The Link Between Diet and Eye Disease

Eye disease is one of the most common causes of permanent disability in the United States. More than 20 million Americans age 40 and older have cataracts, and 10 million Americans age 60 and over have age-related macular degeneration (AMD). These eye diseases occur as we grow older, and proper nutrition may have some affect on both of them.

Cataracts develop on the lens of the eye when the proteins in the lens are damaged. These proteins are responsible for keeping the lens clear. When they become damaged, the lens becomes cloudy or opaque, and your vision may become blurry. You may also have poor night vision or double vision with cataracts. Cataract surgery is often necessary to remove and replace the damaged lens with an artificial lens.

AMD occurs when cells in the macula of the eye die. The macula is located in the center of the retina in the back of the eye, and is responsible for your sharp, central vision, which you need for reading and other tasks that require good eyesight. Once the macula is damaged, your vision is no longer clear, and you cannot make out fine details of objects. There is no cure for AMD, but proper nutrition may help prevent it from worsening.

Diet and Eye Disease: What Is a “Healthy Eyes” Diet?

According to Nelson, the nutrients associated with eye health are vitamins C and E; carotenoids, beta carotene, lutein, and zeaxanthin; omega-3 fatty acids; zinc; and vitamins B6, B9 (folic acid or folate), and B12.

“Antioxidants, especially lutein, help deter build-up of waste products in the retina, which in turn helps reduce your risk for AMD,” says Jennifer K. Nelson, MS, RD, director of clinical dietetics and associate professor of nutrition at the Mayo School of Health Sciences in Rochester, Minn. “Folate and vitamin B6 decrease the presence of the blood chemical homocysteine, which lowers your risk for AMD. Antioxidants also help prevent the cross linking of proteins in the lens which can cause cataracts.”


Here's a list of foods containing eye-healthy nutrients:

  • Fruits and vegetables (good sources of vitamins C and E)
  • Dark green vegetables such as kale and spinach (lutein, vitamin E)
  • Yellow and orange fruits and vegetables (beta carotene and zeaxanthin)
  • Anchovies, herring, mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout, tuna, and white fish (omega-3 fatty acids)
  • Beef, eggs, lamb, milk, peanuts, pork, and whole grains (zinc)
  • Bananas, chicken, dried beans, fish, liver, pork, and potatoes (vitamin B6)
  • Citrus fruits, fortified cereals, dried beans, green leafy vegetables, liver, mushrooms, nuts, and peas (folic acid)
  • Dairy products, eggs, meat, poultry, and shellfish (vitamin B12)

A diet high in refined carbohydrates, such as white rice, white bread, and pasta, may actually increase your risk of developing AMD. These foods have a high glycemic index, which means they are broken down rapidly into blood glucose or sugar. Choose breads and pasta made from whole grains and brown rice for your complex carbohydrates.

Diet and Eye Disease: Nutrition Supplements for Eye Health

 

In 2001, the National Eye Institute’s Age-Related Eye Disease Study (AREDS) found that taking a specific supplement of high doses of vitamin E, beta carotene, zinc, and copper may prevent intermediate AMD from progressing to the advanced stage. AREDS found no evidence that the supplement benefited anyone who showed no signs of AMD or those with early stage AMD. The AREDS-2 clinical trials are currently being conducted to look at the addition of lutein, zeaxanthin, and omega-3 fatty acids to the original AREDS formula.

For those with intermediate AMD who want to try the supplement formula, a discussion with your doctor is a must. “Because the AREDS-recommended supplement contains relatively high doses of antioxidants and zinc, you and your health care provider need to determine if the AREDS supplement is right for you,” cautions Nelson. “It is important that you do not self-medicate any supplements higher than the daily recommended intakes."

“We also need to look at the long-term effects of taking the AREDS supplement,” says Nelson. “For example, the AREDS formula has a very high level of beta carotene, which may increase the risk for lung cancer in smokers.” Nelson adds that eating a diet with plenty of green leafy vegetables, fish, and fortified cereals should make taking supplements for eye health unnecessary for most people.

“We’re only just beginning to look at nutrition and eye health, and it’s an exciting time because we have found such a link,” says Nelson. “A healthy diet is the foundation for healthy eyes.”

A Diet for Better Energy

Complex carbs are key for sustained energy throughout the day, while too many sugary snacks can lead to energy crashes. Find out which foods you need for round-the-clock energy.

 

Juggling the responsibilities of work, life, and family can cause too little sleep, too much stress, and too little time.

Yet even when you're at your busiest, you should never cut corners when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. Your body needs food to function at its best and to fight the daily stress and fatigue of life.

Energy and Diet: How The Body Turns Food Into Fuel

Our energy comes from the foods we eat and the liquids we drink. The three main nutrients used for energy are carbohydrates, protein, and fats, with carbohydrates being the most important source.

Your body can also use protein and fats for energy when carbs have been depleted. When you eat, your body breaks down nutrients into smaller components and absorbs them to use as fuel. This process is known as metabolism.

Carbohydrates come in two types, simple and complex, and both are converted to sugar (glucose). “The body breaks the sugar down in the blood and the blood cells use the glucose to provide energy,” says Melissa Rifkin, RD, a registered dietitian at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.

Energy and Diet: Best Foods for Sustained Energy

Complex carbohydrates such as high-fiber cereals, whole-grain breads and pastas, dried beans, and starchy vegetables are the best type of foods for prolonged energy because they are digested at a slow, consistent rate. “Complex carbohydrates contain fiber, which takes a longer time to digest in the body as it is absorbed slowly," says Rifkin. Complex carbs also stabilize your body’s sugar level, which in turn causes the pancreas to produce less insulin. This gives you a feeling of satiety and you are less hungry.”

Also important in a healthy, energy-producing diet is protein (preferably chicken, turkey, pork tenderloin, and fish), legumes (lentils and beans), and a moderate amount of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (avocados, seeds, nuts, and certain oils).

“Adequate fluids are also essential for sustaining energy,” says Suzanne Lugerner, RN, director of clinical nutrition at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. “Water is necessary for digestion, absorption, and the transport of nutrients for energy. Dehydration can cause a lack of energy. The average person needs to drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.”

Energy and Diet: Foods to Avoid

 

Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, should be limited. Ranging from candy and cookies to sugary beverages and juices, simple carbs are broken down and absorbed quickly by the body. They provide an initial burst of energy for 30 to 60 minutes, but are digested so quickly they can result in a slump afterward.

You should also avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol is a depressant and can reduce your energy levels, while caffeine usually provides an initial two-hour energy burst, followed by a crash.

Energy and Diet: Scheduling Meals for Sustained Energy

 

“I always recommend three meals and three snacks a day and to never go over three to four hours without eating something,” says Tara Harwood, RD, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “If you become too hungry, this can cause you to overeat.”

Also, try to include something from each food group at every meal, remembering that foods high in fiber, protein, and fat take a longer time to digest.

Even if life is hectic, it’s important to make wise food choices that provide energy throughout the day. Your body will thank you.

 

A Diet for Better Energy

Complex carbs are key for sustained energy throughout the day, while too many sugary snacks can lead to energy crashes. Find out which foods you need for round-the-clock energy.

 

Juggling the responsibilities of work, life, and family can cause too little sleep, too much stress, and too little time.

Yet even when you're at your busiest, you should never cut corners when it comes to maintaining a healthy diet. Your body needs food to function at its best and to fight the daily stress and fatigue of life.

Energy and Diet: How The Body Turns Food Into Fuel

Our energy comes from the foods we eat and the liquids we drink. The three main nutrients used for energy are carbohydrates, protein, and fats, with carbohydrates being the most important source.

Your body can also use protein and fats for energy when carbs have been depleted. When you eat, your body breaks down nutrients into smaller components and absorbs them to use as fuel. This process is known as metabolism.

Carbohydrates come in two types, simple and complex, and both are converted to sugar (glucose). “The body breaks the sugar down in the blood and the blood cells use the glucose to provide energy,” says Melissa Rifkin, RD, a registered dietitian at the Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, N.Y.

Energy and Diet: Best Foods for Sustained Energy

Complex carbohydrates such as high-fiber cereals, whole-grain breads and pastas, dried beans, and starchy vegetables are the best type of foods for prolonged energy because they are digested at a slow, consistent rate. “Complex carbohydrates contain fiber, which takes a longer time to digest in the body as it is absorbed slowly," says Rifkin. Complex carbs also stabilize your body’s sugar level, which in turn causes the pancreas to produce less insulin. This gives you a feeling of satiety and you are less hungry.”

Also important in a healthy, energy-producing diet is protein (preferably chicken, turkey, pork tenderloin, and fish), legumes (lentils and beans), and a moderate amount of healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats (avocados, seeds, nuts, and certain oils).

“Adequate fluids are also essential for sustaining energy,” says Suzanne Lugerner, RN, director of clinical nutrition at the Washington Hospital Center in Washington, D.C. “Water is necessary for digestion, absorption, and the transport of nutrients for energy. Dehydration can cause a lack of energy. The average person needs to drink six to eight 8-ounce glasses of water each day.”

Energy and Diet: Foods to Avoid

 

Simple carbohydrates, on the other hand, should be limited. Ranging from candy and cookies to sugary beverages and juices, simple carbs are broken down and absorbed quickly by the body. They provide an initial burst of energy for 30 to 60 minutes, but are digested so quickly they can result in a slump afterward.

You should also avoid alcohol and caffeine. Alcohol is a depressant and can reduce your energy levels, while caffeine usually provides an initial two-hour energy burst, followed by a crash.

Energy and Diet: Scheduling Meals for Sustained Energy

 

“I always recommend three meals and three snacks a day and to never go over three to four hours without eating something,” says Tara Harwood, RD, a registered dietitian at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio. “If you become too hungry, this can cause you to overeat.”

Also, try to include something from each food group at every meal, remembering that foods high in fiber, protein, and fat take a longer time to digest.

Even if life is hectic, it’s important to make wise food choices that provide energy throughout the day. Your body will thank you.

 

18 Ways to Make This Your Healthiest Summer Ever

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of summer always being linked to the dread of bathing suit season when there are so many healthy aspects to celebrate this time of year. Fresh produce is abundant, beautiful, and more affordable. The weather (at least in most parts of the country) is perfect for outdoor walking, biking, hiking, and swimming, and the days are longer so you have more time to fit in physical activity. Vacations allow you time to relax, de-stress, and get active with friends and family, and your schedule may be more flexible, allowing you more time to focus on healthy habits.

With summer upon us, it’s the perfect time to set some health goals and embrace new opportunities to eat smart and get fit. Here are 18 ideas to motivate and inspire you throughout the sunny months ahead:

Head to the Farmer’s Market

Loading up on summer’s best and freshest produce, including leafy greens, tomatoes, corn, zucchini, green beans, berries, and stone fruits will make it easier to gobble up more vegetable and fruit servings.

Make salad your main course a few times a week. Take advantage of farm-fresh lettuce and the bounty of seasonal produce to concoct creative salad bowls. For a quintessential summer meal, top your greens with sweet corn, diced tomato, avocado, and crumbled feta.
Swap sugary desserts for delicious seasonal fruits. Instead of reaching for cookies, pastries, or chocolate after dinner, dig into a bowl of naturally sweet, ripe fruit. Best bets include berries, watermelon, cantaloupe, apricots, peaches, and plums.
Lay out a healthy, no-cook summer spread. If it’s too hot to cook, throw together a picnic-style meal of sliced raw veggies (carrots, cherry tomatoes, zucchini, cucumber, etc.) with hummus, sliced whole-grain bread or crackers, cheeses, olives, fruit, nuts, hard-boiled eggs, and other tasty nibbles.
Get grilling. It’s a terrific way to infuse flavor into lean proteins like skinless chicken breasts and thighs, turkey burgers, fish, shrimp, and pork tenderloin, especially if you start with a tasty spice rub or marinade. If you cook extra, you’ll have ready-to-eat proteins to add to leafy green or grain-based salads for simple meals later in the week.
And don’t forget the grilled veggies. Whenever you fire up the grill, toss on some sliced zucchini, summer squash, eggplant, bell peppers, and/or mushrooms. Chop them up and toss with pasta or cooked whole grains like brown rice, farro, and quinoa for a simple meal. Or, layer grilled vegetables on whole-grain bread spread with goat cheese or hummus for a tasty vegetarian sandwich.
Cool down with fruit smoothies. Blend your favorite summer fruits — and veggies like carrots, spinach, and beets — with yogurt and your milk of a choice for a hydrating breakfast or snack. The fruit will add plenty of sweetness, so you can skip added sugars like maple syrup and honey. Make extra and pour into ice pop molds or small paper cups with popsicle sticks for a fun frozen dessert.
Start your day with a hearty, refreshing breakfast. Overnight oats are a great choice this time of year (they’re the more seasonally appropriate counterpart to a hearty bowl of hot oatmeal). Or, top fresh fruit with a dollop of protein-rich yogurt or part-skim ricotta cheese and optional chopped nuts. I can’t wait to dig into my first bowl of fresh cherries, peaches, or nectarines with ricotta!
Go skinny-dipping. Whip up a tasty new dip each week to enjoy with all of the deliciously dunkable summer produce. Try Greek yogurt with mixed fresh herbs, artichoke pesto (you have to try this recipe!), or any number of unique hummus variations, including roasted red pepper, beet, edamame, and carrot-based blends.
Start spiralizing. I don’t endorse a lot of single-use kitchen gadgets, but I’m pretty fond of the vegetable spiral slicers that are all the rage right now. The price is right at about $15 to $25 per machine, and you can use it to make low-cal veggie pastas and salads out of all of the inexpensive summer bumper crops like zucchini, summer squash, cucumbers, carrots, and even beets. Check out this recipe for zesty Carrot Noodle Stir Fry from the blog Inspiralized.
Sip on iced tea. To help you stay hydrated in the hot weather, I suggest keeping a pitcher or two of unsweetened iced tea in the fridge at all times. Switching up the flavor from week to week will prevent you from getting bored in the beverage department. Mint green tea is a classic summertime brew, but I also love fruity combos like pomegranate and raspberry.
Plant something … anything! Never grown anything edible before? Don’t let that stop you; starting a simple garden in pots or other containers is actually really easy. Go to the nearest hardware store and pick up a large planter, a bag of potting soil, and a small potted plant, like any fresh herb or one of the vegetables listed here. Consider starting with basil or a cherry tomato varietal; they’re both easy to grow and versatile in the kitchen.
Go on a pick-your-own adventure! Don’t wait for apple picking in the fall. Make a date with family or friends to harvest summer produce at a local orchard or farm (visit pickyourown.org to find a site near you). If you’re willing to put in the labor, you can buy buckets of berries, stone fruit, and other seasonal items at a great price.
Sit down and enjoy meals outdoors. So many people I know own lovely patio sets but rarely use them. Make a plan to sit down to a family meal in your backyard once a week. You’ll likely eat more slowly and mindfully when you’re dining al fresco. If you don’t have access to an outdoor eating space, plan a fun picnic at a local park.
Master a few healthy recipes for summer cookouts. Finding lighter fare at barbecues can be a challenge, but if you volunteer to bring a healthy dish, you know you’ll have at least one good option to pile onto your plate and dilute some of the heavier entrees and sides. To keep things simple, bring a big bowl of fruit salad or pick up a crudite platter from the grocery store. If you don’t mind doing a bit more prep, I recommend throwing together a pasta salad with lots of veggies, like this colorful soba noodle salad with edamame, red pepper, and purple cabbage.
Go for a daily walk. Now that the days are longer, it’s easier to squeeze in a short walk at the start or end of your day. Aim for at least 30 minutes most days of the week (but if you can only commit to 15 or 20, that’s still well worth the effort). When things start to heat up, schedule an early morning or late evening walk when temps are cooler.
Hit the trail. For a change of scenery, seek out some local walking and hiking trails in your area using sites like alltrails.com and traillink.com. Pack a healthy lunch or snacks and make a day of it!
Take a hiatus from TV. With all the network hit shows on summer break, it’s the perfect time to reduce your screen time. Cut down on evening television viewing and spend that time outdoors walking, biking, doing yardwork, or playing with the kids or grandkids.

9 Diet Hacks Nutritionists Use Every Day

1 / 10   Think Like a Nutritionist With These Simple Tips

Whenever we have a diet or nutrition question, we call on a dietitian or nutritionist to lead us in the right direction. Although you may picture them noshing on raw veggies and sipping water all day, they aren’t always perfect — they enjoy dining out, battle the munchies, and love dessert just like the rest of us! The difference is they know the insider tips to shave calories off comfort food favorites, satisfy cravings the healthy way, and pack more nutrition into each meal. Make their tricks second nature and soon you’ll be an expert at keeping the flavor you crave, while slimming down your meals and your waistline

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.

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!

Tomato Basil Oatmeal

Sweet oatmeal recipes are easy enough to find, but savory ones? Those are a little harder to pull off. With its tomato puree, pine nuts, fresh herbs, and Parmesan cheese, Oatgasm’s tomato and basil oatmeal reminds us of a lower-carb bowl of pasta — one that you’ll want to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Mangia!

5 Cooking Tips to Spice Up Your Heart-Healthy Diet

Add Flavor, Texture, and Zest with Heart-Healthy Ingredients

If you have high cholesterol and blood pressure, your doctor has probably advised you to start following a healthy diet as part of your treatment plan. The good news is that delighting your taste buds while sticking to a heart-healthy meal plan is easy — and many of the foods you enjoy most likely aren’t off limits. Healthy herbs and spices lend robust and savory flavor, hearty nuts add texture and a buttery taste, and teas infuse a bright flavor and antioxidants. Michael Fenster, MD (also known as Dr. Mike), a board-certified interventional cardiologist and gourmet chef, shares his cooking tips for preparing delicious meals that will boost your heart health. These choices are part of a healthy lifestyle that may reduce your risk for heart conditions like high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke down the road.

5 Cooking Tips to Spice Up Your Heart-Healthy Diet

Add Flavor, Texture, and Zest with Heart-Healthy Ingredients

If you have high cholesterol and blood pressure, your doctor has probably advised you to start following a healthy diet as part of your treatment plan. The good news is that delighting your taste buds while sticking to a heart-healthy meal plan is easy — and many of the foods you enjoy most likely aren’t off limits. Healthy herbs and spices lend robust and savory flavor, hearty nuts add texture and a buttery taste, and teas infuse a bright flavor and antioxidants. Michael Fenster, MD (also known as Dr. Mike), a board-certified interventional cardiologist and gourmet chef, shares his cooking tips for preparing delicious meals that will boost your heart health. These choices are part of a healthy lifestyle that may reduce your risk for heart conditions like high blood pressure, heart attack, or stroke down the road.

Vitamin D

 

 

All Diet and Nutrition Articles

All Diet and Nutrition Articles

 

6 Easy and Amazing Oatmeal Recipes to Try This Week

Ask anyone what their favorite breakfast is, and you’ll likely get answers ranging from veggie omelets to sugary cinnamon buns. But how many people can say their favorite morning meal is oatmeal? Well, that’s all about to change. Not only is oatmeal super healthy (it’s packed with belly-filling fiber), but it’s also incredibly versatile. Whether you prefer the grains sweet or savory — or packed with protein or healthy fats — we have the right recipe for you. And remember that no matter which flavor combination you choose, one thing is guaranteed: You’ll never look at oatmeal the same way again.

Tomato Basil Oatmeal
Sweet oatmeal recipes are easy enough to find, but savory ones? Those are a little harder to pull off. With its tomato puree, pine nuts, fresh herbs, and Parmesan cheese, Oatgasm’s tomato and basil oatmeal reminds us of a lower-carb bowl of pasta — one that you’ll want to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Mangia!

Slow Cooker Overnight Oatmeal
Don’t have time to cook breakfast in the morning? No problem. Just toss 2 cups of oats into a slow cooker, top with some dried berries, and add water. Wait 90 minutes, and voila! With just 193 calories, this slow cooker overnight oatmeal will be your new favorite breakfast.

Blueberry Muffin Overnight Oats
Our love of overnight oats continues with this mouthwatering blueberry version from Eat Yourself Skinny. (Seriously, how gorgeous is this?) The Greek yogurt and chia seeds add an extra shot of protein (13.4 grams in one jar!) and a chewy, flavorful texture. And did we mention it only takes a few minutes to make?

Date-Sweetened Apple Pie Oatmeal
This gluten-free apple pie oatmeal from the Minimalist Baker is sweetened with dates, apple slices, and a dash of honey. It’s part crispy, part thick and creamy, and all parts totally delicious. Plus, it’s easy to mix and match this base recipe with other toppings — think: toasted nuts and flaxseed.

5-Minute Oatmeal Power Bowl
Who says comfort food can’t be healthy, too? This oatmeal power bowl from Oh She Glows is not only delicious, but it also lives up to its belly-filling promise: laden with chia seeds, almonds, and cinnamon, it’s an instant, energizing way to start your day.

Raspberry-Almond Overnight Oatmeal
Breakfast doesn’t get much easier than this raspberry almond oatmeal. Simply combine oats, milk, yogurt, almonds, chia seeds, and a dash of almond extract in a pint-sized mason jar, then shake, stir, and refrigerate. It’s packed with healthy ingredients, and served up in a perfect portion size, too!

Carbohydrates: Your Diet's Fuel

Before you feast on chicken and boycott carbs, take a closer look at the U.S. Food Pyramid.

Carbohydrates are highlighted as an important part of ahealthy diet, and not banned by any means. Your body needs a wide variety of foods to function and stay healthy.

"Carbohydrate is one of the macronutrients that we need, primarily for energy," says Sandra Meyerowitz, MPH, RD, a nutritionist, online nutrition coach, and owner of Nutrition Works in Louisville, Ky.

While fats and protein are also necessary for energy, they're more of a long-term fuel source, while carbohydrates fulfill the body's most immediate energy needs. "It's your body's first source of energy — that's what it likes to use," adds Meyerowitz.

10 Ways to Fight Chronic RA Pain

The aches and pains of rheumatoid arthritis can be hard to overcome, but these strategies may help in treating chronic pain.

From fatigue to loss of appetite, rheumatoid arthritis (RA) can impact your life in a number of ways, but the most limiting symptom for many people is pain. Because that pain comes in different forms, you may need more than one strategy to relieve it.

“The primary cause of rheumatoid arthritis pain is inflammation that swells joint capsules," says Yousaf Ali, bachelor of medicine and bachelor of surgery, an associate professor of medicine at the Icahn School of Medicine and chief of the division of rheumatology at Mount Sinai West Hospital in New York City. Joint capsules are thin sacs of fluid that surround a joint, providing lubrication for bone movement. In RA, the body's immune system attacks those capsules.

The first goal of pain relief is the control of inflammation, Dr. Ali explains. “Inflammation can cause acute (short-term) pain or longer-lasting smoldering pain," he says. "Chronic erosion of joint tissues over time is another cause of chronic pain. But there are many options for pain relief.”

Getting RA pain under control may take some work. You may find that you'll need to take several drugs — some to slow the joint damage and some to alleviate joint pain. Alternative therapies, like acupuncture, combined with drugs may help you to feel stronger. It may take some time, too. Try the following strategies — with your doctor's supervision — to discover which are most effective for you:

Treatments and Strategies to Help Relieve Chronic RA Pain

1. Inflammation Medication "In the case of RA, all other pain-relief strategies are secondary to controlling inflammation," Ali says. The No. 1 option in the pain relief arsenal is to control inflammation with disease-modifying anti-rheumatic drugs, called DMARDs. These drugs, which work to suppress the body's overactive immune system response, are also used to prevent joint damage and slow the progression of the disease. DMARDs are often prescribed shortly after a diagnosis in order to prevent as much joint damage as possible.

"The most commonly used is the drug methotrexate," he says. It's administered both orally and through injections. Digestive issues, such as nausea and diarrhea, are the most common side effect of DMARDs, and of methotrexate in particular, if taken by mouth. Hair loss, mouth sores, and drowsiness are other potential side effects. Methotrexate, which is taken once a week, can take about five or six weeks to start working, and it may be three to six months before the full effects of the drug are felt; doctors may also combine it with other drugs, including other DMARDs.

"Steroids may be used to bridge the gap during an acute flare," adds Ali. "If flares continue, we can go to triple-drug therapy, or use newer biologic drugs that are more expensive but also effective.” The most common side effect of biologics are infections that may result from their effect on the immune system.

The next tier of pain relief includes these additional approaches:

2. Pain Medication The best drugs for acute pain, Ali says, are nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, called NSAIDs. Aspirin and ibuprofen belong to this class of drugs, as does a newer type of NSAID called celecoxib. While NSAIDs treat joint pain, research has shown that they don't prevent joint damage. In addition, NSAIDs may irritate the stomach lining and cause kidney damage when used over a long period of time.

"Stronger pain relievers, calledopioids, may be used for severe pain, but we try to avoid them if possible," says Ali. "These drugs must be used cautiously because of the potential to build up tolerance, which can lead to abuse."

3. Diet Although some diets may be touted to help RA symptoms, they aren’t backed by the medical community. “There is no evidence that any special diet will reduce RA pain," Ali says. But there is some evidence that omega-3 fatty acids can help reduce inflammation — and the joint pain that results from it. Omega-3s can be found in cold-water fish and in fish oil supplements. A study published in November 2015 in the Global Journal of Health Sciences found that people who took fish oil supplements were able to reduce the amount of pain medication they needed.

4. Weight Management Maintaining a healthy weight may help you better manage joint pain. A study published in November 2015 in the journal Arthritis Care & Research suggested that significant weight loss can lower the need for medication in people with RA. Among the study participants, 93 percent were using DMARDs before they underwent bariatric surgery, but that dropped to 59 percent a year after surgery.

5. Massage A massage from a therapist (or even one you give yourself) can be a soothing complementary treatment to help reduce muscle and joint pain. A study published in May 2013 in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice involved 42 people with RA in their arms who received either light massage or medium massage from a massage therapist once a week for a month. The participants were also taught to do self-massage at home. After a month of treatment, the moderate-pressure massage group had less pain and greater range of motion than the others.

6. Exercise Although you may not feel like being active when you have RA, and it might seem that being active could put stress on your body, gentle exercises can actually help reduce muscle and joint pain, too. “Non-impact or low-impact exercise is a proven way to reduce pain," Ali says. "We recommend walking, swimming, and cycling.” In fact, one of the best exercises you can do for RA is water aerobics in a warm pool because the water buoys your body.

The Arthritis Foundation also notes that yoga is another option to help reduce RA pain, and traditional yoga poses can be modified to your abilities. Yoga may also help improve the coordination and balance that is sometimes impaired when you have the disease. When it comes to exercise, though, it’s also wise to use caution. Talk with your doctor if any workouts are making your pain worse, and, in general, put any exercise plan on hold during an acute flare.

7. Orthoses These are mechanical aids that can help support and protect your joints. Examples include padded insoles for your shoes and splints or braces that keep your joints in proper alignment. You can even get special gloves for hand and finger RA. A physical therapist can help you determine the best orthoses options for you.

8. Heat and Cold Heat helps to relax muscles, while cold helps to dull the sensation of pain. You might find that applying hot packs or ice packs, or alternating between hot and cold, helps reduce your joint pain. Relaxing in a hot bath can also bring relief, as can exercising in a warm pool.

9. Acupuncture This Eastern medicine practice, which has been around for centuries, is thought to work by stimulating the body's natural painkillers through the use of fine needles gently placed near nerve endings. “I have found acupuncture to be helpful for some patients, but the pain relief is usually not long-lasting,” says Ali.

10. Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation (TENS) TENS is a form of therapy that uses low-voltage electric currents to stimulate nerves and interfere with pain pathways. “TENS is usually used for stubborn, chronic pain and not as a first-line treatment for RA,” Ali says. One of the benefits of this treatment is the low occurrence of side effects. If you're interested in trying it for pain relief, talk with your physical therapist.

Remember, you’re not alone — your doctor and specialists can help you find relief from chronic pain. If you’re experiencing more pain than before, or if pain is interfering with your ability to get things done, don’t hesitate to talk to your doctor. Ask your rheumatologist about pain relief options, like exercise, massage, yoga, and acupuncture, but remember that the first priority on your pain relief list should be to get RA inflammation under control.

DIY Beauty Treatments for Every Skin Problem

  • 1 / 7   DIY Beauty Solutions

    Strawberries, lemons, blueberries, and onions – sounds like your average grocery list, right? Just as they are nutritious and important for a well-balanced diet, these ingredients can give your skin and hair a major boost, too.

    Read on to learn these six expert-recommended at-home treatments that can help combat your biggest beauty woes.

  • 2 / 7   Problem: Hyperpigmentation and dark spots

    Solution: Fresh lemon juice and a red onion


    Lemon juice and red onions are naturally acidic, and when combined together, they create a gentle-yet-effective at-home alternative to dark spot and hyperpigmentation treatments that are often formulated with harsh chemicals.

    For best results, Michael Lin, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Beverly Hills, California, suggests blending ¼ of a red onion with freshly squeezed lemon  juice before applying it to the desired area with a Q-tip. After 10 to15 minutes, wash off the homemade treatment with a mild cleanser.

  • 3 / 7   Problem: Dry, calloused hands and feet

    Solution: Almond milk and coffee grounds


    For a smoothing hand and foot scrub, Lin suggests combining almond milk with leftover coffee grounds from your morning roast. Almond milk is rich in antioxidants and vitamin E, which helps protect skin from free radicals that can damage cells and break down collagen. Coffee grounds, on the other hand, offer exfoliating benefits that help reveal radiant skin. “Using a caffeine scrub helps to stimulate cells and elastin, and temporarily firm the skin,” says Lin. 

    Combine 2 cups of almond milk and the coffee grounds in a bowl, then scrub the formula in circular motions on your hands and feet.

  • 4 / 7   Problem: Dull skin

    Solution: Peppermint tea


    Using topical treatments isn’t the only way to achieve gorgeous, glowing skin. In fact, radiant skin can be attained from the inside out by drinking a generous cup of peppermint tea. Dallas-based celebrity aesthetician Renee Rouleau advises her celebrity clients to drink a cup of the minty stuff before red carpet events.  

    “Peppermint tea is known to boost blood circulation, giving skin a vibrant glow,” says Rouleau, adding that peppermint can also help decrease stress. 

  • 5 / 7   Problem: Uneven skin tone and UV damage

    Solution: Strawberries and honey


    Strawberries in particular are jam-packed with vitamin C and are a natural source of salicylic acid, which is often found in anti-acne treatments to help clear skin and keep flare-ups at bay. When paired with honey, which has anti-bacterial benefits, they create a powerful at-home alternative to a store-bought mask. 

    Mash together three strawberries and 1 Tbsp. honey and apply the mixture. Wash off the mask with warm water after 15 minutes.

  • 6 / 7   Problem: Dry, frizzy hair

    Solution: Coconut oil


    As the weather gets warmer, your hair can become dry, frizzy, and completely unmanageable. Because of its moisturizing benefits, coconut oil is highly effective when it comes to nourishing hair and battling frizz. 

    For a hydrating hair treatment, New York City stylist Nunzio Saviano, owner of Nunzio Saviano Salon in New York City, recommends working a tablespoon of liquefied coconut oil through your hair post-shampoo. Leave the oil in for five to 10 minutes and rinse it out with chilly water, which will also help close the hair cuticle and seal in moisture, fighting frizz.

  • 7 / 7   Problem: Product buildup

    Solution: Apple cider vinegar

    Product buildup (sometimes confused for dandruff) is residue left behind on your hair and scalp by shampoo, mousse, hairspray, and other styling products. Additionally, dirt, natural oils, and hard water mineral deposits can build up on your hair shaft, leaving locks dull and weighed down. For a quick at-home fix, celebrity colorist Kyle White recommends a five-minute apple cider vinegar treatment.

    “Apple cider vinegar is an effective clarifying

6 Detoxifying Vegetable Soup Recipes for the New Year

Bone broth was the hipster darling of 2015 food trends, but if healthy eating is one of your resolutions, just sipping on broth isn’t going to cut it. It’s a new year, and 2016 is all about doubling down on fruits and veggies in the most delicious way possible. Sure, salads pack in a lot of produce, but broth-based soups may be the most satisfying — and warming! — route to healthy eating this winter. If you’ve been mainlining gingerbread and peppermint bark for the past two weeks, a detoxifying veggie soup is the perfect way to usher in a healthier new year, one satisfying slurp at a time. Here are five recipes that’ll give your resolutions staying power all month long:

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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.

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!

Recognizing an Addiction Relapse

Treatment and recovery from an addiction to drugs or alcohol are steps in a lifelong journey. Unfortunately, 40 to 60 percent of drug addicts and almost half of all alcoholics will eventually go through a substance abuse relapse.

If someone dear to you has been in addiction treatment, it is important for you to be able to recognize if that person is relapsing as early as possible. This way, the problem can be addressed before it spirals out of control. Just because your loved one relapses does not mean that their addiction treatment has failed, however; it just means that the current treatment regimen probably needs to be reevaluated.

Addiction Relapse: Obvious Signs

"Most of the time the signs are so obvious," says Thomas Kosten, MD, Jay H. Waggoner chair and founder of the division of substance abuse at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.

According to Dr. Kosten, the following are common indicators of a drug or alcohol addiction relapse:

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  • Alcohol is missing from the house.
  • Bottles of alcohol are found around the home.
  • Your loved one comes home obviously intoxicated.
  • Money is missing from bank accounts or stolen from friends or family member.
  • Medicine is missing from the house.

 

 

Addiction Relapse: Early Indicators

 

 

There are also signals from the addict that a relapse is just around the corner, when steps can be taken to prevent the relapse or at least address it in its earliest stages. Your loved one may exhibit the following emotions and behaviors:

  • Anxiety
  • Anger
  • Impatience
  • Extreme sensitivity
  • Moodiness
  • Not wanting to be around people
  • Refusing help
  • Not complying with treatment recommendations
  • Problems with sleeping
  • Appetite changes
  • Reminiscing about the past
  • Lying
  • Seeing friends that they've used drugs or alcohol with in the past
  • Talking about relapse

Addiction Relapse: Stepping in

When you suspect that your loved one has relapsed, Kosten says the best thing to do is tackle the issue head-on. He suggests that you start the conversation in the following way:

  • First, say to your loved one, “I think you’re using.”
  • If the person admits he is using again, then say, “We need to do something about this."
  • Kosten suggests that at this point you start setting limits by saying something such as, "Unless you get help, you will have to leave the house."

If your loved one is showing signs of an impending relapse but hasn’t yet relapsed, Kosten says that it is important to confront him first. Otherwise it is very unlikely that you are going to be able to convince him to get back into addiction treatment. Then you should encourage him to continue with treatment, talk to an addiction counselor or sponsor, and practice good self-care — that is, get enough sleep, eat well, and take steps to relieve stress.

If the addict refuses to talk with a professional or you feel that you need anaddiction expert to help you learn how to confront him, contact your local Council for Alcoholism and Drug Abuse. Or if you have access to the person’s doctor, addiction counselor, or sponsor, speak to that person about how you might deal with the situation.

DIY Beauty Solutions

Strawberries, lemons, blueberries, and onions – sounds like your average grocery list, right? Just as they are nutritious and important for a well-balanced diet, these ingredients can give your skin and hair a major boost, too.
Strawberries, lemons, blueberries, and onions – sounds like your average grocery list, right? Just as they are nutritious and important for a well-balanced diet, these ingredients can give your skin and hair a major boost, too.

Read on to learn these six expert-recommended at-home treatments that can help combat your biggest beauty woes.

Strawberries, lemons, blueberries, and onions – sounds like your average grocery list, right? Just as they are nutritious and important for a well-balanced diet, these ingredients can give your skin and hair a major boost, too.

Read on to learn these six expert-recommended at-home treatments that can help combat your biggest beauty woes.

More Evidence That Depression Shortens Lives

People with depression tend to die earlier than expected -- a pattern that has grown stronger among women in recent years, new research finds.

The study followed thousands of Canadian adults between 1952 and 2011. Overall, it found people with depression had a higher death rate versus those without the mood disorder.

The link only emerged among women starting in the 1990s. Yet by the end of the study, depression was affecting men's and women's longevity equally.

The findings do not prove that depression itself shaves years off people's lives, said lead researcher Stephen Gilman.

The study could not account for the effects of physical health conditions, for example.

"So one explanation could be that people with depression were more likely to have a chronic condition," said Gilman, of the U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development.

RELATED: Can 'Magic Mushrooms' Kick-Start Depression Treatment?

But even if that were true, he added, it would not mean that depression bears no blame -- because depression can take a toll on physical health.

"Many studies have found that people with depression have higher risks of heart disease and stroke, for example," Gilman said.

The findings are based on 3,410 Canadian adults who were followed for up to several decades. The first wave of participants was interviewed in 1952, the next in 1970, and the final in 1992.

At each wave, roughly 6 percent of adults had depression, based on a standard evaluation.

And on average, those people had a shorter life span. For example, a 25-year-old man who was depressed in 1952 could expect to live another 39 years, on average. That compared with 51 years for a man without depression.

Men with depression at any point had a higher risk of dying over the coming years, versus those free of the disorder.

The picture was different for women, though. The connection between depression and mortality only surfaced in the 1990s.

Women with depression at that point were 51 percent more likely to die by 2011, compared with other women. That brought their risk on par with depressed men.

The reasons are unclear. "Why would depression be less toxic to women at one time point than another?" Gilman said.

He speculated that societal shifts have some role. Women in recent decades have been much more likely to juggle work and home life, or be single mothers, for example.

Another possibility, Gilman said, is that women tend to suffer more severe depression these days.

There was some evidence that the impact of depression lessened over time. Men with depression in 1952 no longer showed a higher death risk after 1968, for example -- unless they also had depression at the later interviews, too.

As for causes of death, there was no evidence that suicides explained the risks among people with depression.

"There were actually few suicides," Gilman said. "People with depression died of the same causes that other people did -- like cardiovascular disease and cancer."

Dr. Aaron Pinkhasov is chairman of behavioral health at NYU Winthrop Hospital in Mineola, N.Y.

He said depression can indirectly shorten life span in a number of ways. Depressed people are less able to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and are more vulnerable to smoking and drinking. They may also be less equipped to manage any physical health conditions.

"Once depression sets in, you may not have the motivation or energy," said Pinkhasov, who was not involved with the research.

Gilman said his study can't say whether treating depression erases the higher death risk associated with it.

But, Pinkhasov said, there is evidence that depression treatment can help people better control high blood pressure and diabetes, for example.

He stressed that there are various effective treatments -- from "talk therapy" to medication.

"Don't blame yourself for being 'weak,' or tell yourself you should just snap out of it," Pinkhasov said.

John Hamilton, a counselor at Mountainside Treatment Center in Canaan, Conn., agreed.

He said that women, in particular, can have a "sense of shame" over mental health symptoms in part because they feel they need to be the rock of the family. "They might even have people around them saying, 'Snap out of it, you have kids,'" said Hamilton, who also had no role in the study.

"But depression is no different from any other chronic disease," he said. "We need to have a compassionate, nonjudgmental approach to it."

The results were published Oct. 23 in the journal CMAJ.

Essential Facts About Antidepressants

Newer antidepressants target brain chemicals involved in regulating mood, but they're not magic bullets. Here are the risks and benefits of these commonly prescribed drugs.

Although mild forms of depression are often treated without medication, those with more severe symptoms may benefit from taking antidepressant drugs. These medications, which target brain chemicals involved in mood, may help people with severe depression who do not respond to talk therapy or healthy lifestyle changes alone, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

The Use of Antidepressants Is on the Rise

Roughly 67 percent of people living with depression use medication as their primary form of treatment, NAMI reports. Antidepressants are the second most commonly prescribed drugs in the United States, according to a study published in 2013 in the American Journal of Clinical Hypnosis. Overall, use of antidepressants increased from 6.5 percent in 2000 to 10.4 percent by 2010, a study published in 2014 in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry reveals.

How Antidepressants May Help

There are many theories about what causes depression, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). Brain imaging technology shows that parts of the brain involved in mood, thinking, sleep, and behavior look different in people with depression than in those who are not depressed. Genetics, stress, and grief could also trigger depression, according to NIMH.

RELATED: 6 Need-to-Know Antidepressant Facts

Because specific chemicals called neurotransmitters, particularly serotonin and norepinephrine, are involved in regulating mood, medications that target these chemicals are often used to treat depression. Antidepressants work by increasing concentrations of these chemicals. These drugs include:

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): SSRIs work by making more of the neurotransmitter serotonin available to your brain. Some of the drug names you may be familiar with are Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine), and Celexa (citalopram).

The most common side effects associated with these medications include sexual problems, headache, nausea, dry mouth, and difficulty sleeping. These symptoms often fade over time, NAMI notes.

Atypical antidepressants: This class of drugs includes serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), such as Effexor (venlafaxine) and Cymbalta (duloxetine). In addition to serotonin, these antidepressants may target other brain chemicals such as dopamine or norepinephrine.

Side effects of SNRIs are similar to those associated with SSRI drugs. You may also experience, fatigue, weight gain, or blurred vision.

The antidepressant Wellbutrin (bupropion) affects only the levels of norepinephrine and dopamine. This drug, known as a norepinephrine and dopamine reuptake inhibitor (NDRI), has similar side effects as SSRIs and SNRIs, but it is less likely to cause sexual problems. Rarely, seizures may occur.

Tricyclic antidepressants: Tricyclics also affect levels of brain chemicals, but they are no longer commonly used because they have more side effects, including fatigue, dry mouth, blurred vision, urination difficulties, and constipation. If you have glaucoma, you should not take any tricyclic antidepressant. Some tricyclics antidepressants include amitriptyline, amoxapine, and Norpramin (desipramine).

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): Like tricyclics, MAOIs are now prescribed less often because of their risk for serious side effects. These drugs work by blocking an enzyme called monoamine oxidase, which breaks down the brain chemicals serotonin and norepinephrine. People taking MAOIs can experience dangerous reactions if they eat certain foods, drink alcohol, or take over-the-counter cold medicines.

In 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Emsam (selegiline), the first skin patch for treating major depression. At its lowest dose, this once-a-day patch can be used without the dietary restrictions associated with oral MAOIs. Some other MAOIs include Marplan (isocarboxazid) and Nardil (phenelzine).

Depression Medications and Government Warnings

In 2005, the FDA warned that the risk of suicidal thoughts or behavior could be higher in children and adolescents taking depression drugs. In 2007, the warning was expanded to include anyone under age 25 taking antidepressants.

However, to balance the risks and benefits of antidepressants, the FDA’s so-called black box warning also states that depression itself is associated with a greater risk for suicide, notes a 2014 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Nevertheless, if you are taking an antidepressant, especially if you are under 25, let your doctor know if your depression seems to be getting worse or if you have any thoughts of hurting yourself.

Antidepressants Are Not Magic Bullets

It's important to remember that simply taking a pill will not cure depression. It may take up to 12 weeks before these drugs have their full effect. Some people need to take various doses or combinations of different medications before they find the treatment strategy that works best for them, according to NAMI.

It’s also important to take antidepressants as prescribed and to follow up with your mental health professional on a regular basis. Some depression drugs must be stopped gradually — if you suddenly stop taking your medication, you could experience withdrawal symptoms or a relapse of your depression.

Often the most effective treatment for depression involves some form of talk therapy, notes NAMI. Discuss with your doctor how exercise and limiting alcohol can also help ease your symptoms.

How to Protect Yourself During a Mass Shooting

No one thinks they could be in this situation, but here's advice from safety experts if it happens.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

The headlines appear with unnerving frequency about mass shootings somewhere in the United States -- at a movie theater, a shopping mall, a school, a sporting event. Yesterday, a shooting tragedy took place at the Fort Hood military base in Texas, the second at this site since November 2009.

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Precisely how often mass shootings have occurred depends somewhat on interpretation. The Congressional Research Service, which defines a mass shooting as one that takes place in a relatively public place and results in four or more deaths, not including the shooter, identified 78 such shootings in the United States from 1983 to early 2013. A report by researchers at Texas State University, done after the killings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut, used different parameters and identified 84 mass shootings from 2000 to 2010 by people whose main motive appears to have been mass murder.

Though the precise number of mass casualty shootings may be hard to determine, there's no disagreement that people today need to think about their safety whenever they go out in public, said Dennis Krebs, a retired captain and paramedic with the Baltimore County Fire Department and author of "When Violence Erupts, A Survival Guide for Emergency Responders" and the "Special Operations Mission Planning Field Guide." 

“If you at least think about what you would do if you were confronted with such a situation, it gives you an edge,” Krebs said. 

Life-Saving Tips in the Event of a Mass Shooting

Irwin Redlener, MD, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, said that people don’t need to panic or even fear going to public places to avoid mass casualty shootings. He does agree with Krebs though: In 2014, it’s worth giving some thought to how to protect yourself during a mass shooting. 

 

 

What you can do if faced with a mass shooting depends greatly on the situation and your physique and physical capabilities, Dr. Redlener noted. “If you’re small and alone or with your 1-year-old or your 14-year-old, it’s going to be different,” he said. “Everything about survival guidelines is dependent on the details of the particular situation.” 

However, experts in public safety do have advice on how to protect yourself and your loved ones in the event of a mass shooting.

Pay attention to your surroundings. No matter where you go, "be aware of your environment," Redlener said. "If you see something that looks suspicious or out of place, or you notice an unusual gathering of people, you can begin taking action prior to the event occurring." By being aware, you may be able to avoid the scene and not walk into trouble. “Situational awareness is something that police officers and the military are taught and trained to do,” he said. When you go to a mall or a movie, know where the nearest exits are. 

RELATED: Media Exposure to Traumatic Events Can Be More Stressful Than Being There

Flee if you can. If you’re caught in a mass shooting, “you want to get outside of the building as quickly as you possibly can," Krebs said. A lot of people freeze, but "that's the last thing you want to do,” he said. Urge any people you're with to come with you, but don’t waste precious time trying to persuade them to get out while you can. 

 

"If you see something... suspicious or out of place...you can begin taking action prior to the event."

Irwin Redlener, MDTWEET

 

David Reiss, MD, a San Diego psychiatrist, said that some training in the martial arts can help prepare you to deal with your body’s natural fight-or-flight response and not be paralyzed when faced with traumatic events from which you should flee. “To be aware of that response and have some training in dealing with it can be useful without going overboard,” he said. 

Leave your belongings behind. Drop whatever stuff you have with you -- packages, luggage, purse, or backpack. It will make your exit easier. Nothing is more important than your life, Krebs said. Video of the mass shooting at the Los Angeles airport in November 2013 showed people fleeing with their suitcases, but, as Krebs said, "there's nothing in that piece of Samsonite that’s worth your life." 

If you can’t run, hide. “You want to be in an area that allows you to be protected from the gunman or further mischief by the armed perpetrator,” said Stephen Hargarten, MD, MPH, professor and chairman of emergency medicine and director of the Injury Research Center at the Medical College of Wisconsin. Lock and barricade the doors to your hiding place. In one recent mass shooting at a mall, a store clerk was able to protect some shoppers by hitting the button for a gate in front of the store, sealing everyone inside, Krebs said. 

Once in hiding, be quiet. Shut off your cellphone. Instinct may tell you to keep it on and try to call for help, but a ringing phone could be dangerous if it attracts the shooter's attention, Krebs said. Call 911 for help only if and when it’s safe to do so. 

 

 

Try to avoid confronting the shooter. According to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, taking any action against the shooter should be a last resort -- something you do only if your life is in imminent danger. But, if there's no other option, yell, act aggressively, or look around for something that might work as a weapon. 

Afterwards, exit carefully. Once the shooting has stopped and you are able to leave the building, go out with your hands up. Drop whatever you are carrying. “Police may not have a description of the suspect they’re after," Krebs said, "and if you come running out the door with something in your hand, you could end up getting hurt." 

Disaster Preparedness With Children 

Parents with young children should follow the same advice that flight attendants give passengers: Take care of yourself first because, if you don’t, you won’t be able to help your children, Dr. Hargarten said.

Before you're faced with a traumatic event, talk with your children about the best ways to handle such situations. What you say will depend on their age, but whatever you say, try not to frighten them unnecessarily. Emphasize that in an emergency situation like that, they would need to follow your directions, no questions asked. If you have to scream at your children, it could attract the attention of the shooter. 

As part of your family's disaster preparedness plan, decide where to meet if you get separated in an emergency -- even if it's a place you've been many times before. 

Dr. Reiss said you can’t anticipate mass casualty shootings and should not spend your days fretting over what you would do if you were caught up in one. “If you expect emergencies every moment of your day, it will ruin your life,” he said. It’s best to give it some thought but not let it overwhelm you

8 Reasons You Have No Energy

You’d be hard-pressed to find someone who doesn’t hit snooze or experience the midafternoon slump every once in a while, but if you constantly feel like you’re dragging it may be time to take a closer look at your routine. If you don’t have a related health condition and are getting enough shuteye each night, you may be to blame for the constant fatigue. Here are 8 energy-zapping habits that you can change today.  

1. You’re eating too much sugar. While the candy jar is an obvious culprit, refined carbohydrates like white bread and rice, chips, and cereal are a major source of sugar,too. This type of simple sugar is digested quickly by the body, leading to a dip in blood sugar levels that leaves you feeling fatigued. Be sure to replace refined carbs with whole grain varieties for a lasting energy boost.

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2. You aren’t exercising enough. It may seem counterintuitive that exerting energy will actually increase it, but adding a workout to your daily routine will give you a short-term energy boost. Plus, regular exercise improves sleep quality, which will ultimately leave you feeling more well rested.

3.  You’re skipping breakfast. "Skipping breakfast can definitely contribute to low energy in the morning," says Johannah Sakimura, MS and Everyday Health blogger. "It's important to give your body good fuel to start the day after an extended period of fasting." Without this fuel, your body is running on empty – leaving you famished by lunchtime and more likely to make unhealthy choices that will cause that midafternoon dip in blood sugar. "Try to combine healthy carbohydrates, like fruit, veggies, and whole grains, with a protein source, such as eggs, nuts, or dairy. The carbs give you an initial boost, and the protein helps sustain you until your next meal," says Sakimura.

4. You’re sitting too much. Not only is sitting for prolonged periods of time harmful to your health (just one hour of sitting affects your heart!), but it’s a major energy zapper as well. Standing up and moving for even a few minutes helps get your blood circulating through your body and increases the oxygen in your blood, ultimately sending more oxygen to your brain which increases alertness. If you work a desk job, try this move more plan to keep your blood pumping.

5. You’re drinking too much caffeine. Whether it’s a can of soda or constant refills of your coffee mug, many of the beverages we reach for when we feel tired are packed with caffeine – a stimulant that will give you a quick jolt, but can also leave you crashing soon after if you ingest too much. Plus, if you’re drinking caffeinated beverages into the afternoon, they may start to have an effect on your sleep quality. If you’re a coffee drinker, switch to water late-morning and replace soda with seltzer for a bubbly afternoon pick-me-up without the crash.

6. You’re dehydrated. We all know the importance of drinking enough water – and even mild dehydration can have adverse effects on your energy level, mood, and concentration. Aim for at least one glass of water per hour while sitting at your desk, and be sure to fill your bottle up even more if you’re doing strenuous activity or are outdoors in high temperatures. 

7. You have poor posture. A study found that slouched walking decreased energy levels while exacerbating symptoms of depression. The good news: Simply altering body posture to a more upright position instantly boosted mood and energy, while enabling participants to more easily come up with positive thoughts. So sit up straight! Set reminders on your phone or calendar throughout the day to remind yourself to check in with your posture and straighten up. 

8. You’re not snacking smart. If you’re running to the vending machine for a quick afternoon snack, your selection – most likely high in simple carbs and sugar – will take your energy levels in the wrong direction. Instead choose a snack that has a combo of protein and complex carbs for an energy boost that will last throughout the afternoon. Think trail mix, veggies and hummus, or peanut butter on whole wheat toast.

Healthy Pizza? It’s Possible With These 5 Recipes.

For many people, pizza tops the list of favorite foods. Not only is the drool-worthy combo of cheese, bread, and sauce satisfying, but it’s one of the easiest meals to pick up (or have delivered) from your local pizzeria. While your favorite slice may be delicious, it can be easy to go overboard on sodium-laden sauce, toppings, and high-calorie crusts. Luckily it’s just as easy — and delicious — to pop a homemade pie into the oven. With a few simple swaps and key ingredients, you can give your favorite comfort food a wholesome makeover without skimping on flavor. So whether you’re craving a fresh-out-of-the-oven slice or just looking for a hassle-free weeknight meal, these five healthy and delicious pies are better than delivery!

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Psoriasis Linked to Higher Risk of Depression

People with psoriasis may be twice as likely to experience depression as those without the common skin condition, regardless of its severity, a new study suggests.

"Psoriasis in general is a pretty visible disease," said study author Dr. Roger Ho, an assistant professor of dermatology at New York University School of Medicine in New York City. "Psoriasis patients are fearful of the public's stigmatization of this visible disease and are worried about how people who are unfamiliar with the disease may perceive them or interact with them."

Genetic or biologic factors may also play a role in the link between depression and psoriasis, which requires more research, he said. Either way, the findings mean that all individuals with psoriasis could benefit from screening for depression, Ho said, and their friends and family members should be aware of the connection as well.

The findings were scheduled for presentation Thursday at an American Academy of Dermatology meeting in New York City. They have not yet been published in a peer-reviewed journal and should be considered preliminary.

Most people with psoriasis have red, raised patches of skin covered with silvery-white scales, the researchers noted. These patches usually appear on the scalp, elbows, knees, lower back, hands and feet.

The researchers analyzed the responses of more than 12,000 U.S. adults in the 2009-2012 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Overall, nearly 3 percent of responders reported that they had psoriasis, and about 8 percent had major depression based on their answers to a depression screening assessment. Among those with psoriasis, 16.5 percent had sufficient symptoms for a diagnosis of major depression.

Those with any degree of psoriasis had double the odds of having depression even after taking into account their age, sex, race, weight, physical activity level, alcohol use and history of heart attack, stroke, diabetes and smoking, the researchers said.

Depression is one of several concerns that someone with psoriasis should look out for, said Dr. Delphine Lee, a dermatologist at John Wayne Cancer Institute at Providence Saint John's Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif.

"Patients with psoriasis should be aware that there are several other health issues associated with this condition, including cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, such as diabetes, as well as psychological or psychiatric disorders," Lee said. "To address your health beyond your skin is critical to maximizing a person's quality of life."

Several aspects of dealing with psoriasis may contribute to depression, said Dr. Doris Day, a dermatologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.

RELATED: 7 Hidden Dangers of Psoriasis

What matters more than its severity is the location of flare-ups, she said. Some of her patients won't wear shorts if it's on their legs or won't go on dates because they're embarrassed about red spots on their skin, she added.

"Also, because it's a chronic illness, you don't know if it's going to get worse and you don't get to take a vacation from it either," Day said. "You're using topical treatments all year long, and as soon as you stop, it comes right back. It's very depressing, and it can affect your self-esteem and your quality of life."

Anxiety about how psoriasis and its treatment may affect your future health might also contribute to depression, Day explained.

"It's unsightly, it can be itchy, people are worried about it spreading to other parts of their body, they worry about the side effects of medication, they worry about psoriatic arthritis, they worry about taking medications when they're pregnant, and they worry about passing it along to their children," she said.

Day recommended that people with psoriasis seek mental health treatment to get to the bottom of their depression.

"It's about that emotional connection and finding out what about this condition is affecting someone in the way that it is," Day explained.

Not seeking help can make matters worse, said Dr. Tien Nguyen, a dermatologist at Orange Coast Memorial Medical Center in Fountain Valley, Calif.

"Psoriasis can cause severe emotional distress," he said, noting some patients may have suicidal thoughts or attempt suicide. "Stress is a known cause of exacerbation of psoriasis, so this will lead to a vicious cycle."

Day added that it's critically important to continue seeing a dermatologist to learn about new medications that become available.

"There are some really amazing new treatments that have a great safety profile that can have excellent clearance with lasting results," Day said.

11 Super Seniors We Admire

1 / 12   Super Seniors We Admire

Senior citizens are having a moment. The U.S. population is getting older — average life expectancy for men and women has reached 76 and 81, respectively, and it’s expected to keep rising, thanks to advances in medicine, nutrition, and safety. In fact, about one in seven adults today is older than 80, and the fastest-growing age group is people over 100. But many of today’s seniors aren’t content to sit still and age quietly. Lately we’ve seen headlines of amazing elders who have completed marathons, graduated college, raced in NASCAR, and more. 

“No matter how old you are, it’s never too late to start living a healthier, more active, more engaging lifestyle,” says Terry Grossman, MD, a physician with an anti-aging and complementary medicine practice in Denver and co-author of Transcend: Nine Steps to Living Well Forever. Even walking an extra 10 minutes a day or taking an adult education class can help keep your body and mind sharp over time, he says. So whether you’re 35, 55, or 75, let these inspiring stories motivate you to cross a life goal off that proverbial bucket list.

Best Ways to Beat Dry Skin

Dry, itchy skin is no joke. Because skin is the body's largest organ (weighing about nine pounds), the frustration and discomfort that go along with dehydration can affect your daily existence, from your wardrobe to your social life. And if you happen to have a skin condition like eczema, you know from experience that flaky skin is no laughing matter.

However, you can fight flakiness and itchiness with a few important tips. Here, skin experts share their best advice for keeping your skin soft and supple.

Find the Right Exfoliator

Exfoliating can be beneficial for those who have dry skin because it helps the dead surface layers of skin cells to be shed, layers that can prevent moisturizers from being absorbed, says Doris Day, MD, a clinical assistant professor of dermatology at New York University Medical Center.

The key is to find the exfoliator that works best for your skin. Scrubs and alpha-hydroxy and beta-hydroxy acids are best for those who don't have sensitive skin. Those with sensitive skin can exfoliate with a home remedy that consists of a paste made from baking soda and water. “It’s great for your face or for rough patches like your heels, and nobody breaks out from it,” says Mona Gohara, MD, an assistant clinical professor of dermatology at Yale University.

Note that if you have any skin conditions, it’s best to check with a dermatologist before trying anything new. And beware of exfoliating too often because it can cause irritation.

Don’t Wash Too Often

 

 

Like exfoliating too much, washing too often can lead to dryness. “I usually tell people to use soap only where they need it — underarms, groin, hands and feet,” says Rebecca Baxt, MD, a dermatologist in Paramus, New Jersey.

Take a Lukewarm Shower

 

 

“Hot showers can strip the skin of oil and leave skin dry,” says Joshua Zeichner, MD, the director of cosmetic and clinical research in the department of dermatology at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Although hot showers are relaxing, fight the urge to parboil yourself and use lukewarm water instead. Also, limit the length of your showers to 10 minutes or less.

Moisturize Every Day

Using a moisturizer daily is crucial to combating dry, flaky skin. “When the skin is dry, it needs to be hydrated from the outside in — drinking eight glasses of water is not enough,” says Dr. Day.

For the most effective moisturizer, look for ingredients, including ceramides, that help support and replenish lipids in the skin. Hyaluronic acid and glycerin, both humectants, help the skin attract water and hold in moisture. Additionally, Dr. Zeichner recommends that, to help seal in moisture, you apply moisturizer to damp skin after showering.

Does being short help you live longer?

Researchers believe so.

Guys who are 5'3" and under have a lower risk of developing blood clots, and smaller odds of heart attack and cancer.

Risk of Preemie Birth May Rise for Depressed Parents-to-Be

Treating expectant mothers -- and fathers -- might help prevent early birth, study suggests.

It's known that an expectant mother's mental and emotional health can affect her baby. New research, however, finds that depression in either the father or the mother may be linked to an increased likelihood of preterm birth.

Screening for and treating mental health problems in both parents may help reduce the odds of a preterm delivery, according to study author Dr. Anders Hjern and his colleagues.

"Depressive fathers influence the stress hormone balance in the mother, and depression may also -- but this is more speculative -- have an effect on sperm quality," said Hjern, professor of pediatric epidemiology with the Centre for Health Equity Studies in Stockholm, Sweden.

Hjern and his colleagues analyzed more than 360,000 births in Sweden between 2007 and 2012. They determined parental depression by prescriptions for antidepressants that the expectant parents were taking. The researchers also looked at the parents' outpatient and hospital care. All this information was from 12 months before conception until six months after conception.

Mothers who had either a first bout with depression or recurring depression appeared to have a 30 percent to 40 percent higher risk of delivering a baby moderately preterm -- at 32 to 36 weeks. Full term is 39 to 40 weeks, according to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).

For expectant fathers, only those who had "new" depression were linked to a greater risk of a preterm child. (People with new depression had no depression 12 months prior to their diagnosis.) These fathers had a 38 percent higher risk of a very preterm baby, defined as 22 to 31 weeks, the study authors said.

However, the study authors only found an association, and not cause-and-effect proof, that parental depression may affect a child's birth outcome.

RELATED: Should You Have Kids If You’re Depressed?

Preterm birth is a leading cause of infant death. Preemies that survive often face long-term health consequences.

Janet Currie, director of the Center for Health and Wellbeing at Princeton University, said stress can certainly be a culprit in causing early delivery.

"There is quite a bit of literature suggesting that stress could trigger labor," said Currie, who was not involved with the new research. "Possibly paternal depression could also have that effect on the mother, for example, if she is stressed out by a father's health problem, or if a father's depression leads to other stresses like loss of employment or income."

Hjern theorized that the effects of antidepressants and unhealthy factors such as obesity and smoking also may contribute to a greater likelihood of preterm labor.

Some experts recommend that couples planning a family or expecting a child seek advice if they are experiencing irritability, anxiety or a change in mood.

Hjern expressed concern that men are less likely to seek professional help for any mental health problems, suggesting a proactive approach toward targeting the well-being of expectant fathers may be beneficial.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force -- a panel of independent health experts -- recently recommended screening all adults, including pregnant and postpartum women, for depression.

ACOG applauded the recommendation, saying "routine screening by physicians is important for ensuring appropriate follow-up and treatment." Treatment might include lifestyle changes, therapy and/or medication, the association said.

"Perinatal depression or depression that occurs during pregnancy or in the first 12 months after delivery is estimated to affect one in seven women, making it one of the most common medical complications associated with pregnancy," ACOG said in a statement.

The new study was published online recently in BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology.

7 Quick Fixes to Look More Attractive

One look at the billion dollar anti-aging industry and it's no surprise we find youth beautiful above all else. But skin isn't the only indicator of it — the size of your eyes is, too. "Women with baby-like features such as large, widely-spaced eyes are typically judged to be most attractive," says Viren Swami, PhD, author of The Psychology of Physical Attraction,who cites cross-cultural study data from African-American, Asian, Hispanic, and Taiwanese participants.

The quickest and easiest way to maximize your eyes is to sketch a line on the top lash line using a smoky shade, and then smudge the shadow with a brush or your fingertip to soften and blend, says Tina Turnbow, a celebrity makeup aritst.

Teens and E-cigarettes

In Figure 2 Teen e-cig users are more likely to start smoking.
30.7 percent of e-cig users started smoking within 6 months while 8.1 percent of non users started smoking. Smoking includes combustible tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, and hookahs).

Hold That Pose: Yoga May Ease Tough Depression

Study finds weekly sessions, plus deep breathing, helped ease cases when medications failed.

The calming poses and meditation of yoga may be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to beating depression, new research suggests.

Researchers found that weekly sessions of yoga and deep breathing exercises helped ease symptoms of the common condition. They believe the practice may be an alternative or complementary therapy for tough-to-treat cases of depression.

The intervention seemed helpful for "people who are not on antidepressants and in those who have been on a stable dose of antidepressants [but] have not achieved a resolution of their symptoms," study lead author Dr. Chris Streeter said in a news release from Boston Medical Center. He's a psychiatrist at the hospital and an associate professor of psychiatry and neurology at Boston University.

Major depression is common and often persistent and disabling, Streeters' team noted. Up to 40 percent of people taking medication for this form of depression won't see their depression go away, according to the researchers.

RELATED: Depression May Hasten Death in Years After Heart Diagnosis

However, prior studies have shown that the ancient practice of yoga may be of help.

"The mechanism of action is similar to other exercise techniques that activate the release of 'feel good' brain chemicals," explained Dr. Alan Manevitz, a clinical psychiatrist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, who reviewed the new findings.

He added that exercise, especially yoga, may also "reduce immune system chemicals that can worsen depression."

Then there's yoga's meditative quality, as well, Manevitz said.

"It has been demonstrated that 'mindful' movement -- conscious awareness -- has a much more beneficial impact on the central nervous system," he said.

But would this bear out in a rigorous study? To find out, Streeter's team tracked outcomes for 30 people with major depressive disorder. All were randomly assigned to partake in either a "high-dose" or "low-dose" yoga intervention. The high-dose group had three 90-minute yoga classes each week along with home practice, while the low-dose group engaged in two 90-minute yoga sessions each week in addition to home practice.

The participants practiced Ilyengar yoga, a method that focuses on detail, precision and alignment in posture and breath control.

The study found that both groups had significant reductions in their depression symptoms. Those who took three weekly yoga classes had fewer depressive symptoms than those in the "low-dose" group, but Streeter's team said even two classes a week was still very effective in improving people's mood.

Streeter noted that this intervention targets a different neurochemical pathway in the body than mood-altering medications, suggesting that yoga may provide a new, side effect-free avenue for treatment.

For his part, Manevitz called the study "practical and well-designed." He believes the findings support yoga as a treatment "that can help the millions of people suffering from major depressive disorders around the world."

Dr. Victor Fornari is a psychiatrist at Zucker Hillside Hospital in Glen Oaks, N.Y. He agreed that the new study "supports the use of yoga for the treatment of depression... Yoga, like regular exercise, is good for most people for health maintenance as well as to treat what ails them."

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."

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.

The Link Between Depression and Debt

Too often, depression and debt are connected — and together, they can spiral out of control. Try these strategies to regain your footing.

Mental problems and money problems often go hand in hand. For one, debt is an increasingly common stressor that can trigger depression. Indeed, people who live with debt are more likely than their peers to be depressed and even contemplate suicide, according to a report on the health effects of debt published in 2014 in BMC Public Health. They're also less likely to take good care of their health. On the other hand, the researchers found that debt management programs can help stave off depression. Here's what else you need to know.

How Debt Leads to Emotional Distress

Debt can make you feel helpless, hopeless, and low on self-esteem — and these are all symptoms and risk factors for depression, says Nadine Kaslow, PhD, professor in the department of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta.

Credit card debt, mortgage foreclosure, student loan debt, medical debt, and job loss can all contribute to depression, agree the authors of the BMC Public Health article, adding that you might also experience anger and anxiety. Other factors, such as being the sole breadwinner with dependent children, being elderly and not having much saved for retirement, or having very high interest debts, seem to increase depression risk.

When Depression Leads to Debt

It’s easy to understand how the stress of debt can trigger or worsen depression, but you may not realize that depression can also lead to debt problems.

Symptoms of depression can lead some people to accumulate growing piles of debt, Dr. Kaslow says. "Someone with depression may exhibit behaviors that can lead them into a debt crisis."

"Some people may try to relieve feelings of depression by compulsive shopping. Depression is often associated with destructive and addictive behaviors that can result in overwhelming debt. This type of debt can lead to extreme despair and even to suicide," Kaslow warns.

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Compulsive buying, which can lead to debt, is indeed linked to depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders, researchers reported in the American Journal of Addiction in 2013. The researchers note that in addition to depression treatment, support groups using cognitive behavioral strategies can help control compulsive buying.

How to Find Debt and Depression Help

If you find you are dealing with debt and depression, it is important to address both, Kaslow says. Many types of help are available. "If a person is feeling trapped, desperate, and hopeless, they may need help for depression and help getting out of debt," she adds.

Depression is a very treatable disorder. The first step is to recognize the problem and ask your doctor for depression help. Once depression is diagnosed, your doctor might recommend a range of treatment strategies, including talk therapy, medications, and support groups.

For someone with addictive spending behaviors, Debtors Anonymous (DA) is an organization that can be very helpful, says Kaslow. DA has meetings all over the country where people share their experiences with compulsive debt and debt management. There are also online meetings. For help with compulsive debt, check out DA's website.

A good source of advice for getting help with a debt problem can be found via the Federal Trade Commission, which recommends the following strategies:

Develop and closely follow a budget.
Contact your creditors instead of avoiding them.
Know your rights when dealing with debt collectors.
Use a credit counseling or debt management agency.
Seek protection through bankruptcy laws.
Learn about the steps you need to take to repair your credit.
Beware of debt management scams promising an easy fix.

only am I not alone, but I am connecting in a significant and meaningful way

only am I not alone, but I am connecting in a significant and meaningful way

The Calming Power of Nature

Spending time in nature eases depression, and could be a good supplement to medicine and therapy.

Remedies for depression abound, from medications to psychotherapy, or talk therapy. Having a range of treatment options is a good idea because no single treatment works equally well for each of the millions of U.S. adults with depression. Now researchers say a new therapy, proven to relieve depression, should be added to the mix as a supplement to established treatments. It's called nature.

Interacting with nature can have replenishing effects for those with depression, says Ethan Kross, PhD, associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan and one of many experts who has studied the nature-depression link.

A little dose of nature helps us all recharge, but it may have special benefit for those who are depressed. "It seems that, from our work, the restorative effect of nature seems to be stronger for individuals diagnosed with depression," says Marc Berman, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at the University of Chicago. That might be because they feel mentally fatigued, and being in nature re-energizes them. However, Dr. Berman has a strong caveat: "We're not arguing that interacting with nature should replace clinically proven therapies for depression," he says. Nor should those with clinical depression try to treat themselves.

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However, Berman and others say, interactions with nature could serve as a very effective supplemental treatment.

What Nature-Depression Research Shows

Among the studies finding nature helps with depression:

Adults with depression who took a 50-minute walk in a natural setting for one research session and then a 50-minute walk in an urban setting for another research session were less depressed and had better memory skills after they took the nature walk.
Adults who moved to greener urban areas, compared to less green, had better mental health during follow-up three years after the move.
Those who took group nature walks reported less depression, less stress, and a better sense of well-being than those who didn't take nature walks, according to a study that looked at more than 1,500 people in a walking program.
Being outdoors and in nature boosts vitality, which experts define as having physical and mental energy. Those with depression often report fatigue and decreased energy. Researchers found the energy-boosting effect of nature was independent of the physical activity or social interaction experienced while outdoors.
How Nature Works Its Magic

The phenomenon of how nature helps improve depression is still being analyzed fully, Dr. Kross says.

One possibility, Berman says, is that interacting with nature helps due to the attention-restoration theory. "We have two kinds of attention," he says. "One is top-down (also called directed), the kind we use at work." Directed attention can be depleted fairly quickly, as you can only focus and concentrate for so long.

Another type of attention is bottom-up, or involuntary. "That's the kind automatically captured by things in the environment, such as lights or music." Involuntary attention is less susceptible to depletion. "You don't often hear people say, 'I can't look at this waterfall any longer,'" Berman says.

Why does nature hold this special effect? In a natural environment, we can choose to think or not, Berman says, and this choice is believed to help us rest our brains. You can then pay attention later, when you need to. "It is giving people more ability to concentrate, which is a big problem for those with depression," Berman says. Nature provides an effective setting for resting our brains, unlike urban settings. Even in the most peaceful urban environment, you have to pay attention to such things as traffic and stoplights.

Nature's replenishing effect is fairly instantaneous, Berman says. So if you're depressed and having an especially bad day, a quick dose of nature might help.

However, Berman cautions that anyone with clinical depression needs to be under a doctor's care, with supervision of all their treatments.

Conquering Depression and Obesity

By the time David Clark was in his early thirties, he owned a chain of 13 retail stores that reported $8 million a year in sales, and he was married with three children. “I should be happy,” he recalls thinking. But he wasn’t.

He was depressed. “I couldn’t find simple joy in anything, and had thoughts of stepping in front of a bus to end it,” he says. The depression caused him to eat massive amounts of fast food and drink recklessly, he says, and that led to obesity. At his heaviest, the nearly 6-foot-tall Clark, from Lafayette, Colorado, weighed 320 pounds.

Clark was not alone in suffering from depression and obesity. Nearly half of all adults who live with depression — 43 percent — are obese, and adults with depression are more likely to be obese than adults who aren’t depressed, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Whether depression or obesity comes first can vary from person to person, says Kim Gudzune, MD, MPH, assistant professor of medicine at Johns Hopkins Medicine in Baltimore. “But if you have one condition, you’re more likely to have the other,” she says.

Depression and obesity are often linked because of the stigma of obesity. Some who are obese have a poor body image and can become depressed as a result, Dr. Gudzune says, and others eat to drown their sorrows.

In addition, “there may be shared neural pathways between obesity and depression that may place individuals at risk for both,” says Leslie Heinberg, PhD, director of behavioral services for the Bariatric and Metabolic Institute at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

How Clark Turned His Life Around

After his weight gain, Clark was at risk for high blood pressure and was borderline diabetic.

He says he overcame both of his health conditions essentially on his own. One morning, when he was 34, Clark says he woke up and realized how close to death he was. He knew that if he didn’t change, his children would be fatherless.

“I didn’t want my kids to see their father drink himself to death,” he says, so he joined Alcoholics Anonymous and followed the group's 12 steps to stop drinking. “I went on a spiritual journey to make peace with my path,” says Clark, who grew up poor and homeless. As a kid, he and his dad had roamed the country in the back of a pickup truck, he says.

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He also began running. And running. Some years earlier, he'd seen the New York City Marathon on television and always had it in the back of his mind that that was something he might do. Eventually, Clark became an ultra-marathon runner. Now 44, he runs at least 80 to 100 miles a week and competes in some of the most challenging endurance races on the planet, including across Death Valley in California.

At first, it was painful to run, but he says the pain was also motivating. “I knew the stakes had to be pretty high to make such a dramatic change in my life," he says.

Running: A Low Cost Mood Booster

After Clark revamped his diet to be plant-based, stopped drinking alcohol, and began running regularly, his weight began to drop. It took him 18 months, but he got down to a healthy 180 pounds. When he switched to competitive running, he lost another 20 pounds and has stayed at 160 for years now, he says.

The running also improved his mood, says Clark, who chronicles his journey in the book Out There: A Story of Ultra Recovery. Exercise releases endorphins — hormones that reduce your perception of pain and improve your mood, according to Harvard Medical School in Boston.

Clark advises others who struggle with obesity and depression to do like he did and “draw a line in the sand” to say, “I’m not going to live this way anymore — I’m going to move on to a better place.”

What You Can Do

Though Clark lost weight on his own, not everyone can. So if you're struggling, consider working with a nutritionist or your doctor to find a weight-loss program. The key is to make low-calorie, healthy choices and exercise more so that you burn more calories than you consume, according to the National Institutes of Health. If you're extremely overweight, your doctor might suggest medication to curb your appetite, or weight-loss surgery.

Exercise and eating well may also help treat your depression. You can work with a therapist who can help you find the right treatment plan. That could include individual or group therapy, stress-reduction techniques, medication, or some combination of these.

Treatment can be difficult, because a side effect of some depression medications is weight gain, Gudzune says. But treating depression and weight issues simultaneously, Heinberg says, can be beneficial because if people who are depressed are able to lose weight, that could benefit their depression.

Nigel Barker: How a Mediterranean Diet Cut My Cholesterol by 88 Points

You may know Nigel Barker as the encouraging yet truthful judge on America's Next Top Model, or as a famed fashion photographer who has shot pictures for GQ, Lucky, and Town & Country, among others — or as the author of a book about connecting with your best self, Beauty Equation.

He's fit and trim and confident, but under that chiseled frame, the now 44-year-old Barker learned a few years ago that he wasn't nearly as healthy as he'd assumed. And he never would have found out — and had the chance to turn his health around — if it weren't for a routine conversation with his insurance company.

In 2011, when Barker asked for an increase in the amount of coverage on his life insurance policy, what he thought would be a no-brainer (pay more to get more) turned out to be a rude awakening.

The company denied the additional coverage because Barker's cholesterol levels were too high.

Food, Family, and High Cholesterol

Barker was shocked: He'd been following a strict low-carb, high-protein diet for the previous two years and had toned his body in the process, which he thought would be good for his heart and health. But his high-protein diet also included saturated fat-heavy red meat, cheese, and butter, which probably contributed to his total cholesterol level of 253 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dL) and an LDL ("bad") cholesterol level of 155 mg/dL.

"I looked great on the outside," says Barker. But inside, potentially dangerous levels of cholesterol were putting him at risk for heart problems.

The optimal level of total cholesterol is less than 200 mg/dL, and LDL should be less than 100 mg/dL, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Barker's total cholesterol level put him at risk for heart disease. On the plus side, Barker's "good" HDL cholesterol was fine, at 63; anything above 60 is considered cardio-protective. Though it's important to aim for these numbers, the American Heart Association (AHA) advocates looking at a person's overall health and lifestyle as risk factors in addition to cholesterol counts.

What you eat is one of these factors, and — bonus! — the perks of a healthy meal plan can extend beyond your heart. A study published in July 2015 in JAMA Internal Medicine found that people who followed a Mediterranean diet rich in heart-healthy foods like whole grains, olive oil, legumes, fish, and fruits and vegetables had better memories and cognition as they aged.

For Barker, even more concerning than just the numbers was his family history of heart disease: His father had his first of several heart attacks at age 45. Having a parent who had a heart attack predicts your heart disease risk more than any other single factor, according to a study published in February 2011 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

"The combination of Nigel's high LDL levels and family history was really scary," says Barker's cardiologist, Suzanne Steinbaum, MD, director of women's heart health at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "When you have a family history of heart disease, you really have to pay attention to your own health."

Because high cholesterol has no symptoms, it can go undiagnosed for years. And people who have a high risk of heart attack due to family history often have no signs or symptoms until they have a heart attack.

While Dr. Steinbaum encourages everyone to have their levels checked regularly, it's especially important if heart disease runs in your family.

The United Stated Preventive Services Task Force recommends getting your cholesterol levels screened at age 35 for men and 45 for women, although if you have increased risk (such as with Barker), you should be screened as early as age 20.

The AHA recommends a more aggressive screening every five years beginning at age 20, but if you have high cholesterol or other heart disease risk factors, your doctor may recommend more frequent testing.

The main priority is to understand your risk and discuss it with your doctor to determine when cholesterol testing is appropriate for you.

How Barker Lowered His Cholesterol Naturally

Steinbaum recommended that Barker first change his diet instead of immediately turn to cholesterol-lowering drugs to lower his total and LDL cholesterol levels.

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So Barker traded his low-carb, high-protein eating plan for a Mediterranean-style diet. "Before, Nigel was eating exactly what he shouldn't have been eating for his heart health," Steinbaum says. "But he made the decision to change, and stuck with it."

Within a year, Barker's total cholesterol reading dropped to a much healthier 165, and his LDL was about 100.

"He did it on his own by making healthy choices every day," says Steinbaum.

And Barker remains committed to those heart-healthy habits. "Sometimes you need the drugs," he says, "but we decided to try a little bit of common sense and discipline first."