Staying well: Meditation can improve memory, concentration and more
Everyone knows that meditation can reduce stress. But researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital say it directly affects the function and structure of the brain. It increases attention span, sharpens focus, and improves memory.
With the aid of advanced brain scanning technology, one study showed that daily meditation thickens the parts of the brain’s cerebral cortex responsible for decision-making, attention, and memory.
The test subjects were Boston-area workers practicing Western-style meditation, called mindfulness or insight meditation. For 40 minutes a day, they focused on an image, a sound, or on their own breathing.
The Insight Meditation Society recommends just sitting in a chair. Close your eyes and follow your breath. Feel the rise and fall of your chest or abdomen. If your mind wanders, that’s all right.
Watch what happens when your mind wanders. Notice it, observe it, then let it go and return to breathing. Be aware of what you’re thinking, but don’t get caught up in it.
With practice, you can develop a state called mindfulness, which is being aware of what’s going on as it arises without jumping to conclusions, judgments, hopes, fears, or plans.
Meditation also improves productivity and reduces absenteeism at work, probably because it helps prevent stress-related illness.
Meditation seems to aid with emotional regulation, which helps people get along better. It acts on emotional intelligence, which neuroscientists say is more important for life success than cognitive intelligence.
Collagen and greens: The truth about the hottest supplements
Ads for collagen supplements imply big benefits — youthful skin, stronger bones, and reduced joint pain.
Simply add a scoop to your morning smoothie or mix it with water to turn back the clock. While you’re at it, add a scoop of powdered greens. It’s easier than eating kale but gives you all the nutritional benefits. For just $99 (per month), you can combine the two supplements into a single, convenient product. It’s easy, and it works, right?
Maybe, researchers say. But then again, maybe not. According to the Harvard School of Public Health, more research is needed to determine whether collagen supplements can help humans grow new collagen, which diminishes as we age. And as the New York Times reports, while some studies have indicated that taking collagen for several months may improve skin elasticity, those studies were small and received their funding from collagen supplement manufacturers.
Greens powders — which usually contain some combination of dried and ground leafy greens and seaweed, grasses, probiotics, and herbs — fare somewhat better under scrutiny, but experts still encourage skepticism. According to WebMD, greens powders can be useful to supplement a healthy diet with additional vitamins and antioxidants. One study linked greens powders with improvements in blood pressure. But greens powder is not equivalent to whole foods — some nutritional content, like fiber, is lost in processing, and over-consumption of some vitamins can be harmful.
Another thing for consumers to consider is: The supplement market is largely unregulated, and poor-quality products with inaccurate labels are common. In an interview with The Cut, Evan Reister, a doctor of nutrition science at American University, advises consumers to look for brands that are USP or NSF-certified. These certifications require that manufacturers label their products accurately and submit to third-party lab testing for certain contaminants.
What is frontotemporal dementia?
You may have seen or heard the words “frontotemporal dementia” more often than usual lately, or maybe for the first time ever, thanks to the family of Bruce Willis, which recently announced the legendary actor’s diagnosis. According to his family’s statement, that was the goal: “…that any media attention can be focused on shining a light on this disease that needs far more awareness and research.”
Here are five key things to know about frontotemporal dementia, also called frontotemporal disorder or FTD:
1. Frontotemporal dementia is a catch-all term for a group of disorders that affect the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain, which are associated with personality, behavior, and language, according to the Mayo Clinic.
2. FTD is one of the most common types of dementia among younger patients and affects men and women equally. Symptoms usually start between the ages of 40 and 65 but can also appear in younger or older adults, according to Johns Hopkins.
3. The two most common types of FTD are the frontal variant, which affects behavior and personality, and primary progressive aphasia, which has two subtypes. The first subtype, progressive nonfluent aphasia, affects the ability to speak, while the other type, semantic dementia, affects the ability to use or understand language.
4. The first symptoms are usually unusual behavior and difficulty with speech and language, according to UCSF Health. Later, many patients develop movement disorders or ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.
5. The cause of FTD is unknown, but researchers believe a genetic component may exist. There are no treatments available that can slow or reverse the progression of FTD, but medications and therapies may relieve symptoms and help preserve function.
May is National Arthritis Month: How to reduce arthritis symptoms
The most common form of arthritis, osteoarthritis, is a degenerative joint disease wear the protective tissue on bones wears down over time. It causes pain and inflammation.
If you are beginning to have pain in joints, like knees, one of the best things you can do is lose weight. Weight loss reduces joint stress. With weight loss, some joint pain may disappear completely.
In other cases, weight loss may have a moderate impact on pain.
If you already have osteoarthritis pain, increasing water intake often improves the condition after about four weeks, the time needed to rehydrate the joints. Drink half your body weight in ounces each day. If you weigh 160 pounds, drink 80 ounces or ten eight-ounce glasses per day.
Eat foods that fight inflammation, such as fish and nuts. Limit animal fats, which can trigger inflammation. Take a multivitamin.
Researchers have found that walking, riding a bike, tai chi, or swimming can help with pain and preserve some flexibility.
One of the keys is to do as much as you can. No one with arthritis likes getting started, but remember that walking can help reduce pain and inflammation. See arthritis.org for stretching exercises and advice on walking programs.
Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements are often taken for arthritis, but there have been mixed results in clinical studies. Some studies say the supplements seem to have little effect on mild to moderate arthritis. In cases of moderate to severe arthritis, however, some users report reduced pain.
How to remove a tattoo
You’re on a motorcycle. Shades. Sleeve rolled up over your bicep. That screamin’ eagle tattoo says you are ready to rumble.
Of course, 15 years later, maybe you don’t want to rumble anymore.
With tattoos making a big impression these days, doctors who offer laser removal are making big bucks taking the impressions off. By one estimate, there are 23 million Americans with tattoo regret. Young women, in particular, often come to regret the permanent reflection of their adolescence marked in living color on their shoulders and hands.
Laser treatments can permanently remove up to 95 percent of a tattoo, but they are very expensive and take several treatments. The laser works by shooting short bursts of light into the tattoo pigment. The laser breaks up the pigment, and the body removes the leftover tiny pigment particles.
With laser treatments, tattoo ink color matters. Black is the easiest to remove since it readily absorbs light from the laser. Green is harder to remove. There are lasers specifically designed to remove various tattoo colors, but the more obscure the colors in your tattoo, the harder it will be to remove.
While a medium-sized tattoo can cost $200, removing it could cost $1200. Laser removal costs $200 per treatment and can require from six to eight treatments, although results vary.
If laser treatment doesn’t work, there are other, more invasive permanent options. The tattoo can be sanded off (dermabrasion), cut off (surgery) with or without skin grafting, or burned off (chemical peels).
What your nails say about your health
Did you know your fingernails can provide hints about your overall health? Here are five things to keep in mind about your nails.
1. Changes in the lunula. The lunula is the white half-moon shape at the base of your nail, just above the cuticle. This feature’s change in color or size may indicate an underlying disease, like cirrhosis, chronic renal failure, or congestive heart failure.
2. Pitting. Nails that are dimpled or pitted can point to psoriasis, eczema, alopecia, or joint inflammation.
3. Dark streaks. Dark-colored streaks running the length of the nail could indicate melanoma. However, black lines under the nail bed can also be caused by an injury.
4. Discoloration. Yellow discoloration of the nails can appear in people with chronic bronchitis and other lung diseases. A fungal infection can also turn the nails yellow and thick.
5. Clubbing. When the ends of your fingers swell and the nail becomes curved and rounded, it can sometimes be a sign of liver or kidney disease. Clubbing can also occur in conditions related to the lungs and gastrointestinal tract.
If your nails change or look abnormal, talk to your doctor or see a dermatologist to determine if you need treatment.
Understanding different types of dementia
Dementia is an umbrella term that describes the loss of neurons in the brain, a condition that worsens over time. Here are the four main types.
1. Alzheimer’s disease
Alzheimer’s disease occurs when abnormal clusters of protein fragments slowly destroy memory and the ability to think. Common symptoms include getting lost, repeating questions, and not recognizing friends and family. In the late stages of the disease, patients can’t communicate or perform simple tasks and must depend on others for care.
2. Frontotemporal dementia (FTD)
FTD describes a condition in which neurons are damaged in the frontal and temporal lobes of the brain. Symptoms include trouble communicating, impaired judgment, and decreased self-awareness. FTD is rare, and symptoms start younger than other types of dementia.
3. Lewy body dementia (LBD)
One of the most common forms of dementia, LBD, describes abnormal protein deposits that affect brain chemicals. Symptoms include trouble thinking, muscle control and mobility loss, mood swings, and visual hallucinations.
4. Vascular dementia
Vascular dementia occurs when changes in blood vessels disrupt blood and oxygen flow to the brain, affecting thinking and memory. Symptoms can occur gradually or appear suddenly and resemble those of Alzheimer’s.
Some people have more than one type of dementia, making diagnosis difficult. Moreover, individual symptoms can vary. There’s no cure for these types of dementia. However, treatments are available. See your doctor if you or someone you know shows signs of dementia.
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