Getting some sunlight is good for you

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

As the days grow shorter, we become more aware of the role of light in our life. Light has certain obvious benefits. It keeps us from falling down and hurting ourselves or bumping into each other.

It activates vitamin D, the sunshine vitamin, to keep our bones strong. Light feeds all our food crops and secondarily the animals that consume plants that serve as our food sources. We take light for granted. In fact without light, life as we know it would not exist. Yet, like so many things like water, dirt, gravity and oxygen that surround us, we often give it little thought or attention. Yet it has many more health benefits. At a recent integrative oncology meeting I attended, a psychiatrist who studies sleep and sleep disorders showed us her data on how light can be therapeutic. Her research subjects were women with breast cancer undergoing chemotherapy.

It turns out these women have significant disturbances in their sleep quality, getting worse with each week of chemotherapy. By the fourth week of therapy, they have major disruptions of their daily and nightly circadian rhythms. This causes severe fatigue and other negative effects on the immune system and healing response. In her studies, she exposed some women to light in the form of bright white light boxes and the control group to dim red light. The results were nothing less than dramatic. Continue reading

Bone health should be a lifelong pursuit

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Lives

The last subject I dove into in this column was falling. I challenged all women to work on improving their physical balance to decrease their fall risk.I should have paid more attention to my topic.

On a recent visit to Asheville, N.C., I watched the sun rise over the Blue Ridge Mountains as wisps of fog nestled on the hilltops. The beauty called me. I grabbed my husband (thank goodness!) and marched off into the crisp mountain air.

Along one of the hillsides, my right foot landed on a mound of acorns in the dewy grass. As my foot rolled under me, I heard a pop. Something as simple as chasing beauty left me sidelined with a broken ankle.

Bones are dynamic tissues in our bodies. Building and maintaining the health of our 206 bones should be a lifelong goal. By 20, women generally reach their peak bone mass. That means it is crucial for young women to build strong bones with physical activity and adequate calcium intake in their youth. Continue reading

Falling is big risk for older women

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Selves

While most women today no longer fight off wild animals for survival, we constantly try to combat other dangers. Cancer screenings are now on most women’s preventive health agendas. We know that regular mammograms, pap smears and colonoscopies help keep us safe.But what about the risks posed by taking a fall?

As we age, we fall more frequently and recover more slowly.Falls are responsible for 70 percent of accidental deaths in people 75 and older.Only seven percent of woman diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer die of their disease within five years. Yet fully one-quarter of all elderly people who fracture a hip will be dead within six months.Among those who survive a hip fracture, half end up in a nursing home after hospitalization. Of women sent to nursing homes, half remain there for more than a year.With frightening statistics like those, we need to take the dangers of falling very seriously.

Everyone loses muscle, bone mass and strength as they age.Some women envision enjoying their golden years in a rocker on the front porch, passively watching the years roll by, rather than taking life by the horns and signing up for Zumba class.Pain, arthritis, neurological conditions or incontinence may hold them back. Yet maintaining and even gaining muscle strength is a very important way to guard against falls.Weightlifting or water aerobics can increase muscle strength and function without the dangers associated with high-impact sports. Building muscle is the first step to improved balance.As children, we darted side-to-side avoiding a tag in the middle of a game, all the while building our core strength and muscle memory to keep us upright. We need to regain that kind of agility. Pilates, yoga and water aerobics classes help women improve their flexibility and balance. They allow a woman to keep her body, rather than her rocker, moving. Continue reading

Domestic violence is not just an NFL problem

Dr. Jeff Temple

Dr. Jeff Temple

After an initially weak response by the NFL and victim-blaming by the Baltimore Ravens, pro football player Ray Rice was finally dropped from his team for knocking his wife (then fiancée) unconscious. It has been more than 100 days since the incident, and he was cut loose by his team only after a video clearly showed him knocking her out.

The video of Rice dragging his victim’s body out of the elevator wasn’t enough to warrant this punishment. Apparently, NFL officials needed to see the punch. Some, including Rice, argued that he acted in defense. The Ravens tweeted, “Janay Rice says she deeply regrets the role that she played the night of the incident.”

Sound familiar? That’s because women in abusive relationships have heard this all before

“Why did you marry him?”; “Why do you stay?”; “What did you do to make him so angry?”

And rarely do women in violent relationships have a video to document what happened to them.

While violence perpetrated by pro athletes may demand disproportionate attention, we must be careful not to forget that domestic violence is a very real problem that affects our sisters, daughters, mothers, colleagues and neighbors. Continue reading

Impaired decision has effect on many lives

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Lives

Two and a half years ago, my phone rang. “Tristi (sob, sob), Alli has been hit by a car.” A wave of disbelief raced through my body.

My 26-year-old compassionate, strong, beautiful niece had been walking along a road in the wee hours of the morning when she was hit by a car and left on the side of the road to die.

The woman who hit and killed her was only 22 years old and had been drinking all night.

This story and the tremendous grief that is left in its wake are all too familiar.

In June, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control published its findings that excessive drinking accounted for 1 in 10 deaths among working-age adults in the United States — most commonly, the impact is as sudden as the lights of an oncoming car.

Any bartender can tell you that the less mixer you add to the alcohol, the stronger the kick. The natural “mixer” in the body is water.

As the alcohol is absorbed from the gut, it’s distributed in the water of the body. Continue reading

A few tips for handling that rash down under

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Lives

Like it or not, it’s swimsuit season. You hit the gym and work out to look good in revealing summer wear — causing sweating and rubbing of the vulva and inner thighs (“chub rub”).

When you dive into the summer itself, you find yourself lounging in a wet swimsuit bottom. This constant moisture provides a perfect environment for bacteria and yeast to proliferate.

Breaks in the skin due to rubbing, itching or shaving can lead to a secondary infection that can cause enough redness, itchiness and pain to ruin a beautiful summer day.

Unfortunately, many women suffer in silence — they are embarrassed to see a doctor — and search for an Internet cure.

Let’s explore what could be going on down under. Continue reading

Goodbye to annual Pap smear

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Lives

The musical “Evita” depicts the true story of Eva Perón, who rose from an illegitimate birth to become the passionate “spiritual leader of Argentina.”

During her lifetime, she promoted labor rights, championed women’s right to vote in Argentina, established a foundation to help the poor and won the hearts of a nation.

As Eva was riding this wave of political momentum, she was diagnosed with advanced cervical cancer and died at the young age of 33.

Can you imagine how much more she could have accomplished if Pap smears were available? Unfortunately, the tests were just being introduced in the United States at the time of her death in the early ’50s.

Cervical cancer once was the No. 1 cancer in women. After the introduction of Pap smears, cervical cancer rates in women in the United States fell to No. 14.

Even today, screening is not available in many developing countries, and in those countries, cervical cancer remains the leading cause of cancer death in women. Continue reading

Are you under a powerful spell or is it just PMS?

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Emotional explosions, bloating, food cravings, diarrhea. No, this isn’t a travel misadventure; it’s the dreaded premenstrual syndrome, more commonly known as PMS.

Have you ever gone through your closet trying on clothes but they all seem too tight because your belly is so bloated? When you look in the mirror, have you burst into tears because you feel fat?

To calm yourself, you rush into the pantry to devour the fresh chocolate chip cookies and quickly move on to the jalapeño potato chips?

Ahhh, you have calmed yourself down, but the end result is water retention in addition to your bloating. Ugh!

But your frustration ends as your period starts. Calm and stability — and estrogen — blossom within you and make life amazing … for about two weeks. Then it all starts again.

About 75 percent of women experience some symptoms of PMS, beginning with the second half of their cycle and receding with the onset of a woman’s period.

PMS describes a constellation of symptoms, including bloating, mood swings, agitation, food cravings, breast tenderness, change in bowel habits (including constipation and diarrhea), insomnia and loss of sex drive. Continue reading

4 key questions, 7 steps to health

Dr. Victor Sierpina

Dr. Victor Sierpina

The noted heart surgeon Christiaan Barnard once said that our goal in life should be “to die young, as late as possible.”

These words of wisdom suggest that we need to tend to those things that keep us young functionally, mind, body and spirit. As we ascend in age, our goal should be to postpone as long as we can the depredations of unhealthy aging, premature disease and loss of function.

At a recent national conference for the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes, a nationwide organization including an OLLI here in Galveston that is dedicated to promoting healthy aging, I heard a terrific and highly practical presentation.

The keynote speaker was a friend of mine, Dr. Margaret Chesney, head of the University of California in San Francisco’s Osher Integrative Medicine Center and also former head of the National Institutes of Health National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

Dr. Chesney shared data that showed the answer to four simple questions can largely determine how healthy your lifestyle is.

The four questions were:
1. Are you a nonsmoker?
2. Is your Body Mass Index (BMI) less than 30?
3. Do you engage in mild or moderate physical activity at least 21⁄2 hours per week?
4. Do you eat at least five servings of fruits and vegetables daily?
Continue reading

Young girls’ change starts with menarche

Dr. Tristi Muir

Dr. Tristi Muir

Our Bodies, Our Lives

Menarche is the time when a girl has her first period. The normal age range of menarche is 9-15.

As the average weight of people — including children — in our country has increased during the past four decades, the age of the onset of puberty and menarche has decreased.

Periods are usually light and irregular in the beginning. Within two years of menarche, two out of three girls will progress to regular, predictable periods occurring about monthly — anywhere between 21 and 45 days — and lasting from three to seven days.

Menarche is a sign that the orchestration between the brain (the conductor) and the ovarian hormones (the orchestra) has resulted in stimulation and shedding of the uterine lining.

The uterus contracts to shed the uterine lining, which is the source of pelvic cramping and back pain. Through the course of a period, vaginal bleeding may change in intensity and color.

Along with hormonal effects on the uterus, girls also may notice water weight gain, bloating, breast tenderness and of course moodiness before the start of her period, called PMS or premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). Continue reading