IFA News and Opinion
Issue Date:  July 1, 2007

High school cheerleader injury rates rise

Modern cheerleading is far more dangerous than it was in the days of pompoms and megaphones. Today, it's a year-round pursuit that requires a significant gymnastics capability.

A study in the journal Pediatrics shows that 208,800 cheerleaders aged 5 to 18 were treated in emergency rooms during the last 13 years. Most were 12- to 17-year-olds who had leg, foot, and ankle injuries.

Dr. Andrew Gregory of Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, recently said, “We really worry about the catastrophic injury that involves falling on the head or breaking the neck." He says parents should understand the risks. They should go to the practices to see that cheerleaders are working out on padding, Anytime someone is going up in the air, there should be an adult spotter. Stunts must not be beyond the cheerleader's skill level.


Plants can improve health and mood

If you have a small patch of earth, a patio or balcony where a flower pot can stand, or a windowsill, you have an opportunity to improve your health.

The American Horticultural Therapy Association tells of such benefits as lower blood pressure, lifting of depression or mood, faster wound healing, and increased bone density that tending plants or a garden can bring.

They say human beings have a genetic-based evolutionary need for plants being around them. Increasingly, health care centers and hospitals have incorporated green spaces, gardens, and indoor plants into their buildings.

But you don't have to go to a hospital to reap the benefits. Working with flowers and plants can be more attractive to people than walking on a treadmill or doing therapy.

At Gardening for Good in Westport, Mass., they recommend focusing on the smells, colors, and textures of leaves and flowers. Specific plants have specific benefits. Peppermint is energizing and reviving. Lavender is calming. Pansies bring brightness after the winter.

Coleus has foliage of brilliant green, magenta, and purple. Touching its leaves is calming. Rosemary does well on a windowsill, and you can enjoy the fragrance that stays on your hands.

Experts recommend starting small if you haven't had a garden before. A container garden can keep you engaged while tending it, and you won't be overwhelmed with the work a large vegetable garden will bring.

Some say just the rhythm of seasonal plants and knowing when they will bloom is very satisfying.


Be ready for the sunny days of summer

After a chilly spring, we welcome summer and the warming rays of the sun. They put us in an upbeat frame of mind. But like many things we enjoy, too much can be harmful.

When it comes to the sun, it doesn't take much to qualify as too much. The sun's ultraviolet A (UVA) and ultraviolet B (UVB) rays can lead to wrinkles and skin cancer.

If you have fair skin, red hair, or blonde hair, you are particularly susceptible to sun damage. And if you work or play outside, you have to be very careful to avoid overexposure.

The best plan is to set a time for your outdoor activities in the morning before 10 a.m. or in the late afternoon after 4 p.m. when the sun's rays are not as strong as they are at mid-day.

Do what you can to shade your skin. Sit under an umbrella, or wear a big hat, a long-sleeved shirt, and long pants.

Whenever you will be outdoors for more than a few minutes, whether the day is sunny or cloudy, be sure to protect your skin with sunscreen.

Most products have a sun protection factor (SPF) of 15 to 25. The lighter your skin is, the higher your protection factor should be. When shopping for a sunscreen, look for one that protects against both UVA and UVB rays.

Tanning booths often claim they use "harmless" UVA rays. While UVA rays take longer to damage the skin, they go deeper into the skin than UVBs and cause significant damage over time.

If you want the look of a suntan, check out the wide array of skin bronzers and tanning creams available in drug stores and supermarkets.

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Ice cream packs nutritional punch with calcium

The freezer of your refrigerator can be a blessing if you are an ice cream lover. You have far easier access to a frozen treat than Nero did in the old Roman Empire. He had to mix fresh snow with fruit and honey.

Whatever its origin, most fans agree that the invention of ice cream is one of mankind's great accomplishments.

Now that everyone considers the calorie count of their food, you may wonder if ice cream is a good choice. But you can buy ice cream in many forms. There are high-fat gourmet products, ice cream with as little as six grams of fat per half cup, and ice cream that is fat-free or sugar-free.

Official ice cream tasters say chocolate is the best flavor in fat-free or sugar-free products.

Even with regular ice cream, however, calcium makes eating it a wise move. Recent nutritional studies suggest that calcium may actually aid weight loss by preventing fat storage and raising metabolism.

Only 14 percent of women ages 20 to 50 get the recommended 1,000 mg a day. About 4 percent of those over 50 meet their 1,200 mg goal, and just one-third of men reach their recommended calcium goals.

Calcium is vital for strong bones. It also helps to reduce the risk of colon cancer, and it can lower high blood pressure. The National Institutes of Health recommend at least three servings of dairy products per day.

For the fun of it, try this recipe that doesn't require special equipment.

Do-it-yourself ice cream

Mix 1/2 cup milk with 1/2 cup of heavy cream and add 3 teaspoons of sugar (or more if you like). Add 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla.

Mix the ingredients in a sandwich-size zip lock bag and seal the bag tightly. Place the small bag inside a gallon-size zip lock bag filled just over half way with ice. Cover the ice with salt (kosher or ice cream salt are best, but table salt will do). Use enough salt to cover well. Close the bag tightly.

Gently shake the bag with the salt, ice, and little bag about 8 minutes until ice cream solidifies. Don't knead the bag or the little bag could open.

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Donating cord blood

The U.S. government is rolling out the new National Cord Blood Inventory.

A newborn's cord blood is rich in stem cells, which can develop into many different types of body cells. They could help many people survive cancer and other diseases or injuries. The cells are easily transplanted into unrelated people and can be thawed at a moment's notice.

Most cord blood from the nation's 4 million annual births is discarded. Parents could store it for use in a child's later life, but the cost is about $2,000. The government is asking that parents donate the cord blood rather than throw it away.

Today, about 50,000 cord blood donations are stored in public banks around the country. The program aims to triple that number, which would mean that in the future, anyone who needs stem cells could find a match.

New test designates ICDs

Many who have implantable cardiac defibrillators (ICDs) in their chests have never experienced heart arrhythmia, but doctors conclude that the defibrillators are worth having.

Now, a noninvasive exam called T-wave alternans (TWA) holds the promise for identifying which patients need the device and which may safely delay or avoid defibrillator implantation.

The TWA test detects a subtle beat-to-beat variation in an electrocardiogram while the patient walks on a treadmill or rides a stationary bike.

Studies by test maker Cambridge Heart show that those who test negative with the TWA may do as well with medication as with a defibrillator.

Leg muscles and the knee

Strengthening the muscle in front of the upper leg (quadriceps) that's used to straighten the leg at the knee can protect against the loss of cartilage behind the kneecap (patella), say doctors at the American College of Rheumatology.

If you have knee arthritis, check with your doctor to see what exercises are best for you. Walking is also beneficial.


Hypnosis for pain

Hypnosis has slowly gained acceptance for treatment of a number of conditions, particularly for various types of pain according to the Mayo Clinic. It has been shown to help relieve pain associated with childbirth, burn wounds, surgical operations, and dental procedures.

For people who can't take pain medications, it can be especially helpful. Other kinds of pain, such as chronic pain associated with tension headaches, cancer, irritable bowel syndrome, jaw joints, and nerves may be improved using hypnosis. Chronic pain, however, may require repeated sessions to be effective.

It's not clear exactly how hypnosis works. It is an altered state of consciousness, or trance, in which the patient has focused attention and has a heightened ability to respond to helpful suggestions.

Hypnotic states also occur naturally, such as when you are engrossed in a book, daydreaming, or performing a monotonous activity. To build a hypnotic state, a psychologist or psychiatrist explains the process and guides you to relax, let go of any fear, and focus on instructions.


Boost your brainpower with exercise

A recent and rapidly growing movement in science is showing that exercise can make people smarter.

A landmark study published by Columbia University and the Salk Institute shows that subjects had grown new brain cells after a three-month program of aerobic exercise. For decades, it was thought that such a thing was impossible.

Every time a muscle contracts, it sends out the IGF-1 protein that travels through the bloodstream, across the blood-brain barrier, and into the brain itself. In turn, IGF-1 issues an order to increase production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which fuels almost all the activities that lead to higher thought.

With regular exercise, the body builds up levels of BDNF, and the brain's nerve cells start to branch out, join together, and communicate with each other in new ways. This is the process that underlies learning. Brains with more BDNF have a greater capacity for knowledge. And they could stave off Alzheimer's disease and ADHD.

At any age, an active body is crucial for building a strong mind.


Olive oil may reduce ulcer risk

Olive oil has anti-coagulant effects in the bloodstream that lower the risk of heart attack and stroke. Now, there's evidence that it may also help to prevent stomach ulcers. It seems that the phenols in virgin olive oil kill eight strains of H. pylori in test tubes. Infection with H. pylori bacteria increases a person's risk of stomach ulcers and stomach cancer.

Researchers at the University Hospital of Valme, Spain, say more studies are needed. Still, it's another good reason for including olive oil in your diet.

Germs in purses, wallets

A survey at the University of Arizona shows that purses can harbor thousands of germs. The same may be true of wallets. The worst types of handbags were made of leather and plastic.

Researchers say we have a natural resistance to many organisms we come in contact with. But the leather and plastic, particularly at the bottom of a purse, can be cleaned with a disinfecting wipe.

Avoid mosquitoes, West Nile

To keep mosquitoes out of your yard:

  • Stock your pond with goldfish that feed on mosquito larvae, says the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Use yellow bug lights outside to discourage insects from swarming.
  • Mow tall grass and weeds where bugs like to hide.
  • Change water in bird baths twice a week.
  • Crush marigold leaves and petals between your fingers and rub the oil on our skin for a mild repellent.
  • Empty collected rainwater from plastic tarps on firewood and equipment.
  • Toss rosemary and sage onto your grill to act as a repellent.
  • Keep trees and shrubs well pruned to bring sun and wind into the yard. Bugs like shade and hate wind.
  • Water grass and gardens early in the morning so water doesn't pool.