Daily Aspirin - More Benefit Than Risk?

Many people take a low dose of aspirin every day to lower their risk of a further heart attack or stroke, or if they have a high risk of either. While the anticipated benefit is a lower chance of vascular disease, taking daily aspirin is not without danger: for instance it raises the risk of internal bleeding. Hence the important need to discuss beforehand with the doctor, "In my case, doc, should I be taking daily aspirin?"But this week, the publication of three studies in The Lancet, has added a new benefit to the equation: cancer prevention, and stirred up the pros and cons debate.

In those studies, Professor Peter Rothwell of Oxford University in the UK, a world expert on aspirin, and colleagues, confirm that for people in middle age, a daily dose of aspirin can cut the risk of developing several cancers, with effects starting after only two to three years rather than the ten or so previously thought.

Moreover, they propose that treatment with daily aspirin may also prevent an existing, localized cancer from spreading to other parts of the body, which Rothwell says is just as important to know about, since that's when cancer becomes deadly.If you follow their reasoning, we appear to have reached a crucial point in the debate: on the one hand we have the benefit that aspirin can reduce cancer, stroke and heart attacks, which are much more likely to lead to disability or death, and on the other, we have the risk of internal bleeding, which is less harmful than those diseases.

Such arguments cause more people, even those presently enjoying good health, to ask the question: "Should I be taking aspirin every day?

"But, although Rothwell and colleagues present compelling evidence, despite some limitations, their papers do not necessarily furnish a clear answer to that question.

Nevertheless, the balance of the pros and cons may alter in the light of their evidence, because not only does low dose aspirin therapy appear to increase the pros, it may also reduce the cons, in that the researchers found the risk of internal bleeding reduced with time.Plus, the new studies also raise a thorny public health question, similar to that surrounding cholesterol-busters, should health authorities consider recommending routine use of aspirin for cancer prevention?This was the subject of a commentary published in the same issue of the The Lancet. Here, Andrew T Chan and Nancy R Cook of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, suggest that on balance, we are not ready to recommend aspirin for cancer prevention.

One reason is that the Rothwell studies did not include data from the largest randomized trials in primary prevention, the Women's Health Study (WHS), and the Physicians' Health Study (PHS), where subjects took aspirin every other day.

"Also, despite a convincing case that the vascular and anticancer benefits of aspirin outweigh the harms of major extracranial bleeding, these analyses do not account for less serious adverse effects on quality of life, such as less severe bleeding," they add.However, Chan and Cook acknowledge that as we await results of additional trials, and the longer term follow up of the WHS and PHS, the Rothwell studies do move us a "step closer to broadening recommendations for aspirin use".At the very least, it means future evidence-based guidelines cannot ignore the use of aspirin for prevention of vascular disease in isolation from cancer prevention, they conclude.Other authorities have also been quick to respond to the new studies. In the UK, the NHS's answer to the question "Should I start taking aspirin?" is:

"Overall, aspirin is a highly effective medical treatment when used appropriately, but it is not yet a drug that should be taken unsupervised on a daily basis, even at low doses."

They, like Chan and Cook, say that while the Rothwell studies "provide compelling evidence, taking aspirin is not yet recommended to prevent cancer and people should not start taking it daily as a precautionary measure."For healthy people considering taking daily aspirin, they have this message:

"Given that the potential risks could outweigh any benefits, it is not currently advised that healthy people with no risk factors for cardiovascular disease take aspirin to prevent possible cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke."

They also say the evidence for taking aspirin purely to prevent cancer or to treat it is "even less substantial than for blood thinning", and urge "we cannot be sure that the potential benefits are not outweighed by the known risks".

The reason aspirin is prescribed in a small daily dose as a means to lower the risk of heart attack or stroke, is because of the effect it has on the clotting action of platelets in the bloodstream.When we bleed, platelets in the blood build up at the site of the wound, forming a plug that stops further blood loss. But this clotting can also happen inside blood vessels, such as when a fatty deposit in a narrow artery bursts. At the site of the burst, blood platelets clump into a clot that can block the artery and stop blood flow to the brain or heart, resulting in a stroke or heart attack.Aspirin reduces the ability of the platelets to clump, thereby lowering the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

In the UK, for example, aspirin is prescribed as a blood-thinner to reduce the risk of clots. The treatment comprises a small daily dose, often around 75mg (a typical aspirin painkilling tablet has about 300mg of aspirin).But the downside to this anti-clotting benefit, is that aspirin can also cause serious harm, the best known of these being the small but important increased risk of stomach irritation and bleeding.And, ironically, while daily aspirin can help prevent a clot-related (ischemic) stroke, it may actually increase the risk of a bleeding (hemorrhagic) stroke.

Although aspirin's risk-reduction benefits are different between men and women (and among women, it also depends on age), the risk of bleeding with daily aspirin is about the same in both sexes.The risk of bleeding also tends to be higher in older people, those with a history of stomach ulcers, and people already taking medication or who have conditions that increase the risk of bleeding.Daily aspirin use also increases the risk of developing a stomach ulcer. And, for anyone with a bleeding ulcer, taking aspirin will cause it to bleed more, perhaps to a life-threatening extent, say experts at the Mayo Clinic in the US.

People with asthma can also experience breathing problems with aspirin. Other side effects of taking aspirin include nausea and indigestion, ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and hearing loss. And some people can have an allergic reaction.

Aspirin recommendations

Before you take aspirin, even as a pain reliever, experts generally recommend that you talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are pregnant, trying to conceive or are breastfeeding.The same goes for people with a blood disorder, a stomach ulcer, who suffer from asthma, have high blood pressure, kidney or liver problems, or have allergic reactions to any drugs.It is also important to tell your doctor what other medications or supplements you are taking. Even if you take aspirin with ibuprofen, it reduces the benefits of the aspirin. And taking aspirin with other anti-clotting agents, such as warfarin, could also greatly increase your risk of bleeding.

If you are on daily aspirin and need surgery or dental work, it is important you tell your surgeon or dentist what dose you are on, so they can minimize the risk of excessive bleeding during the procedure. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also warns those who take aspirin regularly to limit their alcohol intake, because that can have an additional blood-thinning effect, and raises the risk of upset stomach. The Mayo Clinic suggest if you are on daily aspirin, you should limit your alcohol consumption to one drink or less per day if you are a woman, or two drink or less if you are a man.

Another point they make, is that stopping daily aspirin therapy may be unsafe: there is a rebound effect that can trigger a blood clot and cause a heart attack or stroke. It is important to talk with your doctor first before you make any changes or stop your daily dose.Aspirin should not be given to children under 16 because of the risk of triggering a rare but dangerous condition known as Reyes syndrome, which is why in the UK it has been removed as an ingredient from all child and baby medicines.

Many experts would also advise those thinking about taking daily aspirin as a way to cut cancer risk, to consider there are many other, less harmful lifestyle changes that can also make a difference: such as giving up smoking, following a healthy diet, limiting alcohol intake, keeping to a normal weight, and taking regular exercise.

By: Catharine Paddock PhD

Original Article: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/243265.php

More Physical Health...

Many people take a low dose of aspirin every day to lower their risk of a further heart attack or stroke, or if they have a high risk of either. While the anticipated benefit is a lower chance of vascular disease, taking daily aspirin is not without danger: for instance it raises the risk of internal bleeding. Hence the important need to discuss beforehand with the doctor, "In my case, doc, should I be taking daily aspirin?"But this week, the publication of three studies in The Lancet, has added a new benefit to the equation: cancer prevention, and stirred up the pros and cons debate.

In those studies, Professor Peter Rothwell of Oxford University in the UK, a world expert on aspirin, and colleagues, confirm that for people in middle age, a daily dose of aspirin can cut the risk of developing several cancers, with effects starting after only two to three years rather than the ten or so previously thought.

Moreover, they propose that treatment with daily aspirin may also prevent an existing, localized cancer from spreading to other parts of the body, which Rothwell says is just as important to know about, since that's when cancer becomes deadly.If you follow their reasoning, we appear to have reached a crucial point in the debate: on the one hand we have the benefit that aspirin can reduce cancer, stroke and heart attacks, which are much more likely to lead to disability or death, and on the other, we have the risk of internal bleeding, which is less harmful than those diseases.

Such arguments cause more people, even those presently enjoying good health, to ask the question: "Should I be taking aspirin every day?

"But, although Rothwell and colleagues present compelling evidence, despite some limitations, their papers do not necessarily furnish a clear answer to that question.

Nevertheless, the balance of the pros and cons may alter in the light of their evidence, because not only does low dose aspirin therapy appear to increase the pros, it may also reduce the cons, in that the researchers found the risk of internal bleeding reduced with time.Plus, the new studies also raise a thorny public health question, similar to that surrounding cholesterol-busters, should health authorities consider recommending routine use of aspirin for cancer prevention?This was the subject of a commentary published in the same issue of the The Lancet. Here, Andrew T Chan and Nancy R Cook of Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Boston, suggest that on balance, we are not ready to recommend aspirin for cancer prevention.

One reason is that the Rothwell studies did not include data from the largest randomized trials in primary prevention, the Women's Health Study (WHS), and the Physicians' Health Study (PHS), where subjects took aspirin every other day.

"Also, despite a convincing case that the vascular and anticancer benefits of aspirin outweigh the harms of major extracranial bleeding, these analyses do not account for less serious adverse effects on quality of life, such as less severe bleeding," they add.However, Chan and Cook acknowledge that as we await results of additional trials, and the longer term follow up of the WHS and PHS, the Rothwell studies do move us a "step closer to broadening recommendations for aspirin use".At the very least, it means future evidence-based guidelines cannot ignore the use of aspirin for prevention of vascular disease in isolation from cancer prevention, they conclude.Other authorities have also been quick to respond to the new studies. In the UK, the NHS's answer to the question "Should I start taking aspirin?" is:

"Overall, aspirin is a highly effective medical treatment when used appropriately, but it is not yet a drug that should be taken unsupervised on a daily basis, even at low doses."

They, like Chan and Cook, say that while the Rothwell studies "provide compelling evidence, taking aspirin is not yet recommended to prevent cancer and people should not start taking it daily as a precautionary measure."For healthy people considering taking daily aspirin, they have this message:

"Given that the potential risks could outweigh any benefits, it is not currently advised that healthy people with no risk factors for cardiovascular disease take aspirin to prevent possible cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke."

They also say the evidence for taking aspirin purely to prevent cancer or to treat it is "even less substantial than for blood thinning", and urge "we cannot be sure that the potential benefits are not outweighed by the known risks".

The reason aspirin is prescribed in a small daily dose as a means to lower the risk of heart attack or stroke, is because of the effect it has on the clotting action of platelets in the bloodstream.When we bleed, platelets in the blood build up at the site of the wound, forming a plug that stops further blood loss. But this clotting can also happen inside blood vessels, such as when a fatty deposit in a narrow artery bursts. At the site of the burst, blood platelets clump into a clot that can block the artery and stop blood flow to the brain or heart, resulting in a stroke or heart attack.Aspirin reduces the ability of the platelets to clump, thereby lowering the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

In the UK, for example, aspirin is prescribed as a blood-thinner to reduce the risk of clots. The treatment comprises a small daily dose, often around 75mg (a typical aspirin painkilling tablet has about 300mg of aspirin).But the downside to this anti-clotting benefit, is that aspirin can also cause serious harm, the best known of these being the small but important increased risk of stomach irritation and bleeding.And, ironically, while daily aspirin can help prevent a clot-related (ischemic) stroke, it may actually increase the risk of a bleeding (hemorrhagic) stroke.

Although aspirin's risk-reduction benefits are different between men and women (and among women, it also depends on age), the risk of bleeding with daily aspirin is about the same in both sexes.The risk of bleeding also tends to be higher in older people, those with a history of stomach ulcers, and people already taking medication or who have conditions that increase the risk of bleeding.Daily aspirin use also increases the risk of developing a stomach ulcer. And, for anyone with a bleeding ulcer, taking aspirin will cause it to bleed more, perhaps to a life-threatening extent, say experts at the Mayo Clinic in the US.

People with asthma can also experience breathing problems with aspirin. Other side effects of taking aspirin include nausea and indigestion, ringing in the ears (tinnitus) and hearing loss. And some people can have an allergic reaction.

Aspirin recommendations

Before you take aspirin, even as a pain reliever, experts generally recommend that you talk to your doctor or pharmacist if you are pregnant, trying to conceive or are breastfeeding.The same goes for people with a blood disorder, a stomach ulcer, who suffer from asthma, have high blood pressure, kidney or liver problems, or have allergic reactions to any drugs.It is also important to tell your doctor what other medications or supplements you are taking. Even if you take aspirin with ibuprofen, it reduces the benefits of the aspirin. And taking aspirin with other anti-clotting agents, such as warfarin, could also greatly increase your risk of bleeding.

If you are on daily aspirin and need surgery or dental work, it is important you tell your surgeon or dentist what dose you are on, so they can minimize the risk of excessive bleeding during the procedure. The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) also warns those who take aspirin regularly to limit their alcohol intake, because that can have an additional blood-thinning effect, and raises the risk of upset stomach. The Mayo Clinic suggest if you are on daily aspirin, you should limit your alcohol consumption to one drink or less per day if you are a woman, or two drink or less if you are a man.

Another point they make, is that stopping daily aspirin therapy may be unsafe: there is a rebound effect that can trigger a blood clot and cause a heart attack or stroke. It is important to talk with your doctor first before you make any changes or stop your daily dose.Aspirin should not be given to children under 16 because of the risk of triggering a rare but dangerous condition known as Reyes syndrome, which is why in the UK it has been removed as an ingredient from all child and baby medicines.

Many experts would also advise those thinking about taking daily aspirin as a way to cut cancer risk, to consider there are many other, less harmful lifestyle changes that can also make a difference: such as giving up smoking, following a healthy diet, limiting alcohol intake, keeping to a normal weight, and taking regular exercise.

By: Catharine Paddock PhD

Original Article: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/243265.php

The Health Benefits of Humor and Laughter

Humor is infectious. The sound of roaring laughter is far more contagious than any cough, sniffle, or sneeze. When laughter is shared, it binds people together and increases happiness and intimacy. Laughter also triggers healthy physical changes in the body. Humor and laughter strengthen your immune system, boost your energy, diminish pain, and protect you from the damaging effects of stress. Best of all, this priceless medicine is fun, free, and easy to use

Laughter is strong medicine for mind and body

“Your sense of humor is one of the most powerful tools you have to make certain that your daily mood and emotional state support good health.”

~ Paul E. McGhee, Ph.D.

Laughter is a powerful antidote to stress, pain, and conflict. Nothing works faster or more dependably to bring your mind and body back into balance than a good laugh. Humor lightens your burdens, inspires hopes, connects you to others, and keeps you grounded, focused, and alert.

With so much power to heal and renew, the ability to laugh easily and frequently is a tremendous resource for surmounting problems, enhancing your relationships, and supporting both physical and emotional health.

Laughter is good for your health

  • Laughter relaxes the whole body.A good, hearty laugh relieves physical tension and stress, leaving your muscles relaxed for up to 45 minutes after.
  • Laughter boosts the immune system. Laughter decreases stress hormones and increases immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies, thus improving your resistance to disease.
  • Laughter triggers the release of endorphins,the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. Endorphins promote an overall sense of well-being and can even temporarily relieve pain.
  • Laughter protects the heart. Laughter improves the function of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect you against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

 

The Benefits of Laughter

Physical Health Benefits:

  • Boosts immunity
  • Lowers stress hormones
  • Decreases pain
  • Relaxes your muscles
  • Prevents heart disease

Mental Health Benefits:

  • Adds joy and zest to life
  • Eases anxiety and fear
  • Relieves stress
  • Improves mood
  • Enhances resilience

Social Benefits:

  • Strengthens relationships
  • Attracts others to us
  • Enhances teamwork
  • Helps defuse conflict
  • Promotes group bonding

Laughter and humor help you stay emotionally healthy

Laughter makes you feel good. And the good feeling that you get when you laugh remains with you even after the laughter subsides. Humor helps you keep a positive, optimistic outlook through difficult situations, disappointments, and loss.

More than just a respite from sadness and pain, laughter gives you the courage and strength to find new sources of meaning and hope. Even in the most difficult of times, a laugh–or even simply a smile–can go a long way toward making you feel better. And laughter really is contagious—just hearing laughter primes your brain and readies you to smile and join in the fun.

The link between laughter and mental health

 

    • Laughter dissolves distressing emotions.You can’t feel anxious, angry, or sad when you’re laughing.
    • Laughter helps you relax and recharge.It reduces stress and increases energy, enabling you to stay focused and accomplish more.
    • Humor shifts perspective, allowing you to see situations in a more realistic, less threatening light. A humorous perspective creates psychological distance, which can help you avoid feeling overwhelmed.

The social benefits of humor and laughter

Humor and playful communication strengthen our relationships by triggering positive feelings and fostering emotional connection. When we laugh with one another, a positive bond is created. This bond acts as a strong buffer against stress, disagreements, and disappointment.

Laughing with others is more powerful than laughing alone

Shared laughter is one of the most effective tools for keeping relationships fresh and exciting. All emotional sharing builds strong and lasting relationship bonds, but sharing laughter and play also adds joy, vitality, and resilience. And humor is a powerful and effective way to heal resentments, disagreements, and hurts. Laughter unites people during difficult times.

Incorporating more humor and play into your daily interactions can improve the quality of your love relationships— as well as your connections with co-workers, family members, and friends. Using humor and laughter in relationships allows you to:

    • Be more spontaneous.Humor gets you out of your head and away from your troubles.
    • Let go of defensiveness.Laughter helps you forget judgments, criticisms, and doubts.
    • Release inhibitions.Your fear of holding back and holding on are set aside.

Express your true feelings.Deeply felt emotions are allowed to rise to the surface.

Bringing more humor and laughter into your life

Laughter is your birthright, a natural part of life that is innate and inborn. Infants begin smiling during the first weeks of life and laugh out loud within months of being born. Even if you did not grow up in a household where laughter was a common sound, you can learn to laugh at any stage of life.

Begin by setting aside special times to seek out humor and laughter, as you might with working out, and build from there. Eventually, you’ll want to incorporate humor and laughter into the fabric of your life, finding it naturally in everything you do.

Here are some ways to start:

 

    • Smile.Smiling is the beginning of laughter. Like laughter, it’s contagious. Pioneers in “laugh therapy,” find it’s possible to laugh without even experiencing a funny event. The same holds for smiling. When you look at someone or see something even mildly pleasing, practice smiling.
    • Count your blessings.Literally make a list. The simple act of considering the good things in your life will distance you from negative thoughts that are a barrier to humor and laughter. When you’re in a state of sadness, you have further to travel to get to humor and laughter.
    • When you hear laughter, move toward it. Sometimes humor and laughter are private, a shared joke among a small group, but usually not. More often, people are very happy to share something funny because it gives them an opportunity to laugh again and feed off the humor you find in it. When you hear laughter, seek it out and ask, “What’s funny?”
    • Spend time with fun, playful people.These are people who laugh easily–both at themselves and at life’s absurdities–and who routinely find the humor in everyday events. Their playful point of view and laughter are contagious.
    • Bring humor into conversations. Ask people, “What’s the funniest thing that happened to you today? This week? In your life?”

 

Developing your sense of humor: Take yourself less seriously

 

One essential characteristic that helps us laugh is not taking ourselves too seriously. We’ve all known the classic tight-jawed sourpuss who takes everything with deathly seriousness and never laughs at anything. No fun there!

Some events are clearly sad and not occasions for laughter. But most events in life don’t carry an overwhelming sense of either sadness or delight. They fall into the gray zone of ordinary life–giving you the choice to laugh or not.

Ways to help yourself see the lighter side of life:

  • Laugh at yourself.Share your embarrassing moments. The best way to take yourself less seriously is to talk about times when you took yourself too seriously.
  • Attempt to laugh at situations rather than bemoan them.Look for the humor in a bad situation, and uncover the irony and absurdity of life. This will help improve your mood and the mood of those around you.
  • Surround yourself with reminders to lighten up.Keep a toy on your desk or in your car. Put up a funny poster in your office. Choose a computer screensaver that makes you laugh. Frame photos of you and your family or friends having fun.
  • Keep things in perspective. Many things in life are beyond your control—particularly the behavior of other people. While you might think taking the weight of the world on your shoulders is admirable, in the long run it’s unrealistic, unproductive, unhealthy, and even egotistical.
  • Deal with your stress.Stress is a major impediment to humor and laughter.
  • Pay attention to children and emulate them. They are the experts on playing, taking life lightly, and laughing.

Checklist for lightening up

When you find yourself taken over by what seems to be a horrible problem, ask these questions: 

 

    • Is it really worth getting upset over?
    • Is it worth upsetting others?
    • Is it that important?
    • Is it that bad?
    • Is the situation irreparable?
    • Is it really your problem?

Using humor and play to overcome challenges and enhance your life

The ability to laugh, play, and have fun with others not only makes life more enjoyable but also helps you solve problems, connect with others, and be more creative. People who incorporate humor and play into their daily lives find that it renews them and all of their relationships.

Life brings challenges that can either get the best of you or become playthings for your imagination. When you “become the problem” and take yourself too seriously, it can be hard to think outside the box and find new solutions. But when you play with the problem, you can often transform it into an opportunity for creative learning.

Playing with problems seems to come naturally to children. When they are confused or afraid, they make their problems into a game, giving them a sense of control and an opportunity to experiment with new solutions. Interacting with others in playful ways helps you retain this creative ability.

Here are two examples of people who took everyday problems and turned them around through laughter and play:

Roy, a semi-retired businessman, was excited to finally have time to devote to golf, his favorite sport. But the more he played, the less he enjoyed himself. Although his game had improved dramatically, he got angry with himself over every mistake. Roy wisely realized that his golfing buddies affected his attitude, so he stopped playing with people who took the game too seriously. When he played with friends who focused more on having fun than on their scores, he was less critical of himself. Now golfing was as enjoyable as Roy hoped it would be. He scored better without working harder. And the brighter outlook he was getting from his companions and the game spread to other parts of his life, including his work.

Jane worked at home designing greeting cards, a job she used to love but now felt had become routine. Two little girls who loved to draw and paint lived next door. Eventually, Jane invited the girls in to play with all the art supplies she had. At first, she just watched, but in time she joined in. Laughing, coloring, and playing pretend with the little girls transformed Jane’s life. Not only did playing with them end her loneliness and mild boredom, it sparked her imagination and helped her artwork flourish. Best of all, it rekindled the playfulness and spark in Jane’s relationship with her husband.

As laughter, humor, and play become an integrated part of your life, your creativity will flourish and new discoveries for playing with friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and loved ones will occur to you daily. Humor takes you to a higher place where you can view the world from a more relaxed, positive, creative, joyful, and balanced perspective.

 

By: Melinda Smith, M.A., Gina Kemp, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D. Last

Original Article: http://www.helpguide.org/life/humor_laughter_health.htm

 

 

Multiple sclerosis is up to 10 times more likely to strike people who live far from  the equator, prompting scientists to theorize that a dearth of sun and/or vitamin D may trigger the disease. And for those with MS, flare-ups are far less common in summer than at the end of winter, suggesting that sunshine may help reduce the severity of the disease.

These striking geographical and seasonal patterns have inspired the world’s first clinical trial, launched in October, aimed at providing scientific proof of the theory. The randomized, placebo-controlled study is investigating whether daily doses of vitamin D—the sunshine vitamin—can prevent MS attacks or slow progression of the disease, which affects more than 2 million people worldwide.

In a scary trend, MS rates are rising, particularly in women, adding new urgency to the quest for better ways to prevent or treat the incurable disease. Here’s a look at the sunshine factor, the role of vitamin D, and new clues to the mystery of MS.

Interactive Tool: MS and Vitamin D

The Latitude Hypothesis

Rare in tropical countries, MS becomes more common as distance from the equator increases in either hemisphere. Northern Scotland and Canada have the world’s highest rates of MS, which is five times more likely to target Americans who live in northern states than those in southern states.

Other areas with high rates include northern Europe, from Iceland to Russia, New Zealand, and southern Australia, where rates of MS are ten times higher than in northern regions. However, there are some exceptions, such as the low rate of MS in Japan. Overall, MS attacks more frequently above 40 degrees latitude, with higher rates among Caucasians, particularly those of European ancestry.

This geographical pattern has led to the “latitude hypothesis,” the concept that where someone lives is  a major risk factor for MS, due to differences in the amount of sunlight at various latitudes, especially during winter.

Does “Vitamin D Winter” Explain the Geography of MS?

Higher latitudes experience what’s called “vitamin D winter,” in which the body is unable to produce any vitamin D, even on extremely sunny days. When the sun’s rays enter the atmosphere at a steep angle, the atmosphere blocks UVB rays. In latitudes above 40 degrees north, vitamin D winter lasts from November through early March, according to the Vitamin D Council.

A recent study published in Neurology found that people who get the most sun (as measured by skin damage from sun exposure) and those with the highest vitamin D levels were up to 60 percent less likely to develop MS. The researchers found that the effects of vitamin D levels and sun exposure acted independently from each other on disease risk, suggesting that both sunshine and getting ample vitamin D from dietary sources or a supplement are both protective.

The 18 Best Multiple Sclerosis Blogs

Your Birthday Can Influence Your Risk for Multiple Sclerosis

However, there are some puzzling variables. For example, people born in a region with high rates of MS who move to a low-risk country before age 15 develop the disease at the reduced rates associated with their new location. Yet those who emigrate later in life don’t show any change in risk. However, their kids have reduced rates of the disease.

Another surprise from the research front: A recent analysis of studies involving more than 42,000 people in Canada, the UK, Denmark and Sweden reported that babies born in May are 13 percent more likely to develop MS later in life, while a November birthday reduced risk by 19 percent. The researchers theorize that the correlation between birth month and MS may be due to the mother’s sun exposure and vitamin D levels during pregnancy.

Mono and Lack of Sun Linked to MS

These findings suggest that childhood environment plays a key role in triggering the disease, but the reason is unknown. However, researchers have long suspected that viral infections may be a contributing factor. A 2011 study linked MS risk to a combination of living in an area with little sunlight and past infection with mononucleosis, which is caused by the Epstein-Barr virus.

The researchers  examined records from all hospital admissions in England between spring, 1998 to spring, 2005, and concluded that these two factors explained 72 percent of regional variations in MS rates in that country. In earlier studies, the researchers found that varying amounts of sun can influence risk even within small geographical regions. In Scotland, for example, MS rates are higher in Glasgow than in the sunnier city of Dundee.

Vitamin D May Be a “Cheap and Safe” Weapon Against MS

‘“Vitamin D is potentially a cheap and safe therapy,” said Helmut Butzkueven, the chief investigator of the world-first clinical trial of the sunshine vitamin as a new weapon against MS. Earlier research suggests that in northern latitudes, MS rates are lower in countries where people eat a lot of oily fish, which is high in vitamin D. Other natural sources include cheese, egg yolks, and certain mushrooms, along with vitamin D-fortified orange juice.

“There is lots of circumstantial evidence that links low Vitamin D levels to [MS] disease causation and disease activity. Through this clinical trial, we aim to obtain solid evidence, and work out what doses we should recommend,” Butzkueven remarked in a statement.

By Lisa Collier Cool
Original article link: http://health.yahoo.net/experts/dayinhealth/surprising-link-between-ms-and-sunshine

“Take care of your body, it’s the only place you have to live.” -- Jim Rohn

Sometimes a new thought or a new idea is all you need to make a lasting change. You can wake up one day and decide to make your entire life change. If you are new to exercise or you dropped it for a while and you want to get back to doing it, the best way to begin is with small steps.

You don’t have to become an athlete overnight to make exercise a part of your lifestyle. It’s actually better if you commit to making small changes in your daily routine instead of reinventing yourself overnight, because you are more likely to stick with it. Small changes in habits can lead to lasting, permanent change. So think baby steps and incorporate exercise into your life with these tips.

1.  Develop a "move more" mindset.

Carving out a specific hour of a day for a workout is great (and we will get to that in a little bit) but first, start each day with the mindset to move more. By reminding your body to get more movement throughout the day, you will be more likely to do it. So sit less and stand more. Take more steps and stairs. Walk to talk with a coworker instead of emailing them.

Stretch in your chair, squat to pick something up, park far away from stores so you will walk more, stand up when you talk on the phone and do some exercises while you watch TV. There are numerous ways you can sneak more movement into your day. Begin each day with a move more mindset and you will find them.

2.  Commit to regular activity.

You may not be the type of person who wants to train for a triathlon and that’s perfectly okay. You don’t have to become a fitness buff to benefit from exercise and movement. Start by committing to getting activity regularly. Schedule exercise like any other appointment on your calendar and treat it as a commitment rather than something you squeeze in if you have time. Even if you can only allot 15 minutes at a time, schedule it.

Take a short walk. Walk at a leisurely pace at first if exercise is new to you. You can build up to a power walk. If that’s not your thing, take a fitness class, swim laps or sign up for dance classes. Whatever exercise you start, build up slowly so you don’t overwhelm yourself and give up. If your body isn’t accustomed to regular exercise, build up slowly day by day so you don’t get too sore and throw in the towel altogether.

3.  Find your favorite exercise.

I know people who commit to a form of exercise and hate it. How long do you think they will keep that up? We aren’t inclined to dive in or stick to things we despise. Out of all the forms of exercise out there, find one you just love. Get really specific. Don’t just say, “yoga” discover what form of yoga is your favorite. If swimming is your thing, do you prefer swimming laps or water aerobics? Or maybe you’d dread a step class but you can’t get enough of Pilates.

A good way to identify what type of exercise is right for you is to first figure out if you like to exercise alone, with a partner or in a group setting. You may have to experiment a little bit before you know. Try different forms of exercise until you find one that energizes you physically and mentally. Find your favorite exercise—one where excuses won’t even enter the equation when it’s time to exercise.

4.  Focus on health and strength and what it means to you, and not on numbers on a scale.

Many people can get easily discouraged and give up when there’s too much emphasis on weight loss. Rather than an exclusive focus on weight loss, focus on the joys of exercise and movement instead. Take pride in your body getting stronger or your new ability to able to exercise longer, even if it’s just in baby steps. Think about the great way your body feels after exercise and the exhilaration you feel. Taking the time to consider what really connects you to exercise on an emotional level, is powerful because you can use those thoughts to motivate you.

Most likely what motivates you runs much deeper than getting skinnier or being a specific set of three numbers on a scale. Identify what it is for you. Maybe you want to have more energy for your children or grandchildren or you want to be in more control of your health—whatever is your core motivation—connect to it.

5.  Add strength training to your weekly routine.

Exercise isn’t just cardio alone. Strength training is critically important to retain muscle as you age, have a strong body and an effective metabolism. Even if you focus on just one muscle group a day and do three different exercises with three sets of 15 each for that muscle group you will benefit. You can divide strength training up throughout the week. Try two days a week to start and work up to three. Strength training will change how you feel, help you conquer your workouts with all that new muscle you are developing, and it’s the secret to a revved up metabolism.

6.  Put yourself first.

Stressful situations can take your focus away from properly caring for yourself. If you neglect yourself for the sake of external problems, you will be creating more problems than you are solving. Make sure you consider what you need and do something—however small—for yourself each day. Even if you only have 15 minutes, just commit to 15 minutes. It all goes back to the oxygen philosophy you hear about on planes flight attendants advice: “Put your own oxygen mask on before assisting others.” Put the mask on you first and then your children. You aren’t able to effectively take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself first. Keep that in mind.

7.  Exercise with a group.

Exercise doesn’t have to be a solo sport. Make it an outing with friends and family. When you join up with others to exercise, not only do you get the immediate benefits of exercise, you also get time spent with friends—a double deposit into your well-being. When you discover physical activities and forms of exercise you love, you develop a sense of camaraderie and community with others. Accountability works.

8.  Think of how exercise boosts your sense of well-being.

You probably know exercise can help you live longer and go a long way to disease prevention, but what you might find more rewarding is to think about all the immediate benefits exercise provides to your well-being. While the long-term benefits are numerous, let’s face it, many of us aren’t motivated by what we can prevent decades down the road. Think short-term instead. All of us can use exercise today to get more energy, alleviate stress, increase productivity, improve our outlook, sleep better and feel happier—today! Think about what you stand to gain if you work out today. Maybe it’s a sunnier disposition or the satisfaction in knowing you pushed your body. Just give it some thought or better yet, make a list.

9.  Look to the future

Don’t get caught up in guilt or regret because you haven’t worked out or don’t beat yourself up if it has been a while. Guilt and regret only make you feel badly, they don’t get you where you are headed. With a simple decision in your mind, you can let go of what you did or didn’t do and just start again. Look forward. If you are feeling badly about yourself, you are less likely to make positive change. Start over with a clear plan of what you will commit to doing each day for your health.

10.  Avoid stop and start and stop again syndrome.

One great way to kill your confidence is to constantly start and stop your exercise routine. It’s common for people to get psyched up and dive in to working out and then drop it altogether when the craziness of life intervenes. But if you start and stop all the time, you are setting yourself up for a never-ending cycle, where you won’t see any progress. Don’t tackle the world in a day. Think baby steps. Think of what you can do and schedule today even if it’s small increments of time that you eventually build upon. Commit to what you can achieve, at least at first.

11.  Remind yourself daily of your why.

It’s easy to get off track if you aren’t reminding yourself of why working out and eating healthy is important to you. This goes back to your core motivation that we addressed earlier. If you make it automatic to wake up and remind yourself of why exercise is important to you, you will be more likely to keep your commitments to yourself. You also will be putting exercise front and center on your day instead of treating it as an afterthought that you skip at day’s end. Wake up thinking of what exercise you will do today and it becomes a priority.

12.  Stretch post workouts.

An effective exercise regimen involves cardio, strength training and stretching. Stretching after exercise can help relax and balance tension caused by the workout itself. Post-workout, when your body is warm is the ideal time to stretch. The risk of muscle injury is much lower, and you will save yourself from tight, sore muscles the following day. Plus, the calm, relaxing feeling of a good stretch is a great way to end a workout.

Try some of these steps to make exercise a part of your life. Remember, a great way to avoid skipping workouts is to ask yourself how you will feel afterward. You can feel proud of your dedication and gain the exhilaration of accomplishment, or you can be disappointed and defeated that you skipped, again.

By: Chris Freytag

Orginal Article: http://fitness.mercola.com/sites/fitness/archive/2013/02/15/12-exercise-tips.aspx