Today’s Headlines: Hugs, Pollution and Weight Loss

Hugs can help keep you healthy. We all love the embrace of someone we’re close to, but that hug could convey more than good feelings. A new study out this week has found that those who get more hugs are also less likely to get a cold. “The researchers tested whether perceptions of social support are equally effective in protecting us from stress-induced susceptibility to infection and also whether receiving hugs might partially account for those feelings of support and themselves protect a person against infection.” After asking about how much social support a person has in their life and how many hugs they get, the authors exposed participants to the flu. “They discovered that perceived social support reduced the risk of infection associated with experiencing conflicts and that hugs accounted for one-third of this protective effect. Regardless of whether a participant reported having an interpersonal conflict, greater perceived social support and more frequent hugs helped mitigate cold symptoms.” The results indicate that those who get hugs more are also probably more supported and less stressed, which helps protect them from illness. (Fox)

Autism risk higher in areas with high air pollution. Much is still unknown about how autism develops and why it strikes some children and not others. New data out this week from the Harvard School of Public Health indicates that pollution might have something to do with it. “The researchers analyzed 245 children with autism and 1,522 without. By looking at estimated pollution exposure during pregnancy, based on the mother’s home address, the scientists concluded high levels of pollution were more common in children with autism. The strongest link was with fine particulate matter – invisible specks of mineral dust, carbon and other chemicals – that enter the bloodstream and cause damage throughout the body.” While the link was significant, the researchers acknowledged the study doesn’t show causality and that there may be other factors in heavily polluted areas that also contribute. But they also point out this study is not the first to propose the danger. “If chemicals are entering the mother’s body then the fetus will have access to those too. Women should be made aware of the potential links so they don’t get excessive exposure.” (BBC)

When weight is lost, it’s through your breath. While most people think of their fat as being “burned” off, the metaphor can be misleading for patients and for doctors. A survey of “nutritionists, physicians, physical trainers and people who should know better, largely didn’t realize that lost weight does not leave our bodies as heat, get converted into muscle or get passed out in the feces. It largely leaves the body in the form of carbon dioxide exhaled from our lungs.” This is because the basis of fat is carbon. As fat gets broken down into energy, carbon dioxide is left behind while that energy goes on to be put to work elsewhere. The only place to get rid of that new CO2 is to breathe it out. “When someone sets a goal of losing weight without losing lean muscle, she is in effect planning to break down the fat stored in her adipocytes, or fat cells. Chemically speaking, fat must be oxidized, or broken down into its component parts. Oxidizing 22 pounds of fat uses about 64 pounds of inhaled oxygen, and will produce 62 pounds of CO2 and 24 pounds of water.” (LA Times)

Glycemic Index Unhelpful When Food Is Healthy

choosing vegetables at the market womanGlycemic index has quickly become a popular way to judge the sugar content of foods. The index looks at how fast foods increase the amount of sugar in your blood. Simple sugars like table sugar are absorbed quickly and cause your blood sugar to spike rapidly after you eat. More complex sugars, like those found in a carrot or apple, are absorbed more slowly so blood sugar takes longer to increase. Other components of a sugar-containing food, like fiber, can also slow the absorption of sugar.

These spikes in blood sugar are thought to contribute to diabetes. The refined sugar found in many of today’s foods moves more rapidly into the blood than our body is prepared to handle. That can stress our ability to control blood sugar and lead to diabetes. The theory behind glycemic index was that eating foods with a low glycemic index decrease these spikes and stress the body less, thereby slowing progress to diabetes. Read more  »

How Sleep Can Help Win the War Against Obesity


There’s some great news in the fight against childhood obesity. A recently released federal report on obesity trends in adults and children in the United States found that rates of obesity among children aged 2 to 5 have dropped dramatically in the past decade, but that they’ve increased among teens. The study, conducted by scientists at the Centers for Disease Control, examined rates of obesity in children from infancy through adolescence as well as rates for adults, during the years 2003 to 2012. They found obesity among children ages 2 to 5 fell a striking 43% to 8.4% in 2012. This finding caught many by surprise. Earlier research indicated a leveling off of obesity rates in children with some more modest declines among certain age groups. Read more  »

A Friendly Reminder to Stay Sober Behind the Wheel This Holidays Season


In New Orleans, we love to drink alcohol. So with the holiday season rapidly approaching, it would be a real travesty if I didn’t address drunk driving. Here’s a sobering thought: someone is killed in an alcohol-related motor vehicle accident every 53 minutes on average. One in three of those accidents occur with someone between the ages of 21 and 24 at the wheel and another third are between 25 and 34. Read more  »

Using Weight Loss to Give the Gift of Hearing


This past week I had the opportunity to meet with an inspiring pair of people. If you didn’t have time to catch the show, I was visited by Chef Kelle Elliott and her boss, Al Gabianelli. Kelle has been deaf since age 6 when a meningitis infection damaged her hearing and led to almost complete deafness. In spite of that, Kelle has learned to thrive. Her exceptional ability to read lips allows her to communicate with the rest of the world where she might otherwise be isolated. She works at a busy restaurant and has two wonderful sons. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Comfort Food, Yoga and Glucosamine/Chondroitin

Mood bounces back even without comfort food. When you’re feeling down or stressed, it can seem easy to turn to comfort foods. But new research shows that you’d probably feel better even without the food. “The research was funded by NASA in hopes of improving the mood of astronauts on space missions. Astronauts tend to lose weight in space, where the work demands are stressful and the food quality less than stellar. The researchers wanted to know whether giving people comfort food would boost their mood, a finding that might help astronauts during a long, taxing voyage to Mars.” Participants identified foods they didn’t think would influence their mood along with their favorite comfort foods. They then watched movies that made them feel sad, anxious or angry. “Some subjects were then served triple-portion-size helpings of a comfort food. Others were given a food they liked but didn’t consider a mood booster, and some were given the neutrally rated granola bar. Some weren’t given any food. Three minutes later, the subjects took another mood questionnaire.” Mood improved similarly regardless of whether the participants ate comfort food, other foods or no food at all. (NYT)

Yoga can help guard against heart disease, too. Yoga has long been touted as a way to improve strength and flexibility. New data has also found that it may have heart benefits. “A review of 37 studies involving nearly 3,000 people found yoga was linked to a lowering of heart risk factors. Compared with no exercise, yoga was linked to a lower risk of obesity, high blood pressure and raised cholesterol. When pitched against other types of exercise, such as brisk walking or jogging, yoga was no better or worse based on the same measures of heart risk. It is not clear why yoga might be beneficial, but experts say it could be due to its calming effect. Stress has been linked to heart disease and high blood pressure.” While there are other benefits to more strenuous exercise related to increased endurance, those looking to start out a new regimen might consider yoga. As one author put it, “These results indicate that yoga is potentially very useful and worth pursuing as a heart risk improvement practice.” (BBC)

Glucosamine and chondroitin supplements don’t help osteoarthritis in the knees. Glucosamine and chondroitin have long been touted by supplement manufacturers for their beneficial effect in those with arthritis. But study after study has failed to reliably show this to be the case, and doctors have found no indication that the components of these pills actually ends up in your joints. A new study out this week adds to that research. “The study analyzed data on 1,625 adults who had osteoarthritis in at least one knee and had X-rays taken annually to assess damage to the affected joint. At the start of the study, none of the participants had taken glucosamine or chondroitin, singly or together, but during the next three years, 18 percent of them started taking the supplements at least four days a week. Nearly everyone took them in combination. The results from X-rays and standardized scales rating pain, stiffness and function showed no difference between those taking and not taking the supplements. Glucosamine/chondroitin neither helped symptoms nor slowed progression of the disease.” Those with osteoarthritis should instead consult with their doctor about the effective ways to best manage and reduce their symptoms. (Washington Post)

Length of Food Decision Reflects What You’re Factoring In

woman choosing food

When you open up the cupboard, how do you decide what you’re going to snack on? Is it based on what you’re craving? The tastiest thing you lay eyes on? Or perhaps the healthiest snack available? A team of researchers has attempted to try and better understand this decision-making process by picking apart how a person decides what to eat.

The research team started by wondering how health factors into food decisions. Based on past research, they believed that taste was the primary consideration to the health factor. Taste is an easy measure for most since knowing how good something tastes is just a matter of putting it in your mouth. Determining health is a more intellectual process that involves gathering information about the food and its ingredients and deciding whether they’re “healthy.” Because that mental math takes time, the researchers guessed that a decision about what to eat was first made on taste with health information later layered on. Read more  »

Your Winter Skin-Saving Guide

woman washing face

OK, It’s the winter holiday season – and between the frigid and ever-changing weather, dry heating, and running around for gifts and holiday parties, my skin is having a rough time. Yours too? Not to mention, my summer regimen just doesn’t apply when it’s the dead of winter. So, to help get all of us glowing, I’ve enlisted the help of dermatologist Dr. Amy Kim, a dermatologist and Mohs surgeon at MetroDerm in Atlanta, GA. Here’s her advice. Read more  »

Sharecare Top 5: Avoid Meltdowns, Give the Gift of Health and Stay Safe this Holiday Season

Happy Holiday Music

On Sharecare we’re letting you in on ways to beat the stress, sharing recipes that will satisfy your sweet tooth without expanding your waistline and giving you some expert safety tips — all in time for the holidays.

1. Hosting a holiday party? You’ll have everyone crowded around the snacks instead of under the mistletoe with these mouth-watering – and guilt-free – desserts.

2. From devices that track activity to sensors that give insight into sleep patterns, check out these high-tech health gadgets that make great stocking stuffers.

3. With presents to buy, family to entertain and cookies to bake, holiday prep can be overwhelming. If you’re feeling frazzled, check out these tips to tame the tension.

4. Too much eggnog can give you more than just a hangover. Get the scoop from Dr. Darria Long Gillespie on how excess partying can lead to what some experts call Holiday Heart Syndrome, and ways you can avoid it.

5. Doing some decorating? Putting up the tree? Watch out for holiday hazards that could turn a joyful time with loved ones into an unplanned trip to the ER.