Today’s Headlines: Sugar, Urine and Heart Failure

Sugar may help lower signs of stress, making you crave more. For some, sugary sweets can calm stress and anxiety during difficult times. A new study out this week has figured out why sugar might seem so helpful in those situations. “In a two-week experiment, 19 women drank three beverages a day sweetened either with real sugar or aspartame, a substitute. Researchers did magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) brain scans to see how the sweets affected the women and found that sugar, but not aspartame, triggered activity in a part of the brain involved in reacting to stress. The MRI results suggest that sugar may have interrupted the normal response to stress in the hippocampus region of the brain, limiting production of the stress hormone cortisol.” The study was small, but indicates a mechanism for why those under chronic stress might overindulge in sugar-laden foods. Knowing this might help those who eat to de-stress get a better handle on their eating habits. “While there isn’t a single, simple way to short-circuit these cravings in times of stress, it is possible to develop other ways to cope, such as taking a walk.” (Reuters)

Urine tests may help identify risk factors for, causes of obesity. It might not seem too hard to identify who’s overweight and who’s not. But researchers still don’t know why some people gain extra pounds while others don’t. New research has found some hints using urine tests. “Researchers sifted through the urine samples of 2,195 men and women who ranged across the weight spectrum for the telltale chemicals produced in obesity. They found 29 by-products of physiological processes whose levels variously rose and fell with people’s BMI. The result is a ‘network map’ which could serve as a ‘metabolic signature’ for the modern obesity epidemic, the authors said. Among the most notable metabolites they found linked to obesity were those produced by bacteria that colonize the gut, the latest in a flurry of research findings that implicate the gut’s microbiome in obesity and metabolic disease. Other metabolites suggest that the skeletal muscle of obese people uses energy differently than does that of people of normal healthy weight.” The team hopes that these findings will help other researchers discover new areas of research that might lead to new treatments to help fight the rising tide of obesity. (LA Times)

Poor health knowledge tied to more deaths in those with heart failure. A visit to the doctor can bring with it a tidal wave of new information. Most people absorb some of the explanations and advice they receive, but a lot is also lost in translation. A new study has found that this communication breakdown can have serious health consequences. “Researchers followed 1,379 patients who were hospitalized for acute heart failure and completed a brief health literacy screen at hospital admission between 2010 and 2013. Nurses asked patients three questions: whether they have problems learning about their medical condition, their confidence filling out medical forms, and how often they have someone help them read hospital materials. After accounting for other possible explanations, the researchers found that those with low health literacy were over 30 percent more likely to die than those who scored higher based on their self-reports.” While the study can’t draw causation from the data, the researchers point out that low health literacy can make knowing how and when to take medications challenging and can lead a sick person to unintentionally make bad decisions about how to handle their illness. “Patients should talk with their healthcare providers until they have a good understanding of how to take their medications and manage their disease.” (Fox)