Tuesday, June 30, 2009


Be wary of herbal and nutritional supplements

The recent removal of Zicam and Hydroxycut products from the market highlights an important aspect of herbal medications: sometimes you don’t know what you are paying for.

Zicam was a popular zinc-based flu remedy that was taken off the market due to many reports of users losing their sense of smell, sometimes permanently.

Hydorxycut weight loss products have been linked to serious liver damage, and were removed from store shelves in May.

There are a multitude of valuable, safe, and effective nutritional and herbal supplements that can be used to improve your health. Unfortunately there is also a large amount of potentially harmful products as well – products that are harmful to your wallet as well as your health.

FDA-regulated medications must prove both safety and efficacy before they are marketed. Although not everything is known about a medication when it does reach the open market, rigorous testing and reporting of the medications’ risks and benefits allow you and your doctor to make informed decisions about what treatments you should use.

In contrast, companies that manufacture and sell herbal and nutritional supplements have very little regulation. They do not have to prove to any regulatory body that these products are safe or that they are effective.

Many reputable companies will perform their own in-house testing to ensure quality, but not all. And most companies do not conduct the type of safety studies demanded by the FDA for medications. Without such rigorous testing, dangerous side effects like those mentioned above can go unknown for years.

The FDA along with Federal Trade Commission have also taken serious action recently against a number of fraudulent internet sites selling Swine Flu remedies.

The manufacturing freedom mentioned above can lead to a lot of old-fashioned “snake oil”-like products.

Unscrupulous businesses tried to capitalize on the nation’s fear and make a quick buck by promoting products as treating or preventing the Swine Flu.

Just like days of old, slick salesmen use all sorts of gimmicks to try and get you to buy their often useless and occasionally dangerous products. Many of these dealers will use endorsements from phony doctors and unscientific studies to try to convince you of their value. Not all of it is on the internet though; some companies use very well produced, high-dollar radio and television infomercials to advertise their products as well.

How can you protect yourself and your family from potentially unsafe products?
* Stay informed and research as much as you can about the products you buy.
* Only buy from reputable manufacturers that have been in business for many years.
* Do not listen to internet or television commercial doctors that are often little more than practiced salesman. Instead, talk to your own doctor or pharmacist about products you are considering and gather objective advice.
* Always inform your healthcare providers about the nutritional and herbal products you do take and stay on the lookout for any safety alerts from the FDA.

Michael Smith is a pharmacist and Clinical Coordinator in the Department of Pharmacy Services at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you want to comment on this column or others, go to the Healthy Living blog at backushospital.org or E-mail Smith and all of the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009


When the weather breaks, practice safe gardening

The weather has been downright dreadful this spring – if you have gotten much gardening done, it was likely in between raindrops and with a sweatshirt on.

But weather forecasters say it is only a matter of time before the cool, rainy pattern breaks down in favor of warmer and drier conditions.

Many of us will have a lot of yard work and gardening to do when the sunny weather finally arrives.

Before you start this physical activity, be sure to know more than just what flowers look good where - gardening has safety precautions you should be aware of:

* Stretching major muscle groups before and after spending many hours in the yard is beneficial to preventing injury and tight muscles.
* Having the proper tools for digging, planting, and moving rocks is important for successful gardening and good health. Ones with ergonomically-sound handles are important to preventing hand injuries and forearm muscle fatigue.
* Consider wearing safety goggles to protect the eyes when mowing or using a weed-wacker.
* Using proper body mechanics, lifting with your legs, squatting to weed or plant, and not bending over at the waist are essential practices for preventing a back injuries.
* Breaking up the tasks makes gardening safer. Don’t spend the entire day in one position, like kneeling to weed. By varying the tasks or doing different activities that require different body positions – such as reaching up to prune a bush, standing to dig a hole, kneeling to plant a flower, or squatting to move a rock - you can enjoy gardening longer with less risk of injuries.
* If you can’t vary the task, take breaks often and do something different. The garden will still be there when you’re ready to return to it.
* Protection from the sun is important. Wear proper clothing or sunscreen and drink plenty of fluids. Be aware of signs of heat-related illnesses, like fatigue, dizziness, headache, nausea, confusion and a high body temperature.
* Gloves can protect your hands from cuts, insect bites, and chemicals used in the garden. Use insect repellent and inspect your skin after spending time in the yard to remove any ticks or properly care for any open wounds.
* Following equipment’s safety instructions and maintaining tools properly is safe and makes them more effective.

Gardening can be a great exercise involving endurance, strength, flexibility, and balance. Enjoy it, but be careful.

Geoffrey Fabry is a physical therapist for The William W. Backus Hospital’s Rehabilitation Services Department. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. Email Fabry and all the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org or comment on their blog at healthydocs.blogspot.com.

Monday, June 15, 2009


Safe food handling a must for summer picnics and barbecues

The beginning of summer and the picnic/grilling season is upon us. The warm weather offers lots of opportunities for outdoor fun for families and friends, but these events also present opportunities for foodborne bacteria to thrive.

Nothing ruins a vacation or weekend at the beach more than a case of salmonella. To protect your family and friends, safe food handling is a must when eating and cooking outdoors.

Keep your food safe from the beginning and for most of us that starts at the grocery store. When shopping, buy the cold foods like meat, poultry or seafood last, right before checkout.

Separate it in the cart from the produce to avoid the juices from dripping on the lettuce, thus preventing cross contamination. When possible put the meat/seafood/poultry into plastic bags. Don’t make any side trips on the way home and it’s a good idea to keep a cooler in the car for perishables, especially when it’s over 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Once home, put the perishables in the fridge immediately. Freeze poultry and ground beef if it’s not to be used in 1-2 days.

You’re headed to the park or beach for that picnic and how you transport your food is critical in preventing illness. With this in mind, wash your cooler first with a bleach/water combination or an anti-bacterial cleanser.

Keep cold foods cold. Cold foods should be stored at 40 degrees Fahrenheit or below to prevent bacterial growth. Consider transporting the meat while still frozen so that it stays colder longer.

Transport beverages separately from the perishable foods. That way, as picnickers open and reopen the beverage cooler to replenish drinks, the perishable foods won’t be exposed to the warmer air temperature.

Keep coolers closed. Limit the number of times the cooler is opened as much as possible (always a challenge when kids are around!).

Don’t cross contaminate. Keep the raw meats securely wrapped and if possible separate from the prepared/cooked foods, fruits and vegetables.

Clean your produce. Rinse fresh fruits and vegetables before packing - including those with skins and rinds (ie. watermelon and oranges).

Safe cooking/grilling begins with clean hands and a clean working surface. If running water is not available simply use a water jug and soap. Consider anti-bacterial hand wipes or liquid hand sanitizer as an alternative (something every mom has in her purse, diaper bag or car).

When preparing your meats for grilling start with the following basics:

Marinate safely. Marinate foods in the fridge, not counter or outdoors. If you plan to use the marinade as a sauce, reserve a portion before the meat has been added. Never reuse marinade.

Cook immediately after ‘partial cooking’.

Cook food thoroughly. A food thermometer is recommended to ensure doneness. Guidelines are available online for everything from steak to seafood.

Keep “ready” food hot. Grilled food can be kept hot until served by moving it to the side of the grill rack, just way from the coals or if at home, put it into a covered dish in the oven and set the oven temperature to 175 degrees Fahrenheit to stay warm until serving time.

Don’t reuse platters or utensils. Reusing platters or utensils that previously held raw meat allows bacteria from the raw food to spread to the cooked food. Instead have a clean platter and utensils ready.

When it comes time to serve the food, keeping it at proper temperatures – indoor and out - is critical to prevent foodborne bacteria. The key is to never let your food remain in the danger zone – between 40 degrees Fahrenheit and 140 degrees Fahrenheit for more than 2 hours, or 1 hour if outdoor temperatures are above 90 degrees Fahrenheit.

Any foods left out for more than 2 hours should be tossed, 1 hour if the outside temperature is 90 degrees Fahrenheit or more.

As always, when in doubt, throw it out!

Wendy Kane is a registered dietitian and certified diabetes educator in the Backus Hospital Diabetes Management Center. This advice should not replace the advice from your physician. E-mail Ms. Kane and all the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org or comment on their blog at healthydocs.blogspot.com.


Blood may help heal sports injuries

Over the course of time, medical science has focused on the role of blood and blood products in treating diseases. Blood letting and leeching were used to remove toxins, while transfusions have saved countless lives.

The latest chapter in this saga is currently being written in the field of sports medicine. Platelet Rich Plasma (PRP) is an effort to harness the anti-inflammatory factors in human blood and inject them into an area of injury.

Plasma is the liquid component of blood containing red and white blood cells and platelets. It is within the platelets that clotting and growth factors exist.

PRP therapy involves removing a small amount of a patient’s own blood and filtering it to form plasma with a high concentration of platelets and subsequently the factors necessary to accelerate healing. This new solution can be injected directly into a chronically inflamed region that has not healed naturally.

Typical injuries that can be successfully treated with PRP include those that involve tendons and ligaments. The human body launches an immediate response after injury that is noted by swelling and redness. Sometimes the injury becomes persistent (chronic) as in tennis elbow and plantar fasciitis. Repetitive use injuries typically seen in baseball pitchers fit into this category. PRP jump-starts the healing mechanism in these situations.

The true test of any new treatment is based on success in clinical trials. Ideally, large numbers of patients are entered into a study and some are randomly selected to receive actual therapy such as PRP and others receive a placebo. The participants and treating physicians are not told which treatment has been used.

These studies are ongoing for PRP but initial reports indicate this may be an exciting new treatment that will help many patients while continuing a long and ancient tradition of using blood for curative purposes.

Monday, June 08, 2009


Monitors can help diabetes patients manage their disease

When managing your diabetes, you may think the only thing you need to do is watch what you eat.

But knowing what your blood sugar level is also is important. In order to keep track of these levels, it is important to monitor your blood sugar using a blood glucose meter.

Learning to use this important tool will help you know the influence of foods, medications and activity on your diabetes. You will also be able to notice any patterns in your blood sugar levels and when you may need to call the doctor for a change in your treatment plan.

Before taking a prescription for a blood sugar meter to the pharmacy, give your insurance company a call and find out if there is a particular brand that will make it more cost efficient for to test on a consistent basis. Some insurance companies have a relationship with a particular medical supplier that will actually make it much cheaper and easier to obtain diabetes supplies.

Once you have your blood sugar equipment in hand, learn how to use the equipment in the proper way. Here are the questions to consider:

1) How do I operate the meter, including calibration, if necessary?
2) How do I obtain an adequate blood sample?
3) What are all of the supplies used for that I have obtained with the meter?
4) How do I care and store the device and the supplies?
5) How do I properly dispose of the lancets?
6) Where do I document the results of the readings that I obtain?
7) What do the results that I receive from the meter mean?
8) When do I need to call the doctor?

There are several resources that can help answer these questions:
- The pharmacist
- A diabetes educator
- The nurse at your doctor’s office
- The company that made the meter. Every meter has an “800” number on the back.

Using a blood sugar meter to test your blood sugar on a consistent basis can give you piece of mind. The more that you know about your diabetes and what can change your blood sugar levels, the better you can take care of yourself and those around you.

Jane A. O’Friel is a nurse and certified diabetes educator who is the Diabetes Education Coordinator at the Backus Diabetes Management Center in Norwich. This advice should not replace the advice from your physician. Email Ms. O’Friel and all the Healthy Living columnists at healthyliving@wwbh.org or comment on their blog at healthydocs.blogspot.com.

Monday, June 01, 2009


Avoid the pitfalls of poison ivy

It’s one of the most common and irritating maladies that come along with the warm weather – poison ivy.

Each year, as soon as the weather warms and people begin spending more time outside, this nuisance rears its ugly head in my pediatric practice and across the country.

About 25 to 40 million people in the United States need medical treatment for poison ivy every year.

A person can get poison ivy either by direct contact or indirect contact such as pets, garden tools or when the plant is burned.

After contact, about 50% of people develop symptoms anywhere from four hours to four days later. The most common symptoms are intense itching, swelling, redness and blisters.

Left untreated, most people get better over the course of one to three weeks. But some severe lesions can become infected and cause more serious complications.

Treatments include adding oatmeal to the bath, applying cool compression and sometimes calamine lotion. These measures certainly help in alleviating some discomfort. A soap mixture called Zanfel may help relieve some symptoms.

Over the counter antihistamines like Benadryl or Claritin may help with the itching. Topical corticosteroids may work if used in the first few days. Most people will need a stronger cream than the cortisone cream available over the counter. When there are many lesions or the face or genitals are involved, oral corticosteroids are useful in relieving the symptoms. Do not use neomycin or bacitracin creams or ointments as these may make the rash worse.

The best way to prevent poison ivy is to identify and avoid the plants that cause it. These plants can cause symptoms year round, and even years after the plant dies.

“Leaves of three, let them be” is a phrase used to help identify plants that cause poison ivy. Generally poison ivy and poison oak have three leaves with flowering branches positioned on a single stem. Poison sumac has five, seven, or more leaves that angle upward toward the top of the stem. Some leaves may have black dots on them.

Other prevention techniques include wearing protective clothing and vinyl gloves while working on your yard or gardening; washing with mild soap and water after exposure (do not scrub); using creams such as Ivy Block, which might help people who are frequently exposed to poison ivy; and avoid burning poisonous plants as particles in the smoke can cause the dreaded poison ivy rash.

Ravi Prakash, MD, is a pediatrician on the Backus Hospital Medical Staff 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 healthyliving@wwbh.org or comment on their blog at www.healthydocs.blogspot.com.

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