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Like to Sleep? Good.

11 Mar

I’m reading more and more about the importance of sleep to our overall health and well-being, and all I have to say about this is . . . HALLELUJAH! I am a BIG fan of sleep. :) The challenge I, and many of you, face is getting enough sleep each day. With one million things to accomplish, another million things to worry about, and a few physical ailments thrown in the mix – it’s tough to get adequate shut-eye.

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A recent article by Pamela Weintraub in Experience Life magazine talks about The Healing Power of Sleep.

New science shows that sleep is essential to our mental and physical health – and most of us aren’t getting enough.

Weintraub explains that missing out on as little as one hour of sleep each night can have serious implications on our health. Our immune systems “go into overdrive” when we do not get enough sleep, leading to things like systemic inflammation and igniting some troublesome genetic triggers. She provides numerous examples of just how seriously sleep deprivation can affect our bodies, including:

  • headaches
  • impaired alertness
  • vision problems such as blurred vision and even glaucoma
  • high blood pressure
  • cancer
  • increased food cravings
  • insulin resistance
  • hearing loss
  • muscle weakness
  • heart disease
  • hair loss
  • weight gain

I don’t know about you, but that list is enough to make me want to go to sleep right now!

So, how much sleep is enough? Most people need 7.5 to 8 hours of sleep each night, but there are people who can legitimately function well on less and there are also those who truly need more – even needing as much as 10 hours every night.

The article states the key to determining how much sleep we need is figuring out what time we have to go to bed in order to wake up unassisted (without an alarm) or without feeling groggy. (Just so you know – that rarely happens to me no matter how much sleep I get! My poor husband listens to the alarm clock blare incessantly for extended periods of time each morning.) I think I fall in the 7-8 hour range, but I find it challenging to get that much sleep. Ideally, I would like to be awake at 5:00 am  so that I can have my quiet time, eat breakfast and get ready for work before leaving at 7:00. This means I need to be in bed by 9:00 or 9:30 each night. When I don’t get home until 6:00 pm or later, there’s not much time for anything in the evenings. This will become even more challenging now that Daylight Savings Time has started and it will be staying light later.

I know for patients going through cancer treatment, sleep can be hard to come by thanks not only to the drugs, but stress, physical pain, and just an over all ill feeling. I was blessed during my first-line treatment – I slept well and woke easily. I’m not sure why that occurred, but I’m glad it did. I do think it helped me get through the process feeling better than if I had struggled to sleep each night.

What about you? Do you sleep well or struggle to sleep at all? How many hours do you need? 7? 8? More? My stepdaughters fall in to “more” category. :)

If you would like to read Weintraub’s article in it’s entirety, you can find it here.

Blessings!
♥Rachel

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5 Ways to Boost Your Immune System

7 Jan

Follicular lymphoma is one of the blood cell cancers in the non-hodgkin’s lymphoma family. (Saying “family” makes it sound all nice and cozy, almost like something you would want to be a part of, doesn’t it??) It is also a cancer of the immune system because the affected cells are lymphocytes, which are the cells that help protect our bodies from infection.

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Even though I know many people are getting sick this year and staying sick longer than normal, the fact that my immune system is slightly compromised is most likely contributing to my body’s willingness to hold on for dear life to this/these infections that I’ve had. Spending the better part of the past month sick, sniffling, coughing, keeping Kleenex in business, and feeling generally bleh has left me wondering about ways I can “shore up” my immune system to prevent repeats of this experience.

We are all familiar with the usual precautions we should take at this time of year: wash our hands often, use hand sanitizer, avoid sick people. But in addition to those smart steps, what else can we do to make our bodies better able to fight infection? I did a little research and came up with five immunity-boosting steps we can all take today.

1. Eat Well. This doesn’t mean eat “a lot,” but make wise choices when selecting your food. Don’t rely on convenience foods and what you can grab from a drive-thru. Lean proteins, as well as fruits and vegetables contain nutrients that help fight off infection. Antibodies are made of protein, so by feeding protein to your body you are helping to ward off infection. The vitamins found in many fruits and vegetables can help your white cells (the infection fighters in your blood) do their job better, and they also help to regulate your immune system. Good food is good protection for you.

2. Move. I’m not talking about buying a new house, I’m talking about moving your body. Get active and stay active. Walk. Run. Do yoga. Bike. Swim (indoors in a heated pool unless you are trying to catch pneumonia!). 30 minutes of aerobic exercise (and a brisk walk counts) will get your white cells circulating again so that they power your immune system more efficiently.

3. Rest. As a fan of naps and sleep, in general, this suggestion is my personal favorite. :) We need between 7 and 9 hours of sleep each night. Skimping on sleep either because we can’t sleep or we are too busy to sleep will weaken our body’s to the point where we are susceptible to infections. Research has shown that people who got, on average, only four hours of sleep each night had 50% less immune system antibodies. Sleep matters.

4. De-Stress. Occasional stress is ok. The kind of stress that causes you to stay awake at night worrying and has you freaking out virtually every day at work is not good for you. The compound effect of this kind of stress on  your immune system is damaging to our body’s natural killer cell and T-cell counts. These power white cells are the soldiers that fight infection. When we remain under constant stress, their ability to do their job is diminished and our bodies suffer. Find ways to manage the stress – or eliminate it all together. If you can’t change jobs or remove the source of the stress, take time to de-stress each day. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, prayer, and exercises such as yoga can all help.

5. Have Fun & Laugh. Go to dinner with friends (and eat lots of proteins, fruits, and vegetables!), go see a funny movie with your love, play the drums (one study showed that those who play drums have higher levels of immune system boosters in their blood), do something silly with your child. Just do whatever it is that you think is fun. Laughter is good for the soul and great for the body as it increases natural “killer” cells and antibodies that your body needs to fend off infection.

I hope these tips are helpful and that you stay strong, healthy, and infection free this winter!

Blessings,
♥Rachel

Take Responsibility!

25 Sep

The Wall Street Journal recently published a pretty frightening report about the number of people who lose their lives each year due to hospital/doctor/staff error. Can you guess how many people die each year because of medical error? Here’s some stats you might not want to know:

  • 98,000 people die every year as the result of medical mistakes. This breaks down to 1,879 people each week or 268 people each day.
  • In the U.S., surgeons operate on the wrong body part approximately 40 times each week.
  • Approximately 25% of all hospitalized patients will be harmed in some way by a medical error.
  • On the financial side, somewhere between 20 – 30% of all medications, tests, and procedures are not necessary.

source: thinkstockphotos.com

While doctors take an oath to do no harm, some of them also adopt another code of conduct – that of overlooking the mistakes of their colleagues.

Should this information concern you? Yes. Should it scare you silly? No. Should it make you more attentive, responsible, and involved in your healthcare decisions and actions. Absolutely!!

Whether you are dealing with a serious health situation or plugging along with just routine healthcare – you need to know that YOU are responsible for your medical care. Sure, your medical staff bears responsibility, too, but you are your greatest advocate.

How do you do this? Research. Ask questions. Google is your friend! The amount of information available through a Google search is staggering – just start looking. If you aren’t comfortable looking or are unsure what to look for, enlist the help of a friend.

Do not make a decision about using a doctor or medical facility based on anything other than the physician’s qualifications, record, and willingness to listen to YOU. Just because a doctor is nice, friendly, chatty, or charming does not mean that he/she should be treating you. Recommendations are great and can carry some weight, but just because your sister, aunt, mother, grandmother, or best friend has used this doctor for years does not necessarily make him/her the right doctor for you. Do your leg work and learn as much as you can about the doctor before placing your life in his/her hands.

As the article pointed out, some people actually make decisions about healthcare based on the availability of good parking or they assume the hospital must be good because they have a helicopter! I’m not kidding. Read it for yourself. I know everyone reading this is much too smart to think make decisions like that! :)

Once you are at the hospital receiving care, the two best pieces of advice I can offer you are 1) make sure someone is there with you to watch what is being done and be your advocate when you are not in a condition to speak for yourself and 2) make sure you check and question all medications. When a bag is hung on your IV pole, you or your advocate should read the name on the bag and the name of the medication to make sure it is what you should be receiving. I would also recommend that you, or someone with you, keep a record of medications given and the times they are given – especially if you are dealing with numerous chemotherapy drugs.

Even doctors and nurses with the very best intensions make mistakes. The chemotherapy nurses in the practice where I receive treatment are as cautious and careful as anything I’ve ever seen. BUT, I or Barry still look at the bags they hang to make sure they have my name on them and are the correction medication. There’s too much at stake to not pay attention. The nurses won’t mind and will appreciate you providing an extra check and balance in the process.

Hospitals and physicians are taking action to improve care for all patients and put additional checks in place to prevent unnecessary deaths. Change takes time, though, and it requires help from all of us. The vast majority of us receive medical care from qualified doctors with proven track records of success and ethical treatment. I am so grateful there are people in the world who care about their patients, go out of their way to ensure the patient receives the very best care, and attempt to the best of their abilities to deliver exceptional health care. Unfortunately, not all are like that. It’s important that you play an active role in your healthcare. Ask questions. Research doctors and facilities. Pay attention when you are in the hospital. It’s your responsibility.

Stay safe and be smart.
♥ Rachel

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women [Video]

17 Jul

I want everyone to read this post – no skimming or scanning today.  Read it carefully.  Pretty please.  :)

Barry sent me an article yesterday that explained heart attack symptoms in women and how they are different than typical heart attack symptoms we often associate with the medical crisis.  I have to admit, I was surprised by the symptoms because they can easily be mistaken for so many other things “minor” things.

Did you know that heart disease is the number one killer of women?

I did a little further research on the actual symptoms for women.  I hope you never have to use this knowledge, but just in case, here’s a quick list for you.

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

  • Breaking out in a cold sweat.
  • Extreme or unusual fatigue.
  • Shortness of breath during normal activities.
  • Unexplained coughing.
  • Heartburn or indigestion.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Unexplained anxiety or panic attack.
  • Unusual or prolonged interruptions of your sleep pattern.
  • Acute chest pain that lasts for several minutes or goes away and comes back.
  • Pain, tightness, or a burning sensation in your upper back.
  • Pain in arms, shoulders, neck, throat, or jaw.
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness.

Sounds like a lot of other physical ailments, right?  You may not have all of these symptoms, but the more you have, the greater the possibility you are having a heart attack.  While women tend to experience more non-traditional symptoms than men, it is possible for men to experience some of these symptoms, too.

This video called Just a Little Heart Attack from the American Heart Association takes a somewhat lighthearted look at heart attack symptoms and how easy it is to dismiss them:

{If you are viewing this in email,
you might need to click over to the blog to view the video.}

For more information on heart attacks and recognizing the symptoms, visit the American Heart Association or Go Red For Women.

♥ Rachel

Show Your Kidneys Some Love

27 Jun

I’ve been wondering if there are things I can do to help my kidneys do their job.  It seems logical to me that there might be foods that are better than others for kidney health, much like there are foods that are good for your heart health and foods that are harmful to your heart.

source: thinkstockphotos.com

In order to better understand what our kidneys need for good health, I needed to know what our kidneys actually do.

Kidneys are bean-shaped organs located near the middle of our backs below the rib cage on either side of the spine.  Each kidney is about the size of your fist.  On an average day, our kidneys process about 200 quarts of blood to filter out waste and extra water.  Can you believe that??  Those little guys are busy beavers!  The waste and water become urine which travels down the ureter tubes and into the bladder.

Our bodies use food for energy.  When the body has used what it wants of the food we put into it, the remainder of the food (waste) is sent to the blood system which is then filtered through the kidney.  Without the kidneys, our bodies could not filter out waste and the resulting build up of toxins would be harmful not only to the kidneys, but to our entire bodies.

Have I bored you to sleep yet?  You never knew reading this blog would be like going back to 8th Grade Biology, did you??  :)

So, what should we eat in order to protect and preserve our kidneys?

I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that foods that are good for your heart and other parts of your body are also good for your kidneys.  This is also tied to the fact that the two leading causes of chronic kidney disease are high blood pressure and diabetes – two conditions that can be positively or negatively impacted by your diet.

Some of the best foods for overall good kidney health are:

Berries such as cranberries, strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries contain antioxidants that can promote healthy kidney function.  Cranberries protect against bacteria, blueberries reduce inflammation, strawberries prevent oxidative damage, and raspberries protect against cell damage.  Berries are a source of vitamin C which helps out our immune systems which can be impaired by reduced kidney function.

Protein is necessary for a healthy body, but too much protein from the wrong sources can be a problem for kidneys.  Select low fat/lean protein food sources such as fish, poultry, low-fat dairy products, and egg whites.  A few good fish options are salmon, tuna, and mackerel because they contain the healthy omega-3 fatty acids.  Be sure to watch the portion sizes, too.  One to two ounces of fish or poultry is sufficient for a meal.

Let veggies take center stage.  Instead of letting your meat be the largest portion of food on your plate, load up on veggies and let your meat serve as a side item.  When selecting vegetables, the best choices for kidney health are those that are low in potassium.  Some good options are bell peppers, onions, carrots, cabbage, cauliflower, squash, corn, kale, peas, and alfalfa sprouts.

Water, water, water.  For good kidney health, drink plenty of water.  The suggested amount varies quite a bit, but many sources recommend 64 ounces a day.  If you have a history of kidney stones, drinking a glass of orange juice or some type of caffeinated beverage each day can help to prevent future ones from developing.

While a person can survive with limited or reduced kidney function, it is impossible to survive with no kidney function – without medical intervention in the form of dialysis or a kidney transplant.  Neither of those sound very appealing, do they?  So it’s probably a really good idea for us to take care of our kidneys – before there is a problem.  If you take better care of your kidneys now, they will likely take better care of you!

Class dismissed.  ;)
♥ Rachel

The Skinny on Sugar and Sweeteners – Part 2

21 Jun

The Skinny on Sugar and Sweeteners – Part 1 can be found here.

Artificial Sweeteners

All artificial sweeteners are much sweeter than sugar, meaning that it takes less of the sweetener to get the sweet taste than it does actual sugar.  However, not all artificial sweeteners are created equal (get it – Equal??  ha ha!!).  Their potency and sweetness varies significantly from one to another:

  • Aspartame is 180 times sweeter than sugar.
  • Saccharin is 300 times sweeter than sugar.
  • Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than sugar.

There are four artificial sweeteners currently recommended by The American Diabetes Association: saccharin, aspartame, acesulfame-k (which is often used with saccharin), and sucralose.  Artificial sweeteners do not raise your blood sugar, but artificial sweeteners are different than sugar alcohols.  Sugar alcohols are plant based products such as mannitol, sorbitol, and xylitol and can affect blood sugar levels, although not drastically.

The primary benefit of artificial sweeteners is that they provide the sweet taste without the calories.  This is what many people find appealing about them – you can have the sweet taste without the concern of gaining weight.  Or so they think.  There are studies that suggest people who consume items containing artificial sweeteners actually end up eating more and are unable to stop their sweet food cravings the way those who eat foods containing natural glucose can.

A downside is that artificial sweeteners can have side effects such as headaches, upset stomach, heart palpitations, and insomnia.  For me, personally, I know to steer clear of items containing aspartame and phenylalanine because it is a headache trigger.

When considering using an artificial sweetener, keep in mind that the newer the sweetener, the fewer tests have been conducted on its safety.  Sucralose is one of the newer artificial sweeteners that has made its way into many products, including diet sodas, but there have been fewer tests performed to determine its long-term affects on our health.  That doesn’t mean that it’s unsafe to use it, but it also doesn’t mean that it’s safe for heavy, long-term use, either.

Best Choice

Sugar is the body’s main source of energy, so a certain amount of sugar is beneficial and even necessary.  However, we have a choice between selecting foods that contain sugar naturally and foods that have sugar (or sweeteners) added to them.  The best option is foods that contain sugar naturally such as fruits.

If you are looking for something sweet to eat, choose foods that contain sugar along with other healthy nutrients.  Try to avoid foods that contain mostly sugar without other nutrients that are important for good health.  And don’t allow yourself to drink six diet sodas in one day just because they don’t contain calories!  Artificial sweeteners are just that – artificial, manufactured, not natural – so their use should be limited if you are truly interested in your overall good health.

I think it’s also good to pay close attention to the labels on the foods you eat.  There are hidden sugars all in our foods that we often don’t realize are there.  I like to drink Propel flavored water and you might think because it’s clear and because it’s water that it is pure, but even it contains sucralose to give the water a slightly sweet taste.

The bottom line is, the more sugar you consume, the fewer healthier options you will be consuming.  Instead of eliminating sugar in your diet all together, maybe try cutting back a bit and replacing some of your usual sugar-laden items with a healthier choice – some type of fruit or vegetable.  Not only will you benefit from reducing your sugar consumption, you will also benefit by putting nutrients in your body that you need.  It’s a win-win situation!

What are your thoughts on sugar and artificial sweeteners?  Hate them all?  Love any form of sugar or sweetener?  What’s your personal sugar philosophy?

Have a SWEET day!  :)
♥ Rachel

The Skinny on Sugar and Sweeteners – Part 1

20 Jun

I’ve been wondering for a while which is better for our bodies: sugar or sugar substitutes (or neither).  And if sugar substitutes are ok to consume, is one better than another?  The reason I’m wondering this is because I like sweets.  Sure, I could give up sweets completely – if I really wanted to.  But I don’t want to.  Call me stubborn.  Or stupid, whichever you prefer.  :)

source: thinkstockphotos.com

Part of my mind thinks sugar is “pure” or more natural, so it would be healthier (as long as my diet doesn’t consist of mostly sugar-filled items).  But sugar comes with calories and calories result in weight gain.  Sugar substitutes allow me to have my cake (pun intended!) and eat it, too – without the added calories.  So which is better?  Or is either one a good choice?

I did a little digging and thought you might like to know what I learned.

Oh, Sugar!

There are two kinds of sugar: naturally-occurring and refined.  Naturally-occurring sugars are those found in things such as apples and bananas.  For example, an apple contains 13 grams of sugar.  Naturally-occurring sugars are the best kinds of sugars to consume, but even still – you don’t want to go overboard eating them.  Refined sugars are those food items that contain added sugar such as cupcakes, cookies, and ice cream.

Some researchers believe that cancer tumors can feed (grow) on sugar, but there are also studies that show sugar does not contribute to cancer.  We do know that excessive sugar intake is a major contributor to diabetes and can lead to a host of other health issues, not the least of which is weight gain.  And being overweight can bring a whole family of health problems.  So it’s important to control your sugar intake.

Sugar, in and of itself, is not bad.  Sugar consumed in large quantities on a daily basis is bad.  Eating refined sugar foods instead of fruits, vegetables, protein and grains is bad.  Moderate amounts of sugar, as part of a diet that consists of numerous other healthy choices, is not bad.

When we think of sugar, we tend to think of food items that contain added sugar: ice cream, cakes, cookies, brownies, and candy are just a few examples.  It’s important to remember, though, that carbohydrates turn into sugar as our body processes them, so we need to watch our carbohydrate intake, as well.

Sugar is one source of energy for our bodies and, in my non-expert opinion, should not be completely eliminated from our diets.  However, our sugar intake should be balanced with other healthy food choices.

Sugar Substitutes

Sugar substitutes are anything that you use in place of regular sugar (e.g., artificial sweeteners, stevia, agave nectar, honey).  Artificial sweeteners such as Splenda, Equal and NutraSweet are some of the most common sugar substitutes.

There are new sweeteners being marketed that claim to be healthier or better for us than the sweeteners made of aspartame or saccharin.  These newer alternatives are sometimes touted as  “natural” sweeteners but are often refined and processed; while some artificial sweeteners are actually pulled from naturally occurring substances such as sucralose which comes from sugar, itself.

Concerns about the safety of artificial sweeteners have been floating around for decades.  In the 1970s, studies linked bladder cancer to the consumption of saccharin in laboratory rats.  The FDA subsequently required all foods containing saccharin to carry a warning.  Since then, numerous studies have been conducted proving that saccharin did not cause cancer in humans, therefore, saccharin was removed from the U.S. National Toxicology Program’s Report on Carcinogens in the year 2000.

In the United States, artificial sweeteners are regulated by the FDA meaning that the FDA has to review and approve the sweetener before it can be sold.  The FDA also has established acceptable daily intake guidelines for each sweetener.  This daily guideline is approximately 100 times less than the smallest amount that could cause health concerns so there is a significant margin of safety.  The guidelines for three of the most common artificial sweeteners are:

  • Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal): 50 milligrams per kilogram of weight, or the equivalent of 18 to 19 cans of diet soda. (a kilogram is equal to about 2.2 pounds)
  • Saccharin (Sweet ‘n Low, Sugar Twin): 5 milligrams per kilogram of weight, or the equivalent of 9 to 12 packets of the sweetener.
  • Sucralose (Splenda): 5 milligrams per kilogram of weight, or the equivalent of 6 cans of diet soda.

Is one artificial sweetener better than another?  Do any of them pose proven health risks?  Come back tomorrow for Part 2 of The Skinny on Sugar and Sweeteners.

♥ Rachel