Friday, April 25, 2008


Caffeine, caffeine, everywhere

Caffeine seems to be in everything these days, not just the usual sodas and coffee, but sneaking into candy bars, jelly beans and gum.

Energy drinks advertised as containing vitamins and herbs are mostly packing a wallop of caffeine and sugar. Labels unfortunately do not reveal caffeine contents and often give no clue that caffeine is an ingredient, except for on the ingredient list in very small print.

Caffeine acts by displacing a brain chemical called adenosine that helps prepare the body for sleep. This makes the brain more alert. Blood vessels constrict providing relief from headache and mild pain. This is why caffeine is added to some pain relievers.

One 8 ounce cup of coffee contains between 50 and 56 mg of caffeine. A cup of tea will supply 40-50 milligrams. Energy drinks contain between 80 and 240 mg in 16 ounces; soft drinks such as Coke, Pepsi, or Dr. Pepper contain 35-55 mg per 12 ounce serving. Check soft drink labels for caffeine as it can be found in drinks that might not be expected, such as Mountain Dew and Sunkist.

Coffee brands served by national chains often contain more caffeine than coffee brewed at home. A 16 ounce Starbucks coffee contains 330 mg of caffeine.

Caffeine is also showing up in foods. Ice creams containing coffee can supply up to 45 mg per ½ cup serving. A Snickers Charged Bar will contain 60 mg of caffeine.

Caffeine will give some people increased mental or physical performance or an improved mood, however there are some negative effects of consuming more than 200 mg of caffeine such as insomnia, jitters and irritability.

We all know that caffeine can affect sleep, keeping us up at night or waking early. We wake up tired, drink a caffeine laced beverage and start the cycle over again.

Caffeine has been shown to affect fertility, increase risk of miscarriage and increase risk of birth defects. Health professionals recommend that women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant avoid caffeine containing foods.

Contrary to popular belief, caffeine does not stunt growth and caffeine does not help counteract the effects of alcohol. People who drink caffeinated beverages after drinking may think that they are all right, but judgment is still impaired making them more prone to having accidents.

Another belief is that caffeine acts as a diuretic and that caffeinated beverages do not count toward fluid intake. There is no evidence that caffeine in moderate amounts will cause heart problems or cancer. Studies have been done recently that show that caffeine only acts as a diuretic only for new caffeine users or if taken in excess.

Caffeine in moderation and consumed early in the day, does not seem to pose any health problems. Over consumption of caffeine, more that 300 mg per day, does appear to be a concern, especially for women who have or are trying to conceive.

Parents need to be aware of foods and drinks containing caffeine consumed by their children.

Mary Beth Dahlstrom Green is a dietitian at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. If you would like to comment on this column or others, go to the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Green and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

Friday, April 11, 2008


Simple steps to live a happier life

Sometimes it seems like we are all searching for the proverbial “pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow.

Happiness is put on hold, forever waiting for the better job, bigger house, or shinier car. Why is it so hard to permit a little celebration for the accomplishments thus far instead of instantly reaching for the next goal? How can we lead a happier life right now, and simply enjoy the rainbow for what it is?

The first step to finding inner peace and leading a fulfilling life is practicing living in the present. Living mindfully helps to acknowledge the delight in everyday experiences and encourages a life of tremendous joy. Recognize that this very moment is a gift.

My daughter’s wedding was an event I wanted to enjoy to the fullest. I remembered my own mother warning me not to “wish my life away,” and at the reception, I invited everyone to share in our joy by savoring every moment of the day.

I asked my daughter’s guests to enjoy the aroma, texture, and taste of the wonderful feast that was offered to them. I invited them to soak in the beauty of the venue and to take the time to speak with someone they did not know. By treasuring the details of a day, happiness is extended beyond the moment. We all have so much to be grateful for; by simply focusing on the positive, we can significantly improve our lives.

One way to center on the positive is to think grateful thoughts. Initially, it might be difficult to change the pattern of negative thinking, but with practice it will become a natural habit. Pick one small thing and focus on it every day. It might be as simple as being grateful for a good cup of coffee in the morning. It’s easy to be grateful for the big things, like a wedding celebration; remember to be grateful for the smaller things as well, such as the smell of a good meal.

Feeling grateful for the many little things that are a part of everyday life is an empowering practice. Remember too, that we all make mistakes. If you find yourself thinking negatively, forgive yourself and move on.

Achieving inner peace is an ongoing experience that takes practice, resilience and forgiveness. By focusing on the positive and making inner peace your first priority, you may find the effects of stress lessened. As you are able to build your feelings of everyday contentment, you will experience an open heart, and your best self. And that rainbow will be even more beautiful than before.

Paula Novak, a registered nurse and certified Healing Touch practitioner, is the Clinical Coordinator for Healing Touch and Integrative Care at William. W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Ms. Novak and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

Friday, April 04, 2008


Blood clots can be silent killers

March was Deep Vein Thrombosis Awareness Month, and many are not aware of how prevalent this condition is.

Nearly 300,000 people in the United States die each year from blood clots –more then automobile accidents, breast cancer, and AIDS combined. Yet a national survey indicates that 60% of Americans have little or no awareness of Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and the potentially fatal complication, Pulmonary Embolism (PE).

DVT occurs when a blood clot forms in one of the deep veins of the body, most often in the legs. The typical symptoms include pain, redness, and swelling of the lower leg.

Occasionally a piece of the clot will break off and travel through the blood stream and cause a blockage in the smaller vessels of the lungs. When this occurs it is termed a PE. A PE can cause shortness of breath and a sharp pain when breathing deeply and may lead to death.

When diagnosed early, DVT/PE is often easy to treat. But not everyone who develops a DVT or PE will experience those symptoms, making it hard to diagnose, which is why PE is often referred to as a “silent killer” and is the number one cause of death in hospitalized patients.

Even when treated successfully, patients may develop a long–term and often painful condition known as Postphlebitic Syndrome (PTS) and are at a greater risk for having a DVT again.

Prevention is the key.

The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) has ranked DVT prevention as the number one patient safety initiative American hospitals can undertake.

The William W. Backus Hospital has responded by marking Deep Vein Thrombosis Awareness Month with a number of programs aimed at educating patients, staff, and physicians.

Prevention of DVT and PE in hospitalized patients begins with a comprehensive assessment of a patient’s risk for developing a clot. Backus’ physicians now have a new risk assessment tool that aids in identifying those patients at risk for a clot.

Once identified, patients can be protected with injectable medications or special stockings depending on other conditions they may have.

But everyone should be aware of their own risk for a blood clot. Whether you are in the hospital or at home, you can be proactive to determine your own risk for developing blood clots, and then speak to your healthcare providers about your concerns.

Risks include certain medical and surgical conditions as well as family history and lifestyle. Major risks include heart failure, cancer, lung disease, recent surgery, and severe infections. Prior history of a DVT, smoking, birth control pills, and obesity all increase your risk as well.

These risks can even be higher if you are off your feet for extended periods of time due to illness or injury. You can protect yourself by discussing these issues with your doctors and keeping yourself informed. Do not hesitate to speak up if you feel you are at risk or are experiencing any signs and symptoms that concern you.

Internet sources such as and are filled with information that will keep you updated about this preventable, yet too often occurring disease.

Michael Smith is a pharmacist and Clinical Coordinator in the Department of Pharmacy Services at The William W. Backus Hospital. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Smith and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

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