Stress May Be Worse for the Obese Than Those of Normal Weight

stressed woman at desk

We’ve long been told that too much stress is bad for our health. Living under the burden of stress for extended periods of time can increase your blood pressure, worsen coronary artery disease and lead to heart rate irregularities, not to mention the psychological toll it takes. While the exact ways stress influences your physical health aren’t all completely known, hormones that coordinate how your body responds to stressful situations are likely involved. A new study has now revealed that how much you weigh may influence how high those hormones go. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Artificial Sweeteners, Cervical Cancer and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Artificial sweeteners may be messing with your blood sugar. Zero-calorie alternatives to sugar have become the mainstay of those looking to lose weight while maintaining sweetness. But a new study in mice has found that “artificial sweeteners may disrupt the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar, causing metabolic changes that can be a precursor to diabetes.” The researchers looked at blood sugar measurements and the microbes in the intestinal tract of the mice to see if the sweetener versus regular sugar would affect either of them. “The group of mice getting artificial sweeteners developed marked intolerance to glucose,” with their blood glucose spiking early and falling slowly. “When the researchers treated the mice with antibiotics, killing much of the bacteria in the digestive system, the glucose intolerance went away.” In further experiments, the researchers found that bacteria from humans who regularly consume artificial sweeteners create the same glucose intolerance in the mice. It is unknown at this time how bacteria influence glucose tolerance. (NYT)

There may soon be a urine test for cervical cancer. Currently, women at risk for cervical cancer have to undergo periodic Pap smears to test for possible cervical cancer. This is often accompanied with a test for HPV, the virus that causes cervical cancer and now prevented with the HPV vaccine. New research is now showing that “testing urine for HPV has good accuracy when compared to testing samples taken from the cervix for HPV.” A major advantage of the test is that “it could be done at home, and then interpreted by medical professionals.” As screening rates have declined, researchers are looking for new ways to try and make it easier for women to be screened. While the test wouldn’t replace the Pap smear or HPV test in many cases, “it could also be a boon in settings where more traditional means of screening for cervical cancer are difficult due to cultural resistance to gynecologic exams.” (CBS)

Smoking and salty foods may both contribute to rheumatoid arthritis. Smoking is a long-known risk factor for rheumatoid arthritis (RA), a debilitating and painful degenerative joint disease that affects more than a million Americans. But a new study has found that the amount of salt a person consumes may play a role, too. “Researchers set out to see if a salty diet might be linked to the onset of RA, but found a connection only among smokers–who were more than twice as likely as anyone with a low-salt diet to develop the condition.” They found that those smokers with the lowest salt consumption had similar rates of RA to nonsmokers. “More research is also needed to identify the biological pathways through which sodium intake can affect smoking as a risk factor. The study provides the first evidence in rheumatoid arthritis that sodium intake may influence risk for onset of the disease.” (Reuters)

Today’s Headlines: Leg Pain, Tooth Decay and Commuting

Chiropractic care might help your leg pain. Chiropractic is a widely used therapy for a variety of chronic pains. But the evidence for its efficacy has always been conflicting. A new study out this week has found that it could be helpful in the treatment of back-related leg pain. The researchers have found that “people with leg pain related to back problems had more short-term relief if they received chiropractic care along with exercise and advice, rather than exercise and advice alone.” The benefits weren’t only seen in the short term. “Nine months after the treatment ended, patients who received chiropractic therapy were still doing better than the other group in terms of global improvement, medication use and satisfaction.” According to the authors, “Spinal manipulation combined with home exercise may be worth trying for those with back-related leg pain that has lasted more than four weeks.” (Reuters)

Tooth decay mostly from having too much sugar. Only recently have doctors appreciated how important the health of your teeth is to overall well-being. The best way to keep those pearly whites may be to avoid sugar in your diet. A new report just released has said that “sugars are the only cause of tooth decay in kids and adults.” According to the researchers, “only 2% of people at all ages living in Nigeria had tooth decay when their diet contained almost no sugar, around 2g per day. This is in stark contrast to the USA, where 92% of adults have experienced tooth decay [and adults consume large amounts of sugar].” While the authors note that fluoride in water and toothpaste has helped stave off some tooth decay, it’s not enough to protect a person over the course of their life. They say that “this means it is now even more important to develop a radical prevention policy with a marked reduction in sugar intake.” (TIME)

Walkers and bikers are happier commuters. Getting to work on foot or two wheels is obviously a good workout for the muscles, but new research indicates it’s good for our brain, too. Researchers found that “daily commuters who stopped driving to work and started walking or riding a bike were under less stress and were able to concentrate better.” Public transportation also had benefits, but they weren’t as pronounced as those with walking and cycling. According to the authors, “commuters reported feeling better when traveling by public transport than when driving. You might think that things like disruption to services or crowds of commuters might have been a cause of considerable stress but buses or trains also give people time to relax, read, socialize and there is usually an associated walk to the bus stop or railway station.” Those who spent the most time commuting in cars felt the worst. (CBS)

Lower Activity in One Part of the Brain Affects Food Craving and Consumption

fridge with food

Snack cravings can strike at any time, and resisting the urge can be challenging. New research this week indicates that a specific part of your brain plays a significant role in whether or not you end up reaching for the snacks. The study enrolled 121 women who all professed to strong and frequent cravings for chocolate and potato chips. The researchers were interested in knowing how different parts of the brain might influence a person’s inclination to snack on these foods, with the ultimate goal of figuring out how certain brain circuits might influence eating habits that can lead to obesity. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Fat Shaming, Anxiety Pills and Fructose

Fat shaming leads to weight gain. Trashing someone for being overweight doesn’t work according to a new study out this week. Almost 3,000 adults were asked if they had experienced discrimination because of their weight. “About 5 percent said they had experienced such fat shaming. Over a four-year period, those who reported weight discrimination gained about 2 pounds (0.95 kilograms) on average, while those who did not report weight discrimination lost about 1.5 pounds (0.71 kg).” The authors say discrimination likely leads to comfort eating and decreased confidence exercising in public, resulting in weight gain. The researchers say their “study clearly shows that weight discrimination is part of the obesity problem and not the solution.” (Fox)

Drugs used for sleep and anxiety linked to dementia. Benzodiazepines like Xanax or Valium are drugs often used both as sleep aids and to calm the anxious. But a new study has now found that “past benzodiazepine use for three months or more was linked to an increased risk (up to 51%) of dementia.” To ensure the sleep issues and anxiety warranting drug use weren’t just early symptoms, researchers looked for prolonged use at least five years before the onset. The time interval used in the study is longer than is typically recommended for use of these medications. Per the authors, “it seems crucial to encourage physicians to carefully balance the benefits and risks when starting or continuing a treatment [with these medications].” (TIME)

Counteracting fructose may require miles of walking. High fructose corn syrup can be found in a wide variety of foods in the American diet. Several studies have found the sugar has unhealthy effects on the body, but a new study has found that exercise may help to counter those effects. In looking at how a diet high in fructose affected a group of college students, researchers found that “Two weeks of extra fructose left them with clear signs of incipient insulin resistance, which is typically the first step toward Type 2 diabetes. But walking at least 12,000 steps a day effectively wiped out all of the disagreeable changes wrought by the extra fructose. When the young people moved more, their cholesterol and blood sugar levels remained normal, even though they were consuming plenty of fructose every day.” Unfortunately, 12,000 steps (five to six miles) is a lot for most Americans, who average a little over 5,000. (NYT)

Today’s Headlines: Short Walks, Lung Cancer and Hot Flashes

5-minute walks reverse some ill effects of sitting. Studies continue to mount about how bad long-periods of sitting are for us. A new study out this week provides some hope to those yet to make the transition to standing. “Study authors found that during a 3-hour period, the function of the femoral artery was decreased by as much as 50 percent after just one hour of sitting. But study participants who walked for five minutes during each hour of sitting did not experience a drop in arterial function, suggesting that the increase in muscle activity and blood flow was beneficial.” Participants saw the same benefits even while walking at a sauntering two miles per hour. According to authors, “We have shown that prolonged sitting impairs endothelial function, which is an early marker of cardiovascular disease, and that breaking sitting time prevents the decline in that function.” (Fox)

The temperature of your breath could reveal lung cancer. Lung cancer is deadly partly because it can go undetected for long periods of time. While some can be seen early on X-ray and CT scans, not all are visible and the radiation risk from the scan makes these less appealing as screening techniques. A group of researchers in Italy found that “among 82 people who showed potential signs of lung cancer on X-rays, those who had confirmed lung cancer had higher breath temperatures than those whose readings weren’t as high.While many factors could contribute to breath temperature, the team also found that the readings were higher the more the participants had smoked, and among those with later-stage cancer.” While the finding needs to be repeated and confirmed, the new test could signify another way to find lung cancers earlier. (TIME)

Hot flashes may be more than just a female problem. Menopause can be a very unpleasant experience for some women, with uncomfortable hot flashes plaguing many menopausal women for months to years, causing sleepless nights and a host of other problems. A new study has found that “the extra healthcare expenses and lost productivity of menopausal women with untreated hot flashes may cost the U.S. billions of dollars each year.” The researchers found that “women with hot flashes used more healthcare services, particularly outpatient services, than women without symptoms. The extra services added up to $1,336 more per person per year compared to women without symptoms, and the indirect economic loss due to missed work was an extra $770 per woman per year.” The authors noted that some of the extra healthcare costs come from trying to diagnose and treat problems, like chest pains, without addressing the root cause of menopausal symptoms. (Reuters)

New Program to Collect Unused Controlled Medications

Homeopathic pills

Many people, for one reason or another, have been prescribed a controlled medication at some point in their life. It might have been Oxycontin after a painful surgery, Xanax for episodes of anxiety, Lunesta for trouble sleeping or Adderall for ADHD. As with many of the medications we take, there were probably a few pills left over that are now sitting in your medicine cabinet. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Gateway Drugs, Alzheimer’s, and Obesity Numbers

E-cigarettes may make other drugs more addictive. Controversy continues to swirl around e-cigs and just how good or bad for users they are. New research out this week suggests that “electronic cigarettes may function [like conventional cigarettes] as a ‘gateway drug’ that can prime the brain to be more receptive to harder drugs.” Past research had shown that cigarettes could increase the likelihood and strength of addiction to other drugs like cocaine. This research expanded that to e-cigarettes by doing the same studies with nicotine only, the main substance delivered by e-cigs. According to the authors, “e-cigarettes have the same physiological effects on the brain and may pose the same risk of addiction to other drugs as regular cigarettes. Although it is not yet clear whether e-cigarettes will prove to be a gateway to the use of conventional cigarettes and illicit drugs, it’s certainly a possibility.” (Fox)

More women get Alzheimer’s, may not be about age. For years researchers have observed that more women get Alzheimer’s disease than men, but many chalked it up to the fact that women live longer than men. New research has found that “even after taking age into account, women are more at risk [for Alzheimer’s than men].” The researchers found that “women who are 70 to 79 years old are twice as likely as men the same age to develop Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. After 80, the risk is identical and remains similar throughout the rest of life.” The reasons are likely complex and may be related to cardiovascular risk, “educational attainment, susceptibility to depression, and other ailments that affect women more than men.” More research is needed to understand the many different factors that may be playing a role. (Washington Post)

More Americans are obese than ever before. Americans have been told for years that too many of us are obese or overweight. But all that talk doesn’t seem to have budged the trend. An analysis of the U.S. population found that “rates of adult obesity increased in six U.S. states and fell in none last year, and in more states than ever – 20 – at least 30 percent of adults are obese.” The overall obesity rate remained at about one in three adults, but shows that the trend isn’t slowing down. “Continuing a years-long trend, nine of the 10 states with the highest rates of obesity are in the South. The West and Northeast had the healthiest BMIs, with Colorado boasting the lowest adult obesity rate, 21.3 percent. Obesity also tracked demographics, with higher rates correlating with poverty, which is associated with lower availability of healthy foods and fewer safe neighborhoods where people can walk and children can play for exercise.” (Reuters)