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The Symptoms & Signs of Menopause

All women hit menopause at some point – some younger than others. Here we break down the signs and symptoms of menopause and perimenopause.

August is Women’s Month in South Africa, where we pay tribute to the more than 20 000 women who marched to the Union Buildings on 9 August 1956 in protest against the extension of Pass Laws to women. It is also a time to shine a spotlight on women’s health, so this month we are dedicating our health content to the greater cause of spreading valuable information and awareness. 

Menopause is something that will happen to all women eventually. The main thing to remember is that menopause is a completely natural, biological event. 

What Exactly Is Menopause?

Menopause is the time that marks the end of your menstrual cycles. It’s officially diagnosed after you’ve gone 12 months without a menstrual period. Symptoms can include physical discomfort and hot flashes as well as mood swings. Women may experience disrupted sleep and lower energy levels.  

What Does Perimenopause Mean?

Perimenopause means “around menopause” and refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause. Perimenopause marks the time when the ovaries gradually begin to make less and less oestrogen. The average length of perimenopause is four years, but for some women, this stage may last only a few months or last as long as 10 years. 

In perimenopause, there is still a slight chance you could become pregnant. So if you’d rather not go down that road, birth control is recommended until one year after your last period. 

The Signs That Menopause Is On Its Way

In the months or even years leading up to menopause, women may experience irregular periods and a list of symptoms that may include: vaginal dryness, lower sex drive, hot flashes, chills, night sweats, disrupted sleep, mood swings, a slowed metabolism, weight gain, thinning hair or drying skin.

Irregular periods are normal during this time, but other conditions can cause changes in menstrual bleeding and it’s worth visiting your doctor for a check-up, to rule out any other potential causes. 

How Does One Diagnose Perimenopause?

When visiting your doctor for a check-up, be clear about all the symptoms you are experiencing and note when the change started happening, how frequently you are experiencing symptoms and if anything else is unusual or different. A blood test to check hormone levels may also help, but your hormone levels are changing during perimenopause, so it may be more helpful to have several blood tests done at different times for comparison.

When a woman suspects she’s in perimenopause, it is an excellent time to have a complete medical examination. 

When a woman’s FSH blood level is consistently elevated to 30 mIU/mL or higher and she has not had a menstrual period for a year, it is generally accepted that she has reached menopause, according to menopause.org.

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What Exactly Is Hepatitis and How Do You Get It?

Thursday, 28 July 2022 is World Hepatitis Day (WHD) and while some of us may have heard of the infection before, we may not fully understand what hepatitis entails or know if we are carrying it. 

According to worldhepatitisday.org, somebody dies every 30 seconds from a hepatitis-related illness. The purpose of World Hepatitis Day is to raise awareness of the global burden of viral hepatitis and influence real change in behaviours, while encouraging more people to get tested for hepatitis. In 2022 the theme for World Hepatitis Day is ‘Hepatitis Can’t Wait.’

Hepatitis by the Numbers

  • 9/10 people living with hepatitis are unaware that they have it. 
  • It is estimated that 350 million people are living with hepatitis. 
  • There are five types of hepatitis: A, B, C, D and E.

What Exactly Is Viral Hepatitis?

Hepatitis viruses A, B, C, D and E can cause acute and chronic infection and inflammation of the liver, leading to cirrhosis and liver cancer. These viruses constitute a major global health risk.

Hepatitis A (HAV) is caused by exposure to the hepatitis A virus found in food, water and close contact with a person or object that is infected. This is acute and short-term. Unlike hepatitis B and C, hepatitis A does not cause chronic liver disease, but it can cause debilitating symptoms and acute liver failure, which can prove fatal. A vaccine exists to treat hepatitis A, as well as treatment that allows most people to make a full recovery. 

Hepatitis B (HBV) is caused by coming into contact with the hepatitis B virus in body fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions or semen. This is often an ongoing, chronic condition. The American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that around 257 million people worldwide are living with chronic hepatitis B. There is a vaccine available to treat hepatitis B, but there is no cure. Most people do not experience any symptoms when newly infected. People with acute hepatitis can develop liver failure, which can lead to death. People may also develop cirrhosis and hepatocellular carcinoma, which can lead to death. 

Hepatitis C (HCV) is caused by coming to contact with the hepatitis C virus in body fluids, such as blood, vaginal secretions or semen. HCV is among the most common bloodborne viral infections and presents as a long-term condition. There is no vaccine, but medications for treatment and a cure are available. Symptoms may include fever, fatigue, decreased appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, dark urine, pale faeces, joint pain and jaundice.

Hepatitis D (HDV) is caused through contact with blood containing the hepatitis D virus. This is a rare form of hepatitis which causes liver inflammation like other strains, however, an individual cannot contract HDV without an existing hepatitis B infection. There is no cure and no vaccine, but some treatment is available. Vaccination against HBV prevents HDV coinfection. 

Hepatitis E (HEV) is caused by exposure to the hepatitis C virus in food or water. The infection is usually self-limiting and resolves within two to six weeks. Symptoms may include mild fever, reduced appetite, nausea and vomiting, abdominal pain, itching, skin rash or joint pain, jaundice and a slightly enlarged liver. There is no vaccine, but treatment is available and most people make a full recovery. 

If you think you may have been exposed to a form of hepatitis or are experiencing any hepatitis-related symptoms, contact your doctor immediately for more information, testing and to begin treatment.

 *All the information above has been extracted from the WHD website and the WHO website. 

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How to Prevent a Cold Before It Starts

We know that there’s an uptick in illnesses in winter and many of us want to avoid catching a cold and flu. Here are some tips to help prevent or avoid getting sick that you can implement easily, every day.

Keeping your body healthy, by eating well, exercising regularly and getting enough sleep will mean that you stand a better chance against infections, like the common cold, but these infections are just that: infectious. Here’s how to best prepare yourself for flu season and stand the best chance of avoiding getting ill.

Up your vitamin D intake.

According to The Nutrition Source, many people have insufficient levels of vitamin D.  Studies have shown that adults with low vitamin D levels are more likely to report having had a recent cough, cold, or upper respiratory tract infection.
Studies also reveal that the active form of vitamin D tempers the damaging inflammatory response of some white blood cells, while it also boosts immune cells’ production of microbe-fighting proteins.

Keep it clean.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, we have all become more aware of the importance of sanitisers and greater handwashing practices. Some of the best ways to prevent illness are to regularly wash your hands and keep them away from your face until you have cleaned or sanitised. It’s also important to disinfect your phone. Think of all the places that you may put your phone down during the day – in bathrooms, on common counters and in restaurants where contracting illness is higher.

Prioritise sleep.

Getting enough good-quality sleep is key to staying healthy. In the article “Sleep Habits and Susceptibility to the Common Cold” published in a JAMA Internal Medicine Study, results showed that poorer sleep efficiency and shorter sleep duration in the weeks preceding exposure to a rhinovirus were associated with lower resistance to illness. It is recommended that we get between seven and nine hours of sleep per night.

Reach for Zinc

Zinc is an immune-boosting element that can be found in cold and flu medication. Research shows that zinc could reduce the severity and duration of cold symptoms by directly inhibiting rhinovirus binding and replication in the nasal mucosa and suppressing inflammation. Low zinc status is associated with increased susceptibility to pneumonia and other infections in children and the elderly.  Increasing your zinc intake significantly reduces the duration of illnesses by 1 day. Read more on the NIH findings here.

It’s always important to consult with your doctor before taking supplements. Don’t hesitate to contact a medical professional if you suspect you are getting ill this winter.

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Can Being In the Cold Make You Sick?

Now that it’s winter more and more people seem to be catching colds and flu. Is it just coincidence or does continued exposure to cold weather make you sick?  We look at some common myths and break down why people actually get sick in winter.

As a child, you might have grown up with your parents saying something along the lines of: “don’t stay out in the cold too long, you’ll get sick.” The truth is that cold weather alone does not make anyone ill. In fact, training in the cold has been shown to boost one’s health.

According to the Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, regular cold-weather training could cut your risk of contracting flu by 20-30%. However, if you have conditions such as asthma or heart problems, you must consult with your doctor before heading out to exercise in the cold.

Why do more people get sick in winter?

  1. Some viruses may survive and reproduce easier in cold, dry air.
  2. We tend to spend more time indoors in enclosed environments. Viruses spread more easily in closed quarters.

Due to these two factors, there is an uptick in winter infections, but the truth is that colds and flu and can be caught any time of the year.

Real risks of cold temperatures on health

Frostbite:

Frostbite is most common on exposed skin, such as your cheeks, nose and ears. It can also occur on hands and feet. Early warning signs include numbness, loss of feeling or a stinging sensation. Immediately get out of the cold and slowly warm up the area. Call your doctor if numbness persists.

Hypothermia:

When exposed to cold temperatures, your body begins to lose heat faster than it can be produced. Thus exercising in cold, rainy weather increases the risk of hypothermia. Senior citizens and young children are the greatest risk. Symptoms include intense shivering, slurred speech, dizziness or loss of coordination and fatigue. Seek emergency help immediately if hypothermia is suspected.

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Is Coffee Good for You and How Much Should You Drink?

The answer isn’t that simple, but, below, we break down the health benefits as well as the effects that coffee can have on your physical and mental health.

Over 1 billion people around the world depend on that first cup of coffee to kickstart their days. Runners or cyclists may have an espresso before they head out for a training session to reap the benefits of added energy and focus. But not everyone responds that well to coffee. Some experience side effects which may include headaches and anxiety. Let’s look at exactly what coffee is and how it impacts us.

Caffeine know-how

Coffee contains caffeine, a stimulant that is known for its ability to fight fatigue and increase energy levels. Caffeine is potentially the most frequently ingested pharmacologically active substance in the world, according to an article published in the NIH National Library of Medicine. But it’s important to note that caffeine sensitivity varies from person to person.

People with caffeine intolerance metabolise caffeine slowly, which means that they feel the effects for much longer. Some people may develop an allergy to caffeine. This is when the immune system perceives caffeine as a harmful invader. Caffeine allergies are extremely rare but easily testable by a doctor.

Caffeine is not only present in coffee, but also chocolate, energy drinks, carbonated soft drinks, some medications and black and green tea.

How much coffee is too much?

According to studies, moderate daily caffeine intake at a dose level up to 400mg per day is not associated with adverse effects, making it a healthy dose of caffeine. But how much is 400g?

A single shot of espresso contains approximately 75mg of caffeine. So your double-shot flat white probably contains around 150mg of caffeine. You can safely have two of these coffees per day and not be concerned about negative side effects, but it is important to remember that some adults are more caffeine sensitive than others.

Health benefits of coffee

  • Coffee is a good source of antioxidants –  coffee contains significantly high levels of antioxidants which help to fight free radical damage.
  • Coffee may help with weight management. higher coffee consumption is associated with decreased body fat.
  • Coffee may decrease the risk of depression – In a comparative review of several different studies, results showed that coffee and caffeine consumption were significantly associated with decreased risk of depression. Read more here.

The coffee conclusion

Take note of how you feel after consuming coffee and monitor if you experience any negative side effects. If side effects are felt, moderate your consumption of coffee and limit it to the recommended dosage above. Contact your doctor if you have any questions or if you are experiencing any negative side effects or symptoms that appear similar to caffeine sensitivity.

 

*Nawrot P, Jordan S, Eastwood J, Rotstein J, Hugenholtz A, Feeley M. Effects of caffeine on human health. Food Addit Contam. 2003 Jan;20(1):1-30. doi: 10.1080/0265203021000007840. PMID: 12519715.

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Quick Ways to Boost Concentration

Feeling that midday slump? Struggling to focus? Use these tips to boost your concentration and prevent that energy crash.

We all struggle with concentration from time to time, but there are ways to instantly boost our focus and tips to ensure that you have sustained energy throughout the day.

How to prevent an energy crash

In general, humans struggle with concentrating when we are fatigued, stressed and have not managed our nutrition correctly. For example, eating high-energy, sugary or nutrient-poor foods will often lead to you feeling a sensation of exhaustion, lack of energy and concentration. The best way to avoid this is to eat a healthy, well-balanced diet throughout the day.

Often when we begin to feel fatigued we are also experiencing a level of dehydration. It’s easy to forget to drink as water in winter as we would consume in summer as we trade cold beverages for hot ones. Place a jug or large bottle of water on your desk to remind yourself to drink regularly throughout the day. If you struggle with drinking water alone, try caffeine-free herbal teas such as mint or rooibos.

Manage your sleeping patterns and environment. Prioritising good-quality rest is essential for performance at work. Start by working out a bedtime routine, limit caffeine after lunchtime, make sure your bedroom is dark and devoid of blinking lights.

Studies have also shown that regular exercise helps to increase energy levels throughout the day, so make sure that you keep moving your body even in the winter months. Train your brain by playing games in your downtime that will help to build concentration levels over time. Great examples include chess, crossword puzzles, sudoku, word searches, puzzles and memory games.

Tips to instantly boost focus and energy

  1. Play an upbeat song.
  2. Take a quick walk (outside if possible for fresh air).
  3. Have a glass of water.
  4. Reduce multitasking by writing a clear list of what needs to be done and approach one thing at a time.
  5. Switch tasks if needed.
  6. Place a timer on and focus for 20 minutes, then take a break for five minutes and repeat.
  7. Eliminate distractions (clear your desk, put your headphones on, put away your smartphone).

It is also possible for concentration difficulties to relate to underlying mental or physical health conditions. If you or a family member present with frequent and persistent concentration difficulties, it may be time to consult with your doctor.

 

 

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Health Benefits of Swimming by Sarah Ferguson

Health Benefits of Swimming

– by Sarah Ferguson, Breathe Founder & Guinness World Record Holder

I grew up being drawn to water. There is an allure to it that keeps me coming back for more. Some people say that I must have been a mermaid in my past life. Besides my passion for water and being suspended in weightlessness for extended periods, there are a myriad of health benefits that come with swimming.

I could spout the science which can easily be Googled, but I would rather opt to share my personal experiences of the health benefits of swimming as a professional swimmer and a physiotherapist.

For me, the number one benefit of swimming is relaxation.  ‘Never regret a swim’ is one of my mottos. No matter how cold air temperatures are, I have never exited the water regretting it. Even though climbing into the pool is sometimes difficult when the weather is freezing, there’s always an overriding internal voice that reminds me of how good I’m going to feel after a swim.

Swimming is one of the few workouts that make use of all the major muscle groups in the body. You just have to look at Olympic Games swimmers to see how beautifully toned their bodies are. All of your body works in symmetry to push through the water, which acts as extra-gentle resistance that air cannot provide. Swimming works your cardiovascular system aerobically and anaerobically (especially if you add some breath-hold training in) and it improves lung capacity. Many swimmers, even some Olympic Games athletes started swimming to assist with managing their asthma conditions.

Swimming has a low impact on the body, which is hugely beneficial for people suffering from lower back pain or joint issues, as well as hypermobile people like me. Being hypermobile gives you extra flexibility which when combined with strength makes for good swimmers. Cases of injury in swimming are few and far between. Those I do see are generally from overexertion and poor technique.

When I swim it allows me to be completely present in what I am doing and disassociate from the world like nothing else. You cannot talk to your mate on social media or chat apps while you swim, so having your face submerged in the aquatic world is meditative and hypnotic. For example, swimming the Molokai Channel in Hawaii in silvery moonlight with inky darkness below has got to be one of my highlights. It’s completely magical. Offshore swimming for hours on end while watching the dancing rays of light penetrate the water way below me is completely mesmerising. One gets lost in time and space.

The act of diaphragmatic inhalation and exhalation while swimming increases oxygen and blood flow through the body and assists in this meditative state. There are no distractions other than the sound of bubbles and if you are in open water, potentially the privilege of encountering some form of marine life.

Body awareness is key to being a competent swimmer as you have to time the coordination of arms and legs with your breathing. On a day-to-day basis most people never really draw attention to their breath. Studies have shown that most people don’t even breathe correctly. E.g. never engaging the diaphragm to draw breath in. Some benefits of this practice range from reduced anxiety to lower blood pressure.

Swimming is great therapy for kids with attention difficulties or coordination issues, as well as scoliosis as it helps to create balance, alignment, control and improved coordination.

Those who have the luxury of outdoor swimming pools have the added benefit of vitamin D from exposure to the sun. Ocean swimming generates natural ozone which comes with a multitude of added benefits. The rapid growth of cold water swimming can be directly attributed to its great benefits. Some of which include a boosted immune system and improved mood.

The benefits of swimming are paramount. Now get yourself a swimsuit,  dive into the water and see for yourself what swimming can do for you. You won’t regret it!

 

 

 

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Get Up Early and Keep Exercising in Winter to Beat SADs

Days are becoming colder and darker and all most of us want to do is stay tucked away in bed, under the cosy duvet. For many, that means dealing with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), sometimes known as ‘winter depression’ due to symptoms being more apparent and more severe during the winter. SAD  impacts many people this time of year. Here are ways to combat SAD and stay on track with your fitness goals.

Seasonal depression is a real thing. This type of depression is usually triggered by the change of season every three months.  A study of 840 000 adults shown found that waking up just one hour earlier could reduce an individual’s risk of developing major depression by 23%. Consistent exercise has also been shown to help reduce anxiety and depression.

“It’s tough to break the duvet shackles on winter mornings,” says coach Steve Atwell – founder of the triathlon training Group, Embark. “But just do it! Suck up the chill, get your training gear on and get out. The endorphins you feel after your session outweigh the in-bed feeling,” he says. And it’s true – studies have long shown the immediate and long-term mental health and physical benefits of early rising and regular exercise.

Getting plenty of regular exercise, particularly outdoors and in daylight to help combat SAD, is among the proven methods of treatment.

Easy Hacks to Get An Early Workout In Each Winter Morning

  1. Set a consistent alarm every day so that your body gets used to waking up earlier and while it is still dark outside. Go to bed earlier to help with the transition.
  2. A dawn light can be really helpful to mimic the sun rising and wake you up easier.
  3. Pack exercise clothes in your gym bag the night before so that all you have to do is wake up, put them on and get going.
  4. Rope in some buddies and friends because knowing that you’ve got people to meet or a class to get to, will make you more likely to follow through.
  5. Commit to a race during – or towards the end of– winter to keep you working on your fitness goals.
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Understanding Vitiligo

White patches on your skin? Loss of pigmentation? Why do these happen to some people and not others? Why are some born with patches on their skin while others develop patches over time?

The 25 June 2022 is World Vitiligo Day, dedicated to the awareness of Vitiligo,  an autoimmune disease that causes loss of skin colour in patches. Approximately 100 million people around the world are affected by the skin disease. While we are more aware of it now, due to social media and the use of models with Vitiligo in modern advertising campaigns, the condition is still not a very well understood disease in the public realm.

What Exactly Is Vitiligo?

You may recognise Vitiligo from celebrities like Michael Jackson. According to the Vitiligo Research Foundation, Vitiligo is a non-lethal, non-communicable, immune-mediated and generally progressive skin disease that creates milky white patches of irregular shape on the skin. A specific type of leukoderma, Vitiligo is the most common form of pigmentary disorders, equally affecting all races, age groups and social strata.

The causes and development of this disease are complex and involve the interplay of multiple factors – however, the exact pathogenesis is not well known. Other than the appearance of white spots and occasional itchiness, Vitiligo does not cause any discomfort, irritation, soreness, or dryness of the skin.

There are two major types of Vitiligo: Segmental and Non-segmental. Segmental, also called unilateral Vitiligo, happens on one part of the body. It often starts at a young age and generally stops spreading after a year. Non-segmental, also called bilateral or generalised Vitiligo, may appear on all body parts, especially areas that are bumped or rubbed frequently. These patches often extend slowly over time if left untreated.

What Causes Vitiligo?

Vitiligo can start at any age, but usually manifests before age 30. It occurs when pigment-producing cells die or stop producing melanin – the pigment that gives your skin colour. The involved patches of skin become lighter or white. It’s unclear why these pigment cells fail or die. In some cases,  Vitiligo is related to an existing or underlying autoimmune condition, genetics or a trigger event, such as stress, severe sunburn or skin trauma, such as contact with a chemical.

Is There a Cure for Vitiligo?

Vitiligo is an incurable, but manageable disease. The goal of medical treatment is to create a uniform skin tone. Treatment options currently available include medication, light therapy, microsurgery and adjunctive therapies, however, no product or therapy that can modify the course of the disease and produce a long-lasting remission.

Vitiligo can cause significant psychological distress. Many people with Vitiligo struggle with self-esteem, confidence and social anxiety, especially if the disease affects areas of the skin that are tough to hide beneath clothes or with make-up.

If you, or someone you know, is struggling with anxiety or distress related to Vitiligo, there are support groups around the country that can help. Visit vitiligosocietysa.com for more information.

There are other skin diseases which may present as Vitiligo. To be sure, we recommend checking with your doctor. Medshield members may find the closest doctors to them within the Medshield network at www.medshield.co.za.

 

 

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Why Training In Winter Makes You a Stronger, Better Athlete

Winter is here and it’s getting harder to climb out from beneath the blankets and duvets to get a morning workout in. But come spring, we don’t want to have lost all the fitness gains we triumphantly achieved during warmer months of the year. Winter training will make you a stronger athlete – here’s why!

“In winter, we lose our motivation and drive and it’s not because we don’t want to train, it’s due to our minds wanting to be ‘comfortable/happy’ and wanting to stay in a warm environment,” says running coach, Garth Dorman.

“You have to find the inner strength that challenges the voice that says: ‘the weather is bad, it’s cold, it’s dark, it’s much better to stay inside’. You need to change that voice and say to yourself: ‘life is short, don’t waste time procrastinating’,” explains Garth. “This helps you to make training a permanent feature all year round,” he says.

Studies also show that regular exposure to low temperatures helps our bodies become leaner and fitter. Our bodies learn to make better use of fat reserves and burn excess fat intake faster.

How Winter Training Improves Athletic Performance

In winter you train your mind: “Winter training is more about developing mental strength. You build the mental strength to do tough things and show yourself that you can do them – even if the conditions are challenging,” says Garth. “It’s about developing your mind and training your mind to be stronger.”

Winter training improves your cardio: Cold weather forces your body to work harder during training. This also applies to your cardiovascular system. As the heart works harder to pump blood around the body during cold weather exercises, this invigorating workout helps to boost cardio strength.

Cold-weather training may improve VO2 Max: Colder temperatures cause your body to continue making subtle adaptations, such as your heart and lungs working harder. This helps to improve your muscles’ aerobic function, meaning they receive more oxygen during exercise. Studies have shown that training in the cold can increase your VO2 max; the maximum rate of oxygen your body can use during exercise.

How to Survive the Cold

  1. Layer up! Use layers of clothing that you can easily take off or wrap around your waist as your body warms up during exercise.
  2. Try running gloves and use buffs or caps to ward off the icy feeling on your hands, neck and ears.
  3. Warm-up well! A warm-up routine can prove even more beneficial in cold weather. Your body needs to get used to the low temperature and boost circulation before heading out.
  4. Get warm again quickly – pack jackets to leave in the car or make sure you get into a hot shower quickly to thaw out.
  5. Stay hydrated. You might not feel like drinking as much water as you do in summer, but you still need it and will still lose a lot of fluids while training.

 

 

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