Congenital Heart Disease

In 1 in 100 births, an infant is born with a defect or malformation of the heart, called congenital heart disease. This birth defect needs to be carefully monitored: Some cases require surgery, while others eventually heal on their own.

Doctors usually first pinpoint congenital heart disease by detecting a murmur, or an unusual sound, when listening to the heartbeat. Another screening, such as an echocardiogram, chest x-ray, or cardiac MRI scan, is used to make a diagnosis. But because some types of congenital heart disease don’t produce any symptoms, many cases go undetected until well into adulthood.

One of the most common types of congenital heart disease is a septal defect, or a hole in the partition between the right and left atria or ventricles of the heart. Other types of disorders are heart valve problems, such as mitral, tricuspid, pulmonic, or aortic stenosis. These occur when one of the valves narrows, blocking the flow of the blood into or through the heart, depriving the body or lungs of adequate bloodflow, and stressing the heart muscle. Yet another type of disorder is the transposition, or switching, of the aorta and the pulmonary artery, reducing the amount of oxygenated blood that reaches the tissues.

Experts aren’t sure what, exactly, leads to congenital heart defects, but research shows that newborns with genetic abnormalities, such as Down syndrome, are at increased risk. Babies are also more likely to have a heart defect when the mother takes certain prescription medications or abuse drugs or alcohol during early pregnancy or is affected by a viral infection, such as rubella, during the first trimester. Treatments for congenital heart disease, which depend on the type and severity of the defect, include prescription medications and surgical procedures. If left untreated, congenital heart disease can lead to hypertension, heart infections, and even heart failure.

1. In the 1970s, nearly one in three surgeries to repair congenital heart defects ended in death. But, thanks to medical advances, deaths have dropped to only 5 percent.

2. Heart defects that lead to oxygen deprivation in the blood re called cyanotic, a word derived from the Greek word for “blue”. When a heart defect shunts blood away from the lungs, oxygen deprivation in the blood can tint skin a blue color.

3. Babies with cyanotic heart disease used to be called blue babies.

Ginseng

Several types of plants are referred to as ginseng: Both American and Asian ginsengs belong to the genus Panax, while Siberian ginseng, or Eleutherococcus senticosus, is a different species in the same family. All three plants are regarded as adaptogens – substances that strengthen and normalize body functions, helping the body deal with stress.

Asian and American ginseng are both tan, gnarled roots, sometimes resembling a human body with stringy shoots that look like arms and legs – an appearance that hundreds of years ago, led herbalists to believe that ginseng could cure human ills. In fact, the Chinese view ginseng as the most powerful of all herbs. Both types of true ginseng contain active compounds called ginsenosides. (Siberian ginseng does not, and it was originally marketed in Russia as a cheaper alternative). Ginseng also contains peptides, B vitamins, flavonoids, and volatile oil. White ginseng (dried and peeled) and red ginseng (unpeeled and steamed before drying) are available in liquid extracts, powders, and capsules.

Ginseng may shorten the time that it takes people to recover from illness or surgery and may promote overall well-being. Preliminary research suggests that ginseng may also be helpful in speeding up metabolism and treating alcohol intoxication, slowing the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, treating or preventing cancer, lowering blood sugar levels in people with diabetes, and lowering “bad” cholesterol while raising “good” cholesterol levels. Some studies have shown that ginseng can both lower and raise blood pressure, so people with hypertension or heart disease should not try ginseng without a doctor’s supervision.

Ginseng is widely believed to enhance libido, and in animal studies, it increased sperm production and sexual activity. It is thought to make people feel more alert and able to concentrate or memorize things, especially when it’s taken in combination with ginkgo biloba. Ginseng has never been used to increase athletic performance, although study results in this area have been inconsistent.

Ginseng may cause nervousness or sleeplessness, anxiety, diarrhea, vomiting, nose-bleeds, and breast pain. To avoid low blood sugar, ginseng should be taken with food. It may act as a blood thinner and should be discontinued at least a week before surgery.

1. Ginseng should not be harvested for medicinal use until it reaches maturity – about 4 to 6 years.

2. More than 90 percent of the raw ginseng grown in the United States is harvested in Wisconsin.

3. Asian ginseng is almost extinct in its natural habitat but is still cultivated for medicinal use.

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Iron Supplements

Iron is essential to many proteins and enzymes your body uses to maintain good health. It is also necessary for the delivery of oxygen to your cells and the regulation of cell growth. For these reasons, iron supplements should be taken when diet alone does not restore iron to sufficient levels.

Iron supplements come in two forms: ferrous and ferric. Ferrous iron is preferred because it is better absorbed by the body. The quantity of iron absorbed by your body decreases with greater doses, so it’s better to take your supplements in two or three doses spread throughout the day.

Someone who is iron deficient may develop anemia and demonstrate fatigue and decreased immunity. Supplements are particularly important if an individual is displaying symptoms of anemia. If tests indicate that a woman’s level of serum ferritin – a protein that stores iron – is less than or equal to 15 micrograms per liter and she has a low red blood cell count, then she is anemic due to iron deficiency and needs iron supplements.

To treat iron deficiency anemia, it is recommended that adult women take 50 to 60 milligrams of oral elemental iron daily for 3 months. However, you should check with your doctor before taking any supplement. Iron supplements may cause side effects such as nausea, vomiting, constipation, diarrhea, dark-colored stools, and abdominal cramps.

Adult men and postmenopausal women should be careful about taking iron supplements, because iron deficiency is uncommon is these groups and they are at greater risk of iron overload, a condition in which too much iron collects in the blood and organs. This can potentially cause liver and heart problems, and even death in people with a genetic predisposition to hemochromatosis, a disease in which iron builds up in the body and causes damage to the internal organs. Additionally, people with blood disorders that necessitate frequent blood transfusions should not take iron supplements.

1. Iron deficiency is the most prominent nutritional disorder globally. Eighty percent of the world population may be iron deficient, and 30 percent may have iron deficiency anemia.

2. Pregnant women need approximately double the iron intake of women who are not pregnant. This is because of greater blood volume during pregnancy, the additional needs of the fetus, and blood loss that occurs during delivery.

DHA and Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The term healthy fat may sound too good to be true, but that’s exactly what docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and other omega-3 fatty acids are. They are monounsaturated, which means they are room temperature – think oil instead of butter. (The other healthy fats are polyunsaturated fats, such as olive oil).

DHA is a long-chain omega-3 that is naturally present in fatty fish such as mackerel, salmon, sardines, trout, and tuna. In the human body, DHA is found primarily in the brain and eyes, and it is important for development of these organs. Adults with the highest levels of DHA are up to 47 percent less likely to develop dementia than those with lower levels of the substance, according to studies, and the fatty acids also help the development of visual and cognitive abilities in infants.

Another type of long-chain omega-3, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), also has numerous health benefits. Together, DHA and EPA have been shown to lower the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol level, heart rate, and blood pressure and boost HDL (“good”) cholesterol. Studies show that about 500 milligrams a day of DHA and EPA – the amount you’d get from eating about 8 ounces of fatty fish a week – is enough to produce benefits in an adult.

The American Heart Association recommends that all adults eat fish at least twice a week. And for fetal and infant brain and tissue development, the European Commission advises that all pregnant and breastfeeding women consume an average of at least 200 milligrams of DHA a day. (Guidelines and expert recommendations in the United States have flip-flopped in recent years because of concerns over mercury poisoning during pregnancy. According to the Food and Drug Administration, pregnant women should not eat king mackerel, shark, swordfish, or tilefish and should limit albacore tuna to 6 ounces a week). For those who choose not to eat fish, both fish oil and algal oil supplements are good sources of DHA. Certain foods and beverages are also now available in omega-3 fortified versions.

1. A shorter-chain omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) is found in plant foods such as flaxseeds, walnuts, and canola oil. The human body can covert ALA into DHA in very small amounts, but it’s important to consume both kinds directly.

2. A 2008 study found that farmed tilapia, a popular fish in the United States, has low levels of omega-3s, and high levels of unhealthy omega-6 fatty acids because of inexpensive, unhealthy food the fish have been fed.

3. Breast milk contains DHA and is the preferred source for infant nutrition. Babies who are not breasted should receive a formula containing DHA and arachidonic acid, another healthy fat.

Bone Age

Most parents can imagine how a child will look as an adult, based on what traits run in their families. But there’s a true crystal ball when it comes to height: a bone age test. This simple screening, which reveals the maturity of a child’s skeletal system, can predict when a child will enter puberty, how tall the child will be as an adult, and how long it will take to reach that height. Doctors use bone ages to check for growth disorders and other problems that may interfere with development.

To asses bone age, doctors compare a single x-ray of a child’s left wrist and hand with a standard measure of bone development. The x-ray reveals softer, less mineral-packed areas called epiphyses, or growth plates. These areas are where bone cells reproduce and calcify, forming new bone. As a child ages, this zone becomes thinner; if the plate width, or bone age, is different from that of other children of the same age, that may suggest a growth problem.

A delayed bone age many indicate a genetic growth disorder, such as Turner’s syndrome, or a condition that affects growth hormones, such as hypothyroidism. Doctors also use bone age to treat orthopedic problems by measuring a child’s projected growth. On the other hand, an accelerated bone age may suggest precocious puberty, in which a child undergoes puberty at an early age, or it may indicate an overactive adrenal gland.

1. Bone age is also known as skeletal age.
2. Having a bone age that differs from one’s chronological age doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a growth problem. Children develop at different rates.

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Parkinson’s Disease

In his 2000 autobiography Lucky Man, the actor Michael J. Fox describes his battle with Parkinson’s disease (PD) as a “Jekyll-and-Hyde melodrama” that cycles between times when his medication is working and times when it’s not, when he is possessed by the symptoms of his condition: rigidity, shuffling, loss of balance, and difficulty communicating, among others.

In a healthy brain, the chemical dopamine regulates movement by sending the proper signals to your brain. So, when the cells responsible for dopamine production break down, the body has trouble moving the way it’s supposed to. Symptoms of PD usually begin at about age 50 and slowly worsen over many years.

The four main symptoms of the disease are trembling arms and legs (tremor), stiff muscles, slow movement (bradykinesia), and problems with balance. Tremor often begins first, in just one arm or leg. But in time, PD affects muscles throughout the body and can lead to problems such as constipation or difficulty swallowing. Some patients also show signs of dementia.

Aging and exposure to environmental toxins (such as herbicides and pesticides) seem to be risk factors for PD, and having one or more close relatives with the disease increases a person’s chances as well. But scientists have not been able to find any direct causes.

PD can’t be detected in the blood, and diagnosis is often based on a doctor’s physical exam. A medication called levodopa seems to relieve symptoms, so a doctor may prescribe it to see how a patient reacts in order to decide on a diagnosis.

Levodopa (also called L-dopa) and another drug, carbidopa, are often combined to help produce dopamine in the brain. Other types of medications, including dopamine agonists, may also be prescribed. PD drugs can have unpleasant side effects, however, including hallucinations, confusion, and even compulsive gambling. The medicines’ effectiveness can also peter out after a few years, so doctors often try to keep patients with mild symptoms off medication for as long as possible.

1. For patients who have unstable reactions to levodopa, a surgical treatment called deep brain stimulation may be used. Tiny electrical wires are placed in the brain and send signals to the areas that control movement.

2. Depression is common in people with PD and sometimes develops even before motor symptoms.

3. Unconscious movements such as blinking, smiling, and swinging the arms while walking may be diminished or lost in people with PD. Some people with PD develop a staring expression or no longer seem animated when they speak.