I’m miserable this winter with the cold and damp — my back hurts and my joints ache. Is there something I can do to ease my discomfort besides running away to Brazil?
Gregory T., Portland, Maine
Sorry, Gregory, but if you believe that cold weather makes your joints painful and achy, well, Australian scientists say you should really blame your miseries on something else!
That’s actually good news, because while you can’t control the weather, you can control your pain.
In a recent study from down under, researchers documented the weather a day or two before almost 1,000 people with lower back pain said their pain kicked in. Taking into account temperature, air pressure, humidity, even wind direction, the researchers couldn’t find any direct connection between weather and the people’s pain.
And in another study of weather and osteoarthritis knee pain, researchers found no correlation between increased knee pain and temperature, relative humidity, air pressure or precipitation.
So what gives? Probably you just notice pain more on cold, dreary days or would rather attribute pain to something external. But whatever the reason, it’s time to take steps to ease those aches.
▪ Lose weight, if needed. Every extra pound puts pressure on joints and soft tissue.
▪ Get moving! For arthritis: Appropriate, regular physical activity strengthens muscles around affected joints, protects against bone loss, may reduce joint swelling and pain, helps lubricate cartilage, improves sleep and boosts energy. For lower-back problems: A study in JAMA Internal Medicine found that exercise (strengthen your core!) reduces pain episodes by 35 percent.
▪ Add ALA and DHA omega-3 to your diet. ALA is found in canola oil, walnuts and avocados; DHA is in salmon and ocean trout. Randomized, controlled trials found that both omega-3s decrease joint pain.
▪ Learn to manage stress. Studies show that managing stress decreases joint pain by about 35 percent. Try mindful meditation, aerobic exercise and/or cognitive behavioral therapy.
The combo of these techniques decreases pain episodes and severity by over 50 percent.
I’m pretty sure my sister didn’t drink during her pregnancy, but my 6-month-old niece looks like she may have fetal alcohol syndrome. Is it possible that something else is the case?
Emma W., Los Angeles
Yes, it’s possible; although we don’t know what symptoms have made you suspect fetal alcohol syndrome.
FAS happens because alcohol is what’s called a teratogen — a substance that can cross the placenta and damage a developing embryo and fetus. Other teratogens include antibiotics such as tetracycline, some acne meds, some anti-seizure meds, lithium, anti-rheumatics and chemotherapy — as well as recreational drugs. Experts believe that teratogens can begin affecting an embryo growing in the womb about 10 to 14 days after conception.
Perhaps your niece was exposed to one of them in utero.
But whatever the cause of your concern, your niece needs to be evaluated by a pediatrician who’s a specialist in developmental problems ASAP. The sooner she’s treated for any developmental problems she may have, the better her chances of overcoming any deficits.
Fetal alcohol syndrome or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder happens when a woman consumes alcohol while pregnant. Often a woman doesn’t know she’s pregnant when she’s drinking — only 50 percent of pregnancies are planned. (That’s why we suggest women of childbearing age and those trying to get pregnant skip alcohol.)
A meta-analysis of 328 studies found that worldwide, 9.8 percent of women used alcohol during their pregnancy. Of that group, one in every 67 delivered a child with FAS.
FAS has distinct symptoms, although the degree to which they’re present is arrayed along a spectrum. A child is born with some cognitive impairments as well as physical impairments, such as low birth weight, low post-natal growth rate and what’s referred to as “dysmorphic facial features.”
Make sure your sister and niece get evaluated so the little one can get the care she needs right now.
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Dr. Mike Roizen is chief medical officer at the Cleveland Clinic Wellness Institute. To submit questions, write to Drs. Oz and Roizen, 300 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019-5238, or visit sharecare.com. Their column appears Monday.