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Winter Is the Season of Nosebleeds

4 hours 34 min ago

SATURDAY, Jan. 31, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Nosebleeds are a common during the winter and shouldn’t be cause for concern, an expert says.

“Cold winter air can be drying and irritating to the nose, and so can forms of indoor heat, such as forced air and fireplaces. Blood flow from the nose can range from a few drops to a real gusher,” explained Dr. James Stankiewicz, chair of the otolaryngology department at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill.

“Older individuals are more susceptible to nosebleeds in winter because their mucous membranes are not as lush and the dry air causes the thinning blood vessels in the nose to break,” he said in a university news release.

And older women and people taking blood-thinning drugs have an even greater risk. “Women who are postmenopausal are especially vulnerable to nosebleeds because of the decrease in estrogen that increases bodily fluids. Anyone who is taking blood thinners such as an aspirin regimen or Coumadin also is prone to nosebleeds,” Stankiewicz added.

He offered the following advice.

If you get a nosebleed, don’t panic. “Tilt your head back and apply firm pressure to the nostrils for about five minutes,” Stankiewicz said.

Apply ice. The cold causes blood vessels to constrict, which limits and slows blood flow. Put petroleum jelly on cotton pads and insert them into your nostrils.

“Go to the doctor if the bleeding is profuse and will not stop. The bleeding vessel will likely be cauterized, meaning heat will be applied to the wound to stanch the flow,” Stankiewicz said.

There are some things you can do to prevent winter nosebleeds, too.

“Get a humidifier and run it, especially in the bedrooms, with the door closed, a few hours before bed. You will be spending eight hours or so asleep and your nose, like you, needs a soothing rest,” Stankiewicz said.

“A dab of petroleum jelly on either side of the septum, two times per day, will aid moisture. Saline sprays and specialized gels and ointments also are readily available at stores,” he said.

More information

The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about nosebleeds.

Categories: Health & Fitness

Heartbreaking: Twin Girls Both Need Liver Transplants, But Dad Can Only Donate to One

Fri, 2015-01-30 15:41

Photo: Getty Images

A father from Ontario is facing impossible news: He’s a liver transplant match for his 3-year-old twins, both of whom suffer from the same life-threatening disease, but he can only donate his tissues to one of them.

The Canadian couple, Johanne and Michael Wagner, adopted the twins from Vietnam in 2012, knowing of the girls’ illness. “We were willing to go through with the adoption, thinking at least we could give them the love of the family and be able to hold their hand until the very end,” Johanne told the CBC, a Canadian news organization.

RELATED: More Than 2 Million Years of Life Saved With Organ Transplants

The sisters, Binh and Phuoc, suffer from Alagille syndrome, a genetic disorder that causes irregularities in the liver that can lead to a dangerous build-up of bile that severely damages the organ. The disease is also associated with heart defects, kidney disease, and physical abnormalities, but the effects on the liver are often the most serious.

Because of the severity of the Wagner twins’ syndrome, drugs and other interventions are no longer helping—both girls need a liver transplant. The couple recently found out that Michael is a match for the girls, so he can be what’s called a “living donor.” These types of transplants are most commonly done with kidneys, but it’s possible with the liver (as well as the lungs and pancreas) because the organ can regenerate.

Sadly, though, in order for the surgery to be safe for him, surgeons can only remove a small part of his liver, and he can only do it once because of the way the tissue regenerates.

RELATED: 6 Medical Breakthroughs That Matter

Doctors at Toronto General Hospital will make the final call as to which child will receive a portion of Michael’s liver, factoring in the severity of each girls’ condition. “We told them we didn’t want to be burdened with the decision-making,” Joanne told The Globe and Mail. The first operation is expected to take place within the next few weeks.

While this is anything but easy for the parents, they are sharing their story to raise awareness about live donors and hoping that a liver soon becomes available for their second daughter. Joanne says they’ve already received hundreds of message from willing volunteers via a Facebook page the couple set up, ABC News reported. The Wagners are referring all who are interested to Toronto General Hospital to see if they’re a match.

RELATED: 15 Diseases Doctors Often Get Wrong

Receiving a portion of a liver from a living donor comes with many benefits. It usually lasts longer than a liver from a deceased donor, and there is little to no waiting period—whereas there are nearly 17,000 people currently in the United States waiting for a liver transplant. To be a live donor you don’t necessarily have to be a family member of the recipient, but many hospitals want donors that share some sort of an emotional relationship.

The surgeries do not come without serious risks. For donors, complications like infections, blood clots, damage to surrounding tissue or organs, or even death are possible, according to the American Transplant Foundation. And recipients face the same, plus the small chance of rejection that comes with any transplant.

Still, Michael is willing to take it on, a true hero for his daughters’ health.

RELATED: 19 Medical Tests Everyone Needs

Categories: Health & Fitness

A 7-Minute Workout to Build Definition and Strength

Fri, 2015-01-30 14:47

I know what you’re thinking: Seven minutes is all it takes to have a strong and toned body? The short answer is no, far from it. But if you don’t have the time or resources to get to a gym, this routine will give you the best bang for your buck using the best strength-training machine out there: your body. There is significant scientific evidence to support the fact that even a few minutes of interval-style exercises can increase endurance, improve your metabolic and cardio health, and even suppress your appetite more than a longer workout at a moderate pace would.

This 8-move routine is simply one of countless high-intensity interval workouts you can perform. The key is to stay consistent with your workout and eating routine and keep switching up your workouts. The moment your body gets comfortable is the moment it stops changing.

Add this 7-minute, total-body workout to your regular workout regimen to get your heart rate up and start feeling the burn. If you follow the recommended number of repetitions and keep your transition times to 5 seconds or less, you should finish in about 7 minutes.

Pilates hundreds

This exercise is a great way to start any workout, because it works your whole body and core, while simultaneously elevating your heart rate and setting up your breath for the rest of the session.

How to do it: Lying on your back, start with your legs straight up, toes pointed toward the ceiling and arms reaching forward. Lift your head to a crunch position and lower your legs as far as you can to the ground (without touching it), while still engaging your abdominals. Once there, start to pump your arms vigorously up and down, counting 5 breaths in and 5 breaths out. Do this 10 times for a total of a ‘hundred’ reps.

Tip: If you feel any pain or pressure in your lower back, bring your legs higher up.

RELATED: 24 Fat-Burning Ab Exercises (No Crunches!)

Wall sit

This is unlike a traditional squat in that you’re holding a static position for a certain amount of time instead of working through an entire range of motion. This is an exercise you can do pretty much anywhere and is great for building strength and endurance in the lower half of the body as well as your core.

How to do it: Stand about two feet in front of a wall and lean against it. Slide down until your knees are at a 90-degree angle and hold the position. If you have a set of dumbbells, you can hold them out in front of your body for an added challenge. Hold the position for 30 seconds without coming up.

Tip: Keep drawing your navel in toward your spine so your back stays flat up against the wall.

RELATED: 18 Moves to Tone Your Butt, Thighs, and Legs

Spiderman push-up

Amp up your regular push-up with this challenging variation that also works your abs, obliques, butt, and hips, too.

How to do it: Start in a regular push-up position. Once you have lowered, bring your right knee in close to your right elbow and then return to the starting position. Do 8 reps, then switch sides. Do 2 sets total.

RELATED: 10 Exercise Cheats That Blow Your Calorie Burn

Side plank with dip

Another exercise that works your entire body and challenges your balance is the side plank. For a deep emphasis on the obliques, we’re adding a dip.

How to do it: Lie on your side with legs stretched out and place your left elbow on the ground directly underneath your shoulder. Stack your feet on top of each other and lift your body up into a straight line. Once your body is balanced, dip your hips down toward the floor and lift them up higher than your starting position. Do 15 reps and then switch sides. For an added challenge, hold a 5-pound weight above your head with the opposite arm while performing the dips.

RELATED: 20 Ways to Do a Plank

Kneeling side leg kick

Kneeling side leg kicks challenge your core to keep you from falling forward in addition to working the upper body, glutes, and legs.

How to do it: Start kneeling. Carefully fall onto your left hand and extend your right leg out to the side so there is one long line in the body. Inhale and kick your right leg forward with a flexed foot, and exhale extending your leg behind you with a pointed foot. The challenge is trying to keep the torso from rocking back and forth. Do 15 reps on each side.


Plank with arm lift

Another way to switch up your standard plank is by adding some arm lifts. You might be surprised how a small lift of your arm can make a big difference in the intensity of the move.

How to do it: This one is pretty much like it sounds. Start in a high plank position resting on your palms with your arms straight. Once you’ve established your balance, reach your right arm forward like you’re going to shake someone’s hand. Try to hold it for 30 seconds without letting your hips shift. Then switch arms for another 30 seconds.

RELATED: 11 Best Exercises to Get Strong, Toned Arms

Triceps dip

A basic body-weight exercise, the triceps dip don’t require much equipment. If you don’t have a bench or chair, you can always do them on the ground.

How to do it: Position your hands shoulder-width apart on a secure bench or table. Slide your butt off the bench with your legs out in front of you, feet flat on the ground. Slowly bend your elbows to lower your body toward the floor until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle. Then straighten your arms returning to the starting position. Do 15 reps and then hold it halfway down and finish with 10 quick pulses to really feel the burn.

RELATED: 7 Moves for Toned, Sexy Arms

Side lunge

Side lunges offer a new take on the traditional movement. They allow you to work your glutes and thighs from a different angle while still targeting all of the major muscles of the lower body.

How to do it: Start with your feet and knees together and arms overhead. Take a large step to the side with your left foot and sit your hips back as you lower toward the ground. Make sure to keep your knee directly above your heel, not extending too far forward over the toes. Push off your left foot and return to the starting position. Do 2 sets of 15 reps on each side. For an added challenge, do it holding a set of weights at your sides.

For more fitness ‘know-how,’ check out the 6 Signs You’re Not Working Out Hard Enough.

Jennifer Cohen is a leading fitness authority, TV personality, entrepreneur and best-selling author of the new book, Strong is the New Skinny. With her signature, straight-talking approach to wellness, Jennifer was the featured trainer on The CW’s Shedding for the Wedding, mentoring the contestants’ to lose hundreds of pounds before their big day, and she appears regularly on NBC’s Today Show, Extra, The Doctors and Good Morning America. Connect with Jennifer on Facebook, Twitter, G+ and on Pinterest.

Categories: Health & Fitness

Lead Exposure May Be Bigger Threat to Boys Than Girls

Fri, 2015-01-30 14:37

FRIDAY, Jan. 30, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Hormones may explain why lead exposure is less likely to cause brain damage in girls than in boys, researchers report.

Specifically, the female hormones estrogen and estradiol may help protect against lead’s harmful effects on the frontal areas of the brain, according to the findings published recently in the Journal of Environmental Health.

“The study supports existing research suggesting that estrogen and estradiol in females may act as neuroprotectants against the negative impacts of neurotoxins,” study author Maya Khanna, a psychology professor at Creighton University, said in a university news release.

The study included 40 children. They were between the ages of 3 and 6, and all lived in an area of Omaha considered the largest residential lead clean-up site in the United States. The area has high levels of lead contamination in the soil due to emissions from a lead refinery that operated there for 125 years.

Also, many homes in the area are old and still have lead-based paint.

The researchers found that 23 of the children had elevated blood lead levels. Boys with elevated lead levels scored low on tests of memory, attention and other thinking abilities. Girls with elevated lead levels did not do as poorly on the tests, according to the study.

The researchers also found that elevated lead levels had a much stronger negative impact on thinking abilities than on reading readiness.

This is the first study to show that very young children already experience harm from lead exposure, and that lead has a greater impact on thinking abilities in boys than in girls, according to Khanna.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about lead.

Categories: Health & Fitness

5 Foods That Really Make Your Skin Glow

Fri, 2015-01-30 13:12

Photo: Getty Images

It’s no secret that tanning beds are bad news: Ultraviolet radiation from tanning lamps can lead to premature aging (think wrinkles, spots, and sagginess) and, worse, skin cancer. But if for some strange reason you still need convincing, here’s more evidence that you should steer clear of those deadly skin ovens.

According to a recent study published in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology, a lit-from-within glow is perceived as more attractive than a sun-kissed glow.

Participants were shown images of faces with high carotenoid (from ingestion of fruits and vegetables) and faces with high melanin (from UV exposure and tanning) and were asked to rate which faces they found more attractive. A whopping 76% of participants deemed the high carotenoid faces more beautiful than the high melanin faces.

There you have it, healthy skin trumps fake-baked skin. Think about it: Would you rather the looks of Snooki or Gisele? Right, I thought so.

So what exactly should you be munching on for healthy radiance? Foods rich in carotenoids, which are pigments that tend to produce a red, orange, or dark green hue. Try these snacks that will help color your skin gorgeous from the inside out.


The crunchy sticks also contain skin-loving nutrients and vitamins (A and C), plus have anti-inflammatory properties.


Also packed with lycopene, an antioxidant that fights free radical damage, tomatoes help ward off dulling sun damage.

RELATED: 6 Foods for Beautiful Skin and Hair

Leafy greens

Greens like spinach, kale, and broccoli are also loaded with antioxidants and iron, which has been proven to aid in circulation.

Sweet potatoes

One of the best sources of carotenoids, sweet potatoes are also loaded with collagen- and radiance-boosting vitamin C.


The high water content in this sweet melon helps hydrate skin from within, while folic acid helps regenerate cells so skin looks fresh and supple.

RELATED: 14 Foods That Make You Look Older

Categories: Health & Fitness

Watch the Hilarious Video That Pokes Fun at the (Very Real) Ways Parents Shame Each Other

Fri, 2015-01-30 12:39

Parenting isn’t a competitive sport, but it can sometimes feel that way. That’s why this funny video from formula brand Similac is striking such a powerful chord with moms and dads.

The spoof depicts a snarky face-off at the playground between rival parenting tribes, including bottle-feeding moms, breastfeeders, working moms in suits, #babywearing yogis, and even a group of barbecuing dads. It’s hilarious, yes, but the ending message will also warm your heart.

RELATED: Secrets to a Healthy, Stress-Free Family

“Drug-free pool birth, dolphin assisted,” one mom brags as she taps her carriage.

“You push, we cuddle,” retorts another, wearing her baby snug-as-a-bug on her chest.

“Helicopter mom, 12 o’clock!” one of the fathers yells as his buddies laugh.

These familiar child-rearing debates seem, well, totally silly when set to a hip-hop background beat. (A mom in a nursing cover-up actually does a chest pump during the back and forth.)

The trash-talking is about to spiral into an all-out throwdown, but as the parents converge on the sand, an unattended stroller begins rolling down a hill and they all race to save the adorable little girl inside.

I know this is a commercial to promote a product. But I still got a little choked up as the moms and dads celebrated the rescue. Whether you plan to buy formula or not, it’s a powerful reminder: “No matter what our beliefs, we are parents first.”

RELATED: All Your Pregnancy Questions, Answered

Categories: Health & Fitness

Early Exposure to English May Help Spanish-Speaking Kids in School

Fri, 2015-01-30 12:37

FRIDAY, Jan. 30, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Early exposure to English helps Spanish-speaking children in the United States do better in school, a new study shows.

“It is important to study ways to increase Spanish-speaking children’s English vocabulary while in early childhood before literacy gaps between them and English-only speaking children widen and the Spanish-speaking children fall behind,” study author Francisco Palermo, an assistant professor in the University of Missouri College of Human Environmental Sciences, said in a university news release.

“Identifying the best ways to support Spanish-speaking children’s learning of English at home and at preschool can diminish language barriers in the classroom early and can help start these students on the pathway to academic success,” he added.

The study included more than 100 preschoolers who primarily spoke Spanish. The children were learning English. The researchers found that the youngsters’ English vocabulary skills were better if they were exposed to English both at home and in the classroom.

When parents used English at home, it helped the kids learn and express new English words. Using English with classmates also helped the children practice new English words, according to the researchers.

“It is important for parents with limited English proficiency to continue speaking their native languages with children and to look for situations where they, other relatives, neighbors and children’s playmates can expose children to English so that they can have some familiarity with English before entering preschool,” Palermo suggested.

The amount of English used by teachers didn’t have a significant effect on the preschoolers’ English vocabularies. The quality and variety of teachers’ English may be more important than the amount of English they use, according to Palermo.

“Preschool is an ideal setting to study how [Spanish-speaking] children learn language because learning in preschool occurs mainly through social interactions, and languages are learned naturally by engaging in social interactions,” Palermo explained.

“Teachers should support children’s native languages and encourage activities in the classroom that allow children to interact using English,” he added.

The study was published recently in the journal Applied Psycholinguistics.

By 2030, as many as four in 10 students in the United States will be learning English as a second language, according to the Center for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence.

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more about building languages.

Categories: Health & Fitness

Serve These Spicy-as-Heck Chicken Strips as a Pre-Game Super Bowl Snack

Fri, 2015-01-30 12:05

Photo: Courtesy Fox News Magazine/Andrew Purcell

The folks at Cholula, who came up with the recipe for these chicken strips, are billing this dish as the perfect pre-game appetizer. And we totally agree.

But, when you really think about it, it’s technically always pre-game, so we could argue that these chicken strips are the perfect appetizer for anytime whatsoever.

And we totally will, right now:

In addition to tailgating parties, this recipe for spicy strips is perfect for tonight, or tomorrow’s breakfast, or a picnic, or a mid-shower snack—basically any time between now and the final seconds of the NFL’s pre-game show is the appropriate time to enjoy a huge plate of these pungent, peppery chicken tenders.

Just don’t eat them directly after any football games; you don’t want to anger the mighty football Gods with your wanton post-game snacking.

Check out the recipe for Cholula’s Spicy Chicken Strips at Fox News Magazine


Fox News Magazine is the official lifestyle magazine of Fox News, covering love, relationships, style, beauty, food, nutrition, fitness, décor and design. Get more tips at Fox News Magazine.
Categories: Health & Fitness

These Are the Cities With the Most Bed Bugs

Fri, 2015-01-30 12:00

Photo: Getty Images

The cities with the most cases of bed bugs in the United States are Chicago, Detroit and Columbus, Ohio, according to a recent promotional study released by the pest control company Orkin.

Orkin calculated the number of bed bug treatments it performed between January to December 2014, and ranked the cities based on how often they were called in. Having bed bugs doesn’t mean a living place is especially dirty, and any home or workplace is susceptible if bed bugs travel on clothing or in luggage.

Citing data maintained by the pest control industry, Orkin says Americans spent around $446 million getting rid of bed bugs in 2013. The bed bug business increased 18% last year, Orkin says.

Here’s the full list of cities ranked from most to least cases of bed bugs:

  1. Chicago
  2. Detroit
  3. Columbus, Ohio
  4. Los Angeles
  5. Cleveland – Akron – Canton, Ohio
  6. Dallas – Ft. Worth
  7. Cincinnati
  8. Denver
  9. Richmond – Petersburg, Va.
  10. Dayton, Ohio
  11. Indianapolis
  12. Houston
  13. Seattle – Tacoma
  14. Washington, District of Columbia – Hagerstown, Md.
  15. Milwaukee
  16. San Francisco – Oakland – San Jose
  17. Raleigh – Durham – Fayetteville, N.C.
  18. New York
  19. Charleston – Huntington, W.Va.
  20. Grand Rapids – Kalamazoo – Battle Creek, Mich.
  21. Omaha, Neb.
  22. Louisville, Ky.
  23. Nashville, Tenn.
  24. Lexington, Ky.
  25. Atlanta
  26. Buffalo, N.Y.
  27. Sacramento – Stockton – Modesto, Calif.
  28. Syracuse, N.Y.
  29. Boston – Manchester
  30. Charlotte, N.C.
  31. Baltimore
  32. Phoenix – Prescott
  33. Miami – Ft. Lauderdale
  34. Knoxville, Tenn.
  35. Cedar Rapids – Waterloo – Dubuque, Iowa
  36. Minneapolis – St. Paul
  37. Hartford – New Haven, Conn.
  38. Champaign – Springfield – Decatur, Ill.
  39. San Diego
  40. Lincoln – Hastings – Kearney, Neb.
  41. Kansas City, Mo.
  42. Honolulu
  43. Albany – Schenectady – Troy, N.Y.
  44. Colorado Springs – Pueblo, Colo.
  45. Myrtle Beach – Florence, S.C.
  46. St. Louis
  47. Greenville – Spartanburg, S.C. – Asheville, N.C.
  48. Bowling Green, Ky.
  49. Ft. Wayne, Ind.
  50. Toledo, Ohio

This article originally appeared on Time.com.

Categories: Health & Fitness

Beauty Products May Trigger Early Menopause

Fri, 2015-01-30 11:55

Photo: Getty Images

Menopause, like puberty, is a reproductive rite of passage, and marks for women the end of their fertility and child-bearing years. But studies show that it’s not just age that can determine when menopause starts—exposure to certain chemicals and pollutants can also play a role.

In one of the most comprehensive looks at possible menopause-disruptors to date, researchers led by Dr. Amber Cooper, from the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Washington University in St. Louis, report in the journal PLOS ONE that such exposure can push menopause up by as much as four years.

Cooper and her team studied 31,575 women enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey conducted by the government. Every two years, the women were surveyed about various health and nutrition issues, including whether they had begun menopause. At some point between 1999 and 2008, each of the participants also provided at least one blood and urine sample which the scientists analyzed for the presence of various chemicals, including dioxins contained in pesticides, phthalates found in fragrance, plastics, cosmetics and hair spray, plant-derived estrogens, and polychlorinated biphenyls, among others. The researchers found that women with the highest levels of 111 of these chemicals on average had menopause anywhere from 1.9 years to 3.8 years earlier than those with lower levels.

How could Cooper be so certain that the exposure was linked to the early menopause? She and her team conducted other analyses, including one of women closer to menopause, between the ages of 45 and 55 years, and found a similar association. They also found that it wasn’t just exposure, but increasing exposure over time that was also connected to problems with ovarian function, another potential consequence of the chemicals on reproductive health. And when they looked at all of the women in the survey from age 30 years on, those with the highest blood and urine measurements were six times more likely to be menopausal than women with lower readings.

“This is the tip of the iceberg,” says Cooper, who stresses that the results don’t prove that exposure to these chemicals causes early menopause, only that the two might be connected somehow. ”We need more longitudinal studies to better understand each of these chemicals.”

Previous studies have linked certain chemicals to disruptions in the reproductive hormones, including estrogen, which can then have unhealthy effects on the heart and bone.

What’s concerning is the fact that with the majority of the chemicals, there isn’t much women can do to reduce their exposure. That’s because each of the compounds have different half lives, or time in which they can linger before completely breaking down. While PCBs have been banned in the U.S. since the 1970s, for example, their long half lives mean people may still be exposed to them in the soil, air and water, and in through animals or other things that have contact with them. Women can try to reduce their exposure to some of these chemicals by using products that do not contain synthetic fragrance—which is listed as “fragrance” or “parfum” and which contains phthalates. Women can also opt for organic beauty products, which would not contain pesticide residues and a number of other chemicals.

Cooper advises her patients to be more aware of their potential sources of exposure, including plastics in food packaging, and perhaps try microwaving only in glass and paper containers. “My goal is not to scare women, but raise awareness and promote future research,” she says.

This article originally appeared on Time.com. 

Categories: Health & Fitness

6 Things You Should Know About Working With a Nutritionist

Fri, 2015-01-30 11:40

Photo: Getty Images

Kim Kardashian recently revealed to Entertainment Tonight that she hired a nutritionist to help her learn how to cook and eat more healthfully after she gained 15 pounds. Up front I have to say that I’m a nutritionist/RDN with a private practice, so I’m biased on this matter, but I’ve seen one-on-one counseling work wonders for my clients, from breaking weight-loss plateaus to improving athletic performance, upping energy, boosting immunity, digestive health, sleep and mood, and transforming skin and hair.

If you’re thinking of working with a nutritionist or dietitian, here are six things you should know.

It’s more complex than it seems

Nutrition is far more involved than calories in versus calories out. I often see clients who aren’t getting results because they aren’t eating enough, or the timing and/or balance of their meals isn’t in line with their body’s optimal needs (check out my post Help! Why Can’t I Lose Weight With Exercise?). Others are eating healthfully, but are unknowingly taking in more than they need to get to—and stay at—a healthy weight. After assessing your eating routine, an experienced nutritionist or dietitian will probably know right away what’s holding you back from reaching your goals, and can guide you in the right direction. In terms of a strategy, I talk with my clients to determine what’s best. Some want a structured plan, complete with personalized meal plans, recipes, and grocery lists. Others do better with simple, concrete goals to work on, such as making specific changes to their usual meals, or modifying their meal timing. Be clear about what feels right for you: if you don’t respond well to structure, a structured eating plan isn’t going to work.

RELATED: 15 Things Nobody Tells You About Losing Weight

Follow-up is critical

In my private practice, if weight loss is the goal, I ask clients to commit to working together for a minimum of one month. For some, follow-ups involve weekly check-ins, while others send me a food journal every day for 30 days. Your nutritionist or dietitian needs to ensure that the strategy you’ve agreed upon is right for you. For example, if you dine out or travel often, or you have very limited free time, a plan that requires you to cook at home won’t be a good fit. Also, he or she may need to tweak your plan or approach based on feedback from you regarding your results and how you’re feeling. Follow-ups are also an opportunity to ask questions, prepare for challenging situations, learn about new tools, resources, or products, and feel supported. A one-time visit can’t possibly offer everything you need to succeed.

RELATED: 4 Cooking Mistakes That Make You Gain Weight

Sessions may not take place in an office

Many nutritionists and dietitians work in an office setting, but the new norm also involves real-life situations. I often meet clients at their homes so we can go through their fridge and cupboards, and talk about what they eat where they eat. I also take many of my clients on grocery trips, so we can walk the aisles together and discuss products with dozens of examples at our fingertips. I’ve even gone to restaurants with clients—particularly those who dine out often—because they wanted to have the experience of talking through ordering from a menu with me present. I’ve cooked with clients, which is really fun, and I also work with clients by phone, email, and even text. Sometimes they’ll text me a photo from the supermarket or a restaurant with a question, or text from a get-together to ask which party fare is best. Not every nutritionist or dietitian may be open to this kind of communication, but if that’s what you’re looking for, be sure to make it clear before you start working together.

RELATED: 17 Ways to Skinny Up Your Fridge

It goes beyond food

As part of my master’s degree in nutrition science, I completed 21 credits in counseling psychology, and my master’s degree in public health included an emphasis on how families and communities impact the ability to make healthy choices. I’m not a therapist, but I often find myself talking to clients about issues related to food that go beyond nutrition. Some encounter a lack of support, or even sabotage, from their significant other, friends, or family. Others feel that their job, workplace, or community get in the way of following through with healthy changes. And many of my clients struggle with emotional eating (check out my post 5 Ways to Shut Down Emotional Eating). In many cases, a nutritionist or dietitian’s role is to help coach you through what gets in the way of following his or her advice. In other words, if you were “good” all day, and wound up binge eating while binge watching Netflix, don’t be afraid to talk about it. A nutritionist or dietitian worth their salt is going to empathetically coach you, not judge or scold you.

RELATED: 4 Ways to Cure an Unhealthy Relationship With Food

Credentials are key

In many states the nutrition profession isn’t regulated, so literally anyone can call him or herself a nutritionist and charge clients for services, even with no formal training. Before hiring someone, no matter how healthy they look, ask about their education. The letters RD or RDN (registered dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist) after someone’s name indicate that they have, at the very least, earned a bachelor’s degree, completed a 1,200-hour supervised internship, passed a national credentialing examination, and they complete ongoing continuing education. An RDN’s education involves extensive coursework in the science of nutrition, including biology, chemistry, biochemistry, anatomy and physiology, food science, metabolism, courses in vitamins and minerals, nutrition through the life cycle, and medical nutrition therapy, which involves the nutrition-related prevention and treatment of everything from digestive disorders, to heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and other health conditions. In other words, it’s thorough, standardized training in how the human body works and the understanding of nutrition science.

If the nutritionist you’re thinking of hiring isn’t an RDN, ask about his or her credentials—do they have a degree, where is it from, what is it in, how long did it take to complete, and what type of coursework did it include? I bet you wouldn’t want to go to a dentist or veterinarian who wasn’t thoroughly credentialed, but those professions are regulated to ensure proper training—in this case, you have to do your own homework.

RELATED: 12 ‘Unhealthy’ Foods Nutritionists Eat

It may or may not be covered by your insurance

Nutrition counseling may or may not be covered by your insurance. Some nutritionists and dietitians are set up as providers under various plans, just like physical therapy, acupuncture, or mental health counselors. And in some cases your insurance company may reimburse you after you’ve paid out of pocket, but there may be a dollar limit, or stipulations—for example, they may require the RDN credential or a physician referral. If you’re looking for coverage, call the number on your insurance card and ask about your options. If it’s not covered, consider the cost carefully.

I’ve had clients tell me they wish they would have contacted me sooner, because they spent money on products or gym memberships that didn’t give them results. Others have told me that the while they first thought nutrition counseling was expensive, they realized the value after considering the cost compared to other things they spend money on, like beauty treatments, dinners out, exercise classes, and clothes. Only you can determine if it’s right for you, but if you do decide to work with a nutritionist or dietitian, don’t be afraid to ask a lot of questions, and take the time to find the best practitioner to match your needs.

Meet Cynthia Sass at the Health Total Wellness Weekend at Canyon Ranch in May 2015. For details, go to Health.com/TotalWellness.

What are your thoughts on this topic? Chat with us on Twitter by mentioning @goodhealth and @CynthiaSass.

Cynthia Sass is a nutritionist and registered dietitian with master’s degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV, she’s Health’s contributing nutrition editor, and privately counsels clients in New York, Los Angeles, and long distance. Cynthia is currently the sports nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers NHL team and the Tampa Bay Rays MLB team, and is board certified as a specialist in sports dietetics. Her latest New York Times best seller is S.A.S.S! Yourself Slim: Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches. Connect with Cynthia on FacebookTwitter and Pinterest.

Categories: Health & Fitness

Girls Outperform Boys Academically Around the Globe, Study Says

Fri, 2015-01-30 10:37

FRIDAY, Jan. 30, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Girls tend to get better grades in reading, math and science than boys, according to a new study that challenges the widely held belief that boys do better in these subjects than girls.

“Even in countries where women’s liberties are severely restricted, we found that girls are outperforming boys in reading, mathematics and science literacy by age 15, regardless of political, economic, social or gender equality issues and policies found in those countries,” study author David Geary, professor of psychological sciences at the University of Missouri, said in a university news release.

The researchers analyzed the grades of 1.5 million 15-year-old students around the world between 2000 and 2010.

They found that girls outperformed boys in reading, math and science in 70 percent of the countries included in the study. These findings held true even in countries where females face severe social restrictions.

Boys did better than girls in only three countries or regions: Colombia, Costa Rica and the state of Himachal Pradesh in India. Girls and boys were about equal in the United States and Englad, the researchers found.

In countries with low levels of gender equality — such as Jordan, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates — girls were far ahead of boys in educational achievement, according to the study.

Findings were published recently in the journal Intelligence.

“The data will influence how policymakers think about the options available,” Geary said.

“For example, to increase levels of equal opportunities in education. We believe that policymakers and educators should not expect that broad progress in social equality will necessarily result in educational equality. In fact, we found that with the exception of high achievers, boys have poorer educational outcomes than girls around the world, independent of social equality indicators,” he said.

More information

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers tips to help children succeed in school.

Categories: Health & Fitness

Researchers Learning More About Deadly Pancreatic Cancer

Fri, 2015-01-30 10:37

FRIDAY, Jan. 30, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Scientists are working to find new ways to treat pancreatic cancer, one of the deadliest types of cancer in the United States.

Pancreatic cancer is the fourth leading cause of cancer death in the country. Each year, more than 46,000 Americans are diagnosed with the disease and more than 39,000 die from it, according to the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Current treatments include drugs, chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy, but the five-year survival rate is only about 5 percent. That’s in part because it often isn’t diagnosed until after it has spread.

“Today we know more about this form of cancer. We know it usually starts in the pancreatic ducts and that the KRAS gene is mutated in tumor samples from most patients with pancreatic cancer,” Dr. Abhilasha Nair, an oncologist with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said in an agency news release.

Scientists are trying to develop drugs that target the KRAS mutation, the FDA noted.

“Getting the right drug to target the right mutation would be a big break for treating patients with pancreatic cancer,” Nair said. “KRAS is a very evasive target. We need to learn more about it so we can better understand how to overcome it.”

Other areas of research include learning more about how certain factors increase the risk of pancreatic cancer.

These risk factors include smoking, long-term diabetes, other gene mutations, Lynch syndrome (a genetic disorder that increases the risk for certain cancers), and pancreatitis, which is chronic inflammation of the pancreas that causes abdominal pain, diarrhea and weight loss.

Immune therapies, which have proven successful in treating melanoma and some other cancers, are another area of research in fighting pancreatic cancer.

“Not too long ago, the prognosis for melanoma patients was very poor. But with the advent of these new therapies that boost the patient’s own immune system, the landscape has greatly improved,” Nair said.

“We hope that new research in pancreatic cancer will ultimately give us a similar, if not better, outcome in the fight against this aggressive cancer,” Nair added.

More information

The U.S. National Cancer Institute has more about pancreatic cancer.

Categories: Health & Fitness

Breast Reconstruction Complications Similar for Older, Younger Women

Fri, 2015-01-30 10:37

FRIDAY, Jan. 30, 2015 (HealthDay News) — The overall risk of complications from breast reconstruction after breast removal is only slightly higher for older women than for younger women, a new study indicates.

Researchers looked at data from nearly 41,000 women in the United States who had one breast removed between 2005 and 2012. Of those patients, about 11,800 also underwent breast reconstruction.

Patients aged 65 and older were less likely to have breast reconstruction than younger women. About 11 percent of older women chose to have the surgery compared to nearly 40 percent of women under 65, the study found.

Women who had breast reconstruction had more complications — such as longer hospital stays and repeat surgeries — than those who did not have breast reconstruction. However, overall complication rates after breast reconstruction were similar. About 7 percent of older women had complications, while slightly more than 5 percent of younger women did.

One exception was the risk of blood clot-related complications after breast reconstruction that used a patient’s own tissue instead of implants. The risk of a type of blood clot called a venous thromboembolism (VTE) was nearly four times higher among women 65 and older who had reconstruction using their own tissue. For women between 70 and 75, the risk of venous thromboembolism was more than six times higher, according to the study.

Venous thromboembolism includes deep vein thrombosis (a clot in the leg) and pulmonary embolism (a clot in the lungs). But the overall rate of venous thromboembolism was low — just 1 percent after reconstruction using a woman’s own tissue, the researchers found.

The study appears in the February issue of the journal Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery.

“Older patients should be counseled that their age does not confer an increased risk of complications after implant-based post-mastectomy breast reconstruction,” Dr. Mark Sisco, of NorthShore University Health System and the University of Chicago, and colleagues wrote in a journal news release.

“However, they should be counseled that their age may confer an increased risk of VTE,” they added.

Older women may need special attention to prevent venous thromboembolism after tissue-based breast reconstruction. One possibility is longer use of blood-thinning medications, the researchers said.

More information

The American Cancer Society has more about breast reconstruction.

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Flame Retardants May Raise Risk of Preterm Births, Study Finds

Fri, 2015-01-30 10:37

FRIDAY, Jan. 30, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Pregnant women exposed to high levels of flame-retardant chemicals may be at increased risk for having premature babies, a new study indicates.

Researchers analyzed blood samples from pregnant women when they were admitted to hospital for delivery. Those with higher levels of flame-retardant chemicals in their bodies were more likely to have preterm babies (before 37 weeks of pregnancy) than those with lower levels of the chemicals, the investigators found.

“Nearly all women have some amount of exposure to flame-retardant chemicals. Many people have no idea that these chemicals can be found on many common items, including household dust and clothes dryer lint,” study author Dr. Ramkumar Menon, an assistant professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said in a university news release.

Flame retardants have been widely used for four decades in home construction, furniture, clothing and electronic appliances, and they have been found in amniotic fluid, umbilical cord tissue, fetal tissue and breast milk, the study authors said.

More than 15 million babies around the world are born prematurely every year. About 1 million of these babies die shortly after birth, making preterm birth the second-leading cause of death in children under 5, the researchers added.

“Since stopping the use or exposure of flame retardants during pregnancy is not likely, our laboratory is currently studying the mechanisms by which flame retardants cause preterm birth,” Menon said.

While the study found an association between exposure to flame-retardant chemicals and premature birth, it did not prove a cause-and-effect link.

The study was published Jan. 28 in the Journal of Reproductive Immunology.

More information

The U.S. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development has more about preterm labor and birth.

Categories: Health & Fitness

Some With Kidney Stones Might Have Calcium Buildup in Blood Vessels: Study

Fri, 2015-01-30 10:37

By Rosemary Black
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Jan. 30, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Some people who develop recurring kidney stones may also have high levels of calcium deposits in their blood vessels, and that could explain their increased risk for heart disease, new research suggests.

“It’s becoming clear that having kidney stones is a bit like having raised blood pressure, raised blood lipids [such as cholesterol] or diabetes in that it is another indicator of, or risk factor for, cardiovascular disease and its consequences,” said study co-author Dr. Robert Unwin, of University College London. Unwin is currently chief scientist with the AstraZeneca cardiovascular & metabolic diseases innovative medicines and early development science unit, in Molndal, Sweden.

The main message, Unwin said, “is to begin to take having kidney stones seriously in relation to cardiovascular disease risk, and to practice preventive monitoring and treatments, including diet and lifestyle.”

Some 10 percent of men and 7 percent of women develop kidney stones at some point in their lives, and research has shown that many of these people are at heightened risk for high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease and heart disease, the researchers said.

But study author Dr. Linda Shavit, a senior nephrologist at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, and her colleagues wanted to find out whether the heart issues that can occur in some of those with kidney stones might be caused by high levels of calcium deposits in their blood vessels.

Using CT scans, they looked at calcium deposits in the abdominal aorta, one of the largest blood vessels in the body. Of the 111 people in the study, 57 suffered recurring kidney stones that were comprised of calcium (kidney stones can be made up of other minerals, depending on the patient’s circumstances, the researchers noted), and 54 did not have kidney stones.

Not only did the investigators find that those with recurring kidney stones made of calcium have higher calcium deposits in their abdominal aortas, but they also had less dense bones than those who did not have kidney stones.

Earlier research has shown that calcium buildup in blood vessels frequently goes hand in hand with bone loss, which suggests a link between osteoporosis and atherosclerosis, or hardening of the arteries.

Dr. Steven Fishbane, vice president of dialysis services at North Shore-LIJ Health System, in Great Neck, N.Y., was cautious in interpreting the results. “Patients should not be panicked by the findings, but they are worth discussing with your physician,” he advised.

“Many people who develop a kidney stone will go on to form more stones,” Fishbane said. “There is a risk of recurrence, although it can also be an isolated event.”

Shavit noted that genetic factors are responsible for the development of kidney stones in about 50 percent of cases, but diet and lifestyle also play a part. Not drinking enough water or consuming too much calcium, potassium or salt in your diet are major risk factors for kidney stones, she said.

So, Shavit added, individuals with kidney stones should be monitored for heart disease in various ways, including having CT scans that measure both calcium deposits in blood vessels and bone density, and by counting the number of kidney stones that develop and where they are located.

Dr. Suzanne Steinbaum, a preventive cardiologist at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, agreed that CT scans can be useful for these patients. “If you are having recurring kidney stones, it may be worth talking to your doctor about this test since we know that kidney stones can be associated with heart disease down the line,” she said.

The findings were published online Jan. 29 in the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology.

An accompanying editorial, written by Dr. Eric Taylor of Maine Medical Center in Portland and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, noted that it’s too early to incorporate a history of kidney stones into screening guidelines for cardiovascular risk factors or osteoporosis.

More information

Find out more about kidney stones at the U.S. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Categories: Health & Fitness

Obama to Announce Major Personalized Medicine Initiative

Fri, 2015-01-30 10:37

FRIDAY, Jan. 30, 2015 (HealthDay News) — In what could be a significant advance for personalized medicine, President Barack Obama will ask Congress to fund a research program aimed at developing treatments that would be tailored to a patient’s individual genes, the White House said Friday.

The plan would give scientists access to genetic and medical information for about 1 million American volunteers, according to news reports.

The goal is to help physicians determine the best treatments for specific patients, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), told The New York Times. The NIH will head the ambitious venture.

White House officials told reporters that $215 million is needed to launch the “precision medicine initiative” next fall.

“We do not envision this as being a biobank, which would suggest a single repository for all the data or all the samples,” Jo Handelsman, associate director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, told the Times. “There are existing cohorts around the country that have already been started and have rich sources of data. The challenge in this initiative is to link them together and fill in the gaps.”

The scientists would have access to medical records, genetic profiles, laboratory test results, lifestyle habits and more for the participants.

Already, certain medical fields and centers are moving away from a one-treatment-fits-all approach.

“Patients with breast, lung and colorectal cancers routinely undergo molecular testing as part of their care,” Handelsman told reporters. Results of these tests help doctors select the drug treatments most likely to boost patients’ odds for survival. Some drugs target specific genes implicated in a condition.

The Center for Individualized Medicine at the Mayo Clinic offers genomic testing to patients to personalize care. Currently, it accepts patients with advanced cancers or rare diseases thought to have genetic origins, according to its website.

The aim of the U.S. program is to “harness the power of science to find individualized health solutions,” Collins told the Associated Press.

Collins said the growing affordability of genomic sequencing combined with advances in computer-powered medicine have made it possible to tackle this approach on a large scale.

More information

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has more about matching treatments to your genes.

Categories: Health & Fitness

The Problem With That ‘Ideal Body Types Throughout History’ Video

Fri, 2015-01-30 09:02

It’s clear how quickly beauty trends change through the years—just look at the drastic differences from the 1910’s to today in the “100 Years of Beauty” videos. But what about the ideal body? Buzzfeed waded into this charged territory with their recent video “Ideal Body Types Throughout History,” posted Tuesday.

Watch it and you’ll see the “ideal” female form through the ages, spanning from Ancient Egypt to today. While it’s cleverly produced with catchy music, and it does feature a nice diversity of shapes and skin tones, it just makes me feel…bad.

Greatist posted a similar article last week, with graphics showing the changes to the “perfect” female body over 100 years. Both sites try to explain some of the problems with the arbitrary physical standards set by the collective forces of pop culture, fashion, and, of course, men. (“Because historically, and sadly, currently, men are often the determining factor when it comes to how women view their bodies,” as Bustle’s Doyin Oyeniyi argues. “Even if women ultimately make the fashion and body shape decisions, they are swayed by what they think is more appealing to men.”)

RELATED: 6 Ways to Be a More Confident Runner

Perhaps we’re supposed to feel encouraged by the fact that trends come and go (hey, if you don’t have the ideal body now, just give it 10 years!), or maybe it’s just supposed to present the curious thinking of taste arbiters of the past. I mean, who knew that back in Aristotle’s day, women were considered simply “deformed men“?

The Buzzfeed video stoked a firestorm of negative comments, which Eugene Lee Yang, a video producer at Buzzfeed and co-creator of the video, responded to in an interview with The Huffington Post.

“The key visual component of the video is an objective, diverse showcase of women’s bodies, and that alone sparks a strong reaction,” Yang said in an email to the news site. “Many viewers had a poignant response after seeing how ephemeral our concept of ‘the ideal’ is. Other viewers focused solely on the way the models look and missed the point entirely. Case in point: there are some people who can’t get past a woman’s image, and there are others who are able to see and think beyond that.”

“We’re so often preoccupied with current trends that we lose perspective on how fleeting our obsession with physical perfection has historically been,” he continued. “As demanding as our perception of an ideal body type may be, we should remember that yesterday’s ideal will, without fail, evolve into something completely different tomorrow.”

But it’s not an “objective” showcase when the bodies are framed as “ideal,” whether they’re past or present versions. And that’s what bothers me. It’s still all about the quest for perfection, which isn’t ever going to be productive.

When you get to the end of Buzzfeed’s timeline and the ideal shape of today includes a thigh gap, the suggestion is there: there’s no such thing as the “perfect” body and the pressure we put on ourselves is as crazy as Aristotle thinking of women as deformed.

It’s not a bad sentiment, if that’s Buzzfeed’s intent. But the problem is that point’s buried by the same tactics that created the issue in the first place. We really don’t need to give credence to what’s ultimately just another chance to put women on a pedestal and compare them.

RELATED: 9 Ways to Silence Your Inner Critic

Categories: Health & Fitness

Who Lives Longer: Liberals or Conservatives?

Fri, 2015-01-30 08:10

Photo: Getty Images

By Randy Dotinga
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 28, 2015 (HealthDay News) — Liberals are in luck when it comes to longevity, new research contends.

Compared to people with conservative and moderate political ideologies, liberals were less likely to die over the course of a 30-year review. But party lines did not determine life span, with Independents faring better than Republicans and Democrats, according to the study published Jan. 28 in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.

Researchers not involved with the study were divided over what — if anything — the findings proved.

While the study authors tried to account for the influence of factors like race, education level and income, they didn’t have any data regarding life choices such as diet, smoking and exercise. Liberals and Independents could simply be living more healthy lifestyles than other people, or the connection may be a coincidence, the researchers noted.

To complicate matters, liberals lived longer than Democrats.

Still, “there’s got to be something going on,” said study author Roman Pabayo, an assistant professor with the School of Community Health Sciences at the University of Nevada at Reno. Political views, he said, are “definitely a marker for something.”

Researchers know a bit about how ideologies affect lives. According to Pabayo, “liberals are more likely to look at inequality in a negative way, while conservatives are considered more likely to be happier.” But there’s been little research into how political views may affect how long people live.

For the new study, Pabayo and his colleagues tracked almost 33,000 adults in the United States for about three decades. The researchers followed the volunteers, who joined the study between 1976 and 2008, for an average of 15 years.

The participants answered questions about their political views, although they didn’t fit easily into boxes: Liberals weren’t necessarily Democrats, and conservatives weren’t necessarily Republicans. The study didn’t analyze where their views fit along the political spectrum; it was only based on what the participants thought of themselves.

Almost 30 percent of the participants died during the study, Pabayo said. After adjusting the statistics to compensate for high or low numbers of people who shared certain traits like race or age, the researchers found that 33 percent of Democrats died, compared to 28 percent of Republicans and 23 percent of Independents.

When it came to political ideologies, 30 percent of conservatives and moderates died, compared to 25 percent of liberals.

Pabayo suspects that political views may serve as stand-ins for other factors that might affect life span, but he couldn’t say what they were. “I don’t think it’s accurate to say everyone should be a liberal,” he said. “Being a liberal is a marker for something else.”

S.V. Subramanian, a professor of population health and geography at the Harvard School of Public Health in Boston, was skeptical of the study, noting that the difference between groups was small and “the findings are somewhat inconsistent.”

“No meaningful conclusions should be drawn from this study,” he said, since “the definitions of liberal and conservative are so ambiguous.”

Dr. Christian Gericke, chief executive officer of The Wesley Research Institute in Auchenflower, Australia, endorsed the study, saying this kind of research “serves to quell our thirst for understanding the power of political beliefs on health outcomes to some extent.”

More information

Visit the U.S. Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion for tips on general health.

Categories: Health & Fitness

Playing Tackle Football Before Age 12 Linked to Higher Risk of Cognitive Problems Later in Life

Fri, 2015-01-30 08:05

Photo: Getty Images

By Alan Mozes
HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 28, 2015 (HealthDay News) — As football fans prepare to watch the 49th Super Bowl this Sunday, a new study suggests that boys who start playing tackle football before the age of 12 may face a higher risk for neurological deficits as adults.

The concern stems from an assessment of current memory and thinking skills among 42 former National Football League players, now between the ages of 40 and 69. Half the players had started playing tackle football at age 11 or younger.

The bottom line: Regardless of their current age or total years playing football, NFL players who were that young when they first played the game scored notably worse on all measures than those who started playing at age 12 or later.

“It is very important that we err on the side of caution and not over-interpret these findings,” said study co-author Robert Stern, a professor of neurology, neurosurgery, anatomy and neurobiology at Boston University’s School of Medicine. “This is just one research study that had as its focus former NFL players. So we can’t generalize from this to anyone else.

“At the same time,” Stern added, “this study provides a little bit of evidence that starting to hit your head before the age of 12 over and over again may have long-term ramifications. So the question is, if we know that there’s a time in childhood where the young, vulnerable brain is developing so actively, do we take care of it, or do we expose our kids to hit after hit after hit?”

Stern, who is also the director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Center Clinical Core and director of clinical research at the Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy Center at the university, reported the findings with his colleagues in the Jan. 28 issue of Neurology.

The study authors pointed out that, on average, children who play football between the ages of 9 and 12 experience between 240 and 585 head hits per season, with a force that is comparable to that experienced by high school and college players.

In 2011, investigators recruited former NFL players to participate in an ongoing study called DETECT. The players’ average age was 52, and all had played at least two years in the NFL and 12 years of “organized football.” All had sustained a comparable number of concussions throughout their careers.

All had a minimum six-month history of mental health complaints, including problems with thinking clearly, behavior and mood.

All underwent a standardized battery of neurological testing to assess learning, reading and verbal capacities, as well as memory and planning skills.

The result: all the players performed below average on several of the assessments. But by many measures, the overall mental functioning of those who started playing before age 12 registered roughly 20 percent below that of those who started at age 12 and older.

For example, the early start group performed worse in terms of immediate and delayed verbal-recall tests, and were deemed less mentally “flexible” than the 12-and-up group.

While the researchers found a link between age at which players started to play football and later mental functioning, it didn’t prove cause and effect.

“Now I want to be clear that we’re not talking about the impact of concussions here,” Stern said. “I know that the emphasis of late has been on concussions. But what I’m more concerned about are all of those repetitive hits that we refer to as sub-concussive trauma. The player may have no complaints at all, no obvious problems. But their brain is jostled over and over again inside the skull, right at the time when it’s trying to do its best to grow and develop.

“So, this should not be taken as a definitive study that leads to policy or rule changes,” he added. “Participation in youth sports is tremendously beneficial. But parents should be aware of this. And if there is an option to play, say, flag football at that age — where one can learn all of the important social skills of team participation and have as much fun, but take the brain out of it — then I say we should do that.”

That thought is seconded by Dr. Christopher Filley, author of an editorial accompanying Stern’s study, and a professor of neurology at the University of Colorado School of Medicine in Aurora.

“These players who were studied all wore helmets throughout their entire playing careers,” he said. “But we don’t think helmets have much of an effect on preventing brain injury. The game is inherently violent. That may not be the case if we’re talking about touch football. But if it’s to be played with the rules that are now favored, there will always be an inherent risk, regardless.

“Now, obviously there are benefits to physical activity and team sports,” Filley added. “But the potential is that the younger brain is more vulnerable to injury than the older brain, which is why I think this is an important study, and a cautionary tale. It’s not the final word on the issue. We need more data. But this a tough conversation that is definitely worth having.”

More information

Visit the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on concussions in football.

Categories: Health & Fitness