You Docs: How stress hurts and how to banish it

12/03/2013 12:00 AM

08/08/2014 10:20 AM

Did constant stress make “Breaking Bad’s” protagonist Walter White (Bryan Cranston) such an unhealthy, moody guy? Chances are pretty good it did, and it may have made him sick in the first place.

Relentless tension packs a pretty tough punch: It affects how developing immune cells are expressed, even before they’re sent out of the bone marrow (that’s where they’re manufactured) and into your bloodstream. And what’s the expression they adopt? Pro-inflammatory (they’re professionals at revving up trouble). That makes you vulnerable to everything from mood swings and heart disease to autoimmune conditions and even cancer. Plus, stress turns on other pro-inflammatory genes, making it the greatest ager of all.

But we can help you de-stress both in the short term and for the long run.

Short-term solutions? Sweat, breathe hard, burn off stress hormones with exercise, walking (10,000 steps a day is the best), sex, you get the idea. Soak in a warm tub with Epsom salts. Relaxing your muscles helps relax the mind. Go for 10 minutes of mindful meditation. Relaxing the mind helps relax the body. Do these stress-busters daily.

Long term? Identify your stress triggers and get help defusing them – talk with a therapist, your family or other advisers. Write out options that would help you unwind. Plot a course of action, and act on it. Then plan for fun. Make time for friends, hobbies, a good book and loved ones in your weekly routine. We can’t stress enough just how important this is to your long, healthy, younger life.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Impressionist painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir tied paintbrushes to his hand when rheumatoid arthritis made them impossible to grip, and although the disease seems to have been around for millennia, when Renoir’s RA hit him in the early 1890s, it was considered one of the first documented cases of the modern era.

Since then, this autoimmune attack on the lining of the joints and erosion of surrounding bone has become more common – more than 1.3 million North Americans have it. And the newest research shows an association with fewer beneficial intestinal bacteria and an overgrowth of an inflammatory gut bacterium, Prevotella copri.

We think excessive antibiotic use and/or disruptive chemicals in the food supply and environment may upset your guts’ balance of good and bad bacteria (you’ve got trillions of them in there), and can increase vulnerability to a variety of autoimmune conditions.

Our suggestion: Help your body prevent or manage an autoimmune condition such as RA by nurturing those bacteria teeming inside you, so the good and bad stay in balance. Eat a high-fiber diet of 100 percent whole grains and lots of fresh fruits and veggies; nix red meat; maintain a healthy weight to reduce bodywide inflammation; and get plenty of exercise to keep your metabolism humming at a good rate. Taking a probiotic supplement also may help (we like spore probiotics containing bacillus coagulans GBI-30, 6086 and lactobacillus GG, a strain activated by stomach acid). So ask your doctor if that’s a smart move for you, and for your joints.

Supplemental phonies

Leonardo Di Caprio’s Frank Abagnale Jr. in “Catch Me If You Can” and Freddy Benson (Steve Martin) in “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” prove just how much folks love a con man – movie-goers laid out more than $200 million to see these tricksters. But that’s nothing compared with the $15 billion spent in one year (2007) on “alternative” supplements – many herbal – that are phonier than Abagnale’s medical degree and Freddy’s disability.

A recent study looked at 44 herbal products from 12 companies, 30 species of herbs and 50 leaf samples to see if their contents were related in any way to what their labels stated.

• 59 percent of the products contained material from plants not listed on the label.
• Just 48 percent contained what they claimed as the active ingredient. Of those, one-third were contaminated with ingredients and fillers, some that pose health risks.
• Only two of 12 companies delivered what they promised on the label without any substitutions.

The Food and Drug Administration says store shelves contain more than 300 “adulterated” supplements, some with unidentified prescription medications, others with heavy metals that up the risk of heart attack, stroke and death.

What can you do?

• Rely on an ingredients certification seal from the United States Pharmacopeial Convention. Five companies (go to usp.org) have earned them.
• Remember, even reliable supplements are just that. They’re meant to supplement, not substitute for, a healthy lifestyle.

Kids and violent movies

In this year’s “The Lone Ranger,” an entire tribe of Native Americans is slaughtered and a bad guy makes a meal of an enemy’s heart. The rating? PG-13. Isolated movie horror? The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says your kids will view more than 16,000 murders on the big and small screens before age 18, and more often PG-13 films are becoming the source.

A recent study found that gun violence in PG-13 films more than tripled from 1985-2010, and that PG-13 films now contain more gun violence than R-rated films. (PG-13 means parents are strongly cautioned about letting kids 13 or younger see the film.)

Does this matter? According to the AACAP, onscreen violence often is shown to be the only way to resolve conflict. It seems like this conflict-resolution technique has become common in a few NFL locker rooms. Are these related? Impressionable kids, especially those with emotional problems (and some of those playing macho sports), often adopt such aggressive behaviors. And even if repeated exposure to onscreen violence doesn’t spark aggressive behavior, it amps up fear. Not a good foundation for a happy life.

So, parents, take the G (guidance) in PG-13 seriously, and read movie reviews before giving the thumbs up or down.

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