Younger Women Often Discount Heart Attack Symptoms

If you were asked to describe a “typical” heart attack, you might describe an older man with his hand on his chest in severe pain. This image, seen so frequently on television and in movies, has become ingrained in the minds of many Americans who often use this idea to decide if their own symptoms indicate a heart attack. The use of this heart attack stereotype may explain the findings of a new study published this week that found that younger women who have a heart attack often discount their symptoms and wait for longer than they should to get help. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Late Night Eating, Googling and Anger

Eating when you should be sleeping may affect your brain. After a long day of work or a late night out, you might find yourself reaching for snacks when you should be hitting the sack. New research has found this sort of eating may disrupt learning and memory if it happens often enough. “In the experiment, the researchers allowed one group of mice to eat when they normally would, while mice in a second group could only munch during their normal sleep time. All of the rodents ate the same amount of food and slept the same amount of hours. After a few weeks of this, the mice were given learning tests. It turned out the mice that ate when they should have been sleeping were severely compromised in their ability to remember what they learned. They also had more trouble recognizing a new object and showed changes in their hippocampus, a brain region involved in learning and memory.” The researchers say an occasional slip up probably isn’t a big deal. But their findings add to a growing body of evidence that chronically working nights can have serious health effects. (NBC)

Googling your hospital may give you skewed information. When deciding where to get a certain procedure done, the first place you probably turn is Google. But new research has found that searching for this sort of information online can be misleading. “Researchers took a look at a study about online ads for transaortic valve replacement, or TAVR, a minimally invasive procedure for treating the narrowing of the aortic valve that is common in older adults, particularly men. The study reviewed the online advertisements of all 317 U.S. hospitals that offer TAVR and found that all of them cited the benefits of the procedure — but only one-fourth acknowledged that it had any risk. And fewer than 5 percent of the hospitals quantified the risks in a way that would be useful to consumers. Many of the ads, the researchers noted, are very informational — with graphs, diagrams, statistics and physician testimonials — and therefore not identifiable to patients as promotional material.” The problem with this sort of information, the researchers point out, is that it looks authentic and professional but only really tells a story aimed at selling a product. “Although consumers who are bombarded by television commercials may be aware that they are viewing an advertisement, hospital websites often have the appearance of being an education portal [when, in fact, they are advertisements].” (Washington Post)

Getting angry or anxious can up your heart attack risk. Clenching your fists when your blood is boiling may seem like a good way to let off steam, but researchers have found that getting that angry could have some serious side effects.  “Researchers in Australia found that people’s risk of having a heart attack is 8.5 times higher during the two hours following an episode of intense anger, compared with when people feel less angry. Anxiety is even more threatening, the researchers found. People’s heart attack risk is 9.5 times higher during the two hours following elevated levels of anxiety (higher than the 90th percentile on an anxiety scale) than during times of lower anxiety levels, according to the study.” The study adds to evidence that your emotions can affect physiologic functions in your body, like what your heart is doing. “It’s likely that the increased risk of a heart attack following intense anger and anxiety is the result of increased heart rate and blood pressure, tightening of blood vessels, and increased clotting, all associated with triggering of heart attacks. But both anger and anxiety can be managed with treatment.” The researchers point out that the risk of having a heart attack is still small, but learning to handle your emotions may benefit your heart in the long run. (Fox)

How Your Brain Waves Help You Learn

EEG apparatusThe brain is a complex information-processing computer that uses a combination of chemical and electrical signals to send and receive information. Neuroscientists and physicians have long observed that you can see some of that electrical activity as waves when you put electrodes on a person’s scalp. For years scientists thought these waves were just a side effect of the brain’s activity. But new research has found that these waves are probably playing a key role in learning. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Drinking Soda, Depression and Light Activity

Drinking soda may increase your cancer risk. While it might taste good, there are plenty of things not to like about soda when it comes to your health. A new study has added cancer risk to that list. “About half of Americans over age 6 may be exposing themselves to a cancer-causing carcinogen daily. Previous data show that many sodas with caramel coloring contain the human carcinogen 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI), a compound that is sometimes produced during manufacturing and is known to cause cancer. Researchers wanted to pinpoint cancer’s potential burden on the American population by estimating how many Americans drink these sodas regularly and how much of the human carcinogen is actually present in soft drinks.” The researchers found the concentrations varied but that many sodas contained the compound. There is no federal limit for the amount of 4-MEI in drinks and its presence in drinks is not labeled on the bottle. “Soft drink consumers are being exposed to an avoidable and unnecessary cancer risk from an ingredient that is being added to these beverages simply for aesthetic purposes. This unnecessary exposure poses a threat to public health and raises questions about the continued use of caramel coloring in soda.” (Fox)

Getting more exercise may prevent depression. Getting out for a jog or bike ride can go a long way to boost your mood and past studies had found that it helps with symptoms of depression as well. But new research is indicating that getting your workouts in may help prevent depression all together. “The researchers looked at 10 years’ worth of data from 2,891 women between ages 42 and 52, who filled out questionnaires about their depressive symptoms and levels of physical activity. They found that the women who were meeting public health recommendations for physical activity—150 minutes a week of moderate intensity exercise—reported fewer depressive symptoms. The more physical activity the women said they did, the less likely they were to have signs of depression.” Given that older women are at higher risk for developing depression, the study provides a potential way of lowering the likelihood of developing the illness in this population. “Given the high prevalence of depression in the United States, particularly for women, exercise is still not considered a first-line treatment option, even though exercise can be of low cost and low risk, can be sustained indefinitely, and has additional benefits for multiple aspects of physical health and physical function.” The researchers hope their findings encourage more physicians to prescribe exercise as part of addressing depression risk. (TIME)

Some activity is better than none for older adults. When doing a little housework is all the exercise you’re getting, it might feel like you shouldn’t even bother. But new findings are showing that even light physical activity can have heart benefits. “Researchers profiled seniors’ risk of heart disease complications—including heart attack—over a 10-year period and found their risk rose along with the amount of time they were inactive each day. Conversely, the more active time they had—regardless of intensity—the lower their risk. On average, the 1,170 participants spent about 77 percent of their time being inactive. The majority of their remaining time was spent doing light activities like household chores.” The research shows that every little bit helps when it comes to exercise and heart disease risk. “Overall, the seniors’ 10-year risk of complications from heart disease increased by about 1 percent for every 25 to 30 minutes they spent being inactive per day. The risk of those same complications also decreased by about the same amount with every minute spent being active, even if that meant just moving around the house and doing chores.” (Reuters)

You Spend More When Shopping Hungry

Shopping bagsYou’ve probably heard that it’s a bad idea to buy groceries in hunger mode. When you enter hungry, food items seem more attractive and you’re more willing to go through great lengths to get at items that could fulfill that hunger. Hunger even increases your desire for things that could help you get food, like money or even overweight partners who might have more access to food. But new research has found that the increased spending applies to items completely unrelated to food as well.

Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Menopause, Meditation and Fiber

Hot flashes can persist for longer than previously thought. Traditional wisdom had said that the symptoms of menopause last for only a few years. But new research has found that those symptoms can last much longer. “Hot flashes can continue for as long as 14 years and the earlier they begin the longer a woman is likely to suffer. In a racially, ethnically and geographically diverse group of 1,449 women with frequent hot flashes or night sweats, the median length of time women endured symptoms was 7.4 years. So while half of the women were affected for less than that time, half had symptoms longer — some for 14 years, researchers reported.” How long those symptoms lasted depended on a variety of factors. “Overall, black and Hispanic women experienced hot flashes for significantly longer periods than white or Asian women. The researchers also found that the earlier hot flashes started, the longer they were likely to continue. Among women who got hot flashes before they stopped menstruating, the hot flashes were likely to continue for years after menopause, longer than for women whose symptoms began only when their periods had stopped.” The researchers say their findings help women prepare better for menopause and work with their doctors to manage their symptoms more effectively. (NYT)

Focusing on fiber may help you waistline. The list of foods to eat and avoid can seem endless when looking to lose some weight. But new research has found that focusing on fiber may be all you need. “The researchers zeroed in on fiber because previous studies have shown it can help people feel fuller, eat less and improve some metabolic markers like blood pressure, cholesterol levels and blood sugar. They recruited 240 people who showed signs of prediabetes and randomly assigned them to the American Heart Association (AHA) diet, which focuses on eating fewer calories, or to eating more fiber. The fiber group was simply asked to eat more foods rich in fiber, such as fruits, vegetables and whole grains, to reach a quota of at least 30 grams of fiber per day. After a year, both groups lost about the same amount of weight. Even more surprisingly, the people in the study also showed similar drops in cholesterol levels, blood pressure, blood sugar and inflammation.” The team says that keeping the initial diet recommendation to lowering fiber could help first time dieters drop weight in an accessible, simple and healthy way before diving into more complex diet changes. (TIME)

Meditation found helpful in older adults with sleep trouble. When you’re having trouble sleeping, most doctors will recommend changing your habits to better set the tone for bed. New findings out this week have found that mindfulness meditation may also help with sleepless nights. “Scientists used 49 people in Los Angeles 55 and older who had expressed moderate sleep complaints. They were split into two groups, one of which was taught to meditate and the other given behavioral sleep education. The participants used a meditation program from UCLA’s Mindful Awareness Research Center, taught by a teacher with more than 20 years of experience. The second group spent as much time in their education program. The meditators slept better and had better results in related issues such as depression, based on results of a standard measure of sleep quality. But the researchers said more work was needed to determine whether meditation is a long-term solution to sleep problems.” While the research looked at education compared to meditation, the team points out that the two aren’t mutually exclusive. They’d like to repeat the research to see how combining these two approaches might help older adults, a population well known to have frequent sleep problems. (LA Times)

Molecule Made While Exercising Helps Block Inflammation

running sunrise sunsetWhile hunger might be the most obvious effect of dieting or fasting, dropping the amount you eat can have broader effects on your body than just feeling the need to eat more. Researchers had observed that fasting for long periods of time and exercising could both drop inflammation in a person’s body as measured by blood markers. While some research had shown some of the reasons for this lowering of inflammation, new research out this week has found that the body’s switch in fuel source when calories are scarce may also play a major role. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Blood Pressure, Alcohol and Smoking

Lower blood pressure makes a difference in diabetics. Keeping your blood pressure down drops your risk of a variety of different diseases that can affect your health. Diabetics are particularly vulnerable to the effects of high blood pressure and new research indicates that keeping their blood pressure lower than the bar used for others may be beneficial. “Guidelines suggested that a systolic blood pressure (the top number) of 140 is a good goal for people with diabetes, but the new study found that 130 or even lower may be better. The analysis found that lowering from 140 to 130 was associated with a 13 percent reduction in the risk for death, a 12 percent decline in the risk of coronary heart disease, and a 26 percent decline in the risk of stroke. The 10-point drop was also associated with a 13 percent reduction in retinopathy (a cause of blindness in people with diabetes) and a 17 percent reduction in albuminuria, an indication of kidney problems.” The researchers don’t know whether going lower than 130 would have even bigger effects, but they say that many diabetics would probably benefit from blood pressure medications to get their pressure into the 130 range. (NYT)

Alcohol may only benefit women over 65. Initial studies looking at low level alcohol consumption found health benefits, but recent studies have found plenty of caveats. Those early studies included people of all ages and genders. A new study has found that only a select few actually benefit. “Unless you’re a woman over 65, alcohol consumption is unlikely to forestall your death. For these older women, the health benefits of alcohol are not enormous, but drinkers were less likely to die six and 10 years after the study. The same study initially returned findings that men between the ages of 50 and 65 might reap a small benefit from drinking alcohol. But those apparent benefits evaporated when the researchers scrubbed from their non-drinking ‘reference group’ all those who used to drink but have stopped.” The health benefits found in past studies are thought to have resulted from the inclusion of people who used to drink a lot, but who have since cut back and improved their health in doing so. While older women did see a benefit from alcohol, the authors warn “that older drinkers are more likely to have health conditions, and to take medicine for them, that impair their ability to metabolize alcohol. That puts this group of people at greater risk from drinking alcohol.” (LA Times)

Smoking damages a wide variety of organs, leading to many diseases. We’ve known for decades that smoking is one of the worst things you can do to your body and new research has confirmed that it contributes to a wide variety of diseases and dramatically shortens life span. “Breast cancer, prostate cancer, and even routine infections are all maladies tied to smoking in a new study that says an additional 60,000 to 120,000 deaths each year in the United States are probably due to tobacco use. The study looks beyond lung cancer, heart disease and other conditions already tied to smoking, and the 480,000 U.S. deaths attributed to them each year.” The researchers comment that smokers die, on average, more than a decade before nonsmokers and they think that past estimates of the cost of smoking to health and society have substantially underestimated how many people are affected by diseases related to smoking. “Death rates were two to three times higher among current smokers than among people who never smoked. Most of the excess deaths in smokers were due to 21 diseases already tied to smoking, including 12 types of cancer, heart disease and stroke. But researchers also saw death rates in smokers were twice as high from other conditions such as kidney failure, infections, liver cirrhosis and some respiratory diseases not previously tied to smoking.” (CBS)

Surgical Treatments for Cervical Cancer Don’t Affect Fertility

cervix uterus female reproductive organsCervical cancer is one of the most common types of cancer among women in the U.S. The Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) that infects cells in the cervix and disrupts normal growth and replication causes the vast majority of cases of cervical cancer. If allowed to progress, that disruption can develop into full-blown cancer that kills about 4,000 women per year.

Fortunately, those rates are far lower than they used to be. Cervical cancer used to be the most common cancer in women, but the HPV vaccine now prevents many infections from ever occurring and screening tests like the Pap smear have allowed doctors to catch the cancer in its very early stages when it can still be destroyed completely. There were concerns that this surgery might affect a woman’s ability to get pregnant, but new research has shown that not to be the case. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Heart Attacks, Positivity and Fancy Pedometers

Women experience more stress than men after heart attacks. Heart disease is the number one killer among older men and women. Unfortunately, young women who have heart attacks also seem to be at higher risk for problems afterwards. New research out this week may have found out one reason why. “The researchers compared 2,397 women and 1,175 men under age 55 who were hospitalized in the U.S., Spain or Australia with a heart attack. The severity of the heart attacks was similar for women and men. While hospitalized, participants answered questions about their recent stress levels. One month later, researchers re-interviewed them and assessed their recovery.” Women tended to be more stressed during these first interviews and more often experienced family conflict, a major personal injury, illness or death of a family member over the past year. According to the researchers, “women tend to have lower financial resources than men and are often faced with more demands for family care, which may explain their higher stress. Women in the study also had more diabetes, lung disease, kidney problems, depression, cancer and previous heart problems.” The researchers don’t know why women might be in worse health or how exactly stress is causing worse recovery. (Reuters)

When people talk, they like to keep it positive. You might have noticed that conversation at most parties tends toward the positive rather than the negative. New research out this week has found that there may really be something to that observation. “An international group of mathematicians, modelers and linguists set out to test that hypothesis. They combed through Twitter, the New York Times, the Google Books Project, Google’s Web Crawl, and a library of movie and television subtitles and song lyrics to draw up lists of the roughly 10,000 most frequently used words in each of ten languages.” After doing this for a variety of languages, they fed the common words back to native speakers and had them rate words on how happy or sad the words were. “They found that each language, on the whole, uses positive words more frequently and in a wider range of forms than they do negative words. There were gradations of relative linguistic happiness, of course: Spanish, followed by Brazilian Portuguese, English and Indonesian, topped the list for happy language; Chinese appeared least happy, with Korean, Russian and Arabic showing low but increasing levels of linguistic happiness.” The researchers say that a database like this, tracked over time, could reflect the shifting mood of a culture or nation.  (LA Times)

Fancy trackers are probably no better at counting than free apps. When you step into your local fitness store, it can be tempting to go for the fanciest new pedometer over the free app you might already have installed on your phone. New findings indicate you should probably spend your money elsewhere. “For the study, researchers outfitted 14 healthy adult volunteers with 10 different tracking methods: smartphones in each pocket running four different apps, three belt-clip pedometers and three wrist-based fitness bands. Each tech-laden volunteer then walked on a treadmill while researchers manually counted their steps.” They found that most of the devices were accurate regardless of whether they were specialized pedometers or apps installed on a phone. While some trackers overshot and some undershot, the researchers emphasized that using one tracker consistently is more important. Once you get a sense of your activity based on that measure, it’s more important that you’re increasing how much you move rather than how many steps total you take. (TIME)