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— Noise and Health—–

Our lives are full of sounds. Some are soothing and calming, some exciting, and others distressing. Some people take steps to manage noise in their environment; this area’s relative quiet is a factor in many people’s choice to live here. Others do not realize the impact sounds or noises have on their lives. However, research is showing that sounds and noise levels, though invisible, have powerful effects on our bodies. In La Grande, an effort is underway to create a “Quiet Zone,” free of train horns; currently, railroad engineers are required to blast horns four times at each of five intersections inside our city limits. Given the growing interest in the health benefits of quieter environments, I became curious as to the effects noise has on health. Here is some of what I found.

To survive, our brains must learn which sounds are safe and which require attention and reaction. Loud noises such as barking dogs, traffic, yelling, and train horns convey “danger” to our brains, whether or not we consciously notice the sounds themselves. “The information conveyed by the noise is very often more relevant than the sound level,” according to researchers (Ising and Kruppa 2004). These sounds immediately go, unfiltered, straight to the amygdala, which is the primitive, emotional part of our brain. Loud noises especially, may be interpreted as a threat (trains’ air horns can blast up to 140 decibels or more, while a loud rock concert is around 125 decibels), and trigger the “Fight or Flight Response.” Sounds like train horns are clearly designed to warn of great danger, and our bodies react accordingly. This response is designed to improve the body’s chances of surviving a threat, and is an automatic built-in survival mechanism. Noises can trigger this reaction even as we are sleeping.

The “Fight or Flight Response” to danger primes our mind and body to survive an imminent threat. Certain powerful hormones and neurotransmitters change how our bodies work, in order to prepare for battle. Researchers around the world know that adrenalin, cortisol and noradrenaline are released in response to noise (Stansfeld, Matheson 2003; Babisch 2003). These changes may save our life, if we need them, or slowly kill us if we don’t. Blood vessels constrict, blood thickens, and clotting increases when these chemicals are released in the body, which can lead to risk of strokes and heart attack over time. Blood sugar and insulin resistance go up, increasing risk of diabetes, obesity, dementia, and hypertension, to name a few concerns. The world’s increasing noise levels often keep our bodies on constant alert, which can contribute to chronic problems such as ulcers, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, muscle tension, irritability, depression, and heart disease. As cholesterol and triglyceride levels go up because of stress, brain function goes down.

Children, due to having fewer coping skills, are especially vulnerable to impacts of noise levels. Children living in noisy areas have been shown to have higher blood pressure, more stress hormones, poorer long term memory, concentration, and comprehension, and more distractability than children living in quieter areas. Children exposed to ongoing high noise levels have also been shown to be less persistent with challenging tasks, and less motivated (Evans et al, 2000). Chronic exposure to uncontrollable, annoying noises can create a sense of helplessness, over-stimulation and anxiety. All these problems have been shown to occur at noise levels far below those causing hearing problems, and even when children were tested in a quiet place. It seems that human bodies can get stuck in survival mode. Perhaps most sadly, children who lived in noisier areas (4th graders in the studies) rated themselves less happy and more stressed than kids in quiet areas (Evans et al, 1998). Noise levels appear to affect our physical, mental and emotional health.

Noise is one of many types of stress that creates imbalances that our bodies constantly work to re-balance. A body with an excessive stress load will gradually develop symptoms and even disease. Poor sleep, irritability and tension can progress to ulcers, depression and heart disease, given enough time. Stress accumulates synergistically, and can “drag us down” over weeks, months, and years. Our health depends, in large part, upon regulating the stress in our lives that we have the ability to address.

The good news is that research also shows us the physical and mental effects of ongoing daily noise can be reversed! Take steps to make your life a little quieter. Consider how living in a “Quiet Zone,” free of train horns and/or other avoidable noises may be a boon to your mental and physical health. Rock music and even train horns can have some appeal, but rarely on a daily basis, and never at 2 am!

Circulatory System

Your circulatory system plays a central role in health, yet is rarely talked about. Other body systems depend on efficient circulation to deliver nutrients, immune protection and remove wastes from your cells.

Your body’s circulatory system is responsible for delivering nutrients and many other factors to every cell, while removing numerous waste materials. Like a car with a clogged fuel line or exhaust system, you will lurch down the road of life with poor circulation. Poor circulation often underlies the diseases of aging, but usually goes unnoticed. The function of every cell in your body is influenced by the quality of circulation it receives. A cell that is stressed because of poor circulation will function poorly, or not at all. We know a great deal about what creates healthy brain cells for example or heart cells, but what if the nutrients never arrive, or the wastes never removed?

Your circulatory system is comprised of two main systems blood and lymphatic. The more familiar blood system is comprised of the heart, arteries and veins. The other, less familiar system is the lymphatic. The lymphatic system drains the tissues of fluid and moves them back toward the heart, like gutters and storm drains prevent streets from flooding. While a drainage system may not seem flashy, you can imagine how important this is without proper drainage, cells drown in backed up wastes. This causes edema or lymphadenopathy and the attendant pressure, pain, tissue death and swelling. Even a small decrease in efficiency of this system causes stress to the cells. Stressed cells work poorly which translates to poor health.

The second major function of the lymphatic system is immunity. Lymph nodes, like security check points, are stationed along the lymph vessels. Nodes are found throughout the body in strategic locations to intercept and neutralize local infections. For example, nodes in your neck may become enlarged and tender when you get an ear infection.

The lymphatic system has no heart like the blood system, so relies on one way valves and muscles to move fluid through the system. Muscle contractions squeeze the lymphatic vessel and the one way valve assures fluid movement in the right direction.

With this information we see how circulation of the blood and lymph is central to good health, and a little how these systems work. Perhaps now you can guess how to help these systems do their best. Deep breathing and movement are the two major players. Breathing creates a pumping action not only for air, but for blood and lymph. Deep breathing magnifies this effort. Rhythmical deep breathing as during vigorous exercise or breathing exercises is especially effective. Movement requires muscular contraction, which also helps pump blood and lymph back to the heart. This is one of the ways that exercise, breathing, yoga and the like are so good for us. Other good ways to improve circulation are ending your shower with a short blast of cold water, and “dry brushing” your skin.

Antibiotics link to obesity

Doctors have long been wary of children building up a resistance to antibiotics. But a new study has provided another incentive for keeping the prescription pad in the physician’s pocket: the risk of obesity, said USA Today. Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania recently reviewed the health records of 64,580 children, almost 70 percent of whom had been given antibiotics before age 2, receiving an average of 2.3 courses. By age 5, those who had been given only a couple of courses during their early years had the same risk of obesity as those who received none, but kids who were treated with four or more courses were 11 percent more likely to be obese. Furthermore, those who had had multiple courses of more powerful, broad-spectrum antibiotics were 16 percent more likely to gain weight. Penn professor Charles Bailey, who led the study, believes that the antibiotics are killing off natural bacteria in the stomach that help keep weight in check. He admits that the risks of obesity are small and that antibiotics are probably just one of many factors that contribute to weight gain, but he says the link may highlight an important “piece of the puzzle.”

Better Digestion