Category: Health

Is This A Sign Of Love? Or, Do You Have A Heart Problem?

Happy Valentine’s Day! Admit it! You’ve taken extra steps to look extra special today, didn’t you? Well, for good reasons, everybody else around you is dressed up for date night tonight. You probably have yours calendared at 6 pm on-the-dot. New dress, new stilettos, a good looking new haircut, even your nails are done. You’re all set but, is your heart well?

Listen To Your Heart

Falling in and out of love are all part of life. The loves you’ve found and the loves you’ve lost all make living life worthwhile, don’t they? How your heart feels can be just as confusing as your first love if you don’t know how to listen in.

You have to tune into your body to help you figure out your heart health

 

As a matter of fact, experts are saying that you have to tune into your body to help you figure out your heart health. Listed below are some of the tell-tale signs that your heart may be in BIG trouble:

1. Breathlessness and fatigue. When you’re putting in more effort to breathe even with just a mild exercise or just walking yourself from the bedroom to the bathroom, there could be something wrong with your heart. If your endurance and stamina, likewise, suffers inside the bedroom, most especially if you’re experiencing erectile dysfunction when you know you’re not yet at that age, you should consult with your healthcare provider.

2. Sleeping disorders and snoring. Do you snore? Also known as sleep apnea, snoring is far from just being an embarrassing sleeping habit. It’s a symptom of heart disease, even of an impending heart attack. You snore because your air pathways are not as open as they should be while you’re sleeping. Therefore, as your body, most especially your lungs and your heart, try to compensate to obtain the volume of oxygen your body needs, your brain, heart rate, blood pressure, and even breathing become adversely affected. Permanent damage to your organs develop over time.

sleeping-1159279_1920

Many studies have also confirmed that there is a link between missing sufficient hours of sleep night after night and developing heart diseases, among many other chronic, lifelong ill health conditions. Two such studies are discussed below:

  • A study published in the Current Cardiology Reviews sorted through studies linking sleeplessness to hypertension (HT), coronary heart disease (CHD), and diabetes mellitus (DM). The researchers concluded that there is sufficient evidence to show a link between lack of sleep and these three diseases. The conclusion reads, “the relationship between sleep time and incidence of CHD or DM is U-shaped. Sleep periods that are neither too short nor too long may be important to keep us healthy”.
  • In another study published in the European Heart Journal, the researchers observed over 470,000 subjects based in 8 countries with baseline data reported across 15 studies spanning 7 to 25 years. The researchers concluded that, “Short duration of sleep was associated with a greater risk of developing or dying of CHD (and) stroke”. The researchers further noted that sleeping for more than 9 hours a day is also associated with increased risk for heart disease.

3. Heart palpitations. Fine if it’s your true love that’s making your heart skip a beat but, if you become more aware of your heartbeat more often then, something must not be right. Heart palpitations signal that your heart’s components — muscles, valves, ventricles — aren’t well-coordinated that’s why you feel a skipped beat or a throbbing, racing heartbeat. This may be triggered by caffeine, tobacco, stress, menopause, and pregnancy. Poor health, including the presence of conditions like CHD, having lower than normal levels of potassium in your body, and anemia can also cause heart palpitations.

4. Gum and oral diseases. It might surprise you to know that your oral health has also been linked to developing cardiovascular diseases. One study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine demonstrated that subjects who have had their oral health checked and treated more regularly spent less on medical and hospitalizations costs for both coronary artery disease (CAD) and cerebral vascular disease (CVD).

Another study published in the Journal of Indian Society of Periodontology which reviewed the results of studies linking periodontal health and heart diseases confirms that a link exists between these two variables. However, the researchers further concluded, “Prospective interventional studies are required to determine the exact link between PD and CVD as well as to evaluate whether periodontal treatment may reduce the risk of developing CVD.”

Studies linking oral health and heart health are relatively new, and the American Heart Association is taking things more slowly. An article published on the organization’s website reads:

“Periodontitis and heart disease share risk factors such as smoking, age and diabetes, and both contribute to inflammation in the body. Although these shared risk factors may explain why diseases of the blood vessels and mouth can occur simultaneously, some evidence suggests that there may be an independent association between the two diseases.”

5. Aching shoulders. You will usually dismiss this as your regular symptom of stress but, now you must know to never again take sore shoulders and upper back pains lightly. These could be signs of deteriorating heart health. On the other hand, painful shoulders can also lead to heart problems, as a study of more than 1,200 laborers claim. The researchers said that injury to the shoulders may cutoff or slowdown blood flow, increasing an affected person’s risk for developing heart problems.

6. Dizziness. Poor blood flow to the brain, most especially when further aggravated by low blood pressure, limits the supply of oxygen entering both your brain and your heart. If you’ve been feeling nauseous lately, it can’t be a good sign.

7. Chest pains. First of all, any chest pain that you feel, most especially if it is sudden and intense or, persistent, must be immediately brought to the attention of a healthcare provider. Chest pains can signal an impending heart attack. Of course, other conditions can also make your chest ache, among many, that includes: muscle strain, ulcer, and Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD or, acid reflux).

adult-1846050_1280

Here’s a guide prepared by the Harvard Medical School to help you distinguish chest pain that is likely due to a heart attack versus chest pain that may be caused by other reasons:

More likely to be a heart attack

Less likely to be a heart attack

Sensation of pain, or of pressure, tightness, squeezing, or burning Sharp or knifelike pain brought on by breathing or coughing
Gradual onset of pain over the course of a few minutes Sudden stabbing pain that lasts only a few seconds
Pain in diffuse area, including a constant pain in middle of chest Pain clearly on one side of the body or the other
Pain that extends to the left arm, neck, jaw, or back (see figure below) Pain that is localized to one small spot
Pain or pressure accompanied by other signs, such as difficulty breathing, a cold sweat, or sudden nausea Pain that lasts for many hours or days without any other symptoms
Pain or pressure that appears during or after physical exertion or emotional stress (heart attack) or while you are at rest (unstable angina) Pain reproduced by pressing on the chest or with body motion

Give Your Heart The Love It Deserves

People say that you have to love yourself first so that you can love others more. Caring for your heart today is one of the best ways that you can demonstrate self-love. Get yourself screened for heart disease most especially when you feel any of the common signs and symptoms of an unhealthy heart shared in this article, and if you have any one or more of the following risk factors:

  • old age (above 45)
  • hypertension
  • high blood pressure
  • high cholesterol
  • smoking
  • diabetes
  • overweight or obesity
  • sedentary lifestyle
  • family history
  • chronic stress
  • any existing heart condition
  • previous heart attack

(This article is unsponsored.  It is not meant to provide any medical or treatment advise of any sort.  Please seek the help of a medical professional if you think you may need treatment.)

Thank you for visiting! If you like this article, please Comment or Share, and Sign Up For Our Newsletter by clicking on the SUBSCRIBE button and Like my Facebook Page by clicking on the Facebook icon, both are on the right side of this page.

Advertisements

Smart Drugs: Should we be excited or afraid?

Have you seen the movies, “Limitless” or “Lucy”? Wouldn’t life be such a breeze if there was a drug you can take whenever there is a problem that you cannot solve or, if you simply want to ace a presentation even with barely an hour of sleep?

Smart drugs, also known as “Nootropics”, are real.

Have you ever heard of smart drugs before? Whether you have or not, tried it or not, listed below are seven questions we should all be asking about these alleged brain enhancers:

1. What are smart drugs?

“Smart drugs” is a loosely used term that refers to a group of substances that are believed, some with scientific studies supporting their claims, to enhance brain activity, most especially those processes that improve memory, intensify alertness, enhance problem-solving skills, and boost brain and muscle energy. Many have legit medical uses for various cognitive-related dysfunctions, while some would rather be branded as supplements.

2. Are smart drugs legal?

Yes. Since many have medical uses, smart drugs are legal drugs. Although many are marked for prescription use only, users are able to access them easily, including via online transactions. When these are marketed as supplements, in the US, there is no proof of claim that needs to be reproduced, no stopping its distribution, and people can easily access them.

However, the use of a legal drug is another issue. Regulatory authorities would often rule that medicines are for sick people. That was what drove the US Food and Drug Adminstration (FDA) to ban the selling and marketing of Piracetam, a category of smart drug, as a supplement or, without prescription, beginning in 2010.  Piracetam is formulated to enhance the brain function of stroke patients. In 2016, the UK Home Office also took a similar stance against the nootropic brand, Noopept, considered to be a drug that gave a legal high. It is formulated with a substance synthetically resembling Piracetam.

The American Medical Associated has taken a stand on the use of smart drugs, albeit indirectly. The body passed a consensus “discouraging the non-medical use of prescription drugs for cognitive enhancement in healthy individuals”.

3. Who are using smart drugs?

According to reports, up to 25 per cent of students in top universities in the UK have tried Modafinil.  It doesn’t stop in schools. Another report exposed that use of smart drugs have also become common among young employees of startup firms located in California, where Silicon Valley is located.

4. Do smart drugs really make you smarter?

 

tablets-1001224_1280

Those who have tried them and are hooked claim that smart drugs do enhance their performance. Others who have tried them say it was a nightmare.

For your information, listed below are just some of the smart drugs in circulation:

  • Modafinil (Provigil).  This is a drug originally formulated to treat narcolepsy. It simultaneously enhances attentiveness and keeps the user awake. A study by Battleday and Brem confirms that Modafinil use indeed leads to these cognitive improvements.

Since the patent has expired, this drug’s formulation is now available as a generic medicine but, you will still need a prescription to get your hands on it.

  • Nicotine.  It (not nicotine from cigarettes) enhances attention and mood by re-energizing your cells. In turn, the changes make your brain function on overtime.
  • L-theanine and Caffeine. This combination allegedly enhances your memory and mental endurance (1, 2).  That means, you can solve much more complex problems with it.

5. Are there any side effects?

Smart drugs are playing with no less than your brain so, how can it not have side effects? These drugs influence how your dopamine levels behave. Its behavior, in turn, turns on or off several mechanisms in your brain and body.

Smart drugs with legit medical use are being taken irresponsibly, outside of their originally intended use, and are being taken without prescription. That means, the effects of these drugs have not been exactly observed when taken by perfectly normal and healthy people.

Worse, many are marketed as supplements. When such products get a “Generally Recognized as Safe” label from the FDA, the manufacturers need not provide any proof of medical claim nor is it required to disclose potential side effects. In fact, many of these so called smart drugs do not even go through clinical trials. The market implication? They can be openly accessed by whosoever wants to use it.

So, again, are there side effects? Although it’s hard to say for sure, what is certain is that the risks are high.

6.  How can you access smart drugs?

Prescription only drugs require you to go see your doctor first. GRAS-labeled varieties are available right off-the-counter.

Still, both kinds are widely sold on the Internet, even in the Philippines apparently as we found some websites that do offer them. Users also get them from their personal networks and street vendors. With more people buying, the demand is high and, from the end of the manufacturers and distributors, the dollars keep piling up.

7. Should you be using smart drugs?

Let us take the allegation that smart drugs enhance certain cognitive functions to be true beyond doubt. What they do then is give you a boost but not exactly make you learn new things or new skills to help you get ahead with your performance.

Even when we leave each other to choose for ourselves, smart drugs have more societal implications than you might think. It’s like giving one person steroid and asking him to compete in a race with another who does not have it. Who said that life was fair? Then again, is it just? Should governments give all of their citizens smart drugs then? What an outrageous idea that would be!

People who advocate for the use of nootropics namedrop young, top-brass CEOs of startups who have allegedly used smart drugs too. Impressive but, Einstein didn’t have a smart drug when he unlocked the Theory of Relativity. So, when you are seriously considering to take or, are already taking, smart drugs, think about this: Where will you be when the smart drugs are gone?

If you are a parent, you should be worried too about how smart drugs may be making our children less resilient and more reliant to external factors other than their own smarts.

Smart drugs take away the pain in the gain, the excitement of a long wait, and the thrill that can only come from sheer, unadulterated hard work. In the long run, smart drugs make you believe less in yourself and in what you can do on your own. It’s not the smart drugs that will solve the equation you cannot decipher — that will have to be you.

This article is not intended to provide medical advise of any sort. Seek professional help for any medical attention you think you might need.

subscribe-now-button

What you must know about cancer — and why

I have family who has been recently diagnosed with cancer. I’ve had family members who have battled with cancer before. A few survived for a short period. Many didn’t.

You must have heard that Hugh Jackman is fighting his own battle with skin cancer. He has undergone several procedures to keep it under control. Everybody fears cancer for good reasons. Angelina Jolie had her breasts and ovaries removed to avert cancer even before she was positively diagnosed with one.

We all know at least one person who is battling with cancer right now. It has become so prevalent that at least 1 of 6 deaths worldwide can be attributed to cancer. In 2015 alone, 8.8 million people died of cancer causes according to the World Health Organization. That makes cancer the second leading cause of death, next to Ischaemic heart disease and stroke.

Cancer is not unique to any particular group. It does not discriminate. Yet, 70 per cent of deaths due to cancer are recorded in developing countries where diagnostics are poor and access to treatment can be a challenge. Many of these deaths could have been prevented.

What is cancer?

WHO defines cancer as “a generic term for a large group of diseases characterized by the growth of abnormal cells beyond their usual boundaries that can then invade adjoining parts of the body and/or spread to other organs”.

Cancer can start in any part of our body. From there, cancer can metastasize or spread to other parts of the body away from its original site of tumor growth. Metastases is what robs us of the people we love and care about. Cancer happens in many stages. Some cancers metastasize gradually while some do at record speeds.

According to WHO, the top 5 cancers causing deaths in men (in order of frequency) are lung, liver, stomach, colorectal and prostate cancers. In women, the more prevalent causes of cancer deaths are breast, lung, colorectal, cervical and stomach cancers.

What causes cancer?

There are many things about cancer that we are only beginning to understand while many remain to be the subjects of research. Every minute we spend not knowing what the root cause of cancer is, we lose at least 16 cancer patients in the fight. Until then, the experts will be working on pinning down the mechanisms of cancer development so we can attack it where it will hurt it the most.

Until then, here is what the world knows about the causes of cancer:

1. Ultraviolet radiation and radiation from other sources, including tanning beds and hospital equipment such as X-Rays. As for radiation and radiofrequency emitted by our home appliances, computer screens and mobile phones, the evidence is mixed and inconclusive. Some studies have linked these equipment and gadgets to increased incidence of leukemia and brain tumors. The WHO’s International Agency for Research on Cancer has previously classified extremely low frequency electric and magnetic fields as “possibly carcinogenic”.

2. Chemical carcinogens including the chemicals found in a cigarette stick, asbestos, nitrates used as preservatives in the food that we eat and in the tap water we drink, and a host of other toxic chemicals. Find out more about toxic chemicals in personal care products we use everyday here.

3. Viral, bacterial or parasitic infections such as Human papillomavirus (HPV) which is associated with the development of cervical, vulvar, vaginal, penile, anal and liver cancers.

4. Poor habits and lifestyle choices including smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, obesity and lack of exercise. These compromise our body’s immune system.

5.  Ageing which generally causes body processes to slowdown and become more prevalent to errors, possibly in DNA coding and cell development.

6. Genetics, although still frequently used as a factor in cancer screening, many health experts are now putting low value to genetic factors when it comes to cancer development. Although immune response, whether weak or strong, can also run in families. The discovery of human oncogenes, the first one having been found by leading cancer researcher Robert Weinberg, point out that bad genes are more commonly acquired rather than inherited. Oncogenes are bad genes that bypass the natural controls set up in a normally functioning cell.

Every cell in our body is made to function in a very specific, highly specialized manner. All of these factors have the potential, singly or in combination, to alter the cells, their characteristics, behavior and function.

Early signs of cancer

Cancer can manifest in many ways — some make itself apparent in early stages while some, much later in its development. It also depends on what part of the body the cancer cell originated from and where it has spread.

The key to cancer survival depends on early diagnosis but, prior to that, it requires you to be more vigilant and observant about significant changes in your body. Have yourself checked if you feel there could be something wrong. Cancer Research UK lists the following as the most common signs and symptoms of cancer:

  1. breathlessness
  2. unexplained vaginal bleeding
  3. persistent heartburn or indigestion
  4. croaky voice or hoarseness
  5. looser poo or pooing more often
  6. persistent bloating
  7. difficulty swallowing
  8. sore that won’t heal
  9. mouth or tongue ulcer that won’t heal
  10. heavy night sweats
  11. unusual breast changes
  12. blood in your poo
  13. blood in your pee
  14. unexplained weight loss
  15. new mole or changes to a mole
  16. coughing up blood
  17. persistent cough
  18. problems peeing
  19. unexplained pain or ache
  20. unusual lump or swelling anywhere

The Environmental Working Group also sums up what cancer experts often term as the hallmarks of cancer, taking off from the studies made by Douglas Hanahan and Robert Weinberg. Cancer develops and spreads when the following conditions are present:

1. Self-sufficient cell division. The cell bypasses the stimulation and inhibition controls that are normally programmed in a cell. It becomes a “renegade cell”, the only objective of which is to survive and keep proliferating even at the expense of other cells.

2. Limitless division. Characterizes the situation where the cell undergoes continuous, unregulated multiplication of cells.

3. Absence of apoptosis. Since cells are assigned highly specialized functions, each one is made in very specific ways that come with what can be thought of as controls and buttons. Apoptosis can be thought of as “cell suicide” and it happens when the cell itself detects that something is wrong with either its structure or programming. The problem with cancer cells is that it does not have this function. Even when it is flawed, it doesn’t die and, instead, persist and spread.

4. Unlimited replication potential. Normal cells have a life span, signalled by the length of telomeres. Each time a cell divides, its telomere shortens until such time when the cell can no longer divide. In the case of cancer cells, this mechanism does not exist, making its cell division function practically limitless and boundless.

5. Growth of new blood vessels. Tumors are like parasites. It will plant itself on the body, growh its own blood vessels, and uproot more nutrients and oxygen to support its growth at the expense of healthy cells around it. It simply doesn’t care as long as it survives.

6. Presence of metastasis.  Cancer spreads to other parts of the body via rapid cell division combined with invasion of otherwise healthy tissues. It can travel to other parts of the body by bypassing tissue cavities, through the bloodstream or via the lymphatic system. As cancer cells mutate, they deviate from their original, highly specialized functions until these start to affect the normal functioning of the organ where it originated and those where it has metastasized.

7. Ability of cancer cells to survive in oxygen-deprived environments. This means that cancer cells can be persistent.

8. Ability of cancer cells to evade the immune system. This allows cancer cells to proliferate.

9. Occurrence of gene alterations. Changes in the DNA makeup causes cancer cells to behave differently, taking on properties where no regulation mechanisms are present to control it — how frequently it divides, until when it divides, and where it grows.

10. Presence of chronic inflammation. This causes healthy cells to be overrun by free radicals, as well as create an environment that favors the further spread of cancer cells.

Cancer prevention

WHO estimates that up to 50% of cancers are preventable and that at least a third are caused by poor habits and lifestyle choices. Cancers with infectious origins such as HPV and hepatitis can be prevented by vaccination.

It takes the following actions to prevent cancer:

  1. Increased awareness and information
  2. Regular medical checkups
  3. Screening
  4. Avoidance of risk factors
  5. Vaccination
  6. Better nutrition
  7. More active lifestyle
  8. Smart sun exposure
  9. Avoiding carcinogenic chemicals in food consumed and products used
  10. Avoiding environmental, including occupational, exposures to carcinogens

Cancer treatment

There are two key information needed before a cancer treatment strategy can be drawn out:

1. Where the tumor is located?
2. How far has it spread?

The most common treatment strategies involve:

1. surgery
2. radiation1
3. chemotherapy

Radiation and chemotherapy work by attempting to slowdown the process of cell division to stop the rapid spread of cancer cells.  The main issues with current treatment options is that these are non-specific, non-targeted treatment mechanisms that affect the entire body. Use of surgical procedures for cancer prevention has been questioned because it does not guarantee a patient will remain cancer free after surgery. Radiation and chemotherapy do not just slowdown cell division of or kill cancer cells but those of healthy cells as well.

Radiation and chemotherapy are associated with a host of side effects including hair loss, nausea and fatigue, organ toxicity, among many others.

Cancer survival can depend on many factors other than treatment. It has to be complemented by a healthier lifestyle, beginning with a healthy diet. Some cancer research studies have shown how certain foods like green tea and berries can help induce apoptosis in cancer cells, killing these safely and effectively without harming healthy cells. The support of families and emotional and psychological well-being of a cancer patient may also affect the success of treatment.

There have been many attempts to connect terminal diseases, including cancer, to the positive benefits of faith and healing. Most point out the increased well-being and enhanced tolerance of patients to the pain associated with cancer treatment. Even the Cancer Research UK encourages cancer patients to seek healing options if that will provide them relief from the stress, anxiety and depression associated with cancer [http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancers-in-general/treatment/complementary-alternative/therapies/healing]

For more about the healing power of faith and mind, read this.

Our future with cancer

The number of cancer patients is expected to balloon to 22 million new cases every year for the next two decades.  As much as we’d like to have a fail-safe mechanism already instituted when it comes to cancer prevention and treatment, it has been a challenging disease to overcome. Yet, we can look at a brighter future.

Here are some of the developments we hope will continue to bring practical benefits very soon:

1. DNA mapping a tumor to make treatment more person-specific rather than the current one-shot-fits-all approach

2. Immunotherapy and chemotherapy strategy that strengthens and trains the immune system to identify and tackle cancer cells

3. Liquid biopsy, a new way for early detection of cancer and for reoccurrence among cancer survivors to be prevented much earlier

4. Multi-gene panel testing which tests for the presence of so called cancer susceptibility genes

5. Development of molecule-targeted and inhibitor drugs for more precise treatment strategies for specific types of cancers

6. Treatment strategies targeting antiangiogenesis, which attempts to prevent tumor growth and proliferation by preventing the growth of blood vessels that deliver nutrients and oxygen to support its survival.

Would I have been able to influence the health condition of people I know — have known — who face cancer? Besides providing assurance, emotional and spiritual support, I wasn’t sure how else I could have helped. Treatment doesn’t come easy nor does it come cheap from where I stand. I can only hope that I tried to find out more about cancer much earlier but, I remain grateful to own a platform to share what I’ve been finding out about cancer through this website but also via a resource most of us now already own a piece of — social media.

My experience with cancer is not unique — standing on the sidelines, observing, hoping that cancer won’t become my problem one day but, isn’t it already? Hasn’t it been my problem for a long time too? I strongly believe it’s about time we all take cancer more personally. Share this article if you care. Get involved in the discussions by commenting below.

Main references used:

“Cancer” World Health Organization. http://www.who.int/cancer/en/

“Everything we think we know – and know we don’t know – about cancer” based on the book, “Betrayed by Nature: The War on Cancer” by Dr Robin Hesketh. http://www.cam.ac.uk/research/news/everything-we-think-we-know-and-know-we-dont-know-about-cancer

“Key signs and symptoms of cancer” Cancer Research UK.  http://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/cancer-symptoms

“Rethinking Carcinogens: New view of cancer development focuses on subtle, combined effects” Environmental Working Group. 2015. http://static.ewg.org/reports/2015/rethinking_carcinogens/rethinking_carcinogens.pdf?_ga=1.185530473.1392707575.1483974955

Soffe, Emilie. “What we know and don’t know about cancer” TED-Ed Lessons. http://blog.ed.ted.com/2016/02/04/what-we-know-and-dont-know-about-cancer/

“Sustainable Development Goal 3” United Nations https://sustainabledevelopment.un.org/sdg3

“Clinical Cancer Advances 2017: Annual Report on Progress Against Cancer From the American Society of Clinical Oncology” Journal of Clinical Oncology. http://ascopubs.org/doi/full/10.1200/JCO.2016.71.5292

subscribe-now-button

Do you have to be afraid of HIV and AIDS?

Since HIV and AIDS became much publicized in the 1980s, the curiosities and controversies that it sparked never died down.  The fire spread farther following reports of Freddie Mercury, the lead vocalist of the most smashing rockstars of that era, Queen, along with a number of other well-known personalities, having been infected with HIV.

Back then, once a person is diagnosed with HIV, you can consider that as a death sentence.  These days, that is no longer the case.  I’ll tell you more about that later.

Recently, the HIV and AIDS discourse in the country has, again, become a hot topic.  National Youth Commission Chairperson Aiza Seguerra backlashes on her ‘tatay-tatayan’ (like a father), Senator Vicente “Tito” Sotto III about his unsupportive stance over the Administration’s plans of intensifying its Responsible Parenthood and condom distribution program in high schools nationwide.

It’s 2017: Has anything changed yet?

The situation has significantly improved.  The UNAIDS’ “Global AIDS Update” for 2016 highlights that as many as 7.5 million people with HIV were on antiretroviral treatment in 2010, while as much as 17 million were enrolled in the program in 2015.  Consequently, number of deaths due to AIDS decreased from 1.5 million to 1.1 million during the same period. More on antiretrovirals below.

There are therefore more people living with HIV who are staying productive.  Whereas there were an estimated 33.3 million people living with HIV in 2010, there were 36.7 million of them in 2015.  The number of new HIV cases is also on the decline, albeit very gradually, from 2.2 million to 2.1 million during the same period.

Can we be happy about the changes?  That can be argued since just one life lost to HIV and AIDS is not acceptable.  Although, there are at least two things we, Filipinos, can be sure  we can agree on.

First, that HIV and AIDS will continue to be debated with might by those who are seeking reforms in the manner by which our youth are educated about sex and sexuality.  We can continue arguing and they can continue becoming misguided by other people, their equally unknowledgeable peers most especially, about these matters which, naturally, they will have to learn and know anyway. Duh! It’s human nature!

Second, neither side can argue with the available data and nobody will be happy at our country’s dismal performance in attempting to stomp out HIV and AIDS.  From one new HIV case recorded every month in 2008, there were 26 up to 28 new HIV cases recorded every month in 2016.  It can be argued that the seeming rise in number of cases is, in fact, due to more people coming forward to get tested for HIV. The truth is the numbers are on the rise!

The Top 10 things about HIV and AIDS you must know by now

There is no need to panic.  There is a need for all of us to stop treating these matters as taboo so that we can all move forward.  That said, listed below are the 10 basic information about HIV and AIDS that all of us must know by now:

1.  HIV and AIDS do not mean the same.  Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a virus that can lead to the development of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS).  A person with HIV does not necessarily have AIDS.  The person infected may or may not show signs and symptoms of having HIV.  A person who has AIDS certainly has HIV.

2.  HIV does not discriminate.  Anybody who is exposed to HIV can become infected — that includes you and I.  So, please, stop the urban legend about many call center agents becoming infected with HIV because it is not any occupation that puts people at higher risk for acquiring HIV. What we should all be worried about is that it is the young people between the most productive ages of 15 and 34 who are suffering from this condition.  Youth, 15-24 years old, comprise one-fourth of all registered cases from 1984 up to October 2016.  People belonging to these age brackets often have young children to raise and retired parents to support.  Who takes care of them and their families when they experience discrimination at work?

3.  For HIV to successfully infect another person, two conditions need to be fulfilled.  First, the infectious fluid has to contain sufficient viral load (think of it as the concentration of HIV), and second, the virus has to have a way of entering the bloodstream.  Infectious body fluids include blood, semen, vaginal fluids and breastmilk.  That means, you cannot get HIV from getting into contact with an infected person’s saliva. That holds true for kissing as well, provided that the person who is not infected and the person who is infected do not have open sores.  Otherwise, open sores will allow for blood to be exchanged to enter the bloodstream of the uninfected partner.

4.  HIV can only be transmitted via exchange of infected blood, unprotected penetrative sex, and from infected parent to the child.  The two modes of highest risk for exchange of infected blood to happen are via blood transfusion of blood units that are not screened for HIV (all blood units in the Philippines are typically screened for HIV), and by sharing infected needles most especially those used for injecting illegal drugs.  That said, injecting drug users must not only be concerned about “Oplan Tukhang” but also of unhygienic needle use.

When it comes to sex, there are various levels of risks involved.  Sexual activities considered to be at higher risk for enabling HIV infection of the uninfected partner include: vaginal sex without a condom, anal sex without a condom and oral sex without a condom.  Lower risk include the same activities but with the use of a condom.  That means, a condom will not give you 100 per cent protection from HIV infection but the protection it brings can significantly lower your risk for HIV.  That’s because there are many behavioral factors that affect proper condom use, for instance, reusing it and wearing it incorrectly.

A child can get infected while inside her mother’s womb or when fed with the breastmilk from an infected source.  However, a child born of an infected parent does not necessarily get infected with HIV, most especially when the mother is placed on ART during pregnancy and after childbirth. Surgery rather than normal delivery is also preferred to reduce the risk of the baby from becoming infected.

5.  Being married and monogamous do not ensure that you cannot get infected with HIV.  The true requirement is that you and your partner have to be mutually monogamous.  In addition, prior to that, both of you should have already received a negative HIV test result before you started having sex with each other.

6.  Only an HIV test can show if a person has HIV or not.  You can get yourself tested for HIV at any private or public hospital, diagnostic clinic or social hygiene clinic.  You must know that there is a six-month window period that has to be observed for your result to be considered valid.  That’s because it takes up to six months after your last possible exposure to HIV (such as unprotected sex) before a sufficient viral load of HIV in your bloodstream can be detected by the HIV test.

If you decide to go in for an HIV test, you will be required to undergo a pre-test and post-test counselling session where you can ask your counsellor of any possible question you have about HIV and AIDS.

7.  In the Philippines, all HIV tests are confidential. Violation of confidentiality is penalized by the law, and more specifically by Republic Act 8504. Therefore, if you have access to such confidential information, such as if you are a health practitioner, hospital staff, HR officer or company physician, you must exercise caution in sharing this information even on a need-to-know basis.

8.  HIV testing is non-compulsory in the Philippines.  That means, you will always have to consent to HIV testing.  No person or entity, including your employer, has the right to require you to undergo an HIV test.  If you encounter such illegal practice, feel free to refuse and report the violation to authorities.

Other than being prohibited by RA 8504, the Department of Labor and Employment also prohibits such testing, including discrimination of employees from work on the basis of his or her real or perceived HIV status.

For Overseas Filipino Workers, however, HIV testing can become trickier. There are still many countries that require a negative HIV test result for people to be allowed entry to their countries. In which case, these are beyond the extent of applicability of our laws.

Click here for a directory of institutions that can help you find out more about HIV and AIDS, get an HIV test, and how to access related information and services.

9.  HIV is a lifelong condition and cannot be cured.  A person who has been diagnosed with HIV needs to be on antiretroviral therapy (ART). It is not a cure rather, it is a recommended regimen that consists of drugs formulated to keep the HIV viral load low so that the person infected does not develop AIDS and can continue to become economically productive.

In addition, there are health services specifically provided for free for people with HIV.

A person who is diagnosed to be positive for HIV has the right to access proper treatment, care and support.

10.  There is no reason why you should stigmatize nor discriminate people with HIV.  HIV transmission requires intimate relationships.  That means, you cannot get HIV by sharing a toilet seat, using the same utensils, getting assigned on the same table as a person with HIV.  You can shake hands, casually kiss them on the cheeks and embrace them without any need to be afraid of getting infected.

Your personal commitment

Now that you know, tell at least one person about what you learned here or, if you’re too shy to talk about it, share the link to this page and ask the people you love to read this.

Did you find this article useful? Do you have any questions or suggestions? Leave your comment below.

subscribe-now-button

Is there poison in your lipstick?

A special feature on the ‘dirty chemicals’ in cosmetics

Toxic chemicals are all around us.

They’re in the soaps we bathe our kids with, the creams we lather on our skin day and night, the detergent we wash our clothes with.  It’s in the food that we eat!

Many have been linked to increasing risks for chronic and life-threatening diseases.

2017_0118_the-dirty-dozen-of-cosmetics-001

Here are top reasons why you should care

These ‘dirty chemicals’:

1.  Bioaccumulate.  Our bodies are not designed to metabolize them, neither is the environment ready to degrade them. What that means: these chemicals only keep adding up in our system and the environment, and even get passed on from mother-to-child during pregnancy. When it reaches a toxic level, you get chronically ill (cancer, organ failure, etc.) and then you die.

2.  Disrupt the normal functioning of our vital organs.  A number of these chemicals are considered to be ‘endocrine disrupting’ (EDCs). Our endocrine system commands our hormones to turn on or off our vital body processes.  Some of the adverse effects of EDCs are: increased risk of women to estrogen-related cancers, most especially breast and ovarian cancers; earlier onset of menarche, or first menstuation, among girls which increases their risk for cancer; and, increased occurrence of reproductive health problems.

3.  Increase our risk for acquiring cancer.  According to the World Health Organization, cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide, with 12.7 million new cases and 7.6 million deaths in 2008. Globally, 19% of all cancers are attributable to the environment, including work setting resulting in 1.3 million deaths each year.

4.  Endanger our lives and decrease our quality of life.  These chemicals make us sick and make us weak. When we our unhealthy, our productivity suffers.  Then, our families take the brunt of the consequences — taking care of sick family members, and spending more for healthcare. With more families suffering, the communities where we live in suffer as well as economic activities slow down or, decline.

Check out this slide presentation for more information on toxic chemicals in cosmetics:

Main references used for this article and the slide presentation:

1.  “The ‘Dirty Dozen’ ingredients investigated in the David Suzuki Foundation Survey of Chemicals in Cosmetics” David Suzuki Foundation. 2010. File Path: http://www.davidsuzuki.org/issues/downloads/Dirty-dozen-backgrounder.pdf

2.  “Preventing Breast Cancer. Guide to cosmetics and personal care products”  Breast Cancer UK.  2015.  File Path: http://www.breastcanceruk.org.uk/uploads/Cosmetics_short_version.pdf

3.  “Under new safety law: 20 Toxic chemicals EPA should act on now” Environmental Working Group. 2016.  Link: http://www.ewg.org/research/under-new-safety-law-20-toxic-chemicals-epa-should-act-now

subscribe-now-button

How to lose at least 20 pounds before summer

After spending what most likely was another eating fest in Christmas and New Year, it is only but just (for our bodies most especially) to declare January as the official start of our “Balik-Alindog Program!”  (That literally translates as “Back to Sexiness” for our foreign readers.)

Personally, I have never really been too conscious about my body, and I have always been the big girl in the room.  However, after spending most of my workdays in my home desk for over a year now, I feel compelled to revamp my diet and get more physically active this year.

Also, because of this blog, I have been running test kitchens and taking video shoots of some of our well-loved recipes in the past month, so that leaves me with no excuse to live sedentary again for another year — else, I bid this world farewell too soon!

So, I have been blogging about diets and how to live healthier these past few years, and learned quite a number of tips along the way.  Ironically, that was about the same time my not-so-active lifestyle became worse.  Fast forward to the day of reckoning, I am not exactly overweight — yet — but, I am close to tipping over the scale.

When you got tips, help me out, okay?  Right now, here’s my game plan:

1.  Get enough nighttime sleep.  Haha!  That might sound like it’s out-of-place.  However, chronically getting insufficient sleep drives the body’s hormones out of control, including the hunger hormone, ghrelin.  As a working mom, and working from home for that matter, it’s not easy to get things done when the kids are up and about.

In all honesty, because I get so tired getting them fed and washed and schooled and  fed and played, by the time they take their afternoon naps, I find myself too tired to even open my laptop too.  That made my brain more accustomed to work at night when everybody is asleep and everything is calm and quiet.  If you’ve been reading through this site for some weeks now, you’ll be able to figure out that most of my posts are published in the wee hours of dawn.  Perhaps, this year, I should sleep earlier and just wake up really early like two in the morning.

2.  Get in the kitchen more often.  It’s the only way I can control what I’m eating.  Trouble is, I can’t beat my dad to the kitchen!  He’s always cooking up something!  The other challenge with doing online work is that I always get really tired hands and arms so I can’t always wash my hands with water.

Here’s how I plan to solve it.  Always have fresh veggie salads and fruits within reach.  I should also commit to eating much less rice — simply because I am mostly tied to my desk.

running-573762_12803.  Move around more.  When I was just starting my online and event business, I regularly found time and space to get my hands on more difficult household chores, particularly washing our delikado clothes and scrubbing the bath.  As life became more hectic, I am almost always glued to my laptop 25 hours a week — exaj, but it’s true (well, almost)!

4.  Keep a journal of my calorie intake and loss.  No more writing for me when it comes to this!  I already got myself an app called, “Lose It!”  It’s a cool, techie way of keeping track of whether or not I am losing or gaining.  You can even input a Jollibee meal on the app and you’ll likely be able to find it in its comprehensive list.

grean-salad-and-tomatoes5.  Enjoy eating more.  This time, I am not going for the quantity but for the quality of the food.  I don’t believe any diet that restricts any food group — whether it’s starchy carbs or fats or dairy — will be sustainable in the longer term.  Well, it worked for some, but not for a foodie like me.  That calls for more cooking explorations to make sure I am eating yummier yet healthier food.

 

To be on the safe side, I will only target to lose up to 2 pounds per week.  With approximately 10 weeks to go before summer officially sets in, I am still on the running to meet my “Balik-Alindog” goals!  More than anything though, I will be in it for the sake of my health.

Got tips for me?  Share in the comments box below — and, thanks in advance! Share your own Balik Alindog goals here too.

subscribe-now-button

How to manage your child’s skin asthma

(This article is unsponsored.  It is not meant to provide any medical or treatment advise of any sort.  Please seek the help of a medical professional if you think you may need treatment.)

I, my son and the rest of our household have been bothered by the worsening skin condition of my son since signs of inflammation started manifesting on his skin around late July of this year.  The entire family suffered from a strong strain of flu around that time, and he was specifically put on antibiotics as a result.  I recall now that his symptoms of skin asthma started manifesting after his recovery.

Since then, we’ve tried every possible remedy — from virgin coconut oil and Tamanu oil to corticosteroids and anti-fungal creams.  The symptoms persisted.  Five months and three doctors later, I watch my son, teary-eyed, about his worsening skin condition, and I feel helpless that all I can do is to comfort him and to assure him that all will be well soon.   But, it’s been five long months!

This morning, we met with a new dermatologist who told us (she’s the second dermatologist to tell us so, the third one is a critical care paediatrician) that my son has atopic dermatitis, in layman’s terms, skin asthma.  She explains that it’s genetic and it’s been inside my son’s body.  Something, perhaps the episode I just narrated, triggered it to manifest.

What causes atopic dermatitis?

The root cause of this skin condition is unknown.  According to the American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology, severe cases of atopic dermatitis are due to filaggrin, a faulty gene that affects the expression of skin.  The condition tends to be passed among generations of family members.

Although the underlying causes are unknown, the manifestation of atopic dermatitis is frequently triggered by the following:

  • stress
  • chronic lack of sufficient sleep
  • food allergies
  • certain medications
  • frequent soaking, swimming and bathing in chlorinated water
  • bathing with water that is too hot or too cold
  • excessive sweating
  • certain textiles like wool
  • harsh soaps and detergents
  • dusty and polluted environments
  • extreme changes in weather conditions
  • generally dry climate
  • dusty and polluted environments

People who have atopic dermatitis have trouble repairing the barrier in the skin matrix.  So, once the condition has been diagnosed, patients notice that the condition can worsen easily because the skin is open and therefore, more prone to infections.

Based on my son’s lifestyle, it appears the culprit could be his sweat.  My heart broke when the dermatologist said that my son can only play moderate sports (my son loves basketball), at least for the time being.  She explained that his sweat is acidic and that, in turn, makes him feel so much more itchy.  So, to manage my son’s skin condition, most especially the itching part, she said that we’ll have to manage his sweating.

cetaphil-3
This is the new set of prescription we got today (worth over Php 3,000).  While it’s a big ‘ouch’ on the budget, I hope this treatment plan finally brings significant improvements.

How to manage atopic dermatitis in children?

While I wish I was the one who developed the condition instead of my son, we now have to live and deal with the fact that he has to face it and that he needs my support.  Here’s the game plan:

First, we have to accept the diagnosis and recognize that it is generally harder to manage atopic dermatitis among children.  They will be scratching and itching a lot and wouldn’t be able to help it.

Second, we have to be aware of the symptoms:

  • redness, itchiness and scaling around the joints
  • reddening or darkening of skin
  • intense itching
  • thickening skin

Third, we have to be aware of the triggers (see list above).  Triggers can differ among patients so we will have to take note of what could be causing his skin asthma to manifest.  This early, we know it’s sweat but, there could be others.

Fourth, we will keep seeking professional help.  While it’s true that we’re now on our third doctor, atopic dermatitis is simply not a condition that we can manage on our own.  For one, there are medications that can only be accessed with prescription, most especially the corticosteroid topical applications.

We were just prescribed with Betamethasone valerate (Brand Name: Betnovate, from GlaxoSmithKline) which should relieve intense itching but only available with prescription.  When it comes to treatments like this, I take notes of the doctor’s instructions and read the inset as well because these products are steroidal and can cause side effects most especially among children when application instructions are not followed thoroughly.  I will be praying that my son won’t need a stronger formulation.

Fifth, we will deal with the triggers right now.  The sooner we can control the inflammation, the sooner we can deal with the scars.  So, this is what we’ll do everyday:

  • Take two baths daily using only lukewarm water
  • Use the gentlest skin cleanser and moisturizer.  Remember, skin barrier is already a problem.  We don’t want to damage it further nor further strip it off of natural moisture.  My son’s dermatologist prescribed Cetaphil Gentle Skin Cleanser and Cetaphil Restoraderm.
  • Control the itching with antihistamine.  He’s been prescribed with Levocetirizine diHCL (Brand Name: Xyzal).
  • Control the itching by eliminating certain foods in his diet.  These are the foods commonly known as “malansa”.  So, sorry, son, no chicken, chocolates, processed meats and eggs.
  • Revamp his diet, to include more foods with Omega 3 fatty acids, and more fresh fruits and veggies.
  • Wipe and moisturize frequently in-between baths.

Sixth, keep learning about atopic dermatitis.  One of the most detailed, most helpful information I have come across with so far is an article published on the online edition of The Philippine Star, “How to handle skin asthma” (accessed 21 Dec 2016).  Still, it will be helpful to learn from moms who have dealt with this condition already and were successful in doing so.

Seventh, we will keep our eyes on the prize: my son’s condition will get better soon.  If the statistics helps, most children who have atopic dermatitis outgrow it as they get older.

subscribe-now-button