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Ice or Heat?

We get that question every day.

The most frequently asked question we get is: “Should I use ice or heat?”  Since the late 1970s, therapists have often treated an injury with RICE (rest, ice, compression and elevation). It’s an easy formula to remember: RICE is nice. Its now common knowledge that nobody believes in rest anymore. You can have hip replacement surgery and be up and walking within hours.

As for ice, there seems to be a bit of debate going on. There’s not much research to show that ice does anything more than numb pain. Icing restricts blood flow to the area which helps numb the pain and keep the initial swelling from getting out of control. But does it work to actually heal the injury? As it turns out, there are no clinical studies of its effectiveness (British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2012). In fact, some studies suggest that icing actually seems to delay recovery from exercise-induced muscle damage (Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2013).

Is it harmful to ice an injury?

When you damage tissue through trauma or develop muscle soreness by exercising very intensely, your body mobilizes your immune system to heal. It’s the same biological mechanism that you use to kill germs. This is called inflammation. When germs get into your body, your immune system sends cells and proteins into the infected area to kill the germs. When muscles and other tissues are damaged, your immune system sends the same inflammatory cells to the damaged tissue to promote healing. The response to both infection and tissue damage is the same. Inflammatory cells rush to injured tissue to start the healing process (Journal of American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, Vol 7, No 5, 1999). Applying ice to injured tissue causes blood vessels near the injury to constrict and shut off the blood flow that brings in the healing cells of inflammation (Knee Surg Sports Traumatol Arthrosc, published online Feb. 23, 2014). Anything that reduces your immune response will also delay muscle healing. Therefore, ice is counterproductive. Interestingly, Ibuprofen is worse because it actually stops the signal of the inflammatory response.

What about rest?

Blood flow brings inflammatory cells into the injured tissue to start the healing process and the lymphatic system then removes the waste products from the tissue. Muscle contraction is necessary to move lymph and eliminate these chemicals, not immobilization! Recognizing the importance of movement in the healing process is why nobody believes in rest anymore.

So what’s the current recommendation?

For minor injuries keep moving but always within a painless range of motion. If you can’t move the injured area, for example, if your ankle is in a cast, move your toes. Elevate to help the lymphatic system drain and as always, consult with your health care practitioner if you have any concerns.

Coffee: Brewing Longevity

The proof is in – Drinking coffee can lead to a longer life!

Well, maybe it’s not actual proof but a recent review of more than 200 scientific studies supports the idea that drinking coffee every day could actually have health benefits.

The review, recently published in the British Medical Journal, aimed to dispel some of the confusion and controversy surrounding coffee consumption and looked at the evidence from 218 previous studies.

The verdict?

Researchers found drinking coffee was consistently associated with a lower risk of death from all causes and a lower risk of several cancers, as well as type 2 diabetes, gallstones and gout.

Liver conditions, such as cirrhosis, saw the greatest benefit associated with coffee consumption.

There also seemed to be beneficial associations between coffee consumption and Parkinson’s disease, depression and Alzheimer’s disease.

This study adds to previous research findings promising connections between coffee consumption and improved health.

Earlier this year, a long-term observational study of nearly 20,000 people in Spain found that participants who consumed at least four cups of coffee per day had a 64% lower risk of death than those who infrequently or never consumed coffee. They also found a 22% lower risk of death for participants who drank two cups a day. Lower risk was especially strong for older participants, with two cups a day linked to a 30% reduction in mortality.

It’s important to note that the correlation between coffee consumption and lower risk of death is not proof of causation.

The findings are applicable to people who are already generally healthy. The studies didn’t find that drinking coffee correlates with reversing existing health problems, but with preserving health.

Is caffeine the magic ingredient?

Probably not.

There are two main factors that could be considered benefits to drinking coffee. First, coffee is a rich source of antioxidants (particularly chlorogenic acids), which may exert a protective, anti-inflammatory effect in the body and brain. The more we learn about the dangers of inflammation, the more likely it seems that foods which help reduce it are “life savers”, literally. Nutritionally speaking organic, black, fresh (beans or ground) coffee is best as it is higher in antioxidants. Some research suggests that dark roast blends have higher antioxidant levels than light or medium roast blends. Coffee also contains some B vitamins, magnesium and potassium.

The second is the stimulant caffeine. However, caffeine can present potential risk factors if consumed in excessive amounts and for certain people who may be vulnerable to its effects.

So the take away?

According to the research, 3 cups a day is the sweet spot when it came to relative risk of death compared with coffee abstainers. Generally speaking, drinking two to four cups a day is associated with overall lower risk of death, particularly among middle-age drinkers. So if you are a coffee lover like me, enjoy your coffee with the knowledge that it may be helping you live a longer, healthier life.

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