All posts by rthealthfund

The everyday habits causing your tooth sensitivity

Jan_dental_sensitivity promo_no text.jpgEveryone knows how important it is to brush twice daily and floss for healthy teeth and gums. No doubt, your dentist reminds you at every six-monthly visit. But did you know that there are lots of things you can do to prevent the serious and growing problem of tooth erosion?

‘Your tooth enamel is the hardest substance in the body and it is designed to protect the inside of your teeth’ says Dr Lincoln Law, dentist at the healthy teeth clinic in Surry Hills.

‘But acidic foods and drinks can damage the teeth by etching away at the thin layer of enamel. This leads to sensitivity and this can leave your pearly whites less than white,’ he adds.

Tooth sensitivity: why it happens

‘Teeth are made up from layers, the outer surface is enamel and when this is worn away, the dentine layer is exposed, which is a yellowy or off-white colour. Dentine has tiny holes in it and via these holes, hot and cold temperatures and even sweetness, and sour tastes can reach the nerves causing pain.’ Explains Dr Lincoln.

More and more people are being affected by sensitive teeth, a problem that can start early in life. Plus, if tooth erosion affects the adult teeth, the results are permanent because enamel doesn’t grow back!

It’s all about pH

‘Both acids and alkaline are measured via a system called pH and your mouth has a pH of around seven (a pH of one is very acidic and 14 is very alkaline). So seven is neutral because it’s right in the middle of the pH scale.

‘So, acidic drinks – such as cola which has a pH of around three – erodes enamel i.e. it dissolves the calcium salts in it. See for yourself – if you have a baby tooth to experiment with, drop it into a glass of cola and it will eventually dissolve. Foods such as pickles and vinegars, and drinks such as wine also etch away at your enamel,’ he says.

Enamel erosion can have other causes too, including:

  • Acid reflux – where acid from the stomach flows up the mouth causing the pain of heartburn). The acid usually affects the teeth at the back of the mouth.
  • Frequent vomiting – which can be caused by medicines and also the condition bulimia. This also erodes the back or chewing teeth.
  • Over-brushing or using abrasive toothpaste – both can wear down your precious enamel.
  • Physical wear and tear – including tooth-to-tooth grinding, which can lead to the gradual loss of enamel.

What you can do

‘Leave some time between eating acidic foods or consuming acidic drinks – including breakfast juices and tooth brushing. This is because the acid will have softened the enamel. And, brushing too soon can literally brush enamel away. So brush before food and rinse your mouth with water afterwards,’ Dr Lincoln advises.

Remember, it can take up to 30 minutes for the surface of a tooth to get back to normal pH after an acidic drink so wait at least this long before brushing.

 

Treatment

Sensitive teeth can be treated with high-strength fluoride toothpaste or remineralising pastes containing calcium and phosphate. If the damage is severe, though, you may need restorative dentistry.

Practical tips to protect your enamel

Don’t brush too soon after eating foods with acids in them (including pickles and ketchup) and drinks (such as juices and wine).

Eat fruits as part of a meal since chewing stimulates saliva, which is your body’s natural way to cleanse your mouth.

Avoid fizzy drinks, especially with screw caps to discourage sipping throughout the day. ‘If you want a fizzy drink, drink in one go and use a straw to reduce contact with the teeth. Rinse your mouth with water afterwards. Remember that juices and some alcoholic drinks including wine are also acidic and spirits with juices plus cider. Sparkling water has less of a damaging effect but still contains acid,’ advises Dr Lincoln.

See your GP if you are having problems with acid reflux.

See your dentist to check you haven’t cracked a tooth or filling that’s causing the sensitivity.

 

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Dr Lincoln Law, dentist at the healthy teeth clinic in Surry Hills
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Got a bad breath problem? This could be why …

You probably won’t be surprised to know that a lot of people have a bad breath problem. But did you know bad breath is a chronic problem for one in four people[i]?

If you’re that one in four, it’s a problem for you – and possibly those around you. Learn about the gases that cause imperfect pongs and what you can do about them …

Bad breath affects most of us at some time or another – after a night’s sleep or after chomping on onions and garlic. But lingering smells need attention. Dr Lincoln Law who practices at the Healthy Teeth clinic in Surry Hills explains: ‘Bad breath is also known as halitosis or feta oris and it’s a pretty common reason for people coming into the clinic.’

Flagrant not fragrant

Research backs Dr Lincoln’s experience; it’s the third most common reason for seeking the help of a dentist after tooth decay and gum disease[ii].

As for the causes of less than fragrant breath? ‘Well, there can be many,’ explains Dr Lincoln.

‘Poor oral hygiene is the major cause of bad breath. It can happen when bits of food caught in your teeth start to break down. When mouth living bacteria eat these bits of food, they release noxious gases,’ says Dr Lincoln.

Anyone for bad eggs?

Scarily, these noxious gases include hydrogen sulphide (think rotten eggs), dimethyl sulphide (think rotten seaweed) and cadaverine and putrescine (the gases given off by decaying corpses) …

‘Lifestyle factors such as smoking also cause bad breath because of the tar and carbon that remain in the mouth. Smoking and alcohol consumption also dehydrate the body, which can cause dry mouth and can affect the quality of your breath.’

The food factor

Food is another factor that can cause bad breath. Take the popular paleo way of eating. ‘Severe dieting means that your body breaks down different nutrients and this can cause bad breath. Low carb and no carb diets can also do it.’

Dr Lincoln explains: ‘That’s because, when you cut the carbs and increase your protein intake, your body burns fat and this produces volatile compounds called ketones, which cause a particular kind of bad breath. Better dental hygiene can’t fix this one – it’s best to include a few low GI, healthy wholegrain foods in your diet. You can also try masking the smell with sugar-free gum.’

Feed bad bacteria

Most of the time, the cause of bad breath is poor oral hygiene. Pongs occur when bacteria eat the traces of food that remain between and on the teeth and gums, producing sulphur-containing gases.

Dr Lincoln says that, in his experience, people just need a little help to improve their oral hygiene – the best approach is with gentle but effective cleaning techniques for each individual.

‘Bacteria live in your mouth. They find homes in the crevices of the tongue, teeth and gums where they eat the food you eat and emit foul-smelling gases that cause odours. So removing bacteria and their waste through an effective cleaning regime can freshen your breath for a few hours,’ advises Dr Lincoln.

 Health conditions and halitosis

Serious illnesses – like bowel problems and pneumonia – as well as reflux problems, can cause bad breath. Medication can also be a trigger – including nitrates used to treat angina, some chemotherapy medications and certain tranquillisers, plus any kind of medicine that causes dry mouth.

Although medical problems need prompt medical treatment and you need to see your GP, there are some things you can do to protect yourself from bad breath. ‘Recent research suggests that one of the most effective ways to beat bad breath is based on bacteria,’ says Dr Lincoln.

Better bacteria

‘More and more research is showing that one of the most effective ways to treat bad breath is via probiotics (good bacteria). There are trillions of beneficial bacteria that live in and on your body that are vital to life and can help to reduce bad breath. So, many new treatments are likely to focus on increasing certain beneficial probiotics,’ he explains.

Probiotics work by forcing out the bad guys i.e. the bad bacteria which are potentially disease-causing microorganisms. Look for oral probiotics designed specifically to improve your dental health.

Feeding the good guys

‘Encouraging lots of prebiotics is important, too. Prebiotics – like wholegrains, pulses, veggies and fruits – are foods that nourish you and promote the growth of good bacteria. Yet another reason to enjoy a balanced diet of vegetables, fruits and healthy carbohydrates,’ explains Dr Lincoln.

Crunch time

‘Vegetables are an especially good choice because they are also rich in water and fibre – you could say they act like a dietary toothbrush. Drink lots of water and try to rinse your mouth with water after eating to help the natural mouth cleansing action of saliva,’ ends Dr Lincoln.

Of course, effective and regular cleaning is absolutely vital to maintain a healthy mouth. So don’t neglect regular check-ups with your dentist for a professional clean.

[i] http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/166636.php

[ii] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12013345

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Dr Lincoln Law, dentist at the Healthy Teeth clinic in Surry Hills

Your health cover – seven reasons why it shouldn’t be set and forget …

All too often people take out health cover at one life stage and forget to update it as their needs, and the needs of their family, change over time. Peta Gane, from rt’s member services team, shares some expert tips to getting the right kind of cover for your needs – and why your health cover should have an occasional health check!

‘We’ve all heard about people caught without the right level of health cover. It’s really distressing for the person and for us when we find someone is on the wrong cover for their needs. That’s why it’s so important to give your health cover a health check from time to time,’ she says.

Peta says she and the team at rt find people who might be on the wrong type of cover by looking at their age and the level of cover they have, and by comparing it with data that tells them the types of medical treatments people in those age groups are most likely to use.

Taking a proactive approach and reviewing your health cover by talking to a representative will make sure your needs are met. Peta explains saying: ‘It’s important to encourage people to give their health cover a regular check. And, there are a number of life events and stages when checking your level of cover may be especially important.’ These include:

01 You’re turning 31, thinking of dropping your hospital cover or if you’re new to Australia

You may be at risk of getting stuck with a Lifetime Health Cover (LHC) loading if:

  • you don’t have private hospital insurance before 1 July following your 31st birthday
  • you’re over the age of 31 and have had hospital cover, but let it lapse
  • you’ve moved to Australia and are eligible to receive full Medicare entitlements.

‘The LHC loading is a government penalty designed to encourage people to take out
private hospital cover and to keep it. Once you have an LHC loading, you’ll have to
pay it for ten continuous years, so avoiding it or minimising it as early as possible is
important – the team at rt can show you how,’ says Peta.

02 You’re planning a trip

Australian private health insurance only covers you for treatment you receive in Australia and for products and services you buy in the country. So, if you’re heading overseas for 28 days or more, suspend your cover.

03 You get a pay rise

‘If you’re earning over a certain amount and you don’t have private hospital cover, you’ll be charged an additional tax called the Medicare Levy Surcharge (MLS). Single people earning over $90,000 a year and couples/families earning over $180,000 are affected. If this applies to you, you’re better off having hospital cover than paying the extra tax – you’ll avoid the surcharge and gain all the benefits of private cover. The income tiers are set by the tax office; the current tiers are in place until 30 June 2018,’ explains Peta.

04 You’re planning a family

‘Having a baby is an exciting time and one of your most important considerations will be where you plan to have your baby and who you want to see you through your pregnancy.’ Peta urges you to check that the hospital cover you have includes pregnancy in a private hospital and remember that waiting periods may apply before you’re covered if you are new to a fund or if you upgrade to a cover that includes pregnancy. ‘If you have a single membership with rt, for example, you’ll need to upgrade to a family or sole-parent family membership at least two months before the baby’s due date. If you don’t upgrade, and your baby needs hospital care following birth, your baby won’t be covered. If you already have a couple, family or sole-parent family membership your baby will be covered if hospital care is needed. Planning ahead enables you to put your mind at ease so you can enjoy a healthy pregnancy and beyond, our team can guide you,’ she explains.

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05 The kids are growing

Got kids who might need orthodontic treatment soon? Get the right kind of extras cover to help during this important (and expensive) time. ‘When your kids reach about 12, think about checking or upgrading your extras to make sure they are covered if they need orthodontic treatment,’ says Dr Lincoln Law, dentist at Healthy Teeth. ‘There’s a waiting period of 12 months before you can claim orthodontics if you’re not already covered, so as with everything that’s important in life, plan ahead!’ adds Peta.

06 You’re celebrating a graduation

With rt, your children can be covered by your family or sole-parent family membership until their 21st birthday. After that, they can stay on your membership until they’re 25 if they’re studying full-time at an approved Australian school, college or university, and aren’t married or living in a de facto relationship. If they aren’t studying, you can keep the kids covered under your membership for an additional contribution that’s a fraction of what they’d pay for their own cover. ‘It’s called ‘family extension and it’s available with rt’s Premium Hospital cover,’ Peta explains.

If you join or are with rt health, your kids are eligible to join, and provided they transfer to their own membership with an equivalent level of cover within two months of leaving yours, they’ll have no waiting periods to serve.

07 There’s a significant birthday on the horizon

Celebrating important milestones in the family is one of life’s greatest joys. But with different ages and stages, come different health needs. As you get older, you’re more likely to need certain types of medical treatment for knees, hips, hearts and more.

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‘No matter what your life stage, think about whether your health cover is working for you right now. And, will it meet your upcoming needs? We’re committed to providing our existing and new members with the best advice possible and matching them with the right cover for their changing needs!’ ends Peta.

Call us on 1300 56 46 46 to join rt health and get the rt health check your health deserves!

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Peta Gane, member services team

 

 

Six reasons to add exercise into your day

Your body was made to move. But because of the hectic pace of 21st century living, many of us don’t fit enough exercise into our day.

Research from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare shows that 56 per cent of us don’t get close to the recommended 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity on most days of the week[i].

If you make time for exercise you’ll benefit not just your body, but your mind, too. Sports and exercise help boost your mood and blast stress. As you know prolonged stress can lead to serious health problems.

Different exercise, different health benefits

Aerobic or cardiovascular exercise helps to protect your heart and lungs, improve endurance and builds your fitness, strength and stamina.

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Strength training (working with weights) will sculpt your body because it builds muscle and burns fat. By the way, ladies, don’t worry that weight training will make you look like a man – you don’t have enough of the muscle building hormone testosterone so weight training will make you look slender – not manly!

If you have a lot to lose or have stiff joints, swimming is a great low impact-exercise. And walking is a great workout too, especially if it’s brisk.  All types of exercise burn kilojoules, helping you manage your weight.  And if you want to lose a few kilos, exercise also helps you to focus your mind on your healthy plans so it’s easier to get to a healthy, happy weight!

Not convinced? Here are six super reasons you should fit exercise into your day! 

  1. Burn those kilojoules

Dieting 101: Consume more kilojoules than you burn and you’ll gain weight. Burn more kilojoules than you consume and you’ll lose the kilos. But whether you want to lose weight or not, exercise is vital to help you get lean and stay that way. Though beware, if you’re exercising to lose weight – the exercise will need to be intensive and prolonged.

Not seeing the results you want? You may not be burning off as much as you think. For example, if you weigh around 60kg and you eat a 50g chocolate bar (1,130 kilojoules) you’ll need to cycle at a moderate pace for 35 minutes or walk for over an hour to burn it off! So, think about what kind of exercise you do and your exercise intensity so you become an active exerciser and not a distracted dieter!

  1. Boost circulation

When you exercise your working muscles produce chemicals, which leave the muscle cells and dilate (widen) tiny capillaries (blood vessels). This makes it easier for blood to reach your body and brain cells, bringing more nourishing oxygen-rich blood to your cells. Another benefit of better circulation is that you’ll nourish your internal organs. So you feel good on the inside – and on the outside, too!

  1. Support the muscles that support your joints

Exercise helps to build strong bones and maintain strength and flexibility. Strength and flexibility is important at every stage of your life but especially as you get older.

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  1. Shape up!

Ever heard that if you build lots of muscle that it will turn to fat if you don’t exercise as much? Not true. Muscle and fat are two completely different tissues so it’s not possible to replace one with the other. But you can build muscle and reduce body fat with weight training and strengthening exercises. Muscle burns more kilojoules than fat because it needs a lot more fuel to simply exist, compared with fat, which is a storage material. Exercising helps your body use up fat stores and gives a sleeker shape. That’s because muscle and fat take up a different amount of space in your body.

  1. Tone up the right places

Everyone has target areas they’d like to tackle. Aerobic exercise blasts fat from all of you, but you can target your problem areas. Fat from around the exercising muscle is used for energy as the muscle grows, enabling you to trim down and firm up trouble areas.

Lifting weights can really help to tone up! Aim for strengthening exercises with weights at least twice per week for up to 30 minutes, to slowly build up your body’s muscle. If you haven’t exercised for some time, speak with your doctor first and get the help of a qualified personal trainer who can help you get your technique, posture and balance right.

Your posture is about the way various parts of your body align in relation to one another. Good posture can help to prevent fatigue, headaches and chronic muscular tension. Perfecting your posture can also help to boost circulation, aid digestion and may help you sleep more soundly.

For good balance, you have to be able to control a number of muscles in order to prevent falls, which may help prevent injuries as you age.

  1. Feel good about you!

Australia’s Black Dog Institute says, ‘Numerous studies have shown that people who exercise regularly experience fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than those who do not exercise regularly. Several trials have shown that regular exercise of moderate intensity can be an effective treatment by itself for mild-to-moderate depression[ii].’

One of the reasons is that exercise boosts the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and feel-good chemicals, which helps to boost your mood[iii]. And as regular exercise helps to tone and shape your body, you’ll have another reason to feel good!

So go on, get moving!

This health information is brought to you by the health and wellbeing team at rt health fund.

*The advice provided is for the average adult and should not be interpreted as being applicable to children, the elderly or those with a chronic medical condition necessitating prescribed diets and physical activity regimens.

[i] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Risk factors to health. http://www.aihw.gov.au/risk-factors/ 

[ii] Black Dog Institute. Diet & exercise – Exercise  – Getting help. http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/public/gettinghelp/exercise.cfm

[iii] Black Dog Institute. Diet & exercise – Exercise  – Getting help. http://www.blackdoginstitute.org.au/public/gettinghelp/exercise.cfm

An optometrist’s guide to beating spring allergy season

Spring time is prime time for allergies. And, although most of us know about symptoms such as runny nose and sneezing, allergies can have a major impact on your eyes, too. Optometrist Jane Le from Sydney’s rt healthy eyes explains how allergies affect your eyes, why they occur and what you can do to ease your eyes as we enter allergy season.

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Jane explains that eye allergies are common and usually mild; they can occur on their own or in conjunction with allergic rhinitis (hay fever) or sinusitis (inflammation of the nasal mucus membrane). But, for people who have chronic eczema or asthma, eye allergies can be serious and can trigger inflammation of the conjunctiva (the delicate membrane that covers the eye and the inside of the eyelid).

If you’re affected, your eyes may feel itchy and sore but some people don’t get itching – instead, they feel a burning sensation and/or tired eyes.

What causes allergies?

Like all allergies, symptoms occur when your body overreacts to a substance i.e. an allergen. The immune system makes antibodies to fight what it sees as an invader (the allergen) and this causes your body to release histamine.

Your eyes are especially sensitive to allergens because like your skin, they are exposed and vulnerable to the outside world. When allergens come into contact with your eyes, they cause cells called mast cells to break down with the release of histamine. Histamine causes itching and dilation of the blood vessels and excessive watering of the eyes, too. You might get swelling of the eyelids or conjunctiva, sensitivity to light, blurry vision and/or a burning sensation. Plus, histamine causes blood vessels to widen and this allows for inflammatory allergic molecules to flow more easily into the eye’s bloodstream. The result? Redness of the eyes, swelling and more.

Seasonal and perennial

The most common types of eye allergies are seasonal and perennial (happen all year round).

Seasonal allergies are caused by exposure to pollens, tiny potentially irritating materials released from grass, trees, mould and weeds. Pollens are at their highest concentration in spring and summer, resulting in hay fever for susceptible people.

Perennial allergies that affect the eyes throughout the year are caused by a range of ever-present allergens, from mould, pet substances (dead skin cells, hair, feathers in bedding) and dust mites. Pollution, tobacco smoke, chlorine and certain medicines can also trigger an allergic reaction in susceptible people. The symptoms of eye allergies can also be triggered by direct contact with cosmetics, perfumes, preservatives, contact lenses and insect stings.

Sometimes, it’s easy to detect what’s causing your allergic eye problems. But it’s not always simple. So, your GP may suggest a few tests to pinpoint exactly what’s setting you off.

Six self-help ways to protect your eyes from allergies and reduce symptoms

1. Reduce exposure to the allergen or allergens that are triggering your symptoms. If it’s pollen, wear sunglasses to block pollen particles from getting to your eyes when you’re out and about.

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2. Try to keep the windows closed and use the air conditioning when you’re in the car.

3. Wash after being outside to remove pollen from your body and hair.

4. Think about replacing carpets with hard flooring and cleaning them with a slightly damp cloth instead of sweeping (which tends to stir up allergens). And, if you can, choose blinds instead of curtains for the same reason.

5. Cold compresses and lubricating eye drops can help ease the symptoms, especially if your eyes are itchy. Or, try a sterile saline solution to help flush away allergens from your eyes.

6. Keeping your eye drops in the fridge may provide some cooling relief.

Medical treatment for mild allergies involves the use of anti-histamine eye drops. Oral anti-histamine medications can be helpful to reduce the symptoms of hay fever, too. And, steroid eye drops may need to be prescribed for more chronic (long-term) and serious allergies. See your optometrist or GP for the most effective treatment plan.

About the author

Jane Le is qualified in ocular therapeutics and has been an optometrist since 2006. She has worked extensively across Australia and as a volunteer optometrist in El Salvador and in Mexico. Currently, she works at rt healthy eyes in Surry Hills, Sydney.

Optometrist Jane Le
Jane Le, optometrist at rt healthy eyes

 

Quick, tasty, lovely lunches

Making fast, nutritious and delicious lunches and lunch choices can be a challenge whether you’re working, studying or running around with the family. The health and wellbeing team at rt health fund share some of their tips to selecting healthy eats – where delicious meets nutritious!

You already know the basics – fresh is best and the less processed, the better. For example, canned tuna or fresh fish trumps fish nuggets and an apple is a better choice than a sugary apple bar from the supermarket. But time and hunger can challenge the best of intentions. So, if you’re watching your weight or trying to boost the nutrient content of your diet, here are some super quick tips:

1. Fill up half of your lunchbox or plate with veggies – red, orange, blue and yellow. The more colours, the better. Go for masses of green veggies such as broccoli, kale, rocket and asparagus – these are ultra-low in calories and very high in nutrition.

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2. Make a quarter of your meal starchy carbohydrates – the wholegrain kinds of bread, rice and pasta are best because they have their fibre, vitamins and minerals intact. In the same way, potatoes with their skins on are better than without and sweet potatoes are a great choice. Try to avoid white flour foods, for example white bread and pastry because they have had the fibre and nutrients removed from them in processing. Without the fibre, these foods are digested quickly so you feel hungry again after a short time. So, for a steadier life, go wholegrain.

3. Make a quarter of your lunch protein foods. Fish is a great choice as it provides omega-3 essential fats (oily fish such as salmon, tuna and sardines are especially high), lean meat provides a big hit of iron and pulses (peas, beans and legumes) are a rich source of protein with added fibre, vitamins, minerals and essential omega-3 fats.

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4. Add a source of calcium – either dairy or a vegetarian alternative such as soy or almond milk. Many women don’t get enough bone and teeth-building calcium, which can lead to issues such as osteoporosis later in life.

5. Some fresh fruit – which provides vitamins, minerals, fibre and a whole host of protective plant pigments. Plus, when you have a meal that satisfies your savoury taste buds, you may want something sweet to finish. Fruit could do the trick and could reduce the temptation for sugary/fatty snacks.

Here are some quick lunch ideas to get you started (most can be made at home using supermarket ingredients but some can be bought from takeaway shops):

  • Canned tuna with a little low-fat mayonnaise and lots of salad on a wholemeal roll
  • Roast beef with lettuce and lots of sliced tomato on rye bread
  • Supermarket salad leaves (lettuce, baby spinach, rocket) with tomatoes, feta and a can of drained red kidney beans
  • Hummus, pita bread and a double serving of tabbouleh

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  • Sushi and boiled green soybeans (edamame)
  • Quinoa with a rainbow of veggies
  • Poached eggs on wholegrain toast with spinach and avocado
  • Store-bought soup with added frozen baby peas
  • Vietnamese rice paper rolls with a large side salad
  • Falafel/chicken/lean meat roll with extra salad
  • Pasta with tomato sauce and lots of steamed veggies
  • Indian dhal with basmati rice and a big salad
  • Hot smoked salmon with mashed potatoes, green beans and grilled tomatoes
  • Mushroom and veggie omelette with wholegrain bread
  • Thai salad with fish, meat or tofu
  • Tofu and veggie stir fry
  • Homemade chilli con carne with meat or veggie mince and extra beans with tomato salad.

And for something sweet …

  • Fresh fruit
  • Sugar-free dairy or coconut yoghurt
  • A few dried peaches/apricots/prunes with unsalted nuts
  • Sugar-free jelly
  • Canned peaches or apricots (drained)
  • A couple of squares of dark chocolate.

Hormonal shifts that might hit you in the mouth

Hot flushes, sweats and mood swings – the middle years can be a challenging time for many women. And, although most people know about the effects on the body, menopause can also have a big impact on oral health.

To mark Dental Health Week (1-7 August 2016) which focuses on women and oral health this year, rt healthy teeth dentist, Dr Karlien Roper, shares some of the less well-known side effects of menopause.

Dr Karlien says, ‘Most people know that around the middle years, fluctuations in female hormones such as oestrogen can cause a range of problems before, during and around menopause. And, it’s well known that women can become more susceptible to bone problems such as osteoporosis and heart conditions during this time. But there are also a number of related oral health problems.’

Dry mouth

Dipping oestrogen levels affect the amount of water in the body since oestrogen plays a part in controlling fluid regulation[i]  – and that includes the fluid content of the mouth. Couple this with the fact that the body’s ability to conserve water naturally declines with age which means that it’s easier to get dehydrated.

Dehydration can contribute to:

  • Dry mouth
  • Bad breath
  • Tooth decay and gum problems (as oral bacteria produce acids that damage teeth and gums which saliva helps to wash away)
  • Altered taste perception and burning tongue (these could be due to the effects of oestrogen on the nerves that control taste perception).

What you can do

Drinking plenty of water may help keep your body – and your mouth hydrated. Sip some throughout the day – keep a glass or bottle with you. Drinking water after a meal also helps to cleanse the mouth, boosting the action of saliva. Watery foods such as vegetables and fruits are a good choice. But alcohol, advises Dr Karlien, is a natural dehydrator and can make dry mouth worse. So try to dilute alcoholic drinks with water and enjoy water or other non-alcoholic alternatives between alcoholic drinks. Chewing sugar-free gum after eating is also a good idea, as it triggers saliva flow helping to cleanse the mouth after eating.

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Dr Karlien adds: ‘Whatever the cause, if you feel your mouth is dry, see your dentist. Your dentist may refer you to a specialist to find out the cause as dry mouth and taste changes can be distressing. Reduced saliva production also means that oral problems can worsen because bacteria have more time and opportunity to stay in contact with the teeth, causing damage to both teeth and gums.’

Guidance for gums

Some conditions that affect the gums are more common in the years after menopause, again, because of fluctuating levels of hormones that directly affect the oral cavity[ii]. The majority of women – 60 per cent – experience periodontal (gum) problems[iii].

Signs of gum disease include:

  • Sensitive, soft or swollen gums
  • Receding gums
  • A change in colour of the gums
  • Gum pain
  • Bleeding gums.

 What you can do

‘Keep it clean!’ says Dr Karlien. ‘The cause of gum disease is the build-up of bacteria between the gums and teeth and this causes irritation, inflammation and bleeding (gingivitis). So, between-teeth cleaning is vital.’ Because the gums are the foundation for your teeth, a weak foundation could even lead to tooth loss.

‘Gingivitis is not a serious condition,’ continues Dr Karlien. ‘The problem is that it can progress to a more serious form of gum disease, periodontitis. This involves deeper infection and can result in potential tooth loss. Periodontitis is also linked with chronic (long-term) diseases such as heart disease[iv], as bacteria from infected gums pass through damaged gum tissue and enter the bloodstream causing heart problems. This is why it’s vital to keep teeth and gums as healthy as possible not just at home, but with professional dental health check-ups and treatment.’

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Hormones and bones

The risk of osteoporosis increases rapidly just after menopause and the jawbone, like other bones, can be affected. This is because oestrogen blocks the enzyme that causes bone breakdown[v].

What you can do

Get enough calcium and vitamin D. Calcium is the major mineral in bones and teeth while vitamin D is vital for the absorption of calcium. Foods such as cheese, broccoli and tofu are great sources of calcium and you can get enough vitamin D by going outside. This can help to prevent erosion but won’t be enough to restore bone loss. Your doctor may prescribe treatment to rebalance your hormone levels if you have severe bone loss.

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Tips to keep your teeth

Wear and tear is natural with age. And so, protecting your teeth is as vital ever. ‘Twice daily brushing and flossing are great home maintenance habits. But seeing your dentist for a professional clean and check-up are vital too. Small challenges can be picked up early by your dentist and effective treatments can keep you smiling for the long term,’ ends Dr Karlien Roper.

About the author

In her work at rt healthy teeth, Dr Karlien Roper enjoys the variety of services offered to her patients and also has a keen interest in cosmetic dentistry, facial aesthetics and endodontics. Married with two beautiful boys, Dr Karlien enjoys spending time with her family, cheering her family on at the sports fields, having a braai (South African barbecue) with friends and travelling.

Dr Karlien Roper
Dr Karlien Roper, Dentist at rt healthy teeth

[i]  PubMed – NCBI. Sex Hormone Effects on Body Fluid Regulation. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2849969/

[ii] PubMed – NCBI. Menopause and oral health. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4195183/

[iii] PubMed – NCBI. Oral Health and Menopause: A Comprehensive Review on Current Knowledge and Associated Dental Management. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3793432/

[iv] WebMD. Periodontal Disease and Heart Health. http://www.webmd.com/heart-disease/features/periodontal-disease-heart-health

[v] ScienceDaily. How Estrogen Protects Bones. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070323171448.htm

So what is stress really doing to your body?

It’s a buzzword – one that you hear all the time. But what exactly is stress? Why do you feel it? And what is it doing to your mind and body?

Stress is a whole range of reactions to danger – it’s one of the ways your body protects itself. In the face of ­threat, a range of stress hormones are released. One result of this is the release of glucose, to provide energy for the large muscles that you need to use to fight or take flight. Your heart beats faster and your blood pressure rises to ensure that oxygen and nutrients in your blood can reach every cell in your body. And, the systems that aren’t needed to fight or take flight are turned down a notch or two – such as your digestive system. This is one reason why stress and depression are sometimes linked with digestive problems.

Although your stress hormones play a vital role in keeping you ready to protect yourself – or others – too much of them circulating for too long can trigger physical and emotional problems over time.

And, it doesn’t have to be a major danger that triggers your stress response. It can be anything from a niggling neighbour to a frustrating experience online. If you don’t address your stress, the result can be problems with …

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Memory and concentration
  • Tiredness
  • Headaches, aches and joint pains
  • Digestive problems
  • Heart disease
  • Sleep problems and more.

Hello belly fat!

When stress hormones such as cortisol hang around in your body for long periods and aren’t burned off, changes in your weight can result – particularly weight gain around your middle. Cortisol orders your body to release glucose from cells raising the amount in the blood. And, when there is too much glucose in your blood, your body tries hard to normalise it and return it to within safe levels. One of the ways it does this is via the action of your liver, which converts the excess glucose into fat. Fat that’s processed in the liver tends to be laid down near the liver i.e. around your middle – hello belly fat!

Belly fat is different to the fat on other parts of your body. It is linked with many chronic (long-term) conditions such as heart disease and cancers[i]. Belly fat has four times as many cortisol receptors as other types of fat[ii] which moves fat from areas such as your bottom and thighs (fat in these areas is relatively inactive) and transports it to the belly. Belly fat is much more metabolically active and triggers inflammation. And, since belly fat has more cortisol receptors, your cortisol levels rise and rise and rise.

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Also on the rise …

Your blood pressure jumps every time you feel stressed. And, over time, high blood pressure damages your heart and is a major risk factor for heart disease. You can’t tell whether you have high blood pressure – this is why regular medical check-ups are important. Your GP can check your blood pressure quickly and easily and guide you about what’s needed.

How’s your emotional health?

As well as the effects on your body, high levels of cortisol are potent risk factors for anxiety and depression[iii]. Both can contribute to physical symptoms such as altered sensitivity to pain, tiredness, headaches, poor sleep or excessive sleep. Emotional problems can also trigger digestive problems and vice versa, as there are nerve cells all along your intestines which send signals to your brain in a two-way communication[iv].

So what can you do?

Find out what presses your buttons. Make a stress diary and keep it for two weeks or so. Make a note of what triggers your stress – times, places, people and situations. Then write down how you felt and how you reacted to the stress. Looking back at your stress diary can reveal some interesting insights into your personal stressors.

Then think about how you can reduce your stress. If it’s lack of time, there is no option but to start earlier. If it’s people, think about how you can see less of negative people and more of people who lift you up. And if you can’t do this, try to counter negative comments with positive or neutral ones. Decide what kind of pain you’re willing to bear. For the vast majority of us, it isn’t possible to have it all – at least not at the same time. So consider what you’re willing to give up or reduce. This isn’t a forever decision – review your views periodically to make sure you’re making the right decisions for you at the right time.

Follow Elsa’s lead. Although everyone feels guilt, too much can drag you down. The next time you feel guilty, try to pinpoint exactly why you’re feeling it. Do you need to alter your behaviour? Do you need to apologise? Or, are you making too much of it? Do what you need to do and then try to let it go. Even Disney heroines such as Elsa from Frozen now recognise that they can’t do it all and get it right all of the time – and about the need to let it go. So learn from what happened, try not to do it again and move on. And if you can’t move on, talk to someone who can help you such as a trained psychologist or counsellor. Otherwise, your guilt could fester and interfere with relationships.

Nourish yourself. What you eat, when you eat and how you eat can relieve your stress – and can contribute to it, too. For example, too much alcohol, too much sugar and too much caffeine can all stress your body triggering the release of stress hormones. Try to avoid foods made from white flour – the process of making white flour not only removes the minerals and vitamins, but also the fibre. Fibre is important as it holds onto carbohydrates in foods, releasing energy slowly and in a way the body can control, which won’t stress it. With the fibre removed, glucose is released rapidly into the blood in a way that is difficult for the body to control and adjust to.

For a calmer life, be picky about what you eat and drink. Make meals rich in veggies (five or more servings per day) and try to eat two fruits per day – they’re rich in vitamins, minerals and plant pigments. Plus, the fibre they contain helps to ensure that the energy inside is released slowly. Choose lean meats such as skinless chicken and turkey, opt for fish a few times a week and use pulses (peas, beans and lentils) in your cooking. Pulses are rich in fibre and protein but low in fat and calories. Add them to casseroles, stews, soups and salads. Be careful about how much alcohol you drink, too. This can stress both body and mind and rob you of restful sleep, too. If you’re drinking too much alcohol, do what you need to do to cut down or cut it out altogether. Talk to your GP for help.

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Remember stress isn’t just about your mind – it can have a whole host of physical consequences and in the long-term, trigger serious chronic conditions. So do what you can to beat your stresses today. Your mind and your body will thank you for it. And your friends and family probably will too!

Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

 

[i] Harvard Health Publications. Abdominal fat and what to do about it. http://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/abdominal-fat-and-what-to-do-about-it

[ii] University of New Mexico. Stress Cortisol Connection. https://www.unm.edu/~lkravitz/Article%20folder/stresscortisol.html

[iii] Mayo Clinic. Chronic stress puts your health at risk. http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

[iv] Harvard Health Publications. The gut-brain connection. http://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/the-gut-brain-connection

 

Do you know what hepatitis is?

‘Hep’ means liver and ‘itis’ means inflammation of, so hepatitis literally means inflammation of the liver.

Your liver is a large organ – it’s your body’s waste disposal system. It also regulates metabolism, stores iron and vitamins such as folate and B12 and produces proteins and bile, a liquid that’s needed to digest fats. If your liver doesn’t work properly, the result can be serious illness and it can be life-threatening, too.

The causes of hepatitis can be due to chemicals, alcohol, drug use and viruses such as the yellow fever virus and the virus that causes glandular fever.

There are seven forms of hepatitis – some types don’t cause serious health problems but others can result in chronic (long-term problems), scarring of the liver (cirrhosis) and even liver cancer.

Here’s our guide to what you need to know about the different types of hepatitis.

What are the symptoms?

Short-term (acute) hepatitis may not have any symptoms at all and if there are symptoms, they might be pretty non-specific i.e. they can be connected with many conditions. For example, nausea, tiredness, abdominal pain, muscle and joint pain, getting bruised easily, a high temperature (fever) of 38 degrees Celsius, dark coloured urine and light bowel movements are signs of hepatitis.

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Long-term (chronic) hepatitis may not have any obvious symptoms, either, until the liver stops working properly and liver failure results. Jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes) is also a sign of late stage liver failure. Hepatitis may only be picked up during blood tests.

If you have any persistent or troublesome symptoms that you think could be caused by hepatitis, go and see your GP immediately.

The seven types of hepatitis are:

  1. Hepatitis A

Caused by the hepatitis A virus, this infection is caught by consuming food or drink contaminated with the bowel movements of an infected person. It is most common in countries with poor sanitation. This type of hepatitis usually passes in a few months. But, it can be severe and even life-threatening.

If you’re travelling overseas, book in before your trip to see your GP, who may recommend a vaccination.

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  1. Hepatitis B

Caused by the hepatitis B virus, infection is spread via the blood of an infected person (e.g. through shared injection needles).

Most adults can fight off the infection in two months or so. But infection in children may be long-term and can lead to liver cirrhosis and liver cancer. Treatment may involve antiviral medications. If you are in a high-risk group, for example, if you are a health care worker or you inject drugs – your GP may recommend vaccination.

  1. Hepatitis C

Caused by the hepatitis C virus, this is usually spread via blood-to-blood contact with an infected person (e.g. via shared needles or through poor health care practices). Symptoms of infection may be similar to a bout of flu and many people don’t know that they are infected.

Around one in four people can fight off the infection but most people will develop chronic hepatitis C[i], which can lead to cirrhosis and liver failure. Treatment is usually antiviral medication but currently there is no vaccination.

  1. Hepatitis D

Caused by the hepatitis D virus, this infection only affects people who already have hepatitis B. It is usually spread through blood-to-blood or sexual contact. It is not common in Australia[ii].

Long-term hepatitis D infection can increase the risk of cirrhosis and liver cancer. Although there is no vaccine for hepatitis D, your GP might suggest the hepatitis B vaccine to protect you from getting hepatitis D.

  1. Hepatitis E

Common in developing countries, this type of hepatitis is caused by the hepatitis E virus; infection is usually caught via consuming food and drink contaminated with bowel movements from an infected person. Generally mild and short-lived, the infection doesn’t require any treatment. However, for a small number of people, it can be serious (such as those with a suppressed immune system) and it can become chronic.

There’s no vaccine to protect against hepatitis E but you can reduce your risk by being very careful with food and drinks when travelling to parts of the world with poor sanitation. If you are pregnant, you should not travel to areas where there is a lot of hepatitis E, especially during the last three months of pregnancy.

  1. Alcoholic hepatitis

Caused by excessive alcohol consumption over a number of years, many people who have it don’t know that they do because it usually doesn’t have any symptoms. However, it can be detected by a blood test (liver function test). Your liver can usually recover if you stop drinking alcohol. But if you don’t, the result can be liver failure or liver cancer.

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  1. Autoimmune hepatitis

Like other autoimmune conditions, autoimmune hepatitis occurs when the cells of the body start attacking itself. Treatment involves medication to stop the attack.  More research needs to be done to find out why it happens and if anything can be done to prevent autoimmune hepatitis.

For more information, contact:

  • Your GP
  • National Hepatitis information line on 1800 437 222
  • DirectLine (for information about where to get clean needles and syringes for drug users) on 1800 888 236
  • Immunise Australia information line on 1800 671 811.
Ravinder Lilly
Ravinder Lilly, Dietitian at rt health fund

 

[i] NHS Choices. Hepatitis. http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/Hepatitis/Pages/Introduction.aspx#hep-C

[ii] Hepatitis Australia. Hepatitis D. http://www.hepatitisaustralia.com/hepatitis-d/

Ten facts about bowel cancer

In Australia, the government estimates that there will be over 17,500 cases of bowel cancer[i] this year.  And although it was the third most diagnosed cancer in 2012, it is set to be the second most diagnosed cancer of 2016[ii]. So what is bowel cancer? Why does it occur and what can you do to prevent it?

Here are 10 need-to-know facts about bowel cancer …

1. The bowel is the large intestine so bowel cancer is cancer of the large intestine – it is also known as colorectal cancer.

2. The bowel is the last part of the very long and specialised tube called the gastro intestinal tract (GIT). Food is broken down in the early part of the GIT and is then digested and absorbed. Nutrients from food enter your bloodstream and then go to body cells where they provide nourishment. In the large intestine, water is reabsorbed and the result is waste materials.

3. The condition is most common in people over 50. That’s why from 50 years of age, you’ll be encouraged to use a bowel testing kit which can pick up early signs of the condition. Even so, the rates of bowel cancer in younger people have increased which researchers say is a worrying trend[iii]. Early detection is key as up to 90% of cases can be successfully treated[iv].

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4. Many cancers have a genetic link so if a close family member has had bowel cancer, you should be monitored closely by your GP.

5. Diet and lifestyle play a major role in the development of many cancers including bowel cancer. The Cancer Council estimates that in 2010, more than 2,600 new bowel cancer cases in Australia were associated with consuming too much red meat and processed meat[v]. Now, the World Health Organization has classified processed meats (ham, salami, sausages and hot dogs) as class one carcinogens. This means that there is strong evidence that these meats cause cancers; this could be due to the chemicals used in meat processing. Red meat (e.g. pork, beef and lamb) are classified as probable causes of cancer[vi]. High temperature cooking (e.g. cooking on a barbeque), can also create chemicals that are carcinogenic (potentially cancer-causing). So what can you do? Downsize your portion sizes of meat and enjoy vegetables more often. When you’re cooking, add plenty of beans in your chilli con carne and casseroles and add lots of veggies in your pies and pasta dishes.

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6. A diet that’s rich in plant foods – veggies and fruits – reduces bowel cancer risk. These foods are rich in plant antioxidants, vitamins and minerals which are protective to your health. Plus, veggies and fruits contain fibre which is the body’s natural cleanser. Fibre mixes with water in the gut and this helps to speed waste products out of it, reducing the time that wastes are in contact with the gut.

7. Getting plenty of fibre is also important because if you eat high-fibre foods and eat less fatty foods, the type of gut bacteria changes inside you and the bacteria produce more of a substance called butyrate. This by-product of fibre metabolism has important anticancer effects[vii].

8. Watch your weight. The majority of Australians – over 60 per cent[viii] – are now overweight or obese. Being overweight raises your risk of bowel cancer because excess body fat produces hormones and growth factors that affect the way cells work. Bowel cancer is one of many cancers that are linked to being overweight or obese[ix].

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9. Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption raise the risk of bowel cancer. Both introduce potential carcinogens into the body. If you smoke or drink to excess, get help by talking to your GP.

10. What to look out for? Blood in your stool, abdominal bloating/cramping, a persistent change in your bowel habits and unexplained changes in weight.

The Australian Government, through the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, offers free screening for bowel cancer. If you are eligible you will be sent a kit with information about what to do. If you have any of the symptoms listed above no matter your age, make sure you see your GP.

This health information is brought to you by the health and wellbeing team at rt health fund.

[i] Australian Government. Bowel Cancer Statistics. https://bowel-cancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/statistics

[ii] Australian Government. Bowel Cancer Statistics. https://bowel-cancer.canceraustralia.gov.au/statistics 

[iii] Bowel Cancer Australia. Bowel Cancer Australia. https://www.bowelcanceraustralia.org/youre-never-too-young

[iv] Australian Government. Cancer Screening – Bowel Screening Campaign Home. http://www.cancerscreening.gov.au/internet/screening/publishing.nsf/content/bowel-campaign-home

[v] Cancer Council Australia. New WHO meat study another reason to eat more fruit and veggies, says Cancer Council. http://www.cancer.org.au/news/media-releases/new-who-meat-study-another-reason-to-eat-more-fruit-and-veggies-says-cancer-council.html

[vi] American Cancer Society. World Health Organization Says Processed Meat Causes Cancer. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/news/world-health-organization-says-processed-meat-causes-cancer

[vii] Imperial College London. Diet swap has dramatic effects on colon cancer risk for Americans and Africans. http://www3.imperial.ac.uk/newsandeventspggrp/imperialcollege/newssummary/news_28-4-2015-12-6-31

[viii] Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Overweight and obesity. http://www.aihw.gov.au/overweight-and-obesity/

[ix] Cancer Research UK. How being overweight causes cancer. http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/bodyweight-and-cancer/how-being-overweight-causes-cancer