Are Supplements Worth It?

The pandemic has put our health under the microscope like never before, with many of us reaching for dietary supplements in the hope of fending off the COVID-19 virus.

A recent survey in the US found nearly 30 per cent of Americans are now taking more supplements than they were before the pandemic, while in Australia market researchers report sales of vitamins and supplements have soared.

Are supplements perfectly safe or could we be risking our health further every time we pop a pill?

What are dietary supplements?

Natural health products such as vitamins, minerals, amino acids, enzymes and plant extracts all fall under the umbrella term of dietary supplements. They are also known as complementary medicines. Global supplement use is growing at a fast rate and expected to reach a value of almost US$300 billion by 2027.

Many dietary supplements are beneficial if used safely, says Geraldine Moses, Adjunct Associate Professor of the School of Pharmacy at the University of Queensland. Women who are pregnant or planning to be are prescribed folic acid and iodine, and deficiencies in certain minerals, such as iron, are corrected with supplements.

What is the evidence?

Some of us take a multivitamin as a kind of health insurance, in case our diet is lacking. Yet the highest-quality evidence, randomised controlled trials, has found no evidence that multivitamins improve your health.

The trials that have been done of vitamins have not shown benefit in people who are not deficient. We are just seeing it time and time again, Professor Rachel Neale of the QIMR Berghofer Medical Research Institute.

One reason dietary supplements are so popular is the perception that they are harmless, says Professor Moses. But like any other drug, there are potential dangers from taking vitamins and minerals. Unlike other drugs, however, we rarely hear of their potential harms.

How to Choose Ergonomic Aids

Back ache, neck ache and eyestrain are all signs of a poor ergonomic set-up at work. Reduce stress on your body by choosing the right ergonomic accessories.

A good chair and desk can go a long way to ensuring you maintain correct posture when you are working. But to get the optimum set-up you may need a few additional supports. Follow this quick accessory guide from Healthworks’ Your Body At Work to find the best aids for you.

Q. Do you need to raise your monitor to have it at the correct height?

A. A monitor stand can easily fix this. If you use a laptop, a laptop stand can raise the height of the screen and allows you to use an external keyboard and mouse.

Q. Do your feet dangle above the floor, or are you more comfortable with them raised slightly?

A. Forget the awkward crossed legs position, it’s time to invest in a footstool. This will allow your thighs to rest comfortably on the seat of the chair and your knees to be bent between 70 and 110 degrees.

Q. When typing, do you tense your wrist or forearms, or are your forearms unsupported?

A. A wrist support will fix this problem.

Q. Do you need to manoeuvre your chair to access items required for work?

A. A slide mat will ensure your chair moves easily across the floor.

Q. Do you rotate your neck to one side when reading documents, or push your keyboard away to fit documents immediately in front of you?

A. A document holder or reading/writing frame (which sits over your keyboard) will fix this.

Q. Do you use the phone frequently, cradle it in your neck, or hunch your shoulders while holding the phone?

A. A phone headset. Bluetooth headset or speakerphone is essential.

Q. Is your back sore or uncomfortable?

A. Try a back support on your chair. There are a number of types available, depending on your area of discomfort.

Text Neck danger

Bending your neck forward and down for long periods looking at your mobile phone is causing a wave of neck, shoulder and back problems known as Text Neck. Minimise injury by raising the height of your phone or tablet and take a break or change position every 15 minutes.

5 Signs of Anxiety You Might Have Missed

Although it is a mental health issue, anxiety can often have surprising physical symptoms. These symptoms can appear even when you are not feeling overly anxious.

Anxiety changes the way you think, your hormones and your perceptions, says Micah Abraham, editor of Calm Clinic. It changes the neurochemicals in your brain that tell you how to think and act. It can both cause physical sensations and make you hyperaware of them, which can lead to a huge variety of symptoms.

When Calm Clinic asked its Facebook followers if they had any unusual anxiety symptoms, they received hundreds of responses, ranging from “forgetting how to swallow” to a “loud pop, like a firecracker, in their ear.”

“An individual suffering from an anxiety disorder perceives a wide range of feelings and sensations, which are unique, complex, and often difficult to explain,” says Abraham.

In fact, it’s possible to experience anxiety only as physical symptoms – your mind may feel completely relaxed and clear.

Here are five common anxiety symptoms which you might not realise are anxiety:

1. Pain

A sudden pain in your hip. A stomach ache. Chest pain with accompanying sweating so severe you think it must surely be a heart attack. Anxiety can create sensations of pain that have no physical cause.

Chest pain is one of the most common types of pain created by anxiety. Research in 2018 published in BMC Medicine found that Emergency Department providers believe approximately 30 per cent of patients seeking emergency care for chest pain are actually experiencing anxiety.

This kind of chest pain is caused by a stress response. Your heart starts to beat faster to prepare for fight or flight, which causes rapid breathing. This can lead to hypoventilation, which can cause shortness of breath as well as a contraction of blood vessels, which may result in chest pain.

Other times, you might notice random pain anywhere in your body that can stay for weeks, and then disappear. Similarly, you might experience muscle aches, spasms, and twitching.

These pains could be caused by rapid breathing, or by holding your muscles tensely for long period of time, or by hypervigilance.

Abraham explains: “Someone without anxiety may have a knee pain so mild that they don’t even notice it, but a person with anxiety feels that knee pain severely because their mind has been altered, making it hypersensitive to the way the body feels.”

2. Numbness and tingling

You notice pins and needles in your feet or hands. You Google it, and become convinced you have a neurological disease. Or it’s a sign of a heart attack. But could it be… anxiety?

Anxiety Centre says numbness and tingling are common signs of anxiety. It can also feel like part of your skin or body has lost all feeling, or you might even feel a crawly sensation. You might notice it in your arms, hands, fingers, toes, legs, feet, head, face, or it might shift around all over your body.

It can even strike when you are not noticing any other mental anxiety symptoms, for example when you are relaxing watching TV.

The numbness and tingling are caused by your fight or flight response: your body moves blood away from your extremities such as hands, feet and skin, and redirects it to your heart and muscles.

3. Yawning

Frequent and excessive yawning doesn’t necessarily mean you need more sleep. It could mean you are experiencing anxiety.

The need to yawn often – even in important meetings – can sometimes be accompanied by a feeling that you can’t breathe deeply enough, or becoming very aware of your breathing.

It’s caused by shortness of breath, which in turn is caused by a change in heart rate.

4. Digestive issues

Indigestion, the need to burp all the time, or just a plain old stomach-ache are common physical symptoms of anxiety. In fact, around one third of anxious people experience anxiety-related diarrhoea.

It’s caused by the fight or flight response, which changes your hormones and digestive enzymes. It can be exacerbated by lack of sleep – another common anxiety symptom.

Plus, emerging research is revealing the powerful link between the brain and the gut, where gastrointestinal issues are triggered or exacerbated by anxiety and stress, and on the flip side, your gut health can impact your mental health.

5. Hair loss

You brush your hair and a lot comes out. Are you ageing rapidly, or could it be anxiety?

Hair loss is a common symptom of anxiety in both men and women.

You might notice it just in one part of your head, or all over.

Anxiety Centre says its due to a body-wide hormonal response. For example, stress activates neuroendocrine-immune circuits, which pause hair growth.

How to Manage Screen Time When Your Work Is Online

We all know too much screen time is bad for us, but what if your job requires long and intensive screen usage?

It’s difficult, because most of us are aware of the health issues of too much screen time: the impact on our mental health, our physical health and of course our vision. It disrupts our sleep, our ability to concentrate and increases our risk of chronic disease due to lack of physical movement.

Yet often our work is online, our friends are online, and increasingly our leisure time is online. Even exercise is often through an online class.

It is become harder since the pandemic, when so many of us switched to working from home. Even with breaks, it has become easy and normal to be on screens for 12 or more hours a day. Studies show that on average, use of digital devices increased by five hours a day for adults, an increase of 60-80 per cent.

So what can we do about it?

The answer is to develop healthy digital habits, says Doreen Dodgen-Magee, PsyD and author of Deviced!: Balancing Life and Technology in a Digital World.

1. First, measure.

Dodgem-Magee recommends first documenting how you are spending your time. Apps are designed to be addictive, and it can be extremely difficult to pull yourself away from a device and extremely easy to scroll absent-mindedly.

Track every 15 minutes for a few days. Note down what you are doing and what device you are doing it on. It seems like a lot of work, but it will save you hours in the long run.

2. Do what you need to do and get out.

It is tempting to reward yourself for completing a task by allowing yet more screen time. Make sure the breaks you take and rewards you give yourself are off-screen.

3. Take breaks.

A five-minute break every 25 minutes is a good guide, with at least two longer breaks every day. And as above, move away from that screen to take your break. Get up and move your body, even if it is just rolling your shoulders or walking around a bit.

4. Create screen free zones.

When working from home, Dodgen-Magee recommends having zones in your homes where tech is not allowed. This could be the bedroom or the bathroom, for example, or the kitchen. You can then carry this through to after work hours, to give yourself time away from screens in the evening.