Health & Fitness

Avoiding phthalates isn’t easy

In the 1973 film “The Sting,” Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) cheats at a high-stakes poker game to set up Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw). After the game, Lonnegan says to one of his henchmen, “What was I supposed to do – call him for cheating better than me?”

Welcome to the high-stakes world of plastics manufacturing. In their deck of cards are phthalates, plasticizers used to make plastics soft and malleable. Problem is, they’re hormone disruptors that may cause everything from impotence to cancer. An even bigger problem is that whenever one phthalate gets banned, it seems a substitute comes along. And before regulators ban that one, it takes the pot. For instance, when di-(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), dibutyl phthalate (DBP) and benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP) were banned in children’s toys and child-care articles, it reduced their usage by 37 percent. Then up popped DIBP (diisobutyl phthalate), increasing its presence 206 percent in the same products.

Avoiding phthalates isn’t easy; manufacturers don’t have to list them on labels. Your best bet?

• Look for products that say they’re phthalate-free.

• Avoid plastics with the recycling code No. 3V or 3PVC.

• Look for these abbreviations for phthalates: MEP (in personal-care products to enhance fragrance), DEP (listed in California Prop 65 as a reproductive and developmental toxicant), MiBP (nail polish), DiNP (in toys, flexible plastic toys), DiDP (ditto for DEP).

• Urge legislators to reform the Toxic Substances Control Act – this act requires safety testing for only 200 of the 84,000 chemicals in use today.

Zapping dinner? Make it fresh instead

“TV dinners, they’re going to my head/TV dinners, my skin is turning red/20-year-old turkey in a 30-year-old tin/I can’t wait until tomorrow and thaw one out again.” In 1981, when ZZ Top sang about their love-hate for this EZ food, they couldn’t have predicted that 30-some years later, the TV dinner would have led Americans into a frozen-meal habit costing $9 billion annually.

Americans eat 31 percent more packaged and frozen food than fresh food. These microwave-meals-in-a-minute often deliver oversized portions, unhealthy fats, excess sodium and nutritionally anemic foods. So, when your family sits down for dinner, do you want to dish up a meal from a box, or make a quick, great-tasting, healthy dinner from almost-scratch? (Some shortcuts, like canned tomatoes, are smart and healthy.)

One popular frozen lasagna contains: corn syrup (a ticket to obesity and heart disease), dextrose and sugar (listed three times), which increase your risk for dementia, depression and diabetes; and heavy whipping cream, which is loaded with make-you-age-faster saturated fat. Making your own ground-turkey lasagna with 100 percent whole-grain pasta and low-fat cheese boosts your nutrition immediately. You can find easy-to-make healthy recipes online. Bonus: Leftovers make a second meal inexpensive and easy.

Don’t stop there. Many frozen breakfast foods smuggle in heart-damaging trans fats. Opt for whole-grain cereals, nonfat Greek yogurt and berries. Pack lunches, and use fruit and 1 ounce of dark chocolate for treats. And ditch sweetened beverages; they shorten your life by many years.

What your body can tell you about your emotions

When Chief Inspector Charles Dreyfus (Herbert Lom) begins twitching at the mention of Inspector Jacques Clouseau (“Shot in the Dark” 1964), his body language tells you what’s going on with his emotions (rage, anger, fear), even as he declares he’s just fine and nothing is going to upset him.

True, there are times when you’re aware that you’re emotionally upset and know that it’s making you feel bad physically. But sometimes it’s hard to admit what’s going on in your head. For instance, today you may be sick to your stomach and decide you’re too ill to go to work. You miss that your symptoms are a result of that fight you had yesterday with a co-worker.

In such situations, your body is tapping you on the shoulder and saying, “Hey, if you pay attention to how your body is acting and why, you’ll know a little more about your emotional state of affairs.” Consciously acknowledging your emotions is a powerful way to de-stress and improve your mood and relationships, and reduce bodywide inflammation (a trigger for everything from dementia to heart attack).

To help folks have a clearer understanding of their emotions, Finnish researchers recently mapped the relationship between physical sensations and emotions. They found that most people feel anger in the head, chest, arms and hands, and disgust always gets you in the gut. On the positive side, love is felt throughout your whole body, except the legs (guess you’re not going anywhere); and hyped-up sensations all over the body are clues to happiness.

Sweet solution to dandruff

In the 1968 movie “Head,” the Monkees (Peter Tork, Davy Jones, Micky Dolenz and Michael Nesmith) create a send-up of shampoo commercials, in which they play flakes of dandruff on the head of The Big Victor (Victor Mature). That’s just one of the many scenes that left viewers scratching their heads.

But if you’re scratching your head and dusting dried skin off your shoulders, there’s no reason for confusion. Chances are you have chronic dandruff or a more severe form called seborrheic dermatitis, a fungal infection that causes yellow, thick, itchy plaque. Half of all adults will contend with this problem at some time.

The standard solutions? Anti-dandruff shampoos and creams containing ketoconazole 1 percent (over-the-counter) and 2 percent (prescription only; not for pregnant or breastfeeding women or kids under 12); selenium sulfide (0.6 percent and 1 percent – higher levels taken orally may be carcinogenic); and zinc pyrithione (not for kids or pregnant women).

But if you want to skip those fungus-fighting chemicals, there’s a natural alternative that might work for you. Try rubbing a solution of 90 percent honey and 10 percent water onto any lesions or itchy patches for two to three minutes. Let it sit for three hours; then rinse off with warm water. Repeat daily. One study found that the honey relieved skin lesions in two weeks – and when followed with once-a-week treatments, it prevented relapse.

Honey’s healing powers come from amino acids, vitamins, enzymes, magnesium, iron, zinc, manganese and the antibacterial and probiotic compounds it contains. The Big Victor would approve.

Making the right call for glucose control

This year, major league baseball is expanding the use of instant replay, so coaches and/or managers can challenge almost any call an umpire makes, except balls and strikes. By allowing the review of questionable calls (“He’s safe!” “No way!”) from several camera angles, fewer games may be decided by a faulty call.

With diabetes, it can be just as difficult to make perfect calls (“I can eat this cookie”; “I just need a little extra insulin”). And when you blow a call, you can end up paying with a risky low blood sugar incident or with a spike in your glucose that silently damages your cardiovascular system.

Well, Johns Hopkins researchers have demonstrated that adding blood tests for fructosamine and glycated albumin to your glucose checkup may provide two new angles on how you’re managing your diabetes, or whether you’re likely to develop it. The tests also tell you if you’re at heightened risk for diabetes-related vision problems and kidney disease.

You’ll get these tests between your three- and six-month blood tests for HbA1c, an average of your glucose levels in the past several months. They’ll let you know how you’ve been doing in the past two to four weeks, which is especially useful if you’re pregnant, anemic or already have kidney or liver disease.

So if you’re worried that diabetes is in your future or you’re having trouble stabilizing your A1c readings, ask your doctor about these tests. Then you may get a clearer view of what you need to do to control your diabetes.