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”

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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.

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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

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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.

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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)

Drink Milk to Slow Arthritis, Study Says

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A glass of milk a day may help keep arthritis away, according to a new study.

The new research showed that women who drank up to seven glasses of low-fat or fat-free milk every week experienced significantly slower joint narrowing in their knees, which is one of the hallmarks of osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a common degenerative joint disease that worsens with age or repetitive motion and results in swollen, painful joints – usually in the hands, hips or knees. Osteoarthritis, which affects nearly a third of all people over age 65, occurs when the cartilage protecting a joint degenerates and the joint space narrows, bringing the bones into closer contact and resulting in bony overgrowth and stiffness.

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Today’s Headlines: Morning Light, Beans and Paternal Obesity

To slim down, it helps to get up early and see the light, study says: Getting more light could help you lose weight, according to a new study. Researchers asked 54 volunteers to record their diets and wear a wrist monitor to track light exposure and sleep patterns. “People who loaded up on light exposure at the beginning of the day were most likely to have a lower body mass index,” regardless of how many calories they consumed. For every hour that light exposure was delayed in the morning, BMI rose by 1.28. While all light over 500 lux (about as bright as a typical office) had an effect, morning light was particularly powerful, perhaps because it “contains more wavelengths in the blue portion of the spectrum,” which is known to affect the circadian system and metabolism. (The Washington Post)

Beans, lentils, peas: Your recipe for lower cholesterol?: Legumes could be your key to lower cholesterol, a new study reports. The new analysis looked at 26 different studies and found that one daily serving (or 3/4 cup) of legumes, including beans, chickpeas, lentils and peas, could reduce bad cholesterol by 5%. The effect was present for both men and women, but was more marked for men. The new research suggests that simply adding legumes to an everyday diet could significantly lower heart disease risk, according to the study’s authors. (CBS News

Father’s obesity tied to child’s risk for autism: “Paternal obesity may increase a child’s risk of developing autism spectrum disorders,” according to a new study in the journal Pediatrics. Researchers looked at 93,000 children and found that children born to obese fathers were almost twice as likely to develop an autism spectrum disorder, though risk in both groups was low. “Overall, a child born to an obese father had a .27 percent risk of developing ASD while a child born to a normal-weight father had a .15 percent risk.” While prior studies have suggested maternal weight may also relate to autism risk, no such connection was found in this study. (Fox News)

Today’s Headlines: Vitamin D, Allergy Pills and Ebola

Low vitamin D levels linked to disease in two big studies: New research suggests that people with low vitamin D levels are more likely to die from cancer and heart disease, although researchers are unsure whether “low levels are a cause of disease or simply an indicator of behaviors that contribute to poor health.” Vitamin D can be produced by the body through exposure to sunlight or can be obtained from certain foods including fish, eggs, fortified dairy and mushrooms and kale. Smoking, obesity and inflammation can all lower blood levels of vitamin D. The new research, which included data from over a million people, found that “adults with lower levels of the vitamin in their systems had a 35% increased risk of death from heart disease, 14% greater likelihood of death from cancer, and a greater mortality risk overall.” However, researchers cautioned that there is still not enough evidence to recommend that everyone take a vitamin D supplement, and they encouraged people to get what they need from food and sunlight. (The New York Times)

FDA approves under-the-tongue pill for grass allergy: “Just in time for spring, the Food and Drug Administration has approved a new pill that people can put under their tongues to fight grass allergies.” The tablet, Oralair, is composed of five different types of grass that frequently cause allergies, and is the first therapy for this condition that can be taken under the tongue. It has been in use in Europe for several years. Patients would start taking it for four months before grass pollen season starts. However, “the treatment can, in rare cases, cause a severe immune reaction so patients take the first dose in the doctor’s office under medical supervision.” (NBC News)

Ebola outbreak causing panic in West Africa: “The rising death toll and the wide spread of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa has sparked fear across the region with at least 80 already having died from the nearly always fatal virus.” According to the World Health Organization, as many as 125 people in three different African countries are thought to have come down with the highly contagious disease, which causes a fever, vomiting, diarrhea, body aches and sometimes severe internal and external bleeding. Ebola, which has no vaccine and no cure, is almost always fatal and is “one of the most contagious viral diseases known.” While outbreaks have surfaced in central African countries every several years, this is the first time there has been an Ebola outbreak in West Africa. (USA Today)