Health Features

A Better 2016

As we near the end of 2015, we can’t help but look ahead to the new year and plan a few positive changes. Who doesn’t want to look better, feel better, perform better? That ’s what ‘new beginnings’ are all about!

[better lifestyle]
It’s a hot topic in magazines and on talk shows, but what is it and is it right for you? We’re talking about The Whole30.

new lease on life or old diet?
“It sounds like an elimination diet,” says James R. Neuwirth, a chiropractic physician with St. Louis Center for Functional Medicine. “Various forms of that have been around for quite a while. For many people, it is a costeffective way to get healthier, because the process of elimination takes out a lot of foods that are the most common allergens,” he says.

The Whole30 was released as a book described by its authors as an “original nutritional program designed to change your life in 30 days. Think of it as a short-term nutritional reset, designed to help you put an end to unhealthy cravings and habits, restore a healthy metabolism, heal your digestive tract, and balance your immune system.”

So it’s not exactly a diet, in the ‘lose weight’ sense of the word. But rather a new way of eating that, in theory, will make you feel, function and look better by eliminating things like wheat, sugar and other inflammatories. The symptoms it professes to improve include low energy, aches and pains, difficulty with losing weight, skin issues, digestive ailments, seasonal allergies and fertility issues.

So how do you know if (and how) these foods are affecting you? Strip them from your diet completely for 30 days and see how you feel.

how much is too much?
“The Whole30 program does have some good qualities in that it says you should eliminate added sugars and things that are artificial,” concedes Kari Hartel, a registered dietitian and coordinator of the Cooking Matters program for Operation Food Search. “But it also eliminates a lot of foods that are healthy. They say you should not eat grains of any kind or any legumes—things like beans, peas, lentils and peanuts. It says don’t eat dairy, which we know has a lot of really good things, including calcium, vitamin D and protein. I think a healthy diet should include all foods.”

Neuwirth has some reservations too. “I haven’t seen any long-term research that evaluates what happens during and after,” he says. While Neuwirth believes the program’s food group eliminations could help followers identify disagreeable foods, he says it may eliminate too much. He points to eggs as an example. “To me, eggs have a very exceptional nutrient profile,” he says.

Whole30 could benefit people whose bodies have decided that certain things don’t sit well, he says. “If at some point you began to develop immune reactions against a particular food, and you adhere to staying away from it for 30 days, it would let the lining of your gastrointestinal tract heal,” he explains.

the long view
“Most of these fad diets are temporary and very restrictive,” says Hartel. “I would instead recommend small, incremental changes like cutting back on soda, going to low-fat cheeses, and including more fruits and vegetables and whole grains,” she says. “Research has shown that when people restrict certain foods, they tend to crave those foods more.”

Health is a complex issue, Neuwirth points out. “It is too easy just to implicate diet. Some people have big lifestyle issues with working too much and stress levels that are through the roof. You need to be evaluated individually. There is no magic diet and never will be.”

[better vision]
What could be better than shedding the glasses and contacts when you’re looking for a new start in the new year? It can simplify so many of the things you enjoy in life: reading, hobbies, and just plain seeing your loved ones clearer, without the inconvenience of vision aids.

lasik-plus
Recent advances have improved the laser correction of distance vision and offered a workable correction of close vision, so you can even toss the readers. Excimer lasers, which produce ultraviolet light beams, are used during Lasik surgery, which was approved in the U.S. in 1999.

“There are always incremental improvements,” says Dr. Stephen A. Wexler of TLC Laser Eye Center, who uses a newer version of the laser system. “The previous system gave very good results, but the new system is faster. Patients don’t have to lie on the table as long, and it is easier for them to maintain their concentration. It also has options that give us better odds of getting 20/20 results.”

Lasik improves vision for people who have myopia (nearsightedness), mild hyperopia (farsightedness) and astigmatism (blurred vision), Wexler says. “For a patient who is pretty nearsighted, the old laser treatment would take about 40 seconds. It takes 15 seconds now,” he explains. “Typically the next day you will wake up and your vision will be good enough to drive a car without glasses.” Most patients are satisfied with their results, he adds. “About 1.5 times out of 100 a patient will want to come back for a touch-up surgery.”

The cost of bladeless Lasik is $1,900 to $2,500. “There are providers offering Lasik for less, but they use an older method with a mechanical instrument,” Wexler says. How about people who need reading glasses? “There is a common misconception that Lasik can fix the need for reading glasses,” Wexler notes. “The laser cannot treat that.”

ditch the readers
A new device, the Kamra Inlay, was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in April for treatment of presbyopia, the loss of the eye’s ability to change focus. Presbyopia, like so many maladies of aging, can result from stiffening tissues, in this case the eyes’ lenses.

“The Kamra is the first of this class of corneal inlays,” says Dr. Jay Pepose of Pepose Vision Institute. “It functions like the aperture of a camera. If you make your pupil small, you create more depth of focus by blocking the unfocused peripheral rays of light.” The inlay, thinner and smaller than a contact lens, has a black outer ring with a small clear opening in the center. “It increases near vision without degrading distance vision,” Pepose explains.

If Lasik was utilized to correct close vision in one eye, that eye would no longer see distant objects clearly, producing what is called monovision. One eye could be used for distance and the other for close-ups. “That requires the brain to suppress whichever image is out of focus,” Pepose says.

Because light from distant objects still passes through the inlay, Kamra maintains better depth perception and good contrast, Pepose says. The Kamra Inlay, which costs $5,000 to $6,000, has improved vision to the point that the average patient can read newsprint-sized type, he says. After a small opening is made with a femtosecond laser, the inlay is placed in the patient’s nondominant eye in a 10- to 15-minute procedure. “One eye is enough to provide near vision,” Pepose notes.

The brain adapts to a new way of seeing, he notes. “We have noticed that patients have better near vision at a month and even better vision at three months.”

[better pain management]
Ideally, no amount of pain is acceptable. Realistically, we may have to live with a little every now and then—headaches, arthritis and other ailments—depending on age. A good goal for 2016 is to find the best ways to handle discomfort.

ouch!
“Chronic pain is just due to the human condition,” says Dr. Kaylea Boutwell of Pain and Rehabilitation Specialists of Saint Louis.

Aches and pains come and go, but when they don’t go, quality-of-life takes a beating. “Chronic pain is pain that lasts greater than three to six months,” Boutwell explains. “It doesn’t necessarily need to be after an injury. It can be the result of wear and tear or degeneration of tissues.”

Personal choices can be the first line of defense in handling pain, Boutwell says. “Certain foods generate high volumes of inflammation in the body: concentrated sugars like high-fructose corn syrup, soy, wheat, dairy, corn, peanuts, eggs and sugar substitutes,” she explains.

Losing weight to reduce pressure on the joints is another obvious step to reduce pain. “People dramatically underestimate the positive impact of stretching regularly, as well as of light weight strengthening exercises,” Boutwell adds.

For modest pain, she suggests over-the-counter anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen, Motrin, Aleve and naproxen. “They do, however, really need to be limited,” she
says. “We are learning that exposure to those medications increases risks of bleeding, gastrointestinal and kidney disease, and increased risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke.”

as inevitable as taxes
Headaches are a common source of pain—really common. “Statistics show that 95 percent of the U.S. population will have a tension headache at some point in their lives,” says Dr. Timothy R. Smith of Mercy Clinic Headache Center. “These are mild-pressure headaches. Some people have them weekly or periodically when they are sleep deprived, when they have been working too much or are stressed out. They can have muscle tightness and tension in their neck and shoulders,” he says. “Aspirin and Tylenol have been shown in clinical studies to be effective for tension headache. But if you use them more than two days a week with regularity, you put yourself at risk for rebound headaches.”

Persistent headaches, however, may be cause to consult your physician or a specialist, particularly if they are migraines, “the most concerning and problematic headaches,” according to Smith. “These behave differently: they are a brain phenomenon,” he explains. “People probably are born with susceptibility for migraines, then trigger events bring them on.” Triggers include stress, hormone changes, weather, bright lights, noxious smells or specific foods.

“There is a sensitivity in the brain,” Smith adds. “When it receives overstimulation through one of these mechanisms, the sensitivity causes inflammatory chemicals to be released into the space around the blood vessels. The blood vessels dilate, causing a throbbing headache that makes people feel sick, nauseated and even vomit. They can have light and noise sensitivity and sometimes vision disturbances.”

Again, basic self-care might alleviate the suffering, Smith says. “Make sure you eat healthy foods, try to get adequate sleep, stay hydrated and follow a good exercise regimen. Try to manage the stress in your life as much as you can.”

Analgesic or anti-inflammatory medications from the pharmacy may provide relief, Smith says. “If you are having two headache days a week or more and over-the-counter medications are not successful in reducing pain and discomfort, check with your doctor. We coach people on how to have a better ‘headache lifestyle.’”

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