Welcome to the HPRC Blog. We've got lots of information here, from quick tips to in-depth posts about detailed human performance optimization topics.
HPRC Fitness Arena: Total Force Fitness
The Defense Health Agency and Uniformed Services University are co-hosting a “Women in Combat Symposium” at the Defense Health Headquarters (DHHQ) in Falls Church, Virginia, April 29–May 1. Experts from various Department of Defense organizations and branches will present research and hold panel discussions on the physical, psychological, and social aspects of performance, leadership, health, and well-being.
The event is only open to federal employees, federal contractors, and active-duty military supporting this work. Participants also have the option to attend the event online in a virtual environment.
Max.gov is the online platform for the symposium. Whether attending in person or virtually, all participants must first register with max.gov and then join the WIC group to be able to register for the event. Select the “registration” tab on the “Women in Combat Symposium” page on max.gov.
An important part of HPRC’s mission of fostering Warfighter resilience and optimizing Warfighter performance is informing you about the potential hazards associated with dietary supplements. But that’s a two-way street—we need your help too. An April 2014 article in The New England Journal of Medicine points out a major problem: Government agencies don’t get information about adverse effects of dietary supplements quickly enough from the public and healthcare professionals.
HPRC offers an easy way for you to directly report side effects you believe are associated with dietary supplements through the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database (NMCD). Just go to our NMCD page and click on the icon for Natural Medicines Watch. You don’t even need an NMCD account; it’s free for everyone and easy to use. NMCD will make sure the information reaches FDA’s MedWatch.
Don’t hesitate to report something—you’ll be helping others avoid potentially serious health problems. Not sure about your symptoms? Read HPRC’s article about how to know if you’ve had an adverse event.
Think of stress as a balance scale. All the situations you find stressful are heaped up on one side. How you deal with them is on the other side. The trick is learning to balance the two sides (or even better, having your coping resources outweigh the causes of your stress).
Everyone feels overloaded at times, when stress seems too much to handle. This can be compounded with multiple family demands—from finances, children’s needs, managing work and family demands, and fostering your relationships. Here are two suggestions to help you find balance:
- Find out what practical needs are causing your stress and come up with possible ways to address them using HPRC's problem-solving tips. For example, you know that you need seven to eight hours of sleep a night, but you and your partner seem to manage only five hours or so. So discuss possible solutions with your partner. For example, set a bedtime and stick to it no matter what chores aren’t done; put the kids to bed at an earlier time; create a wind-down routine 30 minutes before bedtime in order to get that eight hours—and stick to it! Then pick one of these possible solutions, try it out for a week, and then re-assess. If it doesn’t work, pick another; or if it does work, maybe tweak it a little to make it even better.
- Once you have plans to deal with the sources of your stress, then you can focus on managing your stressful feelings. There’s no need to continue feeling stressed out while you put your plan into action. Try some of the “behavioral strategies” in HPRC’s Managing Emotions that you can do anywhere with minimum fuss, such as deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, or other relaxation strategies. You can even teach them your children and do them together as a family. Learn how in “Calming & Grounding Activities” from the FOCUS Family Resiliency Training Manual, which describes several shared activities.
And check out HPRC’s Mind-Body Skills section for resources that are geared more for you as an individual.
HPRC has strategies to help you focus your attention, so that it goes to the right place at the right time. By honing these approaches, you will find that habits are so well formed that you are able to efficiently maintain an external focus without having to use as much internal focus to guide your actions, allowing you to be more aware of your environment and able to do more. In other words, you can “get out of your own head” so that you experience automatic and smooth movements and avoid “paralysis by analysis.” In other words, you can make quick and accurate judgments—as a parent or as a Warfighter—without having to think about them deliberately. For the complete “how-to,” visit HPRC’s “Performance Strategies: Develop routines to optimize attention.”
Wheat products such as bread and pasta are mainstays of our diets. However, some people are sensitive to gluten, a blend of two proteins found in wheat and other grains such as rye and barley. Three distinct conditions caused by gluten sensitivities have been identified: wheat allergy, celiac disease, and non-celiac gluten sensitivity.
Wheat allergy is more common in children than adults, and many children outgrow the condition. Symptoms include hives, itchy throat or eyes, and difficulty breathing. Wheat allergy can be life threatening and requires immediate medical attention—an especially serious consideration for Warfighters in the field.
Celiac disease is an autoimmune disorder that affects the small intestine. When a person with celiac disease eats foods containing gluten, his/her immune system attacks the small intestine, impairing the way the body digests food. Symptoms include bloating, gas, diarrhea, abdominal pain, lactose intolerance, and anemia. If not treated, celiac disease can cause neurological disorders, osteoporosis, and other autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes. About three million people in the U.S. have celiac disease.
In non-celiac gluten sensitivity, or NCGS, a person is sensitive to gluten but—as the name suggests—does not have celiac disease. Symptoms include diarrhea or abdominal pain and vague, non-intestinal symptoms such as bone or joint pain, leg numbness, or skin rashes, making diagnosis difficult. About 18 million people in the U.S. have NCGS.
The only way to treat gluten sensitivities is to adhere to a strict gluten-free diet. Things to avoid include:
- Wheat, rye, and barley
- Flours made from wheat: self-rising flour, graham flour, cake flour, pastry flour
- Oats, unless certified gluten-free
- Communion wafers and matzo
- Soy sauce
Even if a product label says it is “wheat free” it might contain rye or barley. FDA has established guidelines for labeling gluten-free foods.
Gluten-free foods can become “contaminated” with gluten in home kitchens, so be sure to use clean tools for preparing and serving gluten-free foods, and designate appliances, such as a toaster, for use with gluten-free products only.
Many people with gluten sensitivities are deficient in calcium, folate, iron, and certain B vitamins. They should have their vitamin and mineral status monitored by a doctor.
Although following a gluten-free diet can be challenging at first, with a little practice it can become second nature. There are many gluten-free products on the market and many bakeries now offer gluten free selections. People who follow the diet typically experience significant improvements in their health and quality of life that make the effort worth the challenges. You can learn more about celiac disease and gluten-free diets from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.
Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is a serious issue. Afterdeployment.org describes MST as “among the most serious violations a person can experience.” Both men and women can experience MST, which can include sexual harassment and/or sexual assault.
Sexual harassment refers to unwelcome and/or threatening verbal or physical behavior of a sexual nature.
Sexual assault is any kind of sexual behavior without consent.
Survivors of MST experience a variety of symptoms ranging from relationship problems, intense emotions, feelings of numbness, memory problems, sleep issues, and more. See this factsheet from Veterans Affairs for more information on symptoms.
MST can impact your mental and physical health not only at the time but even years later. It’s important to know that you can recover from this traumatic experience, but seeking professional help is essential for recovery. If you or someone you know has recently experienced a sexual assault, follow the steps identified in this factsheet. Active-duty Warfighters can get help at the Department of Defense’s Safe Helpline, which provides a wide variety of support for sexual assault, from basic information to their telephone helpline. Veterans who have experienced MST can locate help at their local VA Facility Locator and/or call the VA Information hotline at 1-800-827-1000. To hear about other veterans’ experiences with MST and locate more vet-centric information, check out the VA’s website on MST.
In addition, afterdeployment.org has created some factsheets that provide more information and resources on MST, including one on the facts about sexual assault and harassment, the emotional stages of recovery, and reporting and legal issues. Finally, for information about reporting and what the Department of Defense is doing to help MST, check out their Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military (see the 2013 report here).
Your knees are major weight-bearing joints and require some ongoing care to keep them functioning well, regardless of your MOS or sport activities. A new HPRC article on knee injuries provides information on knee-injury prevention. We focused on the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) because this injury is quite common in the military and can put a soldier on profile for six months or even more. ACL injuries typically require surgery, so it’s an injury you want to avoid, if possible. Scientists and researchers have discovered some specific information that can be useful to decrease your risk of ACL injuries.
If there’s one constant in the military lifestyle it’s change. You could be engaged in a high-intensity ops tempo one day, and then find yourself at a desk job the next day (and vice versa). Similarly, you could be training for a triathlon, and then suddenly recovering from an injury. When your circumstances change, your calorie needs change too.
The Go for Green® plan is based on a Warfighter consuming 2,500 calories per day. Your needs might be different depending on a number of factors such as your age, sex, and level of activity. Go for Green® can help you choose appropriate foods for your calorie needs. But first, find out how many calories you need each day with this handy (downloadable, Excel) calculator from HPRC.
If your needs are greater than 2,500 calories per day—perhaps your job or workout regimen is very physically demanding—eating a few “yellow” foods (especially from the protein, fruit, and starchy food categories) and one or two “red” foods each day is appropriate for you. “Yellow” and “red” foods help boost the calorie content of your meals and restore your body’s carbohydrate and fat stores—essential fuels for Warfighters with high-calorie needs.
If your needs are less than 2,500 calories per day—maybe because you sit at a desk all day or you’re nursing an injury—it’s important to remember that reduced physical activity means reduced calorie needs. Steer clear of “red” foods and keep “yellow” ones to a minimum. Aim for plenty of “green” foods to help you heal and enhance mental and physical performance, and be sure to watch your portions to avoid unwanted weight gain.
And remember, “Green” foods are always a good choice for optimal performance, whatever your circumstances or calorie needs! For more information, visit the Warfighter section of the Go for Green® website and click on the “Personalizing G4G” tab.
The American Psychological Association (APA) wants to know how stressed out Americans are. Every year since 2007, they’ve conducted a yearly “Stress in America” survey in which they analyze trends about stress and its associated symptoms and behaviors across a range of people living in the U.S. In August 2013, they focused on 1,018 teens (ages 13-17).
A recent report of this information about teens and stress showed that the stats are staggering. Teens from the general population (civilian and military) exceed healthy levels of stress, mirroring the trends in the U.S. among adults. Stress affects sleep, exercise, and eating. Teens tend to get 7.4 hours of sleep on school nights, while the recommended amount is around nine or more hours according to the National Sleep Foundation, and between nine and 10 hours according to the National Institutes of Health. One in five teens exercises less than once a week or not at all. And 23% of teens report that they’ve skipped at least one meal in the past month due to stress.
Parents’ deployments are extremely challenging for children and teens, so military teens often have to deal with additional stressors. Consider this:
- When a parent deploys for 19 months or more, kids’ achievement scores are lower than peers’ scores.
- Teachers and counselors say that parental deployment can cause stress at home, often leading to more problems at school (such as incomplete homework, skipping school, or a less-engaged parent).
- Kids’ resiliency can be impacted when a parent is away, and parents/teachers/counselors sometimes feel that helpful resources can be hard to navigate.
What can you and your teens do to combat their stress?
- Watch for signs of stress, and actively use stress-management techniques. You can also find children-centered techniques in these HPRC resources. Recognize that stress-management skills are important to develop whether you are a Warfighter, family member, or civilian.
- Military parents can alert teachers and counselors when a parent is deployed and enlist whatever support is available.
- Parents’ well-being impacts their teens’ well-being. Be sure to take care of yourself by eating right (individually or with your family), exercising, and managing your own stress.
- Bolster resiliency skills, both in times of stress and in times of calm. You can learn how with practical tips in "Building Family Resilience."
A hot trend in nutrition and dieting for some Warfighters is internal cleansing (or “cleansing” for short). Typical cleansing programs promise renewed energy, weight loss, and a fresh start—appealing offers following the rigors of a deployment, a recent change of duty station, or just life in general. Variants of cleansing programs may include “detox” (short for detoxification) diets, dietary supplement products, enemas, or some combination of these.
Although some detox diets emphasize eating lots of fruits and vegetables and drinking plenty of water, many detox diets lack certain vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients, and are dangerously low in calories. It might be difficult for a Warfighter to obtain adequate calories for optimal performance while following a typical detox diet.
Detox supplement products often contain herbs and other plant-based chemicals that have a laxative effect. Long-term use of laxative products can cause changes in the structure of your large intestine (colon) that might have serious health effects. Laxatives can cause dehydration, which impairs performance. In addition, according to the Food and Drug Administration there are concerns about dietary supplement products containing hidden active ingredients that can result in harmful effects.
Detox enemas, often marketed as “colon cleanse” products, cause the contents of the colon to be quickly expelled. Detox enemas contain a variety of substances, some of which can cause allergic reactions or electrolyte imbalances. Since many detox enemas are self-administered, there’s also the risk of tearing the inside of your rectum during the procedure, which can cause septicemia—a type of bacterial infection in the blood.
The guiding principle behind cleanse programs is that environmental and dietary toxins supposedly build up in your body, and you need to get rid of them to be healthy. However, there really isn’t any scientific evidence backing up these claims. Your body is designed to detox itself by getting rid of wastes through urine, feces, and sweat. The best way to take advantage of these built-in detox systems is to drink plenty of water (to produce more urine), get plenty of fiber from fruits, vegetables, and whole grains (to help pass feces), and exercise (to produce sweat)—a proven program to help you perform better and live a healthy life.