Archive for March, 2011

Know Your Chi Flow 24/7 with iPhone App

Like a 21st Century version of the mood ring, an iPhone app can give you a reading on your chi (qi) throughout the day.

What’s more, the 24/7 Chi application will lead you through a series of pressure point manipulations, meditation exercises, and stretches to help you wind down the day and try to connect with your natural rhythms and cycles, says inventor Matt Harrigan in a recent community blog post.

An inventor and student of alternative therapies, Harrigan had created a Chi Watch that enabled people to observe their 24-hour Chi cycle on the watch’s face. This apparently was based on the traditional Chinese medicine concept that we all have a diurnal clock inside us that regulates body rhythms to allow our bodies to function more efficiently and to defend against illness.

When the iPhone came along, Harrigan decided to take advantage of the new technology to update his concept, and his 24/7 app first appeared last fall.

The application can be downloaded at MEDL Mobile’s website or on iTunes for $2.99.

As described on the MEDL Mobile website, chi keeps the rhythm and sets the pace of our daily lives by traveling throughout our bodies along energy channels known as meridians. Chi flows through each of the twelve major meridians during a specific 2-hour period of the day.

The spleen meridian (between 9-11 a.m) is the best time for hard work, intellectual challenges or handling emotionally burdening tasks. The heart meridian (between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.) is the time to pursue your most meaningful and enjoyable activities. The kidney meridian (between 5-7 p.m.) is the best time to relax, unwind, and decompress.

The 24/7 Chi application includes three therapy options to improve your chi flow.

The first is acupressure used to relieve anxiety by manipulating the body’s pressure points with the fingers.

The second is Chi Kung (qigong), which involves standing still, breathing, and slowly moving the body.

The third is meridian stretching, 6 stretches that focus on the body’s 12 meridians.

The app also allows you to add any meridian, therapy treatment, or specialist to your favorites, and has a GPS Google Maps locator for the nearest alternative health specialists.

It sounds like a lot of fun, and probably works better than the old mood ring I’ve got stashed somewhere in a junk drawer.

Healthy Solutions to Lose Weight and Keep it Off

Successful weight loss depends largely on becoming more aware of your habits and behaviors and starting to change them.

In the classic book, Changing for Good, lead author James Prochaska describes the six stages of change:

1. Pre-Contemplation – Resisting change

2. Contemplation – Change on the horizon

3. Preparation – Getting ready

4. Action – Time to move

5. Maintenance – Staying there

6. Recycling – Learning from relapse

Once you determine which stage of change you’re in, you can create a climate where positive change can occur, maintain motivation, turn setbacks into progress, and make your new habits a permanent part of your life.

A newly updated Harvard Medical School Special Health Report entitled “Healthy Solutions to Lose Weight and Keep it Off” offers a range of solutions that you can tailor to your specific needs and help you change your habits to make weight loss more manageable.

Here are some of the habits described in the report’s Special Section that target the common reasons people are overweight:

Set small, specific, realistic goals. Set a realistic goal of losing 5-10% of body weight, and allowing plenty of time and some flexibility to reach the goal. Focus on specific goals like, “I will bring lunch from home 3 times a week and walk Monday and Wednesdays after work.”

Start self-monitoring. Writing down what you eat and how often you exercise can help you gain awareness of your behaviors and track your changes toward goals.

Cultivate a support network. Find at least one weight-loss buddy to help motivate and hold you accountable.

Adjust your attitude toward exercise. Reinvigorate your exercise routine: Take a brisk walk, try a new exercise, or plan an active outing.

Eat breakfast slowly and mindfully. Get up 15 minutes earlier and practice eating slowly.

Shop smarter. Never shop when you are hungry and use a list to avoid impulse buys. Your list should have healthy dinner and snack options.

Reward yourself with non-food pleasures. Treat yourself for working on one of these steps.

As the report suggests, don’t try to change all your habits at once. Choose one or two ideas that seem the most manageable, and see if you can stick with them for a week or so. Then add another one the next week. Small successes help you change your behavior, and little by little you will lose weight.

Tai Chi Helps Ease Depression in the Elderly

The ancient Chinese mind-body exercise of Tai Chi can help relieve the symptoms of depression in older people.

More than 18 million American adults suffer from depression, and 2 million of them are age 65 or older. A new study from the University of California at Los Angeles shows that 10 weeks of Tai Chi classes for 2 hours per week helped to relieve depressive symptoms, as well as improve quality of life, memory, and cognition, and provide more overall energy, among 112 adults age 60 or older with major depression who were also treated with an antidepressant drug.

The study in the current online edition of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry is the first study to demonstrate the benefits of Tai Chi in the management of late-life depression, said lead author Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a UCLA professor-in-residence of psychiatry.

Any kind of exercise may seem the last thing you want to do if you are depressed, but exercise may help relieve your symptoms. The links between anxiety, depression, and exercise is quite robust. There’s good evidence to suggest that exercise can improve depression and anxiety, and exercise may be just as good as drugs in treating depression.

Exercise probably helps in a number of ways, including releasing feel-good brain chemicals (neurotransmitters and endorphins) and reducing immune system chemicals that can worsen depression. Exercise has many psychological and emotional benefits as well. These include gains in self-confidence, feeling better about your appearance, relaxation of the mind, and enhancement of social interactions.

A number of Tai Chi studies have reported improvement in mood, decreases in anxiety, and enhancement in vigor. A recent meta-analysis of 40 Tai Chi studies including more than 3,800 subjects conducted by Dr. Chenchen Wang from the Division of Rheumatology at Tufts University School of Medicine found that Tai Chi reduced stress, anxiety, depression, and mood disturbance, and increased self-esteem.

“Tai Chi provides a perfect combination of exercise, mood enhancement, stress reduction, and social support,” says Dr. Peter Wayne, Director of Tai Chi and Mind-Body Research Programs at Harvard Medical School’s Osher Research Center. “Being part of a group has therapeutic value for a variety of medical conditions, including depression and anxiety. In ongoing Tai Chi classes, students develop a strong sense of community, and with rich interactions and support from teachers and peers, often undergo a profound journey of self-discovery.”

Tai Chi may just be a natural way for our aging population to handle the psychological aspects of depression and improve their physical health at the same time.

A Baby at Last! Wins An Outstanding Book Award from ASJA

In a bit of shameless promotion, I’m proud to state that the American Society of Journalists and Authors (of which I’m a long-time member and past president) just announced its list of ASJA 2011 Awards, and A Baby at Last! won an honorable mention in the Outstanding Book Service/Self-help category:

The awards will be presented on April 29 during the 40th Annual ASJA Writers Conference, which will be held in New York City, April 29 – May 1, 2011.

Here’s a list of all the award winners:

2011 Award Winners

Outstanding Book Awards

General Nonfiction:

Winner: Murder in the High Himalaya (Public Affairs) — Jonathan Green

Honorable mentions:

The Lost Dogs: Michael Vick’s Dogs and their Tale of Rescue and Redemption (Gotham) — Jim Gorant

The Tin Ticket: The Heroic Journey of Australia’s Convict Women (Berkley Books) — Deborah J. Swiss

Memoir/Autobiography

Winner: Crossing the Heart of Africa (Harper Perennial) — Julian Smith

Service/Self-help

Winner: Green Sense (The Taunton Press) — Kevin Daum

Honorable mentions: A Baby at Last (Simon & Schuster) — Mark Fuerst

The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing (Writers Digest Books) — Marilyn Ross

Children/YA

Winner: My Orange Duffel Bag (Operation Orange Media) — Echo Garrett

Outstanding Article Awards Business/Technology

Winner: “Take us to the River” (Fast Company) — Michael Fitzgerald

Honorable Mentions:

“Entry Fee” (Proto) — Rachael Moeller Gorman

“How to Save the Grasslands” (Time.com) — Judith Schwartz

First-person (personal experience or dramatic narrative)

Winner: “My Mother’s Brain” (D Magazine) — Beatriz Terrazas

Honorable mention:

“Do it Yourself Genetics” (Duke Magazine) — Barry Yeoman

Lifestyle

Winner: “A Strange and not Unpleasant Experience” (Bicycling Magazine) — Florence Williams

Honorable mention:

“Timeless Sardines” (Leite’s Culinaria) Mary Ann Castronovo Fusco

Personal essay/opinion/op-ed

Winner: “Taking Grief Step by Step” (Whole Living) — Judi Ketteler

Honorable mention:

“Hometown Exile” (Texas Observer) — Beatriz Terrazas

Profile

Winner: “How Mya Saved Jacob” (Spirit Magazine) — Kate Silver

Honorable Mentions:

“Little Bill Clinton: Easing into a Comfort Zone” (The Christian Science Monitor) — Mary Wiltenburg

“Looking for a Greener Way of Death” (Salon.com) — Rachel Dickinson

Reporting on a significant topic

Co-winners: “Where are we Headed? The Future of Energy” (The Christian Science Monitor) — Douglas Fox

“The African Divide” (The Christian Science Monitor) — Jina Moore

Honorable mention:

“Confronting Rape as a War Crime” (Congressional Quarterly Press Global Researcher) — Jina Moore

Service Article

Winner: “Understanding Depression at Mid-Life” (Woman’s Day) — Cheryl Platzman Weinstock

Honorable Mentions:

“Your Brain on Meditation” (Yoga Journal) — Kelly McGonigal

“Between the Lines” (Better Homes and Gardens) –Leslie Pepper

Trade

Co-winners: “Mindfulness and Weight loss” (IDEA Fitness Journal) — Kelly McGonigal

“When IT is Asked to Spy” (Computerworld) — Tam Harbert

ASJA Founders’ Award for Career Achievement

Grace Weinstein, ASJA past president

The Arlene Eisenberg Award for Writing That Makes A Difference

Winner: “School of Hard Knocks” (Good Housekeeping) — Barry Yeoman

Honorable mention:

“Finding Ann Marie (Bethesda Magazine) — Christine Koubeck

June Roth Memorial Award for Medical Journalism

Winner: “The Hot Zone” (Discover Magazine) — Linda Marsa

Donald Robinson Memorial Award for Investigative Journalism

No winners.

Honorable mentions:

“A Risky Play” (City Limits) — Patrick Arden

“A Return to Baghdad”(Gay City News) — Michael Luongo

Cancer Survivors Can Father Children

Men who have a zero sperm count from cancer treatments may still have a chance to father a child.

“We can usually retrieve sperm from the testicles of 30-50% of men who had chemotherapy even 15 or more years ago. Using ICSI, about 20% take home a baby,” write Weill Cornell Drs. Zev Rosenwaks and Marc Goldstein in A Baby at Last!

Sperm can be extracted using a procedure called microdissection testicular sperm extraction (TESE), a procedure that was developed by Weill Cornell researchers.

The procedure enables doctors to identify small areas in the testicles where sperm are made and then carefully extract these healthy sperm cells, even in men whose testicles have been severely damaged by chemotherapy. These sperm are then directly injected into a woman’s egg using an advanced in vitro fertilization (IVF) procedure called ICSI, which stands for intracytoplasmic sperm injection.

In a new study published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology on March 14, Weill Cornell researchers report on more than 1,000 TESE procedures on nearly 900 men, including 73 cancer patients.

The researchers retrieved sperm in 27 (37%) of the cancer survivors, which led to the birth of 20 children using IVF techniques.

If you have cancer, the type of cancer and type of chemotherapy you receive affects your chances of successful sperm retrieval. For men with testicular cancer who received platinum drugs, the sperm retrieval rate was 85%. Men with lymphoma treated with an alkylating agent such as cyclophosphamide had lower retrieval rates, ranging from 26-36%. Sarcoma patients had the lowest retrieval rate, only 14%.

“When we started this study, we thought sperm retrieval rates would be close to zero among the group of cancer survivors, but we were surprised to discover that in many cases small areas of testicular tissue survived and resumed sperm production over a period of several years,” said lead author Peter Schlegel, MD, chairman of the Department of Urology at Weill Cornell Medical College, in a press release about the study.

“This study gives men a new way to achieve fertility and the potential of parenthood. Survivors of childhood cancer should be made aware of options besides using banked sperm, adoption or donors if they want to be fathers,” noted Lisa Diller, MD, Associate Professor of Pediatrics, Harvard Medical School, in the release.

Because the numbers of sperm retrieved from the testicles of cancer survivors are low, TESE is best performed at the time of egg retrieval so that fresh sperm can be immediately injected into the egg using ICSI. Any extra sperm can be frozen and preserved for future use.

The 7 Secrets to Lasting Weight Loss

If like millions of Americans you struggle to lose weight and keep it off, the secret (actually 7 of them) is out on how to do it.

By studying people who have succeeded in losing weight and keeping it off, the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR) has identified 7 secrets to successful weight loss, says registry co-founder James O. Hill, Ph.D.

A report published by the American College of Sports Medicine in the March/April issue of ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal lists 7 tips gleaned from more than 6,000 people who have joined the NWCR and successfully kept the weight off. According to an ACSM press release, the tips are:

1. Be active. More than half of NWCR members expend more than 2,000 calories each week, exercising moderately for about 200 minutes per week.

2. Turn off the television. About two-thirds of NWCR members watch television for fewer than 10 hours per week.

3. Enjoy a low-calorie, low-fat diet. The average NWCR member consumes 1,380 calories per day, with less than 30% of calories from fat.

4. Keep your diet consistent. NWCR members resist the urge to splurge on holidays or weekends, and tend to eat the same foods on a regular basis.

5. Eat breakfast. Three-quarters of NWCR members eat breakfast each day.

6. Show some restraint. NWCR members exert great control over their eating habits, and they rarely overeat.

7. Keep track of your progress. Most NWCR members weigh themselves at least once a day and note their food intake.

How many of these 7 secrets do you abide by?

Osteoporosis Beyond Bone Mineral Density

An estimated 10 million Americans have osteoporosis, and every year 2 million people with osteoporosis have a so-called “osteoporotic fracture,” usually of the hip, spine, or wrist. Another 34 million (80% of them women) have osteopenia, which means their bones are thinner than normal but not thin enough to be labeled osteoporosis.

I recently wrote an article that appeared in the March 2011 issue of American Legion magazine in which I interviewed Steve Pieczenik, MD, PhD of NBI Pharmaceuticals in Bozeman, MT. He told me that doctors primarily rely on bone mineral density (BMD) tests in conjunction with age, fracture history, and family history to determine fracture risk. But BMD does not accurately reflect fracture risk, he says.

The BMD test indicates the hardness of bone, imparted by the minerals calcium and magnesium. “Flexibility is what helps bones resist fracture – the bone’s ability to bend and not break,” Dr. Pieczenik says.

In today’s New York Times “Personal Health” column, Jane Brody notes that bisphosphonates, the most commonly prescribed osteoporosis drugs, can reduce the “toughness” of bones, according to a report from a 27-member task force of the American Society for Bone and Mineral Research published online last September.

The task force was looking into reports of unusual, hard-to-diagnose and hard-to-heal fractures of the femur, the long bone of the thigh, among women who have taken bisphosphonates — which can slow bone loss and increase bone density — for many years.

It’s bone collage that helps create flexibility, and to build bone collagen, you need vitamin K, says Dr. Pieczenik. Vitamin K is a fat-soluble nutrient (like vitamins A and D) found abundantly in leafy green vegetables, such as kale, spinach, and collard greens, as well as lettuce, cabbage, and asparagus.

Scientists at Harvard Medical School analyzed 10 years of health data on vitamin K intake and bone health in more than 70,000 women in the Nurses’ Health Study. Those with the highest intake of vitamin K had a 30% lower risk for hip fracture, compared with women who had the lowest intake.

Doctors from England analyzed data from 13 studies on osteoporosis and found that a specific form of vitamin K called MK4 in the amount of 45 mg per day decreased hip fractures by 73%, spinal fractures by 60%, and non-spinal fractures by 81%. This is significantly better than spinal fracture reductions with the bisphosphonates Fosamax (47%) and Boniva (52%) and another common osteoporosis drug Evista (30%), says Dr. Pieczenik.

If you are at risk for or have osteoporosis, he suggests you start eating more green, leafy vegetables and consider taking dietary supplements containing calcium, vitamin D, and 45 mg of MK4.

Adding Acupuncture to IVF

More and more infertile couples are turning to holistic techniques to increase their odds of conception and to cope with the stresses of trying to conceive.

There is increasing evidence of the effectiveness of alternative medical approaches. Some fertility clinics recommend that couples introduce yoga, relaxation, and nutrition into their fertility treatment plans, or, in difficult cases, to try acupuncture in addition to assisted reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF).

As a fertility treatment, acupuncture is said to increase blood flow to the uterus, relax the cervix, and help stabilize the nervous system to allow the body to handle stress better.

The effects of acupuncture may also be based on brain chemistry. Acupuncture may help to improve a woman’s chances of conceiving by balancing the hormones released by the brain. In 2002, Weill Cornell researchers, including Dr. Zev Rosenwaks, searched the medical literature and found a clear link between acupuncture treatments and increased production of endorphins, the body’s natural pain-killing brain chemical.

The studies they reviewed suggested that certain effects of acupuncture are mediated through endorphins, and the endorphins influence secretions of reproductive hormones. So it’s logical to hypothesize that acupuncture may influence ovulation and fertility.

This new blog post says prominent acupuncturist Jin Jin Hua asserts acupuncture can be used in conjunction with IVF to further enhance your fertility chances to a “surprising success rate of 60% among infertile women.”

Since IVF pregnancy rates are at about 50%, adding acupuncture might boost a woman’s chance of having a baby by about 10%.

But the jury is still out as to whether acupuncture can help increase your chances of getting pregnant with IVF, based on very mixed results of clinical trials.

While there are still some unresolved issues about acupuncture and IVF, it’s unlikely that acupuncture does any harm, and probably does reduce the stress associated with fertility treatment.

If you do decide to try acupuncture, always check on the training and qualifications of the acupuncturist. The National Certification Commission for Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine can help you locate a board-certified, licensed acupuncturist in your area.

What’s your experience in using acupuncture along with IVF?

Top Five Winter Sports Injuries: What You Can Do

The latest feature on the Sports Injury Handbooks website is about the top five winter sports injuries, and what you can do about them. Here’s an excerpt:

There you are bombing down a snowy hill or zooming across the ice when BOOM, you hit something, hard. The next thing you know, you’re being carried off on a stretcher. Welcome to the wonderful world of winter sports injuries.

Broken bones due to snowboarding and sledding top the list of common causes for visits to the emergency room (ER) during the winter months. According to the Centers for Disease Control, snowboarding accounts for one quarter of all ER visits, with half of all cases due to broken bones and sprains.

The top five injury-producing winter sports are sledding, hockey, ice skating, snowboarding, and skiing, says Daryl O’Connor, MD, orthopaedic surgeon at Gottlieb Memorial Hospital in Chicago. Here’s his take on the injuries from these sports, and what you can do to prevent them:

– Sledding. More than 700,000 injuries are reported each year in the US due to sledding, says Dr. O’Connor, and more than 30% are head injuries caused by collisions. What You Can Do: Use a sled with some steering capability. If possible, remove any objects on the hill. Never go down a slope head first; using a helmet makes sense.

– Hockey. Lacerations, neck, shoulder, and knee injuries are the most common in hockey. Many of these injuries are caused by contact with another player, the ice, a puck, or a skate blade. What You Can Do: First and foremost, wear a helmet with a face mask. Use a mouthpiece. Make sure the playing surface, the boards, and the goals are in good condition.

– Ice Skating. Injuries to the wrist and the head and neck are most common, often caused by falls. What You Can Do: Wearing a helmet and using wrist guards may decrease the risks of injury. Make sure your skates are sharp and fit properly.

– Snowboarding. Wrist and elbow injuries are caused by falls on outstretched hands, and head injuries from hitting the snow, trees, or objects on the slopes. What You Can Do: Wear a helmet and use gloves with built-in wrist guards. Inspect your equipment to make sure it fits properly and bindings are adjusted properly.

– Skiing. Knees can become injured due to the extreme twisting force propelled by skis. Head, neck, and shoulder injuries can result from falls. What You Can Do: Wearing a helmet cuts your chances of a head injury in half. Check your equipment to ensure it’s in good repair. Follow all posted warning signs and don’t ski out of bounds.