How do our emotions affect us? There’ll be lots of talk about mental health with the release of Pixar’s newest movie Inside Out. How do you handle emotions? What are some healthy, natural ways to deal with anxiety?

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations
 

Inside Out, the latest offering from Disney Pixar, is about the adventures of five personified emotions living inside an 11-year old girl’s head. Joy, Anger, Fear, Sadness and Disgust co-exist and interact, working together to help their girl, Riley, get through life as an adolescent who’s just moved across the country. The filmmakers consulted with scientists to get the feeling just right.

In real life, we can’t sum up our feelings on one hand. (For starters, there are six basic emotions; all of the characters listed above plus surprise.) Anxiety, an emotion that didn’t make the cut in Inside Out, is one many of us struggle with regularly.

Anxiety disorders include Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD). Anxiety disorders are among the most commonly diagnosed mental illnesses in the United States. But people without anxiety disorders struggle with this unpleasant emotion, too. How do you know when to get help? And how can you effectively tackle your anxiety?

When to Go to The Doctor For Anxiety

Public speaking, job interviews, asking someone on a date, or moving to a new city are all events that might (will likely!) cause stress. It’s typical that certain specific events provoke relatively mild, brief bouts of anxiety.

If you have severe anxiety and it lasts for at least six months, it is generally considered wise to seek evaluation and treatment. Reach out to your primary care doctor first. They can rule out if other causes of anxiety, such as a medication or other illness, could be causing your symptoms. Then, if needed, they can refer you to a mental health care professional.

The stigma surrounding mental health remains and creates a barrier between people and resources that can help them feel better. This stigma stinks. Get the help you need. Encourage the people you love to get the help they need and promise to support them no matter what. Living with severe anxiety is challenging, and further, it can steal joyful moments from us.

Symptoms of Mild Anxiety and Severe Anxiety

Mild anxiety is caused by specific events. If you know your department at work is facing layoffs, you might have trouble sleeping at night until the ordeal is over. An elderly parent driving to come see you might make the hours until they get to your house a little tense. Everyone is familiar with symptoms of mild anxiety. We each seem to have our own cocktail of reactions when we’re anxious. For you, it may be a headache and a tendency to snap at others. For your sister, it may be absentmindedness and feeling sick to her stomach.

Severe anxiety is a feeling you can’t shake, even when you realize your feelings are more intense than the situation calls for. When someone with GAD is anxious, they can’t relax. They may startle easily or be unable to concentrate or fall asleep. Physical symptoms may include nausea, feeling out of breath, hot flashes, trembling, fatigue, and difficulty swallowing.

How to Treat Mild Anxiety

If you suffer from severe anxiety, talk through treatments options with your doctor. What they recommend may include medication or cognitive behavioral therapy.

There are “natural” ways to treat anxiety as well. The following techniques can help people combat mild anxiety. They can help people with severe anxiety, too!

Yoga: Enthusiasts have preached the benefits of yoga for years but their claims weren’t backed up with data. They were rather relaxed about it. In recent years, a number of good studies have pointed to practicing yoga as a good way to tame stress and anxiety. Primary evidence suggests the benefits of yoga are similar to exercise and relaxation techniques. Further, yoga involves controlled breathing, a technique that shows promise as a means of providing relief from depression. Read more about yoga’s benefits here.

Exercise: Yes, exercise. It’s good for everything, from heart disease to anxiety. Exercise has psychological and physical benefits that help reduce anxiety and improve your mood. Exercise releases pleasant brain chemicals, including endorphins. When you exercise, you reduce immune system chemicals that can worsen depression. You also raise your body temperature, which can have calming effects.

Mindfulness Meditation: Yoga and meditation are regular bedfellows and their presence on this list may make you pause and worry about hippie advice. But there’s real science backing up these practices. And if you’re struggling with anxiety, they’re worth a try. People who practice mindfulness meditation are taught to let go of regrets from the past and to let go of anxieties about the future. Techniques include visualizations to shift your attention away from thoughts that cause anxiety. Another technique is the body scan (yoga participants will be familiar with this.) The body scan asks you to lay still, flat on your back. An instructor will lead the class in relaxation, starting in your jaw, moving down to your neck, shoulders, and so forth, right down to your toes. The intent is to connect your mind and your body while preventing your thoughts from wandering. If it still sounds crazy, here’s a link to the Harvard Health Blog’s post about its benefits.

Diet: Sadly, there’s no change in diet that can eliminate anxiety. But a healthy diet can have a positive impact on your symptoms. Eating a breakfast with protein, choosing complex carbs over simple ones, drinking enough water, and avoiding caffeine, can help.

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Nuts? Sleep trackers? Cross Fit? Which fads to keep and which to lose? How will sticking with the foundations make the biggest difference re: brain-cleaning sleep and age-defying exercise?

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Media is full of new, intriguing studies by scientists (somewhere) who’ve published (incredible) new findings. Last week, headlines were bursting with calls for readers to eat more nuts. There’s always a new study, a new food, or a behavior that will vastly improve your health, cut your risk of death, or stroke, or heart attack. How can you tease out the signal from the noise?

The answer is to tune out the majority of the noise. In the midst of all the noise, we forget the simple stuff. Allow the latest studies touting the benefits of nuts or kale or a new form of yoga to fade into a blur of white noise. The signals beneath these studies are what matters.

Trends pass, but the foundations of health don’t change all that much. Today, I’ll discuss two trends and the foundations in which they are rooted.

Health Foundation: Exercise

The Trend: Freestyle, Step, and Dance Aerobics Classes of the 1990s

Richard Simmons’ heyday was the 1990s, courtesy of his popular exercise tapes, Sweatin’ to the Oldies. As the leader of the aerobics craze, Simmons was a positive force and an eccentric presence. Many others created and cashed in on the aerobics and home video trend, but none have endured quite the way Simmons has.

Today, aerobics classes have largely gone the way of VHS tapes. High-intensity interval training regimens like Cross Fit have replaced them. The foundational behavior, exercise, remains just as important to health. Exercise reduces your risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, improves your mental health and mood, and increases your chances of living a long, healthier life.  As we age, it becomes even more important to build core strength, improve or preserve heart health; stay toned, and maintain balance and agility.

At a minimum, you should get 150 minutes of moderate aerobic exercise, or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, per week. Let me stress: this is the minimum amount of exercise you should shoot for. Ideally, you’d get some aerobic activity every day. (If you hope to lose weight, you’ll need to get in at least 30 minutes of exercise a day.)

Joining in an exercise trend can be fun. And if it helps you get the aerobic exercise and strength training you need, there are benefits to participating. Don’t worry about the “best” new trend to follow.  Just enjoy engaging in a foundational health habit. If you enjoy it, you’re more likely to do it.

Health Foundation: Sleep

The Trend: The Sense sleep tracker

When Sense launched their Kickstarter campaign, they broke records, raising $120,000 in just a few hours. Most of that cash came from 4000 pre-orders for the sleekly designed sleep tracker. When Sense officially launched in February this year, the New York Times reviewer wrote of his week with the tracker, “…I was reminded, again, of how fundamentally useless these devices can be.”

That’s the rub with a lot of personal health tech these days. There’s a lot of promise, but not a whole lot of value in what the tech provides. The demand for Sense is – obviously – there. People value their rest. Those who aren’t getting good sleep are desperate for a remedy.

Sleep matters. Here are just a few of the things that spending enough time in the land of Nod can do for you:

  • The brain cleanses itself of toxins.
  • A good night’s sleep improves learning, helping you to be creative, make decisions and pay attention.
  • Sleep is involved in healing and repairing your heart and blood vessels. On-going sleep deficiency is linked to higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and stroke.
  • Deficient sleep increases your risk of obesity. Getting enough sleep helps you maintain a healthy balance of the hormones that make you feel hungry and full (ghrelin and leptin, respectively.)
  • Sleep plays a major role in regulating a number of hormones, including insulin. When you don’t get enough sleep, you have higher than normal blood sugar levels, which may increase your risk of diabetes.
  • Children and teens need sleep to grow. Deep sleep causes their bodies to release the hormone that promotes normal growth. This same hormone boosts muscle mass and helps to repair cells and tissues, no matter what your age.

To help you get a full night’s rest, establish a nightly routine. A calming routine is key, as is unplugging from electronic devices and screens for at least an hour before bed. Save the bed for sleeping and your bedtime routine. When you get the nagging feeling that you need to stay up, to accomplish that one last task, remember: sleep is an investment in your health. So hit the pillows!

Don’t let trends or new studies stress you out. When you start to fret that you’re not, say, eating enough nuts to lower your risk of early death, look at the foundation beneath. Eating healthy foods, including plenty of vegetables, is the goal. But, hey – nuts can be a tasty addition to a salad. The takeaway?  Give into the trend if it helps, while making smart health foundations such as getting enough sleep, hitting your exercise quota, and eating healthier, your on-going and long-term objective.

More resources:

Lifehacker: This Graphic Explains How Lack of Sleep Can Negatively Affect Your Brain

Why is Sleep Important?

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What diet really will make a difference? What are three actions that will help make any sane diet work better?

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

How did something that seems so simple, the act of choosing which foods to eat, become so complex?

Nutrition is a science that seems to be ever changing. The only constant seems to be the mantra of “Eat a balanced diet.” But the definition of a balanced diet varies depending on who’s giving the advice. Ask a Paleo enthusiast and they’ll encourage you to eat lots of meat. A raw diet vegan will tell you to load up on fruit and veggies (and to never heat anything about 115° Fahrenheit.) Ask someone from an Asian culture and they might tell you to avoid too many “hot” or “cold” foods.

In this age of the Internet, choosing which nutrition advice you should follow is complicated. You’re certain to come across a few modern-day diet gurus. A blog, complete with inspiring photos, will promise that you’ll find success to if you follow their rules. And the rules, quite frankly, might sound crazy. Perhaps it’ll be an “all-green, no white” diet, or a regimen of daily juicing and coffee enemas. (If it seems totally crazy, it probably is.)

Most diets fail. Yes, people do change their habits and lose weight, but they rarely (almost never, despite what ads for trendy diets will tell you) accomplish this by adhering to a strict diet. Long-term changes come from sustainable practices and changes of habit.

Diets fail, but we’re still fruitlessly searching for the “perfect” diet. The best recommendation (right now) is to decrease your meat, sugar, and simple carbohydrate intake. Increase the amount of fruits, vegetables, and legumes you’re eating. Have some healthy fats. Drink more water. Move more. Make a conscious decision to change your eating habits.

For people that want to diet, why not try a reboot? A short burst of change can recalibrate our habits or make us feel better after a period of slacking off health-wise. Here are three “diets” you can follow for a week to recalibrate your habits.

The Vegetarian, Briefly Diet

• Steer clear of meat for seven days. Animal products, like eggs, yogurt and cheese are okay.

• Replace the meat in your diet with fiber-rich vegetables and legumes. Try a black bean burger or a hearty serving of black eyed peas. Eat a giant salad for lunch with apples, blue cheese crumbles, and lots of walnuts.

Don’t fall back on simple carbs when you crave meat. Drink plenty of water and keep carrots, celery, and hummus around as a quick snack source.

The Sugar Be Damned Diet

• Become a sugar hawk. Try to cut down on your processed food intake. Always read the nutrition label on packaged goods.

• Skip sweets. See a cake in the office? Walk to the other room, grab the apples and peanut butter you brought from home, and wish Kevin a “Happy Birthday” while you snack on that.

• Go through your pantry. Sodas, sugary drinks, “fruit” snacks… it’s all full of sugar you don’t need.

The Grain Brain Diet

• Simple carbs are not an ideal food source. Our bodies need food with a little more substance than bagels, pasta, white rice, and store-bought bread can provide. Replace the simple carbs in your life with complex carbs for a week!

• Complex carbs come from, you guessed it, plant based foods. Stock up on non-starchy vegetables like broccoli, lettuce, spinach, and mushrooms. Tomatoes, in season and delicious, are a great source of a complex carb.

All three diets have three other components: hydration, exercise, and sleep. Drink more water to aid digestion and overall function. Go for a swim, hit the gym, take a walk, or check out a yoga class. Get moving!

End the day with a “winding down” routine at a reasonable hour. Turn off the TV and the electronics. Grab a book, settle in the bed, and get 7 or 8 hours of sleep. We’re just beginning to crack the ways sleep is essential for every part of our health. Get your rest. Without the healthy sleep, other changes you make won’t have as much of an impact. If you’re having trouble with sleep, talk to your doctor about it and figure out why. It is that important to your health, and the success of your diet.

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How can we cut the waste in healthcare? To be part of the solution, are we willing to focus on overall wellness and plan our own end-of-life care?

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Last week, I wrote an article about low and no-value care (unnecessary care) in American healthcare. This week, I continue the conversation. In a system that struggles to cut costs, reducing the amount of unneeded services would have a major impact. In 2011, we spent $2.6 trillion on healthcare and about one third of that – $750 billion – was classified as unnecessary.

From a purely economic perspective, it’s unsustainable. Our country can’t continue to spend as much as we do on healthcare. Especially when we consider that our high spending does not result in health outcomes that are enviable around the globe.

This waste is also destructive in other, more personal ways. In his article, Overkill, Atul Gawande argues that unnecessary care crowds out providing necessary care. What is better for a patient struggling to control diabetes? A trip to the emergency room for standard testing, or a good talk with their doctor and a 45-minute visit with a diabetes educator? In Overkill, Gawande makes a compelling argument for the latter.

A new kind of care system, where the focus is on overall wellness and not fee-for-service, is beginning in fits and bursts in the United States. Physicians, more aware of the epidemic of unnecessary care, are trying to do less. To make greater change, some of the mentality about healthcare needs to shift as well. We believe that more is always better. It’s why, when we need some pain relief, many of us take two ibuprofen pills instead of the one that will suffice. It’s why, when we have a headache, we sometimes request a CT scan or MRI we don’t need.

The belief that more is better is a huge driver of demand for wearables. I’ve written that the market for wearable health devices is exploding. It still is as people are eager to track sleep cycles, exercise, blood pressure, and more. Our faith in technology is high, but it’s perhaps a bit too optimistic. All that data you’ve collected with your Jawbone? It might not be useful to your doctor.

Increasing technological capabilities pose another challenge you might not expect. If you’re not sick as you’re reading this sentence, you (hopefully) feel fine and dandy. You’re probably hoping to get out of the house or office and enjoy the summer day. You feel good. You also, more likely than not, harbor some kind of abnormality, either biochemical or structural, in your body. Don’t panic! You’re fine. You don’t need treatment and you’re not in danger. You’re just human, a living, breathing organism.

New tech means that we catch abnormalities that aren’t a true cause for concern. Additionally, so many tests mean that false positives will happen more often. Knowing, intellectually, that an abnormality may be just that and nothing else is cold comfort. When a doctor tells you they’ve found cancer in your body, even a small amount that is unlikely to grow and cause problems, you’ll probably have a hard time accepting that the best treatment may be no treatment at all.

In recent years, medical communities have begun trying to combat unnecessary care. The Choosing Wisely campaign reaches out to doctors and patients, aiming to get them talking about appropriate and needed care. In the last few years, Choosing Wisely has received hundreds of recommendations from doctors about unnecessary tests and ways to reduce waste. Their lists are a terrific resource for patients. From their site: “The Choosing Wisely lists were created by national medical specialty societies and represent specific, evidence-based recommendations clinicians and patients should discuss. Each list provides information on when tests and procedures may be appropriate, as well as the methodology used in its creation.” Follow this link to have a look. It’s a good beginning, at least, though larger changes will be needed to truly tackle waste.

That larger change may be hard to get. You’ll recall the “death panels” that were so fiercely fought over? The name is rightly terrifying; the program it was used to describe encouraged physicians to speak to patients about end-of-life care. The drama around it was part of what resulted in end-of-life care being ejected from the Affordable Care Act legislation. This is a shame, because nationally, only 30 percent of adults have made plans for medical care at the end of their lives. Without a clear statement of your wishes, your children and loved ones are left to make heart-wrenching decisions in the midst of their grief. When you have an honest look at your values, and think about interventions at the end of life, most people will say: enough. We ask for our deaths to be dignified, and for a gentle, peaceful end. That means less intervention, which, practically speaking, translates to much lower costs to our families and the healthcare system at large. If the idea of planning your death stills seems too macabre to complete, please have a listen to this Planet Money podcast about LaCrosse, Wisconsin, where 96 percent of adults have made plans. And read my article about the struggle of families to make medical decisions for a dying loved one.

For now, reducing waste in medicine is happening in small increments. But many physicians (and increasingly, patients) are dedicated to ending the waste. So the next time you go to the doctor, be part of the conversation. Take a list from Choosing Wisely and do what the organization is trying to help you achieve: make a wise decision with your doctor.

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What can we do to improve our medical system? The $300 billion question.

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Whatever side of the political spectrum you fall on and however you feel about Obamacare, a bipartisan accepted fact is that healthcare in America costs too much. In the United States, we spend more money on healthcare per person ($8745 per person in 2012) than any other developed country. Our spending doesn’t translate into enviable outcomes; in fact, ours are among the worst in developed nations.

There’s no way to tackle all the challenges in American healthcare in one article. (Heck, there’s no way to tackle all of it in one book.) The two main issues are what I’ve listed above: the cost and the poor outcomes that cost is buying us. How can we to improve our medical system?

The Institute of Medicine estimates that $300 billion dollars a year, or ten percent of overall annual spending in the US, is spent on unnecessary medical care. Think back to your last doctor’s appointment: do you feel you received care you didn’t need? The answer is likely no. We trust our doctors to do their best and provide the best possible care. Trust is vital to the doctor-patient relationship. And the majority of us can trust that our doctors are providing the care they think is best.

Even so, there are tests and procedures commonly provided when they don’t need to be. Here’s one example.

CT scans & MRIs for a headache

On occasion, people with headaches get so worried about what may be going on in their brains that they request a CT scan or MRI. Is it a headache or a brain tumor or an aneurysm? In a likelyhood, it’s just a headache. To determine if it’s more, the best course of action is a careful review of your medical history and a neurological exam. The CT or MRI is extra and rarely adds value to your care.

A CT or MRI costs hundreds of dollars. It seems a small price to pay for peace of mind, but you and your loved ones will pay more than money. Brain scans are highly detailed – they may catch a harmless twist in a blood vessel that resembles the dreaded aneurysm. A false find like this leads to more tests and costly consultations, not to mention the stress of your uncertainty. (Another factor to consider? A CT scan of the head can deliver a big dose of radiation, somewhere between the equivalent of 15 to 300 chest X-rays.)

Atul Gawande is the insighful author of Being Mortal, and is a surgeon and a professor at Harvard Medical School and the Harvard School of Public Health. He’s a staff writer at The New Yorker, where his latest piece, Overkill, was published. His long-form article inspired the article you’re reading right now. In his article, Gawande makes the case for cutting back on unnecessary care for two compelling reasons: care you don’t need isn’t a benign extra; it exacts a physical cost and a financial cost on the people who receive it.

Gawande provides examples of low or no-value care. One anecdote, about his mother, is an exercise in absurdity and a day wasted. (After fainting in a grocery store, Gawande’s mother is transported 80 miles to a hospital where she was provided care that was not evidence-based – before someone sat and spoke with her, clearing up the fainting episode as a simple lack of food or water.)

The story that follows is tragic. A friend of Gawande’s, Bruce, okayed surgery on his then 82-year old father to reduce the elderly chronic smoker’s risk of stroke. But the doctors failed to tell Bruce was that the “…carotid surgery in a patient like Bruce’s father reduces stroke risk by about one percentage point per year. Therefore, it would take fifteen years before the benefit of the operation would exceed the fifteen-per-cent risk of the operation. And he had a life expectancy far shorter than that—very likely just two or three years. The potential benefits of the procedures were dwarfed by their risks.” Bruce’s father had a stroke during the surgery and did not return to his old self mentally. He had to move into a nursing home, where he lived for nine more months and then died.

Next week, we’ll discuss solutions to the epidemic of unnecessary care. Where does the majority of responsibility for “overkill” fall? Are doctors beholden to patients to prescribe less? Or is it an issue of patient mentality and education? Or neither?

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What are some healthy prescriptions for chronic pain?

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

From a stubbed toe, a sprained knee, or back pain after overdoing it in the yard, many of us experience some kind of pain every day. Some pain, like a stubbed toe, is easily described (perhaps with a shouted four-letter word.) and generally goes away on its own. Acute pain usually has a physical cause, like injury, disease, or surgery, and is resolved once you’ve healed after treating the cause. Most of us keep over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen and Aleve, in our medicine cabinet to deal with everyday pain.

Chronic pain is persistent, continuing for at least three months. Some people live with it for years. An estimated 76 million people suffer from chronic pain in the United States.  Chronic pain may be the result of an initial injury, like a back sprain or a surgery, but there isn’t always a clear cause. Living with chronic pain is challenging, as the condition is often incurable. Management is possible and best accomplished by working in partnership with your physician.

One of the most common tools to treat pain is prescription painkillers. When used as recommended, prescription painkillers safely and effectively ease our hurts. In recent years, however, the dangers of prescription painkillers have become clear. In 2010, enough prescription painkillers were prescribed to medicate every American adult all day, every day, for an entire month. That same year, one in twelve people, beginning with 12-year-olds, used those same painkillers for non-medical use, many using the drugs recreationally.

The high produced by opioid painkillers like hydrocodone, methadone, oxycodone and oxymorphone is strikingly similar to the high produced by heroin. Unfortunately, the two drugs are also similarly addictive. Since 2008, around 15,000 people have died every year from painkiller overdoses.

Prescription painkillers are often an essential part of treating chronic pain. Although very few people who are prescribed opioids and use them as directed become addicted, anyone using opioids should be carefully monitored.  Long-term users may become physically dependent on the drugs (this is not the same as an addiction disorder.)

If you are prescribed opioid painkillers, keep them safely stored and make sure that you are the only person with access to them. You can learn more about storing opioids on the NIH website.

Alternatives to prescription drugs can be used to successfully manage chronic pain. For some of us, the idea that acupuncture or meditation can ease pain seems farfetched. But many non-drug interventions can and do work as pain relievers.

Acupuncture is sometimes represented in pop culture as a trendy treatment. The therapy that consists of pricking the skin with needles does work, though we’re still not sure why. It won’t work for every patient, but there are no side effects if it doesn’t.

Exercise is medicine. Though going out for a walk or a swim may seem impossible when you’re not feeling great, exercise may be just what you need. Physical activity improves mood and boosts energy. Health conditions may mean that you need to avoid certain types of exercise, so always check with your doctor before getting started.

Yoga, hypnosis, massage, and biofeedback can all help manage chronic pain. Each activity is useful for reducing stress. Pain is stressful, and living in a state of stress increases pain. Breaking out of the painful, stressful cycle is very helpful when working to manage chronic pain.

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What foods belong on the “no-no list?”

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Last week, Panera Bread announced a “no-no” list of 150 food additives the company will phase out by the end of 2016. The list includes ingredients with complex chemical names such as titanium dioxide and azodicarbonamide. The presence of these ingredients (and others with names similar names) is upsetting to a growing number of American consumers. Panera’s public relations firm touts their dedication to consumers and their health as the impetus for the no-no list. But before we continue, let’s settle on this: Panera and companies like it are making these choices primarily because of their concern for consumers’ wallets.

In North America, one-in-four people say they’re willing to pay more for foods that are “all natural” and devoid of artificial colors. Globally, 43 percent of people consider it to be “very important” to have foods containing all natural ingredients, without genetically modified organisms (GMOs). These statistics come from a January 2015 global survey conducted by Nielsen for their Global Health and Wellness Report.

Nielsen reported some encouraging news; healthy categories of food are growing faster than indulgent categories. Younger consumers may continue to drive this trend as they are the group most willing to pay higher prices for health attributes.

The demand for food that’s good for us is growing globally as well. World-wide, consumers want ingredients that help fight disease and promote good health. This is great news! Anyone who seeks out fruits and vegetables in lieu of foods in the “indulgent” category welcomes this shift.

What’s behind the concern about the “unnatural” in our food? There are a few possible reasons. First is fear: we don’t understand these ingredients. We have trouble pronouncing them and we’d never see these compounds sold alone on grocery store shelves. Second is trust: American faith in the FDA and “Big Food” is low. People wonder how to know if these organizations are being honest about safety.

Concern about food is understandable. We’ve learned that the standard consumables on grocery store shelves may be cheap and save time, but they’re not healthy. We’ve watched our nation struggle with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and myriad other diseases caused in part by poor diet.

So, back to Panera and the 150 no-nos you won’t see on their menu come 2017. Titanium dioxide is a naturally occurring oxide of titanium, used extensively as a white pigment. It’s what gives mozzarella the bright white appearance we’ve become accustomed to. Panera’s head chef, Dan Kish, realized it was solely cosmetic and decided he and Panera’s patrons were better off without it.

Azodicarbonamide you may have heard of already. It’s a dough conditioner, once used in Subway’s bread. Subway stopped using the chemical after The Food Babe, an influential blogger with a large following, launched a petition to have it removed. Azodicarbonamide is also used in yoga mats – this discovery was the stimulus for the Food Babe’s campaign. Subway was swayed and Panera has followed suit, but the compound is still used in almost 500 foods on the market today. But don’t panic just yet! Azodicarbonamide does not pose a risk to us in small amounts. And as the article I’ve linked to says, just because a compound is used in something that isn’t food doesn’t mean it’s bad. Calcium sulfate, used to make tofu, is also used to make drywall.

Consumer concern about food ingredients is high enough that companies including Chipotle, Kraft, Pepsi, Nestle, General Mills and McDonalds are making serious changes to their products. Pepsi ditched aspartame (a sweetener), Kraft and Nestle are forgoing artificial dyes, General Mills made Cheerios GMO-free while Chipotle has gotten rid of GMOs altogether. McDonald’s,  a company that’s been struggling, has said it will begin using chicken raised sans antibiotics.

Some of these changes should be loudly applauded. The use of antibiotics in meat animals is dangerous – the CDC gives a brief rundown of why in the infographic below. Scientists the world over have provided strong evidence that the use of antibiotics in food-producing animals can have a negative effect on public health.

The additives Panera put on their no-no list sound scary. It may be well that they’re gone if that means Panera replaces them with healthier alternatives. For you and your family, here’s a no-no list that’ll lead to better health.

A No-No List to Live By

  • • Say “No” to Eating Meat Every Day. You don’t need as much meat as you think you do. Americans are eating less meat than we have in the past, but we’re still eating far too much of it. Eat red meat only two to three times a week and keep the portions reasonable. (A deck of cards is a good size comparison.)
  • • Say No to Not Eating Your Vegetables. Fruits and vegetables are nutritional powerhouses and the more of them you eat, the better you’ll feel. It’s recommended that we consume 4½ cups of fruits and vegetables a day (2 cups of fruit and 2½ cups of veggies.) When is the last time you can remember doing that? If it isn’t yesterday, get to the grocery store and buy some produce. Try something new and get all the vegetables you need to be strong and healthy!
  • • Say No to Sugar. Most sugar, just most! I’ve written several articles about sugar and why you should kick the habit. Occasional treats are fine, but the typical consumption in America is not good for your health.
  • • Say No to Being Sedentary. Sitting is the new smoking – really. Get moving and get away from the television. Take walks, take breaks at work, join a team or a running group, just get your body moving!
  • • Say No to Eating Out So Often. The food in restaurants tastes so good. It’s why you’re there! Quick, convenient and with no dishes to do afterwards, restaurant food is appealing for many reasons. It’s better for your waist and your wallet though, to cook meals at home. When you do go out, try to get the healthier option (less meat, fewer breads/starches and more veggies; avoid fried offerings) and watch the portions.

Link to the infographic: http://www.cdc.gov/foodsafety/from-farm-to-table.html

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What are the easiest vegetables for beginning gardeners?

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Last week, I wrote about Victory Gardens. I wished they’d make a comeback in the States, since the health benefits of gardens go beyond the simple nutritional value of the produce grown in them. Gardens, or rather the act of gardening, can help lower blood pressure, prevent myopia in children, and help you lose weight.

This week, I’d like to focus on some of the most nutritious foods you can grow this summer in a Georgia garden. If you don’t have space for a traditional plot, don’t fret. There are creative ways to grow food, including window box gardens, indoor planting, and participating in a community garden. Some apartment gardeners even grow microgreens indoors in plastic containers.

I hope you’re inspired to plant a garden this summer. When your seed bears fruit, let us know! We want to share our reader’s personal victories in the garden on the VeinInnovations Facebook page. Produce Pride Photos could be anything good, green, leafy or heirloom, but above all else, we hope they’ll be tasty. Before you buy your seeds or young plants ready for transplant, here’s a guide to some of the best produce you can grow in Georgia.

Two Vegetables Suited to a Georgia Garden

 Pole Beans

 If your garden is just about ready for planting, make a quick trip to the store for seeds and pick up a variety of pole beans. The University of Georgia recommends Blue Lake, Dade, Kentucky Blue, and Mocassin varieties. The planting season for these beans lasts until May 10th.

Beans are known as a meat substitute because their calories are comparable to meat. Beans are more than a substitute for meat; nutritionally, they just might have meat beat. Beans are full of fiber and water, two ingredients that make you feel full, and do so quickly. Beans help you manage your calorie intake without feeling so hungry.

Most Americans struggle to get enough fiber in their diets. One cup of cooked beans contains 12 grams of fiber, or almost half the daily recommended amount. It’s no wonder then that dietary guidelines suggest we eat three cups of beans a week. (The newest guidelines may recommend cutting down on red meat intake – you can use your garden-raised pole beans as a healthy alternative!)

Tomatoes

Tomatoes are sure to delight fresh from the garden and still warm from the summer sun. As with pole beans, you’ll have to hurry to get yours in the dirt. The time is past for raising your plants from seedlings. Go to your local gardening store to buy young plants ready to transplant.

The University of Georgia recommends Early Girl, Big Boy, and Beefmaster (if you’re hoping for big tomatoes) and Jolly or Sweet Baby Girl if you’re interested in cherry tomatoes. It’s best to plant a mix of varieties. Enjoy a medley of tomatoes this summer in everything from salsa to salads. Plain slices with a dash of salt are a complement to any meal. Served with mozzarella, fresh basil, olive oil, and a little balsamic vinegar, they become a meal.

Tomatoes contain antioxidants (certain vitamins and minerals that protect your body from damage caused by harmful molecules known as free radicals.) Three great antioxidants, beta-carotene, vitamin C, and vitamin E are found in tomatoes. They are also rich in potassium and lycopene. Tomatoes are a great addition to your diet and the fresher they are, the better. They’re also quite simple to prepare: the best tasting tomato in hot weather can be served sliced or diced alone, or with a little onion and some avocado, or eaten handheld, straight from the garden with a dash of salt and pepper.

So get your garden growing, and send us your Produce Pride pictures when you do! We’d love to help you show off the fruits of your labors. Please send them to nclarke@veininnovations.com, and then watch our FaceBook page for your inspiring produce.

More resources to get you gardening

UGA Extension: Vegetable Gardening in Georgia

Vegetable Planting Chart for Georgia

Walter Reeves: The Georgia Gardener

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How many ways can gardening improve your health?

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

Google “nutritional benefits” and the first items that pop up are all veggies. Kale, mushrooms and beets all top the list. All those foods are good for you (save poisonous varieties of mushrooms!) but what’s missing from that list are the nutritional benefits of the place those foods come from: the garden.

Americans are no strangers to gardens, though it may feel that way now. During World War II, there were more than 20,000,000 “Victory Gardens” all over the United States. By 1944, Victory Gardens produced 40% of all produce in the US. These gardens weren’t solely in rural areas or suburbs; city dwellers grew food in window boxes or in rooftop gardens. School children tended gardens on their school grounds and used the produce in their lunches.

The war ended and the Victory Gardens soon became a thing of the past. If only we’d kept them. Who knows what better access to fresh food and a true understanding of where that food comes from would do for our nation today. The nutritional value of food coming from a garden is only part of what benefits us. So in honor of National Gardening Month, here are a few of the many benefits to gardening.

Five Ways A Garden Benefits Health

Gardening can lower your blood pressure.

Moderate physical activity and a diet high in fruits and vegetables are two of the most vital changes to make when trying to prevent or control high blood pressure. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute suggests engaging in 30 to 45 minutes of daily gardening in their guide to lowering blood pressure.

They also recommend four to five daily servings (each) of vegetables and fruits. The closer to the source, the more nutritious a food generally is, so when you eat from a garden you’re getting even more of what’s good for you. A few foods that are easy to grow for beginners are radishes, bok choy and strawberries. And all of them are good for lowering blood pressure!

Gardening can help your kid’s eyes develop and prevent myopia. Shortsightedness is endemic in parts of southeast Asia. In Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore, more than 80 percent of 20-year olds have myopia. The long-persistent myth is that spending too much time reading books or staring at computer screens causes myopia.

Now, researchers believe the culprit is too much time spent indoors. They’re still not sure what it is about being outside, specifically, that prevents myopia. Some researchers suspect the sunlight is stimulating the release of dopamine from the retina, which prevents elongation of the eyeball – which in turn causes myopia.

Time spent in the garden provides a needed break from devices, gets kids out of the house, and keeps their eyes sharp.

Gardening can help you lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.

It’s not a secret that Americans struggle with obesity. 69 percent of adults over the age of 20 are either overweight or obese. In Georgia, almost 17 percent of 10 to 17 year olds are obese. Our nation (and our state!) can do better than this.

Forget fad diets or crash programs for a moment. Simple, slow, and satisfying is the way to plan a diet and exercise plan for better health. Starting a garden, especially a community garden, can have a huge impact on health. Tending to your garden gets you outside and engaged in physical activity. The CDC says that even moderate physical exercise, if undertaken regularly, can decrease the risk of obesity and high blood pressure, reduces your risk of heart disease and some cancers… the list goes on. Exercise is the best kind of medicine.

In addition to the benefits of exercise, you’ve got access to fresh fruits and vegetables. If you have an abundance of something, you’ll enjoy sharing it with friends and neighbors. They’ll enjoy the gift and the nutritional benefits.

There are many more benefits to gardening and time spent outside. There are too many to list here. But it’s National Garden Month, so in the waning hours of April, take some time to read about them.

Michigan State University: What are the Physical and Mental Benefits of Gardening?

Multiple Benefits of Community Gardening

How Gardening is Helping People With Dementia

Grow Your Own (GYO): Gardening to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint

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What are some healthy prescriptions for chronic pain? 

By David Martin, President and CEO of VeinInnovations

From a stubbed toe, a sprained knee, or back pain after overdoing it in the yard, many of us experience some kind of pain every day. Some pain, like a stubbed toe, is easily described (perhaps with a shouted four-letter word.) and generally goes away on its own. Acute pain usually has a physical cause, like injury, disease, or surgery, and is resolved once you’ve healed after treating the cause. Most of us keep over-the-counter painkillers, such as ibuprofen and Aleve, in our medicine cabinet to deal with everyday pain.

Chronic pain is persistent, continuing for at least three months. Some people live with it for years. An estimated 76 million people suffer from chronic pain in the United States. Chronic pain may be the result of an initial injury, like a back sprain or a surgery, but there isn’t always a clear cause. Living with chronic pain is challenging, as the condition is often incurable. Management is possible and best accomplished by working in partnership with your physician.

One of the most common tools to treat pain is prescription painkillers. When used as recommended, prescription painkillers safely and effectively ease our hurts. In recent years, however, the dangers of prescription painkillers have become clear. In 2010, enough prescription painkillers were prescribed to medicate every American adult all day, every day, for an entire month. That same year, one in twelve people, beginning with 12-year-olds, used those same painkillers for non-medical use, many using the drugs recreationally.

The high produced by opioid painkillers like hydrocodone, methadone, oxycodone and oxymorphone is strikingly similar to the high produced by heroin. Unfortunately, the two drugs are also similarly addictive. Since 2008, around 15,000 people have died every year from painkiller overdoses.

Prescription painkillers are often an essential part of treating chronic pain. Although very few people who are prescribed opioids and use them as directed become addicted, anyone using opioids should be carefully monitored. Long-term users may become physically dependent on the drugs (this is not the same as an addiction disorder.)

If you are prescribed opioid painkillers, keep them safely stored and make sure that you are the only person with access to them. You can learn more about storing opioids on the NIH website.

Alternatives to prescription drugs can be used to successfully manage chronic pain. For some of us, the idea that acupuncture or meditation can ease pain seems farfetched. But many non-drug interventions can and do work as pain relievers.

Acupuncture is sometimes represented in pop culture as a trendy treatment. The therapy that consists of pricking the skin with needles does work, though we’re still not sure why. It won’t work for every patient, but there are no side effects if it doesn’t.

Exercise is medicine. Though going out for a walk or a swim may seem impossible when you’re not feeling great, exercise may be just what you need. Physical activity improves mood and boosts energy. Health conditions may mean that you need to avoid certain types of exercise, so always check with your doctor before getting started.

Yoga, hypnosis, massage, and biofeedback can all help manage chronic pain. Each activity is useful for reducing stress. Pain is stressful, and living in a state of stress increases pain. Breaking out of the painful, stressful cycle is very helpful when working to manage chronic pain.

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