When Willie Nelson croons, “Turn out the lights/the party’s over/They say all good things must end,” he’s not quite right as far as your health is concerned. That’s because turning off the lights at night is essential for good physical and mental health – and not just for you, but perhaps for your kids-to-be.
Research has shown that sleeping in a dimly lit instead of dark environment is associated with disruption of circadian rhythm (your internal body clock) and neuroendocrine physiology (how your nerves and hormones work together). This can trigger insomnia (related to mood shifts and weight gain) and accelerate tumor growth. One Israeli study even found that women living in neighborhoods where it was bright enough to read a book outside at midnight had a 73 percent higher risk of developing breast cancer than those who lived in areas with the least outdoor artificial light.
And now researchers have found that the health disruption from light pollution might get passed down through generations. A recent lab study found that when hamsters are exposed to an unnatural mix of daylight and darkness, it can cause epigenetic changes that alter both male and female biochemistry. Then, when they mate, their offspring end up with weakened immune systems and impaired endocrine activity.
Our advice: Shut off the TV and digital devices when you turn off the lights; buy blackout curtains/blinds to keep ambient light out of bedrooms; use only red-wavelength light in your bathroom; wear a sleep mask; and say a healthy “goodnight” to the Willie Nelson tunes.
Aging and sleep disruptions
Science tells us that the older you get, the more you need good-quality sleep but the harder it is to achieve, what with having to get up to pee and being roused by aches and pains. On top of that, age-related biological changes can alter your sleep stages, called nonrapid eye movementand rapid eye movement. As a consequence, it takes you longer to fall asleep, it’s harder to stay asleep, and you end up shortchanged on restorative sleep. This can make you fuzzy-brained, and chronic sleep deprivation is associated with brain inflammation that leads to earlier-onset dementia.
Fortunately, you can maintain or improve sleep quality as you age by walking 10,000 steps daily. Plus, before hitting the hay, use ice or heating pads to ease joint pain, and practice controlled breathing and/or mindful meditation. To avoid waking up to pee, a new study suggests that cutting back on salt eases the urge. And if all else fails, try an online sleep program.
Aspirin may help prevent cancer
These days aspirin is made in a lab, but extracts from the bark of the willow tree were used to treat pain in Egypt as long ago as 3000 B.C. In 400 B.C., Hippocrates prescribed willow leaf tea to ease the pain of childbirth.
Salicylic acid, the compound produced by the willow, has stood the test of time as a medicine. Today its uses have expanded far beyond treating pain and inflammation. It has been shown to help prevent heart attacks and strokes, especially for those folks at high risk. There’s also mounting evidence that it helps prevent cancer and reduces cancer-associated deaths.
Research presented at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting explored these benefits. A Harvard study looked at data on more than 130,000 people and found that all cancer mortality risk was 7 percent lower for women and 15 percent lower for men who regularly used aspirin, compared to non-users. The strongest reduction in relative risk was for colorectal cancer: 31 percent for women and 30 percent for men who regularly took aspirin. Women who took aspirin had an 11 percent lower risk of dying of breast cancer, and men who took aspirin had a 23 percent lower risk of dying of prostate cancer. There were benefits at dosages ranging from 0.5 standard aspirin tablets weekly to seven aspirin tablets weekly.
If you take other meds, talk with your doc before taking aspirin. Then always take it with a half-full glass of warm water before and after.
A second opinion on second opinions
Stand-up legend Rodney Dangerfield became famous for his quips about how he got no respect from anyone. “My psychiatrist told me I’m going crazy,” went one of his jokes. “I told him, ‘If you don’t mind, I’d like a second opinion.’ He said, ‘All right. You’re ugly, too!’ ”
Now a new study from the Mayo Clinic shows that getting a second opinion is no joke. The researchers looked at records for nearly 300 patients who had been referred to a specialist by their primary-care docs. They found that in 21 percent of cases, the initial diagnosis was completely changed, while a full 66 percent of second opinions led to a more specific diagnosis. Only 12 percent of diagnoses stayed the same. In this study, the conditions that were most commonly misdiagnosed were respiratory problems, mental illnesses and problems in the genital area and urinary tract.
Wondering whether to get a second opinion? Here’s a good rule of thumb: If your diagnosis means you need intensive therapy or treatment, such as surgery or chemotherapy, or taking a drug for more than seven days, or if you’re having ongoing unexplained symptoms, such as weight loss or a persistent cough that you don’t feel your doc has explained, get a second opinion.
Ask your doc to refer you to a physician in your network to keep costs down. Even though another visit might seem like a big hassle, you’ll save more serious hassles if it keeps you from a misdiagnosis or an insufficient diagnosis.
Mehmet Oz, M.D., is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D., is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.