Health File

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Practise Safe Text

Modern life has plenty of electronic conveniences meant to make our lives easier, but sometimes they’re a pain in the neck—and elbow and fingers and shoulders.

BlackBerry thumb, cell phone elbow and texting tendinitis are whimsical names for repetitive strain injuries—serious conditions that can linger for years, or a lifetime if ignored and left untreated.

Cell phone overuse can cause cubital tunnel syndrome—numbness, tingling, aching or burning in the forearm and hand. When you bend your arm during long or frequent calls, the elbow’s ulnar nerve is compressed. Leaning on the elbow while talking aggravates the problem by interrupting the blood supply to the nerve and causing swelling.

BlackBerry thumb and texting tendinitis affect different digits, but have the same cause: repetitive movements that cause inflammation of the fluid-filled sheaths surrounding tendons, causing swelling and narrowing of the tendon passageway. This leads to tingling, numbness and pain. It can progress to difficulty moving the joint—tenosynovitis—and stenosing tenosynovitis (also called trigger finger) when a digit “locks” in a flexed position.

Keeping your eyes on the screen—and not on where you’re walking or cycling—can cause more dramatic injuries from falls and collisions with vehicles.
Exercises to build up hand and finger strength might be part of your safe text regime, but prevention of injury can be as easy as simply changing hands or using different fingers to press keys or buttons or calling instead of texting. Plenty of short breaks help, but screens are so engrossing many people have trouble remembering to take them. If you’re one, there are computer programs that remind you to take a break or do your exercises.

And hey, if it hurts, stop.

A Tomato A Day

Prostate cancer is the most common malignancy and second most common cause of death in men—but is likely highly preventable, according to researchers at the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto.

Men with diets high in certain micronutrients are less likely to develop the disease, leading to supposition it is preventable, and the search to identify which nutrients are key to prevention.

A diet rich in a combination of vitamin E, selenium and lycopene, the substance that makes tomatoes and watermelons red, reduces prostate cancer in mice at the stage of development comparable to the age the slow-growing cancer typically begins in men. The nutrients also inhibit tumour growth and increase survival.

The combination of these nutrients is important. Other research has shown that lycopene on its own does not prevent prostate cancer. Researchers think lycopene optimizes the performance of vitamin E and selenium, anti-oxidants that protect against free radicals, highly reactive atoms and molecules that can damage DNA. Free radical damage increases with age.

Further research will tell if these findings apply to men as well as mice, but those who want to play it on the safe side can enrich their diets with these nutrients. Aside from tomatoes and watermelon, lycopene is found in guavas and pink grapefruit; whole grains, Brazil nuts, seeds and eggs contain selenium; and vitamin E is found in vegetable oils, nuts, seeds, wheat germ and eggs.

Other recent developments in prostate cancer research and treatment include:

  • The European Randomized Study of Screening for Prostate Cancer, which is following more than 250,000 men, found screening for prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels increases early detection and reduces prostate cancer deaths. Rising PSA levels are associated with the development of prostate cancer. But it also found half of the cancers detected by the test would not have become a health issue and may not have needed treatment.
  • Researchers at the University of Leicester in England are developing a new treatment to simultaneously find and treat prostate cancer—using radio waves to heat injected magnetic nanoparticles, which accumulate around cancerous tumours, to a temperature high enough to destroy the tumour.
  • Pomegranate juice slows the increase in PSA. Researchers had two groups of men with prostate cancer drink 250 millilitres of juice every day, then had half stop. Those who continued showed a slower increase in PSA than those who stopped, even though they had similar rates to start out.

Singing The Praises Of…Singing

Whether you sing along or sing alone (perhaps in the shower), raising your voice is good for your health.

Singing is an aerobic activity, increasing oxygen in the bloodstream and exercising major muscle groups in the upper body. Most of the time, most of us take shallow breaths—but to belt out a tune, we need to breathe deeply to sustain those long notes, thereby processing more oxygen.

Singing has psychological benefits, too—British researchers discovered that an organ in the inner ear connected to a part of the brain responsible for registering pleasure responds to musical sound frequencies. When we listen to music, endorphins are released, reducing stress and giving us an emotional boost—even helping to lessen pain.

Singing boosts the immune system. Researchers at the University of Frankfurt in Germany studied choral singers before they sang and listened to music. They found levels of immunoglobulin A, which protects us against microbes, and the stress-reducing hormone hydrocortisone increased after singing, but did not increase with listening to music.

And singing can help you live longer: a Swedish study of 12,675 people found those who attend cultural events, including singing in a choir, live longer, and that was true despite variables like age, smoking, education level and exercise.

Singing improves brain function, and has been credited with slowing down mental decline—Alzheimer’s patients no longer able to converse are often able to sing lyrics to songs from their past, and there’s a decrease in anxiety and depression in nursing home residents who take part in singing programs.

While any singing is a benefit, there’s a bigger bang when you sing as part of a group or for an audience. The health benefits accrue whether you have the voice of an angel or one more like a frog—so take up karaoke, join a choral group or just throw your head back and let out a joyful noise. It’s a healthy thing.

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