Editor's Note: The Doctors show entitled “Health Alert: Hidden Immune Hazards” discussed the dangers of food dyes. A lot of foods may have different colors, but they don’t all contain dyes. For instance, Smucker's Strawberry Jam is all natural and does not contain food dye. If you are not sure if a product contains artificial dyes, please double check the label and read the ingredients.
Your immune system works hard every day to protect you from harmful illnesses, deadly diseases and nasty bugs that can make you sick. The Doctors clue you in to the hidden health hazards that put you at risk and make your immune system work over time.
Some people believe it’s better to get a bronze glow from a tanning bed than spend a day outside soaking in the sun, but the truth is, the electric sun beds actually cause more harm.
“Kids don’t realize that when you get too much sun at an early age, that’s the sun that’s going to give you skin cancer down the line,” Dr. Ordon cautions.
“One good burn before the age of 18 can cause skin cancer later in life,” Dr. Travis warns.
Recently, a 14-year-old girl from England was admitted to the hospital with first-degree burns over her entire body, after spending 19 minutes in a tanning bed. Dr. Jim points out that the teen probably didn’t see the effects soon enough, so she decided to remain in the capsule for much longer. “There’s the delay,” he says. “Whether it’s the sun or in a tanning bed, you kind of get the initial sun, but then you don’t get that tan for a few hours later.”
“If you are going to get a tan, quite frankly, it’s better to probably get it naturally,” Dr. Travis says.
When out in the sun, limit your exposure time, wear a sunscreen with an SPF of at least 30 and protect your eyes.
Could a common machine found in most offices be as bad for you as secondhand smoke? A study in the Journal of the American Chemical Society finds that some laser printers emit tiny particles that can irritate the lungs.
“We won’t really know until we do more studies,” Dr. Travis comments.
Dr. Lisa points out that spilling printer toner is toxic as well.
“A room with a printer indoors can have a level of pollution five times what it is outside,” Dr. Jim says.
If your office has one of the dangerous printers, open a window, move your desk away from the device, don’t spend too much time near it or switch to a safer printer.
A new study proposes that a chemical commonly used in plastic packaging for food and beverages, Bisphenol A (BPA), could be dangerous to human health. A quarter of the population, the quarter with the highest levels of BPA, were more than twice as likely to have diabetes or heart disease.
Dr. Travis points out that the number seven is embossed on the bottom of most plastic bottles that contain BPA.
The Doctors express surprise that the FDA has not released a conclusive statement regarding the safety of BPA, while stores like Walmart have stopped selling products made of the plastic, and some of the companies that manufacture it won’t sell it for food and beverage use.
“It’s not like if you drink a glass of water out of these you’re going to end up with major problems,” Dr. Travis clarifies. It’s important to avoid using baby bottles that contain BPA, and don’t heat food in a plastic container that contains BPA. He now uses a BPA-free bottle which are widely available.
“All of the major baby bottle manufacturers, all of the brands that you’ve heard of, they’re taking BPA out of the bottles,” Dr. Jim assures.
Dr. Lisa adds that some aluminum cans are lined with BPA.
When buying products that may contain plastic, look for BPA-free.
Test Your Immune System Knowledge
Which of the following is not part of the immune system: brain, skin, spleen or bone marrow? The correct answer is: brain.
Dr. Travis explains that the brain-body connection is strong, and emotions like stress, which start in your brain, can suppress your immune system, but the brain does not play an active role. “Our immune system is so important to fighting off infections. Our bone marrow, spleen, lymph nodes, all of that, are involved,” he says. When bacteria enter the body, big white blood cells swallow them up. Other white blood cells release Y-shaped antibodies that target bad cells and mark them for death. “Think of your immune system as an army, and any time a foreign invader comes into your country, which is your body, your army tries to beat them off.”
An Orgasm a Day Keeps the Doctor Away?
How many orgasms do you have in an average week? Your sex life plays an important role in your health. Donniese has been married for 22 years and wants to know how many times a week she and her husband should be having sex.
“There’s no such thing as a right number. It’s what’s right for you,” Dr. Travis says, “but there are reasons why more may be better.”
“More is better because it also helps boost your immune system,” Lisa adds, citing a Duke University study that showed that having sex 200 times or more per year could increase your lifespan by six years.
Dr. Lisa also states that engaging in intercourse more often helps boost self-esteem and self-confidence.
“When you’re happy about your sexual life and your sexual health, it helps ward off depression. It makes you feel good about yourself,” she says. She suggests Donniese see her doctor for an exam if she’s worried about her sex drive. “Libido is a multi-factorial problem or issue.”
Touch, romance and intimacy also contribute to longer life. “There are actually some studies that support an increase in IGA, which is an antibody [that fights infections],” Dr. Travis adds. “If you two are just cuddling on the couch, watching a movie, that counts too.
Anti-Bacterial Products: Doing More Harm than Good?
Americans spend over a billion dollars on anti-bacterial products every year. But does the overuse of these products lead to bigger problems? Diane wants to know if her habits have gone too far. “I use anti-bacterial products all day long,” she says. She starts her day wiping down her work station, uses hand sanitizer after shaking hands or accepting a package, and applies the gel after pumping gas. “Are these products helpful, or do they create superbugs?” she asks.
“There is probably some truth to us overusing anti-bacterial products when it comes to these superbugs, because you do create bacteria resistance,” Dr. Travis says. “Bacteria are everywhere for a reason. We’ve lived with them since the beginning of time. We are meant to have bacteria on our hands.”
“You have to use common sense,” Dr. Lisa notes. She says the gels are good to carry when traveling.
“Your immune system is meant to recognize foreign pathogens, build a defense to them, but if you’re never exposed, you’re immune system may not develop properly,” Dr. Travis explains.
“That would happen if you’re doing it too often,” Dr. Jim points out. “If you simply just wash your hands right before you eat, or right after you’ve used the bathroom, you’ve got to do it then.”
“If regular soap and water has proven to be just as effective, why use the anti-bacterial kind?” Dr. Travis asks.
Dr. Jim suggests using the anti-bacterial products if you don’t have access to soap and water, and when washing with soap and water, make sure to scrub your hands for at least 20 seconds.
Have you wondered why you always seem to get sick when you finally have time off from work? Adrienne works three different jobs. “I feel like I’m on the go all the time,” she says. “When I do have a break, whenever that is, I’m either waking up with a sore throat, or I have runny nose, or I have a midday headache. So why is this?”
“There’s a theory, and it’s called leisure sickness,” Dr. Travis says.
“The idea is that somehow the body, when it’s so busy, just refuses to recognize the fact that you are coming down with something. It actually delays it,” Dr. Ordon elaborates. “I guess we can best explain it on the basis of hormones, cortisol, things like that, that may be circulating.”
Dr. Travis explains that your body responds in two ways. “You have an acute stress response when you’re working really hard. It produces adrenaline. You’re driving. You’ve got to get this work done, and adrenaline actually boosts your immune system a little bit,” he says. “The problem is there’s also cortisol, and that is a chronic stress hormone, which we all have to some degree. When you go on vacation, you may carry your chronic stress with you, cortisol, which depresses your immune system, [and] you lose that adrenaline which gets you through, and then all of a sudden, you have time off, and you end up spending it in bed.”
To keep your immune system healthy on vacation, eat healthily and continue to exercise.
Can Exercise Make You Sick?
Everyone knows that exercise is good for you, but could it also put you at risk for illness? Mary says she has been working out for the last year on her own, and a couple of months ago she hired a trainer to step up her routine. “For the last three weeks, every time I get up, I feel not too good,” she says. “I have a sore throat, a headache, runny nose, and I was wondering if working out a lot harder is taxing my immune system.”
“Very, very few people can be considered over-trained. It takes a lot to work out too hard,” Dr. Travis says. “But there are certain people who exercise so much — they run 50 miles a day, or maybe they’re working with a trainer who’s pushing them too hard — that it actually is not beneficial, because moderate exercise is great for your immune system.”
“You don’t want to stop; You just don’t want to over do it,” Dr. Lisa points out.
“Your body may not be used to these new workouts your personal trainer is using for you, and you just need to say, ‘Hey, we need to back off a little bit,’” Dr. Travis tells Mary. “Truth be told, working out four days a week, it’s very unlikely that over-working out is causing this for you.”
Travis shares the rule he uses when he’s sick. If he has symptoms from the head up, nose congestion or a head cold, he exercises moderately. If the symptoms are below his neck and in his chest, he takes a few days off.
That Time of the Month
Aunt Flow, the monthly visitor, the curse — whatever you call it, it’s probably not your favorite time of the month. But could your menstrual cycle make you more susceptible to illness? Patricia says that near the time of her period, besides experiencing PMS, she gets a sore throat, congestion, sneezing, coughing and aches. “The cold seems to last the entire cycle, and I was just wondering, could [the menstrual cycle] be affecting my immunity?” she asks.
Dr. Lisa jumps in. “This is basically a form of PMS,” she says. “That just happens because of the change in hormones that occurs right around the time of the period. We know in pregnancy that some things happen in your immune system so your body doesn’t reject the pregnancy, so in that way, your immunity is decreased. But during your regular period, basically what’s happening is you’re getting a form of PMS.” She suggests Patricia use a menstrual calendar to track her symptoms. She can then take anti-histamines, diuretics or vitamins to combat the problems. “You may start to see that your fatigue gets a little bit better.” She also advises Patricia to consult with her physician to explore all options.
The Doctors' Favorite Ways to Boost Their Immune Systems
Dr. Jim: Juice Plus
Contains 17 fruit and vegetable extracts in a capsule.
“I’ve been using this stuff for years,” he says. “Of all the supplements out there, this is one of the few ones that have actual clinical studies to show that it actually boosts immunity and helps fight cancer.”
Dr. Ordon: Ginger, mushrooms, garlic
“They all have been shown to stimulate white blood cell production, exactly what you want to boost your immune system,” he says. “These are all infused with antioxidants.”
Dr. Lisa: Green tea
“It’s full of antioxidants and phytonutrients and really helps build up your own natural bacteria in your stomach,” she explains. “It’s also helpful for your skin.”
“You’ll note that none of these have food dyes added to them,” Dr. Travis comments. “Certainly, you can’t give up processed foods. No one does. But adding these things to your diet can help prevent catching that stubborn cold, help you from getting the flu and some of these other illnesses that can drag on throughout the winter.”
What You Need to Know: When should you go organic, and when is it OK not to?
Organic foods are cultivated without the use of chemical fertilizers, pests, weed killers or drugs. “If you are trying to incorporate more organic foods into your diet, spend the bulk of your money on produce, because organic does not contain pesticides normally found on other fruits and vegetables skins,” Dr. Travis says. “Foods like apples, peaches, lettuce berries, those can be some of the best organic foods to buy. Produce with inedible skins, like bananas and melons can be skipped. Just make sure you still wash the skins.”
Don’t confuse hormone-free, free-range and natural foods with organic. Be sure to look for the organic seal, which means the food is grown, harvested and processed according to USDA standards.