How to Prevent a Concussion

Marie Parks

Have you ever bumped your head so hard that it made your eyes water? Most people have hit their heads really hard at least once in their lifetime.

In fact, each year approximately 1.7 million people visit emergency rooms as a result of head injuries, and 90% of these end up being concussions.1

Don’t be alarmed though - this doesn’t mean that every time you bump your head you'll get a concussion. That being said, you do need to be aware of what a concussion is and how to protect yourself and those around you.

What Is a Concussion?

Concussions are a common occurrence in contact sports such as football, hockey, soccer, and boxing, but they can also occur from a fall, car accident, violent shaking, etc.

A concussion is a hard jolt or blow to the head that can result in a disruption of the brain’s normal functioning, resulting symptoms can range from mild to severe.

Was The Hit Hard Enough?

Just because a blow to the head didn’t look or feel too hard, it doesn’t mean that there wasn’t any damage done. It’s not always about the force of the blow … it’s more about how and where the force was applied.

So what actually causes damage when you receive a blow to the head? When force is applied to the head, the resulting action can cause it to move quickly from front-to-back and/or from side-to-side.

What can happen next is that the brain shakes and rotates causing tissue to tear. Your brain could also hit the skull, which could result in bleeding.

For this reason, anyone who’s experienced a serious blow to the head should be monitored for a few hours and, if symptoms worsen, seek immediate medical help. Naturally, you should have someone else drive you if you suspect that you have sustained a head injury that needs medical attention.

Concussion Signs and Symptoms to Look Out For

Since some people may appear to be fine after sustaining a blow to the head, it can sometimes make it difficult to assess the severity of the injury. To make matters even more difficult, symptoms might not manifest themselves for days after the event. Be on the lookout for these signs and symptoms:

  • Vomiting
  • Headache
  • Blurred vision
  • Slurred speech
  • Balance problems
  • Confusion
  • Light headed or dizzy
Some of the following symptoms might be immediate, but are more likely to occur hours or even days after sustaining an injury:

  • Light and noise sensitivity
  • Personality changes …for instance, appearing irritable or depressed
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Attention and memory issues
  • Changes in ability to taste and smell
If any of these occur, please see a doctor who can perform the testing and provide the medical care necessary to minimize any damage and to speed up recovery!

How to Minimize Concussion Risk

Taking the following precautions2 can help you continue to enjoy your favorite activities with added peace of mind!

1. Wear a seatbelt! And make sure children are in a car seat or booster seat according to their height, weight, and age.

2. Wear a helmet! Wear a helmet when doing any activity where you could collide with someone or something, such as: contact sports (i.e., football, hockey, boxing, baseball), bicycling, riding a motorcycle, skiing, horseback riding, etc.

3. Keep living areas safe:

  • Remove trip hazards such as clutter and make sure rugs are secure.
  • Use nonslip mats in the bathtub.
  • Install hand rails on both sides of stairways.
  • Make sure lighting is adequate.
4. Childproofing:

  • Install safety gates at bottom and top of stairs.
  • Use shock-absorbing playground surfaces like mulch or sand.
  • Keep an eye on children at all times, especially during play.
  • Exercise regularly. Improving strength and balance can reduce the risk of falling and hitting your head.
Using these precautions can help to reduce everyone’s risk of the devastating effects of sustaining a concussion or even more serious head injury!

References:

  1. Available at: http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/OnCall/story?id=7121271&page=1 Accessed January 5, 2016.
  2. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/traumaticbraininjury/prevention.html Accessed January 5, 2016.

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Wild Green Oats Boost Dopamine

Marie Parks

Have you ever wondered why you no longer can process information and focus quite as well as you did in your youth?

Or have you ever pondered as to why it is so difficult for some people to stay away from the dessert table or quit smoking?

The answer may be due to one common denominator that resides within your brain...dopamine.

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is known as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter that signals neurons to regulate mood and brain function and plays a large role in reward behavior.

Around age 45–60, the enzyme that breaks down dopamine, called monoamine oxidase-B (MAO-B), increases. The result of increased MAO-B is a decline in dopamine, contributing to cerebral senescence and corresponding depressive mood, cognitive dysfunction, and motor function decline.1

Fortunately, an extract of wild green oat (containing a flavone called isovitexin) has shown MAO-B-inhibiting properties, therefore promoting healthy brain levels of dopamine.

Wild Green Oat Extract Improves Cognitive Performance

It can be frustrating when a task that was simple years ago takes twice as long due to an inability to concentrate and block out distraction. This common problem may be correlated with the age-related decrease in dopamine.

Due to its dopamine-supporting property, researchers chose to assess the potential of green oat extract to impact cognitive performance. Researchers used the Stroop Color-Word test to measure various cognitive functions such as memory, catching errors, and appropriate response.2

In this study, subjects who were not given the wild green oat extract made an average of 3.39 errors while the subjects receiving the wild green oat extract made only 1.2 errors — a significant improvement of 65%. Additionally, subjects who had been diagnosed with mild cognitive impairment showed a 26% improvement in test scores measuring the effects of distraction on mental performance.

A possible mechanism for wild green oat to enhance cognitive function may be due to its ability to improve blood flow to the brain.3

A Natural Alternative to Reduce Addictive Behaviors

You have probably noticed that certain behaviors provide more pleasurable feelings than others. This blissful state of mind is due to your brain’s release of dopamine.

While dopamine is also important for one’s well-being, activities that cause it to be released quickly — such as drugs, alcohol, and gambling — can oftentimes be addicting and dangerous. There is even evidence that foods and beverages high in sugar can be addicting and cause cravings because of the rapid release of dopamine that results from their consumption.4 This therefore contributes to an increased risk for diabetes and obesity.

Some individuals are more prone to these types of addicting behaviors due to the dopamine-induced euphoria they experience when these behaviors are performed.

Wherever you go, you are bound to see people sitting outside smoking, or with a cigarette hanging out of their car. Many of them have most likely tried to quit at least one time and failed, using methods such as nicotine patches, gum, or cold turkey. This is another example of how dopamine exhibits powerful control over our ability to practice moderation.

Cigarette smoking is the leading cause of preventable disease and death in the United States, accounting for 1 of every 5 deaths each year.5

Wild green oat has shown the ability to decrease tobacco intake by 54% by improving dopaminergic transmission.6 This finding shows promise for wild green oat to be an alternative option for addicted individuals to help with smoking cessation.

References:

  1. Am J Psychiatry. 1998 Mar;155(3):344-9.
  2. J Altern Complement Med. 2011 Jul;17(7):635-7.
  3. J Hypertens. 2013 Jan;31(1):192-200.
  4. Neuroscience. 2005;134(3):737-44.
  5. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/data_statistics/fact_sheets/adult_data/cig_smoking/. Accessed December 9, 2015.
  6. Pharmacometrics. 2008;75(3/4):47-53.

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Spicy Foods For a Longer Life


The hottest pepper known to man is the ghost pepper. With a score of 1 million Scoville heat units, it will scorch the mouth of any hot pepper connoisseur.

Amazingly, the heat is where the health benefits come from, particularly in the skin that surrounds the seeds.

Now a new study shows that spicy foods may help people live longer, which can only add to the growing attraction of eating spicy foods. The results of this study were published in the British Medical Journal.

Eating Spicy Foods Regularly May Lower Your Risk of Death

Previous research shows spicy foods are associated with a reduced risk of disease. A principal factor is the ability of heat to fight inflammation.

For the study, scientists surveyed the diet of 487,375 participants, aged 30–79 living in China. They tracked them for a period of seven years and examined the frequency with which they ate red meat, spicy foods, vegetables, and alcohol.

They found that individuals who ate spicy foods nearly every day were 14% less likely to die over the study period in comparison to those who ate spicy foods less than once weekly.1

Eating spicy foods 1 or 2 days per week was associated with a 10% reduced risk of death. In addition, those who ate spicy foods regularly were less likely to be diagnosed with ischemic heart disease, cancer, and respiratory illnesses. The relationship was stronger for participants that ate fresh chilies.

Eat More Heat

If spicy foods aren’t exactly your thing, supplement with capsaicin. It’s the active ingredient in hot peppers responsible for the heat factor and health benefits.

If you tolerate heat fairly well, go for the hotter peppers. They contain more capsaicin than their milder counterparts. The hottest peppers are the habanero and Scotch bonnet peppers, followed by jalapenos then the Spanish pimentos, Anaheim and Hungarian cherry peppers.2

References:

  1. BMJ. 2015 Aug 4;351:h3942.
  2. Available at: http://www.whfoods.com/genpage.php?tname=foodspice&dbid=29. Accessed August 13, 2015.

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10 Ways to Boost Your Winter Metabolism

Marie Parks

Cold air, snow, icy roads, grey skies…don’t they all just make you want to drive to the gym or go for a run outside? Probably not!

During the winter months, it can be more difficult to get yourself up and going when you’re snug underneath a blanket warding off the elements.

This, combined with the onslaught of scrumptious holiday temptations, can be a recipe for weight gain and lethargy for some.

Not to fear, though. Here are 10 tips that can help keep you from falling into a metabolic rut this winter.

How to Rev Your Metabolism During Winter

1. Eat breakfast. A hearty breakfast helps you stay energized and focused throughout the day. People who don’t eat breakfast are less active than those who do.1

2. Drink lots of water. Of course, water is necessary for all of life’s functions…so it makes sense that staying hydrated is also important for sparing your muscle-building proteins and instead burning fat for energy.2

3. Exercise - at least a little. Short bursts of intense exercise can rev your ability to burn more calories post workout than long, easy sessions. Also, muscle itself increases your metabolic rate, so add in some strength training as well. Don't have access to a gym or weights? Try using canned soups, water or milk jugs, suitcases, 5lb bags of flour or sugar, socks, and even kids! Be creative.

4. Eat often. Eating small meals or snacks every 3-4 hours keeps your metabolism revved all day, compared to eating large meals with longer time periods in between (which actually slows down your metabolism because your body goes into storage mode). And just as importantly, don’t skip any meals!

5. Spice it up. Adding some kick to your meals can increase your metabolism too. So go ahead and add the chilies and sprinkle on the red pepper flakes!

6. Eat more protein. Replacing some of your fat or carbohydrate meals or snacks with a higher protein option can help support your fat-burning muscles. As an added benefit, you burn more calories digesting protein than you do fat and carbohydrates. Opt for lean proteins like chicken, tuna, egg whites, etc.

7. Reach for the roast. Coffee has been shown to provide many health benefits when consumed in moderation, partially due to its caffeine content. Caffeine helps to speed up metabolism as well as equipping you with the energy and focus you need to have an effective exercise session.

8. Keep it cold. Keeping your bedroom cooler while you sleep increases your proportion of brown adipose tissue (a type of fat that functions more like muscle, helping to burn calories).3

9. Get enough sleep. Speaking of the bedroom…shorter sleep durations are associated with unhealthy food choices and increased risk of overeating.4

10. Keep smiling. When you’re stressed, you produce higher levels of the hormone cortisol which causes you to store fat. Smiling can help keep stress levels lower for you and those around you!5

It’s perfectly fine to have those lazy moments and enjoy cuddling up with a good book, but implementing these tips into your daily routine can help you avoid a winter slump.

References:

  1. Proc Nutr Soc. 2015 Dec 14:1-9.
  2. Eur J Clin Nutr. 2003 Dec;57 Suppl 2:S69-74.
  3. Diabetes. 2014 Nov; 63(11): 3686–3698.
  4. Int J Obes (Lond). Author manuscript; available in PMC 2014 Mar 14.
  5. Psychol Sci. 2012;23(11):1372-8.

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Your Basic Thyroid Test May Not Be Enough

Marie Parks

Moody, tired, or gaining weight? It could be your thyroid.

Of course there are many underlying factors that could contribute to these frustrating
symptoms such as hormones, stress, neurotransmitter imbalance, etc. However, the prevailing culprit, your thyroid, is often left undiagnosed.

Thyroid malfunction is a common cause of these symptoms and is not even considered by many doctors. To make matters worse, the doctors who are aware of the role thyroid can play usually do not sufficiently assess the lab values that are needed to get a complete picture, and this results in the person not being treated properly.

About 50% of the people suffering thyroid malfunction remain undiagnosed, which can increase the risk of other health issues such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and infertility!

Your Thyroid in a Nutshell

The thyroid works by a negative feedback loop with the hypothalamus and the pituitary gland. The hypothalamus tells the pituitary gland to release TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) which then tells the thyroid to release T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine).

In the body, T4 is converted into T3, which is the active form and the one that is more directly involved in metabolism. If your T4 is not efficiently converting into T3, you may feel weak, tired, and depressed. However, figuring out how to address these symptoms is not an easy task.

How and Why “Thyroid Testing” Fails You

As a health advisor for five years, some of the most common ailments that people complained about were unexplained weight gain, lethargy, lack of motivation, and brain fog. When I would question them as to whether they’ve had their thyroid tested, (if the answer was yes) it was not surprising to hear that their doctor tested it and it was fine.

Probing further, the test they usually were referring to was TSH by itself. The problem with this is that a person can have a TSH level in range, but low levels of T4 and T3. To make things even more complicated, even testing for TSH, T4, and T3 may not be enough information for a complete picture!

Not all T4 is available to convert into T3 because some of it is bound to proteins. Similarly, some of your T3 is also bound to proteins. About 99% of circulating thyroid hormones are bound to carrier proteins, making them metabolically inactive.1

When you have your T3 levels measured, it’s a combination of both the bound and the free T3. Your free T3 is the amount that is available for tissues. Therefore, knowing your free T4 and free T3 levels can help diagnose thyroid function.

Together with TSH, T3, T4, free T4, and free T3, testing for another hormone, called reverse T3, can help complete the picture of one’s thyroid health. Reverse T3 is a nonfunctioning form of T3 that is produced by the conversion of T4. Reverse T3 is not only inactive, but it also blocks thyroid receptors, hindering the action of regular T3.2 The conversion of T4 to T3 is hampered by cortisol, which is secreted by the adrenal glands when under prolonged stress.

Did You Know About the Antibodies?

Another key in assessing thyroid function is measuring the thyroid antibodies TPO (thyroid peroxidase antibody) and ATA (antithyroglobulin antibody). These antibodies are elevated in autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s and Graves’ disease.

In such cases, the body’s own immune system attacks the thyroid, lessening its ability to make hormones, and causing symptoms of underactive (and sometimes overactive) thyroid. It is crucial to know if one’s symptoms are due to an autoimmune issue because the potential suggestions can be contraindicated.

Your Medication Might be Doing More Harm than Good

It’s common for a doctor to prescribe Synthroid or Levoxyl for someone whose test results show elevated TSH (remember, this is a negative feedback loop, so high TSH is indicative of hypothyroidism). These medications are just T4, and if someone is not converting it to T3, they are still going to exhibit undesirable symptoms.

There are other medications that can be prescribed as alternatives such as Nature-throid, Armour thyroid, and Westhroid which provide T4 and T3. Another option is Cytomel, which is the synthetic form of T3.

This is why comprehensive testing is important even for those who are already taking medications.

The Bottom Line

If you are gaining weight, tired, losing hair, and in a slump, your thyroid could be the reason. Assessing thyroid function can be complicated, so it is best to make sure your test looks at all aspects.

Comprehensive testing can help to diagnose the cause of your problem, so that you can be happy and healthy once again!

References:

  1. Nussey S, Whitehead S. Endocrinology: An Integrated Approach. Oxford: BIOS Scientific Publishers; 2001. Box 3.28. Available at: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK28/
  2. Acta Med Austriaca. 1996;23(1-2):17-30.

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