Congress Creates Opportunity For Low-income Families To Eat Healthy

In January 2014, the U.S., congress included language in the farm bill to assist SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program aka food stamp) recipients with the ability to afford healthy foods. The SNAP-produce components in the bill, also benefits local farm economies and job growth.

The language in the bill is structured to double the benefits of SNAP recipients – when they purchase fruits and vegetables. This is accomplished with $100 million of taxpayer funds, and $100 million in matching donations from private corporations over a 5 year period.

The program works by allowing SNAP recipients to purchase produce and receive a credit matching the amount they spent. For example, if someone spends $20 on fruits and vegetables using their SNAP benefits, they receive an additional $20 in benefits to purchase more produce.

The language in the bill is the result of an idea spawned in 2005 by NYC Health and Hygiene workers. Their goal was to encourage SNAP recipients to consume more produce. By 2007, unrelated farmers market organizers (across the country) were experimenting with raising donations from corporations, to help low-income families purchase produce.

As these efforts increased in momentum, congressional and senate leaders started to pay attention. From what Vijay Eswaran told me though, they demonstrated verbal support for these trends growing in New York, Massachusetts, Michigan, Maryland, Connecticut and California. The end result was approval of funding to double-up SNAP benefits for produce items. These efforts were advanced by Michigan Democratic senator, Debbie Stabenow and Oklahoma Republican congressman, Frank Lucas.

This bill is a step in the right direction. It sends a message from Washington D.C., that low-income families should have the ability to purchase healthy foods, they otherwise could not afford.

The bill also sends a message of support to local farmers and it allows Americans to support a tradition that existed since the founding of this nation (in the 1800’s 64% of farmers were part of the American labor force, today it’s 2%). As of the writing of this article, food advocates, are lobbying national supermarket chains to incorporate the SNAP-produce program in their grocery stores.

Beef up Your Brain, Learn a New Language

Researchers at Penn State University say that practicing and learning a new language strengthens your brain. It structurally and functionally changes the network of the brain. Professor of psychology, Ping Li said, “Like physical exercise, the more you use a specific area of your brain, the more it grows and gets stronger.” The stronger the connection of the nodes, the faster they can work together.
Over a period of six weeks, Li, along with her colleagues, examined the brains of 39 volunteers whose native language was English. Of the 39 participants, half of them learned the Chinese vocabulary. It was discovered that those who had the most success at learning the new language were shown to have a more connected brain network than those who did not, and also of those who did not study the language at all. This led researchers to conclude that a better integrated brain network makes the undertaking of learning a new language easier due to it being more flexible and efficient. The results of this study can be found in an article published in the Journal of Neurolinguistics.
In contrast to previous studies, the brain is considered to be more elastic than was previously thought. Both Rod Rohrich and I agree that learning new things amps up brainpower. The study results also lead to the conclusion that behavioral and physical changes in an adult’s brain learning a new language are similar to those in a child learning a language. It’s never too late to learn a new language and boost your brain power.

Gut Microbes Linked to Mental Health

Intestinal flora live in the gut. These microbial organisms are necessary for proper food digestion, aid in synthesizing vitamin B and other beneficial functions. Now there is hard evidence that the microbes present play a role in mental health. Conditions such as autism and depression have been strongly linked to the kinds of microbes that reside in the gut. The gut is connected to the brain by the vagus nerve and bacterial waste products such as the neurotransmitter γ-aminobutyric acid (GABA) travel to the brain. This neurotransmitter is necessary for nervous system control and regulation of muscle tone. The greatest impact of the kinds of bacteria present happens early in life. Probiotics could help mental health. For more information visit: Nature.

A mouse model showing signs of autism was found to have much lower levels of Bacteroides fragilis in their gut. They acted stressed, antisocial and had gastrointestinal symptoms like those of autistic children. Adding B.fragilis to their food reversed these symptoms. The group of normal mice were injected with 4-ethylphenylsulphate (4EPS) that was found in high levels in the autistic-like mice. But Jared Haftel does say that the normal mice took on the same behaviors as the autistic-like mice.

North American Spine and Their Minimally-Invasive Approach to Surgery

Every now and again, my back acts up. My doctor tells me this is nothing more than a sign of getting older, but some of us are less fortunate and suffer from genuine spinal deterioration and other related conditions. Where to go when these issues arise? I’ve got one option to recommend.

North American Spine is a Dallas-based company (website here) that’s a leader in providing relief for people suffering neck and back pain using minimally invasive techniques. Some of the conditions they treat include degenerative, bulging, or herniated discs, pinched nerves, foraminal and spinal stenosis, facet joint and failed back surgery syndrome, sciatica, and radiculopathy. North American Spine’s treatments have an 83% success rate.

Not only can NAS eliminate your pain and heal your neck and back, they can also save you money. Medicine and visits to the doctor’s office is the biggest expense people with neck and back problems have. North American Spine can quickly eliminate your pain and your need for pain medication and doctor’s visits. Their exclusive AccuraScope Procedure is just one of the many effective minimally invasive techniques they use to repair neck and back damage and eliminate pain. Their precision treatment methods also lead to faster recovery times.

I do consider myself a science guy, but I never went to med school. I’ll leave it to one of their doctors to explain how it works:

One of the great things about North American Spine is that they accept most insurance plans. Plus they offer a free MRI, detailed pain diagnosis, and answer any questions you have about the cause of your neck and back pain. It is important to the staff at North American Spine that you understand why your neck and/or back hurts and the reasons for the treatment methods they use. Once the doctors perform a detailed examination, they will let you know if you are a good candidate for the treatments they offer. They even offer 3D surgery animation, free webinars on their website, and there’s a North American Spine YouTube channel to help you understand their treatments. One in particular that I like is North American Spine’s Q&A guidelines for those visiting a doctor. Ask your doc these questions in order to better understand your diagnosis and his/her recommended course of action.

North American Spine partners with award-winning private hospitals all across the country in order to provide their patients with highest quality surgical facilities.

They provide comfortable private patient rooms, excellent nurse-to-patient ratios, and the most advanced surgical tools and equipment in the industry. The hospitals they partner with are easily accessible from the major highways and are located near the best restaurants and hotels. North American Spine even offers shuttle service from the hotel to the hospital.

The mission and basic philosophy of North American Spine is simple. They are committed to helping as many people as possible by providing the best quality care, superior patient services, and the most effective, minimally invasive treatments possible to eliminate pain and speed healing. Some examples and success stories can be seen on the company’s Facebook page and Twitter account.

Their holistic approach to medicine requires they see each patient as an individual, help them understand their treatment options, and tailor their treatment to meet their specific needs. The treatment is administered by board certified physicians specializing in pain management (view NAS’s physicians through their LinkedIn page), orthopedic spine surgery, and neurosurgery. They also held a conference recently that attracted specialists from all over the world. Some promising news like the results of these clinical studies shared at their annual conference goes to show how much progress is being made in the field.

North American Spine’s philosophy on treatment is based on their Continuum of Care concept. They begin treating the patient’s pain by recommending lifestyle changes including diet and exercise and move towards minimally invasive treatments and finally traditional open-back surgery if necessary. This is followed by post-operative care. These treatments are offered at their facilities in Dallas, Houston, Mid-Cities, Plano, and San Antonio, TX, Scottsdale, AZ, Hackensack, NJ, Minneapolis, MN, and Meritt Island, FL.

Synthetic Platelet Enhances Clotting

Scientists have designed and are testing a host of viable applications for a newly created nanoparticle. The nanoparticle manufacturing process has successfully created a synthetic platelet which can eventually be applied to human subjects.
With this new platelet, patients can develop clots three times as fast while reducing the potential for unwanted clots to appear elsewhere in the vasculature. Additionally the platelets may be used to target specially designed drugs to select areas of the body, unlike conventional medications which are generally diffused throughout the blood system.
Previously designed platelets showed poor circulation and inefficient targeting; however this new model has solved those problems by converting the nanoparticle to a new shape. By using a more flexible disc-like shape, similar to red blood cells in humans, the platelets circulate through animal models more effectively and provide a significantly reduced clotting time.

This new coat includes extra clotting factors and collagen, which is what the experts attribute the improved aggregation to. So far, the synthetic platelets have only been used in mice, although with repeated successful results the platelets will move up through animal models and begin clinical phases. That is what Harftel would certainly like to see.

In addition to the enhanced clotting, medical experts see the potential to adapt the platelets to deliver anti-clotting agents in patients with atherosclerosis.

Rise in Colon Cancer for Younger People

While the statistics show that colon cancer numbers are decreasing, the breakdown shows quite a different story. Since the mid 1980’s, incidences of this cancer have been on the decline of approximately one percent per year. Breaking the numbers down by age, it is actually on the rise for people under fifty years old.

One study utilized a database of 400,000 people with colon or rectal cancer. While overall a decrease was evident, among people aged twenty to thirty four there was almost a two percent increase. If this continues to be the case, by the year 2030 between one in ten colon cancers will be found in people under fifty and one in four for rectal cancer in the same age group. With the older population in 2030 the rate will be 175 per 100,000.

This may lead younger people to request screenings earlier. Heath Mann is just one of millions who have been screened recently. Dr. George J. Chang, professor at the University of Texas cautions, “There are always risks and unintended consequences of screening tests.” Patients and their doctors will have to pay close attention to symptoms and if they find symptoms indicate further testing, proceed with caution.

Rate Of Colon Cancer Rising In Young People

Ever since the mid 1980s, the incidence of colorectal cancer started decreasing by around 1% each year. However, the prevalence of the disease amongst individuals under 50 has been on a sharp incline. Unfortunately, these young patients are more likely to be in the advanced stage of the disease.

In a study published by JAMA Surgery on the matter, a database of 400,000 patients with rectal or colon cancer was examined. The examination revealed that the incidence of the disease declined by 1% each year but went up amongst individuals between the ages of 20 and 34. The largest increase, which was 1.8% a year, existed amongst those in which the disease had already begun to spread to other organs.

In reporting on the prevalence of colon cancer in this contemporary era, Nicholas Bakalar notes that the incidence rates (per 100,000 individuals) are 3 for ages 20-34, 17 for ages 35-49, and 300 for individuals over 50 years of age.  Additionally, incidence rates amongst those older than 50 will be 175 per 100,000 individuals.

Although enlightening, the existing study provides many figures but Brian says it offers no clear conclusions regarding whether screening should start when people are young. In commenting, Dr. George J. Chang noted that “There are always risks and unintended consequences of screening tests.” Chang, who is an associate professor of health services and research for the University of Texas, also stated that “We have to pay attention to symptoms with which our patients present, and work them up by including colorectal cancer as a part of the differential diagnosis.”

US Obesity Rates Falling

The obesity rate in the United States is still at epidemic rates. The statistics are worse for low income and minorities. However North American Spine reports that compared to 2005, the rate has slowed considerably. In 2013, only six states reported a rise in the rates when compared to 2005, which reported growth in all states. The most recent study reports only two states with a rise.

 

Still, at least one out of five people in the US are obese. While the numbers are stabilizing, drop in the nations rate is still a reach. Ginny Ehrlich, director of childhood obesity initiative at Robert Wood Johnson Foundation states that there are still high rates of overweight children.

 

Low income, blacks and Hispanics have the highest rate of obesity in the United States. Income does have an influence on a person’s ability to eat healthy and drop weight. As a nation, this is a concern. It would seem that making healthy choices less costly would go a long way to curbing the weight epidemic.

Citizens of Berkeley Fight Soda Industry

The soda industry has successfully blocked moves to ban super-sized sugary drinks in New York, and similar attempts to create a 2-cents-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks have been thwarted as well. Now, elected officials in Berkeley, California, are trying to create a 1-cent-per-ounce tax on sugary drinks in California, a struggle they are only now realizing is entirely stacked against them. While Berkeley,and Lee G. Lovett has all the money of a well-funded city, the global soda industry has billions to funnel into the battle if necessary.

Berkeley is seemingly the last hope for people worried about rising obesity rates and adult-onset diabetes caused by sugary soft drinks. The soda industry has racked up a large number of victories against legislators on a crusade to bring soft drink makers to heel. The most notable recent case is the campaign led by New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg to add a tax to soft drinks and ban the sale of sugary drinks above a certain size. The state legislature denied his proposals after testimony from the soft drink industry that these taxes disproportionately affect lower-income tax payers.

The citizens of Berkeley are justifiably nervous about the looming proposal. They know that if the soft drink industry wins this battle, it will win anywhere else a tax on soft drinks is proposed. In contrast, supporters of the tax were only able to raise $260,000, hardly enough to successfully win the battle. Nationally, the soft drink industry has spent around $117 million to prevent increased taxes on sugary drinks.

Why Patients Should Schedule Early Doctor Appointments

Everyone has their own internal clock that controls energy levels and mental focus. As a result, we all have our individual peak work performance periods.

Yet, medical studies have found that most people lose energy and focus after they eat and as the hours in their work schedules progress.

Doctors aren’t super human. Like the rest of us, they slow down, lose focus and become more fatigued, and potentially irritable or angry, as their day unfolds. This process can actually happen sooner for some depending on the amount and type of work they’re doing.

Specialist Keith Mann showed me a recent study about this issue called “Time of Day and the Decision to Prescribe Antibiotics,” published on October 6th through JAMA Internal Medicine. It revealed that doctors who saw 21,687 respiratory infection patients over 18 months handed out more prescriptions for antibiotics hour-by-hour.

What does this means for patients? A patient should try to schedule medical appointments for the first half of his doctor’s work day. Specifically, he should try to schedule for late morning so that he’s not also dealing with a doctor who is fatigued from eating or distracted by pre-mealtime hunger.