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Mother Nature’s Role in Healing Our Children

I am a pediatric hospitalist. That is, I am a pediatrician who takes care of children sick enough to be hospitalized. So my writing about the importance of children spending time outdoors and enjoying nature might be surprising. Even though I may only take care of a child for the worst few days of their life, I am still quite passionate about the fundamental role of outdoor play in a child’s health and well-being.

Even during acute illness, I find that children often heal faster when they are given more opportunities to be playful and (illness-allowing) go outdoors to allow Mother Nature to heal them from within. So needless to say, I am often amazed at how little exposure many of these children have had, even prior to becoming ill, to spend time playing outdoors and getting to know their environment.

Now especially, as the days begin to get longer, and the refreshing spring air returns to our beautiful Pacific Northwest, I start thinking about all the wonderful outdoor fun I used to have as a child, and the importance such activities had on my own health and overall sense of well-being.

I worry that children of today encounter ....

MS Research Update: Salt and Multiple Sclerosis

Increased dietary salt was reported to increase the immune attack on myelin in three studies this week. All three were published in the journal Nature.

  1. A study by Kleinewietfeld, et al, looked at TH17 cells, which is a type of lymphocyte that is highly inflammatory and that causes substantial tissue damage. These cells were grown in cultures in the lab. Some had normal and others high salt levels in their cultures. Those grown in a high salt environment had increased markers for inflammation. This seemed to be due to activation of one particular set of chemical signals in the cell, called the p38/MAPK pathway. They also looked at mice with an MS-like disease called experimental allergic encephalomyelitis (EAE). Mice fed a high salt diet had worse EAE than those fed a normal diet.
  2. A study by Wu, et al, also looked at TH17 cells. An analysis was done on genes associated with activation of TH17 cells, and SGK1 was identified as an important protein in this process. The SGK1 pathway was found to be more active if cells were cultured in a high salt environment. This was then studied in mice with EAE. Mice fed a high salt diet had more severe EAE. Blocking the SGK1 pathway seemed to reverse the effect of the high salt diet on the EAE.
  3. A study by Yosef, et al, also looked a the genes associated with activation of TH17 cells. They identified 22 sets of related genes that increased TH17 cell activity and 5 that decreased activity.

TH17 cells are highly inflammatory and likely contribute to the severe damage done to tissues in a number of diseases. Their precise role in MS is not fully understood, but it is believed that ...

Hearing Aid Life Expectancy and Power

Our concept of age depends on the object of our attention. For example, the average ant lives to be about 45-60 days. The average fly lives about 15-30 days. The average albatross lives between 42-50 years.

Electronics must be viewed differently however. They cannot eat something and become more energetic. There is the total lifespan of the device coupled with the power required to maintain the function it was designed for. A television is expected to last about 10 years, but will not work if it is not plugged in. The average car battery will only be useful for 5-7 years. A watch battery can vary from 1 to 6 years.

With our daily electronics, we take advantage of all types of batteries. How long can you go before you need to recharge your cell phone? Now imagine you used the phone continuously. How about the electronic tablets? Technology is wonderful, but must be constantly powered. Batteries for these devices last only a matter of hours before we need to find an alternate power source. With the electronics we depend on, it is critical to know how long we can expect to use them. This is even more true when those electronics begin to age. Highly sensitive and detailed instruments are classic examples of those devices for which we need to know the total life of the device and its power consumption.

A hearing aid is an example of such a device.

Hearing aids can use both disposable and rechargeable batteries. The cost effectiveness and convenience will vary greatly. The predicted number of hours for each battery will be hearing aid, and person, specific.

Also: the ear is small. Therefore the hearing aid must be small. The battery must then be even smaller.

As with any battery driven electronic device, hearing aids last much longer than their power source. The average hearing aid lifespan will vary significantly due to the amount of care provided to it. Accidents can and do happen. When it comes to hearing aids, seven years may not appear to be a very long time, but the device is considered ANCIENT by that time. The average person is expected to replace a hearing aid every 3-5 years.

There are several reasons for this:

What is Gastroenteritis?

This past week, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II was hospitalized with a “stomach bug”. Gastroenteritis (also called the “stomach flu”) is the second most common illness in the United States. So, chances are good that your family has been affected by gastroenteritis already this year!

What are the symptoms of gastroenteritis?
Gastroenteritis is inflammation of the stomach and intestines causing symptoms of diarrhea, vomiting, cramping, and fever. If a person is not able to keep up with fluid losses from diarrhea and vomiting, then they can become dehydrated. Gastroenteritis occurs year-round and affects people of all ages. Those who are young, old, or have a suppressed immune system are more susceptible to severe gastroenteritis and to dehydration.

What causes gastroenteritis?
The majority of cases are caused by a viral infection (occasionally, a bacterial infection) transmitted through contact with another sick person or contaminated food/drink.

I have gastroenteritis, how can I feel better?
Rest and fluids! Staying hydrated is the most important step to controlling gastroenteritis. Some good options for staying hydrated include sports drinks or oral rehydration solutions (such as Pedialyte in drug and grocery stores).

I typically do not recommend any anti-diarrheal medications as this may even prolong the illness. In addition, antibiotic therapy is not helpful unless a specific bacterial cause is identified.

When should I call my doctor?
If you have questions or concerns you should always call your provider. However, things to watch for if you have gastroenteritis include:

How to deal with minor breakouts or major acne

Most of us experience acne at some point in our lives. It is most common in adolescents and young adults, but various forms can affect people well into adulthood. Knowing what you can treat with over the counter products and when to see a physician is the first step to improving acne.

The most common form of acne is comedonal acne and is characterized by whiteheads and blackheads. The next most common is inflammatory acne where deeper, pinker bumps appear on the skin. Milder cases of both comedonal and inflammatory acne can often times respond to over the counter (OTC) treatment with salicylic acid cleansers and topical benzoyl peroxide products. If you try OTC treatment for 6-8 weeks and see good benefit, you can avoid a trip to the doctor and keep using the OTC products.

More severe comedonal or inflammatory acne will commonly not respond to OTC treatment or get limited benefit. If a 6-8 week treatment trial with OTC products doesn’t control your acne, it’s time to see a doctor. There are...

Mindfulness for Childbirth and Parenting

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is defined by Nancy Bardacke, author of Mindful Birthing, as "the awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgementally. It is cultivated through meditation practice and can help you navigate the uncharted waters that lie ahead with more joy, kindness, awareness, calm and wisdom than you might have otherwise. Mindfulness is a universal capacity of the human mind, but unless we intentionally choose to cultivate it, we can spend much of our lives on automatic pilot, sleepwalking through life rather than being fully present for it."

What makes mindfulness helpful for pregnancy? Or parenting?

"Taking the time to learn mindfulness through meditation practice now can help you more skillfully manage the inevitable stresses of pregnancy and the irreducible element of uncertainty of the birthing process. More than that, mindfulness meditation can help you manage the intense sensations of childbirth we usually call pain, increasing your confidence and decreasing the fears that so often accompany this profound journey into the unknown. And mindfulness can help you cultivate lifelong inner skills for healthy living, wise parenting, and loving partnership. " (- Nancy Bardacke)

How do I learn how to meditate to cultivate mindfulness?

The best way to learn is by taking a mindful birthing weekend workshop or 9 week course which are just now becoming available in our area (click here for a flyer about a weekend workshop coming up in March).  Other ways to learn are...

Tips for dealing with dust allergy

Although it’s hard to imagine, we are living and sleeping with thousands of little bugs called dust mites.

For many people, ignorance is bliss, but for those who are allergic, these bugs can cause lots of problems. Dust mite allergy symptoms include eye redness and discharge, itching, sneezing, congestion and trouble breathing. Dust mites are a problem all year long, but can be more obvious in the winter when people spend more time indoors.

Dust mites like to burrow into soft surfaces, like carpets, curtains, pillows, mattresses and stuffed animals. It is impossible to completely kill all dust mites, but here are six ways to minimize exposure:

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