Health & Fitness

Study defines benefits of earlier, more frequent mammograms

When the Transportation Security Administration imposed stricter screening guidelines on flights into the U.S. this past July, people yowled about the longer lines and extended delays that those extra measures might cause. But, said U.S. security officials, the risk/benefit ratio was clear: Increased screening is worth the inconvenience.

A study in the journal Cancer presents a similar conclusion. Researchers compared three different recommendations for getting mammograms, and found that regular annual screenings from age 40 to 84 save the most lives – even though they also increase the risk of false-positive mammograms and unnecessary biopsies.

The recommendations that the researchers looked at in addition to annual screening from age 40 were: (1) an annual screening from the age of 45 to age 54 and then screening every two years from age 55 to age 79; and (2) screening every two years starting at age 50 through age 74. They then estimated how many breast-cancer-related deaths could be prevented with each screening recommendation.

Their conclusion: Starting annual mammograms at age 40 accounted for a nearly 40 percent reduction in breast cancer deaths, compared with a 23 and 31 percent reduction with the other two recommendations (compared to no screening).

So, now that you have the facts, talk with your doctor about your risk for breast cancer and the benefits of each mammogram schedule.

Bonus: The Food and Drug Administration just approved a new device that may make mammograms' big squeeze less painful. A remote-controlled machine lets you participate in determining the right compression, so you're not unnecessarily pinched during the X-ray.

Trouble getting pregnant? Get away from flame retardants

When yogis gathered at the annual Burning Man festival in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, they might be excused for thinking they needed fireproof yoga mats. Temperatures topped 100 F, and participants were, in the words of one yoga teacher, glowing with energy.

But a new study shows that fireproof yoga mats are not such a good idea. Flame retardants in polyurethane foam – found in everything from yoga mats to kids' car seats – decreases female fertility. These PFRs (phosphorous flame retardants) get into the body through touch and through the air.

PFRs were introduced when previously used toxins were phased out, but animal studies show that they're hormone disruptors. And a study published in Environmental Health Perspectives reveals what that can do.

The researchers looked at how PFRs affect the chances of becoming pregnant and of pregnancy outcomes in women undergoing in-vitro fertilization. Urinary metabolites of three PFRs – TDCIPP, TPHP and mono-ITP – were detected in more than 80 percent of the study's 211 participants. Women with high concentrations of PFRs were, on average, 31 percent less likely to achieve implantation of the embryo and about 40 percent less likely to achieve a clinical pregnancy (fetal heartbeat confirmed by ultrasound), and live birth than those with the lowest level of Ps in their urine.

So, if you're trying to become pregnant – heck, if you're male, female, young, old – choose furniture and clothing that's free of flame retardants; replace old foam products/pillows/cushions with PFR-free foam. Opt for natural fabrics, like cotton, and natural fillers, like cotton batting.

Don't let veggies get you down

In "My Big Fat Greek Wedding," Toula brings her non-Greek fiance Ian to a family get-together, hoping her tight-knit clan will accept him. When Aunt Voula offers to have Ian over for dinner, Toula intervenes: "Ian is a vegetarian. He doesn't eat meat." Voula is stunned. She turns to Toula. "What do you mean he don't eat no meat!" The room goes silent, then Voula says: "Oh ... That's OK! I make lamb!"

Ian's vegetarianism makes for a good joke, but for many vegetarians (about 5 percent of Americans), it's no laughing matter. A study in the Journal of Affective Disorders looked at the mental health of nearly 10,000 men and found that vegetarians averaged higher depression scores than non-vegetarians. And a 2007 study of Australian women in their 20s found that 7 percent more semi-vegetarians and vegetarians than nonvegetarians had depressive symptoms.

We know vegetarians come out ahead in terms of heart health and longevity, but nutritional shortfalls in the diet may negatively affect mood: Vegetarians get less vitamin B-12, certain omega-3 fatty acids, zinc and iron than meat-eaters. Deficiencies of those nutrients have been tied to depression.

So if you're vegetarian, choose B-12-fortified soy and rice products. Walnuts, spinach and flaxseeds contain omega-3s; nuts and wheat germ deliver zinc; and legumes dish up iron. Take a multivitamin (half twice a day).

Make sure your calories provide high-octane fuel

In 1977, singer Jackson Browne landed a hit with "Runnin' on Empty." The song is about a musician's life on the road and the toll it takes. But, Browne explained, the idea came from the fact that many days he would drive to the recording studio with his car's gas gauge on almost-empty, since his destination was just a few blocks away.

If you fill your tank with empty calories, you're also courting disaster. You may think you're running on fuel, but you're running on junk that's worse for you (and your engine) than unhealthy fumes.

So what's an empty calorie? Well, cola for one. And the average American drinks 20 ounces a day – the equivalent of 77,380 empty calories a year from nothing but added sugars and fake flavorings. French fries are empty calories, too; they account for most of the 47 pounds of potatoes each American eats annually. Saturated fats and trans fats, processed grains, all are high-calorie, low-octane. All they fuel is inflammation, chronic disease and weight gain.

If you want to provide your body with the best fuel, do it in the form of healthy calories. If you don't, sooner or later all that low-grade gas will make your engine sluggish. Your best bet: Nine servings of fruits and veggies daily; you'll get fiber and loads of minerals, vitamins and micronutrients. Drink water, coffee and tea for beverages (unsweetened). Stick with lean proteins. That'll fuel your tank.

Mehmet Oz is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic.