Friday, February 27, 2015

Food Additives Linked to Bowel Diseases, Obesity and Metabolic Syndrome

A new study appearing in the scientific journal Nature, shows that two commonly used food additives found in processed foods known as emulsifiers, produced inflammation and altered the microbial (intestinal bacteria) composition of the intestinal tracts of mice.

The emulsifiers used in the study; carboxymethylcellulose and polysorbate-80, also resulted in mice developing colitis, obesity and metabolic syndrome. Given that emulsifiers are used in numerous processed foods in the United States, the concern is that there is a link with the consumption of food additives and the development of these diseases in humans. The number of people with these types of medical conditions has steadily risen over the last 50 or so years. This rising trend coincides with the use of emulsifiers in processed foods.

Emulsifiers are used in processed foods to help extend shelf life and maintain a smooth consistency and texture, similar to the reason that carrageenan, another inflammation producing additive is used by some food manufacturers.

Inflammation is a precursor of many diseases. Avoiding foods that contain inflammation inducing food additives, is one way you can help yourself stay a bit healthier.

Why are these disease provoking food additives allowed to be used in our foods? Why do companies continue to use them? Some of the chemicals approved for use in processed foods in the United States are banned in Europe. Likewise, there are some food additives used in other countries that are banned here. 

You do have a choice, however. If you choose to reduce your intake of food additives, read the labels on all the packaged foods you purchase. If enough people stop buying additive laden foods, perhaps companies will stop using them. To read a synopsis of the Nature article, click here

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Measles Outbreak is Spreading

Measles is highly contagious and can be deadly. In January of this year alone, 84 people in 14 different states have been diagnosed in the U.S. It's important to get vaccinated to reduce your risk of becoming ill. For the no vaccine crowd, they are putting their own children at risk by not having them vaccinated as well endangering the health of others. 

Public Domain photo taken by Jim Goodson, MPH, courtesy of the CDC.

But here is the other news with the current outbreak of measles in the U.S. A small number of people are becoming ill even though they've been vaccinated with the recommended two doses of MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine. This tells us that for some, even after having their vaccines, they are not immune. 

Perhaps it never took or, they were immune at one time but now their immunity has waned and is no longer present. Luckily, for most people (studies have shown approximately 95 %) two vaccines provide immunity for many years.

If you're not sure of your immunity status, call your health care provider. You can get a blood test (called a titer) to show whether or not your are immune to measles (and mumps and rubella too). If you're not immune, you can get another dose of MMR vaccine. Follow your physician's recommendations regarding any follow up tests and vaccines.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

7 Ways to Help Moisten Dry Eyes

Having dry eyes feels not only feels uncomfortable but it also decreases your visual acuity. Many things can cause dry eyes. Here are a few strategies to help keep them moist.

Surfer at San Onofre by Carole Jakucs, 2014. Image subject to copyright.
  1. Eat a diet containing omega 3 fatty acids. Diets high in omega 3’s can help keep eyes moist. Foods containing omega 3’s are: Fatty fish such as anchovies, salmon, sardines and tuna. Walnuts are a good source too.
  2. Drink plenty of water. Drink at least eight glasses throughout the day to stay hydrated. If your mouth is dry, chances are your eyes are dry too. (Unless you have a medical condition that demands you limit your water/fluid intake such as kidney disease or congestive heart failure.)
  3. Many medications can cause dry eyes such as (but not limited to) antihistamines, decongestants, anti-depressants and diuretics. If your eyes are dry and you suspect it’s one of your medications, consult with your health care provider to discuss the possibility of either lowering the dose or trying a different medication.
  4. Environmental factors such as wind, sun exposure, low humidity and high heat can cause your eyes to feel dry. Reduce your exposure to eye drying elements and wear a good quality pair of sunglasses and a hat or visor when outdoors.
  5. Consider OTC (over the counter) moisture drops and use as directed.
  6. Some medical conditions can cause dry eyes such menopause and Sjogren’s syndrome.
  7. Eat a diet full of colorful vegetables and fruits that contain Vitamin A and Beta Carotene. A diet low in these important nutrients can contribute to the development of dry eyes as well as decrease your night vision.  Foods high in Vitamin A and beta carotene (which our bodies convert to Vitamin A) are: Spinach, sweet potatoes, carrots, pumpkin and squash to name a few. (Beta Carotene Supplements are currently not recommended for smokers or previous smokers as studies have shown they can increase the risk for developing lung cancer.) At this time however, natural food sources from the diet are thought to be safe for everyone when consumed within the normal recommended daily amounts. 
If you have dry eyes, consult with your health care or eye care provider for an exam, diagnosis and treatment. 

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Green Beans Sauteed with Olive Oil

Green beans are one of the more familiar vegetables that typically appear on most Thanksgiving dinner tables. If you're looking for a healthier yet tasty version of a green bean recipe, this may be it.   The added bonus is that it's simple to make and only requires a few ingredients. Green beans are nutritious too, containing Vitamin C and fiber. This is a great recipe for the holidays or anytime of the year. Try to buy organic produce when you can to reduce your exposure to pesticides.

Green Beans by Stacey Sauvago. Public Domain Image.
1 pound of fresh green beans
1/2 cup of filtered water
1/4 – 1/3 cup of olive oil (depending on your personal taste)
Salt and pepper to taste

Rinse green beans well, cut off the tips/strings at each end of each bean, or buy fresh green beans (prepackaged) with the tips cut. If the beans are long, cut each bean in half.  If they are not, they don’t need to be cut. Place beans in a large 12 inch non stick saute/fry pan, add the filtered water to just cover the beans. Place a lid on the pan and cook at a low heat for approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. You want to get the beans softened but not overcooked to maintain higher levels of Vitamin C. 

Drain the remaining water out of the pan then brown the green beans for approximately 10 minutes on a medium heat, stirring them gently and occasionally. Now add the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Lower the heat to the lowest setting and cook for another 10 minutes while stirring them occasionally and gently. You can cook the beans longer to brown them more - they taste great this way too.
Remember - when cooking with olive oil, don't use a high heat due to its low smoke point. Maintain a lower to medium heat to prevent smoking of the oil. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Eight things you need to know about the Ebola Virus

Ebola virus is a deadly disease. At this time there is no vaccine to provide immunity to the Ebola virus. There is no cure for Ebola. There is currently an outbreak of Ebola Virus in several West African nations. As far as we know, there is one current case in the U.S. of a traveler that came to the United States from a West African nation. He was exposed to and infected with Ebola there. He developed symptoms of the disease after his arrival to the U.S. The other patients in the U.S. that have or had Ebola were either medical workers or media personnel that spent time in a West African nation and returned to the U.S. for medical treatment.

Photo attribution: Created by CDC microbiologist Cynthia Goldsmith, this colorized transmission electron micrograph (TEM) revealed some of the ultrastructural morphology displayed by an Ebola virus virion. Public Domain Photo.

So far there is no outbreak in the U.S. However, it helps to be prepared in the event more cases surface. This can happen as we continue to allow travelers into the U.S. who may have been exposed to Ebola. Until a process is in place that provides a more stringent assessment of travelers coming into the U.S., more cases may be likely to occur. Also, if travelers are not forthcoming regarding their medical histories and possible exposure to Ebola, it's conceivable that more people may arrive who are in the incubation period and will develop symptoms soon after their arrival.

A brief overview of some of the some of the latest scientific research tells us:
  1. Ebola symptoms include (but are not limited to) fever, diarrhea, vomiting, headache, muscle aches, joint pain, abdominal (stomach) pain and bleeding (hemorrhaging) with no known cause.
  2. Avoid travel to areas in the world where Ebola virus is occurring.
  3. Ebola virus has an incubation period of 2 - 21 days. (This is the range of time it can take to develop an infection after exposure to the virus). 
  4. A person infected with Ebola virus is contagious once they have symptoms
  5. Exposure to the body fluids of a person with Ebola virus that is having symptoms can infect you and give you the Ebola virus.
  6. Protect yourself with PPE (personal protective equipment) such as facial masks, eye goggles, medical gloves, protective gowns and shoe covers if you are faced with an unexpected interaction with someone who is sick with the symptoms of Ebola virus.
  7. Remember to practice good hand washing using soap and water for at least 30 seconds or use an alcohol based hand sanitizer after any possible exposure to any illness or disease.
  8. Seek medical care with a licensed health care professional without delay if you're concerned about a possible exposure or if you or anyone you know is ill and needs help.
For more information about Ebola virus click here.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Suicide Prevention - Get Help and Don't Wait

After writing my initial post about Robin Williams, a press conference was held which confirmed that the cause of his death was ruled a suicide.  Suicides affect real people and not just celebrities. And they occur at an alarming rate. According to statistics from the CDC, there were nearly 40,000 suicides in the United States in the year 2010 alone.

Clouds Over an Ohio Field by Carole Jakucs, 2014. Image subject to copyright.

If you or someone you know is depressed and/or contemplating suicide, take action now - don’t wait. Call 911 for any life threatening situations and urgent help.

There are also crisis hotlines you can call for advice, see below:

For Military Veterans there is a dedicated Veterans Crisis Line and can be reached at:(1-800-273-8255 and Press 1) or you can chat online at:

For everyone in the U.S. (including Veterans) you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-8255 or you can chat online at:

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams Death Sheds Light on Suicide, Depression and Addiction

The suspected suicide of actor/comedian Robin Williams sheds light on the subject of depression.  I've enjoyed so many of his performances. And with all the laughter and joy that he brought so many people with his comedic genius, it’s sad to learn that he suffered from a depression that was so severe; he may have chosen suicide as a way out of the isolation and darkness.

Trestles - San Onofre State Beach, San Diego County by Carole Jakucs, 2014.  Image subject to copyright.

Millions of Americans are afflicted with depression each year.   There are different types of depression with varied causes. Also, for someone with addiction or medical problems, it can add to the complexities of causes and treatments. One thing for sure is that treatment by a licensed mental health professional can help alleviate symptoms and improve lives. But sometimes (just as in a physical illness) the depression wins; even when a patient and clinician are doing all the right things.

If you or someone you know, suspect you may be suffering from depression, seek help by a licensed mental health professional as soon as possible. You can also seek help from your personal physician for advice and a referral. Of course, for any psychological or medical emergencies, call 911.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Tame your tanning habits – tanning beds deemed risky and melanoma on the rise.

Excessive sun exposure can place you at a higher risk of developing skin cancers – and so can the use of tanning beds or booths. The American Academy of Dermatology states that your risk of developing the deadly form, known as Melanoma, increases to 59 % if you have been exposed to the UV radiation emitted by indoor tanning equipment. Melanoma rates have been steadily rising in the U.S.

The FDA recently release a statement that they will now require black box warnings to appear on sunlamp and similar machines, to warn the public of the health risks associated with their use. The FDA is also recommending that tanning lamps not be used in children under the age of 18 years, in addition to advising all users to get regular skin cancer checks.

Sunset Beach - Los Angeles, CA by Carole Jakucs, 2014.
Image subject to copyright.

In addition to skin cancer, too much natural sun exposure and tanning lamp use can cause eye injuries, sunburns and premature wrinkling.You may want to sunset your current tanning habits that may be placing your health at risk and limit your exposure to the both indoor and outdoor tanning. 

If you like a tanned appearance, consider using self tanning lotions, liquid bronzers and/or bronzing powder on your face and body. These can provide a tanned look without exposing yourself to radiation. 

If you're outdoors, don't forget to use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or more, reapply often and limit your exposure during the hours of 10 am to 3 pm.