Cold or not, if it’s sunny today, send the kids outside to play. It’ll get their bodies moving (and get them out from underfoot, so you get a break too). It’ll also give them a shot at getting enough sunshine for their skin to make vitamin D-3. That’s tough in winter, but it won’t hurt to try. Help it along: When they come in, serve some cocoa with D-fortified nonfat milk. Repeat daily. And make canned salmon and tuna menu regulars; they’re both good D-3 sources.
We’ve just seen a report on low vitamin D-3 in 20 percent of kids at risk for heart trouble — their young arteries already showed signs of stiffening. While this is new, it’s not surprising: Many studies link low D-3 in adults to buckets of cardiovascular trouble, from high blood pressure to stroke. The reverse is also true: Healthy levels of D-3 reduce heart threats.
Get your kids tested for vitamin D-3, if you haven’t already. And talk to your pediatrician about D-3 supplements. Like 75 percent of adults, many kids need them, especially in winter. The usual recommendation is 400 IU a day, but age and size matter. (For adults, we recommend 1,000 IU; 1,200 after 60.)
The clincher? Actually, there are two: Kids short on D-3 tend to gain weight, especially belly weight, the riskiest place for their hearts (yours, too). And D-3 also fights viral infections in school kids, so maybe you and yours can skip cold and flu season.
What are our politicians smoking?
Just imagine knowing that if you spend $10 to get healthier, you’ll save $160. Guaranteed. And that the more you spend, the bigger your savings. Eventually, you could invest $50, save $737 and be way healthier. You’d be forking over every spare dollar, right?
That’s exactly what your state politicians could be doing — and in most states, exactly what they’re not doing. How crazy is that? By the way, put "million" after the dollar amounts above. Each year, each state could save $737 million, on average! That’s future jobs money. Infrastructure, cut-the-debt, heal-the-economy money. Big bucks.
Where’s it coming from? States got a ginormous windfall in 1998, when big tobacco agreed to pay $206 billion to them over 25 years. But the average state is wasting it. We have kvetched about this before — Mike co-wrote a major report on it — but we’re even madder. More and more of the money is being diverted from stop-smoking programs, proven to slash health care expenses, lost productivity and Medicaid payments. Not to mention the toll smoking takes on smokers’ hearts, lungs, brains and the people who love them.
"Short-sighted" is polite talk for this. A new analysis has calculated what’s being lost: tons. If your politicians will just spend the average recommended amount of $74 million on anti-tobacco efforts, your state will pocket at least 11 times that: from $853 million to more than $1 billion.
What’s at the top of your wish list?
Do you think you’re getting that shiny new exercise bike you asked for? Or maybe it’s "Just Dance 3," the super-fun new Wii workout, that you want? And did you just blast in from your daily walk, rosy-cheeked and ready to rip?
That’s your memory applauding, not just us. That walk gave you a jolt of something called (sorry about this) brain-derived neurotrophic factor, better known as BDNF. (Think of it as Miracle-Gro for your brain.)
We and many others have long been convinced that exercise improves mental as well as physical fitness, and we know it increases BDNF, so it seemed likely that the two were connected.
But the specific links were elusive. Now four new, very different studies have concluded that exercise-boosted BDNF sharpens your memory, recall and ability to do tricky tasks (negotiate airport parking; manage your boss, who seems to be short on BDNF; or land eight tiny reindeer on a roof).
The studies were done on Irish college students, U.S. airplane pilots, elderly rats in Brazil and younger ones in California. The super-short punchline: Immediately after physical activity (riding a bike, running a maze), brain levels of BDNF shoot up and so does mental agility. Work out regularly, and they stay up. If you’ve got a genetic tendency to lose BDNF with age (some people do), exercise may be even more important for memory and task skills.
So if you-know-who doesn’t come through with that bike or Wii workout, buy them for yourself. Just say that your brain made you do it.
Why fresh or frozen has it over most canned foods
You remember BPA, the stuff in hard plastic water/baby bottles that was linked to cancer, miscarriage, fertility, obesity, immunity and more? Warnings snowballed, a substitute was found, and now virtually every shatterproof plastic bottle has a "BPA free" sticker. Phew.
Except ... BPA is still easier to find than flags on the Fourth of July. Just open a can of soup, soda, beer, beans, tuna, tomatoes, you name it. About 80 percent of cans have a BPA-epoxy lining that protects food from can corrosion but leeches into the contents. You probably consume BPA every day. How much is unknown, but a disturbing new clue just arrived.
People who ate 1.5 cups of canned soup a day for five days had more than a tenfold spike in BPA. How much do you get if you have a couple of sodas, tuna salad for lunch, and a beer after work? No one knows. (BPA’s also in fast-food/gas-station receipts; don’t touch ’em if you don’t need ’em.)
You don’t want this stuff in your body, especially if you’re contemplating getting pregnant. There are some BPA-free cans (Eden Foods and certain Trader Joe’s products use them), but they don’t last as long or work for all foods. Can linings have to withstand searing sterilization heat, and as yet there’s no really good substitute for BPA epoxies. (Inventors wanted.)
For now, look for cans labeled BPA-free. Try to replace canned staples with frozen. Choose drinks in glass or plastic bottles. And go fresh whenever possible — always our advice.
What not to take for a hangover as party season peaks
Acetaminophen reigns as one of the most popular painkillers ever, despite sometimes getting more bad press than Lindsey Lohan and Conrad Murray combined. In very recent memory, it has faced ongoing concerns about liver damage, major recalls for contamination problems and disturbing links to childhood asthma. Yet sales consistently rebound. Why? It does the job for millions, who find it easier on their stomachs than other painkillers.
Still, we’ve just gotten another reminder of how vital it is to take acetaminophen precisely.
The new alarm: "staggered overdoses." Unlike classic overdoses (taking too many pills at once), staggered ones occur if you take even slightly too much acetaminophen over several days. The effect can be lethal. In hospital studies, 37 percent of staggered overdose cases died, versus 28 percent of classic overdoses. And survivors were more likely to have liver, brain and kidney problems.
While acetaminophen is quite safe when used correctly, it’s also particularly easy to misuse during holidays because it combines very badly with alcohol. Your liver can’t take it. So consider this a public service message from us: As we enter peak party season and peak cold-and-flu time, do not drink and take acetaminophen, whether for a hangover or a head cold.
That’s smart advice for all drugs, but it’s vital with acetaminophen (and remember, it’s in many, many other medications, from Thera-Flu to Percocet). Acknowledging the problem, Johnson & Johnson is reducing acetaminophen dosages in maximum-strength Tylenol and various other formulations. Still, it’s up to you to take it safely. Please, please do.