Saturday, March 10, 2018

Why Are High Triglycerides So Bad for You?

butter close up
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What Are They?

Triglycerides are a type of fat in your blood. Oil, margarine, butter, and most other fats in your food are triglycerides. Your blood absorbs them after you eat. But that’s not the only source. Your body also turns extra calories -- especially from “simple carbs” such as pastries, white bread, candy, sugar, and alcohol -- into triglycerides and stores them in fat cells.
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cell membrane
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Are Triglycerides Cholesterol?

No. Both are known as “lipids,” but only triglycerides are fats. Cholesterol is a waxy substance made by your liver and intestines (you get some from food as well) that helps make your cell membranes and hormones. It also helps your body digest food.
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heart disease illustration
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Can They Be Good for You?

Yes, in the right amounts. Your body uses them to transfer and store energy for later use. But too many can raise your risk of heart disease, especially if you already have high levels of “bad” (LDL) cholesterol.
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lipoproteins illustration
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What Are Lipoproteins?

Triglycerides can’t float around in your blood on their own. So they ride along with certain proteins, called “lipoproteins.” That way, they can move around your body until you store them in fat cells.
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drawing blood close up
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How Do You Know Your Level?

Your doctor will likely test your triglycerides and cholesterol together. They will take a sample of blood, and they may ask you to avoid certain foods or drinks or to stop eating for a half-day or so beforehand, to make the results more accurate. A laboratory will test the blood.
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lipid profile test
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What's a Lipid Profile?

It tells you the levels of “good” (HDL) cholesterol, “bad” (LDL) cholesterol, and triglycerides in your blood. Your doctor may plug those numbers into a formula to get a single number that shows “total blood cholesterol.” A high number can raise your risk for heart disease. Age, family history, smoking, blood pressure, and other things may affect your numbers. So talk about it with your doctor.
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empty plate
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Should I Fast Before My Test?

Triglyceride levels are usually higher after you eat. That’s why doctors sometimes ask that you not eat or drink (except water) in the 12 hours before your blood test. Your diet, alcohol use, whether you’re having your period (for women), the time of day, and recent exercise can also affect your results.
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laboratory test results
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What Do the Results Mean?

Check your triglyceride levels against these numbers, which are based on 12 hours of fasting:
  • Desirable: Less than 150 mg/dL (1.7 mmol/L)
  • Borderline high: 150 to 199 mg/dL (1.7-2.2 mmol/L)
  • High: 200 to 499 mg/dL (2.3-5.6 mmol/L)
  • Very high: 500 mg/dL or greater (5.6 mmol/L)
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gauge reading red
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Do High Numbers Cause Symptoms?

Not usually. That’s why it’s a good idea to test your lipid levels, including triglycerides, on a regular basis. Over time, high levels can be a sign of other conditions that raise the risk for heart disease. They’re also tied to obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and thyroid disease.
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group photo
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When Should I Get Tested?

You should talk to your doctor, who will come up with a plan of how often to test based on your family history, age, and gender. Your doctor will also take into account any other medical conditions you have and medications that you take.
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woman using glucose meter
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High Triglycerides? Now What?

First you need to know the cause. It may be that you simply need to change your diet and get more exercise. But problems with your liver, thyroid, or other conditions like diabetes can also cause high levels. Or it may be a combination. Once your doctor figures this out, you can treat the root of the problem.
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heart healthy foods
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Does Diet Matter?

Yes, a lot. But not in the way you might think. Even though they consist of fat, most triglycerides are made by your body from extra carbohydrates. Sugary and starchy carbs are the worst type. Seek out “complex” carbs like vegetables and whole grains instead. Cut saturated fats (found mainly in animal products) in favor of “good” fats found in olive oil, nuts, seeds, and fish.
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womans feet on weight scale
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What About Weight?

If you’re overweight, losing some of those pounds can lower your triglyceride levels. Even 5 to 10 pounds can make a difference. It may help to focus on benefits like more energy and better health, not just numbers on a scale. And remember that if you overeat, your body turns extra calories into triglycerides and stores them as fat.
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man walking dog
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Does Exercise Help?

Yes. Aim for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week. Regular exercise can lower triglycerides and boost "good" cholesterol. Take a walk, swim laps, or go dancing -- anything you enjoy and that gets your heart beating faster. Even if you can’t find a 30-minute chunk, you can squeeze it in 10 minutes at a time: A walk at lunch time, pushups while you watch your favorite TV show, a dance party with your kids.
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toasting beer glasses
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What About Alcohol?

It doesn’t help. It’s high in calories and sugar, which by themselves are bad. And alcohol seems to be bad for triglyceride numbers apart from that. Even small amounts can raise your levels.
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omega 3 pills
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What Medications Are There?

You still need to keep up with your diet, exercise, and weight. If that’s not enough, you your doctor may recommend adding meds or supplements. These might include statins (which also curb “bad” cholesterol), omega-3 supplements, niacin (a vitamin, but don’t take it without talking to your doctor first because of possible side effects), and a type of drug called fibrates.
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Inspirational Quote – March 10, 2018

“Who are you to judge the life I live? I am not perfect and don’t have to be! Before you start pointing fingers, make sure your hands are clean.”

Being honest, I must admit I can occasionally be judgmental, although it’s something I’m working on. Quick to assume or make a snap judgement of someone without knowing anything about them. I am far from alone and most people I know tend to think along the same lines to a certain degree. However, as I said, I’m working on it, and learning to take the time to learn a bit more about who someone really is and where they’re coming from before I make a judgement. Hopefully, this works both ways and people will take the time to get to know me better or discover more about me before making judgements or firm opinions about me and how I should be living my life. Quid pro quo rules!

Small Graces by Kent Neburn

Pause just long enough in your busy day to sit in a patch of sunlight. Now breathe deeply. Then, in the small space you just opened, read this profound reflection on the quiet graces that make up a day. They might just lead into the larger grace of your whole life.

Men in America: Something Ominous Happening to Men

Tucker Carlson Tonight

You hear a lot in America about the "war on women," but it's men in America who are failing. We have some shocking statistics:

The signs are everywhere. If you’re a middle aged man, you probably know a peer who has killed himself in recent years. At least one. If you’re a parent, you may have noticed that your daughter’s friends seem a little more on the ball than your son’s. They get better grades. They smoke less weed. They go to more prestigious colleges. If you’re an employer, you may have noticed that your female employees show up on time, whereas the young men often don’t. And of course if you live in this country, you’ve just seen a horrifying series of mass shootings, far more than we’ve ever had. Women didn’t do that. In every case, the shooter was a man.

Something ominous is happening to men in America. Everyone who pays attention knows that. What’s odd is how rarely you hear it publicly acknowledged. Our leaders pledge to create more opportunities for women and girls, whom they imply are failing. Men don’t need help. They’re the patriarchy. They’re fine. More than fine.

But are they fine? Here are the numbers:

Start with the most basic, life and death. The average American man will die five years before the average American woman. One of the reasons for this is addiction. Men are more than twice as likely as women to become alcoholics. They’re also twice as likely to die of a drug OD. In New Hampshire, one of the states hit hardest by the opioid crisis, 73 percent of overdose deaths were men.

But the saddest reason for shortened life spans is suicide. Seventy-seven percent of all suicides are committed by men. The overall rate is increasing at a dramatic pace. Between 1997 and 2014, there was a 43 percent rise in suicide deaths among middle aged American men. The rates are highest among American Indian and white men, who kill themselves at about ten times the rate of Hispanic and black women.

You often hear of America’s incarceration crisis. That’s almost exclusively a male problem too. Over 90 percent of inmates are male.

These problems are complex, and they start young. Relative to girls, boys are failing in school. More girls than boys graduate high school. Considerably more go to and graduate from college. Boys account for the overwhelming majority of school discipline cases. One study found that fully one in five high school boys had been diagnosed with hyperactivity disorder, compared with just one in 11 girls. Many were medicated for it. The long term health effects of those medications aren’t fully understood, but they appear to include depression in later life.

Women decisively outnumber men in graduate school. They earn the majority of doctoral degrees. They are now the majority of new enrollees in both law and medical schools.

For men, the consequences of failing in school are profound. Between 1979-2010, working age men with only high school degrees saw their real hourly wages drop about 20 percent. Over the same period, high school educated women saw their wages rise. The decline of the industrial economy disproportionately hurt men.

There are now seven million working age American men who are no longer in the labor force. They’ve dropped out. Nearly half of them take pain medication on any given day. That’s the highest rate in the world.

Far fewer young men get married than did just a few decades ago, and fewer stay married. About one in five American children live with only their mothers. That’s double the rate in 1970. Millions more boys are growing up without fathers. Young adult men are now more likely to live with a parent than with a spouse or partner. That is not the case for young women. Single women buy their own homes at more than twice the rate of single men. More women than men now have drivers licenses.

Whenever gender differences come up in public debate, the so-called wage gap dominates the conversation. A woman makes 77 cents for every dollar a man earns. That’s the statistic you’ll hear. It’s repeated everywhere. But that number compares all American men to all American women across all professions. No legitimate social scientist would consider that a valid measure. The number is both meaningless and intentionally misleading. It’s a talking point.

Once you compare men and women with similar experience working the same hours in similar jobs for the same period of time — and that’s the only way you can measure it — the gap all but disappears. In fact it may invert. One study using census data found that single women in their 20s living in metropolitan areas now earn eight percent more on average than their male counterparts. By the way, the majority of managers are now women. Women on average are scoring higher on IQ tests than men are.

Men are even falling behind physically. A recent study found that almost half of young men failed the Army's entry-level physical fitness test during basic training. Fully seventy percent of American men are overweight or obese, as compared to 59 percent of American women.

Perhaps most terrifyingly, men seem to be becoming less male. Sperm counts across the west have plummeted, down almost 60 percent since the early 1970s. Scientists don’t know why. Testosterone levels in men have also fallen precipitously. One study found that the average levels of male testosterone dropped by one percent every year after 1987. This is unrelated to age. The average 40-year-old-man in 2017 would have testosterone levels 30 percent lower than the average 40-year-old man in 1987.

There is no upside to this. Lower testosterone levels in men are associated with depression, lethargy, weight gain and decreased cognitive ability. Nothing like this has ever happened. You’d think we’d want to know what exactly is going on and how to fix it. But the media ignore the story. It’s considered a fringe topic.

Nor is it a priority in the scientific research establishment. We checked and couldn’t find a single NIH-funded study on why testosterone levels are falling. We did find a study on, quote, “Pubic Hair Grooming Prevalence and Motivation Among Women in the United States.”

Those are the numbers. They paint a very clear picture: American men are failing, in body, mind and spirit. This is a crisis. Yet our leaders pretend it’s not happening. They tell us the opposite is true: Women are victims, men are oppressors. To question that assumption is to risk punishment. Even as women far outpace men in higher education, virtually every college campus supports a women’s studies department, whose core goal is to attack male power. Our politicians and business leaders internalize and amplify that message. Men are privileged. Women are oppressed. Hire and promote and reward accordingly.

That would be fine if it were true. But it’s not true. At best, it’s an outdated view of an America that no longer exists. At worst, it’s a pernicious lie.

Either way, ignoring the decline of men doesn’t help anyone. Men and women need each other. One cannot exist without the other. That’s elemental biology, but it’s also the reality each of us has lived, with our parents and siblings and friends. When men fail, all of us suffer. How did this happen? How can we fix it? We hope this series answers those questions. #Tucker Fox News

Friday, March 9, 2018

17 Tips to Stop Heartburn at Night

Man Using Wedge Pillow to Help with Heartburn

Prop Yourself Up for Better Sleep

Does heartburn wake you up at night? Lying down makes it easier for stomach acids to go up into your esophagus. To keep acid down, use gravity. Try a specially designed wedge-shaped pillow to prop yourself up. Not enough? Boost the head of your bed 6 inches with wood blocks secured under the bedposts. Sleeping on your left side can also help digestion and calm acid reflux.
Diner with Early Bird Special Sign

Eat Earlier

Going to bed on a full stomach makes nighttime heartburn more likely. A full stomach puts pressure on the valve at the top of the stomach, which is supposed to keep stomach acid out of the esophagus. So eat at least 2 to 3 hours before bedtime to give your stomach time to empty. Try early dinners, and avoid snacks at night.
Man Taking Antacid after Desert

Skip Chocolate Dessert and Coffee

Both of these after-dinner treats can trigger heartburn in some people. Other common offenders to skip at your evening meal include citrus fruits, onions, fizzy drinks, and fatty or spicy foods. Instead of fried entrees, try broiled.
Couple Reading Before Bedtime

Take It Easy Before Bed

Exercise can make acid reflux worse. Avoid doing anything that's very intense right before you go to bed. A leisurely walk after dinner and giving food time to settle may help prevent heartburn at night.
plate with small portions

Don't Overdo It at Dinner

Overeating is a common cause of heartburn. It's better to eat small meals more often. Keep your portions in check. Eat just until your appetite is satisfied but before you feel full. This makes nighttime heartburn less likely and is also good for your weight.
Woman Suffering from Heartburn at Night

Watch for Trouble Signs

If you get heartburn more than twice a week or if it keeps returning, tell your doctor. It might be GERD, which can cause ulcers, throat and lung problems, and other serious conditions. Call your doctor if you feel sudden pain, tightness, or pressure in your chest. Also do that if you are having any trouble swallowing or you're losing weight for no reason.
Person Saying No to Alcohol

Nix Nightcaps

Any type of alcohol can trigger heartburn. If you drink and have heartburn at night, slow down on wine or beer with dinner. And avoid after-dinner drinks altogether. Besides, booze gives you extra calories and can lead you to overeat -- a combination that can make you gain weight and make heartburn worse.
Excited Woman on Scale

Watch Your Weight

Although people of any size can get heartburn, extra pounds make it more likely. It may add pressure on the valve at the top of the stomach. Trimming down may help with your acid indigestion. And that may mean better sleep at night and less daytime sleepiness.
Mint Flavored Nicotine Gum

Kick the Habit

Smoking is one of the leading causes of heartburn. It can weaken the valve between the esophagus and the stomach. If you smoke, try to quit. Talk to your doctor about medications and other aids that can help you break up with nicotine.
Man with Heartburn and Mints on Table

Avoid After-Dinner Mints

A peppermint after dinner may sound soothing. But many people get heartburn after eating mints. Research suggests that mint may relax the valve at the top of the stomach, making stomach acid more likely to flow into the esophagus.
Woman Taking Notes in Food Diary

Keep a Food Diary

Jot down what you eat and drink, and look for clues about what triggers your heartburn. Try to avoid those foods for a few days. Later, add them back one at a time, so you can see if they cause trouble.
Woman Waking Up and Stretching

Wear Loose PJs

Tight-fitting pajamas at night can add pressure to your stomach, increasing the risk of heartburn. Avoid snug waistbands and wear loose sleepwear instead.
Man Chewing Bubble Gum

Chew Gum

Research shows that chewing non-mint sugarless gum for 30 minutes after a meal may lower the risk of heartburn. Chewing gum may make you swallow more often, which helps wash acid out of the esophagus.
Woman Feeding Dog In Kitchen

Bend With Your Knees

At night, whether you lift the kids to put them in bed or pick up laundry, bend with your knees when doing evening chores. Bending forward at the waist gives some people heartburn. It's especially important to avoid it in the evening if you tend to get heartburn at night.
Dropping Antacid in Glass of Water

What Do Antacids Do?

Over-the-counter antacids can provide short-term relief for occasional heartburn. They neutralize stomach acid so it won't cause heartburn. Choose from dissolvable or chewable tablets or liquids. If antacids don't do the trick or you use them more than a few times a week, see your doctor to find the right treatment for you.
Woman With Pill and Water

How Do H2 Blockers Work?

Drugs called H2 blockers cut down on acid production. You can take them to help prevent heartburn. Some need a prescription. Others are sold over the counter. Some drugs interact with H2 blockers, so be sure to tell your doctor about all your medications and supplements.
Writing Prescription for Heartburn Medicine

What Do PPIs Do?

Proton pump inhibitors are available over the counter and by prescription. They lower stomach acid production and help heal any esophagus damage caused by reflux.

How to Address Gender Inequality in Health Care

A Q&A with Maya Dusenbery about why women get worse health care than men—and what we can do to change that.

Are women and men receiving equally good care from their physicians? Not according to feminist writer Maya Dusenbery, author of the new book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick. Instead, she argues, the medical field is rife with gender disparities, leading to poorer outcomes for women.
Throughout history, women’s experiences have been overlooked or discounted in doctor’s offices—and in medical and scientific research, she writes. So where has that left us today? Diseases that disproportionately affect women—like autoimmune diseases, fibromyalgia, and many chronic pain conditions—have been under-researched, leaving doctors without a clear understanding of how to recognize and treat them. And doctors dismiss the accounts of women patients too often, leading to a “trust gap” that affects women’s health care in disproportionately negative ways.
However, new insights are beginning to emerge showing how women’s well-being has been hampered by gender disparities. Dusenbery’s book, based on two years of research into a host of conditions, exposes the systemic causes of these disparities and provides critically relevant information for the public—and for those in medicine, psychology, and the research sciences.
Jenara Nerenberg: What is the “trust gap” in medicine for women?
Maya Dusenbery: I started calling this issue the trust gap or knowledge gap as I started reading research and learning of anecdotes from women who were having a hard time getting diagnosed. Their symptoms were being dismissed or minimized, there was an implication that their physical symptoms were all in their heads, and they were simply being offered anti-depressants or told they were “making their symptoms up” to get attention.
As a feminist writer, I wasn’t surprised to find that women’s voices weren’t being listened to. But I wasn’t sure which exact stereotype was operating here—like why doctors seemed to think women wouldn’t know that they were actually sick and needed medical attention.
As I dug into the research, I found this enduring trust gap had its roots in our notions of “hysteria” and how, after Freud, hysteria became known as this so-called disease of the 19th and 20th centuries. It became a wastebasket category where anything that couldn’t be medically explained was attributed to the unconscious mind, which is convenient and dangerous. So if collectively the field of medicine has this idea—that if a symptom doesn’t seem to be explained by a physical disease, you can blame it on the patient’s psychological problems—then they’re just not going to do the scientific research that’s required to explain those symptoms in biological terms. 
JN: How did we get here? Is this current gap only a function of the history and evolution of the medical field?
Maya DusenberyMaya Dusenbery
MD: It’s in part due to gender stereotypes that exist across many realms, where we expect men to be stoic and not admit vulnerability or weakness. A man is thus already more reluctant to seek help in the first place; so, when he actually does, his reports of his symptoms are taken more seriously. Women are culturally given more permission to express emotion and pain and ask for help. But somehow that leads to this sense that they should not be taken as seriously, which is illogical, of course.
History has made women caught in this self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, autoimmune issues are estimated to affect 60 million people in the United States, and 75 percent of them are women. So, they’re very common, and yet the medical system is pretty bad at diagnosing them. There often aren’t autoimmune specialists, and many primary care doctors don’t get proper training on how to diagnose them. 
Many patients end up going to multiple doctors over many years complaining of fatigue and pain before they’re properly diagnosed. That not only means a long diagnostic delay; but each doctor she sees on that journey often doesn’t hear that four years later she ends up getting diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. And so doctors get the impression that their offices are filled with women who are complaining of symptoms that aren’t explained.
JN: Does the trust gap shrink when doctors and nurses are themselves women, or are there larger forces at work keeping this gap open?
MD: I didn’t come across any systematic research on that. But of the women I interviewed, plenty of them had stories of being dismissed by female physicians. I think the roots of the problem are in unconscious bias and systemic bias. It’s not about not wanting to care for women or not liking women—it’s not about conscious prejudice, I don’t think. Even the very best doctors just aren’t getting the medical knowledge that they need in their training.
JN: Is the lack of research on vulvodynia [pain in the vulva], in particular, more strongly affecting the trust gap? Given that vulvodynia relates to sexual health and our intimate lives, it seems like an area that would make women feel particularly unseen.
MD: Yes, definitely. In the book, I mentioned how vulvodynia was understood and discussed in the literature historically and how it had the same trajectory [as autoimmune diseases] of first being seen as psychogenic and then later came to be understood as a chronic pain problem. But it actually took longer for that change in understanding to happen when it came to vulvodynia, by comparison.
I think it ties back to the history of “hysteria” and this Freudian idea that psychological distress is converted to physical symptoms. It’s been difficult for medicine to see [vulvodynia] through any lens other than sexual abuse and emotional distress. Another factor is this historical idea that women and their sexuality are so mysterious and inexplicable. One woman I talked to was not getting adequate help from her doctors—one female physician even told her, “There’s so much we don’t know about the vagina.” And I’m sure that’s true, but then why aren’t we doing the research and why isn’t that area getting research funding?
JN: What surprised you the most in doing the research for this book?
MD: I knew that in the early ’90s there had been advocacy around putting on the public radar the issue that women were really under-represented in clinical research. That spurred a change in federal law to ensure that National Institutes of Health–funded research includes women and that results should be analyzed by gender.
<a href=“”><em>Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick</em></a> (HarperOne, 2018, 400 pages)Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, 2018, 400 pages)
But I was surprised to see what a long lag time there is before any new scientific knowledge gets incorporated into education and medical practice. So many problems that stem from the knowledge gap [the deficit of knowledge that we have about women and the conditions that disproportionately affect them] are due to the fact that, for a long time, we were studying mostly men and we weren’t paying attention to sex and gender differences. And even though some new knowledge is out there, it’s still not the norm to analyze results by gender.
At the start of my research, I also didn’t fully realize how much silence has surrounded some of the experiences of women in terms of the trust gap. They often internalize the experience of being dismissed by doctors. Even as so-called “empowered,” highly educated, and privileged patients, there’s still a lot of deference given to medical professionals and physicians. It’s hard to push back when an expert is saying, “Nothing is wrong.”
JN: What is your biggest takeaway? What can we do now to begin to address this gap?
MD: With the #metoo activism, I’ve been feeling more optimistic about the power of women’s stories to help spur some real change. I think there’s power in women seeing that their experiences are similar.
The problem with the trust gap is that doctors are not getting the feedback they need to see that this is a widespread problem. There are some doctors and scientists working on various parts of the problem, but my hope is that more work is done on seeing how these problems are connected.
I want to make clear that it shouldn’t be on individual women to have to become super advocates for themselves and super educated and learn everything in order to get proper medical care. We should be able to rely on the medical system. I hope patient advocacy can help birth changes, but that people within medicine will really take on this problem. They’re the ones who we need to fix it.

Inspirational Quote – March 09, 2018

“An open mind allows you to explore and create and grow. Remember that progress would be impossible if we always did things the way we always have.”

An open mind reminds me of a big plot of land with absolutely nothing remotely resembling a fence on or around it. I guess it could also be that I don’t have a lot going on upstairs? Quickly moving on…. Those of us who allow our minds to be open to new ideas, who maintain a thirst for knowledge and who also seize every opportunity for advancement are the ones responsible for keeping everything moving on the great conveyor belt of life. If we restrict our wonderful minds by erecting a barrier that sifts through the possibilities moving along the belt and discard anything remotely new out then it’s like cutting off the blood flow to a treasure trove. Be prepared to be open and add to your “treasures.”

The Intelligence of Plants

Plants are intelligent; perform complex mathematical computations; plan for the future; and even interpret meaning. Stephen Harrod Buhner came to this conclusion by opening his understanding up to the many cultures and individuals who have listened to plants in order to learn what they have to say. He learned from the direct stories of indigenous people whose first person accounts all said they learned the medicinal qualities of the plants they used from the plants themselves, or that it came in a vision, or that Creator told them the uses. It was clear then that, in a way that reductive science did not understand, or even acknowledge, there was another way of gathering information about the world, and that in fact, plants were highly intelligent and able to communicate with people. Dive into this mind-opening interview from Moon Magazine to discover the "non-linear intelligence of nature".

Thursday, March 8, 2018

How to Find Your Purpose in Midlife

New research shows that a sense of purpose in life is important for midlife and older adults, not just for kids.

My youngest will be going off to college next fall, meaning I’ll soon be an empty nester. After having raised my kids for the last 22 years or so, a large part of my purpose in life will leave along with my son.
I know I’m not alone in feeling both sad and panicky about this big shift—a lot of other people face similar feelings. We wonder what life will be like and what we will do with ourselves once our kids have flown the coop.
Having a purpose in life means caring deeply about a goal that you are willing to work toward achieving—often to help others or affect the world in some positive, productive way. Researchers like Kendall Bronk and educators like Patrick Cook-Deegan have done a lot to understand how we foster a sense of purpose in adolescents.
But what about older people like me? Do we need a sense of purpose, or should we just sit back and enjoy life? For young adults, the world and their possibilities seem wide open—college students embark on a career path, and young parents start their families. How do we find a sense of purpose after we’ve had the career and raised our children?
Though purpose may seem like it belongs to the realm of younger people, evidence is mounting that having a purpose is important throughout one’s lifespan. Researchers are finding strong associations between having a purpose in life in adulthood and better physical health and well-being down the road. Their findings point to the need to foster purpose in older adults, especially in those who may find themselves adrift after children move away or post-retirement.
Not only could encouraging a new purpose in life result in happier, healthier midlife adults, it could motivate older adults to use their gifts for the greater good—thereby benefitting us all.

Why older adults need a sense of purpose

The physical benefits of a sense of purpose are well-documented, says Eric Kim of Harvard’s School of Public Health.
Using data from the Health and Retirement Study at the University of Michigan, he and his colleagues have found that people who report higher levels of purpose at one point in time have objectively better physical agility four years later than those who report less purpose. There is even a “dose response”—meaning, for every jump in purpose scores, people were 13-14 percent less likely to experience physical declines in grip strength and walking speed. 
Though initially skeptical that purpose could have this kind of an impact, Kim is now convinced otherwise.
“It’s very interesting to see how this construct of purpose—which has long been discussed by philosophers and theologians—is associated with all of these benefits,” Kim says. “It’s not counterintuitive to me anymore; though it is when I present this kind of research to cardiologists or other scientists.”
Patrick Hill of Washington University’s Purpose, Aging, Transitions, and Health Lab and his colleagues have also found important advantages for more purposeful adults, including better cognitive functioning and greater longevity. They’re more likely to floss their teeth, exercise, and get to the doctor.
“Perhaps because people with purpose have an overall outlook regarding the importance of their goals in life, they take care of themselves better,” Kim suggests.
There’s probably something else going on, too, says Hill. He points to an unpublished study where researchers monitored people daily to see how stressful events in their lives affected their stress levels. Those people who reported having a higher sense of purpose felt significantly less stress and anxiety after a stress-filled day than other participants—a finding supported by other studies on purpose and decreased stress reactivity.
“If you have a day in which you experience a stressful event, maybe those stress events aren’t influencing you or impacting you as much if you have a purpose,” he says. 

Are some purposes better than others?

Does it matter what kind of purpose we pursue? The answer so far is yes—if you are older.
Hill points to a study done with college students whose goals coalesced around four different categories. On one side stood goals that aimed to help others—that is, “prosocial” goals. Others were artistic, and some were simply more self-oriented: financial goals or recognition and achievement at work. The researchers didn’t find significant differences in positive outcomes between the groups. It was just good to have a goal, no matter what it was.
“There are benefits to living a life of purpose even if it isn’t deemed to be focused on helping others beyond the self,” Hill says.
But there’s an important caveat for older adults. That same study found that students with a more prosocial purpose experienced benefits later in adulthood—namely, greater personal growth, integrity, and generativity—a marker of purpose tied to well-being. This suggests the focus of one’s purpose may indeed make a difference down the road, as you age.
Researchers at Stanford are starting to dig into that question. In a soon-to-be published study, Anne Colby and her colleagues surveyed almost 1,200 Americans in their midlife about what goals were important to them, offering choices that were focused beyond the self—like improving the lives of others, building a better community, or teaching what they’d learned to others—and choices that weren’t—like strengthening their financial situation, pursuing sports or hobbies, or continuing their education. They also measured their psychological well-being, including their levels of empathy, wisdom, generativity, gratitude, and happiness.
Next, they interviewed over a hundred representatives from the survey in depth to find out how engaged they were in pursuing those goals and the impact this had on their lives. Colby found significantly higher well-being in people who were involved in pursuing beyond-the-self goals, compared to those who were pursuing other types of goals. In other words, engaging in prosocial goals had more impact on well-being than engaging in non-prosocial goals.
“Those who were purposeful beyond the self said their lives were filled with joy and happiness”
―Professor Anne Colby
“To get very high psychological well-being from being deeply engaged with others and transcending the self, that’s a well-documented impact,” says Colby. “We saw this clearly in our interviews, too: Those who were purposeful beyond the self said their lives were filled with joy and happiness.”
Colby doesn’t know whether having a beyond-the-self purpose affects physical health, though, as her study didn’t measure health changes over time. But when she asked people about their current state of health, she found that, contrary to popular belief, poor health was not a barrier to having a purpose beyond the self.
“It’s not that purpose makes no difference to health,” says Colby. “But people whose health was not good for different reasons were still able to be purposeful.”
While her results on well-being sound promising, they are not Colby’s main concern. She believes it’s important to study beyond-the-self purpose so we can understand how to engage people in caring about others and the common good—not because it makes someone happier or healthier.
“The fortunate thing is that you don’t have to choose between sacrificing yourself to make the world a better place and well-being,” says Colby. “In fact, it’s the opposite: You gain and the rest of the world gains at the same time.”

How to foster purpose in midlife

While this research continues to evolve, it’s unclear whether purpose can be taught to adults in midlife or whether it develops naturally over time. But Kim suggests purpose can at least be enhanced.
He points to programs designed to increase purpose in older adults and cancer patients that have resulted in greater health and well-being. Though this research is fairly preliminary, it suggests that purpose might be enhanced through specific therapy add-ons.
Connecting people to volunteering can help build purpose, too, says Kim. He points to a study where randomly assigning older people to tutor schoolkids increased their feelings of generativity in comparison to a control group. Plus, it benefitted the students, too.
Colby agrees that volunteering can be an entryway to purpose, and says there is a lot of research supporting the benefits of volunteering, in general. However, she also warns against seeing volunteerism as a panacea.
“Sometimes volunteering can be deadening. It needs to be engaging. You have to feel you’re accomplishing something,” says Colby.
Jim Emerman, a collaborator of Colby’s, agrees. He is the former CEO of the American Society on Aging and current vice president of—an organization devoted to studying and advocating for purposeful engagement for midlife and older adults. not only helps match adults to opportunities in their communities, it also educates organizations and policy groups about what older Americans have to offer.
“Older adults are a growing population with a strong motivation and desire to actualize those feelings, to become a force for good in their community,” says Emerman. “Too often, institutions devalue them, or they’re entrenched in ideas about what old age is about and set up obstacles.”
This is particularly ironic, given how older people often have a renewed sense of freedom when their kids have left home or after they retire. They may finally be at a point where they have more time to pursue purposeful activities and find that too few value their contributions.
Emerman would like to change that.
“We found that around 31 percent of our group [from Colby’s survey] are pursuing purpose, while another 20 percent have a strong desire for purpose, but something is holding them back,” says Emerman. “That’s a lot of people who could be giving back to their community if given the right opportunity.”
How can someone find that opportunity? Often, people just need to be asked by someone they know to step up, says Emerman—but many are not asked. Their workplace goes out of business or they leave, and there’s no one there to help connect them to something else, he says.
“If supports were more widely available, it would help more people who are on the cusp of engaging with purpose do so,” he says.
Still, adults in midlife might not want to wait around until somebody figures out how they can plug in. If you’re an older adult and you long to contribute, he suggests using online resources, including, to see where your interests take you.
“The key things to think about are: What are you good at? What have you done that gave you a skill that can be used for a cause? What do you care about in your community?” says Emerman. “Those questions really help one focus.”