Category Archives: Health and wellbeing

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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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

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

Macular degeneration and diet

What is macular degeneration?

Macular degeneration affects one in seven Australians over the age of 50[i]. It is the leading cause of blindness and vision loss in the country, being responsible for 50% of all blindness; more than glaucoma and cataracts combined.

The macula is a part of the eye, which is responsible for giving you the clearest vision. In macular degeneration, the cells in this area become irreversibly damaged and the result is a loss of vision.

There are two forms of this condition – wet macular degeneration and dry macular degeneration. There is no cure for either type of macular degeneration right now, but your optometrist can inform you about the different treatment options that can help to reduce vision loss for those with wet macular degeneration. In Australia, smoking is a major cause of blindness from macular degeneration[ii].

Why diet and vitamins are important for your eye health

Eating too many saturated fats has been shown to increase the advancement of macular degeneration[iii]. Saturated fat is found in foods such as beef, pork, lamb, butter, cream and high-fat cheeses as well as fast/takeaway/processed foods.

On the other hand, people who enjoy a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fish have a lower incidence of macular degeneration[iv].

Carrots and celery

Protective plant pigments

Vegetables and fruits help to protect against macular degeneration. They contain antioxidant vitamins (such as vitamin C) and also antioxidant-rich pigments, one of which is lutein. Lutein is found in leafy green vegetables such as spinach, kale, mustard greens and collard greens (the darker the leaf, the more concentrated the pigments). Brightly coloured vegetables and fruits are especially rich in pigments – these include red grapes, oranges, rockmelons and mangoes. Orange produce contains the pigment beta-carotene, which helps to protect your eyes. Try and opt for five servings of veggies and two fruits daily. A serving is equivalent to ½ cup of most foods and one cup for leafy greens.

Make more of fish

Fish is also good for your eye health – eating fish has been shown to lower the risk for macular degeneration[v]. The recommended intake of fish is two to three times a week and the best types of fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as salmon and sardines.  If you don’t eat fish, think about taking a daily omega-3 supplement. Speak to your local pharmacist about the best option for you.

Salmon

What about supplements?

A specific supplement for eyes may help to protect your eye health; it may also help to reduce vision loss in people who have moderate macular degeneration. Supplements have not been shown to be beneficial in patients who do not have macular degeneration, or have only mild macular degeneration. Talk to your optometrist to find out more.

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.

Optometrist Jane Le
Jane Le, optometrist at rt healthy eyes

 

 

[i] Macular Disease Foundation Australia. Deloitte Access Economic Report. http://www.mdfoundation.com.au/mdfreport.aspx

[ii] Australian Government. Smoking Causes Blindness. http://www.quitnow.gov.au/internet/quitnow/publishing.nsf/content/warnings-b-eye

[iii] PubMed – NCBI. Progression of age-related macular degeneration: association with dietary fat, transunsaturated fat, nuts and fish intake. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14662593

[iv] AMD.org. Diet And Vitamins for AMD. http://www.amd.org/can-diet-and-vitamins-help-macular-degeneration/

[v] University of Maryland Medical Center. Omega-3 fatty acids. http://umm.edu/health/medical/altmed/supplement/omega3-fatty-acids

Seven better health habits to learn from your kids

As a mum, I know that with age comes education and experience. But on the downside, I think we may also unlearn a thing or two – and it turns out that your kids can be the ones to teach you. For example, it’s natural for children to put their health first without even realising it. So, maybe it’s time for the grown-ups to do the same. Here are seven valuable lessons you may be able to learn from your kids …

  1. Better breathing

Have you ever seen a baby breathe? Noticed the way the diaphragm (the large muscle below the lungs) rises and falls? This is called diaphragmatic breathing, and it’s the natural way to take in a deep breath and oxygenate your body. This kind of breathing expands your lungs and presses down the diaphragm, causing the abdomen to expand as the lungs are filled with air. When stressed or anxious, adults are prone to shallow breathing from the chest, which means that the bottom parts of the lungs don’t fill up, denying the body of vital oxygen.

Whether you’re sitting, standing or lying down, place one hand on your chest and another on your stomach and breathe out, exhaling completely. As you inhale, count slowly to five and the hand on your stomach will rise up. Then exhale, counting down slowly from five until that hand goes down. Though it’s not as easy as it sounds and you may need to practice it, regular abdominal breathing is a great way to keep your stress levels down, as well as slow down your heartbeat and reduce or stabilise your blood pressure[i].

small image_breathe

  1. Ask why?

Take a look at your phone. It’s always undergoing improvements, updates and revisions, and isn’t that a bit like life? It can get pretty hectic and scary for us adults, but for children, new and unfamiliar obstacles are just tasks that need to be learned and mastered. Be curious about the world and ask questions, as not only does this provide a mentally stimulating workout that may help keep conditions such as dementia at bay, but people may also consider you to be a good listener and conversationalist.

Whether you’re eight or 80, you can always learn, so enjoy the journey to discover, develop and grow. When you can, be flexible, open and embrace uncertainty, rather than letting your doubts take over. Take your time to look around, appreciate what you have and talk with others about the weird and wonderful world that’s out there. 

  1. Eat like a kid

No, this doesn’t mean order the chicken nuggets off the kids’ menu! But, do try to keep your portion sizes smaller. That way you can go back for seconds if you’re still hungry. Healthy children usually eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full because they follow their natural body and brain cues and are in tune with their hunger and fullness.

If you grew up being told to eat everything on your plate, even if you were full, don’t let that habit stick – make a conscious effort to stop when you’ve had enough. Making a child eat when they aren’t hungry overrides their natural appetite cues and has links to weight problems later in life. Has this happened to you? Eat smaller, more regular meals packed with veggies to avoid getting over hungry and binging on something you shouldn’t.

small image_family eating

  1. Don’t sit still

Children are always on the move and this is not only a great way to learn, but it also strengthens bones and muscles and burns kilojoules. Unfortunately, it’s not always possible for adults, especially if your job means you have to sit for long periods behind the wheel or in front of a computer terminal. If that’s the case, make sure you get up frequently and stretch.

Getting fit for kids isn’t about slogging it out on a treadmill for an hour, it’s about finding something that they love doing and doing it over and over. After all, exercise shouldn’t be a chore and doesn’t need to be. Love to walk? Visit your nearest national park and enjoy a bush walk. Love to dance? Try out that Zumba class you’ve been meaning to try. You get the picture …

  1. Know when it’s time for some R&R

When was the last time your kids said ‘I want to go home’? Generally speaking, kids know when they are tired and will let you know when they need to rest. So just like them, respect your cues and listen to your body when it tells you it’s tired. Ignoring those natural signals to rest can trigger stress and illness in both your body and mind. Lack of sleep in adults has also been linked with obesity since it triggers the release of the hunger hormone, ghrelin, as well as having links with type 2 diabetes, poor memory and loss of focus.

small image_relax

  1. Ask for help

When kids need help, they ask for it, whether it’s with their homework or getting something off the top shelf. As we grow up, asking for help becomes a little harder – perhaps because we fear the way we will be perceived by others. Asking for help when you need it may put you out of your comfort zone, but it helps you learn, grow in confidence and get better (whether this is better at a skill or better health wise).

Us adults feel like we need to do everything for ourselves, but there is nothing weak or embarrassing about asking for help. Whether it’s your family, friends, GP or a support hotline, someone is always ready to help you – and you and your family deserve to get that help.

  1. Look on the bright side

Not only are kids naturally inquisitive, but they’re optimistic as well (usually!). Looking on the bright side is linked with less stress and better wellbeing. One study in the American Journal of Cardiology found that people who were more optimistic had higher levels of healthy cholesterol (HDL-cholesterol) and lower levels of triglycerides[ii], which are a type of fat. No wonder they say that laughter is the best medicine!

What are the children in your life teaching you about looking after your health?

Version 2
Simone Tregeagle, Chief Operating Officer at rt health fund, with her daughter

 

[i] Harvard Health Publications. Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response. http://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response
[ii] The American Journal of Cardiology. Relation Between Optimism and Lipids in Midlife. http://www.ajconline.org/article/S0002-9149(13)00388-3/abstract

Protect your hardworking eyes

They work when you work, they work when you’re relaxing and they even work when you’re sleeping. So, are you giving your hardworking eyes the care they deserve?

At work …

Most eye injuries (60 per cent) occur during work[i]. According to the Australian government, the construction, mining, agriculture, forestry and fishing industries are where most eye accidents at work occur[ii]. Any job that involves airborne particles or hazardous substances carries a risk of eye injury. Protect your eyes by:

  • Wearing the right eyewear – your workplace health and safety policy advisors will direct you on the right kind of eyewear you need. Generally speaking, safety eyewear made with polycarbonate lenses and a safety frame with side shields or close fitting wraparound styles give the best protection.
  • Seeking shade – it’s not just your skin that the sun can damage, ultraviolet (UV) rays can also harm your eyes[iii]. Over time, too much sun can contribute to cataracts (where protein builds up in the lens making it cloudy and preventing light from passing clearly through it). So, if you work outside or spend part of the day outdoors, always wear a hat and UV-blocking sunglasses.
  • Driving safely – did you know that the sun can penetrate glass and damage your skin and eyes? If you do a lot of driving, think about applying a clear, protective UV blocking film to the side windows as well as wearing sunglasses. And, if you’re suddenly more sensitive to light, see your GP.

safety at work

Protecting screen eyes

Do you find that you’re having trouble reading fine print whether you’re working in front of a screen or relaxing behind one? Called presbyopia (pronounced press-by-o-pee-a), this condition tends to affect people aged 40 and above. It happens as the lens loses its flexibility. And, in order to focus when you’re reading, the lens needs to be flexible enough to adapt and change shape.

If you work with computer screens for much of the day, you may experience eye strain – a bit like repetitive strain injury for your eyes. If this is you, your optometrist may prescribe computer glasses, which have lenses that are specially designed to maximise your vision at the kind of close-up distances that you need to be able to focus on when doing computer work. You can also make changes to your computer screen such as placing the screen about an arm’s length away from your eyes and a little below eye level. Also, make sure to take regular breaks from computer work. A good rule of thumb is the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes look away from your computer about 20 feet (around 6.1m) in front of you for 20 seconds.

Feeding your eyes

What you eat can benefit your eyes. So, try to snack on nuts and seeds, which contain key antioxidants such as vitamin E and zinc to protect your eyes. Go for a mixed handful of almonds, Brazil nuts and pumpkin or sunflower seeds. Flax and chia seeds are also a good option, as they contain omega-3 fats, which lubricate cells and help to reduce inflammation.

Go for green, yellow, orange and blue … Veggies are low in kilojoules and packed with nutrition, so opt for a cup or more daily. Brightly coloured veggies and fruits (such as carrots, eggplant, mangoes and blueberries) are also rich in eye protecting antioxidants.

vegetables

Avoid dry eyes. Your tears naturally lubricate your eyes but health conditions, medications, dry air, allergies and getting older can all cause dry, irritated eyes. Essential omega-3 fats help to nourish you from the inside out so try to enjoy oily fish like salmon, sardines and fresh tuna two or three times per week. Or, think about taking a fish oil supplement. These fats are called essential because your body can’t make them for itself – you have to get them from your diet. If dry eyes persist, ask your optometrist about a suitable product that might help or see your GP.

Due for a check-up?

You need regular eye exams all through your life, especially if eye problems run in your family or if you have other risk factors.  An eye exam can also show other conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Book an eye test with our qualified optometrists at rt healthy eyes. We’re open to – and we welcome – everyone!

Call rt healthy eyes Surry Hills (NSW) on 1300 991 044

Call rt healthy eyes Charlestown (NSW) on 1300 782 571

This health message is brought to you by the health and wellbeing team at rt health fund, Australia’s only dedicated, not-for-profit health fund for people who work in the transport and energy industries.

[i] National Center for Biotechnology Information. Epidemiology of ocular trauma in Australia. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10485561

[ii] Australian Safety and Compensation Council. Work-related eye injuries in Australia. http://www.safeworkaustralia.gov.au/sites/swa/about/publications/Documents/201/WorkRelatedEyeInjuriesAustralia_2008_PDF.pdf

[iii] The Skin Cancer Foundation. How Sunlight Damages the Eyes. http://www.skincancer.org/prevention/sun-protection/for-your-eyes/how-sunlight-damages-the-eyes