Strange Health Facts -- Explained

Why are yawns contagious?
Human beings mirror the behaviors of people they care about, and yawning falls into this category, speculate researchers. In a recent University of Pisa study, researchers observed more than 100 men and women yawning in front of strangers, acquaintances, friends and family. The infectious influence of yawning was twice as likely among friends, and three times as likely for family members as it was for strangers and acquaintances.

Why do teeth shift as we age?
Teeth are held in an arch form between the tongue, and lips and cheeks. “Your tongue pushes outward on your teeth, causing spacing, while your lips and cheeks push inward, causing crowding,” says Dr. Andrew Trosien, a private-practice orthodontist in Tracy, Calif. Over time, these pressures can change, shifting the equilibrium, and your teeth can start to feel excessive pressure from either the tongue or lips.

Generally speaking, a little bit of crowding or spacing is not a concern. Sometimes though, tooth movement can be a sign of gum disease or other problems. In addition, if the teeth shift into a bad alignment, they can wear down, chip or cause other functional issues. Make sure to ask your dentist if you’re concerned, and most orthodontists will offer a free consultation.

Can achy joints really give the weather forecast?
“Yes. This is something I hear from my patients on a regular basis,” says Dr. David Borenstein, who’s treated arthritis patients for more than 35 years in Washington, D.C. When bad weather is coming, the barometric pressure drops in the atmosphere, and it causes a fluid shift in all human bodies. It’s slight, and most of us don’t notice a change, says Borenstein, but in patients with joint injuries, damage or arthritis, the fluid can’t move through these joints as effortlessly, resulting in feelings of stiffness and pain.

Why do women have colder feet and hands than men? 
“Women conserve more heat around their core organs than men do, which means less heat makes it to a woman’s extremities,” says Borenstein. Since women are biologically geared to carry babies, it’s vital that their bodies keep their vital organs warm. So blood flow in women is designed to support the central part of the body, compared to the arms and legs.

At-home Spa Secrets

With all that seasonal spreading of cheer and giving of joy, who has the time -- or the bucks -- for a much-needed spa visit? Instead of crafting a missive to Santa, we’ve got three letters for you: DIY. “At-home beauty treatments are fun, frugal, and relaxing,” says Janice Cox, author of Natural Beauty at Home. “You probably have some great ingredients in your kitchen ready to go. All it takes is a little planning,” she says. Now get glowing.

Step No. 1: Set the Spa Stage

  • Reserve your home’s bathroom for a couple of off-peak hours when you can laze uninterrupted.
  • Plan your home spa treatments, select your ingredients and shop for anything you don’t already have. (See below for our favorite recipes.)
  • Invite a beauty buddy or two. “DIY spa treatments create real quality time between you and a friend or family member,” says Cox.

Step No. 2: Balms Away

  • Before your spa buddy arrives, light scented candles and make sure your spa area is warm.
  • Get into the spa mood with herbal tea and relaxing music. Don fluffy robes and slippers or comfy clothes like yoga wear.
  • Go slow with your treatments and enjoy the moment.

Step No. 3: Spa-la-la-la

  • These home spa treatments are easy, effective and all-natural. “Just be sure to do a patch-test first by dabbing on the inside of your elbow,” says Greta Breedlove, author of The Herbal Home Spa.

Janice Cox’s Divine DIY Facial

  1. Remove all makeup and wash your face.
  2. Exfoliate by gently rubbing your face with a paste of ground oatmeal mixed with milk.
  3. Apply a moisturizing, healing mask of good-quality honey -- local is best. Keep on for no more than 10 minutes, before rinsing thoroughly.
  4. With a towel over your head, steam your face over a bowl filled with hot, but not scalding, botanical tea. Chamomile is calming, green tea is healing, rose hips and hibiscus are balancing.
  5. Close pores with a rinse of cool water.
  6. Massage sweet almond oil or your favorite creamy facial moisturizer across your face and neck.

Janice Cox’s Sweet Silkening Body Scrub

  1. Mix 1/4 cup of olive or vegetable oil with 1 cup of granulated sugar. Optional add-ins: aromatherapy or essential oil; vitamin A, C or E oil; dried, pulverized rose petals.
  2. Cover your floor or sit on the edge of your tub.
  3. With your hands, a loofah or a washcloth, massage mixture onto skin. Use circular motions and light pressure to stimulate circulation.
  4. Rinse off in shower.
  5. Apply a generous amount of rich body lotion all over, starting at your toes.

Greta Breedlove’s Peppermint Treat
Holiday candy canes inspired this nourishing hand and foot treatment. “It’s more effective without nail polish on, so it makes a great prelude to a home mani/pedi,” says Breedlove. This recipe is for ten fingers and toes:

  1. Make a paste of 2 tablespoons each of ground almonds, ground oatmeal and honey. Add two egg yolks and 6 drops of peppermint oil. Blend with a whisk.
  2. Slather mixture onto hands and feet.
  3. Cover with clean old socks.
  4. Wear at least 20 minutes before rinsing.

Get Healthy at Home, Virtually

Want to see your doctor, therapist or dentist in the comfort and privacy of your own home? Thanks to telemedicine it’s possible. From video chat sessions to personal phone consultations, doctors, therapists and even dentists are giving new meaning to the words house calls.

The best part about it: costs are often covered by health insurance. If the patient doesn’t have insurance, fees are minimal; whereas some companies charge a monthly fee of less than $40; others charge a consult fee, which is usually under $50.

Have a consult with your doc

At AmeriDoc, a leading telemedicine company, a patient signs up to become a member, and then calls to speak with a representative from the company. The representative asks numerous questions about the patients’ health and symptoms. An assigned doctor will then call the patient within a three-hour window. “We can schedule video chats for our members with doctors or set up phone consultations,” says Stephanie Manley, executive vice president of Operations for AmeriDoc. “Usually our patients prefer phone consultations. The doctor spends as much time as possible with the patient on the phone, and calls that patient’s pharmacy if prescriptions are needed.”

Perk up your mental health

Dr. Rebecca Gladding of Strategic Planning and Psychiatrist at Health Link Now, a major telemedicine service, sees patients online and over the phone. “Our patients come from all over the country,” she says. “They are people who are looking for medication management, therapy or both. They have a wide range of diagnoses or reasons they are seeking out help. In addition to treating anxiety, depression, bipolar or other mental health needs, we focus on improving wellness, helping people manage and cope with chronic medical conditions, and complete consultations for patients wanting to undergo weight loss surgery or receive a transplant.”

Join a weight loss clinic

Some people lose weight better when they are part of a group. At BMIQ, weight loss management is geared toward people who have a high body mass index (BMI), which is associated with medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, or heart disease.

BMIQ offers 8- and 16-week programs with registered dieticians. “The cost of our programs is less than $20 a week,” says Laura Cipullo, who is one of BMIQ’s registered dieticians and who has her own private practice in New York City.

Each online meeting is 45 minutes; patients get to ask questions, and between meetings patients can email questions to their registered dietician.

“The online live class teaches patients what and how to eat healthy while providing the support you need to make those changes,” says Cipullo.

Get a teeth checkup at home

Even the American Dental Association’s (ADA) Council of Dental Practice will discuss creating standards and guidelines for teledentistry when it meets later this month. According to the ADA, The University of Nebraska began a teledentistry project in 2003, while the Division of Dentistry at Children’s Hospital in Los Angeles and the University of Minnesota offers teledentistry to their patients.

The Pacific Center for Special Care at the University of the Pacific, Arthur A. Dugoni School of Dentistry in California offers a virtual dental practice for school-age children in low-income areas. Most of these students have a higher rate of not going to dentists than students from more affluent neighborhoods. For that reason, it makes sense to bring the dental care to them.  

Dental technicians go into those communities, take X-rays and photos of the students’ teeth, and share that information and photos with dentists. After a dentist looks at those uploaded records, they can determine who needs to come into their offices for treatment.

Making health convenient

For people who skip out on doctor or dentist visits, because they can’t spare the time, telemedicine options can help make health a priority. “The major advantages are that people can receive care at home or in their office, wherever it is convenient for them,” says Gladding. “They just need access to high-speed Internet, a webcam and a computer or mobile device.”

While a lot can be done over the phone or via computer, it isn’t a cure-all. Doctors and dentists will ask patients to come into their offices for blood work or if their findings show something critical that needs to be treated in person.

Get Your Folic Acid Fix

Most of us know the prenatal perks of folic acid: Taking this B vitamin during early pregnancy helps prevent serious brain and spinal cord defects in developing babies.

However, new research suggests that it may help prevent autism, too. According to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, women who take folic acid, or folate, before and during their pregnancy are 40 percent less likely to have an autistic baby.

Even if you’re not in baby-making mode, that’s no reason to forego folic acid. Vitamin B9, as it’s also known, prevents birth defects only when taken at least a month before getting pregnant and during the first few weeks of pregnancy (before a woman usually knows she’s pregnant). Because nearly half of all pregnancies are unplanned, it's important that all women get their folic acid fix -- even if they’re not planning on expanding their family any time soon.

Besides the bonuses it can provide a baby, folic acid does your body good, too. You need it to produce red blood cells, prevent anemia and keep your DNA (the building blocks of your cells) functioning properly.

Only about 25 percent of women get the recommended amount of 400 mcg of folic acid a day. Telltale signs that you might not be getting enough: gray hair, mouth sores, gingivitis and fatigue.

Here’s how to get the recommended daily allowance.

Supplement your diet

Women who are pregnant or trying to become pregnant require 600 mcg of folic acid a day. Everyone else needs 400 mcg. The easiest and most surefire way to get your daily dose of folic acid: take a multivitamin, says registered dietitian Sarah Krieger MPH, RD, LD/N, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “I tell any girl or woman who has the chance of becoming pregnant to take a regular multivitamin,” she says. If you have a hard time remembering your pills, try taking them at the same time every day, like when you’re brushing your teeth.

Do it with food

If you’re not the vitamin-taking type, you may be able to get the folic acid you need by eating a healthy, well-balanced diet. However, cautions Krieger, because the body doesn’t store folic acid, it’s one of those vitamins that needs to be replenished daily.

According to Krieger, many brands of breakfast cereal are fortified with folic acid. Many healthy cereals offer 100 percent of your daily folic acid needs. Enriched flour, bread, and pasta products may also contain folic acid; check the nutrition labels to be sure.

You can also get your folic acid fix by eating plenty of fruit, vegetables, whole grains and legumes. Some of the best sources include leafy greens like spinach and romaine lettuce; legumes, like beans, lentils and peanuts; asparagus; broccoli; liver; orange juice and tomato juice.

Here’s an example of what one day’s worth of folate (400 mcg) looks like:

  • Half a cup of cooked spinach (33%) or half a cup of black beans (32%)
  • One cup of orange juice (11%) or one ounce of dry-roasted peanuts (10%)
  • Half a cup of cooked asparagus (17%) or half a cup of chopped broccoli, cooked (20%)
  • One serving of romaine lettuce (29%) or one-quarter cup of hummus (26%)
  • One cup of diced cantaloupe (8%) or one small orange (7%)
If these foods don’t tempt you, create your own folate-rich diet plan. To do so, Krieger recommends using the SuperTracker tool at choosemyplate.gov.

Take a Stand Against Sitting

If you spend all day glued to your office chair like most U.S. workers do, your job could be taking a serious toll on your health. The reason: Too much desk time -- or other sedentary pursuits -- can steal years from your life, even if you log hours on the treadmill.

The amount of time spent sitting or lying down is strongly connected to your risk of heart disease, cancer, obesity, diabetes and even an early death. According to a study in the American Journal of Epidemiology, women who sat for more than six hours a day had a 37 percent greater risk of premature death, compared with those who sat for three, regardless of their weight or workout habits.

“We don't know how much total sitting time per day is too much. However, our research is currently trying to understand how much sitting at one time is too much,” says Genevieve Healy, Ph.D., senior research fellow at the University of Queensland, Australia. Turns out, it’s the prolonged, uninterrupted bouts of sitting still that seem to be the most dangerous. When muscles stop moving, your metabolism slows down, your body stops burning fat and starts to store it, and triglyceride and blood sugar levels rise -- which could clog arteries, says Healy. 

So what can those of us who spend half our waking hours attached to our desks, steering wheels and sofas do to reverse this march toward poor health? 

Exercise Often
First off, says Healy, don’t give up on exercise. Just as a big salad can’t undo a day’s worth of unhealthy eating, a 30-minute run can’t counteract the damage from sitting all day. But it can help. “The most healthy are those who sit least and exercise most; the least healthy are those that sit most and exercise least," says Healy. So the message is to exercise but to also think of your physical activity throughout the day -- stand up, sit less, move more and more often.

Stand Up More
Secondly, stand up at least every 30 minutes, says Healy. You don’t have to do jumping jacks or run around the block. Simply get up, stretch and walk around to activate your muscles.

Be a Clock Watcher
If you get lost in your work, set a timer to remind you to take breaks every 20 to 30 minutes. Download a free timer app, like SnapTimer, on your desktop to use as an instant alarm clock.

Practice Good Hydration
Drink plenty of water. This habit forces you to get up at least once an hour to use the bathroom or refill your water bottle.

Take a Stand
If it’s not bothersome to your co-workers, stand up when you take phone calls or file papers. You can also clean and straighten up your desk at the end of each day while standing.

Track Your Every Move
Wear a pedometer. Clipping on a step counter or activity monitor can clue you in to how much you move each day. Wear it for a week to determine how much you usually move; then, set a goal to increase your distance by 10 percent each week.

Tune In, Tone Up
When watching TV, don’t fast-forward through commercials. Use that time to do a small workout or complete quick household chores, like vacuuming or dusting the living room. If your TV time is more than an hour or two per day, think about installing a treadmill or stationary bike and exercising at the same time. Setting your cardio machine to the slowest speed is always better than doing nothing.