Let the sunshine in … safely
When the musical “Hair” launched the song “Let the Sunshine In,” it was 1969, and no one was thinking about the risks of over (or under) exposure to solar rays. These days, we know a lot more about the dangers and benefits, but increased knowledge doesn’t always translate to increased self-care.
Around 3.6 million cases of basal cell carcinoma and 1.8 million cases of squamous cell carcinoma are diagnosed annually in the U.S., and about 106,110 new melanomas will be diagnosed in 2021. Melanoma, the most lethal form of skin cancer, is over 20 times more common in white people than in African Americans. But it is more often diagnosed at a late stage in people of color — one study found an average five-year melanoma survival rate of 67 percent in Black people versus 92 percent in white people.
This is all a preamble to our advice on sunscreens: Use only zinc or titanium oxide (dodge dodgy chemicals like avobenzone, oxybenzone, octocrylene and ecamsule); opt for SPF of 30 or more — whatever your skin color; and reapply sunscreen every two hours if you’re out in the sun, sweating or swimming.
It’s also smart to let the sun crank up your body’s vitamin-D-making powers. The vitamin/hormone (it’s both) boosts immune strength, helps reduce the severity of COVID-19, strengthens bones and protects heart health. So enjoy the feel of sun on your unprotected skin for up to 20 minutes a day (except between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., when the rays are strongest); then put on sunscreen.
Are you a big dipper?
The Big Dipper is a constellation that has long been used to point sailors toward the North Star — and keep their ship on course. Well, a new study reveals that knowing if you’re a big dipper can help you stay on course too and avoid overeating and weight gain.
An international study published in Nature Metabolism found that there are some folks who repeatedly experience a significant blood sugar drop a few hours after eating, prompting them to consume hundreds of more calories a day than folks who aren’t big dippers.
After eating, it’s normal for blood sugar to rise and then, within two hours, go lower. But these researchers took a deep look at what happens two to three hours after having food and found that some folks’ blood sugar level fell rapidly below baseline before coming back up — increasing their hunger by 9 percent and prompting them to eat 312 more calories during the day than little dippers. That can add up to a 20-pound weight gain in a year.
You can counter this more extreme blood sugar bounce if it affects you. Try these tips:
■ Avoid all processed carbs; they fuel the big dip.
■ Eat lean protein at every meal. Dr. Mike recommends a salmon burger for breakfast.
■ Keep healthy snack food on hand: raw veggies, roasted chickpeas, nuts and berries are best.
■ Have a bit of your daily 1 ounce of dark 70 percent cacao chocolate whenever you feel the big dip coming on. (No more than that!)
To zap or not to zap
The dictionary’s list of synonyms for “zap” includes “bang,” “clobber,” “wallop” and about two dozen other words that miss the high-tech, ray-emitting connotation of zapping your food in a microwave — the most common use of the word, we bet.
Around $117.6 billion is projected to be spent on frozen microwavable foods in 2025. That’s a lot of plastic trays! And that brings up a question: What’s the cumulative effect, year after year, of eating zapped food that’s packaged in plastic?
We know some facts: Bisphenol-A (BPA) is put into plastics to make them clear and hard; phthalates are added to make them soft and flexible. Both are hormone disruptors, and they can migrate into food. High-fat foods like meats, cheeses and rich sauces are particularly good receptors for them.
Plastics approved by the Food and Drug Administration that are labeled “microwave safe” have been tested, and the maximum allowable amount of migration of those chemicals is far less per pound of body weight than the amount shown to harm laboratory animals over a lifetime of use. That said, it doesn’t definitively address what happens over a person’s longer life span if they’re exposed to zapping and eating and zapping and eating.
Don’t let plastic wrap touch food when microwaving; don’t microwave plastic storage bags, plastic bags from the grocery, takeout containers or plastic tubs that hold yogurt, sauces or condiments. Bottom line: Glass, parchment and white paper towels may be safer to zap. So transfer food from its plastic container before microwaving.
When Bridget Jones (Renee Zellweger) took to the exercise bicycle to get in shape for a new job, things didn’t go too well; she tumbled off the bike. Her character’s struggles were pretty true-to-life. It’s hard for most folks to use exercise correctly so that it promotes weight loss and eases stress and anxiety. Two recent studies explain just what makes it so difficult.
Exercise and weight loss. It doesn’t seem to make any sense. For most people, exercise is not the route to weight loss, even though it burns off calories. But a study published in Nutrients showed that 30 minutes after folks work out, they chow down enthusiastically — and indiscriminately. And the more they exercised the more they ate! It’s Cacciatore-22.
Exercise and stress reduction. Physical activity is a great way to dispel stress and anxiety, but researchers from McMasters University found that stress blocks even active folks from working out. Anxious study volunteers reported that despite wanting to exercise, they were doing 20 minutes less aerobics and 30 minutes less strength training and were sedentary for 30 more minutes every day.
To reach your goals for weight loss and stress reduction, try these tips:
■ For stress management, remember some exercise is better than none.
■ For weight management, have a post-workout snack prepared: celery sticks, carrots, an orange and plenty of water.
■ For both, take movement breaks throughout the day. They won’t trigger hunger, and they’ll ease stress.
■ And make workout appointments with yourself; put them in your daily calendar.
Boosting male fertility: Something’s fishy — in a good way
There are astounding, but unverifiable, tales of couples who had many children: Take Valentina and Feodor Vassilyev. It is claimed that she gave birth to 69 children — 16 pairs of twins, seven sets of triplets and four sets of quadruplets between 1725 and 1765.
Today, with fertility rates falling and reliable tracking of births, such numbers seem highly unlikely. Sperm counts among men in North America, Europe, Australia and New Zealand declined more than 59 percent from 1973 to 2011, according to a 2017 meta-analysis published in Human Reproduction Update, most likely due to environmental pollution and ingested chemicals. But there may be a way to improve testicular function and production of semen and sperm: take fish oil supplements.
A Danish study compared markers of fertility in men who did not take fish oil supplements in the three months before they were surveyed with guys who had taken them — either fewer than 60 times or more than 60 times during those months. The researchers measured all the men’s reproductive hormone levels and semen samples to examine volume, total sperm count and sperm motility.
Both groups who took fish oil had greater semen production, sperm count, testicular size and enhanced testosterone production. And more was better: Those who took the most fish oil during those three months had twice the semen volume of those who took the supplement fewer than 60 days. Our recommendation: Take 900 mg omega-3 DHA supplement daily; ask your doctor first if you have any contraindications with medication or health conditions.
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.