Water Flavor Social Media Trend: Healthy?

Now that summer is officially here, our primary care concierge doctors in Jupiter want to bring to your attention the new “water trend” trending all over social media. 

In recent years, a new trend has emerged on social media: adding flavorings to water in order to make it more appealing and encourage people to drink more of it. This trend has been popularized by influencers and fitness enthusiasts who promote the idea that adding flavors to water can help individuals to stay hydrated and improve their overall health. However, the question remains: is this trend healthy?

It is Not That Easy

The answer is not straightforward. On the one hand, adding natural flavorings to water can make it more palatable, which may encourage individuals to drink more water throughout the day. Drinking enough water is crucial for maintaining optimal health, as it helps to regulate body temperature, prevent dehydration, and support proper digestion and elimination.

On the other hand, many commercial flavorings that are marketed for adding to water contain added sugars and artificial sweeteners. These ingredients can contribute to the overconsumption of calories, which can lead to weight gain and other health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Additionally, artificial sweeteners have been linked to a range of health concerns, including disruption of gut microbiota, increased risk of metabolic disorders, and even cancer.

Moreover, some natural flavorings, such as fruit juices and honey, can also contain high amounts of sugar. While these may be healthier than artificial sweeteners, they should still be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced diet.

Healthy Flavorful Alternatives

Ultimately, the key to making water more appealing and encouraging adequate hydration is to find a flavoring that is healthy and fits your individual dietary needs. Some healthy options for flavoring water include adding slices of fresh fruit, such as lemon, lime, or cucumber, or infusing water with herbs like mint or basil. These natural flavorings can provide a burst of flavor without adding unnecessary calories or artificial sweeteners.

In conclusion, while adding flavorings to water can be a useful tool for staying hydrated, it is important to choose healthy options that do not contain added sugars or artificial sweeteners. By making this choice, you can reap the benefits of proper hydration without compromising your overall health and well-being.

Free-Range, Cage-Free, Organic: What Do Meat and Egg Labels Mean?

Our primary care concierge doctors in Jupiter know that these days our patients are interested in not just their own health, but also the health of the planet and the welfare of animals. So you try to shop in ways that consciously take all these factors into consideration.

But how do you know what the many bewildering grocery store labels mean? Let us help sort out some of the confusion.

Win-win Practices

According to Treehugger.com, so-called humane farming practices are no more sustainable than those of factory-farmed meats, because the animals raised for food require just as much food and water as those in concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). 

On the other hand, as the Cleveland Clinic points out, many of these CAFOs use more chemicals and fertilizers that pollute both the land and water sources, so they’re not as earth-friendly as traditional farming practices.

We’ve often extolled the health advantages of plant-based diets, however, so for now we’ll just say that the fewer meats and meat products you consume, the better for the planet (and your health).

The good thing about taking animal welfare into your buying decisions, however, is that you benefit, as well.

“The alternative to factory-farm meat—grass-fed meat—is not just better for the environment and better for the animals, but better for you, too,” says the Cleveland Clinic’s Functional Medicine Director Mark Hyman.

Grass-fed meat is so nutritionally superior to factor-farmed meat, he adds, that is practically a different food.

Animals raised without antibiotics are another health plus for humans because their rampant use can lead to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, making it harder to treat our own infections.

Sorting Out Labels

Unfortunately, knowing their customers are interested in more humanely raised foods, many manufacturers select labels that may tend to mislead buyers.

For example, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) does not regulate the term “pasture-raised.” “Humane” is also not an official term, so it can mean anything.

Consumer Reports (CR) says that the claim “no growth hormones” doesn’t mean the animal was not given antibiotics, or that hogs were not given a non-hormonal growth enhancer called ractopamine. On the other hand, beef labels that say “no hormones” are useful, because cattle can be raised with hormones; however, the USDA does not allow hormones to be used in poultry or pork.

In addition, labels that say “no growth-promoting antibiotics” can also be misleading, because they can still be given to “ensure animal health” or to prevent or control disease, CR says.

Likewise, “natural” simply means that meat has been minimally processed and doesn’t contain any artificial ingredients such as chemical preservatives, spices or sauces, or artificial coloring. As Insider reports, a “natural” egg is simply a real egg that came from a real hen.

Similarly, “farm fresh” means nothing: All meat and eggs come from farms, whether in bucolic outdoor settings or cramped cages on CAFOs. And “Omega-3” doesn’t tell you whether the eggs contain enough of this essential fatty acid.

What They Mean

The labels manufacturers use can be baffling, so here’s a quick guide to the most common meat and egg labels.

Meats

  • Grass-fed: This term gets a little tricky. The USDA’s definition means the meat must come from animals that have never been given grain and have access to pasture during the grazing season. According to CR, however, the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) does not inspect these farms, and they can still be raised with antibiotics or hormones.
  • In addition, grass-fed cattle still may not have continuous access to pasture and may spend at least a part of their lives confined to a feedlot.
  • Organic: This is a more reliable term because the USDA organic seal indicates that the animal was given only organic feed, and was not given antibiotics or growth hormones. Even sick animals that were treated with antibiotics can no longer legally be labeled “organic.”
  • Pasture-raised: Again, this term can be misleading, because many meat producers will use it if their cows were only periodically allowed brief access to the outdoors.

Eggs

  • Cage-free: This means hens are not kept in cages, but that doesn’t mean they’re allowed outdoor access. In fact, they can still be raised in crowded (read: “overcrowded”) conditions indoors.
  • Free-range: This means the animals have at least some access to the outdoors, and aren’t caged, but they still may be raised primarily in crowded conditions.
  • Organic: These eggs come from hens that haven’t been fed grains grown with GMOs or synthetic pesticides. In addition, they aren’t raised in cages and must be given outdoor access. Again, though, “outdoor access” can still mean being confined in cramped conditions on tiny concrete porches.
  • Pasture-raised: Although there’s no standard definition for this term if the egg label contains either the Certified Humane or American Humane Certified pasture-raised labels, it means the hens must have access to a pasture with room for natural behaviors, such as pecking for bugs and seeds.

How to be Sure

As Vox reports, “For the grocery shopper buying animal products, the independent rating programs created by advocacy programs are the most important labels to look out for, since they actually have auditing systems built in to hold producers accountable.”

These certification labels include “GAP-Certified,” “Certified Humane,” and “Animal Welfare Approved.”

Finally, remember that what’s best for animal welfare is usually best for our health, as well.

Surprising Facts About Skin Cancer

You may think you already know everything about skin cancer. But because May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter want to share some facts about this often-deadly disease that you may not be aware of.

Brief Skin Cancer Recap

Let’s start with some facts about skin cancer you may already know:

  • Basal cell carcinoma is the most common form of skin cancer, followed by squamous cell carcinoma. Both can easily be cured if caught in time, but they can be disfiguring and expensive to treat.
  • Malignant melanoma is the most deadly type of skin cancer. It represents only about three percent of all skin cancers diagnosed but is responsible for the most deaths. That’s because of its tendency to spread to other parts of the body, including vital organs. But when diagnosed early, its five-year survival rate is 99 percent.
  • The most preventable cause of skin cancer is exposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, either from the sun or from artificial sources like tanning beds.
  • About 90 percent of non-melanoma skin cancers and 85 percent of melanoma cases are associated with exposure to UV radiation.
  • One bad sunburn in childhood doubles the risk for melanoma later in life. Having five or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma. A single indoor tanning session increases your risk of melanoma by 20 percent.
  • Even if it’s cool and cloudy, you still need protection, because ultraviolet (UV) light can penetrate clouds.

Odd Skin Cancer Facts

There are other facts about skin cancer that you might never have heard before.

1. For example, did you know that more men than women die of melanoma? The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) says that one reason may be that men know less than women about skin cancer and that they use sunscreen less than women do.

Men’s skin is also more prone to penetration by UV rays than women’s because they have thicker skin with less fat beneath. A man’s skin also contains more collagen and elastin, making men’s skin more likely to be damaged by UV light.

2. On the other hand, one study found a greater association between white wine consumption and a higher risk of melanoma in women. Those who drink a glass of white wine each day showed a 13 percent increased risk of invasive melanoma (meaning it’s gone deeper than the top layer of skin), while those who drank the most white wine had an increased risk of 50 percent or higher than those who don’t drink any alcohol.

3. UV rays can penetrate glass in windows, both at home and in the car. This helps explain why left-sided facial cancers, especially in men, are more common. It’s all about the position we drive in, with the left side of the body exposed to more UV light. Windshields are treated to block UV rays, but side, back and sunroof windows aren’t. Also, be aware that UV rays can not only penetrate glass, but also can “bounce” under beach umbrellas and reflect off of concrete surfaces.

4. It’s extremely rare for a mole to transform into a melanoma, according to Dr. Ashfaq Marghoob, a dermatologist with the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. While melanoma can develop in a preexisting mole, nearly 70 percent do not. At the same time, the presence of many moles can identify those who are at an increased risk for developing melanoma somewhere else on their skin.

That’s why it’s important to apply sunscreen to all parts of the body.

“Some people use sunblock only where they have moles because they think the moles themselves are dangerous,” he says.

5. Caffeine may protect against skin cancer. One study found that women who drank more than three cups of coffee daily were 21 percent less likely to develop basal cell carcinoma (BCC), the most common type of skin cancer. Men were 10 percent less likely to develop BCC.

6. Melanomas are not necessarily brown. Some have no color or are pink or appear as simple bumps on the skin. That’s why it’s important not to try to diagnose skin cancer on your own.

“Be aware of isolated or pink spots, especially if the spot looks different than any other marks on the skin,” Marghoob says. “Pay attention to any spot or mark that has an uneven texture, shape, border, or distribution of colors,” he added. “In addition, any spot that has changed in some way should prompt a visit to your doctor.”

Avoiding Skin Cancer

To avoid getting skin cancer, the most common cancer in the U.S. and around the world, the AAD recommends these steps.

  • Seek shade. The sun’s rays are strongest between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. If your shadow appears to be shorter than you are, stay in the shade as much as possible.
  • Wear sun-protective clothing, such as a lightweight long-sleeved shirt, pants, a wide-brimmed hat, and sunglasses with UV protection. For more effective protection, choose clothing with an ultraviolet protection factor (UPF) number on the label.
  • Apply a broad-spectrum, water-resistant sunscreen with an SPF of 30 or higher to all skin not covered by clothing. Broad-spectrum sunscreen provides protection from both UVA and UVB rays.

If you have any questions about how to protect yourself from the sun or notice new or suspicious spots on your skin or any spots that are changing, itching, or bleeding, let us know.

Surviving Spring Allergies Without Gaining Weight

With the fresh air of the ocean and year-round warmth, you might be surprised to find that Florida is one of the top hot spots in the country for spring allergies. You might also be surprised to learn that some of the over-the-counter (OTC) allergy medications you automatically reach for to stop the resulting sneezing and sniffling can cause you to gain weight.

So our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter want to tell you the differences between the various types of antihistamines and suggest other ways of battling spring allergies.

‘Pollen Storm’

As NBC News reported last month, a growing number of adults in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who’ve never had allergies before are experiencing them now.

“What I see is people coming in for the first time, especially over the last five, seven years or so,” Dr. Clifford Bassett, an allergist at NYU Langone Health in New York City, told NBC.

“They will always say, ‘I don’t understand how this is happening to me,’ ” he added.

The culprit appears to be climate change, the network reported. As CO2 levels rise, plants and trees produce more pollen, coupled with earlier spring blooms from trees. This is driving a longer season, with more severe reactions from sufferers.

“The pollen season right now is about three weeks longer than it was 30 years ago, and there’s about 20 percent more pollen in the air,” Dr. Neelu Tummala, an ear, nose, and throat specialist and co-director of the Climate Health Institute at George Washington University, told the network.

Dr. Stanley Fineman, an allergist at Atlanta Allergy and Asthma and a spokesperson for the American College of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology, calls the phenomenon a “pollen storm.”

“The pollen counts, particularly this season, have been much, much higher than we’ve seen in the past,” he told NBC.

COVID, Cold, or Allergies?

And since the dawn of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, now people are wondering whether their stuffy or runny nose, loss of taste or smell, and itchy, watery eyes are symptoms of COVID-19.

For instance, the loss of the senses of taste and smell can also happen with allergies and colds when the nasal passages become blocked.

In the past, doctors would say that if you’ve never had allergies before, your symptoms are likely something else, such as a cold or other type of virus. But because more people are now experiencing allergies, that’s not necessarily a reliable indicator.

Experts generally agree, however, that fever, chills, and body aches typically indicate viruses, while the telltale symptom of allergies is itching.

“The biggest symptom I would suggest is the itchiness of the eyes, nose, and throat,” Bassett said. “You don’t get itchiness if you have a cold or if you’re having a sinus infection.”

Nevertheless, it’s best to get tested if you’re experiencing new symptoms.

“We’ve definitely had patients come to our clinic who thought they were having allergies, but they had COVID instead,” Dr. Michelle Pham, an allergist, and immunologist at USCF Health in San Francisco, told NBC.

The Risk of Weight Gain

Depending on the severity of your symptoms, there are several ways to treat allergies.  One of these is oral antihistamines.

But a 2010 Yale University Study that found those who regularly took antihistamines weighed more than those who didn’t gave some allergy sufferers pause. The researchers cautioned that it wasn’t clear whether those who were already overweight were more prone to allergies, and thus more likely to take antihistamines.

According to the non-profit Obesity Medicine Association, however, “Histamine decreases our hunger by in part affecting the appetite control center in our brains, and it makes sense [that] an anti-histamine would have the opposite effect. These drugs can interfere with the ‘I’m full’ signal coming from the rest of our bodies and lead to overeating.”

In fact, some antihistamines—particularly cyproheptadine—are prescribed for children and pets to increase appetite.

But not all antihistamines have this effect. The Cleveland Clinic explains that so-called first-generation antihistamines were approved in the 1930s, but had more serious side effects, including drowsiness, dry mouth, and rapid heart rate. The second-generation antihistamines, approved in the 1980s, carry far fewer side effects. They also don’t relieve nasal congestion the way many first-generation antihistamines do.

What To Do Instead

If you want to try to do without antihistamines, first, avoid exposing yourself as much as possible to pollen.

  • Avoid outdoor activity in the early morning when pollen counts are highest.
  • Keep windows closed, in the home and car.
  • Wear a mask, hat, and sunglasses if you need to be outdoors.
  • Use a vacuum equipped with a HEPA filter.

Next, rinse frequently with a saline nasal spray or a neti pot to clean out pollen in your sinuses.

Finally, try switching to second-generation antihistamines. These include:

  • azelastine (Astelin)
  • loratadine (Claritin, Alavert)
  • cetirizine (Zyrtec)
  • desloratadine (Clarinex)
  • fexofenadine (Allegra)

If OTC medications aren’t working, be sure to let us know. There are prescription approaches that may help.

Keep in mind that, even if your allergies have been manageable in the past, with the stepped-up pollen levels accompanying global warming, you may need more intensive therapy.

“Before, you could get away with just using an intranasal steroid,” Tummala told NBC, “and now you have to do a neti pot rinse and then the steroid,” she said.

Yes, COVID-19 Remains a Threat

Our primary care concierge doctors in Jupiter dislike being the bearers of bad news, but it’s important to know that the COVID-19 virus is still active, still mutating, and still killing people: as many as 250 Americans a day, primarily those who are immunocompromised and older adults.

That equals roughly 90,000 of us every year. This figure is well below the height of the pandemic when 4,000 Americans a day were dying. But the number isn’t insignificant if it impacts you or someone you love.

It’s also important to remember that, even if an infection doesn’t result in death, the long-term consequences even for younger, healthy people can be severe and/or debilitating.

Newest Variant

The latest omicron subvariant, XBB.1.5, now accounts for nearly 80 percent of COVID-19 cases being diagnosed in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

In addition, the World Health Organization has identified a new subvariant, XBB.1.16, known as Arcturus. The CDC reported last month that it is now responsible for about seven percent of coronavirus infections, up from about four percent the previous week.

The good news is that Arcturus doesn’t appear to be any more deadly than previous omicron variants. While a change in the spike protein might mean it could spread more rapidly, there’s no indication that cases will be more severe.

“We’ve seen this in the past,” Paul Hunter, a professor of medicine at the University of East Anglia in Britain, told The Washington Post.

“You look at the virus and it’s got mutations that should make it more virulent, but then, in reality, you don’t see that,” he said.

“It will probably become the dominant variant for a while in the U.S. and Europe and most countries around the world, but I don’t see it driving up severe infections more than we’ve seen in recent waves,” he added.

Still Dangerous

That doesn’t mean Arcturus or the currently dominant XBB.1.5 are benign, however.

COVID-19 remains the third leading cause of death in the U.S. Florida is currently seeing 17 new cases every day per 100,000 population, the highest in the nation (Kentucky is second, at 13 new cases per day per 100,000).

These numbers are likely undercounted because so many people have abandoned getting officially tested for COVID-19, are testing at home and not reporting positive cases, or not getting tested at all.

And it’s not just older Americans who are impacted. The CDC reported last month that the 18-29-year-old age group “has accounted for the largest cumulative number of COVID-19 cases compared to other age groups.”

NBC’s Today Show recently reported on a new study by Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles, which found that the age group hit hardest by post-COVID-19 heart attack deaths was people between 25 and 44. This cohort saw a 29.9 percent relative increase in heart attack deaths over the first two years of the pandemic.

“Young people are obviously not really supposed to die of heart attack,” Susan Cheng, a cardiologist at Cedars Sinai and co-author of the study, told Today in February.

“They’re not really supposed to have heart attacks at all,” she said.

In addition, a National Center for Health Statistics survey showed that nearly 20 percent of adults who had a COVID-19 infection continue to have the debilitating symptoms of long COVID.

Remember the Vulnerable

Unfortunately, most of America seems to have moved on from the pandemic. People are going about their lives as if SARS-CoV-2 was just a bad dream they’re happy to have awakened from.

“Get all the shots you wish, take all the precautions you wish, but the health of us out there are done sacrificing for the weakest of health or brain,” wrote one anonymous commenter last month on The Post website.

This attitude of “stay home forever” rankles journalist Jeanine Santucci, as she recently wrote in USA Today.

A young mother with type 1 diabetes, she is at higher risk from COVID-19. She is fully vaccinated and has loosened her self-quarantine over the past three years, now seeing friends outdoors unmasked if they have a negative COVID-19 test. She ventures out in public with an N95 mask and a portable air purifier but resents the general lack of masking in indoor public spaces.

But she called the “stay home if you’re at risk” approach “cruel” and unfair.

“The main reason I am still taking this seriously, and I hope you will, is that our country’s most vulnerable people deserve to be part of society,” she said.

Protect Yourself and Others

“With the removal of mask mandates in health care settings and essential places such as pharmacies, public transit, and grocery stores, immunocompromised people are made outcasts,” Santucci added.

“But simply putting on an N95 when you go out makes us safer. It shows us you care that we’re alive.”

Given the prevailing attitudes from both government and the general public that if you want to avoid getting COVID-19 you’re pretty much on your own, we recommend continuing to take precautions when you’re in public spaces.

This means any place that is not well-ventilated, including your own home if you have visitors whose infection status is unknown. Wear a mask in crowded settings, and stay up to date on your vaccinations.

As Santucci wrote, “I hope you’ll take into consideration just how much is at stake for you, and the fact that you’re also making a risk calculation for vulnerable people like me when you do.”

Is Exercise Better Than Drugs for Mental Health?

If our primary care concierge doctors in Jupiter could prescribe a single treatment for a host of different health concerns, it would be exercise.

For example, one study published in the journal BMJ compared exercise alone versus drug therapy alone and found that for heart disease, diabetes control or prevention, stroke rehabilitation, and treatment of heart failure, regular physical exercise was just as effective as prescription medications in treating many of these conditions.

And according to the Mayo Clinic, some of the disorders that benefit from regular exercise include:

  • Heart disease – In addition to strengthening the heart muscle and lowering blood pressure, exercise can help you be more active without experiencing chest pain or other symptoms.
  • Diabetes – Regular exercise can not only help insulin more effectively lower your blood sugar level, but also help control weight and boost energy.
  • Asthma – Exercise has been shown to control the frequency and severity of asthma attacks.
  • Back pain – Regular low-impact aerobic exercise can help increase the strength of your back muscles and improve endurance and muscle function.
  • Arthritis – Exercise is the primary approach to reduce pain, help maintain muscle strength in affected joints and reduce joint stiffness.

What About the Brain?

It makes sense, then, that the benefits of exercise would also impact the brain.

And that’s just what a new study, published in February in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, revealed. Researchers from the University of South Australia correlated data from 1,039 studies involving more than 128,000 volunteers.

They found that physical activity was 1.5 times more effective for managing depression than either counseling or the leading medications typically prescribed for the disease.

The review showed that exercise interventions that were 12 weeks or shorter were the most effective at reducing mental health symptoms, showing how quickly physical activity can make a difference, Science Daily reported.

“Our review shows that physical activity interventions can significantly reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety in all clinical populations,” lead researcher Dr. Ben Singh said in a statement.

“We also found that all types of physical activity and exercise were beneficial, including aerobic exercises such as walking, resistance, training, Pilates, and yoga,” he said. 

“Importantly, the research shows that it doesn’t take much for exercise to make a positive change to your mental health.”

Even a Little Bit Helps

This last finding is important because one of the hallmarks of depression is a lack of energy. So asking them to engage in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommendation of 150 minutes of moderate physical activity every week is akin to asking them to climb a mountain with a broken leg.

Another study, published this month in the journal JAMA Psychiatry, offers similar reassurance that any regular movement can make a difference.

For this study, the researchers looked at 15 studies involving more than 190,000 subjects.

They found that people who engaged in brisk walking for a total of 2.5 hours a week had a lower risk of depression than those who didn’t exercise at all. 

“Most benefits are realized when moving from no activity to at least some,” the study authors wrote. 

“Our findings, therefore, have important new implications for health practitioners making lifestyle recommendations, especially to inactive individuals who may perceive the currently recommended target [of 2.5 hours a week] as unrealistic,” they added.

How Does it Work?

There are several reasons exercise has such a positive effect on depression and anxiety, according to Dr. Antonia Baum, an assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at George Washington University, who was not involved in these studies.

It can improve blood circulation to the brain and have a positive impact on inflammation and the body’s immune response, she told U.S. News, noting the connection between heart health and depression. There may also be intangible benefits such as getting stronger or feeling empowered or gaining a sense of well-being.

Yet another recent meta-review of 41 studies involving 2,265 people with depression found that almost any type of exercise substantially reduces symptoms of depression, The Washington Post reported.

“We found large, significant results,” said study leader Andreas Heissel, an exercise scientist at the University of Potsdam in Germany.

Although more exercise produced greater results, “Something is better than nothing,” Heissel noted.

Small Moves

Jennifer Heisz, a neuroscientist and an associate professor in the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, who was not involved in these studies, was even more encouraging.

“Any movement, every movement, every step counts,” she told U.S. News.

“It doesn’t have to be as much as you need for physical health,” she added. “You can get by with half of that, and this is very consistent with the literature.”

Heisz suggested that people try to move a little every day, even if it’s just a five- or 10-minute walk, or a two-minute movement break every half hour for those who sit all day.

“That’s how simple we need to get, especially for people who are not moving at all, and to acknowledge that there is this additional barrier of motivation for people who are suffering from depression,” she said.

One final word: It’s important not to try to treat depression yourself. We can help guide you through different approaches or even recommend other professionals that can help.

If you have thoughts of harming yourself, dial or text the new national suicide hotline number 988 for immediate help.

Best Ways to Treat Lower Back Pain

Whatever the cause of your low back pain—lifting your child, the wrong tennis move, or (often) no reason you can recall—what you want is relief: now!

Our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter understand because we’ve been there. In fact, it’s estimated that at some point in our lives, 80 percent of us will seek medical attention for that searing pain that flares every time we move.

So we were pleased to learn of a new study that looked at the best medications for treating lower back pain. And there are other ways to treat the pain without drugs, which we’ll explore below.

The Latest Research

The study, published last month in the Journal of Orthopaedic Research, found that the best medications for acute lower back pain was a combination of a non-steroidal anti-inflammatory NSAID) drug and a prescription muscle relaxant. Acute lower back pain is defined as pain that lasts no longer than 12 weeks; chronic back pain lasts longer.

Researchers reviewed 18 randomized clinical trials that looked at various analgesics, including aspirin, acetaminophen, and NSAIDs (ibuprofen, naproxen, and celecoxib). The NSAID/muscle relaxer combination relieved pain and disability the fastest, often within one week.

The main drawback, of course, is that muscle relaxants—which actually tend to relax the whole body rather than just muscles—cause sleepiness, meaning they can’t be taken while driving or trying to function normally throughout the day.

And—as with all drugs, whether over-the-counter (OTC) or prescription—each drug comes with the possibility of side effects, including indigestion, dizziness, liver damage, and internal bleeding, among other risks.

Harvard Health Publishing notes that other drug treatments are also available for those whose pain isn’t helped by analgesics, or becomes more severe.

This includes opioids as a last resort, which are generally safe when taken for a short period and monitored by a doctor.

Certain antidepressants can also be prescribed off-label to treat pain, even if the person is not depressed.

Non-drug Approaches

Because of the risks associated with drug therapy, many people look to alternative methods to help relieve their pain.

Matthew Solan, the executive editor of Harvard Men’s Health Watch, mentions several options.

Cold and heat therapies can work by starting with ice packs immediately following the onset of pain to reduce swelling, followed by a heating pad or a hot-water bottle to relax muscles and increase blood flow.

Limited bed rest, although recently fallen out of favor as the preferred treatment for back pain, can still be helpful if the pain is so severe that it hurts to sit or stand. Try to limit it to a few hours at a time, however, and for no more than one or two days. 

Physical activity can not only help build strong muscles that are less prone to injury but can also help the healing process.

Complementary therapies, often thought of as “woo-woo nonsense,” have been shown to offer relief in many cases. They include:

  • acupuncture, in which needles inserted in precise points on the body are said to release blocked energy suspected of causing pain
  • spinal manipulation, in which chiropractors apply pressure to the body to correct spinal alignment
  • therapeutic massage to relax aching muscles
  • movement therapies such as yoga and tai chi

Another Non-traditional Approach

Nearly 40 years ago, the late back pain physician John Sarno proposed an entirely different approach to treating chronic lower back pain, and eventually pain of all sorts. He claimed that much of the pain was caused by the brain trying to repress unwanted or frightening emotions and that once this was acknowledged, the pain would resolve on its own.

This is a vast oversimplification of his theory, of course, and over the years has been vehemently rejected by pain sufferers who thought he was saying their pain was “all in the head,” which was not his message. Anyone who is familiar with the concept of mind-body medicine will understand the connection between the brain and what happens in the body.

Although the medical community has been slow to warm up to Sarno’s approach, two recent studies tend to lend credence to his theory.

One, published in the journal JAMA Psychiatry in 2021, was a randomized, controlled trial of 151 patients using an approach based on Sarno’s work: “pain reprocessing therapy,” or PRT, which taught patients to reinterpret their pain as a neutral signal from the brain. Researchers found that 98 percent of participants had at least some relief from their pain; 66 percent were nearly or fully pain-free, compared with 10 percent of the control group.

Another study, published the same year, found similar results to Sarno’s approach.

If you’re interested in pursuing this form of treatment, Sarno’s books are readily available online. Although he offered in-person counseling when he was alive, he also claimed that simply reading his books, which explained the theories behind his treatment, worked for many. 

A Final Word

Finally, if you have persistent or severe lower back pain, it’s important that you let us know because it could be a symptom of something serious.

Dr. Akhil Chhtre, who specializes in back pain at the Johns Hopkins Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, cautions that “in some cases, pain is your body’s way of telling you that something isn’t right.”

He says it could be sciatica, kidney pain, or even cancer (especially prostate cancer). So it’s important to have persistent lower back pain checked. 

Live Longer with Blue Zone Foods

Of all the diet trends available today, one our primary care concierge doctors in Jupiter can highly recommend is the Blue Zone way of eating: fresh, healthy, unprocessed food, from as close to its source as possible, in meals shared with family and friends.

The term “Blue Zone” was coined nearly 20 years ago by journalist and researcher Dan Buettner in a 2005 National Geographic cover story titled, “Secrets of Living Longer.”

His team of anthropologists, demographers, and scientists had traveled the world to find the world’s longest-living people, and to discover the secrets to their longevity.

Buettner’s team found five seemingly disparate places where the people live exceptionally long, healthy lives: on average, around 100. (The term “blue zone” came from the blue circles the researchers drew on a map during their quest.)

The five places are:

Okinawa, Japan
the Nicoyan Peninsula in Costa Rica
the Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California
Sardinia, Italy
Ikaria, Greece

More than Diet

Of course, healthy eating is key to a healthy body, but the Blue Zone residents had more than good food on their side. Genetics, as always, plays a big role in how long anyone will live no matter where they are.

Other factors the team found the Blue Zones had in common were:

Natural movement: no marathons or gym visits, just long walks, hiking, gardening, etc.
Hara Hachi Bu: an Okinawan term for eating until they’re about 80 percent full
Plant slant: a preference for plant foods over meat
Grapes of Life: one to two servings of red wine daily (except for the Seventh Day Adventists, who eschew alcohol)
Plan de Vida: or “why I wake up in the morning,” i.e., a sense of purpose
Downshift: controlling stress, a sense of serenity
Belong: participation in a spiritual community
Loved ones first: making family a priority
Close tribe: social connectedness

Blue Zone Meals

The Blue Zone diet, which Buettner details in his latest book, “The Blue Zones American Kitchen: 100 Recipes to Live to 100,” is a cornerstone of the Blue Zone program, and closely resembles the Mediterranean diet, but with even less emphasis on fish and meat.

“The five pillars of every longevity diet, including the Blue Zones, are whole grains, vegetables in season, tubers, nuts, and beans. In fact, I argue the cornerstone of a longevity diet is beans,” he told CNN.

Legumes, in fact, are key, he told The Washington Post. They are rich in fiber, which is key to improving cholesterol and blood sugar levels.

“Figure out how to get a cup of beans into your diet every day,” he told the paper. “Just one cup gives you half of all the daily fiber you need.”

What Not to Eat

And even though the Mediterranean diet includes a certain amount of meat and fish, Blue Zone diets contain little, if any.

“People in Blue Zones don’t eat nearly as much fish as the Mediterranean diet prescribes, only three times a week and only three ounces,” he told CNN. “Meat is eaten only five times a month. There’s no cow’s milk in any Blue Zone.”

Instead, people eat goat and sheep’s milk cheeses such as feta and pecorino, he said.

In addition, “no more than three eggs are consumed per week,” he told NBC’s Today show.

“The Blue Zone eating pattern is 98 percent plant-based foods—whole food-based and high carbohydrate,” Buettner told CNN.

“But only complex carbs, not the simple carbs like salty snacks and candy bars and soda pop. You say carbohydrates and people are horrified, but the healthiest foods in our food system are complex carbohydrates,” he added.

Time and Place Count, too

In keeping with the other factors that affect longevity, sharing meals—especially with family—is another component. While our busy schedules might not often permit this, Buettner says it’s worth doing as often as possible.

“Families that eat together tend to each much more nutritiously, they eat slower, and there’s good research that children have fewer issues with disordered eating if they’re eating socially,” he told The Post.

And it turns out the recent trend toward intermittent fasting appears to have some validity. Buettner reports that people in Blue Zones tend to eat earlier in the day.

Okinawans, for instance, traditionally eat a big breakfast and a moderate lunch.

“They don’t even have dinner,” he told the paper.

And the Seventh Day Adventists in Loma Linda would eat a big breakfast at 10 a.m. and a moderate lunch at 4 p.m. “And then they’re done for the day,” he said.

Small Moves

Of course, there’s more to the Blue Zone lifestyle than just food, as we mentioned earlier. Three of the five Blue Zones are isolated, which forces tight social connections and a lot of walking.

“Walking is one of the best forms of exercise and you can do it without thinking about it,” Buettner told Today, suggesting that people think about adopting a dog as a strategy to encourage regular walks.

“We’re all looking for magic dietary pills or serums or supplements, but you see none of that in the Blue Zones,” he said. “It’s mostly small things driven by the right environment,” he said.

That includes social connections.

“We’re genetically hardwired to crave social interaction, and when you don’t have it, there’s a level of subconscious stress that grates away at you,” he added.

Here’s to Your Heart Health

In recognition of American Heart Month in February, our primary care concierge doctors in Jupiter thought we’d share some facts with you about your heart, and what you can do to keep it healthy.

Surprising Heart Facts

First, from the Cleveland Clinic, here are a few interesting things you may not know about your heart.

Your heart is about the size of your two hands clasped together.
It beats 100,000 times a day.
The beating sound is the clap of valve leaflets opening and closing.
A woman’s average heartbeat is faster than a man’s by almost eight beats a minute.
Every cell in your body gets blood from your heart, except for your corneas.
The heart pumps blood through 60,000 miles of blood vessels.
A normal heart pumps approximately four tablespoons of blood with each beat.
Each minute, your heart pumps 1.5 gallons of blood.
Your heart has its own electrical supply and will continue to beat when separated from your body.
Heart cancer is very rare because heart cells stop dividing early in life.

About Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men, women, and people of most racial and ethnic groups in the U.S. About 697,000 people in the U.S. died from heart disease in 2020 (the most recent figures available). And every year about 805,000 people in the U.S. have a heart attack; over 600,000 of those are first heart attacks.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the term “heart disease” refers to several types of heart conditions.

The most common type of heart disease in the U.S. is coronary artery disease (CAD), which affects blood flow to the heart. Decreased blood flow can cause a heart attack. In 2020, about 20 percent of deaths from CAD occurred in adults below the age of 65, known as an “early cardiac event.”

Common Symptoms of Heart Disease Include:

Heart attack: chest pain or discomfort, upper back or neck pain, pain in the jaw or throat, indigestion, heartburn, nausea or vomiting, extreme fatigue, upper body discomfort, dizziness, a cold sweat, and shortness of breath
Arrhythmia: fluttering feelings in the chest (palpitations)
Heart failure: shortness of breath, fatigue, or swelling of the feet, ankles, legs, abdomen, or neck veins

The Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Curtis Rimmerman, a cardiologist, emphasizes that symptoms of a heart attack can vary widely, but adds that the discomfort is usually unrelenting, typically lasting five minutes or more.

“Regardless of where the pain is, people typically can’t find a position that relieves the pain,” he says. “Nor do they find relief by taking a drink of water, popping antacids or taking deep breaths.”

That means it’s time to call 911, he adds.

Increasing Risk

Unfortunately, about one in every five heart attacks are “silent”—that is, the damage is done, but the person is not aware of it.

That’s why it’s important to know your risk factors and what you can do about them.

About half of all Americans (47 percent) have at least one of the three key risk factors for heart disease: high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and smoking.

In addition, several other medical conditions and lifestyle choices also put people at a higher risk for heart disease, the CDC reports, including:

diabetes
overweight and obesity
unhealthy diet
physical inactivity
excessive alcohol use

In addition, a 2021 study published in the journal Heart found that those who used illicit substances, including amphetamines, cocaine, and cannabis, were far more likely to experience an early cardiac event than those who didn’t.

And another study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association (AHA) in 2020, found that the chances of developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) were 19 times higher in women who consumed one or more sugary drinks a day. This included everything from fruit juices to soft drinks (not diet) to coffee with sugar.

Lowering Risk

Some risk factors cannot be controlled, such as age or family history of heart disease, but you can take steps to lower your risk by changing the factors you can control.

Have your blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides checked regularly.
Ask us whether you should be tested for diabetes.
Quit smoking.
Limit the alcohol you consume to one drink a day.
Learn how to manage stress levels by finding healthy ways to cope with stressful events.

In addition, there are two other ways that have been shown to dramatically reduce your risk for heart disease.

The first is exercise. According to the Cleveland Clinic, regular moderate-intensity exercise for at least 150 minutes is the single most important—and free—key to heart health.

The second is diet, specifically a plant-based diet. This doesn’t necessarily mean going totally vegetarian, just making plant foods vs. animal foods the main component of your diet.

“I’ve seen people whose diabetes, angina, or blood pressure goes into remission [on a plant-based diet],” Andrew Freeman, a cardiologist and the co-founder of the Nutrition and Lifestyle Work Group at the American College of Cardiology, told The Washington Post.

“I’ve seen autoimmune diseases go away when you cut inflammation,” he said. “The best way to do that is with a plant-based diet, and people get better.”

Is a Neti Pot Right for You?

Because our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter have been receiving more questions about the effectiveness of Neti pots for various sinus conditions, we thought we’d take some time to explore their usefulness—and to reiterate a special warning about their use.

What is a neti pot?

Neti pots are one type of nasal irrigation device that use a saline or saltwater solution to treat congested sinuses, colds, allergies, and congestion from flu and COVID-19.

These devices include the teapot-looking container that originated with Ayurvedic medicine in India, along with bulb syringes, squeeze bottles, and more expensive motorized pulsed water devices.

In general, these devices all introduce salt water (saline) into the nostrils to flush out mucus, allergens, and bacteria. The saline helps thin the mucus, making it easier to expel.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says that such saline rinsing “can remove dust, pollen, and other debris, as well as help to loosen thick mucus. It can also help relieve nasal symptoms of sinus infections, allergies, colds, and flu.

“Plain water can irritate your nose,” the agency says. “The saline allows the water to pass through delicate nasal membranes with little or no burning or irritation.”

How do they work?

 “There are various ways to deliver saline to the nose,” says Eric A. Mann, M.D., and Ph.D., a doctor at the FDA.

“Nasal spray bottles deliver a fine mist and might be useful for moisturizing dry nasal passages. But irrigation devices are better at flushing the nose and clearing out mucus, allergens, and bacteria,” he says.

Information that comes with each device can give more specific instructions, but in general, the FDA says they all work basically the same way:

  • Leaning over a sink, tilt your head sideways with your forehead and chin roughly level to avoid liquid flowing into your mouth.
  • Breathing through your open mouth, insert the spout of the saline-filled container into your upper nostril so that the liquid drains through the lower nostril.
  • Clear your nostrils. Then repeat the procedure, tilting your head sideways to the other side.

While some people experience immediate relief from their symptoms, for others it may take a few days to begin breathing more freely.

And experts caution that—like oral decongestants—nasal irrigation devices are simply a treatment for a symptom, not a cure for the underlying cause.

Some Cautions

Although the FDA says that neti pots and other similar nasal irrigation devices are generally safe, they may not be right for everyone. If your immune system isn’t working properly, the agency advises checking with your healthcare provider before using any nasal irrigation system.

A few users report ear discomfort, nasal irritation, a burning or stinging sensation, and even nosebleeds. But in general, the FDA considers them safe to use, even for children aged two and up.

The most significant warning, however, concerns the type of water used in them. 

“Tap water isn’t safe for use as a nasal rinse because it’s not adequately filtered or treated,” the FDA cautions.

“Some tap water contains low levels of organisms—such as bacteria and protozoa, including amoebas—that may be safe to swallow because stomach acid kills them. But in your nose, these organisms can stay alive in nasal passages and cause potentially serious infections.”

They can even be deadly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports. Since 1993, there have been at least 70 cases of “brain-eating” amoeba infections in the U.S., which are “almost uniformly fatal,” the agency reports.

Safe Use

The safety of neti pots and other such nasal irrigation devices—including the motorized versions—depends on the type of water used and how meticulously the containers are cleaned after each use.

The FDA lists the following types of water as safe to use for neti pots and similar devices:

  • Distilled or sterile water, which you can buy in stores. The label will state “distilled” or “sterile.”
  • Boiled and cooled tap water—boiled for three to five minutes, then cooled until it is lukewarm. Previously boiled water can be stored in a clean, closed container for use within 24 hours.
  • Water passes through a filter designed to trap potentially infectious organisms. The CDC has information on these filters here

To safely use and care for your device:

  • Wash and dry your hands.
  • Check that the device is clean and completely dry.
  • Prepare the saline rinse, either with the prepared mixture supplied with the device, or one you make yourself.
  • Follow the manufacturer’s directions for use.
  • Wash the device, and dry the inside with a paper towel or let it air dry between uses.

Does it Work?

Most people who use neti pots to relieve nasal congestion and allergies swear by them, especially if they want to avoid using over-the-counter decongestants. 

“Just about any condition that causes irritants and mucus to build up inside the nose will benefit from saltwater rinsing with a net pot or similar device,” Richard Orlandi, a nasal and sinus specialist and professor of surgery at the University of Utah Health in Salt Lake City, told Consumer Reports (CR).

“These include allergies, nonallergic nose irritation, colds, and sinus inflammation and infections,” he said.

The World Health Organization (WHO) reports that rinsing your nose with saline does not prevent COVID-19, by the way.

If saline rinsing doesn’t relieve your symptoms, or if you have a fever, nosebleeds, or headaches while using the devices, let us know.

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