More than 6 million women in North America have trouble conceiving or maintaining a pregnancy — Courteney Cox, Khloe Kardashian and Giuliana Rancic all used in-vitro fertilization to aid conception (some more successfully than others). And around 5 million U.S. men will seek medical help for fertility issues sometime in their lives.
Fertility treatments are a blessing – 4 million babies a year are born as a result of fertility-enhancing procedures – but they’ve got their drawbacks. A new study found intracytoplasmic sperm injection for male infertility and stimulating ovulation may increase the risk of birth defects. (IVF did not.) But there’s worry that IVF’s intense hormone injections may promote ovarian cancer.
Good news: Meditation, stress reduction and a good laugh can increase (as much as 30 percent) the likelihood of conceiving. The hormones in your adrenal system (epinephrine, cortisol, norepinephrine) that regulate and respond to stress affect your central and peripheral nervous system, brain, guts, immune system – and reproductive organs. You can control them, though. Practicing mindful meditation daily, doing progressive muscle relaxation exercises, getting a massage and participating in group therapy all dispel stress reactions that alter body chemistry. For some women, the benefit is enough to make conception happen. But it takes time to integrate de-stressing into your life. So get started (and get your partner to participate, too).
Plus, another fertility booster: Eat a diet rich in omega-3s – salmon and trout – and take 900 milligrams in supplements (the DHA variety) from algal oil to further boost fertility.
Treating psoriatic arthritis
Psoriatic arthritis strikes up to 30 percent of people with psoriasis, an autoimmune skin condition that causes chronic irritation and plaques. It typically triggers joint pain, stiffness and swelling of the fingertips and spine, and flare-ups may happen after long periods of remission.
When Byron Janis and Shawn Lane were diagnosed, the best treatments were nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen, and steroids such as hydrocortisone. Today, we have more effective medications, such as disease-modifying antirheumatics and biologics (which suppress a specific inflammatory protein — tumor necrosis factor). The net effect of such newer drugs is to slow or prevent joint damage.
It’s essential that diagnosis and treatment of psoriatic arthritis start early, because joint damage can’t be reversed once it happens — at least not yet. Phil Mickelson was able to save his career because he got to a rheumatologist in time and stopped joint damage from progressing. So, if you have psoriasis, look out for joint aches and pains, swelling of fingers or hands and general fatigue. There’s no one test to diagnose the problem, but starting treatment promptly, losing weight if you need to (it takes pressure off joints), and upgrading your nutrition will boost your immune system and control inflammation. These steps provide big benefits for years to come. Just ask Phil.
Treating drug-resistant hypertension
Twenty percent to 30 percent of people with high blood pressure are drug-resistant: They can’t (or don’t) control their heart-harmful condition even with multiple medications and lifestyle changes.
Turns out, if you deactivate certain nerves that control contraction and dilation of blood vessels in the kidney, it lowers blood pressure instantly. Using radio waves to zap the nerves of 106 patients, research showed big improvements in blood pressure with no substantial complications. Then, last August, the Food and Drug Administration approved Symplicity HTN-3, a phase-3 clinical trial of 530 people with treatment-resistant hypertension. If results are consistent with the earlier study, we may have a new therapy that reduces the most stubborn of numbers.
In the meantime, if you’re struggling to lower your blood pressure (we like to see people achieve 115/75), here’s a tough question: Are you really following your prescribed medication regimen and upgrading your lifestyle habits? About 50 percent of people with chronic health problems (hypertension included) don’t take their medications at all or as prescribed. And many people don’t adopt healthy habits like walking 10,000 steps a day and avoiding the five food felons: trans and saturated fats, any grain but 100 percent whole grains, added sugars and sugar syrups.
Even if there’s a way to zap persistently high blood pressure, you need to upgrade your daily habits to reduce your risk of stroke, heart attack, impotence, wrinkling and dementia — all associated with hypertension.
Are you over-X-rayed?
Every day, 19,500 CT (computed tomography) scans are performed in the United States. From 2005 to 2007, more than 70 percent of American adults were zapped. CT scans typically give you the radiation of 75 chest X-rays. We now believe that around 29,000 future cases of cancer will result from the 72 million scans done in 2007 alone.
In addition to CTs, there are other scans to avoid if not necessary: PET scans, dental X-rays, virtual colonoscopies and more.
So what can you do? A new Institute of Medicine report says eliminating unnecessary CT scans lowers a woman’s risk of breast cancer. The American College of Radiology and the American Academy of Family Physicians advise people to be equally cautious about scans for headaches or lower back pain.
We say be a smart consumer of scans. While CT and other X-rays can be life-saving and make earlier diagnosis possible, always ask:
• Is this scan necessary? (We say to ask three times.) Could a different test with less radiation provide the needed information for my diagnosis? And could a different test be as useful in determining how my condition is treated?
• Is the scan set to use the lowest dose necessary for results?
• Can I wait to see a specialist first?
Be scanner smart.