Miguel Indurain, five-time winner of the Tour de France; Jackie Joyner-Kersee, an Olympic track star; and Jerome Bettis, a running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers, were able to master their sport despite having asthma. Around 25 million Americas also contend with the disease and work hard to control it so they, too, can stay active. Sometimes, however, an acute flare-up happens unexpectedly. That’s when folks may take oral corticosteroids (along with a rescue inhaler) to restore comfortable breathing. These powerful drugs also are used to ease chronic joint pain and severe allergic reactions.
What are they? Lab-made chemicals resembling the hormone cortisol, which your adrenal gland produces naturally – and they’re not exactly like ’roids athletes abuse in order to get pumped. But they still have potential side effects. Long term, they may cause bone weakening and even cataracts. And a new study has found serious risks associated with short-term use as well.
Research published in The BMJ reviewed records of more than 300,000 people, which tracked them after they took corticosteroids orally for less than a month. The investigators found they had four times the risk of sepsis (blood infection), over three times the risk of blood clots and twice the risk of bone fracture compared with folks who didn’t take oral corticosteroids. And this was at a relatively low dose of 20 mg daily.
So if your doc suggests a short-term corticosteroid, make sure benefits outweigh your risks; ask how to monitor for those risks; and take them for the shortest possible length of time.
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Pregnant and smoking pot?
At the end of its seven-year run, “Mad Men’s” producers admitted that, on screen, the characters smoked a whopping 942 cigarettes, several of them by protagonist Don Draper’s wife, Betty, while she was pregnant.
These days, you all know it’s dangerous to smoke cigarettes while pregnant; it leads to premature deliveries and babies with cognitive problems. And now research is showing it’s a good thing Betty didn’t smoke pot, too, because marijuana comes with its own set of risks for unborn fetuses.
A study published in the Journal of Biosocial Science found that pregnant women who smoked marijuana – either for recreation or because they heard it can ease morning sickness or aches and pains – were almost three times more likely to have a baby born at a low birth weight compared to women who didn’t. Low birth weight is associated with greater infant mortality, asthma and poorer cognitive development. Pot-smoking while pregnant is also linked to the offspring developing heart disease and Type 2 diabetes later in life.
This is especially concerning because marijuana use is up in pregnant woman, from 2.4 percent in 2012 to almost 4 percent in 2014. That’s about 160,000 women annually who are endangering their fetuses by smoking pot. (And if you keep smoking pot after you give birth? Newborns exposed to THC can have problems with brain development.)
So, if you’re pregnant or a new mom, don’t take the risk. To ease nausea or pain, talk to your doc about other remedies that are safe for you during pregnancy.
The beet goes on
We’ve mentioned before that beets (sometimes called beetroot) and beet juice help heart health and provide performance boosts to athletes by increasing levels of artery-relaxing nitric oxide. Relaxed arteries mean increased blood flow, which means better athletic performance. Russian and Eastern European countries’ teams have long treated their top athletes to beet stew/soup/borscht during training sessions and before competitions. American athletes finally picked up on that and have been doing it for a while, too.
But in addition to improved performance, there are many health boosts from beets and beet juice. The phytonutrients that give beets their deep crimson color have powerful anti-cancer properties, boost the immune system and help cleanse the liver. And now research has found that for seniors, drinking beet juice before working out may significantly increase exercise’s brain-boosting effects.
A recent study looked at 26 participants, mean age 65, who had a shot of beetroot juice one hour before a moderately intense, 50-minute treadmill workout. Those folks showed greater connectivity between the somatomotor cortex, a brain region associated with motor function, and the insular cortex, a brain region associated with cognitive functioning. The researchers said test subjects “had brain networks that more closely resembled those of younger adults.”
What’s in your hot tub?
In the 2010 movie “Hot Tub Time Machine,” four friends now in their 30s, played by John Cusack, Craig Robinson, Rob Corddry and Clark Duke, are transported back to 1986 after jumping into a hot tub that turns out to be a time machine. Luckily (spoiler alert!), when they eventually take the hot tub back to the future, they discover that their lives have been changed for the better by revisiting the past.
Hot tubs can be a great experience. But don’t let your steaming, bubbling, tight-muscle relaxer turn into a Petri dish. High temperatures make it hard to keep disinfectants at adequate levels, and stubborn bacteria can deliver something just as unexpected as a trip back to high school: Pseudomonas aeruginosa can get under your suit (if you’re wearing one) and infect hair follicles, causing a hot-tub rash. And Legionella can cause a potentially life-threatening type of pneumonia called Legionnaire’s disease if you breathe those microbes in from the mist coming off the tub.
So here’s how you stay safe:
Get pool test strips. Test water for free chlorine, which should be at 2-4 parts per million, or bromine (4-6 ppm). The pH should fall between 7.2 and 7.8. These levels cut down on the chance that bacteria might call your hot tub home.
Make sure hot-tub walls are smooth, not sticky or slimy.
Make sure the sanitizing pump is humming.
Shower before you dip; skin creams and other products can absorb disinfectants from the water, leaving less to kill bacteria.
Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chairman of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.