December 2003 Health News Tips

Note to media: To reach the media contacts for any of these health news tips, call the Office of News and Publications at 214-648-3404.

Selecting the perfect holiday gift for a spouse, relative or friend is enough to drive shoppers nuts, but going nuts may actually solve your gift-giving dilemma.

Peanuts, pecans, walnuts and pistachios are ideal gifts that are pleasing to the taste buds and the heart, says Lona Sandon, assistant professor of clinical nutrition at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

"A handful a day of most nuts may lower the risk of heart disease, and nuts are a great source of protein," she said. "Nuts contain high levels of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, which are known to lower low-density lipoprotein cholesterol - the bad cholesterol - levels in the blood and reduce the risk of heart disease." 

Other heart-healthy nuts include almonds and hazelnuts.
Media Contact: Amy Shields

Exploding champagne corks may add a dramatic flair to a holiday party, but they can also cause serious eye injuries such as ruptured globes, detached retinas and painful bruising. Dr. Preston Blomquist, assistant professor of ophthalmology at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, recommends the following safety tips:

--Chill champagne and sparkling wine to at least 45 degrees; a cork in a cold bottle is less likely to pop unexpectedly.
--Hold the cork down with the palm of your hand while removing the wire hood. 
--Point the bottle away from people, and hold it at a 45-degree angle.
--Place a towel over the entire top of the bottle, grasp the cork, and slowly and firmly twist to break the seal. Hold the bottle firmly with one hand and use the other hand to slowly turn the cork with a slight upward pull. Continue until the cork is almost out of the neck. Counter the outward force of the cork by applying slight downward pressure just as the cork breaks free from the bottle.
Media Contact: Staishy Bostick Siem

If you toss and turn for an hour or more each night, you could be suffering from insomnia, says Dr. John Herman, associate professor of psychiatry at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and director of the Sleep Disorders Clinic at Children's Medical Center Dallas.

"The definition of insomnia - this is actually conservative - is that you are regularly awake more than 15 percent of the time you're in bed at night," he says. 

That translates into 72 minutes during an eight-hour sleep period. If sleeping difficulties continue for several weeks, or most nights for several months, Dr. Herman suggests you seek medical attention.

"Either medication or behavioral treatment of the problem will help you sleep again, which is much better than letting it go on," he says. 
Media Contact: Donna Steph Hansard

Don't drink and drive. It's a familiar refrain, but one worth hearing again.

Not surprisingly, the number of injuries and deaths from alcohol-related car accidents increases during the holiday season.

"It's not because people are depressed; it's just because they're partying, and they think it's OK to drink and drive," says Dr. Kathleen Delaney, professor of emergency medicine and internal medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas and director of the Parkland Memorial Hospital emergency room. "It's better to call a cab than to pay for a hospital bill - or a funeral."

Legal blood-alcohol limits for a driver vary among states. Regardless, people experience coordination impairment and reduced alertness with blood alcohol levels of 0.05. A 120-pound woman reaches 0.04 after consuming one 12-ounce beer. A 160-pound man reaches 0.05 after two beers.

"Common sense says you know that you're impaired even at those levels," Dr. Delaney says. "It's the holidays, so you're going to have a few drinks and enjoy yourself. But just don't drive a car. Designate a driver. Being in a car accident is not a good Christmas present."

For those who will not be driving, Dr. Delaney recommends limiting total alcohol consumption, spacing alcoholic beverages at least an hour apart and having a nonalcoholic beverage between drinks to help counteract alcohol's dehydrating effects. Also, ensure that all drinks containing alcohol - including eggnog and punch - are out of the reach of children. Alcohol consumption can cause a child's blood sugar to plummet, she says.
Media Contact: Rachel Horton

Hundreds of Americans die every year from carbon monoxide produced by fuel-burning appliances in and around the home.

"In most cases, the exposures are the result of poorly installed appliances, including substituting gas appliances to heat the home," says Dr. Greene Shepherd, assistant professor of emergency medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas.

Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless poisonous gas produced by the incomplete burning of fuels including charcoal, wood, and oil and gas to power indoor furnaces, ranges, water heaters, room heaters and vehicles. Initial symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning include headache, fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea and dizziness.

To avoid exposure, ensure all appliances are installed properly and never use gas-powered kitchen appliances - such as a stove - to heat your home. Don't leave vehicles running in an attached garage. Avoid burning charcoal or using fuel-burning camping equipment inside a home, garage, vehicle or tent, and never operate unvented fuel-burning appliances in rooms with closed doors or windows or in any room where people sleep. Install carbon monoxide detectors for added protection.

If you think you are experiencing symptoms of carbon monoxide poisoning, get fresh air immediately, call the fire department and seek medical care.
Media Contact: Rachel Horton


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