DNA test kits: Is your privacy at risk?

via DNA test kits: Is your privacy at risk?, clarionledger.com

PDF: DNA Test Kits privacy

Human beings have an insatiable desire to know our heritage. In the past, the best tools to determine our genetic heritage came through family Bibles, scribbled family trees, and stories handed down from generation to generation. Serious genealogists could do a better job, but it was still largely an inexact science. And if there were gaps in our family histories, it was nearly impossible to fill them in.

In the Moak family, a distant cousin published an extensive genealogy nearly 60 years ago, helping spark my interest in the topic.

But with the discovery of the structure of DNA in the 1950s, and the later mapping of the human genome, family genealogists suddenly had new tools available. Now, using a small swab of saliva or cheek scraping, you could find out (broadly, in most cases) where your ancestors came from. Entrepreneurs seized on the technology, and we started hearing about services which could give you a picture of your genetic heritage. Now, ads for services such as AncestryDNA, 23andMe, MyHeritage and others have garnered millions of dollars from consumers eager to fill in the gaps in their family histories.

Typically, consumers pay from $99 to $200, and get a report showing groups and regions from which their ancestors probably originated. A typical report will give you a percentage of the DNA associated with known ethic groups, along with a map showing where those people probably lived. Earlier this month, PC Magazine reviewed five test companies (23andMe, AncestryDNA, National Geographic Genographic Project, HomeDNA and MyHeritage DNA). Their comprehensive report gives a good snapshot of the different services provided. Some have been offering extended services; for example, showing your relative risk for diseases with known genetic markers.

DNA testing has, of course, yielded many promising possibilities in addition to the commercial ones. Some genetic diseases can now be spotted and possibly even prevented. But with all the promise has also come many fears. Some have raised the specter, for example, that insurance companies and drug companies would be interested in information that a person carries genes for deadly (and expensive) diseases. Others have voiced darker fears, for example, that babies with “desirable” traits could be chosen in favor of others with less-desirable genetic potential, possibly leading to a sort of genetic apartheid.

A more present concern, though, is privacy. In a recent blog post, Federal Trade Commission attorney Lesley Fair advised consumers to be wary about how well this potentially valuable information is being protected. “The data can be very enlightening personally,” Fair noted, but a major concern for consumers should be who else could have access to information about your heritage and your health. If you’re thinking about buying an at-home DNA test kit, you owe it to yourself — and to family members who could be affected — to investigate the options thoroughly.”

Fair urges consumers to comparison-shop services to see how they intend to protect your information. “Scrutinize each company’s website for details about what they do with your personal data,” she urges. “Rather than just clicking ‘I accept,’ take the time to understand how your health, genetic, and other sensitive information will be used and shared. Hold off on buying a kit until you have a clear picture of the company’s practices.”

And in this era of ever-bigger breaches of computer systems with sensitive data (this summer’s blockbuster Equifax breach is just the latest), it’s important to recognize the risks. These companies don’t just collect your DNA; they also collect payment and demographic information about you that could potentially be valuable to thieves.

So, shop carefully, monitor your credit, and be ready to report problems. Fair urges consumers who have experienced problems or concerns about genetic testing companies to report them to the FTC; she noted the agency has already acted against companies they accused of failing to protect their customers’ privacy. To file a complaint, visit https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#crnt.


Do smartphones change your brain?

via Smartphones: Can you live without yours?, clarionledger.com

PDF: Smartphones and your brain 1Smartphones and your brain 2

Just a generation ago, few would have predicted that by 2017, the world would be full of people staring zombie-like at flickering screens they hold in their hands, mostly unaware of what’s happening around them. This is a fact of our daily lives, but concerns have risen in recent years as to what effects these devices are having on our society. We’ve already seen that more people are dying from distracted driving (even walking), and while smartphones have their good points, no one really knows how they are changing us.

Since smartphones first hit the marketplace more than 25 years ago, humans have been unwittingly part of a vast, uncontrolled experiment, and science is just now beginning to discover that our brains are being rewired in unexpected ways as we use these devices. While “addiction” is a clinical term, many people believe we are becoming addicted to smartphones to a degree few thought possible.

In a recent Pew study, nearly half of Americans said they couldn’t live without their smartphones. A Common Sense Media study last year found that more than 80 percent of teens feel the need to check their phones at least hourly, and nearly three-fourths of them felt compelled to immediately respond to text messages and social media notifications. A famous 2014 study concluded that many teens would rather lose their pinky finger than their phone. The fear of losing one’s phone even has a name: “nomophobia”.

So, why is this happening? Scientists have long suspected that it has to do with the brain’s reward centers and the natural chemicals that help us feel good when we experience pleasure. While most studies to date have relied on anecdotal evidence, or have looked at self-reported behavior, a recent South Korean study was different because researchers used advanced MRI techniques to look at the brains of teenagers as they used smartphones. Teens who described themselves as “addicted” to their phones were found to have higher levels of depression, anxiety, insomnia severity and impulsivity, noted the study’s authors.

Probing further, the researchers found high levels of a brain chemical called GABA in the addicted teens, and the ratio of GABA to another chemical called glutamate seems to point toward chemical changes in teenage brains. While it’s just preliminary research, Dr. Hyung Suk Seo, the physician who conducted the study, notes that it could help scientists figure out just how device addiction can alter the brain.

“The increased GABA levels and disrupted balance between GABA and glutamate in the anterior cingulate cortex may contribute to our understanding the pathophysiology of and treatment for addictions,” Seo noted.

While this is one of the first conclusive studies to indicate that device use is actually changing the way our brains operate, there’s a lot of research ahead. But despite this disturbing news, Seo noted there is cause for optimism; levels of the brain chemicals seemed to decrease after cognitive behavioral therapy.

It’s pretty clear smartphones are here to stay, in some form or other. But with so much at stake, perhaps it’s time we all stepped back and gave some serious thought to whether these devices (and the people behind the curtain) are serving us, or whether it’s just the opposite.

Dietary supplements not always what they claim

via Dietary supplements not always what they claim, clarionledger.com

PDF: Supplements 1Supplements 2

Americans spend billions of dollars each year on dietary supplements, touted to relieve everything that could possibly be wrong with you. The National Institutes of Health’s Office of Dietary Supplements estimates that, in 2014, Americans spent nearly $37 billion on these products, with much of that money going toward products promising to help you lose weight, build muscles, increase sexual function and ease pain (among many others).

But increasingly, consumer advocates and regulators are warning that the marketing claims made by some of these products are questionable, if not patently false. Recently, federal regulators put the brakes on schemes by three Florida-based companies that they accused of deceptively marketing and selling dietary supplements, promising relief for a wide range of ailments.

According to the FTC’s complaint, NextGen Nutritionals, Strictly Health and Cyber Business Technology and their owners made false or unsubstantiated representations for five dietary supplements including BioMazing HCG Full-Potency Weight-Loss Drops, Hoodoba diet pills, Fucoidan Force (touted to fight cancer, HIV/AIDS and even high cholesterol), Immune Strong (claimed to be able to strengthen the immune system), and VascuVite (for blood pressure). Ads for the products appeared on a variety of websites.

The FTC took issue with a number of specific claims for each product, accusing the companies of making unsubstantiated claims, not backed by adequate scientific evidence, and accused the companies of posting a “Certified Ethical Site” seal on several of their websites, which directed consumers to “click to verify.” “Consumers who clicked on the seal were taken to another website claiming that defendants’ website had been verified as ‘ethical’ and ‘trustworthy’ by Ethical Site, ‘the most reliable evaluator of trust in the online marketplace,’” the FTC alleged. In fact, the agency noted, Ethical Site was not an independent third-party certification program, but was in fact owned and controlled by the company’s owners.

In addition to ordering the companies to cease and desist from making false or unsubstantiated claims, the company was ordered to pay $29,030 out of a total judgment of $1,344,173, after claiming they didn’t have the money to pay.

If you are thinking about taking a dietary supplement, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration urges you to think carefully, check with your physician and consider these tips:

Avoid “one product does it all” claims. Be suspicious of products that claim to cure a wide range of diseases, the FDA advises.

Be suspicious of personal testimonials, even from trusted celebrities. Success stories such as “It cured my diabetes” or “My tumors are gone” are easy to make up and are not a substitution for scientific evidence, the FDA notes on its website.

Watch for claims of quick fixes. Unfortunately, most diseases and conditions take time to treat, even with established products. If a product claims to do anything “in a few days,” it’s a red flag.

“All natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “safe.” Just because some things are found in nature doesn’t mean they’re safe to consume, yet unscrupulous marketers have successfully used this claim for years. In fact, products sold with this claim might include toxins, allergens or even ingredients found in prescription drugs.

“Miracle cures” usually aren’t. If someone really found a cure for the common cold or cancer, it would be all over the news, wouldn’t it? Avoid products that claim miraculous results or that the product has been purposely kept from public use.

Doubt claims that products are “FDA-approved.” “Domestic or imported dietary supplements are not approved by the FDA,” the agency advises on its website.

To read the full story, visit http://bit.ly/2Bv0Dtt. The FTC’s complaint is available at http://bit.ly/2ncB9hj.

Bedbugs love your dirty laundry


U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention

Source: Bedbugs love your dirty laundry, clarionledger.com

Warning: Reading this may lead to an irresistible urge to scratch.

“Sleep tight; don’t let the bedbugs bite.”

That little poem has helped send children to bed for generations, and despite the ominous warning embedded in the rhyme, we scarcely take note of it anymore. But recent research seems to indicate we might need to consider adding a phrase about dirty laundry if we really want to make our kids feel safe from bedbugs.

Bedbugs are an ancient companion to mankind, and wherever people have settled, they’ve taken these little bloodsuckers with them. Bedbugs are tiny, reddish-brown insects that quietly feed on the blood of humans and animals while they sleep. Stories about bedbug infestations can be found throughout history. From a survival standpoint, they’re actually quite a success story. Unfortunately, it’s humans who’ve provided their meal ticket.

Although bedbugs were very much a part of the life of pre-20th-century Americans, from the 1930s until the 1980s you didn’t hear much about them in the U.S. and other developed countries. Opinions vary, but most experts attribute the decline to the widespread use of the insecticide DDT and other chemicals, as well as increased use of vacuum cleaners. In the 1990s, we began to hear about embarrassing outbreaks of bedbugs in swanky hotels and apartments; soon, bedbugs were on everybody’s mind again.

Bedbugs have been associated with unsanitary conditions, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that’s largely a myth. “They’ve been found in five-star hotels and resorts and their presence is not determined by the cleanliness of the living conditions where they are found,” the CDC says on its website. Once established, the pests are notoriously hard to eradicate. The agency is quick to point out that bedbugs aren’t likely to carry diseases, but that’s cold comfort if you’ve been their midnight buffet.

How bedbugs spread and travel have been the subject of many scientific studies; common sense suggests they hitch a ride on our clothes, or crawl into suitcases. But recently, the University of Sheffield in England published a study that suggested bedbugs really love your dirty laundry. A pile of dirty clothes on the floor (say, in a hotel room) is apparently a powerful lure for bedbugs looking for a blood meal.
“There are a lot of good studies out there focused on trying to understand how bed bugs are attracted to humans and how they get around apartment blocks, but no one has really talked about how they get into the house in the first place,” study author Dr. William Hentley told the website Gizmodo. “Stopping people from bringing bed bugs home can be a big step in preventing them spreading throughout the world.”
In looking for a host, Hentley found, bedbugs are attracted to human odors. What better place to go hunting for a human being than a pile of sweaty clothes, full of smells from a day of sightseeing?

Hentley and his colleagues tested their theory by placing four tote bags of clothes — two full of clean clothes and two full of recently worn items — in two separate, temperature-controlled rooms. No humans were in either room, but carbon dioxide was released into the room to simulate human presence. The researchers found that bedbugs were twice as likely to be found on the dirty clothes as on the clean ones. The implication is a pile of worn clothes on the floor or in an open suitcase is like a flashing “welcome” sign.

“Our study suggests that keeping dirty laundry in a sealed bag, particularly when staying in a hotel, could reduce the chances of people taking bedbugs home with them, which may reduce the spread of infestations,” the study authors wrote.

So, the next time you travel, experts suggest putting your luggage up high on a metal rack, or even get some of those huge plastic zipper bags and place the entire suitcase inside. And if you’re really worried about this, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s guide on how to do a really thorough search to make sure you can really sleep tight.

Grandparenting may improve your health

Source: Grandparenting may improve your health, clarionledger.com

When I was a little kid, my grandmother Etta came to live with us for a while. “Granny” had been living on her own for nearly 15 years since my grandfather had died but moved in with us as she prepared to remarry. I still remember her telling us stories and jokes, dispensing her priceless wisdom and helping us navigate the difficulties of childhood. She had only one request: don’t disturb her during her daily soap operas. Granny has been gone now for more than 30 years, but her legacy lives on. My brother and I still treasure those times.

Grandparents are special. They’re experienced enough to make good parenting decisions and be firm when it’s needed, but many have learned to understand that life should be fun. If you’re fortunate to have an elderly babysitter for your kids, it could be good for all concerned because babysitting your grandkids (or even other people’s grandkids) could help you live longer.

In the 20-year Berlin Aging Study, researchers followed the lives of 516 seniors age 70 to 100, periodically checking in on their health. They came up with a finding that might (or might not) be surprising: those who provided some form of care to young children were significantly less prone to die than those who didn’t. (The study excluded grandparents who were the children’s primary caregivers, focusing instead on those who had some temporary level of interaction with kids.)

 Dr. Ronan Factora of the Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Geriatric Medicine noted in a recent Cleveland Clinic post that it appears the key factor is stress. “There is a link between providing this care and reducing stress, and we know the relationship between stress and higher risk of dying,” he noted. “If providing care to grandchildren and others in need is one way that can actually reduce stress, then these activities should be of benefit to folks who are grandparents and provide this care to their grandkids.”

Of course, any parent knows that being around active youngsters can entail its own version of stress, which can make even the most competent parent feel inadequate. It could be that grandparents are better able to deal with it; perhaps it’s because they’ve learned to “chill out.” But whatever the reason, the message is clear: There are clear health benefits to being a grandparent.

 Many studies have hinted at the health benefits that can be found in good relationships between the oldest and youngest. For example, a 2014 Australian study found that caring for young grandchildren one day per week was linked to lower risk for Alzheimer’s disease. A Boston College study published in 2013 found that a strong grandparent-grandchild relationship can reduce the risk of depression for both of them.

But there is a caveat: Too much of a good thing could actually be harmful. Factora notes that the caretaking experience needs to be managed so it doesn’t add more stress. “You want to make sure that you find that right balance between getting the positive benefits of doing enough of an activity to help those in need and avoiding doing too much and getting to the point where the activity makes one overly stressed,” he said.

Perhaps there’s a lesson here. Just a generation or two ago, most homes included grandparents who pitched in to help raise the children and were a resource for information, and served as repositories of family history and a sense of connectedness. In losing those relationships, it could be that we have also lost something that was more valuable than we ever imagined; the threads of family bind us together in ways we’re only just now discovering.

Feds go after opioid-addiction relief products

via Feds go after opioid-addiction relief products, clarionledger.com

PDF: Opioid

The opioid epidemic has been called the worst drug crisis in American history. It’s been blamed for hundreds of thousands of deaths and untold misery for millions who find themselves addicted to something that was originally supposed to help ease their pain.

In 2015 (the latest year for which statistics are available), public health officials estimate that 33,000 people died from opioid overdoses, adding to more than 300,000 deaths since 2000. According to the Center for Mississippi Health Policy, 1,229 people died in Mississippi from unintentional drug overdoses from 2007-2011. In many of those cases nationally (more than half of the Mississippi cases), the drug was a prescription painkiller, prescribed for patients with chronic pain. Others died from overdoses of opioid-based heroin or other illegal drugs, sometimes mixed with other prescription opioids such as Fentanyl and sold on a lucrative black market.

Since there is huge demand for any product that could potentially alleviate the tragic dependency on these substances, there is no shortage of companies selling products they claim will help. But in some cases, federal regulators say, they’ve gone too far. This week, the Federal Trade Commission put the brakes on claims made by a Texas-based company that marketed products called “Withdrawal Ease” and “Recovery Ease.”

“Opioid addiction is a scourge that has affected millions of Americans,” said acting FTC Chairman Maureen K. Ohlhausen, in a news release. “People who struggle with this problem need real help, not phony claims and false promises like the ones peddled by these defendants.”

According to the FTC’s complaint, Catlin Enterprises and its owners violated the FTC Act by making claims that Withdrawal Ease could alleviate the symptoms of opiate withdrawal or could increase the likelihood the user could overcome dependency. The agency challenged the claims on the basis they weren’t supported by scientific evidence of effectiveness. They also disputed Recovery Ease’s claim it could “significantly alleviate” long-term opiate withdrawal symptoms.

The FTC obtained a court order barring Catlin Enterprises and its owner from “making claims about opiate withdrawal, opiate dependency, or other health conditions, including through their product names, unless they possess competent and reliable science to back up those claims.” The agency also levied a $6.6 million fine, but noted the fine would be suspended “based on their inability to pay.”

This is the second recent case in which the FTC challenged claims a product could alleviate withdrawal symptoms. In a case settled last year, the agency  levied a $235,000 fine against Sunrise Nutraceuticals after the company claimed its Elimidrol product could help ease the symptoms of opiate withdrawal.

As with any type of medical product claim, consumers should be skeptical of any claim the product can produce such dramatic results, especially when the stakes are so high. If you’re considering purchasing one of these products or recommending it for a friend or loved one, the first call you should make is to your physician or health care provider. And the Mississippi Department of Mental Health has a great pamphlet at http://bit.ly/2pwvG1A, providing information and resources to parents whose kids may be at risk from prescription drug addiction

It saved ‘Biggest Loser’ life; it could save yours



Think Safe Blog

Source: It saved ‘Biggest Loser’ life; it could save yours, clarionledger.com

When “The Biggest Loser’s” Bob Harper went to a gym for a workout in February, he had little idea his life would soon depend on a piece of technology.

Harper, one of the most beloved trainers on the long-running weight-loss and fitness reality show, dropped to the floor of the Crossfit gym that day with a heart attack. Two doctors who happened to be in the gym rushed to his side and used an Automated External Defibrillator installed nearby to restore his heart rhythm. After a two-day coma, the 51-year-old Harper awoke and has since been in recovery from the “widowmaker” heart attack, so-called because they often lead to sudden death. Harper said his doctors put his survival odds at just 6 percent if he hadn’t gotten immediate treatment.

Last week, Harper went to NBC’s “Today Show” to advocate for the use of AEDs, and along with Dr. Mehmet Oz, demonstrated how to use the devices to save a life.

“This is my favorite piece of equipment in the gym right now,” quipped Harper, who has become known to millions as the guy who’s helped hundreds of people lose weight on the iconic show.

It would be hard to find any piece of technology that has more potential to save lives than the AED. The devices are designed to be easy to use and are now commonplace where people congregate. AEDs can assess whether an electric shock is needed to restart normal heart rhythm, and then deliver the treatment.

 According to the American Heart Association, about 350,000 cardiac arrests occur each year outside hospitals, and of those, only about 11 percent of those treated by first-responders survive. But, if properly applied, CPR can double or even triple those odds, and with AEDs, the odds get even better.

“I am a firm believer in the benefits of AEDs,” said Dr. Mike McMullan, a cardiologist at University of Mississippi Medical Center who leads a program to treat adults with congenital heart disease. “According to the American Heart Association, almost 90 percent of people who experience sudden cardiac arrest outside of the hospital will not survive without defibrillation. Chance of survival decreases by 10 percent for every minute that a victim goes by without defibrillation.”

Those crucial seconds can be lost, however, if the AED can’t be easily located. On a follow-up piece on “Today,” correspondent Jeff Rossen asked patrons of a gym whether they knew where to find the AED. Most patrons wandered around aimlessly as they searched for the devices, located in a wall-mounted box with a glass cover, with some sheepishly asking for help from the front-desk clerk or other customers.

And getting that life-saving help could be more problematic than you’d assume because of people’s unfamiliarity or fear. According to an American Heart Association study last year, only about half of Americans would perform CPR and other lifesaving techniques on someone in cardiac arrest. Most cite fear or unfamiliarity with how to do it properly, while others say they worry about harming the patient, and others saying they fear getting sued or having to face legal ramifications. (This, despite the fact most states, including Mississippi, have “Good Samaritan” laws offering protection from legal liability for people who use lifesaving techniques.)

 “People are often scared to use an AED if they have no medical training,” McMullan noted. “However, these are designed to be used by people without medical training. The device will give you quick step-by-step instructions on how to apply and use it. And it will not deliver a shock if one is not indicated.”

The lesson: We know AEDs, in conjunction with CPR, can drastically increase the odds of surviving certain types of heart attacks. “Early CPR until a defibrillator is available is key,” added McMullan. “But the most important part of successful resuscitation is establishing a normal heart rhythm as soon as possible.”

McMullan said he’s bought an AED for his own use, and trained his wife and children how to use it. “I keep it with me in my car so that I will be able to use it anytime I am in the vicinity of someone who experiences sudden cardiac arrest,” he added. “As a medical care provider, I want to be able to help someone as quickly as possible.”

So, the next time you visit a public place, look for the AED. It is usually mounted on a wall in a conspicuous place. Although AEDs vary in design and color, there are often signs to mark its location. If you can’t find the device when you first enter a new place, ask.

Secondly, get trained. Courses in CPR, AED use, first aid and other emergency techniques are being taught constantly by a number of organizations, and many employers provide them as part of training programs. This amazing piece of technology, plus a little training, could give someone a second chance at life.

Study: Teens losing sleep to mobile devices

Source: Study: Teens losing sleep to mobile devices

You may recall we recently reported that, while parents tended to worry about their children’s use of mobile devices, they were essentially blind to their own excessive usage of the devices. We parents often just don’t seem to have a very good handle on the issue of how our kids are using their phones and other devices.

The point has recently been made once again, as a new study in a British journal has illuminated a secret many teens are keeping. It seems the day’s texting, web surfing and gameplay are continuing well into the night for many, disrupting in the process much-needed sleep. Of course, it’s not entirely a new phenomenon: bookish teens have for decades covertly sneaked a copy of their favorite book under the covers and read with a flashlight while their parents blissfully slumbered down the hall, oblivious.

What’s new, of course, is that the little devices we carry with us constantly are powerful and even addictive. And such habits, while they may seem harmless, might actually have profound negative effects because they’re occurring at the very time teens need good sleep — and a lot of it.

In her Journal of Youth Studies article, Cardiff University Researcher Sally Power studied about 900 young people between 12 and 15. Subjects were asked whether they got up during the night to check their mobile devices. As many as one in five reported getting up regularly to check their email, text or social media accounts, and kids who admitted to nighttime usage were three times more likely to report feeling sleepy or excessively tired the next day.

“Our research shows that a small but significant number of children and young people say that they often go to school feeling tired — and these are the same young people who also have the lowest levels of well-being,” Power noted.

And there were gender differences as well: Power’s study found that, among younger subjects, more than a quarter of girls reported waking up to check their devices, while only about 15 percent of boys checked in during the night.

While the problem may seem like just a sleepy kid at breakfast, it may go deeper. The National Sleep Foundation reports teens need at least eight to 10 hours of quality sleep per night. Not getting enough sleep can cause a variety of problems, such as obesity, daytime sleepiness, lessened attention span and poor grades. Some researchers have connected the light from many devices with decreased levels of melatonin, a chemical emitted by the brain that helps regulate your sleep-wake cycles. And some types of light — such as the  bluish tints coming from device screens — are believed to be especially potent at suppressing melatonin.

Although Power stopped short at declaring the problem an “epidemic” or advocating a “prescribed” sleep period, she noted the research seems to confirm other research that found “significant and serious implications of the night-time use of social media for levels of tiredness and well-being.”

For parents interested in addressing this issue, the website Teensafe.com has some tips. Among them:

  • Consider a “Family Smartphone Contract.” Talk with your kids about your concerns over nighttime phone use and get them to sign a contract that they’ll abide by it. (This depends, of course, on trust.)
  • Control your Wi-Fi. Although it’s not a perfect solution (some phone features can work using the phone’s data plan), your home network controls might allow you to set specific time limits for general use, or even restrict sites — such as social media sites — at specified times.

It also might be a good idea to set a good example. Asking our teens to curb their phone usage has little impact if we set a double standard. Limiting our own usage at night not only can help us keep the moral high ground but also help us; we could all benefit from a better night’s sleep.

Leave that earwax alone, docs say


via Leave that earwax alone, docs say, clarionledger.com

It’s time for a little honest self-reflection here. No judgment, no condemnation. But if asked, many of us would admit that it feels pretty darn good to roll a Q-tip around our ear canal. For many of us, it’s a daily ritual. And it’s also a guilty pleasure; most of us know that we really shouldn’t be doing it, but we do it anyway.

The Q-tips package even warns, explicitly: “WARNING: DO NOT INSERT INTO EAR CANAL. ENTERING THE EAR CANAL COULD CAUSE INJURY.” Recently, the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation, which represents the medical practice of treating disorders of the ear, nose and throat, reissued its perennial stern warning that you could be causing yourself a lot of trouble by rolling that little cotton swab in your ears. It’s time we gave — ahem, ear — to this advice.

The history of the Q-tip is fascinating. According to the Q-tips website, back in 1923 a Polish immigrant named Leo Gerstenzang was watching his wife take toothpicks and stick little pieces of cotton on them to clean her baby’s ears. The entrepreneurial Gerstenzang suddenly seized on the idea that people might actually pay for those, if you could mass-produce them.

Soon, he had started a company producing millions of “Baby Gays,” later renamed “Q-tips” (with the “Q” standing for “quality”). The sticks were made of wood until 1958, when the Q-tips company (eventually acquired by consumer-products giant Unilever) introduced rolled-paper sticks.

Anyway, doctors say the problem with using Q-tips in the ear is not just that you can damage your eardrum if you push too hard — although you can. It turns out that earwax is actually a good thing. “There is an inclination for people to want to clean their ears because they believe earwax is an indication of uncleanliness,” noted Dr. Seth R. Schwartz, chairman of the American Academy of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery Foundation guideline update group that issued the advice last week. “This misinformation leads to unsafe ear health habits.”

Earwax (also known as cerumen) helps to fight infection and is produced continually by the body. It catches dirt, dust and other foreign substances. As we move our jaws and grow new skin in the ear canal, it’s gradually pushed out, where it eventually flakes off. Of course, that process is interrupted when we twirl the Q-tip inside the ear. Removing the wax dries out the ear canal, making it itch, and since there are a lot of nerve endings in there, it feels good to scratch.

But, Schwartz continues, when we push the Q-tip into the ear, it pushes the earwax deeper, creating a buildup around the eardrum. “Patients often think that they are preventing earwax from building up by cleaning out their ears with cotton swabs, paper clips, ear candles, or any number of unimaginable things that people put in their ears,” he said. “The problem is that this effort to eliminate earwax is only creating further issues because the earwax is just getting pushed down and impacted further into the ear canal. Anything that fits in the ear could cause serious harm to the ear drum and canal with the potential for temporary or even permanent damage.”

It could also lead to pain, feeling of fullness in the ear, ringing in the ear (tinnitus), hearing loss, discharge, odor, cough and interference with hearing aids. The best way to handle earwax, doctors say, is just to leave it alone unless you have a buildup. And as your mom probably told you, don’t stick anything in your ear except your elbow. (Half of you just tried that, didn’t you?)

So, let’s recap: according to the experts, earwax is good; sticking a Q-tip deep inside the ear, bad. Still, upon hearing this news, many people will doubtless shrug their shoulders and continue their daily Q-tip sessions. But just so you know, there are some really cool ways to use Q-tips that don’t involve rolling them in your ears. Of course, many people use them to remove and apply makeup, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

The site http://www.qtips.com/campaigns/qtipshacks/ (#QtipsHacks) offers hundreds of interesting ways to use them. For example, you can:

  • Use them to clean your computer’s keyboard, remote control or other electronics.
  • Cut off the tips and use them for art projects, such as little lambs. Or mini Christmas trees for a holiday display.
  • Use them to precisely apply paint.
  • Use them to unstick a zipper, by applying a little shampoo to the zipper.

Gerstenzang might have been surprised that his little invention would have survived, practically unchanged, for nearly a century, proving that sometimes, the simplest ideas are the best.

For some more interesting facts about (and uses for) Q-tips, visit http://bit.ly/2j4rRk7.

Know the law before joining gym



via Know the law before joining gym, clarionledger.com

With the beginning of the new year, the airwaves are full of messages reminding us to get in shape. Fitness equipment manufacturers have bought millions of dollars’ worth of advertising. Ads for diets, nutrition plans and fat-loss remedies are everywhere. And health clubs are getting themselves ready for the perennial influx of customers the first few weeks of the year, looking to make good on those New Year’s resolutions.

Forget Black Friday; businesses catering to our desire to be thinner, fitter and lighter look forward to the first couple of months of the year. And it’s a fast-growing industry; the International Health, Racquet and Sports Club Association reports that the number of gyms nationwide has skyrocketed in the past decade to more than 36,000 clubs as of January 2016.

For most people, a resolution to get healthier is a difficult goal to accomplish. Last year, Bodybuilding.com reported that nearly three-quarters of us abandoned our health and fitness resolutions. Reasons vary, but for most people, it’s just too hard to do what it takes to make their goals a reality, and many people don’t know how to handle the inevitable setbacks that occur with any such program.

Still, trying to take control of your diet and exercise is a laudable goal; it would be hard to find any single activity that experts say does more to improve your physical and mental health, as well as your changes of long-term survival.  And, if you’re looking to join a gym, you’ll find lots of options with many fitness counselors ready to help.

But making a decision to join a gym may have consequences beyond the possibility of failing to lose those pounds or inches, warned Mississippi Attorney General Jim Hood last week. Consumers may find themselves facing misrepresentation and even outright fraud. Hood took the opportunity to remind Mississippians that state law gives us several protections in a law called the Health Spa Act, which also provides monetary penalties for violators and even possible imprisonment.

“Health clubs nationwide will be doing big business in the next few weeks as consumers look to make good on their New Year’s resolutions,” Hood said. “It’s important that we all stay financially fit, too, so I hope that consumers do their research to find the right gym at the right price for them. Consumers also have the assurance that state law provides them some protections when they enter into health club contracts.”

Among the stipulations of the law: Health clubs must provide you with a written copy of your membership contract. The law even specifies the minimum type size for required contract language. Among other provisions:

  • You may cancel the contract within five days of purchasing it.
  • The club must show a comprehensive list of membership plans to prospective members and may not sell plans that aren’t included on the list.
  • The club can’t provide misleading information, representations, notices or advertisements. More specifically, it can’t misrepresent the qualifications of staff members, the availability or quality of equipment, or results obtained through exercising or weight control programs.
  • The club can’t obligate you to any contract longer than 36 months.

Before signing on the dotted line, it’s a good idea to check out the business thoroughly online and ask for recommendations from friends and co-workers. Best Health Magazine recently published a great list of things to consider at http://bit.ly/2hSbnI8.