Imagine having diagnostic tests taken that were painless, fast, less expensive than a blood test, and could easily be performed multiple times, even while exercising or sleeping. Scientists have been developing devices that can do just that by measuring certain components in the breath. Although it may seem more like something in a scene from Star Trek, the possibility of this type of test becoming a reality is just around the corner. Professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, Dr. Christina Davis, from the University of California, Davis, says “The field is at the point where we’ll start to see some exciting developments in the next one to four years.”
Much the same as a fingerprint, everyone has a unique “breath signature” that can identify a whole array of compounds, including oxygen, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, proteins, peptides, DNA, antibodies and volatile organic compounds that are formed during certain of the body’s metabolic processes, and which may indicate the presence of disease. By being able to identify the thousands of chemical compounds exhaled in a person’s breath, a tool such as a mass spectrometer can help to diagnose a host of disease conditions such as diabetes, asthma, tuberculosis, gastrointestinal problems, and liver and kidney disease. Raed A. Dweik, the pulmonary vascular program director at the Cleveland Clinic’s Lerner Research Institute says, “Anything you can have a blood test for, there is potentially a breath test for, as long as there is a volatile component.”
Although current forms of mass spectrometry have a billion times greater sensitivity than the devices used by the police to measure blood alcohol levels and can measure and determine which specific volatile organic compounds are contained in the breath, they are still cumbersome and expensive. Therefore, scientists are exploring ways of developing devices that use sensor arrays, which are smaller and less expensive and can detect certain scents in much the same way that dogs can pinpoint specific smells. The only drawback is that they must be trained, as dogs are, in what sorts of things that they should be looking for.
Dr. Peter Mazzone, the director of the lung cancer program at the Respiratory Institute at the Cleveland Clinic says, “My vision is being able to say, ‘This is a 60-year old with emphysema who smoked for 30 years—what’s the chance of there being cancer there?’ But we have to teach the device what it looks like first.”
The benefits to this technology would be many, including reducing the number of biopsies performed. Researchers believe that breath analyses can be used in conjunction with CT scans to keep more extensive and costly tests to a minimum, however, there is still work to be done in organizing more clinical trials so that these breath tests can be validated and standardized. Dr. Dweik notes, “For doctors and the FDA to buy into this concept, we have to tell them what we are smelling and why and how that compound is related to the disease process.”
One of the ways to treat people for morbid obesity is by performing gastric bypass surgery. Those with an excessive amount of fatty tissue are at far greater risk of a host of problems such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, asthma, osteoarthritis and chronic back pain. Gastric bypass surgery significantly reduces the volume of the stomach, which in turn alters both the psychological and physiological response to the food that gets put in it, restricting both the amount of food that is ingested and the number of calories it is able to absorb.
The first step in gastric bypass surgery is to reduce the size of the stomach. This is done by the surgeon dividing the stomach into two parts: a small upper pouch, and a larger “remnant” pouch below it. A section of the small intestine is then attached to the upper pouch (which is where the “bypass” part comes in), so food quickly fills the upper stomach and spends less time transiting the small intestine, where nutrients and calories are absorbed.
The reduction in stomach size by over 90% makes the patient feel fuller and they are satisfied faster, so they will eat less and not feel hungry as soon. Just a couple of tablespoons of food are enough to stretch the stomach sufficiently to stimulate its nerves to send a message to the brain that a large meal has been eaten. Additionally, the smaller upper pouch section of the stomach consists of tissue that is less prone to stretching than the lower portion, so it is not as likely to increase in volume and negate the effect of the surgery.
Despite feeling full, many people have a psychological desire to keep eating, but the effect of continuing to eat for someone who has had gastric bypass surgery is to become significantly uncomfortable, or even vomit, if the person does not stop eating or does not eat very slowly. Experts advise gastric bypass patients eat only two to three small meals daily and resist snacking between meals if they are to reap the greatest benefits of the surgery.
Gastric bypass surgery has been shown to be remarkably effective in reducing long-term mortality rates. There is an approximately 40% lower risk of death for those who have had a successful gastric bypass procedure compared to those who remain morbidly obese. The surgery is not without possible complications, however, and there is a 2% risk of surgery-related death within one month of surgery.
Gastric bypass patients are also advised to get counseling on how to establish healthy eating habits so they do not gain back the weight over time. Despite the risks involved, for certain people who are morbidly obese, gastric bypass surgery may reduce their long-term risk of death.
Nothing cheers up a room like a new coat of paint, but it is important to keep in mind that paint can release harmful chemicals into the air you and your family breathe. Many of these chemicals have been shown to have detrimental effects on health. Luckily, we have come a long way since the days of lead-based paints, and more manufacturers are coming out with products that are both safer for human health and better for the environment. That said, there are still a few things you should keep in mind while working on any painting project so that you can give your living space a fresh new look while also reducing your risk of exposure to harmful pollutants.
There are two different types of paint on the market today: water-based paints and solvent-based paints. Most of the paints used for residential painting are water-based, which helps to reduce the amount of VOCs (volatile organic compounds) that are given off. VOCs are solvents that are released into the air as paint dries, which in the short-term can cause headaches and dizziness, and which are suspected carcinogens. Solvent-based paints (also called oil-based paints) are what had been traditionally used to paint homes before the advent of improved water-based paints. The coverage of solvent-based paints was better and longer-lasting, but this is no longer necessarily the case. In addition, solvent-based paints not only contain more harmful chemicals such as benzene, but they are also highly flammable.
Although the US government requires that all paint have VOC levels no higher than 380 grams per liter (g/l) for most finishes, some manufacturers have voluntarily developed paint with much lower levels of VOCs. According to Consumer Reports, these include Glidden Evermore, Benjamin Moore Aura and True Value Easy Care paints, which have a VOC of 50 g/l. There have also been a few paints developed that claim to have zero VOCs, which include Mythic and Home Depot’s Freshaire Choice, which has earned the Greenguard Environmental Institute’s seal of approval. However, even these were shown to contain some level of VOCs when tested by Consumer Reports.
Some helpful tips for healthy painting:
By taking these few extra precautions, you can safely enjoy the pleasures of your newly-painted home.
Just about everyone has heard about the importance of calcium in maintaining strong bones and teeth. In fact, 99 percent of the calcium in our body is stored in our bones. However, the remaining one percent that is located in our blood and cells is just as important. It is necessary to maintain many of the body’s vital functions, and if you do not get adequate calcium from your diet to keep the required amount in your blood, the mineral will be taken from your bones to meet the need.
Heart rhythm, muscle contraction, wound healing, blood clotting and transmission of messages between nerves and between cells are some of the important things that calcium facilitates. In addition to helping prevent osteoporosis, calcium may also reduce the risk of colon cancer, lower high blood pressure, reduce symptoms of PMS (bloating, food cravings, pain and mood swings) by 50 percent, and protect against breast cancer.
The recommended daily intake of calcium for different groups is as follows:
Infants 0-6 months: 210 mg/day
Infants 7-12 months: 270 mg/day
Children 1-3 years: 700 mg/day
Children 4-8 years: 1,000 mg/day
Adolescents 9-18 years: 1,300 mg/day
Adults 19-50 years: 1,000 mg/day
Adults 51+ years : 1,200 mg/day
Most signs of calcium deficiency do not appear until it has become a serious problem. Increased bone fractures are the most common sign. Severe calcium deficiency can cause tingling or numbness of the fingers, an abnormal heart rhythm and convulsions. However, these cases are rare. Most people are able to meet their daily calcium requirement through their diet, but supplementation may be recommended for some people. Those who drink large amounts of caffeinated beverages, soda or alcohol, and postmenopausal women may benefit from calcium supplements.
Taking too much calcium can also cause problems, so don’t take any more than is appropriate for your age group. Excess calcium intake (most often by taking too many supplements) has been implicated in a higher risk of kidney stones, heart attack, stroke and hardening of the arteries.
Calcium is best absorbed when taken with a meal, along with vitamin D. Magnesium is also necessary for the proper integration of calcium into the bones, but it should be taken separately from when you take your calcium, as it (and iron) can interfere with calcium absorption. So take any magnesium and iron supplements at the opposite end of the day from when you take your calcium.
Foods highest in calcium include dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt, and dark green leafy vegetables such as kale, spinach, Swiss chard, mustard greens and bok choy. Other good sources of calcium are sardines, oysters, broccoli, almonds, Brussels sprouts and seaweed.
Americans drink over 9 billion gallons of bottled water each year, up from 5 billion in 2001. However, most Americans still believe that they go through life chronically dehydrated. At least, that is what we have been led to believe by certain experts and bottled water companies who have suggested that everyone drink eight glasses of water a day for the sake of their health. However, that advice has no basis in scientific evidence, according to Scottish physician Dr. Margaret McCartney, who says that the need to drink that much water to prevent dehydration is “not only nonsense, but is thoroughly debunked nonsense.”
It is easy to find articles all over the Internet on the health benefits of drinking more water. From better skin to weight loss, all manner of health improvements have been attributed to drinking eight glasses of water a day. But according to Dr. Stanley Goldfarb, a nephrologist at the University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine, who looked for evidence to support these health claims, “We found that there really is no evidence that drinking more water makes you perform better. It doesn’t reduce appetite, it doesn’t lead to long-term weight loss, and it can’t possibly improve your complexion. It won’t clear your body of toxins or reduce headaches.”
The idea that if you are thirsty then you are already dehydrated has no basis in fact. The human body is well designed to manage its water needs, and if you drink when you are thirsty, then you are likely getting enough fluids. Goldfarb notes, “Thirst is a highly developed sensation, powerfully motivated. When you’re thirsty, all you want to do is drink. But being thirsty doesn’t mean you are ill at this point or dehydrated to the point that there are consequences.”
Another myth is that coffee, tea and soft drinks cannot be counted in the amount of fluids you take in each day. We get thirst-satiating fluids not only from these beverages, but also from other things we eat, such as fruits and vegetables, many of which have a relatively high water content. Excess caffeine and sugar intake from various beverages can affect health negatively, which is why physicians do not advise these in place of water, but they do contribute to the amount of fluids you get each day.
Those who should be more concerned about drinking sufficient amounts of water are athletes and those who work at jobs that require a lot of physical activity, as water is lost through sweating. But the average person who sits at a desk most of the day and commutes by car to and from work is not at high risk of dehydration. All you need to do is to drink water when you are thirsty (and tap water is just as good, despite what the bottled water companies will tell you).Learn More
One of the most common myths about heavy weight training is that it will make you less flexible. Many of us have an image in our mind of a typical bulked up bodybuilder who can barely manage to turn his head to the left or right. However, if weight training is performed correctly, incorporating a full range of motion, heavy weight training can actually enhance your flexibility.
This misconception about weight training leading to inflexibility has remained tenaciously in people’s minds, despite the fact that studies as long ago as the 1960s and 1970s proved otherwise. Later studies have confirmed that properly performed strength training exercises serve to increase flexibility rather than reduce it.
A 2002 study published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research evaluated the effect on flexibility of a 10-week resistance training program on a group of 11 elderly female subjects. The control group consisted of eight elderly women who were physically inactive. The women’s level of flexibility was assessed by a sit-and-reach test performed both before and after the 10-week training period. Using resistance machines, the women in the training group performed eight different strength training exercises (seated row, seated biceps curl, seated triceps press, shoulder press, chest press, calf press, abdominal crunch and leg press) without performing any flexibility exercise. The study found that the training group women had achieved an average increase of 13% more flexibility over the control group by the end of the training program.
Another study, published the following year in the same journal, found that flexibility was greater in subjects who used light weights (1-3 pounds) on their wrists and ankles during a 10-week training program than the control group who used no weights while training. They surpassed the control group in five out of ten flexibility measures, including left and right neck rotation, knee flexion, hip extension and ankle dorsiflexion.
To maintain good flexibility while training with weights, learn to vary your workouts so that you do not repeat the same actions over and over. This will encourage your muscles to keep from shortening and becoming less flexible. Weight training exercises should involve the full range of motion in order to build strength while maintaining flexibility.
Experts advise that you perform some stretches after your workout (never before, as it can temporarily weaken your muscles) in order to stretch and lengthen any muscles that may have become shortened during training. The more flexible you are, the more weight you can handle without increasing your risk of injury. Ease gradually into each stretch, being sure not to bounce, which can cause small tears in the muscle that will be replaced by scar tissue, reducing your flexibility.
Many people are becoming disillusioned with a 21st century pharmaceutical industry that promotes taking a different drug for every ailment from anxiety to zits. Others question the drug approval process used by the FDA and are bothered by the fact that safety studies are performed by the pharmaceutical companies themselves. They point out that the long-term effects of new medications are often uncertain even after testing, and that the negative side effects can be serious.
At the same time, researchers and clinicians continue to discover new links between what we eat and drink and our overall health and well-being. Even among the general public, the fundamental importance of nutrition is becoming clearer and clearer as we face a growing number of so-called “lifestyle diseases” that are caused (at least in part) by the type, quality and amount of food that we eat.
So it’s not surprising that scientists are trying to improve our understanding of food and to make its benefits more accessible to more people. As this happens, it seems likely that we will find ourselves turning to “nutraceuticals” to prevent or treat our illnesses, even if we’ve never heard that word before or don’t know what it means.
Dr. Stephen DeFelice, from the Foundation for Innovation in Medicine, first coined the term nutraceutical (sometimes also spelled nutriceutical) in 1989. He defined it as meaning “food, or parts of food, that provide medical or health benefits, including the prevention and treatment of disease.” This definition includes not only special fortified foods, but also herbal products, dietary supplements, genetically modified foods and foods processed to include specific nutrients.
Studies have shown that some nutraceuticals are indeed effective in promoting certain health benefits. However, the regulation of some of these substances is inconsistent, and not every nutraceutical product claiming to have health benefits can actually support those claims. For instance, the vitamin D added to milk that has been proven to help prevent rickets in children (once a widespread problem) can be considered a nutraceutical. So can the active cultures in some types of yogurt. But the claim that raspberry ketones will help you lose weight, as touted by the popular Dr. Oz, is tenuous at best. So it may be a nutraceutical without the health benefit.
Nevertheless, some nutraceuticals are considerably better for your health than taking a drug. Cultures the world over have been using natural food and herbal remedies for centuries, often with great results and no negative side effects. It is important, however, to judge which are safe to take, and in which amounts.
Just because a food or supplement is “natural” does not necessarily mean it is safe for you. It is important to consult with a health professional as to which nutraceuticals may be right for your particular condition and check to ensure that the manufacturer has used quality ingredients in the production of the nutraceutical. Because these products are largely unregulated, the ability to enforce standards (in particular, the source and amount of active ingredient) is more limited than what we’re accustomed to in the world of pharmaceuticals. So if you’re taking horsetail to help with your hair growth, some supplements may contain 7% and some 10%. Differences like this can make matter a lot when it comes to effectiveness and safety depending on the nutriceutical involved.
It is generally healthiest to get the nutrients you need by following a varied diet rich in whole foods. However, if this is not possible, neutraceuticals may be the next best thing and may help you to avoid the health risks and expense associated with pharmaceuticals.Learn More