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Hey, I am a med student who likes to write. Each week I provide a handful of tips that will help you in your quest to become healthier.

How to Overcome Laziness

Written: 02/08/2008 | Join the discussion (1)

Australian researchers have identified a new condition characterized by extreme laziness: motivational deficiency disorder (MoDeD). MoDeD is far different from being a couch potato when you get home from work or sleeping in late on a Sunday morning. Instead, motivational deficiency disorder is described as overwhelming and debilitating apathy.

In cases when a person loses even the motivation to breathe, the condition can be fatal, researchers said.

Though the condition is thought to affect up to one in five Australians -- with an economic impact of $1.7 billion a year -- little is known about the causes of or treatments for motivational deficiency disorder.

"This disorder is poorly understood," says neurologist Leth Argos, who is one of the researchers that identified MoDeD. "It is underdiagnosed and undertreated."

What is Laziness?

Laziness, as defined by the Merriam Webster Online Dictionary, is a disinclination to activity or exertion. While we all feel lazy once in a while, someone who is suffering from extreme laziness would feel this way chronically.

Laziness is not an illness or a mental illness (unless it is the extreme form described above), but it can be a symptom of one, including:

  • Depression
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Schizophrenia

Laziness can also develop after a period of intense work or stress, and in this way may actually be the body's way of protecting itself and getting the rest it needs to recuperate.

Lazy or Just Not Motivated?

According to Mel Levine, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the University of North Carolina Medical School and director of its Clinical Center for the Study of Development and Learning, the desire to be productive is universal.

However, a person's drive can become frustrated by various things -- causing a person to lose it altogether (until those dysfunctions are remedied). For instance, a child who has a language production dysfunction may not be able to express his or her thoughts and may give up. Or, a person whose ideas are constantly ignored at work may decide there is no point in trying.

"When we call someone lazy, we condemn a human being," writes Mel Levine in his book The Myth of Laziness.

"We gain energy and feel good about ourselves whenever our personal output wins the approval, the acceptance, the respect of our friends, our families, our bosses (or teachers) and, most of all, our self-critical selves," he continues.

Levine believes that when a person's natural output is interrupted -- by failing to produce for whatever reason -- they have "output failure," a condition that is not laziness but is rather a neuro-developmental dysfunction (which could be anything from having trouble writing or speaking to lacking organizational skills). This can cause difficulties throughout adulthood if not remedied.

How to Overcome Laziness

If you or someone you know is experiencing chronic laziness, the following tips can help to get back on track.

  1. Do something that motivates you. All too often, laziness stems from boredom or a complete disinterest in your daily tasks. If you don't feel that your work is rewarding, consider changing careers. Likewise, if your child isn't inherently motivated to do schoolwork, set up a reward system that gives him or her something to work toward. Also, if a particular task seems overwhelming to you or your child (and therefore causes you to not do it), take small steps to make the task more manageable.

  2. Exercise. The more time that passes without taking action, the easier it is to fall into the laziness trap. Exercise is an excellent way to boost your energy levels and put you in a better mood -- so you're ready to face a new day head-on.

  3. Rule out illness. If you lack the desire to do anything, you may be suffering from an illness such as depression or the newly defined motivational deficiency disorder. When laziness becomes chronic or overwhelming, you should talk to your health care provider.

  4. Make a change in your life. Sometimes, just the routine of daily life can lead to laziness. If you feel your daily routine is turning into monotony, sign up for a class at your local community college, volunteer at your town's animal shelter or call up a friend to play tennis.

  5. Surround yourself with supportive people. When laziness begins to set in, one of the worst things you can do is surround yourself with other lazy people. Instead, actively seek out people -- in both professional and personal settings -- who will support your ideas, encourage your success and embrace you as a person.

- Ryan

Editor's note: Motivational Deficiency Disorder isn't real.

It was a disease created to illustrate how "diseases" are being created and sold to people (actually the name of the primary fake professor "Leth Argos" - a take on the word "lethargy" - should have tipped off that this was fake). Also note the date of the BMJ article: April 1, 2006 (April Fool's Day). The author behind the piece - Ray Moynihan - is also the author of the book, "Selling Sickness: How the World's Biggest Pharmaceutical Companies Are Turning Us All into Patients."

Of course, lots of people were taken in by this "disesase." Read more here: includes a link to the YouTube video explaining the "disease"). (Thanks to Jim C. for clearing this out.)

Six Ways To Die Faster

Written: 02/07/2008 | Join the discussion (0)

The title may be blunt for some of you but sometimes, we're our own worst enemies when it comes to good health. A case in point is when we make absolutely horrific lifestyle choices, often with the full knowledge of just how horrific they are. Why we make them, or the consequences we deal with later, are all highly personal, but one thing's for sure:

"Our lifestyle choices are a disaster," according to Dr. Laurence Sperling, chief of preventive cardiology at Emory School of Medicine. "It's combustible."

He said this in regard to an expert panel that recently lowered the target for bad cholesterol to 70 or lower for those at very high risk of heart attack. The target had been less than 100. The move had some experts wondering whether Americans were so bent on making bad lifestyle choices that their only hope of living a healthy life is by living a largely drug-induced one.

That said, we've compiled a list of some of the most offensive lifestyle choices you could make--and here's to hoping that we all choose not to do them ... or at least some of them.

  1. Overeating

    Scientifically, overeating means eating an amount that is "inappropriately large for a given energy expenditure." Realistically, overeating is something that many Americans do as a hobby -- at their favorite restaurant, on their favorite holiday, with their favorite snack food, or just because they're with friends. It doesn't really matter when; we just do it.

    If you only overeat once or twice a year, chances are you'll be OK, but do it compulsively and you're headed down the road to obesity, high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease and depression.

  2. Smoking

    This one is obvious yet ironic because, according to the American Heart Association, of the estimated 48 million Americans who smoke cigarettes, most are either actively trying to quit or want to quit.

    Most people are familiar with the related health effects of emphysema, cancer and heart disease, but smoking can also have negative effects on the eyes, the throat, the urinary tract, the digestive organs, the bones and joints, and the skin.

  3. Drinking and Driving

    Another obvious one, yet, according to the National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, in 2002 about 1.5 million drivers were arrested for driving under the influence of alcohol (or narcotics). And, in 2003, 17,013 people in the United States died in alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes, representing 40 percent of all traffic-related deaths.

    If there's going to be drinking, decide on a designated driver beforehand; this one is really that simple.

  4. Living on fast food.

    Going hand-in-hand with overeating, living on a junk food diet is another surefire way to end up overweight and suffering from a myriad of health problems ranging from clogged arteries to depression. One only needs to turn on Morgan Spurlock's documentary "Super Size Me" to find out exactly what the body goes through after consuming nothing but fast food for 30 straight days.

    "I start to get tired, I start to get headaches; my liver basically starts to fill up with fat because there's so much fat and sugar in this food. My blood sugar skyrockets, my cholesterol goes up off the charts, my blood pressure becomes completely unmanageable. The doctors were like, 'You have to stop,'" Spurlock said.

    Still, according to Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, the average American eats three hamburgers and four orders of fries--every week.

  5. Not exercising.

    Given all the great things that we know exercise is good for, including:

    • Boosting HDL (good) cholesterol
    • Improving the circulatory system
    • Lowering blood pressure and blood fats
    • Reducing the risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke
    • Strengthening muscles
    • Increasing flexibility
    • Building stronger bones and fighting osteoporosis
    • Relieving stress and anxiety

    It is curious that we're not all doing it. Imagine a pill that came out with those types of real benefits -- it'd be flying off the shelves. To not exercise, then, (assuming you are able to) is akin to turning down all of those excellent health potentials.

  6. Stress

    We all have stress, but if you don't do something to relieve it, sooner or later it will take its toll on you. Stress is linked to everything from heart disease and a decrease in immune function to depression and digestive problems. The good news is that stress can be relieved ... you just need to find a method that works for you. Here are some tips to try:

    • Meditation
    • Yoga
    • Prayer
    • Gardening
    • Reading
    • Journaling
    • Soaking in a bath
    • Hiking, biking or swimming

The Truth About Organic Food

Written: 02/06/2008 | Join the discussion (1)

As though deciphering the myriad of food labels out there wasn't hard enough already, now lawmakers have added one more piece to the puzzle, this time regarding organic food.

It all started with a federal court ruling earlier in 2005, in which a federal court ruled to severely limit the use of synthetic substances in organic food. At face value, it seems this would be fine to organic manufacturers because, after all, doesn't "organic" imply no synthetics?

As it turns out, no. The court ruling prohibited 38 ingredients in all, among them ascorbic acid, a form of vitamin C used as an additive; pectin, a jam thickener; and hydrogen peroxide. It also banned dairy herds in the process of becoming organic from being fed feed that was partially non-organic.

According to some members of the organic community, including the Organic Valley farm coop in Wisconsin, the move was so severe that it would have threatened the industry's growth.

Organic Valley, for one, used hydrogen peroxide to sterilize their cartons. Under the new ruling, they would have been forced to change their organic label.

"When we took a look at what the [court] ruling did to organic milk, we were aghast," said Theresa Marquez of Organic Valley. "It would have a huge impact both financially and from a marketing point of view," Marquez said.

Congress has since intervened, adding a rider to a 2006 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) spending bill that allows organic food makers to resume using the 38 synthetic ingredients.

Organic Trade Association Sought Synthetics Allowance

Ironically, it was the Organic Trade Association (OTA), which represents North American businesses that grow and market organic foods, which sought the intervention.

"Without those two key provisions, the face of the organic industry and the marketplace for organic products would have changed dramatically," said Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of OTA.

They maintained that businesses, farmers and consumers alike all supported the provisions. However, the Organic Consumer's Association (OCA) has a different story to tell.

They say the new legislation was prompted by giant food corporations new to the organic market and eager to earn their share of the growing industry. In fact, Congress received a reported 320,000 letters and phone calls from organic consumers who protested the rider being passed.

"The process was profoundly undemocratic," said Ronnie Cummins, director of OCA. "The end result is a serious setback for the multibillion-dollar alternative food and farming system that the organic community has painstakingly built up over the past 35 years ... Industry's stealth attack has unnecessarily damaged the standards that helped organic foods become the fastest growing sector in the food industry."

Others echo these sentiments, including Eden Foods CEO Michael Potter, who says the move is a bad one for both organic businesses and consumers.

What Does Organic Mean, Then?

While the organic industry is divided over the use of synthetics, one thing's for sure: the market is here to stay. Close to 40 percent of Americans buy organic foods, and sales are expected to reach $30 billion by 2007.

The organic market has grown so much, in fact, that the OCA reports "10 cents of every grocery store dollar spent by American consumers today goes for organic, made with organic, and natural products." So what does the "organic" label really mean?

All organic agricultural farms and products must meet the following guidelines (verified by a USDA-approved independent agency):

  • Abstain from the application of prohibited materials (including synthetic fertilizers, pesticides, and sewage sludge) for 3 years prior to certification and then continually throughout their organic license.

  • Prohibit the use of genetically modified organisms and irradiation.

  • Employ positive soil building, conservation, manure management and crop rotation practices.

  • Provide outdoor access and pasture for livestock.

  • Refrain from antibiotic and hormone use in animals.

  • Sustain animals on 100% organic feed.

  • Avoid contamination during the processing of organic products.

  • Keep records of all operations.

The OCA maintains that they will seek to reverse the rider in the future, but until then, keep in mind that while 38 synthetics are now allowed in organic foods, conventionally grown foods are allowed thousands. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) maintains a list of over 3,000 chemicals that are added to the processed food supply.

But some say you may want to keep an eye on organic standards in years to come, so what starts as 38 doesn't balloon without a limit.

"We're concerned that the amendment could allow a whole host of processing aids and synthetic substances to be added without any review," says Joe Mendelson of the Center for Food Safety.

Indeed, it seems some members of the organic community are bracing themselves for a fight. Says the OCA:

"If the USDA and the dominant companies in the OTA continue to ignore consumer and organic community expectations, especially the expectations of small and medium-sized farmers, retailers, and companies, we will set up our own label, certification, and accreditation system and point out to consumers that "USDA Organic" means "grade B organic," and that consumers looking for "grade A" will have to look for our new label.

- Ryan

How Food Manufacturers are Tricking Gullible Consumers Under The Approval of The FDA

Written: 02/05/2008 | Join the discussion (0)

Most foods are required to carry nutrition labels to provide, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) says, "distinctive, easy-to-read formats that enable consumers to more quickly find the information they need to make healthful food choices."

But despite being regulated by the FDA and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, food manufacturers can, and do, get away with adding confusing or deceptive information to the labels. Sometimes this is done inadvertently, but often it's done with the specific intention of making you think the food is better for you than it actually is.

Reading the labels can be tricky, so here are the six top nutrition label "catches" to watch out for on your next trip to the grocery store.
  • Serving Size.

    Many processed foods that are packaged as a single serving actually contain two or more servings. According to the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act (NLEA) of 1990, a food item in a relatively small container may be labeled as a single serving if the entire contents can "reasonably be expected to be consumed in a single-eating occasion." However, there is often a discrepancy.

    Consider "Big Grab" potato chips or Doritos and "Big Gulp" drinks. Most people buy them with the intention of eating or drinking the whole thing. But an average serving of a soft drink is 12 ounces. Some of the Big Gulp drinks can be up to 64 ounces--more than five cans of soda! As for potato chips, a serving size can vary depending on the package. A single-serving snack size bag of chips, of course, has fewer calories than a larger, but still single-serving, size of the same snack.

    Other items to watch out for include large muffins (which often contain two servings), bagels, "individual" ice cream containers (some contain 4 servings), and personal size pizzas.

  • Exempt Ingredients.

    Food labels list ingredients in descending order. The most prevalent ingredient is first, the least is last. However, ingredients that constitute less than 2 percent can be listed in any order after the heading "contains less than 2% of the following."

    Other ingredients called "incidental additives" do not have to be listed on labels. These include substances transferred to food via packaging and "ingredients of other ingredients" that are present at "insignificant levels" and have no "technical or functional effect."

    Natural and artificial flavors are also often grouped together under one name, and manufacturers aren't required to disclose what "artificial flavors" really means. The exception here is a new ruling by the FDA, to begin January 1, 2006, that states any food containing a "major food allergen" must have it listed on the label (whether or not its part of flavoring or incidental additives). Major food allergens include milk, eggs, peanuts, tree nuts, fish, shellfish, soy and wheat, as well as food ingredients containing proteins derived from any of these food categories.

  • All Natural.

    Food products that claim to be all natural may in fact include unnatural ingredients. According to Mike Adams, the "Health Ranger," "[The term all-natural] actually has no nutritional meaning whatsoever and isn't truly regulated by the FDA."

    "The reality is that natural isn't always safe, and products with the 'natural' labeling are not required by law to contain only natural ingredients,'' said Linda Golodner, president of the National Consumers League. " ... Consumers think of words like 'safe' and 'good for me' when they think of natural, but across the board -- from prescription drugs to food products -- many of these natural claims are misleading at best.''

  • Free From ...

    The FDA allows food manufacturers to round to zero any ingredient that accounts for less than 0.5 grams per serving. So while a product may claim to be "gluten-free" or "alcohol-free," it can legally contain up to 0.5 grams per serving. While this may seem like an insignificant amount, over time this small fraction can add up.

    Case in point, many food products that claim to have no dangerous trans fats list partially hydrogenated oil in their ingredients label. Partially hydrogenated oil creates trans fats, so these labels may be taking advantage of the rounding to zero option.

    "If there's less than 0.5 gram of trans fats per serving, the food manufacturer may round down to zero," says D. Milton Stokes, R.D., a New York City-based nutritionist. "It's an FDA rule, and it happens with all foods."

  • Unfamiliar Terms for Unsavory Ingredients.

    Food manufacturers are known to use "clean labels," in which they hide ingredients they know consumers would rather not have in their foods under names they won't recognize.

    For instance, if you're trying to avoid MSG, you need to look for all of the following terms, as they all contain MSG:

    • Autolyzed yeast
    • Calcium caseinate
    • Gelatin
    • Glutamate
    • Glutamic acid
    • Hydrolyzed protein
    • Monopotassium glutamate
    • Monosodium glutamate
    • Sodium caseinate
    • Textured protein
    • Yeast extract
    • Yeast food
    • Yeast Nutrient

  • Misleading Ingredient Claims.

    Sometimes, foods that claim to include healthy ingredients actually don't contain them, or only contain them in miniscule amounts. Common offenders are blueberry waffles with no blueberries and strawberry yogurt with no strawberries. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) recently asked the FDA to "immediately stop misleading food labels," including:

    • Kellogg's Eggo Nutri-Grain Pancakes: The label says they're made with whole wheat and whole grain, but they're made primarily of white flour and contain more high-fructose corn syrup than whole wheat or whole grain.

    • Betty Crocker Super Moist Carrot Cake Mix: Contains only carrot powder as the 19th ingredient on the label.

    • Gerber Graduates for Toddlers Fruit Juice Snacks: The primary ingredients are corn syrup and sugar.

    "Food manufacturers are shamelessly tricking consumers who are trying to eat more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains," said CSPI director of legal affairs Bruce Silverglade. "Too many processed foods contain only token amounts of the healthful ingredients highlighted on labels and are typically loaded with fats, refined sugars, refined flour, and salt, in various combinations."

How to Avoid Allergies

Written: 02/02/2008 | Join the discussion (0)

Not sure what is causing your sneezing, watery eyes, runny nose or itchy skin? How about your upset stomach? Most Americans are, in fact, allergic to something. Over 54.3 percent of us, to be exact, between the ages of 6 and 59 tested positive for one or more allergens, according to the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES III).

Yet even with all of these allergies, only 28 percent of allergy sufferers reported that they were "very knowledgeable" about their allergies, found the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America's first National Allergy Awareness Test.

Ready to become more knowledgeable? Following are the top allergens in the top allergic areas (skin, respiratory and digestive), along with general direction on how to best avoid them.

Top 10 Skin Allergens

  1. Nickel
  2. Gold
  3. Balsam of Peru (a fragrance used in lotions and perfumes)
  4. Thimerosal (a mercury-containing additive found in antiseptics and vaccines)
  5. Neomycin sulfate (an antibiotic found in first-aid creams and ointments)
  6. Fragrance mix (used in foods, cosmetics, dental products and insecticides)
  7. Formaldehyde (a preservative)
  8. Cobalt chloride (a metal used in hair dye, antiperspirant, and medical products)
  9. Bacitracin (an antibiotic used in cream-form)
  10. Quaternium 15 (a preservative found in cosmetic and industrial products)

How to Avoid Skin Allergens

The best approach is to avoid any substances you know you are allergic to, or that cause inflammation, redness, swelling, itching, hives or other upset to your skin. This could be jewelry, cosmetic products or food.

Top 8 Respiratory Allergens

  1. Dust mites
  2. Rye
  3. Ragweed
  4. Cockroaches
  5. Pollen
  6. Mold
  7. Animal dander
  8. Dust

How to Avoid Respiratory Allergies

  • When pollen and mold counts are high, spend more time indoors.

  • Keep windows closed to keep pollen out.

  • Wash bedding once a week in hot water -- it will help get rid of dust mites and other allergy triggers.

  • Keep your home as dust-free as possible.

  • If you spend time outside, change your clothes and wash your hair when you come inside to remove pollen and other allergens.

  • Filter your home's air -- many allergic reactions are triggered by airborne particles.

  • If pet dander is a problem for you, keep pets out of the bedroom (or don't get any pets to begin with).

  • Use strategically place doormats to keep dust, pollen and other allergens where they belong -- outdoors.

  • Use dehumidifiers in basements and other damp areas of your home where mold could grow, and be sure to clean them once a week.

Top 8 Digestive Allergies

The Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Network says that eight foods account for 90 percent of all food-related allergic reactions:

  1. Milk
  2. Egg
  3. Peanut
  4. Tree nut (walnut, cashew, etc.)
  5. Fish
  6. Shellfish
  7. Soy
  8. Wheat

How to Avoid Digestive Allergies

This one can be tricky, as peanuts, soy, egg, milk and wheat can be hidden in countless foods. If you are allergic to any of these items, you will need to be a diligent label reader. Alternatively, only buy foods you know to be safe. And, when you eat out let the server know that you absolutely cannot have certain ingredients.

- Ryan