Health Tip: Symptoms of Kidney Stones

Kidney stones are hard masses that form in the urinary tract, and can cause very painful symptoms if they become stuck and difficult to pass.

Here are common signs of kidney stone formation, courtesy of the University of Maryland Medical Center:

  • Persistent pain on one side of the back — around the waist area — that may travel to the groin. The pain may subside but return.
  • Discomfort that is not alleviated by any change in position.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Bloody urine.
  • Frequent sensation of needing to urinate, or pain or burning while urinating.
  • Fever and chills, which could signal an infection that needs a doctor’s treatment.

You Naturally Burn More Calories at Certain Time of Day: Study

When it comes to weight gain, what you eat clearly matters.

But a small, preliminary study now suggests that when you eat also matters, with people burning off more calories at the end of the day than they do at the beginning.

The finding is based on a three-week study that monitored metabolism changes throughout the day among seven men and women. All food intake was carefully controlled, and all participants refrained from calorie-burning activities.

“We found that when people are at rest, the amount of energy that they burn varies with the time of day,” explained study author Jeanne Duffy.

In fact, “we burn 10 percent more calories in the late afternoon [and] early evening compared with the early morning hours, even when we are doing the exact same thing,” she added.

Duffy, a neuroscientist in the division of sleep and circadian disorders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said it remains unclear why this is so.

“We don’t have an answer to that from our study,” she noted. “It could be that it is a way for our body to conserve energy, by requiring less at some times of day.”

In the study, Duffy and her team enlisted seven healthy men and women between the ages of 38 and 69. None struggled with insomnia or suffered from any chronic medical condition. No one smoked, drank excessive amounts of coffee, or regularly took any prescribed or over-the-counter medication.

All were asked to live in a room that was stripped of all indications of time of day. That meant no clocks, no internet, no phone and no windows.

For three weeks, participants were assigned bedtimes and wake times, and every day those times were shifted to start four hours later. The result was as if each had circled the entire planet once a week.

Diets were controlled and calorie-burning exercise was not permitted, allowing researchers to analyze metabolism patterns free from the influence of eating, sleeping and activity habits.

In the end, the researchers determined that calorie burning at rest was at its lowest in the morning and at its highest in the afternoon and evening.

Whether the same calorie-burning patterns would hold true if exercise was thrown into the mix remains an open question, Duffy added.

“[But] the practical implications of our findings are that any irregularity in our schedules of eating and sleeping may make us more likely to gain weight,” she said. “This may help explain why shift workers are likely to gain weight.”

As to how this finding might figure into any strategy to prevent weight gain, “keeping a very regular schedule of sleep and wake, as well as eating, is a ‘best practice,'” Duffy advised.

“Regularity means going to bed and waking, as well as eating meals, at nearly the same time every day,” she stressed. “That ensures our internal rhythms are primed to respond optimally to the food we eat.”

But Lona Sandon, program director of the department of clinical nutrition in the School of Health Professions at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, suggested that the findings are unlikely to help those looking to get their weight under control. She was not involved with the study.

“At this time, I do not think there is much of anything particularly practical or useful that we do not already tell people,” Sandon said. “For example, we already tell people to get more of their calories earlier in the day rather than later and aim for more and better sleep.

“[And] exercise is good any time of day,” Sandon added, “and you will burn more calories with intentional exercise than what you get with a slight boost in metabolic rate due to natural circadian rhythms.

“[So] I am not going to hold my breath for [this] as an effective weight management strategy,” she said.

The study was published Nov. 8 in the journal Current Biology.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases has more on weight management.

Yoga, Meditation Surging in Popularity in U.S.

If it seems like everyone you know is trying yoga or meditation, you might be right. A new government survey shows that the number of Americans practicing the “mindfulness” techniques has surged in the past few years.

In 2017, more than 14 percent of U.S. adults said they’d practiced yoga in the past year — up from 9.5 percent in 2012. Meanwhile, the number of meditation practitioners more than tripled — from 4 percent to 14 percent.

Even kids are getting into mindfulness. In 2017, the study found, more than 8 percent of 4- to 17-year-olds had practiced yoga in the past year — up from 3 percent five years earlier, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Thursday.

And while few kids were taking time to meditate in 2012 (less than 1 percent), more than 5 percent were doing so in 2017.

The survey did not ask people why they’d taken up these ancient practices. So it’s not clear what’s driving the rise in popularity, said researcher Lindsey Black, of the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics.

She said it’s unclear how many Americans might have turned to yoga or meditation to manage health conditions, or simply for “general wellness.” Nor did the survey ask people whether they regularly practiced or had just dabbled in the techniques.

“We just know these practices are becoming more popular,” Black said.

According to marketing claims, belly breathing, tree poses and other time-honored techniques can help kids de-stress, navigate social cliques, and even fend off flu.

Adults are told they’ll develop a better outlook, better posture, better sleep and more if they use their yoga tools.

Media focus could be boosting the popularity of yoga and mindfulness, said Ted Meissner, of the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Center for Mindfulness.

The university is the birthplace of mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR), a guided program that combines particular meditation techniques and gentle yoga. It’s considered the “gold standard” mindfulness technique in scientific research.

In recent years, Meissner said, there has been a “sharp spike” in studies looking at the effects of various mindfulness approaches — such as whether they can help treat health conditions as diverse as chronic pain, heart disease, memory problems, anxiety, depression and addiction.

That has come with a surge in media coverage, Meissner said.

But much of that research has had major limitations, he added. For one, most studies have lacked “control groups” where people get some other intervention for comparison.

The media have also given lots of attention to studies showing that when people meditate, their brain activity changes. But the significance of those findings to daily life is unknown, Meissner said.

What is mindfulness? The Center for Mindfulness offers this definition: the intention to pay attention to each and every moment of our life, non-judgmentally.

But when it comes to research, there isn’t even a universally accepted definition of the term, Meissner said. It’s much less straightforward than studying a drug, he noted.

For now, Meissner suggested that if people are interested in meditation or yoga, they go in with reasonable expectations. If you’re looking to rid yourself of anxiety, he said, the practices may not be for you.

“Mindfulness is not a panacea,” Meissner said.

He also advised “doing your homework” before investing in classes or courses. There are various forms of yoga and meditation — so understand what type you’re signing up for. And, he said, check out the teacher’s credentials, including whether he or she trained with a reputable program.

Even something as safe-sounding as meditation does have the potential to do harm, Meissner said, if, for example, it’s touted as a replacement for standard anxiety or depression therapies.

More information

The U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health has more on meditation and health.

Jump Into Plyometrics — the Exercises to Power Muscles

Plyometrics isn’t a new technique, but it’s getting renewed attention because of its value as a training tool, the American Council on Exercise explains.

Its original name, jump training, describes its focus. Movements are similar to those used in downhill skiing, basketball and even tennis. So it’s a great way to train for those sports, but almost anyone can benefit.

One caveat though: plyometrics is a type of exercise that isn’t for people who are currently out of shape or have orthopedic issues.

Plyometrics uses simple exercises like hops and jumps that alter your muscles’ cycle of lengthening and shortening to increase their power. Jumps should always begin from ground level, from and onto cushioned surfaces for both ease and safety. Jumping on and off a low box or over cones or foam barriers are all simple options.

Low-impact landings are key. Land from toe to heel, use the entire length of your feet as rockers to help disperse the force of the landing, and keep knees from swaying to better distribute that force through the muscles that protect these joints. The experts at the American Council on Exercise suggest visualization to lighten your landings: Picture yourself landing like a feather or springing back easily like a coil.

Under the right supervision, youngsters and teens can benefit from plyometrics training, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. It may help strengthen bones, keep kids at a healthy weight, and decrease sports-related injuries, especially for girls who are at higher risk than boys. Common childhood pastimes like hopscotch, jumping rope and jumping jacks are actually all examples of plyometrics.

Because of its explosive nature and very specific movements, instruction makes sense at every age. Also, as with strength training, allow 48 to 72 hours between sessions to give muscles time to recover.

More information

The American Council on Exercise has more on how to use plyometrics safely.

Health Tip: Keep Toxins from Your Home

The average home may be riddled with substances that are potentially toxic.

These substances can lurk in building materials, cookware, cleaning products, shower curtains, furniture, carpet and other common items, the National Institutes of Health says.

Removing these substances can help keep you and your family safer, the agency advises. Here are its suggestions:

  • Clean with products that are specifically labeled non-toxic.
  • Dust using a damp rag.
  • Use a wet mop to clean floors.
  • Vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
  • Open a window or use a fan to improve air circulation.
  • Properly maintain your home’s ventilation system.
  • Wash your hands and those of your children often.

Your Showerhead May Be Bathing You in Germs

You no doubt think that stepping into your shower will wash away dirt and germs, but a new study shows your showerhead might instead dump nasty bacteria on you that may cause lung infections.

Most people know to keep their bathrooms clean, especially the toilet and sink. But researchers discovered that places in the United States and Europe where germs called mycobacteria are found in abundance in showerheads are the same places where bacterial lung infections are most common. In America, that includes parts of Southern California, Florida and New York.

“We live in a world covered in bacteria, and the bacteria in our showerheads follow some interesting geographic trends, and can be altered by our water source and water chemistry,” said study lead author Matthew Gebert.

“We’re exposed to microbes constantly in our day-to-day lives, some beneficial, some innocuous and a few potentially harmful,” Gebert explained.

He’s a research associate at the University of Colorado’s Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences.

Bacteria thrive in showerheads and water distribution systems. Although most of these bacteria are harmless, some can cause lung infections, he said.

Still, just because mycobacteria live in your showerhead doesn’t mean you’ll get sick or are more likely to get a respiratory infection, Gebert added.

In fact, researchers can’t say that a person with a respiratory infection got it through showering, but understanding the sources of mycobacterial exposure is important.

“We don’t want people rushing home and throwing away their showerheads or obsessively cleaning them every day, nor should anyone change their showering habits — swallowing the water is OK,” he said.

For the study, Gebert and his colleagues analyzed showerheads from homes around the United States and Europe, and found an abundance of bacteria. The kind of germs varied by location, and by the chemistry of the water and where it came from.

An interesting finding was that homes whose water was treated with chlorine disinfectants had high concentrations of certain germs, the researchers noted.

The study was published recently in the journal mBio.

“I don’t think there are necessarily any negative implications from the study,” Gebert said. “But because bacteria that can cause illness live in our showerheads, it’s important to understand how people can be exposed to them.”

Dr. Marc Siegel, a professor of medicine at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, noted that bacteria grow in wet places like showerheads.

“This is a reminder to clean your showerhead, which nobody does,” he said, though “most of us are likely to tolerate mycobacteria and not get sick from it.”

Bacteria in showerheads won’t cause an outbreak of lung infections, but people who are run down or who have a compromised immune system or a chronic condition may be vulnerable, Siegel suggested.

Bacteria also live on your toothbrush and in your sink — any moist surface, he said.

Siegel recommends cleaning your showerhead every week or two with a disinfectant that contains ammonia to be sure you kill all the germs nesting there.

“Add your showerhead to the list of things in the bathroom that need cleaning,” he said.

More information

Visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine for more on mycobacteria.

AHA: Poor Teeth-Brushing Habits Tied to Higher Heart Risk

Brushing your teeth twice a day for at least two minutes may lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases, a new study suggests.

Previous studies have found a link between heart disease and periodontal disease — a condition marked by gum infection, gum inflammation and tooth damage.

The new study, scheduled for presentation Saturday at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions meeting in Chicago, looked at whether a person’s tooth-brushing habits were associated with their risk of having or dying from a heart attack, heart failure or stroke.

Researchers asked 682 people about their tooth-brushing behavior. After adjusting for various factors, they found that those who said they brushed less than twice a day for less than two minutes had a three-fold increased heart risk, compared to those who said they brushed at least twice a day for at least two minutes.

Dr. Shogo Matsui, the study’s lead researcher, said the findings suggest “poor oral health, based on daily teeth-brushing behavior, is associated with” poorer heart health. It’s possible that longer tooth brushing might reduce this risk, but the new study was not designed to prove cause-and-effect, said Matsui, a researcher at the Institute of Biomedical and Health Sciences at Hiroshima University in Japan.

Dr. Ann Bolger, a cardiologist and professor of medicine emeritus at the University of California, San Francisco, agreed that the observational study had limitations.

“It is possible that people who are very attentive to their dental health are also very attentive to other aspects of their health,” said Bolger, who was not involved in the research.

Even so, Bolger said the science supports a potential connection between dental health and heart health. Gum disease is one of the diseases “where the body may be in a sort of continual state of inflammation, and this seems to be a very powerful predictor of cardiovascular disease,” she said.

A separate study published last month in the journal Hypertension found that gum disease appears to worsen blood pressure and interferes with medications to treat hypertension.

Poor dental health also poses a risk to people with heart valve problems, Bolger said.

“I spend an inordinate amount of time talking to (heart valve patients) about their teeth because we know certain heart valve infections can be associated with poor oral health,” she said.

This latest research “is a good reminder that the mouth is an important part of a person’s entire health and simple, daily behaviors that improve health are incredibly important.”

The American Dental Association recommends brushing your teeth twice a day for two minutes with fluoride toothpaste.

“It’s a low-risk, low-cost option that we know has other benefits even beyond the scope of what this study is trying to investigate,” Bolger said. “There’s no reason not to recommend someone do this.”

Health Tip: Ease Separation Anxiety

It is common and perfectly natural for a young child to feel some separation anxiety when a guardian isn’t nearby, Harvard Medical School experts say.

But if separation anxiety is strong enough to interfere with normal activities such as school and friendships, it may be cause for
psychological counseling, the school says.

In cases of more typical separation anxiety, the school suggests:

  • Practice separating, so the child gets used to the idea. Schedule separations after naps or feedings when the child isn’t tired or hungry.
  • Devise a short “goodbye” ritual, such as a wave or goodbye kiss.
  • Leave without making it a big deal.
  • Return to the child at the promised time.
  • Keep the child’s surroundings familiar. It’s better to have a sitter come to your home, instead of dropping the child off at an unfamiliar place.
  • Have a consistent caregiver, if possible.
  • Don’t give in. Reassure the child that he or she will be fine while you’re away.

Health Tip: Use Petroleum Jelly to Protect Your Skin

The skin is the largest organ in the human body. And petroleum jelly is an inexpensive, readily available way to help protect it.

The American Academy of Dermatology suggests:

  • Apply petroleum jelly to damp skin, including lips and eyelids.
  • Apply it to minor cuts, scrapes and scratches to keep nearby skin from drying out.
  • Apply it to body areas prone to chafing.
  • Apply it after a diaper change if your child is prone to a rash.
  • Apply it to nails and cuticles between polishes. This will minimize brittleness and help prevent chipping.

The Sooner You Quit Smoking, the Better

Despite the well-known dangers of smoking, the sizable benefits of quitting may be overlooked, a new study suggests.

“These findings underscore the benefits of quitting smoking within five years, which is a 38 percent lower risk of a heart attack, stroke or other forms of cardiovascular disease,” said study author Meredith Duncan, from Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville.

“The bottom line is if you smoke, now is a very good time to quit,” Duncan said in an American Heart Association news release.

Her team also found that it takes more than 15 years from the time you quit until your cardiovascular disease risk returns to the level of those who never smoked — so the sooner you quit, the better.

Cigarette smoking in America is declining and leaving a growing population of former smokers. Earlier studies have hinted that the risk for heart disease lessens within a few years after quitting, but these studies haven’t looked closely at smoking history, including changes in smoking habits.

In this study, Duncan and her colleagues analyzed data on the lifetime smoking histories of nearly 8,700 people who took part in the Framingham Heart Study.

At the beginning of the study, none of the participants suffered from cardiovascular disease. Over 27 years, researchers compared the risk for heart disease among people who never smoked with those who quit.

They found that more than 70 percent of heart disease occurred in current or former smokers who smoked at least 20 pack-years — smoking one pack a day for 20 years.

But smokers who quit within the last five years cut their risk for cardiovascular disease by 38 percent, compared with people who continued to smoke. Moreover, it took 16 years after quitting for the risk of cardiovascular disease to return to the level of never smokers, the researchers found.

The findings are to be presented Sunday at the American Heart Association’s annual meeting, in Chicago. Such research is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

More information

For more information on quitting smoking, visit the American Heart Association.