Spring is Here, and So Are Allergies

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Temperatures are climbing as the weather begins to reflect what the calendar declared in mid-March – it’s spring! Along with azaleas come allergies, and this year experts anticipate a harsher than usual allergy season. Thank the infamous polar vortex. Winter weather has continued on longer than normal, setting the stage for a sudden, shortened spring. If trees have to make up for lost time and a shorter spring, pines, oaks, and maples eager to reproduce will release higher than average amounts of pollen.

A quick Google search for “2014 allergy season” will show headline after headline decrying this year to be the “worst ever”. Take those headlines with a grain of salt. The same headlines appear when you Google “2013 allergy season”. Still, it’s good to be prepared. The side effects of allergies to mold, pollen and grasses are certainly miserable. We’re all familiar with the sneezing, itching, and stuffed and runny nose that accompanies the burst of plant growth and reproduction each year. If you’re worried about this year and anticipate an extreme (or just annoying) bout with allergies, start taking your allergy medication now.

Allergy Tests

Many common allergies are easily diagnosed and treated by over-the-counter medication. The majority of us know when the pollen count or ragweed is the cause of mild allergic reactions. Mild allergic reactions include hives, itching, watery eyes, runny nose, nasal congestion or a rash. If you treat your symptoms with over the counter medicine and it has no effect, it may be time to contact your doctor. A variety of tests are available to help determine your specific allergies, from dust mites to pet dander.

The most common allergy tests are the scratch test and the patch test. The scratch test is administered in a doctor’s office – one of the (very) rare risks of the test is an extreme allergic reaction, so the staff will want to keep you close to appropriate emergency equipment and medications. The scratch test is simple. A numbered grid is drawn on your inner arm or upper back, then extracts of common allergens are placed on your skin. A tiny needle is used to prick the skin, scratching it into the surface of the skin. The procedure sounds painful, but it isn’t. The needles used are so small, and the prick so tiny, you barely feel it. If you are allergic to a specific allergen, a red wheal (a bump that resembles a mosquito bite) will form.

The patch test is used to determine if a particular substance is causing skin irritation. Patch tests are used to determine your reaction to things such as latex, metals, hair dye or fragrances. The test’s name is its best description. Allergens are placed on patches, then placed on your skin for about 48 hours. Irritated skin at the end of the test indicates a potential allergy.

Every family has an at home remedy favorite. For some, spicy food is the ticket to clear nasal passages. For others, it’s breathing in the steam from a bowl of hot water mixed with horseradish. Your best bet is over-the-counter medication, although spicy food can help if you’ve got the constitution for it!

Update: HB 885 (legalizing limited use of medical marijuana in Georgia) failed last month. The bill’s supporters point to a last minute addition of an unrelated autism mandate. You can read about that issue here and here.

I wrote about the bill, named Haleigh’s Hope, and the bill’s namesake, Haleigh Cox, last month. Since then, Haleigh and her mother have moved to Colorado, where Haleigh has been able to use the cannabidiol oil (CBD) she needs. According to her mother’s Facebook page, the medicine is already helping Haleigh. You can follow their story here.

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When the US Fought, Nurses Were There

By David Martin, RN, CRNFA, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Certain wartime images become fixed in the American memory. These famous images, like the flag raising at Iwo Jima and the V-J kiss in Times Square, capture the bright moments in dark times. Surrounded by the suffering and privations of war, human compassion takes on a brighter hue. The courage and perseverance of the soldiers at Iwo Jima and the exuberance and relief evident in the kiss in Times Square have secured those images in American memory.

Shining moments during wartime deserve to be remembered and celebrated, but so too does the dangerous, sometimes deadly, work performed behind front lines. In this spirit, this article is dedicated to remembering the role of nurses in American conflict. Today, I’m writing about the American Revolution and the Civil War. Nurses played a vital role supporting military efforts in both conflicts. In these two wars, at least, the history of nursing is also (in part) a history of the role American women played in wartime. Banned from fighting, women were able to contribute through the socially acceptable role of caretaker.

I can’t hope to cover all the accomplishments and details of nursing here, but at the end of this article you’ll find links to more reading material. Please read on! Researching this topic was an enjoyable lesson in American history, especially since I am a nurse, and am also the son of a nurse.

The American Revolution

During the Revolution, the ragtag American army of farmers-turned-foot soldiers brought an entourage along with them. Women and children, now known as “camp followers,” marched in unison with the army hoping for food and safety. The women were often, but not always, wives of soldiers fighting on the front lines. (The front line was usually only a mile or so from where the troops made camp.) Though military resources were strained, even George Washington was loathe to send the followers away. Too often, soldiers would abandon the war to tend to their families.

Camp followers had to earn their keep if they expected rations. In the early days of the war, women washed clothes, cooked, carried water for the troops and worked as seamstresses. Very few were willing to work as nurses. In those days, working with the sick was often the cause of your own demise. Congress and the army preferred female nurses to male ones – with women tending to the sick, dying and injured, men were freed for service in the battlefield.

Reluctance to take up work as a nurse was common. Nursing was possibly the dirtiest job during the war. Much of what nurses did during their long hours of work was clean the hospital and patients. Chamber pots were to be promptly emptied, new patients bathed, old patients given a face and hand wash, linens changed, the hospital swept and finally cleaned with vinegar. All duties were performed, it should be added, amidst the real fear of contracting smallpox or a camp fever.

In 1777, a nurse’s wage was raised to eight dollars a month. Even with good wages, nurses were in short supply throughout the war, and women were often bribed or threatened into a nursing role. Regiments across the colonies struggled to find enough nurses to meet demand throughout the war.

The Civil War

Since the founding of our nation, Americans have struggled with the issue of slavery and how to be a truly united country. In 1861, we began the bloody fight that ended slavery and united our nation. By 1865, the South was defeated. Four million men had fought in the war. It’s estimated that 750,000 perished.

Both the Confederate and Union armies employed nurses. Dorothea Dix was appointed Superintendent of Women Nurses by the Union in 1861. Under her leadership, 3,200 women served. Requirements were stringent. Nurses had to be married, over 30, matronly in appearance, and have two letters of recommendation. Nurses were also expected to pay their own way. For their service, they were paid 40 cents and day and provided one ration.

The Union army was unprepared for the treatment of casualties, a fact the Union nurse Clara Barton recognized early in the war. In 1862, Barton successfully petitioned the military to provide supplies and personal aid on the battlefield, which she and others delivered to the front for the next two years. She was dubbed “The Angel of the Battlefield” after surprising Union surgeons with wagons of much-needed medical supplies while the battle of Antietam was still being fought. Barton’s commitment to care continued after the war was over. She went on to found the American Red Cross. Barton’s life and work is, put simply, incredible. There is not enough space to properly discuss her accomplishments here. Please follow this link to the American Red Cross to learn more.

In the Confederacy, women were also called upon to minister to the wounded. Kate Cumming, a native Scotswoman who immigrated to North America as a young child, felt called to nursing in 1862. Most nurses only served short tours. Cumming worked from 1862 until the end of the war. Her life in Civil War hospitals is chronicled in her book, A Journal of Hospital Life in the Confederate Army of Tennessee from the Battle of Shiloh to the End of the War. Her work is an important primary resource shedding light on the conditions endured by medical professionals and patients alike.

On both sides on the war, nurses faced danger, privation and exposure to disease. Though germ theory (which states that specific diseases are caused by specific microorganisms) was developed beginning in the 1850s, it was not fully accepted until the 1920s. Many lives might have been saved in the Civil War had germ theory been more widely accepted. Two-thirds of the casualties in the war were caused by disease, not mortal injury. The most infamous treatment (and also likely overused) was amputation. Soldiers under the knife faced more than the risk of bleeding - few surgeons understood the necessity of sterilization and the risk of infection.

Civil War nurses tended to the wounded where they fell. For Union nurses like Barton, that meant travelling to the front. For Confederate women, it meant tending to the wounded in their homes and on their fields. Soldiers on both sides of the war owed a debt of gratitude (and often, their lives) to the nurses that risked their own lives to care for them.

Further Reading

Thomas Jefferson: Quotations on Slavery and Emancipation

The Roles of Women in the Revolutionary War

Women’s Service with the Revolutionary Army

New Estimate Raises Civil War Death Toll

American Red Cross Founder Clara Barton

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Debunking the Myths of Heart Disease

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

The statistics surrounding heart disease are shocking. Heart disease is behind one of every four deaths in the United States, about 600,000 deaths a year. Our cultural image of a person having a heart attack is almost exclusively a middle-aged man clutching his arm and asking for a doctor, but in reality women are more likely to suffer a heart attack.

One in three women die of heart disease. Too often, women ignore the warning signs of a heart attack because they subscribe to the popular myths that heart disease primarily affects men and older people, and women only if they are obese or unfit. Another popular misconception is that the only real symptom of a heart attack is chest pain.

Although many assume heart disease is a man’s disease, more women die from heart disease than men. One of the reasons this assumption exists? Marketing. Think back: how many ads and PSAs have you seen promoting breast cancer awareness or a walk “For the Cure”? While breast cancer (and general cancer awareness) are overall positive influences, women should know that the most pressing risk to their health stems from heart disease. Happily, the same practice — regular, strenuous exercise — can reduce your risk of both breast cancer and heart disease!

Cultural narrative and media influence also lead most Americans to believe that a heart attack only affects older individuals. Most of us believe that a heart attack is caused by the wear and tear of life — clogged arteries caused by overeating, sedentary lifestyle and high cholesterol. While risks of a heart attack do increase with age, young women should know that they are not immune to having one. Use of birth control and smoking can increase the risk of heart disease by 20 percent. Underlying heart conditions are a risk factor many women don’t know about until they’ve already suffered a heart attack.

Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are risk factors for many diseases and a cause of early death for many Americans. However, fit women who exercise regularly and pride themselves on twice-weekly visits to the gym should be aware that they are still at risk for heart disease and heart attack. Family history plays a large role. If your family is prone to heart disease, the American Heart Association recommends you start requesting a cholesterol check at age 20 and that your provider keep an eye on your blood pressure as well.

We imagine that the overwhelming majority of people who have heart attacks are obese or overweight. Heart disease affects everyone. Our overwhelming tendency to equate slim with healthy is damaging to everyone, regardless of body shape. Hopefully, those with faster metabolisms and slimmer figures know that if they don’t exercise and eat properly they’re no better off than people carrying a few extra pounds.

Finally, let’s discuss symptoms. On television, the symptoms depicted are chest pain and a funny, awful feeling in the left arm, but there are many more signs. One of the reasons women are more likely to die of a heart attack than men is that they fail to recognize the symptoms. Some signs of heart attack are more pronounced in women. Below is a list of heart attack symptoms common for both men and women followed by symptoms that are more common in women.

Symptoms of Heart Attack in Men and Women

  • Shortness of breath
  • Feelings of anxiety, fatigue and weakness that can’t be explained but worsen with exertion
  • Stomach pain
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea
  • Severe chest pain
  • Pressure and tightness in the chest, usually lasting for a couple minutes, sometimes coming in waves
  • Paleness and clammy sweat

Pronounced Symptoms of Heart Attack in Women

  • Pain in your back, neck, ankle, shoulder blades or stomach
  • Jaw pain
  • Lightheadedness, sweating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Overwhelming/unusual fatigue

Heart disease is a major killer of both men and women in the United States. The facts deserve space in the media and in our cultural narrative. Lives hang in the balance, so spread the word!

 

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Moderation the Key to Screen Time for Children

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

If you watch a sitcom featuring new parents, at some point the plot will involve selecting and getting into comically competitive preschools because if your child doesn’t get into the “right” preschool, how will she ever succeed?

Hyperbole employed by TV producers aside, our society values early learning. We have come to understand just how much of an impact those first few years make and a slew of on-screen products, from apps to TV shows, promise to educate our smallest children and are aggressively marketed to parents.

Sixty-one percent of Americans own a smartphone. Forty percent of families own a tablet in 2014, as compared to only 8 percent of families tablet in 2011. TV is still the king screen — 96.7 percent of Americans own a TV.

A host of apps for these smartphones purport to educate their tiny users. These tools are new and rapidly evolving, so researchers don’t have enough evidence to make a clear case for their educational utility. Parenting.com published their top ten educational picks. One pick, the Green Eggs and Ham app, is an ebook that highlights the written words as the narrator reads. Another teaches preschoolers letters, numbers and shapes with colorful fish under the sea. If parents choose to use educational apps, they should be picky. Find interactive media that requires active participation and join in while your child uses the app.

Active participation is a key difference in determining the kind of screen time for young children. The American Academy of Pediatrics once decreed that children under two should not be allowed any screen time. Last year, the organization clarified their recommendation, stipulating that children under two should not engage in passive screen time.

Passive screen time includes allowing your child to watch a show or movie or leaving a TV turned on in the background. Active screen time, however, may be of value. Skype, Google Hangouts and other video-conferencing services can be educational. The child can actively communicate with a live human. The social interaction that occurs through Skype can encourage children to learn from the parents, grandparents or friends on the other end of the screen.

Moderation is the best guideline. Keep screen time, regardless of its purported educational value, to a minimum. For older children, try to limit time in front a screen to two hours or less a day. All that being said, it’s important not to get hung up on the “rules.” Anyone with a child knows that stepping away to take a shower or make lunch while a toddler demands your attention can be difficult. If you need to turn on Dora or Doc McStuffins, relax. A little bit of screen time does not a preschool dropout make.

If parents want their children to tune out of tuning in to the TV, they need to remember that “Do as I say, not as I do,” rarely works. A 2013 study concluded that for every hour parents spend watching TV, their children watched 23 minutes. The amount of television watched by parents affected children’s screen time more than eliminating TVs from the bedroom and setting clear rules governing TV time. If parents spend their leisure time in front of the TV, then kids do, too.

Update: Several months ago, I wrote about how exercise can lower the risk of breast cancer in women. Researchers in France recently released a study that followed 4 million women from 1987 to 2013. The study affirms last year’s findings! The more active you are, the lower your cancer risk. The study I reported on found that women might be able to reduce their cancer risk by 25 percent — the French study showed a 12 percent reduction in risk. That’s still an excellent number. And the added benefits of exercise are worth the work!

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Will Nurse Practitioners Help Meet Primary Care Demand?

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Imagine going to the doctor’s office. You need care and a prescription. Now imagine that you don’t need to see a doctor for the healthcare you need. Instead of a physician, a nurse attends to all your needs and you walk out the door prescription in hand. In some states concerned about the predicted doctor shortage, that scenario is already a reality. For years, experts have worried about a potential doctor shortage, citing an aging population, aging (and retiring) doctors, and, in the advent of the Affordable Care Act, a strain on the system as the ranks of the insured grow. To fill the gaps and meet the growing demand for healthcare, some states are changing their laws to provide nurses with the authority to treat patients independent of physician supervision.

In California, a patient can get one-on-one primary care and the prescription medication they need from a nurse. Although patients don’t see a doctor, a physician is still involved behind the scenes. At the Glide Health Services clinic in San Francisco, nurses treat patients all week but a doctor comes to consult on difficult cases and sign off on various forms. 30 million Americans are expected to gain insurance over the next decade and we need providers to care for them. Nurses have been, and will continue to be, a vital part of our healthcare infrastructure. Expanding the role nurses play could be especially helpful as their training time is shorter than that of physicians. Though the training period is shorter, it is rigorous. To become a nurse practitioner, candidates must first become a registered nurse, then complete a masters degree followed by up to 700 hours of supervised clinical experience. In 2012, the National Association of Governors found that nurse practitioner care is similar to physician-provided care on several process and outcome measures.

As the American healthcare system expands, we must meet demand with caring and competent providers. In 17 states and the District of Columbia, nurses are allowed to practice indepently. How independently varies widely from state to state. Advocates for expanded nurse practitioner care, like the American Nurses Association, contend that insurance companies can hamper the ability of nurses to practice by writing policies that make reimbursement difficult. Nurses are often unable to bill insurers directly for services provided to patients, making independent practice difficult or unfeasible. Physician’s groups impose their own roadblocks by opposing nurse practitioner pushes to operate independently. Many physicians argue that without the team approach of nurse care with physician oversight, patients will be put at risk. Further, the physician groups question if expanded independence will actually lead to greater access to healthcare.

Nurse practitioner groups have appealed to the White House for help, asking the Obama administration to require insurers to include their practices and services in the new plans offered to consumers through the ACA insurance marketplaces. In 2013, the administration declined to do so, but did agree to “continue assessing” the situation. In Massachusetts, the flagship state of healthcare reform, lawmakers required insurers to reimburse nurse practitioners as primary care providers. The result was not as effective as nurses hoped because insurers are still able to write restrictive reimbursement policies. Although there are now more than 6,000 nurse practitioners in Massachusetts, very few are credentialed by major insurers. As other states follow suit and expand the authority of nurses, the industry (and the administration) will follow the effects on patients and overall access to care closely.

Readers who need insurance (or know someone that does) should be advised: the Affordable Care Act marketplaces will close at the end of March. If you don’t get insurance through the marketplace before March 31, you’ll be unable to get coverage until the marketplace opens again on November 15. Remember – if you don’t have coverage, but do get sick in the intervening months, you will not qualify for coverage. You’ll be on your own for all health care costs in the interim period. (Certain milestones, such as marriage, divorce, the birth or adoption of a child or the loss of a job will qualify you for a special enrollment period while the market is closed.) Remember, too, that the tax penalty for going uninsured begins this year. You will pay either 1% of your yearly household income or a $95 fee – whichever amount is higher. Visit HealthCare.gov to get a more in-depth explanation.  

Finally, a brief update on Haleigh Cox, the eponymous inspiration behind Haleigh’s Hope Act. She and her mother are settled in Colorado Springs. Her parents hope she will soon have access to CBD treatment. If you’d like to follow her story, you can do so on her Facebook page.

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Will Medical Marijuana Become Reality in Georgia?

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

In recent years, no drug has been as heavily debated and discussed as marijuana. In 2013, voters in Colorado and Washington approved resolutions to legalize recreational use of marijuana. In January, recreational sales began in Colorado, and estimated tax revenue from sales has already been revised upwards.

Recreational use aside, the wider availability of marijuana benefits those who rely on the plant for medical needs. Marijuana is an effective pain reliever and safe alternative to opioids (like morphine and oxycodone) when appropriate. A growing body of evidence supporting marijuana’s legitimate medical use and benefits to patients has inspired public figures from lawmakers to well-known figures in medical journalism to advocate for medical marijuana.

It may surprise readers to learn that Georgia may become the first state in the South to legalize medical marijuana. In February, the Health and Human Services Committee unanimously approved a bill to permit medical marijuana to be grown and used in our state.

The scope of the bill is limited. The marijuana could be only be used to treat patients with cancer, glaucoma and seizure disorders. In March, the bill passed in the House, 171-4. Don’t anticipate availability just yet; the bill has to pass in the State Senate first and be signed into law by Governor Deal. If the bill gets a signature, implementation will take significant time as the state determines how to comply with federal law and regulation.

The legislation waiting on a vote in the Georgia Senate is called Haleigh’s Hope Act. Haleigh Cox is a four-year-old Georgia girl with epilepsy. She, and children like her, endure multiple seizures every day. Haleigh sometimes endures 100 seizures in a day. Although Haleigh receives excellent care, her seizures continue.

Children with Haleigh’s condition have found relief with a non-psychoactive marijuana derivative called cannabidiol (CBD). As federal law now stands, Colorado may produce CBD but cannot send the oil across state lines to patients who may benefit from its use. Haleigh’s mother, Janéa Cox, announced via the family Facebook page, titled Hope for Haleigh, that they are moving to Colorado this month in order to access the new treatment. CBD is not a guaranteed cure-all, but the family hopes Haleigh will see a significant reduction in seizures.

Pro-marijuana organizations like Georgia CARE (Campaign for Access, Reform, and Education) and the Georgia chapters of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) have campaigned for years to liberalize marijuana laws and bring medical marijuana to Georgia. They will continue to do so even if the latest legislation passes. Critics of the bill say that it is too restrictive and that Georgia lawmakers need more time to study federal law so the state doesn’t run afoul of the national government.

As marijuana laws are liberalized across the country, we as a populace and a state should examine new evidence, and closely watch as Colorado and Washington implement their new recreational marijuana laws. As public opinion continues to shift towards liberalization, it’s unlikely they’ll be the last states to implement such laws.

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ADHD Symptoms, Diagnosis and Management

David Martin, Founder and CEO of VeinInnovations

David Martin, Founder and CEO of VeinInnovations

Jonquils and snowdrops are starting to bloom as the South begins to shake off an uncharacteristically cold winter. Warm afternoons and sunshine are enough to distract the most dedicated among us from our work. As adults, managing our attention spans to focus on the task at hand is a vital skill. We start to learn the importance of focus, as well as ways to manage our time as children.

In recent years, doctors and public health officials have watched as increasing numbers of children, especially boys, are diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). In the U.S., the rates of ADHD have increased annually by 5.5 percent from 2003 to 2007. (Globally, the trend is a 3 percent annual increase.) Today, I’m sharing a brief overview of one of the most common childhood disorders.

ADHD Symptoms

The most recent version of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – released by the American Psychiatric Association in 2013) defines the criteria for ADHD symptoms. To be diagnosed with ADHD, a child must exhibit at least six symptoms of inattention and six symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. Symptoms of inattention include:

  • Easily distracted
  • Often forgetful in daily activity
  • Trouble listening when spoken to directly
  • Reluctance or avoiding tasks like schoolwork or homework that require mental effort over a long period of time
  • Trouble organizing tasks and activities

Symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity include:

  • Talking excessively
  • Trouble waiting for their turn
  • Tendency to fidget, tapping fingers and toes or squirming in their seat
  • Often running or climbing in situations where it is not appropriate

ADHD Diagnosis

To properly diagnose a child with ADHD, your health care provider will need to rely on descriptions from parents, daycare providers and teachers and other individuals that spend significant time with your child. A specialist may participate, observing your child during a variety of activities.

Your doctor should rule out the possibility of an underlying cause, such as a vision, language or hearing issue that may be the true cause of a child’s inattention. Learning disabilities should also be ruled out before a diagnosis of ADHD.

As the rates of ADHD diagnosis rapidly rise, many have called attention to the possibility of over diagnosis. Studies have shown that as state and federal standards for schools rise in importance, so do the rates of ADHD diagnosis. Others have argued that drug companies are to blame for the rising rates of ADHD, “selling” the disorder to parents and doctors. There is evidence to suggest that ADHD is over diagnosed, so if you’re worried about your child, make sure to find a doctor willing to be thorough.

Managing ADHD

Once a child is diagnosed with ADHD, treatment may include prescription drugs and behavioral therapy. Parental education can also be helpful, as children with ADHD do not respond as well to traditional parenting tactics. For example, a child with ADHD requires clear, brief instructions instead of long-winded instructions.

Some parents may begin to worry about a child’s diet as the cause. Currently, there is no research that supports the idea that ADHD is caused by a diet high in sugar or a diet that includes foods with additives. But a good diet can help manage ADHD symptoms.

If your child has been diagnosed, have your doctor spend time educating you about methods of treatment and helpful ways to manage ADHD. Entire communities are dedicated to helping parents and children cope with the challenges ADHD presents – remember that children with ADHD can thrive!

Looking for more? Follow these links for in-depth resources.

The CDC ADHD Homepage Covers symptoms, treatment, data and statistics, as well as education and training.

National Institutes of Health: The History of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder This article is truly in-depth, following the history of ADHD diagnoses back to the 1790s. The history is for the truly curious!

National Institutes of Health: Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder The basics of ADHD.

CHADD A nationally recognized resource, Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder is a great place to learn about managing your individual ADHD and parenting children with ADHD.

Staying Motivated: Handout and Poster

Getting Things Done: Handout and Poster

Reducing the Risk of Addiction: Handout and Poster

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The Role of Meat in the Modern-Day Diet

David Martin, President & CEO of VeinInnovations

David Martin, President & CEO of VeinInnovations

This is the final part in a four-part series about food. Read the previous installments here, here and here.

This past month, I’ve discussed various aspects of nutrition and the modern foodscape. Last week, I wrote about antibiotics in livestock feed. After decades of debate, the FDA is finally phasing out their use in animal feed, a move consumers began demanding with their dollars several years ago. This week, we’ll take it a step further and discuss how to find affordable sources of meat that are raised locally and humanely, and are fed a good diet, preferably grass.

Meat production in the United States is heavily industrialized. While industrialization has made meat more available and affordable than ever, there are significant costs to our health and the environment that shouldn’t be ignored. Meat is an excellent source of protein and iron. Despite what some devout devotees of veganism claim, we did evolve to eat meat.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, paleo enthusiasts claim that we should regularly eat large quantities of red meat. Both sides veer too far from the center. The average American consumes 12 ounces of meat every day, twice as much as the recommended amount. We’ve developed a culture around meat eating (take the current fascination with both the Paleo diet and bacon, for example.) Too much of a good thing can lead to higher risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease. We don’t need this much meat.

The energy expended in producing all the meat we consume is considerable. Animal protein takes 100 times the amount of water to produce than plant protein does. One calorie of animal protein requires ten times the amount of fossil fuels to get from farm to table than plant protein does. Factory farms that house livestock are also a significant source of methane, a dangerous greenhouse gas. Studies have shown that going meatless (even just once a week) can make a big difference. Nutritionists recommend that we limit consumption of red meat to two or three times a week and consume no more than 2.5 ounces per day.

The best way to find sustainable meat is to purchase it at a local farmers market. Check out farmers markets in your area (a quick Google search should suffice, but you can also check out the USDA and Local Harvest websites) to find a small-scale farmer with

meat for sale. Meat purchased at the farmers market can be expensive, at least compared to the fare available at the grocery store, but if consumers limit their intake of meat to the recommended amount, the burden is lessened. Find farmers committed to pasture-raised animals and natural (if not organic) feed. Buying your meat from a farmers market stimulates the local economy, reduces the amount of fossil fuel used from farm to table, and provides you and yours with a healthier option.

The concept of nutrition is impossible to fully address in a four-article series. Thanks to the Internet, there’s a new super food around every corner and another hidden poison lurking in the pantry inside a seemingly benign product. Food is fascinating, never more so than now as we use chemistry and technological advances to create foods never before imagined and grow record yields. So much is changing, it’s all too easy to let fear take over our food choices, or to get swept along in the latest fad diet.

Over these last four articles, my point has been to simplify. The best diet advice anyone ever gave came from Michael Pollan in 2007: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” A diet plan of whole ingredients, thoughtfully chosen and cooked at home is the surest way to improve your health and the health of your family.

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The Shift Back to Antibiotic-Free Meat

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

This is part three of a four-part series on food and nutrition. Read the earlier installments here and here

This month, I’ve written about the benefits of cooking at home and the importance of whole, unprocessed ingredients. This week, I’m discussing a food that’s so well loved, entire diets revolve around its heavy consumption. A food that, thousands of years ago, made possible our large brains and bigger, stronger bodies, but is linked to heart disease and cancer in the modern age.

Meat is well loved by Americans. The majority of us have at least one serving of meat every day, far more than we require. Our appetite for meat has led to an industry designed to maximize output, often at the cost of quality, animal welfare and the environment.

Sourcing food for the table is a simple errand today, not the daylong affair it was a century ago. Children aren’t sent to the yard to hunt for individual eggs, they’re sent to the dairy aisle for a carton of twelve!

Meat, butchered and wrapped in plastic, is the closest most of us ever get to a cow, pig or chicken. The shift in food production made life easier, but left us with an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality about the journey from farm to table. In recent years, consumers, scientists and political advocates have worked to improve meat production, quality and sustainability.

Although there are many ways in which meat production could be changed for the better, one of the most pressing health issues facing us today is the use of antibiotics in animal feed. Antibiotics are fed to animals for the side effect they create: faster growing, plumper animals. Since the 1970s, health officials and scientists have known that the other, less fortunate side effect of widespread administration of antibiotics is the rise of “superbugs.” Superbugs, or infections that cannot be treated with antibiotics, have risen rapidly and in conjunction with the use of antibiotics in livestock feed. Two million Americans are sickened every year thanks to these types of infections. Of those, 23,000 die of infections antibiotics cannot cure.

In December of 2013, the Food and Drug Administration made a major policy change, announcing that over the next three years, indiscriminate use of antibiotics will be phased out. Farmers will no longer be allowed to feed animals a low dose of antibiotics to promote growth, and will have to obtain a prescription from a veterinarian to access antibiotics.

Before the FDA’s ban, as consumers became more knowledgeable about the dangers, a growing number of packaged meats touted “No antibiotics – ever!” If the FDA wasn’t concerned, consumers were beginning to be. Perhaps that concern was the impetus behind an Atlanta-based fast-food giant’s recent decision: Chic-fil-A announced last week that in the next five years, all 1,800 restaurants will transition to antibiotic-free meat. (Chic-fil-A joins Chipotle and Panera Bread in their goal of antibiotic-free meat.)

Whether or not the FDA’s ban on antibiotics will prove strong enough to significantly curb antibiotic use in animal feed remains to be seen. Critics have serious – and not unfounded – concerns. As always, our best option as consumers is to vote with our dollars! Some farmers and companies are voluntarily shifting away from antibiotic shortcuts for growth. Support those providers by buying their products over the competition’s. It’s a small contribution, but a contribution nonetheless, to the health of our families and our nation.

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For Healthy Eating, Pay Attention to the Ingredients

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

This is the second in a series of articles about food and nutrition. Read the first article here.

Preparing food is a ritual that spans time, continents and culture. Ingredients define cuisine, reflecting the region, taste and agriculture of the place where you’re sitting down to a meal. In the modern era, regional flavor is harder to come by. Food production is radically changed – technology such as pesticides, improved farming techniques, and new varieties of crops have led to higher yields than ever before and a changed landscape. As farms changed, so did kitchens. A greater variety of produce is available in more places for more of the year. The grocery’s produce department expanded, but so did the number of shelves. Processed food is cheaper, more available, and more diverse than ever before. Also, more diverse than ever before? The ingredients found in many well-loved snacks and prepared foods.

Before you make the next shopping list and prepare to serpentine through the aisles, try to remember the last time you read through the list of ingredients on the side of the box. Foods that should be as simple as yeast, water, and flour contain a string of complex ingredients unpronounceable to anyone without a chemistry background. Preservatives, artificial colors, and added sweeteners abound. Added sodium, too, is everywhere in processed foods. “Reduced fat” and “fat free” products look promising, but the list of ingredients is rarely less than a paragraph long.

I wrote about the best apps for health a while back, and Fooducate popped up over and over again during my research. The app allows you to scan barcodes, then rates food from A to F, provides a list of ingredients, includes relevant information about preservatives, artificial colors, added artificial sweeteners and suggests alternatives for you to try. The basic app is free, and will turn even the casual user into a scanning nut at the grocery store. The informative (but concise) information provided about each product is helpful, delivered simply, and without a tone of judgment.

Why is it best to avoid commonly found ingredients such as preservatives, artificial colors, and artificial sweeteners? Artificial sweeteners, which do help to lower the number of calories in a product, are 180 to 200 times sweeter than regular sugar. Consumption of these sweeteners can overstimulate the sugar receptors, making fruit taste plain and vegetables taste bland on our palates. We’re still unsure of the effect of artificial sweeteners have on our bodies, though current research has ruled out cancer for now. The Harvard Health Blog also had this to say of sweeteners: “Research suggests that they may prevent us from associating sweetness with caloric intake. As a result, we may crave more sweets, tend to choose sweet food over nutritious food, and gain weight. Participants in the San Antonio Heart Study who drank more than 21 diet drinks per week were twice as likely to become overweight or obese as people who didn’t drink diet soda.” (Next week, I’ll delve into the downside of preservatives and artificial colors.)

When we seek to improve our health, the best place to start is usually the kitchen. Let one word be your guide: simplify. Whole ingredients make the most nourishing meals – a soup that lists only vegetables and broth is far better than one that contains a host of complex ingredients. The closer you get to the ground (and the farther away from the lab) the healthier food is. Nutrients in fresh (or frozen) fruits and vegetables are more nutrient dense. A carrot or head of broccoli also provide a source of fiber that, for all its marketing, a Fiber One bar simply cannot replicate.

Last week, I wrote about cooking at home as one of the best ways to improve health. What we choose to cook is equally important. Our grocery stores are, for the most part, set up to provide consumers with foods that require a minimum of preparation. Consider the sheer number of mac and cheese mixes lining the shelves, or the amount of space dedicated to frozen meals.

This week, I hope to encourage readers to find good recipes and seek out products with just a few ingredients on the label. The prep time may be longer, but the meals made with whole foods are an investment in your health.

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