Friday, October 13, 2017

The Avocado You Didn't Know You Needed Is Here

A photo of two avocados, one of which is sliced open.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Was anyone actually looking for a low-fat avocado? Even if not, the option is now here—well, in Spain, anyway.

Eurobanon's Isla Bonita has released a "light" avocado that has 30% less fat than the regular kind. According to the company, it's also milder in flavor with a juicier and lighter pulp. Additionally, it has a slower oxidation rate, gets ripe faster than traditional varieties, and is available year-round.

If you're looking for details on how (and maybe why) this fruit was developed, you're out of luck. Isla Bonita has said they won't release the exact location of the avocados' cultivation, though they do admit that they're grown somewhere other than Latin America, where most avocados on the market today come from.

While a low-fat food can be a great thing, particularly for those wanting to eat healthy, nutritionists are already questioning this development. After all, avocados, though high in calories and fat (322 calories and 30 grams of fat), also contain vitamins B, C, and E, as well as minerals like potassium and folate. They're low in sugar, high in fiber, and contain monosaturated "good" fat that can help lower cholesterol. You want to eat them in moderation, but they can easily be part of a healthy diet.

While it's pretty common for people to look for low-fat alternatives, professionals say this "light" avocado may not be the best route. 

"Being that fresh avocados are pretty much a perfect, creamy, dreamy, and delicious produce pick, I'm a tad skeptical about fussing with something that's not broken," said Joy Bauer, founder of Nourish Snacks. However, she admits a potential upside: "If this new product has all of the same nutrient attributes—without any suspect add-ons needed to reduce some of the fat—perhaps this will be a new way for those looking to lose a few pounds to enjoy avocado."

Other nutritionists are far more negative. 

"This sounds like an awful idea to me!" said Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN. "It reminds me of low-fat peanut butter, which I say is about as good as eating vitamin-free vegetables! Foods should be eaten in their whole real form."

The "light" avocado will be launched at the October Fruit Attraction trade fair in Madrid and is already being sold in supermarkets and specialist stores in Spain. Its nutritional make-up has been verified in lab tests, and it's received the Spanish Health Foundation's Food Health Programme approval.

We'll have to wait a bit for it to be released in the US, as it's only available in Spain right now. But when the time comes, it will be interesting to see how quickly American consumers pick up on it.

Friday, October 6, 2017

Sharing Your Genetic Information Could Save a Life

A strand of DNA.
Image credit: Shutterstock
No one likes to be the bearer of bad news, but if you have a genetic disease like Lynch Syndrome or other kinds of cancer, you can save the lives of your family members by letting them know and encouraging them to get tested. There are a variety of resources to help you do this, including sites like Kintalk.org and IHaveLynchSyndrome.org.

Kintalk, “an educational and family communication site for individuals and their families with hereditary cancer conditions,” is one example of the way technology is making it easier for families to talk about genetics. Funded in part by Silicon Valley businessman Thomas Weisel and run by a board of directors including Dr. Jonathan Terdiman, Kintalk helps families confidentially share information about hereditary cancers and keep up with screening opportunities. There’s also a forum where visitors can share information and support.

Then there’s IHaveLynchSyndrome.org, an educational and awareness organization created by Georgia Hurst, who has tested positive for Lynch Syndrome herself. That diagnosis—along with the death of her brother from cancer—has put Hurst on a mission to connect patients and healthcare professionals—especially genetic counselors. Using tweet chats, blog posts, podcasts, and more, Hurst’s organization gives sufferers and their families access to all the information they need to make informed decisions about their care.

The big question when it comes to this sort of thing is how much (if anything) you tell your family. On the one hand, your genetic information could very well save their lives; on the other hand, you might be scaring them unnecessarily.

In Hurst’s case, she decided to let her family know—with mixed results. A cousin got tested and came out negative. Other family members refused to get tested and, Hurst says, were angry that Hurst was “trying to scare them.”

It’s particularly tough if you want to let your children know. “Whether to tell children and when and how to tell them is one of the most common reasons people seek support in the process of genetic testing,” says Karen Hurley, a clinical psychologist who specializes in hereditary cancer risk.

This is particularly true when it comes to breast cancer.  Do you let your daughter know about her potential risk even she hasn’t reached puberty yet? Dr. Jill Stoller, a pediatrician who carries a BRCA mutation (which means she’s more likely to develop breast cancer) decided to tell her daughter Jenna. When Jenna was 18, she chose to get tested. “She told me that the stress of not knowing was worse than knowing,” Stoller said.

On the other hand, Massachusetts special ed teacher Ann Little decided not to tell her 13-year-old daughter when Ann learned she had the BRCA gene—though she did tell her older children. “It would be a huge, dark cloud hanging over her,” Little said about her decision.

It’s a tough choice to make—deciding whether or not to tell your family about a genetic predisposition for cancer. Definitely a downer. At the same time, though, by sharing information—particularly through an online option like Kintalk or IHaveLynchSyndrome.org—you give your family a fighting chance at early diagnosis and treatment. In this case, ignorance definitely isn’t bliss. 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Switching from Tanning Beds to Sunless Spray Tans

A female technician holding a spray tan gun. There's another woman in a bikini in the background (she is getting the solution applied on her).
Photo credit: Shutterstock
By now, everyone knows that tanning beds are harmful. The American Academy of Dermatology has beaten us over the head time and time again about how prolonged UV exposure can cause skin cancer. This article is for those of you who want to make the switch from tanning beds to sunless spray tans, but aren’t sure what to expect.

Before I get started, I want to start out by dispelling a common myth about spray tans. Most people hear the words “spray tan” and automatically imagine someone with unnaturally orange skin. To be fair, when spray tans were first introduced, the pigment did have somewhat of an orange tint to it. However, technology has advanced quite a bit since then and the chances of this happening to you are slim to none.

With that being said, it is still possible for a person to end up with an orange hue or a shade that is way too dark for their natural skin tone. That’s why you should always go to a certified spray tan technician (yes, there are actual courses on this).

This brings me to my next point. There are two options when you get a spray tan: you can go into a private booth that applies the solution via machine, or you can get a custom spray tan applied by a technician. The custom spray tan is more expensive of course, but you do get what you pay for. The benefit of getting a spray tan applied by expert hand is that you will receive even coverage and the color itself will last longer.

Now, as far as upkeep goes, you will have to moisturize your skin daily to keep the color from fading. With that being said, be careful about the moisturizer that you use. In a recent article published in Elle, Victoria Dawson Hoff warns that oil-based lotions will deplete your tan in no time.

But perhaps even more important than what you do after your tan is what you do before your tan. In order to ensure the best application possible, you’ll want to exfoliate every inch of your skin before you head to your appointment. You should also wear dark loose-fitting clothes to prevent the solution from rubbing off.

As you can see, maintaining a spray tan is a lot more time-consuming than getting a UV tan. However, your skin will thank you for it in the long run.

Friday, September 1, 2017

Depression Is Nothing to Be Ashamed Of

Photo via Pixabay
An estimated 350 million people in the world, and almost 15 million in the U.S. alone, suffer from depression. Depression is different from being sad, although people often misuse the term “depressed” for “sad.”

There’s a big difference between being sad and having a depressive episode or suffering from depression. Most people have “felt depressed” as a normal reaction to grief, loss, or struggles such as losing a job or having relationship problems.

But when feelings of intense sadness, including feeling that you’re helpless, hopeless, or worthless, last for weeks and keep you from functioning normally, you may have depression.

According to the DSM-5, a manual used to diagnose mental health disorders, depression means that you have at least five of the following symptoms for at least two weeks:



  • A depressed mood during most of the day, particularly in the morning
  • Fatigue or loss of energy almost every day
  • Feelings of worthlessness or guilt almost every day
  • Impaired concentration, indecisiveness
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (being unable to sleep or sleeping too much)
  • Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in almost all activities that were once pleasurable (including hobbies or sex) nearly every day
  • Recurring thoughts of death or suicide, or suicide attempts
  • A sense of restlessness or being slowed down
  • Significant weight loss or weight gain

What do you do if you have these symptoms? First of all, seek help. If you are suicidal, call 911. You can also call a mental health crisis line such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) or the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) hotline. You probably have local crisis lines, too, and you can look them up here.

It can be hard to reach out, especially when you’re in the throes of depression, but it’s critical that you do. Trained professionals at these crisis lines can assist you in getting the help you need.

You can also talk to your physician; he or she may be able to refer you for counseling or medication assistance.

And speaking of medication…needing to take psychiatric medications is nothing to be ashamed of. Psych meds help your brain to work better, in much the same way that insulin helps diabetics to stay alive and functional.

How is depression treated? The best treatment for major depression is a combination of therapy and medications. Therapy will help you process life events that could be contributing to your depression. You’ll also learn techniques to stop negative self-talk and other behaviors that contribute to your depression. Medications will regulate your brain chemistry to make you more resilient when stressful situations arise in your life.

For more information about depression and other mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder (alternating periods of deep depression and elation/risky behavior), visit this WebMD guide or the National Alliance on Mental Illness website.

Don’t be ashamed if you’re suffering from depression. You’re not alone, and you deserve to live. Reach out for help; it’s there, and better is possible.

Friday, August 25, 2017

Why Medical Care and Dental Care are Separate

Photo: Shutterstock
If you’re fortunate, you have health insurance and dental insurance provided either through your employer or through your parents or guardians. If you’re an adult on Medicaid, you may not have any dental coverage at all.

But why are dental insurance and health insurance—and the professions of doctors and dentists—separate, when our teeth are so important to our general health?

The separation between dentistry and the rest of medicine starts from the fact that dental procedures were often performed by barbers. They would pull painful teeth and lance abscesses once they were done giving their clients a haircut or beard trim.

The dental profession didn’t really become a profession until 1840, when the first dental college in the world opened at the University of Maryland in Baltimore. Prior to that, Chapin Harris and Horace Hayden tried to get dental courses to be taught in medical schools, but the doctors believed that dentistry was more of a “mechanical challenge” than a medical issue and rejected their proposal.

Because of the “historic rebuff,” as it is known, medicine and dentistry became separate professions, and remain that way to this day, despite many efforts to make dentistry an essential part of the healthcare system and provide insurance for dental and medical procedures under public insurance programs.

Oddly enough, these days it’s dentists who want to stay separate from doctors. Part of it is about the marketplace, and part of it is about the fact that medical records and dental records have separate diagnostic codes and it would be difficult to get dental records integrated into medical ones. It’s also the reason why health insurance and dental insurance are separate entities.

It’s this divide that brings more than a million people each year to emergency rooms with dental pain. The doctors there can’t do anything but provide antibiotics and pain relief and encourage people to see their dentist to have the problem treated—and for that, it costs the system more than $1 billion a year.

This separation between dentistry and medicine is especially frustrating because dental problems can affect everything about us: our ability to meet our basic nutritional needs, our ability to maintain our overall health, and even our ability to get a job (missing teeth can be a real handicap when searching for employment).

The state of our teeth is also an easily visible status symbol. Wealthy people tend to have nice, straight, white “Hollywood smiles,” while the poorer among us may have crooked teeth, extensive tooth decay, or other dental problems. “Perfect teeth are a very clear way of signaling your wealth,” wrote Julie Beck in The Atlantic, “More clear than if everyone had access to good care and had decent teeth.”

What do you think? Should dental care and medical care be separate? Why or why not? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Friday, August 18, 2017

13,000 Sick Florida Children Went Without Care in 2015


A young boy lying in a hospital bed, attached to an IV.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Whether they were politically motivated or not, some seriously dangerous healthcare malfunctions that were endangering Florida children have just come to light.

With about half of all children in Florida on Medicaid in 2015, lives were thrown out of balance when, during the spring and summer, the state switched about 13,000 children out of a program called Children's Medical Services (CMS) and into other insurance programs that don't specialize in caring for extremely sick children.

This meant that children suffering from things like birth defects, heart disease, diabetes, and blindness couldn't get the help they needed.

There were several problems at play here. First off, according to medical experts, the data analysis used to transfer the children was "inaccurate" and "bizarre." Florida Department of Health nurses asked the parents of sick children a very particular question: "Is your child limited or prevented in any way in his or her ability to do the things most children of the same age can do?"—which disqualified children who were seriously ill but could still get by day to day.

"This was a truly duplicitous question," said pediatrician Dr. Philip Colaizzo. Many of his patients, he reports, were taken off CMS.

Second problem: the screening tool the state used had already been dubbed "completely invalid" and "a perversion of science" by experts in children's health. But it was still being used.

And finally, while a state administrative law judge ruled in the fall of 2015 that the Department of Health should stop using the tool, the DOH didn't automatically re-enroll many of the children into CMS.

Then there's the potential political issue: the new version of Medicaid that didn't cover these children was made up of insurance companies that gave money to the Republican party during the last election.

Luckily, the insurance process has since been corrected, so these kids can get the healthcare they need.

While the Florida DOH argues that the recent CNN article with the above allegations is "100% false," they're basing their statement on the current healthcare system—not what Florida had in place during 2015.

Meanwhile, the political element is still getting play. Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King recently called for an independent investigation into the situation. 

American Medical Response Acquired for $2.4 Billion

A computer generated image of an ambulance.
Image credit: Shutterstock
It’s official: private equity firm KKR is purchasing American Medical Response. The $2.4 billion acquisition is the latest addition to KKR’s growing list of healthcare portfolio companies.

Turns out the recent buyout, combined with similar purchases, is a new direction for George Roberts and Henry Kravis, co-CEOs and co-chairmen of KKR. Just last month, the firm also acquired online health publisher WebMD. And in a separate deal, the private equity giant also obtained a majority stake in Nature’s Bounty.

So what does it mean? It means that investors see the value of the healthcare industry and expect it to grow in the near future.

KKR's actually been at it for a while when it comes to investing in healthcare. Two years ago they also bought Air Medical. According to Reuters, “the merger with American Medical Response (AMR), the largest U.S. provider of ambulance services, would allow KKR's Air Medical Group to easily substitute costly helicopter flights with ambulances for shorter trips.”

Together, Air Medical and American Medical Response will transport an estimated five million patients every year. As of now, Air Medical and American Medical Response services are available in 46 states. But who’s to say they won’t expand that to all 50 states soon?

It’s easy to see why KKR and other private equity firms are investing in healthcare. After all, it's a safe bet. As management consultant firm Bain & Company puts it, the healthcare industry has a “proven resilience to economic turbulence.” Maybe that’s why last year the deal value for healthcare private equity reached $36.4 billion, the highest level since 2007.

In a recent article published in Forbes, contributor Todd Millay gave his thoughts on why healthcare stocks are hot right now:

“The long-term fundamentals of the healthcare sector compare favorably to the broader market. The sector has superior earnings-per-share growththe key driver for long-term equity returns. The healthcare sector also has a higher and more stable return on equity than the broader market. Healthcare stocks have traditionally declined less than the overall market in downturns.”

It makes sense, given that everyone needs healthcare and it will always be in demand.
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