Today’s Headlines: Apples, Crossing the Street and Saffron

Apples help keep medications away, not doctors. The old refrain about an apple a day may have to be changed as a result of new research that found it’s best for keeping off of medications. “The researchers set out to tackle a light-hearted question: is a proverb about apples that dates back to at least the 1800s really true? To find the answer, they compared apple eaters to abstainers, using data from 8,399 U.S. adults who completed questionnaires between 2007 and 2010 as part of the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES). Just 753 participants, or 9 percent, ate at least one small apple day. Apple eaters in the study had higher educational attainment, were more likely to be from a racial or ethnic minority, and were less likely to smoke. And at first blush, apple eaters seemed more likely to keep the doctor away, with fewer self-reported visits to health care providers. But the difference wasn’t statistically significant after adjusting for socioeconomic factors and other health characteristics. The apple eaters did appear to be significantly more likely to avoid prescription medications.” The researchers point out that the finding is just an association and that more apple eating is probably just an indicator of a healthier lifestyle. Those who eat more fruits, vegetables and whole grains have been found to have lower rates of heart disease, diabetes and certain types of cancer. (Reuters)

When crossing, look the driver in the eyes. Crossing the road can be dangerous and, in some cases, deadly. New research has found that making eye contact with drivers before crossing can help keep you safe. “Drivers stopped more often if pedestrians looked directly into their eyes as the car approached the crosswalk than when they didn’t make eye contact, according to the study. Men were more likely than women to stop if the pedestrian staring at them was a man.” The team had test subjects cross when either staring at the driver or looking away. “Overall, about two-thirds of drivers stopped for women compared with 58% for men. But when eye contact was made with drivers, 68% stopped for the pedestrians, compared with 55% of drivers who stopped without eye contact. When the pedestrian was a man, male drivers were 30% more likely to stop when stared at, compared with no staring. But when a woman pedestrian made eye contact, male drivers were 20% more likely to stop.” The researchers think the eye contact may help pedestrians assert their dominance over drivers. It also helps make sure the driver actually sees you before they go through the intersection. (WSJ)

Saffron supplements may help with post-workout pain. You might be more familiar with using saffron  in recipes, but research released this week has found that it may also be help the body recover after a bout of intense exercise. “Researchers in Iran recruited 39 men, who didn’t participate in regular vigorous exercise and were about 18 years old, for the study. Twelve men took daily capsules containing 300 milligrams of powdered saffron, one week before and three days after a strenuous exercise session. Another 12 men took indomethacin, a nonsteroidal, anti-inflammatory drug or NSAID, three times a day. Fifteen controls received placebo pills. The exercise session consisted of four sets of 20 repetitions on a leg-press machine with a weight load equal to 80% of the subject’s maximum muscle capacity. Only the right leg was used. The saffron group was pain-free for three days after the session. The indomethacin group experienced minor pain at 24 hours that disappeared after 72 hours. Controls reported severe muscle pain for three days, which peaked at 48 hours.” While the results are promising, the findings need to be repeated with more people to see if the effect applies to the general population. It’s also unknown if consuming saffron after it’s been cooked has the same effect.  (Fox)

Urine Not Sterile, New Bacteria May Cause UTI Symptoms

woman belly abdomenUrinary tract infections are common among women and lead to about four million visits to the doctor every year. UTIs produce a constellation of uncomfortable symptoms from constant urgency to burning to more widespread infection. It has always been assumed that the presence of any bacteria in the urine was a sign of disease, but new research has refuted that claim, taking down the common idea that urine is sterile and changing the way doctors think about bacteria in the bladder. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Sitting Time, Sex and Pesticides

Even small interruptions in sitting help those with diabetes. It seems like the evils of constant sitting are always in the news, but new research has shown that even small breaks from being on your backside can help, especially if you have diabetes. “The researchers examined the potential effect of replacing long periods of sedentary behavior with short interrupted periods, light exercise and moderate-to-vigorous physical activity. They looked at data on 519 adults with type 2 diabetes. Researchers found the participants spent 65 percent of the waking day sedentary and 45 percent of that time was spent in long blocks of 30 minutes or more being inactive. The study team then used a statistical analysis technique to compare what might be the effects of replacing 30 minutes of one behavior with 30 minutes of another. With just some interruptions in 30-minute sedentary blocks, the weight and waist circumference of subjects went down slightly, and fell even more when light or moderate-to-vigorous physical activity was swapped-in for the sedentary time.” The team says their findings show that even small amounts of exercise can be helpful, as long as they break up sitting and that focusing on moving, rather than on intensity of activity, may be a helpful approach to dropping weight and diabetes risk. (Reuters)

Getting enough sleep improves sex for women. It can be tough to get in the mood when all you want is some shuteye. New data out this week has found that women who get enough sleep are also more likely to be interested in sex. “The researchers studied 171 female college students for a two-week period. About half were in an intimate relationship and more than half reported having at least one current sexual partner. First, the women completed questionnaires assessing depression, anxiety and ‘distress’ related to sex. For the next two weeks, they completed online questionnaires about their quality and quantity of sleep during the night and their sexual activity over the previous 24 hours. After taking a variety of factors into account, longer sleep duration predicted higher sexual desire the following day.” The researchers say they don’t know the exact reason for the relationship and some physicians surmise the reason for skipping on sleep may be important. But the team says the benefits of enough sleep are undeniable and better sex drive is probably just another addition to the list. (Fox)

Popular pesticides linked to cancer, antibiotic resistance. There has been outcry for decades that pesticides used to control bugs and weeds may be harming human health and research published this week indicates that there’s a lot of truth to those fears. “On Friday, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that it had classified glyphosate, the United States’ most widely used pesticide, as ‘probably carcinogenic to humans.’ Another study found that exposure to these herbicides in their commercial forms changed the way bacteria responded to a number of antibiotics, including ampicillin, ciprofloxacin, and tetracycline–drugs widely used to treat a range of deadly diseases.” Part of the problem is that pesticides aren’t designed to kill bacteria, so they often provide a gentle push in the direction of becoming dangerous without wiping them out in the process. “The bacteria stay alive while activating proteins known as efflux pumps in order to rid themselves of toxins. This defense mechanism can make the bacteria develop resistance to the threat from which it is defending itself.” While the chances are low the residue on your groceries is enough to have an effect, those close to farms might be at risk. The team says the people most likely to be affected are farmers, farmworkers, and other people who live in agricultural communities. (TIME)

Raw Milk Not So Healthy After All

milk720Raw milk has made a comeback in recent years as advocates have claimed that the untreated milk is healthier, better tolerated, and has a better flavor than pasteurized milk. Some states have even considered relaxing laws about milk treatment to allow raw milk to make an appearance in the marketplace. But as popularity has grown, so have concerns about bacterial infection and illness related to raw milk consumption. A new report out this week reviewed the available studies about raw milk and raised serious concerns about its consumption. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Skin Cream, Statins and Secondhand Smoke

Your skin cream might be making outlandish claims. It’s common to see claims on the packaging of skin creams. Some say they’ll to reverse aging, while others say they’ll make your wrinkles disappear. But the FDA is warning consumers to be careful of such claims. “The FDA is taking on the beauty industry and some of the over-the-top claims being made for some of the products. Five warnings have gone out since November. The latest warning letter went out to Strivectin, whose wrinkle creams are sold at retailers that range from Costco to Nordstrom. The FDA objects to the following claims: ‘Clinically proven to change the anatomy of a wrinkle’; ‘This superb age-fighting serum is super charged with …potent elastin stimulating peptides’; and ‘Potent elastin-stimulating peptides help enhance skin structure.’” The FDA says these claims make the creams drugs and subject them to FDA approval, which the creams don’t have. “FDA says it will continue to do what it can, but it doesn’t have much authority. The law doesn’t require cosmetic firms to register with FDA or to submit their products, ingredients, labeling or claims to FDA for approval before the products go on the market.” Dermatologists say that “anti-aging” claims are often meaningless and that creams can’t make wrinkles disappear. (NBC)

Stopping statins at the end of life may have benefits. Stopping any medication often brings concerns that the disease it was designed to treat will make a comeback. But in the case of terminal illness, the benefits of some medications can be small compared to their possible side effects. “Among people without active heart disease who were expected to live no more than a year, stopping the drugs, known as statins, didn’t increase the number of deaths within 60 days, but did improve quality of life. Drug trials rarely address the issue of when to stop using the treatments. The topic becomes especially important as the body responds differently to drugs later in life. Statins are considered candidates for so-called deprescribing at the end of life, because their benefit – a lower risk of heart disease – isn’t seen for about two years.” The team can’t say why quality of life scores increased, but it could be because patients interpreted the discussions surrounding deprescribing medications as doctors paying more attention to their healthcare needs. “Stopping statins was also linked to stopping other medications per doctors’ instructions, which may occur when doctors find that it’s safe to stop certain drugs.” (Fox)

Clogged arteries in adults tied to secondhand smoke during childhood. Its long been known that smoking ups heart disease risk in those individuals who smoke, but new research has found that clogged arteries can also come from smoke exposure during childhood. “In a Finnish study spanning 26 years, kids exposed to parental smoking were more likely to develop plaque in their carotid arteries as young adults than kids who were not exposed to secondhand smoke. These findings and others suggest the health effects of passive smoking on children are not limited to respiratory or developmental health, but can have a long-term impact on cardiovascular health. The team tested the blood samples for levels of cotinine, a byproduct of cigarette smoke exposure, and looked for a buildup of plaque in the carotid arteries, two large blood vessels of the neck. More than 84 percent of kids of nonsmokers had no cotinine in their blood, compared to 62 percent of those with one smoking parent and 43 percent when both parents smoked.” Fortunately, the researchers found there were things parents could do to limit smoke exposure in their kids if they were unable or unwilling to quit. “Many smoking parents did not smoke inside the home or car, or smoked well away from their children, to the point where there was no evidence for passive smoke exposure in their child’s blood.” (Reuters)

Stress Management Skills Stick Around for the Long Haul

woman-stressed-laptopThe increased pace of modern life probably has you feeling more than just a little stressed on a regular basis. Chronic and sometimes even deadly illness can strike unexpectedly, adding to the stress of taking care of kids, managing finances and keeping things together at work. So is the answer really just to suck it up and buckle down? Not according to new research published this week. The team looked at the data gathered on a group of women who learned stress management skills when first diagnosed with breast cancer and found it had more benefits than expected. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Cooking Shows, Energy Drinks and Big Ears

Cooking shows may help pack on the pounds. Cooking shows have become exceedingly popular and the offerings come in all different flavors. But your die-hard watching of the latest cooking show may be helping you gain weight according to a new study out this week. “The study involved 500 women, aged 20 to 35. Participants filled out online surveys that included questions about their height and weight, and whether they preferred to cook from scratch or turn to books and television shows for inspiration. Then they categorized women into doers and viewers. Doers were women who watched the shows and then cooked from scratch and viewers watched shows but did not cook. Doers were, on average, 11 pounds heavier than viewers.” The researchers point out that the recipes on these shows are often geared more at entertaining, which means they’re often loaded with carbs and fat and may come in large portions. According to the authors, “If you want to make what you see on those shows, tune into the healthier cooking shows, or take the recipes you like and make them healthier. Make sure the portion sizes are correct and maybe save those special fried Oreo cookies for the special occasions.” (CBS)

Energy drinks boost your blood pressure. Energy drinks make all sorts of claims about how they bring your energy up when your levels get low, but new research has found they may be boosting your blood pressure as well. “Researchers found that energy drinks can raise blood pressure to potentially unhealthy levels. The effect was far more prominent in young adults who did not consume caffeine regularly. The research team gave a can of a commercially available energy drink to 25 healthy volunteers, whose ages ranged from 19 to 40. On a different day, the participants drank the same amount of a placebo drink. The researchers measured the participants’ heart rate and blood pressure before and after the drinks. The participants experienced a more marked rise in blood pressure after consuming the energy drink than after drinking the placebo. The participants’ average systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) increased by 3 percent more after they drank an energy drink, compared with the placebo drink.” While that amount might not seem like much, the researchers point out that even a small increase can be dangerous in some. “At a population level, an increase of three or four points on a systolic blood pressure reading could mean a significant increase in deaths from stroke. Scientists do not know whether it is the caffeine, taurine or other ingredients found in energy drinks — or a combination of ingredients — that adversely affects the heart.” (Fox)

If you have big ears, people don’t seem to mind. Having ears that seem too big or that stick out too much might seem like cause for embarrassment, but a new study out this week has found those self-conscious about their ears shouldn’t be so concerned. “To see how much people really notice protruding ears and if seeing them triggers any biased assumptions about personality, the surgeons showed 20 adult volunteers pictures of 20 children aged five to 19 as they were and digitally altered to make the ears sit closer to the head. The observers rated the kids in all the images on 10 personality traits by scoring them on a scale of one to 10 representing pairs of opposite extremes, such as friendly-unfriendly, creative-uninspired and honest-dishonest. Participants rated the kids equally assiduous, intelligent and likeable regardless of ear type. In fact, people spent the most time focusing on protruding ears in the unaltered photographs, and those images scored higher on assiduousness, likeability and intelligence than the doctored images.” (Reuters)

Low Vitamin D Common; May Affect Depression

beautiful girl enjoying the summer sun

Vitamin D has been the target of a wide variety of studies lately looking at everything from how it affects your blood pressure to the length of your life. For several years, vitamin D levels have been linked to depression, but most of these studies were done in older adults who were often in poor health. A new study out this week has looked to fill that gap by examining whether vitamin D levels play a role in depression for younger women as well. Read more  »

Today’s Headlines: Breast Biopsies, Diet Soda and Loneliness

Breast biopsies found less reliable for subtle abnormalities. If you’ve ever had a positive mammogram, you may have gone on to have a breast biopsy to either confirm or refute the presence of cancer. A new study has found that works well for obvious cases, but may not be as good when the cancer is harder to detect. “The team asked pathologists to examine biopsy slides, then compared their diagnoses with those given by a panel of leading experts who had seen the same slides. There was good news and bad news. When it came to invasive cancer — cancer that has begun growing beyond the layer of tissue in which it started, into nearby healthy tissue — the outside pathologists agreed with the experts in 96 percent of the interpretations. They found the vast majority of the cancers.” But in the case of DCIS and cellular atypia, two findings that could indicate cancer, the disagreement was larger. For atypia, the experts agreed in only 48 percent of the interpretations. The outside pathologists diagnosed atypia in 17 percent of the readings where the experts had not, and missed it in 35 percent where the experts saw it.” The researchers say that if a biopsy is positive, the most helpful next step is just to get a second opinion before going forward with further treatment. (New York Times)

Drinking diet sodas may be linked to more belly fat. Recent research has pinned all sorts of problems on the consumption of artificial sweeteners and it looks like belly fat might be another. “The researchers looked at findings from a previous study of more than 700 white and Latino people. They were all 65 or older when they entered the study from 1992 to 1996. Researchers tracked them for an average of just over nine years to see what happened as they aged. The study ended in 2004. The researchers found that the waistlines of people who never drank diet sodas increased by 0.8 inches for the length of the study. By comparison, occasional diet soda drinkers’ abdominal girth grew by 1.8 inches during the same time. Waistlines expanded by more than 3 inches in those who consumed the drinks every day, according to the study.” The team is quick to caution that correlation doesn’t mean the diet sodas are behind the weight gain. People might switch to diet soda after gaining weight, for example, making those with bigger waistlines more likely to drink diet soda. To be safe, the researchers recommend switching to tea or coffee for the caffeine or having seltzer water if you want carbonation. (CBS)

Loneliness may significantly increase your risk of dying. You’ve probably experience the psychological toll of feeling lonely at one point or another in your life, but you probably didn’t think about the effects that loneliness might have on your health. “The researchers analyzed data collected from 70 studies and more than 3.4 million people from 1980 to 2014. The studies, which followed people for about seven years on average, showed that people who were socially isolated, lonely or living alone had about a 30 percent higher chance of dying during a given study period than those who had regular social contact.” The researchers point out that loneliness may show up in different situations for different people. “Some people with strong social networks may still feel lonely, even when surrounded by loved ones. Others choose social isolation and even prefer it.” The effect was larger for those who were under 65 than for those over 65. The researchers hope that the findings show the importance of social ties in maintaining good overall health. “Although living alone can offer conveniences and advantages for an individual physical health is not among them.” (Fox)

Big Breakfast, Small Dinner Holds Blood Sugar Steady

woman having breakfastChanging blood sugar is a fact of life. Every time you eat something, the sugars in the food are absorbed and pass into the bloodstream. From there, they circulate until your body removes them either for use or for storage. But for those with type 2 diabetes, this second step isn’t so easy. Their body doesn’t remove sugar effectively from the blood because it has trouble recognizing that there’s even sugar there to remove. When it does, it responds sluggishly. Fortunately, new research out this week has found that the amount you eat at different meals can change how well your body responds to sugar, which may help diabetics get their numbers under better control. Read more  »