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You Docs: How to save your own life

  • Published Saturday, Oct. 19, 2013, at 1:35 p.m.
  • Updated Tuesday, Oct. 29, 2013, at 5:46 a.m.

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When “Can a Song Save Your Life?” opened at the Toronto Film Festival, producers were hoping a song could save their film. We’re hoping you’ll give a more positive answer to a slightly different question: Can you save your own life? Emergencies such as choking, poisoning or severe bleeding can happen when you’re on your own. So here’s our quick rundown of how to make sure you come out of the crisis in good shape.

Choking: If you get something stuck in your throat, dial 911 and leave the phone off the hook. Then make a fist. Place your thumb below your rib cage and above your belly button. Grasp your fist with your other hand. Press the pair into the area with a hard, fast upward motion. Or lean over a table edge, chair or railing. Quickly thrust your upper belly area (right below your ribcage) against the edge. Repeat until you dislodge the stuck object.

Severe bleeding: This is surprising: Do not immediately use a tourniquet unless you’re a doc or under a doctor’s supervision. Use clean cloths or paper towels to press down hard on the wound. If the pressure doesn’t stop the bleeding, then apply a tourniquet above the wound, never on a joint.

Poisoning: If you have a poisoning emergency, dial 911. If you think you might have ingested too many meds or dangerous chemicals, call Poison HELP at 800-222-1222. Don’t induce vomiting – that could make things worse.

Your health

Will Rogers, that most philosophic of humorists, once said: “There are three kinds of men. The one that learns by reading. The few who learn by observation. The rest of them have to pee on the electric fence for themselves.” We don’t know if he was right or not, but we are certain that “reading” your pee can tell you a lot about your health.

Four to eight times a day you’ll pass urine, a mix of more than 3,000 chemicals and water, to remove toxins, salts, nitrogen metabolites, excess nutrients and liquid from your body so that your metabolism, blood pressure and brain can function optimally. So here’s your guide to “reading” your pee for signs of trouble:

Color changes: Well-hydrated pee is colorless or slightly yellow –- unless you take a multivitamin (half of one in the morning and half in the evening). It’s the vitamin B complex that makes for bright-yellow vitamin P! If your urine is darker, it means you need to drink more water. Aim for around 64 ounces a day (more if you sweat a lot). Some medications can temporarily make urine turn florescent green (the antidepressant amitriptyline) or blue (the diuretic triamterene).

Odor Changes: Most of the time urine is odorless (unless you’re in the subway in August), but diabetes can trigger a sweet smell, and a pungent odor might indicate kidney stones or an infection. And then there’s asparagus; some people are genetically predisposed to have an enzyme that produces that post-asparagus aroma.

Measles vaccine

Thirteen years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention declared that measles were eliminated in the United States, and we rejoiced that the MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) vaccine had made this scourge go the way of disco and the mullet. In the days before the vaccine, 3 to 4 million people in North American contracted measles every year; more than 1,000 developed a chronic disability, such as brain dysfunction, because of the disease; and 400 to 500 people died, many of them children.

Since the vaccine, measles-related deaths and severe brain dysfunction have largely disappeared. But during the first eight months of this year, there were 159 cases of measles in 16 states – the largest outbreak in the U.S. since 1996. How could this happen when immunization virtually wiped out the disease?

Well, 131 of the cases hit folks who had never been vaccinated. Chances are the infections came in on unvaccinated travelers who are from or have been in a country where measles is still a problem. When they landed on our shores, they infected those Americans who also haven’t been vaccinated.

So far, there haven’t been any reported deaths, but measles can trigger a high fever, congestion, sore throat and a body-covering rash. Out of every 1,000 children who get the measles, one or two will die.

Most states require children to get the MMR vaccine in order to attend public schools. But if you or your kids haven’t received the vaccine, talk to your primary-care doc about getting one ASAP. You’ll protect yourself, your kids and others in your community as well.

Go nuts for walnuts

Paulie “Walnuts” Gualtieri, Tony Soprano’s sidekick, was always frantically worried about his health. Clearly, he had no idea that his nickname was a fountain of youth. Turns out, eating 2 ounces of shelled walnuts a day can make your blood vessels more flexible (a sign of heart health), improve your cholesterol levels and help with high blood pressure, glucose control and insulin regulation. In short: It can make you healthier, happier and protect your heart, brain, sex life, kidneys and that youthful glow on your skin.

But walnuts aren’t the only nuts that have turned out to help you. One mega-study that looked at results from 25 clinical trials found that eating around 2.4 ounces of nuts daily lowers total cholesterol by 5 percent, heart-and blood-vessel-damaging low-density lipoprotein by more than 7 percent and improves the ratio of LDL to heart-friendly high-density lipoprotein by 8 percent. Triglyceride levels declined by more than 10 percent for folks who started out at 150 or higher. The studies included macadamia, pistachio, hazelnuts or peanuts (not really nuts; they’re legumes), but not Brazil or pine nuts. So here’s the scoop on these tasty morsels:

• 2-3 ounces of pistachios a day lowers total cholesterol levels (from around 210 mg/dL) by slashing LDL and raising HDL after only a month.

• Eating almonds daily preserves HDL levels while lowering lousy LDL by up to 19 percent.

• A handful of hazelnuts daily may slash your risk for heart disease and may help protect you from some cancers and dementia.

Curb teen binge drinking

You may think the toga party thrown by Bluto (John Belushi) and his Delta Tau Chi pals in the 1978 movie “Animal House” was an exaggeration of adolescent drinking habits for riotously comic effects. But a new report makes us wonder, and worry. Interviewing more than 16,000 high-school seniors, researchers found that 20 percent downed five or more drinks in a row in the past two weeks; 10 percent say they slammed down 10 or more; and almost 6 percent admitted to 15 or more in one long binge. And it’s not just the boys; now 20 percent of girls are doing it, too.

Excessive drinking damages teens’ still-developing brain, memory and motor skills, while putting them at risk for lethal alcohol poisoning, being victims of violent crime, traffic accidents, and depression and anxiety. Plus, they may have high-risk sex and develop alcohol problems as adults. But you can do a lot as a parent or significant adult in your favorite teen’s life to help a kid avoid all that.

• Explain (calmly) the risks. And DO NOT overindulge yourself. If teens see you do it, they assume it’s OK for them too.

• Talk about how alcohol marketing targets them, so they can understand that drinking isn’t actually so cool.

• Don’t drink with your kids or supply them with alcohol. That signals a go-along-to-get-along attitude that’s a slippery slope.

• Make your kids feel that they’re special and their future is bright, so they understand doing anything (alcohol or drugs) that compromises them is heartbreaking to you and a waste for them.

Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is chief wellness officer and chair of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.

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