On an episode of "Friends," Phoebe thanks Monica for the pills that cured her headache and asks to see the package. "Oh my God," Phoebe says as she reads the warning label. "Dizziness, nervousness, drowsiness … headache … headache?" She pauses, letting the irony sink in. "Stomach bleeding! Liver damage!" She turns to Monica. "I don't recall any of this coming up when you gave me these little death capsules!"
With many medications, possible side effects (many extremely uncommon) can be scary, but often the benefits far outweigh the risks. One of the most common meds for which this is true is the mighty aspirin — shown to help prevent a wide spectrum of woes from cardiovascular disease to some cancers. And now research has found another impressive benefit: It lowers the risk of breast cancer in women with Type 2 diabetes — in whom it's about 20 percent higher than in women without diabetes. (It also lowers the risk in women without Type 2 diabetes.)
Researchers tracked over 148,000 women with diabetes for 14 years; those who took a daily low-dose aspirin were 18 percent less likely to get breast cancer during that time, while those who took a high cumulative amount (88,900 mg or more) over that 14-year time period had a 47 percent lower risk of breast cancer!
So, if you have diabetes, talk to your doctor and see if twice-daily baby aspirin (one in the morning and one in the evening with half a glass of warm water before and after each) is right for you.
Beware sun poisoning
In the 2007 movie "The Heartbreak Kid," Ben Stiller plays Eddie, a 40-year-old who marries seemingly perfect Lila after dating for only six weeks. On their honeymoon, he discovers that she's impossible to live with. At the beach, as she rubs mineral oil on herself, Eddie tells her she needs sunscreen. "The sun is really different down here," he says. "The sun is the sun, Eddie," Lila retorts. That night Lila is a brutal shade of red.
Sun poisoning is no joke. It starts with a seemingly allergic reaction caused by extended exposure of the skin to strong UV light. That exposure triggers blistering, hives, swelling of the face, fever and chills, nausea, headache, even confusion — and raises your risk of skin cancer. If you have a sunburn and are also having those symptoms, get medical care immediately. Acute sun poisoning (which may be accompanied by heatstroke) can be treated by keeping open blisters and wounds clean and covered and through light therapy (ironic) if needed and medications.
To prevent sun poisoning, use an SPF 30 sunscreen with micronized zinc oxide and limit sun exposure, especially between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Also find out if any of your meds, such as certain acne drugs, antibiotics, antidepressants, heart meds and some birth control, make your skin more sensitive to UV rays. If you have certain conditions, such as lupus or eczema, be aware that you're at increased risk. Always smart: Drink 8 to 24 ounces of water an hour when in temperatures greater than 84 degrees.
Reflections on improving mealtimes
One of the most enduring staged magical illusions, "Pepper's Ghost," makes figures seem to suddenly appear in a room. The illusion was first performed by John Pepper during a performance of Charles Dickens' "The Haunted Man" on Christmas Eve 1862. In the original trick, a piece of glass onstage conceals a second, identical room set farther back. When the back room is illuminated, the reflection that had concealed it disappears and figures in it suddenly appear as though in the front room.
Mirrors have been used to entertain people with illusion for centuries. But now, research shows there's a new mirror trick that could help make eating more enjoyable for lone diners.
In a new study published in Physiology & Behavior, researchers had 16 elderly adults eat popcorn in front of a mirror and then in front of a wall. Participants eating in front of the mirror ate more, thought the popcorn tasted better and enjoyed the experience more than when eating facing the wall. Researchers then repeated the mirror experiment with 16 young adults and found that they, too, had more positive experiences eating in front of a mirror.
So, yet again, a mirror has produced a delightful surprise. If you know an older person who often eats alone (which can lead to eating less), try putting a mirror at his or her table. It may stimulate the social feeling that causes people to eat more and enjoy the experience. The benefits are real, even if it is an illusion.
Caring empathy improves both situations and your outlook on life
Deanna Troi, the empath counselor on "Star Trek: The Next Generation," felt distress when her powers of empathy were taken over by aliens (happened often) who wanted to speak through her. But when she could use her powers of empathy to help others overcome physical and emotional problems, she glowed with joy.
Funny thing, that is precisely what a new study in the journal Neuron found when researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder used functional MRIs to track brain activity in response to alarming events. They saw empathic distress and empathetic care trigger distinct brain patterns.
Empathy-with-distress — you feel terrible for the person(s) going through a negative experience — makes you want to avoid dealing with the situation. Empathy-with-care, on the other hand, is evoked when you act to help the person or situation. In short, no use crying over spilled milk; just help clean it up. You'll feel better, and so will the person in crisis.
The research team is now evaluating a four-week program of meditation to see if such a routine can help caretaking professionals feel less empathy-with-distress and more empathy-with-care. That should help. Regularly meditating also can help you cope with upsetting world events, violence (even at a distance) or strife in your own life or the lives of those close to you. So can volunteering with groups that help others on a daily basis. Research shows that such generosity eases stress, makes you healthier and happier and gives you a younger RealAge.
Wild for mushrooms — but not wild ones!
Chances are you heard about the 14 folks in California who recently grilled up some "death cap" wild mushrooms. Three of them needed liver transplants, including an 18-month-old girl. That was the latest in a spate of wild mushroom poisonings this year. Seems a bumper crop of the world's deadliest fungus, Amanita phalloides, has fooled a lot of people with its "looks like one that's good for you" disguise.
That's why when it comes to YOU wandering into the woods to do some mushroom picking, we think the National Capital Poison Center has got it right:
1. NEVER pick and eat wild mushrooms unless they're identified by an expert in local fungi (even they can get fooled)!
2. Cooking doesn't make a poisonous mushroom safe; even breathing in cooking fumes from some can poison you.
3. Remember: There are old mushroom hunters, and there are bold mushroom hunters. But there are no old, bold mushroom hunters!
But we don't want that to turn you off to the nutrition and flavor packed into safe-eatin' 'shrooms. They're the only vegan source of vitamin D! Plus every cup of chopped mushrooms delivers a slew of polyphenols, B vitamins (riboflavin, folate, thiamine, pantothenic acid and niacin) and some potassium, copper, iron, choline and phosphorus. Reishi, shiitake and maitake mushrooms contain beta-glucan that helps lower insulin resistance and boosts the immune system in fighting cancer.
So pick up some mushrooms in the grocery store. Add them to sauces, every salad (they mix well with walnuts), brown rice or whole-wheat pasta dishes. Go ahead, be bold!
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of "The Dr. Oz Show," and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into "The Dr. Oz Show" or visit www.sharecare.com.