Category: Recommendations

Cultural Challenges with the DASH Eating Plan

Heart disease is a leading cause of death in the United States contributing to over 633,000 deaths annually. Like most chronic diseases, individuals can reduce their risk of developing this condition with proper diet and exercise. When someone is at extremely high risk of developing heart disease, nutrition professions suggest a few things: exercise, stop smoking, eat nutrient dense foods and reducing sodium intake with the DASH eating plan. While these modifications are proven to reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke, the DASH eating plan can be problematic for communities of color.

DASH, or Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension, is a proven eating plan for lowering blood pressure without the use of medication. The reason blood pressure is so important is that it is one of many factors that contribute to heart disease. DASH recommends the following:

1. Eat fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
2. Including fat-free or low-fat dairy products
3. Consume fish, poultry, beans, nuts and vegetable oils
4. Limiting foods high in saturated fat
5. Limiting sugar-sweetened beverages and sweets

This diet is excellent for promoting a healthy diet; however, for communities of color which suffer in greater numbers from lactose intolerance DASH’s promotion of dairy products can cause discomfort. Lactose intolerance results in symptoms such as indigestion, bloating, stomach cramps, diarrhea, indigestion, flatulence and fatty stool after consuming lactose, a sugar found in dairy. The premise behind increasing dairy consumption is its higher calcium content which is associated with reducing blood pressure. The eating plan fails to acknowledge that there are other excellent sources of calcium like broccoli, calcium-fortified real fruit juices, beans, almonds, and sardines. In doing so, DASH recommends a diet that may lower hypertension, but that also makes people sick. This could diminish its credibility in communities of color. By including non-dairy sources of calcium, our healthcare systems and dietary recommendations could acknowledge and accommodate all people instead of offering a one-size-fits-all approach to health.

Do you hear those coughs, sniffles, and sneezes?

It sounds like flu and cold season.

Fastidiously washing your hands won’t prevent Mark from coughing in your general direction (thanks Mark), or save you from an ill-timed sneeze. Breathing isn’t optional. But before you break out the Bubble Boy suit, here are a few more tips that will strengthen your chances of staying healthy even when those around you aren’t.

  1. Mark has coughed. This aerosol (i.e. spray) potentially contains infectious droplets. With flu droplets, the trajectory is likely less than six feet. You are unfortunately standing right next to him. Hold your breath for 10 to 15 seconds.
  2. If this keeps occurring and you feel comfortable, politely ask Mark to cough into the inside of his elbow. Make a light, yet pointed, joke about doing the “dab.”
  3. Mark has sneezed onto his desk. Your hand at some point comes in contact with that desk. Don’t touch your face.

Stay healthy my friends.

Source: https://www.prevention.com/health/health-concerns/how-doctors-avoid-sickness

Should you sleep naked?

As someone who traditionally loves wearing pajamas to bed at night I have always wondered about the question: is it better to sleep naked than in pajamas? A lack of sleep over time has been shown to increase the risk for stroke, diabetes, cognitive decline, depression, and obesity, so it’s important to determine what’s best for yourself to get a good night’s rest.

Rather than sit around and continue to wonder, I decided to do some research on the topic and solve this dilemma once and for all. In the US, around 10% of the population admit to sleeping naked; which is actually kind of low considering about 30% of our friends in the UK do so. Now that I know some people in the world actually do sleep naked, what are the benefits of doing so?

The most scientifically sound reason I could find for sleeping naked was to better regulate your body temperature overnight. If you sleep in pajamas and have heavy covers it can be easy to overheat and disrupt sleep accordingly. The Sleep Council has determined that 68°F is the ideal sleeping temperature for a high-quality night’s rest.

Personally, this just tells me to make sure my thermostat is set to 68°F at night before going to bed. I normally don’t have trouble sleeping at night, but I know that is not always the case. It seems there is more research needed to truly determine its effect, but do you think sleeping naked actually helps sleep quality?

 

AB

THAT SHIP HAS SAILED: Why the US should stop shipping American-grown food abroad

The development of the Food for Peace program was the US’s first program for fighting international hunger. This program focuses heavily on donating commodities to vulnerable populations abroad. Most donated goods are grown domestically and shipped to developing countries where over three billion people have received assistance since its inception. It is estimated that another eight to twelve million people could receive help by reforming US food aid policies. A major barrier to expanding reach is the shipment of US agricultural goods abroad. This is a practice that should be eliminated because it is harmful in the following ways:

1. It is time-consuming.

Shipping US grown goods abroad takes on average 126 days. In emergency situations, people are only able to survive for 12 days without foods. In many instances, waiting for US commodities to ship is deadly.

2. It wastes money on transportation fees.

Between 2003 and 2012, the US spent close to $18 billion on food aid. Over half of this money was used on international transportation fees. Money that could be used to feed millions was used to support US-based shipping companies and the transport of good.

3. It cripples international agricultural sectors.

US grown food is sold at a much lower cost than food sold by local farmers. This can put local farmers out of business if they are unable to compete with the sale of US products. Resultantly, communities become completely dependent on aid.

We should discontinue the practice of shipping US commodities abroad and instead support international agricultural ventures. Learn more about FY 2016 reform proposals here.

Do you have an Advance Directive?

Everyone deserves the right to make their own decisions about their health. But sometimes we may found ourselves in certain circumstances in which we are unable to do so, such as during a coma, terminal illness, or serious injury. An important way that we can communicate our decisions during these times, however, is by having an “advance directive” in place.

Advance directives are written, legal documents that outline your decisions regarding medical care when you are unable to make them. They assist doctors and caregivers in making medical decisions on your behalf, and they can be written at any age.

There are several types of advance directives:

Health care power of attorney (also called “durable power of attorney for health care” or “health care proxy”). This is a type of advance directive in which you appoint a person you trust to make medical decisions on your behalf when you are unable to do so. This may be a family member, partner, or friend.

Living will. This is a written, legal document that outlines your wishes for certain medical or end-of-life care treatments. These may range from mechanical ventilation to tube feeding, to even organ and tissue donations.

Do-Not-Resuscitate Orders (DNR). This order informs health care providers not to perform CPR if your breathing or heart were to stop.

While advance directives are not required, it may be a good idea to have one in place so that you can have peace of mind knowing that you’re in control of your health care in the event that you are unable to make decisions for yourself.

It should be noted that state requirements regarding advance directives, such as living wills, may vary, so be sure to check your local state laws if you decide to create one for yourself. Also, be sure to keep a copy of your living will for yourself, as well as provide copies to family members, health care providers, and your health care power of attorney. Advance directives can be changed at any time, but just be sure to redistribute copies as necessary.

For more information about advance directives, check out the following resource links:

Advance Care Planning | UNC Health Care: UNC Medical Center

Living Wills and Health Care Powers of Attorney | North Carolina Bar Association

Living Wills and Advance Directives for Medical Decisions | Mayo Clinic

References:

Advance care directives. (2017, September 5). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/ency/patientinstructions/000472.htm

Advance directives. (2017, July 24). Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/advancedirectives.html#summary

Creating advance directives. (2014, November 11). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/living-wills/art-20046303?pg=2

Living wills and advance directives for medical decisions. (2014, November 11). Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/consumer-health/in-depth/living-wills/art-20046303

 

The Magic of Mindfulness

Do you ever feel overwhelmed with work, can’t stay focused in class, or simply feel down most of the time? If so, you may have gotten caught up in the whirlwind style of functioning known as “multitasking.” It is likely that we all have at some point or another and for some, there is no way around it, so what can we do to combat the stresses of the busy lifestyles of 2017?

You shouldn’t have to uproot your whole working style or job just to find peace of mind. Today I’m going to propose a solution that you may have overlooked, mindfulness meditation. The following are the benefits that we know of today:

  • Decreased anxiety
  • Decreased depression
  • Increased empathy
    • With decreased negative feelings like sadness, tension, and anger
  • Decreased stress
  • Increased focus
  • Decreased blood pressure
    • While also improving the transportation of oxygen and carbon-dioxide
  • Increased immune function

As you can see, mindfulness does a lot more than simply strengthen our ability to focus. While you will see some of these benefits after your first time, there is evidence showing that after 8 weeks of practice neurologists seen an increase in gray matter density in brain regions associated with learning, memory processing, and emotional regulation.

Mindfulness is just one style of meditation. There are myriad resources out there to help you get started, but Headspace is my favorite. Have you tried meditating before? If so, let me know your thoughts on the practice and your favorite style.

 

AB

Organic by any other name: 2017 Dirty Dozen

You have two sets of potatoes in the grocery store.  One is $0.99/lb.  The other is $1.50/lb and has an organic sticker on it.  If you’re like me you sit there thinking, “Why would I pay more for a little sticker?  I’ll pay a little less and save the change.”  Now, let’s find out if we made the right choice.

Organic basically means that products including lotions, oils and produce are made with fewer chemicals.  (Note that I say fewer we’ll address this in a minute.)  This word is regulated by the USDA which means, unlike terms like cage-free and natural, not just anyone can slap the word organic on something to sell products.  There is a strict list of chemicals and pesticides that the USDA has approved for use on organic produce.  So, while organic isn’t always 100% chemical free, organic farmers do use a lot fewer chemicals than traditional farmers.  When it comes to produce, there is a huge difference in the chemical content.  A lot of food grown in our country is essentially doused in chemicals to keep rodents, fungus, and bugs at bay.  A list comes out every year noting the foods most heavily laden with harsh chemicals.  Allow me to introduce this year’s “dirty dozen”:

1. Strawberries

2. Spinach

3. Nectarines

4. Apples

5. Peaches

6. Pears

7. Cherries

8. Grapes

9. Celery

10. Tomatoes

11. Sweet bell peppers

12. Potatoes

(Source: www.ewg.org)

I can already hear people saying “What’s the point if chemicals could still be present?  “There are chemicals in everything so what’s the point of organic?”  Sure, but what if I told you some people have noted over 20 different pesticides on strawberries?  And that some of the pesticides used by traditional farmers are things like DDT, a chemical linked to cancer and reproductive issues. Other pesticides are linked to brain damage, birth defects and Parkinson’s.  Consumers have to look out for their own best interests.  We have to take responsibility for our own health by paying close attention to what we put in our bodies. Next time you’re out shopping, consider picking up the organic potatoes.  Selecting some organic items could help you live a longer more healthy life.

How to Have a Healthy Holiday Season

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

As the song goes… “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” but is it? The holiday season is a wonderful time to enjoy time with friends and family, but it can also be a stressful time. Airports are crowded and you may be exposed to more people (and germs) than you are used to. I often forget to take care of myself and end each holiday season with a very memorable cold, and this year it is my goal to be as mindful as possible. It is also important to take care of not only your physical health but your mental health as well.

Below are some important tips to remember to have a healthy holiday season.

Holiday Health Tips

  • Wash your hands often
  • Stay warm
  • Manage stress
  • Travel safely
  • Handle and prepare food safely
  • Eat healthy
  • Be active

How to handle holiday stress

  • Take time for yourself
  • Volunteer
  • Have realistic expectations
  • Remember what is important
  • Seek support

What will you be doing to have a healthy holiday season this year?

Tips for Healthier TV Binge Watching

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

It’s about to get colder out, and I plan to spend some time this fall and winter on my couch covered in blankets, especially when the new Gilmore Girls episodes premiere. Yet this year I plan to plan ahead to make my TV and Netflix binge watching healthier, especially after reports that binge-watching and prolonged sitting have negative effects on your health. Binge watching has most commonly been linked to weight gain and obesity as well as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. While many experts recommend cutting TV viewing hours and limiting the number of hours you watch at once, sometimes there are rainy days or a new show that everyone will be talking about on Monday and you find yourself on your couch binge watching yet again.

Before you Netflix and chill, here are three tips to make your marathon a little bit healthier.

Choose Healthier Drinks and Snacks: Eat real meals with protein and vegetables to prevent too much snacking. For snacking, choose healthy options such as veggies and hummus, fruit, and nuts. Remember to stay hydrated, which will also get you up and moving!

Get Physical: Keep active while you are watching TV by doing stretches, yoga, or crunches. Also, instead of jumping right into the next episode, use the pause as an activity break and take a walk, complete a task in your house that requires movement, or try a two-minute workout like this. Keeping some exercise equipment or a yoga mat near your TV is a great reminder to stay active while watching your favorite show.

Set a Limit: We all know it can be extremely difficult to stop in the middle of a marathon (especially when the next episode auto plays!). Decide beforehand how long you will watch TV and set a timer, or set a bedtime for yourself if watching at night. Setting a timer will help the day from getting away from you without you realizing. Also, since screens can alter your production of melatonin, be sure to turn off the TV 30 minutes before you want to go to sleep.

When should you get tested for an STI?

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

If you are sexually active, getting tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) is one of the most important things you can do for your health. According to the CDC, there are about 20 million new STD infections in the United States every year. While many of us know that it is recommended to get STI tested, the rest of the details aren’t always so clear. When should you get tested and how do you get tested?

When?

  • If you have symptoms of an STI you should get tested. Common symptoms include sores on the genitals, discharge, itching, and burning during urination
  • Many STIs do not cause symptoms and many people have and spread STIs and never know it. Testing is the only way to know for sure. If you have had unprotected sex, you should get tested for STIs.
  • Preventative screening (Check out these screening recommendations from the CDC)

How?

  • Make an appointment with your health provider and ask for an STI test
  • Your health care provider will talk with you to decide what STI tests make the most sense for you
  • Potential STI tests can include
    • Physical exam
    • Blood sample
    • Urine sample
    • Discharge, tissue, cell, or saliva sample

Remember that many STIs are curable and all are treatable. The sooner you find out if you have an STI, the sooner treatment can begin.