Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Myth: A woman can't get pregnant during her period.

While a woman is unlikely to conceive during menstruation, "nothing, when it comes to pregnancy, is impossible," said Aaron Carroll of Indiana University and co-author of Don't Swallow Your Gum: Myths, Half-truths and Outright Lies About Your Body and Health (St. Martin's Griffin, 2009).

Once inside a woman, sperm can wait for an egg for up to a week. Ovulation can occur soon after, or even during, the bleeding phase of a woman's menstrual cycle, giving patient sperm the chance to get lucky. The timing method of birth control doesn't work well, Carroll said, agreeing that couples who practice it are often called something they likely were trying to avoid: parents.

Relying on sunscreen to save you from skin cancer

Why is this healthy habit a bust? Because you’re probably applying it incorrectly. According to Francesca Fusco, M.D., spokesperson for the Skin Cancer Foundation, people tend to not use enough sunscreen or use it inconsistently or not early enough in life. They also often aren’t using a sunscreen that’s truly effective. Some of her tips for proper use include: Putting sunscreen on over any medication but under makeup; using the equivalent of a shot glass or two to cover your whole body—even under clothes—and then waiting at least 30 minutes before you go outside; and always using a sunscreen that contains the ingredient mexoryl. That last one is a biggie. Sunscreens without mexoryl—which is, to say, most of them—only protect against UVB wavelengths of light. But UVA waves are dangerous as well—possibly more so, considering that they can damage your skin without causing sunburn, leaving you unaware of your risk.

Buying “all-natural” health products

Certain natural health products and supplements might have some value, but the label “all-natural” doesn’t necessarily mean “safe.” Don’t feel too bad if you’ve leapt to that conclusion, though. It’s such a common mistake that the Canadian National Health Network began an education program aimed at making sure consumers were aware of the risks inherent in natural health products. According to the CHN, some natural health products might be toxic if you take too much, others can trigger unexpected allergic reactions, and still others react badly with medically prescribed drugs or with individual health issues, like pregnancy or heart disease. And, while the CHN reviews and labels natural health products for safety, most of the ones in the U.S. haven’t been tested or proven effective. They can be sold as long as they don’t claim to be able to treat or cure a specific disease. The best thing to do, before you start taking any supplement or look into any alternative cure, is to talk to your doctor. He or she will be able to help you make the best decisions for your body.

Drinking eight glasses of water a day

Woman drinking water//© Stockbyte/Getty Images
Drinking eight glasses of water a day

Admit it, this is one healthy habit that’s a royal pain. Luckily, it’s also completely unnecessary. For some people, eight glasses a day might actually be far too much, leading to sodium deficiencies and potentially life-threatening water intoxication, caused by kidneys not being able to keep up the intake of liquids. In 2002, a kidney specialist tried, in vain, to find any scientific evidence supporting the eight-glasses-a-day myth. His report, published in the American Journal of Physiology, concluded that this standard health advice was complete and utter bunk that, like many urban legends, stemmed from a tiny grain of truth. Apparently, the dietary guidelines provided by the Food and Nutrition Board of the National Research Council do say that humans need 1 milliliter of water for each calorie of food—adding up to about 10 cups a day. However, the same guidelines also say that we get most of this liquid from the water in solid food. There’s no need to drink more.

Taking antioxidant supplements

They’re supposed to reduce your risk of cancer and heart disease and even diminish the effects of aging, but, if you take antioxidants as a pill or some other drug-like form, chances are they aren’t doing anything at all. The basic idea behind the hype is that antioxidants, chemicals found in fruits and vegetables, can help reduce damage to various parts of your body by balancing unstable chemicals known as free radicals.
Without antioxidants, free radicals start trying to stabilize themselves—often by swiping molecules from your DNA, damaging it in the process. So far, so good. The free radical-fighting power of antioxidants has been demonstrated in the lab and people who eat plant-heavy diets are less likely to suffer from the diseases linked to free radicals. But, as Dr. Lisa Melton wrote in an article in the August 2006 issue of New Scientist magazine, many studies have shown that people who get their antioxidants from popular supplements receive none of the health benefits. In fact, Melton cited a few studies that even suggested antioxidant supplements were leading to worse internal damage, including a 1992 study by the National Cancer Institute that had to be cancelled after the patients taking beta carotene supplements actually began developing higher rates of lung cancer than those taking sugar pills.

Trusting your eyesight to carrots

If you think these vegetables will improve your vision, think again. While carrots do contain vitamin A, which is a major player in keeping your eyes working properly, you really only need a small amount of it—and no matter how much vitamin A you consume, it’s not going to magically eliminate your need for glasses. In fact, if you eat too much vitamin A, you can end up with a toxic—although not usually fatal—reaction. The idea that more carrots means better vision might actually be a relic of a World War II-era military disinformation campaign. According to the online World Carrot Museum, British intelligence began spreading the myth during the blitz as a plausible explanation for why their fighter pilots were suddenly able to spot Nazi planes at night. In reality, the British had simply developed a better radar system and didn’t want the enemy to find out about it.

Following a low-fat diet

Significantly cutting the fat in your diet is supposed to lead to weight loss, cancer prevention and a healthier heart. Turns out, those promises might just be empty intellectual calories. In 2006, the Women’s Health Initiative—a several-billion dollar, eight-year study of the effects of low-fat diets—finally came to an end. The results were shocking. Not only did the women who followed “fat-free diets” show no decrease in cancer or heart disease rates compared to their fat-eating counterparts, but they also weren’t any skinnier. And, the researchers said, the study probably applied to men as well. If you follow the medical literature, however, there’ve been plenty of studies, dating back to the early 1990s, which show low-fat diets aren’t as effective as they’re made out to be. In fact, there’s even some evidence that the behaviors they inspire might be harmful. A 2007 study in the journal Human Reproduction found that women who carefully avoided full-fat dairy products were more likely to experience a certain type of infertility.

Sitting up straight

According to a study presented in 2006 at the annual conference for the Radiological Society of North America, so-called “perfect” posture might actually be contributing to back pain. Go ahead, call your mom and gloat. But make sure you get your facts right. When this story first came out last November, many newspapers incorrectly reported that slouching was the better way to sit. The problem turned out to be a "slanguage" barrier. In England, where the story was first reported, “slouching” refers to reclining backward, which is, according to the study, a great way to relieve pressure on your lower back. Translated into American slang, however, the news reports gave many people the impression that hunching forward was healthy, when, in fact, it’s actually worse than sitting up straight.

Using antibacterial soap

You may be tempted to take a biological jackhammer to every microbe that dare touch your family, but the fact is there’s a lot we don’t know about the long-term effects of common, household use of antibacterials. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, these chemicals have been shown, in the lab, to kill off only weak bacteria—leaving the tougher ones to reproduce. That’s led many medical experts to worry that anti-bacterial soaps might be contributing to the rise of stronger bacteria, capable of fighting off our attempts to kill it. So far, this theory hasn’t been proved in a real-life setting. What has been proved, however, is that washing your hands with anti-bacterial soap isn’t anymore effective at preventing disease than hand washing with regular soap. First reported in a 2004 study, published in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, this discovery led a Food and Drug Administration Expert Advisory Council to announce the next year that there was no proof anti-bacterial soaps lived up to their advertising claims. Bottom line: It’s just not worth the risk.

Pledge to the gamma frat

The nutrient with the coolest name—gamma tocopherol—may also be the one with the fastest draw in a showdown with cancer. When Purdue University researchers pitted this form of vitamin E against prostate- and lung-cancer cells, they discovered that it was able to stop the cells in their microscopic tracks.
What's more, gamma tocopherol helped kill existing tumor cells without hurting healthy cells, says Qing Jiang, Ph.D., the study's lead author.
But what about the research showing that vitamin E supplements are worthless, and perhaps even dangerous? Doesn't apply to gamma tocopherol, since it isn't included in most E supplements.
Instead, you'll find it in sesame oil, which you can sub for other cooking oils or sprinkle over salads. Or, if you want a source you can sink your teeth into, munch on walnuts.

Berry yourself alive

Make every day Thanksgiving and you could slash your risk of several different cancers. Researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles have confirmed that cranberries contain a trove of tumor-blocking compounds, including phenolic acids, glycosides, and anthocyanins.
These phytochemicals are effective at preventing cancer down below—in the colon and prostate—as well as up top—on the head and neck. "They force cancer cells to die or they inhibit their unregulated growth," says David Heber, M.D., Ph.D., a coauthor of the study.
To hit your daily cran quota, down a small glass of cranberry juice (the type that lists at least 27 percent juice on the label) at breakfast and snack on Craisins (sweetened dried cranberries) throughout the day.

Find your whey

Not since lycopene landed in our lives has there been a more promising prostate-cancer-fighting nutrient than whey protein. In a recent Ohio State University study, researchers treated human prostate cells with whey protein and then measured the cells' levels of a natural cancer-blocking compound called glutathione.
The finding: Glutathione levels rose by a remarkable 64 percent. "Whey is a great source of the amino acid cysteine, and cysteine can become glutathione in the body," explains Rosemary L. Walzem, R.D., Ph.D., director of the Center for Nutrition, Health, and Food Genomics at Texas A&M University.
One of the best sources of whey is yogurt; a lot of the protein is in the clear liquid on top, so don't pour it off. You can also pick up powdered whey-protein isolate—vanilla-flavored—and add it to instant oatmeal.

Get white hot

Green tea grabs all the headlines as a tumor-taming brew, but the white kind surpasses it at preventing colon cancer. When researchers at Oregon State University's Linus Pauling Institute tested the two teas' abilities to block colon-polyp growth, the white tea beverage was about 10 percent more effective. In fact, it stopped polyps as effectively as sulindac, a powerful anti-inflammatory drug.
And while prescription anti-inflammatories can cause internal bleeding and ulcers, "tea is pretty much guaranteed not to cause side effects," says Gayle Orner, Ph.D., the study's lead author. The study used Exotica white tea (80 tea bags for $20 at stashtea.com); 3 cups a day may be enough to cut your cancer risk.

Add zest to life

Fresh-squeezed OJ contains all the health benefits of oranges except one: the cancer protection in the peel. People who regularly consume citrus zest reduce their risk of squamous-cell skin cancer by 30 percent, according to a recent University of Arizona study. Even lab rats live longer on the stuff; animal studies suggest that citrus zest can actually shrink existing tumors.
Turns out the oils in the peels of oranges, lemons, and grapefruit contain powerful compounds that stimulate the body's production of a detoxifying enzyme, explains study author Iman Hakim, M.D., Ph.D., who says the results had an impact on her research group. "Several people around here started chewing on citrus peels," she says.
Another option: Grate the colored portion of the peel and add the pile of zest (at least a tablespoonful) to soups, salads, and salsa, or sprinkle it on chicken and fish.

Gill or be killed

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7 Foods That Fight Cancer // Salmon on a grill (© Mark Thomas/FoodPix/Jupiterimages)
Gill or be killed
Shark cartilage won't ward off cancer, but a shark's diet might. A recently completed 12-year Harvard study of nearly 48,000 men determined that those who ate fish more than three times a week were 40 percent less likely to develop advanced prostate cancer than those who hit the surf only twice a month.
It's those amazing omega-3s again, though they don't deserve all the credit. "Fish also contains vitamin A and vitamin D, which may help prevent prostate cancer," says Michael F. Leitzmann, M.D., a coauthor of the study.
That's why it may be better to skip supplements and stick with actual fish. Salmon, mackerel, and herring have the best balance of omega-3s, vitamin A, and vitamin D.
Note: Don't wait until the weekend to go fishing, says Dr. Leitzmann. "Space your fish consumption out over the week so you consume a steady supply of these compounds."

7 Foods That Fight Cancer

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7 Foods That Fight Cancer // Curry dish (© Lisa Romerein/FoodPix/Jupiterimages)
For now at least, there's no one to keep us from eating to beat disease, even if that disease is a multi-headed monster like cancer. But unlike prescription cancer drugs, most of which are designed to treat the illness, pharmaceutical foods are here to help prevent it.
We've rounded up the newest of these nutritional standouts, along with strategies for slipping them into your diet. And while none of the lucky seven that follow are FDA-approved, your body will be Men's Health-improved after you eat them.

Curry up
The right spice can make the meal—and block the tumor. That's what University of Illinois researchers discovered when they pitted turmeric against 19 different strains of H. pylori, the ulcer-inducing bacterium that's been linked to colon and gastric cancers. In every case, turmeric took the teeth out of H. pylori.
"Turmeric didn't necessarily reduce the bacterial load," says Gail Mahady, Ph.D., the study's lead author. "What it did was reduce the chronic inflammation caused by H. pylori. And it's this inflammation that has been associated with the development of cancer."
The best way to increase your intake of turmeric? Eat Indian food. Specifically, try dining on curry, which is rich in turmeric and often contains additional cancer squashers, such as garlic and onions.
Another option: Slather extra mustard on all your sandwiches; the bright yellow variety is loaded with turmeric.
By David Freeman

Wake Up, Work Out

Ed., for MSN Health & Fitness

It’s common to feel so frazzled that you let days—or even weeks—go by without fitting in a workout. Not only will the lack of regular exercise leave you feeling weak and fatigued, you’ll increase your health risks and may even find that unwanted inches start creeping on.

The solution, of course, is to find a way to fit fitness into your life.

But if dedicating an hour a day to exercise isn’t realistic right now, you can still stay in shape by doing the bare minimum. If you squeeze in a 10-minute workout every single morning, you’ll accrue the equivalent of more than three 20-minute workouts per week. And fitting in that extra 10 minutes of activity every day for a year will not only boost your health, but can lead to a 5-pound weight loss. So kick-start your day with these six upper and lower-body toning exercises.

The Workout:

  • Perform one set of 15 repetitions of each exercise, taking about one minute for each move (two minutes if you are doing one side at a time) and avoid pausing between exercises. Do this workout every day.
  • On days when you have slightly more time, do two or three sets of the moves. Or get your heart rate up by marching or jogging in place for 30 seconds to 1 minute in between exercises.
  • Modify this workout to match your fitness level. Follow the recommended moves, or adapt them as needed to make them easier or more challenging.

What you need: Your body—out of bed—and 10 free minutes. Click here to get the moves.

This diet and exercise program should not be followed without first consulting a health care professional. If you have any special health conditions requiring attention, you should consult with your health care professional regularly regarding possible modification of this program.

Martica is a Manhattan-based exercise physiologist and nutritionist and an award-winning fitness instructor. She has written for a variety of publications including Self, Health, Prevention, The New York Times and others. Martica is the author of seven books, including her latest, Cross-Training for Dummies.

The Weight-Loss Workout

What if you could combine a sizzling calorie burn with an all-over toning routine? This workout does just that. By alternating high-energy cardio intervals with strength moves that target all of your major muscles, you'll burn more fat than you would get from lifting weights alone. And if you stick to the routine, you can drop pounds and lose inches in as few as two to three months.

The magic of this weight-loss workout is that these strength moves target many muscles at once by incorporating both lower-body and upper-body work. While you won't increase your metabolism by lifting weights, a commonly believed gym myth (see my articles on this here and here), you will burn extra calories with these particular resistance moves. The multiple squat and lunge variations have a high-calorie-burning, cardio-like effect since the muscle groups in your butt and thighs are large and use of lots of energy.

All you need to do is follow this workout three times a week using weights, and do the same workout on another three times a week but without weights. (Alternate weighted and non-weighted days; muscles get stronger faster if you avoid lifting weights on consecutive days.) Ready, set, burn that fat!

Double Bridge

Firms glutes, hamstrings, quads, and abs

Your quads get an extra workout when you and your partner press the soles of your feet together.

With legs bent and feet flat, lie toe-to-toe with your partner. Pressing the sole of your left foot against your partner's right foot, extend those legs up toward the sky.

Contracting your glutes and pushing down on your grounded feet, lift your hips, so your bodies form straight lines from your bent knees to your shoulders. Keep hips level.

Hold for a second and then slowly lower. Repeat for a full set; then switch legs.

Partner Row

You'll get an upper-back workout while your partner works her torso muscles.

Have your partner assume a plank position, balancing on forearms and balls of feet. Using good form (back straight, knees behind toes), squat down and pick up her legs. Leaning forward from your hips, bend your knees slightly, and extend your arms down at your sides. This is the start position.

Keeping your back straight, abs tight, and elbows close to your body, squeeze your shoulder blades together and pull your elbows straight back, lifting your partner's body up. Your partner should contract her torso and lower-body muscles to stay straight. As you lift her, she should pivot from her shoulders, not her back or hips. Hold for a second and then slowly extend your arms back down.

Foot-to-Foot Bicycle Crunch

Pressing and resisting against each other's feet while doing this supereffective crunch makes your abs work harder.

With legs bent and feet flat on the ground, lie on your back, toe-to-toe with your partner. Press the soles of your feet against your partner's feet and lift them off the ground, so thighs are perpendicular and calves are parallel to the ground.

Contract your ab muscles and lift your head and shoulders off the ground as far as comfortably possible.

As you lift, pull your right knee toward your chest, extend your left leg, and twist your torso to bring your left elbow toward your right knee. (Your partner should do the same, so you are moving in sync and pressing against each other's soles at all times.) Hold for a second, then lower and repeat to the opposite side; that's one rep.

Dip and Curl

Shapes triceps, thighs, and abs

This challenging move feels easier with a friend doing it beside you.

Sit on the edge of a park bench. Grasp the bench at your sides. Inch yourself off the bench, keeping your behind as close to it as possible, and walk your feet out, so your knees are directly over your ankles. Extend your right leg, and rest your right heel on the ground, with foot flexed.

Bend your elbows straight back and lower yourself while simultaneously contracting your abs and pulling your right knee toward your chest. Don't bend your elbows beyond 90 degrees. Hold for a second, then push back up and extend your right leg without touching the ground. Do four to six reps with each leg to complete a set.

Tree Limb Pull-Up

Strengthens upper back, biceps, and shoulders

Pull-ups are tough. But with a partner, even women with Olive Oyl arms can get the benefits of this great upper-body move.

Grasp a tree branch (or a monkey bar) with hands shoulder-width apart, palms facing you.

Bend your knees and cross your ankles, so you're hanging. Have your buddy grasp your shins just below your knees.

With your head back slightly, squeeze your shoulder blades down and back while bending your elbows to pull your chest toward the branch.

As you pull, have your buddy lift as much as necessary for you to accomplish the move. Hold for a second, then slowly lower.

Wheelbarrow Push-Up

Tones chest, shoulders, triceps, glutes, and abs

This buddy push-up works more muscles than the solo kind. As a result, you have to really tighten your abs and buttocks muscles to keep your body straight.

Assume the push-up position with hands directly beneath shoulders and back straight. Have your partner squat down using good form (back straight, knees behind toes) and lift your legs as though holding a wheelbarrow. As she picks you up, tighten your glutes and abs to prevent your body from drooping. When you are steady, bend your elbows and lower your chest until your upper arms are parallel to the ground. Hold for a second, then push back up.

Move Your Strength Training Outdoors

Long, sun-filled days mean saying so long to a stuffy gym and hello to biking, swimming, and outdoor exercise. That's great for cardiovascular fitness, but without resistance training, muscle tone can vanish like ice cubes in July.

"People think they can build muscle only in a gym," says Tina Vindum of Outdoor Action Fitness in Mill Valley, Calif. "But it's easy and more fun to do it outside."

What's more, you may get faster results. Research shows that taking your workout outdoors can rev up the intensity without making it feel harder.

For even more oomph, grab a friend. The partner moves in this workout are more challenging, so you'll firm up in no time.

For a safe, effective buddy workout, talk a lot. Can't complete a full set? Say so. Too easy? Ask your partner to provide more resistance. Do two sets of eight to 12 reps of each move, unless otherwise noted. Always warm up with five to 10 minutes of walking, and stretch afterward.