OCD Awareness Week: an interview with Dr. Elizabeth McIngvale

Dr. Elizabeth McIngvale is the founder of the Peace of Mind Foundation, which is a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for people suffering from OCD. She was the first ever national spokesperson for the International Obsessive Compulsive Foundation – where she is now a member of the board of directors – and she regularly engages in advocacy, clinical work, research and teaching related to OCD, anxiety disorders and the mental health stigma.

We sat down with Dr. McIngvale on Day 5 of OCD Awareness Week to talk about why this is an important week and how you can find OCD treatment and community. 

Why is it important to spread awareness about OCD and what do you want people to know about it?

OCD, like any mental health condition, is a hidden and silent illness. Many people can be suffering without anyone even knowing because it’s just not visible. It’s important that people acknowledge it as an illness and as something that’s real and disabling. A lot of people don’t understand the severity of it.

We’re slowly getting better as a culture about recognizing and treating mental health conditions – but it’s a space that has historically had a stigma and a lot of misunderstanding. Do you think OCD specifically is often misunderstood?

Absolutely – the slogan we love is “OCD is not an adjective.” It’s a perfect statement because so many people refer to OCD incorrectly – they might say, “you should see my coworker’s desk, she’s so OCD.” 

But OCD is not just these simple personality characteristics and it doesn’t refer to someone who is a “neat freak” or likes to have things a certain way. It’s a disabling, chronic mental illness – it’s actually one of the top 10 reasons why people file for disability in the U.S.

OCD specifically is one of the top 10 reasons, not just mental health conditions?

Yes – OCD affects 3% of the worldwide population, which makes it one of the most prevalent chronic mental health conditions. That’s more prevalent than bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, for example.

How can someone know if they might have OCD or could benefit from treatment?

There’s no handbook for it, and it can be subjective. But ask yourself if any characteristics, rituals or behaviors are interfering with your ability to function or causing distress or depression. 

There’s no such thing as getting treatment too soon. My view is, why wait? It’s better to get your symptoms addressed as soon as possible instead of waiting until they are really interfering with your life to address them.

If someone has decided to seek treatment for OCD, what can they expect? 

Treatment for OCD is exposure with response prevention, which is a specific form of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). It’s basically exactly what it sounds like – you slowly and systematically expose individuals to the things they’re afraid of – to their perceived fears or the things that cause them anxiety – and teach them how to manage it and lean into it without ritualizing. 

You’ve said before how important it was for you to meet other people who were also struggling with OCD – how can people find those communities?

You can go to PeaceOfMind.com and learn more about ways you can join our community – we offer online and in-person support groups. You can also visit the International OCD Foundation website, which offers so many ways to connect with other people, including a yearly conference. 

Is there anything else you want people to know about OCD?

The most important thing is just knowing that treatment works and that there is effective care for people with OCD. So many of us are afraid to talk about it because we don’t know what people are going to think – but the reality is that OCD is a prevalent illness and treatment really can help.

OCD Awareness Week: how you can participate and support

October 13-19 is Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) awareness week. Join us this week by showing some support to the 1 in 40 U.S. adults who live with OCD (maybe even sharing your own story to help reduce stigma) and learning more about the disorder so you can recognize the symptoms in yourself or your loved ones and find treatment.

If you’re not familiar with OCD, it’s a disorder characterized by recurrent, unwanted thoughts and repetitive behaviors like counting or cleaning. On average, it takes about nine years for an OCD sufferer to get the proper diagnosis and treatment for their disorder.

This week, we’re following along with the Peace of Mind Foundation’s OCD awareness week challenges. Each day this week, the foundation (whose mission is to improve the quality of life for OCD sufferers and caregivers) suggests a new way to spread awareness of OCD that we can all participate in!

Today’s challenge is to watch and share an OCD or related disorder educational video that has been helpful to you. Here at Nano, we agreed that the below video about the difference between helping and enabling someone with OCD is worth a watch – it’s geared towards parents of children who have OCD, but we think the message can apply to anyone struggling with OCD who you want to support. 

Follow along with us this week on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook and visit the Peace of Mind Foundation website for more information about OCD awareness and education!

How healthy is your home? Let’s detox your dwelling.

There are so many environmental factors that contribute to our overall health. Have you given your home the once over for harmful chemicals recently? 

Scientists at the National Institutes of Health have released an Environmental Wellness Toolkit so you can toss out the bad stuff, and make room for the good. Here’s how they suggest you “detox” your dwelling: 

  • Clean with “Safer Choice” or non-toxic products.
  • Dust using a damp rag.
  • Use a wet mop to clean floors.
  • Vacuum with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter.
  • Open a window or use a fan to improve air circulation when you’re cleaning.
  • Have and maintain a good ventilation system in your home.
  • Wash your hands and your children’s hands often.​​

Did you know that so many everyday items contain endocrine disruptors, which can interfere with the body’s immune system and affect fertility or neurological function? You’ll find these chemicals in a wide range of products like facial moisturizer, dish soap, plastic bottles, detergents, pesticides and cosmetics. 

Next time you’re stocking up on household basics, or considering switching to pure beauty-style brands, flip over the product and read the smallprint. You’re looking to avoid the following ingredients: Phthalates: DBP, DEHP; Parabens: methyl, propyl, butyl, ethyl-parabens; Anolamine: DEA, TEA, MEA; Polychlorinated Biphenyls (PCBs): Aroclor, Askarel, Chlorextol; flame retardants Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs): tetra-, penta-, Hexa-BDEs. 


One of our Nano researchers stopped by the local drugstore recently and asked sales staff to guide them around the store for healthier choices, checking labels as they went. It took a while, but they emerged with products that don’t break the bank and won’t wreck the body (or the environment). To get more information check out this guide from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The WHO has a plan to eliminate cervical cancer

Cervical cancer occurs in the cells of the cervix and is usually caused by a chronic infection with certain human papillomavirus (HPV) strains.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer is the fourth most common cancer among women worldwide, with 570,000 new cases and 311,000 deaths in 2018. Nearly 90% of these deaths occurred in low- and middle-income countries. However, it is highly preventable and treatable in countries where screening tests and HPV vaccines are readily available.

The WHO recently published a strategy to eliminate cervical cancer as a worldwide public health problem within a century. To do so, the following targets must be reached worldwide by the year 2030. 

  • 90% of girls fully vaccinated with the HPV vaccine by 15 years of age, achieved by providing sufficient supply of affordable HPV vaccines and introducing them into more countries’ national immunization programs 
  • 70% of women are screened with a high-precision test at 35 and 45 years of age by increasing the quality of testing and promoting a national scale-up of screening and treatment programs
  • 90% of women identified with cervical disease receive treatment and care by strengthening health system capacity and providing affordable, sustainable supply of priority medical devices and essential medicines 

To help countries worldwide reach this target, the WHO is committed to promoting a monitoring and surveillance framework, including population-based cancer registries. The organization will also work with partners to expedite research and new technologies.

Dr Princess Nono Simelela, assistant director-general for family, women’s and children’s health at WHO, believes that, “Elimination of cervical cancer as a global health issue is within reach for all countries. We know what works, and we know how to prevent and control this disease.”The final version of this global strategy will be presented for consideration by the 73rd World Health Assembly in January 2020.

Exploring the new Apple Watch Series 5 health and wellness features

Apple announced its new Apple Watch Series 5 on September 10. It boasts a few new updates, including an always-on retina display, premium case finishes and a built-in compass. 

However, the best new health and wellness features are in the latest WatchOS, which is included with the Series 5 Watch. The WatchOS 6 update is also currently available for Series 3 and 4 Watches, but you need to update your iPhone to iOS 13 first.

The first notable feature is the Noise app, which is only available on the Series 4 and 5. It enables you to view the decibel levels in your surroundings in real time and set up notifications to alert you when the levels are getting to the point where hearing could get damaged. Many of us at Nano are feeling especially grateful for this feature with the Austin City Limits musical festival just around the corner (now we can at least make a more informed decision about how close to the stage is really worth it). If you’re concerned about privacy issues, Apple has stated it will not record or save any audio.

Another long-awaited feature is for women only. The Cycle Tracking app allows women to track their monthly cycle, including flow level, symptoms and spotting. It can predict when your next period is due to begin and will notify you when it is approaching. The app also has the option to log fertility metrics like basal body temperature, and can notify you with fertile window predictions.

The new OS update also includes some great upgrades for the Apple Watch’s existing fitness- and health-tracking features. The Activity app on the iPhone will be able to track trends on your activity metrics over 90 days and compare them to the past year, including move, exercise, stand minutes, distance, cardio fitness (VO2 max), walking pace and running pace. The Workout app also has a new current elevation metric for Outdoor Run, Outdoor Walk, Outdoor Cycle and Hiking workouts, which adds a helpful data point to any outdoor activity, and you’ll also be able to continuously view the Stopwatch app on your watch face during workouts.

Germs at the gym

We all know that working out is great for your health, and many of us prefer to get our sweat on at the gym. But while they can be an important part of your healthy routine, gyms can unfortunately also serve as hotbeds for pathogens (just look at unsettling news articles like this one). 

Viruses love hard surfaces like metal, plastic, and glass, while bacteria thrive on moist, porous surfaces. Think treadmills, kettlebells, saunas and showers. Some germs die almost immediately when outside the body, but others can thrive for hours or days.

So, what might you come in contact with at the gym?

One study found 25 different types of bacteria on everything from stationary bikes to toilet handles to free weights. Another study focused on a strain of Staphylococcus aureus (also known as Staph) and found high instances on medicine balls, treadmill handles and weight plates. Staph is one of the most common types of bacteria and is the culprit behind skin infections, food poisoning and septicemia.

Here are other infections you can contract at the gym and what causes them:

  • Athlete’s Foot – Caused by fungi that thrive in warm, dark, moist environments, like your sweaty sneakers or locker rooms.
  • Ringworm – Another fungal infection that can appear as scaly circles on your skin anywhere on your body.
  • Cold and Flu – Viral respiratory infections usually transmitted through the air via droplets from coughs or sneezes.
  • Plantar warts – Caused by a strain of human papillomavirus (yes, HPV), which can be picked up by walking barefoot at the gym.
  • Hot tub rash – Caused by a bacteria and can flourish in hot tubs or pools

Before you vow to never set a (hopefully not bare) foot in the gym ever again, note that you can protect yourself from these and other potential germs by simply following precautionary measures like getting a flu shot and using common sense (like not walking barefoot at a gym). 

Be sure to wipe down all equipment before and after you use it, wash your hands often and don’t touch your eyes, mouth or nose while you’re at the gym.

Stay safe out there!

Raise a (tea)cup to better health!

An ongoing study is showing pretty exciting results when it comes to taking care of your brain: you can actually improve neuro-efficiency by steeping a simple cup of tea.

Assistant Professor Feng Lei from the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine’s Department of Psychological Medicine revealed that “regular tea drinkers have better organised brain regions – and this is associated with healthy cognitive function – compared to non-tea drinkers.” The study followed older adults who were drinking a variety of tea types several times each week. It was conducted by a collaborative team that was interested in finding benefits to tea drinking in addition to previously studied aspects such as heart health, diabetes and improved mood. 

What’s so magical about tea? 

Ok, so let’s just assume all these studies are correct in their findings. Let’s say drinking tea several times a week will help maintain a healthy cardiovascular system, will keep us calmer, level out blood sugar issues, plus make our brains work better than ever. All these results beg the question of why? The quick answer comes from Harvard-led studies which pinpointed health-promoting substances like polyphenols, particularly catechins and epicatechins. In fact, “lab and animal studies say these molecules have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.” One thing researchers urge (in addition to making tea a part of your healthy habits checklist) is to keep the sugar out of your cup! Authors are quick to note that any benefits imparted by drinking tea will surely be cancelled out if you load up your cuppa with the sweet stuff. 

What else can tea do for me? 

In addition to these scientific studies, there are great tea producers out there making specific recipes based on supporting women’s health in particular. We’ve been a big fan of what’s happening at La Luna Tide, where women can get a subscription to a box of four teas that support a more balanced experience, all month long. 

With all the good teas can do, we’re hoping to work more of the drink into our daily routines. Maybe we’ll bring back high tea parties, or switch to a relaxing hot tea in the morning instead of a latte on the run. 

Are at-home workouts right for you?

Everyone knows that exercise is beneficial to both physical and mental health. A regular exercise routine can increase your fitness level, elevate your mood, and can reduce your risk of cardiovascular diseases. A gym or yoga studio membership is a great way to get a workout, but they put you at the mercy of traffic, weather conditions, and the gym’s hours and class schedules.

Whether you’re new to exercise or just want to change things up from your regular routine, here are a few things to consider when deciding between home and gym workouts.

For home workouts

  • Setting up a home gym can be relatively inexpensive.
  • You don’t need to travel anywhere or worry about hours and schedules.
  • Childcare is not required. Plan your workouts around sleep or school schedules.
  • It’s your home turf, so snacks, water and a bathroom are always available. 
  • You have more privacy; so don’t worry about messing up or looking silly.
  • Germs! They’re everywhere at the gym.

Against home workouts

  • It’s easy to procrastinate or just skip your workout altogether.
  • You need some imagination to keep your workouts fresh.
  • Working out with a group in a gym setting can be motivating, and you have an instructor or trainer watching your form.
  • If you work from home, working out at home may not sound like fun.
  • Gyms have a greater variety of equipment.

Home workouts can be just as effective as gym workouts, but you will need to put in some thought and effort into creating a sustainable, enjoyable routine. The only way to figure out if working out at home works for you is to try it out. Many online fitness classes offer free trial periods, and you can also try a free 30-day fitness challenge, which provides a different set of exercises every day.

Happy exercising!

Alzheimer’s disease: what it is and who it can affect

An estimated 5.8 million people in the United States are living with Alzheimer’s Disease in 2019, and this number is growing fast. Despite its huge and growing numbers, many people are still unfamiliar with the disease or confuse it with age-related dementia. 

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, Alzheimer’s is a specific disease, but dementia is not. Alzheimer’s is actually the most common cause of dementia, which generally describes symptoms associated with a decline in memory, reasoning or other thinking skills that can interfere with daily life. 

The most common early symptom of Alzheimer’s is memory loss. It’s a progressive disease caused by changes in the brain including atrophy, inflammation and vascular damage. Early detection is important for Alzheimer’s – if you are concerned that you are a loved one is displaying early signs of the disease, use the Alzheimer’s Association symptom checklist to and reach out to your doctor. 

Here are a few more facts about Alzheimer’s:

  • Almost two-thirds of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women.
  • Approximately 200,000 people under the age of 65 have early-onset Alzheimer’s, which is usually due to a genetic mutation.
  • Lack of sleep is associated with an increased risk for developing the disease due to the accumulation  of beta-amyloid, a protein linked to impaired brain function.
  • This amyloid also increases the chances of developing Alzheimer’s for people with Down syndrome.
  • By 2050, the total number of people requiring care for Alzheimer’s will triple.

Organizations like the Alzheimer’s Association are working with researchers to learn more about the disease through new tests and diagnostic tools in the hopes of someday finding a cure. 

Additionally, data scientists are tapping into the vast Alzheimer’s database to try to turn big data into actionable knowledge. The first Alzheimer’s Disease Big Data DREAM Challenge launched in 2014 to encourage these scientists to use open source data to identify new Alzheimer’s biomarkers and create advanced diagnostic technology.

In the meantime, technologies like smart homes, gps tracking devices, and medication management apps may help people with Alzheimer’s live more independently, and they may relieve some of the burden on their caretakers.

Use your HRV to personalize your workouts and maximize your athletic potential

Ever wonder why a workout regimen is not working for you? Maybe it’s written in the stars, or maybe it’s written in your heart rate variability (HRV).

If you sport an activity watch or fitness wearable, it’s likely you are tracking your heart health. Unlike a metronome, your heart does not beat consistently at the same rate. Instead, there are healthy irregularities between the times of each beat. This “variation” in time intervals between heart beats is called your heart rate variability (HRV), and it can tell you a lot about your state of health.
  

HRV is commonly used by elite athletes as a measure of systemic fatigue and recovery. It can be an indication of overtraining, a reflection of recovery status after a workout, and show how an individual responds to a specific training regimen [1].

Just like heart rate, HRV fluctuates throughout the day, responding to your body’s stimuli. A decrease in HRV indicates an activation of the sympathetic (or “fight or flight”) branch of your nervous system, which can be caused by activity or stress. An increased HRV shows an activation of the parasympathetic (or “rest and digest”) branch, indicating that you are in a state of recovery.

Paying attention to these patterns in your own HRV can help you personalize your workouts and maximize your athletic potential.

Studies show that training guided and adapted by your HRV is more effective for developing aerobic performance than pre-planned workout regimens that do not account for real-time changes in HRV. [2, 3]. In a study that tested the aerobic performance of individuals during a four-week endurance training period, results showed that those who monitored and adjusted their training regimen according to their HRV had an increased maximal running velocity (load_max) without a significant difference in peak oxygen consumption (VO2_peak), concluding that aerobic performance can be effectively improved by using HRV for a “daily training prescription.” [3

~~~

So you’ve checked your HRV. Where do you go from here? Use your HRV as a tool to understand how your body responds to certain factors such as:

  • Sleep patterns (hours of sleep, sleep quality, wake-up time) [4]
  • Specific workouts (HIIT, running, resistance training, swimming, etc.)
  • Hydration [5]
  • Therapeutics (stretching, yoga, meditation) [6]
  • Stress [7]

By tracking how these factors correlate with your HRV, you can better understand what workouts and methods work best for you. So get out there,and happy tracking!

References

[1] Bellenger, Clint R, et al. “Monitoring Athletic Training Status Through Autonomic Heart Rate Regulation: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Sports Medicine (Auckland, N.Z.), U.S. National Library of Medicine, Oct. 2016, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26888648.

[2] Kiviniemi, Antti M, et al. “Endurance Training Guided Individually by Daily Heart Rate Variability Measurements.” European Journal of Applied Physiology, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Dec. 2007, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17849143.

[3] Kiviniemi, Antti M, et al. “Daily Exercise Prescription on the Basis of HR Variability among Men and Women.” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, U.S. National Library of Medicine, July 2010, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20575165.

[4] Michels, Nathalie, et al. “Children’s Sleep and Autonomic Function: Low Sleep Quality Has an Impact on Heart Rate Variability.” Sleep, Associated Professional Sleep Societies, LLC, 1 Dec. 2013, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24293769

[5] “The Influence of Hydration Status on Heart Rate Variability after Exercise Heat Stress.” Journal of Thermal Biology, Pergamon, 11 Aug. 2005, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306456505000495.

[6] “Mindfulness Meditation, Well-Being, and Heart Rate Variability: A Preliminary Investigation into the Impact of Intensive Vipassana Meditation.” International Journal of Psychophysiology, Elsevier, 22 June 2013, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0167876013001888.

[7] Kim, Hye-Geum, et al. “Stress and Heart Rate Variability: A Meta-Analysis and Review of the Literature.” Psychiatry Investigation, Korean Neuropsychiatric Association, Mar. 2018, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5900369/.