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5 ways winter affects your health

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Winter—especially in areas like the Midwest—can seem like the longest season of all. Aside from the stress of hearing snowbunnies and sun lovers debate the merits and setbacks of the snow and icy season, there are a few winter health issues to be wary of as well.

1. The winter blues
Do you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD)? SAD is a type of depressive disorder that is brought on by winter’s shorter days—with early sunsets and late sunrises, the lack of natural sunlight causes some to experience increased sleepiness, increased appetite, a heavy sensation in the limbs, loss of interest, a sense of hopelessness and social withdrawal. The endorphins gained from exercise can be helpful with SAD symptoms, as can light therapy, which uses a special lamp to make up for missing natural sunlight. Make sure to speak with your provider if you experience these symptoms.

2. Winter dry eye
Between the cold, dry air and the dryness from indoor heating (especially space heaters), winter can often be a time of burning, itching eyes. These symptoms, along with a feeling of grittiness, indicate that your eyes are not producing enough tears to keep them comfortably moist. Dry eyes can be relieved with artificial tears, using a cool-mist humidifier and eating foods with omega-3 fatty acids, such fish and flax seed. In severe cases, a procedure that closes the ducts that drain tears from the surface of the eyes may be needed.

3. Dry skin
In addition to dry eyes, winter’s cold air and low humidity can also cause severely dry and cracked skin. A cool-mist humidifier is also helpful in this situation, as is taking shorter showers and skipping baths, which tend to exacerbate dry skin. A good moisturizer is key during cold months, and don’t skimp on places like elbows and feet, which are especially prone to dryness and painful, cracked skin. Use a moisturizer with SPF—even if the sun isn’t out long during winter months, its rays can still cause damage. Continue Reading »

‘Tis the season: common questions about flu vaccinations

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Do you know what the symptoms of the flu are? While often confused with a common stomach virus that runs its course, influenza is a serious disease that can lead to hospitalization and sometimes even death, especially in older individuals. “Flu season” in the United States can begin as early as October and last as late as May. Every flu season is different, and influenza infection can affect people differently—even healthy people can get very sick from the flu and spread it to others.

An annual seasonal flu vaccine (either the flu shot or the nasal spray flu vaccine) is the best way to reduce the chances that you will get seasonal flu and spread it to others. Getting vaccinated isn’t just important for yourself; when more people get vaccinated against the flu, less flu can spread through that community. Below are some commonly asked questions about flu vaccinations:

How well does the flu vaccine project someone from the flu?
There are many different strains of influenza, so the vaccine—and its effectiveness—can vary from year to year. Each year a vaccine is developed to match the strains expected to be prevalent in the coming flu season. While it is impossible to predict the prevalent strains exactly, the vaccine is the best defense against the flu. Its effectiveness also depends on your typical health; the vaccine is effective, but it won’t make you invincible.

Is there a vaccination for children and a different vaccination for adults?
There are two different types of flu vaccines: trivalent, which protects against three strains of the flu, and quadrivalent, which protects against four. It is advised that patients speak with their provider to determine which vaccine is best for them. Continue Reading »

Preventing type II diabetes with healthy holiday and everyday eating habits

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According to the Center for Disease Control, 29.1 million people are living with Type II Diabetes and 8.1 million of those are undiagnosed. There are many factors that put a person at risk, some you can control and others you cannot. These factors include:

• Physical inactivity
• Tobacco use
• Poor diet
• Overweight
• High blood pressure
• High cholesterol
• Impaired fasting glucose (commonly known as pre-diabestes)
• Age
• Race
• Gender
• Family history
• History of gestational diabetes

You can also see if you are at risk for diabetes by taking the diabetes mellitus risk test here: http://www.diabetes.org/are-you-at-risk/diabetes-risk-test. How can you reduce your risk? Start by aiming for at least 30 minutes per day of activity, quitting smoking, and focusing on eating a healthy diet that is low in sugar. Continue Reading »

Myths and facts about diabetes

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There are many misconceptions about diabetes, including its causes and how to manage it. In recognition of National Diabetes Awareness Month, this article will address some popularly held beliefs about diabetes that may not mesh with reality.

Myth: Eating sugar (or too much sugar) causes diabetes.
Fact: There are many causes of diabetes, but eating sugar is not one of them. Type 1 diabetes, in which the pancreas does not produce the insulin needed to transport glucose to the body’s cells, is caused by genetics and other factors we haven’t discovered yet (some research suggests viruses are the culprit). Type 2 diabetes may be caused by genetics as well, or a host of lifestyle factors. Sugar intake alone is not enough to cause diabetes.

Myth: Going “sugar free” will prevent me from developing diabetes.
Fact: While there is no question that most Americans eat too much sugar, there is no research that supports going “sugar free” results in being diabetes free. Given that the American diet is high in added sugars, most health care providers agree that keeping an eye on the amount of added sugars we consume leads to better general wellness.

Myth: People with diabetes cannot eat pasta, rice or desserts and have to eat special food.
Fact: While individuals with diabetes may be more conscious of foods that raise their blood sugar levels, they can enjoy any kind of food they’d like in moderation. Healthy eating plans for people with diabetes are typically the same as most health professionals would recommend for anyone else:

  • Low in saturated fats
  • Heart-healthy fats and fiber
  • Moderate in salt and sugar
  • Lean sources of protein
  • Fruit and non-starchy vegetables
  • Whole grains such as brown rice and oats

People with diabetes—like everyone else—should enjoy dessert such as chocolate and other sweets in moderation. The key to good blood sugar control is to follow a sensible eating plan: keep an eye on portions, lead an active lifestyle and be compliant with medications.

Myth: Getting diabetes means never leading a healthy life.
Fact: There is a difference between living with diabetes and living with well-controlled diabetes. When individuals with diabetes manage their condition properly, for example avoiding spikes and drops in blood sugar levels, they can prevent or delay other complications of the disease. Having a positive relationship with food and knowing how much of what to eat, being physically active, seeking the support of others, keeping up with doctor visits, managing stress and controlling blood sugar levels are key to leading a healthy life with diabetes. These recommendations are what everyone else could benefit from as well!

What other myths have you hear about diabetes? Send us your comments!

For more information about diabetes, visit the American Diabetes Association at www.diabetes.org

How Daylight Saving Time can affect your sleep patterns

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Losing or gaining an hour of sleep on any given day doesn’t necessarily throw our sleep patterns into a tailspin, but the Daylight Saving Time change poses a bigger issue than a long nap’s worth of sleep. In addition to the minutes of sleep you’re gaining or losing, you’re also adjusting to light cycles. With “falling back,” you’re shifting your internal clock later while the sky is getting darker—and bringing cues for bedtime—earlier. Here are a few areas to look out for when it comes to how your body reacts to this transition:

On the road
Just because the clocks have changed doesn’t mean your schedule has. Studies have shown that there is an uptick in car accidents in the weeks following the fall Daylight Saving Time change, in part because even if people aren’t physically more tired, a sudden adjustment in sleep patterns can lead to lower cognitive performance. This includes performance behind the wheel. If you’re driving as it’s getting dark out when you’re used to driving in daylight, it could take some time to adjust, so be extra mindful when you’re on the road.

Mind your mood
For many people, it’s hard to get out of bed to a dark sky. As our daylight hours get shorter, it’s important to seek out mood-enhancing sunlight when we can. In the first weeks after the time change you may actually be able to sync your wake time with the rising daylight; if you’re susceptible to the “winter blues,” take advantage of this early morning boost! Further into the winter season, try to schedule sunlight breaks during the day. Getting up in the dark and then heading home in the same conditions can be a real hit to your mood, making exposure to natural light a much needed bonus. Continue Reading »

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