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We recently had to put down our family's beloved Labrador retriever, Trane. For the last few years, she exhibited severe hip problems, a classic sign of age associated with her breed. But lately Trane (pictured right), who was 12, had become lethargic--refusing even to scratch fleas--and was losing weight.
A few weekends ago, as I was bathing her I could feel not only her ribs but her vertebrae, and her collar had to be cinched to its innermost notch. She was literally wasting away.
It wasn't hard to see where this was headed, nor was it difficult to figure that she would probably not come home from her next vet visit. I was much less certain how I was going to explain this to my children, Elise, age 7, and Graeme, age 4. Explaining euthanasia to small children is tricky. Children get confused; they ask lots of questions; they project things onto themselves; they cry a lot.
Naturally, whether intentionally or not, my wife arranged for me to be the bearer of bad news. And I knew it wouldn't be easy. I was still explaining why we flushed Omen and Nemo, our last two goldfish, down the toilet.
But I came upon a strategy I thought might work. First, I told them in the car. I figured it was a lot easier to tell them if I didn't look them in the eye. I wasn't at all sure I would be composed enough to answer their questions if I had to face them.
Second, I spent the day trying to figure out what I needed to share with them and what I needed to leave out. I got a few things right--and probably a few things wrong. Here's what I told them:
"Trane was in a lot of pain and she wasn't going to improve. Dr. Champion did everything he could and this really was the best thing for her. It was very easy on Trane. It didn't hurt her and she wasn't scared. She went to sleep and didn't wake up."
(I should have left the last line out because my four-year-old began asking all sorts of questions about sleep and death.)
The conversation became robust with both of them discussing death, responsibility and even cremation. They cried but things on our small Alabama farm returned to normal in the next few days.
I will miss Trane, but her death opened up an opportunity to teach my children about faith and morality, about the health outcomes and decision-making processes that we face with our pets--and all too frequently with people in our lives.
I don't know if they understood all of it--especially our four-year-old. (In fact, a few days later, my son, frustrated and crying over some disappointment, did what any normal defeated four-year-old does. He heightened his sense of drama, looked at my wife and said, "I just want to be cremated.")
But now that they know the basics, we'll have a more concrete foundation to talk about life and death later on.
Editor's Note: The Nemours Foundation has an excellent guide to explaining pet deaths to children.
You may think the air quality index on the local weather forecast is meant only for people with heart and lung problems. Here's why everyone should pay attention.
My kids are going to kill me. I just know it. I've spent the last 10 days with them. No school, daycare or summer camp. In short, I was on vacation--and they were on vacation with me.
Don't get me wrong--I love my kids. But two days in the car and eight days in a small beach condo listening to them bicker over who gets to play Mario on the Nintendo DS can really raise my blood pressure.
But it also got me wondering: Does having kids extend or shorten a man's life expectancy?
Apparently, the scientific record is a bit thin on the impact of fatherhood on life expectancy. For example, we know something about its effect on the lifespan of our kids. Children whose parents live long lives tend to live long lives themselves.
We also know it may be a component in long-lived men. A 2007 study of centenarians suggested men who are trim (not me), were raised on a farm (nope) and have four or more children (thank the maker, no!) are more likely to reach 100 than their counterparts.
But that study didn't really tell us anything about the relationship between a father, his children and his life expectancy. For example, did the fathers live with their kids? Did they take long horse and buggy rides with the kids bickering over who got to play with the cornsilk doll?
Another study suggests men who continue to produce offspring into their 50s, 60s and 70s with much younger women may help their offspring live longer lives, but, sadly, it doesn't seem to help the fathers stay alive. As my wife points out, we can't all be Hugh Heffner or Charlie Chaplin--especially me.
In fact, what we don't know about the impact of fatherhood on longevity is staggering, especially since we know so much about the effect of motherhood on longevity.
Women, for example, who conceived children naturally in their 40s and 50s tend to live longer than women who have children earlier; lifespan increases with more children; and mothers tend to reap extra years by being grandmothers that men do not get by being grandfathers.
But with Father's Day on the horizon, I'm not sure a definitive study showing that being a father lengthens a man's life is all that important--at least to me. Even if being a father doubled a man's chances of living to 100, I doubt I'll live longer. There are other factors--like diabetes and family history--that are far more likely to impact my lifespan.
As my father told me when he was reminiscing about raising my brothers and me, it's not the quantity of life you live, but the quality of life. I may not live longer because I'm a father, but because of my children, the life I live will be better.
In short, my kids might kill me--or make me live longer. Either way, I'm going to die with a smile on my face.
Related Links:Life expectancy lower in many U.S. Counties.
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If you're like me, you probably spend a lot of time thinking about what you're going to eat. Here's some food for thought: The right foods can improve your concentration, fend off dementia, boost your energy and even help you remember things.
While most nutrition studies focus on hearts, bones and waistlines, there's a growing field of research around food and how it affects our brains. So, whether you're choosing breakfast foods to keep you alert during an early morning business meeting or want an afternoon snack idea to boost concentration powers, here's a round up of food news to feed your mind.
Get your folate
Found in orange juice, green vegetables, cantaloupe and whole grain foods including those enriched with folic acid such as breads, cereals, pasta and rice. Shown to improve alertness in adults, the B vitamin folate may be key in forming the brain's memory cells. (It's also critical in early pregnancy to prevent spinal cord birth defects.) Research shows that high blood folate levels help keep homocysteine levels in check. That's a good thing because high homocysteine levels are associated with increased risk of dementia and Alzheimer's disease. So, grabbing an orange juice and whole grain bagel may be a time saving "no-brainer" breakfast on the go but it's really good for your brain.
Feed your brain cells choline
Found in egg yolks, peanuts, soybeans and flaxseeds the nutrient choline helps support the brain's messenger service, called neurotransmitters. It's also linked to new memory cell production. But, according to Boston based nutrition consultant and registered dietitian Elizabeth Ward, who presented findings at the American Dietetic Association's 2008 Food and Nutrition Conference in Chicago, "It's a nutrient that's frequently under-consumed by those who need it most." Fewer than 10 percent of older children, men and women get the recommended amount of choline, Ward says. One egg, which contains 125 milligrams of choline, can help close the gap.
Add more antioxidants
If you're having trouble remembering or thinking clearly, toss a handful of blueberries in your yogurt for breakfast or order a spinach salad for lunch. Both contain high levels of antioxidants which may help protect cognitive function by fighting oxidative stress in our brains, according to nutrition research from Tufts University.
Take a sip of tea
Facing a big meeting or need to focus? Try a cup of tea. Tea contains an amino acid called theanine that helps calm us down so we can concentrate better and focus on the task at hand. Theanine is found in green, black and oolong teas.
If your brain feels a bit fuzzy or you feel irritable, you might just be thirsty. Dehydration can make you feel listless, lethargic and contribute to concentration problems. Maybe you don't need more caffeine to plow through the rest of the afternoon. Make sure to drink water throughout the day. The water in fresh fruit and vegetable snacks help hydrate, too.
Brain foods for kids
Children also need brain food. Breakfasts based on high-sugar food, in particular, can be a problem. High-sugar foods set kids up for a midmorning energy crash--just when they're likely to be in the middle of the more demanding classes, like math or reading.
Ideal breakfasts offer protein and complex carbs, which are digested more slowly. Such breakfasts not only keep kids' energy levels stable all morning, but also improve motor coordination, says Steven Zeisel, MD, a researcher at Duke University. Feed them a bowl of oatmeal. Researchers believe the high fiber, whole grain digests slowly, providing kids with a steady stream of energy.
And make sure they get the right amount of iron and zinc. Iron deficiency is the most common type of nutritional shortfall in American children, and the number one nutrition disorder in the world. And poor performance at school could be a symptom.
Even a minor deficiency can cause a decline in cognitive functioning, says Mary J. Kretsch, PhD, a researcher at the USDA-ARS Western Human Nutrition Research Center in Davis, CA. Primarily, it seems to affect kids' ability to pay attention.
Lean beef is one of the best absorbed sources of iron there is. The amount of meat consumed matters less than you think. Kretsch says that adding even as little as 1 ounce of beef per day has been shown to make a big difference in the body's ability to absorb iron from other sources.
An added brain bonus: Beef packs plenty of zinc, and even minor zinc deficiencies have been shown to impair memory.
You probably know that eating a healthier diet can help you lose weight and keep cholesterol in check. But did you know choosing the right foods can also help your skin? Just as calcium is critical in bone health, other nutrients play a crucial role in the health of your skin, hair and nailsand those nutrients may even help you look younger.
Skin cells need certain nutrients to repair and regenerate. This is also true for healthy hair and nails. And that's where the foods you put on your plate come in. Here are nine nutrition secrets that can help you look and feel younger.
Antioxidants including vitamin C, vitamin E and vitamin A are substances that protect against the breaking down of cells in the body, including the skin. The best protection is an array of antioxidants, from brightly colored fruits and vegetables. Add dark green leafy vegetables, broccoli, blueberries, cantaloupe, pink grapefruit, red peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes, squash, plums, prunes, purple grapes, beets and tomatoes to your weekly menu.
Vitamin C is essential for the formation of collagen, the spongy stuff that keeps skin plump and wrinkle-free. You can find vitamin C in citrus fruits, red peppers, dark green leafy vegetables, tomatoes, strawberries and kiwi fruit.
Beta Carotene is critical for skin health, too. In the body, it converts to vitamin A and is involved in the growth and repair of skin cells and may protect against sun damage. Note: Vitamin A supplements in high doses can be toxic so go for carrots, pumpkin, mangos, sweet potatoes and other orange colored foods.
Vitamin E helps protect healthy cells and guards against sun damage, too. Wheat germ, fortified cereals, nuts and seeds have vitamin E. There's even some research that suggests Vitamin E can join forces with Vitamin C for an extra boost of anti-aging skin protection. So how about a glass of orange juice with a handful of almonds for an afternoon snack to nourish your skin?
Healthy fats such as omega-3 fats found in salmon, flaxseed and walnuts and the mono-unsaturated oils found in olive oil, canola oil, avocados and nut butters are heart healthy and help keep skin moisturized from the inside out.
Beauty on the half-shell? Oysters are a great source of the mineral zinc which is involved in wound healing and the formation of new collagen. Rather have sushi? The mineral selenium found in tuna and crab may help delay aging by reducing sun damage and protecting skin's elasticity. Selenium is also found in grass-fed beef and buffalo.
Finally, think about what you drink: Overdoing it at the bareven the coffee barcan show on your face. Avoid excess alcohol and caffeine which can dry and dehydrate your skin, robbing the cells of needed water, and causing fine lines to be more visible. And be sure to drink plenty of water throughout the day and eat water-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables. This helps keep your skin hydrated and looking its best.
There's nothing like a study touting the health benefits of drinking alcohol to put people in a celebratory mood. No doubt moderate drinkers are tipping their glasses to one such study published in the September issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.
The study found that drinkers aged 55 to 65 have lower mortality rates than non-drinkers. That's right: Subjects who did not drink had twice the risk of death as moderate drinkers (defined as someone who drinks two to three drinks a day). Even compared to heavy drinkers, who average more than three drinks a day, the mortality risk for non-drinkers in the study was still higher.
The study adds to other research that's been pointing to the benefits of drinking a little alcohol--mostly in the form of red wine.
But before you break out the champagne, it's important to note that most of the non-drinkers in the study were less healthy than the drinkers to begin with.
According to the authors, the abstainers were more likely to have "prior drinking problems, to be obese and to smoke cigarettes" than their drinking counterparts. They also were less affluent, less likely to be physically active, less likely to be married and less likely to socializefactors associated with shorter lifespans.
Once researchers controlled for those factors, subjects in the study died in rates similar to heavy drinkers, but still higher than moderate drinkers.
Good news for the cocktail crowd? Maybe not. It's hard for scientists to effectively control for that many factors, and this kind of studyone where subjects self report their behaviordoesn't produce the most reliable results.
Some people may interpret the findings as an open invitation to belly up to the bar. And that's a problem. As the researchers in the study point out, moderate drinking can increase the risk of falls, lead to alcohol abuse and interfere with certain medications in older people.
Plus, there are other things people in this age group can do that are proven to have a bigger impact on mortality rates than consuming alcoholsuch as losing weight, quitting smoking and socializing more. And those are definitely worth toasting.
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