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August 31, 2009

Stress and depression

Posted: 04:22 PM ET

Did you know that feeling overwhelmed by the stressors and pressures of modern life can lead to depression? Put simply, one stressful event after another - losing your job, worrying about a sick loved one, moving and leaving behind a strong social network - can accumulate and trigger depression. In fact, depression is one of the most common responses to adversity. I sat down with psychiatrist Dr. Charles Raison, from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, to get more information about the stress-depression connection and to find out what we can do about it.

Stress & Depression

1) Warning signs. Often, the first signs of depression brought on by a stressful lifestyle manifest themselves physically. Here is a list of warning signs that might surprise you: sleep issues (either trouble sleeping or sleeping too much), experiencing aches and pains, getting sick often, loss of appetite and problems going to the bathroom. Some people say they feel worried all of the time or are constantly exhausted.

2) Don't hesitate. Raison strongly recommends that people seek treatment right away because – generally speaking - the sooner the treatment, the better the outcome. In essence, depression is a disorder in which there is too much activity in brain and body pathways that release a lot of "hot" chemicals - chemicals that are very good for helping us survive a stressful situation, but damage our bodies and minds if we are constantly exposed to them because of continued stress.

3) What's best for you? Traditional treatment generally falls into two categories: medication, such as anti-depressants, and talk therapy. Some patients take anti-depressants only, some take these medicines in conjunction with talk therapy and some undergo talk therapy without drugs.

4) Get healthy. Making healthy lifestyle choices has also been shown to provide relief for depression and is often used in addition to the traditional therapies. In fact getting healthy is one of the best ways to prevent depression as well. Raison advises his patients to: get regular exercise, follow a healthy diet, not smoke, drink alcohol in moderation (if you do drink) and, most importantly, keep stress to a minimum. The benefits of exercise have shown promise in recent studies, as has daily meditation.

And finally, Dr. Raison encourages people to stay socially connected. Spending time with friends and loved ones can help cushion the effects of stress and play a role in keeping us on track so that modern day stressors don’t trigger depression.

Health Minute airs daily on HLN from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET weekdays.

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August 17, 2009

Bullying

Posted: 05:06 PM ET

As kids head back to school they're faced with the challenges of new classes, new teachers and old and new classmates. To help your child enjoy a good year, keep in touch with him about the behavior of his schoolmates to ensure that bullying is not part of the new school year. Bullying can be as harsh as punching and shoving or as hurtful as isolating someone from the "group." Bullying can also happen online and is referred to as cyberbullying. A government Web site called Stop Bullying Now offers tips for parents who suspect their child is being bullied.

Bullying

1) What to look for. Children don't always tell their parents about being bullied so changes in behavior may, at first, be your only clue. Symptoms can include unexplained anxiety, being withdrawn, or acting sad. When you notice that your outgoing child is suddenly sullen you may have a problem. Often students show signs of bullying with physical symptoms such as stomach aches or other complaints. Some children try to find ways to miss school and start slipping academically. Try to keep an open dialogue with you children so that you can stop the bullying before it escalates.

2) Good strategies. It's important to let students know that telling an adult is imperative when it comes to bullying. It could be a parent, teacher, coach or neighbor. Bullies often pick on loners, so spending time with other kids can help keep children from becoming a easy "target." And if the bullying happens online, advise your child to control the urge to strike back and simply not reply to the insult.

3) No fist fights. Physically fighting back, though perhaps tempting, rarely brings the results you want. A stern statement that you don't like the bully's behavior sometime works, but fist fights are not the answer.

If your child is the victim of school bullying, it's natural to want to call the parent of the bully, but experts say this may not be the best move. The first step is to discuss it with a school administrator, who should then contact the parents for a conference. Follow up with the school until the issue is resolved.

Health Minute airs daily on HLN from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET weekdays

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August 10, 2009

Sleepy school children

Posted: 01:50 PM ET

My teenage sons are in for a rude awakening on the first day of school: they are definitely going to be sleep deprived. When they were younger – and those days are long gone - I was able to get them into a back-to-school bedtime routine about a week before classes began. With a little preparation, you may be able to do the same thing with your children. We spoke with sleep specialist Dr. David Schulman of the Emory School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, about the best ways to get children ready to meet new teachers and see old classmates with a spring in their step - not sleep in their eyes.

sleepy school kids

1) Night, Night. School-age children need different amounts of sleep depending on age. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, kids from kindergarten to about the 7th grade need from nine to 11 hours of sleep; most adolescents can get by on 8.5 to 9.5 hours per night.

2) Early lights out.  Schulman suggests getting your children back into their regular bedtime routine no later than one week before school. He says to allow no fewer than two to three days for each hour you're going to shift the schedule. If your 8-year-old’s bedtime has somehow climbed to 10 p.m. and you know 8 p.m. is the ideal time for him, get him settled in at 9 p.m. and then, a few days later, shift it to 8 p.m. There may be lots of grumbling, especially if he has older siblings, but the results will be worth the effort in the long run.

3) Low tech bedroom.  Winding down before bedtime can often help kids get ready for sleep. This means keeping distractions to a minimum. Keep the radio, TV and video games out of the bedroom, or at least turned off long before it's time to turn in.

And a bit of advice for first-time parents: If you have a little one just beginning kindergarten, remember that she is going to be extra tired those first few weeks of school. And for the parents of older teens, try to resist the urge to say ‘I told you so’ as your kids stumble, sleepy eyed, to the breakfast table on their first day of school.

Health Minute airs daily on HLN from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET weekdays.

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July 13, 2009

Biking to work

Posted: 04:15 PM ET

If you live close to work, biking to the office may be a great way to incorporate exercise into your day. I know a former self-professed couch potato who now rides 20 miles round trip to work. He walks into the office full of energy and ready to go. And, he's lost 30 lbs. But biking poses safety challenges for beginners, as well as more experienced riders. We spoke to Dr. Ian Greenwald, an emergency room physician at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia, about the benefits of biking, and the best ways to ensure you have a safe commute.

biking to work

1) Seeing is believing. According to Dr. Greenwald, one of the biggest problems for bikers is – no surprise - drivers. To put it simply, drivers often don't see people on bicycles. Cyclists don't register. So what can you do about it? Make yourself as visible as possible: Get a light for your bike, another for your helmet and wear a reflective vest. I've even seen a guy with what looks like a small kite trailing behind him as he cycles. The key is to jar drivers into comprehending that they are sharing the road with more than just motorized vehicles.

2) Don't be a speed demon. It may be fun to go fast on a bike, but speed is not your friend when riding through traffic. It fact, it can be downright dangerous, especially when going through an intersection. Stopping at a moment's notice can mean the difference between staying on your bike or landing on pavement. Going slowly also enables you to make eye contact with drivers as you approach and then enter an intersection. The smartest way to bike is to always be on the defensive.

3) Planning is everything. It may take you a little longer to get to work, but traveling on the least congested roads is the best way to get to the office safely. This may mean cutting through neighborhoods and perhaps climbing a few more hills, but it's worth it in the end.

Biking offers tremendous health benefits to those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to get out and ride. It's good for the heart and easy on the joints. The aerobic workout helps us feel refreshed and ready to focus on the problems at hand, and makes sleeping easier when we call it a day.

Health Minute airs daily on HLN from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET weekdays

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July 6, 2009

Little chefs

Posted: 08:00 PM ET

A 3-year-old with a kitchen knife may seem like a nightmare scenario, but the other morning I had the pleasure of watching a group of 3- to 5-year-olds as they measured, carved and giggled their way through their first cooking lesson. Why teach little children to cook? We asked this of personal chef Carlin Breinig. She's found that children who help out in the kitchen appear to grow up to be healthier eaters. She offers parents tips on how to make kitchen time with your little chef safe as well as fun.

Kids learn to cook

1) Keep it simple. Chef Breinig suggests making meals that are somewhat familiar to your child. If your preschooler likes chicken fingers, for instance, make your own, but bake them instead of frying them.

2) Reading, writing and 'rithmatic. Even though preschools generally can't read, this doesn't mean they can't follow verbal directions from the recipe. You can introduce them to different measuring devices - like measuring spoons and cups - and slip in a mini math lesson.

3) Don't be a cut up. It's tricky, but you can teach a child how to safely wield a knife. For example: if you have boneless chicken breasts to cut, have a right-handed child curl up her left hand almost like a claw (so that the fingers and thumb are tucked away) then place this hand on the chicken. Next have her take the knife handle in her right hand and with her hand under yours, guide the knife to cut the chicken. Never leave a child with a knife unattended.

4) Hand washing. This is a great opportunity to talk to a child about hand washing and cross contamination of cooking surfaces and utensils. If you're preparing meat and vegetables, you can explain the importance of keeping the raw meat away from the veggies, and that hands, knives and cutting surfaces must be washed after touching meat.

And as an added bonus, Chef Breinig has found that kids who learn to cook are less likely to be picky eaters. Their exposure to a variety of foods, spices and ingredients not only gives them more knowledge about food, but helps them develop a sense of mastery and pride as they create their meals. They might not like everything, but they seem to be more willing to try dishes if they’ve had a hand in creating them. Lots of praise by their adult cooking partner is also a key ingredient.

Health Minute airs daily on HLN from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET weekdays

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June 22, 2009

Bursitis pain

Posted: 04:52 PM ET

I woke up the other night with a burning pain in my hip. I didn't think too much about it but when the pain continued to wake me up each night for a week, I decided it was time to see my doctor. One of the things she wanted to check out was bursitis, an inflammation of the bursa. A bursa is a little fluid-filled sac around pressure points (like joints) that secrete a lubricant so that joints move properly. In other words, because of the bursa we get less friction or rubbing between a bone and other moving body parts such as muscles, tendons and even skin. We have about 160 throughout our body. When we overdo it with exercise or accidentally bang an elbow or knee we can develop bursitis. The Mayo Clinic offers some tips to help you deal with this condition should it ever happen to you.

Bursitis

1) Everything in moderation. Whether playing a sport or on the job, if you overuse a joint through repetitive movements you can develop bursitis. Doctors often see patients who have played too much tennis or pitched too many innings of baseball. But workers often complain of pain as well. People who lay carpet all day or kneel for long periods of time in the garden can cause trauma to the joints and end up with bursitis. What can you do? If excessive exercise is the culprit, stop the type of workout that causes you discomfort or try a different sport. If you have to continue your work activity such as kneeling to install carpet or tile, then modify your task by using knee pads or a cushion.

2) What does the doctor say? Your physician or health care provider may recommend basic home remedies as the first line of defense against bursitis. This involves icing the area at least twice a day, elevating the joint if possible and taking anti-inflammatory medicines to reduce the swelling. If you are still in pain after a week or two, it may be time for additional treatment such as a steroid injection.

3) Don't be a weakling. Your doctor may also recommend stretching and strengthening exercises to keep your bursitis from recurring. Strong muscles help protect your joints, but wait until your bursitis pain has subsided before getting started.

Health Minute airs daily on HLN from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET weekdays

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June 15, 2009

Online cancer support

Posted: 04:38 PM ET

When you enter the world of cancer, it can be isolating and utterly exhausting. Rounds of chemotherapy or radiation can leave people with little energy to get out of bed, not to mention out of the house. A growing number of opportunities now exist for cancer patients to get support on the internet, without having to leave their living rooms. I’m not just talking about medical information, but also social support through chat rooms, blogs and/or social networks. As a cancer patient told me recently, his online support system helped him make it through his darkest days. Here’s a look at some of what we know about this type of support, and where to go to find it.

online cancer support

1) Will we live longer? I asked Dr. Charles Raison with Psychiatric Oncology Services at Emory University whether social support helps people with cancer survive longer than those who got little or no support. He said he knew of no studies to date that strictly dealt with internet support, but social support in general has been studied for years and the results are mixed. Early studies seemed to indicate that people might live a little longer with the benefit of social support, while later research did not always come up with this finding. Though the jury may still be out on the issue of survival, going it alone is not the answer.

2) Will we live better? Even though cancer patients who get social support won't necessarily live longer, they do seem to live better. Numerous studies have found that people felt more positive, more empowered, and less likely to surrender to hopelessness, when they have the support of a social network or group. For some, being connected with others motivates them in a way that they can't muster on their own.

3) Where do we go from here? An internet search on cancer support groups will bring up dozens and dozens of sites. Here are several we've found to be helpful: CaringBridge is a social network that allows families to send out information on a loved one, as well as receive messages of support from people who have been invited to use the site. The Cancer Survivors Network which is part of the American Cancer Society is another place to look for support. Planet Cancer is a site for young adults with cancer and the Group Loop is a great resource for teens. And finally a website called the Association of Cancer Online Resources has a little bit of everything.

If you come across a site and are wondering about the source and the quality of their advice, you can always call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 for guidance.

Health Minute airs daily on HLN from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET weekdays.

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June 8, 2009

Benefits of tea

Posted: 04:10 PM ET

It's been said to do everything from cure cancer to prevent strokes - but don't believe all you read. No, it's not a new drug or a miracle cure, just good old fashioned tea. It comes in a host of flavors, loose or bagged, from far-away countries or locally grown. The National Institutes of Health and the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine take a look at some of the health benefits of tea and help us separate fact from fiction.

benefits of tea

1) Bottoms Up. Tea, like grapes, berries and red wine, contains antioxidants. How do these help us stay healthy? One theory is that antioxidants scavenge for free radicals - the bad guys that can damage DNA and contribute to cancer, plaque build-up in blood vessels, and blood clots. But much of the research on tea has been done in the laboratory and has not yet been proven in people. The results of many human studies are mixed. Some show promise for cancer patients and those with heart disease. But the health benefits found in other studies may have been influenced by other dietary factors, such as high consumption of soy products and fish. The bottom line is that more research needs to be done before we have all of the answers. In the mean time, many doctors we consulted, and sites we explored, found little harm in enjoying tea, and some experts recommend it.

2) Which brew is best? Tea comes in a many varieties, each delivering its own punch of antioxidants. White tea has the highest amount followed by green, oolong and black teas. You might come across oolong tea in Chinese restaurants and black tea is what most of us grew up drinking and what is served in iced tea. The jury is still out on how many cups we'd need to drink to reap the benefits, but some studies recommend 3 to 4 cups a day.

3) What's the buzz? Tea is a stimulant like coffee, but generally has less caffeine and is often less jarring. Even so, if you find that the recommended 3 or 4 cups contain more caffeine than your body can handle, you can make your own decaf without losing the antioxidants. Simply pour boiling water over the tea, let it sit for about 45 seconds, pour the water off and then brew the tea as you normally would. About 90 percent of the caffeine gets removed, yet the antioxidants remain. Some commercial brands of decaf tea have lower levels of antioxidants, so making your own may be an advantage.

4) Some like it hot. Some research on iced tea suggests that a portion of the beneficial compounds stick to the ice cubes, never making it into your body. But don't let this stop you from drinking a cool glass of iced tea as summer approaches – just know that hot tea may deliver more benefit.

Health Minute airs daily on HLN from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET weekdays

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May 25, 2009

Be safe by the water

Posted: 03:00 PM ET

With warm weather right around the corner, it's just a matter of time before families head to the water - be that a beach, lake or pool. If you have little ones, keeping them safe by the water is a top concern. I remember battling with by first son about eating the sand at the beach, but that concern would be supplanted when he'd jump up and run toward the waves – invariably doing a head plant into the surf. Kids are often fearless, and knowing how to protect them by the water is a full time job. According to the CDC, drowning is the leading cause of death from injury in children ages 1 to 4. The Mayo Clinic offers some drowning prevention tips to help keep your family safe this summer.

swimming lesson

1) Little swimmers. Parents often wonder about the best age to enroll their children in swimming lessons. Unfortunately there is conflicting research on this. As of now, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) doesn't recommend formal lessons before age 4, but the AAP is in the process of updating their policy on drowning prevention. The new guidelines should be released next year. Some swimming organizations offer water survival lessons to children as young as 6 months old. Babies and young children are taught skills to help them roll over and float if they ever find themselves face down in the water. A word of caution: some experts voice concern that early lessons may give parents a false sense of security about their child's swimming ability, leading to less supervision by and in the water. Check with your pediatrician to find out when your child is ready for lessons.

2) Fence it in. Swimming lessons are not enough to prevent accidental drownings. If you have a pool providing protection from the water may be a matter of life and death. Surrounding your pool with a fence is imperative, and make sure your gate has a high latch or an alarm. There are also underwater pool alarms that sound when something hits the water. According to the CDC, most pool drowning in young children occur when the child has been out of a parent’s or caregiver’s sight for less than 5 minutes.

3) On guard. Never leave your child unattended by the pool. If the phone rings, the dryer buzzes or the delivery man arrives, take your child out of the pool and keep him with you until you are ready to focus on him again. And don't leave pool toys in the water between swims: your child may fall in reaching for a toy. Unfortunately more than 85 percent of drownings among children ages 1 to 4 are pool-related.

And finally when your kids get a little older and can swim on their own, make sure they have a buddy and don't swim alone.

Health Minute airs daily on HLN from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET weekdays

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May 18, 2009

Calming a crying baby

Posted: 04:29 PM ET

To a first-time parent, there is nothing quite as scary as not being able to calm a crying baby. And I don't mean one that just fusses a little and stops. I mean a baby that cries non-stop for what seems like hours - and often is. My first son was not colicky but he was often inconsolable, so I spent hours carrying him around in a front pack, pushing him around the house in the stroller and even sitting him next to a running clothes dryer. Many nights I was at my wits end, as was my husband. What an ordeal. But there is hope for new parents who feel helpless around their wailing baby. Pediatrician and author Harvey Karp has come up with parenting tools to help soothe a crying infant. He calls them the five S's.

Crying baby

1) Swaddling. After 30 years of working with parents and newborns, Karp says that in an odd sort of way, babies are born 3 months before they are really ready for the world. He tells parents that babies need a fourth trimester of holding, rocking and nurturing to help them feel safe and comfortable. In other words, the baby misses the feel, sounds and motion of the womb. One way for parents to mimic those familiar surroundings is to swaddle a child by wrapping him snugly, arms at the sides, in a blanket. The baby is used to the close quarters of the uterus and is very comfortable in this position.

2) Side/stomach & shushing. The second and third S's have to do with how you hold your baby and the soothing sounds you make. When a baby is crying holding him on his side or stomach is comforting. The thought is that this lessens the sensation of falling that is sometimes triggered when a fussy baby is on her back. Parents are then advised to make a loud shushing sound and the baby often quiets down. Karp says loud shushing helps because the baby is used to sounds as loud as a vacuum cleaner from his time in utero. But a word of caution: Never put a child to sleep on his stomach, always place a baby on his back in his crib. The incidence of SIDS, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, increases when a child is put to sleep on his stomach.

3) Swinging and sucking. At this point, the baby is wrapped snugly and being held either on her side or stomach by a parent who is loudly shushing in her ear. I know it sounds complicated but stay with me. The fourth S, which is swinging, is really more of a tiny jiggling motion thought to mimic the movements of a busy mother-to-be. Now you're ready for the final S which is sucking, and for this you'll need a pacifier. Karp calls this the icing on the cake because once you've calmed the baby with the first four S's, the sucking seems to help the baby become quite calm.

I didn't have the opportunity to try these calming techniques with my wailing child, but witnessed a friend try them out. Unless her baby was hungry or sick, the five S's had a soothing effect. Parenting is a tough job and babies don't come with instructions, but hang in there and give these tips a try. You may find that both you and your baby manage to get a little more sleep - a precious commodity at this time of life.

Health Minute airs daily on HLN from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. ET weekdays

 

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Clark Howard helps you become a wise consumer. We know you're busy, and that's why Clark's tips are quick and effective. He'll arm you with the information you need to make smart choices. During these tough economic times, Clark wants to help you save more, spend less and avoid getting ripped off!