The Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” blog reports, “Men who are narcissists may be at risk for some health problems, since they could have inherently higher levels of the stress-related hormone cortisol even when they’re not under pressure,” according to a study in PLoS One. Continue reading
This last week, I saw three patients in the office all suffering from holiday depression. One was a grandmother who had suffered the tragic loss of her first grandchild this summer. Two others were people who had lost dear ones over the last few months. It was a good reminder to me to keep an eye out this season for those around me to whom Christmas may not be a joy, but an emotional roller coaster. Continue reading
Lazy Cakes Relaxation Brownies are stirring up lots of controversy. Why? Continue reading
Today I’ll be interviewed on the Internet TV show, Your Family Live. The show is aired, live, from 200 – 300 pm ET, and I’m tentatively scheduled to be on from about 235 – 250 pm ET. You can watch it live, or archived (after the show) here. The theme of the show is “Stressbusters for Moms.” I’ll be interviewed by my friends Yvette Maher and Juli Slattery. Continue reading
If you or someone you love is overweight or obese, here’s some good news on a couple of other ways (other than better nutrition and exercise) you could consider to lose weight. The Los Angeles Times “Booster Shots” reported, “Getting a healthy amount of sleep, avoiding stress, and complying with specific elements of a weight-loss plan (such as keeping a food diary) seem to boost the odds of” losing weight.” Continue reading
American kids are really stressed out — not least of all overweight and obese kids, according to a new survey from the American Psychological Association. The report found that children who are overweight or obese feel particularly stressed, more so than their normal-weighted peers. And such stress has a lasting impact on other lifestyle behaviors that negatively affect overweight kids’ health.
Below I have some of the details from a report in Time. If, however, your kids are overweight or obese, you may want to pick up a copy of my book, SuperSized Kids: How to protect your child from the obesity threat. The book is currently on sale in HARDCOVER for $4.99 here (save $18) and in SOFTCOVER for $1.99 here (save $11). The book is chock-full of ways you, as a parent, can help your children make wise decisions about activity, nutrition, and sleep.
If you have children or teens who are overweight, NOW is the time to make some changes. And, my book has an 8-week plan your family can put into action to start the New Year. The reason to do so is that to NOT act is to doom your kids to a shorter life with lower quality.
The new report, “Stress in America 2010,” found that the majority of Americans continue to live with moderate to high levels of stress, and while they know this isn’t healthy, they say they face obstacles that prevent them from managing or reducing their stress. They also acknowledge that they have trouble adopting other healthy behaviors like eating right, exercising and getting enough sleep. (More here on Study: Parent-Only Education Helps Children Lose Weight)
The effects of all of that appears to be trickling down to their families, particularly in households with overweight or obese parents. Obese parents were more likely than normal-weight parents to have overweight kids, and parents with overweight kids were less likely to report often or always eating healthy foods, compared with parents of thin children. What’s more, thin parents said they engaged in physical activity with their families more often than fat parents.
Along with the tendency toward unhealthy lifestyle behaviors, fat parents and fat children shared higher levels of stress.
For instance, while 31% of overweight children reported worrying about their lives, only 14% of their healthy weighted counterparts did the same.
When researchers asked about specific symptoms of stress and depression, the rates of positive responses in overweight children went up and stayed higher than in normal-weight kids: overweight children were more likely than children of healthy weight to have trouble:
- sleeping at night (48% vs. 33%),
- feel angry or get into fights (22% vs. 13%),
- experience headaches (43% vs. 28%) or
- feel listless and like they didn’t want to do anything (34% vs. 21%).
Further, children who believed they were overweight were more likely to report a parent who was “always” or often stressed out in the past month (39% vs. 30%). (More here on Do Parents Discriminate Against Their Own Chubby Children?)
Although the majority of parents didn’t their kids were affected by their stress, 91% of all children surveyed said they could tell when a parent was upset about something, and could perceive their emotional distress when they argued, complained or acted worried.
Nearly half of “tween” children aged 8 to 12 and one-third of teens aged 13 to 17 reported feeling sad in response to a parent’s distress, while large proportions also felt worried or frustrated. And while 86% of tweens said they felt comfortable talking to their parents about stressful situations, only 50% had done so in the previous month.
Additional survey data suggested that while overweight kids feel more stress, stress can also lead to additional weight gain.
Most of the children interviewed said they used sedentary activities to manage their stress:
- 36% of tweens and 66% of teens listened to music,
- 56% of tweens and 41% of teens played video games, and
- 34% of tweens and 30% of teens watched TV.
- Further, 48% of overweight teens and tweens reported disordered eating (either too much or too little) when stressed out, compared with only 16% of children at a healthy weight. (More here on Study: Fast-Food Ads Target Kids with Unhealthy Food, and It Works)
With nearly 1 in 5 children in America being overweight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, managing stress as part of a total weight-control plan can only help.
For more data on stress in America, see the full report here.
Here are some steps you can take (if not this year, next) to protect your and your family’s health by keeping it simple during the Christmas season. This was originally published at HealthFinder and I hope it’s helpful:
‘Tis the season to be jolly, not stressed out, and an expert offers some tips on how to take care of yourself during the holiday rush.
While it’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the shopping, planning and other tasks associated with the season, you need to take steps to keep your stress under control in order to protect your health, said Dr. Gary Kaplan, founder of the Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine in McLean, Va.
“Stress is the way our body automatically responds to difficult situations. You may feel nervous, irritable and depressed, experience increased aches and pains, or you may just not feel like yourself,” he said in a center news release.
Kaplan offered the following tips to relieve holiday stress:
- Share the workload. Learn how to say “no” to requests for your time and delegate tasks to others when possible.
- Keep it simple. Skip the shopping, make homemade gifts and spend quality time with family and friends.
- Maintain your regular schedule as much as possible. Humans are creatures of habit and feel out of sorts when routines are disrupted.
- Find ways to burn off physical and emotional tension. Vent to a friend, write about your feelings in a journal, go for a walk or take a bubble bath.
- Look after your body. Eat a healthy diet, get plenty of exercise and do things that restore your energy, such as meditating or getting a massage.
For more information, the American Psychological Association offers more ways to deal with holiday stress here.
An Italian study finds that a hostile personality type is linked to a thickening of neck artery wall — which may be associated with an increased risk of heart attack, heart disease, and stroke. Here are the details from a report in HealthDay News:
Hostile people, especially those who are manipulative and aggressive, may be paying a price in terms of heart health, a new study finds.
These types of people showed a thickening in the walls of their neck arteries tied to a 40 percent higher risk of having the artery narrow. And that could boost their risk for cardiovascular disease, heart attack and stroke, the researchers concluded.
“The public is often worried about stress, but sometime it’s how our personalities interact with stress that can have an effect on health,” noted Dr. Ralph Sacco, president of the American Heart Association and chairman of neurology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. He was not involved in the study.
“Knowledge is the first step to making behavior change,” he added. “If there are things that we know, in terms of stress and antagonism, it may help change people’s behavior if they know it’s related to vascular risk.”
The report appears in the journal Hypertension.
For the study, a research team led by Angelina Sutin, a postdoctoral fellow at the U.S. National Institute on Aging, collected data on more than 5,600 people in four villages in Sardinia, Italy.
The researchers found that those who had high scores for antagonistic traits had more thickening of the neck (carotid) arteries, compared with more agreeable people.
Thickness of carotid artery walls is a risk factor for heart attack and stroke, the researchers note.
After three years, people who scored higher on antagonism or low on agreeableness, particularly those who were manipulative and quick to anger, continued to have thickening of their artery walls. These traits were also predictive of greater of arterial thickening, Sutin’s group found.
People who scored in the lowest 10 percent of agreeableness and had the highest levels of antagonism had about a 40 percent heightened risk for thickened arterial walls, they add.
In a journal news release, Sutin said that “people who tend to be competitive and more willing to fight for their own self-interest have thicker arterial walls, which is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease,” Sutin said in a statement.
“Agreeable people tend to be trusting, straightforward and show concern for others, while people who score high on antagonism tend to be distrustful, skeptical and at the extreme cynical, manipulative, self-centered, arrogant and quick to express anger,” she added.
In general, men had more thickening of the artery walls than women. But among women who were antagonistic, the risk quickly caught up with that of men. “Whereas women with agreeable traits had much thinner arterial walls than men with agreeable traits, antagonism had a much stronger association with arterial thickness in women,” Sutin said.
Usually, thickening of the artery walls is a sign of age; however, young people with antagonistic traits already had thickening of the artery wall, she added.
This finding remained consistent even after lifestyle factors such as smoking were taken into account, the researchers noted.
The findings — consistent with research in more urban regions — may apply to others in the world, whether they live in smaller towns or cosmopolitan areas, Sutin said. “This may not be unique to Italians.”
Commenting on the study, Dr. David L. Katz, director of the Prevention Research Center at Yale University School of Medicine said that “the active, toxic, ingredient in the infamous ‘Type A’ personality profile is hostility.”
Angry people do tend to be less healthy, he said. “The burgeoning field of psycho-immunology reveals the multiple and powerful pathways by which our emotional state influences hormones and neurotransmitter levels, in turn influencing the functioning of our immune and nervous systems – and perhaps everything else,” Katz said.
The independent effect of chronic anger appeared to be as strong as that of other key risk factors, such as high blood pressure, although this was a study of association, not cause and effect, Katz noted.
“We have ample reason to conclude that chronic anger is bad for us,” he said. “Now the challenge: in a world of many irritations and stressors, how do we [make] chronic anger and hostility go away? That many benefits would ensue if we met this challenge — for both [people’s] carotid arteries and society — seems abundantly clear.”
A number of Christian scriptures recommend meditation as a spiritual discipline:
- Psalm 77:12: I will meditate on all your works and consider all your mighty deeds.
- Psalm 119:15: meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.
- Psalm 119:27: Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders.
- Psalm 19:14: May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.
- Psalm 104:34: May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD.
Now, comes a study showing that positive brain changes take hold after just 11 hours of practicing a form of meditation. Here are the details in a report from HealthDay News:
The study included 45 University of Oregon students who were randomly selected to be in either a study group that did integrative body-mind training (IBMT) or a control group that did relaxation training.
IBMT was adapted from traditional Chinese medicine in the 1990s.
A comparison of scans taken of the students’ brains before and after the training showed that those in the IBMT group had increased brain connectivity. The changes were strongest in connections involving the anterior cingulate, an area that plays a role in the regulation of emotions and behavior, Yi-Yuan Tang of Dalian University of Technology in China, University of Oregon psychologist Michael I. Posner, and colleagues found.
The boost in brain connectivity began after six hours of IBMT and became more apparent after 11 hours of practice, according to the report published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The meditation-induced changes may be due to a reorganization of white-matter tracts or due to an increase of myelin that surrounds the brain connections, the study authors suggested.
“The importance of our finding relates to the ability to make structural changes in a brain network related to self-regulation. The pathway that has the largest change due to IBMT is one that previously was shown to relate to individual differences in the person’s ability to regulate conflict,” Posner said in a university news release.
In my book, Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook, I write this about meditation:
What it is:
Meditation is a word that has been so broadly applied to an array of both healthy and harmful activities that it is difficult to get consistent agreement about its impact on health.
For example, one person’s idea of meditating may be to sit quietly while encouraging his body to relax. He will inhale deeply, exhale slowly, and create a moment of restful quiet in the midst of an otherwise hectic day.
Another person’s idea is to tune out everything while daydreaming or concentrating on something that is not the primary concern of the moment.
When discussing meditation, it is crucial to make sure that everyone knows what everyone means by the term.
In general, it refers to a whole range of practices generally designed to take our minds off everyday business and stressful activities, helping us become more relaxed and reflective. Some use it to reduce or eliminate rational thoughts.
The type of meditation recommended as an alternative therapy sometimes has its origin in Eastern religions and mysticism.
Transcendental Meditation (TM) is a recent adaptation of these older concepts.
In general, the meditator wants to relax in a peaceful environment. Most sit comfortably, focusing their thoughts on something that minimizes troubling or distracting thoughts.
Some focus on their own breathing, concentrating on the movement of air in and out of their lungs. Others repeat a mantra — a sacred word or formula given by a spiritual master — or just an ordinary phrase. With practice, people can consciously relax their muscles and learn to control other bodily functions not usually under their control.
What the research shows:
Clinical studies have confirmed that meditation can provide short-term benefits in reducing stress, relieving chronic pain, and reducing blood pressure.
Studies also have shown that meditation can give some people a better sense of happiness and control of their bodies.
However, what has not been shown is whether these changes have long-term health benefits.
For example, a 2001 review found twenty-seven studies examining the impact of patients’ anxiety levels before surgery on their recovery after surgery. These studies didn’t examine the impact of any relaxation techniques, just whether anxiety was related to recovery.
Clear connections were shown between pre-surgery anxiety and post-surgery mood and pain. However, no clear associations were found between anxiety and more objective measures of recovery such as length of stay in hospital or rate of wound healing.
The field of research examining the impact of anxiety and relaxation on physical recovery and healing is relatively new, with evidence not yet available for many interesting issues.
Meditation has been documented to cause problems.
Transcendental Meditation, initially promoted by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, was very popular in the 1960s and did much to familiarize Americans with meditation and Hinduism. But studies have found that its results are not always positive.
Almost half of those active as TM trainers reported episodes of anxiety, depression, confusion, frustration, mental and physical tension, and inexplicable outbursts of antisocial behavior.
Other studies have documented adverse effects as serious as psychiatric hospitalization and attempted suicide.
Problems can arise when meditation is viewed as a simple exercise, when in fact it has considerable power to deeply impact a person psychologically and spiritually.
The spiritual enlightenment some maintain occurs in meditation can involve contact with spirit guides.
The desire to rely more on one’s own intuition contrasts with the biblical declaration that our intuition can lead to falsehood and deception.
In many ways, humanity’s problems stem from our reliance on ourselves to know what is best. God told Moses to have the Israelites sew tassels onto the corners of their garments to remind them of this important teaching. “You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the LORD, that you may obey them and not prostitute yourselves by going after the lusts of your own hearts and eyes” (Numbers 15:39; see also Deuteronomy 12:8; Judges 17:6).
Insight received during meditation is especially problematic.
Divination and visions are altered states of consciousness used to gain spiritual insight. Yet unless this insight comes from God, it only reveals the futility and deception of people’s own minds.
“Then the LORD said to me, ‘The prophets are prophesying lies in my name. I have not sent them or appointed them or spoken to them. They are prophesying to you false visions, divinations, idolatries and the delusions of their own minds’.” (Jeremiah 14:14; see also 23:16 – 17, 25 – 32).
God spoke through the prophet Ezekiel to warn the Israelites about “those who prophesy out of their own imagination” (Ezekiel 13:2).
What is learned during meditation must be evaluated, both medically and biblically.
Christians should relax and reduce unnecessary stress in their lives. “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth” (Psalm 46:10).
The Bible tells us to meditate: “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8; see also Psalms 1:2–3; 19:14; 49:3; 104:34; 119:97, 99).
But Christian meditation is not emptying one’s mind or focusing on one’s inner self.
Rather, it is filling one’s mind with biblical truth while focusing on the Creator God of the universe.
We will gain insight when we meditate on biblical truth. But this insight is based on the revealed Word of God and should lead to a life more in conformity with his ways.
Christians should make every effort to retain control over their thought life. “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).
Altered states of consciousness can open people to spiritual suggestion, making them vulnerable to demonic or other unwholesome influences. Meditation should therefore be seen as a method of promoting reasoned reflection on God and his Word.
For my book, Alternative Medicine: The Christian Handbook:
- You can order an signed copy here.
- You can see the Table of Contents here.
- You can read the First Chapter here.
We’ve known for many years that stress and anxiety can affect a woman’s pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Now, a new study is connecting stress and conception.
The new “study involved 274 British women 18 to 40 years old” who “were followed for six menstrual cycles or until they got pregnant, whichever came first.”
The Time “Wellness” blog reported that the study found “no correlation between women’s levels of cortisol, another more commonly measured stress hormone, and their chance of conception,” however.
But, “the researchers worry that, in a cruel twist, the inability to conceive may create a vicious cycle of stress for some women. ‘It has been suggested that stress may increase with the disappointment of several failed attempts at getting pregnant, setting off a cycle in which pregnancy becomes even more difficult to achieve,’ said study collaborator [Germaine] Buck Louis in a statement from” the National Institutes of Health.
According to the CNN “The Chart” blog, the study does not explain “why high levels of alpha-amylase may reduce the chance of getting pregnant, but it could be because stressful situations may reduce blood flow and delay the transport of fertilized eggs, which can contribute to the failure to conceive.”
CQ HealthBeat noted, “Finding ways to relax could increase the odds of becoming pregnant, but researchers said turning to tobacco or alcohol to unwind wouldn’t do the trick since they reduce the likelihood of pregnancy.”
For this Valentine’s Day weekend, some advice for our married readers from my friends at Health.com on how you can not only boost your sex drive, but become more highly healthy at the same time:
1. Get plenty of exercise
If you want to make your marriage a bit more “hot-blooded,” then improve your circulation.
Physical fitness can increase blood flow, which in theory can make sex more pleasurable since sexual arousal for both men and women involves increased blood flow to the genital area. And that can increase desire itself—if it feels great, you tend to want to do it more.
Exercise boosts endorphins, which lift your mood, and it can increase your energy. Not to mention that being toned makes some people feel sexier.
2. Eat a healthy diet
Arteries clogged with saturated fat don’t bring as much blood to the genital area for arousal purposes. Hence the correlation between heart disease, blood vessel disease, and erectile dysfunction.
But excess weight also messes with your hormones.
“Obesity can shift the balance between estrogen and testosterone,” says Michael Krychman, MD, executive director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine in Newport Beach, Calif. And low testosterone can bring down your sex drive.
Nutrition counts too. For example, an iron deficiency can lead to fatigue, which in turn can lead to low libido. (Eat your broccoli!)
3. Manage your stress
“How about a simple vacation? How about communicating with your partner?” suggests Irwin Goldstein, MD, director of San Diego Sexual Medicine and editor in chief of The Journal of Sexual Medicine. “People are overworked and stressed, and they translate their overworked, stressed lives to a lousy sex life.”
You can learn more about becoming happier and more highly healthy by reading my book 10 Essentials of Happy, Healthy People.
When I wrote my book, 10 Essentials of Highly Healthy People, I included information on how people can make decisions that will affect the quantity and quality of their lives. Here’s a redux of a number of studies on longevity (adapted from an article from Fox News).
More Information: Continue reading