Attaining better health remains on our minds more than ever since the 2020 COVID outbreak. Everyone’s present goal should be to feel better and maintain the function of our bodies to the best of our ability. You can’t control everything around you, but there still is a lot you can do. Hopefully, you are aware that including exercise and proper nutrition are essential when you have diabetes, but there are other lifestyle changes that need to be made for continual and optimal health.
Small behavioral changes that we make in our day to day lives can eventually lead to an improved sense of self, health and well-being. Certain long-term habits can be difficult to break but knowing that they may affect you in a negative way is the first step in making positive change. Getting healthier doesn’t always mean what you need to “add or buy”, it could also mean what you need to just get rid of. Let’s look at some simple changes you can make in your life which may have a positive impact on you and those around you.
Habit #1 – Smoking
Even in 2022, smoking continues to be a nationwide problem that could easily be eliminated when determination is available. This does not mean it is easy to quit, but well worth it. Between 80 and 90% of people who smoke regularly are addicted to nicotine. Nicotine causes the body to release adrenalin, which creates pleasure and energy. Over time your body builds up a tolerance to nicotine so you need more and more cigarettes to get the same affect. This leads to dependency and addiction. Besides being an addiction, smoking can be part of a pattern or routine and may be used as a coping mechanism that needs to be broken. Looking and finding other beneficial ways to mentally cope is crucial. There are support groups, smoking cessation groups and medications which can help you find your way.
- “Smoking causes almost a ½ million deaths in the US, yearly”, according to the CDC.
- Almost 31 million US adults currently smoke.
- Smoking costs the US over $600 billion a year.
- People with unresolved depression and anxiety smoke more than people who do not have these issues.
- Smoking is the top cause of preventable death in the US.
- When you stop smoking, your heart and lungs will get a rest. Your heart rate and blood pressure will come down. Your risk of cardiovascular disease goes down.
- Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death with diabetes. Smoking with diabetes increases the amount of macrovascular and microvascular problems. The combination of having diabetes and smoking is lethal.
- Primary care clinics offering “outreach interventional programs” have done well converting smokers to non-smokers.
- There are 7,000 chemicals in 2nd hand smoke. When you stop you will save your family and friends around you. 3rd hand smoke affects everyone around you too.
- Your risk of cancer will decrease when you quit. Not only your risk of lung cancer goes down but also the tongue, mouth, esophagus, stomach, pancreas, liver, bladder, and colon cancer risk goes down.
- Talk to your health care provider for the best ways to help you quit tobacco.
Habit #2 – Using air fresheners
Air fresheners are room deodorizers that come in the form of sprays, solids, or plug-ins. They can be used in your home or car as well as in stores, hotels, and offices to elevate the fragrance or mask unpleasant odors. Over 75% of US households use air fresheners. To help the fragrance last longer, phthalates are added to the product. “Phthalates are synthetic chemicals that have harmful effects on reproduction and development.” They are endocrine disruptors which change the response of the hormones in your body. Endocrine disruptors can cause early puberty, asthma, migraines, breathing issues, mucosal problems and allergies.
Many of them also have benzene which has a sweet odor. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) “benzene causes cancer in humans”. It has a negative effect on bone marrow and is associated with different types of blood cancer. Air fresheners also contain formaldehyde, petroleum, p-dichlorobenzene and aerosol propellants. These substances can potentially cause brain damage. The ingredients in air fresheners can irritate your skin, eyes and throat. The spray varieties are highly flammable. The solid air fresheners can cause death if eaten by children or pets.
They do not really eliminate the bad odor, they just cover or camouflage it. It would be better to find the actual cause of the smell than just mask it. Try using fresh air by opening the doors and windows or run fans to remove it. Air fresheners contain many other unknown ingredients with less than 10% of the ingredients disclosed to the public “that may be harmful to humans”. Instead, use coffee or vanilla beans placed in a sachet, cinnamon, nutmeg or cloves in combination. You can heat the natural spices in a pan with water on the stove and leave at a low simmer for a fall fragrance. The scent will carry in the kitchen and through your house. Baking soda can remove bad odors.
You can also use natural essential oils. The essential oils are plant derived. They come from the leaves, flowers, seeds, bark, berries and resins of different plants. Essential oils have an antiseptic, anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal effect. Make sure you purchase a high quality pure essential oil with no synthetic properties or additives and check to see that they are chemical-free. They should come in a sealed, dark glass bottle and be stored in a cool, dry place.
Since this industry is still unregulated, buy a product from a company with a well-known reputation. You can place 10 drops of essential oil in a spray bottle and add water, then spray in each room for a delightful fragrance. There are also ultrasonic air diffusers where you add the oils to water. The diffuser will send out a fine mist of fragrance into the air. Besides a yummy fragrance, essential oils can provide a host of other benefits since it stimulates the limbic system in your brain.
There are over 90 types of essential oils. Some suggested favorites include:
- Lavender – relieves stress
- Citrus (grapefruit or lemon) – aids in mood, reduce headaches and food cravings
- Lemongrass – helps concentration
- Lavender – relieves stress
- Sandalwood – calms nerves
- Rose – lowers anxiety
- Chamomile – assists with relaxation
- Bergamot – helps with skin conditions like eczema
- Peppermint – boosts energy and aids in digestion
- Frankincense – improves focus
Habit #3 – Choosing anti-bacterial soap
Since the beginning of COVID in February of 2020, “germs and bacteria have become even more of the enemy”. According to the FDA “anti-bacterial soap is no more effective at killing bacteria than the regular stuff and may not be safe”. There is no data suggesting that these soaps provide additional protection than regular soap. Triclosan was the active ingredient in anti-bacterial soap which is the potential problem. Although it was banned by the FDA in 2016 in soap products, it is still added to other products such as toothpaste.
Triclosan has recently been “replaced” in anti-bacterial soap with other not so safe chemicals such as benzalkonium chloride, benzelelthonium chloride or PCMX. It has been shown to change the regulation of hormones in animals and may be part of the reason for the rise in antibiotic resistance. Anti-bacterial soap may also lead to eczema, thyroid dysfunction and birth defects. These ingredients are not added to regular soap. Anti-bacterial soap kills both the bad and good bacteria on your skin. Anti-bacterial soap strips the skin of its natural oils and dries out your skin. This is especially troublesome with diabetes since your skin is already dry which puts you at a greater risk of a skin infection.
Anti-bacterial soap also costs more money. It should only be used in health care settings. “Regular soap is effective in getting rid of bacteria and other virus-causing germs”. Your body needs some good bacteria to maintain a healthy balanced environment on your skin. Regular soap does kill the bad bacteria but keeps the good bacteria around. The most important aspect is not the soap, but the handwashing technique. Liquid soap remains a better choice than bar soap for hand washing. Bar soap contains less chemicals and should not be shared.
The 5 things to remember with handwashing are:
Habit #4 – Handling thermal paper receipts
Paper receipts seem harmless enough, but a thermal receipt contain “250-1,000 times greater the amount of BPA than the amount in the lining of an entire can of food”. Thermal receipts are found everywhere from gas stations, movie tickets, sporting events, lottery tickets, grocery store receipts, airline tickets, train tickets, amusement park tickets, bank receipts, prescription labels, department stores, supermarkets, food labels and fax paper. Over 93% of paper receipts you touch contain BPA.
When you handle receipts, the chemical absorbs into your skin and enters your blood stream. BPA (Bisphenol AO) is a man-made, synthetic, industrial chemical used since the 1950s in plastics and resins. BPA acts like estrogen and has negative health effects on the brains of infants and children as it affects their behavior. BPA also has a link in causing high blood pressure, metabolic disease, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer’s disease, miscarriage, infertility, breast cancer, prostate problems, and premature puberty. Exposure to this toxin is cumulative and the more you handle it, the higher your total exposure.
What you can do to lower your exposure:
- Try to go paperless. Get receipts emailed or texted to you.
- Keep a plastic bag and ask the cashier to throw all the receipts into the bag. When you get home wear nitrile gloves to handle them and then dispose.
- Wash hands with soap and warm water after touching receipts. Do not use hand sanitizer which increases the absorption of BPA into the skin.
- If you are a cashier, wear nitrile gloves at all times.
Habit #5 – Keeping your toothbrush for too long
It is never exciting to purchase a new toothbrush, but it is necessary, especially when you have diabetes. Oral hygiene products matter to keep both your mouth and body healthy. Good oral care may be a life saver. Poor or inadequate mouth care and gum disease can lead to an increase in cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in people with diabetes. Healthy oral bacteria live in your mouth to help with the digestion of food, but the bacteria must be removed regularly. “A single toothbrush head can have over 10 million germs and bacteria present”. According to the American Dental Association (ADA), “you should change your toothbrush every 3-4 months”. A heavy-handed person may need to change it even more frequently.
You don’t need to scrub teeth and gums, simply hold light pressure at the gum line and on teeth. You should also consider a tongue scraper to lower the amount of bacteria in your mouth. You need to be regularly checking your toothbrush for wear and tear and fraying. A worn-down toothbrush can be abrasive to your gums leading to enamel erosion, gum recession, inflammation and possible loss of gum tissue.
Remember to replace your toothbrush!
“Worn out toothbrushes are less affective at cleaning teeth and fighting decay”. An electric head toothbrush has shorter bristles and due to the vibration should be changed even more frequently; typically every 3 months. See if the bristles are pointing in the wrong direction, flaring, warped or are flattened out.
You should change your toothbrush after every illness, fever, or infection such as a head cold, strep throat, the flu, a chest cold, bronchitis, pneumonia, COVID or a cold sore. Bacteria builds up on toothbrushes after each use so the longer you use it, the more the bacteria remains. Old toothbrushes also hold on to fungus, mold and micro-organisms. A new toothbrush removes plaque more efficiently.
Remember to rinse the head well in warm or hot water for 5-10 seconds after each use and allow the brush to fully air dry. Keep the toothbrush in a cup, standing and open to the air. Do not let your toothbrush touch another person’s toothbrush. Never store in a closed container, which is full of moisture and leads to more organisms and germs. You should dispose of your toothbrush after a dental cleaning and get a new one. The same holds true for electric toothbrush heads.
Habit #6 – Drinking diet sodas
Although diet soda is a much better choice than regular soda, fruit juice or energy drinks for people with diabetes, it is still far from a perfect option and holds its own set of problems. Diet soda contains artificial sweeteners, artificial chemical flavorings, caffeine, food colorings, preservatives and carbonation. Diet soda still remains a popular drink choice in 2022, in the US. According to the latest research “non-caloric sweeteners may mess with your gut bacteria”. Gut bacteria – or lack of the proper gut bacteria – is the latest buzzword. The wrong gut bacteria may cause of many of your current health issues.
Gut microbes are important for proper digestion and when altered, may increase the risk of glucose intolerance, metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. This pertains to Sweet-n-Low, Splenda and Equal. Diet soda also contains phosphorus, which may leach calcium out of your bones leading to osteopenia and osteoporosis. Earlier research based on three large studies have shown that “the additives and artificial ingredients in diet soda cause the body to crave more high caloric and sugar-laden foods”. The thought is it may confuse your body making your metabolism slow down. This makes it extremely difficult to lose weight. The research shows that “overweight and obese adults who consumed diet soda also ate 88-194 calories a day”.
People trying to lose weight who drink diet soda actually gain more weight. This could be because of the “free pass” of a calorie free beverage allowing you to eat more calories in your food. Earlier studies pointed to diet soda increasing the risk of type 2 diabetes, stroke, heart attacks and heart failure. Drinking diet soda offers no health benefits. Diet soda often has high amounts of sodium which potentially raises blood pressure. Another theory is artificial sweeteners may trick the body into thinking real sugar is coming and when it finally does come, it may blunt the response to metabolize the real sugar later.
What should you do? What else do you need to know?
- If you do not drink diet soda, do not begin.
- If you do drink it, drink one can or less per day for the best health. Use as a stepping stone to convert to plain water, unsweetened tea or decaffeinated coffee.
- Change to sparkling water and add your own citrus slices, watermelon cubes, cucumber slices or sliced strawberries.
- Drink zero-calorie flavored sparkling or flat water.
- It may cause tooth enamel erosion – even without sugar – due to the acidity in the diet soda. It will not cause tooth decay.
- May affect your bladder causing it to spasm.
- May cause headaches, migraines, and irritability.
- Are significantly sweeter than regular sugar and may make you crave sugar and sweet things much more.
- Can cause fatty liver disease and cause chronic inflammation in your blood vessels.
Habit #7 – Eating improperly stored leftover food
We tend to keep leftovers – which are generally perishable – for way too long, especially during the holiday season. We cook a 30-pound turkey and find ways to reinvent it for several weeks. This is not a safe practice. Food poisoning is more common in those over 65, under age 5, those with immune disorders and pregnant women. Using the sniff test to check for food spoilage is not always reliable. If it does smell poorly, definitely dispose of it. If you see mold, throw it out. If the food is mushy, slimy, smells rancid, tastes off or is discolored, get rid of it. Throw it away to prevent a serious health problem.
Leftovers are definitely worth eating to help save money, time and effort, when done properly. According to food safety experts, “eat, freeze or toss after 3-4 days”. According to the USDA “food needs to be cooked to a safe temperature. Use a food thermometer to know for sure. It also needs to be stored at a proper temperature quickly, after eating.” These are the 2 biggest causes of food-borne illness.
Wrap leftovers in shallow containers and separate into smaller portions. They will cool down quicker. You do not have to wait for food to cool down before placing it into the refrigerator because chilling fast prevents bacteria from multiplying. While serving hot food, remember to keep it warm in chafing dishes, slow cookers or warming trays. To serve cold food, nestle food over bowls of ice. When you freeze food, wrap it air-tight in a freezer wrap material.
You should label the food contents as well as listing the freezing date. Frozen leftovers are good for approximately 3-4 months. After that, they lose their taste and dry out. When reheating leftovers, let them reach 165 degrees. Use a food thermometer to check sauces, soups and gravies. If using a microwave for reheating, make sure to cover and rotate the food for even heating. When you defrost food, it should never be on the countertop. Defrost and marinate food in the refrigerator. You can also defrost food in the microwave. Freezing stops bacterial growth.
Listeria can grow even at refrigerator temperatures. Listeria can cause meningitis, miscarriages and even death. Bacteria does not change the taste, smell or look of food. Toss food that has been sitting on the counter or table after 2 hours or 1 hour if the temperature is 90°F or above. Bacteria multiplies when the temperature is between 40°F and 140°F. This is called the “danger zone”. Other food-borne bacteria that can make you sick are: staph, salmonella, E-coli and Campylobacter.
Eating directly out of large containers poses another risk. If you eat directly out of the container, you can contaminate the rest of the food left in there and make the next person ill. Symptoms of food poisoning include upset stomach, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and possibly a fever. Food poisoning usually starts 12-72 hours after ingesting the spoiled food. The symptoms can last from 4-7 days. These problems can easily be prevented with proper planning and care.
Habit #8 – Taking expired medication (or taking someone else’s medication)
According to the FDA, “in February 2021, the recommendation was not to take expired medication due to chemical changes or bacterial growth”. Taking medication past the expiration date may lead to drugs that have lost their potency. Storing medication correctly will ensure the best quality of the product. Make sure they are stored in a cool, dry place out of humidity and dampness. Insulin, taken for diabetes, is one drug known for losing its potency very quickly. Taking out of date insulin, frozen insulin or hot insulin will have a negative impact on your diabetes control.
“Out of date” antibiotics can fail to treat infections which may lead to a higher risk of antibiotic resistance and/or a more serious illness. EpiPens taken for a severe allergic response will not work properly when used out of date. Liquids suspensions and medications requiring refrigeration will expire earlier than pills or capsules stored at room temperature. Eye drops and ear drops, especially without preservatives, will expire when noted on the packaging.
Besides not ingesting expired medication, you should dispose of all medication correctly. If you do have prescription medications that are out of date, always check with your health care provider for their final advice. You don’t want to waste money on your unused medication. Some studies have shown certain medications to last beyond their expiration date, but you still may be taking a risk.
Medicine & Children
Letting children or pets get to your medications can be extremely dangerous, especially when it includes certain types of prescription meds. Opioids should be monitored carefully and placed in an area difficult to locate by anyone but you. Other medications to monitor carefully against the wrong person accidentally taking them include anti-depressants such as Lexapro, sedatives such as Ambien, Benzodiazepines like Xanax and stimulants such as Adderall. The US is currently experiencing a prescription drug addiction epidemic. Being diligent about keeping watch on certain prescriptions is an important safety factor.
There are events called “drug take back programs”. One specific program is National Prescription Drug Takeback Day, sponsored by the DEA, which is offered annually. You can check on the website for accurate dates and times. There is an FDA flush list online showing you which medications you can dispose of on your own, safely down the toilet. There is also a non-flushable list that gives you recommendations for disposal. The US Department of Justice offers websites for safe drug disposal. A simple way to do it on your own is:
- Mix the medication with either coffee grounds, kitty litter or dirt
- Place the mixture in a sealed plastic bag
- Remove personal information from the medication vial and throw out the vial or bottle separately
- Place the dry sealed mixture in regular trash – not the recycled trash
Also remember to update all OTC products including Tylenol, Advil, Tums, Pepto-Bismol, antibiotic ointment, cold sore medication, aspirin, Nyquil, cough suppressant and any other OTC items that expire.
Habit #9 – Using household cleaners without proper protection
Keeping your house clean is a smart and responsible thing to do but it comes with certain risks. Household cleaning products are used to kill bacteria, viruses, fungi and other pathogens. They are needed to remove dirt, grime, mildew and germs. The problem with these products is they contain powerful and potentially dangerous chemicals such as perc’s, formaldehyde, acids, abrasives, sanitizers, solvents and phthalates. Some of these are phosphorus, ammonia, sodium hypochlorate as well as many other chemicals. Up to 100 different chemical substances can be found in these cleaners.
Household cleaners contain:
- Carcinogens – chemicals proven to cause cancer
- Endocrine disruptors (phthalates) – chemicals that mimic human hormones, especially estrogen
- Neurotoxins – chemicals that affect brain function and can cause brain damage
- Allergens – ingredients that trigger severe allergic responses
Household cleaners may cause minor or serious health problems. It depends on how much product you use, how long you are exposed to the product and if you mix two or more products together. When they are used improperly, they may cause coughing, dizziness, headaches, breathlessness, nausea and vomiting, burning skin, runny nose, irritated eyes and throat pain. For instance, when using bleach do not inhale the fumes for a long period of time since it may cause permanent lung damage.
Be aware, if you or someone you know suffers from an exposure to a household product contact poison control at 1-800-222-1222. When using detergents, dish washing liquids or powders, all-purpose cleaners, oven cleaners, furniture polish, carpet cleaners, bleach, glass cleaners, toilet bowl cleaners, insect repellants and mold and mildew cleaners, you should follow these simple guidelines to help keep you safe:
- Wear latex rubber gloves to protect your hands.
- Wear a face mask to protect you from noxious fumes.
- Purchase eye goggles or plastic glasses to avoid splashes from chemicals.
- Always use household products in well-ventilated areas. Open windows and doors. Use exhaust and ceiling fans.
- Wash off any substance that gets on your skin immediately with plenty of soap and water.
- Never mix chemicals which could make them more toxic. An example would be bleach and ammonia. This could cause permanent lung injury.
- Never use these products near food, dishes, silverware, dish towels, counter tops or pet food bowls.
- When not in use, keep tops and lids tightly closed and store in a cool and dry place after each use.
- Follow the instructions on the manufacturers label.
- Consider using baking soda, white vinegar and hydrogen peroxide when you can.
- Try using liquid dish soap, Borax, lemon juice, castile soap-derived from olive oil, tee tree oil and club soda to save money and be exposed to less chemicals.
- Use micro-fiber clothes or old T-shirts instead of paper toweling and a bristle brush.
Habit #10 – Being negative
Being pessimistic, angry, hostile, anxious, upset and suspicious can be dangerous for your health and for those people around you. Being hopeless and helpless is also bad for your health. These negative feelings can increase your stress levels. Poorly managed stress creates chronic stress – this makes you produce extra cortisol which instantly raises your blood sugars. This plays havoc on your immune system preventing you from fighting any kind of illness or infection.
Negative thoughts and behavior increase your risk of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and digestive disorders. Negative attitudes can zap your energy and “diminishes the brains ability to think, reason and remember”. Change your thinking by changing your response. Turn things around, forge ahead and try a new and different behavior. Think about gratitude, love, friendship, compassion and forgiveness. Practice playfulness, being committed to yourself and others. Stop ruminating on the minor things and take in the big picture. Be good to yourself and practice self-love. It will make you feel better both mentally and physically.
Better Health – Final Thoughts
In closing, try to purge yourself of things that are considered unhealthy, cause clutter or no longer serve a purpose. “Life plaque” (named by motivational speaker Gail Blanke) just gets in the way of the important things we really need. Toxic materials are all around us and the longer we are exposed to them, the more they can build up in our body and cause long term health problems. Lose your shoes at the front or garage door; put on slippers that never leave the house. When you wear your shoes into the house, you carry in lead, pollen and pesticides, among other things.
With diabetes your immune system is somewhat compromised, so you want to stay as safe and chemical-free as possible. You can and will do this!
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