Monthly Archives: August 2016
Japan’s ongoing nuclear crisis understandably has people around the world worried about radiation exposure and the potential health risks it may pose. According to the latest reports, radiation from Japan was detected in Southern California late this week, but experts are quick to point out that the levels are far from dangerous. The readings were “about a billion times beneath levels that would be health threatening,” a diplomat with access to United Nations’ radiation tracking told the Associated Press.
Nor is it unexpected. “Whenever radioactive particles get in the atmosphere, they have the potential to spread around the world,” says James Thrall, MD, president of the American College of Radiology. “But they get diluted as they travel, so they’re unlikely to pose any real health problem.”
In fact, we’re probably exposed to significantly more radiation every day than the miniscule fallout arriving from Japan. Here’s a quick tutorial on radiation to put our collective anxiety in perspective:
What Is Radiation?
Radiation is a form of energy in waves. It exists on a spectrum, with low-frequency radiation (from radio waves and microwaves) on the low end and high-frequency radiation (from gamma rays and x-rays) on the high end. All radiation affects the cells in our bodies to some extent, but the lower the frequency of the waves and the lower the exposure, the less dangerous it is.
To understand the risks of high-frequency radiation — the kind we’re talking about in this article — think back to high school physics: These waves have enough energy to knock electrons off molecules, which can cause damage to cell DNA that can ultimately lead to cancer.
How Are We Exposed to Radiation?
We encounter radiation each day from a variety of sources. The average American is exposed to about 6 millisieverts (mSv) of radiation annually, according to the United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission (USNRC). Half of this typically comes from background radiation that occurs naturally in the environment, and half comes from medical tests, such as X-rays, mammograms, and CT scans.
According to Kelly Classic, MS, spokesperson for the Health Physics Society, sources of environmental radiation include:
- Radioactive compounds in soil and building materials like concrete, brick, and stone
- Radiation from outer space that your encounter when you fly on airplanes or visit high-altitude places
- The mineral potassium in your own body (a small fraction of potassium, which our bodies need to function, is radioactive)
- Radon gas in the home, which accounts for about 2 mSv of exposure each year, and is the largest contributor of background radiation
Finally, there’s the kind of radiation released during nuclear reactions, such as what’s disseminating from Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi plant.
Here’s a look at various sources of radiation exposure (dose of radiation in millisieverts (mSv)), according to data from the Health Physics Society and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). By way of comparison, a single dose of radiation below 0.01 mSv is considered negligible by the National Council on Radiation Protection and Measurements.
- Banana: 0.0001
- Dental X-ray: 0.005
- Living within 50 miles of a nuclear power plant: 0.01 (per year)
- A flight from New York to Los Angeles: 0.04
- Smoking 1 ½ packs of cigarettes: 0.08
- Chest X-ray: 0.1
- Living at sea level: 0.25 (per year)
- Mammogram: 0.3
- Living in Denver: 0.5 (per year)
- Abdominal CT scan: 14
- Measures between reactors No. 3 and No. 4 during the March 15 explosion at the Fukushima plant: As high as 400 per hour
What Level of Radiation Exposure Is Safe?
It’s well-established that exposure to large amounts of radiation at once can cause acute sickness and even cancer. (A 1,000 mSv-dose can trigger acute radiation sickness, causing symptoms such as nausea and vomiting; 3,000 mSV can be lethal, according to Thrall.)
But there’s no good data on the long-term risks of the low levels of radiation to which we’re continually exposed.
According to the World Nuclear Association, annual exposure to 100 mSv or greater carries a measurable, though small, increase in cancer risk. Below that level, it’s believed that your body’s cells are able to heal themselves from radiation. “There are enzyme systems in the body that repair damage from these low levels of background radiation,” says Thrall.
But even small levels of radiation exposure may impact cancer risks later in life.
This has been of particular concern in the medical community, where some experts worry that increasing use of diagnostic CT scans (which has skyrocketed from 3 million annual scans nationwide in 1980 to 70 million in 2007, according to MedPage Today) will impact future cancer rates. For example, in one 2009 study, National Cancer Institute researchers estimated that one in 270 women and one in 595 men who had a heart CT at age 40 would eventually develop cancer related to the test.
While the health benefits of necessary diagnostic imaging usually outweigh the small risks of secondary cancers, it’s always a good idea to talk to your doctor before any procedure involving radiation to understand exactly what you’re getting, why you need it, and what the potential health risks may be.
Bottom line: Americans are exposed to far more radiation in their daily lives — and especially from certain medical tests — than from dispersed particles traveling across the Pacific. “With what we know now about the situation in Japan, there are no personal or public health risks apparent for people in the United States,” Thrall says.
1. Drink Before You Eat
One-minute trick: Guzzle two glasses of water a half-hour before mealtime. Aside from keeping you hydrated, keeping you “regular,” and keeping other bodily functions running smoothly, simply downing 16 ounces of water 30 minutes before each meal may prevent overeating and help with weight loss. Too easy to be true? Nope — not according to a study published in August 2015 in the journal Obesity. Researchers found that participants who “preloaded” with two glasses of water half an hour before meals lost more weight (nearly 3 pounds in 12 weeks, on average) than participants who didn’t preload with water. Bottoms up!
2. Power Up With Protein
One-minute trick: Scramble an egg. Not only are eggs a classic on the breakfast menu, they’re a source of high-quality protein and nutrients. “Having protein with breakfast helps fill you up and keeps you feeling satisfied for longer,” says Everyday Health nutritionist Kelly Kennedy, RD. She recommends an egg on toast with avocado or another quick, protein-packed breakfast option like a yogurt-based smoothie. Just remember, not all protein is created equal. Skip the fatty bacon, pork sausages, and whole milk, and go for leaner proteins like turkey-based or vegetarian breakfast “meats,” smoked salmon, and low- or fat-free dairy.
3. Get Ready, Set, Stretch!
One-minute trick: Start with a morning stretch, and take stretch breaks. Starting the day off with at least one minute of stretching can help get your blood flowing, ease morning muscle and joint stiffness, and invigorate you before you pour that first cup of coffee. Doing it on a regular basis throughout the day can also help increase your flexibility; improve balance, posture, and range of motion; lower your risk for muscle and joint injuries; and reduce joint and back pain. Warm up with static stretches: Stretch your arms out to the sides and up toward the ceiling, roll your shoulders, or lift up your knees. Then try dynamic stretching in which you hold the stretch for 10 to 30 seconds and repeat 2 to 4 times. Dynamic stretches include seated rotation and standing hamstring stretches as well as yoga poses like downward dog and child’s pose.
4. Practice Good Hand Hygiene
One-minute trick: Wash your hands. An apple a day isn’t the only trick for keeping the doctor away. Frequently washing your hands can help, too. Handwashing is one of the easiest and most effective ways to keep from catching — and spreading — colds, the flu, and other illnesses and infections, say experts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). If soap and water aren’t readily available, the CDC recommends using a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.
5. Take Your Grains To-Go
One-minute trick: Get your fiber fix from portable whole grains in cups. Similar to the instant soup concept, whole grain cups, like Q Cups, can be transformed into a snack or side dish in a matter of minutes with a little boiling water. These organic cups of quinoa are high in fiber, protein, and other nutrients. “Q Cups can also be the base of a meal,” says culinary nutrition expert, Jessica Fishman Levinson, RDN. “Add some protein and lunch is done.” She points out that you can do the same in the morning with a cup of instant rolled oats in a to-go cup. “Add berries and nuts and it makes a quick, easy, healthy breakfast to help get you out the door,” she says.
6. Kick Croutons to the Carb Curb
One-minute trick: Add nuts or seeds to salad instead of croutons. Since most croutons are not made with whole grains, swapping out croutons for nuts or seeds is an easy way to cut down on your consumption of simple carbs and boost your nutrient intake. “Healthy fat and a little protein add that crunch you’re looking for without the refined carbs,” says Levinson.
7. Go All Out With Exercise (for Just 60 Seconds!)
One-minute trick: Do a really short high-intensity workout. “People are so concerned about making the time to get to the gym for an hour and a half, but if you compare someone who goes to the gym and works out in a steady state for a long time to someone who works out super hard for a short time, intensity will always trump duration,” says Los Angeles-based celebrity fitness coach, Andrea Orbeck. High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts are known to yield big results in short periods of time, she says. Additionally, a recent study published in PLOS One in April 2016 found that the same is true for Sprint Interval Training (SIT) — which yields results in even shorter bursts. The study showed that just one minute of intense exercise offered similar benefits as a 45-minute moderate-intensity workout. We’re not saying to ditch your regular exercise routine, but when you have a spare minute here and there (and if your doctor approves high-intensity activity), take 60 seconds and alternate walking or jogging in place with doing short, fast bursts of jumping jacks, squats, lunges, or sit-ups.
8. Pull Your Own Weight — Literally!
One-minute trick: Use your body weight to get in some quick strength training. Goodbye, dumbbells. Hello, extra pounds left over from the holidays! Believe it or not, your own body weight can be an ideal tool for resistance. “Body weight exercise is cheap, adaptable, simple, and doesn’t require much space,” says Avigdor Dori Arad, RD, a certified exercise physiologist at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s hospital in New York City. “Body weight workouts can help you become lean, active, and strong.” In one minute, you can do push-ups, sit-ups, or squats, or combine them into a circuit.
Understand Your Options
With everything that’s going through your mind after you’ve been told that you may need a surgical procedure, it’s important to focus and think through your options. Is surgery your only choice or are there alternatives? If you do need surgery, do you need it now or can you — and should you — wait? Are there different surgical procedures to choose from? Discuss details of your treatment options with your doctor, scheduling more than one consultation if necessary.
Select an Experienced Surgical Team
With your primary care doctor’s help, choose an experienced surgeon and a facility that specializes in performing operations for your particular condition. In addition to working with a qualified surgeon, scheduling your procedure in a hospital that does a high volume of the surgical procedures you’re having is also important to ensure a successful surgery. A recent study showed that hospitals where many cancer surgeries were performed had better survival rates than hospitals where fewer surgeries were done.
Follow Pre-Surgery Prep Instructions
In the time leading up to your surgical procedure, be sure to take good care of yourself and follow your doctor’s advice. Surgery puts stress on the body, so the stronger you are physically, the better you’ll handle it. Even the most qualified surgeon would prefer to operate on a healthy patient, so get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and if you smoke, stop for at least two weeks prior to your surgery. Also follow your doctor’s directions when it comes to taking or stopping medications before your operation.
Timing Is Everything With Surgery
A study conducted at Duke University found that the lowest incidence of complications and errors related to anesthesia and pain management occurred with procedures conducted on weekdays at 9 a.m. That said, the complications that occurred at other times were relatively minor. Perhaps the most important aspect of timing is not putting it off — don’t wait too long to get needed surgery. Delaying surgery after you and your doctor have agreed that you’re ready for the procedure may allow your condition to worsen, which can increase your risk of surgical complications.
Be Aware of Possible Surgical Complications
Of course, you’ll hope for the best — having a positive outlook can help speed your recovery. But it’s important to realize that post-surgical and anesthesia complications are possible. Being a good patient means being well-informed. A qualified surgeon and surgical care team will tell you about the most common complications, how to recognize them, what to do about them, and when you should call or return to the hospital if necessary.
Several lifestyle changes can improve outcomes after a breast cancer diagnosis, but exercise is far and away the best habit to establish, researchers say.
Women with breast cancer, whether newly diagnosed or at any time in their “survivorship” phase, need to exercise regularly and avoid weight gain, said Dr. Ellen Warner from Odette Cancer Center at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Center in Toronto, who coauthored the research review.
Warner and her colleague Julie Hamer joined forces to review nearly 70 articles that addressed lifestyle modifications that might have an impact on the risk of breast cancer recurrence and survival after breast cancer.
They found that regular physical activity can reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer by 40 percent compared to women who didn’t exercise. Unfortunately, less than 13 percent of women with breast cancer achieve the recommended 150 minutes per week of physical activity.
“Exercise has the greatest benefit on lowering risk of recurrence and has many other secondary benefits like helping with weight management (which itself lowers the risk of recurrence) and fewer side effects from chemo, radiation, and hormone therapy,” Warner told Reuters Health by email.
Gaining weight during or after breast cancer treatment is risky – it increases the chance of recurrence and decreases survival rates, the review concludes.
Women who are already overweight or obese also have a higher risk of recurrence and death, but it’s not clear whether weight loss actually improves those outcomes. Studies are underway to examine this further, the researchers write in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.
Does diet matter? Yes and no. Breast cancer recurrence rates are similar whether women eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and chicken or a diet high in processed grains, processed meats and red meat. But high dietary saturated fat can increase the risk of death from breast cancer. Soy products, however, do not increase the risk of breast cancer recurrence and might even reduce it.
“Women with breast cancer don’t need to make extreme diet changes (like cutting out meat, dairy, sugar, soy, etc.),” Warner said. “There is no evidence any of these are effective. They can eat anything in moderation and following Canada’s food guide would be helpful if they don’t know much about nutrition.”
Women with breast cancer – well, everyone, really – should stop smoking. It’s strongly associated with the risk of death from breast cancer, and stopping improves overall survival.
What about alcohol intake and vitamin supplementation? The evidence is limited and inconsistent, so further study is needed before making specific recommendations, the team notes.
“There’s a large ongoing Canadian study of women age 40 and under newly diagnosed with breast cancer called RUBY, and one of the projects in this study is to look at how various lifestyle factors (diet, exercises, supplements, etc.) affect prognosis for that specific age group,” Warner said.
“Adopting a healthy lifestyle is great but should never be seen as a substitute for conventional therapy,” she concluded.
In their review, the authors note that very few of the included studies met the highest standards of clinical trials.
Dr. Livia Augustin from St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and the Fondazione Giovanni Pascale National Cancer Institute in Naples, Italy, has, along with others, designed a clinical trial (DEDiCa) to investigate whether low glycemic index diet, exercise and vitamin D reduces breast cancer recurrence.
“People with breast cancer suffer from several comorbidities, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and osteoporosis, and therefore many health complications; therefore, quitting smoking, increasing vitamin D when necessary, increasing physical activity, and improving dietary aspects are crucial therapeutic targets to reduce complications and health care costs as well as help to live longer with a better quality of life,” Augustin told Reuters Health by email.