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Posted over 1 year ago
7 Wicked Winter Health Myths
Winter can be a pain. At its mildest, the chilly weather strains your lungs during your morning run. At its worst, it wields an icy grip on your arteries. "Cold air constricts your blood vessels," says John Elefteriades, M.D., chief of cardiac surgery at Yale Medical Group. "This helps keep your body warm—bloodflow just beneath the skin diminishes, so less heat escapes." But it also causes blood pressure spikes, which can stress arteries and heart muscle. So it's no surprise that deaths from heart attack, heart disease, and stroke peak from December through March.
Allergies Hibernate in the Cold
You waved off ragweed in the fall, so you're done wheezing for the next few months, right? Maybe not. "People tend to focus on pollen and hay fever as the limit of their allergy risks," says John Santilli, M.D., an allergist and immunologist in Bridgeport, Connecticut. Mold and dust-mite allergies in the fall and winter are more common than you'd think.
Start with that fresh evergreen you haul into your living room every December. Mold spores can cling to the tree and multiply indoors. In a 2007 study, Dr. Santilli set up a real Christmas tree in a home and found that mold counts increased fivefold after 2 weeks. "It's like bringing a pile of leaves into the house," he says. "Even if you aren't allergic, the mold could still cause irritation, leading to upper respiratory or sinus infections." Decorations stored in a damp basement or attic are also sources of mold and dust mites. The fact that you close up your house in cold weather doesn't help either. "Closing windows and turning up the heat recirculates air and raises dust that had been collecting all spring and summer," says University of Arizona pulmonologist Paul Enright, M.D. And if you think that allergies are something you tend to outgrow—instead of something you can grow into—check out the 3 allergies that strike adults.
Your new strategy: Shake out the bad stuff
If only a live tree will do, chop one down at a local Christmas tree farm. "Decay doesn't start until a week after the tree is cut down," says Dr. Santilli. Ask the farmer if he has a tree shaker, which can help free any mold spores, loose pine needles, or lingering pollen. You can also blast your greenery with a leaf blower at home. Before bringing it inside, wipe off the tree's trunk with a 20-to-1 water-to-bleach solution to kill any mold, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America recommends. After the holidays, pack decorations in airtight plastic tubs to block out mold and dust mites. (Cardboard encourages mold growth.) Finally, install a HEPA filter in your HVAC system. These can remove up to 99 percent of dust and other particles, Dr. Santilli says.
7 Wicked Winter Health Myths
Suicides Peak During the Holidays
The onslaught of stressors—financial strain, dinner with the in-laws, harsh weather—would seem to be a perfect storm for suicide. "People mistakenly connect the notion of the holiday blues with people killing themselves," says David Rudd, Ph.D., dean of the college of social and behavioral science at the University of Utah.
The reality is that suicides drop to a yearly low in December and peak in spring and summer, according to a 2008 study in the journal Psychiatry Research. "Social cohesion reduces risk of suicide—even if you're packed into a room with relatives you hate," Rudd says. "It makes it harder to deny the impact of your death, and offers the hope of help."
Instead of setting yearlong goals, shoot for a good month or even a week—and start now, not January first. "Long-term goals facilitate procrastination, which can lead to hopelessness," says Rudd. "Work in an incremental fashion so you feel accomplished." If your goal is to lose weight, resolve to join a winter rec league. Exercise can ward off depression, plus you'll maintain social connections, he says. Looking for more ways to cheer yourself up? Try these 18 instant mood boosters to start feeling better in minutes.
Poinsettias Can Kill Kids and Pets
This gem is perhaps one of modern history's earliest urban legends. In 1919, the toddler son of an army officer based in Hawaii was found dead. The unconfirmed cause: eating poinsettia leaves. This diagnosis later appeared in the 1944 book Poisonous Plants of Hawaii, and the toxic claims went viral. Poison centers still receive thousands of calls about poinsettia exposures every year, but there has never been a single confirmed death.
"Exposure to a little poinsettia sap from a leaf or two shouldn't cause any problems," says Edward Krenzelok, Pharm.D., director of the Pittsburgh Poison Center and author of a 1996 study that reviewed more than 22,000 cases of poinsettia exposure. "If a child or pet eats an entire plant, the sap may cause some vomiting or diarrhea." More realistic worst-case scenario: a sour taste in your leaf-eater's mouth. The fix: a glass of milk—or a dog biscuit.
28667 postsback to top
| Posted over 1 year ago
Winter Myths part 2
Your new strategy: Keep Christmas lilies out
Christmas lilies can actually kill your cat, according to a 2006 Journal of Veterinary Emergency and Critical Care study review. Eating even small amounts can lead to severe kidney damage—or failure—in felines, the scientists say. Signs of illness, such as vomiting, lethargy, and inability to urinate, usually develop within 12 hours, and may progress to kidney failure in 2 to 3 days.
If You're Falling on the Slopes, Go Limp
If you're falling on the slopes, go limp. You don't feel as much pain from a fall while stumbling around drunk, so shouldn't the same principle apply if you do the rag-doll bit during a ski tumble? No. It's the alcohol, not your body posture, masking the pain of your fall.
Assume the semisquat of a parachutist who's just about to land. Moderately flex every joint in your body, keep your feet together, lower your chin, and keep your arms up and forward, says Carl Ettlinger, M.S., an adjunct professor of orthopedics at the University of Vermont and president of Vermont Ski Safety Equipment. "This puts you in a position to protect your head and helps you avoid landing on your hands," he says. Always resist the urge to fully straighten your legs. A locked knee turns your leg into a snappable toothpick.
A Roaring Fire Will Keep Your House Warm
It will keep YOU warm—as long as you're sitting about 2 feet from the blaze. The rest of your house may as well be an ice hotel. That's because an open hearth fireplace acts as a vacuum. "It will actually cool the house by drawing warm air out through the chimney," says Kirk Smith, Ph.D., a professor of global environmental health at the University of California at Berkeley.
Your new strategy: A controlled burn
Choose hardwoods, such as ash and beech, which emit lower levels of damaging particles than softwoods do. And use glass fireplace doors. These radiate heat into your home, eliminate the vacuum effect, and shield you from smoke, Smith says. Another option is synthetic logs made from wax and compressed sawdust or even coffee grounds, which are more combustible than cordwood. In fact, a 2006 Canadian study found that Java-Log Firelogs (pinemountainbrands.com) released lower amounts of volatile organic compounds than other wax logs.
Turkey Makes You Sleepy
Everyone scarfs down turkey dinner, and 2 hours later the entire crew is asleep on couches and recliners. Classic. But while the culprit is indeed tryptophan, an amino acid found in turkey that spikes sleep-inducing serotonin levels in your brain, there's nothing special about the tryptophan buried in your holiday bird, says W. Christopher Winter, M.D., medical director of the sleep medicine center at Martha Jefferson Hospital in Charlottesville, Virginia. Per gram, turkey packs the same amount of the drowse-inducing stuff as chicken, and just slightly more than pork or cheese. "The real culprit is the huge carbohydrate load that you eat along with it—potatoes, dressing, rolls—which activates tryptophan," Dr. Winter says.
4 myths about winter depression
If winter’s dark days and dismal weather are starting to get you down, you have plenty of company. Up to six percent of U.S. adults suffer from full-blown winter depression, and another 10 to 20 percent may experience a milder case of the winter blues.
Yet for such a common problem, winter depression is surprisingly little understood. Here are the straight facts about some widely believed winter depression myths.
Myth 1: Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) Isn’t as Serious as Real Depression
SAD is full-fledged depression. It simply occurs around the same time each year, typically starting in the fall or winter and subsiding in the spring.
SAD is particularly likely to cause certain symptoms: lack of energy, oversleeping, weight gain, and a craving for carbs. But it also leads to other changes that can occur in any serious depression, such as feelings of hopelessness, withdrawal from others, and loss of interest in activities you once enjoyed.
Myth 2: Suicides are More Common in Winter
Because winter is a blue season for many, it seems obvious that it would also be the peak time for suicides. In this case, though, the obvious turns out to be incorrect.
A study that looked at all suicide deaths in the United States over a five-year period found that the risk was highest in summer, not winter. (Incidentally, suicides also peaked on Wednesdays rather than Mondays. Go figure.)
Myth 3: Light Therapy is a Hokey Treatment
SAD seems to be related to getting less sunlight during winter’s short days. Reduced sunlight may disrupt your internal body clock and discombobulate your brain chemistry.
Light therapy aims to compensate by having you spend some time each day sitting near an extra-bright artificial light. And there’s solid evidence that it works. In fact, light therapy is considered a first-choice treatment for SAD, either alone or combined with antidepressants.
On a sci-fi-worthy side note: A Finnish company has introduced a gadget with earbuds that aim to shine bright light through the ear canal directly to light-sensitive parts of the brain. Research on the gadget is still limited, however, and it’s currently available only in Europe.
Myth 4: Everybody Feels Gloomier in Winter
In a recent study in the journal Emotion, researchers looked at the link between weather and moods in more than 400 teens and their mothers. About half weren’t strongly affected by the weather, and the rest could be divided into three main groups.
One group, dubbed the Summer Haters, was comprised of people who were in a better mood on cool, cloudy days. Interestingly, the study authors found that weather preferences tended to run in families. But further study is needed to determine whether hating summer is something that’s inherited or learned.
Wet hair, icy temperatures, and exposed heads don't cause colds—viruses do. "Rhinovirus actually survives better from late spring through early fall, when humidity is high," says Jack Gwaltney Jr., M.D., a professor emeritus at the University of Virginia medical school and founder of commoncold.org. "But in the mild weather, we aren't crowded together indoors, making exposure less likely."
Alcohol-based hand sanitizer kills the rhinovirus more effectively than hand washing—but probably still won't slash your risk of catching a cold, according to recent University of Virginia research. "Hand transfer may not play as significant a role in the spread of rhinovirus as we thought," says study author Ronald Turner, M.D. "Conversely, airborne transfer may be more important than previously recognized."