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Irene Maher, Times Staff Writer

Irene Maher

Irene Maher has reported on health for more than 25 years, mostly for WFLA-Ch. 8 in Tampa. She now writes about personal health and wellness for the Tampa Bay Times. She and her husband live in Tampa.

Phone: (813) 226-3416

Email: imaher@tampabay.com

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  1. Whether it's cycling or boxing, vigorous exercise can ease Parkinson's symptoms

    Health

    Exercise helps with everything from weight loss and depression to warding off heart attacks, stroke, diabetes, even cancer.

    For years, doctors have been telling their patients that exercise helps with the symptoms of Parkinson's disease, too, but now they're getting some help from organized exercise programs designed specifically for Parkinson's patients.

    The classes are usually led by specially trained and certified instructors who have learned about the disease and how to work with those who have it. ...

    Jordan Wittemore, center, head coach with Rock Steady Boxing, stabilizes a free standing heavy bag while working through a punching drill with Parkinson's patient Allan Small, 78, during Wednesday's (2/3/16) boxing class for Parkinson's patients at Bodyssey Performance + Recovery in Largo. Organizers say the physical activity involved with boxing helps reduce the symptoms of Parkinson???‚??„?s disease.
  2. Lessons learned: Survivors urge others to get educated on heart matters

    Health

    February is designated Heart Month to draw special attention to heart disease, the No. 1 killer of Americans, particularly women. To mark the month, the American Heart Association chose four women as the "Go Red for Women, Real Women of Tampa Bay." Their mission: to help change our thinking about cardiovascular disease and show that even young, seemingly healthy women are at risk, too.

    Each survived a life-changing cardiovascular event. They hope sharing their stories will save others from the same fate. ...

    Photo by James Ostrand for the American Heart Association/American Stroke Association Tampa Bay 
February is the American Heart Association’s American Heart Month. From left are the “Go Red for Women, Real Women of Tampa Bay”: Kristen Powers, who had a stroke at age 33; Meagan Broucek, who was born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome; Ruby Hope, who had a heart attack and underwent a quadruple bypass; and Lynette Bear, who suffered cardiac arrest.
  3. Doctors seeing more people in their 30s and 40s with colon cancer, study says

    Research

    Colon cancer may no longer be a disease of just the over-50 crowd.

    A new study from the American Cancer Society supports what many doctors nationwide have been seeing in their practices in recent years: an increase in colon cancer patients who are younger than 50.

    It's the third most common cancer in American men and women. More than 95,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year, according to the cancer society. Ninety percent will be patients age 50 and older. The median age for diagnosis is 69 in men and 73 in women. ...

    Photo illustration. [iStockphoto.com]
  4. A recipe for prevention

    Health

    You have the power to prevent cancer.

    A lot of it depends on lifestyle choices — the food you eat, whether you smoke, if you like suntanned skin. Personal decisions like these and other factors that can be changed account for 70 to 90 percent of the mutations that cause cancer, according to new research in the journal Nature.

    That means by making certain, specific changes you may be able to significantly reduce your risk of certain cancers, including breast, prostate, colorectal, lung, skin and cervical. ...

    Cancer survivor Donna Jackson grows moringa, known for its healthy properties. These leaves will go into Chicken Tinola.
  5. Here's what you need to know about the Zika virus if you live in Florida

    Health

    The Zika virus, a mosquito-borne infection linked to birth defects in Brazil, has made its way to Florida and three other states, with one confirmed case in Hillsborough County.

    But with only seven cases total in the United States, how much should we worry?

    It's worth paying attention to, say health officials, who note the infection can be brought into the country by travelers. Though Zika is not spread person-to-person, the concern is that mosquitoes here can feed on those travelers and potentially bite and transmit the virus to others....

    Aedes mosquitoes have spread Zika widely in Brazil.
  6. Tips and recipes for eating healthy in the new year

    Cooking

    Losing weight has to be one of the most common New Year's resolutions. For most people that usually means resolving to eat differently, better. No more cheese fries! No more croissant breakfast sandwiches! Vegetables, fruit and grains instead of steak, beer and chips. But swearing off foods you love and trying to incorporate the ones you should like can backfire. No wonder it's your New Year's resolution every year — it doesn't always work. ...

    A creamy chicken potato.
  7. Try starting the new year with a healthy question: What do I need to change?

    Health

    Here's a novel idea for the new year. Why not make your health a priority in 2016? Actually get all those health screenings you know you need but never get around to scheduling. Really change how and what you eat and drink. Take steps to get better sleep. Break up with some long-standing bad habits.

    Make this the year you improve your overall mental and physical health. Call it the "New Year, New You" plan. ...

  8. The secret to taking calcium supplements: 'More is not better'

    Health

    The advice on calcium used to be straightforward. Take a supplement, 1,000 to 1,200 milligrams a day, and you're done. Next question.

    But it's not that simple anymore with the release of new studies and new federal health recommendations that bring calcium supplementation into question. So, what should we do? It depends on whom you ask.

    Calcium has a big job.

    It helps the brain send messages along nerves to every part of the body. It helps muscles contract and blood to circulate and release hormones and enzymes along the way. It keeps our joints healthy and helps keep blood pressure normal. And, it's the main mineral involved in the formation of bone, which is where the largest amounts of calcium are stored and drawn out as needed. Make too many withdrawals from the bone bank without making regular deposits, particularly as you age, and your bones may become weak and fracture or break more easily. ...

    Food sources of calcium include, from top left, kidney beans, milk, lentils, spinach, kale, yogurt, cheese, sardines, figs, soy beans, ricotta and broccoli, according to the USDA.
  9. How to handle or prevent family conflicts at holiday gatherings

    Relationships

    The holidays are supposed to be a time of peace, harmony and happiness. So, what goes wrong every time your family gets together? Someone always ends up with hurt feelings or storms off in an angry huff. You can't broach certain subjects because the conversation always ends with raised voices and harmful things being said, even though those difficult topics sometimes need to be discussed. Well, rest assured, your family isn't the only one with this problem....

    For many families, holiday gatherings may involve heated arguments. But they don’t have to.
  10. Kidney cancer: hard to detect, on the rise

    Health

    Kidney cancer doesn't get a lot of attention. Rick Thompson never gave it a thought until one day in 2012 when his urine turned red and he started passing blood clots. He thought it was a kidney stone.

    Three days later doctors told him it was renal carcinoma, kidney cancer, in both kidneys.

    "I never drank, never smoked, never did drugs," the 67-year-old Orlando retiree said, adding with a laugh: "So much for clean living." ...

    Dr. Philippe Spiess is a surgeon at Moffitt Cancer Center and one of Rick Thompson’s physicians.
  11. Black results matter: New program aims to boost minority participation in clinical trials at USF, Moffitt

    Health

    John Harrell was out of options.

    Diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 2009, he had tried everything available. The seven drugs and two types of radiation didn't stop his cancer, nor did the bone marrow transplant.

    "I had to take a risk," he said. "None of those treatments gave me remission. The disease would always win."

    So in 2013, Harrell, 48, became one of the few African-Americans to try an experimental drug being tested in a clinical trial at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. ...

    Photo of John Harrell, an African American resident of West Chase, who has cancer. He entered a clinical trial at the Moffitt Cancer Center after other treatments failed to work, and the medication helped. Researchers want more John Harrells because they say too few minorities participate in drug trials, which can skew the results.

Credit: John Harrell
  12. Some words of caution about a Halloween favorite: caramel apples

    Health

    What's better at this time of year than a large, shiny caramel-covered apple? They're almost as much a part of Halloween as jack-o'-lanterns and goblins.

    But, if you're planning on dipping your own apples or buying ready-made, you might want to take a few precautions to prevent a potentially serious illness.

    Researchers reporting in the online journal of the American Society of Microbiology found that Granny Smith apples dipped in caramel became a breeding ground for listeria if the apples were made with sticks and stored at room temperature for several days. ...

    Researchers found that Granny Smith apples dipped in caramel became a breeding ground for listeria if the apples were made with sticks and stored at room temperature for several days.
  13. New drug combination can boost survival chances for some breast cancer patients

    Medicine

    Michelle King found her breast cancer during a self-exam last December. A month later, after further testing, the mother of two, 43 at the time, learned it was an aggressive form of the disease HER2-positive.

    But the timing couldn't have been better. A new drug had just hit the market that was improving survival rates and, in some patients, wiping out the cancer completely when found and treated in its earliest stages. ...

    Michelle King, 44, of Clearwater participates in a Gentle Yoga class on Wednesday at the Yoga Room in Clearwater. She was diagnosed at age 43 with HER2-positive breast cancer.
  14. Breast cancer a rarity in men, but 'it can happen'

    Medicine

    Dennis Coyle was holding his granddaughter in 2013 when he felt something unusual.

    "She banged up against my chest," he remembers, "and it felt funny."

    He checked the area on his left chest and discovered a hard growth, smaller than a pea. Coyle, now 68, thought it was a harmless cyst and brought it up during a regular skin checkup with his dermatologist. A biopsy revealed a surprising result: He had breast cancer. ...

    Dennis Coyle of Lithia was diagnosed in July 2013 with breast cancer. He had a mastectomy in August 2013 and required no further treatment.
  15. Study underlines hazards of Southern diet, but there are ways to cut back

    Health

    Southern food tastes good. But what it may do to your heart can be bad.

    Really bad.

    New research from the American Heart Association provides more proof that a steady diet of Southern favorites could kill you, or might give you a heart attack or stroke.

    What's so bad about Southern food? All the fried and high fat foods, processed and organ meats, eggs and egg dishes and sugary drinks. ...

    Dianna Thomas cutline here