Health & Fitness

You Docs: Asthmatic kids can breathe easier now

Six-year-old Amy’s asthma was so bad that she couldn’t climb a flight of stairs. Her doctor suggested she try swimming. Nineteen years later, Amy Van Dyken won four gold medals in the Atlanta Olympics — and two more at Sydney in 2000. Kids with asthma can accomplish remarkable things.

We want you to know that there’s great news about managing childhood asthma. The Food and Drug Administration phased out over-the-counter inhalers containing chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). So, your child isn’t inhaling that ozone-destroying chemical. And because you now need a prescription to get an inhaler, you have to go to a doc to get life-saving meds (often with better instructions), and your child has a better chance of realizing her full potential.

When you see the doc, ask about:

•  How to create an asthma action plan to share with teachers, the school nurse, family and friends. Then, if your child has an asthma attack, everyone knows what to do. The National Heart Lung and Blood Institute has an action-plan template to use; the American Lung Association offers the Open Airways For Schools program.

•  The right way to use emergency rescue meds and long-term asthma control meds. Include your child in the discussion.

•  How to reduce costs if the meds are too expensive (the old inhalers were cheaper, although they cost more in the long run). Most pharmaceutical companies offer assistance.

And breathe a sigh of relief, science has made it so your child can breathe easier now.

Smart ways to use a cellphone during pregnancy

We are interested in helping moms-to-be negotiate the digital age safely. You may be worried because you heard about a recent study of mice that were endlessly exposed to cellphone calls while pregnant (that lasts 19 days for them) and had ADHD offspring. Researchers are saying it’s the first proof that a newborn can have its behavior altered by in-utero exposure to a cell’s radiation. But does this translate to humans? No one knows. So to be safe, not sorry, while you’re pregnant and around infants, try:

•  Turning the phone off when not in use.

•  While it’s on, keep it away from your body; even an inch away makes a difference. Texting with it a foot or more from your belly and torso is a great option. Carry it in your purse or backpack, never in a pocket.

•  Talk briefly; save long conversations for in person.

•  Use a headset and keep the phone away from your belly or head. Better yet, use the speaker whenever you can.

•  Use the cellphone only when the signal is strong; the weaker it is, the more radiation it is emitting.

Update on blood thinners

The blood thinner Coumadin (generic name warfarin) is used to protect 2 million people in North America every day from the risk of stroke — especially those with abnormal heartbeats (atrial fibrillation). But it’s a tough drug to take and tougher still to make sure it does more good than harm: Blood tests, sometimes more than once a week, are needed to make sure you aren’t in danger of internal bleeding or a blood clot.

We are delighted to tell you that things are changing. An international research group is putting together a formula (computer program) based on genetic testing, body mass index, age and gender that will tailor-make a warfarin schedule just for you. (You’ll still have dietary restrictions; no wheat germ, Brussels sprouts, spinach or green tea, for example.)

And newer drugs are replacing warfarin: They don’t require regular blood tests to check dosing and have no dietary restrictions. The Food and Drug Administration has approved three. Their drawback — unlike warfarin — is a lack of antidote, so they may cause prolonged bleeding if you cut yourself, for example.

If you’re prescribed blood thinners, make sure you follow instructions carefully, pay attention to blood test results, and talk to your doc about what is best for you. When taken properly, they are real lifesavers.

Bully trans fats

Like Godzilla strolling through a Japanese fishing village, trans fats destroy your streets and highways (think blood vessels and arteries) and crush your power stations (organs such as the heart and brain). But these bad-boy fats are also super-bullies: They ramp up anger and aggressiveness.

That’s right. If you send your kid off to school — or you head to work — after a breakfast of Trans Fat Sugar Tarts or Dough-Boy Sweet Rolls, you’re fueling bully behavior and failing performance or grades. Our advice: Read nutritional labels to avoid prepared foods and baked goods that are filled with trans fats. You can transform breakfast with these three easy steps:

1. Indulge in (organic, if possible) blueberries, raspberries and strawberries for a sweet touch to 100 percent whole-grain cereals. They power the body and brain for sharper thinking. Add apples for their quercetin, a phytochemical that’s been linked to increased stamina.

2. Say nuts! Sprinkle chopped walnuts, almonds or other nuts on your morning meal to enjoy their heart-healthy benefits and help replace vitamins and minerals that mean-spirited trans fats help deplete, including many B’s, along with selenium and zinc.

3. Have an orange for a mid-morning snack (in school or at work); 1,000 milligrams of vitamin C and its accompanying polyphenols (and the act of peeling it) reduce stress. And taking that tasty-treat break helps soothe aggression and anxiety.

Reverse memory loss

We firmly believe daily meditation transforms the mind, body and spirit by making gray (and white) matter grow in brain regions that affect learning and mood. Plus, meditation reduces stress and strengthens your cardiovascular system.

New findings add to all that. Seems that people with mild memory loss or the early stages of Alzheimer’s can increase cerebral blood flow, boost mood and relieve anxiety, tension and fatigue with as little as 12 minutes of meditation a day. And that helps restore recall and deter future memory loss.

What about those of us who don’t have memory loss yet? Meditation has protective powers, keeping the brain healthy and wise. So, if you want to give meditation a try, follow this four-step plan:

1. Set aside 12 minutes a day to meditate, and keep that time in your schedule sacred.

2. Get to a quiet place. No cells, no music, no Internet. Turn it off so you can tune in.

3. Sit in a comfortable position with good posture. Breathe in through your nose slowly for the count of four, and exhale slowly through an open mouth for as long as you can, then build to the count of eight.

4. Repeat the breathing rhythm while you let your mind drift. Recognize thoughts as they appear, and let them go. Say “om” and you’ll feel clearer and stronger.