Friday, December 10, 2010

The Surprising Causes of Everyday Health Concerns

Constant fatigue, persistent heartburn, stubborn high blood pressure. Problems that plague millions of Americans, and the targets of intense research and treatment by doctors and drug companies. But did you know that many common complaints stem from circumstances as easy-to-avoid as wet workout clothes and sleep partners who snore? “Many people suffer for years, not realizing that the underlying causes are often something completely unexpected and surprisingly easy to treat,” adds Patricia Raymond, M.D., a gastroenterologist in Chesapeake, Va. Take a look at the unexpected causes of these nine common maladies -- and find out what you can do to avoid them.

Always tired? Blame your morning brew   
Pounding back two or more mugs of coffee first thing in the morning will chase away fatigue, but not for long. Researcehers at Harvard tell us that caffeine fights off drowsiness by blocking the buildup of adenosine, a powerful sleep-triggering compound found in the brain. But if you only sip coffee first thing in the morning, adenosine levels, and therefore fatigue, can creep back up by mid-afternoon.

Quick Fix: Enjoy one mug of java first thing in the morning, then spread the rest of your caffeine intake out over the remainder of the day. Scientists suggest sipping about 4 ounces (that’s half a cup) every hour until you’ve finished your usual daily dose. A thermos will work beautifully for this task or simply choose an office cup that’s on the small side. The steady trickle of caffeine will dampen the brain’s production of sleep-inducing adenosine, say experts, giving you all-day protection from fatigue.
Gassy? Blame sugar-free gum   

Tooting too much? Check the sweetener in your gum. Researchers say up to 56 percent of Americans are sensitive to sorbitol, an artificial sweetener added to many sugar-free gums and candies that can leave gum-smackers feeling bloated and crampy. Recent studies also show the ingredient doubles the body’s normal gas production, since our intestinal bacteria naturally converts it into hydrogen gas.

Quick Fix: Try chewing a sorbitol-free brand of gum for a few days (check product labels to ensure you're buying a problem-free pick). According to University of Kentucky researchers, your symptoms could disappear in as little as 72 hours!

Nonstop urinary tract infections? Blame your high heels

Stiletto heels are not particularly good for your feet, and they can be unkind to your... bladder. Huh? It's true. "Stilettos make the pelvis tilt forward and the upper back curve out, resulting in lordosis, a deep curve in the lower back that puts pressure on the sensory  nerves in the spine,” explains urogynecologist Larrian Gillespie, M.D., author of You Don’t Have to Live With Cystitis. When these nerves are pinched, bladder function can be affected, making it more difficult for you to fully empty your bladder -- and leftover urine becomes a breeding ground for bacteria, she says.

Quick Fix: Save your stilettos for special events and sport heels that are two inches or shorter at work. Scientists say this height won’t spur bladder problems. Still struggling? You can cut your urinary tract infection risk 60 percent by eating one cup of blueberries (fresh or frozen) daily, say researchers at New Jersey’s Rutgers University. Scientists say these blue gems are loaded with tannins, powerful plant compounds that naturally wrap around infection-causing bacteria, preventing them from latching onto bladder walls.

Heartburn? Credit too-tight clothing

Super-snug clothes that squeeze you at the waist can be a pain -- literally. Tight duds can constrict the stomach and force acid into your esophagus, causing heartburn flare-ups that can last for hours, explains Dr. Raymond.

Quick Fix: Sport loose and tunic-like tops or opt for pants and skirts with a more relaxed waist when you’re dining out. Going to an event where you really want to wear something snug? Change into looser clothing as soon as you get home and then spend the next 30 minutes walking, vacuuming or doing any activity that keeps you upright and moving so your stomach can empty properly, suggests Dr. Raymond." That one simple step will keep food moving downward, reducing pressure on the valve between your stomach and esophagus to head off heartburn,” she says.

Weight problems? Thank 'The Late Show'

Ignore the call of the sandman and, according to researchers at Ohio State University, you will double your risk of stubborn weight problems. “Sleep deprivation has such a profound effect on the functioning of the adrenals, thyroid and other organs, that it lowers metabolic rate and reduces blood sugar control,” says Michael Smolensky, Ph.D., a professor of environmental physiology at the University of Texas School of Public Health in Houston. Getting too little sleep can also trigger powerful carb cravings and don't spend your sleepless hours watching TV. UCLA researchers have found that late-night exposure to TV’s blue light reduces the brain’s production of sleep-inducing melatonin.

Quick Fix: Make eight hours of shut-eye nightly a top priority, and you’ll reverse this problem in as little as four days. Over the course of a year, according the UCLA study, you could even lose up to 26 lbs. Still not sleepy? Switch off the TV and read a book. Reading revs up the brain’s production of alpha waves -- brain waves that make you feel groggy and ready to snooze in as little as 15 minutes.

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