Living at High Altitudes May Ward Off Obesity

Woman in mountains

Living at higher altitudes might help you control your weight, according to a new study published in PLOS One.

Researchers looked at the health records of over 98,000 U.S. military personnel between 2006 and 2012. They found that people stationed at high altitudes (1.2 miles above sea level or more) were 41% less likely to become obese compared to people serving at lower altitudes (0.6 miles or fewer) – even after they adjusted for starting BMI, sex, race and age.

According to The New York Times, prior studies have also shown that people living in low-altitude countries are about four times more likely to be obese than people living in high-altitude ones, for unknown reasons.

The study’s authors suggest that certain appetite-controlling hormones, such as leptin, tend to rise at higher altitudes – perhaps explaining the difference. However, they cautioned that further study was needed to explain how exactly altitude helps weight control.

Today’s Headlines: Education and Brain Injury, Depression and Wine

College-educated brains recover better from injury, study suggests: A history of more education may help brains recover from traumatic injury, according to a new study. The study found that “one year after a traumatic brain injury, people with a college education were nearly four times as likely as those who hadn’t finished high school to return to work or school with no disability.” Researchers reported that 39% of people with a college degree were able to return to work or school without any disability following a moderate to severe traumatic brain injury, compared to only 10% of people with no high school diploma. “Scientists have theorized that education leads to greater ‘cognitive reserve,’ which allows people to overcome or compensate for brain damage.” (NBC News

Breakthroughs could lead to ‘powerful treatment for depression’: Researchers in a new study “say they have uncovered an important mechanism by which ghrelin – a natural antidepressant hormone – works inside the brain,” and have also identified a protective drug that may be a new potent treatment for depression. Ghrelin, which is also known as the “hunger hormone” for its ability to stimulate appetite, appears to also have natural antidepressant properties and may be able to “trigger the formation of new neurons, known as neurogenesis, in the hippocampus – the brain region that regulates mood, memory and complex eating behaviors.” Moreover, the team found that a compound called P7C3 may support ghrelin’s neuroprotective abilities, leading to improvements in depression.  This could lead to a whole new class of antidepressant drugs, according to the researchers. (Medical News Today) 

Moderate wine consumption may benefit kidneys: “New research links moderate wine consumption with a lower prevalence of chronic kidney disease (CKD); and, for those who already have CKD, the study indicates some wine consumption may be linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease.” Researchers examined data from 5,582 people included in the 2003-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination survey and found that rates of CKD were lower in people who drank a glass of wine a day or less (on average), compared to people who did not drink at all. One glass of wine is four ounces, according to the American Heart Association. (Fox News

Today’s Headlines: Fibroid Removal, Dirty Money and PET Scans

FDA now discourages hysterectomy, fibroid procedure: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration stated “that a procedure commonly used during hysterectomies and fibroid surgeries can spread undetected cancer.” The procedure, power morcellation, grinds up fibroids and other unwanted tissue so that it may be removed, but it may also disseminate the tissue throughout the abdominal cavity. “In roughly one patient out of 350, those tiny bits are cancerous and their spread makes the cancer far harder to treat, the FDA said in a formal safety communication notice.” Though doctors try to rule out cancer before the procedure, absence of cancer cannot be guaranteed. Some hospitals, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston are suspending use of power morcellators. (USA Today

Researchers find thousands of bacteria living on cash: Your money is dirtier than you think, according to a new study from New York University’s Dirty Money Project. Scientists analyzed the genetic material on one dollar bills and found that they are carriers for up to 3,000 different types of bacteria. “Easily the most abundant species they found is one that causes acne. Others were linked to gastric ulcers, pneumonia, food poisoning and staph infections, the scientists said. Some carried genes responsible for antibiotic resistance.” The scientists think that the bills may carry even more bacteria, since about 80% of non-human DNA can’t be identified using current lab testing. (Fox News)

For vegetative patients, a brain scan may detect hope of recovery: Brain scans like PET scans may help doctors determine which vegetative patients will recover and which will not, according to a new study. The study tracked 102 unconscious patients for at least a year, using brain scans, bedside exams and other diagnostic tests to measure consciousness. “Imaging the subjects’ brains with a positron emission tomography (PET) scan allowed researchers to predict accurately 74% of the time whether a patient would show evidence of consciousness a year later. It was a better prognosticator of a poor outcome (continued lack of consciousness), accurately predicting that a patient would continue to be vegetative or minimally conscious in 92% of cases.” (Los Angeles Times)

Today’s Headlines: Food Textures, Diabetes Complications and Marijuana

Chew on this: How does food texture impact its perceived calorie content?: A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research found that a food’s texture significantly impacts how many calories consumers think it has. In part of the study, researchers asked participants to rate a series of television ads. They provided them with a cup of bite-sized brownie bits that were either soft or hard and asked half the group about the calorie content of the brownies. “When the participants were not made to focus on the calorie content, they consumed a higher volume of brownies when they were soft (vs. hard). In contrast, when made to focus on the calorie content, the participants consumed a higher volume of brownies when they were hard (vs. soft).” Researchers concluded that people incorrectly perceive foods with a hard or rough texture to contain fewer calories than softer foods. (EurekAlert!)

Type 2 diabetes complications show sharp decline, report finds: “Federal researchers reported the first sweeping national picture of progress in combating some of the most devastating complications of the Type 2 diabetes epidemic on Wednesday, finding that rates of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and amputations declined sharply over the past two decades.” The largest declines came in heart attacks and deaths due to high blood sugar, which dropped by more than 60% over a 20-year period. These improvements come as the number of Americans with diabetes more than tripled during the study period. “Researchers said the declines were the fruit of years of efforts to improve the health of patients with Type 2 diabetes,” and credited better patient education and improved control of risk factors. (The New York Times

Casual marijuana use linked with brain abnormalities, study finds: “For the first time, researchers at Northwestern University have analyzed the relationship between casual use of marijuana and brain changes – and found that young adults who used cannabis just once or twice a week showed significant abnormalities in two important brain structures.” The researchers used MRIs to look at the subjects’ brains, especially the nucleus accumbens and the amygdala, which are responsible for processing emotions, making decisions and motivation. “They looked at these brain structures in three different ways, measuring their density, volume and shape,” and found that all three areas were abnormal in marijuana users. The more the subject smoked, the more significant the brain abnormalities were. (Fox News)

Long Winter May Lead to “Pollen Vortex”


Brace yourself, allergy sufferers. Experts are saying that due to a long, wet winter, this spring is looking to pack a powerful pollen punch.

With the ice-cold days of the polar vortex and chilly temperatures that have lasted well past the start of spring, plants and trees are just now bursting into bloom. Normally, a slower transition between winter and spring allows plants to bloom gradually. According to several experts, however, this year, many plants may bloom suddenly and all at once. Plus, we may see overlapping between pollen coming from trees and grasses, which normally bloom in separate seasons. This could spell double trouble for people who suffer from hay fever.


Today’s Headlines: Hepatitis C, Young Dads and Cranky Spouses

Interferon-free therapy for hepatitis C ‘cured’ 90% of patients: “Currently, doctors treating hepatitis C patients with cirrhosis (liver scarring) can only offer treatments that rely on the drug interferon, which unfortunately, only works for less than half of patients. Now, a new study found that an interferon-free combination of drugs was safe, well tolerated and cured over 90% of 380 trial patients with liver cirrhosis in 12 weeks.” More than 3 million Americans have hepatitis C, which is spread through direct contact with infected blood and can result in cirrhosis and liver failure. “The key test of effectiveness was no trace of hepatitis C virus in the bloodstream. This was found to be the case in 91.8% of patients 12 weeks after their last dose, and 95.9% of patients 24 weeks after their last dose.” (Medical News Today

Young dads are at risk for postpartum depression: According to a new study, “men who entered into fatherhood at around age 25 saw a 68% increase of depressive symptoms over their first five years of being dads – if they lived at the same home as their children.” The study followed over 10,600 young men for approximately 20 years and found that men who lived with their children experienced a spike in depressive symptoms after their child was born, continuing through the first few years. “Identifying depression symptoms in young fathers is critical, since earlier research shows that depressed dads read and interact less with their kids, are more likely to use corporal punishment, and are more likely to neglect their kids.” (TIME

Getting angry with your spouse? Quick, eat something!: If you’re feeling cranky and are starting to snip at your significant other, you may want to grab a snack. Researchers at Ohio State University looked at the connection between low blood sugar and levels of aggression in 107 married couples. They found that “when blood glucose levels dropped, spouses were far more likely to stick pins into voodoo dolls representing their mates. They were also more likely to blast loud noises into earphones strapped to their mate’s head.” The study’s authors hypothesize that low blood sugar levels make self-control more difficult and that eating might help people reign in their more argumentative tendencies. (Los Angeles Times

Motivation to Exercise May Be Genetic

Athlete running road silhouette

Don’t like to exercise? You may be able to blame your genes.

A new study done on lab rats and published in The Journal of Physiology suggests that whether or not people feel motivated to exercise may be at least partially inherited. In the study, scientists observed a group of rats to see which rats voluntarily spent the most time running on a wheel. They bred those rats together. They then did the same with rats who spent the least amount of time running. They continued this process until they had two sets of rats – one that was descended from the running rats and another descended from the more sedentary rats.


Today’s Headlines: Medicare, Paralysis and Honey

Small slice of doctors account for big chunk of Medicare costs: “A tiny sliver of doctors and other medical providers accounted for an outsize portion of Medicare’s 2012 costs, according to an analysis of federal data that lays out details of physicians’ billings. The top 1% of 825,000 individual medical providers accounted for 14% of the $77 billion in billing recorded in the data.” Together, the 1,000 highest-paid Medicare physicians were paid $3.05 billion. A third of these high-earning providers are ophthalmologists and one in ten are radiation oncologists. One physician billed over $20 million in a year. Doctors’ groups cautioned the data, which contains gaps, could be misinterpreted, but “health-care economists say the data – despite several limitations – could help pinpoint doctors who overtreat patients, performing far more surgeries, procedures and other services than their peers.” (The Wall Street Journal

Electrical pulses help paralyzed patients move: “Four people who were paralyzed below the waist for more than two years were able to voluntarily wiggle their toes and flex their legs, thanks to a promising study that some are heralding as a breakthrough in spinal-cord-injury treatment.” To achieve their remarkable results, the study’s authors used an implantable electrical stimulator usually used to treat pain. The device sends electrical signals to the spinal cord, which are then related to the lower extremities. The four patients in the study “were able to voluntarily move their legs, feet and ankles within a week of starting the electrical stimulation.” While they’re not able to walk, they are able to move muscles that were previously entirely paralyzed. (TIME)

Just because it’s sweet and sticky doesn’t mean it’s ‘honey’: FDA: Honey just isn’t honey if it’s mixed with sugar or other sweeteners, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Consequently, “only manufactures that do not add sugar, corn syrup or other sweeteners should label their products as pure ‘honey,’ the FDA said in draft guidelines posted online.” Americans eat over 400 million pounds of honey every year, much of which is imported. “Pure honey is generally more expensive than those mixed with corn syrup and traditional sugar, and prices reached a record high of $2.12 a pound last year.” The new guidelines, if accepted, will not be mandatory. (Reuters)