Does Boosting Your Immune System Really Improve Health?

Foods to Boost Immune SystemThe answer is a resounding yes!  A strong immune system is the body’s first defense for fighting bacteria and viruses.  The immune system protects the body from illnesses and infections.  Although the immune system is complex, there are some simple lifestyle choices people can make to boost their immune system for better health.

Diet– A balanced diet is beneficial to the immune system.  Supplements can be helpful, but our bodies can get the nutrients and vitamins needed from the foods we eat.  Foods rich in antioxidants are known to boost the immune system.  Examples include many dark colored fruits and vegetables such as blueberries, raspberries, kale, spinach, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.  Many herbs and spices are good sources of antioxidants and can be used as seasonings.  These include oregano, turmeric, cinnamon, and ginger.  Foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids enrich the immune system.  Excellent sources include oily fish such as tuna and salmon.  Some non-fish sources of omega-3 fatty acids are flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, and soybeans.

Sleep– Quality sleep is an important immune system booster.  The amount of sleep we need depends on the person’s age.  Average adults need 7 to 9 hours sleep each day.  Preschoolers need 10 to 13 hours of sleep daily.  Teenagers need 8 to 10 hours of sleep daily.  The body produces proteins called cytokines when we sleep.  Cytokines target infection and inflammation.  The National Sleep Foundation cites chronic sleep deprivation as a factor in decreased immune system response.

Stress– Chronic stress and anxiety can depress the immune system, making it less effective.  While we may not be able to eliminate all stress, there are some ways to help manage it.  Slowing down, reducing our commitments, meditating, exercising, reducing caffeine intake, and spending more time relaxing with family and friends are ways to alleviate stress.

Additional good health practices that can help boost the immune system are thorough hand washing, regular exercise, and getting an annual flu shot.  Talk to your health care professional for other ways to keep your immune system working as it should.

Understanding Good and Bad Cholesterol

Cholesterol plaque in arteryCholesterol levels are measured by a blood test referred to as a lipid profile or lipid panel.  The numbers are broken down into LDL (low density lipoprotein), which is “bad” cholesterol and HDL (high density lipoprotein), known as the “good” cholesterol.  Most of the body’s cholesterol falls into the LDL category.

An overabundance of LDL cholesterol forms a build up of plaque along the walls of the blood vessels.  This plaque, if thick enough, can block blood flow causing a heart attack.  The lower the LDL number, the lower the risk of developing heart disease.

The high density lipoproteins absorb cholesterol and take it to the liver.  It can then be flushed from the body before it can block the blood vessels.  A higher HDL number on the lipid profile indicates a lower risk for heart disease.

An LDL number of 190 mg/dL or higher means a higher risk for heart disease.  An HDL number less than 40 mg/dL for men and less than 50 mg/dL for women indicates higher risk.  The lipid profile also measures triglycerides and gives the total cholesterol number.  The doctor takes all these numbers into consideration when recommending treatment options.  Diet and lifestyle changes may be recommended to try to reduce the risk, or the patient may be prescribed medication such as a statin drug.  Lifestyle changes can include eating a healthy diet, losing weight, exercising regularly, and quitting tobacco use.  The doctor will also consider the patient’s other risk factors including age, weight, gender, race, diet, and medical history.

Adults at average risk for heart disease should have a cholesterol test every five years, beginning at age 18.  The doctor may recommend testing more often if the patient is overweight, smokes, has diabetes, is physically inactive, or has a family history of heart disease.

To learn more about your cholesterol levels, contact RMD Primary Care to schedule an appointment.

October Is Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Hispanic women holding breast cancer awareness ribbonsEach October women are reminded of the importance of early breast cancer detection.  Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer in women, following skin cancers.  A mammogram is the best way to detect breast cancer in the early stages, when it is easier to treat.  Women of any age can develop breast cancer, so it’s important to be aware of risk factors and proactive about health care decisions.

Most women who develop breast cancer have no family history of the disease.  However, a woman’s risk does increase if she has a first-degree relative (mother, daughter, sister) with breast cancer.  Having multiple other family members with the disease on either the mother’s or father’s side of the family also increases the risk.  Given this family history, even very young women can develop breast cancer.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), other risk factors for developing breast cancer include the following:

Age–  The risk increases after age 50.

Taking Hormones–  Hormone replacement therapy during menopause can raise the risk.

Reproductive history–  Having a first pregnancy after age 30 or never being pregnant increases risk.  Early menstruation (before age 12) or late menopause (after age 55) exposes women to hormones longer, increasing their risk.

Dense breasts–  Dense breast tissue makes cancers harder to detect and raises the risk level.

Genetic mutations–  Inherited changes to specific genes such as BRCA1 and BRCA2 increases risk.

The best breast cancer screening tool is a mammogram.  It can detect cancers that are too small to be felt or cause symptoms.  The American Cancer Society recommends that women of average risk begin annual screening mammograms at age 45.  Some doctors recommend mammograms at age 40, depending on risk factors.  After age 54, a woman who has not had any abnormal mammograms can continue to have a mammogram every other year through age 74.  Women who have higher than average risk factors for the disease should follow the recommendations of their health care provider.

Recommended Vaccines for Seniors

Senior getting Flu ShotAdults are less able fight off infections as they age.  Chronic diseases can weaken the immune system.  It is important for seniors to receive certain vaccines to help them live healthier lives.  Here are several vaccinations recommended for seniors by the Centers for Disease Control.

Flu vaccine (influenza)-  Flu is a contagious respiratory illness that affects many people each winter.  Seniors are at higher risk for developing serious complications.  It’s especially important to be protected against flu if you suffer from a chronic medical condition such as COPD, diabetes, or heart disease.  An annual vaccine is necessary as the virus changes each year.  It takes about two weeks for the body to build up full immunity, so get vaccinated early in the season.  A higher dose version is available for seniors.  Medicare Part B covers the cost of the vaccine.

Pneumonia vaccine –  Pneumonia is a serious lung infection that can cause significant complications for seniors, people with chronic diseases, and smokers.  The vaccine is recommended for all adults age 65 and older.  There are two types of pneumonia vaccines that protect against different types of pneumonia.  The PCV13 vaccine is given first.  A year or more later the PPSV23 vaccine can be given to protect against additional types of pneumonia.  With these two shots, a senior will most likely be protected for the rest of their life.  The vaccines are covered by Medicare Part B.Hispanic senior speaking with doctor

Shingles vaccine-  Shingles is a painful blistering rash caused by the dormant chicken pox virus that suddenly becomes active.  One in three adults gets shingles during their life.  Since older adults are more likely to have serious complications, the vaccine is recommended at age 60.  The older single dose version is about 51% effective for approximately five years.  The newer 2-dose vaccine is about 90% effective but has a few more side effects.  The newer vaccine is not as readily available at this time.  A person can still receive the newer vaccine even if they have already had the single dose version.  The vaccine is partially covered by Medicare Part D drug plans.

Tdap vaccine-  Tdap protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis (whooping cough).  Tetanus bacteria enters the body through cuts and wounds.  Diphtheria and pertussis are contagious diseases spread through coughing and sneezing.  Adults who have never had a Tdap vaccination should receive one, especially if they are grandparents who have contact with infants too young to be vaccinated.  The Tdap vaccine is partially covered under Medicare Part D.

Speak with your health care professional at RMD Primary Care to find which of these vaccines is right for you.

Protect Your Skin and Eyes from Summer Sun

Protecting your skin from sun damageMost of us enjoy outdoor activities during the hot summer months.  However, exposure to the sun for as little as 15 minutes can damage skin and eyes.  The sun gives off harmful radiation in the form of ultraviolet (UV) rays that are not visible and are present even on cloudy days.  Exposure to UVA and UVB rays is a major risk factor for most skin cancers.  People with fair or light skin are more susceptible to sun damage, but darker-skinned people are also affected.

UVA rays can cause long-term damage to skin and premature aging.  Effects from overexposure to the sun include wrinkles, dark spots, pre-cancerous actinic keratoses, and some skin cancers.  UVB rays are responsible for sunburns and are believed to cause most skin cancers.  Ultraviolet rays are stronger in the spring and summer months.  The rays are more damaging during the hottest part of the day, between 10 am and 4 pm.  They can reflect off surfaces like water, sand, and pavement.  Cloud cover lessens the exposure to UV rays, but they can still penetrate clouds.  Weather reports often list a UV Index, which measures how strong the UV light will be.  The higher the number, the greater the risk.

Our eyes are also at risk from exposure to UV rays.  protect eyes and skin from sunEye problems related to sun damage include cataracts, macular degeneration, sunburn of the eye surface, and cancers of the eyelids.

How do we protect our skin and eyes from sun damage?  Use a broad spectrum sunscreen with an SPF of 15 or higher on any exposed skin.  Reapply sunscreen every two hours and after swimming.  Wear a hat with a broad brim to protect the face, ears, scalp, and neck.  Avoid straw hats with holes that allow the sun to get through.  Long sleeve shirts and long pants protect the arms and legs.  UPF rated clothing offers protection from UVA and UVB rays.  Stay in the shade when possible.  To protect the eyes, wear sunglasses that block UVA and UVB rays.  Wrap around sunglasses work best to protect from the side.  Don’t forget sunglasses for your children.  Their eyes need protection from UV radiation too.  Sun damage to the eyes and skin can be cumulative from childhood.

Men’s Health Month

Men's Health and FitnessJune is a month to celebrate men.  Not only is June known for Father’s Day, but it is also recognized as Men’s Health Month.  It is a time to raise awareness of preventable health issues and an opportunity to encourage the men in our lives to get regular health checkups.  Here are some ways to promote better health for the men we love including husbands, fathers, brothers, and sons.

Get a physical–  On average, adult men do not see their healthcare providers as often as women do.  They may wait until there is a real problem.  Regular physical exams enable the physician to monitor blood pressure, heart rate, cholesterol levels, and weight.  A physical allows for routine blood work and PSA screenings for prostate cancer to be performed.  Early detection is key when treating such health conditions as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

Encourage regular exercise–  Regular exercise has many health benefits.  Exercise helps with weight reduction, helps maintain strong bones and muscles, increases energy levels, decreases stress, aids in relaxation, can improve brain function, improves mood, enhances sexual function, and can reduce the risk of developing chronic disease.

Encourage healthy eating habits–  Heathy eating is a lifestyle choice.  The benefits include avoiding excess weight gain and boosting energy levels.  Healthy eating can prevent major health problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, stroke, and diabetes.

A healthy diet includes plenty of fruits and vegetables, lean meats, whole grains, and low fat dairy products.  Avoid sugary drinks, processed baked goods, fried foods, white bread and processed meats.  Many of these items have high levels of sugar, salt, and trans fats while offering little nutritional value.

Encourage the men in your life to take care of their physical health and well-being so they can live a long and happy life.

Five Teen Health Concerns

Teen Eating DisorderAs children move into their teenage years, there are many health concerns that may affect them.  Teens deal with peer pressure and stress, issues of weight and body image, problems of drug and alcohol use, and questions about puberty, sex, and relationships.  They may be hesitant to discuss these concerns with parents or their family doctor.  Open lines of communication may help teens work through some of these concerns.  Here are five common health concerns of teenagers.

Eating Disorders and Obesity – Obesity is a significant concern for children and adolescents.  According to a report in American Pediatrics, obesity puts them at risk for diabetes and heart disease.  Overweight children and teens are less likely to participate in a sport or get adequate exercise.  Changes in lifestyle and diet can help promote weight loss and improved health. 

Many eating disorders develop during adolescence and can have serious health implications.  Common eating disorders include anorexia nervosa, bulimia (binging and purging), and binge-eating disorder.  It is important to seek treatment early.

Lack of Physical Activity – As teenagers spend more time on their Smartphone, computer, or watching TV, they tend to be less physically active.  Sedentary lifestyles lead to an increase in health issues including obesity, diabetes and heart disease.  Teens may need to be encouraged to exercise more or participate in a sport.  Parents can set a good example by being physically active themselves.

Sexually Transmitted Disease and Pregnancy – Teens need to be aware of the risks and complications of STDs and how to protect themselves.  Parents should ensure their teen has had the HPV vaccine to protect against human papillomavirus.  This common virus can cause cancers of the cervix, vagina, vulva, penis, anus, and the back of the throat.  Teens who are sexually active should understand the use of contraception to prevent unplanned pregnancy.

Drug and Alcohol Use – Alcohol use by teenagers can lead to other risky behaviors including drunk driving and unsafe sex.  Marijuana, cocaine, and amphetamines continue to be commonly abused drugs among teenagers.  In addition, abuse of prescription drugs, particularly painkillers, is on the rise.  Smoking among US adolescents has declined in recent years, just as it has in the general population.  Those who do smoke develop more respiratory illnesses.  Many teens are unaware that use of e-cigarettes or vaping is also unhealthy.

Suicide – The third leading cause of death for teenagers is suicide.  There are many contributing factors including family problems, loneliness, isolation, depression, and substance or alcohol abuse.  More males than females are likely to choose suicide, and many were reluctant to seek help.  Good family communication can help.

How Do Triglyceride Levels Affect My Health?

Triglycerides are a type of fat in the blood.  Most people are familiar with cholesterol levels but may have less knowledge about how triglycerides affect their health.  Triglycerides are stored in fat cells and released when the body needs energy between meals.  When we eat more calories than our body can burn, the level of triglycerides can become too high.  This can lead to serious health issues.

Anyone at any age can develop high triglyceride levels.  However, there are certain risk factors unique to women.  Triglycerides can be elevated during pregnancy, by using birth control pills with estrogen, and by hormone replacement therapy.  Certain medications can also raise triglyceride levels.

TriglyceridesA high triglyceride level can increase the risk for heart disease and stroke.  It can contribute to hardening and thickening of the walls of the arteries.  High triglycerides can also lead to inflammation of the pancreas.  There are often no visible symptoms of high triglyceride levels.  Routine blood tests, usually done along with cholesterol testing, will determine triglyceride levels.  These tests are sometimes called a lipid profile or lipid panel.  A normal triglyceride level is measured at less than 150 mg/dL; high triglycerides are between 200-499 mg/dL; very high levels are 500 mg/dL and over.

Lifestyle changes can sometimes lower triglyceride levels naturally.  Healthy eating habits can make a big difference.  Avoid foods that are high in saturated fats, trans fats, and sugary carbohydrates.  Choose low fat dairy and lean meats.  Eat fish twice a week.  Choose whole grains and foods high in fiber.  Foods rich in omega 3 fatty acids including salmon, tuna, kale, spinach, and brussel sprouts can help lower triglycerides.  Other lifestyle changes that are beneficial include exercising more, losing excess weight, and decreasing alcohol use.

Your doctor can monitor triglyceride levels through regular checkups and routine blood work.  If lifestyle changes have not been enough to keep triglycerides under control, medications can be prescribed.

Top Men’s Health Issues

Men's Health and FitnessAccording to statistics compiled by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control), women outlive men by an average of five years.  Men typically do not see a doctor for regular checkups as often as women.  When men do see a doctor, their health problems are usually of a more serious nature.  Awareness, health screenings, and early diagnosis of many diseases can help men live longer.  Here are some of the top health issues affecting men.

Cardiovascular Disease

The American Heart Association says that 1 in 3 men have some form of cardiovascular disease.  It’s the leading cause of death in men and includes heart attack and stroke.  While hereditary factors or family history of the disease are factors beyond our control, other risk factors are impacted by lifestyle choices.  Stress, obesity, and lack of exercise all contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease.  High blood pressure and high cholesterol levels should be monitored and controlled.  Sometimes diet and exercise are enough to reduce the risk, but medication may be necessary.

Diabetes 

Type 2, or adult onset diabetes, is on the rise in this country.  Lifestyle changes can reduce the risk.  A diet rich in fiber and heart healthy fats can help to control blood sugar levels.  Regular exercise will help keep weight under control.  Untreated diabetes can lead to kidney disease, nerve damage, stroke, heart attack, vision problems, and sexual impotence.

Lung Cancer 

Lung cancer remains a leading cause of cancer deaths in men.  Those who smoke should quit.  There are no effective screening tests for lung cancer currently available.  Lung cancer can spread to other parts of the body even before it shows up on an x-ray.  Advanced lung cancer is difficult to treat.

Prostate Problems

Men are more likely to develop prostate problems as they age.  An enlarged prostate can lead to frequent urination or a slow or weak urine stream.  Having an enlarged prostate does not increase the risk of developing prostate cancer.  A doctor can perform a prostate screening test during a routine medical exam.  A blood test can screen for prostate specific antigen (PSA).  Some types of prostate cancer are slow growing and unlikely to spread.  Other types are more aggressive.  Treatment depends on the type of prostate cancer.

Osteoporosis – The Silent Disease

Osteoporosis patientOsteoporosis is a disease affecting approximately 10 million Americans.  The disease causes the loss of minerals from the bones, leaving them vulnerable to fractures.  Osteoporosis is more common as we age, because new bone is not being made as quickly as old bone is breaking down.  Although both men and women can develop the disease, it is more common in women.

There are no early symptoms of osteoporosis, so it is sometimes called the silent disease.  Many people do not realize they have bone loss until they experience a fracture.  Later symptoms of osteoporosis include loss of height, a stooped posture, back pain, and bone breakage.  The most frequent fractures occur in the hips, wrist, and spine.

Risk factors for osteoporosis include age, having a smaller frame, family history, white or Asian women past menopause, having thyroid or bowel disease, and taking certain medications.  The reduced level of estrogen in post-menopausal women is a strong risk factor.  Long term use of prednisone and cortisone also increases risk, as does thyroid hormone medication.

Lifestyle choices can help reduce the risk of developing osteoporosis.  A diet of calcium rich foods including dairy, salmon, and dark green leafy vegetables promotes bone health.  Calcium supplements may be appropriate if someone does not get enough calcium in their diet.  Vitamin D improves the body’s ability to absorb calcium.  Eating protein helps the body build strong bones.  Maintaining appropriate body weight is important.  Regular exercise can help slow bone loss.  A combination of strength training, weight-bearing, and balance exercises works best.

The National Institutes of Health recommends women should have a bone density scan at age 65.  The scan estimates bone mass and determines whether bones are thinning or weakening.  If bone density is good, women should be rescreened in 2-3 years.  The National Osteoporosis Foundation recommends that anyone who breaks a bone after age 50 have a bone density scan.

There is no cure for osteoporosis.  Treatment of the disease includes lifestyle changes such as modifying diet and exercise routines.  Doctors may prescribe medications that slow the breakdown of bone or help promote bone formation.

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