Are you one of the many people who think you can get rid of that “belly” by strengthening your abdominal muscles? Think again. You can do sit-ups til the cows come home, but nothing short of actual weight loss will do the trick.
It would help if we had a better understanding of those bigger waistlines as we age.
Of course it is on a practical level the result of gaining weight. But ultimately the problem is body fat.
Fat doesn't just sit idle. It acts like an organ that secretes substances.
While visceral fat provides necessary cushioning around organs, it secretes lots of nasty substances that can be absorbed by the neighboring organs.
Visceral fat cells release inflammatory compounds that can lead to insulin resistance and some cancers. Excess visceral fat is linked to greater risk of high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, dementia and cancers of the breast, colon, and endometrium.
There are two types of fat in your abdominal area. The first type is called subcutaneous fat and lies directly beneath the skin and on top of the abdominal muscles.
The second type of fat in your abdominal area is called visceral fat, and that lies deeper in the abdomen beneath your muscle and surrounding your organs.
Visceral fat also plays a role in giving certain men that "beer belly" appearance where the abdomen protrudes excessively but at the same time, also feels sort of hard if you push on it. The average American has about 30 billion fat cells: each of them is filled with greasy substances called lipids. When you pump doughnuts, potato chips and candy bars into your system, those fat cells can expand-up to 1,000 times their original size. But a fat cell can get only so big; once it reaches its physical limit, it starts to behave like a long-running sitcom. It creates spinoffs, leaving you with two or more fat cells for the price of one. Only problem: Fat cells have a no-return policy. Once you have a fat cell, you're stuck with it- they never go away. So as you grow fatter and double the number of fat cells in your body, you also double the difficulty you'll have losing the lipids inside them.
Many of us tend to store fat in our bellies, and that's where the health dangers of excess weight begin. Abdominal fat doesn't just sit there and do nothing; it's active. It functions like a separate organ, releasing substances that can be harmful to your body. For instance, it releases free fatty acids that impair your ability to break down the hormone insulin (too much insulin in your system can lead to diabetes).
Fat also secretes substances that increase your risk of heart attacks and strokes, as well as the stress hormone cortisol (high levels of cortisol are also associated with diabetes and obesity as well as with high blood pressure). Abdominal fat bears the blame for many health problems because it resides within striking distance of your heart, liver and other organs - pressing on them, feeding them poisons, and messing with their daily function.
Now we all know the obvious: proper diet; adequate exercise; plenty of water; sufficient sleep. In fact so far, physical activity and weight loss appear to be the key. Several new studies indicate that regular exercise, such as brisk walking for 30 to 45 minutes a day, can significantly decrease such fat.
At greatest risk of developing health problems from too much hidden belly fat are men whose waists are wider than 40 inches and women whose waists are wider than 35 inches.
Tummy fat is the known enemy of the fit-looking body. As most of us get past age 20 or 25, belly fat becomes harder and harder to fend off. Even when we work on each part of our bodies at the gym or through dieting, it can seem asif the tummy fat battle is the hardest one to win.
And, fat around the midsection not only looks bulgy and unsightly, it can also be potentially bad for your health. Men and women with significant amounts of belly fat have been shown to have a better chance of developing heart disease.
People who gain belly fat are at greater risk of serious health problems, even death, than are people who accumulate fat in other areas — and men are more likely than women to gain weight around the waist. Regardless of your overall weight, having a large amount of belly fat increases your risk of:
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Some types of cancer
- Type 2 diabetes
- Insulin resistance
- High triglycerides
- Low levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good," cholesterol
- Metabolic syndrome
- Sleep apnea
So, what to do?
It is vital to drink lots of water throughout the day, as it accelerates the fat-burning process. Water also aids the functioning of the liver, and our liver actually has the ability to burn reserved fat and convert it into energy.
When it comes to food, breakfast is the most important meal of the day, so start off your day with a good and healthy breakfast. As mentioned, the frequency of eating is vital, just as crucial is what you eat. There are in fact various foods which aid the loss of fat around your stomach, such as; fish, vegetables, dark chocolate and fruit. However, there are also foods that do the opposite and diminish your ability to lose belly fat, these include foods that are high in saturated fat and sugar, thus you should try and avoid such foods as much as possible.
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!
The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. The reader should always consult his or her healthcare provider to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.
Glenn Ellis is a health advocacy communications specialist. He is the author of “Which Doctor?,” and is a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures, and is an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health-related topics.
His second book, “Information is the Best Medicine”, was released in January. For more good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com.
I want to break my caffeine habit. How do I start?
Caffeine is a psychoactive stimulant. It will increase alertness, decrease fatigue, cause euphoria and elevate your mood. The bad affects of caffeine can include sleeplessness, irritability, anxiety and depression. A person can suffer the bad effects from one or two cups of coffee a day.
If you drink more than 250 mgs of caffeine a day, which is about two and a half cups, you can suffer from caffeine intoxication. The symptoms include restlessness, nervousness, excitement, excessive urination, insomnia, heartburn, muscle twitching and rambling thought and speech.
It’s not easy to break the caffeine habit, but you can with a little help. There are some withdrawal symptoms when you try to break the caffeine habit. They can include depression, constipation, runny nose, nausea, headaches and a craving for caffeine.
To quit, it’s best to gradually reduce your caffeine intake. Try to reduce your daily intake of caffeine by 100 mgs each week. One hundred mgs is about one cup of coffee. Continue decreasing your consumption until you’re down to a safe level, which is about one cup a day. Your plan should also include relaxation, stress reduction, good nutrition and exercise.
Hair and working out
I want to start a workout program but I don’t know what to do with my hair. How can I work out and still look well groomed?
Lana, Oakton, Va.
To work out and keep your hair looking great it’s essential to have a good haircut. If you sweat a lot while working out wear a headband around your hairline. Comb hair before you work out, then use an alcohol-free styling spritz. This will hold hair in place and make your style easy to comb back into shape. If your hairline gets frizzy, use a styling gel for hard to hold hair after your workout. For curly styles use a fine mist of water mixed with a little conditioner, if needed, to help curls look fresh and finger comb. For natural styles spray with hair sheen, comb and you’re done. Talk to your stylist; with today’s precision haircuts and styling aids, your hair should not interfere with your getting in shape.
Why is fiber important for good health? My doctor wants me to eat more fiber.
Though we hear a lot of talk about the importance of fiber in the diet, many people still don’t understand what fiber foods are and how they affect the body. It is believed that fiber interacting with other components in food can be a protective factor against colon cancer. This coupled with the fact that fiber speeds up the passage of substances through the colon indicates that a diet high in fiber reduces your risk of colon cancer.
Fiber should be added to the diet gradually by eating foods high in fiber not by using fiber supplements. To add foods high in fiber to your diet start with two or three servings of fresh fruit in the morning. Also, eat dark green vegetables, potatoes, tossed salads, corn and beans. Whole grain foods include brown rice, breads and cereals — you should avoid bleached foods, which have the fiber containing grain removed.
Eating out, eating well
I find myself eating out more now that I work in the city. What can I do to cut down the calories?
Eating out can be an enjoyable experience. When eating out you should try to keep the fat and sodium content of the meal low. That means you should have it the way you want it. Here are some tips that will help.
1. Read the menu carefully, and ask how the food is prepared.
2. Be assertive! Tell your waiter how you want your food prepared.
3. Get only the food you want. Order “a la carte” instead of ordering a set meal with the accompaniments.
4. Don’t hesitate to ask for substitutions, such as a baked potato, vegetables or a tossed salad instead of French fries.
5. Order appetizers that are not fried.
6. Choose soups that have a clear broth instead of cream soups.
7. If the portions are large, you can split the entree.
8. Order low fat appetizers for an entree.
9. If the restaurant serves large portions, remember you don’t have to clean your plate. You can also take food home.
My wife and I bought bikes for Christmas. We need helmets. How do we buy the safest helmet?
If you got a bike for Christmas, I hope you got a helmet. The very first accessory you should buy is a good helmet. It makes good sense when you figure that bikers get some sort of hit on the head in three out of every four bike accidents. A head injury is more likely to kill you than other injuries.
Brightly colored helmets make it easier for you to be seen. It’s the perfect place to tape a quarter or two for a phone call for help. You can also put any information that your doctor might need.
Be sure the helmet and strap fits correctly. The helmet won’t do you any good if it flies off your head.
Most important, be sure you buy a helmet that has a Snell Memorial Foundation Standard or ANSI label. That’s how you know the helmet will give you the best protection.
Shape up your waist
I work out and have a pretty good body overall, but my midsection is really getting flabby. What can I do to shape up my waist?
Tia, Glassboro, N.J.
The stomach area is a troublesome part of the body to get into shape. Hundreds of gadgets, mixes, diets, books and rubbing ointments are sold to get rid of the bulge in the midsection. Most of them don’t work. The only way to get rid of the bulge in the midsection is to do toning and aerobic exercises and eat a healthy low fat diet.
The abdominal area consists of different muscles that have to be worked separately. You should start with your lower abs. If you’re already conditioned try doing hanging leg raises. Hang from a bar with your knees slightly bent and lift your legs to your chest slowly and deliberately. If you’re a beginner you can start with a simple leg raise. Lie on your back with hands under your hips and your knees bent. Curl your bent legs to your chest slowly and deliberately. Bring them as close to your chest as you can. Then lower your legs slowly to the floor.
Suck in your abdominals each time you raise your legs and exhale as you lower your legs. Do up to 20 repetitions for 3 to 4 sets. Make sure you keep your abs flat when you exercise your abdominals. If you don’t keep them flat you'll develop a hard round muscle instead of a flat one.
The abdominal crunch is a safe and effective abdominal exercise. To do this exercise lie flat on your back and place your hands across your chest. Bend your knees so your heels are on the floor and your toes are pointed toward the ceiling. Pull your abs in, as though you’re trying to fit into a pair of jeans 2 sizes too small while lifting your upper body a few inches off the floor. The small of your back should stay on the floor. Exhale as you lift your body and inhale as you lower it. You can also twist up when you do this exercise to work the waistline. You can make this exercise work different parts of your abdominal muscles by changing the position of your legs. Add variety to this exercise by lifting your feet off the floor until calves (lower legs) are parallel with the floor. Try it with your legs raised and your feet pointed toward the ceiling or with your legs raised and feet crossed at the ankles. Do 12 to 15 repetitions for 4 to 6 sets.
Working your abdomen every other day can help you develop a trim waistline. But, you can do sit-ups and crunches all day long and still not see that hard earned muscle if your body is carrying excess body fat. When it comes to developing a flat stomach, diet is just as important as your workout. You have to eliminate rich fatty, high sodium foods from your diet.
Aerobic exercise is the next component you have to incorporate to get that midsection flat. Aerobics include walking, jogging, stair climbing, bike ridding, dancing and swimming. Aerobic exercise is the only way to effectively burn body fat. You must spend at least 30 minutes doing aerobics to burn fat effectively. The average person can comfortably start with 10 to 15 minutes of aerobic exercise. Gradually build your aerobic exercise time to 45 minutes for the best results.
If you want great abs, remember you have to exercise them every other day, eat low fat foods, do aerobic exercises three to five times a week, and keep that rib cage lifted and tight by pulling in your stomach or abdomen all day.
Understanding fitness news
Every day we get new information about health and fitness topics like what to eat, what to wear or how to exercise. How do we know what’s true and what’s not?
Don’t take everything you read or hear as true when it comes to your health, no matter what the source. Ask yourself these few questions when trying to evaluate information:
1. Is the information being used to advertise a product? There are a lot of infomercials out today that seem like real information.
2. Who paid for the research? You always have to consider the source because no one is going to do a bad study on themselves.
3. Do you believe the information just because you want to believe it? Be objective, know what’s being explained. Lead with your head, not your heart.
4. Do the experts agree? Experts do disagree, but some of them should support the new information.
5. If you still can’t make heads or tails out of it ask me.
If I don’t know the answer I’ll try to find it for you. Before starting your fitness program, consult your physician. For help with drug, alcohol and mental health problems call Sobriety Through Outpatient, the area’s most unique treatment center, at (215) 227-7867. Watch or listen to our recovery media stations every day at www.stop-recoveryradio.com.
Thirty-seven-year-old Georgette Brown has been struggling with her weight since her childhood.
Brown has been overweight since she was about eight.
“I knew from an early age that food is the only friend who wouldn’t judge you and will always comfort you,” she said.
“But eventually the extra weight brought me shame.”
When she turned 30, Brown knew she didn’t want to continue struggling with being overweight anymore, but she was afraid of taking a drastic measure.
“I went on Atkins and I lost 60 pounds, but I gained every single pound back and then some,” said Brown, who is a resident of Trenton, N.J.
She investigated various options, including bariatric surgery, but at the time she was afraid to undergo the procedure.
“I had gotten to the point to where I was just tired. I was out of breath. I just didn’t feel comfortable in my skin anymore,” recalled Brown.
When Brown would commute to her job on the train, she felt physically uncomfortable because she was taking up the whole seat.
Due to being overweight, Brown knew she had a high risk of developing high blood pressure.
“I wasn’t having the right quality of life, and I knew that health problems were right around the corner,” she said.
Brown knew she couldn’t continue to live that way.
So Brown turned to Jefferson’s Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery Program, where she underwent gastric bypass surgery on October 19, 2010.
After undergoing her surgery, Brown made lifestyle changes, including altering her diet and cooking healthier foods.
Before the operation, Brown weighed 277 pounds. Now her weight fluctuates between 168 and 170 pounds.
For Brown, the benefit of weight loss goes beyond her physical look.
“I feel great. I have more energy. I feel much healthier,” says Brown.
“I feel like there are a lot of things that I will do now that I would not have done before because I was fat or I just didn’t have the energy to do. It’s the little things that I do in my life, that I wouldn’t have done or wouldn’t have felt comfortable doing,” says Brown.
For instance, before her weight loss, Brown shied away from going to the gym.
“I wouldn’t go to the gym because I was heavy. I just felt uncomfortable. Everybody at the gym was skinny and active, and they weren’t puffing after 10 minutes on the elliptical machine.”
Now she exercises at the gym at least three times a week.
Dr. David Tichansky, director of the Jefferson Bariatric and Metabolic Surgery Program, says that Brown personifies everything great about bariatric surgery.
“She’s done really well, but I can’t take credit for her results. I can take credit for getting her safely though the surgery. She’s done all the right things in terms of really focusing on what she’s eating, exercising, and following the plan to get the best possible outcome. Her experience has been exemplary,” said Tichansky.
Tichansky said bariatric surgical procedures have come a long way in the last 10 years. During the time, there’s been a movement to do minimally invasive bariatric surgery.
“That really has dramatically changed the safety profile of a lot of these cases, and a lot of these patients are having less risk of complications. It’s really become much safer than it’s ever been,” he said.
We’ve learned a lot more about some of the effects of bariatric surgery and the biggest one beside weight loss is how it improves diabetes and high blood pressure and it improves a lot of the diseases that go along with extra weight.”
Tichnasky says people may have misconceptions about bariatric surgery and dietary restraints.
“We encourage balanced meals of normal food — it’s just that the meals are smaller,” he added.
Jefferson’s Bariatric program has a team of healthcare professionals including nurse practioners, dietitians, psychologists and medical consultant physicians.
Since Jefferson’s Bariatric program was established in 2008, more than 400 patients have undergone gastric bypass and gastric banding to treat morbid obesity.
A group of Penn Medicine researchers has issued a challenge to the public.
They’re asking community members to help save lives by using their cell phones.
The researchers are launching the MyHeartMap Challenge, a month-long contest slated to begin in January. The contest is geared toward sending thousands of Philadelphians to the streets and social media sites to locate as many automated external defibrillators as they can. AEDs are used to restore cardiac arrest victims’ hearts to their normal rhythm.
The contest is just a first step in what the Penn team hopes will grow to become a nationwide, crowd-sourced AED registry that will put the lifesaving devices in the hands of anyone at anytime. Used in conjunction with CPR, AEDs are an important part of the “chain of survival” needed to save cardiac arrest victims.
Armed with a free app installed on their mobile phones, contest participants will snap pictures of the devices wherever they find them in public places around the city. Participants will use the app to geotag the photos with their location and details about the device like its manufacturer. Next, participants will send the photos to the research team via the app or the project’s website. The data collected will be used to create an updated app linking locations of all public AEDs in Philadelphia with a person’s GPS coordinates to help them locate the nearest AED during an emergency.
The person or team who finds the most AEDs during the contest will win $10,000. Participants who find various pre-located “golden ticket” AEDs around the city will also win $50 for identifying each of those devices.
The project is modeled after the DARPA Network Challenge, a crowd-sourcing experiment in which social media users raced to be the first to submit the locations of 10 moored, eight-foot, red weather balloons at 10 fixed locations across the United States.
“More and more, scientists are learning that we can benefit from the wisdom of the crowd,” said MyHeartMap Challenge leader Dr. Raina Merchant, an assistant professor of Emergency Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania.
“Participation from ordinary citizens will allow us to answer questions and make the city safer than our team could ever do on its own.”
The challenge comes at a time when less than 10 percent of cardiac arrest victims survive in most cities across the United States. The MyHeartMap Challenge aims to help change those statistics.
“Philadelphia is home to a vibrant medical community, some of the nation’s top institutions of higher education and is a growing hub for new technology development. The MyHeartMap Challenge brings all those elements together to improve the health of our people,” said Philadelphia Health Commissioner Dr. Donald D. Schwarz.
“The city has a rich tradition of innovation, and we have what it takes to lead the nation in this new form of lifesaving community engagement.”
According to the researchers, there is an estimated one million AEDs across the nation. Some are hung on the walls in airports, casinos and recreation centers, while others are tucked away in restaurant closers and under cash registers. AEDs are not subject to regulations that would allow their makers to know where or when their devices are being used.
MyHeartMap Challenge participants can register as individuals or teams, and the Penn researchers suggest participants develop creative ways to maximize their chances of winning. For instance, teams could use Facebook and Twitter to engage participation or organize AED scavenger hunts or mini-contests to locate the devices in a workplace building.
The multi-disciplinary project combines the expertise of investigators from Penn’s Center for Resuscitation Science, the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics, the Wharton School, the Cartography Modeling Lab and the Organizational Dynamics Program, and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. Penn’s researchers are also collaborating with resuscitation scientists at the University of Washington and crowd-sourcing experts at MIT.
For information, visit www.med.penn.edu/myheartmap/.
What’s better, honey, brown sugar or white sugar?
Honey is a sugar. It affects the body much the same way sugar does. Honey is a combination of two sugars, glucose and fructose. Its makeup is determined by where the bee gathers the nectar. It’s said that honey is better than sugar but in most cases, all the beneficial nutrients, such as the B vitamins, are cooked out of it because the temperature used is higher than 150o. Honey also acts on the body like sugar. So, don’t use more honey thinking it’s better for you.
The quality of the honey can also be affected by the way the beekeepers remove the bees from the hive. Some large beekeepers use a toxic chemical to remove the bees. This chemical, carbolic acid, can stay in the honey.
Sugar is sugar. Sugar is extracted from a plant. All sugar is processed into a concentrated form. The only natural sugar is found in fruit and vegetables that haven’t been extracted or concentrated. Once you’ve taken the sugar from the plant, it’s been processed.
Raw brown sugar is an intermediate stage of completely refining sugar. After the juice is squeezed from sugar cane, it’s boiled, filtered and dried until it’s crystallized. The sugar has a brown appearance because the molasses has not been removed. Brown sugar in the United States is sometimes more refined than white sugar. Because of the value of the molasses, the sugar is heated until all the molasses is removed. The sugar is colored by charcoal, which eventually changes its color to light brown.
An addiction is a strong or irresistible dependence on the use of a particular substance. Those who are addicted need to increase the dose progressively to achieve the original effect produced by smaller amounts. The sudden deprivation of that substance produces withdrawal symptoms. Sugar fits this description. The brain produces a substance called EOP, which makes us feel pleasure when we eat. Sugar, fat and salt trigger EOP. In some people, this can cause a craving for fat, salt and sugar. How do we break this habit before it affects our health? Gradually wean yourself from the bad foods. First, find out how much sugar you really eat by keeping a food diary. Next, cut back a little each week. A lot of your craving is psychological and you’ll need strong will power to go along with your gradual cutting back of sugar.
So, use both honey and sugar in moderation.
Walking the stairs
My coworkers and I walk down 22 flights of stairs twice daily. Can the concrete steps cause injury problems?”
Gayle, It’s great to hear that so many of your co-workers want get in shape together. But there are potential problems with your program. Walking down the fire escape can cause joint problems with the knees, hips, ankles and back. There’s also the danger of someone tripping or falling. You didn’t say how long it takes you to walk down the steps, but we’ll guess around 10 minutes. Granted, walking down the steps rather than catching the elevator will help you burn calories; walking up steps works the thighs, buttocks and burns more calories.
To effectively burn fat, you need to walk briskly for at least 20 minutes non-stop. Thirty to 45 minutes is ideal. Try walking around the neighborhood for your workout instead of using the fire escape. Climbing steps is not a bad idea for aerobic fitness, but concrete steps can be dangerous and cause repetitive stress injuries.
I know that exercise can improve your body, your health and your self-esteem. Does that mean recovering drug-dependent people can benefit from exercise? Drugs destroyed my once pleasant personality. I can use a change in my personality.
A person who is rebellious, emotionally unstable, uptight and aggressive can change personality through a regular fitness program. A good program will make you feel better, help to deal with stress; you’ll have more confidence and feel relaxed. How does this happen? When we exercise, our bodies produce pleasure hormones that have a calming effect on us. We also produce adrenaline, which helps in producing a feeling of confidence. Before starting your program, get a checkup. Start your program by doing 15 minutes of calisthenics. Try to do two to three exercises for each body part. The next day, do 15 minutes of walking. Make sure you wear the right shoes and dress for the weather. Try to workout at least 3 to 4 times a week for the best results.
Exercise can be a positive spark in your life and brighten up the worst personality.
Traveling and exercise
We do a lot of traveling and we still want to stay in shape. What can we do so we won’t get out of shape while we’re away?
Sandy & Jim,
If you’re going to be traveling and you still want to get your workout in, call ahead to see if your hotel has a fitness center on the premises. Some hotels may have an agreement with a local gym. So, find out what’s available.
Your road workout should include toning exercises, aerobics and stretching. For toning, you can do calisthenics. Pick an exercise for each body part. Push-ups for the chest, back and shoulders, wall sitting for legs, toe raises for calves and sit-ups for your abdominals. Do three to four sets of 10 to 15 reps. Use good form and concentrate on each rep.
Do your same aerobic workout or substitute walking. Be prepared for the weather. Try to get a good idea of the type of weather you’ll have to deal with during your trip. For aerobics, walk, jog, skip rope or do your regular aerobic workout.
Don’t use traveling as an excuse not to workout. Do a little planning.
Traveling and eating
How can I eat the right things when I’m on the road?
Having a job that keeps you on the road for several days at a time has the potential to ruin good eating habits. You can still eat right with a little planning. It’s a good idea to pack a portable blender and a thermos. You can pick up fruits and juices at most convenience stores or the nearest supermarket. The fruits will keep for several days. You can add fruits to your juice in a portable blender or eat them raw. Carry some fruits with you for a morning snack. Carry your thermos so you can drink plenty of bottled water throughout the day.
Lunch can be a large salad with the dressing on the side and baked or broiled fish, chicken or turkey. Tell the waiter to hold the butter or heavy sauces. Stop by your local health food store and pick up herb popcorn, whole-wheat cookies, unsalted tortilla chips, herb tea and whole grain rolls to take on your trip. Avoid fast-food restaurants, bakeries and convenience stores for between-meal snacks.
Dinner should be just as healthy. Dinner should be a low-fat protein like fish, chicken or turkey. On the side, have steamed broccoli and a salad. Go easy on the dressing. Don’t choose a meat protein entree with a starchy carbohydrate like pasta or linguine. Protein doesn’t digest well with starchy foods. If you do have a starchy food, skip the protein. If you don’t have a protein during a meal, have unsalted sunflower seeds or almonds later. After-dinner snacks can include a modest helping of whole-grain cookies, herb popcorn, herb tea or whole grain rolls.
Though you don’t have the convenience of your own kitchen, you can still eat healthy by planning.
Before starting your fitness program, consult your physician.
For help with drug, alcohol and mental health problems call Sobriety Through Outpatient drug, alcohol and mental health treatment center at (215)227-7867. Watch or listen to our recovery media stations every day at www.stop-recoveryradio.com.
If you’ve missed an article of “Tips to be Fit,” go to www.phillytrib.com and search “Tips to be Fit.” Listen to “Tips to be Fit” with Vince daily at www.stop-recoveryradio.com.
When Tiersa Cross was only 24 weeks pregnant, she underwent a surgery that positively impacted her baby’s life.
Cross was referred to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment, when a prenatal screening test determined that her baby girl had spina bifida — a common birth defect that affects about 1,500 babies a year in the United States.
Spina bifida is a defect in which the backbone and spinal canal do not close before birth. The birth defect could cause partial or complete paralysis of the newborn’s legs, loss of bladder or bowel control, weakness of the hips and legs or feet and build up of fluid in the brain.
On October 19, Cross and her baby Madisyn Cruickshank underwent surgery at CHOP.
“They said that if I didn’t get the surgery, her chances of being able to walk would be slim to none. Closing that hole in her back was really important at that time, for her to be able to walk and also to keep fluid from retaining in her brain,” says the resident of Norristown.
“I just wanted to let her have the best life possible. I was just really looking out for her.”
While she was aware of the risk that her baby could possibly be born prematurely, Cross was more concerned about the potential outcome of the surgery.
Madisyn was born January 18 in CHOP’s Garbose Family Special Delivery Unit. Since her birth, she’s returned to the hospital every week for follow-up visits with her doctors.
“She’s doing really well. Her legs are moving. She has full bladder and bowel control,” Cross says of the baby.
Cross also noted that Madisyn doesn’t need a shunt — a surgically implanted tube that drains fluid from the brain.
“We’re optimistic that the operation [she had] before birth will help that baby, but obviously we need to do the long-term follow up. I think that it will end up being a good result,” Dr. Scott Adzick, CHOP’s surgeon-in-chief and director of the Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment says of Madisyn’s surgery.
The surgical highlight comes on the one-year anniversary of a CHOP-led groundbreaking national study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, which found that performing delicate surgery in the womb could substantially improve outcomes for children with spina bifida. The Management of Myelomeningocele Study (MOMS) trial showed that surgery reduced the need to divert fluid from the brain, improved mobility and the chances that the child will be able to walk independently. CHOP worked with Vanderbilt University and the University of California San Francisco to conduct the National Institutes of Health-funded trial.
Adzick says the concept of fetal surgery arose approximately 30 years ago out of frustration by doctors who realized that they couldn’t treat the damage done to babies’ organs before birth.
After undergoing the surgical procedure, the baby’s mother is monitored very closely.
“With fetal surgery as we do it now, there is a substantial risk of pre-term birth,” said Adzick, noting that a study showed that babies who undergo the procedure were born approximately three weeks early.
Adzick said mothers who undergo this operation need to understand that the procedure leaves a scar on the uterus that can rupture during subsequent pregnancies. With that in mind, mothers who undergo this surgery must deliver their babies by Cesarean section.
According to Adzick, this year the Center for Fetal Diagnosis and Treatment will evaluate approximately 1,200 mothers from around the world who are carrying babies with birth defects.
The Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual Disability Services (DBHIDS) kicked off a citywide campaign to teach the public how to provide mental health first aid.
The Mental Health First Aid program is designed to teach community members how to identify, understand and respond to a person experiencing a behavioral health problem or crisis.
“So many of the people in our community do experience mental health problems at some point,” said Arthur C. Evans, director, DBHIDS said during a kickoff event held at Thursday at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
“We believe that it’s appropriate for people to be able to know what to do and recognize when people in their communities are having issues and problems and know how to respond to them.”
DBHIDS partnered with the National Council for Community Behavioral Healthcare to bring MHFA training program to Philadelphia.
During an interactive kickoff event, more than 100 city, corporate and non-profit officials were given an overview of the MHFA program.
In order to become certified in MHFA, individuals must compete in interactive 12-hour course that provides an overview of the signs of behavorial health issues such as anxiety, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia and substance abuse disorders.
“MHFA is an initial course — both to teach people about mental illness and reducing the stigma around mental illness — but also be give people strategies on how to help until, if appropriate, professional help can be involved,” said Bryan V. Gibb, director of public education, National Council for Community Behavorial Healthcare.
Gibb stressed that the course does not teach people how to treat or diagnose mental illness.
During the course, taught by certified instructors, participants will learn the ALGEE action plan which includes: Assess for risk of suicide or harm; Listen non-judgmentally; Give reassurance and information; Encourage appropriate professional help; and Encourage appropriate professional help; and Encourage self-help and other support strategies.
The course will be rolled out to citywide public safety employees, corporations and non-profit organizations. A second MHFA orientation event for community members will be held on March 5, from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. at the Municipal Services Building.
The five-day MHFA Train the Instructor course will be offered to the general community March 26–30 and May 7–11.
Philadelphia is one of the first cities to implement the MHFA on a large scale. DBHIDS will collaborate with the Drexel University School of Public Health to evaluate MHFA in Philadelphia.
Research shows that MHFA leads to increased awareness and reduced stigma about mental illness.
First created in Australia in 2001, MHFA has since expanded to 18 countries. After being piloted in the United States in 2007, the program is now taught in 45 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. Within the past four years, 45,000 people have taken the MHFA course.
Caffeine is the world’s most popular drug.
Around 90 percent of Americans consume caffeine every single day in one form or another. More than half of all American adults consume more than 300 milligrams (mg) of caffeine every day, making it America’s most popular drug by far.
Here are the most common sources of caffeine for Americans:
• Typical drip-brewed coffee contains about 100 mg per 8-ounce cup.
• Typical brewed black tea contains 50 mg per 8-ounce cup.
• Typical caffeinated sodas (Coke, Pepsi, Mountain Dew, etc.) contain 40–50 mg per 12-ounce can.
• Super-caffeinated colas like Jolt contain 70 mg per 12-ounce can.
• Typical chocolate milk contains 6 mg per ounce.
• Maximum Strength Anacin contains 32 mg per tablet. NoDoz and Vivarin each contain 200 mg per tablet. Extra Strength Excedrin contains 65 mg per tablet.
• Energy drinks like Red Bull (8.3 oz-sized can) contain about 80 mg per can.
By looking at these numbers and by knowing how widespread coffee, chocolate, tea, cola and energy drinks are in our society, you can see why half of all American adults consume more than 300 mg of caffeine per day. Two mugs of coffee or a mug of coffee and a couple of Cokes during the day are all you need to get there.
Caffeine is a natural component of chocolate, coffee and tea, and is used as an added energy boost in most colas and energy drinks. It’s also found in diet pills and some over-the-counter pain relievers and medicines.
In its natural form, caffeine tastes very bitter, but most caffeinated drinks have gone through enough processing to camouflage the bitter taste. Most teens get the majority of their caffeine intake through soft drinks, which can also have added sugar and artificial flavors.
Caffeine has long been on the list of don’ts for people hoping to lead a healthy lifestyle. Doctors pointed to caffeine’s negative effects on the nervous system and how it can increase anxiety, stress and food cravings, in addition to inhibiting sleep. Recent studies, however, have shown that coffee and caffeine may actually have some significant medical benefits.
Coffee originated in Africa around 575 A.D., where beans were used as money and consumed as food. Records show 11th-century Arabs drank coffee regularly. Spanish conquistadors first exploring what is now Mexico, were served coffee by Montezuma, the mighty Aztec ruler, in 1519.
There have been more than 19,000 studies on caffeine and coffee in the past 30 years in an attempt to determine their exact effects on the human body. One of the most thorough and exhaustive studies was done by Harvard University, in which they examined 126,000 people over an 18-year period. The findings indicate that people who drink one to three cups of coffee a day are up to 9 percent less likely to contract diabetes. What’s interesting is what happened to those who drank six or more cups of coffee per day — men slashed their chances of contracting diabetes by 54 percent, and women by 30 percent!
Other studies have shown similar results in many facets of human health:
• Regular coffee drinkers are 80 percent less likely to develop Parkinson’s disease.
• Two cups a day give you 20 percent less risk of colon cancer.
• Two cups a day cause an 80 percent drop in cirrhosis.
• Two cups a day prevent gallstone development by 50 percent.
• It has also shown to be beneficial in asthma, stopping headaches, boosting mood and even preventing cavities.
Some of these findings may have something to do with other healthful properties of the coffee bean, but most can be directly linked to caffeine. Researchers are even developing drugs for Parkinson’s disease containing caffeine derivatives.
Caffeine moves through the body within a few hours after it is consumed. It is not stored in the body, but you may feel its effects for up to six hours if you’re sensitive to it.
Long-term effects of a toxic nature do not appear evident when regular caffeine use is below about 650 mg a day — equivalent to about eight or nine average cups of coffee. Above this level, users may suffer from chronic insomnia, persistent anxiety and depression, and stomach ulcers. Caffeine use appears to be associated with irregular heartbeat, and may raise cholesterol levels, but there is no firm evidence that it causes heart disease.
Regular use of upwards of 350 mg of caffeine a day causes physical dependence on the drug. This means that interruption of the regular use produces a characteristic withdrawal syndrome, the most conspicuous feature of which is an often severe headache that can be relieved by taking caffeine. Absence of caffeine also makes regular users feel irritable and tired. Relief from these withdrawal effects is often given as a reason for using caffeine.
If you have normal blood pressure, caffeine can increase it noticeably, but the increase is temporary and only lasts a short time. The increase generally includes the systolic and diastolic pressure readings, increasing each by approximately 4 to 13 mm Hg, or millimeters of mercury, according to the Mayo Clinic website. That means if you have a normal blood pressure reading of 120 mm for your systolic pressure and 80 mm for your diastolic pressure, caffeine can increase it up to about 133 over 93.
No one is sure why caffeine can increase blood pressure, although the Mayo Clinic site reports a few theories. One is that caffeine may cause your arteries to constrict by blocking a hormone that usually keeps them wider. Another is that caffeine may boost your adrenal glands’ release of more adrenaline, with the greater amount of adrenaline leading to the increase. In either case, the increase is always temporary rather than resulting in long-term increase in pressure.
If you cut down on your caffeine intake suddenly, you may experience headaches, irritability, tiredness, depression, nausea, vomiting and stiff or painful muscles. These symptoms generally appear 12 to 24 hours after you decrease or abstain from caffeine. Symptoms of caffeine withdrawal are usually mild and typically go away after a few days.
One thing is clear — despite the recent findings, most doctors still recommend moderation in regard to caffeine intake. While these recent studies give hope to those who are hooked on their morning cup, there is still a long way to go to determine the long- term effects of caffeine use.
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!
The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Readers should always consult their healthcare providers to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.
Glenn Ellis is a health advocacy communications specialist. He is the author of “Which Doctor?”, a health columnist and radio commentator and a lecturing and active media contributor nationally and internationally on health-related topics.
His second book, “Information is the Best Medicine,” is due out this fall. For more good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com.
The American Heart Association helped spread awareness about heart disease when it hosted the Go Red For Women Philadelphia Red Dress Dash event.
During the event — which was recently held at 19th and Arch Streets — area men and women donned red and ran 100 yards. Dash participants were comprised of association supporters, heart disease survivors and people who lost loved ones to the disease.
“The whole purpose was to unite women and men in support of the battle against heart disease in women,” says Christina Crews, American Heart Association, communications director.
The dash comes in observance of Women’s Heart Month, which raises awareness of heart health.
According to the American Heart Association, an estimated eight million women in the U.S. are living with heart disease, yet only one in six American women believes that heart disease is her greatest health threat. The association noted that 90 percent of women have one or more risk factors for developing heart disease.
Risk factors for heart disease include diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, physical inactivity, obesity and a family history of heart disease. The risk of heart disease and stroke increases with physical inactivity.
Heart attack symptoms include pressure and pain under the breastbone that may extend into the left arm. Some of the symptoms that are more common in women include discomfort in either arm or the neck, jaw, back or stomach; shortness of breath; a cold sweat; nausea and vomiting and light-headedness.
“As women, I think that you have to be selfish about your health. The heart is the core of who we are, so if you don’t take care of your heart, that’s it,” said Crews.
“It’s important for you to remember to pay attention to those symptoms that you may ignore. Our bodies can literally talk to us and tell us when something is not right.”
After losing both her parents to heart disease, Frances Conwell was spurred to start volunteering with the American Heart Association. Conwell was on hand to show her support by participating in the Red Dress Dash event.
“When I thought about it, I was like I need to be here because it (heart disease) had a great impact on my parents and my brother,” said Conwell.
“We’re more impacted as African Americans by a lot of these diseases but we don’t come out to support these things.”
Donna Mobley-Thomas, a lieutenant with the Philadelphia Fire Department, showed support for the Go Red For Women initiative by getting approval for her colleagues to wear the Red Dress Pin — which is a symbol for women fighting heart disease — last Friday. Through her efforts, information packets about heart disease were distributed to all fire stations throughout the city. She is hopeful that colleagues will pass the information on to others.
Mobley-Thomas was born with mitral valve prolapse, a heart problem in which the valve that separates the upper and lower chambers of the left side of the heart does not close properly. Her condition caused her to have shortness of breath, heart palpitations and chest pains.
Four years ago she lost her 40-year-old husband to heart disease, and last year her father died from a heart attack.
For Mobley-Thomas, helping to spread awareness about heart disease by supporting the Go Red For Women campaign is very important.
I thought this was a very important cause that I needed to get involved with,” says Mobley-Thomas, who was also diagnosed with a brain tumor.
“The main focus is to let women know you need to know the warning signs and to talk heed to them. Some people will know them and say there’s nothing wrong with me and immediately go into denial but if you address it quickly, the chances of survival are a lot better,” Mobley-Thomas added.
First we were bombarded with the ads for sexual performance drugs like Viagra and Cialis, informing us that there was a new “medical condition” called erectile dysfunction (ED).
If you’ve watched television lately, you’ve seen your share of commercials talking about “Low T,” and most likely, you have been left wondering half the time what in the world they are talking about.
There are many topics in our society that seem to be taboo in nature. While they go on all around us, people just don’t talk about them. One of those topics is low testosterone. The fact that so many shy away from the conversation can make many males feel embarrassed about it. However, there are many reasons for this to occur, and it is nothing to hide or to be ashamed about. Talking about it can help you to make a plan of action you are happy with.
Testosterone is a male hormone that is found in higher amounts as a person goes through adolescents and into their early 20s. As a person gets older, their testosterone levels decrease. There are small levels of it for females, but their main sex hormone is estrogen.
Testosterone is also a primary element in being able to build muscle. This is one of the prime reasons why men are prone to have more muscle tone than women. When a person exercises, it is the testosterone that helps them to repair the muscles too. It is during the muscle rest and repair period that they also grow. (Note: women have testosterone too; it’s just not present in as high amounts as in males.)
Most of the testosterone in a man’s body is produced in the testicles. It helps:
- maintain reproductive tissues
- stimulate sperm production
- stimulate and maintain sexual function
- increase muscle mass and strength
- maintain bone strength
Just like your cholesterol or blood pressure, there is a numerical range of testosterone levels (also known as T levels) that are considered normal. The brain and the testicles work together to keep testosterone in this range. When levels of testosterone are below normal, the brain signals the testicles to make more. When testosterone levels reach a normal level, the brain signals the testicles to make less.
It’s natural for men to produce less testosterone as they age. What’s not a natural part of aging is a medical condition known as hypogonadism that can be caused by Low T. Symptoms include reduced sexual function, depressed mood and decreased energy.
The signs and symptoms of Low T may be difficult to tell from the changes that occur with normal aging. Symptoms are frequently subtle and are similar to those caused by other medical conditions.
Researchers are unlocking the mysteries of how low testosterone is related to men’s overall health. Along the way, they’re uncovering connections between low testosterone levels and other health conditions.
Diabetes, metabolic syndrome, depression, erectile dysfunction, obesity and high blood pressure have all been linked to testosterone deficiency. Low testosterone isn’t known to cause these health problems, and replacing testosterone isn’t the cure. Still, the associations between low testosterone and other medical conditions are interesting and worth a closer look.
Experts don’t suggest that low testosterone causes these conditions. In fact, it might be the other way around. That is, men with medical problems, or who are in poor general health, might then develop low testosterone.
A link between diabetes and low testosterone is well established. Men with diabetes are more likely to have low testosterone. And men with low testosterone are more likely to later develop diabetes. Testosterone helps the body’s tissues take up more blood sugar in response to insulin. Men with low testosterone more often have insulin resistance: They need to produce more insulin to keep blood sugar levels normal.
Beginning in middle age, a man’s testosterone levels begin a steady decline, culminating in the so-called “andropause.” On the same time-scale, men begin to gain weight as fat, and to lose lean muscle mass. It’s now abundantly clear that these two processes are related — that is, the decline in testosterone levels is a direct cause of middle-aged men’s “battle of the bulge.”
Obese men are more likely to have low testosterone. Men with very low testosterone are also more likely to become obese. Fat cells metabolize testosterone to estrogen, lowering testosterone levels. Also, obesity reduces levels of sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), a protein that carries testosterone in the blood. Less SHBG means less testosterone. Losing weight through exercise can increase testosterone levels.
When a man has lower than normal levels of testosterone it can lower his libido. It can also result in it being harder to create new muscle mass than before. Low testosterone usually isn’t a problem for women because they don’t have high levels of it in the first place.
Testosterone supplements in men with low testosterone can also reduce obesity slightly. There are various testosterone supplements too that can help boost testosterone production. They are often found in health food stores and online. They seem to offer an all-natural way to increase levels of testosterone. Not all supplements though contain the same ingredients or offer the same overall value. It is very important to follow the directions on how to use them.
There are quite a few different testosterone supplements out there on the market to choose from. They can help to increase the value that people get from their diet and workout. These supplements help the muscles get stronger and to be well defined in less time. They also help with the natural production of testosterone so that the levels don’t get too low.
It is very important that you carefully evaluate testosterone supplements before you buy one of them. Always take a good look at the ingredients that are found in that product. Familiarize yourself with the key ingredients that should be in testosterone supplements. You also want to explore those that you don’t know about. They could include very harsh ingredients that your body doesn’t need. If that is the case, then you should avoid using such products. They can end up doing more harm than good. If you don’t know the difference, you could fall into such a trap.
The signs and symptoms of Low T may be difficult to tell from the changes that occur with normal aging, or may be assumed to be caused by other medical conditions. So if you have symptoms of Low T, talk to your doctor during your routine checkup and ask if you should have a blood test.
Remember, I’m not a doctor. I just sound like one. Take good care of yourself and live the best life possible!
The information included in this column is for educational purposes only. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Readers should always consult their healthcare providers to determine the appropriateness of the information for their own situation or if they have any questions regarding a medical condition or treatment plan.
Glenn Ellis is a health advocacy communications specialist. He is the author of “Which Doctor?” and is a health columnist and radio commentator who lectures. He is also an active media contributor nationally and internationally on health related topics.
His second book, “Information is the Best Medicine,” was released in January 2012. For more good health information, visit: www.glennellis.com.