Can Fake News Change Your Brain?

Digital Health Headlines

Cowritten with Dr. Daniel Amen

The ill effects of fake news on both our health and the health of our society has been on my mind. So, earlier this year, I called my colleague neuropsychiatrist Dr. Daniel Amen with an unusual question. Could the human brain be hacked by fake news? I had just seen fMRI images in a Nature Scientific Reports article by Kaplan and colleagues from University of Southern California, which showed that politically challenging statements activated the parts of our brains associated with self-identity and emotion, like the amygdala.

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In the News: Mumps Outbreak Hits Washington State, New Jersey Aims to Lower Infant Mortality, Heavy Snow May Increase Male Heart Attack Risk

Mumps outbreak hits Washington State. The state of Washington has been grappling with a mumps outbreak since October and now, 367 people have been diagnosed or at least suspected of having the illness. Unfortunately, the vast majority of those infected are school-age children. The Washington State Department of Health believes that this outbreak is linked to the decrease in vaccination rates in children over five years old throughout the state. The mumps vaccine is about 88% effective at preventing the infection, which means that some children who received the shot could still get sick. The worrisome part is that mumps can have some serious complications, including encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) and meningitis (inflammation of the structures surrounding the brain). Read more about the importance of vaccines here. (ABC)

Nobody puts baby in the (cardboard) corner! New program in New Jersey aims to decrease infant mortality. Baby boxes are going out to new families for free in an attempt to educate parents about infant safety. The boxes are made of laminated cardboard and encourage parents to follow the ABCs of sleep (Alone, on their Backs, and . . . well, the C should now stand for Cardboard). While researchers don’t know exactly why, these simple measures could drastically reduce the risk of SIDS or sudden infant death syndrome. The box also includes diapers, baby wipes, a onesie, and breastfeeding pads. Watch Dr. Oz’s favorite tips on how to get a baby to sleep here. (NYT)

Heavy snowfall may carry risk for heart attack in men. When weather hits hard like last week’s snowstorm Niko, many can be found outside with a shovel in hand. But a new study from the Canadian Medical Association Journal suggests that the winter wonderland could be dangerous for your heart. To investigate, researchers looked at weather patterns over the past 30 years and compared them to hospital records of patients diagnosed with heart attacks. They found that during the extra snow, men are about 16% more likely to go to the hospital for a heart attack and just more than 30% more likely to die from one. Yikes! The authors don’t say exactly why men are at a higher risk, but they advise switching from a snow shovel to a snow blower so that you don’t overdo it out there. Check out Dr. Oz’s favorite tips on staying safe in the snow. (TIME)

The Importance of Vitamin D

Woman in mountains

Written by Austin Winegar, Ask the Scientists Manager at USANA Health Sciences

Role in the Human Body

Vitamin D is a fat-soluble nutrient essential for bone growth and general health. It is acquired through diet and exposure to sunlight.

Vitamin D is an essential component of bone health in both children and adults. Without vitamin D, bones do not calcify properly, leading to the condition known as “rickets” in children. Vitamin D also plays an important role in tooth development. It is necessary for proper tooth eruption, growth, and strength. Through its role in regulating calcium and phosphorus metabolism, vitamin D plays a continuing role in maintaining a stable nervous system, normal heart activity, and normal blood clotting.

A unique property of vitamin D is that it functions very much like a hormone. It target tissues include the kidneys, intestines, and bones, where it helps regulate calcium and phosphorus homeostasis. Its specific activity in the intestines involves stimulating the synthesis of active transport proteins that mediate absorption of calcium. In bone tissue, vitamin D plays a role in regulating calcium deposition (bone mineralization) and mobilization. A role for vitamin D in immune system modulation is now under investigation. Read more  »

In the News: Nordic Diet May Reduce Stroke Risk, Certain Brain Areas Work Like Traffic Lights, Licorice Potentially Dangerous During Pregnancy

I’ve really taken a Viking to this diet. New study suggests a link between the Nordic diet and risk of stroke. It’s estimated that more than 200,000 Americans suffer from stroke annually, but a new study from the American Heart Association suggests that a group of people in Northern Europe might have a diet that could help reduce the risk: it’s the Nordic diet. In this study, more than 55,000 people were followed for 13 years, and they found that those who adhered to the Nordic diet had significantly lower risk of ischemic stroke. So give it a try! The Nordic diet is packed full of fish, root veggies like carrots, and greens like Brussels sprouts and broccoli. Check out celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson and Dr. Oz explain the benefits of the Nordic Diet here! (MEDSCAPE)

This brain research gets the green light. New study suggests that some parts of our brain work like a traffic light. By studying the brains of rats, scientists are uncovering the way that we respond to the environment. It all has to do with a region of the brain called the prefrontal cortex, which receives either excitation or inhibition to work. To further test this system, the researchers turned off different regions of the prefrontal cortex in rats and had them perform tasks. They found specific regions of the brain that influence impulsive behavior and which opens up an area to study disorders of reactive behavior like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Want to learn more about OCD? Check out this fact sheet. (EUREKA)

Licorice might not be so anise for pregnant women. Licorice consumption during pregnancy may affect cognitive ability in children. A recent study from Finland followed more than a thousand pregnant mothers and their healthy infants for 13 years. Children born from mothers who ate more than 8.8 ounces of licorice a week while pregnant scored, on average, seven points lower on IQ tests and had three times the risk of developing attention deficit disorder. While the authors admit that more research needs to be done, this study sheds light on a possible risk of eating licorice while pregnant. Learn more about what you can (and can’t) eat during pregnancy here. (NYT)

Crucial Tips to Avoid Stem Cell Scammers

cell cultures

Elisabeth is a 13-time Emmy-winner, a critically acclaimed personal finance author and a 20-year consumer advocate for programs such as Good Morning America and The Dr. Oz Show.

Connect with her via Twitter @ElisabethLeamy and on her website, Leamy.com.

“Stem cell science is extraordinarily promising… We are tremendously optimistic that stem cell therapies will someday be available to treat a wide range of human diseases and conditions.” —The International Society for Stem Cell Research

“Someday.” That’s the word that stuck out to me in the passage above when I came across it during my research. I was preparing to go undercover for The Dr. Oz Show to investigate what for-profit stem cell clinics are telling vulnerable patients. If stem cell treatments were going to be available “someday,” why did I have my choice of 570 stem cell clinics to visit today?
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In the News: Study Uncovers Gut Bacteria-Blood Pressure Connection, New Report Ranks Each State’s Health, Study Says Oldest Child is Smartest

A gut reaction on heart health. New study links gut bacteria and blood pressure. With more bacteria cells in and on our bodies than human cells, it’s no wonder they appear to affect our health. According to a recent study, gut bacteria may even lower blood pressure as well. In the study, scientists took intestinal bacteria from rats with high blood pressure also known as hypertension and introduced it into the intestines of rats with normal blood pressure. After about 7 weeks, the once normotensive rats developed hypertension! While more studies need to be done in humans, increasing your probiotics could be an easy way to improve your health. Check out the ultimate probiotic shopping list here. (SCIENCEDAILY)

From Kale-ifornia to Tuna-see, do you live in the healthiest state in the nation? New report ranks each state’s health. A recent poll from Gallup and Healthways surveyed more than 177,000 Americans in 2016 and found some interesting patterns. Topping off the list is the people of Hawaii while the bottom of the list is West Virginia. The authors had some good news, claiming that 2016 saw historically low smoking rates and historically high rates of exercise. Unfortunately, chronic diseases like obesity and diabetes are at some of their highest rates since 2008. No matter which state you live in, our new 21-day diet might be the best way for you to lose weight and decrease your risk of developing chronic disease here. (TIME)

Study says oldest child may be smartest. Firstborn children can all rejoice! The Journal of Human Resources has conducted a study that shows that firstborn children get higher IQ scores compared to their younger siblings. Other findings from the study show that older children received more mental stimulation and engagement from their parents, and were more often breastfed than their younger siblings. Another result of the research showed that first-time mothers were more likely to avoid drinking and smoking at all costs, staying very healthy during their first pregnancies. While it’s not clear if there is a link between breastfeeding, birth order, and intelligence, these results do raise some interesting questions. To learn more about birth order, check out this article. (FORBES)

In the News: Brain-Stimulating Activities May Help Dementia Patients, Altitude Linked to Lower Risk of Metabolic Syndrome, Camping May Improve Sleep Quality

I don’t just like puzzles, I lobe them. There may be a link between brain-stimulating activities and dementia. In many ways, the brain is like a muscle that needs regular exercise. A recent study investigated the association between brain workouts and dementia. The scientists followed nearly 2,000 healthy seniors over four years and found that those participating in brain-stimulating activities had a significant decrease in their risk of developing cognitive impairment – even in patients with a genetic predisposition to cognitive decline. Some of the activities include computer use, social activities, and playing games. Check out some of Dr. Oz’s favorite brain boosting games here. (MEDNEWS)

The hills are alive… with the sound of heart health. Altitude might have an impact on heart disease risk. A recent study found that living at a higher altitude is linked to a lower risk of getting metabolic syndrome – the combination of increased blood pressure, sugar, cholesterol, and waist size. Together, these factors greatly increase the risk of heart disease. The authors of the study recognize that living or exercising in low oxygen environments like those at high altitudes seems to be very helpful for heart and lung health, weight loss, and even insulin sensitivity. The good news is that you don’t need to live in the mountains just to decrease your risk of getting metabolic syndrome. Take this quiz to find out if you’re at risk for metabolic syndrome. (EUREKA)

The sleep I got on that camping trip was in-tents! Camping trip might help you sleep. In a recent study, scientists tested the melatonin of people who went camping and compared it to people who stayed at home. Those who spent time in the great outdoors had a melatonin boost one and a half times earlier than those who stayed home. According to the authors, this means the campers’ biological clocks reset to better match the sun and that may have greatly improved the sleep quality. If you can’t get away for a weekend camping trip, don’t worry. Just try to increase the amount of natural light you’re exposed to during the day and decrease the artificial light from smartphones and tablets at night. Check out Dr. Oz’s favorite tips for better sleep here. (NPR)