Navigating New Parent Nerves

A newborn can bring a sense of fulfillment to your life … and an equal amount of stress over everything from baby’s health to your own parenting skills.

A few simple strategies can help both mom and dad relax.

First, expect to feel many different, often contradictory emotions. You might go from pure bliss as you look at your baby to complete panic at not being able to decipher the meaning behind his or her cries. And exhaustion from sleepless nights can cause your anxiety levels to spike.

But remember that all these emotions are normal for new parents. Keep the lines of communication open with your partner and don’t heap unrealistic expectations of perfection on yourselves.

Stress can intensify when you don’t take care of yourself and attempt to function on little sleep and little energy. Try to nap when baby naps and eat when baby eats, even if that means many small meals throughout the day.

As much as you’d like to be supermom or superdad and handle everything, let friends and family help. Having someone else do the grocery shopping, for instance, means one less potentially exhausting chore for you.

Try mental therapy to relax, such as picturing a favorite romantic retreat as you do a few minutes of focused deep breathing.

Exercise is another great way to de-stress — just 10 minutes on a home treadmill or walking in place while you watch TV or listen to your favorite tunes can make a difference. Even better, get the whole family outside in the fresh air for a walk and you will all be together as you reap the benefits of exercise.

More information

The Mayo Clinic has great tips to help new parents better manage stress.

A Single Energy Drink Might Harm Blood Vessels: Study

Caffeine-laden energy drinks are popular, but they might make your blood vessels less efficient, a small study suggests.

These drinks — sold as Monster and Red Bull, to name two — have been linked to heart, nerve and stomach problems, researchers say.

“A lot of young kids use energy drinks when they exercise, a time when you need your arterial function to be at its top,” said lead researcher Dr. John Higgins. He’s a professor of medicine at McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston.

Exercise and sports require maximum blood flow so oxygen can get to cells quickly, Higgins said. Energy drinks that reduce the vessels’ diameter, in effect, restrict blood flow and oxygen delivery, he explained.

“It’s more work for the heart and less oxygen supply for the heart. This could explain why there have been cases where kids have had a cardiac arrest after an energy drink,” he said.

Plus, people often chug energy drinks so they get the full effect in one shot, and that might be dangerous, Higgins said.

“These drinks are not intended for children,” Higgins warned. In addition, people under 18, women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, caffeine-sensitive individuals, those taking stimulants or caffeine-based drugs or those with heart disease should stay away from energy drinks, he added.

The study included 44 healthy, non-smoking medical students in their 20s. The researchers tested the effect of a 24-ounce energy drink on cells lining blood vessels, called endothelial cells.

The function of these cells was tested before and after the participants consumed the energy drink, and again 90 minutes later. The researchers looked at artery flow-mediated dilation — an ultrasound measurement that is an indicator of overall blood vessel health.

After 90 minutes, the internal diameter of blood vessels tested was dramatically smaller, on average, than before, the investigators found.

This negative effect on blood vessels may be related to ingredients in the energy drink, such as caffeine, taurine, sugar and other herbals, the researchers suggested. Taurine is an amino acid touted as increasing energy and was originally extracted from bull semen — hence the name Red Bull, the researchers said.

According to Dr. David Katz, director of Yale University’s Yale-Griffin Prevention Research Center, “Endothelial function is, in general, a potent indicator of cardiovascular risk.”

But, Katz said, “this is a small study looking only at acute effects and cannot be considered proof that energy drinks injure the cardiovascular system over time.”

That being said, the combination of sugar and stimulants in these drinks has no proven benefit, Katz added.

“There are far better ways to boost energy, such as standing up and getting a bit of exercise,” he suggested. “In the absence of a reliable benefit, even a low level of risk is objectionable.”

A spokesman for an industry group that represents makers of energy drinks said the drinks are safe.

“Mainstream energy drinks contain about half the caffeine of a similarly sized cup of coffeehouse coffee, and have been extensively studied and confirmed safe for consumption by government safety authorities worldwide,” said William Dermody, spokesman for the American Beverage Association. “Nothing in this preliminary research counters this well-established fact.”

The study findings are scheduled for presentation Nov. 12 at a meeting of the American Heart Association, in Chicago.

Research presented at meetings is typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

To learn more about caffeine and heart disease, visit the American Heart Association.

A Childhood Full of Happy Memories Might Benefit Your Health Today

Childhood memories of good connections with your parents can benefit your physical and mental health, according to new research.

The study found that older adults with fond recollections of early relationships with their parents were more likely to have better health, fewer chronic illnesses and a lower risk of depression.

Researchers analyzed two databases that included more than 22,000 people in the United States. They were either followed from their mid-40s for 18 years or for six years after age 50.

Those who recalled higher levels of affection from their mothers in early childhood had better physical health and fewer symptoms of depression, according to the study. It was published Nov. 5 in the journal Health Psychology.

Participants who recalled more childhood support from their fathers had fewer symptoms of depression, the study also found.

“One might expect childhood memories to matter less and less over time, but these memories still predicted better physical and mental health when people were in middle age and older adulthood,” study lead author William Chopik said in a journal news release. Chopik is an assistant professor of psychology at Michigan State University.

The study only found an association, and didn’t prove cause and effect. But the link between good childhood memories and better health later in life was stronger among those who recalled a good relationship with their mother, as opposed to their father.

This “may reflect the broader cultural circumstances of the time when the participants were raised because mothers were most likely the primary caregivers,” said study co-author Robin Edelstein. She directs the University of Michigan’s Personality, Relationships and Hormones Lab.

“With shifting cultural norms about the role of fathers in caregiving, it is possible that results from future studies of people born in more recent years will focus more on relationships with their fathers,” Edelstein said.

Chopik said memory plays a huge role in how people make sense of the world and gauge how they should behave. “As a result, there are a lot of different ways that our memories of the past can guide us,” he said.

Good memories seem to have a positive effect on health and well-being, possibly because they reduce stress or help people maintain healthy choices, he said.

Previous research found a link between good memories and good health in young adults, Chopik said.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more on positive parenting.

Health Tip: What Causes a Chronic Cough

Coughing serves an important purpose — to help you expel mucus, microbes and other foreign particles from your respiratory tract.

This helps protect the lungs from infection and inflammation, Harvard Medical School says. A cough becomes chronic if it lingers for at least three to eight weeks, the school adds.

Its list of reasons for a chronic cough includes:

  • Postnasal drip.
  • Asthma.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).
  • Chronic bronchitis.
  • ACE-inhibitor medications.

Sunday Is ‘Fall Back’ Time for Your Clock — Sleep Experts Offer Tips

The hour you “lost” with daylight savings time in the spring you “gain back” on Sunday, when clocks are set an hour back.

And every time shift takes a subtle toll on the human mind and body, experts say.

Still, “for most people, it is easier to stay up an hour later than to go to bed an hour earlier,” said Dr. Steven Feinsilver, who directs sleep medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. “This is thought to be because for most of us our ‘internal clock’ is closer to a 25-hour cycle than a 24-hour cycle.”

He said the furthest you can comfortably shift your internal clock is about an hour a day, and “what sets [your] clock is the wake time more than the bedtime.”

Feinsilver said that to get back to a normal sleep rhythm, “set the alarm for your target time and get out of bed when it goes off, even if your night sleep was not perfect.

“For the time change, set the alarm for Monday — for most of us the Sunday morning wake-up is less critical — and enjoy the extra hour,” Feinsilver said.

A single night of imperfect sleep is easily gotten over — “it is when bad sleep becomes a habit we get into trouble,” he said. Feinsilver’s advice is to try to sleep a regular seven to eight hours — and “stick to a constant wake time.”

Triggers such as light, food and exercise are the cues that tell your body what time it is.

“Getting exposed to light early in the day wakes us up,” Feinsilver said. “This is harder in the winter when there is less and later light, but the autumn time shift helps a bit.”

Dr. Daniel Barone is a neurologist and sleep medicine expert at the Center for Sleep Medicine at New York-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center in New York City. He said that people shouldn’t expect that the extra hour of sleep they’ll get on Sunday will erase any accumulated “sleep debt.”

“We as a society sleep one hour less than we did 100 years ago, so we are still ‘behind the clock’ so to speak when it comes to being sleep-deprived,” Barone said.

He said the body’s sleep clock can be directly affected as autumn days grow shorter and people spend more time indoors. The body manufactures vitamin D via sunlight’s action on the skin, and too little vitamin D can affect sleep and emotions.

“When you’re not getting as much sunlight, it has an effect on your mood,” Barone said. For some people, this can even mean the onset of a kind of depression known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD).

Barone offered these tips for better sleep:

  • Switch to LED lightbulbs. They’re made to simulate sunlight and can help you maintain a healthy circadian rhythm as seasons change.
  • Cut out the evening nap. Dozing off after dinner sends confusing signals to your brain that can make bedtime later more challenging.
  • Try mindful meditation. It can cut stress and encourage healthy sleep.
  • Ban TVs, smartphones and laptops from the bedroom. The backlight display can disrupt sleep if used before lights-out.
  • Keep bedrooms dark. Light creeping in can send a wake-up signal to the brain.

If you’re still having trouble sleeping, consult a sleep specialist for testing, Barone said.

“If you’re continually waking up in the night or you’re constantly waking up tired, a sleep test is definitely warranted,” he said.

“We should view sleep as something that’s sacred,” Barone said. “Our bodies are designed to get seven to nine hours. In this 24-hour society, a lot of times the amount of sleep we get suffers. We should focus on getting good-quality sleep and dealing with any problems that exist.”

More information

There’s more on getting good sleep at the National Sleep Foundation.

Obesity May Harm Kids’ Academics, Coping Skills

Obese kids may have extra difficulty with schoolwork and coping under stress, a preliminary study suggests.

In a survey of nearly 23,000 parents, researchers found that kids who were obese were less likely to show certain indicators of “flourishing,” versus their normal-weight peers.

That meant less engagement in schoolwork and learning, and more difficulty coping with challenging situations.

The findings do not necessarily prove that childhood obesity feeds those problems, researchers said.

But they add to evidence of the possible “psychosocial” effects of obesity, said Dr. Christopher Bolling, who chairs the American Academy of Pediatrics’ obesity section.

“Studies have shown that people with obesity tend to report lower quality of life, face more social stigma and have higher rates of depression,” said Bolling, who was not involved in the new research.

So it’s not surprising, added Bolling, that obese children in this study were not flourishing to the degree that their peers were.

However, “none of this means that people need to lose weight in order to be happy,” he stressed.

In fact, Bolling said, when obese kids face social stigma and other emotional difficulties, that “says something about our society.”

Dr. Natasha Gill, of Brown University and Hasbro Children’s Hospital in Providence, R.I., led the study.

She said that when it comes to the issue of childhood obesity, attention often goes toward the potential long-term physical health effects — such as asthma and type 2 diabetes. But, she said, obesity can also have “an immediate impact” on kids’ well-being.

In this case, Gill and her team focused on five specific markers of “flourishing.” They surveyed 22,914 parents and caregivers of kids ages 10 to 17, asking them whether their child:

  • “Shows interest and curiosity in learning new things,”
  • “Works to finish tasks he or she starts,”
  • “Stays calm and in control when faced with a challenge,”
  • “Cares about doing well in school,”
  • “Does all required homework.”

Overall, nearly 28 percent of obese kids were reported to show all five markers of flourishing — versus 39 percent of normal-weight kids and 37 percent of overweight children.

According to Gill, kids who were obese did tend to spend more time on digital media and get less sleep. But even when the researchers accounted for those differences — as well as family poverty and parents’ education levels — obesity itself was still linked to lower odds of flourishing.

“There is a clear negative relationship between obesity and markers of flourishing,” Gill said. But, she noted, “it’s difficult to know which came first.”

Bolling agreed that there’s a “chicken-and-egg” question. For instance, it’s possible that kids who are ostracized or disengaged at school are more likely to gain weight excessively.

Gill was scheduled to present the findings Saturday at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in Orlando, Fla. In general, studies released at meetings are considered preliminary until they’re published in a peer-reviewed journal.

For now, Gill and Bolling recommended that adults be aware that obese kids can face more challenges at school, and with coping skills.

“Kids manifest stress in different ways,” Bolling noted. “It can turn up as physical symptoms, difficulties with relationships, or poorer school performance.”

Gill suggested parents regularly sit down with their kids to simply have conversations and check in on how they are doing.

She said research shows that flourishing markers seem to be similar to personality traits: They stay the same over time. So if children do not develop them, Gill said, that could affect them into adulthood.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics has more on childhood obesity.

Get the Most From Your Cardio Workouts

You’ve made the decision to meet the 150-minutes-per-week goal of cardio workouts for better health. Now use these tips to make the most of these workouts.

If you’re using a machine, like a treadmill or stationary bike, check that you’re maintaining proper form. Just as coasting when riding a bike outdoors doesn’t provide a workout, resting your upper body on the handles of a machine or slumping on its console means you aren’t working as well as you could be. If you’re having a hard time staying upright, you may have set the machine at too fast or challenging a setting.

Speaking of machines, resist making one machine in particular your only type of cardio workout. You’ll expand your horizons and get some fresh air by running or walking outdoors or taking a swim when weather permits. You might find that being outside makes the workout more interesting and invigorating.

When working out at a gym, add a fun element by creating a cardio fitness circuit, especially if you find yourself getting bored after the first 10 minutes on a machine. Break up your workout into a mini triathlon: 10 minutes on the treadmill, 10 on the bike and 10 in the pool doing laps or water exercises.

Remember that cardio doesn’t always have to feel like hard work. Spend a fun evening going dancing with friends or your significant other. It may not seem like it, but if you break into a sweat, you’re getting your heart rate up.

Finally, make a plan to regularly try a new form of cardio, not just to stave off boredom, but also to challenge different muscles and add to your overall fitness level.

More information

The American Council on Exercise has tips to help you make the most of cardio workouts.

Keeping Track of Healthy Calories

Even when eating nutritiously, healthy aging depends on moderating the number of calories you take in.

Surprisingly, studies show that if you follow a healthy diet, but eat more than an average number of calories, you won’t fare any better in terms of healthy aging than people who follow the traditional Western diet. You want a lifelong diet plan that provides micronutrients, fiber and antioxidants while still limiting calories.

That means whether you count calories or portion sizes, it’s important to keep track of all high-calorie foods, even the healthful ones.

Here are some examples.

While plant oils — such as walnut, olive, safflower, sunflower, grapeseed and sesame oils — are better for you than butter with all its saturated fat, tablespoon for tablespoon, oils actually have more calories — 120 to 130 calories compared to butter’s 100. Use an oil spray to coat pans before cooking to conserve calories when you really need to use oil.

When eating a rainbow of veggies, winter squash and sweet potatoes are great choices in the orange color range, but 4 ounces of squash have only 44 calories compared to 84 calories for the same amount of sweet potatoes. If you need a large portion to feel full, eating squash will allow you twice the volume for the same number of calories.

Among the most nutrient-dense fruits, a large banana can have 120 calories while a cup of strawberries is barely 50.

Nutrient-rich, high-calorie foods are still good for you, but consider cutting portion sizes in half to keep the needed ceiling on your overall calorie intake.

More information

Need a portion size reminder? The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute has an illustrated serving size card you can print and carry with you.

Health Tip: FDA Discusses Possible Risks of Bodybuilding Products

Bodybuilding drugs may contain steroids or similar substances that could pose significant risks to users, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration warns.

Steroids and similar drugs have been associated with severe acne, hair loss, altered mood, irritability, increased aggression and depression, the agency says.

They’ve also been associated with life-threatening reactions such as kidney damage, heart attack, stroke, blood clots in the lungs and blood clots that occur in veins deep in the body.

If the product you’re using contains steroids, you should stop using it, the FDA says. If you’re not sure:

  • Speak with your doctor about any bodybuilding products you have taken or are planning to take.
  • Alert your doctor if you have symptoms such as nausea, weakness or fatigue, fever, abdominal pain, chest pain, shortness of breath, yellowing of the skin or whites of the eyes, or brown or discolored urine.

For Diabetics, Going Vegan May Boost Mood Along With Health

Diabetes is a formidable foe that can tax the bodies and the spirits of people diagnosed with the blood sugar disease.

But a plant-based diet may help boost the physical and the mental health of unhappy people with type 2 diabetes, a new evidence review reports.

Diabetics who switched to a plant-based diet tended to experience a significant improvement in their emotional well-being, according to the combined findings from 11 prior studies.

The researchers behind the review believe this is because a plant-based diet helped them better control their diabetes.

“They feel more in control of their health, and therefore their mood and overall well-being improves,” said study lead author Anastasios Toumpanakis. He is a doctoral candidate with the University of London, in England.

Diet is central to the control of type 2 diabetes, which affects more than 30 million people in the United States, the researchers said in background notes.

Vegan diets eliminate all animal products from your food, including eggs and dairy, said Rahaf Al Bochi, a registered dietitian nutritionist and spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

For their evidence review, Toumpanakis and his colleagues collected data on 433 participants in 11 different clinical trials. Of those trials, eight involved fully vegan diets, while the remainder were vegetarian. The trials lasted an average 23 weeks.

People eating plant-based diets experienced an improvement in their physical health and better control of their diabetes, the findings showed.

“These studies demonstrated that this eating pattern helped them to better control their serum glucose [blood sugar] levels, as well as improve their lipid and cholesterol levels,” Toumpanakis said.

People eating the plant-based diets also experienced a marked easing of their diabetes-related nerve pain, with the results suggesting that such an eating plan might slow progressive nerve damage associated with diabetes, the researchers said.

In six of the studies, patients were able to cut down or discontinue drugs they were taking either for their diabetes or for symptoms of diabetes.

The studies also found that people experienced improved psychological well-being. Depression levels dropped, while overall quality of life improved.

“We would say that people with type 2 diabetes following a plant-based diet might be happier because, as the studies suggest, the majority found that through this eating pattern they can have a better control of their condition,” Toumpanakis said.

“If through diet they can have the power to improve their physical symptoms and their glucose levels, and reduce or even stop some of their medication, then this has a huge impact on their quality of life,” he added.

Toumpanakis said there’s nothing to be lost in switching to a plant-based diet, noting that both the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and the American College of Endocrinology promote vegetarian or vegan diets as the optimal nutrition plan for people with diabetes.

But the study didn’t prove that a plant-based diet improved the patients’ mental and physical health, just that there was an association.

And Al Bochi isn’t ready to embrace the review’s findings.

She noted that of the 11 studies included in the review, only four tracked the people’s psychological well-being.

“Keeping that in mind, we’re working with very small sample sizes,” Al Bochi said.

Prior studies have shown that food can play a role in a person’s mood, she said, but “whether there’s an exact mechanism with meat products and mood, I’m not sure if there is an actual association.”

In addition, protein can increase the release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that can help improve mood, she noted.

Al Bochi suggested that people can best control their mood through food by making sure they eat regular meals, to prevent the “hangry” feelings that can come from blood sugar swings.

“There’s a lot of different nutrients we know that can help with mood. I’m not sure if eliminating certain groups like meat products can have a positive effect on mood,” Al Bochi said.

The evidence review was published online Oct. 30 in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.

More information

The American Diabetes Association has more about vegetarian diets and diabetes.