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Health Capsules: July 25

Confused about supplements? There’s an app for that

A new app from the National Institutes of Health provides consumers with information and potential side effects for the most popular herbal supplements.

From black cohosh to ease menopausal symptoms, to echinacea to prevent colds, to ginkgo biloba to improve memory –  the list of herbal remedies marketed to consumers as health aids is virtually endless, and potentially confusing as well. 

Although plants have been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years, herbal supplements still aren’t as strictly regulated as over-the-counter or prescription medications, and supplement manufacturers do not have to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] before putting their products on the market. Yet many of these supposedly “natural” supplements can have medication-like effects, or can interact significantly with prescription medicines, making it important for supplement users to have up-to-date information about possible unwanted effects of these supplements. 

To help consumers navigate the wealth of information about popular herbs and herbal supplements, the National Institutes of Health [NIH] recently launched HerbList,  an app that provides research-based data about the safety and effectiveness of herbal products. Developed by the NIH’s National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health, HerbList is designed for consumers, healthcare providers and others to quickly access scientific information about the most popular herbal supplements sold for health purposes, including kava, acai, ginkgo, turmeric and more than 50 others. 

The app’s users can access information on potential safety problems, side effects and herb-drug interactions, with links to additional resources. HerbList is available for free download on both Apple and Android devices.

New drivers at highest risk for accidents

The period between Memorial Day and Labor Day is often referred to as the “100 deadliest days” for teenage drivers, because their rate of fatal car crashes climbs by 15 percent compared to the rest of the year. However, teens with newly issued driver’s licenses may be at very high risk year-round, according to a new study conducted at Virginia Tech.

The study, recently published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, showed that teens were eight times more likely to be involved in a collision or near miss during their first three months after getting a driver’s license, compared to their final three months with a learner’s permit.  New drivers also were four times more likely to engage in risky behaviors behind the wheel, such as accelerating rapidly, braking suddenly and making hard turns. By comparison, teens with learner’s permits had about the same rates of crashes and risky driving behaviors as adults.

Data for the study was collected using software and cameras installed in the participants’ cars. It is one of the first to follow participants’ driving continuously, from when they first obtained their learner’s permits through the end of their first year of licensed driving. 

The rate of crashes and near-crashes was found to be similar in male and female new drivers.  However, the research showed that risky driving, which did not differ by gender during the learning period, was higher among boys with new licenses than girls. The incidence of risky behaviors decreased over time for girls during their first year of licensed driving, but not for boys. 

“During the learner’s permit period, parents are present, so there are some skills that teenagers cannot learn until they are on their own,” said Pnina Gershon, Ph.D., the study’s lead author. “We need a better understanding of how to help teenagers learn safe driving skills when parents or other adults are not present.”

In the future, the researchers plan to explore whether the length and quality of practice driving time can predict the risk of crashes during the early independent driving period. They also will look into the influence of passengers on young drivers’ behavior during the learning period and through their first months of independent driving.

Co-worker support vital to breastfeeding new moms

For new mothers going back to work, the decision about whether or not to continue breastfeeding their babies may depend more on support they receive from co-workers – especially female co-workers – than other factors including encouragement from their partners, relatives and friends.

According to Michigan State University and Texas Christian University researchers who recently studied this issue by surveying 500 working new mothers, co-worker support was critical to helping new mothers believe they could continue to breastfeed their infants successfully.

More than half of the women surveyed who were still breastfeeding when they returned to work chose to stop between the first and sixth month, with many citing reasons involving negative perceptions by their co-workers or stigma around having to take time away from their jobs to pump breast milk during the day. The research also showed, however, that more than a quarter of the women who originally decided to breastfeed made that decision because their employer created a helpful environment, such as providing a place to pump during the workday. About 15 percent said they chose to continue breastfeeding because they had co-workers or supervisors who positively motivated them to do so.

“One factor could be that simply spending the majority of their time during the day with co-workers necessitates more support for breastfeeding success,” said Joanne Goldbort, an assistant professor in the College of Nursing at Michigan State. “In the workplace, a breastfeeding woman’s dependence on this is higher, because she has to work collegially with co-workers, gain their support to assist with the times she’s away from her desk, and ultimately try to lessen the ‘you get a break and I don’t’ stigma.”

Local hospitals receive Women’s Choice Awards

Several West County hospitals recently were named Women’s Choice Award winners for 2018 by WomenCertified Inc., a national advocate for female consumers. The organization recognized St. Luke’s Hospital along with Mercy Hospital St. Louis, Missouri Baptist Medical Center and SSM St. Clare Health Center – Fenton on its list of America’s Best Hospitals in several areas of medical care, with St. Luke’s receiving the most mentions.

The Women’s Choice Award identifies the nation’s best healthcare institutions based on accreditations, clinical excellence, female patient satisfaction and what women say they want from a hospital experience. “The Women’s Choice Award is special to us because it is a symbol of excellence indicating that our efforts to provide high-quality care to improve the lives of our patients are being recognized by the individuals we serve, including those who make the majority of healthcare decisions in their households – women,” said Christine M. Candio, St. Luke’s president and chief executive officer.

St. Luke’s received Women’s Choice top honors for overall Patient Experience, Heart Care, Cancer Care, Obstetrics and Orthopedics and also was named among America’s Best Breast Centers and Stroke Centers. Mercy St. Louis also received the award for Patient Experience, as well as for Cancer Care, Heart Care, Obstetrics and Orthopedics and as one of America’s Best Stroke Centers. Missouri Baptist Medical Center was recognized as one of America’s Best Hospitals for Cancer Care and Orthopedics as well as for its Breast and Stroke Centers, while SSM Health St. Clare was honored among the nation’s top hospitals for Heart and Stroke Care.

On the calendar

St. Luke’s Hospital presents a special program for teens, Tackling Teen Stress: Mindfulness is a Game-Changer, on Thursday, Aug. 2 from 6:30-8 p.m. at the Desloge Outpatient Center, 121 St. Luke’s Center Drive in Chesterfield, in Building A. Research suggests stress and anxiety are nearing epidemic levels in our culture; this program, facilitated by a certified holistic stress management instructor, is designed for teens to learn a variety of proven stress reduction techniques. Strategies discussed include relaxation breathing, mindfulness meditations, music, humor, unplugging and more. The program is free, but advance registration is required at stlukes-stl.com. For more information, call (314) 542-4848.

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Mercy Hospital St. Louis offers a Sitter Skills program for children between the ages of 11 and 13 on Friday, Aug. 3 from 6-9 p.m. at the hospital’s campus, 615 S. New Ballas Road, in Classroom 2 on the seventh floor. The course offers information about infant care, child development, interactive play, safety, handling emergency situations and marketing babysitting services. Children are asked to bring a doll or stuffed animal to class to learn how to change diapers. A light snack is provided. The course fee is $30 per child. Register online at mercy.net [click on Join Classes and Programs under the Patient Resources tab].

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St. Louis County Library offers a free program for teens and adults, Flexibility to Improve Your Health, on Monday, Aug. 6 from 7-8 p.m. at the library’s Daniel Boone Branch, 300 Clarkson Road in Ellisville. Be guided through a series of stretches to help prevent stiffness, soreness and injury while listening to relaxing music. Advance registration is required by visiting slcl.org. 

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BJC sponsors a Staying Home Alone class on Saturday, Aug. 11 from 9-10:30 a.m. at the Missouri Baptist Medical Center Clinical Learning Institute, 3005 N. Ballas Road, on the fourth floor. This class is designed for children and parents to attend together; it will help determine a child’s physical, mental, social and emotional readiness to stay home alone while preparing them for this experience. The fee is $25 per family; please provide the names of all family members attending. To register, call (314) 454-5437.

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