Still smoking? Want to quit?
While fewer people are smoking nowadays, there are still plenty of people who smoke. It may be only when they are out with friends, or with family who smokes, or when they are extra stressed. Some people can stop for years but fall back into it quickly due to a big stressor in their life. We understand. Most of us need help with healthier coping mechanisms and can develop addictive behaviors (think food, alcohol, wasting hours on Netflix, or getting grumpy with our loved ones). But nicotine is an incredibly addictive chemical and it’s a behavioral habit. For this post let’s focus on cigarettes. The New York Times this week had an article reporting on a recent study that 28.6% of cancer deaths nationally are caused by smoking tobacco in some way. The rate varies on location, with a low of 21% in Utah and a high of 38% in Kentucky. There is also a big difference rates between genders with men significantly more affected than women. What are these 12 cancers that are directly related to cigarettes? Obviously lung, mouth and throat cancers. But also stomach, colon, bladder and even a type of leukemia. This study did not include cancers due to other types of tobacco like chewing tobacco which would add many more life altering and deadly cancers. How do we get these numbers to decrease? By implementing recommended programs in each state that help people stop smoking and prevent them from ever starting in the first place. The World Health Organization recommendations come down to three basics: prohibitive cost of tobacco products, no advertising, no smoking in public, and an engaged health system.
Here in primary care we can be engaged in finding out your smoking habits and helping you quit when you’re ready. We won’t shame you- promise- but we ask if you are ready to quit or reduce smoking. This upcoming cold and flu season is a great time to quit! Most people don’t have the urge to smoke as much when they’ve got a cold so take advantage of this fact and don’t resume your usual smoking frequency. Come in and see us as you may need antibiotics for your bronchitis (smoking changes the bronchi and lungs and encourages the growth of different types of bacteria) and we can discuss medications to stop smoking at the same time. Whether you’d like some accountability while you use the patches and/or gum from the drugstore, or you’d like to try Zyban or Chantix tablets to help reduce the cravings, we are here for you. People often tell us about some creative ways they have reduced or stopped smoking. They’ve had success with a transition to e-cigarettes, or cigars/cigarillos, or water pipes, to keep up the nicotine while they transition off the physical cigarette habit and then transition off nicotine slowly. Different studies have shown varying levels of success with this type of method, but only you know the method that may work for you. We’ve also had patients who found hypnotherapy incredibly helpful in as little as one visit.
Think about the factors that make quitting difficult or that have caused you to relapse in the past. Do you have a friend or family member to encourage you on the way? What has worked to help you reduce or quit in the past? Did you know you can start on a medication while still smoking? Starting on it for a few weeks prior to a quit date can ease a lot of the anxiety that goes along with quitting. And we will meet with you and support you through the ups and downs of the process for however long it takes. There are many methods to quit or reduce smoking so come in and see us at any of our Kelly Goodman Group Locations so we can find one that will work for you!
Breast Cancer- What’s Your Risk?
In honor of the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month let’s talk about risks and screenings. When should you get a screening mammogram? At what age should you start? How often should you get one? Do you need an ultrasound or an MRI for further evaluation and how often?
These questions have different answers depending on whose advice you are looking for. All the groups that make official recommendations have their own particular guidelines for routine screening mammograms. They all agree on the risk factors though.
- Family history/ genetics
- Younger age for first period
- Older age for first childbirth
- Older age for menopause
- Breast density
- Use of birth control and/or hormone replacement
- Lack of exercise
- Alcohol use
- Radiation exposure
The most aggressive guidelines for screening are from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. They recommend annual mammograms starting at age 40, and clinical breast exams. The most relaxed guidelines are from the US Preventive Services Task Force which does not even give recommendations for women with higher risk but only recommends screening mammograms every 2 years, beginning at age 50, and recommends against breast self-exam. The American Cancer Society recommends screening mammograms annually at 45 and decreasing to every other year at 55. The American Congress of Obstetricians & Gynecologists recommends annual screening mammos at age 40. All but the USPSTF recommend being aware of the feeling of your own normal breast tissue and having an annual MRI if the lifetime risk of breast cancer is calculated to be more than 20% based on family history.
How do you determine a woman’s lifetime risk of getting breast cancer? There are computer programs available that allow us to calculate that based on family history and the personal risk factors listed above. At your next physical exam we can determine if we need to calculate this risk, and at a followup appointment we can take the time to enter your personal and family data into a program that will give us a percentage chance that you could have breast cancer in the next 10 years and also the chances of developing breast cancer in your lifetime. These are sobering statistics (I have entered my own data and even with no family history of breast cancer my lifetime chances of developing it are 12%!). If your lifetime risk is 20% or higher you are entitled to see a genetic counselor and your insurance is obligated to pay for it, as well as an MRI (thank you Affordable Care Act).
Come in and let’s talk about your personal and family risk factors for developing breast cancer and make sure you are getting the appropriate screening to ensure your longest healthiest life.
Is bright morning light better than Viagra?
What if bright light for 30 min each morning could increase a man’s sexual satisfaction and even boost his testosterone levels? How much less Viagra would be prescribed?
We know that light therapy (using a lamp that that has the right wavelengths and strength) is an effective treatment for SAD (seasonal effective disorder). We are still in the midst of learning about light therapy and all of its potential. But knowing that most babies are conceived in June, when we have the maximum hours of daylight, there is a basis for looking into the effect of light on reproduction. A group in Italy studied a group of 38 sexually unsatisfied men and shared their results with the European Congress of Neuropsychopharmacology in September. This group of men had a mean sexual satisfaction score of 2/10 at the beginning of the study. After just 2 weeks of treatment with 30 minutes of 10000 lux light each morning, the mean score had increased to 6/10. In the control group, who was treated with filtered light, the mean score was 2.7/10. In addition to the subjective satisfaction score, the mens’ testosterone levels almost doubled. The retinohypothalamic tract (sunlight to retina to hypothalamus) is well established as the circadian rhythm pathway. Treating our brains with bright light at various times of day has different effects. Bright morning light helps us wake up, energizes us, and according to this study may improve a man’s sexual satisfaction and testosterone levels. Conversely, bright light at night, or even that from our phones and computers, can cause insomnia, make it hard to get out of bed in the morning, and affect our mood in a negative way. We’ll have another post about that soon, along with information about the types of lights needed.
This is a fascinating area of study. Be prepared to see more chronotherapy (time and light therapies) as they are non-pharmacologic treatments. That means they cost less, and have fewer side effects or interactions with medications, and they are helpful for mental health issues at the very least, if not more. Further, here at any of our Kelly Goodman Group locations we are open to discussing any complementary, integrative, or functional medicine treatment you would like to try.
Gluten-free diets are on the rise. Why?
If you’ve been looking at menus or walking through the grocery store, you’ve likely noticed more and more items labelled “gluten-free”. Why? Who is avoiding gluten and why are they doing it? Why was there a three-fold increase in gluten-free diets when there has been no increase in the medical diagnosis of related diseases?
In honor of National Celiac Awareness Day, we’re talking about gluten. Gluten is a protein found in grains- wheat, rye and barley- and helps give an elasticity to these flours in cooking and baking. These grains are found in breads, pastas, soups, cereals and other baked goods. People can be affected by gluten in a few ways.
First, some people have an immediate allergic reaction to wheat and/or another grain. This is a more obvious reaction and easier to diagnose by blood tests looking for antibodies and skin testing looking for skin reactions. These must be treated by avoidance of the grain. There are no medications or allergy shots for food allergies- yet.
Second, people can be affected by the gluten found in wheat, rye, and barley. This can be found in a serious autoimmune form known as Celiac disease or in a milder form called gluten sensitivity. Certain individuals, about 1 in 100 people, have Celiac, a genetic condition where the body attacks the small intestine when gluten is ingested. This can cause lifelong effects and increases one’s chances of having other autoimmune diseases. The only treatment is avoidance of gluten. Blood tests can be performed to help diagnose this disease. Gluten sensitivity is something we don’t yet have conclusive testing for, but studies have shown that people without Celiac can still have damage to their small intestines if they are sensitive to gluten. Therefore, these individuals should still avoid gluten.
Are you avoiding gluten, or limiting your intake? Is it for health or weight loss? Did you have fatigue, digestive or other symptoms that have improved since you went off gluten? Or are you being encouraged by a friend or family member to eliminate it for a month? If you have a family member with confirmed celiac, or if you have an autoimmune disease you should get tested for celiac before you stop eating it. The blood tests are accurate only when you are actively eating (or drinking) gluten.
Going gluten-free is much easier now than it was 16 years ago when a member of my family was diagnosed with a wheat allergy. We are happy to discuss these issues with you, do any appropriate testing, and manage any diseases that are found.
Can exercise counteract alcohol?
If you exercise all week can you drink all weekend? Maybe. The quote in British outlet the Mail Online is “Adults who booze regularly but exercise for five hours a week are no more likely to die than teetotalers.” That’s a simplification of course. There’s a large 10 year study published in the peer-reviewed British Journal of Sports Medicine that shows physical activity can counteract some of the ills of alcohol consumption. It’s a strong study looking at data that was collected from adults aged 40+ from national surveys in the United Kingdom. The study shows that while alcohol intake increases death from cancer especially but also from all causes, people who followed the recommended level of physical activity were no more at risk than the non-drinkers. Alcohol has been shown to increase one’s likelihood of cancer, in particular mouth and throat, esophagus, liver, colon and rectum, and breast cancers, according to the journal Addiction. And it is imperative to note that the study was looking at death from cancer and other causes, not diagnosis rates.
The researchers, who hail from the UK, Canada, Australia and also Norway, used data from England and Scotland from 1994-2006. There were 36,370 people, both men and women, who answered questions about a multitude of health behaviors, and categorized their level of exercise and alcohol. These participants were followed over time to see how their health changed. The researchers controlled for the most obvious factors like body size, smoking status, and sex/gender. They used MET (metabolic equivalent of task) hours to categorize exercise, where 1 MET is sitting at rest, and the more intense the exercise, the higher the MET. For example jogging for 1 hour is equal to 7 MET hours while calisthenics at home for an hour would be 3.5 MET hours.
It’s important to understand what the categories were for both exercise and alcohol. Bottom line, you can’t drink too heavily no matter how much you exercise. In this study they defined hazardous levels as 14-15 drinks per week for women and 19-21 for men. At this level the exercise still seemed to counter the alcohol. But above that level the benefits of exercise did not outweigh the impacts of alcohol. What about exercise levels? They considered inactive as less than 7 MET hours per week, lower active as between 7.5-15 MET hours and higher active as >15 MET hours per week. In practical terms that’s jogging for 30 min 4 times per week. This level of exercise also offered a protective effect against cardiovascular disease, confirming results we already know from a multitude of other studies.
While we can’t be certain that exercise alone reduced the risks associated with alcohol consumption- it could be other lifestyle factors that were not measured- it seems like a good assumption for now. We know we should exercise for our heart health, to reduce cancer risks, and to maintain strong bones and muscles. But if you are someone who drinks alcohol consider this a very strong push to make physical activity a priority. Get moving!
Visit Kelly Goodman Group to learn more about our practice and schedule an appointment at any of our locations.
Do I really need a colonoscopy?
We all hear horror stories from our friends and families about colonoscopies and the dreaded “prep”. Why are we doing this to ourselves? How can we reduce the number of times we need to do this test in our lifetime? Is there a way to avoid it completely?
First let’s talk about prevention as this is what really saves lives. In the US, colorectal cancer is the second deadliest cancer. Men have a 4.7% chance and women a 4.4% chance of being diagnosed with it.
There are risk factors you can’t change, like living longer than 50 years, having a family member with colon cancer or other cancer syndromes, polyps, Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis, having diabetes, or being in certain racial or ethnic groups (African American and Ashkenazi Jewish).
But there are risk factors that we can control- like alcohol consumption, smoking, sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and poor diet. Make sure to talk with your primary care provider about when to start screening if you have a family history of polyps, colon cancer, or a high number of other cancers. Hint: you need to be screened earlier- up to 10 years earlier even without symptoms depending on the situation.
We now have genetic tests to identify familial disorders that link many types of cancers, such as Lynch syndrome (this causes ovarian, uterine, pancreatic, kidney, brain, ureter and bile duct cancers). So we can test people for a genetic predisposition and make sure they are vigilant about screenings. But what if you have no risk factors? What are the screening rules in that case? Our federal government, as the USPSTF (US Preventive Services Task Force- they will be a recurring character in this blog) recommends screening all Americans between 50 and 75 years old. How often during that 25 year span depends on what is found during the screening. If you are minimizing your risk factors and have a normal colonoscopy you can avoid one for up 10 years at a time. That means a lifetime total of 3 at ages 50, 60 and 70. The upside? It’s a day off from work and maybe you even lose a stubborn pound or two with the clear diet leading up to the procedure. But is it possible to avoid the colonoscopy completely? Well the USPSTF and the AAFP (American Academy of Family Physicians) agree that the only methods that we can count on are colonoscopy, sigmoidoscopy (similar to colonoscopy but not as thorough), and stool testing that looks for blood. There are other newer tests such as a stool test that looks for cancer DNA rather than blood (Cologuard) and CT scans specifically for the colon/rectum. But these newer tests have not had time to prove themselves effective in a way that outweighs the risks- like an incorrect result or exposure to radiation.
If you use one of the stool tests or sigmoidoscopy and there is any uncertainty about being cancer-free, then you’ll need to follow up with a colonoscopy. Honestly, other than our skin, we can’t look at an organ directly to look for changes in the cells. Colonoscopy allows us to use a camera, equipped with tools, to look for and take samples of cells to analyze under a microscope. If you want to use the stool tests, you should repeat them yearly. Otherwise follow up frequency for colonoscopy depends on what was seen inside and under the microscope-usually 3-10 years.
Bottom line (pun intended), the same rules for healthy living apply to colon health as for the rest of our body. Don’t smoke, get exercise, eat lots of veggies, fruits, and whole grains, keep alcohol to a max of 1 drink daily for women or 2 for men, and stay at a healthy weight (BMI/ body mass index <25). And make sure to see your primary care provider to discuss your personal and family health history and come up with an individualized plan for your health each year. Call us or visit us at any of our Kelly Goodman Group locations to set up a visit.
Want to boost your immune system?
In addition to its known benefits of improving bone and heart health, adding a natural supplement of Vitamin D may boost our immune system. So, we know that certain groups of people are deficient in D- like darker complexions, higher body fat, and indoorsy types. Fat cells absorb Vitamin D and keep it out of circulation so those of us who have any extra weight (and females have a higher body fat percentage anyways) are likely deficient. Also, if you have a darker complexion or use sunscreen outside it’s really difficult to absorb enough of the sunlight in our skin to make this vitamin. While we are still sorting out the ideal level of Vitamin D in our bodies, there is decades of evidence that this vitamin our bodies produce naturally is essential in achieving and keeping our optimum level of overall health. Our bodies make Vitamin D in our skin when we are exposed to sun. We’ve all been spending less time outside, and people who live in the northern half of the US (or similar latitudes around the world) don’t get enough sunlight.
You know how milk says “Vitamin D” on the label? Well, that’s because we can’t absorb calcium without Vitamin D so the milk producers add it to the milk. We have a tough time using that calcium to build bones without enough D. So while we all know calcium is essential to build and maintain bones and avoid osteoporosis in our later years, that calcium is not useful unless it has its helper- Vitamin D. This means people who follow a vegan diet are also at risk of low D (in addition to B12 and iron).
High blood pressure, heart attacks, strokes, and heart failure are all linked to low levels of Vitamin D as well. Huge clinical trials are being done right now so that we can determine how much of an impact supplementation has on improving heart health.
What we are also realizing is that we have Vitamin D receptors on our immune system cells. People with low D levels are more likely to have auto-immune disorders and increased risk of infection in general. Remember how people with Tuberculosis were sent to sanatoriums to go sit in the sun? And how cod liver oil has been used for centuries for general health? Well sitting in the sun and drinking cod liver oil both increase your Vitamin D level- they were on to something!
Come in and see us at any of our Kelly Goodman Group locations and we can check your Vitamin D level (our Nurse Practitioner draws your blood herself). Once we know your level we can advise you on how best to supplement this essential vitamin and prescribe a prescription strength Vitamin D if needed. Say no to colds and flu this fall and yes to bone and heart health!
Feeling judged for your weight? Here’s why you shouldn’t be discouraged.
Did you see the hashtag #FatSideStories on Twitter last week? A very sad story about being treated cruelly by health care providers was quite common. This really broke my heart. As a health care provider, it can be tough to talk to patients about weight because it is a sensitive subject for so many people. It doesn’t have to be. Let me tell you- this is one reason I love being a Nurse Practitioner. I feel that we really approach healthcare from a team perspective and without judgement. While we have the “expert” opinion to share with patients, we still want to be on the same personal level with them in terms of mutual respect. So, if someone comes to me to with a desire to discuss weight loss, I want to sort out what their story is. What is their day to day lifestyle that is keeping them from losing weight? If they come in with diabetes or blood pressure that is out of control, and weight is a factor, we will be discussing weight and the positive effect of even mild weight loss on those disease states. But if someone comes in for a cough, or STD/STI testing, or anything else unrelated to weight, there will be no discussion of a patient’s weight. When it is appropriate to have a discussion about weight, there is no judgement. If someone needs to lose weight because it is contributing to a chronic condition, we will talk about it. But it is not from a place of lecturing or scorn. It is an opportunity to gather some information from both the patient and the provider, and together come up with some options for treatment that the patient feels will work with their lifestyle, their family, and their personal beliefs and culture. There is no room for judgement in an honest and open relationship between patient and provider. It serves no purpose- whether the touchy subject is weight, sex, drugs, self harm, or anything else that is sensitive to someone. Our goal is to help people achieve their best possible health. So please don’t put off healthcare because you don’t want to deal with the lectures. Come see us instead. No lectures, no judgement, just health.
UTIs: uncomfortable, unexpected, but not untreatable
Are you experiencing recurrent UTI/bladder infections? Although most women (50% by age 32 according to Cleveland Clinic) experience a urinary tract infection, for some people these become a recurring concern. Studies claim anywhere from 20% to 40% of women who get one UTI will develop another. And of course they seem to come at inopportune times- the day before a big work event, on vacation, or with a new sexual partner. So what do you do when that first stab of pain occurs or the burning starts with urination? First, give us a call to stop by for a quick appointment that same day- even on your way to work! We can check a urine sample in office and start you on a safe antibiotic that has low resistance in our area and very low chances of side effects. We can send out a sample for culture to be sure we know exactly what it is and make any necessary adjustments to treatment to be sure it doesn’t come back. We can also prescribe medication that effectively numbs the urethra and soothes the pain (although it does turn your urine bright orange… can anything be subtle?).
So maybe this is your first UTI. In that case just be sure to use best practices to avoid another one: stay hydrated, empty your bladder regularly (including after sex), and wipe front to back after elimination and/or defecation.
But what if this is your second infection in recent memory? Or even your third or fourth? What then? Well you have some options. Let’s get a culture to determine if the germ is resistant to the medications you’ve been taking and simply was never treated effectively. Depending on the severity and frequency of infections, we can start you on various types of antibiotic regimens. However, many people would prefer to try to avoid the use of antibiotics whenever possible or are looking for more natural alternatives. In this case, please consider the use of two supplements. One is D Mannose and the other is lactobacillus.
We’ll start with the D Mannose– this can be used to treat an active mild infection and to prevent future infections. In fact a controlled study showed that patients treated with D Mannose went much longer (200 days vs 52 days) between repeat infections than those treated with an antibiotic (Bactrim orTMP/SMX- a sulfa type of antibiotic). This substance naturally occurs in fruits like red berries (such as cranberries) and fruits like apples and peaches. But it’s difficult to get enough through food sources alone to have an impact on urinary health. D Mannose helps keep the bacteria from attaching to the side of the bladder and so it can then be flushed out easily.
The other preventive treatment is lactobacillus aka probiotics. We hear so much about the countless benefits of probiotics for our immune system and digestive system. In this case, the lactobacillus family of probiotics (indicated by a lower case “L.” on the ingredient list) has been shown to reduce recurrences of UTIs by half, almost as much as an antibiotic regimen. If you also suffer from vaginal yeast infections this could be a wonderful way to reduce chances of another yeast infection or bladder infection.
Click on our website Kelly Goodman Group or give us a call at any of our locations to make an appointment. Stop going to Urgent Care over and over and come to Promenade Primary for your UTI so we can try to make it your last one!
Are walnuts the new superfood?
These days it’s hard to glance at a health magazine, flip past the cooking channel, or chat with your one vegan friend without hearing the word “superfood”. It seems like they just keep coming up with new ones. One week its kale, the next its acai, then before you know it you’re on amazon wondering if you should order some Maca powder from the Andes because apparently it’s a natural energy booster and you can sprinkle it in your smoothie. It’s hard to keep up without getting swept up. So, many people (rightfully so) regard superfoods with a healthy amount of skepticism. A superfood is “a nutrient-rich food considered to be especially beneficial for health and well-being.” That’s a pretty broad definition– it’s no wonder they keep announcing new ones! But please read on about walnuts.
This week I read two interesting articles about walnuts and their correlation to reduced cancer deaths. The British Journal of Cancer recently published an article written by a Harvard researcher reporting that his research had shown that tree nuts in general were found to reduce a man’s chances of dying from prostate cancer. Tree nuts include walnuts, almonds, cashews, macadamias and pine nuts. Now, prostate cancer is typically a slow-growing cancer that occurs later in men’s lives. Interestingly, most men who have it will not die from it, but will die from a completely unrelated cause as the disease is very often asymptomatic. However, after lung cancer, prostate is still the second leading cancer killer among men. It’s an extremely hit-or-miss cancer, to say the least, and so we have to ask: how can men reduce their chances of suffering prostate cancer’s fatal effects? The study looked back at 47,000+ men and found that those who ate tree nuts five times per week had a 34% lower chance of dying from prostate cancer than men who ate nuts less often. Let me be clear: both groups had the same rate of diagnosis of prostate cancer regardless of how many nuts they ate. The tree nuts don’t appear to keep men from developing prostate cancer, but they do seem to make them less likely to die from it.
If you think that sounds bizarre, researchers were pretty puzzled too. The research remains largely inconclusive as to exactly why tree nuts correlate to lower prostate cancer deaths, but several other studies have noticed and documented this relationship as well. The next study I read was published in Cancer Prevention Research and was actually performed on mice not humans, but it still offered some new insights on the topic. Some mice had walnuts added to their standard diet- either a diet of typical mouse kibbles or a Western diet. The mice who consumed walnuts were found to have fewer colon cancer tumors (2.3 fold fewer in the western diet group). The researchers then analyzed the stool of all the mice in the study and found that the mice that had eaten walnuts, especially the males, had more diverse gut biomes than the mice that had not been fed walnuts. More definitive research is needed to determine whether the change in the gut flora is behind the decrease in tumor development or whether it is just yet another benefit of the walnuts. Regardless, the walnuts seem to have had a surprisingly beneficial impact.
So what is it in the nuts that contribute to our health? Is it the B vitamins? The magnesium? Or a plant-specific type of chemical that offers protection against inflammation and cancer and encourages the growth of healthy gut bacteria? Nobody’s totally sure, but I’ll be sure to keep eating Waldorf salad, snacking on walnuts, and adding them to my baked goods any chance I get.
Nakanishi M, Chen Y, Qendro V, et al. Effects of walnut consumption on colon carcinogenesis and microbial community structure [published online May 23, 2016]. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). doi:10.1158/1940-6207.CAPR-16-0026
Wang W, Yang M, Kenfield SA, et al. Nut consumption and prostate cancer risk and mortality. Br J Cancer. 2016 Jun 9. doi:10.1038/bjc.2016.181. [Epub ahead of print]