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Noise at Work: Bad for Heart

Predictably, the particular sounds that cause problems are those that are persistent and so loud that you can't have a conversation without raising your voice. Canadian researchers just published a study demonstrating that too much noise at work can more than double the risk of heart disease. The investigators, from the School of Environmental Health at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, collected data on more than 6,300 people age 20 and older. All the participants had taken part in a U.S. National Health and Nutrition Examination survey between 1999 and 2004, and the study team asked them about their lifestyle and occupational health, as well as providing physical exams and blood tests. Most of those who reported working in noisy surroundings were men whose average age was 40. The researchers noted that compared to study participants who worked in quiet environments, the men tended to be overweight and to smoke, both risk factors for heart disease. But even when those risks from lifestyle were taken into account, the men who worked in noisy environments were two to three times more likely to have serious heart problems than a comparable group who worked in quiet places. We'll need more studies to confirm these findings, but the researchers speculated that loud noise leads to stress, which is not good for the cardiovascular system.

My take? Earlier studies have shown that chronic noise can increase the risk of heart attack, so it isn't surprising that persistent workplace noise could raise risks for heart disease as well. We know that even low level office noise can cause stress hormone levels to increase. Many employers already take steps to shield their employees from exposure to constant loud noises, but for the sake of your health and your heart, take personal responsibility and use whatever means are necessary to protect yourself.

Learn more: Can noise make you sick?


Signs of Breast Cancer

Do you know the signs and symptoms that might indicate breast cancer? While personal and family histories of breast cancer and lifestyle habits (including diet, exercise and how you handle stress) can all affect breast-cancer risk, learning to recognize the signs of breast cancer may save your life - early diagnosis is key to treatment and recovery. Performing a monthly self-examination is still recommended by many health professionals, as is having a yearly exam performed by your doctor. In addition, the National Cancer Institute suggests keeping an eye out for the following signs:

  1. A lump or thickening in or near the breast or in the underarm area
  2. A change in the size or shape of the breast
  3. Nipple discharge or tenderness
  4. An inverted nipple
  5. Ridges or pitting on the breast (resembling an orange peel)
  6. A change in the look or feel of the breast, areola or nipple (such as temperature, swelling, redness or a scaly feel)

If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, see your doctor for a diagnosis and possible treatment. If you are over 40, talk to your doctor about mammograms.

Other ways to lower breast cancer risk.


Is Your Waistline Unhealthy?

If you are a man and your waistline is over 40 inches, or a woman with a waistline more than 35 inches, you may be facing increased risks of health problems. For nine years, researchers followed the weight and waists of over 100,000 men and women age 50 or older. The consequence of having a larger waistline wasn’t promising: over the course of a decade, those with the biggest waists were twice as likely to die from heart disease, cancer and respiratory disorders as those whose waists were slimmest. This held true even for the participants that did not gain weight, but whose body shape shifted to a larger waistline. The increase in risk may be due to the characteristics of abdominal fat; studies have shown that it secretes proteins and hormones that contribute to inflammation, raise cholesterol levels and interfere with the way the body processes insulin. The researchers suggest aiming for the ideal waist size of 40 inches or less for men, and 35 inches or less for women. If you follow my anti-inflammatory diet and make it a point to participate in regular, moderate exercise, you can help keep your waistline - and overall body weight - in check.


More Potassium, Please

Reducing salt consumption and increasing the amount of potassium in the diet could help lower blood pressure, which is too high among 70 to 80 percent of adults in Western nations. After investigating potassium consumption in 21 countries including the United States, China, New Zealand, Germany and the Netherlands, researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands concluded that the average intake varies between 1.7 and 3.7 grams per day, much lower than the 4.7 grams per day recommended for positive health effects. Eating lots of fruits and vegetables could help bring potassium consumption up to healthier levels, the investigators suggested. But to reduce blood pressure, the increase in potassium would have to be matched with a decreased intake of salt by three or four grams per day (0.1 ounces). In Western countries, the researchers noted, salt consumption can be as high as nine to 12 grams per day (the World Health Organization recommends five grams). Most of the salt in the Western diet comes from processed foods and snacks. The study was published in the September 13, 2010, issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

My take? If you're eating a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables - 8 to 10 servings a day - you should be getting adequate potassium. I don't recommend taking potassium supplements except when prescribed by a physician. But I agree that many people can help reduce their blood pressure by cutting back on salt and making sure their diets include the fruits and vegetables that provide potassium. Other recommendations for reducing blood pressure include watching your weight, exercising daily and practicing relaxation techniques.


Treat Upset Stomach Naturally

Whether you're eating too much rich holiday food, or perhaps aren’t getting as much exercise as you did during warmer months, the gastrointestinal tract can have its own seasonal challenges. Try these two traditional remedies that may help keep your stomach healthy and happy:

  1. Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) - especially in the form of chamomile tea - is a soothing solution for upset stomachs, heartburn and indigestion.
  1. Triphala, an Ayurvedic herbal mixture, may help relieve constipation and poor bowel tone. Use a capsule form and follow package directions. Triphala is best used regularly to improve bowel function, and should be taken separately from other medications.

6 Reasons to Be Thankful for Friends

When you thank your friends and family this holiday season, the reasons to do so may extend beyond good wishes, and actually benefit you and your health. Study after study has shown that social connections - through family, friends, or even with companion animals - seem to pay off in terms of good health, longevity and even prolonged survival among patients with very serious diseases. Some evidence linking good health with strong ties to family and friends includes:

  1. The immune system's natural killer cell activity is negatively affected by three "distress indicators" - one of which is lack of social support.
  2. One study of 75 medical students found that those who were lonely had more sluggish natural killer cells than students who were social.
  3. Research has shown that people who have companion animals have less illness than people who do not. Companion animals’ owners also recover from serious illness faster.
  4. Susceptibility to heart attacks appears to correlate with how often people use the words "I," "me," and "mine" in casual speech.
  5. And believe it or not, studies show that people who get out and spend more time with others during cold and flu season actually get fewer episodes of colds or flu than those who choose to be alone.
  6. Being grateful for what you have has been associated with physical and emotional health.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Why You Should Eat Cranberries

Cranberries - a traditional holiday side dish in North America - are more than just a tart and tasty meal accompaniment. A rich source of vitamin C and dietary fiber, cranberries are packed with healthy antioxidants and are used traditionally to help prevent urinary tract infections. Recent studies have also linked consumption of cranberries and cranberry juice with healthy cholesterol levels, improved gastrointestinal health, and the prevention of kidney stones - all good reasons to increase your intake no matter what the season.

Fresh cranberries provide the most antioxidants and are in season from October through December. When purchasing fresh cranberries, look for those that are a deep red color and firm to the touch. They can be used in a variety of ways, including in breads and muffins or as a cold or warm relish.

For more information on healthful foods, visit Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Food Pyramid.


Preparing for Lifelong Health, Part 3

Aim for healthy blood pressure. Maintain blood pressure in the normal range - i.e., 120/80 or below. If your blood pressure is consistently elevated, even when you measure it yourself, first try to normalize it by changing habits of diet, exercise, and relaxation. If that fails, talk with your physician about medication, and start with the lowest effective dose of a mild agent.

Preparing for Lifelong Health, Part 1 and Part 2.