Thursday, December 28, 2006


This year, make resolutions that you can attain

The start of a new year is a great opportunity to resolve to make a lifestyle change that will benefit your health and well-being. But if you’ve often broken your New Year’s resolutions almost as soon as you’ve made them, don’t be too hard on yourself. There are several reasons resolutions fail:

Since many resolutions revolve around exercising more, losing weight or eating healthier, these tips may help:

Catherine Schneider is a Registered Dietitian in the Food and Nutrition Department at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Ms. Schneider and all of the Healthy Living columnists at


Holidays can bring headaches

During the holiday season, headaches become a common problem and interfere with our enjoyment of winter festivities.

Over time, the human body develops various rhythms. These rhythms are based on essential functions such as eating, sleeping and stress levels. Any time these rhythms are upset, it is natural for the body to rebel. This rebellion can take the form of chest pain, upset stomach, or a rash. In migraine sufferers, a severe headache may ensue.

Migraines are defined as one-sided, throbbing headaches frequently accompanied by nausea and exacerbated by bright lights and loud sounds. Some migraines have warning symptoms such as visual changes or tingling. These premonitions are known as auras and often last 15-30 minutes.
Unfortunately, without intervention these headache episodes can go on for hours or even days.

Despite effective medical treatment with triptan medications (Relpax, Imitrex), beta-blockers (Inderal, Atenolol), antidepressants and anticonvulsants, the best treatment for migraines is prevention. By exercising regularly and keeping physiologic rhythms stable, headaches can often be avoided or their severity minimized.

The holidays present a special challenge to our usual routine. Travel, stress, overeating and drinking are all factors that precipitate headaches. Some tips for helping to navigate a more pleasurable holiday season include:

1. Sleep. Attempt to maintain a regular sleep pattern. Too much sleep is as harmful as too little.
2. Diet. We all like to try new foods at holiday time. Migraine sufferers should avoid spicy foods, sharp cheeses and processed meats. Try to drink more water than usual since dehydration can also lead to headaches.
3. Alcohol. Do without alcohol, especially red wines, scotch and bourbon.
4. Stress. Holidays can be very stressful which only serves to underscore any medical condition. Be especially vigilant of potentially tense situations and avoid them.

Sometimes migraine headaches cannot be prevented and medical intervention is necessary. Following some simple rules like those listed above can lead to both happy and healthy holidays.

Anthony G. Alessi, MD, MMM is a neurologist in private practice at NeuroDiagnostics, LLC in Norwich and a member of the Backus Hospital Medical Staff. He is also an Associate Clinical Professor of Neurology at UCONN. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Alessi and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

Friday, December 15, 2006


Take matters into your own hands to prevent the flu

“How do I prevent myself and my children from getting flu? Should we be getting a flu shot?” These are common questions I am asked this time of year, when like clockwork the cold and flu season arrives.

The answer is there are things you can do to prevent the flu -- and the single best way to do it is to get vaccinated. There are two types of vaccines:

• The "flu shot" – containing killed virus that is given to people 6 months of age and older, and people with existing medical conditions or pregnant.
• The nasal spray vaccine – a weakened live virus vaccine that can be given to healthy people 5 years to 49 years of age who are not pregnant.
While October and November are the best times to get vaccinated, December or even later can still be beneficial since most flu activity occurs in January or later in most years. It takes about two weeks for the protective antibodies to develop after the vaccination.

Who should get vaccinated?
In general anyone who wants to reduce their chances of getting the flu can get vaccinated. However the following are considered the high risk group as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

People at high risk for complications from flu are:

• Children aged 6 months to 5 years
• Pregnant women
• People 50 years of age and older
• People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions, and
• People who live in nursing homes and other long term care facilities
• People who live with or care for those at high risk for complications, including: household contacts of persons at high risk for complications from the flu (see above); household contacts and out of home caregivers of children less than 6 months of age (these children are too young to be vaccinated); and health care workers.

Tips to prevent the flu
Flu shots are important, but not the only way to avoid the flu. At this time of year, you want to keep going like the ‘Energizer Bunny’, and can’t afford to get sick. An ounce of prevention can go long way:

• Avoid close contact with people who are sick, keep your distance from others when you are sick
• Stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick
• Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when coughing and sneezing
• Wash your hands often
• Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth
• Get plenty of sleep, be physically active, manage your stress, drink plenty of fluids and eat healthy food

If you get the flu
Flu (influenza) is a viral infection of the upper airways (i.e. nose, throat) and lungs. A sudden onset of fever, runny/stuffy nose, sore-throat, cough, generalized aches and pains, and extreme fatigue are typical symptoms. Among children it can commonly lead to nausea, and vomiting and other complications such as dehydration.
For a majority of healthy people, the illness lasts usually for 3-7 days, although cough and general aches and pains can last for more than two weeks. Obviously it is far more dangerous in certain populations, such as young children, elderly and persons suffering from other illnesses like asthma, diabetes, and heart disease.

How serious is flu?
In the United States, each year on average 5-20% of the population gets the flu of which about 200,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications and about 36,000 people die. Complications of flu include pneumonia, ear infections, and sinus infections, all of which can worsen existing heart conditions or asthma or diabetes.
Generally flu season starts in November and lasts till March but may start as early as October and may last as late as May. Flu spreads from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Most people can pass on the flu from the day before their symptoms appear until five days after becoming sick.

Now that you learned a little bit about flu, call your doctor or local healthcare facility (such as the Backus Health Centers in Gales Ferry, Montville and Colchester), and get a flu shot.

Enjoy your good health and happy holidays.

Ravi Prakash, MD, is Chief of Pediatrics at Backus Hospital, with a private pediatric office in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Dr. Prakash and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

Friday, December 08, 2006


Healthy holiday habits

Food is often the center of celebrating the holidays. It is part of enjoying time with family and friends. Give the gift of health to yourself and your family this year. Here are some healthy holiday habits to get started.

Be realistic: Let go of guilt. Try to avoid the all or nothing mindset. Deprivation is not the answer – moderation and balance are key. Fill your plate with vegetables and fruits first and save a little room for favorites. Most people stress out about losing weight. Instead you may want to focus on not gaining or maintaining. The stressful holiday season is often not the most ideal time to achieve such a goal.

Be physically active every day. Now more important than ever: exercise is your ally! Take a walk. Don’t look for the closest parking spot when holiday shopping. Exercise is a win-win: it relieves stress and burns calories. Try for 30-60 minutes of physical activity a day.

Plan ahead. Arriving at a party famished could be a recipe for overindulgence. And never go all day with out eating to “allow” you to overindulge at a holiday dinner. Plan small meals the day of your event/party and a light snack before you go. Yogurt, fruit, rice cakes or a handful of walnuts are quick picks. To avoid overeating at your party, visualize what and how much you will eat before you go. And don’t forget to drink plenty of water. Hunger may simply be thirst in disguise.

Think whole grains, vegetables and fruits first. Whole grain foods have not gone through a lot of processing. Once they are refined, grains lose a lot of their nutritional value. When purchasing whole grain foods, look for words such as “whole grain,” “stone ground,” “whole ground,” “whole wheat flour,” “whole oat flour,” and “whole barley flour” on the ingredient list. Products with the word “enriched,” are not considered a whole grain. Make a Whole grain stuffing with 100% wheat bread, sautéed veggies in a small amount of olive oil and vegetable broth…instead of the traditional refined grains and butter. Choose more vegetables and fruits on your plate, instead of meat or poultry.

Trim recipes of extra fat. Egg substitute in place of whole eggs, applesauce in place of oil, non-fat yogurt or soy in place of sour cream. Replace butter in stuffing with fat-free vegetable or chicken broth. Sweet potatoes are sweet enough…but you could flavor with a bit of apple juice, ground cinnamon in place of butter and marshmallows. Use skim milk or soy milk, garlic and a little Parmesan cheese in mashed potatoes. For an appetizer or snack: try making hummus for dipping veggies and whole wheat pitas. You will be serving up fiber and phytonutrients rather than high fat sour cream based dips. American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) is one really great recipe resource, along with the Cancer Project.

Try something new. Introduce a new dish to your family and friends. How often do we all make the same things? Be adventurous. Look for recipes that center ingredients around whole grain, vegetables and fruits.

Achieve perspective. Relax and remember to keep the meaning of the season in mind. Enjoy the holidays and not just the special holiday foods. Plan ahead and watch portion sizes. Remember your keys: Balance and moderation, and keep in mind that overeating on special occasions is not cause for despair.

Renee Frechette is a registered dietitian who serves as the outpatient oncology dietitian in the The William W. Backus Hospital’s Radiation Therapy Center. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Frechette and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?