By Dr. Mercola

When you're young and middle-aged, you don't give much thought to falling, but as you get older your muscle and bone mass decrease and the senses that guide your balance — vision, touch and proprioception — may all start to deteriorate, and this can make you unsteady on your feet.

Falls in people aged 65 and older are quite common. The latest data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that more than 1 out of 4 older Americans falls each year, and once you've fallen, you double your chances of falling again.

A fall in your golden years can come with steep consequences. Each year, 2.8 million older adults are treated in emergency rooms due to falls. More than 800,000 of them are hospitalized as a result, typically because of a head injury or hip fracture.

In fact, 300,000 older adults are hospitalized in the U.S. each year due to hip fractures, more than 95 percent of which are caused by falling (and particularly by falling sideways).

Falls are also the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries and account for $31 billion in direct medical costs annually.

Falls in the Elderly Can Trigger a Downward Deterioration in Health

While many falls are not serious, about 1 in 5 leads to a broken bone, head injury or other serious injury.

Even if you recover from the fall-related injury, those who fall can also develop an intense fear of falling again, which leads them to limit their activities, increases weakness and in turn raises their risk of falling even more.

For this reason, falls can make it difficult to live independently and may increase your risk of premature death. Adding to the problem is that many people do not tell their loved ones they've fallen out of embarrassment or fear that they could lose their autonomy.

Dr. Gisele Wolf-Klein, director of geriatric education at Northwell Health in Great Neck, New York, told CBS News:

"Elderly patients tend to not report falls to their families, or even doctors. A fall is a very frightening thing that you keep quiet about.

They think if they mention it that it'll start the ball rolling — the move to a nursing home, or the need for aides to help out in the house — and that they'll lose their independence."

In 2014 alone, the CDC reported that older Americans suffered from 29 million falls and a related 7 million injuries. In addition, CDC data suggests that 27,000 falls in the U.S. each year have fatal consequences.

Aging itself is a risk factor for falls, especially if you're not active, but there are additional factors that further increase your risk, including:

Optimizing Vitamin D Levels May Reduce Falls and Related Fractures

Vitamin D deficiency is rampant among the elderly. Researchers estimate that half of the general population is at risk of vitamin D deficiency or insufficiency, but among seniors that estimate reaches as high as 95 percent.

Vitamin D deficiency, in turn, is associated with muscle weakness that may be associated with a feeling of heaviness in the legs, tiring easily and difficulty climbing stairs and rising from a chair. Low vitamin D levels are also associated with an increased risk of falling in the elderly.

Optimizing your levels, via safe sun exposure or supplementation, appears to be a simple way to lower your fall risk (while also imparting additional health benefits).

Research shows, for instance, that supplementing with vitamin D in one elderly group improved muscle strength, walking distance, functional ability and body sway, with researchers noting:

"These findings and the observed improvements in bone density after vitamin D supplementation provide an explanation for the association between vitamin D supplementation and fewer falls and nonvertebral fractures in elderly people."

Previous research also suggests vitamin D has a beneficial effect on postural adaptations involving muscles and the central nervous system, which may explain the association between higher vitamin D levels and decreased rates of fall and fractures.

Exercise Helps Reduce Falls and Fall-Related Injuries in the Elderly

Preventing falls is one of the primary reasons why exercise remains so important as you get older, as physical activity is known to significantly reduce your chances of falling. Further, if you do end up falling, research shows that regular exercisers are less likely to be injured as a result.

Older adults who took part in an exercise program were 37 percent less likely to be injured during a fall compared to non-exercisers, one study found.

This included a 61 percent lower risk of having a fall-induced broken bone and a 43 percent lower risk of sustaining a fall-related injury serious enough to require admission to a hospital. The exercises included an emphasis on balance training along with strength and functional training and even Tai Chi.

It's likely the regular exercisers were not only better able to response physically to a fall but may also have been quicker mentally, allowing them to perhaps reach out and grab a railing for support and thereby suffer less injury.

Separate research has shown, for instance, that eight weeks of balance training reduced slips and improved the likelihood of recovery from slips among the elderly.

Other research, which noted that "altered balance is the greatest collaborator towards falls in the elderly," found balance training is effective in improving functional and static balance, mobility and falling frequency in elderly women with osteoporosis.

The ability to balance on one leg is also an important predictor of injury-causing falls, so if you know that you'd be shaky if you tried to stand on one foot, you're at an increased risk of being hurt in a fall and should start appropriate exercises immediately.

7 Exercises to Improve Balance and Coordination

If you're not actively working on improving your balance and coordination, you should be, especially if you're middle aged or older. Even if you're new to exercise, I believe it's virtually never too late to start.

My mother didn't start working out until she was 74 years old, and she continues to train regularly, as you can see in the video above. While many seniors benefit from strenuous activities such as high-intensity regimens and strength training, there are options even for people who are frail or confined to a wheelchair.

Below are seven simple, basic exercises you can do to help improve your balance and coordination, thereby reducing your risk of falling. They work to counteract some of the prime reasons why seniors fall, including poor balance and coordination, weakness in your hips and legs, poor posture and reduced ability to lift your feet, which can lead to stumbling.

Five of the exercise are done while seated while two are done while standing. For the seated exercises, begin seated in a chair that won't move or slide easily. Start slowly and only proceed to the next exercise once you've mastered or are comfortable with the previous one.

1. Toe Taps on Cone: Place a plastic cup, opening down, on the floor between your feet. Starting with your right leg, lift your leg up to gently tap the top of the cup with your toes, then place your foot on the opposite (left) side of the cup. Lift your right foot back over the cup, and set it down on the right side. Repeat 10 times with each leg, alternating sides.

2. Seated Leg Lifts: Lift your right leg with the knee bent at 90 degrees. Hold your leg up with your foot about 6 to 10 inches off the floor for five seconds. Repeat 10 times, then switch legs and do 10 repetitions on the other side.

3. Seated March: While seated, march your legs 20 times, lifting your feet at least a few inches off the floor. Be sure to focus on maintaining good posture while marching.

4. Hand-Eye Coordination and Balance: Place a plastic cup (opening facing down) in your right hand. Stretch your arm out in front of you while balancing the cup in your open hand.

Slowly move your arm out to the side and back to center. Repeat 10 times with each arm. When you're comfortable with this exercise, you may try doing it with your eyes closed. Be sure to remain seated, and if necessary, have someone help keep you upright, and/or be ready to stabilize you if you get dizzy.

5. Seated Arm Reach: While seated, simultaneously lift your right arm up high and raise your left leg, knee bent. Hold for a few seconds, then alternate sides. Repeat for a total of 20 times.

6. Side Leg Raise: Stand behind a chair, with one or both hands on the back of the chair for support. (Alternatively, keep one or both hands on the counter). Lift your right leg out to the side. Repeat 10 times for each leg. If you're comfortable, do the exercise without holding on to the chair or counter.

7. Staggered Stance Balance: Place your right foot forward and your left foot behind, then slowly shift your balance from your front leg to your back leg. Repeat 10 times, then switch leg positions, placing your left foot forward and your right foot behind. If needed, do this exercise standing next to a chair, or between two chairs, with the backs of the chairs toward your body, so you can grab on to them for support.

Strength-Training Exercises for Seniors

Without intervention, you can lose an average of nearly 7 pounds (3 kilos) of muscle per decade. If you stop working your muscles (or neglect to start), the consequences of age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia) are steep and include increased risk of falls and fractures.

The following exercises are suitable for many seniors who are just starting out with strength training. If you're more advanced, see my previous strength training for older adults article. There are exercises for seniors with limited mobility too, but the exercises below will represent a good starting point for those at a beginner's level of fitness.

Knee Extensions With or Without Weights

Knee extension exercises will help strengthen your knees, which will improve your balance and reduce your risk of falling. Strengthening your knees will also allow you to walk and climb stairs with greater ease and comfort.

  • Sit on a chair with your back straight and knees bent
  • Slowly extend your right leg out in front of you and hold for a few seconds before lowering it back to starting position
  • Repeat with your left leg
  • Do 10 repetitions on each leg

For a more advanced version, strap an ankle weight around each ankle. Aim for a weight that is heavy enough to where you cannot do more than 15 repetitions per leg. As you get stronger, you can add more weight to keep it challenging.

Partial Squat and Half-Squat Against a Wall

Squatting exercises increase hip flexibility and strengthen your hip flexors and quadriceps, which will improve both your walking ability and your ability to stand up from a seated position.

It also improves your overall balance and stability, reducing your risk of falling. For the beginner's version, stand up using a chair for support, and perform a standing partial squat as demonstrated in the ElderGym video above. Remember to push your buttocks out as you bend to maintain a straight back posture, and do not bend your knees past your toes.

Once you're comfortable with that, try doing a half squat against a wall. This can be a more challenging move — especially if you get all the way into a seated position — so you may want to make sure you have someone there to assist you.

  • Stand with your back leaning lightly against a wall, with your legs slightly wider than shoulder width apart
  • Bend your knees, sliding your buttocks down the wall. Keep your knee cap in line with the middle toe of your foot, and do not bend your knee past your toes
  • If your strength allows, place your feet a bit further out from the wall and lower yourself down into a seated position, as if you're sitting on an invisible chair. Hold this position for a few seconds before raising yourself back up
  • Repeat 10 to 20 times

Once you can do 20 repetitions, you can increase the difficulty even further by holding a dumbbell in each hand.

Bicep Curl

For the bicep curl, make sure you're using a weight that is appropriate for your current level of strength. If you're just starting out, a 5-pound dumbbell in each hand may be appropriate. You want the weight to be heavy enough that by the time you complete 10 to 12 reps, you feel like you can't keep going.

  • Sit with good posture in a chair (remember to engage your core by imagining your sternum moving back towards your spine, to stabilize your posture); one dumbbell in each hand, palms facing forward, shoulders relaxed and elbows close to your body
  • Focusing on your bicep muscle, bend your arm at the elbows and lift the weights about three-quarters of the way toward your shoulders. Avoid rotating your shoulders forward, and keep your elbows fixed at your side
  • Breathe out as you lift the weight, and breathe in as you lower them
  • Do 10 to 12 repetitions

When you exercise as an older adult, you're gaining the ability to live independently and fully, something that can be taken from you if your body becomes too frail. If you're just starting out, consult with a personal fitness trainer who can instruct you about proper form and technique. He or she can also help you develop a plan based on your unique fitness goals and one that is safe for any medical conditions you may have.

Published in Health Plus

By Dr. Mercola

For most people, the topic of bowel movements is private and the actual mechanics of how stool is produced is rarely thought about. Unless, of course, you begin to experience constipation.

According to research presented at the American College of Gastroenterology Annual Meeting 2015, at least 15 percent of the general population experiences chronic constipation.

This is equal to approximately 63 million people in the United States. The study demonstrated a statistically significant link between people who suffer from chronic constipation and from other health problems, including colorectal cancer and gastric cancer.

Researchers approached this study not expecting to find anything surprising. The link between diverticulitis and chronic constipation has been well documented.

However, the links found in this study between chronic constipation, gastric cancer, rectal cancer, and ischemic colitis were not expected.

How Is Stool Formed?

Stool is the end result of digestion, which starts in your mouth. Imagine your body as a large solid cylinder, which has a tube running from the top to the bottom of the container.

The inside of the cylinder is inside your body and the tube that runs from top to bottom is actually outside the body. This is a description of your digestive system that runs from your mouth to your anus, but never opens directly to the inside of your body.

In other words, while your digestive system is technically "inside" your body, it contains digestive juices and bacteria that should only live outside your body. Your digestive tract plays a critical role in your overall health. Digestion starts in your mouth as you chew food and the food mixes with saliva.

Digestion ends in the large intestines, after your body has extracted nutrients and water, leaving only the waste products it can't use. The nutrients absorbed contain energy, which you know as calories.

How many calories you eat and, more importantly, the quality and source of those calories are important factors in determining your overall health and wellness.

Another factor that impacts your overall health, and the risk of developing constipation, is the amount and type of bacteria living in your gut.

These microbes are responsible for the breakdown of food, how the calories or energy are processed, and can increase or decrease your risk of allergies, obesity, and more.

Researchers have also determined that while your gut responds to stress reactions from your brain, your brain also receives signals from your gut that can trigger feelings of sadness.

In other words, your digestive tract or gut is fundamentally related to more than just constipation, diarrhea, and weight gain or loss. And, because of this interrelationship with the health of the rest of your body, it should not be surprising that your gut health will affect how you look, feel, and act.

Who Gets Constipated and Why?

Some of the common causes of constipation include laxative abuse, hypothyroidism, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and ignoring the urge to go. If you consistently ignore the urge to have a bowel movement – for instance, to avoid using a public toilet – eventually you may stop feeling the urge.

Certain medications, like antidepressants, antacids (like calcium), blood pressure medications, and iron supplements may also contribute to constipation, as can dehydration if you're not drinking enough pure water each day.

However, one of the primary causes of constipation has to do with your diet, particularly if you're eating one high in processed foods and low in fiber.

Within the approximate 15 percent of the population who suffers from chronic constipation, there are groups of individuals who are more likely to experience the condition. These groups include:

  • Women, especially during pregnancy or after giving birth. The weight of the developing baby normally sits on the intestines and can slow the motility or movement of the stool through the digestive tract.
    As the stool slows down more water is extracted by the body, making the stool hard, dry, and more difficult to pass.
  • Older adults are at a higher risk of developing constipation because of both a reduction in activity level and a reduction in movement in the digestive tract.
  • Individuals who live in a lower income bracket, due to less access to fresh produce.
  • People who have just had surgery may not move around as well, may be nervous about pushing to have a bowel movement if they had abdominal surgery or may not be eating their normal diet.

Many Drugs Increase Your Risk of Constipation

The risk factor for constipation also increases when you take a large number of medications. A wide range of medications, both prescription and over the counter, appear to increase your risk of constipation. These can include Synthroid, ibuprofen, aspirin, antacids, iron supplements, and narcotics.

Other medical conditions can also affect the ability of the intestinal tract to function normally.

Connections Between Constipation and Your Physical Health

Although the study presented at the American College of Gastroenterology Annual Meeting found links between chronic constipation and rectal cancer, gastric cancer, diverticulitis, and ischemic colitis, there are also other connections between suffering from constipation and your overall health.

For instance, chronic pushing and painful stools may predispose you to large hemorrhoids which are irritating and painful. Your colon was designed to hold a few pounds of stool, but when constipated your colon may hold up to 10 pounds of dry, hard feces.

Just the sheer volume of stool can stretch your colon, irritate the lining of the colon (mucosa), and produce toxins while waiting to be eliminated from the body. Chronic constipation can also lead to tearing of the anus, called an anal fissure.

These fissures are caused by trauma to the inner lining of the anus, often before a large, dry stool.

Chronic constipation can also affect the genital and urinary health of women.

Because the colon and female reproductive organs are structurally close in the body, pressure from large amounts of stool in the colon can lead to rectal prolapse in the vagina, and increase the potential that the bladder will not empty completely or result in reflux of urine from the bladder back into the kidneys, called vesicoureteral reflux.

This reflux causes permanent kidney damage and increases the risk of kidney infections.

Pushing large, hard stool from the rectum can result in some of your intestines protruding from the anus, called rectal prolapse. Chronic constipation is a recurring problem in 30 to 67 percent of patients who suffer from rectal prolapse. This requires surgery to repair.

When people decide to postpone the surgery they risk stretching the anal sphincter even further, and increasing the amount of intestines that protrude from the body.

Lifestyle Approaches to Treatment

If you're suffering from chronic constipation, there are changes you can make to your daily habits which can improve your bowel habits. Your first, and easiest, step is to ensure that you're drinking enough water. As the stool travels through your intestines your body removes water. If you are well hydrated, less water may be removed, leaving the stool softer and easier to pass. Drink enough that your urine is straw colored. If it's dark yellow then you're dehydrated and if it's colorless you are drinking too much.

The fiber in your stool will help to draw more water and keep the stool soft. This is why your doctor recommends increasing the amount of fiber in your diet to help relieve constipation. However, if you're eating a high-fiber diet but not staying hydrated the stool will still get hard and be more difficult to pass. The recommended amount of fiber in your diet is 20 to 30 grams per day; I believe that 32 grams each day is ideal.

Organic psyllium dietary fiber is important to the health of your colon. Psyllium also has other health benefits, including helping to control your blood sugar, reducing your risk of heart attack, stroke, gallstones, kidney stones, and diverticulitis, improving your skin health and helping you to lose or maintain your weight.

Vegetables are the best way to fortify your diet with fiber. If you can't reach the recommended amount of fiber per day then supplementing with organic whole husk psyllium is simple and cost effective.

Regular exercise can also help reduce constipation. The movement helps increase the motility in your digestive tract and can stimulate the urge to have a bowel movement. When you do feel the urge, don't wait. The longer the stool sits in your colon, the more water is removed and the more difficult it is to pass.

Reducing Your Risk of Constipation

There are several ways to reduce your risk of constipation. I strongly recommend eating traditionally fermented and cultured foods on a daily basis to help to "reseed" your body with good bacteria. It's easy to make them. For a demonstration, please see the video above. If you don't eat fermented foods, taking a high quality probiotic supplement is advisable.

The use of probiotics are so important to your overall health that some researchers are comparing them to a "newly recognized organ." Research links the health and variety of the bacteria in your gut to your behavior, diabetes, gene expression, autism, and obesity. The bacteria in your gut plays an essential role in the digestion of your food, the motility of your intestines, and ultimately the development of constipation.

Another way to reduce your risk is to speak with your physician about the medications you're currently using. Explore options to reduce the amount of medications you may need or the brands you're currently using if they are linked to triggering constipation. Be particularly wary of using laxatives on a regular basis, as it may exacerbate constipation.

Remember, when you travel your daily regimen is often disrupted. The differences in food, changes to your regular exercise routine, or reduction in water intake can all negatively impact your body's ability to maintain a healthy bowel routine. Try to stay as close to your regular routine as possible. Bring organic whole husk psyllium to supplement your diet on the days you don't get enough fiber. Try to get your regular exercise each day and drink enough water to keep your urine a light straw color.

Squatting Can Help If You're Constipated

The last thing most people think about when using the bathroom is position, but this can significantly impact the ease with which you eliminate and even increase your risk of bowel and pelvic problems, including constipation, hemorrhoids, and more. Most of you reading this probably sit to evacuate your bowel, but this requires you to apply additional force (straining), which has some unwanted biological effects, including a temporary disruption in cardiac flow.

Sitting on a modern toilet is designed to place your knees at a 90-degree angle to your abdomen. However, the time-honored natural squat position (which is still used by the majority of the world's population) places your knees much closer to your torso, and this position actually changes the spatial relationships of your intestinal organs and musculature, optimizing the forces involved in defecation.

Squatting straightens your rectum, relaxes your puborectalis muscle, and allows for complete emptying of your cecum and appendix without straining, which prevents fecal stagnation and the accumulation of toxins in your intestinal tract. It is instructive that non-westernized societies, in which people squat, do not have the high prevalence of bowel disease seen in developed nations; in some cultures with traditional lifestyles, these diseases are uncommon or almost unknown.

If you have trouble with bowel movements, especially constipation, I urge you to give the squat position a try. Squatting does involve strength and flexibility that adults tend to lose over time (but children have naturally). Special toilets and stools that get your body into a more "squatty" position can help you get closer to the ideal even if you've been sitting for decades.

Medical Treatment Options

In some circumstances these lifestyle choices and preventative measures are not enough to alleviate constipation. Talk with your doctor about being tested for hypothyroidism. In hypothyroidism your body doesn't secrete enough of the thyroid hormone. This hormone has a significant impact on the motility and movement of the intestinal tract, which is why constipation is one of the hallmark symptoms of hypothyroidism.

While it might be tempting to use over-the-counter remedies and laxatives, these remedies are not without risk. When too much is taken, too much water is drawn into the intestines, resulting in dehydration and an abnormal number of electrolytes in your blood. Both dehydration and imbalanced electrolytes can lead to kidney and heart damage, which can lead to death.

Your body can also become dependent on the use of laxatives to have a normal bowel movement. This is especially true of laxatives that use stimulants to increase the motility of the intestines and digestive tract. Stimulant laxatives include medications like Exlax, or laxatives marked as "natural" and include senna or cassia laxatives.

An underlying cause of constipation can also be a magnesium deficiency. Although primarily thought of as the mineral that affects your bones, magnesium plays a role in smooth muscle relaxation and contraction, production of neurotransmitters, building blocks of DNA, and the digestion of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. The recommended daily amount of magnesium is 310 to 320 mg for women and 400 to 420 mg for men, although this amount may be just enough to prevent outright deficiency.

If your muscles that coordinate defecation are not working together, called dyssynergic defecation, then an anorectal biofeedback mechanism may be the most effective treatment to reteach your muscles to empty the rectum completely. In other cases of rectal prolapse or a rectocele caused by chronic constipation, surgery may be indicated to repair the area.

Published in Health Plus
Thursday, 15 September 2016 00:00

Chemotherapy Can do More Harm Than Good

Doctors have been urged to be more cautious in offering cancer treatment to terminally-ill patients as chemotherapy can often do more harm than good, a study suggests.

The National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death (NCEPOD) found that more than four in ten patients who received chemotherapy towards the end of life suffered potentially fatal effects from the drugs, and treatment was “inappropriate” in nearly a fifth of cases.

In a study of more than 600 cancer patients who died within 30 days of receiving treatment, chemotherapy probably caused or hastened death in 27 percent of cases, the inquiry found.

In only 35 percent of these cases was care judged to have been good by the inquiry’s advisors, with 49 percent having room for improvement and 8 per cent receiving less than satisfactory care.

Dr. Mercola's Comments

In the conventional health paradigm, chemotherapy is the go-to treatment for cancer. People are paying up to $10,000 a month and sometimes more for these drugs, with the expectation that they will heal them from the disease.

Yet, these expensive and, by their very nature, highly toxic medications often give patients just a few more months of life, or worse end up killing them prematurely or even causing cancer down the line.

The biggest drawback to a conventional treatment like chemotherapy is it destroys healthy cells throughout your body right along with cancer cells. A typical and deadly side effect of chemo is the destruction of the rapidly multiplying and dividing cells found in your:

• Bone marrow, which produces blood
• Digestive system
• Reproductive system
• Hair follicles

In this most recent study, The National Confidential Enquiry into Patient Outcome and Death (NCEPOD) found that more than four in 10 patients who received chemotherapy toward the end of life experienced potentially fatal effects! And after reviewing data from over 600 cancer patients who died within 30 days of receiving treatment, it was found that chemotherapy hastened or caused death in 27 percent of cases.

“The majority of the cancer patients in this country die because of chemotherapy, which does not cure breast, colon or lung cancer. This has been documented for over a decade and nevertheless doctors still utilize chemotherapy to fight these tumors,” said Dr. Allen Levin, MD, author of The Healing of Cancer.

Despite its reputation as the gold-standard cancer treatment, chemotherapy has an average 5-year survival success rate of just over 2 percent for all cancers, according to a study published in the journal Clinical Oncology in December 2004.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer, I urge you to do the research for yourself, and make an educated decision about which course of treatment to take. A decision like this is simply too important to leave solely in the hands of your doctor.

The Best Known “Chemotherapy” Agent Ever Found

The American Cancer Society estimates that this year alone, 745,000 men and 692,000 women will be diagnosed with cancer. By 2018, this disease is projected to be the number one killer of all Americans, young and old alike.

The way to turn this around is two-fold:

1. Prevent cancer from occurring (I’ll get to that below)
2. Have a treatment for cancer that is effective and safe

This latter requirement is actually already here, and you can use it to not only prevent cancer but also to treat it.

What is it?

Vitamin D.

Calcitriol, the most potent steroid hormone in your body, and is produced in large amounts in the tissues of vitamin D-filled individuals. However, in patients with cancer, vitamin D is often in low supply.

Calcitriol has been shown to induce cell differentiation and to control cell proliferation -- in simpler terms it protects against cancer. People with a low vitamin D level are less able to make calcitriol (activated vitamin D) in an amount sufficient to exert the controls over cell proliferation that are needed to reduce cancer.

Optimized vitamin D levels will work synergistically with virtually every other cancer treatment. There are over 830 peer reviewed scientific studies showing its effectiveness in the treatment of cancer.

Not only is this approach without virtually any side effects, but the treatment is practically free.

I believe it is nearly criminal malpractice to not optimize vitamin D levels when treating someone with cancer. Levels of vitamin D should be increased to 80-90 ng/ml.

To find out your levels, and to have them monitored throughout your treatment, make sure to have the blood test done by LabCorp, if you are in the United States.

The Essential Steps to Preventing Cancer

Normalizing your vitamin D levels will reduce your risk of cancer by over 50 percent, but there are a number of other strategies that are also important in your cancer-prevention plan.

One of the top steps is managing your emotional health. The majority of illness is caused by negative, unmanaged emotions. If you focus on pain, misery and grief, it’s likely you’ll experience and attract more of it into your life.

However, if you keep your focus on what you want to experience and put some energy into healthy lifestyle choices, your body will respond accordingly. Before you know it you will start to feel much better.

So finding a tool that will permanently erase the neurological short-circuiting that can activate cancer genes is essential. One of the best approaches to processing your negative emotions is the Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT), and I highly recommend it.

Dr. Ryke Geerd Hamer has also done wonderful work with his German New Medicine technique for solving emotional conflicts as the first step in healing disease.

The other top tips I recommend, in no particular order, include:

• Eating right for your nutritional type
• Exercising
• Avoiding processed foods, grains and sugars (to control and lower your insulin levels)
• Eating a significant portion of your food raw
• Normalizing your ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 fats by taking a high-quality krill oil or fish oil and reducing your intake of most processed vegetable oils
• Getting plenty of high-quality sleep

Published in Health Plus

By Dr. Mercola

If you don't drink enough water, you can easily become dehydrated. Many actually mistake their thirst for hunger, and this is one of the basic premises behind the idea that drinking water may alleviate hunger and help you lose weight.

Many studies support this idea though, so it's not just pure hype. Most recently, researchers found that adults who were chronically under-hydrated had higher body mass index (BMI) and were more likely to be obese compared to well-hydrated adults.

A BMI of 25 is considered overweight; 30 obese. Those deemed sufficiently hydrated had an average BMI of 28 whereas inadequately hydrated individuals had an average BMI of 29.

While this study does not prove drinking more water will help you lose weight, it does suggest staying well-hydrated is associated with slightly lower body weight.

On the other hand, a 2013 systematic review of 11 studies and two other meta-analyses concluded that while high-quality studies were still lacking, increasing your water consumption when on a diet does appear to be helpful for weight loss.

Studies looking at general populations that were not necessarily trying to lose weight found that increasing water consumption yielded inconsistent results.

How Drinking Water May Aid Weight Loss

So is it all about filling your gut with water to alleviate hunger pangs? As explained by Authority Nutrition, there are actually a number of mechanisms at play. Studies have shown that drinking water may:

* Reduce your calorie intake. If you drink more water, you're less likely to drink other beverages such as soda, fruit juices and energy drinks, and this is, I believe, the most significant factor that explains why higher water consumption promotes weight loss.

Research suggests replacing other beverages with pure water typically lowers your overall caloric intake by about 9 percent, or 200 calories a day.

* Reduce your appetite. Interestingly, this effect has only been shown to hold true in older subjects. Drinking water before meals had no discernible effect when studied in children.

In a 2010 study, adults who drank 500 milliliters (ml) of water prior to each meal lost an additional 2 kilograms (kg) or 4.4 pounds over three months compared to the non-water group.

Another study published in 2015 had very similar outcomes. Adults who drank 500 ml of water 30 minutes before each meal lost 3 pounds more weight over 12 weeks than those who did not preload with water.

Overall, they lost 4.3 kg, or 9 pounds, over the course of the study, which is what you could expect from joining Weight Watchers for 12 weeks.

* Increase your resting energy expenditure, meaning you burn more calories. While I doubt drinking water will help you burn any significant amount of calories, some studies do suggest it may give your metabolism a slight boost.

For example, adults who drank 500 ml or about 16 ounces of water increased their metabolic rate by 24 and 30 percent respectively in two separate studies. The metabolic rate began to rise within the first 10 minutes, and peaked around 30 to 40 minutes afterward.

In a third study, overweight women who drank in excess of 1 liter (L) or 34 ounces of water per day lost an extra 2 kg (4.4 pounds) of weight over the course of a year.

Overweight and obese children who drank 7.5 ml of cold water per kg of body weight (averaging 518 ml) also had a 25 percent rise in resting energy expenditure.

How to Gauge Your Personal Water Requirement

As noted earlier, many of the studies looking at water consumption for weight loss involve drinking 500 ml (16 ounces) of water before each meal. That's basically two tall glasses of water. As for the conventional recommendation to drink eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day, there's no real science to back that up.

Water requirements are in fact extremely individual and can vary from day to day, depending on your age, body size, activity level, temperature and so on. Personally, I drink about three-fourths to 1 gallon of water per day, and I'm quite active under the Florida sun.

Three strategies that will help you gauge your water requirement on any given day are:

* Feelings of thirst. Once your body has lost between 1 and 2 percent of its total water content, it will signal its needs by making you feel thirsty.

Bear in mind the thirst reflex tends to be underdeveloped in children and can be compromised in older adults, and by the time you actually register thirst, you may already be somewhat dehydrated. If your mouth is dry, that's a sign to rehydrate.

If you're an athlete, a 2 percent dehydration level is enough to cause a 10 percent decrease in athletic performance, and recent research  shows driving while dehydrated reduces your concentration and reaction time to the same degree as being legally drunk and/or sleep deprived.

For these tests, hydrated drivers drank 200 ml (6.76 ounces) every hour; dehydrated drivers got only 25 ml (less than 1 ounce) of water an hour. This kind of data may also hint at the amount of water you need in order to optimize your brain function and physical performance.

* The color of your urine. You should be drinking enough water to turn your urine a light-colored yellow. Dark-colored urine is a sign that your kidneys are retaining fluids in order to maintain your bodily functions, which includes detoxification. As a result, your urine will seem highly concentrated and dark.

One caveat: riboflavin (vitamin B2; also found in most multi-vitamins) will turn your urine a bright, almost fluorescent yellow, which will make judging your water requirement based on the color of your urine more difficult.

* Frequency of urination. A healthy person urinates on average about seven or eight times a day. If your urine is scant or if you haven't urinated in several hours, you may need more water.

Other Signs and Symptoms Suggesting You May Need More Water

Other, more subtle signals indicating your body may be lacking in water include:

  • Fatigue, dizziness and/or mood swings
  • Muscle cramps
  • Headache, back or joint ache; chills
  • Dull, dry skin and/or pronounced wrinkles
  • Constipation

Kidney stones are another "symptom" suggesting you may be chronically dehydrated, as the No.1 risk factor for kidney stones is insufficient water intake. If you aren't drinking enough, your urine will have higher concentrations of waste products, including substances that can form stones. Stone-forming chemicals such as calcium, oxalate, urate, cysteine, xanthine and phosphate will have less chance to settle and bond in your kidneys and urinary tract if you're urinating frequently.

According to the results of a large meta-analysis, presented at a National Kidney Foundation meeting in Dallas, Texas, in 2015, people who produced 2 to 2.5 L (approximately 68 to 84.5 ounces) of urine per day were 50 percent less likely to develop kidneys stones compared to those who produced scantier amounts. To generate that amount of urine, people typically had to drink eight to 10 8-ounce glasses of water daily.

Guidelines issued by the American College of Physicians (ACP) in 2014 call for those who have had kidney stones in the past to drink enough water to produce 2 L (68 ounces) of urine each day, which they say can reduce your chances of a recurrence by about 50 percent. The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) also recommends drinking more than 12 glasses of water a day to avoid stones.

Too Much Water Has Its Own Risks

While most people don't drink enough water for optimal health, too much water also has its risks. You don't want to overdo it. As detailed in a previous paper in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), excessive amounts of water can cause your sodium level to drop to a dangerously low level, causing hyponatremia; a condition in which your cells get waterlogged and swell.

While most cells can handle this swelling, your brain cells cannot, and most of the symptoms are caused by brain swelling. Symptoms of hyponatremia include:

This condition is most common among athletes who rehydrate excessively. Clearly, staying well-hydrated is essential. But it may be unwise to force yourself to drink a certain amount of water just because someone said so. Remember, hydration needs are highly individual, and using your thirst, the color of your urine and frequency of urination are the best ways to gauge your personal needs on any given day.

Replacing Sugary Beverages With Water Is Key for Successful Weight Management

One of the first pieces of advice I offer to anyone trying to lose weight is to stop drinking soda, fruit juice, sports drinks and any other sugar-laden, high-calorie beverage. This is especially true of drinks containing high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has been shown to have the most adverse metabolic consequences, fueling weight gain, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD), high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes and more.

While many are getting savvy about the dangers of soda, fruit juice is still considered "healthy" by most. This is a serious mistake. As illustrated in this Health Science infographic, fruit juice is just as hazardous as soda, and in some cases even more so. Replacing all sugary beverages with pure water can make a significant difference if you're trying to lose weight or improve your health.

It's important to recognize that your body loses water throughout each day, even when you're not sweating, and that you need to constantly replenish this fluid loss. While soda, fruit juices, sports drinks, energy drinks and other beverages typically contain a fair amount of water, they are poor substitutes for pure water and generally do not count toward this requirement.

Many commercial beverages also contain diuretics like caffeine, which will only dehydrate you more. So if you're thirsty, don't reach for a caffeinated beverage.

Remember, research shows drinking just one can of soda per day can add as much as 15 pounds to your weight over the course of a year. One sweetened beverage per day also increases your risk of developing diabetes in the next decade by 18 percent, according to a 2015 meta-review.

Previous research has shown this risk may be far higher than that. Frequent soda drinkers also have a higher cancer risk, courtesy of both its sugar content — which has been identified as the top contributor to the surge in cancer — and potentially carcinogenic ingredients like 4-methylimidazole found in caramel color.

Hydrate Well, but Be Mindful of Your Water Quality

So to stay well-hydrated, drink pure water. This is true when exercising as well, as most sports drinks are loaded with sugars and other questionable ingredients. Unless you have access to pristine well water (which is quite rare these days) or a natural gravity-fed spring, I strongly recommend filtering your water.

It can also be a good idea to "restructure" your water. I've previously interviewed biomedical engineer Gerald Pollack, Ph.D., on the subject of living, structured water. His book, "The Fourth Phase of Water: Beyond Solid, Liquid, and Vapor," clearly explains the benefits of living water, or what he calls EZ water — EZ standing for "exclusion zone" — which has a negative charge.

This water can hold energy, much like a battery, and can deliver energy too. This is the kind of water your cells contain; even your extracellular tissues are filled with EZ water, which is why he believes it's so important to drink structured water for optimal health. I drink vortexed water (which increases EZ) nearly exclusively. 

Published in Health Plus

By Dr. Mercola

Using antiperspirant and deodorant has become second nature to most people. Advertisers have been making arguments against your natural balanced scent to convince you to purchase their fragrant antiperspirants and deodorants, promising everything from matchmaking to self-confidence to result from their use.

No personal care product can follow through on these promises. We are only beginning to tap into the power of your relationship with bacteria living on and in your body. While not all of those relationships are healthy, science is still determining all the ways your body uses the bacteria living on your skin.

Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and advertisers want you to believe your deodorants and antiperspirants are completely safe, you only have to look at the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for the ingredients listed in each product to understand this likely is not the case.

Why Do You Smell?

Your body has two different types of sweat glands. Eccrine glands are located over most of your body area. They secrete fluid onto the surface of your skin as your body temperature rises. As this fluid evaporates, it helps to lower your core temperature and cool your body.

It is the fluid from your second set of sweat glands that causes body odor. These are the apocrine glands, located mostly where there are dense areas of hair, such as your armpits and groin. These glands empty fluid into your hair follicles just under your skin.

While the eccrine glands produce clear, salty fluid, the apocrine glands produce a milky substance in response to stressors. The fluid itself is odorless but quickly develops an odor when combined with the bacteria living under your armpits.

Your armpits offer a dark, warm and moist environment for bacteria to live and flourish. As bacteria break down the fluid from the apocrine glands, they produce a product called thioalcohols. These pungent thioalcohols evaporate from under your armpits and produce the odor.

In an effort to understand which of the bacteria normally living under your arms produces the most thioalcohols, scientists from the University of York measured the concentrations produced by different bacteria.

They found Staphylococcus hominis was one of the bacteria producing the most thioalcohols and one of the worst offenders.

Factors That Play Into Development of Body Odor

There are several causes for your body odor:

 

Deodorant, Armpit Bacteria and Your Skin

Antiperspirants and deodorants are not the same. The primary function of deodorants is to kill the bacteria living on your skin, thereby reducing your body odor. Antiperspirants often have a dual purpose. They both kill the bacteria to reduce odor and plug your pores with aluminum to reduce sweating.

In a recent study, researchers found participants who used antiperspirants had strikingly altered bacterial communities compared to those who use deodorants.11 There were also significant differences between those who used either of these products and those who used none.

Individuals who routinely use deodorant or antiperspirants support colonies of Staphylococcaceae bacteria, and those who don’t routinely use these products have higher numbers of Corynebacterium which, like Staphylococcus hominis, contribute to the production of armpit odor.

Participants who used antiperspirants had underarms more highly colonized with specific species of bacteria. The researchers presumed that because antiperspirants have only been used in the last century, the bacteria do not represent those which were historically common in human underarms.

Antiperspirants May Worsen Underarm Odor

Interestingly, research12,13 published in 2014 found that using deodorant and/or antiperspirants can actually worsen your armpit odor. Here, they found that those who used antiperspirants had higher levels of Actinobacteria, yet another bacterium responsible for foul-smelling armpit odor.

Essentially, the researchers found that the aluminum in antiperspirants killed off less odor-causing bacteria, allowing bacteria that produce more pungent odors to thrive instead.

In some participants, abstaining from antiperspirant caused the population of Actinobacteria to dwindle into virtual nonexistence. The take-home message: using an antiperspirant can make the stink from your armpits more pronounced, while quitting antiperspirants may eventually mellow the smell.

Why Ingredients in Deodorants and Antiperspirants Pose Risks to Health

Unfortunately, altering the microbiome in your armpit isn't the worst thing that can happen when you regularly use antiperspirants or deodorants. The ingredients in these products are the real cause for alarm. While deodorants are designed to work outside the body, they contain chemicals that can pass through the skin barrier. Your skin may appear to be impermeable, but it is not.

Drug companies commonly use transdermal patches to deliver medications through your skin.14 For just this reason, smearing chemicals on your skin may be more dangerous than swallowing them. Associate professor of biology at North Carolina State University, Heather Patisaul, Ph.D., is quoted in Time Magazine, saying:

“When you eat something, it’s broken down by your liver and digestive system. But when you put something on your skin, there are times when it can enter your bloodstream without being metabolized.”

5 Hazardous Deodorant and Antiperspirant Ingredients

Rubbing chemicals on your skin doesn’t mean they will make it to your bloodstream. However, blood testing shows many of the chemicals used in deodorants are able to permeate your skin and are found in your blood. Here are five common antiperspirant/deodorant ingredients that may pose a health risk.

Giving Up Deodorant and Antiperspirant

Giving up your chemical wash every morning is not as difficult as you might think. There are several natural options you may experiment with to find the combination that works for your unique bacterial colonization.

 

Published in Health Plus

By Dr. Mercola

Bone weakening is a common problem associated with aging. In most people, sometime during your 30s, your bone mass will begin to gradually decline. For women, that bone loss can significantly speed up during the first 10 years after menopause.

This is the period when osteoporosis often develops, provided you're not doing anything to counteract it, that is. Those with osteoporosis are at increased risk of serious fractures, including hip fractures, which can have lethal consequences, not to mention chronic pain.

One important strategy for maintaining healthy bones is to eat real food. A diet full of processed foods will produce biochemical and metabolic conditions in your body that will decrease your bone density, so avoiding processed foods is the most important first step to improving your bone health.

Certain nutrients, including animal-based omega-3 fat, calcium, vitamin D, K2 and magnesium, are also critical for strong bones — as is exercise. Weight-bearing exercises and Whole Body Vibrational Training (WBVT) using a Power Plate are both excellent for strengthening bones and warding off osteoporosis.

Yoga May Help Ward Off Osteoporosis

Yoga may be another option. According to a previous report in The New York Times (NYT),1 Dr. Loren Fishman, who specializes in rehabilitative medicine, has spent years investigating yoga and bone health, in the hopes of determining whether this gentle exercise might be an effective alternative to dangerous bone-loss drugs.

"The idea is not widely accepted in the medical community, but then, researchers know comparatively little about complementary medicine in general," the NYT notes. "So in 2005, Dr. Fishman began a small pilot study of yoga moves that turned up some encouraging results.

Eleven practitioners had increased bone density in their spine and hips, he reported in 2009, compared with seven controls who did not practice yoga ... Weight-bearing activity is often recommended to patients with bone loss, and Fishman argues that certain yoga positions fit the bill.

'Yoga puts more pressure on bone than gravity does,' he said in an interview. 'By opposing one group of muscles against another, it stimulates osteocytes, the bone-making cells.'"

12 Bone Strengthening Yoga Poses

In a larger follow-up study that lasted from 2005 to 2015, Fishman and three collaborators enrolled 741 volunteers to do 12 yoga poses every day (fully compliant), or at least every other day (moderately compliant).

The average age of the participants was 68 at the outset of the study, and 83 percent of them had been diagnosed with either osteopenia or osteoporosis. The 12-pose regimen, each of which was held for 30 seconds (for a total workout of 12 minutes), included the following.

You can find a slideshow demonstration of several of these poses here.2 A copy of the full yoga for osteoporosis program with photo demonstrations and safety instructions for each pose is available on sciatica.org's website.3

Fishman has also co-authored the book, "Yoga for Osteoporosis," which contains a comprehensive guide to his program. The featured video contains a similar program, with yoga poses adapted specifically for those with osteoporosis. Participants' bone density was measured at the outset and at the end of the study. Blood and urine samples, as well as spine and hip x-rays were also taken. Compliance was recorded via an online program.

The results, published in the April/June issue of Topics in Geriatric Rehabilitation, were again quite promising.4,5 Those who were either moderately or fully compliant with the exercises had indeed improved their spine and femur bone densities. Bone density in the hip was also somewhat improved, although the difference was not statistically significant.

Additional bone quality testing performed on 18 of the participants revealed they also had "better internal support of their bones, which is not measured by a bone density scan but is important to resisting fractures."

Yoga Is Safe Even for Those With Weakened Bones

For those worried about sustaining injury, the results were rather exceptional. While 109 bone fractures among the participants had been recorded prior to the study, none of them reported any fractures or serious injuries related to the yoga practice. (For an encouraging personal account from an elderly woman who took up yoga to prevent worsening her osteoporosis, see this WebMD article.6 )

"Yoga looks like it's safe, even for people who have suffered significant bone loss," Fishman said,7 adding, "Even if bone density did not increase, improvements in posture and balance that can accrue from the practice of yoga can be protective.

Spinal fractures can result from poor posture, and there's no medication for that, but yoga is helpful … Yoga is good for range of motion, strength, coordination and reduced anxiety, all of which contribute to the ability to stay upright and not fall. If you don't fall, you greatly reduce your risk of a serious fracture."

How Exercise Builds Stronger Bones

What makes exercise so critical for bone health? Your bones are constantly being rebuilt in a dynamic process involving the removal of old bone through osteoclasts and regeneration of new, healthy bone by osteoblasts.

Load-bearing exercise helps build stronger bones by stimulating cells responsible for the synthesis and mineralization of bone (osteoblasts). In short, as you put tension on your muscles, it puts more pressure on your bones, which then respond by continuously creating new bone.

One of my favorite weight-bearing exercises is the walking lunge, as it helps build bone density in your hips, even without any additional weights. Running and jumping (provided your fitness level allows it) are also effective, as is weight training.8 As previously reported by The New York Times:9

"Sprinting and hopping are the most obvious and well-studied examples of high-impact exercises. In one ... study,10 women ages 25 to 50 who leaped like fleas at least 10 times in a row, twice per day for four months, significantly increased the density of their hipbones.

In another, more elaborate experiment from 2006,11 women who hopped and also lifted weights improved the density of their spines by about 2 percent compared to a control group, especially if the weight training targeted both the upper body and the legs. Women whose weight training focused only on the legs did not gain as much density in their spines."

4 Important Nutrients for Strong Bones

As mentioned earlier, certain nutrients are really important for bone strength. These include calcium, magnesium, vitamin D and vitamin K2. If I were to rank them, the latter two would be at the top of the list, for the mere fact that most people are deficient in them. That said, all four of these nutrients work in tandem and cannot perform properly without the others:12,13

  • Vitamin D helps your body absorb calcium
  • Vitamin K2 directs calcium to your skeleton, while preventing it from being deposited in your organs, joint spaces and arteries. (A large part of arterial plaque consists of calcium deposits, hence the term "hardening of the arteries")
  • When you take vitamin D, your body creates more vitamin K2-dependent proteins that shuttle the calcium around your body. Until or unless the K2 comes in to activate those proteins, those benefits cannot be realized
  • Magnesium is another important player needed for the proper function of calcium

Calcium, magnesium, vitamin K2 and D3 are available in supplement form, but you can also get them naturally from food and the sun, which is typically preferable to a supplement.

4-Step Plan to Help Protect Your Bones No Matter What Your Age

One of the best ways to achieve healthy bones is a real food diet rich in fresh, whole foods that maximizes natural minerals so that your body has the raw materials it needs to do what it was designed to do. In addition, you need sensible sun exposure along with regular exercise. To sum it up:

1. Consume a wide variety of fresh, ideally organic, whole foods, including vegetables, nuts, seeds, organic meats and eggs, and raw (unpasteurized) organic dairy for calcium and other nutrients. Minimize processed sugar and refined grains. Switching to a natural salt like pink Himalayan may also be helpful, as it contains a wide variety of natural minerals needed for healthy bone growth, as explained by Dr. Robert Thompson in his book "The Calcium Lie."

One of the tenets of his book is that bone is composed of at least a dozen minerals, and if you focus exclusively on calcium supplementation you may actually worsen your bone density and increase your risk of osteoporosis. He believes one of the best practical alternatives is the use of naturally occurring ionic minerals, as most need trace minerals these days, not just calcium, due to most of our food being grown in mineral-depleted soils.

2. Optimize your vitamin D3 through a combination of sun exposure, food and/or an oral vitamin D3 supplement (ideally one that also contains K2). Check your blood levels regularly to make sure you're within the healthy range of 40 to 60 nanograms per milliliter.

3. Optimize your vitamin K through a combination of dietary sources and a K2 supplement, if needed. Although the exact dosing (for oral supplementation) is yet to be determined, and you must use caution on the higher doses if you take anticoagulants, if you are generally healthy and not on these types of medications, I suggest 150 to 300 micrograms daily.

4. Make sure you do some form of weight-bearing exercise. Examples include body-wight exercises, WBVT and yoga. Strength-training exercises are also important in order to produce the dynamic electric forces in your bones that will stimulate the osteoblasts to produce new bone.

 

Published in Health Plus

 

By Dr. Mercola

Low back pain is the most commonly reported type of pain and a leading cause of disability in America.1 It's one of the most common causes for missed work and for visits to the doctor's office, outnumbered only by upper respiratory illness.2

Estimates suggest approximately 80 percent of adults will suffer from low back pain in their lifetime.3

The cost of low back pain is high, both in monetary value and in pain control. And, it is estimated that a minimum of $50 billion is spent each year in direct healthcare costs to treat low back pain.4

Unfortunately, many people believe that back pain will resolve spontaneously without treatment. Instead, statistics from 2003 demonstrated that 62 percent of patients with back pain continue to report pain 12 months after the initial incident.5

Chronic back pain is also a major driver of painkiller addiction, which can lead to a lethal overdose.

There is a better way. How you use your body is directly related to how your body responds, including pain. Although low back pain is challenging and may be debilitating, you have options for both treatment and prevention.

What Increases Your Risk of Low Back Pain

Age

You may experience degenerative changes to your spine as you age. In some cases, these changes are affected by the way you use your back and the strength of the muscles supporting your spine.

People between the ages of 30 and 60 are more likely to have spinal disc-related problems and people over 60 are more likely to suffer from osteoarthritic pain.

Weight

Excess weight places additional burden on your joints, including your lower back, and inflammatory factors associated with increased weight may also contribute to pain.7

Your spine is designed to distribute your body weight load. An excess may lead to structural changes and damage. Your lower back, or lumbar spine, is the most vulnerable to the effects of obesity.

Sedentary Lifestyle

A lack of exercise does more than affect your risk of heart attack or stroke. It also increases stiffness and weakens muscles needed to support your back. Regular stretching and strengthening exercises may reduce your back pain or prevent you from experiencing low back pain.

Sitting and Standing Posture

Your posture during sitting may change the normal curvature of the lower back, increasing pressure on spinal discs and the ischium, both associated with lower back pain.10 Poor posture during both sitting and standing may predispose you to lower back pain as it may cause increased stress on your back.

Smoking

Smoking reduces the amount of oxygen delivered to your body tissue. This adversely affects your spinal discs and increases your risk of back pain. Research demonstrates smokers have a 1.5 to 2.5 times greater risk of developing back pain over nonsmokers.

Pregnancy

Pregnant women are more predisposed to low back pain, with the added weight of the baby changing the center of gravity and increasing the lower back curvature.

Occupational and Sports Hazards

Repetitive lifting, bending and twisting or long hours of standing and sitting may increase your risk of low back pain from overuse or from poor functional posture, increasing the weight and stress on your lower back.

Medical and Family History

Other factors that may play a role in your low back pain include a past medical history of osteoarthritis, disc degeneration, spondylolysis, osteoporosis and discogenic disease. A family history of back pain may also increase your risk.

An Ounce of Prevention Is Worth a Pound of Cure

Many of these risk factors may respond to a program of stretches and strengthening exercises to change the way you use your back and improve the neuromuscular connections. However, like most health conditions, it is far easier to prevent the problem than it is to fix it.

Your lower back does not function independently of the rest of your core. This means you need strong abdominal muscles to support your lower back, and flexible muscles to reduce the potential for strains and sprains.

The healthier your back and musculature are, the better your chances of preventing a problem or recovering quickly.

Your lower back responds to interconnections between your shoulders and your pelvis, even down to your quadriceps and hamstring muscles. These large muscles in your upper legs are connected to your pelvis, which in turn is connected to your lower back.

Tight hamstrings or quadriceps can pull your pelvis out of alignment and increase the risk of lower back pain.

A systematic review and meta-analysis demonstrated a successful prevention program, or one that kept someone from reporting a bout of low back pain for one or more years, rested almost exclusively on exercise programs.17 Participants did not find relief from back belts or orthotics.

Both of these factors tended to increase muscle weakness and lead to further pain. Participants who exercised regularly, using either strength training or a combination of strength training and aerobic exercise, were considerably less likely to experience further back pain within the year.

Effective Stretches and Exercises May Help Heal Your Lower Back Pain

Start using these stretches and strengthening exercises slowly. If you experience pain, back off the intensity of your program. It is important to have proper body alignment during the exercises in order to stretch and strengthen the right muscles.

You won't need to dedicate hours each day to improve your back pain. But, it is important that you are consistent, even after you experience relief from the pain and discomfort. In the video above, Dr. Eric Goodman and I demonstrate a number of Foundation Training exercises that are specifically designed to address back pain and related issues. Below, you'll also find a list of standard stretches that can be very helpful.

Hamstring Stretch

Although a standing stretch is the most common, it also places more stress on your lower back. Instead, use a seated or wall stretch. A seated stretch begins with you seated in a firm chair.Extend one leg and reach down slowly to touch your toe.

Change legs and stretch the other side. A wall stretch is done lying on your back with your buttocks up against a wall or high-back chair. Place the foot against the wall or chair and make the knee as straight as you can.18As you progress you'll be able to get closer to your toes in the seated position or your knee straighter while on the floor. It is important to stretch gradually and not push so hard you strain the muscle

Gluteal Stretch

Your gluteal muscles are interconnected with your lower back. Stretch and relax these muscles by lying on your back with both knees bent and your lower back flattened to the floor. Draw one knee to your chest, while you keep the other foot on the floor. Hold for 20 seconds and repeat with your other leg. Stretch both legs twice, once daily.

Piriformis Stretch

The piriformis muscle is small and located deep in your buttocks. When it spasms it can cause pain your buttocks and irritate the sciatic nerve, triggering pain down your leg. The muscle stabilizes the hip joint, lifting and rotating the thigh away from the body. It is involved in almost every movement of your legs and hips.20

Lie on your back with both feet flat to the floor and knees bent. Place your right ankle on your left knee. Grab your left thigh and pull the leg toward your chest. Hold for 15 to 20 seconds. Release and repeat on the other side.

Hip Flexor Stretch

Your hip flexors are a group of muscles that connect your pelvis, leg and abdomen. These are some of the most powerful muscles in your body, responsible for flexing your hip and raising your leg. Sitting for long periods of time and competitive swimming, are two activities causing the flexor muscles to tighten and affect your lower back.22,23

A kneeling hip flexor stretch starts with you on your knees on the floor. Holding on to a chair or other solid object, place one leg behind you and lean in slightly to the chair.24 The glute bridge stretch does more than stretch your hip flexors, it also works your gluteal muscles and abs.

Lying on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor hip-width apart, flatten your back to the floor and exhale while raising your hips off the floor. Tighten your glutes when you get to the top. Inhale and return to the starting position.

Quadriceps Stretch

If you have tight quadriceps, they will affect the tilt of your pelvis and therefore your lower back. Common stretches require you to bend your knee until your heel touches your buttocks. However, this stretch places increased stress on your knee joint. Instead, you can stretch your quadriceps without bending your knee.

Standing next to a chair, bed or table, extend your right leg behind you. Hold on to a chair for stability and prevent falling. Keeping your body upright, align your left hip over your left heel maintaining left hip and foot in a forward position. Tighten your glutes and imagine your right leg extending through your right hip. You should feel light tension in both your hip and quads. Repeat on the other leg.

Lower Back Stretch

The goal is to stretch and relax your lower back muscles without adding stress or pressure to the area. Lie on your back with your buttocks as close to a wall as possible. Raise your legs straight up the wall and scoot in closer to the wall. Press your lower back into the floor and relax.

Planking

Strong abdominal and back muscles will help protect your lower back and improve your ability to stand and sit with correct posture. Planks will strengthen your shoulders, abs, back, glutes and the large muscles in your legs.

Lie on your stomach. Rise up on your elbows, holding your elbows directly below your shoulders. Pull your body up on your toes and hold a position similar to doing a push-up, except you are on your elbows. Work up to holding for 3 minutes. For a program to help you achieve this goal, see my article "30-Day Plank Challenge."

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Not all back pain originates from the same source. However, keeping your hips, pelvis, rib cage and core muscles in alignment helps you to use your body correctly and reduce the potential for further back pain. Diaphragmatic breathing techniques are a good way to stabilize your back and naturally add traction to your spine.

Lie on your back with your heels on a chair. Align your position so there is a 90-degree angle at your hips and your knees. This might require you to experiment with different chairs to find one at the right height for you. Place a pillow between your legs.

Without using your lower back, activate your glutes and your abdominal muscles to raise your buttocks off the floor just a few inches. In this bridge position, inhale deeply through your nose, feeling your lower ribs rotate outward to fill your lungs. Exhale completely using your core muscles to internally rotate your ribs. Inhale for a count of five, exhale for a count of seven and pause for a count of three. Do this five times, maintaining the bridge position, then rest. Repeat one more time.

Foam Rolling Hamstrings and Quadriceps

Foam rolling your hamstrings and quadriceps muscles helps the muscles to relax, give you a deep tissue massage and speed healing. These muscles contribute to your lower back pain. Roll over a foam roller just one to three times each day for the hamstrings and quadriceps, after doing your strengthening and stretching exercises. You can read more about how to avoid common mistakes made using the foam roller in my previous article, "Foam Rolling Mistakes to Avoid."

Published in Health Plus
Friday, 17 June 2016 00:00

Gout: Facts and Information

By Dr. Mercola

Gout is a type of arthritis characterized by painful, stiff and inflamed joints. The stiffness and swelling are a result of excess uric acid forming crystals in your joints, and the pain associated with this disease is caused by your body's inflammatory response to the crystals.

A “disease of kings” — this was the moniker given to gout, an ailment that usually affected members of the aristocracy who overindulged on fancy food and liquor.1 King Henry VIII of England was known to have suffered from gout.

Alexander the Great, Michelangelo, Nostradamus, Christopher Columbus, Sir Isaac Newton, Leonardo da Vinci, Ludwig van Beethoven, Benjamin Franklin, and Charles Dickens also fell victim to this disease.2,3

Sadly, the number of people being diagnosed with gout nowadays is slowly rising, and anyone can be affected by the disease, whether you have royal blood or not.

In the U.S., it’s estimated that 2 to 5 million people suffer from gout, with 90 percent of them being men in their 40s or older. According to the American College of Rheumatology in 2011, gout impacts about 6 percent of males and 2 percent of females in the country.

Across the pond, the U.K. recorded a whopping 64 percent increase in gout incidence between 1997 and 2012 — that's a 4 percent rise per year. Now, 1 out of 40 people in the U.K. have the disease.

While the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that gout is rare as an underlying cause of death,4 this does not mean you should take it lightly. Gout attacks or “flare-ups” can be extremely painful.

Since gout is actually a type of arthritis, you can alleviate the pain that arises from a gout attack. However, prescription drugs, such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), which are the norm when it comes to treating gout, have been proven to do you more harm than good.

You’re better off by practicing holistic techniques. Not only are these methods less expensive compared to buying prescription drugs, but they also pose less health risks.

Making tweaks to your daily routine can also be helpful in preventing gout, since your lifestyle is a big factor in determining your chances for being diagnosed with the disease.

Learn more about gout through this handy guide where you can find the information you need to know — how this disease affects your body, its causes, symptoms, and types, and different tips and strategies that you or your loved ones can practice to stop this illness from causing you further harm.

Read more below...

What Is Gout?

What Causes Gout?

What Are the Types of Gout?

What Are the Symptoms of Gout?

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Published in Health Plus

 

By Dr. Mercola

Yesterday I wrote that preventable medical errors and drug side effects are the third leading cause of death in the U.S. I've also written numerous articles about the dangers of opioid painkillers in particular.

While most drugs come with a long list of potentially devastating side effects, painkillers tend to be among the most lethal, in large part due to their addictive nature.

Prescriptions for opioid painkillers have risen by 300 percent over the past 10 years, and deaths from overdosing on these drugs now far surpass those from illicit street drugs. Sadly, legendary musician Prince appears to be yet another victim of the opioid epidemic.

Prince Made Emergency Appointment With Addiction Specialist

It has now come to light that the 911 call from Prince's Paisley Park estate was made by Andrew Kornfeld, son of Dr. Howard Kornfeld, who runs an addiction clinic in California, specializing in opioid painkiller addiction.

Kornfeld is said to have been summoned for an emergency consultation with Prince following an overdose of Percocet, mere days before his untimely death. Prince was reportedly taking the drug to manage pain associated with a chronic hip problem.

Unfortunately, by the time Kornfeld's son showed up for his appointment with the star, Prince was already dead.

Part of Kornfeld's treatment plan for painkiller addicts includes the use of an alternative painkiller buprenorphine7 (sold under the names Suboxone, Subutex, Zubsolv, and Bunavail), which he says can relieve pain with fewer risks than other opioids.

White House Supports Expanding Use of Gentler, Less Addictive Opioid

According to STAT, an online health newsletter, buprenorphine "is effective in treating both chronic pain and withdrawal because it's less likely to cause euphoric highs or overdoses and because withdrawal from it is gentler than with opioids."

While buprenorphine has been notoriously difficult to get, President Obama has proposed increasing the use of this drug to combat growing addiction rates. The drug is heavily regulated, and doctors initially had to take an eight-hour training course in the use of the drug before they were allowed to prescribe it.

According to STAT: "The White House wants to double the number of doctors certified to prescribe buprenorphine and is even considering allowing non-physicians to prescribe the drug." Opponents worry that the drug may end up being overprescribed by doctors without expertise in addiction.

Ironically, this kind of inexperience is in part why we now have such an epidemic of opioid abuse. As noted by Forbes, the recommendation to enforce mandatory training for doctors prescribing opioids has been brought forth more than once.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) rejected the training mandate in large part because the American Medical Association (AMA) lobbied against it.

But in light of the growing epidemic of abuse, it seems quite clear that many doctors do not have the prerequisite understanding to safely prescribe opioid painkillers, often underestimating their addictive nature and the risks for lethal overdosing.

Training for opioid prescribers is now being considered yet again, and a spokesperson has indicated that the FDA will now support it. An expert panel is expected to issue recommendations to the FDA sometime in the near future.

Doctors Unwilling to Take Responsibility for Their Role in Opioid Epidemic

Strangely enough, the AMA is even opposed to laws that would require prescribing doctors to check databases before issuing a prescription for a narcotic painkiller, to ensure the patient is not receiving the same or similar prescription from another doctor. According to The New York Times:

"Doctors say measures like checking prescription databases take up more time in days already filled with bureaucratic duties, and many express ideological concerns about government's reach into medicine.

Experts say many doctors believe that their practices and their patients are not responsible for the opioid problem."

If the problem was not created by prescribing doctors (recall prescriptions for opioids have surged 300 percent in the last decade), then who's to blame for the current scourge of opioid addiction and deaths?

Americans use the most opioids of any nation — twice the amount used by Canadians, who come in second place in terms of prescriptions. In Alabama, which has the highest opioid prescription rate in the U.S., there are 143 prescriptions for every 100 people!

Clearly doctors bear a significant responsibility for creating this situation. Surgeons also need to reevaluate current practices of routinely sending surgical patients home with a powerful painkiller, regardless of whether they really need it or not.

Read more...

Published in Health Plus
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