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Old 05-18-2006, 05:48 PM
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Default Can You Undo Your Past Health Mistakes

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Can You Undo Your Past Health Mistakes?
Remember when you were the ripe old age of 21 and thought you were immortal? Maybe you smoked 'cause you thought it looked sexy, or you considered lying out by the pool your summer job. Well, now that you're a mortgage-carrying adult who spends more time planning home renovations than planning spring break, you may wonder if your reckless past will come back to haunt you. Redbook researched the effects of six all-too-common vices to find out just how "bad" they are and what you can do about it now.
Smoking
You used to: Smoke
The damage done: Whether you had the occasional "social" cigarette or couldn't start the day without one, having ever smoked significantly increases your risk of heart disease, lung cancer and a whole host of other cancers. (The habit accounts for 30 percent of all cancer deaths.)
The bounce-back factor: Good
"Even if you've been smoke-free for only a year, you've already reduced your excess risk of heart disease by half," says Donna Bacchi, M.D., director of the Center of Tobacco Prevention and Control at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center in Lubbock. After 15 years, your risk of cardiovascular disease is similar to a nonsmoker's. As for lung cancer, after five years of being cigarette-free, your risk decreases to half of what it was when you smoked, and after 10 years, your fatality risk is on par with someone who never smoked. While you're waiting for time to heal, eat antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables (it's summer, so enjoy the fresh produce), which can encourage cellular repair and ward off cancer-causing free radicals. And make exercise a priority. Doing so can help restore lung function by increasing blood flow to your lungs.
Yo-yo Dieting
You used to: Yo-yo diet
The damage done: Surprisingly, not that much. "We used to think that repeatedly losing then regaining the same 10 or more pounds messed up your metabolism, decreased muscle mass and could possibly cause sudden death -- but research has discredited all of those risks," says Lawrence Cheskin, M.D., director of the Johns Hopkins Weight Management Center in Baltimore. Yo-yo dieting may decrease long-term immune function, however, according to a recent study from the University of Washington Medical Center in Seattle. Although researchers aren't sure why, losing and regaining weight reduces the activity of cells that fight colds and infection as well as kill early cancer cells.
The bounce-back factor: Very good
And since losing even just 10 pounds can lower your risk of high blood pressure and diabetes, it's better to keep trying to permanently lose weight than it is to just live with those extra pounds. First, figure out how to maintain a healthy weight by pinpointing where you've gone wrong in the past (a bookcase filled with fad-diet best sellers is a clue, as is "treating yourself" to several cookies when you're under the gun at work). Then take action. Consider meeting with a nutritionist or joining Weight Watchers, which can help you control portions and still eat foods you enjoy. Strategies like meditation and regular exercise can alleviate work stress. Besides keeping you calm, regular exercise can help you lose pounds -- and keep them off.
Unprotected Sex
You used to: Have sex without protection
The damage done: You could have a sexually transmitted disease (STD) and not realize it, says Gary Richwald, M.D., a clinical virologist in Los Angeles. Approximately 75 percent of women with chlamydia are asymptomatic, and most women with gonorrhea have such mild symptoms (such as discomfort while urinating or a yellowish ******l discharge) that they don't know anything is wrong. Left untreated, chlamydia and gonorrhea can cause pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), which can lead to infertility. Similarly, 80 percent of people with genital herpes don't get the painful sores in the genital tract that are known to characterize the condition. And some studies suggest that more than 75 percent of Americans have been exposed to human papillomavirus (HPV), the most common STD in the United States, which usually has no symptoms and can lead to cervical cancer in women if left unchecked.
The bounce-back factor: Good
If you haven't had regular checkups with your ob/gyn, be sure to do so from this day forward -- and be completely open about your sexual history. Request the tests that check for chlamydia and gonorrhea (usually done by sending a swab of your ******l secretions to a lab) and the blood test for genital herpes (ask for the HerpeSelect test, advises Richwald). A Pap smear can detect signs of HPV. While chlamydia and gonorrhea are curable with antibiotics, herpes is a chronic condition. Taking medication can suppress it, reducing the likelihood of painful outbreaks and passing it to your partner. There's no treatment for HPV, but if you test positive for it, your doctor can monitor you for cervical abnormalities that might indicate cancer or a precancerous condition.
Listening to Loud Music
You used to: Rock out at loud concerts
The damage done: You may find yourself saying "Huh?" more often than you used to. "People with a lot of exposure to loud noises tend to lose hearing in the middle frequency first, making it difficult to hear what people are saying, especially when there's a lot of background noise," says Meredith Garcia, Ph.D., a professor of otolaryngology at the Tulane University Health Sciences Center in New Orleans. "As you get older, you may also have trouble hearing in the upper frequency, meaning it's tough to hear high-pitched sounds like a ringing phone or the buzzer on your dryer."
The bounce-back factor: Fair
You can't recover lost hearing. However, turning down the volume on your DVD player and wearing earplugs when you're exposed to loud sounds, such as a lawn mower, can protect against further hearing loss. If you experience constant ringing in your ears, you may have tinnitus, a common condition that plagues those who've long listened to loud music. There's no cure for it, but it's still wise to see an otolaryngologist, who can rule out any other reasons for the ringing and recommend ways to mask it or teach you how to cope with it.
Binge Drinking
You used to: Binge drink
The damage done: You may have increased your risk of alcoholism, especially if the disease runs in your family, says Fulton Crews, Ph.D., director of the Center for Alcohol Studies at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine in Chapel Hill. Binge drinking, defined as consuming five or more drinks at one time or drinking enough to reach a blood alcohol level of .08 or higher, could also lead to memory problems, since large amounts of alcohol kill brain neurons. It can cause fat to accumulate around your liver and even lead to cirrhosis (or scarring) and the possibility of needing a liver transplant.
The bounce-back factor: Very good
If you're only a moderate drinker now, defined as one alcoholic drink per day for women, your liver has probably fully repaired itself since your binge-drinking days. And though you can't get back lost brain cells, studies of recovering alcoholics suggest that when you stop binge drinking, you can regain memory function without those lost cells.
Tanning
You used to: Worship the sun
The damage done: You're at an increased risk of skin cancer and premature aging (age spots, wrinkles, leathery skin, broken blood vessels). Although nobody knows how much sunbathing alone increases your risk of skin cancer, several studies have found that people with a history of severe sunburns have a significantly increased risk of developing melanoma, the deadliest skin cancer. And a recent study at St. Thomas Hospital in London found that fair-skinned people who regularly used tanning beds nearly tripled their risk of melanoma. "Indoor tanning does even more damage because you're absorbing concentrated ultraviolet rays in a short period of time," says James Spencer, M.D., a dermatologist in St. Petersburg, FL.
The bounce-back factor: Fair
There's a 10- to 30-year lag between when a person sunburns and when skin cancer develops. So if you baked at the beach as a teen, your risk for cancer is higher now. Inspect your skin from head to toe once a month to check for any new moles or moles that have changed color or shape, and see a dermatologist if you notice anything suspicious. Also, visit your dermatologist every year if you've had lots of sun exposure or used to indoor-tan regularly, have many moles, are fair-skinned or have a family history of skin cancer. And from now on, no sun without sunscreen!
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