Medical News Today: What you need to know about hot feet

Hot feet is a hot or burning feeling in the feet. This relatively common sensation often occurs at night and ranges from mild to severe.

Occasionally, hot feet can be accompanied by symptoms such as “pins and needles” (paresthesia), numbness, redness, and swelling. However, usually, there are no physical signs of hot feet. 

This article discusses the causes of, and treatments for, hot feet.

Causes of hot feet

There are several causes of hot feet, including:

Nutrient deficiencies

Lady with a painful foot
Hot feet may have a number of causes including nutrient deficiencies, fungal infection, and pregnancy.

Nerves require certain nutrients to function correctly. If the body cannot absorb nutrients, then the risk of nerve damage — and hot feet — increases. Deficiencies in folate, vitamin B6, and vitamin B-12 can contribute to neuropathy

According to research, malnutrition and nutritional deficiencies are associated with:

  • alcohol abuse

  • eating disorders

  • homelessness

  • lower economic status

  • older age

  • pregnancy

Diabetic neuropathy

One of the most common causes of hot feet is diabetic neuropathy.

This condition is caused by damage to the nerves and is a complication of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes. Along with burning sensations, symptoms include pain, tingling, and numbness in the arms, hands, legs, and feet. 


Women who are pregnant may experience hot feet due to hormonal changes that increase body temperature. An increased load on the feet due to natural weight gain and an increase in total body fluid may also play a role in hot feet during pregnancy. 


Menopause can cause hormonal changes that lead to increased body temperature and hot feet. Most women experience menopause between the ages of 45 and 55.

Fungal infection

At any one time, it is estimated that 15 to 25 percent of people have athlete’s foot, a common fungal infection.

Prompt treatment of this infection is important because it can spread to other areas of the body, as well as to other people. 

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Exposure to heavy metals

Being exposed to heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, or mercury, can cause a burning sensation in the feet and hands. 

If levels of these substances build up in the body, they can reach toxic levels and begin to interfere with nerve function.


Used to treat cancer, chemotherapy destroys rapidly-growing cells in the body. However, it can result in nerve damage and the associated symptoms of burning and tingling feet and hands. 

Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT)

In some people, this form of hereditary neuropathy can lead to hot or tingling feet. Affecting 1 in every 2,500 people in the United States, CMT is among the most commonly inherited neurological disorders.

Chronic kidney disease 

Also known as uremia, chronic kidney disease results from damage to the kidneys. The organs are no longer able to remove toxins from the body through the urine. Over time, toxic build-up can cause neuropathy


Having low levels of the thyroid hormone — a condition known as hypothyroidism — can lead to tingling, numbness, or pain in the feet, legs, arms, or hands. These sensations occur because having consistently low body levels of thyroid hormones leads to nerve damage.


One of the symptoms of AIDS or late-stage HIV is peripheral neuropathy, and hot or burning feet. Damage to the nerves is estimated to affect nearly one-third of people with HIV. 

According to the Foundation for Peripheral Neuropathy, some AIDS medications — including certain nucleoside reverse transcriptase inhibitors (NRTIs) — also cause neuropathy. 

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Alcohol abuse

Another common cause of hot feet, excessive alcohol intake, can lead to nerve damage in the feet and other body parts, a condition known as alcoholic neuropathy. 

This nerve damage occurs because alcohol interferes with the body’s ability to absorb and use certain nutrients that are vital for proper nerve function. It also happens because alcohol is toxic to nerves in the body.

Guillain-Barré syndrome (GBS)

Guillain-Barré syndrome is caused when the immune system attacks the peripheral nervous system. Symptoms include varying degrees of numbness, tingling, and weakness in the legs and feet, and can involve the trunk and arms. 

GBS is a rare disorder that affects 1 out of every 100,000 people. Men and women are equally prone to GBS.

Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP)

This neurological disorder is characterized by impaired sensory function and progressive weakness in the legs and arms over a long period of time. It can cause a tingling or burning sensation in the feet and hands. 


Erythromelalgia is a rare condition that mainly affects the feet. It is characterized by intense pain, redness, and heat sensations in the feet and hands. Symptoms can occur continuously or periodically. 


This condition, characterized by inflammation of blood vessels, can cause pain and tingling in the feet as blood cannot flow freely to the extremities. It can result in tissue damage. 

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In this inflammatory condition, small groups of inflammatory cells — called granulomas — grow on the body. If the skin or nervous system is affected, the feet may burn or feel hot. 

Lifestyle factors

Poor footwear and standing or walking for long periods of time, especially in hot temperatures, can lead to hot or burning feet. 


The treatment for hot feet varies and depends on the underlying cause of the symptoms. Treatments can include:

Addressing the underlying medical condition

When, for example, hot feet is caused by diabetic neuropathy, regulating blood sugar levels may bring relief. 

Hot feet caused by inflammatory and chronic conditions may be treated by managing the condition and following the prescribed treatment regimen. 

Changing medication

Sometimes switching medications may help, as in the case of HIV medications that lead to neuropathy. It is important to only switch medications in consultation with a doctor.

Lifestyle changes

Variety of mens shoes - hot foot
Wearing different shoes every other day may be a recommended lifestyle change to help treat hot feet.

If improper shoes, sweaty feet, or recurrent athlete’s foot are causing hot feet, the following changes may help:

  • Wear different shoes every other day to allow each pair to air out between wears.

  • Ensure shoes fit properly and have good airflow. Use supportive inserts if necessary.

  • Change socks regularly, especially after working out. Look for socks that wick moisture away from the skin, or choose natural cotton socks. 

  • Never wear damp socks or shoes.

  • In warm weather, wear sandals that allow the feet to breathe. 

  • Wear flip-flops when using public pools and showers to reduce the risk of contracting athlete’s foot or another foot infection. 

  • Use foot powder to absorb excess moisture from the feet.

  • Where possible, avoid prolonged periods of standing or walking. 

  • Cool down hot feet after a long day, or before bed, by placing them in a basin of cool water.

When should I see a doctor?

People who are experiencing hot feet on an ongoing basis, or whose hot feet are severe or accompanied by other symptoms, should see a doctor to pinpoint the underlying cause. 

Where nerve damage is the cause, urgent treatment is necessary to stop the progression of the neuropathy. 

Seek emergency medical treatment if:

  • A hot or burning sensation in the feet comes on suddenly.

  • Hot feet, or any other symptoms, arising from exposure to toxins.

  • The burning sensation spreads up the legs.

  • There is a loss of feeling in the toes or feet.

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Medical News Today: Caffeine may prolong life for kidney disease patients

a hot cup of coffee
Researchers say that caffeine may help patients with CKD to live longer.
Chronic kidney disease is one of the leading causes of death in the United States. But a new study suggests a simple strategy that may help patients with the condition to improve their survival: drink more coffee.

Researchers found that patients with chronic kidney disease (CKD) who consumed the highest amounts of caffeine saw their mortality risk cut by almost a quarter, compared with those who consumed the lowest amounts.

Study co-author Dr. Bigotte Vieira, of the Centro Hospitalar Lisboa Norte in Portugal, and colleagues recently presented their findings at Kidney Week 2017 — the annual meeting of the American Society of Nephrology, held in New Orleans, LA.

CKD is a progressive condition wherein the kidneys gradually lose their ability to filter water and waste products from the blood. Over time, CKD may progress to kidney failure, or end-stage renal disease, making kidney transplantation or dialysis the only treatment options.

It is estimated that more than 30 million adults in the U.S. have CKD, and around 661,000 U.S. individuals have kidney failure.

In 2014, more than 48,000 people in the U.S. died from kidney disease, making it the ninth leading cause of death in the country.

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Mortality risk reduced by up to 24 percent

Numerous studies have hailed caffeine for its potential life-prolonging benefits, but Dr. Vieira and colleagues note that it is unclear whether or not patients with CKD may reap such rewards.

To find out, the researchers analyzed data from the 1999–2010 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, identifying 2,328 patients who had CKD.

The daily caffeine consumption of participants was assessed at study baseline, and subjects were divided into four groups based on these data:

  • first quartile, who consumed under 29.5 milligrams of caffeine daily
  • second quartile, who consumed 30.5 to 101 milligrams of caffeine daily
  • third quartile, who consumed 101.5 to 206 milligrams of caffeine daily
  • fourth quartile, who consumed 206.5 to 1,378.5 milligrams of caffeine daily

The researchers then looked at the mortality of each participant and how this was associated with caffeine intake.

Compared with subjects in the first quartile of caffeine consumption, those in the fourth quartile were 24 percent less likely to die of all causes, while those in the second and third quartile had a 12 percent and 22 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality, respectively.

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According to the team, these findings remained after accounting for participants’ age, gender, race, blood pressure, smoking status, body mass index (BMI), and many other possible confounders.

Findings show promise

Dr. Vieira and team caution that because their study is observational, it is unable to prove cause and effect between higher caffeine consumption and reduced mortality in patients with CKD.

That said, the researchers believe that their results indicate that drinking an extra cup of joe or two each day may offer health benefits.

These results suggest that advising patients with CKD to drink more caffeine may reduce their mortality. This would represent a simple, clinically beneficial, and inexpensive option, though this benefit should ideally be confirmed in a randomized clinical trial.”

Dr. Bigotte Vieira

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Medical News Today: What is clenbuterol?

Clenbuterol is a steroid-like chemical that was initially developed to treat asthma in horses, working by relaxing the airways in the animals’ lungs.

The drug is both a decongestant and a bronchodilator. A decongestant thins the blood to reduce blood pressure while a bronchodilator widens the vessels that carry oxygen, so the volume of oxygen in the blood increases.

In some European and Latin American countries, clenbuterol is approved as an asthma drug for humans too. But, in the United States, it is a banned substance for this purpose.

In the U.S. in the past, clenbuterol has been used in animal rearing as well as by vets. In 1991, the U.S. Food Safety and Inspection Service found it had been fed to livestock, so the animals gained more muscle and less fat. But, again, in many countries, clenbuterol is illegal for animal use.

The drug is now controversial because of its use in bodybuilding and weight-loss programs.

In this article, we take a look at how clenbuterol works, when it is used, and what the risks are for people who take it.

What does clenbuterol do?

Clenbuterol pills in blister pack.
Clenbuterol was originally intended to treat asthma, but has gained controversial popularity for aiding weight loss and bodybuilding.

Clenbuterol stimulates both the heart and central nervous system. It has a similar effect on the body as epinephrine and amphetamines.

It is also a beta-2-agonist, which is the opposite of a beta-blocker. While a beta-blocker will reduce the production of epinephrine and noradrenaline, clenbuterol increases it.

This increase will lead to a variety of effects, such as:

  • rapid fat burning

  • excitability

  • nervousness

  • increased energy

  • greater determination

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Why is clenbuterol used?

Clenbuterol’s initial use was as an asthma drug. However, bodybuilders, performance athletes, and those wanting to lose weight are now using the drug.

Clenbuterol can be used as a weight-loss aid because it can increase a person’s metabolism. As well as reducing body fat and weight, it also allows the user to retain both muscle mass and body strength at the same time.

Clenbuterol became known as a celebrity diet secret because of its apparent use by celebrities and famous athletes.

One study reviewing data from two regional poison centers in the U.S. found that in 11 of the 13 reported cases of people taking clenbuterol, it had been used for weight loss reasons or as part of a bodybuilding regime.

The World Anti-Doping Agency have banned the use of clenbuterol at all times, both in and outside of competition.


Woman taking medication pill, with glass of water.
Clenbuterol may be taken in pill form, or injected. Both methods have specific risks.

Athletes and bodybuilders taking clenbuterol will often work on a program cycle that includes on and off periods.

Such a program could mean 2 days taking clenbuterol and 2 days without taking any, or perhaps a week taking the drug followed by a week of none.

Dosage can vary, depending on factors that include gender and tolerance, and it can be taken orally or injected.

Both methods have risks. Injections can cause scarring or air bubbles to form in the blood, while tablets can affect the liver.

When used in Europe and Latin America to open up the airways in cases of asthma, the recommended dose is 0.02–0.04 milligrams (mg) per day.

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Risks and side effects

The reason clenbuterol is banned in so many countries and has become so controversial is that many side effects are associated with it.

Many of the side effects are the same as those associated with amphetamines, including:

Clenbuterol can also have negative effects on the heart, such as heart palpitations, atrial fibrillation or an irregular and often fast heartbeat, and problems with blood pressure.

Increased heart rate and dilation caused by the drug can lead to what is known as cardiac hypertrophy. This condition is when the heart grows to an abnormal size, which in turn can lead to a heart attack and eventually death.

Also, clenbuterol contains dopamine, which is commonly known as the reward hormone. Dopamine is closely associated with addiction. As such, clenbuterol can be highly addictive.

In many countries, clenbuterol is banned from being used in animals that will be consumed by humans.

In 1994, 140 people in Spain were hospitalized after eating meat tainted by clenbuterol. Similarly, in 2006, 336 people in China were poisoned after eating pork that contained it.

Clenbuterol can reduce the amount of potassium naturally occurring in the body. Consequently, those taking it as a drug will often also eat an increased amount of bananas to replace the potassium.

Athletes will often accompany the taking of clenbuterol alongside a diet that is high in protein, moderate in carbohydrates, and low in fat.

Current research

Bodybuilder lifting weight at the gym.
Those who use clenbuterol continuously may experience side effects, such as heart palpitations, vomiting, and chest pain.

There has been an increase in the use of clenbuterol as a drug for bodybuilding and weight-loss purposes, with people obtaining it via the internet.

But due to the hidden dangers associated with clenbuterol, there can be serious risks for those who take it regularly.

The Department of Emergency Medicine in Newton, MA, reported two cases of people brought in for treatment because of clenbuterol use.

The men were bodybuilders, aged 18 and 22 years, and had heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting, and chest pain shortly after taking clenbuterol.

The Peking Union Medical College in Beijing, China, found that low doses of clenbuterol had minimal effects when tested on rabbits. However, medial doses had significant effects on the animals’ heart rates, and higher doses could even lead to death.

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The effects that clenbuterol can have on the heart and muscles will depend on how high a dose someone has been taking and for how long. The risks increase with the dose and duration.

Those taking high doses can experience long-term side effects quickly, such as a decrease in the size, weight, strength, and activity of the heart.

Clenbuterol is illegal for human consumption in the U.S. for a good reason, and anyone buying the drug online should be extremely cautious.

While some may choose to take the risk because of the less harmful side effects, they should always remember the potentially extreme side effects as well.

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Medical News Today: To be happier, take a moment to notice the nature around you

butterfly on red flower
How can you become happier? Notice that “world in a grain of sand,” study says.
If you see some blades of grass unexpectedly emerging from among the train tracks, or if your potted lavender plant has just bloomed, give yourself a moment to take it in, and notice how it makes you feel. Observing nature — wherever you may be — will make you feel happier, researchers say.

“To see a World in a Grain of Sand/ And a Heaven in a Wild Flower” – these lines from the 18th-century English poet William Blake are widely quoted, as they remind us that the smallest of things in nature can hold infinite beauty and grace.

Or take another poem, by famous Romantic poet William Wordsworth, where he makes a similar point in describing the joy that a field of daffodils quivering in the breeze makes him feel: “my heart with pleasure fills,/ And dances with the daffodils,” he writes.

According to a recent study, poets like Blake and Wordsworth were definitely on to something.

Lead researcher Holli-Anne Passmore, a Ph.D. student in psychology at the University of British Columbia’s (UBC) Okanagan Campus in Kelowna, Canada, found that taking just a few moments each day to notice how things in nature make you feel will render you happier and improve your overall well-being.

The study’s results were recently published in the Journal of Positive Psychology.

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‘The positive effect that one tree can have’

Dr. Passmore recruited 395 UBC undergraduate students who were then randomly split into three groups. One group was asked to take photos of natural objects or scenes that caught their eye — such as a beautiful sunset spied from the kitchen window, or a late-blooming flower — and jot down the feelings that these evoked in them.

The second group was asked to do the same, but focusing on manmade objects, such as buildings, or machines, while the third group acted as the control, and was not required to take any action.

For the tasks at hand, the participants were not asked to go out of their way; any scenes or objects noticed while they were carrying their normal, day-to-day activities, would do.

This wasn’t about spending hours outdoors or going for long walks in the wilderness. This is about the tree at a bus stop in the middle of a city and the positive effect that one tree can have on people.”

Holli-Anne Passmore

The researcher was reportedly “overwhelmed” by the enthusiastic response from her participants, who submitted over 2,500 photos and written impressions.

Passmore found that the participants who had engaged in the nature observation task reported increased levels of happiness and overall well-being. They were also more open to social contact, and to sharing resources with their peers.

“The difference in participants’ well-being — their happiness, sense of elevation, and their level of connectedness to other people, not just nature — was significantly higher than participants in the group noticing how human-built objects made them feel and the control group,” she notes.

Previous studies have found that individuals who live in areas with more green spaces benefit from improved mental health, and may even live longer on average.

The UBC researcher is building on these and similar findings, to understand how proximity to nature can enrich our lives. She is part of the so-called Happy Team at UBC Okanagan: a group of researchers dedicated to “study[ing] what is right with you (e.g., happiness) and how we promote it.”

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Medical News Today: Five things to remember when you’re dealing with work anxiety

man stressing at work
Coping with anxiety when you’re at work and expected to perform at your best can be particularly challenging.
Telling yourself to stop being anxious when you’re feeling anxious is a bit like telling yourself to fall asleep when you have insomnia — it doesn’t work. So what does? Here are five things to keep in mind when you’re going through a dark moment.

If you’re an anxious person — like myself — this scenario will sound familiar: you’re at work, and you feel anxious.

Whether you’re worrying about something specific, like an imminent deadline, or you just have a formless feeling of dread, you might be telling yourself something along these lines: “You’ve got to get back to work, stop worrying, stop obsessing, get your head back in the game and just focus!

Seeing that fail, if you’re prone to catastrophizing — which anxious people often are — the next thing you’ll worry about is that you’ll get fired. So, then, you’ll worry about worrying. Soon enough, your mind will seem to have spiraled out of control, and you may even find yourself in the middle of a full-blown panic attack.

The conundrum of getting anxious over getting anxious can seem inescapable, especially when the things you’re obsessing about are work-related. During such dark times, the temptation to break this vicious circle by smothering your anxiety and shouting “at” your mind to just shut up! can be huge.

But, by now, you probably know that simply doesn’t work — in fact, it can make things 10 times worse. Instead, there are gentler, kinder ways to talk to yourself, settle into your person, and soothe your mind.

We take a look at some of these ways below. Before we do, however, let me just say, as a person living with anxiety, that seeing a therapist is probably the best thing you can do to cope with the condition.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) have a helpful guide that introduces people to the different kinds of therapies that are available, and an even more helpful directory, where you can search for therapists within a 5-mile radius from you.

Regardless of whether you’re undergoing some form of therapy or not, however, you’ll hopefully find some comfort in this article. Next time you feel like your mind is your greatest enemy, try to remember these five things — and let us know in the comments below if they’ve made your life any easier.

1. What you feel is real

When I had my first anxiety attack at work, I waited until I got physically ill to ask to go home. I guess, to me, it didn’t feel like mental symptoms were as palpable, significant, or real as physical ones. Only physical symptoms could validate my troubles and make me feel less guilty and embarrassed about admitting that I needed some form of help.

Thinking that mental health problems are, in some way, not as real as physical ones is not uncommon. This year, millions of Internet users have asked Google if mental illness is real, and the Internet abounds with public awareness campaigns from the government and non-profit organizations answering with a resounding “Yes!”

“Anxiety disorders are real, serious medical conditions — just as real and serious as physical disorders such as heart disease or diabetes,” write the ADAA.

Not only that, but “Anxiety disorders are the most common and pervasive mental disorders in the United States.” In fact, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) report that as many as 1 in 5 Americans are affected by anxiety disorders.

When I had my anxiety attack, my main worry was that my employer would think I was trying to skive my duties. If you feel the same, the good news is you’re not alone. In fact, a recent survey on workplace stress and anxiety reports that 38 percent of those with an anxiety disorder do not tell their employers because they fear that “their boss would interpret it as lack of interest of unwillingness to do the activity.”

When you’re at work, a place where you’re expected to perform and be at your best, it can be difficult to admit to vulnerabilities and cut yourself some slack. But try to remember your anxiety is real, just as real as the most painful migraine or a really bad stomach ache — and you deserve to take care of yourself, just as you would if you had those physical conditions.

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2. Your employer won’t fire you

A major part of having an anxiety attack in the workplace can be the fear that you’ll get fired. The good news is — you probably won’t.

The fear of getting sacked is often part of the catastrophizing mechanism that is a hallmark of workplace anxiety. But should your worst “what if” scenario come true, the law is on your side.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is designed to protect employees like you from job discrimination; so, if you tell your employer that you have a lasting “physical or mental impairment,” they are required, by law, to not only keep you on, but also provide you with “reasonable accommodation.”

As the ADAA explain, your employer cannot fire you, or refuse to hire you, if you’re qualified for the job and your disability stops you from performing tasks that are “not essential” to the job.

For a more detailed explanation of what that means, as well as what counts as “reasonable accommodation,” check out this useful page with information put together by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

3. Work with anxiety, not against it

Steven Hayes, professor of Clinical Psychology at the University of Nevada in Reno, a prominent figure in the field of mental health — and, more importantly, a man who is no stranger to panic attacks himself — advocates for a more self-compassionate and self-accepting way of dealing with anxiety.

In fact, Prof. Hayes is the founder of one of the newest and most innovative forms of cognitive behavioral therapy, called acceptance commitment therapy (ACT). This form of therapy starts with the acceptance and neutral, non-judgemental observation of negative thoughts, and moves toward bringing the client into the present moment and helping them lead a meaningful life.

In this video, he explains why seeing anxiety as your enemy is not helpful. If you see your feelings of anxiety as your enemy, he says, then you see your personal history as your enemy; if your physical sensations are your enemy, “then your body is your enemy” — and fighting your anxiety means fighting yourself.

This self-denial and self-avoidance are what ultimately leads to psychopathologies, Prof. Hayes notes. Instead, he suggests, try to hold your fear in a self-compassionate way. “Bring that frightened part of you close and treat it with some dignity.”

It’s perhaps worth mentioning that ACT has proven effective in the treatment of anxiety in a wide range of studies, and in some areas of mental health, it proved to be even more effective than the classical form of CBT.

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4. Make stress your friend

Along similar lines, health psychologist and world-renowned speaker Kelly McGonigal makes the case for a positive rethinking of stress. In this talk, she explains, it’s not so much the stress itself that is harmful, as the way in which we think about it.

Instead of seeing stress as your enemy, you can make it work for you. Stress and anxiety are nothing but a sign that you care about something, and this care can be molded into something that wildly improves your performance instead of inhibiting it.

But isn’t this just wishy-washy, “think positive,” smile-at-yourself-in-the-mirror-and-your-depression-will-go-away kind of pseudo-science?

Not really. McGonigal grounds her beliefs in pretty solid scientific evidence, ranging from observational studies to randomized trials, and her book “The Upside of Stress,” is studded with references to numerous studies which showed actual results.

One such study tested out a simple three-step process for dealing with stress and anxiety in the workplace, and yielded positive results. Here it is, as laid out by McGonigal:

“The first step is to acknowledge stress when you experience it. Simply allow yourself to notice the stress, including how it affects your body.”

“The second step is to welcome the stress by recognizing that it’s a response to something you care about. Can you connect to the positive motivation behind the stress? What is at stake here, and why does it matter to you?”

“The third step is to make use of the energy that stress gives you, instead of wasting that energy trying to manage your stress. What can you do right now that reflects your goals and values?”

Personally, I probably wouldn’t be so convinced if I hadn’t realized, while reading this, that I’ve already tried out these suggestions. I’ve done so intuitively, on a few occasions, and was very pleased with the outcome.

For instance, working in a fast-paced environment as part of a news team sometimes allows me to redirect my anxiety and channel it into writing high-quality news stories, which I deliver against the clock. When I used to work as a teacher, I’d channel my anxiety about speaking in public into creating upbeat, high-energy, engaging classes.

But don’t take my word for it — read the book, try it out, and see what you think.

5. ‘Find what feels good’

Yoga has been shown to significantly reduce feelings of anxiety and stress, and this final thought is actually a quote from my favorite Yoga instructor.

In her “Yoga with Adriene” sessions — which are available online, for free — Adriene often says “Finds what feels good,” and while most of the time she’s referring to physical yoga poses, I think this piece of advice suits us, “worriers,” beautifully when we’re trying to figure out ways to cope with the harshness of our inner voice.

Often, those of us who live with anxiety are also perfectionists, over-achievers, and generally people who (have been taught to) expect a lot from themselves. When you have anxiety, that makes things even worse, because not being at your best makes you angry at yourself, and treating yourself harshly is the last thing you need when you’re, in fact, at your most vulnerable.

But it’s worth remembering that no one is ever perfect, and we all need to take care of and nurture our flawed selves.

“Find what feels good” is a great adage because it replaces that harsh inner voice with a kinder, gentler one — a lot like the tone Adriene uses in her own videos — but also, just as importantly, it’s a good reminder that different strategies work for different people, and only you can find what works best for you.

That said, I will leave you with something that works for me: a self-loving video from Adriene, tailored specifically for anxiety.

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Medical News Today: Aspiring astronauts: Beware of the health risks of space travel

Space explorer
Astronauts face the hostile space environment on their travels. How can we keep them safe in their interstellar journeys?
Space: the final frontier. But before we embark on voyages to strange new worlds, we must first find ways of keeping our astronauts’ brains from swelling and their hearts from being damaged. Researchers say we are on the right track.

Like many others, I dreamt of being an astronaut when I was younger. Inspired by a trip to the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in my early teens, I saw myself boldly going where no man had gone before.

The problem is that I don’t particularly like heights, or flying, for that matter. With my feet firmly rooted on the ground, my curiosity took me into the field of human biology instead. But my interest in all things to do with galaxies far, far away never faltered.

So, I hope you appreciate my excitement about two new papers dealing with the effects of spaceflight on the human body.

Many people will be familiar with the concept that during time in space, astronauts’ muscles shrink because of the lack of gravity. But it’s not just the muscles that are affected.

“The whole body is under stress in the space environment, and the different stressor (microgravity, radiation, psychological, etc.) are entangled,” Prof. Marco Durante, from the Trento Institute for Fundamental Physics and Applications in Italy, told me.

Prof. Durante and his colleagues published an article about the effects of space on the cardiovascular system in Nature Reviews Cardiology a couple of weeks ago.

But, before we delve into the effects of extraterrestrial experiences on the heart, let’s look first at research hot off the press on how space distorts the brain.

Brain shifts upward on long-term missions

Astronauts live in virtually weightless conditions during their space travels. The scientific term for this is microgravity.

Some astronauts aboard the International Space Station have experienced problems with their vision and increased pressure in their brains as a result of microgravity. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) call this visual impairment and intracranial pressure (VIIP) syndrome.

To explore how microgravity affects the brain, neuroradiologists Drs. Donna R. Roberts and Michael U. Antonucci — both associate professors at Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston — and colleagues studied MRI scans of astronauts before and after both short-term and long-term space missions.

The fascinating results were published yesterday in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The study involved 18 astronauts on long-term missions to the International Space Station, lasting on average 164 days, and 16 astronauts who had been on short-term space shuttle flights averaging 13 days.

The team found that 94 percent of the astronauts on long-term missions experienced a narrowing of a groove at the top of the brain, called the central sulcus, while this only happened in 19 percent of the space shuttle travelers.

Additional data showing multiple sequential brain scans were available for a subset of the astronauts. Analysis of these revealed that the brains of all of the long-term space explorers, but not of those on short-term missions, had shifted upward in response to the microgravity conditions.

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These are not the signs you’re looking for

Of the astronauts on long-term missions, three developed severe VIIP. But the team couldn’t pinpoint any specific changes in their brains that could explain why they had developed VIIP.

Dr. Antonucci told me, “NASA has noted that approximately 60 percent of astronauts on long-duration missions experience decreased visual acuity and [roughly] 40 percent of astronauts are classified as having VIIP.”

In this study, he added, only astronauts with severe VIIP symptoms had follow-up assessments. The lack of additional data from those with less severe symptoms, made it challenging to draw conclusions about what causes the symptoms of VIIP.

“Ideally, a full complement of information would be available for each returning astronaut to allow a more thorough comparison of imaging findings with clinical symptoms and other non-imaging testing,” Dr. Antonucci said.

“Exposure to the space environment has permanent effects on humans that we simply do not understand,” Dr. Roberts comments not the findings. “What astronauts experience in space must be mitigated to produce safer space travel for the public.”

The areas most affected during long-term space missions were those that control movement of the body and higher executive function, pretty essential to an astronaut on a space mission.

What might happen on extended missions, like NASA’s journey to Mars planned for the early 2030s, is as yet unclear.

We know these long-duration flights take a big toll on the astronauts […]; however, we don’t know if the adverse effects on the body continue to progress or if they stabilize after some time in space.”

Dr. Roberts

Well, we can only hope that our intrepid explorers’ brains will acclimatize during their extended time in space. But let’s turn out attention now to matters of the heart.

Swollen veins and puffy faces

A fully functioning ticker is essential to an astronaut’s health. The two biggest risk factors for the cardiovascular system in the extraterrestrial environment are microgravity and space radiation.

The gravity that we experience on Earth causes a pressure gradient in our cardiovascular system. Take away gravity, and the pressure is the same across the body.

Right after take-off, this means that blood rushes into the chest and head, causing swollen veins and puffy faces all around.

In microgravity, the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump the blood around the body. This is bad news because the system quickly becomes accommodated to what would equate to an extremely sedentary lifestyle on Earth.

Blood vessel walls thicken and become stiffer, which might predispose the astronauts to cardiovascular disease.

Radiation is a known risk factor for cardiovascular disease, which in turn is a leading cause of death on Earth. Even quite low doses of radiation, such as 0.5 Grays (Gy or Grays are the units of absorbed radiation) are known to increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

For comparison, emergency workers involved in the cleanup after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 were left with a higher risk for cardiovascular disease at levels as low as 0.15 Grays.

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Radiation ‘potentially most important hazard’

Space is full of radiation, which doesn’t sit well with our ambitions of exploring distant stellar objects. But, we really don’t know enough about cosmic rays to be sure that they will have the same damaging effects as radiation back on Earth.

“Radiation is potentially the most important hazard. But this will depend very much on whether radiation effects have a threshold at low doses, say around 0.5 G[rays],” Prof. Durante told me.

Deep-space missions, like the one to Mars, would need to take the potential hazards of radiation into consideration and develop specific countermeasures, he added.

More research is needed. “Accelerator-based studies to identify cardiovascular damage at low doses are very urgent for answering this question,” Prof. Durante said.

He also told me that studying what happens to the cardiovascular system during space missions is no mean feat. “One of the main problems is that the cardiovascular system is connected to essentially all other organs, so it is not easy to make a cause-effect distinction,” he explained.

So, how will our astronauts protect themselves on their journeys into uncharted territory? Prof. Durante thinks that we are on the right track to finding out.

I am personally very optimist and we are making very fast progress. Countermeasures include physical exercise, antioxidants, nutraceuticals and, for radiation exposure, shielding.”

Prof. Durante

To infinity and beyond

Dr. Antonucci shares this sentiment. “[…] we strongly believe that [the results of our study are] the first step in making long-duration space missions safer for our astronauts and others who ultimately travel in space,” he told me.

“Now that we have demonstrated [brain changes] on MRI, we can begin to design ways of either minimizing the changes themselves or mitigating their physiological manifestation.”

He said that certain medications can counteract the symptoms of VIIP, but “whether these would work in a microgravity environment […] is uncertain.”

“[An alternative] approach might be to design a vehicle which replicates our terrestrial environment — such as a transport vehicle with artificial gravity to minimize the changes that occur in a microgravity environment,” he suggested.

Ultimately, there are so many talented people working on our space program that we are confident that our findings will facilitate extensive discussion and study to determine approaches to minimizing the changes and/or mitigating the effects of these changes on astronaut function.”

Dr. Antonucci

Before we zoom off to the stars at warp speed, there are clearly some kinks that will need to be ironed out.

With just over a decade left before a group of intrepid explorers will set to embark on the first trip to the Red Planet, I have my fingers crossed that we can address these issues and keep their brains and tickers in good enough shape to get them there and back safely.

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Medical News Today: Clogged arteries may be down to bacteria, not diet

a clogged artery
Researchers suggest that bacteria may play a key role in clogged arteries.
The fat molecules in the plaques that clog up our arteries and raise risk of heart attack and stroke may come from bacteria that live in our mouths and guts, not just from what we eat.

This was the main result of a study led by the University of Connecticut in Storrs that was published recently in the Journal of Lipid Research.

The researchers suggest that the finding may explain why gum disease is often linked to atherosclerosis – a condition in which fat molecules, calcium, cholesterol, and other compounds in the blood form plaques on the inside walls of arteries.

As the plaques build up, they harden and narrow the arteries, restricting the flow of oxygen-carrying blood to vital organs and tissues. This can lead to heart attack, stroke, other serious health problems, and even death.

The immune system also plays a role: immune cells can attach to the lining of blood vessels, feed on the fatty deposits, and multiply. This results in inflammation and thickening of the smooth muscle in the artery wall, which helps the formation of plaques and other growths known as atheromas.

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Diet may not be the key culprit

Atherosclerosis can affect arteries that supply oxygen-rich blood to the heart, brain, kidneys, limbs, pelvis, and other parts of the body. This gives rise to various diseases, depending on which arteries are affected.

It was assumed that the fatty molecules, or lipids, that contribute to atherosclerosis came from eating foods high in fat and cholesterol, such as butter, eggs, meat, and fatty fish. 

However, there is increasing evidence that this may not be the case – or at least not the whole story. There are groups of people who, despite eating foods rich in fat and cholesterol, do not develop heart disease.

For the new study, the team analyzed atheromas collected from patients being treated in hospital.

They found that the growths contained chemical signatures of lipids that could not have come from animals. Instead, they matched the signature of fat molecules made by bacteria belonging to the Bacteroidetes family.

Bacterial lipids are ‘subtly different’

Bacteroidetes make fats that are quite distinct in that the fatty acids that they contain have branched chains and an odd number of carbon atoms. Fatty acids in fats that come from animals do not typically have these features.

One of the researchers, Xudong Yao, associate professor of chemistry at the University of Connecticut, explains that if you compare the chemical makeup of human lipids with lipids produced by bacteria, they show subtle differences in weight.

“We used these weight differences and modern mass spectrometers to selectively measure the quantity of the bacterial lipids in human samples to link the lipids to atherosclerosis,” he notes.

Establishment of such a link is a first step to mark the lipids as indicators for early disease diagnosis.”

Prof. Xudong Yao

The team suggests that perhaps the immune system triggers inflammation because when it encounters the fatty deposits in the artery walls, it recognizes that the lipids are not of human origin.

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Bacteria deliver ‘double whammy’

The researchers also found that there is an enzyme that breaks down the bacterial lipids into starting materials for making molecules that promote inflammation.

They suggest, therefore, that the presence of bacterial lipids has a “double whammy” effect on the arteries. First, the immune system spots them and sets off alarm signals, and secondly, the enzyme breaks them down into materials that assist inflammation.

The researchers also point out that it is not the bacteria themselves that are invading the blood vessels and causing problems. 

Bacteroidetes, which colonize the mouth and gut, do not usually cause harm. Under certain conditions, they can give rise to gum disease; and, even then, they still do not invade the blood vessels. However, the lipids that they secrete can get through cell walls and into the bloodstream.

The team now plans to carry out a more detailed analysis of atheromas to find out exactly where the Bacteroidetes lipids accumulate. 

If they discover that lipids from these specific bacteria are building up inside atheromas as opposed to the artery wall, then that would provide more convincing evidence that fat molecules from Bacteroidetes are linked to atheroma growth, and thus to heart disease.

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Medical News Today: What causes genu valgum (knock-knees)?

Genu valgum, or knock-knees, is a condition where the knees touch but the ankles do not. It appears most frequently in young children and can be very concerning for parents who may know very little about the condition.

In most cases, the child will grow out of their knock-knees and there is little cause for concern. In instances where this does not happen, or where genu valgum develops later in life, formal treatment may be needed.

What is genu valgum?

Genu valgum, or knock knees.<br>Image credit: BioMed Central, (2007, August 10)</br>
Genu valgum, or knock-knees, is common in children and usually resolves itself before puberty.
Image credit: BioMed Central, (2007, August 10)

Genu valgum is more commonly referred to as knock-knees. When someone with genu valgum stands with their knees together, there is a sizeable gap between the ankles of about 2 to 3 inches. The knees will appear to push in towards each other.

This condition is fairly common, affecting more than 20 percent of 3-year-olds. In most young children, the condition will naturally correct itself. Only 1 percent of children age 7 years are still affected.

In rare cases, genu valgum may continue into adolescence. In other cases, older children may develop it as a result of an underlying disease or condition.

Most of the time, genu valgum cannot be prevented. However, there are various treatment options available that may help ease some of the symptoms.

Knock-knee that develops as a result of an underlying condition can be prevented if the cause is identified and treated.

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There are several potential causes of genu valgum, including metabolic bone disorders and genetic disorders. Most cases of genu valgum, however, are harmless.

Other risk factors for genu valgum include:


Symptoms of genu valgum include an obvious visual separation of the ankles when the knees are together. The individual’s gait is also likely to be affected as they compensate for the lack of gap between their knees.

The altered gait may cause additional symptoms, such as:

  • knee pain

  • a limp when walking

  • pain in feet, hips, and ankles

  • stiff joints

  • lack of balance when standing

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X-ray of knock knees, known as genu valgum.<br>Image credit: BioMed Central, (2007, August 10)</br>
X-rays may be used to diagnose genu valgum.
Image credit: BioMed Central, (2007, August 10)

Genu valgum is not typically diagnosed in younger children, as the condition is common in early development. In older children and adults, a doctor will attempt to diagnose the cause of genu valgum. The cause will determine if any treatment is needed to correct the condition.

To formally diagnose genu valgum, a doctor would need to look at a person’s medical history. Questions will include information about family history and any other known pre-existing conditions that might cause knock-knees.

If pain is present, a doctor will likely ask a person to identify where it is located, how severe it is, and when it occurs.

The doctor will also look at:

  • knee alignment when standing

  • how a person walks

  • if the legs have different lengths

A doctor may look for uneven wear patterns on the soles of the person’s shoe as well. In some cases, a doctor may order an MRI or X-ray to examine the bone structure.


Treatment for genu valgum will largely depend on the cause and severity of the condition. Typical treatment options may include some of the following:

Medications and supplements

If an underlying disease is causing genu valgum, the disease will need to be treated first in order to correct the leg alignment. This may be treated with medications and supplements.

Regular exercise

A doctor may recommend some simple exercises and stretches or refer a person to a physical therapist. Exercises and stretching can help strengthen muscles of the legs and realign the knees.

A doctor or physical therapist will recommend exercises based on a person’s gait. The exercise routine will likely include plans to add weights or switch the routine as the muscles develop.

Weight loss

If a person is carrying excessive body weight, it can be a contributing factor to genu valgum. Extra weight puts additional strain on the legs and knees, which can cause knock-knees to worsen.

A doctor will likely recommend that a person who is overweight lose weight through a combination of diet and exercise.


Orthotics are inserts placed in the shoes to help correct a person’s gait or the way their foot strikes the ground when they walk or run. This may be especially helpful for people with genu valgum who have one leg that is longer than the other.

Braces or splints may be used for some children in addition to or instead of orthotics. The braces are designed to help the bones grow in the correct position.


Surgeons in operating theatre, looking at tablet and discussing surgery.
If other treatment options do not relieve the symptoms of genu valgum, then surgery may be recommended.

Surgery is not typically the first treatment choice for a person with genu valgum. Surgery is usually reserved for the following cases:

  • severe knock-knees

  • where exercise, stretching, and weight loss do not relieve pain

For children, a procedure called guided growth surgery is often used. A surgeon inserts a small piece of metal into the knee. This metal plate helps the bone grow in the correct direction. Once the bone is aligned correctly, further surgery is done to remove the metal plate.

In adults and older teens, osteotomy may be used. Similar to guided growth surgery, osteotomy involves a surgeon inserting a small metal plate into the knee. The plate is used as a permanent brace to keep the knee correctly aligned and will not be removed.

In rare cases, a doctor may recommend a knee replacement. In this case, an artificial knee that has been correctly aligned will resolve the genu valgum.

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In almost all cases of genu valgum, the condition will resolve itself before a child reaches adolescence.

For older children and adults, the most likely form of therapy involves stretches and exercises to realign the knees and relieve pain. Some people might find relief with orthotics or braces.

In some severe cases, surgery may be necessary, but it is usually a last resort as other therapies tend to be effective in treating genu valgum.

Treating genu valgum in adults and older children is important. When untreated, it can lead to further health problems with joints and muscles, including osteoporosis.

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Medical News Today: Colorectal cancer: Increasing fiber intake may lower death risk

a selection of cereal grains
Researchers suggest that increasing fiber intake may boost survival for colorectal cancer patients.
Increasing fiber intake may help to improve survival for patients in the early stages of colorectal cancer. This is the conclusion of a new study recently published in JAMA Oncology.

Colorectal cancer is a cancer that begins in the colon or rectum, and it is one of the leading causes of cancer-related death in the United States.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), around 95,520 new cases of colon cancer and 39,910 cases of rectal cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year, and more than 50,000 people are expected to die from the disease.

A wealth of research has suggested that a diet rich in fiber and whole grains may protect against the development of colorectal cancer, but how does high fiber consumption affect those who have already been diagnosed with the disease?

This is what Dr. Andrew Chan — of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA — and colleagues sought to find out with their new research.

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Colorectal cancer and fiber intake

The study included the data of 1,575 individuals who were part of either the Nurses’ Health Study or the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study.

All subjects had been diagnosed with stage 1, 2, or 3 colorectal cancer. These are non-metastatic stages, wherein the cancer has not spread to distant sites.

As part of their studies, the participants regularly completed food frequency questionnaires. The team used information from these questionnaires to calculate the subjects’ total fiber intake and whole grain consumption, as well as their intake of fiber from individual food sources.

Participants were followed for an average of 8 years after diagnosis, during which time a total of 773 deaths occurred. Of these deaths, 174 were directly related to colorectal cancer.

The researchers found that colorectal cancer patients who had a high total fiber intake had a lower risk of death than those with a low total fiber intake.

Each 5-gram increase in fiber per day was associated with a 22 percent reduction in colorectal cancer-specific mortality and a 14 percent reduction in all-cause mortality, the team reports.

The team also found that every 20-gram increase in whole grain consumption per day was linked with a 28 percent decrease in colorectal cancer death, while the risk of all-cause mortality was reduced by 12 percent.

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Cereal fiber most beneficial

On looking at the sources of fiber, the researchers found that cereal fiber posed the greatest benefit; every 5-gram daily increase in cereal fiber was linked to a 33 percent reduction in colorectal cancer death and a 22 percent reduction in all-cause mortality.

A 17 percent reduction in all-cause mortality was identified with every 5-gram daily increase in vegetable fiber, but this type of fiber appeared to have no impact on colorectal cancer-specific mortality.

Fruit fiber was found to have no influence on colorectal cancer death or all-cause mortality.

Dr. Chan and team caution that their study is observational, so it cannot prove cause and effect. There are also a number of limitations to consider — for example, the intake of fiber and whole grains among participants was self-reported, thereby leaving room for error.

“Our findings,” write the authors, “need to be validated by further studies, including possible clinical trials.”

Still, the researchers are confident that an increase in fiber intake could benefit patients in the non-metastatic stages of colorectal cancer. The team concludes:

Higher intake of fiber and whole grains after CRC [colorectal cancer] diagnosis is associated with a lower rate of death from that disease and other causes. Our findings provide support for the nutritional recommendations of maintaining sufficient fiber intake among CRC survivors.”

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Medical News Today: Six surprising health risks in your home

home interior
Home, sweet home? What are the hidden hazards in our safe havens?
We all know that our homes can be a repository of health risks, if not managed properly. Mold, bleach, gas leaks — these are all certified hazards. But what are some of the less obvious household risks? We investigate.

Our home is our safe haven, a place infused with markers of our tastes, interests, and personalities. We share our homes with people, creatures, and things we love, and they provide comfort and joy.

Yet, our homes can sometimes also pose risks to our health. For instance, gas heaters and stoves, in the absence of proper ventilation, can release enough carbon monoxide to poison us.

Another health hazard lies in all the domestic cleaning products containing bleach. As Medical News Today reported earlier this month, using bleach-based cleaners can lead to chronic lung disease. Other common disinfectants used in the home have been linked with birth defects.

Still, these may not exactly be unexpected hazards: the toxic properties of cleaning products, for example, are no secret, and this is why we keep our stove cleaners stowed safely away, and out of the reach of children or pets.

Other household hazards, however, are nowhere near as obvious. In this article, we will look at the hidden risks in our homes, and investigate when friend turns into foe.

Dishing the dirt on dust

Dust has a way of getting everywhere. No matter how hard we try to keep all the surfaces in our homes shiny, chances are we won’t have managed to rid ourselves of all the dust.

It accumulates in corners that are hard to reach, behind beds and sofas, under fridges, and on top of the tallest shelves. Some of us may even choose to ignore it, since dusting is a real chore and, after all, what harm can a bit of dust do?

Research suggests we shouldn’t be so hasty in dismissing its harmful effects, however. One study covered by MNT last year found that the dust that gathers in our homes is replete with toxic chemicals.

Remember the toxic cleaning products mentioned above? The chemicals released in the air when those products are used combine and settle with dust, covering floors and other surfaces. This hidden enemy, the researchers explain, is particularly harmful to infants and small children, who crawl around or play on the floor.

The analysis of multiple studies looking at the impact of indoor dust within North American households concludes that “a wide array of chemicals used in everyday products find their way into indoor environments across the country, where people, including vulnerable subpopulations like children, are continuously exposed.”

“In this way,” the researchers add, “the indoor environment is a haven for chemicals associated with reproductive and developmental toxicity, endocrine disruption, cancer, and other health effects.”

A viable solution to this problem, the authors suggest, would be to replace toxic products with safer, more environmentally friendly alternatives.

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You’ve made your bed, now lie in it?

There’s nothing better than crashing in your own bed at night, after a hard day’s work. According to the latest data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Americans spend 9.58 hours per day engaged in “personal care, including sleep,” so beds are definitely an important part of our home environment.

This is all the more reason to make sure that our bedware is comfortable and clean. Yet, according to a study from the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom, “most exposure [to allergens] occurs in bed.”

Used pillows and mattresses are repositories of fungi and dust mites.

A later study from the same lead researcher, Dr. Ashley Woodcock, found that used pillows are home to a wide array of fungi, including Aspergillus fumigatus, which can cause serious health problems to people with immunodeficiencies.

“Of the three most abundant fungi found, A. fumigatus is a well-recognized allergenic fungus. Indeed more allergens have been identified in A. fumigatus than any other fungus to date,” the authors note.

The researchers say that consistent exposure to this and other fungi, especially in childhood, might trigger asthma. So, what to do? The study suggests investing in hypoallergenic pillows and bed covers.

Another study found that, on average, there are as many as 110 mites per gram of mattress dust.

However, the concentration can vary greatly depending on the level of air humidity, so the researchers advise that reducing humidity by letting in as much fresh air as possible could diminish or even eliminate dust mites.

Dangers of scrubbing up well

Perhaps one of the least expected health hazards is the everyday antibacterial soap, which is so often advertised as the best ally against dirt and unwanted bacteria. A study previously covered by MNT suggested that triclosan — an antimicrobial substance found in soaps and shampoos — was tied with cancer and liver disease.

As a result, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) banned the marketisation of antiseptic products containing triclosan and another harmful antimicrobial, triclocarban.

Consumers may think antibacterial washes are more effective at preventing the spread of germs, but we have no scientific evidence that they are any better than plain soap and water. In fact, some data suggests that antibacterial ingredients may do more harm than good over the long-term.”

Dr. Janet Woodcock, director of the Center for Drug Evaluation and Research at the FDA

However, the FDA’s ban doesn’t extend to hand sanitizers or wipes, and triclosan — somewhat controversially — is still an accepted ingredient in some toothpastes, as it is reportedly effective in reducing plaque and gingivitis.

Another controversy surrounds phthalates, chemicals widely used in common personal care products, including shampoos, hair sprays, aftershaves, and nail polish.

Phthalates have been linked to sperm DNA damage, which “adversely affects male fertility, contributing to poorer embryo development and lower pregnancy rates among partners of men undergoing assisted reproductive treatments.”

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Odorants: Something smells fishy

Who doesn’t relish the subtle fragrance of a scented candle in a romantic setting, perhaps perched on the edge of the bathtub in the evening, to help us relax and feel pampered? Some of us probably have hidden stashes of scented candles at home, ready to be taken out and lit on the right occasion.

If you’re a fan of candles, best to go all natural, to avoid toxic particles being released in the air you breathe.

Yet, some researchers aren’t so sure that the benefits outweigh the risks in the case of these aromatic decorations.

A report issued by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2001 found that scented candles and incense can be a source of indoor pollution, and some could have negative effects on health.

The report found that burning candles with lead core wicks can result in an air lead concentration that goes above EPA-recommended levels, and that incense smoke could be tied to cancers and contact dermatitis.

Incense smoke could also release enough benzene and other toxic particles to endanger health.

In an interview, Dr. Ann Steinemann, from the University of Melbourne, Australia, notes that scented candles — even unlit ones — can be harmful, especially to people with asthma, or individuals susceptible to migraines.

“I have heard from numerous people who have asthma that they can’t even go into a store if the store sells scented candles, even if they aren’t being burned. They emit so much fragrance that they can trigger asthma attacks and even migraines,” she says.

One solution for the candle-lovers among us might be to stick to all-natural, vegetable wax candles which, researchers note, do not produce toxic chemicals.

Indoor gardens: More doom than bloom?

Speaking of scents, surely there can be nothing more natural than the scent of flowers. Another common sight in the home, potted plants and cut flowers adorn many tables, shelves, and window sills.

Although flowers and other houseplants are a rich source of beauty, pleasant scents, and oxygen, some may need more careful handling and strategic positioning, not because they require more or less sunlight, but because they can be dangerous.

Often, such plants are only toxic when flowers or other parts are ingested, so while they won’t be much of a problem for the discerning adult, they can endanger curious young children, or feline and canine friends.

For instance, the eye-catching and sweetly scented lily has many toxic varieties, such as the calla lily, Easter lily, and tiger lily.

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) list all three of those as variously toxic to cats, dogs, or both.

Oleander is also highly poisonous, so, if managing cut branches, handle with care, always wear gloves, and make sure to wash your hands afterward. Oleander cuttings should also be placed out of the reach of children and pets.

aloe vera
The aloe plant can be used to treat burns and sores, but did you know that it also has toxic properties?

In terms of potted house plants, aloe is often a top preference for those of us with practical inclinations, since it famously has numerous health benefits. Its gel-like sap can soothe burns, rashes, and has antibacterial properties.

However, what many of us don’t know is that certain parts of the aloe plant — such as the latex “sheathing” from which the gel is squeezed — are actually toxic, so whole-leaf aloe vera extracts can have adverse effects.

Finally, if you’re a fan of cut flowers, there’s another hidden enemy you should be wary of. The stale water in a vase of cut flowers houses up to 41 different species of bacteria, research has found.

This includes 12 species of Pseudomonas bacteria, which can lead to hard-to-treat, stubborn infections, especially in the case of individuals with a weakened immune system.

So, the next time someone brings you a large bouquet that lasts for days, or possibly weeks, make sure to replace the water regularly, to avoid not only nasty smells, but also clusters of unwanted bacteria.

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Pets: Not always man’s best friend

Now, don’t shoot the messenger, but your beloved pets can be a source of disease, as well. Animal friends can offer us endless, selfless affection, and can help improve our mental well-being.

However, if not vaccinated and dewormed on time, or if their cleanliness is not reasonably ensured, then pets can be a source of infection.

One study published in Cell Press marked cat litter as a matter of public health concern, as it can house a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii, which can lead to a disease known as “toxoplasmosis,” characterized by cysts that can linger in the system for as long as the host is alive.

When it comes to common pet products, flea collars are often a top choice for owners whose cats or dogs like to enjoy an outdoors adventure.

However, a report issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council in 2006 found that some chemicals contained by flea collars are dangerous for pets, as well as humans.

Pesticides such as tetrachlorvinphos (TCVP) and propoxur, the report noted, are human carcinogens, and should thus be avoided.

Fortunately, the EPA have recently reached an agreement with companies marketing flea collars to stop producing items containing propoxur. However, TCVP is still an accepted pesticide, athough, as stated on their website, the “EPA is working with product manufacturers to address these risks.”

Were you already aware of the household risks mentioned above? Has this article prompted you to change anything in your home to minimize health risks? We would love to learn how you ensure that your home stays healthy and safe, as the private sanctuary it should always be.

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