Category Archives: Health

Beer Health Benefits

Beer drinkers, take note: Your favorite pint may be healthier than you realize. When it comes to good-for-you happy hour beverages, we tend to think mainly of red wine and its heart-friendly antioxidants. Recent research, however, reveals that beer may also help what ales you, from reducing the risk of osteoporosis to beating brain fog.

But before you go on a beer binge, remember that moderation is key to reap its health perks. That means no more than two 12-ounce beers a day for men and one for women. “If you overdo it, alcohol can take a toll on your health, contributing to liver damage, certain cancers, heart problems, and more,” says Andrea Giancoli, RD, spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association. People with certain health conditions — including gout, high triglycerides, or breast cancer, for example — should avoid drinking beer or other alcohol because it can exacerbate those health problems, according to Joy Bauer, RD, nutrition and health expert for Everyday Health and The Today Show.

Too much alcohol can also cause weight gain. After multiple rounds, calories can add up quickly (a 12-ounce regular beer can pack up to 150 calories, while a light beer has around 100).

But for most of us, here are five healthy reasons to toast your next beer:

Beer Boost No. 1: A Stronger Skeleton

Make no bones about it: Beer in moderation may protect bone health thanks to its high silicon content. Participants who sipped one or two beers a day had greater bone mineral density than those who drank more or fewer beers, found a 2009 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. “Silicon helps stimulate bone-building cells, and the estrogenic effect of alcohol also has a protective quality for bones,” says study author Katherine Tucker, PhD, professor of nutritional epidemiology at Northeastern University in Boston. Which brew boasts the most silicon? Try an India Pale Ale. A 2010 University of California Davis study found that IPAs had the highest levels of the mineral.

A beer a day may keep heart disease away. “Alcohol raises levels of ‘good’ HDL cholesterol,” says Arthur Klatsky, MD, senior consultant in cardiology at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research in Oakland, Calif. “It also has anti-clotting effects, which keeps blood vessels clear and healthy.” In fact, Israeli researchers found that people who drank one beer daily had lower levels of fibrinogen, a protein that helps promote blood clotting, than those who abstained from drinking. (Blood clots can cause heart attack and stroke.) Study participants drank Maccabee beer, but researchers believe that any type of beer could have similar heart-healthy effects.

The Happiest Man in America

What does the happiest man in America look like? According to a collaboration between The New York Times and Gallup, he’s Alvin Wong: a 69-year-old Chinese-American Jewish man, who’s married with children and lives in Honolulu. Wong runs his own health care management business and earns more than $120,000 a year.

Why is Wong so jovial? Because he meets the criteria of what makes for happy living, according to data that Gallup has collected from Americans over the last three years on such factors as emotional health, financial status, stress, healthy habits, and more. Gallup uses the data to create an algorithm called the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Index, which provides a daily glimpse into how well Americans feel. When the Timesasked Gallup to come up with a statistical composite for the happiest person in America based on their research, Wong fit the bill.

So what can the rest of us learn from Alvin Wong about our own chances for happiness? Here’s a look at a few factors that may contribute to a more blissful life, according to the Gallup Well-Being Index.

No. 1: Location, Location, Location — or Maybe Not

Wong’s home state of Hawaii ranks highest in the Well-Being Index with a score of 71 out of 100. Beautiful beaches and abundant sunshine are sure to put a smile on anyone’s face, but Hawaii is by no means the only state with happiness potential. In fact, within four points of the Aloha State are Wyoming, North Dakota, Alaska, Colorado, Minnesota, South Dakota, Utah, Connecticut, Nebraska, and Massachusetts — proving that you don’t have to live in a tropical paradise to be happy.

At the bottom of the index, the least happy states include Michigan, Louisiana, Nevada, Delaware, Ohio, Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Kentucky, and, in last place, West Virginia.

No. 2: Money Makes a Difference — to a Point

While Wong’s reported household income of $120,000 correlated with feeling good about his life, recent research shows that the magic number may actually be less than that — $45,000 less, in fact. The 2010 study from Princeton University showed that there may be diminishing returns on happiness once you’re earning more than $75,000 annually.

Beyond that number, most people didn’t experience an increase in day-to-day well-being, although they did report greater overall satisfaction with life. “It’s really important to recognize that the word ‘happiness’ covers a lot of ground,” study author Angus Deaton told HealthDay in After $75,000, Money Can’t Buy Day-to-Day Happiness. “There is your overall evaluation of how your life is going, while the other has to do more with emotional well-being at the moment. Higher incomes don’t seem to have any effect on well-being after around $75,000, whereas your evaluation of your life keeps going up along with income.”

Heart and Brain

Regular aerobic exercise such as walking may protect the memory center in the brain, while stretching exercise may cause the center — called the hippocampus — to shrink, researchers reported.

In a randomized study involving men and women in their mid-60s, walking three times a week for a year led to increases in the volume of the hippocampus, which plays an important role in memory, according to Dr. Arthur Kramer, of the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in Urbana, Ill., and colleagues.

On the other hand, control participants who took stretching classes saw drops in the volume of the hippocampus, Kramer and colleagues reported online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The findings suggest that it’s possible to overcome the age-related decline in hippocampal volume with only moderate exercise, Kramer told MedPage Today, leading to better fitness and perhaps to better spatial memory. “I don’t see a down side to it,” he said.

The volume of the hippocampus is known to fall with age by between 1 percent and 2 percent a year, the researchers noted, leading to impaired memory and increased risk for dementia.

But animal research suggests that exercise reduces the loss of volume and preserves memory, they added.

To test the effect on humans, they enrolled 120 men and women in their mid-sixties and randomly assigned 60 of them to a program of aerobic walking three times a week for a year. The remaining 60 were given stretch classes three times a week and served as a control group.

Their fitness and memory were tested before the intervention, again after six months, and for a last time after a year. Magnetic resonance images of their brains were taken at the same times in order to measure the effect on the hippocampal volume.

How to protect your health

images-9What is medical identity theft? In this serious and growing problem, someone else uses your personal information to obtain medical goods or services. Medical identity theft affects consumers, health care providers, and insurance organization. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), medical identity theft accounts for about 3 percent of all identity theft, and the World Privacy Forum claims it’s the most difficult form of identity theft to correct.

When you are the victim of medical identity theft, incorrect information about diagnoses and treatments may appear on your medical records, potentially affecting your health care providers’ decisions about your care and treatment. Also, in addition to paying for treatment you didn’t receive, in some cases you might be denied treatment or coverage because of fraudulent medical or insurance information.

But there is some good news: HIPAA (the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act) regulations and the Identity Theft Protection Act, already in place, give you many of the tools you need to get errors corrected at your doctor’s office and with your insurance provider. Of course, like any crime, you’re better off preventing it from happening in the first place.

Spotting Medical Identity Theft

Among other signs, the FTC states that you may be a target of a potential medical identity theft or fraud if you are charged for medical services you didn’t receive. Keep a calendar to track your appointments, treatment dates, and any hospital admission and discharge dates. If the explanation of benefits from your insurance provider or Medicare isn’t exactly right, clear up the error as soon as possible.

Medical receipts, prescription drug information, health insurance forms, and any documents bearing your health care providers’ names might be all a clever thief needs to begin off-loading other medical claims to you. If you don’t need to keep medical documents, shred or burn them, and peel off labels from your prescription medications before recycling the containers.

Legal Protection to Combat Medical Identity Theft

The Identity Theft Protection Act of 2005 requires any commercial, charitable, educational, or non-profit organization that acquires or uses sensitive personal data to provide significant administrative, technical, and physical safeguards to prevent that data from being mishandled.

The same act that allows consumers to place a freeze on their credit reports also requires any covered entity to investigate suspected misappropriation of personal medical data and to do everything possible to correct resulting inaccurate medical information and billing problems.

Florida Healthcare Reform

With Monday’s ruling by a federal judge that the healthcare reform law is unconstitutional, legal experts foresee a showdown in the Supreme Court, where the outcome could go either way.

Judge Roger Vinson, of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, in Pensacola, on Monday ruled that the healthcare reform law is unconstitutional, siding with the 26 states that sued to block enforcement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

That makes four total rulings on the law: two that upheld the law, one that struck down the individual mandate portion of the law, and Monday’s decision, which struck down the law in its entirety. Another 12 courts have dismissed the case.

“All of these cases are merely station stops on the way to the Supreme Court,” Dr. Daniel Blumenthal, a community health professor at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, told ABC News/MedPage Today in an e-mail.

The ruling by Vinson is the harshest legal action yet against the ACA because, unlike the recent decision by a Virginia judge stating that the individual mandate portion of the ACA violates the Constitution, Vinson ruled the entire law “void” because the individual mandate provision can’t be separated out from the rest of the law.

The individual mandate — which requires everyone to buy insurance by 2014 or else pay a penalty — exceeds Congress’ authority under the Commerce Clause of the Constitution, which regulates interstate commerce, Vinson wrote in his decision.

Vinson agreed with the states involved in the lawsuit that the government cannot force individuals to participate in the stream of commerce — in this case, the health insurance market.

The federal government responded that at some point, every U.S. citizen will seek medical care, and if that person chooses to not have insurance, the cost of his or her medical care is passed on to those with insurance. Thus, a choice to not participate in the commerce of healthcare doesn’t actually exist.