Monday, November 30, 2015


A surprising list of things that benefit your health

We all know that exercise, a diet high in fruits and vegetables and annual physical exams are good for our health. But there are also a number of lesser known benefits to our health. Here are just a few.

• Yawning: You may picture yawning as an embarrassing outcome of sitting in monotonous meetings after only a few hours of sleep. However, studies in the International Journal of Applied and Basic Medical Research revealed that yawning could actually have important consequences for your brain.

First, yawning has been shown to increase alertness – like caffeine. In a study of 48 students, physiological measurements such as skin conductance and heart rate were measured at the peak of a yawn, and it was determined that there was an increase in these factors similar to caffeine.
In addition, yawning may be important in controlling brain temperature. Patients with medical conditions affecting the brain, such as epilepsy and stroke, have been shown to have an increase in yawning that was followed by a period of relief from their symptoms. Scientists hypothesize that these medical conditions can raise the body temperature, and through yawning an increase of blood flow reaches the face and brain, helping to regulate brain temperature.

So while it is still polite to cover that yawn in a meeting, lose the embarrassment. Your body is only trying to help!

Household chores: Apart from the peace of mind that can come from clean house, performing chores can have a positive impact on maintaining a healthy weight.

A study comparing lifestyle activity and exercise in obese women published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that active chores such as yard work and vacuuming, along with a healthy diet, have benefits similar to an aerobic exercise program and healthy diet on a woman’s weight.

This doesn’t mean you should ditch your running shoes for a pair of gardening gloves, but instead of spending money on the robotic vacuums that clean the floor for you, grab a broom and get to work! Your house — and body — will thank you.

Honey: Honey is not just a favorite sweetener for foods and drinks. Scientists now believe that honey can be used for burns and cuts. It is suggested that honey can reduce inflammation and infection due to its antibacterial properties. In addition, it promotes wound healing and could help that cut or burn heal faster. Don’t stop putting it in your tea, as honey has been shown to soothe your throat and relieve cough, but consider reaching for honey next time you touch the stove or cut your finger.

Crying: Crying gets a lot of negative attention. We throw around phrases like “cry baby” or “waterworks” when a friend lets a few tears slip during a movie or becomes emotional during a fight.

But we may want to reconsider our view on crying. In his well known research, Dr. William Frey measured levels of chemicals known to be related to stress such as adrenocortical releasing hormone (ACTH) in emotional tears and tears related to other non-emotional activities such as chopping an onion. He found that emotional tears contain greater levels of stress hormones and other toxins that can be removed from the body through crying.

In addition, author Chip Walter suggests in his article for Scientific American Mind that crying can actually be a self-soothing behavior used to help us calm down.

Dogs and cats: We love our furry friends but apart from the unconditional love they show us, our pets could be decreasing our frequency of illness.

In a study following 397 children in Finland from pregnancy onwards, those exposed to dogs following birth had less respiratory tract infections during the first year of life.

It has also been suggested that exposure to dogs can decrease the frequency of ear infections and antibiotic use.

In addition, that calming feeling we get when we are snuggling with our dog or cat leads to a decrease in cortisol levels, a hormone in the body associated with stress.

So give Fido an extra bone tonight. He’s helping your body and your mind.

Katelyn Cusmano is a Backus Hospital Volunteer and a UConn Medical School MD Candidate for the class of 2018. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Cusmano or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, November 23, 2015


Tapping into the food-gratitude connection this time of year

Thanksgiving is my absolute favorite holiday. Not just because I love food — and believe me, I do — but because it’s the one day of the year that reminds us of the connection between food and gratitude.

Anyone who has ever suffered from hunger or food insecurity can understand what a blessing it is to have food in your belly. And even if you have never had that experience, I hope you can appreciate how fortunate you have been to always have plenty to eat. However, you may not realize that food and gratitude are connected on a much deeper level.

I think most of us can recall a time when we were particularly tense and as a result, we suffered gastrointestinal symptoms from heartburn to bloating or even worse. It’s no coincidence that the people who report the highest levels of chronic stress are at the greatest risk for reflux disease and ulcers.

When we take a moment to really be thankful for our food, we transform our brain from a stress-riddled, mile-a-minute worry machine into a calm and peaceful mind — one that’s ready to savor and process a meal. And this is an important shift. Gratitude facilitates a serene state of mind that relaxes the body and allows it to produce the enzymes and hormones necessary to properly assimilate food.

Many of us may say grace before meals, but how often do we really think about the words we say and the food on our table before we eat it? How often do we think about where our food came from and the hard-working hands that brought it to us? Furthermore, how many of us truly understand how essential gratitude is to our health and well-being?

This Thanksgiving, I hope you will take the spirit of the holiday to heart both by eating scrumptiously soul-soothing foods among loving family and friends, and by taking the time to truly appreciate those foods along with all the other little miracles in your life.

And if life seems out of control lately and you’re not sure how to achieve the necessary attitude of gratitude, perhaps my favorite blessing will help you: “We give thanks for the food before us, for the friends beside us and for the love between us.”

Jennifer Fetterley is a registered dietitian for the Backus Health System and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Fetterley or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, November 16, 2015


Join the Great American Smokeout where it's OK to be a quitter

Nobody wants to be thought of as a quitter, except in the case of smoking cigarettes. Tobacco use remains the largest preventable cause of disease and premature death in the US. This is not news. If everyone knows that smoking causes health problems, why do 42 million Americans still smoke cigarettes?

Maybe it will help to think about how it affects our wallets? In 2009, the federal tobacco tax increase added 62 cents to the price of each pack of cigarettes — bringing the total tax to $1.01 per pack. If one pack of cigarettes cost $8.25, then a one-pack-per-day smoker would spend $57.75 in just one week. These costs and the current economy might be just the motivation you need to join the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout Thursday, Nov. 19, and finally quit for good.

Besides saving on cigarettes, quitting smoking could also save you the cost of breath mints, cough drops, and cleaning expenses for your clothes, home, and car. And perhaps more important, you can avoid many costs from doctor visits and medicines for the diseases and other health issues caused by smoking or by exposure to secondhand smoke.

For the best chance at success, your plan should include one or more of these options. On your quit day, follow these suggestions, offered by the American Cancer Society.

• Do not use tobacco — not even one puff or chew!
• Stay active — try walking, exercising, or doing other activities or hobbies.
• Drink lots of water and 100% juices.
• Start using nicotine replacement if that’s your plan.
• Avoid situations where the urge to smoke or use tobacco is strong.
• Limit or avoid alcohol.
• Think about changing your routine: Use a different route to get to work. Drink tea instead of coffee. Eat breakfast in a different place or eat different foods.

To get help quitting, visit or call the American Cancer Society, anytime day or night, at 1-800-227-2345.

So on Thursday, Nov. 19, during the Great American Smokeout event, inspire the smokers in your life to use this day to go the distance, and to quit. This is the day quitting smoking becomes a team sport. Along with the American Cancer Society, we encourage everyone to get ready to quit like champions.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, November 09, 2015


Keeping the family safe from carbon monoxide poisoning

Silent but deadly. No, this is not the latest Gone Girl-like thriller but a major health risk to you and your family. Carbon monoxide (CO) poisoning kills approximately 170 people in the United States each year (not including those from fire and automobile related CO poisoning), according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Due to its nature, these deaths are typically unexpected and sudden. Luckily, with just a few simple steps you can keep your family safe.

What is carbon monoxide? Carbon monoxide is a clear, odorless gas that cannot be detected by human sight or sense of smell, which is what can make it so dangerous. It can come from a variety of common household sources including many fuel burning appliances like gas stoves, charcoal and gas grills, generators, unvented gas fireplaces, and water heaters. Symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning are similar to those of the flu and can include fatigue, headache, dizziness, and nausea. Ultimately, carbon monoxide poisoning can lead to a loss of consciousness, significant brain damage, and in the end death.

How to stay safe. There are easy ways to protect your family against carbon monoxide poisoning. First, if your family does not have a carbon monoxide detector, stop what you are doing and go get one. It can easily be purchased and is relatively inexpensive. Many retail stores like Target, Wal-Mart, and Home Depot carry CO detectors that can be plugged right into an outlet at home and cost around $25 a piece. The Connecticut Department of Public Health recommends getting carbon monoxide detectors with a backup battery and testing them every year to make sure they are functioning properly. There should be a detector near each bedroom area in your house in order to make sure everyone is safe.

In addition, don’t run gas powered appliances or tools in small enclosed spaces like a garage or basement. This is especially important as winter looms -- people have died from carbon monoxide poisoning because they run generators or snow blowers within their garage. If the power goes out, do not run your car in your garage to stay warm, or use the stove or oven to heat your house. Have your appliances and heating system checked and cleaned every year and replace any faulty car exhaust.

It is also important to be aware of signs of carbon monoxide poisoning should a problem occur. If you experience flu-like symptoms that go away when you leave the house and reoccur when you return home, and if everyone in the household experiences the same symptoms at the same time, that could indicate carbon monoxide poisoning.

Importantly, CO poisoning can be reversed if caught in time. If you suspect carbon monoxide poisoning, leave your home immediately. Once you have left your house, call either 911 or the Connecticut poison control center (800-222-1222) to test the carbon monoxide levels within your house, and do not return until you have been told it is safe to do so.

It is surprising how many patients report on office visits that they have no CO detectors and are unaware of the severe consequences of carbon monoxide poisoning.

We often carry a “that could never happen to me” mentality, but I recently had a patient come into the office discuss how a high CO reading at her house had terrified her. While the reading was immediately redone and turned out to be an error in the reading device, the fear this mother had for her and her children remains.

With just a few easy solutions you can prevent this concern and protect your family. Let’s vow to reserve the term “silent but deadly” for the next great American psychological thriller and leave CO poisoning as a thing of the past. Now that my CO detector is in place, I think I’ll get to work on that novel.

Katelyn Cusmano is a Backus Hospital Volunteer and a UConn Medical School MD Candidate for the class of 2018. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Cusmano or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, November 02, 2015


Fun facts about the human body

My last few health columns have been about very serious topics: domestic violence, prostate cancer, breast cancer, and suicide prevention. These are all important but intense topics, so for a lighthearted change I thought it would be enjoyable to compile a list of fun facts about our bodies. Some are surprising, some fascinating and some just plain odd.

• Everyone has a unique smell, except for identical twins, who smell the same.

• A human fetus acquires fingerprints at the age of three months.

• Like fingerprints, every individual has a unique tongue print that can be used for identification. I guess that means you shouldn’t stick your tongue out at someone if you want to hide your identify.

• The fastest growing nail is on the middle finger.

• It is a fact that people who dream more often and more vividly, on an average have a higher Intelligence Quotient.

• Sneezes regularly exceed 100 mph, while coughs clock in at about 60 mph.

• It is not possible to tickle yourself. This is because when you attempt to tickle yourself you are totally aware of the exact time and manner in which the tickling will occur, unlike when someone else tickles you. (source:

• Your nose is not as sensitive as a dog's, but it can remember 50,000 different scents.

• Your pet isn't the only one in the house with a shedding problem. Humans shed about 600,000 particles of skin every hour. That works out to about 1.5 pounds each year, so the average person will lose around 105 pounds of skin by age 70. (source:

• Around half of all teen-agers are sleep-deprived. (source:

• We spend about 10% of our waking hours with our eyes closed, blinking.

• Your heartbeat changes and mimics the music you listen to. (Source:

• Athazagoraphobia is the fear of being ignored or forgotten.

• Beards are the fastest growing hairs on the human body. If the average man never trimmed his beard, it would grow to nearly 30 feet long in his lifetime.

Now that is some useless but fascinating information for us all to ponder.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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