Nature Can Heal in More Ways Than One

Humans evolved in the natural world. We may have retreated to caves or huts to protect ourselves from the elements, but we spent much of our time outdoors, hunting, gathering, cooking, telling stories, and so on. Our lives these days, though, are largely spent cut off from nature.

This way of life has sparked a wealth of studies showing that our loss of contact with nature—dubbed “nature deficit disorder”—has a real impact on our physical and mental health.

So our primary care concierge doctors in Jupiter weren’t too surprised to learn of a new study published this month in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, which found that enjoying nature up to four times a week reduced the odds of needing mental health medications by 33 percent.

It also reduced the odds of using blood pressure pills by 36 percent and asthma medications by 26 percent.

The Study

Researchers interviewed about 6,000 people who live in large cities in Finland, asking about their access to and use of green and blue spaces, including parks, zoos, rivers, lakes, or the sea. 

They also asked subjects whether they could see views of nature from their homes, how often they spent time outdoors as well as how much they exercised while outdoors.

The study also accounted for other possible factors such as traffic-related outdoor air pollution and noise, which have been proven to have an adverse effect on health.

Respondents were then asked about their use of medications for depression, anxiety, high blood pressure, asthma, or insomnia, and correlated these with time spent in nature.

As noted above, the results were markedly better for those who were regularly exposed to green or blue spaces. Notably, those who lived in areas with a lot of green spaces or who simply looked at nature from their windows showed no improvement in any of these categories.

“Frequent green space visits, but not the amounts of residential green or blue spaces, or green and blue views from home, were associated with less frequent use of psychotropic, antihypertensive, and asthma medication in urban environments,” the study authors wrote.

Confirming Prior Research

Numerous earlier studies have found significant benefits from spending time in nature.

One meta-review of 143 other studies published in the journal Environmental Research, for example, found that people with access to green space generally had a slower heart rate, lower blood pressure, and fewer blood levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Researchers also found significantly fewer cases of diabetes and lower rates of mortality from heart disease in the group regularly exposed to nature.

An American Institutes for Research (AIR) study in 2005 found that sixth-grade students who attended three outdoor education programs showed marked improvement in conflict resolution skills.

Another study in China in 2013 involved 60,000 children between the ages of two and 17. It showed that regular exposure to nature, or “greenness” around their schools, reduced the incidence of attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). A more recent study at the University of Illinois produced similar results.

And a 2016 study of nearly 100,000 women conducted over eight years found that having access to the greenest space not only improved the subjects’ mental health but also reduced their death rate by 12 percent.

Nature Deprivation Hurts

Author Richard Louv coined the phrase Nature Deficit Disorder (NDD) in his 2005 book “Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder.” In it, he argued that elements of our urbanized lifestyle, including few natural spaces, a car-focused culture, more screen time, changes in the perception of risk (e.g., fear of “stranger danger”), less leisure time, and increased time pressure from work or school, combine to decrease or even eliminate contact with nature for both adults and children, according to the National Institutes for Health (NIH).

“The average young American now spends practically every minute—except for the time in school—using a smartphone, computer, television, or electronic device,” Tamar Lewin reported in a Kaiser Family Foundation study on the subject.

According to the Children and Nature Network (C-NN), which was co-founded by Louv, an expanding body of scientific evidence suggests that nature-deficit disorder contributes to:

  • diminished use of the senses
  • attention difficulties
  • conditions of obesity, and
  • higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses

Make the Connection

Unfortunately, to get back to nature, you may need to make a specific effort, because in our harried lives trapped indoors, focused on our screens, we have very little time for real relaxation.

Therefore, it’s often necessary to add nature breaks to our schedules the same way we schedule everything else.

One way is to undertake the Japanese practice known as “forest bathing,” or shinrin-yoku. As Kaiser Permanente’s’ online Thrive explains, “Heading out to a heavily wooded area isn’t required. You could take a trip to a nearby park, your favorite local trail, the beach, or any natural setting. Just be sure to turn off or silence your phone or other devices.”

Psychology Today explains, “Forest bathing is an antidote to pinging distractions, impending deadlines, and never-ending obligations . . . . The idea is to immerse yourself in a natural environment and soak up the many health benefits of being in the green woods.”

However, you manage it, for the sake of your overall health we recommend you take the time to reconnect with the natural world as often as possible.

Damar Hamlin Brings CPR Into the Spotlight

It was a terrifying moment on the field at the Buffalo Bills-Cincinnati Bengals game earlier this month when Bills safety Damar Hamlin stood up following a hit to the chest and then collapsed on the field.

But the good news is that he seems to be well on his way to a remarkable recovery. So our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter want to join with so many others who are using the incident to urge everyone to learn the lifesaving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) technique that helped save his life.

What happened to Hamlin?

First, let’s discuss how a routine hit in a football game drove a man to the brink of death.

While full details are not yet available, it appears he was the victim of a rare phenomenon called “commotio cordis,” or ventricular fibrillation. It occurs when an impact directly to the heart occurs at the precise millisecond of the heartbeat when it becomes susceptible to such a blow, interrupting the rhythm.

In such cases, “there is nothing wrong with the heart,” Dr. Hari Tandri, director of the cardiac arrhythmia program at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, told NBC News.

Dr. Comilla Sasson, an emergency medicine physician in Denver and a spokesperson for the American Heart Association (AHA), told NBC: “It’s not about how hard a hit it was. It’s actually about the timing of when the blow happens.”

CBS News medical contributor Dr. David Argus told “CBS Mornings” that he believed Hamlin sustained blunt force trauma to his chest “in the exact right spot, at the exact right moment during his heartbeat,” causing his heart to go into arrhythmia, or “not beat effectively to push blood to the brain,” he explained.

“It happens in Little League baseball,” he added. “A ball is thrown by a pitcher and hits the person in the chest. It happens in soccer where there’s something that causes that blunt force trauma. So, remarkably rare.” So rare, in fact, that he estimated that only about 30 of these cases occur in the U.S. every year.

Hamlin was Lucky

As Hamlin continued to rapidly recover in the days following his collapse, observers credited his survival to the immediate response of medical personnel on the field.

“When someone is having a sudden cardiac arrest emergency for any reason . . . time is absolutely critical,” Matthew Levy, an associate professor of emergency medicine at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told The Washington Post.

“For every minute that someone is in sudden cardiac arrest—every minute where their heart is not beating normally and their body tissue is not getting the oxygen it needs—their [chances of] survival goes down by like seven to 10 percent,” he said. “So time is absolutely of the essence.”

“The key in any cardiac arrest is how quickly and effectively CPR is done,” Aaron Baggish, a Mass General Brigham sports medicine cardiologist and founder of the Cardiovascular Performance Program at Massachusetts General Hospital, told The Post.

“So it has to start soon, and it has to be done well enough to get blood to the brain and the other vital organs for as long as it takes to start the heart again with defibrillation,” he said.

Rapid Response

Which is what happened with Hamlin.

Within seconds of Hamlin’s collapse, assistant athletic trainer Denny Kellington began administering CPR to Hamlin, according to a tweet from Bills offensive lineman Dion Dawkins. Others followed the CPR with use of an automated external defibrillator (AED) before Hamlin was rushed to the hospital.

Observers credited the immediate CPR and AED with saving his life. But only about half of Americans report having received CPR training.

And unfortunately, many people who witness a cardiac arrest are reluctant to perform CPR, either because they don’t know how or are afraid of causing further harm. But Good Samaritan laws in all 50 states protect bystanders who step in to help during an emergency from legal liability.

Florida’s statute provides that “Any person . . . who . . . in good faith renders emergency care or treatment . . . shall not be held liable” for damages. Read the whole law here.

But too few Americans have CPR training, the AHA reports.

A Simple Technique

Formal training, which typically involves practicing on a dummy, is preferable to reading about the technique, doctors say.

“You can certainly learn a lot by reading it online, and you can certainly watch videos and understand and learn the technique, but, ultimately, the best thing is to actually get into a class so you can actually practice,” Dr. Jayne Morgan, a cardiologist at Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta, told NBC News.

The Cleveland Clinic’s Dr. Michael Emery, a sports cardiologist there, told USA Today that CPR is “the most profound, life-changing thing you could potentially learn and do for someone.”

If you’re interested in someday possibly saving a life, you can find CPR classes near you here.

And if you find yourself in a situation where you need to perform CPR, the AHA recommends doing chest compressions at a rate of 100 to 120 per minute, but in the throes of trying to save a life, it can be difficult to count the precise beats needed to keep up the correct rhythm.

So the AHA created a playlist of over 50 familiar songs on Spotify to help bystanders maintain the beat. Click here to listen!

There’s a Reason Why You’re Feeling SAD

If you’ve been feeling down, sleepy, or hopeless, even with all the holiday merriment going on around you, our primary care concierge doctors in Jupiter want you to know you’re not alone. Health experts estimate that seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or the “winter blues,” affects about five percent of the U.S. population.

SAD is more than just the “winter blues,” according to the American Psychiatric Association (APA). The symptoms can be distressing and overwhelming, and can interfere with daily functioning, the APA reports. 

Affecting more than 10 million Americans, symptoms of the condition usually begin in October or November and begin to subside in March or April. However, some patients don’t feel fully back to normal until early May.

SAD may begin at any age, but it typically starts when a person is between the ages of 18 and 30 and seems to affect women more than men.

Symptoms

The APA lists the following symptoms associated with SAD:

  • fatigue, even with excessive amounts of sleep
  • weight gain associated with overeating and carbohydrate cravings
  • feelings of sadness or depressed mood
  • marked loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
  • loss of energy
  • an increase in restless activity (e.g., hand-wringing or pacing)
  • slowed movements and speech
  • feeling worthless or guilty
  • trouble concentrating or making decisions
  • thoughts of death or suicide or attempts at suicide.

The severity of such symptoms can vary from person to person, and not everyone will experience all these symptoms.

Likely Causes

While no one is certain what causes SAD, the lower amounts of sunlight in fall and winter are believed to lead to a biochemical imbalance in the brain, impacting the body’s circadian clock, which triggers sleep and wake cycles.

This process affects the output of serotonin, the so-called “mood” hormone. Studies have shown that the circadian-related output of serotonin drops markedly with the decrease in light during the winter. It also increases the level of melatonin, a hormone secreted by the pineal gland that regulates the sleep cycle.

The cause of SAD may have an ancient survival connection, as humans learned to restrict activity when food sources were scarce. The tendency may still be hardwired into our biology, and people can experience symptoms on a sliding scale from barely noticeable to full-blown clinical depression.

Risk factors include a family history of SAD or another form of depression, having major depression or bipolar disorder, and having lower levels of vitamin D. Vitamin D is believed to promote serotonin production.

Treatment

SAD can be effectively treated in a number of ways, including through the use of light-box therapy, which employs specially built full-spectrum lamps to alleviate symptoms. The NIMH reports that this type of therapy has been a mainstay for treating SAD since the 1980s.

In this treatment, a person sits in front of a very bright lightbox (10,000 lux) every day for about 30 to 45 minutes, usually first thing in the morning, from fall to spring. The light boxes, which are about 20 times brighter than ordinary indoor light, filter out the potentially damaging UV light, making this treatment safe for most people.

However, those with certain eye diseases or people taking certain medications that increase their sensitivity to sunlight might need other treatment types.

Other approaches include the use of antidepressants such as Paxil and Prozac, or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), a type of talk therapy aimed at helping individuals learn how to cope with difficult situations. In addition, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has also approved another type of antidepressant specifically for SAD: bupropion. In extended-release form, it is taken daily from fall to spring to prevent major depressive episodes.

Self-care

Meanwhile, there are steps you can take to help mitigate milder cases.

1. Stay active outdoors

Exposure to early morning light has been shown to be the most effective at reducing symptoms, as has regular exercise. An early morning walk or run might be all you need to help alleviate your symptoms.

2. Let in the light

If you can’t get outside, at least let the sunshine in as much as possible. Open blinds and drapes first thing in the morning, and keep them open all day. If you can, arrange your home or office so you’re exposed to as much sunlight as possible during the day (but remember that the sun’s harmful UV rays can penetrate glass, so use sunscreen if you’re actually sitting in the sun all day).

3. Eat right

Simple carbs and sugars wreak havoc with your blood sugar, thereby affecting your mood. Lean meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and complex carbohydrates will help to keep your brain functioning properly.

4. Take it easy

Don’t try to do too much, which can add to feelings of being overwhelmed. Do what you can, and postpone the rest, or ask friends and family for help with your to-do list.

5. Stay connected

Studies have shown that connecting with others helps improve mood: volunteering, getting together with friends and family, and participating in group activities, are some possibilities.

If your symptoms are interfering with your daily life, let us know. We can help evaluate your symptoms and recommend the right therapy.

The Risk of Salmonella in Backyard Chickens

If you’ve been buying cage-free eggs, or eggs from your local farmer, or even raising your own chickens to lower your risk of salmonella, our concierge doctors in Jupiter have some unhappy news for you: Most chickens, ducks, and turkeys carry some form of the more than 2,000 types of salmonella, according to Craig Coufal, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service poultry specialist.

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is kratom safe

Use Caution with Kratom

Our concierge primary care doctors in Jupiter know that many of our patients are interested in over-the-counter (OTC) alternative treatments for their ailments.

One of the more popular of these is kratom, an herb that has been used for centuries in Asian countries as a way to reduce fatigue and ease various aches and pains. In this country, it is sold in drinks or as supplements and is said to treat such common conditions as anxiety, depression, and opioid withdrawal.

One report estimated that as many as 16 million Americans also use kratom for pain relief in such chronic diseases as lupus, multiple sclerosis, fibromyalgia, rheumatoid arthritis, and other similar conditions.

Testimonials from users include such claims as, “Kratom gave me my life back after being addicted to pain pills;” “It has helped me enormously with chronic back pain;” and, “It got me off a 20-plus-year addiction to narcotics and opioids.”

On the other side are statements like these from a former user who told The Washington Post that “kratom was fun—it was like having morphine and cocaine at the same time”—until he got addicted. Withdrawal, he reported, was like “getting ripped apart by fishhooks.”

Agencies fighting it

Various agencies including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the World Health Organization (WHO), and even the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) have spent the last several years trying to ban it. Six states have already done so, with several others considering it. It is still legal in Florida, but may be banned or controlled in some localities here.

In April, the FDA released a statement warning consumers not to use the herb, Mitragyna speciosa, commonly known as kratom:

“FDA is concerned that kratom, which affects the same opioid brain receptors as morphine, appears to have properties that expose users to the risks of addiction, abuse, and dependence.”

FDA

Opponents have been buoyed in their arguments by several studies linking kratom to serious side effects.

One such study in 2019 reported that the number of phone calls to U.S. poison control centers regarding adverse effects from kratom have soared, from 13 calls in 2011 to 682 in 2017. Reported effects of kratom overdose included rapid heartbeat, agitation, high blood pressure, seizures, coma, kidney failure, and 11 deaths during the study period. Two of those deaths were attributed to kratom alone, while the other nine occurred in people who combined kratom with other drugs.

Another study on kratom use disorder (KUD) by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), published in the Journal of Addiction Medicine in March, found that over half of 129 past and current kratom users showed no signs of addiction. But 29.5 percent met the diagnostic criteria for KUD, which includes increased use, tolerance, withdrawal, unsuccessful attempts to quit, and cravings.

Counter-arguments

Proponents attribute these adverse reports to a profit motive on the part of drug companies, overly restrictive U.S. drug policies, and poor research. They say it has been used successfully for thousands of years in Southeast Asia without a problem.

Advocates also maintain that, in these times of widespread and deadly opioid addiction, kratom is an acceptable alternative and that its dangers have been wildly overblown.

In a recent editorial published in the Scientific American, Maia Szalavitz, an author and journalist who focuses on science, public policy, and addiction treatment, writes that kratom “does appear to be far safer than all illegal and most prescription opioids.” She referred to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study in 2016 and 2017 of some 27,000 kratom-related overdoses. Of those, kratom was implicated in less than one percent of overdose deaths.

“Moreover, in nearly all overdose deaths associated with kratom, it was accompanied by stronger drugs that kill more often, so it is not clear that it actually played a major role or even any at all,” she wrote.

“For example, around two-thirds of the 152 deaths the CDC studied also involved illicit fentanyl and its analogues, which are thousands of times more potent. In only seven cases was kratom the only only substance identified—and even here, researchers cannot rule out the possibility of undetected drugs,” she added.

Caution warranted

Nevertheless, most medical experts warn that kratom use can have adverse consequences. According to the Cleveland Clinic, “kratom’s potential for serious side effects outweigh its potential benefits.”

It lists the following most common side effects of kratom:

  • aggression
  • altered mental status
  • anxiety and irritability
  • constipation
  • delusion and hallucination
  • drowsiness and sedation
  • dry mouth
  • frequent urination
  • itching
  • nausea and vomiting
  • tongue numbness

More serious side effects can include:

  • cardiac issues, such as heart attack, abnormal heart rhythms, and high blood pressure
  • encephalopathy (brain disease)
  • hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid)
  • insomnia
  • liver damage and liver failure
  • loss of appetite
  • psychosis
  • respiratory depression (difficulty breathing)
  • seizure
  • tremor
  • weight loss

In addition, people going through kratom withdrawal may experience:

  • muscle spasms
  • pain
  • rhabdomyolysis (a condition leading to kidney damage when muscles disintegrate and release a protein into the blood)
  • rigidity
  • seizures
  • tremors

Think twice about kratom

While proponents hope more research will eventually vindicate kratom as a useful supplement, the medical community generally holds that its side effects more than outweigh any potential benefits. It can be especially dangerous when combined with other legal and illegal drugs.

While it’s up to you, we would suggest that our patients not take the risk of using this substance. If you’re thinking of using kratom for any reason, please discuss it with us first. We may be able to help you find other safer treatment options.

Skin Cancer Awareness

What to Know About Sunscreens

Because May is Skin Cancer Awareness Month, our primary care doctors in Jupiter want to remind you of the dangers of sun exposure and remind you of the best way to avoid it.

It’s important to know the facts about skin cancer and the sun, along with exposure to tanning beds, because the National Cancer Institute (NCI) estimates that this year 99,780 people in the U.S. will be diagnosed with melanomas of the skin, and that 7,650 people will die from this most deadly form of cancer.

But a proper use of an effective sunscreen can prevent most skin cancers.

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pandemic over

Is the Pandemic Over? Not Quite

Dr. Anthony Fauci’s comment that we are “certainly, right now, in this country, out of the pandemic phase” of COVID-19 sparked numerous questions to our primary care concierge doctors in Jupiter.

It also seemed to cause a great deal of confusion and misconceptions around the country at large, at least until he clarified his statement the following day.

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What to Know About Infant Vaccines

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has designated this week National Infant Immunization Week (April 25-May 2) to raise awareness of the importance of childhood vaccines. This annual observance highlights the importance of protecting children two years and younger from vaccine-preventable diseases.

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