Sticks and Stones Break Bones, So Does the Silent Disease Osteoporosis

The World Osteoporosis Day (WOD) 2018 campaign calls for global action to improve bone health and prevent fractures due to osteoporosis, including vertebral (spine) fractures — which often remain undiagnosed and untreated.  The public, healthcare professionals and organizations worldwide are joining together to raise awareness of bone health and call for action on osteoporosis and fracture prevention in their communities.

Facts About Osteoporosis

  • Osteoporosis is ahidden, underlying cause of painful, debilitating and life-threatening fractures
  • The most common of osteoporotic fractures are spine (vertebral) fractures, a major cause of pain, disability and loss of quality of life
  • Up to 70% of spine fractures remain undiagnosed, leaving sufferers unprotected against the high risk of more fractures
  • Back pain, height-loss and stooped back are all possible signs of spine fractures – ask for testing and treatment!
  • A family history of osteoporosis and broken bones is a sign that you too may be at higher risk
  • Osteoporosis is a growing global problem that respects no boundaries: worldwide, fractures affect one in three women and one in five men over the age of 50.

 

What is Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis causes bones to become weak and brittle — so brittle a fall or even mild stresses, such as bending over or coughing, can cause a fracture. Osteoporosis-related fractures most commonly occur in the hip, wrist or spine.

Bone is living tissue that is constantly being broken down and replaced. Osteoporosis occurs when the creation of new bone doesn’t keep up with the removal of old bone.

Osteoporosis affects men and women of all races. But white and Asian women — especially older women who are past menopause — are at highest risk. Medications, healthy diet and weight-bearing exercise can help prevent bone loss or strengthen already weak bones.

 

What are the symptoms of Osteoporosis

There typically are no symptoms in the initial stages of bone loss. But once your bones have been weakened by osteoporosis, you may have signs and symptoms that include:

  • Back pain, caused by a fractured or collapsed vertebra
  • Loss of height over time
  • A stooped posture
  • A bone fracture that occurs much more easily than expected

 

What causes Osteoporosis

Osteoporosis weakens bone.  Your bones are in a constant state of renewal — new bone is made, and old bone is broken down. When you’re young, your body makes new bone faster than it breaks down old bone and your bone mass increases. Most people reach their peak bone mass by their early 20s. As people age, bone mass is lost faster than it’s created.

How likely you are to develop osteoporosis depends partly on how much bone mass you attained in your youth. The higher your peak bone mass, the more bone you have “in the bank” and the less likely you are to develop osteoporosis as you age.

 

What are the risk factors of Osteoporosis?

A number of factors can increase the likelihood that you’ll develop osteoporosis — including your age, race, lifestyle choices, and medical conditions and treatments.

Unchangeable risks

Some risk factors for osteoporosis are out of your control, including:

  • Your sex. Women are much more likely to develop osteoporosis than are men.
  • Age. The older you get, the greater your risk of osteoporosis.
  • Race. You’re at greatest risk of osteoporosis if you’re white or of Asian descent.
  • Family history. Having a parent or sibling with osteoporosis puts you at greater risk, especially if your mother or father experienced a hip fracture.
  • Body frame size. Men and women who have small body frames tend to have a higher risk because they may have less bone mass to draw from as they age.
  • Hormone levels

Osteoporosis is more common in people who have too much or too little of certain hormones in their bodies. Examples include:

  • Sex hormones. Lowered sex hormone levels tend to weaken bone. The reduction of estrogen levels in women at menopause is one of the strongest risk factors for developing osteoporosis. Men experience a gradual reduction in testosterone levels as they age. Treatments for prostate cancer that reduce testosterone levels in men and treatments for breast cancer that reduce estrogen levels in women are likely to accelerate bone loss.
  • Thyroid problems. Too much thyroid hormone can cause bone loss. This can occur if your thyroid is overactive or if you take too much thyroid hormone medication to treat an underactive thyroid.
  • Other glands. Osteoporosis has also been associated with overactive parathyroid and adrenal glands.
  • Dietary factors

Osteoporosis is more likely to occur in people who have:

  • Low calcium intake. A lifelong lack of calcium plays a role in the development of osteoporosis. Low calcium intake contributes to diminished bone density, early bone loss and an increased risk of fractures.
  • Eating disorders. Severely restricting food intake and being underweight weakens bone in both men and women.
  • Gastrointestinal surgery. Surgery to reduce the size of your stomach or to remove part of the intestine limits the amount of surface area available to absorb nutrients, including calcium.
  • Steroids and other medications

Long-term use of oral or injected corticosteroid medications, such as prednisone and cortisone, interferes with the bone-rebuilding process. Osteoporosis has also been associated with medications used to combat or prevent:

  • Seizures
  • Gastric reflux
  • Cancer
  • Transplant rejection
  • Medical conditions

The risk of osteoporosis is higher in people who have certain medical problems, including:

  • Celiac disease
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Kidney or liver disease
  • Cancer
  • Lupus
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Lifestyle choices

Some bad habits can increase your risk of osteoporosis. Examples include:

  • Sedentary lifestyle. People who spend a lot of time sitting have a higher risk of osteoporosis than do those who are more active. Any weight-bearing exercise and activities that promote balance and good posture are beneficial for your bones, but walking, running, jumping, dancing and weightlifting seem particularly helpful.
  • Excessive alcohol consumption. Regular consumption of more than two alcoholic drinks a day increases your risk of osteoporosis.
  • Tobacco use. The exact role tobacco plays in osteoporosis isn’t clearly understood, but it has been shown that tobacco use contributes to weak bones.

 

How does osteoporosis cause vertebrae to crumple and collapse?

Bone fractures, particularly in the spine or hip, are the most serious complication of osteoporosis. Hip fractures often are caused by a fall and can result in disability and even an increased risk of death within the first year after the injury.

In some cases, spinal fractures can occur even if you haven’t fallen. The bones that make up your spine (vertebrae) can weaken to the point that they may crumple, which can result in back pain, lost height and a hunched forward posture.

How can you prevent Osteoporosis?

Good nutrition and regular exercise are essential for keeping your bones healthy throughout your life.

Protein

Protein is one of the building blocks of bone. And while most people get plenty of protein in their diets, some do not. Vegetarians and vegans can get enough protein in the diet if they intentionally seek suitable sources, such as soy, nuts, legumes, and dairy and eggs if allowed. Older adults may also eat less protein for assorted reasons. Protein supplementation is an option.

Body weight

Being underweight increases the chance of bone loss and fractures. Excess weight is now known to increase the risk of fractures in your arm and wrist. As such, maintaining an appropriate body weight is good for bones just as it is for health in general.

Calcium

Men and women between the ages of 18 and 50 need 1,000 milligrams of calcium a day. This daily amount increases to 1,200 milligrams when women turn 50 and men turn 70. Reliable sources of calcium include:

  • Low-fat dairy products
  • Dark green leafy vegetables
  • Canned salmon or sardines with bones
  • Soy products, such as tofu
  • Calcium-fortified cereals and orange juice

If you find it difficult to get enough calcium from your diet, consider taking calcium supplements. However, too much calcium has been linked to kidney stones. Although yet unclear, some experts suggest that too much calcium especially in supplements can increase the risk of heart disease. The Institute of Medicine recommends that total calcium intake, from supplements and diet combined, should be no more than 2,000 milligrams daily for people older than 50.

Vitamin D

Vitamin D improves your body’s ability to absorb calcium and improves bone health in other ways. People can get adequate amounts of vitamin D from sunlight, but this may not be a reliable source if you live in a high latitude, if you’re housebound, or if you regularly use sunscreen or avoid the sun entirely because of the risk of skin cancer.

Scientists don’t yet know the optimal daily dose of vitamin D for each person. A good starting point for adults is 600 to 800 international units (IU) a day, through food or supplements. For people without other sources of vitamin D and especially with limited sun exposure, a supplement may be needed. Most multivitamin products contain between 600 and 800 IU of vitamin D. Up to 4,000 IU of vitamin D a day is safe for most people.

Exercise

Exercise can help you build strong bones and slow bone loss. Exercise will benefit your bones no matter when you start, but you’ll gain the most benefits if you start exercising regularly when you’re young and continue to exercise throughout your life.

Combine strength training exercises with weight-bearing and balance exercises. Strength training helps strengthen muscles and bones in your arms and upper spine, and weight-bearing exercises — such as walking, jogging, running, stair climbing, skipping rope, skiing and impact-producing sports — affect mainly the bones in your legs, hips and lower spine. Balance exercises such as tai chi can reduce your risk of falling especially as you get older.

Swimming, cycling and exercising on machines such as elliptical trainers can provide a good cardiovascular workout, but they’re not as helpful for improving bone health.

When to see a doctor

You may want to talk to your doctor about osteoporosis if you went through early menopause or took corticosteroids for several months at a time, or if either of your parents had hip fractures.

You’ll probably first bring your symptoms to the attention of your family doctor, who may refer you to a rheumatologist — a doctor specializing in the treatment of diseases of the joints, muscles and bone. To get the right help, find a rheumatologist or other physician who knows how hard it is to endure bone deteriation.  Go to HealthLynked.com today to build a Free patient profile and begin communicating there with those who will collaborate on your wellness.

Sources adapted from:

mayoclinic.org

 

 

The Good, The Bad, The Hela | by Alexandra de Carpio

Today marks the death of the woman in whom the most famous (and infamous) immortal cell line was discovered.  Henrietta Lacks, a hard-working woman and loving mother, passed away from the virulent Cervical cancer that was taking over her body.  In honor of the woman, whose family just recently won the right to determine what happens with HeLa cells, we are sharing an article from a research student who insightfully describes all that has occurred with this incredible cell line – The Good, The Bad and the HeLa.


Ask most people and they’ll say that being first is best: you win medals at races, get best dibs on cookies at a reception, avoid getting scooped on research, and ride shotgun in a car. Sometimes, however, being first has both positive and negative consequences, as anyone familiar with the history of HeLa cells can tell you.

HeLa cells have the distinction of being the first immortal cell line cultured by scientists. Unlike a normal population of human cells, which divide about 40 to 50 times before dying away, HeLa cells have the remarkable ability to divide indefinitely. Coming in first secured their status as one of the most popular cell lines used by scientists for research, making them the cornerstone of some of the most significant biological advances. UC Berkeley researchers are also no stranger to HeLa: an estimated 200 labs on campus have used HeLa cells. Today, Berkeley scientists have a wider array of cell lines to choose from, but HeLa’s familiarity and hardy growth continues to make it a popular choice.

In the early 1950’s, however, scientists had yet to meet HeLa. In fact, the original HeLa cells were still attached to a living, breathing human being; a woman who put her family first in every situation, even when battling an unyielding cancer. This cancer would overcome her, but her cancerous cells would continue to grow in laboratories across the world. As the first immortal human cell line, HeLa cells, along with their involuntary donor’s family, had to deal with the growing pains of a society who could develop the technology for cell and tissue culture faster than the ethical rules needed to regulate it.

Both the good and the bad, this is the story of a woman, her legendary cells, and how they have touched the lives of research scientists at UC Berkeley.

A prominent mother figure: paving the way for breakthrough research

For most scientists, Henrietta Lacks represents the mother of all HeLa cells. As the first and, for many years, only cell line able to divide indefinitely out of the body, their popularity among research scientists flourished, and HeLa cells quickly became workhorses in the laboratory. Their first formidable task? To aid in the development of the polio vaccine in 1953. Jonas Salk, a virologist at the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, had created a vaccine from inactivated viruses. It seemed promising, but he needed cells—lots of them—to test his vaccine before human trials. HeLa cells were the perfect tool. Not only did they grow vigorously, making it easy to amass the enormous quantity of cells required for the study, but they also become easily infected by the poliomyelitis virus. Within less than a year, the vaccine was ready for human patients.

From there, the list of HeLa’s accomplishments only continued to grow. Known as the mother of virology, cell and tissue culture, and biotechnology, HeLa cells were used to jumpstart research on how viruses act and reprogram cells, as well as to develop standard lab practices for freezing and culturing cells and tissues. Scientists used them to develop cell cloning, in vitro fertilization, and isolation of stem cells, as well as to research AIDS, cancer, and the effects of radiation and toxic substances. HeLa cells have been infected with an array of diseases, from tuberculosis to salmonella, and have helped scientists understand that a normal human cell has 46 chromosomes, thus making genetic disorders easier to diagnose. It is easy to see why many have also named HeLa the mother of modern medicine. HeLa cells were a welcome development for researchers around the world.

For Lawrence, Elsie, Sonny, Deborah, and Zakariyya Lacks, Henrietta was simply known as mom. Described as a strong but caring woman, Henrietta kept her growing family together while her husband, Day, worked at a steel mill. She was no stranger to hard work after growing up with her grandfather on a tobacco farm in Virginia. For the youngest children in the family, however, much of what they know of their mother would come second hand. Henrietta was diagnosed with cervical cancer a mere four and a half months after giving birth to her fifth child, Zakariyya, and would perish from it less than a year later.

Henrietta’s battle with cancer began when, worried about a knot that she felt in her abdomen, she made the 20-mile trip to Johns Hopkins Hospital. At the time, Johns Hopkins was the only option in the area for African Americans seeking medical treatment. A biopsy of her cervix revealed that she had cervical carcinoma, a type of cancer that grows from the epithelial cells that line and protect the cervix. Extensive treatment ensued, which began by inserting tubes of radium into her cervix to reduce the tumor, followed by daily X-ray therapy. Despite the debilitating treatments, Henrietta’s commitment to her family never wavered, and she was able to keep her condition secret from most family members in order to spare them the worry. In turn, she endured much of it alone while Day was at work. Her cancer proved to be too resilient, however, and began to weaken both body and spirit. Tumors overcame nearly all the organs in her abdomen, and relief from the excruciating pain was the only service available at Johns Hopkins. Henrietta passed away on October 4th, 1951.

Her death left a family without its mother.

The birth of HeLa: an exceptional cell line

HeLa as we know it today was born in the lab of George Gey, the director of the Tissue Culture Laboratory at Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s. Gey’s agenda? Cure cancer. His tactic? Develop an immortal human cell line that could be used for research. Fortunately, his position at Johns Hopkins meant he had plenty of tissue samples from which he could try growing human cells in the lab. Unfortunately, most of these cell samples would die within a few generations. That is, until one of them did not: HeLa. Gey obtained HeLa from the surgeon treating Henrietta’s carcinoma, who had been taking cancerous tissue samples from patients for Gey’s research. As with his other samples, Gey named the cell line using the first two letters of the patient’s first and last name. Henrietta Lacks became HeLa.

True to his ultimate goal of curing cancer, Gey was generous with his newly discovered gem, and gave away samples to a few close colleagues working to eradicate cancer. From its beginning in Baltimore, Maryland, HeLa soon traveled the world as scientists far and wide learned of this remarkable immortal cell line.

So, what makes HeLa special? As cancer cells, HeLa cells are unlike normal human cells, and there is no better proof of this than to take a look at its chromosomes, or karyotype. Normal human cells have 46 chromosomes, while HeLa has 76 to 80 heavily mutated chromosomes. The origin of this deviation from normalcy stems from the human papilloma virus (HPV), the cause of nearly all cervical cancers. HPV inserts its DNA into a host cell, causing it to begin producing a protein that binds to and inactivates the native p53 protein. p53 is known as the guardian of the genome due to its role in preventing mutations and suppressing tumors. Non-functional p53 protein can therefore have disastrous consequences.

Relative to other cancer cells, however, HeLa cells still grow unusually fast. Gey was amazed to see that within 24 hours of culturing his first HeLa sample, the number of cells had doubled. The source of this abnormal vigor lies in HeLa’s telomerase enzyme. During normal cell division, the string of repetitive DNA at the tips of all chromosomes, known as telomeres, are shortened. This leads to cell aging and ultimately to apoptosis, or cell death. Normal cells have a maximum number of divisions before these telomeres are depleted. HeLa cells, meanwhile, have an overactive telomerase enzyme that rebuilds telomerases after cell division, thus circumventing the aging process and skirting death. This internal fountain of youth is what has allowed HeLa cells to divide indefinitely, making them now older than Henrietta was when she died.

The birth of HeLa: at the expense of proper consent

For decades, Henrietta’s side of the story has been largely ignored, but thanks to Rebecca Skloot’s novel, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, she finally has a voice. When Henrietta stepped into the public ward of Johns Hopkins on January 29th, 1951, she could have had no knowledge of what was to ensue. She hoped that her radium treatments would cure her of cervical carcinoma. She hoped that she would still be capable of having children. She hoped to see her family thrive and grow. Unfortunately, she was let down on many counts; Henrietta’s cancer proved too powerful for the doctors at Johns Hopkins to treat, despite their best efforts.

No effort, however, was made to treat Henrietta herself as a woman capable of making her own medical decisions. Without question, Henrietta would have opted out of treatment had she been informed that it would leave her infertile, a fact that she only discovered once it was too late. She also never discovered that her surgeon had taken tissue samples for Gey’s research. Would she have consented? Would she have appreciated Gey sending her cells to his colleagues? What about having her cells commercialized and sold for profit, as they are commonly done today? Would she mind that strangers would profit from her cells, selling them to researchers making important medical advances, while her own family is unable to pay for health care?

It’s too late for Henrietta to answer these questions, but her story has forced scientists and doctors to make sure that such questions are addressed by patients and research participants. Since 1991, scientists and doctors have been governed by the Common Rule, which requires them to inform people when they are participating in research, and that their participation be completely voluntary. Patients must sign consent forms which clearly state what the research is, how long it will last, what the potential risks are, if there is any compensation, and more. Unfortunately, the Common Rule did not come soon enough to protect Henrietta’s family. After HeLa cells exploded on the scene and became associated with many significant scientific advances, people became curious about the woman behind the cells. Along with consent, anonymity and privacy were not issues that had been properly addressed in the medical arena, and Henrietta’s identity was soon revealed. Having her name so closely related to HeLa probably did not help.

This is how, 22 years after her death, Henrietta’s children learned that pieces of their mother were still alive and thriving. Scientists came knocking, asking for blood samples to supply the genetic information needed to better understand HeLa. Again, no consent was obtained, and with a limited background in biology, the family misunderstood the purpose of these samples; they thought they were being tested for cancer. Marginalized by the media and the medical community, it would take decades for them to uncover the true story of what happened to their mother and to gain an understanding of what HeLa means to the world today.

Life in the lab as a hearty membrane source

When Pengcheng Zhang steps into his lab in Li Ka Shing Center to start another day, he is often met by HeLa. Zhang is a fifth year molecular and cell biology PhD student working in the lab of Professor Randy Schekman. The Schekman lab focuses on understanding how proteins produced in a cell are shuttled out via the secretory pathway, an intricate assembly of membranes and proteins. Schekman’s goal is to decipher this pathway by pinpointing the proteins and biomolecules that make it run and determining just how they do it. So far, he has been successful in yeast.

“[Schekman] started out in yeast because it’s much less complex than tissues and organs,” explains Zhang. “After about 20 years of work they came up with this protein complex called COPII, which is required for the first step into this secretory pathway.”

COPII (coatomer protein complex II) is a set of five proteins that work together to create vesicles, or sacs, that bud from protein-producing subunits in the cell, known as the endoplasmic reticulum. These vesicles are then transported to other membranes in the cell for unloading, including export through the outer membrane. The Schekman lab was able to recreate the process in test tubes with only the cargo, purified yeast membranes, and COPII, thus identifying the key components required for the secretory pathway. “This is a very central concept in biochemistry: that we can reconstitute biological processes in the test tube,” says Zhang. “We look at biological processes as a series of chemical reactions.”

Although cells are composed of a vast amount of material, if the proper proteins or biomolecules required for a given cellular reaction are identified and isolated, that same reaction can be carried out in a cell-free system. This is how the Schekman lab was able to identify and isolate the COPII complex of yeast. More recently, however, they have set their sights on understanding the secretory pathway in higher order organisms such as mammals. “We know for a fact that in mammals COPII does the same thing,” explains Zhang. “But the thing is, from yeast to humans the number of proteins that go through the secretory pathway expands.”

For some of these larger, more complex proteins, the Schekman lab has found that COPII alone is insufficient in their test tube “cell”. Understanding the modifications, such as additional proteins, that are required for mammalian cells is now the goal. Zhang, for instance, is trying to understand the necessary components for shuttling transforming growth factor alpha (TGF-α), a protein that is involved in the development of epithelial tissue such as skin or the lining of the cervix. This is where HeLa comes in. “HeLa cells are the major membrane source for my biochemical reactions,” says Zhang. “They are desirable in our case because it’s a human cell line and it grows relatively fast.”

Faster growth means more membranes for Zhang’s experiments. Zhang also uses another mammalian cell line derived from rat liver cells to harvest its cytosol, which is the cellular fluid containing all the proteins and biomolecules of the cell. Zhang transfects, or introduces, additional TGF-α cargo into these liver cells in order to yield better signals. By combining purified COPII, HeLa’s cell membranes, where the secretory mechanism occurs, and the harvested cytosol containing the TGF-α cargo and Zhang’s mystery proteins, Zhang has all that he needs to recreate the secretory pathway in vitro. The trick, however, is figuring out which protein or proteins in the cytosol are doing the work.

“We fractionate the cytosol, separate the protein content, and analyze where the activity goes,” explains Zhang. When one of the fractions successfully reproduces the secretory pathway, Zhang knows that it contains his desired protein. Unfortunately, it’s usually not the only protein present. “[The fractions are] not pure enough that we can assign the function to a particular protein or couple of proteins with confidence. That’s why we need many fractionation steps to get down to a pure enough fraction to have confidence to say that we think these things are responsible for this secretory function.”

So far, the protein of interest remains a mystery. Once identified, however, the Schekman lab can determine if changes or mutations in the protein are linked to any human diseases, with the ultimate goal being treatment of such a disease.

Zhang is not the only graduate student at Berkeley taking advantage of HeLa’s utility in the lab. Ann Fischer, who has been running the Tissue Culture Facility in Barker Hall since 1989, supplies HeLa cells for many of the labs who use them today. She is no stranger to HeLa: Fischer has been working in tissue culture facilities, first at UCSF, then at UCLA, and finally here at UC Berkeley, since 1971.

Fischer says the use of HeLa cells by UC Berkeley researchers has gone through various phases during her time here. Initially, she would grow hundreds of liters of HeLa cells for researchers in the biochemistry department to extract large quantities of a given protein of interest.

“That was the heyday of just biochemistry: using cells to get proteins out,” explains Fischer. “People [later] started using cells for overexpression.” Overexpression involves inserting a gene of interest into the DNA of HeLa cells and stimulating the cells to express it, thus enabling researchers to obtain larger quantities of protein with fewer cells. Today, overexpression is still a popular application of HeLa cells, but the utility of HeLa has expanded. Zhang, for instance, uses HeLa to harvest its membranes, while others take advantage of HeLa’s large size for imaging. In the end, HeLa’s vigor is what makes it so popular.

“It’s because they grow so well,” explains Fischer. “That’s the reason people use HeLa cells.”

Life in the lab: as a hearty contaminant

When Professor Gertrude Buehring steps into her lab in Koshland Hall, she is never met by HeLa cells. In fact, she makes a point of it. “We never grow them,” she says. “I wouldn’t want to take that risk, actually.”

Buehring, a professor of virology in the School of Public Health, has a reason to be wary of HeLa. Both her PhD and postdoc careers were spent working at UC Berkeley’s Cell Culture Laboratory housed in the Naval Biosciences Laboratory in Oakland, a cell repository funded by the federal government that characterized and maintained cell lines for research scientists. She happened to be working there at a time when Dr. Walter Nelson-Rees, the co-director, was working hard to expose HeLa’s misdeeds. The vigorous cell’s crime? The contamination of other, less hardy cell lines.

Nelson-Rees was not the first to suspect contamination by HeLa cells. In the 1960s, Dr. Stanley Gartler, a research geneticist, released the initial “HeLa bomb”. Gartler had discovered that the 18 different cell lines he had collected for his research all turned out to be genetically identical, with genes only present in people of African descent. HeLa was a suspect, but many scientists refused to accept the implications of his discovery, and chose instead to ignore it. Ten years later, Nelson-Rees picked up where Gartler left off, and discovered several HeLa specific chromosomal markers that could be used to test the identity of cell lines.

“Since this repository had so many cell lines, [Nelson-Rees] was going through all of them and examining them for these markers,” recalls Buehring. “While he was there he came up with 40, which was more than one expected.”

In that instant, any tissue-specific research that used the cell lines identified as HeLa contaminants was suddenly invalid. How can research on breast cancer cells be taken seriously when the cells used were actually cervical cancer cells all along? It has been estimated that over 500 research papers and more than 20 million dollars of funding have been wasted. The problem stems from the adolescent days of cell culture.

“After Dr. Gey established the HeLa line, everybody was so excited and thought they could establish a human cell line, too,” Buehring explains. Unfortunately, most of these labs did not have the knowledge or equipment to properly culture cells. What they did have was plenty of HeLa cells around, and due to HeLa’s hardiness, a single cell could outgrow and overtake all normal human cells in a culture. “Suddenly everybody was able to establish a human cell line,” jokes Buehring. It turned out that many of them were just HeLa.

Even years after being exposed for what they really were, HeLa contaminants continued to be sold by the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC), one of the largest international cell line repositories, and scientists continued to request the cells they had become so familiar with. In fact, many scientists were hostile towards Nelson-Rees, and unable to accept the implications of his work. Over time, however, the ATCC refused to sell HeLa contaminants. This doesn’t mean, however, that they are no longer used in labs today. Since her days working at the Naval Science Laboratory, Buehring kept HeLa in the back of her mind, and was curious about the extent to which HeLa contaminants were still used, as well as how aware researchers were about HeLa’s potency.

“I couldn’t find any research papers where people actually looked at that,” she says. So, in 2004 she decided to look into it herself. With the help of an undergraduate student, Professor Buehring conducted a survey of researchers known to culture cells and asked what kinds of cell lines they worked with, whether it was for tissue-specific work or not, and if they ever tested the identities of their cell lines. The results surprised her.

“There were so many people who used HeLa cells in their laboratory, and only about 50% did any kind of check to see if there was contamination,” she says. Not only that, but about 60% of respondents had acquired at least one cell line from another laboratory rather than from a repository like the ATCC.

“Often times people will think they’re getting a good cell line from a colleague down the hall, but they don’t know it’s already been contaminated,” she explains. “If it isn’t checked, you never know that.” Buehring herself rarely gets cells from other labs, but if she does, she makes sure to check their identity before trusting them.

The survey also revealed that about 10% of respondents still used HeLa contaminants, 30% of which used them for tissue-specific purposes. The original “HeLa bomb” of the 1960s and 70s had lingering effects, it appeared.

The truth is, however, that many researchers today don’t see HeLa as a contamination threat anymore. “Back when cell cultures started, they were using glass. It was so easy to contaminate,” says Fischer. The use of disposables today helps eliminate some of the threat. “Nowadays, I don’t worry about that at all.”

Like Buehring, Fischer also insists on getting cells from reputable sources like the ATCC; otherwise, she suggests verifying their identity. Going back to frozen stocks of cells every week or two is another method of avoiding contamination. Zhang says that he, too, is not concerned. “If it gets contaminated with a different cell line it’s very recognizable because looking under the microscope every cell line has a very distinct shape,” he explains. HeLa cells, for instance, are often very large and triangular.

Not only have cell culturing methods improved, but HeLa’s days as the easiest and fastest growing cell line are over. New cell lines have emerged that work just as well, if not better, for certain applications. Insect cells, for instance, can also be used to overexpress proteins, but can be grown in larger quantities. This makes them ideal little protein factories for when researchers need large quantities of a given protein for study. “People don’t use HeLa cells as much because they’re harder to grow than insect cells,” says Fischer. “Believe it or not! Harder to grow!”

Bacteria cells are actually the easiest cell type to grow but may not be capable of making some of the more complicated human proteins that often require more intricate modifications before they become fully functional. Yeast cells, which have a more advanced protein assembly system, are the next line of attack, followed by insect cells. Only if these three cell types are unable to produce the human protein of interest do researchers consider human cells such as HeLa.

There are other reasons that HeLa cells are finding themselves at the bottom of the list: as a cancer cell, its DNA is a major liability. “[HeLa cells] have the strangest karyotype,” says Fischer. “They have 3 copies of this, and 2 copies of this, and 5 copies of that. They’re not normal.”

Many researchers today choose to work with cells that more closely resemble normal human cells, thus taking their in vitro systems one step closer to mimicking how a real human functions. IMR-90 cells are one such example. Cultivated from the lungs of a human fetus in the Netherlands, IMR-90s have a normal karyotype with 46 chromosomes. Of course, there are drawbacks to working with “mortal” cells.

“They only go up 60 populations and then they [die],” says Fischer. “We have to thaw those every three weeks.” Not only that, but as the cell line becomes older and older, they show signs of aging and may not be ideal for research anymore. Luckily, Zhang doesn’t have to worry about trying to work with more normal, but finicky, cell lines.

“Since we’re looking at such a fundamental process in the cell, we think that although HeLa cells are very different from normal human cells, the basic processes that keep the cell alive should essentially be unaltered,” reasons Zhang.

Buehring agrees that there is an important distinction between using HeLa to obtain basic cellular material versus using HeLa as a whole cell and expecting all of its cellular processes to be the same. As a “bag to hold the biomolecules of study,” however, they work just fine.   For other purposes, HeLa may not be top dog anymore.

A wealth of information: making research faster and easier

Like a celebrity, the more scientists learn and work with HeLa, the more popular it becomes. It began in the early days of cell culture, when HeLa’s vigor and human origin made it unique. Today, scientists take comfort in HeLa because of its familiarity.

It’s well-characterized because so many labs have been working on it,” explains Zhang. “There are many tools that work with HeLa cells that don’t necessarily work well with obscure cell lines.”

This is because many of these tools or techniques were originally developed using HeLa cells and are thus optimized for them. One example, gene knockdowns, can be used to stop HeLa from expressing a specific protein, thus helping Zhang determine if and how it affects the secretory pathway. HeLa also has good transfection efficiency, ensuring that when Zhang transfects his HeLa cells with a protein, a higher percentage of the population will have his protein of interest.

Not only can HeLa do a lot, we also know a lot about it. As a human cell line, the human genome database becomes an important source of genetic information. Zhang, for instance, uses the database to design his knockdowns and target a specific gene of interest. Though not crucial, HeLa’s specific genome would make things even easier. Luckily, this is now a possibility. Since August of 2013, researchers can submit proposals to gain access to the HeLa genome on the National Institute of Health’s (NIH) database.

“You would know which genes are expressed instead of empirically testing it, which can take a week,” says Zhang. Access to the NIH database would let him see what genes are expressed and to what degree, therefore making it easier to design effective knockdowns.

Simply put, HeLa cells are just plain simple.

 

A wealth of information: crossing the boundaries of privacy

As HeLa’s popularity in the lab grew and the list of medical discoveries reached the ears of non-scientists, public interest sprouted. Articles began to surface that speculated on the identity of this mystery woman. Credit was given to Helen Lane or Helen Larson, until eventually Henrietta’s true identity was revealed.

Researchers, members of the media, and con artists soon hounded the family, all hungry to use them for their genetic information, family history, or as pawns for a fraudulent money-making lawsuit against Johns Hopkins, respectively. No one, however, provided the family with any information in return, and they were often left in the dark about their mother’s final months, the origin of HeLa, and the implications of HeLa in research. The infamous cells became a burden.

This kind of disclosure about a human cell line would be unthinkable today, and rightly so. “Nowadays, if you take their cells, you wouldn’t call them by that patient’s name because of confidentiality,” says Fischer. “What if you found a genetic abnormality that could be traced back to the family?”

Which is, in fact, a very real question posed by members of the Lacks family. In March of 2013, HeLa’s complete genome was published without the family’s knowledge. Researchers like Zhang sit on both sides of the fence on the issue. “It would be helpful to get some genomic information that would be specific to HeLa cells,” he begins, “but there’s this privacy issue, an ethical issue.”

The genome was removed after the family voiced its concerns. A few short months later, however, a compromise was reached, known as the HeLa Genome Data Use Agreement. Researchers can obtain controlled access to the genome after submitting a proposal, and any data obtained from the genome must be openly shared on the NIH database. Access to the genome will be tightly regulated by a committee of six, two of whom are members of the Lacks family.

It may not have been a simple journey, but the family is in the dark no more.

Over the years the family has come to learn about the use and importance of HeLa cells, and the research and medical communities have, in turn, learned to respect them. Credit, in large part, must be given to Rebecca Skloot, whose book, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, was the first to focus on the story of Henrietta and her family rather than HeLa. Skloot took a different, more constructive, approach than the scientists and members of the media who came before her. She chose to work with the family rather than use them and helped them understand all parts of their mother: from life to death to HeLa. In turn, scientists can now learn about the history of the cells they have become so familiar with in the lab and understand their significance outside of the lab.

“The wealth of information that we’ve learned from her cells is just so overwhelming,” says Zhang. Not only has this information resulted in valuable medical advances, research papers, and PhD theses, but also in crucial laws and policies governing the use of cells and tissues, and a greater awareness of cell line contamination. It may be that with good comes bad, but the key is converting the mistakes of the past into something constructive for the future. Zhang would argue that acknowledging those who deserve the credit is also important: “I think we should all be grateful to her.”

 

This article appears in the print edition of the Berkeley Science Review. All authors and editors are graduate students in the Bay Area.

14 Proven Treatments for Restless Leg Syndrome

Restless legs syndrome (RLS), also called Willis-Ekbom Disease, causes unpleasant or uncomfortable sensations in the legs and an irresistible urge to move them.  Symptoms commonly occur in the late afternoon or evening hours and are often most severe at night when a person is resting, such as sitting or lying in bed.  They also may occur when someone is inactive and sitting for extended periods (for example, when taking a trip by plane or watching a movie).

Since symptoms can increase in severity during the night, it could become difficult to fall asleep or return to sleep after waking up.  Moving the legs or walking typically relieves the discomfort but the sensations often recur once the movement stops.

What is restless legs syndrome?

RLS is classified as a sleep disorder since the symptoms are triggered by resting and attempting to sleep, and as a movement disorder, since people are forced to move their legs in order to relieve symptoms.  It is, however, best characterized as a neurological sensory disorder with symptoms that are produced from within the brain itself.

RLS is one of several disorders that can cause exhaustion and daytime sleepiness, which can strongly affect mood, concentration, job and school performance, and personal relationships.  Many people with RLS report they are often unable to concentrate, have impaired memory, or fail to accomplish daily tasks.  Untreated moderate to severe RLS can lead to about a 20 percent decrease in work productivity and can contribute to depression and anxiety.  It also can make traveling difficult.

It is estimated that up to 7-10 percent of the U.S. population may have RLS.  RLS occurs in both men and women, although women are more likely to have it than men.   It may begin at any age.  Many individuals who are severely affected are middle-aged or older, and the symptoms typically become more frequent and last longer with age.

More than 80 percent of people with RLS also experience periodic limb movement of sleep (PLMS).  PLMS is characterized by involuntary leg (and sometimes arm) twitching or jerking movements during sleep that typically occur every 15 to 40 seconds, sometimes throughout the night.  Although many individuals with RLS also develop PLMS, most people with PLMS do not experience RLS.

Fortunately, most cases of RLS can be treated with non-drug therapies and if necessary, medications.

What are common signs and symptoms of restless legs?

People with RLS feel the irresistible urge to move, which is accompanied by uncomfortable sensations in their lower limbs that are unlike normal sensations experienced by people without the disorder.  The sensations in their legs are often difficult to define but may be described as aching throbbing, pulling, itching, crawling, or creeping.  These sensations less commonly affect the arms, and rarely the chest or head.

Although the sensations can occur on just one side of the body, they most often affect both sides.  They can also alternate between sides. The sensations range in severity from uncomfortable to irritating to painful.

Because moving the legs (or other affected parts of the body) relieves the discomfort, people with RLS often keep their legs in motion to minimize or prevent the sensations.  They may pace the floor, constantly move their legs while sitting, and toss and turn in bed.

A classic feature of RLS is that the symptoms are worse at night with a distinct symptom-free period in the early morning, allowing for more refreshing sleep at that time.  Some people with RLS have difficulty falling asleep and staying asleep.  They may also note a worsening of symptoms if their sleep is further reduced by events or activity.

RLS symptoms may vary from day to day, in severity and frequency, and from person to person.  In moderately severe cases, symptoms occur only once or twice a week but often result in significant delay of sleep onset, with some disruption of daytime function.  In severe cases of RLS, the symptoms occur more than twice a week and result in burdensome interruption of sleep and impairment of daytime function.

People with RLS can sometimes experience remissions — spontaneous improvement over a period of weeks or months before symptoms reappear — usually during the early stages of the disorder.  In general, however, symptoms become more severe over time.

People who have both RLS and an associated medical condition tend to develop more severe symptoms rapidly.  In contrast, those who have RLS that is not related to any other condition show a very slow progression of the disorder, particularly if they experience onset at an early age; many years may pass before symptoms occur regularly.

What causes restless legs syndrome?

In most cases, the cause of RLS is unknown (called primary RLS).  However, RLS has a genetic component and can be found in families where the onset of symptoms is before age 40.  Specific gene variants have been associated with RLS.  Evidence indicates that low levels of iron in the brain also may be responsible for RLS.

Considerable evidence also suggests that RLS is related to a dysfunction in one of the sections of the brain that control movement (called the basal ganglia) that use the brain chemical dopamine.  Dopamine is needed to produce smooth, purposeful muscle activity and movement.  Disruption of these pathways frequently results in involuntary movements.  Individuals with Parkinson’s disease, another disorder of the basal ganglia’s dopamine pathways, have increased chance of developing RLS.

RLS also appears to be related to or accompany the following factors or underlying conditions:

  • end-stage renal disease and hemodialysis
  • iron deficiency
  • certain medications that may aggravate RLS symptoms, such as antinausea drugs (e.g. prochlorperazine or metoclopramide), antipsychotic drugs (e.g., haloperidol or phenothiazine derivatives), antidepressants that increase serotonin (e.g., fluoxetine or sertraline), and some cold and allergy medications that contain older antihistamines (e.g., diphenhydramine)
  • use of alcohol, nicotine, and caffeine
  • pregnancy, especially in the last trimester; in most cases, symptoms usually disappear within 4 weeks after delivery
  • neuropathy (nerve damage).

Sleep deprivation and other sleep conditions like sleep apnea also may aggravate or trigger symptoms in some people.  Reducing or completely eliminating these factors may relieve symptoms.

How is restless legs syndrome diagnosed?

Since there is no specific test for RLS, the condition is diagnosed by a doctor’s evaluation.  The five basic criteria for clinically diagnosing the disorder are:

  • A strong and often overwhelming need or urge to move the legs that is often associated with abnormal, unpleasant, or uncomfortable sensations.
  • The urge to move the legs starts or get worse during rest or inactivity.
  • The urge to move the legs is at least temporarily and partially or totally relieved by movements.
  • The urge to move the legs starts or is aggravated in the evening or night.
  • The above four features are not due to any other medical or behavioral condition.

A physician will focus largely on the individual’s descriptions of symptoms, their triggers and relieving factors, as well as the presence or absence of symptoms throughout the day.  A neurological and physical exam, plus information from the person’s medical and family history and list of current medications, may be helpful.  Individuals may be asked about frequency, duration, and intensity of symptoms; if movement helps to relieve symptoms; how much time it takes to fall asleep; any pain related to symptoms; and any tendency toward daytime sleep patterns and sleepiness, disturbance of sleep, or daytime function.

Laboratory tests may rule out other conditions such as kidney failure, iron deficiency anemia (which is a separate condition related to iron deficiency), or pregnancy that may be causing symptoms of RLS.  Blood tests can identify iron deficiencies as well as other medical disorders associated with RLS.

In some cases, sleep studies such as polysomnography (a test that records the individual’s brain waves, heartbeat, breathing, and leg movements during an entire night) may identify the presence of other causes of sleep disruption (e.g., sleep apnea), which may impact management of the disorder.  Periodic limb movement of sleep during a sleep study can support the diagnosis of RLS but, again, is not exclusively seen in individuals with RLS.

Diagnosing RLS in children may be especially difficult, since it may be hard for children to describe what they are experiencing, when and how often the symptoms occur, and how long symptoms last.  Pediatric RLS can sometimes be misdiagnosed as “growing pains” or attention deficit disorder.

How is restless legs syndrome treated?

RLS can be treated, with care directed toward relieving symptoms.  Moving the affected limb(s) may provide temporary relief.  Sometimes RLS symptoms can be controlled by finding and treating an associated medical condition, such as peripheral neuropathy, diabetes, or iron deficiency anemia.

Iron supplementation or medications are usually helpful, but no single medication effectively manages RLS for all individuals.  Trials of different drugs may be necessary.  In addition, medications taken regularly may lose their effect over time or even make the condition worse, making it necessary to change medications.

Treatment options for RLS include:

Lifestyle changes.  Certain lifestyle changes and activities may provide some relief in persons with mild to moderate symptoms of RLS.  These steps include avoiding or decreasing the use of alcohol and tobacco, changing or maintaining a regular sleep pattern, a program of moderate exercise, and massaging the legs, taking a warm bath, or using a heating pad or ice pack.  There are new medical devices that have been cleared by the U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA), including a foot wrap that puts pressure underneath the foot and another that is a pad that delivers vibration to the back of the legs.  Aerobic and leg-stretching exercises of moderate intensity also may provide some relief from mild symptoms.

Healthy sleep habits.  Having good sleep habits is advisable for anyone, but perhaps especially for people who have trouble sleeping, such as those with RLS.

While sleeping better may not resolve your RLS symptoms, it could help you offset the sleep loss you suffer from your condition.

Try the following tips to make your sleep as restful and restorative as possible.

  • Go to sleep and wake up at the same times each day.
  • Keep your sleep area cool, quiet, and dark.
  • Keep distractions, such as the TV and phone, to a minimum in your bedroom.
  • Avoid electronic screens for the two to three hours before you go to sleep. Blue light from these screens can throw off your circadian rhythm, which helps you keep a natural sleep cycle

Iron and Vitamin Supplements.  For individuals with low or low-normal blood tests called ferritin and transferrin saturation, a trial of iron supplements is recommended as the first treatment.  Iron supplements are available over-the-counter.  A common side effect is upset stomach, which may improve with use of a different type of iron supplement.  Because iron is not well-absorbed into the body by the gut, it may cause constipation that can be treated with stool softeners such as polyethylene glycol.  In some people, iron supplementation does not improve a person’s iron levels.  Others may require iron given through an IV line in order to boost the iron levels and relieve symptoms.

In addition, vitamin D deficiency could be linked with RLS. A 2014 study found that vitamin D supplements reduced RLS symptoms in people with RLS and vitamin D deficiency.

And for people on hemodialysis, vitamins C and E supplements may help relieve RLS symptoms.

Exercise can help you feel better if you have RLS.  The National Institutes of Health states that moderate exercise may help ease mild RLS symptoms.

And a 2006 study of 23 people with RLS found that aerobic exercise and lower body resistance training, done three times per week for 12 weeks, significantly decreased RLS symptom.

Other studies have also found exercise very effective for RLS, especially in people with ESRD.

Given these studies, plus others showing that activity can help improve sleep, exercise seems a natural fit for people with RLS.

One recommendation from the Restless Legs Foundation — exercise in moderation. Don’t work out to the point of aches and pains, as this could make your RLS symptoms worse.

Yoga and stretching.  Like other types of exercise, yoga and stretching exercises have been shown to have benefits for people with RLS.

A 2013 eight-week study of 10 women found that yoga helped reduce their RLS symptoms. It also helped improve their mood and reduce their stress levels, which could in turn improve their sleep. And a 2012 study showed that yoga improved sleep in 20 women with RLS.

Another study showed that stretching exercises made significant improvements in the RLS symptoms of people on hemodialysis.

It’s not entirely clear to researchers why yoga and stretching works, and more research would be beneficial. But given these results, you might want to add some calf and upper leg stretches to your daily exercise routine.

Massaging your leg muscles could help ease your RLS symptoms. Many health organizations, such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Sleep Foundation, suggest it as an at-home treatment,  Although there’s not a lot of other research that backs up massage as an RLS treatment, a 2007 case study illustrated its benefits.

A 35-year-old woman who had 45-minute leg massages twice a week for three weeks had improved RLS symptoms throughout that time period. Her massages included a range of techniques, including Swedish massage and direct pressure to leg muscles.

Her RLS symptoms eased after two massage treatments and didn’t start to return until two weeks after the massage regimen ended.  The author of that study suggested that the increased release of dopamine caused by massage could be a reason for the benefits. Also, massage has been shown to improve circulation, so that might be a reason for its effects on RLS.

As an added bonus, massage can aid in relaxation, which could help improve your sleep.

Foot wrap (restiffic)A foot wrap has been shown to help relieve RLS symptoms.

Called restiffic, the foot wrap puts pressure on certain points on the bottom of your foot. The pressure sends messages to your brain, which responds by telling the muscles affected by RLS to relax. This helps relieve your RLS symptoms.

A 2013 study of 30 people using the foot wrap for eight weeks found significant improvements in RLS symptoms and sleep quality.

The restiffic foot wrap is available by prescription only, and per the company’s website, it costs about $200. It may or may not be covered by your insurance.

Pneumatic compression.  If you’ve ever stayed overnight in the hospital, you may have had pneumatic compression. This treatment uses a “sleeve” that goes over your leg and inflates and deflates, gently squeezing and releasing your limb.

In the hospital, a pneumatic compression device (PCD) is typically used to improve circulation and prevent blood clots. Improved circulation might also be the reason pneumatic compression has been shown to help relieve RLS symptoms.

Some researchers believe that a cause of RLS is low oxygen levels in the limbs. They think that the body responds to this problem by increasing circulation via the muscle contractions that occur when the person moves their limb.

Whatever the reason, some research has shown that pneumatic compression can help relieve RLS symptoms.

A 2009 study of 35 people who used a PCD for at least an hour every day for a month had markedly improved RLS symptoms, sleep quality, and daytime function. However, other research has not shown the same effects.

Some PCDs are rented, and others can be purchased over the counter or with a prescription. Insurance coverage for a PCD might be easier to acquire for people who can’t tolerate RLS medication

Vibration pad (Relaxis).  A vibrating pad called the Relaxis pad may not relieve your RLS symptoms, but it could help you sleep better.

You use the vibrating pad while you’re at rest or sleeping. You place the pad on the affected area, such as your leg, and set it to the desired vibration intensity. The pad vibrates for 30 minutes and then shuts itself off….

The idea behind the pad is that the vibrations provide “counter stimulation.” That is, they override the uncomfortable sensations caused by RLS making you feel the vibrations instead of your symptoms.

There’s not a lot of research available on the Relaxis pad, and it hasn’t been shown to actually relieve RLS symptoms. However, it has been shown to improve sleep.

In fact, one study found it to be as effective in improving sleep as the four FDA-approved RLS drugs: ropinirole, pramipexole, gabapentin, and rotigotine.

The Relaxis pad is available only by prescription from your doctor. Per the company website, the device is not covered by insurance, and it costs a little over $600.

Near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS).  A noninvasive treatment that’s not yet in wide use for this purpose could help relieve RLS symptoms.

This painless treatment is called near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). With NIRS, light beams with long wavelengths are used to penetrate the skin. The light causes blood vessels to dilate, increasing circulation.

One theory posits that RLS is caused by low oxygen levels in the affected area. It’s thought that the increased circulation caused by NIRS increases that oxygen level, helping to relieve the RLS symptoms.

Several studies have found this treatment effective. One study treated 21 people with RLS with NIRS three times per week for four weeks. Both circulation and RLS symptoms showed significant improvement.

Another showed that people treated with twelve 30-minute treatments of NIRS over four weeks also had significantly reduced symptoms of RLS. Symptoms were improved up to four weeks after treatment ended.

NIRS devices can be purchased online for several hundred dollars to over $1,000.

Anti-seizure drugs.  Anti-seizure drugs are becoming the first-line prescription drugs for those with RLS.  The FDA has approved gabapentin enacarbil for the treatment of moderate to severe RLS, This drug appears to be as effective as dopaminergic treatment (discussed below) and, at least to date, there have been no reports of problems with a progressive worsening of symptoms due to medication (called augmentation).  Other medications may be prescribed “off-label” to relieve some of the symptoms of the disorder.

Other anti-seizure drugs such as the standard form of gabapentin and pregabalin can decrease such sensory disturbances as creeping and crawling as well as nerve pain.  Dizziness, fatigue, and sleepiness are among the possible side effects.  Recent studies have shown that pregabalin is as effective for RLS treatment as the dopaminergic drug pramipexole, suggesting this class of drug offers equivalent benefits.

Dopaminergic agents.  These drugs, which increase dopamine effect, are largely used to treat Parkinson’s disease.  They have been shown to reduce symptoms of RLS when they are taken at nighttime.  The FDA has approved ropinirole, pramipexole, and rotigotine to treat moderate to severe RLS.  These drugs are generally well tolerated but can cause nausea, dizziness, or other short-term side effects.  Levodopa plus carbidopa may be effective when used intermittently, but not daily.

Although dopamine-related medications are effective in managing RLS symptoms, long-term use can lead to worsening of the symptoms in many individuals.  With chronic use, a person may begin to experience symptoms earlier in the evening or even earlier until the symptoms are present around the clock.  Over time, the initial evening or bedtime dose can become less effective, the symptoms at night become more intense, and symptoms could begin to affect the arms or trunk.  Fortunately, this apparent progression can be reversed by removing the person from all dopamine-related medications.

Another important adverse effect of dopamine medications some experience is the development of impulsive or obsessive behaviors such as obsessive gambling or shopping.  Should they occur, these behaviors can be improved or reversed by stopping the medication.

Opioids.  Drugs such as methadone, codeine, hydrocodone, or oxycodone are sometimes prescribed to treat individuals with more severe symptoms of RLS who did not respond well to other medications.  Side effects include constipation, dizziness, nausea, exacerbation of sleep apnea, and the risk of addiction; however, very low doses are often effective in controlling symptoms of RLS.

Benzodiazepines.  These drugs can help individuals obtain a more restful sleep.  However, even if taken only at bedtime they can sometimes cause daytime sleepiness, reduce energy, and affect concentration.  Benzodiazepines such as clonazepam and lorazepam are generally prescribed to treat anxiety, muscle spasms, and insomnia.  Because these drugs also may induce or aggravate sleep apnea in some cases, they should not be used in people with this condition.  These are last-line drugs due to their side effects.

Treatments with less scientific backup

 The above treatments have some research to support their use. Other treatments have less evidence but may still work for some people with RLS.

Hot and cold treatments .  While there’s not a lot of research backing up using heat and cold to relieve RLS symptoms, many healthcare organizations recommend it. They include the National Sleep Foundation and the Restless Legs Syndrome Foundation.

These organizations suggest taking a hot or cold bath before going to bed, or applying hot or cold packs to your legs.

Some people’s RLS symptoms are aggravated by cold, while others have problems with heat. This could explain the benefits of these hot or cold treatments.

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS).  A noninvasive procedure that’s typically used to treat depression could be helpful in relieving RLS symptoms. So far, studies have been limited and more research is needed, but the results are promising .

Repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS) sends magnetic impulses to certain areas of the brain.

It’s not entirely clear why rTMS could help relieve RLS symptoms. One theory is that the impulses increase the release of dopamine in the brain. Another suggests that rTMS could help calm the hyperarousal in parts of the brain that are associated with RLS.

In one 2015 study, 14 people with RLS were given 14 sessions of rTMS over 18 days. The sessions significantly improved their RLS symptoms and improved their sleep. The results lasted for at least two months after the treatment ended.

Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS).  With transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), a device sends small electrical currents to parts of your body to help relieve pain.

There’s not a lot of research on the use of TENS to treat RLS, but it could work.

The idea is that like the Relaxis vibrating pad, it uses counter stimulation. One study showed that regular use of TENS along with a vibration treatment completely relieved one man’s RLS symptoms.

Acupuncture can be helpful in the treatment of many health conditions, and RLS might be one of them.

A 2015 study of 38 people with RLS who were treated with acupuncture for six weeks showed that their abnormal leg activity from RLS was greatly reduced.

However, more research is needed to confirm acupuncture as a reliable treatment for RLS.

Surgery for varicose veins.  For people with certain circulatory issues, surgery could be the most effective treatment for their RLS.

Varicose veins are enlarged blood vessels, often in the legs, that overfill with blood. This increased amount of blood can lead to superficial venous insufficiency (SVI), which means your body can’t properly circulate blood. As a result, the blood pools in your legs.

In a 2008 study, 35 people with SVI and RLS had a procedure called endovenous laser ablation to treat their varicose veins. Of the 35 people, 84 percent of them had their RLS symptoms significantly improved or completely eliminated by the surgery.

Again, more research is needed on this surgery as a treatment for RLS.

What is the prognosis for people with restless legs syndrome?

RLS is generally a lifelong condition for which there is no cure.  However, current therapies can control the disorder, minimize symptoms, and increase periods of restful sleep.  Symptoms may gradually worsen with age, although the decline may be somewhat faster for individuals who also suffer from an associated medical condition.  A diagnosis of RLS does not indicate the onset of another neurological disease, such as Parkinson’s disease.  In addition, some individuals have remissions—periods in which symptoms decrease or disappear for days, weeks, months, or years—although symptoms often eventually reappear.  If RLS symptoms are mild, do not produce significant daytime discomfort, or do not affect an individual’s ability to fall asleep, the condition does not have to be treated.

What research is being done?

The mission of the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS) is to seek fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease.  The NINDS is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the leading supporter of biomedical research in the world.

While the direct cause of RLS is often unknown, changes in the brain’s signaling pathways are likely to contribute to the disease.  In particular, researchers suspect that impaired transmission of dopamine signals in the brain’s basal ganglia may play a role.  There is a relationship between genetics and RLS.  However, currently there is no genetic testing.  NINDS-supported research is ongoing to help discover genetic relationships and to better understand what causes the disease.

The NINDS also supports research on why the use of dopamine agents to treat RLS, Parkinson’s disease, and other movement disorders can lead to impulse control disorders, with aims to develop new or improved treatments that avoid this adverse effect.

The brain arousal systems appear to be overactive in RLS and may produce both the need to move when trying to rest and the inability to maintain sleep.  NINDS-funded researchers are using advanced magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to measure brain chemical changes in individuals with RLS and evaluate their relation to the disorder’s symptoms in hopes of developing new research models and ways to correct the overactive arousal process.  Since scientists currently don’t fully understand the mechanisms by which iron gets into the brain and how those mechanisms are regulated, NINDS-funded researchers are studying the role of endothelial cells—part of the protective lining called the blood-brain barrier that separates circulating blood from the fluid surrounding brain tissue—in the regulation of cerebral iron metabolism.  Results may offer new insights to treating the cognitive and movement symptoms associated with these disorders.

The takeaway

RLS can cause significant discomfort, sleep issues, and problems with daily functioning, so treatment should be a priority. Your first step should be to try the at-home options on this list. But if they don’t help you, be sure to talk to your doctor.

Your doctor can provide more information about each of these treatments and which one — or ones — might be a good choice for you.

Keep in mind that what works for one person may not work for another, and you may need to try several different drugs or treatments. Keep trying until you find the treatment plan that works for you.

Whatever health concerns you have today, making sure you are connected to the right physicians and they have all of your most up to date information is what HealthLynked is all about.  It is the first of its kind social ecosystem designed to “Lynk” patients with their healthcare team in new ways to ensure they receive the best possible care and are restored to the best health possible.

Ready to get “Lynked”?  Go to HealthLynked.com, right now, and get signed up for free.

 

Sources:

ninds.nih.gov

healthline.com

 

 

 

 

 

Help is Needed to Tackle Childhood Cancers and Improve Survivorship

Each year, over 15,000 kids and young adults are diagnosed with cancer—that’s about 42 per day.

Though the 5-year-survival rate for childhood cancers has reached over 80 percent, nearly 2,000 kids under age 19 are taken from us each year – this makes cancer the leading killer of children by disease.

And that’s just in the United States. In 2016, over 300,000 kids and young adults were diagnosed worldwide.

Today is National Tackle Kids Cancer Day, originally established by the Children’s Cancer Institute at Hackensack University Medical Center as a day to raise awareness about the challenges and make it possible for everyone to be part of the cure by raising funds for pediatric cancer research.  National Tackle Kids Cancer Day supports the innovative research and patient care programs at CCI and its efforts to pioneer over a dozen clinical trials to treat aggressive types of pediatric cancer.  Additionally, Tackle Kids Cancer funds the Cure and Beyond Program – one of the handful survivorship programs for pediatric cancer survivors in the country.

Cancer in Little Ones is a BIG problem:

Children’s cancer cannot be treated exactly like adult cancers, where most of federal research funding goes.  Current treatments are devastatingly toxic, affect a child’s development and are often decades old.

  • To treat childhood cancer in the best way possible, we need to create specialized treatments just for kids, yet only 4% of all federal cancer funds go to pediatric care and research.
  • The causes of childhood cancer are largely unknown. We need to study what causes childhood cancer to understand what treatments work best.
  • Many childhood cancer survivors in the U.S. suffer from lifelong damage to their organs, mental health and more. We must understand how treatments affect kids long-term and discover methods to prevent late effects.

Post-Treatment and Survivorship Research

Childhood cancer leaves a lasting impact on children and their families. Even after treatment ends, ongoing effects of cancer treatment may pose challenges for survivors. Children and young adults, along with their families, may experience significant changes to their lifestyle.

As researchers continuously work to increase the survivorship rates for childhood cancer, they’re also studying ways to improve the health and well-being of survivors after the cancer has been treated.

Today, there are an estimated 15.5 million childhood cancer survivors in the U.S. and survivorship research is more important than ever.

Late and Lasting Effects

Toxic cancer treatments often cause lasting effects on a child’s body. These effects can last months or years after treatment ends.

Effects will vary depending on the type of cancer and form of treatment a child receives.  A few common late effects may include:

  • Memory or hearing loss
  • Learning disabilities
  • Nerve damage, pain and weakness
  • Stunted bone growth
  • Secondary cancers
  • More cavities or loss of teeth
  • Heart damage
  • Delayed or early puberty and infertility
  • Depression and anxiety

Health Care After Cancer

Survivors should create a plan with their care team to help them practice a healthy lifestyle and cope with any possible late effects that they may experience. Regular follow up appointments with a care team are critical to monitoring late effects and the long-term health of childhood cancer survivors. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is especially important for survivors.

Children’s Cancer Research Fund supports ongoing research to help understand survivorship. Each year, they help to underwrite the Survivorship Conference, held by the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota. This initiative gets cancer survivors together to talk about common experiences they face. Panel discussions, researcher presentations and keynote speakers are just a few elements offered at the Survivorship Conference.

About Tackle Kids Cancer

Tackle Kids Cancer is a philanthropic initiative of the Children’s Cancer Institute at the Joseph M. Sanzari Children’s Hospital at Hackensack Meridian Health Hackensack University Medical Center dedicated to finding a cure for pediatric cancer.  Funds raised support pediatric cancer research and innovative patient services.

Pediatric cancer is the number one cause of death by disease in children. The Children’s Cancer Institute is the only center conducting bone marrow transplants and the only site for the new immunotherapy CAR-T treatment in New Jersey. The Children’s Cancer Institute provides a growing research program, including pioneering work in neuro-oncology, and is home to Cure and Beyond, a pediatric cancer survivorship program, providing services and medical support for pediatric cancer survivors.

Community supporters and corporate partners are dedicated to supporting the essential work toward a cure for pediatric cancer. To date, Tackle Kids Cancer has raised more than $5 million to support its mission. For additional information, please visit TackleKidsCancer.org

Get Connected

Everyday, you can find physicians in your area who are looking for new and unique ways to connect and collaborate with you on your care and the wellness of your family.  You might find them in HealthLynked – the first of its kind social ecosystem designed to truly allow patients and physicians to engage online in ways never before possible.

If you are enduring the challenges of Childhood Cancer, or any other disease, find strength and real connectedness by getting Lynked.  Go to HealthLynked.com to sign up for free and start taking control of your family’s health.

Adapted from:

childrenscancer.org

tacklekidscancer.org

A Woman’s Story of Overcoming PCOS | 20 (plus) things you Need to Know

If you are looking for the stuff you “need to know” from the title, it’s further on down in the article.  In observance of PCOS Awareness Month, we thought we would share the true story of a young woman living with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).  I know her well but interviewed her for the article anyway.  She’s my super cool middle, Delaney.

Delaney grew up a very active, wonderfully gregarious kid who moved around a few times with the Navy until we exited and settled in SoCar – that’s South Carolina, for those who don’t know.  A natural athlete, fast, nimble and taller than her peers, she quickly found herself to be a standout soccer player.  She didn’t know she couldn’t score every time she had the ball at her feet, and so she did.  Because she was quick and had incredible endurance, she also was recruited by the track coach to run the varsity 800m in seventh grade, along with a teammate who was her opposite on the field.

But soccer was her thing, and she eventually dropped the spikes to focus solely on futbol.  Running upwards of 8 miles every day in practice – anywhere from trotting to full Sprint, even backwards and sideways as an outside midfielder, she was fit in all the ways a peak performing Athlete would be.  To fuel it all, she would eat FOUR big meals every day – each bigger than those her 220 lbs weight Training father would consume.  She ate it and burned it with a ferocity on the Field we all admired.

Attack, fight, victory was her personal motto, in everything and in all ways.  Then came college.  She decided to focus on her studies and didn’t go out for the team.  In fact, just about every bit of working out came to a screeching halt.  And then, her period stopped….for a full year.

She had gained the average “freshman fifteen”, which wasn’t surprising when considering her eating habits, if anything, were filling her with added calories, and she had stopped using those calories on the field.  So, if she had always had her period as an athlete and now had even more body fat, why was she experiencing amenorrhea  (the technical term for missing your period)?   Stress?  All the life changes in general?  Purely hormonal?

Poly cystic ovarian syndrome is, at its most basic level, a hormonal imbalance, where too much of the “male” hormones are produced in a female.  While the only apparent symptom she displayed at the time was amenorrhea, her ever diligent homeopathic healer in residence, aka, her mom, was convinced she had PCOS.

First stop, her old pediatrician, who told her everything was normal; but she could go on birth control to start her period again.  After all, having one is important for so many other things in a young woman’s life, like the other hormones it generates that aid in creating increased bone density.

Not enough info, so on to an Ob/Gyn.  There, the feedback was little more along the lines of what her mom had already assumed, but they were even skeptical.  “So, let’s get an ultrasound,” my wife suggested.  The physician said you couldn’t see PCOS on an ultrasound.  As a DMS, my wife knew better.

On ultrasound, it was clear her ovaries were encased in cysts.  They were covered in follicles too numerous to count – today, 20 on an ovary will typically be used as a clear diagnosis.

Diagnosis in hand, the physician gave her the long list of troubles she was set to endure in her life – infertility, type II diabetes, a constant struggle with weight gain, hirsutism, and skin issues to name a few.  And, as if on queue, while the lack of period was the only thing she went to the physician for, she began to experience all of the negative symptoms save diabetes.

“I started to use PCOS as an excuse to eat whatever I wanted,” she says today.  “I just stopped caring about what I put in my body,” and she may have even begun to somewhat celebrate the new-found freedom from lack of discipline around diet.  Pictures of food became the standard in her social feed, and she did start to suffer the weight gain her MD predicted.  Along with that came the added pain of body image issues.

She started taking birth control to manage her cycle, and it worked.  At least, it did ensure she became regular; but deep down inside, she knew it wasn’t fixing the problem.  “I knew it was a bandaid put on to cover what was really wrong, so I quit after a year.  It wasn’t really doing anything.  It definitely was not helping fix whatever was at the root,” she said to me this Labor Day morning.

She finished college as a star student, winning all but one of the math awards given out by the University of South Carolina.  I guess I forgot to mention, she’s also brilliant, and I am very proud, of her and all of our kids.  On to New York City!

Always called to serve, Delaney decided to teach in the high schools of the Bronx.  She was not sure if it was the added stress or the increased disregard for dietary discipline, but she added even more weight with the move, though she began to workout more than before.  And, the skin issues and extra hair growth kicked in….

“I began to understand I had to do something.  Thankfully, Mom has always been a huge proponent of natural healing, so I started a few different regiments of eating more mindfully and living more intentionally,” Delaney says now.  She went through a few rounds of Whole 30, and really started to stop eating when full.  “I used to empty my plate, no matter what;… but now come home with leftovers routinely,” she says.  “If I want to have pizza, I still have pizza.  I just don’t eat a WHOLE pizza.”

The changes in diet and exercise, along with a few other healthy changes in her life, over a two-year period, have restored this vivacious young lady to the same level of health she had when she entered college in 2011.  She would say her PCOS is in remission.

“I still wonder, on occasion, about my ability to have a family; but, since my cycle is normal, naturally, I am ovulating, and my health is optimized, I think that won’t be a problem, either.”  We hope not!  We love grandkids!

Delaney would tell anyone asking her results may not be normal.  She would encourage you to seek to control PCOS in the most natural ways possible – through diet, exercise and healthy living – but she also acknowledges those methods may not be for everyone.  Definitely seek medical counsel.

So, What Is PCOS, Really?

Polycystic ovary syndrome is a hormonal condition. Hormones are substances your body makes to help make different processes happen. Some are related to your ability to have a baby, and also affect your menstrual cycle. Those that are involved in PCOS include.

  • Androgens: Often called “male” hormones, women have them, too. Those with PCOS tend to have higher levels, which can cause symptoms like hair loss, hair in places you don’t want it (such as on your face), and trouble getting pregnant.
  • Insulin: This hormone manages your blood sugar. If you have PCOS, your body might not react to insulin the way that it should.
  • Progesterone: With PCOS, your body may not have enough of this hormone. That can make you to miss your periods for a long time, or to have periods that are hard to predict.

With PCOS, your reproductive hormones are out of balance. This can lead to problems with your ovaries, such as not having your period on time, or missing it entirely.  In women who have it, it can:

  • Affect your ability to have a child (fertility)
  • Make your periods stop or become difficult to predict
  • Cause acneand unwanted hair
  • Raise your chances for other health problems, including diabetesand high blood pressure

There are treatments for the symptoms, and if you want to get pregnant, that’s still possible, though you may need to try different methods.  Many women who have PCOS don’t have cysts on their ovaries, so “polycystic” can be misleading. You might have cysts, and you might not.

What Are the Symptoms of PCOS?

If you have things such as oily skin, missed periods, or trouble losing weight, you may think those issues are just a normal part of your life. But those frustrations could actually be signs that you have polycystic ovary (or ovarian) syndrome, also known as PCOS.

The condition has many symptoms, and you may not have all of them. It’s pretty common for it to take women a while – even years – to find out they have this condition.

Things You Might Notice

You might be most bothered by some of the PCOS symptoms that other people can notice. These include:

  • Hair growth in unwanted areas. Your doctor may call this “hirsutism” (pronounced HUR-soo-tiz-uhm). You might have unwanted hair growing in places such as on your face or chin, breasts, stomach, or thumbs and toes.
  • Hair loss. Women with PCOS might see thinning hair on their head, which could worsen in middle age.
  • Weight problems. About half of women with PCOS struggle with weight gain or have a tough time losing weight.
  • Acne or oily skin. Because of hormone changes related to PCOS, you might develop pimples and oily skin. (You can have these  PCOS, of course).
  • Problems sleeping, feeling tired all the time. You could have trouble falling asleep. Or you might have a disorder known as sleep apnea. This means that even when you do sleep, you do not feel well-rested after you wake up.
  • Headaches. This is because of hormone changes with PCOS.
  • Trouble getting pregnant. PCOS is one of the leading causes of infertility.
  • Period problems. You could have irregular periods. Or you might not have a period for several months. Or you might have very heavy bleeding during your period.

How Do I Know If I Have PCOS?

There’s no single test that, by itself, shows whether you have polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms and give you a physical exam and blood tests to help find out if you have this condition.

PCOS is a common hormone disorder that can cause problems with your period, fertility, weight, and skin. It can also put you at risk for other conditions, such as type 2 diabetes. If you have it, the sooner you find out, the sooner you can start treatment.

What Your Doctor Will ask

Your doctor will want to know about all the signs and symptoms you’ve noticed. This is an important step to help figure out whether you have PCOS, and to rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms.

You’ll need to answer questions about your family’s medical history, including whether your mother or sister has PCOS or problems getting pregnant. This information is helpful — PCOS tends to run in families.

Be ready to discuss any period problems you’ve had, weight changes, and other concerns.

Your doctor may diagnose PCOS if you have at least two of these symptoms:

  • Irregular periods
  • Higher levels of androgen (male hormones) shown in blood tests or through symptoms like acne, male-pattern balding, or extra hair growth on your face, chin, or body
  • Cysts in your ovaries as shown in an ultrasound exam

What’s the Treatment for PCOS?

Treatments can help you manage the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and lower your odds for long-term health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

You and your doctor should talk about what your goals are, then you can come up with a treatment plan. For example, if you want to get pregnant and are having trouble, then your treatment would focus on helping you conceive. If you want to tame PCOS-related acne, your treatment would be geared toward skin problems.

Healthy Habits

  • One of the best ways to deal with PCOSis to eat well and exercise
  • Many women with PCOS are overweightor obese. Losing just 5% to 10% of your body weight may ease some symptoms and help make your periods more regular. It may also help manage problems with blood sugar levels and ovulation.
  • Since PCOS could lead to high blood sugar, your doctor may want you to limit starchy or sugary foods. Instead, eat foods and meals that have plenty of fiber, which raise your blood sugarlevel slowly.
  • Staying active helps you control your blood sugar and insulin, too. And exercisingevery day will help you with your weight.
  • Staying active helps you control your blood sugar and insulin, too. And exercisingevery day will help you with your weight.

Hormone Treatments and Medication

Birth control is the most common PCOS treatment for women who don’t want to get pregnant. Hormonal birth control — pills, a skin patch, vaginal ring, shots, or a hormonal IUD (intrauterine device) — can help restore regular periods. The hormones also treat acne and unwanted hair growth.

These birth control methods may also lower your chance of having endometrial cancer, in the inner lining of the uterus.

Taking just a hormone called progestin could help get your periods back on track. It doesn’t prevent pregnancies or treat unwanted hair growth and acne. But it can lower the chance of uterine cancer.

Metformin (Fortamet, Glucophage) lowers insulin levels. It can help with weight loss and may prevent you from getting type 2 diabetes. It may also make you more fertile.

If birth control doesn’t stop hair growth after 6 months, your doctor may prescribe spironolactone (Aldactone). It lowers the level of a type of sex hormone called androgens. But you shouldn’t take it if you’re pregnant or plan to become pregnant, because it can cause birth defects.

Weight Loss

When a healthy diet and regular exercise aren’t enough, medications can make losing weight easier. Different drugs work in different ways. For example, orlistat (Alli, Xenical) stops your body from digesting some of the fat in your food, so it may also improve your cholesterol levels. Lorcaserin (Belviq) makes you feel less hungry. Your doctor will prescribe the medication they think will be the most successful for you.

Weight loss surgery could help if you’re severely obese and other methods haven’t worked. The change in your weight afterward can regulate your menstrual cycle and hormones and cut your odds of having diabetes.

Hair Removal

Products called depilatories, including creams, gels, and lotions, break down the protein structure of hair so it falls out of the skin. Follow the directions on the package.

A process like electrolysis (a way to remove individual hairs by using an electric current to destroy the root) or laser therapy destroys hair follicles. You’ll need several sessions, and though some hair may come back, it should be finer and less noticeable.

Fertility

Your doctor may prescribe medication to help you get pregnant. Clomiphene and letrozole encourage steps in the process that trigger ovulation. If they don’t work, you can try shots of hormones called gonadotropins.

A surgery called ovarian drilling might make your ovaries work better when ovulation medications don’t, but it’s being done less often than it used to. The doctor makes a small cut in your belly and uses a tool called a laparoscope with a needle to poke your ovary and wreck a small part of it. The procedure changes your hormone levels and may make it easier for you to ovulate.

With in vitro fertilization, or IVF, your egg is fertilized outside of your body and then placed back inside your uterus. This may be the best way to get pregnant when you have PCOS, but it can be expensive.

What Are the Complications of PCOS?

If you have polycystic ovary syndrome, your ovaries may contain many tiny cysts that cause your body to produce too many hormones called androgens.

In men, androgens are made in the testes. They’re involved in the development of male sex organs and other male characteristics, like body hair. In women, androgens are made in the ovaries, but are later turned into estrogens. These are hormones that play a vital role in the reproductive system, as well as the health of your heart, arteries, skin, hair, brain, and other body parts and systems.

If you have PCOS and your androgen levels are too high, you have higher odds for a number of possible complications. (These may differ from woman to woman):

Trouble Getting Pregnant

  • Cysts in the ovaries can interfere with ovulation. That’s when one of your ovaries releases an egg each month. If a healthy egg isn’t available to be fertilized by a sperm, you can’t get pregnant.
  • You may still be able to get pregnant if you have PCOS. But you might have to take medicine and work with a fertility specialist to make it happen.

Insulin Issues

Doctors aren’t sure what causes PCOS. One theory is that insulin resistance may cause your body to make too many androgens.

Insulin is a hormone that helps the cells in your body absorb sugar (glucose) from your blood to be used as energy later. If you have insulin resistance, the cells in your muscles, organs, and other tissue don’t absorb blood sugar very well. As a result, you can have too much sugar moving through your bloodstream. This is called diabetes, and it can cause problems with your cardiovascular and nervous systems.

Other Possible Problems

You might have metabolic syndrome. This is a group of symptoms that raise the risk of cardiovascular disease, such as high triglyceride and low HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, high blood pressure, and high blood sugar levels.  Other common complications of PCOS include:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Bleeding from the uterus and higher risk of uterine cancer
  • Sleep problems
  • Inflammation of the liver

Some complications of PCOS may not be serious threats to your health, but they can be unwanted and embarrassing:

  • Abnormal body or facial hair growth
  • Thinning hair on your head
  • Weight gain around your middle
  • Acne, dark patches, and other skin problems

Most women at some point have to contend with weight, but for women with polycystic ovary syndrome(PCOS), losing weight can become a constant struggle.

PCOS is the most common hormonal disorder in women of childbearing age and can lead to issues with fertility. Women who have PCOS have higher levels of male hormones and are also less sensitive to insulin or are “insulin-resistant.” Many are overweight or obese. As a result, these women can be at a higher risk of diabetes, heart disease, sleep apnea, and uterine cancer.

If you have PCOS, certain lifestyle changes can help you shed pounds and reduce the disease’s severity.

Why does polycystic ovary syndrome cause weight gain?

PCOS makes it more difficult for the body to use the hormone insulin, which normally helps convert sugars and starches from foods into energy. This condition — called insulin resistance– can cause insulin and sugar — glucose — to build up in the bloodstream.

High insulin levels increase the production of male hormones called androgens. High androgen levels lead to symptoms such as body hair growth, acne, irregular periods — and weight gain. Because the weight gain is triggered by male hormones, it is typically in the abdomen. That is where men tend to carry weight. So, instead of having a pear shape, women with PCOS have more of an apple shape.

Abdominal fat is the most dangerous kind of fat. That’s because it is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and other health conditions.

What are the risks associated with PCOS-related weight gain?

No matter what the cause, weight gain can be detrimental to your health. Women with PCOS are more likely to develop many of the problems associated with weight gain and insulin resistance, including:

  • Type 2 diabetes
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Sleep apnea
  • Infertility
  • Endometrial cancer

Many of these conditions can lead to heart disease. In fact, women with PCOS are four to seven times more likely to have a heart attack than women of the same age without the condition.

Experts think weight gain also helps trigger PCOS symptoms, such as menstrual abnormalities and acne.

What can I do to lose weight if I have polycystic ovary syndrome?

Losing weight not only cuts your risk for many diseases, it can also make you feel better. When you have PCOS, shedding just 10% of your body weight can bring your periods back to normal. It can also help relieve some of the symptoms of polycystic ovary syndrome.

Weight loss can improve insulin sensitivity. That will reduce your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other PCOS complications.

To lose weight, start with a visit to your doctor. The doctor will weigh you and check your waist size and body mass index. Body mass index is also called BMI, and it is the ratio of your height to your weight.

Your doctor may also prescribe medication. Several medications are approved for PCOS, including birth control pills and anti-androgen medications. The anti-androgen medications block the effects of male hormones. A few medications are used specifically to promote weight loss in women with PCOS. These include:

  • Metformin (Glucophage). Metformin is a diabetes drug that helps the body use insulin more efficiently. It also reduces testosterone production. Some research has found that it can help obese women with PCOS lose weight.
  • Thiazolidinediones. These should be used with contraception. The drugs pioglitazone (Actos) and rosiglitazone (Avandia) also help the body use insulin. In studies, these drugs improved insulin resistance. But their effect on body weight is unclear. All patients using Avandia must review and fully understand the cardiovascular risks. Research has found that Flutamide (Eulexin), an anti-androgen drug, helps obese women with PCOS lose weight. It also improves their blood sugar levels. The drug can be given alone or with metformin.

In addition to taking medication, adding healthy habits into your lifestyle can help you keep your weight under control:

  • Eat a high-fiber, low-sugar diet. Load up on fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Avoid processed and fatty foods to keep your blood sugar levels in check. If you’re having trouble eating healthy on your own, talk to your doctor or a dietitian.
  • Eat four to six small meals throughout the day, rather than three large meals. This will help control your blood sugar levels.
  • Exercise for at least 30 minutes a day on most, if not all, days of the week.
  • Work with your doctor to track your cholesterol and blood pressure levels.
  • If you smoke, get involved in a program that can help you quit.

PCOS and Your Fertility — and What You Can Do About It

One of the most common reasons a woman has trouble getting pregnant is a condition called polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).  It’s a hormone problem that interferes with the reproductive system.   When you have PCOS, your ovaries are larger than normal. These bigger ovaries can have many tiny cysts that contain immature eggs.

Hormone Differences

PCOS causes a woman’s body to produce higher-than-normal levels of androgens. These are hormones that are usually thought of as male hormones, because men have much higher levels of androgens than women.

Androgens are important in the development of male sex organs and other male traits.  In women, androgens are usually converted into the hormone estrogen.

Ovulation Problems

Elevated levels of androgens interfere with the development of your eggs and the regular release of your eggs. This process is called ovulation.

If a healthy egg isn’t released, it can’t be fertilized by sperm, meaning you can’t get pregnant. PCOS can cause you to miss your menstrual period or have irregular periods. This can be one of the first signs that you may have a problem such as PCOS.

Regulating Your Period

Fortunately, there are some treatments that can help women with PCOS have healthy pregnancies.

Your doctor may prescribe birth control pills that contain man-made versions of the hormones estrogen and progestin. These pills can help regulate your menstrual cycle by reducing androgen production.

If you cannot tolerate a combination birth control pill, your doctor might recommend a progestin-only pill.

You take this pill for about 2 weeks a month, for about 1-2 months. It’s also designed to help regulate your period.

Medicines to Help You Ovulate

You won’t be able to get pregnant while you’re taking birth control pills for PCOS. But if you need help ovulating so that you can become pregnant, certain medicines may help:

  • Clomiphene is an anti-estrogen drug that you take at the beginning of your cycle.
  • If clomiphene doesn’t help with ovulation, you may be prescribed the diabetes drug metformin.
  • If clomiphene and metformin don’t work, your doctor may prescribe a medication containing a follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and a luteinizing hormone (LH). You get this medicine in a shot.
  • One other drug that helps with ovulation is letrozole. It’s sometimes used when other medications aren’t effective.

If you have PCOS and you want to get pregnant, you should work with a doctor who is a specialist in reproductive medicine. This type of doctor is also known as a fertility specialist.

A specialist will help make sure you get the right dose of medicines, help with any problems you have, and schedule regular checkups and ultrasounds to see how you’re doing. (An ultrasound is a machine that uses sound waves to create images of the inside of your body. It’s a painless procedure that can track the growth and development of your baby).

Lifestyle Changes

For some women, gaining a lot of weight can affect their hormones. In turn, losing weight, if you’re obese or overweight, may help get your hormones back to normal levels. Losing 10% of your body weight may help your menstrual cycle become more predictable. This should help you get pregnant.

In general, living a healthier lifestyle with a better diet, regular exercise, no smoking, less stress, and control of diabetes and other medical conditions should improve your fertility odds.

Remember, if your period isn’t happening when it should, or you’ve already been diagnosed with PCOS, work closely with your doctor to help get it under control. And if you want to get pregnant, talk with a fertility specialist.

Getting Help  

If you’re having irregular periods or are unable to get pregnant, see your doctor. The same holds for:

  • Mood changes
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Changes in your hair or skin

These symptoms may might not be caused by PCOS but could signal other serious health issues.

If anything is this article sounds like something you are dealing with, get connected with a doctor in your area who can help.  Using HealthLynked, you can find a physician and securely share relevant health information with them, collaborating more closely on your healthcare than ever before possible.

Ready to get Lynked?  Sign up today for Free at HealthLynked.com!

Adapted from – WebMd

10 Facts about A [little] Fib that May Surprise You

Atrial fibrillation, also called AF or AFib, is the most common type of heart rhythm disorder. People with this condition are at higher risk for serious medical complications, such as dementia, heart failure, stroke, or even death. Too many of those affected by the condition don’t realize that they have it, and many who have it don’t realize the seriousness of the affliction. All too often, healthcare providers may also minimize the effects of the condition.

September is Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month, designated to help patients and healthcare providers learn more about this complex condition. In addition to stroke prevention, additional know-how can improve the overall wellness of those suffering from AFib. Often, those with AFib have a lower quality of life than those who have suffered a heart attack. And, unfortunately, some healthcare providers may not know about treatment options that can essentially put a stop to the condition.

For those who have AFib, seeking information about the ailment and  finding early treatment are imperative. The longer someone has AFib, the more likely they will convert from intermittent AFib to enduring it all the time, making it much more difficult to stop or cure.

What is atrial fibrillation?

Atrial fibrillation (also called AFib or AF) is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications.  A racing, pounding heartbeat that happens for no apparent reason should not be ignored, especially when other symptoms are also present — like shortness of breath with light physical activity or lightheadedness, dizziness, or unusual fatigue. AFib occurs when the heart muscles fail to contract in a strong, rhythmic way. When a heart is in AFib, it may not be pumping enough oxygen-rich blood out to the body.

Why is AFib associated with a five-times-greater risk for stroke?

When the heart is in AFib, the blood can become static and can be left pooling inside the heart. When blood pools, a clot can form. When a clot is pumped out of the heart, it can get lodged in the arteries which may cause a stroke. Blocked arteries prevent the tissue on the other side from getting oxygen-rich blood, and without oxygen the tissue dies.

Any person who has AFib needs to evaluate stroke risks and determine with a healthcare provider what must be done to lower the risks. Studies show that many people with AFib who need risk-lowering treatments are not getting them. Learn more about stroke risks with the CHA2DS2–VASc tool.

If I don’t have these symptoms, should I be concerned?

There are people who have atrial fibrillation that do not experience noticeable symptoms. These people may be diagnosed at a regular check-up or their AFib may be discovered when a healthcare provider listens to their heart for some other reason.

However, people who have AFib with no symptoms still have a five-times-greater risk of stroke. Everyone needs to receive regular medical check-ups to help keep risks low and live a long and healthy life.  Many may experience one or more of the following symptoms:

  • General fatigue
  • Rapid and irregular heartbeat
  • Fluttering or “thumping” in the chest
  • Dizziness
  • Shortness of breath and anxiety
  • Weakness
  • Faintness or confusion
  • Fatigue when exercising
  • Sweating
  • Chest pain or pressure

Are there different types of AFib?

The symptoms are generally the same; however, the duration of the AFib and underlying reasons for the condition help medical practitioners classify the type of AFib problems.

  • Paroxysmal fibrillation is when the heart returns to a normal rhythm on its own, or with intervention, within 7 days of its start. People who have this type of AFib may have episodes only a few times a year or their symptoms may occur every day. These symptoms are very unpredictable and often can turn into a permanent form of atrial fibrillation.
  • Persistent AFib is defined as an irregular rhythm that lasts for longer than 7 days. This type of atrial fibrillation will not return to normal sinus rhythm on its own and will require some form of treatment.
  • Long-standing AFib is when the heart is consistently in an irregular rhythm that lasts longer than 12 months.
  • Permanent AFib occurs when the condition lasts indefinitely and the patient and doctor have decided not to continue further attempts to restore normal rhythm.
  • Nonvalvular AFib is atrial fibrillation not caused by a heart valve issue.

Over a period of time, paroxysmal fibrillation may become more frequent and longer lasting, sometimes leading to permanent or chronic AFib. All types of AFib can increase your risk of stroke. Even if you have no symptoms at all, you are nearly 5 times more likely to have a stroke than someone who doesn’t have atrial fibrillation.

How are heart attack symptoms different from AFib symptoms?

Fluttering and palpitations are key symptoms of AFib and are the key differences, but many heart problems have similar warning signs. If you think you may be having a heart attack, DON’T DELAY. Get emergency help by calling 9-1-1 immediately. A heart attack is a blockage of blood flow to the heart, often caused by a clot or build-up of plaque lodging in the coronary artery (a blood vessel that carries blood to part of the heart muscle). A heart attack can damage or destroy part of your heart muscle. Some heart attacks are sudden and intense — where no one doubts what’s happening. But most heart attacks start slowly, with mild pain or discomfort. Often people affected aren’t sure what’s wrong and wait too long before getting help.

People living with AFib should know the Warning Sings

As stated earlier, having atrial fibrillation can put you at an increased risk for stroke. Here are the warning signs that you should be aware of:

Heart Attack Warning Signs

Chest Discomfort

Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

Discomfort in Other Areas of the Upper Body

Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Shortness of Breath

With or without chest discomfort.

Other Signs

May include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Stroke Warning Signs

Spot a stroke F.A.S.T.:

  • Face Drooping: Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile.
  • Arm Weakness : Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
  • Speech Difficulty: Is speech slurred, are they unable to speak, or are they hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “the sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
  • Time to call 9-1-1: If the person shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get them to the hospital immediately.

Call 9-1-1 immediately if you notice one or more of these symptoms, even if they are temporary or seem to disappear.

10 ATRIAL FIBRILLATION FACTS THAT MAY SURPRISE YOU

  1. AFib affects lots of people.  Currently as many as 5.1 million people are affected by AFib — and that’s just in America. By 2050, the number of people in the United States with AFib may increase to as many as 15.9 million. About 350,000 hospitalizations a year in the U.S. are attributed to AFib.  In addition, people over the age of 40 have a one in four chance of developing AFib in their lifetime.
  2. AFib is a leading cause of strokes.  Nearly 35 percent of all AFib patients will have a stroke at some time. In addition to leaving sufferers feeling weak, tired or even incapacitated, AFib can allow blood to pool in the atria, creating blood clots, which may move throughout the body, causing a stroke. To make matters worse, AFib strokes are fatal nearly three times as often as other strokes within the first 30 days. And according to a recent American Heart Association survey, only half of AFib patients understand that they have an increased risk of stroke.
  3. The U.S. Congress recognizes the need for more AFib awareness. StopAfib.org, along with several other professional and patient organizations, asked Congress to make September AFib Month. On September 11, 2009, the U.S. Senate declared it National Atrial Fibrillation Awareness Month.
  4. Barry Manilow has AFib. In 2011, Manilow spoke to Congress about AFib, urging the House of Representatives to pass House Resolution 295, which seeks to raise the priority of AFib in the existing research and education funding allocation process. The resolution does not seek any new funding. Other celebs with AFib include NBA legends Larry Bird and Jerry West, politicians George H. W. Bush and Joe Biden, Astronaut Deke Slayton, Billie Jean King, music mogul Gene Simmons and Helmut Huber, the husband of daytime TV star Susan Lucci.
  5. Healthcare professionals often minimize the impact of AFib on patients.  According to recent research in the Journal of Cardiovascular Nursing, “Compared with coronary artery disease and heart failure, AFib is not typically seen by clinicians as a complex cardiac condition that adversely affects quality of life. Therefore, clinicians may minimize the significance of AFib to the patient and may fail to provide the level of support and information needed for self-management of recurrent symptomatic AFib.”
  6. AFib patients may go untreated.  AFib can fly under the radar as some patients don’t have symptoms and some may only have symptoms once in a while. Thus, patients may go for a year or two undiagnosed, and sometimes not be diagnosed until after they have a stroke or two. Because some health care professionals perceive that AFib doesn’t affect patients’ everyday lives, a common approach is to just allow patients to live with the condition. But…
  7. The quicker the treatment, the greater the chance AFib can be stopped.  For those who have AFib, information about the ailment and treatment options are imperative. The longer someone has AFib, the more likely they will convert from intermittent to constant AFib, which means it’s more difficult to stop or cure.
  8. AFib changes the heart.  Over time, AFib changes the shape and size of the heart, altering the heart’s structure and electrical system. Research at the University of Utah shows that this scarring (fibrosis) from long-term remodeling is correlated with strokes.
  9. Treatments continue to rapidly evolve.  For years, the standard treatment for AFib patients was to send them home with medications, some of which caused harm. Now there are additional options for stopping AFib, including minimally invasive ablation procedures performed inside and outside the heart. For stubborn and long-lasting AFib, open-heart surgery may provide a cure.
  10. You can make a difference in an AFib patient’s life.  This month, forward a link to someone you may know who could have the condition. Attend an AFib awareness raising event or webinar. Or share StopAfib.org siteand ALittleFib.org with patients and friends.  Something as simple as that can help someone become free of AFib.

Prevention and Risk Reduction

Although no one is able to absolutely guarantee a stroke or a clot is preventable, there are ways to reduce risks for developing these problems.

After a patient is diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, the ideal goals may include:

  • Restoring the heart to a normal rhythm (called rhythm control)
  • Reducing an overly high heart rate (called rate control)
  • Preventing blood clots (called prevention of thromboembolism)
  • Managing risk factors for stroke
  • Preventing additional heart rhythm problems
  • Preventing heart failure

Getting Back on Beat

Avoiding atrial fibrillation and subsequently lowering your stroke risk can be as simple as foregoing your morning cup of coffee. In other words, some AFib cases are only as strong as their underlying cause. If hyperthyroidism is the cause of AFib, treating the thyroid condition may be enough to make AFib go away.

Doctors can use a variety of different medications to help control the heart rate during atrial fibrillation.

“These medications, such as beta blockers and calcium channel blockers, work on the AV node,” says Dr. Andrea Russo of University of Pennsylvania Health System. “They slow the heart rate and may help improve symptoms. However, they do not ‘cure’ the rhythm abnormality, and patients still require medication to prevent strokes while remaining in atrial fibrillation.”

AFib Treatment Saves Lives & Lowers Risks

If you or someone you love has atrial fibrillation, learn more about what AFib is, why treatment can save lives, and what you can do to reach your goals, lower your risks and live a healthy life.

If you think you may have atrial fibrillation, here are your most important steps:

  1. Know the symptoms
  2. Get the right treatment 
  3. Reduce risks for stroke and heart failure

Finding the right physician who gets your AFib, understands all the options for treatment, and will openly collaborate with you in your care is key.  Use our first of its kind healthcare ecosystem to find one near you.

As a patient, you can take control of your healthcare.  Go to HealthLynked.com, right now, to sign up for Free!

 

Sources:

Heart.org

Aug 29, 2012 | ArticlesDoctor’s Voice | 12  |

 

 

Top 10 Hidden Hazards to Baby’s Safety at Home

This year, we had the great privilege of being introduced to our first grandbaby.  She’s an incredibly beautiful bundle of energy who will soon be moving about to explore on her own.  Luckily, our home has always been “baby proofed”, but feeling this great responsibility for her wellbeing, and not having had a baby around in quite a while, it is time to seriously think about what else needs to be done.

September is Baby Safety Month, sponsored annually by the Juvenile Products Manufacturers Association (JPMA), so there is no better time than now to survey the safety of your abode.

The Basics

Ideally, the best time to babyproof is early in your pregnancy, before you register, so you can include needed safety items on your registry list.  The best way to babyproof? Get down on your hands and knees and think like a baby! This is a great activity for both mom and dad, as males and females may look for and inspect different aspects of the home and safety measures in general.

Take care of all the obvious hazards, such as exposed electrical sockets and blind cords, but be on the lookout for those not-so-obvious items – empty dishwashers, hanging tablecloths that can be easily pulled down, and poisonous plants.  Remember,  babies at any age are curious explorers and want to touch, feel, lick, smell, and listen to everything and anything they can get their little hands on. Your job is to make your home as safe as possible so they can roam without worry. After all, this new addition is not a temporary guest and should be able to safely investigate every space in your home.

Consider child-proofing an ongoing process.  Monitor your child’s growth and development and always try to stay one step ahead. For example, don’t wait until your baby starts crawling to put up stairway gates. Install them in advance so the entire family gets used to them and baby doesn’t associate his new-found milestone with barriers.

If you are preparing for baby #2 or #3, don’t underestimate your “seasoned” approach to babyproofing from the first time around. In fact, having an older sibling creates additional hazards – you should be aware of small parts from toys and your toddlers’ ability to open the doors, potty lids, and cabinets you have so ingeniously secured.

Top Hidden Hazards

  • Magnets — Small magnets can be easily swallowed by children. Once inside the body, they can attract to each other and cause significant internal damage. Keep magnets out of your child’s reach. If you fear your child has swallowed magnets, seek medical attention immediately.
  • Loose Change — Change floating around in pockets or purses may wind up on tables around the house, where curious children may be attracted to the shiny coins and ingest them. A wonderful way to ensure this doesn’t happen is to assign a tray or jar for loose change and keep it out of a child’s reach.
  • Tipovers — Tipovers are a leading cause of injury to children and the best way to avoid them is to make sure all furniture and televisions are secured to the wall.
  • Pot Handle Sticking Out from Stove — When cooking, it is best that pot handles turn inward instead of sticking out from the stove where little ones may reach up and grab the hot handle. In addition, if holding a child while cooking, remember to keep the handles out of the child’s reach.
  • Loose Rugs or Carpet — Area rugs or carpet that is not secured to the floor causes a tripping hazard for little ones who may already be unstable on their feet. Make sure that all corners are taped down and bumps are smoothed out.
  • Detergent Pods — It is estimated that thousands of children have been exposed to and injured by detergent pods. Easily mistaken by children as candy, these pods pose a risk to the eyes and, if ingested, to their lives. It is important to keep these items out of reach of children.
  • Hot Mugs — A relaxing cup of coffee or tea can quickly turn into an emergency if hot mugs are left unattended or are placed to near the edge of tables where little hands can grab them.
  • Cords — Cords can pose strangulation hazards to children, whether they are connected to blinds, home gym equipment or baby monitors. It’s important to keep cords tied up and out of reach of children. In addition, remember to keep cribs away from cords that the child may reach while inside the crib.
  • Button Batteries — Button batteries are flat, round batteries that resemble coins or buttons. They are found in common household items such as flashlights, remotes or flameless candles.
  • Recalled Products — Make sure you’re aware if a product you own has been recalled. In addition, check that any second-hand products you own have not been recalled. The best ways to ensure your products are safe is to fill out your product registration card as well as check for recalls at recalls.gov.

How to Choose and Use Products

Choose a baby carrier or sling made of a durable, washable fabric with sturdy, adjustable straps.  Use a carrier or sling only when walking with your baby, never running or bicycling.

Choose a carriage or stroller that has a base wide enough to prevent tipping, even when your baby leans over the side.  Use the basket underneath and don’t hang purses or shopping bags over the handles because it may cause the stroller to tip.

Choose a swing with strong posts, legs, and a wide stance to prevent tipping.  Never place your swing or bouncer on an elevated surface such as sofas, beds, tables or counter tops.

When choosing a changing table, before leaving home, measure the length and width of the changing area available on the dresser and compare to the requirements for the add-on unit before purchasing. Check for attachment requirements.  When changing baby, always keep one hand on baby and use restraints.

It is vital the car seat/booster is appropriate for a child’s age, weight, and height.  Always follow the manufacturer’s instructions for both the vehicle and the seat.  As of this writing, the American Academy of Pediatrics used to recommend rear-facing seats for children until at least age 2. Now, the organization is updating its guidelines and wants parents to keep their children in rear-facing seats until they reach the seat’s maximum height and weight limit — even if they’re older than 2. Under the new guidelines, most kids would keep using rear-facing seats until they’re about 4 years old.

Choose a crib mattress that fits snugly with no more than two fingers width, one-inch, between the edge of the mattress and the crib side.  Never place the crib near windows, draperies, blinds, or wall-mounted decorative accessories with long cords.

Choose the right gate for your needs. Before leaving home, measure the opening size at the location the gate will be used.  Gates with expanding pressure bars should be installed with the adjustment bar or lock side away from the baby.

Use waist and crotch strap every time you place a child in the high chair to prevent falls from standing up or sliding out.

And, consider these things when introducing products to your inventory:

  • Safest Option – Keep in mind that new products meeting current safety standards are the safest option.
  • Second-Hand Products – It is recommended secondhand products should not be used for baby. However, if it is necessary to use older products, make sure all parts are available, the product is fully functional, not broken, and has not been recalled.
  • Register your products — Through product registration, parents can establish a direct line of communication with the manufacturer should a problem arise with a product purchased. This information is NOT used for marketing purposes.

Fun Tips and Tricks for New Parents

  • Trying to lose the baby weight? Cut down on late night snacks by brushing your teeth after you put the kids to bed so you won’t be likely to ruin clean teeth.
  • Keep allergens away from your toddler and older children simply by changing their pillow. Don’t know when the last time you changed it was? Buying a new one every year on their birthday is an easy way to remember!
  • While nursing or feeding baby #2, encourage your toddler or older children to read stories to the new baby. Even just telling a story through the pictures keeps your toddler in site and occupied during this already special time.
  • For toddlers working on mastering stairs, install a child safety gate two or three steps up from the bottom stair to give your child a small, safe space to practice.
  • If the sight of blood terrifies your child, use dark washcloths to clean up cuts and scrapes. Better yet, try storing the cloths in plastic bags in the freezer  the coldness will help with pain relief.
  • Keep baby happy and warm during baths. Drop the shampoo and soap in the warm water while you are filling the tub. When it’s time to lather baby, the soap won’t be so cold.
  • Cranky teething baby? Wet three corners of a washcloth and stick it in the freezer. The rough, icy fabric soothes sore gums and the dry corner gives them a “handle”.
  • Having a tough time getting baby to stay still while diaper changing? Wear a silly hat or bobble headband. As a reward for staying still, be sure to let your baby or toddler wear the hat when finished!
  • Before baby #2 arrives, put together a “fun box” for the older sibling that she is only allowed to play with when you nurse or feed baby #2. Inexpensive toys, coloring books, and snacks are all great ideas to include. Be sure to refresh the items once a week to keep an active toddler interested.
  • Put a plastic art mat underneath the high chair while they learn to eat to contain the mess.
  • Tape pics of family members or animals to the ceiling or wall near of your changing table so baby has something to look when diaper changing.
  • Baby or kid yogurt containers make great snack cups on the go. Some yogurt containers cannot be recycled, so why not wash and reuse? They are perfect snack size portions, easy for little hands to grab and even fit in the cup holders of stroller trays. They can also hold just the right amount of crayons for on the go coloring!
  • Can’t get little ones to sit still while you brush or style hair? Put a sticker on your shirt and tell them to look at the sticker. As they get older, make it a game and see if they can count to 50 before you can get those ponytails in!

It’s A Fact

Most injuries can be prevented! Parents and caregivers play a huge role in protecting children from injuries.  Choosing the right baby products for your family can be overwhelming, but safety should never be compromised.

What Can You Do?

  1. Choose and use age and developmentally appropriate products.
  2. Read and follow all manufacturer’s instructions, recommendations for use, and warning labels.
  3. Register your products and establish a direct line of communication with the manufacturer.
  4. Actively supervise — watch, listen and stay near your child.
  5. Frequently inspect products for missing hardware, loose threads and strings, holes, and tears.
  6. Monitor your child’s growth and development and discontinue use when needed.

Newborns in your home or on the way?  In addition to getting your home in order, you’ll want to find a great pediatrician you can really connect with….Find one in our first of its kind social ecosystem built for healthcare.  In HealthLynked, you can make appointments with your providers on the go and create your own personal, portable medical records.  You can also create and manage one for baby.

Ready to get Lynked?  Go to HealthLynked.com today, sign up for Free, and take control of your healthcare!

 

Source:  BabySafetyZone.com

 

The Benefits of Breastfeeding for Both Mother and Baby | WebMD


In honor of Breastfeeding Awareness Month, we will be sharing a series of articles promoting breastfeeding.  This next one is about the “ABC’s” of breastfeeding – a brief overview of the basics you should know, republished in full from WebMD.


Breastfeeding Overview

Making the decision to breastfeed is a personal matter. It’s also one that’s likely to draw strong opinions from friends and family.

Many medical experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, strongly recommend breastfeeding exclusively (no formula, juice, or water) for 6 months. And breastfeeding for a year at least with other foods which should be started at 6 months of age, such as vegetables, grains, fruits, proteins.

But you and your baby are unique, and the decision is up to you. This overview of breastfeeding can help you decide.

What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding for Your Baby?

Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat — everything your baby needs to grow. And it’s all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula. Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies. Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.

Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood in some studies. What’s more, the physical closeness, skin-to-skin touching, and eye contact all help your baby bond with you and feel secure. Breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow rather than become overweight children. The AAP says breastfeeding also plays a role in the prevention of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). It’s been thought to lower the risk of diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers as well, but more research is needed.

Are There Breastfeeding Benefits for the Mother?

Breastfeeding burns extra calories, so it can help you lose pregnancy weight faster. It releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth. Breastfeeding also lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It may lower your risk of osteoporosis, too.

Since you don’t have to buy and measure formula, sterilize nipples, or warm bottles, it saves you time and money. It also gives you regular time to relax quietly with your newborn as you bond.

Will I Make Enough Milk to Breastfeed?

The first few days after birth, your breasts make an ideal “first milk.” It’s called colostrum. Colostrum is thick, yellowish, and scant, but there’s plenty to meet your baby’s nutritional needs. Colostrum helps a newborn’s digestive tract develop and prepare itself to digest breast milk.

Most babies lose a small amount of weight in the first 3 to 5 days after birth. This is unrelated to breastfeeding.

As your baby needs more milk and nurses more, your breasts respond by making more milk. Experts recommend breastfeeding exclusively (no formula, juice, or water) for 6 months. If you supplement with formula, your breasts might make less milk.

Even if you breastfeed less than the recommended 6 months, it’s better to breastfeed for a short time than no time at all. You can add solid food at 6 months but also continue to breastfeed if you want to keep producing milk.

What’s the Best Position for Breastfeeding?

The best position for you is the one where you and your baby are both comfortable and relaxed, and you don’t have to strain to hold the position or keep nursing. Here are some common positions for breastfeeding your baby:

  • Cradle position. Rest the side of your baby’s head in the crook of your elbow with his whole body facing you. Position your baby’s belly against your body so he feels fully supported. Your other, “free” arm can wrap around to support your baby’s head and neck — or reach through your baby’s legs to support the lower back.
  • Football position. Line your baby’s back along your forearm to hold your baby like a football, supporting his head and neck in your palm. This works best with newborns and small babies. It’s also a good position if you’re recovering from a cesarean birth and need to protect your belly from the pressure or weight of your baby.
  • Side-lying position. This position is great for night feedings in bed. Side-lying also works well if you’re recovering from an episiotomy, an incision to widen the vaginal opening during delivery. Use pillows under your head to get comfortable. Then snuggle close to your baby and use your free hand to lift your breast and nipple into your baby’s mouth. Once your baby is correctly “latched on,” support your baby’s head and neck with your free hand so there’s no twisting or straining to keep nursing.

How Do I Get My Baby to ‘Latch on’ During Breastfeeding?

Position your baby facing you, so your baby is comfortable and doesn’t have to twist his neck to feed. With one hand, cup your breast and gently stroke your baby’s lower lip with your nipple. Your baby’s instinctive reflex will be to open the mouth wide. With your hand supporting your baby’s neck, bring your baby’s mouth closer around your nipple, trying to center your nipple in the baby’s mouth above the tongue.

You’ll know your baby is “latched on” correctly when both lips are pursed outward around your nipple. Your infant should have all of your nipple and most of the areola, which is the darker skin around your nipple, in his mouth. While you may feel a slight tingling or tugging, breastfeeding should not be painful. If your baby isn’t latched on correctly and nursing with a smooth, comfortable rhythm, gently nudge your pinky between your baby’s gums to break the suction, remove your nipple, and try again. Good “latching on” helps prevent sore nipples.

What Are the ABCs of Breastfeeding?

  • A = Awareness. Watch for your baby’s signs of hunger, and breastfeed whenever your baby is hungry. This is called “on demand” feeding. The first few weeks, you may be nursing eight to 12 times every 24 hours. Hungry infants move their hands toward their mouths, make sucking noises or mouth movements, or move toward your breast. Don’t wait for your baby to cry. That’s a sign he’s too hungry.
  • B = Be patient. Breastfeed as long as your baby wants to nurse each time. Don’t hurry your infant through feedings. Infants typically breastfeed for 10 to 20 minutes on each breast.
  • C = Comfort. This is key. Relax while breastfeeding, and your milk is more likely to “let down” and flow. Get yourself comfortable with pillows as needed to support your arms, head, and neck, and a footrest to support your feet and legs before you begin to breastfeed.

Are There Medical Considerations With Breastfeeding?

In a few situations, breastfeeding could cause a baby harm. You should not breastfeed if:

  • You are HIV positive. You can pass the HIV virus to your infant through breast milk.
  • You have active, untreated tuberculosis.
  • You’re receiving chemotherapy for cancer.
  • You’re using an illegal drug, such as cocaine or marijuana.
  • Your baby has a rare condition called galactosemia and cannot tolerate the natural sugar, called galactose, in breast milk.
  • You’re taking certain prescription medications, such as some drugs for migraine headaches, Parkinson’s disease, or arthritis.

Talk with your doctor before starting to breastfeed if you’re taking prescription drugsof any kind. Your doctor can help you make an informed decision based on your particular medication.

Having a cold or flu should not prevent you from breastfeeding. Breast milk won’t give your baby the illness and may even give antibodies to your baby to help fight off the illness.

Also, the AAP suggests that — starting at 4 months of age — exclusively breastfed infants, and infants who are partially breastfed and receive more than one-half of their daily feedings as human milk, should be supplemented with oral iron. This should continue until foods with iron, such as iron-fortified cereals, are introduced in the diet. The AAP recommends checking iron levels in all children at age 1.

Discuss supplementation of both iron and vitamin D with your pediatrician Your doctor can guide you on recommendations about the proper amounts for both your baby and you, when to start, and how often the supplements should be taken.

Why Do Some Women Choose Not to Breastfeed?

  • Some women don’t want to breastfeed in public.
  • Some prefer the flexibility of knowing that a father or any caregiver can bottle-feed the baby any time.
  • Babies tend to digest formula more slowly than breast milk, so bottle feedings may not be as frequent as breastfeeding sessions.

The time commitment, and being “on-call” for feedings every few hours of a newborn’s life, isn’t feasible for every woman. Some women fear that breastfeeding will ruin the appearance of their breasts. But most breast surgeons would argue that age, gravity, genetics, and lifestyle factors like smoking all change the shape of a woman’s breasts more than breastfeeding does.

What Are Some Common Challenges With Breastfeeding?

  • Sore nipples. You can expect some soreness in the first weeks of breastfeeding. Make sure your baby latches on correctly, and use one finger to break the suction of your baby’s mouth after each feeding. That will help prevent sore nipples. If you still get sore, be sure you nurse with each breast fully enough to empty the milk ducts. If you don’t, your breasts can become engorged, swollen, and painful. Holding ice or a bag of frozen peas against sore nipples can temporarily ease discomfort. Keeping your nipples dry and letting them “air dry” between feedings helps, too. Your baby tends to suck more actively at the start. So begin feedings with the less-sore nipple.
  • Dry, cracked nipples. Avoid soaps, perfumed creams, or lotions with alcohol in them, which can make nipples even more dry and cracked. You can gently apply pure lanolin to your nipples after a feeding, but be sure you gently wash the lanolin off before breastfeeding again. Changing your bra pads often will help your nipples stay dry. And you should use only cotton bra pads.
  • Worries about producing enough milk.A general rule of thumb is that a baby who’s wetting six to eight diapers a day is most likely getting enough milk. Avoid supplementing your breast milk with formula, and never give your infant plain water. Your body needs the frequent, regular demand of your baby’s nursing to keep producing milk. Some women mistakenly think they can’t breastfeed if they have small breasts. But small-breasted women can make milk just as well as large-breasted women. Good nutrition, plenty of rest, and staying well hydrated all help, too.
  • Pumping and storing milk. You can get breast milk by hand or pump it with a breast pump. It may take a few days or weeks for your baby to get used to breast milk in a bottle. So begin practicing early if you’re going back to work. Breast milk can be safely used within 2 days if it’s stored in a refrigerator. You can freeze breast milk for up to 6 months. Don’t warm up or thaw frozen breast milk in a microwave. That will destroy some of its immune-boosting qualities, and

it can cause fatty portions of the breast milk to become super hot. Thaw breast milk in the refrigerator or in a bowl of warm water instead.

  • Inverted nipples. An inverted nipple doesn’t poke forward when you pinch the areola, the dark skin around the nipple. A lactation consultant — a specialist in breastfeeding education — can give simple tips that have allowed women with inverted nipples to breastfeed successfully.
  • Breast engorgement. Breast fullness is natural and healthy. It happens as your breasts become full of milk, staying soft and pliable. But breast engorgement means the blood vessels in your breast have become congested. This traps fluid in your breasts and makes them feel hard, painful, and swollen. Alternate heat and cold, for instance using ice packs and hot showers, to relieve mild symptoms. It can also help to release your milk by hand or use a breast pump.
  • Blocked ducts. A single sore spot on your breast, which may be red and hot, can signal a plugged milk duct. This can often be relieved by warm compresses and gentle massage over the area to release the blockage. More frequent nursing can also help.
  • Breast infection (mastitis). This occasionally results when bacteria enter the breast, often through a cracked nipple after breastfeeding. If you have a sore area on your breast along with flu-like symptoms, fever, and fatigue, call your doctor. Antibiotics are usually needed to clear up a breast infection, but you can most likely continue to breastfeed while you have the infection and take antibiotics. To relieve breast tenderness, apply moist heat to the sore area four times a day for 15 to 20 minutes each time.
  • Stress. Being overly anxious or stressed can interfere with your let-down reflex. That’s your body’s natural release of milk into the milk ducts. It’s triggered by hormones released when your baby nurses. It can also be triggered just by hearing your baby cry or thinking about your baby. Stay as relaxed and calm as possible before and during nursing — it can help your milk let down and flow more easily. That, in turn, can help calm and relax your infant.
  • Premature babies may not be able to breastfeed right away. In some cases, mothers can release breast milk and feed it through a bottle or feeding tube.
  • Warning signs. Breastfeeding is a natural, healthy process. But call your doctor if:
  • Your breasts become unusually red, swollen, hard, or sore.
  • You have unusual discharge or bleeding from your nipples.
  • You’re concerned your baby isn’t gaining weight or getting enough milk.

Where Can I Get Help With Breastfeeding?

Images of mothers breastfeeding their babies make it look simple — but most women need some help and coaching. It can come from a nurse, doctor, family member, or friend, and it helps mothers get over possible bumps in the road.

Reach out to friends, family, and your doctor with any questions you may have. Most likely, the women in your life have had those same questions.

SOURCE: WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 5, 2017

Sources

 

SOURCES:

News release, American Academy of Pediatrics.

Baker, R. Pediatrics, November 2010.

American Academy of Pediatrics: “Policy Statement: Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk.”

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Breastfeeding Your Baby.”

CDC: “Proper Handling and Storage of Human Milk.”

National Women’s Health Information Center: “Benefits of Breastfeeding.”

National Women’s Health Information Center: “Questions and Answers About Breastfeeding.”

National Women’s Health Information Center: “How Lifestyle Affects Breast Milk.”

La Leche League International: “How Do I Position My Baby to Breastfeed?”

American Academy of Family Physicians: “Breastfeeding: Hints To Help You Get Off to a Good Start.”

National Library of Medicine: “Overcoming Breastfeeding Problems.”

KidsHealth.org: “Feeding Your Newborn.”

American College of Nurse-Midwives, GotMom.org: “Breastfeeding with Confidence.”

© 2017 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

Breastfeeding saves lives, boosts economies in rich and poor countries


In honor of Breastfeeding Awareness Month, we will be sharing a series of articles promoting breastfeeding.  This one focuses on breastfeeding as the most exquisite form of personalized medicine.


SOURCE:  By Catharine Paddock PhD, Published

The decision not to breastfeed harms the long-term health, nutrition and development of children – and the health of women – around the world, conclude leading experts in a new series of papers on breastfeeding published in The Lancet. They also detail how this loss of opportunity damages the global economy.

The authors say countries should see promoting breastfeeding as an investment that benefits not only their public health, but also their economies. The two-part series is the most detailed analysis of levels, trends and benefits of breastfeeding around the world.

By not being exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of their lives, and not continuing to receive their mother’s milk for another 6 months, millions of children are being denied the important health benefits of breastfeeding, note the authors.

Figures estimated for the series suggest if all countries were to increase breastfeeding for infants and young children to near-universal levels, over 800,000 child deaths (13% of all deaths in the under-2s), 20,000 breast cancer deaths and $302 billion in costs to the global economy could be prevented every year.

The authors say that by not doing enough to promote and encourage breastfeeding, the world’s nations – both rich and poor – are overlooking one of the most effective ways of improving health of children and mothers.

Cesar Victora, a professor from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil and a leading author in the series, says the need to tackle this global issue is greater than ever. She notes:

“There is a widespread misconception that the benefits of breastfeeding only relate to poor countries. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our work for this Series clearly shows that breastfeeding saves lives and money in all countries, rich and poor alike.”

Breast milk is a ‘very exquisite personalized medicine’

The experts say their analyses – comprising 28 systematic reviews of available evidence, 22 of which were prepared for the series – show, for example, that breastfeeding has a significant benefit to life expectancy.

In wealthy countries, breastfeeding reduces sudden infant deaths by over a third, and in low and middle-income countries, breastfeeding halves cases of diarrhea and reduces respiratory infections by a third.
In a podcast interview for the series, Prof. Victora says while we are only “beginning to scratch the surface,” a lot of evidence is emerging about the biology of breastfeeding and the components and properties of breast milk.

He quotes a colleague who likens breast milk to “very exquisite personalized medicine” because it reflects the biological interaction between the mother and her child, “something that formula will never be able to imitate,” he notes.

Prof. Victora cites as an example the effect that receiving breast milk has on the development of the microbiome – the trillions of friendly bacteria that live in and on our bodies and play a key role in our health.
He says we are also beginning to understand that breast milk has epigenetic effects – that is, it influences the expression of genes that control cell activity and development. And, another recent discovery is that breast milk contains stem cells.

There is evidence, the authors note, that breastfeeding increases intelligence and may protect against obesity and diabetesin later life. And for mothers, breastfeeding for longer reduces their risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Promoting breastfeeding makes economic sense

The authors say countries should see promoting breastfeeding as an investment that benefits not only their public health, but also their economies.  They estimate that loss to economies due to impact of not breastfeeding on intelligence amounted to $302 billion in 2012, or 0.49% of world gross national income.

Prof. Victora and colleagues also calculate that if rates of breastfeeding in babies under 6 months were to increase to 90% in the US, China and Brazil, and to 45% in the UK, they would save these countries $2.45 billion, $223.6 million, $6.0 million and $29.5 million, respectively, due to reductions in treating common childhood illnesses like pneumonia, diarrhea and asthma.

This loss of opportunity to boost public and economic health is further highlighted by the fact that worldwide rates of breastfeeding are low, particularly in wealthy countries – for example the UK, Ireland and Denmark have some of the lowest rates of breastfeeding at 12 months in the world (under 1%, 2% and 3%, respectively).

Prof. Victora remarks that breastfeeding is one of the few “positive health behaviors” that is more prevalent in poor countries than in wealthy countries. Also, in poor countries, it is the poorer mothers that practice it more. He notes:

“The stark reality is that in the absence of breastfeeding, the rich-poor gap in child survival would be even wider.”

He urges policymakers to take note of this and be reassured that promoting breastfeeding provides a rapid return on investment that takes less than a generation to come to fruition.

Aggressive formula marketing undermines breastfeeding promotion

One of the papers also touches on the effects that aggressive marketing of “formula” or breast milk substitutes is having, despite countries attending the World Health Assembly in 1981 adopting the World Health Organization (WHO) International Code of Marketing of Breast-Milk Substitutes, which the authors note has not been enforced effectively.

The multi-billion dollar breast milk substitute industry must be reined in, they urge, or it will continue to undermine breastfeeding as the best feeding practice in early life.

The WHO recommend babies start breastfeeding within 1 hour of life, are exclusively breastfed for 6 months. After this, there should be gradual introduction of adequate, safe and properly fed complementary foods with babies continuing to breastfeed for up to 2 years of age or more.

The authors note that global sales of breast milk substitutes are expected to reach $70.6 billion by 2019, as co-author Dr. Nigel Rollins, from the Department of Maternal, Newborn, Child and Adolescent Health at the WHO in Geneva, explains:

Saturation of markets in high-income countries has caused the industries to rapidly penetrate emerging global markets. Almost all growth in the foreseeable future in sales of standard milk formula (infants <6 months) will be in low-income and middle-income countries, where consumption is currently low,…”

He cites the example of the Middle East and Africa, where estimates show per-child consumption of breast milk substitutes will likely grow by over 7% in the period 2014-2019.  And in wealthy nations, growth in breast milk substitutes will be largely driven by sales of follow-on and toddlers milk, which are set to increase by 15% by 2019, he notes.

Breastfeeding must become a key public health issue

The authors say governments and international organizations have to show powerful political commitment and provide the financial backing needed to protect, promote and support breastfeeding at all levels – national, community, family and workplace.

In an accompanying comment paper, leading experts in the field – including Frances Mason from Save the Children UK and Dr. Alison McFadden from the School of Nursing and Health Sciences at the University of Dundee, UK – say world leaders must not repeat the mistake of leaving out breastfeeding from the Millennium Development Goals when it sets the Sustainable Development Goals later this year.

They plead for breastfeeding not be tagged onto the child nutrition agenda but to be treated as a key public health priority that reduces disease, infant deaths and inequity, and also urge leaders at all levels to “end promotion of products that compete with breastfeeding.”

Prof. Victora concludes:  “There is a widespread misconception that breast milk can be replaced with artificial products without detrimental consequences.”
In October 2015, Medical News Todaylearned of a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that shows while breastfeeding support at US hospitals has improved since 2007, there are still many ways it could be better. Improved hospital care could increase breastfeeding rates nationwide, it concludes.


If you are looking for a physician to care for you along your birthing journey or to support you in your efforts to breastfeed, you might connect with them in HealthLynked.  WE are the first of its kind social ecosystem designed specifically for physicians and patients to collaborate in the efficient exchanges of health information.

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7 Health Benefits of Holding Hands and Its Potential for Healing Society


There’s something special about holding hands with another human being. All of us are innately conscious of how this simple act can stir an instant intimacy, heighten our awareness and express a deep connection. This alchemy of two hands touching has so deeply captured our collective imagination, it’s been the subject of our highest artistic achievements, from the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, to the poetry of Romeo and Juliet, to the lyrics of the Beatles.

But what is it about holding hands, exactly, that makes it so powerful? In partnership with Dignity Health, The Huffington Post explored what science can tell us about this ubiquitous, mysterious gesture and how it can affect our brains and physical well-being, as well as our relationships. Holding hands, we learn, has the power to impact the world.

Holding Patterns

Human beings are hardwired to seek out each other’s touch before we are even born. If you’ve ever touched the palm of a newborn baby, then you’ve likely witnessed (and been treated to) one of the earliest instinctual responses to manifest in humans: the “grasping reflex.” Known to science as the palmar grasp reflex, the instinct makes a baby grab your finger and squeeze it tight.

Humans share this trait with our primate ancestors; it can still be observed in species of monkeys, notably in the way newborns cling to their mothers, unsupported, so the mother can transport the two, hands-free.

Human fetuses have been observed displaying this behavior weeks before full-term delivery. They will clutch their umbilical cord, place their hand in their mouth, or suck their thumb. Twin fetuses are known to hold hands, as poignantly captured in a Kansas family’s moving sonogram image, in which one twin is healthy and the other is critically ill.

Babies may relinquish the grasping reflex over time, but the importance and vitality of touch remain essential.

Touch, A Necessity Of Life

Quantifying the power of touch can be challenging for researchers — measuring the outcome of, say, depriving a child from human contact is unethical. But an unsettling episode in Romania offered scientists some telling insights into what can happen when we are denied the nurturing that touch can provide.

Charles Nelson, professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School and author of the book Romania’s Abandoned Children: Deprivation, Brain Development, and the Struggle for Recovery, led a study that measured the developmental progress of hundreds of children raised in poorly run Romanian orphanages. They had endured years without being held, nuzzled or hugged, according to a Harvard Gazette report. Many of the children had physical problems and stunted growth, despite receiving proper nutrition.

The same appears to hold true through adulthood. Adults who don’t receive regular human touch — a condition called skin hunger or touch hunger — are more prone to suffer from mental and emotional maladies like depression and anxiety disorders.

As psychologists Alberto Gallace and Charles Spence point out in the journal Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, “touch is the first of our senses to develop” and “our most fundamental means of contact with the external world.” It’s more than just a comforting sensation; touch is vital to human development and life.

The ‘Love Hormone’ 

Clearly, we humans live to touch. But how does it sustain us? What’s happening in our bodies and minds when what we touch is another person’s hand?

Multiple studies — including one conducted at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) — show that human touch triggers the release of oxytocin, aka “the love hormone,” in our brain. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter that increases feelings of trust, generosity and compassion, and decreases feelings of fear and anxiety.

Dr. Tiffany Field, director of the Touch Research Institute (TRI) at the University of Miami/Miller School of Medicine, says that holding hands is one of the most powerful forms of touch in part because the skin is a sense organ and needs stimulation, just as the ears and the eyes do.

Touch is our most fundamental means of contact with the external world.

Psychologists Alberto Gallace and Charles Spence

“When the fingers are interlaced and someone is holding your hand, they’re stimulating pressure receptors [that trigger] what’s called vagal activity,” Field says. “When there’s pressure in the touch, the heart rate goes down, the blood pressure goes down, and you’re put in a relaxed state. When people interlace their fingers, they get more pressure stimulation than the regular way of holding hands.”

Physical touch — and especially holding hands — is commonly associated with “feeling good.” Which raises the question, is there more hand-holding can do for us?

With Touch Comes Toleration

As we’ve seen, humans are not only creatures of habit, we’re also creatures of comfort. We gravitate toward situations and people who make us feel as content and secure as possible.

In the scientific study “Lending A Hand,” neuroscientists from the University of Virginia and the University of Wisconsin studied the effect the simple act of a human touch has on people in stressful situations. In this case, the participants underwent the threat of electric shock. The researchers came to the conclusion that a “loving touch reassures.”

On a physiological level, participants were able to better cope with pain and discomfort when they were holding hands because the act of holding hands decreased the levels of stress hormones like cortisol in their body. In other words, if stress is contagious, apparently a feeling of calm is contagious, too.

The Societal Imprint Of Human Touch 

Scientific research correlates physical touch with well being in  several important areas of life. Multiple studies at TRI concluded physical touch can affect pain management, lower blood pressure, decrease violence, increased trust, build a stronger immune system, create greater learning engagement and enhance overall well-being.

TRI is mining the potential of touch through a range of current studies, including how massage may help premature babies to grow, and if it can reduce depression in pregnant women such that they’re less likely to deliver prematurely.

“If every preemie was massaged in the U.S.,” Field suggests, “in one year that would save about $4.8 billion in hospital costs, because on average they get out of the hospital six days earlier.”

Field and her colleagues at TRI treat people with hip pain, typically from arthritis, and work to reduce depression and sleep problems in veterans who suffer from PTSD.  “Touch reduces pain because of the serotonin that’s released, and with the pressure on receptors during physical exercise, you get more deep sleep,” Field says.

Human Touch: More Important Now Than Ever

Science indicates that there’s a social argument to encourage hand-holding. What’s holding us back from embracing this? Today’s growing preoccupation with digital media over personal physical contact may unintentionally affect people negatively.

Though small in scope, another Touch Research Institute study suggests that American teenagers touch each other less than French teenagers do, and are more prone to aggressive verbal and physical behavior. Other data supports this claim that American youth is more violent and more prone to suicide than youth in other countries. Field’s hypothesis is that it has to do with ours being a “touch-phobic society.”

Oh please, say to me / You’ll let me be your man / And please, say to me / You’ll let me hold your hand

The Beatles, “I Wanna Hold Your Hand”

“With this taboo of touch in the school system, children are getting touched less,… less than when I was a kid, certainly,” Field says. “We’re so concerned about kids being touched the wrong way that we’ve basically banned it from the school system, and I think that’s really unfortunate.”

What can we do to shift this paradigm? It may be as simple as instilling in ourselves the mindfulness to outstretch a hand more often to those in our lives who matter most to us.

Here is a summary of seven documented benefits of holding hands:

  1. Holding hands is a great stress reliever

Holding hands with your significant other decreases the level of a stress hormone called cortisol. Even the touch of a friend or a teammate can make us feel more content, connected, or better about ourselves. When we are stressed out, a light touch on our hand can help ease the strain, both physically and mentally. Our skin also gets more sensitive when cortisol is rushing through our bloodstream, so the touch of a helping hand will have a significantly larger impact. The largest concentration of nerve endings is actually contained inside the hands and fingertips.

So, next time you’re having a really tough day, get together with your partner or a friend and ease the stressful day with them.

  1. Holding hands boosts love & bonding

Oxytocin is the hormone behind this benefit. Oxytocin strengthens empathy and communication between partners in a relationship, which is proven to be a contributing factor for long-lasting, happy relationships. Holding hands with your partner will improve your relationship and create a bond that will impact the quality of your relationship significantly.

Couples who have happy relationships hold hands automatically, sometimes without even noticing, because of a habit developed by their nervous systems. Holding hands produces the oxytocin, which makes us feel happier and more loved.

  1. Holding hands is great for your heart

Besides relieving stress, holding hands with your partner lowers your blood pressure, which is one of the major contributors to heart disease. When we’re clasping fingers with our loved ones, we’re not just easing stress and improving our relationships – we are providing a comfortable sensation that helps our heart. The power of a warm touch goes beyond the health benefits to the heart; a study from Behavioral Medicine backs up this claim.

  1. Holding hands relieves pain

While enduring pain, humans have the natural reflex to tighten their muscles. Think of childbirth – husbands are typically inside the delivery room holding their wife’s hand while she’s going through labor. The reflex to grasp our partner’s hand comes as second nature: It’s always easier to endure pain while holding hands with your soulmate.helping hand

  1. Holding hands fights fear

Remember that horrible scene in the last horror movie you saw that made you want to jump out of your chair? Luckily, your darling was with you to hold your hand and make you feel safe. The human brain responds to sudden stimulation using adrenaline; this stimulation gets our blood pumping and releases high levels of cortisol throughout our body.

During these moments, our natural reaction is to hold hands with someone we trust. It varies from person to person, but a large portion of women will instantly grab their partner’s hand. That’s the intuitive way to fight off nerve

  1. Holding hands provides a sense of security

Simple hand holding is a source of safety and comfort for young children. Remember when your parents taught you to how to cross the street or walked you down a crowded sidewalk? Or when you were learning to ride a bicycle? Insecurity disappears when we have a hand to hold and allows us to more easily conquer obstacles. The security that parents provide their children by holding hands shapes their children’s behavior and their way of thinking.

Additionally, the sensation of safety goes both ways; parents also feel safer when their children are within their grasp.

  1. Holding hands is just plain comfortable

Everybody loves comfort. The sensation of holding hands often provides a comfy feeling while talking a walk with your loved one. A great example is holding hands inside a jacket pocket to warm them up on those cold December nights when you decide to take a stroll in the snow with your partner. Even with gloves, we love to hold hands. It bonds us; it provides lovely sensations and gives us quality time with people we care about.

Conclusion

One thing is certain: our entire bodies, from our nerves to our brains, respond positively to touch and crave it from the time we’re born. Whether it’s due to instinct, comfort, intimacy or love, touch brings us closer to each other both physically and emotionally — and is a necessity for our overall well-being.

This tiny, commonplace behavior triggers chemical reactions in our minds that make us feel loved, happy, cared for, and respected.  Holding hands is one of the fundamental ways we can positively impact our lives and the lives of others.

When we hold hands, the nerves in our skin communicate with our core nervous system, producing hormones that make us feel pleasant and warm. There’s much more to it, of course, and new studies continue to explore the positive psychological effects of human touch today.



As AT&T used to say, “Reach out and Touch Someone”, but not through the phone.  Be present.  Put down the phone.  Hold hands.

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Adapted from the following Sources:

By HuffPost Partner Studio.  The Science Behind The Profound Power Of Holding Hands |

A touching tribute. May 20, 2016

Kvrgic, Dejan.  Study Discovers 7 Surprising Benefits of Holding Hands.  LifeHack.com