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To Stay Healthy this Fall and Winter? Wash Your Hands! The Simplest Way

To Stay Healthy this Fall and Winter? Wash Your Hands! The Simplest Way

As summer turns to fall, lots of people (children and adults alike) will be spending more time inside and in closer proximity to one-another. Washing your hands is something simple we can all do to keep our schools, workplaces and homes just a little bit healthier. In fact, it’s actually been identified by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as the single most effective way to prevent the spread of communicable diseases.

But researchers at Michigan State University recently found that only about 1 person in 20 actually washes his or her hands properly in even the most obvious hand washing scenario—after using a public restroom. According to a summary by writer Lindsay Abrams of the Atlantic:

“Of 3,749 people observed leaving the bathrooms, 66.9 percent used soap, while 10.3 percent didn’t wash their hands at all. The other 23 percent of people stopped at wetting their hands, in what the researchers, for some reason, call “attempted washing” (as if maybe those people just weren’t sure how to follow through). Although the researchers generously counted the combined time spent washing, rubbing, and rinsing, only 5.3 percent of people spent 15 seconds or longer doing so, thus fulfilling the requirements of proper handwashing. They average time spent was 6 seconds.

Why Hand Washing?

Bacterial and viral infections can be spread when the hands come into contact with infectious respiratory secretions and carry them elsewhere. This happens most often as a result of someone coughing, sneezing, shaking hands, or touching an object that has been in the proximity of a sick person and then touching the face—particularly the nose, mouth or eyes. This is one of the primary ways of transmitting the virus that causes the common cold.

Washing your hands after using the toilet or changing a diaper is of utmost importance, as the ingestion of even the smallest amount of fecal matter can cause serious illness from deadly pathogens such as E. coli, salmonella, giardiasis and hepatitis A, among others. You should also be particularly careful about washing your hands after touching garbage, handling animals or animal waste, visiting or caring for an ill person, or if your hands show visible dirt.

Those who handle food should routinely wash their hands, not only after using the toilet, but also after touching raw meat, fish or poultry, since the microbes present on uncooked food can cause gastrointestinal infections ranging from mild to severe or even life-threatening.

Perhaps those with the greatest need to wash their hands on a regular basis are healthcare workers. Because they’re constantly exposed to sick patients and patients with weakened immune systems, and since they frequently come into contact with contaminated surfaces, these professionals have a special responsibility. Before the importance of hand washing was widely understood within the healthcare community, millions of people became sick or died from infections passed along on the hands of their caregivers. During the 19th century, up to 25% of women died in childbirth from childbed fever (puerperal sepsis), a disease subsequently found to be caused by the bacteria Streptococcus pyogenes. After hand washing was introduced as a standard practice in the delivery room, the rate of death dropped to less than 1%.

It All Begins With Hand Awareness

Here are the “4 Principles of Hand Awareness”:

  1. Wash your hands when they are dirty and BEFORE eating
  2. DO NOT cough into your hands
  3. DO NOT sneeze into your hands
  4. Above all, DO NOT put your fingers into your eyes, nose or mouth

How to Wash Your Hands the Right Way

To wash your hands properly, you need only two things: soap and clean, running water. If these two things are not available, you can use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that has a minimum 60% alcohol content.

Before washing your hands, remove all rings and other jewelry. Using running water, wet your hands thoroughly, then apply enough soap to work up a nice lather. Keeping your hands out of the water, rub them together, being sure to scrub both the front and backs of your hands, including your wrists, and also washing between the fingers and under the nails. Do this for 20 seconds, then rinse completely under the running water. Be sure to turn off the taps with a paper towel rather than your bare hand. According to the CDC, the whole process should take about as much time as singing “Happy Birthday” twice.

But What About Drying?

The Mayo Clinic recently published its own comprehensive review and analysis of every known hand washing-related study produced since 1970. Interestingly, their researchers found that drying hands was a key part of preventing the spread of bacteria. They also concluded that paper towels are better than blowers for this purpose. Here’s some of their reasoning:

  • Most people prefer paper towels to blowers, so they’re more likely to use them.
  • Blowers take too long, encouraging people to wipe their newly-cleaned hands on dirty pants or to skip the step altogether.
  • It takes less energy to manufacture a paper towel than it does to dry hands with a blower.
  • Blowers dry out the skin on your hands.
  • Blowers scatter bacteria three to six feet from the device.

As chiropractic physicians, we have a special interest in helping our patients (and non-patients, for that matter) avoid illness and injury. This means helping them develop healthy lifestyle habits—like regular hand washing—that prevent disease. We also work closely with them in areas like diet, exercise, sleep and stress management. If you’d like to learn more about what we can do to help you stay healthy and live your life to its fullest, please call or visit our office today!


Following the Science on Genetically Altered Crops

Following the Science on Genetically Altered Crops

farm-machine-200-300It’s often hard to know whose science to believe and whose advice to take when it comes to Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) in our food. The information available on this subject is complex, the stakes are high (in terms of the health, social, environmental, political and economic issues involved) and passions run hot on all sides of the debate. So it’s not surprising that facts are often used selectively and much of the discussion is biased.

On one side of the debate, large agribusinesses such as Monsanto stress the potential human and environmental benefits of genetically altered crops, such as reduced pesticide use and being able to feed a growing worldwide population. On the other side of the debate, opponents of genetic engineering are often guilty of scaremongering and using emotionally-loaded labels like “Frankenfoods” to color the conversation.  So what does the science currently tell us?

Genetically modified plants have now been with us for three decades, and have been widely planted since the mid-1990s. This kind of technology differs from conventional plant breeding in that it uses genes from other species to modify DNA rather than selecting for certain characteristics from within a breeding population. Of particular interest to farmers is the ability to engineer plants that are resistant to certain pests and herbicides, can tolerate harsher or more variable environments and have increased nutritional value (more vitamins or minerals, for example).

On the other side of the fence, concerns of consumers and environmental activists are threefold:

1. That genes from crop plants will spread to the wild and other, non-engineered or organic, crops or that there may be unanticipated environmental impacts

2. That there may be unknown long-term health effects from this relatively untested technology

3. That farmers, especially in developing countries, will become over-reliant on global seed companies rather than saving their own seed, resulting in greater dependency and poverty.

Thus far, some 13 plant species have been genetically engineered in one form or another, including wheat, soybeans, corn, tomatoes, alfalfa, canola, potatoes, rice and sugar beets. In 2010, genetically engineered crops accounted for over 320 million acres of planting–165 million in the USA alone. Over 80% of the soy and corn being eaten as food in the USA is now consumed in its genetically modified form.

Given the widespread planting and consumption of GM crops over the last decade, it might be expected that there would be a wide range of studies on the safety of these foods. However, a report in 2003 found only 10 such studies in a search of the literature.  This number had grown to just 42 by 2011. Of these, 36 studies were found to demonstrate no negative effect when GM crops were fed to animal species, four had positive effects and two negative. The two negative studies were both carried out prior to 2000 and have not since been replicated. Despite the largely positive conclusions drawn from these studies, a subsequent review of 19 studies found that there was sufficient data to indicate a likelihood of liver and kidney damage. The authors also noted that some significant results were stated as being “biologically insignificant,” a conclusion that they found questionable.

It is notable that soy allergies in the UK rose by 50% following the introduction of GM soy products. One study found that levels of a known allergen, trypsin inhibitor, were increased by more than a quarter in GM compared to non-GM soy, and that these levels were seven times higher following cooking. Further studies have also demonstrated negative environmental effects related to the use of GM crops, such as an increased mortality of wetland and water insects exposed to genetically modified corn pollen, and increased use of herbicide in plantations of GM soy, cotton and corn compared with their conventional counterparts. This casts considerable doubt on one of the main proposed benefits of herbicide resistant crops.

Independent scientists reviewing the safety of GM crops have called into question both the general lack of safety testing of GM crops and absence of follow-up studies, especially ones that are not in some way funded by the biotech companies themselves. Given this and the lack of stringent testing requirements for GM crops prior to both widespread field planting and human consumption, there remains cause for concern. The notion of “substantial equivalence” that largely exempts GM food from safety testing if it is seen to be the same as its conventional counterpart, has also been flagged as unnecessarily lenient on a technology most regard as unproven.
While the general public has (for the most part) been reassured by the fact that there have been very few few short-term disasters, genes from GM crops continue to find their way into wild and conventionally grown (including organic) plants as well as the larger food chain. Until sufficiently rigorous independent studies are available to determine the short- and long-term effects of GM crops, it is hard not to conclude that we are currently in the middle of a long-running experiment in which most of the benefit is gained by the biotech companies while most of the risk is carried by consumers and the environment. The problem is that if GM crops, or even just some of them, are eventually found to be a risk not worth taking, it is hard to put the genie back in the bottle. In some respects, it is simply too late now to do the long-term safety assessment that should have been carried out well before widespread approval was granted.
For the time being, the best that consumers can do is to push for disclosure and choice so that they have more flexibility when they shop at the local grocery store.