A HEART STOPS – A FRIEND DIES

 

Taking Control of Your Health

You know the feeling – the sinking, shocking feeling –  when you hear the news a good friend has just died of a heart attack. In disbelief, you think – it can’t be. She/he was so young – maybe even a year or two younger than you. Then you begin to consider all the issues that might have contributed: he did smoke; she had a stressful job; she was overweight. All of these are risk factors that lead to coronary heart disease and sudden cardiac deaths.

Do you have stress in your life? Is your blood pressure under control? Are you overweight? Do you exercise regularly? Do you know your numbers – your blood pressure, cholesterol and triglyceride numbers? You need to know them.

Don’t let a heart attack happen to you. Learn to recognize the symptoms. Learn what you can do to prevent and reverse heart disease. Take control of your life.

Many sudden death heart attacks are preventable; heart disease is preventable. With proper interventions, arterial narrowing in heart arteries can be reversed.

Lipstick Logic is about to publish an up-to-date book on the links to cardiovascular disease and what you can do, right now–today–to start changing your habits and improve your chances of living longer and healthier.

This book called, Your Heart, will provide you with a complete and thorough understanding of how your heart works and what it needs to work well —and what causes it to malfunction. If you take the time to learn this critical information now, you could make changes that will save your life.

Your heart is the only muscle in your body that never stops working, until it stops, dead.

You have the ability to make important choices in your diet, your lifestyle and exercise regimen right now to decrease your risk of progressive artery narrowing. The book details how your food choices can clog your arteries and cause a stroke or heart attack. Don’t wait until a heart attack to make changes – learn what you can do now to prolong your life.

Just as it is for men, heart attacks are the number one killer of women. More woman die annually of heart attacks than breast cancer.

With Your Heart, you’ll have an opportunity to read a comprehensive heart book written for women by Betty Kuffel, MD, a doctor of Internal Medicine. Dr. Kuffel has spent much of her professional life in emergency departments where she saw far too many women arrive by ambulance in cardiac arrest.  Many times these women had not recognized their heart symptoms and had not consulted a physician. Had they known what this book can teach you, they might be alive today.  Although the book was written with women in mind, except for some heart diseases specific to females, most of the information also pertains to men.

With years of medical education, experience treating both men and women, studying and staying current on heart research and interventions, Dr. Kuffel is the ideal, highly qualified person to share this information. And importantly, she has dedicated her professional life to helping women improve their health.

Your Heart will become your “go-to” book for everything you want to know about your what makes your heart work well and what you can do to improve heart function to extend your life. This book includes the unique aspects of heart disease in women. Goals for blood pressure, cholesterol levels, food choices, exercise, and what you need to discuss with your doctor are all specified in this book.

Watch for blog up-dates and publication date of YOUR HEART.

Bev Erickson, Lipstick Logic Co-founder

VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN ACT

Yesterday, congress finally renewed the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

 

Domestic Violence

When it first passed in 1996, the landmark federal legislation Violence Against Women Act recognized the severity of domestic violence and improved the criminal justice response to violent acts against women.

Following the enactment, numerous states adopted new laws addressing partner violence, sexual violence and stalking. Through VAWA there is federal funding to support rape crisis centers and more women have been willing to report sexual assault. Services under VAWA also include provisions for children and teenagers.

When Congress passed the Violence Against Women and the Department of Justice Reauthorization Act of 2005 it authorized appropriations through 2009 to cover many programs for victims. Some of these are: legal assistance, a court-appointed advocate program and crime victim support. A few of the many other components are: sex offender management, a stalker database, and making cyberstalking a crime. In the 2005 vote there were only four “no” votes. Yesterday, the bill passed 286-138 with 87 Republicans voting in favor. After many delays, President Obama will now be able to sign this important bill into law, including provisions that expired in 2011 due to failure of Congress to act.

Constituents, especially constituent women of the 138 Republicans who voted no -against this essential legislation, should demand answers. Why are your elected officials not supporting important legislation affecting women in every state? And –  why did Ruben Hinojosa, Texas Democratic and “hard core liberal” with two daughters, fail to vote on this important legislation?

Domestic violence is an underreported reported crime. Violence in a household affects everyone living in the home. The abuser often uses children and pets as weapons. The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence reports 30-60% of perpetrators in partner violence also abuse children. As most people know, male children witnessing domestic violence are more likely to abuse their own children and partners when they become adults.

To understand the meaning of domestic violence we must look at definitions. Many women know they are in bad relationships and do not know how to escape. They are ill-prepared to deal with the crisis—when love turns violent. Violent doesn’t necessarily mean physical harm. Violence comes in many forms. Read the definition below carefully.

Definition of Domestic Violence:

  • A pattern of abusive behavior that is used by an intimate partner to gain or maintain power and control over the other intimate partner
  • Physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats of actions that influence another person
  • Any behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, or wound someone.

Source: United States Department of Justice  http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/areas-focus.html

Based on information from the Violence Against Women Survey from the National Institute of Justice and the Centers or Disease Control and Prevention, it is estimated that over a lifetime, one in four women will experience domestic violence. If you are aware of anyone in an abusive relationship, it is important to intervene. Approximately 1/3 of female homicide victims are killed by an intimate partner.

All states have passed laws making stalking a crime and changed laws that treated date or spousal rape as a lesser crime than stranger rape.

Definition of Sexual Assault:

  • Any type of sexual contact or behavior that occurs by force or without consent of the recipient of the unwanted sexual activity.
  •  Falling under the definition of sexual assault is sexual activity such as forced sexual intercourse, forcible sodomy, child molestation, incest, fondling, and attempted rape.
  • It includes sexual acts against people who are unable to consent either due to age or lack of capacity.

Source: United States Department of Justice   http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/areas-focus.html

Definition of Stalking:

  • Stalking can be defined as a pattern of repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other course of conduct directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear.

Source: United States Department of Justice   http://www.ovw.usdoj.gov/areas-focus.html

National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)
1-800-787-3224 (TTY)
Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network (RAINN) 1-800-656-HOPE (4673)
National Teen Dating Abuse Helpline 1-866-331-9474
1-866-331-8453 (TTY)

http://www.thehotline.org/get-educated/violence-against-women-act-vawa/

Statistics from the www.whitehouse.gov site note a 67% decline in the rate of intimate partner violence up to 2010, but domestic violence is pervasive. Safe houses are becoming more available for women fleeing violent relationships. Please call the above phone numbers for assistance and advice. VAWA is an important law with provisions for victims without discrimination and programs to improve the handling of domestic violence against women and children.

WOMEN’S HEART HEALTH

Did you remember to wear red today?


The American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women program to raise awareness for heart health in women began ten years ago. Even though 21% fewer women die from heart disease than before the program began, heart disease is still the number one killer of women. More women have become educated about heart disease and have taken action.

Lipstick Logic LLP was created with women’s health in mind and a goal to promote factual health information for women of all ages. Along with our blog and presentations, February is a big month for Lipstick Logic. We will launch the first book in the Women’s Health Series, Volume I, Your Heart to be followed soon by Volume II which addresses obesity and related conditions including Type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome and how to combat excess weight. We will announce the release of Volume I in coming weeks.

In the meantime, consider the following behaviors found to correlate with reduced heart disease and cardiac deaths. From a study reported last year from the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania, only 0.2% of patients met all the criteria.

In 2010, the American Heart Association targeted the following positive behaviors. In the Perlman study, over eleven years, those who met 3 to 4 of the steps to better health, benefited by a 55% reduction in cardiovascular health as compared to those who met two or less steps.

Steps to better health based on the above study recommendations:LL - Your Heart Book Cover-5

Four Core Behaviors:

  • Stop Smoking
  • Maintain normal weight
  • Exercise frequently
  • Eat healthy food choices (foods low in fat, sugar and carbs)

In addition, meet at least two of the following:

  • Cholesterol below 200mg/dL
  • Blood pressure lower than 120/80
  • No diabetes
  • No heart disease

Start now! Don’t wait until you have a heart attack!

ARE COFFEE AND TEA HEALTHY?

 

HEALTHY CHOICES

If you are a confirmed coffee drinker like I am, it may be hard to convince you to buy a few green tea bags and join tea drinkers around the world. Below is an excerpt from our first volume of Lipstick Logic Health Series which will become an e-book available in February. As I am sure you know, heart disease in women is different in some aspects and can be more difficult to diagnose.

Volume One, Your Heart, covers the latest information on heart disease, interventions and lifestyle changes to improve health.

February is not only Valentines day, the first Friday, February 1st, is also the annual Go Red For Women Heart Association alert to educate yourself and live healthier and longer. If you would like to know when the book becomes available, please sign onto our website readership.

Coffee

Coffee is good for you, but like everything else you do, use moderation. Numerous studies show a reduction in Type II diabetes in those who drink either caffeinated or decaffeinated coffee. In one study of about 193,000 people, those who drank 6-7 cups a day were 35% less likely to develop Type II diabetes than those who drank less than two cups a day. Even drinking 4-6 cups per day lowers the risk.

Freshly brewed coffee contains antioxidants. Minerals including magnesium and chromium in coffee are involved in insulin function. Lowering risk for diabetes reduces the risks for both heart attack and stroke.

One would think the stimulant effect of coffee would be detrimental because caffeine can stimulate epinephrine and raise blood pressure. Studies show an actual reduction in heart rhythm disturbances.

Two studies showing favorable effects from coffee consumption are the long-term study on 83,700 nurses enrolled in the Nurses’ Health Study which showed a 20% lower risk of stroke in those who drank 2 or more cups per day over non-coffee drinkers. In another study on 130,000 people who drank 1-3 cups per day, they were 20% less likely to be hospitalized for heart rhythm issues than nondrinkers.

In addition to the above benefits, there are clear links to decreased risk of Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s dementia in coffee drinkers.

The downside is the things you add to coffee. Plain black coffee has fewer than ten calories. Add a teaspoon of sugar and you have added 23 calories. Adding half and half or liquid non-dairy creamer increases the calorie content by 50. Check the calories of what you add and see if you want to spend daily calories that way or learn to drink it black. Some coffee specialty drinks contain as much as 500 calories, a meal in itself. Also, if you are having daily barista coffee drinks, these hidden calories can jeopardize weight control goals and are expensive. Second only to crude oil, coffee is big business.

If you look around, may find a “new” coffee drink to interest you-tea made from coffee plant leaves. This drink was popular for a while in the 1800s but didn’t catch on in England. A recent article in the Canberra Times reports an Annals of Botany publication stated “Coffea arabica leaves have higher levels of antioxidants, which is thought to be beneficial in combating heart disease, diabetes and even cancer, than tea or coffee.” Coffee plant leaf tea is currently available in some health food stores.

Green Tea

Benefits of drinking green tea have been touted your years. Does this mean a confirmed coffee drinker should acquire a taste for tea? Maybe. It sounds bland, uninteresting and if it is calorie-free, how good can it be?

Green tea contains micronutrients called catchins. These are antioxidants which scavenge the free radicals we want gone. An animal study at McGill University in Montreal on one component of the catchins found it effective in treating prostate tumors. Human studies are hopeful. In the lab, the green tea substance inhibits cancer growth and kills abnormal cells. In a study involving 500 Japanese women with breast cancer, those who drank increased amounts of tea before and after surgery had lower cancer recurrence. Another cancer that may be suppressed is lung cancer. Twenty-two studies analyzed showed drinking two cups of green tea (not black) resulted in an 18% decreased in developing lung cancer. If you are already a tea drinker, but it isn’t green, give it a try.

Another healthy aspect of green tea and others from the Carnellia sinensis plant (Black and Oolong) is the content of bronchodilators. If you know someone with asthma, you’ll know what we mean. Theophylline and theobromine in tea both act on the lungs by relaxing tight airways allowing better airflow. Tea can help calm cough in mild lung conditions.

Some studies show green tea aids weight loss, reduces LDL cholesterol, lowers blood pressure and relaxes blood vessels improving heart health.

If all these positive aspects of tea haven’t convinced you to drink a couple of cups a day, maybe this will: Green tea suppresses bacteria in the mouth and GI tract and may not only combat tooth decay, it might help infectious diarrhea. Because of its medicinal effects, lotions, bath salts and even a prescripted green tea ointment clears warts!

I’ll drink to that!

Betty Kuffel, MD

Influenza Protection

Importance of Influenza Immunization

Have you had your seasonal flu immunization? If not, you are increasing your risk and risk to those around you to a serious, sometimes fatal, preventable highly infectious disease. Don’t let the flu spoil winter fun.

From national news, we see this year’s flu season is taking a terrible toll. It is especially severe in young children and older people with chronic health conditions. Those with increased risk are diabetics, those with lung conditions, reduced immunity and the very young and old. Highest hospitalization rate is for young children. Numerous respiratory deaths have been reported this year.  Data collected at the CDC show that 90% of deaths from influenza occur in people over the age of 65.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that anyone who has not already received an influenza immunization for this year’s viral strain should be immunized immediately. It takes two weeks for the body to generate antibody protection. Many children are not currently  immunized. The Journal of Pediatrics recommends immunization for children over the age of six months.

Pregnant women are particularly vulnerable. They may develop severe illness so immunization of pregnant women is extremely important. It has also shown a reduction in the newborn’s influenza risk for up to six months following birth.

Influenza vaccine is considered safe based on use statistics over 50 years with hundreds of millions of people. Many parents have been concerned about the risks of thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative used in multi-dose vials. It has been used for 70 to prevent growth of contaminating germs in a drug bottles.

The CDC reports: “Since 2001, no new vaccine licensed by FDA for use in children has contained thimerosal as a preservative, and all vaccines routinely recommended by CDC for children younger than 6 years of age have been thimerosal-free, or contain only trace amounts of thimerosal, except for multi-dose formulations of influenza vaccine. The most recent and rigorous scientific research does not support the argument that thimerosal-containing vaccines are harmful.”

There are numerous studies that show no association between thimerosal and autism.

If you are still concerned and avoid the immunization based on thimerosal concerns, there are two options for influenza immunization that are thimerosal-free:

Single Dose Vials and Nasal Spray Vaccine

The vaccine protects against flu viruses likely to be most virulent in the coming season. If you have not been immunized and suddenly become ill, a nasal swab can confirm the diagnosis. Antiviral drugs shorten the course but may have significant side effects. Prevention is the goal.

Influenza has spread throughout much of the US already. By the end of December 2012, eighteen pediatric deaths occurred and 16,000 people had developed the disease. Spread is rampant, filling Emergency departments and hospitals.

About 50 million people around the world died in the influenza epidemic that swept the world in 1918. Within months, it had killed more people than any other illness in recorded history. We now have excellent prevention and treatment methods that reduce risk and save lives if you use them. Live better through science. Act now.

To reduce your risks: Most important of all, immunize. Avoid crowds and anyone ill. Wash hands and use alcohol wipes liberally. Use gloves or sleeves to open doors. Avoid shaking hands. Don’t touch your face or nose. Wash your hands with soap after blowing your nose. Avoid visiting hospitals and nursing homes. Keep your child home from school if ill to prevent spread to others. Cover your mouth with coughing and sneezing; cough into your underarm as children are taught.

For more detailed information see:

http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2012-2013.htm or review a previous Lipstick Logic article at: www.lipsticklogic.com. “Learning About Viruses” Sept. 30, 2012.

Betty Kuffel, MD

CUTTING HOLIDAY CALORIES LOGICALLY

Calories in/Calories out

Each pound of body weight equals 3500 kcal (calories). To gain a pound, you simply eat 3500 calories more than you burn. To lose a pound, it’s the opposite and much more difficult to accomplish—you must eat less or burn more, to equal a deficit of 3500 calories.

For example, if you eat one banana per day (100 calories) more than you have burned, in one week you will have stored 700 extra calories. That makes 2800 calories in a month and in one year, about ten pounds of excess weight. One hundred calories doesn’t seem like much, but it adds up. It is just: one tablespoon of butter, a slice of bread (with a teaspoon of butter), an apple. It’s in the numbers.

If you are in the habit of eating ice cream at bedtime, one scoop contains about 400 calories. That adds up even faster. If you eat a scoop of ice cream even three nights a week without earning it by exercising 400 calories, in a year, you will be fifteen pounds heavier. But do you only eat one scoop, or do you eat more and with chocolate syrup?

So, what do you have to do to earn a 400 calorie treat? A 120 pound person jumping rope burns about 9 calories per minute. That means you have to jump rope for 43 minutes. Not many of us will do that even for ice cream. Hiking for 1.5 hours, the same weight person would burn off 400 calories. Or just walk 4 miles per day and you have earned your 400 calorie snack and won’t gain weight.

Losing weight is more difficult than quitting smoking because you must make thoughtful food choices everyday, many times a day, for life. Quitting smoking is quitting, no more choices. You don’t need tobacco to live but you do need food.

Motivation to lose weight must come from within. It takes dedication and a change in eating patterns.  It is life-changing and you can do it!  To be successful, some people need to change friends. Friends who tempt you with high calorie meals and don’t assist you in your plan are not friends. They are like people who offer liquor to alcoholics who have quit drinking.

There are no excuses. Being overweight and unhealthy is not purely genetic. It is about fifty percent environmental. Yes, body type such as the “apple shape,” those with a round belly and skinny legs, are familial and at high risk for heart disease and diabetes. But weight control, food choices and exercise, are healthy choices that can change all that. Identical twin studies show the twin adopted into a family of healthy-eating exercisers attains a thin body shape. The twin adopted into a family of snackers who are couch potatoes ends up overweight like the adoptive family.

Unfortunately, there is no magic to weight loss. Effective weight control or weight loss plans all include exercise. Exercise increases metabolism, improves fitness, burns calories, decreases depression, prolongs life—and it goes on and on. Try to make exercise a part of your day and your healthy weight plan. If you walk for thirty minutes, climb stairs for fifteen minutes or do general housework for twenty-five minutes, you will burn one hundred calories.

Eliminating excess fat intake is the easiest way to cut calories. You would hardly miss a tablespoon of butter that contains one hundred calories. One tablespoon of oil is found in many creamy salad dressings, mayo and most gravy. Envision how much a tablespoon contains. It is a small amount, much less than the usual ladle commonly used to serve salad dressing. You can still use salad dressing; just don’t sabotage your plan. Or better yet, use low-calorie vinegar dressing instead.

Weight Watchers teaches people how to eat.  Healthy food choices become a part of every meal. They use a point system instead of calorie counting to make it simple and with this method you will learn how to eat. If you are not inclined to attend meetings you can join online or find a friend who has similar interests, learn to count calories, eat healthy and walk every day. If you have trouble walking, find an activity such as stationary bicycling or swimming that you and your physician believe is safe for you.

Set a goal. If you lose one pound a week, that is 52 pounds in a year. If you are significantly overweight and would like to lose that much, it is best to do it gradually with healthy choices and exercise. That way you are much more likely to keep it off and improve your health for life. The Mediterranean diet which consists primarily of fresh fruits, vegetables, nuts, and lean meat and fish, provides easy healthful food choices. You omit fried foods, caloric pastries and use mono-unsaturated fats such as olive oil sparingly.

Some holiday thoughts regarding food choices:

  • Serve healthy low-calorie food options to your family and guests.
  • Keep candy and sweets out of view. Lower temptations to snack.
  • Don’t buy unhealthy snacks. Consider chips poison due to calories, fat and excess salt content.
  • Keep apples in view. It is a low calorie healthful snack.
  • Forget pies and ice cream. A slice of pie is about 400 calories a slice.
  • Go very light on pasta, gravies, creamy salad dressings, mayo and nuts.

Overview of a few calorie counts on common food choices:

  • 1 cup of oil roasted peanuts~900 calories
  • 20 almonds~150 calories
  • 1 cup plain pasta or 1 cup white rice or 1 cup mashed potatoes~ 220 calories
  • 2 slices white meat turkey~45 calories
  • 3 slices cooked bacon, fat drained~100 calories
  • 1 boiled egg~ 80 calories
  • 1 egg white~ 15 calories
  • 1 slice bread~70 calories
  • 1 peanut butter/butter/2 slices of bread sandwich~400 calories
  • 1 cup cooked green beans~45 calories
  • 1 medium apple~ 90 calories

Check out www.WebMD.com (Living Healthy) for some heart healthy recipes, and www.Realage.com (and take the RealAge Test).

Make 2013 a healthier year for you and your family. In this chaotic world, there are many things out of our control, but inside your world, examine what you can control. Small changes in the right direction can make a huge difference in your health.

WHY ARE YOU TAKING PROBIOTICS??

 

Probiotics: “Not a Cure-All”

Probiotics are considered “good bacteria.” They are available in supplements and foods as a form of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM). Many ongoing studies are examining the usefulness of probiotics to determine if, in fact, there is any reason to consume them to treat certain ailments.

Believing they are making sound health choices Americans spend billions of dollars on CAM, when instead, they are often taking supplements without any proven value and may actually be harmful.

One day, we may all take probiotics for health, but at this time no evidence-based information from reputable studies show benefit to all consumers. Some milk products contain acidophilus, a “good bacteria” used in the production of yogurt. Dating back to 1907, studies by a Russian physiologist suggested some bacteria could be beneficial and prolong life. But on the Internet and in TV ads today, there are many unfounded recommendations being made. If you Google “Probiotics” – in .27 seconds, you will receive over 13 million results to read and try to sort through.

What should we believe?

A study performed at Baylor College of Medicine and MD Anderson Cancer Center has recently shown a particular bacterial strain, Lactobacillus reuteri, appears to decrease the growth of a form of human leukemia cancer cells. Another study at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and Ohio State University examined Lactobacillus acidophilus, the bacterium used to make yogurt, and found it may improve the immune response, if used in conjunction with an immunization against rotavirus infection. An effective immunization against rotavirus could save the lives of infants and children worldwide who develop severe dehydration from the infectious diarrheal illness. Both groups of researchers made no recommendation for oral intake of probiotics to the general population and both recommended further study.

Spending on probiotic supplements tripled between 1994 and 2003. Purchases have continued to skyrocket, possibly because of the numerous ridiculous television ads that tell you nothing about probiotic action, but state probiotics are necessary for “colon health”. You will find claims such as: “restore your digestive balance” and “relieve irritable bowel syndrome in 4 days” but what, exactly, does that mean?

A number of reputable studies have evaluated the usefulness of probiotic supplements used in conjunction with a proven effective treatment for Clostridium Difficile (CD) colitis. This inflammatory intestinal problem, which can be life-threatening, may evolve after antibiotic treatment for infections and cause profuse watery diarrhea. The antibiotic destroys normal bacteria and allows the overgrowth of CD. The concept is probiotics would replace lost bacteria and balance the bacterial content in the bowel.

Study results showed no benefit from the addition of probiotics to treatment regimens. In some cases, life-threatening complications resulted from the probiotic, including blood infection and liver abscesses. Because of these serious problems, probiotics are not recommended, especially for immune suppressed people.

At this time, the only probiotic recommended in one study was an adjunct treatment for Clostridium Difficile using Saccharomyces boulardii, and only if the CD was a recurrent problem.

Probiotics are not recommended in children.

Beware of unusual ads encouraging you to take supplements of any kind. Research the details and discuss them with your doctor before taking them. Not only can they be a waste of money and not beneficial, but can be harmful. If you take supplements, seek evidence-based information about complementary and alternative therapies.

Americans spend billions of dollars on complementary and alternative medicine supplements. Many of us eat yogurt because it tastes good and is generally good for us, but the use of probiotic supplements daily has no proven benefit. Before you join the crowd and waste your money, evaluate your options by consulting valid sources for more information. Talk to your doctor before making your decision to take probiotics.

www.nccam.nih.gov/health/probiotics (The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine)

www.naturalstandard.com

www.mayoclinic.com/health/probiotics

Betty Kuffel, MD

THE POWERS OF MISTLETOE


 

How did kissing beneath a sprig of parasitic poisonous plant to ward off evil spirits

and improve fertility come to be celebrated during modern holidays?

Through the ages, ancient Greeks and Celtic Druids bestowed magical powers on mistletoe. This attractive green leafy plant with white berries and strong roots grows through bark and sucks its nutrients from the mother-tree. Mistletoe can grow as a bush and it thrives in trees, but is rarely seen growing in oak trees. When found in an oak, Druid priests considered the parasitic plant a sex symbol and the soul of the tree.

Kissing under the mistletoe has so many powers; it is difficult to keep them all straight. In the Middle Ages, branches of mistletoe hung from ceilings to ward off evil spirits. Today, decorating homes with mistletoe at Christmastime survives from Druid and pre-Christian traditions. In European folklore, mistletoe was even considered an aphrodisiac that could bestow life and fertility on believers.

In Scandinavia, mistletoe was considered a peace-plant helping enemies solve differences and could help warring couples make up. If you attended a Christmastime Kissing Ball in 18th century England, you had to agree to be kissed under the mistletoe. The special kiss might bring romance, lasting friendship and goodwill but any un-kissed girl would certainly not marry in the coming year, so there was a scramble for that kiss.

Many mistletoe beliefs are a mesh of lore and modern-day fun. Kissing under the mistletoe has become a holiday tradition representing peace and love. Just remember, no matter how hungry you are—don’t eat the mistletoe!

Some mistletoe varieties are poisonous and must not be consumed in any fashion. Keep the plant away from children and pets. Plants that contain phoratoxin can cause a variety of symptoms from blurred vision to blood pressure changes and death. Call Poison Control and seek medical attention if any of the leaves or berries are eaten.

ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center hotline at (888) 426-4435

US POISON CONTROL CENTER 1-800-222-1222

Betty Kuffel, MD

BRIGHTEN YOUR HOLIDAYS WITH A MEXICAN FIRE PLANT

The Christmas Flower

Each year, admirers purchase more than 75 million poinsettias during the six-week holiday season between Thanksgiving and New Years. After seeing these brilliant red, pink, white and dappled poinsettias everywhere, have you every wondered how many of the lush tropical “Mexican fire plants” survive the winter months? Not many – based on my experience. Poinsettias in my hands usually became dreadful-looking and leafless by February. But for some reason, a beautiful white poinsettia I received as gift in 2011 not only survived the year, it quadrupled in size and is developing blooms just in time for this holiday season!

Since I didn’t know what I did to make my poinsettia flourish, I decided to do a little research. I discovered more than 60 varieties exist and was shocked to learn poinsettias grow to ten feet in height in their natural tropical habitat in Mexico! Botanist Dr. Joel Poinsett, America’s first ambassador to Mexico in 1825, introduced this unusual plant to our market. National Geographic News says the poinsettia is now the top-selling potted flowering in the US.

Cultivated by Aztecs, the brilliant flower was a symbol of purity. In the 17th Century, a group of Franciscan priests near Taxco began using the blooms in a nativity celebration. But, it isn’t only during the holidays you can enjoy this perennial plant. With the right care they will thrive for years.

Details on poinsettia care below were compiled from many sources:

  • Poinsettias do best in natural light in 65 degree daytime temperatures away from drafts and cold windows. Depending on your residence, these plants do well outside if the proper location is chosen. In Montana, it is safer to maintain them as house plants.
  •  The second and very important care is watering—just enough, avoiding over-watering. It must be in a draining pot and watered when the soil is dry to the touch. Discard excess water.
  • Continue above care through March. In April, trim back the main stems to about 8 inches. When new growth appears along the stems, fertilize once a week. Water as directed. In mid-July, snip tops leaving at least 4 leaves on each stem to encourage it to branch and become bushy, creating lots of blooms.
  • In the fall, beginning October 1 and extending until Thanksgiving, the plant prefers 14 hours of complete darkness from 6 pm to 8 am. The darkness can be simply provided by covering the plant with a box or by placing it in a closet.
  • Once the dark treatment is complete, the color-changing leaves (bracts) begin to change to showy colors. Stop the fertilizing, but continue watering when needed. Place the plant in an area that receives natural light away from drafts.

My poinsettia survived through luck —and by careful watering, a little fertilizer and letting it live in the northeast corner of a sunny room. Instead of placing it in complete darkness, the natural shortening hours of daylight in the northern Montana winter has been adequate to trigger the bracts to change color. After this blooming period, I plan to snip off a few of the longer stems to encourage more leaf growth.

Best of luck in your efforts to care for your poinsettia and watch it re-bloom in 2013.

Betty Kuffel, MD

LIGHT UP YOUR LIFE

Do You Have Winter Blues?

If this time of year tends to dampen your spirits and your energy, it could be the result of shorter days and longer nights. A condition known medically at SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder, also called the “Winter Blues” – is a documented mood disorder where people who have normal mental health throughout most of the year, become depressive in winter months.

Although experts were initially skeptical, this condition is now recognized as a common disorder, prevalent across the U.S.  SAD was formally described and named in 1984 by Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, a researcher, professor, psychiatrist and author of the book “Winter Blues.”

The National Library of Medicine notes “some people experience a serious mood change when the seasons change. They may sleep too much, have little energy, and may also feel depressed. Though symptoms can be severe, they usually clear up.”

If you feel a dampened-down mood change coming on, considering adding more lights inside and outside your home. Energy efficient bulbs now offer instant-on bright white and daylight options while actually reducing your electricity bill if used to replace older filament bulbs.

Our small Minnesota town has a delightful tradition. On the Eve of “Black Friday” – a parade of lighted horses and over 20 floats make their way through main-street. Family and friends gather on the sidewalks wrapped in winter coats and warm blankets (if weather demands), to watch the parade and join in the sounds and songs of merriment that fill the air.

The last float, a shiny fire truck covered in twinkle lights, ushers in Santa. With a wave of his hand and his jolly “Ho-Ho-Ho” the truck siren is sounded and the entire downtown and waterfront area comes alive with sparkling lights.

It doesn’t have to end there. Stores are filled with packages of inexpensive lights designed to adorn your home and landscape. Lighting contests are held throughout our area bringing people of all ages out to tour the spectacular scenes.

Sparkling starlight elicits a feeling of joy whether it is in summer or winter. With longer, darker winter nights now with us, even a few sparkling lights within our homes can add a feeling of joy.

“Deck the Halls” both inside and outside to increase and spread your own holiday cheer throughout your home and neighborhood.

Wishing you a bright cheery Holiday Season.

Bev Erickson

By changing lip colors, a woman can change her appearance. By making new choices, she can change her life.

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