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Monthly Archives: August 2016

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Sitting in Traffic is Bad for Your Health

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If you’ll be driving on busy roads this holiday weekend, you might want to take note of a new study about traffic and air pollution: The research, conducted by the University of Surrey in the United Kingdom, suggests that keeping car windows closed and fans switched off while stuck in slow-moving traffic jams can reduce your risk of exposure to toxic fumes by up to 76 percent.

Using the fan’s or air conditioner’s “recirculate” option ranked second best when researchers tested five different ventilation settings, and they say that this can also be a good choice for reducing exposure to pollutants.

The findings aren’t just applicable to weekend or vacation driving; in their paper, the study authors note that daily commuting time has increased over the years in Britain, where people spent about an hour each day driving to and from work in 2013. The numbers are similar in the United States: Americans spend an average of nearly 52 minutes on their round-trip commutes, according to 2013 government data.

RELATED: The Psychology of Road Rage

Air pollution is considered among the top 10 health risks faced by humans by the World Health Organization, which attributes it to 7 million premature deaths a year. It’s an especially big problem in urban cities, the study authors write, where traffic-light intersections are known as “pollution hotspots that contribute disproportionately higher to overall commuting exposure.” Last year, the same researchers showed that drivers stuck at traffic lights were exposed to up to 29 times more harmful pollution particles than those driving in free-flowing traffic.

In London, they note, air pollution is estimated to kill more than 10 times the amount of people as automobile accidents.  And in the United States, exposure to ambient particulate matter is the eighth leading cause of death.

The researchers wanted to study the effects of different vehicle ventilation systems on a driver’s or passenger’s exposure to both fine and coarse particulate matter—two types of pollution consisting of vehicle exhaust, ozone, and other toxins prevalent the air. So they performed readings both inside and outside a 2002 Ford Fiesta in Guildford, a “typical UK town” of about 137,000 residents, at busy three- and four-way traffic intersections during winter-season rush hours.

RELATED: 15 Small Changes for a Leaner, Healthier You

Five scenarios were studied, with different combinations of windows (open or closed), fan (off, partial speed, or full speed), and heat (off, low temperature, or high temperature). When it came to pollution exposure, results varied widely depending on the ventilation.

When driving with the windows open, particulate matter readings in the car were equal to those outside of the car. When the windows were rolled up and the fan was switched off, however, exposure to particulate matter was reduced by up to 76 percent.

"Where possible and with weather conditions allowing, it is one of the best ways to limit your exposure by keeping windows shut, fans turned off and to try and increase the distance between you and the car in front while in traffic jams or stationary at traffic lights,” said lead author Prashant Kumar, Ph.D., in a press release. “If the fan or heater needs to be on, the best setting would be to have the air re-circulating within the car without drawing in air from outdoors."

RELATED: How to (Safely) Share the Road With Bad Drivers

Kumar’s study isn’t the first to suggest that hitting the recirculate button is a good option while stuck in traffic; a 2013 study from University of California researchers also came to similar conclusions. This was, however one of the first studies to test several different ventilation options head-to-head at busy urban intersections, specifically.

 

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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Five-Spice Turkey & Lettuce Wraps

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Five-Spice Turkey & Lettuce Wraps Recipe
Five-Spice Turkey & Lettuce Wraps
Based on a popular Chinese dish, these fun wraps also make appealing appetizers for entertaining. Make it a meal: Serve with chile-garlic sauce and rice vinegar for extra zip; toss diced mango and strawberries with lime juice for a quick dessert.

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My Ovary-Free Life

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I was 48 hours away from surgery, obsessed with wondering how my life and my body would change, when I was crudely reminded of why having my ovaries removed could be a really good thing. I got my period with the works—bloating, pimples, and cramps. As usual, I subsisted on ibuprofen every three hours. It was strange thinking this would be the last time Id feel this way.

Then the profound moment evaporated, and the inevitable complications popped up. Some tests turned up a little blood in my urine—and the two days til I was eggless in Manhattan turned into six weeks. Fortunately, the follow-ups on my blood were negative, but another life-changing event came along. My beloved dad died of brain cancer, and I needed time to grieve before I rebooked my surgery. Then, finally, the date was set: I was about to give away a huge part of me in hopes of outsmarting the breast cancer (BRCA) genes—passed down from mom and her sister—that greatly increase my risks of ovarian and breast cancer. I was sure I was ready.

 

 

Next Page: The prep aint pretty

[ pagebreak ]The prep aint pretty
The day before, the calls from the hospital start coming in at 11 a.m. Im asked things like: Whats your primary language? Are you planning on bringing any valuables? And then: Theres a chance you may stay overnight. You know—if they find something (like cancer). Oh, and no sex or baths or straining for a month afterward. Help! This is before Ive even begun … the bowel prep.

All I have to say is that anyone who says a bowel prep is easy has never done one. But once youve done it, its like youre in a secret club. Before any of this business even started, I did ask a dear friend (and colonoscopy veteran) to detail it for me. “Is it like you read a novel on the toilet? I asked naively. “Um,” she replied, “you kind of dont really feel like reading.” Enough said—but saying just isnt the same as doing.

At the stroke of 4 p.m., I start sipping magnesium citrate “tonic” (diluted with ginger ale) through a straw before quickly realizing that the only way to get through this 10-ounce treat is to chug. I think its going to be an explosive evening, but that turns out to be the understatement of the year. Its the nastiest evening Ive spent in a long time.

When my alarm rings at 5:45 a.m., its not that much of a shock since Id only catnapped. In the cab with my mom by my side, I silently pray my stomach will cooperate during the pitch-black half-hour ride to the hospital. Soon we check in, and there are more questions, including, when was your last period? Odd that this is going to be the last time Im asked this. Im parched and manage to get the nurse to smuggle me four ice chips. Ive never tasted anything more delicious. I then change into a gown and wrap myself in the chenille throw my mom was smart enough to pack. We cry softly as we imagine how my dad would have taken charge. That pain dulls the pain of being an hour away from a voluntary—but necessary—laparoscopic surgery. My ovaries are about to be removed through my navel and two small incisions at my bikini line. Lets go.

Going under…and going home
A few minutes before I head into the operating room, colleagues of my doctor, New York University (NYU) cancer expert David A. Fishman, MD, arrive with a stack of CDs and a release form listing all the unpleasant things that could happen during surgery. I sign and pick Sheryl Crow over Creed, figuring thats better karma. Soon I hear the sweet sounds of the music and someone saying: “She has chubby hands. Getting an IV line in will be easy.” I lift my hand, as if to say, “Watch it, Im still awake,” and thats all I remember.

I wake up a few hours later, and all is fuzzy. A nurse is offering me cranberry juice, asking how much pain Im in on a scale of one to ten. I say six. My husband runs off to fill my prescriptions—Im getting Percocet, stool softeners, and an estrogen pack to go. I summon up the energy to leave the recovery unit and walk—slowly, like an old woman—out and back into the world again. Once I get home, I snuggle under my sheets, kiss my sons head, take my first estrogen tab, and pass out.

 

 

Next Page: Why am I so sad?

[ pagebreak ]Why am I so sad?
I have a dull headache when I wake up, and my stomach feels like a painful balloon. (Im told itll take six weeks for my stomach to deflate—nice!) I peek under my bandages, and its not too scary. Plus, the ibuprofen seems strong enough to control my pain … but then the crying jags start.

Lying in bed, my thoughts race. Ive lost a part of myself thats so personal. Im over the fact that I wont bear another child; its more that from this moment on Im staying young synthetically. Thats disturbing. And the cruelest trick of all: My period starts. I realize Im 24 days into my cycle. Its worlds colliding: Im taking estrogen from what looks like a birth control pack, I have my period, and Ive lost my ovaries. I cant even put what Im feeling into words.

In a few days Im moving sluggishly, not a bad thing. I observe more, I appreciate more. Im tired but happy the whole thing is behind me, especially since my pathology report came back all clear. And, though Im sad that I cant scoop up my son, Ill be tickling him in just a few weeks. I look at him, my one and only biological child, and the husband I love now more than ever, with pure wonder and joy.

Meet the new me
My breast-cancer risk has now dropped 50 percent since I had my ovaries removed before I turned 40 (my birthday is in August), but my breasts remain a constant worry since my mom and aunt are breast-cancer survivors and Im BRCA positive. That means vigilant monitoring, and I get the red-carpet treatment. Women who have found something suspicious and dont have my genetic legacy often have to wait weeks to get a mammogram. I make just one call, and Im squeezed in on even the busiest of days. This special treatment seems unfair. So the new me—the one who can now worry a little less about getting cancer—decides to use my BRCA status to tell the world my story.

A week after surgery Im due back at NYU, but nothings wrong. Im going to be the “real woman” in a video news story featuring my surgeon and his studies on early detection of ovarian cancer. I feel grateful as I head up to the familiar fourth floor. The waiting room is packed. I gaze at the faces, the scarves, the women of all backgrounds gathered for the fight of their lives. I realize that for the past two years, I avoided looking at the other faces in this room. Now I really look and see unbridled bravery. I am this brave woman, too. I got rid of a body part before it had the power to kill. Sure, this was a huge ordeal, and there will always be a hole in my center, where my fertility, my innocence, once lay nestled somewhere within. But Im not a gambler. Not when it comes to my life, anyway. I have too much to share with the world. And now I can.

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You May Need to Replace Your Sunglasses More Often Than You Think

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Even if you love your current sunglasses, you still might need a new pair of shades. It seems sunglasses’ UV protection may deteriorate over time, and current industry tests are not sufficient for determining how long it’s safe to wear them, according to a study from Brazil.

Most Brazilians wear the same pair every day for about two years, the study notes, yet it has not been proven that lenses maintain the same level of protection after that type of exposure to ultraviolet radiation. The findings may have implications for the sunglass industry in the United States, as well. There is no current recommendation for when, exactly, people should retire their old pairs—and protecting eyes from the sun is important anywhere in the world, as UV exposure can lead to cataracts, retina damage, and other long-term eye problems and vision loss.

The new research focuses on Brazil’s system for classifying sunglasses by category, based on lens darkness and the level of UV protection offered. To be certified in one of these categories, lenses must pass a test in which they are exposed to a 450-watt sun simulator lamp for 50 hours at a distance of 30 centimeters. This is equal to two full days of average summer sun exposure, or four days of average winter sun exposure, the study authors write. However, because of Brazil’s proximity to the equator, the sun there is stronger than average. So in actuality, this test is only equivalent to 23.5 hours of sun exposure in the city of São Paulo, for example.

A previous survey found that Brazilians wear their sunglasses for an average of two hours a day for two years straight. The aging tests, the authors argue, should also be revised to reflect this.

RELATED: The Best Sunglasses for Healthy Eyes

In order to represent average consumer use throughout the country, they calculate that both the time and distance of exposure in the sun-simulator test needs to change to 134.6 hours at 5 centimeters. These calculations are specific to Brazil, the authors say, but may also be helpful for other countries at similar latitudes. (Other countries around the world have similar requirements for sunglasses.)

“It's still too soon to confirm that UV protection deteriorates over sun exposure,” study author Liliane Ventura, PhD, a professor at the University of São Paulo, wrote in an email. “If the aging test performed by sun simulator with current exposure parameters is not revised, then there are no means to guarantee that UV protection does not change over time.”

The report, published in Biomedical Engineering OnLine, suggests that in addition to UV protection, lenses’ shatterproof qualities may degrade as well.

Although the same aging standards are not used in the United States, Jeff Pettey, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), says that the new research does make important points that could be relevant to Americans.

RELATED: 6 Mistakes You're Making With Your Contacts

“They’re suggesting that the way the industry currently tests sunglasses may not be adequate,” says Dr. Pettey. “There’s a lot we may be unaware of that happens over time—so while there is no official recommendation right now, it might make sense to consider looking for a new pair if you’ve worn the same ones regularly for a couple of years.”

If you’re really curious about whether it’s still safe to wear a pair of old favorites, adds Dr. Pettey, many eyeglass retailers can test lenses’ UV protection levels.

Until more is known, consumers can protect themselves by making sure they buy good glasses in the first place, by purchasing lenses that are labeled "100% UV protection" or "UV400." Most pairs sold in the United States offer this level of protection, Dr. Pettey says, but it’s still a good idea to confirm before purchasing. (According to a 2014 AAO survey, almost half of people shopping for sunglasses don’t think to check for this language.)

Don’t take into account factors like cost, polarization, lens color or darkness, either; these don’t necessarily make a difference in UV blockage. “Even clear lenses you’d wear with a prescription can have protection, as well; it’s not necessarily about how dark they are," says Dr. Pettey.

RELATED: 9 Worst Eye Care Mistakes You're Making

Size and fit, however, do matter. “Bigger is better if you’re outdoors doing activities for longer periods of time,” Dr. Pettey says. “If you’re skiing or out on the ocean and getting reflected UV light from all directions, larger wrap-around eyewear will certainly offer more protection.”

Ventura says that while there’s no way to know how often sunglasses should be replaced, she does recommend against buying them from locations where they’ve already been exposed to sunlight—from an outdoor stand on the boardwalk or beach, for example.

For now, Ventura and her team are conducting further tests on how sunglass lenses hold up over time, and hopes to report more definitive findings in the near future. “We are willing (and have proposed an effective method) to know how long UV protection lasts,” she says. “It's a wake-up call for the sunglasses standards to be revised.”

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4 Health Rumors You Seriously Need to Stop Believing

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Just like old habits, old medical rumors are hard to shake. Here are the facts versus fiction on some persistent health hearsay (cancerous underwear! toxic fish!) so you can stop worrying once and for all.

The rumor: It's bad to eat fish during pregnancy

The truth: Nuh-Uh! While there are certain foods that pregnant women should avoid, moms-to-be can continue eating most kinds of fish worry-free. A recent study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that eating three to four servings of fish (including tuna!) per week while pregnant was linked to increases in kids' IQs. Just continue to avoid eating the highest-mercury fish: swordfish, shark, king mackerel, and tilefish.

The rumor: Underwire bras cause cancer

The truth: Nope! Some people still claim that underwire bras could compress the lymphatic system of the breast, making toxins build up. The reality? Newer research has demonstrated that neither the style of bra you wear nor the length of time you wear it has any effect whatsoever on breast cancer risk.

RELATED: 6 Big Myths About Hydration You Shouldn't Believe

The rumor: Cracking fingers leads to arthritis

The truth: Phsaw! If the popping isn't painful, it's fine. Studies show that knuckle crackers are no more likely to develop arthritis than folks without this habit. 

The rumor: Eating soy messes with fertility

No! Animal studies have suggested that consuming more soy might affect fertility due to its phytoestrogens, but there's scant evidence that this is the case for humans. In fact, research suggests that women who get their protein from mostly soy and plant foods are less likely to have ovulation issues. 

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Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili

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Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili Recipe
Sweet Potato & Black Bean Chili
Make a double batch of this quick vegetarian chili, full of black beans and sweet potatoes, and eat it for lunch the next day or freeze the extras for another night. We love the smoky heat from the ground chipotle, but omit it if you prefer a mild chili. Serve with tortilla chips or cornbread and coleslaw.

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Ham & Chard Stuffed Shells

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Ham & Chard Stuffed Shells Recipe
Ham & Chard Stuffed Shells
In this healthy stuffed shells recipe, tons of dark leafy chard replaces some of the cheese. Kale and/or collards are good substitutes for the chard as well. Serve with a salad with Italian vinaigrette.

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Orange-Tomato Couscous with Chicken

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Orange-Tomato Couscous with Chicken Recipe
Orange-Tomato Couscous with Chicken
This cinnamon- and cumin-spiked couscous with chicken takes its inspiration from Morocco. It’s made mostly with pantry staples—all you have to pick up is some chicken thighs, a bunch of cilantro and an orange. The orange slices become tender after cooking—you can eat them skin and all. For a variation, substitute diced, boneless leg of lamb for the chicken. Serve with steamed green beans or a spinach salad.

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8 Things to Know Before You Get Lasik

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You’ve worn glasses or contacts forever, and frankly, you’re tired of the hassle. You want to see clearly from the second you wake up in the morning till the moment you drift to sleep at night. But if you're considering Lasik, you probably have some questions like, "Will I be laid up for days?" "Will it hurt?" And: "What are the odds it'll work?" Before you go under the laser, here are a few things you should know. 

How is Lasik done?

After your eye surgeon applies numbing drops, she makes an incision in the cornea and lifts a thin flap. Then a laser reshapes the corneal tissue underneath, and the flap is replaced. "The patient can see very quickly," says Wilmington, Delaware-based ophthalmologist Robert Abel, Jr., MD, author of The Eye Care Revolution. "You get off the table and think, 'Wow.'" 

Who can get the procedure?

Lasik is used to treat the common vision problems nearsightedness, farsightedness, and astigmatism. To find out if you’re a good candidate for the surgery, see an ophthalmologist for an eye exam. “You need to make sure your cornea is uniform, you don’t have severe dry eye or other eye conditions, and your prescription is stable,” explains Dr. Abel.

Lasik can also be used to fix presbyopia—that maddening effect of aging that makes it harder to focus close-up—but you need to have one eye corrected for near vision and the other for distance. This technique, called Monovision Lasik, affects depth perception and sharpness, so you may still require glasses for visually demanding activities like driving at night, or reading fine print for long periods of time. (The FDA recommends doing a trial with monovision contact lenses first.)

Also know that as you get older, your vision may continue to get worse, so you may need another Lasik procedure or glasses down the road, says Dr. Abel.

What's the success rate?

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, 90% of Lasik patients end up with vision somewhere between 20/20 and 20/40. 

There's chance you will still need to use corrective lenses sometimes: A 2013 survey by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that more than 50% of people who get Lasik or other laser vision-correction surgery wear glasses or contacts at least occasionally. Still, 80% of the survey respondents reported feeling "completely" or "very satisfied" with their procedure.

According to the FDA, results are usually not as good in people who have very large refractive errors. Make sure you discuss your expectations with your ophthalmologist to see if they're realistic.

RELATED: The Surprising Effect of Pregnancy and Nursing on Eyesight

What are the risks?

While the thought of a laser boring into your eye may seem, well, terrifying, the procedure is overwhelmingly safe, Dr. Abel says, noting that the risk of problems is about 1%.

That said, it's important to weigh the risks against the benefits, as the potential complications can be debilitating. The FDA has a list on its site, including severe dry eye syndrome, and a loss in vision that cannot be fixed with eyewear or surgery. Some patients develop symptoms like glare, halos, and double vision that make it especially tough to see at night or in fog. 

There are also temporary effects to consider. According to the Consumer Reports survey, many respondents experienced side effects—including dry eyes, halos, and blurry vision—that lasted six months or longer.

One thing you don’t have to worry about: Flinching or blinking during the procedure. A device will keep your eyelids open, while a suction ring prevents your eye from moving.

How long will I be out of commission?

You will need someone to drive you home after the procedure, but you can go back to work the very next day. 

How much will this cost?

According to Lasik.com, the cost can range from $299 per eye to more than $4,000 per eye. Geography, technology, and the surgical experience of the doctor all factor into the price. Insurance companies don't typically cover the surgery, but you can use tax-free funds from your FSA, HSA, or HRA account to pay for it.

RELATED: 5 Foods for Healthy Eyes

Is Lasik the only option?

Epi-LASIK is a similar laser procedure, but it's done without making a surgical incision, says Dr. Abel. “The risk of complications is even lower than traditional Lasik, and that’s why a lot of people are opting to get Epi-Lasik." The catch: The recovery takes longer. You’ll need to wait 4 days before you can drive, he says, and 11 days to see really well.

How can I find a good doctor?

With nearly every daily deal site offering discounts on laser eye surgery, it can be tempting to choose the cheapest doc. But it’s important you see someone with a wealth of experience, says Dr. Abel. After all, these are your eyes we’re talking about. Dr. Abel suggests calling your local university hospital and asking an administrative assistant or nurse where they refer their Lasik patients. “You want to go to someone with good follow-up care and an extended warranty or guarantee of at least three years in case you need a correction later in life,” says Dr. Abel.

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How to Break a Bad Habit in 3 Steps

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You're a nail biter. Spend too much time on the couch watching TV. A chip fiend and chronic late-night snacker. But here's some good news if you have a weakness you just can't seem to shake: Research is shedding light on the most effective ways to break a habit for good. Here, three simple tactics to help you quit once and for all.

Tune in to the urge

One study of smokers found that mindfulness training was twice as effective at helping people quit as a more standard, behavior-based cessation program. The researchers believe mindfulness can work for any type of pattern you're trying to fix. Plugging into the feelings associated with a craving helps you become less in thrall to it, so you can learn to let it go. 

RELATED: Women Feel Better About Their Bodies Than They Used To

Change your environment 

Your surroundings can encourage a bad habit or facilitate a good one. Practical pointers: To stave off autopilot snacking on sweets, for example, swap the cookie jar with a fruit bowl. Or, if you need to stop checking your phone at red lights, move it from the cup holder to your zipped handbag. 

Replace that habit with a healthier one

Bad habits tend to have triggers (like stress) that prompt you to engage in them. So come up with a plan ahead of time for how you will respond to those cues: If you, say, chew your nails when you get frazzled at work, start practicing deep breathing each time you feel overwhelmed. 

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