On “Star Trek,” when a cloaked Romulan Bird of Prey suddenly materializes in the same quadrant as the Starship Enterprise, it’s a pretty good bet that conflict is in the stars. But when researchers uncloaked millions of bacteria living on your skin, what they found was not an evil force plotting your destruction but a vast colony of good-natured roommates.
Your gut’s trillion-bacteria biome can strengthen your immune system, influence your glucose levels, affect aging and protect your heart. Your skin biome also is home to countless bacteria that are essential to your health. Researchers on “The Belly Button Project” found more than 2,300 distinct species living there. And interestingly, fast healers had lots of helpful skin bacteria, but slower healers seemed to have fewer, possibly because of elevated blood sugar levels.
So you want to go easy on the phaser fire: Blanketing your skin with antibacterial compounds may vaporize bacteria that are there to make you feel better, not worse. And here’s more info about the nasty side effects of triclosan-containing antibacterial soaps and other products: That bacteria-slayer not only lays waste to the “just here to help” microbes on your skin, but it’s more than a rumor that it’s an endocrine-disrupting chemical that promotes the growth of breast cancer cells in the lab.
We believe (and so does the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) that hand-washing with good ol’ soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizers is the essential defense against colds, flu and other easy-to-spread infections. You want good-for-you invisible roommates to thrive so they can help you live long and prosper.
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Having a healthy pregnancy
The Midas myth is a powerful allegory: A man can turn everything he touches into gold, but will starve to death since he cannot eat gold. The U.S. is one of the richest countries in the world but, like Afghanistan and Mali, we’ve had an increase in maternal mortality since 2003; the U.S. maternal mortality rate is more than double Canada and Saudi Arabia’s.
What accounts for the increase? Lack of or poor prenatal care affects around 30 percent of American women, allowing hypertension, obesity and diabetes to run rampant and increasing the risk for life-threatening complications.
If you’re thinking of getting pregnant or are pregnant, what can you do to get and stay healthy?
Smart self-care includes: not smoking; achieving a healthy pre-pregnancy weight; starting a prenatal vitamin with DHA three months before conception; not gaining too much while pregnant; eating a nutritious diet; getting daily physical activity; not drinking alcohol; and sleeping seven to eight hours nightly.
Good medical care also starts before conception: Find out if you have health issues that put you at risk for complications during pregnancy – and address them. Ask about vaccines you need before, during and after your pregnancy. After conception, see your doctor once a month for weeks 4-28; twice a month for weeks 28-36, and weekly from week 36 until you give birth. (Moms 35 or older may go more often.) Now with the Affordable Care Act and expansion of Medicaid, everyone who is pregnant can get care – and hopefully the U.S. maternal mortality rate will decline.
Spring safely into summer
When Hollywood stuntwoman Leigh Hennessy walks up a wall or sails over a 20-foot fence, she’s launched from an unseen trampoline – right into her role as stunt double for actresses like Lucy Liu, Demi Moore and Helen Mirren. But when you or your kids decide to get launched on your backyard trampoline, there’s a good chance one of you will land in the emergency room with a broken bone or worse.
A new study says that from 2002 to 2011, more than 1 million trampoline injuries (almost all happen at home) cost $1 billion in emergency hospital care. Kids around 9 years old account for most of the fractures to fingers, hands, forearms and elbows. Injuries to the head, back and torso tend to happen to older teens; they jump higher and more forcefully. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons advise against home trampolines.
But we don’t want you or your kids to be less active – just safer. (A new report says that only about 25 percent of kids ages 6-15 get the recommended 60 minutes of moderate physical activity daily, and only 20 percent of adults get the recommended 150 minutes weekly.) If you must trampoline – it’s been an Olympic sport for almost 16 years – do it only with supervision as part of a sports training program, and find out the program’s safety record beforehand. For kids 6 or under? Fuggedaboutit. As for at-home activities, put up that badminton or volleyball net, or play backyard football, soccer or Frisbee. Have fun, stay fit and stay away from backyard trampolines.