Q&A: Cancer Prevention; Flu Season; Hearing Loss

Q. Is there anything I can do to help prevent cancer?

A. You actually can do a lot to protect your health and help prevent cancer. A lot depends on lifestyle choices you make. While some risk factors, such as genetics and environmental exposure to toxins, are out of your control, certain lifestyle modifications will help limit your risk. The guidelines focus primarily on physical activity and diet, and are linked to a 10 to 45 percent decrease in cancer incidence and a 14 to 61 percent decrease in cancer mortality. The guidelines are from the American Cancer Society and the World Cancer Research Fund/American Institute for Cancer Research. The seven guidelines include: 1) Maintaining a healthy weight; a body mass index of 18.5 to 24.9 is considered normal weight; even a small amount of weight loss will provide health benefits. 2) Be physically active; exercise helps balance hormone levels linked to certain cancers. The ideal is at least 30 minutes a day. 3) Eat more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and legumes, which are high in vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients. Aim for a daily target of 2-1/2 cups of vegetables, 2 cups of fruits and 6 ounces of whole grains; for legumes, eat 1-1/2 cups per week. 4). Limit red meat and processed meats. Target consumption at no more than 18 ounces per week. 5) Limit alcohol intake. Current guidelines suggest no more than one drink a day for women, two for men. A drink is defined as 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits. 6) Eat less salt. Keep your consumption to about 2,300 milligrams a day—about one teaspoon. Remember that processed, prepared foods usually contain excess salt. 7) If you smoke, quit.

Q. Flu season is upon us, so how can I ward off colds and flu?

A. In addition to eating an immune system-boosting diet, remember to get a flu shot, and wash your hands frequently and thoroughly; keep a small bottle of hand-sanitizer handy, get adequate sleep and drink plenty of fluids. The combination of nutrients found in healthy foods can help build your body’s ability to fight infections. Remember that it’s not just one food that helps keep your immune system strong—it’s the synergy of all the nutrients working together. Key among these are foods containing vitamin A (beta-carotene), which includes green leafy vegetables, and other green, orange, and yellow vegetables, such as broccoli, spinach, kale, carrots, sweet potatoes, pumpkin, and other yellow squash. Fruits rich in vitamin A include cantaloupes, apricots, and mangos. Fortified dairy products and breakfast cereals also are included in this group. Important also are vitamin C-containing fruits and vegetables, including citrus fruits, such as oranges, grapefruits and their juices, strawberries and cantaloupes, red and green peppers, broccoli, potatoes, tomatoes, and kiwifruit. In the vitamin E family, consume vegetable oils, such as sunflower, safflower, corn and soybean oils; wheat germ; nuts, such as peanuts, hazelnuts and almonds; and seeds, such as sunflower seeds. Selenium, another flu-fighting nutrient, is found in Brazil nuts, and seafood, including tuna, halibut, sardines and shrimp. Selenium is also found in lean meat and poultry, low-fat dairy products and whole grains, such as brown rice, whole wheat bread and oatmeal. Lastly zinc is flu-combative, and is found in oysters, crab and lobster, lean beef and poultry, fortified breakfast cereals, and in beans, peas, nuts, seeds, and whole grains.

Q. I’ve heard that hearing loss can impact cognition.  Is there any way I can preserve my hearing to limit the risk to my cognition?

A. A new study says that more than half of people over age 75 have some degree of hearing loss. Hearing loss impacts your ability to absorb information, which ultimately can lead to cognition issues. Besides regular hearing exams and using hearing aids if necessary, there are other steps you can take to help preserve your hearing. These include stopping smoking—smoking reduces the flow of blood and oxygen to the cochlea, a part of the ear that translates sound into nerve impulses that are sent to the brain. Another is to maintain a healthy weight—increased body mass index can lead to increased hearing loss. Also, manage high blood pressure and diabetes, conditions that are linked to increased risk of hearing loss. Lastly, protect your ears from loud noises, such as very loud music, which can damage your ability to hear high-frequency sounds.

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