Life Coach

If a matter of mind, body or spirit has you perplexed,
send your inquiries to Energy Times' Life Coach.
He'll track down the experts who can weigh in on what ails you.

Send Life Coach queries to arichter@energytimes.com

life coach photo

 

September/October 2017

Dear Life Coach,
I’ve heard that using antibacterial soap is not the best choice, but I’m not sure why. It seems you would want antibacterial soap to make sure you’re getting rid of all the germs.

Judith R.,
Dallas, Texas


Dear Judith,
In many cases plain soap and water will be adequate for proper hand hygiene, says Kaleroy Papantoniou, MD, of Advanced Dermatology in Great Neck, New York. Nor will plain soap and water pose the potential health risks of certain antibacterial cleansers, she adds. What matters is how long you wash; after lathering thoroughly, scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.

Manufacturers of antibacterial soaps, following a US Food and Drug Administration mandate, should be phasing out or reformulating such products. At issue are consumer products containing one or more of 19 specific active ingredients, including the most commonly used ingredients—triclosan, used in liquid soaps, and triclocarban, used in bar soaps, notes Papantoniou.

Manufacturers have been unable to show that products with these ingredients are more effective than plain soap, Papantoniou says, adding that their use may contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, disrupt hormone regulation, upset the balance of the skin microbiome (the skin’s normal, healthful microbes) and harm the environment. The FDA mandate does not apply to consumer hand sanitizers or wipes, or to antibacterial products used in healthcare.

 

July/August 2017

Dear Life Coach,

I love a good massage but sometimes I leave a session not feeling as relaxed and rejuvenated as other visits. Massages are costly but I don’t want to give them up. What can I do to help make sure I’m getting more consistent results?

Keith M.,
Dearborn, Michigan

Dear Keith,

For starters, tale a few deep breaths to get in the mood, and leave your concerns about time, money and other daily challenges at the door so you can fully get lost in the massage and stay in the moment, recommends Marilynn Preston, author of All is Well: The Art (and Science) of Personal Well-Being (Creators) and the fitness column Energy Express.

Along those lines, also avoid idle conversation, Preston adds. Of course, fill your therapist in on, say, the level of pressure you want, but there’s no need to talk movie recommendations.
Before your massage, it’s a good idea to scan your body for areas that feel tense or strained so you can alert your therapist to give those areas a little extra attention.

Likewise, at the end of the session, make sure you ask your therapist about any areas of tension—your neck, shoulders or hips, for instance—so you can work on them when you’re
off the table.

“I believe in moderation, absolutely,” Preston says, “but not when it comes to something as splendid for your body and mind as massage. It’s like organic greens on your dinner plate—the more the better.”

 

May/June 2017

Dear Life Coach,

Do you have any tips for getting in shape for golf season? I’m particularly concerned about my shoulders.

Kathy P.,
Newport, Rhode Island

Dear Kathy,

Preseason conditioning can ready your shoulders for a healthy golf season, says Kevin Plancher, MD, of Plancher Orthopaedics & Sports Medicine in New York. The most prevalent shoulder woes, which include rotator cuff problems, are caused by too much golfing and/or poor form, traumatic injuries that happen suddenly during play and joint degeneration caused mostly by aging.

Plancher suggests incorporating these exercises into your preseason golf prep:

• Head rolls: Roll your ear gently to one side, toward the shoulder. Tilt your head back and forth, repeating on the opposite side. Continue for 60 seconds.

• Shoulder stretches: Raise your right arm in front of you, then bring it to the left, wrapping your left elbow around the right arm and pulling that arm closer to your chest; then reverse. Continue 2 to 3 minutes.

• Side stretches: With feet shoulder-width apart, raise right arm directly above head and lean shoulders to the left, swaying right hip slightly out; reverse. Continue 1 to 2 minutes.

• Prone T: Lie face down, a folded towel under your forehead. Arms should be out to the sides, palms facing floor. Squeeze shoulders together and lift hands off floor. Hold for 3 seconds and lower, repeating 10 to 12 times.

 

 

March/April 2017

Dear Life Coach,

My grandson is like many teenagers. He spends a lot of time texting and playing video games, and I’m concerned whether he is harming his health. Please tell me more about how this pastime might affect him.

Loretta G.,
Mobile, Alabama


Dear Loretta,
Teens are resilient, but it can’t hurt to engage your grandson in some other activities. Excessive use of digital devices can be particularly harmful to the hands, says Joseph Valenza, MD, director of Pain Management at the Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation (Kessler-rehab.com).

Overuse can lead to numbness, pain and loss of function, says Valenza, adding that he has seen an “alarming increase” in tech-related injuries in recent years. “It’s important for everyone to be aware of the symptoms of these digital injuries and see treatment before more serious complications arise,” he says.

More common repetitive stress injuries, as they are called, include “texting thumb,” or DeQuervain’s tenosynovitis, a tendon inflammation leading to pain and cramping; “trigger finger,” or stenosing tenosynovitis, which causes fingers to lock; “text claw,” loss of function from holding devices too long; carpal tunnel syndrome, marked by pain, swelling, tingling and numbness in the hand and wrist; and “tennis” or “selfie elbow” (epicondylitis) and “cellphone elbow” (cubital tunnel syndrome), producing aching, burning and numbness in the hand, forearm and elbow.

He can try reading a book.

 

January/February 2017

Dear Life Coach,

I don’t want to injure myself the way my neighbor did shoveling snow, but I don’t want to pay someone to have my driveway cleaned. Is there a safe way to shovel snow?

Dean R.,
Buffalo, New York

Dear Dean,
Before getting started, treat shoveling snow the way you would exercise—do some light stretching or calisthenics to warm up your muscles, recommends Kaliq Chang, MD, of Atlantic Spine Center in West Orange, New Jersey. And if a sizable snowfall is predicted, Chang adds, clear snow away intermittently in a few outings of relatively light shoveling rather than waiting for one big job involving heavy, packed snow that can put you at more risk.

Chang also recommends choosing the right equipment, meaning an ergonomically correct shovel that will ease the pressure on your back—the bent handle helps keep you from doing too much bending. Make sure the shovel is right for your height and strength.

You’re not going to get extra points for throwing snow over your shoulder or back; all you’ll get is stress on your back muscles. When possible, push the snow instead of lifting, advises Chang. If you must lift snow, he says to do so with proper form—using your legs and not by bending at your waist.

Finally, Chang adds, boots count; back injuries don’t just happen from shoveling snow, but also from slipping while doing so. Wear snow boots with chunky soles that tightly grip icy surfaces.

 

Novemer/December 2016

Dear Life Coach,

My wife and I are big fans of “Dancing with the Stars” and very impressed with the great shape that [dancer and show star] Maksim Chmerkovskiy is in. Do you happen to know anything about how he stays in such great shape? He is inspiring us to take up dancing to slim down.

Earl S.,
Mobile, Alabama

Dear Earl,
Dancing can certainly burn calories, but Chmerkovskiy, who recently completed a 45-city tour, says there’s more to staying in shape than cutting the rug. Besides not eating manmade foods and cutting down on wheat, sugar and corn, among his health tips is finding a doctor who believes in prevention—and not going only when you’re sick.

“Most people go to the doctor only when stuff hurts,” Chmerkovskiy says. “But we need to use our doctors to help us stay healthy, not just to try to fix what’s wrong. We can show up when we are not sick, and if enough people start doing that, doctors will have no choice but to start getting more involved in prevention.”

Chmerkovskiy’s doctor introduced him to much of what he knows about nutrition. Chmerkovskiy suggests tossing out your microwave, a piece of equipment many believe is inherently dangerous as it changes the molecular structure of food. In addition, he says, “When microwaving is not an option, you will give meal preparation the time and effort it deserves. You’ll be more likely to prepare good, healthful, whole foods.”

 

October 2016

Dear Life Coach,

My husband and I are concerned about the amount of time our daughter spends on her smartphone playing video games and the like. Please help with some tips.

Eva S.,
Chicago

Dear Eva,
Elaine Fogel Schneider, PhD, author of 7 Strategies for Raising Calm, Inspired & Successful Children (Crescendo), shares your concern. “They are so attached to technology at such an early age and it’s changing their brain circuitry,” Schneider says. “They begin to lose the back and forth communication with their parents and siblings, and the whole notion of empathy. For really young children, these devices have become the babysitter. Parents need a break, as do grandparents, but there have to be limits.”

Schneider recommends setting rules—limit the amount of time your child can spend on an electronic device and be consistent in enforcement. “This way your child knows that when you say he or she only has two minutes left, then there really is only two minutes left,” she says. Try a timer, which can shift the blame from you. Also, be ready with another activity so some other interest can engage your child.

Employ these strategies in your home first; there will likely be a learning curve involving tantrums and tears, and you don’t want that in public.

“In the long run, you’re doing a service for your child by limiting the amount of time spent on an electronic device,” Schneider says. Visit askdrelaine.com.


September 2016

Dear Life Coach,

Is there a right and wrong way to use a cold pack for pain, particularly for the back? For example, I can never tell if I am using it long enough, or maybe if I’m leaving it on too long.

Darryl P.,
Stamford, Connecticut


Dear Darryl,
I’ll answer your question but first let me clarify the confusion people sometimes have over whether to apply cold or heat to relieve pain. Back pain expert Kaixuan Liu, MD, PhD, of the Atlantic Spine Center in West Orange, New Jersey, says to use ice therapy, also known as cryotherapy, for fresh injuries to the back such as a pulled muscle, or arthritis pain in the spine. “Cold calms inflammation that occurs as a natural response to injury and arthritis,” Liu says. Use heat for chronic pain, muscle spasms and pain from “trigger points,” meaning painfully sensitive spots. “Low back pain almost always benefits from applying heat,” Liu says.

Apply ice three times a day, 10 to 15 minutes at a time—never longer than 15 to 20 minutes. To adhere to this advice, never fall asleep with ice on your skin. In addition, Liu recommends keeping a damp cloth between your skin and the cold source, whether an ice pack, a bag of frozen veggies or frozen gel.

Some rules of thumb for heat: Moist heat—such as hot packs, baths or showers—tend to work better than dry heat for relieving pain and relaxing muscles. You can try an all-day heat wrap, but never fall asleep with an electric heating pad turned on, and don’t use one set to high.

July / August 2016

Dear Life Coach,

How do I know if a spot on my body is some form of skin cancer or an innocent mole?
Judith K.,

Portland, Oregon

Dear Judith,
The University of Kansas Hospital has developed an infographic to highlight the four things everyone should know about skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States: www.kumed.com/maythe4thbewithyou. The first of these, to be aware that not all skin cancers look the same, answers your question. The Centers for Disease Control recommends using the so-called A-E method when evaluating a mole:

• “A”—Asymmetrical. Does the mole or spot have an irregular shape with two parts that look very different?

• “B”—Border. Is the border irregular or jagged?

• “C”—Color. Is the color uneven?

• “D”—Diameter. Is the mole or spot larger than the size of a pea?

• “E”—Evolving. Has the mole or spot changed during the past few weeks or months?

Second, most cases of skin cancer are caused by ultraviolet rays from the sun. Be sure to cover arms and legs with long clothing or use a sunscreen with a high SPF rating. Hats and sunglasses are also a must. Third, according to the CDC, people who have a close relative with a specific type of skin cancer called melanoma may be at greater risk of developing the disease. Finally, if an area of skin looks or feels problematic, that is, painful to the touch or very sensitive, get it checked by a doctor.

 

June 2016

Dear Life Coach,

I’ve heard that using a BBQ grill can cause cancer. I love grilling, and this news is a big disappointment. Please advise. Thank you.

Edward Melton
Atlanta

Dear Edward,
You’re referring to the charring and burning of meat, on which HCAs (heterocyclic amines) and PAHs (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) can form. Both have been identified as potential carcinogens. The good news is that there are ways to avoid these compounds and still enjoy your grill. As Brad Barrett, president of GrillGrate, correctly points out, enthusiasts should grill food to a proper internal temperature, and avoid too much open flame or grilling too well done so you don’t risk flare-ups. Grilling faster can also reduce the amount of char; salmon, Barrett notes, is ideal to spice up and grill hot and fast like a steak.

Barrett and others cite research showing that marinating meat before grilling helps reduce HCAs. And grilling veggies is a great alternative to meat. Sweet potatoes, beets, carrots and squash caramelize at grill temperatures, Barrett says, letting the natural sugars deliver the best and tastiest flavor. One other grilling safety tip: To avoid the risk of metal bristles from a grill brush getting into your food, discard your old grill brush. And note that there are several alternatives to metal bristle brushes available, such as pads.

 

 

May 2016

Dear Life Coach,

Over the years, I have heard that writing down the challenges you face can help you find solutions. How does that work?

B. Fisher
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Because writing is innate to all of us—if we can speak, we can write—journaling is a practice that anybody can do, says Katie Dalebout, author of the newly published Let It Out: A Journey Through Journaling (Hay House). It is also an option for those who are perhaps a little too tightly wound to meditate, and provides many of the same benefits, such as self-discovery, as meditation, adds Dalebout, whose story sheds light on how journaling works.

“Journaling was a way for me to get to know myself and figure who I was or what I even liked,” she says. “My eating disorder in my early twenties led me to hit a bottom, giving me the motivation to explore personal development. Until I started journaling, I was stuck. I had so many thoughts in my mind, I didn’t know which of them were true and productive and which were old beliefs holding me back. Journaling allowed me to sort through them and decide which ones to listen to.”

 

 

April 2016

Dear Life Coach,

I have trouble sleeping and have tried different methods to help me fall asleep and stay asleep soundly. Yet I find myself struggling with this issue again. Can you suggest some ideas?

Glenda B.
Charlotte, North Carolina


Dear Glenda,
Much like our lymphatic system, our brains have their own waste disposal system, called the glymphatic system, that requires a good night’s sleep to do its job, says sleep researcher Shawn Stevenson. The most beneficial hormonal secretions and recovery come between the hours of 10 p.m. and 2 a.m., and any sleep beyond that is a bonus, according to Stevenson. In his book Sleep Smarter (Rodale), he offers 21 strategies for better sleep.

One that we had not heard before is the importance of getting more daytime sunlight to help your sleep cycle, or circadian timing system. The “body clock,” Stevenson says, responds to sunlight best in the early morning hours between 6 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. Stevenson advocates getting out even on an overcast day. He cautions against counting solely on getting sunlight through a window, as glass can block beneficial UVB rays and leave an unhealthy exposure to UVA rays.

Know that you’re not alone. A recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows more than one-third of American adults are not getting the recommended seven-plus hours of sleep they need.

 

March 2016

Dear LifeCoach,

I am recovering from a long illness and feel I need some kind of a plan to help bring myself back to good health. Any ideas? Thanks.

Ann M.
Newark, New Jersey

Dear Ann,
Janette Hillis-Jaffe, author of Everyday Healing: Stand Up, Take Charge and Get Your Health Back…One Day at a Time (New Page), says she embraced five habits to return to good health. First, she took responsibility for her health, including making needed lifestyle changes.

For example, she set aside two times a week to learn new recipes. Second, Hillis-Jaffe says it’s important to “nurture your heart. Use tools to manage the tough emotions that can sabotage your efforts to heal.” Examples include daily journaling, meeting a friend weekly to vent fraught emotions and talking through big health decisions. Third, Hillis-Jaffe says, is to “adopt a fiercely confident attitude about yourself and your ability to get healthy,” adding that she wrote a letter “firing the anxious critic in my mind and read it out loud every day for two weeks.”

Fourth, build a strong support team. She had her husband or a friend accompany her to all major healthcare appointments, and they debriefed together afterwards. Finally, she says it’s important “to set up systems and spaces that support your healing.” She organized all her lab results and notes from appointments, as well as articles, that she put into one notebook she took to every appointment.

 

February 2016

Dear LifeCoach,

I want to move away from eating meat, and wonder if you have some tips so I can make the transition without slipping and make it last. Thank you.

Beth Gabriel
Phoenix, Arizona

Dear Beth,
You’re making a wise choice. “Switching to a plant-based diet is one of the best things you can do for yourself,” says Mary Wendt, MD, founder of getwaisted.com and author of Waist Away: How to Joyfully Lose Weight and Supercharge Your Life (Doctor Doctor). “Meat and dairy contain inflammatory proteins and excess saturated fat. Getting rid of these artery-clogging foods frees up your plate so you can enjoy more vitamin- and mineral-rich vegetables, fruits and whole grains.”

Wendt has a number of recommendations for an effective transition. For one, she says to do a “24-hour food recall” by writing down every last thing you ate and drank for the past 24 hours. Seeing a typical day’s diet in on paper is eye-opening. Further, start thinking of meat as more of an accessory than main dish, perhaps as a condiment sprinkled over beans, whole grains or vegetables. And if you’re worried about replacing the meat you give up with carbs, make sure you’re eating complex carbohydrates like those found in whole grain products, which will make you feel full faster. In addition, easing into the transition by reducing meat dishes rather than going cold turkey will boost your odds of success, Wendt adds.

 

January 2016

Dear Life Coach,

To improve my diet and overall health, I’ve recently begun reading labels more carefully when shopping at the supermarket.

Do you have any other tips to make sure I am bringing home the healthiest foods when I go grocery shopping?

Thank you,

Linda M.
Reston, Virginia


Dear Linda,
One popular tip is to shop the perimeter of your supermarket, where you’ll usually find the freshest items: produce, meat, seafood and dairy. Also look for farmers markets, typically in warmer weather, for fresh and local goods. Many supermarkets work with local farmers, too, and allot some space in their produce sections for local goods.

One dominant theme in many discussions on healthful shopping: plan ahead. If you buy just enough for, say, the coming week, you won’t have excess food on hand to either overindulge in or waste. Let your particular dietary and health needs drive your shopping trip, not advertisements and circulars.

This is especially important in the wake of recent research findings, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, that supermarket circulars promote unhealthy eating. The study by researchers from Deakin University’s WHO Collaborating Centre for Obesity Prevention in Melbourne, Australia, found that unhealthy food was prominent in the circulars of most countries, including the United States.

 

November/December 2015

Dear LifeCoach,

Is there an effective way I can treat warts on my own?

Fran S.
Milwaukee

Dear Fran,
First a word about prevention. Dermatologists with the American Academy of Dermatology say children and teens, people who frequently bite their nails and people with weakened immune systems are more prone to getting warts than others.

You can use one of the following methods to treat warts, says Adam J. Friedman, MD, FAAD, associate professor of dermatology at George Washington School of Medicine and Health Sciences.

1. Apply a wart treatment product with salicylic acid to your wart. This over-the-counter product will help peel the wart-ridden skin and irritate the wart, which may trigger the immune system to respond. Before applying the product, soak the wart in warm water and then sand the wart with a disposable emery board. Use a new emery board each time, and consider that it can take several months to see good results.

2. Cover the wart with duct tape. Changing the tape every few days may peel away layers of the wart-ridden skin and trigger the immune system to fight off the wart. Soak the wart in warm water and then sand it with an emery board. Afterwards, apply duct tape to the area. Remove and reapply the duct tape every five to six days until the wart is gone.

 

 

 

October 2015

Dear Life Coach,

I’m about to redecorate my house and see this as an opportunity to incorporate Feng Shui. Can you offer a few pointers on getting started?

Alice M.
Santa Cruz, California

Dear Alice,
Here are some tips in applying Feng Shui, the ancient art of placement for balance and harmony, from Lisa Janusz, Certified Feng Shui Professional, registrar and faculty at the Wind & Water School of Feng Shui in Minneapolis. Begin by decorating your bedroom first; though it seems counterintuitive because the bedroom is not a public space, it’s still the “major player” in your house, Janusz says, because you spend so much time relaxing and rejuvenating there.

Second, don’t ignore hallways. Adding some décor in this area will either “speed up or slow down” the energy to achieve balance and make for “a much more pleasant journey,” Janusz explains. Third, consider your house’s curb appeal and focus on your front door, what Janusz calls your “calling card.”

Fourth, remove clutter. “The most dramatic makeovers are often those that remove half of what’s originally in the room,” she says. “Then only carefully chosen items make it back in. The result is a place with room for your eyes to rest and really enjoy.” Fifth, choose function over form. “Every professional designer will start with how the room is used,” Janusz says.

 

September 2015

Dear Life Coach,

I’d like to become more active and get in shape, but I’m worried about aggravating my bad back. Please recommend some exercises that will help. Thank you.

Helene R.
Baltimore

Dear Helene,
First, check with your healthcare practitioner before undertaking any of the following exercises. The good news is that there are plenty of back-friendly cardio exercises that are safe for back pain sufferers, says Praveen Kadimcheria, MD. “The most important thing is that people do stay active since it’s best for spine health,” Kadimcheria says.

Cardio or aerobic exercises benefit our backs by decreasing stiffness, improving the ability to control weight gain, and increasing production of endorphins, which are natural painkilling chemicals the body produces after sustained exercise. The best aerobic exercises for people with back problems are low impact and minimize twisting, which Kadimcheria, an orthopedic spine surgeon at West Orange, New Jersey-based Atlantic Spine Center, says can severely strain vulnerable muscles around the spine.

Among these preferred exercises are walking several miles two to three times a week; swimming and other water exercises, such as water aerobics and aqua jogging; stationary cycling; and elliptical trainers, whose pedals move in a continuous oval pattern versus pushing off from a hard surface.

 

July/August 2015

Dear LifeCoach,
I want to keep my skin protected but don’t want to put sunscreen full of chemicals on my body. What should I look for when shopping for sunscreen?

Edie M.
Chicago

Dear Edie,
The Environmental Working Group (EWG), a Washington DC-based watchdog organization, has just released its annual report on sunscreens that shed light on the answer to your question. In its latest study, the EWG (ewg.org) found that 19% of the sunscreens it examined contained a form of vitamin A, known as retinyl palmitate, that may heighten sensitivity to the sun and speed development of skin cancer tumors.

The group’s 2015 Guide to Sunscreens examined 1,700 sun-protection products and also found retinyl palmitate in 17% of moisturizers with SPF and 13% of lip products. The additive is also known as retinyl acetate, retinyl linoleate and retinol.

Other ingredients to avoid are oxybenzone, which can penetrate the skin and disrupt hormones, and methylisothiazolinone, or MI, a preservative and strong allergen.

The EWG cautions consumers not to be fooled by a high SPF, which it says “tempt people to apply too little sunscreen and stay in the sun too long.” Some 12% of sunscreens the EWG evaluated this year advertise SPF values greater than 50.

The full EWG report, in which 217 products earned its highest ratings for safety and effectiveness, can be found on its website.


 

June 2015

Dear Life Coach,
Summer is tough on my skin and hair. What natural methods have you heard about that can keep my skin and hair from being damaged this season?

Doris Bachner
Chicago, Illinois


Dear Doris,
Of course, wearing sunscreen and a wide-brimmed hat are your first lines of defense against sunburn and skin cancer, and you should check the Environmental Working Group for the most healthful sunscreen brands. But there’s a lot more you can do naturally—both before and after you spend a day in the sun. For example, because the summer sun can dry out and damage delicate lip tissue, use a natural lip balm with an SPF of 15 or higher, recommends Jeanne Kissman, founder of PlumHill pure body essentials.

Sip some red wine before going outside, says Kissman, citing studies in which the flavonoids in red grapes may reduce the sun’s ability to destroy skin cells. Wine also has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant benefits.

And water will help your beauty regimen before and after your swim. For instance, wet hair will absorb fewer chemicals like chlorine than dry hair, Kissman says. (She suggests keeping hair braided or pinned up to prevent tangles. Avoid a tight bun, as wet hair is susceptible to breakage when pulled.) After a day in the sun, Kissman says, a hot shower will aggravate dry skin; instead, take a cold shower to cool your skin and reduce acne breakouts.

 

May 2015

Dear Life Coach,
I’ve been thinking about taking herbal medicines but I am a little wary because I’ve spent so many years on a more conventional regimen. Do you have some ideas for making the transition?

Katherine T.
Dallas, Texas

Dear Katherine,
First, check with your healthcare practitioner. As for making the transition to herbal medicines, you may have already embraced herbal cures without even realizing it. Do you like licorice? Black pepper? If you’ve answered these questions affirmatively, the transition has already been made.

Licorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra) has been used for centuries by healers in Asia and Europe for ailments ranging from the common cold to liver disease, says Dr. Virender Sodhi, founder of the Ayurvedic and Naturopathic Medical Clinic in Bellevue, Washington. Licorice is used in many herbal preparations, Sodhi says, especially for bronchial conditions; its expectorant properties have made powdered licorice popular in treating coughs. Modern cough syrups often contain licorice extract.

The vine Piper nigrum—the berries of which are used to produce black pepper—fights spasms, microbes and inflammation, making it ideal for digestive disorders, Sodhi says. And it can reverse drug resistance, a concern, for example, among cancer patients.

So the transition to such herbs is not necessarily a monumental task. But check with your healthcare practitioner anyhow.

 

April 2015

Dear Life Coach,
I recently read that the obesity rate in the United States has reached a peak 27.7%. I no longer want to be a part of that statistic, but it is very difficult to break bad habits. Can you offer some advice in this area.
Lucille N.
Fargo, North Dakota

Dear Lucille,
Joey Thurman, a celebrity trainer and creator of The Lifestyle Revolution website, offers a number of tips on changing your mindset. Start with a proper breakfast: Wake up 15 minutes earlier to prepare something healthy, such as steel-cut oats with fruit, rather than reaching for a donut in the office break room.

Eat for the body you want, not for the one you have, Thurman says. He suggests trading “I’m already fat; why not have another slice of pizza” for “If I were 10 pounds lighter, would I have the burger or the salad?” Don’t overthink it; go with clean, whole foods and stop buying processed foods and eating out. “You will save money and look better as a result,” says Thurman.

“If you are tired of starting over, stop giving up,” Thurman adds. “It’s time to stop thinking about this as a temporary diet. It’s a lifestyle change, a total and complete renovation.”

Thurman also recommends juicing. One of his favorite energy- and metabolism-boosting recipes is pineapple, lemon, spinach, cucumber and cayenne pepper.

 

March 2015

Dear Life Coach,
It’s well past the New Year, and I’m sticking to my resolution to get in better shape. With the winter here, can you share some ideas for indoor activities that would help me continue to keep fit?
Michelle R.
Detroit, Michigan


Dear Michelle,
Personal trainer Joey Thurman recommends these activities, each of which are suitable for indoors or outdoors and will burn 200 calories in less than an hour.

Jumping rope will let you burn 200 calories in just 10 to 15 minutes. It’s a “great way to get your heart pumping and a great workout if you don’t have a lot of time,” Thurman says. One activity that requires no equipment is dancing, something you can do virtually anywhere; dancing will burn more than 200 calories in 40 minutes.

One piece of workout equipment that is easily accessible is a staircase. You can shed 200 calories climbing stairs for 30 minutes. Another 200-calorie burn that can be done while having some fun is bowling; hitting the lanes for an hour will burn 200 calories. And swimming is a favorite low-impact activity that can burn more than 200 calories in 20 minutes.

“Working out shouldn’t be a chore,” Thurman says. “You should love what you are doing and feel great after. These activities can be done with a friend or on your own. The best part of these activities? They are gym-free. Just find an activity that you love to do.”

 

February 2015

Dear Life Coach,
My teenage son is self-conscious about his acne. His skin seemed to clear up during the summer, but his acne has returned in full force. We prefer natural approaches over those harsh, smelly cleansing pads. Please share any ideas you may have.

Ellen Grady
Lincolndale, New York

Dear Ellen,
Your son’s skin health follows the trend of most teens, who see their skin clear during the summer largely because stress levels decrease and they spend more time outdoors, says Crystal Wellman, owner of the Crystal Clear Acne Clinic in Fredericksburg, Virginia. It’s a challenge to keep stress down during the school year, but Wellman offers a number of ways to help reduce acne for adults as well as teens.

Avoid touching your skin too much. Your hands carry thousands of germs, and spreading them to your face can lead to clogged pores. Constantly touching a pimple—or popping it—could spread acne across your face, Wellman says.

Because you’re sweating in the gym, be sure to shower or at least wash your face after a workout. However, Wellman recommends limiting face-washing to twice daily because over-washing can irritate skin. Finally, eat healthy. Wellman says to avoid bread, refined grains and milk products to keep your skin healthy, and to make sure you stay hydrated.

 

January 2015

Dear Life Coach,
Like many others, my New Year’s resolution is to lose some weight, but I don’t have a plan and don’t want to end up giving up. Please offer some suggestions

Ruth B.
Orlando, Florida

Dear Ruth,
Many diet and weight-loss books cross our desks. One that caught our eye is The 5 Skinny Habits (Rodale) by David Zulberg, MS, a certified ACE health coach and fitness specialist. No food groups are cut out under his plan, so you can go on living your life while you gradually transform it until you’re at a healthy weight.

Followers of Zulberg’s plan are asked to add one new habit each week for five weeks. In Week 1, replace one meal a day with somthing lighter—typically a fruit bowl, salad or other light options, such as cereal and milk, eggs and toast. In Week 2, replace your largest daily meal with one that has only protein and vegetables (and a glass of dry wine, if you like). In Week 3, your third meal can include both protein and grains but if you want seconds, eat veggies only. In Week 4, start doing 10 minutes of cardio exercise three times per week. And in Week 5, replace your usual snacks (and deal with cravings) by drinking water and eating vegetables, low-fat dairy products or fruit between meals.

Of course, you can find a plan that works for you. The point is to have a plan so you have some guidance. Good luck!

 

November/December 2014

Dear Life Coach,
I’m never sure when to throw away food in my refrigerator. I’ve read that a lot of food is wasted in the United States, and I don’t want to add to that. Please advise.

Harry K.
Santa Cruz, California

Dear Harry,
Roughly 31% of all edible food is wasted in the US, and American households discard 19% of vegetables and 14% of fruit they buy, according to a Home Food Safety public awareness campaign by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and ConAgra Foods.

But you don’t have to be a part of those statistics. “How you store food can keep it safe and fresh longer, reducing not only your risk of food poisoning, but also food waste and...your grocery bill,” says Marisa Moore, registered dietitian nutritionist and Academy spokesperson.

Food gets wasted due to improper storage and misreading labels. Use a refrigerator thermometer and store perishable foods at 40°F in the fridge or at or below 0°F in the freezer. Some fruits and vegetables should be stored in the fridge, others at room temperature; some should not be stored together. There’s no need to refrigerate peaches, avocado, watermelon, bananas, tomatoes, and nectarines, all of which are cold sensitive.

For a handy chart with more, see http://homefoodsafety.org/downloads/produce-infographic.

 

October 2014

Dear Life Coach,
I used to have what I would call a normal complexion, but more recently I’ve noticed that my skin seems more pale than usual. Does this change mean anything that I should be concerned about?

Renee E.
Los Angeles, California

Dear Renee,
The appearance of our skin says much about our health, observes Sanjiv Saini, MD, of MD Dermatology in Maryland. “Healthy-looking skin is often an indication of a healthy person,” Saini says, “while the opposite is true of someone who has health conditions.”

People with skin that is paler than normal may be anemic, Saini says. Resulting from an iron deficiency, anemia can also be a sign of other diseases, such as an inflammatory bowel disease. Of course, check with your healthcare practitioner.

Skin condition is linked to other afflictions. For instance, when someone is not drinking enough water on a regular basis, their skin may look flaky, tight and dry.

Having skin that is dull and dry can be a sign of a deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids, which are found in foods like walnuts, sardines and flaxseeds, and are available in supplement form. And stress has an inflammatory impact on the skin, which could lead to such conditions as rosacea, psoriasis and acne. The skin tells stories.

 

September 2014

Dear Life Coach,
I’ve always heard that physical activity helps keep our brains sharp. What are some specific exercises for myself and for someone who is infirm?

Donna F.
Asheville, North Carolina

Dear Donna,
Regular exercise can improve brain function and may prevent the onset of cognitive diseases such as Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s, says William Smith, MS, author of Exercises for Brain Health (Hatherleigh). Smith recommends exercises that have an impact on more than one area of your body and mind.

“Neurodegenerative diseases affect cognition and physical capabilities,” Smith says. “Challenging your body via multi-tasking exercises, such as a lunge with biceps curl, utilizes all your senses to accomplish this movement. Start with body weight and add resistance, never compromising form.”

Smith says caregivers of an elderly patient or loved one should especially be diligent about scheduling daily movement for themselves and the person they’re caring for. Even five minutes of movement—stretching the upper body, deep breathing exercises or supervised balance movements—“can create a positive mental outlook for caregiver and patient,” Smith says.

Also keep in mind that what happens in the brain affects the body; keep stress to a minimum.

 

July/August 2014

Dear Life Coach,
As I washed my hands the other day, I realized I wash quite often. How do I tell if I am compulsive about washing?

Henry Y.
San Diego

Dear Henry,
Francine Rosenberg, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with Morris Psychological Group, Parsippany, New Jersey, says that obsessive fear of germs or dirt and the compulsion to wash hands repeatedly is a common manifestation of obsessive-compulsive disorder. “For people who suffer from OCD, hand washing goes well beyond a preoccupation with cleanliness,” she says. “It is excessive behavior whose real purpose is to reduce intense feelings of fear and anxiety.”

Rosenberg says answering “yes” to several of these questions could warrant a consultation about OCD: After washing your hands, do you still worry they aren’t clean enough? After repeated washing are you still anxious about contamination? Do you have an elaborate routine for washing? Do you wash to a particular sequence or count? Do you frequently start over? Are your hands often red and chapped? Do you go to extremes to avoid situations you fear might expose you to germs? Do you avoid shaking hands or touching surfaces in public places? Does your anxiety about contamination and efforts to alleviate it interfere with your relationships and daily activities?

 

 

June 2014

Dear Life Coach,
I recently was on vacation and got a bad sunburn. I tried to find the right remedy for the pain, but nothing seemed to work. Is there something to effectively relieve the pain of a sunburn?

Monica K.
Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada

Dear Monica,
First, it’s important that you know the risks of too much sun. “Although sunburn may seem like a temporary condition, it leaves behind long-lasting damage to the skin that increases a person’s risk for getting skin cancer,” says dermatologist Elizabeth S. Martin, MD, FAAD, of Hoover, Alabama. So try to seek shade, wear protective clothing, and liberally apply sunscreen.

If you do get a sunburn, however, take frequent cool baths or showers to help relieve the pain, Martin says. As soon as you get out of the bathtub or shower, gently pat yourself dry, but leave a little water on your skin. Then, apply a moisturizer, preferably with aloe vera or soy, to help trap the water in your skin. This can help ease the dryness. Martin says steer clear of products with a “-caine” at the end because they can irritate the skin or cause an allergic reaction.

To prevent dehydration, drink extra water because a sunburn draws fluid to the skin’s surface and away from the rest of the body. And stay extra protected while you heal.

 

May 2014

Dear Life Coach,
Could you tell me a little more about feng shui and offer some suggestions for how I can use it in my house?

Robin C.
Los Angeles, California

Dear Robin,
Feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of placement for balance and harmony, not only helps with creating beautiful design and flow in spaces, but also can promote positive life shifts in people through its practice, says Lisa Janusz, a Certified Feng Shui Professional on the faculty at the Wind & Water School of Feng Shui in Minneapolis.

Decorate your bedroom first, Janusz says. That may seem counterintuitive since the room isn’t visible to visitors, but “from a feng shui perspective, it’s the major player in your house,” she says.

“You spend a lot of time there rleaxing and rejuvenating, so make sure the decor is restful and romantic.” Similarly, don’t ignore hallways. An empty hallway can lead to either stale energy or energy that “speeds by,” Janusz says. Adding some hallway decor helps balance the energy.

Janusz says to keep in mind the curb appeal that focusing on your front door will bring, too. Feng shui sees the front door as your calling card “and helps welcome opportunities in your life,” she says. Finally, Janusz advises people to remove clutter, choose function over form and love your home.

 

April 2014

Dear Life Coach,
I thought acne was only for teens, yet here I am in my 50s with acne that doesn’t seem to go away. What can I do?

Jennifer M.
Atlanta

Dear Jennifer,
A growing number of women in their 30s and older have acne, but there are a number of options available to you to help clear and prevent adult acne, says Aurora DeJulius, MD, of the Aurora DeJulius European Medical Spa in Montclair, New Jersey.

For starters, don’t let acne run its course, as leaving it untreated could leave dark spots and permanent scars as the acne clears, DeJulius says. Washing your face each morning and night may help, but DeJulius cautions against excessive scrubbing, which could irritate the skin.

Nor should you wear makeup to bed, DeJulius says. Makeup left overnight hinders skin renewal and clogs pores, risking a bacteria buildup and inflammation. And change your pillowcase regularly, otherwise you are resting your face on accumulated dust and dead skin cells; the same goes for your bath towel, which could be harboring acne-causing bacteria.

Consider if you are spending too much time in the sun. Frequent tanning is a skin cancer risk and triggers breakouts on acne-prone skin. “Sun, heat and humidity can cause oil glands to become overactive, which can lead to acne breakouts,” DeJulius says.

 

March 2014

Dear Life Coach,
Is there such a thing as a nontoxic hair coloring product? I have a healed scalp wound that I don’t want over-the-counter products to irritate but I am not quite ready to stop coloring my hair.

Sharon A.
Greenwood Village, Colorado

Dear Sharon,
Topping the list of a number of ingredients in hair color products that the Environmental Working Group, a Washington, DC, watchdog group, says consumers should avoid are the coal tar hair dyes including aminophenol, diaminobenzene and phenylenediamine. “The use of these hair colorants, especially by salon workers, had been linked to an increased risk of bladder cancer and as well as concerns about skin allergies,” says David Q. Andrews, PhD, the EWG’s senior scientist.

Consumers also should avoid products that use resorcinol. Note that the European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety over the past five years has reviewed the toxicity concerns for hair dyes on the market in Europe and has established concentration limits on more than 65 hair dye ingredients.

For less-threatening products, visit www.ewg.org and download the EWG’s Android or iPhone app, which allows you to scan a product using the camera and a picture of the UPC in the store. You will instantly be able to see all the ingredients and the known hazards for those ingredients.

 

February 2014

Dear Life Coach,
We’ve made friends with a new family that moved into the neighborhood and plan to have them over for dinner. One of the family members has celiac disease. Not everyone in our group likes gluten-free food. Can you provide some ideas to make sure we handle this well?

Len C.
Los Angeles

Dear Len,
Your concerns are well-founded as more people are being diagnosed with celiac and other food intolerances and allergies that may be life-threatening. “But with planning you can offer a meal with foods that are suitable for those with dietary concerns,” says registered dietician nutritionist Angela Lemond.

Lemond, a spokeswoman for the Academy of Nutrition, was speaking on behalf of the Home Food Safety program of the Academy and ConAgra Foods. Among the program’s tips: When shopping, keep problematic foods in plastic bags or even place them in a second cart, and keep them separate at checkout and in the car ride home. Avoid foods from bullk bins and salad bars, common sites for cross-contact. Use separate sets of cookware, utensils and cooking tools, and sterilize everything coming into contact with the gluten-free food. Serve guests with celiac first and carry their dishes separate from others. For more information, visit www.HomeFoodSafety.org.

 

January 2014

Dear Life Coach,
Every year Thanksgiving reminds me how healing it is to be thankful. It’s a lesson I’d love to give my kids throughout the year. Do you have some ideas?

Jody W.
Peekskill, New York

Dear Jody,
Thank you for your question—it’s a great one. Researchers have long been giving the thumbs up to positive attitudes and their effect on physical health, so gratitude is a major plus. Gratitude works because it takes the focus off negative thoughts and puts it on all that we have in our lives that’s worth appreciating.

Gratitude teaches children in particular resiliency and helps them find peace in difficult times as they get older, so it’s important to teach it while children are young, says Jen Groover, author of Empowered: 30 Days to a More Empowered Life.

Groover recommends you give your children a gratitude journal in which they can spend ten minutes each day writing about or drawing the people or things for which they are grateful. Or create a gratitude ritual, in which you set time each day when you and your kids can reflect on the day and all it offered to be thankful for. Set aside gently used toys and take the trip with your kids to donate them. And, Groover adds, remember that you are a gratitude role model: Say “please” and “thank you,” among other ways to express your thankfulness.

 

November/December 2013

Dear Life Coach,
I’m concerned about more sugar than I want hiding in the foods I shop for. Can you give me some ideas of foods that might have more sugar than I’d expect or want to find?

Fred M.
Dallas

Dear Fred,
You’re right to question the sugar content in foods; the sweet stuff is hardly just reserved for candy, cookies and soda. Dan DeFigio, author of Beating Sugar Addiction for Dummies (Wiley), says frozen entrees, bacon, canned soups and microwave popcorn are among foods with sugar, among other ingredients that you don’t want to consume.

DeFigio found that one glazed chicken entree from a popular line of “healthy” foods contained high fructose corn syrup, sugar, artificial caramel color and trans fats, among other ingredients.

There are far more healthier protein sources than bacon. In addition to the sugars that are added to it, “ounce for ounce, bacon is mostly fat and chemicals,” DeFigio observes.

Even rice cakes are culprits. “Any all-carbohydrate snacks—especially if it’s made of processed, enriched grains—causes an insulin spike followed by a blood sugar crash several hours later,” DeFigio says. All-carb snacks keep people “on a blood sugar roller coaster and stimulate cravings,” he adds.

Read labels. Carefully.

 

October 2013

Dear Life Coach,
Are there exercises that I should be cautious about because they may cause physical damage if not done correctly?

Bill W.
Omaha, Nebraska

Dear Bill,
Insightful question. Indeed, some exercises can do more harm than good. The order of your exercises is also important, observes Matt Mikesh, PT. “A common mistake is to begin the exercise routine with extremely difficult exercises,” says Mikesh, adding that you should warm up first and save the tough routines for the end.

Mikash points to a half-dozen exercises for which you should, well, exercise caution. Deep squats can help strengthen the legs, particularly the quads, but strain the knees. Lat pull-downs put the neck in an awkward positions and can strain the shoulder, he says. The military press can also harm the shoulders. Some abdominal and back exercises, meanwhile, require excessive flexing or extension of the lumbar spine, says Mikash, who works with Somers Orthopedic Surgery & Sports Medicine in Carmel, New York. “Stick to core exercises that are done with the spine in a more neutral position,” he says.

Finally, jogging, while an efficient form of cardio, can cause “breakdowns” of the feet, ankles, knees, hips and back, Mikash says. Biking, swimming and using an elliptical machine are better options.

 

September 2013

Dear Life Coach,
A friend is considering taking anti-depressant medication, but I am trying to advise her to find more natural ways to help her fight her depression. Any ideas?

Peter S.
Sacramento, California

Dear Peter,
Vasavi Kumar, LMSW, MSED, emphasizes that anyone taking medication should not stop without consulting their doctor. If given the okay, to begin have a support team of trusted family and friends.

Kumar, diagnosed with bipolar disorder more than a decade ago and off medication for more than a year, also recommends embracing spirituality. “Whether it is meditation, yoga, prayer, or going for walks—I walk my dog five to six miles every other day—you have got to have something that is going to anchor you. That’s because the medication you have been taking really has not anchored you at all; it has just numbed you,” says Kumar, who appears as the Keepin’ It Real Guru on the “Kansas City Live” television program. She adds you should have “an intimate relationship with yourself.

When you allow someone to tell you, ‘you have depression, you need to be on medication,’ you have stopped learning and stopped growing, because you have allowed someone to define who you are. Know yourself instead.” Finally, find a purpose bigger than yourself. Be of service to others to reduce the self-focus.

 

July-August 2013

Dear Life Coach,
My children tend to wear their flip-flops as their regular shoes out of the house. I’m not sure that they are getting the best support for their feet.

Nicky G.
Seattle

Dear Nancy,
Your concerns are justified. “The beloved flip-flop may actually be causing more long-term harm than current comfort,” says Dawn Sears, DPM, a New York podiatrist with Manhattan and Queens offices. “While fashionable and fun, flip-flops can actually lead to weakened and fallen foot arches. That’s just the beginning.”

Among short-term effects, Sears says, are blistering and falling injuries that happen when the flip-flops bend and fold. Sears points to a UK study showing $62 million is spent annually treating more than 200,000 flip-flop-related injuries.

Other possible serious injuries: plantar fascitis, Achilles tendon injury and stress fractures. They can cause staph infections. Long-term wear can cause hammertoes and bunions. “Because you’re working to keep the shoe on,” Sears says, “your foot instinc­tively goes forward, causing a grip-like pull on the toes.”

Flip-flops should be worn only for short distances, like along a pool deck or in a gym shower. Visit the American Podiatric Medical Association at www.apma.org for its recommended product list.

 

June 2013

Dear Life Coach,
I want to work out to lose weight but I get winded easily. My asthma prevents me from exercising long enough to lose the weight. I would appreciate any suggestions to get around this problem.

Paul N.
Chicago

Dear Paul,
This is a common issue for people with asthma who are also overweight, says Isaac Eliaz, MD, MS, LAc. You and others in your situation need to increase metabolism and burn calories. “One of the most important starting points here is to adopt a low-glycemic, anti-inflammatory diet which consists of low-sugar foods that will balance blood glucose, insulin and cortisol—a primary goal in weight loss and metabolic health,” says Dr. Eliaz, medical director of Amitabha Clinic in Santa Rosa, California. The diet will boost metabolism, promote weight loss and can help address asthma.

“Physical activity can be introduced in short increments throughout the day, 5 to 10 minutes at a time, 5 to 10 times per day,” he adds, “so that the person can increase their heart rate and circulation a little bit each time, but not so much as to trigger lung spasms. Over time, exercise periods can be extended.”

Dr. Eliaz also suggests you look into a set of yoga poses called Sun Salutations, which have a rhythmic breathing component, that offer a workout without making you short of breath.

 

May 2013

Dear Life Coach,
I eat a lot of salad and healthy foods yet I frequently feel bloated. What’s going on and
how can I avoid that feeling?

Kimberly H.
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Dear Kimberly,
We hate to tell you not to eat your veggies, but they may be the culprits. Cruciferous vegetables such as cauliflower and broccoli can cause bloating in the belly, observes nutritionist Franci Cohen, MS CDN/CPTY. Instead, choose grilled zucchini, asparagus or carrots, which Cohen says will help “keep your tummy tamed.”
People sometimes have a bowl of cereal with milk, mistakenly thinking the simple, low-calorie breakfast is the healthiest choice. “It doesn’t matter how low-cal it is,” Cohen says, “the dairy and multi-grains will expand in your intestines, causing your gut to stick out.” She offers a recipe that wil let you bypass the bloat: Take a half cup of raw oats, three egg whites, half an apple and a dash of cinnamon and toss it in a blender to create a pancake mix. It has fiber from the whole grains and apple, and protein from the egg whites that will fill you without creating abdominal gas.
Reaching for an energy drink can also prompt some paunch because the carbonation from
the drink will make you bloated, Cohen points out. In other instances, watch out for high sodium content in foods; that will also cause bloating.

 

April 2013

Dear Life Coach,
Please recommend a pre-exercise warmup.

Shelly M.
Dallas, Texas

Dear Shelly,
Stretching while moving “pumps more blood to working muscles, body temperature rises, and muscles warm up and become more elastic,” says personal trainer Franci Cohen, MS CDN/CPT.
Her suggested 10-minute warmup begins with jogging in place for two to three minutes at a steady pace. Alternate the jog every 20 seconds with butt-kicks. The heel of your foot should touch your glutes.

Then, Cohen recommends, walk on your toes for 60 seconds to increase ankle motion and strengthen the gastrocnemius. That’s followed by a slight squat, with a forward arm swing while rising. Repeat for 60 seconds.

Do windmills. Extend your arms to the sides, and make 20 small circles in each direction, then 20 big circles in each direction.

Do some straight-leg front kicks, focusing on kicking with the ball of the foot. As your hamstrings warm up, increase your range of motion and kick stronger. Extend the leg fully without locking during each kick. Perform 25 kicks on each leg.

End with a side shuffle: Give yourself 10 feet of space, shuffle to the right for three counts, touch the floor, repeat to the left. Repeat the right/left shuffle 16 times.

 

March 2013

Dear Life Coach,
Please provide some additional tips to help me lose weight. I feel like I’m eating the right foods and avoiding the wrong ones, but I’m not seeing much change on the scale.

Susan L.
Los Angeles

Dear Susan,
Scott Isaacs, MD, author of Beat Overeating Now (Fair Winds), says food is just one of several factors that contribute to the fluctuations in our diets. In fact, Isaacs says, hunger is often the last reason we eat. The degree to which food is processed, environmental toxins and social conditioning all weigh in on disrupting what Isaacs calls “our body’s natural hunger and satiety cues.” These disruptors have revamped our bodies for hunger, cravings and weight gain, he adds.

Among Isaacs’ tips: Turn down the thermostat, even a few degrees, to force your body to burn more calories to generate body heat. He also suggests avoiding “obesogens”—chemicals and toxins that act as environmental endocrine disruptors, resulting in weight gain. Get better sleep, too, recommends Isaac, citing a growing body of research linking poor sleep to weight gain. On the food front, ditch diet sodas, which contain artificial sweeteners that cause increased hunger and sugar
cravings.

 

Febuary 2013

Dear Life Coach,
Any suggestions to keep me on track with my new exercise program? It’s only a few weeks into the new year, and I’m already losing interest.

Bernice M.
Fort Lauderdale, Florida

Dear Bernice,
Like many others who have made an exercise regimen the focus of their New Year’s resolution, you probably launched your workout program to lose weight. But there are many other benefits that exercise offers, observes Eudene Harry, MD, who practices integrative healthcare and is
the author of Live Younger in 8 Simple Steps.

“The increase in circulation and perspiration that occurs with exercise delivers more nutrients to your skin while allowing impurities and waste to be removed,” Harry says.

Further, exercise releases endorphins, mood-boosting brain chemicals that relieve stress and enhance self-esteem. Exercise also increases contractions of the wall of the intestine, helping to prevent constipation, Harry says. And weight-bearing exercises such as walking, jogging, weight training and yoga build bone cells, she says, boosting strength and density while decreasing the risk of fractures, osteopenia and osteoporosis. Finally, physical exertion builds your immunity.
How’s that for incentive to keep exercising?

January 2013

Dear Life Coach,
My mother is a senior citizen and wants to start exercising, but I’m worried that she will hurt herself if she does too much or moves the wrong way. What can I tell her to make sure she takes it easy?

Kelly L.
Mobile, Alabama

Dear Kelly,
The National Institute on Aging recommends four types of exercise for seniors: aerobic conditioning (activities like walking and swimming); strength training (to reduce muscle loss); stretching exercises (for flexibility); and balance exercises (for agility).

But before hitting the exercise mats, consult your doctor, recommends Stuart Styles, MD, orthopedic specialist with the Somers orthopedic and sports medicine office in Carmel, New York. “Be sure to mention any new symptom the doctor might not be aware of and discuss any restrictions based on symptoms such as dizziness, shortness of breath, joint pain, bleeding or any recent surgeries or procedures,” Styles says.

Among tips Styles offers for seniors is not to exercise when you’re not feeling well, but don’t let a minor illness derail your program. When you do resume, he says, pick up at a less-intense level than where you left off.

 

November-December 2012

Dear Life Coach,
I’ve heard that drinking coffee can be healthy. Can I get as much benefit from drinking decaffeinated coffee as I can from coffee with caffeine? I’m more of a decaf person because I am concerned about caffeine keeping me up at night.

June Lucas
Santa Fe, New Mexico

Dear June,
No need to lose sleep over this. Yes, you can indeed reap the health benefits of coffee—though fewer of them—even if you drink decaf, says Cal Orey, author of The Healing Powers of Coffee (Kensington).

Coffee boasts more antioxidants than cocoa and tea, and more than antioxidant-rich fruits like oranges and blueberries, Orey asserts. With hundreds of healing compounds in coffee, Orey says research shows that its consumption can significantly reduce the risk of many conditions, including dementia, asthma, cancer, heart disease, liver disease and even chronic constipation.

Decaf has 20% fewer polyphenols, a type of antioxidant, than caffeinated coffee. But that is not significantly lower, Orey says, citing research by Joe. A. Vinson, PhD, of the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania.

The jury is still out whether medium or dark roast contains the most antioxidants in your cup of joe, she adds.

 

October 2012

Dear Life Coach,
Any thoughts on getting rid of acne naturally? If I can, I’d like to keep those strong skin cleansers that you find in stores away from my face. Thank you.

Gene P.
San Rafael, California

Dear Gene,
You’re on the right track. “It’s very common for patients with acne to scrub their skin and to use harsh products, yet doing so often makes acne worse,” says Amanda Friedrichs, MD, FAAD, a Sycamore, Illinois, dermatologist. “In order for acne to improve, people with acne must be gentle when touching their skin and use gentle products.”

Friedrichs recommends washing twice a day and after sweating. Perspiration can make acne worse, especially after wearing a hat or helmet.

To avoid irritating the skin with a rough surface, Friedrich says, use your fingertips, rather than
a washcloth or mesh sponge, to apply a gentle, non-abrasive cleanser. Avoid astringents, toners and exfoliants—dry, red skin makes acne look worse—as well as cleansers with alcohol. Rinse with lukewarm water.

Shampoo daily, particularly if you have oily hair, and avoid touching your face, which can cause flare-ups, the dermatologist says. Finally, stay out of the sun and avoid tanning beds; tanning damages your skin, and using tanning beds increases your risk for melanoma by 75%.

 

September 2012

Dear Life Coach,
A friend was recently determined to have a high-risk pregnancy and put on bed rest. As you might imagine, she is very depressed about this situation. What can I do to encourage her?

Concerned
Omaha, Nebraska

Dear Concerned,
Stress and fear are hallmarks of a high-risk pregnancy, but there are steps your friend can take to strengthen her psyche and cope, says Kelly Whitehead, author of High-Risk Pregnancy: Why Me? Understanding and Managing a Potential Preterm Pregnancy (Evolve), who lost a son born prematurely and went on to have two high-risk pregnancies.

Try to enjoy being pregnant despite the high-risk pregnancy, Whitehead urges. Do normal
pregancy-related activities, albeit modified. Shop online, get a belly cast, take photos of your expanding belly, and savor kicks and your body’s changes, she says.

Discard negative emotions, because they will accomplish nothing, Whitehead adds. The high-risk pregnancy is not your fault so lift any guilt you may feel. Get mad, she says, then move on.
Rather than flooding your mind with every possible scenario about a high-risk pregnancy, educate yourself about your particular situation. “Though this will be the toughest time of your life, many of us have been through it and now have children,” Whitehead says. “You can too.”

 

July/August 2012

Dear Life Coach,
I like to get my exercise outdoors, even in winter. I’m excited now that summer is here but worry about working out in the heat. Last summer a friend got dizzy while exercising outdoors, even though she used a sports drink for hydration. Any suggestions for a safe summer workout?

June E.
Lincoln, Nebraska

Dear June,
Your friend’s instinct to stay hydrated is on target, but you have to be a little more cautious when doing so with sports drinks, observes Lisa Corsello, a San Francisco-based fitness expert. Sports drinks tend to be high in sugar, which can spike energy levels but bring on early fatigue, says Corsello, especially on hot days. She recommends that you keep your energy level in check by mixing two parts of water for every one part of sports drink.

You can take a number of steps to help ensure a safe workout before you begin. For example, check your five-day forecast and modify your workout schedule accordingly, says Corsello, creator of the Burn method, a workout that combines Pilates with strength training and cardio. Exercise during the coolest hours of the day. Get a good night’s sleep before you exercise and allow at least one day of rest before your next workout. And check with your doctor to make sure it is okay for you to work out in current local conditions.

 

June 2012

Dear Life Coach,
I heard that grilling food is a cancer risk. If this is true, what can I do to lower the risk and still enjoy my grill? We just bought the grill but I don’t want to do anything that will endanger my family.

Sharon E.
Southfield, Michigan

Dear Sharon,
Grilling meats on high heat can indeed cause the carcinogens heterocyclic amine (HCA) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) to form. But there’s no need to hang up your spatula and barbeque fork, says The Natural Gourmet Institute for Food & Health in New York—a number of simple steps before you even begin grilling can help you cut down on those carcinogens.

One way is to soak meat in a lemon- or vinegar-based marinade before grilling. Spices, including red pepper, thyme, sage, garlic and rosemary, can help lower the risk while adding delicious flavor, says the Natural Gourmet Institute. And using an antioxidant-rich red wine marinade can also help.

Before putting your food on the grill, clean your grill grates of carcinogen buildup with a stiff-wired brush. You can also pre-cook your meats in the oven or on the stove a little to trim time on the grill, but still get grill flavor. Finally, the National Gourmet Institute says, red meat is the most carcinogenic food at the barbecue. Offset that with more asparagus, zucchini and other veggies.

 

May 2012

Dear Life Coach,
I’ve recently met several people who got hurt while exercising. I’m a little concerned and wonder if I should be more careful when I exercise and use light weights. What are some dangers to avoid?

Melissa E.
Tucson, Arizona

Dear Melissa,
It’s impossible to comment on your specific routine without more details, so check with your healthcare practitioner and, if you belong to a gym, your trainer. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends enlisting a personal trainer for guidance to help reduce the risk of injury.

You mention light weights. The ACE says one of the most common exercise errors involves kettlebells. Many people think the kettlebell single arm swing, for instance, is a shoulder exercise when it should be working the core, the ACE says. To use kettlebells correctly, avoid lifting with the back or the shoulders. As in many kettlebell exercises, the hips should always drive the movement.

Contract the abdominal muscles and hinge at the hips. While exhaling, initiate an explosive upward movement to swing the kettlebell upward coming to a standing position. The momentum generated through the lower body should let your arm become parallel with the floor. Too difficult? Generate more power from the lower body by thrusting harder with the gluteal muscles from the lowered position.

 

April 2012

Dear Life Coach,
A close friend recently gave me some news that suprised me. Apparently, I often have bad breath. My friend was reluctant to tell me at first, fearing that she would sever our relationship, but I’m glad she did. Now that I know, what do I do about it?

June W.
Via Email

Dear June,
Dentist Pankaj Singh says persistent bad breath may be warning signs of a number of factors: gum, or periodontal, disease, caused by plaque buildup whose bateria cause gum-irritating toxins; dry mouth, or xerostomia, a side effect of various medications or salivary gland problems (saliva neutralizes acids and washes away dead cells); chronic acid reflux, which causes stomach contents to leak back into the esophagus; and food with strong odors, such as garlic or onions. And if you wear a bridge, perhaps food is getting trapped.

Singh recommends brushing your teeth and tongue after you eat, replacing your toothbrush every two to three months, and seeing your dentist twice a year. For some natural preventatives and remedies, Singh says to chew on mint leaves or parsley. By eating an orange, he says, you can ditch bad breath instantly because the citric acid will help stimulate the salivary glands, as does chewing gum and sucking candy (sugarless). The bacteria in yogurt may help, too, Singh says.

 

 

March 2012

Dear Life Coach,
My doctor diagnosed my condition as eczema. My hands crack and sometimes bleed. I was prescribed prednisone and gained eight pounds. As soon as I stopped the medicine my hands were bad again. I tried coconut oil, but it didn’t help. Any ideas?

Jan M.
Via Email

Dear Jan,
We reached out to several dermatologists who offered solutions without prescription medicine. First, a few words about prevention: avoid over-washing your hands, which can strip the outer layers of skin and worsen eczema, says Doris Day, MD, of New York. And use hand cream.

A fan of home remedies, Day offers this: In a bowl, mix two cups of lukewarm water, two tablespoons of olive oil and two tablespoons of honey. Soak hands for 5-7 minutes, rinse and pat dry. Apply aquaphor ointment and wear thin white cotton gloves for two hours or overnight.

Apply almond or olive oil in a shower, suggests Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, MD, of Danville, California, or apply petroleum jelly ointment to lock in moisture while still wet after a shower. Some farmers, she observes, use Bag Balm, a lanolin mixture developed to soothe irritated cows’ udders, on their hands. She also suggests cotton gloves at night to retain moisture and help you wake up with soft hands in the morning.

 

February 2012

Dear Life Coach,
Beyond regular exercise and a healthy diet, what can I do to help prevent heart disease and lower the risk of a heart attack?

Marlene P.
Henderson, Nevada

Dear Marlene,

Heart disease kills more women in the United States than any other affliction, so your pursuit of strong cardiac health is spot on, as is your sense that exercise and nutrition are not alone in contributing to a vital, healthy heart.

Harvard-trained cardiologist Malissa Wood, MD, author of the new book Smart at Heart (Ten Speed), has identified 10 “bridges” to heart health that address emotional and spiritual, as well as physical, needs. Small changes to our environment, the way we communicate or how we handle stress have as much impact on our hearts as daily walks or good nutrition, Wood says.

“Defusing toxic relationships can be as important to heart health as easing up on the butter in mashed potatoes,”she notes. Even clearing out clutter at home can have a profound effect.
To underscore the point, Wood points to a 2010 joint study by Brigham Young University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, which found that the odds of death among people with weak social connections in the study’s follow-up period were on average at least 50% higher than among people with more concrete connections.

January 2012

Dear Life Coach,
Working in a busy law firm, my work week well exceeds the 40 hours that many people spend on the job. There is a lot of stress with this responsibility and no time for self-improvement, such as losing weight. Any ideas?

Marie E.
San Antonio, Texas

Dear Marie,
You’re not alone in thinking anew about self-improvement, especially as New Year’s resolutions remain fresh in the minds of many. Melissa McCreery, a clinical psychologist and life coach, cites three “o’s”— overwhelm, overload and overeating. “These problems are often related,” says McCreery, founder of www.TooMuchOnHerPlate.com. “Understand that stress and overeating are connected if you are trying to lose weight. If you don’t address the stress and the hectic lifestyle, weight loss attempts are much more likely to fail.” She suggests that you make time for yourself; even 10 minutes a day to journal, stretch or set priorities can go a long way.

And because high achievers tend to have high expectations, lifestyle change or weight loss can feel overwhelming. Cut the steps you plan to take in half. You are more likely to maintain small changes. Finally, McCreery says, get at least 7 1/2 hours of sleep; women who don’t gain weight, feel more hungry and have more cravings for sugary or high-carb foods.

 

November/December 2011

Dear Life Coach,
Affordable healthcare is hard enough to come by for people—any thoughts on keeping my dogs healthy without the tremendous expense?

Gus Wagner
Seattle

Dear Gus,
Having a dog in the house doesn’t have to mean the poorhouse. Too often, however, pet owners apply the same healthcare thinking to their pets that they do for themselves, says Lori Pasternak, DVM, of Helping Hands, a Richmond, Virginia, veterinary practice (www.helpinghandsvetva.com). "When people can’t afford healthcare, they self-treat their colds and flus and ignore serious symptoms until they eventually land in the emergency room,” Pasternak says. “With pets, the same takes place, but in many cases, it leads to the pet winding up needing expensive treatments or surgical procedures that the owners cannot afford. The result is that they end up allowing the pet to be euthanized.”

Instead, look for clinics and vets that offer pet healthcare plans costing a nominal $20 or $30 monthly fee, Pasternak says. And don’t take preventative dental cleanings for granted; the most common way for dogs to get infections is through their mouths. Finally, she says, pet and rub your pet often and all over; pets love the attention, and you may detect lumps or bumps that might indicate disease.

 

October 2011

Dear Life Coach,
I want to start lifting weights to help me lose body weight and specifically to get some of the flab off my arms. As a woman, I’m worried about getting started with weights because I don’t want to look muscle-bound like a man. Should I go for strength training or not?

Valerie H.
Waupaca, Wisconsin

Dear Valerie,

Strength training using heavy weights won’t cut into your femininity, says trainer Irene McCormick in her forthcoming mythbusting book, A Woman's Guide to Muscle & Strength (Human Kinetics), due out in February. “Men and women who train similarly have the ability to increase their muscular strength, but because women have lower levels of testosterone and fewer and smaller muscle fibers than men, they do not have the ability to increase muscle size the way men do,” McCormick says.

As for losing that arm flab, McCormick calls spot reduction a “mythical concept. Fat is lost throughout the body in a pattern dependent on genetics, sex, hormones, and age.” You need overall body fat reduction to lose far in a particular area, she adds.

However, while spot reduction is an unrealistic goal in your fitness regimen, spot training can strengthen a specific muscle group through aerobic activity and resistance training, says McCormick.

 

September 2011

Dear Life Coach,
I’m concerned about my elderly parents falling and hurting themselves. Is there anything I can do to help them reduce that risk?

Arthur C.
Macon, Georgia

Dear Arthur,
Unintentional falls are the leading injury-related reason people seek emergency care, to the tune of 9 million visits each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Indeed, falls account for more than 40% of nonfatal injuries and are the leading cause of unintentional home injury deaths, says the Home Safety Council. The two highest-risk age groups: children under five and adults over age 70. Your concerns are real.

“A fall can be a sentinel event in the life of an older person, potentially marking the beginning of a serious decline in function or the symptom of a new or worsening medical condition,” says Sandra Schneider, MD, president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, which offers a number of tips to avoid such a scenario.

Remove clutter in the home, ACEP suggests, and use nightlights in the bedroom, hall and bathroom; ensure that the tops and bottoms of stairs are well lit. Repair loose stairway carpeting or boards and, especially for older people, remove throw rugs and tack down other rugs to avoid tripping. Consider providing your parents with a wearable panic button.

 

July/August 2011

Dear Life Coach,
The summer gets me outdoors but I tend to develop back spasms and pain after gardening or doing other outdoor activities. I would appreciate if you could suggest some ways to help me to continue enjoying my outdoor hobbies while avoiding these back pains.

Melissa K.
Chicago

Dear Melissa,
Back pain can be debilitating so we feel for you. More than 80% of people get low back pain though most recover on their own, explains David Wang, DO, specialist in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at The Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine (www.kaplanclinic.com), McLean, Virginia. Start slowly. “Your body may need a few weeks after the long winter to become accustomed again to the physical stresses of gardening, such as squatting, twisting, lifting and digging,” Wang says. He suggests you split larger gardening projects into several shorter sessions while you build stamina. Lift planters or fertilizer bags close to your body, your back vertical so you lift with your leg rather than back muscles. Warm up before you begin with 10 to 20 repetitions of gentle exercises like standing hip circles or leg lifts. Take breaks and change positions about every 15 minutes. Investing in long-handled gardening tools, Wang says, will help minimize the amount of back bending you do. So will raised garden beds.

 

June 2011

Dear Life Coach,
I’ve experienced aches in several areas of my body. I’ve had these pains for a few months and they don’t seem to be going away. What can be causing this?

Karen T.
Lincoln, Nebraska

Dear Karen,
Check with your healthcare practitioner, of course, but one possible cause of your aches is fibromyalgia. Three months of widespread pain in at least 11 of 18 tender points in muscles and fibrous tissues located in the arms, chest, knees, buttocks, neck, lower back, ribcage, shoulder and thighs can be a sign of fibromyalgia, says Mark Sobor, MD, of ChicagoHealers.com. The affliction, Sobor notes, is linked to chronic fatigue, morning stiffness, sleep problems, headaches, numbness in feet and hands, depression and anxiety.

Sobor offers a number of tips for treating fibromyalgia naturally. He recommends gentle stretching and aerobic exercise, starting with walking and swimming. Light massage and acupressure can help, as can acupuncture, which Sobor says has been found by the Mayo Clinic to help relieve fatigue and lower anxiety for up to one month after treatment. Explore relaxation techniques to reduce stress and anxiety, and to improve your ability to cope with life’s pressures. Finally, Sobor recommends a well-balanced diet in which you avoid caffeine and high-sodium foods.

 

May 2011

Dear Life Coach,

I get stressed out very often and find it difficult to settle down. Please help with some tips that I can use whenever I’m stressed.

Melissa W.
Los Angeles

Dear Melissa,
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health says stress and anxiety affect well over 19 million Americans, and that number is growing. The good part of that news is that solutions are abundant.

Change your thoughts, which affect how you respond to the world around you, suggests Lauren E. Miller, author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Stressing Out! (DocUmeant). “You walk around missing vital pieces of information that you delete or distort because they do not fit with the structure of reality you have created for yourself,” Miller says. “The problem comes when you think these impoverished views of reality are real representations of life. If you have created a structure based on the belief that ‘nothing ever works out for me,’ you will tune into everything that backs that belief up.”

For another option, Martin Boroson, author of One-Moment Meditation: Stillness for People on the Go (Winter Road), says you can find peace through meditation virtually anywhere, at work, home, or waiting in line, not just at a yoga center. “Meditation becomes part of life,” Boroson says, “not separate from life.”

 

April 2011

Dear Life Coach,
Now that allergy season is here and can trigger breathing problems, I worry about having a serious asthma attack. Please tell me how I can recognize the symptoms early enough to avoid
a major problem?

Jerome H.
Via Email

Dear Jerome,
Asthma rates are rising. There are 25 million asthma sufferers in the United States—triple the number 30 years ago, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, adding there were 17.5 million asthma-related emergency room visits in 2007, the latest year for which those figures are available. And thousands die of the disease each year.

Being aware of basic symptoms—and preventative measures—could help you stave off
a life-threatening situation.

The American College of Emergency Physicians (ACEP) says people should be aware of the following warning signs: waking at night wheezing and/or coughing; needing a quick-relief inhaler more than twice a week; missing school or work because of breathing-related issues; consistent breathing problems during exercise or physical activity; and being unable to participate in daily, routine activities.

“It’s a serious disease, but it’s treatable,” says Sandra Schneider, MD, ACEP’s president, who urges people to seek treatment from their healthcare practitioners.

 

March 2011

Dear Life Coach,
I have heard about the connection between heart disease and some other health issues, like dental health, that seem unrelated to the heart. Should I be concerned about my heart health if I suffer hearing loss?
Michael B.
Via Email

Dear Michael,
Heart health, central to so many aspects of human wellness, can indeed be linked to impaired hearing. “An alarming number of Americans don't understand how serious the threat of heart disease is to them personally, or how closely intertwined it is with other health conditions, such as hearing health,” says Sergei Kochkin, PhD, executive director of the Washington DC-based Better Hearing Institute.

While discomfort in the upper body and shortness of breath are the main warning signs of heart disease, the inner ear is very sensitive to blood flow, Kochkin says, meaning hearing impairment could be an early indicator. In one study Kochkin cites (Wisconsin University, 2001-2002), the prevalence of hearing loss is 54% greater among those with a history of heart disease than in the general population. The same study showed that people who exercised at least once a week saw a 32% reduction in the risk of suffering from hearing loss when compared with sedentary people. For a free BHI hearing test, visit www.hearingcheck.org.

 

February 2011

Dear Life Coach,
I often get migraine headaches but would rather try some natural remedies than resort to mainstream solutions found in pharmacies. What approaches do you recommend?

Amanda L.
Indianapolis

Dear Amanda,
You’re onto something. The overuse of pain medications can actually worsen the frequency and duration of headaches, says Gary Kaplan, DO, founder of the McLean, Virginia-based Kaplan Center for Integrative Medicine (www.kaplanclinic.com). Kaplan offers a number of natural approaches to avoiding triggers for migraines, which are characterized by a pain that pulses or throbs in one area of the head. (For a report on migraines and heart disease, see Head and Heart Disease.) For instance, you may need to change your sleep patterns: Get seven to nine hours per night, then try not to change your sleep schedule. Also, keep stress at bay; meditation might help.

Skipping meals appears to trigger migraines, Kaplan says, as do certain food additives: monosodium glutamate, or MSG; nitrates (in processed meats); aspartame (in diet sodas); tyramine (in aged cheese and smoked fish); alcohol; and chocolate. Perfume, cleaning products or cigarette smoke smells can also trigger migraines. Keep a log of your migraines to help you identify and avoid your specific triggers.

 

January 2011

Dear Life Coach,
Do you know of any natural or exotic remedies for pimples and poor skin? Some of the skin care products I see on the shelves have all sorts of chemicals and ingredients I can’t even pronounce. I don’t want them anywhere near my skin.

Elise M.
Via Email

Dear Elise,
Those chemical skin care solutions might be put to better use as paint thinner. Just kidding, of course, but your point is well taken. We decided to look eastward, toward the Pacific Rim, for solutions you might consider and consult your healthcare practitioner about. The antibacterial properties of tea tree oil (from the Melaleuca alternifolia tree, native to Australia), first employed centuries ago by Australian aborigines in a variety of uses, may gently control acne, but without the dryness, redness and scaling that are sometimes a consequence of chemical acne treatments.

Lisa Katayama, author of Urawaza: Secret Everyday Tips and Tricks from Japan (Chronicle Books), suggests dabbing a piece of cotton with apple-cider vinegar and wiping your pimple with it. Vinegar contains acetic acid, which works like a light acid peel by removing dead skin and disinfecting your pores, Katayama says. She cautions not to try this if you have sensitive skin because the vinegar could be irritating.

 

November/December 2010

Dear Life Coach,
I just can’t find the time to exercise. It seems I’m always running around, whether I’m taking the kids to their friends and appointments or grocery shopping. Between those responsibilities and work, there’s little or no time for myself. Any thoughts on how I can make more time?

Amanda P.
Via Email

Dear Amanda,
To help you get off the figurative treadmill and onto a real one, start small and build from there. Because you are so overwhelmed, Ramani Durvasula, PhD, recommends that you start by spending as little as five minutes each day for a week on some healthy activ­ity, whether it is working in the garden or meditating. To help you commit to the time, attach it to an activity that is part of your routine, such as brushing your teeth, suggests Durvasula, a neuropsychologist featured on “Thintervention,” the new Bravo series. Slowly, develop other good habits; discard a piece of junk food, or junk clutter, each day. Have a health goal in mind, she adds. If you want to lose weight, get a scale with lines to the tenth of a pound. If you’ve lost even that much at week’s end, it’s a victory, she says. If you haven’t, don’t worry; kick it up to 6 or 10 minutes. “Ideally,” says Durvasula, “I would want to see this woman giving herself an hour a day of engaging in activities that give her better health.”

 

October 2010

Dear Life Coach,
Now that school is underway, I’m delighted that my granddaughter is learning so many wonderful subjects. She sure brings quite a number of books back and forth to school, but I worry whether carrying that big backpack will hurt her. Is there any advice I can give her to make sure she doesn’t get hurt?

Millie L.
Chicago

Dear Millie,
What nourishes the mind may not be so good for the body in this case. But, yes, there are tips that you can pass along to your granddaughter to help her stay healthy and comfortable as she hits the books—and lugs them.

With the heaviest items closest to a child’s back, a backpack should weigh no more than about 15% of his or her body weight, according to guidelines from the American Occupational Therapy Association (www.aota.org). Books and other items should be arranged so they won’t slide around in the backpack. Weight should be distributed evenly by using both straps and a waist belt. The AOTA says a pack slung over one shoulder can cause a child to lean to one side, curving the spine and causing pain or discomfort.

If your granddaughter follows these guidelines, chances are the only work with which she has to concern herself is homework and not the kind that involves a physical therapist.

 

September 2010

Dear Life Coach,
I need to gain weight. I have tried junk food, which made me sick. I am in great health otherwise, but I need to gain muscle, not just fat. Please help.

Just Too Thin
Laurenceburg, Tennessee

Dear Just Too Thin,
Considering our obesity problem, many people would say you have an enviable situation. You should certainly see your healthcare practitioner because there are possible hidden issues that could be behind your inability to gain weight. You could have low cortisol, low adrenal function or have low estrogen levels, observes Kent Holtorf, MD, a Torrance, California, weight management expert and founder of the Holtorf Medical Group. Stress, a common culprit behind weight gain, also could be keeping your weight off.

Certainly junk the junk food. “When you eat excess calories, you might gain some weight but it’s not going to be in the places that you want,” Holtorf says. Typically adding more protein to your diet will help you add muscle. In addition to meats and nuts, options include protein shakes or amino acid supplements. Beverly Mullin, MPH, RD, of BJ Wellness Service, Grand Junction, Colorado, suggests some more complex carbohydrates for more energy and, in turn, more activity to stimulate your appetite. Mullin also advises seeing your practitioner for a more precise workup.

 

July/August 2010

Dear Life Coach,
Now that summer’s here, what sunscreen and SPF should I use to keep me safe?

Linda H.
Via Email

Dear Linda,

In its recently released annual sunscreen guide, the Environ­mental Working Group (www.ewg.org/2010sunscreen) gives a thumbs-up to only 39, or 8%, of the 500 beach and sport sunscreens it examined. Most of the sunscreens failed the EWG’s scrutiny because of exaggerated claims above SPF 50 and new information about potentially hazardous ingredients.

Choose a sunscreen with a 30 SPF or higher, but avoid higher than a 50 SPF because you risk the temptation to stay in the sun longer. Those higher-SPF suncreens may keep sunburn at bay but may not protect you from other skin damage, the EWG says.

Vitamin A is good for you to eat, but not to spread on your skin, the EWG cautions. Avoid sunscreens with this ingredient, typically listed as retinyl palmitate. The EWG also cautions against sunscreens with oxybenzone, a synthetic estrogen that penetrates the skin and contaminates the body. Sunscreens with zinc, titanium, avobenzone or Mexoryl SX are fine, EWG says, because they protect skin from harmful UVA radiation and remain on the skin, with little if any working their way into your system.

 

June 2010

Dear Life Coach,

The only way I can have my hot coffee at work is by using a company microwave to heat water in my coffee mug. I’ve heard that some ceramic mugs may leach harmful chemicals.
Any suggestions?

John C.
Via Email

Dear John,

We posed your challenge to green-living experts Beth Greer, author of Super Natural Home (Rodale), and Debra Lynn Dadd, author of Home Safe Home (Penguin). Both agree your safest bet is a glass drinking mug. If you can’t part with your mug, pick up a lead testing kit for about $12 at your local hardware store, Greer suggests. “Made in China” on your mug might prompt this test. Typically, adds Dadd, mugs with bright colors have been known to contain lead, though more neutral ceramics may also contain the element.

If you decide to use a paper cup, Greer recommends buying unbleached cups (and using unbleached coffee filters when brewing) because bleached paper goods contain chlorine, which, she adds, may expose you to the toxic substance dioxin. Nor should you use chemical-leaching plastic.

Both Greer and Dadd would rather you use a coffeemaker over the microwave because of the latter’s potential harmful effect on the water and you. Your morning joe may be a
little less convenient—but safer.

 

May 2010

Dear Life Coach,

How do I know if I have a yeast infection or something else?

Nancy G.
Via Email

Dear Nancy,

You raise an important question since two thirds of women who self-diagnose a yeast infection actually have bacterial vaginosis, or BV, says Machelle M. Seibel, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Massachusetts. Symptoms are similar, and making the distinction is important, Seibel says, because untreated BV can increase the chances of premature birth and present a higher risk for urinary tract infections, pelvic inflammatory disease and STDs. Because of this confusion, it’s important to see a professional healthcare practitioner before self-treating. You can ask for a BV screening.

Yeast and bacteria are naturally present in the vaginal environment and need to remain in balance to avoid infection, Seibel says. A pH of 4.5 is normal; blood is more alkaline, with a pH of 7.4, so menstruation can bring pH levels up. “That tends to change the natural bacterial environment and shifts it towards the BV organism,” he says. Avoid excessive moisture; during the summer, don’t wear wet bathing suits too long, for instance. Probiotics and supplements can help. A professional can pinpoint the culprit behind any suspicious discomfort or discharge.

 

April 2010

Dear Life Coach,

Being a mom and now a full-time employee, I’ve always been on the go. My husband is always a great help. Lately, however, there’s just no downtime to relax and just let off a little steam. I’m concerned about my health.

Lindsey M.
Chicago

 

Dear Lindsey,

The Mayo Clinic offers a laundry list of time-management tips and strategies to take charge of your life. Among these are planning each day and keeping a diary of everything you do for three days. More aware of how you spend your time, you can take control rather than let time rule you (www.mayoclinic.com/health/time-management/WL00048). The Mayo Clinic also suggests that you consider your goals and current workload before taking on additional work, if you can. Commit to working for 10 minutes on tasks that are hard to bear; that short time is less of a burden and you may find that you can finish those tasks. If trying these and other tips don’t work, talk to a health practitioner.

David Wood, author of Get Paid for Who You Are (Ninja Firewalk Press), believes time is better managed when we love our work. Wood tells people to find that one thing they are great at and love, and turn it into an online business. “Imagine how it feels when you’re really loving what you do,” he says. “Your body opens and flows.”

 

 

March 2010

Dear Life Coach,
I just turned 41 this past October, and for the past 1 to 1 1/2 years I’ve been experiencing what I consider to be perimenopause. Is it possible to go through this so early in life? Are there any natural supplements that can be taken at this time in my life?

Penny
Schullsburg, Wisconsin

Dear Penny,
If indeed you have experienced perimenopause at 40, it is early, says Lila Nachtigall, MD, an obstetrics and gynecology professor at the New York University School of Medicine. The operative word here is “if.” Lacking additional details about your symptoms, health and background, you cannot rush to the conclusion that this is perimenopause.

“Sometimes it’s thyroid problems. Sometimes it’s prolactin, the hormone from the brain that can give you very similar symptoms,” Nachtigall says. Even if your symptoms are those commonly associated with perimenopause, such as hot flashes and fatigue, you need a diagnosis to be sure. If it is perimenopause, soy products may help ease “the ups and downs,” but, again, be sure first.

“Women and doctors, too, once they’re over 40, seem to blame everything on menopause or perimenopause,” Nachtigall says, “and they shouldn’t.”

 

 

February 2010

Dear Life Coach,
I live in a northern region of the country in a relatively remote area, which puts a real crimp in my love of outdoor activities. I play plenty of tennis during warmer seasons, but there are no nearby indoor facilities for during winter. Treadmills and stationary bikes bore me. I worry about putting on pounds in the winter—any advice?

Tracy L.
Via Email

Dear Tracy,
For your question, we turned to actor and trainer Roland Kickinger, who appeared on our June 2009 cover. Your love of tennis shows that you embrace the idea of exercising with someone else; Kickinger suggests recruiting a partner for some home exercises using common household objects. Options: A towel can serve as a resistance bar with you and your friend pulling either end. Or do ballet squats, descending as far as possible while holding on to a door frame. “The key is implementing exercises with the least amount of breaks in between to create circuit training at home,” says Kickinger (www.kickinger.com), adding that exercise is important for strong heart health. Kickinger says it’s also important to make sure you’re getting enough potassium and magnesium. Coffee, soda, alcohol, caffeine and salt can flush out potassium, he adds.

 

 

January 2010

Dear Life Coach,
I’ve been cutting back on meals and trying not to eat too close to bedtime in the hope of losing weight, yet I don’t seem to be getting anywhere. Please help.

Rosalie M.
Via Email

Dear Rosalie,
Your query couldn’t be more timely. We’re running a piece on health myths in this issue (see page 28) and you happen to have hit on a couple of big ones regarding weight loss.

To help hasten your metabolism, you should be eating more, not fewer, meals, albeit of reasonable calorie counts based on your particular needs. Jennifer Haas, MS, RD, of Nova Medical Group in Ashburn, Virginia, recommends five to six small meals daily. Haas encourages people to eat within an hour of waking and then every three to four hours during the day. “It’s a better way to increase metabolism and burn calories,” Haas says.

Though you should have breakfast soon after waking, there’s no harm in eating close to bedtime; what matters is the calories consumed. Consume more than you should, and you’re going to put on the pounds no matter when you eat. “I have a small snack before I go to bed because I think it helps me sleep better,” Haas adds. “But if you have acid reflux or a medical condition you may want to refrain from eating two hours prior to laying down.”

 

 

November / December 2009

Dear Life Coach,
I dread going to family dinners and get-togethers during the holidays. My family argues endlessly. Its dysfunction is on full display year after year. Yet I feel compelled to go for the sake of family unity. Is there anything I can do to help the family strife go down a little easier than the stuffing?

Lucille G.
Via Email


You are not alone. A study by the authors of Crucial Conversations (McGraw-Hill) showed that four of five adults have attended a holiday family gathering that left them feeling blue. The good news: You have the power to do something about it. The same study showed that nine out of ten people who are skilled at knowing what to say enjoy their family gatherings despite the less-than-stellar behavior of their relatives.

Imagine how a get-together might play out to your liking, suggests Teri-E Belf, MA, CAGS, MCC, a life coach and coach trainer. Then imagine telling a good friend about the event as if it happened: what your feelings were, who you connected with and what the high points were. Reinforce those feelings by “practicing” the scenario in your mind again and again, Belf says. “When one part of a system changes, it changes the whole,” she notes. “It allows the system to adjust. It requires the system to adjust.”

 

October 2009

Dear Life Coach,
I am self-conscious about smiling because I have white spots on my teeth. I brush and brush, yet they don’t disappear. Where did these come from and what can I do to remove them?

Rhonda Wilson
Via Email

A possible explanation for the white spots on your teeth is a condition known as fluorosis, which has its roots in too much consumption of fluoride during childhood. Before parents discard their kids’ fluoride toothpastes, however, know that excess consumption can come from many sources, including an overfluoridated water supply or drops from a pediatric dentist. Further, the dentists I spoke with say that, on its own, a little fluoride in your child’s toothpaste is not a cause. A third of all Americans have fluorosis, says Thomas Connelly, DDS, of New York.

Adults can’t get fluorosis so the white spots on your teeth, if indeed caused by this condition, developed during your childhood. In mild cases, teeth have white spots or streaks while more severe cases are marked by brown spots. In the latter case, the potential harm is more psychological, in the form of wounded self-esteem in a child, Connelly says. Bleaching teeth removes only some of the spotting, says Marc Sclafani, DDS, of New York; dental veneers, an irreversible process, are more expensive but more effective, he adds.

 

September 2009

Dear Life Coach,
Wherever I go, I smell smoke— in stores, in the car, in my apartment—when no smokers are around. I’ve been told there could be several causes: hormone imbalance, candida, a toxic liver that needs detoxifying. This smell of smoke seemed to start when I started menopause. Could that be the answer? Please help me solve this odorous mystery.

C.L. Wood
Sarasota, Florida

We haven’t heard of this intriguing malady before. And until you receive further examination, the cause of your problem is a bit, well, hazy. However, the healthcare practitioners, from both conventional and complementary medicine, that I spoke with agree that menopause is not the likely source. “I see 3,000 menopausal women a year, and I never hear of that as a complaint,” says Lila Nachtigall, MD, director of the Women’s Wellness Program at NYU’s medical school. “There is something going on when you don’t satisfy the estrogen receptors in the brain, such as hot flashes themselves, and hot flashes can be associated with other things, like chills.”

But chills and other “hot flash equivalents,” such as pins and needles, come and go; your smoke odor seems constant. Nachtigall rules out the other maladies you cite. She recommends an MRI to see if the problem is with your olfactory nerve.

 

July/August 2009

Dear Life Coach,
I live in Africa and we are told to bleach our fruits and vegetables to make sure that they do away with bacteria and other microbes. Is there a safer way to clean fruits and vegetables? I do not bleach those which I cook but I like raw vegetables and fruits also.

LaVerne Brown
Bamako, Mali

The guidelines for cleaning fruits and vegetables in parts of Africa and developing nations are likely to be more stringent than here in the US, where the risk of exposure to disease is not as great. That is why your health officials are likely suggesting bleach, presumably diluted.
To get an answer to your question, I called the Food Industry Center at Ohio State University, which has issued reports on the safe handling of fruits and vegetables. Jane Sholl, the center’s coordinator, polled the researchers there. New methods, including plant-based cleaners, are under study but are either too expensive or too early in development for current use. As a result, Sholl says, the consensus at the Ohio center was that bleach is probably the best bet for now. Check with your local authorities on the proper dilution; bleach can be toxic if too concentrated.
For the US the Ohio State food experts and the United Fresh Produce Association say a tap water rinse should suffice, with extra care given to leafy vegetables with crevices. Ohio State says avoid detergents because they can be absorbed in produce, which is porous; vinegar and baking soda can leave residual aftertastes.

 

June 2009

Dear Life Coach,
I have a constant itching & flaking dandruff of my scalp. It feels irritated no matter what kind of shampoo I use, even the anti-dandruff ones. I'm beginning to think a chemical in the shampoos may be causing my problem. I color my hair about every 10 weeks, but the problem continues even with my own growth of hair coming in. I recently installed a shower filter to eliminate the chlorine but I see no change. My scalp is very dry, flaky and itchy. I am so frustrated. Could you advise me?

Joan B.
Via email

The dermatologists I spoke with zeroed in on seborrheic dermatitis, which is essentially a severe form of dandruff in adults and cradle cap in babies, as your most likely culprit. Both Paradi Mirmirani, MD, of Vallejo, California, and Andrea Cambio, MD, FAAD, of Coral, Florida, also suggested that you could be afflicted with contact dermatitis, an allergic reaction perhaps to ingredients in a shampoo or hair care product. “A dermatologist can do some testing to find out whether she is allergic to any specific ingredients. But it’s going to require some more detective work and further evaluation,” Mirmirani says. More unpleasant possibilities are head lice and ringworm of the scalp, Cambio adds.

Because they do not address the root cause of the problem, many standard anti-fungal shampoos and topical treatments such as selenium sulfide and pyrithione zinc typically provide only temporary relief, says Nicole Sundene, a naturopath.

 

May 2009

Dear Life Coach,
I have food allergies that give me...hives [and] joint pain. I even react to organic foods. I’ve done lots of testing to determine which foods give me what symptom. Olives, whole wheat, brown rice, bananas, corn, sesame seeds, papaya and aloe vera give me hives, while beans, avocados, tomatoes, eggplant, flax and meat give me joint pain. I’ve had allergies my whole life, but it’s gotten worse now that I’m 57 and have gone through menopause. It’s difficult to get a nutritious meal. I eat mostly vegetables, fruit and dairy. Since I react to so many foods, how do I maintain a nutritious diet?

Linda
Huntington Beach, California

Continue to consult with an allergist and nutritionist to help you determine the severity or weakness of certain allergens so you can find that nutritious meal. Ask them about supplements as well. “She needs to go to a licensed allergist. If it’s severe, she might need to go to an allergy center,” says Allan Bock, MD, FAAAAI, of the Boulder Valley Asthma and Allergy Clinic in Colorado.

Often, Bock says, people who believe they are allergic to various substances present a long list of presumed allergens to an allergist only to find they are not allergic to many of those after all.

People with food allergies can usually find alternative foods that provide similar nutritional value as the problem foods, Bock adds. For instance, the potassium and fiber you’re missing in bananas can be found in most fruit, says nutritionist Dee Sandquist, MSRD, an American Dietetic Association spokeswoman.

Here’s a list of some of the foods that Linda says give her allergic reactions, with their key nutrient and foods that Sandquist says are possible alternatives. Again, be sure to consult with health care providers such as a registered dietician and allergist.

Reaction—Hives:

Bananas (potassium, fiber):  Most fruit have potassium and fiber, Sandquist says, so Linda can eat whatever fruit she’s able to tolerate—apples, oranges, prunes

Brown rice (B vitamins): Amaranth, quinoa, oats

Corn (B vitamins, and vitamin A): Amaranth, quinoa, oats

Olives (omega 3s): Canola oil

Sesame Seeds (fiber): Linda can choose other seeds that she can tolerate, such as pumpkin or sunflower seeds.

Whole wheat (B vitamins, fiber): Amaranth, quinoa, millet, buckwheat, a lot of bean flowers, teff (an ancient grain), sorgum flour 

Reaction—Joint Pain:

Avocados (omega 3): Canola oil

Beans (B vitamins, fiber): Green peas

Flax (omega 3): Canola oil, chia (an ancient seed)

Red meat (protein): pork, turkey, chicken, seafood

Tomatoes (lycopene): watermelon, a variety of vegetables

 

April 2009

Dear Life Coach,
Two days ago I opened a letter addressed to our daughter from her college. Since she lives four hours away and uses our address as her primary, this has never been a problem. The letter said she flunked out of school. Do I know exactly what happened? Nope. I cannot speak to her, I am so very disappointed, disgusted, angry, etc. I am paying for most of this education and feel defeated. I told her dad I am done. I cannot call her, or have anything to do with the situation. Her dad, my husband, probably thinks I should handle this. He has never been the one to deal with situations. I am sick of being the one to handle things.


Mary C.
Via email

Your daughter is probably frightened and confused right now—difficult states of mind even for an experienced adult, let alone someone new to adulthood. As an adult she needs to take responsibility for her life, but a child’s passage into adulthood doesn’t disqualify her from her parents’ emotional support.

You say your husband “probably” thinks you should handle this; that indicates that you both urgently need to communicate with one another. Share the urgency by speaking with him calmly about both of you helping your daughter move her life forward. Find an unusual setting or circumstance to talk, like taking a walk, to help you both avoid earlier patterns of blaming each other. Although your daughter lives four hours away, she is probably attuned to tensions at home. Keeping your daughter in mind first and foremost may guide you to make the correct choices on this.

 

March 2009

Dear Life Coach,
Recent house guests told me that my antibacterial soaps and cleaning products may be doing me more harm than good. I don’t get it. Don’t I want as clean a body and home as possible?


Sarah C.
Springfield, Illinois

Your house guests are correct. Try simple soap or other natural, basic cleaners instead. Antibacterial soaps and cleaners don’t discriminate—as such, they may be killing good bacteria. That’s right, good bacteria. About 90 trillion microbes live in and on your body, and “many of them play an unbelievably important role,” says Mary Ruebush, PhD, author of Why Dirt Is Good: 5 Ways to Make Germs Your Friends (Kaplan). Some, Ruebush observes, live in the gastrointestinal tract, where they create the vitamins that help blood to clot properly; others help make essential B vitamins.

Yet even the “bad” bacteria have their important place, as the title of Ruebush’s book suggests, helping the immune system stay in tip-top shape. “If you want six-pack abs you’ve got to spend some time in the gym,” Ruebush says. “Your immune response requires exercise as well, and the exercise it needs is from exposure to normal things in the environment to allow it to sort of flex its muscles continuously.” Without that exercise, your lymphocytes (a type of white blood cell) get flabby and don’t do their jobs as well—T cells (the generals giving marching orders to protect the body from disease) and B cells (the foot soldiers) are not as efficient.

Finally, antibacterial cleaners help bacteria mutate into more resistant superbugs.

 

January 2009

Dear Life Coach,
I wonder if, in forming a response to Elizabeth C’s question about sweating (Life Coach, Oct. ‘08), you had factored in the possibility that she is perimenopausal. At 48, she is unable to sleep because of night sweats, a classic symptom. Changes in a woman’s self-esteem (“I feel uglier and uglier everyday”) can also come about with the hormonal fluctuations that accompany this time of a woman’s life. I personally know about this frustration!

Leslie R.
Via email

Elizabeth C.’s case of constant, excessive sweating sounded like a condition known as hyperhidrosis. People with this condition sweat frequently, even when they are not warm. In contrast, sweating associated with perimenopause or menopause typically occurs only after hot flashes, says Lila Nachtigall, MD, obstetrics and gynecology professor at NYU’s School of Medicine.

Further, people with hyperhidrosis often sweat from their hands, which is quite unusual for menopause, Nachtigall adds. “With menopause, it’s almost always the upper body, particularly the face, the neck and the chest,” she says.
While more than two thirds of North American women endure menopause-related hot flashes, the North American Menopause Society notes that hot flashes have other causes: thyroid disease, infection and some drug therapies for cancer and osteoporosis, for instance. Consult a healthcare practitioner to rule out all possible causes.

 

November/December 2008

Dear Life Coach,
I need a life overhaul. First I need income. I recently left my gig at a private school as a second grade teacher. All my life I have been a “helper bee.” I love people, am generally a good people person and ready to go anywhere.

Amy K.
Atlanta, Georgia

We laud your giving nature but encourage you to take a deep breath and an even deeper introspective examination so you find true fulfillment and happiness.
The red flag here is your stated willingness to “go anywhere,” which smacks of some desperation. As Teri-E Belf, MA, CAGS, MCC, a life coach and coach trainer, points out, there are certainly places that you would not like to go, so put a much finer filter on finding a place to live and work. “You want to go someplace that supports your values so the surroundings outside of where you go to work will be congruent with what’s important to you,” says Belf, director of Success Unlimited Network, an international coaching and coach training organization in Reston, Virginia.

Belf recommends starting with some free association to identify your life’s purpose. “That usually brings clarity,” Belf says. “The purpose includes what you do as well as how you experience what you’re doing.”

The next step: Write down your ideal job description and a perfect week of life. Once those are identified, Belf says, “tell everybody.” That networking may very well put you on track. Says Belf: “Be open to all the goodness that shall come to you.”

 

October 2008

Dear Life Coach,
I am a 48-year-old lady. I can’t sleep soundly because I sweat, sweat and sweat. I feel like a bag of sweat. I am very frustrated with this. I feel uglier and uglier everyday. I feel dirty from sweating. I only want to sweat when I exercise. Please help.
sweat photo
Elizabeth C.
Madison, Wisconsin

Excessive sweating is a condition called hyperhidrosis. It is genetic and people who have it can produce the equivalent of a shot glass of sweat per underarm each minute, says Marina Peredo, MD, a New York dermatologist who treats patients with the condition and has presented papers on it to the International Hyperhidrosis Society. The most commonly affected areas are the underarms, hands and feet, Peredo says, with some patients also sweating heavily from the forehead and scalp.

Hyperhidrosis causes more embarrassment and discomfort than medical risk, Peredo says. “There is not really a health risk associated with it but a lot of times the patient can become depressed,” she says.

The condition is gender-blind and affects about 6% of the population, though that number may be higher, Peredo says. “A lot of people won’t talk about it and don’t know that there is help available,” she says.

There are remedies in both conventional and complementary medicine.
If you are looking for a noninvasive solution, Peredo cites a process called iontohoresis, which employs water and electricity to block sweat-producing signals to the sweat glands. The good news, according to Peredo: “It is fixable.”

 

September 2008

Dear Life Coach,
My mother appears to have mild dementia that kicked in when my father died. Her live-in aide is not providing the best care. My mother is often unkempt, and the aide does not encourage her to walk for exercise, among other similar issues.

I want to replace the aide. The problem: My mother says she likes the aide and has become attached to her.

I worry that a rift could develop between my mother and me if I dismiss the aide, or worse, that the move could trigger more dementia.


Name Withheld
New York

Your concerns are on target. Change can lead to stress, and stress hormones can damage the brain’s hippocampal region, where memory is stored, says Florence Clark, PhD, OTR/L, vice president of the American Occupational Therapy Association. As such, Clark says to try to work with the aide to see if the care issues you cite can be rectified.

On the other hand, physical activity can help reduce the likelihood of further memory loss. If the care concerns you have with the aide cannot be worked out, consider replacing the aide but handle the matter sensitively: As you make the transition to a new aide, see that your mother continues with other comforting, positive routines and familiar elements in her lifestyle. Thoroughly check the new aide’s background and references. Perhaps the aide will have likable attributes that are similar to her predecessor’s, easing the transition for your mother. It’s important that your mother and her caregiver are compatible.

 

July/August 2008

sweat photoDear Life Coach,
A friend told me that canola oil was harvested from “garbage” seeds that grow in a desert where nothing else grows. She said it’s full of toxins and Europeans use it for motor oil. I thought it was good oil to use. Now what do I do?

Christine Brown
Endicott, New York

Dear Christine,
If your healthcare practitioner has no objections, sprinkle some canola oil on a salad or use it to sauté some spinach, literally to your heart’s delight. Canola oil is safe and loaded with cholesterol-balancing monounsaturated fat.

Canola oil’s bad reputation probably stems from its shared botanical roots with the rapeseed plant, but canola oil comes from the seed of the canola plant, bred in the 1970s, according to Janice Newell Bissex, MS, RD. Both rapeseed oil and canola oil contain chemical compounds called glucosinolates, also found in cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, mustard and other cruciferous plants. These compounds are toxic, but “it’s kind of a stretch” to say they would harm people in the small doses we consume, says Mark A. Bernhow, PhD, research chemist with the US Department of Agriculture.

The compounds’ toxicity acts as a defense mechanism that lets plants drive off predators, protect themselves from UV and endure myriad stresses, Bernhow tells me. Bernhow says he would have no problem consuming both canola and rapeseed oil, though he says the former “is cleaner, it’s clearer, it doesn’t have the smell and it probably has lower levels of some of these ancillary compounds.”

 

June 2008

Dear Life Coach,
What is leaky gut, and how can one get rid of it? This person has real good bowel movements, eats lots of fiber and water, but the stuff still leaks out and smells terrible. Exercise and certain foods get it going, even walking. Please help.

Edna Kish
Epworth, Georgia

Dear Edna,
Healthcare providers define leaky gut syndrome as increased permeability in the lining of the small intestine. When this happens, excess fluid is pulled from the cells in the lining of the small intestine to the lumen, or the intestinal inner tube, explains Tarun Mullick, MD, of the American Society for Gastro­intestinal Endoscopy in Oak Brook, Illinois. The generic term—malabsorption—indicates the consequences of this leakage: diarrhea, nutrient and vitamin deficiencies, reduced energy and problems warding off infection.

The science is inconclusive on this subject, but Mullick says published data suggests a number of possible causes and instigators: chemotherapy, excessive alcohol and Crohn’s disease are among them. Zinc or vitamin A deficiencies, digestive tract infections, parasites and consumption of allergenic foods have also been implicated.

Treating the instigator or disease first, then letting the healing process play out, is key, Mullick says. “You look for what you think is the most likely cause,” he notes. A healthcare provider may suggest minimizing concentrated sugars by halving the strength of concentrated grape or apple juices, for instance, and replenishing lost electrolytes and vitamins.

 

May 2008

sweat photoDear Life Coach,
Does the silver that is used in tooth fillings have mercury in it? And how dangerous is this? I’ve had a mouth filled with silver for 50 years.

Sandra C.
Port Republic, Virginia

Dear Sandra,
When mining for riches, silver is silver. In the context of mining our mouths, silver is typically an amalgam of materials—including mercury. In fact, such fillings are often known as amalgam. The conventional wisdom, as cultivated for decades by the US Food and Drug Administration, is that mercury in this context is safe. The American Dental Association concurs.

But a Washington DC-based advo­cacy group, Consumers for Dental Choice (CDC), wants to eliminate mercury in dentistry. It has tried to prod the FDA through legal channels to recognize and label amalgam fillings for the dangers that the group believes the fillings pose. Besides the obvious direct contact in mouths, the group points to the environmental risks created by human waste, when dentists drill out mercury particles that work their way to the public through dental wastewater. One way is that fish may eat mercury that enters waterways.

Some efforts to remedy the risks are underway. In March, a bill requiring dentists to disclose details about materials used in crowns, implants and other prostheses was introduced in the New York State Assembly. And in Missoula, Montana, dentists are recycling fillings under a pilot program.

Erring on the side of caution, Life Coach recommends that you speak with CDC-listed dentists who favor fillings free of mercury (www.toxicteeth.org). Three are in your state. Keep flashing your pearly whites.

 

April 2008

Dear Life Coach,
I am a cancer patient survivor twice. Through the years I have read articles stating that cancer patients should not drink wine. Now I see articles stating that there are benefits to wine and/or resveratrol for cancer patients. Any chance you can find out more about this? Is it safe for cancer patients to drink wine or not? Hope I will be able to raise a glass to your findings.

Patricia J.
Wilmington, Vermont

Dear Patricia,
We may have to toast your health with grape juice. Cancer patients and survivors should treat alcohol with caution. Don’t fret: Resveratrol can be found in supplements and sources like grapes, raspberries and peanuts.

That said, the two American Cancer Society-referred experts I spoke with say consuming alcohol is an individual call based on age, the type of cancer you’ve been afflicted with and other factors. People who have had head or neck cancer, for example, should probably shun alcohol since it has been linked to their recurrence, says Cheryl Rock, PhD, RD, professor at the Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, School of Medicine University of California, San Diego.

Drinking alcohol has been linked to breast cancer, but studies also suggest that moderate consumption helps protect against heart disease. A 70-year-old woman who has had one lumpectomy and a family history of fatal heart disease might explore the option with her healthcare practitioner of a drink a day more readily than a woman with a family history of breast cancer but little exposure to cardiac problems, says Wendy Demark-Wahnefried, PhD, RD, behavioral science professor at the University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center.

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