On Swimming
Published on May 15, 2012 by Sara Foss

As a swimmer, I enjoyed this New York Times piece on the joys and health benefits of swimming.

Licorice Can Fight Diabetes, Maybe
Published on May 9, 2012 by Sara Foss

I don't have diabetes, but if I did, I'd be very excited by the news that licorice root contains substances with an "anti-diabetic effect." Why? Because I love licorice, that's why.

According to an item at The Atlantic:

"The licorice root has been used as a traditional healer since ancient times. Certain forms of licorice root have already been shown to calm the digestive system and ameliorate respiratory ailments in humans. Because of its beneficial effects, the licorice root has been dubbed the 'Medicinal plant of 2012.'

Now scientists have discovered that licorice root from the papilionaceae or leguminous family might also be effective in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. This form of diabetes affects humans who are usually overweight or obese, causing the body becoming resistant to insulin. So far, treatments for type 2 diabetes have been developed but none of them halt disease progression. Many clinicians believe that the best treatment for type 2 diabetes is to prevent it before it starts."

Click here to learn more.

Why Don't People Walk?
Published on April 10, 2012 by Sara Foss

I started walking for exercise when I lived in Birmingham. My friend Adam was really into walking, and we got into the habit of taking long walks. And since I hate running, walking has always seemed like a good exercise alternative. Sure, walking doesn't offer as intensive a workout as running, but it's a healthy habit that will burn some calories and help you stay in shape.

Unless you live in New York City, you can pretty much drive everywhere. In some ways, this is a shame, because it means people never walk anywhere. I try to walk 30-40 minutes a day, and to use my car as little as possible for getting around town. But this takes some effort. Driving is often easier and quicker, and since everyone drives everywhere, it comes pretty naturally. It's a 10 minute walk to my hairdresser's, but she's always amazed that I would bother walking up the hill to her shop. That's the attitude most people have about walking.

Anyway, Slate is doing a series on what it calls the crisis in American walking, in the hopes of addressing the fundamental question of why Americans don't walk more. The first part is here. Hopefully someone will read it and decide to take more walks as a result.



Cheap Eyeglasses
Published on March 15, 2012 by Sara Foss

If you're like me, and have less than optimal vision, you're probably irritated by 1. the crappy vision coverage provided (or not) by your HMO and 2. the cost of eyeglasses and contact lenses.

For reasons I don't fully understand, our health care system treats eyes as a luxury, as if people only wear glasses and contacts solely for reasons of fashion, rather than to see.

In any case, I always appreciate an article about efforts to make eye care cheaper, and GOOD magazine has a piece on two organizations that are bringing affordable glasses to people who can't afford huge markups. It pairs well with this 2010 Alternet piece by Anneli Rufus about cheap eyewear alternatives.

Rufus writes:

"Perhaps because prescription glasses are where medicine meets fashion, they're among the world's most overpriced merchandise. Imperfect eyesight isn't your fault: You can't make yourself nearsighted by eating too much fudge. Yet if your health plan excludes vision care, you've spent years at the mercy of a $64 billion industry characterized by 500-percent markups.

This has begun to change over the last few years. A knowledge-is-power, power-to-the-people, Web-driven DIY wave is rocking the optical industry's very foundations. Dozens of companies now sell prescription glasses online, frames and lenses included, for as little as $7.95."

After reading Rufus' article, I vowed never to pay several hundred hundred dollars for glasses again. The pair I own actually cost about $250, and I've had it for about five years, but I see no reason to pay that much money for something that should be much, much cheaper. I don't see why anybody else should, either.

Do We Really Need Eight Hours of Sleep?
Published on March 8, 2012 by Sara Foss

I've always heard that we need eight hours sleep a night. But recently I've been seeing articles suggesting that we might not. This piece, on Alternet, suggests that our understanding of sleep is all wrong. The author, Lynn Parramore, writes: 

"Pursuing the truth about sleep means winding your way through a labyrinth of science, consumerism and myth. Researchers have had barely a clue about what constitutes 'normal' sleep. Is it total time spent sleeping? A certain amount of time in a particular phase? The pharmaceutical industry recommends that we drug ourselves through the night, which, it turns out, doesn’t even work. The average time spent sleeping increases by only a few minutes with the use of prescription sleep aids. And -- surprise! -- doctors have just linked sleeping pills to cancer.  We have memory foam mattresses, sleep clinics, hotel pillow concierges, and countless others strategies to put us to bed. And yet we complain about sleep more than ever."

She goes on to explain that, until recently, humans slept in two stages - often four hour chunks.

This squares with something I remember hearing in college, that we sleep in four increments. And on nights when I had a lot of work to do, I often aimed for four hours of sleep, because it seemed like an amount that corresponded with the natural rhythms of my body.

Anyway, sleep is important, and people need to do more of it. If research can help people learn how to sleep better, we should pay attention to it.

Welcome to Cancerland
Published on February 2, 2012 by Sara Foss

The Susan G. Komen-Planned Parenthood controversy makes this 2001 Barbara Ehrenreich essay a particularly potent read.

The Sane Society
Published on November 17, 2011 by Sara Foss

I have a number of friends with mental health issues, and you'll never hear me suggest that the mental health system is without merit. Treatment and medication can really help people.

But I do sometimes wonder whether our approach to mental health issues is really as good as it could be. And I worry that perfectly normal emotions are being treated as mental health problems, because of the persistent myth we have in this country that people should always be happy.

I'm not the only one asking these types of questions.

In a piece on Slate, KJ Dell'Antonia responds to a recent report suggesting that one out of every woman has a prescription for some form of mental health medication, saying, "'Normal,' whatever that is, can't possibly be a state that 25 percent of women can only reach with the assistance of a prescription. ... One in four suggests that either women, or our doctors, are being sold on an ideal of mental health that's unrealistic. We don't need more prescriptions. We need to revisit what ordinary, erratic, imperfect mental health means."