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Friday, June 13, 2008

The age of the rage: why are we so angry?

Did you know that one person in 20 has had a fight with a next-door neighbour? That one driver in four admits to committing an act of road rage? That cases of “air rage” rose by 400 per cent between 1997 and 2000? That stress has overtaken the common cold as the main reason for taking time off work?

We appear to be living in an age of rage. Earlier this week there seems to have been an incidence of “queue rage” in a supermarket during which a man was punched - and later died. The death raises the whole issue of apparently random acts of violence that are often the product of momentary losses of self-control.

“Check-out rage” is just one more to add to our already long long list of road, air, trolley, parking space and cyclist rage. It is why a motorist will follow a pedestrian on to a bus and stab him; why a shopper will break another shopper's nose for something as trivial as bumping into his or her trolley. When I was riding in a taxi in London recently a cyclist hammered on the window in fury at a perceived (imagined, in my view) transgression by the driver. In a flurry of F-and-C-words he threw a fistful of coins at the taxi. As far as I could see nothing had happened.

Anger, humankind's natural and healthy reaction to stressful situations, is increasingly being acted out via physical violence - even though we are richer, take more holidays and lead more comfortable lives than ever before. There are several theories as to why our society is becoming ever more infuriated. The fast pace at which we live our lives - “hurry sickness”, for instance, has taught us to desire and demand instant gratification.

If something or someone delays us, we see it as a threat to our precious, finite time. There is also huge pressure to deliver at work in jobs that are increasingly insecure, competitive and ruthlessly based on performance.

Dr Michael Sinclair, a consultant psychologist in London specialising in anger management, says that, generally, people who grossly overreact to trivial events with violence are suffering from a central lack of confidence. The normal reaction, he says, when someone bumps into you is to think “that was a bit rude” and move on.

But angry people interpret everything as a personal slight, an insult to their already fragile egos. “Being bumped into will make the inadequate person feel even more inadequate,” Sinclair explains. “It exacerbates their sense of vulnerability.”

Times of economic gloom can exacerbate the problem. Sinclair says that he has recently seen his referrals increase as people battle to cope with the angry emotional fall-out from redundancy, heightened job insecurity or a suffocating mortgage. A person lacking in self-esteem can be driven to the edge by just a clipped letter from a bank.

Experts have said that in decades such as the 1960s and 1970s people tended to turn their frustration inwards, perhaps taking their anger out on their spouses behind closed doors. The tendency now is to turn it outwards: to externalise the problem to a complete stranger.

When people feel under threat they undergo physical and mental changes. Their heart rate, blood flow and tension rises as the body prepares for action. The mind goes into tunnel vision as it focuses on the threat and loses the bigger picture. Various factors will then inhibit the average person from acting upon it, such as not wanting to behave violently in public. But with more people behaving aggressively in public there is an unspoken “social permission” to do so.

And yet it is not as though everyone is walking around like a ticking hand grenade. Most of us - even though we may feel a surge of spleen when someone blocks our way - simply curse under our breath and walk away.

Sinclair says that anger is a process involving different stages: the environmental trigger, the interpretation of the trigger (“This person is disrespecting me”) and the physical arousal - the adrenalin rush that defends the threat to self-esteem.

The British Association of Anger Management has produced a six-point plan to help people to manage anger:

1. Stop, think and look at the bigger picture. Consider the consequences between the event and the reaction.

2. It's OK to have a different opinion. Opinions are not facts - they are only what you think.

3. Listen carefully. Learn to listen. Observe the other person's body language. Verify: clarify information. Empathise: keep your heart open at all times.

4. Use your support network, a group of people on whom you can call when you need to talk to someone so that your anger doesn't get out of control.

5. Keep a journal. This is a powerful way of not internalising your anger. Your journal can be used as and when you need to. Record how you feel about what happened, and your views on a problem. Using your journal will bring clarity to the situation.

6. Don't take anything personally. Nothing that others do or say is because of you. What others do and say is a projection of their own reality on to you. When you are immune to the opinions, projections, behaviours and actions of others, you will not be a victim of needless suffering any longer.

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Can Technology Improve Your Memory?

(NaturalNews) You have everything you need to keep you informed. Technology provides you with answers to almost any question instantly. If you need reminders, you can program devices to prompt you to remember your appointments and to-do list. Yet, you keep forgetting things. Right now you may not be sure where you put your BlackBerry charger or whether you took your vitamins that morning. You also may not be sure if it's your turn to pick up the kids today.

While technology saves us the burden of remembering endless details, it also adds to our memory problems. In part, that's because we need to remember random codes like passwords, logins and user names. These strings of numbers and letters become useful as codes precisely because they are confusing and meaningless. But that's also what makes them hard for our brains to access.

Memory works best when it interconnects. We create neural pathways in our brains as we connect a new piece of information with sensory details, recollections and knowledge -- forming a meaningful memory that we can easily retrieve. For example, you may be standing outside and notice a bird you haven't seen before. Someone tells you the tiny songbird is a barn swallow known as a traveler. It flies hundreds of miles a day in search of food, and each year migrates up to 14,000 miles. You may feel a sudden kinship with this energetic creature since your life keeps you constantly busy as well. When and where you hear facts, how you feel at the time, and the way you link the details with other information in your mind -- this all plays a part in memory. Chances are you will remember the sunny warmth of the day when you first saw the barn swallow and the insight gained as you thought about your own life 'on the fly.'

Another problem with technology is the obvious way that it interrupts us. Details are locked into our memories when we pay careful attention to them. That makes them more easily retrieved as well. How often do you have a full half hour, let alone a full five minutes to concentrate on any one thing without email, text messages or other distractions? Yet without concentration, recall is challenged. A meal is much more memorable at a new elegant restaurant because of the attention paid to it and the time devoted to it. You are fully aware of the novelty as you savor each mouthful, and thus remember the experience. Contrast that with a meal eaten at your desk while finishing a project. The food you ingest is hardly tasted let alone memorable. A few weeks later you can recall one meal while the other has been completely forgotten. It isn't the food eaten quite so much as the attention you paid to it that made the difference.

We also have to admit that technology removes some of the mental discipline that every generation before us had to practice. We may be weakening ourselves over time because we don't have to do the work of memorizing information, navigating roads or keeping track of upcoming events now that digital devices handle those tasks for us. What evidence do we have? Technology not only affects the way we process information, taken to an extreme it may also diminish memory. In the book, "Carved in Sand: When Attention Fails and Memory Fades in Midlife," author Cathryn Jakobson Ramin says that there's a name in Japan for those who constantly click away at keypads. They're called "oyayubizoku," or "thumb tribe." Researchers at Japan's Hokkaido University School of Medicine studied a group of oyayubizoku whose lives are consumed by electronic organizers, cell phones and laptops. They found that about ten percent of them had lessened the brain's capacity to learn and store information. One neurobiologist commented that these individuals had "lost the ability to remember new things, to pull out old data or to distinguish between important and unimportant information."

Of course, when you are concerned about your memory you're often told that the remedy is more technology. To some extent that may be helpful if you use reminder and calendar functions. As baby boomers approach the geriatric decades, the market is filling with technology promoted to enhance memory. Video "brain games" are said to guarantee results in a few minutes a day. There's not much solid research to back up these claims. Some of these products are engaging and could do a passable job of stimulating thinking, especially if used more than a minute or two. But building mental fitness requires the same kind of practice and dedication as physical fitness. Long-term use of such games may be useful, yet there are many other ways to improve your memory without spending time and money on mental gymnastics.

Attitude

It's common to notice an occasional lapse in memory, after all, forgetfulness isn't something you appreciate. You may even begin to humorously identify yourself as someone with a failing memory. But when you highlight these very normal mistakes, you aren't helping the problem. That's due to what psychologists call "self-talk," the ongoing internal conversation we have with ourselves. If your self-talk includes the idea that you have a "brain like a sieve" or "error -- memory leak" is your mode of operation, you will notice more and more evidence that supports this negative concept. Unintentionally you are reinforcing traits like inattention and confusion. Instead, cultivate an attitude of appreciation for your mind and body. Notice the amount of high-level thinking that you do. Adopt a healthier mindset by regarding memory lapses as incidents which are warning that it's time to slow down and start savoring your life more.

Meditation

Studies indicate that people who meditate have an improved outlook and increased concentration. They also have somewhat better memories. Research at Massachusetts General Hospital shows that regular meditation increases blood flow to the cerebral cortex, thickening that area of the brain. It's thought that this physical change enhances focus, memory and attention span. Meditation allows you to access the stillness beyond your thinking mind, to enter a state of peaceful awareness that simply observes. There are many forms of meditation. Develop a practice that fits into your life and enjoy benefits that go well beyond improved memory.

Movement

When we exercise, our muscles generate proteins that enter the brain. These proteins support learning and recall. One such protein is called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, which promotes the sort of brain development necessary for long-term memory and higher-level thinking. Exercise also increases blood flow to the brain, essential to thought processes. And we know that an active lifestyle stimulates neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine that are essential to attention, learning and positive emotions.

As Dr. John J. Ratey explains in Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain, " In addition to priming our state of mind, exercise influences learning directly, at the cellular level, improving the brain's potential to log in and process new information." That means when we play a fast paced game of tennis or master complex yoga moves, our brains are improving along with the rest of our bodies. So build regular, sustained movement into your daily life. Try varying your activities to keep up your interest level and provide continuing challenges.

Nutrition

Adequate water intake is essential for proper brain function. Take water along in your own water bottle so you don't need to resort to soda, energy drinks or other less healthful liquids. A healthy diet is also vital. Food containing adequate omega-3 fatty acids and antioxidants have been shown to support concentration and recall. It's best to avoid spikes and dips in blood sugar, as this has a negative effect on brain function. Eating smaller amounts in regularly spaced snacks, choosing whole foods, avoiding sugars and refined grains, paying attention to food intolerances and eating a wide variety of foods are helpful strategies. Some studies have shown that the supplements ginkgo biloba and phosphatidylserine may improve memory.

Timing

Each person has an optimal time of day for thinking and functioning. Rob West, director of the Cognitive Psychology Program at Iowa State University, says research has determined that this time period changes as people get older. When younger adults are tested it's found that their optimal time tends to be late afternoon or early evening. Beginning around the age of 50, this optimal time shifts to a much earlier part of the day, normally from eight a.m. to noon. According to West, one test to assess an individual's optimal thinking time is the Morningness-Eveningness Scale (http://web.ukonline.co.uk/bjlogie/test.htm) . Be sensitive to when you function best, and perform more challenging mental tasks during that time. You shortchange your abilities if you overload yourself with studies, work or competing obligations exactly at the time of day when you are at the lowest ebb.

Writing

Writing supports memory. Yes, writing things down provides a helpful reminder. But it has also been found that the effort involved helps us organize our thoughts. Taking notes, making a list, drawing up an agenda, penning a letter, or keeping a diary stimulates the sort of thinking that is good for memory. When we do this our ideas and feelings are not just a jumble of indistinct impressions, they are clearer and more accessible for recall. Over time, people who purposefully write things down tend to concentrate better. Interestingly, people who write about upsetting events also experience improved function and find themselves more emotionally stable.

Incorporate the habit of writing in your daily life. Keep a regular journal. Maintain a diary for travel and special events. Print out photos and attach notes. Make regular lists and enjoy crossing items off as you accomplish them. Maintain a gratitude log, noting one or more things you are grateful for each day. Write down your comments and impressions as you read a good book and tuck the notes amongst the pages, this is useful when re-reading or sharing the book with others. Revive the art of writing letters and thank you notes, perhaps making a copy to keep for yourself as an ongoing epistolary scrapbook. Consider joining a public speaking group such as Toastmasters to ramp up the challenge of organizing and presenting your thoughts.

Variety

Our brains are attracted to novelty. Rote tasks don't stimulate thinking and memory even when the activities are enjoyable. If you play a game of squash every week with the same friend, chances are very few that these games stand out in your mind. It's great to keep up regular rituals that you enjoy. But add variety on a regular basis. Doing something different creates new circuitry in your brain. Every day you can make a small change such as taking a new route to work, trying a new recipe or listening to a different genre of music. You can also add bigger challenges that ramp up brain function. Learn a new language, take dance lessons, tutor a student, try your hand at sculpting, take a trip, join a club or volunteer.

About the author

Laura Weldon is a writer with a book called Free Range Learning coming out in 2008. She lives on an organic farm and believes in bliss.

Original here

Pondering Probiotics

What if, rather than conferring a benefit to the digestive tract, probiotics worked by slowing the pace of bacterial die-off in organs near the gut, or even in other areas of the gut itself?

Many people go out of there way to buy probiotics, which can be purchased in myriad forms.There’s been some discussion on the Marshall Protocol study site about how probiotics, or bacteria that are believed to beneficially improve bacterial composition in the gut, may be palliating symptoms but not improving overall health. This probably seems ludicrous to people who go out of their way to buy yogurt with “friendly” bacteria such as acidophilis, or people who dig into their savings to buy probiotics in numerous forms including little silver pearls.

And yet consider this hypothesis. Whereas it used to be believed that the adaptive immune system dictated the immune response in the gut, recent research has made it clear that the innate immune system - which is active inside the villi of the intestines and stomach - is actually largely responsible for keeping gut bacteria in check.

The innate immune system mounts a response to every pathogen that enters the body, whether “friendly” or harmful.So when bacteria enter the body – whether described as “friendly” or pathogenic – the innate immune system mounts a response to their presence. That’s its job. It’s as if the innate immune system is a bouncer at a club who must check the ID of each person who wishes to enter.

The response or challenge that the innate immune system mounts towards every bacterium entering the GI track causes the production of inflammatory cytokines and chemokines. According to Marshall, part of this inflammatory response may cause a migration of white blood cells called monocytes from nearby organs of the body, or other parts of the gut, to the area of the GI track where they can face incoming probiotics.

Think about how this response might affect the liver, the pancreas, the kidneys, or even different areas of the gut. Since monocytes engulf bacteria and play an important role in killing the chronic intraphagocytic bacteria that cause inflammatory disease (collectively called the Th1 pathogens), if the white blood cells leave these organs in order to face probiotic bacteria entering the gut, the rate of bacterial die-off in these nearby organs should tone down or subside.

Monocytes may migrate from other organs near the gut in order to face incoming probiotics.Since we now understand that it is the death of the Th1 pathogens that cause the bulk of a person’s symptoms (inflammatory cytokines and toxins are released when they die), the result of this reduced bacterial die-off should generate a feeling of temporary wellness in these other organs, organs that also affect digestion and detoxfication.

In the same sense, if a patient’s immune system is working to target a pocket of bacteria in one area of the gut, new probiotic bacteria may divert its attention from that area of infection to a different area of the gut, diminishing bacterial die-off in the original area.

Besides slowing the body’s response to bacterial death (known as immunopathology) in organs near the gut or areas of the gut itself, the above scenario unfortunately places an extra load on the innate immune system, which is the same branch of the immune system that works to try to keep the Th1 pathogens under control.

As previously discussed, in cases where patients are infected with Th1 pathogens, the innate immune system is constantly working hard in an attempt to kill them. But because the system must work to mount an inflammatory response each time probiotics enter the body, the ingestion of probiotic bacteria gives the already over-worked system another task, which at the same time diverts its attention away from killing the Th1 pathogens.

If the innate immune system is forced to manage incoming probiotics, then the rate of bacterial die-off in organs near the gut, or other areas of the gut, may slow.Even in people considered healthy, overloading the innate immune system is still a problem, since if its focus is diverted to dealing with probiotics, it may be less effective at targeting other pathogens that enter the body. Also, since people often begin to harbor the Th1 pathogens well before becoming symptomatic, any feelings of “wellness” they experience after taking probiotics may be due to the same mechanisms described above.

“We now know that the GI tract relies on the innate (Th1) immune system, and the VDR, to deal with intestinal flora,” states Marshall. “A decade ago it was thought that antibodies (the Th2 adaptive immune system) were involved. So it is certain that ingesting probiotics will place a load on the very part of the immune system already weakened by fighting Th1 inflammation in the major organs. Whether this is good or bad is open to interpretation.”

According to chronic disease physician Dr. Greg Blaney, concentrated probiotics, especially if they contain the artificial sugar Fructooligosaccharides (FOS), are most likely to affect the GI tract and surrounding organs in the manner described above. New probiotic blends with extra ingredients added may also be particularly unhelpful.

Indeed, a recent study by researchers at the University of Newcastle in Australia found that treatment with probiotics doubles levels of the inflammatory cytokine Interferon-gamma,[1] confirming that the bacteria do create a Th1 inflammatory reaction upon their entry into the gut.

We now know that the GI tract relies on the innate (Th1) immune system, and the VDR, to deal with intestinal flora.Interferon-gamma also catalyses (by the action of the enzyme CYP27B1) the production of the 1,25-D – the active form of vitamin D that functions as both a hormone and a cytokine. Since the Th1 pathogens create ligands that block the VDR and subsequently dysregulate the pathway that controls CYP27B1,[2] this implies that healthy people might react differently to probiotics than people with Th1 disease, or at least be more negatively impacted by their ability to produce an inflammatory response.

This is because when enzymes such as CYP27B1 are dysregulated by VDR blockage, the body is unable to keep 1,25-D levels in the correct range. As the hormone starts to rise to unnaturally high levels, it binds many of the nuclear receptors – including the glucocorticoid receptor, the alpha/beta thyroid receptors, and the adrenal receptors - displacing the metabolites that are meant to be in the receptors under normal conditions.[3] This upsets the balance of several critical hormonal feedback pathways.

Here at Bacteriality our favorite hormone to scrutinize goes by the name of 1,25-D. So, you can understand our disappointment when we relate that, yet another group of researchers, these from U. of Newcastle, didn’t measure the 1,25-D levels of their subjects. It would have been quite interesting to note if the levels of the hormone/cytokine was higher among those subjects taking probiotics.

The above hypothesis would explain why Dutch researchers recently published a study in the Lancet which found that among patients with predicted acute pancreatitis, more than twice as many patients given probiotic supplements to prevent infection died compared to those who received placebos.[4]

The Lancet study found that among patients with predicted acute pancreatitis, more than twice as many patients given probiotic supplements to prevent infection died compared to those who received placebos.

“The adverse effects of probiotics noted here were unexpected,” Hein Gooszen and colleagues at the University Medical Centre Utrecht in the Netherlands wrote.

In the study of 296 people with similarly acute forms of pancreatitis, one group received a placebo and the other a mixture of probiotic supplements, some commonly available (the probiotics were administered via the mouth by a tube headed directly into the bowels). The number of people who developed infections was similar, but 24 volunteers died in the probiotic group compared to nine in the placebo group. 8 of the subjects in the group given probiotics died from bowel ischaemia, while the others succumbed to pancreatitis.

One must admit that a logical explanation for the deaths described above could be that in the case of the patients given probiotics, macrophages were diverted from areas of the bowel or pancreas where they were striving desperately to fight infection (let’s assume here that bowel ischaemia and pancreatitis are bacterial diseases). Furthermore, when the probiotics reached the GI tract, they may have put such a load on the patients’ innate immune systems that it was otherwise unable to keep their disease states under control. This study at least causes one to raise an eyebrow about the possibility that an alternate hypothesis for probiotics isn’t far fetched.

One must also consider that other explanations for how probiotics improve health remain largely speculative. For the most part, probiotics are assumed to be helpful because they offer some people temporary symptomatic relief – but as high levels of vitamin D or corticosteroids demonstrate, palliation does not always indicate improvement.

Elie MetchnikoffThe first researcher to hypothesize that certain bacteria might play a positive role in the gut was Russian scientist and Nobel laureate Elie Metchnikoff, who, in the beginning of the 20th century, suggested that it might be possible to replace harmful microbes in the gut with useful microbes. He hypothesized that bacteria such as clostridia, which are part of the normal gut flora, produce toxic substances from the digestion of proteins. He believed these compounds were responsible for what he called “intestinal auto-intoxication”, which he linked to physical changes associated with old age.

This led him to propose that milk fermented with lactic-acid bacteria could inhibit the growth of these “toxic” bacteria because of the low pH produced by the fermentation of lactose. Soon, he introduced the idea that a diet high in sour milk fermented with the bacteria he called “Bulgarian Bacillus” could improve digestive health. Friends in Paris soon followed his example and physicians began prescribing the sour milk diet for their patients.

But in 1920, Rettger demonstrated that Metchnikoff’s “Bulgarian Bacillus”, later called Lactobacillus bulgaricus, is actually unable to live in the human intestine. Naturally, the fermented food hypothesis petered out.

After that point, research on probiotics focused on the idea that scientists could isolate bacteria that seemed to be involved in a positive process and add extra amounts to the gut, with the hope of displacing other less desirable pathogens.

For example, Henry Tissier, a researcher at the Pasteur Institute, isolated a bacterium from breast-fed infants and named it Bacillus bifidus communis. He recommended that doctors give bifidus communis to babies suffering from diarrhea in the hopes that it would displace other species that might be causing the problem in the first place. Yet benefit from the treatment remained dubious.

The benefits of giving Bacillus bifidus communis to infants remains dubious.Later, it was reasoned that “helpful” bacteria should be isolated directly from the gut, and in 1935, certain strains of Lactobacillus acidophilus were found to be very active when implanted in the human digestive tract. Trials were carried out using this organism, and encouraging results were obtained, especially in the relief of chronic constipation. Yet since the liver, kidneys, and parts of the gut not affected by probiotics are involved in the constipation process, one could argue that such benefits are also explained by Marshall’s hypothesis.

In these and other cases, one must question – how can we assume that bacterial species such as those isolated from breast-fed infants or from the digestive tract are necessarily “good”? Can we simply assume that a bacterial species is beneficial because it appears at face value not to be causing any harm?

It’s true that certain bacterial species are competitive, meaning that one species may be able to kill another. Take, for example, Streptococcus, which has been shown to effectively kill Staphylococcus bacteria. In fact, the antibiotic demeclocycline, which was derived from a strain of Streptococcus bacteria, is particularly effective at quelling Staphylococcus infections.

Yet do the bacterial species in common probiotic products possess such competitive properties? To date, there has simply been no evidence or laboratory studies showing that they do. Plus, if probiotic strains are indeed killing other more virulent pathogens, wouldn’t the death of such strains cause a rise in immunopathology rather than a feeling of relief?

Can we simply assume that a bacterial species is beneficial because it appears at face value not to be causing any harm?Another reality that probiotic enthusiasists often fail to consider is how horizontal gene transfer affects probiotic bacteria in the gut. Horizontal gene transfer is a process in which organisms swap genetic material by trading plasmids, or circular molecules of DNA that can replicate independently of a pathogen’s other genetic material.

This means that even if a species of bacteria considered to be “helpful” enters the gut, it can easily trade plasmids with other disease causing pathogens – quickly changing it from a potentially harmless organism to yet another pathogen contributing to disease.

This may be especially true for people with high loads of Th1 bacteria in the gut that can all too easily swap their genetic material with probiotic bacteria, rendering them part of the disease process rather than the “cure.”

Horizontal gene transfer allows bacteria to share genetic material“Increasingly, studies of genes and genomes are indicating that considerable horizontal gene transfer has occurred between bacteria,” states James Lake of the Molecular Biology Institute at the University of California. In fact, due to increasing evidence suggesting the importance of the phenomenon in organisms that cause disease, molecular biologists such as Peter Gogarten at the University of Connecticut have described horizontal gene transfer as “a new paradigm for biology.”

Gorgarten insists that horizontal gene transfer is “more frequent than most biologists could even imagine a decade ago.” In the face of such statements, we may want to reconsider ingesting large loads of extra bacteria that inevitably become part of a pool of pathogens trading genetic material when they actually enter the body.

Indeed, one of the largest meta-analysis studies on probiotics, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition by researchers at the Wageningen Centre for Food Sciences in the Netherlands, reviewed 49 studies on probiotics with lackluster results.[5] 26 of the studies dealt with the prevention or treatment of diarrheal disease, 9 with the prevention of cancer or of the formation of carcinogens, 7 with the lowering of serum cholesterol, and 7 with the stimulation of the immune system. The most widely studied probiotic bacteria were Lactobacillus GG (22 studies), Lactobacillus acidophilus (16 studies), Bifidobacterium bifidum (6 studies), and Enterococcus faecium (7 studies). The team concluded that intake of Lactobacillus GG did shorten the diarrheal phase of rotavirus infection, but that “evidence for the prevention by Lactobacillus GG and other probiotics of diarrhea due to viral or bacterial infections was less strong.” The effects of probiotics on the immune system were “inconclusive” because of the variety of outcome variables reported.

The largest meta-analysis on probiotics reviewed 49 studies on the bacteria with lackluster results.The team also reported that cholesterol-lowering abilities of probiotics “seem to be transient”, and found that production of mutagens after a meal might be reduced by intake of probiotics, but the relevance of the finding “was unclear”. The study finally concluded that while probiotics may have some effect on rotavirus infection, “other health effects of probiotic bacteria have not been well established.”

A 2005 study by the Food Standards Agency on 11 different types of probiotic bacteria attempted to determine where the pathogens break down as they pass through the digestive system. While the researchers were able to determine that most strains of probiotics survive past entry into the stomach, the data failed to show “if or where probiotics might have an effect,” meaning that mainstream researchers aren’t even sure where probiotics take effect, let alone what they do when they get to their target destination.

Despite doubt cast on the benefits of probiotics, it’s doubtful that Marshall’s hypothesis will gain any credence in the near future. There’s simply too much money at stake, and according to the Associated Press, “the market is ahead of the science. It’s all part of a burgeoning effort to capitalize on an obsession with health foods.” Over 150 food products that have probiotics have been introduced in the market this year - compared to about 100 last year and just 40 the year before that.

In fact, probiotics are a multibillion-dollar global industry. In the United States alone, retail sales of probiotic-containing foods and supplements totaled an estimated $764 million in 2005 and are projected to reach $1 billion in 2010, according to market research firm BCC Research.

Dannon’s Activia yogurt, introduced last year, is among the best known U.S. products. Its first-year U.S. sales totaled more than $100 million. General Mills introduced its competitor, Yo-Plus, under the Yoplait yogurt brand this year.

Other 2007 products include: Kraft Foods Inc.’s LiveActive prebiotic cottage cheese and probiotic cheddar cheese; Nestle’s probiotic Good Start Natural Cultures baby formula; Beech-Nut Nutrition Corp.’s Good Evening prebiotic baby food; and the Swiss firm Barry Callebaut’s probiotic chocolate.

Probiotics have been added to a vast array of productsProbiotic manufacturer Nutraceutics just targeted $100 million in probiotic sales. Meanwhile, New Zealand oral probiotics developer BLIS Technologies is planning to issue new shares to fund an expansion of its business into new international markets in order to boost development efforts that will benefit shareholders if the products take off.

A continent away, dietary supplements with Probi’s healthy bacteria Lp299v will be launched in China in conjunction with the leading domestic health food company Biostime Inc. The list goes on as probiotics continue to be added to a mind-blowing number of new foods and products. As with vitamin D and most other supplements available in dietary form, the mistaken notion that “more is always better” seems to reign supreme.

As stated in a recent article on probiotics in Time Magazine, “Whether or not you’ve ever developed a taste - or even a tolerance - for living things in your lunch, more are on the way. Food companies have been coming to the conclusion that if a few of these superstar bacteria are good for you, then more will be even better.”

Also unnerving is that the FDA hasn’t set any upper limit for probiotic consumption, largely because nobody really knows exactly what they do upon entering the body, so recommending a “desirable” dose is impossible. This means that a person can guzzle tremendous loads of probiotic supplements without ever consulting the advice of a doctor.

When it comes to probiotics, the mistaken notion that “more is always better” seems to reign supreme.At least, according to Time, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is “relatively neutral, using the growing popularity of probiotics to caution manufacturers not to pitch the foods as some sort of panacea for any specific disease.” Whether food companies actually follow such advice remains to be seen.

The NIH has declared the study of gastrointestinal bacteria and probiotics a major research initiative. “The fact that there are a number of health implications and a lack of understanding associated with the use of probiotics makes this a very interesting subject to study,” said Crystal McDade-Ngutter, who heads an NIH working group on the topic.

The skeptic in me can’t help thinking that a lot of companies are making a pretty penny off simple palliation. At the very least, the fact that probiotics possess the ability to modulate where and when the innate immune system is activated should give one pause. In the meantime, Marshall prefers not to give advice about probiotics.

“I haven’t stated a position on probiotics,” states Marshall. “There are many on the [Marshall] protocol who are convinced they are helpful, and I would prefer to concentrate on the key issues that folk really need to solve – no vitamin D, plenty of Benicar, and a supportive family/medical environment. Probiotics are a second-order effect, I think (less important).”

“So I tend to leave it to the individual. Most Th1 patients have severe GI tract involvement, and dealing with that takes just about every tool in their arsenal. If probiotics seem to help, then who am I to say no? On the other hand, they do not form part of the base protocol, as any benefit is not obvious to me, whether based on personal experience, or biological knowledge.”

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Study: naps > coffee, good night's sleep to combat tiredness

You probably know how it goes. You've just had lunch and you're back at your desk. 3pm rolls around and home time is still some way off. Then the yawns start and all you can think about is curling up under your desk for a sleep. It's a fairly normal response, and the subject of an abstract at Sleep 2008, the 22nd Annual Meeting of the Associated Professional Sleep Societies. A group of scientists from Loughborough University in the UK presented their work on daytime sleepiness, and whether the best way to combat it was to get up later in the morning, caffeine, or a 20-minute afternoon nap.

The study involved 20 healthy adult volunteers, who all averaged around 7.4 hours sleep a night. They then compared how the volunteers performed to multiple sleep latency testing—how long it took them to fall asleep for a nap at various intervals—in one of four states; their normal amount of sleep,after having an extra 90 minutes in bed in the morning, after taking 150 mg of caffeine at 2pm, or after taking a 20-minute nap at 2:30pm.

Compared to getting an average night's sleep, all three of the conditions extended the amount of time it took the subjects to fall asleep during the sleep tests, but the 20-minute afternoon nap proved the most effective at combating sleepiness later in the day; although a long lie-in in the morning and the caffeine also reduced afternoon sleepiness, they did so less effectively than the 20-minute nap.

So, there you have it. Afternoon tiredness is best combated by a quick nap. Of course, for those of us who aren't lucky enough to work at home, have a very understanding boss, or live in Spain, two cups of coffee might be a better idea...

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U.S. Life Expectancy Reaches Record

ATLANTA (AP) -- For the first time, U.S. life expectancy has surpassed 78 years, the government reported Wednesday. The increase is due mainly to falling mortality rates in almost all the leading causes of death, federal health officials said. The average life expectancy for babies born in 2006 was about four months greater than for children born in 2005.

However, the United States continues to lag behind about 30 other countries in estimated life span, according to World Health Organization data.

Japan is No. 1 on the list, with a life expectancy of 83 for children born in 2006. Switzerland and Australia were also near the top of the list.

''The international comparisons are not that appealing, but we may be in the process of catching up,'' said Samuel Preston, a University of Pennsylvania demographer. He is co-chair of a National Research Council panel looking at why America's life expectancy is lower than other nations'.

The new U.S. data, released Wednesday, come from the National Center for Health Statistics. It's a preliminary report of 2006 numbers, based on data from more than 95 percent of the death certificates collected that year.

Life expectancy is the period a child born in 2006 is expected to live, assuming the mortality trends observed in that year stay constant.

The 2006 increase is due mainly to falling mortality rates for nine of the 15 leading causes of death, including heart disease, cancer, accidents and diabetes.

''I think the most surprising thing is that we had declines in just about every major cause of death,'' said Robert Anderson, who oversaw work on the report for the health statistics center.

Health statisticians noted declines of more than 6 percent in stroke and chronic lower respiratory disease (including bronchitis and emphysema), and a drop of more than 5 percent in heart disease and diabetes deaths. Indeed, the drop in diabetes deaths was steep enough to allow Alzheimer's disease -- which held about steady -- to pass diabetes to become the nation's sixth leading cause of death.

The U.S. infant mortality rate dropped more than 2 percent, to 6.7 infant deaths per 1,000 births, from 6.9.

Perhaps the most influential factor in the 2006 success story, however, was the flu. Flu and pneumonia deaths dropped by 13 percent from 2005, reflecting a mild flu season in 2006, Anderson said. That also meant a diminished threat to people with heart disease and other conditions. Taken together, it's a primary explanation for the 22,000 fewer deaths in 2006 from 2005, experts said.

U.S. life expectancy has been steadily rising, usually by about two to three months from year to year. This year's jump of fourth months is ''an unusually rapid improvement,'' Preston said.

Life expectancy was up for both men and women, and whites and blacks. Although the gaps are closing, white women continue to have the highest life expectancy (81 years), followed by black women (about 77 years), white men (76) and black men (70). Health statisticians said they don't have reliable data to calculate Hispanic life expectancy, but they hope to by next year.

Increases in female smoking are a major reason that men's life expectancy is catching up with the women's, Preston said. Improvements in the care of heart disease -- a major health problem for black Americans -- helps explain an improving racial gap, he said.

About 2.4 million Americans died in 2006, according to the report.

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Taste Test: 7 Healthy Ice Creams and Frozen Desserts

Edy’s Slow Churned Strawberry Ice Cream
($5.50 per 1.75 quarts)
The berry flavor here is nice and fresh, and strawberry preserves are swirled throughout. At just 110 calories and 3 grams of fat for a half cup, this one’s a very good deal.

Grade: A+


Breyers Double Churned Cookies & Cream Light Ice Cream
($5.29 per 1.75 quarts)
Breyers light ice cream isn’t as thick or creamy as their regular stuff, but we loved the fluffy texture, especially for only 120 calories and 4 grams of fat per half cup.

Grade: A


Häagen-Dazs Extra Rich Light Dutch Chocolate Ice Cream
($3.69 per pint)
This is a more decadent light ice cream, with 190 calories and 5 grams of fat per half cup. The chocolate is really rich too. It’s a must-have for PMS.

Grade: B+


Häagen-Dazs Low-Fat Dulce de Leche Frozen Yogurt
($3.69 per pint)
Of all of the fro-yo varieties we tried, this one’s the best. We loved the light texture and caramel swirls. One small problem: It’s not superlight on calories—190 per half cup—but it has only 2.5 grams of fat.

Grade: B


Paciugo Mediterranean Sea Salt Caramel Gelato
(Visit the Paciugo website for store locations; cups start at $2.99)
Salt intensifies flavor, and this delighful gelato is no exception. It tastes absolutely sinful—and it nearly is at 160 calories and 4.5 grams of fat for less than a half cup.

Grade: A


Häagen Dazs Brazilian Açai Berry Sorbet
(Available at select grocery stores, $4.99 for a pint)

We love this dense, flavorful sorbet. It packs in a punch of acai berry (which is a little bit like a blueberry and blackberry), and offers you 20 percent of your daily vitamin C needs at only 120 calories and 2 grams of fat per half cup.

Grade: A


PJ Madison’s Kashmir Cinnamon Organic Ice Cream
(Visit PJ Madison’s website for distributors; $3.99 to $4.69 for a pint)
This gelato-style ice cream definitely is a splurge, but if you’re going to go for it, why not pick something organic? This creamy cinnamon ice cream is USDA-certified organic, and the rich texture is completely satisfying. But at 190 calories and 11 grams of fat per half cup, make sure you don’t overindulge.

Grade: A

By Allison Avery

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The 20 Unhealthiest Drinks in America

By: Matt Goulding

Americans have a drinking problem, and not the type you might think. As the authors of the best-selling book Eat This, Not That!, David Zinczenko and co-author Matt Goulding get e-mails all the time from readers who claim they eat carefully, they work out consistently, but they still can't get the needle on the scale to budge. "What gives?" goes the collective, exasperated refrain from the stagnant dieter.

What most people don't know is that the biggest roadblock between you and the body you want isn't found at the end of a fork, but at the bottom of a glass. As a country we take in 21 percent of our daily calories from beverages and, according to the FDA, the average American takes in 82 grams of added sugars every day. That's 20 teaspoons, which contribute an empty 317 calories to our already calorie-saturated diets.

Sure, some of that comes from soda, but even if you've traded regular Coke for diet, whole milk coffee drinks for low-fat lattes, and you barely touch the booze, you could still be taking in 20 percent or more of your calories from beverages. Add in a few of those other indulgences-or consume one of the liquid disasters listed hereand you can suddenly be sucking in a few days' worth of calories through a straw! (You read that last sentence right.)

To give you a better idea of the drinks most responsible for sabotaging your health, fitness, and weight-loss goals, we created a list of America's Unhealthiest Drinks. Read up on them using the index at left, then sip responsibly.

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Save Your Own Life

How to Survive ...

We’ve all heard the miracle stories: The Boy Scout who survived for four days in the mountains of North Carolina. The Montana couple who fought off a bear. The guy in Utah who cut off his arm to free himself from under a fallen boulder. You’ve probably read many stories like this in Reader’s Digest (like the one on page 102 about a couple stranded in the snow) and wondered what you’d do in the same situation, but you always assumed freak accidents would never happen to you.

And you’d be wrong. While your odds of having a heart attack are much higher than finding yourself in most of these scenarios, strange things happen every day. For example, almost 2.5 million people called poison centers for help in 2006. In 2004, 112,000 people died of injuries from falls, drownings, and other accidents. In 2006, search-and-rescue rangers in our national parks responded to nearly 4,000 calls, more than a third of them for people who were also sick or injured. Every year, around 3,000 succumb to choking.
Another 400 are struck by lightning, and 67 of those die from it. How do you keep yourself out of the statistics?

Besides calling 911, here’s what to do in 12 life-threatening emergencies when no one’s around to help.

LOST IN THE WILDERNESS
To avoid becoming the lead story on the evening news, be prepared. Before you head out on a hike, check the weather (you can find forecasts for many wilderness areas at wunderground.com), take plenty of water, and make sure someone knows where you’ll be and when you’ll be back. Bring clothes to keep you warm when wet, like a water-repellent jacket, says Laurence Gonzales, author of Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why. Avoid cotton, which traps moisture. “The search-and-rescue people call it death cloth,” he says.

“Expect to get lost, and check often to make sure you’re still on the trail,” says John Dill, a search-and-rescue ranger at Yosemite National Park in California. “The minute you think you might not be on the trail, stop.” “First, you’ve got to acknowledge you’re in trouble,” adds Gonzales. If you’re not alone, focusing on the needs of others can help hold your own fears at bay. Other keys to survival: staying observant and remembering to rest. Keeping a sense of humor helps too—it reduces stress and promotes creative thinking.

The surest way to get out alive is to take basic precautions, such as stowing a survival kit in your car. Gonzales’s includes waterproof matches and chunks from fake fireplace logs for starting a fire, a folding saw for cutting branches, and a plastic tarp and cord for making shelter. Don’t forget an emergency blanket, a good knife, a first-aid kit, a flashlight, batteries, snacks, and water.

In general, people who try to find their own way out fare worse than those who stay put, says Richard N. Bradley, MD, of the American Red Cross. Find shelter before dark, and try to keep dry. Stay visible so anyone searching can see you. In a wide-open area, make a signal with colorful gear, make a big X out of rocks, or dig a shallow trench, says Dill. “The top layer of soil is a different color. Scrape it away and make straight lines, which are easy to spot from above.”

You can go several days without eating, so in most cases, you’re better off not foraging for food, since there are lots of poisonous plants in the wild, says Dr. Bradley. You need to stay hydrated, so if you run out of water, it’s usually better to drink from a stream with suspect water than to go without. If you’re stranded in your car, stay there: You’re more visible to rescuers, and the car provides shelter.

CHOKING
Richard Stennes, MD, was home alone in La Jolla Shores, California, eating a steak, when the phone rang. The 64-year-old gulped down the bite still in his mouth and answered the call. But the hunk of steak was stuck, and he couldn’t talk or breathe. He put his finger down his throat to grab the meat, but he couldn’t reach it. Gagging didn’t help either. So he walked over to the couch and forcefully thrust his abdomen on the hard arm of the couch, sending the meat flying and allowing him to breathe again.

An emergency physician, Dr. Stennes knew that if done right, this would have the same effect as the Heimlich maneuver. If you’re ever in the same situation, quickly find a chair or other piece of furniture or a kitchen counter, says Maurizio Miglietta, MD, chief of trauma at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center. Aim to hit the top of the chair or edge of the counter against your upper abdomen, in the soft part below the bony upside-down V of the ribs. Thrust up and inward. If you still can’t breathe after six tries, call 911 from a landline, even if you can’t talk. They’ll find you. Write the word choking somewhere nearby, and leave the line open until help arrives.

HEART ATTACK
If you’re experiencing crushing chest pain with or without pain in your left arm, are short of breath, or have a sense of impending doom, you may be having a heart attack. (Women are more likely to have atypical symptoms like severe fatigue, nausea, heartburn, and profuse sweating.) Call 911 and chew one 325 mg uncoated aspirin, to get it into your bloodstream fast. This will thin your blood, often stopping a heart attack in its tracks. While waiting, lie down so your heart doesn’t have to work as hard, says Sandra Schneider, MD, a spokeswoman for the American College of Emergency Physicians. If you think you might pass out, try forcing yourself to cough deeply. It changes the pressure in your chest and can have the same effect as the thump given in CPR, says Dr. Schneider. “Sometimes it can jolt the heart into a normal rhythm.”

If someone else goes into cardiac arrest, note that the American Heart Association now recommends CPR without the mouth-to-mouth: Call 911, then push hard and fast on the person’s chest until help comes.

IMPALEMENT
This doesn’t happen only in horror movies. Tornadoes and hurricanes can fling debris for miles, and even recreational hobbies like fishing or archery can be hazardous. Just ask James Bertakis. The 81-year-old Florida man fared better than Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin, who was killed in 2006 when a stingray struck him in the heart. Bertakis was impaled when a stingray jumped into his boat and hit him directly in the chest. He didn’t remove the barb but piloted the boat to land and got help.

If you have something stuck in any body part, including your eye, don’t remove the object, says Richard O’Brien, MD, a spokesman for the American College of Emergency Physicians. “The object may be compressing an artery that would otherwise start bleeding like crazy.”

If you’ve been struck by a branch or some other hefty object, try to trim it, breaking off the part that’s protruding from your body, but don’t pull it out.

SWIMMING EMERGENCIES
Riptide: Dr. Stennes is either extremely lucky or has a knack for putting his life in danger. In addition to surviving choking, he also saved his own life in a riptide in Acapulco, Mexico.

“I was swimming in the ocean, and all of a sudden a strong current took me away,” he says. “There were no lifeguards, so I was waving to people on the shore, who just waved back at me. I began to think, I’m in a bad situation here. I’m not a great swimmer, and I can’t go against that riptide, so what am I going to do?” He floated for a while, then did exactly what the experts recommend: He swam slowly, parallel to the beach, until he was out of the current.

You know you’re in a riptide when you feel yourself being pulled away from the shoreline, says Dr. Bradley of the Red Cross. “Your natural reaction is to head toward the shore, but it’s very difficult to swim against a riptide.” Luckily, these currents are fairly narrow, so you just have to swim along the shore, in either direction.

Cramps: If you’re in deep water, take a breath, lie on your back, and float. If you’ve got a muscle cramp (they often hit the calves), float facedown, grab your toes, and pull them toward you, stretching your calf until the pain goes away. If it’s a stomach cramp, lie on your back, spread your arms and legs, and float until you can swim back to shore.

BEAR ATTACK

If you surprise a bear, don’t run away. That invites an attack. Instead, stand up and back away slowly, without looking the bear in the eyes. Speak softly to the animal (no loud shouting). If it does charge at you, try to make yourself look as large as possible: Stick out your chest, raise your arms, and spread your legs. Now you can yell at the bear, to frighten it.

If it’s going to attack, lie facedown, with your hands clasped behind your neck. Play dead and don’t get up until you’re sure the bear is gone. Leave the area immediately in case it returns.

If you’re in bear country, carry a bear-deterrent pepper spray (find one at epa.gov). Make sure the wind isn’t blowing toward you, and spray for one to two seconds when the bear is 30 to 40 feet away.
Lost in the wilderness
Choking
Swimming Emergencies
Bear Attack
Severe Bleeding
ILLUSTRATED BY LASON LEE
Staying visible is key if you want to get rescued.
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ILLUSTRATED BY LASON LEE
You can give yourself the Heimlich maneuver.
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ILLUSTRATED BY LASON LEE
When caught in a riptide, you should swim parallel to the shoreline, not towards it.
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ILLUSTRATED BY LASON LEE
If you see a bear, your instincts might tell you to run, but that's the worst thing you can do.
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ILLUSTRATED BY LASON LEE
Contrary to popular belief, using a tourniquets to stop severe bleeding can actually cause more harm than good.
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Choking
ILLUSTRATED BY LASON LEE
You can give yourself the Heimlich maneuver.

POISONING
The most common reasons for calls to poison centers? Unintentional or intentional drug overdoses (painkillers, sedatives, and antidepressants are high on the list) and exposure to cleaning products. No matter how little you’ve ingested, call a poison center before you do anything. The national number is 1-800-222-1222.

Don’t make yourself throw up or give yourself ipecac, the vomit-inducing antidote that used to be a staple in first-aid kits, says Alvin C. Bronstein, MD, medical director of the Rocky Mountain Poison & Drug Center in Denver. “Ipecac has never been proven beneficial,” he says. “We rarely use it today. It’s gone the way of the horse and buggy.”

Ipecac can leave you throwing up for hours. Plus, if you ingested something that burned going down and you force yourself to vomit, it will burn on the way back up too. And say you accidentally took a few extra sedatives. If you take ipecac when you’re overly sleepy and your gag reflex isn’t working well, you can turn a manageable overdose into something much worse.

Colorless, odorless carbon monoxide is a deadly poison that kills nearly 500 unsuspecting people a year. Make sure you have a working detector in your home.

If you’ve inhaled something (bleach or ammonia are common culprits), get away from the toxic area. If it’s something that got on your skin, like a cleaning product, wash it off, then call a poison center and follow the specialist’s advice.

SEVERE BLEEDING
You’re gushing blood—and getting scared. Forget about tourniquets, says Dr. Schneider of the American College of Emergency Physicians. Use your hand or a clean cloth, paper towels, a scarf, or any fabric you can grab, and push down on the wound until the bleeding stops. Tourniquets, which every Boy Scout learned how to make back in the day, are now a first-aid no-no. “If you have a cut on your upper leg and you put pressure on it, you’re just closing that vessel. But if you put a tourniquet on, you’re going to close the vessels to the entire leg,” says Dr. Schneider. “You could lose your foot.”

The only time to use a tourniquet, says Charles Pattavina, MD, chief of emergency medicine at St. Joseph Hospital in Bangor, Maine, is when you know that everything below the wound is beyond repair (say, the accident has amputated your finger, arm, or leg).

RISING WATER
Rule No. 1: Never drive through standing water. As thousands of stranded motorists can attest, what looks like a small puddle can be much deeper. “It takes just 12 inches of water to carry a car away,” says Robert Sinclair, Jr., of AAA New York. If you do get stuck, step out of the car, which will likely stall when the water reaches the vehicle’s electronic controls. If the water is higher than the bottom of your knees or is moving too quickly for you to wade through, climb on top of your car and wait for help. Otherwise, get to higher ground.

If you suddenly become immersed (say, you drive off a bridge or into a lake or river), roll down the windows as soon as you can. Yes, it allows water to rush in, but that’s a good thing, says Sinclair. It equalizes the pressure, so you can open the door or swim out the window. Do it quickly, though, as the electrical systems on automatic windows can get damaged and stop working when wet. A LifeHammer can shatter automotive glass and cut through seat belts; Sinclair keeps one between the driver’s seat and the center console in case of such emergencies. Break the side windows (windshields are usually thicker and harder to crack), and swim toward high, dry land.

In a hurricane or storm with heavy winds, hide in a closet or pantry. Don’t try to wade through floodwater outside—it can knock you over. If water is rising in your house, climb to the roof (as long as it’s safe to do so) after the heavy rain and wind stop, says Lt. Ana Wisneski of the U.S. Coast Guard. Bring plenty of water to drink, sun protection, a flashlight, vital medications, and white sheets or colorful towels to signal rescuers. Then wait for help.

ALLERGIC REACTION
Bee stings, food allergies, and medications can be deadly, even if you think you don’t have allergies. Symptoms include itching in one spot or all over your body, sometimes accompanied by a rash, swelling, and, in the extreme, swelling of the airways, which hampers your ability to breathe. If you know you have a life-threatening allergy, form an action plan with your doctor, who will probably prescribe an EpiPen, which comes in child and adult doses. It delivers the drug epinephrine, which keeps the heart pumping, improves breathing, and gives you about 20 minutes to get to a hospital. Even if you don’t have severe allergies, you can still be prepared for a spontaneous reaction. Slip a few maximum-strength antihistamines, like Benadryl Allergy capsules, into your wallet. The fast-acting tablets will begin to fight an allergic reaction while you wait for help to arrive. But since antihistamines can make you drowsy, don’t drive yourself to the ER.

TRAPPED IN A BURNING BUILDING
If you’re in an office building and can’t get out, don’t panic. “In any emergency situation, the difference between survivors and nonsurvivors is that survivors remain calm and fight through their fear to find out, What can I do?” says Dr. Schneider. So think back to those fire-safety lessons you learned in grade school. Call 911. Close yourself in a smoke-free room and place a wet towel underneath the door to prevent any smoke from entering, says Dan McBride, a firefighter in New York City. Then get low to the ground, where you can breathe and see better, until help arrives. If you’re in a house, get as low as you can and crawl outside as fast as possible. Don’t stop until you’re well away from the fire. Then call for help.

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Does Every 15 Minutes Scare Kids “To Death”?

Can you be scared straight into sobriety? If not that, can you be scared into refraining from driving drunk ?

Many high schools are experimenting with these questions.

One such “scared sober” experiment was conducted at El Camino High School in the beach town of Oceanside, CA. One morning, students at El Camino High School were suddenly told by police and school officials that several of their classmates had just died in a drunk driving accident. The students were allowed to grieve and share their grief with their classmates for two hours. They were then taken to the auditorium where officials played a video which they claimed was an actual video of the accident aftermath. After watching the video, the stunned students and teachers were told that the entire accident was a hoax. The mock scenario was staged as part of the program entitled, “Every 15 Minutes.”

Every 15 Minutes” is a widely accepted method of exposing high school students across the nation to the real life loss, grieving and ultimate consequences of drunk driving. The web site for the program states:

Every 15 Minutes offers real-life experiences without the real-life risks. This emotionally charged program is an event designed to dramatically instill teenagers with the potentially dangerous consequences of drinking alcohol. This powerful program will challenge students to think about drinking, personal safety, and the responsibility of making mature decisions when lives are involved.

This sounds like a great program. I looked at the lesson plan on their web site. This plan is more in the nature of guided education. The program outlines very specific steps that are to be taken in the notification and disclosure process to ensure no one goes off the emotional deep end. It bears little resemblance to the “shock and awe” tactics used by the El Camino School District. There is no doubt that what El Camino High School did was emotionally charged and dramatic, but at what cost? California certainly leads the nation in putting a liberal spin on issues. Where do we draw the line between liberal and “reckless cruelty”? Did they review the medical histories of these kids to ensure none of them would suffer medical or psychological problems as a result of this trauma? If this had happened in Texas, the plaintiff’s bar would be circling like vultures to sue the school district on behalf of the traumatized students.

There are certainly some compelling arguments and statistics for the use of such scare tactics. The stats on teen drunk driving are enough alone to scare you . According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration(NTSA) almost 28 percent of teens 15-20 killed in accidents in 2005 had a been drinking. Teen drivers are responsible for twelve percent of all road-related deaths, yet only consist of less than ten percent of the population as a whole according to the Insurance Institute for Health and Safety.

When you process the above statistics, little doubt is left that programs like Every 15 Minutes may be a good thing overall. You would think they certainly can not hurt anything. How long they deter teen drinking or lifetime drunk driving is unknown. There are no solid stats. Is it a safe assumption that none of the El Camino teens drove drunk the day/night they were traumatized? Should we all applaud that goal achieved?

Win the war, don’t even plan for the battle.

What about the mutated version used by the El Camino School District? Sobriety at any cost? The kids are traumatized. Do the majority leave campus talking about how they were traumatized? Are they now more aware of the problem though the alcohol awareness education? Are they more skeptical and angry as a result of the deception? Is that what they will remember a week from now, a year from now, ten years from now. In the short term, some of them may turn to alcohol just to deal with the stress of the hoax.

I have a uniquely personal viewpoint since I am a current member of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). I have listened to hundreds of tragic stories relating to drinking. Many of these stories relate to drunken driving accidents and arrests. Some of these stories are from teenagers. Everyone in AA has been “scared” into the program for one reason or another. In all the terrible stories I have heard, not once has someone said they were attending AA because someone else’s tragedy caused them to question their own choices. What does that tell you? It tells me that alcohol awareness education is not a “scared straight” issue or even an “Every Fifteen Minutes” issue. For it to be effective, alcohol awareness education must focus on the long term.

In order to get an insider opinion as to the effectiveness of such “scared straight” type programs, I contacted Paul Nagy, director of the Duke Addictions Program at the Department of Psychiatry in the Duke University Medical Center. He had this to say:

I am familiar with similar approaches to “scaring kids straight.” My comments are as follows;

1) Unless a clinical study is conducted to evaluate this program’s efficacy, it would not be accurate to call the program “effective” even if there are anecdotes to suggest it is so. Without such scientific studies, interventions are not considered “evidenced based” by State and Federal Agencies such as the National Institute on Drug Abuse(NIDA) and the Subtance Abuse and Mental Health Services Agency (SAMHSA).

2) I am familiar with research that uses similar approaches (e.g. DARE) which shows consistent evidence that scare tactics such as those used in the 15 Minutes program have little sustained effectiveness.

3) There is some science informed perspectives that suggest that these approaches actually have unintended detrimental effects. For example, Nora Volkow the Director of the National Institute of Drug Abuse, talks publicly about how adolescents are “hard wired” to be risk takers and has suggested that these kinds of scare approaches actually entice some kids to test the veracity of the information.

4) My own perspective is that if kids react at all, the effect is fairly short lived. My experience is also that many adolescents will see this and express an omnipotent “it can’t happen to me” attitude in response.

5) I might also worry that this approach has the potential to activate a post traumatic response in some cases. This type of intervention could result in chemical changes in the brain that establishes a very powerful emotional memory which could prove potentially damaging. For example vulnerable kids can show a regressive pattern of behavior in response to strong emotional stimuli. Further, as a parent of a teen, I would likely raise an objection to the school if my kid were exposed to this kind of experience without his or our informed consent.

Winthrop W. Gilman, chairman of The Mychal Institute, had this to say:

“My immediate reaction as someone who has studied the use and abuse of alcohol for more than sixty years is this. Adolescents are very impressionistic. They will immediately recognize that if hoax is needed to make a drastic impression, it can not be of any real importance. The shock and scare tactics used by these programs are more associative with the adrenaline rush at Halloween time in a haunted house environment. If the experience is not real, it is of no real value. When smokers are exposed to the diseased lung tissue of a deceased smoker, they are regularly seen lighting up a cigarette as they leave the autopsy room.”

So there you have it. While programs such as Every 15 Minutes have the right intent, do they achieve anything in the long term? Do they risk doing more harm than good to the child? Is anyone even using sample groups to monitor children throughout their lives to see who lives, who dies, who becomes and alcoholic, etc. If this is not done, all we will ever be able to do is say is that it sounds good for the papers and parents. All else will be pure speculation

What do you think?

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Bruce Lee’s Top 7 Fundamentals for Getting Your Life in Shape

Bruce Lee’s Top 7 Fundamentals for Getting Your Life in ShapeIf you haven’t been living under a rock for the last 30 years I’m pretty sure you know who Bruce Lee was. :)

If you have, then you may be interested to know that Lee was a very famous martial artist and actor who sparked the first big interest of Chinese martial arts in the West in the 60’s and 70’s.

But besides being an awesome fighter and iconic figure Lee also had some very useful things to say about life.

Here are 7 of my favourite fundamentals from Bruce Lee.

1. What are you really thinking about today?

“As you think, so shall you become.”

Perhaps the most basic statement of how we work. Think about what you are thinking today. What do those thoughts say about you? About your life? And how well do they really match your plans for your life and your image of yourself?

It’s easy to forget about this simple statement in everyday life. It’s easy to be quite incongruent with what you think on an ordinary day compared to how you view yourself and your goals. A simple external reminder such as a post-it with this quote can be helpful to keep you and your thoughts on the right track. An brilliant and beautiful expansion on this thought can be found in James Allen’s As a man thinketh (that can be downloaded for free here).

2. Simplify.

“It’s not the daily increase but daily decrease. Hack away at the unessential.”

“If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you’ll never get it done.”

If you want to improve your life then it’s tempting to want to add more. One problem with this may be that you don’t really have the time or energy to do more though. And so your efforts to improve become short-lived.

Adding more and more just creates more stress and anxiety. Removing clutter and activities, tasks and thoughts that are not so important frees up time and energy for you to do more of what you really want to do. And as the clutter in your outer world decreases the clutter in your inner world also has a tendency to decrease. This has the added benefit of making it easier to actually enjoy whatever you are doing even more while you are doing it.

Adding more thoughts and thinking things over for the 111:th time may create a sense of security. It’s also a good way to procrastinate and to avoid taking that leap you know you should take. And the more you think, the harder it gets to act. Perhaps because you want to keep that comforting sense of security and avoid the risk of wrecking that feeling.

Thinking has its place. It can help you plan a somewhat realistic route to your goal and help you avoid future pitfalls. Overthinking is however just a habit that will help you waste a lot of time. It’s more useful to replace that habit with the habit of just doing it.

3. Learn about yourself in interactions.

“To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person.”

The one person that is the hardest to get to really know may be yourself. Studying yourself while you are alone may result in some insights. But it’s also likely to produce a lot of made up thought loops and doubts in your mind. A good way to really learn more about yourself is study yourself in interactions with other people. How people react and act in these interaction can over time teach you a lot. And what you think and how you react can perhaps teach you even more.

What you see, feel and hear in other people may be a reflection of you. The things you learn by thinking this way may not always be pleasant, but they can be enlightening. They help you to see yourself and also how you may be fooling yourself. And these powerful insights can be very valuable for your personal growth. So, in interactions with others, try asking yourself: what is reflected?

4. Do not divide.

“Take no thought of who is right or wrong or who is better than. Be not for or against.”

This is a very useful and powerful thought. It is also one that obviously is hard to live by. Why? I believe it’s because the ego loves to divide and find ways to “add more” to itself. It want’s to feel better than someone else. Or more clever. Or prettier. Or cooler. Or wiser.

How can you overcome this way of thinking and feeling?

To me it seems to boil down to not identifying so much with your thoughts or feelings. That doesn’t mean that you stop thinking or feeling. It just means that you realize – and remember in your everyday life – that the thoughts and emotions are just things flowing through you.

You are not them though.

You are the consciousness observing them.

When you realize and remember this it enables you to control the thoughts and feelings instead of the other way around. It also enables you to not take your thoughts too seriously and actually laugh at them or ignore them when you feel that your ego is acting out. When you are not being so identified these things you become more inclined to include things, thoughts and people instead of excluding them. This creates a lot of inner and outer freedom and stillness. Instead of fear, a need to divide your world and a search for conflicts.

To learn more about this I would recommend Eckhart Tolle’s books and signing up for the 10 free and excellent webcasts - available both in video and audio form – that he’s doing with Oprah right now.

5. Avoid a dependency on validation from others.

“I’m not in this world to live up to your expectations and you’re not in this world to live up to mine.”

“Showing off is the fool’s idea of glory.”

The ego wants to add because it thinks it’s not enough. One way of doing that is by craving validation from others. We want to feel smart, pretty, successful and so on. And the validation makes you feel good for a while. But soon you need a new fix.

And the problem with being dependent on validation from other people is that you let other people control how you feel. This creates a rollercoaster of emotion in your life.

To find more emotional stability and to take control of how you feel you need to get your validation from to a more consistent source. Yourself. You can replace the expectations and validation of others by setting your own expectations and by validating yourself.

And so you validate yourself by thinking about how awesome you are. You don’t sell yourself short. You appreciate how far you have come and the positive things you have done. You appreciate your own value in the world. You set goals and you achieve those goals. This builds confidence in yourself and in your abilities. These things will help you to build a habit of inner validation.

Now, showing off. Why do we do that? To get validation from others. However, this need for validation often shines through and that is why a thing like bragging seldom works. Instead of seeing the cool and successful person you are trying to project people just see the insecure and needy person looking for validation. And your bragging falls flat.

6. Be proactive.

“To hell with circumstances; I create opportunities.”

It’s easy to get locked into a reactive mindset. You just follow along with whatever is happening. You do what the people around you do. You react to whatever is going on.

And so you get lost in your circumstances. This way of thinking doesn’t feel too good. You tend to feel powerless and like you are just drifting along.

A more useful and pleasurable way of living is to be proactive. As Bruce says: to create opportunities despite the circumstances around you. This feels better and provides better results. But on the other hand it’s also more difficult. It’s easier to just drift along in the reactive stream of life. And if you want to be proactive then you may have to take the lead quite often. And that can be scary.

Still, living proactively is so much more rewarding and exciting.

7. Be you.

“Always be yourself, express yourself, have faith in yourself, do not go out and look for a successful personality and duplicate it.”

Just being yourself is a hard thing to do. You may do it sometimes. And other times you may forget or fall back into old thought patterns. Or you may imitate someone else.

And that comes through too. And it may work.

But I believe that being the real you will work better. Because there the genuine you is shining through. Without incongruency, mixed messages or perhaps a sort of phoniness. It’s you to 100%. It’s you with not only your words but you with your voice tonality and body language – which some say is over 90% of communication - on the same wavelength as your words. It’s you coming through on all channels of communication.

So I’m not saying: “yeah man, you should just be yourself because it’s the right thing to do etc.” I’m saying that I think being your authentic self – the one where you do little dividing, the one that needs little validation from others, the one where your ego is not running the show and trying to get something from someone – will give you better results and more satisfaction in your day to day life because you are in alignment with yourself. And because people really like genuine and people really like authenticity.

Image by SabTomie.

Original here