Category Archives: General Health

5 Facets of a Healthy Lifestyle

Repost

We all say we want to be “healthy,” but what does that mean? Is “health” just the absence of illness? If so, then there are a lot of unhealthy people here in the US, where almost half of all adults have at least one chronic disease. In fact, continues the CDC, 70% of all deaths each year are caused by such diseases, especially heart disease, cancer and stroke.

The picture isn’t much prettier globally. Noting that 36 million people died from these kinds of diseases in 2008, the UN predicts that number to rise to 52 million within two decades, eclipsing deaths from “communicable, maternal, perinatal and nutritional diseases.”

But here’s the most distressing thing: these diseases are largely preventable. What we put into our bodies and how we use them have a big impact on whether (and how) we get sick.

In this light, health is less a state of being than a way of being.

A while back, the American Heart Association ran a health views survey of young adults. According to the LA Times, most participants “said they felt they were living a healthy lifestyle.” The youngest (ages 18 to 24) “strongly claimed that living a long, healthy life was important to them. On average, they said they wanted to live until age 98.” Yet 1/3 said that “they don’t believe that doing healthy things now…will make any difference….”

Maybe one of the problems is that we don’t really know what we’re talking about when we talk about “health.” Just what is a “healthy lifestyle”? How could anyone ever achieve it if they don’t know what it is?

Tenniel drawing of Alice meeting the Cheshire Cat, with text

The Wholeness of Health

As a holistic dentist, I take a “whole-body” approach to dentistry, treating the teeth and gums in their relationship with the rest of the body. Simply put, oral health affects systemic (overall) health, and vice versa. Likewise, physical health can’t be treated as something severed from our mental life. What happens to us physically also affects “how we feel inside,” and mental states can manifest physically – for instance, a headache or stomachache when you’re anxious or stressed.

Everything is connected. So it’s not hard to see how “living healthy” both involves the whole person and benefits the whole person – body, mind and spirit.

Below are 5 key facets of a healthy lifestyle. While acting on them is no guarantee of perfect health, it can dramatically lower your overall disease risk.

5 Facets of a Healthy Lifestyle

  1. Good diet/nutrition – A good diet is based on whole foods, including lots of vegetables, fruits and whole grains. It’s low in added sugars and other refined carbohydrates. Junk foods are a rare indulgence, if eaten at all.
  2. Physical activity – Though most of us lead sedentary lives, this inertia isn’t normal. We evolved to move. Regular exercise and physical activity are a must.
  3. Avoiding toxins – No tobacco. No drugs. Alcohol in moderation. Minimize exposure to toxic chemicals as you are able. (See EWG’s Healthy Home Tips to learn how.)
  4. Rest & sleep – Constant “busy-ness” is a surefire recipe for burnout. We need time off – for fun, for relaxation, for simply being. Getting enough quality sleep also matters, since that’s when our bodies do most of their repair work (e.g., rebuilding muscle, consolidating memory).
  5. Nurturing mental & spiritual well-being – Our overall sense of wellness is enhanced when we give time to ourselves, our loved ones and the things that interest us and give our lives meaning. We find emotional fulfillment. We keep our lives in balance. And this supports our physical well-being.

Modified from the original.

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Smart & Safe Dental X-Rays

digital_radsAbout a year ago, researchers established a possible link between routine dental x-rays and cancer (intracranial meningioma in particular) – more reason why, as we mentioned, x-rays in our office are never “routine.”

Since then, there have been more studies – and ongoing debate about what the research means for dentists. The latest is a paper in the Annals of Oncology, which ultimately gives a more nuanced view. While the relation between brain tumors and x-ray frequency persists, a key difference was found.

According to the study authors, “multivariable unconditional logistic regression analysis showed that the risk of BBT [benign brain tumor] increases as the frequency of received dental diagnostic x-ray increases.” However, they found no significant association between malignant brain tumors and dental diagnostic x-ray exposure.

The study abstract is available here.

For a long time, ADA recommendations were just for a full mouth series of x-rays for first time patients, then bitewings at intervals ranging from every 6 months to every 3 years, depending on the patient’s age and risk of decay or gum disease. Late last year, however, they updated their guidelines, saying that

dental X-rays help dentists evaluate and diagnose oral diseases and conditions, but the ADA recommends that dentists weigh the benefits of taking dental X-rays against the possible risk of exposing patients to the radiation from X-rays, the effects of which can accumulate from multiple sources over time.

And we think that’s as it should be: patient health and safety first. It’s why our office practices mercury-free, mercury-safe dentistry. It’s why we insist on using only biocompatible materials. And it’s why we use digital imaging, which lowers radiation exposure by as much as 90% while offering superior quality, and only take them when needed for an accurate diagnosis.

For x-rays remain an important diagnostic tool, letting us see what the naked eye cannot – inside the tooth and gums – so problems can be identified (or ruled out) and a plan of action made to solve them efficiently and safely.

Image via Medgadget

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Trees, Green Spaces & Your Health

treesHave you ever wondered why it can feel so good to be among the fresh air and greenery of the great outdoors? According to a new study, there seems to be a distinctive link between trees and human health. And a small beetle showed the way.

Inadvertently brought to North America from its native Asia around the turn of the century, the emerald ash borer has devastated the ash tree population of the upper Midwest in particular. All 22 species of ash are vulnerable to it, and it almost always ends up killing the trees. More than 100 million have thus far.

How might this loss affect us? Researchers looked at data from 15 states across a 17 year span, including several years before the borer was introduced. What they found was an increase in human deaths from cardiovascular and lower-tract respiratory diseases. The greater the tree loss, the greater the increase in mortality. Said lead author Geoffrey Donovan,

“There’s a natural tendency to see our findings and conclude that, surely, the higher mortality rates are because of some confounding variable, like income or education, and not the loss of trees…. But we saw the same pattern repeated over and over in counties with very different demographic makeups.”

The findings were published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine.

And they follow numerous other studies that likewise demonstrated a strong relationship between nature and human health. Among the earlier research mentioned in The Atlantic’s coverage of the new study: a 2010 paper that

looked at the presence of parks and forests in the vicinity of people’s homes and their ability to act as a “buffer” against stress. [Its authors found] that the presence of “green space” was more closely related to physical – in terms of minor complaints and perceived general health – than mental well-being.

Other research has shown that obesity is less of a problem for children in greener neighborhoods, and those diagnosed with ADD/ADHD show marked symptom improvement after spending time in natural settings. College students with dorms that look out on nature tend to score higher on attention tests. Girls who live in homes with greener views show enhanced concentration and self-discipline, academic improvement and more thoughtful decision-making.

Here are some of the other health benefits that have been shown to come with the (green) territory:

  • Increased physical fitness
  • Lower stress and anxiety
  • Improvements in blood pressure and muscle tension
  • UV protection
  • Relief from eye strain
  • Less aggravation of allergies (due to tree-filtered air)
  • Faster healing and recovery rates

Of course, trees are great for the health of our environment, as well. (Let canopy.org count the ways…)

Environmental health. Our health. A virtuous circle.

Maybe that new ash tree study is just the kind of wake-up call we need to accept the connectedness of all life. The call to environmental stewardship is not just a noble one. It’s a call we must answer for the sake of our own health and well-being.

Image © Dane Jessie

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Sleep Apnea? Help May Be as Close as Your Dentist’s Office!

awake_not_awakeGetting a good night’s rest is often the difference between having a good day or a bad day. It’s also a key component of health. Yet there are many things that prevent healthy sleep, and over recent years, one of the most common physical factors that’s emerged is sleep apnea.

This sleep disorder is marked by abnormal pauses in breathing, which can last anywhere from several seconds to whole minutes. Sometimes it happens due to faulty signaling between the brain and muscles that control breathing – a fairly rare condition called central sleep apnea (CSA).

Much more common is obstructive sleep apnea (OSA), which occurs when the airway is partially blocked by either the soft tissues lining it or even the tongue falling back as one’s muscles relax. (The sound of snoring is made by the force of air against those obstructions as you try to keep breathing.) The recent increase in OSA rates is largely due to two factors: the obesity epidemic (more tissue that could block the airway) and an aging population (we lose muscle tone in our later years).

And yes, CSA and OSA can happen together – a condition called complex sleep apnea, although there appears to be some debate on the matter.

But so long as you start breathing again, what’s the big deal, right?

Quite a big deal, actually, and far beyond the exhaustion some people suffer without proper rest, which raises risk of automobile accidents and workplace injuries. Research has linked sleep apnea to a host of other health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and high blood pressure. A study published just last year in the Journal of Periodontal Research showed a relationship between OSA and gum disease. Another – published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine – found that those with severe sleep apnea are four times more likely to die of cancer than those without the condition.

Yet one of the challenges is that most who suffer from sleep apnea don’t know it until someone points it out – a family member, roommate, spouse, partner. Or they complain of chronic tiredness to a doctor who may consider sleep apnea as a cause if multiple risk factors are present. Or they suspect it may be a problem and take one of the many online tests available to get a better idea of their risk.

It used to be that use of a CPAP device was the only real option for dealing with sleep apnea – a machine that uses mild air pressure to help keep the airway open. (“CPAP” stands for “continuous positive airflow pressure.”) This is what Rosie O’Donnell used to deal with her condition, as she discussed on The View with sleep specialist Dr. Michael Breus. One look at the device and you can probably imagine why so many people who might benefit quit using it – or never start.

cpap

While CPAP may still be the best option for severe cases of apnea, there’s an ever-widening range of treatment options for those with mild to moderate conditions, including oral appliance therapy that a dentist can provide.

Like some of the splints provided for help with nighttime bruxing (clenching and grinding), dental devices for apnea often look like sports mouthpieces on a serious fitness kick. Yet they’re light and extremely comfortable, custom fit for each patient needing help with their sleep disordered breathing. Those we’ve treated in our office have expressed great relief once they’ve begun their therapy. Many are amazed at just how improved their sleep is – how much more rested they feel upon waking, how much more energetic through the day.

If you decide to give oral appliance therapy a try, it’s vital that you get one fitted by a qualified dentist. Yes, there are some over-the-counter devices now available to help with apnea and other sleep problems, but as a 2008 study published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine showed, they’re not especially effective and “cannot be recommended as a therapeutic option.”

Learn More

Waking image by Vluzinier, via Wikimedia Commons;
CPAP image courtesy of Barbara J. Greene (used with permission)

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Gum Disease & ED

Find any list of qualities to cultivate for sex appeal, and you’ll find it includes an attractive smile. People consistently rate it as the most captivating physical feature – more than eyes, hair or even physique.

smileJust because a smile looks good, however, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy. And according to a new study, a particular kind of unhealthy one could be putting a damper on your sex life.

For a while now, we’ve known about the links between periodontal disease and inflammatory conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and stroke. All those are known to be physical causes of erectile dysfunction, and there appears to be a relationship between ED and gum disease, as well.

According to Wiley’s press release on research just published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine,

Turkish researchers compared 80 men aged 30 to 40 with erectile dysfunction with a control group of 82 men without erection problems.

This showed that 53 per cent of the men with erectile dysfunction had inflamed gums compared with 23 per cent in the control group.

When the results were adjusted for other factors, such as age, body mass index, household income and education level, the men with severe periodontal disease were 3.29 times more likely to suffer from erection problems than men with healthy gums.

Smokers, older men and those with systemic illness were excluded from the study, as all are already at elevated risk for both ED and periodontal disease.

As ever, correlation doesn’t equal causation; it only shows that two things occur together. It’s where things stand with the gum disease/heart disease link, as well. We know that they’re often present together; that oral bacteria are often found in the heart; that improving gum health may improve heart health. If you’ve been diagnosed with one condition, it’s worthwhile to get the other checked and do what you can to improve your health.

The good news with gum disease is that, unless severe or advanced, it’s usually reversible through a combination of improved home care and diet, frequent professional cleanings and sometimes surgery. Granted, it takes a time and money, but it’s certainly cheaper than replacing the teeth you’re sure to lose if gum disease goes unchecked.

Consider the results of a study published earlier this year in the Journal of Periodontology. Its authors found that those who had only baseline treatment could replace just 3 teeth with bridgework – or 2 with implants – before they’d be spending more than for a lifetime of perio care.

Those who had no treatment at all could buy 4.

Image by practicalowl, via Flickr

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Why Exercise?

Exercise might be one of the most overlooked factors in dental health. While most people are at least aware that physical activity is part of being healthy, far fewer know that it helps their teeth and gums, too.

For instance, as we noted before, research shows that those who exercise have a much lower risk of periodontitis (gum disease) than those who don’t, especially former smokers. (For most, smoking pretty much guarantees gum disease and tooth loss.)

Physical activity also helps your body better assimilate nutrients like calcium, a crucial mineral for the remineralization of teeth.

Here are 5 more “hidden” benefits, courtesy of integrative physician Dr. Eudene Harry, author of Live Younger in 8 Simple Steps:

  1. Younger looking, more blemish-free skin
    The increase in circulation and perspiration that occurs with exercise delivers more nutrients to your skin while allowing impurities and waste to be removed. The result? A healthier complexion!
  2. Natural “feel-good” chemicals
    Exercise releases endorphins, the brain chemicals that boost your mood and make you feel happy, as well as relieve stress, and enhance your self-esteem and self-confidence. Exercise has also been shown to increase neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine, which gives us a natural high and allows us to sleep better.
  3. Constipation prevention
    Exercise increases the contractions of the wall of the intestine, helping to move things along through the intestinal tract more easily, and decreasing the time it takes to pass through the large intestine. But wait an hour or two after eating before exerting yourself: Exercising too soon after a meal can divert blood flow away from the gut and toward the muscles, weakening peristaltic contractions (and slowing down the digestion process).
  4. Prevents brittle bones
    Walking, jogging, dancing, weight training and yoga are all weight-bearing exercises that help strengthen bones. Swimming and bicycling are exercises that are considered non-weight bearing. During weight-bearing exercises, bones adapt to the impact of the weight and the pull of muscles by building more bone cells, increasing strength and density and decreasing the risk of fractures, osteopenia and osteoporosis.
  5. Enhanced immunity
    Physical exertion increases the rate at which antibodies flow through the blood stream, resulting in better immunity against sickness. The increased temperature generated during moderate exercise makes it difficult for certain infectious organisms to survive.

40 more reasons to exercise

We hope you and yours have a joyful Thanksgiving – a wonderful start to your holiday season ! We’ll be back to our regular posting here on November 30.

Image by bookgrl, via Flickr

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The Future of Food

Heading toward next week’s election and the vote on GMO labeling here in California, a documentary worth watching again:

Previously

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Filed under Diet & Nutrition, General Health, Video