Health Female Adda
1 year ago
Be Healthy: Answers to All Your Health Questions

There's no arguing with some health advice: Cigarettes? Trash 'em. Vegetables? Eat 'em. Stair machines? Sweat your shrinking glutes all over 'em. But not all advice is so clear-cut. That's because the advice we first got from mom goes against the advice we get from our girlfriends, which goes against what our doc once said, which goes against the latest news report, which goes against what's on the back of the Frosted Mini-Wheats box. In this swirl of seemingly conflicting health information, we wish we could screen the advice the way we screen phone calls — respond to the trustworthy and ignore the questionable. Here, we take a look at those health concerns that straddle the line between hype and fact so you can decide what's worth worrying about and what isn't.

Should I be scared of...x-rays?

Not unless you're stashing diamond chips in your fillings. Typically, low doses of radiation, like during medical x-rays, won't cause cancer. Actually, radiation emitted during medical x-rays is too small to measure, and the benefits of this exposure often outweigh the risks. While women who suspect they may be pregnant often discuss postponing x-rays to prevent birth defects, research shows that x-ray exposure is extremely unlikely to harm a fetus. Still, x-rays shouldn't be taken just because the dental hygienist suggests them. "One only wants to have exposure when they're getting some kind of benefit," says Martha S. Linet, M.D., chief of the Radiation Epidemiology Branch at the National Cancer Institute. While studies with cell phones are continuing, there is yet to be evidence of danger. That goes for microwaves too. "People tend to be very afraid of radiation out of all proportion to the real risk behind it, in comparison to other things such as cigarette smoking," Dr. Linet says. Or the sun, for example. "Ultraviolet light is a form of radiation that there's no question is associated with increased risk of skin cancer," she says.

Should I be scared of...taking the pill for umpteen years?

Some people think taking oral contraceptives is like working at your desk for too long. Take a break and you'll feel better. Advice about on-again, off-again pill-taking may have stemmed from early research about hormonal side effects — specifically that estrogen and progestin could cause cancer, birth defects, blood clots, or weight gain. But the Pill was high in hormones when it arrived in 1960; today, most oral contraception is low in hormones. "Some doctors used to say, 'You've been on the Pill for a while. Let's come off it for a few months and give you a rest,'" says Bradley Goldberg, M.D., an ob-gyn in Douglas, Georgia. "But there really have been no studies that have shown it's beneficial to get off the Pill." In fact, Dr. Goldberg says there's a high risk of unintended pregnancies with such breaks. And staying on the Pill long term can actually have benefits. While women have a 10 to 20 percent chance of getting breast cancer while on the Pill, studies also show that the hormones can reduce uterine cancer by 40 percent after 2 years of being on it and 60 percent after 4 years. Ovarian cancer decreases 50 percent after 4 years and 80 percent after 10 years. And if you smoke, here's another reason to stop: A study in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology showed that smokers taking oral contraceptives are 30 times more likely to have a heart attack.

Should I be scared of...having a heart attack before I'm 40?

The standard image of a heart attack victim: male, about 65, Bears fan, Big Mac in one hand and a side of sausage in the other. Okay, we know that's not you. In fact, statistically, not that many women under 40 have heart attacks (about 10,000 women between 29 and 44 have heart attacks, compared to 34,000 men). But if a young woman does, her chances of death are greater than a man's. That's probably because it takes women about 30 to 60 minutes longer to own up to cardiac symptoms, says Alexandra J. Lansky, M.D., associate professor of clinical medicine at Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center in New York City. "Either she's not recognizing what it means, or she's saying to herself, 'This isn't serious. It'll go away,'" Dr. Lansky says. Those symptoms include discomfort in your chest, arms, neck, or mouth; shortness of breath; general fatigue; or sweating. It's especially important to get immediate help if you're most at risk to early heart attacks (female smokers have a sixfold risk, and diabetics and women with high cholesterol are prime candidates, Dr. Lansky says). So stay on top of your numbers to determine your chances of coronary-artery disease — the cause of heart attacks. Blood pressure should run less than 120/80 mm Hg. Bad (LDL) cholesterol should be less than 100 mg/dL and good (HDL) cholesterol greater than 50 mg/dL. Still, low cholesterol doesn't always put you in the clear. Take a C-reactive protein test to measure inflammation in your arteries. The test has been an added predictor of heart attacks. A CRP level less than 1 indicates low risk.

Should I be scared of...having kids after age 35?

Somewhere between the increasing availability of in-vitro fertilization and Carrie Bradshaw, women started having babies later. Between 1978 and 2000, birthrates for women ages 35 to 44 surged more than 50 percent, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. Medically speaking, a woman who's going to be 35 when she delivers is at "advanced maternal age" (a nice way of saying your eggs may start coming out scrambled instead of soft-boiled). "I don't discourage women over age 35 from getting pregnant," Dr. Goldberg says. "The vast majority of women who get pregnant after age 35 are going to have normal babies and healthy pregnancies." For some, however, getting pregnant may be more difficult, and the chance that a 35-year-old will have a miscarriage is 20 percent, compared to 9 percent for women in their 20s, according to a study in the British Medical Journal. With an increase in age, you'll also see higher risks of birth defects. The risk of having a baby with Down's Syndrome or other genetic defect: 1 in 400 at age 35, 1 in 180 at age 38, 1 in 105 at age 40. Women over 35 should see a high-risk obstetrician called a perinatologist, who may recommend an in-depth sonogram and an amniocentesis to test for levels of birth defects. Testing won't prevent birth defects, but it's recommended for women over 35 so they can learn more about their risks and potential problems.

Should I be scared of...breaking my bones?

Bones, schmones. No need to worry about osteoporosis (which accounts for fractures in one of every two women older than 50) until after you get your AARP card. Right? Wrong — now's the time to build strong bones. You reach peak bone mass about the age 0f 25. It stays stable until your 30s and 40s, and then starts to decrease, leaving your bones more porous and fragile. That loss may be caused by hormonal changes, less physical activity, chronic disease, a suboptimal diet, smoking, or excessive alcohol intake, says Felicia Cosman, M.D., clinical director of the National Osteoporosis Foundation and associate professor of clinical medicine at Columbia University in New York City. Since osteoporosis medications are only effective for postmenopausal women, the prescription for you is prevention. Calcium and exercise may have the power to totally prevent osteoporosis, says Dr. Cosman. Get at least 1,000 mg of calcium a day from dairy products, calcium-fortified foods, or Viactiv chews. Do weight-bearing exercises, which work against gravity to support body weight, three times a week. For instance, jogging, dancing, and aerobics elicit the secretion of cell chemicals that produce bone mass and help prevent bone loss. Weight training three times a week has also been shown to maintain bone density. Another reason to sweat: "Exercising increases muscle mass and function, which reduce the risk of falling and improve the odds that if you do fall, you're not going to have a fracture," Dr. Cosman says.

Should I be scared of...eating fish?

Fish is great for you. One of the best foods you can eat to keep your weight down and mind power up, right? But something's always told you to be careful — since the '70s, we've been warned that eating fish with toxic mercury levels can cause neurological impairment, especially in pregnant women. For the most part, you can relax. While the FDA supports studies that show no mercury-related impairments in children born to mothers who ate 12 meals of fish a week, it's always best to err on the side of caution when eating fish with higher mercury levels (the majority of the most-consumed fish in the United States have low levels). "Mercury is a neurotoxin, so it can cause neurologic symptoms when the dose is high enough," says Katherine M. Shea, M.D., a pediatrician in Raleigh, North Carolina. Even low-dose exposures while pregnant may cause memory or attention problems in the child. "These are subtle, but may be significant enough to cause problems in school," says Dr. Shea. Follow FDA guidelines (found at FDA Consumer), which recommend that pregnant or lactating women eat no more than 12 ounces or two meals of low-mercury fish a week, and up to 6 ounces of canned albacore tuna a week. Women thinking about becoming pregnant should stick to low-mercury fish for 6 to 12 months before that, Dr. Shea says. While a delicious, high-mercury swordfish once in a while won't kill us, seafood with low to medium mercury levels and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids are best. Eat tilapia, salmon, chunk light tuna, shrimp, catfish, and halibut. (For a complete listing of mercury levels, check the FDA listing at FDA Mercury Levels.)

Should I be scared of...pain medication?

The best pain meds are like the best men. They're the ones least likely to cause you heartache. First, Vioxx was recalled because studies linked the pain medication to heart attacks and strokes. Its brethren, Celebrex and Bextra, are now being evaluated. Even naproxen, found in Aleve, came under the gun after the FDA said it might also cause heart attack and stroke. Your concern: They're great cramp-busters. "There were a lot of young women either taking Vioxx, Celebrex, or Bextra for menstrual symptoms," says A. Mark Fendrick, M.D., professor of internal medicine at the University of Michigan. Yet COX-2 inhibitors such as Vioxx and Celebrex are no better than a couple of Advil. "This new class of nonsteroidal drugs is no better at treating pain or inflammation than the older, traditional type," Dr. Fendrick says. These highly advertised drugs were developed for older people who experienced stomach upset like gastrointestinal bleeding from over-the-counter (OTC) drugs like ibuprofen. Intermittent OTC medication users need not worry. "In most instances, young women could do just as well with an older, nonsteroidal drug like ibuprofen or naproxen, because they're at very low risk for stomach problems with these drugs," Dr. Fendrick says.

Should I be scared of...sweeteners?

Like 46 percent of Americans, you may use those little Easter egg-colored packets for more than your discarded gum. FDA consensus is that no-cal sweeteners sucralose (found in Splenda), saccharin (in Sweet 'N Low), and aspartame (in NutraSweet and Equal) are safe. While there are no studies linking Splenda to health problems, many claim the chlorinated chemical causes everything from migraines to skin rashes to mood swings. What to believe? "There are no long-term studies using Splenda, and we don't know how much it accumulates in the body," says David Edelberg, M.D., medical director of WholeHealth Chicago and assistant professor of medicine at Rush Medical College. "When somebody has a history of migraines or unexplained skin rashes or fatigue, brain fog, and so on, we have them routinely go off of foods with chemicals and preservatives, thinking they may be the trigger." If you have curious symptoms, lay off the packets of powder for a month. If symptoms return upon trying the sweetener again, you have a potential culprit. Or consider using real sugar in your coffee again. Substituting sucralose for sugar in small amounts really makes a marginal difference in total calorie consumption, Dr. Edelberg says.

Should I be scared of...my poor posture?

Your posture may make you look like a banana, and standing up straight will do more than satisfy finger-shaking moms. "When you slump, you compress those discs between the vertebrae," says Jerome McAndrews, D.C., national spokesman for the American Chiropractic Association. "They want to return to that abnormal configuration." When the spine becomes accustomed to bad posture, everything else goes askew. For instance, slumping compresses and shrinks the chest and abdominal cavity, which may cause shortness of breath and digestive problems like constipation. If, at a profile's glance, your ears aren't aligned above the shoulders, you have poor posture. Luckily, repairing shoddy posture is as easy as acquiring it. Sit with a small pillow behind the small of your back to maintain the normal curves in the spine. Your lower back should curve slightly forward, the upper back slightly backward, and the neck forward again. Sitting for long periods of time causes the muscles in the backs of your legs to shorten, throwing our pelvic bones off-kilter and inciting a hunch. Get up often and switch crossed legs to stretch those muscles. For half an hour a day, sit cross-legged on a pillow to stretch the groin ligaments and realign the pelvic bones, Dr. McAndrews says. And while Jimmy Choo may never forgive you for this, your back will: Avoid wearing high heels, because they contract and shorten the muscles in the backs of the legs and tilt the pelvis to distort your alignment, Dr. McAndrews says.
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