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Salt therapy is said to relieve symptoms of respiratory ailments such as allergies. By Paulina Kosturos
Maryland’s first Himalayan salt cave is slated to open on May 9. Image via Shutterstock.

On May 9, the first Himalayan salt cave in Maryland opens at Bethesda’s Massage Metta. Salt caves are touted for their healing benefits, which fans say include easing seasonal allergies, stress, eczema, and psoriasis. Himalayan salt is considered the purest salt form in the world, and is packed with natural minerals. When the salt is inhaled, it supposedly loosens mucus and draws water into airways, alleviating sinus issues.

Owner and lead massage practitioner Janine Narayadu first discovered the effects of salt caves after visiting one in Asheville, North Carolina, which she says “recharged” her body. Narayadu’s experience in North Carolina and observation of local children inspired her to open her own cave. “We have so many children in our area that suffer from allergies,” she says. “This is a way for them to find respite from the pollen in the air.”

Narayadu’s cave is made up of about 32 tons of imported salt rock from the Himalayas. It features a halo generator that crushes salt into a fine power and disperses it into the air. Patrons will be able to lounge in the cave for 45 minutes before, during, or after a massage.

Groupon deals for Massage Meta are currently available; Circe of Alexandria (123 N. Washington St., Alexandria) offers similar services.

Posted at 03:25 PM/ET, 04/28/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Don’t blame spring flowers for your cough and runny eyes—and the latest on treatments. By Melissa Romero
More than 90% of the pollen produced in this area comes from trees—with oaks being the biggest source. Photograph via Shutterstock.

Allergists in Washington know exactly when to prepare for long days at the office—when trees begin to show green leaves, flowers start to blossom, and a fine layer of yellow dust coats cars and sidewalks.

Spring is in bloom, but what should be a time to welcome warmer weather and sunny skies often turns into an urgent need to stock up on tissues, allergy medicine, and eye drops.

“There’s a greater sense of desperation to get into the office in the spring,” says Maryland allergist Mark D. Scarupa of the Institute for Asthma & Allergy. “The phone rings more than any other time of the year.”

Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the tulips and cherry blossoms that have many Washingtonians sneezing, rubbing their eyes, and maybe suffering from springtime eczema. A number of offenders are to blame in our area, but the worst is tree pollen.

Nothing To Sneeze At

Is this the nation’s allergy capital? Not quite.

Every spring, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America, in Landover, releases the top “allergy capitals” in the United States. Local allergy sufferers may be surprised that our area isn’t the worst place for spring allergies—not even close. Out of 100 cities, Washington is the 66th-worst allergy city in the country. The worst for spring allergies? Jackson, Mississippi, followed by Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee.

That doesn’t mean allergy symptoms are worse in the South than the Mid-Atlantic, says Virginia allergist Richard Loria: “It’s dependent on how early the season starts and how early it ends. It’s not that the Southeast’s symptoms are more severe; it’s just that their seasons are longer.”

Top Ten Spring Allergy Cities

1. Jackson, Miss.
2. Knoxville, Tenn.
3. Chattanooga, Tenn.
4. McAllen, Tex.
5. Louisville, KY.
6. Wichita, Kans.
7. Dayton, Ohio
8. Memphis, Tenn.
9. Oklahoma City, Okla.
10. Baton Rouge, LA.
...
66. Washington, DC

A 2010 survey conducted by Walter Reed Army Medical Center found that tree pollen accounts for 91.2 percent of Washington’s total pollen accumulation each year, followed by just 3.2 percent from grass during the summer and 3.8 percent from ragweed in the fall. Among tree types, oaks produce almost half of the tree pollen in Washington.

“We know that when cherry blossoms are blossoming, at the same time we’re getting atrociously high oak counts,” Dr. Scarupa says. “It’s the 10,000 oak trees within a square mile that are giving people problems.”

Trees cause the most suffering during spring due to the way they’re pollinated, explains Dr. Daniel Ein, director of the Allergy, Asthma, and Sinus Center at George Washington Medical Faculty Associates: “Trees and grass weeds pollinate through the air, while bees pick up pollen in flowers and transfer it to other flowers.” The air that causes us to sneeze and sniffle is filled not with flower pollen but with tree pollen.

That’s why the theory that local honey can cure allergies is unfounded, experts say. “The thought is if you put pollen in your mouth every day, it can reduce symptoms,” Scarupa says. “The major problem with this hypothesis is that flower pollen doesn’t get aerated, so it’s not what’s giving us problems.”

Fortunately, there are tried-and-true methods for tackling allergies, starting with what doctors call “common sense” treatments. The first step is avoidance. Says Dr. Richard C. Loria of Allergy and Asthma Associates in Northern Virginia: “In an ideal world, you would avoid what’s causing your problem.”

When there’s a high pollen count, you should shut your windows at home and turn on the air conditioner; the same goes for car windows. If you do venture outside, wash your hair, hands, and face afterward to remove pollen.

Clearing your nasal passages once a day using a spray, neti pot, or sinus-rinse bottle can also soothe symptoms, Ein says, adding that you should always use saline solution or distilled water when rinsing; tap water could lead to bacteria-causing infections.

The next step is to find an over-the-counter medication that works for you. The best strategy for those with minor allergy symptoms, Ein says, is to take one antihistamine pill daily for however long symptoms last: “It’s much better just to take it every day and get ahead of the symptoms. Otherwise, you’re going to go on a symptom roller coaster.” If over-the-counter medications don’t work, Ein says, the next step would be a prescription drug.

Immunotherapy is another option; it’s effective for 80 percent of allergy sufferers, especially those who experience no relief from antihistamines. It’s a lengthier process that begins with an allergy test. If the results reveal that a patient is allergic to oak pollen, for example, the allergist will create an extract of the pollen, which is injected into the patient starting weekly, then at less-frequent intervals over three to five years. The dosage increases each time. Eventually, Ein says, “the body no longer thinks that oak pollen is the enemy and it stops reacting as if under attack.”

One advantage to immunotherapy is that the extract is not a drug that must be taken every time you feel a sneeze coming. “We’re administering the same proteins people inhale in daily life,” Loria says. Research shows that over time immunotherapy can reduce allergic nasal and asthmatic symptoms and provide long-term relief without medication.

Ein sees major advances on the horizon that could replace a weekly allergy shot. A pill that dissolves under the tongue and gradually reduces allergy symptoms has been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Patients would have to take a daily pill for three to five years, but relief begins within months.

In the meantime, Ein says allergy sufferers should first see their primary-care doctor if over-the-counter antihistamines aren’t providing good results. If symptoms worsen, it’s time to see an allergist to figure out a course of treatment. Says Ein: “The best treatment is the one that gives you the greatest relief.”

This article appears in the April 2014 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 11:09 AM/ET, 04/23/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
Can lotions and creams reduce cellulite? What about liposuction? We asked skin-care experts to tell us what really works. By Melissa Romero
Are lasers the magic bullet? Photograph By Ruslan Olinchuk/Alamy.


Laser Therapy

How it works: A plastic surgeon makes small incisions to the cellulite-laden area. A probe placed through the incisions and under the skin emits a laser, melting fat bulges and cutting through the fibrous bands that pull on and cause dimples in the skin. New lasers, such as FDA-approved Cellulaze and CelluSmooth, require one-time treatments.

Cost: $4,000 to $7,500, depending on the size of the treated area. (Rondi Kathleen Walker, a plastic surgeon on Washingtonian’s most recent Top Doctors list, offers Cellulaze, while George Bitar, another top plastic surgeon, offers CelluSmooth.)

The verdict: Experts say that the new minimally invasive lasers are revolutionary because they require only one session and show immediate results. However, the treatments do cause bruising and swelling and sometimes require patients to wear compression clothing during the recovery period, which can be up to two weeks. Patients may need touchups once a year. Maral Kibarian Skelsey, director of dermatologic surgery at Georgetown University Medical Center, says Cellulaze is the best thing on the market but cautions that because the laser treatments are relatively new, there’s no data on long-term effects.


Anti-Cellulite Creams

How they work: Areas affected by cellulite aren’t only dimpled but also dehydrated, says Dr. Howard Murad, author of The Cellulite Solution. Applying creams or lotions that contain such active ingredients as retinol or caffeine increases blood flow to the area, temporarily reducing the appearance of cellulite.

Cost: $5 to $50 and up.

The verdict: “Don’t waste your money” on expensive lotions that advertise cellulite reduction, says Skelsey, who serves on the FDA’s general-and-plastic-surgery-devices panel. Using them is usually harmless, she adds, but “although there may be a short-term improvement [in appearance], it’s not scientifically possible that it will make an impact.”


Endermologie

How it works: A dermatologist or plastic surgeon uses a hand-held machine that suctions and kneads the patient’s skin, increasing circulation and loosening connective tissue. The treatment lasts approximately 30 minutes. It’s recommended that a patient undergo multiple sessions.

Cost: $100 and up per session.

The verdict: This type of deep-tissue massage may improve lymphatic drainage (which rids the area of waste and excess fluids) and reduce the appearance of cellulite, but only for a short time, says Dr. Melda Isaac of MI-Skin Dermatology Center: “It’s basically equivalent to fluffing up a pillow. It’ll look good in the meantime but won’t have long-lasting results.”


Radiofrequency Therapy

How it works: Radiofrequency devices apply heat to the surface of the skin, causing temporary swelling and thickening of the area, thereby smoothing the skin and minimizing the appearance of cellulite. For best results, patients are encouraged to undergo one or two sessions a week for a month or longer.

Cost: About $400 a session.

The verdict: A 2012 study published in the Journal of the European Academy of Dermatology and Venereology found that 89 percent of women who underwent radiofrequency therapy reduced their cellulite. Isaac, who offers radiofrequency in her office, says the treatment works well for mild cases. For severe cases, she says, “where you can see the shadows, peaks, and valleys,” radiofrequency alone won’t work.


Liposuction

How it works: A thin, hollow tube is inserted through small incisions and moved back and forth to loosen fat. The fat is then suctioned out using a vacuum or syringe.

Cost: An average of $2,852.

The verdict: Although patients used to think liposuction could get rid of cellulite, today the American Society of Plastic Surgeons says it’s not effective for that use. In some cases, liposuction can make the appearance of cellulite worse by creating more dimples in the skin, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.


This article appears in the December 2013 issue of Washingtonian.

Posted at 11:00 AM/ET, 01/16/2014 | Permalink | Comments ()
From thicker running shoes to the new Sriracha sauce, there's plenty to look forward to in health and fitness in the new year. By Melissa Romero
A recent survey found that gochujang, a fermented Korean condiment, is likely to be a popular flavor in 2014. Other health, nutrition, and fitness trends expected for the new year are high-intensity interval training, non-minimalist shoes, and more kombucha. Photograph by Flickr user KayOne73.

In 2012 we looked into our crystal ball and checked out what was in store for health and fitness in 2013. Our predictions were right on the mark, from the explosion of more themed races to the growth of Paleo dieters. Here, we anticipate seven trends to expect next year, from new exotic flavors in healthy dishes, to even more stylish workout clothes, to a new crop of running shoes that could change the face of the minimalist movement. 

More exotic flavors
Step aside, Sriracha, there's a new spicy sauce in town. A recent survey conducted by Sensient Flavors says gochujang, a fermented Korean condiment, is going to be popular in 2014. Other flavors expected to rise in the ranks: rhubarb, green coconut, and burnt calamansi. 

High-intensity interval training
The workout that involves short, high-intensity bursts of exercise is going to be the top workout of 2014, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. However, health professionals surveyed cautioned that with the rise of this type of training comes high injury rates. 

A boutique gym for every neighborhood
Goodbye gym chains, hello boutique studios. We love that almost every neighborhood in Washington has become home to small gyms that offer group fitness classes in intimate settings. And there are plenty more studios on the way for 2014

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Posted at 10:30 AM/ET, 12/23/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
A 2013 ranking of the healthiest states finds Virginia has an STD problem. By Melissa Romero
Washington may be known for its fitness, but the 2013 State Health Rankings show that Maryland and Virginia are not as healthy as they were one year ago. Photograph via Rena Schild / Shutterstock.com.

Bad news, Washingtonians: Maryland and Virginia are less healthy than they were one year ago, according to a new survey. 

The United Health Foundation released its 2013 annual report of America's Health Rankings today and while it touted the country in general for an improvement in overall health, our neighbors to the north and south slipped in the rankings. Maryland is the 24th healthiest state, followed by Virginia as the 26th healthiest. 

In fact, Maryland and Virginia were two of four states that experienced the largest decline in rank. Both fell four spots from their 2012 rankings. 

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Posted at 09:30 AM/ET, 12/11/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
Ongoing research shows energy drinks alter the way our hearts beat. By Melissa Romero
A study has found that energy drinks results in increased heart contractions one hour after consumption. Photograph via Shutterstock.

The controversy over energy drinks rages on with a statement recently released by a group of radiologists who determined that consumption of energy drinks leads to increased heart contraction rates.

“We’ve shown that energy drink consumption has a short-term impact on cardiac contractility,” said Dr. Jonas Dörner in a statement released by the Radiological Society of North America on Monday.

The results come on the heels of an ongoing national debate over the potential dangers of energy drinks. A 2013 report by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration found that the number of ER visits related to energy drink consumption has nearly doubled since 2007, with 20,783 patients admitted in 2011.

Researchers tested the effects of energy drinks on individuals’ hearts in a small study involving 18 men and women. Each participant underwent a cardiac MRI one hour before consuming an energy drink. Then they underwent a second MRI one hour after consuming an energy drink that contained 400 milligrams of taurine and 32 milligrams of caffeine, two main ingredients of energy drinks.

Results showed that one hour after drinking, the participants experienced significant increased heart contraction rates in the left ventricle. The left ventricle pumps blood to the aorta, which then distributes it to the rest of the body.

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Posted at 03:00 PM/ET, 12/04/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
These hard-to-avoid spots are breeding grounds for illness-causing bacteria. By Saba Naseem
Research shows that public places like the gym are teeming with bacteria. Photograph via Shutterstock.

With changing weather and the end of daylight savings time comes another hallmark of fall and winter: cold and flu season. And if you find yourself succumbing to illness year after year, some surprising culprits could be to blame. Here are five of the top germ-infested public places to be extra wary of this flu season.

1) The Gym

Fitness centers are well-known breeding grounds for germs that might lead to infections or athlete’s foot. A study found high levels of body contamination on door handles, shower floors, free-weight benches and bars, and dumbbells. And don’t forget to give your yoga mat a wipe-down before you roll it up to prevent bacteria from growing.

2) Public Transportation

DC’s Wheaton Metro station boasts the Western Hemisphere’s longest set of single-span escalators. But you may want to avoid holding onto the rails, despite what the safety rules tell you. A study that looked at mall escalator handrails detected traces of blood, sweat, and urine. It also found blood, mucus, saliva, sweat, and urine on bus handles and armrests. Another study on a public transportation system in a US city found various strains of the infection-causing bacteria staphylococcus on bus and train floors, seats, armrests, and windows.

3) Restaurants

A recent study found that on laminated menus, salmonella survived up to 72 hours and E. coli up to 48 hours. And do you ever request a slice of lemon with your water or soda? A study that examined 76 lemons from 21 restaurants found that more than 60 percent of the lemon slices produced microbial growth.

4) Playgrounds

Everyone knows a kid’s favorite time of the school day is recess. But what you might not know is that playgrounds are also hotbeds of germs. The same study that found bacteria on escalator handrails found that playgrounds were the site most likely to test positive for biochemical markers including blood, saliva, mucus, sweat, and urine.

5) Makeup Counters/Handbags

A two-year study by Elizabeth Brooks, a biological sciences professor at New Jersey’s Rowan University, found that testers and makeup counters were contaminated with staph bacteria and E. coli among other germs. So before you try on that lipstick, think of the hundreds who could have tried it on before you.

Posted at 11:00 AM/ET, 11/07/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
New research says the vaccine does more than just prevent the flu virus. By Melissa Romero
A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that those with a history of heart disease reduced their risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke by 37 percent when they received a flu shot. Photograph via Shutterstock.

If you haven’t yet received the flu shot, surprising new research may finally convince you to get one.

Results from the study, the first of its kind, suggest that the influenza vaccine prevents more than just the flu. It can also protect against heart disease and stroke.

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Posted at 02:30 PM/ET, 10/24/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
You’re invited to a weight-loss expo at Virginia Hospital Center. By Melissa Romero
Virginia Hospital Center and Well+Being will host a free weight-loss event this Saturday from 9 to noon. Experts will be on hand to discuss a variety of weight-loss options, from nutrition to exercise to surgery. Photograph via Shutterstock.

We've got some exciting news here at Well+Being: This Saturday we'll be joining Virginia Hospital Center at its first-ever weight-loss event that will feature top experts in the field of weight loss, exercise, weight loss surgery, and overall wellness. 

Best of all? It's free. 

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Posted at 10:15 AM/ET, 10/14/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()
A new study suggests the fizzy drink can save the day after a night of drinking. By Melissa Romero
Researchers in China have found that drinking Sprite may prevent a hangover. Photograph via Shutterstock.

This dreary weather is just asking for you to do some serious damage to that bottle of wine waiting at home. But if you’re worried about the aftermath, researchers have a new suggestion: Drink some Sprite.

Chinese researchers conducted a study that tested 57 different types of beverages and their effects on preventing a hangover. Xue bi, or Sprite, was the clear winner.

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Posted at 02:30 PM/ET, 10/11/2013 | Permalink | Comments ()