Health & Fitness

Parental support can make kids smarter, more successful

When a penalty’s called in a hockey game, a player ends up off the ice for a few minutes. This creates an imbalance of players (one team has five, the other four) and a window of opportunity, called a power play, for the unpenalized team to score a goal.

For parents of preschoolers, a window of opportunity also exists. And if parents can score during this power play, their kids will develop bigger brain capacity and have a better shot at reaching their life goals, according to a new study from Washington University in St. Louis.

In a study setting, the researchers observed and rated moms completing an assigned task while dealing with their small ones. Some moms displayed composure and sympathy (maternal support), and some were dismissive or harsh with their children as they went about their tasks. Then, using magnetic resonance brain imaging, researchers measured the development of the hippocampus in all the kids (137) over several years and found “hippocampal volume increased faster for those with higher levels of preschool maternal support.” The hippocampus is the part of the brain associated with learning, memory and regulating emotions.

So next time your child interrupts you (Dad, this applies to you, too) while you’re reading your e-mail, making dinner or changing a light bulb, take a deep breath and explain politely that you’re busy but interested and will give him/her your full attention in a minute or two. Then do it – and enjoy the winning results.

Ground-dispersed pesticides

A blanket defense against mosquito-borne illnesses, such as encephalitis, using aerial spraying of pyrethroid pesticide (it’s likely some areas will employ it against Zika-carrying skeeters) turns out to be a game changer. We need to find ways to get around the collateral damage caused by this spraying.

A new study presented at the recent Pediatric Academic Societies 2016 meeting looked at the repercussions of a New York state program of annual aerial pesticide deployment used to counter mosquito-borne encephalitis. The researchers discovered that kids born in that area have a 25 percent greater risk of developing autism spectrum disorders than kids living in areas where ground-dispersed pesticides were used to control mosquitoes.

So sound the alarm in your area if aerial pesticide spray is used. We are bombarded with so many chemicals that are not studied and know so little about what effects they may trigger (alone or in combination) that it takes vigilance and a loud voice to help make this a healthier environment for future generations.

Missing nutrients

American poet Walt Whitman may have written “Leaves of Grass,” but he was an advocate of what he called a “manly” diet: “Let the main part of the diet be meat, to the exclusion of all else,” he wrote in a newly discovered essay. Well, Walt apparently didn’t know that diets without a balanced approach to nutrition can leave you starved for essential nutrients.

For example, the paleo diet (lots of meat proteins, sat fat and vegetables) is devoid of whole grains (fiber to feed your gut biome, regulate blood sugar and battle obesity), low- or no-fat dairy, and legumes (beans, lentils, etc.). That can leave you short of B vitamins, calcium and vitamin D.

And a quarter of folks now eat gluten-free foods. According to the Institute of Food Technologies, that can, but doesn’t have to, make it hard to get the fiber and nutrients found in 100 percent whole wheat, barley and rye. The smart move: Get complex carbs and nutrients from produce and gluten-free quinoa, brown rice, amaranth, buckwheat groats, corn grits, millet, sorghum, wild rice and teff. And remember, as Dr. Mike’s Cleveland Clinic says, “Apples, carrots, fish and almonds are gluten-free … but a gluten-free cookie is still a cookie!”

The lesson? Pay attention to the nutrient content of foods and ask your doc about taking supplements (a multivitamin – half, two times daily – and DHA omega-3).

Unnecessary antibiotics

After flying from Long Beach, Calif., to New York City in 1938, Douglas Corrigan filed a flight plan to head back to California. When he landed in Ireland, he also landed the nickname “Wrong Way.” He blamed the navigational error on low light and cloud cover that caused him to misread his compass. That may seem amusing, but heading off in the wrong direction can have serious consequences. That’s why we want you to get your directions straight when it comes to using antibiotics.

In 2011, over 262 million outpatient antibiotic prescriptions were dispensed, and about 30 percent of them – that’s 78.6 million – were what researchers in a new JAMA study are calling “inappropriate.” That’s one reason antibiotic resistance is growing, and so is the possibility that more folks will die from once-curable and newly drug-resistant infections.

The most common outpatient maladies that are mistreated with antibiotics are sinusitis, ear infections and sore throats. So what can you do?

1. Understand that antibiotics work only against bacterial infections. Ask your doctor if you can wait to start treatment until you determine if your malady is bacterial, viral or something else altogether. If you shouldn’t wait, still have that determination made.

2. Don’t ask for antibiotics if your doctor hasn’t suggested them. He or she may capitulate, promoting unnecessary use.

3. Always discuss all treatment options with your doc (including “wait and see”) before deciding on a course of treatment.

Managing pain

In 1996, Kerri Strug helped the U.S. women’s gymnastics team win an Olympic gold medal when she stuck a landing from the vault with two torn ligaments in her left ankle. This superathlete overcame acute pain not just because of her competitive nature, but also because of her sense of being part of a community of teammates, coaches and fans who loved and supported her.

A new paper in Nature Scientific Reports reveals that the brain’s natural pain-muting, pleasure-enhancing neuropeptides – endorphins – are more powerful than opioids, and the larger and stronger your social network, the more pain tolerance and relief they provide. Unfortunately for folks with chronically painful conditions like arthritis or fibromyalgia, pain often is accompanied by anxiety, depression or even cognition problems, and they can trigger a retreat from social interaction.

So whether you are dealing with a chronic pain condition or pain from surgery or injury, make it a point to reach out to the world around you. Stay in touch with family and friends, rely on health-care-based support groups for companionship, and get engaged in work, volunteering and hobbies that put you into a group environment.

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