Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Skin Cancer Awareness

Skin cancer is one of the most common cancers. Approximately one in six people will develop skin cancer. Medical experts unanimously agree that overexposure to sunlight is the main culprit. Other factors include sunburn with blistering especially during childhood, skin creams that contain tar if used over a prolonged period, repeated X-rays, exposure to coal and arsenic, radiation, chemotherapy and family history. Freckles with fair skin that doesn't tan very easily can also put one at risk.

Most skin cancers grow slowly. It is imperative you inspect your body on a regular basis for anything unusual. Stand in front of a full length mirror and with a hand held mirror check out every inch of your skin. Have someone check the top of your head as well. You should know your body in detail, so that when something different rears its ugly head, you notice it immediately!

Watch for any unusual spots. Look for lesions, moles or spots that are asymmetrical in shape. Observe for any colored spot that grows bigger or develops an uneven color or irregular, ragged edge. Look for any nodules or patches that are red and scaly, as this can be a squamous cell carcinoma which can metastasize (spread). Other symptoms to look for are changes in the surface of a mole. If you notice the mole is raised above the skin and has a rough surface, is scaly, oozing, bleeding or there is development of bumps on any mole, seek medical attention. In other words anything that develops that wasn't on your body before should be investigated by your physician.

Skin cancer has a high cure rate if caught early. Excision of the lesion is the most common treatment. Self examination is the key to early detection with a regular visit to your doctor for check ups.

The best methods to avoid skin cancer are to avoid the sun, especially during the hottest part of the day from 10:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Wear a sunscreen if you are out doors with an SPF of at least 15 or more, applied thirty minutes before going into the sun. Put the sunscreen everywhere the suns rays will hit you. Don't forget your ears and men don't forget any bald areas on top of your head. If you have to be out in the sun, use a wide brimmed hat or cap. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from the sun. Choose sunglasses that protect against both UVA and UVB rays. Sunglasses can help prevent cataracts as well. Wear long sleeve shirts and pants if it is not sweltering hot, to better protect your body. Don't use tanning salons as they can damage your skin just like the sun.

Of course there is the controversy that you need some sun in order NOT to be vitamin D deficient. I know it is hard at times to completely avoid the sun. A few minutes of sun occasionally with a good sun screen, should not be too harmful, as long as you watch the time of day and check your body on a regular basis. Also too much sun can contribute to wrinkles. Avoidance is best, but not always possible. Hence, just be very careful and check, check, check your body regularly (monthly if possible). Go to your doctor immediately when you notice any irregularities. Keep healthy!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Tonic Herbs: Ginseng

Ginseng root is probably the most familiar tonic herb. There are several types of Ginseng, all of which share many characteristics.

Panax Ginseng is the most famous of the Ginsengs. It is most often available as "Red" or "White" Ginseng. (The difference between Red Ginseng and White Ginseng is how the roots are treated after harvesting.)

Panax Ginseng has a very long history as a tonic herb, going back thousands of years. The word "Panax" comes from the same root as panacea, (cure-all), and was used to describe the many, many uses of ginseng.

There is also a Siberian Ginseng. Eleutherococcus Senticosus (often called Eletheuro) may be the most researched herb on the planet. This was the first herb described as an adaptogen. (Acanthopanax Gracilistylus is also sold under the name Siberian Ginseng, and shares many properties with Eleuthero.)

A few effects of Siberian Ginseng are: increases endurance; helps insomnia; lowers blood pressure; improves blood circulation; improves blood flow to the brain. (A full listing would take several pages.)

Some herbalists say Siberian Ginseng is the safest of the Ginsengs. It is often used with elderly or infirm individuals, to improve their energy levels.

There is also an American Ginseng, Panax Quinquefolium, which once grew wild in great abundance. Over-harvesting has made wild American Ginseng scarce. Botanically, this is the closest to Panax Ginseng.

All these varieties function as adaptogens, and tonify a range of body systems. They are all safe to use, and are suitable for long term use.

Some people find that Panax Ginseng over-stimulates them, and find Siberian Ginseng to be a better choice.

All of the Ginsengs are available as raw herbs, in capsules and freeze dried powders. Capsules and powders are the easiest to use, simply follow the manufacturer's directions. Some herbalists say that using standardized extracts gives you less benefit than using the whole root.

Trying one or more of the Ginsengs is a good way to introduce yourself to the benefits of herbal tonics.

Vitamin C – The Secret Nutrient

How could vitamin C be a secret? Everybody knows we need it to stay alive and healthy. For example, most people are aware of its role in preventing scurvy. Sailors on long, ocean-going voyages commonly got scurvy, so in 1795 the British Navy began issuing limes, which are full of vitamin C, to its sailors for this very reason. (Brits are called “Limeys,” right?)

However, here is the secret that drug companies hope the general populace never finds out. Vitamin C can do far more than merely keeping humans from bruising easily and having bleeding gums, loose teeth, poor immune systems, difficulty healing and mild anemia.

It turns out that vitamin C is not just one of the least toxic substances that exist, but in fact it should actually be its very own food group, right up there with proteins, fats, and carbohydrates. It’s water soluble and is essential for life. Vitamin C is far less dangerous than common table salt and is about as necessary for true health as water.

It’s all a matter of dosage. Some researchers have criticized dosages recommended by government agencies because they don’t take weight and age differences into account and because they only represent the amount needed to prevent acute forms of vitamin deficiency disease instead of either lower levels of the disease or the amounts needed to prevent other diseases. Nor do they address amounts needed for optimal health, as they are solely based on levels that are slightly above malnourishment. Because most people are content with the guidelines of the governmental agencies, the benefits of much higher doses are rarely considered.

Most animals make as much vitamin C right in their own bodies as they need in order to have immune systems and self-healing abilities people can only envy. Why can’t humans do the same thing? Millions of years ago, the ancestors of modern homo-sapiens had an evolutionary hiccup. They lost the ability to manufacture vitamin C in their own bodies, so they started needing to get it from the food they eat.

This was fine until the ice age made it difficult to get vitamin C all year round. Evolution compensated by allowing humans to patch up fragile blood vessels (remember that vitamin C prevents bruising) with cholesterol. When summer came along, and vitamin C was plentiful, the cholesterol patches on the blood vessels dissolved. The hardening arteries softened right up again.

Alas, the “modern” diet of humankind today makes the caveman’s diet look like the heights of good nutrition. Usually people don’t get nearly enough vitamin C to dissolve arterial plaque, also called arteriosclerosis. Nor do they get enough vitamin C for their bodies and immune systems to really engage in rebuilding themselves from the inside out. As a result, people get degenerative diseases and age before they really need to.

Why hasn’t this been in the news? It’s simple. Vitamin C is incredibly inexpensive. Put another way, promoting it is not lucrative. For example, a heart attack is worth tens of thousands of dollars to the health care system, but heart attacks can often be avoided by a daily intake of vitamin C that adds up to mere tens of dollars. There’s just no money to be made by selling preventive over the counter vitamin C compared to selling expensive prescription heart medications.

This example focuses on heart disease, but vitamin C has far broader “healing” powers. It is a safe way to treat viral diseases and works very effectively against poisoning. There is certainly evidence that it is useful in preventing lead poisoning. There is a high probability that it prevents the formation of cataracts. Most people are aware that it helps with colds and flu. And there is a growing body of evidence of its toxicity to cancer cells in high, intravenous doses.

It is almost impossible to get enough vitamin C for optimum health from diet alone. Many more details can be found by using an internet search engine and searching for “Linus Pauling” and “Vitamin C.”

How much vitamin C should be taken daily? Authorities vary widely in their recommendations, but a good benchmark is something called “Bowel Tolerance.” This simply means taking as much vitamin C as possible before starting to experience stool looseness. For most people, this is about 6,000 to 12,000 mg per day. It’s helpful to take vitamin C several times throughout the day instead of all at once because the body flushes it out very quickly.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

About Tooth Whiteners

Tooth whitening was discovered by accident by dentists who traditionally use peroxide in the mouth after dental surgery. They noticed the effects of peroxide on tooth discoloration due to coffee, tea, colas, smoking, and other substances. Whitening has now become a common process.

There are two main kinds of tooth whitening treatments, those carried out in a dentist's office and those done at home. The procedure in the dentist's office, with laser activation, can take a little over an hour; the procedure at home can take days or weeks.

Home treatments include those dispensed by dentists and those bought over-the-counter. To get to the root of the differences, you must first look at who regulates or sets guidelines for tooth whiteners. Since they are not considered as drugs by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the FDA does not regulate them.

In place of regulation, the American Dental Association (ADA) has set minimal guidelines for safety and effectiveness. The only products to have received the ADA Seal of Acceptance are tray-based products dispensed by dentists. The active ingredient in these ADA-accepted products is carbamide peroxide at 10% concentration. The active ingredient found in many over-the-counter products is hydrogen peroxide.

Your dentist should be your first advisor on which over-the-counter product is best for you, based on the nature of your tooth discoloration and your dental history, as well as safety. You can also ask your dentist or do your own research online as to which manufacturers have a reputation for making quality products, and which manufacturers conduct their own research.

As a general rule, there has been extensive testing of carbamide peroxide-based whiteners, but very little of hydrogen peroxide, something to be taken into consideration when choosing.

Another consideration is the condition of your teeth. It is safe to whiten your teeth yourself without consulting a dentist if your teeth are healthy, but if you have dentures, fillings, capped teeth or teeth blackened by fillings or decay, ask your dentist what would be right for you.

Whitening toothpastes might be safer, as they gently whiten with mild abrasion and do not necessarily contain peroxide. They typically can leave your teeth one shade lighter with continued use. On the other end of the spectrum, dentist-applied light activated whitening can lighten teeth by up to 8 shades.

Whitening gels and strips use peroxide in lower concentrations than if administered by your dentist. They can lighten teeth by several shades in a few days to two weeks, and the effects can last up to 4 months.

Tray bleaching at home is done typically for 1-2 hours per day, or overnight, for up to 4 weeks for maximum results. This method is much cheaper than having your dentist do the job.

Possible side effects of tooth whitening include cold or heat sensitivity, or gum irritation. If you use over-the-counter products at home and develop sensitivity in your mouth tissues, discontinue use and consult with your dentist. Your dentist can apply whitener and keep it from contacting your gums, plus he can control the amount and maximize contact with your teeth for optimal whitening and minimal irritation.

Whether you choose to whiten your teeth with your dentist's help or on your own, educating yourself will give you the best chances of achieving that dazzling white smile.