November 21, 2013

Blaming game

When people get sick, they naturally try to blame someone or something for their illness. They want to point fingers at the person who “gave me this cold” or blame their chronic headaches on “work-related stress.” In thecase of food allergies, there’s plenty of blame to go around, as pointed out in the  following:

Blaming your parents: Genetic factors

Allergies run in families, but not as you may think. If one family member is allergic to milk, another may be allergic to peanut or develop asthma. If one or both parents have hay fever or asthma, their children may have hay fever, asthma, a food allergy, a combination of the three; or no allergy at all. In short, if any allergic condition is present in a family member, other family members are more susceptible to developing an allergic condition, not necessarily a food allergy.

Blaming your foods: Allergens

When you’re allergic to a particular food, you may be tempted to blame the food — “I like peanuts, but peanuts don’t like me.” But the food itself is only partially to blame.

Foods that commonly spark allergic reactions such as peanuts, eggs, milk, fish, and wheat, have uniquely structured protein molecules in them that make them a more identifiable target for your immune system. How your immune system responds to those proteins determines whether or not you experience an allergic reaction.

Currently, the most effective treatments for food allergies are to avoid the problem foods (to prevent reactions) and then relieve symptoms when reactions do occur. Researchers are looking for ways to train the immune system not to overreact.

The root cause of food allergy

Digging up the cause

Research shows that the onset of food allergies is primarily due to a one-two punch of nature and nurture-genetics and environment:

1. You’re born genetically susceptible to some sort of allergic condition.

2. Exposure to even a small amount of the food sensitizes your immune system to the food. Your immune system produces antibodies to attack the food next time it enters your system. Upon your first exposure, you may not experience symptoms; your immune system is just gearing up for next time.

3. You consume the problem food again, and your immune system, now sensitized to the allergen, leaps into action to purge the allergen from your system.

Food allergies typically show themselves in the first few months or years of life; and food allergy sufferers often outgrow their allergies by the time they’re teenagers. Some food allergies, however, such as allergies to fish and shellfish appear later in life and rarely disappear over time.

On Food Allergy

Identifying imposters in food

Foods can make you feel sick for a variety of reasons, most of which have nothing to do with food allergies. This leaves the door open to “quackologists” selling all sorts of ineffective cures and treatments for a host of ailments that they falsely attribute to food allergies. To avoid getting sucked in by misinformation, be aware that the following ailments are rarely, if ever, related to food allergies:

Food intolerances: The inability to digest a particular food, such as milk or wheat, is typically related to a missing enzyme in the digestive system that prevents a person from fully digesting the food.

Food poisoning: Some foods may have toxins or bacteria that make you sick. Just because a food makes you sick one time does not mean you’re allergic to it, although you should have your doctor check it out.

Histamine poisoning: When you have an allergic reaction, your body releases histamine into your system, which causes most of the symptoms you experience. Some foods, including strawberries, chocolate, wine, and beer; may contain enough histamine to produce similar reactions, but these are not bona fide allergic reactions.

Reactions to food additives: MSG (monosodium glutamate) and sulphites often cause reactions, but in these cases, the body has a chemical reaction, not an allergic reaction, to the additive, not to the food itself.

Other common ailments: Food allergy is blamed for everything from migraine headaches to irritable bowel syndrome, but most of these ailments are caused by something other than a food allergy. Don’t waste your time chasing the food allergy ghost. Work with your doctor to identify the real cause and obtain more effective treatments.

November 18, 2013

Terms associated with menopause

The following list gives you the lowdown on the terms associated with menopause:

Menopause: Menopause actually means the end of menstruation. During the years leading up to menopause (called perimenopause), your periods may be so erratic that you’re never sure which period will be the last one, but you aren’t officially menopausal until you haven’t had a period for a year.

Perimenopause: The term perimenopause refers to the time leading up to the cessation of menstruation, when estrogen production is slowing down. A lot of the symptoms that folks usually label as menopausal (hot flashes, mood swings, sleeplessness, and so on) actually take place during the perimenopausal years. We’re sticklers in this book about using the term perimenopause rather than menopause to describe this early phase because you’re still having periods. We also use perimenopause because we want to note the physiological and emotional changes you experience prior to the end of your periods and distinguish them from the changes that happen after your body has adjusted to lower levels of estrogen.

Postmenopause: Technically, the time after your last period is called postmenopause, but this word has never really caught on. So, in keeping with common usage, we most often use the term menopause to refer to the actual event and the years after menopause and use postmenopause only when it helps clarify things. When we talk about menopausal women, we’re talking about women who have stopped having periods — whether they’re 55 or 75.

The years leading up to and following menopause mark a pretty major transformation in a woman’s life. As you make your way through this period of your life, you’ll want to know where you’re at within the whole grand scope of the change and what’s going on inside you.

Defining Menopause

Puberty and menopause bracket the reproductive season of your life, and they share many characteristics. They’re both transitions (meaning that they don’t last forever); they’re both triggered by hormones; they both cause physical and emotional changes (that sometimes drive you crazy); and they both close some doors and enrich your life by opening new ones.

Puberty was the time when your hormones first swung into action. It marked the beginning of your reproductive years. Remember the ride? Your hormone levels shifted wildly when you got your first menstrual period. Your emotions probably went a little haywire for a while, too. Over the course of a few years, your hormones found a comfortable level. Your unpredictable periods finally settled into a predictable pattern, and your emotional balance was more or less restored.

At the end of your reproductive years, your hormone levels go through a similar dance (this time causing the midlife mood swings), but your hormones eventually find a new, lower level of production. Your periods are erratic for a while, but they eventually wind down and stop. So do those emotional roller coaster rides. Unfortunately, this time can be just as confusing as when you experienced puberty.

Facing Menopause

This is to give women of all ages a clear view of the physical, mental, and emotional changes related to menopause. For generations, women of all ages have approached menopause without knowing specifically what it would mean for them. Oh, you probably knew that menopause and hot flashes go hand in hand, but even that information isn't always true. The truth is that you may never have a hot flash, and if you do, it will probably be years before you’re menopausal. Common knowledge about menopause is still too often dominated by myth and misinformation. In fact, the medical community didn't even officially recognize the link between estrogen and hot flashes until 1974!

If menopause only concerned a small group of people on a desert island, this lack of information might be understandable. But over half of the world’s population will become menopausal one day. Menopause has been the misfit family member of the research community for years: a collection of symptoms and a very real phenomenon, but not a disease. Even medical textbooks pay scant attention to the topic. Today, one group is paying attention to menopause. The pharmaceutical industry sees great opportunity in the field of menopause, and more research is underway. If you’re looking for books to help reasonably intelligent women navigate the journey of menopause, your options are still somewhat limited to a choice between pretty, glossy pamphlets published by drug companies who may just be a tiny bit biased in their recommendations, or books that promote the natural aspects of menopause with such ferocity that you may feel guilty wishing for relief from troublesome symptoms. If you’re really persistent, you will find some academic articles in medical journals, but your eyes could glaze over as you try to pick out straightforward answers to your practical questions. This blog’s goal is to help you digest the research so you can make objective and informed health decisions based on your own experience with menopause.

Menopause is not a disease — that’s true. No one is going to die from menopause or its symptoms, but every day, women die from the medical effects of low estrogen levels. Your risks of certain diseases and cancers rise after menopause. Some folks may respond to that statement with one of their own, “Well, that’s because women are older when they go through menopause.” True again, but it’s also true that estrogen plays a role in an amazing number of functions in your body, some of which protect your organs, increase your immunity, and slow degeneration. This transformation we call menopause impacts our health in very significant ways. Some women choose to use hormone therapy to relieve symptoms associated with menopause and protect their body from disease. The choice of whether to take hormones or not is quite controversial because hormone therapy has its own significant set of risks. The debate goes on in the medical community and media concerning the risks of hormone therapy. If you’re like many women, your confusion only grows as you read more on the subject.