Health and Fitness

We're going to take a shotgun approach this month to hit several small targets individually unworthy of a whole column. Maybe one or two will help you.

    Pee not up to Par?

    Urinary tract infections (UTI) can be hard to cure completely. Even the right prescription medications sometimes just suppress them for weeks or months, and OTC meds often actually make the infections worse by letting them run rampant while concealing symptoms. In particular, the newly OTC UTI drug phenazopyridine (brand names include Pyridium and Geridium) is an analgesic -- a painkiller - not an antibiotic. It kills the burning associated with urination, but not the infection causing it. Unchecked, the infection can seriously harm kidneys and spread through the bloodstream. Any urinary problems lasting more than a few days, flaring suddenly, or new to you should be taken to a doctor, not to the supermarket drug aisle. Let your doctor decide whether to dull your sting with the Pyridium or Geridium until the antibiotic she prescribes kills the infection. (By the way, eating yogurt and drinking berry fruit juices very significantly reduce the incidence of UTI.)

    Eat to avoid cancer.

    The cancer problem with foods is not its pesticides and additives in the food. It's not the carbohydrates, nor healthy fats such as olive oil. Far worse than any of those are too much red meat and not enough veggies and fruit. Add obesity and lack of exercise and all your cancer recipe lacks is the cigarettes.

    Who needs to count carbs?

    Diabetics. But even most diagnosed diabetics can eat 50-60% of their calories as carbs, as long as they count them to distribute them properly throughout the day. In fact, people who eat plenty of whole grains have a 30% less chance of Type 2 diabetes

    New prostate cancer protocol.

    We've been told for many years that most prostate cancer grows so slowly that we can just keep an eye on it - figuratively - to see whether its gets out of hand - figuratively. No more. The criteria emerging from long-term studies reveals that if the patient has a chance of living another 15 years otherwise, aggressive treatment is in order. It turns out that PC's death rate takes a nasty turn at about the 15-year point, and surgery or radiation early in the game can often free us up to die of something else . . . 20 -40 years later. Let the doc have his kicks with the rubber glove (I'd rather be on the receiving end than on the end he's lookin' at), get your PSA checked now (it's just another number on the chart with your annual cholesterol blood draw), and you're likely to dodge a bullet that's right up there with lung cancer. (Much more on this topic coming soon.)

    Who has time for truly beneficial strength-building exercise?

    You do. First, it doesn't count against your longevity clock: just 10 minutes three days a week - two days for seniors because they recover slowly (tell me about it!) - can add years to your life. Use some weights or machines 2-3 times a week, add weight or resistance whenever the current effort gets easier, and with no apparent increase in effort you'll become a stronger, healthier, fitter, faster, buffer, bouncier, better-sleeping, and ultimately much older person. Beginners only need to do one set of each exercise, and more advanced lifters get plenty of benefit from just two sets, so it goes quickly. Only bodybuilders need three sets. Second, routine house and yard work don't build much muscle because increasing our strength requires that we keep increasing the amount of weight we lift, and a broom or pile of socks doesn't get heavier as the months go by. OTOH, serious gardening - tough digging, hefting big fertilizer bags, hard wheelbarrow work, vigorous mowing, major weeding -- builds muscle and strong, healthy, dense bones more than many exercises do, including running, calisthenics and swimming. (But be careful; two thirds of my local community's 30-40 Master Gardeners are supersized. They must be growing ice cream, pork chops, and pizza in their gardens and grazing as they toil.)

    Who benefits most from knee surgery for loose cartilage?

    Your surgeon. Studies show far fewer than half of patients do. We need every last bit of cartilage we can keep, even if it isn't attached by much. Once it's gone, we're down to bone on bone, and if you think a hot poker in the eye hurts, try bone on bone contact. Three groups with knee pain had either arthroscopic debridement (manual removal of damaged cartilage), arthroscopic lavage (flushing loose damaged cartilage out), or simulated arthroscopic surgery (the same incisions and anesthesia but no repairs). If you've already had the surgery, you don't want to know - and some surgeons don't want us to know -which group had better results, according to NEJM, the New England Journal of Medicine. Knee surgery has three main justifications: fixing torn ligaments, fixing knees that lock, and replacing knees that some overeager surgeon debrided. That knowledge would cost the U.S. medical profession $3B in lost annual yacht payments if everyone were paying attention. There are exceptions, but who says you're one . . . and how much does he owe on his boat? (Just joking with the boat barbs; I'm sure this finding surprised many surgeons, too.) The very frequent, usually preventable, and often partly reversible, causes of these knee problems? Obesity and weak muscles. Put your $5,000 knee debridement money in a gym membership or a home gym and use it; you'll come out way ahead.

        Eat to lose weight and get smarter.

        A solid, balanced breakfast significantly improves school children's attendance, punctuality, behavior, weight, and grades. Researchers feel this benefit applies to any age, and regular breakfast also correlates with a 50% reduction in the incidence of obesity and obesity-induced prediabetes. Running on fumes hurts your car, your body, and your mind.

        Those belts that use electricity to exercise your abs or thighs? Come on; you didn't really believe that, did you? It's TEEVEE, guys!

        Is ice water a healthy, safe, effective drink during and after exercise?

        You bet. It tastes great, empties from your stomach more quickly than warmer water, and cools your body down. Enjoy.

        Germ warfare in the home.

        1. Antibacterial hand soaps are a waste of money. Pass. Those alcohol-based hand sanitizers, however, actually work quite well, and bacteria can't become resistant to them. Ideally, wash first in soap and water to remove dirt and oils that may block their sanitizing action.
        2. Wood and plastic cutting boards are equally sanitary, as long as they' re washed well in hot, soapy water, far preferably in the dishwasher. But those disposable cutting sheets available in the supermarket often cut through, leaving a biohazardous mess underneath. Back to the cutting boards.
        3. Commercial vegetable washes? Fuhgettaboutem. Rinse your produce well in water and enjoy. For kids or people with weak immune systems, it may help to scrub fruits such as apples, peaches, or pears with a brush and a tiny drop of dish soap in plenty of water to remove the wax often applied to them.
        4. Sponges, even the germ/killing variety, are b-u-u-u-u-u-g heaven - yes, even when washed in the dishwasher. Dish cloths are much easier to clean effectively.

        What's the most effective toothpaste?

        Water. Everything else in non-medicinal toothpastes is window dressing to get your buck. The exception? Fluoride. It doesn't help clean teeth, but it does fight cavities. If the water you drink doesn't contain sufficient fluoride, your toothpaste should.

        Drug expiration dates: how critical?

        The pharmacists I polled didn't know this, but the answer is . . . not very, unless the drug is treating a critical medical problem. A couple of exceptions are insulin and liquid antibiotics, but you can let most other drug expiration dates slide for a year or two, easy. Caveats: they need to be stored in tight containers in a cool, dry, dark place, and not mixed together in one container where they might interact. Of course, if a drug's texture, color, smell, etc. has changed, don't use it. If you can detect a change in it, it has probably changed chemically regardless of its date. Dispose of it.

      And there you have a scattering of brief topics in which almost every one of us should find some connection.

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