Do air filters make indoor get-togethers safer?
When Phil Collins sings, “I can feel it coming in the air tonight,” he isn’t warning you to beware of the virus that causes COVID-19 as you join friends, family or colleagues indoors this winter. But it might make you wonder about what you can do to reduce the risks in closed-in environments.
The answer: Use a multifaceted approach. ConsumerLab.com did extensive tests on the virus-filtering abilities of air filters. The bottom line is “portable air cleaners … cannot protect people when used on their own, but they can be part of a strategy for protecting people indoors when used along with other recommended practices.”
Those recommended practices include (temperatures permitting) opening windows, running air conditioners with the outside air vent open, in addition to wearing masks and sitting at least 6 feet apart. As for choosing an air-filtering device, HEPA filters are best. (We’d add, it’s smart to have far-UVC light as part of the filtration process).
Fibrous filters, including HEPA filters, are rated as minimum efficiency reporting value 1 to 16. Only those rated MERV 11 or higher are tested for removing particles 0.3 to 1 micron in size. While those size particles are larger than the virus that causes COVID-19, aerosolized droplets containing viruses are up to 5 microns and may be captured by fibrous filters. Most HEPA-designated residential air cleaners perform at levels comparable to MERV 16 — with an efficiency of 99 percent or higher.
For info on performance-verified units, check out the Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers website at www.ahamdir.com/room-air-cleaners.
3 surprise triggers for high blood pressure
New York Post gossip columnist Earl Wilson once said, “One way to get high blood pressure is to go mountain climbing over molehills.”
When it comes to high blood pressure, a lot of surprising factors, besides making mountains out of molehills, can come into play. Did you know if you hold in your urine for, say, three hours, your blood pressure can climb? Or that sugar may raise your blood pressure? A study in the American Journal of Cardiology found drinking over 12 ounces of sugar-sweetened beverages a day ups your risk of high blood pressure by at least 6 percent and can increase your systolic blood pressure (the top number) measurably over 18 months.
Then there’s the impact of loneliness. The lack of calming interaction with people can increase stress, cause sleep problems and lead to overeating, all associated with elevated blood pressure. One study in the journal Psychology and Aging found that over a four-year stretch, the loneliest folks saw a 14.4-point increase in their systolic pressure number than folks who were the least lonely. That can put you at high risk for a stroke. So it’s important to make an effort to break out of your lonely feelings. Connect online with groups of folks with shared interests. Every subject, from gardening to photography, world history and pet reptiles has a chatroom; talk on the phone with and safely see friends and relatives; and volunteer to help others — a new study shows increased compassion counteracts loneliness. And always keep tabs on your blood pressure.
The importance of staying well-hydrated — even in winter
Jane Fonda, 82, Cindy Crawford, 54, and Julianne Moore, 60, extol the health benefits of drinking a lot of water every day. And their advice is worth following for both women and men. A study published in the Journal of Physiology finds that older guys (around 61) are less able to regulate their body temperature than young ‘uns (around 25), and staying well-hydrated counteracts that and other health risks, such as urinary tract infections, kidney stones, falls, confusion and headaches. Older women face the same risks from dehydration.
Unfortunately, studies also show 31 percent to 48 percent of older folks are chronically dehydrated! That may be because there’s a loss of sensitivity to feeling thirsty, from the side effects of medications or from chronic health issues such as diabetes or obesity. Sometimes it’s to avoid frequent bathroom stops — but that can backfire by causing bladder irritation.
To help you get in the habit of drinking enough water, here are five ways to stay well hydrated:
1. For a week, write down how much water you drink as you drink it. You’ll become consciously aware of your routine.
2. Drink a glass of water first thing in the morning. Then, keep a water bottle with you; sip from it twice an hour.
3. Add natural flavors like lime to make water less boring.
4. Before you have a cup of coffee or other beverage, drink a glass of water.
5. As your furnace or heater cranks up indoors, run a humidifier to counter the dehydrating effects.
Intermittent fasting: Get the real scoop, not misleading headlines
“He who eats until he is sick must fast until he is well,” is an English proverb. And Ben Franklin hit the nail on the head with: “To lengthen thy life, lessen thy meals.” Fasting has been around for millennia, but lately there’s been focus on intermittent fasting — not eating for 12-16 hours daily — as a way to lose weight and upgrade your metabolic profile.
So, is IF effective? The latest study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, says it’s not a help for weight loss. That’s caused a lot of confusion. But this study’s IF participants could eat any unhealthy thing they wanted from noon to 8 p.m. for 12 weeks. And that fasting group didn’t take in any fewer calories than the study’s other group, who were allowed three meals a day and snacks whenever they wanted. When the researchers compared results, they concluded IF doesn’t make you metabolically healthier or help you lose more weight than eating around the clock.
Time-restricted eating, but pigging out the rest of the time on foods that prematurely age you, is never a good idea. Weight loss and metabolic improvements depend on how you fuel your body. You want it to be plant-based, high-fiber, with lean proteins and omega-3-rich fish (don’t reduce your overall protein intake). If you eat that and add IF, you’ll more easily reduce your calorie intake, lose weight, improve metabolic markers such as blood sugar levels, and reduce lousy LDL cholesterol levels. Nothing iffy about that!
Tattoos are no sweat — literally
Recently, a schoolteacher in France lost his teaching job after parents complained their kids were scared of him. The reason? The 35-year-old man has every inch of his body (even his tongue) covered in tattoos. He’d spent at least 460 hours getting inked.
Tattoo enthusiasts may not be aware that such extreme decorations pose health risks, but they do — from allergic reactions to cancer caused by the black ink and heart disease and heart failure caused by the cadmium in red ink.
Now researchers have identified a new hazard: The ink can keep sweat glands from functioning, leading to chronic skin irritation, heat cramps and heatstroke. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology evaluated the amount of perspiration generated by people with tattoos. It turns out that when the body sends a message to sweat glands under inked skin to “Sweat, baby, sweat,” the glands just don’t. In short, “tattooing functionally damages secretion mechanisms,” say the researchers.
So, before getting a tattoo, consider the risks and take precautions.
■ Infection? There’s no way to tell if the ink is safe (some, says the Food and Drug Administration, is better suited to painting cars), and bacteria and other pathogenic materials can end up in ink. If the shop doesn’t seem clean or the tattoos are deeply discounted, leave immediately.
■ Check that the practitioner is using PPE, and needles and ink from sealed containers.
■ Avoid blanketing large areas of the body with ink. Less is more.
■ Do research before making your epidermis a canvas.
Mehmet Oz, M.D. is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Mike Roizen, M.D. is Chief Wellness Officer and Chair of Wellness Institute at Cleveland Clinic. To live your healthiest, tune into “The Dr. Oz Show” or visit www.sharecare.com.