will die from cirrhosis or liver cancer

Tests

Can a person have normal liver enzyme (e.g., ALT) results and still have Hepatitis C?

Yes. It is common for persons with chronic Hepatitis C to have a liver enzyme level that goes up and down, with periodic returns to normal or near normal. Some infected persons have liver enzyme levels that are normal for over a year even though they have chronic liver disease. If the liver enzyme level is normal, persons should have their enzyme level re-checked several times over a 6–12 month period. If the liver enzyme level remains normal, the doctor may check it less frequently, such as once a year.

Who should get tested for Hepatitis C?

Talk to your doctor about being tested for Hepatitis C if any of the following are true:

  • You were born from 1945 through 1965
  • You are a current or former injection drug user, even if you injected only one time or many years ago.
  • You were treated for a blood clotting problem before 1987.
  • You received a blood transfusion or organ transplant before July 1992.
  • You are on long-term hemodialysis treatment.
  • You have abnormal liver tests or liver disease.
  • You work in health care or public safety and were exposed to blood through a needlestick or other sharp object injury.
  • You are infected with HIV.

If you are pregnant, should you be tested for Hepatitis C?

No, getting tested for Hepatitis C is not part of routine prenatal care. However, if a pregnant woman has risk factors for Hepatitis C virus infection, she should speak with her doctor about getting tested.

What blood tests are used to test for Hepatitis C?

Several different blood tests are used to test for Hepatitis C. A doctor may order just one or a combination of these tests. Typically, a person will first get a screening test that will show whether he or she has developed antibodies to the Hepatitis C virus. (An antibody is a substance found in the blood that the body produces in response to a virus.) Having a positive antibody test means that a person was exposed to the virus at some time in his or her life. If the antibody test is positive, a doctor will most likely order a second test to confirm whether the virus is still present in the person's bloodstream.

Treatment

Can acute Hepatitis C be treated?

Yes, acute hepatitis C can be treated. Acute infection can clear on its own without treatment in about 25% of people. If acute hepatitis C is diagnosed, treatment does reduce the risk that acute hepatitis C will become a chronic infection. Acute hepatitis C is treated with the same medications used to treat chronic Hepatitis C. However, the optimal treatment and when it should be started remains uncertain.

Can chronic Hepatitis C be treated?

Yes. There are several medications available to treat chronic Hepatitis C, including new treatments that appear to be more effective and have fewer side effects than previous options. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains a complete list of approved treatments for Hepatitis C.

Is it possible to get over Hepatitis C?

Yes, approximately 15%–25% of people who get Hepatitis C will clear the virus from their bodies without treatment and will not develop chronic infection. Experts do not fully understand why this happens for some people.

What can a person with chronic Hepatitis C do to take care of his or her liver?

People with chronic Hepatitis C should be monitored regularly by an experienced doctor. They should avoid alcohol because it can cause additional liver damage. They also should check with a health professional before taking any prescription pills, supplements, or over-the-counter medications, as these can potentially damage the liver. If liver damage is present, a person should check with his or her doctor about getting vaccinated against Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B.

Vaccination

Is there a vaccine that can prevent Hepatitis C?

Not yet. Vaccines are available only for Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B. Research into the development of a vaccine is under way.

Hepatitis C and Employment

Should a person infected with the Hepatitis C virus be restricted from working in certain jobs or settings?

CDC's recommendations for prevention and control of the Hepatitis C virus infection state that people should not be excluded from work, school, play, child care, or other settings because they have Hepatitis C. There is no evidence that people can get Hepatitis C from food handlers, teachers, or other service providers without blood-to-blood contact.

Hepatitis C and Co-infection with HIV

What is HIV and Hepatitis C virus coinfection?

HIV and Hepatitis C virus coinfection refers to being infected with both HIV and the Hepatitis C virus. Coinfection is more common in persons who inject drugs. In fact, 50%–90% of HIV-infected persons who use injection drugs are also infected with the Hepatitis C virus. To learn more about coinfection, visithttp://www.cdc.gov/hiv/resources/factsheets/hepatitis.htm.

11 Struggles Every New Runner Understands

I've never been one of those people. You know the kind, the ones who wake up in the morning or lace up in the evening and "go for a run."

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I've always been envious of my roommates, who can sneak in a jog with ease and carry on with their day, as if they had done something casually simple like taking the trash out. So, I made a vow to give running another chance. After all, the exercise has been shown to make you happier, reduce your risk for disease and even increase longevity.

While group classes and long walks will probably always be more my speed, I did find that I was enjoying running more than I ever did in the past. However, that doesn't come without a few hiccups. Below are a handful of struggles all new runners can probably relate to.

Getting winded in the first few minutes.

Probably one of the most discouraging elements of getting into a running routine is realizing that you're not as in shape as you thought you were. I continuously find myself doing more walking or jogging than actual running. But just because you need those intermittent breaks doesn't mean you aren't a runner. In fact, research shows that walking intervals during your run can help you maintain your overall pace.

Two words: Sore. Muscles.

The second-day pain is real. If you're experiencing those achy muscles, try one of these post-run remedies. Just make sure you're checking in with your body as you establish your routine. A little soreness is OK, but if the pain is more intense you may have sustained a running-related injury.

 

 

Feeling overwhelmed by the copious amount of races.

Color runs, beer runs, zombie runs, princess half marathons... the list is seriously endless. However, there are some perks to picking a race. Signing up for one helps you set a goal as you get into a routine, plus there's an opportunity to turn it into a social event by participating with your friends.

If your goal is to become a marathon runner (and props to you!), there are also some benefits there: Research shows consistent long-distance running can improve cardiovascular health and lower the risk for other organ disorders, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The jolting agony of waking up at 6 a.m.

My sleepy brain is constantly telling me my bed feels better than running (and often, the bed wins). If you need a little extra motivation, try one of these hacks to help you jumpstart your morning workout.

The boredom.

Part of the reason I never got into a routine in the first place was because the exercise itself seemed extremely dull to me (the treadmill is my arch-nemesis). Once I discovered more running-path options, I started to have more fun. However, that's not to say that I don't get a little bored sometimes — and that's OK.

Note: If you still just can't get excited by the process most of the time, you may want to try a more entertaining workout option instead. Exercise should be engaging, not mind-numbing.

Trying to find your perfect route.

Finding your favorite place to run is like finding a good apartment: It feels elusive until one day you hit the lottery. Whether you're into lush scenery or a skyline, it's important to find the routes that work for you in order to make the exercise entertaining.

The joy of picking out new workout clothes.

Sleek tanks! Compression pants! Neon shoes!

Running toward (multiple) "finish lines."

If you've ever uttered to yourself just one more pole, you're not alone. In fact, picking out an arbitrary finish line on your run can improve your performance. Research shows those who stare at a target in the distance go faster and feel less exertion than those who don't concentrate on anything, The Atlantic reported.

 

 

Bargaining with yourself on your run.

If you run five more blocks, you can binge-watch Scandal when you get home, I tell myself. Chances are I'd probably do it anyway — but at least it encourages me in the moment.

Creating a playlist that will consistently keep you motivated.

No, a simple music-streaming app won't do when your lungs are on fire and your legs feel weak. You need that one specific song that will inspire you to keep going (shout out to all my Shake It Off comrades). If you're looking for a playlist to spice up your run, check out some of these.

Eating Well As You Age

Looking in the mirror for changes as you age? A healthy diet helps to ensure that you'll like the reflection you see. Good nutrition is linked to healthy aging on many levels: It can keep you energized and active as well as fight against slowing metabolism and digestion and the gradual loss of muscle mass and healthy bone as you age.

Making healthy diet choices can help you prevent or better manage chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. It's never too late to adopt healthier eating habits.

Strategies for Healthy Eating as You Age

Replace old eating habits with these healthy approaches:

  • Eat every three or four hours. “This keeps energy levels high and keeps appetite hormones in check to avoid overeating,” says Kim Larson, RD, of Total Health in Seattle and a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
  • Eat protein at each meal. Aim for 20 to 30 grams to help maintain muscle mass. Choose fish at least twice a week as a source of high quality protein. Other good sources of protein include lean meat and poultry, eggs, beans, nuts, and seeds.
  • Choose whole grains. Replace refined flour products with whole grains for more nutrients and fiber.
  • Choose low-fat dairy. Cutting out the saturated fat may help lower your risk for heart disease.
  • Learn about portion sizes. You may need to scale back on the serving sizes of foods to control your weight.
  • Choose nutrient-rich whole foods over empty calories. Whole foods are those closest to their natural state. Empty calories are typically processed foods with added salt, sugar, and fat. For example, snack on whole fruit instead of cookies.
  • Eat a “rainbow” of foods. “Eat five to seven servings of fruits and veggies each day to keep antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E high,” Larson says. Choosing fruits and vegetables of different colors provides your body with a wide range of nutrients. According to research published in the May 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Geriatric Societyexercise coupled with higher fruit and vegetable intake led to longer lives. Fruits and veggies also fill you up with fiber, which cuts down on snacking and helps control weight, Larson says.
  • Choose healthy cooking techniques. Try steaming, baking, roasting, or sautéing food rather than frying it to cut back on fat.
  • Cut down on salt. If you’re over 51, national recommendations are to eat less than 1,500 milligrams of salt per day. Look for low-sodium foods and season your meals with herbs and spices rather than salt.
  • Stay hydrated. “Dehydration can cause irritability, fatigue, confusion, and urinary tract infections,” Larson says. Be sure to drink plenty of water and other non-caffeinated liquids throughout the day.
  • Ask about supplements. You may have changing nutrient needs as you get older and might benefit from vitamins B12 and D, calcium, and omega-3 fatty acid supplements, Larson says. Ask your doctor or a dietitian for guidance.

Overcoming Challenges to Healthy Eating

Eating a healthy diet can be complicated by changes you may face as you age, such as difficulty eating or a limited budget. There are strategies you can try to solve these common challenges:

  • If you've lost your appetite or sense of taste: Try new recipes and flavors — adding spices, herbs, and lemon juice can make foods more appealing. If you take medication, ask your doctor if appetite or taste changes are side effects and if switching to another drug might help.
  • If you have a hard time swallowing or chewing: Choose foods that are moist and easy to eat, such as nutritious soups made with beans and vegetables, Larson says.
  • If affording groceries is difficult: Shop from a list — careful planning can help you make the healthiest and most cost-effective food choices. Use coupons or shop on days when discounts are offered. Buying fruits and veggies when they’re in season and frozen produce in bulk can also help control expenses.
  • If you have trouble preparing meals: Consider buying healthy prepared or semi-prepared meals or at least pre-cut ingredients to cut down on energy-draining prep time.

Larson believes in the importance of enjoying your food. Make healthy-diet changes step by step and have fun experimenting to find new tastes and cooking styles. Eat slowly and pay attention to the experience. “Create a pleasant eatingenvironment," she says. "Sit by a window and enjoy every bite.”

What You Need to Know About Hyperpigmentation

Even small skin traumas like a pimple or bug bite can leave you with complexion-busting dark spots. “This is one of the most common ailments that patients come to see me about,” explains Jeanine Downie, MD, director of Image Dermatology in Montclair, New Jersey. “It’s an annoying condition that affects all skin types, but the good news is that it’s fairly easy to treat.”

Find out how Dr. Downie helps patients treat and avoid marks on their complexions.

Everyday Health: What causes hyperpigmentation?

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Jeanine Downie: Any trauma or inflammation to the skin — either from acne, pimples, bug bites, or simply a bump, cut, or scratch — disrupts the surface layers where you have melanin, responsible for skin’s color. As the skin heals, it leaves behind residual pigmentation and dark spots.

 

 

 

EH: Is there anything you can do to prevent it?

JD: Unfortunately, if you’re prone to these dark spots, it’s tough to prevent them. Still, picking or scratching at an irritation will further traumatize the area, so hands off! You’ll also want to be vigilant about wearing sunscreen. As your skin gets darker, so will those hyperpigmented areas — it’s not like a tan is going to even out the color. Obviously, daily sunscreen wear is a must anyway, but this is just one more reason to protect your skin from UV rays.

EH: What steps can you take to treat it?

JD: The sooner you start taking care of your wound, the better it’ll look once healed. I recommend keeping the wound covered, especially if the skin is broken, and applying a topical healing ointment.

 

 

For large cysts or cuts, you may even want to see your dermatologist for a treatment plan. Once the pimple or cut has healed, apply 2% hydroquinone cream, which is available over-the-counter, or 4% hydroquinone, available by prescription from your doctor.

If the topical creams don’t quite do the trick, talk to your dermatologist about chemical peels or laser treatments to completely eliminate more stubborn discoloration.

EH: Is hyperpigmentation more common in people with darker complexions?

JD: No matter your skin color, everyone is susceptible to hyperpigmentation. Still, those with darker complexions seem to hold on to those spots for much longer because they have more melanin in their skin. It also means those hyperpigmented areas are going to be darker and more visible as well. Pregnancy and certain medications can increase your body’s production of melanin, and lead to hyperpigmentation as well.

6 Ways to Prep Your Skin for Summer

Scheduling vacation plans and buying a new swimsuit will mentally prepare you for summer, but your skin may need some help getting ready, too. For gorgeous, smooth skin you'll feel ready to bare, you need to take a few simple steps. Try this head-to-toe refresher to take your skin out of hibernation.

1. Reveal Glowing Skin

Regular exfoliation can be a part of a healthy skin regimen no matter the season; as long as your skin is not sensitive, exfoliation can help you achieve smooth, healthy-looking skin that makes you look more glowing and youthful. “But it must be done with care,” says Doris Day, MD, a dermatologist in New York City. “The goal is to lift off the outer layer of skin cells that are ready to be sloughed off without stripping the skin.”

 

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Brushes, polishing cloths, and scrubs offer easy ways to smooth away rough spots. Rotating cleansing brushes work by physically buffing off the dead skin cells. Exfoliating cloths, microdermabrasion kits, and scrubs with granular ingredients also operate the same way. “For the body, look for a scrub that contains coarse particles that dissolve over time, like sugar, so you don’t irritate the skin,” says Dr. Day.

Products that chemically exfoliate the skin contain ingredients such as glycolic, salicylic, or polyhydroxy acids that cause the skin to shed its outer layer and reveal the newer layer.

2. Remove Hair Without Irritation

If your summer forecast calls for sunny days at the beach or poolside, you may be putting some effort into removing unwanted hair. But once you rip off the wax strip, it’s also important to care for the skin that’s newly exposed to the elements.

Give your skin some time to recover before rolling out your beach towel or getting active outdoors. “I advise clients to stay out of the sun or heat for at least 48 hours after any hair-removal process,” says Cindy Barshop, owner of Completely Bare spas. “Follicles are vulnerable to irritation, and skin may be sensitive due to any heat or friction from lasers, waxing, or shaving.”

Since most of us don’t plan our hair removal that far in advance, buffer your tender skin with an oil-free sunscreen, wait for it to dry (about 5 minutes), and dust on some talc-free baby powder, says Barshop. To prevent ingrown hairs, it’s helpful to wear loose-fitting clothing and use an after-waxing product that contains glycolic and salicylic acids, which team up to prevent dead skin cells from causing bothersome bumps.

 

 

3. Fight UV Rays With Food

All the work you put into making your skin look good won’t be worth it unless you guard it from the sun’s damaging rays, which are strongest during the summer. Surprisingly, you can protect yourself from the inside, too. “In addition to usingsunscreen, eat cooked tomatoes every day if you know you’re going to be in the sun,” says Jessica Wu, MD, assistant clinical professor of dermatology at USC Medical School. According to research, cooked tomatoes are rich in lycopene, an antioxidant that helps fight the effects of UV rays such as redness, swelling, and blistering from sunburn. If you plan to spend a lot of time outdoors, you may benefit from consuming tomato sauce, grilled tomatoes, or even Bloody Marys. “This doesn’t replace sunscreen, but the habit could give you additional protection if you can’t reach your back and miss a spot,” Dr. Wu adds.

4. Clear Up Body Breakouts

It’s no better to have acne on your body than on the face, especially in the heat, when hiding and covering up isn’t an option. The approach to treating acne on the back, chest, and elsewhere on the body is the same as treating facial acne: “Exfoliate regularly, don’t pick, and treat with effective ingredients,” says Day.

Washing with products that contain salicylic acid helps slough off the dead skin cells; a treatment product with micronized benzoyl peroxide can also help by penetrating the skin and killing off the bacteria that cause acne.

If your skin is sensitive, investing in an acne-treating blue light tool may be worth the cost. “You simply wave the light wand over skin for five minutes daily and it helps kill bacteria,” says Leslie Baumann, MD, a dermatologist in Miami. If you have severe body acne, see a dermatologist.

5. Erase Cellulite

First, the good news: Some products may be able to smooth out the undesirable dimples and unevenness of cellulite. The bad news: They won’t get rid of cellulite forever. The smoothing and toning effect, like many good things in life, is fleeting. Still, it may be worth slathering on a toning body lotion to make your skin look and feel tighter for a day at the beach or a special event.

“Products that contain caffeine and theophylline temporarily dehydrate fat cells,” says Dr. Baumann. “However, it’s the massage and the application of the cream that does the work.” The best course of action long-term is to exercise regularly, coupled with targeted massage, suggests Baumann.

Another way to hide cellulite is to apply a fake tan. Take advantage of the newest self-tanners, which have come a long way from the strong-smelling streaky creams or sprays of yesteryear. “There has been so much progress in the formulations — the colors are natural, there’s no streaking, and the scent is so much better,” says Day.

6. Treat Your Feet

If you’ve stuffed your feet inside boots all winter, they probably could use a little TLC for sandal weather. Jump-start your program with a salon pedicure, or if you’re short on time, you can heed Day’s DIY tip, which will help soften feet while you sleep. First, remove thicker skin with a foot file. Apply a rich emollient cream or ointment, then cover the feet in plastic wrap and cotton socks. Leave on overnight. Repeat every day until you achieve smooth skin, then once a week to maintain soft skin.

7 Healthy Habits of the 2016 Presidential Candidates

The New Hampshire primary's in full swing, and if there’s one thing all the presidential hopefuls can agree on, it’s that running for office is the ultimate endurance challenge. They’re canvassing across the country with little time to exercise or sleep, and it doesn’t help that at every stop they’re tempted by unhealthy foods like pizza, pork chops, and pies. So how do the presidential candidates stay healthy and keep their energy levels up during the grueling primary season? Read on to find out!

What Is Guillain-Barré Syndrome?

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS) is an illness that can result in muscle weakness or loss of muscle function in parts of the body.

In people with Guillain-Barré syndrome (pronounced GHEE-yan ba-RAY), the body's own immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system.

The peripheral nervous system includes the nerves that connect the brain and spinal cord to the limbs. These nerves help control muscle movement.

GBS Prevalence

Guillain-Barré syndrome is a rare disease.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that about 1 or 2 out of every 100,000 people develop GBS each year in the United States.

Anyone can get GBS, but the condition is more common in adults than in children, and more men than women are diagnosed with GBS each year.

Causes and Risk Factors

Doctors don't know what causes Guillain-Barré syndrome.

Many people with GBS report a bacterial or viral infection (such as the flu) days or weeks before GBS symptoms start.

Less common triggers for GBS may include:

  • Immunizations
  • Surgery
  • Trauma

Guillain-Barré syndrome is not contagious — it cannot spread from one person to another.

Types of GBS

There are several types of Guillain-Barré syndrome, which are characterized by what part of the nerve cell is damaged.

The most common type of GBS is called acute inflammatory demyelinating polyradiculoneuropathy (AIDP).

In AIDP, the immune system mistakenly attacks the protective nerve covering that helps transmit nerve signals from the brain to other parts of the body.

Guillain-Barré Syndrome Symptoms

The first symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome often include feelings of tingling or weakness in the feet and legs. These feelings may spread to the arms and face.

The chest muscles can also be affected. Up to a quarter of people with GBS experience problems breathing.

In very severe cases, people with GBS may lose all muscle function and movement, becoming temporarily paralyzed.

Signs and symptoms of Guillain-Barré syndrome may include:

  • Pricking or tingling "pins and needles" sensations in the fingers, toes, ankles, or wrists
  • Muscle weakness that starts in the legs and spreads to the upper body
  • Unsteady walking
  • Difficulty with eye or facial movements (blinking, chewing, speaking)
  • Difficulty controlling the bowels or bladder
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Difficulty breathing

What Is Binge Eating Disorder?

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It's unclear what causes binge eating disorder.

Like other eating disorders, BED is probably caused by a combination of genetic, psychological, and social factors.

Some risk factors for binge eating disorder include:

  • A history of anxiety or depression
  • A history of dieting (especially in unhealthy ways, such as skipping meals or not eating enough food each day)
  • Painful childhood experiences, such as family problems

Symptoms of Binge Eating Disorder

People with binge eating disorder have frequent bingeing episodes, typically at least once a week over the course of three months or more.

Binge eating episodes are associated with three or more of the following:

  • Eating much more rapidly than normal
  • Eating until feeling uncomfortably full
  • Eating large amounts of food when you're not feeling hungry
  • Eating alone, because you feel embarrassed about how much you're eating
  • Feeling extremely disgusted, depressed, or guilty after eating

Some people also display behavioral, emotional, or physical characteristics, such as:

  • Secretive food behaviors, including hoarding, hiding, or stealing food
  • Feelings of anger, anxiety, worthlessness, or shame preceding a binge
  • Feeling disgusted with your body size
  • A strong need to be in control, or perfectionist tendencies

Binge Eating Disorder Treatment

If you have binge eating disorder, you should seek help from a specialist in eating disorders, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist.

There are several treatments available for BED. Treatment options may include:

 

10 Varicose Veins Myths

If you have ropy, blue blood vessels in your legs, you may think that they’re unsightly but don't cause any overt symptoms. Yet for some people, varicose veins can cause skin damage and, even worse, lead to dangerous blood clots.

They’re incredibly common: Varicose veins affect about one in four U.S. adults, or about 22 million women and 11 million men between ages 40 and 80.

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Your leg veins face an uphill battle as they carry blood from your toes to your heart. Small flaps, or valves, within these vessels prevent blood from getting backed up on this journey, and the pumping action of your leg muscles helps push the blood along. 

But if these valves weaken, blood can pool — primarily in the veins of your legs — increasing pressure in the veins. As a result of this increased pressure, your body tries to widen the veins to compensate, causing them to bulge and thicken, and leading to the characteristic twisted appearance of varicose veins.

 

 

To help you learn the facts about these enlarged veins, we've set the record straight on 10 sometimes confusing pieces of information, including who gets varicose veins and why, health problems they can cause, and treatment options.

Myth 1: Varicose Veins Are Only a Cosmetic Issue

“A lot of people are told by primary care doctors or others that varicose veins are a cosmetic issue only, when oftentimes they can be much more than that,” saysKathleen D. Gibson, MD, a vascular surgeon practicing in Bellevue, Washington.

“A significant percentage of patients with varicose veins will eventually develop symptoms,” says Pablo Sung Yup Kim, MD, assistant professor of surgery at Mount Sinai's Icahn School of Medicine in New York City. “The most common include dull achiness, heaviness, throbbing, cramping, and swelling of the legs.” Other symptoms include severe dryness and itchiness of the skin near varicose veins. People with varicose veins are also at an increased risk for a dangerous type of blood clot known as deep vein thrombosis.

Other not-so-common signs and symptoms, found in less than 10 percent of patients, include bleeding, skin discoloration, skin thickening, and ulcer formation — all due to varicose veins, says Kim. Unfortunately, once you have skin damage, it’s usually permanent.

“It’s very important to seek medical advice if you have varicose veins and experience symptoms — before changes in the skin are irreversible,” he says.

Myth 2: Varicose Veins Are an Inevitable Sign of Aging

Aging definitely worsens varicose veins, though not everyone gets them. “It's a degenerative process that gets worse and more prominent as we age,” says Dr. Gibson. But young people can get varicose veins, too. While the average age of patients treated in Gibson’s practice is 52, she and her colleagues have treated patients as young as 13.

If you've got varicose veins, it may run in your family. “The cause of varicose veins is primarily genetic,” Gibson explains.

Changes in hormone levels also come into play as a risk factor for varicose veins. “Your risk can be made worse, especially by pregnancy,” she adds.

Myth 3: Varicose Veins Are Strictly a Women’s Issue

While varicose veins are more common in women, men get them, too. About one-quarter of adult women have some visible varicose veins, compared to 10 to 15 percent of men.

Steve Hahn, 51, of Kirkland, Washington, first noticed in his twenties that he had varicose veins in his left leg after he sprained his ankle playing basketball. When he injured his knee about 10 years ago, he noticed that the varicose veins had become more extensive.

“After about five years of thinking about it, I finally had them treated,” he says. “Both of my legs felt very heavy all of the time at this point, as opposed to just after walking a golf course or playing tennis or basketball.”

After treatment, Hahn says, “I feel like I have new legs.” The heaviness is gone, as is the ankle swelling, which he didn't know was related to the varicose veins. And as a side benefit, he adds, he looks better in shorts.

Myth 4: Running Can Cause Varicose Veins

Exercise — including running — is usually a good thing for your veins. “Exercise is always good for the circulation,” Kim says. “Walking or running can lead to more calf-muscle pumping and more blood returning to the heart.”

“Being a runner doesn’t cause varicose veins,” adds Gibson, though there's controversy about whether exercise makes them worse or not.” Compression stockings can help prevent blood from pooling in your lower legs during exercise. “For patients who haven't had their varicose veins treated and are running, I recommend compression. When you’re done running and are cooling off, elevate your legs,” she says.

Myth 5: Varicose Veins Are Always Visible

While the varicose veins you notice are right at the surface of the skin, they occur deeper in the body, too, where you can't see them. “It really depends on the makeup of the leg,” Gibson says. “If you've got a lot of fatty tissue between the muscle and the skin, you may not see them. Sometimes surface veins are the tip of the iceberg and there's a lot going on underneath.”

Myth 6: Standing on the Job Causes Varicose Veins

If you have a job that requires you to be on your feet a lot — as a teacher or flight attendant, for example — you may be more bothered by varicose veins. But the jury's still out on whether prolonged standing actually causes varicose veins. “People tend to notice their varicose vein symptoms more when they’re standing or sitting,” Gibson explains.

RELATED: Steer Clear of These 9 Artery and Vein Diseases

Myth 7: Making Lifestyle Changes Won't Help

Your lifestyle does matter, because obesity can worsen varicose veins, and getting down to a healthy weight can help ease symptoms. Becoming more physically active is also helpful. “Wearing compression stockings, doing calf-strengthening exercises, and elevating your legs can all improve or prevent varicose veins,” saysAndrew F. Alexis, MD, MPH, chairman of the dermatology department at Mount Sinai St. Luke's and Mount Sinai Roosevelt in New York City.

Myth 8: Surgery Is Your Only Treatment Option

The only treatment available for varicose veins used to be a type of surgery called stripping, in which the vein is surgically removed from the body. That’s no longer the case. While this procedure is still the most commonly used varicose vein treatment worldwide, according to Gibson, minimally invasive procedures that don't leave scars have become much more popular in the United States.

Endothermal ablation, for example, involves using a needle to deliver heat to your vein, causing it to close and no longer function. While the procedure doesn't leave a scar, it can be painful, and you may have to undergo sedation before being treated. “You have to have a series of injections along the vein to numb it up; otherwise, you wouldn't be able to tolerate the heat,” Gibson explains. You may need to take a day off from work to recover, as well as a few days off from the gym.

Some medications, called sclerosing agents, close a vein by causing irritation. Others are adhesives that seal a vein shut and don’t require the area to be numbed. Gibson and her colleagues have helped develop some of the new technologies and products used in treating varicose veins, including adhesives.

Milder varicose veins can be treated by dermatologists with non-invasive approaches, such as laser therapy and sclerotherapy, says Dr. Alexis. “For more severe cases where symptoms may be involved, seeing a vascular surgeon for surgical treatment options is advised.”

Although treatment for varicose veins means losing some veins, you have plenty of others in your body that can take up the slack, explains Gibson. “The majority of the blood flow in veins in the leg is not on the surface at all; it's in the deep veins within the muscle,” she says. “Those deep veins … are easily able to take over for any veins that we remove on the surface.”

Myth 9: Recovery After Varicose Vein Treatments Is Difficult

 

 

Newer treatments have quicker recovery times. “These procedures can be performed in an office within 20 to 30 minutes with no recovery time. Patients can usually return to work or daily activities on the same day,” Kim says.

Myth 10: Varicose Veins Can Be Cured

Treatments are effective, but they aren't a cure, Gibson says. Sometimes, varicose veins can make a repeat appearance after treatment. “What I tell my patients is it's kind of like weeding a garden,” she says. “We clear them all out, but that doesn't mean there's never going to be another dandelion popping out.”

10 Essential Facts About Ovarian Cancer

Statistically speaking, ovarian cancer is relatively rare: It represents just 1.3 percent of all new cancer cases in the United States each year, according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI). But although its numbers are small, the fear factor for many women may be disproportionately large.

We spoke to two leading ovarian cancer experts: Robert J. Morgan, Jr., MD, professor, and Mihaela C. Cristea, MD, associate clinical professor, of the medical oncology and therapeutics research department at City of Hope, an NCI-Designated Comprehensive Cancer Center in Duarte, California.

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Here are 10 essential facts about ovarian cancer that you should know:

1. About 20,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year. As a comparison, nearly 250,000 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, according to the American Cancer Society. Of the women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, 90 percent will be older than 40; most ovarian cancers occur in women 60 or older, according to the CDC.

2. You should see your doctor if you experience any of these ovarian cancer symptoms:

  • Vaginal bleeding (especially if you’re past menopause)
  • Abnormal vaginal discharge
  • Pain or pressure in the area below your stomach and between your hip bones
  • Back pain
  • A change in bathroom habits, such as urgently needing to urinate, urinating frequently, or having constipation or diarrhea

It’s important to pay attention to your body and know what’s normal for you. If you have abnormal vaginal bleeding or have any of the other symptoms for two weeks or longer, see your doctor right away.

 

 

These symptoms can be caused by many different problems, but it’s best to have them evaluated, suggests the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.

3. It’s tricky to pinpoint early, milder symptoms of ovarian cancer. However, the findings of a study published in Cancer in 2007 point to a cluster of vague symptoms that may suggest the need for ovarian cancer testing, says Dr. Morgan. In the study, researchers linked these symptoms to the possibility of ovarian cancer:

  • Pelvic or abdominal pain
  • Strong urge to urinate or frequent urination
  • Bloating or increased abdominal size
  • Difficulty eating or feeling full early

If a woman experiences these symptoms on more than 12 days a month for less than one year, she should insist that her doctor perform a thorough ovarian evaluation, says Morgan. This might include the CA-125 blood test or atransvaginal ultrasound exam.

4. Early detection can mean a better prognosis. When detected early enough, ovarian cancer can be cured. “Stage 1 and stage 2 ovarian cancer is curable about 75 to 95 percent of the time, depending on the tumor grade and cell type,” says Morgan. But because this cancer occurs deep inside the body’s pelvic region, it is often diagnosed in later stages, he says. The cure rate for stage 3 ovarian cancer is about 25 to 30 percent, and for stage 4 it's less than 5 percent, he adds.

RELATED: Overcoming Ovarian Cancer, Twice

5. Ovarian cancer has several key risk factorsThese include:

  • Women with a family history of ovarian cancer may be at higher risk.
  • Women who have never been pregnant and women who have uninterrupted ovulation due to infertility treatments seem to be at higher risk.
  • Early onset of your period, or having a late menopause, seems to increase risk.
  • Using talcum powder in the genital area may increase risk.
  • Smoking is a risk factor for a type of ovarian cancer known as mucinous ovarian cancer. Quitting smoking seems to reverse the risk back to normal, says Morgan.

6. Ovarian cancer is not a single disease. In reality, it’s a diverse group of cancers that respond to different treatments based on their molecular characteristics, says Dr. Cristea. Treatment will also depend on other health conditions, such as diabetes or heart problems, that a woman might have.

7. Ovarian cancer treatments are evolving and improving all the time.Immunotherapy is emerging as a new treatment option for many malignancies, including ovarian cancer,” says Cristea. In another recent development, the firstPARP inhibitor, a DNA-repair drug, has been approved for women with BRCA-mutated ovarian cancer when chemotherapy hasn’t worked. “Women should also ask their doctors about clinical trials that are evaluating immunotherapy as well as other new treatments,” she adds.

 

 

8. Surgery may prevent ovarian cancer in women at very high risk. For women who carry the BRCA or other genes that predispose them to ovarian cancer, doctors often recommend surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes.Angelina Jolie, the actor and human rights activist, decided to have this surgery in March 2015. “Removing the ovaries can decrease the risk of developing the disease by 98 percent, and can substantially decrease the risk of developing breast cancer,” notes Morgan. Women in this very high-risk group should opt for this surgery after they’ve completed childbearing at around age 35, he notes.

9. Even after remission, ovarian cancer can still respond to treatment. “About 80 to 90 percent of ovarian cancer patients will achieve remission after chemotherapy treatment,” says Morgan. However, many of those women will later experience a recurrence of the cancer. The longer the remission, notes Morgan, the better the chances are for achieving a second remission.

10. It’s best to see an ovarian cancer specialist. When you’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, getting a referral to an ovarian cancer specialist is a wise move, says Cristea. If you’re having surgery, it’s best to have a gynecologic oncologist perform the operation instead of a gynecologist, she adds. And to make sure you’re getting state-of-the-art treatment, consider seeking a second opinion at a NCI-Designated Cancer Center.

How to Prevent Hearing Loss

Do you have trouble following a conversation in a noisy room? Do other people complain that you have the television turned up too loud? If the answer to either of those questions is yes, you may already have some degree of hearing loss.

Hearing loss can start at any age. According to the National Academy on Aging and Society, the number of affected Americans between the ages of 45 and 64 has increased significantly since 1971. But it’s much more common in seniors: Some 40 percent of the 20 million Americans who have hearing loss are 65 or older.

Contrary to popular belief, however, hearing loss is not an inevitable part of aging. Some causes of hearing loss can be prevented, and most types of hearing loss can be helped.

Types and Causes of Hearing Loss

There are three basic types of hearing loss:

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  • Sensorineural hearing loss is caused by damage to the inner ear nerves or the nerves that carry sound to the hearing area of the brain. Once you have this type of nerve damage, the only treatment is a hearing aid. Causes of sensorineural hearing loss include injuries, tumors, infection, certain medications, and excessive noise exposure.
  • Conductive hearing loss is caused by a condition that blocks sound waves from being transferred to the nerves involved in the hearing process. Whereas sensorineural hearing loss usually affects both ears, conductive hearing loss may only affect one ear. Common causes include ear infections, ear wax, ear trauma such as a punctured eardrum, and other diseases that affect the ear canal, the eardrum, or the tiny bones in the middle ear. Unlike sensorineural hearing loss, this type of hearing loss can often be corrected and restored.
  • Mixed hearing loss occurs when someone who has nerve type hearing loss from aging or noise trauma then gets an ear infection or develops a wax impaction, causing their hearing to suddenly get much worse. It’s a combination of sensorineural hearing loss and conductive hearing loss.

Hearing Loss Evaluation

If you are having trouble hearing or develop sudden deafness, you need to get your hearing checked as soon as possible. Sudden deafness is a serious symptom and should be treated as a medical emergency. For many people, though, hearing loss may be gradual and not obvious. Here are seven warning signs to watch out for:

  • You have trouble hearing while on the telephone.
  • You can’t seem to follow a conversation if there is background noise.
  • You struggle to understand women’s or children's voices.
  • People complain that you turn up the TV volume too high.
  • You constantly ask people to repeat themselves.
  • You have a long history of working around loud noises.
  • You notice a ringing, hissing, or roaring sound in your ears.

 

 

If you think you have any kind of hearing loss, the place to start is with your doctor. Whether your hearing loss is gradual or sudden, your doctor may refer you to an audiologist (a medical specialist in hearing loss) or an otolaryngologist (a medical doctor specializing in disorders of the ear).

 

 

Depending on the cause and type of your hearing loss, treatment may be as simple as removing ear wax or as complicated as reconstructive ear surgery. Sensorineural hearing loss can't be corrected or reversed, but hearing aids and assistive devices can enhance most people’s hearing. For those with profound hearing loss approaching deafness, an electronic hearing device, called a cochlear implant, can even be implanted in the ear.

Tips for Hearing Loss Prevention

One type of hearing loss is 100 percent preventable: that due to noise exposure. Noise is measured in units called decibels: Normal conversation is about 45 decibels, heavy traffic may be about 85 decibels, and a firecracker may be about 120 decibels. Loud noise — anything at or above 85 decibels — can cause damage to the cells in the inner ear that convert sound into signals to the brain. Here are some tips for avoiding noise-induced hearing loss:

  • Minimize your exposure to loud noises that are persistent.
  • Never listen to music through headphones or ear buds with the volume all the way up.
  • Wear ear plugs or protective earmuffs during any activity that exposes you to noise at or above 85 decibels.
  • See your doctor about a baseline hearing test, called an audiogram, to find out if you already have some early hearing loss.

You should also see your doctor if you have any symptoms of ear pain, fullness, or ringing, or if you experience any sudden change in your hearing. These symptoms could be early warnings of preventable hearing loss.

Hearing loss or deafness can have a serious effect on social well-being. It can cut you off from the world around you. Know the causes of hearing loss, and practice hearing loss prevention to preserve the hearing you still have.

Exposure Therapy: A Surprisingly Effective Treatment for Depression

Exposure therapy isn’t just a treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder. It’s also used to treat anxiety, depression, phobias, and more.

If you’ve experienced a traumatic, life-altering event, you might be surprised to learn that one treatment for such trauma — exposure therapy — involves repeatedly reliving the terrible event.

Sounds more harmful than helpful, right? But people who experience their fears over and over again — with the help of a therapist in exposure therapy — can actually learn to control those fears.

The technique is used to treat a growing list of health conditions that include anxiety, phobias, obsessive compulsive behaviors, long-standing grief, and even depression.

How Exposure Therapy Works

Exposure therapy can seem similar to desensitization. People with PTSD, including combat veterans and rape and assault survivors, may experience nightmares and flashbacks that bring the traumatic event back.

They may also avoid situations that can trigger similar memories and may become upset, tense, or have problems sleeping after the trauma.

Edna B. Foa, PhD, director of the Center for the Treatment and Study of Anxiety at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, explains exposure therapy for PTSD to her patients this way: "We are going to help you talk about the trauma so that you can process and digest it, and make it finished business."

While you won't forget about the trauma entirely, she tells them, ''It’s not going to haunt you all the time."

Dr. Foa reassures her patients that they won't be exposed to dangerous situations. She also tells them, "You are going to find out that you are stronger than you think."

Although exposure therapy is considered a short-term treatment — 8 to 12 sessions is common — people with more severe conditions (and those with obsessive-compulsive behaviors) may need more time.

Exposure Therapy Works for Many Conditions

For PTSD, says Matthew Friedman, MD, PhD, senior adviser for the Department of Veterans Affairs' National Center for PTSD, and professor of psychiatry, pharmacology, and toxicology at Dartmouth College's Geisel School of Medicine in Hanover, New Hampshire, "It’s one of the best treatments we have.” A 2007 report from the Institute of Medicine also found the technique to be effective for PTSD.

Foa published a study in the Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology that showed a reduction in depression and PTSD symptoms in female survivors of assault after 9 to 12 sessions.

And a 2014 study in JAMA Psychiatry found that adding exposure therapy to cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) was more effective at relieving long-standing grief than CBT plus supportive counseling.

Effective, But Different, as a Depression Treatment

While research is still ongoing, some experts believe exposure therapy can be helpful for serious depression, too. Depression and PTSD share common features, like flashbacks and memory flooding, says Adele Hayes, PhD, professor of psychology at the University of Delaware in Newark. But there are some important differences, too.

“With depression, it's not necessarily a trauma, but a whole store of memories associated with being a failure, worthless, and defective," she says. A depressed person’s encounter with a rude clerk at a store may trigger thoughts that seem to back up their fears: that no one likes them, that they are worthless, and so on.

RELATED: 6 Life-Changing Tips From People Living with Depression

In 20 to 24 sessions of exposure therapy, Hayes persuades her patients with depression to reexamine the events that trigger their ''worthless'' messages. Then she asks them to see if they can reinterpret them in a more positive light. Next, she helps them build up what she calls the ''positive emotion system."

But some people with depression may be fearful of having positive emotions, she says. Paradoxically, if they start to have hope, they may begin to fear that things may fall apart again and get more depressed.

Getting Started With Exposure Therapy

"The first few sessions are distressing," says Foa, but the distress of exposure therapy usually lasts for only three or four weeks. Plus, patients usually work their way up to scarier situations by first tackling challenges that are somewhat less scary. For instance, someone with a social phobia or fear of public places may be advised to go to a supermarket during a time when it’s not busy. After that, they may visit the store when it’s more crowded. At first, it's natural to feel upset, Foa says. But "if you stay long enough, the anxiety will go down," she says. "In the beginning, you’re afraid you won't be able to tolerate it, but in the end, you’re a winner."

Homework is an important part of exposure therapy, so you’ll also do exercises outside of your sessions, Dr. Friedman says. This could include listening to a recording of your account of the trauma or performing a task that could trigger memories of the event. At your next visit, you’d talk through your experiences with your therapist.

Before you begin exposure therapy, make sure to get a clear explanation of what to expect from the therapist you’re working with.

To find an exposure therapy specialist, start by asking your family doctor for a referral, or contact organizations like the American Psychological Association or the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies that can help you locate one. Veterans can contact their local VA clinic for more information.

Can 'Magic Mushrooms' Kick-Start Depression Treatment?

The active ingredient in "magic mushrooms" may help patients with tough-to-treat depression, a new study suggests.

Twenty patients received psilocybin -- the psychoactive compound in a group of mushrooms that cause hallucinations. Nineteen who completed the study showed improvement in their depression symptoms for up to five weeks after treatment, according to the researchers at Imperial College London.

None had responded to traditional depression treatment, they noted.

"We have shown for the first time clear changes in brain activity in depressed people treated with psilocybin after failing to respond to conventional treatments," said study leader Robin Carhart-Harris, head of psychedelic research at Imperial.

However, his team emphasized that patients with depression should not try to self-medicate with magic mushrooms. While these results are promising, the study was small and did not include a comparison group of patients who did not receive psilocybin, they noted.

Still, brain scans before and after treatment suggest psilocybin may reset the activity of brain circuits that play a role in depression.

"Several of our patients described feeling 'reset' after the treatment and often used computer analogies," Carhart-Harris reported in a college news release. One said he felt like his brain had been "defragged" like a computer hard drive, and another said he felt "rebooted," the researcher added.

RELATED: Depression May Hasten Death in Years After Heart Diagnosis

"Psilocybin may be giving these individuals the temporary 'kick-start' they need to break out of their depressive states, and these imaging results do tentatively support a 'reset' analogy. Similar brain effects to these have been seen with electroconvulsive therapy," Carhart-Harris said.

Larger studies are needed to see if this positive effect can be reproduced in more patients, said study senior author David Nutt.

"But these initial findings are exciting and provide another treatment avenue to explore," said Nutt, director of neuropsychopharmacology in the division of brain sciences.

He added that a trial scheduled to start early in 2018 will test the psychedelic drug against a leading antidepressant.

For this latest study, patients received two different doses of psilocybin, one week apart.

In recent years, promising results have emerged from a number of clinical trials testing the safety and effectiveness of psychedelics in patients with conditions such as depression and addiction.

"Psilocybin can be a promising agent for depression," said Dr. Scott Krakower, assistant unit chief of psychiatry at Zucker Hillside Hospital, in Glen Oaks, N.Y. "For decades, there has been suspected benefit of psychedelic agents for the treatment of psychiatric and neurological disorders."

However, he said, the clinical trials to date have been very small, and without a placebo arm for comparison. He agreed that replication in larger studies is warranted.

The study was published Oct. 13 in the journal Scientific Reports.

7 Detox Tips From Scientists Who Actually Tried Them

One of the realities of 2014 is that when a baby is born, he or she has already been exposed to toxic chemicals. The evidence is in umbilical cords, which research has confirmed contain pesticides, waste from burning coal and gasoline, and garbage. Even if you try to do everything right (eat organic, buy natural products, live in a cabin in the middle of the woods, etc.), you can’t avoid all of the chemicals that have become pervasive.

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Bruce Lourie and Rick Smith researched the dominance of these chemicals while writing their first book, Slow Death by Rubber Duck: How the Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Life Affects Our Health (2009), which took a look at everyday items, including canned food, pajamas, Tupperware, and rubber ducks, that put toxins into our bodies. Their readers bombarded them with a simple question: If all this stuff is inside us, how do we get it out?

So the two authors, armed with Smith’s PhD in biology and collective decades working in the environmental field (Smith's the executive director of the Broadbent Institute and Lourie is the president of the Ivey Foundation), went out again to determine what actually worked to get toxins out of the body. Through a series of self-designed experiments on themselves and others, they take readers through their journey in Toxin Toxout: Getting Harmful Chemicals Out of Our Bodies and Our World.

Here are some key facts they learned about what actually matters when it comes to detoxing:

1. Chemicals are everywhere, but you don’t have to worry about all of them.Not all chemicals are actually going to damage us, Laurie said, and people have different tolerance to chemicals (though you may find that out the hard way). Some chemicals are disappearing from our lives (DDT, dioxin, lead) because of awareness of their dangers. “I joke sometimes that I’m a worrier, and I carry around a worry list with me,” Smith said. “In the book, we tried to come up with a short worry list.” The list included phthalates, BPA, pesticides, methyl paraben, triclosan, sodium lauryl sulphatel, and metals that can be harmful when they accumulate, such as aluminum, tin, and mercury. Yes, that’s still a long (and confusing) list, but there are some simple ways to avoid or eliminate them.

 

 

2. Avoid some toxins by shopping natural. Chemicals don’t just get into our bodies through what we eat — they come in through what we slather on our skin, what furniture we sit on, and what we breathe. While reporting for the book, Smith measured his urine before and after simply sitting and breathing in a new Chevy Tahoe for eight hours, and found that doing so had elevated his body's levels of four chemicals from the worry list. So shop smart (and roll down the windows when driving). “When you’re making a purchase, be it a cosmetic, a shampoo, or a new sofa, ask ‘Is this the most natural thing I could buy?’” Lourie said. Read ingredient labels and look up the ones you can’t pronounce. Do your research and check out eco-certifications before making big purchases like sofas or cars to see which, like the Tahoe, are made with dangerous chemicals. 

RELATED: 6 Easy Green Beauty Swaps

3. Organic is actually better, if you want to avoid pesticides. Recent research — particularly one study from Stanford that concluded organic produce doesn’t have more nutrients — has ignored the intended benefit of going organic, Smith and Lourie argue. Organic farming isn’t necessarily meant to yield more nutrient-dense food. It’s meant to make food that won’t contain excessive pesticides. (Yes, it may have traces of pesticides, because almost everything does. Remember the umbilical cords?) Smith and Laurie asked nine kids who hadn’t eaten organic before to eat an all-organic diet for five days while giving urine samples. The urine samples showed the switch yielded a big drop in pesticide levels. “Once people start eating organic food, pesticide reduction occurs in a matter of hours,” Smith said.

 

 

4. It’s better to adjust your habits than to go through a cleanse.  One of the most basic things you can do to get toxins out of your body is to drink more water. Another is to eat less animal fat and more (preferably organic) fruits and vegetables. But is the best way to do that a four-day juice cleanse? Probably not, say Smith and Laurie. "'Cleanse' makes it sound like it’s a special thing,” Lourie said. “If you’re eating more vegetables and drinking plenty of water, and you want to put the vegetables in the water, that’s a good thing to do. Just don’t be mistaken that if you do that for four days out of the year, you’re going to be detoxing your body — it doesn’t work that way.” It’s much better to incorporate fruits, veggies, and water into your daily diet.

5. Embrace sweat — and saunas. Toxins enter your body through what you eat, breathe and touch, and they go out the same way, through breath, digested food and drink, and sweat. While exhaling and urinating are pretty non-negotiable, a lot of us are engaged in a war against sweat. “We’re really confused as to what clean smells like,” Jessa Blades, an eco-blogger, tells the authors in the book.Antiperspirants and some deodorants prevent us from sweating out toxins while using toxic metals to keep the sweat in, a “double toxic whammy” Smith said. Lourie even admitted that he’s stopped using deodorant. Even if you change or quit your antiperspirant, you should try to sweat more, too. You can do this by exercising more or by using saunas to “detox through heavy sweating,” Lourie said. You’ll also end up drinking more water, which is good for eliminating toxins.

6. Be wary of fat. Fat holds on to toxins, which is part of the reason chemicals like DDT still hang around our systems. So if you’re eating lots of animal fat, you’re also eating the chemicals that the animal fat is holding. Then, you’re probably also putting on weight and thus adding fat to your body, which will hold on to those chemicals. “It’s a positive feedback loop,” Lourie said. In fact, if you’re worried about toxins and you’re overweight, losing that extra body fat should be the first step toward reducing the toxins in your body.

7. Push companies to do the right thing, and support regulation of toxins.“Only part of the solution to this problem is being a more careful consumer,” Smith said. ‘The other part is to be a more engaged citizen.” Remember when people learned that Subway bread contained a yoga mat chemical, and took to social media to demand that change? “Never has a company capitulated so quickly,” Smith said. It’s easier than ever to make your voice heard. 

Type 2 Diabetes Drug Helps Some With Chronic Depression

A new small study is adding evidence to the theory that insulin resistance may play a leading role in some people's depression.

The study found that a medication normally used to boost insulin sensitivity in people with type 2 diabetes appears to help ease the symptoms of chronic depression. And, the effect was strongest in people who were insulin-resistant but didn't have diabetes, the study found.

These findings "add to the neurobiological explanation of what's going on when people are depressed, and it should help de-stigmatize depression. It's a disease of the brain," said the study's lead author, Dr. Natalie Rasgon, a professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Stanford University School of Medicine in California.

"Depression is kind of a catch-all term, like the common cold; it can have more than one cause," Rasgon said. "In this study, we saw two separate effects of the [drug]. In patients with insulin resistance, their insulin resistance improved, and their depression improved."

That may mean that insulin resistance is playing a significant role in the depression of these people, she explained.

But patients who weren't insulin-resistant also saw their depression improve during the trial.

"That speaks to a different mechanism. It could be an anti-inflammatory effect," Rasgon said.

Findings from the study were published Nov. 18 in Psychiatry Research. Funding for the study was provided by the U.S. National Institutes of Health. The researchers received no support from the makers of the drug, pioglitazone (Actos), which has U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for use as a treatment for type 2 diabetes.

RELATED: Why Sugar Is Poison for Depression

Insulin is a hormone that allows the body and brain to use the sugar from foods as fuel. Someone who is sensitive to insulin uses the hormone effectively. Someone who is insulin-resistant doesn't use insulin well, and sugar is released into the bloodstream instead of being used to power cells in the body and brain. Insulin resistance can be a precursor to type 2 diabetes, the researchers said.

The study included 37 adults -- 29 women and eight men -- recruited at Stanford University. The study volunteers were between 21 and 75 years old. Their weight ranged from underweight to severely obese, the study authors noted. None had diabetes, but some were insulin-resistant or had pre-diabetes, the researchers said.

All of the study volunteers had depression for longer than a year. Despite standard treatments for the mental health disorder, they were still experiencing depression, the study authors said.

Rasgon and her team randomly gave the study volunteers 12 weeks of treatment with pioglitazone or an inactive placebo. People were allowed to stay on their current antidepressant treatment as well. Pioglitazone works by making people more sensitive to insulin, the researchers said.

All of the study participants were tested for depression and insulin resistance at the start of the trial, and again at the end.

People who were insulin-sensitive had improvements in their depression whether they were taking the drug or a placebo. But those who were insulin-resistant only saw improvement in their depression symptoms if they were taking the insulin-sensitizing drug. People who were insulin-resistant who took the placebo didn't get better.

The more insulin-resistant someone was, the better the drug worked on their depression, the study found.

The idea that insulin resistance could cause problems in the brain makes sense, Rasgon said. The brain uses a lot of glucose (sugar), so anything that makes it harder for the brain to get the glucose it needs could affect vital brain functions, such as controlling emotions and thinking, she suggested.

Whether it would be safe for people who don't have type 2 diabetes to take pioglitazone for long periods isn't known. Rasgon pointed out that the study was small and only done for 12 weeks. She hopes to be able to do a longer and larger trial.

"The data in this study is preliminary," said Dr. Eric Hollander, director of the anxiety and depression program at Montefiore Medical Center in New York City. "But it may eventually lead to a new paradigm that could be helpful in reducing the stigma of depression," he added.

"Mood disorders may be part of a systemic illness -- at least in a subgroup of depressed patients," he said.

Hollander suggested that improvements in insulin resistance or decreased inflammation may be what helped ease depressive symptoms.

Both experts said these findings suggest that any of the treatments for type 2 diabetes may also help people with longstanding depression. Treatments include other medications that improve insulin sensitivity, and even lifestyle factors, such as losing weight or exercising. Both of those lifestyle factors increase insulin sensitivity, too.

10 Winter Foods for Depression

1 / 11   Boost Your Mood With Seasonal Bounty
It’s winter, and depending on where you live, it could be very cold and gray, with sunshine in short supply. The winter doldrums plus holiday high anxiety make this season especially stressful and depressing for many people. But you might be able to eat your way to a better mood. Load your plate with these winter foods for depression to lift your spirits.

6 Depression Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

Major depression isn’t always so easy to spot in yourself or someone you love. Use these clues to determine when treatment is needed.

Everyone feels a little down in the dumps now and then. But sadness and withdrawal can become crippling, putting you at risk for a number of serious conditions and consequences, including suicide.

Depression symptoms aren't always as obvious as frequent crying and overwhelming despair. “Oftentimes the changes are subtle, and the person may not notice, but their friends and loved ones may,” says Boadie W. Dunlop, MD, director of the mood and anxiety disorders program in the psychiatry department at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

There's no one pattern. Depression symptoms may gradually progress from the mild, such as choosing to stay home to watch TV instead of going out with friends, to the more severe, such as thoughts of suicide. Or someone may go from seeming perfectly happy to being totally depressed in a matter of days or weeks. The progression varies from person to person.

“Depression symptoms are particularly troubling if someone displays more than one, or if they persist for more than two weeks,” says Simon Rego, PsyD, associate professor of clinical psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Albert Einstein School of Medicine and director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, New York.

RELATED: 10 Drug-Free Therapies for Depression

To help you recognize depression that warrants concern, whether in yourself or a loved one, here are six depression symptoms — some of which you might even find surprising — that you shouldn’t ignore:

1. Trouble Sleeping Despite being slower in demeanor and motivation, depressed people often lie awake at night, unable to sleep, says Sarah Altman, PhD, a clinical psychologist in the department of psychiatry and behavioral health at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus. On the other hand, some depressed people may find it difficult to get out of bed and may sleep for long periods during the day.

2. Loss of Interest in Favorite Activities Some people turn to hobbies they enjoy when they feel blue, but people with major depression tend to avoid them. “So if a person who loved spending time with her grandchildren suddenly doesn’t want to see them, or a guy who loves to fish suddenly hangs up his rods, it’s a red flag,” says Tina Walch, MD, psychiatrist and medical director of Northwell Health's South Oaks Hospital in Amityville, New York.

3. Increase in Energy Ironically, when depressed people have made a decision to do something drastic, such as killing themselves, they may go from lackadaisical and slowed to more energetic. That's because they feel a sense of relief in having come to a resolution, Dr. Walch says, "so if you notice a drastic switch like this, you should be very concerned."

4. Change in Appetite Some people overeat when they're depressed or anxious, but in people with severe depression, the opposite is usually true. “A depressed person may stop eating because he or she is no longer concerned with physical well-being,” says John Whyte, MD, MPH, a board-certified internist in Washington, DC and author of Is This Normal?: The Essential Guide to Middle Age and Beyond. “Disregard for personal hygiene is also cause for concern,” Dr. Whyte adds.

5. Touchiness “In some people, depression manifests as more irritability and impatience than feeling down,” Dr. Dunlop says.

6. An Emerging Dark Side “A person who is severely depressed may become preoccupied with death and other morose topics,” Walch says. For example, he or she may talk about what things will be like “after I am gone,” and may also become more likely to take uncalculated risks.

The Next Step: Getting Help

If you notice any of these serious depression symptoms in yourself or someone you love, reach out and get help. “In most people, depression, even major depression, is a very treatable disorder," Walch says. "There is a wide range of medications and therapies that have been proven to work." Specifically, here's what you should do:

Assess the severity. If you or a loved one is considering harming himself or herself, or is having other dark thoughts, immediate treatment is critical. “Go to the nearest emergency room or contact your local or a private mental health provider,” Walch says. Or contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 (TALK).
Create a safe environment. “If the person expresses suicidal thoughts, remove any potentially lethal items from the home, such as guns,” Dunlop says.
See a mental health professional. “It doesn’t have to be a psychiatrist — it can also be a psychologist or therapist,” Whyte says.
Be kind. “Blaming or chastising depressed people for feeling low or unmotivated is not helpful and typically serves to reinforce negative feelings they already have,” Dunlop says. “Instead, open the discussion in a nonjudgmental way and encourage the person to seek help.”
Ignore the stigma. “The recent story of the [suicidal] German copilot [Andreas Lubitz] has not been helpful in terms of the stigma surrounding depression,” Walch says. “Depressed people who are suicidal are not murderers. Suicidal thinking can be a depression symptom, but homicidal thinking is not.”
Look to resources. “There are many organizations that have online resources about depression,” Dr. Altman says. They include the National Institute of Mental Health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and the American Psychological Association.

8 Healthy Game Day Snacks for Football Season

1 / 9   Skip the Takeout and Whip Up These 8 Winning Snacks

Even if you're not a football fanatic, game day is always an excuse to watch a good matchup, spend time with family and friends, and especially to eat your favorite foods. Nachos, chili, cheese dips — your upcoming game-day gathering will probably boast some of the best non-holiday spreads of the year. Game on! This year, it’s not about what foods you should avoid; instead, we scoured our favorite blogs for healthier game day dishes that score major points for flavor, originality, and nutrition. One look at these winning recipes and you won’t want to order out.

Fighting Off Fatigue

You might write off a feeling of fatigue to doing too much. You work, run a home, raise kids, volunteer in your community — all of these activities can leave you feeling overtired, you tell yourself as you collapse on the sofa.

But there’s fatigue, and then there’s chronic fatigue, a feeling of exhaustion that probably signals a medical condition and needs a doctor’s evaluation to help you start feeling like your old self again.

Chronic Fatigue: A Better Health Plan

If you experience a level of fatigue that leaves you exhausted at the end of the day, but is not so severe that it’s keeping you from living your normal life, making a few healthy lifestyle changes may help. Try taking these steps:

  • "Pick a stress-relieving habit," says Donna Jackson Nakazawa, author of The Autoimmune Epidemic, "Try daily meditation, a brisk morning walk, yoga, or all three. Stress suppresses the immune system.”
  • Avoid processed foods full of chemicals, preservatives, and additives.
  • Avoid heavy meals, alcohol, and caffeine in the evening, which can keep you from getting a good night’s sleep. Sleep disturbances are common in people with chronic fatigue.
  • Follow a regular exercise program, which has been shown to relieve symptoms of fatigue.
  • Get help for depression. Cognitive therapy, a non-medical way of treating depression, has also been shown to be effective in treating chronic fatigue.
  • If you're still menstruating, to avoid anemia eat foods high in iron, such as liver, lentils and beans, and green leafy vegetables, . Remember that vitamin C helps your body absorb iron, so be sure to include fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C in your diet.

 

 

Chronic Fatigue: What Can Cause Exhaustion

If your fatigue is more than garden-variety tiredness, a visit to your doctor can help pinpoint a cause. About 40 percent of people who have symptoms of chronic fatigue turn out to have a treatable, underlying medical condition, such as:

  • Anemia. Anemia occurs when you don't have enough red blood cells or when your red blood cells are not carrying enough oxygen. Some common causes are loss of excessive amounts of blood during menstruationautoimmune diseases, dietary iron deficiency, and vitamin B-12 and folate (another B vitamin) deficiencies. The most common symptoms of anemia are fatigue and weakness; other symptoms are dizziness, headache, and low body temperature.
  • Depression. Studies consistently show that depression is twice as common in women as in men, and tends to last longer and be more serious. About 10 percent of women experience depression during pregnancy, and 10 to 15 percent in the postpartum period. A very common symptom of depression is constant fatigue; other symptoms include sadness and difficulty concentrating.
  • Stress. Stress can have serious effects on your health. Short-term stress and long-term stress have both been shown to cause trouble sleeping, lack of energy, and lack of concentration.
  • Thyroid disease. An autoimmune disease of the thyroid gland called Hashimoto's thyroiditis is a common cause of fatigue in women. When working correctly, your thyroid gland produces hormones that give you energy. When your thyroid gland is under-functioning because of an autoimmune attack, one of the main symptoms is fatigue; others include depression, low body temperature, dry skin, and weight gain.

Chronic Fatigue: When It’s Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Fatigue means being too beat to go to the movies or shopping, or to engage in any number of the other normal activities you're used to. With chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) you might be struggling to get through each day; for some people it can get bad enough that even holding down a job becomes difficult, forcing them to consider going on disability leave.

 

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that between 1 and 4 million Americans have chronic fatigue syndrome. It is four times as common in women as men and usually begins in the childbearing years, although in rare cases it may occur in teenagers.

At this time, there are no tests to diagnose chronic fatigue syndrome. Your doctor can only diagnose CFS when other medical conditions known to cause fatigue are ruled out. Doctors call this "a diagnosis of exclusion."

The most debilitating symptom of CFS is severe, unexplained, persistent fatigue, lasting six months or more. It’s a fatigue that doesn’t go away after rest or sleep and keeps you from doing at least half the things you would normally do each day. To make the diagnosis, doctors will also look for four or more of the following symptoms:

  • Poor concentration or memory loss
  • Sore throat
  • Swollen lymph nodes
  • Muscle aches
  • Joint pain
  • Headache
  • Tiredness not relieved by sleep
  • Tiredness lasting more than 24 hours after exertion

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome: Possible Causes

Just what causes chronic fatigue syndrome is still unknown. Originally, scientists thought that being infected with certain viruses, especially the Epstein-Barr virus that causes mononucleosis, might be at the root of CFS, but there have been no conclusive findings. Now researchers are looking at whether inflammation brought on by an abnormal, overactive immune response occurrs in the nervous system of those with chronic fatigue.

Nakazawa believes that shifts in our 21st-century lifestyle, including daily exposure to toxins, pesticides, heavy metals, chemicals in our processed-food diets, and modern stress levels, are partly responsible. "Scientists who study autoimmune disease have called this epidemic 'the global warming of women's health,'" she says.

Advises Nakazawa, "At the same time that you work to lessen exposure to things that might overwhelm your immune system, you also need to relax and find joy in the world every day. How optimistically you perceive the world around you also impacts your stress level and your well-being."

Fewer Diabetes Cases Being Missed

Although the number of people diagnosed with diabetes is still on the rise, the good news is that most people with the disease know they have it, a new study shows.

The research suggests that over the past two and a half decades, the percentage of undiagnosed cases has dropped significantly.

"If you're going to your doctor, you probably don't have to worry about undiagnosed diabetes," said study author Elizabeth Selvin, a professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University's Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Selvin explained that previous estimates suggested that over a quarter to 30 percent of people with diabetes probably didn't know it. But those estimates assumed that doctors were only doing one test for diabetes and not following up with a confirmatory second test, as the American Diabetes Association recommends.

However, "we found that's not consistent with how diabetes is diagnosed in clinical practice. In practice, an abnormal finding is confirmed with a second test for the diagnosis. When you use two tests, we see that we're doing a good job with screening and diagnosing diabetes," Selvin said.

In fact, the two-test method seems to capture about 90 percent of all diabetes cases, the researchers noted.

Selvin and her colleagues used data from U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys done from 1988 to 1994 and from 1999 to 2014.

RELATED: 9 Types of Medication That Help Control Type 2 Diabetes

The surveys showed that when the research began in 1988 to 1994, there were about 10 million adults with diabetes and confirmed undiagnosed diabetes (that means people who just had one test and didn't get a follow-up test). By 1999 to 2014, there were 25.5 million adults with diabetes or undiagnosed diabetes.

The new research revealed that the number of undiagnosed cases as a percentage of all diabetes dropped from more than 16 percent to slightly less than 11 percent over 26 years.

People who were undiagnosed were more likely to be overweight or obese, older, or a racial or ethnic minority. They were also less likely to have health insurance or access to health care, the study found.

"What we need to figure out is how to target our screening and prevention efforts to the group that actually is undiagnosed. Some of the people being missed have very high [blood sugar levels] and the efforts should be concentrated on getting those people to the clinic," Selvin said.

The findings were published Oct. 23 in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Dr. Anne Peters is director of the clinical diabetes program at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine in Los Angeles. She wrote an editorial that accompanied the study.

"I think there are fewer undiagnosed cases than we used to think, but there are still a lot of people who are undiagnosed," Peters said.

"People with risk factors need to get tested. But people get afraid of the stigma. They get afraid of the disease. But diabetes doesn't have to be awful. People don't have to give up. We need a lot more public awareness and a lot more prevention," she said.

And that doesn't mean you have to lose 100 pounds. "Losing 15 pounds can make a big difference. Just walking 30 minutes a day, five days a week is incredibly beneficial. Take diabetes on in bite-sized pieces," Peters advised.

"There are so many new ways to treat diabetes. Almost everything has changed in the past 30 years. But the earlier you start treatment, the better. Some things are better to face," she said.

Side Effects of Multiple Sclerosis Medications

Twelve disease-modifying medications are FDA-approved to treat relapsing forms of multiple sclerosis (MS). Specifically, these drugs help prevent relapses and slow progression of the disease.

The newest disease-modifying medications are called “immunomodulators” because they affect the functioning of your immune system. 

“All these therapies highlight the increased choices and options for patients living with MS, and the ability of physicians to select a therapy based on individual characteristics,” says Ari Green, MD, assistant clinical director of the UCSF Multiple Sclerosis Center and director of the UCSF Neurodiagnostics Center in San Francisco.

But all drugs can have adverse side effects, and those associated with MS medications range from mild (such as flu-like symptoms or irritation at an injection site) to serious (such as progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy [PML], a viral disease in the brain).

One of the challenges of MS treatment is balancing risk and benefit, says Dr. Green. Stronger medications might be more effective at slowing progression of the disease, but they may also be associated with more risks.

Discussing Medication Side Effects With Your Doctor

"A doctor has to have a frank and open discussion to find out what is tolerable for patients," says Green. "Some side effects go away as the body gets used to MS medications, but others, such as irritation where the injection takes place, do not."

Because people experience side effects differently, each individual has to decide which side effects he or she can live with, he adds.

In some cases, what are thought to be drug side effects may actually be MS symptoms. Fatigue and headache, for example, may be either.

Keeping a detailed log of your symptoms can help your doctor determine whether you are experiencing a symptom of multiple sclerosis or a medication side effect.

Make a note of when your symptom began, how long it lasted, what might have triggered it, and whether anything you did eased the symptom.

“The more patients are engaged in keeping track of things, the more they can be positively and appropriately engaged in directing their own care,” says Green. This information can also help your provider select appropriate therapies in the future.

Managing MS Medication Side Effects

Some simple steps can often help you manage the most common side effects of MS medications:

Infection risk Some of the immunomodulatory medications increase your risk of common infections, so it’s important to practice prevention strategies such as washing your hands frequently and limiting your contact with people who are ill.

Flu-like symptoms Fever, chills, achiness, and feeling generally under the weather are not uncommon following interferon beta injections, leading some users to stop the medication. Interferon beta medications include Betaseron, Extavia, Avonex, Rebif, and Plegridy.

According to nurses with expertise in MS care, the following steps can help to manage these side effects:

Staying hydrated
Eating healthfully
Taking medications before sleep
Warming injectable medicines up to body temperature before injecting
You can also take a small dose of Advil, Motrin, or Nuprin (ibuprofen) an hour before and an hour after your injection. Tylenol (acetaminophen), Aleve (naproxen), or Benadryl (diphenhydramine) may also help ease these side effects, Green says.

RELATED: 7 Side Effects of MS Steroid Treatment

Injection-site irritation Applying ice to your injection sites before injections, and a warm compress afterward, can help ease any irritation.

Some people may also benefit from some retraining on the finer points of giving themselves injections, notes Green. This is especially true because most people learn how to give self-injections right after their diagnosis — a period when they’re undoubtedly absorbing lots of information about the disease.

If you’re having trouble injecting your MS medication, speak to your healthcare provider about working with an MS nurse for training in self-injections.

Heart health The medication Gilenya (fingolimod) is known to slow some users’ heart rate within the first six hours after the first dose. Because of this, your doctor may advise you to have your first dose in a clinical setting, where your pulse and blood pressure can be monitored.

Distinguishing Side Effects From Symptoms

The immediate side effects of MS medications may be more apparent once you experience them. Immediate side effects, such as flu-like symptoms and chills, are easy to discern, says Green. Even the muscle aches and pains that can occur immediately after taking disease-modifying MS medications differ from the pain associated with multiple sclerosis.

The one rare medication side effect that might be hard to distinguish from an MS symptom is PML, which has been related to use of the drug Tysabri (natalizumab). PML, however, will progress much more quickly than multiple sclerosis — a good reason to stay on top of your medical checkups.


Ongoing Medication Monitoring

Most of the medications prescribed for MS require regular blood tests to keep track of the treatment’s effect on your body, including your liver.

The drug Lemtrada (alemtuzumab) requires blood and urine monitoring before, during, and for four years after treatment is given to watch for serious autoimmune conditions associated with the drug.

In addition to monitoring for side effects, you and your doctor should monitor for positive effects of drugs as well. Green says that a change in therapy is needed if you are having more than one MS relapse a year, if multiple new brain lesions are seen on your MRI, or if your symptoms are progressing despite treatment. Switching medications is a decision you and your doctor should make together.

Diabetis

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What to Expect Before and After Bariatric Surgery

Bariatric surgery isn't a spur-of-the-moment operation. In fact, preparing for the procedure may begin a year or more before your surgery date, and lifestyle changes continue well after the surgery has been performed. Be prepared by knowing what will be asked of you every step of the process.

The Year Before Surgery

Leading up to the procedure, your surgical team will likely recommend becoming more informed about diet and exercise.The amount of time you spend in this stage depends on several factors, including your insurance and your team’s recommendations, says bariatric surgeon Ann Rogers, MD, director of the Penn State Hershey Surgical Weight Loss Program in Hershey, Pennsylvania.

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“There’s always some component of nutritional education and some expectation that patients will lose some weight in that program,” explains Dr. Rogers. The dietitians and others who work with you during this stage will send reports on your progress to your surgical team before you schedule your surgery date.

In this phase, you may need to make additional lifestyle changes as well depending on the program. Rogers’ program, for instance, requires smoking cessation, though other weight-loss surgery clinics do not.

The Week Before Surgery

The final days before your surgery can be extremely emotional, filled with excitement, nervousness, and anxiety. Taking these steps as you prepare for your surgery will ease tension and ensure that everything goes smoothly the day of your procedure:

• Read the materials from your clinic.

• Eat and drink as directed. “We have a preoperative diet for eight days, which consists of bariatric-friendly protein shakes,” Rogers says. “They are high in protein, and they do not have sugar.” Most programs have a preoperative diet, although the duration varies, she says. Make sure you understand how long that diet lasts and exactly what you can eat.

• Adjust medications as needed. Discuss how to manage any other conditions you might have, such as diabetes, with your weight-loss surgery team and your primary care physician.

 Meet with the anesthesiologist. Once your surgery date is scheduled, you'll also meet with the anesthesiologist, who will ask about your health history. Although patients will have lots of tests done and medical information detailed during the months before surgery, the anesthesiologist might ask for more tests, advises Rogers.

 Take a blood thinner. Clotting is a risk associated with surgery, says Rogers. Your doctor might recommend taking a blood-thinning medication before and after the surgery.

What to Pack

Rogers suggests taking the following items with you to the hospital:

 Instructions. Bring the manual or other instructions you’ve been given, as well as any preoperative paperwork.

• Identification. You’ll need it to check in.

• CPAP (continuous positive airway pressure) machine. If you've been using one for sleep, take it with you.

• Laptop and cellphone.

• Pajamas and toiletries.

• Pillow and blanket.  

The Day of the Surgery

What your weight-loss surgery will entail varies depending on the specific type of surgery you'll be having.

• Roux-en-Y: This procedure is also known as “gastric bypass.” Your stomach will be divided into a small top pouch and a larger lower pouch. Your small intestine will also be divided and the lower part raised up to attach to your new, smaller stomach. This procedure reduces the quantity of food you can eat at any given time.

• Sleeve gastrectomy: In this procedure, the majority of your stomach will be removed, creating a banana-shaped stomach.

• Biliopancreatic diversion with duodenal switch: In this procedure, a portion of your stomach is removed. The remaining portion is then attached to a lower segment of your small intestine.

 Banding: In this procedure, an inflatable band is wrapped around the upper part of your stomach, creating a small stomach pouch. The band can be adjusted as needed. 

9 Things You’ll Have to Do After Surgery

• Have a ride home in place. Expect to spend at least one night in the hospital, Rogers says. When you're discharged, you'll need to have someone drive you home.

• Prevent blood clots. You will need to adhere to strategies to prevent blood clots from developing. These include taking blood thinners and getting up and walking around while in the hospital and at home.

• Take pain medication. You'll probably get a prescription for pain medication. Laparoscopic surgery reduces pain and hospital stays, but you still may need prescription pain medication for a day or two after discharge, Rogers says.

• Anticipate constipation, as it's a byproduct of the pain medications and the surgery itself. Be sure to talk with your doctor or nurse about how to prevent constipation.

• Eat a restricted diet. Your diet will be restricted to liquid protein shakes for a week or so after the procedure, and then soft foods following that period. Most people can transition to eating food with texture after their one-month follow-up appointment. By three months you should be able to eat fruits and vegetables, Rogers says. The ASMBS recommends cutting down on carbohydrates and increasing protein.

• Drink lots of fluids. The ASMBS recommends at least 64 ounces, or 8 cups, of fluids daily.

• You may need to take supplements. Calcium, vitamin D, and B vitamins are among those your doctor might recommend.

 Exercise – but nothing too strenuous. Walking daily, starting the day you get home, is good for you, says Rogers. However, skip the gym until you have your doctor’s permission. You should be able to lift small weights, she says, but avoid heavy items.

• Plan on missing work for a while. People with desk jobs usually can go back to work in about three weeks, Rogers says. Those with physical jobs or jobs that require extended periods of sitting, such as driving trucks, will have to wait a longer period of time.

6 Things I Didn't Know About Depression Until It Happened to Me

If you or a loved one has been diagnosed with depression, these insights from people who are successfully managing their own depression may help you.

Depression can make you feel alone and isolated, but in reality you aren't. Many other people live with depression every day, and you can learn a lot from them. Here, three people diagnosed with depression share insights they’ve gained along the way.

1. It's Not Your Fault

For the longest time, "I felt like something was wrong with me," says Marisa McPeck-Stringham, 37, a social worker in Ogden, Utah, who blogs about her life, including her depression, as Iron Daisy. She first noticed as a teen that she was sometimes down in the dumps, but she wasn't diagnosed until age 20, she says. Before the diagnosis, she would ask herself: What's wrong with me? She knew she had a good family, a good home, and great parents. "I didn't know it was a mental illness," she says. "I didn't know it was a problem with my brain chemistry."

That reaction is a common one, says Michelle B. Riba, MD, associate director of the University of Michigan Comprehensive Depression Center in Ann Arbor and past president of the American Psychiatric Association. Patients often tell her they think they did something to bring on the depression, and that they could have been stronger.

Dr. Riba tells her patients, "It's a medical condition and has to be treated like a medical condition." Anyone diagnosed with depression must be evaluated to see which treatment or combination might work for them, Riba says.

2. Being Depressed Takes a Lot of Energy

Elizabeth Moon, 70, of Austin, who wrote Crown of Renewal and other books, was diagnosed in the early 1980s. She didn't understand until after she got a diagnosis and was treated how exhausted she had been from trying to keep up with her life. "I didn't realize how long I had been depressed," she says.

"I was active, very physically active," says Moon. "I didn't think of myself as depressed; I didn't realize I was sliding into depression."

RELATED: 5 Things Psychologists Wish Their Patients Would Do

“Not everyone fits the stereotype of sitting on the couch," unable to do anything, she says. "If you’re feeling worthless, like you have no future — even if you appear to be healthy and holding down a full-time job, get checked out.”

"People may not pinpoint [depression symptoms] right away," Riba says of those who get depressed. They may think they’re sleep deprived, for instance, or just have some temporary issues balancing responsibilities.

3. Exercise Has Been Proven to Help With Symptoms

Often, the last thing you want to do if you’re depressed is go out and get some exercise. But those who’ve been there understand the value of exercise, and say it often helps. "If I don't get out and exercise, I have to really watch myself and make sure I’m not sliding," Moon says. "I do much better if I’m active. I have much less chance of sliding into another episode."

RELATED: The Real Monthly Cost of Depression

Exercise ''readjusts our brain chemistry," says McPeck-Stringham. She includes exercise as part of her "self-care" routine. Her workouts also become valuable "me" time, she finds.

And there is good evidence that exercise improves your mental health. A study published in 2014 in JAMA Psychiatry found that exercise does lower your chance of becoming depressed. And in people who already have depression, exercise helps lift depressive symptoms.

4. Writing Helps You Sort Out Your Emotions

Keola Birano, 33, of Hilo, Hawaii, is a full-time writer who also works for his wife's clothing business. Diagnosed at age 19, he soon learned the power of writing — not for his livelihood, but for his depression. First, he wrote a letter to his father and ''without giving it to him," burned it. "It released whatever [negative] feeling I may have held onto," he says.

He has continued writing, both for his blog, Keola Birano Reimagined, and for personal growth. "When you write, it opens up parts of your brain you didn't know were there,'' he says. "I try to do 10 minutes a day on autopilot, to let the feelings out."

5. Managing Depression Is an Ongoing Effort

"It takes a lot of significant work to keep yourself strong," Birano says. "You have to keep working on it. Once you start thinking you have it beat, you set yourself up for failure."

Moon agrees. "I can go downhill in 30 seconds,'' she says. "I've learned to have a plan in place when that happens," she says. Part of her plan is to keep tabs on her mental health before that slide downhill. "At least five times a year, I take the Beck Depression Inventory [a tool used by mental health experts] and see where I am. If I’m coming up [on the score], I need to be very careful. If the score doesn't go back down, I may need meds."

RELATED: 10 Foods I Eat Every Day to Beat Depression

For her, the best approach has been to take medications when needed and then taper off them, she says, but she doesn’t claim this is best for everyone. It’s important to remember that decisions to stop or start medications should always be done in conjunction with your physician.

6. Having a Depression Relapse Doesn’t Mean You Failed

"Right now, I’m in between episodes," Moon says. "I know another one may come and it isn't a disaster when it does come. It doesn't mean you’ll end up committing suicide either."

Figuring out what works for you to stay on an even keel is critical, Moon says. The most important thing for anyone who's depressed? "Recognize when you’re falling off the cliff," she says. Then go get the help you need and deserve.

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Plastics Chemical Tied to Changes in Boys' Reproductive Development

When expectant mothers are exposed to plastics chemicals called phthalatesduring the first trimester, their male offspring may have a greater risk of infertility later in life, a new study suggests.

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Boys exposed to the chemical diethylhexyl phthalate (DEHP) may be born with a significantly shorter anogenital distance than those not exposed to these chemicals. Anogenital distance is the distance between the anus and the genitals. A shorter anogenital distance has been linked to infertility and low sperm count, the researchers explained.

"We saw these changes even though moms' exposure to DEHP has dropped 50 percent in the past 10 years," said lead researcher Shanna Swan, a professor of preventive medicine and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

"Therefore, we have not found a safe level of phthalate exposure for pregnant women," she contended.

Swan said that this study cannot prove that these boys will have fertility problems as adults or that DEHP causes these problems. However, animal studies have implicated the chemical in male reproductive problems. Based on the data from this study, Swan believes there is a strong association between exposure to DEHP and fertility in human males.

DEHP is used to soften plastics. Most exposure results from eating foods that pick up the chemical during processing, Swan said.

RELATED: 10 Toxic Household Items You Should Throw Away Now

 

 

"Since food is the largest source of DEHP for consumers, it is difficult for pregnant women to minimize exposure," she said. "Eating unprocessed food will likely help. However, eliminating DEHP from food really has to be done by food producers."

The chemical is also found in medical tubing and in a variety of products, including flooring, wallpaper, lacquers and personal care products, Swan said.

The report was published Feb. 19 in the journal Human Reproduction.

For the study, Swan's team collected data on almost 800 pregnant women and their infants.

Specifically, the researchers found that exposure in the womb to three types of DEHP was associated with a significantly shorter anogenital distance in boys, but not in girls.

A group representing the chemical industry took issue with the study, however.

In a statement, the American Chemistry Council (ACC) stressed that the study only examined one type of phthalate, not all versions of the chemical. And it said that phthalates are "one of the most widely studied family of chemicals in use today."

The ACC added that DEHP "is known to break down into its metabolites within minutes after it enters the body. Information collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention over the last 10 years indicates that, despite the fact that phthalates are used in many products, exposure from all sources combined is extremely low -- much lower than the levels established as safe by scientists at regulatory agencies."

 

 

But another expert says phthalate exposure may not be benign. Dr. Kenneth Spaeth, director of the Occupational and Environmental Medicine Center at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y., said, "virtually everyone in the U.S. experiences continual exposure to phthalates."

And, a number of studies have tied the chemicals with changes in developing fetuses. "Phthalates, in particular, have been shown in both human and animal studies to interfere with normal fetal development," he said.

This study supports what has been demonstrated before, that phthalate exposure in the first trimester is linked to male reproductive development, Spaeth said. "This study is an important step forward in establishing this effect because the study included a much larger number of individuals than prior studies and helps identify one particular agent, DEHP, as an important contributor to this effect," he said.

Additionally, this study shows the importance of exposure in the first trimester as a critical window for the effect of phthalates on the male reproductive system. "On the whole, given these features, the authors have contributed important information about the public health risk posed by phthalates," Spaeth suggested.

Depression Screening Should Include All Pregnant, Postpartum Women

All U.S. adults, including pregnant and postpartum women, should be screened for depression by their family doctor, the nation's leading preventive medicine panel recommends.

Further, doctors need to follow through and get treatment for anyone who tests positive for depression, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded in an update of its depression screening guidelines.

This is the first time the panel has specifically advocated depression screening in pregnancy and shortly after giving birth. It cited a U.S. study that found that 9 percent of pregnant women and more than 10 percent of postpartum women exhibited signs of major depression.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) applauded the recommendation.

"Because fewer than 20 percent of women in whom perinatal depression is diagnosed self-report their symptoms, routine screening by physicians is important for ensuring appropriate follow-up and treatment," said ACOG president Dr. Mark DeFrancesco in a statement.

Depression can harm both the child and mother, interfering with their interactions and affecting social relationships and school performance, the panel noted. Risk factors during pregnancy and after delivery include poor self-esteem, child-care stress, prenatal anxiety and decreased social support, the report said.

The new report -- published Jan. 26 in the Journal of the American Medical Association -- updates a similar recommendation the panel issued in 2009 that called for routine screening of adults.

In general, primary care physicians should be able to treat most cases of uncomplicated depression, and refer more complex cases to a psychiatrist, said Dr. Michael Pignone, a member of the task force and director of the University of North Carolina's Institute for Healthcare Quality Improvement.

"That's part of our job," Pignone said.

Options for treatment include therapy with a psychologist or licensed clinical social worker or antidepressant medications.

The task force is an independent, volunteer panel of national experts in preventive medicine. It issues recommendations, and revisits them on a regular basis to make sure that medical evidence still supports the guidelines.

RELATED: 9 Depression Types to Know

Depression is among the leading causes of disability in persons 15 years and older, the panel noted.

Millions of adults suffer from depression and don't know it, said Dr. Michael Thase, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine.

At any given time, between 5 percent and 10 percent of U.S. adults suffer from a depressive disorder, but half receive no treatment for their depression, Thase said.

The task force's depression guidelines are aimed at detecting and helping those adults who unknowingly have depression, Pignone said.

"This is about screening, not about diagnosing people who come to a doctor's office saying, 'I feel depressed.' The potential value of screening is in those people who would not be found as part of regular clinical care," he said.

Some people may not want to acknowledge they are depressed because there is a stigma around mental illness, Pignone said. Others might just think they are feeling blue, and will get over it.

"In some people, their symptoms may seem more physical to them," he added. For example, depression might cause stomach pain, headaches or sleeping problems.

The task force did not recommend any particular questionnaire for depression screening, because "there are many good tools and there's no single tool that should be recommended above others," Pignone said.

The most common screening tool, the Patient Health Questionnaire, consists of 10 simple questions that can be answered in minutes, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The task force also could not recommend how regularly people should be screened, because not enough research has been done in that area, Pignone said.

"The task force recommendation is that people should be screened at least once," he said. "For the meantime, clinicians should use their judgment about the risk of depression in their patients, in deciding how often to screen."

However, the task force did emphasize the need to follow up a positive screening with treatment.

Dr. Michelle Riba, a former president of the American Psychiatric Association, agreed that primary care doctors should be able to treat most patients with depression.

However, Riba added that doctors should develop a relationship with a psychiatrist they can consult on cases of depression. The psychiatrist could talk with the practitioner on the phone, review patient charts, and help decide the best course of action.

Doctors also should be open to other forms of treatment for depression, such as cognitive-behavioral therapy or light therapy, said Elizabeth Saenger, a psychologist in private practice in New York City.

Light therapy affects the body's production of the hormone serotonin, and studies have shown it can help alleviate depression symptoms, Saenger said.

It makes sense for primary care doctors to lead the way on depression screening because they see patients most often, said Dr. Alan Manevitz, a psychiatrist with Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

Treating depression can help patients face other health problems with which they are struggling. "As depression gets worse, so many other chronic illnesses also get worse," Manevitz said. "People don't take care of their health as well when they are depressed."

Serotonin Syndrome: 7 Things You Need to Know

1 / 8   Serotonin Syndrome
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (a naturally occurring brain chemical) that helps regulate mood and behavior, and increasing serotonin is one way of treating depression.

But if you're taking antidepressant medication that increases serotonin too much, you could be at risk for a dangerous drug reaction called serotonin syndrome.

"Serotonin syndrome usually happens when a doctor prescribes a drug that increases serotonin to a patient already on an antidepressant," said Mark Su, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine at Hofstra University and director of the Toxicology Fellowship at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y.

Statins May Boost Survival Odds After Cardiac Arrest

The odds of surviving cardiac arrest seem higher for patients who've been taking cholesterol-lowering statins, a new study shows.

Researchers in Taiwan studied the medical records of nearly 138,000 cardiac arrest patients. Those already using statins such as Lipitor (atorvastatin) or Crestor (rosuvastatin) were about 19 percent more likely to survive to hospital admission and 47 percent more likely to be discharged. Also, they were 50 percent more likely to be alive a year later, the study found.

"When considering statin use for patients with high cholesterol, the benefit of surviving sudden cardiac arrest should also be considered, as statin use before cardiac arrest might improve outcomes of those patients," said study author Dr. Ping-Hsun Yu.

Yu is a researcher from the National Taiwan University Hospital and College of Medicine in New Taipei City.

The greatest survival benefit from statins was seen in patients with type 2 diabetes, Yu's team said.

Cardiac arrest is the abrupt loss of heart function. Death often occurs instantly or shortly after symptoms appear, according to the American Heart Association.

"We know that a large proportion of cardiac arrests occur due to coronary plaque rupture," said Dr. Puneet Gandotra, director of the cardiac catheterization laboratories at Northwell Health Southside Hospital in Bay Shore, N.Y.

RELATED: Bystander CPR Doubles Cardiac Arrest Survival Rates

"This rupture leads to a snowball effect in arteries and can cause arteries to get blocked, resulting in a heart attack or cardiac arrest," he explained.

So how might statins help?

"I feel that due to statin therapy, there is significant plaque stability and the effects of rupture are not as significant. Thus, an improvement in survival is noticed with patients on statin therapy who have cardiac arrests," Gandotra said.

Statins are often prescribed for patients after a heart attack or stroke as a way to prevent a second cardiovascular event. However, "this does not mean that everyone should be on statin therapy," Gandotra said.

These drugs can have side effects, such as muscle pain and weakness and higher blood sugar levels. In addition, the value of statins for preventing a first cardiac arrest or stroke is not clear, the researchers added.

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, director of Women's Heart Health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, said, "What we learn from studies like this is that [statins] have other benefits.

"A study like this gives me a reason to say, 'There are more reasons for you to take a statin than just to lower your cholesterol,' " Steinbaum said.

For the study, Yu and colleagues divided the medical records of almost 138,000 patients according to whether they had used statins for 90 days within the year before their cardiac arrest. The researchers also accounted for gender, age, other medical problems, number of hospitalizations, post-resuscitation and other variables.

Because more than 95 percent of the patients in the study were Asian, these results might not apply to other groups or ethnic populations, Yu said.

The findings were to be presented on Sunday at the American Heart Association annual meeting, in New Orleans. Data and conclusions presented at medical meetings are usually considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

Mindfulness Therapy May Help Ease Recurrent Depression

Review of 9 studies suggests it helps patients better cope with troubling thoughts and emotions.

Mindfulness therapy may help reduce the risk of repeated bouts of depression, researchers report.

One expert not connected to the study explained the mindfulness approach.

"Mindfulness-based cognitive therapy enhances awareness of thoughts and emotions being experienced, and enables development of skills to better cope with them," said Dr. Ami Baxi, a psychiatrist who directs adult inpatient services at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

In the new study, a team led by Willem Kuyken, of the University of Oxford in England, analyzed the findings of nine published studies. The research included a total of almost 1,300 patients with a history of depression. The studies compared the effectiveness of mindfulness therapy against usual depression care and other active treatments, including antidepressants.

After 60 weeks of follow-up, those who received mindfulness therapy were less likely to have undergone a relapse of depression than those who received usual care, and had about the same risk of those who received other active treatments, the team reported.

The study authors also believe that mindfulness therapy may provide greater benefits than other treatments for patients with more severe depression.

The study was published online April 27 in the journal JAMA Psychiatry.

"Mindfulness practices were not originally developed as therapeutic treatments," Richard Davidson, of the University of Wisconsin-Madison, wrote in an accompanying editorial. "They emerged originally in contemplative traditions for the purposes of cultivating well-being and virtue," he explained.

RELATED: 6 Depression Symptoms You Shouldn’t Ignore

"The questions of whether and how they might be helpful in alleviating symptoms of depression and other related psychopathologies are quite new, and the evidence base is in its embryonic stage," according to Davidson.

While this review is the most comprehensive analysis of data to date, it "also raises many questions, and the limited nature of the extant evidence underscores the critical need for additional research," Davidson concluded.

However, another psychologist said she is already using mindfulness therapy in her practice.

"I have increasingly incorporated mindfulness based-interventions into my work with children, adolescents and adults, and I've seen how it has improved treatment outcome and overall well-being in my clients," said Jill Emanuele. She is senior clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute in New York City.

Emanuele said there is growing evidence that the approach brings patients "increased awareness of emotions and thoughts, and the ability to more effectively regulate and cope with them."

Moving Just 1 Hour a Week May Curb Depression Risk

Career couch potatoes, take heart: Just one hour a week of any kind of exercise may lower your long-term risk for depression, new research suggests.

The finding comes from a fresh analysis of a Norwegian survey that tracked exercise habits, along with depression and anxiety risk, among nearly 34,000 adults.

After a closer look at the data, a team of British, Australian and Norwegian analysts determined that people who engage in just an hour of exercise per week -- regardless of intensity level -- face a 44 percent lower risk for developing depression over the course of a decade than those who never exercise at all.

"The key finding from this study is that doing even a small amount of regular exercise seems to protect adults against future depression," said study author Samuel Harvey.

"This was not a case of more is better; the vast majority of the mental health benefits of exercise was realized when individuals moved from doing no regular activity to 1 or 2 hours per week," Harvey explained.

"Also, the mental health benefits were there regardless of the intensity of the physical activity," he added. "There is great evidence that there are many physical health benefits to more regular exercise, but the mental health benefits leveled out after 2 hours."

RELATED: 7 Common Myths About Depression

Harvey is an associate professor with the School of Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales, in Sydney, Australia. "The important point here is that any type of physical activity -- even just walking -- had similar levels of mental health benefits," he concluded.

The original survey was launched between 1984 and 1986. In that timeframe, participants (who were about 45 years old, on average) underwent physical exams, and filled out lifestyle and medical questionnaires. Mental health assessments were also completed.

The Norwegian pollsters conducted a follow-up survey between 1995 and 1997 among roughly two-thirds of the original participants.

About 7 percent of those tracked through 1997 had developed depression, while about 9 percent had developed clinical levels of anxiety, the findings showed.

Exercise did not appear to have any impact on anxiety risk. But investigators found that, regardless of gender or activity intensity, regular exercise lasting at least an hour per week was linked to a lower risk for developing depression over time.

The study authors calculated that roughly 12 percent of the depression cases might have been prevented if those who had become depressed had previously routinely engaged in one hour of low-intensity activity a week.

Exercising more than one hour per week did not, however, appear to substantially decrease depression risk even further; the lion's share of the protective impact appeared to max out at the one-hour mark.

But as to how and why such a minimal amount of regular exercise might help stave off depression, the study team wrote that "the bulk of the observed protective effect remains unexplained." And the study did not prove a cause-and-effect relationship between exercise and lower risk of depression.

Harvey and his colleagues reported their observations in the Oct. 3 issue of the American Journal of Psychiatry.

Simon Rego, chief psychologist at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said that "there are probably many mechanisms at play that could explain how this works. But it doesn't have the same effect on anxiety, so we just don't know yet exactly what's happening."

However, Rego added, "What we do know is that what they've identified is a very low bar of entry. We're talking about just an hour of activity a week. And it doesn't have to be vigorous or intense. You don't need to go out to a spin class or sign up for a running club. This could just be getting people who aren't moving much to just increase their daily walking habit. That's all."

So, he explained, "while we don't have all the definitive answers yet, this is a very promising finding because this is something many people may find easy to do."

7 Dietitian-Approved Pumpkin Spice Foods You'll Love

1 / 8   Healthy Treats to Celebrate the Season

Fall means beautiful foliage, back-to-school time, and, you guessed it, pumpkin spice everything. From lattes to hummus (yes, you read that right), there’s no shortage of pumpkin spice-flavored products on the market. The problem is that many of these foods are laden with fat and sugar. A grande pumpkin spice latte with whipped cream at Starbucks, for example, contains a whopping 50 grams (g) of sugar and 380 calories — enough for a whole meal! Then there’s the pumpkin muffin from Dunkin’ Donuts, which weighs in at 550 calories and 24 g of fat.

The good news is you don’t have to steer clear of foods with pumpkin: They contain even more potassium than bananas, which means they can help lower blood pressure and decrease the risk of stroke and heart disease. Plus, a study published in February 2014 in the International Journal of Clinical Oncology found that consuming foods rich in beta-carotene — like pumpkins — is associated with a decreased risk of colon cancer, and a study published in 2004 showed that it may also reduce risk of prostate cancer.

To help you get into the spirit of the season — without widening your waistline — try these dietitian-approved pumpkin spice treats!

Talk Therapy May Help Depressed Teens Who Shun Antidepressants

Cognitive behavioral therapy can help boost mood without drugs.

Depressed teens who refuse antidepressants may benefit from counseling, a new study suggests.

The study included more than 200 teens who were unwilling to take medication to treat their depression. The researchers found that those who tried a type of short-term "talk therapy" -- known as cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) -- were more likely to recover than those who didn't.

"High numbers of adolescents experience depression, as many as 10 to 15 percent each year -- and up to one in five by age 18," said lead researcher Greg Clarke. He is a depression investigator at the Kaiser Permanente Center for Health Research in Portland, Ore.

"Unfortunately, most of these depressed teens are not treated. As few as 30 percent get specific depression care," he said.

In many cases, depressed teens refuse to take antidepressants, "often because of side effect concerns," Clarke said. These include warnings going back to 2004 about suicidal thoughts and behavior related to antidepressant use, the researchers said. Other common side effects from antidepressants include weight gain and fatigue.

"Offering brief cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective alternative," Clarke said. The small to moderate benefits found in this trial may be tied to reduced need for psychiatric hospitalization, the researchers noted.

The report was published online April 20 in the journal Pediatrics.

Simon Rego is director of psychology training at Montefiore Medical Center/Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City. He said that depressed teens can benefit from talk therapy offered by pediatric and family practices.

Teen depression is usually identified in primary care and is increasingly treated there, he said. But as many as 50 percent of teens with depression turn down medications, and of those who start antidepressants, as many as 50 percent fail to keep taking them, Rego said.

"Integrating cognitive behavioral therapy into primary care would present adolescents with depression with a non-medication treatment that would be easily accessible, brief and cost-effective," Rego explained.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, cognitive behavioral therapy can cost $100 or more per hour. "Some therapists or clinics offer therapy on a sliding scale, which means that charges fluctuate based on income," the association says. Not all insurance plans cover cognitive behavioral therapy.

RELATED: 7 Antidepressant Side Effects

For the study, Clarke and his colleagues conducted a five- to nine-week program in which counselors used cognitive behavioral therapy techniques to help teens identify unhelpful or depressive thinking and replace those ideas with more realistic, positive thoughts.

The program also helped patients create a plan to increase pleasant activities, especially social activities, Clarke said.

Between 2006 and 2012, the researchers randomly assigned 212 teens with major depression to receive either the weekly cognitive behavioral therapy or other care for depression, which could have included school counseling or outside therapy. All the teens, who were aged 12 to 18, had either refused antidepressants or stopped taking them, the study authors said.

On average, teens who tried cognitive behavioral therapy recovered seven weeks faster (22.6 weeks versus 30 weeks) than teens who didn't, the investigators found. In addition, the teens who used cognitive behavioral therapy were less likely to require psychiatric hospitalization, the findings showed.

Recovery was defined as having no or minimal symptoms of depression for eight weeks or more. Symptoms included feelings of hopelessness, loss of interest in friends and activities, changes in sleep and appetite, trouble concentrating and feelings of worthlessness or excessive guilt.

After six months, 70 percent of teens in the cognitive behavioral therapy program had recovered, compared with 43 percent of teens not in the program, the researchers reported.

Some benefits were still associated with cognitive behavioral therapy after one year, although the gap between the two groups of teens had tightened, Clarke said.