Wednesday, February 27, 2013

The Truth About Tanning

When I was young, I was convinced that my pale skin was ugly. Ever since I can remember, being tan has been considered beautiful—while pale skin was called things like “sickly” and “pasty.” I was jealous of my friends that could tan effortlessly, of my sister who always had a healthy golden glow, of my best friend who couldn’t burn if she tried. I, on the other hand, burn in about five minutes.
Tan is considered by many to be more beautiful than pale.
Society says tan is more beautiful. What do you think?
Image from

My mother tried to convince me countless times that my pale skin was just as beautiful as others, but I never believed her. To this day, I still find myself wishing at times that I were just a little darker, a little less red and a little more bronze. But mostly I’ve accepted that my Irish heritage simply doesn’t allow for that—and that’s okay.

Because even as I look wistfully at my tan friends, I remember that all the safe sun practices I’ve learned and all the tanning booths I haven’t visited make me much less at risk for developing melanoma. I have also found role models in pale-skinned actresses that I consider incredibly beautiful people—Anne Hathaway, Nicole Kidman, Evanna Lynch, Naomi Watts, Scarlett Johansson, Zooey Deschanel, and more.

Anne Hathaway
Helga Esteb /"
Zooey Deschanel
Zooey Deschanel
Helga Esteb /
My grandfather worked on the railroad for years, spending long days in the sun. In his later years, he developed melanoma on his face and ears, and I can remember him regularly having to get spots removed before the cancer spread to the rest of his body.

Tanning beds have been around for years now. And even though scientific data conclusively points out that using them increases the risk for developing melanoma, we continue to put ourselves in harm’s way. One Tacoma, Washington, couple found out the dangers of tanning the hard way when their daughter Shelley died of melanoma at just 34-years old. She had tanned frequently as a teen and felt like she needed to be tan to be beautiful.

“The paradigm that tan skin is beautiful killed my daughter,” said Shelley’s father, Peter Rasmussen. Rasmussen has urged lawmakers countless times over the past four years to pass a bill that would ban teens and children from tanning beds, and Washington State is currently considering raising the minimum usage age up to 18.

About 13% of teens say they've used tanning beds.
About 13% of teens say they've used tanning beds.
Image: Shutterstock
And while even some tanning salon owners in Washington agree that tanning is unnecessary and dangerous especially for children, not all states even have a minimum tanning age. Missouri is one of 17 states that has no age restriction for tanning.

In a study conducted by researchers at Washington University, children as young as 10 years old have used tanning beds in Missouri. Of the 243 randomly selected salons surveyed, 65% said children between 10 and 12 would be allowed to use tanning beds. In many cases, operators at salons also claimed that there were no risks associated with indoor tanning and that tanning would help protect them from future sunburns.

But those claims are completely false. According to the CDC, users of tanning beds under the age of 35 have a 75% increased risk of developing melanoma, eye cancer, changes in skin texture, and other problems.

Tan mom before and after tanning beds.
Tan Mom before and after tanning beds
Image from
Mostly, this article was brought on by the recent news that New Jersey’s infamous “tan mom” had all charges against her dropped. She was accused of taking her 5-year-old daughter tanning with her, which is illegal in New Jersey where the minimum age is 16. The world made fun of tan mom for her burnt appearance, but it mostly made me sad to see that someone would become so obsessed with being tan. She was ridiculed, but she was just an extreme example of what happens when we define beauty so narrowly.

Her daughter is being taught that she isn’t beautiful just the way she is—that she has to conform to ridiculous parameters set by society to be considered pretty. And that’s just not true. We are each made a little differently, and it’s so important that we pass that message on to our children. No matter your natural skin color, eye color, race, ethnicity, size, shape...

You are beautiful, just the way you are. Pass it on.
You are beautiful. Yes, you.
Image from

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Can Acupuncture Help Fight Allergies?

Seasonal allergies start earlier than they used to
Image: Shutterstock
I don’t suffer from allergies (thank goodness), but I’m pretty sure that puts me in the minority of people. My mother gets terrible hay fever and I can remember her having to pull the car over when I was a child because she couldn’t stop sneezing. Colleagues of mine often seem sick, but when I ask, the response is always the same:

“It’s just allergies.”

Spring allergies are always the worst, with new flowers blooming, pollen and seeds being released into the air. And with global temperatures rising, spring seems to come earlier every year—which means allergies come early, too. It’s not quite March yet, but many are already feeling the first hints of spring allergies.
Lots of people suffer from seasonal allergies
Lots of people suffer from seasonal allergies
Image: Shutterstock

A study from Germany, published in Annalsof Internal Medicine, has suggested that seasonal allergies may be treated using acupuncture. Participants in the study were placed into one of two groups and either 1) given acupuncture over eight weeks alongside Zyrtec, or 2) given “fake” acupuncture over eight weeks alongside Zyrtec.

Researchers for the study commented that the results were statistically significant and showed that acupuncture did have a positive effect on those who received treatment. However, the statistical results may not translate well practically. Researchers did acknowledge that “no effect of active treatment on individual symptom severity could be shown.”

Heather Rice, a licensed acupuncturist at the University of California Ivine’s Susan Samueli Center for Integrative Medicine, says she’s seen acupuncture in action—and believes it works.
Acupuncture might help with seasonal allergies
Acupuncture might help with seasonal allergies
Image: Shutterstock

“One thing I notice almost immediately is that in just 30 minutes, they [patients] say, ‘Oh my God, I can actually breathe,’” she said. “I don’t want to say it’s 100 percent, but with at least 8 out of 10 people, their noses will open up. They can breathe better, and they’re not as congested.”

Whereas Western medicine requires that allergy sufferers take regular doses of antihistamines, those who favor acupuncture say that treatments are just once a week.

Unfortunately, this new study is inconclusive. Follow up will need to be conducted to determine just how helpful acupuncture really is. Thus far, there is not a wealth of scientific evidence in its favor—but that certainly doesn’t mean that it’s not effective, just that we haven’t proved anything yet.

For now, if you have an effective treatment for allergies, then that may be the best route. But if not, it couldn’t hurt to give acupuncture a try. After all, some people have sworn by its effectiveness.  

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Fast Food Accounts for 11% of American Diet

Fast food accounts for 11% of the American diet
Fast food accounts for 11% of the American diet
Image: Shutterstock
We try to eat healthy as much as possible at home. We consume far more fresh produce than I ever did in my youth (when most of my veggies came from cans) and most of our meals consist of about 75% veggies and 25% meat. Sugar, salt, butter, cream, and all those delicious but overly-used additions are used sparingly. And while we might order the occasional pizza on a Saturday night, I honestly can’t remember the last time we made our way through a fast food drive-thru.

I count myself lucky in that fast food has never settled well with me. My stomach is especially sensitive and I’m a picky eater, so even as a teen I didn’t usually find fast food all that appetizing. But we still ate it from time to time because it was cheap and easy to come by.

America is still a "Fast Food Nation"
Image from
We are still a "Fast Food Nation"
But the sad truth is that many don’t feel the same, or they can’t afford to. Fast food accounts for more than 11% of the total American diet, according to federal health officials. And though that’s down two percent from a few years ago, that’s still a frightening amount, especially for young people.

The decisions we make as young adults can affect our health for the rest of our lives, and struggling with obesity in our 20s can put us at a high risk for metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar levels, and abdominal fat), diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease, among others.

According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), people aged 20 to 39 got 15% of their daily calories from fast food, while those older than 60 came in at just 6%. Young black people aged 20-39 were even higher, with 21% of their daily calories coming from fast food.

Fruit is fast food!
Image from
FRUIT is fast food!
And it seems that obesity only compounds the issue, as a survey of weight groups revealed that obese young adults got the highest percentage of calories from fast food—18%. For the most part, income didn’t seem to have much effect on how much fast food people ate. That means at this point it’s more a battle with bad habits and ease of obtainment than anything else.

I’m all for having food that’s available quickly, especially since sometimes I’m on the road or in a hurry and need a quick bite. I’ve been happy to see some fast food establishments offering more healthy options in the past few years, and I hope that trend continues. Obesity is a dangerous problem that should be addressed, particularly by those establishments that are largely responsible for the issue.

Do you eat fast food? If you do, do you choose to do so because it is 1) inexpensive, 2) quick, 3) easily obtained, or 4) because you enjoy it?

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Living Healthy: Knowing Your Key Indicators

I often ponder the thought that each of us is unique, both in body and mind. Yet we continually make mass generalizations of what is “right” or “wrong” for our health, without any respect to individuals. Of course, there are things that are generally good for most people, and I can understand why we fall into the habit of applying those truths to everyone. But I think the single most important key to living a healthy life is knowing your unique situation.

Health is a relationship between you and your body. ~Terri Guillemets
Image from
"Health is a relationship between you and your body."
For example, my workout buddy and I run together several times a week and attend exercise classes one to two times per week. She also lifts weights and does core strength training at home. She stretches every morning, as well as before and after our runs and classes. I would like to say I am as vigilant as her, but I’m not—which is part of the reason she is more fit than I am.

But though she has a stronger core and body in general, she is constantly hurting herself. Not the pushed-too-hard kind of hurting. The “I sat down and now my back is tweaked out” kind. She is a thousand times more careful than I am, yet she is always getting injured.

Another friend has cut most carbs, grains, and sugars out of her diet because when she eats them more than occasionally, she finds that she puts on extra weight. I have been on a low-carb, low-grain, and low-sugar for the better part of a year and it doesn’t affect my weight at all.

One of my roommates can’t eat or drink anything with aspartame in it because it gives him bad migraines. I also get migraines, but aspartame doesn’t have that affect on me—but alcohol does, if I drink more than one. He can drink several and not end up with a headache.

Self knowledge is no guarantee of happiness. But it is on the side of happiness and can supply the courage to fight for it. ~Simone De Beauvoir
Image from
"Self knowledge is no guarantee of happiness.
But it is on the side of happiness
and can supply the courage to fight for it."
I think as we grow, we learn more about ourselves, and sometimes that includes learning about our health. But too many people rely on the doctor when they are feeling down and out rather than proactively managing their health. I read about an interesting program the other day that is coming out of Henry Kravis’ company, Kohlberg Kravis Roberts. It works with employees to help them recognize and understand their own key health indicators and better manage their health.

Now, I’m lucky enough to have health insurance, but there is certainly no program like this that helps me understand my health. What’s my normal blood pressure? No idea—they never tell me so I assume it’s normal. It’s things like that which I should know but don’t.

What do you think? Is it our doctors’ jobs to essentially fix us when we’re sick, or should they be working to help us understand our own health? Do you know of any other programs out there like KKR’s that work with employees to do this? I’m interested to find out what people know and want to know about their own health.