Today’s Headlines: Caregiving, Best Friends and Vitamin D

Women bear the burden of caregiving more than men. As the U.S. population ages, more and more people are called on to care for elderly parents. A new study out this week finds that “women step up to provide care for their aging parents more than twice as often as men…In families with children of both sexes, the gender of the child is the single biggest factor in determining who will provide care for the aging parent: Daughters will increase the time they spend with an elderly parent to compensate for sons who reduce theirs, effectively ceding the responsibility to their sisters.” The researchers noted that rather than basing their decision on how much time they could possibly provide, men tended to focus more on whether the duties were already being adequately handled by others. One author notes “the data suggest that despite a shift toward more gender equality in the United States in the past few decades, the imbalance is ‘acute’ when it comes to caring for aging parents.” (Washington Post)

One in 10 lack a best friend. Everyone needs a shoulder to cry on, but not everyone may have a close confidant to go to in times of trouble. A new study from the U.K. has found that “One in 10 people questioned said they did not have a close friend…[and] while the survey found 85% of individuals questioned felt they had a good relationship with their partners, 19% had never or rarely felt loved in the two weeks before the survey.” While the study shows a majority of people have healthy, close relationships it also reveals that a significant number of people live without these strong connections. The researchers point out that “relationships are the asset which can get us through good times and bad, and it is worrying to think that there are people who feel they have no one they can turn to during life’s challenges. We know that strong relationships are vital for both individuals and society as a whole, so investing in them is crucial.” (Guardian)

Vitamin D may help your asthma. Supplementing your sun exposure with a vitamin D supplement may help your lung function. Researchers got the idea from the observation that asthma is more common in northern parts of the globe where vitamin D is lower because of less sun exposure. “Asthma sufferers who received vitamin D supplements for six months, in addition to their regular inhalers, could breathe a little easier than those who relied only on the inhalers. The researchers say the results, if confirmed by larger studies, might help the many people who sometimes have troublesome asthma symptoms even though they use medication.” Important to note is that these results reflected only how well lungs were functioning, which didn’t necessarily correlate with whether participants felt better. A physician should always be consulted before starting new supplements or medications. (Fox)

Women Often Turn to Anti-Aging Clinicians Seeking Menopause Relief

Worried depressed woman

The word “menopause” conjures up dread of hot flashes, night sweats and a host of other unpleasant symptoms in the minds of many women. While all women will go through it, symptoms will vary, with some remaining relatively unaffected and others finding their symptoms intolerable and debilitating. Several mechanisms are likely responsible for triggering menopause, but the changes mainly occur within the ovaries. With the end of ovulation, a woman’s ovaries stop producing estrogen in response to the body’s other hormonal signals. The end result is low estrogen and levels will fluctuate around menopause as the body readjusts to a new state of infertility without support from the ovaries. This adjustment results in many of the symptoms women experience during this transition period. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Vaccines, Dietary Salt, and Pain Tolerance

You may need another vaccine. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) has announced it now recommends Prevnar 13 for all adults over 65. Prevnar is a vaccine that protects against Streptococcus pneumoniae, which is one of the most common causes of pneumonia in older adults and can be fatal. The ACIP is a government organization that looks at all available evidence for various vaccines and makes recommendations about who should get what. “The panel recommended that adults 65 years or older who have not previously received either Prevnar or Pneumovax, or whose previous vaccination history is unknown, should first receive a dose of Prevnar 13, followed by a dose of Pneumovax.” The decision comes after studies showing the vaccine to be very effective in those over 65 at preventing infection. All decisions about vaccinations should be made with the help of a physician. (Fox)

The role of salt in health is more complicated than we thought. For healthy individuals, cutting salt out of your diet might be problematic. A new study out this week, “tracked more than 100,000 people from 17 countries over an average of more than three years and found that those who consumed fewer than 3,000 milligrams of sodium a day had a higher risk of death or a serious event such as a heart attack or stroke in that period than those whose intake was estimated at 3,000 to 6,000 milligrams. Risk of death or other major events increased with intake above 6,000 milligrams.” The World Health Organization, U.S. government and American Heart Association all recommend less than 1,500 to 2,300 milligrams. While those on a low-salt diet should continue to keep their sodium low, this new study indicates that the debate is not over about how much is too much when it comes to salt. (WSJ)

Doing exercise may decrease your sense of pain. While just the thought of exercise may be painful for some people, a new study has found that exercise can actually increase your pain tolerance. “Scientists have known that strenuous exercise briefly and acutely dulls pain” by releasing endorphins, but less was known about the long term effects. By studying a group of volunteers who either did or didn’t do exercise over a several week period, researchers found that “the volunteers in the exercise group displayed substantially greater ability to withstand pain. Their pain thresholds had not changed; they began to feel pain at the same point they had before. But their tolerance had risen. Those volunteers whose fitness had increased the most also showed the greatest increase in pain tolerance.” (NYT)

Reproductive Clock More Pressing When Real Clock is Ticking

woman running late

From nosy relatives to babies populating social network feeds, women are often reminded of the period of time they have for childbearing. As they enter their 30s, a heightened awareness of the shrinking time left to conceive can be a source of anxiety, especially in those without a partner. A new study published in the journal Human Nature looked to see just how much a real reminder of the passage of time could affect this sense of urgency and how that might, in turn, influence how choosy a woman is when it comes to finding a mate. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Neck Manipulation, Sugar Cravings, and Windowless Offices

Neck manipulation may be associated with stroke. All that twisting may not be so good after all. A new study has found a link between recent neck manipulation and cervical artery dissection, a condition resulting from small tears in the wall of an artery. These tears can appear after sudden trauma and expand in between the layers of an artery wall, leading to stroke if it happens in arteries found in the neck. The authors “focused on four large studies that were mainly associated with strokes involving the arteries of the neck. They found that people who had these types of strokes were more likely to have had some type of neck manipulation. But, the studies they looked at couldn’t determine what caused people’s strokes. It’s possible that people may have sought neck manipulation therapy for symptoms that were really the early stages of stroke. These tears often cause pain in the back of the neck that may be misinterpreted by both the patient and a healthcare provider.” (Reuters)

More sleep might cut your sugar cravings. Your next diet might involve lying in bed a little longer. A new study has found that sleep deprived, overweight adults who “got an average of 96 extra minutes of sleep per night, cut their cravings for sweet and salty junk food by 62 percent and reduced their overall appetite by 14 percent.” Participants in the study started at six and a half hours per night before bumping up to the optimal eight hours. Authors think cravings increase without sleep because “[w]hen we are sleep deprived, we incur a metabolic cost for being awake, so we tend to compensate for this extra energy expenditure by eating. With all the tempting snack foods so widely available, we tend to overeat and choose unhealthy foods.”(CBS)

Windowless offices may be killing your sleep. A new study out this week has found that workers with natural light in their offices “got an extra 46 minutes of sleep during the work week and reported better health overall.” Your brain normally uses natural light to time its internal clock, or circadian rhythm. Without natural light during the day, it can be tough for your brain to set this clock properly. “Even on nights when ‘windowless workers’ hadn’t been at the office, they still got less sleep,” likely because their body clock had already been set while at work. The authors suggest an “architectural design of office environments that places more emphasis on sufficient daylight exposure for workers in order to promote health and well-being.” And maybe supplement with lunch outside. (Fox)

Consistent Exercise Decreases Breast Cancer Risk


Fitness woman training shoulders

Exercise can ward off many diseases and a recent long-term study has found that it may help decrease breast cancer risk, too. Breast cancer is one of the most common cancer types in women and is especially common in women who have gone through menopause. Researchers have known for some time that increased exercise is likely linked to lower breast cancer risk, but they didn’t have a good sense of how much exercise needed to be done and for how long the effects of exercise lasted. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Vitamin D, Resistant Starch, and Aspirin

Low vitamin D may increase dementia risk. Elderly people with very low levels of vitamin D in their blood are more likely to develop dementia and Alzheimer’s, according to a new study out this week. While most of those studied had low vitamin D levels, only those with a severe deficiency (about 4% of those tested) had an increased risk of dementia. “People who had been severely deficient in vitamin D at the start of the study were more than twice as likely to develop dementia in the coming years as people with sufficient levels…The researchers did not test whether taking vitamin D supplements or changing diet plans would have affected dementia risk.” The researchers added that “It is too early to tell whether improving vitamin D levels helps to delay or prevent dementia – clinical trials are now urgently needed.” They also emphasize this should not serve as a guideline to increase vitamin D use in the general population without more research. (Reuters)

Resistant type of starch may decrease colon cancer risk, Adding potatoes or beans to a healthy serving of steak may decrease your risk of colon cancer, a new study has found. Prior studies established a link between red meat consumption and colon cancer. “The researchers found that eating a diet high in red meat changed levels of a type of genetic material called microRNA in rectal tissue. Specifically, the scientists found an increase in certain microRNAs linked to colon cancer. However, adding resistant starch to the diet mitigated some of this increase.” Resistant starches are found in foods like “bananas that are still slightly green, cooked and cooled potatoes [such as those in potato salad], whole grains, beans, chickpeas, and lentils.” While the study didn’t collect data for long enough to know if these starches actually decreased how often people developed colon cancer, future studies are in the pipeline to see if resistant starch has long-term benefits. (Fox)

Aspirin can lower stomach and esophageal cancer death. Aspirin is a drug of many talents. New research that looked at data from 200 previous studies found that it “reduced the number of cases and deaths from bowel, stomach and esophageal cancer by some 30 to 40%. There was weaker and more variable evidence that the drug reduced deaths from breast, prostate and lung cancer, too…The study found people needed to take the drug for at least five years to see any benefits.” Taking aspirin is not without significant risks, though. Aspirin can cause dangerous bleeding in the stomach and brain. “While the study suggests 122,000 lives could be saved if everyone in the UK aged 50-64 took the drug, this is balanced against the estimated 18,000 deaths from side-effects.” Individuals should consult with their doctor about the possible risks and benefits of taking the drug before starting it on their own. (BBC)


Computer Games Help Older Adults Overcome Depression

couple using laptop

Depression is a debilitating illness that affects millions of Americans every year, including more than 7 million adults over age 65. Depression can be particularly serious in older adults, especially those with other medical conditions, social challenges unique to old age and who face the common false stigma that being depressed is just part of getting old. In addition to these challenges, many drugs normally used to treat depression aren’t as effective in older adults. Some studies have shown that antidepressants only help one in three individuals over 65 return to normal functioning. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Happiness, Cognitive Decline, and Okra

There’s an equation for happiness. Or, at least, for momentary joy. Researchers have used a decision-making game that led to either gains or losses. “The researchers used fMRI imaging to measure brain activity, and repeatedly asked, ‘How happy are you now?’…They created a model that linked self-reported happiness to recent rewards and expectations [based on this data].” They then tested this model using a phone app, similarly asking users to play a game and say when they were happy. The equation accurately predicted when these times would be. “The researchers were not surprised by how much rewards influenced happiness, but they were surprised by how much expectations could. The researchers say their findings do support the theory that if you have low expectations, you can never be disappointed, but they also found that the positive expectations you have for something—like going to your favorite restaurant with a friend—is a large part of what develops your happiness.” (TIME)

Interpreting images is key for a sharp mind. How well you interpret the visual world may relate to your thinking skills. Researchers studied individuals at various ages and measured how good they were at interpreting simple images. Two images were rapidly flashed on a screen and participants had to determine which shape had the longest edge. This was paired with intelligence tests. “As people got older, their ability to do well in this task decreased. And the worse their scores on the visual processing tests, the worse they did in more complex intelligence tasks.” According to the authors, “The results suggest the brain’s ability to make correct decisions based on brief visual impressions [is essential to] complex mental functions…This research makes us question whether the reason we start to slow up in old age is because the speed at which we apprehend the world slows down.” (BBC)

Eating okra may help obesity-related diseases. We all know that vegetables are good for us, but okra, a staple of Southern cooking, may be yet another in that long list. “Okra is rich in disease-fighting compounds called flavonoids, of which two in particular may help to regulate glucose and fat metabolism through proteins in the liver, the study suggests.” The study was done in mice. Those that ate okra had glucose and insulin levels “significantly lower than in those of untreated mice, though okra had no effect on weight or food intake. Triglycerides, a type of fat linked to heart disease, were also reduced in okra-treated mice. And the okra appeared to prevent the development of fatty liver disease.” While the mice had to eat large amounts of okra, this may provide a lead to future ways to treat these diseases. (WSJ)

Crowdsourced Food Advice as Good as Trained Experts

smart phone

Knowing which foods to choose can be a challenging part of changing your diet. Weight loss programs often rely on individuals eating healthier, but it can be hard to decide whether or not your dish qualifies as good or bad food. Spending time with a dietician can help with these decisions, but it turns out your friends may be able to help, too. Read more  »