Health File

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Got A Food Craving?
Imagine This…

Anyone who’s ever had a food craving knows how it can blot out the rest of the world. You want chocolate. You imagine the glisten on the surface, the crunch as you take a bite, the velvety texture on your tongue, the sweetness, the aroma…soon you can hardly think of anything else.

You’re not alone. It turns out that when we crave a specific food, we trigger the areas of the brain involved in sensing sight, smell, taste, sound and touch. The pleasure centre in the brain is stimulated. Our brains become preoccupied with the image, so much so they have trouble doing other things at the same time. Clever Australian researchers have turned this fact on its head to come up with a new way to curtail cravings.

Experiments showed volunteers could curb their cravings by replacing their mental images of the desired food with some other image, like a rainbow, or the smell of eucalyptus. So, when you’re in the throes of a chocoholic fit, these researchers advise, simply start thinking—hard—about something else. If the craving involves serious slavering, how about the sights and smells of a garbage dump on a hot summer mid-day? That ought to do it.

Of course, this being the modern age and all, we can’t simply trust that our own brain power should be enough to accomplish this. Oh, no—apparently some of us need technological help.  After another group of volunteers reported success by watching flickering patterns of  black and white dots, of course someone came up with the idea that a cell phone application could be developed…for those, perhaps, who suffer simultaneous craving and failure of self-reliance. Do you think cell phone companies had a hand in financing this particular experiment?

All joking aside, this research could have some serious applications for reducing cravings of more dangerous substances, like drugs and alcohol, not to mention adding to the arsenal for the battle of the bulge.

Tips For Summer Sun Safety

Overexposure to the sun is the chief cause of skin cancer—thus most skin cancer is preventable. Protect yourself by seeking shade, covering up or slathering on sunscreen, especially from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Damaging ultraviolet (UV) rays are invisible—so you can burn on a cloudy day. Suntans do not protect against sunburn or minimize the risk of cancer.  Tans and sunburns are indications that skin has already been damaged by UV rays.

UVA and UVB have different wave lengths, but neither can be seen by our eyes.

The higher the SPF (Sun Protection Factor) in a sunscreen, the better. Look for an SPF of at least 15. Broad spectrum products screen out most of the UVA and UVB rays.

For best protection, apply sunscreen at least 15 minutes before going into the sun and reapply 15 minutes or so afterwards. Remember lips, ears and nose. Don’t forget to reapply after vigorous activity or swimming.

It’s possible to be allergic to ingredients in sunscreens.

Protect your eyes. Wear hats with broad brims. Look for sunglasses that protect against UVA rays, which are absorbed by the eye’s lens, and UVB rays, which affect the surface layers of the eyeball. Dark sunglasses protect the retina, which is damaged by bright visible light. Polarizing lenses cut reflection glare on the water.

Price and colour are no indication of how well sunglasses work. Look at the label—sunglasses should block between 60 and 92 per cent of UVA rays and between 95 and 99 per cent of UVB rays.

Watch out for things that can boost a sunburn. These include health conditions like acne, lupus, rosacea and herpes simplex; medications for skin conditions,  chemotherapy drugs, some cardiac and diabetes drugs, painkillers, and antidepressants; foodstuffs, including limes, celery, carrots, figs, parsley, artificial sweeteners and parsnips.

Avoid overindulging in alcohol, which not only dehydrates your skin, but dulls your senses to the fact you’ve had enough sun (and probably drink, too).

Small doses of summer sun are definitely good for you, helping your body produce Vitamin D, upping your mood and killing some pathogens.

The Health Canada website www.hc-sc.gc.ca/hl-vs/pubs/sun-sol has more tips for avoiding and treating sunburn

Cholesterol Developments

New research into how cholesterol contributes to hardening of the arteries may dramatically change treatment of heart disease and management of cholesterol. The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada says almost 40 per cent of Canadian adults have high blood cholesterol levels, a risk for cardio-vascular disease.

“Now we treat atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries) on the systemic level,” George Abela, chief cardiologist at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine said in the announcement of the discovery. Aside from dietary and lifestyle interventions, high cholesterol is treated mostly with statin drugs such as lipitor. “With this discovery, we can also treat it at the cellular level.”

As liquid cholesterol builds up along artery walls, it solidifies and expands into crystals. These crystals activate a biomarker that causes inflammation, promoting hardening of the arteries, Abela’s research team discovered. As ice shards form on lakes when water freezes into crystals, so cholesterol forms shards, tearing off plaque in the process and kick-starting clotting, which leads to heart attacks.

The discovery that cholesterol crystals are an early cause, rather than a late consequence of inflammation means new therapies can be developed to reduce or block cholesterol deposits or inhibit the biomarker. Targeting cholesterol crystals early on might stop development of plaque and inflammation of the arteries and thus, prevent heart disease.

Monitoring the biomarker activated by cholesterol crystals may prove a more accurate predictor of heart attack risk than monitoring cholesterol levels. Doctors could target patients with the activated biomarker for early treatment of cholesterol crystals and arterial inflammation.

Email the writer at: writer@legionmagazine.com

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