The Los Angeles Times

Salt Room Therapy On Shifty Ground

–Published in The Los Angeles Times health section on August 2, 2010–

It’s 1 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon, and Heidi Kling is reading in an all-white room. She’s shoeless, but socks protect her feet from the 6 inches of salt that cake the floor. The only objects in the windowless room are four chaise longues and hand-molded plaster icicles that hang from the ceiling. If there were a Yeti in the room, you would swear you were on the Matterhorn at Disneyland.

Normally, Kling would be at work or running errands, but today her allergies, which cause her ears to ring, have brought her to this monochrome sanctuary.

Basking in salt rooms, also known as halotherapy, is an alternative therapy for people with chronic respiratory and skin problems that is modeled after the salt caves and spas that originated in Eastern Europe more than 200 years ago. In the last decade, the trend has caught on, and facilities have opened up in Israel, Canada, New York, New Jersey, Chicago, Florida and, most recently, Encino, home of the Salt Chalet, the first salt room treatment center on the West Coast.

But though salt rooms may be garnering fans, health experts are leery of the medicinal benefits that these rooms are purported to provide. Stories about miraculous recoveries and unprecedented health improvements are all over the Web, said Dr. Dean Schraufnagel, professor of medicine at the University of Illinois at Chicago. That doesn’t guarantee they’re true. “There haven’t been any clinical studies that research this particular therapy method,” he says.

Tucked away in a shady corner on the second floor of Encino Commons, an outdoor shopping center most notable for cameos in the movie “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” the Salt Chalet is hardly noticeable in the shadow of a Bed, Bath & Beyond and a Bally Total Fitness center.

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Babies’ Bacteria Depends on Delivery

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Concern about a newborn’s bacterial flora is not a topic you’re likely to hear discussed in the waiting room of the maternity ward — but that may change. A new study has found that the way in which babies are delivered exposes them to specific bacteria that could play a role in their future health.

The study, published online Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that babies delivered vaginally had microbes on their bodies that resembled their mother’s vaginal bacteria, and babies delivered via caesarean section had bacterial communities like those commonly present on adult skin.

The finding is significant, scientists said, because the types of bacteria residing on newborns influence the development of their digestive and immune systems and may affect their health later.

Though previous studies had suggested that babies delivered by caesarean section lacked the benefit of protective vaginal bacteria, making them more susceptible to certain pathogens, allergies and asthma, no study until now had compared the bacteria on a newborn with those of the mother in a site of the body other than the gut, said Patricia Conway, a professor at the School of Biotechnology and Biomolecular Sciences at the University of New South Wales, Australia, who was not involved in the study.

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Should California’s state rock be stripped of its title because it contains asbestos?

Imagine yourself in an Old West film, standing in the middle of a deserted street flanked with saloons, hotels and brothels, the soundtrack from “The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly” wailing strong. At first you think you are alone with the tumbleweeds — but then you see two figures facing down.

On the left is Sen. Gloria Romero (D-East Los Angeles), suited up in leather chaps and a cowboy hat — and on the right, the state rock of California — serpentine.

Until recently, most people probably didn’t know that there was a state rock — far less that Romero wants to get rid of it.

Senate Bill 624, which has been passed by the Assembly Committee on Natural Resources but still has a long way to go in the Legislature, would strip serpentine of its state-rock title, held since 1965. Why? Because the rock “contains the deadly mineral chrysotile asbestos, a known carcinogen, exposure to which increases the risk of the cancer mesothelioma” and because “California should not designate a rock known to be toxic to the health of its residents as the state’s official rock.”

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TV and children: Ads for fast food are up, ads for sweets and cookies are down

TV isn’t the same as it used to be, especially when it comes to children’s shows.

Though friendly faces such as Mr. Rogers and Barney the dinosaur used to be popular among kids, hyper-active animated samurais and brightly colored creatures from the Gabba gang now rule the small screen.

The same can be said about television food advertisements. Something has definitely changed?

Using television rating data from Nielsen Media Research for 2003, 2005 and 2007, researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago analyzed trends in exposure to food advertising by age and race for children and adolescents, and came up with some interesting findings.

Whereas in 2003, cereal was the most frequently seen food product in kids’ food advertisements, by 2007 fast food ads were the most frequently seen ads for children of all ages.

Why is this not shocking?

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Those big, round Lady Gaga contact lenses worry some doctors

Call her super-talented or super-insane, there’s no denying that Lady Gaga has a magnetic effect on young girls, inspiring thousands of young fans to don blond wigs, sheer lace leggings, yellow caution tape and even sunglasses made out of cigarettes. But, the latest Gaga trend — circle lenses, has got not only fashion critics worried, but eye doctors as well.

Circle lenses were available before the Gaga explosion, and in fact their popularity originated in Japan, Singapore and South Korea where many young women wear them to accentuate their eyes to resemble Japanese anime characters. The decorative contact lenses come in a variety of colors and give the wearer a doe-eyed, childlike appearance.

Dr. James Salz, clinical professor of ophthalmology at USC, says the lenses aren’t radically different from the older colored contacts used for years to change people’s eye color, “except that before, the contacts weren’t also trying to enlarge the color of the iris.”

Unlike traditional colored contact lenses, which cover only the iris of the eye, circle lenses extend to cover part of the whites as well. Aside from the Lady Gaga allure, many young women claim that they wear them to make their eyes look bigger.

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Effect of Call-Based Counseling Rings True

The therapist-patient relationship is crucial to people battling depression, addiction, weight gain and diabetes. But that relationship might not always have to be in person to be effective.

Over the last decade, numerous hospitals and clinics have begun experimenting with telephone-based care to treat a litany of health problems — with surprising success. Now a new study has found that it can even ease the pain and depression of cancer patients.

“Telecare provides additional support to people and can help them feel included and part of something,” said Dr. Cynthia Lee Dennis, an associate professor of nursing at the University of Toronto who has studied the effect of telephone counseling in women with postpartum depression.

Such care can also be more convenient than actually going to a therapist’s office because the phone call can be scheduled for a time and place that’s convenient for the patient. “It can even help some people to speak more freely and feel more comfortably than they would in a normal face-to-face situation,” Dennis said.

A study published in the July 14 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Assn. found that cancer patients who talked regularly with a nurse over the phone and answered automated voice-recorded surveys about their symptoms experienced greater improvements in their pain and depression levels than patients who did not receive this additional care. (Click here to read more)

Stroke Risk May Double in First Hour After Drink

Long day at work? Stressed about paying your bills? How tempting, at such times, to reach for a drink….

If that sounds like you, here’s some sobering news from a study published online in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Assn.: The risk of stroke appears to double in the hour after consuming alcohol.

After interviewing 390 ischemic stroke patients about their drinking patterns within three days after their stroke, researchers concluded that the risk of ischemic stroke is 2.3 times higher in the hour after alcohol is consumed than it is during periods of no alcohol consumption. (An ischemic stroke — the most common type — is one where blood supply to the brain is cut off because of a blood clot.)

The risk was the same regardless of type of alcohol — wine, beer or distilled spirits. And the increased risk was seen even with a single drink.

However, the study also found that the higher risk is short-lived, said Elizabeth Mostofsky, lead author of the study and a doctoral candidate at the Harvard School of Public Health.

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Wearing high heels might make you feel sexy and powerful, but think about the future health consequences

If there’s one thing to be learned from “Sex and the City,” it’s that women love high heels. Sure, they might be painful to wear and challenging to walk in (for some of us, anyway), but as the saying goes, beauty is pain.

But blisters might not be the only downside to wearing high heels. In fact, the damage might be occurring higher up on the body – in the ankle, knee and hip, according to new research  being presented later this month at the annual meeting of the American Society of Biomechanics.

Another key finding: The higher the heel, the greater the risk.

The study was conducted by Danielle Barkema, a kinesiology student pursuing a master’s degree at Iowa State University (who admits to wearing high heels occassionally herself). She said she got the idea from her twin sister, who wears heels all day in her department store job and noticed that many of her older heel-wearing colleagues had problems with their knees and hips.

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Heart Risks Start Early in Young Adults

Signs of heart disease — generally thought to be a disease of middle age — can be seen even in children, cardiologists now know. But risk factors in children and young adults run the risk of being undetected and untreated, largely because of confusion as to who among the young should get screened, and when.

One of the most efficient ways to screen for heart-disease risk is via tests for levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad”) cholesterol. And yet often that screen doesn’t get done.

In a study published in the July-August issue of the Annals of Family Medicine, Dr. Elena Kuklina and colleagues from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention examined data from the 1999-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, a national survey that includes interviews and physical examinations, to see how frequently young adults were getting screened for LDL cholesterol.

Of the 2,587 young adults in the study — men 20 to 35 years old and women 20 to 45 — fewer than 50% had been screened. Yet 59% of them had heart disease or related conditions such as diabetes or at least one risk factor for heart disease (such as obesity, high blood pressure, smoking or a family history of heart disease before age 50).

The study also reported that 65% of young adults with heart disease or related conditions had unhealthily high LDL cholesterol levels, as did 26% of those with two or more risk factors, 12% with one risk factor and 7% with no risk factors.

“This is a big problem,” said Kuklina, a fellow at the CDC’s division of heart disease and stroke prevention. “Heart disease and risk factors are common in young adults, and yet screening rates are low.”

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Young and Healthy? Watch the Cholesterol

Young adults out there, take note: The occasional Big Mac, slice of pizza or ice cream cookie binge may be fine — but you’d be wise not to make a habit out of it.

Consistently high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol throughout early adulthood (which is what you’ll get if you keep eating junk food every day) can do more harm to your future health than to your current figure, according to a new study. They’re a leading risk factor for coronary heart disease, diabetes and stroke.

Researchers from the University of California San Francisco examined the extent to which bad cholesterol profiles in early adulthood are linked to later development of heart disease. They analyzed data from 3,258 men and women who have been tracked by the CARDIA, or Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults, study for the last 20 years and were ages 18 to 30 at the start of the study.

The researchers found that participants with histories of high levels of the “bad” LDL cholesterol were 5 1/2 times as likely to have a buildup of calcium in their coronary arteries (an early indicator of heart disease) than those who had optimal LDL cholesterol levels, defined as less than 1.81 millimoles per liter.

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Australia’s marsupials originated in what is now South America, study says

The kangaroo, a beloved national symbol of Australia, may in fact be an ancient interloper.

A study published Tuesday in the online journal PLoS Biology suggests that Australian marsupials — kangaroos, wallabies, Tasmanian devils and more — evolved from a common South American marsupial ancestor millions of years ago. The finding, by researchers at the University of Munster in Germany, indicates that the theory that marsupials originated in Australia is incorrect.

Marsupials are characterized by distinctive frontal pouches in which they carry their young. There are seven existing orders, three from the Americas and four from Australia.

One prominent theory, now validated by the new study, suggested that ancient South American marsupials migrated across Antarctica to Australia more than 80 million years ago when the continents were connected in a supercontinent known as Gondwana. But scientists had also theorized that the first marsupials migrated from South America to Australia and then back again.

A third theory was that marsupials originated in Australia and then traveled to South America.

Up till now, it had been hard to verify any of the theories, said Matt Phillips, a biologist at the Australian National University in Canberra, who was not involved in the study.

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Le Petit Petit mixes French savoir faire with California cool

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Love Parisian fashion but don’t feel like parting with your whimsical, bohemian California girl look just yet? Why not mix the two? At least that’s what former Abercrombie and Fitch designers Logan Weinsieder and Marc Rosenbaum did for their newest clothing label, Le Petit Petit, which they started last March.

Blending Parisian cool with laid-back California chic, Le Petit Petit transforms comfortable, loose-fitting T-shirts into fashionable and flattering focal points for an outfit.  The label is currently only available online, but this hasn’t stopped Le Petit Petit from garnering attention and winning over celebrity fans such as Kelly Osborne and Emmy Rossum. Plans are underway to start selling select pieces from the line at Urban Outfitters stores in the next few months.

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