Monday, May 23, 2011

Health Care and Drinking Coffee

The global spread of coffee growing and drinking began in the Horn of Africa, where, according to legend, coffee trees originated in the Ethiopian province of Kaffa, according to the International Coffee Organization (ICO). It is recorded that the fruit of the plant, known as coffee cherries, was eaten by slaves taken from present day Sudan into Yemen and Arabia through the great port of its day, Mocha. Coffee was certainly being cultivated in Yemen by the 15th century and probably much earlier. In an attempt to prevent its cultivation elsewhere, the Arabs imposed a ban on the export of fertile coffee beans, a restriction that was eventually circumvented in 1616 by the Dutch, who brought live coffee plants back to the Netherlands to be grown in greenhouses.

The first literary reference to coffee being drunk in North America is from 1668 and, soon after, coffee houses were established in New York, Philadelphia, Boston and other towns. The Boston Tea Party Of 1773 was planned in a coffee house, the Green Dragon. Both the New York Stock Exchange and the Bank of New York started in coffeehouses in what is today known as Wall Street.

Fast forward to the 21st Century--For US coffee drinkers, the country’s wettest city, Seattle, has become synonymous with a new type of cafĂ© culture, which, from its birth in the 1970s, swept the continent, dramatically improving the general quality of the beverage. This new found 'evangelism' for coffee has spread to the rest of the world, even to countries with great coffee traditions of their own, such as Italy, Germany, and Scandinavia, adding new converts to the pleasures of good coffee. Today it is possible to find good coffee in every major city of the world, from London to Sydney to Tokyo; we are drinking more and, more importantly, better coffee, according to the ICO.

According to the Harvard Medical School (HMS), research reveals that in moderation—a few cups a day—coffee is a safe beverage that may even offer some health benefits. Moderate coffee consumption doesn't cause harm, it's also uncovered possible benefits. Studies show that the risk for type 2 diabetes is lower among regular coffee drinkers than among those who don't drink it. Also, coffee may reduce the risk of developing gallstones, discourage the development of colon cancer, improve cognitive function, reduce the risk of liver damage in people at high risk for liver disease, and reduce the risk of Parkinson's disease. Coffee has also been shown to improve endurance performance in long-duration physical activities. For those who drink coffee to stay alert, research suggests that you'll stay more alert, particularly if you are fighting sleep deprivation, if you spread your coffee consumption over the course of the day. For instance, if you usually drink 16 ounces in the morning, try consuming a 2-3 ounce serving every hour or so. Again, moderation is the key.

Regular coffee consumption is associated with a striking decrease in fatal or metastatic prostate cancer, according to a follow up study on long term analysis by HMS.  According to the researchers, coffee contains "diverse biologically active compounds that include caffeine, minerals, and phytochemicals." Many studies suggest that long-term coffee drinking may be linked to improved glucose metabolism and insulin secretion. The researchers also found that coffee consumption did not appear to be associated with a decreased risk for nonadvanced or low-grade cancers and only slightly correlated with a reduced risk for high-grade cancer. In addition, the effects of coffee consumption on other aspects of health must be considered in making consumption recommendations. coffee may provide as much as half of total antioxidant intake in many settings. Compounds in coffee that may affect cancer risk could include chlorogenic acids, which inhibit glucose absorption; quinides, the roasting products of chlorogenic acids; and lignans, phytoestrogens with potent antioxidant activity that may benefit glucose.

It looks like coffee has two main ways of improving the health of your body: antioxidents and caffeine. Both these substances have health and anti aging benefits. Antioxidants, for example, help your body repair damage to cells caused by free radicals (which are produced as a byproduct of cells just doing their daily thing). Caffeine has been shown to help improve a range of symptoms and may even be important in fighting of Parkinson’s Disease and other age related brain diseases. Coffee is loaded with both antioxidants and caffeine, and each has different potential benefits for improving health and reducing the risk of chronic illnesses, according to this site: . Below are some of the major findings about health, life expectancy and coffee:

•Heart Disease (up to 25% reduction in mortality risk (for women).
•Diabetes (up to 60% reduced risk).
•Dementia (up to 65% reduced risk).
•Colon Cancer (up to 25% reduced risk).
•Cirrhosis (up to 80% reduced risk).
•Gallstones (almost 50% reduced risk).
•Parkinson’s Disease (up to 80% reduced risk – probably because of caffeine).
•Headache Relief (because of the caffeine).
•Asthma Relief (caffeine again).
•Cavity Protection (because of anti-bacterial and anti-adhesive properties of compounds within coffee).

Coffee is not completely innocent, according to HMS. Caffeine, coffee's main ingredient is a mild addictive stimulant. And coffee does have modest cardiovascular effects such as increased heart rate, increased blood pressure, and occasional irregular heartbeat that should be considered. Studies have been largely inconclusive regarding coffee and its effect on women's health issues such as breast health, cancer, and osteoporosis. But, the negative effects of coffee tend to emerge in excessive drinking so it is best to avoid heavy consumption.

For more health benefits noted about drinking coffee, visit these sites: , , and .

Coffee, when brewed well and tasted when hot, can be a very stimulating elixir. And, when taken in moderate consumption, can be good for you. After all, millions of coffee drinkers are happy and healthy.

Until next time.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Health Care and Ear Infections

Ear infections can be a major nuisance and have the potential to develop into hearing loss if not effectively treated. Both children and adults are susceptible. Ear infections are one of the most common reasons parents take their children to the doctor, according to the National Institutes on Health (NIH). While there are different types of ear infections, the most common is called otitis media, which means an inflammation and infection of the middle ear. The middle ear is located just behind the eardrum. The term "acute" refers to a short and painful episode. An ear infection that lasts a long time or comes and goes is called chronic otitis media.

According to, this inflammation often begins when infections that cause sore throats, colds, or other respiratory or breathing problems spread to the middle ear. These can be viral or bacterial infections. Ear infections in children are often difficult to detect because most children with symptoms do not yet have sufficient speech and language skills to tell someone what is bothering them. Common symptoms of an ear infection in children include:
•Unusual irritability
•Difficulty sleeping
•Tugging or pulling at one or both ears
•Fluid draining from the ear
•Loss of balance
•Unresponsiveness to quiet sounds or other signs of hearing difficulty (such as sitting too close to the television or being inattentive).

Ear infections are less common in adults, according to eMedTV. When symptoms do occur in adults, they can include:
•Ear pain
•Hearing loss
•Feeling of blockage in the ear

For each ear, a eustachian tube runs from the middle ear to the back of the throat. This tube drains fluid that is normally made in the middle ear, according to the NIH. If the eustachian tube becomes blocked, fluid can build up. When this happens, germs such as bacteria and viruses can multiply and cause an infection. Ear infections are common in infants and children, in part because the eustachian tubes become easily clogged. Ear infections may also occur in adults, although they are less common than in children. Anything that causes the eustachian tubes to become swollen or blocked causes more fluids to build up in the middle ear behind the eardrum. These causes include:
•Colds and sinus infections
•Excess mucus and saliva produced during teething
•Infected or overgrown adenoids
•Tobacco smoke or other irritants

According to the NIH, ear infections are also more likely if a child spends a lot of time drinking from a sippy cup or bottle while lying on his or her back. Contrary to popular opinion, getting water in the ears will not cause an acute ear infection, unless the eardrum has a hole from a previous episode. Ear infections occur most often in the winter. You cannot catch an ear infection from someone else, but a cold may spread among children and cause some of them to get ear infections. Risk factors for ear infections include the following:
•Attending daycare (especially those with more than 6 children)
•Changes in altitude or climate
•Cold climate
•Exposure to smoke
•Genetic factors (susceptibility to infection may run in families)
•Not being breastfed
•Pacifier use
•Recent ear infection
•Recent illness of any type (lowers resistance of the body to infection)

Your doctor will look into your ear with a special flashlight called an otoscope. With the otoscope, the doctor can see your eardrum, the thin membrane between your outer and middle ear. The doctor may use the otoscope to blow a little puff of air in your ear to see if the air causes your eardrum to move the way a healthy eardrum does. An infected eardrum won't move as it should because the pus presses against it and may make it bulge. An infection also can make the eardrum red. If you have an ear infection, the doctor will make a decision about what to do next. Parents need to watch children over the next day or two to see if they get any bette if there are symptoms of an ear infection. The doctor also might suggest a pain reliever to keep you comfortable.

If bacteria are causing the problem, the doctor might prescribe a medicine called an antibiotic, which usually clears up a bacterial infection, so you'll feel better in a few days. If you are given an antiobiotic, it's very important to keep taking the medicine for as many days as the doctor instructs — even if your ear stops hurting. If you don't take all the medicine, the infection could come back and your ear will start hurting again. Children who have chronic, or frequent, ear infections might need a few other tests. They include an audiogram, which tests your hearing, and a tympanogram, a machine that checks whether your eardrum moves normally.

According to the Mayo Clinic, most ear infections don't cause long-term complications. Frequent or persistent infections and persistent fluid buildup can result in some serious complications:

1.) Impaired hearing: Mild hearing loss that comes and goes is fairly common with an ear infection, but it usually returns to normal after the infection clears. Persistent infection or persistent fluids in the middle ear may result in more significant hearing loss. If there is some permanent damage to the eardrum or other middle ear structures, permanent hearing loss may occur.
2.) Speech or developmental delays: If hearing is temporarily or permanently impaired in infants and toddlers, they may experience delays in speech, social and developmental skills.
3.) Spread of infection: Untreated infections or infections that don't respond well to treatment can spread to nearby tissues. Infection of the mastoid, the bony protrusion behind the ear, is called mastoiditis. This infection can result in damage to the bone and the formation of pus-filled cysts. Rarely, serious middle ear infections spread to other tissues in the skull, including the brain.

Most ear infections don't need treatment with antibiotics. What's best for your child depends on many factors, including your child's age and the severity of symptoms, according to the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms of ear infections usually improve with the first couple of days, and most infections clear up on their own within one to two weeks without any treatment. The American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Family Physicians recommend a wait-and-see approach for the first 48 to 72 hours for anyone who is otherwise healthy and who is:
--Six months to 2 years of age with mild symptoms and an uncertain diagnosis.
--More than 2 years old with mild symptoms or an uncertain diagnosis.

Your doctor will advise you on treatments to lessen pain from an ear infection. These may include the following:
--A warm compress. Placing a warm, moist washcloth over the affected ear may lessen pain.
--Pain medication. Your doctor may advise the use of over-the-counter acetaminophen (Tylenol, others) or ibuprofen (Motrin, Advil, others) to relieve pain. Use the drugs as directed on the label. Because aspirin has been linked with Reye's syndrome, use caution when giving aspirin to children or teenagers. Although aspirin is approved for use in children older than age 2, children and teenagers recovering from chickenpox or flu-like symptoms should never take aspirin. Talk to your doctor if you have concerns.
--Eardrops. Prescription eardrops such as antipyrine-benzocaine (Aurodex) may provide additional pain relief. To administer drops to your child, warm the bottle by placing it in warm water. Put the recommended dose in your child's ear while he or she lies on a flat surface with the infected ear facing up. Benzocaine has been linked to a rare but serious, sometimes deadly, condition that decreases the amount of oxygen that the blood can carry. Don't use benzocaine in children younger than age 2 without supervision from a health care professional, as this age group has been the most affected. If you're an adult, never use more than the recommended dose of benzocaine and consider talking with your doctor.

Your doctor may recommend antibiotic treatment for an ear infection in the following situations:
--Children under 6 months old with a probable diagnosis of ear infection.
--Children 6 months to 2 years old with a certain diagnosis of ear infection.
--Anyone with a probable ear infection and moderate to severe ear pain.
--Anyone with a probable ear infection and a fever over 102.2 F (39 C) or higher.
Even after symptoms have improved, be sure to use all of the antibiotic pills as directed. Failing to do so can result in recurring infection and resistance of bacteria to antibiotic medications. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about what to do if you accidentally skip a dose.

If your child has otitis media with effusion — persistent fluid buildup in the ear after an infection has cleared up or in the absence of any infection — your doctor may recommend a procedure to drain fluid from the middle ear. During an outpatient surgical procedure called a myringotomy, a surgeon creates a tiny hole in the eardrum that enables him or her to suction fluids out of the middle ear. A tiny tube is placed in the opening to help ventilate the middle ear and prevent the accumulation of more fluids. Some tubes are intended to stay in place for six months to a year and then fall out on their own. Other tubes are designed to stay in longer and may need to be surgically removed. The eardrum closes up again after the tube falls out or is removed.

Ear infections may or may not be serious, depending on the situation. However, they should be addressed if any symptoms worsen or continue. Your family physician can provide treatment and a course of action for any repeat occurrence. Remember, although an ear infection can develop any time and can cause pain and inconvenience, take the time to visit your doctor for care and advice. It's worth the extra cost to make sure that your hearing is saved, and your health does not get worse.

Until next time.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Health Care and Cord Blood

One of the most recent developments in medical care is the awareness of the importance of capturing and storing cord blood. Many parents now feel that the opportunity to save this valuable physical part of their baby's new birth is advantageous to their child. According to the Cord Blood Registry,  cord blood is the blood that remains in your newborn's umbilical cord after birth. Cord blood, like bone marrow, is an invaluable source of a type of stem cell that can be used in a variety of medical treatments. A process known as cord blood banking allows families to save this valuable resource for potential future medical use. If it is not saved, it is discarded at the hospital.

Stem cells are the body's "master cells" because they are the building blocks of organ tissue, blood, and the immune system. Stem cells from bone marrow were first used to regenerate blood and immune cells for patients who had received chemotherapy for cancer. In the late 1980's, doctors started using cord blood stem cells to treat diseases that had previously been treated with bone marrow transplantation. Today, cord blood stem cells are successfully being used and saving many lives. And they are being researched in an exciting new area of medicine called regenerative medicine, where scientists are using cord blood stem cells in experimental treatments for brain injury and juvenile diabetes, according to the Cord Blood Registry.

Birth is a one-time opportunity to help society by donating your child's cord blood to a public bank. Cord blood contains stem cells that can save lives. Patients requiring a stem cell transplant will receive cells from one of three sources: bone marrow, circulating blood, or umbilical cord blood. The first two exist in all healthy adults, but cord blood can only be harvested and stored at birth. The section on cord blood transplants explains that it is easier to match transplant patients with cord blood than with the two sources of adult blood. Hence, establishing public banks of cord blood from donors with diverse tissue types can save many lives, according to the Parents Guide to Cord Blood Foundation. Birth is also a one-time opportunity to help your own family by saving your child's cord blood. Transplant patients recover better when they receive stem cells from a related donor, instead of an unrelated donor. In the future, if there are regenerative medicine advances which can repair the body with the patient's own stem cells, then children whose parents saved their cord blood will have better access to those treatments. There is virtually no reason not to save your child's cord blood. The only cautionary remarks which can be made about cord blood banking is that the cord should not be clamped too soon after birth. Much more info can be found online at this site: .

The use of cord blood has increased significantly in the past 15 years, according to the Cord Blood Registry; and as uses for cord blood expand, so does the likelihood that the cells may be needed by a member of your family. Based on the most recent data, the likelihood of needing a stem cell transplant is:

•1 in 217–for an individual (by age 70), using his or her own stem cells or someone else's.

Data does not reflect future therapies that may be developed and includes stem cells from cord blood, bone marrow, and peripheral blood. According to the New York State Health Department guidelines for cord blood banking, cord blood stem cells can be stored indefinitely under the proper conditions. In transplant medicine, having more stem cells can improve medical outcomes, including faster recovery and fewer complications if the cells are ever needed for treatment. Cord blood provides a way to accomplish these procedures.

Collection of the cord blood takes place shortly after birth in both vaginal and cesarean (C-section) deliveries. It's done using a specific kit that parents must order ahead of time from their chosen cord-blood bank, according to After a vaginal delivery, the umbilical cord is clamped on both sides and cut. In most cases, an experienced obstetrician or nurse collects the cord blood before the placenta is delivered. One side of the umbilical cord is unclamped, and a small tube is passed into the umbilical vein to collect the blood. After blood has been collected from the cord, needles are placed on the side of the surface of the placenta that was connected to the fetus to collect more blood and cells from the large blood vessels that fed the fetus. During cesarean births, cord-blood collection is more complicated because the obstetrician's primary focus in the operating room is tending to the surgical concerns of the mother. After the baby has been safely delivered and the mother's uterus has been sutured, the cord blood can be collected. However, less cord blood is usually collected when delivery is by C-section. The amount collected is critical because the more blood collected, the more stem cells collected. If using the stem cells ever becomes necessary, having more to implant increases the chances of engraftment (successful transplantation).

After cord-blood collection has taken place, according to Kids Health, the blood is placed into bags or syringes and is usually taken by courier to the cord-blood bank. Once there, the sample is given an identifying number. Then the stem cells are separated from the rest of the blood and are stored cryogenically (frozen in liquid nitrogen) in a collection facility, also known as a cord-blood bank. Then, if needed, blood-forming stem cells can be thawed and used in either autologous procedures (when someone receives his or her own umbilical cord blood in a transplant) or allogeneic procedures (when a person receives umbilical cord blood donated from someone else — a sibling, close relative, or anonymous donor). More details are available at this site: .

According to, families have several options when it comes to cord blood banking:

1. Privately banking cord blood for the baby or family?s (blood relatives) potential use.
2. Privately banking both cord blood and placenta stem cells for the baby and/or family?s (blood relatives) potential use, which may increase the total number of stem cells banked.
3. Donating cord blood to a bank that may place it on a registry for a person in need of a cord blood stem cell transplant or for research.
4. Discarding the cord blood as medical waste.
Much more detail on each of these topics can be found here: .

According to the American Pregnancy Association, there are usually two fees associated with cord blood banking. The first is the initial fee which includes enrollment, collection and storage for at least the first year, and the second is an annual storage fee. Some facilities offer a variety of options for the initial fee with predetermined periods of storage. The initial fee will range from $900 to $2100 depending on the predetermined period of storage. Annual storage fees beyond the initial storage fee are approximately $100, and it is quite common for storage facilities to offer prepaid plans at a discount as well as payment plans to make the initial storage more convenient you and your family. There are several cord blood banks that are accredited by the American Association of Blood Banks. Most offer information on cord blood banking as well as provide private cord blood banking services. You should be able to locate a credible cord blood bank online.

Consider this option when you are beginning a family or if you are expecting your next child. Cord blood registry and storage can be a vital way to help with health care issues that may develop with some children. It pays to be proactive with your children, and to consider all the potential options available to you when you give birth to your beautiful new baby.

Until next time.