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Weight Gain and Breast Cancer

Gaining weight after age 20, even just a pound or two per year, can nearly double the risk of developing breast cancer after menopause compared to women who keep their weight stable. This finding, from a National Cancer Institute (NCI) study, reported on the equivalent of a 30-pound gain over the years for a five-foot, four-inch woman. This extra weight acted as a major risk factor for breast cancer, and was as significant as family history of the disease, the age at which a woman begins to menstruate (the earlier, the higher the risk), or whether or not she has had children and the age at which she gave birth, according to study co-author Regina Ziegler, Ph.D., an NCI epidemiologist. The NCI research team, working with investigators from Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, analyzed information from 72,007 postmenopausal women in NCI's Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial (PLCO) cohort to arrive at the conclusions. Bear in mind that doubling the risk of any disease, while not desirable, isn’t as awful as it sounds. For example, if the normal risk were one in 100, double the risk would be two in 100.

My take? We've long known that being overweight or obese increases the risk of breast cancer. This study is newsworthy in that it helps quantify the added risk. There's nothing women can do about the most common risks of breast cancer: being female and getting older, but weight is something you can strive to control through healthy eating and regular exercise. Breastfeeding your babies, avoiding alcohol and long term estrogen replacement therapy at menopause, eating less meat and avoiding exposure to environmental pollutants can also help reduce your breast cancer risk, as can taking two grams of fish oil per day for the omega-3 fatty acids it provides.

Learn more about breast cancer.


Does Carbonation Make You Fat?

Can imbibing too many carbonated drinks make you fat? The answer to this persistent rumor isn't as simple as yes or no. While the fizziness of carbonated drinks is not a direct contributor to weight gain, once you factor in the unhealthy amounts of sugar, artificial sweeteners and caffeine that carbonated sodas contain, adding unwanted pounds can most definitely be a side effect of consuming carbonated drinks.

If you crave the fizz, opt for carbonated mineral waters that have no added sugars or artificial sweeteners. Add a bit of fruit juice if you want a sweeter taste - you'll get the carbonation without all the empty calories.


5 Ways to Prevent Chiggers

Chiggers - tiny six-legged larvae that mature into mites - are so small that you can't see them with the naked eye. They're most active in the American southeast in late spring and early summer, and chigger "bites" cause intense itching and raised, red spots that signal their presence in your skin. Unlike other seasonal pests such as mosquitoes and ticks, chiggers don't draw blood or burrow into skin, they sink their tiny mouthparts into a skin pore or hair follicle and inject a digestive enzyme that liquefies skin cells and hardens the surrounding flesh. This forms a feeding tube through which the larvae suck the liquefied skin cells. After about four days of feeding, the larvae drop off, leaving behind red welts that can continue to itch for a week or longer. If this disturbing scenario is enough to make you want to avoid chiggers, take the following precautions:

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A Note on Brown Rice

Wheat remains one of the primary staple grains in the United States, and the glycemic load of processed wheat is a likely contributor to America's obesity epidemic. Rice contains considerably less fat, making it a superior source of carbohydrates. Rice-based diets have been used historically to address a number of medical conditions, and have gained some popularity as a means to help lose weight.

The health benefits of unpolished, brown rice outweigh those of white rice, as its whole grain provides more fiber, iron, B vitamins and other nutrients. (There are 1.5 grams of fiber per half cup of brown rice-almost three times the fiber in the same amount of white rice.)

Try Brown Rice Soup with Asparagus for a tasty, healthy meal!


Oral Hygiene is Good For Your Health

Unhealthy habit - ignoring oral hygiene. There is more than dental health at stake if you fail to brush and floss. Research suggests that the bacteria that cause gum infections can also lead to or worsen atherosclerosis, the arterial disease that contributes to heart attacks and strokes. Start practicing these good oral habits if you don't already:

  1. Use dental floss at least once a day (such as immediately after you brush in the morning or evening). I suggest using unwaxed dental floss if possible, and get it under the gum line to scrape the tooth surface. If you have the opportunity, ask a dental hygienist to teach you how to floss effectively.
  2. Whenever you have a chance, wash your hands and massage your gums with your fingertips. You can also stimulate your gums by running the end of a round wooden toothpick under the gum line.
  3. If your gums are sore, mix hydrogen peroxide and baking soda to a paste and work this mixture into and under your gums with a toothbrush. Leave the mixture on for a few minutes, then rinse.
  4. Use a goldenseal mouth rinse.
  5. Have your teeth and gums cleaned by a dental hygienist twice a year, and get treatment for any signs of infection that are discovered.

You may also consider toothbrushes incorporating ultrasound - they have been clinically shown to treat gingivitis more effectively than regular toothbrushes. Ask your dentist about them.


Depression and Chocolate

If you reach for chocolate when you're feeling blue, you've got lots of company. In fact, a new study suggests that chocolate may be a common means of self-medicating depression. Researchers at the University of California, San Diego, looked at chocolate consumption among 931 men and women, none of whom were taking anti-depressants. Each participant was asked how much chocolate he or she ate, and individual depression levels were measured on a standardized scale. The upshot was that the participants identified as having a depressed mood ate an average of 8.4 servings of chocolate per month, compared with 5.4 servings among those who were not considered depressed; the most depressed ate about 11.8 servings a month. No differences emerged between men and women. And the researchers reported no differences in consumption of other types of food between participants who were depressed and those who weren't. One possible explanation for the findings: chocolate contributes to depression instead of the other way around. But that seems unlikely, as other studies have indicated that chocolate may improve mood.


A Note on Cucumbers

As a member of the squash family, cucumbers are grown to be eaten fresh (sliced cucumbers) or to be pickled (gherkins). The flesh of a cucumber offers a crunchy, cool sensation - possibly the source of the phrase "cool as a cucumber." While they are not antioxidant powerhouses, cucumbers are a low-calorie way to obtain vitamin C and get a little healthy fiber into your diet. When choosing a cucumber, look in the refrigerated area of the produce section as they are sensitive to heat and do best when kept cold. I recommend choosing organic varieties, and peeling commercially grown cucumbers to remove any pesticide residue.

Quick Tip: For a refreshing warm-weather drink, add slices of fresh cucumber to ice water.

Try Cold Cucumber Soup or Cucumber Raita - two tasty dishes!


All About Acupuncture, Part 2

Yesterday I discussed what to expect when you visit an acupuncturist. Today I explain the health concerns that acupuncture can best help address.
Acupuncture is not just about needles, but is a comprehensive traditional therapy focused on correcting imbalances of energy flow throughout the body. It can be employed effectively for a wide variety of conditions:

  • Emotional disorders such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Digestive complaints, including nausea, vomiting, and irritable bowel syndrome
  • Pain syndromes due to an injury or associated with chronic degenerative diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis
  • Neurological problems like migraines or Parkinson's disease
  • Respiratory conditions, including sinusitis and asthma
  • Gynecologic disorders and infertility (it has demonstrated clinical success when used in conjunction with in-vitro fertilization)
  • Fatigue or low energy
  • Addictions
  • Chronic lower back pain

It can also be used as a rehabilitation strategy for individuals who suffered a stroke, can help control chemotherapy-induced nausea and vomiting, and can help promote overall wellbeing.

If you are considering seeing an acupuncturist, you should discuss this therapy and seek a referral for a licensed acupuncturist from your primary care physician.