Author: Aria Gray

World AIDS Day

world-aids-day

What is World AIDS Day? World AIDS Day is held on December 1 every year, and is an opportunity for individuals worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for people living with HIV, and remember those who have died from HIV. World AIDS Day was the first ever global health day, held for the first time in 1988.

HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. If left untreated, HIV can lead to the disease AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). No effective cure for HIV currently exists, but with proper treatment and medical care, HIV can be controlled.

The CDC estimates that roughly 1.2 million people in the United States are living with HIV, and nearly 1 in 8 of these 1.2 million are not aware that they are infected. As many as 50,000 people become newly infected each year, with men who have sex with men and African American heterosexual women being the two groups with the most new HIV infections. The Southern United States experiences the highest number of new diagnoses each year followed by the Northeast, West, and Midwest.

Learn about the national HIV/AIDS strategy and prevention methods.

The only way to know if you have HIV is to get tested. You can get tested at your healthcare provider, and most medical clinics, substance abuse programs, community health centers, and hospitals offer them as well. Home testing kits are also available. On World AIDS Day, many community organizations host testing and awareness events in order to increase awareness of and decrease stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS.

Show your support with these social media resources and find a local testing site here.

How to Have a Healthy Holiday Season

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

As the song goes… “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” but is it? The holiday season is a wonderful time to enjoy time with friends and family, but it can also be a stressful time. Airports are crowded and you may be exposed to more people (and germs) than you are used to. I often forget to take care of myself and end each holiday season with a very memorable cold, and this year it is my goal to be as mindful as possible. It is also important to take care of not only your physical health but your mental health as well.

Below are some important tips to remember to have a healthy holiday season.

Holiday Health Tips

  • Wash your hands often
  • Stay warm
  • Manage stress
  • Travel safely
  • Handle and prepare food safely
  • Eat healthy
  • Be active

How to handle holiday stress

  • Take time for yourself
  • Volunteer
  • Have realistic expectations
  • Remember what is important
  • Seek support

What will you be doing to have a healthy holiday season this year?

Should you get a LARC?

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

Since the results of the 2016 election were announced, many online articles, similar to this one have been posted. Women and others are worried that after January 2017, birth control may possibly no longer be covered. This could happen if the Affordable Care Act is completely overturned or replaced or if this particular section of the ACA is interpreted in a different way.

No matter what happens in the future, which we can only speculate on right now, the spotlight has turned increasingly to intrauterine devices (IUDs) and other long-acting reversible contraceptives (LARCs) such as the contraceptive implant as these methods can last anywhere from 3-12 years depending on the method and can be taken out at any time.

Even if the law does not change, now is the perfect time to learn more about these methods. They are the most effective reversible contraceptives and range from 99.2%-99.8% effectiveness depending on the method and require no user adherence after insertion, and are appropriate for all women (not just those who have already given birth). Learn more about the effectiveness of LARCs and other methods from the CDC. While LARCs do not work for everyone, they are a great option to consider and talk to your healthcare provider about.

The FDA approved a brand new IUD in October, and now there are many methods to keep track of. Below are all of the options for LARC methods currently available in the United States.

ParaGard

  • Non-hormonal (copper)
  • Lasts for 10 years
  • May make your period heavier

Mirena

  • Hormonal
  • Lasts up to 5 years
  • Can help improve painful and heavy periods (lessen bleeding & cramps)

Liletta

  • Hormonal
  • Lasts up to 3 years
  • Can help improve painful and heavy periods (lessen bleeding & cramps)
  • Cheaper than the Mirena

Skyla

  • Hormonal
  • Lasts up to 3 years
  • Slightly smaller than Mirena
  • Will keep getting period

Kyleena

  • Hormonal
  • Lasts up to 5 years
  • Will keep getting period
  • May not be as available as other options (brand-new!)

Implanon

  • Hormonal
  • Inserted under the skin of upper arm
  • Lasts up to 4 years

Learn more about the different LARC options here and talk to your healthcare provider if interested.

What’s the Deal with Male Birth Control?

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

I have been on many different types of birth control in the past 10+ years, all with varying levels of success and each with a new set of side effects including migraines. It has never been a question of if I should try a new method since no there is no effective reversible male birth control available.

Recently, it has made headlines that a male birth control shot has been found to effectively prevent pregnancy in a newly published study. Unfortunately, participants in the study reported adverse side effects including mood changes, depression, and increased and 20 participants dropped out of the study leading researchers to stop the study earlier than planned.

These reports come very soon after another recently published study that was in the news, which cited that hormonal birth control can cause depression in women.

While this particular study was cut short, it is my hope that research continues to search for a safe and effective method of male birth control. Over 80% of the male participants in the study responded that they would use this method of contraception outside of the study, which is hopeful for the future, and a sign that this method is very much wanted and needed. Both women and men deserve to have reproductive freedom without having to jeopardize their health or mental health.

But for now, until male birth control that is safe and effective is developed and approved, women must bear an unequal burden to prevent unwanted pregnancies.

Read more about this interesting topic here.

It’s Not Me, It’s You: Signs that its time to Break Up With Your Doctor

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

I recently broke up with one of my doctors, and while it was a difficult decision, I felt much better once I decided not to see that provider anymore. The doctor was recommended to me as a great expert in the field, but I never felt that they were truly listening to me, which is why I ultimately left.

However, finding a new doctor can be difficult. Learn more below to see if it is time to make a change in your health care.

Poor Communication: It is important to understand your condition and diagnosis as well as the recommended course of treatment. Make sure to ask follow-up questions and to communicate to your doctor that you do not understand. However, if communication issues are still not resolved, it may be time to make a change.

Poor Listening Skills: Patient care should be adjusted based on the needs and experiences of each individual patient. If there is a medication or treatment plan you have tried without success or are not willing to pursue, your doctor should listen to your thoughts and feelings and make a treatment plan accordingly. If you feel your doctor isn’t listening to you, find one that will.

Long Wait Times & Limited Access to Care: If it commonly takes you weeks or months to get an appointment with your doctor or if you consistently face long wait times in the office, it may be time to find a new doctor. It is important to receive prompt treatment and also to have your valuable time respected.

As I mentioned, making the decision to change doctors is not easy, and the process of finding a new doctor is often not easy (not to mention all of the paperwork!). Follow these tips for an easy transition to a new provider.

Tips for Healthier TV Binge Watching

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

It’s about to get colder out, and I plan to spend some time this fall and winter on my couch covered in blankets, especially when the new Gilmore Girls episodes premiere. Yet this year I plan to plan ahead to make my TV and Netflix binge watching healthier, especially after reports that binge-watching and prolonged sitting have negative effects on your health. Binge watching has most commonly been linked to weight gain and obesity as well as an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. While many experts recommend cutting TV viewing hours and limiting the number of hours you watch at once, sometimes there are rainy days or a new show that everyone will be talking about on Monday and you find yourself on your couch binge watching yet again.

Before you Netflix and chill, here are three tips to make your marathon a little bit healthier.

Choose Healthier Drinks and Snacks: Eat real meals with protein and vegetables to prevent too much snacking. For snacking, choose healthy options such as veggies and hummus, fruit, and nuts. Remember to stay hydrated, which will also get you up and moving!

Get Physical: Keep active while you are watching TV by doing stretches, yoga, or crunches. Also, instead of jumping right into the next episode, use the pause as an activity break and take a walk, complete a task in your house that requires movement, or try a two-minute workout like this. Keeping some exercise equipment or a yoga mat near your TV is a great reminder to stay active while watching your favorite show.

Set a Limit: We all know it can be extremely difficult to stop in the middle of a marathon (especially when the next episode auto plays!). Decide beforehand how long you will watch TV and set a timer, or set a bedtime for yourself if watching at night. Setting a timer will help the day from getting away from you without you realizing. Also, since screens can alter your production of melatonin, be sure to turn off the TV 30 minutes before you want to go to sleep.

Could Your Birth Control be Making You Depressed?

depressed

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

Could your birth control be making you depressed? A new study was released a few weeks ago claiming just that.

A nationwide study in Denmark was conducted to analyze the potential link between depression and hormonal birth control. What was found was that users hormonal birth control were more likely than non-users to be prescribed anti-depressants, though the risk is very small. The main conclusion of the study found that use of hormonal contraception, was associated with the subsequent use of anti-depressants and a first diagnosis of depression, and the authors of the study concluded that depression might be a potential adverse effect of hormonal contraceptive use. Currently, mood swings, and not clinical depression are listed as a potential adverse effect of hormonal birth control.

When this study was first published, I woke up to see news articles about it posted all over my Facebook timeline and my Twitter feed. Many of the people posting about this study felt vindicated after not feeling believed about how their birth control was making them feel. I also felt like my past bad experiences with hormonal birth control could potentially be explained by this study. For years, doctors had told me that there was no way that my birth control could be making me depressed, but my doctor’s explanation did not seem consistent with how my friends felt on their birth control or how much better I have felt after discontinuing certain methods in the past.

What I also saw online was great dissent and controversy about the study and the reporting about the study online from various news organizations and outlets.

While I did not agree with some of the comments I read online, I do agree that further research needs to be done on this topic, but I am excited that steps are being taken to further understand women’s health, especially in this context, and hope that this study sparks more research and discussion on this topic.

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

What is Domestic Violence? Domestic violence is the willful intimidation, physical assault, battery, sexual assault, or other abusive behavior as part of a systematic pattern of power and control perpetrated by one intimate partner against another. It can include physical violence, sexual violence, psychological violence, and emotional abuse. Domestic violence affects individuals in every community regardless of age, economic status, sexual orientation, gender, or other demographic factors. However, domestic violence is most commonly experienced by  women between the ages of 18-24.

Domestic violence is preventable. Part of domestic violence prevention includes talking about this issue and reducing the stigma associated with it as a community. While all of October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the National Network to End Domestic Violence is hosting a week of action from October 16-October 22.

Here are some ways that you can get involved during the week of action and throughout all of October. You can also search for events that may be happening in your community with local organizations.

  • Wear purple for #PurpleThursday on Thursday October 20
  • Speak Out: Talk with a friend, family member, or colleague about domestic violence to help eliminate stigma and show survivors that they are supported.
  • Follow the National Network to End Domestic Violence on social media (Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and change

For anonymous, confidential help available 24/7, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233 (SAFE) or 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) now.

Making Time for Self Care

drinking-tea

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

The weather is getting (a little bit) colder, and my to-do list is getting much longer. I’ve had several recent conversations with friends in passing about how busy and overwhelmed we are starring to feel as assignments and obligations start to pile up. And I’ve started to rationalize that if I skipped my planned exercise class or morning walk or cancelled plans, I would have more time to tackle all of the things that need to get done. However, even though it’s important to do well and succeed in school, it is also important to take care of yourself! Practicing Self are will help to prevent overload burnout, will reduce the negative effects of stress, and will also help you refocus.

Here are some tips for Self Care

  • Make time to eat well and exercise: No need to cook gourmet meals and workout for multiple hours per day, but it is important to remember to fill your body with good and nutrient dense food (with occasional treats!) and to take time to move your body every day.
  • Don’t overschedule: It may be tempting to fill your schedule up with extracurricular activities and social events on top of classes and homework, but everything starts to add up eventually. Set aside time each week for yourself even if it means saying no.
  • Get enough sleep: Make getting enough sleep a priority. I set an alarm on my phone every day 45 minutes before my ideal bedtime, which gives me enough time to get organized for the next day and to wind down any activity or assignment that I am working on, which has improved the amount of sleep that I get. It may also be helpful to set a caffeine cut off time each day and to limit screen time before bed.
  • Spend time each day NOT working: Even though there is always something productive that you could be doing, it is important to take a break each day. Take a study break by going on a short walk with a friend or take real break at lunchtime and don’t look at your computer. Make time for hobbies and activities that you enjoy like reading for pleasure, sports, and cooking.

Check out this list of TED Talks to learn more about self-care.

Healthier Pumpkin Spice

pumpkin-lady

By: Aria Gray MPH: Maternal and Child Health candidate 2017

It’s officially Fall! Soon everything you see on menus and in stores will be pumpkin spice. I always get tempted when see a large display of pumpkin spice foods in Trader Joes or smell someone else’s Pumpkin Spice Latte in Starbucks, but whenever I break down and get something for myself I almost immediately regret it because almost all pumpkin spice foods and drinks are too sweet. Also, many of the pumpkin spice foods starting to show up on shelves don’t even contain real pumpkin, which are good for you!

Here are some healthy recipes to celebrate the start of Fall, but with less sugar, more creativity, and more pumpkin!

Pumpkin Pie Protein Smoothie – Nutritionist in the Kitch

Pumpkin & Sage Savory Muffins – Love Food Eat

Crock Pot Turkey White Bean Pumpkin Chili – SkinnyTaste

Pumpkin Pancakes – Cookie & Kate

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds – The Kitchn

Miso Pumpkin Soup – The Kitchn