Sunday, August 28, 2005

Read the Ingredients!

You know, the other day I was looking at some things in the grocery store.

Specifically, water bottles.

Pretty dumb, right? Well, not really.

Because all bottled "water" is not alike. In fact, some of the bottled water sold contains a lot more than just water.

What kind of things? Potassium chloride. Or added sodium.

One major brand was even found to be taking tap water (yes, the stuff you get by turning on the faucet in the kitchen), bottling it, after "purifying" it, and adding a few minerals.

The lesson here? Read what's on the bottle. Know what you're getting.

Personally, I think that bottled water -- while convenient for those times when you're on the run -- is often silly and expensive. Especially if you're drinking it at home. What comes from the tap is -- in most locations -- quite pure, and usually tastes pretty good, too. But if you want bottled water, or need it for any variety of reasons, read and heed what you are getting for your money. Not to mention your health.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Logic and Reality: Taking Charge of Your Own Health

One of the important things about taking responsibility for your own health (and this means relying on physicians, nurses, and even bloggers as consultants) is realizing that the information given has to be weighed by you and that you have to make the ultimate decisions about your health.

It also means that some of the things you will come to realize initially don't make sense. But they work.

One of my daughters inherited fairly delicate skin from me. In other words, she breaks out easily. This is from early childhood. I was the same way in childhood.

One of the things that has plagued her for years is a skin irritation in and around her ears. Various ointments will solve the problem temporarily, but it always came back.

The "logical" thing is to think that this is a problem of the summer months. That it's an issue of sweating, and heat, and humidity.

But that logic is wrong. The problem -- while it breaks out in moist areas such as behind the ear -- tended to go away during the warmer months. Which doesn't make sense. Until you realize that the warmer months are the times when we get the most sun exposure. Winter -- while the humidity is lowered, and folks tend to sweat less -- is the time when the sun is low in the sky, and it's usually too cold to get out in the sun much, anyway.

The problem basically went away when we realized early that our daughter's problem was curable with UV exposure. Mostly, that's from the sun. (When it's winter, and sun exposure is more difficult, use a tanning bed. Tanning beds -- as I've pointed out elsewhere -- are wonderful devices, and deserve far more credit that we as a society give them. They're not just for white high school girls wanting to look less white).

What's the lesson here? When you have a health problem, look at what seems logical to cure it, and then look at the opposite, and consider that that might be the answer. If a doctor is recommending surgery, consider whether diet might solve the problem. If the doctor's recommending pills, ask yourself whether exercise might solve your complaint.

You have to live with whatever cure you choose to use. Very seldom is the problem so urgent that you can't take a few days to ponder the alternatives. Use that time. Think about what's been suggested, and see if that's what ultimately makes sense to you.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

"Stop the Car! I Need to go to the Bathroom!" or "Water When Traveling"

Water When Traveling

When traveling, most people are inclined to cut back on their water consumption. After all, they’re a little embarrassed at having to stop every hour or so (on a car trip) to use the bathroom. Or if they’re on a plane, they hate having to climb over everyone else to get to the toilets.

Well, I hope you can get over your embarrassment. Because water is the best thing to solve a number of travel related problems.

Here’s some logistics. In the first place, I recommend that everyone carry a water bottle with them. Our family does, and not only is it healthier, it stops the endless pleading for soft drinks that children are sometimes inclined to do. Drinking water also cuts back on your false hunger pangs, and prevents you from eating as much.

And while you may have to stop more frequently to use the bathroom, that’s actually better for you. Most people are more alert and better drivers when they stop every hour or so, and walk around, even if it’s only for a minute or so. When you’re hopping to the bathroom, take some deep breaths, and you’ll not only feel better, you’ll be a better, safer driver.

If you’re on an airplane, water is even more important. In the first place, there have been several cases of travelers dying from an embolus (a blood clot in the vein) on airplanes. Water helps this out in two ways. In the first place, the extra fluid keeps the blood circulating. In the second, the extra water forces you to get up and move around (by going to the bathroom) and this helps to prevent a blood clot from forming.

As more and more people are traveling, airlines are having to cram more and more people into planes. This means that you will have very little space. It’s simply not a good idea to remain in a cramped space for hours on end without walking around -- even if the movie’s a good one! You might want to get a seat on the aisle, so you can get up and down without disturbing anyone. Even better is a seat on the bulkhead, which is the first row of seats in the cabin. You’ll have more room there. (Even better is flying in first class! But since I’m guessing that most people are not able to afford that luxury, maybe water can make up for it a little bit!)

The interior of an airplane is also dry. The air is about as humid as that of a desert, which is not very humid. Your mouth and throat are likely to become dry, even with liberal intakes of water. You should probably avoid most of the alcohol that’s offered to you, because alcohol will serve to dry your body out even more. Just get on good terms with the flight attendants, accept a big glass of water whenever they offer you something to drink, and enjoy your trip.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

Fluid Retention: How to Solve This Problem With Water

How Water Helps With Fluid Retention

Many folks have problems with fluid retention. This is when the body is retaining fluid under the skin. The results are obvious: puffy feet and ankles, swollen hands, and puffiness around the eyes. Women can be especially bothered by it around the time of their monthly periods, but men deal with it, too, even when we don't realize it. And while it can be uncomfortable, what bothers most people is their appearance: that bloated and fat-looking appearance.

Fluid retention can be a symptom of bigger health problems. So if you are having problems with it on more than an occasional basis, have a competent health care provider check you out. If there’s no underlying problem, let water come to your rescue.

Ironically enough, water is the cure for your average, run-of-the-mill fluid retention. Like fighting fire with fire, you can fight fluid with water. When you have fluid retention, the body is seeking to retain needed fluids. What you need to do is open the body to more fluid, in this case, in the form of water.

Most people who are on a routine intake of 10-20 glasses of water a day will have no problems with fluid retention. But when fluid retention starts, immediately increase your water intake. Cut back on any coffee or tea intake, and avoid alcohol consumption. At the same time, cut back on salt intake. (Another ironic factor: if you are taking in enough water, salt is almost never a problem. Don’t over-do it, but enjoy salt, and keep drinking water, and most of the problems we normally associate with salt consumption will disappear. But for this special time, cut back on salt somewhat. You don’t have to give it up entirely, but lessen your intake).

Allow yourself to rest. If possible, lie down and elevate your feet higher than the rest of your body. But the main thing is to get lots of fluids flowing through your body. You want to show your body that there’s plenty of water available, and no reason for it to hoard any! Monitor the color of your urine: remember, it should be a straw color. If it’s darker or cloudy, that’s a sure sign your body is in need of more fluid. So give yourself some. And make yourself feel better, and make your body look better.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Foot Discomfort: Using Water to Bring New Life to Your Feet

Water to Help Your Feet Feel Better

We all have those days when our feet are aching. It may be that we’ve been walking all day. Or it might be that your shoes are too tight. Or it’s been hot, and you’ve been in the heat.

But whatever the reason, sometimes your feet need a rest. And water can help bring new life into your tired feet.

Our feet need some breathing space. Literally. Many people wear shoes all of the time, and some of them even wear something on their feet when they’re sleeping. As much as possible, give your feet time without shoes. Or socks. Or anything, for that matter.

I’m not suggesting that you walk outdoors with bare feet. But when you get home, and know you’re finished for the day, get rid of your shoes and socks, and let your feet rest. You will be astonished at the feeling of almost instant relief you will feel.

But to give your feet an added boost, use the healing power of water. Fill a pan (one big enough to hold both of your feet) with water. This time, the water should be slightly warmer than lukewarm, but not hot. If you have a thermometer, 120 degrees would be good. But you don’t really need a thermometer. Instead, use the test millions of mother (and some fathers, too) have used to test a baby’s food: feel it against your wrist. The skin on your wrist is sensitive, and will give you a good indication of whether the water will be uncomfortable on your feet.

In the water, dissolve a handful of plain baking soda. Now, get a towel (to wrap your feet in when you’re done) and a good book (or the TV remote control!) and you’re all set. Soak your feet for 20 or 30 minutes.

The results are amazing. In the first place, the soak will relieve tension and stress from the abuse your feet have endured all day. But the soak will also make the skin smooth and silky. It will also help to make your nails look better, and it will soften the skin around your nails. And if you do this for several days in a row, your feet will not only feel better, they will look better: all without expensive or inconvenient chemicals or treatments. And your whole body will feel better in the process.

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Accidental Poisoning: What to do for the victim

Using Water When There’s an Accidental Poisoning

Poisons should be taken seriously. Many of us have lots of them around the house in the form of cleaning solutions and other household items. And -- when taken by the wrong person, in the wrong form, or in the wrong dosage -- prescription and over-the-counter medicines can be poisonous as well.

Quick action is essential. If someone has taken an overdose of a drug or medication, vomiting should be induced. The best way to do that is to tickle the back of the throat with a finger. Or give them a glass of warm water in which you’ve dissolved some salt, soap (a squirt of dish detergent will do the trick in most cases) or mustard. There are also medicines that are designed to make someone vomit. If you have those on hand, use them.

But if the person has swallowed a petroleum product (such as oil or gasoline) or a strong acid or alkaline product, do not induce vomiting. Instead, give them a glass of water or milk to dilute the poison. Continue giving them something to drink, but if they become nauseated, stop giving it to them.

In all cases of swallowing poison, call your local poison control center, which can give you advice about what -- if anything -- to do next. In many cases, home treatments will take care of the problem. But if you have any doubt in your mind, or if the individual is acting unusual, or lethargic, or having trouble breathing, get them to an emergency facility as quickly as possible.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Minor Burn? Water to the Rescue!

Using Water to Help Minor Burns

A burn is an over-heating of the skin, leading to tissue damage. Burns -- especially where the flesh is compromised, or over extensive parts of the body -- are dangerous. If there’s a severe burn, the individual should be taken to an emergency facility as quickly as possible.

But for the minor burns we often get, water can be a soothing and healing agent that you can make use of.

Let’s start with an example: cooking. I do 99% of the cooking at our house, and cooks have to realize that burns are simply an occupational hazard. While no one likes them, and while I take precautions against them, I know I’m going to have some. But let’s say you accidentally touch a hot pan against your hand. You know immediately that you’ve burned it, just from the pain. And what you should do right away is get it under or in water. Do this as quickly as possible. The fastest way is to run it under lukewarm tap water. The water should not be forceful, nor should it necessarily be ice water, although that will do if it’s the only thing you have at hand. (Time is of the essence here). The point is not to make you feel better -- the way you think ice water would -- but to cool the skin, and lukewarm water will do that just fine. Just don’t wait. Get water -- or any other lukewarm liquid for that matter -- on it quickly.

This accomplishes 2 things. First, it stops further burning. When the skin is brought into contact with heat, the burning starts, but doesn’t stop until the skin temperature has been lowered. And your first goal should be to lower the temperature, and quickly.

Secondly, it soothes the skin. And in most cases, the burn will be no more than a 2 or 3 day red spot if you take these steps.

Mouth burns are also a problem. Let’s say you get a spoonful of soup that ‘s hotter than you realized. Again, you know immediately that your mouth has been burned. Just as quickly, get some water (or any other cool liquid) into your mouth. That will also stop the burning, and soothe the tongue and mouth.

(And please be careful with hot food. I know it’s tempting to dig into a hot soup or cheese casserole or whatever, but mouth burns are dangerous and they hurt. So give your food a few minutes to cool down. Your mouth will appreciate it).

Friday, August 05, 2005

Too much water?

Can Drinking Too Much Water Hurt You?

Folks will sometimes ask if it’s possible for all of this water drinking to hurt them. The short answer is no. Of course, if you have some health challenges, you might want to discuss any new health routine with your physician or other health practitioner. But water is not -- except under the rarest of circumstances -- going to hurt you at all. In fact, that’s one of the great things about this program. It’s good for you, makes you feel good, benefits your health, well-being, and looks, and there are no side-effects. So, drink up!

Occasionally someone hears about someone who died from too much water. This is usually someone who is unconscious or intoxicated, and basically drowns. While it is theoretically possible to drink enough water to hurt or even kill you, this is extremely difficult to do. You would have to drink a huge amount of water -- something on the order of a gallon a minute for several minutes. Think about this, and you’ll realize that it’s difficult to do. Possible, but certainly something you’d have to work at.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

How to Get Better Exercise Results By Improving Hydration

Water and Exercise

Your body excretes water in a number of ways: through urination, defecation, breathing (that’s why we always enjoyed breathing condensation on mirrors when we were kids) and perspiration. And when you are exercising, your body can lose a large amount of water. It’s important to keep replenishing that. The water loss is even more pronounced in warm weather, or during heavy exertion. In such cases, you must make provision to take care of the water. 2 or 3 glasses of water for every hour (or part of an hour) of exercise is not too much. This is an area where you must take precautions, especially if you are older, or not used to vigorous exercise. If the weather is exceptionally hot, try to exercise during the early morning, or later afternoon, when the temperatures will be cooler, and when the sun will be less intense. But the main thing you must do is make sure you are taking in an adequate amount of water, and take steps to keep from having too much water go out. Remember, you will be losing a lot of fluid not only through perspiration, but also through hard breathing while exercising.

Having water with you is an easy habit to get into. A friend who lives in Arizona says he can always tell the natives in a crowd at a museum or sports event. The natives -- knowing how easy it is for the body to lose water in the heat and dry air -- are the ones with water bottles.

You don’t have to live in Arizona to use water bottles, though. They are a good habit to get into almost anywhere you go, and you should make use of them to keep water close at hand. When we go on a trip with our children, everyone has a water bottle. Not only does it keep them (and us!) adequately hydrated, it lessens the desire for soft drinks.

And don’t get fooled into thinking that you have to buy a water bottle every time you want to use one. We re-use our water bottles, washing them after every use, re-filling them with tap water, and putting them in a special place in the refrigerator. That way, the bottle is ready for use next time we need it.

But road trips aren’t the only time water bottles are a good idea. Carry one along when you’re hiking, playing sports, biking (any biking shop will have excellent carriers for your bike) or just on your daily commute.

Internal water is not the only thing to remember when exercising. If you aren’t used to exercising, or if you are getting older, or if you have some health compromises, consider using water to be the area where you exercise -- in a pool! Not only is the water easier on joints and muscles, it’s also the perfect spot to work out in very hot weather because while your body will get hot, the water will serve to temper that internal temperature rise.

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Getting a Better Night’s Sleep With the Help of Water

Your body needs water all day. And nighttime is no exception!

But when the question of water comes up, invariably someone will inquire about the embarrassing problem of getting up to use the bathroom. After all, if you’re going through 20 or more glasses of water a day, that water’s going to go somewhere.

First off, relax. If you’re bothered by waking up during the night to urinate, you might want to slack off some a couple of hours before retiring. In other words, if you go to bed at 11:30, you might want to stop taking in water (except for sips) after 9 p.m. In other words, load up earlier in the day, and begin easing off after eating in the evening, and just stop drinking glassfuls after a certain point.

I will point out that there is nothing life-threatening about getting up during the night to urinate. In many cultures around the world, people routinely awaken and go back to sleep several times during the night. Our problem, bluntly, is electrical. That is, electrical lights. See if your routine isn’t something like this. You wake up during the night, needing to urinate. You get up, turn a light on, and go about your business.

The problem is a little substance called melatonin. To make a complicated story a tad more simple, your body manufactures it during sleep. And it makes you feel more rested when you get enough, and considerably less rested when you don’t get enough. But the instant there’s light, the body’s melatonin making slows down or quits. Now that’s no problem if we’re talking about the light you normally get come morning. But the problem is when you turn on a light at 3:30 in the morning in the process of taking care of nature’s call. Your body stops making melatonin, and you feel lousy the next day.

So, a couple of sleepy-time rules that may help you feel better. (Remember, I’m a nurse. I’ve dealt with -- when I was still practicing hospital-based nursing -- trying to ensure that patients got enough sleep. When I was doing that, I was probably working nights myself, and so I was having to sleep during the day. You learn quite a few tricks that help you sleep). In the first place, don’t turn on lights. Now since I don’t want you breaking a leg in the dark and complaining to me about it, you might want to invest in a nightlight or two -- preferably one that’s dim. But whatever you do, if you wake up -- for any reason -- don’t turn on a light. Don’t decide you’re going to read or watch TV or whatever. Just stay there in the bed. That’s the logic behind counting sheep -- to bore yourself so badly that you’ll just fall back asleep.

The next rule is don’t look at the clock. In the first place, what difference does it make? I’m not going to scold you about how Americans are obsessed with clocks (although as a nation, we are), I just want you to ask yourself why it is so important for you to know that you woke up at 3:14 a.m. to use the bathroom. (Listen in on morning conversations at work: people will actually talk about it). But the bigger problem is that by checking the time your mind starts in operating big-time. You start thinking about what you have to do in the morning, or that bill you have to pay, or whatever. Don’t allow yourself to do that. Sleep-time is for sleeping. Use it for that. And don’t worry if you occasionally have to wake up to heed nature’s demands.

But how does water actually help you sleep better?

In sleep, your body is actually going through many (not all) of the processes that are happening during waking hours. Adequate hydration means that all of those processes are able to work well. Your body is digesting food (preferably not too much: that’s why heavy meals before bedtime make for a bad night’s rest -- your body is working hard when it should be resting), delivering oxygen to the body, etc. Enough water is especially important to your mouth and oral passages, which can become dry during the night. We keep a full glass of water close by, so we can take a sip if we wake up during the night. That prevents that dry and craggy feeling in your mouth that sometimes happens. You are also less likely to snore if your mouth is adequately moist.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Is Your Water Safe?

With concerns about the environment, many folks are wondering if their water is safe to drink. Given that water has been the carrier for many illnesses throughout history, that’s not an unreasonable concern!

I’m going to make a couple of assumptions about you. I’m assuming that you live in the United States, or Canada. I’m going to assume that you either get your water from a municipal water supply, or from a well. And by making these assumptions, I can make the further assumption that your water is completely safe to drink.

There are exceptions. If you have any doubts, call someone, and get information. If you’re in a city, and getting your water from a city source, the switchboard at city hall can connect you to the person you need to speak to. If you have a well, most areas require periodic testing for bacteria and contaminants. If your well is contaminated, they will let you know.

But the exceptions are just that, exceptions. And most people do not need to worry about their drinking water.

If the water is not safe for some reason, you have a couple of options available. One is to use bottled water, which -- although certainly more than tap water -- can be surprisingly affordable.

But a cheaper way to deal with water problems is to install a filter on your sink. The filter will usually have an on/off switch. This allows you to only use the filter for purposes of drinking water, and avoid paying to filter water that’s being used to, say, water the plants. I don’t really encourage you to install a filter on your own, unless you’re awfully good with plumbing. It’s more complicated than the instructions make it sound. Another -- more low tech -- alternative is to use filters installed in special water pitchers. In these, you fill the pitcher with water, and pour out your drinking water as you need it.

Filters can sometimes be good for dealing with water that -- while it may be safe-- is just not particularly good tasting. In either case, don’t hesitate to use them if needed. But at the same time, don’t fall for some of the fear tactics that have been used to scare people in the last few years. And if you decide to buy a filter, make sure you comparison shop, and ask hard questions. Some of the things you might want to ask: how long will the filter last? How often do I have to change the filter? Can I change it myself, or will I need a professional to do it? What will the filter filter out? Will it remove bad tastes? And -- last but not least -- what is the cost of the system?